|THE DOCTOR IS NOT MISLAID
by K.V. Wylie
McCoy's first thought, when the transporter sparkles disappeared, was bewilderment - where had all the trees in the transporter room come from? His second thought was that he'd somehow transported into the botany lab - an impossibility.
His third thought, the belated and correct one, was that he hadn't made it to the Enterprise at all. The forest was too dense to be part of the botany lab, for one thing. And wet. He was in the middle of a rain shower. The air stirred under a breeze. The final piece of evidence was a sun overhead, appearing and disappearing behind gray clouds.
A muttered curse sounded behind him. Kirk had materialized in mud at the edge of a stream, and had fallen in the water. Half-muddied and now all-soaked he was trying to find a foothold back onto the slippery muck. Spock, who had transported into the middle of the stream, was apparently considering the captain's predicament and mood. Then, bravely, Spock gave Kirk's posterior a tremendous shove.
Kirk flew onto the bank, and was not grateful. He turned to deliver a volley of anger in the Vulcan's direction, but caught himself at the sight of Uhura watching him from the other side of the stream.
He swallowed his first sentence, and managed, "Where the hell has Scotty landed us?"
"This is not Sigma UC238," Spock said.
An understatement. Sigma UC238 was all dry sand, and not a tree anywhere, much less a forest-full. They had just been beaming up from it. There was only Sigma, the Enterprise, and a tiny waste of a moon in the whole system, so where they were now was beyond anybody's guess.
Kirk shook water from his communicator and flipped it open. "Enterprise, come in."
Static sounded. He tried several channels, but they were all the same. Spock, still in the water, consulted his tricorder.
"Well?" Kirk asked.
"My instrument is barely working. Nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere, temperature twenty-six degrees Celsius, and one star overhead. That is all I can ascertain. If this planet is subject to a general rotation, we should be able to determine our exact location from the star pattern at nightfall," Spock said.
McCoy held out a hand. Spock took it and climbed up onto the bank.
"Thank you, doctor," he said in a formal tone, which fooled no one.
McCoy smiled at him, but covered it with a grumble about Vulcans who risk pneumonia by lingering in cold water. Uhura, meanwhile, had given up waiting for help from the other three and had navigated a series of rocks across to their side.
"That looks like a pear tree. Are we on Earth?" she asked.
"Impossible," Spock said.
"Okay," she said doubtfully, "but that's definitely a pear tree. And there's a chestnut one."
Spock almost frowned. He was very near to it. "Pear and chestnut trees cannot grow naturally outside of the Earth's specific atmosphere."
"So we're on Earth," Uhura said.
"Impossible," Spock repeated, but with a little less certainty. He bent over his tricorder again. "There are humanoid life forms in that direction--" He pointed. "A kilometer away."
Kirk wrung out one of his sleeves. "Hopefully, our new friends will have dry clothes."
They moved upwards, away from the stream, and found somewhat of a path, a trampled down passage between the trees, but they had only walked a for a few minutes when Spock abruptly stopped and said, "Sylvia undata."
"Who?" Kirk asked.
The Vulcan gestured at a bird sitting on a tree branch above him. "That is a Dartford Warbler, Sylvia undata, if I am not mistaken. They are extinct."
"Are you an expert in extinct Earth bird species?" McCoy asked moodily. As much as he admired the Vulcan, he was getting tired of his knowing every darn thing under the sun.
"No," Spock said.
"Well then," McCoy said, as if that proved a point.
Which it didn't, because Spock immediately followed that up with, "My mother does, and I am familiar with her many tapes on the subject."
Kirk was feeling too clammy in his sodden clothes to appreciate any delay. "If these warblers are extinct, obviously that's not one." He continued his momentum up the path, fully expecting the others to follow him.
Uhura did, but it took the Vulcan and the doctor a few minutes to tag along Spock because he was eyeing the bird curiously, and McCoy because he was eyeing the bird with dread. He'd known the Vulcan long enough to understand that Spock was seldom wrong about these things.
The group trudged silently. Kirk was the first to clear the trees, and something in his manner caused the others to stop in their tracks.
"Jim?" McCoy ventured.
"I think we should hide our equipment," Kirk said. He had been trying his communicator periodically, but now he returned it to his belt and pulled his shirt down over it.
McCoy and Spock did the same, though their gear was bulkier. Uhura, after a slight hesitation, gave Kirk her communicator and tucked her phaser in her cleavage. The three of them peered out from the trees to see what had given Kirk such pause.
Several roughly-dressed men stood a few meters away, holding large, fierce-looking implements. They stared at the Enterprise crew suspiciously.
"Good afternoon," Kirk said with a smile.
The men continued to stare.
"Would you mind telling us where we are?"
The men glanced at each other, then one snorted and said, "Are you daft?"
Keeping his pleasant tone, Kirk tried again. "We've lost our way."
"You're not wanted here. Get going," said the man who had spoken before.
A second man chimed in, "Just a second, Seth. Their clothes are funny. They could be from the castle."
"If they were from the castle, they'd have horses, wouldn't they? They're just beggars."
"In those clothes?" asked a third man.
Seth eyed the Enterprise crew and shook his head. "More than likely, they robbed somebody from the castle. Bunch of thieves, if you ask me." To Kirk, he added, "Be off with you or my pitchfork will be sticking in something more than a bale of hay."
Kirk's most dangerous tone was his most polite one. He used it. "I see a village down the road. We're going there, and if you don't step out of the way, gentlemen, I'm afraid your pitchforks will be sticking somewhere you don't want them to."
Seth and his group drew up to their full height and breadth. They were big men. McCoy surreptitiously dropped his hand to his phaser.
"Captain, if I may." Uhura stepped around Kirk. Startled, the men drew back a pace.
"There's a woman with them!" said the second man.
"A harlot," Seth said, though he didn't sound so sure. Staring at her, he added, "No decent woman shows herself like that."
"We lost our horses when we were robbed," Uhura said sweetly, taking a few steps towards the men. "My clothing was ripped and I'm cold."
"That's no concern of ours," said Seth, shuffling nervously as Uhura approached him.
"I'm very cold," she whispered as she reached up and directed his chin so that he was looking downwards at a very specific spot. "Just look at all these goose bumps."
Two minutes later, the Enterprise crew were in possession of four, heavy work-shirts, directions to something called the Public Alehouse, and the name of the innkeeper.
"These clothes smell like--" Uhura paused to draw a hesitant breath. "Like years and years of sweat. And they itch."
"At least they cover our uniforms," Kirk said as he scratched an arm.
"Hold still," McCoy said. He picked something from Kirk's collar and flicked it away. "I think I'll start adding flea collars to my medical away-bag."
Kirk made a dangerous sound. The other three quickly moved several steps away from him as they continued in the direction the men had indicated.
The road went through fields, the divisions marked by low, wooden fences. Periodically, they saw people working in the distance with what looked like old-fashioned farm tools. More often they saw sheep and cows who paused in their grazing just long enough for a disinterested glance.
At last the rain cleared, and the sun emerged fully from the clouds. As it warmed the air, an acidic smell began hanging more and more heavily in the air.
"What is that?" Uhura asked.
"Manure," Kirk said in a tight voice. "If this is an illusion, it's certainly thorough. Spock, any guesses as to how we got here?"
"No, Captain. We are on a planet remarkably like Earth, inhabited by a group of human colonists who are living at a pastoral stage."
"What about your tricorder?"
"It is not working, Captain, though the power cells are intact. When we are in a private environment, I will open the casing and give the instrument a thorough inspection."
"Whatever it is has affected some of my medical equipment too," McCoy said. He shook a scanner in frustration.
Kirk glanced around, then took out his phaser and aimed it at the ground. "Nothing," he said.
"Either we are all hallucinating," Spock said, "or something has shut down our instruments without causing visible damage.
"Radiation of some sort?" Kirk asked.
"I did not detect any unusual radiation earlier," Spock said.
"Someone's coming," Uhura warned. The men quickly hid their equipment again.
Several women rounded a thicket ahead of them, baskets in their arms. They began picking berries from the bushes, but stopped when they saw the Enterprise crew.
"Hello," Kirk called.
The women eyed them, especially Uhura. Kirk wondered at this, then noticed that the women were all dressed similarly, in long dresses and aprons, and bonnets on their heads.
"We've been robbed," Kirk added, hoping that would explain Uhura's bare legs. "My name is James Kirk."
"Kirk?" repeated one of the women. "The Squire said someone named Kirk would be arriving, but he told us to look for a military man."
"What Squire?" Kirk asked.
"The Squire. He said he was a friend of yours. Don't you know him?" asked the woman.
Kirk glanced at the other three who looked as nonplussed as him. "No," he admitted. "I don't know him, but I am a captain in the . . . army."
The women looked him over again, their expressions dubious.
"Where is this Squire?" McCoy asked.
"We don't know where he lives. He comes and goes," said the first woman.
"He's gone now," said the second woman. "But if you're Kirk, you're the one he said to look for. The Alehouse is down there." She gestured vaguely, then the women turned their backs on them and resumed berry picking.
"I'm getting tired of feeling so welcome," McCoy muttered.
Kirk shot him a warning glance as he led them in the direction the woman had indicated.
They rounded the bushes and found a dirt road. As they began walking, McCoy said, "It's funny that they react to how Uhura's dressed, but ignore our Vulcan's ears."
"Perhaps it's just as well," Kirk said. "Spock is harder to explain."
"Perhaps I should have asked our gentlemen friends for a hat for you, Mr. Spock," Uhura said.
"If their hats are as infested with fleas as their shirts, I would prefer attempting the explanation, Lieutenant," he said.
They reached the town which was a collection of small houses and barns, some of them lopsided. They saw people hanging out wash or bent over small gardens. Chickens squawked at them, dogs barked, and children stared. The Inn was the biggest building, having a second floor and a sign over the door that read, "The Green Bulldog." A horse and cart were tied to a pole in front of it.
"Shall we go and see if the Squire has returned?" Kirk said, pacing in without waiting for an answer.
The other three ran after him, and nearly ran him over for he'd stopped abruptly inside the threshold.
The noise hit them first. Then the smell of stale beer. It took their eyes a few moments to adjust to the dark, dank interior before they discovered the raucous shouting was being caused by several parties of men, sitting around tables and banging merrily with tankards.
Their presence went unnoticed until one of the men yelled, "There's a new lass! Bring yourself over here, woman, and I'll buy you a pint!"
Kirk, Spock, and McCoy closed in around her. "Not today," Kirk said firmly. He turned to a man behind the bar and called, "Are you the owner, Uriah?"
"Yes," said the man. "And who might you be?"
"I'm James Kirk. The Squire told you I was coming. Is he, uh, still here?"
Uriah came around the bar and looked them over suspiciously. "The Squire said he'd be back."
"Week. Maybe two. The Squire'll come when he wants." Uriah craned his head and peered at Uhura. "The woman can stay. If the rest of you want rooms, you'll have to pay."
Kirk tried another tactic. Easing into a charming smile, he said, "The problem is, we were robbed."
"Guessed that." Uriah shrugged. "Not my concern."
"We could, uh, earn our keep," Kirk said.
Uriah snorted. "You don't look like you're good for much, except maybe the tall one with the ears. Long arms. You can clean the septics."
"No, we'll go," Kirk said, "You can explain to the Squire why we're not here when he returns."
"No concern of mine," said Uriah, but he didn't sound so sure now.
"We will, of course, be telling him how you turned us away. And how you tried to keep his lady friend."
"His very close lady friend," Uhura added.
Uriah took a breath. "Right. Up here." He led them up some stairs and opened the doors of two rooms. "Sort it out how you like, but if I get paying customers, you're sleeping in the stables and I won't care whose friend you are. If you're hungry, the kitchen's below. Tomorrow you work."
The noise below was picking up considerably. He hurried away in response to it. Kirk watched him go, then let out a sigh.
"At least we have a place to stay until we figure out what's happened," Uhura said.
"Such as it is," McCoy said.
The rooms were, literally, filthy. A sagging bed stood in each room, the mattress covered with a quilt that was gray, not from design, but from dirt. Mounds of debris and rags lay on the floor and, at the foot of each bed, were chamber pots, one still filled from the previous occupant.
McCoy covered his nose, then went into one of the rooms and looked out the tiny, dirt-streaked window. "That must be the stable. I can see some horses." He glanced back. "The stable's probably cleaner than in here."
Kirk glanced into the room the doctor was in, then in the other. "Lieutenant, you can have the, uh, less offensive room."
"Is it wise to leave the Lieutenant on her own?" Spock asked. "In the short time we have been here, she has had two offers for her person."
Kirk turned to Uhura. "We'll take turns guarding your door. Hopefully, we won't be here too many nights." He paused as more shouts sounded from below. "First, we'll get something to eat and mix a little with the locals. I'd like to know where the castle is the farmers were talking about, and more information on this mysterious Squire. Afterwards we'll borrow what cleaning supplies we can and try to make these rooms less sickening."
On their way to the rooms, Kirk had noticed that the stairs branched off halfway-up. He led the way back to the turn and found a second set of stairs which led to the kitchen in the back of the tavern. An elderly woman, stirring a pot over a fire in a giant hearth, startled badly at their appearance.
"Who are you?" she screamed, waving a huge spoon at them.
"Friends of the Squire," Kirk said, keeping a careful distance from her.
She eyed him, and her expression changed to one of contempt. "Oh, HIM!" she muttered, and spat on the floor in front of the captain.
"He's not a good friend," Kirk said. "In fact, I haven't met him. He's offered my friends and I protection."
"We were robbed earlier," Spock added.
The woman looked at him, then drew back a sudden step. Pointing with her spoon at each of his ears, she demanded, "What are those?"
"A childhood accident," Kirk said quickly. "He fell into water and all I could get hold of were his...ears."
"Marks of the devil," the woman said.
"Don't be silly, mother," came another voice. A woman had entered into the kitchen from a door that lead to the main room. She put down a tray of dirty mugs and looked the Enterprise crew over before settling her gaze on Kirk. "You're the one in charge?"
"I'm Jim," he said, trying another smile.
"We'll have to get you some proper clothes," she said, frowning. "What sort of funny thing is that you have on underneath?"
"Devilish!" snapped the elder woman at the hearth.
To take attention from their clothing, Kirk gestured at his crew. "This is Spock, McCoy, and Uhura."
"Odd names too," the woman said with another frown. "Well, you're mine until the Squire returns so I'd best make do. I'm Sylvia. You met my husband, and this is his mother." She got bowls and ladled something out from the pot in the hearth. "Sit down and eat."
They sat at the kitchen table. Sylvia picked four of the used mugs from the tray, plunked them in front of the crew without washing them, and filled them with wine from a jug.
Kirk glanced into his bowl. Their dinner consisted of potatoes and unrecognizable lumps covered in greasy gravy.
"What's wrong with you?" Sylvia asked. "Eat. The bread's all gone and there's nothing else until tomorrow."
"Nothing's wrong," Kirk managed. "Thank you." Gamely, he picked up one of the lumps with his spoon, and put it in his mouth.
It was meat of some kind, gristly and salty. He chewed it as best as he could, then swallowed. Spock watched in not-quite-covered horror.
"Wonderful," Kirk said to Sylvia.
"It's not," she said matter-of-factly, "but it's all that's left after that crowd out there. It'll stick to your ribs, and that's what matters."
Kirk ate another spoonful. "We will earn our keep and we appreciate the hospitality. Could you tell me where the castle is?"
"The castle?" echoed the elder Mrs. Uriah. "What do you want to go there for?"
"It's not a nice place?" McCoy asked, after taking an intrepid swallow of the stew.
"It's for the rich folks," said Sylvia sarcastically. "All those fine Lords and Ladies. We get them in here every so often, looking down their noses at us, and never leaving a tip. Mean as vipers."
"Is it close by?" Kirk persisted.
"A day's journey," Sylvia said. "If you got horses. Otherwise . . ." She shrugged before going back out to the bar area.
McCoy shot a look at the elderly woman before whispering, "Spock, you should eat something. The white things are turnips."
"The gravy is made of animal fat," Spock said.
Sylvia returned with a young girl, both of them carrying a pile of clothing. "You can have these. Betsy'll take them up to your rooms." To Uhura, she added, "Cover yourself or you'll have my husband at you all day and all night." She snorted. "Not that I care, mind you."
"About our rooms," Kirk said, "If we could get some water and a bucket--"
"The girl will see to them," Sylvia said, sending the young girl towards the stairway with a swat.
Betsy didn't appear to be more than nine or ten. Remembering the state of the rooms, McCoy exchanged a glance with Kirk. "I'd like to make sure everything gets disinfected."
"I'll help," Uhura offered.
"All right," Kirk said. "After we change our clothes, Spock and I will take a look around while you two do what you can up there."
He was interrupted by a hoarse laugh at the door. A grubby man had tramped in. "Is this where you're hiding?" he said to Sylvia. "And me waiting for my dinner."
"It's coming. I told you. Get back out there," she retorted.
He grinned at Uhura. "Hello, lass. You've got a lovely pair of boobs. How'd you like a bit of frolic with a lonely man?"
Sylvia pushed the man away. "Get out!"
"I'm going," he chuckled. "Just a minute." He went over to the heart, unfastened his trousers, and began urinating into the fire.
At the sight of it, all four Enterprise officers abruptly pushed away their bowls.
The elderly woman hit the man hard with her spoon.
"I've gotta relieve myself," he said. "That ale you serve is all watered down, ain't it?" He turned around and, still holding his organ, wagged it at Uhura. "A buxom girl like you must know what to do with a good piece like this. Come sit in the happy chair for me."
"OUT! OUT!" Sylvia yelled, picking up a heavy pan.
He did up his pants and went back to the bar, Sylvia on his heels.
Uhura took a long breath. "I don't know if I can take this place one minute longer," she admitted.
"It is a bit rough," Kirk said. "Lieutenant, you're not to go anywhere without one of us. Not even to the washroom, if there is one."
"That would be the pot at the end of the bed," she said.
They all winced, and Kirk said, "Let's get going."
They returned to their rooms and looked through the clothing. Sylvia had supplied the men with thick woolen trousers and shirts, and Uhura with a long, heavy dress. The clothing was well-worn, but clean. As well, Betsy had brought up fresh sheets and a pail of soapy water.
Betsy had stopped scrubbing at the appearance of the Enterprise crew, and was watching them with wide, frightened eyes.
McCoy gestured at the door. "Go downstairs, child, and we'll take care of the rooms."
"Missus said I was to do them."
"We will," McCoy repeated.
"But she'll be mad."
"Tell her we sent you away," he said, indicating the door once more. She stared at them for a few moments more, then sidled along a wall and ran out.
The men turned their backs so that Uhura could exchange her uniform for the dress, then they changed themselves. "We'd better keep our equipment on us," Kirk said. "Spock and I will be gone for one hour, Bones. No more."
"As my chronometer isn't working, I won't know when the hour's up and it's time to worry," McCoy pointed out.
Kirk and Spock left, taking the stairs through the kitchen and out a back door.
"The stables," Spock said, nodding at a low, open building behind the tavern.
Kirk peeked in. "Bones is right. It's cleaner in there."
They walked to the front of the tavern and started down the road. They passed more homes and what looked to be a shop, though it was closed. Most of the residents they saw were women who glanced at them once and moved away.
"The men must all be in the bar," Kirk mused.
"The alehouse would be a better source of information," Spock said.
"I agree, but I want to get a sense of where we are first," Kirk said. "Do you have any idea yet how we got here?"
"Spock, that's not helpful."
They came to the end of the town. The dwellings ended and the forest began. The road disappeared into the trees.
"A day's journey by horse," Kirk said, following the road with his eyes as far as he could. "Do you think this Squire lives at the castle?"
"I have insufficient data," Spock said.
"Let's go get sufficient data then," Kirk said. They went back to the tavern. The main room was noisier and smokier than before. Some of the men were singing drunkenly, others were gambling with dice, and a few were passed out under tables.
Kirk and Spock took seats by the fire. Uriah came up to them. "No money, no beer."
"I'll pay for their pints," said a familiar though unfriendly voice. Seth took a seat on a bench across from them. "Where are the other two?"
"Around," Kirk said. The beers came. He raised his mug and said, "Thanks."
"Around doing what?" Seth asked.
"What's it to you?" Kirk said. "We're simply waiting on the Squire."
"That devil's bastard?" Seth took a swig from his tankard.
"Why is he so beloved?" Kirk asked.
"If you're friends of his, wouldn't you know?" Seth countered.
"He says we're friends. I'm not sure I know who he is," Kirk said.
Seth studied them for a while before replying. "He comes through town every so often, stays here for a day or two, then leaves. He brings different people with him every time, sometimes actors, sometimes high and mighty types. While they're here, they scare our women, burn buildings, and steal anything they can. If I were you, I wouldn't tell too many people you're friends of his."
"Why do you put up with him?" Kirk asked.
"He's got odd ways. We don't have much choice. Your turn Mr. Kirk. You know and I know you weren't robbed. What are you doing here?"
"We got lost," Kirk said. "We took a wrong turn and, truthfully, I don't know where we are."
Seth shook his head skeptically. "And those clothes you were wearing?"
"Uniforms. We're part of a military unit."
"There ain't no women in the army, and that little scrap of cloth your woman was wearing ain't no part of any female clothes I've seen."
"She's not my woman," Kirk said. "She's the Squire's mistress. Spock, myself, and the third man are part of her guard."
"That story doesn't cover it either," Seth said. He stood. "I'll be watching you."
"That's a comfort," Kirk said.
Seth went to turn away, then paused. To Spock, he said, "Do you ever speak?"
"When necessary," Spock said.
"And the ears?"
Seth shrugged. "That I'll buy."
After he left, Kirk tried speaking to some of the other men in the bar, but everyone he approached was too drunk to be of any help. "We'll have to call it a day," he said, giving in. As he was putting his pint on the counter, he noticed that Spock's mug was empty. Trying not to smile, he asked, "You actually drank that? What did you think of it?"
"The gentleman we met in the kitchen was correct. The beer is mostly water."
Chuckling, Kirk said, "We'd better get back to Bones and Uhura."
To Kirk's surprise, the rooms looked habitable. The walls and floors had been scoured, windows washed, chamber pots scrubbed, and bed sheets changed. Over the sour odor of lye soap were fresher smells of wood and flowers.
"We put sawdust on the mattress and floors," McCoy said. "The innkeeper's wife says it gets rid of bedbugs, though I'm dubious. Uhura found a lavender bush by the back door. What did you find out, Jim?"
"Nothing," Kirk said, sitting carefully on a bed. "This Squire comes into town every so often, parties, and sails out leaving a mess. Nobody likes him, but they can't do anything about him."
"Why would he say we were friends of his?" Uhura asked.
"I don't know," Kirk said. "Seth showed up, and we gave him the story that Uhura's the Squire's mistress and we're her guards. He doesn't believe it, but he didn't push the point."
"He's a farmer and owns the most land around here. He also serves as the Vicar because he's the only one who can read and write," Uhura said.
"How do you know?" Kirk asked.
"After Sylvia saw how well we cleaned the rooms, she brought us tea and hung around to gossip," Uhura said. "She likes Leonard."
"She was just being pleasant," McCoy said.
"She told you where her room was."
"She was making conversation."
"She told you what time to show up," Uhura said. "After the church bells ring twice."
"Really?" Spock said.
"The church bells can ring all they want. I won't be there," McCoy insisted.
Kirk chuckled. "Lieutenant, you can have the other room. We'll take turns watching your door. I'll take first watch." Turning to Spock, he added, "See if you can find out what's going on with our equipment. Bones, you have second watch. I expect that will cover the time when the church bells are ringing."
"Ha ha," McCoy retorted.
Kirk laughed again as he and Uhura left the room. At the door of the second room, Uhura said, "Captain, may I speak?"
"I am an officer in the fleet, sir. I'm not sure it's necessary to guard me, and I can take watch as well."
Kirk nodded. "Noted, Lieutenant, however, I gave Seth the story that you're the Squire's mistress and we're your attendants. We'd better act the parts."
"Yes, sir," Uhura said. Had it been anyone but Kirk, she would have argued the point. Instead, she went into her room, contemplated the sagging bed, and gingerly crawled onto it.
McCoy woke when he rolled over onto something sharp. "Damn!" He reached under him and pulled out a piece of phaser cover. The rest of the weapon lay on the mattress, the muzzle aimed at him. "I hope the safety's on that thing."
"The power cells are disconnected," Spock said.
"How long have I been asleep?"
"One hour, nine minutes."
"That's it?" McCoy yawned, then sat up and glanced out the window. "It's pitch black out there."
"It is not much better in here," Spock said. He had been working by candlelight.
"Fire hazard," McCoy noted, gesturing at the candles.
"The entire town is a fire hazard, Leonard," Spock said.
McCoy went to the window. Outside of faint moonlight from behind wispy clouds and a few stars, he could see nothing. "That looks like Earth's pole star."
"It is," Spock said without looking away from his work.
McCoy turned around. "What?"
"Lieutenant Uhura is correct. We are on Earth."
A sick feeling went through McCoy. "And that extinct bird?"
"Last reported sighting circa eighteen-forty Terran common-time."
"No way," McCoy said. "Our transporters are not time machines."
"The inference is that something or someone interfered with our transporters. Likely, the same agent has shut down our equipment." Spock snapped the phaser case back into place.
"Have you told Jim?"
"I informed the captain twelve minutes ago."
"Do you think it's that infamous Squire?"
"I need more data, Leonard."
"I suppose waiting around for this Squire to appear is not part of Jim's plan," McCoy mused.
"Waiting is not one of the captain's strong points," Spock conceded. "I anticipate he is already working on a means to get to the castle we have heard so much about."
A church bell chimed outside.
"Not much of a night life around here," McCoy said, "though someone must be up to ring that bell."
"Perhaps not," Spock said, looking towards the window curiously. "The bell rope could be fastened to a pendulum and counterweights that keep the time. I have read of such devices."
McCoy eyed him suspiciously. "You want to go and look, don't you?"
"I have not been able to accomplish anything with our equipment."
"Judging by the loudness of the bell, the church must be near."
"You will be on watch soon. The captain will not notice my absence."
"I'm not covering for you."
"All right, Leonard," Spock said as he stood.
"I mean it. I will go right to Jim. I won't have you traipsing around some strange place--"
"We are on Earth."
"Some strange time, by yourself."
"I will not be longer than thirty minutes."
McCoy cursed under his breath before saying, "Again, my lack of chronometer makes that an empty promise."
"Count," Spock suggested. "Thirty times sixty."
"I know how to count," McCoy retorted. "How the hell did you end up with that's-a-bad-idea me instead of let's-go-completely-unprepared Jim?"
Amused, Spock said, "Beyond the captain's preference for female partners, I like humans and you like Vulcans."
"The jury's still out on that last point."
Spock opened the door. In the hallway, Kirk spun around, then relaxed. "Bones, it's early for your watch."
"I can't sleep," McCoy said.
"Where are you going?" Kirk asked when Spock went past him.
"To relieve myself, Captain."
"Now you know what watered beer does to you," Kirk said.
"Judging from the gentleman we encountered earlier at the fireplace, I already had a suspicion," Spock said with a straight face.
After the Vulcan left, Kirk said, "I'm never quite sure if he's teasing me."
"If you're not sure, he probably is," McCoy muttered.
Kirk glanced both ways down the dark hallway before saying, "If anyone comes by, wake me." He went into the room that McCoy and Spock had just vacated. A moment later, McCoy heard him add, "I hope the power cells are disconnected on this thing."
Spock paused outside the inn's back door. He had better night vision than humans, but even he was hard-pressed to discern much around him by the thin moonlight. The stable would be to his left, a well to his right, and the church bells had sounded from somewhere in-between. He went in that direction, stepping carefully as he thought he remembered there was some sort of structure.
He was right. Despite his caution, he smacked into a chicken coop and scraped his shins on the rough wood. A hen squawked at him, then settled down in sullen ruffle of feathers as he went past.
An intense smell of animal waste alerted him to a dung pile. He skirted it, wondering how humans could survive in the midst of unwashed animal pens and disease-carrying manure pits.
Farther on, he encountered more fencing. By now his eyes could see the shapes rising out of the night. He could make out the fence, beyond it small markers in the shapes of crosses, and, finally, the large shadow of the church.
The church door was unlocked. He stepped into the vestibule, lit the candle he had brought with him, and looked around.
The church seemed to be little more than a couple of rooms, the small room in which he stood, and a large hall containing long benches and a table at the front. He discovered a door, also unlocked, and stairs leading up to the bell.
He heard the gentle swish of a pendulum and the echo of gears before he saw them. The mechanism stood on its own little platform, the ropes dangling down through an opening in the floor. Spock knelt on the floor, captivated by the anachronistic-seeming machine that lived in the midst of otherwise crude surroundings.
A few minutes later, he lifted his head a fraction. A moment after that, without breaking his study of the clockwork, he said, "You saw my light, Mr. Seth."
Seth walked around in front of Spock, a crowbar held aloft in his hand. "It's Donahoe."
"Mr. Donahoe," Spock said.
"Being my church, I tend to keep an eye on it, and I did tell you I'd be keeping an eye on you."
"The weapon is unnecessary," Spock said. "I am merely interested in the bell's workings. Did you construct this mechanism?"
"Yes." Seth crouched on the other side of the bell, but he didn't let go of the crowbar. "If you're not a devil's whelp, what are you?"
"A visitor," Spock replied. "My party and I would leave if we could secure passage to the castle."
"You're not even like the rest of your party," Seth said. "You're more like the Squire."
"He's got the same ways, disappointed-like and always watching us. We're the sport of mad kings."
Spock eyed him. The literary reference was jarring. "You are not from this town either, Mr. Donahoe?"
"No. I married a woman from here, but she died when she was brought to bed."
"What does that mean?" Spock asked.
Seth shook his head. "It means she died trying to birth our child. Why don't you know that?"
"Where I come from, very few women die from giving birth."
"Really," Seth said, eyeing Spock just as thoughtfully in return. At last he put down the crowbar. "There's a woman near here, been lying in for nearly two days. The midwife will be calling for me soon."
"You mean she is unable to deliver her baby," Spock said, and Seth nodded.
Spock stood. "One of the men in my party may be able to help her. The one named McCoy."
Seth rose as well, then gestured at the stairs. "You go first."
They went to the inn, this time by the light of a lantern which Seth took from the vestibule. At the sight of them, McCoy said, "Spock, I knew you'd get caught."
"Leonard, there is a resident who needs your assistance. Will you go?"
McCoy frowned as he glanced between Spock and Seth. "Uh, sure. Who is it?"
"The blacksmith's wife," Seth said. "The babe will not come. This one says, in the place you come from, women do not always die when the birth goes wrong."
"Let's go," McCoy said.
The church clock was striking four when Kirk came yawning into the hallway. He glanced at Spock, down the hallway, then back to the Vulcan. "Where's McCoy?"
"He went to aid the midwife."
"When was this?"
"Two hours, twenty-one minutes ago."
Angrily, Kirk said, "Why didn't anyone inform me?"
"I did go in the room to tell you, Captain, but you were asleep," Spock said.
"Then you should have woken me. Do you know where McCoy is, or when he's expected back?"
"You just let him go off alone? How many times have I told you and McCoy not to do that? You two are always disappearing lately - and someone had better tell me soon what that's about. At least you followed orders this time and stayed at your post."
"Not entirely," Spock admitted. "I went to the church and encountered Mr. Donahoe."
"Seth Donahoe," Spock said. "He told me about the blacksmith's wife, and we returned here to get Leonard's services."
"I thought you went outside to have a piss," Kirk fumed. "Is there some Vulcan custom that states if you can't use inside facilities, you have to piss at a church?"
"There are no churches on Vulcan," Spock said.
From anyone else, it would have been insubordination. Kirk swallowed down the first thing that he would have said, and the second, before managing, "At least tell me that Uhura is where she's supposed to be." He rapped on her door, then turned to Spock and asked, "What the hell is that smell? Were you in a barn?"
"I stepped in a pile of animal waste."
Uhura answered the door promptly, if not sleepily. "Captain?"
"We've lost McCoy."
"Captain, the doctor is not mislaid. He is with the blacksmith's wife," Spock said.
Uhura's eyes widened. "First the innkeeper's wife, and now the blacksmith's? This is a new side to Leonard."
Kirk started for the stairs. "We'll wake up the innkeeper and ask for directions."
They didn't have to wake up anyone. It looked as if the entire household was in the kitchen, gathered around McCoy who was sitting at the head of the table.
"It's a miracle and that's a fact," said Sylvia, as she set a huge bowl of steaming porridge in front of McCoy.
McCoy looked uncomfortable. "It isn't. Please don't fuss."
"But this is a reason to celebrate," Sylvia said. "Poor Annie was fair to gone. She couldn't do no more to bring that baby forth, and the midwife said she'd done all she could."
Even Sylvia's mother-in-law had managed a bit of a smile on her stern face. "Now she's got a lusty baby boy and is sleeping like a newborn herself." She put a mug of tea on the table and stirred in a generous spoonful of honey.
"What's going on?" Kirk asked.
"One of the women was in labour and I helped," McCoy said. "That was all."
Seth had been hovering near the fireplace. He stepped forward and said, "The babe was in the wrong position and the midwife couldn't get it turned, but McCoy did, with just a touch. You did right by Meecham and his wife, and they're grateful."
McCoy took a dubious taste of the porridge, and brightened. "This is good."
"There's more if you want it, and mother's making you eggs and bacon," Sylvia said.
"I can't eat that much," McCoy protested.
"You can," Mrs. Uriah said, poking him gently in his side with her spoon. "You're too thin. We've got to put some meat on those bones."
As Kirk, Spock, and Uhura sat down at the table, McCoy said, "Mr. Meecham's grateful enough that he's willing to lend us horses so that we can get to the castle. Mr. Donahoe said he'd go with us, to show us the way, but the harvesting needs to be finished first."
"The harvesting?" Kirk asked.
"Aye," Sylvia said. "There's naught but a few fields done. Too many lazy men around here." She turned and gave her husband a kick.
"I can't be doing that. I have to keep an eye on the inn, don't I?" he protested.
Kirk gestured at Spock and himself. "We're willing to help, if it will make the harvesting go faster."
"I can pitch in too," McCoy said, but Sylvia cut in.
"No. We don't often get a physick here. Some has got the settlement in their lungs so bad, they can hardly breathe, and others plain just don't know what's wrong with them."
"You stay here, Bones, and do what you can for these people. Uhura will assist you," Kirk said. To Seth, he added, "How many days work are left? I want to make the trip to the castle soon."
"If you and the one with the ears are good workers, not more than three or four days," Seth said, sounding skeptical. "If you're good workers."
"Just point us in the direction of your pitchforks," Kirk told him.
"Put something in you first," Sylvia said as she put down more bowls of porridge. "This should do you."
"It'll do just fine," Kirk said, giving her a warm smile.
She ignored him to ladle more food in front of McCoy. "Eat, dear. Eat hearty."
Kirk and Spock were given scythes and put to work in the fields furthest out from the inn. The rain of the previous day made the work heavy, and the men around them spoke only to direct them down more furrows. At midday, some women came with food and jugs of water, but they had barely washed down their dinner when Seth put their tools back in their hands.
They stopped when it became too dark to continue. If it hadn't been for Spock's stiff stoicism and Kirk's stiff upper lip, they would have crawled back to the inn. Kirk fell asleep on the floor beside Uhura's bed while she was getting water for him to wash with. Spock, only with tremendous effort, trod the extra steps to get into the bed in the other room.
McCoy, standing at the foot-board with his arms crossed over his chest, regarded the Vulcan with amused pity. "I don't think you've ever smelled quite so bad."
"It will only get worse in the coming days, Leonard," Spock said. He could barely stand the odor himself, but was too exhausted to deal with it.
"Take off your clothes," McCoy said. He left, and returned with a pail of water to find that the Vulcan hadn't moved. "Spock."
Spock complied, his movements pained and slow. McCoy took the clothing, then knelt at the side of the bed with a towel and washcloth. "It's been a number of years since I gave someone a sponge bath." His voice dropped as he added, "Not since my father was ill."
"I am not in any danger, Leonard, except from the captain's uneven blade-work."
Despite the coolness of the water and the roughness of the cloth, the ministrations felt like caresses on Spock's skin. He closed his eyes as McCoy ran the cloth over his forehead and down his cheeks.
"How did you spend the day, Leonard?"
"Mostly dealing with skin rashes and lice. The town's kids are full of nits, so keep clear of them." McCoy refreshed the cloth, then began washing Spock's chest.
The movements lulled the Vulcan until he was nearly asleep, but he startled at a sudden feeling of heat around his genitals.
"Relax," McCoy said, his blue eyes dancing as he took Spock's cock back in his mouth.
Spock obeyed, falling asleep a few minutes later under the warm eddy of a gentle orgasm.
Spock woke the next morning with McCoy curled up beside him. He touched the doctor. "Leonard, it is morning."
"Not yet," McCoy protested.
"I didn't hear you come to bed," Spock admitted.
"You were out for the count," McCoy said. "And before you ask what that means, it's just an expression."
"Did anyone stand guard?"
"Uhura and I took turns. We washed yours and Jim's clothing too. Everything's hanging on the door hooks. I hope they're dry."
"I prefer clean to dry," Spock said. He touched McCoy again.
"Don't," McCoy said. "You'll just put me in the mood and, with my luck, Jim'll be barging in here any moment."
"Then we will be quick," Spock said. He rolled on his back, his movement pulling the doctor on top of him.
"The frame may not take the movement," McCoy said, the edges of his mouth curling up as Spock stroked him.
"Perhaps not," the Vulcan agreed. "Hurry, Leonard," he urged, his breath tickling the skin at McCoy's throat.
"Oh lord," McCoy cried softly, for he was entering Spock now, moving in a delicious friction, the Vulcan heat addictive and overpowering.
"Oh . . . sweet lord . . . "
" . . . OH!"
The second day was worse for Kirk and Spock. They'd worked their hands into blisters on the previous day; this day's work tore them open. They laid down their scythes that night with red and green stained handles.
McCoy threw a fit when he saw them. "Enough's enough!" he muttered as he used a barely-working skin regenerator on them. "Why don't we just take the damn horses and go ourselves? We've done more than enough to earn them."
"We wouldn't have a guide then," Kirk said, trying to stifle a yawn.
"These people are sure getting their money's worth."
"Tomorrow should be the last day. There are only three fields left."
McCoy handed them rolls of bandage. "Wrap this around your hands. It should keep the handles from rubbing."
Kirk fumbled with the bandage. Uhura finally took it and wrapped his hands for him. "It's bothering me," he said to her.
"What is, Captain? This place?" she asked.
"No, Seth. He must have seen that Spock's blood was a different colour, but he didn't say anything."
"Odd," McCoy said. He turned to ask Spock about it, but the Vulcan was asleep in a chair. To Uhura, he added, "We'd better keep our eye on the Vicar."
The women of the village, Uhura, and McCoy helped in the fields and barns the next day. When the last of the harvest had been brought in, everyone in the town gathered at the inn, children included. McCoy could barely push his way through the crowd as he searched for Kirk and Spock.
A hand on his backside alerted him to the innkeeper's wife. The press of bodies was too close for him to move away, so he took her straying hands in his and he turned. "Do you know where my friends are?" he asked, trying to yell over the racket.
"No, love," Sylvia said, trying to put his hand down her bosom.
McCoy jerked away. "Won't your husband get mad?"
"What's he got to say about it, especially as he's chasing the Squire's mistress?"
"He won't keep that up if he knows what's good for him," McCoy muttered, thinking of what he'd seen Uhura do with a good kick. He pressed through the mob again and eventually got to the stairs.
Couples were on the stairwell, giggling and groping, oblivious as he passed by. He stepped over a couple already engaged on the landing, and another just outside the room he shared with Spock.
Inside the room, Spock was sleeping on the mattress, and Uhura was sitting on a chair facing the door. She shot a glance at him, then relaxed. "Good, it's just you, Leonard."
"I don't know," she said. "I've had everybody under the sun trying to get in here tonight. I imagine our captain's in the thick of it."
McCoy glanced uneasily out the door before he shut it. "Everybody does seem a little, uh, loose-limbed. Perhaps we'd better stay together tonight."
"I'll share watch with you," she said. "Do you want to go first or second?"
"It doesn't matter." McCoy took the other chair and pulled it beside the bed. Uhura watched him, her mouth crinkling into a smile. "What is it?" he asked.
"Will you be comfortable trying to sleep upright?"
"Uh huh." She smiled again. "Leonard, I know about you and Spock. It's obvious to anybody watching the two of you sneaking off together every two minutes. If you want to lie down beside him, it won't bother me, and it'll be more comfortable for you."
McCoy shook his head quickly. "I'm comfortable here."
"You don't have to be prudish in front of me."
"I'm not prudish," he said.
"Besides," Uhura said, "as we're all staying in one room tonight, that's the bed I'll be using too. Bedbugs, Vulcan, and all."
Which was the sight Kirk got a few hours later when he finally returned to the rooms. McCoy was standing guard by the door, and Spock was asleep in the bed, Uhura curled up with him.
Kirk stared at the layout before whispering, "Bones, am I missing something?"
"If you've been in that party all night, I don't think you've missed much of anything," McCoy retorted.
"I was just securing our transportation for tomorrow," Kirk replied. The answer would have been more impressive had he not returned with his pants buttoned up incorrectly. "I had the feeling you and Spock were hooking up."
"We've decided to share with Uhura."
Uncertainly, Kirk said, "Well, uh, whatever the three of you want to do in your off-time is, of course, up to you." He looked between the bed and McCoy once more. "Do you mean, share at the same time? Bones, I thought you were..."
"Were what?" McCoy asked.
"Prudish," Kirk said.
"I am not prudish."
"All right," Kirk shrugged. "If you want to get some sleep too, I'll take over."
Suspiciously, McCoy asked, "If you and Spock were both working the fields all day today, why is he so exhausted and you're not?"
"I just . . . woke up," Kirk said. At McCoy's look, Kirk double-checked Spock and Uhura before lowering his voice again. "I was with a young lady and fell asleep in the middle."
"In the middle of what?"
"In the middle of it," Kirk said. "That's never happened to me before."
McCoy abruptly looked away. Kirk peered at him. "Are you laughing, Bones?"
"No," the doctor mumbled.
"Because it's not funny."
"It's a tragedy." McCoy sounded even more muffled.
Kirk grabbed the other chair. "Go to sleep, McCoy. We leave first thing in the morning."
The blacksmith, good to his word, supplied draft horses so huge that McCoy would have needed a ladder if he'd wanted to ride either of them. Seth's cart was big enough for them and several sacks of grain.
"I'll be doing some trading," he said when they noticed the sacks.
"As long as you take us to the castle, I don't care what else you do," Kirk told him. He got up beside Seth on the seat. Spock, McCoy, and Uhura settled in the back, and they were off.
Children followed the cart for a while, some tossing stones playfully at the wheels until Seth yelled at them. They passed a few isolated houses and some fallow fields, then they were at the forest. The road dwindled down until it was no more than a grassy track and the trees overhead closed off the sun.
"We'd best stay alert," Seth said. "Chances are no one will bother so many of us, but you never can tell."
The utter quiet of the deep forest was unnerving, even to Kirk. He peered through the trees, trying to catch any sign of motion. He hadn't realized he'd been holding his breath until he heard Uhura say, "I feel as if we're waiting for the Headless Horseman."
It broke the tense mood somewhat, enough for Seth to ask, "Who is the Headless Horseman?"
"It's a fairy tale," Uhura said. "It was about a man who had been decapitated in a forest, and he haunted it afterwards, trying to steal a head from the living."
"Was it a true story?" Seth asked.
"No, it was just a ghost tale," she said.
He glanced back at her. "I did not believe in ghost tales, until I came here."
"What made you change your mind?" McCoy asked.
It took Seth a few moments to reply. Reluctantly, he said, "I have seen objects float across a room and disappear. I have seen people who had never been seen before and who were never seen again."
"In the forest?" Spock asked curiously.
"Sometimes, but mostly in town. These things happen when the Squire is here, and they stop when he leaves. There is no other explanation than he brings spirits with him."
"I do not believe your town is troubled by spirits," Spock said. "This Squire has a power source unfamiliar to you and your people."
"Power source? Do you mean he controls the elements?"
"Perhaps some of them," Spock said, "as you control the pendulum that runs the church bell. To those unacquainted with the mechanism, it could seem like magic."
Seth silenced thoughtfully and the conversation ceased until McCoy suggested stopping for lunch.
"Aye, we'll give the horses a drink," Seth nodded. He turned the horses off the trail. As the animals brushed by a bush, a shriek cut through the air.
Everyone leaped up, which nearly caused the cart to overturn. Kirk jumped to the ground, and jumped back just as quickly as a flock of quail rushed him.
"It's a devil!" cried a woman's voice. Kirk turned and saw Sylvia half out of a sack, flailing as she tried to get free of the binding.
Seth stared at her. "Woman, it was just the mother bird. The horses disturbed her nest. Where did you come from?"
Sylvia looked around her and found the quail, now sitting in a small clearing on the other side of the track. Then she turned back and said defiantly, "If you think I was going to stay in that forsaken town after finally finding a decent man, you have another think coming."
Spock helped Sylvia free of the sack. Shooting a fast look at McCoy, he asked, "Which man is that, madam?"
She tried to pat burlap fuzz out of her hair as she replied, "It's no secret that the physick is a good man." To McCoy she added, "You were all-fired determined to get to that castle. I didn't know that you would ever come back."
Kirk gave the doctor a frustrated look.
"I didn't--" McCoy stopped. To Sylvia, awkwardly, he said, "I don't wish to break this to you now, but--"
"McCoy," Kirk cut in, shaking his head. "We've gone too far to turn back so let's keep everything . . . as pleasant as possible." Coming up to the doctor, he continued in a whisper, "Don't dump her while we're stuck with her."
"What I was going to say," McCoy said to Sylvia, "is that I'm really not a decent guy. I mean, I hang around with the, uh . . ." he gestured at Spock.
"Devil whelp," Seth supplied.
McCoy ignored the ensuring raised brow. "Exactly. I'm friends with the dark minion here."
Sylvia sniffed at the Vulcan. "He's no more a dark minion than my mother-in-law."
"No, he's terrible," McCoy persisted. "Runs amuck everywhere. He makes me get on a platform, and then he scrambles my cells into space dust. He is bad news."
"The description is apt, to a point," Spock said.
"Space dust!" Sylvia said. "You may as well tell me you turn him into a sunbeam, for don't I see him standing here before me, as whole and well as any man?"
At that moment, she, Seth, McCoy, and Uhura disappeared.
Kirk ran forward into the now empty space where McCoy, Uhura, Seth, and Sylvia had been. Then he whirled around, as if he thought they might have been behind the horses or in the forest. Finally, he turned to Spock. "Well?"
"An unfamiliar and potent transporter," Spock said, his voice even, though he was startled. He had been standing within an inch of the doctor and hadn't felt any effect. Bending down, he picked up McCoy's scanner and tricorder.
Kirk found Uhura's communicator and phaser. "Also a very selective transporter." He glanced over. Spock was holding the doctor's equipment almost reverently, as though it would break in his hand.
The Vulcan took a moment. "I suggest we continue on the path, Captain."
"Are you all right?"
"Déjà vu, sir." Spock fastened McCoy's instruments to his belt. "I am experiencing . . . familiarity. We have been in a similar situation before."
"I need more time for analysis," Spock said, "but I trace it to the way our people are being transported."
Kirk brought the horses back to the path, then got up on the seat. "I'll drive. You think."
McCoy faced a huge mirror. He blinked, steadied himself with a hand on the glass, and looked around.
Uhura was beside him. "What happened?"
"I have no idea." He tried to take in his surroundings. "Where in utter hell are we?"
The room they were in stretched off into infinity. McCoy finally realized they were within a vast room of mirrors, reflecting back and over themselves and displaying images beyond count. He took a step and a hundred McCoys stepped with him.
"Hold onto me, so I don't lose you," he said to Uhura.
They joined hands. "Mirrors and a Squire," she whispered.
He nodded. "I'm with you." He looked up and shouted.
"Trelane," Spock said. "That transportation device is the entity Trelane's."
The Vulcan would be certain, Kirk knew. Spock disliked guessing.
"Damn," Kirk said. "Not again. He must have given up on his telescopes and decided to make the trip to Earth."
"Captain." Spock's voice held a warning. "Unless this is an illusion, he is capable of more than we originally encountered. He is capable of time travel."
Kirk swore again, worse than Spock had ever heard from him before, and urged the horses faster.
"Don't yell, Doctor," came a high-pitched, teasing voice. "I'm in here with you. Guess where?"
"I'd rather not, Trelane," McCoy said.
"Then you give? I win? It's ally-ally-in-free?"
"Yeah, yeah, you win."
"Oh goody!" Trelane stepped before them, rather a hundred of him did. "Call me Squire."
"You'll be lucky if that's all I call you," McCoy told him.
"You're lucky I find you interesting, or you'd be dead," Trelane said good-humouredly. He smiled at Uhura. "And the beautiful princess returns. I, your intended prince, have been waiting in the castle for you these many long, lonely nights."
"Your parents wouldn't happen to be around?" she asked loudly.
Trelane laughed, but there was a bit of menace in it. "I'm all grown up now." He waved a hand and the mirrors swiveled away. Tapestries of family crests and hunting scenes replaced the myriad of images until only one McCoy, Uhura, and Trelane stood in the huge room.
"Will the fair lady consent to a dance?" he asked.
A hidden harpsichord began playing. Uhura exchanged a look with McCoy before, unwillingly, giving Trelane her hand.
He began a mad, whirling step that made her feel as if she was being whipped around the room. She lost sight of McCoy several times, and her ears began to pound.
"Squire!" she yelled.
"Forgive me, my dear." He abruptly halted, but momentum carried her towards a wall, and she was able to stop only an inch away from crashing into a set of statues.
When she got a better look at them, she demanded, "What have you done?"
"They're nothing Michelangelo would admit to," Trelane said, "but they add a certain ambiance, don't you think?"
Seth and Sylvia had been transfixed as sculptures under a hanging of their town. Uhura could see the inn, the road, and even children and chickens.
She moved forward. "Leonard, look."
The images in the tapestry were moving.
"You've been watching us," McCoy said. Each picture showed a different place; there were towns, seaports, cities, farms, people working, walking, talking over fences and in homes, some boys fished at a stream, a man drove oxen, women baked bread, and, in one dim forest, Kirk and Spock were in a cart pulled by two horses.
"Your captain is determined," Trelane sighed. "Because of him, I've learned not to put too much faith in mirrors. He's frightful with glass." He gathered Uhura in his arms again and danced her slowly around the room. "Is he always angry? Why do you put up with him?"
"He's the captain," she said.
"He's boring, and that Vulcan of his is too prissy." Trelane grinned at McCoy. "Rather, I should say that Vulcan of yours. Some interesting sights there."
"Voyeur," McCoy muttered.
"What else is there to do?" Trelane said. "I am the Lady of Shallot, condemned to restless eternity in an empty castle, looking out at shadows." He tried to look pitiful, but laughter overtook him.
"You're not stuck here," McCoy said. "You've been terrorizing at least one town we know about."
"Oh psah," Trelane said. "It's not as though anyone has died, though, if I wanted to . . ." He paused in his dancing to give McCoy a significant look. "You should look upon me as your benefactor."
"Benefactor? For kidnapping us? For dropping us unprotected in a village full of drunks and cow shit? You think we should be grateful for that?" McCoy retorted.
"You should be grateful to be alive," Trelane said. He stilled, though he didn't let go of Uhura. "Your transporter is a terrible machine. It did something it wasn't supposed to. If it wasn't for me, you would all be bits of atoms lost in a vacuum. Frankly, dead. They held a memorial for you, rather, I should say, they will be holding one in a few hundred years." His attention was caught by something on the wall. "That captain of yours, he frustrates me to distraction!"
McCoy turned. In the tapestry, Kirk and Spock were clearing the forest. The castle was visible now, ahead of them. McCoy had an urge to find a window, to see if he would be visible in the picture on the hanging.
"How did the transporter malfunction?" Uhura asked.
McCoy turned. She had wiggled out of Trelane's hold and was in front of him, though just out of arm's reach. "What happened?" she asked again.
"It did some fiddly thing," Trelane said dismissively. "The important thing, princess, is that you are here with me, safe and sound."
"You must know," she said. "Was it a circuit? A power surge? Or did we lose power?"
"Always an officer," he said. "Never a woman?" He waved his hand and her dress was replaced with a costume of deep blue silk. "How about this? Or would you prefer another colour?" He gestured again, and the blue was replaced with royal purple. "That's better," he said. "And no woman of royalty is complete without her jewels." Immediately, a necklace of diamonds was around her throat and a tiara on her head.
Uhura pulled off the tiara, regarded it with a sigh, and put it on the statue of Sylvia. "What was Commander Scott's opinion? What did he say about the transporter?"
Trelane shrugged. "Who cares? That Scott gentleman doesn't. Now he's in charge."
McCoy tried a different tact. "Why didn't you bring us here to the castle, to begin with?"
"No one can suck the life out of a party faster than your captain and first officer," Trelane said.
McCoy couldn't disagree, though he kept the thought to himself. "But why there?" He pointed to the hanging of the town they'd left.
"It gave you a chance to settle in. Your species has a thousand annoying questions. I thought, let the vicar here have the most of them."
"Would you let them go now?" Uhura asked, indicating the statues.
Trelane looked reluctant, so she added, "Please?"
"Oh all right." He wagged a finger at them.
Seth jumped, then stared around him in astonishment. Sylvia looked at McCoy, the pictures on the wall, and McCoy again. Suddenly, she noticed Trelane, sucked in her breath in fright, and began screaming.
McCoy tried to calm her, but she broke free and kept yelling with such ferocity that it seemed as if the walls began to shake under it.
"Enough!" Trelane snapped his fingers. Sylvia blinked out of existence. In her place, a small bird fluttered in a panicked swoop up to a chandelier on the ceiling.
"Sylvia undata," Uhura said.
"What?" McCoy asked.
"It's that bird of Mr. Spock's," Uhura said. "Squire, turn her back."
Trelane shook his head vehemently. "She's better off. She'll find a window eventually and be free."
"You really are the Squire's mistress," Seth said softly, caught by the sight of Uhura's clothes. "I didn't believe you."
"I am not," Uhura said.
"What is this about a mistress?" Trelane asked, perking up.
"It's nothing," McCoy started, but Trelane had taken Uhura's hands in his again.
"My dearest princess, did you, indeed, tell the vicar we were lovers?"
"She never said that," McCoy said, pulling Uhura away.
"The one called Kirk--" Seth started.
"Oh!" Trelane interrupted. "Is the otherwise dismally-inclined captain willing to give you to me, my lady? I would have dueled him for you, but if he's willing to cede the fair prize without a fight--"
"I am not his to give away," Uhura said.
"I will woo you properly," Trelane said. Immediately, the room filled with flowers. "I will bring you presents on bended knee and whisper secret words of love to you in the garden."
Uhura muttered something McCoy didn't hear.
"And, tonight, when the moon is full, I will lead you to the tower, to our bed, strewn with petals and pillows of the softest down, to take you--"
"Enough!" Uhura told him.
"Trelane, this is not a game, and we are not your willing prisoners," McCoy said. "You're going to be disappointed if you think we appreciate your interference."
"You would rather be dead?" Trelane challenged.
McCoy nodded. "If I was meant to die in a transporter accident, then, yes, I would rather be so."
"How tiresome," Trelane said. He clapped his hands and everything disappeared from McCoy's eyes.
Not one of them was wearing a stitch of clothing, but at least they were together again.
McCoy broke the silence first. "This popping in and out of places is a pain in the posterior, and I can point out the exact location."
He, Kirk, Spock, Uhura, and Seth stood in what could have been a cave or a dungeon. The rough, rock walls of the small room were dimly lit, though, from where, McCoy couldn't guess. He was keeping his eyes firmly at everyone's face level.
Out of the side of his vision, he saw Seth turn his back to Uhura and step in front of her, giving her what little bit of cover he could. McCoy wished he'd thought of doing that first.
Instead, he said, "Jim, it's Trelane."
Don't look at me, he thought, but the captain turned. McCoy resisted covering his genitals with his hands, but he felt his face flush nevertheless.
"Spock figured it out," Kirk said. "What does he want?"
"I'm not sure. Our company, I guess," McCoy said.
"He claims we would have died in a transporter accident," Uhura said.
"Mr. Tallyho is the biggest liar this side of Orion's Belt," Kirk muttered.
"We can't know one way or the other without going back," McCoy pointed out.
"I think he's lonely and bored," Uhura said. She couldn't see anything except for Seth's back. She tapped it and whispered just loud enough for him to hear, "Thank you."
He shrugged in reply. Without thinking, she followed the ripple of movement down his back, her gaze lingering at the buttocks. Years of heavy farm work had created impressive scars and muscles, and she felt an unexpected urge to touch them.
"Is he a devil?" Seth asked, breaking Uhura's concentration. Guiltily, she drew her eyes upward.
"He's a magician," Spock said. "Nothing more, though his power source is considerable." As a warning, he added, "And he is most likely listening to us."
"Trelane, what game is this?" Kirk called.
No answer came.
"Where are we?" Seth asked.
"In the basement of the castle, I guess," McCoy said.
"What do we do?" Seth asked again.
As he spoke, the light increased slightly. Two doors appeared before the group. Over one was the word, 'Immortality'; over the other was the word, 'Death'.
Unmoved, Spock commented, "He is not subtle."
"We're not playing, Trelane," Kirk said. To the group, he said, "Nobody move."
An hour later, Seth asked, "Is your plan working, Captain?"
Kirk glared at him, though he hadn't detected any sarcasm in the question. "What door do you prefer, Mr. Donahoe?"
"Perhaps, if we did play his game, we would have another option," Seth suggested.
McCoy had been thinking the same thing, though he'd been too embarrassed to voice it. They'd had better leverage upstairs.
Uhura had been pondering a similar thought, in-between her now not-so-innocent looks at Seth's backside. "Captain, with your permission, I would like to negotiate with the Squire."
"The Squire's Mistress would have more influence, wouldn't she?" Seth asked.
Hoist by his own lie, Kirk felt an odd urge to laugh. "I suppose. All right, Lieutenant."
Putting her hands on Seth's shoulders in order to steady herself, Uhura raised up on her toes and called, "Trelane, I'm ready to be wooed!"
Uhura and Seth were abruptly back in the room of tapestries and mirrors. In front of them, wearing a robe with a coat of arms, was Trelane. Beside them was a canopied-bed.
"My bride," Trelane said. "First I will duel for your honour, then we will have a night of passion."
"You're going to duel with Mr. Donahoe?"
"He desires you," Trelane said. "Shall I fight a man who doesn't want you?"
Logical, Uhura thought. However . . .
"Trelane, you might be surprised at what can be accomplished without a duel."
Curious, Trelane nodded, "What do you have in mind, my dear?"
McCoy wasn't sure how much time had passed. It felt like a lot. He was sitting on one side of the cave, Kirk on the other. Spock was still standing.
"I hope she's all right," the doctor said, breaking the silence.
Kirk was worried too, though he'd kept it to himself. He disliked having his people in danger, and he had allowed her to go to Trelane. "We'll give it a little longer," he said, "and then, well, I'm about ready to pick one of those damn doors."
More time passed. Finally, Spock said, "Which door, Captain?"
Kirk got up, decided it would be undignified of a Starship Captain to wipe gravel out of his butt, and pointed at the door of Immortality. "That one."
He strode through. McCoy got up hurriedly, but as he and Spock neared the door, it disappeared.
"Jim!" McCoy shouted. "Where are you?"
He wasn't answered, and the only door left now was Death.
"Lovely," McCoy said.
Spock took McCoy's hand. "We should stay in physical contact, in case the doorway permits only a single passage," he said.
"Yes, it would take a logical reason for you to hold my hand," McCoy said.
"Never mind, let's just go."
At the doorway, they hesitated. The word Death seemed to glow more brightly than ever.
Spock glanced at McCoy. "Are you ready?"
"You haven't figured out that I'd follow you anywhere?" McCoy replied with a cocky smile.
"We have not yet discussed the parameters of our relationship," Spock said seriously. "If this door is labeled correctly, we may not have a chance to do so."
"Trelane likes games," McCoy said. "Having us die because we stepped over a jamb would be too uninspiring for him."
Spock considered it, and nodded. They stepped through the door together.
Kirk had uncovered the moving tapestries and the mirrors behind them. He'd also had to shoo away a bird so many times that he was ready to wring its neck. But he hadn't been able to find the source of strange noises he was hearing, or a way out of the room. And the mirrors, he'd discovered, were outright unbreakable.
The sound of another groan made him pound a wall in irritation. What the hell was that? Someone in pain? Or someone having . . . ?
He was ignored, or not heard over the groaning.
Giving up, he laid down on the floor and stared up at the bird. "How'd you get in here?" he asked. In reply, it flipped a wing at him.
"So much for that," McCoy said. He and Spock had tried to get through the door a dozen times, but an invisible barrier prevented each attempt.
McCoy found a place relatively pebble-free and sat down.
"Trelane does not wish us to leave yet," Spock said, stating the overtly-obviously.
"Or he doesn't wish us to die yet," McCoy said.
The Vulcan regarded the doctor before sitting down beside him.
"I suppose if we wanted to talk about what is going on between us, now is as good a time as any," McCoy said.
"We have the opportunity," Spock agreed.
McCoy nodded. "All right. Is it just sex?"
"It has been so far."
"Ask a literal question," McCoy sighed.
Not realizing the comment had been rhetorical, Spock said, "What do you see in me?"
McCoy eyed him. "What do you mean?"
"Why me, Leonard?"
The doctor shrugged. "I don't know. Because I like Vulcans?"
"You're serious," McCoy said, surprised. "How can you even ask that?"
"I ask because I do not know," Spock said seriously. "We first engaged in sexual activity because we dared each other to do so."
McCoy grinned. "That was quite the night. Me calling you frigid. You challenging me to demonstrate what my idea of living by nerve endings was. We went at each other almost angrily."
"I was pissed off," McCoy admitted. "You were gentle. It took me aback." He moved against the Vulcan's warmth. "So, what do I see in you? It started with that."
Spock put his fingers over McCoy's. "Intriguing."
Kirk jumped awake at the sound of a particularly high-pitched moan. Reaching for a phaser that wasn't there, he scouted around him before remembering he was still in the tapestry-room.
"Damn!" He stood, shooed away the bird again, and yelled, "TRELANE!"
The moans were getting more frequent, punctuated by what sounded like the crack of a whip. It may have been just his half-awake perception, but was the floor thumping in a rather rhythmic manner?
Trelane, Squire, sometimes General, immortal, and now no longer virginal, had no objection to letting his new Mistress do whatever she pleased once she had finished with him. Seth, after watching the performance between Uhura and Trelane, was torn between lust and downright fear of her. With an ease terrifying and nonchalant, Uhura had reduced the otherwise all-powerful Squire to a limp puddle of a man on the bed.
Uhura eyed Seth impishly. She'd actually wanted him, but an officer had to do what an officer had to do.
Tossing Trelane's cat-of-nine tails to the floor, she patted a spot on the quilt beside her. "Would you like to sit down?"
"Woman, you are a witch."
"Nah," she said, amused.
Leery, Seth sat. "You have sapped him of his strength."
"Do you want to learn how?"
Trelane opened one eye. "My dear, what have you in mind?"
"You watched Mr. Spock and Leonard in your tapestry. It excited you, didn't it?" Uhura asked.
Both of Trelane's eyes opened. Seth's got wider. To the latter, she said, "I can teach you how to deal with him. You just witnessed lesson one."
"Lesson one?" Trelane sat up eagerly. "You mean, there's more?"
"Of course, Squire," Uhura said casually. "Not too many men are willing to do what the Vulcan and the doctor do. It takes initiative, fearlessness. And some shackles." She ran a fingernail slowly over Trelane's scrotum. "Do you have any?"
Kirk opened his eyes. Uhura was kneeling beside him.
"Lieutenant!" He began to rise, but felt a curious sensation at this groin. "What the--"
"It's Sylvia," she said.
"It's that damn bird!" Kirk tried to move the bird away, though very tentatively. While he was asleep, the bird had decided to use his penis as a perch. At his action, the claws tightened.
"OW! Damnit it all to--"
"Just a moment," Uhura said. She coaxed Sylvia gently onto her finger. "Where are Leonard and Mr. Spock?"
"I don't know. I went through a door, but they didn't follow me," Kirk said. "Where have you been?"
"Trelane and I have been talking."
"Talking?" Kirk asked suspiciously.
"Mostly. He's willing to return us to our time."
"Just like that?"
"There's a hook," Uhura said. "He says he'll let us go if you'll, um . . ." She bent and whispered something in Kirk's ear. To her surprise, he went red.
"He wants to do what to me?"
"He and Seth, actually. They need a third, sir."
Kirk's mouth opened and shut several times without his being able to form a word.
"Do you want me to ask Mr. Spock instead?" Uhura asked softly. "He probably would, as the welfare of the group is more important than the welfare of one. But you know how meticulous he is, captain. Everything he's aware of goes into his log. You and I, however, are more circumspect."
Kirk eyed her. "I believe you are blackmailing me, Lieutenant."
"Sir?" She looked so innocent that Kirk was forced to drop his gaze.
"The other part of this is, I'm not sure there was a transporter accident. Trelane couldn't tell me much about it," Uhura said. "But, Captain, there may have been, and if we're returned . . ."
"We could stay here," she said.
Kirk sighed and shook his head. It wasn't even an option. "We don't belong here."
He stood and Uhura rose with him. "See if you can find a way out of here, and find Spock and Bones. I'll . . ." He paused. "I'll join you soon."
"Trelane!" Kirk called out. Immediately, he was popped away.
Uhura didn't bother trying to find a way out of the room. She knew they wouldn't leave until Trelane allowed them to, and she wouldn't give him the satisfaction of watching her look in vain.
She'd been wary of sending Kirk to the Squire. Kirk's abilities with women were well-known, but whether or not he'd be as effective with a man was pretty much a gamble. Trelane had been enticed by certain of Uhura's promises concerning male endowments, especially after he'd tuned into McCoy and Spock in the dungeon and seen a few 'endowments' being currently performed in the gravel. Kirk had the required apparatus, but the push-and-pull tension between Spock and McCoy would be beyond his ken.
She wandered around, looking at the moving pictures in the hangings. Occasionally, she looked out a window, but it was night now, and outside was only darkness and darker shadows.
At last, she sat down on the floor with her back against a wall. The bird settled on her knee, still warbling. Uhura closed her eyes and hummed softly with it until she heard a familiar popping noise.
But when she opened her eyes, she and Kirk were in the transporter room of the Enterprise.
Her query was echoed suddenly by Scotty.
Uhura glanced down. She was in her red uniform, the bird was gone, and the transporter was the same as she remembered. She looked beside her and understood why Scotty was shocked.
Kirk was dressed in a peculiar, blue and white satin uniform of some kind. A tremendously-large hat sat on his head.
"Sir?" the Scotsman asked.
"How long have we been gone?"
"You've been downside on Sigma UC238 for fifty-five minutes, sir, give or take a second for the Vulcan laddie," Scott replied. "Begging your pardon, captain, but I thought the planet was uninhabited."
Kirk glanced at his clothing. "We've been somewhere else." To Uhura, he said, "I chose to be . . . Napoleon."
"I thought you would," she replied.
"Where's Spock and Bones?" Kirk demanded.
"Only you and the Lieutenant asked to beam up." Scotty checked his instrument panel and a worried frown crossed his features. "I don't have communicator signals for them."
"Full scan," Kirk said.
Scotty ran a sweep through the panel. "Nothing."
Kirk slammed the intercom. "Bridge, full sensor probe. We've lost communicator signals for Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy."
Sulu answered him. While he waited, Kirk muttered, "Damn Trelane."
"Leonard," Spock said warningly. McCoy turned and was beyond being surprised at the sight of Trelane behind him.
"What is it now, Squire?" McCoy asked. "Have you come to ask how we like the suite?"
Trelane smiled and said haughtily. "I have come to offer you life."
"I have seen what you and the Vulcan do when you are alone together. It is unusual."
"Not really," McCoy retorted. "You've just been looking up the wrong telescope."
"Hear me," Trelane said. "I can return you to your time, if you wish."
McCoy and Spock exchanged a look, and the latter said, "We wish it."
"Your transporter mechanism was faulty. If you return, you will die. I offer you life."
"Here?" McCoy gestured around the dank dungeon.
"No," Trelane replied. Abruptly, they were in a luxurious room of bookshelves and velvet couches. A decanter of wine was before them, and a fire burned in the hearth. "This is just the beginning of what you can have, if you will stay."
"None of it's real," McCoy said.
"Does that fire not blaze?" Trelane asked. He held out a wine glass. "Drink. You will find it as vibrant as any bouquet you have enjoyed before. I came to your Earth to learn the substance. I have been without my telescopes for a long time. This is all very real, Doctor."
"There is a catch, of course," Spock pointed out.
"Yes, the prissy one always comes back to the point, doesn't he?" Trelane asked, but he was amused. "I can give you whatever you want, whenever you want, for the rest of your lives."
"If only?" McCoy persisted.
Trelane became serious. "If you will touch me, Doctor, the way you touch him."
"It's not possible," McCoy said.
"You haven't tried."
"I don't need to try, Trelane. There's a big difference between you and him."
"Yes, I am superior."
"No," McCoy said quietly. "I'm afraid you're not."
Anger flashed out of Trelane's eyes so quickly that McCoy took a step away.
"So be it," Trelane told him. "Die."
And they were back in the dungeon in front of the door marked Death. The letters glowed vividly, and McCoy suspected that, this time, there would be no barrier against them.
"I suppose," he said to Spock, "we could consider the offer."
His reply was a raised eyebrow. Despite the circumstances, McCoy couldn't help grinning. "Anyone would consider us real idiots, Spock. We could live a life of luxury."
"As long as we don't mind a devil in our bed," Spock said.
"The only pointy eared thing I want in my bed is, well, I'll let you guess."
Spock took his hand. "Shall we wait, Leonard, or make the choice now?"
McCoy glanced at the door and shrugged. "I'm tired of waiting." He took a step towards the door, but the Vulcan hung back. "Spock?"
"I only wish to say, Leonard, that I would follow you anywhere."
They stepped through.
"Och! Where in the name of my grandmother's shorts did you come from?"
McCoy blinked at Scotty's voice. Then he looked around and saw the transporter room, the black and gray bulkheads, the intercom panels on the walls, and the lights that flittered just enough to give him a migraine. He was dressed in his blue and black uniform, Spock was beside him, similarly dressed, and, out of the corner of his eye, he could see Uhura and Kirk rushing forward.
"Are we really here?" he whispered.
Spock didn't answer. He seemed as impassive as ever, but, inside, he was shaken. They were still holding hands and McCoy could feel it through the contact.
"Trelane let you go?" Kirk asked.
McCoy looked at him, then really looked. "In a manner of speaking, Jim. What on earth--?
"Not now," Kirk said, then barked behind him, "Someone get me a uniform. Now!"
"What did he offer you?" Uhura asked.
"Anything we wanted," Spock said, but stopped without elaborating.
Uhura knew that Spock and McCoy might have stayed for years with Trelane and been returned forward to this moment, but the sight of them holding hands made her reluctant to disturb their privacy by asking. Privacy was something they'd all had precious little of lately. Besides, she was cheering for them, so let them hold hands and keep whatever secrets they wanted.
"I think Seth was going to stay with him, or, rather, did stay with him," Uhura said.
Kirk made a noise which sounded roughly like, "Idiot." He took off his hat and said, "This is going to be a helluva log entry." He glanced at Uhura. "Or not."
"I vote for not," she said.
"Amen," McCoy added. "And, Jim, it would be just dandy with me if you never explained the Napoleon outfit. Hint."
As he and Spock were leaving the transporter room, he heard Kirk say, "How'd he know it was Napoleon?"
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