TWO WORLDS IN WHICH WE DWELL

 

Chapter Six

 

The man’s face was tanned so dark from the sun it might have belonged to one of her own race, but for the blue eyes it held and the way they looked at her with both lascivious interest and ignorant disgust.  The slaver’s hair was the color of wheat matured too long in the sun; the hands that held the iron chain, gnarled from years of work and, no doubt, of wielding the whip that dangled from his bony hip.  Lieutenant Nyota Uhura of the Starship Enterprise felt her breath catch as an unexpected wave of pure hatred for this human being and his fellows swept over her.  She reminded herself to be rational.  She was prejudging, just as she believed them to be prejudiced. 

That wasn’t what the future had taught her, now was it?

But then there was the indisputable testimony of the mute black men and women who were bound by that chain.  Mean and massive, the iron links ran through a series of thick metal rings connected to the heavy collars that encircled their necks.  The enslaved creatures looked at her; their expressions varied.  Some of the battered and bruised faces held pity, others resignation; while still others had grown too weary to care who or what she was.  One near the end, a young woman who appeared to be nineteen at most, met the star traveler’s gaze with her head held high and a fire in her rich brown eyes.  Uhura did not flinch, but returned the look.  She wished she could have assured the lovely young woman that somehow – no matter what these men did – she would see them free.  But she couldn’t, and for more than one reason. 

She was alone and unarmed, and she did not know if freeing them would alter the future from which she had come.

“What have we here?” one of the slavers drawled.  His words were slurred, as if he had been imbibing, and followed by a low whistle.  “Ain’t she a sight?”  This one wasn’t the man with the chain, but the slaver that was closest to her.  He was older; his gnarled face grizzled and scarred from one too many fights.  Meeting her steady gaze, he flashed a toothless grin that held more malice than merriment.  “She kin to you, Venus?” he asked as he turned and looked directly at the young woman Uhura had noticed.

Venus snarled and shouted something at him, the meaning of which it was hard to miss.  Her tirade was cut short when another of the men backhanded the young woman into silence.  Uhura drew a breath and held it, startled.

The woman had answered in a dialect of Swahili.

The older slaver laughed as he wiped spittle from his hand onto the leg of his worn brown breeches.  “Back in Africa that one was a princess, or so she says.”  He turned his attention to Uhura.  “She don’t hold a candle to you.”  His vacant grin widened with lascivious glee.  “Looks like we got ourselves a queen, boys.”

“Bet she’ll fetch a pretty penny,” one of the younger slavers said.  “She’s quite a looker, Sol.  Educated too.”

“Seems so,” Sol agreed as he walked toward her.  “Though it seems her master don’t know nothing about slaves.  Teachin’ ‘em to read and write is ag’in the law.  Where’s your master, regina?  We done need to teach him how to keep his niggers in place, or else other folks will be gettin’ ideas.”

 “Ain’t nothin’ worse than an uppity nigger,” the younger man agreed with a sad shake of his head.

Uhura felt her jaw tighten.  She would beg to differ.

As Sol drew near, the Enterprise’s communications officer took a step back.  “Stay where you are,” Uhura commanded as her fingers dropped reflexively to brush the pouch where she kept her phaser, hidden now beneath her linen gown.  Almost as quickly as they did, she jerked them away.  What an idiot!  She couldn’t use the high-tech weapon in this time, or let these men know that she carried one of such destructive capabilities.

“Or what?  What’cha gonna do, Queenie?”  As the toothless man moved toward her, two of his cronies flanked him.  One held a set of irons; the other, something that looked to be a thick net with weights worked into its ends.  “You think a pretty little thing like you is gonna stop us?  You think you can outrun us?  Or fight us?”  Sol snorted and spit, and then growled with menace, “Think again.”

  Uhura wished now that she didn’t have the cloaklike dress on.  Its abundant fabric hampered her legs and might prevent her from landing a well-placed kick on the slaver’s scruffy chin.  It could even cause her to fall if she tried to flee.  And yet, what choice did she have?  If these men took her, she had no way of knowing where they would transport her.  Even if she managed to get away at a later date, there was no guaranteeing she could find her way back to wherever she was – and that meant she might be trapped in the past forever.  Uhura swallowed over a growing fear.  And then there was Spock.  The ship’s Vulcan science officer might well bleed to death in her absence.  No one else knew where they were.  There was no way to know if help would come.  Her capture would almost certainly mean Spock’s death.

Somehow, she had to get away!

The irons clanked as Sol took them in his scarred hands.  “Got some pretty bracelets for you, Queenie.  Don’t you want to try them on?”  The man’s hairy upper lip curled in an appreciative sneer.  His words dripped with libidinous expectation.  “I’ll let you know what they cost later tonight.” 

Uhura held her ground.  The only thing she did was change her posture, which abruptly became open and inviting.  She tilted her head to one side and reached down to grasp the fabric of her gown.  Pulling it up, she revealed one deep brown and extremely shapely leg.  With a flirtatious smile, the star traveler pitched her voice so it was husky and purred, “I think I’d like that, Sol.  But I warn you, I don’t come cheap.”

The man gaped at her exposed skin.  A second later, Sol glanced back at his fellows.  His look was answered with a chorus of expectant whoops and whistles.  He turned back – just in time to have the toe of Uhura’s regulation-issued Starfleet boot knock out his remaining teeth.

“I told you the price was high!” she snarled.  After regaining her balance, she whirled, skirts in hand, intending to run.

Unfortunately the way behind her was not clear.  The Bantu woman halted, breathing heavily as she realized the silent presence had been there all along.  A very tall, composed and rather handsome black man blocked her path.  He was dressed like the slavers, though his choice of garments indicated a wealth greatly in excess of theirs.  The man’s linen shirt was cut of a fine cloth and embroidered at the collar and cuffs with white-work flowers.  His deep blue frock coat was new; the nut-brown breeches unstained.  There were silver buckles on his shoes.

“Who are…” Uhura began.  She never finished the sentence.  As the words formed on her lips, the newcomer reached out and struck her jaw with the palm of his hand, snapping her head back.  Stunned, she managed to keep her feet for a count of two, and then fell to the ground barely conscious.

As she struggled to remain alert, Uhura heard the tall black man remark coolly, “Bind her well, Solomon Winters, and handle her carefully.

“You know I do not accept damaged merchandise.”

 

The fire was growing ever more intense.  Spock could feel the heat searing his skin through the thin fabric of his black singlet.  The rising smoke choked him.  Logic dictated that the fact that the forest about him appeared to be spinning out of control was a clear indicator that a loss of consciousness was moments, if not seconds away.  Unemake still held the razor sharp bear claws to his throat, but they had ceased their inward progress.  The shaman’s attention was divided; his wide black eyes shifting constantly from the mounting flames to the tall, bronzed man who stood at the edge of the burning area, bow in hand.  Even in the midst of this chaos, even knowing he was facing almost certain death, the Vulcan’s analytical mind would not rest.  Involuntarily it ticked off a set of statistics: Mingo, the newcomer with the bow, was as tall as he, or perhaps an inch taller.  He was dressed as a native, but appeared to be of mixed heritage.  His Caucasian blood showed in the shape of his face, but most notably in the way he held and handled himself.  The newcomer’s manner of speech was elegant, indicative not only of advanced schooling, but of a high level of social breeding.  He was deeply tanned and well-muscled and perhaps thirty-five years of age, but was neither scarred nor particularly weather-beaten as would have been expected of an indigenous native living in the wild.  Everything about the bowman suggested a close association with the transplanted European culture currently in the process of claiming the area.  That fact, Spock noted, might come in useful at a later date – should he live to act on the knowledge.

The Vulcan shuddered as fever and fatigue threatened to claim him.

“Move away!”  Mingo shifted his position and the arrow he held, citing along his arm.  “Release your prisoner!”

“No!” the other native shouted.  Unemake shifted so he could reassert pressure on the bear claws.  He forced them into Spock’s neck.  “The demon will die!”

It was what the Vulcan had been waiting for.  In order to drive the wand into his flesh, Unemake had been forced to shift his weight.  As he did, Spock summoned strength from somewhere beyond the logic that he had none.  Using his long, lean body as a counterweight, he thrust the shaman back and away.  It was only a matter of inches, but it was enough.  Spock heard the whistle of an missile loosed.  Unemake grunted as Mingo’s arrow took him in the upper shoulder; its projectile point driven so hard it exited through the tough hide of both the native himself and his painted leather vest.

Unemake dropped the wand as he staggered to his feet.  He lingered only long enough to shout, “You should have killed me, Cara-Mingo.  You will live to regret that you did not!”

Mingo shook his head slowly as he prepared another arrow.  “I would never regret making the choice of life over death.”  A brilliant smile – something like that of a Denebian Hellcat readying to pounce – lit his bronzed face.  “And yet….  While I am at heart a peaceful man, I am also tired, and my fingers though well-trained might… just…slip if you tarry any longer.  Now, go, Unemake.  Return to your people!”

The shaman cast one last long hateful glance at Spock and then stumbled away into the rising darkness.

Spock wet his lips and glanced about.  All around them the forest was ablaze.  Flames licked the bases of the trees and reached for their protective canopy of leaves as brilliant tongues of orange, ochre and crimson crept across the already charred forest floor.  The Vulcan frowned.  His head was whirling.  He found it impossible to estimate how much time remained before the shuttlecraft exploded.  Though the exterior of the Starfleet vessel, when intact, had been built to withstand the heat of reentry into a planet’s atmosphere, this one had been torn apart.  There were far too many flammable materials exposed.  It would take little to ignite it.  Spock estimated the odds, as best he could, that he would find his feet and be able to keep them, and then weighed that against the life of the stranger who had saved him. 

They were as bleak as any he had ever given Captain Kirk.

“Go!  There is no time!” he shouted, even as the fire reached the small ship’s nacelles.  “Go now!”

The native lowered the bow and eyed him curiously; his slow, measuring gaze running over Spock’s lean form with its – at least, what had to appear to him – impossibly close-fitting pants and shirt cut of an unknown cloth.  Finally, it lingered on the Vulcan’s upswept and clearly pointed ears.   For a second Spock believed he would abandon him, but then the man dropped his bow and leapt through the flames.  Once at his side, he knelt.

“Place your arm around my neck.  Lean against me.  Now!”

Logically, there was nothing Spock could do but accept.  At this point they would either both make it, or both die as the ship exploded.  The Vulcan did as he was ordered without protest, catching hold of the other man and leaning into his strength.  Though it was not entirely unexpected, Spock was surprised to find that doing so had a troubling consequence.

He passed out. 

When he came to sometime later, the Vulcan was surprised to find that he was no longer in the forest, but back in the cave where Uhura had sequestered him earlier.  Spock shifted and attempted to sit up.  As he did a formidable pain shot through him, nearly causing him to black out again.  Gasping for air, he realized why – the skin of his back and exposed arms was badly burned.

“Whatever that curious vehicle was it is gone now,” a rich voice intoned from across the rocky chamber.  “It exploded like a powder magazine when the fire climbed inside.”  The well-educated native walked through the semi-darkness of the ill-lit cave and knelt before him.  As he did, Mingo opened the leather pouch he carried and dipped two fingers inside.  They emerged covered with a brownish substance that he dropped into a horn full of water before offering it to him.  “Here.  Drink this,” he said.  “It will help to ease the pain.”

Spock was dubious, but he took it in one trembling hand.  Holding the horn cup, the Vulcan willed his muscles to the mental disciplines and was rewarded by a lessening of the tremor.  But it did not go away.  “Thank you,” he said with a curt nod.  “Cara-Mingo, is it not?”

“Just Mingo.  And you are?”

The Vulcan hesitated.  Then, deciding it could do no harm to the time-stream, answered honestly, “Spock.”

Mingo rocked back on his feet, examining him again.  “A name as unusual as its owner.  Unemake thought you a demon.”

One ebon eyebrow peaked toward Spock’s now less than perfect hair.  “And what do you think?”  

“I think….”  Mingo paused.  “I think I do not know what to think.”  A slow smile curled his thick lips.  “ ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are thought of in your philosophy’.”

“Hamlet, Act One, Scene Five,” Spock responded automatically.

Mingo nodded.  “I did not know that demons read Shakespeare.”

Spock thought a moment.  “Therefore, oh, Antony, stay not by his side,” he quoted, “thy demon – that’s thy spirit’s keeping – is noble, courageous, high, unmatchable, where Caesar’s is not, but near him thy angel becomes a fear, as a being o’er powered.”

The native remained silent a moment.  Then he finished it for him.  “‘Make space enough between you.’  Are you telling me I should leave you and walk away?”

“I am suggesting that such an action would be wise,” Spock replied.

 Mingo shook his head.  “I cannot leave you.  You are not well.”

That was something of an understatement, Spock thought, mildly amused.  He had fallen several meters to the ground, was suffering from a fairly massive blood loss, had been attacked by a madman and was, at this moment, losing even more blood from the wound the bear claw’s had opened in his neck.  The back side of him felt as if it had been roasted.  He desperately needed to go into a healing trance, but life seemed bound and determined to prevent it.

Spock’s sharp eyes flicked to the man who knelt beside him.  Mingo had not escaped unscathed either.  The native’s quaint clothing was singed and, where his deeply tanned skin was exposed, it bore the marks of first degree burns.  “Nevertheless,” the Vulcan began, “I cannot ask you to further endanger yourself for me.  I am a stranger to you and, as such, you are under no obligation – ”

“I don’t remember you asking,” the other man said with a smile.

“I beg your pardon?” Spock frowned.

“I cannot seem to recall just when you asked for my help.  I offered it freely.”  Mingo shifted and opened the bandoleer at his waist.  Drawing out a leaf thick that had been bundled and tied, he opened it to reveal a peculiar and pungent substance.  “As such, it is not a gift you can give back.  Now, drink the potion I gave you.  When that is done, you must remove your shirt and turn your back to me.  I have prepared a salve for those burns.”

It was unlikely the potion would do anything more than turn his stomach, though the salve might well ease some of the pain.  Uncertain, Spock hesitated.  In the semi-light of the cave he did not think his rescuer could discern the color of his bruises or the blood smeared on his face, chest and hands, but he could not be certain.  Pointed ears were one thing.  Blood the color of the forested land about them was another matter entirely.  Not only would such a sight undoubtedly terrify his kindly host, but knowledge of it and him could indeed effect the time continuum.  Centuries would pass before anyone on earth had sure and solid proof of the existence of extraterrestrials.

“Give it to me,” Spock suggested.  “I can apply it on my – ”

It was Mingo’s turn to frown.  “I think not.  I think, Spock, that you are near to collapse and are holding yourself together by sheer force of will.  A man can only do that for so long.”

Spock’s lip did not lift, but one black eyebrow did.  “And a demon?”

“A demon’s will is nothing to trifle with,” the native answered solemnly.  Mingo openly stared at him, his eyes dropping from the elegantly upswept ears to his black singlet, streaked and soaked with both red and green blood.  When he spoke, his tone was completely serious.  Are you a demon, Spock?”

Wearily, he shook his head.  “If I was, it is my belief that I would be doing a better job of taking care of myself.”

Mingo snorted.  “What are you then?  A riddle wrapped up in an enigma?”

The exhausted Vulcan nodded even as his eyes began to close.  “I would hazard to say that is as accurate a description as you and I are bound to arrive at together.”

The native said nothing, only nodded again.  Spock set the horn cup aside, untouched.  Then he lifted his shirt and turned his back, resigned.  As Mingo began to apply the cool, healing poultice the Vulcan jerked with pain and relief.

Seconds later, the alien first officer of the Starship Enterprise blacked out and knew no more.

 

Uhura awoke to find herself shackled and alone.  She had not been grouped with the rest of the slaves, but had been set apart and lay in some sort of a makeshift lodge upon a bed of blankets.  Her head felt as if it had taken a direct hit from a photon torpedo.  Behind her dark eyes pain pounded and she felt slightly nauseous.  Well, more than slightly, but that didn’t matter.  What mattered was escape – especially if she read the implications of the nest of fabric beneath her correctly.

It had been a while since the academy, but she had passed all of the survival skill tests with flying colors.  One of them had included a similar scenario.  The cadet was cast into a primitive non-technological environment where capture was to be avoided at all costs.  If captured, the cadet then had to find a way to escape without utilizing any modern devices.  She had spent a good many wakeful nights studying up on lock picking, knot tying, and how to make a knife out of a standard issued can of beans.  Narrowing her near-black eyes, the Bantu woman surveyed the lodge’s interior, searching for likely materials.  The ropes on her wrists and ankles were heavy and expertly tied.  There were two choices for dealing with them – stressing them until they broke, or finding something to cut them with.  As the latter course seemed the most likely to achieve her goal, she looked for something made of metal approximately the right shape.  Just as her gaze touched a possibility – a slender knife, almost a dirk, tucked into an elegant silk waistcoat that hung on the back of a battered chair – someone put a hand to the canvas that served as the lodge’s door and thrust it aside.

It was the handsome black man. 

Habari za jioni,” he said in Swahili as he entered; his voice black silk sheets sliding across her bound frame.  Habari yako?

Hello.  How are you?  Boy, what she wouldn’t have given for this man to ask those questions under very different circumstances.  The stranger spoke her native tongue as if he had been born to it, though she sincerely doubted that he had been.  Uhura watched him watching her and, as she did, she inspected and sized him up.  He was at the least six foot two.  Probably an inch or two more.  His face was chiseled ebony, bony as the mountains, but with smooth beardless plains running between.  His eyes were pewter gray and shone like hematite kissed by a moonbeam.  His tall, lean form was well-muscled and he held himself like a king, which it appeared he might be from the conspicuous wealth he chose to exhibit in the clothing he wore.  Uhura drew a breath against his beauty and reminded herself that this man bartered in human flesh; that he traded in human lives.

That he was a slaver.

When she did not answer, he drew closer.  Then he knelt at her side.  “Jino lako nani?” the tall man asked softly.

She refused to be drawn in.  Uhura.  I imagine you know what that means.”

He chuckled under his breath.  “Freedom.  Liberty.”

“Yes,” she growled.  “And I would like mine.  Now.”

The black man rocked back on his heels.  He studied her for a moment and then reached out and fingered the fabric of her gown.  “You are not from around here.”  It was a statement, not a question.

Did he guess?

“No.  I have only just arrived today.”  She shifted uncomfortably, trying to ease the pain in her wrists.  “Is this how Kentuckians usually greet and treat their visitors?”

“I wouldn’t know,” he answered as he rose to his feet.  “I am not from Kentucky.”  The man crossed then to a trunk that occupied one corner of the lodge.  Once there, he knelt by it and began to rummage through its contents.

Uhura bit her lip.  Damn!  She had to know.  “Where are you from then?” she asked.

He shot a look at her over his shoulder.  It seemed almost…amused.  Then he turned back to the trunk.

Uhura fell silent.  She no longer felt threatened – as if she had been brought here to be taken advantage of – but she did feel a growing unease.  A slaver with an overactive libido she could have handled.  She would have used her feminine wiles and reeled him in and then driven the hook in deep.  This man obviously found her attractive, but seemed in complete control of his desires.  Almost like a Vulcan.

Spock.  Uhura closed her eyes and whispered, “Hold on, Spock.  I’m trying to get back to you….”

The black man froze and jerked around to stare at her.  His handsome face wore a frown.  “Spock?” he repeated.

If he had slapped her, she couldn’t have been more stunned.  He couldn’t have heard her – not with human ears.  “What?”

“The Vulcan.  Where is he?”

“V-vulcan?” she stammered.  “I don’t know what you are talking about – ”

In a second he was on her; his hand clasped tightly about her throat.  His strength was frightening.  “I knew you did not belong here,” the once handsome, but now sinister man declared, his voice tight and full of menace.  “Did you come with him?  Where is Spock?

“I…I don’t know what you are talking about,” she lied.

For a moment, the man said nothing.  Then his dark lips parted in a sneer.  “Then it appears I was wrong.  I told Solomon that you were not like the others, but were a cut above.  Most likely an escaped servant from some grand house and, as such, worth more …intact.”  He caught her bruised chin between his fingers and squeezed, bringing tears to the star traveler’s eyes.  “Solomon fancies you.  You know that, don’t you?  Just one word and he will be in here, and on you.  Is that what you want, freedom woman?   I think not.”  He released her, snapping her already sore neck back.  “Tell me where the Vulcan is and I will let you remain here, under my protection.  Otherwise….”

He let the threat hang.

Kamwe,” she said, her voice a hoarse whisper.  Ng’o! 

Never.

The man continued to stare at her, and for a moment Uhura feared the return of that powerful hand to her throat.  Instead, he rose to his feet and went back to the trunk.  This time he found what he wanted.  He removed a bag and brought it with him when he returned to her side.  As she watched, the slaver reached into it and drew out –

A tricorder!

“What?” Uhura gasped.

“You could have saved yourself a good deal of trouble, Uhura, and gained my trust.  As it is, with or without you I will find your Vulcan companion.  And then he will die.”

“Why?” she gasped.

The man cocked his head and met her incredulous stare.  “Because I desire it.  Because it will pain my enemy.”

“Your enemy?  What does that mean?”  Uhura struggled powerlessly against her bonds.  “What are you doing here?  Who are you?”

“You may call me Tume,” he answered, his voice softening.

The word was Swahili.  It meant agent or messenger.

“Who is it you serve?” she asked.

The black man smiled.

“Time.”