Soft fragrances of exotic flowers drifted through the air. Candles flickered on little niches set into the walls. The gentle trickling of a fountain could be heard not far away. Bright, sheer fabrics billowed from the canopy of a luxuriously furnished bed.
An incredulous Tasha Yar, fists clenched at her sides, turned in a slow circle once more as she closely inspected the room into which her Ligonian kidnappers had transported her. Certainly it could be no ordinary detention center. Based on the lascivious murals on the walls and the equally graphic scenes carved into the bedposts, she could reach only one conclusion.
This place was a goddamned harem.
And if the fucking Ligonian pigs expected her to like it, they were fatally mistaken. It might be more comfortable than the dirty cellars where the rape gangs of her home planet had dragged their screaming victims, but that wasn’t going to stop her from castrating the first Ligonian to come through the door.
And up there, mounted on the wall above the bed, was a good sharp set of weapons — a pair of crossed spears. Some kind of primitive fertility symbol, maybe? Not that she cared in the least why they’d been put there, as long as she could get her hands on them.
Tasha climbed up on the bed, grimacing at its obscenely squishy feel, and grabbed the spears off the wall. Maybe they weren’t the ideal substitute for her phaser, but anyone who happened to get in her way would end up just as dead.
The room had no windows, so the only way out had to be the door. Tasha put a hand on the knob, which was an ornate piece of shiny metal in the shape of a woman’s breast with a realistic nipple, and turned it slowly. The door wasn’t locked, and the sound of trickling water became much louder as the door opened.
Cautiously, Tasha stepped out of the bedchamber, finding herself in a circular indoor courtyard with a large central fountain. Potted tropical plants adorned a floor tiled in pale earth tones. Narrow windows in the domed roof let in the reddish light of the alien sky.
On the other side of the fountain, two shapely young women, apparently oblivious to their surroundings, kissed and fondled one another passionately. It was quite a show, and Tasha might have enjoyed it under more pleasant circumstances, but her only concern at the moment was to find a way to get back to her ship.
She turned away from the fountain and surveyed the rest of the courtyard. A bright flutter of white moved into her peripheral vision, resolving into the figure of a middle-aged woman in a long white dress with a gleaming ornamental sash. Presumably the woman had some sort of authority here, which would make her the ideal hostage, as far as Tasha was concerned.
Moving as quietly across the tiles as she could manage in her Starfleet boots, Tasha approached her target from behind, unseen. One quick lunge, and Tasha had the alien woman’s arms firmly pinioned at her sides while the point of a spear hovered at her throat.
“Don’t move or scream,” Tasha hissed. “You’ll do exactly as I say. Understand? Now, tell me how to get to the transporter room.”
“That would be unwise.” The alien woman’s tone was surprisingly calm. “The transporter room is in the center of the compound, kept under watch by the Ligonian Guard, whose weapons are much more effective than those ancient spears.”
“I’ll take my chances.”
“There’s no need to do so. You won’t be harmed if you stay here. I am Natira, the Guardian of the Lesser Sanctum. Within the walls of this beautiful enclosure, you will find only peace and love.”
Tasha had to repress a strong impulse to smack the irritating woman. Instead, she ran a hand over Natira’s body, checking whether she was armed. Nice curves, but no weapons.
“Kidnapping me from my ship is not what I’d call a display of peace and love.”
“The Ligonians are a very ritualistic race. The men sometimes abduct women from passing starships as a way to show their bravery and cunning. They never molest the women in any way; that would be against their code of honor. You can wait here in safety and comfort while your captain negotiates for your return.”
“I hope you’re telling the truth.” Tasha let go of Natira’s arms and moved back a step, now that she had satisfied herself that the foolish woman wasn’t armed. “I’m Lieutenant Tasha Yar of the Federation ship Enterprise, and according to my own code of honor, anyone who tries to rape me is going to be very dead.”
Natira raised a pale, neatly manicured hand and patted her elaborate hairdo back into place, using a tall brass planter full of ferns as a mirror. “It won’t happen, I assure you. I have been living among the Ligonians for almost a century, since they rescued me from the Orion pirates who attacked and enslaved my people, and in all that time, I have never seen any sexual violence against a woman. I find the Ligonians to be a charming and cultured race; they have a long life span and have much respect for their ancient traditions, like my own people.”
Tasha snorted in disgust. “So I’m just supposed to wait around in this ridiculous harem until my charming and cultured captors feel like letting me go? Is that what you’re saying?”
“There are ways to make your wait more pleasant.” Natira smiled suggestively as she gave her hair a final pat. “I find you very attractive, Tasha Yar.”
Well, it was a harem, after all.
And Natira wasn’t bad-looking, even if there was quite an age difference between the two of them — but, of course, this wasn’t the time or place for such thoughts.
“Starfleet has certain protocols for appropriate behavior when an officer is abducted by an alien species. Screwing around with the enemy isn’t one of them.”
The corners of Natira’s mouth quirked at this, as if she were very much amused by some private joke. “Perhaps that depends on how you define an enemy.”
A tiny bird, its iridescent feathers sparkling, flew out of the broad-leaved bushes next to the fountain and perched on a nearby ledge. Natira’s gaze followed it for a moment before she glanced back toward Tasha and continued, “I knew your Captain Kirk and his ship’s doctor, McCoy.”
Had the insufferable woman made a habit of abducting Starfleet officers? Tasha scowled, tapping the points of the spears against each other. “What of it?”
Natira unexpectedly laughed, a soft, musical, carefree sound, and took a step forward to close the distance between them. “Only that if you are following the Starfleet protocols with which I am familiar, you ought to be kissing me by now, Tasha Yar.”
She leaned closer, her lips full, sensuous . . .
Oh, what the hell, no one was looking.
Tasha tossed away the spears, which landed with a clatter on the tiled floor, and let herself relax into Natira’s enthusiastic embrace. Natira was quite a kisser, and she certainly knew what to do with those busy hands of hers, too.
Mmmm . . .
Natira’s spicy fragrance was dizzying, and her lips felt so soft and sweet. Tasha’s eyes were half-closed when she caught a glimpse of motion, of dark figures not far away.
Abruptly she came back to full awareness of her surroundings and realized that several Ligonian women were standing nearby, watching. Bright, appreciative eyes glittered from alien faces.
She tried to take a breath, but the smell of dust and decay caught in her throat, choking her. The faint sound of trickling water seemed very far away, and the red-tinged light was fading. She was surrounded by the rape gang, trapped in a dank underground cavern with no way to defend herself, and in a moment, they would all throw her down on the grimy floor and . . .
“No one’s going to hurt you.” Natira’s voice was gentle and soothing. “If you want more privacy, we can go into one of the bedchambers.”
Tasha inhaled deeply, a jagged, painful breath that still tasted of dust, as she broke Natira’s embrace. “I can’t. I just can’t.”
She blinked away the tears that threatened to blur her vision as she reached down to pick up the spears again. Their solid, deadly feel gave her an impression of safety, however irrational. The small group of Ligonians began to disperse, now that there was nothing more to be seen.
Forcing herself to take slow, measured breaths, Tasha retreated until she was standing with her back to the fountain, holding a spear in each hand. Her shipmates would come for her soon, she reminded herself. She wasn’t alone. Never alone. Never again.
The pale light of the two Ligonian moons, both close to setting, came through the narrow windows and reflected from the bubbling waters of the fountain. Shadows fell across a wooden bench bordered by tall bushes. For just a moment, the light touched the thin face of a young Starfleet officer whose short blonde locks tumbled over her closed eyes. The hilts of two spears rested in her slack hands.
She stirred briefly, but did not wake, as the older woman who stood beside the bench carefully draped a warm blanket across her body and left her with a tender kiss on the forehead.