Christine Chapel sat down at the small table in her quarters, enjoying the spicy aroma of plomeek soup. She’d learned to appreciate its exotic taste while stationed on Vulcan before her assignment to the Enterprise. From the delectable Professor T’Pol, who taught a controversial Vulcan Academy course on the comparative sociology of gender relations among the known sentient species, had come an eager appreciation of certain other tasty treats. Christine licked her lips, savoring the memory of T’Pol’s delicious juices on her tongue as the otherwise demure professor thrashed ecstatically on the sheets, having lost all semblance of her usual dignified maturity.
But all good things eventually came to an end, of course, and it wasn’t long before Christine’s first lesbian lover had found herself unceremoniously dumped in favor of the much younger T’Pring, a student whose radical feminist ideas — which included the abolition of Vulcan’s venerable system of arranged marriage — seemed altogether too extreme even for a woman as liberal as T’Pol. Although Christine had felt a bit guilty about the breakup, she couldn’t deny her infatuation with the brash T’Pring, who returned her affections with far more enthusiasm than a well-bred Vulcan ought to show, even in the privacy of the bedroom.
A delightful daydream that involved T’Pring’s nimble fingers and lips exploring her most intimate parts was rudely interrupted by another loud crash from the direction of Spock’s quarters. Thinking of what awaited the Enterprise’s first officer on Vulcan, Christine winced. She hadn’t known that T’Pring was betrothed to Spock when the two women began their relationship. Nor had she known, until recently, the lengths to which T’Pring was willing to go, with no apparent regrets, in order to free herself from that unwanted bond.
Spock was going to his death, unwittingly, like an animal being led to slaughter. There was no way to warn him that wouldn’t place T’Pring’s precious love, and her very freedom, in jeopardy. But the unfortunate consequences of Vulcan biology weren’t really an outsider’s concern, Christine rationalized. After all, if Vulcan’s scientists had taken the time to develop medications to prevent pon farr, instead of continuing to treat females as chattel objects for the service of the male’s sexual needs, this tragic situation would never have arisen.
All the same, she’d definitely lost her appetite for the plomeek soup, which she’d barely touched. Setting down her spoon, Christine decided to give the soup to Spock; the condemned man ought to have a last good meal, after all. Although McCoy was likely to torment her with wisecracks about her supposed romantic pursuit of Spock, which existed only in the doctor’s overactive imagination, Christine had to conclude, with a sigh, that McCoy’s obnoxious comments were vastly preferable to letting her shipmates discover the truth.
T’Pring looked out from her window over a dusty brown courtyard that bristled with the jagged spines of dusty brown cacti, which suited her mood very well on this wretchedly hot summer day. Deep indigo thunderheads boiled on the distant horizon, holding little promise of relief; autumn’s monsoon rains rarely came this early in the year. She probably would have sighed, if that particular mannerism had been known on Vulcan.
“It is preferable to letting the truth be discovered.”
She turned around to face her classmate Stonn as she spoke. A well-muscled fellow who had been endowed by nature with considerably more brawn than brains, Stonn didn’t seem convinced by her words.
“If I select you as my champion when I challenge Spock,” she went on, taking a step away from the window and lowering her voice, “your experience in the martial arts should allow you to dispose of him without difficulty. You and I can then be married and become, to all appearances, an ordinary heterosexual couple. That will allow you to continue to pursue relationships with other males without the risk of becoming known as a homosexual, and I will be just as free to enjoy women. Do you perceive any flaw in my plan?”
“It is logical,” Stonn reluctantly admitted. “However, I find it distasteful from a moral standpoint. The challenge is a barbaric tradition, and Spock has done nothing to deserve such a fate.”
Men, T’Pring thought in disgust. No matter what their sexual preference, they could always be counted on to take another man’s side in any argument. Regrettably, the Vulcan language had no equivalent to the crude but accurate Earth phrase ‘male chauvinist pig.’ That particular deficiency was one that T’Pring would very much have liked to remedy. More tact, however, would be necessary in dealing with Stonn.
“Indeed, all of our marriage traditions, including the challenge, are thoroughly barbaric,” T’Pring agreed, in a tone as calm as if the entire conversation were merely an academic debate. “There would be no need to engage in such unpleasantness if Vulcan society, like other civilized races, tolerated homosexuality. Unfortunately, it does not. As you know, when a Vulcan who has reached the age of sexual maturity remains unmarried, he or she is presumed to be homosexual and is savagely ostracized. Your only hope, Stonn, is to find a wife who is willing to be discreet about your preferences. As for my situation, the challenge is my only alternative to rape, the only way to protect myself from the most vile and bestial of abuses. Tell me, have I done anything to deserve that fate?”
T’Pring folded her arms across her chest and waited for Stonn’s grudging response.
“Very well. I will be your champion.”
T’Pol left her office early on the day of T’Pring’s wedding, having arranged for a visiting lecturer to take over her two afternoon classes. The total humiliation of her young romantic rival was an event she intended to savor. As a distant relative of the groom, she’d been able to wangle an invitation to the ceremony. Vulcan couples didn’t have a reception afterward, of course; by the time the ceremony was over, the husband was likely to have been overtaken by blind lust to such an extent that the wife was lucky if he didn’t just throw her down on the hot sands and have his way, right then and there. On the occasions when that happened, the guests politely averted their eyes as they left the scene.
Considering the fact that Spock had been off-planet when his pon farr began, thus delaying the ceremony, T’Pol expected him to be no more than a mindless, rutting animal by now. He might not even be able to control himself until the ceremony was over. Maybe he’d break a few of T’Pring’s bones in his frenzy and leave her lying helplessly in the sand, with her bruised, bleeding, and naked body in full public view.
T’Pol certainly hoped so.
Left behind in sickbay while the senior officers beamed down to Vulcan’s surface, Christine paced back and forth from her desk to the door, unable to muster enough concentration to sit down and do any work whatsoever. When the doctor returned, he’d probably chalk up her inability to finish her reports to her supposed distress over the loss of Spock to another woman. Hah. McCoy was such a pig, she wouldn’t be surprised if he imagined she’d been having a good cry the whole time.
Of course, given what was probably happening to Spock right about now, McCoy would surely have other things on his mind when he returned. T’Pring hadn’t been very specific about what the challenge involved, but Christine had gathered that it was some sort of hand-to-hand combat with primitive weapons, to the death. Which probably meant that Spock was about to be stabbed, bludgeoned, strangled, or all of the above. Hell of a way to go.
Nothing could be done about it, Christine reminded herself.
In her ceremonial dress, waiting for the ritual to begin, T’Pring stood with her head high as the guests silently filed in. Spock had just arrived, with his captain and another human officer, their presence a shocking breach of custom. No one was bold enough to say much about it — not yet, anyway — but the sneer on T’Pol’s face as she passed the foreigners was comment enough on Spock’s lack of respect for Vulcan’s traditions. And just how had the bitch contrived to get an invitation, anyway?
Speculation on that subject soon gave way to a much more urgent problem, as Stonn entered with a group of her cousins, stumbling over his own feet. Even from where she stood, about twenty meters away, T’Pring could smell the unmistakable odor of plomeek wine.
Stonn was drunk. Very drunk.
And an inebriated fool who could barely manage to stand on his own feet would be of no use whatsoever as her champion. Spock, crazed with the blood fever, would surely kill Stonn and then brutalize his hard-won bride. No doubt T’Pol would watch all of this in glee.
T’Pring clenched her fists in helpless rage and then, once again becoming aware of the assembled crowd, forced herself to relax. Losing control of her emotions would do her no good at all. Considering her predicament in rational terms, the only option was to find another champion.
But of course, all of the male guests were either married or betrothed, with the exception of a few elderly widowers who would surely be worthless in combat. T’Pring took several deep breaths of the hot, stagnant air, which tasted faintly of rain. Surely there had to be some way out of this, if only she could think of it . . .
Then her gaze fell on the foreign captain.
Such a shocking turn of events was altogether unknown in Vulcan history.
T’Pol stared in disbelief as the foreign captain, apparently dead, was beamed back to his ship, along with Spock and the human doctor. The only thing more preposterous than T’Pring’s choice of a champion had been her smug explanation of why she’d made that choice.
A few drops of rain spattered around T’Pol’s feet as she turned to leave, and she felt another drop on her forehead. The monsoon storms had arrived a few weeks early. The other guests, having reached the same conclusion, jammed the exits, hurrying to get home before the full fury of the storm hit.
Lightning flashed, somewhere to T’Pol’s left. She turned her head and saw T’Pring, still garbed as a bride, making her way toward the exit. The crowd, as courteous as if this had been a real wedding, parted to allow T’Pring to pass.
T’Pol moved into the empty space behind her and addressed a barbed comment to the younger woman’s retreating back.
“Leaving without your beloved Stonn, I see?”
T’Pring made no reply as both women passed through the gate. The rain, falling more heavily now, was turning the bridal gown into a sodden, clinging wreck. In all likelihood, though, T’Pring didn’t care in the least.
“You shouldn’t be so quick to leave Stonn behind,” T’Pol went on, raising her voice for the benefit of the passers-by. “Someone might suspect the real reason why you chose the challenge.”
At that, T’Pring paused in mid-step, turning her head. Rain streamed down the pavement between the two women, and another flash of lightning was followed almost immediately by thunder, very close by.
“I’ll thank you to keep your speculation to yourself.”
“Yes, I’m sure you would prefer it that way,” T’Pol declared in an even louder tone, as everyone turned to stare. “That would make things much easier for you, isn’t that so? But really, T’Pring, as proud as you are of your feminist ideals, you shouldn’t have any objection to the whole world finding out that you’re a . . .”
The beleaguered ex-bride, having finally reached the limits of both logic and patience, swung a fist and struck T’Pol squarely in the mouth before the older woman could finish the sentence. T’Pol, spitting blood, grabbed T’Pring by the hair and dragged her off the pavement toward a muddy embankment.
Both women tumbled down the embankment together, clawing and kicking, until T’Pring crashed into a large and extremely prickly cactus. T’Pol observed this turn of events with great satisfaction as her rival came up bleeding from several deep scratches, with the wedding gown hanging in tatters.
She didn’t have much time to gloat, though, before T’Pring grabbed the nearest rock and smashed her over the head with it, shouting, “You’ll never get Christine back!”
Dizzy from the blow, T’Pol stumbled and fell headfirst into the rapidly rising waters of a gully. The cold water soaked through her catsuit almost at once, which brought her, very unpleasantly, back to her senses. A near-berserk T’Pring had by now started to fling huge clods of mud in her direction, most of which splashed harmlessly into the gully. Apparently infuriated by her poor aim, T’Pring charged toward her soaked and shivering enemy with mud heaped high in both hands, plainly intending to shove the dripping glob into T’Pol’s face.
T’Pol, with an economy of effort, stuck out a foot and tripped her.
The younger woman went soaring through the air with a look of total surprise, heading directly for a gigantic mud puddle. With great effort, she twisted in mid-air to avoid landing face first in it. That wasn’t much of an improvement, however, as T’Pring stood up with mud dripping down her hair and thickly coating the shreds of her wedding dress, while her ripped undergarments were plainly visible to what had by now become an enormous crowd of onlookers.
Unfortunately, T’Pol didn’t get much of a chance to enjoy the spectacle before the police showed up.
A diligent Nurse Christine Chapel, sipping her morning coffee, had just caught up the last of her long-overdue reports when McCoy came out of his office.
“I just got off the comm with Starfleet Command,” he informed her. “Now, as far as anyone there is ever going to know, Spock made a full recovery from his condition before we left Vulcan and is currently on active duty.”
Christine smiled. Although it was theoretically possible for the excitement of combat to bring pon farr to a quick end with no mating, all of the Enterprise’s officers were well aware that Spock had spent the past two days in the captain’s quarters. From the energetic sounds that came through the all-too-thin bulkheads, it was obvious that the two of them had been at it like rabbits the whole time. Christine had been careful not to interrupt them as she quietly placed trays of food just outside the door, most of which went untouched. Better use, she was certain, had been made of a first-aid kit intended for the captain’s undoubtedly sore nether regions.
She took another gulp of her coffee, feeling totally contented.
“You’re all right, McCoy.”
“There’s another bit of news, just in from Vulcan, that might interest you,” the doctor informed her wryly. “Seems Spock’s lady friend, on the way home from the ceremony, got into a knock-down, drag-out fight with a professor from the Vulcan Academy. The police, assuming that both women had to be drunk, carted them off and put them in holding cells overnight. Witnesses weren’t quite sure what had started the brawl, but it apparently had something to do with a ‘Christine.’ You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, now, would you?”
The corner of Christine’s mouth quirked slightly, but she kept her expression almost as well under control as a Vulcan would have done.
“Why, I can’t begin to imagine.”