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"I'm afraid I can't take you down with the landing party, Mr. Spock," Kirk said seriously. "You know the history of this colony - it was originally set up by adherents of a particularly strict religious sect, and as far as we know, their descendants are still as narrow in their outlook as their forebears. As a Vulcan, you unfortunately bear a strong resemblance to the drawings of the devil that imaginative artists put in early ecclesiastical works. The colony's been out of contact for nearly a century - this first re-contact is going to be tricky enough without compounding the problem with superstitious complications."
Spock said, "Yes, Captain," in his normal quiet voice, but Kirk knew his friend well, and detected the trace of disappointment. He fully understood the Vulcan's regret; although mainly of interest to a sociologist, the conditions existing on this world were intriguing to any scientist, and Spock had undoubtedly hoped for a chance to study the situation at first hand. Kirk truly regretted having to deny him the opportunity. Spock's eyes lightened momentarily in a half-smile as he silently acknowledged Kirk's silent message of sympathetic apology.
"Be careful, Jim," he said, so quietly that Kirk knew that no-one else in the seven-man landing party could have heard, for even he barely did. Then Spock stepped back, and punched the control to open the hangar door. He watched the seven make their way to the Magellan with mixed feelings of envy and concern; envy that they should be able to see the results of what the scout ship that found the lost colony had estimated to be an arrested culture, worry for their safety - and in particular for the safety of Kirk and McCoy. He watched the shuttle doors close; then he closed the hangar door. He took three deep breaths to steady himself, then headed for the bridge.
Kirk looked round his picked crew. McCoy, Philips, Lindstrom, Dravo, Becket and Yeoman Seemar. All good men... well, men, metaphorically speaking. "Remember that this colony has been out of touch with the Federation for so long that it's almost a Prime Directive contact," he reminded them quietly. "Be very careful what you say - they may have any number of religious observances that we don't know about. Lindstrom, that's your first job - identify as many as possible of these observances. Yeoman, be as unobtrusive as possible with your tricorder. Philips, general observations. Dravo, stay with the shuttlecraft at all times. Keep the door shut if any natives are about. Becket, don't take action if there's trouble unless it's a matter of life or death. We don't know how they'll react to our instruments, and we don't want to cause bother unnecessarily."
There was a scattered chorus of "Yes, sir." Kirk looked at McCoy.
"You and I do the socialising, Bones," he went on. "Keep an eye open for any diseases and so on they may have - you know the drill."
"Sure, Captain," McCoy might be cheerfully informal with Kirk under most circumstances, but here, in front of mostly junior officers not of the bridge crew, he preferred to retain a degree of formality.
The external doors of the hangar slid open, and the Magellan lifted gracefully and swooped down towards the planet below.
Although they landed in an open space some distance from what sensors indicated was probably the main town, a curious crowd soon gathered. Curious - yet strangely silent; almost apprehensive. Kirk watched the gathered natives through the port, an expression of growing puzzlement on his face. "Opinion, Mr. Lindstrom?"
"They could simply be afraid of something unknown," Lindstrom said doubtfully. Kirk nodded, equally doubtfully.
"Let's go and see," he suggested.
Becket opened the door; Kirk stepped out, McCoy at his heels; the others followed close behind. Dravo stood in the doorway, curious enough to half overlook Kirk's order.
"I'm Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise." When there was no response, Kirk went on, "Who is in change here?"
No-one seemed anxious to reply. Various members of the crowd shrank back; others looked round, mainly in one direction. Kirk looked over in the same direction.
A group of horse-like animals was approaching. Their riders wore dark robes trimmed with silver thread. The robes were hitched up where the men straddled their beasts, showing that under the loose flowing garments they wore dark breeches. The crowd shrank slightly further back, leaving the riders space to approach.
The beasts came to a halt in front of Kirk. The Captain looked thoughtfully at the riders, his first awareness of them being their smell. They stank of dirt and stale sweat; and as he looked at them, he realised that their robes, that from the distance had looked so magnificent, were stained and shiny with greasy dirt. Their hair was likewise greasy, and hung, long and lank, over their shoulders, framing their dirt-encrusted faces. They looked unattractive, unsavoury specimens, and Kirk felt his flesh creep. At least the members of the crowd were clean, and he wondered why they should accept such unpleasantness in their rulers. Behind him he heard. McCoy mutter, in a passable imitation of Spock's voice, "Insanitary, Captain!"
His lips twitched involuntarily. Firmly, he repressed the urge to chuckle, helped by the need to control the nausea caused by their stench.
"I'm Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, representing the United Federation of Planets, from which your ancestors came," he repeated. "Who is in charge here?"
One of the riders, who looked even dirtier and more unpleasant than any of the others - if that were possible - stared down at him with the expression of a man faced by a hitherto unseen but known to be highly dangerous species.
"Father Paul, Chief Apostle of God," he replied. His teeth were black and rotten.
"Your ancestors colonised this world from Earth over a century ago, Father Paul," Kirk said. That he might be repeating the obvious, the known fact, was probable, but he had to establish his right to be there. "We do not know why contact was lost, but it is only recently that the continued existence of your colony came to the notice of my superiors. I have been sent to discover if we can help you in any way."
Father Paul shook his head decisively. "We require nothing of you or any other heretic," he said shortly.
"Our people think it unethical to leave colonists entirely to their own resources," Kirk said. "There is much that we can do for you. We can give you improved help for your sick - "
"That is why our ancestors left their home world!" Father Paul thundered. "Do you still defy the will of God? Sickness is sent by God to punish sin. Would you have sinners escape punishment in this life, to suffer unending torment in the next?"
Kirk glanced back at McCoy, warning in his eyes. He recognised at once that the caution was unnecessary. McCoy clearly understood that this was the first religious observance they had to treat delicately. His every instinct warred with his common sense; but he had the experience of Capella, where they believed that the sick should die, to reinforce his common sense.
Two of the riders, whose clothes were slightly cleaner and less ornately trimmed, were patrolling the edge of the crowd. Their mounts' feet thudded uncomfortably close to the feet of the silent, watching populace, and the people shrank further back. A child who could have been little more than four or five tripped and fell; a heavy hoof thudded down on an unprotected leg and the child screamed in sudden agony.
No-one in the crowd, not even the child's mother, moved to protect the youngster; Kirk took a half step forward; McCoy several more. Dravo, nearer than any of the others, with memories of his own child's infancy strong in him, left the shuttle without a second thought and ran to the child. Before he could gather the child into his arms he was stopped by a strong hand gripping him and a knife-point pricking his throat. Kirk caught McCoy's arm at the sight, holding him back, even as he turned fiercely on Father Paul.
"That child's hurt!" he exclaimed unnecessarily.
"It is the will of God," Father Paul intoned sonorously. "The child must be punished for his secret sins."
"What sins worth mentioning could a child of that age commit?" McCoy asked harshly. Momentarily it flashed through Kirk's mind that that was exactly the sort of question that Spock would have asked.
"A child is born in sin, and the devil has many lures for even the youngest."
"That may be good theology, but it's damned inhuman!" McCoy snarled.
"Bones!" Kirk's voice warned urgently.
"We think of the child's immortal soul. Physical suffering in this life... "
Kirk let the unctuous voice wash over him only half heard. He was not a particularly religious man, but he was devout enough in his own way, and this terrible twisted perversion of religion horrified him; perhaps even more than some strict religions, some of them involving human sacrifice, that he had found on one or two other planets, for these religions had not been a cruel corruption of one he respected. Grimly he set his teeth and thought of how to be conciliating.
"Your pardon, Father Paul," he said quietly when the impassioned diatribe at last showed signs of ceasing. "Our ways are different; to our eyes, to allow such an injury to go unaided is a waste of the possible potential value of the child to the community." Even as he spoke, he hated himself for his hypocrisy.
"God knows best," the priest repeated. "And if the child is crippled for life and his possible use to the community lost, it is a sign that we, as a community, have erred."
There was no arguing with the man. "I think I understand, Father Paul," he said quietly.
The priest looked at him, sensing reservation; Kirk forced himself to meet the man's eyes, masking the disgust he felt.
"You will stay in our guest quarters tonight while we talk," Father Paul went on. His eyes strayed round the crew, lingering for a moment on the yeoman, and Kirk blessed the impulse that had made him order her to wear a special uniform with a skirt much longer than usual. "Whose wife is she?"
Uh-uh, Kirk thought, angry with himself for not foreseeing this. He dared not say she was no-one's wife, he realised. "Mine," he said steadily.
Father Paul stared at him for a moment them appeared to accept the statement. "Come, then."
There was no offer of mounts for the visitors.
"I want one of my men to remain with our ship," Kirk said.
"It is not necessary. None of our people would risk God's wrath by touching aught that was not their own. Come."
Reluctantly, Kirk motioned his men, Dravo among them, to follow him, mentally cursing the man for not remaining out of sight inside the shuttle as he had been ordered. Not that he wholly blamed the man for his humane impulse. He glanced back towards the child as they went. The crowd was following them, careful not to come too close; they parted as they reached the fallen body, leaving a distance between it and themselves as if afraid that close proximity to it would infect them with the child's sin. No-one seemed to care; and he was forced to walk away, pity in his heart, helpless to act. How McCoy felt about it he could only guess.
They were about a mile from the city. Fortunately, the horse-beasts did not have a fast pace and they were able to keep up without too much distress. There was no attempt at conversation from Father Paul; he rode ahead, majestically ignoring everyone and everything; the visitors were placed walking behind him, and his entourage behind that, carefully separating them from the following crowd.
Kirk's mind was in a turmoil as he went. These people were even narrower and more bigoted in their outlook than he had been led to expect - or was it a case of a narrow and bigoted priesthood holding in subjection by ignorance and fear a population that was ready, emotionally and psychologically, for release? He wished he could have spoken to some of the crowd.
Suddenly, behind him, he heard a cry of "Evil!"
He stopped and swung round, in time to be struck by a thrown stone. Becket groped for his phaser; half-drawn, it was knocked from his hand by a well aimed - or luckily aimed - stone. The girl was already on her knees, arms flung up to protect her head. Kirk reached for his communicator, but before he could touch it, he was struck down, half stunned, by a blow from behind. As he struggled to rise again, he realised that the crowd had joined the priest's escort in attacking them, no longer silent, either. The yells of terrified hatred rose to an ear-splitting crescendo had he was knocked flat again by a hail of blows that rained viciously down on him. Feet kicked and trampled; in the melee, as he struggled vainly to protect his head, he was aware only of noise and pain. Then both faded as he lost consciousness.
Spock glanced anxiously at the chronometer, knowing as he did so that his sense of time was perfect and that the Captain was indeed late in reporting in. "See if you can raise the shuttlecraft, Lieutenant," he ordered.
"Aye, sir... There's no response, Mr. Spock."
Spock's lips tightened, and, not for the first time, he found himself silently and futilely cursing the pointed ears and slanting eyebrows that marked him as alien on so many planets. If he had looked like a normal Human, he would have been there, with them, not sitting here helplessly wondering what had happened to them, completely overlooking the fact that if he had been with them, he would have been in difficulties too. He realised afresh that friendship is a two-edged weapon, infinitely satisfying but also infinitely demanding.
What should he do? What could he do? As Kirk had pointed out, to go down himself would be to ask for trouble and might even compound whatever danger his friends were in. Yet how could he send down another landing party without more data? The first group must have done something wrong; how could he order another group down without warning them what not to do, without breaching the Prime Directive? Even although these people - presumably - knew of spaceflight and something of the Federation's technology, they had their beliefs, which must not be upset...
"Mr. Chekov - scan the proposed landing area. Is anyone there?"
"... Negative, Mr. Spock. The shuttlecraft is there... there is a crowd of people about halfway between it and the city we detected earlier... heading towards the city... one or two individuals between the crowd and the Magellan also going in the direction of the city... "
No help there. Possibly the landing party was accompanying the crowd... though why hadn't Kirk reported on what he was doing? And why hadn't he left someone with the shuttlecraft, as he had certainly meant to do? There were only questions, and each question in turn gave logical rise to other questions.
Kirk regained consciousness slowly, dragging his mind up from merciful blackness to pain-filled awareness. Every fibre of his body ached and his head throbbed unbearably. He raised his hand to his head and caught his breath as the movement strained his bruised muscles. The air smelt stale and foul.
McCoy's voice. It also quivered with pain and he opened his eyes... To utter blackness.
"Bones?" His voice trembled. Why couldn't he see?
"How do you feel?"
"Pretty lousy. Where are you, Bones?"
"Lying against a wall. I wish they'd left us some light."
Kirk drew a deep breath that might have been of relief, and winced at the pain from his trampled ribs. "What about the others?"
"Here." "Here." All masculine voices.
"I tried crawling around to find everyone and couldn't find her." McCoy said. "She might not have been put in with us. Or maybe she's in a corner where I missed her, still unconscious. You got it worse than any of us, Jim, but when they first started throwing things at us, she seemed to be the focal point of their hatred."
"But why?" Kirk asked blankly. "We didn't do anything."
His head felt a little clearer now. He groped for his communicator, knowing as he did so that it would be gone. "We were just walking," he went on. "None of you did anything else, did you?"
Philips said slowly, "Yeoman Seemar stopped to pick up something - I didn't see what. It was as she picked it up that they attacked us."
Kirk frowned. "That doesn't seem reason enough... unless they thought she planned to attack their Father Paul - "
The door crashed open. The light that shone in, dim as it was, hurt their eyes. Then a torch was carried in. Father Paul strode behind the torch-bearer. Kirk pushed himself painfully to his feet.
"What is the reason for this attack?" he asked, fighting to keep his voice steady.
"You consort with an evil one, an emissary of the devil." It was less of an answer than an accusation, indictment and sentence in one. "You even claim the evil one as your wife - "
"Now wait a minute!" Kirk exclaimed.
"There can be no penance for such a sin. I should have seen it when you attempted to claim the injured child - aye, I admit your cunning, for you made me overlook your evil suggestion then - but your succubus betrayed you before it was too late and you corrupted us. The sentence is death."
"Succubus?" McCoy asked blankly.
"What of my yeoman?" Kirk snapped.
"The succubus will be destroyed as befits her demoniac origin."
Father Paul turned and strode out. The torch bearer followed him; last to leave were the guards that stood just inside the door. The door crashed shut again.
"What the devil," McCoy asked, "is a succubus?"
They were left for only a few minutes. Then the guards returned. They were dragged from the unlit cell with an utter disregard for their bruises and marched at knifepoint along a dim corridor and into a room which, while still fairly dim, was better lit than the corridor. Torches were thrust into holders all round the walls; a fire glowed redly in the centre of the room. Iron bars lay partly in the fire. Tables and benches stood around, all with manacles at each end. Three brawny men, stripped to the waist, waited, their bodies shining with sweat. Father Paul sat, several of his escort around him, on a raised chair overlooking the entire room. There was an expression of avid expectation on his face.
The six men were forcibly stripped and fastened by wrists and ankles to the benches. Ratchet wheels were operated; their arms and legs were drawn taut, then the wheels turned once more.
The strain on their joints would have been painful anyway; added to their bruised muscles, it was agonising. All six struggled against any outcry.
The men must already have their orders, Kirk realised, as the torturers advanced on Dravo, McCoy and himself. The other three had made no obvious attempt to succour the injured child; their sins must be accounted less.
The wheels operating the three racks were tightened once more. A gasp hissed from Dravo's gritted teeth; McCoy drew in his breath sharply. Kirk remained obstinately silent, grimly determined that his screams of agony should not add to the perverted priest's enjoyment yet somehow knowing that the torturers would not rest until he was screaming.
All three torturers turned to Kirk. One of them handed the other two a length of rope. Then, steadily, in unison, they brought the ropes down in vicious blows across his biceps and thigh muscles. Already bruised, strained against the pull of the rack, the muscles screamed protest at the thudding torment of the knotted ropes.
After what seemed an eternity, the steady beating ceased. It gave little respite; his tortured nerves continued to feel the rhythmic blows in sympathetic throbbing.
The already familiar, already hated voice of Father Paul spoke. Kirk heard the words without the meaning penetrating. The torturers moved away from him, back towards his men.
"No!" he gasped. "They've done... nothing wrong!"
"Then you admit that you have?" The insidious voice was avid, gloating.
"None of us... has done anything wrong."
"By your own customs, perhaps not," purred the voice. "But here we do not condone evil; we root it out. Is it not better to suffer now, in this life, a few days of pain, than to endure an eternity of agony?"
"Must religion be a matter of fear... and pain... and hatred?" Kirk gasped.
"The fear of God - " Father Paul began.
"What about the love of God?" Kirk exclaimed fiercely.
"God can only love those who obey Him."
"Surely even an all-powerful God prefers to be obeyed from choice than from fear?"
"Man is sinful. Only fear keeps him from sinning... "
Kirk shut his ears to the droning platitudes. There was no reasoning with this man. His mind lacked any spark of originality, initiative or humanity. Perhaps he was what his culture had made him; perhaps he was as he would have been however he had been reared. Only here he could exercise his sadistic narrow-mindedness with complete impunity.
A sudden sharp cry of agony roused him abruptly from his pain-filled semi-consciousness. He struggled to lift his head, and saw that the torturers had turned their attentions to Dravo. Sorry as he felt for the man, he was conscious of sudden relief that the victim was not McCoy... yet. He could not see what the torturers were doing, and for that he was grateful.
At last Dravo's screams cut off, and he knew his officer had lost consciousness at least. He swallowed dryly. What next?
He soon learned. The padding footsteps approached him again. He looked at the torturer drawing nearer and noted the red-hot iron in his hand. He gritted his teeth.
The heat from the iron was unbearable as it was moved closer to him; then it pressed firmly against his chest. He felt it burning into him but stubbornly refused to utter a sound, strangely grateful for the bonds that, agonising as their grip was, kept him from moving. At least that sadistic devil would not get the pleasure, the satisfaction, of seeing him squirm. By the time the iron was lifted, he thought he would feel its heat and pressure for the rest of his life - short though he expected that to be.
The iron was returned to the fire; the torturer was returning. Now what?
The man placed a flat piece of wood over Kirk's stomach. Something pricked him, and he realised that the wood was studded with something sharp... nails? A weight was placed on the wood, and the points pressed down. Then the torturer moved away again, to be replaced by Father Paul. "Do you repent your evil?"
"What evil?" Kirk gasped. "We have done... nothing!"
"You consort with a demon, a succubus from hell," Father Paul snarled. "She is not even a cunning demon - the mark of her evil origins is plain for those to see who have the strength to look beyond an attractive face."
Just what had the yeoman done, Kirk wondered. "Where is my yeoman?" he asked, knowing he would not get an answer that meant anything to him.
"She is with those who may yet persuade her to reject her master," Father Paul said. "But you - think of your own immortal soul, my son. Repent your association with the devil's spawn!"
Kirk shook his head. It was a gesture of utter bewilderment, but Father Paul chose to take it as a negative. He signed, and the torturer placed another weight on the flat wood pricking Kirk's abdomen. Then all three torturers approached again, wielding their ropes, and Kirk set his teeth once more, determined to suffer in silence.
The woman, and the man carrying the crippled child, made a slow journey back towards the city. They dropped further and further behind the crowd.
They saw the sudden uproar, heard the yells of hate and fear, and exchanged glances. There was no need to speak; this was an old, old story to them - they had taken their own part in such mobs in the past. But now, for the first time in their lives, they felt direct sympathy for the victim, for they knew now what it was like to suffer themselves. They were God-fearing people who lived in complete obedience to the Church's teaching; what evil could their child have done? Yet he would never be able to walk properly again, for the leg was sure to heal crooked, and their son would be marked for life as a sinner God had chosen to punish directly. He would never be able to lead a normal life; no matter where he went, he would be shunned, pointed out as an example of a punished sinner...
They delayed to let the mob move on. With the mood that had now arisen, they were liable to be attacked also because they were helping a punished sinner - with no-one choosing to remember that the sinner was their own child.
When at last it was certain that the crowd was moving, they followed, keeping a safe distance. They paused when they reached the place where the crowd had stopped; the child was heavy enough for his father to need a rest every so often. So it was that they saw the communicators and the battered tricorder. They stared at the artifacts in awe; kept ignorant by a power-hungry priesthood, they still knew legends of their ancestors' arrival here, refugees from a Godless Galaxy. That these were tools that their ancestors knew, they realised; the woman reached out tentatively and picked up a communicator. She turned it over and over in her hands, wondering how it worked; and when they moved on, she took it with her, a souvenir of a hope for a better world in which children were not condemned as sinners from birth that had not even had time to materialise.
At last, Spock decided that he could wait no longer for any sign of life from the landing party. First he sent down a reconnaissance party to the deserted shuttle. Their report was wholly negative; he ordered them to make a cautious scouting trip towards the city. Before long he received a report on the finding of a damaged tricorder and six communicators. Six - not seven. Interesting. Where was the missing communicator? Spock set Uhura to call the missing landing party in the hope of getting an answer.
The woman sitting beside her injured son fingered the alien artifact, wondering what it was for. Suddenly it began giving out a sharp bleeping sound. Startled, frightened, wondering what she had done to cause this, she jumped and dropped the thing. The lid popped open. Then - horror of horrors - a voice spoke from it.
"Doctor, what has happened to your party?"
She whimpered in fear. "No! No! I repent!"
"I didn't hurt your servants! Spare me!"
Spock stared in blank amazement at the communications console for perhaps two seconds, then he realised something of what must have happened. He punched the command chair intercom.
"Security detail, meet me in the transporter room immediately. Lt. Uhura, pinpoint that signal in case it is cut off before the transporter room can lock on to it. Mr. Scott, you have the con."
He was gone before Scotty could acknowledge the order.
The woman, staring in terror at the communicator, too frightened to touch it, shrank back with a strangled scream as the six figures began to materialise. As they solidified, and she saw the pointed ears and slanting eyebrows of the blue-clad figure who stood out if only because of the different colour of his shirt, she cowered back, her arms raised as if to protect herself.
"God protect me!"
Spock looked helplessly at her for a moment, recognising her almost hysterical fear. Normally he would have taken time to try to gain her confidence, but the silence from the landing party made him too anxious for the safety of his friends for finesse. He caught her hands and pulled them down; stared intently into her eyes, willing her to trust him, realising that a mind meld might terrorise her into insanity.
"We aren't going to hurt you," he said quietly. Even as he spoke, the door opened, and a man rushed in. He stopped dead at sight of the strangers, recognising the clothes as being similar to those worn by the other men - the ones who had shown sympathy for his son. He hesitated at sight of the blue-clad man with the pointed ears; the man who turned to him immediately.
"We mean you no harm," he said quietly. "We only want to learn what happened to our friends."
The man swallowed. 'Friends', the devil said. 'Friends'. Not 'servants'. And indeed, his powers must be slight if he did not know what had occurred.
"We don't really know," he said nervously.
"Tell me what you do know... please."
The man related what had happened, as far as he knew, and added, "We don't know why. They must still be alive - if they'd been killed, their bodies would have been left."
"Then where have they been taken?" Spock asked, concealing his impatience.
"The Church Authorities will have them," the man replied reluctantly.
"Where will they be held prisoner, then?"
The man hesitated; Spock, correctly divining the reason, added quietly, "You can leave here with us, if you are afraid of what might happen to you for helping us, and find a home in another Federation world. And in any case, we will tend your son's leg so that it heals straight."
"I will... take you there."
Spock realised the man's courage with gratitude. "My thanks, sir."
Spock ordered the woman and the child to be beamed up to the ship, having first called one of the nurses down to see if the presence of another woman would help to calm the native's terror and reassure the man of their good faith. Then the party set off.
No-one attempted to molest them as they went. Many who saw them shrank back in fear of the devil, and there was no need for the guards to make any use of their drawn phasers.
The native guided them to a large, impressive building. Impressive - yet gloomily threatening. The doors, massive and ornately carved, held firm against Spock's attempts to open them. He drew his phaser, and calmly burned his way through.
Their guide dropped back as they entered, but followed gamely, almost as if he was afraid to leave their protection. Life must have indeed been hard for the man, Spock thought, if he was so ready to trust someone who so closely resembled the mythical devil he had been taught to dread.
There was nothing to indicate which way to go. Spock kicked open the first door that they came to. Inside was a dirt-encrusted, smelly figure who cowered back, muttering superstitiously. Spock ignored the dirt and the smell. For this man he had no sympathy.
"Where are the off-worlders your colleagues captured?" Spock asked sternly. An incoherent gobbling was his only answer. Spock felt an unaccustomed rage mix with his accustomed patience for illogic. The rage was directed mainly against the culture that could reduce a man to this level, but the hapless priest bore the brunt of it. Spock lifted him bodily to his feet while the frightened, but now impressed, native who had led them here watched in fascinated awe.
"Where are they?" Spock's voice was very soft.
The terrified priest pointed, any resistance that might have been in his mind destroyed by the nameless menace in the Vulcan's voice.
"Take us there." The quiet voice threatened unheard-of punishment for disobedience. Even the security guards, who well knew the normally gentle nature of their senior officer, felt the touch of fear, mingled with relief that they were not the recipients of his unvoiced anger.
Spock took only a second to grasp the significance of the scene in front of him, and three more to reach the three torturers attending to Kirk. Two of them went flying, tossed aside with an effortless, almost casual gesture. The third took one look at the cold face of the Vulcan and shrank back.
Until this moment, Spock had not realised that it was Kirk suffering under the priests' torture. Now, realising, his rage mounted to a level he had not believed himself capable of. But his face was gentle as he carefully lifted the weighted board from Kirk's stomach and tossed it aside. Then with a quick flick he released the wheel that controlled the rack.
Kirk lay still, unable to move his arms or legs, but relieved that the strain was gone. Two of the guards moved forwards to release the others; one of them came to where Spock was gently massaging Kirk's arms.
"Mr. Dravo's dead, sir. There's no sign of Yeoman Seemar."
"They have her... somewhere else," Kirk managed. "Get her!"
Spock nodded. "When you're safe, Captain."
"Go on, Spock," gasped a voice at the Vulcan's shoulder. "I'll manage to see to Jim."
For the first time since entering the torture chamber, Spock thought consciously of McCoy. The surgeon looked drawn and moved stiffly, but appeared to be unhurt. "You should be resting also, Doctor."
"Just get us beamed up and then go and get the girl."
The Vulcan hesitated only a second longer. Sickbay was better equipped to deal with Kirk's injuries than he... He gave the necessary orders to the ship, then turned his attention to the priests. It took him only a moment to identify the leader.
"Where is the woman?" he asked coldly.
"She is safe from your influence, demon." Father Paul was frightened - but he was upheld by his beliefs. Bigoted he might be; cruel and sadistic, enjoying the suffering of those who were deemed heretic by his bigotry but still he was sincere in his beliefs.
Spock took the few steps that separated him from the unappealing man, barely controlling an unheard of but almost irresistible impulse to send him flying with one well-placed blow. This single-minded unimaginativeness was the result of his culture - the utter dependency of a basically weak mind on an artificial support. A stronger man might be truly devout but remain more flexible in his thinking, less inclined to enjoy using force to persuade others of the rightness of his beliefs. What this man had, sincere though it might be, was not religious devotion but slavish dependence.
"I have the ability to draw the information I require from your mind," Spock said quietly. "It would, however, be more pleasant if you were to give me the information voluntarily." He did not say for whom it would be more pleasant.
"I defy you!" Father Paul spat.
The native, who had remained unnoticed in the shadows all this time, came forward. "Sir - the Holy Sisters will have her."
Spock hadn't entirely forgotten the man, but he had dismissed him to the back of his mind; now he swung round in genuine surprise at the native's daring, knowing from the expression on Father Paul's face that the man was right.
"Can you take us there?"
They left the priests fastened to the racks, securely but without straining their limbs; Spock suspected that they might have some way of communicating with the 'Holy Sisters', and preferred to minimize the risks. With luck, it would be many hours before the priests were found; let them experience for themselves a little of what it meant to be a prisoner here.
They wasted no time at the ornate door of the slightly less impressive building that housed the Holy Sisters, but burned it open without delay. The stench from the building was no less than from the men's; the place was as dirty.
"I would have thought that women would have preferred to keep their surroundings a little cleaner than this," Spock said, his voice showing some disgust.
The man looked at him, already beginning to understand the gulf between his culture and that of the strangers. "It's holy dirt, sir," he said. "The priests never wash - they say that God wants them to be in a natural state, and that to wash off His holy dirt is a sin."
"How many priests die when there is illness in the city?" Spock asked dryly.
"Quite a lot," the native answered seriously. "They die to save the people."
Spock was saved from trying to answer; guessing that this building would have the same general plan as the other, he had headed in the same direction, and now they found themselves at the door of the torture chamber.
The unfortunate yeoman was fastened to a frame while two robed women were flogging her. Like the men, she had been stripped; her body was a mass of open wounds. She was moaning steadily, too weak even to scream.
The priestesses retreated as the devil advanced; and watched in terror as his party, including the freed prisoner, faded from their sight.
M'Benga ordered all of the original landing party, and the child, into bed, obstinately shutting his ears to McCoy's claim that he was all right. However, he did put McCoy in with Kirk, separate from the others, and once his colleague had gone, McCoy struggled up to go to Kirk on stiff legs.
"You shouldn't, Bones," Kirk said weakly.
"I just want to be satisfied that M'Benga's patched you up properly... yes, you'll do," he added at last.
"So lie down again."
"I'll be better moving... best thing for stiffness. That's all that's wrong with me."
"Your arms and legs were strained too."
"I'm all right, Jim... I must admit, though, I'd like to know why they suddenly decided to attack us like that."
"You should be in bed, Doctor," a quiet voice broke in.
"That's right, Spock," Kirk chuckled. "You chase him back to bed."
McCoy capitulated - at least temporarily. Spock saw him settled, then turned to his Captain.
He bent over Kirk, his face gentle. "How do you feel, Jim?"
"I'll be all right." Kirk smiled up at him. "Thanks, Spock. You probably gave those priests down there the shock of their narrow-minded lives - and the fact that you didn't hurt anyone must have made the people think. I don't really know what to recommend, though... I wish I knew why they turned on us." He sighed. "Whatever it was, it seems to have been sparked off by the yeoman, but she didn't do anything that we could see."
"As to that, Captain... I had a word with her. The 'Holy Sisters' tested her. She didn't understand it, but she could tell me the result. She could have told them herself without the test. She's left-handed, Captain."
"So?" demanded McCoy. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"As I recall Terran history," Spock said, "during periods of extreme religious fervor, left-handedness was regarded as evil - a sign of the devil."
"And that was why...?" Kirk exclaimed.
"Yes, Captain. I should have remembered that before you ever went down - but I failed to associate the yeoman's left-handedness with my own appearance as being dangerous. I apologise - "
"Not your fault, Spock - I should have remembered too," Kirk said, not wholly truthfully. He tried to move, and winced. Spock carefully eased him into a new position.
"I sent a pilot to retrieve the shuttlecraft," Spock said.
"Good." Kirk recognised Spock's desire to turn the conversation to a less emotional subject. But he could not resist one last expression of his feelings. Their eyes met; in Spock's, Kirk saw a reflection of the affection that he felt, mirroring the gratitude and affection that Kirk himself felt.
"You should sleep now, Captain," Spock said quietly.
Kirk closed his eyes obediently. Spock waited for a moment, glanced across at McCoy, lifted a hand in a silent gesture of farewell, and left.
McCoy looked over at Kirk. The Captain seemed to be sleeping. McCoy relaxed, and settled down to sleep as well.
He would never tell him, of course, but Spock was a handy devil to have around...