“This is the place,” John Kyle said, stopping in front of a sprawling pleasure house that, to Chekov’s eye, looked not much different from those that surrounded it.
“Ah, yes,” Stoney rocked back and forth from toes to heels and wiggled his brows. “So it is.”
“C’mon,” Kyle slapped Chekov companionably across the shoulders. “Let’s go.”
But the Russian hesitated. There must be somewhere else he could go while they…
“You’re hungry, aren’t you, Pav?” Stoney asked quietly from his other side. “They set quite a good table, you know.”
Chekov nodded, and followed them toward the door. Eating. That was good.
Once inside, the clean, spare lines of the place surprised him. A willowy brunette in a floor length robe met them at the foot of the spiral staircase.
“Gentlemen,” she said graciously. “How may we help you?”
Kyle stepped forward and walked a short distance away with the woman, while Chekov stood there with Stoney, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. A moment or so later, as the brunette nodded and smiled at their companion, the Russian and the American looked higher on the staircase where a blonde and redhead had just appeared at its landing. Chekov felt his breath catch as he looked at the redhead, her green dress undulating suggestively as she descended. He swallowed convulsively as she crossed the lobby and strolled over, the blonde close behind.
“That will do nicely, thanks,” Kyle assured his brunette, as they returned across the parquet floor, her arm hooked through his.
“Hello,” the redhead said to Chekov. “I’m Jana.” Well-trained, she didn’t ask his name.
He heard the blonde say something coy to Stoney. He patted her arm in response, and then ventured, “Our friend hasn’t eaten...”
Immediately, Jana gestured toward a closed doorway. “Please,” she said, “allow me to serve you…”
Glancing at his friends, but finding himself unnoticed in return, Chekov turned to follow her. Once inside the room to which Jana led him, the Russian was surprised again—it was light and airy, with a high ceiling and windows flooded with sunlight. Green trees waved in the gentle breeze in one direction, while in the other he could see the tide coming in on the beach, and water birds sailing lazily overhead.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Jana interrupted his thoughts. “I love this room.”
Chekov looked at her closely for the first time: wide green eyes, lightly made up, regarded him kindly over a freckled nose and full, rose lips.
“Yes,” he said.
“Come,” she gestured toward the table near the windows. “Let me serve you.”
Chekov crossed the room to the chair she indicated, sat gingerly. “That isn’t necessary,” he protested quietly, as Jana set several dishes before him, piping hot and smelling good enough to make his mouth water.
She looked at him. “Do you…want me to leave you, then?”
As he took off covers to inspect each dish, Chekov glanced up. “I’m…afraid I am very tired, and…not much good at conversation.” Then, seeing her face, he realized she must be at a loss to understand this strange client who seemed to want no more from her than a waitress might give. “But…why don’t you stay and…talk to me?”
It was the right thing to have said, he saw. She relaxed and leaned her elbows on the table, head in her hands.
Chekov began to eat, as she told him about the house. He nodded and smiled from time to time as she described of what woods the staircase had been fabricated, and the number of species of shellfish to be found in the nearby cove. It was quite a pleasant and impersonal conversation—quite comfortable, in fact—that is, until she touched him.
It happened during dessert. She was telling a story about one of the house’s exotic birds that were kept in the garden, and laughing animatedly. Chekov was beginning to feel surprisingly relaxed and was thinking of removing his duty jacket.
Then she patted his hand.
The start he gave in response tipped over his water glass, and it crashed to the hardwood floor.
“I—I’m sorry,” Chekov stammered automatically and pushed his chair back to stand.
“It’s all right,” she said quietly. Her dress had caught some of the water, and she was dabbing it with a napkin, while kneeling to pick up the broken shards.
“I shouldn’t have—I can’t believe I…”
“Commander,” she said, straightening and looking into his eyes. “It’s all right.”
The compassion in her eyes found an answering anger in his.
“My God,” he said tightly. “John told you.”
Jana put the glass shards carefully down on the tablecloth, looked at him. “Yes,” she admitted. “He told me about what happened to you…how you don’t like to be touched now. And… I’m sorry.”
“All this time,” Chekov muttered. “All this time you knew. What were you doing, all of you, laughing at me, then?” He threw his own napkin to the table, challenged her with his eyes.
“No. Your friends care about you. They thought…maybe this would help.”
“Well, it doesn’t help,” Chekov snapped. He turned and strode over to the window, crossed his arms and stared out at the beach. “Nothing helps,” he added under his breath.
He heard her sigh, come up behind him. He tensed.
“I won’t touch you again,” she promised, “unless you…want me to.”
“Well, I don’t,” he nearly shouted.
“All right.” Then, after a moment, she said, “Commander…how long has it been since you walked along a beach?”
He thought about that. “I don’t remember the last time,” he admitted.
“Your friends will…be awhile yet. Why don’t I…replicate you some appropriate clothing, and you can enjoy the sand?”
Chekov was silent a long moment. Then he said, “That would be…fine.”
“Good.” She turned to walk away.
“Jana,” Chekov called without turning, “will you walk with me?”
“Of course, if you like.”
It felt uncomfortable at first to be out of uniform, and as the breeze kicked up along the beach Chekov started to smooth his hair, then saw Jana casting him a doubtful smile and put his hand down quickly. He began trudging along and she fell into step beside him, keeping up effortlessly and glancing at him sidelong from time to time.
“Have you been to Risa…before?”
Before his last assignment, he realized she meant—before Khan.
“There are some dunes…just beyond that rise. It’s a good place to stretch out and enjoy the sun.”
Chekov nodded. As they came upon the dunes and slowed their pace, he suddenly realized how much he was enjoying the warm breeze against his skin under the loose shirt she had given him, and in the last few yards he had hardly noticed the sand in his shoes.
He found he was smiling.
Jana spread some towels she’d brought on the sand and stretched out unselfconsciously on one. Chekov did the same, feeling tense again as he glanced at her prone curves and all they implied. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the sun soaking into his skin.
A moment later his arm was splashed with sand as she levered herself up on one elbow beside him. “Are you from the same planet as John?” she asked. “You look…different.”
Chekov’s mouth twisted. “Same planet. Different continent,” he answered.
“Oh.” She paused. “Well, it doesn’t matter. You’re quite attractive, anyway.”
“Really. How much did Kyle pay you to say that?”
When she didn’t answer, he opened his eyes. She was looking at him with the same impersonal expression she’d had when they’d first met. “Would you like to be alone, Commander?”
Chekov thought about that a long moment. Then he sat up cross-legged, dropping his hands into his lap. “No,” he said. “And…I’m sorry, Jana. I just…I’m…”
“I know…” she began.
“No, you don’t know,” he interrupted, staring out across the water. “No one knows. I’ve talked to Dr. McCoy, the counselors at Starfleet Medical…there’s no physical reason for this. I just can’t…”
She touched him.
Chekov froze, heart pounding, staring at her hand on his arm.
“I told you,” she said softly, “I wouldn’t unless you wanted me to. But…you do want me to…don’t you, Commander?”
The Russian’s mouth was dry with terror. But it wasn’t Khan with him…only this pretty girl on the beach with the long, red hair. She moved
her hand to his bicep, looking him steadily in the eyes as she did so. “Is this all right?”
“Yes,” Chekov said, and it was all he could do to say it. He sat there on the sand, frozen, breathing, waiting…
“Are you sure, Commander?” Her other hand came up and touched his face.
Chekov wanted to pull away but stopped himself. “Pavel,” he said. “My name is Pavel.”
She smiled then, and something came away inside him. His hand reached out…
He touched her.
Jana snuggled closer to him. “Pavel,” she said, and leaned forward, “that’s better.”
An echo of Khan’s voice snapped Chekov back with a start. He scrambled to his feet and stood swaying there at the water’s edge, confused, half frightened, and half desirous.
“Pavel,” Jana came to stand beside him. “What just happened?”
He hugged himself, suddenly cold, even in the blazing heat. “A memory…bad one…”
She moved in front of him, looked into his eyes. “Let me help you,” she said.
Chekov’s jaw tensed. “I don’t know what I’m doing here,” he said savagely. He started to turn away, but she put her hands to his arms again.
“It’s all right, Pavel. You’re safe now.”
Chekov looked down as if seeing her for the very first time.
“I said…you’re safe now.”
“Safe,” he repeated.
“Safe,” she said, smiling a little.
Before he could stop her, she pressed against him, and Chekov’s arms reflexively came up to hold her. Adrenalin surged through him, but he held on tighter, and Jana clung to him now, whispering over and over, “You’re safe, Pavel. Pavel, you’re safe…”
Some time later he became aware her bare belly was pressed against his torso, her breasts against his chest, lips nuzzled into his neck. And she felt so good…
“Who are you?” he asked into her ear. “How did you…?”
She pulled back a little to look at him. “I don’t know,” she said, and seemed embarrassed. “Unless…”
He looked at her.
She pulled him down to sit on the sand again beside her. “My sense of touch has always been…”
He continued to look at her.
“I’m a sculptor,” she blurted.
Whatever else he had expected, this wasn’t it. “What?” he asked stupidly.
She looked at him shyly. “Would you…like to see my work?”
Chekov found himself laughing a little, more relaxed than he’d been in months.
“Yes,” he said. “I would.”
Jana took him by the hand and led him down the beach and back inside the house. Blinking as his eyes adjusted from the outdoor glare to the cool, shaded tile corridor she led him through, Chekov followed along behind her, marveling that her touch was no longer confrontational, even as he was struck by the sense that she was excited at showing him her studio.
They entered another room—this one had a large skylight overhead and dust motes orbiting through the air. Jana dropped his hand and walked toward one of several draped figures, saying:
“Some of these aren’t very good—just experiments, really. This is the one I particularly wanted to show you…” And she gave the tarpaulin covering a swift tug…
Beneath it was a winged horse, its churning hooves just disappearing into the rock from which it sprang. The line of its jaw lifted nobly to the heavens, its mane flowing in riotous strands along its arched neck. Jana’s hand slipped possessively along its back.
“What do you think?”
Chekov walked closer, caught by the thing’s massive elegance and the way her fingers traced the mane, evidence of how long they’d spent painstakingly forming its intricate curls. “It’s absolutely…amazing.” He walked around the piece to the other side, studying the lines of the upswept wings and trying to imagine her climbing and crawling all around it, breathing life into its face, tilted to the stars as if in question…
Then he looked at her. “I think…I want to see your experiments.”
She laughed a little. “Over here.”
The next tarp revealed a bust he recognized as the brunette they’d met on their arrival. There were several others depicting animals from various worlds. When Chekov questioned her about these, she shrugged.
“Some of my clients bring me holos, and I work from them. It can be difficult to get the textures right, though, so I ask a lot of questions…”
“How many of these have your clients commissioned, then?”
Jana blinked. “I don’t understand.”
“You…said your clients…”
“Oh!” she smiled. “I don’t sell my sculptures. I meant my…clients…like you…”
Chekov felt a scowl forming. “Jana, if you are this talented as an artist, why do you…?”
The look she gave him now was pitied. “It never fails to amaze me that Starfleet officers know so little of other cultures,” she said. “Here on Risa, we believe that giving pleasure is a great art in itself—a higher calling. My art is…incidental.” She smiled. “But I’m glad it pleases you, Pavel.”
A bit embarrassed now, he half turned away. “You’ve never been off world, then?”
“No. I can’t imagine living anywhere else…”
Chekov spied one more tarpaulin, near the back of the studio. “What’s that one?” He began walking toward it…
“That’s unfinished,” she responded and moved after him. “I’m not sure…”
He stopped, turned, and his mouth tipped up at one corner. “It would…give me pleasure to see it, anyway.”
Jana smiled again, “All right.” Together, they walked the last few feet and she lifted the cover…
It was unfinished, Chekov saw at once. Still, its grace was unmistakable: male and female humanoid figures entwined in passionate embrace, her hand just touching his hair at the nape of the neck, his leg just brushing her thigh…
“You see,” she was saying now, “the faces are still unformed.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said, and turned her chin up with one hand so he could kiss her lips. “I like it this way…”
Chekov awoke wrapped in tarpaulin, plaster dust and Jana. He just lay there for a few moments, holding her, gazing up at the remote skylight and feeling content. Here there was no Starfleet, no lost Reliant, and no apprehension about the future.
A few moments later she awoke, and soon after that he was showered and back in uniform to meet Kyle and Stoney.
They kissed, lingeringly.
“Will I see you again?” she asked.
“I should think so,” he said, smiling.
Chekov shrugged. “That’s another question. Six months? A year?”
She walked him back through the corridor and toward the foyer. At the closed door, he stopped.
She simply kissed him in reply.
Neither of them could know it would be closer to two years before they’d meet again…
“There are some clients downstairs…and one of them is asking to see you,” Barbara hissed through the closed door.
Jana opened it a crack. “At this hour? Without an appointment?”
The older woman shrugged. “Their credit chips are valid.”
A faint sigh could be heard through the crack. “All in the service…I’ll be right down.”
By the time Jana got to the top of the stairs, the grandfather clock in the foyer was chiming eleven o’clock and other girls had taken all but one of the men to separate rooms. A figure wearing a dark Vulcan cape stood in the lower hall, its back turned to her and dripping water from the storm outside. A chill of apprehension shivered down her spine. What would a Vulcan want with her?
She came a little way down, keeping her footsteps soft and trying to recall who this might be from the set of his shoulders under the long, hooded wrap.
“You asked for me?” she called softly.
The man pivoted, cloak spiraling around him, and walked into the light. A lopsided grin shone at her below a straight nose and merry, dark eyes.
“Pavel Chekov!” Jana laughed and put one hand over her heart. “You surprised me.”
“Hello,” he said. “It’s good to see you again.”
She came closer, allowed him to kiss her briefly, and then said, “What are you doing …dressed like this?”
He smiled. “Mr. Spock lent it to me. He said it was ‘quite logical’ that I wanted to travel in disguise, after all the fuss recently over Captain Kirk and bringing the humpback whales forward in time.”
“Now I understand,” she said, and helped him remove the heavy cloak so he could follow her into the studio. “You’ve had quite an adventure. Your faces and names are known everywhere, thanks to the Intergalactic Press.”
“You have no idea,” Chekov assured her, running a hand through his damp hair, “how hard it is being ‘the heroes that saved Earth’. I can never be alone anymore. So I came to Risa on a stormy night.” He shot her a teasing look, “Who would go there?”
Without being asked, Jana brought him a cup of hot soup from the replicator.
“They’re talking about installing a planetary weather generator now,” she said, “so that it never rains. But, so far, there are too many citizens that think a thunderstorm is still pretty romantic. And romantic is good for business.”
Chekov saluted her words with his cup. “I agree, absolutely.” Then he took a sip and sighed. “Ah, that’s good. Thank you.”
Before the silence between them could get awkward, Jana took him by the arm and led him through the studio into a small sitting room where two wing-backed chairs sat in front of a blazing fireplace.
“The news from the rest of the Federation has come through to Risa rather garbled lately,” she told him. “The weather proposal is one of several levied by the governor that is causing some unrest in the last few weeks.”
Chekov frowned, but tried to laugh this off as he lowered himself into one of the chairs. “Unrest on Risa? I don’t believe it.”
Jana sat down and looked at him. “Believe it, Pavel. There’s been rioting very near here in the last week.”
“Rioting?” Chekov’s frown became a scowl and he sat up straighter. “Over what?”
Jana sighed. “Well, the governor says the gambling and pleasure houses should receive the largest portion of citizen tax dollars—and, from their profits, should secondarily fund the betterment of education and the arts.”
“So the older and poorer citizens—the ones who have no vested interest in the pleasure industry—are saying they’ll tear our houses and gambling halls down themselves and build a new economy, based on Risan skill and exporting.”
“But that could take decades!”
She shrugged. “They don’t seem to have considered that, and they say the only way to accomplish their goals is violence.”
Chekov sighed again and shook his head. “It’s a shame.” He looked at her then. “Jana, are you safe here?”
She tossed her head. “Oh, yes. Barbara’s room has a ComPic channel direct to the local authorities if we ever need them. Besides, the rioters never come into Medina. We just have to…wait it out.”
Chekov sipped his soup then said, “I thought about you a lot while I was gone.”
Jana came to sit at his feet, laid her head on his knee. “I’m glad. I thought about you, too.”
The rain lashed harder against the windows, and a sudden downdraft of wind made the fire flame brighter for a moment. Chekov wound one hand through Jana’s hair and she turned her cheek into his palm to look up at him.
“Would you like more soup?”
“No,” he answered, “but there is something I want…”
The first hint of trouble came only a couple of hours later. Chekov was pleasurably adrift in that space between sleep and wakefulness and Jana lay with her head on his shoulder, long red mane splayed on the pillows beside them. The whisper, when it came, though, had the Russian instantly struggling into clothes, his long years as Enterprise’s security chief serving him well.
“Mistress? Mistress, please…?”
Jana stirred and called sleepily, “Nikki, what is it?”
Of course, the little house girl, Chekov realized as he slid on the dark t-shirt he’d worn under Spock’s cape. He knew the voice now—she’d brought him his boots, freshly shined, the last time he’d been here. He’d ruffled her hair and told her how pretty she looked. She must be all of seven or eight in Solar years…
By now, Jana had belted her robe and started toward the door. “Nikki, you know you shouldn’t disturb the clients…”
Before she could finish, a tremendous crash could be heard from the foyer. Chekov snatched at Spock’s cloak where it lay across a chair and scrabbled through its pockets, hoping for a weapon, a device—anything—while motioning Jana to open the door.
Wide-eyed, she obeyed him, and a bundle of blonde curls and pink-cheeked terror bolted through the doorway and into her arms. “Mistress! There are men downstairs—Barbara sent me to wake you. Oh, hurry, they are bad men!”
Angry voices could be heard in the downstairs hall, as well as the shrieking of wind and rain. Jana’s eyes became wide and frightened. “Rioters,” she whispered. Chekov flattened himself against the wall, and then leaned as far as he dared into the hallway…
“Well, I see you couldn’t sleep, either,” commented a droll voice.
Chekov glanced to his right to see Leonard McCoy and Barbara peering around the doorframe of the next room down.
“Where’s Hikaru?” he whispered back.
“Down there,” McCoy responded, gesturing down the spiral staircase.
“Pavel,” Jana said from behind him, “there’s a rear stairwell that leads down to the library. And the adjoining vestibule has a door to the beach… But we’d have to get there through Kioshi’s room.” She leaned past him and pointed into the shadowed hallway, where several more female heads could be seen peering back at them.
“All right,” Chekov said. “Go with Barbara and Nikki—find the other girls. Get them all out that way. We’ll go downstairs and talk to your…uninvited guests…”
“We will?” McCoy challenged, half-amused, from down the corridor. “What about the local police? They do have those here, don’t they? Besides, we’re on leave, Commander. That means no phasers, remember?”
Barbara spoke up then, “This house has an auto CommPic that phones the police at any break-in attempt. But I just checked—the line’s been cut. I’m not sure the signal ever got out.”
“Great. Just great,” McCoy muttered.
Another crash came just at that moment. Nikki squealed and held Jana tighter.
“That was the grandfather clock,” Barbara said in a pained voice.
Then…lumbering footsteps sounded on the stair…
“Go!” Chekov commanded, pushing Jana and Nikki out into the corridor and toward Barbara. “Hurry!”
Sulu had been enjoying tea with Kioshi in the dining hall when the foyer door was suddenly smashed in. Reacting instinctively, he’d looped an arm around the girl’s waist and pulled them both behind the heavy connecting door. And it was a good thing too, since the next moment six men stomped into the foyer, dripping wet and more than a little intoxicated.
The first began stumbling about, smashing every object he could find. The one behind him started bellowing at the top of his lungs in native Risan.
“Friends of yours?” he whispered to Kioshi.
Her frightened shake of the head was answer enough.
Like McCoy, Sulu knew better than to interfere in a planetary police problem. So—he scanned the room for another way out, while he asked Kioshi, “Are there any weapons in the house? Anything to protect yourselves?”
Shaking, she answered. “Not weapons. But there might be something in Jana’s studio.”
Sulu had no idea what she was talking about, but said anyway, “Okay, is there a way to get there without using the foyer?”
Just then, two of the men who had been rocking the grandfather clock in the hallway managed to tip it over—springs, glass and countless other working parts sprayed across the tile floor in all directions. Kioshi’s terrified glance was now focused entirely on the intruders and she clapped her hands over her ears and began to sob silently.
“C’mon, c’mon,” Sulu whispered, pulling her hands down. “You’ve got to help me until the police get here, okay?”
She looked into his eyes, took a deep, shuddering breath. “Okay.” She clasped his hand. “This way…”
Together they crept deeper into the room, sliding their backs against the wall toward a doorway at the far end…
“But suppose they don’t want to talk, Chekov,” McCoy protested.
“It’s just property damage—so far,” the Russian reminded him.
The next moment, they made the turn in the stair, and six brutish Risan faces lifted as one to pin them there. Chekov just had time to register they were carrying projectile weapons before he heard the doctor’s…
…and yanked him back around the stairwell, nearly breaking his arm in the process.
The imported wood of the spiral handrail smashed into splinters just where they’d been standing, and McCoy howled as one of the mahogany shards drove itself deep into his left shin. Below, the intruders started up the stairs again, and Chekov frantically back-pedaled, trying to pull the doctor up backward with him. But he knew they’d never make it in time…
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” Sulu’s deep voice cut in from the foyer, “but I should inform you that in the absence of the planetary authorities, I’m placing you under arrest for trespassing and…”
Another shot rang out, and there was a sudden silence, followed by a woman’s scream.
“Dusha moya,” Chekov muttered as he and McCoy exchanged horrified looks. “Hikaru…”
Kioshi began wailing, a long drawn out ululation of terror and despair. She ran to where Sulu lay in full view of the Risan men, and fell to her knees, dabbing at the red blotch on his shirt with the hem of her dress.
The six men in the foyer looked at each other and shuffled their feet. One walked over to Sulu, still holding his gun, and shoved Kioshi aside to kneel over the body. The others began to move toward them.
Suddenly there was a blur of motion on the staircase as Chekov vaulted over the handrail and dropped to the floor. McCoy appeared above him, leaning over, “Pav, don’t!”
“Sulu!” Chekov started toward his friend, only to be stopped by a gun pointed squarely at his chest.
It was then Kioshi screamed and ran forward, a chisel in one hand and a flapping tarpaulin in the other. McCoy gave a strangled gasp as he watched from above.
Sulu, despite the scarlet blossom on his shirt, leapt up and thrust a hand laser into the face of the man bending over him. The brute screamed and fell back.
The distraction was all Chekov needed to knock the gun out of the grasp of the man nearest him and deliver a roundhouse kick that sent him sprawling.
Kioshi tried to throw the tarpaulin over the head of the man nearest to her, but it lashed around his leg instead and she yanked it, hard. His gun, when it went off, missed her cleanly. The bullet shattered a crystal vase on a wall sconce so close to McCoy that it, despite his quick duck, left glass fragments glittering in his hair. The near miss startled him to action, though and he limped quickly down the stairway to snatch up a decorative antique staff leaning against the wall and swing it around to pummel the other man coming to aim on Chekov.
Kioshi suddenly realized she had the chisel still in her hand and advanced on her downed man. But another stepped in and twisted her wrist so hard she whimpered and dropped it. Sulu pivoted and delivered a karate chop, and the man howled and released her…but brought his gun around to bear on them both.
In that instant, Hikaru’s glance caught Pavel’s and clung, a silent message passing between the two men. And then…
…The lights went out…
Jana did all she could to reassure the sobbing Nikki despite the shots downstairs, while Barbara gathered the seven other girls into Kioshi’s room and herded them into the back stairwell down to the library. They had nearly reached their destination when there was a tremendous flash of lightning outside and suddenly the stairwell was plunged into darkness…
Thrusting Nikki into Barbara’s arms, Jana crept down the last few steps, pulled back the latch on the library door and peered into the moonlit room, giving her eyes a moment to adjust.
And then…a form moved against the dark.
Jana’s heart hammered up into her throat and she froze in the doorway.
The man-shape moved by its place near the window and toward her. As it did, she saw the folds of the dark, Vulcan cloak swirl around it, and relief washed over her.
“Pavel,” she said softly. “Thank goodness you’re all right.”
The figure took another step closer and panic clutched at Jana’s chest again. This wasn’t Pavel! This man was taller… She gasped and tried to retreat back into the stairwell—
“No,” the man said, his voice carrying a strange, alien resonance. “I’m not Chekov. But I am a friend…”
He pulled down the hood, waited impassively. Around them, the house creaked with the storm, the girls were a frightened huddle on the stair and, most ominous of all, the shooting had stopped—what was happening in the foyer??
Through the fog of her fear, Jana registered the lean face, patient eyes and upswept ears. “You’re…”
“Yes. I am Spock.”
She nearly fainted with relief.
The moment the blackness fell, Chekov began moving, as silently as possible, toward the hallway into the kitchen—he only prayed the next lightning flash would hold off long enough to get them all to safe cover…
But that prayer went unanswered.
Just as he reached the wall leading to the kitchen a blinding flash of lightning strobed the foyer. Instinctively, Chekov threw himself toward Kioshi, who was caught in its stark light as she pressed against the opposite wall and pulled her down to the tile just as a bullet thudding into the wall showered them with plaster. In that brief moment, he’d seen Sulu, off to his right, make a leap for one of the men’s guns. Behind him came the sound of an elbow meeting an unarmored torso, followed by a groan from McCoy. Outside the house, shots and angry chanting could be heard echoing up and down the street. Breaking glass and screams were becoming more frequent, too.
There wasn’t much time…
Kioshi, frightened beyond making a sound, let Chekov tug her down the hallway to the kitchen. Once there he whispered frantically, “Where can we go to get behind something solid?”
She panted, “Through there. The arboretum.”
“All right,” Chekov answered, pulling open drawers and looking for anything he could use as a weapon. “Can you get to the library from here?”
She nodded, shaking.
Kioshi fled, dashing nimbly around the nearest doorframe and out of his sight.
Chekov armed himself as best he could, tossing a few knives and other implements he found into a satchel he’d found in the pantry. From the hallway he could hear shouting and cursing as Sulu and McCoy fought their attackers in the darkness. Gritting his teeth, he took out the largest of the kitchen knives and started back into the hall, just as lightning flashed again, outlining his friends backing toward him, carrying three of the guns they’d liberated from the Risan rioters.
“This way!” the Russian hissed, and motioned them on toward the kitchen while backing toward the door Kioshi had fled through. McCoy and Sulu followed, taking shots down the hallway as they ran. A telltale roar of pain followed them, and Chekov just caught the doctor’s grunt of satisfaction over the cacophony.
Bursting into the arboretum, Chekov was momentarily disoriented by the dead quiet in the space. Small garden candle lanterns illuminated a running stream and stone benches placed here and there for the use of those seeking contemplation. Glancing quickly to right and left, Chekov’s heart beat painfully in his chest. The only thing that could remotely serve as cover appeared to be a stone planter to the right of the path. But it was too small to protect the three of them!
Sulu slammed into his back, still firing at the rioters. McCoy crowded into the doorway now, too. “Chekov, do something!” the doctor gasped. “They’re almost on top of us!”
“Come on!” the Russian yelled, and nudged Sulu’s arm. He leapt over the stream and made a dive for a stand of decorative marble columns guarding a love bench over the corner fountain. Without looking, Sulu took the jump also and came to a crouch behind one of the columns. McCoy splashed through the water and just pulled his left arm behind the marble when the Risan men reached the doorway and began firing blindly into the room…
“I was running diagnostics on the shuttle,” the Vulcan explained, “when I saw a crowd surround the house and a group of men enter by…violent means. I determined the most logical course of action would be to also enter utilizing another route and warn the occupants.”
Jana listened while mentally counting heads as the girls filed out of the cramped stairwell into the library. “Well, we’re glad you’re here. We…”
Kioshi interrupted her as she flung the door wide and dashed in from the arboretum. Gasping, she came to a halt in front of the open door, wide-eyed at the large, male silhouette in the darkness.
“It’s all right, he’s a friend,” Jana reached for a table lamp, but cursed under her breath as it refused to come on.
Kioshi spun and slammed the door to the arboretum closed just as sounds of further gunfire began echoing inside. “They’re right behind me!” she cried. “Help me!”
Spock and Barbara put their shoulders into moving one of the large armoires in front of the door to the arboretum, effectively blocking it.
“Who’s right behind you?” Jana gasped.
Kioshi began to shiver. “The Starfleet clients. And the rioters are right behind them…”
Nikki let out a wail and subsided into sobbing.
Quickly, Spock strode to the room’s only other door on the far side from the arboretum. Jana was right on his heels; close enough to hear the first sounds of vandalism in her studio across the hall.
Spock looked at her. “Are there no other means of egress?”
“If you mean exits, no,” she answered, heart hammering. She thought of Pavel and clamped her feelings down tight to go on. “Except the window, but that’s…”
The Vulcan didn’t wait for her answer but was already there, yanking at the metal grill. “Your…Risan craftsman,” he pulled this way and that, “are…very skilled.” He stopped, fists on hips and cloak splayed out on either side like wings…
Jana saw he was now inspecting the ceiling in the moonlight. “What are you…?”
Barbara, who had moved to their abandoned doorway to the studio vestibule, suddenly called, “I think we’d better bar this door, too. It sounds like they’re almost finished across the hall.”
This time, Kioshi and Jana rushed to help her move a heavy desk in front of the vestibule door. When the redhead swung back around, she was startled to see Spock holding Nikki on one hip and Riju, one of the next youngest, by the hand. Behind them, the other girls huddled and whimpered.
“What are you doing?” she completed her earlier question.
Spock stepped into the moonlight, and Jana caught the glitter of his dark eyes as he asked, “Do you trust me?”
It seemed unlikely for a Vulcan, but she could swear he was breathing somewhat faster than he had been before. She remembered then that he had lent Pavel one of his cloaks, an act of understanding somewhat beyond the common Vulcan…
“Yes,” Jana said quietly. “Yes, I do.”
Two of the Risans had taken up position behind the planter and were taking potshots at the Starfleet men behind their columns.
“This is all your fault, Chekov,” McCoy complained as he leaned around and got off another glancing shot toward their attackers.
“Mine?” Chekov responded. He threw a hurt glance the doctor’s way, and McCoy could just see blood glittering blackly along once cheek where a marble chip had flown back and clipped him.
“Yours,” McCoy confirmed. “Or we wouldn’t be here.”
Chekov contributed something vile in Russian and moved where he could get off two quick shots, then pull back just as his column was fired on again.
Sulu ignored the bickering. “We have to find some way to get to that door.” He nodded toward a vine-covered glass doorway where they could see the beach and its accompanying stars overhead.
“There’s no way,” McCoy yelled back. “We’d be Swiss Cheese in short order.”
“I’m more concerned about the women,” Chekov put in. “If they get through the door to the library…” He jerked his head at the closed door behind and to the right of the stone planter.
“And where’s Spock?” McCoy said. “That’s what worries me.”
For a time, the three fell silent, reflexively firing then pulling back behind their flimsy cover. Chekov gnawed his lower lip, wondering if any of the rioters had reached the top of the stairs and discovered the girls’ escape route. He didn’t like to think about what might be happening to Jana right now if they had… He glanced over at Sulu.
“You should sit down,” he said. “Let Dr. McCoy look at that wound,” he nodded his head toward the messy scarlet splash on Sulu’s shirtfront.
Hikaru’s grin shown in the gloom. “Oh, I think he’d be upset if I stopped him for that.” Then, at Chekov’s puzzled look, “It’s ketchup!”
McCoy let out a rebel yell just then as he successfully crippled one of the Risans who had had the bad luck to stick one leg out from behind the planter.
“I know, it was a crazy idea,” Sulu explained at Chekov’s scowl. “But it worked, didn’t it?”
But the Russian was shaking his head. “You said…ketchup…is there a door back to the studio from the kitchen, then?”
“No,” Sulu grunted, as he lobbed one of the satchel’s knives toward the other Risan who was still shooting at them. But it clipped the planter and clattered away harmlessly as he cursed. Then he said, “It’s in the hallway. You passed it on your way to the kitchen…”
In the dark, Chekov thought, that’s why I missed it…
“Oh, no,” McCoy’s soft exclamation got the attention of the other two in a way the sudden cease fire from the other side hadn’t. They followed his gaze beyond the planter to the library door.
It was open.
And the Risans had gone through it…
Jana, Barbara and Spock stood back to back in the center of the library in the moonlight. The redhead could feel her friend trembling, and wondered if the Vulcan felt it, too. She prayed that Riju, who Spock had sent to the top of the back stairwell to watch for more intruders, could keep her head in the moments that would follow. Jana wasn’t entirely sure that she, herself could.
The firing had again stopped and, except for the creak of a step on the back stair where the rest of the girls now crouched, the groan of the old chandelier overhead and the unrelenting rain of the storm outside, the house was suffused with a tense silence.
Into it, a guttural voice spoke in Risan and a shape—no, two now—loomed out of the open doorway to the studio vestibule. Barbara gave a little scream as one of them lurched farther forward, catching a pants leg on the desk they’d hastily pushed aside again.
Spock angled his body so it was between the men and the two women. In flawless Risan he said, “There will be no trouble if you leave now.”
The two men looked at each other in the gloom, and then burst into loud, raucous laughter. One suggested the Vulcan’s mother and father had never been married. The other asked just who Spock thought he was anyway.
But before the Vulcan could answer, the open door to the arboretum slammed backward onto its hinges and two more of the rioters entered, one supported on the arm of the other, but both with guns pointed at them. Now Jana started to shake, and pressed her back more firmly against Spock’s.
Reflexively, she brought up one of the letter openers that were the only things approximating weapons in this room, and felt Barbara doing the same.
Spock now responded in clear, unruffled Risan, “My pedigree can be no concern of yours. Again, I repeat: if you leave now, there will be no trouble.”
One of the men advancing from the arboretum spat onto the floor. Outside, a puddle of sudden light reflected the shadows of several other shapes surrounding the house, and from the direction of the studio, Jana heard something metal clank against stone. Stars! How many others were coming in?
The rioters closed on them, a silent clenched fist in the moonlight.
Later, Jana would swear she’d seen Spock smile…just before the chandelier fell…
The Vulcan shoved both women violently out of the way to either side and leapt back himself just as the heavy ceiling ornament with Nikki perched in its branches crashed to the carpet, sending shards of crystal lancing out in all directions. One of the guns went off, and Jana instinctively ducked as she scrambled away in the direction Spock had told her to run, seeing out of the corner of her eye Barbara was doing the same.
Lightning flashed and Jana pushed the hair out of her eyes just in time to see Spock pinch one hand at the neck of one of the men, who dropped like a stone. But his fellow brought his gun up to bear—and was kicked in the arm by a grimy, infuriated Russian just coming in from the studio. The man howled and dropped his gun, whereupon Chekov delivered an uppercut. Jana winced at the sound of the other man’s breaking jaw.
At that moment, Barbara screamed—sounding now more angry than afraid—as one of the men from the arboretum twisted the letter opener out of her hand, and nearly broke her wrist along with it. She kicked at him as his friend laughed and held the gun pointed at Jana.
Chekov and Spock froze.
“Say, son, don’t you know how to treat a lady?” McCoy drawled, and stepped out of the arboretum doorway, slicing the major tendons in the man’s hand with a practiced flick of one of the kitchen knives from their satchel. When his companion would have shot the doctor, Sulu quickly disarmed him and turned his own gun on him.
“Don’t even think it,” he advised.
Chekov and Jana quickly dashed to the remains of the chandelier, just as Nikki extricated herself from it. Incredibly, the child was smiling, even as Jana patted her arms and legs looking for cuts and breaks, but finding none.
“I stood on it just like you said, Mr. Spock,” she cried gleefully. “And it worked!”
“Indeed,” Spock replied, coming to stand over the ruined ceiling fixture. He paused, and then asked, “How do you feel?”
Nikki laughed. “Can we do it again?”
Spock’s right eyebrow shot upward.
“Dusha moya!” Chekov exclaimed.
The others just laughed.
“I still don’t understand how you ended up with a ketchup stain on your shirt instead of a wound in your chest,” McCoy complained. He patted his lap invitingly as he spoke and Barbara obligingly sat down and wound her arms around his neck.
Sulu smiled and relaxed into the wingback chair as Kioshi stood behind him and kneaded his aching shoulders. “Simple--I was never shot. I only wanted them to think I was. So I painted the stain on in the kitchen, and then…fell down just before the shot was fired. They were too drunk to really hit anything at that distance.”
“Still son, you took an awful chance.”
“That’s what I told him,” Kioshi put in.
“Well, it was all Chekov’s fault in the first place,” McCoy went on.
“Mine?” the Russian protested from his place leaning against the far wall of the sitting room. “Ow!” he added as Jana dabbed at the cut on his cheek with a damp cloth.
“Yes, yours,” McCoy insisted. “It all started when you said…”
“I know this girl,” Sulu and McCoy said together, and then laughed.
“That was the phrase, as I recall, Mr. Chekov,” Spock added from where he sat across the room.
Nikki beamed from her place at his feet. “May I serve you, Mr. Spock?” the child asked.
“That won’t be necessary, thank you,” the Vulcan said stiffly, then catching the disappointed look on her face and glancing up at his friends, he added, “Well, perhaps some tea.”
“I’ll be right back!” she darted away to fetch it.
“Mr. Spock,” Chekov asked then, lifting his chin and squinting one eye while Jana swiped an anti-septic ointment she’d gotten from McCoy onto his cheek. “How did you know Nikki wouldn’t be hurt when the chandelier fell?”
The Vulcan’s left brow shot up. “I simply calculated the child’s weight in proportion to the stress fractures present in the ceiling. Then, allowing for variations in the weight of the crystals, and applying the extensive knowledge I have of this particular manufacturer’s policies regarding the guarantee of their design, I concluded that the odds of her being injured were one million point three seven five to one.”
Jana, Kioshi and Barbara were staring, open-mouthed.
“Yes,” Chekov said, “I see. Absolutely.”
Sulu and McCoy chuckled.
“Ah, I wish Jim was here,” the doctor said.
At that, Chekov and Sulu looked at each other, at the women, then back at McCoy.
“Well, on second thought…” he added.
“Nah,” the three men said together, then laughed.
Birdsong woke Chekov the next morning. It was a sound it took a few moments for him to identify. Eyes closed, he patted the pillow beside him, but it was empty. Muttering complaints in Russian about headstrong women, he dressed and headed downstairs.
Long before he saw McCoy, Chekov heard him. To the Russian’s surprise, he was wielding a hand-held sander with the ease of long practice as he bent over the splintered, wooden rail of the spiral staircase.
“I had no idea you were so talented,” Chekov commented.
The doctor looked up and shot him a half embarrassed look through the blue, protective goggles he was wearing. “Oh, my daddy taught me a thing or two. Thought it was the least I could do before we leave.” He hooked a thumb over the rail at the foyer. “Too bad I couldn’t do anything for the grandfather clock, though. What a shame…”
They watched Riju as she helped two of the house bots sweep up the clock’s shattered glass and parts. Chekov saw someone had broken apart the clock’s wooden shell into kindling and stacked it neatly in a corner.
“The Medina police finally made it by this morning,” McCoy told him bitterly. “Typical.”
It was too true. They often saw this on a planetary level.
Chekov sighed. “Where are the others?”
“Sulu said something about teaching Kioshi some hand to hand. Spock,” McCoy shrugged, “I dunno.”
The Russian patted him on the shoulder and went on down the staircase, nodding to Riju as he passed. Above, he heard McCoy’s sander come to life again.
In the long hall between the foyer and the kitchen, Chekov found Sulu teaching several of the girls, among them Kioshi, some basic karate moves. He leaned against the doorjamb to watch…
“But I can’t do that!” Kioshi was protesting.
“Of course you can,” Sulu insisted.
“But you’re heavier than I am.”
“Look, if my seven year old daughter can do it, then you can too. Now, bend your elbow…” he stood behind her, pulling her arm into the proper position. “But protect your face. See?”
“Now, if someone comes up behind you, strike back, with your elbow. Aim for the solar plexus.” Sulu illustrated by directing her elbow toward his own middle as he stood behind her.
Kioshi gently moved her arm forward and back, being careful not to actually hit him. “And what happens when I connect?”
“This!” Sulu let out a dramatic groan and fell over onto the carpet, holding his ribs. The girls’ giggling sounded like many different octaves of bells.
“Showoff,” Chekov accused from his place near the door. “You’d better not let Mandala catch you.”
His friend looked a trifle abashed. “C’mon, I was just…”
“I know,” the Russian’s crooked smile said he’d only been teasing. “Is Jana in the studio?”
“I think so,” Sulu replied, getting to his feet again. “But the door through here is still jammed from whatever you did to it last night. You’ll have to go around.”
“Nothing is ever easy,” Chekov complained, as he moved through the crowd of girls toward the kitchen. “Have you seen Mr. Spock?”
“In the library,” Sulu called, and then turned back to his charges. “Now, kicking—that’s something you should learn…”
In the kitchen, Barbara smiled at Chekov, “Commander! May I serve you?”
“No, no,” Chekov protested, backing away toward the arboretum. He was embarrassed by her return to the typical servile attitude of this place, although he supposed it was natural enough, and felt quite business-as-usual to Barbara. Last night they had all been on the same level, working as a team. But, this morning… “I need to find Jana,” he said.
“Of course. She’s in the studio. Would you like me to go with you--?”
“No, thank you.”
Chekov hurried through the arboretum, glancing guiltily at the ravaged marble columns near the love bench. When he got to the library doorway, all he could see were Spock’s legs as he floated several feet off the floor on one of their shuttle’s antigravs. Nikki was standing below handing him tools from a kit as he worked.
“Ah, Mr. Chekov,” the deep voice greeted him. “Would you be so kind as to hand me the laser welder?”
“I can’t lift it high enough,” Nikki explained.
Chekov stepped forward, located the correct tool and handed it upward.
“I believe,” Spock grunted as he strained to squint upward into the hole in the library ceiling, “the correct phrase is…’thank you’, as illogical as that seems.”
“Ill-ogical!” Nikki agreed, beaming up at Chekov.
“Er…you’re welcome, sir. Do you…need further assistance, or--?”
“No,” Spock replied, pulling his hands out of the hole but still peering upward. “I believe that will be sufficient.” As he looked down, Chekov and Nikki both spied a dust bunny clinging lovingly to one of his ears. The little girl giggled.
Chekov turned his back to hide a smile and headed for the vestibule doorway. The last thing he heard was Spock’s genuinely puzzled: “I fail to understand what could be humorous at this moment,” while Nikki continued to laugh.
It wasn’t until Chekov had opened the door into the studio that he heard the small sound.
It was Jana…sobbing.
Quickly, he worked his way around several fallen pieces of smashed masonry and other debris to where she knelt at the base of the winged horse. In her cupped hands, she held one of its wing tips which had been carelessly shattered the night before. Murmuring to her gently, Chekov pulled her to her feet and turned her into his arms. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “Those Cossacks.”
“I just don’t understand,” she said when she could catch her breath. “Why? Why did they do this?”
“Can you fix it?” he asked.
“I don’t know yet,” she replied, pulling a little away to put the piece down on a nearby table.
“Jana,” Chekov said, turning her to face him and looking into her eyes. “We were supposed to leave today, but…I can’t just walk away from all this. I was thinking…Sulu and I were only going back to Earth a few days early to do some camping and hiking at Yosemite. I’ll stay awhile; work on setting up a security system for the house. Sulu can stay if he wants, too. You really need at least one on-site guard, and I think I know someone who…”
“—can do that job and will work for room and board. He’s strong and honest, and he’ll…”
“Pavel, you can’t stay.”
He stopped. “What? I don’t understand, I…”
“Pav, I have another client scheduled tomorrow.”
Chekov blinked—once, twice. Then he dropped his hands to his sides. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking.”
Jana kissed him gently on the cheek. “I’m sorry, too.”
For a moment they looked at each other, mentally rehearsing all the things they might say…discarding them all.
Then Chekov sighed. “Well, we have today. And I want you to be as safe as you can before we go. Okay?”
She nodded and hugged him.
They worked the rest of that day, repairing and securing the huge house. Chekov and McCoy scrounged some portable force field generators from the shuttle, and set up workable “safe doors” into the foyer, the studio, and at the top of the spiral staircase, as well as several of the doors leading out to the beach. Spock got the comm system working, and gave it a new, fail-safe receiver/transmitter, in case the landline was ever cut again. Sulu finished teaching his hand to hand.
And then, all too soon, it was time to leave…
McCoy tugged at Spock’s sleeve, and the Vulcan followed him out to the waiting shuttle. Sulu lingered for a moment, to pat Chekov’s shoulder reassuringly. Then he was gone, too.
Chekov and Jana stood alone in the foyer.
She reached up to kiss him. “I can’t thank you enough. I can only imagine what might’ve happened if you hadn’t been here.”
“But we were here,” Chekov reminded her. “Besides, what are friends for?” His smiling shrug couldn’t hide how he felt, though, and Jana saw it.
“You know,” she confided, “if I had a different life, and you had a different life…”
“Things would be different,” they finished together.
“I know,” Chekov added, and then sighed. “But they’re not. And I have to leave.”
She walked him outside.
“I’ll come back,” he promised, and kissed her again. “And I’ll bring someone who can act as house security.” The Russian ran a practiced eye over the exterior of the structure. “Too many damn doors,” he groused.
“How long?” Jana asked.
“The new Enterprise is still being put together,” Chekov said ruefully. “I’d say…six months.” With obvious reluctance he added, “Maybe a year.”
Jana made a face. “That’s what you said the last time.”
“I know,” he chuckled. “But who knew we’d have whales as passengers?”
They looked at each other, realizing there was nothing more to be said.
“Be safe,” Chekov whispered gruffly against her cheek.
Then he was gone, stepping off the stair and walking away through the trees toward the waiting shuttle.