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“I’m definitely detecting something, Jim,” Bones said, frowning at the instrument in his hand. “A microscopic bio-chemical mass, barely registering, but in the same…location… in each of us.”
Bones started over to where I stood, ready to scan me too, assuming – how had it not occurred to me before now? – that, as an outsider, I might be a target, too.
Two of the Magda’s attendants were instantly between us, taking his move as aggression. They each had some device in their hands, raised as weapons and ready to use on him.
“Stop!” I exclaimed. “He’s only trying to do a medical scan.”
The Magna waved her hand and Bones was forced to stand down. She smiled that knowing smile again. “How male-like to think we would harm one of our own gender, and an Elder at that. Truly these manlings have such small capacity for understanding.”
Bones glared at the Magna, and I thought I wouldn’t want to be in his crosshairs when he was in medical mode, focused and fearless, maybe rashly so.
“Tell me what this thing is,” he demanded, protocol be damned. “Is this some kind of joke? If you’re saying this is some kind of bio-weapon, why does it register as inert?”
The Magna took a step back, as if in distaste. “Elder Surat, this one is very emotional. His aggression needs tempering, though I apologize for presuming to advise such an Elder as yourself.”
She glanced at Bones with utter disdain, but her ego got the better of her. She couldn’t resist bragging about her accomplishments. “Still, he is perceptive in this observation. The mass is programmed to remain dormant for a period, after which a mechanism initiates the bio-chemical reactions that set the disease in motion. A very elegant construction; one I would think a so-called scientist such as this doctor might appreciate. It took my own best researchers years to develop, according to my personal specifications. This allows the recipients ample time to comprehend the significance of their ending, the nature of their fate, and to repent the sins of their gender.”
“The sins of their gender?” Spock asked, a raised eyebrow indicating his surprise. “You are attempting to inflict a punishment on random males for the perceived sins of one male forty years ago? That is hardly logical.”
The Magdena Magna turned on him with sudden fierceness. “You know nothing of our world,” she hissed. “You think your logic, your intellect, superior to mine, to ours? You stand there even now, clearly unable to grasp that you face imminent death, that your very manhood is what condemns you, and that no one – no one – will save such a creature as yourself.”
The Magna was on a roll. There was pure venom in her voice as she went on, walking up to stand right in front of Spock. You could sense the collective gasp from the other women in the room, and her guards shifted their hands back toward their weapons, tense, and ready to spring. The Magna’s deliberate closeness to a male – and a foreigner at that – was clearly an act of stunning boldness.
“Under the guise of diplomacy, your people intruded into my culture, violated my people – my family! – arrogantly ignoring thousands of years of our civilization, as if we were mere savages. There is a reason, Mr. Spock, that we have succeeded in relegating males to the fringes of our society, relegated them to tightly controlled and limited roles. Otherwise, we would fall into chaos and conflict, like what we have heard of other worlds. Where there is aggression and conquest, there are always males leading the way. Your deaths can only benefit the worlds from which you come.”
She turned away now, her anger still there, but less heated. “If I have been far more clever than your Federation anticipated, it does not surprise me. Your people have underestimated me. But they will not do so in the future, not after they see first hand what I am capable of.”
I stood trying to follow this conversation, keeping a close eye on those familiar faces. How could things have gone so horribly wrong? I had to remind myself that they didn’t yet know all that I did, didn’t know what these women did to men on a regular basis in the name of honor and purity.
And now it turns out their fearless leader had been nursing a grudge for nearly four decades, driven by her cultural beliefs and her own personal grief – the grief she’d imposed on herself, killing her own daughter to comply with some insane set of rules. With all her impressive powers, intelligence and planetary resources at her disposal, was it possible she’d actually succeeded? That she’d actually designed and infected them with something that was going to kill them?
I was terrified that it was.
I wondered how she’d done it, then noticed that Bones was just now grimly turning back from some little business of his own, wielding his scanner toward the wine glasses sitting empty on an elegantly carved tray. The toast. Three glasses alike, a fourth obviously for the Magna. Oh, god, the whole diplomacy imperative. They’d been sitting ducks from the start.
“Never mind all that now, Spock,” Bones snapped. “You can’t argue with her kind of logic. The more important thing is, just how long a fuse does this ticking time bomb of yours have?”
The Magna stared at him.
“How long do we have before the bio-mass begins to degrade and initiate whatever reaction you’ve programmed into it, dammit,” he clarified impatiently.
“Some hours,” she smiled, waving her hand vaguely. “Perhaps three or four. Or five. Perhaps less. It varies according to individual.”
“Bones, what are we talking about here?” Jim interjected. “What kind of …effects?”
“Dammit, Jim, I can’t just instantly intuit a chemical reaction from what’s registering now as basically an inert mass. As far as I can tell, it’s half-organic and half synthetic. I need time, and access to my lab to analyze it. For all I know this could even be some kind of bluff she’s running.”
The Magna responded in her silky voice. “Bluff? Ah, I understand, you think I might be… lying? Yet another insult to my intelligence and integrity? I assure you, this is very real. You are correct on one point, though, Doctor. For now it is inert. When the time-trigger is tripped, you will experience rapid, severe and widespread organ failure, cellular breakdown on a systemic level. It is a quite agonizing manner of death, I’ve observed, but, fortunately for you, no man has survived longer than 24 hours.”
I couldn’t keep quiet. “I don’t think it’s a bluff, Bones. This whole society apparently practices misandry – a systematic persecution of men.”
“My god, how many people have you used this on?” Bones was incensed now.
The Magna shrugged. “I can tell you that the mortality rate is essentially one hundred percent, or so our experience with the Cassandra would indicate. A…how would you say?…a…serendipitous accident, that crash. Let us say it is quite effective, and should certainly convince your Federation, and Starfleet, that it can no longer regard Ardros as merely another planet available to have its women – and its resources – plundered.”
“We must… return to our ship, Magna,” Jim said sharply. “You must at least allow us access to our medical facilities to do what we can to counteract this. You can’t possibly expect us to simply… accept this fate… this… death sentence you’re implying.”
“Jim, we can’t…” Bones interrupted him, his voice tense, but Jim silenced him with a quick, loaded look and a hand on his arm.
The Magna looked altogether too pleased at this idea. “As you wish, Captain. I am not unreasonable. I will order a brief opening of the shield for you to contact your ship to transport the three of you.”
Three? Hey, wait a minute.
“I’ll return to the ship with my men,” I said, rather forcefully.
“With all deference, you will not wish to do that, Elder,” said the Magdena Magna, as she gave the order to one of her aides, who was keeping as far away from this scene as she could, back pressed against the wall.
Jim glanced my way as he flipped open his communicator. The immediate sound of Scotty’s voice coming through was overwhelmingly reassuring. “Four to transport as… instructed, Mr. Scott,” he said.
I admit it. I’d hit my limit. I answered the Magna with a force that shocked me. I think maybe it even shocked my friends. She actually recoiled in the face of my imperious response.
I practically spat the words at her. “With all deference, Magna,” I said, as I moved to join my friends, just before we were all beamed up, “I go where I please.”
Probably a more effective exit line than my first impulse, which was screw you.