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Kirk, Spock and McCoy materialised in what should have been a quiet corner, to find themselves face to face with two natives of the planet Straph.
The natives stared at them for a horrified instant, then, before the men from the Enterprise could do or say anything, they turned and ran, screaming, "Witches! Devils! Witches!"
"I think," Spock commented, "that we had better remove ourselves from this vicinity. If these people are superstitious enough to believe in witches and devils, they will probably react with violence. And if we simply stun them in order to protect ourselves, it will confirm their fear."
"You're right, Spock," Kirk agreed. He glanced round. "This way." In fact, the direction he chose was purely arbitrary. "If we're attacked, scatter and run for it."
"Wouldn't it be simpler to beam back up and come down again somewhere else," McCoy suggested plaintively.
"This is the main city," Kirk replied. "If we are to contact the leaders of these people, we must remain here."
"All the same - " McCoy began. He was interrupted by the bleep of Kirk's communicator.
"Captain, two Klingon vessels have just appeared on our sensors. We think we avoided being seen, and we're holding the planet between us, but if they split up we're going to have to move further out to avoid an incident."
"Do that anyway," Kirk ordered. "We'll be all right down here. Come back in three days - feel your way, in case they're still here. In that case, move out again, and try every twenty-four hours until it's clear. Kirk out." He looked at the others. "Now what do the Klingons want here?"
"Captain," Spock said, "I think we should attempt to find a hiding place. I can hear shouts - I would say that our superstitious friends have a mob raised." They turned and ran.
Spock, who had been thinking, dropped a little behind the others as they went, although he was probably the fastest runner of the three. He was the real danger to his friends, he thought. He was the unusual-looking one. Without him, they would probably stand a better chance of escape; they might not even be recognized as strangers, without his revealing presence. There was a junction a little way ahead; Kirk, and McCoy at his heels, ran straight on; Spock deliberately took the other turning.
Kirk and McCoy, not realising that Spock was no longer with them, ran down the street. Behind them they could head clearly the shouts, the voices raised in fear and anger.
They reached a corner. As they rounded it, a yell came from behind. "There they go!"
There were no more side streets. This main street went on and on, and they were forced to keep going. Then in front of them they saw another group. They stopped, their backs to the wall, preparing to defend themselves; and for the first time, realised that Spock wasn't with them.
They had no time to think about that. Their attackers were on them.
They defended themselves strenuously, but weight of numbers was too great. Several of their attackers lay unconscious when they were at last overpowered, and dragged roughly to where a tall man in black and red robes stood.
"Who are you?" he demanded. "And your companion, the devil - where is he?"
"Where he is, I do not know," Kirk replied. "We thought he was still with us."
"Devils are notoriously unreliable," the man commented.
"Not our devil," McCoy muttered in Kirk's ear.
Kirk's lips twitched, then he went on. "I am James T. Kirk, and this is Leonard McCoy."
"Where are you from?"
"We are from another world like this one," Kirk began. He got no chance to finish.
"Heresy! Black heresy!" the man declaimed. "There are no other worlds! God made the world for Man, and the Heavenly bodies to give us light and heat. Where are you from?"
"God made the world for man," Kirk agreed. "But He made several such worlds, and we're from one of those others." The man seemed stunned into silence by his insistence, and he went on. "God gave us knowledge, and with it we built a great vessel capable of sailing from star to star, and we have come to speak to your leaders - "
"And lead them astray, and through them, the entire world!" The robed man had recovered his voice now, and held forth volubly. "If you are indeed from another world, then it is a world made by the devil; and your knowledge comes from the devil! The devil who accompanied you to this place, and who has now deserted you! Renounce him, renounce him, and gain for yourselves the mercy granted to repentant sinners! Renounce him, and permit us, in our love, to grant you the mercy of death before your bodies are burned."
"Burned?" McCoy said blankly.
"Your sin is heresy, witchcraft, and consorting with a devil," the man said. "Could you expect less?"
They were eventually hustled to a small, dark, smelly room and locked in, minus their phasers and communicators. The men who took these handled them gingerly, apparently terrified of these symbols of satanic power.
"Let's hope the phasers are beyond them," McCoy said grimly. "If they destroy something with one, they'll call that our fault too."
Kirk nodded. "I think they regard them as proof of our evil," he said. "You saw the way those guys handled them. They were scared some of the evil would affect them." He grinned. "Maybe even call up our personal devil to tempt them."
"You know, Jim, if they do catch Spock, he's in for a pretty rough time," McCoy said seriously.
"They'll probably kill him on sight," Kirk agreed soberly.
"If he has got away, his chances of rescuing us are pretty slight."
"He won't throw his life away," Kirk said. "If he sees there's no chance of helping us, he has enough sense not to try."
"You say that, but you don't mean it. We both know he'd step right through the gates of hell if he thought it would help us."
Spock ran down the street, round a couple of corners and dropped to a walk, unwilling to attract more attention than necessary. His keen hearing told him that he had outstripped the pursuit, and he was beginning to realise that it might not have followed him at all. If that was so, the others were in danger - but without his damning presence, they might not be identified as the suspicious strangers. He went on, keenly aware of the danger of his appearance, but could think of no way to cover his ears. Nor was there any way by which his eyebrows or betraying colour could be disguised.
Soon the houses began to thin out; he was near the edge of the town, and would soon be in the country. He carried on. He could return once it was dark, with the friendly night to hide his betraying appearance.
He wasted little time now in guessing at the fate that must have befallen Kirk and McCoy. The first optimism, that without him they might be all right, had given way to a more realistic attitude. The pursuit had not followed him - therefore it must have followed them. Capture was inevitable. The only question remaining was, how long would it be before they were killed. His memory of the history of witch hunts, from several planets, made it certain that this would indeed be their fate.
There was a small wood ahead of him; he could hide there until dark. Then, just as he reached it, a boy of about nine stepped out from it and faced him. He stopped, unwilling to hurt the child, unsure of what would be the best thing to do.
The boy looked at him calmly, completely unafraid. "The mob has caught your friends," he said. He sounded very mature for his years. "The people are still aflame for blood; eventually someone will realise the way you have come. My people will hide you. Come." Without stopping to see if Spock was following, he stepped back into the wood.
Spock hesitated only for a moment. There was nothing to be lost by trusting this boy; he moved after him.
The boy was now wading down the centre of a small trickle of water. Since it would have been easier to have retained dry feet, Spock realised that this must have some purpose, and splashed after him.
Soon, the boy stopped under an overhanging tree, and swung himself into its branches. Spock followed, pulling himself up easily. This brought them level with the top of a high bank of jumbled rocks; the boy made his way cautiously from rock to rock. Spock, following, quickly learned why the boy was so careful; many of the rocks were loose, and moved under their feet; one unwary step might have resulted in a broken limb.
They made their way slowly and carefully over the rocks, gradually climbing higher. Spock paused once to look back. Over the trees he could see the roofs of the town and part of the road he must have come along to get here. All round he could hear birds calling, but he could see no sign of any living creature. And still the boy went on.
When at last he stopped, they were quite high. Looking back again, Spock saw the town clearly, and the road leading from it; he could even make out the spot where the boy had waylaid him.
"In here," the boy said, ducking between two boulders.
Inside there was a spacious room, made partly from piled-up rocks and partly from wooden planks. Whoever made it first had made fair use of the natural lie of the land; the whole construction showed great ingenuity.
There were several people inside, all young. Many were little more than children. Their ages seemed to range from about eight to one woman who looked to be in her middle to late twenties. It was she who came to meet him.
"Thank you, Tavi," she said. The boy grinned at her triumphantly, and ducked out again. She looked after him indulgently, then turned to Spock. "I am Feorah," she said, "the leader of our group."
"I am Spock. Who exactly are you?"
"We are the Rejected," she replied, and smiled at his puzzled appearance. "I know. You are a stranger to our world - "
"You know that, and yet you do not cry 'witch'?" Spock said.
"We do not cry 'witch'," she agreed. "We ourselves are in danger of being cried as witches; we will not willingly accuse others." Spock raised his eyebrows. "I saw you and your friends in town," she added. "I would have spoken to you then, but that the cry was raised too quickly."
He looked at her. "Why did you want to speak to us?"
"I saw you appearing out of nowhere, and I wanted to know where you came from."
"Your fellow Straphians would tell you soon enough," Spock commented.
"Do you really think we are one with the superstition-ridden morons of the city?"
"No. I apologise. Go on, please."
"We - our people - are priest-ridden. The priests have all the power - yet still they want more.
"All children are tested by them at eight years of age - tested for intelligence. Those the priests deem suitable are taken to be trained as priests, regardless of what their parents may want, regardless of what they themselves might wish. Some prove unsuitable for training; those with imagination or initiative, or who dislike... bullying... others; and there are always some whose instincts for kindness cannot be destroyed by training in selfishness and inconsiderateness. The failures are simply returned home. A few children mature late, too, and are missed by the check. But to be intelligent and not to wear the robes of a priest is to be living under a perpetual sentence of death. To the masses, to be intelligent is a mark of the devil, unless the devil has been tamed by the church and subordinated to its will; the robes are the outward sign of that taming. It is the conditioning of generations. Priests are to be obeyed; anyone else with intelligence, initiative, originality, imagination, is a creature of the devil, to be denounced as a witch.
"For those who are returned home, for those who develop late, there is a life of hiding their abilities, their potential, until at last they betray themselves, and are burned."
"And you were unsuitable for training?"
"Yes. I had too much imagination. I dared to suggest that there might be other worlds like ours... of course, such a thought was heresy. I had the sense to word my thoughts more obliquely than that - but for my thoughts, I was Rejected. I knew, of course, that I had to be careful; what I didn't expect was my parents turning against me. They were afraid of me, couldn't understand what they had done to have a devil's child. I've learned since that my experience is common. They may not want the priests to take us, at first, then they realise that the church has saved them the trouble of caring for a child of evil. Many of the Rejected are denounced by their own parents soon after they return home.
"I realised in time that I was in danger from my own parents, and left home. I sought shelter where I could, and at last came here. One day I got the chance to help another Reject who was being chased, and so our group was begun. We began to look for others, and as we gathered more, we extended the shelter, and as we gathered more it became easier to gather more. Tavi, who met you, is our newest recruit, although he is not the youngest; this was his first proper duty for us, and he's gone off full of pride that he accomplished it successfully."
"I see," Spock said. "Can you tell me - what has happened to my friends?"
"They were captured. That much we do know. Some of the younger children are trying to learn more - "
"I would not have children run any risks for my friends - nor would they."
"We run these risks for ourselves, also. It is good training for the children, who are our main spies. One day our group may be strong enough to defy the priests. But we can only become strong by running risks, for only thus can we gain recruits."
Spock nodded, accepting her rationale. "Feorah - this idea of yours about other worlds. Was it entirely your own thoughts?"
"Tell me your reasoning."
"I watched the stars. Some are bright, some dim; it seemed to me that as with torches, the brighter ones were nearer, the dim ones far off. I saw that some of them moved, approaching the setting sun and then disappearing; and a few weeks later, new ones appeared before the rising sun. I wondered if these stars actually moved round the sun as our moons move round us; and I wondered if the stationary stars were as big as the sun and also had moving stars going around them. It seemed possible that if these stars were as big as the sun, they might have worlds like this, with other people sitting watching the stars, and wondering, as I did... "
"You were right," Spock said. "There are other worlds. I am from one of these; my two friends, from another."
"If your friends tell that to the clerics, they are condemned for heresy as well as witchcraft," Feorah said slowly.
"And they will be burned?" Spock said harshly.
"I am sorry."
"Is there any way in which they might be rescued?"
She shook her head. "Everyone watches. All those we have rescued were rescued before they were denounced. Afterwards - there is no chance of escape. And you - your appearance betrays you. You would never get near the prison. If the mob catches you, you will torn apart for being, not a witch, but a devil."
One of the younger girls brought in food and put it on a table made from two planks set across two rocks. "Are you hungry?" Feorah asked. Spock shook his head. She looked at him, moved to his side. "Starving yourself will not help your friends."
"I am not starving myself. There is no logic in doing so. You asked if I am hungry; thank you, but I am not." She continued looking straight at him. After a moment, he felt compelled to go on. "You need not think that I will react to my friends' capture and imminent deaths as you would. My race has no emotions."
"No?" she said softly. "If you truly had no emotions, you would not be searching your mind for a way to rescue them, even at the risk of your own life. If you truly had no emotions, you would not call them 'friends', for you would not understand the meaning of the word. If you truly had no emotions, you would be useless to any society, for you would not understand loyalty, co-operation, truthfulness, bravery, kindness - much less the need for them. Each man of your race would live entirely for himself, like the lizards."
There was a long pause. "You see deeply," Spock said quietly, at last.
"Another reason I was unacceptable to the priesthood."
"Feorah - when are they likely to be killed?"
"In six days. There is always that period of grace - to give time for repentance and confession of sin."
"In the history of their race there was a period of witch-fearing. There was much cruelty. Are they likely to be tortured?"
"Not physically, though it is unlikely they will be given food. However, they may be tortured mentally. It depends on who are duty priests for this period."
"And those who repent?"
"Are given the privilege of a quick death before they are burned," she said dryly.
Spock turned away. He moved back to the door, and stood gazing out towards the town.
Kirk and McCoy were left in comparative peace. Every day they were visited by one or more priests, who, in varying manner, urged them to deny their devil and renounce heresy. Even under these conditions, Kirk tried to persuade the priests of the existence of other worlds, in accordance with his instructions from Starfleet; but all the result his attempts had came from one priest, who had a gentler manner than most. This one said quietly,
"Do you try to damn us all with you? Your devil has deserted you, gone back to the darkness from whence he came. Do you, even now, believe in his false words? We have angels to follow, to guide us the way we should go."
After the priest left McCoy said, "That sounds as if Spock got away, wherever he's hiding."
"Yes." Kirk's mind was obviously elsewhere. "Bones, that priest said they have angels to follow, who guide them."
"What are the Klingons doing in this sector?"
"Jim - you don't think the Klingons have landed, somehow made contact with the priests? That isn't their usual method - "
"Bones. Suppose they got here first... weeks, months ago. Somehow were quick-witted enough to strike the right note - and told the priests that anyone else arriving as they did was evil... and it was set up for the priests by those men seeing us materialising... "
"You could be right, Jim. The priests do seem to have a lust for power - and if the Klingons promised them more power - or better means of exercising that power - by insisting that we're from another world, we're positively identifying ourselves as the Klingons' enemies."
"Pure speculation, of course. And what would the Klingons hope to gain?"
"A planet? Manpower, already in a state of passive obedience?"
"More than that, Bones."
"What did the Federation hope to gain by contact?"
"I don't know. Mineral rights, eventually, perhaps - that's usually what they want when they contact a primitive culture."
As he looked out over the town, Spock thought of the Enterprise. It would be two days at the earliest before she could return; but if the Klingon vessels were still in orbit, she would leave again without trying to contact them. It might be more than six days before he could get in touch with her... by which time it would be too late to help Kirk and McCoy.
However, he accepted that there was nothing he could do for the moment to help them. A child had brought back word that they were held in the church prison, and that it seemed to be mostly relatively humane priests who were the duty priests for the moment.
It was partly to keep his mind occupied that he offered to teach the group the rudiments of astronomy and science. He found them remarkably quick of understanding and quick to see where his instruction was leading - he realised that these people had great potential, if only they could be freed from the bonds of ignorance that the priesthood was determined must remain secure.
Day after day passed with no word from the Enterprise. On the evening of the fifth day, he became very restless.
"Spock," Feorah said gently. "Logically, you can do nothing for them."
"They are my friends," he said hopelessly. "I know that to try to rescue them would be suicide, which is irrational; but still I hope to think of a way by which they can be helped, even though it means my death... I do not know why I am telling you this... "
With startling suddenness, the communicator at his belt bleeped. "Spock here."
Uhura's voice came through. "What's happening, Mr. Spock? We can't raise the Captain."
"He and Dr. McCoy are prisoners," Spock replied. "I escaped. But they are condemned to die tomorrow unless we can rescue them before that."
"Will we beam down a rescue party?"
"No," Feorah said. Spock glanced at her. "The mood the mob is in, any strangers would be killed on sight. But I have an idea."
"I saw how you appeared, apparently out of nothing. Do you return to your... your ship, the same way?"
"Then go you back to your ship now. Leave your... your - " she indicated the communicator - "device with me. In the morning, I will go to the Square. If I can get close enough to your friends I will signal to you. You can retrieve them."
"It is not right that you should run my risk."
"All my life is a risk. And you cannot go. You would die and benefit them nothing. I will not be suspect until it is too late for the priests to stop me. There are always some women who crowd to the front, eager to watch the victims' agony in every detail."
He looked at her, unwilling to let her take the risk, yet knowing that she was right. "Enterprise."
"Yes, Mr. Spock."
"Beam me up in ten minutes."
"Aye, sir." .
"Feorah - this is how the communicator works." Rapidly he showed her. "Keep it in your hand, open, but hidden. We will keep the beam locked onto it. Then all you need do is say 'Now' when you are beside them. You'll beam up with them, and we can return you to here easily afterwards."
"Stand back from me," he went on. "They'll be picking me up in a moment."
She stood back; and the group watched in some awe as he shimmered out of existence.
In their cell Kirk and McCoy waited, knowing they were condemned to be burned, not knowing when they would be taken to be killed.
Time dragged. They knew the Enterprise couldn't have returned yet, for there would surely have been some disturbance caused by a rescue party, for example. They discussed the situation over and over, knowing that any conclusions they reached would be so much academic knowledge, speculated about the Enterprise and the Klingon vessels, and worried about Spock.
Then, on the morning of the sixth day, the priest arrived accompanied by several guards.
"This looks like it," Kirk said quietly. McCoy nodded.
They were led out. Neither considered immediate resistance. The guards were too watchful and too well-armed. They were led through a yelling mob to an open space.
In the centre of the space was a huge stake, piled round with brushwood. They looked at each other. The guards hustled them forward.
"No sign of Spock," McCoy said softly.
"He'd never get through that crowd."
"I'm surprised he hasn't tried, though."
"So am I; but he probably doesn't know the position we're in."
A priest came forward, holding a blazing brand. Several women edged forward avidly.
"Look at them," McCoy muttered disgustedly. "Vultures."
"History is full of them."
"You are condemned to die as witches," the priest intoned, "You have refused to repent your heresy. Yet even now, in our mercy we give you a last chance. Will you repent, and deny the devil, so that your bodies and souls may be spared the final torments of Hell?"
"We cannot deny the truth," Kirk said firmly. McCoy nodded his agreement.
"So be it. You have chosen. And as you have chosen, so let it be." He thrust the blazing brand deep into the brushwood and stepped back. An ugly gloating sound echoed through the crowd.
Kirk strained one hand to touch McCoy's. "Sorry, Bones."
"It's all right, Jim."
They fell silent as the flames licked higher.
Feorah left the cave early with several of the boys. They made their way carefully through back streets towards the Square. Then ahead of them they saw a group of four men. Two were strangers. The other two...
To the Rejected, the other two were easily identifiable. The chief priest and his immediate subordinate. What were they doing with these strangers? They moved closer, Feorah trying to give the impression of an overworked woman burdened with a family of under-disciplined brats, trying to get a good look at the strangers.
They were fairly easily identifiable from Spock's tale. These men must be of the race inimical to Spock and his people - the Klingons. From what Spock said, Feorah was convinced that their presence boded no good to her planet.
They dawdled past, Feorah seeming to be trying to hurry her brood, but in actual fact delaying as much as possible, as much as she dared, an expression of blank incomprehension on her face as she heard the priests talking in the special church language the common people had no chance to learn. They couldn't delay for ever; but they heard enough to know that the priests were betraying their world for the promise of more and still more power.
Safely past, Feorah looked at her followers. "Boys. Start a witch cry. Lead the hunt here. These strangers look alien enough to be called devils too. It will be... interesting to see what happens."
They ran off, and she hurried on towards the Square, aware that these events had delayed her terribly. She reached the edge of the Square in time to see the brand being pushed into the firewood.
The heat from the fire was becoming unbearable. Their clothes were singeing, although they were as yet untouched by the flames. The fire was burning unevenly; some parts were blazing fiercely, other parts had barely caught alight yet, but were smoking badly. A cloud of smoke blew across their faces; Kirk choked and coughed.
Then from the crowd another woman pushed her way forward to join the group clustered as near the fire as they could possibly get, so near that it was a wonder that they weren't burned too. But this one didn't stop. She pushed aside one woman who was in her way, and jumping onto the piled wood, scrambled her way up to Kirk's side.
She raised one hand to her mouth. "Now, Spock!"
They materialised still tied together, their clothes singed brown, a hole burned through Kirk's trousers revealing a burn on his leg.
Spock took the steps in one, and tugged at the knots.
"Well done, Feorah!" he said, and for the first time Kirk realised that the young woman who had materialised with them held a communicator. She was looking rather white.
"Are you all right?" he asked her.
"Yes," she said. "But for a minute, I thought I wouldn't get through the crowd in time." She reported on the cause of the delay, and then, taking the communicator, went down to the cave to find out from her group what had happened.
It was some time before she reported back.
The disappearance had caused a sensation.
Because of the church's teaching, no-one in the crowd found it possible to believe that the disappearance had been caused by devils. The people had been taught too well that devils abandoned their gulled believers at the first sign of trouble. So these men must have been guided by an angel, despite his demoniac appearance.
At the same time, the witch-hunt that Feorah had started after the Klingons had caught them - and the chief priest as well. The inflamed crowd had hustled the strangers to the Square, the chief priest with them, their alien appearance condemning them immediately as supernormal - and there had been no help forthcoming for them. They had burned.
Now the people were puzzled, not knowing what to do, what to believe.
"Right," Kirk said. "Bones - Spock. We're going back down. We can work through Feorah's group, leave them running the planet - with Federation help, of course."
Later, as the Enterprise headed away from the planet, Kirk looked at Spock. "You're very quiet, Mr. Spock."
"I hope Feorah and her people will be all right," Spock said softly. "It is not easy to oversee an entire change of life, and they are all very young."
"They'll have help," Kirk said quietly, and Spock nodded his agreement.