There was a sound of hydraulics. The front walls were opened slightly, on the left. Barely seen alien hands threw two tubes into each of the five chambers, “Nutrition time!” yelled gruff, unfamiliar voices.
Malcolm got up and brought the tubes over to Lili, “It's not exactly your gourmet fare, I imagine,” he said, handing them both to her.
“You get one of these,” she said, trying to hand one back.
“I'm not hungry. Besides, you're the one who's eating for two.”
“It won't do us any good if you starve yourself. Don't be a martyr.”
“Very well,” he said, “Only a little,” he squeezed about fifteen cc's into his hand. The paste was whitish in color. He took a taste.
“And?” she asked.
“No flavor whatsoever.”
“Well, this is prison. I guess,” she uncapped the other one and squeezed a mass into her hand, then shoved it messily into her mouth, “Man!” she said, once she'd swallowed it, “Good thing I'm starving.”
“Keep your strength up,” he said, handing her the remains of the other one.
Hoshi and Tripp looked theirs over.
“Looks like tubes of toothpaste I saw in a museum once,” she said.
“Don't suppose they even know what we eat,” he replied, “Gawd, this is bland. Want mine?”
After about a half an hour, the front wall opened again. This time, it wasn't just unfamiliar hands, but entire bodies, tall alien guards. They were huge, almost two and a third meters tall. There was one assigned to each chamber, and they were wielding big sticks. The sticks were pointed between the men and the women, but were directed to the men. Jonathan got too close, and received a wicked shock to his midsection. Deb ran at the guard but was shocked as well. She fell to the floor and writhed a bit.
“Oh, come on!” It was Quellata, “Your first day! Really, slime molds, you'd think you'd be better at this,” she was in the hall in front of the rooms, and wasn't holding a stick, but there was another guard, next to her, dwarfing her. He had one.
Quellata continued, “Now, so far, so good. But you do need to learn how to do this as well. See, this can be almost pleasant. So long as you keep production up, we'll get along fine. If you don't, things will become ... uncomfortable.”
“What kind of production?” gasped Jonathan.
“Isn't it obvious?” Quellata asked, “It's the production of more humans.”
Lili stayed as far away from the stick as possible. The guard was separating the two of them, and herding her out into the hallway. She tentatively stepped out.
“There now, that's right,” Quellata said, “Follow this one. Females only.”
Doug called Lili's name, and got his own nasty shock. Lili looked back, scared, but kept quiet.
Kick Kick Kick Kick.
Pretty soon the five of them were out. Jennifer was really shaking. Lili took her hand.
“Stick together,” Hoshi said quietly.
“We have rights!” yelled Tripp, “It's a part of the Tau Ceti Accords! You can't separate prisoners like this!”
For this, he got his own shock.
Quellata turned back briefly, “We're not signatories. No jurisdiction here,” she said dismissively, then tossed her head and turned, green vines waving a little, and proceeded to walk down the hall. The women followed, prodded by the threatening guards.
T'Pol sat in Jonathan's Ready Room, “Mr. Masterson, get me Admiral Gardner.”
“Yes, Commander,” There was a pause, “Ready.”
“Admiral, we have a situation,” she explained, “Ten of our people have been taken hostage. We don't know by whom.”
“Yes, Admiral Black has told me. There are already ships on the lookout,” he replied.
“Yes, but I think there needs to be a much larger search taking place,” she said, “The abduction coincided with an enormous burst of EM radiation. We were unable to pinpoint the exact source as it appeared to be coming from all around the Enterprise
. But there is more information now.”
“And we suspect that the lack of clarity was due to the source being enormous. As in, it was a ship far larger than the Enterprise
, possibly large enough to engulf it completely. It was cloaked, as well.”
“Any other bad news for me?”
“Without knowing the vessel's course, speed or configuration, we have little to go on,” she stated, “Can we bring in more of our allies to assist?”
“Possibly. It's a bit of a diplomatic issue, though. We're attempting to put together an alliance of species, as you know. This is somewhat embarrassing.”
“Admiral, I suggest you get beyond that. The Captain could be anywhere, and in any condition. As could, among others, two civilians.”
“Yes, of course. Any other ideas on why the ten were, specifically, chosen?” he asked.
“Only that they were all humans. Two pilots, two engineers, one Armory Officer, one former Armory Officer, one MACO, one Communications Officer, one former sous-chef and the Captain – and they were not all pulled from the same parts of the ship. The logic is not yet apparent.”
“Keep trying. And we'll see if we can get the Andorians involved. Gardner out.”
The women were led to a large chamber off the same hallway. It contained several females of different species and about one guard for each five or so of the prisoners. They were placed in there.
Quellata spoke, “This is exercise time. You will not stay with your own species. Everyone follows around. There is no sitting and no stopping, and there is no talking. You,” she indicated Lili, “get behind this one,” she pointed to a female humanoid Xindi. Lili did as she was told.
Jennifer got behind a tall Andorian. Hoshi got in front of a Vulcan. Deb was placed behind a Klingon. Melissa got in front of that same Klingon and behind a shorter Andorian. Quellata, satisfied with the placements, left.
They began to shuffle around slowly. The Xindi in front of Lili spoke quietly, “Lean forward,” she said.
“We're not supposed to talk,” Lili whispered.
“Never mind that. Keep the volume low and stop when they tell you to. There are plenty of spots where they can't really hear us. I am Dayah.”
“My name is Lili. How long have you been here? What is this place?”
“It is a holding center. The Witannen – and their helpers, the Imvari – you've seen the big guards, yes? They are gathering up species with Warp capabilities. We're not sure why.”
“Oh. I wonder why they want us knowing Warp Drive.”
“No idea,” Dayah said, “Possibly it's a means of gauging our overall intelligence.”
“Quiet over there!” yelled one of the Imvari.
They did as told, continuing to walk and then turned at a corner. Dayah whispered, “I have been here for about three years. The Andorians have been here for about nine. The Klingons, six. The Vulcans are newer – two years soon. You're replacing the Kreetassans.”
“Yes. They didn't keep production up. So they were sent to a different unit.”
“We aren't the only twenty-five females on this ship. There are probably hundreds. We suspect three of the other Xindi species are here as well – just not Aquatics – too difficult. You have to be bipedal and breathe air to be here, so far as we can tell, and believe. The Andorians have seen a few species come and go. But don't talk to that tall one. See the one in front of the human with the orange hair? Leveqa.”
“Why shouldn't I talk to her?” Lili asked.
“You are expecting, yes? Rather clever of Quellata, to bring you in. Proven production – plus she gets credit for your child this quarter, I suspect.”
“I'm not due for another five months or so.”
“My, well, then she'll get credit next year.”
“You still didn't tell me why I shouldn't talk to that one.”
“Quiet over there!” yelled another guard.
Several minutes later, Lili asked, “Well?”
“It's stress. No good for your baby. You have enough stress. Just don't talk to Leveqa,” They turned, and could see the men, across a little hallway, in a similar room, also shuffling around slowly with other species.
Lili stopped for a second.
“Keep moving!” yelled a guard.
“Oh,” she said, and did as demanded.
“Ah, yes. It's always a bit of a thrill to see them, isn't it?” Dayah asked.
“There's not a lot to do here. But Quellata has learned that if she treats us a bit better, we give her better production than in the other units. So we get the gas, which makes everything a lot ... easier. And we get the clean ups and the clothes and the tube food. Have you had it?”
“Yes, it's terrible.”
“Oh, you're not doing that right,” Dayah said, “You can think up any taste you like. Just think and it will be it. It works on your brain chemistry a bit like the gas does. At least, that's what we think. Now, let me show you my fellow, and you can show me yours.”
“Why, yes. We're all paired up, and you must be as well. They keep you together until you produce, then you get a few months with the infant. Then they switch you to another.”
“Another? I'm not with my husband. Can we be switched so that we're together?”
“They don't take requests,” Dayah said, “Plus you're supposed to be switched about in order to cover all of the possible combinations. I'm going to assume your baby was fathered by your husband. And if so, you'll be kept apart until each of you has gone through all of the others. How long is typical gestation?”
“Um, nine months.”
“Plus it takes a little while to get pregnant. Could be five or so years until you're together again.”
“I don't think I'll be able to bear children for more than maybe another year,” Lili admitted, swallowing hard.
“Oh, they extend that. I was supposed to end a good two or so years ago. I am sixty-three. Yet here I am, cavorting with my fellow and waiting to begin producing again. Here, let me show him to you. You see your men, right?”
“Not the one with yellowish hair and not the dark-skinned one. There are three human males, one is shorter than the other two? My Emmiz is behind one of the tall ones. See?”
There was a Xindi behind Jonathan, “Yes, I think so. He's behind our Captain if it's who I think it is. He's very young.”
“Almost twenty,” she sighed a tiny bit, “He's so sweet and lovely. Best one I've had here so far.”
Another Xindi woman called out, “You should thank me. I taught him all he knows.”
“Quiet over there!”
The men were having their own conversations. Doug was a few places behind Malcolm, “Reed,” he said, “you and me, once this is over. I don't care where,” he was livid.
,” Jonathan said in a stage whisper. He was several spots behind Doug, “That's an order.”
“You can't give me orders, I'm retired from Starfleet,” Doug said through clenched teeth.
“Look,” Jonathan said, “I can't begin to know how it feels for you. But right now you both need to be concentrating on getting out of here. And Hayes – uh, Beckett. You're covered by our laws, you know.”
“Not so loud,” Emmiz said behind him, “Don't ruin it for everyone.”
Lili pointed out Malcolm, and then Doug, to Dayah.
“Ah, they gave you the shortest one. Hmmpf. And your husband?”
“He is the oldest one,” Lili replied, “I miss him.”
“Try not to think of that. You'll only upset yourself and that's not good for the baby.”
“What happens to the babies?”
“We're not sure. You get a few months together, the three of you. No gas. Then you hand over the baby and that's the last we've seen of them. We don't believe anything bad happens to them. There's far too much trouble taken to get them born in the first place. But we don't really know,” Dayah admitted.
“How many children have you had?”
“Four here. A boy, a girl and then twin boys last time. My man then, he and I got extra rations. This doesn't count my eldest girl, of course.”
“You have a daughter who isn't here?”
“Correct. She is a medical student. Are any of your people doctors?”
“A pity. I am the closest anyone comes. I am a midwife, self-taught. I stepped up when we first got here – there was no one, and one of the Kreetassans went into labor while we were in here.”
“If this baby is as big as my son, I'll need a C-section. Can you do that?”
“No. I have nothing to cut with.”
“I – the baby will be too big. He'll kill me coming out.”
“They have a vet that can take care of that.”
“A vet,” Lili said, “Gawd.”
Lili whispered after a few minutes, “Does the gas work on everyone the same way?”
“Yes, I believe so. It makes us all very, ahem, interested. Of course there are some who don't need it.”
“Don't need it?”
“Like you and your husband. Surely you would both be willing if you were paired up?”
“The gas works for about six or so hours. Then we all mostly sleep, and usually pretty soundly. It's tiring work, after all. And then you wake up, and you're usually tangled together because you fell asleep that way. But some, they wake up and they still want to. Those – and I am lucky my Emmiz is one of them! – those don't need the gas. They're interested anyway.”
Lili touched her own right temple a second. She'd been kissed there that very morning.
Exercise finally ended after a few hours. They were herded away, by species. First went the Vulcans, on both sides.
“What's happening?” Travis asked an Andorian in front of him.
“You clean up. It’s voluntary this time. You get fresh clothes. Then we go back to the women,” he sighed, “I am with Leveqa right now, to my undying shame and misery. All I can hope is to do the deed quickly so I can move on to one of the others.”
“A great beauty,” he pointed her out, just in front of Jennifer, “But the heart is made of titanium and frozen carbon dioxide. She almost ruined it for us.”
They were the last species allowed to clean up, even after the Andorians. These were big, communal showers, with no thought to modesty. It was quick, and then they were dried by blown air and found their new clothes. Then, as before, it was the women first. They were prodded down the hallway and separated into their chambers. The men soon followed and Lili heard Doug one time, swearing at Malcolm, before the front wall closed.
Kick kick Kick Kick Kick