One: Nyota Uhura
In the bustling market in Stonetown, on the island of Zanzibar, a young girl stood in the slave pit and stared up at the hot blue sky. She was skinny and bruised, and while she was naked and chained and scarred like the others, she was unbent and her face was full of determination.
She had been marching for three months from her quiet, sleepy home to arrive on this island, where she was surrounded by the sounds of a thousand different languages being shouted all around her, stone buildings that stretched and wobbled up to the sky, the cries of skinny cows and donkeys tied together by rope and pushed through the crowded alleys, and the smell of spices and the ocean and the other captives.
Her name was Nyota, which meant star, she was roughly nineteen years old, and she had never kissed a man.
Nyota was being prodded awake. Gentle waves lapped at her body. It was still dark, so she must not have been unconscious for very long.
"Hey, the tide's coming in," a strange, lyrical voice said to her in Kiswahili. Nyota turned her head sluggishly, her exhausted body yearning for sleep and enjoying the feel of the wet sand and the gentle waves. She blinked up at the figure before her, wrapped head to toe in bright kangas. "Come on, get up. You look like you need something to eat."
The strange girl bent and pulled Nyota up by her arms. She retrieved Nyota's stolen kanga from the sand, and shook it off in the water. "I guess this will have to do," she said, pulling it around Nyota's torso.
"Who... who are you..." Nyota managed to speak, her head muddy and slow.
"Oh, my name's Gaila! I was just coming home from the night market and I saw you lying there. Couldn't very well leave you, could I?" Gaila's voice was bright and clear and Nyota blinked in confusion, exhausted, before she remembered that Penda was dead.
All her memories hit her at once then, and Nyota took a paranoid step back, clutching the shackle that remained on her left wrist to hide it from sight. "Leave me alone," she said.
"Well, okay," Gaila said, sadly. "If you want me too. But the tide's coming in and the beach hits the wall up there," she nodded up the beach, the route Nyota had planned to take before she collapsed. The city wall jutted out on the beach, the tide already reaching a foot up the wall. "It's pretty rocky there, you won't be able to cross. You also look like you could use a meal and a nice place to sleep. If you want to. I won't tell anyone." Gaila's eyes drifted down to the shackle on Nyota's wrist. "I promise."
Nyota looked at this girl, trying to ignore the tightness in her stomach and make a decision. Gaila was covered completely in bright blue and purple kangas, the skirts falling to her ankles, and her hair wrapped up, her face covered. Two bright blue eyes looked out at Nyota, who wasn't sure if she could trust them.
In the end, her hunger and exhaustion won out, and she nodded wearily. She tucked her left wrist under her kanga and let Gaila prop her up as they walked home.
It was dark, the only light coming from torches and fires inside the houses as they picked their way through the twisting, tiny alleys of Stonetown. Gaila spoke a bit, of nothing much, and occasionally stopped to making cooing and kissing noises at a paka – a cat - sitting up on a wall or peering out at them from the shadows.
Nyota let her eyes drift almost closed once or twice, following Gaila blindly. The streets were quiet, until they got to the sandy streets of Michenzani, where the buildings were higher and fewer between. Nyota tensed up as they passed groups of men on the corners, standing around big vats of coffee brewing over charcoal pits, but the men were friendly and called out to Gaila in greeting.
"We're almost there," Gaila said, as they got to the foot of a high, stone building. She opened a small wrought iron gate, and helped Nyota painstakingly climb three flights of stairs.
Nyota didn't register much of Gaila's tiny apartment just then - the girl led her to a large, wide bed, something Nyota had never slept in before, and it was so luxuriously soft that Nyota fell asleep immediately.
Nyota ended up living with Gaila for three months before she could revisit her revenge plan. She needed that time to rest and recover, and she knew Penda would tut at her if she didn't let herself do that.
And there was so much to learn - finding out who, exactly, this star-man Nero was, and where to find him. And before that, just to get by on Zanzibar and find the information she needed - her Kiswhaili needed to be polished, and the more tongues she could master the better. But he was a star-man, and she despaired of ever learning his true language, so she could hear him beg for mercy.
Gaila was a different type of star-person than Nero, which Nyota had discovered the first morning she woke up in her apartment. Gaila was green-fleshed, and grew up on a sterile, controlled aether-ship far from Earth.
Gaila ran a stall at the night market in Forodhani, in the gardens near the House of Wonders, selling fish and fruit and vegetables prepared in the traditions of her home world. It was difficult to fake with Earth ingredients, she said, and the fish wasn't exactly right, but Zanzibar spices were so rich and tasty that it turned out great, and it was popular. Popular enough to make a good, honest living. Nobody knew Gaila's true ethnicity, well, hardly anybody, as she always kept herself completely covered outside the apartment.
"I knew I could trust you though," she said one night as they shared passionfruit and sat on the tiny terrace of Gaila's apartment, overlooking a small patch of grass where a young boy tied his goats every morning. "We're kindred spirits."
Gaila's apartment was small; one room, filled mostly by a wide, wooden Zanzibari bed. She had a mirror propped against one wall, dirty and cracked. A small window by the bed kept the room mostly dark and cool. The room opened onto a tiny terrace on the other end, with a grate keeping it private, where Gaila hung her clothes to dry. There was a drain on the floor of the terrace, and a collection of buckets. They would get water from a well at the end of the street. The terrace was also where Gaila cooked her breakfasts, using a tiny charcoal stove.
Nyota spent the first week alternately eating very slowly and sleeping in that wide, deliciously soft bed. At night Gaila would curl up next to her, as the bed could easily fit five people, and it wasn't long before Nyota quietly rested her bare arm against Gaila's, longing for the close touch of a sister. Gaila would smile at her sadly in the dark, and say nothing.
After a week, Nyota started venturing out into the world and getting her bearings. Her hair, the first time she tried to comb it, was matted and tangled and filthy. She washed it out on the terrace using a tiny amount of Gaila's washing water and one of Gaila's combs. It was almost to her shoulders now, and she had never had her hair so long. Penda would have liked it, to run her hands through it and tease her.
She got a set of kangas in deep red and black, swirling patterns that were only visible very close up. She took one rectangular piece of the pretty red black fabric, and pulled it around her hips, tucking it into a long skirt. She took the other piece and twisted it around her neck and chest, covering her breasts. Nyota pulled her long, straight hair into a ponytail and looked at herself in the small, smudged mirror Gaila kept in the room - after just a week of sleep and good food, she was a far cry from the half-starved girl escaping from slavers.
Stonetown during the day was a baking hot melting pot of people. It was noisy and fragrant and vibrant. Nyota went out with Gaila at first, but soon got used to going out on her own, trying out all the new words and new tastes, learning as much as she could.
While a star-girl like Gaila would stick out if uncovered, a woman of Nyota's colour blended in so well it was easy to hide from the slavers, especially after filling out and cleaning up.
There were so many men and women in Stonetown - from the Muslim Arab women selling elaborate scarves, some covered head to toe in all black, some only hiding their hair with bright kangas or flimsy see-through veils, to Indian women in bright saris and beautiful henna tattoos selling jewelry and watches; children of all types running about barefoot and shrieking; Arab men with moustaches and keffiyehs riding in combustion engine cars, elderly Persian men wearing kofias drinking coffee and playing bao on little wooden boards, shirtless black boys pulling in fishing boats in the afternoons and fixing up brickwork on countless walls and buildings; flushed, white foreign men in stuffy high collars and fancy hats; people of all colours pouring into (and out of) the cathedrals and mosques and Hindu temples.
It seemed, to Nyota, impossible to say exactly who a Zanzibari person was.
The white foreign soldiers, and many of the Sultan's local turbaned guard, carried the same shiny little weapon that Nero's men did - called phasers, Nyota knew now, or disruptors, depending on who you were asking.
"You don't want to get in the way of one of those things," Gaila had said. "It's not very pleasurable."
Amidst it all were an infinite amount of skinny little pakas running about, meowing at people, sleeping on the sides of roads, in the middle of roads, on tops of walls, getting underfoot and begging for scraps, adding to the general bright noise that was Stonetown.
The noise was mostly language, and when she made herself too full of anger about Nero, Nyota would calm down and listen to all the beautiful, lyrical words around her, talking to anybody who would humour her, learning just how wide and wonderful her world was. Words in Kiswahili, English, Arabic, Hindi, Portuguese, German...
But no star-tongues.
"What you need," Gaila said one day when she and Nyota were packing up their things for the stall that night. "Is a star-man."
"Pfft," Nyota scowled. "I don't need any man's help, especially not a star-man." She dropped a big jackfruit into her woven bag particularly hard. "It's men that got us into this to begin with."
"I suppose," Gaila said, wrapping a kanga around her hair and face, and securing it with a hair pin. "But men are the do-ers, Nyota, they're the ones who make the world go round and can get things done."
Nyota raised an eyebrow and said nothing, waiting by the door for Gaila to put her sandals on. They walked through the alleys as the sun set, towards Forodhani Garden and the night market. It had been three months since she awoke in Gaila's bed, and besides making a living helping Gaila at the stall and learning a passable amount of most of the languages spoken here, she wasn't any closer to finding Nero.
She looked sidelong at Gaila as they walked. Neither girl had told the other much about their histories, besides the basics. But Gaila must have gotten off those aether-ships and down to Earth somehow, and Nyota was sure a man had nothing to do with it.
It was busy that night, the garden illuminated by lantern light as dozens of people ran their stalls, selling mostly food - street pizza, fresh fish, fruit and sweets, but also jewelry and instruments and fine clothes. Gaila set up her stall near the far wall of the Garden. Nyota sat on a bench by the wall, feeding fish to the small group of pakas that had gathered by her feet. It was one of the small pleasures she indulged in here.
“Jimmy!” Gaila shrieked suddenly, setting her pan down on the wooden table and darting out from behind the stall. Nyota looked up to see her hugging a young man tightly. He was foreign - white-skinned and sunburned, with hair bleached light yellow from the sun. Nyota stood, suspiciously, and the young man caught her eye over Gaila's head.
"Who's your friend, Gaila?" he asked in rapid English, in an accent Nyota hadn't heard before. Gaila, obviously grinning underneath her headwrap, grasped his hand and squeezed.
"This is..." Gaila gestured at Nyota, and then trailed off, a little hesitant.
"Uhura," Nyota said, giving the name she had taken to distinguish herself from the naked, skinny, desperate girl that had arrived on this island.
"Uhura!" Jimmy said, friendly, in his clumsy accent. Nyota wanted to frown at the way he said the word, but he was so sincere she found she couldn't. "Jim Kirk." He held out his hand for her to shake. She looked at it, suspiciously.
Gaila filled the resulting awkward silence with laughter. "She's not going to fall for your tricks, Jimmy," she said, resting her head on his shoulder.
"Well that's okay," Jimmy said. "You're probably right anyway, Uhura, you shouldn't trust a guy like me."
Gaila laughed again, but Nyota was mostly puzzled as to why anybody would say that.
"How long are you working tonight?" Jimmy asked Gaila. "You girls should come visit me, we're beached not far from here. I'm lonely."
"No," Nyota said, firmly.
"Oh come on N, I've known Jimmy forever, he's fine."
Jimmy shrugged. "That's okay, I understand." He picked a piece of pineapple off their stand and took a bite. "I'll see you round, Gaila. It was nice to meet you, Uhura," he inclined slightly, bowing to her with a slight flourish. Nyota raised an eyebrow. "And I would love to see you again."
Gaila wouldn't shut up about Jimmy the entire way back to the apartment that night.
"Where did you even meet him?" Nyota asked as she combed her hair out by candlelight on the tiny terrace.
"Oh, just at the night market," Gaila said. "He showed up one day and got some food from me. The other fish stalls made him sick, poor thing."
"Where's he from?" It was one of those instances where Nyota didn't want to talk about this person at all, but couldn't help herself. She hated it.
"America," Gaila sucked out the innards of one half of a passionfruit, handing the other half to Nyota. "Wherever that is. Oh, Nyota, it's so romantic. He fell in love with the wrong girl, and he had to run away from home."
"Yeah, whatever," Nyota scoffed. She emptied her passionfruit piece and tossed the hide over the side of the terrace.
"He stole a boat," Gaila went on, as she fluffed up the pillows on their wide bed. "He and his friend, Bones. You'll like Bones. We should see them tomorrow."
"He stole a boat?"
"Mmm hmm," Gaila smiled up at her as Nyota settled into bed beside her. "He's a very bad boy, that Jim Kirk." She closed her eyes, but Nyota stayed awake, scheming.
Two: The Governor of Zanzibar, or, Spock's Unpleasant Business
The House of Wonders was a white palace that rose up over the other, grey buildings of Stonetown. It overlooked the Strait of Zanzibar, and the lavish Forodhani Gardens, where the Governer allowed the public to congregate.
As far as palaces went, Commander Spock had seen human ones far more lavish, but this still had all the trappings of wealth and "glamour", a concept Spock was mystified by. It wasn't like a temple, or any place of study or meditation. But it was still gigantic and decadent, with cavernous high ceilings and winding staircases.
There were several layers of housing, like a cocoon, going further and further inside, the house courted around itself, and a wide courtyard in the middle. It was cool in the innermost parts of the house, where Spock and Mister Scott were led by servants up to the Governor's office. Spock found it pleasant, but it was just as unbearable as outside for Mister Scott, who huffed and sweated in his thick navy uniform, clutching his hat and mopping at his brow.
"I dinnae how you can handle it, Commander," Mister Scott sighed, as he creaked back in the wicker chair. “It's hotter than Satan's arsehole, and you look as if you just stepped into a brisk spring morn."
"I'm familiar with this type of weather, Mister Scott," Commander Spock replied. “I find it quite refreshing.” They were sitting in a large office at the top of the House of Wonders, on two wicker chairs that faced a big lacquered wooden desk. The room was dark, to keep it cool, and hung throughout were bright, thin curtains.
A large terrace opened up behind Spock and Scott. Curtains mostly hid it, but they were drawn slightly in the middle to let in the light - a piercing shaft of hot white light into the dark room, revealing swaying palm trees, and the glint of the ocean, dhows bobbing in the distance. Spock sat straight up in his seat, looking out at the ocean, still wearing his hat, his blue military jacket crisp and perfect.
Commander Spock was one of the very few star-man to visit Earth in an official capacity. His father, Sarek, was the first Vulcan ambassador to Earth, when King George the II of England commissioned a powerful telescope which was able to read the mathematical messages laid out on Earth's moon by the then-fledgling Federation. A gigantic kaleidoscope, for lack of a better word (indeed, that is what the public called it - the Kaleidoscope), was built to relay a message back, and Sarek was among the first explorers to make contact with this new species. He eventually married the Lady Amanda, a minor British noble, and Spock became the first child of an interplanetary union with humans.
The issue of Earth joining the Federation had been in the forefront of Spock's life since his birth. Human society was so diverse, and fractured, and hopelessly illogical - and yet several segments of it desired deeply to join the Federation. One of the main requirements for doing so, however, was complete abolition of the despicable act of slavery in all its forms. While some governments and Empires were dedicated to doing so – it was still technically legal in England though it was rapidly becoming unpopular - it was so widespread that it seemed, at times, pointless to even try.
Nonetheless, Sarek was still committed to one day introducing Earth into the Federation, and at his behest Spock agreed to work on one of the millions of little problem spots that Earth was having. Working with the British government, he was given command of a ship - the HMS Enterprise - and told to do what he could about the slave trade in the Indian Ocean, particularly the trading hub on the island of Zanzibar.
Mister Scott gulped down a cup of cooling chai tea, and once again wiped sweat off his face. "He better not keep us long," he said. "I'm itchin' to get back to the Enterprise, it's not right leaving a pretty lady like that in a harbour of thieves like this place." He clunked his empty tea cup down on the tray left for them on the table. "Godforsaken little rock," he grumbled.
Commander Spock knew he should say something for the sake of propriety, but he liked Mister Scott's honesty. Unlike many humans that Spock had met since coming to work with the British government, Mister Scott was guileless and easy to understand - he didn't hide his motives behind traditions and proprieties, and he shared Spock's bafflement at the sometimes illogical behaviour of other humans.
He could trust the man, who was chief engineer on the Enterprise, one of Britain's only amphibious ships. And among the few amphibious ships that existed on Earth, the Enterprise was the finest, and was on its way to becoming aether-ready and capable for space travel. Mister Scott's cunning and talent was to thank for that.
Before Mister Scott could continue his grumblings, the Governor of Zanzibar finally arrived.
"Aha Commander Spock! How nice it is to see you again," he said. Governor Said al-Mugrabi was one of the nephews of the Sultan of Oman, the official ruler of Zanzibar. He was a jovial, short man, who favoured a European style of dress with the exception of his turban, and he shook Commander Spock's hand vigorously.
"Good afternoon Governor," Spock said politely. "This is Mister Scott, my chief engineer and assistant," he inclined his head slightly as al-Mugrabi shook Mister Scott's hand.
“Please, please, sit,” the Governor said.
“Sir, I will get straight to the point,” Spock said, as he respectfully took off his hat and held it on his lap while he sat. “We would like to speak to you about your position on ending slavery in the Omani Sultanate.”
“Ah, yes,” al-Mugrabi said, sitting up a little straighter in his seat, and smiling a knowing little smile. “We have spoken about this at great lengths already, Commander Spock.”
“And I have kept up a in-depth correspondence with your people,” the Governor went on. “I have to admit, I find it slightly hypocritical that the Sultan of Oman is being asked to end a practice that has been a cornerstone of our economy for generations while the English still, themselves, keep slaves.” He glanced knowingly at Mister Scott, who glanced himself at Commander Spock, in an attempt to reign in his eyeroll.
“I understand that,” Commander Spock went on. “But we are not making a frivolous request. There are legislative measures being taken in England as we speak to abolish slavery,” he paused for a moment, unsure if the look on al-Mugrabi's face was one or disbelief or what he was often accused of by Mister Scott, condescension. “The efforts to end slavery is one that every nation on Earth must undertake.”
“As yes, so that we may join this Federation of yours,” al-Mugrabi added.
“But why we should we care about such a thing?” the Governor went on. “The Sultanate of Oman has become a very prosperous empire since we rid ourselves of our Portuguese oppressors. Human oppressors, Commander Spock, and not just the Portuguese, but also the Persians, the Yemeni. The Omani people have been controlled by other humans for a very long time, and now we are in charge of our own selves, and this is the only way to stay in control, do you understand?”
He didn't, entirely, but Spock nodded.
“And you are not even human!” al-Mugrabi went on. “And yet you sit here lecturing me on what every nation on this planet should do.”
“You're correct,” Spock nodded, furrowing his brow slightly and taking a different angle. “Sir, there is a very influential slaver working in these waters, one who has supplied your own clove plantations with slaves. His name is Nero.”
The Governor nodded. “Yes, I know this Nero.”
“He is not human,” Spock said. “He is Romulan. And his people are, in fact, an enemy of the Federation. By harbouring him in your waters you, sir, are taking a very dangerous stance.”
The Governor smiled that knowing little smile again. “And how is that, Commander Spock?”
“Well for one thing, there are many alien forces looking for Nero,” Spock said. “He made himself a lot of enemies, not just in the Federation, before he came to hide on Earth.”
“Nero attacked Vulcan,” the Governor said shrewdly. “Talk plainly. He attacked your people, but this is none of my concern.”
Spock felt a slight tremor in his body, a very small shock that traveled from one knee to the middle of him, and he took a sharp breath, small enough that it wouldn't be noticeable. He felt such tremors often, as a child, and never quite knew what to do with them except ignore them.
There were, of course, a few humans that had died in that targeted blast on Vulcan, and among them was Lady Amanda. Spock was saved from having to come up with a response by Mister Scott.
“Vulcan and Earth are friends,” Mister Scott said. “Nae matter what happens with the Federation, that will always be true. Vulcan has given us technology and knowledge that is opening our world up faster than anything we've ever known before. And, your... Governorship, Earth will eventually have other enemies. If Vulcan is no longer our friend, we won't be able to defend ourselves.”
“Mister Scott is correct,” Spock said. “We haven't made the knowledge of Nero's residence on Earth known off-planet, because we do not wish to invite his enemies here. Earth does not have the technology or the... unity to defend itself.”
Governor al-Mugrabi regarded Spock for a long moment, measuring him. “Look,” he said. “Nero imports a good deal of the work force we use on our clove plantations here. Without it, we would starve. There is another thing plaguing this island – piracy.” He gestured behind Spock, out the terrace, towards Forodhani Gardens. “There are hundreds of those parasites in my waters, stealing our spices and rum and cloths, all the things that are traded through this island, and we lose who knows how much money to them. You can look out today and see a bunch of them all out there in the open, in our very own Garden, like rats nesting.” The Governor leaned back in his seat and smiled again. “If you get rid of the pirates, I will give you Nero.”
There was just the sound of wind on the palm trees for a moment.
“Get rid of the pirates,” Spock said.
“All the pirates,” Scott said.
“That's-” Scott sputtered. “But that's imposs-”
“Mister Scott,” Spock warned him. “It is a difficult task, to be sure, but nothing is impossible for the Enterprise,” he inclined his head at al-Mugrabi. “And I believe this is the best offer we will be getting from our esteemed host.”
Governor al-Mugrabi grinned. “It is.”
“Very well,” Spock stood, and put his hat on. “Thank you very much for your time and hospitality, Governor. I believe you have what you would call a deal.”
When they stepped back out into the bright, hot day, Scott squinted into the light and fanned his face with his hand. “Well that didnae go well,” he said.
“Well is a particularly vague term, Mister Scott,” Spock said. “I believe it would depend on how you define such a thing.”
“If you think agreeing to capture all the pirates in Zanzibar is going well, then I suppose,” Scott said.
“So we are,” Scott said, incredulously. “Going to try and capture all the pirates in Zanzibar.”
“We are going to try,” Spock said. “In addition to that, we are going to try to simply capture Nero ourselves.”