The hypospray smashes on impact, spewing green over her bare legs and splashing over the CMO's shoes. Glass streaks blood down her knees.
McCoy hits her. Usually, she can avoid his slaps. He sneers and shows his teeth and raises his hand in warning. Bones the butcher will always warn, that makes him rare and that makes him somewhat safe.
She giggles as her teeth rock and her cheek smarts, and he swears, turns her around and smashes her breast fast on the bed. He rips her sash and skirt and snaps her underwear.
When he's finished, he lights a cigarette and takes a swig of his brandy and offers her a tipple.
"Sorry about that," he drawls lazily, all southern charm. "Gets me antsy, all that blood."
She knows that, has seen him work open patients with his knob pulsing through his pants.
She drinks down the brandy, tastes the burn and ash of it, before struggling into bed with him. He moves over with a grunt and allows her to cradle her head on his shoulder. He's in an indulgent mood so he puts one arm around her. She doesn't like him fucking her, but he's sometimes gentle, and might even hold her afterwards. Nobody has ever cuddled her, not even the parents she barely remembers, and even if he is thin and narrow with a tongue like a syringe he's better than nothing.
He isn't like Sulu, doesn't creep up like a serpent and leaves bruises down her back, visible beneath the high blue bodice of her shirt. She resents the way her stomach is presented, the skirt snug beneath her hips, the long white arches of her torso a beckon for bruises, blood, scars. She is unscarred because she does not fight. (They will scar her one day, just for the spite of it.)
Uhura is unscarred, muscled abdomen flexing with her swaggering walk, sneer caught in the corner of her beautiful mouth. Her bare ribs are a challenge that none will take. She is unscarred for she does the scarring, bites the tongue before the mouth can speak.
Christine cannot take her eyes off her. The women in command are few, the scarred hiding their marks beneath their sashes crossed too high, an informality the First Officer despises. Uhura occupies the bridge, place of honour, and wears her sash low at all times.
The other unscarred is Marlena, Captain's woman. She has been described as a female Vulcan in human skin, and Christine is not surprised, for she is dark, controlled, purring bored languid sex through the thin tilts of her lips. Christine has heard the Captain speak of her through long drunken bouts with McCoy. In crude terms, she services well, though not with the enthusiasm he would like, and in the spare moments where The First Officer is present in these long nights of booze and chess, he scrutinises the Captain through eyes black, shimmering, famished.
She is not a fool who would invite such hunger to herself. She tends to search for tenderness where there is none, a weakness that serves well in keeping her servile. (Head sick, McCoy says.) But the hunger that passes from the First Officer to the oblivious Captain is a dam threatening to break. In these hours, she cleans up the lab quickly, enduring the pulls of McCoy onto his lap, the too hard swats on her behind. They leave bruises that do not blemish, do not scar.
So what if she had thought of the First Officer's eyes, and those of the eyes of Marlena, and the difference there about?
Uhura takes men to her bed when she likes, but more frequently woman. Easier to overpower, she says pointedly to Rand (whose body is crisscrossed with scars, up her arms and legs, sparing the face.) It is on one such occasion when Christine is sorting the cupboards on the lower decks to escape McCoy's foul temper when she finds them.
Marlena's white, sharp nails are bound in the black swirl of Uhura's hair, tangling it free, dragging down the long, brown neck, opening light veins of blood that bloom but will not scar. Uhura's knees are forced between the woman's legs, grinding up, rough, even as Marlena kisses her face and eyes with mocking candy kisses, dragging the mascara across their brows, eyeshadow shimmering and lipstick smeared from cheek to cheek.
They kiss, open-mouthed, with none of the lacklustre that powered the Captain's complaints, and Chapel just stands there and watches them, her cleaning bag dangling from her sweaty palm.
Marlena is the first to pause, her eyebrow arched oh so delicately. Uhura huffs, turns, the slow drag of her black eyes venturing to Chapel, and she must know, for she smirks, clasps Chapel's trembling elbow, and yanks.
Marlena is unscarred for she is the Captain's woman, and therefore untouchable, except to him, for he can scar her and use her and do with her as he wishes. She has his secrets, but not his love, and he has her body, but not her loyalty. It runs rings around Chapel's head. The Empire sustains on the exchange of flesh, of fealty formed from terror. She has heard The First Officer explain it slowly, the agoniser fused into the shoulder blade of the unfortunate Esign he felt obliged to explain it to until the boy's legs had given out and his eyeballs had rolled white and leaking to the back of his head.
Uhura is unscarred for she does the scarring, but she does not scar Chapel, nor does Marlena, in the nights they haul her into bed. Long, sticky limbs, tangled in warm sheets, the two of them too lovely and knowing it, hiding the mock of their smiles as Chapel is on her knees, on all fours, pleasing them. It is exhausting but she is hot herself, dribbling between her thighs, the taste of skin in her mouth and the print of their bodies in her palms. (Not like McCoy, where she is dry and tight and tired.)
They lie together after, Uhura asleep, not aware of Chapel curling her way around her, arms to her shoulders (not to her neck, she sees how Uhura gasps and kicks at the brush of fingers under her chin) and her hip bone to Uhura's stomach. It is an arrangement, a ghost of an embrace and Marlena (who never sleeps, just smokes and reads) observes the pantomime with cool pity.
Chapel is unscarred for she now belongs to Uhura, to Marlena (although the latter is a secret, for Kirk will kill if anyone touches what he is.) Uhura hisses if McCoy's hands stray, and Chapel allows a swell in her gut, a breeze of belonging to sway her smile. It is little, but is enough, at least for now.
Uhura gives what she gives when she feels like it. Sex is typical, a kiss is a rarity, an embrace nonexistent (except the stolen intimacies as she sleeps.) Marlena is difficult. She is sinuous, more careful, unpicking Chapel through distant glances and the trickle of fingertips across her arms, her breasts, down and up the curve of her ribs like spider legs.
Chapel is head sick (or so McCoy says when she sleeps in his bony, hard little arms) but she has a feeling that Marlena could be kind if she tried. Marlena has her quarters, separate from the Captain. It has a kitchen attached, a single bed (for who else would she share it with, sneers Kirk) and a bathroom with lavender tiles. Marlena has nothing on the walls, no spreads on the bed, no inkling of personality or preference, and she is so scrubbed of emotion and ambition she is almost a machine, well-tuned to the Captain's moods, hardwired for his pleasure.
Uhura likes jewellery, music and battle songs, games of chance, bloodsports between beautiful men, dancing in the moonlight (her eyes glitter like the blade on her boot in the dusk) bitter chocolate, the interplays of language and how to win a war with a tongue, Marlena, and sometimes even Christine, when the air is right and her moods are smooth and sweet.
What Marlena does have is a kitchen, and Chapel has a memory of real food, and when she has time from the lab, she cooks, and Marlena sits in her plush purple chair, and eats, delicately, the assorted vegetables, fruits and soups, and nibbles the french pastries she adores (her father lives on earth, and would slap her if she sampled anything sweet.)
Chapel will bend over the chair after Marlena finishes, pressing hiccups of kisses on Marlena's jaw and mouth, dutifully getting to her knees. Marlena stops her, with a heel on her shoulder, pushing to painful, and shakes her head, the grand waves of her black hair swinging back and fro.
Marlena is so beautiful, an Empress Consort in the making, slim as a snake (and just as poisonous, Uhura would say, in her taunting contraltro.)
Chapel does not agree. She thinks Marlena can be kind. She wants to be kind to Marlena. After dinner, Marlena nestles in her lap, long legs dangling from the chair and demanding attention like a spoilt cat. Chapel combs her hair, massages her feet, rubs oils in her thighs and back. Marlena demands adoration; craves it as a drug. She will not receive it from the Captain, but from the nurse, she can take her lips and hands and mouth and Chapel would even open her chest, offering the pink tender of an organ.
(She'd fry it with butter and garlic, if Marlena requested, and serve it with a light salad and truffle oil.)
The Uhura is not her Uhura. She walks with a frantic edge, sweat shimmering in her hairline, her hands running down the dips of her waist. There's an openness in the parting of her mouth, a mellowness in how her fingers rest on the buttons of her console, a question in the corner of her eye (that Chapel would spend her life answering if Uhura, this Uhura, would let her.)
McCoy yelps as she palms him through his trouser. He slaps her hand away shakily, aking what in god's green gables is she doing. He's soft too, and strange, and looks at the sick with something close to pity, and McCoy is rough and harsh, her McCoy is, but he's the closest thing she has to a friend.
She likes his helplessness. It makes her feel less useless. He turns away, and she grabs him, an arm around his waist, her knee lifting between his legs. He shouts and manhandles her, but it's loose and careful, and he looks into her face and flinches as if seeing something there, maybe her head sickness.
"Now, Christine," He says slowly as if speaking to a toddler. "Not now, alright? I'm busy."
She lets him go. Laughter twangs like elastic in her throat, and she hides in the downstairs closet, rocking back and forth, hysterical.
She has never wanted him, ever, but he wanted her, and even if it was the wrong kind of wanting, it was something. Now he doesn't want her and what has she done and it's terrifying for how can there be two faces of the same person?
The ship bubbles with the wrong of it all, gnawing at Chapel's nerves like rats on a wire. Marlena is nowhere to be found, for the first time content in the Captain's kisses and promises. She sees the New Captain once, a face so unbearably good, like a prince from a fairytale book. He strides through the long corridors, tawny hair and golden skin, gentleness blushed on his softer body. The First Officer stalks him like a tiger, his veiled hunger now full out ravenous, and the Captain is trusting, open, turning his neck and belly toward the twitching fingers of Commander Spock.
If there is another Captain, then surely there is another Chapel. What is she like? Is she head soft, like her? Is she allowed to be?
Chapel skulks on the bridge. Uhura is unaware of her, of her fits of hunger to attack her mouth. She sees the imposter strike Sulu, drawing blood on the backs of her knuckles. Her beauty comes alive, a weapon and a weakness, and Chapel, dizzy with lust, wonders if this Uhura would be unscarred if she was here, even with her compassion bleeding out of her like honey perfume to greedy wasps.
She slips into the turbo lift; Chapel follows like a serpent.
She halts the lift, feels it shudder and stop. Uhura gazes at her, eyes wide. She does not reach for her knife, but her body tightens like whipcord, the plush of her hair swelling as she tilts her head back against the wall.
"Nurse," she says. It is with the same schooled gentleness as McCoy. "The Captain wants me. I cannot delay."
Chapel removes her knife from her boot, peels up the blue of her own bodice, and presses the blade under her breast.
Uhura is frozen. Chapel memorises her face and draws it along beneath the swell of her chest.
"Stop it!" Hands grab at her wrists, pull her away. Chapel stumbles; the knife falls, clatters. "Don't do that to yourself, Christine!"
"For you," Christine's jaw works like taffy. Slow, stupid, but she doesn't giggle like a fool. "I do this for you. You can scar me, Nyota. You can. I want you to."
She clasps the woman's shaking palms and presses it to the bulge of blood. It weeps under Uhura's perfect nails, staining the cuticles.
Uhura shakes her head, wordlessly.
"I love you," Christine kisses her cheek, her nose, her chin. She pecks like a mother bird, finally finding her lips and holding it there. Uhura's horror tastes of salt. "I love you, so much. There is nothing I wouldn't do, nothing I wouldn't give."
The lift roars to life again. Commander Spock must have overridden the command. The doors open on deck five and Chapel frees her hands. Uhura stumbles away, her face radiating a single, sorrowful terror, and she flees, her boots soft on the corridor floors.
Chapel licks the blood off her hand. She tries to cry, but smiles instead.
The gentle changelings vanish like childish dreams in masses of light and molecule, and back come the demons, crawling fresh and confused onto their ship.
Captain Kirk no longer rules hell.
Chapel hears the shrieks from Spock's quarters, the twisting anguish of the Captain, and the low burring hum that passes for the ex-first officer's amusement. Chapel wanders the hallway, rubbing her palms together, memorising the sweet clouding of the other Uhura's eyes, like the passing of first light in the morning.
Without invitation, she enters Marlena's private quarters, and finds her still, her hands on her lap. She's been left, like her, no handsome prince to the rescue, no gilded palace or fine horses, and she turns her face to hide her tears.
Chapel does not feel betrayed by Marlena's desire. She cradles her to her chest, grateful for the harsh reality of what it is to be a woman here. They're all flesh, really, just things to be picked up and dropped, just things to fetch hyposprays on iron trays speckled with chemical and gristle and sometimes you drop it just to hear a noise. At least, in their sweet trappings, they can be together.
Marlena makes a choking noise, harsh in her throat. The doors swish open, and Uhura storms in, fury in red and gold. She strikes Marlena across the face, her ring slicing the immaculate cheek and sending sprays of red up to Marlena's hairline.
"Thinking of leaving, were you?" She snarls. "To run away with your handsome Captain?"
Marlena is on her feet, her knife unsheathed. Her hand trembles on the hilt, lips and nose twitching like a rabbit, and Chapel watches, fascinated. Has a tiny show of tenderness pulled her apart so completely?
"You shouldn't speak of what you don't know, Lieutenant," she rasps, and Chapel sees the powder she has rubbed into the corners of her eyes to smooth out the lines just beginning to appear, and the standing out of bone in her ribcage.
"I know plenty," Uhura drawls. There is a terrible fire in her eyes. It almost looks like the ash of love. "You betray us so freely?"
Chapel gazes at Uhura in wonder.
"It is so vile..." Marlena spits; "...to want something better?"
They circle each other like wolves. Chapel rocks on her heels, breathing deep. She watches them fight and bite until Uhura pins Marlena to the bed, kissing her with tongue and teeth until Marlena yelps, screeches, shuddering in her arms.
Chapel's head sickness (softness) makes her smile.
Uhura, satisfied, releases Marlena. She stalks to Chapel, who peers up at her dreamily, reverent.
Uhura snatches Chapel's bodice, ripping it free. Her new scar pinches out proudly beneath her left breast; love letter of fibrous tissue. Uhura's nails press hard, sore, into the healing cut.
"Who did this?" She sneers. Marlena, dazed, looks up from the bed. A shadow of possessiveness crawls across her face and Chapel shudders in pleasure.
She could say anything. Why she could even blame McCoy! Uhura would kill him for her, wouldn't she?
"I did it," she says sweetly.
Uhura's hailing nail pushes up inside the wound, opening it anew.
"Why?" She presses.
"So the other you wouldn't," Chapel gasps with the sting. "For you, only you. I did it for you."
Uhura's eyelashes flutter.
"I am yours. I love you, Nyota."
Steel flashes and the cold kiss of Uhura's blade is at her neck. Marlena half rises off the bed with a cry; Uhura stalls her with her palm aloft. Her glare scalds Christine's unwaning smile as her fingers stroke smooth lines down Nyota's waist.
The blade charts a course down her body. There is a tremor as it reaches the scar, looseness in the grip.
"Nyota..." Marlena pleads.
The knife clatters to the floor. Uhura moves away, smirks, but in her eyes, there is something big and naked and afraid and Chapel beams, cradling her new scar like a child.
"You're a freak, Christine." She laughs, moving toward the cabinet to pour herself a drink. "But you have your uses."
Marlena glances between them and finally beckons to Christine, who climbs into the bed next to her. Marlena lies in her arms; Christine obliges.
"Hm." Uhura taps her nail against her glass, observing them both, hungry. "You both have."
"That's your idea of a love confession?" Marlena drawls in response, back to her sinuous, sinister self and Chapel nestles along her lap like a cat.
"It's the best you're going to get," Uhura downs her drink. She hums the dangerous vibrato of old earth love songs and joins them, shoulder to shoulder with Marlena, her fingers combed into Christine's hair. With a sigh, she kisses them both, lingering her lips on the split of blood on Marlena's temple.
Christine half dreams of the other people; the changelings. That stain of saffron fear in the other Uhura's eyes at the opening of the skin, and how that had reflected, like a funhouse mirror, in Nyota's iris, spilling out free and wild at Christine's tender admission.
Oh, how I love you!
She's head sick enough to see that.
Uhura slips her fingers roughly into Chapel's mouth for her to suck.
Christine Chapel is head sick enough to wonder what she can do with it.