Author's note: Universes and camera angles don't get any more alternate than this. The events described herein take place sometime after "Hell's Bells," sometime before "Selfless," and right in the middle of "Amok Time," relatively (or relativistically) speaking.
Acknowledgments: Thanks to Claire Gabriel for not thinking me entirely mad.
Copyright © 2003 Kathleen Dailey. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be archived, reproduced, or distributed in any format without prior written permission from the author. This is an amateur nonprofit work, and is not intended to infringe on copyrights held by Mutant Enemy, Paramount Pictures, or any other lawful holder.
It seems like we're always dealing with creatures from outer space--except that we don't ever do that.
-- Anya(nka), "Listening to Fear"
If there was one thing Anyanka knew all about, it was weddings gone wrong. Cultures and rituals and fashions might change, but heartbroken brides and faithless grooms never did. Anyanka hadn't bothered to do the math, but it was a good guess that way more than half of her calls had come on the very day of a wedding. Whenever she materialized in a room crammed full of gowns and jewels and gifts and flowers, she knew right away who had summoned her, and why. Oh, not the details of why--it took a while for that information to come out, usually after a few glasses of wine and an hour or so of tears and self-reproach. By the time the wine bottle was empty, though, and the bride had dried her eyes and moved on to name-calling and venom and good clean spite--I wish he'd never been born! I wish everyone could see what a spineless weasel he is! I wish his penis would shrivel up and fall off!--Anyanka could finally get down to business: Done. Done. Done!
So when Anyanka found herself standing in the middle of a bedroom furnished with all the items on the standard-issue wronged-bride checklist--the garlands; the jewelry; the glittery dress spread out across the bed; the bride seated at a dressing-table, hiding her face in her hands--she was pretty sure that she'd be able to finish work early and get back in time to meet Halfrek for a cappuccino and a movie. She would just chat sympathetically with the bride over a glass or four of bubbly, get her to say what she was wishing and hoping, make it happen, you're welcome, bye-bye. A job well done, and another much-needed check-mark in the "satisfactory" column in D'Hoffryn's big goblinskin record-book--
Maybe D'Hoffryn had screwed up the teleportation coordinates, or maybe he'd devised some kind of special skill-testing exercise. Regardless, this place was deeply odd. The patch of sky that was visible through the leaded casement was as violently red as lipstick or hellfire. The glass carafe on the sideboard held wine of a bluish-green color unlike any that Anyanka had seen or drunk in all her thousand and some years. And the bride, who had raised her head to stare at Anyanka with an expression that could be called inquisitive but could also and probably more accurately be called murderous, was dark-eyed, green-skinned, pointy-eared, and unmistakably of the demon sisterhood.
"Hi," Anyanka chirped. "Sorry. I'm not trying to, you know, infringe. It's D'Hoffryn's fault. He must've keyed in the wrong coordinates on the teleport thingy. He always has to do it himself because he's a control freak and he thinks nobody else but him can do geopositioning. If you ask me, he couldn't find his way out of Arashmaharr with a talking map, but--" She broke off suddenly and took a long look around the room. "Say, what dimension is this, anyway?"
The bride got slowly to her feet. "Who are you?" she said in a low voice.
"I'm Anyanka. I'm the patroness of scorned women. I do vengeance. Who are you?"
The bride raised an eyebrow and regarded Anyanka speculatively. "I am T'Pring," she said.
* * *
"Another planet. Vulcan. You're sure?" Anyanka reached for her glass, drained it, held it out for a refill. Always a bad idea to outdrink the client, but in the circumstances-- "When I get home I'm going to dehorn D'Hoffryn. 'I'll file the flight plan,' he says. 'That way it'll be done right,' he says. I'll file him a flight plan. He sent me to another planet!"
"You are not that far from home," T'Pring said. "Terra is less than ten lightyears away from Vulcan--four days' journey by express shuttle. I can assist you in booking a passage."
"That's really nice of you, but I don't think it's going to work. Where I come from--when I come from--humans don't have spaceships that can travel faster than light. I must be in the future. Or in a different timeline or universe or something. D'Hoffryn's the only one who can bring me back home."
"Who is this D'Hoffryn?"
"My boss. I'm kind of on probation right now. Long story. He--well, you know, he can be annoying, but he isn't really an idiot. He must have given me this assignment for a reason."
"I cannot think," T'Pring said coolly, "what that reason might be."
Now that was different. Most of the time you couldn't shut them up. "Oh, the usual.. The man's a liar, or a cheat, or stupid, or selfish, or mean, or cowardly, so cowardly that he lets you love him and he says he loves you and you go right ahead and get your dress and the cake and the minister and your friends, and then he--" She caught T'Pring's look and began again. "He must have treated you badly," she said, "and you must have wished that he'd be punished for it. That's why I was sent here."
"Your boyfriend," Anyanka said. "Your husband to be? The one you're going to wear that dress for? The one you were crying over when I came in."
"I was not crying," said T'Pring. "That would be illogical."
"Oh, I don't know. It seems pretty appropriate to me."
"My situation is what it is. No outward display of emotion can alter objective reality."
"Whatever, sweetie. Have another glass of wine, and tell me all about him."
* * *
Half-human. Well, that explained a lot. In fact, it explained just about everything. "Believe me," Anyanka said. "I know exactly how you feel. You can't count on humans. It's all about what they want and how they feel and what they need, and--" Oh, I could tell you stories.But it was T'Pring's story that really mattered right now. "Go on, hon," Anyanka said. "Fill me in on this koon-ut-kalifee business."
"It is not something to be discussed casually with outworlders."
"I'm not an outworlder. I'm more of a non-worlder. Maybe an alterna-worlder. Anyway, you summoned a vengeance demon, even if you didn't know you were doing it, and I've got a job to finish."
Again the speculating, calculating--and, yes, definitely dry-eyed--look. Maybe Miss T'Pring wasn't going to need so very much help after all.
"There is little to tell," T'Pring said. "We were betrothed by our families when we were children. We were never close, and as we grew older we grew even further apart. His work in Starfleet takes him away for years at a time. I have waited for him because it is my duty to wait. But when he comes home on leave he has no wish to see me. He cares more for his friends--his workmates--than he does for me. They share adventures and missions that I can never be a part of. He hasn't even told them that we are betrothed! And now I am expected to become his wife, his chattel, merely because he has need of me."
"What does that mean? 'Need of me'?"
"He--it is a biological imperative."
"God, men are the same all over the damn universe, aren't they?"
"Are you saying that this--this condition affects males on other worlds?"
"Condition? Well, if you mean that when you want him he's never around because he likes being with his friends more than he likes being with you and he's always, 'I've got to patrol with them,' or 'they need me to do some research,' right up until he decides, 'ooh, sex, uhhh, mmm,' and then you'd better be there ready and waiting, emphasis on the ready, or otherwise it'll all be over before you even--is that what you mean by 'condition'? Because if you do, then yes. The same."
T'Pring's eyes widened. "I had no idea."
"And men of other species--they will die if they are denied?"
"Are you kidding? That's their all-time favorite line. Anyway, sweetie. Tell me what you want. Because I'd really like to help you. What you're going through--I've been there. We could almost be sisters under the skin. Apart from the ears, that is."
"What I want." T'Pring repeated the words slowly, as if the concept was new to her.
"Take all the time you need," Anyanka said. "Use your imagination. Try to think of something appropriate. Poetic, even. Why don't you do some brainstorming--you know, blue-skying? Or, um, red."
As T'Pring talked, things began to fall into place. The minute that she acknowledged that even on this weird planet, with its logic and bondmates and mindmelds and hidebound traditions, it was possible to leave someone standing--or rather dying--at the altar, Anyanka began to get a glimmer. And when T'Pring admitted that she was having an affair with a man named Stonn--well, the scheme practically concocted itself.
"You know, T'Pring, I'm not really supposed to help you formulate a wish. But in the circumstances--I mean, D'Hoffryn's already broken one of his own rules by sending me to another universe. So how about this? Do that challenge thing you were talking about, and let Stonn wield the club or whatever. Presto, problem solved."
"Challenge? Impossible. No one has challenged in millennia. Spock's family--his father is an ambassador. The scandal would disgrace the entire clan! And T'Pau--the matriarch of our clan--she might very well die from the shock."
"Uh-huh. And your point is?"
For someone who supposedly prided herself on her emotional control, T'Pring wasn't very good at hiding her feelings. In her face Anyanka could read astonishment, then comprehension, and finally decision.
"Very well, then," T'Pring said at last. "Hear this: I wish that this wedding would never take place. I wish that I could challenge, and I wish that T'Pau would uphold my demand. I wish that Stonn, my champion, would emerge victorious from combat."
"Meaning you wish that Spock would die." At T'Pring's look she added, "Sorry. But I have to be sure. That's the rule."
"The combat is to the death. Stonn will prevail because he is unimpeded by the blood fever--and because you have offered your help to me. Therefore there can be only one outcome for Spock." For the first time she smiled at Anyanka. "Logical, is it not?"
* * *
This wasn't an assignment that Anyanka could, so to speak, phone in. It deserved more than just a wave of the hand and an act of the demonic will. She was on another planet, doing vengeance for an actual alien! This could be the triumph that would put her solidly back in D'Hoffryn's good graces once and for all. Her gold medal, her Pulitzer prize, her Carnegie Hall! Proof positive that her vengeance-demon skills were not only intact but at their very peak of perfection--in Sunnydale or anywhere else in the known or unknown universe. No, this wasn't playtime. Far from it. This was going to be a work of art.
"Okay," Anyanka said. "I'm good with you telling your people that I'm one of your net-friends who just came to town for the ceremony. And I get that I'm supposed to stay back out of sight with the rest of the women, although I have to say that is offensive on so many levels, because there is such a thing as equality, you know, at least where I come from, and you'd think in the future things would be even better. But I'm still not totally clear on this ceremony. Champions. Challenges. Chattels. It's barbaric. It reminds me of the really old days, when Olaf and I used to--oh, never mind. Walk me through it once more, will you, hon? I need to visualize if I'm going to do the best job I can for you."
"The bridegroom wiill transport directly to the Place of Marriage and Challenge." The minute T'Pring had verbalized her wish, she'd stopped calling Spock by his name. "He will be alone. He will strike the ceremonial gong that summons me. Then--"
"Then you stop him in his tracks and let everybody know that you're calling the whole thing off."
"And then I will name Stonn as my champion. He will fight the bridegroom to free me from the marriage contract. He is Vulcan. His commitment is strong and his logic is uncompromised. He will win."
"You can take that to the bank, T'Pring."
* * *
D'Hoffryn always said that a vengeance demon's success depended on her objectivity. The minute she got personally involved with a client, her judgment went to ratshit, and she was likely to stumble in her planning or her execution or both. But Anyanka was beginning to suspect that D'Hoffryn had it all wrong. She felt a positive warmth towards T'Pring, and yet she'd never been more sure of her powers. Maybe it was the thin alien air of Vulcan that was stimulating her creativity, or maybe it was just that the more she learned about T'Pring's husband-to-be the more he seemed like someone who deserved the very best of the very worst they could dish out. Regardless, between the two of them she and T'Pring were going to give him something to think about on his wedding day.
For the last few seconds of his life.
So far, everything had gone according to plan. Anyanka had been slightly worried about concealing herself among the members of the wedding party; she wasn't one hundred percent sure that her mystical knack for going unnoticed at the scene of her vengeance would work anywhere but on Earth. Fortunately, she made such a convincing bridesmaid that it wouldn't matter if someone noticed her. T'Pring's wardrobe was extensive, and--what were the chances?--she and Anyanka had similar taste in clothes: they agreed that, yes, when it came to a bridesmaid's gown, long and shiny and purple was just exactly right. T'Pring easily solved the ear problem with a cleverly draped veil. The skin color was trickier, but a lavish application of what Anyanka called rouge and T'Pring called vertage was enough to transform Anyanka into a reasonable facsimile of a Vulcan maiden, so long as nobody got too close and she didn't sweat so much that the goo started to run. T'Pring, who was probably used to seeing weird-looking aliens of all kinds, didn't flinch when Anyanka gave her a demo of her scary-veiny working-girl face. Still, it was probably a good thing that everyone's attention was going to be focused on the bride, the groom, and the boyfriend.
Anyanka had no doubts about T'Pring's ability to handle the situation: once she'd committed to the plan she'd stayed calm, cool, and controlled. Anyanka's confidence in her judgment faltered a little, however, when she got her first look at the secret boyfriend, and it plummeted planetward as soon as she saw the groom.
She knew--who better?--that when it came to sex and romance and love there was absolutely no accounting for people's taste or the lack thereof. In her day she'd seen breathtaking beauties joined with ancient gnomelike husbands, homely and dowdy wives wed to adoring Adonises. But given a choice between tall, lean, and good-looking versus chunky, jug-eared, and--to judge from the expression on his face--not too bright? Well, Anyanka knew which one she'd pick.
Still, T'Pring obviously felt otherwise, and vengeance demons were contractually bound to deliver whatever their clients wanted. So all she had to do was keep T'Pring focused on her wish and make sure that Stonnboy had all the demonic help he needed in taking out the exotic, the compelling, the darkly mysterious--
"Worm!" T'Pring whispered viciously. "Sandsnake! Vermin! You see? It's just as I told you! Isn't it enough that he shuts me out of his life and yet holds me to a vow he has no wish to honor? Must he insult me outright by allowing his--his human friends to stand with him at our wedding?"
Anyanka had to admit that she hadn't paid much attention to the two men who'd accompanied Spock. Peering past T'Pring, she could see that the younger one was tense and wary, the older one sweaty and scowling. "Didn't you say that Spock wasn't allowed to invite anyone who wasn't Vulcan?"
"He does what he pleases," T'Pring hissed. "He always has."
"Got it. So who's who?"
"The one in the gold tunic is his captain. The one in blue is the ship's physician. Do you understand what their presence means? They are outworlders--he could find no Vulcan groomsmen, and he is too craven to stand alone! He cares nothing for me or my reputation! For years he has pretended that we were not affianced, and now he prepares to humiliate me in public, in front of our families, our clan, by bringing them to our wedding, the two whom he cannot live without! I wish--oh, how I wish that I could do something more than just challenge to the death! I wish that I could make him suffer a pain worse than death!"
The words, spoken in a whisper, nevertheless seemed to echo in the shimmering desert air.
Anyanka glanced toward Stonn, who was glaring dimly but belligerently in Spock's direction. Then she studied the faces of the two humans who flanked Spock. "Do you, T'Pring?" she said softly. "Is that really what you wish would happen?"
"Done," Anyanka whispered.
* * *
No matter what the season or century, D'Hoffryn's realm in Arashmaharr always smelled of rabbit stirfry. He never failed to offer Anyanka a serving, and she never failed to refuse. She couldn't decide whether he was just being a polite host or whether he knew about--well, whether he knew, and he was just trying to creep her out for the demonic fun of it.
Tonight, however, the "Will you have some?" "No thanks" ritual was perfunctory. For the first time in a long time, Anyanka was basking in the non-coldness of D'Hoffryn's approval. And the only reason she wasn't one hundred percent glowy herself was that an unpredictable human had wrecked the artistic perfection of her vengeance.
"Don't beat yourself up, Anyanka," D'Hoffryn said. "Your client got most of what she wanted. You couldn't have predicted the doctor's interference. Not without a crystal or an offal-oracle, at any rate, and who knows where you'd find those on short notice on an alien world. No, you did well. And you've set a fine precedent for more transtemporal interplanetary assignments. We've been trying to penetrate that market sector for a while now, and this was a very successful pilot project."
"You should have seen it," Anyanka said. "The park where they were going to get married looked like Stonehenge. And the sky was all red, and they had a gong and bells and a throne-chair and these caveman-type weapons--I would've thought lightsabers or rayguns, you know? Or at least crossbows."
"Interesting. We'll have to look into creating an informational database. But right now you should celebrate your triumph. Think about it, Anyanka. You could have given Stonn an easy victory over Spock, and that would have been the end of it. But your flourish, your embellishment--ah, yes, the choice of Kirk as T'Pring's champion was truly inspired."
Anyanka tried not to preen. "Thanks. I thought it was pretty elegant myself. I mean, the captain was Spock's best friend. If that stupid doctor hadn't meddled, Spock would have had to live the rest of his life knowing he'd caused his friend's death. What could be classier? The kill lasts a second, but the pain lasts forever."
D'Hoffryn gave her an approving nod. "Nicely put," he said, which meant that he'd probably add that little epigram to his store of homilies and end up quoting it back to her as if he'd thought it up himself. But Anyanka didn't care. Tonight Arashmaharr was hers, and she was going to make an evening of it. It felt wonderful to be back at work, doing what she did best. And as soon as she showered and scrubbed off the green pancake makeup, she'd invite Hallie out for dinner and drinks and high-fives.
It was so good to be able to share the big events in life with your best friend.
* * *
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© 2003 Kathleen Dailey. All rights reserved.