Saavik felt a headache coming on. She pressed her fingers against the bridge of her nose. "Absolutely, unequivocally, negative."
The pressing ring of faces darkened dangerously and an ugly rising murmur swept through the shadows of the pae'l.
The shamaness shot to her feet, her painted clawed face furious. "You would bring death to our tribe?"
The murmur grew blacker and she could see fists clenching and unclenching on weapons.
She sighed. "I have no wish to harm your tribe." The headache was definitely getting worse. She made a mental note to check Spock's psychological stability profiles when she got back to Vulcan. Anyone actually desiring to be a diplomat had to be completely insane.
"Yet you continue to deny us!"
"I do not deny you; I deny your selected method of survival."
The shamaness hissed and flung up her hands angrily. "You have an abundance! I have seen your crew!" Her eyes narrowed suddenly and she leaned forward, deliberately sneering in Saavik's face, "Or is your real secret that you wish to keep all for your own use?"
Saavik kept calm, refusing to react to such a suggestion. "You make this statement after your previous one considering your belief that I have a singular preference in regards to--"
"I stand by both statements, but you claim you have no preference despite what I see in your actions around the one called Ambassador." The shamaness' eyes glinted viciously. "Perhaps his attentions do not focus on you. Perhaps he chooses elsewhere and you--"
For the first time in a long time, Saavik came perilously close to feeling a rise in temper, but she was not an uncontrolled child. She took a deep steadying breath. "You are attempting to goad me into a Challenge. That is unwise."
"You fear losing them to us?"
A particularly Romulan line to her mouth curved. "No, I prefer not killing you."
Eyes went positively huge throughout the shadows and even the shamaness rocked back on her heels a moment. Then she leaned very carefully forward to study Saavik's eyes.
And began to finger her ritual blade uneasily.
"I spoke too hotly," she jerked a nod, and licked dry lips.
Saavik inclined her head, accepting the closest the other could give to an apology. Her tactic had worked: the shamaness understood a threat of strength even if Saavik never intended to carry it out. "You are responsible for the well-being and life of your tribe. It is instinctive to be aggressive in the pursuit."
The soothe to honor worked and the tension in the pae'l eased again. The shamaness blinked and even under her paint, Saavik could see her rosewood skin blush. The woman sighed heavily and sat once more at the fire.
"How then am I to serve my people?"
"We will come to an agreement."
The shamaness' eyes widened and then narrowed. The others edged closer. "How? You will not sell!"
Saavik nodded. "I will not."
The other considered broodingly. "You will trade? For services? What could the Tribe do that a mighty starship lacks?"
"I am bound by Federation law. I cannot sell nor trade to your people."
The shamaness hissed angrily and slapped the ground. Again the shadows shifted, murmuring, and hands gripped weapons. "Then you mock us with talk of agreement'!"
Saavik shook her head. "Not so."
"Then how? You will not fight!"
Saavik took a long breath, nearly wincing at the look she knew a certain ambassador would give her when he heard her solution. "I will return to my ship and explain the Tribe's need--"
Alarm rose in the pae'l and the people shouted:
"The ship will leave!"
"No! She should not be allowed to go!"
"The Tribe will die!"
Saavik held up a hand and reluctantly a silence returned. "I am an officer of Starfleet and a citizen of the Federation. I cannot go against the laws I am bound to serve."
The shamaness began to wring her hands in despair.
"However," Saavik continued firmly, "I believe we can yet reach a compromise within those laws."
The shamaness shifted closer. "How would you do this thing?"
"As I said, I am forbidden to sell or trade the commodity of which the Tribe need to survive."
The others shifted fearfully.
Saavik's eyes glinted in the firelight. "However, there is no law that forbids voluntary use."
The shamaness' inhaled. "You can. . . acquire such? With no payment? No return?" She frowned, confused. "Why would yours do such a thing for the Tribe? Our peoples are not one! We have no binding with your Federation!"
Saavik's eyebrows lifted. "Binding is not required for assistance in survival. Your Tribe will cease if you are not attended to." Her gaze softened on the shamaness. "I find the loss of the Tribe to be. . . unacceptable."
The shamaness bowed her head. "To accept such a thing would. . . ." Her proud shoulders sagged.
Saavik considered a long moment and then reached out with the ritual gesture of sisterhood. "A gift neither requires payment or return; nor does it disparage honor. Is that not so?"
The other's head lifted and the pae'l stirred in sudden hope. "Yes. . .gifts are given freely and with honor amongst friends."
Saavik's eyebrow lifted. "And are we not friends? Have I not supped with you? Made a Sight Walk with you? Joined your fire?"
The shamaness laughed. "We have argued as sisters!" She sobered. "I spoke unwell towards you and yet you would still give to us of your abundance. Why?"
Saavik's glint returned. "I am as. . . intense. . . in my protection of mine as you are of yours." Then she, too, grew solemn. "But you must understand. I may explain the Tribe's need, but I cannot do more than ask. Are you willing to accept this?"
The shamaness slowly nodded, her eyes sorrowing. "It is all I can do." Her head lifted firmly. "You have not demanded the Tribe do what it cannot. If our way is kept, so must yours." She swallowed and smiled fearfully. "But I trust if, as our friend, you will not mind if we dance our prayers to the Goddess tonight?"
Saavik tilted her head. "Divine intervention." She nodded once. "I perceive I may require such as I speak with my crew. Do so."
The shamaness looked openly relieved. Then worry returned to line her painted skin and she stood. "You will return with the dawn? We have only until the moons return to. . . receive your gift. There will not come another time for ten cycles and by then. . . " Her eyes grew desperate. "The Tribe will be past. . .ability. . . ." She reached out to grip her ritual blade, seeking comfort. "The Tribe will end."
Saavik rose. "Dance long, dance fervently."
The shamaness reached out and touched Saavik's hand in farewell. "Speak convincingly, return not alone."
They bowed formally to each other and drew blades and crossed them.
Saavik left the pae'l, pulling her communicator and snapping it open in one smooth motion. "Commander Saavik to Rider."
"Stuart here! Dammit, we were starting to worry. Warfield's got a full team on the platform and armed to the teeth – what's the call?"
Saavik took a long breath and this time she did wince. Perhaps the look on Spock's face would be more. . . tolerable than what was coming. For the first time, she rued the long life of Vulcan blood. It meant she was going to hear about this for a very, very. . . .
"Captain, do you recall the crew's. . . complaint. . . that the last four shoreleaves have been denied?"
A long moment of dead silence came through. "Yeesss," Stuart said suspiciously. "Why?"
"And do you recall the lieutenant commander's comment that the male humanoid crew has been getting. . .rather. . .restless?"
"I'm not going to like this, am I?"
A faint twitch caught Saavik's mouth in one corner and it took a supreme effort to bring it back under control. "No, ma'am, but I do believe they might."
Saavik shook her head. She had a healthy hypothesis that James Kirk would have absolutely loved this mission.