When the mask is removed from a waxwork teenage romance,
will a young princess find love or condemnation within its reality?

Beta-read by Hypatia Kosh.

The Copper Mouse

A Droxine/Vanna tale by Farfalla
blueberrysnail @ yahoo.com
Rated PG; Star Trek Original Series femslash

Art. My father calls me a work of art.

I have lived up to his poetic label in every sense of the word. My life, biologically, is useless--and was it not said by some great alien poet that all art is quite useless? To be biologically useful is to breed, as my older brothers have done, giving to my father the heirs he needs to be a confident ruler of our peaceful city in the sky. When he dies, or tires from his position, they will rise to take his place, and rule as he did in continuation of our fine culture.

No, I shall not breed--my body will know only beauty. The beauty of the intellect, of study, of art and musical accomplishments, of grace and of balance, and of other women. Women are beautiful. The soft lines of our bodies are as flowers to the touch, and our breath is like the first bite of a fruit. We can be played like a harp, and sing sweetest when we play each other.

My father saw my love of beauty when I was a small child. Since there was to be no benefit from forcing me away from it, he encouraged my thoughts to blossom. I am grateful for his foresight and indulgence, although I am sure he is very happy to know he will remain the only man in my life. I am, after all, his only daughter.

One year, I learned to make statues. I covered my childhood bedroom with pretty little ladies in clay, in ceramic; shiny, white, and perfect. Sometimes I made them perfect clothing to accentuate their perfect forms, out of the leftover scraps from things I'd outgrown. Others I left nude, so that anywhere I looked, I might find their beauty.

I made other things, too, like flowers and birds and once even a copper mouse. My father looked unhappy with that last little trinket. I tried to explain to him that my fancy had been captured by a mouse I'd seen scurrying about the halls--the sunlight had glinted from its fur at just the right angle to appeal to my highest sense of poetry. There was something in the fervency of my explanation that unnerved my father, and he changed the subject rather abruptly. I wonder now if he realized that I might have been fascinated by the mouse's industry, its busyness, and sought to protect me from my own unconscious thoughts of productive activity.

I stashed the mouse behind one of my statuettes and spent my time learning to play the pipes.

My father always told me that when he thought I had reached a sufficient age and maturity, he would bring for me a playmate. I had friends, of course, but I knew from the context of his words that he intended to imply more than this. I couldn't sleep the night before she was to arrive, tossing and turning against my satin pillows and staring around in the darkness at the shadows of all my statue women. Which one of them would she look like? How would it feel to finally hold something that soft and perfect in my arms?

I came to breakfast hungry, but not for food. How could I think of food on this morning?

She served me my breakfast, placing a white china plate of fruit and cheese before me with careful, steady hands. As I plucked a berry from its stem my eyes drank in the sight of her--slim, strong, with a slender face and deep eyes. Her hair ran down unstyled and shimmering brown over her shoulders like grain spilling from a food sack. For one fanciful moment I thought of my mouse statue, hidden away behind the goddesses in my boudoir.

My father spoke. "Droxine, this is Vanna. As you can see, she is a troglyte, but she has been cared for and educated among our people. She is well trained and a good servant."

"Hello," I told her.

"They say I will live with you," she answered, almost in question.

"I shall enjoy that," I said, truly meaning it. That was our first conversation.

We went back to my room after breakfast and I showed her all my statues. Then I played for her on my pipes, and I was ecstatic to learn that they'd taught her to play the lute. She could accompany me. How romantic! I could barely play my instrument from smiling.

After lunch, I bade her sit by me on the bed. She seemed fascinated by my satin sheets; of course, as a Troglyte, she'd never known anything like them. I told her about Father and the way he felt about art, and how my whole life was to be a work of art, both his and mine. Sitting so close to her, with her bare shoulders touching mine, I began to think of her as the most exquisite creature in the universe. So what if she was intellectually inferior? She was more real than all my self-created ceramic goddesses. Her warm flesh was near mine, sticking to mine with the humidity of our sweat. We sweat the same. Would her skin feel the same as mine?

I was almost scared to touch her for a brief moment--I had never touched a Troglyte--but luckily I pushed past that novelty and was able to stroke her back with confidence after a few moments. She blinked at me a few times in non-comprehension, then began to enjoy herself.

Soon I pulled her against my body and melted into a world sweeter than any dessert I have ever tasted.

She was with me for years--until I was a proper adult, in my father's eyes. He had warned me for months that she wouldn't be mine forever. She was a plaything of my teenage years, and would return to her former life as a house servant once I was a legal adult. At this point, I would be allowed to begin the process of selecting a proper mate from among the high-class women of Ardana.

I did not realize until she was gone just what this would mean to me.

I missed her--I *missed* her! Her, a troglyte! I didn't understand. Suddenly, in her absence, my statues seemed worthless. They had no soul. They had no conversation. I could tell them my thoughts and ideas and inspirations, but they would not listen.

I am ashamed to tell of my tantrum. Not one single person knows what I did, there in the middle of my lonely night, in my nightdress. I tore through my room like a tornado, smashing every statue in a furious storm of despair. The waking nightmare of my empty bed drove me forward until not a single false goddess remained.

In the darkness, something wouldn't smash.

My shaking hands swept its form and, sobbing as I sank to the floor, I clutched the copper mouse to my chest.

I stayed up until daybreak and cleaned up the room myself, so that I wouldn't have to explain my actions, and swept the floor clean of the shards and dust. There was a healing in my actions that went beyond mere tidying; it was a cleansing of the spirit to partake, for the first time in my life, in menial work. Like she had done. Like she was most likely doing now, instead of awakening in my arms to greet the dawn in sapphic luxury.

I resolved that I would not show my heartbreak to my father. I knew that he would disapprove, and would not understand, and her absence was painful enough--I didn't need to be condemned for my pain as well as suffering it.

But I began to resent him--just that tiniest bit. And part of me yearned to rebel.

When the Vulcan arrived, he fit neatly into an equation that had been waiting open for months. I had never thought about men. All of the men from Ardana had seemed to me not beautiful enough for my attention, but he was different. The men of his race are more graceful than ours. It must be the ears. And his intellect definitely made him very attractive to me.

He and his Human captain seemed attached, of course--they requested to share one bed even though two had been provided and offered to them, and this is probably why Spock turned away from me in the end. It was good that he did, despite my fascination--anger over a lost love is no reason to start any kind of new relationship. But he would have been a welcome diversion.

Their quarters was the last place I was expecting to see--her--again. I covered up my shock with pride, which became easier after I heard the way she spoke to me. Her tone was almost like spitting. She seemed to be a completely different person, catching me completely off-guard with a fire in her eyes and a strength in her voice that I'd never anticipated. Apparently she hadn't been suffering for lack of my touch the way I'd been for hers. I spoke all the ill I could think of about Troglytes for that; it was my childish revenge for the loneliness of my aching heart. Captain Kirk asked if it were not more appropriate that all who toiled share in the paradise of Ardana. I answered him, "How can they share what they cannot understand?"

The fact that she had, as I thought at the time, apparently been confused by the terrorists among her kind did not fully reach my mind until hours later. My father tortured her with his light rays, and all the time, he tortured me as well. As her lips trembled with what must have been excruciating pain, just as they might have trembled in the past from pleasure, I kept my torment to myself. If my father suspected that she held any power over me, he would have her killed. Of this, I was certain. I tried to stay with her as long as I could, but between seeing her tortured and having to hide my emotions from my father, I could bear very little.

I played long on my pipes that day.

I went to see her. I realized she had transformed into something else, and I needed to know if hiding inside that hardened shell was the pliant flower to which I'd made love in my childhood. Did she need me to help her find her way out? What had adult life in the caves done to her? Was there even a trace of the girl that I'd loved?

It never occurred to me that my thoughts were backwards; that the flower had now peeled away to reveal the firm woody seed within.

She made me understand. I spoke very little; she did most of the talking. I stood there blinking as if I were being rebuked by my father--a feared and therefore thankfully rare occurrence. In listening to her words I was shrouded in confusion; this eloquence, this defiance--not only were they spoken from the mind of an intellect, but they were right! How was she able to communicate with such sophistication? Everything I'd ever known, the very truths of our society, were blinking and flickering like faulty lamps.

"I've missed you," I tried.

"You don't know me," she snarled. My heart only beat faster.

"I still love you," I blurted out, against the pride of my royalty. My blood screamed in my head at the impropriety. The tears that had been brewing behind my eyes all day took their place at my eyelids.

"How can we share what we do not understand?" She threw my own words back at me mockingly.

With tears falling down my cheeks I gasped, "Make me understand."

"Then I will, in the only way I have power to do." What a great light shone from her face! The heavy eye makeup customary to our people only hid her beauty now, not enhanced it. "Go away."

"What?"

"Go away forever. I do not love you." Despite everything I'd hoped for, I believed her. But I stood there anyway and let her accusals rain down upon me. "I was only one of your statuettes, more soft than the rest."

"I broke them."

"Why, because they weren't me? Because once you'd found a more satisfying plaything, you no longer took pleasure in them?"

"You were never a plaything..." But even as the words were out of my mouth, I knew that she was right, still right, so awfully godforsakenly terrifyingly right.

"I am no longer a plaything," she corrected me in a hard voice. "What could you possibly want from me? My life, as you said yourself, is in the caves. Would you dare to brave them with me?"

And then she turned away from me before I could answer, thank heavens, for I knew not what to say.

I left her cell and took wine to help me sleep.

In the morning my father found me staring out the window. I'd been standing there for quite a while, risen early with the unease of my shattered love. I gazed out over the rough, irregular terrain, comparing it to her fiercely determined face and worker's body.

With the ease of practice, I used the feminine wiles he had encouraged to convince him I was only pining for Mr. Spock. In truth, Spock was indeed on my mind--it was he who had first spoken to me in words that sympathized with the Troglytes. Now those words formed into sentences, paragraphs, books. Whole encyclopedias of new thought swirled in my brain, rewriting all I had been taught to believe my entire life.

Thinking hurt.

Then a guard approached us and informed my father that Vanna had escaped. Apparently Captain Kirk had helped her. I could barely breathe. Everything was happening too quickly for me to absorb. In that moment of uncertainty, I dared to show a glimpse of my ripening mind to my father--"Are we so sure of our methods that we never question what we do?"

But then I ran off and hid in my room, practicing my pipes as he had requested.

I knew I needed to talk to Mr. Spock. We had connected, as intellectual beings, as beings who loved the beautiful and the aesthetic, and as beings who appreciated the bodies of their own gender. I could have loved him, in some way. I knew he would have my answers.

Within the eternally echoing damnation of Vanna's words in the holding cell, I found my kernel of hope: My life, as you said yourself, is in the caves. Would you dare to brave them with me?

Apparently the visitors on the Enterprise had discovered that the zenite down there in the Troglyte mines was releasing some kind of toxic gas--odorless and invisible, but dangerously present all the same. The Enterprise doctor claimed this was the reason for the Troglyte's mental inferiority and violent nature, and that only a few hours were necessary to undo the damage--or create it.

They offered us masks to help the Troglytes, in hopes that the Troglytes would then accept their urgent plea for zenite. It was desperately needed to save one of their worlds from a planetary plague, but the Troglytes didn't believe them and were hiding the zenite out of malice and spite.

My father forbade them the masks, their only key out of a prison of gas. How could he be so cruel? Had he convinced himself so strongly of the Troglyte's "proven" inferiority that even real proof would not sway him? Or did he know what he was doing, and sought to harm others for his own benefit?

I could no longer be a part of this exploitative world, and if the masks genuinely held the power to transform the Troglytes than I saw no impediment to the journey I was already planning before I'd realized it consciously. And if she would not take me back? I'd work beside her, for months if necessary, to become something she would respect and... dare I hope... love. I'd grow up. I realized now that I was still completely a child, though my intellect and body were those of a woman. Adulthood, for me, lay down upon the planet.

I looked around my room, trying to decide what to bring with me. Of course, the pipes... I clung to my pipes. I wondered if she still played the lute, or if we would have to make entirely new memories.

Noises in the hallway drew my attention. I stuck my head out of the doorway and asked, "What is it?"

"The Advisor is missing!" a guard shouted back at me as he rushed past.

I stood there, in the doorway, blinking. Somehow, I knew Mr. Spock was involved. And the other. His other.

For a moment the image struck me of Mr Spock the puppeteer, with his hands full of marionettes. Me, my father... I wondered if Captain Kirk, too, was one of his marionettes, but then I realized that I was still thinking as I had in the past. Spock was a Vulcan and therefore my intellectual equal, but that by no means should indicate that his human companion had any less potential or self-worth.

Perhaps it was Kirk who was the puppeteer.

I realized I couldn't do anything until I had news of my father. If I left now, I might never know what had happened--and for all I knew, he was in danger and I'd make things worse.

But I didn't have long to wait. Before long, both he and the two Enterprise men had returned--with Vanna. She was dressed very strangely--clothed from head to foot, her head wrapped in colored linen. Her eye makeup was gone. She used her dress to set herself apart from us all, but it looked *right* for her. This was her clothing--and from her bearing I could now see that she was the perfect leader for her people. If she was any indication, the masks would work perfectly and equality would be given to all our people.

She and my father were arguing, and Captain Kirk--who looked very much in charge of everything and now left no doubt in my mind that it was he who held the strings--mediated in a girlish growl. I took the opportunity to pull Mr. Spock aside.

I fully intended to couch my questions as detached curiosity, but instead, I dropped the princess crown for once and the assumed air of feminine charm and told him my honest thoughts.

I began carefully. "I don't like filters, or even masks," I told him, sick and tired of this mask of a daddy's girl princess. The symbolism of it scared me. "I like the word 'protector' much better." He did not say anything. "Well, don't you?"

"It is less technical, and therefore, less accurate. Perhaps more generally descriptive of the function."

I was distracted from his words by Vanna's proud declarations on the other side of the room. She fought valiantly for her people's rights. She was magnificent. How can they share what they cannot understand.... I wanted to understand, so that I could share in that, but I knew it would take much learning.

I turned my attention to Spock, who had seen it all in my impassioned face.

I told him that I loved Vanna, but only as much as I was capable of, and that in order to learn to love her as she deserved I had no choice but to follow her down to the caves. I told him how my father would react. I told him of my fears--that I would lose my identity behind the gas filters. I didn't mention my fear that maybe that would be a good thing.

He told me that he knew I was doing the right thing, and that he was glad for both our peoples. He also promised that he would not inform my father of my decision.

"Stratos is so pleasant... and so beautiful." I looked at the art gallery around me, the only world I'd ever known. "I think I'm afraid to leave it."

"There is great beauty in the knowledge that lies below," he told me solemnly, and I know he wasn't just talking about the beauty of real, mutual, adult love. I would learn what it was to live, and not simply be a work of art. I would be my own creation. I would work and be productive. "And only one way to really experience it," he added.

"I shall go to the mines," I promised him. "I no longer wish to be limited to the clouds."

I knew he would be silent. I was glad that Father was busy with Captain Kirk.

I saw how Vanna kept her promise to the captain about bringing the zenite in exchange for the all-too-precious filter masks, and how she also encouraged the captain and my father to lay aside the quarrels that had risen between them during this affair. My heart rose in my breast. It was a sign of gentleness; mercy; fairness. Maybe someday it would be fair to accept me.

But I let her return to her people, and dissolved back into the palace for one last night. I didn't want to endure the embarrassment of throwing myself at her feet in front of my father before she departed, because I knew I'd be rejected. Of course I'd be rejected--I was still in the city, wasn't I?

The next morning, I arose early and gathered my things. I took with me two dresses, my pipes, and a few beloved books. At the last minute I remembered the copper mouse, and fished it out from the folds in my blankets where I'd hidden it. The dawning light poured in through my window curtains and reflected off the mouse has I held it, shining a hazy, moving golden light onto my own face and body.

Everything else, I left neatly ordered and folded and proper, so that no one would be able to say I'd been taken against my will. I made sure I had a transport pass, and of course the mask given to me by Mr. Spock, and then I left. I simply--left.

I stand at the entrance to the caves, my feet touching the dust of the planet for the first time. It strikes me as strange that it feels no different beneath my feet than any other surface; I am still myself; the air still fills my lungs as I breathe, and my earrings still make little clanking noises whenever I move my head slightly. How can the physical world remain so constant when my entire life has changed and my surroundings are so different?

I will enter the cave, and make it my home. And we shall see if art is useless after all, or if beauty can, indeed, be made to serve a greater purpose.