Uhura turned. "Incoming call from Admiral Welton, sir."
"Put it through." Kirk waited for the admiral's face to appear. "Good morning, sir."
"Good morning, Captain Kirk."
The captain of the Enterprise had long since learned to be wary of admirals wearing such expressions. "Is something wrong, sir?"
"Not precisely wrong, Captain Kirk, just a little disconcerting," Welton responded. "I've received a request from Eranthis Four. They've achieved warp capability and are apparently seriously considering an application for Federation membership, despite the fact the planet has not yet been contacted.
"The information they have sent me is that the planet is divided into two nations. Both have the capability to destroy the other, indeed to destroy the entire planet, but unlike so many other worlds facing that dilemma, the Eranthi have agreed that the only solution is to unite the entire planet under one government and direct their energies towards colonizing other planets rather than trying to conquer each other."
"That all sounds extremely creditable, sir. I only wish more planets had arrived peacefully at that solution, including Earth," Kirk commented. "May I ask why you find that disconcerting?"
"Apparently, most of the negotiations have gone smoothly, Captain, but there is one sticking point with which they hope an impartial negotiator can help."
"I'll be pleased to do what I can, sir," Kirk assured the admiral he respected.
Welton shook his head. "Now we reach the disconcerting part, Captain Kirk. It seems the Eranthi have reached an agreement on everything but this one specific point with which they are requesting our help."
"And that is, sir?"
"They refuse to say," Welton continued. "But the officer they have requested to arbitrate is your Ensign Chekov."
"Chekov?" Kirk gazed at the admiral with a mixture of horror and astonishment. "But he's only just graduated, sir! He came with an excellent record from the Academy, and he's done well so far, but he's hardly had time to unpack." The last thing the captain of the Enterprise wanted to do was to send such an inexperienced officer down to a totally unknown planet. "Sir, are you saying I have to send that boy down alone? Isn't there any chance one of us could go with him?"
"The Eranthi named Ensign Chekov as the person they wish to help them, but if it seems feasible, you may ask to accompany him." Welton clearly did not like the idea of sending the young ensign alone either.
Kirk had had a few seconds to gather his thoughts. "Admiral, if the Eranthi haven't had any contact with us, how can they even have heard of him?"
"Might I suggest we ask Mister Chekov that very question, Captain?" Spock appeared at Kirk's elbow. "It seems pertinent."
Kirk looked at the screen, only to receive a nod from the admiral. He signaled the ensign.
"Chekov here, sir."
"Report to the bridge at once, Ensign."
"Aye, sir. May I ask if you need me on watch, sir?"
"Is there a problem with that, Ensign?"
"I'm in the gym, sir, and I've been here for the past two hours."
Kirk saw his own grin matched by those of the other officers. "Point taken, but I'll excuse your appearance. Just get straight up here."
"Ensign Chekov reporting as ordered, Captain." The ensign blushed vividly as he saw the amused expressions at his disheveled appearance. Not only in front of the captain but an admiral, too! It could only happen to me!
Kirk turned, only for his eyes to widen. The young officer had the beginning of a black eye and a large bruise marked his left cheek. "Mister Chekov, what have you been doing?"
"Unarmed combat, sir. I'm working for the next level and I was learning a new move. Do you object, sir?"
"Just to your timing. I can't think of anyone more likely to need all the unarmed combat skills possible. Come down here and tell me what you know about the Eranthi."
Chekov eyed him with all the consternation to be expected of a brand new ensign who thought he had somehow missed an order from the captain. "Nothing, sir. Should I have?"
"Calm down," Kirk soothed. "No, I'd never heard of them either, but Admiral Welton has just told me they're thinking of uniting the two power blocs on their planet with the aim of then applying for Federation membership." He took pity on the bewilderment he could see on the young face. "However, there is apparently one snag, and they've asked for you to sort it out."
"They asked for me, sir?"
"You, Ensign," Welton informed him. "The Eranthi asked for you by name, which is why we wondered if you had some prior knowledge of them?"
"No, sir," Chekov assured him. "I'd never heard of the Eranthi until the captain mentioned them."
"Head for the Eranthis system at once, Captain Kirk," Welton ordered. "I'm sending you all the information the Eranthi have sent me. Get back to me if you have any questions and if you're optimistic enough to think I'll be able to answer them. Welton out."
Riley had the course worked out as he turned to give Chekov a sympathetic grin. "Eight hours at warp five, sir."
"Give the course to Mister Sulu," Kirk ordered, before he turned to smile at the ensign. "Now, Mister Chekov, first, you go straight to Sickbay and get something done about those bruises. They won't do anything for your chances of making a good impression. Then, study the material the admiral has sent us and see if you can come up with a plan. Now, this not to denigrate your work before I've even seen it, but the rest of us are going to look for any weak points. It's often easier for other people to see something you've missed, and we don't have long to think about this." Which is just as well, judging by his expression! I hate to think what a state he'd be in with a week to think about this!
"I understand, sir."
"If I can get permission to beam down with you, I will, even if the Eranthi want you to deal with whatever the problem is. Just be ready to go alone: you might have to."
"I understand, sir," Chekov repeated. He knew he would be only too relieved to have a senior officer on planet. All he seemed to be able to think of were the extremely impolite things his Academy instructors had had to say about his solutions to the problems they had handed him in his classes on diplomacy.
"Off you go."
Sulu turned as the elevator doors closed behind the ensign. "It's pretty rough to get handed that one, Captain, when your feet have hardly touched the deck."
"I know, Mister Sulu." Kirk was far from happy with the situation. "All we can do is give Mister Chekov as much backing as possible."
"If they refuse you but would let a junior officer beam down?" the helmsman offered hopefully.
"I'll bear it in mind."
"What have you got for us, Mister Chekov?" Kirk inquired at the end of the watch.
Chekov looked glum. "Well, I have full confidence you're not going to be able to pick holes in this plan, Captain."
"All I'm planning is to beam down and ask what the problem is, Captain," the young officer answered, as he put the image of the system on screen. "Assuming the information sent to Admiral Welton was accurate, whatever is holding up an agreement doesn't appear to be either political or religious. It certainly isn't obvious."
"Not political or religious?" Kirk admitted to astonishment. Such arguments had destroyed more planets and more people than he wanted to remember.
Chekov shook his head, as he put a picture of an Eranthi on screen. They were very close to Human, dark skinned, with vivid green eyes. "Once I'd read through the data it became clear that when the Eranthi told Admiral Welton they'd realized they could each destroy the other, what they hadn't made clear, or perhaps thought they had, was that they'd reached that conclusion three hundred years ago. It was fifty years before that they'd had their last war and since then, they've lived peacefully together. There's been free trade and travel between the two blocs, information exchange, even intermarriage. There hasn't even been significant weapons development because both sides were content with the destructive power they had. They've also reached full agreement on how to merge their governments and armed forces."
"What about religion?" Kirk asked. He knew he did not need to tell even an officer as green as Chekov just how tricky anything to do with religion could be. There were very few planets which did not have the horrors of a religious war somewhere in their history.
"They were quite open about it," Chekov answered readily. "Both blocs have a number of different faiths that people are allowed to follow freely. Some are followed on both sides of the border, others just on one continent. The only rule they all follow is that they're not allowed to proselytize.
"The Eranthi have warp drive, which both sides have co-operated over developing, so that the balance of power is maintained. In fact, if everything we've been told is true, it's only the fact there are two power blocs which bars them from Federation membership. Every other requirement has already been met"
"This sounds almost too good to be true," Sulu commented as he wondered if that was something Chekov was not yet seasoned enough to realize.
"But why lie about any of it when the Eranthi know that if they do overcome the last barrier and apply for membership, the Federation will send observers to check on their claims?" Chekov countered.
"So, you've found out everything but what this last hurdle is and why they think an impartial advisor can help?" Kirk asked.
"Yes, sir," Chekov nodded. "There wasn't a hint in anything I've read."
"I can only agree," Spock informed him. "I read through the material as well to get a feel for the situation, but without coming any closer to what the final point is. The only advice I would give you, Ensign, is not to assume it is something major. Indeed, with all the major factors apparently covered, I do not see that it could be, but what seems minor to anyone else may be of crucial importance to the people concerned."
"That's a very good point, Mister Spock." Kirk was pleased Spock had suggested it. "Right, Mister Chekov, go and relax for the next few hours. I'll signal you when we reach orbit."
"I hope you don't consider that an order, Captain," Uhura observed. "Because I don't think Mister Chekov is going to be able to obey it."
"Indeed, Captain. Might I suggest you occupy Mister Chekov's attention with a game of chess?"
Kirk grinned. "Point taken. Come on, Mister Chekov."
The captain of the Enterprise saw one or two speculative glances as he and Chekov reached the bridge. "All right, we had two games, and I didn't win either of them!" He glared at his first officer. "You set me up!"
A Vulcan eyebrow rose. "I was under the impression you are always on the lookout for good chess partners, Captain."
Kirk took his seat as Uhura announced there was a signal coming in from the Eranthi. He looked at the two dark alien faces on the screen. "Greetings. I am Captain James Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise."
"Greetings and welcome to Eranthis, Captain Kirk. I am President Throllagee of the Western Hemisphere."
"We are grateful the Federation is prepared to aid us in this. I am President Bassaji of the Eastern Hemisphere."
Throllagee took another turn in a way that argued they had practiced this. "We do not need to ask you to introduce Ensign Chekov, Captain Kirk. Ensign, we thank you in particular for agreeing to aid us in this."
"But we realize we are asking you to place a great deal of trust in us. Would you be more comfortable if we sent hostages to your ship to show our good faith before you beam down?" Bassaji asked.
"I already have your word I will safe, President Bassaji, and yours, President Throllagee," Chekov answered quietly. "I will not begin by insulting your good faith."
"Your trust will not be misplaced, we promise," Throllagee assured him.
"If you will beam down to these coordinates, Ensign," Bassaji went on. "It is the one spot on the planet where our two continents meet and where we have built our joint capital."
"Then I have only one remaining question." Chekov gestured to his uniform. "This is the uniform we wear, but for the most formal occasions we have dress uniforms. Would it be more appropriate to the occasion if I wore that?"
The two aliens looked at each other for a moment, before Throllagee turned back to the screen. "I think for what we will ask of you, Ensign, you will be more comfortable dressed as you are."
"Might I accompany Ensign Chekov?" Kirk asked. "He doesn't have much experience yet. I'd like to be on hand to offer advice if he needs it."
Both aliens visibly stiffened. "We would prefer just Ensign Chekov."
"But if he feels the need to consult you, he will be free to do so."
Chekov glanced at his captain and received a nod. "Then I will be with you in few minutes."
"We await you with hope."
As the screen blanked, Sulu turned. "What was that last bit about? You'll be more comfortable? Since when do diplomats consider that?"
"And if they haven't any contact with the Federation, how did they recognize you, Chekov?" Uhura added.
Chekov wanted to beam down before his nerves got the better of him. Beaming down into an unknown alien jungle with the indigenous life forms trying to eat you was one thing; engaging in diplomatic negotiations was in another league altogether. "With your permission, Captain?"
"Off you go, Mister Chekov, and good luck."
"Thank you, sir."
The bridge crew looked at their captain's expression as the young ensign vanished into the turbolift. It was going to be a long watch.
Chekov blinked in surprise as he found himself in a large hall filled with Eranthi. After Throllagee had told him not to wear his dress uniform, he had not expected to find himself in what was clearly a ballroom filled with Eranthi wearing their most formal garments. After a moment, he thought he could tell the two sides apart by the difference in style, as he reported his safe beam down. The two presidents stepped forward and greeted him.
Bassaji smiled in a very Human manner. "Ensign, you must forgive us for not explaining more clearly precisely why we have asked for help."
"But we were afraid the Federation would consider the problem we face so absurd and trivial they would not take us seriously," Throllagee added.
"Mister President, if it is the one thing which is preventing your two sides from becoming united, then it can hardly be called trivial," Chekov answered, not surprised to find Spock had been correct. As far he was concerned, it would only have been surprising if the first officer had been wrong. "As for being absurd, that differs far too much from one world to another for it to be a factor. If it troubles you, however, I can perhaps promise not to mention what it is, whether or not I find a solution for you."
"The Federation will not require that of you?" Bassaji asked.
"Not if I explain it is something you prefer not to be stated. If the problem is not something that concerns the safety of the Federation or my duty as a Starfleet officer, then I will not need to be specific."
"Your duty to the Federation." Throllagee seemed to sigh. "Now our problem seems more absurd than ever."
"Would you please explain exactly what it is?" Chekov requested.
"Dancing," Bassaji answered bluntly.
The ensign thought he had misheard. "Dancing?"
Throllagee gestured to the people filling the room. "That is the one cultural aspect on which we truly differ, Ensign. My people cannot regard any social occasion as complete unless there is dancing."
"While to mine, the physical contact required by such an activity is unthinkable," Bassaji added. "It was your solution to the Phloxi negotiations which led us to request you specifically, Ensign. Some of your Russian dancing does not involve physical contact."
Chekov looked from one side of the hall to another, before he ventured, "May I ask some questions?"
"Of course," Throllagee replied. "There is nothing sensitive about the problem, just an irreconcilable difference of custom."
Chekov smiled. "So your people would not object to a different style of dancing?"
"Not at all."
The ensign turned to Bassaji. "And yours would not object to dancing, as long there was no physical contact?"
"That is correct."
"Bassaji, it is time you mentioned the irrevocable objections some of us have to Mister Chekov's style of dancing." One of the female Eranthi spoke for the first time, to the accompaniment of a ripple of laughter.
"My wife, Eliea," Bassaji added.
"I'm pleased to meet you, ma'am. May I ask what your strong objection is?"
"Now I just know I'm going to like such a nice, polite, tactful, young Human," Eliea retorted to more laughter. "But I am much too old for such antics, not to mention too fat!"
"That is something I think I can overcome, ma'am," Chekov told her. "Because, as you surmised, Russian dancing is not for everyone and it does require a good deal of practice. The style of which I'm thinking would allow everyone in the room to join in. I request, however, that you allow one more person from the Enterprise to beam down. I've only tried this once or twice myself, as it isn't performed in my culture, but I do know someone on the ship who used to enjoy it and who can call the instructions, which is essential for this."
"Would Captain Kirk allow this person to come without asking why?"
"I expect so. I can signal him openly, if you wish?"
"Please," Bassaji invited.
"I have Mister Chekov, sir," Uhura reported.
"Put him on." Kirk hoped nothing had gone wrong. Chekov had been on Eranthis IV only a few minutes and the fact he was asking for advice so quickly indicated he was already out of his depth. "Yes, Mister Chekov?"
"Could C.P.O. Maxton beam down, Captain, but before he does, I need to speak to him privately," Chekov responded.
Kirk saw the baffled faces turn to him from every side of the bridge. "Of course, Ensign. I'll send him to the briefing room, and he'll contact you from there." He nodded to Uhura to enlighten the chief petty officer.
"Thank you, Captain."
An obviously female voice came over the ensign's communicator. "Don't worry, Captain Kirk, this nice, polite, tactful, young Human you have sent us is managing very well. If I'd met him forty years ago, I might have asked him to stay."
"Just because Ensign Chekov didn't say you were too old or too fat, Eliea!"
"Well, it's more than you did, Bassaji!"
Kirk managed to stifle the impulse to laugh as two of the Eranthi proved how close they were to Humans. "The chief is waiting, Mister Chekov. Transferring you now." He grinned at his bridge crew. "Mister Chekov seems to be having his usual effect on the opposite sex."
"I just wish we were nearer to solving the mystery," Sulu sighed. "The only new fact we have is that age seems to be involved."
"Not to mention Mister Chekov seems to have managed to get over that without offending the president's wife," Kirk pointed out. "Which will probably stand as one of his better efforts at tact and diplomacy."
Uhura's voice held the hint of a giggle. "Which sounds as if that's more than can be claimed for President Bassaji!"
"Maxton here, sir."
"Chief, I'd like you to beam down with a collection of line dancing music and prepared to teach a class of beginners," Chekov answered.
The chief petty officer prided himself on dealing imperturbably with whatever the Universe chose to throw at him that week. If that was teaching line dancing to a planet of aliens, that was what he would do. "Aye, sir. It'll take me a few minutes to assemble it. Will that be all right?"
"Fine, Chief, beam down to these coordinates when you're ready but don't tell anyone what I've asked you to do. I've cleared that with the captain."
"Beaming down now, Captain."
"Carry on, Chief."
The signal from Maxton broke the puzzled silence on the bridge. Any of the line officers would unhesitatingly ask for security's senior non-com when embarking on a dangerous mission but after the comments from the Eranthi, no one could think why Chekov needed the chief.
Maxton unknowingly copied Chekov in blinking as he saw the assembled Eranthi. "Reporting as ordered, sir."
"I want you to teach everyone line dancing, Chief. I've done some, but I don't feel competent to teach it," Chekov explained. "It's important that no one touches anyone else."
"Aye, sir. Would you get everyone lined up for me, while I just sort out the music?" the chief requested. He could not think what the ensign was up to but he expected to be well entertained.
Chekov nodded and turned to the expectant aliens. "The reason I thought of this style of dancing is that it not only meets the criteria you specified, but everyone can take part, so I'd like everyone in lines across the room. Space yourselves so that you won't touch. How far apart is whatever you're comfortable with and it doesn't matter how many lines there are, just leave the same space between them. As you're new to it, we're obviously going to start with a very simple program but once you've grasped the basics, it's very easy to build on them. Provided the room is large enough, there isn't any limit on how many people can take part."
Maxton had not known all the details of the mission or why it was only Chekov who had beamed down but it had not required a very great effort to work out that this was very important to the aliens. "We could leave training programs, if that's acceptable, sir?"
"We may ask for that, Chief? Is that the correct way to address you?" Bassaji asked.
"Chief or Maxton, whichever best suits your customs, sir," the chief petty officer answered. He surveyed the neatly lined and spaced Eranthi. "Ready when you are, sir. Mister Chekov, if you stand on the dais, with your back to everyone, they can copy you." He saw the expectant faces and started the music.
"Signal coming in from Eranthis Four, sir," the duty officer reported.
"Send it down to the wardroom." Kirk quickly activated his table screen to find he was once more looking at the two presidents. It had been six hours since Maxton had beamed down and there had been only one brief report from Chekov to say the assignment was still going well. The ensign had not used any of the key words to indicate otherwise, which had relieved some of the tension, but the captain of the Enterprise wanted details.
"We wish to thank both Ensign Chekov and Chief Petty Officer Maxton for their help, Captain Kirk. Could that be entered on their records?"
"Of course, Mister President. I gather things have worked out?"
"They have, Captain Kirk. We have spent a most enjoyable time. More importantly, the final hurdle has now been overcome and we will soon be a united planet. Then, we will submit a formal application to the Federation for membership. Once Chief Maxton has sent us the training programs he promised, we will not keep the Enterprise from her mission of exploration any longer, as Admiral Welton informs us you are needed elsewhere," Bassaji replied.
"Otherwise, we would have offered your crew our hospitality. It sits badly with us that we cannot do that after the help we have been so freely given," Throllagee added. "So, should your ship ever come near enough to visit, please do."
Kirk smiled. "Thank you for that, Mister President. I hope we'll be able to accept your invitation one day."
"We wish you farewell and good fortune."
As the screen blanked, Kirk found the ensign at his elbow. "If you haven't had anything to eat, Mister Chekov, grab something and then you can update me."
"Aye, sir." Chekov reappeared a few moments later with a well-laden tray and an air of relief. "The Eranthi food isn't suitable for Humans, so I'm more than ready for this. Captain, the chief needs leave to send some training programs."
"So we've been told," Kirk nodded. "Are you able to tell me what they're for?"
"This is one for the books, Captain," Chekov grinned. "Mister Spock was right when he warned me the sticking point for these negotiations would probably be something minor, except that it wasn't for the Eranthi, of course. Would you believe they've agreed on everything else for the unification of their planet and their planned exploration of space but the one thing on which they couldn't agree was how to solve this particular problem that, to the Eastern Eranthi, no social occasion is complete without dancing, but to the Western Eranthi, two people touching each other in dancing is unthinkable."
"How on Earth do they manage not to touch in the rest of their lives?" Sulu demanded.
"That didn't come up, and I didn't ask," Chekov assured him.
Kirk was shaking his head. "You're right; it is one for the books, especially when you think how negotiations so often become bogged down over major aspects of a problem. Start by telling me why Eliea has such a high opinion of your diplomatic talents? Given the effect they have on me, that's something I really want to know!"
"And if you found out how they knew about you?" Sulu added. He knew he was not the only one who had been puzzling over that.
Chekov's prompt response was a vivid blush at the realization he was going to have to mention an exploit from his Academy days, one he had fervently hoped to leave safely on Earth. He had joined his first ship with the firm intention of not mentioning any of the scrapes in which he had landed himself. "They'd met the Phloxi, a newly contacted race I met while I was assigned to the Federation Assembly."
Kirk eyed him in surprise. "That's usually for staff cadets. What were you doing there?"
"Commander Staunton wanted me to get on speaking terms with the concepts of tact and diplomacy, sir," Chekov continued hastily, before anyone could ask for more details. "The presidents were just explaining that to me, when Eliea informed Bassaji it was time he mentioned her strong objections to Russian dancing." He grinned. "I thought it would be safer if I asked her what they were, and that was when she told me what a nice, polite, tactful young officer you'd sent."
"As opposed to her husband, apparently," McCoy chuckled.
"Well, she is, to put it politely, a well built lady of mature years."
"So where does the chief come in?" the doctor asked.
"Russian dancing needs a lot of practice to do it well, and the Eranthi needed something more immediate. I thought something that everyone could do would be a much better choice anyway. I'd tried line dancing when I spent leaves with Robert Chard's family," Chekov explained. "I wasn't sure I'd be good enough to teach it but I knew it was something the chief had enjoyed on his home planet, where it's very popular." He looked up as Maxton appeared, as if summoned by his name.
"I've the programs ready, sir," the chief informed him. "I'll send them down now, Captain, if that's all right by you?"
"It is, Chief, as we've another assignment waiting." Kirk nodded. "Admiral Welton told us about it while you were enjoying yourselves down there. Thanks for your assistance."
"My pleasure, sir."
Kirk pondered for a moment. "Programs are all very well, but teachers are better. Could we round up some from Earth, do you think, Mister Chekov? Or your home planet, Chief?"
"My folks wouldn't be interested, Captain," the chief petty officer replied briefly.
"But I'm sure we could find people from Earth," Chekov put in quickly.
Kirk was not about to ask Maxton why he had refused so promptly. Some Earth-seeded planets wanted very little to do with the Federation. "Ask the Eranthi when you send the programs, Chief. We can soon sort something out, if they'd prefer that."
"Carry on, Chief," Kirk nodded, dismissing him. "Then make sure you get something to eat," he looked at his navigator, "while we write a report for the admiral and Starfleet."
"Did you find out why the Eranthi were so secretive about the problem?" McCoy inquired. They had all spent the hours while the ensign was planetside in wondering at the peculiar request and why the aliens had been so insistent Chekov was the one who could solve the problem for them. None of the speculations had come close to the answer Chekov had just given them.
The ensign nodded. "The Eranthi thought we might regard it as so frivolous and trivial it would diminish their application in our eyes."
"What did you say to that?" the doctor inquired. "Is it something you can tell us?"
"They don't mind now we've sorted it out. I told them that if it was the one thing stopping them from uniting their planet then it wasn't trivial," Chekov replied. "And that as far as being frivolous, that varied so much from world to world there wasn't really any one thing that could be considered frivolous."
"A good answer." Kirk nodded approval. "Let's hope our next mission goes as smoothly. You can build on your diplomatic triumph by coming with me to Dicliptera Three."
"You're asking Chekov to exercise his diplomatic talents on two planets in succession, Captain?" Sulu grinned. "That shows a lot of nerve!"
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