Kirk finished cleaning up the implements hed used in cooking and serving the camp supper, put them back in their small carrying case, and returned to the fire side, toting the makings for smores. Reichard reached behind himself and produced four long, thin branches, sharpened on one end, and began handing them out. Chekov looked puzzled.
"Its an old North American custom, Pavel," Kirk grinned, enjoying his friends obvious puzzlement. "Dont tell me Ive finally found something the Russians didnt invent!" Kirk impaled a marshmallow with the end of his stick and began toasting it in the fire.
"We didnt invent smallpox, either," Chekov responded, watching the process as Kirk and Reichard made their dessert. Kirks marshmallow ignited. Removing it from over the coals, he blew it out, squeezing it in the graham cracker and chocolate sandwich he had prepared for it. Reichard did the same a moment later. Both men munched their treat happily.
Indri smiled, impaled a marshmallow, and nestled it over a small area of coals. Within moments, it was toasted an even, light brown and made into a smore as he had seen Kirk and Reichard do. Chekovs attempt was considerably less successful than Indris, but still creditable.
"Didnt know that they did smores in India, Indri," Reichard quipped. "You did that like a pro."
"It is not a familiar process, Ken," Indri replied seriously, "But the engineering principles involved are simple, and quite obvious. The first task is to select an area of reasonably even heating over the semi-random thermal output of the coals..."
"Enough!" Kirk laughed. "Were here to enjoy ourselves, not study engineering principles." The marshmallow on the end of Kirks stick began to darken; this time, suddenly realizing that his second marshmallow was on the verge of ignition, he snatched it from the coals. Unfortunately, he knocked it against the bottom of the steel coffeepot suspended over the coals, staying warm, losing the marshmallow into the fire below.
"Looks like you need some help navigating, Captain!" Reichard handed Kirk another marshmallow. "See if you can dock this one into your smore safely!"
Kirk made no reply, skewering the marshmallow and toasting it. "Yknow, when I was a kid back in Iowa, this is where wed start telling ghost stories around the campfire, trying to scare each other silly."
Indri nodded. "Indeed. However, I find that reality is much more frightening than fiction, on the whole."
"Da!" Chekov concurred. "And is often much more bizarre. Is good time for stories about strange things that have happened on missions. Remember the mission to Dhamar Two?"
Kirk rolled his eyes in agony. "Im still trying to forget, Pavel. Its not exactly a memory I relish."
"What really happened on planet?"
"Oh, Im sure youve read the official report, Pavel," Kirk evaded. "Its pretty much all in there, except for a few things like that expert on primitive cultures interacting with you in the dining hall. It was shortly after you boarded the Enterprise, wasnt it?"
"Da. Not more than six or seven weeks, I think. But report didnt seem to cover whole story of what happened on planet. Was almost as if you were holding something back."
"Even if Pavel was there for the story," Reichard added, "I sure wasnt. Our mad Russian has my curiosity piqued. How about telling us the tale, eh?"
"I find my curiosity piqued also," Indri concurred. "I should definitely like to hear of this event."
Kirk shrugged. "I guess its okay. Just dont you guys squeal on me, you hear? Because youre right, Pavel: I sort of hedged a little on the official report, with the permission of Doctor What was his name again? Allal? Olill?"
"Elul, Doctor Elul," Chekov offered. "French name. Troublesome fellow all around, as I remember him. Almost had Hikaru and I at each others throat in mortal combat." The Russian chuckled, remembering. "Rumor had it we werent the only ones that happened to when he was around."
"Yes, Doctor Jacques Elul. Now I remember. It looked like a milk run, really, but I guess things are never as simple as they look. It felt like that man almost had the entire Enterprise in an uproar." Kirk picked up his metal coffee cup, carefully refilling it from the pot suspended over the coals. He took a swallow, sighed in satisfaction and pulled his knees to his chest, a pensive look forming on his face. "By now, Ive quit expecting things to be as simple as they look. Our first surprise was when Elul beamed aboard..."
Kirk, Spock and McCoy stepped off the turbolift onto the transporter deck, in vigorous discussion.
"I still dont see why a planet full of semi-civilized, intelligent bugs makes this much difference to the Federation, Jim. Has Starfleet High Command forgotten the Prime Directive already?"
"Come off it, Bones. The Dhamar system is right at the tip of a protrusion of Federation territory into an area the Orions think that they want to own," Kirk replied, trying to placate his friend. "From all accounts, the Orions have been making some sort of clandestine contact with them, to manipulate the Dhamar into entering the Orion dominated Barrier Alliance."
McCoy snorted derisively, and was obviously planning to make a snide remark about political expediency, but Kirk continued, keeping McCoy at bay by appealing to his sense of mercy.
"On top of that, in the last couple of years the Dhamar have had some pretty bad harvests, and theyre starving. They may be intelligent bugs, but we cant let them starve. And since the Orions are already meddling, the Prime Directive is no longer applicable."
"Furthermore, Doctor, the Dhamar people are not precisely bugs in the strict sense of the word. Although they are exoskeletal, and superficially look like Terran insects, they have a closed circulatory system with a three chambered heart, similar to that of the Terran reptile, and are homeothermic rather than poikilothermic. Similar to ants, bees and termites, there are large numbers of nearly mindless drones subservient to a royal caste, but unlike the queens among bees, ants and termites, the Dhamar ruling caste is highly intelligent, not only egg-laying females."
McCoy and Kirk exchanged rolled eyes as Spock continued.
"While it is true that they have a ladder-type, dorsal central nervous system, cognate with Terran insects, they have a paired set of anterior ganglia that are fused into a single, large structure similar to the mammalian brain, connected to eyes that are of distinctly mammalian structure, rather than the compound eyes characteristic of insects and arachnids. Furthermore "
"Doctor Elul is ready to beam up, Captain," Scotty interrupted, ending Spocks discourse on Dhamar biology. "Transporter locked on his coordinates. On your signal."
"Energize, Mister Scott," Kirk said, thankful to be rescued from the lecture. "Mister Spock?"
The Vulcan moved to the wall communicator, and as Doctor Elul materialized, triggered the bosons whistle. Flanked by a pair of travelling cases, there materialized a tall, thin, hooded individual. For a moment, the only sound was the sound system piping their visitor on board. As the sparkle of the transporter faded, the individual grabbed his two travelling cases and flipped his head, dropping the hood behind him. A wide smile creased his face. "Well, arent you going to say hello, or welcome me on board or something? Or did Starfleet High Command forget to warn you that I was a Jesuit?"
"Starfleet, ah, neglected that point," Kirk responded, finally regaining his voice. "But welcome aboard, Doctor Elul. That is what I should be calling you, isnt it?"
The Jesuit smiled. "That works for me, if it is comfortable for you. Father Jacques is popular, and Ive been known to answer to Hey, you a lot, too. Just dont sing Frere Jacques around me, okay? Thats one Ive had my fill of." There was a general chuckle. The cleric continued, "You would be Captain Kirk, I expect. Ive read a little of your background; you are developing quite the reputation for resourcefulness. Offhand, Id say youre going to be a great asset in working with the Dhamar. And I expect you," he continued, facing the doctor, "are the intrepid Doctor McCoy. Hopefully, I shall not need the services of a healer, but Im delighted to know that someone of your remarkable abilities will be there if I pick up something bizarre on Dhamar. You are," he faced the transporter console, "without doubt the almost legendary Montgomery Scott. Most pleased to meet you. As for you," he faced the Vulcan, "You are unquestionably the unique Spock. Half Vulcan, half Human, I believe. If you have the time, I should dearly appreciate it if you could share a little bit with me concerning Vulcan religious thought." Elul stepped down from the transporter, carrying his luggage.
"Well, youve certainly done your homework," McCoy responded. "And youre right, youre not exactly what wed expected. I hope youre not offended by our being a caught speechless."
The cleric shook his head, chuckling. "Not in the least, Doctor McCoy, not in the least. In all honesty, Im used to it. When Starfleet announces me as the renowned Doctor Elul, Starfleets premier specialist in the anthropology and sociology of pre-Industrial civilizations they expect a university professor or a fat, balding academic in a shabby, tweed coat. People seem to forget the fact that more so-called primitive cultures have had their languages committed to writing, lexicons and grammars created for their tongues, and their people taught to read and write by religious groups than by all other means put together, including inventing it for themselves."
Kirk managed to keep disbelief from registering on his face. "I must have missed that point in the Academy. May I escort you to your quarters? Dhamar Two is over three days away, and I assume youre eager to get moved in."
Elul nodded. "Definitely! The ship I rode to the starbase was an automated freighter, and there wasnt enough water on board for a decent shower. And I wasnt on the starbase long enough to get one. Just dont breathe too heavily in the turbolift, okay?"
Involuntarily, Kirk grinned. A pity more clerics arent like this guy, he mused, leading the way to the turbolift. "Ill do my best not to by overcome by the odor. Come on!" The two men stepped into the turbolift.
The turbolift door slid closed. "Captain?"
"Would it be permissible for me to mingle with the crew while were on the way to Dhamar Two? Ive spent the last eighteen months on Mara Five studying the culture of a sentient species in the equivalent of the Terran Late Stone Age, on a solo assignment. Since it was a submarine habitat, and since Ive spent most of my time interacting with them wearing a prosthetic to make me look like one of them, Im, ah, rather hungry for face to face Human contact."
Kirk nodded sympathetically. "I can understand that. Look, the best places to interact with the crew would either be the recreation areas fore and aft, or the mess halls fore and aft. Tell you what, the bridge crew goes off duty in about two hours. Why dont you freshen up, and then head to the aft mess hall. Ill ask Spock to join you there, if hes willing. Would that be suitable?"
Elul nodded. "That would be excellent." The turbolift door slid open.
Kirk grabbed one of Eluls cases and moved toward a nearby door. "Heres your quarters, Doctor." The door to Eluls quarters swept open as Elul approached it. "Hopefully, theyll be suitable. Move in and make yourself at home. I expect youll be with us for a week or more."
Elul nodded, appreciatively. "I see that Mister Scotts reputation as an engineering whiz is well earned. It didnt take him long to program my door to recognize me." He faced Kirk. "Im sure that, after the rather cramped quarters on Mara Five, almost anything short of a cargo hold will be luxurious. Until later?" Elul stepped into his quarters.
"Later, then." The door slid shut.
Showered and in clean clothes, Elul made his way to the aft mess hall, looking for Spock. Not seeing the Vulcan, he looked for a hopeful place to light. Most of the individuals in the mess hall were clustered in groups, actively talking over their meal; only one seemed to be off by himself. Elul moved toward the man. "Mind if I join you?"
Chekov looked up. "Nyet! Youre more than welcome. Youre that fellow we picked up at the starbase, da?"
"Thats me," Elul responded. "Given the incidental Russian, Id be willing to bet youre Ensign Chekov." Elul planted his tray in front of Chekovs and sat down.
"Da. Pavel Andreievich Chekov, at your service, Doctor Elul." The Russian put down the slice of pizza he was eating and extended his hand.
Elul reached out and shook Chekovs hand. "Greetings, Pavel Andreievich." He looked down at Chekovs tray. "If I recall from the chaplaincy files correctly, you are of the Hebrew faith, are you not?"
Chekov looked puzzled. "Da. Russian Jew, in fact; is problem?"
"Um, not exactly. I was just a little surprised to see you chowing down a Hawaiian pizza, thats all."
"Eh?" Chekov looked down at his tray. It took only a second to catch Eluls drift. "Of course: ham, with cheese no less. Definitely not kosher! Nana wouldnt particularly approve, youre right there. I mostly stick to remembering the Holy Days, like Rosh Hashanah, Sukkoth, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah, and the like."
"I understand; Im familiar with the idea: the form of the religion. Youre fortunate no one accuses you of being a devotee of the old Norse pantheon over you remembering their holy days."
Chekov froze in surprise, a slice of pizza half way to his mouth. He put it back on his plate. For a moment, he glared at Elul in annoyed puzzlement. Shaking his head, he broke off his stare. "I dont even know their holy days, Doctor," he responded. "Is ridiculous to think I remember them."
"Oh, Im not so sure, Ensign. The Suns Day, the Moons Day, Tues Day, Wodens Day, Thors Day, Freyas Day, you mark them all."
For a moment, Chekovs face flushed with anger suspecting that he was being mocked then cleared, as comprehension broke through. He broke into a laugh. "Da! I get it: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Is good point, cleverly made. I guess Nana was right; takes more than knowing the Holy Days to make me a Jew."
"My point exactly, Pavel. May I presume that youre not a serious student of the Tanach?"
"Is not a subject that Starfleet Academy dwells on." Chekov punctuated his comment with a mouthful of his pizza. "Havent been back to it since my bar mitzvah and was only in it enough to squeak by on that."
Progress of the conversation was interrupted by a new voice. "Hanging out with our myth monger, I see, Chekov." Sulu sat down next to the Russian. "Didnt think he would be your type."
Chekov was about to respond, but Elul beat him to it. "If Im any judge of people, Id guess youre trying to provoke me into arguing with you; youre probably an atheist, and hoping to browbeat me into oblivion. Im afraid that Im going to disappoint you, Mister...?"
"Sulu. Hikaru Sulu."
"Mister Sulu. Hopefully, the disappointment of missing a chance to debate me wont break your heart too badly. But Ill bet you end up self-contradicting yourself in very short order. It never seems to fail." Elul took another bite of his meal.
"Me, contradict myself? Not likely! Im not the unenlightened one here. Youre the one who expects everyone to accept that prehistoric mythology as a doctrine, to worship a superstitious god-concept. Im not dumb enough to do that."
Chekov turned to face Sulu. "Tread carefully, Sulu. He may be Catholic priest, but other than being confused over the Messiah, he looks to same God we Jews do."
"And you were pretending you were no student of the Scriptures, Pavel." Elul smiled broadly. "If time permits, perhaps we can discuss the issue of the Jewish Messiah."
"Bah! Its all myth, drivel, and old womens tales, made up to frighten children. Any fool with an open mind could see that..." Sulu was obviously warming to his subject, planning to deliver a diatribe.
"Now listen, Sulu," Chekov interrupted angrily, "Just because you dont worship anything greater than yourself doesnt mean there isnt anything greater than you to worship. Lose your arrogance."
"Gently, Pavel," Elul chided the Russian. "Dont let him get you angry and irrational. The way he sounds, youll give him the unfair edge of granting that the combat be on his home turf."
Sputtering in angry frustration, Sulu stared at Chekov, then Elul. Finally, he blurted out, "Youre both insane. I know there is no god."
Elul looked at Chekov. "I knew it. Took less than three minutes of conversation for him to self-contradict. Not quite a record time, mind you, but pretty near."
Chekov and Sulu both looked puzzled. Chekov broke the silence. "I may disagree with Sulus conclusion, but I dont see where hes contradicting himself."
"It is a common logical fallacy, Mister Chekov," Spocks voice came from behind the Russian. "He has used a universal negative, with all reality as its predicate."
Sulu turned to face the Vulcan. "Im not sure I understand you."
Elul came to Sulus rescue. "Its elementary logic, Mister Sulu. By using a universal negative, you are claiming to know everything about the predicate of your statement. Since your statements predicate is all present reality, youre claiming that you know the status of the entire universe, and to know that there is nothing in it corresponding to God. But by doing so, youre claiming to be all knowing, and therefore implicitly claiming to be God, or at least a god, which means youre contradicting yourself. The way you worded it, its a verbal booby-trap."
Rather than looking chagrined, Sulu looked annoyed. "But there is absolutely no evidence for..." He stopped himself, suddenly looking embarrassed. A lopsided, half smile graced his face. "I almost did it again, didnt I?"
"Da!" Chekov agreed, happily. "But at least you caught yourself before stepping in trap the second time. Youre learning."
"Indeed," Spock replied. "To express your thought without committing a logical fallacy, Mister Sulu, you must use a weaker statement, one more suited to beings that are not omniscient. Perhaps if you prefaced your remark with I believe that or It is my conviction that or a semantically similar phrase?"
The half smile on Sulus face completed itself, transforming his features. "Okay, you win your point. Ill have to watch out for that one in the future!"
"An excellent idea, Mister Sulu. Perhaps we could shift the topic to something less inflammatory?" Spock offered. "I believe you fence recreationally. Have you been following the interstellar fencing championship?"
The foursome drifted off onto other topics, until Chekov and Sulu finished eating and returned to their quarters. Elul turned to Spock as Sulu and Chekov left.
"Your arrival was magnificently timed, Mister Spock. Providentially so, in fact."
"You did not appear to be having any significant difficulty in handling Mister Sulu. It appeared to me that the greater risk was Mister Sulu and Mister Chekov coming to blows over their differing religious beliefs."
"Oh, Ive handled folk like Sulu before, but its usually better if the logical flaw is reinforced by someone other than myself. Im sure you understand. Youre right, though; I thought Chekov was going to throw a punch there for a minute."
"Indeed. That was why I chose to intervene when I did, to defuse what appeared to be a potentially unfortunate situation." The Vulcan shook his head. "I still struggle to understand why the source of a sound, logical argument is so much more important to Humans than its logical force."
Elul shrugged. "Frankly, I share your bewilderment, Mister Spock. There are times that we Humans find each other as incomprehensible as I suppose you must find us. But if you dont mind, I was hoping to learn something of Vulcan religious thought; there is remarkably little available on that topic."
"Vulcans prefer it so, Doctor Elul," the science officer responded. "The impassioned interchange between Sulu and Chekov is illustrative of why we say little on the subject. We prefer to share on that subject in meld, something that we do not willingly undergo with non-Vulcans."
The Vulcan stood, picking up his tray. "Good evening, Doctor Elul." Spock made his way out of the mess hall, leaving the disappointed cleric to his own thoughts.
Montgomery Scott stood on a balcony overlooking the main Engineering deck, watching the activity below him. Those who had been on the Enterprise for any significant length of time found Scottys presence there reassuring. They had seen him pull his starship out of what seemed to be impossible situations often enough to believe he could do almost anything. As for the cadets, they had begun to suspect Scotty could read their minds from his perch, and were terrorized into performing their duties with extra care and precision. In both cases, that was exactly the way the Scotsman wanted it. Behind him, Scott heard the turbolift door open and shut. He waited for the new arrival to break the silence.
The Scotsman turned, recognizing Eluls voice. "Doctor! Welcome to Engineerin!"
"Thank you, Mister Scott. I was wondering if your hospitality would extend to offering me a tour of your department. Perhaps you could offer me some degree of understanding of the magnificent machinery that hurls the Enterprise through the voids of space at such unimaginable speeds?"
"Gladly enough, Doctor. But Id not have thought that youd have been interested in such things, what with bein a man of the Cloth and all." Some degree of puzzlement registered on Scotts face as he spoke.
Elul sighed, a tiny note of frustration in his voice. "Under normal circumstances, youd probably be right; I would be spending my time interacting with the other people on the ship, listening to them talk about their religious convictions, and letting them learn of mine. Unfortunately, I seem to have become a bit of a lightening rod for trouble doing that." He looked down at his outfit. "I mean, its pretty obvious who and what I am, isnt it? Those who share my faith are eager to avail themselves of my company, and I must admit on a few occasions, of my authority in the Church. As for the rest, well, too many of them mistake my seeking to understand their convictions as my attacking them, or else see my explaining my own as an aggressive effort to proselytize. Worse yet, when I get someone thats willing to talk without feeling threatened, the conversation is almost always joined by someone who is outright antagonistic to my views in particular, or to religion in general. It doesnt take long for it to be one crewmember at the others throat, with me out of the loop, trying to cool down the flaring tempers. Ive lost track of the number of times Ive had to ward off a fist fight. Im rather hoping to have a little Human companionship without risking combat."
"Aye, Id heard that youd seen a spot or two of trouble, right enough, laddie," Scotty replied. "Up to a point, I understand. You realize that when Im in with other folk, I usually end up talkin engineerin, too. Its just that engineerin isnt quite so, ah, volatile a topic as religion seems tbe."
"Youre dead right there, Mister Scott. But according to the Chaplaincy files, youre not exactly heavily supplied with religious ideas, and most of the few you have you inherited from your grandmother."
"Aye, Grannie tried to make a good Scots Presbyterian out of me. Shed no better luck wi me than I suppose you had wi Mister Sulu."
"Which was essentially zilch. If its all the same to you, could we focus on the engines? I should be safe with you; from what I hear, your main interests in things of the spirit are Glenlivit and Chivas Regal. After the last couple of near fights..."
Scott smiled benignly, shaking his head. "Och, ye underrate my interest in things of the spirit, laddie. For instance, Im remarkably interested in Saurian Brandy, too, and Ive been known to brew a wee bit of the spirits myself, tsay nothing of my affection for Arcturian...."
The cleric struggled to keep from laughing, and failed miserably. "Youve got me dead to rights there. As for the Engineering Deck?"
"Youll be wanting the grand tour?"
"If its convenient."
"A chance to show off my bairns is always convenient, Doctor!" The Scotsman led the way down the stairs from the balcony, Elul following.
By the time the Enterprise had reached the Dhamar system, Kirk had begun to regret giving Elul the run of the ship. It wasnt that Elul was consciously trying to make trouble, he had concluded; it was just that he seemed to attract it, or to unconsciously trigger it. What was it that Marjorie Kirk used to say ministers were supposed to do? "Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable." The captain decided that Elul was much more effective at the second task. He consulted his chronometer. It was about time to meet the cleric in the VIP briefing room. "Mister Scott," Kirk said, rising from the command chair, "You have the conn. Mister Spock?"
"We have nine point three minutes before we meet Doctor Elul, Captain, and I estimate that it will take no more than two point six minutes to reach the briefing area." Spock observed.
"That means we have a chance to prepare before he arrives."
The Vulcan looked up. "I have been weighing alternative approaches to the Dhamar question for several days, Captain."
Kirk walked to the turbolift door. "So have I, Spock, on the off chance that Elul hasnt thought up his own."
Vulcan and Human entered the turbolift, debarking at the VIP briefing area. To their surprise, Elul was already there, engrossed in a readout. The Jesuit looked up as they entered. "Good afternoon, gentlemen," he said, rising. "I was just doing a last minute refresher on what we know of the Dhamar people. Do we know if the Orions have made face to face contact?"
Kirk sat down at the briefing table, Spock following suit. "We have reason to believe they have, Doctor. Have you formulated a preliminary plan of action?"
The Jesuit rubbed his chin for a moment. "Under the circumstances, two things leap out to me immediately. First of all, as much as I would rather have him with us, I think we should leave Spock behind. If the Orions have already been there, having him along would confuse the issue for us. To insectoid species, we primates all look pretty much alike, except for our coloration. Spocks greenish hue is too close to the color of the Orions for comfort. No disrespect intended, Mister Spock."
"None taken. Your logic is impeccable, Doctor Elul."
"From you, thats high praise."
"It is no compliment, Doctor, merely a statement of fact. Additionally, should the Orions arrive it would be advantageous to have a senior officer other than Mister Scott be available in the event of combat."
"In combat," Kirk interjected, "we need to keep Scotty in Engineering, where he can keep things running. You said a couple of things sprang to mind. What was the other one?"
"The other thing that springs to mind is a quote from the latter portion of the twentieth century, Feed a starving man and his family, give him a weapon, and hell gladly point it wherever you ask. What chance is there that we could generate a food supply to beam down? If I understand the information on the readout, we have a pretty good idea about what they eat."
"I would prefer to check with Mister Scott, but I believe that it should be possible to provide a food supply. Doctor Eluls point is well taken, I think; on Vulcan, we say that if you give water to a thirsty enemy, you make an ally. The idea is, I believe, similar, and applicable here."
Kirk turned back to Elul. "How large of a team do you want to take down with you?"
"Considering the risks, I would be willing to go it alone, Captain. However, I would appreciate your joining me, and if Doctor McCoy could come along as well, it would be helpful. As I said when I arrived on your ship, you have a remarkable reputation for being able to improvise solutions to what appear to be impossible situations; that could be life saving on Dhamar. It is my observation that providing some medical aid can be an excellent means to generate good will, too. Rumor has it that Doctor McCoy is quite skilled in dealing with medical issues in minimally familiar life forms."
Kirk thought for a moment or two. "Im sure Bones will be willing to join us. I dont see any reason to have any others with us. Well be safe enough, carrying our phasers. Can you handle a phaser, Doctor?"
"Im a fairly decent shot. However, I would counsel against going to the surface armed with anything more than a sheath knife, Captain. We are on a mission of peace. Best, I think, that we not even risk showing an appearance of aggression. Im sure that, should trouble arise, we can simply be transported back to the Enterprise."
Kirk shrugged, uneasy about going to an unfamiliar planet without his phaser. "I dont see where the phasers would be a problem, unless we use them, since theyve probably never seen a phaser used before, especially a Type One."
"Given that we are suspicious that the Orions may have contacted the Dhamar, Captain," Spock interjected, "We cannot be certain that they would not recognize a phaser. Although there is some degree of risk, I believe Doctor Eluls point is well made."
"Granted, Spock, but that leaves the issue of handling any large, hostile fauna unresolved. Im not Daniel Boone, and I dont relish the idea of taking on the equivalent of a grizzly bear with just a knife," Kirk returned.
"And hostile fauna potentially includes the Dhamar," the Vulcan cautioned. "Would the Dhamar accept it if we beamed down an emergency shelter to serve as a place to which we could retreat or retire?"
"As long as the Dhamar could enter, and there was no door that could be shut and locked, there should be no problem. From what I recall, they consider a lockable door to be a grave insult. Just a second; let me be sure on that." Elul turned to the readout in front of him for a moment before continuing. "Ah, here it is. A door is tolerable, as long as it cant be locked; to have a lock is interpreted as your believing they are thieves." Elul looked up. "The Dhamar apparently take their honor and reputation for honesty very seriously. Its not unusual among pre-technical, tribal societies."
"Indeed," Spock responded. "An admirable trait, although its manifesting itself as an aversion to locks is most inconvenient. Mister Scott should have no trouble providing a suitable shelter."
Kirk waited for a moment before speaking, to see if the Vulcan or the cleric had anything further to offer. Hearing nothing, he stood up. "Ill talk to Mister Scott and Doctor McCoy. May I assume that you will be ready to go down as soon as everything is ready?"
"I am, Captain. However, I would suggest that the shelter be put on the surface, and food drops be made by it for several days before we beam down."
"Im sure thats possible; Id like to have an idea why."
"Of course," Elul agreed. "The delay deserves explanation. First off, it will bring a crowd of Dhamar to the shelter; we wont have to go hunting for them. Secondly, well have built up some good will before we arrive. Thirdly, theyre going to be more willing to listen if their bellies arent empty. Although the Dhamar are not telepathic, they produce numerous pheromones that have a very profound effect on their behavior. In this context, the most important one is a stimulator for feeding voraciously, if not downright indiscriminately, when theyre hungry. Most important of all, centuries of experience on and off Earth indicate that its what is most likely to work."
Kirk nodded. "Good points, particularly that last couple. Im not overly enamored of being around them when that feeding frenzy pheromone is in the air. Ill see to getting preliminary feedings arranged. Anything else?"
"May I presume that translators have been programmed to handle the Dhamar language?"
"The translators are ready, Doctor," Spock replied.
"Given the Dhamar social structure, it might be prudent to create a hologram of one of us, announcing the food as a gift to them; otherwise they may be too proud to take it. They might think that it would be interpreted as theft otherwise, you understand."
"An excellent thought, Doctor Elul; I can see that your reputation is well earned. Im sure Scotty can rig something to handle that. Anything else, gentlemen?" Kirks question was met with shaken heads. "If not, youre dismissed."
Elul, Kirk and McCoy materialized inside the hut that Scotty had built and put on the surface. Through the open door, the trio could see several Dhamar doling out the food to all comers. For all of Spocks insistence that they were not strictly comparable to Terran insects, they looked surprisingly like a cross between a grasshopper and a praying mantis. Large, grasshopper-like legs, knees extending behind the creatures backs, supported a long body in an upright position. There were four arm-like appendages coming off what would have passed for the thorax of a grasshopper, above which was a triangular head reminiscent of a mantis but with two distinctly mammalian eyes at each of the two upper corners of the head, the mandibles of the creatures mouth forming the third corner. Each of the four arms was long enough to reach the mandibles, and tipped with three, mutually opposed claws. The creatures legs stayed bent, suspending the lowest part of its abdomen several centimeters above the ground. The three men had only a few moments to take in the scene before one of the Dhamar receiving a ration of food saw them and pointed. The largest of the several Dhamar doling out the food turned to face the hut. It gave instructions to the others, then came toward the men, two other Dhamar walking at a respectful distance behind.
"Greetings, Strangers," the Dhamar intoned, lifting itself so that its eyes were level with Eluls. "I am Longrass, leader of the Dhamar." Longrass looked the trio over. "You are the ones who have sent the gifts?"
Elul stepped forward. "I am Elul, Servant in the Federation. I greet you, Longrass, Leader of the Dhamar. These are my friends, Kirk and McCoy. We have given you these gifts, gifts from our people. We offer more, if you need it."
The Dhamar touched the claws of all four arms together, at the center of his thorax, and bowed forward slightly. "I and my people thank you, for we have been very long with too little food." Longrass stood again, dropping his arms. "We are in your debt. How can we repay this debt?"
"We would ask nothing hard; only what you can freely give."
Longrass swiveled his head, looking backward at his two companions, then brought it forward again. "So also would the spider say as its prey took the bait. Yet there would still be the web."
Kirk began to answer, but Elul gestured for silence. "Truly spoken, Longrass. Caution is wisdom. Yet we are not as the spider; my answer is uncertain, because we do not yet know enough of what you and your people might offer in return. For now, all we can ask is that you accept our gifts, and that you let us learn of your people, and that your tribe, and all the others of Dhamar, join with us."
Several moments passed, with Longrass talking to what were apparently his aides, presumably digesting and discussing the information. The Dhamars head swiveled back to the Humans. "You speak truthfully when you say you know little of us. You speak of other tribes than this. No other tribes are left, Elul. Though once there were many, the starvation we suffer since the cold came has thinned our numbers, and the few remaining from each tribe have banded together. We are all that remain."
Elul turned to Kirk and McCoy. "Is that credible?"
"Im afraid so," McCoy responded. "I checked with Spock; there are perhaps four or five thousand left, out of what he thought might be twenty five or thirty million." McCoy looked down at his mediscanner. "If Im understanding their physiology correctly, the folks weve got in front of us are severely starved, too; weve probably saved the lot of em. Theyve got an incredibly high metabolic rate. Even a day or two without food could be disastrous for them."
Nodding, Elul turned back to the Dhamar. "I grieve that so many have died, and so few are left. It is a darkening of our honor that we did not respond to your need sooner, and save more of your kind from starving."
"If you say so," Longrass responded, spreading his four arms in what looked like the Dhamar equivalent of a shrug. "At least you got here while there were still some of us to save. For that, we are thankful."
"We are content to wait while the rest of todays supply of food is distributed, Longrass. Is there a change we can make in it to make it better?"
For a moment, the Dhamar allowed himself to drop to his usual posture, which the men interpreted as indicating thought. Longrass returned to eye-level. "We need more meat, if it can be done, especially fatty meat. We have had almost none for months; only once, in fact, since we ate the last of our herds."
Elul looked at Kirk, his eyes forming his question. Kirk nodded. The cleric turned back to the Dhamar. "We can try. Is all else satisfactory?"
"A hungry beggar does not complain about the flavor of bread he is given, but it is good, and it is plentiful. With the cold, we are hungry, very hungry." Longrass looked behind himself. "It will be some time. I must return to the labor."
"We will wait in the hut." Elul looked at the captain and the doctor. Longrass and his companions returned to their task, as the Humans returned to the hut.
Elul leaned against a wall, sighing. Kirk looked at the cleric. "Frankly, I think things went pretty well, Doctor Elul," Kirk opined.
The Jesuit nodded. "So far, so good, but were you watching the drones being fed? They were eyeing us hungrily, and it made me a tad nervous. I hope Scotty can swing the meat."
Kirk flipped his communicator open. "Kirk to Enterprise. Scotty, were going to need to supply meat to the Dhamar."
"Aye, Captain, that I can, but yon Dhamar prefer it live. The closest I can come tthat are the raw, frozen meat reserves. We can replenish them at a nearby starbase."
"Whatever it takes, Scotty. Do the best you can."
"Will you be beaming up? "
Kirk looked at Elul, who shook his head. "Not yet, Scotty. Kirk out." The captain looked over at the Jesuit again. "So now we wait?"
"Do you think itd be safe to venture outside for a few minutes, Father Jacques?" It was McCoys voice.
"Not alone, and not far, but otherwise, yes. Why?" Elul was clearly puzzled.
"Call it curiosity," McCoy stared at his tricorder. "Its only about twenty meters that way," he pointed behind the hut. "Will you be okay if Jim and I go?"
"Best we all go together, Bones," Kirk interjected. "Itll be safer."
McCoy shrugged. "Whichever way you prefer. Cmon." Tricorder in hand, he led the way.
Covering the distance to the spot McCoy wanted to reach took only a few moments. The three of them looked at the pile of bones silently. McCoy stooped to examine them in more detail.
Barely audibly, Kirk said what they were all thinking. "It looks like the Orions have already been here."
"They sure have," McCoy agreed, standing again. "Wed better get back to the hut while we still can." Without waiting for a response, he began hurrying back. Kirk followed, but Elul lingered for a moment or two before following at a brisk trot, catching the others just before they reached the door.
"Whats eating you, Bones?" Kirk demanded, as soon as they were all safely in the hut.
"Nothing yet, Jim, and I intend to keep it that way. Lets get back to the Enterprise. Now."
The captains face showed puzzlement. To his surprise, it was Elul that addressed his confusion. "Do you remember Longrass comment that the Dhamar had eaten meat only once since they ate the last of their herds? If I read the marks on the Orions bones correctly, Captain, their last meat was Orion. Doctor McCoy?
"Youre dead right, Father. And Im not interested in being their next mouthful of meat. Jim, lets get out of here."
Kirk reached back and flipped his communicator open. "Kirk to Enterprise. Scotty, theres been a change of plans. Get us out of here."
Kirk, McCoy and Elul had barely arrived on the surface of Dhamar II when the wall communicator in the transporter deck chimed. "Mister Scott, if the party has successfully transported down, I need you to come to the bridge."
"Im on my way, Mister Spock," the Scotsman responded, somewhat puzzled. "Is there a problem?"
"There is no malfunction," Spock replied. "Under the circumstances, however, it seemed prudent to endeavor to discover the reason for the Dhamars poor harvests and attempt to rectify it. I will need you to take the conn."
Scotty nodded as he made his way toward the turbolift. "Aye, teach em to fish as well as givin them a fish. Tis much the better way."
Within moments, Scotty was in the command chair, and Spock was engrossed in studying the planet, virtually oblivious to his surroundings. Only a few moments time were needed to identify the problem: a layer of dust high in the atmosphere, reflecting just enough incident light to drop the planets temperature. Spock checked the chemical and isotopic composition, finding it markedly different than what would have been expected from a volcanic eruption on Dhamar. Suspecting either a comet or asteroid, Spock turned his attention to the outer portions of the Dhamar system, seeking the trail of a comet. Although he was aware of the interchange between Scott and the party on the surface, the Vulcan remained fixed on the task at hand, slowly scanning increasingly distant sections of the Dhamar system. Suddenly Spock turned to face Scotty.
"Mister Scott, I have detected a Orion Blockade Runner approaching Dhamar Two, distance approximately seventeen AU and closing."
The Scotsman swiveled to face Spock. "Your estimate of how long before we might engage, Mister Spock?"
"Unless they detect us and accelerate, six point nine minutes."
"Red alert status. Mister Spock, if youll take the conn? I think I may be needed in Engineering more than here."
As Scotty moved to the turbolift, Spock took the conn. "Uhura, please attempt to contact the Orion ship."
"I have their captain, Mister Spock."
"Forward viewscreen, please." The face of the Orion captain filled the screen.
"I am Captain Adran Thrak. I have reason to believe that four Orions may be stranded on the surface of the planet you orbit, Enterprise. Stand aside, so I can rescue my people."
One of Spocks eyebrows lifted. "Indeed. The Dhamar system is in Federation space, Captain, and I must request that you return to Barrier Alliance territory immediately. If there are any Orions on the surface of Dhamar Two, some explanation of their presence is in order."
"On that score, we differ, Vulcan. I have no intention of making any explanation," Thrak responded. "Either get out of my way or prepare for combat."
Spock remained impassive. "Under the circumstances, Captain Thrak, collaboration would seem to be more appropriate."
"If I want your help, I will ask for it," Thrak spat. "End transmission."
The Enterprise lurched as a photon torpedo hit her shields. "Mister Sulu, evasive maneuvers, but stay between the Orions and the team on the surface. Mister Chekov, return fire."
The two men chorused their acknowledgment, and began their assigned tasks. Uhura suddenly sat up straighter than usual. "Mister Spock, signal from the surface."
Kirks voice filled the bridge. "Kirk to Enterprise. Scotty, theres been a change of plans. Get us out of here."
"That will not be feasible, Captain," Spock responded. The Enterprise shuddered as the Orions scored another hit. "We are under attack by a Orion vessel; they claim they have come to rescue a landing party."
"Well, theyre too late. Whats left of them is about twenty meters from here. McCoy and Elul say the Dhamar ate em. And theyre eyeing us hungrily."
"Understood, Captain. I will do what I can. I do not think the Orions will be open to reason."
"Thats all I can ask. Well try to hold the door here. Kirk out."
On the surface, Kirk flipped his communicator shut. "Gentlemen, we all know the situation. Im open to suggestions." Kirk unsheathed his knife, looking at the edge Scotty had put on the trititanium blade. "Id feel better if I had a phaser." He resheathed it.
"Perhaps, Captain, the food that has been supplied will sate their hunger," Elul offered hopefully.
McCoy looked out the door. "I wouldnt bank on it. It looks like there are plenty of Dhamar out there still wanting to be fed, and the foods gone."
The other two turned to look at the scene outside the door. Three Dhamar were approaching. "Looks like Longrass and his two deputies," Kirk opined.
Elul shifted, standing in the door, waiting for the Dhamar to arrive before he spoke. "Greetings, Longrass. You have come to talk with us?"
The Dhamars four arms hung limply. "There is no more food. There are still many hungry Dhamar. The air is full of the food-seeking smell. You must get more food, swiftly."
Elul winced. "Our ship in the sky is defending itself from those who are not our friends, Longrass. It will be some time before they can send more food. I am sorry."
The Dhamars head bobbed from one side to the other. "That would be the green ones. Alas, they made the mistake of arriving near some very hungry, unsupervised drones. The drones attacked; when the green ones fired on them, the battle smell was in the air, and hundreds more came. When I arrived, it was too late. The drones had killed the green ones, and were feeding on them, and on our own fallen." The Dhamar swung his arms away from himself in what looked like a gesture of resignation. "There was nothing I could do. But they were delicious."
Kirk shuddered as he listened to the conversation. "We found their bones, Longrass. It will be an hour or more before food can come."
"We cannot wait that long, Stranger," Longrass responded. "If there is no food shortly, the drones will attack and eat each other. There are so few of us left, we cannot have that. One of you will have to fare as the green ones."
"You cant do that! Its cannibalism!" McCoy sputtered.
"It is not cannibalism. We are not of the same kind. I will return. You must decide among yourselves who will be the one." Longrass turned, moving back toward the assembled Dhamar.
Kirk stared at the retreating form. "And weve nothing to defend ourselves with other than knives. I wonder how long we can hold the door?"
"Maybe if we kill a handful of them, theyll turn on the carcasses and forget us," McCoy offered hopefully.
"I wouldnt bank on it, Doctor McCoy," Elul returned. "It didnt work for the Orions, remember?"
There was a tense silence for a moment or two. Kirk flipped open his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise. Whats the status with the Orions? We need urgent rescue!"
"Regrettably, Captain, I estimate it will be eighteen point four minutes before there is any significant probability that the Orions will be defeated or disengage. I have already communicated with Mister Scott, and he has expressed the opinion that there is no way that we can transport you up before the Orions are dealt with."
Kirk pulled a wry face. "Thanks for trying, Spock. Kirk out." He restored the communicator. "Well, wish me luck, gentlemen. I only have to hold off a couple of hundred insects for fifteen or twenty minutes, armed with just an overglorified Bowie knife." He moved toward the door.
Elul blocked his exit. "Please, Captain, allow me. Cultures of this sort are my specialty; I think I have the best chance of the three of us of lasting until we can be beamed up. On top of that, Ive been nothing but trouble since I arrived on the Enterprise. At least let me make some recompense for the trouble I have caused."
"Forget it, Father Jacques. Youre a civilian. As an officer in Starfleet, Ive given my oath to protect you and your like, even with my life." Kirk shook his head. "I cant have it, and thats the end of it."
Inwardly, McCoy agreed with Elul; if Elul wanted to play martyr, he was happy to let the man do it. Counter to his personal inclination, McCoy foraged in his medikit, bringing out his hypospray, pointedly setting it. "And if needs be, Doctor Elul, Ill sedate you to keep you in line."
Elul moved closer to Kirk, his hands moving as if to plead. "You dont stand a chance out there, and we all know it. In case youve forgotten it, Im a Jesuit, and Ive got an oath to keep as well. Different from yours, of course, but I cant let you go out there in my stead."
"I would advise against trying to stop me, Father," Kirk replied. "You are, at the moment, under my command. Trying to stop me would be insubordination. Isnt that some sort of sin or other?"
Elul sighed, edging closer to the captain. "Youre right, of course; were commanded to respect and honor authority in the Scriptures." Without warning, Eluls left hand balled into a fist rocketed into Kirks midriff. Caught unprepared, Kirk doubled over, his head meeting Eluls right fist as it swept forward in a sharp uppercut. Kirks head snapped backward and the captain collapsed on the ground, unconscious. "Next time Im in confession, Ill mention that, along with the sin of knocking you cold. Doctor McCoy, you have a patient to attend to. I am going to try to save our collective lives."
Slack-jawed with astonishment, McCoy watched as the cleric drew the knife hanging at his waist and moved toward the door. "Wait, you"
"If Im not back in ten minutes, dont come for me, Doctor." Elul stepped out of the safety of the aluminum hut.
Torn between his duty and his friend, McCoy chose his friend. He turned his mediscanner on the captains prostrate form. There was no major damage; Kirk had just been knocked out. McCoy reset his hypospray and applied it to Kirks shoulder.
Kirk tried to sit up. "Bones, what happened? Wheres Elul?"
"Lie back, Jim; youre not quite ready to get up and go another round with Elul, at least not for a few more minutes." McCoys hand firmly, but gently, pushed on Kirks shoulder as he spoke.
"What happened, Bones?"
"You got suckered by a one-two punch, thats all. Eluls out there with the Dhamar and " The doctor was interrupted by a sudden commotion outside. When it died down, he continued, "Well, I guess I dont need to do any more explaining, Jim."
The two men looked at each other, horrified, their minds filled with ghastly possibilities. Their nightmare was interrupted by a figure entering the hut. It was Elul, dragging his right foot.
"Im glad to see youre all right, Captain," the Jesuit said, sincere concern in his voice. "One advantage to being who and what I am is that no one would expect me to throw a punch. Especially a one-two knockout punch." He leaned against the inside wall of the hut, out of sight of the Dhamar, and slowly slid down to a sitting position. "Ive bought us some time, maybe two or three hours at most. Will that be enough, do you think?"
"How What I mean, the air out there is full of their feeding-frenzy pheromone ." Kirk stammered.
Elul nodded. "And their fear pheromone, too, now. Doctor McCoy, would your medikit have something for pain? I could use a little relief right about now, if it did."
Without thinking, the doctor deployed his hypospray. "Im with Jim. I want to know what you did out there to convince them to leave us alone."
As the hypospray hissed, Eluls face relaxed. "I just told them we were poisonous, and they really didnt want to eat us."
"Knock it off, Elul," Kirk returned. "I bet theyve heard that one before."
"Longrass said he had anyhow." The Jesuit shifted a little. "Thats better. Anyhow, I offered to prove it, by giving them a sample. The drone that ate the bit I cut off my calf keeled over dead in two or three minutes. I dont think it suffered much. I hope it didnt, poor creature."
"Thats impossible, and I know it," McCoy snapped.
Elul smiled wanly. "Keep your voice down, will you? We dont need them catching on until later, much later, okay? Since it happened, it is quite possible, you know. Theres just a thing or two about me you dont know." Elul lifted the hem of his robe, exposing his right leg. Off the back of it, there was a large area removed, with wires and tubes protruding from the cut surface. Just below his knee, there was a small ridge, where the lower part of his leg connected to the rest of it. "Its a prosthesis, and some of the material used in the sensors and actuators is quite poisonous to the Dhamar. Cutting the sensor wiring hurt more than I thought it would. I hope that Mister Scott will be willing to repair it."
"You sneaky, conniving, sly " Kirk grinned broadly. "Genius." Kirks communicator chimed. "Kirk here."
"The Orions have disengaged, Captain. Mister Scott is ready to transport you."
"Good enough, Mister Spock. And if you could see to another supply of food for the Dhamar?"
The transporter beam locked on to the trio, transporting them onto the Enterprise.2288
Kirk stared into the coffee at the bottom of his nearly empty cup, then looked up again. "Anyhow, thats what really happened, Pavel. Rather than have Scotty replace the prosthetic, McCoy took the time to regenerate Eluls lower leg. Spock determined that the Orions had seeded the upper atmosphere with dust, to disrupt the ecology; we never bothered to tell the Dhamar about that, because theyd already decided to join the Federation. A crew from one of the terraforming teams arrived and hurried up the dust clearing, and within a few months, the planets ecology was starting to rebound. Elul decided to stay on Dhamar, and study the transformation of their culture caused by the introduction of more sophisticated agricultural methods, and by their contact with the Federation."
Indri scratched his head. "Only one point remains unclarified. You said you fudged a little on the report on the Dhamar contact. What was it that you edited?"
Kirk straightened, with a look of mock astonishment on his face. "Do you mean to tell me that you think Id let the record show that I was decked by a priest?"
The four men dissolved into laughter.
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