"Well, you told us we were beaming down into a forest, Mister Sulu, but forest doesnt seem quite adequate to describe this." McCoy turned around as he tried to get a glimpse of the sky. It was a considerable distance to the next tree; that argued that the upper canopy was quite as impressive as the circumference of the trunks suggested. "This is something else again!"
"Im inclined to agree, Bones." Kirk tried to report their safe beam down, only to find he did not get a response. He looked at his first officer as the huge trees around them changed immediately from impressive alien growths to a possible threat to his landing party. "Odd. The sensors scanned this area easily enough. Try yours, Mister Spock."
Spock flipped open his communicator but it proved as unresponsive as his captains. "It is presumably connected in some way to the extensive leaf cover, Captain, though I agree it is unexplained."
"We need open sky or a body of water. Can your tricorder tell me the direction to head, Mister Spock?"
"No, Captain. Mister Chekov and I will continue to scan."
"Captain, there is definitely something odd here. The trees are blocking my scan in some way. I can scan about two hundred meters up, but not all the way through the canopy," Chekov reported.
"This is getting stranger by the minute. We didnt have any problems scanning the planet from orbit."
Sulu grinned at the navigator. "Mister Chekov, if youll just stand up against the trunk to give me a marker, Ill see about working out how tall these trees are. That might give us some indication of how many layers the canopy has."
"Good idea, Mister Sulu." Kirk nodded. "Mister Spock, wouldnt you expect some trees to be smaller? These trees look as if they were all planted on the same day."
"Indeed, Captain." Spock was turning to record the details of the enormous growths. "There is a remarkable uniformity of size. However that may be due to the fact that they have all reached maturity and crowded out anything else. Their very size tells us that they are extremely long lived."
"Its certainly taking Sulu a while to walk around this one," McCoy agreed.
Sulu finished his careful pacing; within seconds he and Chekov had agreed the tree was over five hundred meters in height.
Kirk pointed. "My science officer cant tell me where the nearest open sky or body of water is, but the ground does seem to slope a little in that direction. Even on an alien planet water will run downhill so thats the way we go."
Spock nodded approval. "A logical decision, Captain."
"Well, that doesnt make me feel a whole lot better about things." When the doctor thought he could be sitting in his nice comfortable office instead of facing a route march of unknown length and equally unknown hazards, even updating medical records looked more attractive by the second.
"I quite fail to see why the captain making a logical decision should annoy you, Doctor," Spock observed.
"It may be a logical decision, Mister Spock, but when youve known the captain as long as I have, youll realize hes just looking for some trouble to get into," McCoy growled. Not only was he facing a walk of an interminable length but he was taking it with a Vulcan, three line officers and a member of security; the doctor knew who was going to be the one who would need to stop for a rest.
"Mister Sulu, Mister Chekov, you take the rear. Mister Clevedon, in the middle with the doctor. Mister Spock, up here with me. Lets move."
Scott saw the transporter room signal.
"Mister Scott, not hearing from landing party," Lethende reported, a note of worry in its voice. "Not being able to contact them."
"You didnt have any problems with the beam down, lad?"
"Transporter operating without being any problems, Mister Scott, and being able to read life signs of whole landing party on the planet, but not receiving signal or reply when trying to signal them."
"Well see what we can do from the bridge, Ensign. Scott out." The chief engineer turned to Uhura. "Contact the landing party, Lieutenant."
"Aye, sir." Uhura worked for a few moments. "No response, sir."
Scott directed a look at Fenni, at the science console. "Are they still in the beam down position, lad?"
"No, sir. Theyre moving south."
"Can you pick up on any other life signs with them, laddie?"
"Nothing at all, Mister Scott. Ive been scanning for that since before the landing party was due to beam down, and I cant detect anything near their position."
"Report to me the minute you pick up any at all or if the life signs of the landing party change," Scott ordered and surveyed the concerned faces around the bridge. "Id say that since they must know by now they cant contact the ship, the captain has decided to find a clearing where whatever is blocking their signal doesnt work. All we can do is just wait."
"Captain, my scans of the system ahead show a Federation Constitution-class battlecruiser in orbit around the fourth planet," Kless reported.
Korlth leaned forward eagerly. This entire patrol had been boring and he wanted to take back enough credit to rise to the command of a larger ship before the war began. An encounter with Starfleet would liven things up. "Can you identify it?"
"Yes, Captain." Kless turned, his eyes gleaming. "It is the Enterprise!"
"The Enterprise! Signal the KKinia." The screen cleared to show the bored face of his fellow captain. "That you do not know why I call does not impress me with the efficiency of you or your crew, Klith! We have detected the Enterprise in orbit around the fourth planet, and we are going in to find out why it orbits there."
"We are not a match for a Constitution battlecruiser."
"I know that, fool! I intend to find why the Enterprise is there and perhaps foil whatever they are doing. When we reach the fourth planet, you will maintain shields and prevent the Enterprise crew from lowering their defenses while I take a team down to the surface. If we can prevent them beaming back landing parties, we may capture officers of use to Imperial Intelligence."
"I hear and obey," Klith acknowledged sourly.
"Enjoying yourself?" Sulu enquired.
Chekov smiled. "You know this is what Ive always wanted to do with my life. It still doesnt seem real sometimes that Im actually doing it, after dreaming about a Starfleet career for so long."
"It ought to have sunk in by now surely?" Sulu teased. "You havent exactly been unobtrusively serving on the low watch. Didnt anyone tell you thats what new ensigns are supposed to do?"
"Starting with the captain." Chekov swung his tricorder suddenly in the direction of the next tree.
"Did you see something?"
"No. I was just checking on the distances between the trees to see how regular they were."
Sulu glanced up at the huge leviathan they were passing. "You dont think someone planted these?"
"Not really. It seemed something worth checking out, but I think the regularity is probably more to do with the fact theyre the same species and almost certainly about the same age." Chekov frowned, not at all satisfied with his own answer. "Its still more regular than I would have expected though."
Kirk whirled at a startled cry, his phaser already drawn, to find his chief medical officer floundering waist deep in leaf litter. McCoy had managed to find a hole in ground he and Spock had just walked across, something that did not surprise the doctors old friend in the slightest. Before anyone else could react, Clevedon had pulled the doctor to safety with a speed that argued the security ensign knew only too well the unpleasant things that could happen to Starfleet personnel who fell into holes on alien planets.
Kirk nodded approval. "Well done, Mister Clevedon."
"Thank you, sir." Clevedon was still steadying McCoy. "Are you all right, Doctor?"
McCoy recovered his wits. "Thanks, Im fine. Do I want to know what made you react so fast?"
"No, Doctor. You dont."
Spock was already scanning the hole. "This is simply due to uneven ground. That does not make your swift action any the less creditable, Mister Clevedon. If a predator had lurked there, it would have had to move very quickly to harm Doctor McCoy before you extricated him."
He turned to where Chekov and Sulu brought up the rear. "Mister Chekov, what was the subject of your discussion with Mister Sulu?"
"Ive been checking on the distance between the trees, sir, to see how regular it was." Chekov tried not to show surprise Spock had been even aware of the quiet conversation.
"You imply they may have been deliberately planted, Ensign?"
"Ive seen sustainable coniferous woodlands, sir, and this somehow reminded me of them," Chekov replied. "But Im not making such a claim. I dont have any evidence to prove it."
"You do not consider the regularity may indicate a deliberate pattern?" Spock pursued, intrigued. The first officer knew his own background made the concept of managed woodland quite alien.
"It could, sir, but the distance between the trees may simply be determined by the spacing such huge growths require."
"Both ideas are equally feasible, Ensign, and you are right not to claim evidence for one or the other on the basis of our present knowledge."
Riley studied his sensors intently. "Mister Scott, my long range sensors had just picked up two Klingon Birds-of-Prey but theirs must have detected us at the same time. Theyre coming straight for this system. If they maintain their present speed, theyll be dropping out of warp in fourteen point five minutes."
"Then Ill be wanting the shields up five minutes before they do, Mister Riley." Scott was already turning to look at Uhura, his eyes asking the question he did not want to put into words, but she could only shake her head. Scott contacted Ships Services and outlined a plan before he keyed a switch on his chair. "Transporter room."
"Transporter room. Lethende."
"Mister Lethende, Im thinking that not only do we need to tell the captain there are a couple of Klingon Birds-of-Preyheading this way but that everyone on the planet must be pretty hungry and thirsty by now, so Ships Services are on their way with eight backpacks with supplies for a few days. The moment they arrive, laddie, I want them beamed down. The one flagged will have a message for the captain."
"Mess Officer Briel bringing the backpacks now, Mister Scott," Lethende answered. "Putting them on platform."
Scott leaned back with some satisfaction. He told himself he should have thought of that before, but until Riley had detected the two Klingon ships he had thought more of how to get the landing party off planet than making their stay there more comfortable. He saw the transporter room light flash. "Yes, lad?"
"Not knowing what happened, Mister Scott, but transporter saying backpacks not materializing." Lethende had been unhappy from the moment it had known its friend was trapped on the planet and knowing it had failed to help had only upset it even more.
"Did they not?" Scott found himself looking at Uhura once more and saw the same suspicion dawning in her eyes. "Not your fault Im thinking, lad, so dont go blaming yourself."
"Not doing that, Mister Scott, but wishing being down there with friend."
"What do you make of the data you have gathered, Mister Chekov?" Spock enquired as the landing party settled down for a welcome rest.
"Were finding far too many anomalies, sir, especially the lack of life forms the ships sensors detected. I cant make sense of this forest either. Deciduous woodlands may have one predominant species, but its unusual for there to be only one species over such a large area. There might be a reason for it here we havent learned yet but unless we do then its noteworthy," Chekov answered under Sulus grin. The helmsman was only too pleased his own days as an ensign were safely behind him. "The critical factor we still havent identified is if there is something about the trees that is affecting our ability to contact the Enterprise or if we need to look for another answer."
"Well, unless the trees have minds of their own, thats not likely." McCoy had seen Kirks amused glance as he sank thankfully down, and he fully expected some rude comments on chief medical officers who did not keep themselves fit when they told everyone else to. McCoy just hoped the captain would wait until Spock was not within hearing range. Kirk would be bad enough without adding a sarcastic Vulcan to the mix.
"Doctor McCoy, I first met trees with minds of their own when I was seven," Chekov reminded him. "Dont disregard the possibility."
Spock did not intend to discount that possibility or any other, and he did not intend to waste time on the doctors inability to remain silent when he had nothing to say. "If there is intelligence here, it appears reluctant to contact us. Did you have anything further to add, Mister Chekov?"
"I cant work out why the sensors apparently only work in one direction, sir. The only possibility that I can suggest is that there must be something on the underside of the leaves blocking it but my tricorder doesnt show anything."
Kirk grinned as he thought of an alternative to the apparently endless trek he had decreed. He could not consider cutting down one of the trees in order to create a space when Spock had estimated it had taken twenty thousand years for the trees to reach their impressive height; Kirk would not destroy something so venerable simply for his own convenience. "Mister Chekov, you might have something there."
"But its only a suggestion. I cant find any evidence to prove it, Captain. It might be nothing to do with the trees at all," the ensign protested. "Ive continued to scan upwards as well as around me without discovering anything."
"So lets see about getting some evidence," Kirk told him, his hazel eyes alight. "Since youre the youngest of the party and much closer to your tree climbing days than the rest of us, see if you can climb above whats blocking the communicators. If you can contact the Enterprise, and they can get a transporter lock on you, the rest of us can climb up and they can beam us out. Even if the transporter wont work, they can point us in the direction we need to head to find open spaces, and if its any distance, they can beam us down rationpacks, and we can survey the planet as we go. Well also be able to tell them what were up to."
"Aye, sir." Chekov surveyed the huge growth nearest to him, pleased by the order. He had never expected to find an alien planet boring, but the last hours had not offered any challenge at all. "The bark is rough enough to let me reach the branches fairly easily."
Kirk smiled at his young navigator. "You may finish your rest first, Mister Chekov, if youd prefer?"
"Id rather start, sir."
"Chekov, according to my reckoning, weve been on planet for six hours." McCoy could feel his calves and the rest of his leg muscles complaining bitterly about the way they had been spending the day; the soft leaf litter under the trees made very hard going. "Are you saying you dont need a rest before you start on that climb?"
"Were supposed to keep fit, and I am, so no."
"And youre proposing to climb five hundred meters?" McCoy went on.
"If I need to."
"What if you fall?"
"Ive got a choice of which of the seven of you I land on." He eyed his senior officers. "Might I ask what youll all be doing while Im climbing?"
"Resting our aged bones, of course," Kirk grinned at him. "Climb up about a hundred meters and try and contact the Enterprise, then let me know how you got on."
"Aye, sir." As the others watched, Chekov began to climb, cautiously at first and then more rapidly as the bark proved it could take his weight. There was only one unnerving moment as he neared the first branch when his foot slipped as he was reaching for a handhold. For a few seconds, he dangled from one hand before his foot found a secure crevice.
McCoy regained the ability to breathe, but he still eyed the young ensign with misgiving. He had never enjoyed climbing trees, and the climb it would entail if the ensign succeeded in contacting the ship, the doctor preferred not to think about. He looked at Kirk. "I admit to surprise youre not up there with him."
"The thought crossed my mind, Bones, but we havent seen a single thing up in those trees, and it rarely makes sense to split up a landing party under these circumstances." He grinned mischievously at his old friend. "These circumstances being that if Mister Chekov does contact the ship, the rest of us are going to have to get you up there. Working out how to do that is going to keep me quite busy enough."
"I would also appreciate some advice as to the best method of climbing trees, Captain," Spock said.
"You would, Spock?" McCoy was grateful for the chance to forget his own misgivings in teasing the Vulcan. "I suppose the idea of climbing trees is too illogical for Vulcan children?"
"Vulcan children do not think of climbing trees, Doctor, as there are no trees for them to climb," Spock pointed out.
"Ah!" McCoy had to concede Spock had him there.
"Ill give you both lessons on the way up," Kirk promised as he lost sight of the last flash of a gold shirt.
"Red alert!" Scott ordered as Riley warned him that the Klingons would be dropping out of warp in five minutes. Birds-of-Preywere not a match for a Constitution-class starship, but Klingon captains could be very unpredictable. They would not have altered course if they did not intend some sort of confrontation.
The chief engineer watched in frustration as the two Birds-of-Prey swung into orbit. As he expected, one ship kept up her shields, weapons trained on the Enterprise, while the other beamed down landing parties far too close to the position of the Enterprises own team.
Chekov stopped as his tricorder signaled he had climbed a hundred meters. He settled himself comfortably, his back against the still-enormous trunk. The climb had been testing, but he had not experienced any real difficulties and he was unworried by the thought of how much further he might yet have to climb; the only important thing was finding a way to contact the Enterprise.
Kirk flipped open his communicator the moment it signaled. "Yes, Mister Chekov?"
"Im about a hundred meters up, sir, but I still cant contact the ship," Chekov reported, a cheerful note in his voice. "Ive scanned above my position, but I still cant find any reason why I cant reach the Enterprise."
"Do you think its worth carrying on?" Kirk knew what the answer would be; he wanted to hear the reasoning behind it.
"Yes, sir. Id estimate I need to climb at least another couple of hundred meters to have a chance of penetrating the layer blocking communications. Its even more likely Ill need to keep going as long as I can find branches to bear my weight."
"Do you think its safe to continue?"
"Yes, sir. This tree may be enormous, but its quite easy to climb, and Ive stopped every time Ive reached a branch to check for any signs of toxicity or life forms. I havent discovered either."
"Very thorough, Mister Chekov." Kirk was ready to admit he had not expected that level of caution from his young navigator, and he made a mental note to commend him later. "Carry on. Check back with me every hundred meters."
"And if I cant reach you, Captain? Do you want me to continue and see if I can contact the ship if I can only get high enough?" the ensign asked practically. "Its quite probable Ill climb within the zone of interference before I discover whether or not I can contact the Enterprise."
Kirk hesitated. It was one thing to send the ensign up the tree when Chekov could contact them if he hit any serious problems; it was quite another to send him into possible hazards when he could not. But in six hours, they had not found even a hint of water. Contacting the Enterprise was becoming more of a priority by the moment. He knew Chekov would continue without complaint if he gave the order, but he decided to make it more open than that. "If youre willing by all means, Mister Chekov, but Illleave it to your judgment. I wont call you on it if you decide its too dangerous and decide to climb back down."
"Aye, sir. Understood. Chekov out."
McCoy sighed as the cheerful young voice cut off. "And the real injustice is that he wasnt even out of breath. I know how Id sound if Id just climbed up that high, and Id have taken a lot longer, thats for sure!" He rarely felt his age as one of the elder statesmen of the crew but hearing someone preparing to continue such a climb had managed to do it.
"One of the advantages of having young officers on the ship, Bones." Kirks grin could best be described as provocative in the doctors opinion. "They tend to enjoy that sort of challenge rather more than mature and seasoned officers such as yourself."
Another half an hours hard work brought Chekov to a height he estimated was about two hundred meters above the ground, and he once more found himself a secure perch and assessed his surroundings before he opened his communicator. "Chekov to Enterprise."
Chekov was unsurprised when the instrument remained silent. He grinned as he thought of how McCoy would react if he reported the Enterprises transporter could lock onto him once he had climbed high enough; that would also mean the chief medical officer would have to climb up here, too, and he could visualize only too clearly what McCoy would have to say about that.
"I have lost Mister Chekovs life signs, Captain," Spock reported as the minutes passed without a signal from the navigator.
"I suppose that was to be expected. I dont like it all the same." Kirk stared unavailingly up into the canopy above their heads; it was quite pointless, but he could not help the impulse to look. "I know hell keep going. I just wish he could keep us up to date."
Sulu seemed to be feeling uneasy too. "I could go up after him, Captain?"
"Im starting to think I ought to have sent two of you, but after you worked out to what an incredible height these trees must reach, it seemed better to keep the rest of us here," Kirk admitted. "If it comes to getting Bones up five or six hundred meters, Im going to need you more here to help."
"What about Spock?" McCoy told himself he was not as decrepit as everyone else seemed to think. "At least Ive climbed trees before, even if it is longer ago than I like to think, but hes never climbed one in his life."
"My initial observation of Mister Chekovs skill seemed to suggest it is a logical enough process, Doctor. I noticed he simply made sure he had secure hand and footholds before he put any weight on them."
"That about covers it, Mister Spock." Kirk nodded.
"How long are you going to give the boy, Jim? You told him he could keep going until he could contact the Enterprise, and hes stubborn enough to climb the beanstalk until he runs out of air to breathe."
"Mister Chekov is climbing a tree not a beanstalk, Doctor, though I agree the chances of him appearing to announce he has given up are so remote as to be not worth calculating."
"Old childrens tale, Spock. Jack and the Beanstalk," McCoy explained kindly.
"Ah, yes. I place the reference now. It is many years since my mother told me that story. I trust Mister Chekov will not find anything so challenging at the top of his climb."
"Well, if anyone could climb a tree and find a giants castle at the top, weve just sent up the person most likely to do it," Sulu grinned at the image Spocks words created.
"Dont move, Starfleet!" an unwelcome voice ordered. "Move and I will kill you!"
Kirk looked at the dark, triumphant face in the unwelcome realization the Enterprise had been unable to warn them of a Klingon ship. "Were engaged in peaceful exploration of this planet."
"Very peaceful," the Klingon captain sneered. "It is not surprising that the Empire gets the better of the Federation whenever we meet."
"I can think of some incidents where you havent."
"We, on the other hand, are not engaged in anything peaceful. Klingons prefer something more challenging than peaceful. I am Korlth, and this planet is now a part of the Klingon Empire." The swarthy Klingon captain grinned mockingly at Kirk as his black eyes scanned the group. Imperial Intelligence would be delighted with his report; it would make up for the rest of a boring patrol, and it was an excellent time for his name to be heard at Headquarters. "It also has a bonus of one Starfleet captain, a line officer and what are the others? Science? Medical?"
"Im James Kirk, Captain of the Enterprise."
"Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu."
"Lieutenant CommanderSpock, Chief Science Officer."
"Leonard McCoy, Chief Medical Officer."
"Ensign Clive Clevedon, Security."
"The KKinia has blocked any attempt on the part of the Enterprise to beam down additional personnel, but I want these prizes safely on the KSwis. Once they are there, Imperial Intelligence may interrogate them at their leisure." He pulled out his communicator only to stare at it in disbelief as his ship failed to answer. He glared at Kirk, thoughts of Starfleet trickery filling his mind. "What is the meaning of this?"
"Nothing at all to do with us, as youll realize by the fact we didnt even know there were Klingon ships in orbit. The Enterprise would have alerted us to your presence if she could. Theres something here that allows the planet to be scanned but blocks all communications."
"Something? You claim there are intelligent beings here?" Korlth snarled.
"If there are people here, we havent discovered a trace of them. It appears to be a natural phenomenon. We still dont know what it is. Weve been working on it for several hours without success."
"I suppose even Starfleet would alert a landing party to arrival of hostile forces. Given your cowardly avoidance of battle, they would have beamed you to safety before we dropped out of warp. Are you saying that if there was disruptor fire on the planet my ships could detect it?"
"As far as I know."
Korlth nodded to one of his men. "Kea, fire in a pattern to signal we require pickup immediately."
"Kime," Korlth gestured to the Enterprise party. "Secure them."
Kirk tested the bonds cautiously, but it took only a moment to tell him they had been tied up by experts. He leaned back against the tree and switched to his second line of attack, learning more about his opponent. Korlth was prowling restlessly around the perimeter, and Kirk could see he took being trapped on planet as a personal affront.
Kirk wished he could put the picture out of his mind of Chekov climbing innocently to within signaling distance of the Enterprise only to find he had reached the KSwis instead; Scott would undoubtedly take the only action possible in an attempt to prevent the ensign being beamed to interrogation and torture, but it might not be enough. The thought of his young navigator being subjected to the full attention of Imperial Intelligence made Kirk shiver. Once any of them were aboard the Klingon ships, they would be beyond rescue. Korlth would only have to use one ship to block the Enterprise as the other escaped with the captives. And I dont know what Scotts facing up there! Two ships, but are they Birds of Prey or battlecruisers? If they were battlecruisers, I wouldn't have a ship by now!
Korlth looked at Kea, who had appeared at his elbow.
"Captain, I have repeated the message three times. May I ask if you wish me to continue or begin making a landing strip?" Kea gestured around him. "The shuttle cannot land anywhere close to this position, Captain."
Korlth knew he should have thought of that. Anger rose for a moment, but Kea had had the sense to put matters so that he did not lose face before his own crew or his Starfleet captives. "Tell me how you would go about it?"
"I have never dealt with such a matter, Captain. I ask advice."
Korlth nodded more genially. "What height would you estimate one of these trees to be?"
"Perhaps as much as two hundred cams, Captain." Kea did not have the slightest idea, but he was not going to admit that.
"Possibly." Korlth gazed up into the branches in a way that told the watching Enterprise party he did not have the slightest idea either.
Kirk doubted if he could do anything to save one of the leviathans, but a career of preserving life forms rather than killing them impelled him to try. "Korlth, weve worked out these trees are probably twenty thousand years old. You cant cut one down just to suit your own convenience."
That earned him a kick in the ribs. "I can do whatever I wish on a planet that now belongs to the Empire. Kea, I do not want to waste disruptor power on this, but Starfleet phasers carry a powerful heat setting. Use that to cut down one tree, then we will see if we need to fell a second to give the shuttle enough space to land."
"If you intend to commit this deplorable act, might I suggest the tree behind you?" Spock entered the conversation.
Korlth whirled. "Why, Vulcan?"
"The trunk appears to be slightly narrower than this for one reason, and I am not leaning against it for another."
"I suppose I cannot argue with that." Korlth gave an unwilling laugh. "Cut down the smaller tree, Kea."
"Yes, Captain." Kea pointed the phaser at the tree and fired. Under the shocked eyes of the rest of the Klingons and the Enterprise team, the beam reflected back from the trunk and sliced him neatly in half; a surprised look on his face, Kea fell in two different directions.
"I can pick up the Human, Vulcan and Klingon life signs, Mister Scott," Fenni broke the silence, a choked note in his voice.
Scott thought he knew what it meant. "And?"
"Theyre all in the same place. I can detect nine Klingons and one Vulcan but only four Human life signs."Fennis dark eyes held sheer misery.
"What happened?" Korlth screamed as he turned towards the stunned group from the Enterprise. "Vulcan, was this a plot?"
"Not at all. The trees are all of the same species, and nothing in my analysis suggested such a result. I did not want to see you cut down a tree, but I did not see any reason why you could not."
"So what happened?" Korlth waved an angry hand in the direction of what was left of one of his junior officers; his death was a loss to the Empire. "Was it something about your weapon?"
"Show me the setting Kea used," Spock requested. "No, this is straightforward. I cannot offer a reason, either from my scans of the trees or from the setting on the phaser why it should not have cut into the wood."
Korlth looked up at the hidden sky in frustration. The KSwis should already have launched the shuttle. He had to clear a landing space. "Meksa, try your disruptor."
"Yes, Captain." Meksas face did not show any misgivings he might have had; he disappeared as the disruptor beam rebounded.
Chekov stopped his long climb; for the first time since he had left the planets surface he could see something other than the tree he was climbing and the identical trees that surrounded it. The whole area above him seemed to consist of glittering silvery strands stretching from one branch to another and from one tree to another in complicated but definite patterns. Where the sunlight broke through the strands reflected the spectrum and the ensign decided he had finally discovered what was blocking their ability to contact the Enterprise.
"But that doesnt make sense," Chekov told himself. "Why should the strands only block sensors working one way? I wish I could tell Mister Spock what Ive found."
He analyzed the strands carefully, only to find they were entirely natural; he could not imagine how they had managed to block his communicator and tricorder but a check showed that he still could not speak to the Enterprise or reach the landing party.
Chekov saw a small gap and studied it uncertainly as he tried to decide if he was small enough to get through without touching anything. He decided he had to risk it. They could actually die on the planet unless they could beam back or find a source of water and food; contacting the Enterprise was the best hope of either. He began to edge slowly through the small gap.
A strand detached itself from the main body and drifted gently down towards him. Chekov bent slightly and tried to waft it away, but it settled across his shoulder. The ensign tried to edge away; it took only seconds to see that was not going to work. The strand had managed to stick to his shirt and when he tried to brush it off, his hand stuck too. Even a slight tug told him the strand did not intend to release him, but he tried a harder one; Chekov wanted to get loose without damaging the strands, but his movement set all the strands around him trembling, and he stopped and forced himself to remain still as he realized what he had done.
As he tried to decide what to do next, a spider a meter across and as iridescent as the webbing appeared in front of him. It was quickly followed by a dozen others, each dangling on its own iridescent thread.
I think I would like the captain and the others to become very worried about me right this minute!
"Captain," Sulus voice was barely more than a whisper. "I wish I didnt keep thinking of Chekov climbing down that tree into this mess."
"Seems to be all I can think of, too," Kirk said.
"Best we can hope for is to warn the boy." McCoy could imagine what Korlth would do if they did but he knew the ensign would do the same for any of them. "Hes the only one with a chance of escaping this." He raised his voice. "Captain Korlth, a word with you, if you please?"
Korlth scowled blackly down at them. "Yes? If you are about to plead for your miserable lives, dont bother. They are already lost."
"Wasnt going to waste my breath," McCoy agreed amiably. "Just wanted to point out that if you planned to keep us in good condition, it would be a good idea to untie us in turn and let us get our circulation back. We could be here for days yet, and you wont want to end up having to carry us."
Korlth surveyed the doctor for a moment. "Only a weak Starfleet fool would allow themselves to be captured in the first place. A true warrior would die rather than live as a captive. You may have the space between this tree and the next. Try to escape, and I will make sure you never walk again."
"Id say that since we cant get off this planet, we dont have anywhere to escape to," Kirk pointed out.
The Klingon captain looked scornfully at his Starfleet counterpart. "Was that why we found you all sitting passively waiting for rescue?"
"We werent. We were just taking a break as wed been walking for the best part of six hours." Kirks calmness concealed the sudden surge of hope for his young navigator. If he could only persuade Korlth to leave this site, it would at least give Chekov the chance to reach the ground without being captured. "When we found we couldnt contact the Enterprise, we decided our best chance was to find an open area."
"I do not see any break in the trees."
"You didnt let me finish. If you take note of the ground, it slopes a little. I considered we had a better chance of finding water, perhaps a large enough area of open water to let us contact my ship."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Because I was hoping youd calmed down enough after two deaths to realize were all in the same mess. Perhaps you didnt bring a science officer, but I did and Commander Spock cant find a reason why we cant contact the Enterprise."
"I do not need to work with Starfleet to escape this. The KSwis is sending a shuttle even as we speak. It does make sense, however, to find an open space for it to land. We will move down your slope, Kirk, and I hope you and your weaklings enjoy the walk." Korlth gestured to his guards. "Untie them."
No one cared very much for the reason, despite the agony of returning circulation. Their captivity had become increasingly painful, and they all knew what the consequences of being tied so tightly for hours would have been.
"Keep looking up at the trees and around us as well," Kirk ordered softly. "If anyone gets the opportunity to warn Chekov, take it. I dont know what hell do if he finds out weve been captured by Klingons, but its probably not anything I want to visualize."
Korlth studied Spock for a moment. "I do not understand Vulcans. You are stronger than Humans. Why have you not enslaved them?"
"Vulcans do not practice slavery, and it is unwise to assume that mere physical strength equates with superiority. I can offer a number of planets as examples."
Korlth glowered. "The Starfleeters involved must have had some advantage."
"Indeed they did," Spock informed him. "They used their intelligence."
"Be careful, Vulcan, or I might decide not to bother keeping a science officer alive."
"It is illogical to close to your mind to unpalatable facts merely because they are unpalatable."
Korlth swung a furious fist, only to find the Enterprises first officer absorbed the blow without moving. He glared for a moment before stalking away. His men eyed him warily and were careful not to catch his eye.
"Spock, I dont want you to think I didnt appreciate the conversation, but just be careful, right?" McCoy looked at the Vulcan anxiously. "That is one frustrated Klingon over there, and his temper is only going to get worse!"
"I agree, Doctor, but I would surmise our best chance of escape is if we can persuade Korlth to work with us. He will not do that as long as he thinks of us as weak. Once he finds his shuttle cannot reach the planet, I suggest you try again, Captain."
"Its a good enough strategy, Spock," Kirk agreed. "It would have an even better chance of working if we could think of anything to offer that might get us both back to our ships."
"At the moment, Captain, I regret to say I cannot think of anything."
"Nor me, and well have to handle him carefully. I keep thinking of those tales of how Klingon captains react when theyre irritated."
Chekov kept very still as he watched the huge spiders as intently as they seemed to be watching him. Apart from the difference in size, they seemed identical to Earth spiders. The arachnids had eight jointed legs attached to their bodies and their heads had eight eyes; if these beings resembled Earth spiders in more than appearance then they were predators and by pulling at the thread that clung to him he had just sent out the signal they had trapped prey.
If they were intelligent, then he had to prove to beings that had never seen a Human before that he was also an intelligent being, and he had hardly offered any evidence of that by getting himself trapped in their web. His best hope, Chekov knew, was if he did not resemble their prey in any way. He found being studied by eight eyes at a time distinctly unnerving; his knowledge of how Earth spiders dealt with their prey was even less reassuring.
"I hope you are intelligent beings, too. I promise you I do not intend any harm towards you. I climbed up this tree only to see if I could find a way through the interference that is blocking my attempts to talk to my ship." Chekov paused to eye the arachnids hopefully. "I have a device called a universal translator. It is designed to allow beings to talk, even those who look as different from each other as we do. To work, it needs to hear your language too. If you will speak to me for a few minutes, it will match your language to mine and then we will be able to talk to each other. I would very much like to be able to talk to you. Meeting other intelligent beings and learning about them and about their planets and their way of life is what I trained to do and how I plan to spend my life."
The closest spider suddenly clicked its mandibles so loudly it made the ensign jump. "Greetings to you, Ensign Pavel Andreievich Chekov of Starfleet."
Chekov took a breath as the alien revealed it not only knew his full name but could already address him in perfect Standard. "Greetings to the beings of this planet. May I know to whom I speak, if it does not offend your customs to reveal names?"
"I am Lortha of the Lycorya."
"I am Laisan of the Lycorya."
"I am Lutinia of the Lycorya."
Somewhat to Chekovs relief, none of the others gave their names. Three aliens were enough to begin with, until he learned how to tell them apart. "Is it correct for me to address you by your names?"
"May I ask how you knew my full name?" Chekov could think of only one way the Lycorya could have learned that and he was not sure he was ready for the implications.
"We accessed the computer on the Enterprise."
"And may I also ask if you have genders and if it is permissible to ask? If I know, I will be able to refer to you correctly." His question produced a reaction far in excess of what Chekov had hoped for. All the Lycorya began to click their mandibles and he added hastily, "I think I have offended you. If I have, it was unintentional, and I apologize."
"You have not offended us, Ensign Chekov," Lortha answered. "We appreciate the courtesy that led to the question. You did startle us, however, as only female Lycorya are intelligent. May I ask your gender?"
"Im a male. Humans are mammals, and we have two sexes."
"We had long since decided that other intelligent races must exist and that they would not resemble us. We were prepared for your strange appearance, but not for your question about gender. The most startling thing about you is that you are both male and intelligent. Remain still." Lortha began a crooning call and after a moment the other Lycorya joined in.
Within a few minutes Chekov saw movement in the branches behind the females as several much smaller spiders appeared. They varied wildly in color; one was a brilliant crimson, the one that climbed neatly down the long thread to join Lortha was bright yellow. Most joined the females, but several chose to descend the thread that held Chekov in place and then to clamber over him.
Lortha was stroking the spider that clung to her. "You may remain still or soothe the males as I soothe mine. They are unintelligent, as is shown by the fact that they do not remember that each time they are called it may be their last. They are kept as pets until it is time to mate, and then it is biologically necessary for us to kill and eat them to ensure our eggs receive the essential nutrients."
"Humans are mammals, as I told you." Chekov stroked the closest male gently; the male seemed to like being stroked, too. He clicked tiny mandibles rhythmically in apparent pleasure and the other males who were clinging to the ensign tried to get closer so that he would stroke them too. Chekov tried to distribute his favors so that none of the males felt left out. "The females bear live young, usually one at a time."
"One?" Laisans tone managed to convey sheer astonishment. "One young at a time. How many during a females lifetime?"
"Most choose to rear one or two. Three or four is quite common, but more than that is unusual," Chekov answered. "Because both sexes are needed to raise the young, it is necessary for both sexes to be intelligent."
"And do you have equal roles in other things?" Lortha enquired. "Your landing party consists entirely of males, does it not?"
"Yes. That is purely coincidental though. Females have equal roles and take part in as many landing parties as males," Chekov said.
"How were the people selected for this one?" Lutinia went on.
"Captain Kirk has only been in command of the Enterprise for a short time. He and Commander Spock, the first officer, are still learning how they each work and how to work together, something that is very important for the smooth running of a ship. For the same reason the captain assigned Lieutenant Sulu, who is one of his bridge officers. Im one of the most inexperienced officers so he brought me partly to give me experience and partly to let me also learn to work with Commander Spock. He knows of my interest in the sciences and is encouraging me. Ensign Clevedons performance has improved greatly and Captain Kirk wanted to show he had noticed that. Doctor McCoy came to care for anyone injured."
"You carry a weapon, Ensign Chekov. You all carry weapons."
"For self defense. Exploring unknown planets is not a safe occupation. I do not mean your people any harm, Lutinia. None of us mean you any harm." Chekov hesitated, before he decided he had to continue. "I must ask you though, that if you decide to speak to the other members of the landing party, you will allow me to describe your appearance to them first?"
"I do not understand."
No, and I dont want to explain, but when I think how some people react to spiders, I must. Chekov took a breath. This was not going to do much to make the Lycorya think of Humans as reasonable, intelligent people but even Humans who could control their fear of spiders were likely to lose it if they met the Lycorya face to face without prior warning. "On my home planet, there are tiny creatures called spiders who resemble you, and, for a reason no one really understands, many Humans have an irrational fear of them. I dont know if any of the landing party have this fear, but if they did and they suddenly saw you, they might react in way that would hurt you. I dont want that. They wouldnt want to harm an intelligent being either, and with a warning, they would be able to control their reaction."
"I appreciate your concern for our safety." Lortha observed.
"We truly do not mean you and your people any harm."
"We have not decided yet if we mean you and your people harm, Ensign Chekov, but we are prepared to discuss the matter."
"I hope we have not offended you by visiting your world uninvited, Lortha. It is not our way to do so, but we did not know that an intelligent race lived on this planet."
"When you do know," Lutinia asked, "do you leave them in peace?"
"When we can detect from space that an intelligent race exists, and we can contact them with a signal, then we ask for permission to beam down. If that permission is refused, then we leave the system. When it is a race such as yourselves whom we cannot detect before we land on the planet, then we will ask if you are willing for us to visit and meet you. Again, if you refuse and if you tell us you do not want any further contact, we will leave and never come back, once you allow us to contact our ship."
Iridescent mandibles clicked in what the ensign hoped was amusement. "Later," Lutinia told him. "You have just shown you are not stupid and you show entirely admirable ethics, but we would still wish to learn more of you first, before we decide if you will be allowed to live at all. You do not mind us learning about you in the same way you wish to learn about us?"
"Not at all. Do you wish me to ask the others to come and talk to you too?"
"For the moment, we wish just to talk to you, Ensign Chekov," Lortha answered. "You called us an intelligent race, but we do not resemble you in any way. How can you say that?"
"Very easily," Chekov told her. "You know I belong to Starfleet. May I ask if you also know of the Federation Starfleet officers are pledged to serve?"
"We know something of it, from your ship computer banks. Tell us more."
"It is an association of intelligent beings of many different races who are committed to the ideal of living in peace with each other. It is in the hope of meeting such people as yourselves that the Enterprise has been assigned to spend the next five years exploring areas on the boundaries of the Federation."
"You have met other races as different to you as we are?" Laisan asked.
"Several. I really need to show you their appearance though, to illustrate what Im saying."
"If we free you to use the tricorder, we also free you to use the weapon you carry," Lutinia pointed out. "The weapon you did not mention until we did."
"I didnt mention it because I dont have any intention of using it. Im certainly not stupid enough to think that attacking someone is the best way to make friends with them. Surely you dont think Im stupid enough to attack you when Im up a tree hundreds of meters above the ground, where youre evolved to survive and Im not?"
"No, I do not think you are as stupid as that, Ensign." Lortha gestured and one of the Lycorya produced a canister and sprayed the ensign. Within a few seconds, Chekov found he could move his left hand again, and he had to grab for support as he slipped. He was not certain whether he found the claw that promptly seized his arm comforting or not. He steadied himself and thanked the Lycorya who had helped him before he activated his tricorder.
He looked at Lortha. "I dont know anything of your technology."
"You worked out quickly enough we are responsible for the fact you cannot talk to your ship," Lortha told him. "That is one reason I do not think you stupid, so you know we have technology."
"This time I was thinking more of a larger screen than the tricorder possesses so that I can show you all properly," Chekov explained, as he unobtrusively stretched his cramped muscles and wondered what other reasons Lortha had and if he really wanted to know what they were. "If you had something suitable I could either link up with it or project the pictures onto a flat surface."
"Wait a moment." Lortha swung away with the others. As the fascinated ensign watched and recorded, eight Lycorya quickly spun a screen as smooth and as large as the bridge viewscreen of his ship. "Your tricorder will link with the screen, and you may access the computer on your ship."
"May I explain to the Enterprise whats happening?" Chekov asked hopefully.
"Not yet," Lortha told him. "Go on."
"What of your relations with the Klingons?" Lortha asked, as his account ended. "I am still unsure if you are entirely enemies?"
Chekov wished the question had not sent such an icy shiver down his spine; he had not mentioned Klingons. "Will you please let me warn my friends on the ground? I wont tell them anything about you, but theyre in danger, and its my duty to warn them of that."
"That was quick," Lutinia approved. "You worked out very swiftly why we asked you about the Klingons, Ensign Chekov."
"Your friends are not in danger, and I promise you they will not be harmed until we have decided what to do about you," Lortha assured him. "My question?"
"Thank you." Chekov thought for a moment before he gave a brief outline of the Klingon Empire. "Lortha, I warned you some members of my landing party might be upset by your appearance, but once they know you are intelligent, none of them will harm you. Even if they know you are intelligent beings, the Klingons will probably still shoot you on sight. Youll have to be very careful if you approach them."
"As weve both begun to explore the space between us, weve come more and more into conflict over the past few years. The Klingons seem to want a war of conquest and many people in the Federation are starting to believe war is unavoidable. Were committed to peace, but we will fight when we have to. Because Starfleet and the Federation dont fight without trying other solutions first, the Klingons think were weak. Were not. We fight when we have cause, to the death if necessary."
"I think we of the Lycorya are less peaceful than you, Ensign, but I can see the logic in what you say," Lortha remarked. "Tell us more of the Federation."
Kirk looked anxiously at his people as the long trek continued, certain Korlth was so intent on proving Klingon superiority he had not stopped to consider they might be walking for days yet. He was worried that if McCoy could not keep up the pace Korlth had set, the Klingon would simply kill him. "Korlth, how about stopping for a break?"
"Dont you have any pride, Human?" Korlth had been waiting for just such a plea.
"Plenty," Kirk told him levelly. "My pride comes from taking care of my people, and Doctor McCoy in particular needs a break."
"Very well." Korlth watched scornfully as the members of the Enterprises landing party sank onto the ground. He walked over to kick at McCoys foot. "Perhaps I should kill you now, rather than let you slow us down."
"You dont need to do that." Clevedon looked up from where he was massaging McCoys calves. "If Doctor McCoy cant keep the pace you choose to set, well carry him."
"For how long?" Korlth recognized the look in the Humans eyes; he was the type of warrior he could understand.
"As long as necessary." Kirk did not intend to allow the ensign to face up to Korlth alone. "It isnt a habit of Starfleet to leave their people behind."
"That I can respect," Korlth admitted unwillingly. "And it isnt a habit of the Klingon people to harm a nada a doctor, as you call them. How long had you been on theplanet before you were captured?"
"About six hours." Unless he was very much mistaken, Kirk was talking to someone who did not have the slightest idea what to do next; he had already told Korlth that. "Id be glad to find some water. We could be looking at a trek of days, perhaps weeks. Untouched forests such as these can stretch for hundreds of kilometers. Our scans certainly showed the ones here do."
"And yet you beamed down?" Korlth challenged.
"For the same reason you did. Nothing in our scans showed wed have any problems beaming back when we wanted."
"Where is that shuttle? Come, we have given you Starfleet weaklings long enough to rest. We move on!"
Clevedon hauled the exhausted McCoy back to his feet. "Are you all right to keep moving, Doctor?"
"Yes, thanks." McCoy had previous experience of a body carry, one he was not anxious to repeat, but after some twelve hours on theplanet, he had begun to ask himself how much longer he could keep up this difficult walk. They were all becoming dehydrated, but so far they had not seen even a hint of water. He lined up with the others, but it took only a few meters for all the prisoners to notice that Korlth was setting a far slower pace. He had at least listened to how long this hike might take. "Wonder how long weve got before it gets dark?"
"Some five point six hours, Doctor," Spock said. "However " He broke off as they rounded a particularly large trunk to see that at last there was something other than unbroken forest ahead of them. Long, glistening strands hung from the trees.
"What is it?" Korlth demanded as he halted.
Kless was eying the strands as uneasily as his captain. "I do not know, Captain. Perhaps some form of life?"
"I worked that out, fool!" Korlth snarled. "What sort?"
"If you return my tricorder, I may be able to answer that," Spock suggested.
"Why should you offer to help us, Vulcan?" Korlth whirled, his black eyes dangerous.
"I am not offering to help you, Klingon. I am attempting to carry out my duty to protect my shipmates. An inimical form of life is as much a risk to us as it is to you. I might be able to determine if it would be prudent to retrace our steps."
"Are you suggesting that Klingons retreat from danger?" Korlth hissed.
"I am assuming that if the danger is great enough you will show sufficient intelligence to get out of its way." Spock did not take a single step back from the infuriated Klingon.
Korlth turned to gesture angrily to the guard carrying the Starfleet equipment. "Give the Vulcan his tricorder."
Kirk knew just how much their chances of understanding what was happening had increased as Spock began to take readings.
"Well?" Korlth demanded impatiently.
"The strand is made of a natural substance, but I am unable to determine its components." Spock tilted the tricorder upwards to scan the branches. "Nor can I detect any sign of the creatures that produced it. My scans show open water ahead, however."
"How do I know youre not lying?"
"Because it would be pointless for me to do so. Examine my findings. A tricorder is not difficult to use, even by the untrained and ignorant."
"Jim," McCoy sidled up to Kirk, his voice anxious. "Tell Spock to stop insulting that Klingon. Sooner or later Korlths going to realize hes being called an idiot!"
Kirk had divided his anxieties between the members of his landing party who were still with him and the one who was not; now he seemed to be putting Spock into a separate category for additional worrying. "Im more concerned about what those strands might mean for Chekov. We hadnt heard from him for a while even before the Klingons turned up."
"But Spocks tricorder hadnt picked up a sign of life," McCoy protested.
"I should have gone up after him when he didnt report in the second time." A certain sensation between his shoulder blades insisted that something was watching him. Kirk could not believe he had so blithely assumed Chekov had simply entered azone of signal interference without going to check. The ensign could have been desperately signaling for help and none of them would have known. "Instead I leapt to the unfounded belief hed just got out of signaling range, and I didnt bother to check. My fault."
"Dont blame yourself too much, Jim. You may have sent that boy to his death, but it was probably an easier death than the one were facing."
"Only if Korlth can get us back to his ship, Doctor," Sulu put in quietly. "At the moment, he cant even get us off this planet."
"You dont think that shuttle is coming either, Mister Sulu?"
"I dont understand whats going on here, Captain, any more than you do, but I dont expect that shuttle to appear any time soon. I dont even think Korlth expects it to turn up."
"It certainly wont be landing anywhere close to us, if it does reach the planet," Kirk agreed.
"Do you think the strands pose any danger to us?" Korlth asked.
"I would postulate they will not, as long as we do not touch them," Spock answered. "The strands may be secreted by an arboreal life form or by the trees themselves. Observation may provide the answer."
"You are saying just wait and see?" Korlth knew the Federation and its Starfleet were weak, but this was beyond belief. He found himself hoping he would be in the first battle of the war; there would only be one. "That is not how Klingon warriors react. Kless, take a team and cut us a way through those strands."
"Yes, Captain. Morth, Marguk, come with me." Kless aimed his disruptor at the closest strand and fired; it shriveled into nothing in seconds.
"Lieutenant, look out! Behind you!"
Before Kless could turn, another strand had touched his back. Morth and Marguk were both firing at it but this time, the strand did not shrivel, it rose and Kless rose with it. With a courage the watching landing party from the Enterprise could admire, the two crewmen ran forwards, still firing their disruptors. Strands blowing in a wind no one could feel touched them and pulled them up into the tree too.
"Cut them down!" Korlth stared up into the tree where his men had vanished before he turned to Spock. "Can you find them? I do not leave my warriors to die either."
Spock moved until he was directly underneath the place where the three Klingons had disappeared. "I cannot detect any life signs, Korlth, Klingon or otherwise."
"If there was anything to find, I would be the first to climb."
"If you say the word, Captain, we will climb anyway," Kime told him to murmurs of agreement.
Korlth slapped him on the shoulder. He hoped the Starfleet people were learning from Klingon courage. It might even be useful to release the nada for other reasons when this was over; McCoys value would lie in telling the other weaklings in the Federation how futile it was to oppose the warriors of the Klingon Empire. "I would not dishonor you by ever thinking otherwise."
He turned back to Spock whom, he had to admit, did not seem at all afraid of standing in the position where he had just seen three Klingons captured. "You still think something hides up there, something alive that dares not face us?"
"I do not have any firm evidence life exists here, but this is a pleasant class M planet. Our sensors detected life forms, if the evidence they gave was reliable," Spock said.
Korlth gestured about him. "Your own captain described this forest as untouched. You know as well as I do that an advanced civilization leaves detectable traces. There is nothing here."
"Korlth, I can without effort name twenty-three advanced civilizations that do not present any sign they exist from orbit. I am not claiming that anything such as thoseexists here, merely that we would be wise not to discount the possibility. I do maintain that there is something here we do not understand."
Korlth eyed him in frustration for a moment, before he pointed to the left. "We will go that way."
Kirk met the eyes of his own people. Their expressions told him they were visualizing all too clearly a young navigator climbing cheerfully up into a tree at his captains order only to meet the same fate as the three Klingons. Chekov had not detected anything to alert him during the only report he had made, and it was now dismally obvious why he had never made another one.
"I know," he told them softly. "Lets just hope it was as quick for him as it was for the Klingons."
"Kirk, get moving," Korlth ordered savagely.
Kirk only nodded. He was too sick at the thought of Chekovs fate to argue it was pointless to continue. They could at least give themselves a chance of survival. "What do you think, Mister Spock? This certainly isnt the mission I planned for us to begin learning how we each work when exploring a planet."
"Indeed, Captain. The loss of Ensign Chekov is most...regrettable. He showed great promise."
"Im not ready to deal with Chekovs death just yet, Mister Spock. For the moment, Ill concentrate on the chances of getting everyone else back to the ship alive."
"I regret I cannot for the moment offer any suggestions as to how we may do that. The Klingons have left me my tricorder, however. I will do what I can to gather data."
"Korlth, I am detecting more evidence of the strands ahead of us," Spock reported. "They appear to be blocking our path in this direction."
"You are certain?" Korlth studied the readings. Much as he wanted to accuse the Vulcan of some plot to get the better of him, the readings were indisputable. "Then it would be better to go to the right."
Spock turned to survey the ground behind them. They had only transversed it a few minutes before, but now he could read that the way behind them was blocked. As everyone watched, he turned and scanned the only remaining way of escape. "It appears we will not be going anywhere."
"Well, at least I get the chance to rest my aching feet." McCoy did not know what they were going to face next, and he was too weary to care. He sank down against the nearest tree trunk.
Korlth glared at him. "I did not say you could rest."
"Well, you just tell me what else we can do, and Ill do it. I sure dont intend going anywhere near those webs, thats for sure."
"Be careful, Doctor, lest I toss you into one for annoying me," Korlth warned. The other members of the Starfleet landing party were sinking down now, but it did not seem worth the trouble of telling them to stand up again.
He had learned an unwilling respect for most of them over the past hours, enough to know that if they saw any escape from this trap they would share it, but none of them seemed to have any ideas. He decided it was a good opportunity to demonstrate Klingon endurance; he did not want the Starfleet personnel getting any ideas because their numbers were now equal. His men still held the disruptors.
"Kime, divide the men into two teams. They may stand alternate perimeter watches. We do not know what we yet have to face. It makes sense to have everyone as rested as possible."
"You are getting very tired, Ensign Chekov," Lortha remarked. "Your voice is changing."
Chekov was so tired after his physical exertion and then the strain of talking to the Lycorya for what seemed to be hours, it was becoming an effort to think at all. He thought it was fortunate that the Federations principles and criteria for admitting new races had been so thoroughly inculcated at the Academy, he could recite them even when he was in danger of falling asleep. "Ive had a very long day, Lortha. Ive been talking so much I sound hoarse, but Im still willing to talk to you."
"We will give you some more water, but our food is not suitable for your metabolism. When you have drank, you may sleep. We will wake you when we wish to talk again." Lortha surveyed the young officer for a moment. "How do Humans sleep?"
"Usually in an artificial structure called a bed on which we can rest horizontally." Chekov was grateful for the chance to rest, but he was far from certain of his ability to do so without falling out of the tree. "When we sleep, we do change position without waking so would you be kind enough to attach a thread to me and to the tree so that I dont fall?"
"Stand up for a moment." As Chekov complied, Lortha studied him again before she quickly wove a hammock around him and suspended it from a branch and added a couple of threads to make certain he could not fall out. "There, I do not wish you to fall from the tree either."
"Thank you." Chekov grinned wearily at her. "I probably would have." Thankfully, he drained the canteen she had given him. The thought of how far he was above the ground did not cross his mind as he allowed his eyes to close; he was sound asleep in seconds.
Chekov jerked awake as he heard screaming to find he was not alone in the hammock any longer. His hand went automatically to his phaser, only to find he could not reach it through the bodies of the male Lycorya who had decided to share the hammock with him. There were so many of them he could not sit up; Chekov did not want to frighten them, but he badly wanted to know what was happening.
"I am sorry the Klingons woke you, Ensign Chekov." A Lycorya appeared next to him.
"It doesnt matter. May I ask what is happening?"
"We decided it was time to talk to some of the Klingons, before they killed any more of each other," the Lycorya answered.
"Im sorry, but I havent learned to tell you apart yet," Chekov confessed. "May I know which Lycorya you are?"
"What do you mean, before they killed any more of each other, Lortha?" Chekov asked. "I know Klingon captains sometimes kill subordinates, but surely they arent stupid enough to do that on a planet where theyre facing an unknown situation?"
"Not precisely," Lortha said. "They attempted to cut down one of our trees. We stopped them. It cost two Klingons their lives. I think your Starfleet friends deduced something from that, but I am not as sure the Klingons did."
"Lortha, Im quite sure you and your people are more than capable of defending yourselves, but you will remember what I told you about the way the Klingons will react to you, wont you?" Chekov looked at her anxiously. "I dont want any of your people to be hurt, and the males might not understand in time to get out of the way."
Lortha patted him gently with her front leg. "I think most of the males are here with you, so dont worry about them. They can move very quickly, and they have their own methods of defense." She turned slightly, as the screams grew louder. "Stay where you are for the moment and rest. You may watch on screen and talk to us if you wish. What you say will not be heard by the Klingons."
If anyone had ever told Kless he would one day be screaming in terror because a childhood tale was coming true he would have killed them with his bare hands, but Hsa legends were part of every childs upbringing. Kless managed to stop screaming as the terrifying rise into the trees stopped and his feet found a broad branch. As the two crewmen appeared next to him, he pulled at the strand attached to his uniform; it snapped in his hands, and he flung it away triumphantly. He was encouraged to see Morth and Marguk were beginning to recover their own wits.
Morth took a great gulp of air as he freed himself from the strands. "Orders?"
"I will report to the captain, and then we will find what did this to us. We will make it regret it dared to interfere with the new rulers of its miserable planet," Kless stated. "Our duty is clear. Our removal has evened the odds on the surface. Five Klingons should still be more than a match for five Starfleeters, but the captain has valuable captives, so we will deal with whatever did this and return."
He whirled, at the imminent risk of falling off the branch, as Marguk screamed. The Lycorya were dropping down on their threads to surround the Klingons as they had surrounded Chekov. Marguk already had his disruptor out; he fired, only to find it had been drained of power. Kless whipped out his own disruptor and fired at the image from the nightmares of his childhood to find his weapon was as powerless as Marguks. Morth moaned and sank down onto the branch; Kless was terrified himself, but he found the courage from somewhere to pull Morth back onto his feet and shake him. "If you are going to die, die on your feet as a Klingon warrior should."
"I am sorry, Lieutenant. I will not behave so dishonorably again. Do you think these creatures could be some of the talking animals the Federation so delights in calling their equals?"
"If they know of our legends about Hsa, it could be a trick."
"They are but childrens tales, Lieutenant," Morth answered stoutly. "Bring me an army of Hsa, and I will face them. There is also the question of our disruptors. They did not have any reason to lose power."
"True." Kless surveyed the silent Lycorya uneasily. "These animals are revolting in shape, but they have devices that would be of use to the Empire. We will take not only the planet, but we will show these animals the power of Klingon warriors. They will gladly serve us."
"Chekov, are these idiots typical of Klingons?" Lorthas voice echoed in the ensigns ear.
"A lot of that could be bravado," Chekov suggested doubtfully. "Would you like me to try talking to them and explain who you are?"
"They must accept us as we are. I will try to speak to them."
"Be careful," Chekov pleaded. "You might have drained their disruptors, but theyll have other weapons."
"They will regret it if they try to use them."
Lortha swung closer to the three Klingons. "Why have you come to my world?"
Kless felt his mind swirl as the beings changed from the creatures of his grandfathers stories to beings who dared to speak to him in his own tongue. He clung to duty. "We came to claim this world for the Klingon Empire. You are fortunate that you will be permitted to live and serve us as slaves."
"And if we choose to enslave you instead?" Lutinia asked.
"It is impossible to enslave Klingons," Kless proclaimed. "We are superior to everyone else. In time, our Empire will cover the whole galaxy."
"Then prove your superiority and contact your ship," Lortha suggested.
Kless glared at her. "Do not dare to challenge the might of the Klingon Empire, creature, or you will only be allowed to live long enough to regret it."
"How do you intend to enforce these threats, Klingon?" Lortha asked. "Your weapons are powerless; you cannot talk to your ships."
"Ships?" Kless picked up on that. "You know we have more than one ship? You are in league with those Starfleet weaklings, arent you?"
"No. My people are deciding whom we will allow to leave this system alive. You and your kind do not greatly impress us with your intelligence," Lutinia told him.
"Klingon warriors do not need intelligence, only courage!"
"Ensign Chekov, is he serious?" Lorthas voice sounded in Chekovs ear again.
"I dont think he meant it to sound quite like that, Lortha." Chekovs laughter changed to alarm as one of the males dropped to land on Marguks shoulder. "Get him away, Lortha, quickly! Hes in danger!"
Marguk gave one scream as he seized the male and ripped off his legs before he flung the tiny body down onto the branch and stamped it into oblivion. "Die, Hsa! Die!"
Within seconds, he found himself caught by a thread that carried him towards the waiting Lycorya. Chekov had known from the beginning the Lycorya were dangerous, but as he watched, sickened by what had happened, their stillness seemed far more menacing than when they had first faced him.
"You tore the limbs from a living male. It is only fitting we do the same to you."
Kirk was sleeping so lightly he woke the moment he heard the shout of alarm from the Klingon on watch. He saw the guard looking upwards, trying to decipher what the sounds he could hear meant. He looked at Spock. "Somethings falling?"
"But not, I would estimate, one of the Klingons. It lacks the mass."
"Just a branch falling naturally?" Sulu and Clevedon were awake, too. They both looked at Kirk, ready for anything he had in mind. But before he could respond the object landed close to them, and they could all see what it was. Kirk knew the horrified expressionon the faces of Sulu and Clevedon was matched by his own.
McCoy woke to a rough Klingon shake. "What is it?"
Korlth was standing over him, his expression truly terrifying. "Come, Doctor. I need your expertise."
The doctor looked around blearily. "What happened? Someone hurt?"
Kirk was on his feet quickly. "An arm just landed over there, Bones."
"And I will know what happened to my warrior," Korlth added, thrusting McCoys medical kit into his hands.
The doctor simply nodded and walked over to where a well-muscled arm lay on the ground. He had barely reached it when a second landed a few feet away. He winced as a leg thudded to the ground; it seemed all too probable that somewhere back in the forest a young ensigns limbs also lay on the ground, and the thought of Chekov meeting such a fate made him shudder.
"Three of my warriors were captured, Doctor, and I thought them dead. I need to know if these limbs are from one or all. If the others are still alive, I am going up that tree after them."
For the first time, Korlth sounded as if he was someone with whom Kirk could work. The captain of the Enterprise certainly did not find anything in Korlths priorities with which to quarrel. If there had been a chance of locating the tree he had told Chekov to climb, he would be demanding the right to go back and find his ensign.
McCoy only nodded again as he completed his examination and studied the information gathered by his medical tricorder. "This isnt easy to say. The remains are all of one person. All four limbs were ripped off while he was still alive."
"There will be a price to be paid for this." Korlth studied the captain of the Enterprise. "I thought to see revulsion in your face for the way Marguk died, not the grief I read. There are other members of your crew on planet, arent there? You believe they met the same fate as Marguk? It was a good enough strategy to remain silent, Kirk, and hope your warriors rescued you before it was too late. Now their remains lie on the surface of this accursed planet with those of Marguk. If you will climb the trees with me, I will return your weapons. You may at least die as warriors."
"I do not think climbing the trees is advisable, Korlth," Spock said.
"Afraid to die, Vulcan?" Korlth snarled.
"Not at all, Klingon. I have, however, every objection to dying either pointlessly or needlessly. Whatever life forms inhabit the trees, they object to their habitat being harmed. Your crew first died when two tried to cut down a tree; three more were attacked when they attempted to cut a way through the strands. I do not doubt your warriors tried to fight whatever abducted them, but I did not detect any disruptor fire. I would suggest you check to see if your remaining weapons are operational without, however, firing at either the trees or the strands."
"At once, Captain." Kime drew his disruptor and aimed it directly at the ground. It worked perfectly, and he directed a ferocious grin at Spock. "So much for that idea, Starfleet coward."
"Do you wish to fire at a tree and see if your weapon still works?" Spock enquired. "Remember what happened to the last Klingon that didthat."
Kime looked uncertainly at his commander. "Captain?"
"Not yet, Kime." Korlth surveyed the Starfleet group once more. "Kirk, you have a choice. You can either climb with us as warriors, armed and ready to fight, or die. I will not leave you here unattended."
Kirk did not have any faith in Korlths plan, but it offered the only chance of keeping his people alive long enough to find a way out of this. "If we do meet whoever is behind this, will you at least let us try to talk to them before you start killing everything in sight?"
"I do not have your liking for talking to animals."
"I dont have your liking for sacrificing my people needlessly," Kirk retorted. "It would make sense to wait until the light improves."
"We are sorry the death of the Klingon upset you so much." Lutinia offered another canteen, and the ensign took it gratefully.
Chekov had thought his stomach was strong enough to take anything after some of the sights he had encountered already. There had still been something about the cold dispassion of the Lycorya as they dismembered the Klingon that had had him retching painfully on his long-empty stomach.
"The punishment must equal the crime. The Klingon dismembered the male, and so was dismembered himself. He crushed the life out of the male and so had his own life taken." She turned to survey the two surviving Klingons. "If they call us animals, they will be treated as animals themselves."
"Lutinia, I have to tell you that the Klingons will send other landing parties. In fact, Im surprised they havent already. Have you stopped them?"
"Do you think us so powerful we can do that?"
"Nothing you are powerful enough to do would surprise me," Chekov said. "I must warn you that if you just kill the Klingons here, others will come, perhaps a whole fleet."
"And if we kill your party?" Lutinia asked. "If we destroy your ship?"
"I meant what I told you all earlier. All you have to say to Starfleet is that you dont wish for further contact." He looked at the two surviving Klingons, who seemed to be having something approaching hysterics as the Lycorya stripped off their uniforms. "Im still prepared to try and explain to them."
"Are you prepared to argue for them, Ensign Chekov?" the arachnid asked.
"Lutinia, before I answer that, I need to know if your people have made up your mind about mine? If you havent, then I have to do my best to save them. If youve decided you can trust Starfleet and the Federation as I hope, then yes, Im willing to do my best to bring you and the Klingons to some sort of agreement that they will leave your planet peacefully."
Her mandibles clicked in amusement. "I am not certain what kind of agreement you think you can bring about when they claim our planet as their own and call us animals, but you need not fear for your ship and yourselves. We like what you have told us, enough to consider joining your Federation. We will talk about that later when we have settled the matter of the Klingons. What do you propose?"
Kirk had told his inner clock to wake him at dawn, and it had obliged. Kirk had endured such uncomfortable nights before. If he survived his current predicament, he expected to have them again, but he was not going to pretend to like them. He saw Clevedon beginning some warm up exercises and joined him. Within moments, he found Sulu next to him. Grumbling from ground level indicated his chief medical officer was at least awake.
"How are we going to get the doctor up that tree, Captain?" Clevedon asked. "I dont know what problems well find up there, but just getting the doctor up there in one piece is one we know well face."
"It may have been a while, but I do remember how to climb a tree, Ensign. I admit I may need a hand here and there, but youre talking as if youre going to have to manhandle me up there." McCoy knew the growl in his voice was not entirely down to irritation. "Shouldnt we be thinking about how to deal with whatever we find up there?"
"Ready for whatever challenge we shall meet in the trees above us?" Korlth had found his observations of his captives interesting. Starfleet behavior was an odd mixture of that of warriors and the weakness he had been taught to expect.
"I still want to try talking to whoever we find."
Korlth whirled around. "What is that?"
Everyone was looking for the source of the screams when they saw the two Klingons reappear, each suspended from a strand. Whatever else had happened to them up in the trees, they had been stripped naked. If they had spent the night expecting to die as Marguk had, Kirk admitted they had ample justification for their terror.
McCoy stalked over to the Klingon who held his medical bag and wrenched it free; the young Klingon was too engrossed to notice. The doctor pulled out a sensor and hastily calibrated it before he turned it on the two suspended warriors. "Korlth, I cant find a thing wrong with either of them."
"Nothing?" Korlth did not seem aware of the fact McCoy had taken unilateral possession of his medical kit either. "They are Klingons, Doctor. Klingons rarely scream at all and only with good reason."
"Well, this sensor cant detect one. Though it doesnt take a doctor to know theyre terrified out of their wits!"
"Klingon warriors are never terrified out of their wits, Doctor," Korlth snarled and strode forward to seize Kless by the shoulder and haul him back to his feet. "Pull yourself together and tell me what happened?"
"Hsa! The trees are full of giant Hsa. They spoke to us. They took our uniforms and our weapons and equipment, and they spoke to us."
"Idiot!" Korlth shook the officer so hard his feet left the ground, before he tossed Kless away. "Hsa are nothing more than animals small enough to crush under a boot. Giant Hsa do not even exist. They are nothing more than a tale to frighten naughty children. What happened to you?"
"There are Hsa," Kless insisted. "There are giant Hsa on this planet, and they are going to eat us."
Korlth turned away from him in disgust to glare at the surviving guard. "I hope you are not going to tell me the same tale?"
"We did truly see giant Hsa in the trees, Captain, and they killed Marguk most horribly."
"We saw what was left. Tell me what actually happened and without any tales you remember from your mothers knee."
"Oh, Kless was telling the truth," a quiet voice interrupted. "He was just too frightened to see anything else."
"Chekov!" Kirks eyes lit.
Korlth was looking from one to the other as he tried to adjust to the unexpected turn of events. He had two warriors in such a state of terror they would be forever dishonored, and yet one young Starfleet officer sounded merely amused by their situation.
"So, boy, I suppose youve been sneaking along behind us for the past hours as you tried to work out a way to rescue your captain? You will need a better method than to approach Klingon warriors without a weapon in your hand. Imperial Intelligence will still be delighted by another line officer, even one so young he should still be at home with his mother. I am pleased to see you have the courage to attempt such a rescue, if not by the way you take us so lightly. You will learn better before you die."
"Oh, Im not here to rescue the rest of my landing party." Chekov earned himself astonished looks from his shipmates with that remarkable statement as well as the entire Klingon contingent. "I could have done that hours ago. Ive spent the last three hours trying to make sure you and your men get off this planet alive."
Korlth joined his men in simply gaping at the ensign as Chekov gestured to the long, glistening strands that surrounded them. "You must already know you cant communicate with your ships, and if youre still hoping for that shuttle to arrive, it isnt coming."
"How do you know that?" Korlth demanded. "How can you possibly know that unless you are in communication with the Enterprise and this is all a Federation plot?"
"Dont start all that rubbish about Starfleet secret weapons again." Chekov did not know how much time the Lycorya would grant him, but they already had a very low opinion of the Klingon trespassers. "We knew nothing more than you did when we beamed down to this planet."
He stopped as he saw the expressions on the faces in front of him. He followed their gaze upward to see one of the males dropping swiftly down on a thread to land on his shoulder. Chekov smiled and patted it, as he turned back.
Korlth pointed a finger that shook disgracefully. "I know the Federations love of animals. Are you going to claim that is an intelligent, thinking being?"
"No." Chekov reached up and stroked the bright scarlet male again as it chittered happily at him. "Korlth, theres an old Human poem."
"Poetry?" Korlth wondered if the young Human ensign was showing the terror and shock of his own men in a different way. "We face an enemy we cannot even see, let alone fight, boy, and you wish to talk of poetry?"
"The refrain is for the female of the species is deadlier than the male. No, this isnt an intelligent being; its a Lycorya male. They are non-sentient, and the females keep them as pets. The females are something else again, and I dont recommend you annoy them. Theyve granted me time to come and talk to you to convince you an intelligent race inhabits this planet, and you should leave peacefully."
"This planet is now part of the Klingon Empire. I have claimed it, and I will not relinquish that claim because a Starfleet child tells me I should." Korlth waved the preposterous claim away dismissively.
"Korlth, youve got to listen to me," the ensign pleaded. "I know about your shuttle, and I know you used a disruptor to signal for pickup because the Lycorya told me."
"This planet is now part of the Klingon Empire. I have claimed it in the name of the Empire," Korlth repeated in ringing tones.
"Will you just listen?" Chekovs temper was clearly beginning to go and, as Kirk studied him, he did not like the strain he could see in the young navigators face.
"And what of my warriors?" Korlth gestured angrily. "What of my dead? Marguk will be avenged."
The ensign pointed to the two naked Klingons. "Kless and Morth have been stripped of their uniforms because they still insisted the Lycorya were animals, so the Lycorya are treating them as animals, and animals dont wear clothes. Marguk died because when one of the males landed on his shoulder as this one did on mine, he panicked and ripped off the males limbs before he stamped the body into nothing. Lycorya law decrees the punishment must match the crime, and so the Lycorya ripped off his arms and legs and then sucked his body dry. Captain Korlth, the Lycorya are powerful enough to do whatever they wish on their world. Unless you accept them as intelligent beings, they will consider you animals, unintelligent creatures to do with as they wish. Are you prepared to listen to me?"
"I will listen." Korlth glared at him. "I want to know why you stand there so certain my disruptors cannot rip the life out of you. You may start with that."
"The Lycorya promised me they wouldnt allow your disruptors to harm me," Chekov replied calmly, and, as far as his captain was concerned, recklessly. "I trust them to keep their promise."
"How did you meet these so called people?" the Klingon captain demanded.
"Captain Kirk decided our best chance of contacting the Enterprise was for me to climb up one of the trees and try and get above whatever was blocking our communicators," Chekov began in some relief thathe had managed to start on his explanation at last.
"A sound enough idea."
Chekov nodded. "By the time Id climbed three hundred meters, I saw the same type of webbing you can see here."
"You climbed so high?" Korlth eyed the ensign in what the Enterprise personnel could see was genuine wonder.
"Yes. It wasnt that difficult. When I tried to find a way through it, I soon found myself entangled in a thread. I couldnt free myself and set the whole web shaking."
"Jim, do you think hes going to say next what I think hes going to say next?" McCoy whispered uneasily. "Because if he is, that type of life form has never been one of my favorites."
"It isnt you Im concerned about, Bones," Kirk answered. "Somethings got Chekov very worried, and its to do with the Klingon reaction."
"What did you do?" Korlth demanded. "A Klingon would have fought."
"Attacking whatever new life form I see before I learn anything about it isnt my preferred option," Chekov retorted. "The Lycorya appeared. Theyre arachnids; that is, they resemble the beings on my world we call spiders, as you can see." He glanced involuntarily at Kless and Morth. They were still visibly shaking. "I gather you have something similar on your home world?"
"Hsa They are giant Hsa," Morth moaned. "We are all going to be eaten alive."
"Not if youll only listen to me," Chekov said desperately. "The Lycorya are very angry with you for claiming their planet. They were going to kill you all out of hand when Kless and Morth refused to admit they were intelligent, but I persuaded them to wait and give you a chance to show you could accept that once you knew this planet was inhabited, youd be prepared to leave peacefully."
"Leave?" Korlth burst into raucous laughter. He was so overcome he did not notice that none of his men joined in. "Leave a planet I have claimed for the Empire to animals who resemble Hsa? Leave, because a Starfleet child tells me I must? You could have made better use of your last hours of freedom, boy, if you used them only to talk to animals."
"We told Ensign Chekov he was wasting his time in trying to convince you to leave peacefully, but he is very stubborn. He is also intelligent. Are you prepared to listen to Ensign Chekov, Klingons, or would you rather die?" a voice asked from somewhere above their heads.
"Come down and face me, whoever you are!" Korlth roared. "I cannot respect an enemy who dares not stand before me. You may be able to frighten a Starfleet baby, but you cannot frighten Klingons."
"I thought I already had," the voice remarked dispassionately. "It is not Ensign Chekov who shakes with fear. You both have beings on your worlds that resemble me; one faced us with courage, the others crumpled into fear so great they could not think at all."
Korlth glared at the Starfleet group, ready to kill them with his bare hands if he saw even the suspicion of a grin. "Klingons do not cower in fear. Know too that even if you succeed in killing the Klingon warriors on this planet, others will take our place. We will exterminate every animal on this world rather than yield a centimeter. This planet I have claimed for the Empire! It will remain part of the Empire. I will not abandon it."
"You will indeed not abandon it, Captain Korlth," The voice was merely amused now. "Without my word, you will never leave. So, you wish to see me?"
There was a movement in the tree above as an enormous spider appeared, followed by a number of others. If the male on Chekovs shoulder had startled everyone, the sight of the meter wide females shocked everyone but Kless into silence.
"Hsa!" Kless screamed as he seized a disruptor from one of the other Klingons and fired at one of the beings who had so terrified him. The beam did not reach the spider and before Kless could fire again, he found himself seized by a second spider. It lifted him effortlessly into the air before it sank its mandibles into his throat. As purple blood dripped onto the ground beneath, and Kless writhed, screaming helplessly, the giant arachnid began to glow.
"Kill it!" Korlth screamed. "Kill all of them!"
"Hit the deck!" Kirk yelled and took McCoy down with him. With panic-stricken Klingons firing wildly in all directions, there was only one moderately safe position, and he did not intend to give the doctor even a second to hesitate. The Lycorya might have promised Chekov he would not be harmed, but Kirk was not about to count on that promise extending to all his people. He felt gentle strands touch him, and within a few minutes, he knew he was as trapped as Chekov had described. Frantic Klingon cries certainly seemed to indicate the reason the disruptors had stopped firing, but he could not even lift his head to see.
"Just give me a minute, Captain," Chekovs welcome voice sounded above his head. "The Lycorya have given me the sprayer they used on me so I can free you all, but it was designed for claws, not fingers. Itll take me a moment to work out how to use it."
"I will help you, Chekov."
"Thank you, Lutinia."
Kirk felt a mist cover him for a few seconds, and then he was able to move once more. He scrambled to his feet. The remaining Klingons were so wrapped in thread they resembled mummies and giant spiders were suspending them from the branches of the trees; he knew only his young ensigns assurances had saved them from a similar fate. He took the canteen Chekov handed him gratefully and drank thirstily as he watched the ensign distribute others to the rest of the landing party. "Right, Mister Chekov, the first thing seems to be a report."
Chekov shook his head. "No, Captain. I assure you the first thing to do is find out if theres anyone in this landing party who cant face the idea of one of the Lycorya males coming to make friends. I need to know now if there is anyone who cant take this?" He reached up to stroke the male who was still chittering happily on his shoulder. "The males are used to being petted, and they like attention."
Kirk reached out to stroke the little being as his navigator was doing; he knew Chekov was not overstating the importance of making sure none of the landing party had a phobia about spiders. "I dont, but after we saw what the Lycorya did to the last person who hurt one of their males, Ill have a personal statement from everyone."
"I do not have any such irrational fears, Captain," Spock was the first to respond.
McCoy ventured on a cautious pat himself. "Spiders arent my favorite race in the universe. Eeek!" He jumped as a bright green male dropped onto his shoulder. "As I was about to say, I can handle it. I certainly wouldnt hurt any of them."
"Im fine, Captain." Sulu scanned the branches above him. He did not have any objection to a spider on his shoulder, but he would prefer to know one was on its way.
Clevedon found himself with a yellow male on his arm and began to stroke it gently. "I never thought Id say this about a spider, but theyre kind of cute."
Kirk nodded approval. Chekov might have made a successful initial contact with the Lycorya, but they could not be described as anything but extremely dangerous. "Now about that report, Mister Chekov?"
He repressed a sigh as one of the huge female Lycorya dropped down to dangle next to him. Kirk had every intention of forwarding this contact in any way he could, but he badly wanted to learn what the ensign had been doing since he had sent Chekov to climb that tree.
"This is Lortha, Captain." Chekov smiled at the Lycorya. "Shes a member of the ruling council of the Lycorya."
"That, for obvious reasons, consists entirely of females, Captain Kirk," Lortha added. "We were fascinated to learn Humans have two intelligent sexes, but we will talk more when you have eaten and rested and Ensign Chekov has told you of our discussions. Our food is not suitable for your metabolisms, so you may contact your ship and ask for rations to be beamed down. We would prefer you simply to ask for them and not explain further until we have settled the matter of the Klingons. It will be safe for your ship to drop her shields." She produced a communicator and gave it to the captain of the Enterprise.
Kirk saw Chekovs communicator was still clipped to his belt so he appreciated the gesture. "Thank you, Lortha. Ill admit the thought of a decent meal is rather occupying my mind at the moment, but once weve had something to eat, Ill be only too pleased to talk to you properly. Kirk to Enterprise."
"Enterprise here," the voice of a very relieved chief engineer responded. "Captain, are you all still all right down there? We were worried enough when the Klingons turned up but then we lost one of your life signs."
"We havent lost anyone, Mister Scott. Were all getting pretty hungry down here, and Im not sure how long well be staying so beam us down supplies for three days to this position. Dont lower the shields for any longer than you have to, but dont worry about lowering them. Kirk out." He closed the communicator and offered it back to Lortha, only to find she simply waved permission for him to keep it.
Kirk turned to see the sparkle of a transporter beam. Sulu and Clevedon moved over to fetch the back packs; a check revealed that Scott had taken his statement they might be on planet for another three days seriously; the back packs also contained sleeping bags. Kirk smiled at his weary landing party; they might have got some sleep last night, but it had not rested them much. "Make yourselves comfortable. Mister Chekov, I wont trouble you for that report until youve got a meal inside you."
"Thank you, Captain." The navigator looked as relieved as his captain expected; Kirk knew Chekov would have accepted without complaint an order to report while everyone else ate, but that was not how he chose to operate. "The Lycorya gave me plenty of water, but I am hungry."
"Just a moment, Chekov, before you start eating." McCoy came over with his medical kit. "Let me take a look at your throat. You sound as if youve been talking your head off since we last set eyes on you."
"Sometimes it felt as if I was." Chekov submitted patiently enough to the doctors scan. Even as much water to drink as he wanted over the past few hours had not done much to ease the pain of his throat.
"That must be pretty sore." McCoy sprayed a solution into the ensigns mouth. "Thatll help, but Ill need to deal with it properly once we get back to the ship." He looked from the ensign to Kirk in resignation. "My prescription would be talking as little as possible for the next twenty-four hours, but you dont need to tell me that isnt feasible."
"Ill let Mister Chekov take things easy as soon as possible, Bones, I promise," Kirk assured the doctor. It was not the ensigns hoarseness that worried him, but the strain he could see in Chekovs face and what he suspected was the reason. It had been hard enough to see the remains of Marguk tossed to the ground; he did not want to think how terrible watching such dismemberment must have been.
As Chekov leaned back against the trunk of the tree, several more males appeared to settle comfortably on his lap. He was too hungry after so long without food to do more than to give each of them a quick pat but as he stripped the seal off the ration pack, the ensign found he had another problem. As soon as they smelt the aroma of the heating food, the males began to chitter excitedly and to try to climb along his arms to the meal. Chekov looked up above his head, his face paling. "Can someone take the males away quickly?"
Several females appeared so swiftly it unnerved the rest of the landing party considerably. "What is wrong, Pavel?"
"The males are trying to eat some of our food, and it will poison them." Chekov was still trying to push the males away without hurting them.
"I am sorry. We should have thought of that." The female Lycorya whistled imperatively, and the males promptly skittered away, back up into the safety of the tree.
Chekov smiled at her. "Theyre welcome to come back once weve finished or if theyre bright enough to understand why we cant share our food with them."
"They are not, and they are used to feeding when we do." The Lycoryas answer made the doctor eye his still unopened ration pack with sudden revulsion, but the females vanished as quickly as the males and left them to eat in peace.
Kirk smiled at his chief navigator as Chekov finished eating. "Mister Chekov, Ill have that report now, if you can spare the time that is?"
He eyed the young navigator in sudden amusement. He had assumed they were being watched and that had been proved by the fact that now they had finished eating, the males were returning in force. Chekovs lap was already filled with the brightly-colored males, and more were crowding around him or heading for other members of the landing party. Kirk began to stroke the two who had appeared next to him, and they promptly climbed into his lap.
"Yes, sir. You helped me with the contact when you emphasized to the Klingons you expected to meet people here and not animals, it only reinforced what I was saying to the Lycorya."
"I was going to say begin from when I sent you up the tree, but youve already told us about that, unless theres anything you need to add?"
"No, sir." Chekov considered for a moment what Kirk already knew. "Then I encountered the webbing and got tangled up. Im sure you can imagine how scared I was when a dozen of the Lycorya females appeared. Id begun to suspect there had to be an intelligent life form somewhere on this planet, but that wasnt any guarantee Id just encountered it. The Lycorya could simply have been one of the life forms the sensors had detected from space."
Spock studied the canteen the Lycorya had provided. "Captain, if I might digress for a moment? Mister Chekov, I am intrigued by the composition of our canteens. They appear to be made of thread."
"As far as Ive been able to discover, the entire technology of this planet is based on the thread the Lycorya spin, sir, but Ill go into more detail in context, or Ill get too far ahead of myself," Chekov said. "The twelve of them just hung there, suspended from threads and looked at me with all ninety-six eyes. I still couldnt be sure they were intelligent; they could simply have been wondering what sort of food their web had caught, but I activated my universal translator and began talking to them. Subjectively, it seemed hours before anyone answered me. When they did they used my full name. That carried more implications than I needed at that precise moment."
"You lost me there," McCoy told him. "They could have picked up your name from just listening to us, couldnt they?"
"By full name I meant the Lycorya used my first name and patronymic too, Doctor," Chekov answered. "I asked their names and if it was correct to use them. The Lycorya didnt mind me asking; they considered I was being polite. It was when I asked about gender designations it produced a digression, again fortunately not through offense but interest. The Lycorya had reached the conclusion other intelligent races existed and that we might look very different to themselves, but they told me thatdiscovering I was male and intelligent was far more of a surprise than my appearance. I repeated we didnt mean them any harm only to be told they hadnt made up their minds if they meant harm to us or not.
"The next part is really fascinating. I asked if the Lycorya had a larger screen on which I could show some of the beings in the Federation. The Lycorya asked me to wait while they did this." Chekov activated his tricorder and showed the Lycorya spinning the large screen. "They told me it would link with my tricorder and that I could access the computer on the Enterprise."
"That interfaced with our technology?" Kirk knew his jaw had dropped open, but he could not help it. The universe had handed him a large number of shocks during the years he had worn a Starfleet uniform, both pleasant and unpleasant, but he thought that had to be one of the most peculiar.
Chekov only nodded and continued his account. "Then the Lycorya asked about our relations with the Klingons. That seemed to answer why you hadnt sent someone else up the tree to find out what I was doing. I asked if I could at least warn you there were Klingons on planet, but the Lycorya just promised me you wouldnt be harmed until theyd decided what to do with us. I could have done without the qualifier, but it just told me how important it was thatI continued with the contact and made a success of it."
"I cant argue with that, Mister Chekov. Go on." Kirk knew it was not a situation he would have wanted the young ensign to face, but he also knew that if stubborn determination had been needed to make this contact, Chekov had it in abundance.
"I described the situation between the Federation and the Klingon Empire and our different attitudes to non-humanoid races, and the Lycorya asked me for more details of the Federation. By the time Id finished answering their questions, they didnt need to know much about Humans to know how tired I was. They spun me a hammock so I could get some sleep. The Klingon screams woke me; I wasnt in sight, but Lortha told me I could watch on the screen theyd spun and talk to her without the Klingons hearing. Kless and the others were so unreasonable." Chekov looked at Kirk. "Captain, Id like to play you the record and where Captain Korlth can hear it. It might be his last chance to get his people off this planet alive and end this peacefully."
"Ive no objection to that, Mister Chekov, always assuming you can actually get to your feet that is." Kirk grinned at the navigator who had at least a dozen happily chittering males clinging to him.
"You do not need to disturb the males, Chekov. Play your account; the Klingons will hear it," a Lycorya voice announced from somewhere over their heads.
Kirk listened, his face becoming grim as he heard the arrogance of the captured Klingons. It was one thing to defy your enemies, but quite another to take such a course. He looked at the ensign as the account abruptly stopped to meet Chekovs level gaze. "You wont want to hear or see Marguks death, Captain. Thats about it. The rest you know."
"Well done, Mister Chekov. That was difficult from beginning to end, but you dealt with it very well." Kirk smiled at him. "I certainly cant fault your efforts to bring about a peaceful end to this for everyone."
"You going to be able to handle that, Chekov?" McCoy directed an anxious glance at the navigator. "Im not asking because of your age. Id be asking anyone whod had to watch that."
"It isnt going to be one of my pleasanter memories, Doctor, but Im all right." Chekov did not look all right in the opinion of anyone else. He saw their expressions. "My reaction to it took me off balance. I remember thinking that after some of the things Ive seen already, my stomach was strong enough to take anything, but I couldnt take that."
"We are sorry we required you to watch, Pavel." A Lycorya appeared, to pat the ensign on the shoulder.
McCoy eyed her with misgiving; they had just learned that those claws could rip off the limbs of a strong Klingon, and they belonged to a being he suspected did not understand mercy.
"Captain Kirk, I am Lortha," she introduced herself. "Do you think there is a chance the Klingons may yet see reason?
"I truly dont know, Lortha," Kirk answered, pleased she had asked him. He doubted if he would have any more success, but at least it would take some of the pressure from Chekov if he tried. "It is perfectly clear that because of a life form that exists on the Klingon home world, theyre even more reluctant to accept you as intelligent than they are most non-humanoid life forms. Will you allow me to talk to Korlth and see if I can get him to see sense?"
"I do not think it is only Ensign Chekov who is a stubborn Starfleet officer," Lortha remarked. "By all means, Captain Kirk."
"Then if youll please ask the males to move?" Kirk had five of the Lycorya males on his lap now, and he did not want to frighten them.
"From how many of you?" Lortha asked.
"Myself, Mister Chekov and Commander Spock."
"A moment." Lortha climbed up to the branch above their heads where she spun threads that descended, one for each male who was with the three people Kirk had identified. She whistled, and the males climbed quickly up to join her.
Kirk admitted to some surprise his first officer had accepted the overtures of the males so equably, but Spock had acquired almost as many Lycorya males as Chekov and had been gravely stroking them. "Lets go."
Korlth began the moment Kirk stopped in front of him, "At last! Why did you not answer me? How dare you ignore me? I will have vengeance for this!"
"The Lycorya didnt let me hear you."
"Those animals! Kless was right," Korlth snarled. "They are not fit to be anything but our slaves."
"Korlth, Ensign Chekov had to argue for the chance to get you off this planet alive. Carry on in this way, and you wont. The Lycorya arent the animals you choose to call them but intelligent beings, ones powerful enough to put not only you but your ships at risk. Are you ready to concede that?" Kirk hated to admit failure quite as much as his navigator, but he knew he faced failure now. Korlth was too concerned with his own pride and the face he would lose if he admitted to a mistake to listen to anything he or Chekov might say.
"Nothing can stand against the might of the Klingon Empire," Korlth spat.
"Captain Korlth, you are disregarding the reality of your situation," Spock made his own contribution. The more he studied the evidence of how Klingon pride could betray them into a losing position, the more he considered it might become the Federations strongest weapon. "You cannot claim the Lycorya are not intelligent when they have given ample evidence they are. Claiming they are animals will not make them so. Look at your position now. There is nothing you can do to free yourself or to return to your ship or even to speak to the KSwis. You must rethink your attitude towards the Lycorya."
"Because you tell me to, Vulcan?" Korlth glared at him.
"Because I granted the Enterprise officers the time to try and bring you to your senses." Lortha descended on her thread again, accompanied by what Kirk suspected was the rest of the council. "I warn you, if you call us animals, you will betreated as animals. Now, for a final time, are you willing to call us people as the Starfleet officers do?"
"Never!" Korlth screamed as her mandibles sank into his throat. Within seconds, the rest of the Klingons were also screaming in agony as the Lycorya sucked out their blood. Kirk and the others returned to the rest of the equally-shaken landing party.
A Lycorya suddenly appeared next to them. "I am sorry you are finding this so distressing. We will take you away from it."
Threads appeared and wound themselves round the landing party; within seconds they were rising through the trees, away from the sounds of the dying Klingons. Kirk managed to regain his breath as he was carefully deposited on a branch, his people around him. "I appreciate your consideration but please could you warn us next time? I think I left my stomach back there."
"Chekov claims he left his up in the trees when we lowered him." Mandibles clicked in amusement. "We intended to bring you up here. We do not feel comfortable at ground level, though if we are to explore space we will have to get used to it. Please, find places to sit. We are bringing up your supplies and if you want more water, you have only to ask. The rest of the council will be here when they have finished dealing with the animals who invaded our world."
The Lycorya vanished again, and the stunned landing party realized they were going to be left in peace to compose themselves, though it was equally evident every word they spoke could be heard.
Kirk studied the young officer. "Youre not going to blame yourself for the way things turned out, are you? You did all you could, everything possible. Its entirely upto the Klingons. They got themselves into this mess."
"I didnt want this, Captain." Chekov still looked pale. He had been the only one who had known what would happen, and he had watched Korlths intransigence with sheer horror. "I know it isnt my fault. Im not blaming myself. I knew how little chance there was Korlth would listen to you, let alone me."
Kirk nodded. "Everyone take it easy. Mister Chekov, any idea of where we go from here?"
"The Lycorya like what Ive told them about the Federation enough to consider more contact between us, Captain, and even to join," Chekov told him unhappily. He seemed unable to see past the Klingons and the fate they had earned for themselves to think about that. "They intend to deal with the Klingon ships first."
"We owe all of you an apology," Lortha told them. "Especially you, Commander Spock. For someone who refuses even to eat meat on ethical grounds, it must have been truly terrible to watch us, but we acted only in accordance with our laws. Ensign Chekov has already explained to us that if we become Federation members as we plan, we will only be able to apply those laws on this planet."
"The Lycorya meet the criteria, Captain, with one exception," Chekov added. "They have a united government, universal education and all the other requirements. The females, that is. The males are truly non-intelligent, so much so that they live quite happily among the females."
"And the exception, Mister Chekov?"
"Space flight and the ability to travel faster than light," Lortha answered. "I can understand the logic of making that the point when you consider thata race is technologically advanced enough to meet others on equal terms. That is an entirely ethical criteria, but not one you will need to apply to us. My people have been considering space travel for some years. We like the idea of meeting other intelligent races, but we had not seen any evidence to suggest they existed until now. We had plans for a ship ready, and we went over them with Ensign Chekov to ensure they would meet your criteria." Her mandibles clicked in amusement. "He told me only the respect he had already formed for our technology enabled him to say they would. We will take you back to the Enterprise on her and you may all give your opinions."
"Lortha, everything Ive learned about your people says youll have taken care of this point, but I have to make sure. The Klingons are likely to fire on any ship that leaves this planet, and I cant guarantee the Enterprise will be able to protect you, not when the Klingons can use one ship to attack her and the second to attack you," Kirk told her, as the meaning behind her words sank in. He gazed at Lortha, too stunned to think of what to say in answer to the incredible vision her words had created.
"We will take care of the Klingon ships. Ensign Chekov also warned us of their reaction if they saw ships they did not recognize," Lortha assured him. "Only the need to create three ships has taken so long."
Spock studied the Lycorya with fascination. "Lortha, do I understand you correctly? You have created these ships since talking to Ensign Chekov yesterday?"
"We did not need them before yesterday." Lortha whistled, and the males obediently left the stunned members of the landing party. "Oh yes, the warning you requested. We are going to take you to one of our ships."
The now familiar threads dropped to touch the various members of the landing party; within seconds they were rising up through the branches as swiftly as before. This time they rose so high they could see the trunk of the leviathan finally begin to narrow; it was more unnerving when they saw the thin branches begin to bend under the weight of the Lycorya. It took only two or three minutes in all before they saw an iridescent shape above their heads. Kirk turned to look at his first officer, his hazel eyes wide. "Spock, do you think theyve spun themselves a spaceship?"
"Mister Chekov does postulate that all Lycorya technology devolves from their ability to spin thread, Captain." Spock looked only fascinated as he studied the graceful craft.
"But it cant be airtight." McCoys vehement protest from Kirks other side was just what the captain of the Enterprise expected. The chief medical officer was as astonished as the others at the thought of a spaceship being built in less than a day but not nearly as disposed to keep quiet about it. "The transporter is bad enough without asking me to go into space in a spiders web!"
"Chekov went over the specs with them, remember?" Sulu looked at the elegant shape and fell in love. "Speaking as a pilot, I love the design. Any idea how its powered, Chekov?"
"No. The Lycorya told me theyd worked out the technology for warp speed though. They just havent had any reason to try it out before now," Chekov responded as he reached the airlock. He stepped inside; the deck under his feet felt firm and the bulkheads smooth under his exploring fingers. He followed the Lycorya as she led them to a compartment.
"We created this and the corridor for you," she explained. "You are free to visit any part of the ship you wish, but if you leave this corridor, you will have to crawl."
"What do you intend?" Kirk asked. The Lycorya had evidently learned enough of Human needs to know their guests would be more comfortable with chairs and a second Lycorya was bringing in their back packs.
Laisan touched a foreclaw to the screen. It lit to show the sky above them. "We will deal with the Klingon ships and then take you to the Enterprise, Captain Kirk. I think it would be better if you remained here in safety until we have done that. If you need to speak to us, do so, and we will hear you."
"Is it possible for me to contact the Enterprise?" Kirk asked. He could imagine his chief engineers feelings if, in addition to the two Klingon ships that limited his movements, Scott saw three completely unknown ships rise from the planets surface. "I need to let Mister Scott know what to expect."
"Show me the frequency you wish to use," she requested. Kirk opened his communicator and explained.
"Wait a moment." Laisan moved over to the wall and spun for a few moments. She handed Kirk a unit attached to the wall. "Speak into that. Mister Scott will hear you and be able to answer."
"Thank you." Kirk was quite unable to think of any other comment to make. He had simply expected to be given permission to use his communicator. He thought even Spock was looking taken aback as she moved quickly to the door. It opened and closed behind her as efficiently as the doors to which he was used on the Enterprise. He cleared his throat, feeling rather silly. "Mister Scott?"
"Captain!" The chief engineers voice held only delighted relief before astonishment replaced it. "But how are you contacting me? Your signal isnt coming through ships systems at all."
Kirk realized he had not asked if this communication was secure; after a moment, he knew it was. He could see McCoy prodding suspiciously at the bulkhead with his finger and grinned. "Mister Chekovs managed to make some new friends, the intelligent race of this planet, the Lycorya. Were aboard one of their ships now, and there are two more. Theyve chosen to deal with the Klingons before they return us to the Enterprise. I dont know how they're going to do that yet, but no matter what happens, sit this one out."
"Understood, Captain. Are you all still all right?"
"Fine, Mister Scott. Ill get back to you. Kirk out."
The viewscreen had shown the ship lifting, and he did not want to miss whatever happened. He could see Spock and Chekov recording events and he knew the Enterprise would be. He hoped they had as much data as possible; Starfleet was going to think they had all gone space happy when they heard about this one. He and everyone else watched in silence as the Lycorya ship rose gracefully into space. If what they had told Chekov was true, this was the first ship the Lycorya had built, but they did not seem to have even the slightest worry she would not work perfectly. From other points on the planets surface, he could see two other Lycorya ships rising; Kirk could see his beautiful Enterprise too and the less welcome sight of the two Birds-of-Prey. "Lortha, do you want me to tell the Klingons what happened to their landing party and ask them to leave the system?"
"We have told them that, Captain Kirk."
The screen split to show the two Klingon bridges; they were a mixture of panic at the sight of the Lycorya and threats from the bolder spirits aboard, and he could hear commands being shrieked for the disruptors to fire. It was much the reaction he had anticipated and why he had warned the Lycorya what to expect, but Kirk found it depressing all the same. The orders were answered by desperate gunners shouting that their weapons had gone off line before the screen returned to showing just the view of space; as the people on the Lycorya ship and the Enterprise watched, the Lycorya ships fired at the two Birds-of-Prey.
At first, it seemed as if streaks of fire shot out from the ships, but the white streaks expanded to form webs. They enveloped the Klingon ships within minutes and clung to them; the Lycorya ships headed off towards the systems primary star, the Klingon ships towed helplessly and apparently powerlessly behind them. As the Lycorya ships accelerated rapidly, they flew close to the star before releasing the two Birds-of-Prey; the Klingon ships continued into the primary until the observers saw two explosions.
"Theyd have been dead long before the ships went," McCoy broke the silence. Heat stroke was not a pleasant way to die and he did not want to think what it must have been like for the Klingons to wait helplessly to meet their deaths.
"Undoubtedly." Lortha reappeared. "We would have eaten them, but we thought this would be less distressing for you. We have already informed the Klingon Empire we are responsible for the loss of their ships so they do not blame the Federation or Starfleet. We have told them any other ships they send will meet the same fate. We will take you back to the Enterprise now. Captain Kirk, perhaps it would be as well if you told Mister Scott to expect us?"
"I think that might be just as well, Lortha," Kirk managed. "Mister Scott, were on our way to the Enterprise."
"And its pleased Ill be to have you all safely back on board, Captain," Scott sounded quite as astonished as his captain expected. "Weve been more than a little worried about you all."
"We were quite concerned ourselves for a while, Mister Scott." Kirk found he was looking forward to his chief engineers reaction when he discovered the composition of the ship heading towards him. He covered the speaker for a moment. "Im not sure if we told you Mister Scott is my chief engineer, Lortha, regarded as one of the best engineers in Starfleet. I know hed be delighted to meet whoever designed this ship and to be given a tour around her."
Her mandibles clicked in amusement. "We would very much like Mister Scotts opinion of our ship, Captain Kirk."
"Id like a tour myself, Captain, if Lortha doesn't mind?" Chekov put in eagerly. He had seen enough of Lycorya technology to want to see every part of the craft; he doubted if he would ever see anything to equal it. The thought of crawling around the ship on his hands and knees did not worry him at all.
"So would I, Captain." Sulu was already wondering if he could persuade the Lycorya pilot to allow him to handle the controls. The Lycorya ship gave the impression of being as light at the threads from which she was spun. "Since no one is ever going to believe us, it would help if we could describe more than one compartment."
"Of course. I told you you were free to go where you wish." Lortha gestured permission, and the three younger officers disappeared after Kirks own nod of agreement. Spock was close behind them.
"What about you, Bones?" Kirk looked enquiringly at his old friend.
"No, thanks. Unless I misunderstood Lortha, this tour is a hands and knees job, and Im way too old for that." McCoy did not stir from a comfortable chair that had molded itself to his shape as he sat. He suspected he was heading straight for a meeting the moment he got back on board the Enterprise; he wanted to get as much rest as he could. "Id rather stay right here. This is the most relaxing chair Ive ever found."
Scott was full of enthusiasm after his own tour of the Lycorya ship. "Tis one of the most beautiful designs Ive ever seen. Its not only Mister Sulu there who fell in love with the lady at first sight."
"Im just sorry I couldnt try her and see how she handles." Sulu had spent as long exploring the alien ship as Kirk had allowed him. "All the controls are designed not only for claws but for people with eight eyes."
"Im sorry about that, too," Kirk agreed. He had been as fascinated as his officers; only the demands of the report Starfleet would need had got him back to the Enterprise, and he fully intended to ask for more time aboard one of the Lycorya ships while they waited to hear from Starfleet.
Spock looked as amused as he ever allowed himself to reveal. "I am sure that if you asked, Captain, the Lycorya would spin you a ship you could operate yourselves."
"They probably would, Mister Spock," Kirk grinned. "But I dont think it would be polite to put our hostesses to so much trouble. No, lets put our minds to writing a report Starfleet will actually believe!"
Spock raised an eyebrow. "A somewhat challenging task, Captain!"
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