"Doesnt look so special to me. Whats all the hubbub over this planet anyway?" Doctor Leonard H. McCoy, Chief Medical Officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise delivered his gravelly opinion stepping down from behind the captains chair, a hint of his Southern origins still in his voice. The forward viewscreen showed that the starship was making an orbital approach.
"As usual, Doctor, you look at the surface of things," the half-Vulcan science officer Spock observed. He also stepped toward the command console, from the direction of his science station. "The importance of Trill lies in its strategic location near the Klingon Empire."
"Important or not, I still think they are pushing way too hard to get this planet into the Federation. What do we know about these people anyway?" McCoy accused.
"Trill is an advanced world of intelligent, peaceful, space-going, though somewhat private, people," Spock explained.
"Private usually means theyve got something to hide," McCoy countered.
"Private means that, unlike Terrans, they do not care to advance their culture all over the quadrant," Spock explained.
"Now orbiting over the planet capital, Captain," the Asian helmsman announced.
"Stationary orbit, Mister Sulu," Captain James Kirk ordered.
"Stationary orbit, Captain," the helmsman confirmed.
"Even so, bypassing the usual protocols and setting this kind of precedent could prove to be dangerous," McCoy complained.
"Protocols are for diplomats to argue, gentlemen," the captain finally interjected. Customarily in the middle of his officers debates, in this case physically, Captain James T. Kirk recognized the importance of the Trill admission, while uneasy about the current tactics. Neither was his immediate concern, however. "Our mission is to ferry the Trill delegation to Starbase Eleven where Federation representatives will attempt to wine and dine them into submission. My instructions were short and sweet: Keep them happy."
Kirk hated these kinds of assignments. They were for the most part boring. And yet, if something interesting did happen, you could damn near lose your command over it.
"Lieutenant Uhura, transmit our greetings to Trill Central and inform them we can beam up Ambassador Trahn and his delegation at their signal."
"They are already making contact, sir," the lieutenant answered.
"Good. Spock, Bones" Kirk alerted.
The three headed for the turbolift.
"Captain, the Trill are requesting that a shuttlecraft pick them up instead," the dark and beautiful communications officer announced.
Kirk did an about face at the turbolift door. "Very well. If they want a shuttlecraft, well give them a shuttlecraft. Acknowledge the request, Lieutenant. Launch Copernicus at her ready and have Mister Scott meet us on the hangar deck instead of the transporter room upon her return."
"Aye, sir." Uhuras melodious voice could already be heard carrying out the orders even as the turbolift doors closed.
* * * * *
The senior officers of the Enterprise in their formal dress uniforms made an impressive reception committee. Crew members scurried about to facilitate disembarkation as the shuttlecraft doors opened. A Trill perfunctory exited first, a small starch male in a tailored beige suit. He visually confirmed the arrangements, then turned to assist the most stunning woman to step gracefully from the shuttlecraft. Pausing briefly, she spied the Starfleet officers and walked in their direction. She looked to be in her late twenties or early thirties, standard years.
Kirk and Spock exchanged looks. This was unexpected.
Scott leaned over to the gaping McCoy, "Isnt she a little young to be an ambassador?"
"Who cares?" McCoy breathed his reply.
Her features were reminiscent of a Greek sculpture, perfect in their symmetry and proportion, bordered with wispy mottles speckling her hairline. Smooth, dark brown hair with auburn highlights was drawn up and tied on the top of her head, with a few soft tendrils sensuously framing her face. A petite figure taunted from beneath a flowing, autumn-colored wraparound dress. Her movement gave the impression that she was floating just above the deck.
Drawing near, the ambassadors piercing blue eyes fixed upon the captain, and she smiled warmly, an expression he returned without any effort.
"Captain James Kirk, I am pleased it is your ship which will escort us to the conference. I know it will allow negotiations to go so much more smoothly."
Speech usually came easily to Kirk, but dazzled by the ambassadors mesmerizing smile and soft voice, his brain seemed to fog over. "Oh, really," he replied staring into the ambassadors eyes. He found himself wondering whether the spots were from tattooing or natural and how far they might extend below her plunging neckline.
"Uh-oh," McCoy muttered, drawing Spocks concurring glance.
"Here we go again," Scott complained in his softest brogue.
The first officer cleared his throat, breaking the spell. Kirks professionalism returned, and he introduced the line of men accompanying him. The Trill ambassador in turn presented the key members of her delegation.
Pleasantries over, and the orders given to get under way, Kirk took the delegates on a tour of the ship. While in the arboretum, the party spread out to admire the various flora. Roses, hydrangea, and fuchsias, sweet peas, and nasturtium of every color of the rainbow greeted the eyes. The ambassador remained near the captain, and it wasnt long before they were walking somewhat by themselves.
"These are beautiful," the ambassador exclaimed. "Somewhat like ours, but Ive never seen such diversity of shapes and colors."
"This is one of my favorite places on the ship," Kirk commented.
"You miss walking through a garden, Captain?"
"At times." He couldnt help but smile at her.
"You go to space and long to be on a cool, green planet. I live on the ground and long for a trip through the stars. We are never happy. Prisoners of our own destiny."
He laughed with her, then stopped. For a moment, the laughing blue eyes became incredibly sad. But in another moment, it had passed.
"What is on the schedule following the tour?" she asked, as upbeat as before.
"There will be a reception and dinner for the delegation and my officers."
"I think I would prefer a more quiet evening. Dining at the captains table, perhaps?" She gazed at him sidelong, invitingly, yet almost shyly. If hed had any doubts about her being attracted to him, they immediately disappeared.
"That could be arranged, of course, but what about my other guests?" he nodded to the rest of the delegation, continuing to smile.
Her mood grew more serious. "Time passes, Captain. If not tonight, then soon." It was almost an order.
She paused to smell a rose, complicating an already complex impression of her. With a sidelong glance, she continued, leaving the captain to consider the possibilities.
* * * * *
The reception was held as scheduled, during which it was announced that the formal dinner would be delayed until the following evening to give the delegation a chance to rest. Quiet suppers were arranged instead.
Spock raised an eyebrow at the change, but dutifully carried out the revised orders. McCoy was not so discreet.
"Youre moving awfully fast, dont you think?" he jibed the captain.
"Its not like that," Kirk said.
"Oh, no? Could have fooled me."
"Im just following orders. Im keeping them happy," Kirk said with a sly grin.
McCoy looked after his fair-haired friend who attracted females like honey attracted ants, and returned to Sickbay shaking his head and talking to himself.
* * * * *
The quiet supper at the captains table went extremely well. Kirk was charming and gallant, and Ambassador Trahn was beautiful, intriguing, mysterious.
"May I ask how one so young becomes an ambassador, Madam?"
"Call me Methia, Captain."
"Only if youll call me Jim."
"Jim." She considered the name as she said it. "I am more experienced than I appear."
"There is something about you...," he commented. "On Earth we would say you have an old soul."
She laughed, and he laughed with her. They seemed to be doing that a lot.
Kirk continued, "It is our custom to finish off a meal with a dessert. A sweet dish. Of course, never as sweet as the company...but that is the custom."
She pushed the dishes aside and leaned toward him. Her voice softened, although they were quite alone in the officers lounge. "I would prefer to introduce you to some of our customs. The only question is whether in your quarters or mine?"
Kirk was not entirely surprised, but now that the moment had come, he hesitated. A red alert went off somewhere in his frontal lobe. This was an ambassador, after all. One the Federation was supposed to be wooing, not he. He was all too aware that something like this had the potential of blowing up in his face. And if that wasnt enough, there was something about her... a vulnerability which occasionally slipped out, crying out for his protection. His smile remained, but became more thoughtful. "Youre awfully direct for a diplomat."
"I find it saves time." The ambassador rose and strolled gracefully to the captains side of the table. "Our journey is short. I prefer to enjoy it as much as I can. You are...interested. Are you not?" She leaned against the table, allowing her body to strike a curvaceous pose, her dress falling back to reveal her left leg up most of her thigh.
Kirk stood and drew close to the ambassador, extending his hand to trace the curious border around her beautiful face. He confirmed for himself it was natural. "Oh, Im interested, Methia, believe me. Only..." He caused his hand to drop to his side. "I dont know that this would be wise under the circumstances."
"Now, wheres the bold starship captain I was told so much about?" she teased, sliding her arms around his neck.
He laughed, but the memory of a recent disastrous encounter nagged at him. "There are times to be bold, and there are times for caution. We wouldnt want to do something we might both...uh, regret." He said it like a man who could be talked out of his objection, and Methia Trahn pulled herself to his lips.
By the time there was a pause, Kirk was just about convinced. It was his vanity speaking, when he asked, "Just what were you told about me?"
"That you were attractive...charming...and very good with a lady," she said outlining the bulges on his arms.
"What else?" the captain cajoled, continuing to nuzzle.
"What do you mean?" She inclined her head to regard him.
He looked into her eyes and suddenly realized that was all. "I dont know. Didnt you want to know anything else? About my career," he shrugged, "my...character?"
"Not really," she laughed dismissively.
Kirk smiled wanly.
"Oh, I heard the Klingons dont like you for some reason, but I really didnt pay too much attention. They like so few Humans."
Kirk stepped back and tried to reconcile the various moods of the young ambassador.
"And how much did you want to know about me, just a moment ago?" she asked wryly.
His smile faded. "More, actually. A lot more. You intrigue me, Methia. In many ways."
"Oooh, I intrigue you, do I?" she cooed. "Come then, Jim. Were both adults. I like a good time. And from what I hear, so do you. Whats wrong with that?" Trahn asked, tracing the contours of his body with way too much familiarity and expertise.
Kirk didnt know which was more intoxicating, the wine theyd had with dinner, or her stimulating touch. He kissed her again.
They bumped against the table, and somehow the image of crewmen coming in to clean up flashed through his mind. Well, a captain has to maintain some decorum.
"Ill..." he began, clearing his throat, "...escort you to your quarters." He cradled her face in his hands and searched for the fleeting vulnerability that still troubled him. The expression she wore instead disturbed him, but not as a female gaze usually disturbed him. This one declared Victory. He turned from her and compulsively re-straightened the chair, his mind chewing over the meaning.
The ambassador caressed his shoulder. "If youre concerned about Starfleet superiors, I have assured them that this can only smooth the way to successful negotiations."
"You what?" he asked, turning back. His internal red alert was now going off at full volume. "Thats the second time youve said that, connected me... I mean, us, somehow, with the negotiations."
"Well, of course. Didnt you know? I requested you, Captain. You should be flattered."
"After shopping around, of course. I wanted a starship captain..."
"...who was easily manipulated," he finished for her, walking away.
"...who might be some fun. Captain...Jim. I dont understand your attitude at all. What difference does it make why I want you?"
"It makes a difference to me," he said tightly.
"Mmmm," she murmured. "Im sorry to hear that. But here we are. And after all, I work for my government, you work for yours."
Kirk turned back to her dumbfounded, his eyes smoldering with indignation. "I think there has been a misunderstanding, Ambassador. I get paid to run a starship. If youll excuse me, I have duties to attend to."
He left the room and was several strides down the corridor before he paused to address the security guard outside the dining room. "Ensign Tanuvasa, see to it that Ambassador Trahn finds her way back to her quarters."
"Yes, sir." The big Samoan security officer watched his smoldering captain walk down the corridor and reveled in the juicy bit of gossip he would have to tell back in the armory.
Kirk was on his way to his cabin, brooding about what had just occurred, when McCoy came around a corner and saw him in the corridor.
"Jim! I didnt expect to see you this evening."
Kirk hadnt planned on talking to anyone. He held out his hands in a shrug.
McCoy couldnt imagine James Kirk striking out with a woman. "Im on my way to the lab. Ive got a bottle of Saurian Brandy there with your name on it"
"Thanks. I could use some right now."
* * * * *
McCoy poured each of them a drink and observed Kirks mood as the latter took a sip of the dark liquid. Somewhat slumped in the chair and supporting his jaw in his left palm, the captain was lost in thought.
"So it didnt turn out like you thought it would, eh?"
"No. Not at all."
"Well, you cant expect to charm every female, I guess."
"What? Oh, no, it wasnt like that. She...propositioned me in fact," he said, taking another drink.
"You mean you turned her down? Get me my medikit. Youve got to be sick. What were you thinking?"
"There wasnt anything between us, Bones. It wouldve been just..."
"So? Since when did you turn that down?"
Kirk frowned indignantly. "I dont do one-nighters."
McCoy sputtered brandy all over his shirt. "Oh, no?" He laughed. "In which alternate universe? What about a month ago on Rigel Two? You know, when you picked up that"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Kirk bristled at the reminder. "It doesnt count. I was on shore leave, and we were both really drunk."
"But do you regret it?" McCoy challenged.
"Regret it?" A sheepish grin played around the captains mouth. "I can barely remember it. Shouldnt you be advising against those kinds of encounters?" Kirk tried to deflect the subject away from himself.
"Im a doctor, not a priest. Anyway, what about this Trahn?"
Kirk shook his head, "I didnt like her attitude. It was like it was expected. Like I was..."
Kirk met McCoys eyes. That was exactly how he had felt, only there were worse words for it. And more than that, she had suggested that someone in Starfleet had set him up for it.
"Are you sure it wasnt just that you didnt like her making the first move?"
"No. It wasnt that. Bones, in the beginning she was soft...even shy. Then all at once she became...aggressive. No, more than aggressive. Almost...predatory. Shes not what she seems to be." Kirk puzzled over her further as he took another sip.
"Sounds like a Trill I once met," McCoy considered.
"You never told me you knew a Trill," Kirk chastised.
"You never asked," McCoy defended. "It was a long time ago. Back at Old Miss. One of those cultural exchange things..." The doctor smiled at the memory, adding, "She was a gymnast."
Kirk reluctantly got the picture. "And you had to make a house call?"
McCoys accent suddenly thickened, "Why sir, doctor-patient privilege prevents me from discussing such matters."
Kirk glared at the doctor skeptically, annoyed that he should be so discreet after pumping him for information.
"Anyway, I just hope this doesnt affect the conference," McCoy said switching subjects back.
"How so?" Kirk asked, swallowing.
"Well, you know what they say, Hell hath no fury..."
The captain hadnt considered that. Some kind of complaint to Federation reps was all he needed... A call from Starfleet Command... He sank back even lower in the chair. "You know, I really hate these assignments."
The doors to the med lab opened and Spock entered. His slanted eyebrows leveled upwards in surprise. "Captain, I did not expect to see you this evening."
McCoy was exultant. "Youre too late, Spock. You missed all the gory details."
"You are under a false assumption, Doctor. I do not have the prurient interest in the minutiae of others personal lives that you have."
"Well, you might if you had a personal life," McCoy needled.
Spock received the insult evenly. "I believe it was one of your own Earth philosophers who observed that great minds exchange ideas, the above average discuss things, while the mediocre talk about... people."
"Oh, really? Then why is it Uhura tells me that you seem to be aware of the latest Starfleet gossip long before she hears about it?"
"Doctor, it is my job to know the latest developments in Starfleet. That is hardly the same as gossip..."
"Everything all right, Spock?" Kirk interjected, trying to cut off a long, pointless exchange.
"No problems, Captain."
"Not yet," McCoy muttered.
Kirk glared at the doctor.
Spock looked at the two men in puzzlement. Surmising he would learn of the potential problem should it surface, he returned to his purpose for coming. "I came to inquire of the good doctor whether he had his list prepared of medical supplies well require from Starbase Eleven."
"Not yet," McCoy answered. "I got sidetracked. Ill have it for you tomorrow."
"Very well," Spock replied.
"And in spite of what you say, I would just bet that those pointed ears of yours pick up far more gossip around here than you let on," McCoy added.
Spock stared blankly at the doctor. "My pointed ears, in fact, pick up many things I would rather not know about, but I suppose that is a burden I must carry. If you will excuse me, gentlemen..."
"Spock, do you have a minute?" Kirk asked.
"Captain?" Spock turned back into the room.
"The doctor and I have been discussing something that you might find an interesting question."
McCoy looked at Kirk curiously.
"Out here we encounter many new cultures, many different customs..." Kirk began.
"That is a given," Spock stated.
"During early exploration of the South sea islands on Earth, ships captains would sometimes encounter islanders whose custom it was to offer to their European guests their daughters or even their wivesas a courtesy..."
Kirk paused then and both Spock and McCoy waited expectantly.
"What if there came a time when Starfleet expected you to..." Kirk searched hard for the terminology, "be the... uh... entertainment?"
McCoys eyes widened in disbelief. "Youre asking him?"
Spock also looked at his captain with genuine confusion. "I... beg your pardon?"
Kirk realized the insanity of the scenario. "Never mind."
Starfleet regulations against sexual harassment were specific and strict. Kirk led from the front in this regard, as he did in everything. He may have had a reputation as a lady killer in his personal life, but when it came to officers and crew under his command he was circumspect as a monk. Human, of course. Occasionally attracted. Flirtatious, perhaps, in a flattering and nonthreatening way. But he was disciplined enough to know where to draw the line.
He expected no less from his crew. There were no regulations against romance between crew members of comparable rank or status. But their captain expected relationships that were mature, respectful, and discreet. Personal lives were not to interfere with professional duties. Anyone who mistook the Enterprise for a social club were promptly dropped off at the nearest starbase to await a new assignment. The waiting list of exceptional personnel anxious to transfer to the renowned ship was too long and the stakes too high to expend energy with those who became a problem.
All of which made it ironic that Kirk now found himself in this predicament. He wondered if someone in Starfleet had been complicitous with Trahns agenda. Or acquiescent. The allegation would be hard if not impossible to prove. In any case, a complaint from one of his own reputation would not be taken seriously. He concluded he would have to tackle this problem by his own wits, as usual.
"Dont worry, Spock," McCoy was saying, jolting Kirk out of his reverie. "Youd never be asked."
Spock rolled his eyes and attempted again to leave.
Kirk, in the meantime, had made up his mind. He was generally not one to retreat, but decided it would be best to give Trahn a wide berth these next few days. "Mister Spock?"
"Yes, Captain?" the Vulcan replied warily.
"Im going to be... unavailable for a few days. I would appreciate it if you would take care of our guests. All you have to do is make sure the delegates are entertained. Everything is already scheduled."
"Entertained?" Spock pronounced dubiously the previously employed word.
Kirk rephrased the instruction, "Just keep them happy, Spock."
"The interfacing with ambassadorial parties is usually the responsibility of the captain, sir."
"Think of this as on-the-job training," Kirk directed.
"What shall I tell the delegates regarding your absence?" Spock asked.
Kirk looked to McCoy with a smile and lifted his glass. "That I am currently under my physicians care."
"Under very close care," McCoy confirmed.
"Captain, are you ill?" Spock inquired sincerely.
Kirk could see that this wasnt getting very far with Spock, so he stood and faced his second-in-command as he tended to do when he was pulling rank. "Mister Spock, until we reach Starbase Eleven your orders are to keep Ambassador Trahn as far away from me as possible. Is that understood?"
"Understood, Captain," Spock confirmed. Puzzled and concluding that the Humans were being as unfathomable as ever, Spock took his orders and left the room.
McCoy considered the ready ambassador being tossed into the care of the unemotional, dispassionate first officer. "That was a dirty trick you just pulled."
Kirk considered what hed just done along with the brandy in his glass. "Yes, I suppose it was. Spocks tough. He can handle it."
* * * * *
It took far less time for the fat to hit the fire than Kirk had expected. Barely midmorning a message came in from Starbase Eleven. Kirk had it piped down to his quarters and asked his first officer to join him, as much for moral support as a witness.
"What the hells going on there, Captain?" Commodore Stone berated him over subspace. The visage of the dark-skinned starbase portmaster boiled with anger.
Kirk remained outwardly calm, sitting upright before the viewscreen. "I dont know what you mean, Commodore. We are on course for Starbase Eleven and should arrive on schedule."
"Perhaps you can explain to me, then, why Ambassador Trahn has been complaining to the President of the Federation that you are boorishly rude and are ignoring their delegation."
Kirk winced inwardly at hearing that she had taken her grumbling right to the top. "I am not ignoring the delegation, Commodore. I am... under the weather," he lied. "I turned my duties temporarily over to my able first officer, all of which was explained to the ambassador..."
"Kirk, Im not slighting your second-in-command, but the Trill want you, and theyre going to get you. I dont care if youre on your deathbed Have your surgeon give you something, and get out there and turn on the famous Kirk charm"
Kirk replied with barely checked irritation, "Sir, I was not aware that charm was a part of the job description."
"Your job description is anything I say it is, Captain!"
"Begging the commodores pardon," Kirk began defiantly, "but I dont believe that is the precise wording used in the regs."
The two men glared at each other through subspace. Stone didnt know whether to court-martial Kirk or buy him a drink. Finally, the commodore took a deep breath.
"Look, Jim, I told them this was not a good assignment for you. And Commodore Mendez agreed before he left."
"Where is Jose?"
"He was sent off to some sort of conference on spaceyards development on Pacifica and basically left this problem in my lap." Stone rolled his eyes. "But back to the point at hand: schmoozing with diplomats has not been one of your stronger suits. "
Indeed, Kirk had racked up a large number of complaints from Federation diplomats and commissioners over the years.
The commodore went on, "But Ambassador Trahn specifically requested the Enterprise for some God-only-knows reason, so youll have to make the best of it. This is the closest weve been in fifty years to getting Trill into the Federation. I dont have to remind you how important they are to our long-range strategic plans."
"No, Commodore. I do realize their importance," Kirk said crisply, satisfied that Stone, at least, had no knowledge of a set up.
"Then no more messages from Trahn, Captain."
"I dont have to tell you that if you mess this up, I wont be able to shield you from the fallout. Your next assignment would probably be piloting robot boromite transports, if you get my drift."
"I do, sir."
The screen went blank and Kirk exhaled. His gaze floated up to his first officer.
Spock met his captains eyes and shook his head slightly. "I have never had a preference for these types of assignments."
Kirk smiled ruefully in agreement.
* * * * *
The captain returned to the delegation as ordered and turned on the charm like never before. The delayed dinner went off perfectly. Without being obvious, Kirk remained professionally neutral toward the ambassador, and avoided any one-on-one conversations. Trahn also behaved so skillfully that only Kirk understood her subtext.
"Captain, Im gratified to see youre feeling better," she oozed.
"Mister Spock treated you well, I trust?"
"Of course. Though not a lot of fun at parties, is he?"
"Life isnt all parties, Ambassador. I find him quite useful out here in space."
"Im sure you do. But perhaps you wont be in space so much in the future. And youll be able to walk in your gardens more often."
Kirk took her implications without response. It was not an empty threat. Far more careers had been destroyed by politics than any lapses in judgment. Egos bruised easily in Starfleet. There were plenty of bean-counters who would love to see him knocked down a rung or two.
During the afternoon and evening, the captain began to notice that Trahns own people seemed wary of her, as though apprehensive of her displeasure. Perhaps he was not the first to incur her wrath.
"Gravas Heckt," Kirk addressed the short, rotund, balding deputy ambassador with his most brilliant smile. "Tell me more about life on Trill..."
* * * * *
On the following day a string quartet from among the crew had been put together for the delegates enjoyment, as well as cultural exchange. They had just reached the second movement of Griegs "Hall of the Mountain King" when the captain was quietly called to the intercom.
"Kirk here, what is it, Mister Spock?"
"A ship is hailing us, Captain. It is from Trill."
"Do they want to speak with the Ambassador?"
"No, sir. The occupant wishes to speak with you. He is requesting political asylum."
"Asylum? Ill be right there."
Ambassador Trahn sensed something was wrong as the captain slipped out from the concert. She considered her options, whispered an excuse to her aide, and then left as well.
Gravas Heckt observed silently the unusual behavior. He knew the ambassador well enough to recognize that she had declared a personal war against the starship captain. He didnt know particularly whyhe never knew the particularsjust that such altercations always turned out badly for the focus of her rancor. He counted himself fortunate that he had kept himself clear of such a conflict, thus far, and soon returned to the enjoyment of the music.
* * * * *
Finding her way to the nearest turbolift, Trahn requested it take her to the bridge. She arrived in time to hear Kirk giving instructions to lock on a tractor beam.
"Captain, I forbid you to bring that ship on board," Trahn insisted.
Kirk turned, a little surprised to see Trahn on the bridge, but more amused than perturbed by her demand. She was in his territory now. "You forbid me, Ambassador? Why?"
"That is a Trill vessel?" the ambassador asked.
"Yes, it is. And its pilot is requesting political asylum," the captain answered.
"A disgruntled agitator. I thought that some might try something like this, to disrupt the conference. This is an internal problem, Captain. You have no right to interfere."
"My orders are very specific regarding requests for asylum. If you will recall, you work for your government; I work for mine."
Trahns eyes flashed fury.
Bridge officers Sulu, Chekhov, and Uhura watched the exchange with intense curiosity as did the first officer. They didnt know the particulars, but gossip about the first nights fiasco had been bouncing around the ship ever since Tanuvasa hit the armory. Problem was, most of the rumors contained a very low degree of facts.
"Lieutenant Uhura, have a security team meet Mister Spock and me at the hangar deck."
"Aye, sir," Uhura acknowledged.
"Mister Spock?" The captain gestured toward the turbolift.
Trahn stood planted in their way refusing to be ignored. "I demand to be allowed to accompany you."
Kirk smiled and gallantly gestured an invitation for her as well. Infuriating as she was, he still found her attractive.
Kirk gave the lift computer the order for the hangar bay and turned to the first officer. "How many on board?"
"Sensors read only one humanoid, the pilot Aramond," Spock responded.
Ambassador Trahn reacted to the name with recognition and... something else. The sadness Kirk had sensed previously.
Spock noticed as well. "Do you know this individual, Ambassador?"
The hardness returned. "An agitator. Are there no dissenters on any of the worlds of the Federation?"
"Indeed, there are," he admitted, thinking back on Doctor Sevrins followers and how they had nearly taken the lives of all aboard the Enterprise in their pursuit of the mythical planet Eden only a few days earlier. "However, our society prides itself on allowing them the right to express themselves, even if they want to topple the very society that affords them that right. Weve learned theres nothing to fear from differing views."
"I am not afraid of this man. But he will disrupt the conference with his lies," the ambassador stated.
* * * * *
The Trill pilot stepped from the small craft. He was of average height, on the thin side, and wore a comfortable green jumpsuit that almost everyone in the quadrant seemed to have the pattern for. His was a narrow, plain face, which nevertheless wore the border of mottling distinctive to the Trill. He hesitated upon seeing the ambassador. "I requested asylum, Captain. What is she doing here?"
"Diplomatic courtesy," Kirk explained. "I assure you, you are under Federation protection. At least until your request for asylum can be investigated by the proper Federation authorities."
Aramond buried his hands in his pockets and walked forward.
"Perhaps you can tell us something of your reasons for your request, Mister Aramond," the captain asked. "I will need it for my report to Starfleet."
"Slavery, Captain. I am fleeing slavery," the Trill said earnestly.
"Lies!" Trahn shouted. "There is no slavery on Trill."
Kirk shot a look at Spock who responded, "Our reports of Trill are that the inhabitants are intelligent, well-educated, economically equitable, progressive people. There is no sign of slavery or of a caste system of any kind."
"I told you its all a lie," Trahn reiterated.
"On the contrary. You know it does exist, Methia Trahn." The pilot bored his dark eyes steadily into the Trill ambassador.
"Slavery is a very serious charge, Mister Aramond," Kirk stated. "Have you brought any evidence or proof?"
"I havent, but the ambassador has. You wont believe me if I tell you. I will have to show you." Aramond drew his hand from his pocket and brought a small hand weapon with it. A yellow beam caught the Trill ambassador in the chest. She collapsed to the deck.
Security immediately seized Aramond and his weapon. The pilot quickly surrendered, and gave no further resistance.
Spock dropped down next to Trahn to check for signs of life while Kirk called for Sickbay to send a medic on the double. The perturbed captain then confronted the renegade Trill. "Was all this just a ruse to kill the ambassador?"
"I didnt kill her, Captain. Youll understand my purpose very shortly," Aramond explained.
"Shes not dead, Jim," Spock reported.
Kirk glanced at the unconscious ambassador then studied the Trill pilot. The latter was calm. Not the appearance of an attempted assassin.
"Take him to the brig," the captain instructed.
* * * * *
Aramond was just as docile and uncooperative behind the brigs force field.
"For what purpose did you request asylum?" Kirk barked, pacing back and forth.
"I already told you. I am fleeing slavery."
"And what was the purpose of stunning the Ambassador?"
"Patience, Captain," the refugee answered languidly. "You will know the reason yourself directly."
Kirk was clearly agitated. This assignment had gone from bad to worse.
A call came over the intercom from Sickbay. Kirk punched the comm button. "Kirk here. What did you find, Bones?"
"I think youd better come see this for yourself."
Kirk shot an angry look at the Trill prisoner and headed for Sickbay.
* * * * *
The Trill ambassador lay unconscious on the bed, her vital signs being announced on the display above.
"How is she?" the captain asked.
"Oh, shes fine. The stun wasnt very strong," Doctor McCoy explained. "She should be coming around any time."
Spocks attention was drawn to a medical viewer. An imaging screen presented a curious anatomical display. Organs were outlined and color-coded for contrast. Featured most prominently was a peculiar, large, worm-shaped object.
"What do you make of this, Doctor?" Spock inquired.
Kirks attention followed McCoys back to the screen. "Ah, now that is the sixty-four kilocredit question," the doctor replied.
"This is the ambassador?" Kirk asked.
"In all her glory," McCoy said. "Ive accounted for all the organs. It isnt one of them. And...it generates brainwaves."
"Brainwaves?" Kirk repeated, somewhat horrified.
"Fascinating. Some sort of parasitic creature, then?" the science officer speculated.
"Definitely parasitic," McCoy confirmed. "It is drawing sustenance from her body."
"Can you remove it?" Kirk inquired.
"Sure I can remove it," the doctor answered. "But the question is whether I should, or whether shed want it removed."
"And the answer to that is No," the ambassador interjected indignantly. "How dare you examine me like a common lab rat?" She tried to rise off the bed, but in standing, wobbled. Kirk, who was closest, caught her and helped her back on the bed. She pulled away disdainfully.
"Sorry, Ambassador. But a medical examination is standard procedure whenever someones injured," McCoy informed her.
"We believe we discovered what Aramond wanted us to find," Spock stated.
"Are you going to tell us about the parasite, Ambassador?" Kirk asked.
"It is not a parasite... It is a Symbiont. We are a joined species, Captain," she explained haughtily.
"A joined species? A unique evolutionary development," Spock said with some excitement. "Then the Symbiont is intelligent?"
"Of course," she replied.
"A symbiosis implies a mutually beneficial relationship," Kirk observed. "If you dont mind my asking, how do you benefit from carrying this creature around inside of you?"
"You dont understand," the ambassador began. "I am the Symbiont. I am Ambassador Trahn. I am the one with the experience and knowledge. The humanoid, Methia, is only the latest in a long line of hosts."
"Indeed. Then your life span is considerably longer than the average humanoids," Spock speculated.
"Quite so, Mister Spock. In fact, I am over four hundred years old," the ambassador responded.
Spock raised an eyebrow in surprise.
The captain, however, kept his reactions quite close to the vest. "Youll forgive me, Ambassador, but my question remains. What benefit is there to your host? Do they enter into this... relationship willingly?"
"Of course they enter willingly! It is a great honor among the Trill to host a Symbiont. How else could a mere Trill acquire the extensive knowledge and diverse experiences as they can with us?"
"I see what you mean," Kirk replied neutrally.
"I doubt that you do, Captain," Trahn said arrogantly.
His expression still guarded, Kirk turned to leave Sickbay.
"Captain. What are you going to do with the criminal, Aramond?" Trahn demanded to know.
"I already explained to you, Ambassador," the captain replied sharply. "At a minimum, he will be charged with assault for stunning you with his weapon. As to his request for political asylum, that will be for individuals above my pay grade to decide."
* * * * *
Security brought the refugee to Captain Kirks quarters, accompanied by Spock and Doctor McCoy.
"Have a seat, Mister Aramond," Kirk invited.
"Do you understand now, Captain?" Aramond inquired.
"I understand that you stunned Ambassador Trahn so that we would learn about the symbiotic nature of the Trill," Kirk replied.
"The slavery of Trill humanoids, Captain."
"Ambassador Trahn says the joining is entered into willingly. That it is an honor, in fact," Kirk related.
"That is what she and the Symbionts would like you to believe. Traditionally, becoming a host has been strictly voluntary. There is a sort of prestige that has been built up around being chosen that many Trill buy into."
"But you dont," Kirk said.
"No, I do not. The percentage of Symbionts to Humans on Trill has always been low, perhaps one to ten thousand, until recently. There is a screening process and tests to determine compatibility. These are being circumvented in some circles. A black market of sorts. The Symbionts have been reproducing in larger numbers, and are running low on willing hosts."
"Aramond, have you one of these... Symbionts inside of you?" Kirk asked.
McCoy raised his diagnostic wand near the Trill refugee. He shook his head to indicate the negative results.
"I was chosen to become a host. When I declined, I was told refusal was not an option. So I fled. Became a fugitive. That is why I request asylum."
"If you are returned to Trill, they will put one of those things into you?" Kirk probed.
"Im certain they will."
"What about the other delegates?" Spock inquired. "Do any of them also have Symbionts?"
"I dont know. I assume they do. You cant really get anywhere, do anything... important on Trill unless youre joined."
"Cant you go to officials of your planet and expose this black market?" McCoy inquired.
"I dont know who I can trust, who is involved. Theyre joined Trill. They dont want to believe this is going on or question the integrity of the program," Aramond explained. "Captain, this is about more than just me." The Trill slid forward in his chair and spoke with growing intensity. "I represent a large number of Trill who feel the same way that I do. Some who have not been chosenyetand others who are fugitives like myself. And then... there are those who have already been joined unwillingly with a Symbiont. I wish to speak at the conference. To make your representatives aware of the true situation on Trill."
"The Federation will not interfere in the internal affairs of your planet," Spock explained softly.
"Yes, I know. But my hope is that if the Federation would just hear my case, the exposure and questions raised will put pressure on Trill to deal with current abuses."
"Aramond, do you know of someone in particular who has been joined unwillingly with a Symbiont?" Kirk asked.
"Yes, I do. Ambassador Trahns host, in fact, was not a willing participant."
"You know that for certain?" Kirk asked with concern.
"Yes, Captain. Before the joining, Methia was my wife."
The Starfleet officers received the startling news with surprise.
The captain rose, indicating their conversation had reached a climax. "I will make your request known to the proper authorities. In the meantime, I would like you to remain in the quarters we provide for you." He nodded toward the security officer for acknowledgment. "A guard will be posted outside your door, as much for your protection, Aramond, as to keep you separated from the delegation. You will be charged with assault upon our arrival at Starbase Eleven. The Federation Council itself will take up the question of whether or not to grant you asylum."
"I understand, Captain. You have my appreciation."
The Trill fugitive exited the cabin, accompanied by security guards. Kirk turned back to his senior officers.
"Well, that sure opened up a can of worms," McCoy quipped.
"Doctor, your choice of words is not amusing," Spock scolded.
"Bones is right, Mister Spock. This is a can of worms, but its one that the Federation will just have to deal with." Kirk punched the intercom at his desk. "Uhura, get me Commodore Stone at Starbase Eleven."
"Aye, Captain. Momentarily," the familiar voice replied.
"This is not going to go over very well, Jim," McCoy cautioned.
"Indeed, Aramonds allegations may be construed by some as assisting the Klingon agenda," Spock added.
Kirk knew his officers and friends were right, but the glimpses hed seen of Methia haunted him. He knew what it was like to be trapped somewhere he didnt want to be, to have his own will and identity stolen from him by another.
Stones visage appeared on the screen. "Captain, this had better not be more bad news."
Kirk sidestepped the warning, "Commodore, I need to apprise you of a situation. A Trill national has made a formal request for political asylum."
"Asylum? From what?" the commodore demanded.
"Slavery, sir," Kirk pronounced gravely.
"Slavery? This is nonsense. Theres no slavery on Trill."
"It has come to our attention that on the Trill home world there is a symbiotic creature who joins with..."
"The Symbionts? Yes, yes, we know all about them," Stone replied sharply.
The reply took Kirk by surprise. "You know about them?"
"Yes, of course. It isnt common knowledge, but neither is it slavery, Captain."
Kirk persisted, "The refugee claims, sir, that it is not always the desire of Trill humanoids to be joined with these Symbionts. He wishes to address the Federation Council before a vote for admission is considered."
"What evidence do you have of this?" the commodore inquired.
"At this point, just his testimony. He has knowledge that the ambassadors own host was not joined by free choice."
The commodore collected his thoughts. "These are serious charges, but I cant disrupt this conference on the word of one dissident. Look, Jim. I dont know whats going on out there between you and the ambassador, but your orders are not to bother her with these allegations. Is that clear, Captain?"
"All too clear, sir. And the request for asylum?" Kirk pressed softly.
"Well investigate it through the proper channels when you get here. Stone out."
After the screen went dark, Kirk turned to Spock and McCoy.
"That means theyre going to bury it until after the conference," McCoy translated.
"Not if I can help it," Kirk replied with a grim determination his friends knew only too well.
"You heard your orders, Jim. Youre to drop this until we get to Starbase Eleven," McCoy reminded.
Kirk shook his head. "Im just to stay away from the ambassador."
"The commodore said nothing about the delegation," Spock reasoned.
Kirk smiled at his second-in-command. There was hope for him. "This isnt over, yet. We need hard evidence."
"So just how are you going to prove that your friend is a body snatcher like her ex-husband charges?" McCoy asked.
"I dont know yet. Bones, go back over the data from your examination of the ambassador. Look for anything else we may need to know. Spock, you and I will speak to the other delegates. See what knowledge they have of Aramonds allegations and what their attitudes are." Kirk clamped his hand on Spocks arm. "But first, you know, that transmission had way too much static. You need to get up to the bridge and have Uhura clear that up."
"Static, Captain?" Spock had not noticed any of significance. "You are aware that will require running a diagnostic. Transmission will be impossible for several hours," the Vulcan needlessly informed him.
"Is there someone you want to call, Mister Spock?" Kirk asked innocuously.
The Vulcan first officer cocked his head in a puzzled response.
"Then meet me in rec room two afterwards," Kirk said, sending the first officer on his way.
The doctor lingered. "Emma, I think it was, or... Ebony. Something like... Emony! That was it."
"Hmm?" Kirk didnt understand.
"The Trill I met at the university. Emony Dax. Good Lord, Jim. What if she had a Symbiont?"
"Dont come crying to me, Bones," Kirk needled without sympathy. "I wasnt the one playing doctor without a license."
* * * * *
Spock left the turbolift and took a glance around the bridge to confirm that all was as it should be. Kirk always said you could sense when something wasnt right. Illogical, yet Spock found himself engaging in the habit anyway before stepping toward communications. Leaning past the beautiful communications officer, he pressed various buttons in sequence and studied the readouts. "Anomalies in circuits B23, D9, J40, and...a dozen subroutines."
"Theyre within operational parameters, Mister Spock," Uhura pointed out.
"Efficiency requires diligence, Miss Uhura."
"Agreed, Mister Spock, but to correct these minor defects will take several hours and in the meantime make outgoing communications impossible."
The turbolift opened, and the first officer glanced over to see the Trill ambassador walk onto the bridge. Suddenly comprehending the captains current madness, Spock leaned over the console as though checking something. He spoke in lowered tones, "Let it take as long as it takes, Lieutenant. Captains orders. Please proceed... immediately."
Understanding enough, Uhura complied while saying in a low breathy drawl, "I hope he knows what hes doing."
Spock looked at Uhura with eyes that agreed.
The ambassador came directly to the communications station.
"I wish to send a message to your Starbase Eleven."
In her most professional manner, Uhura turned and explained, "Im sorry, Ambassador. We just began a diagnostic cycle. It will be another two to three hours before well be able to transmit."
"This is an outrage!" Trahn seethed.
"Standard operating procedures, Ambassador," Spock explained unemotionally.
"'Standard operating procedures,' indeed. Where is Captain Kirk?" she said malevolently.
"I believe he is with your delegation in Recreation Room Two. I was on my way there myself. Do you wish me to escort you?"
* * * * *
"Captain Kirk, I will have your head!" Trahn cried as she entered Rec Room Two, Spock in tow. "First, you insult us, and now, you make us virtual prisoners on this ship!"
"And just how have I made you prisoners, Ambassador?" Kirk asked, chewing on a stalk of celery.
"I was just trying to contact Trill and was told transmission is impossible."
"I believe it was Starbase Eleven you desired to contact," Spock corrected.
"Who asked you?" the ambassador spun around and glared at the Vulcan.
Kirk glanced briefly to his first officer to verify that there were no changes in the story before proceeding. "My apologies. Normal communications maintenance protocols. However, we are still on course for Starbase Eleven and will arrive there on schedule. You are hardly prisoners, Ambassador."
"Relax, Methia Trahn," Gravas Heckt stepped to her side. "We will be to the Federation starbase all too soon."
Trahn glared at the deputy ambassador. "You are a fool, Gravas Heckt. Dont you see what hes doing?"
"It appears to me the captain is being a very hospitable host," the deputy said, trying to play peacemaker. "Why dont you try the buffet?"
Methia Trahn glared at the amiable Heckt. "You do know what hes doing Youre in this with them! Just wait until we return to Trill. I will see to it that you never serve in the diplomatic corps again," she stated ominously.
Gravas Heckt went pale. Silence and apprehension hung thickly over the rest of the delegates.
Captain James T. Kirk chose that very moment to take another bite from the very loudly crispy celery stick.
Trahn glared at the audibly chewing captain, "You are trying to turn my own people against me."
"Seems to me youre doing a very good job of it all on your own. Im simply trying to get you to try the buffet. Its very good, if I do say so myself," Kirk said innocently.
Trahn scowled. "Enjoy your pretty ship while you can, Captain. Loathsome humanoid," she hissed under her breath.
Higher brain functions said, Hold back. Bide your time. Look for weakness. But more primitive impulses urged, Counterattack. Kirk swung to the opposite side of the table, his voice surprisingly controlled and casual. "Tell me something, Ambassador. You once said it was the Symbionts with the experience and the knowledge. But arent you merely voyeurs? Experiencing vicariously what evolution has denied you?"
"You know nothing of what you speak." Trahn seemed to laugh indulgently.
"Perhaps not," the captain granted. "But then I wouldnt be dangerous to you, would I?"
Trahns sneer fluttered then, andif only momentarily Kirk seemed to be looking into the pleased eyes of...the other.
The ambassador shook it off and turned away. "He is such an awful man," she spat to her aide. "An awful, awful, awful, awful, awful man!"
Kirk shrugged to his watchful first officer and took another bite of celery.
* * * * *
That evening after activities were concluded, Spock and McCoy rendezvoused in the captains quarters. McCoys formal uniform was half undone, and Kirk changed into the more comfortable gold-green tunic while they talked.
"Ninety percent of the Trill company are joined and, as Aramond indicated, occupy the positions of higher authority," Spock reported.
"Thats actually not too surprising, if they are the ones with the more years and experience," Kirk commented. "Anything new, Bones?"
"Only that the merging is far more extensive than I originally realized. Biologically, the two essentially become one being."
"Which corresponds with my observations," Spock added. "There seems to be a seamless fusion of personalities as well as biology."
"Did you get a sense at any time that you were speaking with two separate individuals?" Kirk asked trying to confirm his own experience.
"No. I was told the ideal is that Symbiont and host be carefully matched so that there is a merging of equals."
"Except when we spoke to Methia Trahn, we were told frankly that we were talking to the Symbiont," McCoy remembered.
"Yes, we were, werent we?" the captain recalled.
"Perhaps in an unequal match, one personality can dominate," McCoy speculated.
"Gravas Heckt knew nothing specific regarding Trahns history, but admitted to the possibility that guidelines may be circumvented on occasion," Spock reported.
"Spock, what did you sense was the delegations attitude toward the ambassador, herself?"
"Fear. She is apparently a formidable power on Trill."
"Exactly. Trahn has been rising through the ranks over the last two hundred years in spite of whichever host he...she...it has occupied."
"I wonder..." McCoy had not been following the discussion.
"You wonder what?" Kirk asked.
"How do you suppose these species got together in the first place? Do you think a Trill humanoid one day picked up one of these ugly creatures and said, Gee, Id love to carry one of these around in my stomach.?"
"I made a similar, though not so descriptive, inquiry," Spock reported. "The origins are uncertain even to the Trill. The first joining is remembered only in legend and mythology."
"I was told that in their native state the Symbionts command a level of telepathy," Kirk added.
"Indeed. Telepathy suggests, perhaps... hypnosis," Spock offered.
"Demon possession," McCoy mumbled.
"I dont know, Jim, it seems wrong to me for humanoids to serve as kangaroo rides for these creatures, no matter how intelligent or old they are."
"Typical of you, Doctor, to make a moral judgment upon Trill symbiosis when it is a valid choice if entered into freely," Spock challenged.
"Oh. And now I suppose youre going to tell us that youd find it fascinating to have one of those space slugs hooked up to your stomach."
Even Spock looked a little discomfited by the thought. "No. While I find temporary mind melds enlightening experiences, I have no desire to lose myself permanently in a fusion of intellects." And then in afterthought, "Of course, none of us have been exposed to the Trill cultural experience that would instruct one in the advantages of such a union."
"Yes, cultural peer pressure can make almost anything seem normal or desirable, cant it? Like binding the feet of children to keep them small, or body piercing, or the repression of emotions"
"Doctor" Spock began with strained patience.
"All right, Bones," the captain finally interceded. "Spocks right. Trill symbiosis is their own business, as long as its voluntary."
"Well, were not any closer to getting any proof to the contrary than we were," McCoy griped. "Theres nobody on board who can confirm Aramonds allegations."
"Maybe there is," Kirk said cryptically. "Spock, do you think it would be possible to contact Methia, the hosts consciousness, separately with a mind meld?"
The Vulcan speculated, "It is difficult to say. It may not be possible to separate the identities...at least, not completely. It is an intriguing question."
"And even if you could, Jim, youre in enough trouble with Trahn and the commodore as it is," McCoy pointed out.
"Then I havent anything to lose, have I? Bones, I have to know," Kirk justified.
"And what if Aramond is just a jealous husband, on a vendetta because his wife left him to join with this Trahn?" McCoy suggested.
"I dont believe it. I think Methia has been trying to communicate with me, to ask for my help," Kirk revealed.
"Are you sure, Jim? Are you sure youre not mistaking your attraction for the woman? Are you willing to risk your career on it?" McCoy argued powerfully, but he could tell Kirks mind was already made up. In his frustration, he turned to his usual rival, "Spock"
"Doctor McCoy has a valid point, Jim, an emotional one, but valid nonetheless," the Vulcan agreed calmly and softly, but with just as much evident concern. "The odds for success are very low, and you will have gone against a direct order of Commodore Stone."
"And if she is trapped by the Symbiont? How could I live with myself knowing I could have done something?" Kirk countered. Spock took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, but the truth was he never could muster an effective argument against Kirks altruism.
"This is insane," McCoy defined at last. "Trahn would never allow Spock near enough for a mind meld, let alone submit to one knowingly."
"Why not? Someone as arrogant and self-possessed as she is?" Kirk shrugged. "Lets ask her."
* * * * *
Embarrassment covered Aramonds face as he asked the security guard to come into his cabin. He pointed to the library viewer. "I dont know what I did to it. Its locked up somehow. Can you fix it? Theres really nothing else for me to do in here to pass the time."
The security guard nodded knowingly. "Oh, yeah, this happened a few weeks ago to the screen in my quarters." He began making adjustments to the computer. "No problem. You just"
The guard staggered for a moment, dazed from the blow. Aramond struck him a second time, watched him crumple to the floor, and removed the phaser.
* * * * *
Ambassador Trahn hunched before the computer terminal, updating the notes for her remarks to the Federation Council. She had many addenda as a result of her experiences aboard the Enterprise, and she was loading for bear. The door chimed, breaking her concentration most unwillingly.
"Come in," she snapped.
The door opened, and she was surprised to see the captain, first officer and medical chief enter. She smiled sardonically, "Can I send my message now?"
"As a matter of fact, the board is clear," the captain replied.
"Finally," she said crossing the room.
"Ambassador, you must be aware that Aramond has made certain allegations since coming aboard."
She paused. "Indeed? What sort of allegations?" she asked coyly.
"I think you know. That Methia became your host unwillingly," Kirk stated.
"And how could that be, Captain? Gentlemen? How could an armless, legless Symbiont force itself into the body cavity of a healthy humanoid?" Trahn countered mildly.
"Good question. You had help," the captain speculated.
"Ahhh. A conspiracy. I like that," the ambassador said with amusement. "Is that all?"
"Were here to obtain your response to those charges for my report to Starfleet," Kirk explained.
"I see, for your report. Well, for your report, Captain, I would have to deny those charges, of course," Trahn said.
"Of course. But then it would be your word against Aramonds. There is a way," the captain began, "to verify that youre telling us the truth. Mister Spock could mind meld with you. Contact Methia separately. Ask her directly if she were a willing participant."
"Clever, Captain," she said, studying the Vulcan.
Kirk could see Trahn relished the challenge as he had hoped. "But this could work only if Methia were still a separate identity. You still dont understand us, do you? We are now one."
"Perhaps you cannot be separated," Spock commented. "Perhaps you can. It is an intriguing question, dont you think, Ambassador?"
"And Vulcans love an intriguing question," Trahn replied. She was the essence of self-confidence. "I will permit it on one condition. That you, Captain, testify under oath to what you learn here. That Aramonds disruption is the raving of a jealous husband who couldnt keep the little wife at home."
"If that is what we learn, Ill testify to it," Kirk promised.
"And... I receive a formal apology from you," Trahn demanded.
McCoy and Spock both looked to the captain who seemed to squirm slightly. "Youll have it," he said tightly, "if you deserve it."
Trahn appeared triumphant. "Very well. What do I do?" she asked the Vulcan.
"Nothing," Spock explained, gesturing for her to be seated. He took a chair opposite her. "There will initially be a feeling of euphoria, of floating," he explained, as he lightly rubbed his fingers together.
He reached for her face. Gently, then firmly, he pressed his fingertips from her lower jaw to her sinuses and upon her temples. The sensation was not at all unpleasant, one indeed of floating, through space and then, curiously, in water. Spock found himself in the primordial pool in the caves of Makala, deep beneath Trill. The Symbiont was there. Methia was there. Spock swam with them. They floated together for what seemed a timeless eternity. And then he reached out to Methia, to swim to her.
She looked at him curiously, questioningly. He took her by the hand and pulled her toward himself and away from the Symbiont. He turned and they swam away together farther and farther across the pool from the bobbing Symbiont.
* * * * *
"Spock?" Kirk inquired, uncertain of the effectiveness of their operation. "Spock!" He repeated with more urgency.
The woman opened her eyes and nodded calmly to Spock, who also relaxed, removed his hands, and sat back, his brow furrowed.
Kirk looked then at the woman with whom he was at first entranced and then at odds. Her expression was the calm, graceful, but vulnerable young woman who he had sensed was within.
"Hello, Captain... Jim." Her smile dazzled him once again. "Why are you doing this?"
"Methia, Aramond tells us that you were joined with the Symbiont against your will. Is this true?"
"I was very happy in my former life. But Aramond did not understand. This is what Ive always wanted."
Kirk was crestfallen.
"Please tell Aramond to forget about me," Methia continued.
Kirk hesitated to reply, "If thats what you want. If you are happy."
"Im very happy."
"All very well and good, except that you are not Methia," Spock spoke.
Methia shot the Vulcan a look, her expression clouded.
"Very clever, Ambassador." Spock then addressed his captain. "What you are observing, gentlemen, is in fact little more than what they call on Earth a ventriloquist act. She tried to convince me the personalities had separated. But they had not."
Anger smoldered in the ambassadors eyes, the edge returned to her voice. "Youre wrong, Commander. But I suppose it will ultimately be your word against mine. Oh I will have that apology, Captain. And when I get through with you, they wont give you a life pod to command."
Kirks reaction was interrupted by the door chime. The portal slid back, and Gravas Heckt stepped into the room. "Why, Captain, you didnt tell me we were having a party?" Trahn quipped.
"Gentlemen," the deputy ambassador began, "you save me the trouble of coming to you. I have some news I think you will find interesting."
"You find Selipsis fungus interesting, Gravas Heckt," Methia Trahn sneered.
"Ive been in contact with Audrid Dax of the Symbiosis Commission, Methia Trahn," Heckt explained.
McCoy flinched in surprise at the name Dax. Kirk shot him a questioning look to which the doctor could only shrug.
"She finds," Heckt continued, "that the records of testing and screening for this and your previous host are both forgeries."
"That is a lie, you political hack. The end of your career is at hand, and you seek to discredit me in retaliation. It wont work," Trahn threatened.
"Another curiosity: your attending physician has recently had his license revoked for performing unauthorized joinings."
"That has nothing to do with me."
"No? Why else would you need to falsify testing and screening records?" Kirk asked.
"Unauthorized joinings are a serious crime, Trahn," said Gravas Heckt.
"Serious enough to keep Trill out of the Federation," Kirk threatened.
"For slavery?" she laughed derisively. "I was assured that everything was in order," she said, affecting the most innocent blue eyes. "Your United Federation of Planets wants Trill pretty badly, Captain. And Ive had four hundred years to learn how to get what I want."
"By using people? Manipulating them? Toying with them for your personal ambitions and pleasures?"
"Your words, Captain."
The doors to the hall slid open, and Aramond stepped inside, a troubled expression upon his face and a phaser set to kill in his hand.
"Aramond, put the phaser down," Kirk ordered.
But the Trill refugee would not be moved in his purpose or his aim.
"Aramond," Gravas Heckt jumped in, "weve found evidence for the illegal joining. Trahn can be brought to justice."
"And what about Methia? She will never have justice."
"What do you mean? We can help her now. Remove the Symbiont. Restore her to you," McCoy stated.
"She can never go back," Aramond replied.
"Its true, Captain." Heckt confirmed. "When the Symbiont joins with a Trill humanoid, the chemistry is changed, merged. She cannot survive now without it."
"But surely theres something that can be done," McCoy urged.
"Oh, pluuease," Trahn interrupted. "Do you think I imprisoned Methia? I freed her. Do you think it was I who wanted you, Captain? It was Methia."
"Of course it was Methia," Aramond agreed. "We discussed this plan before you ever took her. We only hoped the captain was as meddling as we heard he was," Aramond explained.
"There was a compliment in there somewhere, Jim," the doctor reassured.
Kirk grimaced. "Then Methia was trying to communicate with me, all the while knowing it could do her no good, personally."
"To expose the black market," Aramond said stoically. The armed and dangerous Trill soon returned his aim to the ambassador. "Theres only one way to deal with a monster like you. Forgive me, my love "
Kirk leapt, but it was too late. Methia Trahns expression froze in horrified surprise. Her whole body radiated momentarily, and then was gone.
Spock pressed the intercom. "Security to Ambassador Trahns quarters."
The deed finished, Aramond seemed to collapse under the emotional weight of what hed done. He spoke between sobs. "It wasnt right for her to have to live like that."
The doors opened again, and the captain barely glanced toward the security guards before pronouncing grimly, "Lock him up."
* * * * *
After three stressful days at Starbase Eleven, James Kirk stepped once again onto the bridge of his ship. It felt good for several reasons, not the least of which was that for the last three days he wasnt sure he would return as its captain. McCoy loitered on the upper level near the science officer, and both men looked up at their friends entrance.
"All departments report ready to depart, Captain." Spock reported. "Course plotted to our next assignment."
Before he could reply, Uhura informed him, "Incoming transmission from Starbase Eleven, Captain. Gravas Heckt wishes to speak to you."
Kirk smiled. The captain had gotten to like the deputy ambassador, a far more amiable representative of joined Trill. He took the call standing by his chair. "Deputy Ambassador Heckt."
"I was happy to hear that everything turned out all right for you, Captain. For a while, I wasnt sure whether your Commodore Stone was going to court martial you or buy you a drink."
Kirk laughed. "I had doubts myself. Fortunately, he decided on the latter."
"Fortunately for all involved. You are already being hailed as The Emancipator of Trill."
"The...Emancipator... me?" Kirk glanced at Spock and McCoy with a shrug. "I didnt do anything except try to find out the truth."
"Truth is always a prelude to freedom, Captain. I will be returning to Trill shortly. Not entirely popular, Im afraid, but sometimes a representative must also provide leadership. I will recommend we clear up a few of our... irregularities before Trill re-enters negotiations with the Federation, a moratorium on joinings until just guidelines can be reestablished."
"Aramond is returning with you, I understand."
"He will get a fair trial. I intend to speak on his behalf."
"Then hes in good hands."
"Until we meet again, Captain."
"Fair winds, Gravas Heckt."
"Ah yes. Fair winds, Captain."
The communication ended, Kirk directed himself to Spock, "Did you know that the Symbiont Heckt used to be a ship builder and boat captain in a previous host?"
"I was not aware of that."
"Why cant all ambassadors be as nice as he is?" Kirk said to no one in particular.
Spock answered, nevertheless, "Unknown, Captain. Perhaps ambassadors should be required to have had previous lives."
"Preferably in Starfleet," Kirk added. "What do you think Maybe we should make a formal recommendation to the Federation Council?"
"Coming from you two, I know how that idea will go down," McCoy quipped.
"Lets get under way, Mister Spock. Full normal speed until we clear this system."
"Full normal speed, Mister Sulu."
"Full normal speed," the helmsman echoed as the Enterprise sped away to a far more welcome assignment.
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