Thomas C. Harden
"Uhura," Kirk said, "advise Chief Bradley's office that the Enterprise will arrive three weeks earlier than previously anticipated."
"Aye, sir," she acknowledged.
Kirk looked over to Doctor McCoy who had just entered the bridge. Ever since the doctor had heard that Bill Bradley was the Chief of Mining Operations on Axanar, he'd been trying to remember where he'd heard that name. "Bill Bradley," he began, "wasn't he a Fleet Admiral or something?"
Spock, who had been standing nearby, cleared his throat. "Chief Bradley discovered uramite on Axanar when he was a geology professor at Starfleet Academy. He was searching through samples from recently explored worlds and happened upon the uramite-rich sample from Axanar."
"I was one of his 'star' pupils when it happened," added Kirk. "It was really an exciting time."
"Bradley is most noted for his theories in matter convergence and mineral stability. He retired from Starfleet after being trapped in a vault filled with nepton gas, and was hired by a local firm to come to Axanar to supervise the mining operations."
"I hear he has quite an operation down there," the captain remarked.
"What about Salos?"
"He obtained soil and rock samples of Salos once he came to Axanar. His analysis of those samples reported that there were no metals or substances on Salos that held any value to Starfleet," answered the Vulcan.
"Approaching Axanar, Captain," announced the helmsman.
"Standard orbit, Mister Sulu. Scotty, you have the conn. Uhura, notify the transporter room; Spock and I will be beaming down."
Kirk and Spock materialized in the outer office of the Chief of Mining Operations. There was no one there, so they went into Bradley's inner office. It, too, was empty. The captain turned to his first officer. "I wonder where everybody is?"
"Uhura did notify them we were beaming down," Spock pointed out.
They went back to the outer office, and Bradley entered from a side door. "Gentlemen!" He was obviously startled. "I apologize for not being here when you arrived, but we've been quite..." Bradley's face lit up when he recognized the captain. "Jim Kirk," the mining chief said, approaching the starship captain with his hand extended.
"It's good to see you, sir. I didn't think you'd remember me," commented Kirk as he shook hands with Bradley. He was pleased that the miner recalled his name.
"It'd be hard not to. Your name's been making headlines since you left the Academy."
Kirk gestured toward the Vulcan. "This is my first officer, Mister Spock."
"Pleased to meet you."
"I am deeply honored, sir," responded Spock.
A beeping noise came from the inner office. "Excuse me, gentlemen," said Bradley.
Kirk watched as the chief entered the office. "He hasn't changed a bit, Spock. Same old smiling face." He turned to see Spock intently observing what seemed to be a child's finger painting. "What are you doing?" he asked. "What is that?"
"This," said the Vulcan whose voice was filled with awe, "is a masterpiece."
"Oh, really?" asked Kirk, chuckling at the spectacle of a Vulcan upholding what had to be the work of a four-year-old as a "masterpiece."
Spock held his tricorder to the painting. "It represents the birth of the entire Orion Empire. According to my readings, it is four thousand years old."
Kirk did a double-take as Bradley emerged from his office with a computer cassette cartridge.
"It was a gift," the chief explained, apparently having overheard Spock's analysis. "I'm glad you like it." Bradley handed the cassette to Kirk. "Here's our status report. I haven't completed the supply list."
"That's quite all right. We'll be here for a little while anyway."
"There's a shortage of radiumite."
"News of that hasn't reached way out here, yet."
Kirk nodded. "Mister Spock is prepared to go through your archives and most recent soil and rock samples. Those sent to Starfleet seem to have disappeared in a bureaucratic bungle."
"Archives?" asked Bradley.
"Yes." Kirk noticed that the ever-gleaming smile had vanished. "To see if there's sufficient quantities of radiumite here on Axanar to make mining practical."
"Yes, of course. That'll be fine," Bradley acceded, rejuvenating his smile. "We can drop your Mister Spock off at the archives while you and I stop at the lounge and get reacquainted."
"Can you manage alone, Commander?" asked the captain.
'The first officer raised an eyebrow as if offended. "Of course, sir."
Kirk sipped his brandy. He looked up at Bradley, who was enjoying his own drink. "Something wrong?" asked the starship commander.
"Pardon?" The chief smiled.
"You seem awfully quiet."
"Oh, just the usual worries of a not-so-prominent businessman."
Kirk took another swallow of his drink. "You haven't changed much."
"You have. Last time I saw you, you were just a kid."
"Hardly a kid." It was Kirk's turn to smile.
"But that was a long time ago."
"How's Federation life been treating you?" asked Bradley.
"Terrific, just terrific."
Bradley leaned back and gave Kirk a stern look.
"What's wrong, Bill?"
The mining chief shook his head and leaned toward Kirk. "You're still young, Jim. But you'll learn."
"The Federation. It's a constantly moving wheel, one that doesn't care about rolling over you. Your past records mean nothing to them. You see, I didn't just retire. I was offered retirement, or face dismissal."
"They thought the nepton gas might've had ill effects on me. Might," he repeated.
"Could they prove it?"
Bradley leaned back and smiled. "Of course not."
Spock turned off his tricorder and swept the soil back into the plastic bag. He walked back to the file cabinet and placed the bag in a drawer labeled "Axanar--Soil Samples." He went to the next drawer which was labeled "Salos----Soil Samples." He removed the plastic bag from it, went back to the testing table and turned on the tricorder.
Bradley tipped his head back to swallow his drink and noticed a miner heading toward the bar behind Kirk. The sight of him reminded the chief of the archives. "I wonder what's keeping Mister Spock?" he asked. "I'm anxious to talk with him again."
Kirk looked up. "He probably went on to the Salos soil samples."
"The Salos samples? But my report stated there was nothing of any value there."
"That report was made before the radiumite shortage."
"Quite right." He set his glass down and stood. "Would you excuse me, Jim? Business."
Kirk nodded in comprehension while reaching for his communicator. "I have to check in with the Enterprise anyway."
Kirk watched as Bradley joined the miner at the bar. They talked, and Bradley gave him a small object under the counter. The man started away as Kirk opened his communicator.
Uhura noticed an indicator light and turned to the command chair. "Mister Scott, the captain is on hailing frequency one."
"I'll take it here," the Scot said, pressing a button on the chair. "Scott here, Captain."
"Just checking in, Scotty. Any problems?"
"Our long range scanners have just picked up what seem to be two good-sized vessels orbiting the planet, Salos."
"How large are they?"
"Big enough to be class-A freighters. Or maybe Orion warships. We are pretty close to the Barrier."
"You'd better check it out, Scotty, but remain discreet. Don't start anything."
"Report back as soon as you can. Kirk out."
A miner walked into the archives and saw Spock closing the Salos file. "Hi," he said, "I'm Carl Freed, Chief Bradley's aide."
Spock seemed to ignore him and went back to the tricorder.
"Did you find what you were looking for?" the aide asked.
"No," responded Spock in a low tone. "Where is Captain Kirk?"
"He's...he's in the front office, waiting for you."
"Good. Are you to accompany me?"
"I'm afraid not," Freed answered, brandishing a phaser.
Somehow, Kirk managed to retrace his path toward the archives section. It was a long way from the lounge. It gave him time to think up a tail-kicking speech for Spock for not reporting in. He had plenty of silence for concentration since all the miners were working in the lower levels. But he hated to chew out the Vulcan. They'd known each other throughout their careers, but it was only after the death of Gary Mitchell a few months earlier that Kirk was forced to choose another first officer. The man he chose was Lieutenant Commander Spock. Thus far, Spock had been a quirky comrade, but an excellent officer who was more than competent in several areas. Dressing Spock down was something he had not yet had the need to do, but failure to maintain contact with him was in violation of landing party procedure and Starfleet regulations.
He reached the door to the archives section and stopped. He hesitated for a moment, and crashed into the doors. He checked his nose to see if it was bleeding, but it wasn't. He reached out his arms and pressed against the doors. They were apparently locked.
Kirk noticed the intercom beside the door and pressed the button. "Spock?" There was no reply. "Spock, let me in. That's an order." Kirk waited for the doors to part, knowing that his first officer would never disobey a direct order. But the doors did not open.
Kirk began to feel an aura of stupidity forming around himself. "Spock, are you in there?"
The intercom remained silent. Kirk thought of the possibilities. Maybe the intercom is broken? Maybe Spock went to the lounge to look for me? Maybe Spock is in trouble and can't open the door? Maybe when the door closed, an object got wedged in and jammed the mechanism? Kirk ran his fingers along the edges of the door.
Suddenly, he felt eyes upon him. He turned his head to see two miners watching him with interest. Kirk felt the blood rushing to his face as he grinned at them and started walking down the corridor. Apparently, Spock was not there. He went straight to Bradley's office where he had left the chief. There was no sign of the Vulcan or his former professor.
His communicator beeped twice, and he quickly withdrew it. "Kirk here."
"This is Scott, Captain."
"Go ahead, Scotty."
"We found Orion vessels at Salos, Captain."
"Orions! Was there any trouble?"
"That's what puzzles me, sir. They took sight of the Enterprise and turned tail toward the Barrier. And they outnumbered us two to one."
"That does sound strange," Kirk agreed.
"How are you and Mister Spock getting along down there?"
"I can't find him. Have Uhura see if she can locate his communicator signal."
"She's working on it, sir. But I canna get those Orions out of me head. Do ye think they may be plannin' an invasion? This area of the Barrier isnae well patrolled."
"I doubt it. If they were, they would've attacked the Enterprise."
"Aye, they must not have been prepared. 'Twas as though they were welcome to come on over or somethin'."
"Scotty," began Kirk, "contact the transporter room; I'm coming aboard."
Kirk's eyes focused, and he saw McCoy waiting beside the transporter console. "Well, what took you so long? And where's Spock?" demanded the chief medical officer.
"Don't know, Bones," Kirk admitted as they stepped into the corridor. "I'm totally confused. This whole day has been one big headache."
"Come on down to Sickbay, and I'll fix you up with something for it."
"Bridge," ordered Kirk as they stepped into the turbolift.
"It'd do you some good, Jim. You look terrible."
Kirk glanced sharply at the physician. "I feel terrible. This whole trip has been nothing but one bad experience after another. First, I lose Spock. Second, I lose Bradley. Then I find out that the Orions are sneaking around in this area of Federation space."
"Sure you don't want that aspirin?"
"I know, Bones. I'm sorry; I'm a little on edge."
They walked onto the bridge, and Lieutenant Commander Scott relinquished the command chair to the captain.
"Uhura," began Kirk, pivoting the chair toward her, "anything from Spock?"
"Negative, Captain," she replied. "Either his communicator is damaged, or he isn't on the planet."
Scott stepped forward and reported, "We spotted a small craft leaving Axanar when we shifted into orbit."
"Straight for Salos."
"Mister Bailey," Kirk ordered, "plot a course for Salos."
The new navigator pressed a few buttons on his navigational console. "Course plotted and laid in, sir."
"Mister Sulu, take us out of orbit. Ahead, Warp Factor Three."
"Warp Factor Three, aye," replied the helmsman.
It was a mass exodus. Dozens of Orion ships of all shapes and sizes filled the viewing screen on the bridge.
"They're heading for the Barrier!" cried Sulu.
"They look like cargo ships," commented Scott.
"And are probably unarmed," asserted McCoy the Conscience.
"Mister Sulu, put us in a standard orbit around Salos. Mister Bailey, we know the ships were launched from the surface. Can you pinpoint where?"
"Yes, sir. All that they would need is a large, flat area of surface, like a desert."
"There is only one location on Salos that fits those specifications, Captain," reported Ensign Hadley, the third science officer. "There is a large desert near the northern polar region of the planet."
"Good. I want a long-range scan of that desert. Find that launch point, Bailey."
"Aye, sir." Bailey went to stand beside Sulu's station as the helm officer elevated the targeting monitor from beneath the helm status board. The officers would work together and locate the launch point in the desert.
Kirk turned to Uhura. "Lieutenant, inform Starfleet of our situation, Code Factor One. I want a couple of destroyers out here on the double as backup."
"Is that going to be enough? Those Orions may be sending more than a couple of warships after us," cautioned McCoy.
"I seriously doubt that, Bones."
"And why not?"
"Don't you see? It all falls together."
"The reason for Spock's disappearance, the reason I was locked out of the archives, the reason that Bradley's been acting the way he has, the reason the Orions are out there."
"Aye!" said the overhearing chief engineer who had just seen the light. "And that explains the reason the Orions were so surprised to see the Enterprise."
"What reason?!" McCoy demanded.
Kirk and Scott looked at each other in a "go ahead, you tell them" attitude.
"I'm a doctor, not a blasted detective!"
The bridge crew was noticeably silent in anticipation of the explanation.
"Bradley," explained Kirk, "sold out to the Orions. He's been selling whatever he's got down there to them since he started here. I'll bet he's a very rich man."
"Captain," called Bailey excitedly, "I've located the launch area. I've also pinpointed an area of intense phaser and disruptor fire."
"Bailey, as soon as you compute the coordinates, transfer them to the transporter room. Scotty, you have the conn. Doctor McCoy and I are transporting down with a security detachment."
"Aye, sir," responded the chief engineer as the captain and the doctor raced into the turbolift.
A shower of sparkling lights produced six men on Salos. In the distance, the sound of phaser and disruptor fire could be heard.
"Thompson, how far?" asked Kirk.
The guard adjusted his tricorder. "About three hundred meters, sir."
Kirk noticed a particularly high rock formation. "Help me up," he ordered.
Thompson and McCoy each lifted a leg as Kirk struggled up to the top. From there, he could observe the situation. He saw two opposing sides, the miners and the Orions. Both were equal in number and weaponry. Kirk jumped down and stood with McCoy.
"Definitely Orions," reported McCoy, who'd been using the tricorder.
Kirk flipped open his communicator. "Scotty, I want the ship's phasers locked onto the area of weapons fire near us. Set to stun."
The landing party huddled behind the huge rock formation. The sky flashed a brilliant, pale green, and the sound of weapons fire stopped. The security team followed their captain to the battle area.
"Fan out and start collecting weapons!" he ordered.
"Captain!" called a nearby voice.
Kirk turned to the sound. It was Spock. He was standing in the entrance of a mine shaft. Kirk and McCoy ran to greet him. Bradley was leaning against the wall of the mine, only partially stunned as the effect could not penetrate rock.
"Bones," Kirk, pointing to the chief.
The doctor looked Bradley over. "He's in shock, Jim."
"What happened, Spock?"
The Vulcan shook his head sadly. "Chief Bradley has been mining this dilithium deposit for the Orions. They paid him well for it."
"Did he want out of the deal?"
"No, sir. When the Orions discovered the arrival of the Enterprise well ahead of schedule, they thought he'd betrayed them."
McCoy injected the mining chief with a stimulant, and he started to come to.
Kirk kneeled beside his former professor. "Bill..."
"Jim..." Bradley began weakly. "I'm a rich man, Jim. I'm the richest man in the galaxy. But the best part of it? I fooled the almighty Federation! I've fooled them all!"
McCoy walked onto the bridge to stand by his captain's side. They had both been doing some serious thinking. "Jim, what will happen to the miners of Axanar?"
"Those who requested to confess are with us. We're taking them and the Orions we captured to Starbase Thirteen. The others are still on the job and will be questioned later. What about Bradley?"
"Physically, he's fine."
"Well..." began McCoy hesitantly. "He's been ringing for room service, that's me, wanting to know why his mother isn't here to see him in his hour of glory."
Kirk sighed. "A man I'd respected all these years..."
"Turned out to be a mere Human being."
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