Bela Oxmyx was not pleased. He was not pleased at all. Nicko Braco hadnt showed at the appointed time, and here he was, the dapper dan of the mobs, Mister Good-Looking, Mister Charm and Personality, standing in the dark, in a puddle, on a deserted corner, waiting. Rain dripped off the brim of his fedora. His brand-new two-toned navy and white spectators made ominous squishing noises when he shifted his weight.
Where was that egotistical so-and-so? And who did he think he was, anyway? Bela Oxmyx was a man to be reckoned with. He wasnt some two-bit pusher new to the business. He had told Nicko to meet him here on the corner at nine, and here he was. But where was Nicko? That little son-of-a...
Bela caught himself, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. No. No. Cursing Nicko Braco and cursing his fate would do him no good. Nicko would come, or he would not, and the world would continue spinning on its axis either way. And Nicko had his own reasons and his own feelings and his own Inner Singer to answer to.
Oxmyx would dry out. His fedora would retain its snap. His new spectators would remain serviceable if he stuffed them carefully with newspapers upon his return home. He relaxed the fists that he had jammed in his raincoat pockets, searched for his Inner Singer, and nodded as a sense of calm settled over him. With a heightened awareness, he focused on listening to the raindrops as they fell on the pavement.
Oxmyx had been so deep in his contemplations that he had failed to hear Nicko approach. He turned. "Nicko," he replied.
"Sorry Im late, Bela," Nicko said.
"Sokay," Oxmyx shrugged. He heard the footsteps of his boys behind him, and he watched Bracos face go slack as he realized that this was going to be something other than a friendly chat. "Nicko," Oxmyx said with a sad little smile, "it aint personal, believe me."
Nicko Bracko licked his lips. "Bela," he said. "Lets be reasonable."
Bela sighed. "Aaah Nicko, if I had a daughter, I woulda introduced ya to her. Thats how much I think of you poisonally." Oxmyx moved from in front of him to his side, put his hand on Nickos shoulder, and nodded paternally. "Youre all right."
Nicko looked momentarily touched in spite of the circumstances.
"But ya aint a true believer of the woid, Nicko. And now its about the woid, too. Ya know?"
Bela stepped backwards and then turned away from the bark of the guns and from Nickos gasped expletive. Oxmyx personally did not believe that he was a violent man, but Braco had been a problem. He was not a true believer. He insisted on hanging on to the old ways. The planet just wasnt big enough.
Bela looked down at his spectators as he squished away from the mayhem behind him and sadly shook his head. He didnt think that stuffing them with newspapers would save them after all.
They looked shot.
To: Kirk, James T., Captain & Commanding Officer
U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701
From: Mahnkilner, Melinda J., Admiral
Starfleet Xenology Branch
Effective immediately: abort current mission, proceed with all due haste to Sigma Iotia II. It has been discovered that two Standard years ago Federation Accountant First Class Lieutenant Jackstadt inadvertently left e-book on planet while there to pick up Federations "piece of the action."
Unsure as to whether book would have been found, and if found, whether it could be read. Jackstadt unsure as to whether e-book batteries charged or not. E-pad borrowed, so Jackstadt unsure also of make and whether solar-power capable. Jackstadt unsure whether books other than one he was reading stored on e-pad.
Ensign Jackstadt now assigned janitorial engineering, Alcatraz facility, Earth.
Assess situation upon arrival and inform Starfleet. Starfleet xenopsychotherapists and intervention teams now on stand-by at Starbase 10.
Text of book and comments of Starfleet cultural anthropologists and psychotherapists attached.
"How far are we from Sigma Iotia Two, anyway?" McCoy asked.
"Nineteen point two hours, Doctor," Spock said.
"Plenty of time for reading then," Kirk said. "How big is that book, Spock?"
Spock rose and went to the captains comm unit.
"Seven hundred and twenty-seven kilobytes, Captain," he said after pulling up the information.
"I mean in pages, Spock. Call me an anachronism"
"Youre an anachronism," McCoy said affably, raising a cup of coffee.
"but Ill be damned if Im going to read the thing on a computer screen or a pad. Im printing it out."
Spocks eyebrows rose. "What page size, Captain?" he asked, sitting at the computer. "Double-spaced or single? Type style and size?"
"Never mind," Kirk said with a wave of his hand. "Ill print it out tomorrow myself. And Im asking you two to read it as well. Ill need your opinions, and I expect theyll be coming from opposing sides."
"Jimbo," McCoy said with a grin, "we will never disappoint you in that regard."
"Indeed," Spock agreed with a small nod.
Kirk strolled to the comm unit and pulled up the file with the text of the book. "Ever heard of it, Bones?"
"Whats it called again?"
Kirk squinted at the screen. "And you think Im an anachronism. This thing was written over two hundred years ago."
"Title?" McCoy said.
"Yeah. Its by O.L. Johannsen, and its called Lets Be Reasonable: Im Just Fine, and So Are You."
McCoy threw back his head and laughed so hard that coffee sloshed out of his cup and soaked into his uniform pants. "Oh boy," he said, wiping his eyes and coughing. "This should be fun."
Kirk hated these kinds of books. No adventure, no swash, no buckle, no blood. Dry as a bone, brittle textbook stuff. Hed thought that printing it out would help, because he loved the feeling of a paper book, of the heft of it, the tactile sense as he turned the page, but it wasnt helping. He could barely read two pages before hed realize that hed read the last sentence three or four times and that it had no meaning, that he could just as well be reading fuel reports or engineering schematics. He kept nodding off mid-paragraph.
Coffee didnt seem to help. Turning up the lights didnt help. He tried walking and reading, and that didnt help, either.
He hoped that his chief medical officer and first officer were having a better time of it.
"That was the funniest damn thing Ive ever read, Jim," McCoy said as they took their seats in the Officers Mess. "I honestly tried to read it with an open mind" Kirk saw him shoot a quick look at Spock, seated next to him, as if he were begging for a contrary comment. It didnt happen. "but I couldnt help myself." He shook his head as he settled in and buttered a roll. "I laughed so hard that Im plumb tuckered out this morning."
"Indeed, Doctor," Spock said dryly as he stabbed at some greens. "I heard you throughout the evening."
"I tell ya, Jim," McCoy continued around a bite of roll. "I wish I woulda thought to crank out that kind of whipped topping myself after my first psych course. I couldve taken my crappy notes from my situational ethics class and done just as well as Mister O.L. Johannsen. The thing is as shallow as one of my Aunt Minnies pie tins."
Kirk brought a loaded fork to his mouth and turned to Spock, sure that he would offer some well-measured comments espousing the books positive attributes.
"I was thinking more along the lines of shallowness on the order of one of my mothers ornamental bird baths," Spock said.
James T. Kirk nearly stabbed the back of his throat with his fork. He pulled it out, chewed the food he had in his mouth, and swallowed. "You agree?"
McCoy and Spock, seated across from him, looked at each other and then back at him.
"Yes, Captain," Spock said. "Against all possible odds, I believe that we do. Personally, I find this genre of book most disturbing. It is as if someone has taken the Vulcan disciplines and skimmed only the thinnest essences of them away and reduced them to seven hundred and twenty-seven kilobytes of dross. Missives that make deep life changes appear this simplistic are an anathema to me. They are trite, easily believed, and easily twisted to ones own ends."
"Jim, if this thing was readable, if they found it, were in deep trouble," McCoy thoughtfully added.
"I agree, Captain."
They were looking at him solemnlythe two of themconcerned twins, an aligned pair. Seeing them like that set Kirk adrift. It was as if the gravity had failed on the Enterprise and he was floating a few centimeters off of his chair.
"Jim, these books were coming out about every fifteen minutes two or three hundred years ago," McCoy said with a frown as he put down his knife and fork. "Called em self-help books. You know: Read this and improve your life in the time it took you to read it. I took a course on these things back in school. Believe it or not, fortunes were made selling this kind of fluff."
"Captain, we left the Iotians in a hopefully quasi-peaceful state, one based on the rightness and omniscience of a fabricated higher power: the Big Boss, the Federation," Spock said.
Kirk mentally cringed. Hed gotten a little carried away on Sigma Iotia II. Hed given it some thought several times since then. It had been the double-breasted suit that had done it, hed decided afterward, and the fedora. And the accent. The tommy gun hadnt hurt, either. It was like play-acting. Call him a ham, but he had, admittedly, set up the Federation as the ultimate mob boss. Not something that Starfleet had been particularly crazy about at the time.
"The problem with Lets Be Reasonable," Spock was continuing, "is that, like most books in that genre, there is no allowance for a higher power, moral or otherwise."
"Yeah, hes right," McCoy added. "Youre supposed to listen to what your inner singer is singing to you. And given two hundred years of learned response with the book on the mob, my guess is that most of their inner singers will sing that the Federation doesnt have all the answers, that they only show up to pick up their money, that they dont give a damn about them personally, so theyre unreasonable. Theyre not all right."
"And we are the Federation," Spock needlessly reminded him.
They shared a long silence and blinked. In unison. "Opinions?" Kirk asked, feeling like the universe had stuttered, like he had his uniform on backwards.
"We beam down and visit Oxmyx, Jim. But if we find out that they were able to read the book, well have to assume theyve returned to" McCoy paused, searching.
"their rather barbaric ways, Captain," Spock finished. "We will need to take great care."
He would need to take an opposing view, Kirk decided, just to balance things out. Somebody had to do it. "Gentlemen, I will take your suggestion under advisement." He looked down as he loaded a fork. "But I remind you that we always take great care." He looked up at them, saluted them with the fork. "Personally, I didnt think the book was that bad. It was..." He paused, smiled thoughtfully. "...innocuous. Innocuous and well-intentioned."
As Spock and McCoy exchanged a troubled glance, he popped the fork into his mouth and thought as he chewed: Id better finish reading that damned thing soon.
Minutes after beaming down it was as clear as an Opterian glass mountain that the book had been found. Found and read and embraced. No tommy guns in sight, no shots fired upon materialization. The double-breasted suits were still there, as were the accents, and James T. Kirk fought the desireagainto imitate them, to speak from the side of his mouth, to say yeah a lot, and yous and dem.
Given the level of development of the inhabitants of Sigma Iotia II, they had had no good way of allowing for their appearance, of giving them some warning that they were coming. They had simply beamed onto the front stoop of Oxmyxs headquarters, the three of them, and had knocked on the door. They were embraced, literally and figuratively, and no one seemed particularly surprised to see them. They were ushered into Oxmyxs office, and other bosses were summoned, and they came and chatted like old pals.
The words "lets be reasonable" and "inner singer" surfaced first mere minutes into the conversation and laced through it after that on every other breath, and Kirk watched McCoys brow furrow as he listened. Spock was silent, his arms across his chest.
They were in their uniforms. They had briefly considered replicating some pinstriped suits and fedoras. McCoy had wanted to, badly. Hed never had a chance to wear one the first time, and he had griped good-naturedly about it ever since. Kirk wanted to also, but he was afraid hed get lost in it the way he had the last time, and that he would do something unforgivable, like offering to fence hot goods to Orions and using the Enterprise to run them. Spock had stated that he did not care what he wore to the planet. He did not believe that it mattered.
A supper was prepared, and the bosses and the three of them sat down in a large dining room to partake of it. It was excellent, sumptuous, and as he ate and looked down the long table, Kirk wondered idly if a cookbook might not have been included on the missing e-pad.
They needed to see that pad, to test it, he thought to himself, to see if it was solar-powered, to see if there had been something else on it. It was clear the book had been read, and the damageif that was what it should be calledhad already been done, so Kirk decided it was time for some straight questions and answers. He broke some bread from the loaf sitting in front of himthe only loaf there, he notedand passed it to his sullen chief medical officer.
"Have some," he said, passing it on, holding McCoys gaze tightly. Lighten up, he tried to make the look say. See how peaceful everyone is? Kirk shot a surreptitious look at his mute first officer. He knew that Spock had finished the book, had paid attention to its message in a sober, scholarly mannerunlike himself. Jump in here anywhere, Spock, Kirk thought.
Kirk looked out at the bosses and then at Oxmyx. It was time. "Bela," he said, "one of the boys from the Federation left something when he was here to pick up our piece of the action."
"Yeah?" Oxmyx took a drink of his wine.
"Yeah. We call it an e-book." He gestured. "Its probably about yay wide and yay high, and if youve got it, wed like it back."
"We aint finished with it yet, Bela," one of the bosses said in a high whine. "Its back on display. My transcribers fingers are bleeding. He has to take some breaks, ya know. He cant go no faster."
Kirk went cold. They werent done transcribing it yet? It must have been solar-powered then, if it was still readable. And what was taking them so long? And what had they not transcribed yet? Some critical final chapter?
Once again, he chided himself for not finishing his homework.
"You heard my good friend here, son. We aint finished with it yet."
Son? Kirk thought, and he allowed himself a small internal grin. In spite of the fact that McCoy liked to chide him about his corn-fed boy looks, Kirk hadnt been called "son" since the academy.
"Can we...see it at least?" Kirk asked. He pulled out a patented charm-the-natives smile. "Come on. Lets be reasonable, Bela."
He had said the magic words.
Bela nodded thoughtfully down at his plate. "Youre right, son." He looked back up at him. "Youre right. No harm there."
Kirk raised his wine glass, feeling flush. "To your inner singer," he said.
"To your Inner Singer," they all solemnly replied, and drank with him.
The painting was at least seven meters tall and four meters wide. They were viewing it from the far side of the Great Room in the Hall of the Bosses, and they still had to crane their necks to see the top.
"Quite impressive," Spock admitted.
"And all from memory," Oxmyx said with no small pride, his fists on his hips, "since yous guys up and left so fast."
It was a painting of Kirk and "Spocko", as the sign below it told them"Federation Bosses"and it had captured them in full mob regalia. Kirk had one foot up on a rock and was leaning into it, his forearms on his raised knee, a cocky half-grin on his face, his hat at a rakish angle. "Spocko" was to his left and slightly behind him, holding a tommy gun across his chest, looking haughty. And a little confused.
"Yeah," McCoy whispered to Kirk and Spock in a sour drawl, "thats just about perfectly captures how idiotic you guys looked."
"You have never forgiven us for not allowing you to costume yourself, Doctor," Spock replied dispassionately. "I would think that that incident would be best put behind you. It is of no consequence." He looked over his companions towards the bosses, who had moved a few meters away and were conferring in a tight group. "Our greater concern should be finding the missing e-pad and determining what is on it."
Kirk nodded. "Youre right, Spock," he said. "Let me try again." He started away and was surprised to be stopped by a too-warm hand on his upper arm.
"Captain. Please take great care with your inquiries. The book"
"I know what the book says, Spock," he answered more abruptly than he intended. "And Ill be careful." He pulled himself away. "Bela. Do you have a minute?" Kirk said as he came up behind Oxmyx.
"For you, son, sure."
"That book, that thing I talked about at supper?"
Oxmyx smiled and nodded. "Oh yeah," he said. "Yeah. Sure. Give us bosses a few minutes to chat about it in the next room." Oxmyx winked. "Gotta convince em, know what I mean?"
Kirk nodded warily.
"You wait here. You wouldnt mind that, wouldya?" Bella asked.
"Of course not," Kirk said, and Bela led the bosses away.
"What do you think theyre gonna do in there?" McCoy asked worriedly as the Iotians shuffled out of the Great Hall and into the next room, two of Belas men taking up a post by the door.
"Most probably not play fizzbin," Spock said.
"Oh my God," McCoy said, spotting something and moving away from them towards a lighted glass display case. He put his hand up on the glass and gazed at the velvet-topped table inside the case. A hand-sized piece of metal was sitting on the tabletop. "Lookit that," he breathed.
"Your communicator, I presume," Spock said, joining him.
"And I always thought that would be the downfall of the Iotians," McCoy said, pointing and shaking his head. He looked at Kirk and Spock. "I lost a lot of sleep over that, you know."
Kirk showed them no notice that hed heard. He had spotted something else and had moved away from McCoy to another display case and stood before it.
"What is it, Captain?" Spock asked, coming to him.
"Im betting that its Jackstadts e-pad," Kirk replied, gesturing at the tricorder-sized silver pad in the display case. "Weve got to get a look at it. Ideas?"
Spock eyed the display case, thought for a moment, looked towards Belas men, and surreptitiously took out his communicator. "Speak to me as you do when you are angry, Doctor," he said, "to cover any noise from the communicator and the transporter."
"Well what the hell is that supposed to mean?" McCoy shot reflexively.
"Perfect," Spock murmured. "Mister Scott?" he said into the communicator.
"Aye, Mister Spock. Were havin a hard time receiving ye," Scotts disembodied voice crackled back. "We read some interference from the building."
The three of them looked up at the ceiling. Kirk noted the decorative, hammered metal there, perhaps copper or tin.
"Understood, Mister Scott," Spock replied. "I would like you to affect transportation of a metallic object that is approximately point five-seven-five meters north of me."
"Approximately point five-seven-five?" McCoy sputtered, obviously mindful the task hed been saddled with, but also obviously genuinely irritated anyhow. "Could you possibly be more precise?"
"Aye, weve got a read on that, Mister Spock," Scottys voice said. "Its a bit shaky, though. That interference..."
"It is the missing e-pad, Mister Scott," Spock said, peering through the glass display case at Belas men. "Beam it aboard the Enterprise on my mark, and have the computer lab determine what it contained. You will have," he declared, looking darkly at the captain and the doctor, "one minute to accomplish this."
"One...?" The communicator briefly sputtered. And then, resigned: "Aye, Mister Spock."
"On my mark. Now," Spock whispered, and then he immediately doubled over and coughed harshly. It echoed through the cavernous hall. McCoy and Kirk, taken by surprise, were sincerely alarmed and bent over with him.
"Hey," McCoy said, grabbing Spocks arm. "You okay?" Spock gave him a look that had halted blood flow in lesser beings, and McCoy understood. He soundly whacked Spock on the back, loud and hard. Certainly harder than he needed to, or so it seemed to Jim Kirk. After a calculated moment, they stood. Kirk looked towards Belas men at the doorway on the other side of the hall. They were shifting their weight and squinting curiously in their direction.
"Sokay!" McCoy called cheerfully, waving them off. "Creeps up on him now and then. Tellarite Hoof-Rot. Its not contagious or nothin."
"Doctor," Spock said, frowning. "I believe that you have broken one of my ribs."
"I doubt it. Big strapping Vulcan like you?"
"I beg to differ, Doctor. I believe you will find when we are back in the Enterprise"
McCoy harrumphed loudly as they heard a transporter whine, signaling the return of the pad. Simultaneously, Spocks communicator beeped. The Vulcan turned his back on the still-concerned men at the door and quietly responded.
"Yes, Mister Scott?"
"Mister Spock, the computer lab was able to determine that the book by Johannsen was stored on the e-pad and was accessed. And that there was another book stored on the pad as well."
"Indeed, Mister Scott," Spock replied as if it had not come as a huge surprise. "Could they determine if it had been accessed?"
"Aye, Mister Spock. They believe that it was."
"And the second book?"
Kirk heard Scotty clear his throat.
"Twas the Bible."
McCoy and Kirk looked at each other over the communicator in Spocks hand, eyes wide, mouths agape. Spock spoke immediately, asking something Kirk had never considered.
"Which one, Mister Scott?"
Scott was silent, and Kirk could see him in his minds eye, seated at the command chair, frowning, momentarily confused. King James version? hed be thinking. Orthodox? New Earth Standard? My great aunt Katherines? Then Scott obviously remembered who had asked the question.
"Och, twas the Holy, er, Terran Bible," he said.
"That explains the Water into Wine and Cheese Bistro sign I saw," Kirk whispered.
McCoy turned to him. "Huh?"
"I thought Id mis-read it. The sign I saw on the drive here, Bones. Water into Wine and Cheese Bistro."
"Captain," Spock said solemnly as he closed his communicator and glanced over at the men by the door, "did Bela Oxmyx not refer to you as son at supper?"
Son? At supper? Kirk thought.
"The last supper..." McCoy breathed, aghast.
"I believe that our wisest course of action at this point in time would be to beam off the planet, Captain," Spock said quietly as he re-opened the communicator. Kirk nodded. "Mister Scott," Spock said. The communicator was briefly silent. When it crackled to life with an Aye, Sir, Scottys voice sounded to Jim Kirk like it was very, very far away. Spock said, "We need to affect a beam-out."
"...difficulty...magnetic storm," Scotts weak voice replied, fading in and out. "...and with that interference...maybe...just one."
Kirk whipped out his own communicator. "Scotty!" he whispered urgently. "We all need out of here. Right now!"
"...one of you..." the communicator feebly and insistently repeated.
Spock closed his communicator and nodded towards the men at the door. They were moving resolutely across the Great Hall in their direction. "Captain, of the three of us, you are obviously most at risk."
Jim Kirk wanted to shout, wanted to disagree, wanted to get into a knock-down drag-out fight with the tough guys approaching them, but he knew that Spock was right.
"Scotty," he said into his communicator. "Beam me up. Now." He looked up at the metal ceiling again and then looked at Spock and McCoy. "Try to get out of the building." And as the Great Hall dissolved around him, a picture formed in his mind. It was a vision of another mission, of a huge, ornate bible that the Yangs had proudly marched into their meeting hall. There had been an illustration. Of Satan. He tried to call out: Spock! Next! but it was too late.
He was sure that he broke his personal best speed record for getting from the transporter room to the bridge, and he cursed to himself during the whole of the trip: cursed Starfleet for sending them here, cursed the Iotians for being such apt mimics, but most of all he cursed himself for not having read the first book on the pad, and for having little memory of the second.
As he blew through the doors, Scotty rose from the conn. "Anything, Scotty? Were you able to bring anyone else up?"
Scotty shook his head, his frustration evident. "Nae, Captain. We had a surge from the magnetic storm--"
Kirk cut him off and shot a look at Chekov, who was standing at Spocks station. "Chekov. The e-pad data. Access it and tell me if the Bible had illustrations." For a moment Chekov looked perplexed, but then nodded and bent to his task. Kirk looked back at his chief engineer. "Scotty. The storm. How long?"
"We cannae tell for sure, Captain. We think"
There was a cry from the engineering station. "Captain! Mister Scott!" Weve got a bead on somebody with a call for beam-up outside the structure you were in. In process now."
"Approximately seventy illustrations, Kyptin," Chekov said immediately after the announcement from engineering. "Shall I put them on the viewscreen?"
Kirk held up a hand. It depended. It depended on who was beaming into the transporter room. The intercom on his chair chirped.
"Transporter room to bridge."
Kirk, still pacing, hit the button. "Bridge."
"Captain. I have the doctor."
Kirk briefly shut his eyes. "Send him up." He turned. "Chekov. Filter those illustrations. Ignore any with Jesus, Mary, Joseph, uh ... Moses ..." He struggled, trying to picture the family bible at home. Frustrated with himself, he waved a hand. "Anything with a halo. Dont show us anything with a halo. Or a beard." Chekov shot a quick and confused look at Uhura, turned back to the station, and keyed in the request.
"Jim!" It was McCoy, and he hurried out of the turbolift and came down the stairs.
"Bones. You okay?" Kirk asked, giving him a perfunctory once-over.
"Fine," McCoy said, slightly out of breath. He looked at Scotty. "Spock?"
"Not yet, Doctor."
"How" Kirk began.
"Spock nerve-pinched the two bodyguards. Then we ran towards the exit."
"And?" Kirk prompted.
McCoy shrugged tightly. "I dont know, Jim. I started yelling in the communicator the second we hit the front stairs, and by the time I hit the bottom step, I was gone. I think I heard him behind me, but I cant be sure. The bosses were coming out of the meeting room as I passed it."
Kirk balled his fists, turned back to the conn, and whacked the armrest. "Chekov," he barked, "continue to scan that area for Vulcan life signs."
McCoy, frowning, went around the chair and faced him from the other side. "Jim? Whats wrong?"
Kirk didnt answer, but stared past McCoy at Chekov. "Hey, he can take care of himself," McCoy said, upbeat. "Come on. Hes Spocko! So what if they read a little self-help book from the 1980s? So what if they read the Terran Bible? Those books preach non-violence. It was you we were really worried about, bein the Son of God and all."
Kirk finally shot him a look, meant to silence. As usual with the doctor, he shot blanks.
"Dont worry," McCoy continued affably with a wave of his hand. "Hell talk his way out of this. Hes a big boy."
"Kyptin," Chekov said, standing. "No Vulcan life signs apparent, but I vwill continue to scan. And I haf the data you requested. Only two illustrations remain."
"Put em on the screen," Kirk said, and turned to face it, his fists on his hips.
The first one was Hell. Damned souls writhing in pain. Snakes. Demons. Things that go bump in the night. Open black mouths crying for salvation, for redemption.
McCoy nodded up at the screen. "What the hell is this?"
And then the second one went up, and it was hell, too.
Because it was Spock. The spittin image.
"Uh-oh," McCoy said.
On the planet below, Spock believed that he would have made it to the steps and eventual safety save for two things: McCoy was naturally slower than he was, and he was loathe to allow the doctor to fall behind him; and in the heat of the moment he had forgotten about his broken rib. It surprised him by momentarily pulling him up short before he had had a chance to master the pain. He had lost precious seconds.
No matter. The damage was done, and he was now captive in the Hall of the Bosses, his hands bound in front of him, his movements constricted by pokes and prods from wary Iotians.
He had had a disturbing image pass through his mind as the captain had beamed away. He had watched Kirks face change as he seemed to come to some disquieting conclusion, and his mouth had moved, but no sound had emerged. It had been too late for that. The process of transportation had begun, and as the guards had reached the doctor and himself, as he efficiently dispatched them with a nerve pinch, he had a vision. A vision of the Yang Bible and the illustration contained in it that had borne a striking resemblance to him. Well, not specifically to him, at least not in his opinion. But it was a striking resemblance to a Vulcan adult male, and he seemed to be the only one of those present at the moment.
But not all printings of the Bible carried the same illustrations, he knew, so he was not overly concerned. He could have been forcibly detained for other reasons. It could have something to do with the Inner Singer belief system, or with something mob related. As the Iotians cautiously circled him and discussed how they should proceed, Spock extrapolated all saved data on the mob, on the Johannsen book, and on the Terran Bible. He had read the Bible at a precocious four years old. His mother had kept it in her nightstand.
And although he was generally not prone to them, he had to admit that contemplating the repercussions of the tenets of all three books being rolled into one gave him a splitting headache.
"No sign of the storm abating, Captain. Still looking at fifteen minutes at the earliest."
Fifteen minutes. What could they possibly do to him in only fifteen minutes? Kirk really didnt want to think too hard about that. As a people, he didnt consider the Iotians incredibly keen in anything but their mimicry. He couldnt see them moving with the kind of speed that would have his first officer dead in that short an amount of time.
He briefly considered a full-blown frontal attack on the Prime Directive: send down troops, storm the Great Hall, rescue Spock and leave, but he dismissed it. Theyd come under enough unfriendly scrutiny for the way hed completed their last mission to this planet. They didnt need another "piece of the action" debacle. And he was fairly sure that Spock could withstand anything that anyone could throw at him for a quarter of an hour.
Kirk just wasnt sure that he could. The seed of an idea, born of desperation, formed. "Scotty. Is the transport signal strong enough to beam up the e-pad again?"
There was a moments silence as the chief engineer checked. "Aye, sir. Just barely, but we can do that."
"Then do it. On my mark. And I want some kind of ability to voice feed and receive. Set it up. Chekov," he said striding past a curious McCoy to the science station. "I need a search through the missions logs for an image." He went up the stairs and looked down at the display that Chekov had produced. Kirk ran his finger down the stardate list. "This one," he said, tapping. "Pull this up." Chekov did so, and Kirk scanned the mission information. There were several images available. He nodded and pointed again. "This one. Lets see it."
Kirk smiled as the image appeared on the screen. He turned to Chekov and nodded. "Thatll do."
Chekov grinned. "Aye, Sir."
"Scotty," Kirk said as he turned, "are we ready?"
Spocks keen ears picked up the transporter whine long before the Iotians would have been able to discern it. He was unsure of the captains plan, but he knew the need for a diversion when he saw one. He took a flying leap at the mobster closest to him, throwing the shocked Iotian to the ground. Spock tumbled down next to him and reached up for his victims neck with his bound hands, hoping to pinch him and render him unconscious, hoping that the magic of the act would transfix the rest of them and keep them too busy to notice the comings and goings of the e-book at the other end of the Great Hall. Unfortunately, he had miscalculated the difficulty presented in trying to nerve pinch someone while his hands were bound, and additionally, someone who was prone, and he felt himself pulled roughly back to a standing position.
"Hey! What gives?" It was Oxmyx, and he grabbed Spock by the upper arm and spun him around. Spock winced in spite of himself. "Youre gonna make our decision a lot easier, Spocko. You shouldna done that."
Whatever deed that the captain had in mind had been quickly completed, for Spock once again heard the familiar whine. Spock pushed out with his hands at the closest diversion he had handy: Bela Oxmyx.
"Hey!" Oxmyx cried, rolling back on his heels. He steadied himself, grabbed a handful of Spocks tunic, and pulled him close, chest to chest. The bosses were in an uproar now, pushing closer, shouting.
The voice that cut through the babble was deep. Eerie. And it seemed to be coming from everywhere at once. As the voice echoed away through the Great Hall, the bosses, struck mute, threw wide-eyed looks around them.
"What the" Oxmyx said, releasing Spock and looking up at the ceiling.
"Bela Oxmyx." It was a voice that said obey me or suffer the consequences. Even Spock had to admit he was impressed. "This is God," the captain said.
"Hunh?" Oxmyx said. "Is this some kinda trick?" he called into the hall, and he turned back and grabbed Spocks tunic again. "Its a trick, aint it?" he snarled.
"This is God," James T. Kirk said again. "And you have the wrong Satan. Spocko is not Satan." Then, in his eagerness to make it perfectly clear, the captain slipped into military parlance: "Now hear this. He is not Satan. Do you read me?"
"Well oh yeah?" Oxmyx yelled at the ceiling. "Prove it!"
There was a good ten second pause. The captain, Spock thought with admiration, most certainly understood how to handle a difficult audience.
"Look in the book. I have changed the book. I have that power."
Oxmyx growled and looked back at Spock again. "I still think its a trick," he said, shaking him, and then loudly, into the hall: "I still think this is a trick!"
There was a longer pause. A pause during which Mister Scott must have successfully boosted the power.
"Look in the book! Now!" If Spock had had his hands free, he would have put them over his ears. He noted with some interest that several metal ceiling panels had come loose with the reverberations and were floating to the floor. Visibly nervous, the rest of the bosses urged Bela to obey.
"All right, all right!" Oxmyx said, and he tossed Spock back into the waiting arms of his men. Oxmyx and the bosses went across the hall in a tight group, and Spock watched from his vantage place as they opened the display case, took out the e-pad, and turned it on.
"For what its woith," a rough voice whispered in Spocks ear, "I think its a trick, too," and he felt a whack on the back of his head.
It was grimly silent at the display case as they huddled around the e-pad, looking down at it with uniform and studious concern. Then, as one, they looked up at him, looked down at the pad, looked up at him. There was a whispered conference, and Oxmyx and the rest of them rushed back towards Spock. Red-faced, Bela pushed the e-pad in Spocks face, so close that he had to pull his head back to see it clearly.
"It aint you," Oxmyx said, as if it were a personal affront. "It aint you."
No. No. It was not.
"Take him outside," the voice of God said. "Now."
And so Spock was delivered to the steps and then to the Enterprise, and the Iotians shrugged their shoulders and went back about their business. They had met change before and survived it. They simply had a new devil to watch for.
Jim Kirk adjusted the reading lamp.
What a mess, he thought. They were warping away from Sigma Iotia II. For once he was glad to be turning his back on something unresolved, happy that he didnt have to carry this thing to the end. Normally, he chaffed at turning the closure of a mission over to the diplomatic corps or the desk jockeys, but in this case he didnt envy the Federation intervention away teams that would now be forced to wade through the ever-shifting, highly suggestible Iotian psyches. They could take their little Prime Directive e-pads and take them apart and put them back together to form a Deltan sex robot for all the good they would do them. That planet would be a constant work-in-process. Another example of why the Prime Directive was vitally necessary for Starfleet.
But the Enterprise, at least, was safe. And except for a broken ribcourtesy of his own chief medical officerand a few bruises suffered at the hands of the mobsters, Spock was just fine.
Even Harry Muddthe spitting image of the devil in the Iotians biblewould be spared, as long as he didnt go to the planet and try to run some kind of scam. And there was no guarantee of that not happening. Kirk chuckled, and for a second, secretly wished Mudd would.
Then he picked up the pages hed printed out.
This time, hed get all the way through it. This time, he would read it to the end. He had always told himself that he would do it, and tonight was as good a night to start as any. Kirk hunkered down in his chair, took a deep breath, and began to read:
In the beginning, there was the Word...
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