The air sparkled in one blank spot among several ships of varying classes and sizes. Then five men were standing on the spot.
"Fascinating, Captain," Spock observed. "This planetoid is listed on none of the star charts, yet ships are landing here, even as we watch.
While he spoke, a small rocket, perhaps twelve feet long from nose to tail fins, settled on an empty patch of ground nearby. A hatch opened, and five small creatures scurried out, hurrying off in one direction. Doctor McCoy took tricorder readings as they passed.
"Stevens, Kern, follow them," Kirk ordered.
"Sir, theyre going into a building up ahead." The security men moved slowly forward.
As they neared the door, a rough, angry-looking creature stepped out. Tusks jutted from its lower jaw. Small, mean eyes glared at the two men, regarding their presence before him personally insulting.
"Move it or lose it," he growled. "Yer disturbing my walk!"
Kirk stepped forward. "Im Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise."
"Good fer you," the creature announced. Shouldering past Kirk and the others, the being continued on its way.
Spock raised an eyebrow. "Fascinating."
Kirk frowned, then led the way into the building.
Members of every different species, many unknown to the landing party, were seated around the room, interacting freely.
"Ive never seen so many species together," McCoy announced, "even at Federation outposts."
"I agree, Captain," Spock added. "Even the Federation, with its vast number of member races, has few places where such a diverse group of beings could assemble, especially given the biases of some races toward others. This group before us displays total camaraderie."
A small robot with a screen along its chest and a flat topped head, apparently for serving drinks, rolled up to them. "Seating is available at the bar, gentlemen," it announced in a flat, toneless voice. It turned, leading them to an empty section at the end of the counter top.
Kirk noticed two bartenders working steadily. One was similar to an orangutan, but with six arms and insectoid eyes. The second, a pretty young humanoid woman was moving incredibly fast, but still obviously slower that her companion. She finished pouring the contents of various unmarked bottles into a large stein, stepping back from the small explosion. After pushing the stein toward the appropriate customer, she turned and advanced on Kirk and company.
"What can I do for you gentlemen?" she asked pleasantly.
"Wed like some information about...your establishment," Kirk announced.
"Im Sharna, the bartender," she responded. "I supply drinks, not information."
"This bill too high!" a three-foot-tall, hairy creature sitting next to McCoy announced. "I no pay!"
"You pay, or Ill break your arm," Sharna retorted, bowing up in a threatening manner.
"You are very cruel-hearted being," the creature whined, but offered a few pieces of rare metals.
"Flattery will not pay your tab," Sharna answered, accepting the payment.
"Apparently, Captain," Spock noted, "we are in nothing more than a well-populated bar."
"Nothing more," Sharna replied. "I like that!" Her tone implied she didnt like it at all.
"Youll have to forgive Spock," McCoy announced. "Hes a non-drinker."
"No need to apologize," Sharna told the Vulcan. "Ill find you some soda pop." Her face remained serious, but her eyes twinkled mischievously.
McCoy liked her instantly.
"Are there any archives on this planetoid that can answer our questions?" Spock demanded, ignoring her inference.
"Theres an old medical terminal...but its in the employees section. No ones allowed there without supervision." She glanced at McCoy, smiling shyly. "I get off in a few minutes..."
Spock raised an eyebrow after Sharna returned to her duties. "It seems, Mister Spock, that the lady has taken an interest in our chief surgeon."
"Indeed, Captain," Spock answered drily.
"Jealous, Spock?" McCoy asked.
"Merely concerned about your reciprocation of that interest," Spock responded.
McCoy opened his mouth for a scathing reply. Kirks grip on his arm stopped him.
A Klingon had just entered the bar. Sharna completed a transaction with a sharp-toothed furred creature and prepared to leave her station. The Klingon grabbed her arm. "Service!" he demanded.
"Off duty," she answered, pointing to the six-armed bartender still at work. She slipped from his grasp, walking away in blissful ignorance of her peril. "Ready to go, Doctor? Well cut through The Last Chance Cafe. The lift drops further there, and the terminal is in one of the deepest levels."
"Sharna," Kirk asked, "have any Klingons been in here before?" He indicated the newcomer currently harassing the other bartender.
"This is the first," Sharna answered. "Just like you three." Observing Kirks worried glances, she added, "Dont worry about Gr-thala. He can take care of himself."
Her belief in her associate appeared well-founded. Gr-thala shouted something about, "Thou shalt not bother the bartender," picked the Klingon up with one arm, holding him in the air, then added, "House rules." The surprised Klingon was then summarily tossed from the bar without further notice. He crashed through the doors amid shouts of laughter, then was instantly forgotten.
"Shall we go, Doctor?" Sharna asked. Taking McCoys arm, she led the way through the crush of customers. Kirk nodded to Spock. They followed close behind.
A yellow-skinned, wrinkled creature stepped before them, holding up a necklace of beads and fang teeth. It whined something unintelligible at them, refusing to step out of their way. A Vulcan neck pinch solved that problem, but much time had been wasted.
"You didnt kill him, did you?" the bartender demanded. "No killing or dying allowed in this bar. House rules!"
Lieutenant Krachor watched the woman and Federation officer enter the building across from the bar. With a vicious grin, he reached for the weapon that he had had beamed down from his ship: a particularly destructive Mark X disruptor cannon. As the two unsuspecting victims entered the building, Krachor raised the weapon to his shoulder, squeezing the activation button. The Last Chance Cafe exploded in flame.
The sound of the explosion brought every creature in the bar racing outside. "Someone blew up the Last Chance!"
Why? The food wasnt that bad."
"Only when it was open."
"Good riddance, I say."
The crowd babbled on cheerfully, ignoring the Klingon with the smoking bazooka-like weapon until the bartender on duty made an announcement. "Sharna just went in there!" He snatched up the Klingon by the collar of his uniform. "This monster killed Sharna!"
The group moved toward the captive Klingon with murderous intent.
McCoy coughed, blinking open his eyes. There was a weight on his chest, and a heavier weight on his stomach. The weight on his chest stirred, becoming recognizable as Sharna. The weight on his stomach chose not to move and was soon discovered to be a rock.
"Blasted meteor showers," Sharna coughed. "Theyre occurring far too frequently."
"That wasnt a meteor shower," McCoy responded. "That was an explosion of some sort."
"Why would anyone want to blow up The Last Chance?" Sharna asked. "It was hardly ever open, and the food wasnt that bad." She struggled to her feet, dusting herself off while McCoy relieved his abdomen of the rock stationed there.
"Whatever happened," she said, studying the wreckage, "this lift is a total loss."
"So is this communicator," McCoy added. "Is there any other way out?"
"Through the bar. Its the long way, but we can try it." She took McCoys arm, and together they struggled over the rubble.
The underground corridors were much like being on the Enterprise, only dimly lit. Floor, walls, and ceiling were all smooth, polished metal. Not the sort of place designed to store liquors and bartenders.
"The company bought the planetoid from a holding firm," Sharna explained. "They purchased it from the last colonist to live here. No one knows why the original builders left." She stopped, activating some door controls, and led McCoy into the room. The interior had a chair and a terminal rising from the floor. Nothing else. The terminal was little more than a pedestal, with a top sloping toward the chair, and eight indentations in two sets of four, to place fingertips.
Sharna nodded to the chair. "Can you operate it?"
"I can give it a try, but dont get your hopes up. Im not very good with machines." McCoy sat, touching his fingers to the pedestal gingerly. He felt a light tingling--then a soft hug, then heavier tingling. Sharna, standing behind McCoy, had bent and wrapped her arms around him. He raised an eyebrow, looking at her.
"Sorry," she said guiltily. "Ive only met one other person who could run that thing, and he said he needed contact with another being to keep from becoming a part of the computer."
"Sounds like a new line to me," McCoy answered drily.
"His or mine?" She grinned. "I can leave the room entirely if Im distracting you."
"Perhaps you should stay," McCoy said quickly. "Im new at this sort of equipment." Smiling, he turned back to the pedestal. He felt her soft breath on his cheek, and wondered if he would be able to concentrate on anything else.
The tingle in his fingers intensified, then suddenly, his mind was filled with the knowledge of all! Sharna, the bar, The Last Chance Cafe, the planetoid they were on... Their mission objective of determining how this little world had escaped Federation star charts for so long was answered.
He knew all that.
Why had the various small ships docked on the planet not registered with the Enterprise computer logs? He knew that too.
With the briefest twitch of his mind, he researched history, medicine, engineeringall fed directly into his mind from alien technology. The power was overwhelming! The society was fascinating. And the mathematics! He could simply get lost in the mathematics!
But something was getting in his way, jarring him from the mathematics of perfection. He tried ignoring it. It persisted. He wrenched one of his arms free to stop the annoyance.
"Doctor!" Sharna was shaking his shoulders. "Doctor, come back!" She looked so pale. Something must be wrong. He tried rising to help her.
But his legs wouldnt work. "Sharna"
"Dont worry, Leonard. Youll be all right."
McCoy shook his head dizzily. "Who hit me?"
"You started bonding with the computer," Sharna answered. "Rest here. Ill go to the other lift and get your friends."
Nodding, McCoy sat back, closing his eyes. Part of him felt half-computer already. Was this how Spock felt? That pointy-eared walking calculator would probably enjoy this!
"Doctor McCoy?" Sharna was shaking his arm again, this time much more gently. "You look like you could use some rest."
"Ill be fine once I get back to the ship," McCoy assured her.
"Bad news. The other lift isnt working either. But you can rest in my room."
McCoy began to protest.
"Dont be so gallant. I cant put you in any other bartenders room. That would be like sentencing you to a torture chamber!" She laughed. "Go ahead and lean on me. Im stronger than I look."
Kirk looked at the viewscreen, watching the room full of extremely angry aliens...aliens which defied even his first officer as to their origins. Aliens which were intent on tearing Kirks Klingon prisoner into microscopic pieces. Kirk was fighting the inclination to turn the Klingon over to them. "Spock, has the Klingon said anything?
"Nothing more, Captain. He continues to lay claim to the planetoid for the Klingon empire."
The intercom beeped. "Kirk here."
"Captain, weve just made a full scanner sweep of the planetoid," Sulus voice announced. "Our equipment cant penetrate the surface. If Doctor McCoy is down there"
"Thank you, Mister Sulu."
"Captain, if Doctor McCoy is beneath the planet surface" the Vulcan began.
"No, Spock. If he was alive, he would have tried to contact us by now. They didnt have time." Kirk took a deep breath. "Our first duty is to find out about this planetoid, the people on it and what the Klingon interest is in them."
"The first may prove most challenging, Captain. Ive checked all the identifying marks and insignias found on the passenger ships against the computer records, as well as the exobiology classifications with all available medical records. There were no matches to be found."
"None of the bar patrons know anything about the Federation, the Romulans, the Klingon Empire, or anything about present-day space travel. They have spoken of Old Earth, New Earth, something called The Twelve Systems of Bacatal and an Intergalactic Patrol Service.
"Given the sudden, mysterious appearance of this planetoid in a disputed star system, I believe the asteroid, and everyone connected with it, have somehow slipped universes. Wherever they belong, they must be returned before the Klingons provoke them into a conflict that neither the Klingon Empire, nor the Federation, is prepared for."
Gr-thala, the bartender, was making a list of everything the patrons of the bar wanted done to the Klingon as punishment for killing Sharna. Some of the most violent, painful, imaginative penalties created by the many cultures represented in the bar were being described. It was highly unlikely the Klingon would last beyond the first two or three. So everyone agreed to a vote to rank what should be done first. Gr-thalas personal favorite involved the rearrangement of the killers sexual organs, if any.
The doors behind the O-orguin slid open as the final tally was being made. "Youre just in time," the bartender announced. "We have a tie for first place, and need a tie break vote."
Spock raised an eyebrow, looking around the room full of aliens. "Fascinating."
"We demand retribution," a small, furry creature announced.
Its fur was a buff color, its shape suggestive of Earth rabbits. It had suggested one of the punishments tied for first place. The other first-place suggestion had come from the purple alien with no head. Eyes, nose, and mouth were placed directly on the body. Saliva dripped from the sharp teeth. Never had such creatures of vastly different appearance thought so alike. Spock later learned the two were partners in a shipping operation.
"Violence is not logical," the Vulcan said. "It will not bring back your bartender nor our chief surgeon."
"Itll keep im from doin it again," a voice near the back announced.
Spock chose not to respond to that statement. He turned to the O-orguin. "I am returning to the planet's surface. Ill need you to show me where Sharna intended to take Doctor McCoy."
"Who do you favor for the blue sun nude sunbathing competition?" Sharna asked.
McCoy blinked, realizing hed been staring at the ceiling for some time. "What?" he asked.
Sharna brightened. "You answered back!"
"Of course, I answered back," McCoy grumbled. God, I feel lousy.
"Lets drink to it," Sharna answered. She held up a bottle; the color of the liquid within was undiscernible in the dimly lit room. Sharna produced two glasses, pouring a liberal shot in each.
"What is it?" McCoy groaned, sniffing the bouquet suspiciously.
"Tur-quessal Oisk," Sharna answered. "One of the better years."
Something in his mind flashed a go-ahead. McCoy sipped the drink, feeling the liquid burn a sense of stability back to mind and body.
"I wasnt sure what your companys rules were for drinking on duty," Sharna told him. "But Oisk isnt generally considered an alcoholic beverage by humanoids.
"I dont work for a company...Im with the military."
"Whose?" Sharna asked, with genuine interest. "I have to warn you, Leonard. The bar has a strict non-alignment policy. We dont show favoritism to any customers, no matter who or what theyre fighting or why."
"You honestly havent heard of Starfleet?"
"Arent they the new ship building company?" Sharna asked. "Why are you at war with them?"
McCoy shook his head. Something was wrong here, and it seemed to be growing progressively worse! "Dont you have a planetary defense system to protect yourselves from invasion?"
"Weve signed an agreement with the Intergalactic Patrol Service...most all the civilized worlds do..." Sharna trailed off, staring at the insignia on McCoys tunic, and obviously reflecting on the fact that shed never seen anything like that before. "Youre saying Starfleet is the same as the I.P.S."
"Im saying Ive never heard of the I.P.S. Youve never heard of Starfleet, and yet the two are supposed to be doing nearly identical jobs." Handing Sharna the empty glass, he rose from the bed, striding to the door.
Sharna placed the glasses and bottle on the floor, hurrying to follow the physician. She nearly ran into him just outside the door. She stepped to one side, seeing the reason for his sudden stop.
Five Klingons stared back, each with a drawn phaser trained on them.
"Friends of yours?" Sharna asked hopefully. At the absence of an affirmative, she slowly edged back behind McCoy, murmuring, "I wish I had some Tricalan Fire Brandy."
"You are the surgeon McCoy," the leader of the Klingon landing party announced. "I am Kordolir, Commander of the Karenseir. You are now prisoners of the Klingon Empire!"
"Terminal is down at lowest point of underway," Gr-thala explained to the Vulcan.
"What was the purpose of placing it so far away?" Spock inquired.
"Dont know. It came with the asteroid," the bartender answered. "Just as well. Wed have to attach a pay slot to keep kids from playing with it. A credit a minute for the knowledge of the Elders."
"The Klingons are not interested in the free enterprise system," the first officer answered.
"Klingons will be having enough trouble dealing with the union," Gr-thala announced, following Mister Spock into the transporter room. "Damaging company property; disrupting regular business activities is worth two years in prison facilities. And killing a bartender on or off duty means immediate incineration in the nearest solar bodyits in our union contract."
Spock eyed the six-armed, orange ape. "Fascinating." He stepped on the transporter platform; the O-orguin followed his lead.
The view of the transporter room faded, and the surface of the planetoid became solid. Just before them, another transporter beam was spiriting away another landing party. The Vulcan immediately opened his communicator.
"Enterprise. Whats up, Spock?" The captains voice was tired with tension.
"Captain, a Klingon landing party has just beamed up from the planetoid's surface."
"Could you see if they had anyone with them?"
"Negative, Captain. The dematerialization almost coincided with our arrival. I was not able to witness any details before they departed."
"Never mind, Mister Spock. If they have what they came for well know soon enough. Carry on. Enterprise out."
The O-orguin bartender waited semi-patiently during the exchange. One set of arms were placed on the creatures hips. One set was clasped behind his back, the third pair crossed over his chest. A most unusual pose, even for one of Gr-thalas anatomy. Doctor McCoy would no doubt
Spock shook the thought away, mentally reprimanding himself for such a slip. He turned to the O-orguin. "Please lead the way."
McCoy sat beside Sharna on the floor of the bare holding cell on the Klingon ship.
"Arent they going to close the door?" Sharna whispered staring, with some confusion, at the back of the Klingon soldier posted before the entrance. "What if we decide to leave?"
"They have a force field," McCoy answered. "Youd never get through."
"Bosh! Forcefields are for playpens and livestock."
"Maybe the way they make them on your side of reality," McCoy warned. "Klingons use barbed wire for their playpens." He returned Sharnas stare levelly. "Dont ask about the livestock. Painstiks are, well, better left to ones imagination."
Sharnas eyebrows raised. She turned to look again at the Klingon guard, speculatively.
The soldier saluted, stepping aside. The lit sections around the frame of the entrance darkened as a Klingon commander stepped inside.
"Take the male," the Klingon officer ordered. "Well use him when we make contact with the Enterprise."
"The hell you will," McCoy growled.
Sharna put a hand on his arm, staring uncertainly at the warriors before her. Her expression showed no fear. Only great wariness. Beings capable of inflicting harm were to be dealt with carefully.
The Klingon merely gestured to the guards, who grabbed McCoys arms, hauling him to his feet. "The female will remain here," the commander ordered. "Earthers are known for their weakness for the females. The womans safety is dependent on your actions, nada."
"Dont worry about me, Leonard," Sharna called, hoping her presence wouldnt compromise the doctor and fearing it would. "I didnt get to be a bartender by being a powderpuff." She watched the Klingons drag McCoy away.
The entrance lit up, indicating the forcefield was back in place. The guard returned to his post. "Have you ever tried a Chitakaykilly Starstomper?" the bartender called to the Klingon. "Its a drink." The soldier remained unresponsive. "I could make one for you," she continued hopefully. "If you could just bring me that crate of liquids your landing party brought back..."
Gr-thala pointed at the terminal, much the way Sharna had pointed to it earlier. Spock stepped to the chair and sat, placing his fingers on the pedestal top.
"Incoming message from the Klingon cruiser," Uhura reported.
"Put it on screen," Kirk ordered.
The viewscreen flickered, forming the image of the Klingon captain. "Captain Kirk, I am Commander Kordolir," the Klingon officer announced. "My men have found a survivor on the planet below. I propose a trade. My man for yours. Then you will leave what rightly has become Klingon territory."
"I dont believe you," Kirk responded coldly. "And the Enterprise will not leave."
"Youre a stubborn man, Captain," the commander announced gesturing to someone off-screen. Then another face came into view.
"Jim, they want to use Sharna and me to"
A Klingon arm connected with the back of his neck. The doctor dropped to the floor.
"Your surgeon is unharmed, Captain. We respect the tradition of nada. But he is wearing out his welcome quickly. I suggest you agree to my terms, or prepare for a promotion within your medical staff!"
"You wont harm him if you respect the nada tradition as you profess to do," Kirk countered.
"This is true, Captain Kirk. However, I am without a battle-surgeon onboard my vessel. If you do not accede to my demands, your surgeon will become my surgeon. He will spend the rest of his life as a nada aboard my vessel. The choice is yours."
Spock slowly lowered his hands from the top of the pedestal. His eyes remained closed.
"Anything of use?" Gr-thala asked.
"Yes," the Vulcan answered slowly. "Fascinating." He fell silent, not stirring for a very long time.
Opening his eyes, McCoy looked up at Sharna. She was pressing a small bottle of oily liquid to his lips. "I thought theyd killed you, Leonard," she whispered. "I never realized an entire species would abuse a doctor!"
"Naw, they wont kill a doctor. Their tradition honors doctors, nadas they call them. But it will allow them to rough me up a bit." He met her eyes. "You must live in a wonderful universe, Sharna," McCoy grunted. The drink made his tongue tingle, and gave him inclination to indulge in a messianic complex-which, fortunately, was instantly refuted by several painful lumps on his head. "Where" He stopped, clearing his throat. "Where did you get this concoction?"
"I always carry some of this stuff with me," she answered, holding up the tiny bottle to re-hook it to the chain around her neck. "Its good for mantrel bites, clogged drain pipes, the bends, killing rodents, insomnia, fatigue, and impotence. Not to mention bumps on the head."
She dropped the tiny bottle down the front of her flannel shirt. McCoy noted a pang of envy directed at the glass container, even though his head was cradled in her arm and against her left breast. "Feel like sitting up?" she asked.
"Maybe I should rest a little," McCoy drawled.
"Mmm," Sharna replied skeptically. "I hope youre using the time to contemplate an escape."
"Among other things," McCoy admitted. But strangely, he did feel as though an answer was coming-a tickle at the back of his mind. If only he could bring it forth...
"Wish I could get ahold of some of those bottles," Sharna murmured. "What I couldnt do to this ship with just the right mixes."
"Mixes," McCoy muttered. He sat up, looking dazed.
That knock on the head must have been worse than it looked, Sharna thought.
"How well do you know the biochemical makeup of your customers?" McCoy asked.
"Id put myself up against the best mechanical mixers," the bartender said stiffly.
McCoy turned back to her. The look in his eyes made her draw back involuntarily. "Fear is not logical," he announced stonily.
"Whatever you say," she answered.
Gr-thala was starting to get bored. The Vulcan simply sat, staring into nothingness. The bartender turned to leave, intending to check the storeroom while he had the time.
"Concentrate, Doctor McCoy," Spock ordered.
Gr-thala stopped peering at the Vulcan with renewed interest. The science officer reached out his hands, his fingers tracing in a intricate patterns and gently grasping thin air. "Yes," the Vulcan crooned. "Yes, excellent."
On the Klingon ship, Sharna faced Doctor McCoy, eyes wide and staring as his fingers touched her face. The guard outside paid no attention to the strange ritual until Sharna cried out, dropping to the floor.
"This woman is ill," McCoy yelled. "Its the air on this ship. Its poisonous to her!"
The guard turned, staring at them.
"Shell die if something isnt done," McCoy insisted.
"Back away," the guard ordered. He deactivated the forcefield, stepping into the cell. As he bent over the supine woman, she thrust the heel of her hand into his solar plexus, then rolled away.
McCoy applied an expert Vulcan nerve pinch.
"Spock!" Kirk clutched the Vulcans shoulder, breaking the tenuous computer-aided mind-meld. "Gr-thala contacted the ship," the captain explained. "He thought the computer-link had some adverse effect on you."
"On the contrary, Captain. I found it most illuminating," Spock answered, "as, I surmise, did Doctor McCoy."
"Bones? Hes on the Klingon ship"
"Not for long, Captain. I believe the Klingons will be happy to have them leave."
Commander Kordolir could have happily murdered somebody. He suspected it would be the careless guardonce he woke up. "Search the ship," the commander barked. "I want the two prisoners found immediately." Kordolirs second snapped a smart salute, leaving the room.
Kordolir followed soon after. His anger at the thought of a Klingon being bested by two puny Humans would not let him be still. Better he search as well, though perhaps thered be little left of the two to trade with the Federation ship should he be the one to find them. He wouldnt be so foolish as to let them escape again.
Indeed, he came upon them carrying the crate of procured bottles from one of the labs. "You will place that on the floor," he ordered from over his drawn disruptor. Glancing at each other, the two slowly lowered their burden.
"Now step away," Kordolir ordered.
McCoy straightened, stepping forward, in front of the woman.
Before Kordolir could kill the foolish Human, the Klingon was engulfed in thick smoke.
Chief Kyle looked up from the transporter controls incredulously. Doctor McCoy, a young woman and three Klingons were materializing. Kirk and Mister Spock, both just returned from the planetoid, drew phasers. Gr-thala added a threatening growl.
"You can put that down, Jim," McCoy announced, grinning impishly.
Sharna stepped forward, holding out a bottle from which tendrils of smoke arose. Spock instinctively drew back as she neared.
The Klingons meekly stepped from the transporter pads, docilely following her. "A token of my esteem, Captain," Sharna said, handing over the bottle. "This is Commander Kordolir, his adjutant and his transporter chief. Youd better throw them in the brig before this stuff evaporates away."
"Security," Kirk ordered to the transporter chief.
"They just kept following us," Sharna explained. "I thought we were going to be leading a military parade before we left."
"That particular mixture seems to have a special draw for Klingons," McCoy added, looking directly at the first officer.
"Indeed, Doctor," the Vulcan answered, stepping forward once the Klingons had followed the security man carrying the hypnotic potion from the transporter room. "Sharnas knowledge of exobiology is most thorough."
"I never could have done it without the good doctors help," Sharna announced, favoring the worthy with a bright smile. "That mind-link gave me the detailed information on Klingonsand that neck pinch!" She tucked her hand in the crook of the physicians arm as they walked toward the exit. "You must teach me that neck pinch. Itll be invaluable in the bar..."
Spock raised an expressive eyebrow as the door closed behind the two. Kirk barely managed to keep from laughing. His first officer noticed, and his expression made it clear he hardly approved.
Well, Spock," Kirk said, regaining his composure. "How do we deal with Sharnas customers now?"
"They must be returned to their proper universe," the Vulcan answered. "The computer files indicate the planetoid travels between universe stations when endangered."
"Such as a Klingon attack?"
"An attack of any serious nature. The original customers should be returned to the planetoid immediately."
The customers werent so easy to convince.
Theyd discovered the Federation starship to be of intense amusement and interest. Gr-thala was discovered playing six-armed bowling. Five trader-pilots were in the engine room trying to tear apart the matter/antimatter converters over Scotts physical and highly vocal protests. The rabbit-eared creature Spock noted earlier was creating havoc in the herbarium. After a time, the Klingon captives were demanding to be released. The Klingon ship was demanding their personnel be returned, completely unconvinced when told the three had boarded the Enterprise of their own volition.
Protests were filed with various parties, neutral and otherwise, of course. It was a diplomatic snafu of unbelievable proportions. The Klingons were eventually released to their ship, and the battlecruiser returned to the Klingon Empire (after making a near-miss maneuver whereupon the Klingon ships shielding actually brushed against the shields of the Enterprisedamage to the vessel was negligible, but there were several sore fannies for days).
Kirk went to his cabin for a brief rest while security rounded up the rampaging bar customers. In all that time, he hadnt seen the bartender or his chief surgeon. "Once theyre all down," he told Spock, "let me know. And if Sharna isnt among them, dont bother looking for Doctor McCoy..."
The Enterprise raced past the small planetoid, releasing two photon torpedoes, then hurrying to get out of what Spock had determined was the probable transfer field radius.
The bridge crew aboard the Enterprise collectively held their breathexcept Spock and McCoy, who understood, at least subconsciously, the principle of the planetoids defenses.
Just as the photon torpedoes drew near the planetoid, it flickered then suddenly disappeared. The bursts of energy passed through the area of space where it had been, and spent themselves harmlessly.
"Well, gentlemen," Kirk observed. "Sharnas back in the bar, and the bar is back in its universe." He glanced at McCoy.
"And all is right with the world, Captain," Spock added cryptically.
McCoy smiled wistfully, and said nothing.
First published in Laura Guyers Encounters, December 1990. Reprinted in Randy Landers Orion 33, July 1993.
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