Reichard stowed the utensils from the meal he had prepared and served, planting himself comfortably across the campfire from Indri, Kirk on his left and Chekov to his right. Chekov refilled his cup from the pot suspended above the campfire. As he sipped the strong, black brew, a playful smile flickered across his face. "You realize that Kyptin Kirk is more than just kyptin," he announced to Indri and Reichard.
"Indeed?" Indri turned to Kirk across the remnants of the once vigorous blaze. "Is our mad Russian stirring up memories of your brief career as an admiral, or is there more?"
"Is nothing as trivial as mere admiral, Indri. If I understood Spock correctly, he was made baron or knight or some such," Chekov responded, before Kirk could.
"I was made a duke, Pavel, and I was knighted, too," Kirk clarified. "Trust me, in reality it didn't amount to a mound of space dust."
Reichard feigned a hurt expression and attempted to bow, despite being seated. "Your Lordship! Your humble companions are most hurt and embarrassed that you have failed to tell us of your exalted rank. We have neglected to show you the honor to which you are entitled!"
"I doubt," Indri added, wryly, "that he's particularly wounded by that. However, it does suggest the strong possibility of an interesting story."
Kirk chuckled. "Actually, my part was pretty peripheral, guys. Spock turned out to be the real epicenter of that particular weird quake."
"Spock isn't here," Chekov pointed out, "and he is terrible at telling stories anyway. All facts, nothing else. You're elected to tell story!"
Kirk rolled his eyes. "There's a difference between being elected and being drafted, Pavel."
"Then consider yourself drafted," Reichard returned. "I, for one, am dying to hear about this, your Lordship."
"No need to make fun of me, Ken; I put my pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else, and most of the time it's Starfleet issue, like the rest of you." Kirk stared at the coffee in his cup, momentarily, as if collecting up memories. "Let me see, it was after you and Indri had moved on from the Enterprise, Ken, and not long after Ensign Carpenter had returned to the crew as a lieutenant, if I recall correctly. It all started, of all weird places, in a changing room..."
Captain James T. Kirk, Doctor Leonard H. McCoy and Captain Spock materialized in what looked like the fitting room of a very posh tailor's shop. Before any of them could react to their surroundings, a costumed attendant appeared out of what seemed to be nowhere.
"Greetings, most honored guests! My name is Montague, First Assistant to His Majesty's Chief of Protocol. His Majesty, King Peter, will receive you shortly. I must request, as his representative, that you don proper attire for being presented to His Highness." Montague gestured toward a group of doors in one wall. "Suitable attire has been prepared for each of you, based on the measurements provided by Starfleet. Captain Kirk, your garments are in the first alcove; Doctor McCoy, yours are in the second; and Captain Spock, you will find yours in the third. If you would please?"
The three men moved toward the indicated rooms. Doctor McCoy was the first to emerge; he was holding a triangular bit of cloth with four cords dangling from it, one from each of two corners, and two from the third. "What is this thing? A demented idiot's version of a sling?"
Montague scurried over to the doctor. "It is a garment called a codpiece, Doctor McCoy. Allow me to assist you in donning it." He took the garment, and tied two of the cords around McCoy's waist. "If you would pass the other two to me, under yourself?"
"You're kidding, right?"
"He is not kidding, Doctor," Spock responded, stepping out of his changing room. "Based on Montague's costume and my own, I conjecture that the court here is trying to simulate the appearance of the courts in Medieval Europe."
"Exactly correct, my good Vulcan." Montague finished tying McCoy's codpiece. "I believe that we manage to do so fairly well, other than the occasional, necessary concession to modern security."
Kirk emerged, the codpiece tied clumsily. "Okay, Montague, I give up. I can't get this thing on right."
"For a first time, you did quite well, Captain." Montague adjusted it a little. "Especially doing it solo." He looked at the three beings. "I must go, now; I shall be mingling with the crowd. I shall be doing my best to assist you in proper etiquette. Eustace, Chief of Protocol, will be in shortly, and give you your final instructions."
"You make it sound like a military operation in enemy territory, Montague," Kirk opined.
"As far as you're concerned, isn't it pretty close? And in a most unfamiliar uniform." Montague smiled subtly. "Don't worry, worthy gentlemen. Once you're past being introduced and presented, it'll be pretty much the same inane small talk you'd have to put up with at a Starfleet reception when civilians are present. It'll be a lot of old biddies gushing about your past bravery, and retired generals or the equivalent trying to one-up it. Your greatest struggle will be to remain civil and awake."
"Sounds to me like the military action would be easier," McCoy gibed.
"Probably safer and more pleasant, too," Montague agreed. "Look, gentlemen, you will do fine. Now, I must be going. Eustace will refine the details, and make sure things go perfectly when you are presented to His Majesty, King Peter." Having said that, he slipped out of the room.
"That boy's good, Jim. I didn't even see the door."
"It is concealed behind the tapestry," Spock said. "The technique was common in the Medieval era."
Before either of the men could respond, another individual appeared. Balding and slender, he was of slightly more than average height and distinctly more than average activity. Indeed, he almost seemed hyperactive as he fluttered around McCoy and Kirk, simpering and adjusting their garments as he spoke. "Of course, we must have things just so. One simply doesn't find oneself presented before royalty every day, after all. There, now, that's much better. Mustn't look sloppily dressed when we're presented; no, that wouldn't do at all."
"Would I be accurate in presuming," Spock asked, "That you are the chief of protocol?"
"Yes, yes, that's me. I'm Eustace, His Serene Majesty's Chief of Protocol." He continued to flutter around Kirk and McCoy as he spoke. "No time for introductions, no time." He turned to inspect Spock. "Ah, typically Vulcan: perfect the first time. Excellent, utterly excellent."
Eustace shifted to view all three individuals. "Gentlebeings, His Royal Highness will be receiving you shortly. Captain Kirk, you will go first. Do you see the red light by the door?"
He squinted for a moment. "I see it, yes."
"It is your cue. When it turns green, proceed through it, toward the red circle in the carpet. When you reach the center, kneel, bringing your chest as close to your thigh as you can. Doctor McCoy, you will go next. When the light turns green, you enter, moving to the perimeter of the circle, behind and left of Captain Kirk, kneeling as he is. Captain Spock, on the light turning green again, you will move to the position behind and to the right of Captain Kirk, symmetrical to Doctor McCoy. Simple enough?"
"All but the bending and kneeling; I'm not as limber as I once was," McCoy gibed. "What happens after that? I hope we're not going to have to hold that posture long. I'm no spring chicken anymore."
"I shouldn't worry. His Royal Highness is indubitably aware of such issues. You are all most respected and honored guests. His Majesty has a remarkable sense of theater and fitness in this sort of thing, most remarkable."
"No doubt," Kirk interjected as soon as Eustace paused to take a breath. "But it would be very helpful if you could give me some idea of what will happen after Spock's in place."
"Oh, of course, of course. I am so sorry! I do get so distracted, on occasion. It's quite hard to predict, you know, quite hard. He will acknowledge your presence, naturally, but just exactly how he will do it is quite unpredictable. Just remember, no matter what he does, don't flinch. He's the master of whatever he uses for such things, so you have nothing to fear, absolutely nothing..." Eustace looked at the timepiece on his wrist. "Dear me, I simply must be going. Now do watch for that green light, gentlemen, and be ready." Without waiting for a response, he fluttered his way out a concealed door.
"Well," Kirk opined, "he was strung tight. I guess I'd better go stand by that light and wait for my cue."
Kirk had barely reached the door when the light shifted to green. "Wish me luck, gentlemen!" He stepped through the door.
On the other side of the door, Kirk found himself in a great hall, one that looked like a modern version of Medieval stonework. Even to Kirk's eye, it was obvious that the stones had been cut and laid without mortar, but given the great distance the arches spanned they had clearly been reinforced with trititanium or transparent aluminum supports. The hall looked every bit of twenty meters wide, and at least twice that long, perhaps more. His point of entry had been from the middle of one of the longer walls. Before he could take time to do more than register the great hall, and see the circle in the center of the floor, a spotlight flashed onto him. He realized that it was his cue to move. Overhead, as he walked, he heard the address system announcing him.
"Lords, Ladies and Worthies of His Majesty's court, allow me to introduce our guest! He is the recipient of the Palm Leaf of the Axanar Peace Mission; the Grankite Order of Tactics, Class of Excellence; the Preantares Ribbon of Commendation, both First and Second Class. His remarkable courage and valor have earned him the Medal of Honor; the Silver Palm, with cluster; the Starfleet Citation for Conspicuous Gallantry; and the Kragite Order of Heroism. Scion of the Federation's Starships, the courageous friend who risked his career and his life to rescue his comrade in arms, I present to you Captain James T. Kirk, of the starship Enterprise!"
To Kirk's amazement, the voice managed to time the announcement so that his name was announced just as he reached the center of the circle. As Kirk put his right knee to the floor and his chest to his thigh, he swept his right arm in front of himself, and to his side, in what he hoped would be interpreted as a respectful flourish. The hall was filled with applause and cheering.
Almost as suddenly as the cheering began, it ended, as the voice spoke a second time. "Honorable Lords, Ladies and Worthies of His Majesty's court, allow me to introduce Captain Kirk's trusted companion in adventure, who stood at his side, joining his comrade in a rescue mission that could have brought a brilliant career to an ignominious end, the bearer of a Vulcan katra, initiate of the Vulcan fal-tor-pan, and physician extraordinaire, I present to you Doctor Leonard McCoy!"
Out of the corner of his eye, Kirk saw McCoy take his place, just to one side and behind him. Again, the court was filled with loud cheering, and the speaker quieted them.
"Finally, Lords, Ladies and Worthies of His Majesty's court, allow me to introduce our third and final guest, a trusted friend and comrade of Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy, the one whose katra was borne by his friend Doctor McCoy and returned in the fal-tor-pan, the recipient of the Vulcan IDIC award, as well as more awards for achievement and excellence in science than I can list, the intrepid comrade for whom his comrades risked life and reputation to rescue, I present to you Spock of Vulcan!"
As he expected, Kirk saw Spock take his position exactly symmetrically to McCoy, kneeling as the others had. The hall again filled with cheers. When the announcer spoke again, the cheers seemed, if anything, to grow louder. "Worthy courtiers and subjects of His Royal Highness, Peter, High King of Walven, I give you the Federation's Representatives to our vote. Arise, honored guests! Receive a Walven welcome!"
As the three beings stood, the great hall erupted into an even greater roar than before. Someone really knows how to stage things, Kirk mused. I can't believe this is spontaneous; it's too well coordinated. I'll bet Eustace scripted it all. He fixed his gaze on the only seated figure in the hall, a man of somewhat more than average height, bedecked in a rich cloak, clothing that looked like it had come from Louis XVI's wardrobe, and a crown that would have been at home in the Tower of London. For an instant, their eyes locked, and what seemed to be a playful grin fleetingly formed and disappeared on the monarch's face. King Peter stood. The crowd became quiet again, watching expectantly.
The king looked over the crowd, his gaze finally locking again with Kirk's. Dropping the heavy robe back onto his throne, he pulled a very business-like sword from the scabbard at his side. Without taking his eyes off Kirk's, he began to walk toward the captain, swinging, indeed almost juggling, the sword in a complex ballet around himself as he walked. Kirk met the king's steady gaze, a small smile on his face. Even when the sword leapt from one hand to the other, or flew high into the air, he stayed focused on the eyes of the approaching king.
Perhaps three meters from Kirk, King Peter stopped his forward motion, the sword still maintaining the intricate dance. "Captain James Tiberius Kirk, put your left knee to the floor."
Silently, Kirk obeyed.
Peter moved forward again. Kirk felt the sword tap his left shoulder briefly but firmly. "Captain Kirk, in recognition of your remarkable gallantry, and courageous service both to the Federation in specific and Humanity in general, we now declare you a Knight of our Royal Court." A second sword tap fell on Kirk's right shoulder. "You are hereby elevated to the Peerage, and we make you and all your heirs Duke of Islandus Novus Volcanus." Kirk felt the tip of the sword nick his cheek. Almost immediately, he saw Eustace run up and apply an adhesive bandage to the wound, and King Peter return his sword to its scabbard. "And wearer of the Royal Plaister. Arise, Sir James, Duke of Islandus Novus Volcanus, and receive the welcome due you."
Kirk rose, and suddenly found himself wrapped in a bear hug. Instinctively, but carefully, he returned the hug. In one ear, he heard the monarch whisper, "We'll talk in private later."
If anything, the resulting cheering was louder than before. While Peter walked back to his throne, McCoy and Spock hurried up to congratulate Kirk on his knighthood, barely beating the rest of the crowd to him. Within moments, the crowd swept the three of them apart.
How long he faced an endless stream of faces congratulating him, trying to ingratiate themselves with him, and trying either to out-gush the last person, or one-up his record of courage and bravery before the subtle interruption, Kirk wasn't sure. It seemed interminable and he had gotten to the point where he was hearing without really listening, saying "You don't say!" or "Oh, really?" or other empty phrases just to show the appearance of attending to what was being said.
Had it not been for the individuals moving through the crowd with trays full of goblets of juices or the medieval version of canapés, Kirk suspected that he might have succumbed to boredom. It was while a retired general was relating a long, involved, vaguely familiar-sounding story about some great victory he had achieved in what sounded like a vaguely familiar peacetime surface maneuver that he heard what was obviously Montague's voice whispering in his ear. "Your Lordship, His Majesty the High King Peter would be pleased to receive you and your friends in private in about half an hour or so. There is a door almost in the center of the wall just in front of you. Nod if you see it."
Kirk looked carefully. There was an entry to a corridor that appeared to lead to the restrooms. Just to one side of it, there was an unassuming door, barely discernible in the elaborate decorations of the wall. Kirk nodded, making an inane comment to the elderly general pontificating in front of him.
"Excellent," Montague responded. "As swiftly as you can, without being obvious, make your way there. The door will only open for you and your companions." Kirk sensed, rather than heard, Montague disappear.
Kirk drained his glass and traded it for a full one. As he did so, it dawned on him that the aging military leader before him might be willing to assist in his passage through the crowd. Kirk listened a bit more carefully. It was clear that the story was moving rapidly to its climax.
Continuing to nod occasionally, Kirk drained his glass, managing to finish it just as the old timer finished his tale. "Don't think I could have done better myself." He deposited his empty glass on a passing tray. "Listen, you seem to be a real pro with surface combat. Could I enlist your assistance?" Kirk nodded toward the hallway that led to the lavatories. "One too many beverages, and it looks like an intimidating gauntlet."
"Of course, of course," the man said, obviously flattered. "Know how it is. Weak bladder myself. Just follow my lead, youngster. I'll get you there in no time."
The general cocked his head to one side, and pretended to be listening. "Speak up, will you?" he whispered loudly, plugging one ear and winking at Kirk. "I'm in the middle of mayhem. Yes, yes, very well, I'll see to it." He straightened up. "Follow me, Captain. Military summons, and you're included."
Having said that, the older man began making a beeline toward the corridor across the room, alternating between deflecting would-be interruptions and urging Kirk to try to keep up. Inwardly, the captain smiled. If he's as good on the battlefield as he is here, we need him teaching battlefield tactics at the Academy. Kirk saw the general deflect an attempted intrusion by a pair of matrons intent on simpering at him. Forget the battlefield. He needs to teach tactics for survival at Starfleet receptions.
Within a matter of a few moments, Kirk's escort maneuvered him to the door Montague had pointed out. "I'll leave you to your labors, Captain," the general smiled, extending his hand. "When I saw Montague standing near you, I figured you'd be meeting His Majesty in quieter quarters. I hope you weren't overly bored by my modernized version of the Battle of Fredricksburg."
Kirk accepted the offered hand, shaking it. "No wonder I felt like I should have recognized it. Thank you, my friend."
"You're quite welcome. Now hustle in, and I'll stand rear guard until you're safe."
Kirk saluted the general, and retreated through the door.
On the other side of the door, Kirk found himself in a comfortably appointed room, with three freshly laundered Starfleet uniforms conspicuously displayed near doors to changing rooms. He took the hint, emerging clad in the uniform he had recently shed. Spock and McCoy arrived through the portal, thankful to be able to shed their ceremonial attire.
"I guess we wait for the King and his negotiating team, Jim," McCoy opined.
"I expect so, Bones. Chances are that the poor fellow will find escaping the crowd considerably harder than we did."
"Indeed," Spock responded. "Neither Doctor McCoy nor I had the benefit of the escort you managed to find."
"No genius on my part there, Spock. But until the royal retinue arrives, I'm going to make myself comfortable."
"Please do, gentlemen. May I offer you more suitable refreshment?" All three men turned to see a tall, thin man bearing a tray full of beverages. "Captain, I believe you would prefer black coffee, a preference that I share." He deftly shifted his grip on the tray, giving Kirk a cup full of coffee. "It is one of Walven's own strains of Coffea robusta, and it is considered gourmet quality."
Kirk sipped it cautiously. "It's excellent," he agreed.
Before Kirk could say more, the man had moved on to McCoy. "For you, Doctor, I believe a mint julep?"
"Somebody did their homework well," McCoy grinned, accepting the cool, tall glass. He took a sip. "Just the way I like it. My compliments to the bartender."
"Thank you, Doctor. I mixed it myself. Captain Spock, I understand your preference is water, sweetened with a little birkeen."
The Vulcan received the offered glass of what appeared to be water. As he sipped it, one eyebrow raised. "Remarkable. It tastes freshly prepared."
"Oh, it is, I assure you. There's a Vulcan ecology dome in the Botanical Gardens. It gets used for more than education." The man poured himself a cup of coffee, settling down across from Kirk. "One issue that worries the people of Walven about the decision to join the Federation is the apparent aversion the Federation has to monarchies. On Walven Four, people have become rather fond of the pomp and ceremony at court." He sighed. "Well, some folk have, anyway. And it does keep the tabloid press and the paparazzi employed."
Kirk nodded. "It does seem like the Federation dislikes all monarchies, but it's only the absolute monarchies, really. Now, here on Walven Four, the monarchy isn't absolute at all. Rather than having absolute power, like the kings of ancient Babylon and Egypt, to all appearances the king serves primarily a ceremonial function, more like the monarchs of England in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Since the king is apparently mainly a figurehead..."
"Captain," Spock interrupted.
"Oh, hush, Spock. Let him talk; I want to hear what he has to say," their host responded, interrupting Spock. "Please, Kirk, do go on."
Puzzled by the uncharacteristic interruption, Kirk picked up again. "Anyway, since the monarchy here is apparently mainly a ceremonial thing, there should be no trouble. The elected officials look like they thrash out the governmental decisions."
"I notice that you're talking about appearances, Captain. How about your thoughts on the realities?"
McCoy looked like he was going to add a comment, but was silenced by a pointed stare from their host.
Kirk took another swallow of coffee. "Oh, the reality is pretty much the same as everywhere else, as far as I can tell. Despite the two elected chambers doing all the visible decision making, the real government collects in private, talking it over. Now that's where the king's real power lies: he has the privilege of speaking first and last at all such gatherings, as well as in between. I guess the best analogy I know would be to the chief of a Native American tribe; he begins the talk, adds wisdom through the discussion, and does not allow it to conclude until he feels that the issue has been discussed adequately. As respected as King Peter is, his opinions carry considerable weight; otherwise, he's more or less on an equal footing with the rest."
"Remarkably insightful, Sir James. You were prepared well."
"I'm a history buff, in all honesty," Kirk smiled. "It was fascinating."
"What I want to know is how you folks got missed when the Federation first formed," McCoy butted in. "You're smack-dab in the heart of Federation space. There's only a couple of parsecs between you and, say, Elas and Troyius."
"Oh, we weren't missed, really. As a small, struggling Terran colony with a monarchy, we simply were not on the initial list offered the privilege of forming the Federation. I think we were a bit too insignificant, at the time. Be that as it may, about thirty years ago, the vote to join the Federation was scheduled, but we experienced an acute governmental crisis that forced a delay, and it never got rescheduled."
"Basic, bureaucratic inefficiency, right?" McCoy returned.
"So, what was the crisis?" the doctor asked.
"My father's death. It was ruled an accident. I was only twelve when King Edmund and his skiing party were buried in the avalanche and..."
A sudden look of embarrassed comprehension registered on Kirk's face. "Your Majesty! If I have offended..." He started to kneel.
"Oh, forget it, Kirk," the now-revealed king responded. "Even when they've been looking me square in the face as you were, most folk don't recognize me without the royal rags, and anyway I treasure the rare moments of candor that not being recognized affords me. In public, you'll have to use all the mummery. Here in private, I'm Peter, or just Pete."
"Hey, Pete!" The three turned to see Eustace entering. "Did you save me any coffee, or have you bums guzzled it all?"
"Dregs at the bottom, that's all that's left for slow pokes like you, Useless. Serves you right for taking so long to get here." The king poured Eustace a cup and handed it to him.
Eustace dropped into a chair. "Got trapped by an old biddy whose mouth runs at Warp Nine, whose brain is in a parking orbit, and who just had to be introduced to the new duke. I think that woman could have out-talked an echo." He shook his head in mock agony. "Good thing General George rescued you, or you'd still be fighting your way here, Kirk."
Kirk smiled. Neither of these men were as stodgy and boring as his first impression and expectation had suggested; being away from the pomp and show changed them dramatically, and definitely for the better, especially Eustace. Obviously the hyperactive, fussy twit they had met in the dressing area was a persona that Eustace put on and took off, just like he did with the fancy clothes. "That man needs to teach Reception Tactics at Starfleet, Eustace; he's good. Would one of you explain what I was dubbed in there?"
"Well," Eustace replied, "you're now the ruler of about five square kilometers of hot lava in the middle of the Avanan Ocean; that's the 'Duke of Islandus Novus Volcanus' gibberish. 'Knight of the Royal Court' means you have the unparalleled privilege of dressing in the required idiotic outfit and putting up with the pomp and all in the Great Hall. 'Wearer of the Royal Plaister' means I raided the King's First Aid Kit and put a bandage on you after Pete nicked your cheek with his sword."
"It sounds like it doesn't amount to much more than a puff of space gas, to me," McCoy opined, struggling to keep from snickering.
"It did sound considerably more significant before Eustace explained it," Spock agreed. "Your Majesty..."
"Peter, please, Spock. We're in private, and in a 'snoop-proof' room."
"As you wish. As you spoke of your father's death being ruled accidental, I observed a slight change in your voice, one that I have learned, in Humans, to associate with doubt of the truth of an official report. Might I ask if I have judged rightly here?"
"Most astute of you, good Vulcan. You are quite correct. There is reason to suspect that my father was assassinated." Peter stared off into space for a moment before he spoke again. "None of this information is public knowledge. I assume that I may trust your absolute discretion?"
There was a chorus of reassurances, culminating in McCoy wryly saying, "At my age, Pete, you'll be lucky if I remember it long enough to divulge it, even if I wanted to, which I don't."
Peter smiled. "I doubt that your memory is as poor as you claim, Doctor McCoy, but I trust that, as a physician, your discretion is above reproach." The monarch faced all three beings again. "Are any of you familiar with the group that calls itself 'The Tower of Ares'?"
Kirk responded first. "I think we've all heard of them. From what I've heard, they're a fiercely militaristic, anti-government, anti-establishment, religious group. They refuse all involvement in government, and in all military service other than their own. I guess they're a cross between the Klingons and the Quakers, if you can imagine that."
"They also refuse all medical care, too, even to the point of refusing routine medical examinations, unless it's done by one of their own. Most groups of any size have a physician or two in them, just to handle that." McCoy chimed in. "Strange bunch, altogether."
"Many Federation members do not tolerate them," Spock added. "The expressed concern is that the group would be an ideal hiding place for clandestine Klingon or Romulan operatives."
Walven's king nodded. "We suspect the same." Peter turned to his Chief of Protocol. "Eustace, would you cue up the avalanche sequence?" He turned back. "What you are about to see has not been seen off-planet, nor has it been seen by more than a handful of people on Walven Four."
A panel slid aside on a wall, revealing a viewscreen. On it, a scene showed a party skiing. Without warning, a massive bank of snow began sliding toward the party, engulfing them completely. The video clip ended, and the panel slid back into place concealing the screen again.
There was a long silence. Peter finally broke it. "In case you're wondering, the recording was my father and his skiing party. There were no survivors. Was there anything that struck any of you as odd?"
"It looked like it was shot from an extreme range," Kirk offered. "I can't imagine a photo hunter being satisfied with that wide of a shot if it was possible to come in tighter."
"An excellent point, Captain. It was shot by one of the paparazzi, with a long-range lens. Only the part with the skiing party was sold to the broadcast media. The full sequence was given to the Royal Family for me to view only after I ascended the throne. He was paid well for it, very well." Peter turned to the Vulcan. "Spock, I would be most interested in your thoughts."
"I could not provide anything but the most preliminary and approximate of opinions without a more detailed analysis using topographical data on the area and the computers on the Enterprise, Peter."
"It is said that a Vulcan's rough approximation is better than most Humans' careful calculations. I am quite willing to make do with an approximation."
"As you will." Briefly, Spock was lost in concentration. "I estimate that a volume of snow approximately fifty meters square by two centimeters thick, at a depth of two point five meters, with its leading edge five centimeters back from the face of the snow bank was transported out. The ensuing collapse of the overlying snow then initiated the avalanche."
Kirk and McCoy looked at Spock in astonishment. Peter nodded. "In short, the avalanche was staged, and used as a weapon to kill my father."
"That is the appearance," Spock responded. "The sudden drop of a nearly perfect square of snow was just barely perceptible, but very suggestive."
"I agree completely. The man who made the recording did not notice it. No one else did, either, until I had it put through a frame-by-frame analysis shortly after I ascended the throne. By then, it was long enough after the fact that the statute of limitations had run out, and I felt that starting an official investigation that could not lead to a conviction was a waste of time and effort. As it turns out, a member of a Tower of Ares base owned that particular ski resort then, and still does now. Furthermore, the owner paid for it in cash.
"As near as we have been able to determine, the local base of the Tower of Ares is having outside money fed into it, by individuals covertly bringing in gemstones to sell. The Crown has bought a few. Isotopic analysis indicates they are mostly of Romulan and Orion origin.
"Of course, the immediate significance to you is obvious: your being here means your life is in jeopardy. If those opposed to joining the Federation are willing to commit regicide, killing you to prevent Walven from joining the Federation would be nothing to them. I am no longer at risk. Having learned from what happened with my father, I have arranged that the vote over joining the Federation will go on, even if I am killed. There is no use in killing me, now. Any or all of you, however, might be viewed as reasonable targets for assassination, hoping that your death would deter the Federation's accepting Walven."
As usual, Kirk responded fastest. "We're accustomed to our lives being in jeopardy; it's pretty much a daily issue on a Federation starship. Frankly, as far as the Federation brass is concerned, we're all expendable. Your warning is appreciated, and I'm sure the threats will be different, but it really doesn't change anything for us."
"Spoken like a seasoned warrior," Eustace put in. "Pete, you chose well knighting this one."
"Thanks, Useless," the king gibed back. "I'm so glad you approve." The grin on Peter's face made it obvious the two men were fast friends. He turned back to Kirk, McCoy and Spock. "Gentlebeings, at this point, your task is to sell me on the decision to join the Federation."
"Actually, we're here to assist in overseeing the elections, Peter," Kirk responded. "Or at least, that's how I understood my orders."
The High King nodded. "I realize that, Kirk, but let us not fool ourselves. The vote recording and tallying systems used here on Walven were bought from the Federation; they were installed and are maintained by Federation personnel. We have taken care to make sure we have the best available. Later on, Eustace and Spock can go through the system and Spock can test it out by whatever means he finds suitable, to prove that it is as good as it is. There is essentially nothing to oversee. Thus, your real mission is public relations. Again, your task is to convince me."
Spock came as close to looking puzzled as a Vulcan could. "I was under the impression that you were highly supportive of the idea of joining the Federation."
The monarch refilled his cup from the flask and sipped his coffee for a moment. "You are, of course, utterly correct, Spock. However, as Kirk pointed out so accurately, I remain only one voice among many. Unquestionably, I am an incredibly influential voice, but I remain only one. Someone, and I suspect it's the same someone that has been pouring funds into the Tower of Ares, has been putting a good deal of money into a campaign to keep Walven Four out of the Federation. I've heard all their arguments and their response to ours. Here, in private, I will be the devil's advocate. Convince me."
"Consider the military and security aspect," Kirk offered. "You'll have the full might of Starfleet protecting Walven Four, as well as access to Starfleet training for your own military. Also, in terms of criminal investigation, you will have full access to our forensic, investigative and clandestine forces, as well as our training institutions."
Eustace looked at the king. "Pete, I think this guy's forgotten his astrography. We're almost in the heart of Federation space."
"Eustace is quite right. It would be cold swimming on a white dwarf before the Federation let hostile forces penetrate this deeply without putting up a major fight. And as for crime labs, we've got some of the most sophisticated ones there are, and we're already thoroughly connected with your clandestine arm. In fact, we're training some of the Federation's forensics and clandestine people." The king shook his head. "You're going to have to do better than that."
"There is also the cultural, educational and scientific aspects: access to the Federation's artists and musicians, universities and technical institutes, research and development, as well as the people of the Federation connecting with your artists and musicians and educational and scientific institutions," Spock offered. "On top of that, there would be new markets available for your planet's resources."
"I have subjects involved in several Federation research efforts, others studying at the most prestigious universities on Earth, Alpha Centauri, and Vulcan, as well as numerous other Federation planets. Trade is already vigorous, particularly in some of our unique wood and gemstones, but in manufactured and agricultural goods as well. There are some tariff issues, but they're minor. As for artisans and musicians, we have a vigorous exchange already, and I do not think it is likely to end. It might move some of the intellectuals and money moguls, but not the common folk. Nice try, but not good enough."
McCoy shook his head. "You're dead right, Peter; these two are totally off base. The key to this sales job are those old biddies we endured in the court."
Spock looked at McCoy, barely able to restrain his astonishment. Kirk, too, was clearly surprised at McCoy's comment. Peter and Eustace were both intrigued, and clearly curious.
"Oh, quit staring at me like I'd grown horns or something. Think it through. Those biddies came from all over the Federation, just to be seen in your Royal Court, and to hope to be presented before it. Most of 'em have loads more money than they have sense, and are not only renting whatever fancy costume they need to be in court, but also staying in your hotels, buying overpriced meals and souvenirs. Half of 'em are probably dragging along a daughter or a granddaughter they want presented at court. That's another kiloliter of change dumped into your Royal Pocket, and the pockets of endless merchants, taxi drivers, restaurateurs, hotel managers and who knows what all else. I can't imagine you'd put up with wearing that ridiculous outfit otherwise. Now, they find out you're not in the Federation, and they'll figure there'll be Klingons and Tholians and Romulans and Orion Slavers and heaven knows what else lurking around every corner, planning to rob 'em and probably kill them on sight. Poof! There goes the tourist trade straight out the window."
"Doc Mac's got a point, Pete," Eustace admitted.
"You're dead right I do, Eustace. And call me Leonard, or Doc, or anything other than 'Doc Mac,' will you? Then there's the whole sports angle. Once you're in the Federation, your planetary leagues can get into the Federation sports leagues. Off planet teams'll have to come here on occasion, for the home games. Think about how many die-hard fans are going to traipse along to watch 'em. There's another batch of change dumped in the planetary till." McCoy was obviously warming up on the subject. "Toss in the cash that'll flow in for broadcast rights, and the cash that you can rake in if you tie in to some of the Federation only broadcasts, especially the Federation Olympics. Add to that..."
"Enough! Enough," Peter laughed. "You've overwhelmed me! Eustace, I think the good Doctor has put his finger on our approach. The regular folks will be thrilled to have more sports to watch and an ongoing supply of tourists to fleece, and the money mongers will drool at the thought of the additional revenue."
"No question about it, Pete," Eustace agreed. "Now, all we have to do is decide how to peddle the idea. Any ideas, anyone?"
"It seems to me logical to suggest that the crew of the Enterprise become involved in local sports, and perhaps other cultural activities," Spock offered. "Particularly if some of them could be seen with yourself or members of your court. That would, I believe, achieve a very positive public relations program reasonably rapidly."
Peter nodded. "You have hit the nail on the head, Spock, especially if they spend money freely. Tell you what, why don't we start with you three joining the Queen and I at the piano recital tonight. I've got a box reserved. It's the final stop on Amanda Adeodata's interstellar tour."
Spock's eyebrow raised. "Remarkable. She is the most accomplished pianist in the Federation, and has been called a feminine Mozart. I should definitely wish to join you."
"She's feminine, and she's a female version of Mozart, all right," Eustace agreed, "But she's not Federation. She's one of us, a native of Walven Four."
"If she's that all-fired good, count me in!" McCoy chirruped.
"I'd be honored to join you, too, Peter," Kirk said.
"Excellent. We have room for two more," Peter replied. "Do you think you could find ladies to join us? Lucy, the Queen, would probably appreciate some feminine company."
Almost simultaneously, Spock and Kirk said, "Uhura!"
"I agree," McCoy chipped in. "She'd kill to join us."
"Think Nurse Webb would join us, Bones?" Kirk asked.
"She'd jump at the chance."
"Good!" Peter stood up. "I will arrange to transport the party in the Royal Limousine."
"Just one question," Kirk said. "Do we have to, ah,..."
"Nope," Eustace answered, before Kirk could finish asking. "You don't have to wear Court Costume. Starfleet dress uniform will do fine. If the ladies want to wear evening gowns, that's quite acceptable, but not required."
"That's a relief," Kirk confessed.
Peter looked at Eustace. "Can you think of anything else we need to cover? Seems to me we have hit all the things we had on the agenda."
The chief of protocol rubbed his chin pensively for a moment. "Don't think so, Pete." He turned to face Kirk. "We'll need a list of crew members and sports they're interested in watching or participating in, of course and those with specific interests in the arts and such. Think that'll be a problem?"
"It should be easy enough. Is there anything else?"
"I think not. Eustace, you will see to it that time and place for tonight are communicated to the Enterprise?"
"I'll see to it." Eustace drained his cup of coffee. "If there's nothing else you folks need, I'll get you where you can transport back without getting mobbed."
"And we must head back and mingle with the persons of our Royal Court." Peter sighed. "Back into our Royal Rags."
The voice net speaker chimed, and was answered. "Yes?"
"Is the area secure?"
"It is. The line is secure, too. What have you learned?"
"Federation sent two Humans and a Vulcan. They're going to be at the Adeodata performance tonight."
"A Vulcan? Oh, that's too good to be true. He'll be perfect. You'll put a plant in the audience, to make sure?"
"Perfect. Tonight, then. Out."
The connection broke, neither traced nor noticed.
"I didn't think we'd ever get past that crowd of gawkers," McCoy complained as he helped Nurse Webb settle into her chair in the Royal Box. "If I didn't know better, I'd swear half of 'em were here just to see you, Your Majesty. And the cameras and the video recorders! I bet the lighting will give us all sunburn."
"We are a major drawing card, Doctor," the king responded. "Our Royal Appearance at an event brings in larger crowds, but it limits our activities rather significantly. It also forces us into activities we might not have preferred."
Curiosity overcame Kirk's caution. "Oh? For example?"
"Yes, broccoli. We were informed that many of our subjects were eating dolorously poor diets. To encourage them to eat more wisely, we had to be seen eating broccoli, and appearing to enjoy it. It was a challenge, believe us."
"Hush! It looks like things are about to start," the Queen interjected.
Even as she was speaking, the master of ceremonies strutted on stage.
"Your Serene Majesties," he bowed to the box as he spoke, "And ladies and gentlemen of the audience, welcome. Our guest tonight needs no introduction. She is Walven's favorite daughter and the premier pianist of our day. Without further ado, I give you Amanda Adeodata!"
The man stood aside, and a tall, almost willowy woman came on sage. Striking though her beauty may have been, the first thing that caught the eye was that she was entirely bald, even to the point of lacking eyelashes.
"Look at her long, thin fingers," McCoy hissed. "I'll bet she has Darbeaux's Syndrome." Seemingly out of nowhere, he produced his mediscanner.
"Oh, put that thing away, Doctor McCoy," Uhura whispered back. "Can't you just sit back and enjoy? Marie, do something with him, will you?"
As quickly as the mediscanner appeared, it disappeared. Even as it did, the celebrated pianist took her place at the keyboard.
Once the music began, they were all thoroughly enraptured by the virtuoso performance Amanda Adeodata provided them. The music had been an eclectic mix of old classics, popular music, and her own original compositions. Although she had been playing continuously for nearly two hours, it seemed to have been only a few moments between her sitting down to play and standing up. A stagehand brought her a microphone.
"Could we have the lights up, please?" she asked. Obediently, the house lights came up. "Every once in a while, I like to do a request. Is there someone that has a particular piece that they'd like me to play?"
Dozens of hands went up. "Oh, my, if I played all your requests, we'd be here until lunch tomorrow." She studied the audience carefully for a moment. "Sir, you--the one in the blue shirt, ninth row back. Would you stand up and tell us all what you'd like to hear?"
Tentatively, an older man stood up. He looked around, as if to be sure that there was no one else standing before he spoke. "Could you play Vulcan Harpers: A Son Vanquished By His Father for us?"
Amanda smiled. "I think we can manage that. It is a fitting end to my tour. You see, years and years ago, Daddy had to make a business trip to Vulcan. I was only five, and he decided Mama and I would come with him. Now, Mama loves harp music, and since there was a Vulcan harp competition going on, we went. At the end, there were only two harpists left, tied for first place: a father and his son. Both had received perfect scores all through. To break the tie, the judges decided to have each one do an improvisation off the same five-note motif. For all of me, the son's music stood above the father's, but the judges gave the father the victory.
"Later, in our suite, to my parent's surprise, I played both pieces on the electronic keyboard in the parlor. Mama said I had them note perfect. Daddy had the keyboard print out a couple of copies of what I'd played, and took one to the judges." Amanda giggled before continuing. "I did have it perfect. Not bad for a kid!
"Anyway, that contest launched my career. Years later, I found the printouts Daddy had made, and wrote Vulcan Harpers: A Son Vanquished By His Father from them."
For a moment, Amanda had a far away look in her eyes. "I've often wondered if the two Vulcans I was trying to honor ever heard the piece, and how they felt about it." She shook her head. "Either way, I've got a pre-recorded track of a Vulcan harper doing the harp section, but it is so much nicer to do it live. Anyone out there that plays the harp, would you please stand up?"
A small number of individuals stood up, including Uhura. Spock remained seated.
"Oh, come on, Spock, stand up," Uhura whispered. "You're a championship Vulcan harper, after all."
Reluctantly, the Vulcan stood. He had no more than reached an upright posture than Amanda spotted him. "A Vulcan! Oh, how delightful! Do please come join us, sir! It's been just ages and ages since I've had the pleasure of playing this piece with a Vulcan."
Spock looked at the king, who nodded assent. As swiftly as he could, he made his way to the stage. As he was ushered onto the stage, Amanda looked at him, an odd expression on her face for an instant, quickly replaced by a smile.
"Thank you so much for being willing to accompany me." She signaled someone off stage. A stagehand brought in a Vulcan harp, handed it to Spock, and disappeared. "Will this instrument be suitable?"
Spock accepted the instrument, looking it over carefully. "Eminently so, Madam. It is a T'Shall harp, approximately equivalent to a Terran Stradivarius violin. As great an honor as it is to accompany you, the honor of playing a T'Shall harp is even greater."
Spock ran his fingers across the strings, then tightened two or three. He began playing, to familiarize himself with the instrument. The pianist's hand flew to her mouth and she went pale. "Have you heard the piece? You played the son's aria as if you knew it by heard."
Spock nodded. "I have heard your composition many times, Madam. I have both harp parts committed to memory."
Amanda smiled and curtsied. "I am honored that you delighted in the music so much."
"I suspect that I had both harp parts memorized before you wrote Vulcan Harpers: A Son Vanquished By His Father, Madam."
A faint pink tint appeared on her cheeks. "That's not possible, unless... Unless..." She shook her head. "It couldn't be. Sir, have we met before this evening?"
"Not to my knowledge, but clearly you have seen me once." Spock played a five-note sequence. "Only once has a son and a father competed as you have described in the Vulcan Harping Contest."
"Of course! And you were there!"
"I was, and I was defeated by my father, Sarek."
"Then...Then..." Amanda blushed which, with her totally bald head, was an impressive sight. "Then you are..." Her voice trailed off into an amazed silence.
"Yes. I am Spock, son of Sarek and Amanda, the son who was vanquished by his father."
Amanda Adeodata bowed deeply, her forehead almost touching the floor. As she stood, she faced the audience. "Lords, Ladies, Gentlebeings and your Royal Majesties, this will be the highlight of my career." She faced Spock again. "May I have this recorded, Spock? I will want to relive this performance often, and no doubt others will wish to share it."
"If you wish."
Amanda nodded. "Excellent. Shall we begin?"
Spock lifted the harp again and sat on a tall stool that a stagehand had provided. For a moment, there was an expectant silence, finally broken by the Vulcan harp playing the five-note sequence. From there, the piano and harp danced with each other, the harp leading, until finally the harp dropped out, leaving the piano to conclude in an explosion of harmony and eager enthusiasm. When the last echo of the final note faded, the auditorium was filled with deafening cheering and applause. Adeodata stood and bowed; taking his cue from her, Spock did likewise. As the auditorium began to quiet down, she turned to Spock.
"I had intended to finish tonight's performance by doing an improvisation on a theme suggested by a member of the audience. After this evening and its revelations, I think I owe you the privilege of suggesting a theme."
Caught unprepared, Spock thought for a moment. "Would you use the piano to write your autobiography?"
"A worthy challenge! But for you, I'll try!"
She sat down at the piano again, and began playing. Initially, there were two separate melodies that fused, then produced a third melodic line that began simply, but rapidly grew in complexity, driving the first two aside, only to be joined be a fourth melody, one that initially clashed but by degrees harmonized. Suddenly, Adeodata stood, closing the piano. "I realize it sounds unfinished--but then, my life isn't finished yet, either." She giggled, which struck Spock as being out of place, even for a Human. "You've all been such a wonderful audience. Thank you for sharing this evening with me, especially Your Majesties, and of course, thank you, Spock of Vulcan."
Spock bowed slightly, and retreated off stage, to allow the audience to show their appreciation for Adeodata's performance without his being in the way. As he started to make his way back to the box and his companions, a man came out of the shadows. "Spock? A moment, if you please."
The Vulcan turned to face the Human. "How may I help you?"
"On the rare occasions that Amanda has made a live recording with another artist, such as yourself, it is her habit to ask that you join her in her dressing room for a few moments after the performance to iron out a few details on the possible sale of the recorded piece. If you would please come with me? I will see to it that the rest of your party is made aware of the delay and its reason."
Spock nodded his acquiescence, and followed the Human. After wandering through several corridors, he found himself led to a door marked "Amanda Adeodata."
"She will be with you shortly, sir. Please forgive the wait. She prefers to get into less formal attire, first."
"I understand." Spock stood at the door, patiently. After a brief wait, the door opened, and Adeodata's hairless head peeked around it.
"Come in, come in," she invited Spock. "We've a detail or two to handle, if you wouldn't mind?"
Spock entered the dressing room. Amanda had changed into a loose-fitting outfit, clearly chosen for casual comfort, and had discarded her shoes, her long, bare toes digging into the thick, soft pile of the area rug that filled most of the middle of the room.
Adeodata giggled. "Yes, I prefer being barefoot. As long and skinny as my feet are, finding shoes that fit comfortably is such a chore." She produced four recordings, all of which bore her autograph. "These are tonight's last two pieces. One I've signed is yours, one is for me, and the others are for our parents. I was hoping that you'd autograph them for me." She extended the recordings. Spock signed them all, pocketed two, and returned the others.
"There is the issue of the proceeds from marketing the recording. You certainly deserve a share in them."
Spock shook his head. "I have no need of the additional income. Such portion of the proceeds as you feel that I am due can be given to a charity, perhaps a fund for research into finding improved treatments and cures for rare medical problems."
"Good enough." She turned to a console, tapping on it for a few moments. A printer produced several sheets. "Just a document to make that official, for our mutual protection. If you would sign both copies?"
The Vulcan read the agreement, and finding nothing objectionable, signed both copies. Amanda did likewise, returning one to him, which he folded and pocketed.
Amanda Adeodata smiled. "I just want to thank you personally, one last time, both for tonight's performance, and for your role in triggering my career. You will always be a welcome and honored guest at my home, Spock of Vulcan." She lifted her hand in a clumsy attempt at a Vulcan salute. "Um, long life and prosperity?"
Spock returned the gesture. "Live long, and prosper, Amanda Adeodata. You will always be welcome to drink deeply at my well. I am grateful for the evening, as well. I suspect that you will be eager to return home. If there is nothing else, I will leave you."
"That's it, Spock, except to thank you one last time."
"You are most welcome." He stepped out into the corridor, and opened his communicator. "Spock to Enterprise."
"Lieutenant Jaeger here, Captain. What can I do for you?"
"I wish to ascertain whether Captain Kirk and the rest of the party are still awaiting my return."
There was a brief pause. "Uhura says they're in the limo, and they'll go on ahead. You can just beam up, and dodge all the cameras and video recorders."
"Very well. One to beam up."
Spock returned to his quarters. A brief calculation indicated that his parents would be just finishing breakfast. He decided to call.
"Ambassador Sarek here."
"Live long and prosper, Father."
"Greetings, Spock. Your call is unexpected."
Spock could hear his mother's voice in the background, sending her greetings. "Extend my greetings to Mother for me, Father. I am certain you recall our discussion of a few years ago concerning the piece by Amanda Adeodata?"
"Clearly. The title was Vulcan Harpers: A Son Vanquished By His Father. As I recall, we were both curious about the source of the Vulcan harp music. Although the harp performance showed only marginal skill, it sounded very much like our improvisations in the All Vulcan Harp Competition."
"The puzzle is now resolved, Father. She was present at the competition. I will be sending a recording of her performance of the piece that she autographed for you and Mother."
"How did you get it, Spock?" The voice was Amanda's.
"Captain Kirk, I, and a few others from the Enterprise were invited to a live concert, Mother. She resolved our question."
"Who is the accompanist, Spock?" It was Sarek, again.
"I ended up taking that task. My companions felt it was logical. Since one of the companions was the High King Peter of Walven Four, I did not feel at liberty to decline."
"Eminently logical, son. Will you be bringing or shipping the recording?"
"Given the length of time until I am able to return home, I believe it would be more logical to ship it."
Spock could hear Amanda in the background, wishing that he would make a special trip with the recording. Sarek continued, making no comment about Amanda's illogical wish. "If you are in the capital of Walven, I believe it is late at night."
"It is seven minutes after midnight, local time, Father."
"According to your Mother, you need to get your sleep. Goodbye, Spock. Live long and prosper, my son."
"Live long and prosper, Father."
The connection broke, and the Vulcan began preparation for bed.
Spock snapped awake at the chiming of the communications module. In a single fluid motion, he rolled out of bed and triggered it. He glanced at the chronometer: 0404, ship's time. "Spock here."
"Kirk here. I need you at the transporter room. Now."
"It will take six point three minutes for me to don appropriate attire, and at least an additional two point eight on the turbolift."
"Be here in fifteen minutes, Spock," Kirk interrupted. "Kirk out."
Despite being puzzled by the captain's unusually brusque manner, and equally unusual tone of voice, Spock dressed and made his way to the transporter room as rapidly as he was able. To his surprise, he found not only Kirk but also McCoy and Captain Scott in the transporter room.
"I am curious about the reason for the urgent summons, Captain," Spock said, moving to the transporter.
"The Walven police want to question you, Spock," Kirk responded. "Amanda Adeodata is missing, and you're their primary suspect."
"I see," Spock nodded. "Quite logical."
"It is and it isn't, Spock," McCoy responded. "Blast it, you've got no motive for such chicanery, plenty of reason to avoid it, and you're too logical to do something that stupid."
"I appreciate your sentiments, Doctor. However, I doubt that they will weigh heavily with the Walven police force, since I am probably the last individual known to have seen her."
Kirk and McCoy joined Spock on the transporter.
"I doubt that the Walven police suspect either of you. Unless they have specifically asked you to come, you need not accompany me."
"You're a member of my crew, Spock, a comrade in arms, and above and beyond that, a good friend being accused of a major crime," Kirk responded. "They have to face me if they want to accuse you."
"And that goes for me, too, Spock," McCoy added. "Double."
"Aye, laddie," Scotty chimed in. "An' if I didn't have t' stay here and take care of the Enterprise, they'd be facin' me, too. I doubt there's a soul on the Enterprise that wouldn't clamor t'be at your side."
The Vulcan nodded acquiescence. "I believe the Human expression is, 'That is what friends are for.' I am appreciative."
"Scotty, beam us down," Kirk ordered. "We need to get Spock cleared, first and foremost."
Scotty obeyed, without further comment.
An instant later, the threesome found themselves standing in a very functional office area, faced by several uniformed individuals. One individual stepped forward, toward the Vulcan. "Captain Spock?"
"I am he."
"Inspector Phillips. I need to ask you a few questions, sir. Strictly routine, I assure you."
"I quite understand."
The inspector gestured at a subordinate. "For the record, you have the privilege of remaining silent, since our conversation will be recorded and anything you say may be used as evidence against you. You have the right to have a legal professional present to advise you of further rights extended by the King's Court, and to protect your rights during this interview. If you wish, His Majesty's representatives will supply you with a legal representative. Do you understand your rights, sir?"
Again, for the record, please identify yourself."
"Captain Spock, Chief Science Officer of the United Starship Enterprise, son of Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan, and Amanda Grayson of Earth."
"Thank you, Captain Spock. Now in your own words, please recount your interaction with Amanda Adeodata last evening. Feel free to take your time, and include any details you feel are important."
Methodically, Spock related the previous evening's activities, from the time he was summoned to the stage until he transported back to the Enterprise.
Phillips nodded, listening carefully. When Spock had finished describing the events, the inspector waited another moment before speaking. "Are there any other details you would care to add?"
"I believe I have covered the events in sufficient detail."
"Let me clarify a point or two, if I may. You said you signed recordings of the evening's rendition of the last two performances. Did I understand you to say that you signed four?"
"Exactly. I signed four, and kept two. Amanda Adeodata signed them as well, keeping the other two for herself," Spock replied.
"You kept two, not three? Are you certain that you didn't actually accidentally take three, not two, copies?"
Spock's eyebrow lifted. "I am."
"Was there any conflict or disagreement between you and Adeodata?"
"Perhaps an exchange of blows?"
The inspector nodded. "Did you perhaps scratch yourself or see Amanda Adeodata scratch or wound herself while you were there, and not feel it was worth mentioning? Perhaps sustain some minor wound or other?"
"I was wearing a Starfleet dress uniform, Inspector. It covers essentially the same area as what I am wearing. You have my permission to look for wounds, if you doubt the accuracy of my description of events. Adeodata was similarly clad, except that she was barefoot." Spock's face and tone of voice were calm, but McCoy sensed that his friend was beginning to be nettled.
"I see," Inspector Phillips continued. "Most interesting. Then you would have no idea how Human and Vulcan blood got spattered across Adeodata's dressing room?"
Spock's face remained impassive. "I do not know how it happened, Inspector. I would like to inspect the site before I hazarded an opinion on that question."
"Under the circumstances, Captain Spock, that might be imprudent. As a person, you understand, I believe your story. Certainly, it fits the facts that I know." He shook his head. "But as the King's Inspector assigned to the case, I cannot let my feelings get in the way of acting based strictly on the evidence. With your being the last person known to have seen her, and the Vulcan blood spattered on the floor..." The inspector let the sentence die unfinished.
"Although we usually prefer not to interfere, we request that our guest be allowed immediate access to the scene."
Surprised, everyone turned and knelt before the king.
The King gestured. "You may rise." Gratefully, they all returned to an upright posture. "When we were informed of the disappearance of our beloved subject, Amanda Adeodata, we realized that our Vulcan guest would be considered a primary suspect. We have the strongest of reasons to believe that the Vulcan is not involved in this crime, and suggest that it might be prudent to make use of his wit and skill in analyzing the crime scene."
"With all due respect to Your Majesty's wishes, there was Vulcan blood mixed with the Human blood at the scene. If I might beg your Highness' indulgence, that is strongly suggestive evidence."
"It is our suspicion that, since you have done sufficient testing to assure that the blood was Vulcan, you will also have identified the Vulcan blood type. Since we observe that the good doctor is present, we are willing to hazard the guess that he can give you the Vulcan's blood type." The king turned to McCoy. "Do we guess correctly, sir?"
McCoy bowed. "Your Majesty is quite correct. Spock, with your permission, I'll tell them, and get you cleared."
"Of course, Doctor."
"He's got one of the rarest Vulcan blood types: T negative," McCoy announced triumphantly.
"Excellent," Phillips smiled. "The Vulcan blood was S indifferent, one of the commonest types, if I'm not mistaken."
"With our guest cleared, we request that you allow him access to the crime scene."
"As Your Majesty wishes," Phillips responded, bowing as he did. "Does Your Majesty wish to join us?"
Peter shook his head. "As much as we wish we could, we must attend to other business of state, Inspector. We appoint Sir James and his companion, Doctor McCoy, as our royal representatives."
"As Your Majesty pleases. A preliminary report will be made available to the Crown as soon as possible." Phillips bowed deeply, again.
"We are grateful. Your willingness to cooperate will not be forgotten." The High King turned and left as suddenly as he had arrived.
Phillips let his breath out slowly. "Now, that was a shocker, and no mistake about it. But I think we all came out okay. Listen, please accept my apologies, gentlemen, and your Lordship. I didn't know you were that closely connected to the king. Look, I'd still like to get a sample of Captain Spock's blood collected, just to confirm his blood type, if you don't mind."
"I do not mind," the Vulcan responded, turning to face Doctor McCoy. "Under the circumstances, I conjecture that you came with the necessary tools for collecting the sample, Doctor McCoy."
"Sure did. Now, if you'll just bare that arm?" McCoy foraged in his medical kit, and drew out the necessary apparatus. As the doctor drew the blood, Phillips watched closely.
"Planning to take up medicine, Inspector?" Kirk asked, half in jest.
"Just a routine precaution; this way I can testify that it's really Spock's blood, not a substituted tube." Phillips straightened up. "I notice that there was essentially no bleeding after the blood was drawn, Doctor."
"Naturally not, Inspector," Spock interjected. "Rapid clotting on exposure to air causes us to lose less blood, and thus less water. It is an adaptation to the scarcity of water on Vulcan."
"Well, it looks like I get to be Inspector Lestrade to your Sherlock Holmes, Captain Spock."
"Hey, that would make me Doctor Watson!" McCoy chirped. "And you can be Wiggins of the Baker Street Irregulars, Jim!"
The starship captain rolled his eyes. "Wonderful, Bones. I'm sure that fulfils a life-long dream for us both. Inspector, since we have permission for Spock to inspect the scene, perhaps we could get moving?"
"The sooner the better, I suppose." Phillips turned to another officer. "Constable Gregory? Get us some transportation. Better get a wagon; there'll be several of us."
Within a matter of moments, the party was at what had been Adeodata's changing room. Carefully, Spock inspected the room, standing in the doorway, consulting his tricorder frequently. The bare floor was marked by both red and green blood, and the furniture was tumbled about as if there had been a fight. Kirk and McCoy, accustomed to their friend's approach to such things, remained silent. Phillips, after a moment or two, broke the silence.
"I'd be interesting to hear your observations, if you don't mind, Captain Spock."
"The first thing that struck me was the absence of the rug that filled most of the floor."
Phillips shook his head. "You've got the advantage of me on that one; I didn't see the room earlier this evening. Do you have any evidence that there was a rug, other than your say-so?"
"The dust patterns on the floor should be sufficient evidence. Even though there have been at least six, and possibly as many as eight different individuals through the room since the rug was removed, the pattern of the dust still outlines the carpet somewhat. Perhaps low, tangential lighting would make it more visible."
Phillips gestured to a nearby constable, who produced a hand light that he turned on and put on the floor. Despite the signs of several feet having walked across the area, a vague outline of the carpet remained.
"Good going, Captain Spock. What else do you derive from the scene?"
"Judging from the pattern of the blood spatters, it is possible to deduce the location from which they originated. If I may enter the room?"
"Go ahead. The evidence collection team has been through the room thoroughly, and drawn their own conclusions, but I'd be interested in hearing yours."
Spock strode across the floor. "Both the Vulcan and Human blood appears to have been squirted from this location. Given the pattern, I would estimate that the tube through which it was propelled was no more than about one point one two meters above the floor. The Vulcan blood was applied first. See, there?" Spock pointed. "The Human blood spatter overlaps the Vulcan. Several other areas are visible where that has happened, but none where the Vulcan has overlapped the Human."
"Excellent, excellent!" Phillips was obviously pleased with the information he was gleaning. "Any other points to share?"
"One other, but I would appreciate Doctor McCoy's confirmation. Doctor, if you would turn your mediscanner on one or two of the larger blood spots?"
"Way ahead of you, Spock," McCoy grinned. "I suppose you're wanting to know if the blood on the floor has unusually high citrate levels."
"Precisely, Doctor. I strongly suspect that they do."
"Well you're dead right." McCoy's voice had a note of triumph in it. "I..."
"Hold on a minute," Phillips interrupted. "Citrate? What's the point in that?"
"Sodium citrate is the standard anticoagulant used in tubes to keep Vulcan and Human blood drawn for diagnostic purposes from clotting up before we can test it," the doctor returned. "Which means this blood was drawn at an earlier time, and then brought here to make it look like there had been a fight. But there's one other thing no one seems to have noticed. Anyone here smell flowers?"
"Oh, come off it, Bones. Folks like Adeodata often are given flowers before or after their performances." Kirk shook his head at his friend's naivete.
"There were none in the room when I was there after the performance, Captain. I am quite certain of that point." Spock turned to the doctor. "However, I do notice the odor. Your conclusions, Doctor?"
"I'm surprised you haven't guessed, Spock." McCoy was obviously enjoying scoring on his Vulcan comrade. "It's chloroform. Among the oldest inhalation anesthetics known, it's still about the fastest one there is." He consulted his mediscanner. "Inspector, if you've got an evidence bag on you, you might find a vial with a little left in it, hmm...over to one side of that dressing table there, just by the corner, I'd guess."
Phillips moved to where McCoy was pointing. Only a moment of searching revealed a small bottle, with a tiny amount of fluid remaining in it. After being properly photographed and identified, it was rapidly transferred to an evidence bag. "Excellent, gentlemen. If you ever retire from Starfleet, and want a job, let me know. You've achieved as much in five minutes as a whole platoon of trained constables and I did in a couple of hours. And we'd totally missed that vial of chloroform. Do any of you feel the need to inspect the site further?"
Kirk looked at his two companions. Both shook their heads. "I guess not."
"Then let's head back to the station. You folks can return to the Enterprise from there." The men began their trek back to their vehicle. Unfortunately, a crowd had gathered, and as they left the auditorium, microphones and lights and reporters jamming microphones in everyone's faces demanding a comment confronted them. Inspector Phillips brushed them aside. "That will do. You all know that we can't be giving statements at this point. Now clear the way, so we can get in our transportation, or I'll have to book the lot of you."
Most of the crowd melted away; only one diehard remained, standing by the vehicle's door, blocking entry. "Come on, Inspector. Tell us what's going on, will you? They won't even let us into the building."
Try as he might, the Inspector couldn't quite get the man out of the way. Finally, Spock intervened. "If I may have your permission, Inspector, I believe I can convince this individual to allow us entry to your vehicle."
"Just don't hurt him too much, Spock," Phillips returned.
Spock laid his hand on the reporter's shoulder, in a Vulcan nerve pinch. He caught the man, handing him to his colleagues. "He should wake up in four point six minutes, quite unharmed." Everyone shifted into the wagon, which gently but firmly pushed its way through the crowd.
Phillips turned to face the Vulcan, again. "Nice trick with the reporter, Spock. Charley's been one of the most obnoxious of the paparazzi lately, and he deserved what he got. I just hope he doesn't file assault charges against you."
"Thank you, Inspector, and I share your hope."
"Now that we're in a secure environment, Captain Spock, I'd be interested in how you add up the data you've gathered. Unless, like Sherlock Holmes, you want to spring it all on me at the end."
Spock was silent, thinking for a moment before answering. "As I read the evidence, Inspector, one or more individuals managed to gain entry into this room, armed with the chloroform. Once Adeodata was rendered unconscious, she was rolled into the carpet and carried away. Given Adeodata's probable body weight, added to the weight of the carpeting, I conjecture that there was at least one accomplice. After removing her from the room, the blood spatters were placed, and the room arranged to produce the appearance of a conflict. It seems to me probable that one of the two individuals who removed Adeodata in the carpet returned to leave the false trail, but it could easily have been a third individual."
"It also was someone who not only knew that there was going to be a Vulcan in the audience, but also who could get hold of Vulcan blood, Spock," Kirk added. "Moreover, it was someone who knew that the piece, Vulcan Harpers: A Son Vanquished By His Father was going to be requested, and that the Vulcan would probably be called on stage to perform, then back to her dressing room for a few moments. So we've got at an individual in the audience, too, to make sure that the harp piece was requested. Put all that together, and what I see is a well-organized group, with tentacles out in several directions where they can get critical information, slightly exotic resources, and plan something rapidly and effectively. Any names come to mind, gentlebeings?"
Almost as a single voice, Spock, McCoy, Inspector Phillips and the constables present said, "The Tower of Ares!"
"I see," Kirk replied, "That we have all reached pretty much the same conclusion."
"Well, if it is the Tower of Ares, I suppose that we can expect a ransom note, or something similar," Phillips decided, "Probably in the next day or less. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the note wasn't on my desk when we get back to my office." He turned to the Vulcan. "Before we go, I'd like to know if you have any other observations, Captain Spock?" Turning to McCoy, he added, "Or if you do, Doctor?"
McCoy scratched his head. "Look, you asked Spock how many recordings he took, and made obnoxiously sure that it was two, not three, that he took with him. Did you have a reason for that, other than just being sure?"
The inspector smiled. "I certainly did. Only one was found in the dressing room, Doctor, and the officer who informed her father, Mister Bayes, of Adeodata's disappearance delivered it to him. As to what became of the other one, no one apparently knows."
"One other point, Inspector." It was Kirk's voice. "May I assume that you have checked the communication log for this room? It might give us an idea of the timing of the abduction, don't you think?"
"It was among the first things that we did, after gathering evidence from the site, Sir James." The inspector shook his head. "No incoming or outgoing calls at all after the performance. And the only computer access after the performance was probably the creation of the agreement that you signed with Adeodata. By the way, I would certainly appreciate a copy of that, just for the records."
"Unquestionably, Inspector," Spock responded. "I shall see to it as quickly as I am able, after I return to the Enterprise. Would a copy of the recording be of any value to you?"
Phillips smiled sheepishly. "Well, not exactly. We, ah, made ourselves one from the recording we found here, before it was turned over to her father. It seemed the logical course of action, just in case there was something in the recording that might be of value. And before you ask, we imaged the signatures on the recording, too."
Kirk looked at his two companions. "Any other thoughts, Spock, Bones?"
The two shook their heads.
"Gentlebeings, your insights have been remarkably valuable. I assume that I state the obvious when I make it clear that what we've learned and deduced here is strictly confidential. If His Majesty, the High King Peter, should request information of you, please feel free to share with him, but with no other."
"Not even his Chief of Protocol, Eustace?" McCoy inquired.
"As near as I can figure it, Doctor," the Inspector responded, "Telling the King and telling Eustace are about synonymous. But other than that, I'd appreciate it if you'd keep this even from the crew of the Enterprise, as much as possible."
Kirk nodded. "I understand, Inspector. No sense in showing our hand until it's to our advantage, right?"
"Exactly, Sir James. Also, we have some very strict laws involving mistrials, if too much information gets leaked. I wouldn't care to solve the case, find the abductors, and then have them get off on a technicality." Phillips rubbed his chin. "Come to think of it, nor would you, I suppose. The other side of it is that we can use the information about the Vulcan blood to our advantage. If the perpetrators think we're still looking for a Vulcan..." He left the statement unfinished.
"I'm not sure I like the idea of using Spock as a decoy," McCoy snapped. "The last thing I need is to have to patch up his hide if a mob decides that this case needs tried by Judge Lynch, or whatever Walven's equivalent might be."
"Trust me, Doctor," Phillips returned, "The only thing Captain Spock will be bait for is the paparazzi. And as far as I am concerned, Captain Spock, nothing you do to them short of actual physical violence will bother me at all. In fact, if the physical violence isn't too severe, I might even put up with a bit of that. I have high hopes that you will give them the run of their life."
Kirk grinned. "Bank on it! Especially since I think I know an engineer and a few other starship personnel that will be more than happy to assist him in that endeavor. Is there anything else, Inspector?"
"No, Sir James. If you can establish a secure channel, however, I would be happy to share the results of the more formal analysis of the crime scene with you when they are available."
"Think Uhura can manage a secure channel?" McCoy quipped, looking at Spock.
"Knowing her, Doctor, I have no doubt that she can achieve a channel even the most determined paparazzi could not tap into," Spock responded, completely missing the rhetorical nature of the question.
"Trust me, Inspector, my chief communications officer can make a channel secure enough to defy the Klingons and Romulans. I doubt that anyone here is going to be able to tap it."
"Excellent, Sir James. Perhaps, as a gesture of interstellar camaraderie, she could be induced to teach a few of her tricks to some of my communications team."
"I can only ask, Inspector, but I'm sure Uhura would be willing."
As Kirk spoke, the wagon arrived in the garage at the station. The men returned to the office from which they'd left. On their way, they overheard someone complaining at another constable.
"Listen, if I have to wait for Inspector Phillips to come back, is there somewhere I can grab a nap or something? I was with a patient of mine all night last night, and I'm beat."
The desk sergeant shook his head. "Wish there was, sir; but if there was, I'm sure some of the fellows just coming off duty would have beat you to it. He'll be here soon, I'm sure. Could I offer you a cup of coffee, while you're waiting?"
Phillips, Kirk, McCoy and Spock entered the office area. Phillips gestured at the sergeant not to reveal his arrival.
"Thanks, Constable, I'll need it. Full day today. I just don't see what I have to offer you folks on the disappearance of Amanda Bayes. I'm her doctor, not her guard dog. Really, I could almost suspect you thought I'd kidnapped her." The fellow shook his head. "I even missed most of the performance, and I hear it was unique."
McCoy decided it was time to butt in. Before anyone could hush him, he blurted, "Well, son, if you're her doctor, you can offer a whole lot of useful information, like when the last time she had a blood sample taken, and who might have had access to it."
Surprised, the man turned around. "And who are you? Inspector Phillips?"
McCoy shook his head. "Nope, I'm Doctor Leonard McCoy, Chief Medical Officer of the Starship Enterprise. Who're you, besides being Amanda's personal physician?"
"I am Doctor William Darbeaux."
"Knock it off, kid, there's no way you're Doctor Darbeaux." McCoy snorted. "I met Doctor Darbeaux, oh, eighteen or twenty years ago, when he presented his first paper on Darbeaux's syndrome. He was older then than you are now."
"That would have been my father, Doctor McCoy." Darbeaux shrugged, wearing a half smile. "You're not the first person to make that mistake, and I guess you won't be the last. I have followed in my father's footsteps, and have continued his work. But since you've read about the syndrome, I suppose you've guessed that Amanda Bayes suffers from it."
"Yes, of course."
"Then you'll have to help me convince the police of the urgency here. Besides most of the hair on her body, about eighty percent of her ileum and jejunum are involved; without a specially prepared, elemental diet, she'll starve, quickly."
Inspector Phillips interrupted. "There is no need for Doctor McCoy to convince us of that, Doctor Darbeaux. Her father told us about the issue when he called us over her not having returned home. But rest assured, the evidence we have suggests that this has been pulled off by a group that would have the resources to handle providing the needed diet."
Darbeaux's brow furrowed with concern. "A conspiracy, then?"
"Well, something like that, but let's not run farther than what we know allows us, shall we?" Phillips turned to the sergeant. "Barney, why don't you let Doctor Darbeaux sit in my office, while I finish with these fine folks?"
The sergeant nodded. Before he could escort Darbeaux to the office, the doctor turned to Doctor McCoy. "Sir, father has always felt that you were one of the most resourceful and brilliant physicians that he's ever known. When they find her, if I need your assistance, can I draw on you and your sickbay? To avoid the publicity, you understand."
Kirk answered for McCoy. "As long as His Majesty has no problems with it, we'll be glad to help."
"Thank you." Darbeaux allowed himself to be led into the Inspector's office.
Inspector Phillips turned to the threesome. "Any other details you gentlebeings need to handle?"
"I don't think so, Inspector," Kirk returned. "Is there anything else you need from us?"
"For now, I think that we've covered all that is needed, Sir James. If anything else comes up, I'll contact you."
Kirk nodded, gesturing at his two companions to take their position, reaching for his communicator as he did. "Scotty, three to beam up."
The three men disappeared, leaving the Inspector and the constables behind.
Once back on the Enterprise, Kirk knew that there was no point in returning to his cabin to try to get a little more sleep. He was awake for the day. Noticing that it was only a little more than half an hour until he was due to assume command again, he decided to head for the bridge and give whoever was on duty the chance to knock off early. As he stepped off the turbolift, Lieutenant Carpenter was in the captain's chair. Noticing Kirk's arrival, Carpenter was on his feet immediately.
"At ease, Carpenter," Kirk said. "There's no problem; I just got called down to the surface of Walven, and there's no way I'm getting back to sleep, now. You might as well knock off early, and enjoy a little extra free time."
"Thank you, sir!" Carpenter responded, gratefully. He surrendered the seat to Kirk, and moved off the bridge.
Looking around himself, Kirk was surprised to see Uhura at the communications console. "Couldn't sleep, Uhura?"
"More or less, Captain. I expect that everyone on the ship knows about the little problem that Spock had to deal with on Walven, and I guess a lot of us couldn't sleep after hearing. I thought that I'd see what the media on Walven Four were doing with the information they had. There's a lot of it already, and probably more to come."
"That fails to surprise me. We need a secure data link to Inspector Phillips, of His Majesty's Police, before I do anything else."
"Already set up, Captain. It'd take half the computer capacity of Vulcan a hundred years to crack the encryption, or so Spock said." There was a hint of a smile on her face.
"Uhura, you're absolutely the best. Let me see some of what you found. Mainviewer, please."
As quickly as Kirk gave the order, the main viewing screen was filled with the face of a newsroom talking head.
"After last night's virtuoso performance before His Serene Majesty, the High King Peter, Amanda Adeodata Bayes, Walven's most famous performer, has disappeared under circumstances that seem very questionable. It seems that she was last seen alive by the Vulcan member of the Federation's team sent here to oversee our vote on whether or not to join the Federation. At this point, all that we have been able to learn from His Majesty's Police is that her dressing room floor was spattered with both Human and Vulcan blood. Amanda Adeodata's whereabouts are still unknown, and the circumstances appear to suggest foul play. Moving to other news..."
The talking head disappeared, to be replaced by a picture of the front page of a tabloid:
Blood Spattered Floor Suggests
Fight For Her Life
Although the constabulary refuses to speculate, or even to comment, the fact that the floor of her dressing room was spattered by her own blood and that of an unidentified Vulcan raises fears that there has been foul play. Is it a coincidence that the team sent here from the Federation to oversee our vote to join it not only was at the concert last night, but has a Vulcan in their group, who was invited backstage by the unsuspecting pianist? Details Inside!
Kirk snorted derisively. Before he could make any comment, Uhura had brought up another newscast:
"Today's top news item is the disappearance of Amanda Adeodata, the celebrated pianist. All that we have been able to confirm is that she is missing, believed kidnapped from her dressing room, and that the floor of the dressing room was spattered with blood identified as belonging to Adeodata herself, and also with blood that has been determined to be from an as yet unidentified Vulcan. Although viewed superficially, this would suggest that there had been a violent altercation between Adeodata and a Vulcan, further consideration raises more questions than it provides answers. It is well known that Vulcans are both considerably more physically powerful, on the whole, than Humans, as well as being considerably swifter. Unless Adeodata was remarkably well versed in the martial arts, and there is no evidence that she is, how could she have moved fast enough to scratch a Vulcan? Moreover, it had to be far more than a scratch: the Vulcan blood was spread as widely as her own was. Given how rapidly Vulcan blood coagulates, she would have had to inflict a major wound on the Vulcan. Is this credible? In the opinion, at least, of this newscaster, it appears quite incredible. Furthermore, as the Vulcan demonstrated on Charles Martel, a reporter at the scene, Vulcans are perfectly capable of incapacitating Humans without bloodshed. Again, this makes the scenario even more confusing. Certainly, the Crown has made it clear that His Majesty does not believe that the Vulcan from the Enterprise is responsible, and perhaps this is why. We will continue to monitor this breaking news story, and will advise you of any further news that we uncover."
"Enough, Uhura," Kirk ordered. The main screen shifted back to displaying the area in front of the Enterprise. "I take it that the rest of what you've seen is similar?"
"Precisely, Captain. Sensationalist tabloids are all but claiming Spock has murdered her. Other media is suggesting that Spock is involved somehow, without naming him, but are debating whether we've got a kidnapping or a murder here. The police on Walven are being incredibly tight-lipped about it all. I..." Uhura broke off, tilting her head to one side. "Captain, we have a signal from the surface. Someone named Eustace is requesting a secure line to you."
"Eustace is King Peter's Chief of Protocol. Can you put him through to the main conference room?"
"Of course, Captain."
"Lieutenant Jaeger, you have the conn." Kirk moved as swiftly as he could to the conference room. Once there, he identified himself to Uhura, and the viewscreen on the wall showed Eustace's face.
"Sir James, His Serene Majesty, the High King Peter requests a conference with you. It is his majesty's preference, for security reasons, that the meeting be held in secret on the Enterprise. Will you be able to accommodate the King?"
"I am most honored that the High King Peter would be willing to grace the Enterprise with his presence, Eustace. Might I be so bold as to suggest that you might wish to send up a trusted member of your staff to ensure that all is properly prepared?" Kirk hoped that he wasn't skating on excessively thin ice.
"A remarkably astute suggestion, Sir James. I have a most trusted aide named Montague, whom I believe you have met. If he is suitable to you, he can make preparation. His Majesty would prefer to meet with you as soon as possible, preferably within the hour."
"Then the sooner we get Montague up here, the better, Eustace." Kirk smiled. "Your presence accompanying the King would be most appreciated, too, if your busy schedule will permit it."
Eustace grinned back, bowing slightly; Kirk realized he'd scored big points with that request. "I shall seek His Majesty's thoughts on the matter."
"Would you be able to give Captain Scott Montague's coordinates?"
"Naturally, Sir James. If you would summon the aforementioned worthy to your transporter, I will cheerfully provide them."
"Good enough. Is there anything else?"
"I think not."
"If you'll hold on, I'll transfer you to Captain Scott. Kirk out." Kirk toggled the line into background. "Uhura?"
"Get Scotty up to the transporter room as fast as you can, and transfer this line to him there. We're going to be beaming up one of the King's retinue, and hopefully shortly thereafter, His Majesty himself."
The communicator went silent. Kirk hurried up to the transporter room.
Within moments, Kirk was in the transporter room, and Montague was materializing. As soon as the transporter's sparkle disappeared Montague consulted the device in his hand. "Good, good. This area seems adequately secure, Captain Kirk."
Kirk nodded. "We try to stay as secure as possible, Montague."
"I'm not in the fancy Court Dress, Captain, and thankfully this isn't the King's Court. Monty will do just fine. Where did you plan to have your audience with His Majesty?"
"If it's just the King and a couple of other folks, I expect that the main conference area will be adequate," Kirk responded. "Will there be more than just a handful coming?"
Montague stepped off the transporter and moved toward its control console. "Nah, just His Majesty, and his Chief of Protocol. This is going to be a small troupe. I believe it would be prudent to limit the members of your crew in the conference room to yourself, Captain Spock, and if he's available, perhaps Doctor McCoy." Montague consulted his device. "Console looks clean, too. How about taking me to this conference area, please?"
Kirk stepped to the turbolift, and entered it with Montague in tow, still studying his device, standing in the entry of the turbolift, keeping it from closing. "Captain Scott, is there any way of making sure which turbolift comes for His Majesty and Eustace? This one is clear. Any way to make sure we get it the next time?"
"I'll see to it personally, Monty."
"My thanks, Captain Scott." Montague stepped into the turbolift proper, allowing the door to close, still studying his device. He almost failed to notice their arrival at their destination. Kirk nudged him, and the two men made their way to the conference area. Monty looked up. "Totally clear of snooping devices and such. I commend you, Captain, on how secure you keep the Enterprise."
Flattered, Kirk smiled. "That would be Captain Scott's work, really, Monty, but thank you."
"I guess that takes care of what I was sent here to do, Captain. Now that we are sure there is no risk to the King, we can get him up here. I guess I can go back to Walven, again."
"Not so fast, Monty." Kirk emphasized his disinclination to move by sitting on a corner of the conference table. "I need a couple of things first. Any idea how long this audience is going to last?"
"That figures. Maybe we had better plan for some coffee and sandwiches or something, don't you think? I mean, if it's going to take some time, we might need something to eat and drink. How about you getting something along those lines put together, and personally overseeing its being brought to the conference area and laid out?"
Monty nodded appreciatively. "Good thought; wish I had come up with it."
"Pretend you did."
"Since you insist. I'll see to enough for how many?"
"The King's party, plus two, I think--Spock and I." Kirk furrowed his brow for a moment. "I can't really see a whole lot of reason to pull Doctor McCoy out of Sickbay. My guess is that this scarcely a medical issue." Kirk walked over to the turbolift. "I don't suppose you've been filled in on what the King and Eustace have on their mind?"
"You're dead right there, Captain," Monty shrugged. "On the other hand, I don't suppose it's a bad bet that the topic will center around how the Adeodata disappearance will affect things, particularly the election."
"That was my guess too; I was just hoping for confirmation."
The turbolift door slid open. "That's the best I can do--just adding your guess to mine." He turned to Scotty. "Intrepid Captain, I must be on the surface briefly, and will be beaming up again, when I've made some preparations for His Majesty's visit to the Enterprise. As a token of His Majesty's gratitude for your continued assistance, is there anything that you would wish brought from the surface?"
As the turbolift doors closed, Kirk could hear Scotty's voice. "Well, now, I've heard good things about the whiskey from Walven. If His Majesty's generosity would..."
Kirk, Spock, the High King Peter and Eustace congregated in the briefing room, with Montague and one of the Enterprise's security guards standing outside the door. Once the door was shut, Peter sat, the others taking their cue from him. Kirk poured coffee for himself and the two other Humans, Spock preferring to drink water. For a moment or two, there was an almost awkward silence.
Kirk chose to break it. "We appreciated your intervening this morning, Your Majesty."
"Pete. And it was the least that I could do, since I was the one that brought you folks there in the first place. I've read Inspector Phillips' report on the crime scene; he spoke very highly of the three of you, and the insights you had, especially you, Spock." The High King rummaged in his pockets, producing a recording. "By they way, Spock, this is a recording of the performance--they gave me one as a courtesy. If you wouldn't mind autographing it?"
"I would be honored." Spock reached for the recording, signing it. "It is a pity that Amanda Adeodata is not available to sign it for you."
"He'll just have to wait until she's found, I guess," Eustace commented. "Which brings us to the point of this trip, gentlebeings."
"Indeed," Peter continued. "With the events of last night and early this morning, it is obvious that those who wish to keep Walven out of the Federation are not above violence. Inspector Phillips has received a note from the kidnappers, indicating that Amanda Adeodata's safety hinges on the vote 'choosing properly.' It seemed reasonable to see if you wanted to reconsider our plans from yesterday."
Spock and Kirk locked eyes for a moment, before Kirk responded. "Frankly, I don't see that it makes a lot of difference. In all honesty, I figured there would be some risk for the crew anyway. It was going to be an all volunteer group going down, and I really can't see that the risks on a reasonably law abiding, civilized planet would be a whole lot more than combat with the Romulans or Klingons, even with covert hostiles." He shrugged. "They just get told to be on their best behavior, and to keep their eyes and ears open for possible threats."
Eustace nodded. "I figured you'd take that approach." He produced a small device out of a belt pouch. "Captain Spock, would you happen to have the lists of crewmembers and their preferred hobbies available? Particularly the sports that they prefer to play? If you did, you could just transfer it to my portable information system. Given that, we could accelerate planning things. The vote's only a few days away, you know, and we want to get the good will thing going as fast as possible."
"I can transfer it from my tricorder; it seemed logical to expect that it would be needed for this meeting." Spock sat his tricorder on the table and cued up the file. "Standard Federation information transfer protocols?"
"But of course." Eustace fiddled with his device. "Let 'er rip."
"Captain, I have given the situation some thought," Peter interjected, while Spock and Eustace were trading information. "I think it might be a good idea if some of your personnel were on the planet as tourists before the sports connection started. Would it be appropriate if the Walven sports leagues offered the challenges? It seems to me that such a course might be read as less aggressive on your part."
"I don't see where that would be any problem, Peter," Kirk responded. He sipped his coffee meditatively. "Getting the teams together might take a little time, you understand, but there would not be any problem with Federation rules or regulations. Spock?"
The Vulcan looked up from the tricorder. "The only difficulty would be with any prizes that might be awarded. A potential for accusations of conflict of interest might be possible if there were."
"It seems to me unlikely that there would be any prizes more than the losers buying the winners a good meal, Walven style," Peter replied. "That's our tradition, anyway."
Nodding, Kirk looked at Eustace. It appeared that the information transfer had been completed to his and Spock's satisfaction. "Eustace, the Federation has made it clear that, as long as we don't get excessively extravagant, the crew's activities on the surface will be paid for out of Federation funds. What I had thought would be wisest would be to issue credit vouchers to those going down to the surface, enough for a really good day's fun and frolic as a tourist, covering the cost of meals, transportation, souvenirs, and whatnot. There's no way that I'm going to give my crew free reign spending Federation funds; they'd bankrupt the Federation in less than a week. You think you could give us an idea how much to put in the credit chit?"
"No problem, Kirk."
"It seems to me logical," Spock added, "to have one or more of your protocol staff brief the individuals going to the surface on the potential pitfalls, and appropriate etiquette as well. It would be most unfortunate to have an avoidable misunderstanding trigger any ill will."
"Useless, could you spare Montague?"
"I think so, Pete. And I'm sure Monty could dredge up a couple of others who are willing to take on hazardous duty trying to train a batch of Starfleet rowdies how not to get arrested." Eustace was trying to keep a straight face, and failing miserably. The High King was doing no better.
"Trust me, it will definitely be hazardous duty, too. You don't even want to know how rowdy some of the crew can get." Kirk looked more serious than Eustace and Peter, but only marginally so. "Maybe you should send us up a couple of lawyers to give us a hand on planning how we'll bail folks out if they get into too much trouble."
Peter was suddenly serious. "I hope there isn't any trouble of that nature, Captain. You realize that I would not be able to intervene as I did this morning, if others of your crew got into serious trouble."
"Of course, Peter," Kirk responded, suddenly serious himself. "But as rowdy as the crew gets, there hasn't been much trouble along those lines. Suggesting sending the lawyers to the Enterprise was an attempt at humor, but having some legal counsel made available to us should trouble arise would be appreciated."
Eustace swallowed the mouthful of pastry he had been chewing. "No problem there, Kirk. I'll make sure that the Crown has a couple of good firms on tap for you. Spock, I'll get the names of the firms and their communications contacts to you within the hour of our returning to the surface."
"Excellent. Is there anything else you want to discuss about the public relations effort? If not, could we return to the upcoming vote for a few minutes?"
"There really is little to say about that, Captain," the King returned. "It will be done by secure electronic ballot, using the individual's retinal patterns to log their identity for the vote. Polls will open at 7:00 AM and close at 7:00 PM local time on the day of the election." He turned to Spock. "Spock, were you able to satisfy yourself concerning the integrity of our polling system?"
"Yes; it appears thoroughly secure. Under the circumstances, it seems logical to expend my time attempting to locate Amanda Adeodata."
"Naturally. Inspector Phillips made it clear he would certainly appreciate your assistance." The King turned to Kirk. "There is also the issue of my father, Captain Kirk. Since it seems probable that King Edmund was murdered by the same group or groups that we expect to try to sway this election away from joining the Federation, I am hopeful that you and your crew could help in solving that mystery as well."
"We'll do what we can, Peter, but you have to realize that it's a cold trail," Kirk answered. "If your business is over, may I offer you a tour of the Enterprise?"
"We must consult with our Chief of Protocol, Sir James," Peter answered, putting on his court persona. "If we are not otherwise committed, we would be more than pleased to accept your kind offer." He turned to Eustace. "So, Useless, do I have any free time this morning?"
"You had me clear the schedule, Boss. You haven't had this much free time to yourself in a couple of months." Eustace tried to don a look of innocence. "What an incredible coincidence! My schedule and Monty's are all cleared for the morning. In fact, Monty is free the rest of the day."
"I'll take that as a definite expression of interest." Kirk turned to the Vulcan. "Spock, if you'll give them the grand tour, I'll start working on getting volunteers for surface duty, and get Monty started briefing them on appropriate behavior."
Peter and Eustace rose. Kirk and Spock did likewise. "Thank you, Captain. I trust that you, Spock, and McCoy will not be strangers at my palace." Peter extended his hand. Kirk shook it. "Until we meet again?"
"Until then. Spock?"
The Vulcan guided the two men out of the conference room toward the turbolift, bringing Montague and the Enterprise's security guard in tow. "If it would be suitable, perhaps we could begin our tour with the Engineering Deck?"
As a turbolift swallowed the group, Kirk drained his coffee cup and toggled the wall communicator. "Bridge. Uhura, could you have everyone willing to volunteer for potentially hazardous surface duty meet in the main conference area in approximately one hour for briefing?"
"Of course, Captain. Request the privilege of joining the volunteers."
"Come and welcome, Uhura. Kirk out." Satisfied with the morning's efforts, Kirk stepped onto a turbolift to return to the bridge.
On the bridge, Kirk settled into the command chair. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Captain Scott moving toward him, padd in hand. Unless he was ordered to take the conn, it was rare for him to abandon his beloved post in Engineering. Between that, and the almost tentative, if not hesitant nature of Scott's approach, Kirk decided that the Scotsman was probably up to something. Deciding to take the situation in hand, Kirk turned to face his friend. "Okay, Scotty, you're sidling up to me like a five-year-old thinking about conning Mom out of a cookie before supper. You're up to something, and my curiosity is killing me."
Scott made no attempt to feign innocence, when confronted with his behavior. That worried Kirk even more: the augury strongly suggested that the engineer was planning something unusual, if not downright bizarre. Kirk waited for Scotty to speak.
"Well, Captain, I confess that you've got me dead to rights. Rumor has it that you were wantin' the crew to come up with some goodwill competitions we could get goin' with the folk down on Walven Four. If you were interested, I had a wee bit of an idea."
Kirk restrained the urge to stare at the ceiling. He realized he should have guessed as much. "Well, Scotty, I'm willing to hear you out, but if you're planning to stage a bagpiping contest you can just count me out." His voice was full of mock sternness, tinged with a hint of real fear. "And there is no way I'm going to let you talk me into letting you stage another beer can stacking contest. You'd never have talked me into letting you do the first one if you'd told me that the contestants had to empty the beer can before stacking it."
"Och, Captain, you wound me." Scotty's face made it clear the statement was scarcely true. "I'm thinking of no such things. It wouldn't be fair: the folk on Walven wouldn't stand a chance with either of 'em."
"If you're on the beer can stacking team, the only team that could beat the lot of you in Engineering would be a shipload of Vulcans. So what's your great scheme?"
The Scotsman pushed his padd in front of Kirk. "I was thinkin' that their military must have something equivalent to our Engineerin' department and we could go up against them. You see the designs here? Each team tries to build a complete set of what you see here, in a cleared area, and whatever else comes to their minds. The tricky bit is that other than tools, the teams have to do it all from whatever they can find in a designated scrap yard and bring to the site." Scotty was grinning widely. "Of course, there'd be a dawn-to-dusk time limit, and when we'd be done, there'd be a playground of the most amazin' proportions. Winnin' team gets to name the playground."
"There are a few details needing ironed out, Scotty, but it sounds like something that would be worth trying."
"You just see the surface, Captain. I've worked out the details far more than what you're seein' here. We'll use the transporter on the Enterprise to move the stuff from the scrap yard, so we won't have to worry about that. Monty says that there's a perfect area for it he knows about in their capital--an urban renewal area that's been cleared and is nothin' but bare dirt just now, right in the middle of a less fortunate area o' town. We require that we've the same number of members on each team, give 'em all the designs today so they can study them overnight and everyone brings their own tools. Can you imagine the fun the bairns would have watchin' us?"
"The kids, the adults, and the media all will have a royal laugh at the bunch of you as you're building it, and have even more fun using it later. Montgomery Scott, I think you're the only being in the entire Federation that could take an opportunity for a Federation-funded shore leave and turn it into an engineering extravaganza." Kirk chuckled. "If you can talk the folks on Walven into it, you have my blessings, even to using the transporter for moving the materials."
An ear-to-ear grin split the Scotsman's face. "Marvelous, Captain. Thank you, thank you very much." Scotty scampered off the bridge like a child given a free pass to a candy store. Watching his friend leave, Kirk began to wonder what he'd unleashed on the unsuspecting population of Walven Four. He turned to his Science Officer. "Spock, is the population of Walven Four fond of soccer?"
"Apparently they are quite passionate about it, Captain." The Vulcan turned to face Kirk. "I deduce that you would be thinking about a similar challenge between a soccer team from the Enterprise and the Walven armed forces."
"Exactly, Spock. Can we field a creditable team?"
"I believe so, if the interested crew members are willing. Judging from the damage reports that I have seen over the last several months, they have been practicing quite intensively in one of the larger, empty cargo holds. If their intensity of practice is any indication, they should be of near championship quality." Despite his nearly expressionless face, it was clear that Spock was doubtful that there was any such guarantee.
"See what you can do, then, and see if His Majesty and Eustace would be willing to let us do both of these little competitions."
"Once I have taken care of those two tasks, I request the privilege of being allowed to collaborate with Inspector Phillips on the investigation into Amanda Adeodata's disappearance."
Kirk nodded, understanding. Despite the Vulcan's expressionless demeanor, Kirk knew there was a layer of Humanity, and realized that his friend felt somewhat responsible for the woman. "Consider yourself released from all bridge duty until further notice, Spock, and once you've managed to take care of the two competitions and reassured yourself of the integrity of the Walven voting system, consider yourself free to work with the constabulary on Walven Four."
"Thank you, Captain." Spock rose, disappearing into the turbolift silently.
Somewhere in King's Town, the capital of Walven IV, a communicator chimed. Another voice, in another place answered.
"I'm here. Is this message secure? The line isn't."
"No matter. We need to move forward with our plans. As expected, there will be crew from the Enterprise on the surface for shore leave. Indications suggest that they will be arriving today."
"Good. Begin deployment immediately. Out."
The connection broke without being noticed.
On the surface of Walven IV, Commander Uhura and Nurse Webb were walking down one of the streets of King's Town, giggling like schoolgirls, carrying an assortment of bags and packages.
"Nurse Webb," Uhura said, trying to look serious, "we are representing the Federation on an important goodwill mission. You must try to look more professional and serious!"
"Yes, sir, Commander Uhura, sir!" Webb responded, trying to restrain her mirth, juggling bags and packages as she tried to snap off a mock salute. "However, I believe that we have made major strides in accomplishing our mission to see how quickly we can deplete Starfleet's credit reserves by souvenir shopping."
Both women dissolved into laugher at each other.
"Marie Webb, you are absolutely terrible, did you know that? And utterly incorrigible, too."
Webb looked at a sign hanging off the front of an old building. "I don't know for sure about being terrible or incorrigible, but I can guarantee you that I'm utterly parched. We transported down shortly after noon, local time, and it's less than an hour before sunset. I haven't had a thing to eat or drink in hours, and that sign there absolutely intrigues me." She pointed to the sign, which read, "The Cock and Bull" in a banner around a carved figure of a rooster sitting between the horns on a bull's head. "Not only does it remind me of some of the stories cadets tell about how they got injured, it sounds like one of those delightful English public houses you read about in historical romances set in the early twentieth century. Game, Nyota?"
"I'm definitely game, Marie. Something to wet my whistle would be grand, but I'm definitely thinking I wouldn't mind putting down this load of stuff for a while either. I think my arms must have stretched four centimeters just carrying it all."
Driven by a combination of curiosity and thirst, the two women stepped into the establishment, finding a small, empty booth to claim. Pushing their purchases against the wall, they sat across from each other, looking around. As Marie had guessed, the room in which they found themselves was clearly intended to appear to be an English pub. Before either woman could comment on the fact, a server appeared at their table.
"Evening, ladies. What's your pleasure?" Slightly overweight and his hair thinning a bit, the man looked every bit in line with the décor.
"By any chance, do you have some ice cold ginger ale?" Uhura asked, hopefully.
"Best on the planet, madam, in my opinion. Brew it myself, using the old family recipe. And for you, madam?"
Marie thought for a minute. "Could I just have an iced tea?"
Their server nodded. "Of course. We've too many flavors to name; tell me your favorite, and I'll see if we have it."
"You're in luck; we've got it on hand." He cast his eye on their inventory of purchases. "Shopping's thirsty work, ladies; may I assume you'd prefer large mugs?"
Both women nodded, and the server disappeared, returning almost immediately with a pair of frosted mugs. He put coasters down, set the beverages in place, and smiled. "You can settle up at the register when you're done. We'll mind your pints and quarts for you."
Uhura and Marie concentrated on the mugs in front of them, sipping happily.
Marie donned a mischievous look. "Now, if we were in one of those romance novels, this is where a dashing, handsome man would arrive to sweep me off my feet. I almost feel like I'm in one, so you keep your eyes open, okay, Nyota?"
Uhura rolled her eyes. "You must have second sight or something, Marie. Two men incoming, six o'clock level, but I wouldn't call either of them dashing. Nor particularly handsome."
Marie turned a little to where she could see the men arriving. She agreed with Uhura's assessment, but said nothing, hoping to avoid notice. Her ploy didn't work. The larger of the two men came directly to the table and looked Marie over. Marie was anything but comfortable with his gaze.
"Hey, young lady, how about getting rid of Granny over there and spending some time with me? I guarantee I'll show you the best time you ever had in your life."
Trying to ignore the oaf, Marie looked at Uhura. "What do you think, Nyota? It's beginning to feel like it's time to leave to me."
The oaf didn't get the point. "Let that chocolate cupcake fend for herself, beautiful, and spend some time with me. You won't regret it, you sweet morsel."
Uhura decided that she'd had enough. "Look, fellow, why don't you go find someone else to annoy? My friend and I just aren't interested. Get it?"
"Ooooh, a spiced chocolate cupcake. Hey, granny, how about both of you having some fun with us?" The intruder reached out, apparently intending to chuck Uhura under the chin. The hand never reached its target. Uhura grabbed it in mid air, arresting its motion.
"You know, Nyota, I think this total waste of organic material is trying to hit on us." Marie shifted her position slightly, taking a defensive stance, an occurrence that was lost on the men but not on Uhura. "On your signal, what say we return the favor?"
The other lout moved toward the table, totally misunderstanding Webb's remark. Uhura shifted a little, also entering into a defensive posture. The second lout reached out and put his hand on Webb's shoulder.
Webb looked up at the man. "I'd give you to the count of ten to get your hand off my shoulder, buster, but I'm not sure you can count that high." She traded glances with Uhura, who signaled that she was ready. "In fact, I don't think you could even track me to three. So get your hand off me now, or I'll help you do it."
Patrons in the bar began backing away, sensing the potential for unpleasantness. The server reached under the bar, withdrawing what appeared to be some sort of directed energy weapon. The leader of the pair shook his head. "Oh, me, oh my, we are so scared of you two little ladies." He turned to face his compatriot. "What do you think, should we run away and hide?"
Before the others could answer, Uhura and Webb exploded to their feet. Faster than anyone else in the pub could react, Webb had her assailant face first on the floor, her foot in his armpit, stretching the arm that had been on her shoulder and twisting it slowly. Uhura had her tormentor's arm up behind his back, her knee in the small of his back and her forearm firmly around his neck.
"Too late to run and hide, stupid," Webb commented dryly. She looked over at Uhura. "Nyota, I think that if you bend your creep about five more degrees, you can break his back. I figure I can rip this idiot's arm off with about fifteen more degrees of twist. How about it?"
Uhura shifted her grip, throwing her captive across the room. "Nah, neither of them are worth keeping as trophies. Too much trouble to skin and stuff 'em, and their faces are too ugly to make into worthwhile shrunken heads."
Marie shifted her foot, shoving her victim into a nearby table. "I think you're right. Not worth the time and effort."
The air in the pub remained silent and charged. Slowly and carefully, the two men got back on their feet, obviously intent on avenging themselves for their indignity.
"Slow learners, aren't they, Marie?"
Webb nodded. "Very slow. I've known lobotomized lab rats that learned faster than this pair. Want me to even out the odds?"
"Nah, no need for you to drop out and even up the odds, Marie. These guys deserve what they're asking for." Uhura watched the leader, who was moving in again. Marie watched the one that was moving toward her.
Both men grabbed again. There was a brief blur of motion, and both men were in a heap against the bar. This time, when they got up, they made straight for the door and went out of it as fast as they could. Uhura and Webb gathered up their purchases and made their way to the register.
"Look, I'm sorry about the mess we've created, sir," Uhura said, handing her credit chit to the individual at the register. "If there's any damage, let us know, and we'll make it right."
The fellow looked at the offered chit, and handed it back. "Sorry, ladies. As far as I'm concerned, you're credit's no good here."
"I'm not sure I understand. We've been shopping all afternoon with these chits, and no one else has complained. After dealing with those men, I thought we ought to leave." Marie offered hers to the man.
"Thanks, but no thanks, madam. It's got nothing to do with the Federation credits or your chits, believe me. I accept 'em as happily as the next merchant, in fact, downright enthusiastically. Now please, sit back down at your table. Those clowns have been annoying patrons of my pub for three, maybe four weeks. By humiliating them, you've done me a major favor, and believe me I appreciate it." He smiled broadly. "You realize that we need to fill out an official report, of course, and if you've not had supper yet, while you're waiting for the constables I'd be pleased to feed both of you the best I've got, on the house." He chuckled. "After your little performance, I guess I owe you at least that much." Turning to the bar patrons, he raised his voice. "Anyone here willing to testify to the investigating constable that these ladies were defending their honor and person?" There was a chorus of assorted expressions of willingness. "It would appear that you have nothing to fear, ladies. Other, perhaps, than dessert."
Uhura and Webb returned to their table. Before their meal was over, the pub's patrons were lionizing them both.
Having completed the arrangements for the soccer match and the engineering competition for the next day, Spock had gone to the surface to do a little data gathering. Having received approval from the Throne and from Inspector Phillips, Spock had decided to begin his investigation with the local chapter of the Tower of Ares. In Spock's opinion, the material in the information systems was heavily biased, treating the members of the Tower of Ares as misfits, if not lunatics. First hand information, obviously, was the only reliable resource.
As he neared the building the address indicated by the King's Town library, it was surprisingly unimpressive, a large, almost box-like structure with little other than windows and a single large door for adornment. The Vulcan consulted his tricorder. Drab and uninteresting as it appeared externally, it was clearly well protected. Domed over it were shields just powerful enough to act as a barrier to anyone trying to transport in or out of the building, varying in intensity and position just enough to interfere with any attempts to perform a detailed scan of its contents. Spock moved forward, following the slightly winding path to the door, realizing as he did that the path dodged between shields positioned to render a line-of-sight path impossible. Along the side of the pathway, he observed small observation devices.
Arriving at the door, Spock found it would not open. He thumbed a small contact at one side of it.
"State name and business, stranger," came from a small speaker set at shoulder level.
"Spock of Vulcan. I wish to speak to your leader."
One eyebrow raised slightly. Spock suspected that he was being tested in a game of wits. "To learn a little of your organization. Are you so fearful of me that you fear I will do you harm?"
"We fear no one." It seemed that the voice sounded a little nettled.
"Naturally not. That is why you have shields protecting your building from every direction. Or perhaps your lack of fear is because of the shields."
"We value our privacy, Vulcan," the speaker spat back. "Surely even you understand that."
"Some would consider your elaborate precautions to be evidence of paranoia rather than a desire for privacy," Spock returned, calmly. "Others might suggest that they were proof of your fear of those outside."
Several moments of silence ensued, after which there was a soft click as a mechanism in the door was actuated. Spock waited.
"I have obtained permission for you to enter."
"May I presume that this permission includes freedom to leave at my discretion?"
"You are cautious, stranger, but wise. Yes, you will be allowed to leave when and how you choose."
Spock opened the door and strode in confidently. Before him was a waiting area, much like what he would have expected in any other business enterprise; the only difference was that the center of the room was essentially empty, the chairs being clustered against the wall. Behind the desk at the back of the room sat a uniformed individual, glaring at him. Behind the man and the desk was the only other door in the room.
Unruffled by the implicit attempt at intimidation, the science officer strode up to the desk, looking the individual squarely and unflinchingly in the face. The battle would, Spock decided, likely continue until he reached his goal.
Finally, the man behind the desk spoke. "Well, what do you want?"
"To talk to your leader, preferably now." Spock's tone was even, without threat, but firm.
"You have to get past me, Vulcan. Don't bank on it being easy."
Spock made no comment, choosing to move toward the door. The individual behind the desk attempted to intercept him, to be dropped by a Vulcan nerve pinch. Spock settled the man back in his chair, as comfortably as possible, then continued on his way. The door opened without difficulty. Behind it, there was a much larger room, with several individuals at desks, performing their assigned tasks assiduously. One stood. "You wish to see our leader, sir?"
The Vulcan nodded. "Yes, I do. I wish to learn something of your organization from him or her, rather than relying on what appear to me to be heavily biased documents in the public domain."
A smile flitted across the man's face. "Then follow me."
Only a few moments walk saw Spock ushered into an austere office, in which an older man, dressed in a heavily decorated military uniform sat beside a table furnished with several readouts and a large carafe of ice water, several glasses sitting near it. As the aide closed the door to the room, the older individual stood.
"Base Commander Eisen. You are?"
"Spock of Vulcan, Chief Science Officer of the Starship Enterprise."
Eisen nodded. "Welcome, Spock of Vulcan. Please, be seated. May I offer you refreshment?" Eisen poured from the carafe into two glasses, pointedly tasting his own glass first. "It's just water, in case you're concerned; no sweetener added. I understand that sucrose has a deleterious effect on Vulcans."
"Thank you." Spock sipped the water. "Sucrose affects Vulcans much the same way as ethanol affects Humans, or so I have observed."
"I had heard as much. What do you wish to know about us, Spock?"
"I believe the Human phrase would be, 'Your side of the story.' I have already researched what those outside your organization have written; they paint you as fanatics, if not barbarians. I choose to believe that you are being misrepresented. I seek the truth." Spock sipped the water again.
The Base Commander sat down, obviously thinking. "You are, I am sure, aware that the Federation as a whole is striving to become a thoroughly peaceful union, are you not?"
Silently, Spock nodded.
"Excellent. At the simplest level, we of the Tower of Ares are a reaction to that. We wish to maintain the discipline and skills of the military, believing that the Human race will never reach a point in the foreseeable future when such skills will be useless. If you wish, you could think of us as being a martial arts version of the Amish. They eschewed the technology of their day and continued using horse and buggy technology for their farms and lifestyle. Similarly, we choose to retain the military philosophy, structure and tools for our lives. And before you ask, we keep our own medical team, because we do not wish a well intended physician to mistake our militaristic bent for, say, paranoid schizophrenia and to medicate us into a chemical peace and tranquillity."
"And those who stand in your way?"
"There really are none, just as there were none who stood in the way of the Amish pursuing their low technology lifestyle."
Spock nodded. "Many oppose your movement."
"Centuries ago, not everyone accepted or tolerated the Amish. Unless attacked, we do not show aggression."
"Do you take prisoners or hostages?"
Eisen shrugged. "The opportunity has not afforded itself. However, it is our philosophy that anyone wounded in battle should be brought back to our camp, tended until they are whole, and returned to their commanding officer, whether they are one of us or not. Anyone taken in battle, uninjured, would be disarmed and returned as well. If that is taking prisoners, so be it, but I would not call it such."
"You have ignored the issue of hostages. What of them?"
"Legally, that would be kidnapping, and punishable by law on Walven. For my part, and I believe I express the attitudes of the rest of the chain of command in the Tower of Ares, that would be an act of cowardice: hiding behind another individual, using them as a weapon or a shield. Face to face combat is our style, not skulking in shadows or playing the terrorist." Eisen looked at the glass in his hand for a moment then drained it. "I wish that I could guarantee that I could vouch for all of the lower echelons in our organization. I'm sure that Starfleet has a few loose cannons, and I know that the Tower of Ares has more than its fair share of them. We try to weed them out, you understand. They're incredibly bad for discipline. Furthermore, if I caught any member of our Base doing anything illegal, I would turn them over to the King's Constabulary, personally, after I subjected them to, ah, our usual, swift internal disciplinary proceedings."
"I see." The Vulcan stood. "Thank you. I have learned what I needed to know. As I suspected, those who have written about your organization have misunderstood it."
Eisen smiled. "Oh, most of them never got past the front door, you know. And the rest never got past the front desk. You're the first person in decades to get to a Base Commander." He snapped off a salute, which the Vulcan returned. "If there's nothing else I can do for you, I'll escort you to the door."
Satisfied with what he had learned, Spock allowed himself to be escorted out of the building.
Dawn was just breaking when Captain Scott and his Engineering team transported down to the site chosen for the contest. Scotty looked around. The area was large, well over a hectare he guessed, and strewn with the tailings that inevitably seemed to remain when buildings were torn down. The area had been graded smooth, but otherwise left more or less alone. Swarming over the area were dozens of cameras, brought by the media to record and broadcast the competition. Before the Scotsman could do more than survey his immediate surroundings, a large, muscular but graying individual came up to him, dwarfing the Scotsman in comparison.
"Name's Cade, Captain Jack Cade. I'd guess you're the legendary Captain Montgomery Scott?"
"I'm Montgomery Scott, aye," the engineer replied, having to crane his neck slightly upward to look Cade in the eye. "As for legendary, I wouldn't know. I'll leave that to others." Scott lifted a grip off the ground by his feet. "You'll need communicators for your team, so the Enterprise can transport you, your team and their materials to and from the scrap yard. You've got eight in there, fully charged and ready to roll. You'll be using one of our cargo transporters for all and sundry. I've one of my best men handling the transport for you."
"Thank you, Scott." Cade hefted the bag. "Feels a bit heavy for just a handful of communicators, man. What else is in here, bricks?"
"Phasers, Cade. They're the ticket for cutting holes quickly, and they're not bad for fusing a surface into glass, either. I've no doubt you'll find them useful. I've brought a power supply for us both, as I promised. There's a second one for recharging phasers and communicators, if it's needed. You'll have brought the heavy earth moving equipment?"
"That and the thermocrete, as agreed. If there's time, when we're done, I've got a supply of chipped wood and sand that we can spread around for a softer and safer surface."
"Let's both of us make sure there's time, Cade. If you're half the man I've heard you are, there should be plenty." Scotty extended a hand. "I'm looking forward to this. It's been a long time since I've competed against anything but time, Klingons, Romulans and the like in an engineering competition."
Cade's hand swallowed Scotty's. "I'm looking forward to giving you a run for the finish line. May the best team win!"
"Och, there'll only be one winner, and I already know who it'll be."
Cade's forehead wrinkled and his eyes tightened. "You're that confident of victory, then?"
"Not at all," the Scotsman replied. "But whichever of us finishes first, the real winners will be the bairns playing here for years to come, don't you think?"
The scowl on Cade's face was replaced by a broad grin. "I think we're going to get on well, Scott. It's too bad we have to compete; I have the feeling that it'd be great working beside you, especially in a pinch."
Eustace suddenly appeared, striding across the uneven ground. Both captains signaled their teams to join them. The floating news cameras swarmed over the Chief of Protocol and the two teams.
"In the name of the High King Peter," Eustace announced in an official sounding voice, "And in the interests of amity and peace between the His Majesty's subjects on Walven Four and the peoples of the Federation, are you ready to begin?"
Cade tossed the communicators to several men, keeping one for himself, doing the same with the phasers. "We're ready!"
"So are we." Scotty was clearly ready to have the time of his life.
"Then let the competition begin!" As he said it, Eustace beat a hasty retreat to the sidelines, and safety. Even as he was doing so, several individuals from both teams disappeared into the sparkle of the transporter, as others fanned out over their respective sides of the cleared area, Cade and Scotty shouting orders at the top of their lungs.
Men with phasers began leveling and fusing sections of ground, using the weapons to cut precisely positioned and dimensioned holes in the ground. Within moments, others were arriving with scavenged plates and bars of metal, sorting them, stacking them, and disappearing in search of more materials. Both halves of the future playground began to take on the appearance of an army of ants assaulting a picnic. Engineers were cutting and shaping metal frantically, consulting the designs on their padds, planting girders into prepared holes and locking them in place with the thermocrete.
By the time the sun was reaching its zenith, a clear pattern was emerging. Each side sported numerous swing sets, seesaws, slides, things to climb, things to hang from and other, simple playground implements. On Scotty's side, the framework for a great carousel had formed, while on Cade's side, a huge light, supported by a thin trititanium tower, had taken shape. Both captains were running to and fro, trying to coordinate the efforts of their team.
Before Scotty stood one of the younger Engineers, padd in hand. "With your permission, Captain, I'd like to try to build one like this. I remember the enclosed slide from when I was a child, and loved it. Now, if you look here, there is an enclosed area, sort of like a play fort, from which the slide drops; no real risk to the kiddies, in terms of falling off there, either. We could embellish it a bit, if we've the materials, with a few other elevated enclosures, too."
Scotty looked at it. "I like the design fine, Randall, just fine, but I'm thinking that you might want to make the areas look more like a castle." The Scotsman sketched the modifications rapidly. "It'd not be much harder to build, and a wee bit more in context with the..." Scotty suddenly stood up straight, turning his head. Despite the construction racket, it was clear that he had heard something. Randall opened his mouth to ask what it was, but Scotty used one hand to signal for silence while cupping the other to his ear. The second time, Randall heard it as well: a twang, like the string on a guitar breaking, followed by a second twang a few seconds later. Dropping the padd, Scott broke into a run, heading toward a stack of long beams of transparent aluminum. "Randall! Grab a beam and follow me. NOW."
Junior Engineer though Randall may have been, he had been around his Chief of Engineering long enough to recognize the tone. There was a crisis, and there was no time for explanation. Scotty selected an I-beam of about four meters long. Randall snatched one of similar length and followed at a run. Suddenly, over the din of the others working, Randall heard the sound of agonized metal complaining about an excessive load, and announcing its impending collapse.
In a voice that cut across even the noise of others working, Scotty yelled, "Cade! The light pole!" The Scotsman continued his run to the toppling tower.
Every eye turned to the light pole. The problem was devastatingly clear. One of the flying news cameras had inadvertently hit a guide wire supporting the main column on the light pole, becoming tangled in the cable and snapping it, then before it came to rest, hit and snapped a second, then a third cable. The whole structure slowly began to fall over. Scotty rammed the end of his I-beam into the base of the light fixture, pushing with all his might, trying to keep the other end locked in place in the ground at his feet. Seconds later, Randall jammed his next to Scott's.
Sweat formed on their brows, the veins and muscles in both men's necks bulging with the effort, but the mass was such that it was pushing the two engineers and their transparent aluminum beams backwards, the ends gouging through the ground at their feet. Suddenly, a second set of hands was on the beam with Scotty, then more with Scotty and Randall. For an instant, it almost seemed that the pole would continue its slow drift toward oblivion. Almost painfully, its motion slowed, and finally stopped. The ends of the two beams were finally anchored. One by one, the men holding the beams released their grips, ready to hurl themselves back into position at the first hint of a renewed fall. Last of all, Scotty and Cade released their grips.
For a moment the two men stood, looking at each other. Without warning, Cade picked Scotty up in an oversized bear hug. "Thanks, man. You're better than legend makes you."
Back on the ground, the Scotsman shook his head. "That's as may be. But I'll not have anyone saying I won because some fool reporter's camera gave me an unfair edge." He smiled back. "But you got your wish, didn't you? Working beside me, I mean."
Cade slapped Scotty on the back. "You're not wrong there, are you? And in a crisis, too, no less. Well, back to our labors, then. I'll owe you one after this is all over. I know a bar and grill that'll be well worth your time. It'll be on me."
"That'll be for later. You've a light pole to fix."
The two men parted, shouting orders as they moved, both visibly as happy as children at play. To the others on Walven, it may still have seemed a competition, but for the engineers on the task, one agonized piece of metal had shifted everything from a competition to a game.
Captain Spock sat calmly in the waiting room, working on some problem on his padd, waiting for Doctor Darbeaux to have a few moments to spare him. A nurse ushered him back to the physician's office.
"Good afternoon, Captain Spock," Darbeaux said as the Vulcan entered. "Please be seated. What can I do for you?"
"A little information is all that I need." Spock drew a chair up to the desk, planting himself directly in front of Darbeaux. "I am sure that you are aware that I am collaborating with Inspector Phillips on the investigation into the disappearance of Amanda Adeodata."
"Amanda Bayes, Captain," the physician corrected gently. "She used her first and middle names on stage, hoping to reduce the amount of prying into her personal life by reporters and paparazzi and such." He sighed. "It was only marginally successful, I'm afraid. What with the lack of hair she suffered because of her medical problem and her height, she was not exactly able to disappear into crowds."
"As a Vulcan-Human half-breed, I believe I understand the difficulty. I have experienced similar, though less intense, challenges."
"No doubt. Medically, you are a rather celebrated individual; the significance of your birth has rocked certain areas in medicine. Still, I presume you have questions for me. I'll do the best I can."
"What can you tell me of Amanda's close friends, and of individuals that may wish her harm?"
"She was a bit of a loner, really; I guess I was as close a friend as she had. She'd been one of my father's best patients, to be honest, and when I was growing up, she and I met often. Father often had to go to the Bayes household, you understand, to check on her or to deal with some medical issue or other. Especially after she became famous, it was easier for Father to check up on her at her home than for her to come to his office. Since I had shown an interest in following in his footsteps and becoming a physician, he usually took me along. I got to know her fairly well over the years. Since Father retired, I have maintained her care."
"Did she have any enemies?"
"None that she mentioned, nor any of which I was aware. The impression I had of all this was that the suspicion lay with the Tower of Ares." Darbeaux was clearly puzzled by the direction Spock's questions were moving.
"That possibility has been considered, but it does not exclude the possibility that other suspects should be sought."
"Still, I hear that there has been a ransom note or something. Doesn't that help at all?"
Spock shook his head. "The paper and the print mechanism were nondescript. The font was standard, one that would have been identical from any one of thousands of printers in King's Town alone. The wording and the demand were of no greater help."
In turn Darbeaux nodded. "I see. Well, unless you have specific questions about her medical status, I suppose that there is little else that I can tell you."
"Were she without the needed dietary supplements, Doctor, how long would she be able to maintain reasonable health?"
"Well, I gave you a general idea when we met at the Constabulary, and I'm sure Doctor McCoy could tell you as well as I could, but part of the genetic anomaly she suffer involves her ability to absorb and to recycle certain critical trace organics. The average Human could go without food for at least five or six weeks without devastating harm. She has five to seven days, of which several have passed." Darbeaux showed no sign of emotion as he delivered the information. "Given the situation, though, I assume that whoever has her has the ability to keep her supplemented properly. It should not be a concern."
"I see. Has she had any blood drawn recently? And if so, where was it drawn and who would have access to it?"
"She was in for a routine measurement of several different nutrients the morning before she disappeared; it was drawn at the Royal Infirmary, here in King's Town. Almost anyone could access it, if they knew it was there. It's not as if we have a lot of people running around trying to steal other people's blood most of the time, you know. Look, if there's nothing else, I do have the rest of my morning's load of people to finish." Darbeaux was clearly becoming anxious to end the interview.
Spock stood. "I quite understand, Doctor. Thank you for your time."
Lieutenant Carpenter and the soccer team for which he had been captain lined up along the center line of the soccer field, walking past each other, shaking hands at the end of the game. Hovering over them were the inescapable cameras that had broadcast the match. Carpenter finally came face to face with the captain of the opposing team.
"Good game, Carpenter. Seems to me you and your lot will be buying."
"Buying?" Carpenter shook his head. "Buying, McReady?"
"It's a Walven tradition. Losers in matches like this buy supper for both teams." McReady frowned. "You weren't warned?"
"You call our being beaten fifteen to two 'losing' McReady? We were slaughtered." Carpenter shook his head. "That wasn't a victory, that was a total massacre."
"Whatever you call it, Carpenter, it's the local tradition. With the media here, it might be better, you understand..."
"Hey, team," Carpenter interrupted. "Think we owe this group soup and a sandwich over this defeat?"
"Soup and a sandwich? After trouncing us this badly," one voice responded, "They deserve a flaming banquet."
There was a chorus of agreement. Carpenter turned to McReady. "Look, I'm a bit of a fan of the history of cooking. Would it be permissible for us to feed you at our expense, but to prepare it ourselves?"
"I suppose so." McReady scratched his head. "I'd have to see what the rest of the team thought, you understand. What'd you have in mind?"
"Ever hear of a luau?"
"A loo who? Guess not."
"It's sort of an old Hawaiian banquet. Bottom line, if you don't end up so stuffed you can barely move, you're insulting the cook. Game?"
By this point, both teams had gathered around their captains. McReady's team answered for him, making it clear that as long as the Enterprise's team was buying and cooking, they were perfectly happy.
"Then it's settled." Carpenter produced a communicator. "Carpenter to Enterprise. I need to talk to Garibaldi down in Dietary."
"Garibaldi here, Carpenter. I hope you're not in a hurry for that roast pig, kid. Certain lieutenants who will remain nameless to protect your identity programmed the oven to act like hot coals around a hog in sand, loaded the hog, and then completely forgot to turn the oven on."
"How long before everything's ready, then?" Carpenter looked somewhat chagrined.
"About another hour. Listen, everything else is ready as requested. I figure, maybe, oh, I should start transporting the tables and stuff down in forty-five minutes or so, so you guys can set up. By then, I should be able to transfer the roast pig into a transport oven and get it and the other fixings down to you. Work?"
Carpenter looked over at McReady. "Think you can get your families here in forty-five minutes? They're invited, too."
"Easily. We didn't expect that, you know." McReady was obviously pleased by the promised largesse.
"Garibaldi, I'll count on the timing. Beverages and everything are ready to roll?"
"That's what I said. Kill time for a little while. And whet an appetite. Do you have any idea how many that hog will serve?"
"Um, no. I just bought a really big pig, and hoped it'd be enough."
"Enough he says!" The tone in Garibaldi's voice made it abundantly clear that it was far more than enough. "Listen, I thought you knew what you were doing, which is obviously a very stupid assumption. I made enough of everything to serve enough folk to pretty well strip the roast pig, kid, so you better have a small army there to eat it. I'm not bringing any leftovers back on board, you hear me? There's enough grub here to feed a couple hundred very hungry people, easy. You better get a big crowd going, fast. Garibaldi out."
Carpenter closed the communicator. "Um, families and all, how many, McReady?"
"Oh, not more than thirty-five, I'd say. Forty at the most."
"Oh, great." Carpenter thought for a minute. He flipped open his communicator again. "Carpenter to Captain Scott."
"Scotty here, Lieutenant. What do you need, laddie? We've pretty much finished here, and we're just spreadin' sand and wood chips to make the surface nice and soft for the bairns. Before you ask, 'twas a tie."
"With both teams, about how many folk do you have there?"
"About a hundred, I'd guess, maybe a few more. Why?"
"Look, we need a few hungry fellows at my coordinates in a bit less than an hour. If you could get the whole troupe here, families and all, I'd appreciate it. We need a hundred fifty, maybe two hundred appetites. We're planning a luau, and the pig I bought was a bit large for the crew we've got, see, and..."
"Say no more, laddie. I'll conscript Cade and his gang, and bring my own. Families and all, in fifty minutes. Make sure the Transporter crew has your coordinates. Scott out."
"Well, that's that. McReady, we've a little time to kill, even after you all connect with your families. Want to kick the ball around a little more? The news cameras are all gone, I see, so we don't have to worry about anyone's pride."
McReady looked around at his team. "Looks like the most of them have contacted their families. It sounds to me like we're going to need some real appetites. Let's play!"
Carpenter smiled, and turned to his team. "Gang, let's play soccer again." Carpenter had hardly finished speaking before his team was taking their places. "No holds barred, this time, team. Full warp speed!"
McReady's men took their place, McReady facing Carpenter over the ball. "We're ready when you are, man."
"Give the signal," Carpenter responded, "and get ready for a real game."
McReady nodded. Almost immediately after, Carpenter had the ball and was off down toward the goal, his team moving in a rapid and coordinated fashion. The Walven team was barely moving before the ball was in the net, the Enterprise team scoring.
McReady looked at Carpenter, amazed. "That's not how you were playing a few minutes ago, Carpenter. What gives?"
"Hey, I'm an amateur cook, and a serious student of the history of cooking. I saw an opportunity to have a whale of an old time luau at Federation expense. Do you think I'd throw the chance at that?" He grinned wickedly. "This time, we're going for blood with that soccer ball, not an excuse to throw a party." As he spoke, the ball returned to the center, and the two captains faced off. "You'd better be all out and going for blood, too, or we're going to mow the field around you."
McReady shook his head, smiling grimly. "You're going to have to move fast for that." He kicked the ball, only to have it intercepted and driven back towards the goal. "And it looks like you can move pretty fast..."
Kirk materialized at the coordinates that Eustace had transferred to the transporter, but as he looked around, he began to wonder if there had been some mistake. Rather than a room somewhere in the Palace, he found himself in what seemed to be a forest. Before he could react, a voice from behind reassured him.
"Rest assured, Sir James, there is no error. We have had you brought to what was once our Royal Father's hunting preserve. We often bring those here from whom we choose to ask an especial favor."
Kirk turned to see Peter, dressed in garb that would have been appropriate in a late 19th century English foxhunt. Behind the King, there was a magnificent, but only moderately large, hunting cabin. Taking his cue from Peter's use of the Royal Plural, he dropped to one knee. "Your Majesty's surprise is most kind. The area is indeed very beautiful."
"Indeed, Sir James. Rise. Before we go to the lodge, let us show you a little of the grounds, here. We understand that you enjoy the great outdoors as much as we do."
"Does Your Majesty hunt?"
"Only with a camera. Let us first enjoy such limited solitude as we can find, Sir James." The King looked to one side, only his eyes moving. Following the direction the King had indicated, Kirk spotted a floating camera. Peter continued. "It is our understanding, Sir James, that you have some skill in reading tracks. Are we accurately informed?"
"As a boy, I learned something of the art, Sire, and I have recently had an unexpected review in the ways of reading tracks."
"Excellent!" The King pointed to a small clump of bushes. "We would like to see your skills displayed. Look at the tracks behind the bushes, and see what you can read from them."
Somewhat surprised by the request, Kirk moved toward the bushes Peter was indicating. Behind them, he saw what looked at first to be a muddle of tracks. He squatted, to get a clearer view of them. As Kirk did so, he became aware of the arrival of Walven's High King. Kirk studied the tracks a little longer. Bending forward, the King whispered, "Is there any way of achieving some privacy from that infernal floating camera?"
Pretending to study the tracks, Kirk nodded his head slightly. "I expect Scotty can think of something. I'll call in a moment." Kirk straightened, turning to where he recalled the camera having been. It had drifted much closer. "As I read the tracks, Your Majesty, there was a buck, two does and one, possibly two fawns here. They watched carefully for a short while, then ran, probably startled. Considering how fresh the tracks look, I'd guess that it was my transporting down that startled them."
Peter nodded. "We are amazed, Sir James. How did the tracks teach you all of that?"
Obviously, as far as Kirk could tell, the King was looking for a way to get a few more words in without being overheard. Kirk squatted again, the King following suit. "These larger tracks, the ones with the deeper marking on the outside: those would be the buck. The slightly smaller ones, with the track deeper toward the middle--those are the does. You'll note that there are overlapping right hind hoof marks in these smaller ones, one hoof with a small chip off it. Thus, two does. I'm not as sure about the number of fawns, but given the pattern of overlap, and the fact that there were two does, I'd bet on two fauns." As he spoke, Kirk retrieved his communicator.
Hunkering down next to Kirk, King Peter partially shielded him from the prying eyes of the camera. "That you can read so much from so little amazes us." Peter pretended to study the tracks.
Kirk flipped his communicator open. "Kirk to Enterprise," he whispered. "Scotty?"
"You've no need to be whispering, Captain," the Scotsman's brogue responded. "Not only is the communications channel scrambled, but I've taken the wee liberty of modifying the communicator so that any microphone pointed in your direction won't hear a word you're saying. There's about a four meter diameter sphere around the communicator that I've rigged to mask the sound for ye."
Kirk stood up, Peter doing likewise. "You mean that the floating camera is hearing static, rather than what I'm saying?"
"Captain! You wound me." Scotty's voice responded. "They're hearing no such thing. It's bagpipe music that they'll hear, recorded at the last piping competition I attended."
"Your engineer is diabolically clever, Sir James." Peter chuckled. "I'd love to have a number of those gadgets. It'd make my life a lot easier."
"Yon camera can still lip read, I'm sure, Your Majesty," Scotty responded, clearly overhearing. "But I could whip up a dozen or so, and make them so your staff could hide 'em in jewelry or the like. They take up terrible amounts of energy, though; there's only about an hour's worth of power in the communicator, at best."
Turning to the King, Kirk re-entered the conversation. "Scotty, I'll count on you having a dozen of them ready by tomorrow. Do you have a fix on the camera near us?"
"Aye, Captain. Would you like me to deal with it?"
"Please, nothing violent, Captain Scott," Peter asked. "I would rather not have to replace a damaged machine."
The camera disappeared in a sparkle of the transporter. Scott's voice came across the communicator again. "By a wee coincidence, I have a video recordin' of the piping contest too."
"Enough said, Scotty! It's punishment fitting the crime. Will the sound screen stay on with the communicator off?"
"As long as she's got power, Captain. And you've about a two meter radius of protection, for about another hour."
"Thanks, Scotty. Kirk out." The communicator returned to his belt. "You indicated that you had a request, Your Majesty."
"With your gizmo doing its job, Kirk, you can drop the royal bit. Yes, I have a request, but don't feel that you're obliged to honor it. This is totally outside the scope of your line of duty here."
Puzzled, Kirk waited, expectantly but calmly. The King finally continued. "Spock feels he is making some headway on the issue of Amanda Adeodata's disappearance, but I can not see that he is finding out anything about my father's assassins. The vote is the day after tomorrow. If you would, I would like you to help me flush the assassin or assassins out."
"I'll do what I can, but I'm not sure how I can do that."
"Do you ski, Kirk?"
The question caught the captain off guard. "Yes, a little, but not particularly well." There was a brief pause. "Are you suggesting that I should ski the same slope where your father was killed, and act as bait?"
"I would have said it a little more gently, but yes. That's exactly what I am suggesting." Peter's face was unreadable.
"I see." Kirk took a deep breath. "Can I at least have Scotty wire me up, so that I can be tracked and rescued, if needs be?"
"I would not permit it any other way. You will need to be wired so that you're broadcasting whatever happens to you to a watch station on the ground, too, where it can be recorded. I have no doubt that your Captain Scott can be tracking you, and transport you out in time, if anything happens, and that that remarkable Vulcan friend of yours can keep a close enough eye on you to know what happens and who does it." Peter looked Kirk squarely in the face. "The only open question is whether or not you are willing."
Slowly, Kirk nodded. "I am. It's risky, but if Scotty's got me wired up and can transport me out, I don't think the risk is too great. Tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow, Captain, in the afternoon I think. I will have Eustace confirm the arrangements, and I will have the outpost staffed by the best men on Walven." Peter stuck out a hand. Kirk shook it. "Thank you, Captain Kirk. I appreciate your courage, and the Throne will not forget it."
Kirk shrugged. "It'll be reward enough to catch whoever killed your father."
"And come out of it unscathed." The King stood up, noticing that the floating camera had either been returned or replaced. "Will you join our royal person for something warm to drink at our lodge, Sir James?"
"It would be an honor, Your Majesty."
T'Vann began her trek back to the designated site for those of the Enterprise's crew enjoying shore leave to be beamed back up, carrying a modest canvas bag filled with items that she had purchased as gifts for friends back on Vulcan and for other members of the crew. Under one arm, she carried a parcel of books she had purchased for her own use. As she made her way through the streets, she realized that the individual who had been tracking her all day was still tracking her through the thinning number of people in the streets. Her curiosity piqued, T'Vann turned off her path, to see if the individual continued to follow her. He did.
T'Vann quickened her pace. Her shadow did likewise. She stopped to peer into a display window. The man trailing her moved closer, then stopped. This was more than coincidence; of that much, T'Vann was convinced. What this Human was thinking, she was unsure, but she decided that his behavior warranted finding out. Without warning, she began moving forward at a brisk pace, suddenly ducking into an alley branching off her path. Before the person following her could catch up to the mouth of the alley, she found a recessed doorway and disappeared into its shadows.
Quietly, carefully, her Human shadow entered the alley, looking for her. T'Vann remained motionless, waiting, aware of his mental signature coming slowly closer. She pulled herself deeper into the shadows. Unaware of her presence, the man passed the doorway. Seizing her opportunity, T'Vann leapt from hiding and before he could react, she had both of his arms behind his back in a Vulcan immobilization hold.
"Lady, I don't know where you came from, but I'd appreciate you letting me go," the man said, straining to keep her from dislocating his shoulders. "In case you hadn't figured it out, the way you're holding me isn't exactly comfortable."
"It is not meant to be comfortable." T'Vann shifted her grip, securing the man a little tighter but lessening the torque on his shoulders. "Given that you have been following me for several hours, I believe that I deserve an explanation of your behavior before releasing you."
"My name's Shipp, madam. I'm an undercover constable, okay? I noticed you walking around alone earlier this afternoon, and thought that I ought to keep an eye on you. A woman alone isn't necessarily safe in some of the areas you've visited. Okay, make that most women wouldn't have been safe. Around you, it's the muggers that wouldn't be safe."
T'Vann released her captive, moving out of arms reach. She remained in a defensive posture. "Your story, although interesting, requires corroboration. On the surface, it seems somewhat contrived."
Shipp reached into his shirt, producing a badge. "I hope this is enough to convince you."
T'Vann nodded. "My apologies, Constable Shipp. I sincerely hope that I have caused you no serious discomfort."
Shipp chuckled. "Actually, other than a couple of slightly sore shoulders, I'm fine. Well, except for my pride. Are all the women on the Enterprise as tough as you are?"
"We are all trained in self defense, Constable," she replied. "We are also well trained in hand-to-hand combat. The Enterprise is, after all, a military vessel."
"I'd have never guessed. Look, madam..."
"I am named T'Vann, Constable."
"T'Vann, then. May I escort you to the transport area? I'd like to know how you managed to catch me. Seems to me you might just be able to teach me a trick or two."
"You would be welcome," T'Vann replied. "If you wish, I would be willing to spar with you in the Enterprise gym. Perhaps we could learn from each other."
"As long as it's on the Enterprise, T'Vann. I'm not sure I could live down being creamed by a lady, even though she is a Vulcan." He picked up T'Vann's parcels and bag. "Allow me."
"Jim, I don't care how important you think this is. I still don't like it a bit."
"Come on, Bones, what could happen?" Kirk looked the doctor in the eye as Scott fussed around the captain, wiring and checking the monitoring devices he had built. "Between Scotty trussing me up enough that you'll be able to track my status and position to the nearest picometer, and Spock overseeing my every move from the science console on the bridge, there's nothing that could happen without Scotty being able to beam me up before I get much worse than a skinned knee."
"I know, I know," McCoy acquiesced, grudgingly. "You can't foresee any problems. Most of the time, nobody ever does, especially before some of our worst scrapes. By now, you should know those are famous last words, Jim."
Scott straightened up, finally satisfied with his work. "It's not as if we'll be his only line of defense, Doctor. The King has made it clear that he'll have a team within range himself. I've made up a complete set of monitors for them, too, so they can watch and record the captain's every move." Scott turned to face Kirk. "All the same, Captain, the doctor's right. Most of the time you've been at the helm of the Enterprise, you've been faced with things that no one could have foreseen and that no one else could have handled, and it seems to me that the worst ones hit when we were sure we had covered every possible problem. I'd not care to see you hurt. Be careful, laddie." Honest concern was written all over the Scotsman's face. "As much as I love the Enterprise, I'd not care to run Engineering on her without you in command. I think I'd rather retire first."
Kirk wrapped himself in a thick ski jacket. "Captain Scott, I'm moved by your concern. And yours, too, Doctor McCoy. How do I look?"
"Vulnerable." McCoy was obviously no more convinced than Scotty. "Terribly, unacceptably, miserably vulnerable."
"Good. That's how I want to look. Scotty, let's get me down to that ski resort."
Overlooking the trail Kirk was expected to ski, a small band of the King's Constabulary sat in a carefully concealed hut filled with monitoring and recording equipment. Their attention was sufficiently fixed on the equipment that they failed to notice the new arrivals. Whether it was the element of surprise or not, control of the equipment and the post was surrendered without significant conflict.
On the bridge of the Enterprise, Spock stood at the Science Station, watching the trail Kirk would soon ski. The scanners detected Kirk's start on the Long Trail. Suddenly, one of the Vulcan's eyebrows raised. He toggled the comm link. "Captain Scott, I believe there is an unanticipated problem."
"And what would that be, Captain Spock?"
"I have detected a low energy force field over the trail that Captain Kirk is skiing. I believe that it is of just sufficient intensity to prevent use of the transporter. It also appears to be varying in intensity with sufficient amplitude and randomness to make it impossible to scan the surface. It also is jamming the signals from the captain's monitoring equipment."
There was a brief silence before the engineer's brogue responded. "Aye, Spock, you're right. All we can do is wait, and hope that the lot on the ground can respond fast enough."
Kirk materialized not far from the entrance of the Ski resort, to be greeted by the proprietor. "Ah, Sir James! My resort is honored by your visit. His Majesty's Chief of Protocol had indicated that you would be here. Please, come in!"
"Thank you." Kirk followed the man into the establishment. "I understand you have some of the finest ski trails on Walven."
"You are too kind, Sir James. Still, I must admit that the Royal Family was very fond of several of our trails, especially the late King Edmund." The man's face darkened a little. "Most regrettable, what happened. The Long Trail has been idle ever since the accident, I fear; people hold that it is cursed, now. A distinct pity; I thought it was the most beautiful of all the ski trails here. So did his late Majesty."
"I don't happen to believe in curses," Kirk responded. "How about letting me ski it, to prove that there's no curse on it?"
The man's face brightened. "You are willing to do that?"
"It's still marked, isn't it?"
"Then I'm willing. Let's get me on it." Kirk moved toward the transporter area that the resort used to move people up to the top of the mountain. He donned his skis and stood on the platform.
"You are certain, Sir James? With the vote tomorrow, you understand..." The man let his voice trail off.
"I'm certain. Let's do it!"
A moment later, Kirk found himself near the top of the mountain, facing a ski trail. He checked the sign: "Long Trail." Grabbing his ski poles tightly, he moved toward the first trail marking. Before launching down the trail, he looked around. The vista was beautiful, indeed, and what he could see of the trail before him was magnificent. Kirk could understand the late king's choice of trails. Taking a deep breath, he shoved off.
Although beautiful, the slope was not a difficult one to ski, and other than the songs of occasional birds and the hiss of his skis across the snow, the trail had a tranquil and serene quietness. Kirk saw a sheer drop off to his left, and that the trail veered to the right. As he was shifting his stance to move with the trail, he failed to notice that a small patch of snow in front of one of his skis disappeared, catching the tip of his ski and throwing him to the snow. One ski took flight, going over the cliff; the other remained steadfast, buried in the snow. Slightly chagrined over his fall, Kirk tried to stand, and found he couldn't. His left leg was obviously broken; it felt like it was just above his ankle. Through the haze of pain, he tried to find the panic button Scotty had installed.
Suddenly, there was a hiss of skis. Kirk sighed in relief, assuming that the ground team of the King's Constables were coming. As the sound came closer, Kirk realized he was wrong. It was a lone skier that came to a stop beside him.
The figure came closer. "Do you recognize the face, Kirk?" the voice demanded as the skier swept back his hood, revealing a Klingon face.
"Yes, Kirk, Karg. Shamed when you defeated me between Troyius and Elas, and driven from my post." Karg looked at Kirk's leg. "Ah, left leg broken, but not your right one." He lifted Kirk's right leg. "We must fix that, before I have the pleasure of killing you."
There was a sudden wave of pain as the Klingon snapped Kirk's right femur. Through it, Kirk heard the faint sound of a second set of skis approaching. Maybe it's help, Kirk hoped. I'd better keep him talking.
"What glory is there in killing a helpless opponent, Karg? I didn't think that was the Klingon way."
Karg knelt at Kirk's side. "To kill the infamous James Kirk will be vengeance sweet enough, without any other glory." Karg reached for Kirk's throat. Kirk grabbed the Klingon's hands, struggling to hold them back, his ski poles dangling from his wrists uselessly. "And you are obviously far from helpless, Kirk. There is still plenty of fight in you. I shall relish every instant of this."
"Like you relished killing King Edmund with the avalanche?"
"Ah, so you have guessed that. Yes, Kirk. Would that I could have done it with my bare hands, as I shall do with you."
Slowly, almost inexorably, the Klingon's hands moved closer and closer to Kirk's throat, the leering smile growing wider and wider on Karg's face. Kirk could feel himself weakening from his injuries. It was only a matter of moments.
Without warning, a sword flashed down Karg's arm, slicing the parka and the flesh under it. Almost too swiftly for Kirk to follow, the Klingon had released his grip on Kirk and was facing his new adversary. Swift and lithe, the blade slashed across the Klingon's chest and returned before it could be snatched.
"Your Majesty!" Kirk exclaimed. "Flee!"
The King looked down at Kirk, then back at Karg. "Flee? Not a chance. This is personal, Kirk. I've been waiting at the observation outpost for my chance at vengeance, and I mean to have it." Peter's sword slashed at the Klingon, who had taken advantage of the brief distraction to grab one of his ski poles. The Klingon deflected the sword with it. Peter feinted, then scored on the Klingon's face. "This is for my father Edmund."
Peter's sword moved again, was parried then grabbed. The Klingon began to force the King down. "I shall enjoy killing you much more than I did your father. Prepare to die!"
The Klingon's ski pole came up to deliver the fatal blow, but never landed. Kirk drove the end of one of his ski poles deep into the Klingon's back, to be rewarded by seeing Klingon blood pouring out of the wound. Dropping the ski pole and losing his grip on the sword, the Klingon began to collapse backward, driving Kirk across the snow. In an instant, the High King's sword drove into the Klingon's chest.
"For my father! And for my friend!"
Karg toppled backward, driving the ski pole and the captain backward as he did so. Kirk began to slide. Before Peter could move, the captain was in free fall, over the edge of the cliff.
The High King snatched a communicator out of his pocket. "Emergency! Kirk over the cliff! Rescue personnel to this location immediately!" Peter fell on his knees in the snow, weeping. "Dear God, don't let him die. Don't let him die because of my foolish lust for vengeance."
It was scarcely two hours later when the High King walked into the surgical waiting area in the Royal Infirmary, where Spock and McCoy were sitting, waiting for news of Kirk. As he arrived, the Human and Vulcan both knelt.
"Please, get up, both of you," the King replied. Both resumed the seats they had abandoned. Peter sat across from them. "He saved my life, did you know that?"
Spock looked up. "We had not heard that, Your Majesty."
The High King nodded. "It is true. The Klingon was forcing me to my knees, bent on killing me as he had killed my father. Kirk stabbed him with his ski pole. That is what pushed Kirk over the cliff, but it bought me the instant I needed to deal with the Klingon."
"That is Captain Kirk's way, Your Majesty," Spock responded, quietly. "To risk all, for a friend."
Peter looked the Vulcan in the eye, understanding and respect written on his face. "Indeed. Who would know that better than you do? I consider it a high honor to be listed as a friend to such a man as Kirk." He turned to McCoy, who was obviously struggling to maintain his composure. "Doctor, please, do not worry. The best medical and surgical minds on all of Walven are assembled at your friend's side. Tony Brady, my personal physician and the sharpest medical mind on Walven, is overseeing things. The Crown owes Kirk that much, and more."
McCoy looked up. "I know, I know. I've checked on the folks who are in there, and they're among the best and brightest anywhere. But blast it, I've patched Jim up for years. I've pulled him through crises that I didn't think anyone could survive. After all these years, I know that man's insides as well as I know my face in the mirror. Those doctors are good and there's probably none better, Your Majesty, and I know it, but, well..." McCoy's voice lapsed into silence, unable to put his feelings into words. He stared at his feet.
Rising, the King put his hand on McCoy's shoulder. "I understand, Doctor. It's personal."
A single tear was running down McCoy's face as he looked up at the King. "Yeah, I guess that's it. It's personal, intensely personal. He's my friend, not just my patient. Somehow, I feel like I'm betraying him by not being there, taking care of his injuries. I..."
Spock stood up suddenly, one eyebrow raised, staring at the doctor and the monarch, cutting off McCoy's remark. "Of course. It should have been obvious. Your Majesty, I must take your leave."
McCoy looked up, scandalized. "You'd leave Jim before we know if he's going to be okay?"
The Vulcan shook his head. "No, Doctor McCoy. Captain Kirk is fine. I can sense his mental signature, again, and I perceive no indication of grave distress. I conjecture that we will be visited by one of the team who have tended to him momentarily."
Behind the Vulcan, as if on cue, a door swung open and what was clearly a physician stepped through. "Your Majesty!" The physician started to kneel.
"Please, do not bother. We are more interested in knowing how Sir James fares than in enduring protocol. How is he?"
Looking at the three faces, the man locked eyes with Doctor McCoy. "You are Doctor McCoy?"
He nodded. "Doctor Brady, I presume?"
"Yes. Captain Kirk is doing fine. The fractured ankle, femur, skull and ribs were easily enough mended; the fractures in his back were the challenge. Couple of small subdural hematomas needed addressing, punctured lung, small laceration to his liver, and a fractured kidney--all of those are already handled. He'll be stiff and sore for a few days, as I'm sure you realize, and he's going to be on bed rest for about forty-eight hours, until his vertebrae stabilize to my liking. But since he's awake and demanding to talk to 'Bones' immediately if not sooner, I expect that he is almost doing too well."
McCoy's face was split by a lopsided grin. "That's Jim, all right. When will you let me see him?"
Brady chuckled. "If I don't get you in there pretty soon, he'll probably start flirting with a couple of the younger nurses. From what I've heard of the man, I don't need that."
"Doctor Brady," the King asked, "Would it be possible for my royal person to accompany Doctor McCoy? We wish to express our profound gratitude to Sir James."
Bowing deeply, Brady faced his monarch. "Your presence will not jeopardize my charge, Your Majesty, and it will honor my staff and our infirmary."
"We will not forget your kindness, Doctor."
Led by Doctor Brady, McCoy and King Peter went through the door through which Brady had entered. Spock made his way swiftly to the exit.
Spock double-checked the address on the building against the one that he had copied from the city's directory before he thumbed the annunciator. After a brief pause, a male voice answered. "Yes? How can I help you?"
"I should like to talk to your wife for a moment, Doctor Darbeaux. I am here in a semi-official status, representing His Majesty's Constabulary."
"Sorry, that won't be possible. She is, ah, indisposed." Darbeaux sounded adamant.
"That is most unfortunate. I would have preferred to handle this without going through official channels, but under the circumstances, you force me to do so." Spock flipped his communicator open.
From the speaker, Spock heard a second voice in the background. "Oh, let him in, Billy. It'll be easier for us both."
The door opened. Doctor Darbeaux was clearly visible near the door. Spock entered the foyer. Just beyond the physician, there was a tall, blonde woman, wearing a loose housecoat. The woman spoke first. "I'm his wife. What did you want with me?"
Reaching into his pocket, Spock produced a recording. "Your autograph on a recording, for the High King Peter, Amanda. Preferably your maiden name, with today's date by your signature."
Shocked, Darbeaux's hand flew to the wall, to steady himself. "How did you find out?"
"Elementary logic. One great clue was your lack of emotion about a patient you had known for most of your life, one who had been cared for by your father before you. That is wholly uncharacteristic of a Human physician of your high caliber. As soon as I realized that, your comment that you had spent the night with a patient on the night she disappeared took on a whole new meaning, as did the faked crime scene. Am I correct in deducing that you allowed yourself to be rolled up in the carpet to avoid being detected as you left?"
"Exactly. Daddy and Billy carried me out in it, dressed as stagehands. No one noticed them, uh, us. Billy sprayed Vulcan blood all over the crime scene, figuring that it wouldn't take long to figure out that it wasn't yours, and that doing so would put all the suspicion on the Tower of Ares. What I still don't see is how you figured out that we had married."
"The greatest clue, in the end, and the one that confirmed my speculations, was one that you gave me yourself, madam."
Having regained his composure, Darbeaux closed the door, as Amanda, his wife sat down, allowing her wig to fall off and knock one of her fake eyebrows askew. "How did I do that, Spock? I didn't say a thing."
"What confirmed my deductions was your musical autobiography, Amanda. You ended it just before the two final motifs blended into one, as you had blended your parents' motifs earlier." Spock handed her the recording and a pen to write on it. "That you were planning to be married shortly became obvious, given all the rest of the facts."
Darbeaux looked at the Vulcan carefully. "Who else knows this other than you, Spock?"
"You and your wife, and whoever else was present when you solemnized your wedding vows. No one else."
"What will it take to keep it that way for a while longer?" Darbeaux begged. "We'd like some semblance of a normal life for a while."
Amanda stood up and handed the signed and dated recording back to Spock. Spock signed it himself, likewise including the date, slipping it into his pocket as he finished. "This, I believe, will be sufficient. It will be adequate evidence that you are alive and unharmed, Amanda. His Majesty will also be swayed by my word that you are not being held against your will, and end the investigation, as I hope will Inspector Phillips."
Darbeaux's arm slipped around his wife. Hugging her new husband tightly, Amanda smiled happily. "Well, I'm sure not being held against my will."
"That much," Spock opined, "is obvious."
"And that's the long and short of it," Kirk concluded. "Needless to say, with the media the next morning being full of my having rescued the High King, it was a landslide decision for joining the Federation. Between the signed, dated recording, and Spock's testimony that she wasn't being held against her will, the investigation was called off. Of course, it was Karg that had been feeding money into the local Tower of Ares chapter, and using some of their less responsible, lower-level recruits to do his will, particularly causing some of the trouble that the crew had on the surface, including Scotty's problem with Cade's light pole. And Amanda Darbeaux was able to stay incognito, wearing that blond wig of hers, for well over a year, finally returning to the concert circuit on her own timing. With hair, nobody recognized her, even up close and in public."
Indri shook his head in amazement. "I find myself utterly astounded, in all honesty."
"Why?' Reichard asked. "Because someone other than the cap'n got the pretty girl this time?"
"No, Ken," Indri replied gravely. "I am astounded at the lengths to which some people will go to get their doctor to make house calls."
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