"Captain, were receiving a subspace transmission from Outpost 8944," Ensign Michaels reported from Communications.
"Outpost 8944?" repeated Chekov, turning the command chair to face his first officer.
"Outpost 8944 is the most distant Federation base in the Beta Quadrant," supplied Saavik from the fleet captains side. "Its a small K-type space station with a staff of thirty-four." She glanced at her padd. "Its commanding officer is Commander Steve Matthews."
"Matthews," the fleet captain repeated. "Visual, Mister Michaels." As the base commanders cragged, gray-haired visage appeared on the screen, Chekov stood, tugged on his jacket and stepped forward. "Fleet Captain Chekov of the starship Enterprise standing by, Outpost 8944."
"Good to hear from you, sir! Weve got a situation thats developing. The robot freighter Sylvia has deviated from its programmed course. It was to resupply this base before returning to Starbase 211." Matthews leaned forward. "This isnt the first time this sort of thing has happened, Fleet Captain. In fact, its the fourth time in as many weeks that our supply ship hasnt arrived."
"Fourth time, you say? Sounds like pirates are hijacking your cargo ships, Commander Matthews. Relay the freighters last known or present position, and well investigate."
"Wed really appreciate it. The supplies are not vital in nature. Special food stuffs, things from home, Christmas gifts from friends and family, the latest in holovid movies, that sort of thing. The sort of thing that basically boosts the morale of my station crew, and not the sort of cargo Starfleet would dispatch a transport/tug to deliver under ordinary conditions."
"Understood, Commander. But if we let them get away with this sort of petty theft, next time they might decide to hijack a ship and get lucky by finding a supply of photon torpedoes aboard."
"I thought youd see it our way, sir."
He turned to Roberta Vasquez at Tactical. "Did you receive the coordinates?" She nodded, and Chekov turned back to the screen. "Were on our way, Commander. Enterprise out."
"Sir, object dead ahead," reported Ensign Grenoka from the helm station.
"Dead is right, sir," reported Lieutenant Peter Kirk from Science One. "No power from its engines."
"Slow to impulse. Approach on thrusters only, Helmsman."
"Yes, sir," the white-haired Efrosian answered.
"Analysis?" Chekov turned to face Roberta Vasquez.
The chief tactical officer shrugged. "No sign of power. No sign of life. And its cargo holds are clearly empty."
"Any sign that its been booby trapped?"
"Not from my readings," Vasquez admitted. She turned to Peter Kirk at Science One. "What about your readings, Science Officer?"
Kirk shook his head. "We cant be certain, of course. Not without a closer look."
Chekov sighed. He hated sending boarding parties out like this. "Mister Chterr, assemble a small team. Security specialists, science officers, engineering technicians."
The big Skorr flexed his wings in anticipation, the algae in his feather tips turning a faint violet in color. "We shallll make a quick survey, sir."
"See that you do, Chterr. And be careful over there."
The avian stopped and turned in surprise. "Always, Captain."
"Disappointing, Captain," remarked Saavik, interrupting his concentration on their present position. She was standing next to him on the bridge.
Chekov shrugged. "The further we get out from the Federations sphere of influence, the more likely vwere going to encounter pirates and other...unpleasant types."
"Like Harry Mudd?" she queried.
He nodded. "Its only been six months since vwe encountered that particular reprobate, and now vwere apparently dealing with more of his ilk. And its only going to get vworse."
"Pardon me, sir, but that is completely illogical."
"How so, Saavik?"
"Because youre assuming that the further we are from Federation space, the more savage the frontier will become. You are assuming that there are no stellar governments in this sector, or at least no civilized ones. Both assumptions are based on Federation prejudice, not logic."
He considered her words. "And vwhat does logic suggest?"
"That we will indeed find...reprobates and pirates, but that we will also find potential allies out here as well as potential enemies. If youll pardon the expression, we are strangers in a strange land, and we must learn the lay of the land."
"Before vwere told to go home, you mean," Chekov reminded her. "Sooner or later, vwere going to come into a situation vwhere vwere regarded as either imperialists or expansionists, and Im not sure that vwell be in a position to defend ourselves from those accusations."
"A surprisingly mature assessment, sir."
The fleet captain laughed. "Dont tell that to Mister Vasquez. Shed called it typical Russian paranoia."
"That, too, sir." Saavik raised an eyebrow in amusement.
Chterr loved worlds such as these. Open to all outsiders and life forms, he was at home wandering down the streets of Matic, one of the many cities of Trading Post. Here and there he saw a species he recognized: a Gorn here, an Andorian there, a Romulan or two. He even thought he glimpsed a Kelvan, as unlikely as that seemed. There were hundreds or more alien races hed never even seen, and it was unclear as to which race was native to this world.
Apparently this sector of space had its own intelligent avian species. He had not once been accosted on the street, despite his large size and prominent wings. A few had given him a second look, but no one seemed afraid of anyone on this world, let alone a seven foot tall predator such as himself. Perhaps a Starfleet uniform might have intimidated some, but he had beamed down as an observer and hadnt wanted to spook the locals.
Of course, there were the occasional annoyances. A number of the shops sold various fowl, usually hanging by their feet, in open markets on the street. He sighed. Of course, his own planet, there were often blue ekitgs sold, and their resemblance to Andorians was known to have cause a bit of a row when the ambassador to Andor was served one poached in pink tussre broth.
Suddenly, a pungent odor struck his nostrils, and his beak started clicking eagerly. He recognized that smell!
Following his nose, he quickly tracked down the storefront from which the heady vapor wafted. He entered the shop, and quickly found the source of the smell: an undeniable product of Human origin, considered by the Skorr as Humanitys greatest gift to interstellar civilization.
Chterr warbled a quick song, and the communicator on his neck came to life. "Chterr to Enterprise, Captain Chekov, please."
"Enterprise, Chekov here."
"Captain, I think Ive found a clllue for the missing cargo from Outpost 8944. Coullld you join me on the surface? Incognito, if you plllease."
Five minutes later, Fleet Captain Chekov materialized in his favorite Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts. A pair of flipflops adorned his feet, and a pith helmet protected his head from the fierce sunlight. He also worn a pair of sunglasses to protect his eyes from the brighter than Earth normal sunlight of this world.
Chterr clicked his beak softly in laughter. "You are out of uniform, Fllleet Captain."
Chekov regarded the Skorrs feathers. "Vwell, at least Im not naked."
"Im not naked as lllong as no one has plllucked me. I wear that uniform out of respect to Starfleets wishes."
"Welcome, strange sires, welcome to Trading Post, welcome to Matic, and welcome to Zodiacs Bazaar." The owner of the shop approached them. He was a white-haired, tan-skinned humanoid with a slightly larger than humanoid average head, but very expressive eyes. "How can I serve you?"
Chterr indicated the open container sitting on a bed of crushed ice. "We would like as much of this item as you have."
Chekov leaned forward, his eyes confirming what his nose had already told him. "Youre kidding me, Chterr. You cant possibly"
The Skorrs feathers took on a blue tint in annoyance. "My friend does not have an appreciation for the finer luxuries of life. These smell delicious, Mister Zodiac."
"Let me check my store room." The humanoid pulled out a small pocket notebook and flipped through the pages. "Yes, yes, I have more."
"Id like twelve cans," Chterrs tongue was practically out of his mouth.
"Twelve cans?" Chekov repeated. Then he realized that that was the quantity of the cans on the robot ships manifest.
Zodiac bobbled his head. "I had twelve, but Ive sold two already, both to the Vedalan merchant down the street. He was as ecstatic as you are by this item, good sire."
"How much do you want for what youve got left?"
Zodiac rubbed his ears with both hands. "Well, I suppose Id take five fist-sized dilithium crystals."
"Five dilithium crystals?" Chekov looked positively apoplectic. "For"
"Pay the man, Pavelll."
Zodiac must have thought the deal was going bad. "Perhaps I could take"
"The price is acceptabllle, Mister Zodiac. My friend simpllly has a tight purse when it comes to the finer things in lllife."
The humanoid tilted his head from left to right repeatedly. "I understand completely."
Chekov brought up his wrist communicator to his lips. "Saavik, this is Pavel. I need five dilithium"
"Fist-sized!" interjected the shop owner emphatically.
"Five fist-sized dilithium crystals over here at Zodiacs Bazaar as soon as you can get them to me."
"Im on it, Pavel," came Peter Kirks voice. Chekov was wondering if Saavik had been flumoxed by the order.
An awkward minute or two later, Peter Kirk strolled in wearing a pair of cut-offs, a tank top, deck shoes, sunglasses and a sun hat. "Hey, Pavel. Saavik said to bring you these." The Enterprise science officer handed Chekov a lumpy bag.
Zodiac shuffled forward in excitement. "I must see, good sires!" He stuck his nose into the bag, and examined the contents. "Excellent! Most excellent!" He walked to the back of the store and returned with ten small tins. "As promised, sires!"
Chterr quickly took possession of the cans, and carefully said, "Id give anything for more, if you happen across any."
"A hard item to secure, but might be doable. Check back with me in ten days, sire," Zodiac suggested.
"In ten days, then. Good day, Mister Zodiac."
In the briefing room of the Enterprise, Chekov and his senior officers had changed back into their uniforms. Everyone kept taking a quick glance at the pile of cans in front of the Skorr security chief.
Chekov looked at the evidence being carefully guarded by Chterr. "Opinions?"
"We know that these are from Earth. Where else is a man like Zodiac going to find them but the robot freighter that was looted? Clearly this Mister Zodiac is a space pirate," Peter Kirk offered with firm conviction.
"Imprecise," Saavik met the disapproval in his eyes without flinching. "The only thing we can be sure of is that hes dealing in stolen Federation materiel."
"Can we be sure of even that its stolen?" asked Vasquez.
Chterr clicked his tongue. "I have carefulllly examined the evidence. The serialll numbers of the cans match the shipment manifest of the Sylllvia."
"So its definitely part of the stolen cargo," Doctor Chapel concluded. "But whether or nor he helped steal them and whether or not he even knows theyre stolen remains to be seen."
"I dont think theres much question there, Doctor, but well give Mister Zodiac the benefit of the doubt for the time being." Chekov pressed a button on the table top before him. "Mister Michaels, raise Outpost 8944 for me. Id like to speak with Commander Matthews."
Michaels pressed the earjack. "Incoming message from Outpost 8944, Captain. Commander Matthews reports that the robot freighter Gerry has gone off course as expected."
"Have him send the last known coordinates and trajectory."
"Aye, sir." The communications officer pressed a series of touch plates. "Transferring course and coordinates to Navigation."
"Receiving, sir," Lieutenant Siran said. "Now setting course."
"Mister Grenoka, take us there in a hurry. Ahead, Warp Factor Eight."
"On approach, Captain," reported Helmsman Grenoka needlessly. The image of the robot freighter Gerry was clearly growing larger by the second on the viewscreen. "Taking us out of warp."
Peter Kirk examined his instrumentation at Science One. "Scanning, sir. Its engines appear to be dead. Cargo holds depleted. Sir, Im detecting a lifeform in the control room!"
"Pull us along side. Transporter room, stand by to transport a boarding party." Chekov looked at the bridge officers. "Mister Chterr, send one of your men to accompany First Officer Saavik, Doctor Weller, and a few engineering technicians."
"Your orders, sir?" Saavik looked expectantly at her captain.
"Obviously, theres someone over there. Lets find out who it is, and then get the Gerry back on course to Starbase 211."
Peter Kirk stepped toward them from Science One. "Permission to accompany the boarding party, sir?"
"Denied, Mister Kirk." The captain considered his science officers relationship with Saavik, and wondered if he needed to warn Lieutenant Kirk that there would be more missions of this nature, with Saavik leading the landing party while Kirk would remain behind to analyze the data collected. "Station, please."
"Certainly, sir," Kirk replied a little too casually after a quick glance at Saavik.
Chekovs eyes narrowed, but he chose to say nothing for now.
Saavik led the security guard with Assistant Chief Medical Officer Weller and a pair of engineers trailing behind them. She consulted her tricorder, and stepped carefully into the control room. Flashing her lights around, she saw a black shirted figure lying on the floor, hands bound behind his back, mouth gagged, and eyes blindfolded. "Mister Fasolo, if you please?"
The security guard stepped forward, and freed the subdued man. His eyes and mouth now visible, Saavik recognized him immediately. "Unfortunate." The disappointment in her voice was apparent to everyone in the room. "Captain, I should have thought we left you behind at Starbase 211."
Starfleet Intelligence Officer Kevin Riley stood and stretched, running in place for a second as if to shake away the cobwebs in his mind and the dullness in his body. "Well, it was Fleet Captain Chekovs...insistence that I come along with this freighter shipment. I can honestly say Im surprised to still be alive." He chucked. "I guess they arent the blood-thirsty type, but they didnt mind beating the crap out of me." He held his jaw in his hand, and wiped dried blood from the corner of his mouth.
Saavik gestured to Doctor Weller to examine Riley, and issued orders to the engineers to conduct an examination of the freighter. Then she turned her attention back on the Intelligence officer. "Were you able to discern the identity of the pirates?"
"Cant say I recognize the species, but theyre definitely the same as your friend Zodiac." Riley held up a holovid that Peter Kirk had surreptitiously taken of the shopkeeper. "It wasnt him personally, though."
Weller turned to face the executive officer. "Hes in good shape. Id say hes probably more hungry and thirsty than anything else."
"Youve got that right, Doc. Lets get some grub and head on to this Trading Post planet."
Saavik nodded. "Logically, well need to reenergize the Gerrys engines and send the freighter on his way back to Starbase 211 before embarking on that voyage."
Riley smiled. "Let it never be said Starfleet Intelligence would stand in the way of logic, Mister Saavik. By all means, lets get this old girl back where she belongs." He began whistling as he stepped to the control console and began assisting the engineers in the endeavor.
Completely caught off guard by his rendition of "Get Back to Where You Once Belonged," Saavik hesitated before joining them in the repairs.
Chekov strolled into Zodiacs Bazaar, followed by both Saavik and Chterr. All three were now wearing the rustic-colored landing party coveralls worn by Starfleet crews these days. Immediately, Zodiac bustled into the room, his head frantically gyrating left and right. "You dare show your face here? Now? After you set me up. You had me rob another ship to get the materials you wanted, but you had one of your men aboard the freighter. Fortunately, I got the drop on him after he practically killed three of my men. I left him there for you to find him."
Zodiac was clearly exasperated. "I dont know what game youre up to, but this isnt how things are done in this hextant of space. Ive been in business for over fifty years, and this just isnt done."
Chekov shrugged. "Things are about to change, Zodiac. Youre going to leave our robot freighters alone, or Im afraid Im going to have to show up and take action against you. And my ship is a touch bigger and much better armed than that freighter."
"So Ive seen." The alien shoved a flimsy at the fleet captain. On it was a shot of the Enterprise as it pulled along side the Gerry. "Are you threatening me, sire?"
A quick glance around the shop showed that all the exits were now covered by Zodiacs henchmen. Chekov pushed his lower lip forward. "No, sir. Im making a promise. Leave all Federation ships alone, and we wont interfere."
There was a brief commotion at the exits, and suddenly Zodiacs men were all seated on the floor with two armed security officers from the Enterprise for each of them, one watching the shop interior, the other guarding the exterior from any more of Zodiacs men.
Chekov leaned forward against the countertop. "Mister Zodiac, let me make myself perfectly clear. We dont want to interfere with your world, your operations. But you need to understand that we cant allow you to take our cargo. Understood?"
Zodiac stared at him a good minute. He popped a cylindrical bundle of some sort into his mouth, and lit one end. He puffed on the alien cigar for a moment, eyes darting from Chekov to Chterr to Saavik, then barked like a small dog, bobbled his head and grinned. "Understood, Captain Pavel, was it?" He beckoned at his men in the back of the shop.
"Captain Pavel Chekov," the fleet captain answered as he signalled the security men to release the rest of Zodiacs associates.
The henchmen guarded walked into the back of the shop, then one of them came out and set down the cans on the table.
Zodiac bobbled his head some more. "Here are the items you asked for. Twelve more tins. I expect payment for them, of course."
"Of course." Chekov proceeded to give him six fist-sized dilithium crystals.
"Would you care to join me for dinner?"
"Dinner?" asked Saavik in surprise.
"You really are new to this hextant, arent you? Were a tad more civilized, I suppose, than barbarians such as yourselves, siress. Weve come to a peaceful understanding, and were going to have a dinner to seal the agreement."
Chekov smiled warmly. "An excellent suggestion, Mister Zodiac, and a custom that were not completely unfamiliar with." He dismissed his security guards who quickly made their way back where theyd beamed down from the Enterprise to await their return to the starship.
Chekov, Chterr and Saavik were ushered into a backroom where there was a rough-hewn wooden table. Chekov and Saavik were directed to some comfortable chairs, and one of Zodiacs men brought a perch for Chterr. Zodiac himself sat at the head of the table, outstretched his arms over the table. "A blessing upon our table and our concord." Zodiac looked expectantly at Chekov, closing his eyes in some sort of anticipation.
"Amen?" suggested Saavik.
"Amen," repeated Chekov and Chterr.
Two attendants brought forth wooden bowls and wooden spoons. A quick glance inside revealed that they contained crisped rice cereal. Another attendance shuffled around the table with a pitcher of green-white milk.
Zodiac leaned forward, intently. "They snap, crackle and pop when you add vrelat milk. Fascinating, no?"
Saavik pursed her lips as if to issue a disagreement, but a quick tap on her toe by Fleet Captain Chekovs boot changed that action. "Yes, fascinating."
Chterr stared at his plate, and opened one of the cans Chekov had purchased from Zodiac.
Chekov looked on in horror as the Skorr dumped its contents into the bowl of cereal. "You realize that youre putting ten thousand credits worth of that...stuff onto your rice crispies?"
"Aye, Captain, but how can you put any price on anchovies?"
With that, Zodiac, Chekov, Saavik and Chterr spent their meal recounting adventures and alien encounters until well past sunset. And Zodiac and his pirates stayed true to their word and never raided a Federation vessel again.
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