"Captain, standard orbit established," reported Helmsman Kenyatta Fulton of the Excelsior.
Captain Hikaru Sulu sat down his morning tea. "Very well. Lieutenant Grexi, hail the diplomatic team."
"Ive been trying since we entered this star system. No reply to our hails," replied the Edoan communications officer.
"Mister Floyd, what do we know about this star system?" Sulu took another sip of his tea.
The executive officer stepped forward from his post at Navigation to Science Two. "Two class M planets, Teluch and Chitan, in relatively nearby orbits. Neither civilization is warp capable, but both have interplanetary capability, and subspace communications. Teluch appears to have a slight technological advantage. Starfleet Command has ruled that as long as they arent given any technology, negotiations are not a violation of the Prime Directive. Our diplomatic party has been trying to mediate a peace treaty for some time."
"And the inhabitants?"
"Both civilizations read as Human on our sensors, probably Preserver-transplanted Humans from Aztec or Mayan stock."
Sulu read the padd handed to him by a yeoman. "Ambassador Curzon Dax. Oh, my..."
"Are you familiar with the Trill ambassador, Captain?"
"Weve had some assignments with Federation Ambassador Dax. He is the most recent one of several negotiators sent to this system." The captain sat the padd down on the center seat. "None has been successful."
"Your orders, sir?"
"Have Security Chief Hreff assemble a security team. I want you to accompany them to the surface of Chitan. Time to retrieve the ambassador."
"Captain Sulu, were being hailed by Ambassador Dax."
"Audio, Mister Grexi." Sulu took a deep breath. "Excelsior here, Ambassador. Captain Hikaru Sulu at your command. Are you and the diplomatic team ready to beam up?"
"We are. I would have expected some sort of security escort upon your arrival here, Captain Sulu."
There was a sudden silence on the bridge. "As it happens, Ambassador, we sent down a landing party about two hours ago. I was expecting to hear from them by now."
There was now a protracted silence on the communication frequency. "Captain Sulu, stand by to scramble our communications. On my mark...mark." There was a brief burst of static as the encoding algorithm was activated. "Still with me, Captain?"
"Excelsior is standing by, Ambassador."
"Beam up the diplomatic staff and myself immediately, Captain. We need to talk...urgently. I suspect your men have been taken hostage, and I fear for the safety of my staff."
"Very well, Ambassador. Collect your staff and be ready in one minute. Emergency beam up protocols."
"Agreed. Dax out."
"Transporter Room," Sulu spoke into the microphone on the arm of the command chair.
"Chief Hamilton here, Captain."
"Lock onto the security escort detail, and have them beamed aboard immediately."
"Sorry, sir. Im not detecting the security details communicators."
"Can you scan for their universal translators?"
"Negative result, sir. Im not even detecting the transponders from either type of device."
"Damn it!" Sulu snapped. "Lock onto the ambassador and his staff at their enclave, and have them beamed aboard now."
The slap across his face brought him back around. His head wobbling, he tried surveying the room and realized that one of his eyes was swollen shut. Another slap, and Michael Floyd laughed. "You boys are gonna have to try harder than this. I dont know nothing."
The universal translator had long since broken, and Floyd had no idea whether they could understand him or not. Not that it mattered. He couldnt understand their language, whatever it was. He was struck again, and he knew that they were just interested in torturing him, for whatever reason, even if it was the sheer joy of seeing another sentient being suffer.
Sulu leaned forward, his countenance red with anger. "So why have they taken my men? Were noncombatants in their war." The captain of the Excelsior had assembled his command staff and Ambassador Dax in the main briefing room.
"Im sure well find out soon enough," Dax fidgeted nervously as he answered the captains question.
As if on queue, the intercom interrupted the debriefing. "Communications to Captain Sulu. We are receiving a transmission from the planets surface."
The triviewer in the center of the briefing room lit with the bloodied image of Michael Floyd, the executive officer of the Excelsior. Both eyes were now swollen shut; blood was oozing out of an obviously broken nose; his lower lip was drooping, revealing missing teeth; and assorted bruises, abrasions and contusions mangling his formerly handsome features. The camera panned over to the next man who was just as bad, then to the next man, and then the last man, who was apparently beaten so badly that his head was being held up by one of his assailantss hand.
"My God..." Sulu blurted, both astounded and revulsed by the evident, extreme brutality displayed.
"Excelsior commander, hear me!" A short, squat man, with a flattened nose, black hair and eyes and deeply tanned skin addressed the camera. "This is General Quetzl, Commander of the Armed Forces of Chitan. You will beam down the following manifest of equipment, supplies and weapons if you wish to see your men live." The general then read a brief yet comprehensive list of phasers, both pistol and rifles, power packs for each, photon grenades and mortars, and even a few medical supplies.
When he had finished, Quetzl looked back at the video camera. "For each hour we do not receive these items, I will execute one of your men." The view panned back, and the general withdrew some sort of projectile weapon. Aiming it at the last security officer, the one who could not longer hold up his head, he pulled the trigger. The guards head exploded against the back wall, blood flying all over the room. The general turned back to the camera. "You now have three hours."
"Wait!" Sulu barked, but the screen was now black. "Bridge, Science One. Ensign Tork, can you lock onto the source of their communications, and have all lifeforms in the vicinity beamed aboard? Or perhaps scan for Humans on the planet?"
"Sorry, sir. Theyre bouncing their signal across radio towers across their continent. And regrettably, Ive no way to discern a difference between the people of Chitan and our people. The planets population is of Human stock."
"Keep working on a way to do just that. Sulu out."
"The United Federation of Planets does not negotiate with terrorists." Dax turned his eyes downward to his hands as he folded them on the tabletop, almost as if he were embarrassed at having to remind the Asian before him of standard policy.
Sulu sighed. "I am well aware of that fact, Ambassador. That doesnt make this any easier." He bit his lip. "General Quetzl is not a terrorist. He appears to be the head of the military junta on this planet, am I correct?"
"Im not sure I would call it a junta, but essentially correct, Captain," Dax agreed.
"Then I am free to meet his demands, if I so choose?"
Ariel Cord, the chief medical officer of the Excelsior, spoke up for the first time. "If you do, youll be violating the Prime Directive."
Sulu glanced at her. "I have to disagree with you there, Doctor. The Prime Directive doesnt apply here. These people know of our existence, and they apparently know enough about our weaponry to make up quite a shopping list."
Dax was equally blunt. "And in all honesty, Captain, the situation on Chitan is crumbling rapidly. The forces of Teluch are poised for an invasion of this planet, and the general and his army will be defeated. Unfortunately, theres no provision for your men in this scenario."
"Bridge," Sulu spoke upward toward the open microphone. "Hail General Quetzl, Lieutenant Grexi. Tell him I will give in to his demands."
"You realize that with the technological items theyve demanded, youll be leading the forces of Teluch into a slaughter? With our weaponry, General Quetzl will be able to route the invasion forces." Sulus remark clearly left Dax aghast. "Not only are you going to be interfering, youre going to change the only possible outcome from this war."
"I am well aware of that, Ambassador. Im also aware of the fact that those men should have had diplomatic immunity, just as you and your team had."
"I suspect that had you not beamed us aboard when you did that our diplomatic immunity would have evaporated as quickly as your mens."
The captain chose to ignore the ambassadors remark. "Captain to Armory."
"Armory. DeSoto here."
"Armorer, Im sending you a list of equipment. Fill that list, and place them into standard B-class containers." Sulu transmitted a printout of the generals demand to the armory.
"Begging your pardon, sir, but these items are on the interdicted list for this planet."
"Understood, Mister DeSoto. Carry out my orders."
"Youll take authority for this, sir?"
"I am the captain of this ship, Mister. That means I am the absolute authority here, and I assume full responsibility. Do you understand me?"
"Then carry out my orders."
"Captain Sulu," began Curzon Dax, "I must object to giving in to their demands."
"Your objection is noted, Ambassador. Im sure that the general and his men are going to get far more than they bargained for."
And with that, Sulu headed out the door. "Ill be in the Armory if needed."
"So you have agreed to my terms, Excelsior commander?"
"This is Captain Sulu, and yes, I have agreed to your demands. The items you have insisted upon are ready to beam down. We will beam them down to the coordinates you provide once my men have been returned to my ship."
"Oh, no, Captain. It will not be that easy. You will beam down the weapons and other materiel, then we will inspect them. If they pass our inspection, then we will provide you with their coordinates."
"Not acceptable, General. You would simply continue to hold them for more demands, more weapons. No deal."
"Kill one of them," the general said to one of his soldiers. The man pulled his pistol, and shot another security guard in the head. "You have no choice, Captain. If you want your remaining men alive, you will beam down the weapons now."
"If you kill another man, we wont beam down anything." A tight smile formed on Sulus face. "Is that an invasion force were detecting in orbit above your world?"
The general studied his face. "Very well. We will agree to a simultaneous exchange. You will beam the weapons here, and you can beam up your men at the same time."
Sulu stared at the screen, intently studying the face of the general. "Agreed."
One of the generals aides stepped forward. "We will drop our communication diffusion pattern and allow you to lock on to our transmission directly."
"Transporter room?" Sulu asked.
"Locking on to our men now, sir. At least I assume theyre our men. Theyre the two beings with limited lifesigns."
"Simultaneous transport, Chief, per my agreement with the general."
On the screen, the two living crewmen from Excelsior dematerialized as a number of crates beamed down.
"I am a man of my word, General. You have everything you asked for...and more."
The general immediately took to examining the crates contents. Hefting a phaser in his hand, he smiled at the videocamera. "I must say, Captain, you are a man of your word. All that we asked for...and more, did you say?"
"Yes. Goodbye, General." Seeing that his surviving crew were no longer visible near Quetzl, Sulu pressed a button on the arm of the center seat, and suddenly the screen flashed white. Transmission lost, the green-gray planet appeared on the mainviewer. The captain grimly stared for a moment the screen and stood. He headed toward the port turbolift.
"Captain?" asked Lieutenant Grexi.
"Sir, theres been an explosion on the planets surface," reported Science Officer Tork. "The epicenter is the same as to whence we beamed down those crates."
"You have the conn, Ensign Tork."
Before the science officer could acknowledge the command, the doors to the lift had already closed.
In Sickbay, Doctor Ariel Cord walked out of surgery, tossing her gown into the disposal chute. She swept her hands under the disinfectant spray, rubbed them together, and took a towel to dab her forehead. Sulu was standing there, waiting for the news of his men; Curzon Dax stood beside him. "How are they, Doctor?" asked the ambassador.
"Lieutenant Commander Floyd will make it. Itll take some time in one of the re-gen tanks, but hell be up and at em in about a week."
"And the other man? Security Technician Graves?"
"Woman. Her entire face is going to take reconstructive surgery, and maybe regeneration. Im going to have to replace both joints of her jaw and several of her teeth. Looks like they may have abused her sexually as well. She has burns on both breasts and on her labia. Ill be talking with Doctor Noel about the situation, and let her make any recommendations regarding therapy."
"Im glad you got some of your people back, but at what cost?" Dax faced Sulu squarely. "Your career? You gave them the weaponry they needed to defeat their foesa clear violation of the Prime Directive."
"I did no such thing, Ambassador. I gave into their demands, but Im afraid I must report that I also included an antimatter bottle set to collapse on my signal. It vaporized the contents of those crates and anyone foolish enough to be playing with superior technology theyre not entitled to."
"You blew up the general?" Astonishment wrote itself on the Trills face.
"Only if he was present when the containers were beamed down...and I must admit, I do believe I saw him present there, yes."
"Youve interfered with this culture!"
"Have I? You yourself indicated that the planet Chitan was being invaded by the superior forces of the Teluch."
"You indicated the generals forces would be overwhelmed." Sulus confidence was clearly visible.
"Have my actions in any way changed the outcome?"
"Then I put it to you, Ambassador, that Ive not interfered in the natural course of events on this planet other than perhaps reduce the number of casualties experienced by both sides now that General Quetzls government seems to have gone missing."
Doctor Cord looked at the captain of the Excelsior, relief in her eyes. "Then youre not going to be..."
"Court-martialed?" Sulu smiled reassuringly. "Theres going to be a tribunal, Im sure. But Ive got a fair chance of coming out of it with a verbal reprimand." He hoped that his feigned confidence would fool Ariel Cord.
The Trill chuckled. "Im not sure theres going to be even that. In my opinion, youve exhibited outstanding judgment in this situation, Captain. Frankly, Im impressed."
"I appreciate the sentiments, Ambassador," Sulu answered skeptically. "But I wish that my judgment had somehow managed to save the lives of the two security officers who were brutally killed by that megalomaniac."
"The Klingons would say their souls may rest easier now that youve avenged them," the ambassador tried to placate him.
"Lovely. Now Ive acted like a Klingon would," mumbled Sulu as he exited Sickbay.
Admiral Lancaster asked, "Captain Sulu, do you feel that there was anything you could have done to have protected the lives of your landing party?"
Sulu met her gaze with firm conviction. "No, sir. Perhaps a more thorough briefing from the diplomatic corps attache to Starfleet might have given us insight into General Quetzls personality, enough to have given us an inkling that he was capable of such barbarism. We would have taken more precautions."
Fleet Captain Chekov spoke up. "The diplomatic corps has stated that they were unaware of the desperate depths to which the general had sunk. Ambassador Dax himself said that he had had ill feelings about the general since his arrival on Chitan three months ago."
Sulu glanced at his superior officer. This tribunal had been called aboard the Enterprise-B in orbit above Zeta Ursae Majoris X, an icy world on the edge of the system. Despite his assurances to Ariel Cord, Sulu had thought there was a good chance he was going to be cashiered out of the service, but clearly that was not to be the case. The tribunal was more focused on the failures of the diplomatic corps rather than his stunt to rescue the two survivors from his landing party.
A deep bass voice filled the briefing room. "Did you employ this tactic to extract revenge upon the general for your two dead crewmen, Captain Sulu?"
He snapped out of his reverie and regarded Admiral Tucker with his chin held high. "No, sir. The general had demanded the weapons in exchange for my crew. Given the Prime Directive, I could not in good conscience provide those weapons to him. The weapons exchange allowed me to rescue two of my crew, and the antimatter charge was planted to prevent the provision of those illicit weapons. I could see no other alternative other than to allow both of the surviving crewmembers to be executed by not providing the general with the ransom he demanded. Even so, my brief hesitation cost one of my crew, a young man whom I had never met, his life. It grieves me despite knowing there was absolutely nothing I could do to change the circumstances. I can only take solace in the rescue of Mister Floyd and Ms. Graves."
Lancaster leaned forward. "And if you had to do it again?"
"Id do the same thing...without the brief hesitation that cost Mister Hreff his life."
"Any other questions?" asked Fleet Captain Chekov. Seeing that there were none, he regarded Sulu with an indifferent glance. "Dismissed, Captain."
"All charges against you waived. No actions pending regarding this situation. Signed, Pavel A. Chekov, Fleet Captain, Sixth Fleet," read Doctor Cord as she sat in the quarters she shared with Hikaru Sulu. "Didnt even have the decency to send you a message in person."
"Not to defend him or anything, Im not sure that would have been appropriate," Sulu said as he sat down a plate of sushi before her. "At least the tribunal was called and adjudicated quickly."
"Well, it was quite a Kobayashi Maru scenario for you, lover."
He frowned at her choice of words. "Ariel..." he began warningly.
"So whats next for Excelsior?" she asked, dipping a piece of yellowtail tuna into soy sauce.
"Fleet Captain Chekov has ordered us to the frontier. Were to make for Starbase 211 and wait there for further instructions. We'll be picking up a new chief security officer there."
"And whats next for you, Captain Sulu?"
He smiled as he sat down with his plate of sashimi. "Well, its time to learn the crew." He took a sip of his saki. "It looks like Ill be staying here for a while."
"A long while, I hope."
"So do I, Ariel. So do I."
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