The epic story will take the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise to the heart of the Klingon Empire where Captain Kirk's last surviving relative has become a pawn in the battle to divide the Federation... and conquer it. With Sarek's help, the crew of the Starship Enterprise learns that all is not as it seems. Before they can prevent the Federation's destruction, they must see the face of their hidden enemy--an enemy more insidious and more dangerous than any they have faced before...
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Sarek of Vulcan stood at the window of the Vulcan consulate in San Francisco, gazing out with growing disquiet. Today's demonstration by the Keep Earth Human League had begun with only a few picketers, some carrying homemade placards, others more sophisticated holosigns, but, even in the short time he'd been standing there, the crowd had grown rapidly.
Now a full score of shouting humans milled before the gateway. Sarek's Vulcan hearing could easily make out what they were chanting: "KEEP EARTH HU-MAN! KEEP EARTH HU-MAN!" interspersed with occasional, strident shouts of "VULCANS GO HOME!"
"Illogical," murmured a voice from beside him, and the Vulcan ambassador glanced sideways to see his young aide, Soran, standing beside him, his dark eyes troubled. "Last year, the Keep Earth Human League was considered a refuge for weak-minded racists. I examined the records...there were no more than forty or fifty members on this entire planet. But now, Federation Security estimates their numbers to be in the thousands. Why this sudden growth, Ambassador?"
Sarek hesitated, on the verge of giving a vague answer, but instead shook his head slightly, warningly.
The two Vulcans turned as one of the young diplomatic attachés, Surev, approached. A few minutes ago, the young Vulcan had asked the ambassador if he could spare a moment to be introduced to a human friend of his, and Sarek had graciously agreed. Now, however, Surev's unlined features were even more somber than usual. "Ambassador, I believe we must cancel the meeting I mentioned."
"I just received a communiqué from the Federation Security Office," he announced. "The security chief, Watkins, asks that we stay inside the building until they can dispatch sufficient officers to control the crowd. It is not safe to go outside, and they say that under no circumstances should you agree to meet with the KEHL leader, Ambassador."
Sarek raised an inquiring eyebrow. "Has such a meeting been requested by the leadership?"
Soran cleared his throat slightly. "As a matter of fact, it has, sir," he said. "A message arrived a few minutes ago from the demonstrators."
"Why was I not informed?" the ambassador demanded, turning to face Soran. His aide was obviously taken aback by the question.
"Ambassador, I never considered that you might wish to accede to their demand for a meeting -- that would be most unwise. Possibly dangerous." Soran sounded faintly aggrieved, and Sarek could not blame him. But his aide, as yet, knew nothing of the ambassador's hidden agenda. He would have to take Soran into his confidence today, Sarek decided. He would need help when he made his next trip. And the youth was good with computers -- almost as talented as his own son. Those skills would prove useful.
"Who requested the meeting?" Sarek asked.
"The planetary leader of the KEHL," Surev said. "His name -- or, at least, the name he goes by in the organization -- is Induna. He is from the African nation of Kenya."
Sarek looked out the window again. Surev pointed to a human who stood nearly a head above the others. "That is Induna," he said.
The Vulcan ambassador studied the imposing figure of a dark-skinned human, who wore a silk robe brilliantly patterned in black and red. "I will speak to him," he said, reaching a sudden decision. He needed more information about the KEHL, and firsthand observation would not be amiss.
"Ambassador -- you must not! It is not safe, sir!" Soran half-barred the doorway, struggling to maintain his composure in the face of what must seem extremely anomalous behavior on the part of the senior diplomat.
Sarek merely looked at him for a long second. Soran hesitated, then stepped silently out of the way. Surev half-bowed. "May I at least accompany you as far as the gates, sir?"
Sarek nodded graciously. "Certainly, Surev."
Leaving the domed building and walking down the ramp, Sarek heard the crowd as it caught sight of him, flanked by Surev and Soran. Insults were hurled at the Vulcans, many of them personally directed toward the ambassador himself. The sight of Federation security officers around the fringes of the crowd was reassuring.
The Vulcan approached the demonstrators, seeing that someone had closed the gates to the consulate, which had always stood open before this. Shouts and epithets filled the air:
"They want to take over Earth! Spawn of the devil!"
"Dirty aliens, think they're so smart!"
"Go back to Vulcan!"
"Vulcans go home!"
Approaching the gateway, Sarek raised his voice to be heard. "I am Ambassador Sarek," he called out. "I understand that Induna wishes to speak with me. Which of you is Induna?"
In response, the crowd (which now numbered forty or fifty people) parted, and the KEHL leader stepped forth. "I am Induna," he announced. His voice was a deep, bass rumble.
"Greetings, Induna," Sarek said, raising his hand in the Vulcan salute. "I wish you peace and long life."
"I accept no good wishes from Earth's enemy," Induna said coldly.
"I assure you that I wish only good relations between our worlds," Sarek said. "I invite you to enter the gates, so we may speak together."
The man drew himself up, clearly antagonistic. "I have nothing to say to you, Ambassador, that cannot be said within hearing of those who follow me. And I refuse to speak with a being so cowardly that he hides behind gates."
"I am not hiding, nor do I have anything to hide," Sarek corrected him, his tones civil but firm. The ambassador heard shouts from the crowd, but Induna appeared to be able to control his followers. "Very well, then, I will come to you, so we may speak together like civilized beings." Before either of his companions could remonstrate with him, Sarek reached out and opened the gate. Head high, still flanked by the young diplomats, he strode forward into the crowd, straight for Induna.
The moment he stepped into their midst, brushing against the demonstrators, Sarek was nearly sickened by the miasma of hatred that he sensed from the humans in the crowd. His planet and this world had been allies and friends for over a century. How could such a thing be happening now?
The KEHL leader was clearly taken aback as the ambassador approached him, but recovered his aplomb quickly. Turning to the crowd, he motioned for quiet -- but instead the shouting intensified.
"Vulcans go home!"
"Sarek sold out Earth to the Klingons!"
Induna gestured again, more peremptorily. "Let me speak to this Vulcan, my friends and comrades," he ordered. "If I can make him see that he and his kind have no place on our world, then he will leave Earth! We do not want war, we want peace -- they can keep to their planet, as we shall keep to ours!"
The protesters closest to their leader obeyed, but others, farther back in the crowd, continued to hurl abuse.
"Go back to Vulcan!"
"Vulcans go home! Vulcans go home!"
The crowd surged wildly, and then someone threw a clod of dirt. Other refuse followed. Sarek smelled rotting vegetables.
"Stop!" Induna shouted, and the missiles halted -- but the crowd was clearly getting out of control. "Quiet down!" the leader commanded. The noise abated slightly.
"We have no designs on your world," Sarek cried, raising his voice to be heard above the demonstrators. "Our species have been allies for decades. We -- "
"Go back to Vulcan, damn you!"
The angry shriek cut through Sarek's voice like a knife. The crowd swelled and heaved like a storm-tossed sea. "She's right! Go home!" screamed another protester. "Devil's spawn!" yelled yet another.
"Quiet!" Induna roared. "Let us speak -- "
But the leader's words were lost as the crowd surged forward. Missiles filled the air. An egg spattered against Soran's robe. "Filthy aliens!" screamed an old woman.
The missiles grew harder, more dangerous. A rock struck Sarek on the arm with force enough to bruise. He flinched back, realized that Induna was still yelling for the crowd to quiet down, and knew the KEHL leader had lost all control of the mob -- for mob it now was.
Federation security officers moved in with crowd-control stunners and forcefields. Sarek was shoved, hit hard on the back; he turned and grappled momentarily with his attacker. With a quick thrust, he shoved the woman aside.
As the mob surged, shrieking and yelling, the Vulcan and Induna were thrust almost into each other?s arms. Sarek struggled to free himself, felt the KEHL leader flail at him, whether out of fear or anger, he couldn't tell. It no longer mattered. Sarek's hand came up, searching for the correct location at the juncture of the human's neck and shoulder. Steely-hard fingers grasped, then squeezed -- Induna sagged forward bonelessly.
But Sarek did not release his grip on the leader's shoulder. He fell to his knees, half-supporting the big human, his breath catching in his throat. He, like most Vulcans, was a touch-telepath, and the moment his fingers closed on
Induna's flesh, Sarek had received flashes of the human's mental state --
--flashes that literally staggered him.
Induna was not acting entirely of his own volition, Sarek realized, stunned by his discovery. The KEHL leader was under the influence of a trained telepathic presence. Using expert mental techniques, the unknown telepath had inflamed this man's tiny core of xenophobia into a raging firestorm of hatred and bigotry.
On his own, Induna would never have been more than mildly distrustful of Vulcans and other extraterrestrials. Someone had exploited his incipient xenophobia, someone expert enough to enter his thoughts and influence them so gradually, so patiently, that the subject came to believe that everything in his mind had originated there.
Someone had molded and influenced and delicately reshaped this human's innermost desires and fears into all-out species bigotry --
-- and that someone was Vulcan.
Sarek could scarcely believe the evidence of his own senses. Such mental influence was contrary to every ethical and moral tenet his people had developed over millennia of civilized existence.
But he could not have been mistaken about the mental "signature" the telepath had left on Induna's mind. Sarek came back to the here-and-now, blinking, and realized that he was crouched in the center of a fighting, trampling mob. Induna still sagged against him. The ambassador struggled back to his feet, heaving the KEHL leader up with him, lest his unconscious body be crushed in the frenzy.
Even as he gained his feet, he was nearly knocked down again by the panicked rush of retreating demonstrators. Federation Security was routing the mob, stunning many and taking them into custody. Others were running away at full speed. In only seconds, it seemed, he was left alone, still supporting the KEHL leader's unconscious form. Soran and Surev were still on their feet, nearby. Both young Vulcans had obviously been in the thick of the fray -- their robes and hair were disheveled, and Soran was bleeding from a cut over his eye.
"We're terribly sorry about this, Ambassador Sarek!" exclaimed the head of the Federation security force, as he was hastening toward the Vulcans. "But we warned the consulate against having any contact with the demonstrators!"
"Your warning was received," Sarek said. "I chose to attempt to speak with the protesters personally. The decision was mine alone. I take full responsibility."
The human glanced sharply at the unconscious KEHL leader. "Is that Induna?"
"We'll take him into custody, Ambassador," the officer said, reaching for the leader's limp figure. Sarek surrendered him to the authorities.
"I wish to state for the record," the ambassador said, "that this man did not order the mob to attack us. In fact, he ordered them to desist, but they did not obey."
"Okay, Ambassador," the officer said, beckoning to a subordinate with a stretcher, "I'll be sure to put that in my report."
Sarek stood for a second longer, watching as Induna was placed in one of the emergency vehicles. Then he turned back to the two young Vulcans. "Let us go back inside," he said.
Safe once more behind the closed and electronically locked gates, Sarek dismissed young Surev to his duties, then turned to Soran. "As the humans would say, 'One more piece has been added to the puzzle.'"
The young Vulcan raised an eyebrow inquiringly. "Indeed, Ambassador? To what puzzle are you referring?"
"The puzzle that has occupied me for over a year now," Sarek said. "There is a great deal to tell you, Soran. Let us walk in the garden, and talk. The weather is pleasant, today."
The young Vulcan seemed surprised. "You do not wish to go inside, Ambassador?"
Sarek shook his head. "I will be able to speak more...freely...in the garden, near the water sculpture," he said.
The youth stared at him for a moment; then his eyes widened fractionally. "You suspect listening devices, sir?"
"Under the circumstances," the ambassador said, gravely, "I would prefer to take no chances that what I am about to impart to you will be overheard."
Together, they walked around the curving path that circled the consulate, and were soon in a stone garden modeled on those on Vulcan. Sarek was reminded vividly of Amanda's garden, and wondered, briefly, what her visit to the Healer might have revealed. "What do you know of the Freelans, Soran?" Sarek asked.
The youth cleared his throat slightly. "Freelan...an isolated world located in the middle of the Romulan Neutral Zone. Perhaps surprisingly, the Romulans have never laid claim to the planet, possibly because it is so inhospitable and remote. Freelan exists in the grip of an extensive ice age, with only the equatorial regions supporting life and agriculture. The technological level of the inhabitants is high, especially in the cryogenic sciences and related products, but Freelan is resource-poor."
"Correct," Sarek said. "For someone who has only been my aide for forty-seven point six Standard days, you are well informed, Soran."
"You have been the diplomatic liaison between Freelan and the Federation for seventy-two point seven Standard years, Ambassador. It is my responsibility to be familiar with all your duties," the aide responded. Sarek nodded approvingly.
"Freelan," Sarek said quietly, "is, as you probably also know, something of an enigma."
Sarek was deliberately understating the situation. Freelan was unique in the explored galaxy. The Freelans did not possess space travel of their own, but their contacts with the Federation had, for decades, led to their world being included as a regular stop on local trade routes. The planet had never affiliated itself with any political or diplomatic alliance. Freelan was not a member of the Federation, though it did send delegates to many trade, scientific, and diplomatic conferences. Its delegates, however, remained scrupulously neutral in all their dealings and contacts with other planets.
Cultural exchanges between Freelan and other worlds were virtually nonexistent, due to the Freelan taboo -- religious or cultural, no one knew which -- that prohibited Freelans from revealing their faces or bodies. When the natives had any contact with anyone not of their world, they shrouded themselves in concealing garments. Their muffling cloaks, hoods, and masks were made from material impregnated with selonite, which prevented them from being scanned by tricorders or medical sensors.
Those wishing to meet with a Freelan on business or diplomatic matters had to travel to the mysterious world, where the Freelans maintained a space station to accommodate "guests." The station was fully automated, and all meetings were conducted via comm link with the surface below. Other than that concession to outside contact, Freelan remained a closed world. No offworlder had ever landed on Freelan.
All that was known of the reclusive race that lived there was that they were bipedal, and roughly humanoid-shaped, with two arms. All else was conjecture.
"I had never encountered a Freelan personally," Soran said, "until I attended the conference at Camp Khitomer last month."
"Did you actually speak to the Freelan envoy?" Sarek asked.
"No, sir. As you know, the Freelans are not noted for mingling with people from other worlds. I did, however, meet the envoy's aide, a young Vulcan woman who introduced herself as Savel. During the evening break, we passed time by playing a game of chess."
The ambassador raised an eyebrow. "Indeed? It is common for Freelans to employ young Vulcans, as aides. So you played chess with this Savel? Who won?"
Soran cleared his throat. "I did, sir. However, I found her a...challenging...opponent.
"I see," Sarek remarked, mildly, noting, with amusement, that his young aide was not meeting his eyes. "I have, for years, played chess with the diplomatic liaison from Freelan. Taryn is a formidable opponent. This...Savel...I believe I recall her. Short hair? Slender figure? Wearing a silver tunic and trousers?"
"Yes, Ambassador," Soran said, shifting slightly on the bench. The young Vulcan was clearly uncomfortable under Sarek's regard.
The elder Vulcan raised an eyebrow. "Indeed. I am not surprised that you...enjoyed your game. You are unbonded, are you not, Soran?"
The young Vulcan nodded. "Yes, Ambassador. My family does not ascribe to the ancient tradition of bonding while children. My parents chose each other as adults."
"I assume from her name that Savel was also unbonded?" Sarek inquired, blandly. Most young Vulcan women altered their names with the T' prefix when they became betrothed.
"That is what I gathered from our time together," Soran said, somewhat puzzled by the ambassador's continuing interest in his brief encounter. "I found the information that she was unbonded...to be of interest." He cleared his throat again. "Of interest to me personally, that is."
Sarek nodded encouragingly. "I do not find that fact surprising. Savel appeared...quite intelligent."
"Yes," Soran agreed. "However, Ambassador, there was something...odd about her."
Sarek was not surprised to discover this. Under the circumstances, he had been expecting as much. "What was that?" he inquired.
"I...enjoyed...the time I spent with Savel," Soran admitted. "I wished to encounter her again, but I realized, when the conference ended, that I had no way to contact her. Freelans curtail their interactions with the outside world, as you know. So, when we returned home, I made inquiries, intending to discover Savel's family, in the event they would consent to forward a message from me."
Sarek leaned forward, suddenly intent. "And what did you discover?"
The youth took a deep breath and met the ambassador's eyes squarely. "Sir, there was no record of a 'Savel' being born on Vulcan within the last thirty years. According to Vulcan records -- and you know how complete they are -- no such person exists."
Sarek nodded, his suspicion confirmed. "Soran...what I have to tell you now must remain strictly between us."
"For some time I have become increasingly suspicious of the Freelans. I believe they are...not what they seem. During the last year of studying them and their system, I have come to believe that Freelan presents a serious threat to the peace that currently exists in the galaxy."
"The Freelans, sir?" Soran did not succeed in concealing his surprise. "How could that be?"
"I do not wish to prejudice you any more than is necessary to gain your help, Soran. I would prefer that you draw your own conclusions, as a check on my own logic," Sarek said. "Suffice it to say that I believe the Freelans constitute a threat to the Federation, and I intend to gain proof of that threat before I can present my findings to President Ra-ghoratrei." Sarek paused. "When I first arrived, I had thought to speak with the Federation president of my suspicions...but he is currently off-world, and will not return for nearly a week. By the time he returns, I anticipate having the proof I need."
"But surely you could speak to the undersecretary, or Madame Chairman of the Security Council," Soran asked, "if this threat is as grave as you believe?"
Sarek hesitated, then took a deep breath. "Soran...today I gained proof -- not demonstrable proof, except to a telepath, unfortunately -- that undue mental influence may be at work on this world...and possibly others. As a matter of fact..." Sarek stared intently into the others face. "If you will permit me?" He raised his hand in a meaningful gesture.
Soran, catching his intention, nodded permission. Sarek gently touched the side of his face for a moment, then nodded. "Your thoughts are entirely your own," he confirmed.
Soran nodded. "So you intend to gain proof while the president is off-world, then present it to him upon his return?"
"If possible. I will require your help, Soran," the ambassador said. As the youth started to speak, he held up a warning hand. "I must caution you, before you agree too quickly...gaining the proof I seek will require that we travel to Freelan and infiltrate the memory banks of their planetary computer system."
Soran's eyes widened. "Espionage? You intend to commit espionage, Ambassador? But that is..." He trailed off, shaking his head.
"An interstellar crime, as well as a violation of every law of diplomacy. I know," Sarek said, heavily. "Nevertheless, I have determined it is necessary in this instance. Will you help me? If you say no, I will understand, and ask only that you say nothing of this to anyone."
The youth took a deep breath, and his eyes never left the ambassador's. "Serving as your aide is an honor I have aspired to for years, sir. If you have determined that your intended course of action is necessary to preserve the safety of the Federation, then it will be my privilege to assist you in gaining your proof."
Sarek nodded at the youth, genuinely touched by his loyalty. "Thank you, Soran. I will contact Liaison Taryn and arrange a meeting to review the current trade policies between Freelan and Vulcan. If he agrees to the meeting -- and there is no reason why he should not -- I wish to embark for the Freelan space station tomorrow."
"I will make the necessary arrangements, Ambassador."
Sarek nodded, and remained sitting in the garden as his aide left, moving quickly. Slowly, the ambassador climbed to his feet, and walked back around the consulate to stare thoughtfully at the area outside the gates. Discarded holosigns and placards still littered the area, but all the demonstrators were gone...where?
Sarek, remembering the shock of touching Induna's altered mind, repressed a shiver. The sun had vanished behind clouds, and the breeze was now chilly...
Peter James Kirk rifled through the selection of clothes available to him and swore impatiently. This is ridiculous, he told himself, and reached for a clean uniform. You don't spend this much time dressing for a date! Or did he? It'd been long enough since his last real date that it was hard to remember. Running a hand through his sandy-red hair, he sighed disgustedly. Well, maybe you do. Who cares? Make a decision, and let's get out of here. He'd be late if he didn't hurry.
Your big chance to finally meet Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan, he thought, feeling a flare of nervous excitement followed by chagrin. Yeah, and won't he be impressed if you're late?
He'd first become acquainted with Sarek through the Vulcan's writings and speeches, some of which were mandatory reading at Starfleet Academy, where Peter was currently a senior cadet. Then, when he'd attended a talk the diplomat gave at the Academy two years ago, Peter had found Sarek's approach to diplomacy so interesting, he'd studied the ambassador's eminent career during his spare time. Having met the ambassador's son many times gave his interest a personal aspect.
It was ironic, really. His uncle, Jim Kirk, had spent years, working beside Sarek's son, Captain Spock. If things had worked out right, no doubt Spock, whom he'd met many times during his uncle's sporadic visits, would've been happy -- or the Vulcan equivalent -- to have introduced Peter to his father. If things had worked out right...
Well, Peter mused, things had worked out well enough for someone who'd lost his parents tragically at the age of seven. He glanced at their picture, taken on Deneva just months before their deaths. George Samuel and Aurelan Kirk were laughing, their hands on their gangly son's shoulder. Their twenty-five-year-old mementos still traveled everywhere with him, and thanks to family albums and vid records, Peter had a clear recall of his mother's voice, his father's sense of humor, although his actual rearing had been entrusted to his late grandmother, Winona Kirk.
Peter was nearly half a head taller than his uncle, and built on slender, rather than stocky, lines. His hair, which as a boy had been a deep auburn, had lightened over the years to a sandy red. Much to his relief, his freckles had also faded, though any exposure to the sun brought out a rash of them across his nose and cheeks. His eyes were a bright, clear blue, like Earth's sky at midday. Until his mid-twenties, he'd been gangling and awkward, but the years -- and Starfleet's self-defense training -- had solved most of that. These days Peter moved confidently, even, at times, gracefully.
He'd inherited his looks from his mother, but the rest of the Kirk legacy that sometimes sat too heavily on his shoulders came straight from Uncle Jim. Staring at the cadet's uniform he was holding, Peter wondered if that was why, at the age of thirty-two, he was still in school.
Peter Kirk hadn't decided on a career in Starfleet until he was in his mid-twenties-almost a decade after most cadets entered the Academy. He'd spent that decade attending the best colleges, gaining degrees in xenolinguistics and xenocultural interfaces with minors in Terran/xenopolitical interaction, before deciding that he would finally follow the family tradition and join Starfleet. While Uncle Jim had always encouraged his varied interests, and never tried to influence his choice of careers, everyone else had automatically assumed he'd pursue Command track. He'd done so, though Peter was sure that he'd never possess his uncle's calm air of command.
We'll find out soon enough if you're a real Kirk, Peter told himself mockingly. After all the degrees, all the varied quests for knowledge, and these last few years in Starfleet Academy, Peter was, at last, in the final stretch. The past two weeks had been one grueling exam after another -- most of which he'd aced. Just like a real Kirk. He'd had one just this morning, and that, too, he'd completed successfully.
Now there were only two more to go. One tomorrow, and the last a week from Friday. Then, three days after that, the final. The big one. The Kobayashi Maru.
He realized he was crushing the clean uniform in his hands and put it back. Why did he have to think about that now?
Because you can't ignore it anymore, it's just a few days away. They've completely reprogrammed the simulation. There's a whole new situation, a whole new setup -- and nobody knows anything about it. But that hasn't stopped them from taking bets as to whether or not you'll be the second Kirk to beat the no-win scenario. He rubbed his face tiredly. He had to stop worrying about it. It was just another test. Wasn't it?
The odds are twenty to one against you. Just being a Kirk isn't any guarantee of success, mister.
He shook his head, trying to shed his pessimistic musings.
The chrono chimed softly, yanking him back to his immediate problem. He had to get ready for lunch. He was meeting Surev, a young Vulcan he'd befriended while researching Sarek's work. Surev had invited him to have a meal at the Vulcan consulate because Sarek might be there, having arrived yesterday. Surev was distantly related to Sarek's aide, and while he was careful not to make, a commitment, the young Vulcan thought he might be able to arrange an introduction. Peter was really looking forward to shaking hands (or rather, offering the Vulcan salute) to the diplomat he so admired. Lunch at the Vulcan consulate would provide a welcome respite from, the drudgery of studying and finals. Maybe, for just an hour, he could forget about that damned Kobayashi Maru.
That's what you need to do, just forget about it, Peter decided. Forget about the Academy, Uncle Jim, ancient history, the whole thing. Reaching into his closet, he grabbed a stylish suit, a piece of "civilian" garb he hadn't worn in months. He wanted to seem totally professional in case he was introduced to Sarek. Peter wasn't normally self-conscious about being an older cadet, but today he didn't want to risk being prejudged. He didn't want to be Peter Kirk, Jim Kirk's nephew who's only now graduating Starfleet Academy. He just wanted to be another Terran who could discuss some of Sarek's ideas with him knowledgeably.
Donning the suit quickly, he smiled. The colors made his eyes bluer. Hey, who knows? he thought wryly. You can meet a lot of interesting people at the Vulcan consulate. I've seen some really nice-looking female attachés going in and out...Of course, that was an area where he and Uncle Jim differed. Unlike the elder Kirk, Peter's luck with women was less than fabulous. Maybe that's something that comes with age.
As he adjusted the suit so that it hung right, then quickly combed his hair, he turned on the vid link to catch a glimpse of the news. Sarek might be featured on the noon report. Instructing the link to search for any reports about Vulcans, Peter tensed when the headline EMBASSY PROTEST flashed on the link.
As Peter watched, images of San Francisco's Vulcan consulate -- his current destination -- filled the screen.
"The Vulcan presence on Earth," a fair-haired, attractive female reporter said solemnly, "has rarely generated controversy, but the peace that normally surrounds this quiet enclave was shattered today as the Keep Earth Human League announced their intentions to surround the consulate day and night."
Peter stood transfixed as the view of the front entrance of the stately domed building came on-screen. A group of humans were clustered before the elegant gates, at least three dozen men and women, more than a few holding small children. Some carried traditional placards mounted on poles, while the rest brandished the more common holosigns. The image focused on one nondescript bearded man who had a holosign hovering over him that read, EARTH BELONGS TO HUMANS -- LET'S KEEP IT THAT WAY! Another sign came into view that said, JOIN THE KEEP EARTH HUMAN LEAGUE TODAY! -- SAVE EARTH FOR YOUR CHILDREN!
Peter stared in consternation, although this wasn't the first time he'd heard of the KEHL. But he'd had no idea that this fringe-element movement had been able to lure in enough members to mount such a large demonstration.
The reporter approached an attractive young woman in a shiny silver coat whose holosign read, VULCANS THINK THEY'RE SO SMART -- AREN'T YOU SICK OF BEING PATRONIZED? Beside her stood a young boy with a hand-lettered sandwich board that simply demanded, VULCANS GO HOME!
"Excuse me, Lisa Tennant," the reporter asked the woman respectfully. "You're one of the leaders of the San Francisco branch of KEHL. Tell our viewers why your organization is staging this vigil in front of the Vulcan consulate."
"Members of the Keep Earth Human League are Terrans who have finally come to their senses," the woman told the journalist earnestly. She was of medium height, a little stocky, with dark skin and big black eyes. Her features were chiseled and delicate, except for a rather square chin, and she moved with confidence, as though she knew exactly what she was doing in life and how to go about it.
"Our president, Induna," the demonstrator continued, "has called for a show of our support, so we have assembled." She indicated a tall, very dark-skinned man, probably African, who was standing near the consulate gates, lecturing to the crowd. "Vulcans are trying to take over our Federation, and make humans into second-class citizens," Tennant continued. "We won't stand for it any longer!"
"But, Ms. Tennant," the journalist continued reasonably, "most Terrans consider Vulcans our loyal friends, our closest allies. Many of Earth's politicians have been quoted as saying that we need them, that they're the most civilized people in the galaxy."
"I doubt seriously," the woman retorted coolly, "that we need friends the likes of Lieutenant Valeris. It's clear to us that she was the ringleader of the terrible plot against Earth, that she was working for the renegade Klingon general, Chang."
Peter shook his head. The Romulan ambassador, Nanclus, and the two Starfleet officers, Admiral Cartwright and Colonel West, had also conspired with General Chang to assassinate the Klingon chancellor, Gorkon. Uncle Jim and his medical officer, Leonard McCoy, had been falsely accused and convicted of the crime, then sentenced to hard labor on the prison planet, Rura Penthe. It was strange, Peter thought, that, although the crime had only happened a month or so ago, the public's memory of those events appeared to be altering. Lately, even the media had a tendency to downplay the roles played by the humans and the Romulan, making it seem that General Chang and Lieutenant Valeris were solely responsible.
"Lieutenant Valeris," the KEHL leader continued, "is merely an example of the kind of subtle espionage Vulcans have been guilty of for years. But now the KEHL is on to them. There are chapters of the KEHL springing up all over -- even on some of the Terran colonies. And we know exactly what we're dealing with!"
"What do you mean?" the journalist pressed.
"Everyone knows," Tennant elaborated, "that Vulcans are telepaths. Lately, it's becoming increasingly obvious that they're using their abilities to influence minds, and make susceptible humans do things against their own kind! Those politicians that are so quick to defend Vulcans are, no doubt, their unwitting victims. After all, everyone knows how easy it is to influence a politician's mind!"
Hard to argue with that, Peter admitted grudgingly. But the notion that Vulcans would use their telepathy in such an unethical way outraged him.
"The Keep Earth Human League is gaining new members every day," Tennant told the reporter smugly. "We are funding our own candidates to run in local elections, people who are not so easily influenced. It's only a matter of time before the Vulcan conspiracy is completely exposed. Our vigil here is to let them know their days on Earth are numbered!"
The woman's self-assurance shocked Peter. She didn't have that wild-eyed look of lunacy he usually associated with the off-kilter KEHL.
An old woman suddenly stepped in front of the reporter, demanding the journalist's attention. "Vulcans are the spawn of the devil," she hissed viciously. "Satan marked 'em as his own, anyone can see that. Don't you have eyes, woman?"
Now, that had to be a founding member, Peter thought. He realized his jaw ached from clenching his teeth. Didn't these people realize how crazy they sounded? What was wrong with them?
The crowd rallied around the Tennant woman. "Keep Earth Hu-man! Keep Earth Hu-man!" they chanted. Angrily, Peter slapped the vid off switch. Why did those nuts have to picket the consulate today, when Sarek would be there? Good thing the Federation provided security to all off-world embassies and consulates. He felt confident that Security had the situation well under control. Yet, even though the vid link was now silent, Peter imagined that he could still hear that hate-filled mantra.
As the cadet left his room to head for the consulate, he found himself mulling over the news report. The KEHL had been around for centuries, ever since Zefram Cochrane invented the warp drive, and humans made it into space and met the Vulcans for the first time. It was nothing more than a small group of hard-line xenophobes. But lately, the KEHL was another story altogether. He wondered if Starfleet Security was mounting an investigation of their recent activities. If the KEHL kept garnering members and publicity at the same rate in the coming months, they could turn out to be a real problem.
Peter moved quickly out of his apartment and onto the streets that surrounded the Academy. If he hustled, he could still arrive in time to meet Surev.
As young Kirk turned the comer to approach the familiar consulate, he was shocked to find that the crowd of protesters he'd watched on the noon report had grown even larger. While some of the people massing around the curving,
neutral-colored compound must have been simply curious onlookers, there were now so many holosigns that the floating messages were blending all together into a huge mass of gibberish.
Peter slowed as he neared the gates, watching the Starfleet Security forces as they worked to keep the crowd from getting too close to the entrance. Was the mob actually going to rush the gates? Near the sculptured metal portal Peter spied Surev, but the Vulcan wasn't looking toward him, so he didn't bother to wave. Surev's attention was turned in the opposite direction, and Peter peered to see what he was looking at. He squinted. Was that...could that possibly be...Sarek himself?
Peter realized it was the ambassador himself standing safely behind the gates, with his aide, Soran. Surev had arranged it! He was actually about to meet Sarek!
As Peter tried to skirt the fringes of the throng, a tall figure pushed his way through the opening crowd. Peter recognized the president of the KEHL.
Now Sarek and the KEHL president were face-to-face. Starfleet Security drew closer to the crowd. Shouts filled the air.
"GO BACK TO VULCAN! STOP SELLING OUT EARTH FOR VULCAN INTERESTS!" three KEHL members shouted in unison.
"Back to Vulcan! Back to Vulcan!" the crowd chanted, surging forward threateningly.
Sarek was the picture of composure as he stood straight and tall in his Vulcan robes, his face the epitome of Vulcan control. Both Surev and Soran were young men, and their control was not nearly as perfect as the elder Vulcan's. Even from this distance, Peter could see the two younger Vulcans conferring with each other behind the ambassador's back, concern plain to read on their faces. Sarek merely nodded serenely. Then, to Peter's dismay, the ambassador opened the gate and calmly strode out into the crowd.
Dimly, he heard the KEHL leader telling the crowd to quiet down, but it was no use. A minute later, the mob completely broke ranks. They surged forward wildly, screaming, throwing things, overwhelming the outnumbered security forces. Within seconds the protesters had completely enveloped both Sarek and the two younger Vulcans.
"NO!" Peter shouted frantically, and flung himself unheedingly into the thick of the mob. Furious and sickened, he charged his way bodily through the crowd, shoving, pushing, not caring whether he crushed feet, or sent the bigots staggering. He had to do something to help Ambassador Sarek!
For a brief instant he found himself tantalizingly close to his goal. He glimpsed the ambassador's formal brown and gold robes only a meter or two away. By now the crowd was in a frenzy, hurting refuse and rotting vegetables at the beleaguered Vulcans. As a man beside Peter took aim with a fist-sized rock, the young Kirk managed to surge forward and knock his arm so that the rock landed on another KEHL member instead. Sarek's young assistants were defending themselves ably, and even the ambassador sent an attacker flying.
Almost at the same instant, Peter heard the whine of transporter beams, and knew that the Federation security forces must have beamed in reinforcements. The officers were busily using crowd-control stunners and forcefields, careful not to catch the struggling Vulcans in the beams.
Suddenly, Peter saw Sarek grappling with the KEHL president. To the young Kirk's relief, the Vulcan handled the tall human easily, rendering him helpless with a quick neck pinch. For just a second, Peter thought he saw a flicker of surprise pass over the ambassador's normally calm expression; then both attacker and Vulcan were lost to sight in the press of the crowd.
Three KEHL members next to Peter suddenly collapsed, unconscious, and the cadet realized that he might be next. He was wearing civilian clothes instead of his uniform, so there was no way anyone could differentiate him from these lunatics! In fact, there was a very good chance he was about to be arrested, if not stunned, mistaken for a KEHL member. He searched for Surev, desperately wanting to get his attention. The Vulcan could vouch for him...
Out of the corner of his eye he spied a security officer taking dead aim at him.
"Hurry! Come with me, now!" a female voice shouted in his ear, at the same time a strong hand grasped his suit sleeve and hauled him back. Two people in front of him collapsed in the path of the stun ray. "We've got to go now!" the woman insisted, tugging at him and another woman near her.
He then recognized Lisa Tennant, the KEHL's second-incommand. "Come on!" she urged, pulling him behind her. "We can't let them get all of us! Let's go. Follow me!"
Did this lunatic woman think he was part of her nutcase organization? Peter was infuriated by her assumption. Then four people directly in front of him collapsed under the minimized stun rays. If she hadn't pulled him out of the way...
The security forces weren't asking questions, they were assuming the same thing about everyone in this crowd that she was. If he didn't get out of here, lunch wouldn't be the only thing he'd be missing. The next time Tennant yanked on his arm, he cooperated.
After a moment's pushing and shoving, they broke free. Peter found himself running pell-mell down the streets, away from the screaming, hysterical demonstrators. Had Sarek made it through all right? he wondered, even as his legs moved automatically, running, running, as he followed the woman to safety.
They were on a side street now, Federation Security aircars following them, trying to round up all the demonstrators. The cadet realized that if he didn't get out of this quickly, he was going to be spending the night in jail. He might even have to contact his Uncle Jim for a character reference! What would that look like -- Captain Kirk's nephew incarcerated for supporting a violent KEHL demonstration? Envisioning his own face on the next news vid, he sprinted faster.
Tennant led her small crowd down a narrow street, then into an alley. There was a door, which opened as if by magic as they approached. The small group raced in, Peter entering right behind the dark-haired woman. When the door slid shut behind them, the group half-collapsed, heaving and panting for breath. Peter tensed as he listened to the sirens of the aircars that were still searching -- searching for me, Peter realized disgustedly. What a mess!
"Everybody okay?" Tennant asked the group. "Anyone hurt?"
There were murmurs from the group of a half-dozen men and women, assurances that everyone was all right. Peter looked around at the ragtag group he'd found himself a part of.
A man came up to Tennant, someone new -- the person who must've been here, ready to open the door for them in just such an emergency. "Do you know all these people, Lisa?" he asked quietly.
Peter's heart thundered in his ears. If they discovered who he was...
"No, Jay," she said, looking over the group. "No, I'm sorry. Everything fell apart. There were massive arrests. I think one of the Vulcans might've killed Induna. These people were near me, fighting side by side with me. I couldn't leave them behind."
"Of course," Jay said, as he looked over the group.
"I'm Mark Beckwith," one of the men said by way of introduction as he caught his breath. Peter recognized him as the rock thrower. "I'm president of the Peoria branch."
Lisa shook his hand. "Of course, I've spoken to you many times."
To Peter's relief, the rest of the group were just average members, or people who'd seen the demonstration on the vid and "believed in the cause."
"I'm Peter...Church," he finally said, when it was his turn. "I'm...a data-recovery technician. I work nearby. I've...always been interested in the KEHL," he lied glibly, "and when I saw that you were calling for support, I came on down."
"Thank you," the woman said sincerely, then repeated it to the others. "Thanks to all of you. What you did today was courageous and ambitious. Your personal involvement will make it easier for the millions who silently agree with our cause to come forward and join us. Thank you all so much."
Crazy, Peter thought, slumping tiredly. Would he ever be able to get out of here and back to reality?
"I think the security forces are gone," Jay announced, after checking with a computerized sensor. "It should be safe for you all to leave now, if you go out one by one."
Tennant thanked them all again, reminding them all of the next gathering. The demonstration at the consulate, she told them, wouldn't be able to continue until the arrested demonstrators had been freed from jail and the current permits renewed. Each person assured her before leaving that they would be at the consulate as soon as word reached them that it was time to assemble. Their faces were filled with a hatred and a commitment that made Peter's stomach lurch.
Peter plastered an appropriate expression of sympathy on his own face as Lisa finally turned her attention to him. She suddenly peered at him intently, and he found himself grateful that he didn't resemble his famous uncle more closely.
"I hope you weren't injured," she said quietly, her eyes never leaving his face. "You came awfully close to being stunned."
He blinked, gathering his wits about him. Could she be interested in me? Peter wondered, taken aback. It figured, in a perverse way. His Uncle Jim seemed to be able to attract any woman in the universe with nothing more than a little-boy grin and a twinkle in his eye -- an ability that, if it was an inherited trait, seemed to have skipped Peter. But every now and then the "Kirk charm," as the captain called it, did seem to shine on Peter -- but only at the wrong moments. Like now. He gazed at the KEHL leader, his mind racing.
"I'm fine," he assured her. "Really. You...saved me back there. I should be thanking you."
She smiled warmly at him. "I'm so glad you're all right. That is...there are so few of us...true believers. We can't afford to lose...even one."
She was attracted to him! Peter began to wonder if Federation Security had any real idea, before today's violent demonstration, how dangerous this group was becoming. Whatever information they had on the KEHL couldn't have been very accurate, or the security forces would've never been caught so shorthanded at the demonstration.
Tennant thought he was a member, a "true believer." Could he string her along long enough to gain critical inside information -- information he could relay to Starfleet?
"Listen, Peter," Lisa said, guiding him to the door, "my assistant, Rosa, was one of the people stunned today. I'm going to be lost without her, and I know what it's like to be stunned. She won't be feeling well for a day or two. I need to make a lot of calls, arrange hearings, bail, tons of stuff. That means that my real work won't get done. So...I was wondering...you're used to manipulating data. Rosa was working on cross-referencing the membership lists with some special information weve received lately about...a clandestine Vulcan operation. I really need to get this project completed. Do you think you could help me?"
How would Uncle Jim handle this? Peter wondered, but of course he already knew. James T. Kirk would simply lay on the charm, the famous Kirk charm, and within hours she'd be putty in his hands. Forget it. That won't work for you!
As he hesitated, she offered, "You'd be working with me directly...but, I'll understand if you're not interested. What happened today was enough to make anyone think twice about supporting the group...
"Oh, I'm interested!" he assured her. "I, uh, didn't realize...we'd be working together. I'd like that, Ms. Tennant. Uh...working with you, I mean." Smooth, mister, real smooth. A Tellarite would've managed a classier delivery...
She opened the door for him and touched his arm. "Call me Lisa, Peter. I'm glad you're willing to help me. I really need an expert's assistance. How about...Saturday? Around noon? Can you find your way back here?"
"Sure," he said, managing not to stammer this time. "I'll see you then." His gesture of farewell included both Lisa and Jay. "Saturday, noon. I'll be here."
"It'll just be you and me, Peter," Lisa assured him warmly, following him a few steps into the alley. "Jay...will be busy with something else. I'll see you then." e managed a credible grin despite his uneasiness. "Great. Till Saturday." She stepped back and the door slid shut, leaving him alone.
Peter walked out onto the main street, then began a circuitous route back toward the Academy, suddenly nervously aware of every figure passing him on the street. Whatever had possessed him to play Mata Hari with the KEHL's leader?
These people were definitely more dangerous than Federation Security realized. What should he do now? If he went to the security offices at the Academy, or to the officer of the day, and related this wild story, they'd no doubt tell him to stay out of it. His advisor, a grizzled old Tellarite lieutenant commander, would forbid him to have anything more to do with this group. She'd be right, too. He had exams to complete. And the Kobayashi Maru.
I don't have time for this. I have to stay focused. I've got a career to worry about.
But...through sheer happenstance he'd managed to find himself on the inside. He had an opportunity to discover what was really going on with this radical group of dangerous xenophobes. Would Uncle Jim walk away from this opportunity? The hell he would! Captain Kirk would play the cards dealt him.
Can I do any less?
Peter scowled down at his feet as the moved along the sidewalk. What harm could there be in keeping his Saturday date? He'd just spend time with Lisa Tennant, work on her reports.
She said I'd get to work on the membership lists...
That would be a unique opportunity, one he doubted Security could manage. And, by talking to her, he could draw her out, discover something about this silly Vulcan "conspiracy" she purported to have discovered. Maybe he could find out other things, too. More serious inside information.
And, when he had that information, he'd take that to Starfleet. They couldn't ignore him then, not if he had information about how the KEHL had suddenly gained so many new members.
If his plan worked out, it certainly wouldn't hurt his career any. And...it was something a real Kirk would do. Something Uncle Jim would do in a heartbeat. Of that, Peter was very sure.
Sarek sat at the comm link in his assigned quarters aboard the Freelan space station, facing the cowled figure of a Freelan. Although there was no way to be sure, owing to the concealing cloak and mechanical-sounding voice interface, he thought he recognized the other as Taryn, the Freelan liaison he'd been dealing with for nearly seventy Standard years.
"Greetings, Taryn," he said aloud.
The cowled and muffled figure was suddenly very still.
"Greetings, Ambassador Sarek," the flat, mechanical voice said. "You recognized me?"
Sarek shook his head and dissembled, diplomatically, "I made a logical deduction as to your identity, Liaison. After all, during my meetings aboard this space station, you have been my contact during negotiations eighty-six-point-three percent of the time."
The shrouded figure seemed to relax again. "I suppose I have. We have known each other a long time, Sarek of Vulcan."
"Indeed we have, Taryn of Freelan," the ambassador agreed solemnly.
"This time, you did not come alone," Taryn said.
Sarek beckoned, and Soran stepped forward from the back of the room and seated himself beside the ambassador. "You are correct, Liaison. I brought my new aide, Soran, so he could begin familiarizing himself with Freelan/Vulcan trade agreements."
"Why?" the other asked, bluntly.
"My health is not what it once was since my heart trouble twenty-seven years ago," Sarek said, smoothly, having anticipated this question. His response was accurate, if deliberately misleading. Actually, his health was now better than it had been for decades. "Someday," the ambassador continued, "perhaps in the not-too-distant future, I will retire. I cannot continue to be the sole contact between our worlds. I wish my aide to become familiar with our negotiations."
"I see," Taryn said slowly. "Very well. Greetings, Soran."
"Greetings, Liaison Taryn," the young Vulcan said, raising a hand in salute. "May you live long and prosper."
"Only if I can induce Vulcan to reduce their import tariffs!" the Freelan shot back. "It is difficult to prosper under the crushing weight of unfair tariffs!"
"As a matter of fact, tariffs were one subject I wished to explore today," Sarek put in, smoothly. "May we begin?"
The cowled figure inclined his head. "Assuredly, Ambassador."
Soran observed, for the most part in silence, as the two diplomats went over the trade agreements in question. Sarek's mind was only partly on the subject at hand -- with another portion of his mind, he was going over his plans for later that station-designated "night."
The two diplomats finished their discussion of tariffs, and went on to discuss modifications to a long-standing trade agreement.
Taryn seemed slightly suspicious of Sarek's motives in bringing up that particular agreement. "I must admit that I am surprised to hear you reopen this topic," he said. "I had thought that the agreement we forged regarding those cryomemory inserts actually favored Vulcan. I fail to see why you would wish to alter or revise it..."
"The modifications I have in mind are minor, Liaison," Sarek said. "They should not take long to discuss. Perhaps, after our talk, we could...have a game?"
"As you know, I am extremely busy," Taryn said, but then he hesitated. "However, I must admit that you are one of the few players that I find...stimulating. Very well, then. A game. When we are finished."
Sarek went ahead with his list of proposed changes to the trade agreement. They were, as he said, minor, most of them points that they had haggled over when the original agreement was forged, three years ago. He actually found himself losing some ground in the negotiations, partially because the was not devoting his full attention to the problem at hand.
Finally, they were finished. Soran excused himself as both diplomats keyed their terminals to produce a 3-D chess board. "Standard time limit per move?" Sarek asked, after graciously accepting white at Taryn's insistence.
The Vulcan studied the boards, planning his opening.
"I must warn you, Sarek," Taryn said, "our discussion has sharpened my wits. Prepare to lose, Ambassador."
Sarek inclined his head in a half-bow. "I am prepared, Liaison." After a moment's consideration, he moved a pawn. Taryn leaned forward, studying his representation of the board, then made his own move. "You know," the Freelan said, and the Vulcan gained the impression that he was confiding something highly personal, "I truly do find our games...stimulating."
"You mean 'challenging,'"Sarek said dryly.
"As I recall" -- Taryn's mechanical tones did not vary, but the ambassador thought he detected an edge in the quickness of the Freelan's retort -- "I won, the last time we played."
"Yes, so you did," Sarek said, evenly. "My game was definitely off that day." He could not resist needling the liaison just a little. Taryn could, at times, be induced to play recklessly. The Freelan hated to lose, and Sarek had learned precisely what it took to bait him until he made a fatal mistake.
Sarek moved his knight onto the queen's level, then sat back to study his opponent's reaction.
Taryn's answering move caused the Vulcan to raise an eyebrow. "Stimulating indeed," he murmured, his mind running through moves and their consequences with lightning speed, even as part of his brain counted off the seconds remaining for him to reply to Taryn's bold strategy. "Perhaps...challenging." With a swift, decisive movement he transferred a rook to the king's level.
Taryn regarded the board, and Sarek thought he detected skepticism in the mechanical voice. "Jobeck's gambit?" His cowl moved slightly, as though he had shaken his head ruefully. "A human move...and not a particularly inventive one, at that. I will taste victory today." He paused, his mitt hovering over the board as he considered his next move. "A human gambit...a surprising move for one of your kind to make, Ambassador."
"My wife is Terran," Sarek said, "and I have spent many years on Earth. I learned that gambit there. Humans may not possess Vulcan logic...but they can demonstrate surprisingly intricate strategy, at times."
"For myself, I have never had cause to respect their intelligence," Taryn commented, his mitt still hovering over the board. "Take this new organization that has sprung up, for instance. The Keep Earth Human League. From all reports, it consists of a collection of bigoted misfits with stunted intellects. They detest all nonhumans...even your people, Ambassador."
Sarek had to guard against a betraying start of surprise. It was Taryn's turn to needle him -- almost as though the liaison knew why the ambassador was here, hoping to gain proof for his theory about a Freelan conspiracy...
"These fringe groups come and go," the Vulcan conceded blandly. "They hardly pose a concern to the long-standing amity between Earth and Vulcan."
"Of course not," Taryn said, sitting back in his seat, his shrouded head level, as though he were staring directly into Sarek's face, searching for any betraying emotions he might find there. "No one could hope to alter such a close alliance."
Sarek raised an eyebrow. "Really, Liaison, you surprise me. If this is a strategy on your part, I should think you could be more creative than to attempt something so...antiquated."
The Freelan's cowl jerked slightly, as if he had stiffened. "Antiquated? What...what do you mean?"r
Sarek gestured at the board. "Why, engaging me in conversation while you exceed your time limit for a move. Or...had you forgotten that it is your move?"
"My move...oh, yes. Of course I had not forgotten." Taryn hastily moved his bishop.
As the game progressed, Sarek tried with all his diplomatic skills to gain information from his longtime contact. Taryn, who had recovered his aplomb, fenced back at him, seemingly enjoying their verbal sparring.
It was a very hard-fought game, but, to his own surprise, Sarek won once again. Typically, Taryn was not a particularly good sport about his defeat. The moment endgame was in sight, he signaled his board to topple his king, then, with barely a civil word of leavetaking, broke the connection.
After dinner, the two Vulcans retired to the adjoining rooms in their suite. Sarek set himself to doze until the middle of "night" aboard the station.
Hours later, the ambassador opened his eyes, then rose quietly from his bed to pull on a dark tunic and trousers, and softsoled desert boots he had brought with him for this occasion. With his minuscule Vulcan tricorder in hand, he seated himself before the Freelan comm link. The ambassador had been planning for this day for months, and had prepared programs to cover all of the most probable contingencies.
Sarek's first task was to disarm the alarms on the station's secured maintenance area. He studied the sleek, horizontal console for only a moment. "Manual input, please. Standard Federation interface." The manual control board slid out of a concealed opening, and he swiftly enabled the external data link. That was the easy part. Now came the challenging task of causing a calculated "malfunction" in the system that would camouflage his efforts to access the main data banks.
The Vulcan ambassador quickly set his tricorder to run through the standard external data conventions, sending handshake messages at various wavelengths. When the tricorder's screen indicated success, the Vulcan's lips tightened. Not Federation standard. Working efficiently, he called up the most likely communications protocol and linked his tricorder into the Freelan comm link, then was gratified to see the connection established. The twenty-five-year-old espionage done by his son aboard a Romulan vessel would suffice to accomplish his goal.
Confident now of the specifics of this particular computer system, he downloaded the first of several valit programs and instructed the low-level operating system to execute. A valit was a small Vulcan creature that could burrow its way through the hardest soil, capable of adapting its complex mandibles to numerous functions. Unless the operating system was massively dissimilar to what Spock had reported, the valit program would be able to adapt and invade, opening up the secure portions of the software. And, by returning countless error messages to the central processors, this first valit program would effectively disguise his efforts to intrude further.
Although Sarek did not actually have to enter the central maintenance area to gain further access to the no-longer-secure data, he wanted to see the Freelan computer with his own eyes. The comm link in his quarters was encased in a shell that differed little from those found on any Federation world. In a sense, he had proven nothing so far. The Freelans could have purchased their comm units and software from the Romulans. The ambassador had to see the central computer itself, because he knew that the Romulan cloaking system depended on the massive processing capabilities of these machines; the Romulans would never willingly part with this technology to outsiders for mere profit.
Before leaving his quarters, Sarek tapped softly on Soran's door. Moments later, his aide emerged, also clad in dark clothes, with soft footwear. "The security alarms?" he whispered.
"Disabled," Sarek replied.
The ambassador had visited the Freelan station many times, and knew precisely where to go. When they reached the doors that were labeled MAINTENANCE -- NO ADMITTANCE in several languages, including Vulcan, Sarek stopped, motioning Soran to stay back. He tapped on the entry pad, and the portals shot apart.
Sarek stepped into the maintenance area, Soran at his side. The young Vulcan halted suddenly at the sight of a surveillance vid unit, but the ambassador shook his head reassuringly. The valit was overloading the condition-recognition software to the point where it would not be on-line for the time of their visit.
"We must move quickly," Sarek said softly. (Even though there was no one in the area, the urge for silence remained, illogical though it was.) "The valit will not delay the security system indefinitely." He led the way past a transporter room and into the nerve center of the station.
The enormous room contained a gigantic computer system, black metal without decoration, identical to the one Spock had seen a generation before. Apparently the Romulans were conservative about changes in a technology that worked. Sarek nodded grimly. It was as he had conjectured.
"Ambassador, you must know what you are looking for," Soran said. "Otherwise you would not have been able to devise a valit program."
"Logical," Sarek said, approvingly, seating himself before the closest comm link and taking out his tricorder. "You have deduced admirably. If my theory about the Freelans is correct, then you shall soon see their true identity for yourself."
"This system bears no resemblance to any in the Federation," Soran said, watching as Sarek's experienced hands flew over the tricorder controls, feeding in another valit program, this one designed to follow on the heels of the first valit. It would make all areas of the memory accessible to external control, and display on the visual monitors whatever was accessed.
As the two Vulcans watched, random areas of memory began to appear on the screens. Soran's eyes widened as he made out the characters. "That script..." he breathed. "Romulan!"
"Indeed," Sarek said. "As I expected. But I must capture more than random kitchen requisitions to justify our suspicions." He held up the tricorder's photo chip to the screen.
"So the Freelans are Romulans?" Soran said slowly, obviously taken aback. At Sarek's quick glance, the young Vulcan hastily composed his features.
"Yes," Sarek said. "They are Romulans. I have suspected it for a long time, but gaining proof has been difficult. Ah...personnel data banks. We are in."
Raw information began to flash across the screen -- words in Romulan script, operating-system symbols, and numbers, all in a jumbled disarray. Hundreds of screens of data, most of it garbled, appeared in quick succession. Suddenly Sarek leaned forward and signaled the tricorder to backtrack through the images. A quick tap froze the output. Intently, he studied the scrambled data.
"What is it?" Soran asked.
"A name -- one of the few Freelan names I would recognize. Do you read Romulan, Soran?"
"No, sir. I will remedy the deficiency as soon as feasible," the young aide promised. "What does it say?"
Sarek indicated a name in flowing Romulan script. "Taryn," he said, simply. "This is a list of Romulan officers, along with their ranks. Taryn is listed, if I am reading this correctly, as a wing commander." The elder Vulcan raised an eyebrow. "A high-ranked Romulan officer indeed." He continued recording data, studying it. Slowly, he made sense of the scrambled information. He generated a decoding algorithm in his mind, and mentally overlaid it on the jumble, seeing order amid chaos.
Minutes later, he was reading it swiftly. Sarek scanned the shipping data first, noting with grim satisfaction that it, too, proved his theory. Military vessels from Romulus and Remus made regular voyages to Freelan, and Freelans voyaged to the Romulan worlds. Romulan officers were logged as being "detailed" to Freelan.
Freelan also had a small fleet of birds-of-prey located in probe-shielded hangars that were camouflaged by the simple expedient of placing them beneath massive ice shelves, with roofs impregnated with selonite.
The communications logs listed hundreds of subspace messages between the Romulan worlds and Freelan. Government communiqués listed Freelans on "missions" to various worlds, particularly Earth -- and, nearly always, the Freelan merchant, diplomat, or scientist was accompanied by an aide with a Vulcan name.
Sarek automatically memorized those names, knowing, however, that further checks would reveal that they -- like Savel were not Vulcan citizens.
None of the evidence Sarek uncovered was a direct link between the KEHL activity and the Freelans -- or Romulans -- but the ambassador found the circumstantial evidence damning.
Without warning, a sudden, familiar sound made him freeze.
Soran heard it, too. "Ambassador -- a transporter beam!"
"Attempt to distract the newcomers, while I disengage the valits," Sarek commanded, his fingers flying. Without a thought he abandoned his hope of copying further Romulan data banks. If he and Soran were caught here, spying, the Romulans would be within their rights to summarily execute them for espionage.
Quickly, he injected the last of the valits, the one designed to eradicate all evidence of his tampering. He could hear footsteps approaching from the direction of the transporter room as he leaped up, tricorder in hand, looking for a place to eliminate the evidence of his spying, Without the tricorder as evidence, he might be able to pretend to have awakened in the night, ill, and to have been searching for the station's automated med center. There was little chance that he would be believed, but, without hard evidence, the Freelans might hesitate to take him into custody. Seeing a disposal unit, Sarek dropped the tricorder in and cycled it, not without a pang at the loss of his proof. Logic dictated, however, that he save himself.
Glancing around him, the ambassador realized that the computer room was singularly devoid of hiding places. Silently, he resigned himself to being caught, and having to feign illness, when a loud crash sounded next door, in one of the engineering chambers that held banks of automated equipment.
The approaching Freelans exclaimed -- in Romulan! -- and went to investigate. Peering out of the computer area, Sarek warily scanned the hallway; then he made a swift, soundless retreat back to the entrance. The ambassador knew that his young aide must have caused the crash that had distracted whomever had come to investigate the "malfunction." Would Soran be able to escape, also?
A second later Soran, soundless on his soft-soled shoes, hurried up beside him. Quickly, the two Vulcans left the maintenance area and returned to their quarters.
Later, as he relaxed in the narrow bunk, the ambassador allowed himself a faint, ironic smile in the concealing darkness. It is not endgame yet, Taryn, he thought. Today you may have had me in check, but mate is still a long way off.
The next day, Sarek waited tensely for some indication that his late-night foray had been discovered, but apparently the last valit had been successful. Taryn displayed no indication of suspicion during the morning's negotiating session.
The ambassador was just beginning the afternoon's session when Soran approached, a guarded expression on his normally calm features. "Ambassador? There are two messages coming in from Vulcan. They are...important."
Hastily, Sarek excused himself and went to his quarters to view them in private. The first was a written message from his wife that read, simply, "Come home if possible, please. Amanda."
Staring at it, the Vulcan experienced a rush of unease. Never, in over sixty years of marriage, had his wife ever interrupted him in the midst of a mission to ask him to return home. What could be wrong?
His silent question was swiftly answered by the second message, prerecorded by his wife's physician, T'Mal. The graying Healer stared straight into the screen, as though she could see him. Her expression was calm, as usual, but the ambassador could discern a hint of sorrow in her eyes. "Ambassador Sarek, you must return home immediately. Your wife is gravely ill. I do not expect her to live more than another month...possibly less. I regret having to impart such news in this manner, but I have no choice. Return home immediately."
Copyright © 1994 by Paramount Pictures