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Supporting the Federation are the planet's joint rulers: Their Serene Highnesses Abon and Delor, Siamese twins joined at the spinal cord to represent the unity of the different tribes of Nador. But a shadowy group of fanatics wants nothing to do with the Federation, and will stop at nothing -- whether it be assassinating the princes or kidnapping Captain Kirk's nephew Peter -- to achieve their goals!
Kirk must work to stop the fanatics from wreaking havoc on Nador, and from harming his beloved nephew -- but even he may be hard-pressed to stem the tide of chaos when the princes' horrible secret is revealed!
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Captain's log, Stardate 3375.3
While en route to the planet Nador, as per our orders, I have decided to try something of an experiment, with, I am confident, the full support of my senior staff.
"I'm telling you, Jim," said Dr. Leonard H. McCoy, "this is not a good idea!"
"Diagnosis noted, Doctor," replied Captain James T. Kirk, in that tone that indicated Kirk hadn't heard him at all.
Kirk exited the turbolift and strode onto deck six, stopping after a few steps to turn and look behind him. "Coming, Bones?"
"I might as well," said McCoy, with a sigh of resignation. "I have a feeling someone's going to need medical attention."
Kirk turned right at the door labeled MESS HALL and entered as the door hissed open before him. Despite his apparent bravado, McCoy suspected Kirk had deliberately chosen this time of day -- rather late for lunch -- hoping the hall would be almost deserted. Of all the tables in the room, only one was occupied, and that by only four crew members. Kirk entered, seemingly paying them no more attention then he had McCoy's advice.
"Chicken sandwich and coffee," he said to the food slot. Lights flashed, sounds warbled, and a moment later the dispenser panel opened. Kirk took his meal, cocking an eyebrow to McCoy, a look the doctor knew was part curiosity, part challenge.
"Cobb salad, extra dressing, with iced tea," said McCoy, finally. He considered ordering a mint julep, extra strong, but thought better of it; he might need his wits about him.
Across the room the four crew members tried not to look at though they were eyeing Kirk and McCoy, and had been from the moment the two officers entered. But now, with Kirk approaching them, to avoid contact would have been rude, not to mention insubordinate. The four pushed back their chairs and began to rise as Kirk neared. McCoy remembered them from their physicals upon being assigned to the Enterprise, new crew members picked up at Starbase 7.
"Please," said Kirk, with his most charming smile, "at ease. May we join you?"
The four crew members exchanged furtive, nervous glances. It seemed to McCoy they were asking each other, What have we done?
"Of course, sir," said Lieutenant Sherwood, a trim strawberry blonde, keeping her voice as even as circumstances permitted.
The four sank back into their chairs uneasily as, to their dread, Kirk took the head chair at the table. A moment later Dr. McCoy sat down at the other end, cutting off that avenue of escape, as well.
McCoy nodded and smiled sympathetically, an attempt to put the young crew at ease that did anything but.
"Should be an interesting mission, don't you think?" asked Kirk, picking up his cup of coffee.
"Sir!" said Trask, an ensign assigned to engineering, springing to his feet with such energy that Kirk nearly wound up wearing his coffee. "The U.S.S. Enterprise is headed for planet Nador to review the Nadorians' vote to decide whether or not to become a member of the Federation, sir!"
"Sit down, Mr. Trask ," said Kirk, gently. "I was just asking -- "
"Sir," said Ensign Fox. His soup spoon sounded a discordant note as it struck his tray when he dropped it. He remained seated, but stared straight ahead, hands at his side. McCoy noted this with interest; he had never seen a crewman sitting at attention before. "We are also ordered to provide transit to Federation Commissioner Roget and his wife, sir."
"Yes, of course," said Kirk, trying to keep the desperation from his voice. "But I was just asking how you thought the mission might -- "
"Sir," said Sinclair, a young lieutenant with a manner of currying favor that McCoy didn't cotton to, "if the captain wishes, I can prepare a dossier with the salient points of planet Nador, sir. For example, Nador has been judged a B-minus on the Richter cultural scale -- "
"That won't be necessary, Sinclair," replied Kirk, patiently. "I was just asking if -- "
McCoy saw the bafflement in Kirk's eyes as he surveyed the four crew members, all sitting stiffly, teeth clenched, brows furrowing, then unfurrowing when they realized they were showing too much stress. He wouldn't have taken any bets as to which of the five had the highest blood pressure at that moment. This had been fun, in a certain mildly sadistic kind of way, but he began wishing for a diversion that would break the tension he could cut with an exoscalpel.
Across the room the hailing whistle came from the intercom, and a cool, measured voice said, "Bridge to captain." McCoy had rarely seen Kirk move as quickly.
"Kirk here. Have we entered Nadorian space yet?"
"Still some minutes out, Captain," replied Mr. Spock, "but we have encountered a ship broadcasting no identification beam and which refuses to answer our hail. She bears no known markings and is of unknown design."
McCoy was at Kirk's side now, thumbing a drop of dressing from the corner of his mouth. "Hostile actions?" asked Kirk.
"Not as yet. She is attempting to elude us, however. Our shields were raised automatically."
"Intercept course," said Kirk. It could be nothing, but with the relations between Nador and the Federation at such a crucial state, nothing could be left to chance. "Yellow alert. I'll be right up."
To McCoy, the sighs of relief from the four seated at the table sounded like those of a plow horse at the end of a long, hard day.
"Bridge," said Kirk moments later to the turbolift grid, and the car hummed smoothly upward, the alert panels strobing yellow. He cleared his throat twice, then turned to McCoy. "Not exactly the response I'd hoped for."
"What did you hope for, Jim?" asked McCoy. "You've got a crew that would walk through fire for you -- and has, on occasion. What were you trying to prove, hobnobbing with green recruits like those? They're not as familiar with you as the rest of the crew. You nearly gave them all strokes."
"I'm not sure," said Kirk, avoiding McCoy's gaze. "I was just trying to be a little more...outgoing with the crew. If Captain Garrovick had wanted to dine with us when we served on the Farragut -- "
"You'd have been as tense as those kids were," interrupted McCoy. "They're your crew, Jim, they can't be your friends, too." He looked at Kirk and grinned. "That's why you have me."
"Prescription noted," said Kirk, dryly, as the lift slowed. "You coming?"
McCoy shook his head. "I'd better make sure sickbay's ready, just in case."
Kirk nodded as the lift slid to a stop and the doors parted. Before they closed, McCoy saw Spock rising from the captain's chair before Kirk's presence could even be announced, and he wondered, not for the first time, or for the hundredth, how Spock knew Kirk was there. He wondered if the Vulcan's olfactory sense was as keen as his damn hearing. The noise of the crew preparing for yellow alert would have drowned out the hiss of the lift door, and the carpeting on the bridge would have silenced any footsteps.
McCoy shook his head as the door closed. Damned if he knew, and he sure as hell wasn't going to give Spock the satisfaction of asking. "Sickbay," he said, hoping, not for the first time, or for the hundredth, that his services wouldn't be needed.
"Status," said Kirk, lowering himself into the center seat.
"No change since the last report, Captain," replied Mr. Spock. "We encountered the unidentified ship as we neared Nadorian space. They attempted evasive action and we gave pursuit. The ship is out there -- we can catch occasional glimpses of it on sensors -- but it eludes full detection."
Kirk nodded, leaning forward slightly, and scanned the viewscreen, as though his own eyes could detect something the ship's sensor spread could not. Around him the crew performed their duties, with a precision that would have done credit to a ballet company. Spock moved to his science station, Chekov in turn moved to his chair at the helm, while the relief navigator moved to an unoccupied perimeter station and began processing data. In any other circumstances, it would have been rather absurd, like an adult game of tag.
"Normal lighting," he said at last, and the alert panels dimmed. "Do we know who they are?" he asked.
"Not with any certainty," replied Spock. "Possibly smugglers, or other traffickers in contraband."
"Open a channel to the ship," said Kirk. "All standard frequencies."
"Go ahead, Captain," Uhura said from behind him.
"This is Captain James T. Kirk of the Federation Starship Enterprise," he said, crisply. "No unidentified vessels are permitted in this space. You are ordered to stand down and identify yourself." Kirk jerked his right hand sharply, thumb out, and Uhura cut the transmission. On the viewscreen sprawled only endless blackness, dusted with silver. "Spock, why can't we see them?"
"I can offer speculation only, Captain," began Spock. "It may be that their shields or hull are configured so as to refract our sensors. It may be that the ship is somehow able to phase in and out of space, eluding sensors."
"Maybe they have some kind of a cloaking device," said Sulu, from his post next to Chekov's, "like the Romulans."
"Possible, Mr. Sulu," said Kirk, gnawing on a knuckle while he thought. "The Romulans are the only fleet we know of to have a cloaking device. But they're on the other side of the galaxy, and not known for sharing their technology."
"I have a brief glimpse of them on sensors, Captain," said Spock, peering into the viewer at his station. "Off the port bow."
"Tractor beam, those coordinates," said Kirk, urgently.
"Ineffective," said Spock, a moment later.
"Why haven't they attacked?" asked Chekov, tensely.
"If you were a vessel that size, would you want to take on a starship?" replied Sulu. "They're probably trying to put as much space between us as possible."
"Don't make that assumption, Mr. Sulu," said Kirk. "Appearances can be deceiving, after all."
"Aye, sir," said Sulu, suitably abashed.
Kirk hoped they wouldn't have to learn that lesson the hard way. Even as he sat he felt his blood rise, and his pulse quicken. As there had always been when these physiological signs made themselves known in humans since they first crawled out of the sea, there was a choice to be made, panic or fight. Kirk had learned the hard way, many years ago, that only fight would do them any good. More, he had to be an example to his bridge crew. The threat seemed minor, yes, but the one foe you turned your back on would be the one to stab you there.
"Spock," Kirk said, "link tractor beam to sensors, so they function together."
"Understood," said Spock coolly. He continued to peer into his viewer as his long fingers worked the buttons at his console, not unlike a pianist at his keyboard. "Accomplished, Captain," he said, a moment later.
Kirk nodded. "Now if sensors get a taste of them, we'll -- "
Almost instantly Spock's console beeped. "We have them," said Spock.
"Expand tractor field, divert all available power to it," snapped Kirk.
"They're firing," said Sulu.
A moment later the bridge rocked like a sailing ship on choppy seas. The crew reeled a little, but maintained their positions.
"I read their weaponry as missiles," said Spock, turning from his console. "Conventional, but quite powerful."
"We can take a little punishment, just keep our grip on him," said Kirk. "Go to red alert."
"They are attempting to break free," said Spock, working his console quickly.
Kirk punched a button on his chair arm. "Engineering," he rasped, "increase power to tractor beam."
"We're tryin', Captain." Montgomery Scott's voice crackled over the intercom. "But she's fightin' like a fish on a line. Hard t'believe a ship that small can have that much power." On the viewscreen, tractor beams struggled to contain something between them, like hands groping in the dark. Kirk peered anxiously as, within the tractor field, the configurations of a vessel began to firm....
"Establish phaser lock," said Kirk, urgently, "raise shields and fire!"
The Enterprise lurched again as, on the viewscreen, the tractor beams dissolved.
"Damage report," said Kirk.
"Minor damage to the port hull," replied Spock, after a moment. "Unless they are able to mount a concerted attack, their assaults are more annoying than efficacious, unless our shields collapse or we are incapacitated."
"Neither is a state of affairs I anticipate," said Kirk, stiffly. But he left his chair and strode the bridge, bearing a frown of concentration, trying to quiet the pounding of his blood. To let them escape would weaken the name of the Federation in this section of space (and if it occurred to James Kirk that the same risk existed to his personal reputation, he did not acknowledge it).
"Too bad we can't just cast a net for them," said Sulu, under his breath.
Then he turned, to see Kirk smiling. "Perhaps we can, Mr. Sulu," said Kirk. "Spock, all available power to sensors, widest possible dispersal."
"Captain, such dispersal will be virtually useless with our shields up -- "
Kirk nodded, tautly. "I did say 'all available power,' Mr. Spock. Drop shields."
Spock's fingers played over his console effortlessly.
"And link phasers to sensors," said Kirk, softly.
Spock's left brow notched up a bit, as he nodded.
"Uhura, tie your console in with Spock's," said Kirk. "Monitor those sensors. If so much as a stray meteorite touches them, I want to -- "
"Contact, Captain," said Spock. "Sensors have been breached."
The ship shimmied slightly as the phasers fired, seemingly toward open space. For a long moment, it seemed they would simply disperse into random background radiation...
...then a flash of energy as they struck something.
"Fire," said Kirk, clenching a fist.
Another fusillade and something became visible out there. "Maximum magnification," said Kirk, urgently.
There it was, a ship, small but capable-looking, listing to one side like a man staggering from a blow.
"Tractor beam," said Kirk. "Before they can -- "
"I'm reading transporters," said Spock.
In an instant, Kirk was back at his chair. "Kirk to transporter room! Intercept that transporter beam! Don't let them -- "
"Sorry, sir," crackled back the voice of Mr. Kyle. "They were too quick for us. They're gone."
"Raise shields!" said Kirk. "They'll -- "
Abruptly, the ship erupted like a giant piñata struck by an unseen bat. For a long moment black space was painted purest white, as if by a minor star that coalesced, ignited and went nova all in the span of an eyeblink.
Even though the viewscreen automatically dimmed, the flash was still painful. Then nothing was left but floating debris.
"No organic remains," said Spock, peering into his viewer. "Mr. Kyle was correct, its crew is gone. Quite probably to planet Nador, which is barely within transporter range."
"Beam in as much of that debris as you can get," said Kirk, pointing at the screen. "I want all available knowledge about these people."
"Minimal," replied Spock, after checking the reports coming in from the ship. "The missles were unable to penetrate our shields, or our hull when we were unshielded. No appreciable damage."
"Except to our pride," muttered Kirk, seating himself. Then he took a deep breath. Their assailants had escaped, but the ship and crew were safe. Maybe McCoy was right, maybe he was too hard on himself. Maybe. "Secure from red alert. Viewer ahead, continue plotted course."
The planet Nador occupied the center of the screen now, growing larger with each second, a piebald sphere of blues and greens, not unlike a place across the galaxy which most of the Enterprise crew called home.
"Standard orbit, Mr. Sulu. Lieutenant Uhura, open a channel to the Nadorian palace. Standard greetings."
"Transmitted, sir, I have a response," replied Uhura several seconds later.
The lovely view of the planet they now orbited dissolved, to be replaced by the interior of what was obviously some sort of official building. In the background Kirk caught a glimpse of what he thought was a human figure, but was instead an elegantly carved statue, then turned his attention to the face of the magistrate, which occupied most of the screen. A middle-aged man bordering on elderly, he had the uncertain air of a man who had been used to commanding authority, but had found, rather recently, that his power base had eroded out from under him. The man on the viewscreen began the conversation with an odd mixture of sympathy, respect, and very mild contempt for his subject.
"Captain Kirk, welcome to Nador. I am Lonal, acting regent for Their Serene Highnesses, Princes Abon and Delor." He said this firmly and courteously, then, at the end, added a rather incongruous and -- Kirk thought -- rather servile smile, almost as an afterthought.
"Greetings, Regent Lonal," said Kirk, putting on his diplomat's face. "Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise, representing the United Federation of Planets. I bring you best wishes from the Federation Council."
"Most welcome, I am sure. May I convey the wish of Their Serene Highnesses to your and your senior staff to dine at the Royal Palace this evening? Their Highnesses are quite anxious to meet you."
"Thank you for the invitation, Regent Lonal. We look forward to meeting Their Serene Highnesses. Kirk out."
The screen want blank and Kirk turned to Spock. "'Their Serene Highnesses'? They rule this planet jointly?"
"They have, and will again," replied Spock, "if the populace decides to reject Federation membership. Little is known of the princes aside from the facts that they are identical twins and are, if I am correct, thirty years of age."
"I am sure your figures are quite correct," said Kirk dryly.
"Thank you, Captain," said Spock, with no trace of irony.
"Captain," said Sulu, turning in his chair, "why not ask the regent about that ship?"
"I'd rather broach a subject like that face-to-face," said Kirk. "I assure you, that matter has not been forgotten. In fact...Uhura, open a channel to Commissioner Roget's quarters."
"I have him, sir."
"On screen." The screen flashed on again, this time to show a definitely elderly man whose white hair was retreating rapidly, leaving behind large blue eyes and a wide, smiling mouth, as if the features of his face were expanding to take up the space left by the retreat of his hairline. Kirk noted another statue in the background of the expansive room, placed between a bookcase and a huge desk that looked from its sheen to be of a fine Saurian hardwood. It was something of an effort, Kirk realized, with minor irritation, to keep his concentration on Commissioner Sylvan Roget; the workmanship of this statue, like the one in Regent Lonal's office, was such that he kept watching it out of his eyes, almost expecting it to move at any second.
"Commissioner Roget, I'm Captain -- "
"Captain James T. Kirk." The old man smiled warmly. "Good to see you, Captain. The palace just transmitted details of the banquet tonight. My wife and I look forward to making your acquaintance here, and on the journey back to Earth."
"Thank you, Commissioner, the Enterprise and my crew are at your service. I wonder, before the banquet tonight, if I might consult with you on a somewhat delicate matter?"
If Roget was taken aback by this request, his years of ambassadorial training would not permit him to show it. "Certainly, Captain. Why don't you beam down to the embassy and we'll discuss it?"
"Captain," came the voice of Spock, "according to strict protocol, your first footfall on the planet should be to greet representatives of the planet's government."
"Thank you, Mr. Spock, I'm aware of that," replied Kirk, patiently. Spock was a good friend and the best first officer in the fleet, but he had an occasional tendency to state the obvious. "Commissioner, why don't you be my guest aboard the Enterprise? We can have a quite proper talk, with -- " He did not look at Spock. " -- all the i's dotted and the t's crossed."
"I'd like that very much, Captain. Would it be too much of an imposition if we began beaming aboard a few crates of our personal effects?"
"Not at all, Commissioner. See you in a few minutes, Kirk out." He stood thinking for a moment, then punched a button on his chair's arm. "Kirk to sickbay. Bones, any customers after that little dustup?"
"Not a one, Jim. Who were they, anyway?"
"We're still trying to puzzle that out. Have time for a little unofficial reception for Commissioner Roget?"
"Good. Meet us in the transporter room in ten minutes. Kirk out."
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