Doctors Orders | Chapter 6 of 9

Author: Diane Duane | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1908 Views | Add a Review

Please hit next button if you encounter an empty page

 

lasted a long time. From the Ornae there was no sound

 

at all anymore.

 

Something passed overhead, silhouetted silveredged

 

by the light of the one small moon-a blunt, sleek

 

shape, that went over with a roar of ion-drivers and was

 

lost against the moonhaze at the horizon.

 

Kirk cursed, and found that he was standing in daylight

 

again, the beAt

 

beside him, looking down at a flower.

 

He looked around at the bright sunlight, breathing

 

hard with shock. Beside him the beAt stood silent and

 

stolid, as if it had been rooted in that spot since

 

the morning of the world; and it cast no shadow.

 

"Do you know that vessel?" said the beAt.

 

"From what I saw of it," Kirk said, "it

 

looked like an Orion pirate lander. The mothership

 

would have been up in orbit somewhere."

 

"Yes," said the beAt.

 

Kirk shook his head. "How did you do that?" he

 

said.

 

For the first time, he got an impression from

 

the beAt that felt like

 

uncertainty. It was very strange, from something that

 

until now had seemed solider than some mountains

 

Kirk had climbed. "I shall have difficulty

 

telling you," it said. "Tell me; where will you be

 

tomorrow?"

 

Kirk shrugged. "Back aboard my ship, I

 

suppose. I may be able to get down here again if

 

I can finish my other work." He looked around at the

 

sunny woods and said, "I'd like that, if I could.

 

This is a nice place."

 

"Yes," said the beAt. But there was something faintly

 

troubled about its

 

voice. "Can you not make a picture for me of

 

where you will be tomorrow, as you have been doing of where you were at

 

other times?"

 

"A picture-?" Oh Lord, Kirk thought, the

 

creature's a concept telepath.

 

It's been in my head all this 149

 

time, seeing every image that's occurred to me. Heaven

 

only knows what I've shown it! This thing could

 

destroy us with a thought if it wanted to-

 

Then he shook his head. He could hear McCoy

 

saying very annoyed, Why does it always have to be a

 

thing? The creature shows no sign of

 

destroying anything . . . and it's had enough destruction

 

visited on it. "Sir," he said, "I

 

can't do what you're asking me. You're asking me

 

to predict the future.

 

Visualize it, yes, I can do that. I can

 

approximate future events in my

 

mind. But not one of all our peoples can truly

 

tell, reliably, as an act of will, what will

 

happen tomorrow. Or five minutes from now."

 

The beAt was quiet for a moment. "This will be our

 

difficulty," it said,

 

more to itself, Kirk thought, than to him. "Captain,

 

I must try to make you understand us a little now."

 

"Be my guest," Kirk said.

 

"So we shall be. I think that you perceive-the past-and

 

now-but not the

 

future. Am I right?"

 

Kirk sat down in the grass again-gratefully,

 

for he was feeling slightly weak-kneed after that sudden

 

episode in the dark-and said, "You mean you can perceive the

 

future."

 

"Exist in it. Yes. To a limited degree."

 

"Holy cow," Kirk said softly.

 

"Pardon?" said the beAt.

 

Kirk laughed. "Sorry, the image

 

must have looked strange. And what about the past?"

 

"You saw for yourself," said the beAt.

 

"So I did." Kirk shook his head again. "This

 

ought to be impossible," he said, bemused. "Spock

 

will have a field day with you. The future shouldn't be

 

accessible, 150

 

by any rules we know. Even the Guardian of

 

Forever can't get at it."

 

The beAt paused a moment, perhaps looking at the

 

image in Kirk's mind. "That instrumentality is

 

operating on different principles," it said. "It

 

is only capable of managing one time-branch at a

 

time; its programming forbids

 

more, if I read correctly the way it

 

described itself to you. We are living in a way the

 

Guardian is not. All time-branches are

 

accessible, though the past ones are simpler

 

to access."

 

"Oh jeez, time," Kirk said, for in the midst of

 

all the excitement he had forgotten to check in with the

 

ship. "Sir, would you pardon me for a

 

moment? I won't go anywhere. I just need to talk

 

to my people."

 

"Of course, Captain."

 

He pulled out his communicator and

 

flipped it open. "Kirk to Enterprise. was

 

"Enterprise," Uhura's cheerful voice said.

 

"How

 

are you doing down there, Captain?"

 

"No problems. How's the ship?"

 

"No problems up here either, sir. his

 

"Fine. Kirk out."

 

He put the communicator away, and leaned back

 

a little to gaze up again at the beAt. "Now then . .

 

. where were we?" Kirk rubbed his head for a moment.

 

"You were telling me that you people can visit the future."

 

"We live in it," said the beAt. "To a limited

 

extent, as I said. Also the past and the present, as you

 

perceive them."

 

"We were actually there, just then, weren't we? That was

 

the last time the Orion pirates attacked your

 

planet."

 

"How often has this been happening?"

 

"At irregular intervals for some six rounds of

 

our sun, now."

 

"That's more or less eight of our years. Sir-was

 

Kirk paused a moment. "I

 

really do wish you had a name," he said. "I may

 

not use it much, but it

 

would help to have something to think of you by."

 

The beAt looked at him, and suddenly had a

 

shadow again, which fell over

 

Kirk. "We have little use for them," it said. "The

 

others, the Ornae and the Lahit, sometimes call me

 

by words that mean the one who manages things, having

 

understood them."

 

"Chief," Kirk said. No, too

 

nonspecific. "Boss." No, too informal.

 

"Hmmm . . . Master." As in teacher, or

 

skilled proponent of some art. That sounded more like it.

 

"Master," said the beAt, "says it well."

 

"Fine. So these people have been raiding you for eight

 

years now-was Kirk

 

tried to fit that together with reports he had heard

 

concerning their

 

depredations in other parts of space. "They've come

 

a long way from their usual hunting grounds if

 

they're all the way out here. Then again," he

 

said, "it's possibly our more widespread

 

presence, and the Klingons', that has driven them away

 

from the more populated parts of the Galaxy." He

 

thought for a moment. "What are they after? Can you

 

tell?"

 

"Every time they come here, they dig," said the Master.

 

It sounded rather bemused by that. "What for, I

 

could not say."

 

"It's not minable minerals," Kirk said. "Your

 

world

 

is poor in those. Then again, McCoy was getting

 

rather excited about the dirt earlier. And Spock

 

mentioned that the plant life here seemed rich in

 

medical alkaloids." That rang an

 

unfortunate bell. "It could be drugs," Kirk

 

said. "There are substances on some worlds that are

 

innocent enough in their own environment, but when used on

 

an alien species, are psychoactives of

 

greatly varying strengths. Such things bring huge

 

prices . . . and those who obtain and sell them

 

don't hesitate to kill." He shook his head.

 

"But it's just a guess."

 

"What I do not understand," said the Master, "is why

 

these Orion beings

 

feel it necessary to kill our people as they have been doing.

 

Surely they could take what they desire and depart

 

unharmed. There are many parts of this world with the same

 

plants, the same earth, but where none of us

 

lives."

 

"Sir, sometimes people like that just like killing. It's a

 

game to them. Or else they see it as fumigation .

 

. . cleaning an inconvenient infestation off

 

a world so they can more easily exploit it." Kirk's

 

mouth set in a

 

straight hard line. "The Orion pirates have

 

done that often enough before. Early on in their history, they

 

sometimes destroyed whole inhabited planets

 

simply because they weren't economically viable . . .

 

then us ed the

 

fragments to build Dyson spheres and

 

populate the increased areas with

 

slave labor. In a way, they did us a

 

favor . . . their behavior so

 

disgusted a lot of worlds that the profit motive went

 

out of style. There are a few holdouts, here and there.

 

But the pirates . . . I think they just like to kill."

 

The Master rumbled, a low slow sound that would have

 

made Kirk very nervous if he had thought it was being

 

directed at him. "I would tend to agree with you," it

 

said.

 

Kirk stood up and started to pace slowly back

 

and forth among the flowers. "But you've told me that you

 

 

can exist in other times. That's a tremendous

 

advantage, or it should be. If you can exist in the

 

future, why can't you perceive the pirates coming, and

 

act to keep your people away from them? Or find

 

some way to stop them?"

 

Kirk got a sense of profound regret from the

 

Master. "Don't you think we would if we could?" it

 

said. "We can exist in the future, but we cannot act

 

on it or in it without withdrawing our presence from

 

present and past. We would have to live permanently in

 

the future, our own future, so that we might warn

 

ourselves in the present of any danger. To do so would be

 

to

 

give up life in the present, forever."

 

Kirk thought about that for a moment. "I guess living

 

in the future

 

wouldn't be any more healthy than living in the past,"

 

he said. "You're

 

right. There must be some other way."

 

"It is hard for us," the Master said. "We are

 

prepared to do that if we

 

must. We are, in our way, the guardians of the

 

Ornae and Lahit. They share our perception of

 

time, but not the wider view; they can live in past and

 

present and future, but in only one at a time . .

 

. not all at once. They are innocents, with their own

 

concerns-mostly one another, discovering

 

their differences and likenesses. There are many."

 

"There certainly are," Kirk said.

 

"That's partly what brought us here-we know of no other

 

place where three species so different all

 

evolved

 

together."

 

The Master seemed gently amused by that. "Yes,"

 

it said, "we enjoy it-this discovering how different others

 

can be, while still being alike at root. Life is

 

a joy because of it."

 

"I think I understand you," Kirk said. "Though

 

it's possible I'm deluding myself." He shook his

 

head. 154

 

"Your ability to coexist among times alone is

 

going to raise a lot of

 

questions. Especially since you seem able to extend the

 

effects to others. You may find yourselves having a lot

 

of visitors . . . not just Orion

 

pirates." He clasped his hands behind him as he

 

paced. "There must be some way to put a stop to that,

 

though."

 

"We should be glad to hear of it," said the Master.

 

McCoy sat in the center seat, holding onto his

 

temper with both hands.

 

"Kaiev," he said, "I'll tell you again. I

 

have better things to do with my time than go killing your

 

crewpeople. I don't care how they go

 

running all over the planet with their little toy diggers

 

and I don't know what all. If they've vanished,

 

that doesn't surprise me. I told you that

 

strange things were happening down there, but you wouldn't

 

listen to me-oh no. We've had people vanish too, and

 

we don't know where they are."

 

"How many?" Kaiev demanded. "When?"

 

"Classified information," McCoy said. "You should

 

know better than to ask. And I don't care if it

 

means taking our statement on trust. You'll just

 

have to deal with it. If you don't believe me, and you

 

want to make

 

something of it, you just go right ahead."

 

McCoy looked at Sulu and Chekov

 

meaningfully, and threw a glance over at Scotty.

 

He could see that the screens were already up, and Sulu

 

brought up the little firing sight on his console.

 

Kaiev could see all this, and was having a hard time

 

keeping his face still.

 

"Now son," McCoy said, "I'm an

 

easygoing man, but you have an attitude

 

problem. If you force me to, I'll be glad

 

to adjust it for you,

 

permanently. Make up your mind."

 

He was very glad Kaiev couldn't see

 

how his hands were sweating.

 

It was very quiet over on the Klingon bridge.

 

"About what?" Kaiev finally said.

 

McCoy smiled. "About whether you're going

 

to cooperate with us. We'll send down some extra

 

search parties and help you look for your people. We have this

 

place a lot more completely mapped than you can have just

 

yet; that may be an advantage. Also, we'll do

 

some analysis on their sensor traces and see if

 

we can't find out where they went. We haven't had much

 

luck with finding our own missing yet, but we'll share

 

what we've discovered with

 

you. Spock," McCoy said, looking over his

 

shoulder, "make up a data packet about that odd

 

radiation and see to it that the Science Officer over there

 

gets it, will you? Thanks."

 

He turned to the screen again and smiled. "Anything

 

else you need, Kaiev?" The Klingon commander

 

looked at McCoy with an expression that was

 

difficult to decipher completely, but there was a lot

 

of perplexity in it. "Before, was he said, "you mentioned

 

that some of your people had been-eaten by trees- His

 

McCoy raised an eyebrow. "Tell your people

 

to leave their chain saws home, Kaiev," he said.

 

"McCoy out."

 

Uhura ended the transmission. Spock came

 

down to stand by McCoy, and

 

favored him with a look of mild annoyance.

 

"Doctor," he said, "have you any idea of the

 

weapons ability of a Klingon battle cruiser?"

 

"Enough to know that he can't take us one to one,"

 

McCoy said, "not with our screens up and with our fingers

 

on the button. Which is where we will stay, 156

 

until this situation has become calmer. It may

 

take a while. Yellow alert

 

until I say otherwise."

 

"Noted, Doctor." But Spock had not finished

 

being admonitory yet. "I must ask, however, why

 

you are being so provocative."

 

"I'm being nothing of the sort," McCoy said.

 

"Spock, it's pure Klingon

 

psychology, or as close to it as an Earthman

 

is going to get at the moment. Snarl first, and louder,

 

and never let up. Out-aggress the aggressor, and he

 

falls over and shows you his throat. It works for

 

wolves. And there are aspects of Klingon

 

behavior that suggest that "pack' psychology is

 

most

 

effective with them."

 

Spock still looked dubious. "You were

 

showing dangerous signs of enjoyment, Doctor," he

 

said. "Would you care to comment on the chance that you are

 

taking out your own anger at this situation on the

 

Klingons?"

 

McCoy laughed. "Why, of course I am,

 

Spock. That's one of the things

 

emotion is best for to use as a tool,

 

consciously, to achieve a goal.

 

One's own emotions, of course. In your case,

 

I speak theoretically." He

 

smiled; Spock looked at the ceiling.

 

McCoy was satisfied by this result. It would be a

 

poor day for him, even under these horrendous

 

circumstances, if he couldn't manage to tease

 

Spock a little.

 

"Meantime," he said, "I have to start putting together

 

some more

 

information for Starfleet; they're going to be wanting

 

my log extracts,

 

damn them. Have you found out anything else about that

 

radiation?"

 

"There continue to be minor incidences here and there on

 

the planet

 

surface," Spock said, "but again, none of them

 

seems attributable to any specific

 

event 157

 

that I can identify. I shall continue working on the

 

problem. But you should know," he said, "that I have had a

 

look at the heat and radiation scans for the area in which

 

the Klingons disappeared, and the traces are identical

 

in nature to the remnants left by the Captain.

 

Whatever the instrumentality is that is operating here, it

 

is the same in both cases."

 

"Wonderful," McCoy said. "So something now

 

has both Kirk and a batch of

 

Klingons in the same playpen. I needed something

 

like this to put my mind at ease."

 

"There is of course no evidence that any such thing

 

has happened-was

 

"Spock," McCoy said, "I will bet you a

 

nickel."

 

Spock raised his eyebrows. "Do you mean

 

to indicate an actual coin?"

 

"Just so happens that in my quarters, carefully

 

secreted from prying eyes, I have a genuine

 

buffalohead nickel, dated 1938 old date.

 

I bet you that nickel that the Captain and the Klingons

 

are going to wind up in the same place. And,"

 

McCoy said, "T bet you that Jim is going

 

to run rings around them."

 

"If I lose this bet," Spock said, "I will

 

be unable to redeem the amount in question. I am afraid

 

I do not have any nickels."

 

"That'll do," McCoy said. "Here, give me that

 

padd. I've got to think of something that'll sound good

 

enough to keep Starfleet off my neck for the next few

 

hours."

 

"Are you expecting something to happen in that time?"

 

Spock said.

 

"Spock, with my luck, something will. You just

 

watch."

 

Katur was a young officer, but experienced in many

 

landings in her time. She prided herself on her ability

 

to cope with the unexpected. She had seen many things that

 

had been the deaths of those less prepared than she,

 

those less ready to react in a second, to kill

 

quickly and without undue

 

consideration of the consequences. Too much thinking,

 

Katur felt, was bad for the pulse rate.

 

Reaction, reflex, swift and merciless, that was the

 

secret of survival . . . and advancement in

 

rank.

 

But she had not been prepared for anything like

 

this.

 

The briefing with Commander Kaiev had been

 

brief and simple. "The place is full of

 

aliens," he had said. "There are indications that some of

 

them may be dangerous. Use due care, but do not

 

hesitate to make examples of them if you find it

 

necessary. Our intelligence indicates that this planet

 

is most likely a rich source of tabekh. You

 

are to search out the necessary raw

 

materials, and once identified, bring as much

 

back to the ship as possible. At all costs, stay

 

away from the Federation personnel. We do not desire

 

them to have any idea what we are after in this area,

 

lest they attempt to co-opt the resource.

 

Understood?"

 

Katur had understood all too well. There wo uld

 

be precious little glory on this landing. My mother did

 

not raise me to dig in the dirt like a menial, she

 

had thought, as she went to the Transporter room with the

 

others. But one must suffer in silence sometimes to gain

 

greater goals.

 

Katur frequently thought like that, in axioms and

 

wise sayings. It was a bad habit she had

 

acquired from her brother, who had died suddenly in

 

some world south of the Galactic Rift, when a

 

creature with too many teeth and no appreciation of

 

wise sayings had leapt on him from a tree

 

and bitten his head off. Katur had never cared much for

 

her brother, so she had been

 

little moved by this, except to take the occurrence as

 

an omen that wisdom was best left to others, and that

 

thinking too hard tended to distract one from what was going

 

on in the immediate vicinity. The wise sayings continued

 

to rattle about in her head, but she kept them to herself,

 

and did her best to ignore them.

 

Now she sat in the back of the all-terrain

 

vehicle and muttered to herself over Kesaio's

 

driving, which was certainly suitable for a muck-cart, but

 

nothing much better than that. The transporter had

 

put them down

 

practically in the middle of the Federation camp, and

 

they had had to

 

endure a great deal of staring and interest as they

 

made their way out of the clearing. That was another

 

problem-the lack of proper roads. The

 

Commander had forbidden them a

 

flyer, apparently thinking that the Federation commander, not

 

the famous

 

smooth-talking Kirk but some other officer, was

 

too easily antagonized, and might misconstrue

 

the flyer as being rather too handy should they decide

 

to attack the Federation landing parties.

 

That statement alone had made Katur's liver

 

twist in her. She despised

 

Kaiev, even when he was being prudent; perhaps more

 

than usual, then, for he so rarely seemed

 

to exercise good judgment at other times. He was

 

capable enough of being reckless when the foe was small and

 

helpless, which annoyed Katur. No honor in such

 

pretenses; enslave them and be done with it. But this

 

sudden careful courtesy being 160

 

exhibited by Kaiev in the face of

 

Enterprise's puny guns annoyed Katur

 

considerably. It was a great pity that the ship had

 

been prepared for them. All it would have taken was a

 

moment's surprise to add glory to all their

 

names. Glory, and an early end to this tour of

 

duty in the middle of nowhere at all.

 

Instead, they were forced to act meekly, and drive out

 

through the

 

Federation people. And even worse, through the aliens.

 

"I would shoot them all," Katur muttered to herself.

 

"Look at these disgusting things."

 

"I am trying not to," said Helef, who was

 

sitting beside her and glowering. And it was understandable, for they

 

were revolting. Half of them were like fat bags of

 

sickly colored jelly; the other half were

 

dumb plants, except they had little cold eyes that

 

made it plain they were watching you, and thinking no one

 

knew what.

 

"I will take an axe to one of them yet,"

 

Katur said under her breath. "Why is it that everywhere

 

we go, we keep finding these things? Does the idiot

 

Universe have nothing better to do than to keep creating

 

more and more

 

life? And most of it not worth conquering." She

 

shuddered. "All simple

 

life, no sophistication about it, no elegance,

 

no grand passions. The

 

Universe is hopelessly pedestrian,

 

Helef."

 

Helef shrugged and looked away. He was no

 

philosopher at the best of times. Kesaio took

 

them out of the clearing along a narrow, bumpy path.

 

Tree

 

branches whipped at their faces; they ducked, and

 

Kesaio and Tak in the

 

front seat all swore. Katur longed to see

 

the day over with. Digging tabekh like any servant,

 

she thought. Someone ought to call challenge on Kaiev

 

for this, and cut his liver out. Except we need the

 

stuff, I suppose. It had 161

 

indeed been three weeks now since any of them

 

had had tabekh, and there had already been several

 

murders aboard ship as one crewmember or another

 

ran

 

out and killed another for his or her supply.

 

To happen on a planet that was a source was incredible

 

luck, and had to be exploited. But Katur was

 

intensely annoyed at having been sent to do the

 

exploiting.

 

They came out into another clearing and went roaring

 

across it. And then something happened. Katur was not

 

sure of the details even later, when she had time

 

to think about matters, but it seemed as if suddenly there

 

was a stone in the middle of the clearing, where previously

 

there had been none. She had little more time to consider the

 

problem, as she was pitched out of the vehicle over the

 

windshield.

 

She was well-taught enough to hit the ground rolling,

 

and a moment later she was on her feet, sidearm out,

 

looking for the others. They were all

 

lying about in various states of disrepair.

 

Kesaio was sitting up groaning, with the blood coming

 

down from a good long scrape on his head. Katur

 

went and helped him up roughly by one arm. "A pity

 

you weren't killed," she

 

said, "but that's all right; the Commander will do that for you

 

when he

 

sees what you've done to the vehicle."

 

Kesaio wasn't up to much but groaning yet.

 

Katur went over to Helef,

 

pausing along the way to kick at one of the

 

pulse-diggers, which had come down and broken rather neatly

 

in two pieces. "Fine," she said. "We're going

 

to have to do all this by hand now." She helped Helef

 

up; he was stunned, that was all. "Tak?" she said.

 

"I'm all right," he said. "Katur, did you

 

see that? The stone got in front of us."

 

She stared at him. "You're addled. Here, pick

 

up your gun."

 

He picked up his sidearm, but at the same time

 

he was looking suspiciously at the rock.

 

"Katur, I mean it. It was somewhere else first, and

 

it moved."

 

"Nothing moved," she said scornfully. "Don't

 

be a fool. How should a rock move? Do you see

 

any marks in the grass, anything of the kind?"

 

"No, but-was

 

"Idiot," she said, and stalked away. Another

 

disappointment. She usually rather liked Tak, but if

 

he was going to start hallucinating on her,

 

there was no point in him.

 

Katur stared at the vehicle. A ruin. How

 

quickly everything could go to

 

pieces in the world. She had gone out with hopes of a

 

commendation for a task well done; now there would be

 

discipline for all of them. And still no tabekh.

 

The windshield of the vehicle was quite shattered.

 

Katur looked at it,

 

rubbing her slightly sore neck, and wondered how

 

she had managed to go

 

flying over it and not hit the rock.

 

Unless the rock had moved-

 

No, ridiculous. She went over to the other

 

digger and picked it up. It was still in one piece, but

 

whether it would function was another question.

 

"Come on, the lot of you," she said. "At least

 

we still have one of these

 

left. We'll get the damn tabekh anyway,

 

more than enough for everybody."

 

"What about the vehicle?"

 

"We'll tell the Commander that one of the wretched

 

tree-things got in front of it," Katur said.

 

"Rocks we can't explain except by people's

 

clumsiness."

 

She glowered at Kesaio. "But we can

 

catch one of the trees 163

 

and make it look as if the alien got clumsy.

 

Nothing easier. Here, take

 

this," she said, and handed the surviving pulse-digger

 

to Helef.

 

He took it with ill grace, but he had no

 

choice; she was most senior.

 

"Here," she said, "give me your scanner." He

 

handed that over reluctantly as well. He had

 

spent time making special alterations in it, and

 

disliked having his settings fiddled with. She knew it,

 

and delighted in

 

discomfiting him. Katur changed the

 

reading-slides until they suited her, then did an

 

allaround scan.

 

"There," she said. "There's a positive trace.

 

Northnorthwest, no more than four thousand paces

 

away. We can make it in an hour or so, I should

 

think. Come on, let's get this over with."

 

They set off north-northwest, up toward the

 

bluegreen hills. A long soft afternoon, blue with

 

haze and the planet's idiosyncratic

 

chlorophyll, was settling over everything. Katur,

 

uncaring, was blind to it.

 

Another thing she also did not see, that she

 

might have cared rather more about, was the rock, which was following

 

them.

 

KIRK WAS SITTING in the shadow of the Master

 

of the beAt, thinking hard.

 

Afternoon was setting in; the light was changing from the

 

odd coolstwarm

 

mixture of the morning to earlier day to something almost

 

wholly warm,

 

though blues and greens were still predominant. The

 

brassy light of

 

Flyspeck's sun was shading down to old gold

 

through the still air. In the

 

trees leading up to the hills northward, birds

 

were beginning to sing, or

 

something that would have passed for birds. The song was

 

muted, abstract,

 

and slightly melancholy. It reminded Kirk of

 

nightingale bats, or chickadees in winter, and it

 

suited his mood, and the feeling of the place,

 

exactly.

 

The Master had not spoken for some time. Kirk

 

leaned back against its

 

bulk-it had told him it didn't mind-and

 

waited. One feeling he had been

 

getting steadily, ever since he had

 

beamed down, was that there was no

 

point in rushing this process. This was exactly

 

what the Enterprise had

 

come for-the diplomacy, taking place in a rather

 

different manner than 165

 

he had originally imagined, but taking place

 

nonetheless, and requiring the same care and attention as

 

if the usual forms were being observed. Pity more

 

diplomacy can't take place like this, though, Kirk

 

thought. Sitting out in the fresh air and the sunshine is

 

a lot more pleasant than being stuck in

 

stuffy meeting rooms and bureaucratic

 

cocktail parties.

 

He kept finding himself looking around, though, as if

 

to reassure himself that the day would not suddenly give

 

way again to a night full of bombs and phasers.

 

There was no question in his mind that he had been there,

 

physically. It begged an interesting question could the

 

beAt affect others' physicalit y, as well as their

 

own? It seemed likely. But he would need

 

Spock later to help him work on answers to that

 

question, and many others. There was no doubt that the Federation

 

would be very, very keen to get

 

Flyspeck in.

 

He could not allow that to concern him, however.

 

His business was to

 

discover whether membership in the Federation would be as

 

good for the

 

beAt-and the Ornae and the Lahit-as it would be from the

 

Federation's point of view. If it wasn't, he was

 

going to tell the Federation to go take a

 

flying leap. Theoretically, if that was his decision,

 

they would support him.

 

Theoretically.

 

He sighed and thought again of that horrible night full

 

of carnage. "I

 

think I can understand," he said after a while, "why

 

you're in the mood to be a little cautious of aliens."

 

There was a silence. Then the Master said, "Can you?

 

Can you indeed?"

 

Its tone of voice was curious, and made him

 

wonder if he had been missing something. Kirk said,

 

"You're 166

 

implying that there may be reasons for your caution that

 

I don't understand as yet. Nothing is more likely.

 

But I don't know what questions to ask as

 

yet, sir, to get the right answers."

 

"Nor do I," said the Master. "I suppose

 

we'll just have to play Galactic Twenty Questions

 

until we both discover what we need

 

to know."

 

Kirk chuckled. As they had been talking, the

 

beAt's idiom was becoming more and more fluent, even

 

witty. Kirk supposed it was picking this up from his

 

mind somehow, catching snatches of other people's conversation

 

as he

 

remembered them in the course of his own talking and

 

thinking. "That's as good a name for this as any," he said.

 

He stretched. "It's a pleasure to have the time

 

to ask the questions

 

today," he said. "I feel a lot less

 

pressured than usual." He cocked an eye up

 

at the beAt. "That wouldn't be your doing, would it?"

 

The beAt hesitated-Kirk was growing able to hear

 

its hesitations now-and

 

said, "I couldn't answer that until I was certain

 

I knew what you meant by doing. I would have to tell you

 

everything I do, I suppose."

 

Kirk was amused. "And what do you do?"

 

"Watch the world, mostly."

 

"No different from most of us. Except we have to do

 

things about what we see happening. Not always the right

 

things, I'm afraid."

 

The beAt made a long slow rumble that Kirk was

 

coming to recognize as

 

agreement. "You do a lot of doing, was it said.

 

"Yes."

 

"It must be strange," said the Master, "to spend so

 

much of your time in the present."

 

Kirk laughed outright at that. "We're kind of

 

stuck with it. The future is a closed book . .

 

. the past is frozen. The present is all we've

 

got to

 

work with."

 

"Very strange," said the Master. "Time as you conceive

 

it is a little

 

place, it seems. A box. You sit in the

 

present moment, with everything

 

outside the box inaccessible to you."

 

"We get out," Kirk said slowly. "But only

 

occasionally. Dreams . . .

 

there's no time there. A hundred things happen in

 

an eyeblink."

 

"Yes," the Master said, "that is the way it is."

 

"There was a saying on Earth, among some of the early

 

philosophers, that time was Nature's way of

 

keeping everything from happening at once."

 

The Master rumbled with amusement again. "What a

 

quiet context you must

 

exist in," it said. "A simple

 

place."

 

"Simple!"

 

"But do you see," said the Master, "what our

 

caution is founded in? Here our people have this

 

perception of time as a whole thing, unbreakable; a

 

field that we live in, and move through at will;

 

sky,

 

sun, trees, wind. Now comes a species that

 

tells us that

 

all other species, nearly, live in boxes,

 

and let in the

 

sun only a blink at a time, glance at a star

 

only once in

 

a while. Should that not seem unutterably strange

 

to

 

us? Frightening? And should we not fear that the

 

species we live with, and care for-the Ornae and the

 

Lahit-might somehow catch this view from contact

 

with these other beings, be contaminated by it? Might

 

we not fear that our friends, who see the world mostly

 

as we do, might themselves crawl into the boxes, and

 

come to ration their perception of the world to the

 

occasional breath of air, a glimpse of

 

sunlight through

 

the cracks?" It sounded grave. "I

 

think that would be a mistake in our

 

caretakership."

 

"You would be right there," Kirk said. "But you have no

 

guarantee it would happen. You might as easily

 

become enriched as impoverished. Think of the other

 

side of the question. People from a hundred worlds coming here-as

 

many new, strange ways of thinking as you can

 

imagine; more than that. For strangeness doesn't always

 

have to be terrible. We got over that fear,

 

though it took us a long time. Some of the most

 

different of us are the

 

best friends. Maybe there's something to what people say

 

where I come from, that opposites attract, that people as

 

unlike as they can be have nothing to argue about, and get

 

along the best of all, much better than people who are more

 

alike."

 

"Like your friends the Klingons."

 

Kirk laughed. "We may be a little too alike

 

for our own good. We were both bred from predator

 

species. Are there any predator species on this

 

planet?" he said, for he could feel the Master's

 

momentary confusion. "Creatures

 

that live off other creatures, by actual ingestion

 

of their tissue, or by taking something belonging to the other

 

creatures from them?"

 

The beAt shuddered. Kirk did too, in

 

sympathy; perhaps the Master was

 

leaking emotion a little, for its wave of shock and

 

revulsion went straight through him. What was the image

 

in my mind? he wondered, for he had never even

 

noticed. Lions on the veldt? Or something

 

worse?

 

"We have nothing of the kind here," said the Master, and

 

there was an

 

undertone of unhappiness in its voice, "though I

 

have heard of the concept. This, then, would also go far

 

to explain the behavior of your 169

 

Orion pirates, if they are descended from

 

predators too."

 

"Hominid stock," Kirk said. "I'm afraid

 

so. Most hominids had

 

ancestor-creatures that hunted and killed

 

to live. The habit is in our

 

genes. It's hard to break. Some of us choose

 

to break it. Some delight in the killing, and see no

 

problem in that. We try not to judge them by our

 

standards." Kirk sighed. "We have trouble enough living

 

by our own."

 

"You can see," said the Master, "the difficulty

 

I would have in justifying contact with such kinds

 

of creatures."

 

"Justifying to whom?" said Kirk.

 

There was another of those long pauses. "I will have

 

difficulty explaining that," it said, though there was an

 

undertone to its rumbling that sounded almost cheerful.

 

Kirk shook his head. "Never mind, then. It can

 

wait till later. I'm more concerned about the

 

pirates. They're bound to come back again. They'll

 

keep coming back until they've drained your planet

 

of whatever resource they

 

started coming here for. And they'll kill more of your people,

 

and the

 

Ornae and Lahit, in the process."

 

"Oh, they haven't killed any of my people. We

 

are hard to kill," said the Master.

 

"I just bet!" Kirk said. You could drop a

 

planetcracker bomb on a creature that could put

 

its physicality in abeyance; and when it came

 

back, not a vein of its stone would be out of place.

 

"But the others . . . yes. I would prevent that, if

 

it could be prevented."

 

Kirk weighed his next words for a few seconds.

 

"This might be one advantage that being in the 170

 

Federation could offer you," he said. "One of the things

 

we cooperate in is protection. If it

 

became known that your world was affiliated with our

 

Federation, odds are that the pirates would avoid you.

 

We have had run-ins with them before." Kirk smiled,

 

and the smile was grim. "Generally not to

 

their advantage."

 

"You were telling me," said the Master, "that you thought

 

perhaps the

 

reason they were coming here was because they had been driven

 

out of other spaces comby you and the Klingons. Should you

 

come here, then perhaps they would be driven farther out-to some

 

other world even less able to defend itself. Some world that

 

your people would see no advantage in defending. For

 

clearly you see advantage in us."

 

"I can't deny that," Kirk said.

 

"I would find it hard," said the Master, "to take

 

on my conscience the

 

burden of deaths on another world. This one is

 

problem enough."

 

Kirk had to see the logic in that. So much for the

 

diplomatic initiative, he thought unhappily.

 

I have a feeling these people are going to say no to us at the

 

end of the day. Regardless, something has to be done

 

to help

 

them.

 

"This predation," the Master said, thoughtful,

 

"seems unusually widespread. One wonders if

 

something could be done about it."

 

Kirk smiled slowly. "I'm sitting here trying

 

to think of ways to help your people," he said, "and you're

 

trying to think of ways to help mine."

 

"Well, who wouldn't?"

 

"The Klingons, for one."

 

"Yes," the Master said, still thoughtful. "But that's

 

their problem. They cannot help their genes any more 171

 

than you can. One must transcend such things, not try

 

to deal with them by simple removal. Removal never

 

turns out to be permanent, or effective."

 

"So we found out, sometime back in our history,"

 

Kirk said. "Mastery is

 

better than change, as a rule. And usually more

 

satisfying."

 

"Yes, was said the beAt, and the earth round about shook

 

with its agreement. .kirk steadied himself until the

 

bouncing stopped. I

 

have the feeling I've just missed something

 

significant, he thought. I wish I knew what

 

it was. "In any case," Kirk said, "the

 

Klingons don't seem

 

particularly interested in transcending their heredity.

 

They appear to be

 

very fond of it." He shrugged. "Their choice."

 

"Yes."

 

"At any rate, I thank you for trying to think of

 

ways to help us. But I

 

think that we would probably not benefit unless we

 

impl emented the help

 

ourselves."

 

"I was going to say something similar to you," said the

 

Master, and Kirk could feel it smiling, though there was

 

not the slightest change in the

 

contours or terrible weight of that great tall stone.

 

"And you see, if we had to depend on others for our

 

protection, our-sufficiency-would be

 

impaired. Never again would we, or the other

 

species, be quite whole. It might be better to die,

 

than to lose that wholeness. It is all we have,

 

really."

 

"Live free, or die," Kirk murmured.

 

"Yes," said the Master of the beAt. "That is the

 

choice to be made, I

 

think."

 

"And you will be making it," said Kirk.

 

"Oh, I have made it, eventually," the Master

 

said. "I just don't know what it is yet."

 

Kirk sighed. Every now and then the

 

Master's

 

tenses became confused, but it had something to do with the

 

beAt's odd

 

perception of time, rather than a glitch in the

 

Translator. "Well, let me

 

know when you find out," he said.

 

"You will be the first to know," said the beAt. "And

 

possibly the last. Tell me something, if you would."

 

"Certainly," Kirk said, thoroughly confused.

 

"The other ship-tell me about that."

 

"Oh, our initial survey vessel," Kirk

 

said. "They were under orders not to reveal where they came

 

from or what they were doing here. I have regrets about that,

 

in retrospect," he said. "It seems a childish

 

way to treat

 

another intelligent species. Unfortunately,

 

I don't make the policies; my job is

 

to carry them out."

 

"Not that ship," the beAt said. "The other ship in

 

orbit, the one with the name Ekkava on its hull.

 

There are not as many people aboard it as there are aboard your

 

vessel, but the ship seems to be carrying many more of the

 

energy-directing devices than yours does."

 

Kirk broke right out in a cold sweat.

 

BonesYA-ND my ship, with a green

 

officer in the helm, one that no one else will be able

 

to relieve because of my orders. "Ekkava-that sounds

 

uncomfortably like a Klingon ship," he said.

 

"Sir, I need to contact my ship." He pulled

 

out his communicator and flipped it open. "Kirk

 

to Enterprise. his

 

The result was a horrendous electronic

 

squeal that he had heard before, and it raised the hair

 

on the back of his neck-not with delight, either.

 

"Jammed," he muttered. "What the devil are

 

they up to?"

 

"They appear to simply be orbiting at the

 

moment," said the Master. "I can tell you this in

 

certainty your ship is in no danger from the

 

Klingons."

 

"If you don't mind," said Kirk, "I'd rather be

 

the judge of that."

 

"A moment only. We have been discussing the

 

Klingons mostly in the

 

abstract," said the Master. "Do you consider them as

 

bad as Orion pirates?" Kirk had to think about

 

that for a moment. "There are more of them," he

 

said, "and they're less cautious, and more violent,

 

in more straightforward ways. Usually they're better

 

armed. But they're usually more predictable.

 

We know each other moderately well," Kirk

 

said.

 

"So it seems. Well, they are here, and I

 

suppose they must be entertained as well." The

 

Master sounded to Kirk more like a host who's worried

 

about the hors d'oeuvres running out than a

 

creature with what might be the

 

beginning of an invasion force sitting on its

 

doorstep. "What would you

 

recommend we do?" Kirk frowned furiously

 

at the nonfunctional communicator, and put it

 

away. "Probably," he said, "get ready for a

 

fight."

 

Captain's Log, Supplemental. Commander

 

Leonard McCoy recording in the

 

absence of Captain James T. Kirk

 

(oh Lord, Jim, where the hell are you?)

 

Conditions remain largely unchanged since our

 

last log entry. We are

 

keeping a channel open to the Klingon vessel

 

to keep them reassured that we harbor no ill Will

 

against them, and continue to check in with them

 

regularly regarding their missing crewmen. No

 

sign has been found of their people as yet, or of

 

Captain Kirk, though our searches have

 

extended to include three of the other continents and the

 

Waters off the continent on which most of our researches

 

have been done. Mr. Spock continues to

 

investigate odd radiation readings and other

 

slightly unnatural phenomena that he feels may

 

shed some light on the method used to remove the

 

Captain. The Ornae and Lahit on the planet

 

continue to insist that the Captain is present and

 

unhurt, though they are unable to prove this, or

 

to tell us how they know.

 

Meanwhile, datagathering continues on the

 

planet, though many personnel have been diverted

 

to searching for the Captain. We have rediscovered

 

penicillin eighteen times, streptomycin and

 

hemomycetin three times, and have isolated several very

 

promising antifungal and antibacterial agents.

 

The planet also seems to harbor some plant life

 

that occurs on planets a good ways away, such as

 

snortweed, which as far as we knew only grew on

 

Delta Orionis Eight. Other specimens have

 

also been found and identified, leading some members of

 

Botany to suggest that the Preservers may indeed have

 

been out this way, but may have transplanted

 

vegetative plant species rather than the usual

 

intelligent animal-descended ones, and

 

may have used the planet as a greenhouse rather than a

 

zoo breeding program. The

 

interest of this planet continues to increase. My

 

only wish is that the Captain were experiencing it from

 

up here, rather than wherever he is.

 

McCoy handed the recorder to Uhura. "Did that

 

sound all right?" he said. "You're getting the hang

 

of it," she said. "Thanks, Doctor. This will go out

 

with the next transmission in a little while."

 

"Good." He frowned a little. "Aren't we due for

 

another love letter from Starfleet pretty soon?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Oh, wonderful." He was feeling the dread in the

 

pit of his stomach, a

 

feeling he hadn't experienced since he was in

 

grammar school, sitting and waiting for what he

 

knew would be a failing report card to be put

 

into his hands to take home.

 

"Don't panic yet," Uhura said. "They'll

 

have your last reply at this point, but it's going

 

to take five hours for them to get this one and figure

 

out what you've 175

 

been doing with what they told you. Maybe something will

 

happen between now and then."

 

"Maybe," he said, not wanting to rain

 

on Uhura's parade. But he had a

 

feeling that if anything was going to happen, it was on

 

that little spark of light that was trailing them two

 

hundred klicks back in orbit. It made his

 

back itch. Several times now he had considered

 

telling Sulu to slow

 

their orbit so that the Klingons would slip in front

 

of them. But he had restrained himself. The Enterprise

 

could fire just as well backward as

 

forward, and as for the Klingons, any sudden move on

 

Enterprise's part

 

might make them nervous. No use doing anything

 

that might alter the

 

delicate balance that presently prevailed.

 

"Spock," he said, looking over his shoulder,

 

"anything new?"

 

Spock was bent over his station's viewer, intent.

 

He straightened up slowly and said, "I am . . .

 

uncertain, Doctor."

 

"How uncertain?"

 

Spock came down to stand beside the center seat.

 

"Doctor," he said, "you said that high-energy

 

physics was a little "over your head." How far

 

over?" McCoy shrugged. "I understand the basics;

 

you have to, to understand most of the diagnostic

 

imaging systems we use in Sickbay. I can fix

 

our little cyclotron when it breaks down, but that's about

 

the size of it."

 

Spock nodded thoughtfully. "I have been doing some

 

time-lapse scanning of the planet surface," he

 

said, "concentrating on the area where the Captain went

 

missing. I keep locating Z-particle decay

 

of a certain kind, the kind associated with tachyon

 

incursion in atmosphere."

 

That surprised McCoy a bit. Tachyons were

 

the

 

heralds of particles that had been traveling at more

 

than the speed of

 

light, and had slowed down and so become perceptible

 

in the "real"

 

timeframe; their high red shift always gave them

 

away. "That's curious," he said. "What do you

 

make of it?"

 

"I have no theories as yet," Spock said. "But

 

we have come across these

 

particular kinds of decay before."

 

"Where?"

 

"On the planet of the Guardian of Forever."

 

McCoy raised his eyebrows. "The characteristic

 

decay patterns are all

 

there," Spock said. "Typically they were found when

 

the Guardian had just been active in engineering a

 

timeshift."

 

"You think there's another Guardian down there?"

 

He swallowed. No question but that the Klingons would be

 

interested in that. "Is it buried somewhere? Is that why

 

our friends down there were out with their digging gear? Maybe

 

we were wrong in thinking they were hunting mineral

 

resources."

 

"Insufficient data," Spock said. "All I

 

have been able to determine is that the radiation decay is

 

the same. I must say that I doubt the Klingons have

 

had time to come to my conclusions."

 

That struck McCoy as small consolation, at the

 

moment. "Has something

 

grabbed Kirk and thrown him into some other timeline?"

 

he said. "Is that why the Ornae keep insisting

 

he's there . . . but can't produce him?"

 

"I cannot say. But I will continue my

 

investigations."

 

McCoy brooded a moment, then said, "Have our people

 

down there been asking the Ornae if they know where the

 

Klingons are?"

 

"Yes, but the answers have not been conclusive.

 

They are still trying to get replies that make

 

sense."

 

Spock turned away. "Still no sign of the

 

beAt?" McCoy said.

 

"None, Doctor." And Spock went back

 

to his station.

 

McCoy sat back, watching the screen, which at

 

the moment was showing the main clearing down on the

 

planet. In the background of the picture Lt.

 

Kerasus was sitting with an Ornaet half in her

 

lap, talking a mile a minute to her tricorder,

 

and herself now using the scratchy noises the Ornae

 

used. Lia was off at one side, peering among the

 

branches of a grove of Lahit, using an

 

ophthalmoscope on their holly-berry eyes. The

 

eyes were foll owing her as she moved around, and goggling

 

at her. He smiled a bit through his annoyance and

 

concern.

 

TheeaAt are at the heart of this, somehow, he thought.

 

If Jim hadn't called me up just then, I would have

 

found out something about what's going on

 

here . . . I know it. Maybe I would have been the

 

one to disappear, but who cares about that? I d have found

 

out.

 

1 hope.

 

Uhura glanced over at him.

 

"Doctor," she said, "we've got a

 

transmission coming in. I'm afraid it's

 

Starfleet."

 

McCoy moaned. "I guess there's no use in

 

trying to avoid it. Let me have it live."

 

Uhura smiled demurely and said, "Yes,

 

sir." She touched a button.

 

The pleasant scene on the screen went away and

 

was replaced by, oh Lord, Delacroix. And

 

puns aside, he looked cross. He was sitting

 

in exactly the same position as he had been for the

 

previous message. 178

 

Does the man ever get out of that chair, I

 

wonder? But this time his face

 

looked as if he had been sucking Demons.

 

McCoy tried to be inconspicuous

 

about gripping the arms of the center seat.

 

" Starfleet Command, Delacroix, was he said.

 

"To

 

Leonard McCoy, commanding Enterprise. Command

 

er, we confirm receipt of your last set of log

 

extracts and

 

data. As of this stardate, you are re-was

 

The picture broke up in a howl of noise and a

 

blizzard of static. Very

 

slowly, McCoy turned around and smiled at

 

Uhura.

 

"Nice job," he said. "Oh, Uhura, that was

 

nice."

 

"I didn't do it, Doctor," she said. "Much

 

as any of us might dislike the contents of the message,

 

I can't interfere with reception. Ethics."

 

McCoy sighed. "Yes, well then . . . what

 

did?"

 

And the horrible suspicion hit him. "Or who?"

 

"Checking," Uhura said. She turned her

 

attention to her board for a moment, touched a couple of

 

controls, and said, "I thought so. It's a jamming

 

signal, Doctor."

 

"Klingon?" he said.

 

She nodded.

 

"Never thought I'd be thanking them for some tilde

 

thing, but by Heaven, if I see Kaiev, I'll

 

buy him a jelly pastry," McCoy said.

 

Spock looked over at McCoy with a bemused

 

expression. "I am uncertain why you're

 

celebrating, Doctor," he said. "From the

 

syntactical construction we heard, the

 

probability is high that the Admiral was about

 

to relieve you."

 

McCoy stopped right where he was. He had been

 

so delighted not to have to take a scolding from

 

Delacroix that that hadn't occurred to him. His 179

 

mouth dropped open, and he said, "Damn.

 

Damn, damn, damn!

 

Then he stopped. "Wait a second," he said

 

to Spock, and advanced on him

 

with glee. "If you're so sure that that's what he

 

said, then you have to relieve me!"

 

"Doctor, I only said the probability was

 

high. One officer cannot relieve another on a

 

probability. The order must be heard. We did not

 

hear him

 

finish."

 

McCoy's scowl came back. "I'll kill

 

him," he said, turning to Uhura.

 

"Uhura, get Kaiev on the horn. I'm

 

going to give him such an ache in that bumpy head of

 

his-to "

 

"I take it the jelly pastry is off, then,"

 

Uhura said softly, and reached out to her console. Before

 

she could touch it, it beeped at her.

 

"Put it on screen," McCoy said angrily,

 

and swung to face it. It lit up

 

with Kaiev's face a moment later.

 

"Commander," McCoy said to him, "do you know that it's

 

not polite to

 

interfere with people's communications with home?"

 

Kaiev looked both annoyed and upset, and for a

 

moment McCoy found himself wondering whether he was

 

running up to another liver relapse; he was pale.

 

Kaiev said, "Commander, I have just received a number of

 

orders from our High Command-was

 

Oh boy, McCoy thought. It never occurred

 

to me that he would have his own bureaucracy breathing down

 

his neck. I should have thought of that long

 

ago. I am really not cut out for this job-

 

"We have decided that you and the indigenous peoples of

 

this planet have

 

conspired in the kidnapping of our personnel. We

 

are also convinced that

 

your stories of missing personnel are a blind

 

to allow you to 180

 

stay in the area for reasons of your own, probably

 

treacherous. Therefore, if our crewpeople are not

 

re

 

turned to us within one of your standard days, was Kaiev

 

said, "7 am ordered to destroy your ship. Reinforce

 

ments are being diverted to this area. If you

 

attempt to leave without returning our people,

 

we will hunt you

 

down wherever you run, and blow you out of space. We

 

have jammed your communications to prevent your

 

calling for help. Since we are a peace-loving

 

species,

 

and wish to give you a chance to rethink the conse

 

quences of your aggression against us, for the present

 

we will take no action against your landing parties on

 

the planet, and will allow you to recover them. But

 

any

 

Federation personnel found on the planet after the

 

one-standard-day time limit will be considered a casu

 

alty of the security action that will be mounted

 

to recover our own people. You may also wish to warn the

 

planet's inhabitants that should they repent their

 

collu

 

sion with you, and assist in the return of

 

our personnel

 

to us, we will spare them. Otherwise we will kill

 

one

 

thousand of them for every one of our missing people,

 

and will continue to do so every standard hour until our

 

people are returned. Long live the Empire. was

 

And the

 

screen went black before McCoy could

 

get in a single

 

word.

 

McCoy sat down and swiveled around to face

 

Uhura. "Are we jammed as he

 

says?"

 

"Yes, Doctor, we are. Subspace is

 

full of artificially generated black

 

noise. Not a thing we can do about it without leaving the

 

area. At the

 

strength they're using, not even a signal buoy

 

would do us any good within the time limit."

 

"Wonderful." A moment later he said, "Wait

 

a minute! They can't do this. The Organians-was

 

Spock shook his head. "Doctor, test cases

 

of whether or not the Organians will or will not

 

intervene, this far away from their home space, are very

 

thin on the ground. I should not care to rely on their

 

intervention. Would you?"

 

"Mmf," McCoy said. "Yes. Well, I

 

suppose the Universe helps those who help

 

themselves, eh, Spock?"

 

"The body of statistical data does indicate

 

something of the sort."

 

McCoy folded his hands and thought. "Look,

 

Spock," he said after a little, "will it help

 

you if we take some of the people who're doing general

 

survey work and get them looking for more of those

 

tachyon-Z particles?"

 

"I doubt it," Spock said, "but the decision is

 

yours."

 

McCoy could hear Spock's private thought

 

if it made McCoy feel better, it would do no

 

harm. "No," he said, "let them keep doing what

 

they're doing, then. Uhura, put together a buoy

 

anyway, and get it ready to take last

 

batches of information that the landing parties will be bringing

 

up

 

tomorrow at this time. The DNA'-ANALOG analyses

 

will be done by then, and that information in particular mustn't be

 

lost, if this whole mission isn't to be wasted."

 

"Yes, Doctor," Uhura said.

 

McCoy sighed. "Spock," he said,

 

"opinions?"

 

"I should say that we are in a difficult

 

position," said Spock.

 

"Thank you ever so much. Analysis."

 

Spock looked thoughtful. "Kaiev's ship by itself

 

is not capable of taking on the Enterprise

 

successfully," he said. "But three or more ships

 

would be; and three 182

 

is the usual number of ships sent along on an

 

intervention of this kind.

 

With four-to-one odds against us, our ability

 

to leave the encounter without serious damage becomes

 

seriously impaired."

 

"Spock," McCoy said gently, "your bedside

 

manner is flawless. You mean,

 

we're all going to be blown to hell."

 

Spock hesitated, then nodded.

 

"Right. And if we run, they'll run after us . .

 

. with the same odds."

 

"They would. Tactically, our advantage

 

increases slightly if we remain in orbit.

 

Space battles in the close neighborhood of a

 

planet are a complex business, but the

 

opportunities for mistakes involving the

 

planet's gravity increase exponentially, and that

 

is to our advantage."

 

"If an experienced officer is directing the

 

fight," McCoy said softly.

 

Spock simply looked at him.

 

"Right," McCoy said. "Well, we can't do

 

anything else at the moment, so

 

we'll sit tight, and prepare ourselves the best we

 

can. If any suggestions occur to you, let

 

me know. Uhura, make sure a complete

 

recording of that last little lovenote goes in the

 

buoy. Spock, department heads" meeting

 

this evening. We'll want to make sure everybody

 

is as ready as they can be for this gymkhana."

 

"Acknowledged."

 

McCoy got up. "I'm going to go off and have my

 

lunch," he said. "Call me if anything interesting

 

develops."

 

"Yes, sir," Uhura said.

 

McCoy got into the turbolift; the doors

 

shut, and he waited for his shaking fit to start. It

 

declined. "Oh 183

 

hell," he said. "Don't tell me I'm

 

getting used to this now. his

 

As far as he was concerned, this was a bad, bad

 

sign.

 

Katur tossed the digger to the ground and said words that

 

would probably have astonished her mother. "We must have

 

come half a kalikam," she said, "and there's nothing

 

to be found. What do they mean, sending us on a mad

 

chase like this?"

 

The sentiments were treacherous, but none of the other

 

members of the party seemed inclined to disagree with her.

 

She sat down on a big rock and looked

 

around her. This was a wretched planet. Ugly

 

colors, hot dry atmosphere, dim little sun-a

 

waste of time. And they were stuck down here, and the ship

 

hadn't answered their last call. Katur supposed

 

there was something wrong with the ship's transmitter again.

 

It wouldn't be the first time, or the last.

 

"Never mind that," she said to Tak, who was slogging

 

on up the hill as if he still meant to obey orders.

 

"Come back down, Tak. There's no point."

 

"I think I see something up here," he said. "It

 

looks like the right color of leaves."

 

"Oh, go ahead," she said. "Let us know if

 

it's tabekh after all." I hope it's not, you

 

miserable little sycophant...

 

"I wonder why all these rocks look so much

 

alike," Helef said. He was

 

leaning against one, mopping at his face. Helef was

 

soaked with sweat;

 

typical of him, Katur thought. He had not been

 

in shape since he was first assigned to the ship, knowing

 

that no one cared about his physical

 

condition as long as he completed his duties and did

 

not bother the ship's physician by becoming ill.

 

Helef was soft. But this had its advantages

 

as well. One who knew his weakness could

 

exploit it when necessary.

 

"What about the rocks?" Katur said, looking

 

back down the valley, the way they had come.

 

"They all look alike. See this one-was He

 

squinted up at the one he was

 

leaning against. "It looks almost exactly like the one

 

that Kesaio hit."

 

She glanced at it and away . . . then looked

 

back. Odd, but it did bear a resemblance to that

 

other standing stone. And there was another one farther up the

 

hill that looked similar-several of them, in fact.

 

"Someone else must have lived here once," she said.

 

"None of those jellybag things, or the trees, could

 

put up anything like that. They haven't enough technology

 

to crack nuts."

 

"Foul things," Helef muttered.

 

She nodded, wondering why the Federation people were so

 

eager to bother

 

with aliens at all. She had heard a theory that the

 

Feds had such an

 

inferiority complex that they had to consort with

 

animals to make

 

themselves feel like real people. That made a kind of

 

sense. All she knew for sure was that she would rather

 

die than so lower herself.

 

Tak was running down the slope, waving his arms and

 

shouting something.

 

Katur looked up in surprise.

 

"It's tabekh, it's tabekh! Not where I thought

 

it was; farther up. There's not much of it, just a little

 

patch-was

 

Well, that's something. We won't be whipped when

 

we get back for completely failing in what we were

 

sent to do. But I for one will be sure that Kesaio

 

has to account for the vehicle. Katur sighed, picked

 

up the digger, and

 

began to walk up toward Tak.

 

Then she turned around, blinking. For a moment

 

she had been sure something had moved behind her. There

 

was nothing, though. She turned again . . . and found

 

another rock in front of her.

Comments

user comment image
Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

Share your Thoughts for Doctors Orders

500+ SHARES Facebook Twitter Reddit Google LinkedIn Email
Share Button
Share Button