How Much for Just the Planet? | Chapter 4 of 5

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"Oh, well, there's..." "Someone's coming," Sulu said.

 

 

There was the sound of a heavy iron door being opened, and then light footsteps. A woman came down the hall. She was wearing an exotic and ex- tremely minimal golden outfit. She paused before the cell and made an elaborate bow.

 

 

"Something we can do for you?" McCoy said.

 

 

"I am Gladiola, kitchen slave. I am here to serve thy desires of sustenance." She reached to her tiny skirt, produced a pad of lined green paper and a pen. "Are thy wishes clear within thy minds, or wouldst prefer to see a menu?" Memeth said, "Men-yu?" Askade said, "Khidiolev. "Memeth shook his head.

 

 

Gladiola said, "The Special of the Blue Plate is this day most wondrous. Though I must confess I know not why it bears that name, as the plate on which it is served your eminences is not blue in hue." "If you don't mind my asking," McCoy said, "just who runs that kitchen of yours?" "Oh, it is a most amazing tale," Gladiola said.

 

 

McCoy muttered, "I was afraid of that." "Many years agone, the Queen Janeka desired that her kitchens be staffed in the manner of the greatest houses of the star-people's city. In a daring raid, her soldiers abducted a cook so famed that his dining chamber was named for himself, 'Jack's Eats' was it called. The Queen's torturers drew from Jack every secret he possessed, and those of his noble Order."

 

 

HOW MUCH FOR JUST THE PLANET?

 

 

"Order?" Sulu said.

 

 

"Don't ask," McCoy said, "please, don't ask." "The short order, verily," the girl said earnestly.

 

 

"Enough," Memeth said. "I will have a roasted bird." Askade said, "And I, meat and gravy, with bread and a starch vegetable." "The Sandwich of the fabled land Manhattan?" Gladiola said, wide-eyed. Sulu ordered a steak.

 

 

McCoy said, "Well, honey, these fellows don't seem to want to get into the spirit of the moment, but I'll have a ham steak, biscuits and red-eye gravy, whatev- er pie you've got, and coffee now." Gladiola trembled. "Are you then the One?" "Hmm?" "For a generation it has been said that, one day, One would come who would order the Gravy of the Red Eye, and demand his coffee Now... and verily would he lead all those in bondage to flour and shortening to freedom." "I'm gonna take a nap, boys," McCoy said. "Wake me when the chow gets here." "And verily," Gladiola breathed, "shall the One be tired, and nap before his chow." Askade said, "Your kind wish to revolt then? To overthrow the queen? Do you have weapons?" Sulu pointed at the guard up the hall, still thumbing his scimitar, and motioned for quiet.

 

 

"We have the knives and rolling pins of our craft," Gladiola said. "And we will use them with great heart." MemeXh said, "Toy'wipu daw'moy?" "Kha'dibayh g'dayu ngem?" Askade said, then turned back to the waitress. "Very well. Bring us our food, as commanded. But be ready for the battle,"

 

 

"Your worship." She bowed slightly, tucked her pencil behind her ear, and went up the hall.

 

 

Askade shook McCoy's shoulder. "Get up, heal- er." "I'm not asleep. You figure we can lead a revolt of the galley slaves?" "The energy of servitors is what makes them useful.

 

 

It is foolish to waste that energy. Do you intend to help us?" McCoy sat up. "Well, now, as I was about to say before we were interrupted, I do have some small contribution to make to this enterprise." He slid a pressure injector from his sleeve. "I managed to hang on to six doses of Oblivirine. Fastest knockout drop in the west." "Kai the healer again," Askade said, and laughed.

 

 

The guard looked in, saw nothing of interest, went back to his post.

 

 

They paced and talked quietly for perhaps half an hour, until Gladiola returned with a tray of food.

 

 

"Will you open the door, o mighty queen's-man, that I may feed these wonhies?" "Push it through the bars," the guard said.

 

 

She picked up the plate with Sulu's steak, passed it to him. "What shall we do? All are ready be- low." "Quick," Sulu said, "do something to attract the guard's attention." Gladiola looked confused for a moment, then nod- ded. She picked up the pie from the dinner tray, said "Excuse me," and rifled it into the guard's face.

 

 

The guard roared, and ran, half-blinded by fruit and cream, staggering a bit. He grabbed a cell bar with one hand, reached for the trembling Gladiola with the other. fluff' I1ULH I"UK JUbl till: VLAN[T{

 

 

McCoy shoved the injector against the guard's arm.

 

 

There was a sharp hiss, then a deeper sigh like escaping air as the guard folded up.

 

 

"Keys," Memeth said, and Gladiola nodded again.

 

 

Unfortunately, the key ring had been on the front of the guard's belt, and it was lost somewhere beneath his hundred-fifty-kilo bulk. Gladiola tried to roll the body over, while the group inside the cell stretched arms through the bars to help.

 

 

"What's going on down there?" someone called from up the corridor, "Nothing," McCoy shouted back.

 

 

There were running footsteps. More guards ap- peared. "Worth a try," McCoy muttered.

 

 

Gladiola threw a plate of chicken at the approach- ing guards. One ducked, slipped on stray pie, and threw out his arm for balance. McCoy got hold of it.

 

 

Hiss. Thud.

 

 

"Got 'em," Sulu said, and tugged the key ring free.

 

 

Gladiola was defending herself from the remaining guard with biscuits and mashed potatoes.

 

 

Sulu got the keys into the lock. The door swung open. Memeth was across the hall and the sleeping guards in one step. He recoiled like a pitcher winding up; his body went snap, and the last guard rose into the air and sailed backward until a wall finally stopped him.

 

 

Taking swords from the fallen guards, the off- wofiders and Gladiola started up the hall. "Which way out?" Sulu said. "Out?" she said.

 

 

"You know, out," McCoy said. "Into the open. The fresh air. The surface." "I have never been 'out,'" she said, "but the tunnel of the raiders is this way." "It will do," Memeth said. He traded a sword salute with Sulu and they charged up the corridor, the others close behind.

 

 

"Now," someone called out, and a cord snapped taut across the corridor, just at ankle level.

 

 

Memeth tripped. Sulu tripped. McCoy crashed into Memeth. Gladiola tried to avoid Sulu and tripped Askade, then bumped imo McCoy. Everyone fell down.

 

 

A net was thrown across the heap, then another.

 

 

Ropes pulled tight, swords were pulled from hands.

 

 

"The queen," one of the guards said, "is not gonna like this."

 

 

Security Officer Magius and Chief Engineer Scott stood on the first tee of the Hotel Direidi Country Club. Professor Delmar was adjusting the strap on a club bag to suit Korth. In the distance, a brisk wind stood the first-hole flag out straight. The sky was a lovely blue, the fairway a vivid green, the water hazards deep and inviting.

 

 

"Have to 'low a bit of Kentucky windage today, gentlemen," Professor Delmar said. "Where's, I say, where's your second, Mr. Scott, suh?" "Knowin' Mr. Chekov, probably deep in something difficult." "I am here," Chekov said. He was carrying a worn leather bag filled with hickory-shafted clubs and wore baggy plus-four trousers bloused above the ankles and a floppy red-plaid tam o'shanter with a huge crimson pompom.

 

 

"Now where," Scott said, "did ye get that outfit?" "When the clubs were beamed down, there was a slight coordinate error," Chekov said. "And a large puddle of mud. The hotel laundry--" Scott was examining the golf bag. "They seem all right."

 

 

"Thank you, sir," Scott unzipped a pocket of the bag and pulled out a long wool scarf. "My huntin' tartan," he said, wind- ing it on. He tapped Chekov's cap. "Didn't know you were entitled tae th' Royal Stewart." "May we begin?" Maglus said.

 

 

"Certainly, suh," Delmar said. "Would y'all care to toss for first ball?" Scott said, "Mr. Maglus may play." "Very well, suh. Now, ify'all will excuse me, I have other, ah say, other entertainments to arrange today?' He tipped his pith helmet and walked away.

 

 

Maglus took out the number-one wood. He swung it about wildly, like a machete, and looking at least as dangerous.

 

 

Korth put the ball on the tee. Magius stepped up, looked into the distance, toward the bravely snapping flag 425 yards downrange with a dogleg to the left. He raised the club like the Grim Reaper. He screamed.

 

 

He swung.

 

 

The ball flew in a perfect flat parabola along the fairway, past the trees with plenty to spare, around the dogleg. It skimmed a bunker and dropped, just barely rolling, less than thirty yards from the green.

 

 

Maglus watched the ball until it stopped. Then he cackled, put the club on his shoulder, and walked away from the tee.

 

 

Scott blinked. He looked at Chekov: the ensign was clutching the strap of the golf bag with one white-knuckled hand, his tam o'shanter with the other.

 

 

"Well now, Montgomery Scott," the chief engineer said to himself, "Didn't your ma warn you about gamblin' with strangers?" He tapped Chekov on the shoulder. "Come on, lad. Tee me up."

 

 

The black coach carrying Uhura and Aperokei rolled fast, rocking hard on its springs. The chain linking their wrists clinked softly. "What now?" Uhura said.

 

 

"Obviously we've got to get out of here. Then we need to find out who set us up." "You think we were set up?" "Angel, I've seen every film Hitchcock ever made at least three times. That includes both versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much, and I can practically quote you North by Northwest." He pointed at the handcuffs. "Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll in The Thirty-Nine Steps." "Okay," Uhura said, partly worried but mostly just irritated, "you've had a look at the script, what's my next line?" Aperokei actually seemed to relax at that. "Up to you, angel. I'm just making it up as I go along. How about something like 'My mama told me never to get handcuffed to a murderer without a proper introduc- tion'?" "You're not a murderer. Are you?" "Not yet, anyway. But you aren't supposed to know that for another couple of reels, and then not until it's stopped mattering. For now, though, you think I'm a desperate man. Unless of course we are doing North- west, in which case you know I'm innocent, but you can't let on without blowing your own secret iden- tity." Uhura laughed entirely in spite of herself. "I don't have a secret identity." "That's a shame. Everyone needs a secret identity." "Okay... so tell me. Are you a desperate man?" "I will be if we keep sitting like this. May I come join you on that side?" "Not until we've been properly introduced."

 

 

Proke smiled. He rose slightly from his seat, tipped an imaginary hat with his free hand. "Aperokei tai- Rensa, innocent bystander trapped in a deadly web of intrigue, at your service." "Nyota Uhura, likewise, I'm sure. Do sit down, tai-Rensa. Try anything funny, though, and I'll break your arm." "Charmed." He sat clown next to her. It was a tight fit, but at least their arms were no longer stretched straight. "If I try anything funny in here I'll break my back." "So what do we do now?" "Obviously we escape. After that... hm. If this really is a Hitchcock, we should probably look for a very high place. You haven't seen anything that looks like Mount Rushmore, have you?" "No. Though there's probably a bell tower in the castle. And I suppose we should stay out of showers?" "Absolutely no showers." Proke pulled back a window curtain. They were rolling down a rather narrow alley, the walls of buildings less than an arm's reach away. "Jumping doesn't seem like a very good idea." "I'm glad to hear you say that." "Hey, this is a team effort, right?" He rattled the handcuff chain. "Nobody goes anywhere alone." He shuffled a boot on the floor. "No way out down there." He looked up. There was a small sliding door in the coach roof, for talking to the driver, but it was less than twenty centimeters across, hardly an escape route.

 

 

Uhura took a communicator from her shoulder bag. "Shall we yell for help?" "Excellent idea." Aperokei produced a communi- cator of his own from his belt. "Last one with a lock-on buys the drinks."

 

 

They flipped open the comm units. Both produced nothing but a hideous squealing sound.

 

 

"Radiation?" Proke said. "Or jamming?" "It sounds like a jamming signal. Listen." She tweaked the control dials.

 

 

"Not for long, thank you. With a spectrum analyzer we could tell." "And with a phaser we could shoot our way out of here." "True... I wonder if the Direidi know that?" "Know what?" "About hand weapons. Have you seen them use phasers or disruptors? The policewoman and that Skorher fellow didn't show any." "Now that you mention it, no, I haven't seen any." She looked at the communicator in her hand, then up at the little trapdoor in the roof. "Hmmm." "I like mine better for this," Aperokei said, flipping the triangular Klingon corem unit over in his hand.

 

 

"Looks more dangerous." "That isn't the dangerous part." Proke said, "What's the worst thing they can do to us? Laugh in our faces?" "Shoot back." "True. Shall we?" "Let's." They raised their linked hands and slid back the trap. Proke shoved the communicator into the small of the driver's back. "All right, jocko. This is a Mark 34 Energy Projector, the most powerful concealable weapon in the known universe. Pull this crate over to a nice quiet stop or I'll let starlight into you." The driver nodded hastily and complied. Uhura opened the door, and they stepped down slowly.

 

 

Proke told the driver, "Now, just keep your hands high. Couple of layers of wood won't even slow this baby down." They moved to the rear of the coach. Suddenly the driver snatched up the reins, gave them a yank, yelled, "Gee-up!" and the coach clattered away, rounding the first corner on not all of its wheels.

 

 

Aperokei said, "What are you laughing at?" "You. You were having such a good time doing that." "Yeah," Proke said. "I guess I was." He looked at the communicator in his hand. "You don't get to do this kind of thing very often in the Empire." "Now what?" Uhura said, after a moment. "The cab driver won't run forever." "I know. And when he stops running, they'll be after us again. Whoever 'they' are." "Do you suppose they really were the police? Or the government?" "It's occurred to me. You have to admit, the locals have been acting more than a little odd. Shall we try our ships again?" They did. There was nothing. Proke scratched his head. "Have you tried cross-heterodyning the signal?" "Yes, but these sets are already superhet. We'll just get stray harmonics, and probably drift." "Hm. How about an Arsos bridge?" "I don't know the term... oh, wait, do you mean two transtator pairs collector-to-emitter? We call that a Gentry ring. Can I patch across to--" Suddenly she noticed that Aperokei had a strange smirk. "What are you grinning about?" "Oh, I was just thinkin', angel... we're not really going to sit back and let the computers up there solve this case, are we?"

 

 

"What are you talking about?" "I'm talking about the black bird, angel. The secret of Baskerville Hall. The lost ark, the mask of Fu Manchu. Somebody's handed us a real live mystery, and I for one think we ought to go out and solve it.

 

 

Are you with me?" "I... Someone's coming." Three figures draped in white came around a corner and into the alley. Two walked straight, the third curiously hunched over.

 

 

Uhura and Proke tucked away their communica- tors, stretched their sleeves down over the handcuffs, turned away from the newcomers and began strolling up the alleyway, hand in hand.

 

 

"Excuse us, please," said a voice behind them.

 

 

"Just keep walking," Proke whispered.

 

 

"Please, wait." "They don't sound like they're hunting us," Uhura said.

 

 

"Good hunters never do." "For you to continue walking is illogical," said another voice.

 

 

Uhura said, "That's a Vulcan." "Or a Romulan pretending to be one. Romulans are excellent hunters." The first voice said, "Look, you don't have to stop, if you'll just tell us how to get out of here." Uhura stopped. That left Proke little choice. They turned around.

 

 

The three people didn't seem to be armed. They didn't look much like anything, except dusty and distracted.

 

 

"Pardon us," said the first speaker, "but we're rather hungry..." "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," Proke said.

 

 

"Just came from there," said the humpbacked one, whistling as he spoke. "Nothing there, nothing, noth- ing." "The set of all sets," said the Vulcan, "must either include the empty set or exclude it. The subsuming of a negative in a positive universe is paradoxical--" "Okay, okay," Proke said, and pulled a five-credit note from his pocket. "Here. The only restaurant I know of is in the hotel, over that way." "Thank you, grounded ones," said the hunched one. "Truly you are brethren of the air." "There is really a hotel?" said the human. "With, I mean, beds? With sheets on them?" "To the south, that way," Aperokei said. "Enor- mous building with a tower, you can't miss it." "Thank you." As Proke and Uhura watched silently, the odd trio walked on up the alley. A line of pigeons walked single file behind the hunched-over one.

 

 

The Black Queen had exchanged her armor for a trailing robe of black velvet. Her hair, loose and tincovered now, showed a long white streak. She flexed a short riding whip. She looked distinctly annoyed.

 

 

"What does go on around here?" she said. "We try to improve the standard of living, provide a few basic comforts, and where does it get us? Seize her," she said and pointed the whip at Gladiola. Two of the guards took hold of the girl. "Reasonable wage, fringes, vacation time, uniforms provided--you have betrayed me, Organza." "I am Gladiola. Organza works in Accounting." "Silence!" She paused dramatically. "I'm rather tired, Rik. Is it about sunset?" The big man said, "A few more minutes, Your Terror."

 

 

Gladiola recoiled in horror. "Oh, no, Your Awful- ness! Do not do it to them! They are strangers, who do not have the inside dope on our ways!" "I'm not going to do it to them, kid," Janeka said.

 

 

"But they're gonna need a Help Wanted sign in the kitchen. Seize her again. Oh, I do like saying that." Sulu said, "I liked her better when she sang." "Silence to you, too, offworld-type, Your turn will come." The queen raised the riding crop. "Seize her over there." The guards dragged Gladiola to the glass covering the glowing central pit. A circle of copper-colored rods rose from the rim of the circle, caging Gladiola on the glass disc. She clutched the bars, shook them without effect.

 

 

The Black Queen pointed at the roof of the cham- ber. There were two angled shafts bored in the rock overhead, and between them a sort of chandelier. "We only get full power at dawn," she said, "but there's a provision for sunset. Our regal ancestors liked to party all hours." Janeka sat down slowly on the black ~ron throne. "Okay, Rik, hit it." Orange sunlight came through one of the conduits, struck the chandelier and was reflected downward, illuminating Gladiola.

 

 

Red light came up from below, growing in intensity until the girl was just a dark shape in the column of light. There was a high-pitched sound. She seemed to fade; then a shaft of golden light shot from the overhead glass to spot the throne and the queen.

 

 

The light through the conduit died away. The golden glow faded, then the red.

 

 

The queen stood up, shook her head. The white streak in her hair was gone.

 

 

The copper cage began to lower itself into the floor.

 

 

Gladiola was gone from the glass disc. There was only a streak of grayish dust, in the rough shape of a body.

 

 

"You... fiend," Sulu said.

 

 

The Queen giggled. "You're cute when you're angry." She waved to the guards. "Put my morning pick-me-up back in their cages. Without their din- ner."

 

 

Gladiola crawled from a narrow tunnel into a small room framed with canvas, expanded foam, and raw wood. The blond man in black helped her stand, handed her one of the white hotel bathrobes. "Lovely job, dear," he said, then lowered the microphone on his headset and pressed the switch. "Light cue, cell area. Flicker box, work the pit for exactly... four minutes; then you're needed on the golf course."

 

 

Spock stepped onto the bridge. "Oh, there you are, sir," Lieutenant Kyle said. "We've located the Smith's escape pod." "Life readings?" "Two, sir. The crew was--" Spock nodded. "Yes, Mr. Kyle, I know. Beam the pod up to the cargo deck."

 

 

In the Direidi wilderness, Thed and Orvy had found the alien spaceship.

 

 

"Not very big," Orvy said.

 

 

"I sappose you've seen lots of starships," Thed said.

 

 

"The Consortium's ships are always thousands and thousands of meters long, so Mac can hide in them for weeks at a time," Orvy said. "Remember?" "Shut up," Thed suggested.

 

 

"Whatever you say, Prince of Star-Thieves."

 

 

They moved closer, cautiously. The ship really wasn't very big, just a metal ball about four meters across, supported on little struts that seemed to have been crushed by the landing. The door was not only open, it had been thrown some distance from the open hatch. There was a small stairway up.

 

 

"Well, this is it," Thed said.

 

 

"This is what?" Thed sighed. "The moment of truth. The climax.

 

 

The confrontation with the aliens." "You think they came back?" Orvy thought a moment. "They're probably not gonna be happy with US." Thed just shook her head and started up the steps.

 

 

Orvy could either follow or be left alone. He followed.

 

 

Inside the alien ship were three couches, all empty.

 

 

The entire interior was covered with a peeling pink paint.

 

 

"Thed, it's weird in here." Orvy had recovered himself, in the absence of aliens. "Of course, Aramis my boon companion. It belongs to a race of beings more strange than the Pathan or the Hottentot." "I mean, it smells like peppermint and cream cheese. And there's this... stuff all over." "Some of them do not breathe the air we breathe, my friend." "Uh-huh. But it kinda looks like they barf just like US." A pinging sound came from a wall panel. A voice came from a grille, scratchy and muffled by the thick pink paint. "Enterprise to escape pod. Prepare to be taken aboard. Please hold your positions." "Let's get out of here," Orvy said.

 

 

"Are yo_u kidding?"

 

 

"Thed... there's no door on this thing. What happens if we get pulled up through space?" Thed paused. "There is a certain logic to your position." They scrambled for the door as the landscape outside dissolved behind a curtain of golden, flicker- ing light.

 

 

The foursome strolled off the ninth-hole green.

 

 

Scott was two over par, Maglus three, thanks to a freak wind on the seventh and a terrible double-bogie six on the eighth. The Klingon protested bad luck, and Scott amiably agreed. It was still anyone's match.

 

 

Just off the path to the tenth hole, there was a small building, with half-timbered walls, lead-paned win- dows, and a low rose hedge; bicycles were parked outside, and enameled metal signs advertised FOOD and several brands of beer. A painted wooden sign swung above the door: it showed a man in a trench coat, and the figure of a bird sculpted from black stone. Gold-leafed letters read THœ ~xm~ AND BIRDIE.

 

 

Checking their golf bags in a rack labeled for the purpose, the foursome went inside. The interior was decorated in wood and stained glass. The long bar had a bright brass footrail. The walls were covered with pictures and golfing artifacts, with a dartboard in the corner. On one wall was a photograph of a group of men around a double-winged fabric aircraft, a box of medals, a leather flying helmet with goggles', above the display was a wooden propellor two meters long. At the end of the bar was a large curtain, the edge of a slightly raised stage protruding be- neath.

 

 

The patrons mostly wore wools and flannels. A few had leather jackets with worn military patches. All had pint mugs in hand, and none paid much attention to the new arrivals.

 

 

"Afternoon, gents," said the man behind the bar.

 

 

"In for a rest between holes? Just what we're here for.

 

 

What's your pleasure?" The bartender was tall, blond, and looked quite familiar.

 

 

"You are Davith the hotel-keeper," Chekov said.

 

 

"That's right, friend. Each man in his time plays many parts, eh? Now, what'11 you have? The shep- herd's pie is topnotch today; Pam's just pulled one from the oven." "I will have a double wod--" He was stopped short by ScoWs hand on his shoulder.

 

 

Scott was looking at the long-handled beer pumps behind the bar. "Would that be real ale?" "It would indeed, sir, drawn from the wood." Scott sighed. "Four pints. I'm buying." They settled down at a table with a good view of the curtalned stage.

 

 

"Something is wrong," Chekov said. "My beer is warIll." From behind the curtain came the tinkling sound of a piano. The curtain parted to display a single bent- wood chair under a spotlight.

 

 

A silver-skinned robot with a smooth, feminine face and figure came on stage. The patrons applauded, and the pianist played a flourish.

 

 

The robot put one foot up on the chair, turned to face the audience, folded its--her?--hands on the raised knee.

 

 

The left thumb squeaked and fell off, landing on the floor with a clink.

 

 

The piano played. The robot began singing, in a deep-throated voice:

 

 

HOW ~UCH ~oK ;us~ ~HL r~Ne[f

 

 

Falling apart again And what am I to do These threads take metric screws No one stocks them

 

 

Bolts popped out of their sockets, and more pieces fell away, clanging.

 

 

There's no way to repair A heart whose gaskets fail No rivet, bolt or nail Can correct it

 

 

Falling apart again Poor craftsmanship, it's true Perhaps if I used glue.

 

 

I can't help it

 

 

The singer's raised leg came away at the hip and crashed to the floor. The robot braced a hand on the chair, stood on one leg. The tempo picked up.

 

 

I'm an automaton And though you turn me on I'm just a tin man I'll calculate each chance For voltage and romance It's just how I'm programmed A toy in human clothes A wire and plastic rose That's what they say about me When the end comes, I know I was only clockwork so-- Life ticks on without me

 

 

The other leg fell to pieces. The singer collapsed into a heap. The hands crawled about, picked up the head, and held it cradled.

 

 

Oh, I Ain't got no body...

 

 

The curtain fell. The audience applauded.

 

 

The golf foursome stared. Scott finished his beer.

 

 

He finished Chekov's. "Come on, gentlemen," he said, "we've got a back nine to play."

 

 

Uhura and Proke moved cautiously down the alley.

 

 

At every sound one or the other of them turned, yanking again on their sore connected wrists.

 

 

"Look," Proke said. At the distant end of the alley, the thin man, Skorner, went by.

 

 

Uhura pulled at the nearest door handle. The door came open. They went through.

 

 

They were in a short, dim corridor with a curtain at the other end. From beyond the curtain came a wan white light and a low murmur of voices.

 

 

Aperokei had a very peculiar expression.

 

 

"Now what's the trouble?" "Don't you know? Don't you see where we are?" He led her to the curtain. One of the voices said "... but he would have gone down there with you, angel. He was just dumb enough for that." Proke put a finger to his lips, and they stepped through the curtain.

 

 

The theatre was quite small, perhaps two hundred seats. They were at the fourth row from the screen, dwarfed by Bogart and Mary Astor. The light from the projector made it difficult to see toward the back, but there didn't seem to be anyone in any of the seats.

 

 

Uhura said, "Well?" "We might as well sit down." They did. The picture had only a few minutes to run. Wilmer killed Gutman; Brigid went to prison (no one, except maybe DashJell Hammett, has ever be- lieved that a jury would hang her by that sweet neck).

 

 

The lights came up.

 

 

Proke looked around casually. The theater was indeed empty, except for one person standing in shadow by the aisle door.

 

 

"I don't recall selling you kids a ticket," the man said, and stepped into the light. He had long, very black hair, round tinted glasses. A white silk scarf wrapped his neck, and his hands were shoved into the pockets of a thoroughly worn black leather jacket. "In through the fire door?" "Yes," Uhura said, before Proke could invent any- thing creative. "We're sorry. We will buy--" "Did I ask you to be sorry?" The man gestured at the empty seats. "This was a private screening any- way. Consider yourselves my guests. When did you come in?" Proke said, "At 'he was just dumb enough for that.'" "Barely saw the picture at all, then. Care to see it from the beginning?" Uhura said, "You wouldn't mind?" "The prints belong to me. I can do what I want with 'cm." The man scratched his cheek. "Of course, I don't interpret that any more broadly than running 'era any time I like.... If you're tired of the Falcon, there are plenty more. Casablanca, Metropolis, Thief of Baghdad.... I just got in a pristine copy of Only Angels Have Wings. Bet you haven't seen that one in a while. Even on a starship."

 

 

Aperokei said, "So you know." "Pretty obvious. I know all the film fans on Direidi.

 

 

You're new. Not to mention--if you won't take this wrong--we don't get a lot of Klingons in here." Proke said, "At these prices, you may get a lot more." The man laughed. "I'm lien," he said, and held out his hand.

 

 

"Pleased. We're--" Proke automatically raised his hand to shake Ilen's, dragging Uhura's wrist with it.

 

 

Ilen's eyebrows rose. "Robert Donat and Made- leine Carroll?" "It's--a long story." "That usually means you don't want to tell it." Ilen shrugged. "Okay. Come with me." He led the way up the aisle and into the theater lobby. It was paneled in Art Deco mirrored glass, reflecting and multiplying their images. There was a brass-fitted popcorn machine puffing out kernels, and framed posters, sealed into nitrogen envelopes, for Lugosi's Dracula ("The Strangest love a Man Has Ever Known!") and Casablanca-- "With Ann Sheridan and Ronald Reagan?" Aperokei read.

 

 

"Gotcha," Ilen said. "This way." He opened a door marked PRIVATE. They went up a narrow stairway --Uhura and Proke walking sideways to keep their wrists urnangled--to the projection booth. Past the projector and racks of film canisters were a desk, bookshelves, piles of indescribable junk. "My office," Ilen said, as he bent to rummage in a canvas bag of tools. He came up with a bolt-cutter. "The very thing." The handcuffs removed, Uhura and Proke sat in director's chairs while lien poured tea.

 

 

There was an engraved wooden nameplate on Ilen's littered desk. Uhura read it:

 

 

1LEN THE MAGIAN Proprietor, Silver Magic Theatre

 

 

"Magian?" Uhura said.

 

 

"A conceit," Ilen said. "Do you know the 'Magic Theatre,' from Hesse?" He reached across his desk to a black metal pendulum. He set it swinging. It ticked, like a metronome. A wisp of steam from the teapot shone whitely in the beam of the desk lamp. Ilen began singing in time with the pendulum beat:

 

 

Once the screen was really silver Once the world was shades of gray Come inside and touch the romance Fred and Ginger dance the night away Let the shutter frame your vision Let the sprockets pull you down Eighteen frames, the speed of silence Twenty-four, the speed of sound Monochrome Bogie in a trench coat, standing alone In monochrome

 

 

Mister Laurel, Mister Hardy Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd Can you hear the silent laughter Echo in the whispering celluloid Did you long to be with Garbo Who was your romantic queen Was it Colbert, Loy, or Harlow Did you pine for Norma Jean Monochrome

 

 

Drift to sleep and dream in sepiatone Sweet monochrome lien slipped from his chair, smiling below his dark glasses, ran his hands across the photos and lobby cards on the office walls.

 

 

Dress in tails with Ronald Colman Grant and Niven, perfect gents Say Klaatu Barada Nikto Do you know what Rosebud really meant Gone to dust and still they play on Faded days stay crystal clear All the stuff that dreams are made on Long as you and I are here Monochrome Boris Karloff shambles from the unknown In monochrome

 

 

Why do you say there's no color Dietrich was the Blue Angel Duke and Monty rode Red River Leslie Howard's Scarlet Pimpernel Fairbanks was a bold Black Pirate Cagney's White Heat burned me cold There's a panchromatic rainbow To a silver-halide pot of gold Monochrome Though my valley's green no longer, it's home In monochrome

 

 

Let me catch a bus with Gable Grand Hotels for all my nights Busby Berkeley tunes are playing Through the window, Chaplin's City Lights Wander down the aisles together

 

 

Take a lover, find a friend Dance to Bernard Herrmann's music Till the title card that reads The End Monochrome Carbon arcs in darkness lighting me home In monochrome Monochrome With a cast of thousands, no one's alone With monochrome

 

 

"Do you have a copy of Belle et la BOte?" Aperokei said.

 

 

"Mais oui," Ilen said, rubbing his sharp chin.

 

 

Ilen dished up popcorn, ushered them to sixth-row- center seats. The lights went down. The screen lighted, with Coming Attractions shorts for Viva Zapata and On the Waterfront, and a Warner Brothers cartoon.

 

 

A hand grabbed Uhura's shoulder. "Ilen?" she said, and turned as the grip tightened. The face behind it was in shadow, but it wasn't Ilen. The hand pulled at her. She slapped the face, hard. The man yelped.

 

 

There were more men in the aisles, closing in. Proke vaulted out of his seat, knocking one down on the fly.

 

 

He landed on his feet, shouted, "Let's get out of here!" "Right behind yoU." Uhura grabbed the strap of her bag, swung it at another thug, making him dodge clear of her, and dashed up the aisle, toward the light of the projector.

 

 

They burst into the lobby. Ilen was in the doorway that led to the projection booth. "What's the matter down here?" "We've got company," ProIce shouted.

 

 

The auditorium door opened. There were shots. A mirror shattered behind the Magian, and he staggered back against glass which was webbed with cracks and blood. He collapsed.

 

 

"Ilen," Uhura said, but Proke caught her wrist. "We can't help him," Proke said, and pulled her out into the street. The sun was below the line of buildings, making them black against orange, making the street deeply shadowed. They ran for darkness.

 

 

A black coach pulled across the narrow, cobbled alleyway, blocking it. The driver--all too familiarm turned, and leveled a long gun with double barrels.

 

 

Uhura turned. Behind them stood the thin man, Skorner, his black coat open, a shorter version of the same weapon drawn.

 

 

Thed and Orvy looked out the hatch. The cargo deck stretched out beyond the limits of vision. The air was crisp and thrummed with the sounds of ship's machinery. Cargo modules were stacked and racked along the walls; conduits ran overhead; little lights illuminated the walkways.

 

 

"We're on a starship," Orvy said.

 

 

"Yeah." "It's... big." "Yeah." "What do we do now, Thed?" "Let me think... of course. They beamed the pod up, without knowing we were in it. It happened to Mac and Libra in The Guns ofAsterope." "I'm not gonna argue. But what do we do?" A woman in a red shirt was approaching. "We hide," Thed said, and pulled open a likely-looking door. There was a small locker behind it. It didn't look big enough for both of them. They fit anyway.

 

 

They heard the space-trooper bump her head on the hatch, and say something really terrible. Then she said something even worse about the smell. Her footsteps went away.

 

 

"Let's go," Thed said, "before she comes back with a commando team." In the Macmain books, they always came back with a commando team. Orvy agreed with the basic idea if not the context.

 

 

They tumbled out of the closet. Orvy said, "All right, Thed--" "macmain." "Okay, Macmain. What are we going to do now?" Thed hopped out of the pod onto the deck, landing in a modest approximation of a combat crouch.

 

 

"We're in the Empire's treasury, under their very noses. What do you think we're going to do?" Orvy sighed and climbed out. "Very well. But before we get to the jewel vaults and the secret plans, could we steal a sandwich?"

 

 

Spock examined the reentry-scorched pod which was still sitting on the cargo transporter stage. Adjusting the controls of the tricorder slung over his shoulder, he leaned inside. The interior was covered with a flaking, rancid pink substance. Spock sniffed. He frowned. He unreeled the tricorder's probe, touched it to the pink coating, dialed for spectrometry. He read the display with a minute sigh.

 

 

"Sir," said one of the cargo-deck crew, "is that. something's blood?" "It is a caseinate colloid with trace impurities," Spock said. "Flavored milk product." "Oh. Why is there... if you don't mind..." "I could do no more than conjecture, Ensign. You are quite certain there were no beings aboard?" "No, sir. That is, yes, sir, I'm certain. I looked inside, and there really isn't much space to hide in there, sir." "Yes," Spock said distractedly. "Have the pod moved to a storage area, Ms. Crispin." "Aye, sir." Spock took one last look around the pod, and walked away, shaking his head.

 

 

Thed and Orvy sat hidden in the overhead con- duits, polishing off a stack of sandwiches, several glazed doughnuts, and their third liter of cherry soda.

 

 

, The messrooms on starships really did give you every- thing you asked for, just like in the Macmain books.

 

 

The soda was a vivid green color, but it tasted like cherry. "It's probably full of nutrients, to prevent space sickness, or something like that," Thed opined.

 

 

She didn't really care. Life was finally imitating art.

 

 

"Shh, somebody's coming." A crewman passed by below them. He had an electronic noteboard under one arm and a pencil behind one ear. He paused, almost directly beneath Thed and Orvy's hiding place, in front of a heavy door. He reached for the lock panel. Thed tensed.

 

 

The crewman pressed four buttons, and the vault door opened. The man went inside.

 

 

"Five, four, five, two," Thed whispered to Orvy, then repeated under her breath: "Five, four, five, tWO." "Hey, Oppenheimer," said a voice from across the deck. "Oppy, you down there?" A uniformed woman came through a hatchway.

 

 

The man in the vault came out. "'Course I'm here, Ann. Got to make sure the secret weapons don't walk away. What's up?"

 

 

Crewman Ann said, "Mister Science wants that rescue pod off the Transporter stage and stowed. We got a bay clear?" "Moment." Crewman Oppenheimer checked his noteboard. "Looks like Seven-C will do. I suppose he wants this done yesterday." "Delays are illogical." The crewpeople laughed. Oppenheimer said, "Okay, let me close this one up and I'll go help you.

 

 

Hey, how many Vulcans does it take to change--" "One to change the transtator, and one to ask what's so funny." "Aw, you heard it. Okay, what does a Vulcan say before he turns out the lights?" "You got me." "'But will you respect me seven years from now?'" The crewpeople went away, giggling. Thed counted to ten after they were out of hearing, and swung to the deck. Orvy followed.

 

 

They looked around. The coast was clear. Thed sidled up to the vault door and pressed the lock buttons: 5, 4, 5, 2. The door clicked and slid open.

 

 

The room beyond was only a couple of meters cubed. Along the walls were three coffinlike boxes, all stenciled TOP SECRET--PROPERTY OF STARFLEET COM- MAND.

 

 

"Secret weapons," Thed breathed.

 

 

"You know, Thed," Orvy said very seriously, "of all the places we've been that we weren't supposed to be, I think this is the most not-supposed4o-be we've ever been in.... " Thed was examining one of the cargo boxes. "Look, they're on gray-lifters. All we have to do is grab one and go." "Grab what? And go where?"

 

 

"These are secret weapons," Thed said firmly. "We take one of these back to the city and tell all the aliens that we'll use it if they don't let us alone. That'll show everybody in Plan C." She looked straight at Orvy.

 

 

"Of course, you don't have to help me if you don't want to." "Where do I push?" Orvy said.

 

 

Spock sat alone on the bridge, contemplating the Direidi situation. He had been following the move- ments of the Enterprise crew to the best of his ability, given the effects of the background radiation. Terribly illogical things were happening on the planetary sur- face.

 

 

Spock had known for a long time, however, that when reasoning beings were involved, "illogical" by no means meant "inexplicable." In fact, a great num- ber of societal explanations required the suspension of logic, and sometimes working entirely outside its strictures.

 

 

He considered this fact for fifteen minutes, without moving, without blinking (once his nictitating eyelids had closed), barely even breathing. And the answer appeared--did not merely suggest itself as a possibili- ty, but leaped from the situation fully formed.

 

 

The solution was logical. But it was the logic of a situation, of a particular social dynamic: as different from abstract mathematical logic as a living organism was different from a crystal of carbon. Not the logic that states baldly that if p := q, then not p := not q, but the sort that causes a Vulcan diplomat to choose a human woman as life companion and mother of his child.

 

 

Spock left the bridge, walked through the quiet corridors. The Direidi solution, he thought. The only

 

 

~uw tvlUL. rl I'UK JU~l IHL /'LANLI.r possible solution under the circumstances. Utterly logical.

 

 

Ensign Oppenheimer and Lieutenant Crispin looked up as the science officer walked by. Command- er Spock seemed oblivious to them, utterly lost in thought. He had a curious expression.

 

 

"Now there's something you don't see every day," Oppenheimer said softly.

 

 

"Yeah," Crispin said. "Looks like he's trying to. laugh." "Naaah," they said together, and went back to work.

 

 

Uhura and Proke had been hustled into the cellar of a building. The coach driver and two more of Skorner's men held them at gunpoint while Skorner rifled Uhura's shoulder bag.

 

 

"What did you do with it?" the thin man said, in rather a mild voice, and threw the bag aside.

 

 

"With what?" "The harp. We know you had it." "What do you want with it?" Skorner said, still pleasantly, "I am asking the questions." "The last I saw of it, it was in my bag." Proke said, "Maybe it fell out when you bustled us into the taxi." "Check the coach," Skorher said, and the driver went out.

 

 

Proke said, "Or maybe I hid it." Skorner said, "Don't say that if you didn't. I hate wasting other people's pain." "Well, here we are, back at The Maltese Falcon, Mr.

 

 

Cairo. Or are you Wilmer? Well, never mind. You can't kill me, because then you'll never find the package--and since I know that, there's no point in tortunng me." "What about her?" Skorner said.

 

 

Aperokei shrugged. "Not my type. Not even my species." Uhura slapped him. Skorner chuckled. Proke shoved Uhura toward Skorner.

 

 

Aperokei said, "And it's not in the coach, but that did get rid of one of you--now, angel!" Uhura's elbow speared Skorner's solar plexus.

 

 

Proke threw the nearest thug into the second nearestú They ran.

 

 

"Should we make for the hotel?" Uhura said. It was just after dark, and the streets were badly lit, the alleys almost entirely in shadow.

 

 

"We can't afford to get lost, and we can't trust them anyway. This way." He led her on.

 

 

"Proke, we're headed back toward the theater. that's where you hid it, isn't it?" "Every Hitchcock ever, remember? There's always a McGuffin. I figured that had to be it." They slipped in through the fire exit. The auditori- um was silent, almost totally dark. They moved between the seats by touch. Aperokei knelt. "Is this it?" Uhura asked.

 

 

"We've got it, angel." He laughed. "Chewing gum under the seat. Every theater in the universe has it.

 

 

Klingon theaters do. Well, maybe not Vulcan theaters ú.. do Vulcans go to movies?" The projector came to life, clattering, glaring. The screen lit with a black-and-white slide reading

 

 

NO SMOKING IN THE AUDITORIUM

 

 

LADIES PLEASE REMOVE YOUR HATS

 

 

How MUCH FOR JUST THE PLANET?

 

 

A shadow fell across the screen. Reflected light gleamed from an enormous, chrome-finished pistol, and a pair of small round eyeglasses. "Vulcans go to movies," Ilen the Magian said, "but they don't enjoy it." "I should have guessed," Proke said.

 

 

"You shouldn't have. Nor should you have come back. We'd have found the package eventually, pro- cess of elimination. You would have gotten away clean, never seen me again." "Yeah, that's a real shame. You died so nicelyú" The Magian turned his head so that his face was half-lit, smiled like a Greek mask of comedy. "I did at that. Your turn now."

 

 

The sun was starting to lower over the 12th-hole fairway. Ensign Chekov teed Engineer Scott's ball, and went to the small sign describing the hole. "It says, '380 meters, dogleg left, principal hazards bunk- er left, minefield right.'" Scott stopped in the middle of a practice swing.

 

 

"Would you say that again, lad?" Chekov did.

 

 

"It's a good thing these people are hospitable," Scott said, "'cause their idea of a joke sure puts a strain on a man's temper." He swung. The ball flew.

 

 

"Alas," Maglus said, "that is a terrible slice," as Scott's ball left the fairway and dropped into the rough to the right of the dogleg bend.

 

 

There was a short, deep boom, and an eruption of smoke and yellow flame from the woods where the ball had gone.

 

 

They all gaped as the cloud of smoke rolled into the sky. After a long pause, Scott said, "'Mine field right,' Mr. Chekov?"

 

 

"Aye, sir." "Excuse me," a clipped voice said. A man was approaching--no, marching toward--the tee. He wore a khaki uniform with red shoulder tabs and a beret with a circular badge; he had a pencil mustache and carried a golf club tucked under his arm. "Good day, gentlemen. You seem to have a friendly match going here. I wonder if you'd mind if we played through?" Magius said, "Do you know there are land mines on this ground?" "Well, I should think we'd know," the uniformed man said. "Not going to play eighteen holes without doing our recce, are we? Twelfth at Direidi, best Par 4 in the galaxy." He tilted his head. "May we?" Maglus stepped aside. Scott said, "Fine with me." "Very well then." The man pitched his voice up.

 

 

"Sergeant Benson! Fore/" There was a sound like a metal zipper, a hundred times magnified. Maglus gave a choked cry, shouted something in Klingonese, and dove for the nearest foliage. Korth followed him. Chekov and Scott took the hint.

 

 

There was an explosion a few meters from the tee, and it rained dirt.

 

 

Magius spoke rapidly to Korth, got a short answer, then said, "So this is your plan? To kill us and take the cha ?uj--" "Commander," Scott said tightly, brushing a divot from his nose, "if you'll notice, they're shooting at us, tOO." Another mortar shell whistled and exploded. Korth spoke to Maglus, who nodded and said, "There is reason in this. Perhaps the Direidi wish us dead." "It's certainly occurred to me."

 

 

HOW MUCH FOR JUST THE PLANET?

 

 

"So. What is our plan?" "You're the soldier. I'm just a hauler of garbage and adjuster of mistakes, remember?" "So, I am a soldier now that we are under attack? I am no longer a driver of slaves, a ship's thug?" Machine-gun fire rattled overhead. Korth crawled to Chekov, handed him a chocolate bar. "Here. We may as well eat while we're waiting for them." They unwrapped the candy and began nibbling.

 

 

"Very well," Magius said finally. "We move on.

 

 

Have your man bring your clubs. Korth, nuyiih khem!" "You heard the man, lad," Scott said.

 

 

"The... clubs, Mr. Scott?" "They're all the weapons we've got. And I'm not giving up those hickories without a fight." As energy bolts sizzled in the air, the four crept through the brush toward the 12th-hole green, Che- kov and Korth dragging golf bags behind them.

 

 

Uhura and Proke were tied back-to-back in straight-backed metal chairs. Next to them was a sixteen-millimeter film projector with a loaded reel above its lens, an empty one below; around the concrete walls of the small room were racks of paints, masks, costumes, pieces of scenery. lien the Magian tested the cords holding the two in their chairs, said, "Yes, I think that will hold. I'm sure you know the room is soundproof." "If3,ou wanted the harp," Uhura said, "why didn't you ask for it?" "Because I'm not the only one after it," Ilen said.

 

 

"If you handed it over to me innocently, you might just as innocently tell someone else where it had gone." He stopped to examine a wooden sword in a

 

 

painted cloth scabbard. "Truthfully, zan Aperokei, you did better than I expected. After you fell into Skorher's hands, I supposed he would get it from you... and then I would have gotten it from him.

 

 

Everyone would have assumed Skorner had the arti- fact and I was dead, when in fact the reverse was true." "Skorner doesn't work for you?" "He did once. Then he learned about the harp. He no longer works for anyone." Ilen slammed the sword into its scabbard.

 

 

Uhura said, "This is all for that little harp?" "The harp, indeed, the harp, "the Magian said, and adjusted his glasses. "Do you know how long I've searched for that particular artifact? I followed its trail here, to that junk shop--I was one step behind it when you got in the way. And there were, of course, people not far behind me." "That fake Andorian said 'almost there.' Was he a cop?" "Had been. But he'd become just one more treasure hunter by the time he got here. The harp has that effect on people." "Why is it so valuable?" Uhura said. "The stones can't be genuine." "True. It isn't even real silver. But.if you overlay the locations of the stones on a particular starmap. well. Somewhere over the rainbow..." Proke said, "You aren't going to sing again, are you?" Ilen laughed. "No." Uhura said, "So what are you going to do now?" "I? I'm going to be wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice, and believe me, my avarice has big dreams.

 

 

Now, as for you, on the other hand... you've been through rather a lot. You aren't going to give up just because I've got the Great Whatsit in hand." "Ralph Meeker, Kiss Me Deadly," Proke said.

 

 

"You see? Still in high spirits. And I really don't want two starships chasing me when I leave here." The Magian gestured around at the shelves and hanging objects. "This is the theater's old prop room," he said. "This stuff is positively ancient." He rapped a knuckle against a papier-mfich6 breastplate, and it flaked apart. "Old, and dry, and very flamma- ble. Or is that inflammable?" He leaned forwar& "This is where one of you says, 'You can't do that!'" "Really?" Uhura said dryly.

 

 

"Must have forgotten my lines," Proke said.

 

 

"Oh, come now. Not even a 'you fiend'? Well. Let me continue with my part, and you can catch up later." He flipped a switch on the projector. The reels spun, and a beam of intense light shot between Uhura and Proke's heads. On the opposite wall, there was a brilliant flash of swirling colors and a burst of music.

 

 

Ilen turned the volume down as the credits began to appear.

 

 

"One of the lesser gems of my collection, one I could bear to leave," the Magian said. "House of Usher, Roger Corman's first Poe film, cheaply made but outrageously stylish--" "Screenplay by Richard Matheson, cinematogra- pher Floyd C. Crosby," Proke said.

 

 

"Yes, that's the one. And one of Vincent Price's best roles, in my opinion. So you do know how it ends?" "Even I know how 'The Fall of the House of Usher' ends," Uhura said. "The house burns and collapses." "'Sinks into the dank tarn,' actually. But there's never a tarn around when you need one."

 

 

Uhura said, "You intend to burn us to death down here." "Not really. You'll be gone well before the fire begins." He took a small, conical flask of amber liquid, rather like a perfume bottle, from his pocket, set it on top of the projector. "This is an explosive, sensitive to just about anything you can name, partic- ularly shock and heat. If you jar the projector, as you surely will if you struggle too much, it'll fall, and explode. The place will indeed burn, like a paint factory--" "House of Wax," Proke said. "Another good role for Price." "Yes. But as I say, by the time the fire starts you'll be past caring." Uhura said, "And if we don't knock the bottle over, the heat of the projector will eventually set it off." "Exactly. There wasn't any way of calculating it precisely, but you should last until the movie's over." Aperokei said, "A man of your taste would never kill anyone before the last reel." "Why, thank you, Lieutenant. And you as well, Lieutenant Uhura, for this evening's entertainment. It was a good chase. Now, you'll excuse me, but I have worlds to discover... Oh. One last thing." He nestled paper buckets of popcorn in the two prisoners' laps.

 

 

"You could just shoot us," Uhura said.

 

 

"No, I couldn't do that. People like me are really very squeamish about that sort of thing." "Then there's a way out," Aperokei said.

 

 

"There's the fellow!" the Magian said brightly. "I knew a man of your experience had to have seen a few Republic serials. There's always a way out." The Magian went to the door, stood in it for a moment,

 

 

looking wistful behind his dark glasses. "But you'd better think hard, 'cause you don't have until continued-next-week." He closed the door. On the screen, Roderick Usher winced at the noise.

 

 

Chapter Eight

 

 

All Through the Night

 

 

SOMEWHERE ON THE 17th hole, explosions echoed dully, bullets whistled like angry hornets, and low bursts lit the horizon.

 

 

Standing up in a sandtrap, Montgomery Scott said, "It's a terrible thing, war." "As terrible as one decides it is," Magius said. He pointed at the night sky. "The stars do not judge what they see." "Are you sure of that?" Scott's eye was caught by an unusual constellation: a ring of stars haloing a distant peak. "Look at that, now. Doesn't it awe you a little?

 

 

To think there might be a higher power than us, arranging matters?" "Or that we are the property of some vast indiffer- ent thing. No, Scott, I shall finish out my service to the Empire with the best honor I can, and then there shall be nothing, nothing at all." "What about the Black Fleet?" Scott said.

 

 

Magius snorted. "The Black Fleet is the idea of line-mad Imperials who cannot think of anything better to do with a thousand lives than to repeat the mistakes of the first." Scott nodded. "Mr. Chekov! Would you get me the object from that side pocket, please?" Chekov unzipped the pocket, drew out a thin silver flask. He took a step toward Scott, then stumbled on the sand and fell forward. Scott caught the flask from the air as Chekov landed at his feet. "You know, Mr. Chekov--" Chekov stood up, slapping sand from himself. "Yes, Mr. Scott, I do know! 'Mr. Chekov, you are the worst caddy in the explored uniwerse!' Isn't that what you were going to say? Isn't that what you always say?

 

 

'Recheck those sensor readings, Mr. Chekov.' 'I said, steady as she goes, Mr. Chekov.' Ever since I am a little chelloveck, this goes on! 'Pavel Andreivich, eat your groats.' 'Payel Andreivich, you are a disgrace to the Pioneer Railroad Porters' Corps.' Well, Payel Andreivich is having no more of this!" He reached to the golf bag, seized a 7-iron, raised it over his head. An artillery shell exploded brilliantly in midair, and the light caught the club like a bolt of lightning. Chekov shouted "Urrah!" and charged from the sandtrap into the furious night.

 

 

Korth stood up, pointed a finger after Chekov and another at Magius. "What he... what he said, dou- ble." Korth grabbed a club in each hand and ran after Chekov, shouting and flailing.

 

 

Scott and Magius looked after them for a while, but the ensigns were lost to sight almost at once. Finally Magius said, "I think I was that age once. You?" "I've been tryin' to recall." "Old officers do not do these things in the way young ones do." Magius crawled to the golf bags.

 

 

"What club do you like?"

 

 

"Sand wedge, I think." Maglus handed it across, selected a long iron for himself.

 

 

Scott said, "And a half-dozen balls." "Of course. Do you still have that flask?" "Above my heart." He handed it to Maglus, who raised it. "To old officers." He drank and handed it back.

 

 

"We only fade away," Scott said, and drained the flask.

 

 

Together they climbed from the bunker and went off in the direction of the 18th green.

 

 

The Black Queen's prisoners paced their cell. There were no windows, no clocks, and the torches did not seem to burn down. "How long do you suppose it has been?" Askade said.

 

 

"I'm glad you said that," McCoy said. "For a mo- ment, I was wishin' we had that Vulcan down here to help us." Askade looked puzzled, then said, "What is a 'doughnut,' Sulu?" "A doughnut?" "That is what I said." "It's a cake... round, with a hole in the middle." "A torus?" Askade said.

 

 

"That's right." "If you're considering our last meal," McCoy said, "I'd hold out for a few more courses." "Do you remember the inscription upon the stone?

 

 

It had the line, 'keep your eye upon the doughnut'w" "'And not upon the hole,'" McCoy said. "I think that was poetic license." "Suppose it was not?" Askade said. He spoke to Memeth in Klingonese, then said, "The pit in the audience chamber---"

 

 

"Has a copper ring around it," Sulu said. "Do you suppose that's part of the mechanism for the-- whatever it is?" "I am an engineer, not a sorcerer. But copper is an excellent conductor of energy. And the engravings could be a sort of circuitry." Sulu said, "So if we could damage the circuit, maybe we could destroy the machine." Memeth said, "This is a good plan. Except that we have nothing with which to damage solid copper." Askade said, "Well, Doctor? Have you any more devices concealed?" "Well, now that you mention it..." He reached to his boot, produced a small cylinder. "But I don't think it's gonna be much use." "A hand agonizer?" "Friend, I think we have a fundamental difference of opinion on what doctors do. This is a medscanner." He held it out, pressed a button. There was a small whirring sound; the guard outside stirred but did not move toward the cell. "You're alive, and you're a Klingon. Is that useful?" "It is a shame it is not an agonizer," Askade said.

 

 

"Its combat uses are minimal, but with certain rewirings... wait. On what spectra does this device operate?" "Fairly high frequencies, up through the K range." "Sixty or higher?" "Sixty-five to eighty." Askade smiled. "It will serve. Give it to me, and while I work you must plan."

 

 

Roderick Usher carriled his sister's body through a spectral blue-gray dreamscape, a crypt filled with mist and horror, a cloudy, death-cold hell.

 

 

"Getting warm in here," Aperokei said.

 

 

"It's your imagination," Uhura said. "Speaking of which, do you recognize this particular situation from a movie?" "Afraid not. Classic situation, though." "That's nice." "I mean it. This is pure serial-cliffhanger, Ilen said so himself. Heroes and heroines are always being put in these predicaments, and never in the history of motion pictures has it ever actually done them in.

 

 

Your movies, our movies, anybody's movies. Ever seen an episode of Battlecruiser Vengeance?" "This isn't a movie, Proke." "I think Ilen thinks it is." "You mean... he did leave us a way to escape." "I think he had to. Staying true to the idiom, and all that." "Okay. Any ideas?" "Nothing yet. You haven't got a knife up your sleeve, have you?" "They're out of fashion this year." Proke laughed. "That's it, angel. Keep smiling.

 

 

Can you push down, lift your chair a little?" She tried. There wasn't much slack in the ropes around her ankles. Together they shifted the chair perhaps half a centimeter. Another try, and they bumped lightly against the projector. The reels wob- bled. A ripple ran through the amber flask.

 

 

"Buzzsaws," Aperokei said.

 

 

"What?" "Buzzsaws. Victim tied to log, headed into sawmill, certain doom by the rotary blade." He waggled his head toward the projector, the turning metal reels.

 

 

"Get the idea?" "I get the idea." "It'll be tricky. We've got to get right against that lower reel, without knocking anything over."

 

 

"You're absolutely right. Let's do it." "Uhura, I love you. On three. One... two. three." They skidded their chairs against the machine.

 

 

Their heads obscured the sides of the picture; the light was very warm. The glass flask jittered, slipped a bit, then was still. The ropes binding their wrists rested against the edge of the take-up reel, making it hiss and squeak.

 

 

Uhura said, "Is it working?" "You'll know the minute I do. Hold it firm, now." They held the ropes tight. Fibers snapped. On the screen, the crumbling towers of the House of Usher shook, and a woman buried by accident woke mad in her tomb.

 

 

"Picture doesn't have long to run," Aperokei said.

 

 

"I think it's fraying. Shall we push harder?" She turned her head to look at the flask of explosive.

 

 

Bubbles had formed in the liquid.

 

 

"Don't think we have much choice." They strained. The house was ablaze, whole walls collapsing. It burned out; its shell sank from sight.

 

 

A strand of rope gave way, then another. They began to pull free. The credits crawled up the screen.

 

 

"Go, go," Proke said. Uhura got a hand loose. She reached for the flask. The top reel stopped as the end of the film unwound from it. Uhura's fingertips were just short of reaching the flask, which was bubbling actively now. Proke was tearing at the ropes. The tail of the film crawled through the sprockets, and out.

 

 

Uhura stretched. The screen went pure white. The film popped free of the last sprocket, and the take-up reel free-wheeled, wobbling, shaking the projector.

 

 

Uhura closed her fingers on nothing.

 

 

The flask slid off, fell.

 

 

Uhura grabbed the bucket of popcorn from her lap, swung it.

 

 

The flask landed in the popcorn, with just a slight crunch.

 

 

Uhura put the bucket down, very gently, and started breathing again.

 

 

Aperokei said, "Was that--" "Year. It was." "Well. Tough part's over, them" She snorted. Then she laughed. She put her free hand behind her to circle Proke's neck and hugged him, back to back, in the light of the silver screen.

 

 

The Black Queen's prisoners, heavily guarded, were herded to the audience chamber and onto the glass disc. The copper bars rose to encircle them.

 

 

The queen appeared in a black silk robe, slashed with white. She sat down luxuriously in the iron throne. "Haven't had a recharge like this in decades," she said.

 

 

Memeth said, "Beware us, Queen!" After all his growling and grumbling, to hear him speak out loud and clear was really quite startling: even Askade turned to look at him. "We are not without powers of our own. To this moment we have been patient with you, for we do not use our power in idle show: but the time of patience is over." "Stalling won't do you any good," Janeka said.

 

 

"When the sun comes up, you guys are vitamins." Askade waved his arm, shouting something unintel- ligible but impressive. He straightened his arm and threw the medscanner at the copper ring. It hit, bounced, lay there.

 

 

Everyone was absolutely still. The first rays of sun came down the conduit, glaring on the copper ring.

 

 

Other than that, nothing much happened.

 

 

"Remember the Maine!" Sulu yelled, and ran at the cage, stretching his arms through the bars. He got hold of a guard, pulled him against the metal, gave him a short, sharp rap that dropped the man in a heap. The sun began to shine full through the tube of rock.

 

 

The reedscanner blew up in a shower of white sparks. The copper ring glowed greenly. Light poured down. Red light fountained up from below, and actinic flashes, and thunder. The glass over the pit starred, then webbed with cracks.

 

 

Where the scanner had exploded, sparks ran up the bars like a Jacob's ladder. Memeth shouted and leaped: two bars snapped off at the base. The four charged off the glass, into a whirling melee with the queen's guards.

 

 

"You do notice we're outnumbered," McCoy said.

 

 

"I cannot tell," Askade said. "There is a red haze across my vision." From a side hall, a horde of people dressed in white cotton, spattered with blood and chicken gravy, rushed forth, holding high knives, cleavers, rolling pins, wire whisks.

 

 

"The kitchen-kuve attack!" Memeth said. "The queen! Take the queen!" He picked up a sword and dashed for the throne.

 

 

Janeka jumped off her throne. "Not today, Char- lie," she shouted, and ran to the door. An iron panel slid down, sealing the exit.

 

 

The glass covering the pit shattered. There was a solid shaft of light from below, and billowing smoke.

 

 

A ring of guardsmen had blocked off the kitch- en slaves, and was slowly pushing them back at spearpoint; another squadron was trying to contain the four offworlders. Memeth hacked furiously, but could not penetrate the guards' armor, Sulu parried furiously in high prime, but still was driven back, step by step.

 

 

"Any ideas, McCoy?" Askade said.

 

 

"Well... I'm a doctor/Let me through/" The guards paused for a moment, then pressed on.

 

 

"Worth a try," McCoy said to Askade. "How about you?"~ "I have only a technical observation to offer." "You-mean, like, we're all about to get killed?" "I mean like the pit at the chamber's center shows signs of a dilithium saturation hypercharge." "And what in the name of Uncle Jack Daniel is that?" "Do you recall the phrase you used, when we were surrounded by the beast-riders?" "'Match in a fireworks factory'?" "That is what in your uncle's name it is." "Mr. Sulum" "I heard, Doctor." They were backed nearly against the stone wall. The smoke blocked all view of the rest of the chamber.

 

 

The roar from the pit had risen nearly to drown out the sounds of weapons.

 

 

Memeth recoiled to thrust. The pommel of his sword hit the stone. It sank in.

 

 

Askade punched the wall. His fist went clear through the painted foam, exposing canvas and sticks.

 

 

He looked at McCoy. McCoy looked back. The guardsmen pressed on.

 

 

"Cover us," Askade shouted above the roar. He and McCoy leaned together and slammed their shoulders against the "stone."

 

 

Another explosion went off, illuminating the brush in which the crew of Jefferson Randolph Smith were hiding.

 

 

"They seem to be at war," Tellihu observed.

 

 

Trofimov said, "The town seemed very peaceful, and it's not so far away." T'Vau had been reciting Vulcan epic poetry ever since they had wandered into the combat zone. She was halfway through a two-thousand-line history of the Pythagorean Theorem.

 

 

"It is not our war, is it?" Tellihu said, in a childlike tone.

 

 

"No, Tellihu, it's not." "Do you think they might allow us to leave, then? If we were very polite?" A shell whistled. Trofimov said, "Doesn't your plan- et have wars, Tellihu?" "We were invaded by the Klingons a few times. It is not the same thing, exactly. But I see your point. It is like evolution." "What's like evolution?" "This war. It is as if my ancestors had not chosen to evolve large brain-cages on upright carriages. We might still be able to fly unassisted. If I could fly, we would have a way out of here. But that is the trouble with evolution. When it makes a mistake, it cannot be easily fixed." "Yes, Tellihu, I guess that's right." There was a human-sounding cry. The three Smith crew put their heads up, just nose-high. A man was running past them, swinging what appeared to be a golf club. Behind him came a Klingon, brandishing two golf clubs. And after him two more figures, one human, one Klingon, were marching side by side. The second human was whistling quite loudly, a Highland bagpipe march.

 

 

HOW MUCH I-UK JU~l IML VL,~l~l::l~.

 

 

"What shall we do?" Tellihu said. "Shall we ask them for directions?" "No," Trofimov and T'Vau said together.

 

 

The captain said, "They're going that way. Let's go this way." T'Vau said, "Why?" Trofimov took a deep breathú "Because I said so, that's why."

 

 

Two cautious figures approached the Hotel Direidi.

 

 

"Not the main entrance," Aperokei said. "This way." They slipped in through a service door. They were in a wood-paneled hall, with a short stairway. Both hall and stairs led to darkness. "Which way?" Uhura said.

 

 

"I like straight. Going up gives us farther to fall down." "Just hold it right there.t" At the head of the stairs was a young man in a turtlenecked shirt, leather jacket, slacks, and sneak- ers, all black. A headset with boom microphone compressed his unruly blond hair.

 

 

He loped down the staircase, pointed a long and sickly-pale hand at Uhura and Proke, and fixed them with blue eyes behind metal-rimmed glasses. His stare had a truly mad aspect.

 

 

"You aren't due here," he said in a reedy voice.

 

 

"You're not blocked here. It's bad enough that the author's handing me pages with the ink still wet, without me having to personally plop each and every one of you on your marks." He pressed a switch on the headset. "Control, this is your stage manager speaking... two of our little lambs have gone astray, baa, baa. Yes, well, I should think so." He released the switch, pointed at Uhura's bag. "That goes back to Props before you leave here, you do understand." He touched the headset again. "Stage Manager... fine.

 

 

Splendid. Let's see if we can do this in one take, shall we? You'd think you were unionized, or some- thingo" Uhura said, "What is going on here?" "Now listen, little fella," Proke said, sounding genial and tough at once, "my friend and I have been through quite a bit to get here, and now we want some answers. You goin' to give them to us, or do we have to go through you to somebody--" "Wonderful, wonderful cold reading," the man in black said. "But you're not auditioning now, not for me. I don't even have final cut. Now, this way, please?

 

 

Your next scene's in the kitchen." Uhura said, "Our next scene." "Yes, dear. That's what we call a cue." He held up a hand, fingers arched. "I give them, you take them, and soon we're all catching bouquets, reading notices from that subphylum of giant insect known as critics, being asked what Mr. Gable's really like, and wonder- ing why we got into this industry at all, when medical research pays so well for experimental subjects.

 

 

Now, once again from the top: Kitchen. You. Cue." He pointed, touched his headset. "Light cue 17." Lamps came up slowly, illuminating a corridor. "And ú.. action." He extended an arm down the newly lighted hall, his body rigid.

 

 

Uhura looked at Aperokei. He shrugged. They followed the pointing finger to a pair of double doors marked

 

 

KITCHEN EMPLOYEES ONLY

 

 

Proke put a finger to his lips. Uhura stood to one side.

 

 

Proke kicked the door open. He and Uhura dashed through.

 

 

They stood at the end of an enormous institutional kitchen, all white tile and steel tables. Most of the tables were draped with white linens, covering some- thing piled high. At least a dozen people in white, with chef's hats, stood about, some pushing carts, some holding white towelsú There was an almost over- whelming smell of baking.

 

 

Proke's mouth hung open. He sniffed the air. He pointed at one of the cloth-draped tables, at the carts.

 

 

"You see it, angel? It all makes sense now. What it's all been leading up to." "Of course," Uhura said, meaning it this time. It did all finally make sense now. "They planned all along tow" "Yes, you're right," a woman's voice said. Estervy stepped forward, removing her high white hat and shaking out her long gray hair. "That's why I insisted we rewrite this particular scene; Flyter didn't like the idea at first, but you've done so much, so well, I thought you should see the last act before we play it." She brushed flour from her hands. "Final cue, Lieu- tenant Aperokei: you do know what this means?" "Sure," Proke said, putting his hand lightly on Uhura's elbow. "We know too much." Flyter's voice filtered down from a speaker some- where overhead. "Couldn't have put it better myself." "Sorry we can't stay," Uhura said, and she and Proke turned to dash for the kitchen door.

 

 

The young man in black was standing there. He touched his headset. "Warning on mechanical effects ú.. and... action."

 

 

Four of t~e bakers tossed aside the towels they were holdin~ revealing black guns with transparent bar- rels. Blue light lanced across the kitchen. Caught in the crossfire, Uhura and Proke had no chance at all.

 

 

Uhura saw the world pan, tilt, solarize, fade to black.

 

 

Chapter Nine

 

 

Come Up and See Me Sometime

 

 

Irq ROOM 21 of the Hotel Direidi, Ambassador Char- lotte Caliente Sanchez smoothed down the dress- length tails of her white silk shirt, pulled up a floor-length circle skirt of silver brocade on white wool, and fastened the skirt at her waist. She turned in front of the full-length mirror: the skirt moved very nicely indeed, and the shawl-collared blouse was cut deeply enough to absolutely rivet the attention of Captain James T. Kirkmwhile preserving the deco- rum expected of the special envoy to Direidi.

 

 

She sat on the edge of the bed, pulled on her high white slippers, tested the fit--not very comfortable, but then that wasn't what they were all about--stood and adjusted the drape of the blouse once more. Kirk, she thought, wasn't going to know what hit him.

 

 

And for the sake of Federation-Direidi relations, he'd better not ever find out....

 

 

In the other arm of the V-shaped hotel corridor, in Room 22, Captain James T. Kirk was straightening his bow tie before the bathroom mirror, and smoothing a collar wing that had gotten ruffled in the tying operation.

 

 

There was a tap at the door. "Yes?" "Laundry, sir. You wanted a suit cleaned?" "Yes. Come in." The door opened. "Suit's on the dresser. Do you see it?" A man's scratchy, old-sounding voice said, "Yes, sir. Are all the medals off this, sir?" "I think I got them all." "Very good, sir. It'll be ready in the morning, if that's all right." "That's just fine." The door closed. Kirk came out of the bathroom, took the satin-striped tuxedo trousers from their hanger and pulled them on, buttoned up the black ú braces. He fastened the cummerbund around his middle, examined the effect in the mirror, then cinched it a little tighter. Not bad at all. The classic black dinner suit had been out of fashion on Earth for two hundred and fifty years, give or take, but the Direidi seemed to consider it the only possible gar- ment for a gentleman out for the evening. Kirk didn't see a thing wrong with the idea. He pulled on the black jacket, plucked at the peaked lapels. They'd been very reasonable about renting him the suit, too.

 

 

There was a red flower on the desk where Kirk's dress uniform had been waiting for the laundryman, with a card reading "With the Hotel's Compliments." Kirk smiled, picked up the flower, and with an elaborate flourish of his wrist inserted it in his button- hole. When Pete's buddy Zack, playing the cat bur- glar, pretended to stun Kirk, he would grasp the flower as a last, sinking gesture. Tonight's entertain- ment was being played for royalty, after all.

 

 

But before the fun, there was dinner. And afterward...

 

 

Kirk spun an imaginary cane, and whistled about pUttin' on his top hat, as he opened the door.

 

 

In Room 32, directly above Kirk's, Captain Kaden vestai-Oparai was struggling with the knot of his bow tie. Tuk'zedo was a bizarre form of dress, he thought for at least the fortieth time, abandoned the tie for a moment and adjusted the braces. He supposed that they were a survival of weapon bandoliers. Was the cummerbund originally a knife-holder, or a piece of body armor, or a sash of office in the Klingon fashion?

 

 

The Direidi had provided Kaden with an appropriate gold lain~ one. Kaden decided he respected the locals.

 

 

They displayed efficiency; their servitors worked well.

 

 

Their customs were odd, but no odder than most humans exhibited.

 

 

Al:d the plan of the Direidi Peet blak-Wood, to win enough honor to take his companion by right, that was cunning indeed. Wars of line-succession were to be avoided; they were long and expensive and as full of bitter fury as a Romulan caught stealing sweets.

 

 

The necktie (once a defense against strangling-wires and knives, Kaden supposed) resolved itself. Kaden smiled. There were things to take by force, and things to take by stealth. He thought that, if it were stated that way, Arizhel would agree.

 

 

Arizhel drew the single strap of her gown over her right shoulder, fastened it with a round bronze brooch bearing a bloodstone. She wore only a little jewelry: long, thin bronze earrings, a few golden bangles on her wrists. Charlotte had said that the local style of revel costume used little ornament, taking its impact from clean, dramatic lines. Rish looked into the mirror, decided that she liked the effect.

 

 

Her dress was of red silk, in two layers, a nearly transparent one shot with gold thread over an opaque, glossy one; as the fabrics shifted, the gown iridesced.

 

 

It left her arms uncovered, and her shoulders except for the one broad strap, and was hemmed in what Charlotte called "handkerchief points," displaying more or less leg as she moved. The ambassador had proposed very strange shoes to accompany the gown.

 

 

Arizhel had instead chosen soft flat slippers from the hotel's gift shop, a bright red, fastened with red satin ribbons around her ankles. Ambassador Sanchez had said, "Just so you don't go dancing off any balconies," and laughed, and thoroughly confused matters by trying to explain the joke. Rish had no such intention, of course, no matter how energetic the Princess D'di became tonight. Perhaps it was a superstitious phrase to draw away bad luck, like the admonitions to "break a limb," "tear a claw," or just "die well!" Arizhel looked again into the mirror. She knew who would want to dance tonight, and not on balconies.

 

 

Poor Kaden: he was in for a terrible surprise this night.

 

 

She wrapped a long scarf of red silk once around her neck, letting it trail down her spine. Klingons did not go out with their throats exposed. She went out of the room, walked to the bend of the V hall. There was an elevator shaft on the outside of the elbow, a broad, carpeted staircase on the inside.

 

 

Kaden was approaching, looking rather stiff in his tuk~edo---but, Rish had to admit, quite elegant, quite noble, like a battlecruiser with a gleaming new hull.

 

 

They went down one floor. Kirk and Sanchez were there, Kirk in another of the black suits, Sanchez in dazzling white. Kirk held his elbow raised level, and the ambassador's hand rested lightly on it. I~d~.n.. looked briefly at Arizhel, and imitated the gesture.

 

 

Rish took hold of his sleeve. It would be useful, she guessed, if one's party were hunting, and became lost in heavy fog.

 

 

They went downstairs to the dining room.

 

 

The captains and their companions were given the central table in the hotel restaurant, beneath a sky- light that showed the moon just a little past full.

 

 

Champagne was brought out in a huge silver bucket, and menus in Fed-Standard and Klingonese. There were five courses, with cold sorbets to clear the palate between. There were three wines. The quantities of everything were more than liberal, and by the time the desserts were brought the gibbous moon had sunk quite out of view.

 

 

"Would you like another bottle of champagne?" Kirk said.

 

 

Sanchez said, "Yes, it's really excellent." She said to the steward, "Is it a local product?" "Yes, madame. Produced especially for the hotel." Kaden said, "The texture is interesting. A good drink." He looked through his glass at the candles.

 

 

"The gas is harmless?" Sanchez giggled. "Depends on how you look at it.

 

 

Some people find the bubbles the most dangerous part." She hiccuped. "See what I mean?" Kaden said, "From what is it prepared? Fungi?" "Grapes," Kirk said.

 

 

"And they do have grapes here," Sanchez said.

 

 

"Estervy made that very clear. Lotsa grapes. But no lions." The steward presented a new bottle, tore off the foil with an easy motion. "Actually, sir, the Klingon gentleman is correct. The sparkling wines of Direidi are distilled from fungi." He rolled the bottle over to show Kirk the label, which read

 

 

CHAMPAGNE DES CHAMPIGNONS Mf~THODE INCONNU

 

 

"Oh," Kirk said. "And the bubbles..." "Carbon dioxide, of course, sir. If you would prefer a bottle of our Metheglin aux M~thane..." "No, this is just fine, thanks." The steward filled the long tulip glasses. Ambassa- dor Sanchez raised hers toward the center of the table.

 

 

"To Direidi," she said, "and to its peaceful and productive development. Whoever may do it." "Whoever may," Kaden said, smiling with teeth, and they all touched glasses.

 

 

The last of the dishes were cleared. Kirk stood up.

 

 

"Well," he said, sounding a bit rushed, "that was a perfectly magnificent dinner. My, look at the time, it's after midnight. Shall we... retire?" "Retire? Now? I'm wide awake," Sanchez said.

 

 

"And I'm told that there's a really terrific ice cream parlor in the hotel, open all night." Kirk swallowed hard. "Ice... cream?" Sanchez said dreamily, "It's been years since I've had an ice cream soda." "Yeah," Kirk said, "me too." Kaden said, "Is something stuck in your throat, Kirk?" "No, I'm fine. Fine. And an ice... cream... soda sounds like just the thing after that... dinner." Arizhel said, "The ambassador has told me of these zhodas." "She has?" Kirk squeaked. "I mean, she has?" Rish said, "I should certainly like to try one."

 

 

Kaden said, "It was a very filling dinner." Kirk said, "Oh, come on, Kaden, you don't want to break up the party so soon," and then more quietly, "You want a soda, friend. Believe me, you want one." Kaden's eyes narrowed. Kirk nodded furiously.

 

 

"Very well," Kaden said.

 

 

"Great," Ambassador Sanchez said. "I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream." "Please tell me when I am supposed to scream," Rish said, as they left the dining room.

 

 

The ice cream parlor was up a broad, dim, fern- lined corridor from the dining room. It had stained- glass windows, bent-wire chairs, and a long chromium bar displaying forty-eight flavors. Above the door was a gilt sign reading OE~TI DmEIDL Kirk looked up at the sign, noticed that the last two letters hadn't been gilded, or had somehow had the leaf worn off. These old places, he thought, always having to replace things.

 

 

They sat down. A young man in a white uniform and a peaked paper cap said, "Evening, folks. What'll it be?" "Four sodas," Kirk said. He pointed at himself, then at Sanchez. "Chocolate, chocolate..." He looked at the Klingons for a moment. "What the heck, four chocolates." "Comin' right up." Kaden said genially, "It was good of you to order all identical, but not necessary. After such a dinner, it would be absurd to choose to poison us now." Sanchez giggled. Kirk said, "Oh, don't mention it." The soda jerk appeared with four fluted glasses, heaped with ice cream and fizzing furiously. "You folks want seconds, I'll be here. All night long." Sanchez tore the end from a wrapped straw, put it to her lips and blew the wrapper across the room. She laughed again. Kirk smiled, a little thinly, and put a straw in his own soda.

 

 

Kaden and Rish followed suit. Kaden took a sip.

 

 

His eyes went wide and white. He took a long, long pull on his straw, released it, inhaled deeply, nodded.

 

 

"Ahhh. Now this is a proper conclusion to a day." "Yes, you're right," Kirk said. "Of course, it is very late, and we ought to be getting back to our rooms." Kaden looked up. "Yes?" "Yes, you know. Getting back. To our rooms." "Of course you are right," Kaden said. "Back to our rooms, that is the proper conclusion to a day." A boy in a brass-buttoned uniform came into the parlor. He looked around--which hardly seemed nec- essary, since there was only one occupied table.

 

 

"Call for Commander Arizhel," the boy said.

 

 

"Who calls me?" Rish said, then noticed Sanchez furtively shaking her head. "Very well, youth. I shall go." She stood up.

 

 

"Maybe I should go along," Sanchez said. "It might be for me, too." Kirk said, "What?" "Powder my nose," Sanchez said, patted Kirk's head and hurried after Rish.

 

 

The two captains watched the women go, and exchanged a look of mutual bewilderment.

 

 

"Captain Kirk, Captain Kaden," a low voice said.

 

 

Pete Blackwood came up to the captains' table, looking around nervously.

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

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