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Captain Kirk sat in the command chair on the bridge of the starship Enterprise. Sometimes, he was thinking, a captain has a crewperson he’d rather do without. A hard-working, loyal, properly subordinate crewperson, mind you, but one who could put more personal interpretation into a direct order than most could into a carte blanche. A crewperson like that worried a captain. A captain kept wondering when a crewperson like that would make a wrong move and land herself — and maybe her captain — splash in the cannibal pot.
A captain was lucky if such a crewperson could be unloaded … that is, transferred … to Diplomat Training School on the asteroid Gladhand.
Then, just let a one-horse planet like Relf, at the edge of Federation-Klingon space, start having internal strife and cry, “Klingon interference,” and the lucky captain finds himself at the service of a grin-jocky who, in this case, is also the crewperson once shuffled off with such adroitness and self-congratulation.
It was so ironic it was giving Kirk a headache.
Perhaps there was no cause for concern. Bel had been a model diplomat on the trip from Gladhand. Mr. Riley had wondered aloud if the Lieutenant even wiped her … nose … in triplicate. Still, Lt. Cmdr. Scott had just handed the captain a sheaf of papers collected from various J-tubes — song sheets of “The Eentsy Weentsy Spider Climbed Up the Waterspout.”
So Kirk sat and thought, massaging his noble brow, while Lieutenant (J.G.) Isobel “Bel” Schuster was received in the royal city of Byzan as a Federation troubleshooter.
The planet Relf was four-fifths water. The nine island-nations into which Relf’s land area was divided were independent but co-operative. The largest of the island-nations was Foozmania. Its capitol city was the straight-laced, stuffy Great Lady of a Royal Town, Byzan. Byzan, staunch bastion of status quo, was the site of the Federation Embassy, an Embassy without an Ambassador.
Why me? Bel asked herself. Diplomat Training School on the asteroid Gladhand was not her idea of Heaven-in-the-known-universe, but it was stable. It was predictable. It might be dull, but it was safe. It was worth it to Bel, as she approached the end of her hitch, to be bored, as long as no one was firing a phasar cannon at her in the vacuum of space. A fair trade, to a short-timer’s way of thinking.
I know ‘why me,’ Bel answered herself. Nobody knows enough about this two-bit hunk of matter to risk sending in somebody whose time or life would be worth losing. There was something to be said, she reflected, for the high-profile approach.
Bel took some comfort in the presence of Lt. Commander Tetra (Commander Spock’s half-human/half-Vulcan cousin) and Dr. Leonard McCoy, both of whom had volunteered to accompany her. Captain Kirk had a good instinct for danger. If he’d had any doubts as to the safety of this mission, Bel told herself, he’d have sent me down with a brace of security guards.
Bel, Tetra and McCoy materialized in an elegant room. In the center of it stood an oily-looking specimen; a man, tall but stooped, pale of skin and red of hair. He’d a servile expression and a fawning manner. He was dressed ultra-conservatively in Byzantine fashion. His red long-johns were topped by a tunic made from an olive drab garbage bag. His belt was a purple nylon jump rope. His high-topped black basketball shoes had bits cut out of them and the laces didn’t match. Absolutely off-the-rack.
“Civil Service,” thought Tetra.
Bel recognized him from his holo in her briefing packet. He was the Relf/Federation Liaison Officer, Uriah Slope.
“Welcome to Relf,” he said, in an unctious voice.
Sacks were thrown over the Fed’s heads from behind. Soporific gas was sprayed through the sacks into their faces, and they collapsed.
The King of Foozmania was frantic. He had his chambers in a tizzy and his halls in an uproar. His Majesty, King Rudolph I of Foozmania, ranged through the palace like a lion with a jalapeo suppository, roaring and lashing his figurative tail till his lackeys were bored stiff.
It seemed the Prince — Prince Rutgerhauer, heir apparant of Foozmania — had disappeared in the night.
The head of the CPR (Constabulario Polizai Royale) was called into His Majesty’s presence.
King Rupert waited thunderously on the throne, his purple Mohawk bristling, the safety pins through his earlobes clicking with his tremulous rage against the rusty tow-chain around his neck. His Majesty’s brass-studded black leather hot pants creaked as he settled the royal tushie more comfortably.
Inspector Clode Looee, head of the CPR, entered. “The situation is under control, Your Majesty,” he said.
“Where is my son?”
“We don’t know, Your Majesty.”
“What’s happened to him?”
“We don’t know, yet, Your Majesty.”
“Then how is the situation under control, within any accepted meaning of the term?”
Inspector Looee remained unperturbed. His hair stood on end, but that was the styling gel. He adjusted the left cuff of his white, low-buttoned jacket and smiled gently. “We’ve been informed,” he said, “that a raid on a certain establishment might prove interesting.”
“Certain establishment, eh? Certain little place in Sewhoe? Certain little Nonsense hangout?”
Inspector Looee nodded. “Mmhm,” he said softly.
“By Gelt, it’s time we put the fear of Moolah into those noisemaking freaks!” exclaimed the King. “I’ve got the scribes working on an edict against ‘em as high traitors even as we speak. Uriah Slope likes the idea. Good man, Slope.”
Inspector Looee regarded his black-painted nails non-committally and said nothing.
Bel Schuster and Dr. Leonard McCoy woke slowly from their drugged stupor. Tetra sat before them on a small, hard chair, dressed very oddly, indeed.
She wore a high-waisted, low-bosomed, floor-length dress of a crisp blue material covered back and sides by a butter-colored overdress lightly embroidered with tiny blue flowers. Her feet, peeping from beneath the hem of her skirt, were hosed in stockings the color of eggshells and shod in soft black kid. Her ears’ Vulcan points were covered by the wide blue ribbons of her pert little chip-straw coal-scuttle hat.
“Lt. Tetra?” said McCoy blearily.
“Affirmative,” said Tetra.
Bel sat up. “Fab gear,” she said.
“Thank you,” said Tetra, who had done her Linguistics dissertation on Terran Cant.
“What’s the occasion?” McCoy asked.
“Observe your clothing,” Tetra said.
Bel and McCoy did so. Trained to be observant, they were quick to notice that they were clad only in their skivvies.
“I thought I felt a draft,” said McCoy. “What in blazes is going on here?”
“After we were incapacitated,” Tetra said, “we were relieved of our communicators and phasers, put into a van, and driven here, where we were brought through an underground passage and relieved of our clothing, as well, and left to our own devices. I have explored our environment and have found all apertures to be locked, barred, or blocked from outside. We seem to be trapped. The orders for all this were given by the man we saw when we materialized, a man the others referred to as ‘Uriah Slope.’ The place to which we have been brought is a house in the Sewhoe district of the city, headquarters of a radical, possibly revolutionary group. Uriah Slope referred to this group as Nonesuch, but his henchmen referred to it by what is obviously its ‘nickname,’ used slightingly, ‘Nonsense.’”
“Prisoners in Nonsense Headquarters,” McCoy muttered, with an unfair glower at Lt. Schuster. “It had to happen.”
“During my exploration,” Tetra continued, “I found three sets of garments laid out as if left for us by the men who brought us here. That would explain some rustling noises I had previously been unable to identify. As I was already out of uniform, I put on the clothes which seemed to have been left for me.”
Bel turned to McCoy. “Go on,” she said. “Ask her another.”
“Why weren’t you gassed, too?” he asked obligingly.
“I held my breath,” said Tetra.
McCoy and Lt. Schuster nodded.
“Perhaps you’re wondering how long I’m capable of performing that function — or should I say, ‘disfunction’?”
McCoy and Lt. Schuster shook their heads. They went to the back of the room, where Tetra had indicated the clothes were laid out.
Tetra wasn’t piqued. Vulcans aren’t.
Bel emerged from the gloom of the chamber’s rear dressed in a gown much of the style of Tetra’s in a soft lilac color. Her overdress was a gauzy lime green with silver trim. Her hat was a small confection just covering the crown of her head and featuring the eyes of peacock feathers.
Dr. McCoy appeared in black knee-breeches and frock coat, showing a nice leg in white hose above black shoes buckled with silver. He carried a large black bag and wore a small white wig.
Tetra was afflicted by a brief coughing fit which made her face green with an infusion of blood and brought tears to her arid eyes.
Bel slapped the Lt. Cmmndr. on the back till the fit was passed. “And they say Vulcans have no sense of humor,” she murmured.
“I feel like a fool,” said McCoy.
Tetra gave one last cough and solemnly smoothed her hair.
“Now to get out of here,” said Bel.
“How?” McCoy asked. “And where do we go? From the little we saw of Uriah Slope, this is hardly standard attire.”
“Not for the Establishment,” Bel said. “But it is standard issue non-conformist dress for Nonesuch.”
“Semantics,” Bel said. “–And don’t say it.”
McCoy, who had been about to make an irascible, dry quip about not being anti-semantic, some of his best friends, merely cleared his throat and looked innocent.
“The Federation is aware of Nonesuch,” Bel said. “As of six months ago our agents … I mean, the dewey-eyed, happy-go-lucky tourists who just happened to pick Relf for a vacation … considered Nonesuch alienated from the Establishment, but not antipathetic to it.”
“If that is so,” said Tetra, “why has Uriah Slope, who is clearly no friend of the Federation, Shanghai’d us into Nonesuch headquarters and Joan of Arc’d us into Nonesuch clothing?”
“Possibly to plant us on the ‘revolutionaries,’” McCoy suggested. “Maybe he plans to ‘rescue’ us.”
“If that were his plan,” said the Vulcan, “he would have had us killed, to make Nonesuch’s ‘crime’ more heinous and to stop our telling the truth.”
McCoy nodded, the black-bowed tail of his wig bouncing on his back. He frowned, out of his element in the depths of intrigue. “You’re the diplomat,” he growled at Bel. “You tell us what you’ve gotten us in to.”
“Well, I like that!” Bel said, meaning that she didn’t like it at all. “Who invited you?”
“She has a point,” Tetra said reasonably. “We did volunteer. And we did know that the assignment involved Lt. Schuster. Be fair.”
McCoy rolled his eyes and stood his ground. “Well?” he said.
“My guess,” said Bel, “is that Slope has reason to brew trouble in Foozmania, and that Nonesuch is just the yeast nearest to hand. I’d say he’s timed a move to coincide with our arrival and thrown us in with Nonesuch to implicate the Federation.”
“Logical,” said Tetra. “If this is, indeed, the case, Nonesuch should be warned. The situation must be kept from exploding until the Federation has a chance to mediate.”
“I never heard that you could keep a powder keg from exploding by sitting on it!” McCoy snapped.
“You can, if you use your position to pull out the fuse,” said Bel.
“Point,” Tetra announced.
“Now, see here,” said McCoy authoritatively. “We’ve got to contact the captain.”
“With no communicators? That’s going to be quite a trick. How do you plan to pull it off?”
“Look,” McCoy began.
Bel interrupted. “King’s X, time out,” she said. “You know what they say on Zesteez Salteen III: Snotiness never got anyone anything but a bloody nose. Of course, they…. Well, never mind. For now, just do as I say, and we’ll be out of here in half no-time.”
McCoy nodded, a sheepish smile at the corner of his mouth.
And so, from the disused basement, came a loud, a penetrating sound, projected from desperate diaphrams in three-part harmony:
“Que sera, sera,…. Whatever will be, will be….”
The Assembly Rooms teemed with beaux and belles. Nearly all of Nonesuch were present. Brilliant lights sparkled on breeches and round gowns, on snuff-boxes and reticules.
Harcourt Fenton Mudd, “Flash Harry” to his friends, shook a microscopic bit of snuff from the sleeve of his coat of blue superfine, a coat so well-cut it took two strong men and a shoehorn to get him into it. His waistcoat was buff, his trousers were biscuit. He wore his hair (what there was of it) cropped in thin dark curls above his ears. His luxuriant handlebar moustache was lightly pomaded. He carried an ebony walking stick.
Harry’s superb grooming, his stance, his overall air of serene dignity, and the glow of sorrowing worry within his soulful eyes combined to make him look like a magnificent show dog with constipation.
Harry had really put his foot in it this time; right to the tassels of his gleaming Hessian topboots. He wasn’t a man to cry craven at cutting a dash, but he felt the veriest gudgeon at having landed in his present coil. Relf had seemed heaven at last, but concupiscence will out. He was too visible by half, and he was too knowing a one not to sense time running out for Nonesuch.
A young buck in turquoise velvet laced with silver, his black locks brushed in the Brutus, approached Harry and made a leg. “Some of your own sort?” he asked, eyeing Harry’s enameled Svres snuffbox.
“Just so,” said Harry, closing the box and restoring it to a pocket of his flowered waistcoat. “A bit strong for young’uns, Percy. Not to your taste, I’ll be bound.”
Percy shrugged, disappointed, and moved off.
Sound lad, young Percy, Harry thought. But not quite up to snuff.
A bustle and a buzz from the doorway took Harry’s attention. He turned, to see the Headquarters major-domo shepherding a party of three across the room. It looked like…. It couldn’t be….
The party was within arms’s reach when they saw Harry and knew him.
“What th–” McCoy snapped.
It could be worse, Tetra thought, exercising the ancient Vulcan technique of ra-sh’n’l’zay-sh’n. It could be a Gorn in a body stocking.
Lt. (J.G.) Schuster covered her surprise with a twitch. Of all the sock-hops in all the towns all over Relf, she thought, I walk into his.
“Bel!” Harry cried.
“Bel as ever was,” she said.
“Oh, Bel,” said Harry, with the air of an acting corporal turning over command to a general with fresh troops. “You’ve brought the Enterprise with you?”
“I like your way of putting things,” she said.
“You’re a miracle, girl!” He threw his arms around the flabbergasted diplomat, disarranging her hat in his fervor, clinging to her as a drowning rat clings to a sinking ship. Or something like that. “I never thought I’d be happy to see you,” Harry confessed. “Any of you. But, oh, I am.”
There was a look on Harry’s face which the Starfleet people had never seen there before. McCoy recognized it with some amazement. It was sincerity.
“You must be in deep trouble,” said McCoy.
“Deep enough,” said Harry. “And getting deeper.”
“Starfleet sent me,” Bel said, “in response to a complaint of Klingon interference in Foozmanian affairs. No specifics, just a formal request for Federation help in dealing with the problem. How do you come into it?”
“Klingons?” said Harry. “In Foozmania? With men like Uriah Slope around, who needs Klingons?”
“Yes, Slope,” said Bel, thoughtfully. “He met us when we beamed down, gassed us, had us brought to your basement, and costumed us like this.”
“Slope has a way into Headquarters?” Harry squeaked.
“He did. Lt. Tetra jammed the mechanism of his secret door.”
“Clever girl,” said Harry warmly, expansive with relief.
“Then I had Lt. Tetra and Dr. McCoy help me to attract Nonesuch’s attention with a song in three-part harmony.”
Harry chuckled appreciatively. “Trust you,” he said.
“Why did that work?” McCoy asked. “Why that song?”
“It carries, for one thing. For another, it’s traditional. But the real grabber was the style, not the song itself. You see, on Relf, music has never evolved beyond the simple plainsong. The melody is carried by one voice, or by a group of voices singing the same notes at the same time. It’s called ‘monotony.’”
“It’s called ‘monody,’” said Harry, with some disgust.
“Yes, yes. ‘Monody.’ Er-hem.” Bel had the grace to blush. “Nonesuch’s real tresspass against Foozmanian society,” Bel hastily returned to her point, “is its devotion to harmony and counterpoint. They’ve set all Relf aflame with their ‘wierdo, crazy’ motets and rounds. Foozmanian youth is about to follow Nonesuch into social rebellion. Foozmania is about to slip into Culture Shock. Otherwise, Nonesuch are decent, law-abiding citizens.”
More than one painted chicken-skin fan, Tetra noted, was spread to hide a smile. Harry ran a finger around the inside of his starched collar.
“Aren’t they?” Bel asked.
“Mmmmmwell, first, let us consider the meaning of the phrase, ‘law-abiding’ on Relf,” Harry said.
“Oh-oh,” said McCoy. “When Harry starts defining terms, head for the nearest exit and keep your picture out of the papers.”
“Doctor,” said Harry, all nobility and wounds, “that was unworthy of you.”
McCoy was unabashed.
“Nonesuch does a bit of burglary,” Harry said. “An occasional robbery or smash-and-grab, purse-snatching, pocket-picking, daring daylight robberies, scams and cons and stings — and none of that is criminal on Relf. Nothing is criminal on Relf, providing its purpose is to make money.”
“The Federation tolerates it,” Bel explained, “as ‘Freedom of Religion.’ The entire planet of Relf worships — literally worships — the Almighty Dollar.”
McCoy lifted an eyebrow at Harry. “So who do they think you are?” he asked, “–John the Capitalist?”
Harry fixed a glass in his eye and gave McCoy an icy stare.
McCoy remained unabashed.
“And?” Bel said encouragingly.
“And,” said Harry, coming off his high horse faster than a whipster pushing his mount at a fence, “here I found myself. ‘Paradise,’ I thought. ‘Elbow room, at last. Horizons for a man of large vision.’”
“Stop pitching the gaff,” said Tetra. “Don’t try to gammon us, or you’ll soon find yourself in Queer Street. We’re not flats, you know.”
“Her Linguistics dissertation — ” Bel began, when the major-domo returned and handed Harry a packet of money.
“The house winnings. I don’t like to keep such a large amount in the casino, you know.”
“I know.” Mudd tucked the money into his coat-tail pocket.
“I’m very sorry,” said the major-domo. “It shall not happen again.”
“Quite all right,” said Harry. “Not your fault, my dear fellow.”
The major-domo bowed himself out, wiping his face with a handkerchief.
“The casino?” Bel asked.
“Mudd’s Caf Terrestrienne. Downstairs.”
“A gaming hell?” asked Tetra.
“Can’t be,” said McCoy. “Gambling must be legal, because you do it to win money.”
Harry looked uneasy.
“Is this place honest?” Bel asked suspiciously.
“As honest as the day is long,” Harry said.
Several Nonesuch members failed to smother laughter.
“Never mind,” Bel said. “I get it.”
“I don’t,” said the doctor.
“Winning money is legal,” said Bel. “So Harry, being Harry, cheats, which would be legal, if he cheated to win. So he cheats to lose.”
“Cheats to lose….” McCoy dropped out of the conversation and began counting off points on his fingers.
“What else?” said Bel. “You might as well come clean.”
“I hope,” said Tetra, “we don’t have to come the ugly with you.”
“I’ve always had a tendre for the tales of Robin Hood. Are you familiar with them, my little Vulcan charmer?”
“A legendary Terran figure, who took from the rich and gave to the poor — Oh, Harry!”
“But there are no poor on Relf, no poor to speak of. I mean, if you’re in want, you take; talk about laissez-faire distribution of wealth….”
Young Percy, the lad in the turquoise velvet, joined the group. “But off-worlders don’t know how to go on. They find themselves here, too far away from home to ask for instructions or aid. They’re our natural prey.” He smiled sweetly. “And how we give it to ‘em, eh?” He elbowed Harry’s ribs. “Cash grants, loans never called to book, outright gifts…. Up the Establishment!”
Ah, youth, thought Bel. How far mine has flown. What a relief.
“The King, we hear,” said Harry, “is declaring Nonesuch a treasonous organization. Any member — or former member — or associate — will be declared a traitor. Treason is punishable by” … He could hardly bring himself to say it … “boiling in oil.”
They could save a packet, thought McCoy, who had rejoined the doings, by rendering you down first, you old walrus.
“But what does — ” Bel broke off as her jaw became unhinged and dropped, like the late Jacob Marley’s, onto her collar. “What,” she said, “is that?”
It was a man — and what a man! The major-domo, leading him across the room, was practically thrown into silhouette by the fellow’s splendor. This splendid figure’s brow was osbscured by a curly-brimmed beaver hat cocked rakishly low. His chin disappeared into a froth of uniquely tied linen. His collar points were so stiff, white, high and pointed, he looked like an albino Vulcan. He held a quizzing glass to one eye. He wore a bottle-green coat, lemon-yellow trousers and a cream-and-cherry striped waistcoat.
“Pounds, shillings and pence,” Harry swore. “It’s a Macaroni!”
The Macaroni peered at Flash Harry through his quizzing glass and lifted a lavender-scented wisp of handkerchief to his nose. “This is the outside of enough,” he said. “Stap me if it ain’t.”
“Captain Kirk?” said Tetra.
“Devil fly away with you, Harry Mudd, I might’ve known you’d have a hand in it.”
“Really now, that’s hardly fair,” Harry protested.
“Your company is always a pleasure, Captain,” said Bel, “even when it’s unexpected. What brings you here now?”
“Very good,” said McCoy, with an admiring grin.
Kirk tucked his handkerchief into his cuff and answered Bel. “When you didn’t communicate your arrival after transporting, I had the possibility of a malfunction checked out.”
“First thing. Good move.”
“We tried to raise you, without success,” Kirk went on, with only the slightest of hesitations. Tetra admired his restraint. “Slope contacted us and claimed you’d never arrived. He implied a technical snafu and … expressed … shock and sorrow at your loss. He said he’d convey Relf’s official regrets to the Federation. He invited me to a masquerade at the palace, saying that their Majesties wished to speak to me personally, off the record.”
“Slope gave Ship’s Stores clothing parameters for your ‘costume,’” said Tetra, “and had you beam down where?”
“In the basement. Here.”
“You came alone?”
“To a social function, by invitation? Yes.”
Bel rolled her eyes. “Amateurs.”
“I take it this is not the Royal Masquerade?”
“Hardly,” said McCoy. He explained what had happened. “There’s trouble coming, Jim; I can smell it above Harry’s eau de toilette. I say we beam up and contact the Federation.”
Kirk shook his head. “The Enterprise is out of range.”
“Why am I not surprised?” said Tetra.
“They’re to try to contact me in six hours, on the next pass. If I don’t answer, they’re to follow official procedures.”
“Do they remember how?” asked Bel.
Fortunately, her question was covered by a series of loud pings. Harry drew a turnip-shaped watch from one of his waistcoat pockets. He pressed a stud and the pinging stopped.
“Time, everybody,” he called. He nodded to the major-domo, “Call time downstairs.” The major-domo left.
“Time for what?” asked Kirk.
“Time to rusticate, Kirk, old boy. We had it on good authority that the CPR planned to raid us tonight; anyone taken would be held until the treason edict came into effect, and then….” Harry shuddered delicately. “So we’re all following our luggage into the country on a repairing lease. We’re pockets to let, socially speaking. If reputation were cash, we’d be Job’s turkey. Not two pennies to bless ourselves with.”
“What is he talking about?” asked McCoy.
“Georgian cant,” Bel explained. “And don’t say it.”
“Georgian can’t what?” McCoy muttered, the urge being too strong to supress entirely.
Inspector Clode Looee of the Constabulario Polizai Royale stood unobtrusively in the shadow of a corner doorway and squinted through the smoke of his cigarette. The Nonesuch building was surrounded. Every exit was covered, including the door in the basement, revealed to the CPR by an anonymous informant.
A man stepped out of the darkness in front of Nonesuch headquarters and gave a nod. Inspector Looee nodded back placidly. The man raised a whistle to his lips and blew a piercing twee.
Polizai officers battered down doors. They swarmed into the building, through the rooms. They searched and they cursed, but no member of Nonesuch did they find.
Clode Looee, receiving this report, lifted a philosophical shoulder and flicked away the smouldering butt of his cigarette.
And so, as dawn broke in the north, a series of barouches, broughams, cabriolets, hansoms, landaus, and surreys, each drawn by a horse of a different color, made its way out of Byzan and into the rolling green interior of Foozmania.
Kirk, McCoy and Tetra found themselves squeezed into a hansom — McCoy said it. Bel and Harry shared a cabriolet and the contents of Harry’s silver-plated pocket flask. “Beats taking a dish of Negus, or I’ll eat my head,” said Harry.
At length, the vehicles swept around a drive and a very large, drafty-looking country house came into view.
“Draines,” said Harry.
“Beg pardon?” said Bel.
“Name of the place. Draines. You’ll see why. Or rather, as Hamlet put it, you’ll nose it out.”
Soon the Nonesuch was distributed about its place in the country.
Bel, Tetra, McCoy, Kirk, and Harry were in the breakfast room, partaking of a nuncheon of cold meats, salt fish, cheese, and pickles, washed down with pots of foaming ale.
“Just a little something to tide us over till tea,” Harry apologized. “Trumpery stuff; the merest nothing.”
“Not a bit of it,” said Bel, in her best diplomatese. “Slap up to the echo. I dare swear the lieutenant will agree, eh, Lieutenant Tetra?”
“‘Pon rep,” said the Vulcan. “Captain, I estimate that approximately six hours have passed since your beam-down. Shouldn’t the Enterprise be trying to contact you?”
Kirk’s communicator beeped. “Approximately…,” he said, with the ever-fresh sense of wonder Vulcans inspired in him. He flipped open the device and raised a swirl of static. The fragments, “‘ossible … ‘torm …,” and the clear words “… six more hours …,” were followed by deep silence.
“Apparantly, there is some form of interference,” said Tetra.
“Magnetic dust storms in the stratosphere,” said Bel. “Relf is famous for them.”
“Ah.” Kirk closed the communicator and sat down to table.
A tall, dark, thin man with bad skin, good legs, and a moustache like a sawed-off paintbrush came into the room.
“Our fearless leader,” said Harry. “The instigator of Nonesuch — Buxtehude Brandenburg.”
Buxtehude Brandenburg and the Federation party made manners at one another.
“Also president of the Mediocre Musicians’ Union,” Harry continued, “popularly known as ‘Salierity.’”
“You’ll never guess what’s happening today,”
Buxtehude Brandenburg said, all atwit. “It’s the most
famous thing — beyond anything great.”
“Doing it a bit too brown, Brandenburg,” said Harry. “Don’t make a cake of yourself, and before company, too.”
“Devil a bit,” said Brandenburg. “Just wait till you hear. It’s the mill!”
“You settled it?”
“I did, indeed.”
“A mill?” said McCoy. “What’s so thrilling about grinding grain?”
“A pugilistic match, Dr. McCoy,” said Tetra. “A boxing contest.”
Kirk drew his handkerchief. “Fisticuffs?” he quavered.
“Fetch the hartshorn and water,” said Bel. “Fetch the vinaigrette. Burn some feathers.”
“I believe I’m about to have a fit of the vapors,” said Kirk, enjoying himself hugely. “Perhaps even palpitations.”
“Don’t, I beg of you, stick your spoon in the wall,” said Lt. Schuster. “Don’t turn up your toes. Don’t fall into a decline. Don’t — “
“Apollo Jones versus Ammon-Ra of Relf,” Harry cut off the flow of idiom, enough being enough. “Ammon-Ra is my fancy.”
“Your fancy what?” McCoy asked, before he could be stopped.
Harry winced and rallied. “Where’s it to be held?”
“At the ha-ha,” said Brandenburg. He explained to the off- worlders, who looked like city folk. “That’s the sunken fence in John Stuart’s south field, behind the house.”
“I’d like to take a look at the ground,” said Harry. “Anyone care for a stroll?”
The prospect of strolling with Harcourt Fenton Mudd was not one to entice this particular group of people, so he went alone, Brandenburg going to spread the exciting news.
“Er, Lieutenant Tetra,” said Kirk.
“Er, Harry Mudd. I don’t trust him.”
“No more do I, sir. No more would anyone but a nodcock.”
“Perhaps we should be keeping tabs on him.”
“Affirmative. Surveillance is indicated as the most logical procedure.”
“Harry likes you.”
Tetra said nothing.
“He trusts you. He wants to impress you. Now, I wouldn’t want to order you to go after him….”
“Well, that’s a mercy,” said Tetra, returning to her plate of eggs with plomeek sauce.
“…But, if I must, I must.”
Tetra’s food turned to sawdust in her mouth. She rose, pointedly not giving Kirk a dirty look.
“Don’t forget your hat,” said Bel. “Your hat, you know.”
“Yes, I — ” Tetra nodded almost imperceptibly. “Yes, my hat.”
Aboard the Enterprise, Engineer Scott shook his head with a look of Gaelic gloom.
“I dinna like it, Mr. Spock. Bel Schuster vanished, the Captain out of touch — and in fancy dress, at that….”
“What would you have me do, Mr. Scott? The magnetic dust storms in the stratosphere preclude use of communications devices, and of transporter equipment, as well. We are helpless unless or until these storms abate. We must simply, I believe you would say, ‘Hope for the best.’”
“‘Hope for the best; expect the worst,’ is how I learned it, Mr. Spock.”
Spock raised an eyebrow two nanometers as if to say, “Do they have your picture in the dictionary as an illustration for the word ‘dour’?” but said nothing.
Meanwhile, back at the ha-ha, Harry drained his pocket flask and started another. He had momentarily forgotten the danger in which he stood. He was
contemplating the corruption of the fine sport of boxing on Relf with a warm feeling of self-satisfaction. Soon the bout would begin. He had bet heavily on Ammon-Ra, giving long odds, having fixed it with same said Ammon-Ra to take a dive in the third. The money would go rolling out! What a sweet racket!
At this point in Mudd’s machinations, Lt. Tetra arrived; one swift glance around told him that they were unattended. A bacchic leer settled familiarly into place.
“Well, m’dear,” he said, hopefully. “Come to see what a boxing ring looks like? Or were you following me?”
Tetra, being a Vulcan, replied, “I was following you.”
That was all Harry needed. He made a mad clutch at the Lt. Commander which would have missed, had he not tripped and overshot his apparant mark. “Gad, you beauty!” he said.
“What was that?” said Kirk, raising his head from his dish of cold mutton.
“Sounded like a cat being vivisected — and objecting,” said McCoy.
Bel poured herself a glass of wine and strolled onto the terrace, singing softly to herself: “Never go walking out without your hatpin. / The law won’t let you carry more than that….”
Nonesuch began to trickle down to John Stuart’s south field; this promised to be the mill of the season, and everyone wanted a good seat. Bel was one of the first to arrive, a whoopee of wine glasses in one hand, a full decanter in the other.
“‘Have some Madeira, m’dear,’” she invited generally.
Tetra accepted with the faintest of lingering smirks.
Harry snarled unbecomingly. “Some Federation representative you are,” he said. “Are you doing your duty by the Federation? Are you answering the plea of His Majesty? Are you even standing buff for your old pal, Harry Mudd? No. You are not. You’re standing there, swilling wine like Hey-Go-Mad — “
“Rather a bit by the bridge with that one, my buck. Why are you ripping up at me like a Tartar? It’s my belief you’ve shot the cat, and so I’ll tell you to your head with no round-aboutation. Still, that’s no excuse for you to nab the rust at me in that odious fashion. I wonder if you’re quite the thing, Harry, bless me if I don’t.”
“Doesn’t look well above half,” said Tetra. “Not in plump currant, no more than Dick’s hatband. I thought so myself, sure as Bob’s your uncle. Looks blue as megrim, he does, and sick as a cushion — a pincushion, that is.”
The ladies sniggered and chortled. Bel gave Harry a friendly elbow to the ribs that quite knocked the starch out of him, and he accepted some wine, after all.
More and more arrivals crowded the field. Captain Kirk, Doctor McCoy, Buxtehude Brandenburg, and young Percy joined our trio near the ring. Suddenly, Bel saw a sight to curl the hair on a chihuahua.
“Uriah Slope, as I live and breathe.”
Sure enough, the oleaginous Mr. Slope was flowing slowly through the crowd, almost visibly leaving a slime trail where he passed.
“What looby of a muffle-headed clunch invited that dueced Captain Sharp?” Percy asked. No one had.
The high spirits of the crowd began to turn nervous. Suddenly Harry, with time-tried instinct, cried,
“Cash on the barrelhead! It’s the runners! Hop it!”
The crowd scattered, but Inspector Clode Looee and his Flying Squad were ready for them. Billy clubs strove with walking sticks. Harry raised his ebony cane and shook it bravely.
“Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more!” he roared, and sent peelers scattering like peanut shells before an elephant.
Law and order, however, prevailed, and coaches soon creaked their way town-ward, stuffed like so many sausages with recreants and high-ranking Federation officers.
When Apollo Jones and Ammon-Ra of Relf arrived for the mill, they found the ha-ha a scene of desolation and the aftermath of despair.
“So, ‘oo wins?” asked Harry’s fancy.
“Wasn’t you paid to take a dive?” asked Apollo Jones.
Jones connected with a left to Ammon-Ra’s button, drawing his cork and making the claret flow pretty freely.
“You dove,” he said. “Let’s go.”
The royal execution chamber teemed with beaux and belles. All of Nonesuch were present, not to mention Captain Kirk, Doctor McCoy, Lieutenant Commander Tetra and Ambassador Isobel Schuster.
“Why is it,” Tetra asked Bel, with the dispassionate curiosity typical of her race, “that every time I beam down somewhere with you, I always end up in jail? Hmmmm?”
McCoy gazed, appalled, at the several black cauldrons in a line before Their Majesties’ second-best thrones.
“Now what?” he said.
“Now,” said Harry, with hearty intent, “we beat the living change out of that serpentine Gawd-Help-Us, Uriah Slope.”
An atonal riff on a herald’s pocket synthesizer announced the entrance of King Rupert and Her Grace, Queen Kelly. Their Majesties seated themselves and dispensed hard looks with noble largesse.
“The prisoners await Your Majesties’ pleasure,” said Inspector Looee.
“They do, do they?” said King Rupert, ominously.
“It’s our pleasure,” said Queen Kelly, “to make up a few pots of deep-fried freaks. We’ll do one of you a favor and kill you painlessly in exchange for information about what you rug-heads have done with the Prince.”
“Don’t play innocent!” said Queen Kelly. “Where is he? A merciful death is a better reward than a rich life, when it comes to it.”
Young Percy stepped forward. With a sweeping gesture, he removed his wig.
“My son!” cried the Queen.
“It’s the Prince!”
“What are you doing with this lot of cash-forsaken hooligans?” asked the King.
“These are my friends, papa,” said the Prince. “I’ve been slipping away to hobnob with them on the sly for the better part of a year. It grieved me to have to tip you the double, but I knew you’d cut up rough if you got wind of it.”
“Oh, my baby!” moaned the Queen. “What have you done? What have we done?”
“I – don’t – like – the – sound – of – this,” said Harry.
Uriah Slope stepped toward the throne, a savage gleam in his eye. “You’ve signed the edict?”
“Yes, I have. And you needn’t look like like you’ve just won the pools, because guess what? You were taken with the rest of this crowd at John Stuart’s mill, and you’ll suffer the penalty with the rest of them.”
“But, Your Majesty, I only went there to see justice done. It isn’t fair….”
“Hard currency, Slope. That’s the way the dollar devalues. How do you think Her Grace and I feel? We’re losing our only son, not to mention the heir to the throne, thanks to this edict you talked me into signing. So, if you’ve filled your cauldron and have to boil in it, don’t expect much sympathy from the Royal House, because you won’t get any.”
“Could…could I speak to Your Majesties privately?” asked Slope, rubbing his thumb against the tips of his fingers which, in Universal Sign Language, means, “I want to offer you a bribe.”
“What do you have to offer,” the King asked, “that the crown won’t confiscate after your execution for treason, anyway?”
“Your life!” said Slope, drawing a phaser from a concealed pocket in his garbage bag tunic. “You petty little fool! This backwater planet could have been one of the most powerful in the Klingon Empire.”
“Klingon!” said Kirk.
“Yes, Klingon. I had you fooled, didn’t I? I fooled you all. I infiltrated this pathetic comic-opera planet years ago, with a false identity and a pocketful of hush money. I’ve done as I pleased since then, undetected, unobstructed, worming my way into your councils and influencing your policies. Soon, I’d have been ready to make my move: An exclusive trade agreement with the Klingon Empire was my goal — “
“A trade agreement?” said Bel. “Again with a trade agreement? What is it with the trade agreements? Every time my life is threatened anymore, it’s a matter of simple economics. They were right in the 1960′s — the Military Industrial Complex is a … a MENACE!”
Slope sneered. “You have no idea the stakes involved. Our scientists have just discovered that the unique molecular structure of Foozmanian marble makes it unparalleled as refractory plates. We can line industrial kilns with it and manufacture sheathing that’ll stand up to a nova. We can make phaser-resistant armor. And cookware that’ll go from the freezer to the oven without cracking. But the Prince — the Prince was a rebel. A non-conformist. As he reached his majority, he’d have had more influence and more income to spend on bribes of his own. I’d begin to lose control.”
“So you arranged to make being taken with Nonesuch a capital offense,” said Bel, “and then you arranged for the Prince and us, representatives of your main military-industrial rival, to be taken just so.”
“Nice plan, wasn’t it?”
“Too bad you got hoist with your own petard,” said Buxtehude Brandenburg, with real admiration.
“Too bad you hoisted the Federation, as well,” said Bel. “This won’t do, you know. It won’t do at all. The Federation won’t smile indulgently at the summary execution of four of its personnel. Especially since we were only where we were because we were kidnapped.”
“That’s right, Your Majesty,” said three big bruisers in day-glo orange Embassy livery. “He had us snatch this lady, and the little one, and the sawbones, and ditch them in the Nonsense Headquarters.”
“You did that?” said Bel. “You? Embassy personnel, hired specifically to look after my wants and needs?”
One of the bruisers shrugged. “He paid us. It looked like good, clean graft. We figured he just wanted to cover up how he’d been taking the Federation’s money for Embassy maintenance and keeping it for himself.”
Their Majesties nodded. “Makes sense. Naturally.”
“Actually,” said the Nonesuch Headquarters major-domo, stepping forward and doffing his headgear, “Slope’s activities haven’t gone unmonitored.” He faced Inspector Clode Looee and saluted smartly.
The Inspector saluted back.
“Slope,” said Looee, “tipped his hand about five months ago. That was when Nonesuch began their blasphemous campaign to … do you-know-what to money. Slope was in on everything they had going, with both hands out and all pockets opened wide. That’s when I knew he was foreign. Greed is commendable, but it was Slope’s undoing. He thought he had it all arranged for most of Nonesuch, including the Ambassador and the Prince, to be arrested last night. He was at the mill today, not knowing we planned to raid it, too, because he’d bet heavily on the Nonesuch favorite to lose. But, thanks to Sgt. Dartanyon, we gave Nonesuch the word to get out of town and netted all our birds with one cast. Well done, Dartanyon,” he said to the false major-domo. “Sorry about your being boiled in oil.”
“These things happen,” said Dartanyon. “Life is full of unpleasant little surprises.”
“But, this won’t do!” Bel insisted.
“I HAVE A PHASER!” Uriah Slope reminded everyone.
Bel spoke softly to a Nonesuch lady next to her.
“I’ve got a present for you, Klingon,” Bel said. “Catch!”
She tossed the lady’s fuzzy white muff at Slope.
“It’s a tribble!” he screamed, firing wildly at it.
CPR officers grabbed and disarmed him. Bel returned the muff.
Kirk closed his eyes and shuddered. “She would,” he said. “Only she would. And it worked. That’s the worst part of it — It worked.”
“There’s your ‘Klingon interference,’ Your Majesty,” said Bel, “with the Federation’s compliments.”
“We will send the Federation our thanks when we inform it of your unfortunate demise.”
“But, Your Majesty….”
“The edict has been signed,” said King Rupert regretfully. “You, your friends, the Nonesuch, brave Sgt. Dartanyon, and my own dear son must die.”
“But — But — But — “
“We’ll stretch a point,” said the King generously, “and kill you all before we boil you. All but Slope, of course.”
“I can’t believe this is happening,” Harry said faintly. “It’s medieval. It’s draconian.”
Bel took her final shot. “Your most gracious and omnipotent Majesties,” she began.
“Don’t give me any of that infernal nonsense about my decree being so irrevocable that just saying a thing must be done is as good as having it over with, or I’ll show you how long a difference between a beginning and an ending there can be.”
Bel looked hurt. “As if I’d use that old chestnut.”
Tetra gave a cough full of quiet meaning.
“I was going to say that, whether they want to or not, Nonesuch fulfills a very pressing social need: Who can gain, if no one loses? And how can your economics be balanced fairly when some are good at a bargain and some are bad? Some are effective theives and some are not?”
“Some,” interrupted the Prince passionately, “get the elevator and some get the shaft. The suffering I’ve seen, papa — the fellows I’ve seen rob jewelry store windows only to come away with paste copies — it would break your heart.”
“Nonesuch levels such inequities,” said Bel. “It’s a self-funding Welfare agency — a dream come true. Not to mention the fact that, not being a part of the government, its assets and capital gains can be taxed to the max. Taxation beats confiscation, Your Majesties, I’m sure you can see that.”
Their Majesties looked thoughtful — and sick for chances lost.
“Then there’s the offworlder connection. Sometimes it’s advisable to slip a little do-re-mi to an alien official who, because of the bizarre rituals of his race, can’t take a bribe openly. Nonesuch can be used as a go-between in these and many other cases I could describe.”
“Yes, but the edict,” said King Rupert.
“Where I come from,” Bel said, “we have a saying: ‘The blood is the life.’”
Kirk and McCoy caught each other’s eye and said softly, “De blaahd ees de laaeef.”
“Add a bit to the edict. Say that the penalty for belonging to Nonesuch will be the boiling in oil of a drop of the convicted’s blood.”
“Hmmmm,” said the King.
“Why, it’s elegant, Your Majesty!” said Inspector Looee. “And it saves the Prince! And Sgt. Dartanyon! And averts an intergalactic war with the Federation!”
“And,” said Bel, “it’ll result in a sizable increase in tax revenue to the crown.”
“Done, by Gelt! Call the scribes!”
Two men, carrying portable writing desks, came into the chamber. They wore holographic name tags: Wilson Coulson and Buck Tucker.
“Take an edict,” said the King.
Messrs Spock and Scott could feel the tension on the bridge. It was twelve hours since the Captain had beamed down to the planet where Doctor McCoy, Lt. Cmmndr. Tetra and, incidentally, a Federation diplomat had gone missing. The magnetic dust storms in the stratosphere had died away and Lt. Uhura was opening hailing frequencies all over the place.
There was a click and a crackle, and Kirk’s voice came through clearly. The sound of heavy metal plain chant almost drowned out his brief assurance that he and the others were all quite safe and would contact the ship when they were ready to beam back aboard.
Messrs Spock and Scott looked at each other.
“Twelve hours,” Mr. Spock stated.
“Some party,” said Mr. Scott.
Bel was sipping a Foozmanian Fireball, and telling Sgt. Dartanyon all about something. “So then he goes, ‘Oh, yeah?’ And so then I go, ‘Listen, buster: The quality of mercy is not strained.’ I go, ‘It falleth like the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.’”
“Well put,” said the Sergeant.
“I always thought so,” said Lt. Tetra.
King Rupert threw an arm around Buxtehude Brandenburg’s shoulders and nodded at the Royal Musicians. “Now, that’s music!” he said. “Not like that Nonsensical noise you lot make.”
“Noise?” said Brandenburg hotly. “Noise?! Have you ever heard any of our music? Really listened to it? You might do that before you condemn it.”
“Spoken like a Foozmanian!” said the King. “By all that’s negotiable, the man is right. Let’s hear some of this fugue-ing stuff of yours.”
His Majesty stopped the Royal Musicians in mid-squeal and motioned them down from the dais. Nonesuch members replaced them, lowering the amplifiers’ decibles by five-eighths and turning off the voice-mikes altogether.
“This is a little number sold to us by our Terran member, known to us as Flash Harry,” said Brandenburg. He lifted his arms; when he lowered them, the air was enriched and transfigured by Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”.
When the Nonesuch vocalists came in, there was no holding the crowd. King Rupert and Queen Kelly lept up and joined the Prince and Tetra in a jumped-up modified pavanne.
“This is wonderful!” shouted the King. “Keep it up!”
The CPR and Embassy personnel cut loose, too, till the Royal Ballroom was a madly controlled mass of precise movement. Heady stuff, to be sure.
“Let’s brasle around the clock!” cried Her Majesty, in flaming delight.
McCoy tugged primly at the lapels of his frock coat and rolled his eyes. “Me,” he said sourly, “in a Molly Bee picture.”
The time for departure had finally come. Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Lt. Tetra, Lt. (J.G.) Schuster, Flash Harry and the new Relf/Federation Liaison Officer, Inspector Clode Looee, were gathered in the shabby reception room at the Federation Embassy.
“You’re sure?” Kirk asked.
“I’m sure,” said Bel. King Rupert had asked that the Federation assign Isobel Schuster as permanent Ambassador to Relf. Bel, after a brief flashback to the diplomatic asteroid Gladhand, had seconded the request. It meant re-upping for two years, after which she would technically be a civilian in the active reserves, but there were worse ways to build a pension. Especially since King Rupert was enthusiastic about pursuing a policy of passing mass quantities of money to alien diplomats behind the Nonesuch front.
Kirk and McCoy shook hands all around. Tetra held up her spread-fingered hand.
A special look of friendship passed between the Vulcan and the new Ambassador.
“Live long and prosper,” said Bel.
“Don’t take any wooden nickles,” said Tetra, with a twitch at the corner of her mouth.
The Enterprisers transported up.
Harry sighed deeply and gave Bel a look of dog-like reproach. “You’ve done it to me again,” he said.
“What — Saved your life?”
“…Well, that, yes …. And I’m not ungrateful, believe me. But you’ve also left me stranded on a planet with no scope for my genius.”
“Be honest,” said Bel, proving that she was, indeed, a trained diplomat. “What planet could provide scope for your genius?”
Harry considered this, nodding to himself.
“But, if any planet could do it,” Bel went on, “this one can. Think of it: Being crooked is legal. Being straight is legal. Who but you would be able to work out a way to break the law on a planet like this?”
Harry’s eyes went hard and smokey, like the blackened windows of a robber’s den. Without passing another word, he settled his sugar-loaf hat onto his pomaded curls and left.
Inspector Clode Looee and Ambassador Schuster looked at each other askance.
The Inspector/Liaison Officer spoke first. “Permit me,” he said, “to welcome you officially to Relf.”
“Thank you. I’m delighted to be here.”
“His Majesty expects you to fit in with our pattern of life here,” said Inspector Looee.
“I forsee no difficulty,” said Bel.
“One never knows,” said the Inspector. “On the other hand, one could eliminate all possibility of unfortunate happenstance.” He held out his palm and scratched it.
Bel put a credit in the itchy palm. “Suppose you buy me a drink, and we’ll talk about it,” she said.
The Inspector pocketed the credit. He smiled wryly. Bel smiled, also wryly, back.
The Ambassador and the Liaison Officer linked arms and strolled across the reception room.
“Looee,” Bel said, “this looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
The doors closed behind them.
- As Crime Goes By
- Prigs in Space
- Phasers for Two
- The Thirds Man
- Oil Be Seeing You
- A Little Touch of Harry in the Night
- The Threecredit Opera
- Snuff and Nonsense
- The Lost Dauphin
- Sprig Mylar
- Linguistics with Clam Sauce
- A Piece of Reaction
- To Thine Own Relf Be True
- The Smiling Foozmaniacs
- Never Go Walking Out Without Your Hatpin
- Give Me Polyphany, Or Give Me Death
- The Mill on the Ha-Ha
- Georgian on My Mind
- The Mills of the Gods
- Float Like a Hovercraft, Sting Like a Bee
- Everybody Goes to Buxtehude Brandenburg’s
- Down the Draines
- One for All and All for Half-Price, Today Only
- Little Red Robin Hood
- Roll Over Beethoven
- Mercy, Mercy, Here Comes Percy