|These are works of fan fiction and are not intended for profit. No infringement on copyright or any other right is intended.|
Yeoman Isobel Schuster was used to being called on the carpet (or, more appropriately for a starship, on the deck).
Not that she was remiss in her duties; on the contrary, she performed with precision and modest initiative. It was just that she had signed on without realizing how dull space service could be, how little she would be suited to it, and how badly her attempts to lighten her load would be taken by her superiors.
This particular summons caught Bel ill-prepared. Unless Captain Kirk had finally found out about the floating crap game, there was no reason for him to call her in. It was also disturbing to be ordered to Conference Room B. That was a big room. There were enough chairs in Conference Room B for a full Court Martial. Or a lynching party.
The door to Conference Room B sighed open before Bel to reveal Captain Kirk, Commanders Spock and Scott, Doctor McCoy, and Spock’s cousin, Lieutenant Tetra. They were seated around the oblong table and looked up at her entrance.
Bel didn’t see stones in anyone’s hands, but there was a certain tension that was far from reassuring. There was also a hovering presentiment of something in the air.
The captain summoned Bel in. “Have a seat, Yeoman,” he said. “We’ve been waiting for you.” He looked as if he’d like to add, “God help us,” but didn’t.
“What’s this all about, Jim?” Doctor McCoy asked.
“Aye, Captain,” said Engineer Scott. “Why the change of course? And why are my engines being pushed a wee bit beyond what’s good for them?”
“Our presence,” the captain replied, “has been urgently requested. On Llannonn.”
Had Bel been the swooning kind, she would surely have swooned then. As it was, she merely swallowed her heart, which had become stuck in her throat. The hovering presentiment came home to roost.
The only time the Enterprise had orbited Llannonn, for an experimental shore leave, a major incident had been averted by nothing more than gambler’s luck. Bel, through a rather bizarre series of circumstances, had been the figurative dealer. The other occupants of the conference room had also been more-or-less interested parties. Now Llannonn wanted the Enterprise to return. Urgently. And Bel had been invited to a high-level conference on the subject.
She tried to look uninvolved.
“The Grand Council of Llannonn,” the captain continued, “has a problem. One-and-a-half years ago, we ‘solved’ one problem for them –” he looked meaningfully at Bel, who met his eyes with laudable courage, “– and now they want us to solve this one.”
“Captain,” Spock objected, “why this ship? Starfleet has established diplomatic relations with Llannonn. There is nothing we can do that could not be done without us.”
“Unless,” Tetra pointed out, “the problem calls for military power. Llannonn is a bit distant for them, but are the Klingons or Romulans indicated?”
Kirk shook his head sadly, as if he wished it were nothing worse than Klingons or Romulans. “They don’t want our phasers,” he said. “They want our secret agent.”
“But,” Scott objected, “we don’t have a….” He trailed off weakly as understanding overtook him.
“With all due respect,” said Yeoman Schuster, “allow me to point out that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a secret agent. I’ve never been so much as mystery guest on a game show. The Grand Council made it up in their heads that I was a secret agent and nobody thought it would be a wise move to call them saps. But I’m not a secret agent.”
“We know that,” said Kirk. “But we’re still not ready to call the Grand Council of Llannonn…er…’saps.’ Since we first established formal relations with the planet, Llannonn has become the Federation’s major supplier of tri-level secondary loophole flanges. God knows what they are, but I’m told they matter, and matter a very great deal. The Grand Council insists on your presence and aid. And, Starfleet informs me, that is what the Grand Council will have.”
Bel felt as Dorian Gray must have when his sins finally caught up with him.
“Well,” said McCoy, “since that seems to be settled, has the Grand Council given us any details?”
“No,” said the captain, “they want to speak about it directly to their heroine.”
“Bel?” said Scotty, who had never quite come to terms with the yeoman’s image on Llannonn.
“Bel,” said the captain.
Bel was off-duty when orbit around Llannonn was established and Bel’s presence required on the bridge.
“It figures,” she told Lieutenant Tetra. “They couldn’t need me when I was working.”
Tetra, in the privacy of the turbo-lift, slipped Bel a quiver of a smile from her human half. “The first lesson of command,” she revealed. “Timing is everything.”
Captain Kirk and Commander Spock were on the bridge. Mr. Scott and Doctor McCoy, though they had no actual business there, had also managed to be present.
The viewscreen glitzed. Then a smallish, plumpish, darkish male humanoid flickered into focus. “You probably don’t remember me,” he said apologetically.
“Desk Sergeant Pel Darzin,” Bel said with delight. “Of course we remember you.”
Captain Kirk, who hadn’t remembered, echoed, “Of course.”
Sergeant Darzin beamed and fiddled with some papers until he could collect himself. “Personally and officially,” he said, when he could do so coolly, “I welcome your return, Ms. Schuster.” The sergeant remembered his manners and added, “As well as the Enterprise officers and crew.”
“Thank you,” said Kirk dryly, and Bel nodded with the grace expected of a heroine.
“What seems to be the problem?” the heroine asked. When Sergeant Darzin hesitated, she coaxed, “Come, come, there are no secrets between us here.”
“Naturally not.” After hesitating a moment longer, Sergeant Darzin decided to believe it. “The Happy Lands Province,” he said, “has had a measurable drop in revenue. The statisticians cannot account for the drop.”
“That’s the problem?” Kirk asked incredulously.
“The Grand Council has a very strict budget,” Darzin explained. “When a province comes up short of the extrapolations, the entire planet suffers. Besides, it doesn’t make sense. Something is wrong, and the Grand Council can’t find a willing witness.”
“Does a witness have to be willing?” Tetra asked, logical as ever.
“On Llannonn,” said Darzin virtuously, “yes.”
“And what does the Grand Council want me to do about it?” Bel asked.
“The Grand Council prefers to discuss that with you personally, Ms. Schuster,” said the sergeant. “And…uh…privately.”
It was difficult for Bel to maintain a dead-pan as the officers squirmed, but she managed.
“I must defer to the captain,” she said. “A captain is absolute master on his ship, and I am technically a mere crew-member.”
“I’m afraid the Grand Council insists,” Pel Darzin told the captain.
Kirk struggled but a moment before his diplomatic training conquered his better judgment and he nodded. “The Grand Council’s wishes are imperative,” he said, speaking clearly through clenched teeth. Tetra reflected that the tri-d’s had lost a great ventriloquist when James T. Kirk had enrolled in the Academy.
The full complement was present in Conference Room B for Bel’s report: Kirk, Spock, Scott, McCoy, and Tetra. Bel took the seat indicated by the captain.
“The Happy Lands Province,” she reported, “has experienced a 25% drop in revenue. At the same time, productivity has remained constant. Someone is siphoning off the profits between the producers and the collectors. The Grand Council wants me to lead a task force to the Happy Lands Province to investigate.”
The captain looked around the table. “I see no need to add to the number of those already involved,” he said.
“In fact,” Bel volunteered, “we could probably do with even fewer.”
“I agree,” Kirk said. “I don’t intend everyone to go.”
Kirk nodded. “Did the Grand Council give you any information that might help us?”
“I don’t know, sir,” Bel said. “All they could tell me was that there seems to be a new mayor in the Happy Lands Central City.”
“They don’t concern themselves with those trivialities,” Bel said, obviously having thought to ask those very questions herself. “If someone wants to be mayor, he or she simply goes to the current mayor and offers to take over the job. The current mayor either says fine and steps down, or says no and the would-be mayor goes away and tries again. Or doesn’t try again.”
Kirk flickered a wry smile. “Hardly cut-throat politics,” he said.
“Any other information?”
“The Grand Council has authorized a beam-down point somewhere outside the Happy Lands Central City. When I’ve told them how large a force I’ll be bringing, they’ll have enough beasts of burden outfitted and shipped to our coordinates to keep us supplied for a few days. They also promised me an official transmitter set on the Meadow of Flowers Police Station band. Sergeant Darzin will be on loan to the Happy Lands Station in Council City in case I need something.”
“Thank you, Yeoman.”
“Captain,” Spock said. “I realize it is unavoidable that Yeoman Schuster accompany the task force to the surface. However, I see no logical reason for her to remain once the initial contact with the Council or its representatives is accomplished.”
Kirk and Spock often found their dissimilar intelligences reaching identical conclusions. It was, Kirk thought, certainly necessary to beam Bel to Llannonn. It was equally necessary to get her off-planet as quickly as possible. Bel would follow orders when precise orders were given, but she had a sometimes-lamentable tendency to interpret freely. Her sense of initiative, should it be engaged, might take turns undreamed-of in Academy training. So….
“I agree,” Kirk said. “If it should be necessary to speak to Sergeant Darzin, we could say that Yeoman Schuster is asleep, or out on reconnaissance, and that she asked us to make any calls required in her absence.”
“Aye,” said Scott. “We could take Lieutenant Tetra with us as well, and beam them both back to the ship at the same time. We could let the Grand Council know in advance that we might send Lieutenant Tetra back up, so there’d be no questions asked about the energy flux.”
“Good thinking, Scotty,” said the captain.
Bel and Tetra exchanged get-a-load-of-the-master-sex looks and relaxed into their chairs.
“What about me, Jim?” McCoy asked. “It’s possible you may need a doctor down there.”
“Affirmative,” Spock voted.
Kirk nodded and turned back to Bel.
“We’ll contact the Grand Council from here,” he said. “Tell them you’ll be bringing a force of six, including yourself. Have them transmit coordinates to the transporter computer. We’ll wait here until they’re ready for us.”
“Aye, aye, sir,” said Bel, but she was thinking, They may never be ready for us.
The Enterprise task force materialized in a meadow. Before them stood a very ancient Llannonnite, seemingly bent under the weight of his dirt. He was surrounded by eight wooly white animals the size of llamas. The animals resembled nothing so much as sheep. Huge sheep. Sheep the size of llamas.
Two of the beasts were partially obscured by the bags, boxes, and parcels on their backs and dangling down their sides.
“What…what are those creatures?” McCoy asked in a stunned sort of voice.
“‘M be pratties,” the native said. “Be you the heroes?”
“…er…Yes,” said Kirk.
“Good. Good. Proper clothes be here,” the native stated, toeing a pile on the grass. He waved a deeply grimed finger toward the livestock. “‘S one pratty to each and two to carry.” He shifted the direction of his pointing. “Town be that way.” And he left them.
The crew stood silent for a moment, then Kirk broke the spell. “So much for the Ambassador,” he said.
The men shrugged into a repulsive array of dun-toned robes and ochre scarves much like the ones sported by the departed Llannonnite.
“Gosh,” Bel said quietly, for Tetra only. “How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm After They’ve Seen Paree?”
“What?” said Tetra.
Kirk asserted command. “First,” he said, “we transport Lieutenant Tetra and Yeoman Schuster back to the ship.”
“What about our pratties, sir?” Bel asked, and then she and Tetra were gone.
“May I suggest, Captain,” said Spock, “that one of us go into town?”
“My thought exactly,” said Kirk. “The rest of you camp here and keep a low profile. I’ll go in and see what I can find out. I’m not sure how long that may take, so don’t expect to hear from me for a while.”
So saying, he climbed aboard one of the woolly beasts and set off at a spine-jolting trot.
As Kirk reached the outskirts of town, he found himself the head of a parade of rural types, who were snickering most unbecomingly. He eased in to the curb and dismounted with relief.
The rural types melted back toward the countryside, except for one Kirk cornered for information.
“Let ‘e go,” said the rural type. “‘S just giggling.”
“I’m not going to hurt you,” said Kirk. “I just want to know –”
He was interrupted by an official-sounding “Harrumph!” at his back.
He turned to face a tall ginger-haired man in a bronze full-length robe. A purple scarf was draped across his chest from his right shoulder to his left hip. Three rows of bronze letters were stitched along the scarf. In Llannonninn, Federation lingua franca,, and an alphabet Kirk didn’t recognize, the scarf stated simply, “I am a policeman.”
The policeman harrumphed again and said, “What’s all this, then?”
“‘S just giggling at ‘m,” the rural type explained. “Y’ should have seen ‘m on the pratty.” He started snickering again. “‘S a Terran, I bet. ‘E rode all bumpity.”
The policeman grunted a laugh. “Run along, then,” he said kindly, and the rural type went the way of his fellows.
“As for you,” he said to Kirk, “you’d better come along with me.”
“Er…. Yes, of course,” said Kirk. “But I wasn’t trying to make trouble. I only wanted to ask the man a few questions, and he got the wrong idea.”
“That may be,” said the policeman, “and it may not. At any rate, you’re new in town, and all newcomers have to be interviewed by the mayor.”
“Really. You come along with me, now.”
Captain Kirk decided that seeing the mayor was exactly what he had planned to do first, and accompanied the nice man.
The nice man led him to a two-storied building built of yellow stone. A tall thin pole stood at each side of the quarried-stone walk. Kirk tethered his pratty to one.
It was an unpretentious and pleasant little building, this town hall. The lobby was homey and simple, recalling to Kirk the courtroom he’d occupied (as a spectator) in the Council City. So he was astounded when he was led into the mayor’s chamber and found himself on lush carpet, surrounded by paintings, statuary, and tables loaded with objets d’art.
The atmosphere was opulent and vastly overdone. Kirk began to get the sinking feeling that always presaged a major engagement with a doubtful outcome.
A gong sounded, a door opened, and speculation gave way to reality.
The policeman took a deep breath and boomed, “His Honor, Harcourt Fenton Mudd.”
“That,” said Kirk, “is a contradiction in terms.”
Mudd did not even pretend to be pleased. He was cross, and showed it.
“Kirk!” he said. The towering bulk of him swelled even larger with self-righteous indignation. His round, babyish face reddened. His thinning chestnut hair nearly stood on what ends it had. His luxurious mustache fairly quivered.
“Why?” he demanded in an aggrieved tone. “Why must you constantly plague me, hound me? You’re like an albatross or a fury or something.” His large, pratty-like eyes became moist. “Is a man never to have any peace?”
“That depends on the man,” Kirk said primly.
It suddenly occurred to Harry (a little late, which was par for his course) that Kirk might have crossed his path by accident and that an aggressive attitude might be bad policy. Harry’s expression changed with an effort that couldn’t have been more obvious if he’d arranged it with his hands.
“Jimmy…,” he drawled fondly. “Do forgive me for being so brusque. The strain of command. You, of all people, must understand.” He all but embraced the captain, and led him to an overstuffed and over-upholstered armchair. Harry settled into the chair’s twin and laced his fingers over his stomach.
“Now,” he said, in a voice dripping with artificial sweetening, “what brings you to our fair city?”
Kirk, whose guile is often outstripped by his courage, replied, “I’m in pursuit of a criminal, as a matter of fact. And you?”
“A…criminal?” Harry’s demeanor slid toward unease.
“Yes.” Kirk sank back comfortably into his chair and helped himself to a bon-bon from a nearby crystal dish. “A criminal.”
Harry made a truly pitiful attempt at nonchalance. “Anyone I know?” he asked. His voice very nearly squeaked, and he seemed to find it necessary or pleasant to toy with the fringe on his pine-green robe.
“As it happens,” said Kirk, “I rather think so.”
The captain was obviously in control of the situation. No one, then, could have been more surprised than he when Harry swept to his feet and demanded, “Officer! Arrest this man!”
“Arrest him, Your Honor?” the policeman asked, moving up from his post by the door.
“Arrest him,” Harry repeated. “He has made subtle Terran threats against my person and against the sovereign power of the Happy Lands Province.”
“Why,” said the officer, shocked, “that’s terrible!” He clamped a hand on Kirk’s shoulder and heaved him from his chair. “You’re under arrest,” he said.
Bel and Tetra, returned to the Enterprise, were sharing a bottle of vegetable beverage in Tetra’s cabin. 100-proof vodka, Dancing Commissar brand, which Tetra had won from Chekov in a name-the-purge contest. Bel flipped through Tetra’s latest issue of Playperson, made a mental note of page numbers to review at greater leisure, and returned to the gripe in progress.
“Does this make sense?” she demanded. “I sit here, having been specifically requested to do the job in hand and being perhaps the most expendable member of a 400-member crew, safe and sound. And Llannonn, the planet with a problem, is positively teeming with senior officers. Does that make sense?”
“This is Starfleet,” said Tetra. “It doesn’t have to make sense.”
“Who has the conn, anyway? The ship’s mascot?”
Tetra passed the bottle. “Close,” she said, “but no cigar. Sulu has the conn.”
Bel shook her head (a mistake, as she had the bottle of Dancing Commissar to her lips at the time). It had been months since Sulu had had a D’Artagnan attack. He was just about due.
“It could be worse,” Tetra pointed out, retrieving the bottle. “It could be Chekov. I happen to know that, charming though he is, his grasp of military strategy is two-fold: slight and none.”
Tetra’s futuristic P.A. signaled urgently. Duty called, and it called from the transporter room.
“I didn’t know who else to contact,” the duty technician apologized. “Sulu has his hands full and I knew you two were in on this assignment. I guess I ought to call Sulu. Regulations….”
“On the contrary,” said Bel. “You did just what you should have.”
“Did I?” The technician looked appealingly at Tetra, who forbore to comment until she had heard the rest of Bel’s line. It was not long in coming.
“Of course. This is…,” Bel looked around for eavesdroppers, “…one of the captain’s top-secret missions.”
The technician hadn’t been aware that the captain made a habit of top-secret missions. He assumed that his ignorance was a tribute to Kirk’s cunning.
“That’s what I figured,” he said.
“Now,” Bel said, with stern yet compassionate gruffness, “what seems to be the trouble?”
“Well,” said the technician, “the captain left the others about three hours ago — not long after I beamed you up.”
“He went into the Central City alone,” Tetra stated.
“I guess so. I was using his tricorder to track him, and then it shut off. He signaled a communicator transmission, and that shut off, too.”
“Did you tell this to Spock and the others?”
“I was afraid to. I thought it might be a malfunction on this end that was causing the break-offs. I was afraid I’d short out all their communicators and isolate all of them from the ship. I’ve checked, and there’s no malfunction here….”
Will miracles never cease? Bel thought.
“…but something caused those cut-offs. So I thought I’d better call you.”
“Good man,” said Bel. “Quite right.”
The technician glowed from the praise.
Tetra stepped forward. “Excuse us a moment, Ensign,” she said. “If you would just step outside, we won’t be a minute.”
“Of course.” The technician left Bel and Tetra alone and took up a proud vigil at the transporter room door.
“What do you think?” Tetra asked.
“If we don’t go down there, we’ll always regret it.”
“True. The officers may need help.”
“And think of the stories we can tell later — even if we have to make them up.”
Tetra exposed the situation to the blinding light of her intellect. “Ensign!” she called.
The technician returned to his post as if he’d been teleported there. “Yes, ma’am!”
“Beam us to the captain’s last known coordinates.”
“Top-secret, now,” Bel added. “No fair telling.”
Lieutenant Tetra and Yeoman Schuster materialized facing the captain. He was seated on a rough bench, leaning against a wall of semi-painted masonry. Above his head was a barred window. The bars were entwined by a vine-like greenery from which bloomed tiny, iridescent flowers.
Tetra, putting first things first, made a full turn. “Uh…,” she said.
Bel tore her gaze from the shimmering flora and duplicated Tetra’s move. “Yeah,” she said. “Okay.”
They were all in jail.
Kirk stood. A look of god-like censure clouded his brow. “What are you two doing here?” he demanded.
“We brought you another communicator,” Tetra said.
Bel resisted an impulse to say, “We didn’t realize you had the situation locked up.”
“It’s no use,” Kirk said, handling the communicator as if it were an unknown artifact. “Someone — probably officially — has a device that jams communications devices not on the provincial frequency.” He handed the communicator back to Tetra. “Thanks, anyway. Both of you. I…am…grateful.” And he gave each of them a brave little smile.
There was a vicious snick from the shadows beyond the bars. Our three turned toward the sound, to see a luscious young damsel step into the light. Her face was flushed with anger, and she was leveling a loaded hand-crossbow in their general direction.
“Nime!” said Kirk.
“So!” said Nime. “I defy my father by releasing you from your irons and this is how you repay me.”
“The traditional jailer’s daughter,” Tetra observed in an aside.
“Oh, Captain!” Bel chided likewise.
“Well, I won’t stand for it!” Nime declared. She took a ring of keys from her belt and opened the cell door. “Out, you two,” she ordered. “And don’t come back!”
“Please,” Kirk said. “Just a minute. These are my…cousins.”
Nime snorted. “I’ve heard that one before.”
“Yes, really,” Bel urged, though she left the cell with all possible speed. Tetra was right behind her.
“What are you doing here?” Nime asked suspiciously. “And how did you get into the cell?”
“We came,” Bel said, “to bring our cousin a message from his dying mother. She wanted her boy to know she still loves him. As for the cell, could iron bars ever stand against a mother’s pure and selfless love?”
Nime lowered the crossbow and attempted to crush back her sentimental tears.
“There, there,” said Bel, patting Nime on the back. Tetra, true to form, left the comforting to others and employed herself in removing the crossbow from Nime’s trembling hands.
“I’ll — I’ll give you five minutes,” Nime said. She blew her nose satisfyingly on the hem of her magenta scarf and retired to the outer office, pointedly taking with her both the key ring and her weapon.
“Very well done,” Kirk congratulated his ‘cousins.’ “Now, I want you to find the others. I left them a few kilometers to the northwest of the City. They’ll figure out a plan for getting me out.”
“Yes, sir,” said Bel. “Should we also tell them that the city’s new mayor is the one who’s been skimming revenue off the top, and that he also happens to be Harry Mudd?”
Kirk gaped. Tetra raised an eyebrow.
“But…,” said Kirk, “how could you possibly know?”
“I didn’t know, sir. I guessed. It just seemed like Harry’s style, getting onto a good thing and then overplaying it until he couldn’t help attracting attention. And he was last seen on Llannonn, just two provinces from here.” Bel blinked wide and innocent eyes at her captain. “Isn’t that how you figured it out, sir?”
Tetra silently mouthed to Bel, “Good move.”
“Very good,” Kirk continued to the yeoman, saving face like a bandit, yet honestly pleased with her. “I’m really quite impressed. We may make an officer of you yet.”
Everyone laughed heartily.
Kirk quickly sketched in everything that had happened to him since the females had been returned to the ship. It is very much to his credit that he did not gloss over his pratty-riding experience, but gave a full account in the hope it might benefit others.
Nime opened the door and hissed, not unkindly. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but you’ll have to go now.”
“Thank you,” said Kirk, with his most bewitching smile. “My cousins and I are…appreciative.” He looked meaningfully at his crewmembers and said, “Give my best to mother.”
“Mother will get your message,” said Bel.
Nime detained the females in the outer office to apologize for her former rudeness. “Such a charming man,” she said. “So handsome, and so young…. To die in the prime of life….”
“To die?” said Tetra.
“Of course.” Nime regarded Tetra with new suspicion.
“My cousin was raised off-planet,” said Bel. “Broken family. Very sad.”
“I beg your pardon,” said Nime contritely, and explained to the lieutenant. “Your cousin has been arrested for subversion. We haven’t had a subversive for as long as anyone can remember, but the law is quite clear: subversives are decapitated at the ringing of curfew and their heads placed upon a pole in front of the town hall.”
Bel tried, with some success, to match Tetra’s lack of emotional display. “Does the mayor know about this law?” she asked, with fairly good control.
“I don’t know. But what’s the difference? A subversive is a subversive, regardless of the sentence.”
Bel and Tetra stepped out of the jailhouse and took equally deep breaths.
“How long until curfew?” Tetra asked.
“I don’t know.” Bel poked her head back inside the door. When she’d withdrawn it, she said, “Nime says ten hours.”
“Not much time,” said Tetra.
“In that case,” said Bel, “we’d better get a move on.”
“Right,” said Tetra. “I suggest we split up.”
“Good idea,” said Bel. “I’ve had more experience on Llannonn and with Hizzoner than you have — whether I’ve wanted to or not — so I’d better stay in town.”
“And I outrank you, so I’d be in a better position to handle the officers,” said Tetra. “Besides,” she added, an addition Bel felt was quite uncalled for, “we can always tell the captain later that you couldn’t obey his orders because you were picked up by the police. He’ll buy that.”
Bel had no chance to respond, as they were both picked up by the police.
Their policeman was not Kirk’s policeman; he was two inches shorter and five pounds heavier, and had black hair rather than ginger, but her was just as quietly imperative. They found themselves escorted past the town hall’s head-poles (to one of which the captain’s pratty was still tied) and into the mayor’s Xanadu of a chamber.
Mudd was still there, nearly recovered from his shock and about to start congratulating himself for buying some time.
When he saw Bel, however, he went red and pale by turns. Tetra, with typically Vulcan detached interest, noted the resemblance to an old-Earth barber pole.
“You!” Mudd breathed.
“Harry!” Bel cried. “Thank heaven!” She had no idea of where to go from there, but it threw Mudd off-balance for a bit. Bel felt she needed a margin if those poles outside were to remain unadorned by anything but pratties.
Harry narrowed his eyes in a way he apparently considered intelligently wary. “What do you mean, ‘Thank heaven,” you spy!”
“I’m not a spy,” Bel said.
“I know better,” said Harry. “What are you trying to do, make a fool of me?”
I never try to improve on the good Lord’s perfection, Bel thought, but it was Tetra who spoke.
“It’s true,” Tetra said. “She used to be a spy, as you know, but she was drummed out of Intelligence some time ago. It seems she was much too vocal in behalf of a certain convicted criminal here on Llannonn, a criminal the Starfleet would have extradited to hard labor except for her lobbying.”
Bel gaped more helplessly than Kirk had. Harry fortunately read her reaction as astonishment that Tetra would reveal behind-the-scenes politics to an outsider.
At that point, Mudd would have read almost anything Bel did positively. Alienation, rejection, expatriation — these were things he could understand. He felt a bond with Bel. She knew he felt it, and nearly denounced Tetra as a dirty rotten fibber; her better judgment prevailed.
“When we established orbit around Llannonn,” Tetra continued, blithely omitting any explanation for the Enterprise’s presence in the first place, “Yeoman Schuster deserted.”
“You’re the criminal Kirk was after!” Mudd exclaimed, and fairly exploded in laughter. “I thought…I thought he was after me!”
“Why would he be after you?” Bel asked. “You have a solid, respectable job. The mayor. A pillar of the community.”
Harry winked. “Absolutely correct,” he said, in a voice thick with amusement. He became grim as he turned to Tetra. “I suppose you’re another bloodhound,” he growled, “snapping at this poor girl’s heels, snatching her back from the very threshold of freedom.”
“She has not been unsympathetic,” Bel hastened to assure him. “She’s half human, you know, and she has an understanding heart, though I’m not quite sure where it’s located.” This last remark Bel considered due payment for Tetra’s previous crack about the believability of a certain party being taken into official custody.
Mudd chortled. “In that case,” he said, “I leave it up to you how to deal with her. Shall I send her to keep Jimmy company in the local hoosegow?”
“Yes!” Tetra exclaimed.
“Yes?” Bel asked.
“Lock me up,” Tetra pleaded. “Hang me, torture me, anything you like. But please don’t send me out of town!”
“Don’t send you out of town?” Harry struggled for comprehension.
Bel, who had told Tetra many an old-Earth folk tale while un-shut-upable under the influence of strong spirit, and who recognized the old Br’er-Rabbit-and-the-briar-patch ploy when she heard it, was silent.
“It’s…it’s those giant sheep they have around here,” Tetra confided. “I saw a picture of a sheep once, and I’ve been terrified of them ever since. And that poem my mother used to say: ‘Everywhere that Mary went, her lamb was sure to go.’ Horrible!” Tetra shuddered so beautifully, Bel felt tempted to applaud.
Harry’s face took on a tinge of delighted cruelty that made both women thank their respective Powers that Tetra was only acting.
“Enforcer!” Mudd called.
“Yes, Your Honor.” A plug-ugly sporting a scalplock came forward.
“Where is the nearest herd of pratties quartered?”
“That’d be Old Geek’s, Your Honor. A few kilometers to the north-west.”
“NO!” Tetra begged.
Harry offered the punishment to Bel for approval.
Bel twitched an eye in what a Vulcan would understand as a wink and took on a hard visage. “Serves her right,” she stated coldly.
“Give her over to Officer Rollp. Have him take her to Old Geek’s at once,” Harry ordered. “And leave her there.”
“Yes, Your Honor,” said the enforcer.
“Noooooooooooo!” Tetra’s voice faded into the distance.
The officers waited impatiently for word from the captain.
Spock alone hardly noticed the passage of time. He ranged over the fields and the edge of the woods, taking tricorder readings of everything that would hold still for it.
Scott used the slack time to practice riding. He turned out to be a natural; soon he was riding as if he were part of the pratty.
McCoy watched Spock for a while, then Scotty. He was nearly reduced to telling himself stories, when his attention was diverted by a vehicle coming up the road.
It came from the direction the captain had taken. McCoy called the others, thinking Kirk might be returning in style.
Spock suggested they remain well away from both road and vehicle until some definite information could be obtained. McCoy was about to offer a rather physical suggestion of his own when Scott interrupted to point out that something was happening.
The vehicle stopped. The driver got out, walked around to the passenger’s side, and lifted out a smaller person. The driver deposited the person in the field, got back into the vehicle, and pedaled away as fast as his legs could take him.
The officers regarded the bound form in the corner of the field, and they looked at each other.
The struggling figure exclaimed in a language which was neither Terran nor Llannonninn.
Spock blushed a faint green.
“Tetra!” McCoy deduced. “It’s Lieutenant Tetra!” He picked his way across the meadow, followed by the others.
It was, indeed, Tetra, left to her fate.
With an economy of words still too comprehensive to detail here, she told the men what had happened in town.
The two Terrans were all for storming the town. McCoy was outraged by the thought of Kirk languishing behind bars. Scott was more incensed by the thought of Bel — not Bel particularly, but any woman in general — being alone with Harry Mudd.
Cooler heads prevailed.
“As someone — Mudd, most probably — has a jamming device,” said Spock, “we cannot request the help we seem to need by radio. Therefore, one of us must contact the Meadow of Flowers Police Station directly.”
Tetra cleared her throat discretely. “If I may make a suggestion,” she said, “it seems unnecessary to send someone to Council City for this purpose. Since the jamming device filters out all bands but the one employed by this province, it is likely that the device’s range or focus operates only within this province, or its near vicinity.”
Spock gave this his consideration and approval. “One of our number,” he said, “could ride into the next province’s Central City and make contact there, having first obtained clearance from that province’s mayor.”
McCoy nodded. He turned to Tetra. “Lieutenant,” he said, “what was that phrase the captain used the last time we were on Llannonn…the one he said usually affected the Llannonnites the way ‘please’ does Terrans?”
Tetra searched but an instant before her mental retrieval system gave her the answer: “I charge you, in the name of whatever God you worship,” she said.
“Right,” said McCoy. “Whoever goes can use that phrase. It should help.”
“It may also be of use…,” Spock was almost visibly struggling to get out the words, “to mention that contacting the Council City is a direct order of and vital to the safety of…Heroine Bel Schuster.”
The Terrans winced, and the Vulcans betrayed no overt reaction.
“Mr. Scott,” Spock went on, “you are the logical candidate for this assignment. You seem to have an affinity for these…,” he waved a hand toward the herd, “…these beasts. Take the transmitter the Grand Council issued Yeoman Schuster and request assistance.”
“Aye, sir,” said Scott. He strapped the transmitter to the back of his mighty steed and, mounting, rode valiantly into the west, like a Young Lockinvar in reverse.
“Doctor McCoy,” Spock continued, “you and I will proceed to the Central City immediately to survey the situation and determine a solution.”
“I suggest,” said Tetra, “that extreme caution be used. The police in Central City have express orders to take any strangers directly to the mayor. That is to say, to Harry Mudd.”
“Understood,” said Spock. “And, for that reason, you are to remain here to await Mr. Scott’s return. You avoided incarceration once; it is unlikely you would be so fortunate again.”
Tetra raised an eyebrow. One corner of Spock’s mouth turned downward. Tetra gave up the argument.
Bel, finding herself alone with Harry Mudd, discovered it surprisingly easy to maintain her equanimity. She realized Mudd could be a dangerous enemy, and a more dangerous ally; at the same time, Bel was used to living by her wits, precariously balanced on the edge of disaster. The fact that she actively sought that edge, and would use any means available to attain it, was relevant to her character but not to the point.
Mudd believed himself to be in complete control of the situation. Bel knew he was, but refused to let that bother her.
Harry had sent to the mayoral kitchen for a spread of choice tidbits, and to the cellar for a bottle of the province’s superb wine. He and Bel regarded each other comfortably across an intricately inlaid table.
“So,” Mudd said, “you were drummed out of Intelligence, eh?” He heaved a phony sigh and failed to register contrition. “I feel rather bad about that, I really do.”
“You should,” said Bel. “I’m a deserter — Me, who never stepped out of line in my life.” Bel half expected her tongue to shrivel up, or lightning to strike. When nothing happened, she continued. “And you’re sitting pretty, with an entire province under your heel. Or should I say in your pocket?”
Harry chortled richly. “Always to the point,” he said. “I don’t mind admitting I’m…doing very well for myself. As you know, I spent a year with the Llannonnite gypsies — a rather enjoyable and informative year, as it turned out. I spent another four months…er…touring on my own.”
“Is there much return on a ‘pigeon drop’ here?” Bel asked, referring to a classic confidence trick.
“You have to work it differently, but it — whatever do you mean?” Mudd reacted in knee-jerk fashion, reluctant to admit anything which couldn’t already be proved.
Bel just grinned, and Harry returned a wry and sheepish smile.
“At any rate,” he continued, “I soon realized that the office of mayor was a highly desirable position. The office is little more than a clearing house for planetary production sharing. Profits go out, equalizing shares return. The less that goes out, the more that comes back. It’s fantastic.”
Bel swirled the wine in her glass. “What a pity it’s all over,” she said.
Harry’s self-indulgent smile froze. “All over?”
“Well, naturally. You don’t think you can be party to the death of a Starfleet officer and not suffer repercussions, do you?”
“Death? I only had him arrested.”
“You didn’t know subversives were executed at curfew in this province?”
It was obvious Harry had not. It occurred to Bel that the only thing of which Harry Mudd was certifiably innocent was knowledge.
“That puts a different face on it, of course,” said Bel.
“Yes,” Harry agreed with more desperation than conviction. “I’ll explain to Kirk that it was all a mistake — I can tell him I arrested him to protect you, never dreaming the penalty would be so swift or…,” Harry flexed his neck and gulped, “…so final. I’ll drop the charge, have him released, and send him off on your trail. You will remain here in hiding, of course.”
“Yes.” Harry put on the smarmy smile he used when he was trying to be devilishly charming. The fact that it had never worked was not a part of his reality. “After Kirk is gone, you and I can…form a partnership. With my brains and panache and the skills you must have acquired to have been a Federation agent….”
Bel kept forgetting about being a Federation agent. “Harry,” she interrupted him. She put a hand on his, which was caressing the line of her jaw, and transferred the resulting clasp to the table. “Harry,” she said, “do you really think Captain Kirk will believe you put him on ice to protect me? After you’ve sworn to get even with me? He’d be more likely to believe you jailed him in a fit of pique, and only decided to let him out when you had something to trade for amnesty.”
“Something like what?”
“Something like — Never mind.” Bel concentrated on her food. In a moment, she snuck a glance at Mudd and caught him eyeing her in a shifty and calculating manner.
So far, she thought, so good.
There were six hours to curfew when Spock and McCoy entered the Central City. They had profited by the captain’s lesson and had walked.
They followed the directions Lieutenant Tetra had given them to the jailhouse, which they entered with some trepidation.
A bell above the door jangled merrily as they stepped inside.
A moment passed, and the luscious Nime came in from the cellblock. “May I help you?” she asked.
Spock took the lead, which was natural; it was also necessary, as McCoy had dissolved into a Southern Comfort smile at Nime’s entrance.
“Would there be any objection to our speaking with the prisoner?” Spock asked.
“Not that I know of,” Nime said. “You must be more cousins.”
“How’s his mother?” the girl asked, genuinely concerned.
“She’s…ah…as well as can be expected,” McCoy managed.
Nime shook her head sadly. “Everything happens at once,” she said. “It’s fortunate that your family is so close. And so large.”
“Indeed,” said Spock.
Nime showed them through the cellblock door and left them with the prisoner.
“Jim!” said McCoy. “Are you all right?”
“For a man who’s just been informed his hours are numbered, yes. I take it Lieutenant Tetra and Yeoman Schuster found you with no trouble?”
Spock rectified this misapprehension.
“So now,” Kirk said tersely, “we have to liberate me, nail Harry Mudd, and rescue Bel.”
“I feel I must point out,” said Spock, “that Yeoman Schuster is not, in this case, responsible for her predicament.” He took a deep breath, and Human Intuition told Kirk and McCoy they were in for a speech. They were, however, the proverbial captive audience and braced themselves heroically. “If Yeoman Schuster and Lieutenant Tetra had not responded to the communications black-out by beaming down,” Spock began, “Doctor McCoy and I would still be sitting in a field waiting to hear from you. And she can hardly be faulted for having been taken up by the police, when this is standard operating procedure here. In fact, I strongly suspect that there will be an officer waiting for us when we leave.”
“You think Nime turned the girls in?” Kirk asked.
“For once I agree with him,” McCoy admitted. “But if we’re picked up, we’ll be taken to Mudd. He’s likely to jail us, too. I’m certain Scotty can bring help in time, but I’d rather have us all free than all behind bars.”
“Affirmative,” said Spock.
“We could,” McCoy suggested, “use our phasers to open this door, and to take out those bars, and all go out the window.”
Kirk shook his head. “We’re in enough trouble already, and all we’ve done is come into town. God knows what the penalty would be for destroying public property.”
“Maybe,” McCoy said, “you could persuade Nime –”
Kirk interrupted with a rueful smile and another shake of his head. “She’s a very…compliant young woman, up to a point,” he said, “but she’s as devoted to duty as…well, as I am.” Enough said.
“Perhaps,” said Spock, “Mudd could be prevailed upon to release you. Surely, when he knows of our presence here, he will realize that his nest has become unfeathered.”
“Why, Spock,” McCoy breathed. “That was pure poetry.”
“As I was saying,” Spock continued, after what he intended to be a stinging silence, “Mudd must be cognizant that the death of one Starfleet officer would tempt catastrophe, but that the deaths of three would ensure it.”
“It’s difficult to say,” said Kirk, “what Mudd will or will not do. He is quite capable of killing all of us and trying to brazen it out. It might strike him as a highly workable plan.”
There was a moment of silence, then McCoy said, “I hate to say it, but it looks like Mudd’s got us treed. Scotty’s just got to make it back on time.”
“However, gentlemen,” said Kirk, “let us not forget that Harry has a problem of his own. A very trying, draining, distracting problem, and one he must face alone.”
“What problem is that, Captain?” asked Spock.
Kirk grinned. “He’s taken charge of Bel,” he said.
“Bel,” McCoy repeated. Then he lit up as if he’d been wired for it. “Jim! Spock! That’s it!”
“What’s ‘it,’ Bones?”
“Bell! With two l‘s. If the execution is supposed to take place after the ringing of curfew, we can stop the execution by stopping the bell!”
“I don’t know…,” said the captain.
“The idea may have merit,” said Spock. “The…event…would be delayed if nothing else. That would give Mr. Scott additional time to arrive with help, if such time is needed.”
“Great!” said McCoy.
“Uh, Bones,” said Kirk, not liking what he had to say, “how do you propose to stop this bell? Where is it located? How will you get to it without being caught and taken to His Honor?”
McCoy lost a little of his spirit, but not much. “I think it’s time,” he said, “to pull a Bel Schuster.”
“How’s that?” asked Kirk.
“We’ll just go and do it. Simple.”
Kirk and Spock thought that simple was exactly what McCoy must be, but they had no plan to offer in exchange.
So it was that, upon leaving the jail, McCoy strode confidently up to the approaching policeman with an air of hail-fellow-well-met.
“What a coincidence!” McCoy said. “I was just telling my…cousin here, ‘If you want to know something, ask a policeman.'”
“Well…um…that’s very nice of you to think so, sir.” The policeman reflected regretfully that dun-colored robes and ochre scarves seemed to be coming into vogue. The prisoner awaiting execution was so garbed, so were these two fine people, and he’d seen a whole group of herdsmen wearing the same just that morning in Old Geek’s field. He was sorry, for he found the colors distasteful. But the shorter gentleman was talking again.
“We’ve heard,” McCoy was saying, “that your city has a curfew bell that must be seen to be believed. They say it’s just what a bell should be.”
“We like it, sir,” said the policeman, with modest pride. Clothes don’t make the man, he admonished himself.
“Is it possible to view this prodigy of the bell-crafter’s art?” Spock asked.
“Oh, I don’t know about that, sir. You’d have to ask the tower-holder. That’s the tower over there, sir.” He pointed south, to a round stone tower in the middle distance. “You can hear our bell from here to Lumpock,” he said.
“Really?” said McCoy. “Well, I wouldn’t be surprised. Thank you, Officer.” He and Spock began to move off.
“Just a minute,” the officer stopped them. “I haven’t taken you to the mayor yet. All newcomers are supposed to be taken to the mayor.”
McCoy waved that away airily. “Plenty of time for that when we get back,” he said. “I simply can’t wait to see that bell.”
“Indeed,” said Spock. “And the tower is outside the city limits; the mayor could hardly expect you to bring us to him until we get back. It is only newcomers to town he’s interested in, I believe?”
“Quite right, sir,” said the policeman, stunned, as have been so many before him, by the power of Vulcan logic. “No harm done. Pleasure meeting you, gentlemen.”
“The pleasure was all ours,” said McCoy. When he and Spock were out of the officer’s line of sight, they stopped and faced each other. McCoy seemed a bit shaky; Spock, imperturbable.
“I’ll be damned,” said the doctor. “It worked!”
“Fascinating,” said Spock.
Alone, Lieutenant Tetra put on one of the dun-colored robes and ochre scarves seemingly so in vogue in the area. She pulled her hair down to cover her ears and took the stem of a weed between her teeth.
This disguise took all of fifteen minutes to complete. Then the Federation anthem droned, the station signed off, and Tetra was left staring at a test pattern on the vid-screen of life.
Soon, however, her acute Vulcan hearing detected an approaching noise. Her precise Vulcan memory identified it, and her consuming Vulcan curiosity led her to the fence to investigate.
The pratties, like Mary’s lamb, followed.
A pedicar rounded the bend, obviously heading for Central City. The car was aqua with scarlet racing stripes. Two poles, uncomfortably reminiscent of those flanking the mayor’s walk, rose from the edges of the windshield. A banner spanned the gap, scarlet with aqua lettering. In the Federation lingua franca, it said:
ZIPP HONANN, FREELANCE CHASTISER
LOWEST RATES ON LLANNONN
TORTURE PAYABLE ON INSTALLMENT
A cut-rate hatchetman, thought Tetra. Appropriate.
Without hesitation, Tetra opened the meadow gate and pinched a pratty. It leapt into the road, followed by the rest of the herd.
By the time Zipp Honann’s pedicar reached her, Tetra had completely blocked the road, while giving the impression of doing her best to clear it.
The least she could do, she reasoned, was delay the executioner. That might throw the whole ceremony off-schedule and give Scotty more time to get help.
The pedicar stopped, and a middle-aged woman leaned out of the driver’s window. “Excuse me,” she said mildly, “but I’m in a hurry. A subversive, they tell me.”
“I’m doing the best I can,” Tetra lied.
Zipp Honann stepped out of her car and watched the lack of progress. “You aren’t a rural,” she observed. “You don’t talk like one, and you haven’t got the least idea how to handle beasts.”
“I…I was born and raised off-world,” said Tetra. “When I first saw Llannonn, I wanted to be a part of it. But you’re right, I don’t handle beasts very well.”
“Mind if I help?”
“Not at all.”
Zipp moved into the midst of the flock. She made a few sounds, and the animals quietened. She motioned with her hands and head, and the animals milled back into the meadow.
“That’s the way to handle pratties,” she said.
“Impressive,” said Tetra sincerely. “Tell me: What are you doing in the…chastising trade?”
Zipp signed. “It’s a family business,” she said. “I just couldn’t let the folks down. But the rural life is in my blood, too. Sometimes, like now, I wish I’d never heard of chastisement.”
“How ironic,” said Tetra. “I’d give anything to be in town during the execution, and you’d give anything to be here, watching these beasts.”
“Yes,” said Zipp. She brightened as she said, “Why not?”
“Why not what?”
“I could watch your animals for you, and you could take my place.”
“What?” Tetra had only hoped to keep Zipp talking a while or, at best, persuade her to postpone the execution overnight.
“Sure,” Zipp said. “It’s easy. Come on.”
She led Tetra to the pedicar and pointed to the back seat, which held a portable guillotine. “Now,” she said. “They’re going to have a high platform for you, with a block bolted on. The block will have a rim on two sides. See those vise-grips on the base there? They slide right over the rims of the block. Tighten the grips, and you’ve got a nice little chopper, solid as stone. Raise your blade, put on the catch, and put those lumps of heavy metal into the weight well above the blade. Then just have the prisoner kneel and put his or her head into the gap. Flip the lever and WHACK! Couldn’t be easier.”
“…Very nice,” said Tetra.
Zipp swelled with pride. “My own design,” she said. “You’ll do it?”
“If you’re sure it’s all right,” said Tetra, already behind the wheel.
“Thank you. Oh, I’m expecting a friend. He’ll be in a bit of a hurry. Just tell him we’ve all gone into town.”
“Glad to,” said Zipp Honann, and waved until Tetra was out of sight.
Harry was being charming and expansive, an amusing, gentlemanly, attentive host.
Bel was thoroughly enjoying the time she was investing in her plan. It was obvious that Harry was also enjoying the interlude, though he, too, was maturing a plot. Bel only hoped that he was working on the same plot she was.
He was, although he didn’t know it.
When Mudd was sure he had won Bel’s confidence, he said, “My dear, your company is delightful, and I’m loathe to leave your presence for even a moment. But I simply must go and gloat over the helplessness of Captain James T. Kirk. He should be ripe for making a deal by now; we both know how limitations of any kind grate on his sensitive, proud spirit. I’ll offer to set him free in return for amnesty for both of us.”
“Do you think he’ll go for it?” Bel asked with winning trust.
“I’m certain of it,” Harry assured her shamelessly. “You just stay here and amuse yourself, and I’ll be back directly.”
Harry left the town hall and strolled pompously to the jailhouse. He nodded and waved to his townspeople and didn’t mind a bit when they answered his graciousness with apathy.
He entered the jail with an ill-ease born of long-term conditioning. He leered in passing at the luscious Nime, and showed himself to Kirk’s cell.
“Jim-lad,” he said conciliatingly. “I can’t tell you how appalled I was to hear of your sentence. I assure you, I had no idea.”
“And, having heard, you rushed right over to release me,” Kirk said, with poorly veiled sarcasm.
“Well, as soon as I could. The fact is, our relationship, over the years, has tended to be a trifle…antagonistic. I feared, with some justification, that you would distrust my profession of regret.”
“Me?” Kirk said, eyes limpid. “Distrust you?”
“…Be that as it may,” Harry went on, “I am desolately sorry for the misunderstanding that led you to this miserable pass. Not very comfortable, I should imagine.”
“You should know from personal experience,” Kirk said, a bit unwisely.
Harry controlled himself and let it slide. “Jim,” he said kindly, “I hate to see you like this. Believe me, I wouldn’t have put you in this position, had I known what the people of this backwater planet would make of it.”
“Mmm,” said Kirk.
“As soon as I learned what my –” Harry shrugged deprecatingly, “– paranoid over-reaction had set in motion, I was,” he gulped, “deeply ashamed.” Mudd bowed his head. He recovered rather quickly, however, and proceeded with the hook. “At the same time,” he said, “I feared you might allow our past differences to interfere with your better judgment in this case.”
Harry’s last phrase took a somewhat sinister turn toward the end, which Kirk did not miss, and which Harry hadn’t intended he should.
“Jimmy,” Mudd said. “Dear friend. As a token of my good intentions, I’ve done you a favor.”
“This is a favor?” asked Kirk, casting a jaundiced eye at the enameled chamber pot in the corner.
“Not that,” Mudd said, with waning patience. “What I mean to say is, I’ve captured your criminal for you.”
“Oh…really?” Kirk had momentarily lost track of the state of the scam.
“I’ve captured Bel,” Mudd explained, as if to an idiot. “She’s happily occupied at the town hall. When I release you, you can take her back to the ship and go merrily on your way with no hard feelings on either side, eh?”
It took Kirk but seconds to calibrate how big a whopper his integrity would allow. He decided no lie was necessary.
“Release me,” he said, “and hand over Yeoman Schuster, and I promise to return to the Enterprise.”
“No hard feelings?”
“Don’t push it.”
Mudd chewed nervously at his mustache. “I suppose you’re right. You do promise, though, not to contact the Grand Council and complain about me? — I mean, I’m only a humble provincial mayor now, quite harmless.”
“I promise I won’t contact the Grand Council and complain about you.” Scotty would do it, and might have done already. “You have my word.”
“Your word is good enough for me.” Mudd called to Nime and ordered Kirk released.
“I’m sorry, Your Honor,” she said. “I can’t do that without the judge’s approval.”
“Judge?” Harry asked. “What judge?”
Kirk, remembering his last experience with Llannonnite justice, said, “I believe she’s referring to the arresting officer.”
Nime nodded approvingly. “Among other things,” she said, “you have an acute grasp of legalities.” She turned coolly to Hizzoner. “Shall I contact Razzin?”
“Yes, yes,” Harry said impatiently.
Nime left to do his bidding.
Spock and McCoy approached the bell-tower cautiously.
“Well, Doctor,” said Spock. “What is your plan?”
“I haven’t got a plan, dammit. We’ll just go talk to the tower-holder. Then one of us will have to keep him occupied until the other one can take care of the bell.”
“I suggest,” said Spock, “that I speak to the tower-holder and that you look to the bell.”
“It is your idea,” said Spock, logically. “I trust you have a plan to effect once you’ve reached your goal.”
“Nothing…definite.” McCoy became somewhat heated. “What would you suggest, Mr. Spock? Do you want me to tie myself to the clapper and muffle the sound with my bleeding body?”
No one will ever know if Spock was tempted to reply in the affirmative. At that moment, the bell-tower door swung open and a very thin little man poked out his head.
“SEEN Y’ BEHIND THEM BUSHES,” he shrieked amiably. “DON’T Y’ BE SHY, NOW; MUMFORD WON’T HURT Y’.”
Spock and McCoy came forward. “How do you do,” Spock said formally. “I am Spock, and this is my…friend…er…Doc.”
“SPEAK UP,” Mumford shouted. “‘M DEAF, LAD. DEAF AS A POST. TWO POSTS.”
Spock repeated his introductions at top volume.
“OH,” said Mumford. “TWINS, EH? ‘S NICE. COME IN.”
The “twins” followed Mumford into the bell-tower. He led them into his first floor parlor, a cozy nook full of narrow furniture, shelving and bric-a-brac.
Mumford sat his visitors at the table and bustled, transferring crockery and consumables from pantry to board.
“‘M USED TO VISITORS,” he said. “THEY COME BY, NOW AND NOW. FEED ‘EM AND SHOW ‘EM THE BELL. WANT TO SEE IT?”
Spock nodded hugely.
Mumford, though he spoke with enough power to make his visitors almost envy his affliction, laughed without sound. “NOW Y’R GETTING THE IDEA, LAD. MUST SAY, ‘LL BE GLAD ENOUGH WHEN M’ HEARING’S BACK.”
McCoy remarked, as politely as possible in a dead shout, that he hoped the happy day would not be long in coming.
“FEW WEEKS,” said Mumford. “SOON’S M’ TOUR OF DUTY HERE IS OVER. THE HEARING HAD TO GO, OF COURSE, ELSE THE BELL WOULD’VE DEAFED ME PERMANENT. SLEEP GOOD NIGHTS, THOUGH; NICE AND QUIET.”
Spock and McCoy nodded vigorously, and Mumford laughed again.
“COME ON, THEN,” he said.
Spock and McCoy followed the tower-holder through a wooden door into a well-lit stairwell. A rope passed through a hole in the ceiling to dangle a couple of feet off the floor.
Mumford pointed to the rope and pantomimed pulling it. The officers nodded.
Mumford led the way up a long, winding set of stairs which ended at another wooden door.
Mumford paused for effect, then threw the door open and motioned the others to precede him.
McCoy stood spellbound. Even Spock’s demanding Vulcan criteria for perfect beauty were surpassed.
The bell was a crystalline mass, an uneven hollow sphere of planes and angles with a small opening in the mass more or less centered downward. It was something like a huge piece of rock candy, McCoy thought, if rock candy were made of diamonds instead of crystallized sugar. The bell was suspended by two thick cords woven of some fine substance, silken yet strong. The rope Mumford had shown them below had its source in the bell’s interior; Spock and McCoy could see the cord depended through the small opening in the bottom of the crystal sphere.
Mumford worked a lever on the wall and the rope slowly descended from the crystal. After a slow moment, the device to which the rope was attached appeared. With the lever, Mumford swung the device within easy reach. It proved to be a sort of tuning fork with a hammer spring-mounted beneath it, both made of a gold-like metal. Mumford indicated that pulling the rope drew back the hammer. Releasing the rope caused the hammer to strike the tuning fork, which vibrated within the bell.
They marveled a while more, then Mumford replaced the device and led the way back to his sitting room.
“LIKE IT?” he asked.
Spock and McCoy agreed more wholeheartedly than they ever had before.
“It’s beautiful,” McCoy said. “What does it sound like?”
“EH?” Mumford said.
Spock, with a meaningful glance at McCoy, reported that his friend had been overcome and needed to retreat into the quiet of the stairwell to recover himself.
Mumford patted the doctor companionably on the shoulder. “UNDERSTOOD, LAD,” he said. “BUT DON’T Y’ GET TH’ URGE TO RING THAT BELL. THERE’S A LAD IN CENTRAL CITY JAILHOUSE WHO’LL LOSE HIS HEAD AT THE SOUND OF THAT BELL.” The tower-holder shook his head sadly. “TRAGIC,” he said. “IF THE POOR LAD’S GUILTY OR INNOCENT, IT’S A CRIME TO CALL ‘M A SUBVERSIVE AND MAKE THE BEAUTY SOUND HIS DEATH. SUBVERSIVES OR PRATTY-RUSTLERS, THE PENALTY STAYS THE SAME, BUT ONLY SUBVERSIVES WAIT FOR THE BELL. SHE’S NEVER CALLED ONE TO DEATH BEFORE, AND SHE NEVER SHOULD. SHE’S NOT MADE FOR IT.”
McCoy shook his head with authentic agreement, though with great thanks that Kirk had been accused of something that had to wait for the bell, and retreated into the tower proper.
Spock kept Mumford occupied by tasting all his home-cooked dishes until the doctor reappeared, then excused himself and McCoy on the pretext of a previous engagement.
Outside he said, a bit hoarsely, “Well?”
McCoy watched Spock’s expressionlessness as he said, “Curfew shall not ring tonight.”
Tetra was not surprised to find her garish pedicar pursued by an ever-increasing crowd; neither was she pleased. She would have preferred to make an unobtrusive entrance to the city but, being half Vulcan, had not hoped.
She pulled up next to the jailhouse.
An urchin ran up to her car. “Th’ platform’s in back,” he said. “Can I help you set up?”
Tetra put her emotions into full disengage. “We’ll see,” she said. “Are you interested in chastising?”
“We don’t get much call for it,” the urchin said. “You get your car and the allowance from the Grand Council, and plenty of time for a regular job, right? Can’t be bad.”
“…No,” said Tetra, seeing the matter from a different, a Llannonninn angle.
“This fellow’s supposed to be a subversive,” the child stated, polishing a bit of dust off the pedicar with his day-glo orange scarf, “but I don’t believe it.”
“Because the mayor said it. I think I’d like to see an execution,” he said, looking at her sidewise, “and, then again, I think I wouldn’t. But I’ll help set up, if you need it.” He fluttered a hand within his garments, and Tetra realized he was demonstrating the emptiness of his pockets.
“Well,” said Tetra, “there is something you could do.”
“I have a feeling abut this case myself. Do you think you could clear the jailhouse and let me speak to the prisoner alone? I…have connections. There may be something I could do. Who knows?”
The urchin grinned. “Sorry,” he said. “Nime told me the prisoner was end up. Empty.”
Tetra didn’t understand. The boy translated. “He doesn’t have any money. You’ll have to do him clean and painless just for pride, unless you can get his cousins to reel something out.”
“His cousins. Yes, you may have something there. Where could I find his cousins?”
“Nime said one of the girls is at the town hall. Another girl was there, but the mayor had her dumped. I don’t know where, but I know she isn’t dead.”
Tetra, half-suspecting that this disgustingly agile-minded child had detected her, asked, “What makes you think that?”
“I know it,” the boy said. “I saw Rollp take her off alive, and Rollp is a Squeamish Objector.”
Tetra took the term (correctly) to mean that Rollp was opposed to violence.
“Any other cousins?” she asked.
“Two men,” the boy said. “Nime said they came here to visit, but they went to see the bell tower before they did anything else. Just as well, considering.”
Tetra nodded. “Do you know where they are now?”
“Probably still at the tower. Mumford’s a big talker.”
The boy pointed. “While you’re there, take a look at the bell.”
“I might just do that,” said Tetra, hoping Spock and McCoy had made that unnecessary. “Watch the car, there’s a good boy.”
Tetra hadn’t gone far when she met Spock and McCoy on their way back to town. She exchanged stories with them but, before they could plot a next move, they found themselves yet again in the presence of one of Central City’s finest.
Rollp, actually. The same Rollp who had accosted McCoy and Spock outside the jailhouse. The same Rollp who had dumped Tetra in Old Geek’s field. You remember, the Squeamish Objector.
Spock and McCoy he recognized immediately. “Ah,” he said, “there you are. What did you think of our Beauty?”
The men were properly enthusiastic, and he turned his attention to Tetra. “Don’t I know you, Miss?”
“I just pedaled into town,” said Tetra. Then, lest he should tease his brain for her memory and find it, “Maybe you saw me come in. You couldn’t miss the car.”
“Of course,” said the Objector, a trifle coldly, “the Chastiser. Well, I’ve got to take these two here to see the mayor, Miss. I must say I do hope His Honor don’t make them more grist for your mill.”
No one agreed more heartily with him than the spurious executioner. Tetra, remembering Spock’s superior attitude when he’d rusticated her, left smugly at Rollp’s obvious dismissal.
Rollp led McCoy and Spock into Mudd’s audience chamber. The room reminded McCoy forcibly of a brothel he’d visited in Georgia, just before he went off to the Academy.
Rollp prepared to strike the gong to announce visitors, but stopped. “A note,” he said, plucking one from the gong’s face. “I believe it’s from your cousin, the one His Honor likes.”
He read it and passed it to the officers.
His Honor is visiting the prisoner, it read. I have gone for a walk. Love, Bel.
Razzin (Kirk’s arresting officer) finally arrived and was shown to Kirk’s cell. “I understand,” he told the mayor, “you want this man released.”
“At once,” said Harry. “…If you please.”
“It isn’t a matter of if I please,” the officer said, stroking his ginger mustache, and thinking it far superior to Harry’s auburn one (which it was). “It’s a matter of the law. This man is under arrest for subversion, Your Honor –”
“I know that, you –” Harry subdued his temper with a struggle. “I know that,” he repeated sweetly. “It was I who placed the charge. Now I wish to drop the charge. Do you see?”
“This man isn’t a subversive?”
“You said he was a subversive without being positive first?”
“Yes, but –”
Razzin nodded. He gestured to Kirk. “Let him out,” he told Nime.
“Gladly!” Nime swung open the door and Kirk was free at last. She grasped Harry’s forearm and shoved him into the cell. The door was locked before he or Kirk realized what had happened.
“Wha…what’s going on here?” Mudd bellowed. “I demand to know the meaning of this!”
“Placing false information with the police is a serious matter,” Razzin explained sternly. “You put this fine gentleman’s life in jeopardy. The sentence for placing false information is to suffer the penalty for the crime you report.”
“You mean I’m….”
“I mean the chastiser had better start setting up. It isn’t long until curfew.”
Mudd begged, and Kirk reasoned, but Nime and Razzin stood politely firm. At length Kirk determined to try to round up as many of his people as possible and pray that Scotty would be in time.
Kirk left the jailhouse uncertain where to begin, and wondering whether he ought not simply let Justice take her Course. Surely, the Prime Directive….
His reverie was shattered by the sight of Lieutenant Tetra, in rural garb, directing several urchins in the unloading of a disassembled guillotine.
Tetra, when she saw Kirk, displayed no emotion. Internally, however, relief warred with the apprehension that the captain had engineered a Daring Daylight Escape, and that she would be required to pedal the get-away car.
The urchins stopped their activity. Tetra’s little helper, Nillim, whistled softly. “His cousins must’ve plugged up plenty, to afford His Honor’s price.”
“His Honor,” Kirk announced, “is no longer in a position to demand a price.”
“You don’t mean,” said Nillim, “His Honor’s in jail.”
“So far in,” said Kirk, with more satisfaction than a Christian man should have felt, “they have to pump in daylight.”
The urchins cheered.
Kirk motioned Tetra aside. They were joined briefly by Nillim, who advised Tetra not to waste her time looking for His Honor’s friends or to be guided by the vindictiveness of his Honor’s former victims (this with a loaded glance at Kirk), but to look to her reputation and do a clean job of the ex-mayor out of professional pride.
Tetra thanked him, and he joined his fellows.
Kirk and Tetra had become so accomplished at bringing various members of the party up-to-date on current events that they exchanged the latest with telegraphic brevity. They had time to explore the deeper meaning of the Prime Directive before Rollp appeared, Spock and McCoy with him.
Nillim hailed the policeman with blood-relation familiarity, shouting of the change in prisoners, and postulating that the chastiser’s current victim would raise smaller qualms than her former one.
Rollp hesitated on the jailhouse stoop, but the chastiser certainly seemed thick enough with the man Nillim swore was the former prisoner, so the noble copper put the officers on their honor and went inside to investigate.
McCoy and Spock indicated delight in the captain’s deliverance each according to his species’ custom.
Spock, long before Georgia had had its say, cleared his throat in a very riveting manner. “Captain,” he said, “I regret to inform you that Yeoman Schuster has, as the saying goes, slipped her leash.”
“That’s right, Jim,” McCoy agreed a bit apologetically. “When Mudd left the town hall, Bel simply walked away.” He tried to control an admiring smile and repeated, “She just walked away.”
“She could be anywhere,” said Kirk. “For all she knows, all of you are still outside of town, herding pratties. She may be on her way there now.”
“And there’s nobody there,” said Tetra, “but the executioner. She’ll tell Bel we’re all in town and what Bel does then will be anybody’s guess. Yeoman Schuster, I mean.”
A sound very like a snare drum sounded on the air. Out of the jailhouse came Razzin, leading Harry on a heavy chain. The luscious Nime brought up the rear, playing on the snare-sounding drum.
Harry kept up a steady stream of pleas, threats, and cajoleries. Captain Kirk could barely be restrained from leaping heroically to his nemesis’ rescue. It was not in his nature to stand idly by and watch dogs be hanged.
The parade reached the center of the platform and Harry was made to stand behind the guillotine. He regarded that structure with a ghastly expression.
Razzin signaled for Tetra to come take her place on the platform. She fiddled and stalled, but had to comply.
“My fellow citizens,” Razzin proclaimed. “You see before you a man who came among us as a stranger, a man we took to our hearts, a man who offered himself to public service, a man whose offer we accepted….” It was an hour to curfew. Razzin seemed prepared to speak at least that long.
McCoy was afraid, for one wild moment, that he had spoken his thoughts aloud.
It was Bel. She was wearing one of Old Geek’s disguises and anyone could tell, by the way she carried herself, that she was a Terran who’d just had a hard ride on a strange pratty.
Razzin stopped as requested. Nime whispered something to him. He nodded and spoke to Bel gently. “You will be happy to see your cousin has been released,” he said. “I’m so terribly sorry that his place was taken by your friend. But nothing can be done.”
“On the contrary,” said Bel. “Something must be done. You see, I am not that man’s friend, nor am I the former prisoner’s cousin. Those were cover identities I was obliged to employ in the service of the Grand Council. In reality, I am Isobel Schuster.”
A murmur went through the crowd at the mention of the name. Only on Llannonn.
“I knew it,” Harry could be heard. He did not seem pleased. “I knew it!”
“The Grand Council,” Bel said, “sent me to investigate a certain problem here in Happy Lands Province. The source of the problem is,” she pointed at Harry, “that man there.”
Everyone scowled at Harry. “Shame! Shame!” someone called.
“I should say so,” said Bel. “So you see, officer, you must pardon this man for whatever he’s done to deserve the death sentence. You do see that, don’t you?”
“Certainly,” said Razzin.
“I don’t,” said Harry. “I mean, I love it, but I don’t understand.”
Razzin explained. “When you do something wrong, you have to atone for it, see? If we execute you, that will atone for laying false information, but you won’t have a chance to atone for this other thing you’ve done. And if we ask you to atone for this other thing first, you might only be doing so because of your impending death and not because you’re really sorry. That wouldn’t count. On the other hand, if we pardon you from death, there’s no guarantee that you would confess to this other thing, or that we could get witnesses against you.”
“You mean…I could get off scot-free?”
Razzin raked Harry with a disgusted glance. “If you were that sort of person,” he said.
“That’s right,” said Bel. “You could always come with us back to the Enterprise. I know where you can get a nice steady job making license plates for hovercraft. Free room and board, too.”
“Ah, well,” said Razzin. “There’s no help for it. You’re pardoned.”
Kirk started toward the platform, eyes full of an unworthy vision.
Mudd tried to tuck himself behind Razzin, without much success. “All right!” he said. “I confess! — Provided the penalty involves no…chastising.”
Razzin looked like a man whose faith in sentient beings had just been renewed. “None whatsoever, my dear fellow. What a splendid thing to do, just like that, with no pause for ignoble consideration. And when you’d just been offered that lovely job as an alternative. I’ll admit you surprise me. — Isn’t he a splendid citizen, folks? Let’s hear it for His Honor!”
The citizens huzzahed mightily. Nillim, Tetra’s little helper, shouted in at the jailhouse door that Rollp could come out, as no one seemed in immediate danger of violence.
Rollp rounded the building just as Tetra descended the scaffold steps.
“You!” Rollp exclaimed. “You’re no chastiser! I remember now where I’ve seen you before; you’re one of those cousins I arrested earlier today. The mayor had me dump you in a pratty field.”
“Is this true?” Razzin asked Tetra. “Are you impersonating a chastiser?”
Bel stepped forward. “One of my agents,” she said.
“Right,” said Tetra. “The real Zipp Honann is well and happy in Old Geek’s meadow.”
“That’s all right, then,” said Razzin. “And I’m sure we’re all very happy the bell tonight will be no more –”
“The bell!” McCoy gasped. “I –”
“You what?” Razzin asked.
Razzin’s expression called up visions of thunder-clouds. “You’ve never been and broken our bell, I hope,” he said.
“No, no,” McCoy reassured him. “Just disconnected it a little, that’s all.”
“Another agent,” said Bel.
Razzin pulled Nillim from the crowd at his elbow. “Run to the bell-tower,” he said, “and tell Mumford his bell’s been disconnected.”
“Mumford was born with his bell disconnected,” the child muttered, but he hastened on his way.
Razzin turned to Bel. “Let me get this straight,” he said. “You’ve been investigating a crime in our province.”
“And you had an agent disconnect our bell?”
“Two agents,” said Tetra.
“Two,” said Bel. “Two agents.”
“And another one impersonated a chastiser?”
Bel searched in vain for Scott. “One more…,” she said vaguely.
“Contacting the Grand Council,” Tetra supplied.
“Contacting the Grand Council,” Bel repeated firmly.
Razzin mulled it all over. He shot a hard look at Kirk. “Who is he?”
“He’s…he’s the most important part,” said Bel. She took a second to wonder in what way he had been the most important part; then she relaxed, started talking, and let it come to her as she went along. “He offered himself up to the mayor, knowing he’d probably be laying his life on the line, so that the mayor could lock him up and be lulled into a false sense of security and so that my agents, in attempting to prevent his death, could work in sort of open-air undercover, besides distracting from my activities, which took less time than we thought. You see.”
“Yes,” said Razzin. In the pause which followed, more than one Enterprise crewmember learned the meaning of “breaking out in a cold sweat.”
“I see,” Razzin repeated. Then he smiled. “If there’s one thing we admire on Llannonn, it’s thoroughness. I suggest we all go to the town hall and have a party on the mayor.”
Everyone cheered and the crowd surged into the street. They were just in time to jump back, as Chief Engineer Scott thundered into the Central City at the head of a small but hearty troop of Council City policemen. They had responded to the call Mr. Scott had sent out in Bel’s name with gratifying speed, to form an impromptu army — the only sort of army Llannonn had ever known. Desk Sergeant Pel Darzin, on loan to the Happy Lands station for the duration of the emergency, was among them.
Scott reined to a halt between the captain and the townspeople. His woolly steed reared, pawing at the air with its cloven hooves.
“My Friend Fluffy,” Tetra muttered.
Pel Darzin swooped, snatched Bel onto his saddle-bow, and whisked her to “safety” behind the line of soldiers. Bel expressed polite thanks, though she found herself diverted by a conversation she overheard at her elbow.
Two women of dubious repute were shifting in their pratty-straddlers. “‘Be a camp follower,’ they said,” one grumbled. “‘See the world,’ they said.”
“They’ll tell you anything at the recruiting office,” the other agreed. “But when you get into the field….”
Bel forced her attention back to the scene of conflict to find that Rollp and Kirk were in the act of persuading Scott not to feed Harry his own chains. While Scotty’s outrage warred with his respect for authority, Nillim returned with Mumford at his side.
The tower-holder spotted his new chum, Spock, and scuttled to the Vulcan’s side. “NICE TO SEE Y’ AGAIN,” he said. “LEFT TH’ BEAUTY ON AUTOMATIC,” Mumford continued. “WANTED TO BE IN ON TH’ PARTY. WHAT’S IT FOR?”
Spock, trained in protocol and practicality, felt no paltry human embarrassment in announcing loudly that the party was in honor of nobody’s being executed. His explanation, in fact, served to turn the tide in Harry’s favor; Scott released his hold on Mudd’s shackles and apologized bravely for his excess of zeal.
The excitement, in fact, seemed to be fizzling out when Mumford, under the impression he was speaking privately, said to Spock, “WHAT I ASK IS, WHO’S THE NEW MAYOR?”
The luscious Nime stepped into the ensuing silence. “I volunteer,” she said.
Everyone cheered. After months of Harry Mudd, a mayor who was capable of the job, devoted to duty, and attractive on top of it would make for an interesting change.
The party at the town hall was an unqualified success. Scott relayed a message to Tetra from Zipp Honann; all was well, chastising was a bore compared to pratty herding. A younger Honann would call soon for the equipment, Zipp was apprenticing herself to Old Geek as soon as the papers could be drawn.
It was, commendably, Captain Kirk who eventually remembered that the landing party had been incommunicado all day and that Mr. Sulu was probably becoming a trifle anxious. Harry was persuaded to disconnect the communications glitzer and ship-to-shore contact was established.
Sulu wasn’t as distraught as he perhaps might have been. The transporter technician on duty had been faithful to his promise and Sulu had spent the day in blissful ignorance that anything had been wrong.
Kirk, reinstated in his quarters, gave careful and extensive thought to various crimes and punishments. Harry had been claimed for Llannonninn justice, and had been transported to Happy Land’s sister province across the planet. Rocks-and-Dirt Province, that was. For the next year, Harry would be actively involved in making Rocks into Dirt, justifying the province’s name. It would be like Harcourt, Kirk reflected, to discover a way to turn a profit on dust.
Everyone else, it seemed, was immune from any possible deserved disciplinary action by virtue of having saved the captain’s life. Kirk had a feeling that stern measures were called for, but was unable to determine precisely what measures were appropriate, or where they should be applied. He favored Bel as a culprit, but couldn’t firmly state in what way she had been guilty of what. Bel often had that effect.
It was Spock who offered the captain a grain of comfort, which Kirk clutched to his heart like a talisman. Spock’s comment expressed both Vulcan logic and human Pollyannaism. “It isn’t as if she’ll re-enlist,” he said.