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The Tour That Went Wrong
When Yeoman Isobel (Bel) Schuster made Ensign, it ruined her.
Yeoman — pardon me — Ensign Schuster was a victim of Acute Rungitis: When you’re at the bottom, it’s fun to shake the ladder a little; go up a rung, and you get concerned about hanging on.
Bel was hanging on with a grip that would have buckled re-entry sheathing. Her uniforms were always inspection-perfect. Her boots shone like mirrors, thanks to Procter & Gamble’s Bootlicker brand polish (active ingredient: genuine flunky spit). Her behavior was exemplary; she solved on-the-job problems by procedure rather than by creative initiative.
So it was that, when Vincent Lovehardt, the Second Vice-President of the Federation in charge of Interplanetary Trade (Machine Parts Division), beamed aboard with his twenty-two-year-old red-haired, blue-eyed, sweet-faced, smart-mouthed daughter, Captain Kirk did not hesitate to assign Ensign Schuster as the young woman’s companion/guide.
Bel Schuster catered to Ms. Lovehardt’s every whim. She practically groveled. Many were nauseated.
Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock met with Vice-President Lovehardt to hear the orders Starfleet had sent by him.
“The Federation,” said the Vice-President, “has authorized me to close negotiations on a contract of great importance to industry. The planet with which we are closing this contract is on the verge of joining the Federation, so we naturally are anxious that all go well.”
“I expect to spend a week or so on the planet. My daughter, Victoria, as you know, is accompanying me. The Federation felt that this would serve to demonstrate our good will. Of course, I am assured that there is no danger planetside, no immediate physical danger. The Federation’s concern is for diplomatic relations….”
“I understand, of course,” said Kirk, who wasn’t sure he did. “But, if there is no danger, why send a starship rather than a diplomatic cruiser?”
“My time is valuable, Captain. A starship can cut travel time immensely. In addition….”
“Well, you see — It’s nothing serious, you understand, but…well, Klingons have been noted on the planet.”
“Only a few of them,” the Vice-President said. “A mere handful, really. But they might try to hinder negotiations. The thing is, we expressed some concern for security to planetary officials. They stated that they were not equipped to handle — as they put it — a menace from outer space. They requested the Enterprise’s presence, along with a special agent they said is stationed aboard your ship. They — Captain, are you all right?”
“Llannonn,” said Kirk. “We’re going to Llannonn. Again. And they want Bel. Again.”
“Bel Schuster,” said the Vice-President, in a tone one might use to commend a mentalist for guessing what one held behind one’s back. “Can you produce her?”
“She’s assigned to your daughter already,” said Kirk.
The Vice-President beamed. “You,” he told the captain, “are the stuff from which admirals are made.”
“It isn’t really all that bad, is it, Bones?”
“No, Jim, of course not.”
“She isn’t the same as she used to be. She’s different. Changed.”
“Altered in some way,” the doctor concurred. “Transformed. Reformed.”
“Yes. That’s it exactly. She’s a reformed character. Since her promotion, she’s been a model ensign. Everything by the book.”
“That’s true, Jim.” Doctor McCoy, loveable old iconoclast that he was, set little store by the book. His response, therefore, was tinged with rue. “She’s rules and regs every inch.”
“I didn’t hesitate to assign her to the Vice-President’s daughter,” said Kirk. “I wouldn’t hesitate to send her to any planet on security detail….” In fact, he realized, that would have been a neat, if cold-blooded, solution to her former discipline problem: security detail. “But Llannonn…and Klingons…. I could send her out of town, though, couldn’t I? Send Ms. Lovehardt out of town…’for her safety,’ and send Bel to ‘guard’ her? I can send Lieutenant Tetra along to keep an eye on things…. And Spock.”
“That’ll be fine, Jim. That’ll work just fine.”
As senior medical officer on the Enterprise, it was in Doctor McCoy’s line of duty to keep his captain from becoming unduly upset, to help him see the best of every unalterable situation. In a parallel conversation, Mr. Spock would have felt compelled to offer odds, which may explain why the captain was conversing with Doctor McCoy.
In the end, the Vice-President and his daughter were accompanied to Llannonn by Ensign Schuster, Lieutenant Tetra, Mr. Spock, Doctor McCoy, Mr. Sulu, and Captain Kirk. Mr. Scott had the conn.
Llannonn had instituted a new policy of scanning all visitors and immigrants for weapons and communications devices. Any found were held until claimed on departure. The Enterprisers were permitted to keep theirs on the grounds that these were part of their uniforms. They were made to promise not to use them without permission.
The Grand Council of Llannonn brought Kirk and Mr. Lovehardt up to date on the State of the Menace. Several Klingons had rented rooms in Council City and were taking great pains to pretend no interest in one another’s presence. Their seemingly casual contact-avoidance patterns had taken on the semblance of a glacially grand and elaborate ballet. The Council City police followed it with artistic appreciation. Four members of the force had reproduced the pattern using colored holographic free-forms on a 3-D grid. Another was composing a score.
Ensign Schuster was assigned to accompany Victoria Lovehardt on a week-long tour of Llannonn. The Grand Council was favorably impressed: the Federation must think a lot of Llannonn to send a negotiator so important that Bel Schuster herself was detailed to bear-lead his daughter.
Lieutenants Tetra and Sulu (whom the captain, perhaps naively, considered level-headed) went along. Spock, agreeing, in Vulcan terms, that the trade agreement was a milk run, elected to indulge his Vulcan curiosity by joining the tour.
Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy stayed in Council City with the Vice-President.
The touring party’s guide was Detective-Sergeant Pel Darzin of the Meadow of Flowers police station. He had become unofficial liaison between Llannonn and the Enterprise and considered the duty an honor.
Sergeant Darzin explained to Sulu and Ms. Lovehardt, who had never been to Llannonn before, that the planet was divided into provinces, and also into three basic sociotypes: the Urbans, the Rurals, and the Wandering Tribes. All three were equally represented on the Grand Council.
“There is one Wandering Tribe per province,” Darzin said. “Criminals who incur less than chastisement (or, as you folks say, torture) or the death penalty may be sentenced to travel with a Wandering Tribe for a length of time determined by said criminal’s victims. Otherwise, membership in any of our sociotypes is purely by choice.”
“‘Fascinating,'” said Victoria Lovehardt dryly, picking at her nail polish. “Do tell.”
Bel tried to apologize to the sergeant with a look, and kept reminding herself about how this assignment was a real plum, and could advance her career in the fleet. Lieutenant Tetra wondered if she could manage to make a Vulcan nerve pinch look like an accident.
“Each province has a Council City Police Station assigned to it, in case it needs help beyond the capacity of its own constabulary. We are first going to visit the Central City of Meadow of Flowers Province, which is served by my own station.”
Victoria Lovehardt yawned. The tour began.
Day One — Meadow of Flowers Central City was second only to Council City itself. Its soapstone towers were of the brightest pastels. Its hovercraft and fashions were the Federation’s latest.
“Not bad, for a backwater,” said Ms. Lovehardt.
Day Two — Good Earth Province rightly boasted the most modern and productive farms on the planet. Its Rurals excelled in all sorts of country crafts as well.
“Great, if you like sticks and dirt,” said Ms. Lovehardt.
Day Three — The tour group was led aboard the good ship Grayline, a two-masted sailing vessel, manned by a crew of hearty male and female rurals.
“The Wandering Tribes of provinces which include a great deal of water,” Pel Darzin lectured, “tend to be water-oriented. They poach on other people’s fishing grounds. They smuggle. They jump claims on salvage. This keeps life interesting and everyone on his or her toes.”
“Charming,” said Victoria Lovehardt.
“Please continue,” said Bel graciously, resisting an impulse to put an elbow into the young snot’s ribs. “Those of us mature enough to appreciate a good travelogue find yours most interesting.”
“Indeed,” said Spock. He made a mental note to suggest that Kirk recommend the ensign for Diplomat Training School. She seemed to have a pretty good line of banana oil.
Darzin was mollified. “Deep Water Province,” he said, “is unique in being almost entirely water. Its Urbans live in island cities. Its Rurals harvest water produce. We may glimpse a ship of their Wandering Tribe in the distance, but we don’t plan any contact.”
“What are they?” asked the Lovehardt. “Poachers or smugglers?”
“Neither, Ms.,” said Darzin icily. “They are pirates.”
Silence held for the space of a heartbeat.
“I beg your pardon?” Bel asked.
“Pirates, Ms.,” Darzin repeated.
Victoria screamed. “Betrayed,” she moaned. “My father will not permit this! You’ll rue the day!”
“What are you going on about?” asked Pel Darzin.
“Kidnapped!” said Ms. Lovehardt.
“Held for ransom!”
“Please, Ms. I mean, really. You’re a guest. And in the company of Ms. Schuster, too…. You can’t know what you’re saying.”
They had been approaching a seemingly uninhabited little island. Suddenly, from a cove hidden by barren cliffs, six canoes darted out towards them.
“Lost!” cried Victoria. “Oh, who can save me now?”
“A good brain surgeon might help,” said a voice everyone affected not to recognize.
“You’re perfectly safe, Ms.,” Darzin reassured the Vice-President’s daughter, though he looked as if he wished otherwise.
The canoes reached the Grayline. The pirates, male and female, greeted the sailors, many of whom seemed to be their relatives. The pirates tossed up lines, and towed the ship around a craggy baffle and into harbor.
The hidden cove was large and deep. One could see the bottom through its transparent waters; it lay thick with kelp-like plants the color of milk chocolate and was liberally speckled with mollusk-like bivalves the color of blanched almonds. It looked like a Hershey bar under glass.
Low buildings of soapstone or driftwood sprawled from the edge of the water up the sides of the gentle slopes which backed into precipitous rocks on all three sides of the harbor.
“An impregnable pirate fortress,” Darzin pointed out.
They anchored the Grayline in the cove and climbed down into the canoes. They were met on the dock by a company of higher-class pirates, led by a real stunner. He stood 6’4″, not counting the low heels of his thigh-high boots. His hair was a tousled mass of ebony curls. His blue eyes twinkled. His trim moustache framed a mouthful of pearly teeth. He wore a manly gold loop through one earlobe. His sleeveless linen shirt was open nearly to his slender waist. He was built like a brick hovercraft.
“Welcome to the Island of Lost Fortunes,” this vision said. “My name is Deveril. Hansim Deveril.”
“Very pleased to meet you,” said Bel. I’m Isobel Schuster; perhaps you’ve heard of me?”
“Bel Schuster? I should certainly think so. Everyone hopes to meet Heroine Bel Schuster some day, but to actually do so…. We are honored.”
“Please,” said Bel. “I’m just a woman. Maybe you and I could get together sometime and talk about it.”
“Permit me,” said Pel Darzin, “to introduce myself.” And he did. “I’m conducting a tour, here,” he said.
“Oh,” said Deveril, with a meltingly apologetic look. “We didn’t know, you see. We thought you were local. I do beg your pardon.”
“Taunts and sarcasm!” said Victoria coldly.
“No such thing,” Hansim Deveril protested.
“She’s new to the planet,” Darzin explained. “Do forgive her. I’ve been doing it for three days.”
“Of course. Now, if you have the time, may I take you to meet our king? I’m sure he’ll want to apologize personally, and show you some real pirate hospitality before you go on your way.”
“Delighted,” said Pel Darzin.
Hansim Deveril, his company of higher-class pirates, and the tour group were halfway across an inner courtyard of the soapstone palace when they heard what sounded like the death-rattle of an armadillo.
They turned toward the sound and beheld another pirate, dressed much the same way as Hansim Deveril. He wore thigh-high boots, skin-tight trousers and a white linen shirt. This pirate’s shirt, however, had full sleeves cuffed at the wrists, and the dissimilarities did not end there. This pirate was chunky, not to say fat. This pirate’s dark hair was flat and thinning. This pirate’s eyes were an insincere brown, his moustache a touch too full, his teeth indifferent, and his earring far too heavy.
This pirate was —
“Harry Mudd!” Sulu exclaimed.
Harry recovered himself. “Harcourt Fenton Mudd, in the flesh,” he said. “And who have we here?”
“None of your business,” snapped Pel Darzin protectively. “Don’t think I don’t remember you, Mr. Fraud-and-Embezzlement Mudd.”
“What a superb memory, Officer,” said Harry, with venomous smoothness. “We have that in common.”
Harry crossed the courtyard to them. He looked at the red-haired Victoria as a hungry wolf looks at a wounded moose. Then he saw the ensign.
“Bel,” he said, with a sweetness not even meant to be deceptive. “I’ve thought of you so often. Many’s the night I spent, exhausted with the day’s forced labor, imagining our next meeting. Then Rocks-and-Dirt Province traded me to Deep Water, and now here you are, too.”
“I believe,” said Mr. Spock, “we were on our way to meet the king of this tribe. I trust he will countenance this delay?”
“I bet he won’t,” said Darzin. “And don’t think we won’t tell him who caused it, either.”
Harry chuckled fruitily. “Oh, he won’t be cross with me,” he said. “You see, I’m more than just another buck pirate. I am the Pirate King.”
The tour group and its guide, all divested of weapons and communications devices, languished. Pel Darzin had been taken off separately. The others had been put into a holding cell. Not long after, the men had been culled out and herded off to stand before the king.
Victoria Lovehardt continued her lamentations until Bel, using the most forceful language, told her to put a sock in it.
Tetra worked her way slowly round the cell, testing the strength of the bars. She stepped away as Hansim Deveril came around the corner with his company of pirates. “His Majesty wants you brought to the throne room,” he said. “He certainly was cross when you arrived, wasn’t he? He must be cleverer than I gave him credit for being; I bought that story about you being tourists, but he must have seen through it from the first. Then once he was alone with Sergeant Darzin, he got the whole story.”
“I knew it,” cried Victoria. “I have been betr –” She broke off as Tetra gave her the famous Vulcan Ankle-Kick.
“I must say, I’m surprised at you, Ms. Schuster. I don’t believe we’ve ever had an industrial spy ring on Llannonn. I imagine you didn’t know it was against the law.”
“My dear fellow, I had no idea,” said Bel.
“And so you’re not a bit sorry for it, and you couldn’t lie and say you were sorry if you aren’t.”
“That would be dishonest.”
“So you’ve all been sent here to atone, not even trying to claim diplomatic immunity.”
“We wouldn’t stoop to such shabbiness to avoid the legal consequences of our actions.”
“Ms. Schuster, you are marvelous.”
“Thank you. Perhaps you and I could get together sometime –“
“His Majesty awaits,” said one of the pirates apologetically.
Mr. Spock and Mr. Sulu were ushered into the throne room.
King Harry sat on a throne made of driftwood upholstered with the skin of some scale-less fish. His rakishly tilted crown was of something like coral.
The room was rich with the treasures of the province. The floor was carpeted in grass mat, the walls were hung with coconuts carved to resemble the faces of monkeys, and with tropical scenes worked out in crushed seashells. Stuffed fish seemed frozen in the act of leaping — on the walls, as bases for lamps, even as ashtrays.
“Look at this place,” Sulu muttered, his eyes on a seascape done with a mixture of glue and violently colored sand. “It looks like Hong Kong blew up.”
“You stand convicted,” said the Pirate King, “of industrial espionage.”
“We do?” Sulu asked. “What industry?”
Harry gave Sulu an ugly look. “Officer Darzin reports that you were apprehended trying to sabotage a factory lot of execution equipment.”
“We are pacifists,” said Spock. The pirates murmured sympathetically.
“Nevertheless,” said Harry, glaring around at his subjects, “you are now under my rule and subject to my sentencing.”
“What,” Sulu gulped, “are you going to do with us?”
“Just what was done with me — to an inferior degree, of course. I’m going to make pirates of you, my lads. Now, what would your friends in Starfleet think of that, eh?”
He lounged back and grinned in wicked delight.
Spock raised an eyebrow. Sulu tried not to look like a child whose dearest wish has been granted. “A pirate!” he whispered. “I’m gonna be a pirate!”
Harry ordered them taken off for standard training and sent for the women.
At about this time, Doctor McCoy entered a salon at the Grand Council’s reception building. There he found Captain Kirk, looking as if he were about to worry himself into anemia.
“What is it, Jim?” asked the doctor. “Bad news?”
“No, Bones. No news. Just the daily reports the Meadow of Flowers police station forwards to the Council from Pel Darzin.”
McCoy smiled. “‘Having a wonderful time,'” he said. “‘Wish you were here.'”
The captain gave a grudging smile, then shook his head. “The reports are reassuring, and negotiations here are proceeding without a hitch. I can’t give a reason for it,” he said. “Call it instinct, but I can’t shake the feeling something’s wrong.”
“Now, what would our Mr. Spock have to say about that?”
“I’m afraid he wouldn’t approve,” said the captain wryly. “‘Feelings’ aren’t logical. But they are…compelling.”
“Would the Grand Council let you call Spock by communicator?”
“Theoretically, yes. Diplomatically, the request might be considered an insult to Pel Darzin and the Grand Council’s judgment in putting him in charge of the tour.”
“That’s a good point in itself, Jim,” said McCoy. “Would the Grand Council have put Darzin in charge if he were incompetent? Remember, he’s not just squiring around a load of visiting firemen, he’s got Bel Schuster in that group. She may be a nuisance to the Federation’s system, but she’s a heroine to Llannonn’s.”
Kirk nodded. “It’s a strange universe, Bones,” he said profoundly.
The doctor poured himself and the captain tall glasses of medicinal liquor, pink with clouds of orange drifting through. “Strange,” he said, “and full of wonder. Cheers.”
Victoria Lovehardt cast herself at Harry’s feet. “Mercy!” she begged.
Bel, in part caught up in the drama of the moment, in part hoping it would work to some advantage, cast herself equally prostrate. “Mercy!” she begged.
Tetra gave an invisible Vulcan shrug and joined the others. “Mercy,” she said.
“Oh, the poor girls,” said a kindly looking sixty-ish female pirate. “They’re foreigners, you see, and they’re afraid.”
The girls lay abjectly at the king’s disposal. The silhouettes of unspeakable thoughts passed across the shades of the windows to Harry’s soul. “Clear the room,” he said.
Next to the throne, to Harry’s left, stood a small, plump, semi-bald pirate wearing a striped shirt and wire-rimmed spectacles. He stepped forward and coughed discreetly. “I’m sorry, Your Majesty,” he said, “but, as Minister of Protocol for Deep Water Province Wandering Tribe, it is my duty to inform you, with all due respect, and meaning no harm, you being new to the throne and not knowing –“
“Get to the point, Smee,” Harry snarled.
“The point is, Your Majesty, that you can’t be left alone with these females.”
Harry drew himself straight in his throne. His mouth turned down and his underlip pooched out. His eyes became wide and hurt. He called the look Innocence Accused. “Good Lord, Smee,” he demanded. “What the devil are you suggesting?”
“Nothing, Your Majesty. But you’re an off-worlder, and so are these females. You couldn’t have been left alone with the male off-worlders. If I were king and people from Deep Water Province were brought in for disposition, I couldn’t be left alone with them because I’m from Deep Water Province –“
“I get the picture.”
“Those are the rules.”
“Pirates have rules?” Bel asked.
“Pirates need them,” said Smee.
Harry ground his teeth. “Very well,” he said, with silky resentment. “I will now make disposition of the female prisoners. I’m certain you’ll let me know if I’m in danger of transgressing any pirate laws.”
“Certainly, Your Majesty,” said Smee. “Glad to oblige. For example, out of every lot of new arrivals, the king or queen can only claim one. We had a queen once who tried to hog all the new men for herself. She was de-throned and barred from ever seeking the throne again.”
The kindly looking sixty-ish female pirate chuckled. “Served me right, too,” she said.
Bel ventured to hope. This terrifying monarchy was beginning to look comfortingly limited. She began to feel a little cheekier. She rose from her base position and took a nearby chair. Tetra stood. “By the way,” Bel said casually, “whatever happened to Pel Darzin? Our…er…Officer of Transfer?”
“Comfortable enough, you may rest assured,” Harry said. “He is my…guest, you know.”
“Good,” said Bel. “He’s not just your average local John Law, as I’m sure you realize. He’s Council City fuzz. A little good treatment in that quarter now could make a lot of difference to you later.”
Harry caught her point and shifted uneasily. “Perhaps I could arrange things a trifle more luxuriously for him.”
The pirates whispered among themselves. How like Heroine Bel it was to inquire into the well-being of the officer who had brought her to her place of atonement. And to display concern for her main captor’s future prospects.
Hansim Deveril in particular glowed with chaste devotion. Bel saw it, recognized it, and gave up on him. Once a guy goes chastely devout, she knew, there’s just no hope.
Smee beamed and nodded. “Class tells,” he said. “Odds, bobs, hammer and tongs — what a pirate she would make!”
“Er…in what way,” Tetra asked, “were Mr. Spock and Mr. Sulu…er…disposed of?”
“Basic training,” Harry said absently, his mind on other matters.
If, Harry mulled, he claimed Victoria Lovehardt, he could assign Bel to do something really nasty, but he couldn’t gloat over her as thoroughly as he felt justified in doing. But, if he claimed Bel, the statuesque redhead would be beyond his…er…grasp.
The redhead wasn’t really showing to advantage in her submissive attitude, though it was charming — utterly charming.
“Stand up, my dear,” said Harry solicitously. “Let me look at you. You have such lovely eyes.” Victoria did as she was bid. “Come closer, my dear,” Harry urged kindly.
“Remember,” Bel whispered clearly as Victoria started forward, “you’re the Vice-President’s daughter.”
“What’s that?” said Harry.
“Nothing,” said Bel.
“What did she say to you?” Harry demanded of Victoria.
“I’m the Vice-President’s daughter,” said Victoria dutifully.
“The Second Vice-President of the Federation,” said Bel, “in charge of Interplanetary Trade (Machine Parts Division). She’s his daughter. I’m just her companion on this tour. Just ask her; she’ll tell you: she’s the Vice-President’s daughter and I’m her companion.”
Harry narrowed his eyes at Victoria Lovehardt. “True?” he asked.
“…Why…yes,” said Victoria vaguely.
“That’s right,” Tetra chimed in. “Absolutely. Bel’s just a Starfleet crewperson. She’s made ensign since the last time you saw her, but –“
Harry turned purposefully to Tetra. “Look here,” he said. “Do you, as a Vulcan, solemnly swear by Surak, Father of the Reforms of Vulcan, that this red-headed chit is the daughter of a Federation Vice-President and that Schuster here is just a common swab?”
“Well…I don’t like to swear, Harry, I never have.”
Victoria Lovehardt was at point-non-plus, which is French for totally fogged. In Bel and Tetra, however, two minds thought as one: Victoria would be much safer in the hands of Deep Water Wandering Tribespeople. Bel would be better off kept close by a Harry who thought her safety and soundness saleable items. Thus, a desperately improvised shell game.
Harry grinned wolfishly and leaned back in his throne. “Sorry, Bel,” he said. “You were too smart for your own good this time. You thought the Vulcan would lie to back up your story, but Vulcans –“
“If Your Majesty doesn’t mind my saying so,” said one of the pirates, “we can’t all be king. Some of us have businesses to run. Could we get on with it now?”
“So who asked you to come?” Harry asked nastily. “How much time have you ever spent on a liberation ship?” Harry answered himself: “None,” he said. “But when there’s a disposition to be made, the whole island knows not to get between you and the palace door.”
The berated pirate looked sullen. “A man has to look out after his own interests,” he said.
“Shopkeeper,” said Harry, and he meant it to sting. He waved a hand toward Bel. “I claim that one,” he said.
“I claim the redhead,” said the sullen shopkeeper. “The wife needs a new clerk in the boutique.”
“Poor girl,” said Harry. “Mr. Smee, write it down.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“Who’ll take the little’un?” Harry asked, casual as a slaver. “She doesn’t look like much, but Vulcans are notoriously tough.”
“I claim her,” said the kindly looking sixty-ish female pirate.
Mr. Smee wrote it down, and the court dispersed.
Mr. Spock and Mr. Sulu wore their uniform trousers and boots with pirate-issue shirts. Mr. Spock’s was of the striped jersey variety; Mr. Sulu’s, the full-sleeved white, which exposed his compact but manly chest.
Mr. Sulu was sorely disappointed to learn that he was not to be issued a sword.
“How,” the captain had asked when Mr. Sulu had mentioned the matter to her, “are you supposed to climb the rigging or swab the deck with a whacking great sword hanging about all over the place?”
Mr. Sulu had had no answer for her.
So they battened the hatches, weighed the anchor, hoisted the mains’l and put out to sea in the good ship Stick-em-Up.
Once underway, the training sessions began.
The drill instructor, Yecca Pring, was rangy and sinewy. Her figure was nothing like boyish, but she was no Victoria Lovehardt, either. Her hair was waist-length and coiled behind her head in a fishnet-cord snood.
She tried them with pinkers, and was delighted at their proficiency. Pinkers are foils with triggers in the hilts. Pink an opponent and keep him pinked long enough to pull the trigger, and he is injected with a “subcutaneous placator.” Killing, of course, is forbidden, and seriously wounding is very bad form.
She tried them with deck sweeps. Spock handled his like a native, and Sulu’s dexterity made the technique an easy acquisition for him. A deck sweep is a wooden rod about five feet long with a heavy pad at one end (opponents, for knocking down or out).
Yecca Pring put the Enterprisers through tumbling and falling, climbing and skulking, and taught them all the good swear words.
On into the evening their training continued: They learned three new games of chance, seven sea chanties, and a hornpipe.
Spock had a bad moment when he refused to quaff a flagon of pirate grog with his shipmates. But, as soon as he explained that he never drank stimulants and meant no insult, he was given a flagon of pirate fruit punch and let be.
Meanwhile, back at the palace, the disposition had ended, the audience had dispersed. Harry had given orders for Pel Darzin to be moved to a more comfortable “guest chamber.” Bel and the Pirate King found themselves alone.
The king was disgruntled. He stood, with his hands in his trousers pockets, trading glazed and morose stares with a stuffed fish. He was thinking of the one that got away.
How pleasant it would be, Harry thought, to lounge on a sofa with a well-padded red-haired wench as a cushion, being fed oysters and mead by the little Vulcan, watching Bel Schuster scrub the flagstones with a toothbrush.
Still, one doesn’t knock around the universe for…a certain number of years without becoming somewhat philosophical. Harry comforted himself with the reflection that revenge is sweet, but usually non-profit.
How to use Bel, the Vice-President’s Daughter, to best advantage, must be his study now. What did one do with the daughter of a high official?
One might “persuade” her to marry one, if she didn’t know one already had a wife. Bel knew.
One might overwhelm her with charm and romance to gain one’s ends.
Harry gave Bel a surreptitious look of appraisal. Average height, average weight, unexceptional build. Hair, short and brownish; eyes, hazel. Features, pleasing enough. Plenty of spirit, though. And, when Harry thought about it, there was an unpretentious appeal about Bel’s lack of spectacle.
Well, then, he would romance her. He would put himself in contact with her father. He would offer to return her safely in exchange for amnesty from anything anybody might still be holding against him. And passage to a livelier planet. And a modest monetary reward. Bel, dizzy from his charm, would support and aid his requests. They would both have a lovely time in the process.
Bel waited to see which way the cat would jump. She felt confident that she had rescued herself from a lifetime of cleaning latrines or picking oakum. She felt reasonably sure that Mudd would trade her and her party for passage and plenty. The interim accommodations were what bothered her.
Would she join Pel Darzin in durance vile? Would she be made a palace prisoner, a bird in a gilded cage?
It gave her a nasty turn when she read in Harry’s eyes what he had in mind.
“My dear,” said Harry smoothly, “those clothes. The uniform looks enchanting on you, of course, but isn’t it irksome?”
“It’s all right,” said Bel cautiously, half afraid Harry was about to suggest she disrobe.
“There are the spoils of a hundred takings in the palace strongrooms,” said Harry colorfully. “You may have what you like: clothes, accessories, jewels. Your father can reimburse the tribe’s treasury for what you keep.”
“Oh, yes. Daddy.”
Harry called, “Smee!”
The bespectacled little pirate came in with his clipboard and a wearied what-now look.
“Take Ms. Schuster — is that your name, my dear? Yes? — to the strongrooms and let her choose what clothes and fripperies she fancies.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“When Ms. Schuster is suited,” Harry continued, “show her to the Silver Suite and have a candlelight dinner for two set in the salon there. Call me when it’s ready.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
Smee led Bel away.
Hansim Deveril stood, looking devilishly handsome, conversing with several far less dashing pirates. A thin teenaged female came up and murmured a few words in his ear. He left the group and went with her to a place of privacy.
“I thought I should tell you,” she said. “You being Chief Lieutenant and all.”
Deveril nodded. “What is it?”
“It’s His Majesty. He’s up to something.”
“Monarchs usually are,” said Deveril. “Come to that, most of us have been up to something or we wouldn’t be here in the first place.”
“Some of us were born here,” said the girl, with a trace of unbecoming snobbishness. “But anyway. You know that policeman, that Pel Darzin, the one King Harcourt says brought the others here for atonement?”
“Well, His Majesty has him locked up.”
“Yes. He was in the dungeon, but after the disposition His Majesty transferred him to the VIP cell.”
“The king told the guards Pel Darzin was a dangerous criminal, scheduled for decapitation, but that his sentence had been transmuted to life in a dungeon at the request of Bel Schuster.”
“An interesting story.”
“I liked it,” the girl agreed. “And, when I took him some fresh bath linen, Pel Darzin told me he’s really a Council City policeman and the others are a tour group.”
“That’s what he told me when we met,” said Deveril.
“So what do you think? Loyal Opposition?”
“Perhaps,” said Deveril. “If the king is just trying to pull some kind of scam, all right. But if he’s trying to abuse the innocent — and do a bad turn to Bel Schuster….” Deveril didn’t need to go on. “I’ll let you know. Be prepared to move at a moment’s notice.”
The girl smiled, a radical light in her eyes. “I’ll be ready,” she said.
“They call me,” said the friendly looking sixty-ish female pirate, “Mother Hoyden.”
“They call me Tetra,” said the lieutenant.
“Tetra,” Mother Hoyden repeated. “That’s cute. You’re just what the place needs. One of the regulars was saying just the other day, ‘What this place needs,’ he said, ‘is a little dark-haired waitress with a cute name.'”
“You own a restaurant?” It was a logical assumption.
Mother Hoyden laughed. “No, dearie,” she said. “It’s a drinking establishment. A pirate’s hangout. A grog shop.”
“It’s a dive,” said Tetra.
“It’s a dive,” Mother Hoyden agreed. “But it’s the best dive on the Island of Lost Fortunes. Sooner or later, everyone comes to The Dead Parrot.”
Tetra began to feel like the straight man in a comedy team. “The Dead Parrot, Gracie?” she asked.
“It used to be The Green Parrot,” said Mother Hoyden, “but –“
“– the parrot died,” Tetra finished with her. “Does the king come to The…er…Dead Parrot?”
“Oh, yes. Why? Taken a fancy to him?”
“…No. But I’d like to ask him about Bel Schuster. Fellow crewmember, companion in crime and so forth.”
“Now, don’t you worry about the Heroine. She can take care of herself, though she’d have enough help if she needed it.”
Tetra, of course, wasn’t worried. Vulcans don’t worry. But, when occasion demands, Vulcans scheme. Good scheming, of course, requires information. Being claimed for work at The Dead Parrot was most fortuitous. Tetra felt certain that, between the booze and the charm her human mother had taught her on the sly, she could mine from the habitués a wealth of raw material for forging plots.
She wondered what kind of tippers pirates were.
A Klingon sat, seemingly at his ease, on the quay where the Grayline was scheduled to dock. He was dressed as an Urban native of Deep Water Province and blended fairly well with the crowd. He was of the more humanoid variety of Klingon, which helped; one of the Creature-from-the-Black-Lagoon variety would have had trouble fitting in, even if he had depilated his upper or lower set of eyebrows as disguise.
As the Klingon sat, the village’s chief gossip and main deadbeat came pelting out of the communications shed.
“She’s taken!” he shouted. “The Grayline’s taken!”
“She can’t be taken,” said someone. “She’s hauling tourists, not locals or cargo.”
The deadbeat jerked a thumb towards the communications shed. “Lookout Lighthouse just called,” he said. “The Island of Lost Fortunes signaled that the Grayline was taken and was being held till further notice.”
“I guess they know what they’re doing,” someone said.
The Klingon scowled a terrible Klingon scowl. Time was short and getting shorter. This delay was, at best, bothersome; at worst, it was disastrous.
The Klingon stood treat at a nearby grog shop for several natives, garnering considerable information thereby. Here we have proof positive of a common ancestry for Klingons and Vulcans.
Bel Schuster had gone easy on the clothes. She felt that, under the circumstances, it would be just as well not to seem too attractive.
She chose a few pieces from a shipment of the ultra-latest Federation fashions, priced below cost to help them catch on. Men in the forefront of civilization had come to accept this particular “look” as exciting and alluring, but that acceptance required an exposure and conditioning Harry had not yet undergone.
Now Bel dressed herself for dinner. Her blouse was white, high-collared and long-sleeved, with a pleated front so stiff it popped if pressed. Her trousers were baggy, buttoned at the ankle, and were Kelly green with canary yellow pin-stripes. Her bow tie matched them in plaid. Her shoes were black patent Mary Janes, her socks were red. A black plastic bowler hat with a purple and orange checked hat band hung in her closet.
If they ever got out of this, Bel told herself, she’d be a fashion plate anywhere in the Federation. Better still, she could sell the silly-looking rags to fellow crewwomen at a sizeable profit.
There was a rap at the salon door. Bel rolled her eyes and answered it.
It wasn’t His Majesty. It was the radical-eyed teenager, pushing an anti-grav serving table. Hansim Deveril was with her.
Bel stood aside and let them in.
“A word with you,” said Deveril, closing the door. The girl began setting the table for a glamorous, intimate repast.
“Of course,” said Bel.
“The truth,” said Deveril. “Are you a prisoner or a tourist?”
“At the moment, both,” said Bel. Then she told him how she had stumbled into the way of Harry’s scams before, ruining them and sending him to atonement more by accident than design. She told him about Pel Darzin and the tour. She spoke movingly of her dear old captain, waiting for his crewpeople as a mother for her lost children, bowing under the weight of his sorrow.
Hansim Deveril dashed a strong man’s tears from his eyes and shook his head.
“I wish we could set his mind at ease,” he said, “but there’s no communication between the Island of Lost Fortunes and the world except our heliograph, by which we signal Lookout Lighthouse of captured ships.”
“Ships do get lost or sink sometimes,” the girl put in. “We don’t want the loved ones of captured crews to worry.”
“Of course not,” said Bel. “So can’t we heliograph a message?”
Deveril shook his head. “His Majesty has to authorize all communications.”
“What about the communications devices we brought with us?” Sure, she had promised, but this was an emergency.
“The king has them under lock and key,” said Deveril. “You’ll just have to escape.”
“That’s fine with me,” said Bel, “but how? And not just me: Mr. Spock and Mr. Sulu, Sergeant Darzin, Tetra, Victoria Lovehardt, and I all have to escape together. I hate to think what His Majesty might do to anyone who got left behind.”
“We know,” said the teenager. “We’re going to help. We’re in the Loyal Opposition, you see.”
“An organization dedicated to keeping monarchs on the up and up. Comparatively speaking, that is,” Deveril said. “Most of our monarchs stay within our law, rake off some extra profit, taste some power, and step down. Some seem to think the throne gives them leave to run the place.”
“Well, did you ever,” said Bel.
“King Harcourt’s one of those,” said the fire-eyed teen.
“Why don’t you depose him?”
“You can’t go around deposing people every time you take a notion to,” she said. “You depose people for breaking our pirate laws, or for offending against Llannonninn mores and morals. Or for sopping too much of the gravy. You’re accusing him of holding you illegally. He says he isn’t. Only the Grand Council can tell us for sure.”
“We believe you,” said Deveril, “but deposition requires proof, and right now it’s just your word against the king’s. So, we have to get your group to a place of safety, and when you’re safe we can serve the king with a Notice of Impending Deposition without fear of his revenging himself on you.”
“What about you? Will you be safe?” Bel asked. She felt sure Deveril could handle anything, but the girl was frail-looking.
“Oh, yes,” said the girl. “No one would do anything to us on the king’s orders because we’re known to be in the Loyal Opposition. And, if the king himself tries anything….” The girl produced a stiletto as thin and pale as herself. “A pocket pinker,” she said.
There were four knocks at the door, two short and two long.
“King Harcourt’s on his way,” said Hansim Deveril. “We have to go. Persuade His Majesty to take you to The Dead Parrot tonight,” he said. “Your friend the Vulcan is there. She’ll have the escape plan by the time you arrive. Follow her lead and you’ll be out of the king’s clutches by moonrise.”
Harry arrived at the salon of the Silver Suite in a cloud of musk. He had changed into a suit much resembling a martial arts exercise outfit, made of a soft muted-violet knit. On his feet he wore gray suede-like shoes disconcertingly like bedroom slippers.
“My,” said Bel, “you certainly look comfortable. Maybe we’d better leave the door open.”
“Don’t be alarmed, my dear,” said Harry, closing and surreptitiously locking the door. “When we’ve finished our dinner, I plan to spend the rest of the evening relaxing with a good book and a cozy fire. You’re welcome to join me, if you like.” Harry’s voice was warm and velvety, his eyes soft and smoldering. “I’ll even provide the book.”
Romantic music began to infiltrate the room. Harry lit the candles as the lights dimmed.
Bel, being only human, had to acknowledge the effect. But, after all, even with the tastiest fillings the universe could offer, an omelet was only as good as the basic egg. The music, the candlelight, the soft purple pajama suit — these were all filling. Harry Mudd was the egg. More need not be said.
“I wanted to go out tonight,” Bel said petulantly.
“But, my dear –“
“I wanted to go out.” Bel sat and began to eat. The magical flowering moment withered and died.
“Don’t be cross,” Harry said, cajolingly.
“I’m not cross,” said Bel. “I’ll just tell Daddy how you locked me up, slave to your whim, and then we’ll see who’s cross.”
“In the meantime, please yourself. I won’t say another word.”
And she didn’t.
“Oh, very well,” Harry said at last. “Where do you want to go?”
Bel brightened gratifyingly for him. “I’ve heard of a place called The Dead Parrot,” she said.
Harry was suspicious. “Mother Hoyden’s place?”
“I really wouldn’t know.”
“You wouldn’t happen to know it was Mother Hoyden who claimed your little Vulcan pal, I suppose?”
“How would I know that?”
“And you don’t want to go to The Dead Parrot to talk with Lieutenant Tetra?”
“If Lieutenant Tetra is at The Dead Parrot I’ll want to talk to her. Why shouldn’t I? I suppose people do talk to each other on this island.”
“Well, yes, but –“
“All right. We won’t go. I don’t want to make a big deal out of it.” Bel cast herself into a corner of a silver-brocade sofa, crossed her arms, and looked sullen.
Harry told himself that he had seen Bel Schuster in many guises, all more pleasant than this reality. It cheered him to remember that it could have been worse; he could have found himself free to deceive her into a false marriage.
“I’ll change into street clothes,” Harry said, “and be back in fifteen minutes. We’ll go to The Parrot.”
“The dead one?”
Bel and Harry entered the boxy lobby of The Dead Parrot to the tinkling of a cheap glass harmonium. A throaty contralto crooned in a language Bel knew but, in the present setting, couldn’t identify.
Mother Hoyden herself led them through the crowded club room to a table of honor, over at the edge of the throng, where they could keep their backs to the wall. Mother took their orders and left them.
Harry glanced at the entertainment, then goggled.
Bel looked too.
There, on stage, was Lieutenant Tetra, dressed in her cute new clothes, draped over the harpsichord-like glass harmonium’s case, singing pre-Reform Vulcan torch songs in a voice as warm and rich as Saurian brandy.
“I’ve underestimated the girl,” said Harry, in a voice thick with heightened blood pressure. “Perhaps a command performance…in my suite….”
Mother Hoyden returned with their drinks. “The place is packed tonight,” she said with satisfaction. “Everybody’s here, or has been. Or will be. Hansim Deveril was here a while ago.” Mother made significant eye contact with Bel. She pointed to herself behind Harry’s back and mouthed the words, “Loyal Opposition.”
Tetra finished her song to heavy general applause. She whispered with the glass harmonium player. He nodded.
“She’s coming over,” said Harry, a little breathlessly.
“You’re sure you don’t mind if I talk to her?” Bel asked.
“No, no. Certainly not. Perhaps she’ll join us for a drink.”
Tetra refused the drink, but sat with them.
“You seem to have adjusted rather quickly,” Harry said.
“I had no choice,” said Tetra. “Resistance would be illogical.”
Harry’s eyes glistened. “I like your attitude,” he said.
The glass harmonicist played a call for attention.
Mother Hoyden had taken the stage. “A little bit of hush,” she shouted. “A little bit of hush!” When all was still, she said, “We have a couple of new provincials with us tonight. You’ve already met our Tetra –” The lighting technician, an old man with a powerful dark-lantern, directed a shaft through the dimness onto the lieutenant. The crowd shouted, whistled, and clapped in approval. “– and now I’m very pleased to present to you, live and in person, got up regardless of expense, the one, the only, Heroine Bel Schuster!” The crowd cheered, stomped, and beat fists and flagons on the tables. “Come on up,” Mother Hoyden shouted through the brouhaha. “Come on.”
Tetra and Bel were practically passed to the stage on the shoulders of the patrons. Harry would have liked to stop them, but he was afraid of turning the mob ugly.
Mother Hoyden left the new provincials alone on stage. Bel reset her plastic bowler at a rakish angle. Tetra straightened the lemon-colored cravat around her bare neck. For a dizzy moment, Harry thought they were going to break into a song-and-dance.
“What do we do?” Bel whispered.
“Give ’em The Ambassador’s Getaway,” said Tetra.
“Ah, yes,” said Bel.
Once, in his cups on shore leave, Captain Kirk had done an impression of a diplomat speaking at a cannibal’s dinner, of which he discovers he is to be a course.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Bel said, imitating the captain’s delivery, “it is indeed an honor to stand here before you. I hope to have a similar honor elsewhere in the future. And so, pursuant to that hope, I bid you a fond — adieu.” She tipped her hat and exited, stage left.
Tetra, behind her, waved an arm and shouted, “Hip, hip –“
“Hurrah!” The pirates rose and took up the cry as Tetra followed Bel off.
A short dash down the hall brought them to the door of Mother Hoyden’s office, where Tetra knocked in code. Hansim Deveril answered and hurried them in. The radical teenaged girl opened a secret panel beside the bookcase and in they went.
A couple hundred yards of branching corridor brought them to a comfortably furnished cavern, where they were welcomed by the Vice-President’s real daughter and Detective-Sergeant Pel Darzin.
In Council City, the Federation party had just been treated to a private concert by the Nose-Flute Quartet. It had been a very good concert, and they had returned to their quarters humming.
Captain Kirk gestured to Doctor McCoy to accompany him to his rooms.
“What is it, Jim?” the doctor asked. “Not more ‘feelings’?”
“The same one, Bones,” said the captain. “I asked one of the Grand Councilors if there had been any further word from Darzin and she said there hadn’t.”
“No news is good news, so they say.”
“Yes, but there was something in her expression, in her voice…. I’m right, Bones. I know I’m right.”
“What are you going to do about it?”
The captain tried to speak, but gave up in bewilderment. “I don’t know,” he said. “Suggestions?”
“Wait until tomorrow, till Darzin’s scheduled report. If it doesn’t come, protest and call for action. The Grand Council, if I know them, won’t consider that out of line.”
Kirk considered McCoy’s advice. “You’re right, Bones,” he said. “It’s only a hunch, after all. They might be perfectly safe. Thanks.”
“My pleasure,” said the doctor.
Darzin, Victoria, Tetra and Bel were, indeed, safe; tucked in the bosom of the Loyal Opposition. Spock and Sulu, at sea, were safe; rocked in the cradle of the deep.
Between them, though, like a shark between two halves of a shoal of fish parted in play, or like a malicious rumor between lovers separated by unbridgeable distance, like the very serpent of Eden, who slithered basely between Mankind and God, there slid into the waters around the Island of Lost Fortunes a dark ship.
It was manned by the scum of the universe, and captained by the Klingon we have seen before. The name of the ship, for psychological purposes, had been painted out, and reinscribed with the ominous Klingon legend Kutt-throte.
“Captain Killah,” said the slimy-looking second in command.
“There doesn’t seem to be anything here. No harbor, no port, no nothing. You sure we wasn’t steered wrong?”
“No one steers me wrong, filth. We have a hold full of village children as hostage and have used the most persuasive of tortures on two qualified informants. This is the Island of Lost Fortunes. The harbor is before us, but inaccessible without piratical guidance. However, we do not want access to the harbor. Our safety is here, in the open sea. Our purpose is to block the harbor, to cut off the escape of our prey.”
“Yes, Captain Killah.”
“At first light, we will call for a parley and demand that the Terran official’s daughter be sent out to us.”
“We will return to port, the woman and I will leave, and you will all have a convenient lapse of memory as to my existence. More than that, you need not know.”
“No, sir.” The slimy mate backed from the captain’s presence. It wasn’t from reverence; wharf-rats develop an instinct for back-stabbers.
When Bel and Tetra disappeared, Mother Hoyden had seemed as outraged as Harry Mudd. She had ordered The Dead Parrot searched, with negative results. The king had been told that Victoria Lovehardt and Pel Darzin were also among the missing. Mudd had been up all night ordering searches that were never carried out. The pirates knew the work of the Loyal Opposition when they saw it, and they took their search and seize orders to bed with them.
Mudd was in no mood or shape for a problem when Smee approached the throne room soon after first light.
“What is it?” His Majesty growled. “Have they been found?”
“No, Your Majesty. It’s a ship, just outside the harbor.”
“She won’t be taken, Majesty.”
Harry sat up straight. “Won’t be taken? What the devil do you mean, ‘won’t be taken’? Take her! That’s what pirates do, isn’t it?”
“Normally, yes. But, when our war-canoes went out after her, this ship heliographed a warning. Her captain wants to deal with you. You’re to come to the communications tower, Your Majesty. Right away, if you please.”
Harry would ordinarily have bridled at this mysterious captain’s impertinence but something in Smee’s manner took the stuffing out of his shirt.
“What sort of warning was it?” he asked.
Smee looked bewildered. “Maybe we got it wrong,” he said. “We asked him to repeat, and he used the same words. He said he had sailed from the village of Trann –“
“Little dump about four breezy hours north.”
“Aye, Majesty. He said he had all twenty-five of the village children in his hold. He said if we delayed in obeying him he’d — This is the part we didn’t understand — He said he’d begin to kill the children if we delayed or tried to signal for help. Nobody would really do that, would they? Kill people like that? Children?“
Now, it must be admitted that Harry would have had no scruples against stealing children, conning children, or ruthlessly exploiting children, but the idea of doing cold-blooded serious violence to children was nearly as alien to him as it was to Smee. The limits to Harry’s rapacity were distant, but they could be reached. He felt a little queasy.
“It’s been known to happen,” Harry said. “Did this captain identify himself?”
“Captain Killah of the Kutt-throte,” Smee said. “He says he’s a Klingon.”
“A Klingon!” Harry’s mouth went slack. This was not good news, no, indeed. “Let’s go,” he said. “You didn’t get the message wrong. Klingons will do anything to get what they want. I just hope we’ve got it.”
Captain Killah wasted no time letting Harry know what he wanted. He wanted Victoria Lovehardt, Vice-President Lovehardt’s daughter, and he wanted her NOW.
Harry said certainly, sir, certainly, but we don’t know exactly where she is, give us time.
Captain Killah granted two hours, after which time he intended to take one of his child hostages and —
“Don’t look,” Harry said. Everyone who could decipher heliography code averted their eyes. “Signal compliance,” Harry ordered, and the signalman did.
The tourists woke to the smell of coffee and the sound of flustered entry. They stepped from their sleeping alcove into a larger adjacent cavern. A fire on a circular hearth was being tended by the inevitable old gypsy crone.
Hansim Deveril and Mother Hoyden were helping themselves to coffee. The radical teenaged girl nibbled a cake. The looks on their faces were not the looks of triumph they had worn the night before.
“What is it?” Pel Darzin asked.
“There’s a ship outside the harbor,” said the pirate lieutenant, and told them all about it.
“A Klingon,” Bel said.
“Is that bad?” Darzin asked.
“They are almost universally considered so,” said Tetra.
“Klingons are….” Bel searched for a word the Llannonnites would understand, strong enough to be truly descriptive. “Klingons are remorseless,” she said.
The Llannonnites looked at each other.
“They never repent?” asked Mother Hoyden. “Of anything? No matter what?”
“Being a Klingon means never having to say you’re sorry,” said Tetra, and Bel knew the Vulcan was greatly disturbed by the turn of events.
“Then he’ll…he’ll do what he threatens to do?” Deveril asked. “To the children?”
Bel nodded. “Unless we give him the Vice-President’s daughter.” She looked with pity at Victoria Lovehardt.
“Uh, just a minute,” Victoria said, looking back. “You’re the Vice-President’s daughter around here, remember?”
“Yes, but I’m Bel Schuster. He demanded the person of Victoria Lovehardt. ‘Ask for her by name. Accept no substitutes.'”
“Ask yourself why he wants her,” Tetra said to Bel.
The answer was easy, but Bel didn’t like it. “He wants to use her to influence Vincent Lovehardt to throw the trade agreement.”
“Can we permit that?” asked Tetra.
“No,” said Bel.
“How can we prevent it?”
Bel, to her credit, hesitated only briefly, while she tried to think of a way out. “We send him a ringer,” she said. “Like Vicky here says, I’m the official fake VIP for the district; I guess that makes me ‘it.'”
“So I have to put myself into the hands of a Klingon,” Bel said. “Me, on purpose, because I’m useless to him.”
“The logic is inevitable,” said Tetra. “An alternative plan would be preferable, but one does not present itself.”
So. The Klingon would make his demand; the Vice-President would hesitate, the Klingon would attempt to prove his possession of the official’s daughter and his willingness to make her pay for her father’s stubbornness, the ‘proof’ would take the Vice-President off the hook, the Klingon would…deal in some way with the false daughter, the trade agreement would be signed, hoorah for the Federation, Bel Schuster would be among the honored dead.
Bel couldn’t honestly say the scenario appealed to her. She had always feared that Starfleet would call on her to be heroic, and that she would find herself able to rise to the occasion. Now, dammit, here it was happening. She envied Tetra’s ability to vacuum-pack her emotions. She was afraid she might cry, and disgrace her only fine hour.
She stood up. “I guess you’d better turn me in,” she said to Deveril. “The sooner the better.”
“We have time for me to finish my coffee,” Deveril said. “Why don’t you say a longer goodbye to your friends while you’re waiting? We may not be able to reunite you for a while.”
Bel and Tetra knew, and Victoria suspected, that there would be no reunion.
Bel, desperate, performed a lightning exercise in logic. She presented the results to Tetra, who found it acceptable and avidly added a few fine points herself. This cheered Bel so much she was able to say, with equanimity, “If something should go wrong, give my dirty books to Chekov, my ‘Winemaking Through Hydroponics’ kit to Sulu, my etchings to Riley, and my ‘Happy Fingers’ beanie to Mr. Scott. Oh, and have my subscription to IMP transferred to Christine Chapel.”
“Interplanetary Miscegenation Photoplay.”
Deveril put down his coffee mug. “Time to go,” he said.
Bel nodded significantly at Tetra.
“This is all King Harcourt’s fault,” the Vulcan said. “If he hadn’t held us illegally, the Klingon would have taken what he wanted elsewhere, without endangering innocent Llannonnite children.”
“That’s right,” said Bel. “That darned old king. If I were a young radical instead of an old Starfleet trooper, I’d get hold of him and force him to make up for this, you just bet I would.”
“I know how I’d do it, too,” said Tetra. “If I had him here, I know just what I’d do. You bet.”
Bel shook hands with Pel Darzin, Mother Hoyden, and the thoughtful-looking radical teen. Victoria Lovehardt embraced a disgusted Bel with grateful tears. The old gypsy crone shook her head sadly.
“Peace go with you,” said Tetra.
“And stay with you,” said Bel.
King Harcourt paced the throne room in the extremity of agitation. He fairly leapt when the door opened and Deveril ushered in Bel Schuster.
“Where’s the other one?” Mudd demanded. “The redhead?”
“This is the only one we could find, Your Majesty,” said Deveril.
“I heard all about the Klingon,” Bel said. “You’d better let him know you’re sending me right out.”
“He doesn’t want you,” Harry snarled. “He wants Victoria Lovehardt, the Vice-President’s daughter. You aren’t the Vice-President’s daughter.” He looked at her with the contempt a liar deserves.
“I told you I wasn’t the Vice-President’s daughter. We all told you I wasn’t.”
“But you made me believe you were. You told the truth as if you were lying, so I wouldn’t believe you.”
“Hire a lawyer,” Bel said. “Sue me.”
Harry grinned maliciously. “I won’t have to,” he said. “I will send you out to the Klingon. He’s bound to discover your deception and–“
“I hope he doesn’t discover it until the children are safe,” said Bel, herself not without malice. “I don’t know if twenty-five little lives would burden your conscience any, but the odds are good you’re considered the responsible party in this deal.”
“He is,” said Deveril.
“Accountable for those lives.”
“Liable to chastisement in the event of their loss.”
“Long and lingering chastisement. We happen to have an expert in residence, sentenced to life here for being too zealous and creative.”
Harry’s malicious look dissolved.
“And, of course,” Bel said, “we have no guarantee Captain Killah won’t just kill the children anyway, once he has me. In which case, you’re still the responsible party.”
“My God!” Harry said, feelingly. “Schuster…. What have you done to me this time? Whether I give you up or don’t give you up, the kids are doomed, and so am I.”
“Allow me to point out that I’m hardly sitting pretty,” said Bel. “Of course, there’s the merest chance…. A thread of a hope, really…. But you’d never be willing to try it. You’d be scared.”
“I’m scared now.” Harry sopped the perspiration off his face and neck with a large embroidered handkerchief. “I’ll tell you what, girl: whatever else you may be, you’re the shiftiest bit of jail-bait it’s ever been my misfortune to cross. Tell me your plan. I’ll do my part, and God help the Klingon.”
Captain Killah was gratified to hear that the Vice-President’s daughter had been located and would be sent out to him before the deadline for finding her. It was just as he had been taught in his youth, at dear old Kamp Ironhand Leadership Training Kompound: motivate people properly and they’ll always deliver.
Soon a lone war canoe came slowly from behind a rock baffle and approached the ship. Its passengers were a proud-looking red-haired Terran female in a get-up so ghastly it had to be fashionable and a dumpy Llannonnite man in a striped shirt and spectacles. Bel in a red wig and the faithful Smee, a dagger to Bel’s throat.
Smee introduced himself when they were aboard. “His Majesty sent me along to guard her for you,” he said, “to save your men the trouble.”
“His Majesty is very gracious,” said Captain Killah. Motivation was wonderful. “But perhaps Ms. Lovehardt will prove such measures unnecessary.”
Bel made a face of disgust. “Murderous, barbarous, louse-ridden Klingon drek,” she replied.
“She’s made all manner of measures necessary so far,” Smee said.
“Stinky pirate,” said Bel.
“I’d lock her up somewhere if I were you,” said Smee. “I’d lock her in the hold with the brats. Serve her right.”
Captain Killah grinned, gave the order, and the deed was done.
Harry Mudd scuttered down the dim palace hallway. The radical teen stepped out of a shadow.
“Your Majesty,” she said, with a glittering smile. “Well met.” She displayed her stiletto.
“What the devil is the meaning of this?” Harry demanded. “By heaven, I’ve had just about enough.”
“Heroine Bel Schuster and twenty-five innocent children are in jeopardy because of you.”
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m purple with remorse. What do you want?”
“I live in a penal colony now,” Harry pointed out. “What more could I do?”
“Come with me. Tetra the Vulcan has a suggestion, I believe.”
“Tetra?” Oh, Lord, thought Harry. Let a Vulcan get into the act and you’re done for. He took another look at the girl’s stiletto and gave himself up to his fate.
Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy were in the Grand Council’s Communications Chamber bright and early to hear Pel Darzin’s daily report. The appointed time passed, and the report didn’t come.
Repair persons fooled with the equipment and pronounced it in working order.
Pel Darzin was signaled in vain.
“I knew it,” Kirk whispered tensely. “I knew it.”
“Call the village of Trann,” a Councilmember suggested. “That was where they were scheduled to spend the night.”
Trann was raised, but would say no more than that the Grayline had not arrived. Trann was, in fact, suspiciously terse.
“Now, this is queer,” said a member of the Council.
Another member, a representative of the Wandering Tribe sociotype, had some familiarity with the area around the Island of Lost Fortunes. “The island only communicates by heliograph,” she said, “but we could try Lookout Lighthouse.”
The lighthouse was raised but, having been warned by Trann, replied curtly.
“I can’t say I like the looks of this,” said the head of the Grand Council. “Captain, perhaps you had better try to call your personnel.”
Kirk had his communicator out and flipped by the end of the Councilman’s sentence. He called, but received no reply. “With the Grand Council’s permission,” he said, “I’d like to contact my ship. They can scan for my people’s communicators.”
It was a relief to call someone and get a full answer. Mr. Scott’s fiery Northern blood was stirred by the tour group’s possible danger, and he offered to beam to any point occupied by any communicator, if one were located.
Kirk denied permission and ordered an immediate scan of Deep Water Province.
“Captain,” Scotty reported, “we’ve located all four of the communicators. Three of them are together; the fourth is moving away from them.”
Some form of fat is in some type of fire, Kirk thought. Three are in confinement and one is searching for help; or three are where they ought to be, though incommunicado, and one is off wild. Other possibilities suggested themselves, more or less lurid than those mentioned.
Mr. Scott interrupted this visioning. “Captain, the one moving away is sending out signals.”
“Widely spaced impulses. No pattern as yet.”
“It could be a simple malfunction. Keep scanning and record. Feed directly into the computer and report if a pattern does form.”
The human flotsam monitoring area communications aboard the Kutt-throte gleefully reported to Captain Killah the frustrated inquiries of the Grand Council. He knew nothing, of course, of the captain’s call to the Enterprise, or of the scan. The widely spaced impulses, which seemed to be coming from aboard the Kutt-throte herself, he took to be common glitzes and ignored.
More fool, he.
Harry Mudd had not even ventured to guess where the radical-eyed young female was taking him. He had accompanied her — and her pocket pinker — into a dusty room, had tied a blindfold around his own eyes, and had suffered himself to be led through what seemed to be deserted corridors and secret passages.
The girl had mentioned Tetra, so seeing the Vulcan in the cavern in which Harry found himself was no surprise. He had formed dark suspicions of Mother Hoyden, so she was no surprise, either.
But Deveril — his own pirate lieutenant!
“Deveril!” Harry exclaimed. “You, with these…usurpers. This hurts, by God, it does.”
“I’m sorry,” said Deveril. “But you were overstepping your authority as a reigning monarch. You can’t lock people up to please yourself.”
“I think you might have told me that, instead of going to such lengths–“
“Time’s a-wastin’,” said the old gypsy crone, who was known as Old Nan. “Be us a-goin’ to jabber all th’ day, or be us a-goin’ t’ do summat? Old Nan craves action, she does. Strike ’em! Th’ remorseless Klingon and his filthy lot o’ snatchers an’ hurters! Strike ’em!”
New fire kindled in the eyes of the piratical revolutionaries at the old woman’s words.
Harry spoke to Tetra, as one voice of reason to another. “I don’t know what this ‘suggestion’ of yours is, but I’m in the process — or was — of carrying out a suggestion of Bel Schuster’s. Perhaps I’d better be let to get on with it. It’s her skin as well as mine that’s at stake.”
“You’re helping the Heroine?” Mother Hoyden asked. “He’s helping! The king is atoning already!”
“He told me he was purple with remorse,” the teen recalled.
Harry was heartily congratulated and invited to share Bel’s plan.
Mudd sighed deeply and rolled his eyes toward heaven. “It’s an asylum,” he muttered.
He took a large pouch from his belt and gave it to Tetra, who looked inside.
“Our communicators,” she said. “And our phasers. But one communicator and two phasers are missing.”
“Smee and Bel smuggled ’em aboard the Kutt-throte,” Mudd said. “If bad comes to worse, they intend to get to the kids and hold off the Klingon’s crew while Schuster calls the Enterprise.”
“Logically, that would be a last resort,” said Tetra. “If Captain Killah can detect communications, he might move too swiftly for the Enterprise to be of assistance. She might be out of range, for example, or screened by atmospheric interference.”
Mudd nodded. “So, she persuaded me my best interest was in taking this equipment to Tunk Maarl at the Home Office. He’ll get them to Spock and Sulu aboard the Stick-em-Up. After the children are released, the Stick-em-Up will attack the Kutt-throte and call for help from the Enterprise. Smee and Schuster can protect themselves better than they can a pack of bra — young people, so that would be a better plan. And, if it looks as if the children are not going to be released after all, Schuster will call the Stick-em-Up to attack immediately. There would be nothing to lose, then.”
“An acceptable secondary plan,” said Tetra. “Ensign Schuster was confident you would accept participation in Plan B in a bid to save yourself — even if you had not repented, of course. If you had chosen not to participate, there would have been Plan C. Plan A, however, involves you much more intimately, and the Ensign was loathe to present it to you for fear that you would reject not only Plan A, but Plans B and C as well. Thanks to the zeal of our young friend, however…,” the radical teen glowed with modest pride, “…we are in a position to…,” Tetra fingered a phaser, “…perhaps ‘insist’ is not too strong a word.”
“Don’t tell me,” said Harry, and his voice was as thick and heavy as over-ripe buttermilk. “Plan A is audacious. It is neck-or-nothing. It involves an act so foolhardy as to defy credulity, and its impossible stupidity is supposed to be the very reason it will work. Right?”
“That’s the legend,” said Tetra.
“I’m not going to like it, am I?”
“No, Harry, you’re not. But you’re going to do it.”
Mudd tried to look beseeching but found himself faced with Vulcan implacability. His spirit, which often had been down but never defeated, shifted into its reckless mode. “It’s been too damn tame around here, anyway,” he said.
Mr. Spock and Mr. Sulu, their feet bare and their trousers rolled up above their knees, were swabbing the deck along with the rest of the housekeeping crew. The other jack-tars sang a robust sea chanty; Sulu sang with them. Even Mr. Spock, overcome by the fresh salt air, hummed subvocally.
A voice from the crow’s nest shouted, “Kronk ahoy!”
There was a stir among the pirates. Captain Bly and Yecca Pring, the first mate, came from the mess, their napkins still tucked under their chins.
Mr. Spock and Mr. Sulu, being on the side of the ship toward which the lookout was pointing, strained their eyes.
First they saw nothing, then a sort of jet of foam, then a bluish-gray object preceding the foam.
“What is it, Mr. Spock?” Mr. Sulu whispered.
“I believe the lookout referred to it as a ‘kronk,’ Mr. Sulu,” Spock said, maddeningly.
No one seemed alarmed, so Mr. Sulu assured himself that a kronk was not a menace. Still, he felt an air of uncertain anticipation.
The object, closer, seemed to be shaped like a torpedo. It skimmed the water. A circular opening in the bottom of its “face” took in water, which another opening in its tail jetted. It came closer; filmy, translucent wings unfolded and caught the wind of the kronk’s passage. A hundred yards from the ship the kronk left the water and glided to a circling, fluttering landing on the afterdeck facing Spock and Sulu.
The kronk’s face above the intake aperture was somehow benign. It had four black-button eyes, covered with a hard transparent membrane, set in a semi-circle around the upper half of the face. The center was taken by a streamlined, pointed beak. The creature seemed to be wearing a backpack.
The kronk refolded its wings into the gentle cavities which compensated for their bulk. From two other such cavities on each side descended powerful, rod-like legs ending in what looked like large bird feet. The kronk raised itself and stood, looking vaguely stupid, surrounded by sailors.
“Hello,” it said harshly. “I’m a pretty one, I’m a pretty one. Ahoy the ship!”
Captain Bly gave the kronk a piece of toast and stroked its head. “Password Swordfish,” she said, unfastening the backpack. “Report.”
The kronk made a gurgling sound. Then, in the voice of Tunk Maarl, it greeted the captain, gave her the details of Plans A, B, and C, and several alternate sets of orders.
All the pirates seemed highly enthusiastic about the rescue mission. Captain Bly and Yecca Pring clapped each other on the shoulder and laughed with delight.
Mr. Spock and Mr. Sulu were less positive about messing with a Klingon, but were in no position to quibble.
“Orders received and accepted,” Captain Bly told the kronk.
The kronk gurgled again and said, in Captain Bly’s voice, “Orders received and accepted.”
“Dismissed,” said Captain Bly.
The kronk gurgled a third time, hop-flapping its way onto the ship’s rail, and rasped, “Dismissed! Dismissed! Walter’s a pretty boy! Walter’s a pretty boy!” Walter cast himself from the rail, tucking away his legs. He plunged into the water, surfacing about one hundred fifty yards out, his water propulsion taking him out of sight in moments.
“This isn’t happening,” said Sulu.
“Self-delusion is illogical and without constructive purpose,” said Mr. Spock, and went back to swabbing the deck.
Mr. Scott swore a mighty Gaelic oath and signaled the captain without even sitting down.
“What is it, Scotty?”
“Captain, the computer has perceived a pattern to those communicator signals. It took a while because they’re so widely spaced, but the computer postulates they’re Morse Code. SOS, Captain, over and over again.”
“Probably spaced as they are to lessen the possibility of detection by…whom?”
“I may be speaking out of turn,” said Scott, “but I seem to recall your mentioning Klingons on Llannonn.”
“Yes, but…. Over and out, Mr. Scott.” Captain Kirk snapped his communicator shut and turned to the head of the Grand Council. “May I ask what is the status on those Klingons your police were monitoring?”
The Grand Councilman pressed a small square on the council table and put the captain’s request to the policewoman who appeared on the wall viewscreen.
“All under surveillance,” she said. “The one in Deep Water Province is up to something nasty in Trann, but we can’t talk anybody into telling us what it is.”
The Grand Councilman turned to the captain. “Odd coincidence,” he said. “Do you suppose there could be a connec — Captain, are you ill?”
Kirk didn’t look quite well. Schuster was a magnet. He should have known. He should have sent her out alone, and maybe all the base elements on Llannonn would have followed her, like rats after a Piper. “I’m sure there’s a connection,” Kirk said. “Request permission to go to Trann. Perhaps…I can uncover something.”
“Permission granted. Take a few policemen with you and rendezvous with the detective already in Trann.”
The policewoman on the viewscreen nodded. “I’ll meet you at Council Chambers,” she said.
“We’re lost!” cried Smee, as the pirate ship sailed with terrifying swiftness from behind a concealing island and made for the Kutt-throte.
“What do you mean?” asked Captain Killah. “Your stupid king has sent a ship to interfere with me. The mothers of Trann will weep loudly tonight.”
“That isn’t one of ours!” Smee wailed convincingly. “See the name? That’s the Stand And Deliver. She’s a…,” Smee whispered the word, “…renegade. Mudd the Merciless is her captain. Our lives are forfeit! Oh, who will feed my little bird when I am gone?”
The crew murmured with the panic of a load of cowards when their bluff is called.
“I didn’t bargain for this,” one low-life said plainly, and the agreement of the rest was clear.
The Klingon looked Satanically dangerous. “Are you men,” he asked, “or vermin?” It was a silly question. “Would you turn tail at the first hint of a fight? Are you fit for nothing but locking doors behind children?”
“That’s all we agreed to do,” said another piece of trash. “I don’t want to forfeit my life.”
“Neither do I,” said another.
“Scum!” the Klingon spat. “What do you propose to do about it? If our lives are forfeit, we can at least sell them dearly.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t suggest a fight,” said Smee. “Mudd the Merciless and his crew are the bloodthirstiest monsters on Llannonn. You’d only make them angry. You might be able to buy them off, though.”
“They can have my pay for this caper.”
“They’re welcome to mine.”
So it went.
“That’s a start,” said Smee. “But I really think Mudd might insist on half the ransom for the Vice-President’s daughter.”
“There will be no ransom,” said the Klingon. “No currency is involved. My terms for the female’s safety are of more import than mere financial enrichment.”
Smee shrugged. “Whatever,” he said.
“Give him what he wants!” a wharf-rat cried. “He’s almost here!”
Indeed, the Stand And Deliver was about to pull alongside. The rigging swarmed with leering pirates, their pinkers and deck-sweeps at the ready. On the bridge stood Mudd in his blousy white shirt and black trousers, his thigh-high boots gleaming, his gold earring glinting in the sun. His stance and manner were those of a man who glories in doing the dirt; even his moustache looked formidable. Harry was in his element. Beside him, the more physically imposing Hansim Deveril looked like a spring lamb.
Harry Mudd, once all possibility of retreat had been eliminated, had come into a fever of devil-take-the-hindmost.
Tetra, disguised as a bloodthirsty pirate, a bright handkerchief holding her hair over her ear-tips and eyebrows, observed him with objective interest. Mudd had one of the most flamboyant fight/flight responses she had ever encountered.
Given the chance, Harry would have streaked away like a lizard to its hole, leaving behind its tail with no regret. Forced to take a stand, Mudd displayed a panache, a bravura, that might have been amusing and even a trifle touching to another human.
Tetra thought she might write up a case history for the Horsehead Nebula Journal of Criminal Psychology and Sociology, to which she occasionally contributed.
“Stand by to be boarded!” Mudd bellowed.
The Stand And Deliver erupted with grappling hooks. The pirates looked positively demonic as they pulled the ships to a close. Such is the advantage of advance publicity.
Now, Klingons are fierce and proud; they are not stupid. “Welcome them aboard,” the captain said. “Make them feel comfortable. On my order, we’ll kill the crew and capture the captain. We can keep what’s ours and force this Mudd person to take us to his treasure hoard. Is it a plan, men?”
The cowardly underhanded filth of the docks smiled and nudged each other’s ribs.
“Now that’s a captain who is a captain,” said one, approvingly.
Harry roared orders and followed the first wave of pirates across the rails, pinker drawn, eyes glowing, looking like the Devil’s wicked uncle.
The Klingon’s crew put up no struggle. The pirates overran the Kutt-throte, searching for hidden pockets of resistance, but found none. Captain Killah stood at ease, showing neither fear nor hostility.
Harry grasped Smee by the neckerchief and demanded he take him to his captain. Smee pointed to Captain Killah.
“Say your prayers,” Harry shouted to the Klingon, “or make it worth my while to leave your innards where they are.”
“Violence is unnecessary,” said Killah, reasonably. “As you see, my men and I are giving you no difficulty. We have no quarrel with you; our aims are not incompatible.”
“What d’ye mean?”
“You desire loot, I assume.”
“Aye,” Harry leered, “among other things.”
“My men are on hire. They desire no more than their pay. As for myself….” The Klingon, aware of how badly Mudd the Merciless would take it if he learned the captain had held out on him, explained as much of his mission as any of his crew knew.
“A red-haired wench, eh?” Mudd said, with a lecherous grin. “Fetch her to me in the captain’s cabin,” he ordered Smee. “You show me the way,” he said to the captain. “And you,” he ordered Deveril, “come along to keep an eye on our new friend, here.”
Tetra accompanied Smee to the hold. Once below decks, she revealed her true identity. Smee warned her of Captain Killah’s treacherous plan.
“Spread the word to our people to be on guard,” said Tetra. “Ensign Schuster can warn King Harcourt. If I could get word to the Stick-em-Up without causing a stir….”
“There’s the communications cabin just there,” said Smee, pointing to a door to their left.
Tetra stopped. “I’ll see what I can do,” she said. “Give me your phaser. You take Ensign Schuster to the king and pass the warning to the Stand And Deliver crew. When I finish here, I’ll stand by the hold.”
Smee nodded. He gave Tetra his phaser and hurried on.
Tetra stashed the phaser and knocked at the communications cabin.
A greasy-looking crewman came to the door.
“Greetings from Mudd the Merciless,” said Tetra. “Take a break.”
“No can do,” said the crewman. “I take my orders from Captain Killah. Besides, my relief is due any minute now. But, uh…,” the greasy fellow looked the small but well-built bloodthirsty pirate over, “…if you’d like to keep me company for a while, you and my relief and me could take a little break together right here.”
Tetra stepped into the cabin, reached up and found that ever-popular pressure point.
The oily crewman took a break after all.
Smee released Bel from the hold and filled her in on Killah’s dastardly plot and Tetra’s response to it.
“It’s showtime,” Bel said. “Let’s make it good.”
The faithful Smee nodded. He took Bel’s elbow as they came on deck, seeming to force her along.
“Unhand me, you brute!” she cried. “I won’t be treated like this! Help! Help!”
A door opened onto the deck and Mudd the Merciless stepped out. “Is this the wench?” he asked.
“I refuse –“
“Hush, darlin’,” said Harry. He threw an arm around Bel’s waist and pulled her flat up against him. He put his other hand behind her head and kissed her a good one, right on the mouth.
Before Bel had gotten over the shock of that, Mudd swung her into the cabin. He held her to the kiss with one hand and gestured an unmistakable “get lost” with the other.
Killah and Deveril left, and closed the door.
Now all need for masquerade was over, but Mudd was never one to miss an opportunity. Bel had to pull her phaser from its garter holster and put it to Harry’s head before he would stop pressing his…er…advantage.
Bel straightened her wig, spat editorially into a handy cuspidor, and passed on Smee’s warning.
That gave His Majesty something else to think about. “Why that grinning, two-faced, double-crossing, underhanded — Whatever happened to honor among thieves?”
“You’re double-crossing him,” Bel said, in all fairness.
“Yes, but I’m being coerced,” Harry said virtuously. “That’s different. Well, we’ll give ’em a fight for their money. We have no choice; there’ll be no safe place aboard once the action starts. I’ll match my men and women against these derelicts any day. And we have two phasers, besides.”
“The phasers guard the children,” said Bel.
“One’ll be enough for that.”
“Now, see here: I’m as fond of children as the next man –“
“If the next man is Herod the Great. Tetra’s calling the Stick-em-Up now. Spock and Sulu have phasers. I have confidence you can hold the fort until they get here.”
A piercing shriek went through the atmosphere like a ball of St. Elmo’s fire.
“Now what?” said Mudd.
Bel re-stashed her phaser, Harry watching with a sigh, and they cautiously cracked open the door.
Victoria Lovehardt had refused to stay on the Island of Lost Fortunes without her companions. She had been left in the care of Mother Hoyden, but she had not been locked up. So, conquering her terror, she had disguised herself as a pirate lass and had slipped aboard the Stand And Deliver.
The ship had sailed, and Victoria found herself going from frightened to distracted to distinctly queasy. She had no thought to spare for externals, so understood nothing of what the ship was doing but that it had seemed to stabilize.
Ms. Lovehardt let herself out of her place of hiding and headed for the open deck.
She emerged, looking enticingly disheveled and interestingly pale, into a mixed cluster of pirates and yahoos.
One of the yahoos, a chauvinist, made a rather offensive remark. Victoria blushed. A female pirate objected to the foul fellow’s manner. He sneered at her and made a clutch at the Vice-President’s daughter.
Victoria turned to flee, causing the wharf-rat’s clutch to tear the sleeve of her pirate lass dress. She threw herself back against the bulkhead and screamed piercingly.
She became the focus of all eyes.
“What’s going on here?” demanded the Klingon.
“Nothing, Captain,” said the quick-witted Pel Darzin, also disguised as a bloodthirsty pirate. “One of your crew made a pass at one of our crew. No harm done.”
Victoria looked near fainting. Only an idiot would have believed her to be a real bloodthirsty pirate, and Killah was no idiot.
“Come here, girl,” he said. “I’ll protect you from my men.”
Victoria, dim as ever, did as she was told.
Hansim Deveril was still keeping close to Captain Killah. His eyes filled with tears as he saw the fair Victoria come from the relative safety of the Stand And Deliver onto the deck of the enemy ship. Did he see her as a pig-headed nincompoop, practically green from seasickness, going from where she had no business being to where she least should be in the universe? No, he saw her as a beautiful, brave, innocent angel, stepping into the midst of demons, armed only with loveliness and trust.
Some men are like that.
The Klingon had a crafty and suspicious look as he asked Victoria, “What’s your name, my dear?”
“She’ll tell him,” said Bel. “She hasn’t got the brains to lie. If Smee would move, I could pick her off with my phaser. I could kill her and spend the rest of my life hiding out in the sewers of Llannonn. It’d be worth it. Just one clear shot, that’s all I ask.”
“Stop babbling,” said Harry. “You got us all into this, Miss Big Shot Planetary Heroine. You get us out.” And he opened the door and chivied Bel to the forefront of the action.
Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy found themselves dead-ended in Trann. It was obvious everyone knew something, but no one was telling.
The Council City police were allowed to do nothing but ask their questions and then sit on the quay, in case somebody wanted to stop by with some answers.
The Terrans tried bribery, trickery, mild threats, pleading, and plying with liquor. Their results were as good as the police’s.
“We might as well give it up,” said Kirk. “But we can’t give it up. Something’s wrong, something’s happened to four members of my crew, and this village is part of it. I can’t just sit back and wait. I’ve got to do something.” The good captain paced restlessly, grinding his right fist into his left palm. “We’re overlooking something here,” he said. “Something obvious. Something vital. But what?”
McCoy shrugged helplessly. “We’ve questioned everybody in town,” he said, “man, woman, and ch –“
“What is it, Bones?”
“Children,” said the doctor. “We haven’t seen any children. Where are they?”
“Some, maybe, but they can’t all be of school age. Remember the day we were in Happy Lands Central City? It was practically overrun with urchins.”
“Yes,” said Kirk. “That’s it, Bones. That must be it. The Klingon has bought the village by holding their children hostage. But where?”
Kirk and McCoy had talked their way back to the quay.
“Nobody’s come to see us yet,” Officer Darlla reported. “But there’s another empty dock here that everyone’s as closemouthed about as they are about the Grayline’s disappearance.”
“So that’s it,” said the captain. “The final piece of the puzzle. The Klingon has the children of Trann aboard a ship, which Trann gave him in exchange for assurance of the children’s safety. He’s intercepted the Grayline and…and what? The Grayline should have docked yesterday. What –“
Kirk was interrupted by signals from his communicator and from Officer Darlla’s comm-device.
Council City informed Darlla of the existence and location of an unauthorized communication in the area.
Scotty reported the same, and that the three communicators which had been together had split one-and-two (call them A and B and C). A had joined the already separate one (D). B and C had moved together. Now B and C were moving together again, apparently towards A and D. It was A which had made the unauthorized call, and B which had received it. It was D which was sending the SOS.
“Should I try to make contact, Captain?” Scotty asked.
Kirk longed for Mr. Spock’s advice. It seemed logical to contact B, who had already been contacted by A. On the other hand, was it safe to assume A had been wise in calling B? Might not A have exposed B, and C as well, to danger with that call? Perhaps A was the one to contact; he or she was apparently in a position to communicate freely. But that position might have been momentary.
“Captain, are ye still there?”
“Yes, Scotty, I’m still here.”
“What shall I do, Captain? Standing by for orders.”
The captain made his decision.
Spock and Sulu tried vainly to explain situation ethics to the Llannonnite pirates.
“If it’s wrong, it’s wrong,” said the captain. “How can we try to wound and kill these people and call it right, just because they’ll be trying to wound and kill us?”
“Do you want to die?” Sulu asked. “Do you want the children to die?”
“Certainly not,” said Yecca Pring, the first mate. “That would be stupid. But –“
Spock’s communicator beeped. He flipped it open. “Spock here.”
“Mr. Spock, Lieutenant Tetra,” said the lieutenant, this being the call she had made from the communications cabin. She gave the Kutt-throte’s position and the progress of the plan. She passed on Smee’s Warning and urged speed.
“If you are in control of their ship’s communications,” said Mr. Spock, “I suggest you take the opportunity to contact the Enterprise.”
“Negative,” said the lieutenant. “This fellow’s relief is due. It is imperative that I remain at liberty to stand guard over the hostage children.”
“Affirmative,” said Mr. Spock. “We are making all possible speed.”
Contact was broken.
“Do you see?” Sulu demanded. “Did you hear what the Klingon plans to do to your king and his crew? Do you see the kind of people we’re up against here?”
Captain Bly looked grim. “I see,” she said. “But I stand firm. Your ‘phasers’ remain in my cabin.”
“I have spoken,” said the captain.
So Mr. Spock and Mr. Sulu joined the rest of the crew in pinker drill and deck-sweep maneuvers.
“Your name, child,” asked the Klingon kindly.
“Victoria Lovehardt,” said the genuine redhead.
“Oh, you little liar!” said Bel. “You make me sick. You think just because you have hair like mine you can give yourself airs and impress people. You’re so stupid.”
“If she is not Vincent Lovehardt’s daughter,” said Killah, in the manner of a serpent preparing to strike, “who is she? Pirates don’t scream when pawed. Pirates punish such offenses out-of-hand.”
“She’s not a pirate, either,” said Bel. “She’s my maid. She was, I mean; I’m firing her as of now. You’re fired,” she told Ms. Lovehardt.
“But, I…,” said Victoria.
“Never mind,” said Deveril. “I’ll see that you get another job. One with a better employer than she is, too.”
“She thinks she’s so big,” said Pel Darzin, leading Victoria off-center.
The Klingon seemed mollified, and then Ensign Schuster’s hair began to beep. Kirk had made his decision.
Killah grabbed the wig and snatched it off. Communicator D fell to the deck. Killah ground it beneath his heel. “Now, men!” he roared. “Kill everyone but the redhead.”
Bel dropped and rolled, and came up with phaser drawn. She shoved it at Darzin. “Get the wimp below,” she said. “Meet Tetra at the hold.”
“Right,” said Darzin. He hustled Victoria away.
Pinkers and deck-sweeps seemed to appear from nowhere. With shouts from the pirates and oaths from the dock-sweepings, the battle was engaged.
The Klingon and his crew fought to kill. It was terrible to see the Llannonnites hurt and bleeding in the first heat of the fight. There were no fatalities as yet, though, thanks to the pirates’ superior skills at fighting and dodging.
Bel and Harry had no scruples about fighting according to Llannonninn ethics; they laid about right and left, both of them inspired more by terror than by bloodlust.
Old Nan and the radical teen appeared on the deck of the Stand And Deliver. The teen was doing close-in work with her pocket pinker. Hansim Deveril fought his way to their side. Old Nan began tending the wounded under the two’s protection.
The fight was being carried by the Klingon’s crew. Unhampered by any considerations of style or rules of war, they carved brutally into the pirates. Llannonnites grouped with their backs to each other, standing over fallen comrades to keep Killah’s filth from slaughtering the helpless.
The noise was such that no one heard the lookout’s cries, nor the sounds of the approaching ship. Before the Kutt-throte’s crew knew what was happening, the Stick-em-Up had grappled and closed.
A fresh lot of Deep Water pirates swarmed over the decks. A lot of them went down immediately.
Spock, his lightning-quick Vulcan brain deducing that secrecy was no longer of the essence, flipped open his communicator. A deck-sweep knocked it from his hand and over the rail.
Mr. Sulu, his blousy shirt in tatters, was becoming the terror of the Kutt-throte. The unskilled scum of the universe tried to bear him down with numbers, but fell over themselves trying to avoid his practiced thrusts. Body sweating, eyes glinting, mouth set in a rigor of fierce delight, Sulu brought a Samurai elevation to pirating that couldn’t be beat. Cornered or victorious, he was seen several times to add a Western touch by grabbing a rope and, with a barbarous cry, swinging to another knot of battle.
Mr. Spock acquitted himself well, too. There was something about deck-sweep work which seemed to inspire him to a positive frenzy.
Below, while Victoria Lovehardt cowered and screamed till Darzin was obliged to lock her in the hold, the policeman and the female Vulcan held their own. Darzin fired uncertain but effective bursts from his new weapon. The ambidextrous Lieutenant Tetra took her toll with a phaser in her left hand, a pinker in her right.
Still, despite the Feds’ ferocity, the ranks of unharmed pirates dwindled.
“They’re winning!” Harry cried. “My God, pirates fighting by rules — the Klingon’s winning! We’re done for!”
“What we need,” said Bel, “is a deus ex machina.”
No sooner said, than phaser fire began lancing across the Kutt-throte’s deck. Six, then twelve, then eighteen, twenty-four phasers dropped mercenaries like nasty dirty flies.
Captain Kirk, Doctor McCoy, Officer Darlla and a squad of quickly-trained Council City police deployed throughout the three ships.
The decks and bowels of the ships were soon littered with incapacitated bums. The police gathered them up, with the placid aid of the ones who had been pinked. Captain Killah himself was one of these; he had been pinked from behind, and was coked to the gills with subcutaneous placator.
Soon all the filth was swept and locked into the hold of the Kutt-throte and the liberated children were being fed treats in the galley by Officer Darlla.
Doctor McCoy dispensed his way toward Old Nan and her protectors. He followed the trail of Old Nan’s progress by the stringy brown bandages she had bound around all wounds. Her patients were comfortable, alert, and recovered quickly in strength.
Captain Kirk looked for his crewpeople. Spock was rigid against a bulkhead, clutching his deck-sweep, eyes closed, obviously trying to Vulcanize some hormone or something out of his system. Lieutenant Sulu was wiping blood off the tip of his pinker onto a shred of his shirt. He still appeared somewhat flushed. Ensign Schuster, bedraggled, bruised, and bloody, made an effort to rise and salute, but fell back on her rump. Kirk could have sworn she was slumped in company with Harcourt Fenton Mudd, but dismissed the impression as battle-fever.
Lieutenant Tetra stepped on deck, her disguise as crisp and orderly as a uniform. “Lieutenant Tetra reporting, sir,” she said.
“…So,” Lieutenant Tetra finished, “when I heard the Klingon shout his order to attack, I contacted you.”
“And I got permission from the Grand Council to transport here with weapons, though they insisted on risking Llannonnite troops rather than ours.”
“A considerate race,” said Tetra. “Perhaps too civilized to join the Federation in perfect safety.”
“You may have a point, Lieutenant.”
Officer Darlla, Pel Darzin, and the Council City police sailed the Kutt-throte back to Trann. Captain Kirk was advised not to ask after the fate of the Klingon and his crew, and this advice he took.
Harry Mudd returned, with his ships and crews, to a hero’s welcome on the Island of Lost Fortunes. He abdicated his throne in favor of Hansim Deveril and went to captaining a liberation ship. He found it much quieter work, on the whole.
Victoria Lovehardt sent her fond affection to her father and invited him to visit picturesque Deep Water Province, where she was soon to become the Queen of the Pirates by marriage.
Kirk, McCoy, Spock, Sulu, Tetra, and Bel transported to the Grand Council’s reception building. They were cleaned, bandaged, and fed, then were summoned to an informal ceremony of tribute in the Council Chamber.
Vincent Lovehardt was there, beaming with the pride of a Vice-President whose spoiled daughter is going to be a queen. He shook hands warmly with the Terrans and bowed graciously to the Vulcans. “What’s more,” he said, “the Grand Council signed the trade agreement. These double-headed widgets they make here are unique in design and a…just a tremendous boon to industry. The Klingons were wild to corner the market on them. This puts us parsecs ahead of them in tool-and-die alone.”
“Widgets?” said Bel. “We did this for widgets? I got kissed on the lips by Harry Mudd for widgets?”
Captain Kirk inserted himself between the Vice-President and the trembling ensign.
“The Grand Council,” said the Council Head, “wishes to thank you on behalf of the people of Llannonn. As it was by our invitation the trade agreement was proposed, it would be unfair of us to point out that this entire episode was the result of offworld presence. The crisis would not have existed in your absence and, therefore, would not have required your assistance to correct. However, we asked for trouble, we got it, and you got us out of it. Thank you. After all, we have to do business with somebody, and the Federation seems a better partner than the Klingon Empire.”
Not exactly an encomium, Tetra thought.
“Through no personal fault,” the Head of the Grand Council went on, “you found yourselves embroiled in a plot which threatened the lives of twenty-five Llannonninn children. You made yourselves responsible for those lives and were prepared to defend them with your own. In fact, you delivered them to safety. For this, Llannonn owes you her gratitude.”
That was more like it.
“You may, on behalf of the Federation, have your choice of rewards. Deep Water Province has offered to make a trade agreement with you. Or, you may have extended shore leave privileges for your starships. The choice is yours.”
Sulu had regaled the captain with a long and colorful description of the “treasures” gathered in the king’s throne room, the finest goods Deep Water Province had to offer.
Kirk opened his mouth to request extended shore leave privileges. An elbow in his ribs stopped him.
“Trade agreement,” Bel hissed.
“Trade agreement. Trust me.”
McCoy nodded. “Trade agreement,” he said.
“Trade agreement,” Kirk said. “Er…that is, on behalf of the United Federation of Planets, I would be proud to sign a trade agreement with Deep Water Province.”
“Why?” Kirk asked. He and his fellow adventurers were aboard the Enterprise, in Conference Room B, making detailed reports. “What does the Federation need with hats made of woven palm leaves?”
“Jim,” said McCoy, “there’s a kind of kelp that grows in the harbors of Deep Water Province. I saw an old woman treating the wounded with it after the battle. It has the most amazing curative properties.”
“She told me all about it,” said Bel. “She told me all about almost everything. If that kelp isn’t the Universal Panacea, it’ll do until the Universal Panacea comes along.”
Spock, impressed, raised one eyebrow an eighth of an inch.
“Deep Water Province also has a species of mollusk,” Bel continued, “so prolific they’re considered pests. The shells are beautiful, the flesh is succulent, and they form a crystalline concretion the way an oyster forms pearls. I have one here.” She handed it to the captain.
“It looks like a diamond.”
“It might as well be,” said Bel.
“Industrial quality, I would say,” said Lieutenant Tetra.
“It would appear,” said Spock, “that a trade agreement with Deep Water Province is ample reward, indeed.”
“Yes,” said the captain. “Thank you, Ensign Schuster, for your…er…advice. I’m beginning to think Mr. Spock was right about you.”
“Mr. Spock had a suggestion for the advancement of your career. I had doubted its advisability, but….”
Bel hadn’t liked it at first. She hated it, now.
Diplomatic Training School was the most screeching bore. The dormitory was co-ed, but housed no one of any sort of personal interest to the ensign — pardon me — the lieutenant.
Still, it could be borne. It offered some scope. One could, if one were determined, gather a great deal of consolation.
Bel put out a sealed deck of cards. Some of the boys and girls were dropping by for Bel’s weekly floating Fizbin game.
As she sorted chips, Bel gazed upon the sampler the mothers of Trann had made her, and smiled. It was the motto of the Deep Water Province Wandering Tribe, and Bel’s inspiration in times like these.
“Never Give A Sucker An Even Break,” it read, “Or Smarten Up A Chump.”
Someone knocked in code.