Star Trek: The Original Series: Crisis of Consciousness
Captain’s log, Stardate 3458.2.
Enterprise has arrived at Deep Space 5. We are ferrying home a delegation from the planet Maaba S’Ja. A xenophobic culture, the Maabas leaders have taken a political risk in signing this accord, which would open up trade with and offer protection to their world. Given the sensitive partisan atmosphere the Maabas president is dealing with, Starfleet Command felt that the “red carpet treatment” for the ambassador and his party was needed. Enterprise was the closest ship, and we have been tasked with the duty.
When Captain James T. Kirk entered the transporter room, he found his first officer and chief medical officer already waiting. As usual, Dr. McCoy looked uncomfortable in his dress uniform, and Commander Spock only looked a bit more formal than when in his duty tunic.
“Fifteen minutes, Bones,” Kirk told the doctor. “An hour at the most.”
Tugging at his collar, McCoy frowned. “That’s an hour too long.”
“Of course,” the captain said, “you’ll have to put it back on for dinner.”
“Why bother eating if this thing won’t let me swallow?”
“I have the coordinates, sir,” the transporter chief said as he worked the console.
Kirk nodded. “Thank you, Mister Kyle.” Turning a bit toward McCoy, the captain allowed himself a slight smirk at the doctor’s predicament. “I’d suggest a good tailor, but I think you like to complain.”
“Well,” McCoy said, “I’m not sure I have to stand here and be insulted.”
“Actually, you do.” Kirk motioned to Kyle. “Energize.”
Humming to life, the transporter chamber brightened as six columns of sparkle manifested, swirled, and then solidified into humanoid forms.
“Ambassador Pippenge, welcome aboard. I’m Captain James T. Kirk.” He stepped toward the platform, his arm outstretched for the Maabas greeting. He had spent the previous evening with the Enterprise’s archaeology and anthropology officer, Carolyn Palamas, taking a cram course in the Maabas’s culture.
The ambassador descended toward Kirk, taking the captain’s right elbow in his left palm. Then, unexpectedly, Pippenge held out his right hand. “Allow me to greet you in the Terran manner, Captain.”
Kirk took the tall man’s hand and shook it. It was an overly firm handshake; Kirk wondered which of the Federation politicians had taught it to him.
“My chief medical officer, Lieutenant Commander Leonard McCoy, and my first officer and science officer, Commander Spock.” Kirk motioned to each in turn as the delegation descended from the transporter platform.
With great warmth, Pippenge reached for Dr. McCoy’s hand and shook it happily. He then turned toward Spock. With some difficulty, the ambassador presented his best representation of a Vulcan salute. Having three fingers and two thumbs made it an interesting and somewhat awkward approximation. “Live long and prosper, Commander Spock.” The words were in heavily accented Vulcan, without assistance of the universal translator. Clearly Pippenge was looking to impress his hosts.
Fingers splayed, Spock raised his hand in response. “Peace and long life, Ambassador.”
Pippenge chittered, a sound which seemed like an expression of delight. “You recognized the greeting. I am overjoyed. I practiced all night.”
“You honor us.” Spock nodded in respect.
“My compatriots.” The ambassador gestured with both hands to include the delegation behind him. “My assistant, Tainler. Attendants Nedash and Skent, and their adjutants Brintle and Ortov.”
Kirk nodded pleasantly to all, but knew he was unlikely to remember most of the names. He trusted Spock could be called on to supply them, if the need arose.
Despite being easily ten centimeters taller than the Vulcan, Pippenge was anything but imposing. His thick black hair, streaked with bars of white in what seemed to be a stylistic choice, perhaps belied his age. Telling the years of an alien was often difficult for the captain, and he tended to ask, if culturally appropriate.
“We’re pleased to welcome you aboard the Enterprise.”
The rest of the Maabas party were not tall. Like most races, they came in all shapes and sizes, and several different color variations. Pippenge was a pale pinkish hue. His assistant, Tainler, was a more ruddy color. The others were different shades. One trait they shared were thin noses and deep-set eyes which made the bridges of their noses even more pronounced.
“We’ve arranged quarters for the journey,” the captain said, motioning them toward the doorway. “But I hope you will all join me for dinner this evening, so we can become acquainted.”
Bowing slightly, Pippenge pursed his lips. “We shall be delighted, Captain.”
WHEN THE CABIN door chime rang, Lieutenant Carolyn Palamas was too busy to answer. She had no time for interruptions, but when the buzzer rang again she finally responded with an exasperated “Come in!”
Nyota Uhura, already in her dress uniform, entered as the door slid open for her. “Shouldn’t you be expecting me?” she said. “You asked me to stop by.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Lieutenant. I just can’t find my dress boots.” She looked again in the closet she’d just closed a second before, then she pulled open every drawer of the dresser.
Leaning on the wall next to the dresser, Uhura smiled. “Firstly, we’re off watch and Mister Spock isn’t in earshot, so you don’t need to call me by rank. Secondly, the difference between our dress and our duty boots would hardly be noticed by the captain, let alone the Maabas delegation.”
Reaching back into the bottom drawer, as if the boots would actually fit there, Palamas scoffed. “I would know.”
Uhura straightened and stepped fully into the room. “Well, they’re not going to be in there. Would you like me to help you look?” She glanced around the cabin. “Not that there’re that many places for a pair of boots to hide.”
“I’m being silly, aren’t I?” Standing, Palamas smoothed out her dress uniform, which also didn’t look too different from her standard one.
“A little.” Uhura smiled warmly. “I know you’re not really concerned about boots.”
Palamas smiled and shook her head. “I’ve been researching the Maabas for a week, but that’s not nearly long enough to give the captain everything he might need.”
“He doesn’t need everything,” Uhura assured her.
“They’re a fascinating people. Really they are. But I can’t remember it all. With more time, I’d have everything at hand.”
“When did the captain invite you?” Uhura asked.
“An hour ago,” she admitted. Turning to her computer, Palamas reviewed the screen. “Did you know they all have internal communication implants? Direct cortex interfaces.”
Coming to stand behind her, Uhura glanced over the material the A&A officer was studying: a mass of facts from technology to geography. “You’re overthinking it. Why would the captain want to know the length of the growing season on their most southern continent?”
“I don’t know. I told you, I didn’t have time to prepare good notes.”
Uhura smiled and took Palamas by the arms, turning her away from the screen. “Look, I’ve been to a lot of these. They’re a piece of cake.”
Palamas fretted, “I’d asked two days ago if I should attend . . . but he said it wasn’t necessary. Now—”
“Carolyn, deep breath,” Uhura said.
She straightened her uniform. “Now, he wants me there.”
“He thought better of it.” Uhura motioned toward the door. “Just fill in the cultural details he might need. You did all the research. It’ll come back to you as you need it.”
“I didn’t think he cared,” Palamas said. “I wasn’t even sure he’d read my report.”
Nodding, Uhura guided the other woman toward the doorway. “I’m sure he did. Well, at least he skimmed it. He’s the captain.”
“What if I cause an international incident? What if . . .”
“Stop, or I’m going to point out your boots to him.”
As the door to the corridor opened, Palamas turned back and begged, “Don’t you dare.”
WHEN KIRK ENTERED his private dining room, most of his senior officers and many of the Maabas dignitaries were already present. He recognized Tainler, Pippenge’s assistant, though the ambassador himself had yet to arrive. She and two others of her party were engaged in some discussion with Spock. Palamas and Uhura talked with Scotty, who was in his dress uniform replete with kilt.
Just as the doors closed behind him, they opened again and the captain turned to see Dr. McCoy enter.
Kirk greeted him with an already bemused expression. “Bones, glad you could make it.”
“I’m here,” the doctor said. “If you want me cheerful, I’ll need a drink.”
The captain shook his head. “Not tonight.”
“Oh? Why not?”
Hesitating a moment, Kirk knew there was a reason. He’d seen it in the report as a bullet point but couldn’t quite place the why. Turning slightly to his left, he called for one of the two people who would know. “Lieutenant Palamas.”
“Lieutenant,” McCoy said pleasantly. “Our new archaeology and anthropology officer.”
As she joined them, Palamas returned the doctor’s smile. “I’m qualified in xenoarchaeology and xenopology as well, Doctor.”
“Of course you are, my dear.” He bowed toward her apologetically, the ever-suave gentleman when a pretty woman was present.
“The good doctor is wondering why no spirits for tonight’s festivities.” Kirk smirked slightly, letting Palamas know he was having a bit of fun at McCoy’s expense.
“Oh, yes, sir.” She turned fully toward the doctor, her face now grim. “The Maabas value one’s mental capacity so much that—without law or statute—theirs is a dry planet, Doctor.”
“They don’t imbibe at all, any of them?”
“Not only that, but they’d be shocked that someone as learned and skilled as a physician would do so.” Palamas looked at McCoy with such earnest sincerity that the captain wondered if she was always such a quick study.
“Cross them off the list for my next shore leave,” McCoy muttered.
With a chuckle at the doctor and a nod to Palamas, Kirk sent her back toward the table just as the doors behind him opened again. Ambassador Pippenge and one of his attendants entered, and the ambassador greeted the captain and McCoy with a handshake. They were dressed ornately, with brightly colored robes that seemed to hang in a more formal arrangement than what they’d worn when they beamed aboard.
“I trust you found your quarters acceptable?” the captain asked.
Pippenge bowed pleasantly.
Kirk motioned them toward the table as he scanned the room and took a head-count, noticing the other Maabas were also dressed more formally. He liked that their formal attire was flamboyant. In many cultures the inclination was the opposite. “I believe we’re missing one of your party?”
Scanning the gathering himself, the ambassador made his own count. “Skent seems to be delayed. I’m sure he’ll be along.”
“We’ll be happy to wait,” Kirk said.
“Oh, please, do not. His tardiness shouldn’t put us all off schedule.”
“Very well.” The captain gestured toward the table, and they all took their seats. After brief toasts by both Kirk and Pippenge about the new relationship between the Maabas and the Federation, the first course was served.
The fare was a mixture of Terran, Vulcan, and Maabasian cuisine, and Kirk asked Lieutenant Palamas to explain the origin of each of the Federation dishes. To her credit, she was able to, and the ambassador was sufficiently impressed.
“The starbase provided the Enterprise with the . . . karfis, isn’t it?” she asked Pippenge. “Fields of it grow quickly, and you can get two harvests a year from them, if I remember correctly.”
“You do. You know a great deal about our planet,” he said admiringly. “Do you know where it’s grown?”
“Mostly in . . .” she hesitated searching her memory. “It’s a northern province, near a popular seaport.”
The ambassador chittered. “Correct! I am very impressed.”
With a bubble of quiet laughter, she demurred, but Kirk encouraged her with a nod. This was one of the reasons he’d decided to add Palamas to the dinner.
“The Maabas government has been generous with its hospitality,” Palamas said. “Previous diplomatic missions learned your history, enjoyed its cuisine. Food is an important part of culture, don’t you agree?”
Pippenge pursed his lips, and Palamas whispered to Kirk that this was the Maabas version of an affirming nod.
“There’ve been more than a few diplomatic missions, I understand,” the captain said. “Your government has been fairly cautious about signing the treaty. Until recently.”
“Yes,” the ambassador agreed. “My people have been generally suspicious of other species—bordering on the xenophobic.”
“Is that why you have no interstellar exploratory programs?” McCoy asked, taking a bite of his salad.
“Yes, Doctor.” Pippenge shuddered, which Palamas quietly told Kirk was akin to a sigh. “After many years of searching for a new homeworld, and being chased from dozens of inhabited systems, we were too weary to seek the stars once we found a home.”
“Understandable,” Spock said, “for war refugees.” The Vulcan never seemed to eat at these gatherings, and yet the captain knew his plate would be half empty when removed from the table.
“We try not to see ourselves that way. But there are our Days of Remembrance, and the Fast of Landing—when food stores waned before we were certain our new world’s flora was not poisonous to us—and so on. I suppose in our hearts we will always be refugees.”
“A shared experience,” Kirk said, looking for a bright side to the sad history, “binds a society together.”
His lips pursed again, Pippenge agreed. “Quite so. Quite so.” Uncomfortable with the awkward silence that followed, the ambassador waved his hand around to indicate the starship. “Your ship and her crew are a marvel, Captain.”
Kirk accepted the compliment modestly. “While your people’s efforts did not focus on space exploration, your science does exceed ours in many areas.”
“Nothing so elegant as this.”
“If I may, Ambassador, I’ve studied the records of Maabas technological successes.” Hands clasped on his lap, Spock looked both effortlessly comfortable and yet somehow formal. The first officer participated in ceremonial meals as precisely as he did everything else: with such measured care that it seemed effortless. His contribution was usually intense attention and the interesting observation. “Your terraforming effort, which has transformed one of your planet’s lifeless moons into a thriving farming colony, is but one example of how you have surpassed Federation science.”
Pippenge rolled his head around. Palamas whispered in the captain’s ear that the motion was a cross between a bow and a shrug. “You’re most kind, Mister Spock. The first Vulcan I’ve met in person, and not at all what I expected.”
Spock’s right brow arched slightly upward. “Sir?”
“Oh, no, I meant no offense.” Pippenge was obviously flustered and embarrassed.
McCoy smirked and took a sip of water. “Offending Spock is a difficult task, Ambassador.”
“Indeed.” Spock nodded his agreement.
“I assure you . . . I only meant . . . we’re not used to dealing with aliens.” His eyes wide, Pippenge looked contrite. “Though, I must admit you do resemble the mythical phantoms that are said to haunt the ancient ruins of our planet.”
“Does he?” Grinning, the doctor gazed at Spock, bemused.
“Phantoms?” Kirk asked, also entertained by the notion of Spock as a specter.
“Old stories,” Pippenge explained. “Mostly, I think, told to keep people from exploring in unsafe areas. If one ventures too deep into the ancient ruins, a being of greenish pallor, an upswept brow, and pointed ears is said to destroy the individual with fire and lightning.”
“Interesting,” Spock said.
“Children’s legends,” the ambassador said. “Just folklore about demons who whisk you away when you do wrong. Again, I mean no offense, I assure you.”
“I understand,” Spock said agreeably.
“Meeting someone not born of your planet, even if you’re aware they exist, can be a life-changing event. Here you are, among hundreds of aliens,” Kirk pointed out. “You and your party are handling it with great grace.”
Pippenge was quiet. He shifted his weight, leaning one way in his seat, then the other, but said nothing for quite a time.
What must he be contemplating? Kirk wondered. Since joining Starfleet, he’d always found meeting new life-forms exhilarating. Occasionally more than that, but always at least that.
“Thank you, Captain Kirk.” Pippenge hesitated and then said, “It has not been easy for my people. We know there are alien races on other planets, but they are not always friendly—most notably the one that pushed us from our homeworld. It was two millennia ago, but we remember. In the time since, we’ve isolated ourselves, and while we thought it was for our protection, it was also to our detriment. I think we are now ready to travel again among the stars.”
“More aliens will come to Maabas now,” McCoy said. “Are your people ready for that?”
That was one of Starfleet Command’s worries as well. However, the Federation Council was untroubled. Their opinion was that a culture intelligent enough to make breakthroughs in science, to accept the Federation as an ally, could be eased into other frontiers, even ones alien to themselves.
“Most are, or we’d not have signed the treaty.” The ambassador’s quick reply made Kirk think this was one of Pippenge’s political talking points. Likely many Maabas shared Dr. McCoy’s concerns.
“Some aren’t as eager,” Kirk said.
Absentmindedly, the ambassador grabbed a dark strand of his hair and stroked it nervously. “No group is all of one mind, Captain.” He chittered happily. “But we are ready to move forward.” Standing, Pippenge thrust back the loose arm of his official robes and raised a fork as one might raise a glass. “Onward to the future.”
“Here, here,” McCoy said. The Enterprise officers in attendance applauded. The Maabas officials sang in a cheerful tone. Pippenge attempted both, and the captain couldn’t help but smile.
There was much to celebrate. Most treaty negotiations didn’t go as smoothly as they had with the Maabas. They’d asked for very little from the Federation: trade, protection, and cultural and scientific exchange. In return, the UFP wanted much the same. The previous surveys and exchanges, which had given Lieutenant Palamas the information in her report, had shown that the Maabas had great intellectual flexibility. In addition to their unique scientific research, their philosophy dovetailed nicely with that of the Federation. They were a united planet with a democratically elected government, there had been no wars since they colonized their planet, and they shared many of the same principles as the Federation.
Kirk raised his glass to make his own toast, but just as he was taking a breath, the door to the corridor slid open. Skent, the missing Maabas attendant, entered with an Enterprise security officer close behind.
The captain rose to greet them. “Mister Baumgartner?”
The guard frowned. “He was found on engineering deck, sir. In a restricted section.”
Pippenge rose to confront his comrade. “Is this true?”
“An error,” Skent said sheepishly. “I was merely exploring . . .”
The ambassador puckered his lips. “I see.”
“A puckering of the lips is like a human shake of the head,” Palamas whispered to Kirk. He hadn’t noticed she’d joined him. The captain nodded his appreciation. This was just the sort of understanding of alien body language he needed from his A&A officer.
“Ambassador, you and your aide were also seen on the engineering deck.” Kirk had seen the report earlier, but thought little of it. Guests could get turned around on a ship as big as the Enterprise. One occurrence could be easily dismissed. Two, however, made the hairs on the back of Kirk’s neck stand up.
Was Pippenge displeased with Skent because he was where he shouldn’t be, or because he was found where he shouldn’t be?
“He had this on him.” Baumgartner handed Kirk a small device that fit into his palm but had no obvious screen or method of input.
The captain rolled the object around in his hand, then showed it to the ambassador. “Can you explain this, sir?”
“A scanning tool and recording device,” Pippenge said.
Spock rose and joined the captain to his right. “A tricorder.”
“Designed to interact with our computerized implants, yes.” The ambassador was contrite and glared down at Skent. “Explain yourself, please.”
“My brother is in the Science Directorate. He asked me to record anything of interest,” the attendant said, unwilling to meet Pippenge’s eyes.
“On the Enterprise?” Kirk asked.
The captain pressed his lips into a thin line and wondered if that would be taken as a sign of acceptance by the Maabas delegation. If so, perhaps that wasn’t a bad thing. He didn’t like it, but he didn’t have evidence that there was any malicious intent.
“Mister Spock?” He handed the device to his science officer. “Please review the data collected and make sure nothing of a sensitive nature has been recorded.”
Spock nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“If you wish to satisfy your own justice, Captain, I understand,” Pippenge said. “Though I assure you, there will be repercussions for Skent’s rude actions.”
This was just the kind of kink that Starfleet didn’t want in the relationship between the Maabas and the Federation. And, unless the device was a danger to his ship, there probably was no reason to be concerned. “We have a saying, Ambassador.” Kirk motioned them all back toward the dinner table. “ ‘No harm, no foul.’ ”
Pippenge bowed. “You are most gracious hosts.”
Amiable smiles and mild discussion followed until the hour grew late and the ambassador and his party excused themselves.
As Kirk stood to leave as well, Palamas approached. “Thank you for inviting me, Captain. It was an interesting evening.”
“I appreciated your attention to detail tonight, Lieutenant. Good night.”
“Thank you, sir,” she said pleasantly, and joined Uhura, who waited for her near the door.
“May I walk you back to your cabins, ladies?” Scotty approached them, and the three left together.
As the table was being cleared by yeomen, Spock approached Kirk. “I shall have a report on the abilities and contents of this device by the morning, sir.”
The captain knew better than to dispute the timing of his first officer’s sleep schedule or the prioritization of his work/personal-life balance. “Thank you, Mister Spock.”
“Drink, Jim?” McCoy asked.
Kirk nodded. “I was thinking the same.”
THE DOCTOR POURED himself another glass and held the bottle toward Kirk, who shook his head. “One’s enough.”
“Since when?” McCoy had loosened the neck on his dress uniform enough that the black undershirt showed through a V shape he’d opened over his chest.
“I’m on duty.” The captain cradled the glass in his hand, sipped the drink just to keep nursing it, then placed it on the doctor’s desk.
“Uh-oh, I know that look.”
“What look?” His brows jutting upward, Kirk glanced at McCoy.
“The something’s-bothering-me-but-I’m-not-sure-what look.”
“Please,” Kirk scoffed, but hesitated before continuing. “I’m sure it’s nothing.”
The doctor took another sip of his brandy. “I’m sorry. I mistook you for Jim Kirk.”
At that the captain chuckled. “Am I that obvious?”
“Only on even-numbered stardates.” McCoy topped up his snifter even though there was more yet to savor. “Tell your bartender all about it.”
The doctor could be a good sounding board. Kirk lifted his glass and took another small sip, explaining, “Over the year the Federation and the Maabas have been negotiating, the main sticking point was the building of an orbital space station which could resupply and repair space vessels.”
“Why was that a problem?”
Kirk shrugged. “I don’t know. They didn’t want to work on ‘vessels of war,’ despite assurances that Starfleet’s mission was one of peace and exploration.”
“Even Vulcan has spaceports where a starship can dock.” The doctor sighed and shook his head. “If you can out-pacifist a Vulcan . . .”
“Suddenly, they change their mind and in a matter of a few weeks have signed a treaty. Why?”
“Reasoned debate caused a political shift?” Swiveling back and forth in his chair, McCoy frowned and offered a shrug as he speculated. “Some internal need for a specific resource they lack, which we have? An external threat of some kind?”
Pointing directly at the doctor, Kirk nodded. “That.”
“Then why don’t we know about it?”
The captain shook his head and looked down into the glass he lifted from the desk. “I don’t know, Bones.”
The bosun’s whistle rang out, jarring him from further thought. “Bridge to Captain Kirk.”
He leaned toward the desk’s comm panel and thumbed the button. “Kirk here.”
“Now entering the Maabas star system, sir.”
“Ahead of schedule, Mister Sulu. Slow to impulse. Standard approach. Let me know when we make orbit.”
When the doctor was sure Kirk had switched off the comm, he continued. “What’s it got to do with the Maabas delegation snooping? Because that’s what’s really bothering you, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know.” It was true that it bothered him, but he wasn’t even sure it should. There were such things as innocent mistakes. The captain liked everything to add up, and with the Maabas, not everything did. “You remember the story Pippenge told?”
“Which?” McCoy capped the bottle, walked to the cabinet behind the desk, and stowed it away. “The man isn’t lacking for stories.”
Most ambassadors weren’t, the captain thought. “The mythological demons that look like Spock.”
The doctor laughed and after a couple drinks the sound was more throaty than usual. “You think Vulcans visited this planet years ago, threatening sightseers and correcting grammar?”
With a chuckle, Kirk shook his head. “Not exactly. But the Romulans . . . ?” He let the sentence trail off, and the notion hung between them.
“Not their general area of influence,” McCoy said thoughtfully, nursing his drink.
“ ‘Demons,’ ” the captain quoted Pippenge. “What’d he say? Upswept brow, pointed ears?”
“Yes.” The doctor snickered. “They destroy you with fire and lightning.”
“That could describe a weapon,” Kirk said. “Or a transporter.”
“Deep Space 5 is near the Romulan Neutral Zone.” The captain tilted the glass toward himself and watched the liquid contents run against the bowl as he set it right again. “A Federation-Maabas alliance would be a concern for the Romulans.” He raised the glass to his lips and took a sip, just as the bosun’s whistle sounded again.
“Bridge to Captain Kirk.” Spock’s voice this time.
Quickly he hit the comm button. Sulu’d had the bridge. For his first officer to be calling, something had changed. “Kirk here. What’s wrong, Mister Spock?”
“We’re tracking an unknown vessel on an intercept course.” The Vulcan’s voice was calm as usual, but had a serious tinge.
“Four minutes, present speed.”
“Go to yellow alert. I’m on my way.”
Kirk put his glass down on McCoy’s desk and twisted toward the exit. “We’ve got company.”
The doctor followed him toward the door. “Romulans?” McCoy called as the captain sped up the corridor.
“Unknown vessel, Spock said, so let’s hope not.”
THE LIFT TO THE BRIDGE seemed too slow, but Kirk knew it was the same speed as always. When the doors slid open, the captain was shocked, but not surprised, to see Pippenge standing just outside the turbolift entrance. The security officer, his weapon already drawn, pulled the ambassador out of Kirk’s way.
“I saw the yellow alert, and we were informed we were already within the bounds of our system,” the ambassador was telling the officer.
At the captain’s nod, the security man holstered his phaser and stepped back.
Kirk knew how important the treaty was, but his gut reaction was to have Pippenge forcibly removed from his bridge—perhaps confinine him to quarters. Thankfully, diplomacy overrode that urge. The captain said in his most level tone, “Mister Ambassador, I didn’t call you to the bridge.”
Nervously, Pippenge pursed his lips. “Yes, Captain, I’m very sorry. I was simply worried. Please forgive me.” At least the man knew he shouldn’t be there.
Kirk needed to focus on the situation—not the ambassador. He gently pulled Pippenge toward the command chair as the lift doors opened again. Scotty stepped out and hurriedly moved toward his station.
“I saw the alert, sir.”
The captain nodded and descended to the command well as Spock moved to his science station.
“Alert status confirmed, sir, all decks.”
Lieutenant Sulu and Ensign Chekov were at the helm and navigation consoles respectively, quietly awaiting their orders.
“The vessel?” Kirk asked as he lowered himself into the center seat.
“Unfamiliar configuration,” Spock said, already bent over his sensor cowl. “No answer to our hails. Intercept in three minutes.”
“Spock, what do you make of her?”
The Vulcan flipped switches for a moment, then spun a dial on the side of the viewer. “Conventional warp drive assembly, highly energized plasma weapons, and I believe four forward and four aft torpedo tubes.”
A small knot formed between the captain’s shoulder blades. “Well armed.”
“Also,” Spock continued, “class-one shielding and significant armor plating.”
“Life-forms?” Kirk asked.
Spock was ready with the answer. “Reading one-hundred seventeen individuals; however, parts of the ship are resistant to scan.”
Not a Romulan vessel. Thoughtfully stroking his lip with a finger, Kirk wondered what new race this could be. Being heavily armed didn’t necessarily mean they were a threat. The Enterprise was armed to defend herself, but such weapons could be seen as offensive by strangers.
Turning toward the sound of the lift opening again, Kirk noticed that Lieutenant Uhura had changed into her regulation uniform. With a nod to the relief officer, she slid smoothly into her chair.
“Visual, Mister Chekov.”
“Aye, sir.” The ensign tapped quickly at his console.
On the main viewscreen, the image changed from a relatively empty starscape to one where a small dot grew larger, noticeable only because an indicator on the screen pointed out that it was the vessel in question.
“Magnify,” Kirk ordered.
A larger, more impressive view of the approaching ship centered itself on the viewscreen.
The data on Sulu’s tactical display stated it was only slightly larger in length and width than Enterprise. Its mass was seven times greater. Where Kirk’s ship had a certain grace, with lines that suggested a design of intended beauty, the unknown vessel was a chunk of a craft, not quite cylindrical. It had no curves—just coarse edges and multi-level ledges that shaped its form. If there were standard warp nacelles, they were hidden within the bulk of the hull. It was either painted dark or naturally so, and its gray form almost disappeared against the black starscape. It looks, Kirk thought, like a crumbling brick. An imposing one.
The captain nodded toward the alien ship. “Can we predict their weapons range?”
Spock, still suspended over his sensors, replied cautiously. “Not with any accuracy, but if forced to estimate, I would suggest approximately the same as our own.”
“How good are your planetary defenses?” Kirk turned slightly toward Pippenge and met his gaze.
His hands tightly gripping the railing, the Maabas ambassador was clearly shaken by the question. His homeworld—or rather, his people’s chosen world—was off the usual interstellar routes and therefore rarely got unannounced visitors. “Well,” he said slowly, “we’d like to think quite good. But they’ve not been tested in actuality.”
“Captain.” Uhura turned toward Kirk, and he twisted to listen to her. “I’m receiving an answer to our hail.” She had one hand still on her console and the other touching her earpiece. “Audio only, sir.”
“Let’s hear it.”
The speakers crackled to life, and as the voice was interpreted, presumably accurately, Kirk felt his throat tighten.
“Attention to all who stand in our way of Kenis Prime. Surrender our planet back to us, or be destroyed.”