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Sheila Clark

It has often been said that James T. Kirk, commanding officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise, hated diplomatic missions. And so did his crew.

All in all, however, Kirk preferred those diplomatic occasions when he had to do the honours as Federation Representative - at least that only meant spit-and-polish on the planet's surface. If they were carrying an Official Representative of the Federation, it also meant a degree of spit-and-polish during the trip, when even the best of Ambassadors could not help but pull rank occasionally.

In his more charitable moments, Kirk conceded that they probably couldn't help it; possible by nature, certainly by training, they were accustomed to taking a leading role. Kirk just wished they would accept that other people in leading positions were acknowledged by their superiors as competent.

Ambassador Morna Erskine was one of the rare exceptions who seemed perfectly happy to let Kirk get on with the job of running the ship; granted the automatic privilege of the freedom of the ship, she took no advantage of it but remained for most of the time either in her quarters or in the small rec room that was reserved for visiting dignitaries.

Kirk would have been tempted to think her nervous, unsure of her capabilities, spending her time studying the details of the planet they were to visit, but he knew her reputation too well for that. A diplomat of many years' standing, she had the highest success rating of any Terran Ambassador; only one or two of the Vulcans showed more consistent success in their missions.

Her staff - consisting of her son, a man of obvious strength of character who couldn't be older than his mid twenties and acted as her secretary, an elderly married couple who were her advisors, and their surprisingly young daughter who was their secretary - was as self-contained as she. Only the young girl socialised to any extent with the crew, and even she did so only during the ship's 'evening'. She seemed to enjoy the company of the younger officers, flirting lightly with them but adroitly avoiding anything but the most superficial of relationships, and vanishing - alone - to her quarters at a relatively early hour. Kirk had no doubt that she slept alone; in a closed environment like theirs nothing that intimate could be kept secret; the lucky man would certainly have betrayed himself unconsciously. He himself had been gently rebuffed on the one occasion he had offered to escort her along the corridor to her cabin, intending nothing more than that, and he knew that the crew knew it.

Undoubtedly she hoped to avoid causing any friction among the young men - and some of the not-so-young ones too - by avoiding any serious, if temporary involvement; but Kirk soon began to be uncomfortably aware that some of the men were beginning to look sideways at each other, as if they felt that each would stand more chance without the others there to distract the girl.

It seemed that he was not alone in noticing it. One morning he was surprised to be stopped in the corridor by the Ambassador herself.

"Captain - I regret that my young colleague should be causing unrest among your crew. This was not her intention."

"I'm well aware of that, Ambassador. She has been most careful to treat everyone in the same way. It is not her fault if some of the men have... well, an over-developed idea of their own attractiveness to a young girl."

The Ambassador smiled slightly, an almost cynical glint in her eye. "Indeed, I find that most men have just such an over-developed idea of their attractiveness to women. Meanwhile, to save herself - and you - trouble that is not of her seeking, I have advised her to discontinue mixing with your crew."

Kirk looked searchingly at her, suddenly disliking her intensely. "Advised - or instructed, Ambassador? It is not necessarily a good thing to deny a young and attractive girl the companionship of others of her age."

The woman shrugged. "Since her acquaintance with them is of a transitory nature, Captain, what advantage is there to be gained in pursuing any depth of relationship? She herself realises it. You noted yourself that she 'treated everyone the same'. If they do not realise and accept it, she has little option but to terminate the acquaintance. She did ask my advice on the matter; I gave her the benefit of my experience. I, too, learned - many years ago - that 'shipboard romances' do not last; but I had nobody to prewarn me; I had to learn the hard way."

Kirk looked at her a little more deeply, wondering. There was a brittle hardness in her face, he saw now, and he suddenly realised that 'learning the hard way' had embittered her, at least with regard to certain kinds of personal relationship, though he acquitted her of resentment that the girl should form any. She was undoubtedly trying to shield the girl from the disillusion she was convinced would come when the voyage ended, should the younger woman develop any attachment to one of her 'followers'. And Kirk was not sure, now, that he blamed her. There was no place in the life of a Starfleet officer for a wife unless she too was a serving officer on the same ship and had decided not to have children. Officers on active duty tended to be people on whom family ties sat lightly; the ones who - even after a while - felt any hankering for a home and family mostly transferred to Starbase duties. Kirk had known a few exceptions, and in almost every case the result had been a wife who was either unfaithful or desperately lonely and unhappy - if not both - and children who suffered from some degree of maladjustment.

At last he said quietly, "Ambassador, what chance will she have to form any lasting relationships while she is part of your staff? Come to that, there is your own son - what chance has he?"

"My son has considered the situation objectively. I tried not to let his fatherless life affect him too much, but he is intelligent; he understood without being told. He will not make the mistake his father did."

Kirk was sure, now, that Jan Erskine's father had been a serving Starfleet officer - what he did not know was whether or not he had ever been married to the Ambassador. Had her child been the hard lesson that she had learned? Kirk decided not to press the point. The important thing was that the unstated rivalry, none the less intense for being unstated, between the men of his crew should cease.

* * * * * * * *

Beta Leonis VI was a planet at the least attractive stage of industrialisation. Huge factories, their chimneys belching out great clouds of smoke into a heavily polluted atmosphere, occupied much of the centre of vast cities that reached out hungry arms into the surrounding 'countryside', which was itself heavily contaminated by enormous dumps of slag waste and mining debris, the trellis-work of mining machinery thrusting ugly arms high into the sky; the unsightly scars of opencast mining cut across ground where all the topsoil was removed, creating a rocky desert where nothing green could survive. Further away from the cities, farms struggled for life in the choking industrialised air where only a small proportion of the available sunlight could pierce the gloom. There was no way that the industrialised nations could even begin to be self-supporting in food.

In the less developed areas, intensive farming seemed to be the norm. Huge fields of crops stretched for mile after mile, and even there, hundreds - even thousands - of miles from the industrialised centres, the air was still heavily polluted. Only a few relatively inaccessible regions high in the mountains or on remote islands still carried natural vegetation, and even there felling of the trees was being carried on at a destructive pace.

Spock's face was grim as he reported all this to Kirk. "The ecological balance is almost beyond correcting," he said. "Unless something is done soon, this planet will smother in its own wastes - unless the people starve first. Their intensive farming is exhausting the soil - chemical fertilisers are not a good substitute for natural ones in the long term - and much of the fresh water is poisoned beyond use. It in turn is poisoning the sea. There are indications that this has reached such a degree that fish are no longer suitable for consumption. This is not a vegetarian species; the loss of a major source of animal food is throwing greater strain on the resources of the farms. One year of drought, and the planet will starve; and if the felling of their few trees continues at its present rate, that will occur very soon."

Kirk frowned, glancing at Ambassador Erskine, who was present on the Bridge to hear the report.

"In addition," Spock went on, "there are indications that many of the factory complexes are devoted to manufacturing weaponry."

"That is possible," Erskine said tersely. "The contact team's report mentions two big industrialised nations with conflicting ideologies, as well as a number of smaller nations with varying strength and influence. At that time - some months ago - there was a tenuous peace on the planet, but the tensions of such a level of culture must make world-wide peace a rarity."

"And of course the big nations will support the smaller nations against each other," Kirk commented.

"Yes. There is an advisory group on the planet, made up of representatives of all the major nations, whose job it is to try to settle international disputes before they escalate into war. I will be dealing with it," Erskine explained.

"How much actual power does this group possess?" Spock enquired.

Erskine shook her head. "Advisory only, I understand."

"Then it is not very efficient as a unifying body."

"No. As long as 'nation' takes precedence over 'world', there can never be unity," Erskine agreed soberly.

Uhura swung round from her console. "I have contact with the Chairman of the International Advisory Council, Ma'am."

Erskine moved over to Communications. "Morna Erskine, Ambassador for the United Federation of Planets, Mr. Chairman."

"Greetings, Madam Ambassador. My name is Bzth." It sounded like a sneeze. "We invite you to join us for discussion."

"Bzth?" The woman made a fair attempt at pronouncing the alien syllable. "I was informed that I would be dealing with Chairman Trzv."

"My appointment to the position is very recent. Chairman Trzv... is ill."

"I see." She glanced at Kirk, who nodded. "My party will transport down immediately."

* * * * * * * *

The landing party consisted of the Ambassador, her two aides, their daughter, Kirk and Spock to represent Starfleet, and three security guards. Jan Erskine did not accompany them; a mild stomach upset, while not incapacitating him, made it inadvisable for him to visit an alien planet. Not only did even a minor infection make him susceptible to alien disease, his own condition might infect the natives, who in turn would have little or no immunity to Terran germs.

Alaine Norval was therefore to act as secretary for Ambassador Erskine as well as for her parents.

Kirk resigned himself to a long and boring day, and he knew that Spock felt the same. He felt sorry for the hapless guards, too. This was far from being an interesting duty for them. For the hundredth time he found himself wondering just what sort of mentality the bureaucratic mind possessed, that it could tolerate this sort of boredom day after day for years. Except that presumably they did not find it boring.

But what of the younger members of the Ambassador's party? Jan Erskine, perhaps - he had the sort of ultra-serious attitude that Kirk had noticed in diplomats before now. But Alaine Norval? Was her work her own choice, or forced on her by her parents?

But she at least would be kept busy transcribing the interminable speeches...

* * * * * * * *

As Kirk looked round the chamber, he felt his brow beginning to wrinkle in an involuntary frown, and suppressed it with a positive effort.

The natives in the room did not look like diplomats. Come to that, some of them did not even look particularly intelligent - though that, he thought cynically, doesn't mean a thing. But there was a... a lack of something about many of them. As if... as if they were men promoted beyond their capability, he decided.

He could see Ambassador Erskine also wiping a frown from her face, and knew at once that she shared his... his what? Doubts? If this was the best that the planet could provide in the way of advisors, no wonder the place was in such a mess.

However, the talking began without problems, and it soon appeared likely that the formalities would be satisfactorily concluded with almost indecent brevity. Chairman Bzth at least had a keen and agile mind, and did almost all the talking for his people. He did seem particularly obstinate about maintaining his planet's rights, but then it was only to be expected that he would. However, he seemed unwilling to compromise in any but the most marginal way. He was barely willing to concede anything, while demanding as many benefits from the Federation as it seemed he knew about.

Kirk decided that he disliked the man. He could respect Bzth's single-mindedness, his anxiety to gain as much as possible for his world, but it seemed to Kirk that a lot of what Bzth wanted, he wanted only because it was there, not because it would necessarily be useful, like a child afraid of not getting what others did.

Although if the man was new to his position and suspected that he would be 'demoted' when the sick Trzv had recovered, he could be seeking to gain favour in the eyes of the populace by obtaining so much from the Federation. Yes. He could well be considering his own future. In that case, he was demanding all these concessions, not for the sake of his people, but for the sake of his future career. Wanting the right things for the wrong reasons.

Understanding did not diminish dislike. If anything, it increased it.

The Ambassador, too, sounded strained as the day progressed. Kirk guessed that she had almost reached the limit of the concessions she was authorised to make, and was beginning to worry that the talks would finally fail. Good at her job she might be, but even she could do little against a man who refused any form of compromise. Kirk began to guess that Bzth considered any form of compromise to be weakness - in which case, he would despise as weaklings the people who were compromising, agreeing to his demands...

God - just what sort of situation had they landed in?

At last Ambassador Erskine shook her head. "I'm sorry, Chairman Bzth," she said firmly. "In this, you ask too much."

A look of fury, instantly controlled, crossed his face, so fleeting that for a moment Kirk doubted if many of those present had seen it. Then he noticed a sudden tension among Bzth's own men, and knew that they had recognised their Chairman's rage. The Ambassador also was very still, and watching intently. Her aides and the young secretary appeared oblivious of the electricity that now sparked between the two negotiators. Spock sat as if turned to stone, and Kirk felt sympathy. Even a touch telepath was to some degree mentally alert to any form of emotional disturbance, and Kirk was certain that his friend was picking up considerable turmoil.

"Very well, Ambassador," Bzth said stiffly, after a moment. "We will leave that matter..."

"Chairman Bzth, you have already won for your world certain rights that the Federation does not often give so quickly to planets at your level of technology," Erskine said diplomatically, clearly hoping by this unnecessary truth to reconcile the Betan to his defeat in this one matter.

"Should such rights not be given to everyone, regardless of their level of technology?" Bzth asked coldly. "Must people die when their lives could be saved, or suffer unnecessary hardship, merely because their worlds are primitive - by your standards?"

Erskine shook her head. "We condemn nobody to death or to unnecessary hardship," she replied. "We do indeed want to give all our knowledge to those less fortunate than ourselves. But we have the wisdom to know that learning must come slowly; just as a man dying of thirst could kill himself, or at least make himself ill, by drinking too much too quickly, so a race could be destroyed by being given knowledge it is not yet mature enough to understand. No man would stand by and watch his child injure itself through ignorance by permitting it to play with objects it could not understand; we feel that we stand in the position of a parent faced with such a problem. We give as much as we feel a newly-found race can benefit by, without damaging itself in the process; the rest comes over a period of time, two or three generations perhaps. During that time your children are being educated so that they are ready to understand and handle the new technology.

"In addition... Forgive me, Chairman Bzth, but in this matter, plain speaking is necessary. Your planet is on the verge of destroying itself. We know that you have two main races who are ideologically incompatible, and that much of your technology is geared towards industry - specifically the production of weapons. We cannot be so irresponsible towards your world that we will give you the means whereby you can destroy yourselves. You must first prove to us that your races can learn to live with each other, each accepting the other's differences."

Bzth drew in his breath. His control was obviously forced as he said, "Our two methods of government can never be reconciled."

"I wonder if the ordinary population of either country would agree with you," Spock put in quietly, speaking for the first time.

Bzth threw the Vulcan a look of pure hatred. "The population votes for the government they want," he said tensely.

"They select men from the choice offered them, certainly," Spock agreed. "But if they were given an entirely free choice, would they indeed select any of the men standing for election?"

"Our country is a true democracy. Of course they would," Bzth boasted.

Spock raised a gently questioning eyebrow; Bzth clearly missed the quiet irony of the gesture.

"And the other country?" Kirk asked curiously.

"A tyranny," Bzth replied viciously. "The country is run for the benefit of only a few."

"That could be said of almost any government by its opponents," Spock commented. "I have little doubt -" he glanced at the other, silent representatives of Beta VI "- that not everyone here agrees with you. If the Advisory Council is indeed international, there are those here who would say that their country is the democracy and yours is the tyranny..."

There was no reply, and his eyebrow lifted again.

Erskine, clearly thinking that the exchange had gone far enough, cut in. "Miss Norval - please give us a review of the points so far agreed."

The girl obeyed, and the Ambassador looked over at Bzth.

With obvious reluctance, the Betan nodded. "Those points are agreed," he said.

"Then we will draw up the formal agreement for signing tomorrow."

Bzth said harshly, "Very well. Perhaps you would honour us by joining us now for a drink to celebrate our new alliance."

Bzth's goodwill seemed forced; but Erskine smiled acceptance, apparently oblivious of the Betan's grudging acceptance of the agreement.

Drinks were brought, one servant taking a tray round the Betans, a second carrying a tray to the Federation people.

Spock alone declined. He caught Bzth's eye on him, and inclined his head slightly. "I intend no insult to your hospitality, sir. My race does not touch alcohol."

Bzth forced a smile. "Then how do you celebrate special events?"

"We do not, sir. An event is an event. It simply happens."

Bzth looked puzzled.

Kirk laughed softly. "Mr. Spock is Vulcan, Mr. Chairman. People of his race devote their lives to logic. Celebrations are not logical. In this instance, the formation of a treaty is clearly beneficial to all sides; you gain much of our knowledge immediately for all your world, with more in the future, and we gain an ally. Since everyone benefits, why celebrate?" He grinned mischievously at his First Officer, who refused to rise to the bait.

"Perfectly correct, Captain. We rejoice in the union of our worlds, Chairman Bzth, but see no need to parade an emotional display of our satisfaction."

The Betan grunted, then raised his glass. "To our better acquaintance," he said, and emptied his glass with a single gulp.

His compatriots did likewise; Kirk and Erskine glanced at each other, both slightly wary but knowing that if this was the custom, they had to follow suit or risk offending the already offended Bzth still further.

The liquor was indeed potent. Kirk had to struggle to focus sufficiently to replace his glass on the table, its effects hit him so quickly. Spock watched anxiously as the Humans exhibited various signs of intoxication, but before he - or anyone - could say anything, Bzth gestured sharply.

A group of men was hustled in, casually guarded by three armed soldiers who looked as if they belonged to the lowest ranks. Bzth smiled wolfishly as he looked at Spock.

"Your decision not to drink was fortunate for you - and possibly useful for me," he said thoughtfully. "Permit me to introduce Trzv - ex-Chairman of the Advisory Council. His Chief Aides. Also General Lyth, late of the Hwrain army, and his senior officers. Lyth was once my superior, and governed Hwrain... until he grew soft, and thought to negotiate with Bryv of Zlair," he went on conversationally. "I could not permit that, of course. Negotiate? When Zlair accepts our form of government - not before."

A fanatical ideologist, Spock thought as he looked at the trembling men, noting the almost non-existent muscular control, the slack jaws and saliva-wet chins. "You have drugged them," he said calmly, refusing to permit shock or horror to show.

Bzth chuckled. "They are indeed addicted to a drug... It is almost instantaneously habit-forming, and once addicted, there is no cure. Your party has been given one dose of the drug. You have one day to obtain from your superiors the authorisation to grant me the items the Ambassador refused me. If you do not, they will be given the second dose that will cause them to become hopelessly addicted to this drug. If you do... two of them, to be selected by me, will remain here - undrugged - as hostages for your Federation's continued granting of our demands. The others will be released."

"You assume the Federation to be more ethical than yourself," Spock said evenly, "for you would certainly not yield to such blackmail."

"Your Federation is composed of do-gooders," Bzth said, his voice dripping scorn. "Such people are weak."

Spock shook his head. "More ethical," he repeated. "However, sir, one day is not a sufficiently long period for me to obtain an answer to your request. The distance from here to Starfleet Headquarters is so great that it took us almost a month to get here. It would require two months to send a message and get a reply, even without allowing my superiors any time for discussion of the matter."

Fury darkened the Betan's face once more. "You think to trick me, alien. But I will not be fooled by your lies. You have one day." He gestured abruptly, and the guards hustled out the drugged men and the unsteady Federation representatives.

* * * * * * * *

Spock looked around the small group gathered in the briefing room. Scotty; Jan Erskine; McCoy; Uhura; Security Chief Baillie.

"And that, gentlemen, Miss Uhura, is the situation. This is not a matter on which we have any authority to act. Only the Ambassador can do that, and she had clearly conceded all that she possibly could - perhaps more, even, than she was authorised to do."

Jan Erskine interrupted. "My mother was given an entirely free hand in these negotiations, Mr. Spock. She was authorised to concede anything within reason."

"Unfortunately, Chairman Bzth also demands concessions outwith reason," Spock murmured drily.

"But from what you say, the man's a damned usurper," Scotty cut in. "He has no right to demand anything - anything at all."

"He has taken the right," Spock replied. "We cannot know the background behind his actions; he appears to be merely a revolutionary, but we cannot tell how popular his actions have been in his own country. If we could ascertain his exact position, it might be of use."

"A revolutionary is a revolutionary only until he has accomplished his aims," Jan Erskine said. "Then he becomes a respected member of his society."

"Or a resented one, if his revolt did not accurately take into consideration the general opinions of the 'silent majority', I believe it used to be called," Spock pointed out.

"In any country where the government - the ruling people - come to power through a revolt, the silent majority are probably wise to remain silent," Baillie said.

"In either case, if Bzth's blackmail succeeds, his position as the leading personality of Beta VI is assured," Erskine muttered.

"It is a pity that he was not satisfied with what he did accomplish - for his own sake," Spock mused, "We cannot accede to his demands; we therefore have no choice but to fight him. Doctor -" He turned to the so-far silent McCoy. "Is it possible to pinpoint the Captain and the rest of our landing party by sensor?"

"No," McCoy said gloomily. "Betan readings are identical to Human ones."

It was unlikely that they were completely identical, but the sensors, excellent though they were, were not geared to detecting minute differences in something as complex as a humanoid body.

"Could we send down a rescue party?" McCoy suggested uncertainly.

"Not without accurate coordinates," Baillie replied. "From what Mr. Spock said, these boys are armed; we don't want it to come to a shoot-out. Even though we have the better weapons, somebody might get hurt. This is supposed to be a friendly little diplomatic party, not an Iotian take-over."

"Mr. Baillie is correct," Spock said. He turned to the Communications Officer. "Miss Uhura, inform Starfleet Command of the situation, and of the impossibility of effecting rescue at this time. How long before we can expect an answer?"

"At this distance... a minimum of fifteen hours," Uhura said. "We should certainly get a reply by the deadline we've been given."

"I doubt that the answer will be what Chairman Bzth wants or expects," Spock commented. "In this situation, our personnel will surely be regarded as expendable."

"No!" Jan Erskine exploded.

"Mr. Erskine, your mother knew the risks of her career, as I assumed you did," Spock commented, "and as I assume the Norvals did."

Erskine's mouth closed firmly. There was an expression on his face that Spock distrusted; one which made the Humans slightly nervous. They had no doubt that Erskine would take a terrible revenge for any harm done to his mother if the opportunity arose - or even if it didn't arise naturally; Erskine would, they felt sure, make an opportunity if he was given half a chance.

Spock looked at him but said nothing, his face more than usually expressionless. Behind him he heard the door open and shut again as Uhura left to transmit the message. Then he said quietly, "Nobody ever claimed that our work is safe, Mr. Erskine. Everyone in Starfleet knows that he - or she - can be considered expendable; everyone in the diplomatic service should also be aware that under certain conditions - "

"I know all about the risk, Commander. It's the risk to others... These bastards can't be allowed to get away with this!"

"Mr. Erskine," Spock said quietly, "Either I have your promise to behave responsibly or you will remain in the brig until we leave this system."

Erskine glared at him. "You're a Vulcan," he said bitterly. "You don't know what it's like, to know that someone you love is in danger."

Nothing of Spock's personal anguish was visible even to the men who knew it existed. "Possibly not," he said evenly. "But then possibly it is as well that someone who is not motivated by emotional considerations is in command here." Liar! his mind screamed. He looked across at Baillie. "Keep a security detail on standby," he said. "We will continue to scan the area, looking for any fractional difference in the readings. If we find any promising readings, the security party will beam down, phasers set on stun and at the ready; on materialising they are to stun everyone in sight, even our own men. We are dealing with revolutionaries, dangerous men; any hesitation, any delay to distinguish friend from foe, could be disastrous."

"Aye, sir," Baillie agreed.

* * * * * * * *

Spock manned the sensors himself, fine tuning the delicate instrument with more care than he had even before used, and studied the reading carefully. He straightened again deliberately, his complete silence more eloquent than most Humans' volubility.

Only Erskine, who hardly knew him, felt it necessary to say, "Well?"

"Nothing," the Vulcan replied patiently. "The native readings do appear to be identical to Human, as Dr. McCoy said. However, I have detected some unusual readings, which I suspect might be those of Chairman Trzv and his men." He looked thoughtful. "Our people might be in the same area."

"We could beam them up," Scotty suggested. "At least it'd get them out o' Bzth's hands."

"It would also, unfortunately, alert Bzth to a danger he has not considered - that we might rescue our people by transporter. I had thought of it, which is why I called down a shuttlecraft to retrieve me from the surface, but that was before I knew how close the Betan readings are to Terran. Bzth won't know that we cannot detect our people - they might suffer for Bzth's ignorance and fear. In addition, sympathetic though I am towards Trzv, I wonder if it would be a kindness to rescue him? He is addicted to this drug; we could not supply it. Complete withdrawal would cause terrible suffering. I understand that controlled administration of the drug is the best method of initial treatment... or of giving the victim the most comfortable life possible if the addiction is complete - and we have been led to believe that it is complete."

"If only I had a sample of the drug," McCoy muttered helplessly. "We've only Bzth's word that there's no cure."

Spock looked sharply at him. "You think Bzth might have lied about that?"

"Why not? It would fit - no cure, we worry more; we worry more, we give in more readily."

Spock nodded. "Yes. Yes, it would be consistent with Bzth's style of thought." He bent back to the viewer. "The life forms with the unusual readings do appear to be alone," he commented. He straightened decisively. "Doctor - stand by in the transporter room. We will risk beaming one of these beings aboard for long enough to enable you to take a blood sample and a tricorder reading of his condition. Then we will return him to the planet. If your 'fickle lady' is willing, his absence will not be missed, and you will have the wherewithal to make checks."

"Right." McCoy headed for the turbolift, not even pausing to debate the humanity of returning the drugged man to his prison.

"Mr. Scott, you will operate the transporter," Spock continued. "I will monitor from here."

"Aye, Mr. Spock." Scott followed McCoy.

Erskine watched as Spock bent over the scanner again, making one more delicate adjustment. The Human realised he was holding his breath, and hastily released the exhausted lungful of air, replacing it with another that he held once more. His initial urge, to protest the callousness of returning the victim to his prison, was fading, discouraged by the ready acceptance of the doctor that it was necessary.

Scott's voice came over the intercom. "We're ready, Mr. Spock."

"Energise when convenient, Mr. Scott."

A moment, then - "We have one... Dr. McCoy scanning now... taking blood sample... We're returning him, sir."

"Confirmed," Spock agreed as the missing life form reappeared on the scanner,

There was no sound from McCoy. The doctor was already on his way to Sickbay to begin tests.

* * * * * * * *

"Message from Starfleet Command, Mr. Spock."

"On visual, Lieutenant."

The lined features of Admiral Komack, already several years past retiral age but refusing to surrender to it, appeared.

"Enterprise - you will endeavour to obtain the release of Ambassador Erskine's party without using force, but should you fail, no compromise is possible. We cannot treat with revolutionaries or give in to force, and the Ambassador's party, and Captain Kirk, must be considered expendable if they cannot be rescued. Komack, Starfleet, out."

As the screen darkened, Jan Erskine exclaimed, "No!"

Spock looked at him with an irritation he was too frustrated to conceal. "Mr. Erskine, we all have our duties," he snapped. "All the members of the landing party knew that they could be declared expendable if the situation should arise. Those of us left on the ship might not like what must be done, but we must accept it."

Erskine glowered at him and, without even trying, he could read the angry 'Vulcans!' that filled the Human's thoughts.

The intercom bleeped and Spock reached for it, glad of the interruption. "Spock here."

"McCoy. I think I have something. This drug isn't a hallucinogen like most of the addictive drugs - it seems to be more of a tranquilliser taken to extremes. The victim is so calm he's practically mindless - at a guess, the boy we beamed up hasn't even registered yet that he's been away from home."

"So injection of a suitable stimulant might counteract its effects?"

"It's possible. Also if we do rescue them, I might be able to substitute one of our tranquillisers for the drug to minimise the withdrawal problems. I've started running tests - I'll let you know when I have something positive. McCoy out."

Uhura cut in. "Mr. Spock, Chairman Bzth is contacting us."

Spock's lips tightened. "On audio, Lieutenant."

The Betan's voice sounded more than ever self-satisfied as he growled, "Well, Vulcan? Your time is up. What is your answer? Do we get those items your Ambassador refused us, or does your landing party get its second dose of Shohl?"

"We have had no reply from Starfleet," Spock lied evenly, the lie coming with surprising ease. "The distance involved..."

Bzth's voice sounded slightly fainter. "Trrk, give the prisoners the Shohl." Then his voice grew louder once more. "We concede nothing, Mr. Spock. Your people will be hopelessly addicted the moment they receive the second dose - any moment now. It is now up to you whether they are given the drug as regularly as they now require it... or not."

Jan Erskine's howl of rage filled the bridge; only Spock's extra-sensitive hearing caught the click of the closing circuit.

"Contact broken, Mr. Spock," Uhura said.

Spock glared at Erskine. "You realise, sir, that you have given Bzth a present of the knowledge that it matters to our people what happens to the landing party? If he could have been brought to believe that we did not care, it might have been possible to bluff our landing party out of his hands. But he will not surrender them now."

"Dammit, is that all you can try?" Erskine snapped. "Bluff?"

"A most potent weapon in the hands of a master," Spock replied, "and I have learned it from a master, even though I lack his skill."

He looked thoughtfully at Erskine, then beckoned to one of the security guards at the door. "Escort Mr. Erskine to his quarters; please ensure that he remains there."

Once Erskine had gone, Spock left Sulu in command and headed for his cabin. He felt the need for a period of quiet meditation, short though his time for it would be.

He could not make up his mind whether confining Erskine to his quarters was the best thing to do. It was undoubtedly the logical thing to do... but the best? The uncertainty puzzled and confused him. He shook himself impatiently, firmly dismissing the stray thought that if Erskine had been with the landing party he would have been less trouble.

There seemed to be nothing useful that he could do. If he simply left, the irate Bzth would certainly vent his fury on the helpless victims of the drug... Ah. Could he use bluff after all? Pretend... No. It wouldn't work... would it?

What would Bzth do? That was the question. Still thoughtful, he returned to the bridge. "Lt. Uhura, put me on to Bzth," he said slowly.

"Well, Mr. Spock?" Bzth sounded cheerful, confident.

"I have no authority to grant your demands, sir. You leave me no alternative but to consider that the members of our landing party are already dead; and since you will not treat with us on our terms, we will leave and so inform our Federation. There will be no further contact. Your greed has lost you everything you hoped to gain." He nodded to Uhura, who closed the circuit.

Ignoring the eyes fixed on him, he moved to his station and peered into his scanner, wondering if Bzth would react as he hoped he would.

Nothing happened on the planet for a short time. Then -

Movement. The drugged men were being moved... several other readings joining them... a fairly large party... they were being loaded into a vehicle... it was driving off...

"Mr. Chekov, take over the viewer," Spock ordered. "Follow a vehicle that is being driven east of north. Report when there is any change."

"Aye, sir." Chekov slid easily into Spock's place. Spock moved back to the command chair, still not quite able to believe that it had worked. Bzth was clearly getting rid of his prisoners.

Uhura turned from her console. "Bzth, Mr. Spock."

"Put him on, Lieutenant. Audio only - wait - now. Yes, Mr. Bzth, what can I do for you?"

"You'd better reconsider, Mr. Spock." Bzth's voice was vicious. "Your people and our ex-leaders are being taken into the desert even now, and they will be left there to die unless you grant us our rights."

Spock paused for several seconds before answering. "We are already en route away from your world, and we do not intend to return. Our landing party is expendable, and what you do with your deposed leaders is your affair."

"At least one of your crew does not agree."

Again Spock paused. Finally, "Merely quite understandable anger at your attitude, sir. We believe in quick execution, not a slow and painful death." He nodded to Uhura, who cut the transmission.

"I hope Bzth's men don't just toss the prisoners off the side of their vehicle without stopping," Sulu muttered.

"I would hardly expect that," Spock said. "Bzth wants to know they are suffering - and he is probably also still hoping that I might be overthrown by the person who was so obviously in disagreement with me - these revolutionaries have very little imagination. They cannot understand true discipline, they understand only the discipline of fear. They can only understand force."

"The vehicle is still headed east of north," Chekov reported. "Still driving through heavily populated areas. I estimate they will require several hours to reach the desert Bzth spoke of."

Spock nodded. He stood. "You have the con, Mr. Sulu. I will be in Sickbay if I am needed."

* * * * * * * *

McCoy hardly looked up as Spock entered. The Vulcan watched him in silence for a moment, then asked, "Any progress, Doctor?"

McCoy straightened wearily. "Some. I know which of our tranquillisers will substitute for the Betan drug, so that'll minimise the withdrawal problems. But I haven't found a counteragent yet."

"However, there will be no problem if we rescue the drugged men - all of them - at any time?"

"No, we can keep them comfortable."

"Excellent. My congratulations, Doctor."

"Congratulations?" McCoy snorted, "On what? Being able to keep those poor devils hooked on tranquillisers?"

"Perhaps the change of tranquilliser alone will be sufficient to break them of the addiction," Spock suggested.

McCoy looked doubtful. "Drug addiction isn't that easy to break," he said grimly. "And there's another thing. How will Jim be able to function as Captain if he's addicted to this drug?"

"We do only have Bzth's word that a second dose of... what did he call it - Shohl?... is sufficient to cause addiction," Spock pointed out.

McCoy sighed. "I know. But... well... I'd rather believe him, expect the worst," he said unhappily. He looked at Spock with sudden and unexpected sympathy. "Get some rest, if you can," he said with rough understanding. "You've still got Bzth to deal with after we rescue everyone."

"What about yourself?" Spock asked. "You have been working non-stop since you obtained that sample. I'm ordering you, as your commanding officer, to take a few hours sleep. Refreshed, you will be able to consider this problem with new insight."

"I can't stop now... " McCoy began.

"You can, and must," Spock told him. "I assume you have been insisting on your staff taking a rest period? They can continue here - they know what they are looking for. They can call you if necessary."

Slowly, McCoy nodded. "You're right, damn you," he admitted. "All right, I'll grab a couple of hours sleep - but you do the same. I don't want to hear any of that 'Vulcans can do without sleep for long periods' nonsense."

"But we can," Spock said.

"And if it was essential, I'd say okay - for a while, anyway. But right now. it isn't. You've got competent people on the bridge, just as I've got competent staff in here. So you grab yourself a sleep too, hear me?"

"Very well, Doctor.

They regarded each other for a moment in silence, each wordlessly acknowledging the other's worry; then Spock turned and left. McCoy finished checking the sample he had been working with, and followed him.

* * * * * * * *

When he returned to the bridge, Spock ordered Sulu, Chekov and Uhura off duty, although he was aware that he would prefer his senior staff to remain on duty for the moment - but they had been on the bridge for a long stretch, and badly needed a break. Stiles was a steady enough navigator, though not as competent at the sensor as Chekov; Spock knew he would have to perform that duty himself. Kyle, currently seconded to helm from engineering, was also perfectly competent, and Palmer, replacing Uhura, was almost as good as the Bantu woman. However, all three lacked the spark of almost telepathic understanding that seemed to exist between the members of Kirk's regular bridge crew.

Time dragged. The vehicle that Spock watched so intently finally travelled out of densely populated territory, and an hour later entered terrain registering so hostile on the sensor that Spock knew it must be the area designated 'desert' - but it was not desert as Spock understood the word. The ground was composed of poisonous salts, the water flowing through it saturated with the poison. With something of a shock he registered the ruins of old mine workings, and knew that this wasteland was artificially produced, the result of intensive mining, processing and industrial havoc - and even with this dreadful example in front of them, the Betans still continued to expend their energies on more and still more industrialisation.

The vehicle was travelling along an old road, potholed from years of disuse, but still passable. It travelled into the poisoned area for some fifteen miles, then stopped, backed, turned. Life forms emerged from it; then two of them returned to it, joining the one who had not left it, and the vehicle moved off again, back the way it had come.

Spock frowned. Most of the readings showed the distorted pattern that betrayed the presence of the drug; but eight of the readings showed normal. Surely the Betans had not left a guard? It seemed unnecessary. And the victims had been left in open ground - there were no ruins waiting approximately two miles. The Vulcan reached for the intercom.

"Mr. Baillie - beam down with a security detail. Phasers at the ready, set on stun - there may be guards with the victims."

"Aye, sir,'

"Dr. McCoy to the transporter room. Mr. Erskine may be escorted there also." He closed the circuit without waiting for an acknowledgement, and headed for the door. "Mr. Kyle, you have the con."

"Yes, Mr. Spock."

He reached the transporter room just ahead of McCoy, who looked at him eagerly as he entered. "You're going to beam them up?"

Spock nodded.

"How can you be sure it's Jim and the others?"

"I'm not," Spock said soberly, "but a group of drugged persons has been stranded in a region of poisonous characteristics, and we cannot leave them there. Since they have clearly been left to die, we are not showing our hand by rescuing them."

The intercom buzzed. "Mr. Spock, Mr. Baillie has contacted us. It's all right to begin beam-up."

"Very well." Spock glanced round as Jan Erskine entered, a security guard close behind him. "Mr. Scott, energise. Mr. Erskine, we may be in process of rescuing the members of our landing party. We may not. There is no way of knowing if the group we are rescuing contains any members of our landing party. Ah..."

Six unsteady figures materialised, swaying, uncoordinated in movement. McCoy hastily moved to help them off the pads, the other Enterprise personnel close behind him. He began running a scanner over the men as the transporter hum began again. Another six unsteady men. They were helped over to their fellows; the transporter hummed again. This time there were only four unsteady ones, and two women - Mrs. Norval and her daughter.

Jan Erskine looked round from here he was helping a man to sit. "Alaine!" He sprang forward and caught the girl in a tight embrace. "Oh, thank God! I've been so worried... Are you all right?"

"Yes - we ..." Her voice was cut off as he kissed her. She did not seem to mind.

Spock's eyebrow lifted. Then he turned his attention to the transporter platform, leaving the others of the crew to help the four drugged men down. Mrs. Norval seemed perfectly able to help herself.

The next group contained the rest of the landing party apart from Kirk, and two of the guards who had gone down with Baillie. They stepped quickly off the pads, and the transporter hummed once more. Spock moved forward and met Kirk as he stepped off the pad.

"Captain," he said quietly.

Kirk grinned at him. "Well done, Mr. Spock."

"I regret we could not rescue you more rapidly, Captain. The readings are identical."

"You've done pretty well - and you kept Bzth on the hop. He was quite annoyed at the failure of his little blackmail plan."

"But the drug, Captain - he said two doses was sufficient of it to cause incurable addiction - and he ordered you a second dose. We heard him..."

Kirk's grin broadened. "Ah, yes, the drug. We pretended, of course - he gloated about it, so we knew what was supposed to happen, and he let us see the others." He glanced sympathetically towards them. "We didn't want him to realise, and maybe try something more effective. His precious drug... Our readings and Betan ones maybe look identical, but there's definitely a difference in metabolism. All it did for us was to cause slight intoxication. The effects wore off within an hour." He looked at McCoy. "The Betans, though ... can you do anything for them, Bones?"

"Well, I have discovered a tranquilliser that will act as a buffer, stave off withdrawal symptoms, but it's not a cure."

"Far as we could make out, these men are the important leaders of both sides as well as the original Chairman of the Advisory Council," Kirk said. "They've been talking disarmament and conservation for some months, and had reached the point of making a settlement - but then friend Bzth stepped in. He was opposed to making peace - he wanted his side to overrun the other major nation, then swallow up the small ones. Then he might have turned his attention to peace - on his terms."

"What of the people? What do they want?" Spock asked.

"Mostly they support the disarmament talks," Morna Erskine put in. "Only a handful of hotheads supported Bzth - unfortunately, he managed to get them all behind him. At the moment, Bzth and his army are holding Beta VI on a knife-edge. It wouldn't take much to destroy the entire planet; all it would need would be for Bzth to lose what little hold he has on his sanity and decide to destroy Zlair as being a threat to Hwrain. Then all that would be left would be a radioactive waste." She looked at McCoy. "If you could get them even functional, so that one of them - just one - could stand up in public and appeal for peace and sanity without looking as if he was... well... a drug addict, no matter how unwillingly, it could save the whole situation."

"You sound very sure of that," Spock said.

"They are very brave men," she said seriously. "Even drugged as they are, they fought to communicate once they realised who we were."

"I'll do all I can," McCoy promised. "Now that I have them here I can get more readings, blood samples to work with. Let's get them down to Sickbay.

She nodded and crossed to kneel beside one of the men. "Chairman Trzv, you are safe on board my ship. Our doctors will do all they can to correct your condition."

He gazed around with uncoordinated movements. "I... understand."

McCoy reached down to support him. "Can you walk, sir? It's not far..."

Supported by security men, by McCoy, by Morna Erskine and her aides, the drugged Betans made their slow way out of the transporter room.

* * * * * * * *

Kirk and Spock went quickly to the bridge. Kirk was frowning as they took the turbolift. "Spock, I wish I could be sure of the right thing to do. Part of me wants to contact Bzth and give him a metaphorical kick in the pants - but I'm not sure that's the wisest thing to do."

"At the moment Bzth thinks that the Enterprise is no longer orbiting Beta VI. I led him to believe that we were abandoning our landing party and leaving rather than surrender to his demands."

"So that was why he decided to dump us all in the desert?"

"Yes. A dead hostage is no use while his safety is a useful lever for a blackmailer, but a live one can be even more of an embarrassment once he knows his threats are ineffective."

"Mmm. You took a chance, though, that he wouldn't just stick a knife in us."

"I was... gambling... on his sadism. It seemed likely that he would choose a method of execution that would cause maximum suffering, especially since he had expressed the belief that we were weak and likely to give in." Spock half smiled. "I would speculate that he expects the 'do-gooder' Federation to send another Ambassador - this time with instructions to give the bold and ruthless Chairman Bzth everything he wants while trembling in fear of his anger. These revolutionaries think only in terms of force."

Kirk grunted agreement. "You're right - give something, anything, to a man like Bzth and he looks for more... and more." The doors opened and they stepped onto the bridge.

Spock went straight to his station and checked the sensors. "The vehicle that took you into the desert is still heading back towards Bzth's headquarters," he reported. "Everything there seems normal. No excess movement."

Kirk nodded. "I think we'll play gone a little longer - give Bones time to come up with something."

"Captain -" Palmer, who was still on duty, looked round. "I'm picking up a surface transmission."

"On audio, Lieutenant."

"... effective immediately. Repeat, the government of Zlair is ordered to surrender to Hwrain forces within twenty-four hours or we will launch a full-scale attack. All Hwrain forces are mobilised. All trade with Zlair is suspended, effective immediately. General Bzth, commanding Hwrain army, so orders."

Human and Vulcan looked at each other. Kirk flicked open the intercom on the arm of his chair. "Bones, time's run out. You have twenty-four hours to come up with a miracle."

* * * * * * * *

Within a couple of hours, withdrawal symptoms had begun to set in. McCoy set his lips and ordered injections of the tranquilliser he had identified as suitable. He could only guess at a dose, and gave varying amounts to see which would be most effective.

Within half an hour, General Lyth was sitting up attentively - almost unnaturally calm, but in almost full control of himself. Chairman Trzv, who had received a slightly larger dose, was half asleep but even so seemed to be in greater control of his muscles. Men who had had lesser doses also showed and improvement, but a lesser one. McCoy heaved a sigh of relief and went to the intercom.

"Ambassador Erskine, Captain, to Sickbay, please."

They arrived within minutes, and McCoy gestured triumphantly towards Lyth. "He's not out of the wood by any means, but even if he stays addicted, our tranquilliser won't incapacitate him."

"Bones, you're ...' Kirk shook his head, and turned to Lyth. "Glad to see you looking better, sir. Things are pretty desperate." Rapidly, he explained Bzth's ultimatum.

"Yes," Lyth said thoughtfully, "it is what I would have expected of Gla Bzth. Unfortunately, he needs only to control a few men in key positions and such an attack can be carried out."

"Can you tell us where these key positions are, sir?' Kirk asked. "If we could knock out his men there..."

"Yes, of course," Lyth agreed. "I keep forgetting your superior technology."

"That's hardly surprising," Kirk smiled. "Naturally you think in terms of the technology you know and are accustomed to handling. We have an advantage too in that Bzth thinks the Enterprise is no longer orbiting Beta VI - Mr. Spock told him the ship was leaving."

Lyth gave them the coordinates for the control centres of the nuclear bases that had been set up over the previous twenty years, and Kirk ordered details of security guards to beam down to each. An engineer accompanied each group, unknown to Lyth, with orders to defuse the mechanism if possible.

Meanwhile, Ambassador Erskine beamed down to the Zlair capital city with an armed escort and requested audience with Bryv, who had not been present at the meeting of the Advisory Council, or at any of the several meetings that had preceded it - ill health had kept him at home, but he had known that both Lyth and Trzv agreed with his views. It had come as a shock to him that Bzth had taken over, and. he was still trying to decide what was best to do when the Ambassador was announced. He looked up, relief on his face.

"Ambassador - will your Federation permit this to happen?"

"No, sir. We are taking steps already to prevent Bzth from carrying out his threat. In addition, General Lyth is safe with us and preparing to resume his rightful position as leader of Hwrain. It is not Federation policy to interfere in the affairs of member planets, but in this instance, where the rightful leadership has requested our aid to overthrow a dangerous usurper, we have no qualms about doing so."

"Ah - General Lyth was not then murdered?"

"No, sir. Neither he nor Chairman Trzv, nor any of their immediate staff, all of whom were initially drugged by Bzth in order to incapacitate them, thus facilitating his takeover. We believe that Bzth kept them alive to show what he would do to anyone who opposed him - there are those who will face death unflinchingly, yet still fear to be alive but helpless."

"But they are recovering satisfactorily, if Lyth is preparing to resume his position?"

"Yes indeed." No need to add that they might be on controlled dosage of a Federation tranquilliser for the rest of their lives. "Meanwhile, sir, I have come here to speak to you, since I did not have the opportunity to hear your views. I have spoken with Lyth and Trzv, and subject to your agreement also, I can draw up a treaty between our people and your world that will give you the benefits of Federation membership without handicap to the development of your own world as you wish it to be."

"Lyth and Trzv will have informed you that we wish - all of us - to see an end to the increased growth of industry, in particular the manufacture of weapons. Yet we cannot merely close down these factories, for that would be to throw many, many people out of work, to starve..."

"I think something can be done about that," Erskine said briskly. "It would merely be a matter of altering the goods that they produce. Some retraining will be necessary, of course, and a lot of new, pollution-free mechanism installed. Also we might be able to provide limited emigration facilities for a percentage of your excess population - I understand from Trzv that overpopulation is one of your most pressing problems."

"It is, indeed - and, unhappily, one reason why for a while war was considered unhappy and unfortunate, but necessary. Fortunately, both Lyth and I realised that war, fought with the weapons currently in our possession, would compound the problem rather than ease it, for it would render many areas currently inhabited, uninhabitable. We would have a reduced population - but we would also have reduced living space, and the problem would have arisen again within twenty years, twenty-five at the outside, for our race breeds rapidly, and there seems to be nothing we can do to persuade most of our men that they are not failing in virility if their wives have fewer than ten children - those women who practice contraception mostly do so without their husbands' knowledge. Families of that size were practical years ago, when nine out of ten children failed to survive, but medical science now ensures that only one in ten thousand dies in childhood."

Erskine nodded sympathetically. "It is a problem that many races face," she agreed, "and without space flight, very little that can be done, once it becomes obvious that there is a problem. For races with space flight, however, the answer is obvious; there are always those with the urge to move, to face new challenges - and there are many planets suitable for colonisation that have no native intelligent race. Obviously, each one has to be thoroughly checked out before being cleared for colonisation, and there are always many applicants from many different worlds for each planet cleared; but I can arrange for an over-allocation of places to be provided for inhabitants of a world such as this, which is a new member with a population problem. It would be less than you might find immediately beneficial - you wouldn't see an improvement in the population overnight. However, a new member world with no population problem usually wouldn't be considered for emigration rights for at least ten years after joining the Federation."

"My people will be grateful," Bryv said quietly.

Erskine returned to the Enterprise to report that the Zlair were anxious for peace.

"Well, we think we've got all the Hwrain nuclear bases disabled," Kirk said. He was looking rather strained. "It's not long till Bzth's deadline; if we haven't caught them all, we're going to have to do some rather neat work with tractor and deflector beams - we daren't explode nuclear missiles in the air - no knowing what sort of poison we'd be releasing into the atmosphere."

Erskine nodded, fully appreciating Kirk's position. She had reassured Bryv - if any missiles fell on Zlair now, Bryv would blame the Federation, and rightly so.

* * * * * * * *

Time dragged. Lyth and Trzv, both looking almost normal, joined Kirk on the bridge. Spock remained glued to his station, his attention locked on the scanners. Scott took his place formally at the controls of the tractor beams, refusing to entrust any of this particular responsibility to his underlings.

Finally - "Zero hour," Kirk said quietly.

Seconds ticked past.

"No sign of any missile being launched," Spock reported at last.

Kirk released a long sigh of relief; Lyth closed his eyes in a very Human gesture.

"Right," Kirk said. "Time to contact Mr. Bzth, I think. Uhura?"

"Contact established, Captain."

"Gla Bzth?" Kirk remembered the term Lyth had used. "This is Captain Kirk."

There was a long-drawn hissing sound. "Kirk?" The voice was disbelieving.

"Good day to you, Gla Bzth," General Lyth put in on Kirk's nod.

There was dead silence for a moment. "General Lyth?" It was little more than a whisper. In the background they could hear a hubbub that had to be loud for them to detect it through the communications system.

"Yes, my friend. May I ask what you have been attempting to do recently?"

Bzth seemed to gain courage. "I have been attempting to restore our country to its rightful place as ruler of Thryllv... something you lacked the courage to do."

"It seems to me that you have been attempting to destroy Thryllv," Lyth said softly, his voice dripping unnamed menace. "However, I look forward to examining your official report on the situation in due course - shall we say, this evening?" he went on, almost conversationally. "Oh, and Bzth - we will be bringing our own refreshments." He nodded to Kirk to indicate that he had finished; Kirk in turn gestured to Uhura, who closed the channel. Lyth smiled.

"Our friend Bzth is a very worried man now," he said cheerfully.

Something about his attitude made Kirk look closely at him. He seemed almost normal; could it be that the Betans knew nothing of withdrawal, that in fact the drug they had been given was not completely addictive, that once deprived of it for a day they no longer craved it, even though, as its effects first wore off, they did want more? He hoped so.

"We're ready to beam down as soon as you wish, sir," he said.

"Then let us confront Bzth now," Lyth decided.

* * * * * * * *

But they did not confront Bzth. When they beamed down, they found the usurper dead, his followers confused, ready for surrender. Bzth had killed himself rather than face the men he had drugged.

Ambassador Erskine's party remained on Beta VI to help Trzv, Lyth and Bryv persuade the leaders of the other, smaller, nations of the wisdom of forming a proper world government.

Kirk's last duty before the Enterprise left was to marry Alaine Norval and Jan Erskine. He hoped that they would be genuinely happy, that they had not merely been drawn together by proximity and the lack of any other young company on a regular basis.

As the Enterprise swung out of orbit, Uhura turned to Kirk. "Captain," she said, "a call coming in from Starfleet. We are ordered to..."

Kirk sighed. No rest for the wicked. He gestured her to continue.


Copyright Sheila Clark