(Standard Year 2251)

Return to Valjiir Stories

Return to Valjiir Continum

Go To Part Two

The sector the Enterprise was patrolling had shown no sign of Klingon activity. The quiet was a welcome change from the media circus of Starbase 16 and everyone on the Bridge was enjoying the peace. The command team were all at their stations and all doing necessary paperwork in the calm of the afternoon. Each would occasionally glance up to check their other responsibilities: Ruth, the sensors; Sulu, the Helm; and Spock, the rest of the Bridge. It looked as though it would continue to be a perfect day.

Until Uhura interrupted the quiet with, "Captain, I'm receiving the strangest message...."

"Klingons, Miss Uhura?" Spock asked.

"No, the language is Anglo-Terran... but the construction..." Uhura elegantly shrugged her shoulders.

"On audio," Spock said, then turned to Ruth questioningly.

"There's nothing out there that my sensors can pick up, sir," she replied. She had abandoned paperwork the moment Uhura had spoken, peering intently into the scanner. "I switched to long-range... still nothing."

A hoarse, rough-sounding voice filled the Bridge. "Hey, Enterprise! You there or not? Kirk, are you readin' us? Doncha know me? It's Bela! Bela Oxmyx! I come to talk about the Feds' deal, Kirk. Enterprise, are you listenin'?"

Spock was silent a moment before nodding to Uhura, an indication that she should acknowledge the message. Then he closed his eyes and said, "Mr. Sulu, when I say 'right', you are to respond with 'riiight'."

Sulu stared at his Captain, utterly confused. "Right," he said.

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

Leonard McCoy was in the middle of preparing for the crew's yearly physicals when the call came from the Bridge.

"Dr. McCoy, your immediate presence is requested on the Bridge." Spock's voice sounded as calm as always. There was seldom any reason he was called to the Bridge except for his professional services and Spock's tone gave away as little as it usually did, but for some reason, McCoy's instincts told him that there was no medical emergency.

"You haven't wanted me up there for a year, Captain," he reminded.

"I do now, Doctor," was the enigmatic reply. "At once, if you please."

McCoy grumbled, grabbed his medkit just in case and headed out of his office.

He arrived on the Bridge moments later to what was obviously the tail-end of Spock's remarks to some unseen person.

"....where your signal is coming from."

A voice chuckled from the audio speakers, a voice that McCoy found vaguely familiar but couldn't place. "So you bumped Kirk off, 'ey, Spocko? Well, I can unnerstand that. My boys'd do the same if I didn't keep 'em happy. But what I wanna know is how the hit affects our deal."

"As I understand it, Mr. Oxmyx," Spock said with a pointed stare at McCoy, "your 'deal' was with the Federation, not the Enterprise."

Oxmyx. McCoy felt a sense of dread overtaking him.

"Well, I'm changin' the rules!" the voice bellowed. "I got my own fancy heaters now and I ain't gonna take the Feds' heat no more!" The voice again became calm and reasonable. "Listen, pally, I always liked you. I'm just tryin' to be friendly. The Feds you sent just don't unnerstand The Book. Why don't you come on over? We can work our own deal."

"Mr. Oxmyx," Spock said carefully, "we are nowhere near Iotia. In fact, as I stated, I cannot fathom how your communication is reaching us."

"That's easy, Spock. We ain't on Iotia. We got a ship of our own, just like yours!"

Spock raised meaningful eyebrows at McCoy. McCoy cleared his throat, rocked back and forth on his heels and mumbled, "I guess I did leave my communicator in his office."

"We see no ship on our sensors," Spock said to Bela Oxmyx.

Another chuckle came from the speakers. "Yeah, that's the beauty part. The Feds said this baby has something called a Valjiir cloak. I don't know how it works, but you can't see us and we can see you fine."

A groan came from the Science Station.

"And just where are the original inhabitants of your ship?" Spock asked. McCoy cringed at the answer.

"The Feds? We put the bag on their Captain and they're as gentle as lambs."

Spock momentarily silenced the transmission. "Dr. McCoy?" he asked eloquently.

"I...uh..." McCoy stuttered.

Spock nodded. "Somehow, Doctor, that is what I thought you would say." He again thumbed the transmission switch. "You seem to have us at a disadvantage, Mr. Oxmyx. I accept your offer of boarding your ship in order to facilitate an arrangement."

"You mean you're gonna talk deal? Well, that's great, Spocko! Just great! I'll have the boys down in the sparkle-room bring you over."

"It would be easier if you simply gave us your coordinates..."

"You think I'm stupid? I learned enough about this stuff to know that you can't find us without them coordinate things. No dice, pally. We're invisible and were gonna stay invisible. You just sit tight and we'll be right with you."

The speaker went dead and Spock sighed, then turned to Sulu. "Mr. Sulu, you will accompany me. In case we encounter the same type of difficulties as before, I wish to leave Mr. Scott in charge." He rose from the con and faced Ruth. "Miss Valley, you and Mrs. Majiir are relieved of all duty until a way is found to break the sensor block of the Valjiir cloak."

McCoy began to backstep toward the turbolift, but Spock's quick eye caught him.

"I thought I'd better get back to sickbay..." McCoy began.

"You, Doctor, will come with us," Spock interrupted. "We may have need of you."

"Captain?" Ruth spoke up. Spock turned from the turbolift. "They can't transport through the cloak."

"Indeed," Spock said thoughtfully. He spoke to the man who had slid into the Helm seat to replace Sulu. "Pay close attention to the scanner, Mr. Castell. The ship will become visible for only a moment while the transporter is engaged. I want her position pin-pointed."

"She'll move," Sulu muttered.

"She would if she were commanded by an experienced Captain," Spock answered. "We will trust that Mr. Oxmyx is not." He glanced at McCoy. "Come, Doctor."

"You're a cruel man, Spocko," McCoy grumbled.

"Right," Spock replied.

On cue, Sulu said, "Riiight."

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

"Hey, Boss, this ain't workin'!" Kalo yelled into the intercom at the transporter.

"You sure those coordinates are in the sparkler?" Oxmyx's voice yelled back. Kalo gestured with his phaser rifle to the crewmember at the controls.

Anna Eichner was a gentle woman. She was a lieutenant on board the Pocahontas, the scientific scout ship that had been assigned to try to reform the Iotian culture. She had never expected to have to take orders with a weapon trained on her and her Captain's life in the balance. They were supposed to be guiding the Iotians to a more stable form of government. They had hardly expected to be greeted with crude but functioning phasers and knowledge of both communicators and transporters and most of the other standard equipment of a starship. She - and most of the other crewmembers - were cooperating. Those that hadn't were on Iotia under guard. And those guards were loyal to Bela Oxmyx.

"The coordinates are correct," she told Kalo.

"Then why ain't it workin'? Start talkin', toots, or we'll find someone who will!"

Anna sighed. "The transporter doesn't work through the Valjiir cloak."

"Boss, you hear that?" Kalo yelled.

"I hear, I hear!" There was a moment of silence. "So if we turn it off, the Enterprise can see us. But if we don't, we can't get Spocko and his boys over here." Another silence. "Hey, you - helm! How fast can this baby move?"

"Maneuvering thrusters can obtain a speed of..."

"How fast can you change where we are?"

"A matter of seconds."

"Great. Kalo, get ready to get that sparkler workin'!"

"Whatcha gonna do, Boss?" Kalo yelled.

"When ya send the boys to the mattresses and somebody spots 'em, whaddya do?"

"Ya move 'em. But, Boss..."

"When we got Spocko on board, we're movin' the mattresses."

"Hey, Boss, you make a great Captain!" Kalo enthused.

"Yeah, don't I know it. Get movin' Kalo!"

"Right."

Anna sighed again.

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

"I've got her!" Ensign Castell said. "A scout, seven two point one mark one. And she's gone."

"That close?" Scotty mused as he leaned on the side arm of the con. "Ach, there are times I wish the lasses were nae so smart."

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

"She's moving, Captain," Sulu murmured to Spock as they stepped off the transporter platform. Spock was frowning. He, too, had noticed the change in the pitch of the engines' hum.

"Round one to Mr. Oxmyx," he returned. He glanced up and at the scarred man who held a phaser rifle trained on him. "Mr. Kalo, I believe."

"You got a good memory, pally. Let's see what else you remember."

"Turn to stone, if I'm not mistaken."

"Good boy." Kalo stared hard at Sulu. "The sawbones I remember. Who's this?"

"My First Officer, Mr. Sulu."

"Pleased, I'm sure," Sulu muttered.

"Hey, I don't want no lip from you!" Kalo snapped. "I got the heater this time. So you just button it, pally!"

"Do they always talk like that?" Sulu whispered to McCoy. McCoy nodded.

"I assume Mr. Oxmyx wishes to see us," Spock rejoined.

"That's right." Kalo jerked the rifle towards the door. "Get movin'. That way."

They started down the corridor. It had been obvious from the lesser number of pads on the transporter that this was not a heavy cruiser. The smaller width, greater curvature and placement of the corridors, as well as the smaller size of the stairwells, access tubes and turbolift were enough for any Fleet officer to identify the type of vessel. "A scout, Captain," Sulu murmured.

Spock nodded. "We are outnumbered, but the Enterprise is not."

"If we can get a signal to her."

"The crew here will not actively interfere with us, but they may not actively help, either."

"How can you be sure?"

"The ship sent to Iotia was a scientific one, not a ship of the line. Her officers cannot be expected to maintain military discipline."

"Since when have you been so lenient?" McCoy broke in.

"Stop your jaw-bonin'," Kalo cut in. "You'll talk when the boss wants you to talk."

"And he will no doubt tell us what he wishes us to say," Spock returned.

"Don't get smart, pally."

"I assure you, it is the farthest thing from my mind."

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

Bela Oxmyx sat in the con, lounging comfortably. The young blonde woman Spock remembered from Iotia was perched on the arm, her split skirt revealing a phaser tucked into a lace-covered elastic band around her thigh. Sulu stared.

"Is this a joke?" he asked under his breath.

"This, Mr. Sulu, is Bela Oxmyx and his - I believe the term is 'moll'."

"Good for you, pally!" Oxmyx boomed. "That's just what I was sayin'," he continued to the crew. "Spocko unnerstands The Book. Him I can deal with." He returned his attention to Spock. "I'd ask ya to sit down, Spocko, but there ain't no extra chairs here."

"I am acquainted with the interior of a starship, Mr. Oxmyx," Spock replied.

Oxmyx grinned. "Yeah. Just like yours, huh?"

"Indeed." A discreet glance was enough to warn Sulu not to mention the fact that the scout was considerably smaller and less well-equipped than the Enterprise. "You spoke of a deal?"

"Right down to business, eh Spocko? I respect that. I'm a man of business myself." Oxmyx rose, speaking to his moll. "Move it, honey." She obediently slid off the con, causing the communications officer to jump as the action sent squeals of static through his earset. Kalo's phaser was immediately trained on the ensign.

"Calm, Ensign," Spock said. "Mr. Kalo is no doubt very adept with his weapon."

"And a touch antsy to boot," McCoy whispered to Sulu.

"I give the orders here!" Oxmyx reminded sharply. Spock's gaze was cool, almost bored.

"Of course. As to our business...?"

"Yeah." Oxmyx began to stroll around the Bridge. "The way I figure it is we're on equal footing with the Feds. Now I got no quarrel with Kirk's syndicate - but our syndicate deserves a piece of your action. After all, we got a ship now - don't we." He smiled mirthlessly.

"It appears so, Mr. Oxmyx."

"Appears!?! Listen, pally; I been real buddy-buddy with you! I got respect for your ship! But respect don't mean I'm yellow! I still know where you are - and your boys still can't see me!"

Spock inclined his head in deference. Sulu bristled. "Captain, this is ridic...."

Spock cut him off. "I see your point, Mr. Oxmyx. What exactly does your syndicate have in mind?"

"Well now, that's better." Oxmyx again took the con. "I know we're not big time - yet. All I'm askin' is a fair percentage... say ten percent off the top. You wouldn't even miss it and we could build our own ships, then give this one back. Then we'd join the Feds syndicate and we'd all be one big, happy family!"

McCoy rolled his eyes heavenward. Sulu's face was a confused blank. Spock seemed to be considering.

"An intriguing proposition. However, you realize we can't be bothered with such a small outfit as yours." Kalo's phaser swung toward him. He raised one eyebrow. Oxmyx's face grew red.

"Remember your ship, pally," he warned.

"One hit won't impress the Federation, Mr. Oxmyx. And then they'll hit you - and there goes your ship. Am I right, Mr. Sulu?"

Sulu was quick enough on his feet to reply, "Riiight," and as Oxmyx paced away muttering, he added in a whisper, "What are you doing?"

"Stalling," was the equally quiet response.

"But you don't know where we are!" Oxmyx turned back and bellowed triumphantly. "And as long as we got this Valjiir thing, you ain't never gonna!" He sat back down in the con, grinning smugly.

"Except that the Enterprise has Valjiir, the design team that created the cloak," Spock returned easily.

The grin vanished. "Not if I hit you - hard!"

"Which will tell the Enterprise where you are."

Oxmyx bit his lip, then gestured to Kalo. The phaser's aim again changed, this time to the helmsman. "Hey, you! Can we fire our big heaters without turnin' off the cloak?"

The helmsman looked at Spock, then at Kalo's rifle. "Uh - I - don't know. I - uh - I've never done it..." The rifle came close to his head. "I'm telling the truth!"

Oxmyx inclined his head and the rifle moved to McCoy. "What about you, sawbones?"

McCoy looked startled and a little offended. "I'm a doctor, not a scientist," he replied.

Oxmyx gestured a third time and the rifle swung to Spock. "We'll try somethin' a little different," he said, and faced Sulu. "You! Is your Captain's life worth an answer?"

Sulu made a show of considering. Spock's gaze clearly said that the information was of no consequence - but making Oxmyx think it was could be important. Finally he sighed.

"You don't have to turn off the cloak - but the phaser fire would pin-point your position."

"Ahhh...." Oxmyx muttered in disgust and turned away. Suddenly he brightened and bounced out of the con. "Call the Enterprise!" he bellowed to the communications officer. "Tell 'em unless they send Valjiir over here, their Captain's gonna be in the deep freeze - permanent!" He turned to Kalo. "Put 'em on ice!"

Kalo hustled Spock, Sulu and McCoy off the Bridge as communications were opened with the Enterprise. But Spock was smiling.

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

"It is impossible," Jilla stated calmly.

"It can't be impossible," Ruth returned. "We made it, we're not perfect. There's got to be a loophole somewhere."

"I am certain there is. And advances in technology will no doubt make that evident. Unfortunately, we have no such advances now."

Ruth ignored Jilla's resigned certainty. "Then we'll have to make them, won't we?" She paced around the workroom in engineering. "We know matter will pass through..."

"Only if it originates within the..."

"And we're outside. Damn." Silence and more pacing. "Any way to neutralize either the verillium or..."

"Not from outside. The field itself protects the projection of..."

"Damn again." More silence, more pacing. "Energy from outside leaves no traces, but the cloak acts as a deflector for..."

"Randomly. There is no accurate way to predict the angles or velocities of any given deflection of any given..."

"Damn, damn and double damn!" Ruth growled in exasperation. "Why'd we have to be so smart?"

"It was to save your husband."

"It was not - he wasn't then." Jilla only smiled. Ruth shook her head. "Yeah, you told me so. So how do we save him this time?"

"I trust to our commanding officer's ingenuity to provide an answer."

Ruth eyed Jilla suspiciously. "Do you know something I don't know?"

"No. But he is aware of the impossibility of our assignment. Therefore, it is only logical that he will find some way we can avoid being 'relieved of all duty' forever."

"Logic," Ruth snorted affectionately. "Fortunate one of us speaks the language."

"Lieutenant Commander Valley, Lieutenant Majiir; report to the transporter room on the double," Uhura's voice ordered over the intercom.

Jilla rose from her seat with a definite air of vindicated superiority. Ruth pointedly ignored it and thumbed the response switch.

"On our way; Valley out," she said, then added to Jilla, "and stop looking so smug."

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

Scotty was waiting for them in the transporter room, and he explained the nature of Oxmyx's demand: that 'Valjiir' beam over immediately - and alone.

"I dinna like it," he finished darkly.

"We will be quite safe," Jilla replied confidently.

"I dinna like givin' in to blackmail. Oxmyx threatened the Captain's life."

"Mr. Oxmyx could only have learned what Valjiir is from the Captain or Commander Sulu or Dr. McCoy," Jilla continued, "therefore we can assume the information was given with some purpose in mind; obviously to allow us to work inside the cloaked ship. It is the Captain's intention we transport. No harm will come to us."

"Logic," Ruth added wryly.

"Aye... and it's been logic all along," Scotty grumbled.

"Scotty, that was done with months ago," Ruth reminded. "No more Captain Bastard, remember?"

"Aye," he said again, but he seemed far from convinced. "Be careful all the same."

"Of course," Jilla agreed. Scott turned to the technician on duty.

"Energize."

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

"This is Valjiir?" Bela Oxmyx boomed as the two women materialized on board the Pocahontas. "Dames? Hey, your Mr. Scotty better not be tryin' to bamboozle me or...."

"Rest assured, we're Valjiir," Ruth cut in. She and Jilla stepped off the transporter.

"Lieutenant Commander Valley and Lieutenant Majiir," Jilla said.

"Valley and Majiir," Oxmyx mused. "Valley and Majiir. Valley Majiir, Valley Maj...Valjiir!" He grinned. "I got it! Pretty clever, huh?"

"Brilliant," Ruth muttered.

"May we confer with our Captain?" Jilla asked.

"You ain't conferrin' nothin!" Oxmyx bellowed. Ruth winced. "You're here to help me, and you don't need to see Spocko to do that. You got me?"

"Spocko?" Jilla questioned quietly.

"Gotcha," Ruth replied.

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

Spock sat calmly in the brig. Sulu was standing near the force-shielded doorway. McCoy paced uncomfortably, then turned on Spock. "You're actually enjoyin’ this, Captain!" he accused.

"It is important that Mr. Sulu be made aware of how the Iotians came to possess the knowledge that enabled them to take over this ship," Spock replied. "And as that was your doing..."

"It wasn't on purpose!" McCoy returned.

"Nevertheless..."

"I still don't understand," Sulu broke in, much to McCoy's relief. "How could it be your doing, Doc?"

McCoy sighed, trying not to notice the supercilious cant to Spock's eyebrows. "All I did was accidentally leave my communicator in Bela Oxmyx's office."

"And?" Sulu prompted.

"And the Iotians are very bright, very imitative people."

"And?"

"And they apparently managed to figure out our basic systems..."

"...from the transtator," Sulu finished with him, then added a heartfelt epithet he had learned from Ruth and Daffy. "Oy."

"Indeed," Spock agreed. "The Pocahontas, not expecting comparable technology, was taken by surprise."

"It was an accident!" McCoy burst out. "It could've happened to anyone! And besides, Jim didn't think it was so all-fired important!"

Spock straightened abruptly as if he'd been struck. Sulu took a quick breath, wincing in anticipation.

"Jim is not in command at the moment, Doctor," Spock replied stiffly."I do only what I think best." Sulu's anticipation turned to sympathy.

"Oh, hell. Spock, I didn't mean it like that," McCoy began. Spock cut him off with a curt nod.

"Understood, Doctor."

McCoy glanced awkwardly at the deck. Sulu placed an understanding hand on his shoulder and faced Spock. "Captain," he said as respectfully as he knew how, "what do you think best? How do we get out of this?"

Spock's returned gaze was silent acknowledgement and gratitude. "Valjiir will take care of that," he answered.

Sulu's eyes lit up with sudden comprehension.

"I was wondering what was goin' on in that computer you call a brain," McCoy muttered. Spock stared at him for a moment and Sulu wondered if McCoy's attempt at normalcy would go unheeded. Then Spock's eyebrow rose.

"Elementary, my dear doctor," Spock deadpanned.

Sulu laughed. McCoy grumbled properly, but there was an affectionate twinkle in his eyes.

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

Oxmyx led Ruth and Jilla to the engineering section of the Pocahontas. A blonde woman had appeared at his side sometime in the journey and made no attempt to disguise her insecure loathing. Jilla found the emotions fascinating. The Iotians were nothing more than children playing at bravery. Oxmyx himself was carrying out a charade of confidence; a well-acted one, Jilla had to admit. And the guard with a phaser rifle pointed at them was terrified and confused and covering it all with tough bravado. The blend of emotion was not new to Jilla's sensitivity. Ruth had felt the same through many of their missions. Somehow that fact removed any sense of real danger.

That and, of course, the sure knowledge that Valjiir could now carry out their Captain's orders. "Now I want you two to cooperate," Oxmyx was saying, "just like good little girls. And if you do, I won't hafta order a hit on your Captain. I'm a reasonable man - when everybody acts reasonable-like." He grinned, a distinctly unfriendly expression, then his voice hardened. "Now get to work."

"Excuse me," Ruth said. The guard swung the rifle to her. She made a face of bored contempt. "Down, boy," she said to him, then spoke again to Oxmyx. "What exactly are we supposed to do?"

Oxmyx appeared taken aback. He cleared his throat, humphed a few times, then said, "Figure out how I can use that Valjiir cloak to put the bag on the Enterprise - for starters." He chuckled.

Jilla didn't understand a word. "I beg your pardon?" she asked, at the same time Ruth said:

"'Put the bag on...'?"

"Yeah, you know, like....capture or somethin'," the blonde woman replied in a nasal twang. "Ain't too smart, huh Bela," she added with a catty sneer.

"Take a hike, will ya, baby?" Oxmyx said to her. She scowled but walked away, her spike heels clicking on the deck. Ruth and Jilla exchanged glances, Ruth raising one ironic eyebrow. Jilla's eyes smiled knowingly. "Get to work!" Oxmyx repeated threateningly, then followed the blonde. The guard stayed behind, smiling through a small, slim sliver of wood held between his teeth.

Ruth shook her head, then caught Jilla's continued smile. "Comes with living with him," she explained, then grinned herself - wickedly. "Well, let's get to work."

"Indeed," Jilla agreed.

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

"I'm sure the Captain knows what he's doing," Uhura tried to reassure Scotty. "Doesn't he always?"

"No," Scott grumbled in reply. "Ach, lass, I hate sittin' here not doin' a thing!"

Uhura nodded her agreement and sympathy. She didn't understand the Iotians - as she hadn't on their first encounter. She tried now to recall everything said about them, or by them. They spoke of 'deals' and 'business,' incentives and percentages. As though life was one huge marketplace. She shook her head.

"They sound like Havens," she mused. Scott turned to her.

"What did ye say, lass?"

"Nothing, Mr. Scott. I was just thinking that the Iotians sound just like...." Uhura's voice stopped and a slow smile came to her face. She met Scotty's eyes with sudden comprehension. "Havens. The Iotians sound like Havens!"

Scotty grinned broadly. "Aye, that they do. Well, don't just sit there, Uhura!"

"Aye aye, sir!" Uhura responded enthusiastically and turned to her comm board to contact the Federation's newest member.

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

"Beauty?!?" Tomor Rand exclaimed as he sat up from his customary slouch. At the other end of his office on board his ship, Leather, Lane Gage went back to filling his pipe. He'd been sitting at his desk, discussing the latest figures on the Gross Imperial Profit with his security advisor and appointed watchdog. He was surprised at the call from the Enterprise, but had of course accepted it. He was, after all, the Haven ambassador. He'd wondered aloud what help Captain My-Perfect-Wife wanted now. He was more surprised when his secretary asked for Rand. But hearing the lovely Lieutenant Commander Uhura's even lovelier voice explained everything.

"Tomor, I need your help."

Rand grinned. "Anything," he said with a creditable leer. "For the proper price."

"I won't even haggle. This is urgent. How fast can you get to sector 7, G57?"

Rand glanced at Gage. Gage shrugged. "Leather can make that in three hours if she's stripped."

"You hear?" Rand said.

"Yes. Thank you, Mr. Ambassador."

"I'm a sucker for romance," Gage replied.

"Me too, but this is business. We need help in -uh – entrepreneuring and no one's better qualified. I can't explain now, but..."

"And I thought you missed me," Rand tsked.

"Oh, I do, but business first. Trust me."

"You sure she hasn't got Haven blood somewhere?" Gage put in.

"Just under her nails. On our way, Beauty."

"I'm grateful, Tomor."

"Keep that in mind, sugar. Rand out." He rose from the couch. "Let's move it, Gage."

Gage, too, got up and they headed for the door and Leather's Bridge. "I like her, Rand."

"Me too. We'll make cute babies."

"A Fleet wife?! You've been corrupted, my friend."

"No. She'll be."

Gage laughed and lit his pipe.

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

Bela Oxmyx was all smiles as he entered the brig. Sulu and McCoy immediately stood up. Spock remained seated - if anything his posture became less stiff.

"I take it from your demeanor that Miss Valley and Mrs. Majiir are safely aboard," Spock said in a voice that sounded unconcerned.

"Yeah, and they're workin' their little fingers to the bone - for me. Looks like you ain't got no more aces, pally." Oxmyx chuckled, handling his phaser rifle with confident carelessness.

"True. But as I've just won the game, it hardly matters," Spock replied blithely.

"Won the....whaddya mean?!?" Oxmyx blustered. "I got you, this ship, Valjiir....how the heck have you won?!?"

Spock sat back, even more relaxed. "How do you know Valjiir is working for you? How could you check their work?"

"I got you, pally!" The rifle swung menacingly. "If they want you back in one piece..."

"How do you know, Mr. Oxmyx? And do you risk harm to me unless you're certain? If you threaten me you may force them to remain active, but you cannot guarantee that what they say they have done will actually do what they have said it will." Oxmyx stared. Spock went on. "I, of course, could check and confirm their work..."

Oxmyx slapped his hand down on the table. The phaser's aim slipped, but Oxmyx didn't notice. "Then you'll do that, pally. Or sleep with the fishes, ya know what I mean?"

"Uncomfortable, I'm sure," Spock replied nonplussed. "But you would again have no way of knowing if I were being truthful. Which leaves you in the same predicament. Harm me and Valjiir will not cooperate. Which you cannot even be certain of unless I confirm it. Which you cannot force me to do except under threat of harm. Which you cannot execute in practice due to your lack of knowledge concerning Valjiir's work which only I can guarantee. Which I will not do. Or I may lie about. And if you harm me for my refusal, Valjiir will no longer have any incentive to complete their task. Or they will be free to sabotage this ship in any way their skills allows. Which, of course, they can already do and no doubt are. And at any rate, you have no way of knowing if I am lying. Or if they are. Or…”

Spock went on reiterating the obvious in his best, most droning monotone. Oxmyx stared, glassy-eyed, trying to follow Spock's increasingly unconnected statements. Sulu moved slowly and silently behind the gangster, mentally congratulating Spock on his tactical brilliance. Then he dispatched Bela Oxmyx with one well-placed karate chop.

McCoy moved quickly to appropriate Oxmyx's weapon as Spock rose from his recumbent position to the unguarded and deactivated cell door. Sulu was grinning broadly.

"I don't know what you call that..." McCoy began.

"Merely a Vulcan version of an ancient Antari card game," Spock replied.

"Ancient Antari....?" McCoy said, and Sulu cut him off.

"Fizzbin, Doc." He chuckled. "Captain Kirk did say Beta Antares Four."

McCoy snorted. "And he didn't even know Ruthie then."

They moved down the corridor to the armory. The guard that should have been there had, as Spock had assumed, been removed by Oxmyx. Oxmyx wasn't worried about one of the Pocahontas' crew appropriating weapons: there were only enough people on board to man the scout. "Gentlemen," Spock said, "we must take the Bridge before Mr. Oxmyx awakens or is missed." He reached for hand phasers and powerpacks.

"No, rifles," Sulu interjected. Spock glanced at him. "With all respect, sir, the Iotians will heed the grander show of force."

Spock nodded. "Rifles, Mr. Sulu." He turned to McCoy. "Come with me, Doctor. Mr. Sulu, see that Miss Valley and Mrs. Majiir join us on the Bridge."

"Aye, sir."

Sulu hurried down the corridor as Spock and McCoy headed for the Bridge.

"Fizzbin, eh, Spock?" McCoy said. "Pretty clever."

"Yes, Doctor. Nearly as clever as leaving your communicator in Mr. Oxmyx's office."

"You're not gonna let up on that, are you?" McCoy bristled.

"Should I?"

"I hate it when you're right."

"A condition you should be familiar with."

"Yeah, I suppose so. Especially after how right you've been the past year and a half."

Spock inclined his head. "Touché, Leonard."

McCoy smiled. "Indeed, Spocko."

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