DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc and Viacom. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2001 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.
Never a Dull Moment
Confidence is the feeling you have before you understand the situation. -- Unknown
Of all the days to be late! Christine Chapel pulled on her dress uniform and struggled with her hair for far too much time. I swear I will cut you off if you don't behave, she threatened the errant locks with no real effect. She glanced at the chrono. She could just make it but there would be no time to spare for breakfast. Throwing a longing glance at her replicator she ran out of the room.
By the time she hit diplomatic on deck 3 she had slowed down enough to look composed and in control when she entered the briefing room. She nodded to Sovar and Troi and took a seat at the end of the table near Kerr. She was surprised to see that Spock had not arrived yet. Maybe we all overslept, she laughed to herself as she saw Ritsuko come peeling into the room only to observe with delight that she wasn't the last one to arrive. She claimed a chair across from Christine. Penhallon strolled in next, clearly unconcerned at his tardiness. Wish I could warm up to that one, she thought, as she watched him exchange pleasantries with Troi.
She looked around for Nako, found her among the back-benchers. By rights Christine should not have even been at this meeting or slated for inclusion in the mission they were all gathered to discuss. Nako had been the logical one for the role but she had told Spock and Christine that she was feeling strange and needed to return to her homeworld for medical treatment. Christine had pressed her, tried to get the woman to let her examine her but Nako had declined any assistance. She had also refused to give them any further explanation. Still concerned, Christine caught Nako's eye, mouthed "How are you feeling?" The older woman gave her the same serene smile as ever. Christine couldn't help but smile back but she still had the feeling that something was terribly wrong and that Nako knew exactly what it was.
Spock entered the room next, his presence signaling for immediate quiet. "We shall begin."
The room went dark and a screen at the front of the room lit up. Spock's voice rang out from the side of the room. "The Felstrar Colony, in the Boriaus sector." The first still was a far shot of a star. "This is Boriaus. A Sol-type star, with 19 planets orbiting, five of which are in class-M orbit." The shot switched to a smallish planet. As the vid zoomed it showed a planet with one major landmass that sprawled its way across much of the planet. "The planet is post industrial but the people that colonized it are not." The shot changed to several sleek ships leaving orbit. "They kept up their ships even as contact broke down with the home world for other materials. They had to learn to make what they needed, or trade for it. Fortunately for them their world is riddled with substantial dilithium deposits." Several mining operations came into focus. "The Felstarans have done well for themselves. So well that they have tired of paying their home world the ritual tribute for what they consider a low level of support at best. They have declared independence and wish to ally themselves with a greater power. That is why we are here. The Federation is always looking for new sources of dilithium."
As is every other world, Christine thought and was surprised that no one yelled it out. Spock's meetings were quite different than her own staff meetings. But she had attended enough of these to know that his people would speak freely around him, just not during his lecture.
The lights went back up. Spock continued, "So are the Klingons, the Romulans, and a host of other federated worlds. We are not the only ones to be on our way to this planet. But no one is precisely sure what to expect. Those who trade regularly with the Felstrarans have only seen the landing facility. We have been told by sources that should know that it is very difficult to gain access to the Felstraran cities. We will have to proceed with caution."
"For this mission, we have been told to bring six members in our delegation. Commander Troi, Commander Penhallon, Mr. Sovar, Colonel Kerr, Commander Chapel, and myself will make up the delegation. To lessen the shock to their culture we will go down in stages. Commander Chapel, Colonel Kerr and myself shall go first." He sat down. "Your ideas?"
The room erupted in sound as the department heads worked together to make sure the negotiations would go smoothly. Christine smiled and chimed in when she had something to offer. Spock had asked her to join the mission as soon as it was clear Nako would not be going. He had claimed to want a medical representative but she suspected that he just wanted to make sure there was a woman on the team. She would have preferred to see Nako go. She was much better suited for this than Christine, who was not known for her diplomatic acumen. She laughed remembering the Priest on Canara Seltax. They had made up eventually, but it had been sticky going at first. If it hadn't been for the efforts of Nako, Christine doubted that he would ever have come around to helping them.
She watched Spock as he worked with his team. He really is good at this, she mused. He was calm and centered. She knew that he was still hurting terribly from the blow of Kirk's death. But he didn't show it in this environment. In private, it was somewhat more obvious but he was becoming more like his old self. They had had dinner together two nights before. While it had been strained at first, over the course of the evening they had relaxed enough to resume the gentle teasing that had marked their relation ship since they had been forced together into Federation team training. By the end of the night, she had felt that they had gone a long way to repairing the rift that Kirk's death had caused between them.
Another voice sounded out: Kerr, arguing a security point, in the good-humored way he preferred. She smiled. He had been there for her at a time when Spock wasn't. And he still was there. He had claimed her dinner hour yesterday. She had thought he might act differently, given that she was growing closer again to Spock. But he was the same playful man she had become so intensely fond of. Just being around him made her feel good.
She looked at them both, these two men she had come to care so much for. She and Spock had not discussed it directly, but she sensed that he was aware of her growing friendship with his security chief. And Kerr had said he would share her for now. But eventually she would have to make a choice. Can't I just have them both, she thought to her goddesses. If I'm really, really good?
Spock's voice interrupted her pleasant daydreams. "It seems all is settled. We will leave now. Commander, Colonel." He rose and clearly expected them to follow him out.
But what about breakfast, Christine thought somewhat desperately as she hurried to catch up with the two men.
The beam down area was a nondescript room with smiling young Felstrarans waiting for them to climb off the transporter pads.
"Welcome to Felstrar Colony," they said in unison. "Offworlder or Native?"
"Offworlder," Spock said, "We are the…"
"Save that information for the person at the end of the left corridor, the red one. Enjoy your stay."
The long hall seemed endless. "This is different," Christine remarked.
"I'm sure there is a reason for it, Commander." Spock was at his most Vulcan. "There are many people coming for the negotiations. Perhaps they thought this was the best way to handle the crowds while maintaining security."
Christine listened to their footsteps echo in the empty hallway. "What crowds?" At his glare, she laughed. "Ok, I'll behave."
She heard Kerr chuckle behind her.
"Do not encourage her, Colonel." Spock probably would have had more to say but they had arrived at the end of the corridor.
"Hello there." An officious young woman handed them each a stack of documents. "These are your papers and you mustn't lose them." She quickly snapped a holo of them, then scanned it into a small book, which she waved at them ominously. "This is your entrance book for the duration of your stay. Keep it on your person at all times." She took in their uniforms. "I'm not quite sure how you'll do that, don't your people believe in pockets?"
"They ruin the line of the uniform," Kerr deadpanned.
Christine bit back laughter.
"Of course they do," the woman said agreeably. "Now this form," she held up a thick packet, "You need to fill out and turn into the customs desk. Please be sure to fill out all spaces, even those that don't apply should be marked so we know you didn't forget anything. There are writing implements inside the room there, please proceed."
They filed through the turnstile and found the writing utensils.
Spock looked through the packet of paper. "Most of this is reading material for once we get inside. I suggest we all get started on this large form."
There was silence for a while as they filled out the information on the first few sheets.
Then Christine got to the fourth page. "List the name and occupation of all maternal and paternal relatives going back six generations. The occupations? They've got to be kidding."
"Bet the Captain can do that," Kerr teased her.
Spock looked up at her, "No jokes about walking encyclopedias, Commander."
"Well how the hell am I supposed to know what the occupation of my great-great-great grandmother was?"
"There are four greats if you go back six generations," Kerr offered helpfully.
She glared at him.
Spock looked at her firmly. "Fabricate something."
"You mean lie."
"He means make it up. Just stick to simple things though. It's a whole lot easier to remember a lie if it doesn't get too complicated." Kerr was the model of assistance.
Sighing dramatically, she went back to the form.
It was silent again for a while. Then Kerr spoke. "Well this is getting kind of personal. Have you two reached number 52 yet?"
They both thumbed ahead. Christine laughed outright, Spock looked scandalized. "I cannot imagine this is pertinent to our mission."
Kerr nodded agreement, "Damn straight it isn't. How about we all just put celibate and leave it at that."
"Agreed," Spock said with relief.
"Because…we all are…right?" Kerr continued unexpectedly. "Sorry," he said when both of his companions glared at him. "Just making conversation," he muttered, not quite sotto voce.
More than an hour later they finished the forms.
"She said customs, right?" Christine asked as she looked around at the different hallways leading out of the room. "Excuse me," she yelled to the woman at the gate.
"Shhh," the woman cautioned.
Christine looked around the empty room and closed her eyes as she took a deep breath. "Where is the customs booth?" she asked in a stage whisper.
"The blue hallway," the other woman answered.
There were three blue hallways.
"Which one?" Christine asked again.
"The light blue one of course," the woman answered, now clearly irritated.
"Now why didn't I think of that," Christine muttered as she led the other two out.
At the end of the hallway they found themselves in a huge room. They entered a long roped queue that snaked across the room. They followed it back and forth even though there was no one else in line. When they finally got to the head of the line Spock strode up to the only open window.
"We are here for customs."
"Did the sign direct you to this booth?" the man asked expressionlessly.
"I did not see a sign, but as there was no one waiting but us…"
"You assumed I have no other work but dealing with you. Well you assumed wrong, Mister. Please go back to the line, at once."
Spock turned to them, his expression giving nothing away. "We must wait."
"For what?" Kerr asked in confusion.
"I am not sure."
They all watched as the man slammed his window shut and left the area. The cavernous room was empty except for them.
"Now what," Christine asked.
They waited. And waited. And waited. Finally a woman came in and opened another booth. A sign lit up, unfamiliar writing and an arrow directing them in her direction. They all went this time.
"Have you anything to declare?" The woman barely looked at them as she took their entrance books and the thick forms.
"We have just arrived," Spock replied.
The woman looked at him then. She was chewing some type of food that never seemed to lose its original mass. It snapped as she chewed. "And that would be a yes or a no?"
The woman stamped their documents, threw their forms into a bin already filled with a large stack of the same, and gave them a patently false smile. "Welcome to Felstrar Colony. Go that way," she pointed to a hallway. "You want the arrivals desk. Can't miss it."
Fifteen minutes later, they found themselves back at the customs desk. The woman looked up at them in surprise. "Or maybe you can miss it." Again the food in her mouth snapped. "Go down the hall, the fifth door, the one that says 'arrivals', go through it, to the left, then right, then left, and you'll see it. Can't miss it." She giggled as she finished.
Christine felt the urge to punch her but both Spock and Kerr pushed her forward. "What? I wasn't going to do anything!"
She fell silent as Spock led them down the hall. He counted to five doors and opened it. It was a storage closet. They looked at the other doors. None said arrivals in any language they recognized. Spock pulled out his communicator. "Spock to Carter. Lt. Kavall?"
"Kavall here, Sir."
"Do you have a Felstraran dictionary available?"
They heard keys being punched on the computer then she said, "Yes, Sir."
"Please look up the word 'arrivals'. Describe to me what it looks like."
A moment later she began to explain the complicated Felstaran alphabet. They each checked different doors as she spoke.
"I think this might be it," Christine called to the other two.
They rushed over and all verified that it seemed the right door. Spock seemed to square his shoulders as he prepared to move out again. "Thank you, Lieutenant. Please stand by…we may need more assistance."
"Aye, Sir," was the somewhat confused reply from the bridge.
Finally it looked like they had found the right place. Christine felt her stomach growl and thought wistfully of a huge diplomatic spread with food and beverages. She felt some stirrings even lower and realized she would also welcome some nice bathroom facilities.
She followed Spock and Kerr past several Klingons standing in a clump in the waiting room and up to what was clearly an entrance booth. An official looking man waited for them with a smile. "Good afternoon, Sir's, Madame. What is your business on Felstrar Colony?"
"We were invited here. We are the Federation delegation."
"Wonderful. I'll have to check that." He began to scroll through a seemingly endless list of names. Suddenly he looked up, "Federation of Langellian Pigfarmers?"
"United Federation of Planets," Spock corrected.
"Well why didn't you say that in the first place…here I've been looking under the wrong letter all this time." He hit a button and another list appeared. "United Federation of what?"
"Planets." Spock said calmly.
"Sorry. Don't see you on here. Are you sure you were invited?"
Christine exchanged a glance with Kerr. The colonel grimaced and muttered, "Glad it's him up there and not me."
"We are here for the negotiations," Spock answered.
The official gave a sigh of irritation. "Well why didn't you say that. Those names are in another list altogether. Let's see here, Cardassian, Ferengi, Klingon, Non-aligned, Romulan, ah here you are, United Federation of Planets." He punched up the file. He read for a minute then looked at the three of them in exasperation. "You did not bring your entire party with you?"
Christine could have sworn she saw Spock take a deep breath before answering, "They will be joining us shortly."
"Oh no. Everyone goes in together. That's how it works. We…"
The Klingons began reciting in a singsong falsetto, "We only do it once and we only do it right."
Kerr turned to them in surprise. "Guess you guys have been here a while, huh?"
One of the warriors slammed his fist against the wall. "There is no honor in this bureaucratic fiddling! One could get into Sto-vo-kor faster than into this infernal place!"
"Now, now, General." The official looked unhappily at the small dent the Klingon had left in the plaster. "We can't have you damaging our facilities."
"Or what?" the Klingon snarled.
"Or you'll have to pay for them. And you won't get in…ever. I don't think your government would want to hear that you missed the negotiations because you couldn't behave yourself in our waiting area?"
Christine was surprised the Klingon didn't leap over the counter and feed the man his tongue. She wanted to. She found herself sharing a look of shared frustration with the General. The Klingon closed his eyes and began reciting something.
"He's ritually listing the war wounds of Kahless," Kerr explained.
"You speak Klingon?"
"A little." He shrugged his shoulders at her surprise. "Just one of the things you pick up."
"I don't want to know."
Spock had turned back to the Felstraran. "So we have to have all of our party assembled before we can enter?"
"Correct." The man beamed at him. "You might want to call them now, sometimes there can be quite a wait at customs."
Christine groaned and felt a large hand pat her on the back, nearly sending her sprawling. Somehow she kept her balance.
The Klingon General backed away but his eyes shared her irritation. "The wait is even longer than you can imagine."
"Great." She watched Spock step away from the counter to call the ship. She turned back to the Klingons. "Pssst. Do you know if there is a bathroom here?"
One of the female warriors pointed to a door marked with an ambiguous symbol. "It's there. But it is horrible." The Klingon shuddered.
Christine felt her blood run cold. "I'll wait."
The other woman nodded approval. "A wise idea."
Suddenly the man behind the counter pulled a barred screen across the entryway and rose.
"Where are you going now?" the Klingon growled.
"Well to lunch of course." He shook his finger at both groups. "But you probably want to stay here. Wouldn't want to lose your place in line."
"Wouldn't want that," Christine repeated feeling all hope of eating any time soon desert her. She sank down into what had to be the most uncomfortable chair ever made and put her head in her hands. You had to skip breakfast, she thought bitterly.
Two hours later, the others had still not arrived. Spock and Kerr tried to leave the room to go check on them but found that the door they had come through would not open.
"You can get in, but you can't get out. We could break it down?" one of the Klingons pointed out helpfully, looking at the door speculatively.
"That will not be necessary," Spock assured him. "We shall wait."
Christine was forced to give up and use the facilities. The Klingon woman had understated the true horror of the stench in the airless little room. She held her breath for as long as she could. When she emerged from the room the Klingon nodded grimly at her. "You are a true warrior."
"No." Christine laughed, "A true warrior is someone who goes back in there."
They both laughed at that and without conscious thought drifted together.
"I would not normally talk to you, but I am bored out of my mind," the warrior explained in the inimitable Klingon way. "You are a diplomat?"
"A doctor really. But our ship has a joint mission."
The woman looked over at Kerr. "That one is not a diplomat or a doctor. He is clearly a warrior. For a human he is quite impressive."
Christine took a second to admire the object of their conversation. "You're right, he is a warrior. What about you, is this a normal mission for you?"
The woman scowled and seemed to verbally spit her disdain. "Sitting in a miserable room doing nothing? This is beneath dishonorable. This is senseless."
"Gotta agree there. So how were you chosen for this mission?"
"I believe the General lost a bet." The woman watched Christine's expression for a second then howled in laughter. "You should see your face. It is so amusing."
For a moment the women were the focus of everyone else in the room. The other Klingons wanted to know what had been said and the woman told them. They too erupted with laughter.
The woman turned back to Christine. "I am Kehmak, head linguist on this mission. And we did not lose a bet, that was just a bit of humor to make the time pass."
Christine smiled in relief. "Commander Christine Chapel, first officer and head of medical."
Kehmak pointed to her teammates. "We are somewhat new to this form of negotiation. In the past if we wanted a planet we would simply overpower it and take over. It was very simple." She sighed deeply. "Is it not true that we do not appreciate the good times till they are gone."
Christine nodded agreement. "I would not be opposed to overpowering the man who runs this room and taking over."
"Agreed." Kehmak's attention was diverted by a great amount of noise in the hallway.
Three more Klingons, followed closely by the missing Federation team members came barreling though the entrance. Kerr made a dash for the door but it slammed shut before he could reach it.
Sovar looked at him curiously, "Colonel? Perhaps you should try the door handle."
Kerr only glared at him. "It doesn't work from this side."
"Illogical." The Vulcan reached for the handle, attempted to turn it. "It is locked. But that makes no sense."
"Nothing on this world makes sense, Mr. Sovar." Spock nodded greetings to the party, "But I am gratified to see you all arrived safely."
"This is the strangest place," Troi observed as he looked around. "Say, is that a restroom?"
"You don't want to go in there," Christine and Kehmak said in unison.
Troi stopped in his tracks, "If it is something that the Federation and Klingon delegation can agree on then you are most assuredly right. Hopefully we will not be here long."
"That would depend on your definition of 'long'," the General growled. "We have spent far too much time here already!" The last part he yelled into the space behind the barred gate. He paced for a moment, then shouted, "Our parties are here, come out and help us now."
Penhallon walked up to the gate. He inspected it for a moment then frowned. "I don't believe it is locked." He pushed on it gently and the gate eased into its wall slot. He looked back at the group, most of whom had gone embarrassingly quiet. "Do we go on?"
"Ghuy'cha'," swore the Klingon General.
"If that is a colorful metaphor then I second the sentiment," Spock said to the surprise of everyone in the Federation delegation.
Before any of them could rush through the newly opened space the Felstraran woman that had checked Christine, Spock, and Kerr in at customs came through the outer door. "Well I see that you are all here now." She walked to the entrance, ignoring most of them till she came to Penhallon. "Well hello again."
His smile was very wide. "Hi there."
"You know, I get off in an hour. If you wanted to get together?"
"Yeah but will we be anywhere near finished by then?" Christine said to Kehmak. The Klingon chuckled.
"I heard that," the Felstraran said without taking her eyes off Penhallon.
"How about I meet you? Just tell me where and when?"
"I believe I am going to be sick," Kehmak observed.
"I heard that too." The woman glared at them then leaned in and whispered something into Penhallon's ear.
"I look forward to it," he oozed back.
The woman gave him a seductive smile then made her way behind the counter and announced, "I'll process the Klingon delegation now."
"I will no doubt see you during the meetings. Good luck." Kehmak joined her comrades.
Christine couldn't see what the Felstraran did exactly to process the Klingons, there were too many broad backs in front of her, but whatever it was took about one minute. "You're free to enter. Enjoy your stay on Felstrar Colony."
There was a strange sound for a moment, almost as if the Klingons were snarling.
"Please move along," the woman instructed not at all intimidated by the angry warriors in front of her. After more ominous noises, they finally cleared out. She pushed paper around for several minutes. Finally she looked at them. "Federation delegation?"
Christine got up slowly, following Spock to the counter. The woman asked for their entrance books. Once she had them all she opened them, compared the holo to the person standing in front of her and handed them back. "Thank you. Welcome to Felstrar Colony."
"You mean, that was it? We waited two hours for that?" Christine realized she was snarling.
"Commander, shall we move along?" Spock backed up his words with his hand on her back. He nearly pushed her through the opening.
"A most inefficient process," Sovar observed.
"You can say that again," Kerr muttered.
"Did you not understand it the first time?" Sovar asked.
Christine could not tell if he was kidding. Then realized she didn't care. Just let there be a food vendor out there, she prayed. I don't care what kind. I'm so hungry I could eat Delphan Canker Snails. She pushed through the last door eagerly, thrilled to feel a rush of fresh air greet her. She took several steps out then stopped short.
"Oh just friggin' great," she muttered as the rest of the group caught up with her.
The building they had just exited was the only thing in sight. Around them stretched a vast expanse of arid nothingness.
She turned to Spock. "Now what?"
"Where are the Klingons?" Kerr asked. "They were only a few minutes ahead of us." He walked to the end of the building. Looked around. "Not on this side."
Christine walked to the other end. "They're coming now."
The general was in the lead and he did not look pleased. Christine hurried to get back to the rest of her group before he rounded the corner. As he neared them, she heard him muttering, "Qu'vatlh! This is not the only world with dilithium on it. I will not put up with these ignominies any longer!"
The hum of an aircar cut him off. A transport pulled around the building and stopped in front of them. Another relentlessly cheerful Felstraran opened the hatch and stepped out. "I'll need to see your entrance books please. And make sure any packages you have fit under the seat, we don't have much room."
"We don't have any packages, you complete fool!" The general was obviously long past tolerance.
"Well, I guess I'll start with you." The driver reached for the entrance book, scrutinized the holo. "General ...oh my I haven't the first idea how to say this."
"Mak'chak," the general bellowed, "Son of Kallik, son of Torg."
"If you say so." He handed the book back. "You can board." He reached for the next book.
The general did not move.
"Please board now." The man stared stubbornly into Mak'chak's eyes. "If you don't get on, nobody else will."
Christine could tell that the general was about ready to explode. But from somewhere he gathered the strength to resist. Turning, and muttering to himself again, he boarded the transport.
Kerr whispered in her ears, "Now he's reciting The Marriage of Lordith, one of the more complex Klingon epic poems."
"You're starting to scare me," Christine hissed back.
It took much longer than it should have but finally they were all on board and the door was shut. The Felstraran took his place at the pilots seat and they were off. The group rode in silence for several minutes. Just as everyone seemed to be relaxing the car slowed, then stopped.
A low gurgling sound emanated from the general's vicinity.
"Is there a problem?" Penhallon asked.
Troi, who had taken a seat in the front looked back with a hopeless expression. "Checkpoint."
The gurgling noise got louder.
The driver hopped up. "This is strictly routine. I need your entrance books again, please." Once he had them all he stepped out of the car and walked up to the guard booth. Christine watched as the Felstraran guard took the books and disappeared inside the booth. The driver leaned up against the aircar, pulled out a knife and a piece of wood and started whittling.
"This is a nightmare," she mumbled. "I'm in bed and I'm dreaming and I'll wake up soon." She closed her eyes in defeat only to open them in shock. "Ow!" She glared at Penhallon who was leaning back in his seat. "You didn't have to pinch me!"
"Just wanted to prove you weren't dreaming."
"Not a very diplomatic way."
He thought about that. "But an efficient one." When her glare didn't decrease he smiled charmingly. "Oh come now, Commander, what's a pinch among friends."
Who said we were friends, she thought but didn't say.
Outside the guard had come back and handed the books to the driver who put his diversion away and climbed back on board. He passed the books out, waited till it was clear everybody had theirs, then started the car and drove on.
Five checkpoints later they finally pulled into the city. What Christine could see was beautiful. Clean, shiny, and very, very quiet. "Where is everyone?" she muttered.
They departed the car and stood in two clusters as their driver got back into the aircar.
"Do you have further instructions for us?" Spock asked calmly.
The driver leaned out the window, took another look around. Finally he shrugged, "Someone will be along shortly. I hope." Before anyone could react he had sped away.
Sovar pulled out a tricorder. "Captain Spock? There is no one here."
"That is confirmed," one of the Klingons offered, checking his own scanner.
"Is there food anywhere?" Christine replied more loudly than she intended.
"Yes," both the Klingon and Sovar answered back. "Just ahead."
"Is it safe?" Kerr asked.
"No toxins or anomalies registering," Sovar assured him.
"Confirmed," the Klingon repeated. "We can eat any of it."
"And no doubt be charged mightily for it," Mak'chak grumbled. When his officer looked at him in query he made a sweeping gesture in the general direction of where Christine assumed the food was. "Lead on then. She is not the only one who is hungry."
Following the two men and their equipment, the rest of the parties fell into step. Kehmak found Christine again.
"This is most strange."
"We had heard this was a hard place to get into."
"I do not think this is the city. I think it is another bureaucratic diversion."
Christine grimaced. "Please don't say that."
Kerr slowed to let them catch up. "These buildings look too perfect. These roads don't look worn. There's no litter, no sign of habitation." He moved over to one of the buildings they were passing, tried the door. "Locked."
Kehmak scowled. "What are they playing at? I do not understand this."
"Nor I," Christine agreed as they rounded another corner to find the building in front of them open and lit up. She could smell the food from the street. "Oh my god that smells good."
Sovar and the Klingon were the first in. They again scanned the repast laid out for them.
"It is perfectly safe," Sovar assured the party.
"I think I've died and gone to heaven," Troi said dreamily as he took in the huge feast of human, Vulcan, and Klingon delicacies that someone had provided for them. He looked around at the group. "Well someone has to go first I guess." He snatched a piece of meat and popped it into his mouth. "Ummmm."
Ok that's it, Christine thought as she pushed up to the table. Grabbing a plate she began to load up. She caught Spock watching her with veiled amusement. She gave him a crooked grin. "It only makes sense to keep our strength up, Sir."
"Of course, Commander. I suggest the rest of us follow suit." He fixed himself a small plate then moved around the table to where she was standing. With a look he motioned the colonel over.
"Oh wow, this is good." Kerr waved a piece of papaya at them. "How did they get it this ripe?" He swallowed quickly and closed his eyes. When he opened them again he was all business. "Sir?" he said to Spock.
"What do you make of this, Colonel?"
"I'm not sure, Sir. I'd like to run some of my own scans on this place."
"A pity that we were allowed only one tricorder per party." Spock had a tone that Christine had often heard him use with Kirk.
"Yeah. A pity." Kerr shot Spock a sheepish smile as he pulled a small piece of equipment from somewhere near his boot. "Now how did this get in there?"
Christine laughed quietly. Spock merely raised an eyebrow. "I cannot begin to imagine, Colonel. A fortunate mystery indeed."
Kerr hid the small tricorder with his body as he scanned the area. He frowned as he checked the readings. They followed him outside and watched his frown deepen. "This is damned odd."
"You have found something?"
"Life form readings. Cardassian, Ferengi, Romulan, and some others I'm not sure about. Clustered all around us. There is a field of some kind that is generating a great deal of interference. But it appears to be losing power. Or else it is being turned off." He put his tricorder away hurriedly. "Someone is coming," he explained just before a Felstraran walked around the corner.
"Ah, good you have finally arrived. We had begun to give up on you." She smiled brightly.
Christine no longer felt the urge to do immediate bodily damage. What a difference a meal makes, she thought happily. "We're here now," she chirped back.
The woman ignored her and walked into the building. They followed behind dutifully. She clapped her hands. "May I have your attention please?"
Klingons and Federation members, many with their mouths still full, turned to the new voice.
"My name is Tanyha. On behalf of the government of Felstrar Colony, I'd like to welcome you to our planet. This place you are in now is Kandrikand. Literally 'City Not a City.' I'm sure you've noticed that there are no Felstrarans here. No one actually lives here. We use this place whenever we have offworlders on the planet. We've found some of them tend to be quite hard on the facilities." She glared at the General. He did not look contrite. "Using Kandrikand saves our own lovely cities, and our citizens," again her eyes found Mak'chak, "from unnecessary wear and tear."
"You were the last delegations to arrive. Now that you are here we can open the city up. We have been keeping the parties separate to prevent any collusion during negotiations. I'm sure you can appreciate that." She looked for approval, got none. "I think you are all tired. Hopefully you will perk up tomorrow or these will be very dour negotiations."
A buzzing sound began. The Felstraran reached into a pocket and pulled out a primitive communicator. "Tanyha here. The lodgings are open? Excellent. Thank you and...what?" She looked around as if looking for someone in the crowd. "Yes, yes I understand. I'll relay the message." She put the communicator away and gestured to the door. "Across the street is the Klingon lodging. The building to the left is for the Federation. You can check in whenever you are done eating. You will see that we have tried to outfit these dwellings to suit your cultural preferences. I think you will find them satisfying. You will also notice that Kandrikand has come alive. Eateries, vendors, services of all kinds are now available to you. Please enjoy them responsibly. And please remember not to lose your entrance books, they are your passport to everything here."
"I have a question," Mak'chak bellowed.
"I'm sorry, I don't have any answers," Tanyha barely smiled. "The lodging managers will be able to help you with any problems you have with your accommodations. If it has to do with the negotiations that will have to wait until tomorrow." She looked over the crowd again. "Is there a Stephen here?" Penhallon held up his hand. "Sashcha wanted me to tell you that she has been unavoidably delayed. She said she would meet you at the Red Whip as soon as she could get away."
Penhallon nodded and looked at the woman sorrowfully. "So sad for me. Being alone in a strange city."
Tanyha gave him a look of pity, "It is sad. Perhaps I could keep you company while you wait for her?"
"Would you mind?" Penhallon gave her a dazzling smile. "You are too kind."
"I don't believe this," Christine heard Kehmak mutter.
So did Tanyha who shot her a dirty look before turning back to Penhallon. "Why don't you check in, then meet me at the club."
"It will be my pleasure," he oozed. Once she left he looked over at Spock and Christine.
"You never stop, do you?" Christine did not try to keep the scorn out of her voice.
"Before you judge me the complete ass, Commander, perhaps you could tell me what you and the Captain would like me to try to find out from our charming hostesses."
Christine felt her face go red. Behind her she heard Kerr make a dive and crash sound. She could have sworn Spock's mouth turned up just a smidgen as he replied, "Since we know essentially nothing, I should think anything you can discover will be useful. Now I suggest we go find our lodgings."
Christine hung back as Penhallon passed her.
"Apology accepted," he said breezily as he walked past her.
"Why do I have the feeling that at this moment you don't have an apologetic bone in your body?" Kerr's voice was rich with amusement.
"You know me too well."
"Yeah, well let's go get checked in. I can't imagine what a nightmare that will be."
She looked at him in grim horror as they followed the others out.
Getting their rooms proved to be only marginally horrific. They all had to show their entrance books numerous times and sign a variety of waivers, disclaimers, and vouchers but finally it was finished and Felstraran personnel stood ready to show them to their rooms. Spock, as head of the delegation, had the largest and most lushly appointed suite.
"Well this is wasted on you," Chapel groused as she came in from her own room across the hall. She moved around the space, trying out furniture and even going into the bedroom to bounce on the mattress. She came out with a satisfied look on her face. "Your bed isn't any more comfortable than mine though."
He shot her a look. "We have only been in our rooms for five minutes. You have already tried your bed?"
"And the shower. If those two things are good you can pretty much work around anything else." She wandered over to the fruit basket, picked up something round and purple. "You think these are complimentary?"
"On this planet?" He looked at her in controlled amusement. "I do not believe so, Christine. But help yourself, it is my treat."
"Great." She bit into the fruit. "Hey this is good. Really good. You should try it."
"That is the only one in the basket," he answered without looking up from the vid console.
"I know. Try this one." She held it to his lips. When he hesitated, she rolled her eyes and walked over to the table. Finding a knife she cut him off a piece and brought it over on a small plate. "You won't get cooties. I cut it from the other side."
He absent-mindedly reached for the piece of fruit and took a bite. "It is quite satisfying." He turned back to the console.
"I knew you'd say that." She took a seat across from him and turned serious. "So, tell me, Spock, why would anyone in her right mind want to deal with this planet? I'm not sure there is enough dilithium in the galaxy to make me come back here."
"I am attempting to ascertain that from the reports the Felstrarans have made available to the delegations." He scanned for a few minutes as she enjoyed the fruit. "There is, unfortunately," he cocked an eyebrow at her and she smiled in response, "a great deal more than just dilithium. This planet is rich in a number of substances in demand throughout the Federation."
"Damn. I thought we might get out of this."
"I do not see that as a possibility."
"Am I interrupting?" Kerr's voice sounded from the doorway.
"Come in, Colonel." Spock nodded to him pleasantly. "I trust your accommodations are acceptable?"
"Yeah. Nothing like this though." He and Christine shared a look of resigned acceptance.
"Privileges of rank. Help yourself to some fruit." Spock shot them both a longsuffering look.
"This looks good," he winked at Christine as he eyed the fruit in her hand.
"I suppose you want me to cut you some too?"
He scoffed. "Too formal." He motioned with his head for her to bring it closer. When she did, he took a healthy bite and chewed for a moment. "Not as good as that papaya, but close. He pulled out his tricorder. "I ran some quick checks. We're the only ones in this building. And the Klingons are the sole occupants of theirs. The other delegations appear to be housed in similar fashion."
Spock leaned over to the console and hit a button. Immediately the machine began to print. "I've asked for the mining reports. Also whatever other information that seemed pertinent to our mission here. I'm sending similar reports to the consoles in each of your rooms. Since we are all here now, why don't we get started." He handed each of them a report then settled back to read his own.
"They sure do believe in saying things the long way, don't they?" Kerr observed a few minutes later.
"They do appear to be unimpressed with simplicity," Spock agreed.
Penhallon wandered into Spock's suite several hours later. He had Sovar in tow. "Well, I think I have some interesting news." All eyes turned to him, grateful for a respite from the reports, and he beamed at the attention. "It would appear that Felstrar Colony didn't choose to separate from its homeworld. That planet set it adrift."
Troi, who had come in on the last part, shot him a disbelieving look. "Why would any planet allow such a rich source of dilithium to escape?"
Penhallon nodded to Sovar to answer.
The Vulcan's tone was even as he replied, "It would appear that visitors from Calantrasa, the homeworld, were subjected to the same bureaucratic inefficiencies that we were. Each and every time they visited."
"How did you ascertain this?" Spock's tone was a mixture of curiosity and concern.
Penhallon answered with a laugh, "Oh it's amazing what a young lady will let slip around an amusing but harmless rogue like myself. Once I got back I just knew that I would be able to find some answers in the Felstraran computers." Penhallon smiled at Sovar. "Luckily, my young friend here is damned handy with an algorithm."
Sovar looked slightly uncomfortable.
"My father did not list hacking as one of your skills, Mr. Sovar."
"I am sure that he simply forgot, Sir." Sovar looked at his coconspirator for assistance.
"Anyway, we brought up the printout for you." Penhallon handed it to Spock. "You can see for yourself. Despite this show of casual indifference, the Felstrarans are relatively defenseless. They need an alliance with a protector a lot more than they've let on."
Spock looked at them both. "This is good to know. Good work."
Christine watched Penhallon preen somewhat under the praise and noticed that he couldn't help shooting her a slightly triumphant glance. "What else did you find out, Commander?" she asked, keeping her voice carefully neutral.
"Not much actually. Well not much that all of you would be interested in."
"I'm sure," Troi responded in an amused voice.
Spock quickly digested Penhallon's report, then he handed it to Christine to read and pass around. Once everyone had read it he looked around the room as if searching for something.
"We need to destroy this, Colonel. I am looking for a source of fire."
"Don't think you'll find one in here. I might just happen to have something though." From seemingly thin air, Kerr produced a small instrument. He carried the paper over to a bowl and hit a button. A small flame appeared. He held it to the report. In seconds it was completely consumed.
Spock raised an eyebrow. "I presume I do not want to know what else you have stashed away in your uniform, Colonel?"
"Probably not, Sir."
"Then I will not ask." Spock turned to the others. "It is time to go out, see who else is here from the various delegations. Troi, Sovar, Penhallon you will be one party. Remember that alcohol loosens the tongue, gentleman, a good thing when seeking information, a bad thing when attempting to protect it."
Once they left, Christine turned to Spock. "And the three of us, you, me, and Colonel Hardware here are in the next party?" At Kerr's mock scowl she pretended to quake. "And we get to drink too? Won't this be fun."
"Fun is not the word I was thinking of," Spock responded in seeming seriousness.
"Fun is never the word you are thinking of," she teased back. She rose and headed to the door. "Are we going or not?"
Kerr looked at Spock. "Why do I have a bad feeling about this?"
Christine walked slightly ahead of Spock and Kerr. She could hear them conferring quietly as she led them past the Human and Klingon living areas and into the next block of buildings. A group of Cardassians lounged against the doorway of the nearest. They sneered at the Federation delegates. She slowed to let the others catch up.
"Ignore them," Kerr instructed. "Like the Klingons, they are unused to having to resort to diplomacy. But they need the dilithium worse than we realized if they are here."
"Their never-ending campaign of occupation may have diminished their resources much more drastically than our initial estimates led us to believe." Spock seemed thoughtful. "I have done some study on the Cardassian worldview. I cannot see them putting up with much of this bureaucratic nonsense."
"Me either." Kerr nodded at the other lodging. "I wonder who is in there." He discreetly pulled out his tricorder and scanned it. "Vulcans?"
"Romulans," Spock corrected gently.
Christine looked over at the machine. "I'd forgotten how close the match is."
"We are from the same stock," Spock looked at the building thoughtfully. "Are they all in there?"
Kerr shook his head. "Only two. The rest must be out on the town."
A square opened up in front of them. Ringing the area were storefronts, bars, and restaurants. Delegates from nearby and unfamiliar systems wandered the area. Most of them carried drinks.
"If we want to blend we better have some drinks. I'll go get us something. Any preferences?"
"Something only mildly intoxicating would be prudent," Spock instructed.
Kerr set off, and Christine was about to motion Spock to a nearby table when she saw his expression change. She followed his gaze to where the Romulan delegation was sitting. Three of the party had their backs turned as they listened to the fourth.
"Do you know him?"
Spock nodded slowly.
"Care to share?"
He turned as if suddenly realizing that she was there. His expression was distant.
"Spock?" As she watched his expression cleared. "I met him during the Khitomer peace accords. He took the place of the Ambassador that had conspired with Valeris and the others." The bitterness in his voice was unmistakable. Then it lifted. "I found Pardek to be a man of refined tastes. And most unexpectedly forward leaning. I shall be glad to renew our acquaintance."
Kerr came up behind them, three large glasses of some golden drink in his hands. "You would not believe the prices in this place. Captive audience I guess. Anyway, I got us a beer. I'm afraid that was the least alcoholic thing I could find other than water"
Christine took a sip, "This is pretty good."
"It better be," Kerr mumbled. "We should have been able to buy the whole brewery for what this cost."
"Would you excuse me for a moment?" Spock started to move away.
"I thought you wanted us to stay together, Sir?" Kerr asked with some disapproval in his voice.
"I shall only be a moment."
They watched as Spock walked up to the Romulan contingent. The others moved aside to let him have access to their leader.
"Who is that?"
"Spock said his name was Pardek." Christine watched as the two men greeted each other. The Romulan seemed happy to see the Vulcan. They talked for a few moments then Spock returned to them.
"Of course. Shall we go?" He walked off toward the nearest table, Kerr and Christine trailing in his wake.
Troi and Sovar joined them an hour later. They watched as Penhallon strolled by with Tanyha on one arm and Sashcha on the other, he waved gaily as he led the women into one of the bars. Christine was bored enough to consider joining him but Spock seemed loath to leave the square. When the Klingon delegation passed they exchanged pleasantries then were once again alone. All the delegations seemed to be content to stick together, staring over at the others with curiosity or sometimes outright hostility.
Christine yawned. "Well this is just too much fun." She stood up. "Who's for going back to get some sleep."
With mumbled sounds of approval the rest of the group rose and set out. She slowed her steps till she was walking even with Spock. He looked over at her curiously.
"You were surprised to see Pardek?"
"Yes." Belatedly he realized she was waiting for more of an explanation. "I did not realize he would be leading this negotiation."
"His being here is exciting to you." She watched him closely.
"I am a Vulcan. I am not excited by anything."
"Bull." She smiled at him uncertainly. "Is this something to do with the negotiations? Something you aren't supposed to share with me?"
"There is nothing to share." He gave her a bland look. "You distress yourself over nothing."
"You know you can tell me anything." She looked at him seriously.
He nodded. "Yes. We are friends."
"Friends." She felt curiously deflated at his assessment of their relationship.
"There is nothing wrong with friends, Christine." His eyebrow rose as he studied her. "Is there?"
She thought back over the last few weeks. After Kirk's death, she had despaired that they would ever have any kind of rapport again. But they had repaired much of the breach. They were friends again. Friends. She should be content with that. "No. There's nothing wrong with that." She was saved from further conversation as their lodging came in sight. As they went to their rooms she was not surprised to find Kerr next to her on the stairs.
"Sure. Why wouldn't it be?"
"You've got that look." He gave her a heart-melting grin.
She found herself responding in kind. "What look?"
He stopped in front of her door. He became suddenly serious. "You know what look."
She nodded, knew the smile was slipping from her face. "Yeah. I probably do. It's nothing though."
His expression was tender. "Okay then. Sleep well."
The next morning found the Federation delegation standing in front of the building that would house the negotiations. They milled around with the other teams.
Kehmak saw Christine and gave her a sour look. She called out from her group. "I cannot believe they are subjecting us to this barbaric treatment. What purpose does this endless waiting serve?"
Christine called back, "I don't think they care. Bureaucracy seems to have taken on a life of its own here."
Just as the Klingon was about to launch into a tirade, a Felstraran male came out of the main doors. "Ladies and Gentlemen, there seems to have been some misunderstanding." A collective groan went up from the crowd. "Oh now it's nothing we can't work through. I'm afraid that all of you didn't need to come down. We are only allowing the head of the delegation and one assistant into the negotiations. Once these doors are closed no one will enter or exit until today's session is over. Please make your choice quickly and come to the door on my left where we will check you in."
"One assistant? That is most inefficient." Troi was dismayed. "This is the most tiresome world."
"Agreed," Spock commiserated. "But as we have no choice I believe I will take Mr. Sovar in with me. Do any of you have objections to this?"
Penhallon shook his head. "Fine with me, but there are some things he should know that I found out last night."
The Felstraran was motioning to the delegations impatiently.
"Well tell him quickly as we must get in. I am sure the rest of you will find ways to occupy your time?"
Kehmak drifted back over to Christine and Kerr. "It would seem that Mak'chak has no need of me at this time." The other Klingons motioned her to follow her. "But my warriors do. Kahless forbid they should have to figure out what they are going to do all by themselves." She laughed out loud. "Find me later if you get bored with your warrior." She smirked at Kerr.
He gave her an exaggerated grimace in return.
Penhallon came up and scanned the crowd as if looking for someone. For a moment he looked disappointed then he brightened and waved. "Well I don't know about the rest of you but I know what I'm going to do." He turned to Troi who had also joined them. "What do you say Andrew? Three of them are a bit much, even for me." He grinned charmingly as he walked away from them.
Christine watched him go and saw the women from last night. And they had brought a friend. Gods, were all the women on this planet so attractive? It was really disheartening.
Troi definitely seemed interested but turned to her first. "Sir? If you need me?"
She waved him away. "Oh go on. I'm not going to stand in the way of something like that. Besides, what do we really have to do here anyway? All the action is happening in there." She pointed to the building behind them that had just been locked up tight.
"Right then. I'll see you later." Troi hurried to catch up with Penhallon.
Kerr smiled at her. "Guess it's just you and me, kid."
She kept a straight face for a moment, then could not resist grinning back. "Guess so."
"Well let's go see what this world has to offer, eh?"
He and Christine strolled along the main thoroughfare working their way back toward the main square. They passed through the deserted Klingon section. The Cardassians and Romulans looked at them with suspicion but otherwise ignored them.
Agreeing that all the standing around had made them hungry they lingered over a meal in a restaurant at the far end of the square. They had just settled the bill when Kerr suddenly perked up. "Hey. I know that sound."
Christine listened. She heard nothing out of the ordinary. "What sound?"
"That sound." He pulled her quickly to the middle of the square where a group of lit tables were set up. "I knew it!" he turned to her in triumph. Just as he began to speak a group of people around one of the tables joined him as they yelled, "Dabo!"
"Dabo?" She took in the Ferengi, some of them playing, others working.
"Enterprising bastards! To set up a Dabo parlor in the middle of someone else's retail square takes balls."
One of the local woman appeared. She seemed to be working for the Ferengi. Christine's eyebrows went up at her very abbreviated outfit.
Kerr saw her reaction. "Dabo girl. Remind me sometime to tell you about the time I went undercover as one." He turned back to watch the tables.
"As a Dabo girl?" She knew she sounded skeptical as she looked at the outfit again then turned to him, mentally putting his bulk inside one.
He caught her look. "It was a mining colony. They didn't see many women," he offered. When she still looked unconvinced, he grinned. "I didn't say I made a pretty Dabo girl."
She laughed as he batted his eyelashes at her. "You're a nut." She was surprised to see one of the Ferengi walk up to them.
"You would like to learn to play?" He said, rubbing his hands together in anticipation. He smiled broadly, showing many sharp little teeth.
Christine tried not to recoil.
Kerr just smiled. "Already know how. Clear me out a space why don't you? I'll be right there."
The Ferengi bowed and hurried over to one of the tables. There was a short scuffle as he tried to convince another customer to vacate a chair. When the seat was cleared he motioned broadly for Kerr to take it.
"You don't really mean to play with them?"
He grinned. "Sure do. I love this game. And I am so good at it. Rule of Acquisition number 9: Opportunity plus instinct equals profit."
"What is your problem? You have a thing against gambling? Or is it the Ferengi you don't like? Because you're the last person I would have picked to be xenophobic." He began to pull her toward the table.
"I don't mean to be. It's just that they look a little bit too much like the things I was convinced lived in my closet when I was little."
"Ah, that only came out when the lights went off and wanted to eat you for dinner?"
"Wouldn't worry about that." He seemed to have a smirk on his face.
"Why?" She watched as he took a seat at the table. Then she felt a tug on her uniform. Their host was back, and he'd brought her a chair.
"You would perhaps like to sit?" he asked, his smile so broad that all his teeth showed.
"Thanks." She sat just to the side of Kerr. She watched him play for several minutes, but was having a hard time making sense of the game. She looked up and saw that the Ferengi sitting at the table, as well as the dealer and their host were staring at her intently. Whenever her eyes met one of them they would smile in that pointy-toothed way of theirs. Several of them even hissed.
She leaned into Kerr, whispered into his ear. "Why are they all staring at me?"
He smirked again. "They like Human females." He didn't even try to lower his voice.
One of the Ferengi leaned forward. "Perhaps your female would care for a drink?"
Christine shot him an irritated glance. "I am not his female."
As every Ferengi around the table sat up in interest, she heard Kerr say under his breath, "Bad move, Chapel."
The Ferengi that had wanted to get Christine a drink was bolder than the rest. "Hyu-mann female, I am Kom. I have a successful trading enterprise and am in line to be Grand Nagus. I would gladly shelter you." He smiled very wide.
"You are twenty-third in line to be Nagus, you exaggerating fool." The Ferengi next to her smiled ingratiatingly. "Pretty Hyu-mann, I have the contracts for all the Kanar exports for the next two generations. I am much more solvent than Kom. I am Bal. Choose me." His hand reached out boldly but at her look he drew it back and contented himself with a bow and a smile.
She turned to Kerr. "They want me?"
"Uh huh." He went right on playing.
Oh yeah." He looked around the table at the admiring glances she was getting. "I expect that right now they are all trying to imagine you naked."
She glanced at him in dismay. When she looked back at the Ferengi, their smiles only got broader. She hadn't thought that was possible. "Thanks, Randall, for that imagery." She rose, smiling as graciously as she could to Kerr's tablemates. "I have to go. Another engagement. You will excuse me?"
They all seemed extremely sad to see her go. Kom smiled in what she assumed he thought was an entreating way. It just looked toothy to her. "Promise to come back soon?"
Kerr looked up from his play. "Where are you going?"
She smiled wickedly at him. "I thought I'd go back where it's safe. You'll find me with the Klingons."
"Fine by me. Watch out for Kehmak. I think she's a bad influence on you. Or you are on her. I'm not quite sure which."
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean."
"Yeah right." He laughed then turned back to the game. As she was walking away she heard him say to the Ferengi, "Ok, fellas. What do you say we make this a little more interesting?"