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At the sound of a familiar step, Chief Kyle looked up from his console, in time to see Captain Kirk, smartly attired for a night out, stride into the transporter room.
"Evening, Mr Kyle," Kirk nodded then looked around. "Have you seen the Doctor yet?" he asked.
"No, sir. But sickbay just called to say he has been a bit delayed... a last minute check in surgery, I think."
"Ah... nothing serious, I hope," Kirk muttered. He paced the room, trying to curb his impatience, then eyed the console. "You have got the new coordinates from the Bridge, have you?"
"Aye, Captain, you will be beamed down right in front of the Residence, and the weather is fine down there, I am told. "Kyle informed him.
"Well, it had better be since it is supposed to be a garden party," Kirk dryly remarked; then, struck by a thought, he added, "What about you, Kyle? Is it not your turn for shore leave?"
"Aye, sir. My relief, Ensign Ferindottir, is due in twenty minutes."
"Good. High time for you to have a break too. Have you got plans for the evening?"
"We have reservations for the Follies Merindol, sir. I heard it is worth the trip."
"Good choice, Lieutenant," Kirk approved. "I saw it last time. If you like good music hall, it's one of the best in this sector." A glance at the wall chronometer brought a scowl to his face. "What's keeping McCoy, for Heaven's sake! He'll end up making us late!"
Just then, the door opened at last and both men looked round expectantly... and stood gaping at the sight which met their eyes. For it was not Doctor McCoy walking in but a dazzling vision in a long black shimmering skirt (slit up to there) topped by a gold lame, tight-fitting jacket (cut down to here).
"Congratulations, Lieutenant!" Kirk said with frank admiration. "You look supremely elegant."
"Thank you, sir," replied Uhura, "but one does not go every day to a Grand Opera, so I did my best to rise up to the occasion."
The expression she saw in the men's eyes left her in no doubt that, in their opinion, she had achieved her goal. Inwardly pleased, Uhura produced a gold chain enriched by a garnet pendant and handed it to Kirk with a coy smile.
"Would you mind, Captain? I can't manage to fix the clasp by myself, and I don't think that my escort... " Her voice tailed off meaningfully.
"No," Kirk chuckled, "I don't think he would... ah, let us see... there!" He pushed the tiny clasp into place and let the gold chain fall on the brown neck.
"Thank you, Captain."
"And where is your escort, Uhura?" Kirk wondered with a sly smile. "What kind of a man is he to keep a lady waiting?"
"My fault, Captain, I am early... but here he is, right on the dot!" She smiled approvingly at the tall, well-groomed figure just walking in.
She was flattered for, indeed, the Vulcan First Officer presented, from the silver-trimmed collar of his dark tunic suit down to his polished buckled shoes, a perfect match to her stylish party dress.
"Ah, Mr Spock," said the Captain, "I see you are all set to take this pretty lady to the Opera."
Spock looked at Uhura and seemed suitably impressed, but he refrained from comment and merely said, "Indeed, Captain. If you are ready, Lieutenant, perhaps we should proceed?"
"Sure, Mr Spock, let us go!" she said briskly, and throwing her wrap about her shoulders she stepped up on the transporter platform, thus displaying a long, shapely leg.
Spock gave the coordinates to Lieutenant Kyle then joined her on the pads. "Captain," he said to Kirk, "I hope you and Doctor McCoy have an enjoyable evening. Energize, please, Mr Kyle."
"I am sure we will. Have a good time, you two!" Kirk cheerfully replied as the transporter beam began to enfold them.
"Thank you, Captain, same to you!" Uhura's smile and wave of the hand sparkled away just as the door opened again.
"My word! Who was that?" It was the Doctor's voice. Kirk turned round. "That you, Bones? About time!" He strode to the platform. "Come on! It will look really bad if we arrive late at the Governor's Residence!"
"Never mind, Jim. I'll tell Laura it's all my fault. She surely knows a Doctor's lot is to get last minute calls. But who was that gorgeous female I just saw beaming away? Was it Uhura?" McCoy asked as he joined the Captain on the transporter stage,
"Right, Bones. She and Spock, both in full evening dress. He is taking her to the Opera, you know."
"Ah, yes, I remember hearing something about it. Do you know what they will see tonight?"
"I think Spock mentioned one of Wagner's Nibelungen operas. When you are ready, Mr Kyle..."
"That?" The Doctor made a face. "Better them than me! I remember the only time I let myself being talked into watching one of those, ages ago... never been so bored in my life! And, do you know..."
The rest of the Doctor's appreciation was lost in the transporter effect.
* * * * * * * *
The planet Merindol, in the orbit of which the Enterprise was at present stationed, was one of the earliest Terran colonies in the quadrant, and a favourite port of call for Starfleet crews.
According to tourist publications, this world had been blessed by the gods. It afforded an amazing variety of landscapes as yet unspoiled, a temperate climate and a profusion of agricultural produce due to the richness of the soil and the expertise of dedicated farmers. The fruit, wines and liquors of Merindol had won the planet fame far and wide.
Added to that, some fashionable seaside resorts, a vast choice of accommodations for visitors, not forgetting a multitude of restaurants, bars, taverns, etc... catering for everyone's taste and purse.
But what Merindol was most famous for was the Music Festivals during which the best orchestras, virtuosos and singers of the Federation were bound to perform at least once in their life if they valued their reputation.
By a happy coincidence, the Enterprise happened to stop over while Merindol was at the peak of the musical season, and those crewmembers scheduled for shore leave had lost no time in taking advantage of their luck, and in swarming to the theaters, variety shows and night clubs still available to them.
Except the Captain and Doctor McCoy who had been invited to dinner at the Governor's Residence.
* * * * * * * *
Now dinner was drawing to its conclusion, and, after consuming the dessert (a 5 star dessert according to McCoy), Governor Jeremy Saunders' guests had reached a state of mild euphoria. While savouring the famous fruit liquors of Merindol and listening to the soft harmonies of a string quintet drifting in from the garden, they relaxed in the feeling of being outrageously pampered by their hosts.
"Aaaah!" sighed the Doctor contentedly, "this is just perfect. This is real life! Will someone kindly explain why I should go traipsing in a starship around the galaxy when I could live a quiet and comfortable existence in this paradise?"
"Because you would not like it otherwise, Bones," Kirk said with a twinkle in his eyes, "and neither would I, for that matter. This is a beautiful world, but not for the likes of us old spacefarers. After a while, would you not miss the adventure, the quest for the unknown, the thrill of discovery? I know I would. No offence meant, Jerry - " he smiled at his host, who had been First Officer on the Excalibur before resigning for family reasons.
"None taken, Jim!" Saunders smiled back. "And I agree, you are not made for a desk job. This planet is fine for shore leave, to see the sights, go to the beach, enjoy the night life, but after a couple of weeks, a true spaceman would get bored."
"What about you, Saunders?" McCoy asked curiously. "Don't you ever miss your early career out in space?"
Saunders glanced at his wife, a former CMO aboard the Excalibur, and they exchanged a rueful smile. "I can't deny that it took us some time to get used to this total change of activity. But the children came along, I became fully involved in my job, and Laura got that position at the General Hospital which takes up much of her time, so now we feel truly at home here, almost like Merindolians born and bred."
"You certainly made a niche for yourselves here," Kirk remarked, "and you have been well accepted by the local people, so well that after... how many? five years?... you have been elected as the head of the government. Quite a feat for a newcomer!"
"That was six years ago, actually," Saunders specified, "but yes, we get on well with the locals. I have no complaint."
"They are really nice people," Laura put in with a tolerant smile, "pleasant to deal with, easy-going..."
"Perhaps too easy-going, if you ask me," her husband dryly remarked. "I wish sometimes that they were more strict with their kids."
"Oh?" McCoy raised an eyebrow. "About something in particular?"
"Well," said Laura with an eye on her husband, "we seem to have a problem with some teenagers, and that has had Jerry really worried for some time. You see, life is so easy here - much too easy, some would say. Some parents are much too tolerant, I admit, the young people have everything for the asking, they are spoiled. Result? They get bored and restless and look for excitement and new sensations, and lately, some have really got out of hand, haven't they, dear?"
"Out of hand is putting it mildly, Laura," Saunders replied with some ill-concealed irritation.
"But what have they done?" Kirk panted to know.
"Jim, you will never guess what's their new fad! These spoiled brats have got hold of some antiquated 20th century motorbikes, which may be fakes for all I know! Anyway they paid a fortune for them to that con dealer... what's his name ... Cyrano Jones. You may have heard of him?"
Kirk and McCoy both rolled their eyes skywards. "Cyrano Jones? Good Lord!" the Doctor exclaimed.
"Ah! I see that you have!" the governor commented dryly. "Well, to make a long story short, that scoundrel has sold them some revamped motorbikes, and now Merindol is plagued with these gangs of youngsters who play at daredevils complete with helmets and black leather suits, scaring the living daylights of decent citizens, pilfering fruit from the plantation, sparking off bar-room brawls - in short, making a nuisance of themselves!"
"Good Heavens! What's happening to Merindol?" McCoy wondered.
"You may well ask, Doctor." There was some bitterness in Saunders' voice. "Recently, our local police has had to double their patrols because now it is not only the occasional unruly Starfleet crew that they have to deal with, but our own teenagers too!"
"And the parents do nothing about it?" enquired the Captain.
"Just as I said, Jim. The majority don't bother. They pay for the bikes, when there are complaints they pay for the damage, when their kids spend the night at the police station they pay the fine, and that's it! I finally obtained permission for the Council to hold a special meeting next week, and we shall see what comes of it... Yes, Johnson?"
"Excuse me, sir, but your guests have begun to arrive," announced the servant.
"Oh, yes, the reception. Thank you. Johnson." Saunders stood. "I think we had better go, my friends. My colleagues are eager to meet you. Sorry to have bothered you with my little problems."
"We understand, Jerry," Kirk replied genially as he followed the governor onto the gardens. "You sometimes need to get things off your chest."
"Well, thank you for bearing with me, Jim. As I was saying... "
McCoy strolled in their wake, then paused at the door and gave his hostess a keen look. "Seems to me that your husband is rather perturbed over this matter, Laura," he said under his breath. "How come? These are just youngsters letting off steam, are they not?"
"Yes, in a way," she sighed, "but, you see, Leonard, Jerry takes pride in the peace and prosperity of our planet. He has worked hard to make it attain these high standards, and he would hate to see the reputation of Merindol stupidly shattered by some irresponsible youths who should know better!"
"Come on! It is not as bad as that!" McCoy protested.
"Leonard, believe me, it does not take long to ruin a reputation. If the word were spread that our streets are unsafe, our establishments at risk of being raided, you know..."
"I am sure you will find a way to stop this nonsense, Laura, but... Your children? They are not involved, I hope. Forgive me for asking, but you both look so concerned."
She looked at McCoy with a fond smile. "You have not changed a bit since our Academy days, Leonard, as perceptive and understanding as ever. But, to answer your question. Our two eldest are just fine; they are away on a camping trip just now. But Tim, our youngest... yes, I am worried about him. He has turned 16, you see, the difficult age, moody, dissatisfied, always opposed to any of his father's suggestions. Jerry wished him to apply for Starfleet Academy, and at a time, Tim liked the idea, but now he won't hear of it. I am sure it is the bad influence of some of his friends," she said darkly.
"Are they mixed up with these gangs?" McCoy asked.
"I am not sure, but I am afraid so. I tell you, Leonard, I hate it when Tim is away all night, I am always fearing the worst!" Her voice faltered
"Now, now," chided McCoy as he laid a comforting arm around her shoulders, "Don't you go imagining things. It's not like you, Laura. Tim is a good kid, but he is going through an awkward spell, like boys do at his age. He will get over it, they all do. Take heart, my dear. But perhaps we should go before your guests start wondering what's keeping you?"
"Thank you, Leonard, you are a good friend," Laura whispered gratefully. "Yes, let us join the party." Then, putting on her best smile, she led the way down the garden steps to greet the local notables.
* * * * * * * *
Not all the high society of Merindol graced the governor's garden party. A number of music lovers, or would-be connoisseurs, had excused themselves so as to attend the premiere of Wagner's second opera of the Nibelungen tetralogy: the Valkyrie.
For that first performance, the Merindolians had dressed up to the nines and offered a colourful sight in the foyer, the galleries and the grand stairway, while slowly leaving the amphitheater after the last applause had finally died down.
Lieutenant Uhura, perched on high heels, was carefully picking her way down the crowded marble steps while appreciating the loud pageantry unrolling around her. This certainly was the place to watch and to be watched. She congratulated herself on her choice of clothes for she knew she could compete in chic and good looks with any of the fashionable women parading along. Many admiring glances had come her way during the evening, proving that her exotic beauty had not gone unnoticed.
She stole a glance at her silent companion, calm and collected as ever, and she was amused at seeing how much his dark good looks and cool elegance attracted female attention. She had but praise for her Vulcan escort. Spock had been quietly attentive throughout the evening. He had even taken her to the foyer at the intermission, and treated her to a glass of the local sparkling wine. She had not thought a Vulcan capable of that kind of attentions, but perhaps the fact that Spock's mother was human accounted for that. But then he was always perfectly courteous with her and the female members of the crew. Perhaps she could put him to the test and see how far his consideration might go? Why not?
They had almost reached the foot of the steps when Uhura gave a little cry and stumbled. At once a firm grip caught her arm and steadied her.
A pair of dark brown eyes searched her face. "Are you all right, Lieutenant?" he murmured.
"Yes, thank you, Mr Spock. Sorry, I must have tripped on my skirt."
The strong hand let go of her arm, and a Vulcan eyebrow lifted in mock skepticism. Uhura felt the blush creep up her face. Apparently her deception had not fooled him one little bit!
"I am sorry, Mr Spock?" she repeated with a rueful smile.
He merely inclined his head, but the amused spark in his eyes told her that she was forgiven.
A moment later, they stood in front of the Opera House, in the midst of the Merindolians who kept pouring out of the establishments which lined both sides of the avenue. The noise and excitement were indescribable. People were milling about, laughing, calling to one another at the tops of their voices. Spock, pushing through the throng, led his companion down to a quieter corner where they paused for breath.
"Phew! That was something!" commented Uhura. She took time to straighten her clothes, drew her wrap snugly about her - for the night air felt chilly - then she smiled up at Spock.
"I must thank you for this wonderful evening, Spock," she said warmly "I admit I had never cared much for the operas of Richard Wagner, but this was beautiful! And beautiful voices too, specially Siegfried and Brunhilde, don't you think?... and that famous third act with the Valkyries riding in... la lalala la... la lalala la!" she laughed, "This tune is going to stick in my mind for a while, for sure!"
"I am pleased that you found to-night's performance enjoyable, Miss Uhura," Spock said quietly, amused by her enthusiasm.
"I just loved it. I know that thanks are unnecessary to Vulcans, but they are important for us Humans, so just let me say thank you, Mr Spock."
"My pleasure, Lieutenant." Spock inclined his head, paused, then gazed intently at her face. "But I suppose that you are in need of sustenance... " He looked around. "If we could find some quiet place for supper, perhaps..." "Oh yes! That would be great! Actually I am starving. How did you guess?" she asked.
"Vulcans do not guess, Lieutenant. I have merely observed that after undergoing strong emotional experiences, Humans often resort to some food and drink. A problem of metabolism, I suppose."
Uhura burst out laughing. "You should report your observations to Doctor McCoy, Spock. He would love it!"
"Uhura!... oh, oh, Uhura!" voices called from across the street. They turned round and saw a smart young man with a pretty blonde hurrying in their direction, and waving wildly.
"Uhura!... and Mr Spock! Fancy meeting you here!" declared Lieutenant Sulu, grinning from ear to ear.
"Hikaru! and you too, Penny? Where do you spring from?" Uhura exclaimed.
"From the Variety, down the street," said Lieutenant Palmer, "and guess what we saw there? 'My Fair Lady'! I never thought a musical that old was still being played here. It was quite good really, nice costumes, etc... But what about you? where have you been?"
"Just a moment, Penny," Sulu intervened, "one thing at a time. Actually, we are looking for a reasonable restaurant and we have been told that they are all booked up around here. Stupid of me, but I never thought of making reservations. So, we thought that perhaps you knew of some nice little place?" He looked inquiringly at his fellow officers but Uhura shook her head.
"Sorry, but no... So what shall we do?"
"Well," Sulu said, "we were told to go down to the harbour and try our luck there. There are taverns near the Fish Market with good food and good music. How about that?"
"I think that would be fun. Yes, let us try that!" Uhura briskly said, then remembering her Vulcan escort, she asked him, "What do you think of Sulu's suggestion, Mr Spock?"
"It seems to be the best solution to your problem, Lieutenant, but now that your friends have joined you, I shall leave you in Mr Sulu's care and excuse myself."
"But why?... where are you going?"
"Back to the ship, of course," Spock replied, genuinely puzzled.
"Oh, Mr Spock, no!" cried Uhura. The last thing she wanted was to give him the impression that he was no longer wanted. "You can't leave us now! she insisted, "Come on, it is our night out. The Captain told us to have a good time, did he not? Please, you can't let us down."
Taken aback, Spock looked uncertain, upon which Palmer and Sulu joined their persuasions to Uhura's. Spock, both surprised and touched by their insistence at including him, a Vulcan, in their party, finally relented.
After all, had Jim not told him time and again that it would do him a lot of good to socialize more often with his shipmates? Now was as good an opportunity as any to follow his advice. So he accepted... never imagining what he was letting himself in for!
Before he knew it, they were all bundled into a taxi-glider hailed by Sulu's shrill whistle, and off they went.
"Where to, gentlemen?" asked the driver.
"To the harbour, near the Fish Market, please."
"Fish Market, right-oh!" the man cheerfully replied and put on speed.
As he sat, squashed between Uhura's and Palmer's curved forms, Spock was beginning to wonder at his poor judgement in being talked into joining the party. He did his Vulcan best to maintain his dignity in this uncomfortable situation while the junior officers, in very high spirits, were chattering and giggling like teenagers.
Presently Lieutenant Palmer asked where he and Uhura had spent the evening.
"At the Opera," Uhura proudly replied. They were duly impressed.
"Wow!... Swell!... how was it?"
"Marvellous!" she enthused. "We saw Wagner's opera 'The Valkyrie'."
"The Valkyrie? isn't that ta tatata ta... ta tatata ta?" Sulu's effort at singing the theme was not too conclusive, but his audience did not mind.
"Something of the kind, Mr Sulu," said Spock coming out of his reserve. "Are you an aficionado of Richard Wagner?"
"Not particularly," Sulu admitted laughingly, "in fact, beside the Flying Dutchman and the Valkyrie, I know very little, and I don't... " He broke off, startled by a sudden noise.
A stream of dark roaring shadows were shooting past them at breakneck speed: Vroom... vroom... vroom. About a dozen of them flashed by, to vanish into the night as mysteriously as they had appeared.
"What the hell was that?" Sulu exclaimed.
"That?" their driver cursed. "That was one of those damned gangs which have been pestering us for months. Youngsters who roam around at night on their stinking machines, out for mischief. Two or three bands of them, calling themselves the Dark Angels, the Shooting Rockets, or the Valkyries!"
"The Valkyries, again? la lalala la... la lalala la," Uhura sang and burst out laughing. "They are haunting us, aren't they, Mr Spock?"
"Apparently," the Vulcan replied drily, "but how is it that no-one seems to stop them? Don't you have any police force?" he asked the driver.
"Sure we do. But what can the police do, I ask you? The cops haul them in, then what? the next day, the kids are out again because their dads pay the fines. Most of them belong to the upper families; see what I mean?"
"Oh, sure!" Sulu replied knowingly.
But the Vulcan did not see, and persisted with disapproval. "I do not understand why a few young people can, with impunity, disturb an entire population. It is illogical. I am surprised that your government does nothing to restore some kind of order."
"Well, from what I heard, the Governor had convened a special meeting of the Council to discuss this problem so I hope they will take the necessary steps, and about time!" said the driver.
"Let us hope so, for the sake of fair Merindol," Penny Palmer commented, then she asked, "Have we still far to go?"
"No, miss, we are almost there. Just down that steep lane is the harbour, do you see?"
Peering through he windscreen, the officers could see dark waters shimmering in the light of the twin moons of Merindol. They had indeed arrived.
"Where shall I take you?" they were asked. They exchanged a glance.
"We have no idea," Uhura said. "Would you happen to know of a nice place? We like good food and good music."
The man chuckled. "There are plenty of those at the harbour, but I know just the one you want: the Merry Porpoise. That's the best around here."
Spock's curiosity surfaced at once. "Are there porpoises in your oceans?" he enquired.
"No, sir!" the driver laughed. "That is just a fancy name, an idea of the first landlord. He came from Terra."
"And do they have any specialty?" asked Sulu, quite ready for supper.
"All the fish food you can wish for," he was told, "but their best is the bouillabaisse - you know, some kind of fish soup."
"I know exactly what it is, and I love it," Uhura declared. "And I think that's what I'll have. Is that it?"
The taxi had stopped in front of an old half-timbered house.
"That's the place, Ma'am, and it's 25 credits for the ride."
"Okay! Everybody out!" she said. "Sulu, will take care of the driver?"
Once outside, the Humans breathed in the cool breeze blowing from the sea with relish, but to the Vulcan's keen sense of smell, the air seemed to be saturated with a pungent smell of fish and seaweeds. He eyed the rusty sign of a porpoise dangling in front of the tavern with some misgivings, but it was too late to turn back, the taxi had left. So, repressing a shudder, he followed his shipmates through the door of the Merry Porpoise.
First they went through a small lobby which functioned like an airlock to keep the warmth indoors, but when they passed the second door, Spock recoiled instinctively, hit full in the face by the blare of a loud jazz band. It was now the turn of his sensitive hearing to be assaulted.
But he had hardly adjusted his senses to these adverse conditions than a rosy-cheeked, buxom woman appeared in front of them.
"Good evening! Welcome to the Merry Porpoise, my dears." She greeted them brightly. "New to these parts, are you? Come in, come in... a table for four? Sure!... not too close to my musicians, perhaps, better if you want to hold a conversation! Come along, this way!" and she led the way across the low-ceilinged room, the four in her wake. Not unexpectedly, they attracted a good deal of attention, even some wolf whistles from the customers
Their hostess settled them at a quiet table, a safe distance from the jazz band, and said with a wink, "Don't mind these jokers, young ladies. Pretty girls like you are bound to attract notice." She beckoned with authority and at once a waiter, dressed in sailor garb, handed them each a menu. Another snap of the woman's fingers brought to their table four tall glasses of an amber sparkling wine.
"There you are, dears, a drink on the house to begin with. You just relax and enjoy my vintage wine while you make your choice."
"Well," said Uhura glancing around the table, "I don't know about you by my choice is made. I'll have bouillabaisse, if you have it tonight."
"We serve bouillabaisse every day," the woman beamed with pride. "The best in Merindol, a meal in itself. You won't be disappointed, lady. Same thing for you too?"s he asked Palmer and Sulu who nodded assent eagerly. "Good... that's three bouillabaisse! But surely not for our Vulcan gentleman here," she added with a kindly smile at Spock who was perusing the menu in great perplexity.
"No, indeed," he answered, looking up. "Just some salad or some vegetables would be quite adequate."
"I know, dear, but I have much better to offer," she smiled. "A gratinee followed by some nice potato croquettes served with a rich ratatouille. How about that?" Spock blinked and looked even more perplexed.
"I am afraid I am not familiar with the terms 'gratinee' and... ah... 'ratatouille', Madam. Will you please explain?"
She burst out laughing. "A gratinee is an onion soup complete with bread and grated cheese, and a ratatouille is some mixed vegetables simmered in olive oil, a recipe brought from Terra by my great great great grandmother. I am sure you'll like it! Why, only last month, the fine Vulcan gentleman who came with his nice lady went so far as to praise my cuisine, especially my gratinee. And, generally, Vulcans are not generous with compliments, are they?" she chuckled. "Sorry, my dear, no offense meant."
"I understand," Spock replied gravely, "and I shall follow your recommendation, Madam."
"You won't regret it. And don't call me Madam, nobody does here. The name is Mariette. And now what about drinks? With the fish, I recommend our light rose... yes?... One bottle of rose to start with, and some bottles of water, of course... Done!" She scribbled on her pad, tore off a leaf which she handed to another waiter, then she wished the Enterprise party 'Bon appetit' and took herself off to greet new arrivals.
"Well," Sulu commented appreciatively, "this is what I call efficiency!"
"Indeed. A remarkable woman," Spock nodded in agreement and took a tentative sip of sparkling wine.
"She certainly knows her trade, and did you hear what she said?" Uhura pointed out. "'That Vulcan gentleman with his nice lady'... Could it be Ambassador Sarek?"
"Quite possibly," Spock replied calmly.
"Funny! Somehow I would not have imagined Sarek dining in this kind of establishment - I mean, near the Fish Market, you know..."
"Why not? My father is not averse to testing interesting experiences, and in his career he has ample occasions to do so."
"Well, so have we, come to think of it," Sulu remarked. "That driver was right so far, this looks all right, don't you agree?"
They all did, including Spock, who had to admit that this expedition seemed to be turning out better than he had feared. The deafening orchestra had soft-pedaled perceptibly and was now playing blues with undeniable skill. Even the diners had thankfully lost interest in them, and the hubbub of laughter and talking seldom exceeded an acceptable level. After a short pause, Lieutenant Uhura expressed their feeling of well-being by heaving a contented sigh. "This is a really nice, cosy place, and this wine is delicious, don't you think, Mr Spock?"
"Indeed, Lieutenant. I find it both light and fruity. Better than the wine they served at the Opera."
"Agreed!" She gave him a meaningful smile which made the other two exchange a look of interested speculation.
All conjectures were soon forgotten, for a strong whiff of fish and spices came their way, preceding a huge soup tureen and several side dishes which were set on their table with due ceremony.
The Vulcan officer was doing his best to disregard the strong smells which reached his nostrils when a bowl of steaming soup was placed in front of him.
"Doesn't all that look good?" exclaimed Sulu, eyes bright in anticipation. "Ah, apparently we have to help ourselves. Right!" He picked up the ladle. "Penny, Nyota, hand over your plates!"
Meantime, Spock was eyeing his bowl with suspicion. One should not judge by appearances, but, at first sight, that brown, sticky mush looked odd.
"Try it, Spock! It tastes better then it looks," he was exhorted by his human colleagues, and indeed the aroma was not unpleasant.
He dipped a tentative spoon, and stirred. Unfortunately the spoon got entangled in a mass of melted cheese. Now he thought, quite conscious of being watched, there must be a logical solution to the problem: given the adhesive condition of this mass, if I apply a constant pressure in that direction, perhaps I could...
A deep chuckle broke into his cogitations. Their jolly hostess had come to see how they were doing and noticed the Vulcan's predicament at once.
"Ah... " she said, "you've got stuck with that cheese. Often happens at the first try. Just use your fork, that'll help. That's it! Now, you try it... careful! it's very hot."
Spock, having managed to extract the spoon from the steaming soup, took a cautious sip. It WAS hot! The liquid burned his tongue, blazed down his throat, bringing tears to his eyes. He gasped, then discovered that the aftertaste was pleasant, in fact quite palatable. Since comments were apparently expected, he nodded. "Good," he declared, "surprisingly good."
His shipmates, busy with their fish soup, exchanged a grin, and Mariette beamed at him. "I knew you would enjoy my gratinee, like that Vulcan did, last month. Ah! that's what I call a real gentleman, a big shot, you could tell. And what a nice couple, he and his lovely lady! A blue-eyed blonde, as I recall." She smiled reminiscently, then heaved a sigh. "I wish he had told me his name, though. A pity, I'd like to know who they were, such nice classy people!"
"He would not, Madam," Spock told her then. "Vulcans always travel incognito."
"Is that so? I didn't know that. Is there any special reason?"
"A matter of privacy," he said deadpan, "and this must remain strictly between us, you understand." He held her gaze significantly. Realisation dawned and her eyes widened in surprise.
"Oh!?... oh, I see... you too... incognito?"
"Affirmative," he nodded gravely, "and I trust that I can rely on your discretion?"
"Absolutely! Not a word, I won't breath a word to anyone," she stammered, chubby cheeks flushed with excitement, hands tightly clasped on her ample bosom. "But," she went on, her curiosity getting the better of her discretion, "all the same, you look awfully like him, in a younger, slimmer way, if you see what I mean?" She was favoured with the rise of a Vulcan eyebrow. "That's it! that's just what he did!" She was obviously delighted.
"There is something about you, something in your eyes which reminds me so much of this nice gentleman. Who knows?" she laughed. "After all, he could be a relation of yours?"
"Who knows, indeed?" Spock echoed politely, then turned his attention back to his gratinee. Mariette luckily took the hint, and leaving them to their meal, went to chat with other customers, but not before granting the bemused Vulcan a broad wink of connivance.
Some stifled giggles brought Spock's attention back to his shipmates. They had, so far, managed to keep a straight face through the brief exchange, but they had finally reached bursting point.
"Is anything the matter, Lieutenants?"
"Sorry, Mr Spock," Sulu choked, "but it was too funny for words!"
"Incognito, Mr Spock?" Uhura said sweetly, laughter dancing in her eyes.
He looked a little sheepish. "I admit having resorted to a deception, but, considering the lady's curiosity and tendency to speculation, I deemed it necessary to be not entirely truthful."
"I was just teasing, Spock," she smiled, "and I think you did very well, for now that good woman is as happy as can be for having been taken into your confidence. You could not have given her greater pleasure."
"Indeed?" Spock considered a moment, then went back to his meal, which turned out to be one of the best he had had for a long time.
"What I can't get over," Sulu said presently, "is the 'fascination' which she has for Ambassador Sarek. She could not stop talking about him. did you notice? I wonder why."
"But, Sulu, you goof, don't you realise?" laughed Lieutenant Palmer.
"He can't, Penny, he is but a man," Uhura pointed out.
"Hey! What's that got to do with it?" Sulu protested.
"Everything!" both girls declared emphatically.
"It is because you are a man," Penny explained, "that you cannot understand why women, throughout the galaxy, find the Vulcans so terribly attractive."
"And... " Uhura added, "Ambassador Sarek, being a Vulcan, is terribly attractive, in his own solemn way, if you don't mind my saying so, Mr Spock."
"Therefore, when Mariette saw him last month, she was so impressed and taken with him that she cannot forget him," Palmer concluded.
"How is that for logic, Mr Spock?" Uhura teased, anticipating some pungent remark. She was not disappointed.
"Very far-fetched, Lieutenant," was Spock's reply.
That question having been thus settled, much to the amusement of the junior officers, the dinner proceeded smoothly to its glorious end. The bouillabaisse was unanimously proclaimed to be delicious; the gratinee very tasty, and as for the ratatouille and croquettes, which everyone tried, they were simply fabulous.
After that two bottles of rose, plus a bottle of sparkling Merindol (kindly offered by their hostess) had been consumed, mostly by the three Lieutenants, (the Vulcan's participation merely consisting in wetting his lips) the mood was decidedly cheerful at their table.
Well fed and pleasantly relaxed, the Enterprise party was debating the important question of a dessert, when a loud commotion drew everyone's attention to the door. About a dozen young people, clad in black leather from head to foot, came swaggering in, shouldered their way to the bar and ordered drinks in loud voices. The jazz band stopped playing and the room turned quiet as the diners eyed the new-comers with ill-concealed hostility.
They downed their drinks, ordered some more, laughing and shouting as if they owned the place. One of the lads suddenly jumped onto the stage, grabbed hold of a trumpet, and sounded at full blast the ta tatata ta, ta tatata ta of the Ride of the Valkyries, which his comrades took up in chorus, beating time with their beer tankards.
"Uh oh!" Sulu muttered. "Must be one of those gangs."
"Indubitably," Spock said with distaste, "and apparently ready for mischief. We must leave before the situation gets out of hand, Lieutenants."
"Aye, sir," they replied, all thought of festivity gone and forgotten.
"Stand by!" Spock ordered, and he swiftly punched a code into the small cash register fixed to their table, inserted his credit card in the slot, and it took but a moment for his bank account to be debited by the amount of their bill.
"And now, let us go," he said, standing up. The trouble was... they could not, any longer. A brawL had erupted near the entrance and was spreading rapidly. To the sound of the trumpet blasting the wild theme of the Valkyries, punches, blows and kicks were flying freely.
"Too late, Mr Spock," Uhura said over the racket, "looks like we are stuck here, unless you want us to fight our way to that door."
"Yeah! Just say the word, sir," cried Sulu, game for anything.
"Absolutely not!" The Vulcan's curt denial damped their ardour. "Can you imagine what the Captain would say if we were involved in a brawl?" (They could. The look on their faces left no doubt about that.) "No, there must be another way."
And luckily, there was. At that very moment Mariette arrived, red-face and breathless. "This way, quick! Come this way!" and while the turmoil was building up behind them, she rushed them to a dark recess, pushed a wooden panelling, and a door suddenly gaped open.
"That's a short curt to the back yard," she explained as they hurried along a corridor. "I have called the police, so better make your getaway before they get here. You don't want to be caught in a police raid, now do you?"
"Not if we can help it!" Palmer said with a titter.
"Sure! That's not for the likes of you, and you travelling incognito," Mariette said while fumbling with the locks of another door. "You will be all right getting out this side, you see."
"We are much obliged, Mariette," said Uhura, "but we don't want you to get into trouble for our sake."
"No trouble at all, dear. It has been an honour having you at the Merry Porpoise, and with a Vulcan gentleman too! There we are." Mariette pushed the creaking door open, peeped round cautiously, and recoiled with a faint shriek. Two dark figures were standing right in front of her.
"Aha!" they sniggered. "Trying to sneak off behind our backs, grandma? A good thing we were on watch. Mariette, sweetheart, that will cost you twice the price. You are fined six bottles to-night."
"You rascals! You good for nothings!" raged Mariette, undaunted. "You will get nothing from me, you should be ashamed... aah!... let me go!" She struggled in their grip. "You are hurting me, let me go!"
"I'll let you go when... aahhh!" With a sigh, the young man dropped unconscious, neatly dispatched by a faultless neckpinch.
"Hey!" his mate drew back hastily, "What are you do... " he broke off gasping in pain, his arm caught in Mr Sulu's steely grip.
"Mr Spock, if you would, sir?" Sulu suggested
"Certainly, Mr Sulu." And, slipping a long hand down their opponent's neck, the Vulcan obliged, and the youth joined his mate on the ground. "Now!" Spock said briskly, handing Uhura his communicator, "please call the ship for beam up and tell them to stand by. Mr Sulu, will you give me a hand with these young men?"
Mariette, who had been staring at the scene in shock, recovered her voice at last. "What happened? What have you done? Are they dead?"
"Dead? Surely not," Sulu laughed, "just out cold, Mariette. They are okay."
After the two limp bodies had been dragged and dumped in the corridor, Spock straightened up and said kindly, "Do not be concerned, Madam. They have only been put to sleep for a while. I suggest you turn them over to the police before they recover consciousness. We have to go now. Thank you for a pleasurable evening."
"Good bye, Mariette, thank you for everything!" Sulu called, waving from the door step. She waved back, suddenly moved to tears by a strange emotion. "Good bye, my dears, take care of yourselves," she replied and locked the door behind them.
Spock and Sulu joined their companions a moment later, only to be faced with another contretemps.
"Problem, gentlemen," Uhura told them. "We cannot beam back to the ship. Some interference in this area, I am told." She handed Spock his communicator, which he flicked open at once.
"Spock to Enterprise. Spock to... "
"Scott here. Sorry, Mr Spock, but we can't lock onto your coordinates, there is some strong interference at the moment. Could you wait a wee bit?"
"No, Mr Scott, it must be now," the First Officer firmly replied. "It is imperative that we leave this place immediately."
"Impossible, sir!" The Chief Engineer sounded flustered. "I am trying to override the system but there is something interfering with the transporter. Where exactly are you?"
"Right by the harbour, at the foot of some steep hills, Mr Scott. Could that be the reason?"
"Aye, that may account for it. Let me check."
"Please, make haste, Engineer," the Vulcan said calmly.
"It won't take a minute, sir. In trouble, are you?"
"You might say that, Scotty, please hurry up!" Uhura put in loud and clear
"You down there too, lassie? Well, well... " A short pause followed, which seemed interminable to the waiting foursome, then Scott came back on the com. saying, "That's what I thought, Mr Spock. There is some kind of screen, some forcefield which cordons off the harbour over an area of five to six kilometers all around. Wonder what they keep in their docks which requires such a safeguard as that, but the long and the short of it is that we can't beam you from that area. Now, if you could move some five of six kilometers away from the harbour, there would be no problem at all."
"Very well, Mr Scott. This is what we shall attempt to do immediately. Please stand by. We shall call you as soon as possible," Spock replied.
"Aye, sir. Will do, good luck!" Scotty said heartily, and signed off.
"Thank you, Scotty, we need it," murmured Lieutenant Palmer.
"And now, Mr Spock, what shall we do?" Uhura came straight to the point. "Shall we hike ourselves up to these hills, or go back in there and wait for the police?"
"I have neither of these solutions in mind, Lieutenant," Spock replied.
"Oh, I am so glad! Frankly I like the idea of hurting my feet as little as that of hurting my pride," she declared in jest.
"Better your pride that your feet, Nyota, specially with that kind of footwear," Sulu wryly remarked with an eye on her high heeled sandals, as pretty and uncomfortable looking as Palmer's silver shoes. "But, seriously, sir, is there another possibility?" he asked Spock.
"Indeed, Lieutenant. A mean of transportation, a vehicle we can use to cover the distance necessary for an effective beaming point."
"A vehicle?" they echoed, nonplussed. "Where is it?"
"Unless we call for a taxi, and that means going back in that bedlam," Sulu argued, nodding at the Merry Porpoise, quite rowdy by then.
"You are not very observant to-night," Spock remarked drily. "Come! all the vehicles that we need are right there."
The bemused trio followed the Vulcan past a wooden fence onto a small parking lot where, lo and behold! sitting in minatory repose, about half a dozen black, chromium-plated machines, gleaming in the moonlight. They stared, agape, taking in the sight, then Uhura laughed softly.
"Is that what you have in mind, Mr Spock?"
"Precisely, Miss Uhura."
"Excuse me, sir, but they look like antiques to me!" Sulu was disappointed.
"They are indeed 20th century antiques, but obviously kept in mint conditions. If memory serves, these models are Harley Davidson motorcycles which could reach a very high speed at the time, hence their success with the young people. A success still actual, apparently. And yes, Lieutenant, these machines will serve our purpose. I consider it only logical that, since these youngsters have caused us much inconvenience, we, in return, take advantage of their vehicles to make our escape."
"Quite logical!" Uhura agreed with a grin, "but do you have any idea of how to drive, or steer, or whatever you do with these things?"
"I believe the exact term is ride, Lieutenant, which you do by sitting astride there. This back seat is obviously for a passenger. I have but a scant knowledge of the mechanism, but the important thing is to start the engine, hold the handles there, and ride off. Will you take this machine, Mr Sulu, I shall take this one, and let us start."
Sulu stood eyeing the bike dubiously. "I am not sure I can handle that."
"Mr Sulu, don't tell me you have doubt about your skills! If you can handle the Enterprise, you can certainly handle this motorcycle. Come, this is no time for hesitation."
"Okay, we can but try!" Sulu decided bravely. "Let us see how this works... " The Enterprise officers were examining the machines, prodding here pulling there, when an indignant voice made them jump and spin round.
"Hey! What do you think you are doing? Leave my bike alone, will you?" He was alone, clad in the inevitable black leather panoply, and doing his best to look aggressive, but his young face and clear grey eyes belied his defiant stance. A mere boy, barely 15 or 16 years old.
Spock took at once the matter in hand. "Do these vehicles belong to you, young man?"
"Yes, to me and my pal. Why?" Still hostile.
"There is an emergency and we have to borrow a couple of these motorcycles for a short period of time. Naturally they will be duly returned to their owners after use," Spock explained calmly.
The boy relaxed visibly, but still eyed them with suspicion.
"How should I know if you will give them back? After all, I don't know who you are, why should I trust you?"
"Why indeed?" Spock murmured, his keen gaze searching the young face. Then, urged by a sudden inspiration, and by the sound of numerous vehicles which only he could hear racing over the hills, he reached under his tunic, produced a small oblong card and held it up for the boy to see. "This, I hope, will set your mind at rest, and justify our request and the urgency of the matter," he said meaningfully.
The lad stared fascinated at the bright blue card on which one word stood out in bold silver letters. "Starfleet?" he whispered. "You are from Starfleet?"
"Yes; more precisely, Starfleet Intelligence," Spock said, deadpan. "This is an undercover operation which requires total secrecy and which grants its agents, if necessary, the right to commandeer any vehicle available," and he put the card safely away lest the youth see it for what it was; a simple Starfleet officer credit card.
"Now, do you understand the situation?" He directed his dark magnetic gaze at the boy, who blushed and gulped nervously. He was clearly impressed, but not entirely convinced, for he said, with an eye on the smart attire of the women,
"Yes, yes I do, but you look funny for secret agents."
Uhura, then, reacted like a pro. "And what did you imagine, young man?" she chimed in, striking a Mata-Hari pose. "Us in raincoats, soft hats and dark glasses, like they show in old spy movies? These togs are part of the trade, see? Don't you know that secret agents travel incognito?" The quizzical glance that she stole at the Vulcan was acknowledged with the faintest quiver of an eyebrow.
"Sorry, Ma'am. I... I did not know. I have never met secret agents before," the lad stammered, now fully convinced and passably excited. "It's okay... I mean you can take my Harley, and this one too, my pal won't mind. But, sure we will get them back in good shape?"
"You have my word," Spock promised solemnly, "and also my thanks on behalf of Starfleet for your cooperation. All we need to know, now, is how to operate your motorcycles."
"Oh, it's easy... look, I'll show you." And indeed it took but a minute for the starship experts to master the simple mechanism of 20th century machinery. The lad went out of his way to help the Starfleet agents and even entrusted them with the protective helmets, equipped with radio, which every biker was bound to wear.
They were soon all set to go, the two men sitting astride the bikes, testing the engines, when Sulu asked curiously, "I say, you never told us your name. What gang are you? The Rockets, or the Angels, or..."
"I am a Valkyrie, sir," he was told proudly, "and my name, my code name for the gang is Siegfried."
"A male Valkyrie? Fascinating!" The comment, murmured by Spock, was only heard by Uhura who, stifling a giggle, asked the boy,
"And your real name? Siegfried is quite appropriate for a Valkyrie, I am sure, but we would like to know the name of our assistant."
"Indeed," Spock put in. "We need to know to whom we must return these motorcycles, you understand."
The young man hesitated visibly, then replied, "It's Tim, Tim Saunders."
"Tim Saunders?" Spock repeated. "A son of Governor Jeremy Saunders?
"Aye, sir. But, please, don't tell my Dad... I mean, he does not know about ... about all this," he finished lamely.
"I see." Tim fidgeted under the Vulcan's penetrating gaze. "Well," Spock went on, "since you are helping us, I shall not tell your father that his son is a member of a gang, but I strongly recommend that you do, and the sooner the better. You must not keep this kind of guilty secret from your parents. Now, Lieutenant," he addressed Uhura, "if you would take your place, it is high time for us to leave."
And it was, indeed. Any minute and the harbour would be crawling with police.
But Uhura, seeing the boy looking forlorn, all by himself, went to him and hugged him warmly. "He is right, you know," she whispered, "you will feel much better if you make a clean breast of it all to your Dad. Good bye, Timmy; thank you, we won't forget you. And my name is Uhura," she added, brushing his cheek with her lips. Then, hitching up her long skirt, she climbed up to the pillion seat behind Spock, and took the helmet he handed her. "Do I have to put that on?" she wondered.
"Certainly, Lieutenant. We don't know what we may run into. Ready to go, Mr Sulu?"
"Aye, sir, as ready as we shall ever be," Sulu replied with a grin at his fair passenger.
"Let us go, then. Live long and prosper, Tim Saunders," Spock intoned, and was about to slip on his black helmet when the boy suddenly called,
"Wait! Wait, sir. You did not say where you would return the bikes."
"I shall leave a message on your com. device some time to-morrow, telling you where and when. A coded message for your eyes only."
"Okay, thanks. But how shall I know it's from you? What's your name?"
Spock cocked an eyebrow and replied with the barest twinkle in the depth of his eyes. "Code name 'Votan'. Look for it on your com. screen."
A second later, the powerful Harley Davidson engines roared into life: Vroom... Vroom... before quietening to a steady throb, and the helmeted figures of the Starfleet agents, after waving farewell to their accomplice, dashed through the back gate, even as the Meridolian police vans screeched to a halt in front of the Merry Porpoise.
* * * * * * * *
By the time the house had been encircled and the gang rounded up and driven away, young Tim Saunders, alias Siegfried, had slipped safely away in the dark, still dazed by his unexpected encounter with Starfleet Intelligence. The more he thought about his adventure, the more he wondered if it was not a dream. This was far more exciting than any prank he and his pals had ever concocted! This was the real thing, this was life! Unbelievable! He, Tim Saunders had actually helped Starfleet operatives in a secret mission. He had perhaps even saved their lives? Wow!!
Meantime, two Harley Davidsons were racing along the steep, bumpy road winding up the hill, and their drivers were doing their best to keep their balance and the middle of the road.
Gripping the handles of his machine tightly, the Vulcan stared ahead through his visor, looking for possible obstacles. "Miss Uhura?" he called, "Are you comfortable? The road seems to be very uneven. Hold on."
"I am fine, thank you, and don't worry, I'll hold on!" she replied, and Spock suddenly felt her arms come around his lean body in a tight embrace. "You don't mind, do you? I feel safer that way." There was a hint of teasing in her voice which came loud and clear through their helmets.
Spock took a deep breath and replied at his most Vulcan. "I don't mind, Lieutenant. Under these exceptional circumstances, I believe it is the logical thing to do."
"Thank you, Mr Spock," she replied sweetly.
Some more bumps later, Spock called again, "Still with us, Mr Sulu?"
"Aye, Mr Spock, right behind you. But I never thought it would be so rough! It's worst than riding an ion storm."
"Indeed. I think this will be a memorable experience, Lieutenant."
"I think it's fun!" Uhura's voice came through, "I have the impression of riding a wild horse, like a Valkyrie. But, after all, we are the Valkyries!" and she began to sing at the top of her voice the 'la lalala la la, lalala la,' soon taken up by Palmer and Sulu in the background.
Spock's eyebrows flew up, unnoticed under his visor. This was getting somewhat out of hand. Perhaps the wines consumed at dinner produced an emotional reaction to a succession of unexpected events that could be the cause of this excitement. Who could tell with Humans?
They were drawing near the top of the cliff. He peered at the small dashboard and checked the distance. They had, so far, covered about half as much a distance as they were supposed to, according to Mr Scott.
"Mr Sulu, Mr Sulu!" the Vulcan's voice finally drowned the Valkyrie chorus. Silence returned.
"Aye, sir. Sorry!"
"We still have at least three kilometers to ride. Let us put on speed."
"Aye, sir... oh, and Mr Spock!" There was alarm in Sulu's voice. "Palmer has just seen some headlights behind us. Do you think we are being followed?"
"Possibly. Will you check, Lieutenants?" Spock grimly said.
Both girls, still clinging to their riding partners, looked round to see what was trailing them through the night. Some other Valkyries, perhaps?
"Yes!... I see them, now," cried Uhura. "Two - no, three cars with flashing lights. Look like police cars, Mr Spock, about one kilometer behind us and closing!"
Spock took a deep breath. "Mr Sulu, on no account must we be caught riding these vehicles. I recommend full speed ahead. Let us see what these machines can do."
"Aye, sir. Warp speed ahead!" Sulu cried cheerfully and the chase then really began.
The Harleys were going full tilt, bouncing like springboks over the rough track stretching like a white ribbon across the plateau. The Starfleet officers, leaning over their machines, were drawing all the power that the engines could give. Acutely aware of their trackers, they rode side by side, their passengers hanging onto them for dear life, evening dresses and wraps billowing and flapping like banners in the wind. The sight they presented in the moonlight was wild enough to make any genuine Valkyrie turn green with envy.
The police cars, outrun for an instant by the sudden acceleration of their quarries, had gathered speed and were streaking after them in hot pursuit. A few breathless moments went by, then Spock calmly told Uhura:
"Lieutenant, we must have passed the limits of the forcefield now.
My communicator is in my belt, on my right side. Take it and try and raise the ship, will you?"
Uhura complied. By a feat of balanced skill, she managed to hold on to Spock with one hand, slip her other hand under his tunic (if the girls could see me!) Retrieved the communicator, flick it open, push her visor up and finally call: "Enterprise! Come in Enterprise!"
The welcome voice of Engineer Scott was heard at last.
"That you, lassie? Just a moment, let me check... three humans and one Vulcan - they must be somewhere..."
"For Heaven's sake, Scotty," she urged, "hurry up. Believe it or not, but we have the local police on our heels!"
"The police? What in the universe have you been up to?"
"You will never believe it!" she said with a nervous laugh.
Meantime, Spock, thanks to his night vision, had noticed a clump of trees standing in the distance and partly hiding a sharp bend of the trail.
This was an opportunity that they should not miss.
"Mr Sulu," he warned the helmsman, "on my mark, after the next bend, sharp right behind those trees."
The Vulcan checked behind him, glancing at the mirror. The police cars were still some 400 meters away. They could take the risk. The Harley Davidsons tore round the bend. "Now!" shouted Spock, and in a flash, the bikes jumped from the track, bumped over rocks, and hid among the trees.
A few seconds later, they saw their pursuers zip past and disappear into the night. They all breathed a sigh of relief.
"Phew! that was close," came from Sulu.
But the Vulcan was already calling the ship. "Enterprise! Spock here. Have you locked on our coordinates, Mr Scott?"
"Aye, sir. We can beam you right away. Ready when you are."
"We are more than ready, Engineer, but we need to have our vehicles beamed up too. So will you please arrange to beam us to the shuttle bay?"
"What? Do you know what you are asking, man?"
"I do, Mr Scott, and I know it requires some delicate readjustments. But I cannot leave them here, to fall into the hands of the police. I gave my word to send them back in perfect shape to their owners. I am sure that this is childs play for an engineer of your calibre."
Nothing like a few well-chosen words to smooth out ruffled feathers. "Okay, Mr Spock, I'll see what I can do," Scotty was heard to grumble, "but I need some time."
"I understand, Mr Scott, however our situation being precarious, to say the least, I would recommend alacrity. Spock out."
"Do you know how long it will take?" asked Lieutenant Palmer, who had jumped down from her bike to stretch her legs.
"From ten to fifteen minutes, Lieutenant. Mr Scott knows our predicament, therefore he will do his utmost. But we must remain watchful, the Merindolian police may not give us up so easily."
And, sure enough, a few minutes later, some bright headlights heralded the return of the police squad who, having drawn a blank down the road, were retracing their steps and flashing search lights right and left.
"Damn!" Sulu muttered under his breath, "you were right, Mr Spock, they won't give up. What do we do now?"
"For the moment, just wait and see," Spock quietly told them, "but let us be prepared for all eventualities."
They donned their helmets again, climbed back on their Harleys and waited, tensed and silent, mostly invisible in the shadows of the trees.
The cars reduced speed, to finally stop just opposite their shelter.
The two girls caught their breath and even Sulu could feel the thumping of his heart in his chest. Search lights were swept around the area then focused on the copse.
"Stand by, Mr Sulu," Spock murmured, "we may have to go fast, very fast."
They watched as several dark figures alighted from the vehicles, got together to discuss on the road, then they heard a voice say loudly,
"Let us have a look at this thicket over there. You never know."
"Ready, Mr Sulu?"
"Let them reach the first trees, then....steady... steady... now!"
And suddenly, to the police officers' amazement, a couple of black roaring monsters broke out of the wood, jumped onto the trail, and had escaped before they even knew it. By the time they had scrambled back on board their cars and got a move on, their quarries were far away.
"Damn, damn and damn!" cursed the chief, as they gave the chase again. "Never seen anything like it! Wonder what's got into those kids. Damn! We may lose them yet."
"No, sir, no! Look!" one of his men crowed, pointing. "They have taken the wrong turn, they are heading straight to the cliffs. Dead end, sir! We'll get them for sure now, there is no escape."
By now, the Enterprise four had already realised that they had indeed taken the wrong turn. The track they were following lead straight to the sea... and the police cars were gaining ground.
Slowing down, Spock and Sulu reached the end of the trail and halted. Beyond, there was nothing but the sky already hued with the colours of dawn, and the relentless sound of the ocean sending its waves crashing against the foot of the cliff.
Cautiously Spock moved his Harley on to the very edge and put a foot down. He and his passenger peered down. A sheer drop of 250, perhaps 300 meters. Hard to tell in the dim light. Seabirds, disturbed in their rest, were flying and screeching about their heads. A beautiful but dangerous sight.
Uhura shuddered and her head away. She did not care much for heights. She raised the visor of her helmet, and called the ship once again. About ten minutes had elapsed since the last contact, perhaps Mr Scott was now able to beam them up, Vulcan, Humans, motorbikes et all. But the answer was:
"No, not yet, lassie, just give me a few more minutes, will you?"
She sighed and looked at the police cars closing in slowly, like a pack of hounds making for their preys. Too bad to have to end their glorious ride like this!... in the hands of the police.
"What can we do, Mr Spock?" she asked the silent man sitting in front of her.
"Yes, sir? Your orders, sir?" added Sulu who had brought his machine alongside. Clearly, they expected the Vulcan to produce another rabbit out of his hat.
Spock, impenetrable behind his black visor, looked up at the rosy sky, then back at their trackers who had stopped and formed a circle some distance away. "We must give Mr Scott the time he needs for his work," he said at last. "Just a few more minutes should suffice. The police believe that they hold us at bay. They believe we cannot go anywhere, short of jumping into the sea. We can logically assume that they will presently order us to surrender quietly, without fuss." He paused, looked at the horizon which was brightening perceptibly,then resumed: "The sun is about to rise, Lieutenants. Let us take advantage of the fact. Let us play for time."
"I am all for it, Mr Spock!" exclaimed Sulu. ""What about an evasive manoeuver?"
"Precisely what I had in mind," Spock approved. "Ms Uhura, keep in touch with the ship all the time. And now, Mr Sulu, let us start the game."
"Hold tight, girls!" Sulu cried, "here we go! Ho Hoi!"
The engines growled ominously, then, with a roar, the Harley Davidsons leaped forward and dashed towards the line of police who backed hastily.
The bikes swerved around in a screech of brakes, and raced back to stop, panting, on the cliff edge and face the their pursuers.
A voice, then, boomed through a megaphone. "All right, boys, all right! The game is up. Easy now. You have led us a merry dance but it is over now. Come, get off your bikes!"
No reply, except the purr of the Harleys, braced to spring again.
"Funny, chief," remarked one man. "They don't react like that usually. I mean, no insults, no catcalls. They just watch us from behind those visors. And have you seen these girls they have got with them. Wonder where they picked them up... They don't look like the usual lot, do they?"
"No... I wonder... " The chief hesitated, then raised his megaphone again. "That's enough, boys, Come on, we haven't got all night... Oh, damn! There they go again!"
The helmeted figures on their bikes were now capering back and forth along the cliff as if to mock the helpless men.
"Sir, What if I fire a shot at their tyres? That'll stop them for sure."
"No, too risky. They are riding much too close to that cliff. The last thing I want is an accident. For the last time, you two!" the chief shouted, "give yourselves up. You don't have a chance."
After another pause, the Harleys came back again, full tilt, circled tightly in front of the police, then, gathering momentum, charged head on in the direction of the sea.
"No!" cried the police chief, "No, don't do that! Wait!... oh my God!"
He and his men, blinded by a sudden blaze of light, put up their hands against the glare of the sun, now rising from the sea. When they could see again, they ran up to the edge, looked around, looked everywhere. Nothing but the seabirds. They looked down at the breakers splashing against the rocks, No trace of the Valkyries and their Harley Davidsons.
"Oh my God!" moaned the chief, white as a sheet, "they have thrown themselves into the ocean. Of all the crazy things!... and what shall I tell the governor?"
"Not your fault, Chief, you gave them enough warning!"
"Hey, don't you think there was something funny with the sunrise this morning? I have never seen it so bright, really dazzling," remarked the bright guy of the squad.
"Who is interested in the sunrise?" snapped the chief. "Four people have just committed suicide in front of us and all you do is prattle about sunrises! Come on, everyone. We are going home!"
* * * * * * * *
"Good God!" exclaimed a bemused Chief Engineer at the very same time, staring at the apparitions sparkling into being in the middle of the shuttle bay. "What in the world is that?"
The Harley Davidsons, still in full flight, scudded around the deck to finally come to a stop nose to nose with the Galileo shuttle. Mr Scott, standing with arms akimbo, watched the adventurers dismount from their machined and demanded. "What is all this?"
"This, Mr Scott," said Spock, calmly removing his helmet, "is a couple of original Harley Davidsons motor-cycles - from the 20th century, I think."
"My word, Mr Spock, you are damn right!" replied Scotty eyeing the bikes with excitement. "These are real beauties, Harley Davidson Heritage Softail Classic, if I am not mistaken. I'll have to check in my papers."
"Why, Scotty!" I did not know you were an amateur of antiques," Sulu said, laughing.
"Any engineer worth his salt has heard of these bikes. They are legends, you know. But they seem to have had a rough time lately. Look at those scratches and bumps. A shame!"
"Scotty, that's nothing compared to what I have!" said Uhura. "I feel like I am bruised all over."
"Same with me!" Palmer declared, "and to tell the truth, I was never more scared in my life. Those last seconds... uh!" She shuddered. "I thought we would never make it."
"But we did, Lieutenant, thanks to Mr Scott, here," said Spock. "That was perfect timing, Engineer. Now, I promised to send these motorcycles back to their owners as soon as possible, and in perfect shape. As you see, they have suffered from the ride, so would you please have some of your experts make the necessary cleaning and repairs?"
"Don't worry, Mr Spock, the way we will refurbish these babies, they'll be as good as new. But what exactly happened? You had the police after you?... what have you been up to?"
"Yes, that is exactly what I would like to know," said a new voice; They turned round to see the Captain and Doctor McCoy, still in evening clothes, emerge from the turbo-lift.
"What's all this? I hear that you had to be beamed up in an emergency, that you were chased by the local police, and I don't know what else? I thought that you and Uhura were going to the Opera, Mr Spock. What have you been doing all night?" Kirk looked much amused.
"Why, Captain!, we have been following your advice," Uhura said primly. "We have had a good time. But, if you will excuse-me, gentlemen, I am dead beat and ready for bed. See you later," and with a wave of her hand, she went to the lift, then looked back and smiled. "Thank you, Mr Spock, that was a wonderful night!" Sulu and Penny Palmer lost no time in excusing themselves also, claiming that they could hardly stay awake. So there was only the Vulcan left to satisfy the curiosity of his friends.
"Well, Mr Spock, we are waiting," Kirk said, grinning. "Won't you tell us what happened?"
"It is a long story, Captain. I am sure that Lieutenants Uhura, Sulu and Palmer will be only too happy to describe everything in detail tomorrow. Now, if you will excuse me, I shall also retire to my quarters."
And that was all that the Captain, the Doctor and the Chief Engineer could obtain that early morning.
* * * * * * * *
The following night, Tim Saunders was sitting in his room at the Residence, He sat in front of his com. screen waiting for a secret message, as he had done practically all day. He was getting more and more anxious, specially since he had overheard his father mention some incident with a gang at the harbour, followed by a terrible accident up on the cliffs.
Two couples on motorcycles had apparently fallen off the cliff into the ocean, and, so far, nothing had been recovered by the divers of the Security squad. Two couples... that could only be the secret agents...
Dear God! What was he to do?... Tell his father?... They were Starfleet, surely Starfleet had to know.
The boy was worrying to death when a signal announced an incoming message on his computer. With trembling hands, he punched in his code, and finally the mysterious message appeared on the screen:
"Votan to Siegfried. Mission accomplished. Gratitude for your assistance. Your faithful steeds have served well. They are awaiting you in the park, beyond the lily pond. Farewell, over."
Two minutes later, Tim was running through the garden of the Residence, looking through the shrubberies and dark places where they might be hidden. Suddenly he heard a curious tingling sound, behind him and turned in time to see the two Harleys materialise before him, more beautiful, and glamorous than they had ever been.
He could not know that on the Enterprise, an exact duplicate of his beloved bike was being fabricated from the blue prints that Mr Scott had taken on his personal computer. The Engineer had the firm intention to test the Harley Davidson Heritage Softail Classic at the earliest occasion.
* * * * * * * *
At about the same time, in the little office of the Merry Porpoise, a very touched and happy lady was reading, for the umpteen time, the pretty card which had been joined to the large bouquet of flowers and the large box of chocolates which now sat on her desk.
The card read: "With the compliments of the Vulcan gentleman and his party."
"Such nice and classy people," she murmured, helping herself to yet another chocolate.
Copyright Nicole Comtet