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Although Starships were the main exploratory ships of the Federation, Starfleet also had a number of survey/research vessels whose primary function was to make preliminary investigations of planets which the better-equipped starships then follow up. Sometimes an ill-advised first contact had unfortunate or worrying results, however, for the Starship crew that had to make second contact.
Korvan was a Class M planet with a culture that, while apparently still highly civilised, existed on a fairly simplistic level. The people were, in the main, farmers, and although several fairly sizeable ruined cities showed conclusively that at one time the planet had had a reasonable industrialised culture, the only crafts that were still pursued were weaving, carving, and some simple craftwork using such metals and semi-precious stones as could be found without mining activity. Gold, panned from mountain streams, was the most commonly worked metal. Sensor scans, though, showed the presence of dilithium - not an uncommon substance, but rare enough to generate considerable Federation interest in a world that had a good stock of it.
The Captain of the scout ship that discovered Korvan made contact when sensors detected the dilithium. The natives, friendly at first, became suddenly... not hostile, exactly, but unenthusiastic when he mentioned trading. They were not interested in trading and preferred to be left in peace. Their world provided them with all that they needed and they wanted nothing. Balked, the scout ship departed and its captain reported to Starfleet Command; not the triumphant report he had hoped to give, but a more subdued, apologetic one.
Starfleet Command did not waste time in recriminations; the man had done his best. Instead, the records were checked to discover which Starship was nearest, and the Enterprise was assigned to make a second contact, and try to arrange for the planetary head of government to at least meet with an official Federation representative. There was too much of a chance of the Klingons finding Korvan and exploiting it to allow the Korvans to forget that a substance on their planet was of value to more technological cultures.
Kirk savoured his first sip of Saurian brandy appreciatively. "Where do you get it from, Bones?" he asked. "Somehow, you always seem to have the best brandy available. I buy the same brand - but it's different, and I don't know why."
McCoy chuckled. "Maybe it's the joy of drinking someone else's that adds flavour," he teased.
Kirk grinned. "In that case, Scotty's should taste better too, and it doesn't."
"Then it must be the pure alcohol I add to it to eke it out - two parts spirit to one part brandy. Three bottles for the price of one."
"Now that's the miserly country doctor speaking..."
"Sure, it was my granddaddy taught me how to do it without being found out."
They laughed companionably. Kirk sipped again, knowing he wasn't going to get a straight answer, and leaned back with a sigh. "It's good to be able to relax occasionally."
"No reason why you can't do it more often."
"Oh, I don't do too badly. As long as I have you to laugh with sometimes, and Spock to play chess with two or three evenings a week, I really don't do too badly."
"So what's worrying you right now?"
Kirk made a face. "I'm not looking forward to visiting Korvan. Yes, I know our standing orders - 'seek out new life, new civilisations' - but they don't say anything about sorting out messes that a half-trained survey crew has made!"
McCoy gave him a searching look. "You're not usually so intolerant."
"I know, Bones." He sounded contrite. "I know, the crews are well trained, but they're not qualified to handle first contacts. They're meant to observe inhabited planets and report their findings to Starfleet. Only too many of their Captains think they know what they're doing and make contact anyway. Usually they get away with it - often enough for Starfleet to accept the odd boob as the luck of the draw. But... I dunno, Bones, I've got a feeling deep down in my gut that this is going to be one of those occasions."
"Now that's being silly," McCoy protested. "Time enough to start getting premonitions of trouble when we actually get there and meet the people."
"That's what I keep telling myself. Then I remember how little we were actually told about the first contact - just the bare fact that it had been made, but the natives weren't keen to trade. That tells me that the survey Captain somehow managed to botch it - we weren't even told who it was." Kirk sighed. "What's really wrong, I suppose, is that I'm not keen on these diplomatic missions. I don't like carrying Ambassadors and High Commissioners around, but I sure wish they'd sent one with us this time."
"What you're really scared of is that you'll do so well in diplomacy that Starfleet promotes you away from the Enterprise to be a High Commissioner yourself," McCoy said cheerfully.
"That's not funny," Kirk replied, almost sharply. "Sorry, Bones - but a purely diplomatic career is my idea of hell."
"I've often thought that diplomats have to be slightly insane," McCoy answered. "Otherwise they'd either not be diplomats or they'd carry out their duties more directly, and cut out the deviousness."
"Now that would never do," Kirk protested. "If they did that, they'd carry out their duties too efficiently and work themselves out of a job."
McCoy refilled the glasses. "Vulcan certainly seems to be the only planet in the Federation that doesn't have a top-heavy diplomatic service," he admitted. "And don't you dare tell Spock I said so!"
"Logic has its uses, huh?"
McCoy grinned. "If the Vulcans would only admit to the positive emotions," he said, "like love and laughter. They could ignore the negative ones - hatred, envy, jealousy - as much as they liked. We'd all be better off without those."
"They all stem from insecurity," Kirk said thoughtfully.
McCoy nodded. "And they all make everyone involved very unhappy. We can't even be sure of what causes insecurity," he added. "'External forces acting and reacting with heredity', they told us at a psychology lecture... And yet two children in the same family, brought up apparently identically, can be so different... One can end up as self-confident as they come, while the other is crammed as full of insecurities as it's possible to be. That's why Spock clings so hard to being Vulcan and maintaining Vulcan habits, you know. It gives him something positive to hang onto, to help him overcome his insecurity. And that's why I tease him so much - trying to let him see that he doesn't need that support any more."
"You think Spock feels insecure?"
"Dammit, how could he be anything else? With Humans calling him cold and unfeeling and Vulcans calling him emotional, he never could have known where he stood when he was young. His father demanded one hell of a lot from him; and while he had the intelligence, the ability to cope... I've no doubt that Sarek was never satisfied, and made no allowances at all for his Human reactions, which must have shown up quite a lot when he was a child, before he learned to control them. He probably lay awake at night wondering how he was going to manage, if he was going to live up to his father's expectations the next day... He probably got into the habit of reminding himself 'I am Vulcan... ' to help him overcome those Human reactions... and never got out of it."
"And he's still afraid of letting the Human in him show... "
"He's learned to unbend a bit with you, although most Humans wouldn't realise that he was unbending... And I'm teaching him another kind of reaction, and he's responding pretty well. Sarek never did understand my crack about the teddy bear, but Amanda did - and so did Spock. I laid myself wide open, and he picked it up neat as anything."
Kirk grinned reminiscently. "And how!"
"I don't know how much it helped him - if at all - but... I don't care how good a face he put on it, Sarek's behaviour must have hurt like hell, and scoring that one over me just then - well, it must have done something for his confidence."
Kirk nodded. "And then being able to let Sarek see how well he could cope with command... "
"The whole incident did help him quite a bit. His psychological profile steadied fractionally after it."
"Mm. I didn't think it possible either, but it did."
"As if he didn't quite believe he was competent, despite his reputation, until he'd shown Sarek he was?"
"Looks like it." McCoy filled the glasses again. "Spock's proved he's a competent officer and Sarek can see how highly he's respected... They seemed to be fully reconciled, as far as I could see, and while I don't pretend to understand Vulcans all that well, Amanda must and she seemed happy about it. I don't think Spock has any family worries now."
"Good." Kirk emptied his glass at a speed that really didn't do justice to the vintage, and yawned. "Think I'll hit the sack."
"How're you feeling?"
"Just a bit sleepy."
"Sure? That stab wound wouldn't be bothering you by any chance?"
"No, it isn't."
McCoy looked suspicious.
"Bones, it's been over a month! Of course I'm fit again!"
"I'll believe you... Go on, off to bed!"
Despite Kirk's fears, the Korvans agreed willingly enough to meet him, provided he limited his party to not more than six persons. He considered the composition of his landing party carefully. McCoy, of course; a yeoman to record the talks and any agreement that they might manage to reach; one or more security guards to add dignity - something Kirk didn't normally bother about, but he had a feeling that there it might lend a degree of formality that the Korvans would appreciate.
He wanted to include Spock, but would the Vulcan's alien appearance hinder the success of the talks? Or would the fact that his party included someone who was obviously of a different race encourage the Korvans? It might...
He would take Spock, he decided.
They were met by the President of Korvan, flanked by two aides, and supported by a dozen officials. Beside the simple, unassuming garments of the Presidential party, Starfleet's dress uniforms appeared gaudy, almost garish, and Kirk realised that they might have done better to wear standard uniform. They were very definitely over-dressed, but it couldn't be helped. Formality would have to be maintained, and the book clearly specified dress uniform for meetings of this nature.
To Kirk's surprise, the meeting took place in the open air. Chairs were placed round a large table on a raised platform, even for the honour guards whose chief purpose was clearly unsuspected. The Korvans clearly imagined that the two guards were simply minor members of Kirk's entourage.
Kirk stated the Federation's case simply and clearly, and gave a warning, as strongly worded as was consistent with his role, of the danger to Korvan from the Klingons.
The subject was debated at length. At too great a length, Kirk decided. A cold wind was blowing, and he blinked as grit was blown into his eyes. He managed to blink them clear without being too obvious about it, and out of the corner of his eye he saw one of the guards doing the same.
It eventually transpired that President Varnan himself, his aides and eight of the officials favoured their government's forming an alliance with the Federation, and trading their dilithium for items not produced on the planet. Their only stipulation was that the mining activities should cause as little damage to the environment as possible, and any damage so caused should be repaired before the miners left the area. This Kirk could agree to immediately and cheerfully, knowing that it was standard Federation procedure, and thereby discovered that that had been the obstacle preventing earlier agreements. The scout captain had been hesitant about it.
The other four officials were unenthusiastic, although of the four, only one - Herdar - seemed to be actively opposed, the general tenor of his words being that it would be foolish to believe the strangers on their bare promise to conserve the countryside.
"If you distrust us on sight, how can we give proof of our good intentions? Surely the time to distrust us is after we prove untrustworthy," Spock suggested evenly.
"That would be too late to undo the damage you had done," was the uncompromising reply.
Kirk sighed inwardly. It looked as if this meeting was going to last quite a bit longer than would be comfortable. He shivered again as the wind gusted sharply, once more driving dust against their faces. Automatically, he closed his eyes until the flurry of dust was past, then opened then again to see Varnan blinking uncomfortably.
That might speed him up, Kirk thought with near-malicious intensity, aware even as he formulated the thought that Varnan wasn't the hold up. He was probably as frustrated by Herdar's opposition as Kirk himself.
"Our visitor is right, Herdar," Varnan said firmly. "It would not be just to accuse the Federation of untrustworthiness when we know nothing of them. Let us permit mining to begin in one area, say in the most barren region where this mineral is found, so that any damage to the environment would be of less importance than in a more fertile area, and judge from that whether they can be trusted or not."
There was a general murmur of agreement, the one man, Herdar, being the only dissenting voice, the other three seemingly quite satisfied with Varnan's compromise. When he realised that he stood alone, Herdar said grudgingly, "Very well. I accept the will of the majority. But let the initial agreement also be for a short time only."
Varnan glanced at Kirk, who nodded. "I sympathise with Mr. Herdar's views," he said, "and although I know that he has nothing to fear, I accept his caution. Let the initial agreement, then, stand for one year, and be reviewed one month before its end. The Federation would have the rights to mine in one desert area during that year, keeping the disturbance to the environment to a minimum."
"Agreed," Varnan said.
He clapped his hands, and after a moment a servant came up with a tray of drinks. He took them round the party; first Kirk, then the President, then the others in turn.
Varnan raised his glass. "To our friendship."
"To our friendship," Kirk repeated. They drank the toast, even Spock accepting the need, on this occasion, to do so, although he barely moistened his lips with the liquor.
The meeting immediately became more informal. Even the hostile Herdar seemed resigned now to his defeat, and spoke cheerfully to McCoy, who shortly found himself deep in a discussion of medical techniques. Herdar, it seemed, was a doctor also, and mention of some of the Federation's medical technology seemed to do a great deal to reconcile the man to his political defeat.
The drinks were replenished. Kirk drew a deep breath; a glance showed him that Spock shared his weary resignation, even though he was sure that no-one but himself could recognise it. If these diplomatic talks were boring, the socialising was even worse! He turned slightly to avoid having more dust blown into his face by the gusting wind.
"We would be honoured if you would attend a dinner tonight to celebrate our union with the Federation," Varnan was saying.
"Thank you." There was no other courteous answer possible, and Kirk bade a regretful farewell to the relaxed evening he had hoped to spend. "We would be very happy to attend. What time will we join you?"
"About seven, our time."
"We'll be there. Now, if you will excuse us, we must return to our ship. I must report to my superiors."
"Yes, of course, Captain Kirk."
Kirk flicked open his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise. Landing party ready to beam up.
Kirk tossed back the last of his second drink. As he replaced the glass on the table, the landing party began to shimmer into invisibility.
Kirk materialised gasping for breath. He clutched at his throat, choking. Attracted by the sound, McCoy looked towards him, and sprang into action. It took him a second to realise that Kirk was not, as he had first thought, simply choking through having swallowed the last of his wine the wrong way. Spock, watching, came to the same conclusion almost simultaneously.
"I'll bring him, Doctor." Spock swung Kirk up into his arms. By the time they reached sickbay, Kirk's breathing was extremely laboured. He breathed in little moaning gasps, his face twisted in agony. Spock laid him quickly but gently on the examination table, and stepped back to make way for McCoy, looking up at the diagnostic panel as he did so.
Even to his inexperienced eye the readings looked bad. McCoy drew his breath in sharply and moved fast. Within seconds, Kirk was on full life support.
"What is it?" Spock asked as McCoy straightened for a moment.
"I don't know. His blood pressure's down, yet his pulse rate has speeded tremendously. It's feeble, though. His rib muscles are partially paralysed, so he's having problems breathing. Without life support, I doubt he'd manage. And the pain... Spock, he's in agony. But I daren't give him a sedative."
The Vulcan looked down at Kirk's sweat-beaded face. "Not even when he's on full life support?"
"Not even with full life support," McCoy said gloomily. "The paralysis... "
Spock's lips tightened fractionally. "What caused it?"
"How can I know yet?" McCoy snapped. Kirk blinked up painfully as the surgeon took a skilful blood sample and gave it to Nurse Chapel.
"Bones... " It was an almost voiceless gasp.
"Be quiet. Don't try to talk, Jim."
"The dinner... Spock... "
"I'll go down," Spock said quietly.
"Be... careful... " They could barely hear him.
Spock and McCoy looked at each other sharply. "You think there was treachery?" McCoy asked disbelievingly.
"Seems... likely... "
"Herdar? But the man's a doctor, Jim. He wouldn't - he couldn't!"
"A doctor would have the knowledge," Spock said evenly. "And he did take his defeat... rather more philosophically than I would have expected. Although I cannot see how he could choose his victim. It seemed that we had a free choice of glass, and there was no other way that poison could have been administered."
Kirk managed to nod.
McCoy looked from one to the other. "All right, I'll pump out your stomach, Jim, and get the contents analysed." He turned for the requisite equipment.
The analysis turned up nothing. There was nothing - nothing at all - in the contents of Kirk's stomach that shouldn't have been there. Wearily, McCoy sighed; Spock looked at him a little uncertainly.
"It would appear that we were mistaken in considering the possibility of poison," Spock admitted.
"Not necessarily," McCoy replied. "There are certain poisons that dissipate very quickly and leave no trace." He sounded subdued. "The fact that I found nothing doesn't automatically mean that there was nothing. It just means I have nothing to go on. I'm working in the dark, Spock. And if I guess wrong... "
Spock nodded. It would have been Human to say something completely meaningless and unnecessary, like 'Do your best' - but Spock was not Human, and he refrained. For once, McCoy was grateful for Vulcan reticence. Instead, Spock merely said, "I must prepare for tonight's dinner." He managed to give the final word an intonation that made it sound positively indecent.
Despite his concern, McCoy couldn't help but smile. But he, also, chose not to say the obvious. Instead, he said quietly, "Be careful."
Spock nodded again. "Very careful," he said.
When Spock contacted the planet, however, he discovered that the situation there was far from peaceful. No-one quite knew what was happening. Varnan and two of his supporters had collapsed just after the Enterprise's landing party had left. All were seriously ill, and nobody knew what was wrong, although poison was suspected. Herdar and the other three opponents of the union were under arrest, accused of attempted murder, but all four insisted that they were innocent.
Inquiry produced the information that the symptoms - pain, breathlessness, rapid pulse - were identical to Kirk's.
"Captain Kirk is suffering from the same affliction," Spock told the aide who had answered him. "Our doctor can find no evidence of poison." A thought occurred to him. "Do you have life support systems in your hospital?"
"What is that?"
If they didn't know what life support was, they didn't have it. "Then perhaps we should bring President Varnan aboard the Enterprise," Spock suggested. "Also the other two victims. Their physicians may accompany them, of course. Our facilities are at your disposal."
"Thank you," the aide replied. "I shall inform the physicians of your offer. I'm sure they will welcome your assistance."
Spock sat pondering matters for a while before returning to sickbay, during which time Varnan and his two companions had been transferred to the Enterprise and placed on total life support.
As the Vulcan entered, McCoy glanced over from his position at the bedside of the Korvan President.
"We got them just in time," he said. "They'll live, on full life support... I've never seen anything like this before. Yet... It runs in my mind that I should know what caused it. The symptoms... they're not familiar. I know I've never encountered this... ailment... before. It's as if someone told me about these symptoms... I've thought and thought, but I just can't remember. Perhaps if you were to link with me... "
"Negative, Doctor. Even if the knowledge was there, since you have forgotten it so thoroughly, a simple mind meld would be insufficient to detect it. If you could remember any detail, even of the circumstances in which you had heard of it, I would have some chance of tracing the memory. Otherwise, I could search your subconscious mind for months and still fail to discover anything useful."
"I probably heard it during training. We were told a lot of odd, rare symptoms from time to time - normally prefixed by 'You're not likely to encounter this, but - '. I won't say we didn't listen to them - but we had so much to remember that was applicable that something we were told we weren't likely to need didn't make much of an impression."
"That is not sufficient to help."
Spock sighed. "I think I will see if I can speak to Herdar and his friends. It might prove informative."
"Spock, I can't believe Herdar had anything to do with this. Dammit, the man's a doctor!"
"So you said already. But, Doctor, much would depend on how strongly he felt against the trade link. When a man's deepest principles are at stake, lesser ones, no matter what they may be, are automatically superseded."
"Spock, the saving of life is a doctor's deepest principle."
"It certainly should be... but in this instance, we have no other suspect. Doctor, I do not say that I believe Herdar to be guilty; merely that he, and only he, had cause to wish this treaty defeated - as the deaths of the agreeing leaders would surely do - and the professional knowledge of how to cause those deaths. If he himself was condemned and died also - why, martyrdom is no hardship to the staunch believers in any cause - indeed, it is frequently welcomed."
"I know." McCoy's shoulders drooped wearily.
Spock had little difficulty in arranging to see the prisoners; indeed, the prison authorities seemed quite glad that someone was taking the responsibility for doing something. There were no precedents for the arrest and questioning of an important member of the Government.
The four prisoners were being kept together in what was clearly a 'holding area' rather than a proper cell. It was comfortably furnished and, except for the bars on the window and the locked door, it could have been a hotel room.
Spock stood for a minute just inside the door looking at the man who stood, simply staring back at him. Finally, Herdar said quietly, in an almost-defeated voice, "Do you also believe us guilty, Mr. Spock?"
"There is no proof that you are," Spock replied. "However, neither is there any proof that you are not, and therein lies the problem. I must admit that I cannot see what opportunity you had. Even to poison some of the glasses - you had no certainty that others would not take the safe ones, leaving only poisoned ones for yourselves. No, I do not think it logical that you are guilty."
"We are not," Herdar replied. "I do not agree with the Council's decision, but now it has been made. What would I gain by killing those who made it?"
"The rescinding of the decision, perhaps, if the new Council members thought as you do regarding it."
Herdar shook his head. "I have heard that this might happen on other worlds - but not here. Here, once the decision has been made, it cannot be altered."
"So you would have no motive either, save revenge."
"Revenge? What purpose would that serve?"
"None," Spock agreed. He was silent for a moment, and then continued. "Herdar, you are a healer of this world. Do you know this ailment?"
"I know only that Varnan, Shevar and Merran are ill, to the danger of their lives - and their ailment has not been diagnosed."
"Not only those three - Captain Kirk is also affected."
"What!" The Korvan's shock could not have been simulated. A quick glance showed Spock that the other Korvans also looked completely shocked.
"You did not know?"
Herdar shook his head. "How ill is he?"
"Dr. McCoy has him - and the other three - on total life support. Without that, all four would be dead by now."
Herdar sank down onto his chair, shaking his head. "Will they recover?"
"We do not know." Spock looked keenly at him. "Herdar - the symptoms are extreme pain; paralysis; the blood pressure has dropped alarmingly; the pulse is feeble and very rapid. They would be unable to breathe if the machines were not breathing for them. Do those symptoms mean anything to you?"
"Strange... A man was brought to me some weeks ago who had such symptoms. He... died. I could find no reason. From what his friends said, he had been with them constantly for several days, eating and drinking with them. The only external mark on his body was a rash on the sole of one foot - but I could discover nothing that might have caused it. He seemed perfectly healthy. No hostile micro-organism in his blood, no disease germs... "
"I see. Who was this man? His business?"
"He was a shellfish collector. They go out in small boats and dive in shallow water for shellfish, working their way along the coast for perhaps ten miles. At night they camp on the beach, then work their way back. It's not an easy life, but shellfish fetch good prices in the market. A boat with a crew of six can make enough from one trip to keep them for several weeks. They go out about once a month, on average - and not more than two boats operate on any given stretch of coast, to prevent over-fishing. This man collapsed in camp the night before they were due back from a fishing trip."
"Interesting. I wonder if there could be any connection."
"Mr. Spock, what connection could there be between a shellfish collector going about his trade and a group of Government officials - and an alien? Forgive my choice of word, but your Captain is of a race alien to here."
"I know." Spock spoke calmly. "We already know of one link - their illness."
"There couldn't be any common cause of that. Even if Varnan and the other two had eaten of shellfish the dead man caught, your Captain did not."
"True. Have you considered wind-borne bacteria?"
"The wind was blowing strongly during our meeting."
"Then why were we all not affected?" Herdar demanded.
"Natural immunity, perhaps; in any epidemic, there are those who are immune," Spock pointed out.
"Do you really think that is the explanation?" Herdar asked.
"Not necessarily. I merely suggest it as a possibility," Spock said. "Thank you, sir. You have given me food for thought." He turned to the door, and rapped on it. It was immediately opened for him.
He thanked the chief of the prison staff and returned to the Enterprise, his mind working furiously.
His first stop was sickbay. Although he knew that it would have been reported to him immediately on his materialisation if there was any major change in Kirk's condition, he worried all the way over what he would find when he got there. It was almost a relief to discover that there was no change in the condition of the sick man. Spock stood for some minutes looking down at Kirk's ravaged face, knowing that his Captain was only vaguely aware that he was there, but was comforted by his presence just the same. Beside him, McCoy's stance indicated utter defeat.
"You have made no progress, Doctor?"
"No," McCoy said flatly.
"I think I might have a... 'lead', I believe is the word. According to Herdar, a fisherman was recently affected with these symptoms. If I could have a word with the man's colleagues, it might prove helpful."
Although he knew that he must, it was far from easy leaving Kirk's side.
Spock beamed down to the harbour area and went in search of the dead fisher's crewmates. These proved easy to find; they were working on their boat, clearly preparing for a trip.
The fishing boat's Captain was fairly young, as indeed were all the men in the crew. Diving, even in relatively shallow water, was no task for the elderly, and two of the crew were little more than boys.
Spock explained why he was there, pointing out that if he could discover the cause of the ailment, it might be of some advantage to the other fishers
Bernal shook his head. "There is little to tell. It was on our last night in camp. We went seeking driftwood for our fire, as we always do. Veslar cried out suddenly as if something had pained him - by the time we reached him, he had collapsed, gasping for breath. We abandoned camp and brought him straight in to Healer Herdar, but as you know, he died soon after. His son - " Bernal indicated the younger boy - "now sails with us."
"Will you show me where this camp was?" Spock asked.
"We should go in the opposite direction this time," Bernal said.
"To prevent over-fishing," Spock agreed. "Yes, sir, I know. But if you do this, and take me to the camp, you can sail in the opposite direction thereafter. It would mean lengthening your trip by two days, or cutting the distance slightly, but it might help me to learn what killed your friend - which, in turn, might help to protect the rest of you, and the crews of other fishing boats."
"You think we might also be in danger? But the President - and the other Government officials - never go near the shore."
"The first man known to be affected did; and on the day the President was struck down, there was a strong wind blowing from the sea - strong enough to be carrying grit."
Bernal swallowed. "Very well," he said. "We will do as you ask. We sail with the tide - soon now."
"I am ready."
Ready or not, Spock was far from happy as he boarded the little boat. Although he could swim well, it was a skill he had learned at the Academy; a skill for which there was little need on his dry, near-desert world. He did not feel comfortable in the presence of so much water, and the boat seemed a very frail object when he looked at the jagged, tooth-like rocks projecting from the sea.
The trip was not of long duration, however. They sailed only about three miles before Bernal turned the little boat's nose in towards the shore, to where a strip of sand offered smooth beaching.
Bernal led Spock up the sandy beach to some yards above the line of debris that marked the high tide line; debris that consisted of seaweed, small shells and some pieces of wood, with none of the less-organic remains found on the shore line of most 'civilised' planets.
A circle of large stones, smoke-blackened, showed that this was where, by tradition, the fishers built their fire.
"Some went that way to gather wood, some in this direction," Bernal explained. "Veslar went along here."
He led the way along the sand. He was nearly at the rocks that rimmed the beach before he stopped. "Veslar collapsed here.""
Spock examined the ground carefully. A dull, transparent film of something caught his immediate attention. It stirred a faint memory; somewhere, on another shore, he had seen something similar.
"What is that?" he asked, pointing.
Bernal bent to study it. "I don't know," he said, sounding very puzzled. He reached out to touch it.
Sharply, memory connected. "Wait! Don't touch it!"
Bernal looked up. Spock said slowly, "I think... this could be what killed your friend."
"That? But whatever it is, it's dead."
"There is a sea creature - on another world - that is, apparently, almost helpless. It floats with the tide, as the ocean currents take it, and can barely direct its course. If the tide washes it up on the shore, it is helpless... and when the tide goes out, it dries up and dies. The dried-up body... looks very much like this."
"If it is helpless - "
"Helpless only to move more than approximately where it wants to, slowly and with much effort. However, it has long tentacles, to catch the tiny fish that it eats - and those tentacles carry a poison strong enough to kill a man - even when the creature is dead."
"There is no creature like that in our seas," Bernal protested. Spock looked pointedly at the remains, and Bernal qualified his statement. "I have collected shellfish for over twenty years, and I have never seem any such creature. Nor have any of our brotherhood - that I swear. There is no record of such anywhere in our annals."
"Wait." Spock took out his communicator. "Spock to Enterprise. Put me through to Dr. McCoy."
"McCoy here." The surgeon sounded unutterably tired.
"Doctor, does the word 'jellyfish' remind you of anything?"
"'Jellyfish'? Oh, God, yes... " The pain in his voice filled Spock with horror.
"What is wrong, Doctor?"
"Spock, there's no known antidote for virulent jellyfish poisoning - only alleviants that I can't use. They're applied externally to the weal to ease the pain. If Jim and the others have been given a poison based on jellyfish venom, there's nothing I can do!"
"Nothing?" An icy hand seemed to grip Spock's heart.
"Not if it was taken internally."
With an effort, Spock forced himself to speak evenly. "I suspect that it was accidentally ingested, Doctor, in the form of wind-carried dust. There is a dead jellyfish here - very desiccated. The tentacles must have fragmented into dust weeks ago. Is there nothing at all that you can do?"
"All I can do is keep them alive. Eventually the effects wear off and then they should be O.K. But if the dose they got was too large... the strain on the heart could still kill them."
The relief was almost too much for his control. "I would doubt that it was a very large dose. There seems to be only the remains of one creature here. Spock out."
As he returned the communicator to his belt, the Vulcan turned to Bernal. "You are certain there is no mention of creatures such as this in any of your traditions?"
"Quite certain," Bernal replied. "These are many dangers for shellfish collectors; a creature such as you described, no matter how uncommon, would certainly be included, had it ever been encountered."
"Though there is one thing... " Bernal hesitated.
"You say that creatures like this one move with the ocean currents."
"For some reason - we do not know why - the currents have altered in the last two years, A warm off-shore current has moved much closer to the land. It has affected the habits of the shellfish - not much, but enough that we can see it... "
"How close has the current moved?"
"From just beyond the range of the regular fishing boats to the edge of the shellfish collectors' ground. The fishing boats have had to move further north - large fish do not frequent the warmer currents."
"Will you take me out to the regular fishing grounds? I know that you do not normally go there, but you will not be fishing, just helping me to prove what killed your friend."
Spock had to fight back fear as the little boat headed away from the shore. The sea seemed such a very big place... Even the members of the crew looked uneasy as the shore receded, for normally they sailed within less than a mile of it. The land was little more than a smudge on the horizon, when one of the crew shouted, "Look!"
The water around them seemed filled with near-transparent shapes. Long tentacles rayed the water below and around each. Bernal gasped.
"So many... and yet we ever heard of them before...
"Have you any way of knowing the regular fishers' list of dangers? Spock asked.
"It is much the same as ours," Bernal replied. "They do not know this creature either, I'm sure."
Spock nodded. "On the world I'm thinking of, the most poisonous of this kind of creature frequents warmer water. Here, too; normally, it probably lives too far from land to be seen. But the currents have changed; it is being carried close to land."
"Too close," Bernal said.
"Yes," Spock agreed. "Until the current shifts back to its normal position, you must be careful, very watchful."
"Watchful indeed," Bernal replied. "Do you wish to see more?"
"No." Spock replied. "I think we have seen enough. Take us back to land - and thank you for your assistance."
"We should be the ones to thank you," Bernal answered as he swung the boat around. "Without your knowledge, more men might have died before we discovered why... "
"Your comrade's death was not wasted," Spock said quietly, hearing the grief in Bernal's voice. Once he would not have recognised the emotion, he reflected, but years of close association with Humans had taught him much. "It served to show you of a new danger in your waters, and through you, all the fisher folk of Korvan. No, his death was not wasted."
The hall was a hubbub of satisfied noise; voices talking, individually low but en masse rather loud; forks clattered busily against plates. The dozen Starfleet dress uniforms stood out quite distinctly against the muted pastels and greys of Korvan evening wear.
Finally, as the meal finished, Varnan stood.
"Friends," he said clearly. "We are gathered here to celebrate our newly formed alliance with the United Federation of Planets, as represented by Captain Kirk of the USS Enterprise and his crew. We are particularly grateful to them for the help they gave us during the recent illness of myself and two other government officials. Although tied to us by nothing more than a temporary trade agreement, they not only gave us the advantage of their medical knowledge, but also discovered the cause of our illness."
As Varnan paused, Spock threw a grateful glance at Kirk, aware that only his friend's appeal had kept Varnan from embarrassing him by a public acknowledgement of the part that he had played. Kirk's eyes smiled warmly back at him.
"I think there can be little doubt," Varnan went on, "that the agreement will be extended when the time comes. And now, let the celebration begin."
Kirk managed to escape fairly quickly thereafter, pleading tiredness. Spock left with him, shamelessly leaving McCoy and the others to do their duty in a situation that all of them thoroughly disliked.
In his cabin, Kirk leaned back in his chair and smiled over at his friend. "Come on, Spock," he said happily. "A game of chess is much more fun than all that socialising. Or don't you think so?"
Spock's face lightened into his near-smile. "Much more enjoyable, Jim," he said emphatically.