Chapter 17
Friends in High Places

In order to evade any pursuit attempts made by the authorities of Norton IV, Spock's course was fiendishly complicated, and much more time-consuming than the Vulcan would have liked. Kirk and McBain passed the time by indulging in a friendly game of Fizzbin.

Whilst an instructor at the Academy, Kirk had made up rules for the fictional card game and introduced it to his cadets. He had been shocked to discover that, 80 years later, the game had become almost as popular as poker in some areas of space. He was losing his eighth consecutive hand, when he heard the Vulcan sigh quietly. Spock had been at the helm for the past 14 hours, re-calculating his original ETA and flight plan.

Kirk threw his useless hand, face down onto the upturned cable spool they were using as a table and yawned. "I give up. The rules seemed to have evolved slightly since - I last played."

McBain snorted in disgust and scooped up Kirks cards. "Wish we were playin' for money - I would have wiped you out by now."

The pilot began shuffling the deck expertly and grinned at Kirk. The Captain grinned back in genuine amusement, realising that he was actually beginning to like the short, plump pilot. If you ignored the fact that he was a criminal, McBain was great company. His never-ending stories about his adventures over the past 60 years were always entertaining, if a trifle tall.

Then again, if Kirk had related any of his own adventures, no doubt the pilot would consider them exaggerations at best. McBain's stories involved many altercations with Romulans. He was not old enough to remember a time when Klingons were the Federation's mortal enemies but like most denizens of this century - he considered Romulans to be the scourge of the Earth.

Kirk still found it difficult to think of Klingons as allies. Spock had told him that Picard even had a Klingon Security Officer on his ship. It was an unsettling concept. And if Spock had his way, perhaps in another 80 years time, the Romulan Empire would also by Allies. Kirk hoped that he had learned enough from the Gorkon Initiative to embrace the idea, but he was not ready to examine his feelings about that too closely. At least not yet.

McBain glanced over his shoulder towards the food replicator and back at Kirk, "I'm just about hungry enough to take my life in my hands. How about you?"

Kirk shook his head firmly. The machine had a weird idea about what beef was supposed to look like. He left McBain to his culinary experiments and slipped into the navigators seat. Spock sat, elbows resting on the helm, deep in thought.

Kirk cocked his head in enquiry "Problem?"

Spock nodded slowly, "I do not believe that we can use this vessel to rendezvous with the Fleming."

"Too slow?"

"That is one reason. The course changes which I have been forced to make in order to evade the authorities have put us seriously behind schedule. In order to catch up with the Fleming now, we would have to push this vessel beyond breaking point. However another though had occurred. The Fleming is on route from Earth to Vulcan, one of the most densely populated space lanes in this quadrant, and my plan relied heavily on remaining undetected...."

Kirk finished the sentence. "...and McBain's ship is wanted for piracy all over this quadrant. The moment his ship's registry is recognised, Federation Security will be on us like a rash."

Kirk glanced over his shoulder at the stocky pilot, currently engaged in kicking the replicator unit. "How long until our rendezvous?"

"7.3 days."

"Damn - so close."

"Kaplah!!!" McBain roared the Klingon word, which meant 'success'. Kirk smiled as he watched the pilot extract a steaming bowl form the replicator slot.

Keeping his voice low, he turned back to Spock. "So - what's the plan?"

Spock hesitated a moment, then seemed to come to a decision. "I have an - acquaintance on the border planet Lenarii. It is approximately 5 hours from here. He may be disposed to supply us with a faster vessel."

Kirk's eyebrows lifted, "Lenarii. Is it still a haven for pirates and mercenaries like it was in my day?"

"Perhaps even more so," said Spock enigmatically.

Kirk glanced back to McBain again, noting how the pilot seemed to be juggling the steaming hot bowl from one hand to the other and muttering under his breath, Oh... ah... oh... ah. "And you have a friend there?" he asked dubiously.

Spock turned to watch the pilot advancing towards the table and stated simply, "He owes me a favour."

McBain had seated himself at the table and speared a squarish, grey chunk of meat on his fork. Steam still billowed from the morsel, but unthinkingly, the pilot popped it into his mouth. A second ticked by, and then the morsel shot out again, followed by a string of expletives. McBain shot to his feet covering his scalded mouth with both hands and causing the table to topple. The stew hit the deck with a splat.

Spock shook his head and turned back to his console. "Lenarii also boasts a reasonably adequate restaurant."

Kirk laughed loudly, "Well what are we waiting for?"

Five point one hours later, the trio threw back the hoods of their travelling cloaks, and entered Lenarii's only public bar. It was a huge, crowded, dark and smoky room. Kirk tried to stifle a cough, not wanting to draw attention to his little band.

Kirk watched as Spock moved with remarkable calm through the thronging clientele, and marvelled again at how much his friend had changed. There had been a time, when Kirk had struggled to camouflage his friend's alieness whilst on undercover missions, but now, the tall Vulcan had totally mastered the art of subterfuge - he actually looked like he belonged amongst the dregs of the universe. More so than Kirk did. McBain, of course, really did belong here. They had no sooner entered the establishment, than the pilot had made for the bar, and now Kirk joined him there.

Surreptitiously, he watched Spock from the corner of his eye, as the Vulcan seated himself in a secluded alcove beside a small reptilian creature.

McBain handed the Captain a glass of green liquid, which turned out to be Aldebaran whisky, and watched as Kirk threw back the potent alcohol, smacking his lips in appreciation. McBain seemed impressed. Kirk squirmed in his seat, fighting the urge to scratch himself. He was sure that the rough, tatty clothing supplied by the pilot to make them blend in, was infested with fleas.

He turned to study Spock again. The Vulcan was engaged in earnest conversation with the reptilian, who, looked to Kirk, like a gecko. Was this Spock's friend, Kirk wondered? The gecko suddenly rose from the table and disappeared through a door at the back of the room. Spock's eyes scanned the bar until the rested on Kirk. He nodded once.

That was the signal Kirk had been waiting for. He leaned closer to McBain, "Stay here. Try not to get too drunk and we'll meet you back at the ship in one hour."

McBain snorted and lifted his third glass of whiskey aloft, the contents turning an electric blue colour by the neon sign behind the bar which proclaimed - DRINX - FOOD - SEX.

Kirk slid down from the stool, and carefully picked his way across the bar, trying not to jostle anyone. The last thing he needed right now was to become entangled in a bar-room brawl. He arrived at Spock's table at the same time as the gecko, who looked him up and down suspiciously.

Spock stood up and regarded the lizard-man coolly. "He is with me."

"Kalan won't like it - he's a hew-mon," hissed the gecko.

"I will deal with Kalan."

Spock's icy tone cut through the alien's resistance and he shrugged. "Thhhis way."

On the other side of the door, was a small room, used as a private dinning area. There was one large table at its centre, and one man seated at that table. Kirk felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. The man, dressed similarly to Spock and Kirk, was quite obviously a Romulan.

As he advanced on the two men, Kirk glance sideways at his friend, but the Vulcan remained perfectly calm. The Romulan threw out a hand and Spock grasped his elbow tightly.

The Romulan equivalent of a handshake. "Major Takal. It is an unexpected pleasure to see you," said the Romulan, smiling broadly.

Kirk watched in astonishment as Spock returned the man's warm smile. "Kalan, still alive my old friend?"

The Romulan laughed and dropped Spock's arm, then he noticed Kirk for the first time. His eyebrow rose questioningly. Spock merely shrugged. "Humans make remarkably good informants - if the price is right." His voice dripped scorn.

Kirk was beginning to get the idea. He grinned broadly at the Romulan and extended his hand as he had seen Kalan do, "Don't worry - I'm the soul of discretion." The Romulan ignored his outstretched hand.

Spock pulled out a chair and sat. "My friend, I need your assistance. My current mission calls for a faster mode of transport than is presently at my disposal."

Kalan moved to a small table set back against the wall and lifted a decanter of electric blue liquid. Noticeably, he poured only two glasses, and Kirk scowled in a suitable offended manner, as he handed one to Spock.

"I can arrange that," he stated confidently. Spock raised his glass, and it chinked loudly against the Romulans. "What else do you need?"

Spock glanced quickly at Kirk, and then threw back the Romulan ale in one gulp. "We took passage here on an independent scout ship. The vessel is somewhat the worse for wear and I made a promise to have it repaired, but time is short... as are my funds."

"I will see to it Major. A Romulan's word is his honour, even when given to a human. Your ship will be ready within the hour." Kalan rose and left, to make arrangements.

As the door closed behind him, Kirk turned a quizzical glance to his friend. "Your friend is a Romulan?"

Spock raised an eyebrow. "For many years now, I have posed as Major Takal of the Tal Shiar."

"The Romulan secret police?"

"Indeed. Kalan is one of several operatives currently assigned to frontier worlds on this side of the neutral zone. Their purpose is to aid Romulan agents cross over the border and offer them assistance whilst here."

Kirk shot to his feet, years of Starfleet training bubbling to the surface, "How many...?"

"Jim, please calm yourself. It has been necessary for me to utilise this network of spies to facilitate my own sojourns into the Empire. Rest assured that the Federation employs similar methods."

Kirk sunk back into his chair. "Of course they do. I'm sorry Spock - all of this just seems - so - civilised. People popping back and forth across the zone, gentlemen spies - well it's a far cry from my day."

"I assure you - it is not as simple as you think."

Kirk scowled at his old friend. He already felt useless enough in this century, without Spock making him feel worse. "And what was all that about McBain's ship?"

"I was uncomfortable about using his ship's resources without paying for our passage."

"Spock, we gave him a brand new dilithium crystal. That must be worth...."

"Not as much as you may think. Dilithium re-crystallisation is quite commonplace nowadays. The value of dilithium has plummeted. I feel somewhat responsible for that."

Kirk remembered that during their brief sojourn to 20th Century San Francisco to find a pair of humped-backed whales, Spock had developed the wild theory, into a working fact. He sighed wearily "I need a drink."

Spock pulled back a heavy curtain, which had been concealing another door at the opposite end of the room. "I thought you wanted to visit the restaurant?"

Kirk sighed again and shaking his head, crossed the room, muttering, "Dammed cloak and dagger, Romulan spies, time travel... I am retired you know?"

Spock only raised an eyebrow.

McBain staggered across the hanger to where his ship was berthed. One hour - they had said. OOPS. It had been a while since McBain had drunk Aldeberan whiskey and had forgotten how good it tasted. So good, in fact, that he had quite forgotten how hungry he was. Potent alcohol on an empty stomach had produced the expected results, and now, four and a half hours late, the pilot was making his way home.

Ah there she is right where I left her.

McBain thumped the hatch release and watched as the heavy door rose up... and up... and up. He closed his eyes and opened them again. No doubt about it - the hatch was open. Right open. McBain fumbled inside his cloak and withdrew a small knife. In his present condition, the knife posed no real threat to anyone, but it made McBain feel better.

He stumbled through the hatch and was shocked to see a man sitting in his chair. The stranger was surrounded by a profusion of circuit boards and conduits, all of which seemed to have come from McBain's own helm console.

The man smiled cheerfully. "Won't be long now, sir. Two hours tops."

McBain squinted at the stranger. "Hmmmm?"

"Kalan says to tell you that Major Takal, always pays his debts - consider this repair job payment for your services."

"Major who?"

"Takal. The Romulan you shipped in with? He and his human associate left hours ago."

McBain felt his legs go from underneath him. He'd been flying around the quadrant with a Goddamned Romulan? He slid onto the deck with a soft thump. He looked up at the technician blankly and said, "I could have sworn he was from Shikahr."

The two-person scout ship was cramped in comparison to the Icarus, but everything worked perfectly. Seven days after they left Lenarii, Spock reached the co-ordinates at which he had calculated their rendezvous with the Fleming.

On board the Starship, the communications officer turned startled eyes to the centre seat. "Captain, we're receiving a communication from a small scout ship - approaching from the stern sir."

"What do they want?"

The communications officer turned fully in her chair, her face a mask of shock. "Sir - the caller identifies himself as - Ambassador Spock. He's requesting permission to come on board."

Captain Rodgers of the Starship Alexander Fleming, glanced at the chronometer on his wrist. 48 minutes since the Ambassador had vanished from the briefing room. He had understood very little of the conversation between Spock and the Q, (quantum theorem regarding time travel gave him acid indigestion) but somehow he had thought it would take... longer?

"Patch me through Lieutenant - Ambassador, you work fast. How many to beam aboard?"

"Two. My mission was a success."

But even as Spock felt the beam take him, he wondered if that statement was a bit premature.





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