The gently curving main corridor of Starbase III was choked with a crowd of spectators all craning their necks for a glimpse of some central spectacle.
The Starbase itself was an artificial planetoid orbiting in interplanetary space at a crossroads of interstellar trade. It housed, among other things, a space-dock, a luxury hotel, and five levels of warehouses and offices leased to various companies.
At the moment, two ships were in orbit, the Enterprise and a tramp freighter. A third was approaching cautiously as passenger liners are wont to do.
At the end of the main corridor, the turbolift doors opened and the Enterprise's Chief Surgeon strode out followed by the Chief Engineer.
Ten yards from the knot of spectators, McCoy stopped, arms akimbo. "What is it, a groll-fight or a conspiracy?"
Scanning the sea of backs before them, Scott said, "I dinna know, but it must be at least `interesting,' there are five Vulcans over there."
McCoy followed his eye, "But not Spock."
"Aye, Doctor, not Spock," agreed the engineer. "There's Ssarsun. Come on."
"Hold it, Scotty. Jim said we were to meet the shuttle and see if Spock is on it. If he doesn't turn up within the hour, Jim will have to report him AWOL."
Scotty waved a hand. "Look at this crowd, Mon! A wee tribble couldn't squeeze through!"
McCoy had to concede the justice of that, and, as he wavered, Scotty struck off toward the Schillian. The doctor had no choice but to follow.
As they neared the familiar figure, McCoy again admired the amphibian's grace. In spite of the awkward Star Fleet uniform, the man- proportioned body seemed as at home on land as it did in water.
Ssarsun turned away from the spectacle that held the crowd's attention. "I thank you, Doctor. It is always pleasing to be greeted by a complimentary thought."
"Don't mind him, laddie. He doesn't like having his mind read."
"Scotty, by now you ought to know that I never read minds. But I can't help hearing thoughts directed at me even by a psi-null like our esteemed physician." Seeing their discomfort, he changed the subject. "You would like an explanation?"
Between heads, McCoy could just see two Vulcans faced-off in the middle of the cleared circle. One appeared to be a spice merchant. At least his sample case and tunic were embossed with the trademark of the Kevas and Trillium Company Limited. The other looked like many Federation travelers.
They seemed to be arguing, though it's sometimes hard to tell with Vulcans. "Yes, we would like an explanation."
"The merchant," said Ssarsun, "has just made a rather large delivery to one of the transshipping agents here on Starbase III. The other is a forensic-botanist, S'ru by name, who is employed by the agents to certify their merchandise. They took delivery of Salnar's shipment in S'ru's absence and, when he returned, they told him that Salnar had said the Kevas is one- half to two-thirds non-Vulcan in origin.
"When S'ru caught up with Salnar, right here, he insisted that the consignment be taken back for proper labeling. Salnar argued that a difference which makes no difference is no difference. S'ru retorted that it does make a difference to Vulcans who depend on the Kevas for trace metals which are not present in the non-Vulcan grown product. Salnar claimed that since the consignment is bound for a planet where it will be used by non- Vulcans to flavor meat, there's no need to specify the percentage of native- grown product in the mixture.
"Then S'ru threatened a false advertising suit against Salnar's company and Salnar promptly challenged S'ru to zyeto. They're in the process of hammering out the rules for the duel now."
"Duel!" chorused McCoy and Scotty.
"Of words," assured the telepath. "It's much quicker than prosecuting a case through Federation Court and the outcome is apt to be more meaningful to a Vulcan."
"You mean like a debate?" said McCoy.
"Precisely. Actually, zyeto is the Vulcan version of a bar room brawl, a spelling bee, and a hootenanny all rolled into one."
Scotty was more accustomed to the Schillian's picturesque interpretations of Vulcan culture than McCoy, so while the doctor stared open-mouthed at the amphibian's unreadable face, Scotty asked, "How does it work?"
"One person quotes from the basic source literature. His opponent must correctly identify the quotation and then counter it with another. Selecting the right counter requires a deep understanding of the contexts of both sources. The true champion is able to lead his opponent into espousing a view opposite to his declared stand. It gets really fascinating with five or more participants. But with two, it's very much like chess, except that it has the general popularity of space-polo."
Glancing anxiously at the time, McCoy asked, "How long does a duel last?" Jim would be pacing a trough in the deck if they didn't report soon.
Ssarsun listened to the proceedings for a moment, and then said, "Ah, I see. They've decided on only one round. That means eight quotations by each of them. A maximum of about twenty minutes. Listen, somebody has turned up the universal translators for the crowd."
There was a general babbling among the spectators and then they settled down to listen to the zyeto match.
Salnar, the merchant, faced his challenger and began, "`Greediness is immodest; self-sacrifice, illogical.' "
Ssarsun whispered, "Yes. A classical opening. But not too imaginative."
S'ru answered immediately. "That is from the Book of Life. But also, `The honor of the father is the glory of the son.' "
"Touche," said Ssarsun.
Salnar fielded that one smoothly, "Book of Sources: But also, `He who serves the needs of another may demand an equivalent in return!'"
"Crafty weasel! I'll bet he doesn't use his own Kevas." Ssarsun stood between the doctor and Scotty but a little behind them so that his sotto voce comments didn't reach any farther than their ears. But McCoy couldn't help chuckling and earned a dark look from Salnar.
A moment later S'ru answered, "Book of Sources: But also, `He who seeks only justice finds only equity.'"
"Yes, of course," said Ssarsun, "I never would have thought of that. Total recall is helpful in zyeto, but the champion player is the one with the ability to associate innovatively."
Salnar said, "Book of Books: But also, `What greater truth can be spoken than that which is desired?'"
"That," said Ssarsun, "opens a whole new area."
S'ru barely hesitated, "Book of Fragments: But also, `A truth may be selected to fit any needs.'"
"Book of Logic," Salnar identified and then thought hard before replying, "`What man can judge the needs of his fellows?'"
"That's it!" said Ssarsun. "Now S'ru will have to concede."
But the forensic-botanist had other ideas. He stared off into space for the full time allowed and then identified, "Book of Life: But also, `The necessities of thy life must be provided by thy hands; the needs of thy son can be fulfilled only by the community.' Reference. The commentary of T'Kri on the analysis of S'A'Adshi."
McCoy didn't need Ssarsun to interpret the pole-axed expression on Salnar's face. It took the merchant fully thirty seconds to recover, but then he began to think and at the last moment supplied, "That is from the Book of Sources. But also, `The seven blossoms of the ahkor are white . . . while the eighth is yellow. Is the eighth a blossom of the ahkor or is it a fruit of the li'id?'"
Ssarsun said, "The man's a genius! I wonder if he could be in the right?"
McCoy started to snort his disbelief, but S'ru's answer cut him off. "Book of Logic: But also, `If the father claims thus and the grandfather teaches another view while both disagree with seven of the Great Ones, the child must search for his own truth!'"
Ssarsun hissed, "Classic retort. He had no choice."
"Book of Joys," countered Salnar smoothly, "But also, `If a man seeks to purchase a draft kovren and thee has need to sell a stud kovren and the price be agreed . . . the bargain is fair!'"
Ssarsun placed a web-fingered hand on Scotty's shoulder. "He's been maneuvering toward this all along! I should have seen it!"
From the look on S'ru's face, McCoy deduced that the botanist hadn't seen it either. But finally, S'ru said, "Book of Imperatives: But also, `That-which-lives is a guest in the House of All-Creation.'"
"Touche," said Ssarsun. "Now Salnar is trapped into Imperatives. He can't win."
Sourly, the merchant made the only reply available, "Book of Joys: But also, `A guest who disrupts the other guests of the House is like a man who eats the flesh of his brother.'"
S'ru picked that up, "Book of Imperatives: But also, `A guest must give a greater value than he receives or no bargain can be binding.'"
Unaccountably, Salnar paused to think and Ssarsun coached softly, "Book of Imperatives: But also, `The value of an object lies in its relationship to its possessor and nowhere else.' Salnar has lost. He may as well concede."
But just as S'ru was about to claim his victory, Salnar held up a hand, "Yes, that is from the Book of Imperatives. But also, is it not written that, `He who barters coins for goods must know that coins cannot be eaten nor can their worth be told.'"
The amphibian gave one of his soft, gurgly chuckles, "Well, gentlemen, now you can see I'm no match for a Vulcan!"
After considerable thought, S'ru selected his final retort, "Book of Logic: But also, `The measure of the merchant is his ability to dance among the random factors and emerge unscathed.'"
McCoy thought for a moment that Salnar was about to claim victory, but then a stunned look came over the merchant's face as he identified the source of S'ru's last statement, "Book of Fragments."
And then the two adversaries just stared at each other in obvious consternation.
Scotty turned to Ssarsun, "What happened?"
"Draw. No winner. No loser. Most unusual."
Finally Salnar pulled his eyes from the botanist and began to search the crowd. McCoy followed his gaze and noted that he was ticking off the other Vulcans scattered about, obviously looking for someone in particular.
McCoy said, "What are they going to do?"
"They need either a Daughter or a Guardian who is empowered to make a Final Interpretation by which all must abide."
"You mean," said Scott, "like a judge in a civil suit that can't be settled out of court?"
"More or less."
Suddenly there was a stir on the far side of the circle as if someone had just arrived. A small knot of Vulcans at the rear of the crowd ejected one of their number into the cleared circle.
McCoy identified, "Spock!"
Ssarsun placed a restraining hand on the doctor's arm. "Quiet. This should be very interesting."
McCoy's first impulse was to rush to an intercom and call Jim, but then he remembered his communicator was set on the special frequency. So when he reported the First Officer's presence, the Captain's formal reply couldn't hide his delight.
Then McCoy turned back to the argument to find the two contestants going through a rapid-fire repetition of their battle for Spock's benefit.
When they finished, the First Officer thought for a moment and said, "`Fling wide the gates of reason and admit the halt-minded to your counsels, for their perceptions may be dulled but their power to destroy is multi-fold greater than that of all the Sages combined.'" Then he looked pointedly at S'ru. S'ru.
The botanist answered, "Book of Imperatives."
Spock conceded that with one eyebrow and turned to Salnar, "`Deceive the ignorant in his innocence and thee teaches him the art of deception.'"
"Book of Sources."
Spock turned back to S'ru. McCoy didn't need Ssarsun's aid to see it was a sudden-death playoff. Spock said, "`The foundations of strife are erected on the sands of deception. The walls of peace are built of the pebbles of honesty.'"
S'ru identified, "Book of Sources."
Ssarsun said, "It's plain which way Spock has decided. But this could take all day. He's got to stump both of them on the same quote. Then his interpretation stands unchallenged."
Spock turned to Salnar and said, "`The Outworks and Battlements at Top-of-World were shattered by the silence of wisdom.'"
Salnar took the full time allotted and then said, "That is either a misquote or non-sequitur."
Silently, Spock turned to S'ru who said, "Negative. It is from the Book of Fragments. But it is the T'Vreil emendation according to the Commentaries of S'A'Adshi."
"Correct," said Spock. "But also, `Let the stranger who feasts at your table know the value of the meal.'"
S'ru looked blank. "That is not from the Book of Imperatives. I do not recognize it."
Spock turned to Salnar who didn't even claim his thinking time but said, "Nor do I, Spock."
"It is from Surak's Construct. 9:54:27."
The two adversaries looked at each other, eyes glazed as they combed through the text in question. Then, almost in chorus they said, "Non- sequitur."
Spock shook his head. "The Commentary of T'Kri is pertinent. The decision seems clear to me."
Salnar blinked, "Concede."
S'ru added, "Concede. Decree?"
"Let it be recorded," said Spock, "that now and henceforth all botanical tradegoods be labeled both in bulk and in retail quantities with complete nutritional assay if they must also bear Class I or II Federation Clearance Stamps."
Salnar turned to Spock, "I rejoice in the precision of your logic and I thank you."
S'ru added, "As do I."
"Then," said Spock, "I leave you with one further thought. The Flame is the total analog of All-Existence. It is destruction and creation. It is chemical and micro-quantum-mechanical. It is a functional servant of intelligence and ruthless master. It exists without being diminished. Like All-Existence, The Flame can be studied for a lifetime and never be fully understood. If intelligent life exists in the universe for no other purpose, it can do no less than to combine the resources of all its generations to the fullest understanding of The Flame."
Puzzled, Salnar said, "I do not . . ."
"It is from the Commentaries of Suvil. My Teacher."
S'ru said, "May His Memory Bring Peace."
Spock held up his hand, "And May You Live Long and Prosper."
The two former adversaries answered, and, shoulder-to-shoulder, departed, apparently the best of friends. Spock came toward his shipmates as the crowd disappeared.
Scott said, "That's all there is to it?"
"Yes," said Ssarsun, "It is binding on all Vulcans now."
"Well, I'll be a Rigellian Snowman," said McCoy.
"I hope not," observed Spock. "I have acquired a splinter which I believe you might be able to remove."
McCoy treated that with the silence it deserved.
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