"Spock," said Captain Kirk chidingly. "Your heart is just not in your chess tonight."
The First Officer looked up from the triplex chess board and said blankly, "Sir, I assure you my heart is firmly secured within . . ."
Kirk cut him off with a chuckle, "You see what I mean! If you'd been paying attention, you wouldn't have misunderstood me. Ever since T' . . ." he caught himself, T'Rruel was still too sensitive a topic, "Ever since your father disappeared, it's been impossible to talk to you. And whatever you're doing, it's always obvious your mind just isn't on it."
Bewildered, Spock shook his head, "Captain, I am paying attention to this game . . ."
"Oh, no you're not. I have you mated in three moves."
Slanted brows rose to horizontal bars in the center of Spock's forehead and he stared at the board as if it had just materialized in the middle of a tangle of computer circuitry. Kirk practically never announced his victories in such terms. Finally, the Vulcan looked up, "Three moves, Captain?"
"You don't see it?"
"No, sir," Spock shook his head.
"All right. I'll bet you twenty credits it's my game."
"Captain, you know I don't wager."
"But if you're so sure you'd win, it's no gamble."
"No, sir, you don't understand. I have no objection to gambling, but I don't wager."
"What's the difference?"
Spock sighed, "We often gamble our lives on events which have a very low probability of transpiring. But I would never wager with a crewmate on the outcome of an event, regardless of the odds."
"I might win," said the Vulcan simply.
"But that's the object."
"For a human, perhaps. I wouldn't know." Spock pulled his face into a virtuous mask.
Kirk shrugged. He'd thought that on Ekos, Spock had finally learned the exhilaration of gambling. He shrugged, "All right, we'll just play the game out, then you'll see."
But before Spock could put out his hand to make his move, the intercom whistled and then the corridor speakers were chanting, "Yellow Alert, yellow alert. Captain to Bridge. All hands to battle stations. This is not a drill, repeat, not a drill. Yellow alert."
Before the announcement ceased, Kirk was out the door, Spock close on his heels.
Fifty seconds later, the Captain and First Officer took their stations and became engrossed in the set routine of the alert. Seconds later, Kirk learned that it was only a distress call from a nearby commercial liner and there was no indication of an armed attack. He said, over his left shoulder toward Communications, "Lt. Borelli, get the Captain of the liner on the screen. Lt. Grosholm, plot a course for the liner's position. Mr. Freeman, lay it in as soon . . ."
"I already have it, sir," said the Helmsman crisply.
"Thank you," said Kirk, "Mr. Spock, report."
"No hostile ships in the vicinity. The distressed liner appears to be operating under normal power."
"Captain," said Borelli, "I have the Captain of the liner."
"Main screen," said Kirk.
The large, main viewscreen shifted to display a complex geometric pattern like a geodesic
dome cross-hatched in shades of blue. In one corner, a small cut-out box displayed the Federation flag and in the opposite corner, the Vulcan emblem glowed white against a blue background.
Curious, Spock descended to stand beside Kirk's chair.
The Captain said, "A Vulcan ship?"
"Yes, sir. That's the identification of the Shealku. A class M- 1 passenger liner. Rated at three hundred passengers. Carries a crew of one hundred-twenty, mostly human. Five hundred metric tons of cargo. Generally operates between the Earth Colonies, but during this season of the year, Shealku often takes tourists to Vulcan."
Kirk swiveled around to look at his First Officer, "Mr. Spock, sometimes you amaze me."
"In what way, Captain?"
Kirk shook his head ruefully, "Out of seven or eight hundred Vulcan- owned merchant vessels in space, you just happened to have all the statistics of this particular one on the tip of your torque."
Spock corrected, "Nine hundred-forty three vessels as of last year. I don't know them all, just the ones . . ."
He was interrupted by a soft gong as the Shealku pattern shimmered and dissolved to reveal its Captain.
Kirk blinked hard. Spock cocked his head to one side quizzically. Everyone on the bridge looked silently at the figure on the main viewscreen.
It was a Schillian, not a Vulcan or human. And it was a Second Officer, not a Captain. And it sat in the Captain's chair, behind the Captain's desk, in the Captain's office.
Before Kirk had a chance to say anything rude, the Schillian spoke quietly. His accent was fairly good in spite of the immobile lips of his species. "I am Ltreluad, Second Officer of Shealku. It is I who summoned you because our Captain and our Executive Officer are dead, and as you know, I am unable to take command of any vessel on the trade lines. Can you aid us?"
Numbly, Kirk nodded. Then he realized that the gesture might have little meaning for the Schillian and said rather lamely, "Yes. We're on our way." He knew the Federation law that prohibited the Commanding Officer of any interstellar commercial vessel from being in close mental linkage with another being. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he'd known that this prohibited the telepathic Schillians from becoming Commercial Starship Captains on Federation controlled routes. The Schillians' sanity depended on the telepathic link with another telepathic mind. But, until now, the prohibition hadn't really meant anything to Kirk. The realization was like a viscous lump congealing in his vitals.
Spock said into Kirk's silence, "Have you been attacked? Is there any damage to the ship or personnel?"
The Schillian answered, "No. There's been no attack on the ship. We're spaceworthy."
Spock said to Kirk, "Captain, shall I cancel the Yellow Alert?"
"Yes. Mr. Spock. Do that." He turned his attention fully on the Schillian, "Uh, Mr. . . ."
"You may call me Luad, Captain. It is a meaningless noise, but at least it is something you can say."
From a Vulcan, thought Kirk, that would be condescension very bitter to swallow, but Kirk could hear the gentle amusement burbling in the Schillian's voice and took it as intended, good-natured friendship.
"Well, then, Mr. Luad, can you tell me what happened?"
"I wish I could, Captain. The truth is that I do not know. Let us discuss the events within the privacy of walls."
"Very well," said Kirk, somewhat confused by the odd mixture of Schillian manners and Vulcan phrasing, "we'll be there in . . ."
Spock supplied from his station, ". . . approximately seventy-three minutes.
The Schillian essayed a genial nod but achieved an oriental bow that Kirk wished Sulu could see, "Good enough, Shealku out."
Kirk watched the strange blue pattern overlay the screen for a moment before fading. The Schillian seemed to have a good grasp of the Vulcan pronunciation of his ship's name, anyway.
By the time Kirk and Spock materialized in the office of the Shealku's Captain, Kirk was burning with curiosity and surreptitiously watched Spock for signs of Vulcan impatience. He found none, and the First Officer's placidity only served to increase the Captain's agitation.
At last, the Starfleet Officers faced the Schillian across the desk. Kirk scarcely noticed the Vulcan decor, a strange mixture of plush elegance and austere simplicity. Everything in the office, as in the rest of the ship, was of the very best quality, the most durable construction, the most widely accepted esthetic standards, and above everything had the sleek streamline of the strictly functional.
If he stopped to study the decor's effect, Kirk knew he'd be engrossed for hours, so he ignored it and said, "Your coordinates were precise, Mr. Luad. Thank you."
"My pleasure, Captain, please believe your presence is a great pleasure."
Spock said, "That I can well imagine, Lt. Luad, but we have a very serious matter . . ."
"Yes, of course," said the Schillian, "won't you please be seated. I have here the relevant log tapes," he keyed his desk screen and it lit up with the Shealku pattern, "which will tell you almost as much as I know of the situation."
For the next twenty minutes, Kirk and Spock viewed the log tapes that covered the demise of the Shealku's Captain and First Officer. And, as Lt. Luad had indicated, it wasn't really too informative. For fifteen minutes, they watched the two human officers seated across the very desk where they now sat. They were doing a routine audit of Shealku's records. There was nothing to indicate an impending crisis.
Then, suddenly, they both crumpled into peaceful death with no indication of the cause. That was all there was.
Lt. Luad snapped the screen off and said, "Half and hour later, I found them like that. Autopsy indicated a gas poisonous to humans in very small traces but not toxic to Schillians except in high concentration. On the basis of that, the three officers junior to me have filed charges against me and our navigator, the only other Schillian aboard. But, until you came, there was no authority available to which we could appeal. The charges are delineated in the ship's log."
Spock asked, "How long ago did this occur?"
"Six days. I've requested a replacement Captain to be sent from our nearest depot, but he won't be here for fifteen days."
He was interrupted by a knock on the door and said, "Come."
The door slid noiselessly aside and three junior officers in Shealku's uniform, a simple pants and tunic outfit in the same shades-of- blue geometric pattern as the Shealku emblem, marched into the room. As the leader advanced to the desk, Kirk knew at once who they were. You didn't need telepathy to sense the grimness of suppressed anger in the three humans.
"Luad," said the leader, "you can't . . ."
"Captain Kirk," interrupted Lt. Luad urbanely, "this is Engineer Fuller, Director Thompson and our Chief Purser, Mr. Reynolds. Gentlemen, this is Captain Kirk and his First Officer, Mr. Spock of the U.S.S. Enterprise."
Reynolds was a short man with blond hair and a tenor voice while the other two were dark with a Eurasian cast.
Perforce, the humans acknowledged the introduction. Fuller advanced to pound on the desk. "Captain Kirk, I demand . . ."
Kirk said, "Mr. Fuller, you are in no position to make any demands."
"But, Captain, this," he indicated the Schillian with a flick of his hand, ". . .man is accused of . . ."
Kirk interrupted, "I know, Mr. Fuller. Won't you be seated?"
Indignantly, Fuller raised his voice, "Captain! A murder . . ."
Kirk said, "Mr. Fuller, I strongly suggest you take a seat and allow us to proceed with the investigation in an orderly fashion. The legalities are already confused enough without adding prejudice."
Fuller threw himself into a chair grudgingly while the other two crewmen perched themselves on the edges of their chairs.
"Prejudice!" said Fuller. "So! Luad's been getting his licks in first! Well, let me tell you . . ."
The door signal chimed again and Luad said, "Come."
A tall Vulcan dressed in a severe black tunic and trousers strode into the room with an air of authority that impressed even Kirk, who found himself rising to greet the man as if he were an admiral.
Ltreluad also rose and the others followed suit as the Schillian said, "Sepaz, I greet you. May I introduce Captain Kirk and his First Officer, Spock, of the Enterprise."
Sepaz turned to Kirk with stately dignity and rendered the Vulcan greeting and then traded greetings with Spock all in a kind of ponderous, slow-motion that somehow took the pressure out of the explosion that had been building between the humans.
At last, Sepaz completed the formalities and took the one remaining seat in the office, making a little ceremony out of the simple act of sitting down. "Captain Kirk, I am most pleased to see Starfleet here at last. Allow me to come directly to the point."
"Certainly," said Kirk readily. He knew how slow a Vulcan could be when standing on ceremony. He rather preferred the Vulcan businessman to the Vulcan diplomats for that very reason. Time is money, a logical equation.
Sepaz pressed a tape into the desk viewer and a list of names appeared on the screen. "I have been delegated by this group of passengers to present an urgent petition that you place this ship on course for Vulcan immediately. There are pregnant women aboard, live cargo, connections to be made by travelers, appointments to be kept, jobs at stake, and each of us is incurring enormous expense from every hour's delay."
Kirk started to answer but Spock interrupted, "I can easily understand the importance of punctuality to all aboard. However, Federation Law is quite explicit . . ."
"But," said Sepaz, "this is a Vulcan ship and Vulcan law . . ."
"Your pardon, Sepaz," said Spock deferentially, "but in interstellar space, Federation law takes precedence. If this incident had occurred in Vulcan space, Lt. Luad would have been able to take command the bring Shealku to terminal-orbit. But here,"
"Here," supplied Lt. Luad, "my hands are tied and Shealku immobilized until Captain Kirk completes his investigation."
"Which," said Kirk smoothly, "I shall now start." He pulled out his communicator, flipped it open, and was soon issuing orders to almost every department and lab aboard the Enterprise. With the resources of a Starship to draw upon, the whole investigation would be complete within two days.
Sepaz stood up. "Very well, Captain. However, I must insist that this ship be placed back on course the moment your legal requirements are met."
Kirk said, "I assure you, sir, that it will be."
Sepaz took his leave with the same slow-motion formality with which he had entered. When the door had closed behind the Vulcan, it was as if suddenly the room and its occupants snapped back to a real-time tempo.
Fuller said, "Captain Kirk, I insist that you take command of this ship immediately. No Schillian is allowed to command a ship in the Federation trade lanes, and neither is an accused murderer!"
"And," Kirk said, holding his temper in check, "no Starfleet Officer is allowed to command a privately owned vessel engaged in interstellar commerce. We'll just have to straighten this mess out right here."
"Then," said Fuller, climbing to his feet, "I suggest you get to work. I'll be in Engineering if you need me, Captain."
With a hawk-eyed glare, Fuller collected his junior officers and marched them out the door. But before letting the door close, Fuller turned back to say threateningly, "But, Kirk, you'd better get that Schillian out of this office right now!"
Then the door closed and Lt. Luad stood up. "He is correct, Captain, I've no right to occupy this desk. Why don't you make this office the headquarters for your investigation? I'll be in my quarters if you require my assistance."
As the Schillian was about to leave, Spock said casually, "Lt.Luad, are you guilty of the murders?"
"No," answered the nonhuman evenly.
Spock asked, "Do you believe it was murder?"
"Who is the guilty party?" persisted the Vulcan.
"I do not know," said the Schillian sadly and Kirk felt the sincerity of that. The Schillians were a race of amphibious telepaths who looked like man-proportioned toads but who shared more of humanity's finer sensibilities than many other nonhuman races and would never snoop in a non-telepath's mind.
After a moment, Spock said quietly, "Thank you. You may go."
When he was again alone with Kirk, Spock said, "Captain, I don't understand how you intend to put Shealku under way within forty-eight hours. Lt. Luad can't command. His junior officers do not have the necessary papers. None of our crew can . . ."
"Yes, Mr. Spock, well, I'm sure you'll think of something." Kirk moved to sit behind the desk and survey the elaborate computer installation with some trepidation. "First, let's find out who killed the captain and his exec."
The computer was of Vulcan manufacture, as was almost everything else on board. Kirk sighed, heaved himself out of the straight-backed chair that looked comfortable but wasn't and gestured at the computer. "It's all yours, Mr. Spock. Set up a search-and-correlate program on events surrounding the time of the murders. Trace the toxic gas. Motive, method, opportunity, you know the routine. Tie directly into the Enterprise's computers if you need to. I'm going to poke around the ship and get the feel of things."
"Yes, sir," said Spock, "Shall I have the labs report directly to you?"
"No. You collect and correlate the findings. I'll be back in two hours for a report."
"Aye aye, sir."
Kirk left the Vulcan to his task, not failing to note the glint of unsuppressible delight in Spock's eyes as he laid hands on the Vulcan-made instrumentation. If there was anything that could claim all of Spock's heart, it was a computer, and the Cadillac of computers was the Vulcan-made T'ktial which he now commanded.
Federation-built ships, like the Enterprise, used Vulcan-made components, but the programming was human-engineered. It took a Vulcan to get the best out of a Vulcan program.
For the next two hours, Kirk walked the luxuriously austere corridors soaking up the atmosphere of the ship. He watched his security men questioning passengers over whirring tricorders; he poked into the public lounges; he watched the cleaning servos and their human supervisors going about the daily routines; he stopped in the bar for a drink and eavesdropped on conversations; he poked around in the crew's quarters and visited the engineering deck to check out the graffiti in the men's room. Everywhere he went, he was recognized and subjected to appeal after appeal to get the ship to port on schedule.
Finally, Kirk found himself marching briskly along the corridor back toward the Captain's office. Suddenly, a passenger wearing the baggy pants and bolero of the Kiltra'ine Colonies stepped into his path. "Captain Kirk, have, may I, a word with you?"
"Certainly, Mr. . . ."
"Rose. Arturo Rose, Captain." He looked both ways to see that they were alone and said, "Captain, has told anybody you of the unhappiness between Captain Sudman and Mr. Luad?"
"Unhappiness, Mr. Rose?"
"Greatly, yes. That you understand Luad is . . . uh . . . unwelcome aboard Shealku. Before murder day, the Captain Sudman was to be overheard chastising Luad."
"What do you mean, overheard?" asked Kirk cautiously. It was bad practice for a Captain to discipline one of his officers in public.
"I had passing beside the outside of Captain-Office and heard the tirading . . ."
"Never mind," said Kirk impatiently, wishing Rose would use his translator instead of struggling with English syntax. "What did Sudman say?"
"Abused he Luad for telepath in instructing Navigator while on Watch Duty. Then Sudman insulted generally Schillians, and sequenced to Schillian mating customs. Innuendo to perversity affair bi-sexual with Navigator and Luad. Luad screamed painly and ran outward from Captain-Office. Unknown to me, Schillians, but was Luad great with rage colliding my body and not cognizant of self."
"I see," Kirk said thoughtfully. The bisexual Schillians were more reserved about sexual matters than Vulcans. Schillians wouldn't even reveal their true sex, preferring to be called "he" wherever necessary. "Well, thank you, Mr. Rose. I'll certainly look into it. Rest assured . . ."
"Arrested am I," assured Rose graciously, "Good Thank Bye You." With a courteous little bow, Rose hurried off, leaving Kirk staring after him blankly. The first passenger who hadn't demanded Warp 8 to Vulcan immediately.
Kirk shook his head and continued to the office wondering what Spock might have turned up. He wasn't long in finding out what the Science Officer had wrung out of the Shealku's computers and he spent the next three hours trying to digest it all along with the evidence that was pouring in from the Enterprise labs. And then he sent Spock to ask Lt. Luad about Rose's testimony and another man with a translating tricorder to collect an official statement from the Kiltra'ine.
When Spock returned, Kirk was aching with the fatigue of a day that had gone on too long but he was too wrought up to think of sleep. He propped his head in his hands and said, "Don't tell me, I just found the tape in your report. Sudman was filing a dismissal recommendation against Luad. Classical motive, method and opportunity against Luad and not one other suspect."
"Nevertheless, Captain," said Spock gently, "Lt. Luad is not guilty. He knew that, at most, he and the Navigator would have been transferred to another ship, not dismissed. Remember, Shealku is administered by Vulcan even though it is operated by humans. The line has many other ships where the Schillians would be most welcome."
Kirk looked up. Spock seemed to be discounting the emotional volatility of the Schillians. Fatigue soaked through the Captain's brain and left his thoughts gooey. He sighed. "Spock where did you learn to speak Schillian?"
"I don't actually speak the language, Captain, there are too many sounds and thought-tones that are impossible for me, but I can pronounce some of their proper names. In the last three years, many worthy papers have been published by Schillian physicists on . . ."
"Never mind," said Kirk wearily, "let's go play roulette for a while. I need some recreation."
"Captain, I have no . . ."
Come on, Spock. If you don't want to play, you can kibitz for me."
"Very well, Captain," sighed Spock. Through the years, he'd become accustomed to Kirk's fatigue limits and he knew there was no sense arguing.
When the two Starfleet officers entered the large gaming salon, the whirl and bustle of conversation died for a moment and then picked up at an increased tempo. The crewmen running the games worked more intently to keep their patrons' interest and soon the passengers forgot the Starfleet uniforms.
Kirk led the Vulcan toward the roulette table in the far corner where he'd earlier seen a woman riding a winning streak. There was a knot of well- dressed passengers at one end of the table while on the long side, opposite the croupier, stood Reynolds, the Chief Purser, cashing in a veritable mountain of chips that the croupier expertly counted into neat stacks and credited on the table's computer.
The game had come to a standstill and Kirk watched quietly while the passengers milled around muttering comments about crazy Vulcan laws allowing crewmembers to gamble on their own ships and how it must be a rigged game. Kirk was sure that Spock heard the comments, but the Vulcan gave no sign that the smudge on Vulcan honor reached his sensitive ears.
Before one of the drunken humans could confront the Vulcan, Kirk steered him away from the roulette table and sat down at a blackjack table where a game was just starting. Blackjack was no game for a Vulcan. Eidetic memory could automatically keep track of every card played and give the exact odds on each hand, so Kirk didn't even invite Spock to sit in.
The dealer shuffled the cards and presented them to be cut and Kirk played out the hand automatically. He played the next hand and the next, not keeping track of his winnings, but only abandoning his mind to the soothing routine of the limited universe of the deck of cards.
When the last card in the deck was turned, the dealer collected them and shuffled again. One of the players left the table and another took his place. It took two more hands before Kirk recognized the new player as Reynolds, the Purser.
Something clicked over in Kirk's mind as he watched Reynolds, and the Captain began to play in earnest. By the next re-shuffle, Kirk had classified the man as a compulsive gambler. It was there in the snap he gave the cards as he checked his hole-card. It was written in the way he destroyed the green felt scratching for a card and the way he held his body when the dealer turned his hand up. Here was a gambler who'd lost heavily and now, suddenly, was winning.
Before the deal began again, Kirk got up and pushed Spock down into his place whispering, "You play this one. Play it to win. That's an order. Mr. Spock."
"But, Captain, it's not fair against . . ."
"It's not illegal here, is it?"
The Vulcan shrugged an eyebrow and accepted the hand dealt to him with the same disinterest he would have used on a computer printing out multiplication tables.
Kirk watched with increasing excitement as a theory coalesced in his fatigue-drenched brain. As the last card was turned and Spock took the pot for the fourth time in a row, Kirk permitted himself a grim smile. Reynolds was broke. All his roulette winnings were now in the Vulcan's hands.
Kirk watched the little man carefully as he stood up. Yes, all the symptoms were there. Here was an impulsive gambler whose losses had just drowned him for the third time. Kirk watched him stumble out of the hall in defeat.
Then Spock handed the Captain the dealer's receipt for his winnings. "Captain, I think you'd better give this to Mr. Reynolds. It would not be proper to . . ."
"Not just yet, Mr. Spock. Let's go back to the office. I have something I want you to ask the ship's log."
As they entered the Captain's office. Spock said. "I presume you find yourself refreshed, sir?"
"Not really, but I won't be able to sleep until I get this settled. I want you to ask for an audit of the ship's books for this trip. Perhaps we'll learn the murderer's name.
"The books, Captain? I don't understand."
"Of course not, Mr. Spock. As you yourself said, your ancestors were spared the dubious benefits of alcohol, and gambling fever as well. I wouldn't expect you to understand."
"Yes, sir," said Spock meekly, and sat down to play the desk computer like a triple-boarded organ. After a few minutes, he looked up and said, "Sir, the relevant tapes are gone."
"Where are they?"
"In the possession of Mr. Reynolds, apparently."
"Ahhh!" Kirk glowed with triumph.
"Perfectly routine, Captain. The Purser . . ."
"Routine on a Vulcan ship, Mr. Spock, but not on a human ship."
Spock all but shrugged, "Yes, sir."
Kirk tapped a forefinger against the credit chit Spock had given him. "Pull the psych profile on Mr. Reynolds."
"Aye, aye, sir." A moment later, the profile appeared on the desk screen and Spock said, "It appears normal to me."
"When was this made?"
"Three years ago when he joined the Shealku."
Kirk sighed. "And not checked since?"
"No, sir. The Charter requires crew psych-profiles at ten year intervals."
"But humans change more swiftly than that, Mr. Spock, especially when exposed to new temptations. Nevertheless," Kirk went on, "I want an opinion from Bones. Shoot that tape over to the Enterprise."
"The Doctor would be asleep now. Is it that important?"
"What time is it?"
"Almost breakfast time for the Doctor."
"We've been up all night!"
"Well, I want Bones to run a new profile on Reynolds even if he has to skip breakfast. Let's go."
Spock rose, working the controls much as a man might grab a last gulp of coffee before running for a forgotten appointment. Then he was out the door following the Captain down the corridor. If Kirk had been wearing coat- tails, they would have streamed out behind him and fluttered in his wake.
The Captain turned into Officer's Country and slowed just enough to peer at the names over each door-signal. Finally he came to Reynolds' quarters and pounced on the signal.
They waited. Kirk rang again.
Spock said, "Perhaps he's not in."
Kirk shook his head. Such a gambler would return to his quarters, have a few drinks and pace the floor like a caged animal. Kirk gave the door signal a savage poke and when nothing happened, he put a hand out to the door. It slipped open silently.
Instantly, Kirk's right hand went for his phaser, but found nothing. You don't go armed on a Vulcan ship. The Captain straightened.
Reynolds was crouched behind the bed, his hair wildly disheveled, his face glistening with sweat, his hand firmly pointing a pistol-phaser at the Starfleet officers. Kirk knew he faced a sick and very dangerous man. He suggested, "Put the phaser down, Mr. Reynolds."
"I knew you were on to me!" Reynolds panted, waving the phaser from one to the other. "I knew it the minute you pitted the Vulcan against me at blackjack. I was going to pay it back, all back. Really I was!" His voice broke into a hysterical soprano and Kirk would see the whites of his eyes.
Steadily, the Captain said, "You don't need the phaser, Reynolds. We came to . . ."
"I know what you came for and you're not going to get me. No! NO!" With one shaking fist, Reynolds grabbed the barrel of the phaser and pointed it at his own head.
Knocking the Captain aside, Spock charged past him and dove across the unmade bed. Just after the phaser fired, the Vulcan's hand jerked the weapon up toward the ceiling where it scorched the bulkhead before Spock could pry Reynolds' fingers off the firing stud. But it was too late.
The headless corpse toppled neatly to the floor not even bleeding from the cauterized neck.
Kirk saw Spock stiffen in pain and for a moment, he thought his First Officer had been burned too, but then Spock rolled over and sat up on the bed, holding the phaser as if it were piece of dripping flesh torn from a living man. "You should not have instructed me to win that card game, Captain. That was an unfortunate error."
Kirk pushed himself away from the door-jamb and straightened. "I'm sorry, Mr. Spock. You know I wouldn't have deliberately made you the catalyst for his death."
"Yes, Captain, I know."
". . . but," finished Lt.Luad's voice from the corridor behind Kirk, "`intentions do not absolve,' as the Vulcans say."
Sepaz's voice joined the discussion from the hall. "I see that you've fulfilled the requirements of your Service, Captain Kirk. Perhaps now you can spare some consideration for the requirements of the passengers?"
Sepaz's voice joined the discussion from the hall. "I see that you've fulfilled the requirements of your Service, Captain Kirk. Perhaps now you can spare some consideration for the requirements of the passengers?"
Kirk turned and leaned back against the door-jamb for his aching frame. "News spreads quickly around here."
Lt. Luad turned to Sepaz deferentially. "Sir, I must apologize for carelessly transmitting our shock . . ."
"Forgiveness flows freely, Ltreluad. The shock of a death is never easy to control." Sepaz gave a formal bow from the waist which Lt. Luad answered gratefully.
Kirk pulled out his communicator and ordered the Enterprise medical corpsmen over to clean up and then he turned to Sepaz. "With so many telepaths around here, it amazes me that nobody realized Reynolds had . . ."
"Captain," Spock cleared his throat significantly, "the greatest effort of every telepathically sensitive person is expended in shielding his own mind from the stray thoughts of others."
Lt. Luad said, "Even we who live through the touching of minds respect the privacy of those who cannot share our pleasure."
"Yes," said Kirk, abashed, "I suppose so.
"We are wasting time, Captain," said Sepaz firmly.
Kirk turned to Sepaz and said, "Sir, if I could think of a way to move this ship legally, I would do so. The replacement Captain that Luad requested won't arrive for two more weeks. Short of blowing up Shealku's power plant and then towing her in as a derelict, I can't . . ."
"I hardly think," said Sepaz, "that such drastic measures should be necessary, Captain. I've been doing some research on the relevant laws and in the case of Perkins versus O'Flannery . . ."
"Skip it," said Kirk wearily, "if you've found a way, tell us!"
Sepaz blinked twice slowly. Finally he said, "The Federation does not allow Schillians to command vessels on the shipping lanes, however, they may act under the direction of a superior authority. This vessel is owned by Shealdrez Enterprises which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Thzverit Corporations, and Thzverit, as is well known, is controlled by the House . . ."
Spock nodded smoothly and Kirk could almost see him mentally snapping his fingers, ". . . of T'Rruel's uncle. Yes, of course. In that case, Captain, I hereby request leave effective immediately so that I may book passage on Shealku for Vulcan."
Kirk looked blankly from one to the other, "Huh . . ."
Lt. Luad blinked his nictitating membranes in gleeful succession. "Do grant him permission, Captain! That solves the problem elegantly."
Kirk shrugged. Spock's preoccupation with the search for his father had reduced his efficiency markedly. Perhaps a vacation was just what he needed, so Kirk said, "All right, Mr. Spock, you're on ninety days' leave. Rejoin the Enterprise at Starbase Three."
Spock turned to Lt. Luad. "Acting in the name of Shealku's owners, I order you to instruct the Navigator to plot course for Vulcan, Warp factor six, and lay it in the moment the Enterprise casts off her tractors."
With animated enthusiasm, Lt.Luad said, "Aye, aye, sir! And welcome aboard!"
Kirk hauled out his communicator, issued orders to withdraw from the Shealku, cancelled the order to Bones, and then asked to be beamed aboard. He was asleep on his feet.
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