Star Trek: The Original Series: No Time Like the Past
Captain’s Log. Stardate 6122.5.
The Enterprise is taking part in a diplomatic mission to the planet Yusub, which has been providing safe havens for Orion pirates interfering with trade and exploration in this sector of the Alpha Quadrant. My mission is to assist Commissioner Santiago, a veteran Federation diplomat, in persuading the tribal chieftains of Yusub to stop sheltering the pirates in exchange for better relations with the Federation. . . .
They beamed into an oasis.
It was darker than the Enterprise’s transporter room and significantly cooler, too. A brisk night breeze greeted Captain James T. Kirk as his landing party materialized on the surface of the planet. Torchlight flickered at the periphery of his vision while his eyes adjusted to the nocturnal setting, which was a jarring contrast to the well-lit corridors of the starship he had been striding through only minutes ago. He took a second to orient himself.
Top-secret coordinates had landed them in the middle of a desert in a remote corner of Yusub. Endless sand dunes, broken up by monumental rock formations, stretched for kilometers in every direction. It was well after sunset in this hemisphere, and the light of a single crescent moon cast long shadows over the shallow ground of the torchlit oasis, where a grove of verdant palm trees had grown up around a rippling silver pond, defying the barren wastes beyond. A fresh-water spring bubbled at the center of the pond, providing a natural fountain that added to the tranquil beauty of the scene. An outdoor pavilion had been erected in a clearing by the edge of the pond. A feast, redolent of exotic alien spices, was laid out in anticipation of their arrival. Kirk’s mouth watered at the enticing aroma. It was still early in the afternoon by the Enterprise’s reckoning. He was glad that he hadn’t had dinner yet.
Bones is going to be sorry he missed this, he thought. Too bad Santiago insisted on keeping the landing party to a minimum.
The oasis struck Kirk as a congenial setting for tonight’s conference, although he was aware that its isolated location and status as a neutral territory had also contributed to the site’s selection. These negotiations were controversial to say the least; many of the Yusubi profited from their dealings with the Orion pirates and were in no hurry to see those lucrative arrangements sacrificed on the altar of Yusubi-Federation relations. He and Commissioner Santiago had their work cut out for them.
“Let me do the talking,” Santiago said in a low voice. A conservative black suit matched his sober mien and bearing. He was stocky, but in a good shape for man his age. “At least at first.”
“By all means,” Kirk assented. His dress uniform fit the occasion. “I know you’ve come a long way for this.”
The landing party consisted of Kirk, Santiago, the commissioner’s personal aide, and a single Starfleet security officer. Frankly, the captain would have preferred a larger complement of bodyguards, if only for Santiago’s own protection, but the diplomat had wanted to avoid anything that smacked of an excessive show of force. Factions among the Yusubi were already leery of the Federation’s entreaties in this matter, seeing them as impositions on their own sovereignty. Kirk had deferred to his judgment; Santiago was the lead diplomat here. The man had spent many months setting up this meeting, via courier and subspace.
“Welcome, travelers,” a guttural voice greeted them. “Accept the hospitality of our world.”
A few dozen Yusubi were on hand to meet them, while more occupied the temporary tent city that had sprung up around the oasis, where a fleet of sand-schooners and sleds waited to transport the delegates out of the desert after the conference. The Yusubi were primates whose evolution had taken them in a more simian direction, so that they resembled early hominids, complete with sloping brows, long arms, and prognathous jaws. They wore hooded cloaks over loose, flowing robes whose colors reflected the environments of their respective territories: arctic white, sandy brown, jungle green, forest patterns, grassy stripes, and so on. Kirk assumed the tradition had its roots in camouflage.
As agreed, each clan leader was accompanied by a single assistant, along with a bodyguard armed with a primitive high-caliber rifle. The Yusubi had yet to make the transition to energy weapons, but even simple firearms could pack a punch, as Kirk remembered from his experiences on Tyree’s world. In the right hands, gunpowder and bullets could be just as lethal as any phaser blast. More guards were posted on the surrounding dunes and rock formations, on the lookout for any hostile parties who might want to disrupt the conclave. Kirk hoped they would prove unnecessary.
Yusub itself was an oasis of sorts: a Class-M planet conveniently located along various interstellar trade routes. Although the Yusubi had yet to venture into space themselves, they had become familiar with extraterrestrial visitors early in their history. A fiercely independent people, they had stubbornly refused to align themselves with any of the major galactic civilizations.
“The hospitality of the Yusubi is well known,” Santiago replied smoothly. “And justly celebrated.”
The diplomat was at least two decades older than Kirk and had a distinguished career behind him. His thinning hair had turned silver in the service of the Federation’s diplomatic corps, while his careworn features, and the heavy pouches under his eyes, hinted at his personal tragedy. Kirk was well aware that Santiago had a very personal stake in these negotiations; his younger sister and her family had recently been killed in an Orion raid on a Federation science outpost in a neighboring sector.
Kirk sympathized with the man’s loss. The death of his brother and sister-in-law, on Deneva four years ago, still stung.
“But perhaps your Federation finds us too hospitable? At least where the Orions are concerned?”
The speaker was an elderly female Yusubi, whose sandy yellow robe and burnoose matched the color of the deserts. The fine quality of her silken garments, with their ornate trim and embroidery, suggested that she was the leader of her clan. Bristly gray fur betrayed her age, but her silver eyes were as clear and bright as the moonlit surface of the nearby pool.
“That is what we are here to discus,” Santiago conceded. He stepped forward to introduce himself. “I am Commissioner Vincent Santiago. On behalf of the United Federation of Planets, I—”
She brushed past him to address Kirk instead.
“I am RoMusscu Dihana, Chieftain of the Cloudless Lands. By rank and privilege, the host of this conclave.” She eyed Kirk curiously. “You are the master of the vessel above? The U.S.S. Enterprise?”
“I am.” He tried to finesse the situation by directing her attention back to Santiago. “And Commissioner Santiago is one of our most respected diplomats.”
“Diplomats? Respected?” She scoffed at the notion. “My people prefer explorers to bureaucrats, travelers to talkers. Explorers open up new territory and bring us wealth and wonders from the stars. Diplomats speak only of taxes and tariffs and treaties. . . .”
Diplomacy was hardly her own strong suit, Kirk noted. The chieftain was obviously one to speak her mind. Not unlike McCoy, he thought, if Bones was an ancient alien matriarch, that is.
“Commissioner Santiago is not just a ‘talker,’ ” his aide protested, coming to his superior’s defense. If anything, Cyril Hague seemed more offended by the snub than Santiago was. “He hasn’t come all this way just to—”
“It’s all right, Cyril,” Santiago interrupted the younger man. “Our mission is what matters, not my ego.” He stepped back, surrendering the spotlight to Kirk. “You must forgive my aide. He is loyal to a fault.”
Hague fell silent. The aide was a pale, wiry young man with a slight Centauran accent. His dark suit matched his mentor’s. Kirk had not had much contact with Hague on the way to Yusub. The aide had mostly been holed up with Santiago, preparing for this meeting. The only impression Kirk had gotten was that Hague was a hard worker who took his duties seriously. And that he was perhaps a bit on the dull and earnest side.
“Loyalty is easily forgiven,” Dihana granted, before turning her attention back to Kirk. “You have visited many worlds beside our own?”
“More than my share,” the captain said with a smile.
Apparently it had fallen upon him to take the lead here, so Kirk resolved to make a good first impression. Anything he could do to make these talks go smoothly would improve their odds for success—and possibly deprive the ruthless Orion raiders of a safe haven from Federation justice.
“Then you must take with you a memento of your sojourn here, so you will not forget Yusub as you travel on.” She beckoned to an aide, who came forward bearing a glazed terra-cotta sculpture. “Accept this gift as a token of our hospitality.”
The sculpture was possibly a fertility idol of sorts, in the shape of a Yusubi nude of voluptuous proportions. Brownish-orange and roughly thirty centimeters in height, the idol was a bit simian for Kirk’s tastes, but he accepted it diplomatically. It was lighter than he expected, as though hollow.
“You’re too generous,” Kirk said, pretending to admire the idol. He wasn’t quite sure where to put his hands. “I will treasure it, as I do your friendship.”
He wondered briefly what on Earth he was going to do with the gift. Perhaps there was a Federation museum or university that would welcome such a donation?
“Let me take that for you, sir,” Lieutenant Bergstrom volunteered. She relieved Kirk of the cumbersome idol. “Just for safekeeping, of course.”
Kirk appreciated her initiative. The young security officer had recently transferred over from the Brandywine, where she had received multiple commendations for exceptional bravery and service. She was a strapping redhead who was third-generation Starfleet. Kirk almost felt guilty for poaching her from the Brandywine.
“Thank you, Lieutenant.” He tried to move the proceedings along. “I believe Commissioner Santiago has likewise brought a gift in appreciation of your hospitality. From the Federation to the Yusubi.”
“That is quite right, Captain.” Santiago accepted a rolled-up parchment bearing the embossed seal of the United Federation of Planets from Hague. He released an electronic latch and the sheet automatically unfurled to reveal a beautifully rendered star chart of the Milky Way. “Knowing of your people’s long history of welcoming travelers from others worlds, we thought you might find value in this fine map of the known galaxy.”
A click of a switch caused the chart to roll back up again. He offered it to Dihana, who deigned to accept it.
“A most thoughtful and appropriate gift,” she declared, warming to Santiago somewhat, “which speaks well of your Federation and its intentions.” She opened the map to admire it once more, chuckling to herself at the cleverness and convenience of the mechanism. “You will have to show me where to find your respective homeworlds on this lovely—”
A disruptor blast tore through her chest and set fire to the map.