The locals called it Pololola; Starfleet named it M633b. Captain James Kirk would remember it for years to come as the location of one of the strangest planet-side jaunts of his career. It wasn't memorable for the obvious deviation from the original mission plan; that had happened on more missions than Kirk cared to remember. And it certainly began in the usual way....
"That's not what I meant, you green-blooded elf!"
"Doctor, all that was required of you was a simple 'yes' or 'no'. If you had answered clearly and concisely in the first place, the confusion would not have arisen and no further elucidation would have been necessary on your part." The voice was calm; the face was almost... smug.
"Why, you pointy-eared...." McCoy turned to the captain. "Jim, why did you have to bring him along? All he does is cause trouble!"
Kirk opened his mouth to speak but was beaten to the punch by the Vulcan.
"Actually, Doctor, I believe you will find that you have created more disturbances than any other crewmember on landing party duty. In the last year alone, I can recall twenty-three violations of protocol, established law and direct orders while planet-side, and an odd number of... 'accidents'."
"How the hell was I to know that sneezing was a big taboo on that... whatsit planet? Damned giant flowers'd give anyone hay fever! And that rockslide wasn't my fault! Damn-fool idea to let that furry critter loose without tellin' anyone.... Y'know, any decent kinda person woulda warned me!"
"Enough!" Kirk was sure that, if he had not stood between McCoy and Spock – effectively serving as a human buffer, that his two officers would have eventually come to blows. Spock, of course, was not the kind of man – or Vulcan – to indulge in physical violence unless absolutely necessary, but he sure had a way of agitating the 'Ol' Country Doctor' to the point where he was ready to rip the Vulcan's head off. "Don't you two ever give up?" The captain rubbed his over-worked ears.
"He started it!" McCoy yelled in a violent burst of childish rage.
The Vulcan first officer, his face the ultimate display of innocence, merely lifted one dark winged brow.
Kirk eyeballed each of his officers, letting them know that some, as yet undefined, unpleasant retribution was in store for them if they uttered one more argumentative word. Once he was certain his authority had been imposed and the peace held, he allowed the danger to lift from his eyes and relaxed his features into his patented 'charming captain' smile.
"Gentlemen," he said lightly, "this is a beautiful planet and it is an absolutely gorgeous day." He sighed dreamily. "I'd like to think that the three of us could accomplish our mission here without any of us getting into trouble. Let's see if we can get a fix on those strange energy readings and enjoy the scenery at the same time." He spun a full circle, inhaling the mixed scents of the vast array of wild flowers. "As long as we don't stumble upon any locals, I can't see that anything could go wrong." With that, he bounded off to investigate a particularly spectacular grove of blossoming trees.
"Jim, be careful!" The doctor raised his hand to shield his eyes as he squinted into the sun, trying to keep a visual lock on Kirk as he climbed higher and higher up a tall thin tree.
The captain sighed. This was at least the eighth time McCoy had said that during his ascent of what he knew to be a perfectly safe, easily climbable tree. This tree had a multitude of sturdy branches all the way up, providing a virtual ladder of hand and foot holds. McCoy's constant admonitions were distracting, irritating and completely unnecessary.
He looked down suddenly and was overcome by a wave of vertigo as his mind tried to register exactly how far away the ground was. Waiting until the dizziness dissipated, he then favoured the doctor with a long-suffering look – the kind of expression McCoy was used to receiving from Spock. "Bones, if you stop nagging me, I might actually be able to concentrate on climbing this thing!" He glared at McCoy until he was sure he'd made his point before continuing up the tree.
His feathers ruffled, the surgeon turned to look at the Vulcan, expecting to see Kirk's long-suffering look reflected there or, perhaps, what he often termed the "damned eyebrow". Instead, Spock's saturnine Vulcan mask barely concealed his own anxiety for Kirk's welfare; and the mask became more transparent the further up the tree his captain climbed. Wondering at first why Spock hadn't said anything to back up his own cautions to Kirk if the Vulcan was so concerned, McCoy realised that Spock knew that saying nothing was more effective, where their thrill-seeking captain was concerned, than nagging. Jim Kirk, like an insolent schoolboy, hated being told not to do something and usually went out of his way to do it. McCoy mentally kicked himself for not thinking of this himself earlier and knew that, if, like Spock, he'd said nothing in the first place, Kirk might have already been back on solid ground.
Following Spock's example and keeping a silent vigil – albeit with difficulty, the doctor and science officer both felt some relief when the captain's boots hit the grass below. "You were right, Spock; the village is about two kilometres east of here. So, as long as we – "
"Do you mean you climbed up there just to confirm something Spock already knew from his tricorder readings? Are you crazy? What if you were spotted by one of the locals?" Without allowing Kirk to answer, McCoy spun sharply to face Spock, shoving his finger roughly in the Vulcan's chest. "And you think I cause trouble on our landing parties? Hell, I've got nothin' on Jim!"
Spock waved his tricorder prominently under their noses as if to remind them of why they were here. "The village is, in fact, two-point-three-one kilometres due southeast from our present location and there are no inhabitants within a two kilometre radius. The unusual power readings are emanating from the direction of the settlement. I suggest we proceed with caution."
Both humans smarted a little; Kirk, from being corrected with Vulcan over-precision; McCoy, from finding his fears of being spotted unfounded.
Instructing his science officer to lead onwards, Kirk walked at his side with McCoy bringing up the rear. Choosing not to distract the Vulcan's intense concentration on his tricorder, he allowed his thoughts free reign. He was therefore unable to pinpoint the exact moment that McCoy disappeared. Some time after they had set off from the captain's controversial tree-climb – and the doctor's subsequent tirade, Kirk turned around to ask the chief medical officer what he intended doing for their next shore leave. McCoy wasn't there.
"Spock! Stop!" The Vulcan had been so intent on the small black box in his hands he had not noticed that Kirk had left his side. He spun quickly at the panic evident in his captain's voice. "Spock! Your tricorder! See if you can find McCoy – he's gone!"
"Spock, what were you saying about McCoy's accidents earlier? I think you can add one more to the list." The captain's voice was fairly light, but was tinged with sarcasm. He could have done without the worry and extra time spent looking for his mysteriously absent surgeon.
The surgeon in question blushed furiously under the dirt he was trying to wipe from his face. He wasn't feeling chastened so much from Kirk's not-so-innocuous teasing as from the fact he had so convincingly fuelled Spock's 'McCoy-causes-trouble' fire.
He ached right through to his bones. The hole he had fallen in wasn't overly deep – although too deep to climb out of, but it wasn't exactly a soft landing either. Once Spock had located the doctor on his tricorder, he and the captain had run back to the narrow hole and, deciding it to be the simplest method of retrieving him, Kirk had called the ship and had McCoy beamed out. The doctor knew he'd be sore and well bruised tomorrow, but he wasn't seriously hurt.
As he brushed off what he could of the now-crusted mud, McCoy glanced at Spock, waiting resignedly for the Vulcan equivalent of 'I told you so'. The science officer's eyes were not fastened on his face, however, but on something lying on the ground just out of McCoy's line of vision.
Kirk, too, had been a little surprised to not hear Spock berating the doctor and stepped up next to the Vulcan to see what had piqued his friend's interest.
"A rope," Spock replied to the unasked question.
Kirk looked down at the crudely twisted length and followed its path with his eyes. One end stretched off into the distance – in the direction of the village? He wasn't sure. The other end disappeared into the hole that McCoy had fallen into. Striding over to the hole, he saw that the rope was attached to a sizable rock.
A trap. A primitive, yet effective trap.
The captain looked up swiftly at Spock and could see that the Vulcan's thoughts mirrored his own. The rock had obviously been placed carefully so that, when the trap-setter's prey – or a Starfleet surgeon – walked on that particular piece of turf, the ground gave way and took the rock with it. The purpose of the rock was clear; it was a signal. The rock falls, the rope pulls tight and whoever's at the other end of the rope knows they've caught something.
Then they come to see what they've snared.
"Damn," Kirk muttered quietly. "We've got to get out of here." He swivelled to face the Vulcan. "Spock, do you get any tricorder readings on the natives? We'll have to move quic-"
He was too late. He, Spock and McCoy were surrounded by a circle of Polololan tribesmen, all wearing little grass skirts and a healthy smattering of brightly coloured body paint. They each carried a bone-tipped spear.
It was a moment where time stood still. The local hunters stood unmoving, watching their captives warily. It seemed two humans and a Vulcan did not constitute a usual days catch. As if a reflection of the tribesmen, the Starfleet trio stood statue-still, regarding their captors uneasily – and with a little curiosity on the Vulcan's part.
Finally, after a silent standoff that could easily have been a scene in one of the ancient 'Wild West' films, one of the locals – the tribal chief, judging by the elaborateness of his headgear and hand-crafted jewellery – stepped forward and poked at McCoy with his spear. "Move," he grunted. "This way." His instructions were interpreted easily via universal translator and the three prisoners walked off in the direction the chief was pointing, each with a spear pressed firmly in his back.
A short time later, they arrived at the humble dwellings of the inhabitants, a community comprised of approximately a dozen small round mud and straw huts, and one larger hut located plumb in the centre of the village. It was this larger building they were taken to, obviously a temple or communal building of sorts. Inside, there was a single chair – a throne for the chief, Kirk assumed – and the dirt floor was covered with a hand-weaved straw mat. Behind the great chair was a large wall hanging, also woven by hand and seemingly made from some kind of wool or similar. Kirk hadn't seen any wool-producing animals like goats or sheep, but he supposed it was possible that some animal like that existed here. He smirked inwardly. Spock would know; he knew everything there was to know about a place before he got there. He would bleed the library computer dry before beaming down to a planet.
Brought out of his reverie by several loud drumbeats, Kirk watched as the chief sat down gracelessly in the chair. The chief clapped his hands and the drummers, who had formed two parallel lines on either side of the chair, stopped playing. He clapped his hands again, a rapid six or seven-clap pattern, and the big wall hanging behind the chief was lifted aside to reveal a doorway.
Through this opening walked a little man, who would barely have reached Kirk's chest – had he been standing, wearing an array of colourful necklaces and pouches, and a very solemn expression. As he strolled serenely into the room, the other tribesmen treated him with much reverence and dignity; maybe he was a medicine man or shaman. There were no women present in the room, the captain observed – perhaps it wasn't permitted. In his hands was a large book, which Spock immediately noted as strange; this primitive society was far too simple to be utilising paper and printing technology.
The little man stood in front of the three Starfleet officers for a moment and stared at them strangely. This wasn't unexpected; it was highly likely that no one here had ever met anyone outside of their own tribe before. Even the next closest village was many hundreds of kilometres away. But, the small Polololan man's features showed quite clearly that he was more than shocked. As he caught sight of Spock, his eyes grew wide and he paled visibly.
All of a sudden, the book in his hands was opened and he was searching franticly for something before shoving the large volume onto the lap of the chief and chattering so fast the translator could hardly pick up what he was saying.
"Our, holy book, Chief! See here – the picture! It's him!" He pointed to something in the book and then at Spock. The chief peered at the page and then up at the Vulcan, his expression one of profound surprise. Every other head in the room turned to look at him too. The tribal leader held the book up for everyone to see. The likeness was unmistakable. There, on a page of a book found in a tiny village on a backwards world in a star system light-years from anywhere, was a picture of Spock – or his twin brother, if he'd had one.
Kirk, Spock and McCoy each suddenly had a vision of another time and another planet when a holy book had been brought forth bearing a picture looking distinctly like the Vulcan first officer. They had barely escaped from there with their lives.
"Oh no," whispered McCoy. "It's those ears of his! They've discovered the devil in their midst!"
"We're in trouble, gentlemen," mumbled the captain.
The Vulcan swallowed reflexively, but remained silent.
The entire room became intensely quiet. The space had become quite crowded now and it seemed as if some sort of telepathic tractor beam had drawn those that hadn't previously been present here. There were Polololans of every description standing in this one mud hut – men, women with tiny infants in their arms and several children, each with a pair of eyes fixed firmly on the Vulcan kneeling between his two human companions in the centre of the hut.
Spock shifted uncomfortably under the scrutiny; he had never been fond of being the centre of attention.
How many times had a reference been made comparing him with the 'devil', humans' religious icon of evil? Snatches of memorised conversations filtered randomly through his mind....
...His face, his ears, his eyes! Do Yang legends describe the Evil One?
...The demon has no heart!
...Is there anyone on this ship who looks even remotely like Satan?
...You could hardly claim to be an angel with those pointed ears, Mister Spock. But, say you landed someplace with a pitchfork...
Devil. Demon. Satan. Doctor McCoy had a peculiar penchant for making the comparison. Spock, as a matter of personal interest, had read his mother's copy of the Bible at the age of four. He could recall no references to anything even vaguely Vulcan-like and often wondered why McCoy – and other humans – continued to perpetuate their claims of similarity.
He had to admit, however, that there was a distinct likeness between himself and the drawing in the Polololans' holy book. What would the villagers do now? His rational Vulcan thought processes told him he had too little data at present to formulate a valid hypothesis – let alone a solution. The science officer turned his mind to gathering the required information.
The chief was the first to move. He stood up slowly, almost like an old man, his eyes glued to the trio before him and his face as inscrutable as any Vulcan's. He handed the large bound volume back to the tiny medicine man and indicated silently that the two of them adjourn to the room behind the wall hanging.
As the two tribesmen disappeared, the Starfleet officers each mulled over what this meant. Kirk voiced the question they had all been pondering; he kept his voice low, constantly aware that there was a crowd of Polololans congregated around them.
McCoy's reply was crusty and terse, indicating both his frustration and fear. "He's gonna get us killed!" he whispered harshly, pointing at the first officer. "They've found the devil and they'll think we're his sidekicks!" The doctor knew he was right; this was all Spock's fault.
The expected eyebrow went up. "Doctor, I will point out that, had you not fallen into that hole – thereby alerting these people to our presence, we would not now find ourselves in this posi-"
"Gentlemen! This is not the time for arguments!" Kirk was often irritated by the fact that his first officer and chief medical officer, despite the great intelligence he knew both possessed, could still manage to pick a fight in the most inopportune circumstances. "I believe our time would be better spent looking for a solution to our current problem. Any helpful suggestions?"
McCoy, unable to think of anything to say that wasn't simply an insult aimed at Spock, kept quiet.
Spock, who had been contemplating their situation with his usual Vulcan diligence, tilted his head and spoke quietly. "Captain, firstly, we must remember that the prime directive is in force here. Our actions could have untold repercussions on the lives of the inhabitants. We must be vigilant at all times. Secondly, I believe that, until the chief returns and gives some clue as to his opinion regarding us, we should take no action. It would be wise to wait until we have a more substantial grasp of the facts."
The captain nodded. He knew Spock would say something like that. As he glanced at the vacant chair, a new thought occurred to him. "Spock," he drew the name out slowly, deep in thought while he was speaking. "We're assuming this situation is something of a repeat performance of Omega Six-"
"Omega Four, sir," the Vulcan corrected automatically.
"Right, Omega Four." Damn. He'd now lost his train of thought. It took a moment or two to retrieve it. "So... What if we're wrong? I admit, that picture is remarkably like the one those Yanks-"
Kirk frowned. If there was one thing about Spock that really exasperated him.... "Right. Yangs. It's very much like the picture the Yangs had in that book of theirs. I also admit it looks very much like you, Spock. They obviously think that picture is you. My point is this: why should we assume that they think you're the devil?"
"They did call it their 'holy book'," McCoy put in helpfully.
"Yeah, but Bones, religion isn't just made up of devils and evil creatures. Think about the Bible. I don't know about you, but I went to Sunday school and there were plenty of stories about Jesus and Moses – the good guys, even stories about everyday-normal-guys who looked after their sheep and had twenty kids."
The surgeon snorted. "Judgin' by their reaction, Jim, I don't reckon any of these folk would take Spock for an 'everyday-normal-guy' with or without a whole pile of kids. Hell, even we know he's not normal." He sneaked a surreptitious peek at the Vulcan to gauge his response. He was more than a little disappointed when Spock refused to take the bait.
"Your argument is logical, Captain. I do not believe we currently have enough valid data. However, I am positive that will change shortly."
The humans' eyes swivelled to follow the science officer's gaze.
The chief and the diminutive medicine man had returned.
The tribal leader was wearing a new expression on his craggy face. Fascination? Awe? It was hard to tell. In a fairly large portion of their journeys, the Enterprise crew had encountered races and cultures not unlike their own; many of them seemed to have emotional patterns akin to those in humans. Still, this was not always the case. They had encountered one civilisation where emotions seemed to work in reverse and Kirk had found it quite difficult not to offend the voluptuous young ladies by smiling at them.
Kirk decided it was best to take a wait-and-see approach; let the chief tell them what he was thinking.
As he walked toward them, the brightly coloured feathers of his headdress swaying gently, the chief's eyes lowered abruptly to the floor, followed just as quickly by his knees. The rest of the crowd took this as a sign and followed suit.
"It is true then," the chief stated softly. "You are he. I beg your forgiveness for not recognising you."
This is it, thought Kirk. The moment of truth. Sink or swim.
"Truly, we are honoured, my people," the leader continued, "for we have been blessed with the presence of... the Holy One, the Son of Sa-riik!"
Two humans and a Vulcan exchanged startled looks. That was unexpected.
"Behold! The Holy Son of Sa-riik and his two servants!"
McCoy almost fainted.
"Jim! Do you know what you're suggesting? Are you serious? You actually want Spock to pretend to be some sort of god and us – me – to act as his servants? That's the craziest thing I've ever heard!" McCoy was red-faced and scowling grumpily as he stalked up and down the straw-covered floor of the little hut he, Kirk and Spock had been taken to. They were there ostensibly to rest after their long journey from the "land of the gods" before attending a feast held in their honour.
"Bones, think about it. All we need to do is play the part while they throw us this little welcome party, say our goodbyes and leave without a fuss. They'll think we've returned to the realm of the gods and they can tell their great-grandchildren that they met the 'Holy Son of Sa-riik'. No harm done." The captain smirked satisfactorily. He had been extremely relieved – as were Spock and McCoy – to find that the Vulcan was not the villagers' 'Lucifer' and they weren't going to end up as some kind of sacrificial offering to the gods. He put their situation down to good fortune and was pleased enough in the certainty that it would all resolve itself shortly without any great transgression against the prime directive.
The doctor was not so optimistic, nor tremendously pleased with the prospect of playing slave to his verbal nemesis, even for so short a time. He was about to needle the science officer into an argument by denigrating the culture that believed Spock a god, but realised his acerbic jousts would fall on deaf ears. The Vulcan was deep in thought, his hands steepled before him and his mind far removed from the irritable ponderings of Doctor McCoy.
"Fascinating." The first officer emerged at last from his contemplation. "Captain," he began, peering speculatively at Kirk. "It does seem rather coincidental that the image in their holy book resembles the Vulcan features so clearly. It is possible...." He paused uncharacteristically, as if what he was about to say might be deemed illogical. "It is conceivable that Vulcans have visited here in the past."
Kirk eyed his friend thoughtfully. "It makes sense, Spock. We may be a long way from Vulcan, but, if you'll pardon the expression, it is logical. It's quite possible that some Vulcans ventured out this far, arrived on this planet and met the locals. Their strange appearance, their technology… it would all have seemed godlike to a primitive culture – as do we. And, you're right about the picture, too. It does seem too much like a Vulcan to be anything other than a Vulcan."
"You think that's a coincidence?" McCoy had ceased his furious pacing and now stood before the captain and first officer, who were seated on low cut-off tree stumps. "Jim, that picture doesn't just look like any Vulcan; it's that Vulcan." He pointed determinedly at the science officer. "It's Spock! Picture's a dead ringer!" He pulled up a tree stump, obviously with more still to say. "'Holy Son of Sa-riik'? Is that a coincidence? Sa-riik. Sarek. No damned coincidence if you ask me!"
"Doctor." Spock glanced at McCoy with an expression of faint amusement. "Are you suggesting that you believe I am this 'Holy Son of Sa-riik'?"
"Of course not, you green-blooded excuse for a leprechaun! But how do you explain that they have a picture of you and that you're Sa-riik's son? Even that computer you call a brain should be able to tell that it's all too coincidental!"
"Doctor, your argument is completely illogical. I am relatively certain my father has neither heard of, nor set foot on, this planet. Also, the volume these people call their 'holy book' looks to be well over one hundred standard years old. It is very likely that Sarek is younger than the book. You are aware as well, of course, that most Vulcan males are given a name to honour Surak, the philosopher who brought about the end of our violent past – names beginning in 'S' and often ending with a 'k'. There are a number of Vulcan names with a similarity to Sa-riik: Sarik, Sareek, Sareik, and, certainly, you must know that the name 'Sarek' is not exclusive to my father." He pressed the tips of his steepled fingers to his lips contemplatively. "It would be interesting to enquire about the religious history of these people, Captain. They may be able to give some insight regarding the plausibility of a Vulcan encounter in their past. It would be fascinating-"
"Spock! We won't be asking any nosy questions. You know as well as I do that, the less we say, the less likely we are to mess things up." He knew he had to curb the Vulcan's curiosity before it got out of hand. Spock was far too inquisitive for his own good. Suddenly, Kirk's mouth curled up into an impish grin. "Anyway, how would it look if a god suddenly started asking questions? Surely, the Holy Son of Sa-riik knows everything!"
Before Spock could formulate a reply, the chief returned to their hut. "We would be honoured if the Holy Son of Sa-riik and his two faithful servants accompany us in a feast celebrating the blessing of your visit," he said formally, and gestured to the doorway, before turning to leave.
The captain glimpsed at his two friends, warning them to play their parts until this was over.
"I am not sanguine about impersonating a deity, Captain," the Vulcan whispered uncertainly.
"You'll be fine, Spock. Trust me. Just act important and... all-knowing," He smiled fondly at his first officer, hoping that Spock would sense his encouragement. He turned sharply to the chief surgeon, noting the intensity of the ever-present scowl, and muttered very quietly, "And you'll play your part too. It wouldn't do to have a servant of the 'Holy Son of Sa-riik' appear unhappy in his work, would it?"
McCoy grunted resignedly and the three followed after the tribal chief.
The 'feast' was a brief affair, held outside in the light of the planet's twin moons. Kirk, Spock and McCoy were seated at the head of an improvised log table, for which they were glad; it allowed them a certain amount of privacy to converse without the villagers hearing. The food laid out on the table could hardly have been called a feast – at least by the standards Kirk was used to. The chief had apologised profusely for the small amount of food and Kirk had been about to nudge Spock, indicating to him that he should say something to appease their concerns, when the leader of the tribe added, "But, of course, you know of our troubles and have come to fulfil the prophecy of Sa-riik."
The Starfleet trio were given little time to contemplate the ramifications of this last statement as the chief said, "Eat now, Holy One. The prophecy can wait until the hunger of the god and his servants has been sated."
Deciding that, for now, the best course of action was to comply, they took the crude plates that were offered to each of them and gazed surreptitiously at the villagers, trying to find an indication of the actions expected of them.
Abruptly, the little medicine man appeared at Spock's side, a look of solemn reverence displayed on his minute features. "We would be truly blessed if the Holy One would consecrate our meal with the holy book." He handed the large tome to the Vulcan.
Spock swallowed nervously. What was expected of him? Was he to read from the volume? He could read, write and speak a number of languages fluently, but the number of languages he could not was immeasurable. What if their chances of escaping from here depended on this moment? He swallowed again. Taking the book in his hands, he stood slowly and waited.
After several tense seconds had passed, the chief announced, "We are blessed indeed! Let us eat!"
Spock sat, feeling an un-Vulcanly measure of relief. Apparently, all he had to do was hold the book.
The medicine man had not come to reclaim it and the science officer was overcome with curiosity. As the Polololans were distracted with their food, he took a good look at the cover of the bound volume. It appeared to be made of leather and had no markings of any kind adorning the front. He lifted the cover a little, peeking at the first page. By now, his Vulcan inquisitiveness had infected the humans sitting on either side of him and both were now peering over his shoulder. As one, they read the hand-written inscription. As one, they reacted with astonishment.
The inscription read:
This is the journal of
By the time the meagre meal was consumed, two humans and a Vulcan were filled with a nova-hot curiosity. Kirk and Spock were eager to ask the chief surgeon what he knew of the book and how it may have ended up on this planet so many light-years from Earth. It was obvious he knew something about the journal judging by the incredible number of wild expressions dancing across his face. Was it his? How many Doctor Leonard H. McCoys could there be in Atlanta?
They were forced to stifle their interest as the chief rose from his tree-stump stool at the opposite end of the table and approached them. "Has the Holy One's hunger been eased?" he asked with undisguised anticipation.
"The meal was indeed adequate," Spock replied with dignity.
"Then we must allow the Holy One to fulfil the prophecy of Sa-riik. We have waited many turnings of the moons and lost much of our tribe awaiting your arrival, but Sa-riik has blessed us and sent you as promised. Come." He indicated the large central hut. "Feeder is this way."
Spock looked anxiously at Kirk for instructions. His captain shrugged. Play along for now, the gesture said.
The science officer rose slowly to his feet and followed the chief into the main hut. Kirk and McCoy stood also, the doctor lifting the book and taking it with him. The medicine man appeared from nowhere and gestured at the book. Thinking swiftly of an excuse to hold onto it, McCoy said, "The Holy Son of Sa-riik wishes to keep the Holy Book near to him as he fulfils the prophecy." He pointed at the retreating back of the first officer. "Don't worry. The Holy One will not allow it to come to any harm." Just for good measure, he treated the minute man to his very best, charming 'Southern Gentleman' smile. The medicine man bowed and left.
As McCoy caught up with the others, he saw that they were entering the room behind the large wall hanging. None of the three could completely cover his surprise when the tribal leader indicated the sole object in the room. "Feeder," he said solemnly. "As you know, he has refused to feed our people for several moon-seasons. But we are truly repentant for the anger we must have caused him and now we see that our apologies have been heard by the great Sa-riik. He has sent you to ask Feeder to feed us once more. I will leave you to your Holy work."
Left alone for the first time since before the 'feast', the Starfleet officers were like three warp-cores about to breach.
"Jim, this journal is-"
"Captain, this 'Feeder' is-"
"Gentleman! One at a time!" The captain swivelled to face McCoy. "Bones, I've got a thousand questions I want to ask about that book but, right now, we'd better have a look at this... 'Feeder'." He turned back to the Vulcan. "Spock, what do you make of it?"
"Captain." The first officer switched on his tricorder and waved it in front of the large object. "This is the source of the unusual power readings we first discovered with the sensors on board the Enterprise. I am at a loss to explain how such a device came to be found in this primitive village."
"Spock, am I right? This 'Feeder' is a food replicator, isn't it?" The captain, as part of his Starfleet training, had familiarised himself – at least basically – with most of the computer technology the Federation had to offer, especially that which was found on his beloved Enterprise. But, other things – those that fell outside his knowledge – could be anything from a garbage receptacle to a laundry processor for all he knew. What point was there in filling his brain with the universe's knowledge of computers when he had Spock, alternately referred to as "walking encyclopaedia", "dictionary on legs" or "biological computer" – depending on what McCoy was currently accusing him of.
"Indeed, Captain," the Vulcan replied, the corners of his lips turning up ever so slightly in acknowledgement of his friend's uneducated assessment. "An antiquated model at that. This particular replicator originated on Ornus Four and was replaced with a newer model approximately one hundred and thirty-six years ago. It is curious to find it here, some eight thousand, six hundred and forty seven light-years from its point of origin." His brow furrowed in contemplation. "Captain, there are a number of unusual anomalies present here."
"Yes, Mister Spock. I agree." He glanced at his chief medical officer, who slouched absently against the wall and whose entire face was obscured by the mysterious journal. Kirk dragged his gaze reluctantly away from McCoy and the book; the replicator was the most important matter at present. "What's your assessment of the replicator's condition?"
"Obviously, it has received little attention in the way of repairs or maintenance. It is unquestionable to think that anyone here would have the required knowledge to effect repairs. Although an old model, the errors are insubstantial and relatively simple to correct. However-"
"Can you fix it?" Kirk asked suddenly.
"Can you repair it, Spock?"
"Certainly, Captain, but do you think we should-"
"Yes, I know. You're concerned about the prime directive. But these people have obviously had the services of this replicator for some time. You heard what the chief said; they've lost lives through hunger. You can tell none of them have had a decent feed in ages. I'm sure Doctor McCoy could tell you they're malnourished and...." He eyed the doctor, hoping he would back him up, but McCoy seemed unaware of anything other than the book in his hands. "Spock," he continued, "surely you noticed the lack of food around. When I was up that tree, I couldn't see any signs of animals, nor anything that resembled fruit or vegetables. Look, I don't know how that replicator got here, but I think someone left it here to help these people and, now that it isn't working, they're dying of starvation."
Captain, I am aware of the difficulties here. I believe that is why there are no other tribes for several hundred kilometres. There is some natural food here, but this area of the planet is unsuited to supporting those food sources. However, I am not certain that repairing this replicator is the best solution. Perhaps, it would be better to relocate-"
"No. I don't want to move these people from their home. As far as we're concerned, the prime directive has already been breached – probably before it even existed. The simplest solution is to return the situation to what passed as normal here before the replicator broke down."
"Sir, that is not how you dealt with the people of Vaal."
"No, it's not, Spock – and I seem to recall that you weren't too enamoured of the decision I made then. I think it would be far less intrusive to fix the replicator than to uproot the whole village and make them live somewhere unknown to them." He put a gentle hand on the Vulcan's shoulder. "Spock, the decision is mine – and the consequences. Fix their replicator." He smiled reassuringly, aiming to convince the first officer that his choice was the right one.
Spock pulled out his communicator, calling the ship for the tools and supplies he would need to make the repairs. Now all Kirk had to do was convince himself.
"Well, Bones, are you going to explain how the 'holy book' just happens to have your name on it?" Kirk had left Spock to work on the replicator and, knowing he was about as helpful as an Iltusian stump-tailed slug, removed himself to go and sit with the doctor.
"Not my name, Jim," McCoy answered, lowering the tome so Kirk could read it too.
"Are you going to tell me there's another Doctor Leonard H. McCoy floating around your old hometown?"
"Yes and no," replied the chief surgeon secretively.
Sensing the imminent explosion of Kirk's increasingly filling balloon of curiosity – and not wishing to be caught in the resulting fallout, McCoy relented and sighed. "Weeeeeeelllll," he began slowly. He had every intention of satisfying the captain's inquisitiveness, but he was going to do it in his own good time. "There was another Doctor Leonard H. McCoy from Atlanta, Georgia."
Again, a lengthy pause.
"Bones! I don't have all day!"
"Well, this Doctor Leonard H. McCoy was my great-granddaddy. I was named after him; only, his 'H' stands for 'Humphrey' and my 'H' stands for... well, never you mind what it stands for. Anyhow, this journal is his." He lifted a finger to his chin thoughtfully. "Come to think of it, I do recall him tellin' us young kids about his travels and how he kept a journal. Told us he lost it someplace. He was really teed off too, 'cause he had had it since he was a kid himself. I was just readin' some of his early entries."
"So, how did it end up here? Does it say? This journal may be able to tell us something useful if your great-grandfather was actually here. And why does it have a picture of a Vulcan in it? Come on, Bones, let's have a look!"
"Yeah, okay! Don't get your stripes in a twist!" He flicked the yellowed pages over quickly and carefully.
"Look for his last entries – before he lost the book."
Skimming the pages as they whizzed by, they stopped abruptly when Kirk shoved his finger on a page just as McCoy was about to turn it. Their eyes scanned the page briskly; words flew past as they visually disposed of those that were superfluous and sought those that would answer their burning questions. Words like: tribe, starving, replicator, Vulcan, god....
"I think your great-granddaddy might just provide some answers, Bones." The captain's eyes were fastened on the page just as surely as if they had been set that way in thermocrete.
"Or, as Spock would say, 'fascinating'!"
The ink on the pages was eighty or so years old; the pages themselves were a great deal older than that. The words contained in the yellowed volume held the two humans' attention as well as any gorgeous topless dancer from Wrigley's Pleasure Planet. This book was a valued piece of the current Doctor Leonard McCoy's family history; it also happened to be a significant artefact in Pololola's history.
As Spock worked steadily at repairing the replicator, the gentle sound of metal tools clinking, Kirk and McCoy read with fervour the incredible tale of Sa-riik, as told by Doctor Leonard H. McCoy, the First....
August 13, 2190 (I think)
I wonder what in Damnation ever made me leave the comfort of home.
"I want to see the stars," I said to my old drinking buddies one day. "Close up. Yeah, real close. Not so far away that they look like little fireflies. I'm gonna find me a place where the barkeepers serve drinks that'll knock you flat on your backside after half a sip." Fred groused a bit then. I was always complaining about that colorized water he was passing off as whiskey.
So, here I am stuck on some blasted backwater planet with a discarded food replicator and a half-crazed Vulcan for company. Interesting story, that. And I'm gonna have to write it down so that the next time I visit a psychiatrist, I can give him all the unbelievable details before he has me locked away.
I knew that freighter captain was trouble as soon as I saw the shifty eyes and charming grin. I know how it's done – you flash your very best smile and, if you do it right, you have everyone thinking you're the greatest guy that ever lived. I've done it myself a few times, I admit. And Betty Foster was worth it, too.
Anyhow, I ended up on this guy's flying dust can of a ship 'cause he says he's heading over to Gelmus III and he knows of a great little drinking spot on the way. Sounded just fine to me at the time.
Turned out I wasn't his only passenger. This Vulcan gets on at Horrax Prime, says he needs a ride to somewhere-or-other and "would be obliged" if the dodgy captain would get him to his "desired destination". Course, he didn't call the guy 'dodgy' – not to his face, anyway – but you could tell that's what he was thinking. I guessed he hadn't had to fly freighter-class before.
So, we're halfway to nowhere, I'm sitting in a teeny little compartment with Mr Sociable, and the captain – Telzar, he called himself – comes in with this bottle of... actually, he never said what it was... but this stuff really hit the mark. Boy, Fred, back home, would be trying to turn his insides the right way round after a glass of this. He offered some to the statue sitting next to me, only to hear, "Vulcans do not consume alcohol, Mister Telzar." Well, how do you like that! The guy was just being friendly and, if you ask me, I'd say this guy really needed something to loosen him up. He sat as stiff as a corpse and hadn't said more than two words to me the whole time we were sitting in each other's pockets.
Telzar said, kind of patronisingly I thought, "Certainly, sir, let me find you something non-alcoholic."
Five minutes later, Telzar's back with what looks like a glass of fruit juice. The Vulcan – he hadn't told us his name – took the glass without so much as a thank you, eyeing it just as distastefully as the alcohol. He took a couple of sips, stopped and kind of stared into space for a while, then drank the rest of it in one go. Telzar winked at me and I knew that it wasn't any ordinary kind of fruit juice.
Well, it took about half an hour for that drink to start turning my antisocial companion into Mr Life-of-the-Party. He said his name was something like Saareek – it was hard to tell when he belched right in the middle of it. Said he was a "junior diplomatic apprentice" or something (his speech was more than a little slurred). Imagine that! This pointy-eared flexi-board cutout as an ambassador! Apprentice, huh? I'd say he had a fair bit of training left yet.
He was just getting to be really entertaining when Telzar came back with the bad news. "There's been a slight change in plans. I'm gonna have to drop you off for a bit while I pick up a full load of trivium from Drevis and take it to Beta Zionna. I could leave you on Drevis, but things are a bit rough there and there's a quiet little planet just ahead. Shouldn't take more than a couple of days at most – there and back." He shoved a communicator in Saareek's pocket and went back up front.
And that was that. Saareek, me – and an old replicator that Telzar decided he was just going to dump – all ended up on this little quasi-paradise. There were trees and hills and little ponds – just dandy for a stroll with Mother Nature. But, a couple of days here? There weren't any hotels or restaurants hidden amongst the grass. Well, I suppose we had the replicator for food, but camping out has never been a great thrill for me. And Saareek was still as high as an orbiting probe – and not looking like he was coming down any time soon. (Note: ask Telzar for a sample of that stuff when he gets back. I'd love to run it through my lab equipment and find out just what's in it.) Actually, it's been so dull here that I drew a picture of Saareek right here in my diary. Good grief! Why would I want to keep that for posterity?
You know, this is where things really start to get interesting. I took Saareek for a walk, figuring it might help to clear his head a bit. And what does he do when my back's turned for a few seconds? Falls down a damned hole, that's what. Great, I thought. He fell in a hole that's just a bit too deep for him to climb out of – or for me to lift him out of. Then I saw the rope and I thought, that's handy. I'll use the rope to pull him out and we'll be happily on our way. Obviously, people had fallen in the hole before.
And then it dawned on me. People. Ropes didn't just lie around in the middle of the countryside unless people put them there.
The next thing we knew, there were people there. Funny little men with grass skirts. At first, I thought I was going to end up on the end of one of their spears, but then they looked in the hole and saw Saareek. A couple of them lowered a rope and hauled him out. I guess it wasn't surprising that they hadn't seen a Vulcan before.
While they were gawking at the two of us, a group of them came running over the hill, yelling as they went. It occurred to me that I could understand what they were saying and I remembered that I'd had a new-fangled translator thingy implanted before I left Earth. The authorities recommended them to anyone visiting foreign planets.
"Over there, Chief," one of them was saying. "It came from the gods!"
Following their madly pointing fingers, I realised they must have discovered the replicator.
The chief came over and stood in front of me. "You are the servant of the god," he said to me, nodding at Saareek. "Show us this gift you have brought."
Well, what could I say to that? Before I could think of anything to say, we were back in front of the replicator. Saareek was looking a little woozy – from the fall in the hole as much as the booze, I guess. I also noticed he couldn't understand a word these people had said. (What kind of a diplomat travels around without a translator?) Anyhow, that left me the one to do the talking.
It seemed the whole tribe had gathered now, and hands of all sizes were pawing at the replicator, marvelling at the cool metal. The chief was amazed. "Please tell us of this wondrous thing. How is it that a god and his servant have come to visit us?" That 'servant of the god' stuff was really starting to get to me. Why should they think Saareek was the god and I the servant? I mean, I'm not the one who fell in a hole.
My Southern charm came in handy then; I have a gift for adlibbing my way around things. "You see, Chief, this is the god, Saareek... and it is his wish to give you this... feeder... to feed your tribe." What the hell, Telzar had said he didn't want it, was just going to leave it here. Might as well put it to good use.
The chief was astonished. "Sa...ree...ik," he tried to say, the syllables unusual on his tongue. "Sa-riik," he said with more confidence. Turning to his tribe, he announced, "My people, the god Sa-riik has heard our pleas and brought a gift to ease our hunger! No more will the young and old of our tribe starve!"
Well, after I showed them how to use "Feeder", the chief invited me to sit and talk with them around their campfire. Saareek was still not over the effects of the juice (what was in that stuff, anyway?) and I made up a story about how he had to go and commune with the other gods. The chief was good enough to let him have the use of his own hut. My guess is that Saareek probably crashed as soon as he was alone.
I was told the entire history of the tribe, I think. It seemed that this tribe had moved far away from the other tribes on this planet – what did they call it? Polola? Polololola? Hell, I don't know – after bloody wars broke out. They'd been here for centuries, as near as I can tell, living cheerfully enough. Until their food supply started dying off, that is.
According to the chief, they were growing vegetables, picking fruit off the trees and catching plenty of game until a few years ago. For some reason, everything but a few species of trees and a small variety of foods can no longer be grown here. Now, what would cause that? These people live simply; I can't think of any way they'd produce something toxic enough to kill off any wildlife. Damn, I wish I had some of my equipment from home. There wasn't anything I couldn't cure in Georgia.
The sad thing is that people are starving and dying. They said their tribe had been twice the size it is now.
Hell, for all I know, our coming here might have been some kind of holy blessing – although I refuse to believe that green-blooded fella (who can't hold his drink) is any sort of god. I suppose it's those ears of his – they're certainly not common on this world. Kind of make me think more of the devil than a god.
Anyhow, Saareek came out of the hut – and all the villagers bowed down as he walked past. I was a little pleased to see him looking better and, when he told me that Telzar had called him on his communicator, saying he was coming for us in a few minutes, my mood improved even more.
It occurred to me that the replicator wasn't a permanent solution to the problem here and I know that, when I get home, I'll ask the authorities about how we can help. They'll probably send scientists and advisors and sort the whole thing out.
In the mean time, I couldn't help spreading the mysticism a little. I walked up to the chief and said, "If Feeder should ever stop feeding your people, then you must pray to the gods and Saareek will... send his... Holy Son to help you." Well, it wouldn't hurt, would it? Hopefully, their problem'll be long gone by the time they need to worry about that.
"Honourable servant of Sa-riik, how will we know this Holy Son of Sa-riik?"
"That's easy," I said. "He'll look just like him." I pointed at Saareek and grinned.
They left us then, heading back to their huts. I'd told them that we were returning to the land of the gods and needed privacy. Well, I didn't want them to see that a god and his servant were being picked up in something not fit for a Klingon, let alone a god.
So, it's just me, Saareek and the replicator once more. Not your average kind of day, that's for sure.
Oh, I'll have to finish this later. Here comes Telzar, now.
"Good grief!" exclaimed McCoy. "Who would believe a story like that?"
"Certainly explains a few things, though, Bones."
"Leaves a few questions, too. I don't recall my great-granddaddy ever saying anything about a starving tribe or a replicator. Of course, I was still pretty young when he died."
"Hmm." Kirk ran a finger along his brow thoughtfully. "We now know how the replicator got here. As far as I know, there's been no Federation involvement here – in fact, we know there's been nothing done about the replicator because it did break down. And they still have whatever problem they had with growing things. This time, I think we can provide some help – see what's wrong here. Spock did say that it was only this area of the planet that was unsuited to supporting growth. Perhaps there is some kind of contamination, although it's anyone's guess as to how it happened. We'll hang around in orbit for a while and get our scientists on it." He sighed tiredly. "Maybe it's possible to return these people to some sort of normality after all."
"And Starfleet'll have to monitor the planet to make sure it all works out," McCoy said wryly.
"That's right, Bones. Everything will be fine." The brilliant smile emerged once more.
"Hey Jim," the doctor blurted suddenly. "That picture my great-grandfather drew does look awfully like Spock. Perhaps, it's a relative of his. Ha-haa! I can't wait to tell him about the drunk Vulcan!"
Just then, Spock approached, his tools now carefully put away in the appropriate slots in his tool case. "Captain, the replicator is repaired."
"That's great, Spock." Kirk let his hand rest gently on the Vulcan's shoulder. "And now I suggest we get back to the ship and start working out how we're going to solve the other problem."
"It's a long story, Spock."
Thinking at first that they should say their farewells to the tribe, Kirk decided to take a leaf out of McCoy Senior's book, figuratively speaking, and generate a little mysticism of his own. It couldn't hurt; they had come from the land of the gods, after all.
"Beam us up, Mister Scott," he said into his communicator.
As the three dematerialised, McCoy realised he still had the 'holy book' in his hands. A touch of guilt flushed through him as he thought of the Polololans losing a valuable religious artefact, but he remembered also that it was a relic of his own family's past – and he had a lot of history to catch up on before passing the diary on to his daughter and her future children. It wasn't every family that had two holy servants.
The Polololan chief was astounded when he entered the room to find it empty and Feeder now alive once more, bright colours flashing brilliantly. He looked heavenward, his hands raised in supplication. "A true god, indeed!"
Sarek of Vulcan was always secretly pleased when his son sent him a letter telling him of his adventures on the Enterprise. Spock, by way of Starfleet, had encountered many new alien races and mediated skirmishes across the galaxy, making his ambassador father often reconsider his original notion that Spock's best career choice was attending the Vulcan Science Academy Diplomatic Corp, as he had.
With eager anticipation, Sarek placed Spock's message tape in the player and sat down to watch.
"I trust you are well. I wish to tell you of the unusual circumstances surrounding our latest mission. A landing party consisting of Captain Kirk, Doctor McCoy and myself, beamed down to a planet named Pololola..."
A sudden flash of shame tinted Sarek's face an emerald green as he recalled his somewhat vague memories of his visit to that same planet. He'd been forced to find his own way out of Horrax Prime and had ended up on a rather disreputable freighter with a devious captain and the most illogical, emotional human he'd ever met for company. It seemed an intriguing coincidence that his companion's descendent – indeed, his namesake – was irritating Spock in the same way all these years later.
Sarek was mortified when he'd recovered fully from the effects of the alcohol and McCoy had told him, as they once again squished together in the tiny freighter compartment, the entire story from the Vulcan's alcohol-induced actions to the fact a whole tribe now considered him a god.
The Vulcan ambassador groaned softly as he heard more of Spock's message and noticed his son's curiosity when speaking of the mysterious Sa-riik – or Saareek, according to the diary. Spock's on-screen image lifted a leather-bound volume Sarek recognised instantly as the book McCoy had carried around constantly. His memory was hazy, but he didn't recall seeing it after they left Pololola. He groaned again. There was a picture – of him! And how he looked like Spock as a young man! He buried his face in his hands. Spock was asking if Sarek would make enquiries with the Vulcan Science Academy to determine the identity of Saareek. What could he do?
Removing the message tape, Sarek rose and headed for his meditation chamber. He was going to need several hours, perhaps days, to resolve this problem. On the way, he passed Amanda's bookcase and one title caught his eye: The Prophecy.
It was with faint amusement that he realised the prophecy of Sa-riik and his Holy Son had indeed been fulfilled.
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