Tuesday, July 20, 2021

One More Word About the Pandemic


My husband has a secret crush on Rachel Maddow, so every day he turns on the TV and tunes it to MSNBC, and watches for hour after boring hour.  Since my computer is in the living room next to the TV, that means I'm stuck listening to that propaganda mill for hours too.  They're still howling about Trump, given any excuse, and at present they're blaming him for the number of people who haven't gotten any form of Covid vaccine yet.  *Sigh*  As if there were no other reason.  

If you go search the Internet for information about vaccination in general, you'll find a much more complicated picture.  First, the way a vaccine works is to stimulate the immune system into producing antibodies to a particular bacterium or virus.  The more antibodies you have, the better you can fight off the invading microbe.  There are two other ways to get those antibodies: 1) get an injection of blood-serum from someone else, or some animal, with a lot of antibodies in their blood, or 2) get the infection and survive it.  The antibodies are the whole point.  

The problem with vaccines is that there are always some people who have allergies to the growth medium of any given vaccine, which accounts for the cases of bad reactions.  Unless your doctor knows in advance just what your personal allergies are, and just what the components of any given vaccine are, s/he can't tell you just which vaccine would be safe for you.  If you do happen to have quirky allergies, or don't know what your allergies are, it's best to hold off on getting vaccinated, at least until you know more.  If you do know that you have a vulnerability to a particular vaccine, or a group of vaccines, then you have to consider whether you're more likely to die of the vaccine or the disease, and take your chances accordingly. 

Then there's the question of the effectiveness of different vaccines, since not all antibodies are created equal.  For example, people who received the Pfizer vaccine were less likely to get the Covid infection afterward, but those who did often got a severe form of it -- while those who got the Johnson and Johnson vaccine were more likely to get infected afterward, but always with a milder form.  This, BTW, is why Rasty and I held off getting vaccinated until we could be sure of getting the Johnson and Johnson brand.

And then there's the problem of ongoing immunity to mutations and variations of the virus.  Given enough time, which the Covid virus certainly has had, any virus will mutate into a distinctly different form.  This is one reason why public health services want to get as many people immunized as fast as possible.  On the other hand, as our experience with the common flu has shown, an immunity to one form of the virus will usually grant at least partial protection to the next form, so that -- again -- you may get the new infection, but not to a severe degree.

Finally, there's the mystery of how many people have already gotten the disease -- and gotten over it -- without ever realizing that they did.  The only way to tell if you're in that category is to get the blood-serum antibody test and see if the antibodies are already there.  If they already are, then it's anyone's guess whether taking the vaccine will give you more of them, or have no effect at all;  there isn't enough known yet.  

In short, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and shaming/threatening/forcing people to get whatever vaccine is in greatest supply right now, wherever they are, is a serious mistake.  It also raises a lot of bad feelings and distrust toward the public health system.

Trump had nothing to do with it.


--Leslie <;)))><       

Friday, July 9, 2021

Back to the Present Day

 Ah well, so much for Science Fiction.  Here's an overlooked bit of news about last weekend.

Chicago shooting spree ends after man with concealed carry license takes down attacker - TheBlaze

*Sigh*  

--Leslie <;)))>< Fish

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Banned From Argo -- Epilogue

 

Epilogue

 

            As the Enterprise officers appeared on the transporter pad Janice Rand studied them carefully, trying to read their expressions.  Chapel and Uhura where whispering animatedly together.  Scott materialized in the act of playfully punching Chekov in the shoulder.  Sulu was holding a small potted plant as if it were the Holy Grail.  Spock looked imperturbable, as always.  McCoy and Kirk had their arms around each other’s shoulders, looked exhausted, but were grinning from ear to ear.  As they solidified they resumed their conversation.

            “—call that an almost-clean victory,” Kirk was saying. “As for not being allowed back here, I could care less.”

            “I’m still furious.” McCoy grumbled.  “I didn’t ‘incite’ a damn thing;  it was the badges who caused that riot.”

            “When you have time, Doctor,” Spock cut in, “I would like your help in analyzing that peculiar potion which I ingested, and its antidote.”

            “Hmm, do you recall anything about its characteristics?”

            “I did obtain a brief glimpse of the bottle;  the liquid appeared to be green.”

            Behind him, Nurse Chapel muffled an explosion of giggles. 

            Uhura paced ahead, calmly dignified, with her innocent-looking laptop tucked discreetly beneath her arm.  Only the faintest of smiles twitched the corner of her mouth as she passed.

            “Dinna worry, Chekov,” Scott was saying.  “Ma team will have th’ shuttlecraft back aboarrd wi’in th’ oor.  Nane th’ worrse f’r wear, I hope.”

            “I’m chust sorry I won’t get beck to det bar again.  I wondair what heppened to dose sefen spece-marines, end de demolition crew.”

            “Weel, we can be sure they didna join in any o’ th’ fun thot firrst night,” Scott considered.

            “I should t’ink not!  You drenk dem under de tebble.”                                                                       

            Sulu, holding the little plant as if it were a baby, was murmuring: “There, there, pretty thing.  Your mama’s safe on board, and you’ll see her soon.  There, there…”  He went out the door, not taking his eyes off the plant.

            In a moment, they were gone.

            This, Rand decided, needs to be immortalized in song.

            And who was better equipped to do it than herself?  Nobody on the ship knew about her secret hobby, but half the galaxy knew her more popular songs – all published under the name of ‘Starbard’, sung by some of the most famous bands in the quadrant. 

            Which band could do justice to this?  Phoenix?  Urban Tapestry?  Windbourne?  Avalon Rising?  Maybe the Black Book Band…

            Smiling to herself, she reached under the console, pulled out a recording pad, and began to write. 


                And we’re banned from Argo, every one. 

               Banned from Argo, just for having a little fun.                               

             We spent a jolly shore-leave there, for just three days or four,

             But Argo doesn’t want us anymore!

 

 

                                                            --END--

 

 

Banned From Argo -- Chapter Ten

 

10.

 

        Our crew is Starfleet’s finest, and our record is our pride,

                                And when we play, we tend to leave a trail a mile wide.

                               We’re sorry ‘bout the wreckage and the riots and the fuss;

                               At least we’re sure that planet won’t be quick forgetting us!

 

            Admiral and Adjutant-General Beatrice Ling took a long look around the courtroom.

            Actually, it was the Althashayn’s cargo-bay: the only place in the ship big enough to hold the attendant crowd.  Commander Thelin had clearly done pre-her best to decorate the space, provide comfortable seating, arrange for an adequate sound-system and a computer terminal.  She made a mental note to commend Thelin for pre-her thoughtfulness.

            But she had to wonder just why the Commander had arranged for the huge display screen mounted on the wall behind the impromptu judges’ bench.  Right now, it was displaying just what her viewscreen showed – only large enough for the entire crowd to see.  Clearly the Andorian intended to display some of the more interesting evidence to the whole crowd, all of Argo, and probably the whole Federation besides.

            She also knew that, despite the massive amount of notes, vids, records, tricorder and multicorder discs she’d seen, there was a lot more going on here than met the eye.

            For one thing, the Communications Decency Problem still hadn’t been cleared up, which was why the vid-cameras discreetly placed around the cargo-bay were set to view the participants only from the shoulders up.  And yes, those cameras were necessary; with all the political stink over this case, the proceedings simply had to be public.

            For another, with most of the Enterprise crew rounded up and sequestered back on their own ship – all those who weren’t here on the Althashayn – there was no way that the continuing civil disturbances in Argo Port City could be blamed on the ship’s personnel as the governor kept insisting.

            For a third, after the Starfleet personnel had provably beamed up from the surface, the population of the city had stopped rioting and started the most remarkable protest in Federation history.  The people of this famously Respectable society had, if you please, dropped whatever they were supposed to be doing and gone on a rampage of frenzied mating: in the offices, in the shops, in the streets – anywhere and everywhere.  Even sick people in hospitals had recovered quickly, jumped out of their beds and gone chasing after the nurses. Nobody could explain it, though there were plenty of theories.

            The only exceptions were children and regular heavy-use alcohol drinkers, which made Ling wonder about the Argo representatives sitting at the table to one side of the courtroom.  

            Something was rotten in the state of Argo.

            However, thanks to the Prime Directive, Starfleet was limited in what it – or she – could do to deal with that.

            Well, the subsequent proceedings should uncover much of interest, to judge from the restlessness of all the witnesses.  It was time to begin.

            “Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye,” she began, hoping the ancient formality would please the Andorians, who were sticklers for such things.  “This court is now in session.  Be it known that this is an investigative hearing to determine what charges, if any, shall be brought against Starfleet personnel or—” She glanced first at the gang of amazingly well-behaved Klingons sitting to one side of the crowd, then flicked her eyes at the Argo officials on the other side of the room.  “—any allies, employees or contractees thereof.”

            The crowd muttered, very softly.

            “Commander Thelin,” she went on, “Since it was yourself who first contacted Starfleet Command to report these incidents—“ –just ahead of the governor, as if you were playing Beat The Other Guy To The Cops--  “—please take the witness’ chair and give your report.”

            Even as Thelin got to pre-her feet – which, Ling guessed, would expose pre-her to the cameras from the waist up – the slightly paunchy Human male identified as the Attorney General of Argo jumped up and furiously waved his arm.

            “Your Honor, I protest the taking of a statement from one of the accused before hearing the case from the prosecution!  I also object to these hearings being held on a Starfleet vessel, which can only be intimidating to my client.”  He glanced at the paunchier and redder-faced man beside him, whom the records identified as George B. Kingrich, Argo’s planetary governor.  “Both of these actions indicate a prejudice against the law and government of Argo.”

            Oho, so you’re going to play it that way, are you?  Ling smiled to herself.  You’ll soon find that Starfleet Adjutant-Generals don’t intimidate that easily.  “Objection overruled, Counselor.  You were informed before these proceedings started that this was an investigative hearing convened by Starfleet, concerning Starfleet personnel, and must therefore be conducted on Starfleet property.  Since your government has placed the Enterprise under interdiction, this is the only other site available.  Understand that we have agreed to the interdiction only as a courtesy to you; if this isn’t enough for you, you have my apologies.  If your witness feels uncomfortable in these surroundings, he need not be present until called to testify.  As for this court hearing Mr. Thelin first, recall that the Commander did in fact make the first complaint to Starfleet.  You may protest to the Federation Council if you like.  Meanwhile, this is my court.  Please proceed, Mr. Thelin.”

            The government’s lawyer sat down, his expression smooth, as if he’d expected to lose this point.  Kingrich looked furious, as if he hadn’t expected to lose anything.

            Thelin proceeded to the witness’ chair, gracefully sat down and placed pre-her right hand over the sensor-plate as if it really were just part of the furniture.

            As Thelin recited the formal oath, Ling wondered if Andorians – and this Andorian in particular – were good enough at controlling their reactions to keep the sensors from picking up any indication of “falsehood-stress”.  Vulcans certainly could.  Even a few Humans had been known to beat the machine.  On the other hand, there had been enough cases where the thing’s sensitivity had picked up signs of stress due to other causes.  In short, one couldn’t completely trust the computer.  Ling sighed, wishing for the millionth time that she were telepathic.

            At least she had learned to be very good at reading the machine.

            “We arrived at Argo Port two local weeks ago,” Thelin began calmly.  “We had never visited this port before, and therefore could not have recognized any unusual activity if we had seen it.  We—“

            “Objection!  Prejudicial!”  The Attorney General was on his feet again.  Ling wondered if he realized that his paunch was now visible to the cameras, and thus – quite bare – to all of Argo.

            “Overruled, nothing of the sort,” Ling deflected him calmly.  “The Commander merely anticipated my next question.  Proceed, Mr. Thelin.”

            “We docked, submitted to landing procedures and beamed down to the city,” Thelin went on, the indicator from the chair remaining coolly dark.  “We found shore leave facilities adequate to our needs, if not what we had expected.”

            The Argo A.G. twitched as if about to say something, then thought better of it.

            Ling noticed that.  Dig.  Something worth finding here.  “Please specify,” she said.

            Thelin gave an elaborate Andorian shrug.  “My people are hunters, Admiral.  We found excellent opportunities for hunting wild game – some of them quite wily and difficult – in the wilderness areas beyond the city.  This satisfied our needs.”

            “But not what you expected?” Ling prodded.  “How so?”

            Thelin twitched pre-her antennae in what could have been amusement.  “This being a Human world, we expected to find the usual places of Human entertainment within the city, close to the groundport.  Those we found initially—“

            The indicator light flickered once, almost too fast to see, but Ling saw it.  So, Thelin at least had found something interesting later on.  Hmm.

            “—were closed.  We found this odd, with so many Human in-system ships in port.”

            Someone in the back of the room snickered, very softly.

            Ling noticed that neither the Governor nor the A.G. twitched a muscle.

            “Ten days after our arrival, the Enterprise pulled into port.  I encountered her captain in the Argo Inn hotel.  We spoke for awhile, then went to dinner, and afterwards went sightseeing.”

            The light flickered again, just barely.  Thelin and Kirk must have found some interesting sights to see.  Also, they had probably gossiped outrageously, as Starfleet’s sailors usually did.

            And, judging from the transporter records, there was something else.

            “According to the logs,” Ling cut in, “You both then beamed to the Enterprise.  Why?”

            “Well, I wanted to see Jim’s ship,” Thelin smiled.

            The tattle-light winked, once.  Truth, but there’s more to it.  “Was there any other reason?” Ling prodded.

            Thelin’s antennae grew still – perfectly rigid, in fact.  “We were chased by some unrestrained dogs,” pre-she said.

            The light stayed dark.  Either Andorians could beat the machine or there was no more to the story.  Ling glanced again at the transporter records.  There was a little more to the story.  Good control, Thelin.

            “The logs show that more than two persons beamed up,” Ling snapped.  “Who else was with you?”

            “Some civilians,” Thelin replied smoothly.  “The dogs chased them, too.  After we arrived, we all beamed to our respective ships.”

            The light stayed dark.  Ling imagined Kirk, Thelin, and a bunch of other spacers, being chased down a dark street by a pack of dogs -- and wished somebody had recorded that scene.  Reluctantly, she moved on.

            “Why did you return to your ship instead of to your hotel room?” she tried, not really expecting to dig up anything interesting here.

            Thelin shrugged pre-her antennae.  “Since the Althashayn was now out of dock and finished with fumigation and repairs, I did a routine check on the ship’s status.  Then I went to my quarters and retired for the night.”

            “Why there?” Ling tried.

            “I was tired.  Besides, the Argo Inn was rather painfully expensive…”  Thelin spread pre-her antennae in a what-did-you-expect gesture.

            Ling could sympathize with that.  And the tattle-light stayed off.  “Proceed.”

            “Next morning I went to check the local news, and noticed that on every live broadcast the people appeared naked.”

            The courtroom audience exploded into laughter.  The governor and the A.G. grew red-faced.  Ling waited for the noise to settle, wishing she’d thought to bring an antique judge’s gavel.

            “I spent some time observing the phenomenon,” Thelin continued.

            I’ll just bet you did, Ling smiled.

            “Then I contacted my crew to ask about the disposal of the meat from the game we’d hunted.  I noted then that our own transmissions were unaffected by the, hmm, Nude Problem.  It seemed to affect only planetary frequencies.”

            “That means it was some spacer who did it!” Kingrich burst out.

            “You’ll get your turn, sir,” Ling quelled him.  “Mr. Thelin, what did you do then?”

            “Well, first we brought up the meat and secured it in the ship’s supply locker.  Then we watched the local broadcasts for awhile.  Then we caught the first broadcasts about the protest march.”

            “And, of course, the protesters appeared nude?” Ling couldn’t help asking.

            “Yessir.  That’s why I used the ship’s sensors to locate the protesters and see if they really were marching naked down the street.”

            The audience giggled.

            “In fact, they weren’t,” Thelin continued.  “They were wearing normal clothes.”

            “Request, Your Honor!”  The A.G. hopped to his feet again.  “Make him produce those records!  Examine them to see if those rioters were carrying weapons, dangerous weapons which they could have turned against Our Noble Police Forces, weapons that wouldn’t have shown up on our contaminated communications systems!”

            “I have them here,” said Thelin, poker-faced, pulling two datadiscs out from under pre-her shirt.  “This one shows the Argo broadcasts.  This one shows our sensor recordings.”  Pre-she got up and handed them to Ling.  “On neither of them will you find any weapons among the marchers.  The civilians carried nothing but signboards and plastic containers of various drinks.  If they had indeed borne weapons, I think they would have used them when the police began shooting at them.”

            Ling noted that Thelin was not touching the truth-sensor when pre-she said all that.  Still, she knew the Andorian was speaking the truth; she had seen both those recordings herself, hours ago, and had drawn the same conclusions herself.

            “Objection!  Objection!” the A.G. was howling again.  “Calls for a conclusion!”

            It does indeed, thought Ling, noting that while resuming pre-her seat Thelin was looking not at the judge’s bench but at the large screen behind it.  You’re hoping I’ll play these recordings in front of all Argo! Ling realized.  No, not now I won’t.  Too inflammatory.  Ling pressed the button to sound the loud Judicial chimes from the computer, wishing again for a real, solid gavel.

            “I have already viewed these recordings, Counselor,” she announced frostily.  “Yes, you will receive copies.  Yes, Mr. Thelin’s conclusions are inevitable given the evidence there shown.  No, none of the protesters were carrying weapons;  therefore, I can see no excuse for the way the police behaved.”

            “But there are lots of objects that you spacers don’t call weapons,” the A.G. insisted.  “Things that can still cause damage, and are forbidden by planetary law.  In fact, almost anything can be used as a weapon—“

            He stopped there, realizing he’d said one sentence too much.

            “Yesss,” Thelin smiled dangerously, showing pre-her fangs.  “Your bureaucrats would have pulled the teeth from our jaws if they could.  We had the devil’s own time just arranging to hunt outside the city—“

            “Order!” Ling snapped, hitting the chimes again.  “Avoid the irrelevant comments, Commander, and proceed.”

            “Hmm, yes.  We observed the protest march, then observed the city police attacking the marchers—“

            The A.G. shot to his feet again.  Ling hit the chimes to forestall him and gave him an icy look.  He sat down again, fuming.  Kingrich looked as if he were on the verge of a heart attack.

            “—and we observed the marchers overwhelming the police, at the cost of a few hundred bodies left lying in the street.  I recognized some of Kirk’s crew among the fallen—“

            The tattle-light went on, pulsing.  Now, precisely what did that mean?  Obviously Thelin wasn’t lying about observing the march and its disastrous finish; could it just indicate Thelin’s emotional reaction to what pre-she had seen?  It was, Ling considered, a scene guaranteed to provoke a strong emotional reaction.

            “—so I contacted the Enterprise, reached Commander Scott and reported my findings.”

            The light went off.

            “I spent the next few hours locating my crew and making certain that none of them were among the wounded or captured.”

            ‘Captured’? Not ‘arrested’?  Interesting choice of words, Ling considered.  Then again, Andorians didn’t have police, or jails.  They used a clan-vengeance system that worked remarkably well.  And they really hate slavery.  Hmm…

            “Then I recalled them all to the Althashayn, fearing that they might otherwise become embroiled in the local trouble.”

            Standard Operating Procedure.  “Were any of them upset about having their shore leave cut short?”

            “Not really.  As soon as they were aboard, I arranged for a Hunters’ Feast from the game we’d taken.”  Thelin smiled at the memory.  “That kept us busy until well after midnight, local time, after which we all went to bed.”

            Ling could believe that.  Andorian Hunters’ Feasts were legendary, and nobody would miss a chance to attend one – or to sleep it off afterwards.

            “In particular,” Thelin smiled nastily, “We took care to purchase the wine and beer out in the countryside, where we got much better quality and prices than could be found anywhere in the city.”

            The audience roared.  The governor looked as if he’d bitten into an apple and found only part of a worm.

            “Next morning, as we were cleaning up the remains of the feast, we observed an Orion slave-ship—“

            “Objection!”  That came from another quarter: the corner of the room where a cluster of Orions huddled by themselves.  The speaker was apparently their leader.  “I object most strenuously to this vile slander.  The Pixosha Bounty is a most respectable freighter, and there is no way that anyone outside the ship could have determined her cargo – since, in truth, she carried none.”

            Why not? Ling wondered.  Did the Klingons pursue too close for you to pick up a cargo anywhere between the Empire and here?  Or did you dump your cargo on the ground along with your crew?  Suggest we search, later.  Meanwhile…  “Sustained,” Ling had to grant him.  “Commander, confine your remarks to observed facts, not speculation.”

            “Yessir,” said Thelin.  Still, the tattle-light pulsed and Thelin’s antennae were laid back tight against the scalp, and pre-her teeth were showing.  “We observed an Orion ship of cargo-carrying design, with large engines and weapon-racks, and with – as our sensors showed and we duly recorded – the peculiar internal decking in the cargo-area which is used only for cargoes of small livestock.”

            The audience growled ominously.  Neatly said, Thelin, Ling admitted, even as she hit the chimes again. 

            “This ship came rushing from around the planet, “ Thelin went on, “and settled into orbit just between the Althashayn and the Enterprise.  Understandably, we trained our sensors on it.  We then observed this ship beaming up personnel from the surface.”

            “That was our own crew,” the Orion cut in fast.  “We were most certainly not abducting any persons from the city, and I must protest the implication—“

            “Wait your turn, sir,” said Ling, stealing a sidelong glance at the Argo governor.  The man was doing his best to maintain a pious look.  “Proceed, Mr. Thelin.”

            “When we heard the portmaster order the Orion ship to stop transporting, we trained our phasers on the Orion, which then ceased transport.  We also notified the Enterprise, only to be informed—"  Thelin gave the governor a hard look.  “—that the ship was under interdiction, and no one was allowed on or off.  I eventually spoke with Captain Kirk, and brought him up to my ship.”

            “Why?” Ling asked, trying to picture the situation, which didn’t quite coalesce.

            “Because the sudden appearance of the Orion ship suggested that something had been chasing her.  We needed the sensor equipment of a Starfleet vessel to identify the pursuer.  Since Kirk couldn’t get to his own ship, he came to mine.”

            “I see.  And did you find that pursuer?”  As if I couldn’t guess.

            “Yessir.  We detected a Klingon ship, under Cloak, parked in orbit only a few kilometers away.  When we hailed her, she de-Cloaked and explained her presence.”

            “Which was?”

            “She’d been chasing the Orion, sir.  All the way from Klingon space, they said.”

            The Orion captain looked as if he wanted to say something, but didn’t dare.

            “And what did you do next?” Ling pushed.

Thelin paused for a moment, and the tattle-light flickered.  Clearly, much had happened

in there that Thelin wasn’t about to say.

            “Seeing that there was civil uproar in the city,” Thelin went on, “that the Enterprise was under local interdiction, and that there was a budding interstellar dispute on our doorstep, I hailed Starbase Twelve and sent for you, sir.”

            “Indeed.”  But that had been over a standard day ago.  Even her high-speed courier couldn’t get Ling from SB-12 to Argo in less time than that.  “And what occurred between the time you reported and the time I arrived?”

            Oho, how the tattle-light flickered!

            “Well, sir…”  For the first time, Thelin looked the slightest bit flustered.  “We searched for Kirk’s crew and beamed them up.  Then some refugees requested asylum, so we beamed them up too.  Then the Argo government called us and demanded that we hand over Captain Kirk for something to do with ‘seductive plants’.  Then the Klingon demanded that we give them the Orion ship, and the Argo portmaster insisted that we let them beam up the rest of their crew and leave.  I compromised by putting a tractor-beam on the Orion and telling everybody to calm down and stay put until you arrived.  Then the Argo Space-Navy ships surrounded the Enterprise and the dock and threatened to shoot if she moved, which she didn’t.  Then the planetary transmissions all but stopped, except for the governor yelling for Kirk’s scalp.  Then our sensor scans showed the Orgy Protest going on.  Then the Argo ship-commanders and the space-dock officers started arguing among themselves.  I talked them into letting the Enterprise’s crew beam to their ship, and they agreed, providing I kept Kirk here.  Then everybody still transmitting argued for the next several hours.  Then you showed up, and I gave you all the records and went off to get some sleep.  The rest, you know.”

            The ensuing silence was long and loud.

            “Hmm, yes,” Ling agreed.  “Now, does the Counselor for Argo wish to question this witness?”

            “I do!”  The A.G. bounced to his feet and all but stalked over to the witness’ chair. He struck a dramatic pose and intoned: “Please explain to this court why you harbored a fugitive from justice.”

            That made everyone sit up and take notice.

            “Fugitive?” said Thelin, looking a bit stunned.  “What fugitive?”

            “I refer to Captain James T. Kirk—” The A.G. pointed to the little knot of Enterprise officers along the far side of the room.  “—whom you were lawfully required to hand over to our authorities, as you yourself just admitted.  That fugitive, Commander.  Why didn’t you?”

            Thelin’s antennae began flattening again.

            “I did not comply with that order,” the Andorian said, very coolly, “Because it was so incoherently presented that I could not be certain it was valid.  In fact—“  Thelin flicked a glance toward the Althashayn’s comm-officer, who dipped pre-his antennae and lifted a small comm-unit.  “—the initial communication was recorded, and we will replay it for you so that this court can judge whether or not my concern was justified.”

            Before Ling could think to prevent it, the Andorian comm-officer pushed a button on the hand-held unit.  The large screen behind the bench flared into a remarkable scene, complete with audio.  Ling had to crane her neck to see, but there was no mistaking the words on the soundtrack.

            Yes, that was Governor Kingrich, stark naked, literally bouncing up and down as he accused the Enterprise’s captain of, if you please, sending down an “invading party” of “alien plants” to “seduce” the governor’s wife.  The whole picture was ludicrous, and it didn’t help that the man did not have the kind of physique that looked good without clothes.

            The audience roared with laughter.

            The A.G. glared at the governor, who tried to disappear into his chair.

            Got around me neatly, Ling smiled humorlessly at Thelin.  And this is being broadcast live to Argo!  There goes the election.  What perfect, brilliant vengeance.  You deserve something more than a scoutship, Thelin.

            “After that,” Thelin continued as the recording ended, “How could I take those charges seriously?”

            Ling thought that the A.G. would have the sense to give up right there, but he didn’t.  He pulled himself up to his full height – which made him look taller only because Thelin was seated – and proclaimed as if he were posing for the cameras: “Then what’s your excuse for harboring all the other fugitives from justice?  What’s your excuse for engineering an outright jailbreak?  Or did you just let Kirk do it from your ship?  Which is it, Commander?  Which?”

            Thelin’s eyes crossed slightly, and pre-her antennae wavered in opposite directions.  What fugitives?” pre-she asked, as the tattle-light flickered.  What jailbreak?”

            “I mean the 452 prisoners stolen out of the Argo Port City jail!  Escaped through locked doors!  Nobody else could have done it.  Where did you put them?”

            The tattle-light flared for an instant, then went dark.

            “Let me remind you, sir,” Thelin said coldly, “That there were several other ships in orbit at that time – including the Orion.  Your own people also have use of transporters – and, if you’ll recall, most of your city’s population was involved in a bizarre political protest.  You need not look to me to find whoever freed your jailbirds.”

            The A.G. turned smartly on his heel and sent a righteous glare at Ling.  “Your Honor,” he said, “I demand to see the Althashayn’s transporter records!  Let’s see if they beamed up anyone from the city jail’s coordinates.”

            Thelin didn’t so much as twitch an antenna.

            You won’t find anything, Ling smiled to herself.  I didn’t, and I know what kind of games can be played with transporters. She poked the computer until it spat out a datadisc.  “Here you are,” she said, handing it to him.  “I have already reviewed those records, and found no instance of the Althashayn transporting anyone from those coordinates.”  Just one beam-up from there, and that went to the Enterprise, and I know who it was.  Try opening that can of worms.

            The A.G. took the disc, glared at it, obviously wanted to say something more but thought better of it.  Instead he turned back to Thelin.

            “Isn’t it true,” he snapped, “That of your own certain knowledge, the officers of the Enterprise conspired to violate the Prime Directive by starting riots?  By obstructing the police?  By the illegal landing of a shuttlecraft?  By contaminating planetary communications?  By importing unregistered alien lifeforms?  By helping felons escape from prison?  By causing bizarre civil disturbances?  Isn’t it true?  Isn’t it?”

The resulting roar from the audience would have drowned out any reply – but Thelin didn’t make one.  Pre-she only stared at the A.G. with pre-her jaw dropping and antennae wobbling in complete bewilderment.   

            You shouldn’t have fired all your guns at once, Ling thought, hitting the chimes again.

            “Duhhh…” said Thelin.  Then, after a moment’s pause to think: “No.”

            And the tattle-light stayed dark.

            You fool, Ling marveled, staring at the A.G.; pre-she answered your question literally.  No, pre-she had no certain knowledge of any conspiracy!  As for the rest of it…

            The A.G. only sneered as if he’d made his point.  “But you and James Kirk have been friends since Starfleet Academy, correct?”

            “Of course.”  Thelin looked a little less bewildered.

            “And you’ve followed the news of your old school friend’s career, haven’t you?”

            “Certainly.”

            “Then,” the A.G. pounced, “You can’t help but be aware of his notorious track-record for breaking the Prime Directive whenever he meets a society he doesn’t like, now can you?”

            The whole audience gasped.

            I see where you’re going, Ling guessed.  Fool, don’t you realize that you’ve just poked a hornets’ nest?  Now that you’ve mentioned the subject—

            But Thelin was up to the task.  Antennae slicked back, Thelin replied with all the frosty formality learned by growing up in a large and ancient Andorian clan.  “On the contrary, Counselor: I know full well that Captain Kirk has done nothing of the kind.”

            The A.G. did a double-take, then shifted gears.  “No?” he almost purred.  “Have you never heard of Vendikar and Eminiar, or the Feeders of Vaal, or—“

             “He was cleared on all charges,” Thelin snapped, before Ling could cut in.  “There are clear grounds wherein the Prime Directive does not apply.  These include: immediate and unavoidable threat to the survival of the Federation itself, or the population of any world thereof, or the population of any ship thereof, or the population of the planet in question.  Said threats include but are not limited to: acts of war, acts of piracy, acts of serious crime including murder, slavery—“

            “Yes, yes,” the A.G. cut in quickly, “But none of that applies here.”

            “That,” Thelin counterattacked, “Remains to be seen, does it not?  Why did those Orions come here, of all places, to hide from pursuit?”

            The audience rumbled.

            “It was simply the nearest place to hide!” cut in the Orion commander.  “I insist that we be given opportunity to refute these vile slanders!”

            The A.G. paused for a moment, clearly nonplussed.  Ling decided it was high time to interfere.  “Do you have any further questions for this witness?”

            The A.G. thought for a moment, glanced toward the governor, then shook his head. “Not at this time, Your Honor.  However, I reserve the right to recall.”

            “Yes, of course.  Does anyone else have questions for this witness?”

Nobody did.

“Then by all means, let us give the Orions a chance to, as they say, refute these slanders.  I call—  What is your name, Captain?”

“It is Immaliosk, of House Pixosha, “ said the Orion, rising gracefully to his feet.  “And my proper rank is Captain-of-Commerce, of the Pixosha Bounty.”

“Then come take the witness’ seat, Captain.  Do you understand how the sensor-system operates?”

“Not entirely,” Immaliosk admitted.

“When you place your hand on that sensor-plate, the computer records minute physical changes which indicate the particular stress caused by stating untruths.  Do you understand this?”

The Orion gave a blank stare for a moment, then blinked rapidly.  “I must protest,” he said, voice jittering slightly.  “This machine is not designed for Orions, and is most likely to give inaccurate readings.”

“To establish parameters, we can ask you some simple questions, ask you to tell the truth on some of them and lie on others.  We have found this system to be accurate with most intelligent species in the known galaxy.”

“But not all species,” Immaliosk insisted.

“Not energy-beings or silicon-based metabolisms, but that would hardly apply in your case.  Do you wish to give your statement or not?”

The Orion twitched noticeably, caught on the horns of indecision.  “Then I fear I must decline,” he said.  “I cannot trust this machine, nor can I risk revealing commercial trade-secrets which are protected under Orion law—“

“I’ll bet!” snapped a voice from the audience.  Cruel laughter answered from the crowd.

“—but I wish to state for the record that the Pixosha Bounty is a respectable merchant ship, which was engaged in perfectly lawful business when we were fired upon and pursued by these unnecessarily ferocious Klingons.  We fled, attempting to evade, for many standard days, and entered the Argo system only in order to protect ourselves.  We had hoped that Federation justice – and the presence of Starfleet ships – would dissuade our pursuers from attacking us.  We had absolutely no other business here.”  With a flourish, he sat down.

“Then let’s move on.”  Ling suppressed a smile and looked at the huddle of Klingons. “We call Ship-Commander Khokhptui to the witness’ seat.”

The Orions looked nervously at each other, but said nothing.

            Amid a general muttering from the crowd, Khokhptui stood up and swaggered to the chair.  He glowered at the sensor-plate, then sat down with a flourish and slapped his hand down defiantly.  “I am commander of the Skwatzplatt, of the House of Khokhraap, of Khraapzdink Province, of—“

            Ling suppressed a yawn and waited politely until Khokhptui had finished the formalities.  His prolonged speech gave the lie-detector sensor good background readings. 

The moment he fell silent, she cut in with her first question.  “Precisely when and why did you bring your ship into the Argo system?”

“Hah.  Seven standard days ago, and we were pursuing an Orion slaver.  We chased him all the way from—“

            “Objection!” “Objection!” the A.G. and the Orion captain howled simultaneously, jumping to their feet.  “The Pixosha Bounty is a perfectly respectable merchant—“ “I object to this prejudicial characterization—“

“Quiet!” Ling roared, startling both of them.  “In fact, that was my next question.  Commander, what made you think this ship was a slaver?”

“Ahah!  We caught them trying to steal farm-workers from Ikyaagh province, on Kloptugh Four, that’s what!”

“We were only questioning those people concerning local markets—“ the Orion whined.

“Trying to force into your cargo-hold, you mean!”  Khokhptui glared around the room as if daring anybody to contradict him.  The tattle-light stayed dark.

“I see,” said Ling, tossing a warning glance to the Orions.  “So when and where did you finally locate the ship?”

“Two days ago, in low orbit over this planet, on the opposite side from the spaceport.”

“And what did you do then?”

“Chased him!  He ran to the spaceport and cowered under the wings of the Fedratzk ships.”

The Orion captain started to say something, then changed his mind.

“What happened next?” Ling asked.  As if I didn’t know.

Khokhptui squirmed a bit in his seat.  The tattle-light flickered, though he hadn’t said anything.  “Hmm, I observed that the slaver was using his transporter.  Guessing that he meant to hide evidence of his crimes, I took a landing party down to the same coordinates.”

“And what did you find there?”

“Hah!”  The Klingon grinned, showing teeth.  “A warehouse full of Orions, many in ship uniforms.  We chased them out into the street, where the local citizens fell upon them.  I congratulate our Worthy Federation Allies for their prompt response and their bravery in battle.”

“Thank you, Commander.  What did you do next?”

“Hmm.  Seeing that the locals had the Orions well in hand, we returned to our ship.  There we made proper claim to the Orion ship, and spent the next day in tiresome arguments over regulations.  There we have stayed ever since.”

“Thank you.”  I saw the recordings.  That mob was enough to impress even you.  Ling glanced toward the Argo A.G.  “Do you have any questions to ask of this witness?”

“Yes, yes!”  The man bounced to his feet and stalked toward the waiting Klingon.  Noting Khokhptui’s toothy grin, he stopped just out of reach. “So, Commander: you admit that you entered Argo space on a mission of war?”

“Not war,” Khokhptui sneered.  “Not war to chase a slaver.  Fedratzk law says so.”

“Then why did you approach the planet under Cloak?  Under radio silence?  Without announcing your presence or intentions?”

“Why did the Orions fly here?” Khokhptui countered.  “Good guess: this is their safe base!  If slavers have friends here, best not to warn them, eh?”

The A.G. almost blushed, but plowed ahead with his argument. “Oh?  And is that why you secretly beamed down to the city?  Demolished two doors and a building wall?  Discharged illegal dangerous weapons?  Threatened visiting merchants?  Started a riot?  Answer the question, Commander!”

That’s several questions.  Ling was about to cut in when Khokhptui beat her to it.

“I answer all questions at once,” he laughed.  “Yes!  We didn’t know this was not a slaver’s base until the Fedratzk pounced on the slavers.  It was no riot, but capture.  Now you tell me, Inquisitor: what became of those slavers, eh?  Did you let them go again?”

The Orions in the corner tried to shrink out of sight.  The tattle-light stayed dark.  The A.G. carefully backed away.

“No further questions for this witness,” he muttered, resuming his seat.

“Does anyone else have questions for this witness?”

One of the Orions stood up.  “Who’s going to pay for damages to our warehouse?” he whined, “Not to mention bodily injury and damage to clothing?”

“Your insurance company!” shouted an anonymous voice from the crowd.

Everybody else laughed raucously, except for the Argo officials, who tried to look elsewhere.

“Silence, please,” Ling insisted.  “This witness is dismissed.  For the next witness…” May as well bite the bullet. “…we call Captain James Kirk to the witness’ seat.”

The crowd’s muttering grew to a roar.  Khokhptui hastily got out of the way and trotted back to his corner.  Kirk, looking a little bewildered, got up and walked to the chair.

Ling noticed that the tattle-light started blinking irregularly the moment Kirk put his hand on the sensor.  Just to be certain, she asked him the usual questions about his name, rank, and ship.  He gave the usual answers, and the light stayed off.  Interesting.  “Please proceed,” was all Ling said.

            “I don’t see what I can add to the reports.”  Kirk smiled that famous smile – as the indicator-light flickered.  “I docked at the orbiting spaceport, sent my crew down on shore leave, and beamed myself to the Argo Inn.”  The light stayed off.  “I went to the hotel bar, where I met Commander Thelin, who invited me to dinner at a local restaurant.”  The light stayed off.  “Afterward, we met with some civilian off-worlders and went sightseeing.”

            The light flickered, just barely.  Again, Ling wondered what sights they’d seen.

            “While we were doing that, we were attacked by some dogs – which tore my pants.”

            The audience snickered.  The light stayed off.

            “I called for an emergency beam-up to my ship for all of us.  I then dispatched the others to their various ships, changed my clothes and beamed back to my hotel.  I spent the next day mostly watching local video programs.”

            Jim Kirk, wasting a whole day of shore leave just watching vids? Ling wondered.  I can’t believe it.  “Just why did you do nothing but watch vids all day, Captain?”

            “Well,” Kirk laughed, “They were something to see, with everybody naked and trying to hide it.”

            The tattle-light stayed dark.  Ling could believe it.

            Kirk frowned.  “Then I saw the news of the protest march and the riot.  I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening trying to find out if any of my crew was involved.  That’s not the way I’d planned to spend my shore leave, thank you.”

            The A.G. pricked up his ears like a hunting-dog.

            “Understandable.  Go on.”  I’ll let that Argo idiot ask the obvious question.

            “On the third day, I received notice from my Communications Officer that an Orionese ship had just hurried into parking orbit right below and between my ship and the Althashayn, and—“  Kirk turned an unreadable look toward Kingrich.  “—that the local government had forbidden all transporter activity between my ship and the port city.”

            The governor opened his mouth, but the A.G. grabbed his wrist and shushed him.

            “I then beamed to the Althashayn,” Kirk went on, “where I discovered a Cloaked Klingon ship in orbit nearby.  With Commander Thelin’s help, I hailed the Klingon ship, which then de-Cloaked and stated its business here.  Upon hearing reports that there was yet another riot in port, I became worried for the safety of my crew.  I located them with my Communications Officer’s help and beamed them onto the Althashayn, since I couldn’t send them to the Enterprise.

            Must have been crowded, Ling considered. 

            “I kept watch on both the Klingon and Orion ships, while Commander Thelin sent word to Starfleet Command at Starbase Twelve.  I collected reports, eventually received permission to send my crew back to the Enterprise, and waited here until you arrived.  End of story.”

            Only after Kirk finished speaking did the tattle-light flicker, just a little.

            "Thank you, Captain.  Does anyone else have questions for this witness?”

            The A.G. was on his feet in an instant, practically licking his chops.  He barely waited for the formalities before stalking toward Kirk.  “So, Captain,” he began, “You admit to violating a direct order?”

            Kirk looked perfectly bewildered.  “What order?” he asked.

            “The order banning transportation of your crew!  You just admitted to violating that order!”

            “Oh, I see what you mean.”  Kirk smiled blandly.  “No, as a matter of fact, I didn’t.  It was the Enterprise that was interdicted.  There was no order banning transport to the Althashayn, which is what I did.”

            “Legal hair-splitting!” the A.G. shouted.  “You deliberately circumvented a legal order, snatched your crew out of reach of the planetary police forces who were attempting to arrest them for rioting, and even helped prisoners to escape, didn’t you?  Didn’t you?”

            “Certainly not.”  Kirk gave the A.G. a frosty look.  “I saw no evidence that any of my crew caused either the Nude Riot or the Slaver-Bashing incident.  Neither did I know anything about local police trying to arrest any of my crew.”  The light winked, just once.  “I simply wanted to get my people out of danger.”

            “Sightseeing”: flicker.  “None of my crew”: flicker, Ling considered.  I see it!  It wasn’t your crewmen the local badges were chasing;  it was you!  Let’s see if Noisy Boy figures it out.

            “No?  No?!” snapped the A.G., striking a pose where he thought the news cameras could see him to best effect.  “Your Honor, he’s lying!  Lying!  And that machine of yours is letting him get away with it!”

            That, Ling decided, might win him some points with the local politicians, but it didn’t do him any good with Starfleet.  “The equipment was examined and tested by your own technicians just before this hearing began,” she warned him.  “If you want it tested again for accuracy, you may take the seat yourself.  Do you wish to do so?”

            “Not at this time!” the A.G. answered fast.  “I’m not yet finished with this witness.”  He turned back to Kirk, scowling like a seagull trying to pry open a particularly tough clam.  “Well now, Captain, you have a very interesting record, don’t you?”

            “I don’t know what you’d call interesting,” said Kirk, looking bewildered again.  “Do you mean battle tactics, first contacts, rescue missions, explorations—"

            “I mean your record of severely altered societies left in your wake, whole cultures changed, planetary governments collapsed!  I mean all the times you’ve danced around the Prime Directive to play judge-jury-and-executioner on societies that you didn’t happen to like!  I mean—“

            “Hold it.”  Kirk raised a hand – not the one resting on the sensor-pad.  “Starfleet knows my record, and has never found me guilty of any such violation.”

            The audience snickered.  The light didn’t even flicker.

            “How convenient for you.”  The A.G. shot a theatrically accusing look at Ling.  “So you’ve made excuses to Starfleet, who swallowed them whole.  How clever.”  He struck another dramatic pose for the cameras.  “And what sort of societies do you like, Captain?”

            “The kind that don’t mistreat their people,” Kirk replied.

            The audience snickered.

            “More to the point—“  The A.G. turned to his table and grabbed a sheet of paperplast from his open briefcase.  “What sort of societies do you like to provide leave for yourself and your crew?”  He waved the sheet in front of the cameras.  “Let’s look at the record.  Yes.  You like places that provide the most sordid, shocking, depraved forms of entertainment: booze halls, drug dens, uncensored holosuites, gambling clubs, houses which provide women of no virtue for immoral purposes!  That’s your idea of fun, isn’t it, Captain?  Isn’t it?”

            Ling rubbed her eyes.  Pure grandstanding for the locals, she knew.  Useless here, maybe good for politics there.  Just what are you hoping to win?

            Kirk only shrugged.  “Nobody goes to an amusement park to read law-books,” he said.

            The audience roared.  The Klingons laughed so hard that two of them fell off their chairs.

            The A.G. gave a grim look to the cameras, clearly realizing that a punch line that good would spread across the galaxy before this hearing was over.  It would probably show up on political stickers before the day was out.

            Boomerang! Ling chuckled to herself.  You’ve made yourself look like a puritanical idiot in front of all your voters, not to mention the rest of the galaxy.  I can’t believe you’re going to stand there and keep putting your foot in your mouth…

            But he did.  The A.G. turned back to Kirk and did his best to salvage the situation.  “So, Captain,” he snarled, “When you come across a quiet, peaceable, respectable, decent, moral society – like ours – why, you just have to liven it up a bit, don’t you?  Don’t you, Captain?”

            You pathetic, provincial, politics-obsessed jackass, Ling thought, biting her lip.  Even your own voters won’t fall for this.

            Kirk pressed his hand firmly on the sensor-pad.  “I,” he said carefully, “Have done nothing whatsoever to attack your society.  Neither have I ordered my crew to do so, nor even suggested it to them.”

            The light stayed off.

            “For that matter,” said Kirk, leaning forward, “None of my people attacked unarmed citizens in the streets, or attacked people in restaurants, or attacked crews of shuttlecraft in the landing-yard, or censored the planet’s communications systems until your own people rebelled.  Argo’s troubles are Argo’s own doing, and I won’t sit here and let you blame my crew for them.”

            The audience erupted in a thunder of cheers.  Ling hastily hit the chimes, and again, and again.

            “No?” the A.G. bellowed over the dwindling noise. “No?!”  He ran to his briefcase and came back flourishing a handful of paperplast sheets.  “None of your crew was involved in the riots at the port?  Nor frequented illegal drinking establishments?  Nor displayed a half-naked woman swinging off a balcony?  Nor assaulted police in the landing-yard?  Nor landed a shuttlecraft right on the roof of City Hall?  Nor caused the public indecency on the communications net?  No?  Then explain why none of this happened before you got here!”

            Kirk started to answer, then caught himself.  “You mean,” he said sweetly, “None of this happened before the Orion ship got here.  Don’t you think that’s the likelier connection?”

            The Orions jumped to their feet and yelled in outrage, but they were drowned out by the roars from the rest of the audience.  Ling sighed, and hit the chimes again.

            “We’ve never had problems with the Orions!” the A.G. shouted, his voice sounded stressed.  “But public indecency, protest marches, orgies, wives leaving their husbands over arguments about gardening— that’s all alien, totally alien, to Argo society!  And it started the day you came in!  It’s your fault!”

            “…’gardening’?” Kirk puzzled.

            Time to end this circus, Ling decided, hitting the chimes.  “Counselor, that was not a question.  Do you have any other question for this witness?”

            The A.G. collected himself, and tried one last shot.  “Yes.  Captain, do you deny that you covered up for your crew’s involvement in these things?”

            There was a long pause.  The light flickered, flickered, but never stayed on.

            “Specify,” Kirk finally said.  “Covered up, to whom?”

            The A.G. paused for only an instant.  “To Starfleet Command, for one.”

            “I gave the Admiral all my records,” Kirk answered.

            Flicker, flicker.

            “And to the duly constituted authorities of the government of Argo, for another!”

            Kirk leaned back, smiling.  “Counselor, I’ve looked at all those charges you leveled against my crew,” he said.  “But I didn’t get to see them – and I didn’t know anything about them – until after I was on board the Althashayn.  Not until after the Klingons de-Cloaked and stated their business, at least.  All those events –“ Flicker.  “—except for the Orgy Protest and possibly the massive jailbreak – happened before I even beamed up.  There was no way I could have even known about them before then, let alone covered up for them.”

            The light stayed dark.

            The A.G. glowered, knowing that there was a story there, but he had no way of getting at it.  “No further questions,” he growled, trudging back to his seat.

            Bravo! Ling marveled.  That’s the neatest evasion I’ve ever seen.  You did it; you beat the tattle-light!  But I suppose I could expect that from the man who beat the Kobayashi Maru…

“Does anyone else have any questions for this witness?” she asked.

            “I do!” bellowed Khokhptui, rising to his feet. “I wish to ask him about the Corbomite Maneuver!”

            “That,” Ling smiled, “Is outside the boundaries of this hearing.  Catch him yourself, on your own time.  I hereby declare a one-hour recess.  Gentlebeings, let’s go have lunch.”

            The audience laughed, rumbled, stood up and began working its way out the door.  Ling caught Kirk’s eye and beckoned to him.  He came over to the improvised bench, smiling calmly, which she knew was a good act.  She took care to turn the computer off while he watched.

            “Off the record and just between us, Jim,” she said, very quietly.  “I know you; I know how you like to be kept informed – especially about your crew.  When did you really learn about your people’s fun and games?” 

            Kirk’s grin turned a little sheepish.  “Actually, I began hearing the first of it maybe half an hour after I talked to the Klingons.  I didn’t learn all of it until I had time to sit down and read the reports, several hours later.”

            “Mhm.  Just which incident did you learn about first?”

            “Well…”  Kirk squirmed a little.  “When we tried to beam McCoy up, he refused to come unless we helped all the injured in the jail, so Thelin beamed them to every hospital emergency-room in the city.  It really was necessary.  McCoy insisted that they needed immediate medical attention, and they weren’t getting it where they were, and it’s not as if we took them off the planet or even out of the city…”

            “And besides, it was Thelin who did it: not you.”

            “Well…”

            “But why were you so certain that the prisoners wouldn’t receive adequate medical attention in a reasonable amount of time?  You know what Federation laws are about that.”

            “Well, a civilian informed us that the, uh, Orgy Protest would begin within an hour, and that meant the police would be too busy to provide adequate medical assistance in reasonable time, sir.”

            “What civilian, Jim?”

            “Uhm, a refugee who asked for asylum.  She wasn’t an Argo citizen: just a tourist who wanted to get home safe.” 

            “Her name, Captain.”

            “Uhm, Dr. Heziah Palindo, sir.”

            “Oh.  I…see.  Well, that certainly gets you off the hook for causing the Orgy Protest.  I’ll bet the old witch did it herself.  ‘Dihydrous Monoxide’, indeed…”

            “Will that be all, Admiral?”

            “No such luck.  Tell me who really master-minded those other pranks.”

            “Well, sir, let’s just say that my crew are trained to act independently if necessary.”

            “Mhm.  We’ll see just how independent they were.  I’ll be calling your bridge officers to testify, immediately after recess.  Enjoy your lunch, Captain.”

            Ling noted, with the faintest of smiles, that Kirk looked distinctly worried as he walked away.  She decided that she’d start with the lower-ranking officers first and work her way up.

 

                                                            *           *           *

 

            “Ensign Chekov, please tell us what happened immediately after you first left the Enterprise.”

            “We flew down to de lending-yard end parked de shuttlecreft.”

            “And then?”

            “Mistair Scott went to call some friends.  Den he took me to a bar for specers, near de yard.  We steyed dere, drinking, until well efter dark – I didn’t note de time.”

            This is like pulling teeth, Ling thought.  But the light hasn’t flickered once.  “Proceed.”

            “We went beck to de shuttlecreft, end we saw de Shore Poliss fightingk wit’ some Caitians.  We didn’t want to get inwolffed, so we snikked to our ship end took off.”  Now the light flickered.  “Es we took off, one uff de Shore Poliss fired a phaser et us.  It demeged de creft so dat we began loosingk eltitude end enchine power.  Mistair Scott meneged to lend her sefely on de flet roof uff a larche buildingk.  Den we called de Enterprice for help.”

            “Did you know that the ‘large building’ was Argo Port City Hall?”

            “No, sair.  Not until efter we called de ship.  We couldn’t moof de shuttle, so we bimmed beck to our hotel.”

            “What did you do next?”

            “I met a nice girl in de hotel bar, end took hair to my room.”

            The audience snickered knowingly.

            “Hmm, yes.  And what did you do the next morning?”

            “We steyed in de hotel, watching de vids end leffingk et de nekkid pipple.”

            The audience guffawed, and the Klingons were loudest.  Ling made a mental note to look into Klingon nudity taboos.

            “Den we saw de newscests uff de protest march, end det wassn’t so funny.”

            Everybody stopped laughing.

            “I called de ship, end lairned det eferybody hed sin det broadcest.  Mistair Scott told me to stey sefe in de hotel room, so I did.”

            “With your lady friend?”

            “Uhm, yes.  I didn’t leafe dere until de next day, when I went beck to de bar.” 

The light flickered, just once.  Something he hasn’t mentioned there, Ling considered.  Probably about the girl.  Don’t ask.  “Do you mean the bar in the hotel?”

“No sair, de first one.  I wass dere when de Klingons ceme chargingk onto de stege, right in de middle uff de hologrems.  When dey turned end went beck outside, eferybody went out to look for dem, so I did too.”

“And what happened then?”

“Den we saw de Klingons go to de beck of de warehouse next door.  A minute leter, all de Orions in de world ceme runningk out de front door.  De crowd recogniced dem, end fell on dem wit’ grett ent’usiasm.”

“I see.  And what did you do?”

“I called de Enterprice end reported what I saw.  Den I got ordairs to bim up to de Althashayn, so I did.  I’fe been here efer since.”

“Thank you.  Does anyone else have any questions for this witness?”

            “Just one,” said the A.G., riffling through his notes.  “Ensign, when you fled from the landing-field, why did you disobey the direct order of the shore police to turn off your engines and surrender?”

            “Sair!”  Chekov looked righteously indignant.  “I nefer haird eny such ordair.” 

            The tattle-light stayed dark.

“End bisides, surrendair for what?  We were not inwolffed in de argument bitwin de bedges end de Caitians.”

            The A.G. only shook his head.  “No further questions,” he said, not looking up.

             

                                                            *           *           *

 

            “Lt. Sulu, the transporter records show shipment of an unusually massive item from the Enterprise to a city botanical garden, just before you beamed down yourself.  Can you explain that, please?”

            “Er, yessir.  That was my prized Argelian Blue Velvet bush-orchid.  There was no room for it in the ship’s arboretum, and everything else was due to be fumigated, so I couldn’t leave it on the ship.  I thought that the best place to put a botanical specimen was in a botanical garden.”

            The Argo governor was squirming in his chair, and only the A.G.’s grip on his arm kept him silent.

            “Hmm…” Ling flipped quickly through the lieutenant’s personal record, seeing the flagged note under Publications.  “I see that you are the author of the recent – hmm, very recent – article in the Journal of Botanical Science, concerning the breeding of Argelian Blue Velvet.  Is this the plant which inspired that article?”

            “Yessir.  She seeded out while on the ground, and I recorded it.”

            “An interesting addition to our scientific knowledge.  Did you know the plant was about to seed when you sent it down?”

            “No sir, it was a complete surprise to me.  In fact, it was purely by accident that I put the plant in a patch of topsoil that contained just the right minerals to trigger the seeding-function.”

            “Quite a lucky accident.  What did you do after you beamed yourself down?”

            “I attended a sporting event, met a nice girl—“

            “I think we can skip over that part,” said Ling.

            The audience tittered.

            “So when did you part company with the nice girl?”

            “Uhm, that was…late the next morning.  I’d just bought a new multicorder, and I went to check on Sylvia—“

            “Another nice girl?”

            The audience laughed again, louder.

            “No sir, that’s my Blue Velvet bush.  That’s when I discovered she was pregnant—“

            The audience roared.  Ling, suppressing a good laugh of her own, quelled the noise with her chimes.

            “Anyway,” Sulu went on, blushing a little, “That’s also when I did my study with the multicorder.  I rushed back to the ship to record my findings and write my article for the Journal.

After that I beamed back down and went to lunch.”

            “A nice morning’s work.  What happened next?”

            Sulu’s look darkened.  “While I was waiting for my order, I saw the protest marchers coming up the street.”

            “Were they in fact naked?”

            “No sir, they were all fully clothed.”

            “Did you observe any of them carrying weapons?”

            “No sir.  In fact, I scanned them with my multicorder and saw that they had no weapons at all, brandished or concealed.”

            “We have a copy of that recording in evidence.  Does the Counselor want a copy?”

            “Yes, Your Honor.”

            “Just a moment…  Here.  Mr. Sulu, please proceed.  What did you see the marchers doing?”

            “Walking, carrying signs with slogans on them, and chanting.”

            “What were they chanting?”

            “It was ‘no more raids’, sir.”

            “What did that signify to you?”

            “Nothing.  I had no idea what they were talking about.”        

            “Go on.  What did you observe next?”

            “Sir, I saw the city police come running out in armor, with batons and stunguns, and start shooting into the crowd.”

            The A.G. started to jump to his feet, then changed his mind and sat down fast.

            “Several people fell, at least a hundred that I could see.  Then the people behind them started throwing water.”

            “With or without the bottles?”

            “Both.  They soaked the police, whose stunguns then stopped working.  Then the police went at them with clubs.  I saw them hit people on the head with those things.”

            “I see.  And did that stop the marchers?”

            “No sir.  They kept coming.  Then the police turned and ran.”

            The audience laughed again, not a pretty laugh.

            “I saw bodies lying in the street.  Then the police vans came.  I thought they meant to help the injured, but they didn’t.  They just grabbed the bodies and threw them like wood into the vans.  Then they drove off.”

            “And you got all this on your multicorder?”

            “Yessir.”

            Ling cast a thoughtful eye on the governor and the A.G.  Neither of them said anything, but the A.G. held the datadisc as if he thought it might bite him.

            It will, it will, thought Ling.  “Please proceed.”

            “I thought I should report this to the captain, but I didn’t know where he was.  I contacted Mr. Scott and Lt. Uhura, and took the information to them.  After that, I went to the botanical garden and rescued Syl-- my plant.”

            For the first time, the light flickered.

            “Then I went back to the hotel and stayed there until I received the beam-up order.  I’ve been here ever since.”

            “I see.”  Ling made a good guess.  “And what became of the seeds from your Blue Velvet?”

            The light flickered again, but then, Sulu was looking definitely pained.  “They fell over the wall onto somebody’s private land.  I never got any of them back.”

            Somebody in the back of the room gave an indignant squeak, then hushed.

            “And where is your Sylvia now?”

            “I beamed her back to my quarters on the Enterprise.”  Sulu shrugged.  “It looked as if there wasn’t going to be a fumigation after all, with the ship under interdiction, and nobody said I couldn’t send a plant to the ship.”

            “Well, at least you have your original plant and your scientific fame.  Does anyone else have any questions for this witness?”

            “I do!” bellowed the governor, before the A.G. could open his mouth.  “You!  You’re the one who planted those damned things!  You seduced my wife, you—you—“

            “Huhh?”  Sulu’s astounded look couldn’t have been faked.  “I never met the lady – not unless she’s 23, and her name is Doris, and she wasn’t wearing a wedding-ring when I met her at the fencing tournament—“

            The tattle-light stayed dark.  The audience was laughing again.

            The A.G. grabbed Kingrich and almost wrestled him back into his chair.  “I do, Your Honor,” he shouted above the noise.

            “Proceed, then,” said Ling, punching the chimes for something closer to silence.

            The A.G. got up and stalked warily toward Sulu, who looked bewildered.

            “Concerning this precious plant of yours,” he purred, “Did you obtain any of the requisite permissions bringing it here?”

            Sulu’s face turned as smooth as carved ivory, and his voice did something similar.  “Certainly not,” he said.

            The A.G. raised his eyebrows.  “’Certainly not’?  You mean you make a habit of introducing alien lifeforms into unsuspecting people’s ecosystems?”

            “Only when those lifeforms are well-known, valuable, highly prized – and the people are plagued with officious thieves,” he said. 

            The A.G., caught off guard, gaped at him.

            Sulu seized the opportunity and charged ahead.  “I talked to other spacers who had visited Argo, and had good reason to fear that my Blue Velvet would be stolen by bureaucrats if I let them know I was bringing her down.  Considering what happened to her seedlings, I was right, wasn’t I?”

            The audience laughed and hooted.  Ling sighed and punched the chimes again.

            The A.G. had the sense to give up, if not gracefully.  “Take note, Your Honor, that this man has just admitted to violating Argo customs law.  I have no further questions at this time.”

            Somehow I don’t think anything will come of that charge, thought Ling, noting that the governor looked as if he were about to explode.  “Does anyone else have any questions for this witness?”

            “I do!” shouted an old man off in a far corner.  “I’ve got an Argelian Blue Velvet, and it cost me a bundle, and I’ve never managed to make it seed out.  How do you do it?”

            So much for the charge of ‘introducing alien lifeforms’;  the Blue Velvet was already here.              “Please!” Ling groaned.  “Ask elsewhere!  Next witness, please.”

 

                                                            *           *           *

 

            “I don’t know what I can add to these proceedings,” said Chapel, her hand resting lightly on the sensor-plate.  “I beamed to my hotel, then went to Argo First Pharmaceuticals to arrange a shipment for the Enterprise’s medical stores.  Then I met an old friend and we went shopping, then to dinner.”

            The light blinked, so faintly that Ling wasn’t sure she’d seen it.  How close, she wondered, was this ‘old friend’?

            “Later,” Chapel smiled slightly, “I moved to my friend’s hotel.  Like everyone else, we had fun watching the livecast vids the next day, until the newscasts showed that nasty business with the protest march.  After that, I stayed in my hotel room until ordered to beam up to the Althashayn.”

            Stayed in your friend’s hotel: right.  Nothing interesting here, Ling decided.  “Did you personally observe any of the incidents referred to in the charges?”

            Chapel thought for a moment.  The tattle-light blinked just once, again, then went dark.  Chapel shrugged.  “No, I didn’t see any of that directly,” she said.

            The light stayed dark.

            “No questions for this witness,” said the A.G., before Ling could ask.

            No one else asked anything either.

 

                                                            *           *           *

 

            “Lt. Uhura, please tell us what happened from the time you first beamed down.”

            Uhura bowed her head politely.  “I checked into my hotel, went to my room, changed clothes, checked the local news—“

            The light blinked, then went dark.

            “—then made a date with an old friend.” She smiled.  “We spent the night together.”

            The light blinked again, just once.

            The audience snickered, again.  Ling sighed.  In one sense, shore-leave stories were terribly predictable.

            “Next morning, I spent several hours watching vidcasts.  After the reports of the first riot, I decided to stay in the hotel.  I remained there until summoned to the Althashayn, where I’ve been ever since.”  She shrugged elaborately.  “I don’t know what else I can tell you.”

            The light flared.  The computer squalled:  “Untrue!  Untrue!  Subject has made an untrue statement!”

            Everybody in the room jumped.

            Uhura merely glowered at the machine.  “Well,” she said haughtily, “If you really want me to tell you every intimate detail of what I did with my boy-friend, I suppose I can tell you that.”

            “Not necessary,” said Ling, struggling to keep a straight face as she punched the chimes. The damned machine is so very literal…  “And did you personally observe any of the incidents referred to in the charges?”

            “I did not,” said Uhura, very precisely.

            “Thank you.  Does anyone else have any questions for this witness?”

            The A.G. thought for a moment, looked hard at the computer, then raised a hand.  “I do.

Lt. Uhura, were you personally involved in any of the incidents described in the charges?”

            The tattle-light flickered.

            Uhura gave him a cold look.  “If you mean, sir, did I attract attention by swinging on the hotel balcony, the answer is no, that wasn’t me.  I assure you, I had better things to do with my time.”

            The light stayed dark.

            But I’ll bet you know who did swing on the balcony, Ling considered.  Petty stuff; let it go.

            “No further questions,” sighed the A.G.

 

                                                            *           *           *

 

            “Lt. Commander Scott, please tell us why you chose to take a shuttlecraft down to Argo Port City, instead of using the transporter.”

            “Weel, sir, I’d just retuned th’ engines, an’ wanted ta try ‘em oot.”

            “Was there any other reason?”

            “Aye, usual security precautions.  Wha’ hoppens if th’ transporter system fails, f’r example, or—“

            “Yes.  Tell us what happened when you landed.”

            “Why, naethin’ hoppened then.  We parked, an’ then went t’a local bar, where we stayed until late.  As we were comin’ back ta th’ shuttle, I saw a fight goin’ on in th’ landin’-yarrd.  ‘Twas th’ Shore Police knockin’ aboot wi’ a crew o’ Caitians.  An’ I noticed—“  He turned a hard glance toward the governor.  “—thot the badge-boys had stunners an’ clubs, while the kitties had naethin’ but their bare hands.”

            “Objection!” snapped the A.G.  “Let the record show that Caitians are naturally armed with enormous claws and fangs.”

            “Neither o’ which is a distance-weapon,” Scott snapped.

            “Their fangs are no longer than ours,” called one of the Andorians.

            Ling punched the chimes.  “So noted,” she said.  “Please proceed, Mr. Scott.”

            “Not wantin’ ta get involved in th’ fracas, we tiptoed off t’oor shuttle, got in an’ took off.”

            The light blinked.

            “What happened while you were taking off, Mr. Scott?”

            “Why, one o’ th’ badge-boys saw us leavin’ an’ took a shot at us – wi’ a phaser, an’ no’ set ta stun, either.  We didna ha’ oor shields up – weren’t expectin’ ta need ‘em – an’ we took th’ shot in th’ engine controls.  We soon lost power, an’ I had ta land ‘er wherever I could.”  He grinned.  “’Tis lucky yon buildin’ had a flat roof, or we might ha’ come doon in th’ street.”

            “Indeed.  And what did you do then?”

            “Ca’ed th’ Enteprise an’ got beamed off th’ roof.  I spent th’ next several oors tryin’ ta find a way ta’ retrieve the shuttlecraft—“

            The light flickered.  Ling guessed that he’d done other things with his leave-time – such as find another bar and look for another engineer to commiserate with.

            “—an’ couldna arrange it.  I was still at it when I heard aboot th’ disturbances in port.

I didna manage ta locate th’ captain—“

            Flicker. 

I’ll bet you didn’t want to, Ling guessed, Not with that shuttlecraft stuck on the roof.

            “—so I starrted roondin’ up th’ rest o’ th’ crew.”

            Flicker. 

Whom did you call first?

            Scott paused for an instant, and Ling caught his fingers tapping on the sensor-plate.  “I learned thot oor Chief Medical Officer had been injurred while tryin’ ta treat some o’ th’ victims o’ th’ Nude Riot, so—“

Flicker. 

Yes, McCoy’s records show he was injured – also that he caught some interesting diseases…

“I got him beamed oop ta th’ Enterprise an’ sent him ta Sickbay.  I warned everyone else I could reach ta stay off th’ streets while a’ th’ fun was goin’ on, an’ I tried ta monitor th’ situation.  Next day, I learned thot th’ ship was interdicted, an’ then heard aboot th’ Orion ship showin’ oop.  I finally contacted th’ captain, an’ then we a’ beamed over ta th’ Althashayn, where we brought th’ rest o’ th’ crew.  I’ve been here e’er since.”  He shrugged, and fell silent.

Plenty of details left out, Ling considered.  Then again, probably preoccupied with the little problem of the stranded shuttle.  “And where is the shuttlecraft now, Mr. Scott?”

Scott cringed in his seat and looked miserable.  “Still on th’ roof,” he mumbled.  “I havna been able ta get th’equipment there ta fix it.”

So that’s what you were doing with your unexplained time, Ling guessed.  “I assume,” she said, looking hard at the governor, “That the Argo government will allow you to take whatever equipment and personnel are necessary to repair and retrieve the shuttlecraft – unless the governor particularly wishes to keep the craft for a trophy, or an ornament.”

The audience bellowed with laughter.  This time Ling let it run its course.

“Of course we will,” grumbled Kingrich.  “The roof and nowhere else.  Just get the damned thing off of there!”

            “Indeed.  Mr. Scott, did you personally observe any of the other incidents listed in the charges?”

            “No sir.”  No light.

            “And—"  She glanced again at the A.G.  “—were you personally involved in any of the other incidents mentioned in the charges?”

            Flicker.

            “No more nor I’ve just told ye.”

            No light.

            “I see.  Does anyone else have any questions for this witness?”

            “I do.”  The A.G. got up slowly, and paced toward Scott with a slit-eyed smile on his face.  “So,” he said, “You admit to the totally-unauthorized addition to our City Hall, do you?”

            “Aye.  I hadna much choice.  Ask yer police-commander why thot mon had a full-range phaser, an’ why he fired on us.”

            “You say your craft landed there because it was damaged by phaser-fire, do you?”

            “Aye, an’ the marks’re there, plain ta see.”

            “I’m sure they will be, once you’ve finished ‘repairing’ it,” the A.G. sneered.  “You certainly know that nobody has been able to get up to that roof to provide an independent inspection of the damage.”

            “Use a bluidy ladder, or realign one o’ yer own transporters.  How did ye get the domned roof on th’ buildin’ in the firrst place?”

            “Meanwhile, suppose you tell us how much of the damage to the craft was caused by something other than phaser-fire.”

            “Weel…”  Scott knitted his eyebrows in thought.  “We landed a bit rough.  I suppose there’s some scrapin’ on the bottom—“

            “You admitted that you spent the afternoon and evening in a bar, drinking.  Just how drunk were you when you got into that shuttlecraft?”

            Scott fixed him with a steady glare.  “No’ at a’,” he said.  “We were drinkin’ Nova brand f’r the last oor an’ a half.”

            “I’m not asking about your taste in particular liquors—“

            “Let the record show,” Ling cut in, “That Nova is a non-alcoholic whiskey.  If Mr. Scott had drunk that for the previous hour and a half, he was certainly sober by the time he reached the shuttlecraft.”

            The A.G. scowled at Scott, then at the witness’ chair, which hadn’t flashed or made a sound.  He tried a different tack.  “You say it was a duly-authorized police officer who fired on you?  You’re sure?  Are you absolutely certain it wasn’t one of the spacers involved in the brawl?”

            “Positive,” Scott smiled toothily.  “As I said, th’ Caitians had only their bare honds.  If ye want witnesses, besides Chekov there’s th’ Caitians themsel’s.  They a’ escaped too, y’know.”

            A chuckle went through the audience, the loudest of it coming from the Klingons.

            “And do you know,” the A.G. tried again, “Why a duly-authorized police officer fired on you?”

            “Havna a clue.”

            “Wasn’t it because you were resisting a direct and lawful order?  Isn’t it because you were fleeing from justice?  Isn’t that true, Commander?”

            “No’ a bit of it!  I heard no sich order, an’ we hadna done anythin’ but try t’ avoid a brawl!”

            The light stayed dark.  The A.G. frowned at it, but didn’t give in.  “And just why, if you spent hours in a spaceport dive, did you drink only non-alcoholic liquors?  What were you planning, that you took such care to stay sober?”

            “I was plannin’ on flyin’ th’ shuttle ta th’ ither side o’ toon, where ma hotel was.”  Scott smiled wickedly.  “I didna want ta pay local prices f’r a taxi.”

            The light stayed dark.  The audience snickered.

            “Is that the only reason?”  The A.G. tried to sound knowing, though he was clearly fumbling around in the dark.

            Scott’s eyes narrowed.  “Nay, t’isn’t.  Th’ crowd in th’ bar had been talkin’ aboot a’ th’ raids yer badge-boys had pu’ed on a’ th’ dockside businesses, an’ their mood was ugly.  I was afraid they’d get up an’ do somethin’ serious aboot it, so I wanted ta be able ta get oot o’ th’ way fast, if I had ta.  Turns oot I was right;  they did do somethin’, didna they?”

            “Argo is not on trial here, Mr. Scott!”

            But it will be, at this rate, Ling chuckled to herself.

            “Nay, an’ I’m no’, either.  I’m just sayin’ ye brought it a’ on yersel’s.”

            There was a quiet but ominous rumble from the audience.

            The A.G. thought for a moment, then came back from a different angle.  “You say you beamed up Dr. McCoy after he’d been injured in the riot, correct?”

            “Aye.”

            Flicker.  Ling guessed that there might be more to Scott’s concern than the doctor’s reputation.

            “And just where did you beam him up from, Mr. Scott?”

            Flicker.  Oho.

            “Fro’ th’ coordinates where we finally identified his lifesigns,” Scott answered fast.  “We had ta use th’ ship’s sensors ta find him, since someone had made off wi’ his communicator.”

            The A.G. glanced at the nonresponsive chair.  “And just where were those coordinates, Mr. Scott?”

            “How should I know?  I doan’t know everra spot in th’ city.  Remember, I didna know ‘twas City Hall I’d landed on ‘til someone told me.”

            “Isn’t it true,” the A.G. pounced, “That you found him in the city jail?  Isn’t it true that he’d been arrested with the rest of the rioters?  Isn’t it true that you helped a jailbird escape from justice?”

            Ling actually saw Scott’s lips briefly form the word ‘justice’ before he answered. 

            “Naethin’ o’ th’ kind!” he snapped back – and the light stayed off.

            Nicely done, Ling had to admit.

            “Then how—“ the A.G. almost crowed, turning back to his table and grabbing something from his briefcase.  “—how did these unmistakable items wind up in the hands of the police?”

            He held them up where everyone could see: a Starfleet standard communicator, and a wallet.  He flipped the wallet open to reveal McCoy’s ID card, its hologram-portrait visible almost completely around the room.

            Scott gave him a long look, and the tattle-light didn’t flicker once.

            “F’r aught I know,” he said, “Ye picked the mon’s pocket while he was lyin’ helpless fro’ th’ beatin’ yer badge-boys gave him.”

            The audience buzzed like a gigantic wasps’ nest.

            That was too much for Kingrich.  “Are you accusing our noble police forces of being thieves?!” he bellowed, clambering to his feet.

            Scott looked him dead in the eye.  “Aye,” he said, “I bluidy well am.  Fro’ whot I saw o’ th’ riots, I wouldna put anythin’ past ‘em.”

            That made the crowd sit up and roar.  The governor started to splutter.  The A.G. hurried over to his table and made him sit back down.  Ling punched the chimes repeatedly.  It took a long time for the noise to subside.

            This, Ling reflected, is going to be one for the books.  “Counselor, do you have any further questions to ask this witness?”

            The A.G. looked at her, looked at Scott, looked at the audience, and looked at the cameras.  “Not at this time, Your Honor,” he retreated.

            “Then I strongly recommend that you return the doctor’s communicator and wallet.”

            “See if there’s any money left in it!” shouted some anonymous voice from the audience.

            “And I must remind all of you that these outbursts only impede this investigation.  If you cannot remain quiet, I will have this room cleared.”  Not that I’d dare, with all of Argo watching, but let’s hope they believe it. “Does anyone else have any questions for this witness?”

            For once, the room was absolutely quiet.

            “Next witness,” said Ling.  “Dr. Leonard McCoy.”

 

                                                            *           *           *

 

            Waal, I beamed directly to my hotel, got changed and went out to see the city.  I had no idea where the interesting spots were, so I called up Scotty— er, Commander Scott, I mean – to ask him what he knew.  He had a small party going in his hotel room, so he invited me in.”

            What kind of party? Ling wondered.  “Then he wasn’t busy trying to get the shuttlecraft off the roof?” she couldn’t help asking.

            The audience snickered, but quietly.

            “He’d given that up for the night.”  McCoy shrugged.  “I guess he couldn’t find the personnel to help him; after all, there was hardly anybody left on the Enterprise.”

            “I see.”  I can believe that.  “Go on, please.”

            “I stayed over at his place—“

            Flicker.  Not alone, I’ll bet.

            “—and in the morning we had fun looking at the vidcasts.”

            Flicker.  You and half the planet, no doubt.

            “Then I got word about the protest march—“

            Flicker.  Who told you?

 “--and figured I should go there.”

McCoy frowned.  The light flickered repeatedly.  Emotional stress.  Why?

“I couldn’t believe what I saw.  The way the police laid into those people--  I didn’t hear them shout a warning or anything;  they just pulled out their stunguns and started shooting.  People were falling all over the street, landing hard on the pavement.  I bent over to look at a fallen girl—“

Flicker-flicker.  Understandable…  Or was the girl someone special?  Ask.  “Did you know this woman personally?”

McCoy paused for only an instant, and the light flickered frantically.  “She was the girl I spent the night with,” he said.

There wasn’t a sound from the audience.

“I understand.  Go on.”

“I bent over to see how badly she was hurt, and a stun-beam caught me across the back.  It didn’t knock me out, but I couldn’t move.  I saw all the rest of it: the badges slamming people with those clubs – I swear I heard bones break!”

“I understand your concern, but what happened after that?”

“Well, after the crowd chased the police away, we all just lay in the street.  A few civilians came and helped carry people away, but nobody else – until more badges showed up in big groundcars and started throwing people into them like so many sandbags.  That’s where I got the bruise on my head.  Other people got worse.”

Bite the bullet.  “Did they take you to jail?”

“Hell, yes.  They threw everybody into cells with no more care than they’d thrown us into the groundcars.  People got more injuries there, too.  And yes, I saw the badge-boys searching people’s clothes, taking away wallets, jewelry and other valuables.  That’s where I lost my communicator.”

“What became of the confiscated items?”

“As far as I know, the police still have them.  Must have been a good haul.”

“Proceed, please.”

“Well, we got no food nor medical attention.  As soon as I could move – which must have been an hour later – I started examining the others, doing what I could for them with no medical supplies at all.  Maybe another two hours later, I was suddenly beamed up to the Enterprise.”

“And did you tell him where you’d just been?”

“No sir, I was too busy yelling about the people needing medical attention.  Scotty sent me off to Sickbay, where I grabbed some supplies and made him beam them down to where I’d just been.”

“Just when did you inform Mr. Scott that he had, in fact, taken you out of jail?”

McCoy looked thoughtful.  The light flickered briefly.  “You know, I don’t recall that I ever did tell him.  I just ranted about how those people had been treated.  I really don’t know when he found out.”

Ling picked her words carefully.  “Did you tell anyone that you were a fugitive from justice?”

“Justice?!” McCoy flared – while the light stayed dark.  “You call that justice?  Armed thugs attacking harmless people in the street, throwing them around like sandbags, no food, no medical attention—“

            “Please calm yourself, Doctor.  We’ve all seen the recordings.”  That’s how he did it.  ‘Justice’ is the key word.  Isn’t legal terminology wonderful?

            “All right.”  McCoy made visible effort to calm himself.  “I went back down, trying to get help for the injured.  Finally the captain got hold of me and brought me up to the Althashayn.  I’ve been here ever since.”

            “I see.  And did you personally observe any of the other incidents listed in the charges?”

            “No ma’am.  I was a little too preoccupied.”

            “And were you personally involved in any of the other incidents?’

            “No ma’am.  Same reason.”

            The tattle-light stayed resolutely dark.

            “Thank you.”  She couldn’t resist turning to the A.G. and saying: “Your witness.”

            The A.G. didn’t catch the joke.  He got up and padded carefully to McCoy.  “So,” he said,

“You’re the jailbird, are you?”

            “Damn right,” said McCoy.  “And I’d like to know what crime you’d charge me with.”

            “How about ‘participating in a riotous assembly’?”

            “It wasn’t a riot until your boys showed up!”

            “Didn’t you incite that march yourself?”

            “Whaat?!”

            The light flickered furiously.

            “Didn’t you cause it?  That sort of thing isn’t part of Argo’s culture;  some off-worlder had to start it.”

            “There were a lot of off-worlders in that crowd – and they said they had good reason!  Raids, censorship, corruption—”

            “Answer the question!” the A.G. shouted.  “Did you or did you not incite that riot?”

            “Hell, no!” McCoy shouted back.

            And the light stayed dark.

            Of course! Ling almost laughed.  It wasn’t a ‘riot’ until your badges started it!

            “But you participated!” the A.G. backpedaled.

            “I went to help the injured!”

            “Participation is a crime!  You’re a wanted criminal on Argo!”

            “Let’s see you make those charges stick in any honest court!”

            “Gentlemen, please,” Ling cut in, turning up the volume on the chimes.  “Counselor, the witness has answered your question.  Do you have anything else to ask?”

            The A.G. chewed his lip.  “Just one thing more,” he finally said.  “Did you instigate the massive jailbreak the next day?”

            Flicker-flicker – then dark.  What the hell?

            “Probably,” McCoy shrugged.  “I certainly ran around yelling to enough people about that mistreatment.  I guess somebody took what I said seriously.  I don’t know who actually beamed them out, though.  I’m sure it wasn’t anybody on the Enterprise.”

            The light stayed off.

            Of course, Ling smiled.  Everybody was either on the ground or on the Andorian ship.

            The A.G. finally gave up.  “No further questions,” he said, plodding back to his seat.

            “Does anyone else have any questions for this witness?”

            “I do,” said an unexpected voice.

            Everyone looked, and saw Thelin come padding toward the witness’ seat.

            “Proceed,” was all Ling could think to say.

            “Doctor,” Thelin asked quietly, “Are you not that same McCoy who healed the Great Mother of the Horta from a deadly phaser-wound?”

            “Well, yes, but that was mostly a lucky accident.”

            “You healed her, even though she had slain several Humans and appeared to be a fearsome monster?”

            “Well, I’ve learned not to judge too much by appearances.”

            “And did you not risk your life, on the Vians’ world, to save the woman named Gem?”

            “Yes, but I figured I could survive…”

            “And did you not save the city of Leesha, on Bey-Andor, from the Vethashann Plague?”

            “Well, I had a really good medical synthesizer.”

            “And you stayed to use it, when other Humans fled for fear of catching the disease?”

            “Aw, they just panicked.  It turned out that Humans are immune.”

            “But you didn’t know that at the time, did you?”

            “Well…I made a good guess.”

            “I was on the Yorktown, which evacuated those who fled.  I have relatives in that city.”

            “Hey, I’m glad I could help.”

            Thelin turned around and bowed formally to Ling.  “I would state for the record,” pre-she said, “That this particular Human is so devoted to healing that he has repeatedly risked his life to save others.  This is not the sort of being to encourage any activity which might cause harm to anyone.”

            With that, Thelin turned around and walked back to pre-her seat.  There wasn’t another sound in the room.

            Just try prosecuting McCoy for anything, after that.  Ling rolled an eye at the A.G., who didn’t even bother to look up.  “If there are no further questions,” she said, “I would call Commander Spock to the witness’ seat.”

            “Hold it, hold it!” the governor broke in.  “You can’t question a Vulcan with that thing; they’re immune to it.”

            “That is not precisely the correct term,” Ling commented.

            “That is not precisely the truth,” said Spock, taking the chair.  “Considerable discipline and training are required to avoid alerting sensors of this nature.”

            “Your objection is duly noted, Governor.  We will proceed anyway.”

            “In any case,” Spock added, settling his hands precisely on the chair-arms, “I shall have little to say myself.  Most of my evidence is recorded.”

            The governor and the A.G. exchanged worried looks.

            “Then please tell us what occurred after you first arrived on Argo,” said Ling, keeping an absolutely straight face.  She knew what was in those records.

            “I put on civilian dress, concealed a tricorder under my clothing, beamed down to the spaceport and went looking for an informant.”

            “Informant?” the audience buzzed, then hushed.

            “What did you hope to be informed about?” Ling asked, hoping it was just the right question.

            “I needed more evidence to prove conclusively that Argo was being used by the Orion slave-trade.”

            The resulting uproar from the audience made Ling turn up the volume on the chimes to something near deafening.  Even so, it took nearly a minute for the noise to die down.

            “I did, in fact, obtain such data,” Spock went on, pulling datadiscs out from under his shirt.  “These are readouts from that tricorder which I wish to enter into evidence.”

            You’ve said the magic words, Ling smiled to herself as she took the discs.  With no further ado, she pushed them into the computer’s slot and punched the playback buttons – knowing full well that the big screen behind her would display everything.

 

                                                            *           *           *

 

            It took just under an hour and a half to view the readout.  It took just over ten minutes, and the help of the Althashayn’s Security staff, to quell the chaos that followed.  The last distinct voice Ling heard as the noise died down was Immaliosk wailing: “I had no idea what my cousin was doing!  I don’t know anyone named Grobikthia!  Just try me on that machine, and I’ll prove it!”

            Ling pulled her hair out of her eyes, punched the chimes one more time, and announced: “Gentlebeings, I see no reason for Starfleet to press charges against the crew of the Enterprise.  I do see good reason for Starfleet to launch a different investigation of conditions on Argo, and that will be included in my report.”

            The A.G., shaking his head, only closed up his briefcase.  The governor shot a venomous look toward Kirk and the whole Enterprise contingent.  “Well, the interdiction still stands,” he snapped out his parting shot.  “None of you get to set foot on Argo again!”

            Even as he said it, he saw Nargina – now dressed in a ship’s-issue replicated jumpsuit – come picking her way toward Sulu.  She was holding a small potted plant in her hand.

            “Banned!  All of you, banned!” he yelled as he headed for the door.