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Jim Ausfahl


Kirk, McCoy, Spock, Scott and an assortment of other members of the ship’s crew were crowding the transporter room, awaiting the arrival of the ambassador. Despite the thirteen and a half week delay engendered by eight missions, starting with the Kenederis incident, followed by an assortment of other missions culminating with the urgent trip to Camus II to deal with the criminally insane Janice Lester, no other ship had been found to handle the routine effort of transporting an ambassador from Ylka to Falla. Obediently, but reluctantly, the Enterprise captain had set course for Ylka. Now the starship was in orbit, ready to serve as the ambassador’s taxi.

"Coordinates logged in, Captain," Scott burred in his Gaelic brogue. "Ready to transport on your order."

"Well, let's not keep him waiting any longer than necessary. Beam the ambassador up, Scotty. After waiting for ninety-five days, he's probably not in the best of humor." Kirk nodded to Spock, who moved to the wall communicator to trigger the recorded bosun’s Whistle to greet the arriving ambassador. The chief engineer triggered the transporter. Instead of seeing the Ylkan ambassador materialize, they saw the transporter fill with an odd looking assortment of metallic objects.

Spock turned to Kirk. "There must have been an error. The Ylkans are similar to the centaur of Terran mythology. They would be quite comfortable under the conditions on the Enterprise. Mister Scott, is there any possibility that the Ylkans may have given you incorrect coordinates?"

"Hardly likely, Mister Spock; I double checked them myself. Perhaps this is the Ylkan idea of a practical joke?"

From one of the items on the transporter, a rich baritone interrupted. "If so, Mister Scott, the joke is on me, and I find it far from amusing. After having to put up with me for an additional three months, they were probably getting as tired of me as I was of them. May I assume that the Ylkans failed to warn you that I am not Ylkan?"

Kirk stared at the ceiling in embarrassment for a second before speaking. "We were not told you were not Ylkan, Mister Ambassador. I’m sure that the error was all on our part, and—"

The baritone interrupted Kirk. "Oh, don’t try to cover up for the Ylkans. They thought you were about a third of your actual height, too. That’s why my life support suit is horizontal. Is anyone here an engineer?"

"Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott at your service, Mister Ambassador!"

"Wonderful! It’s been ten, maybe eleven of your years since I was last on my home planet where I could get this absurd metallic monstrosity serviced properly. Would you be so very kind as to use one of your appendages to apply a tangential force vector to the upper corner of this suit? The edge nearest you, I believe."

Scott looked puzzled.

"I believe, Mister Scott," Spock opined, "that the ambassador wishes you to kick the rounded cylinder on the corner of the rectangular metal box nearest us."

"Kick! Yes, I think that’s the word I want," the baritone intoned. "Mister Scott, would you oblige?"

"Don’t worry, Scotty." McCoy chuckled. "I’ll fix your toes if you overdo it!"

The chief engineer moved toward the object in question, and gently tapped the corner of it with his toe. What were apparently arms attempted to move, unsuccessfully. "Mister Scott, could you try it again? Perhaps more forcefully? The mechanism allowing deployment of my limbs seems a trifle sticky, yet." Scott obliged, this time with a blow that would have bent a bulk-head. His efforts were rewarded by seeing a partial deployment of the appendages. "Most excellent blow, good engineer. I do believe one more like that, and I shall be able to assume a more comfortable posture. Could you again oblige?"

Scott used his other foot, planting a haymaker worthy of respect. Limbs from all eight corners of the metallic rectangle deployed, and the ambassador assumed an upright posture. Slowly, what were clearly the ambassador’s lower limbs straightened, until the upper limbs bumped the top of the transporter. The ambassador lowered himself a little, finally assuming a pose that looked more like a squat willow tree than anything else. The ambassador’s mellow baritone boomed again. "Well, it seems I’m still a little too tall to stretch out in your ship, Captain."

"If I might be so bold, Ambassador, you are clearly neither Ylkan nor Fallan; perhaps you could correct the little oversight in our information?" Kirk asked.

"Oh, forego the title ambassador, Kirk. My name’s Hoorash, and I’m a Suzran. I’m most comfortable with an atmosphere about seven times as dense as you seem to have here, at a temperature of about 580º Celsius and gravity about eight times what you seem to have on this deck. If I understand the language correctly, I believe you would say I breathe superheated, high-pressure steam. Suzr is a class W planet; about twenty percent of its surface is what I believe you would call magma. Your Federation classification for me would be R-6, if I understand your system correctly."

McCoy let out a low whistle. "A silicon life form, no less, like the Excalbians or the Sheliak!"

"The Sheliak, Doctor, are R-3 lifeforms which subsist on hyperonic radiation," Spock corrected. "And the Excalbians are a high temperature, carbon chemistry life form."

"Precisely. I see you’ve met both of those arrogant little carbon-cycle warts, too. The Excalbians tried to involve me in some absurd experiment or other. Regrettably, I had to be a little undiplomatic with them. They won’t try to play that sort of game with Suzrans again." Kirk almost thought the translator managed a harsh, if not threatening tone.

Spock’s eyebrow arched. "We found them somewhat less than hospitable as hosts as well."

"And the Sheliak," Hoorash issued what they could only assume was the Suzran equivalent of a sigh. "They've got lawyers for everything. Talking with them was exhausting, and afterwards they insisted I sign some sort of legal document saying that whatever was said might not have actually been said and...well, they're obnoxiously litigious, and incredibly wordy."

Spock changed the subject. "Judging from your classification, I would assume that the metallic objects behind you are part of a portable environmental housing? Perhaps a life support unit that could be assembled for your comfort?"

One of the upper, tentacle-like appendages gestured, and the ambassador’s suit bent toward Spock slightly. "A most excellent deduction, for a carbon-based life form, and an accurate one. If only you carbon life forms could get over a few modest, annoying problems, you’d be wonderful beings to associate with."

Kirk looked puzzled. "What sort of problems?"

"Oh, like what they tell me would happen if I tried shaking hands with you. Thoroughly obnoxious."

Kirk had the feeling he was making a mistake by asking, but he went ahead anyhow. "What did they say?"

"They said that you’d ignite, of all things! Flames all over, and the smoke would be most annoying. I mean, how do you get along with folks who would probably hiss, sizzle and burn when you put your extremities around their shoulders?"

McCoy was clearly fighting to control a snicker.

Spock intervened. "It is my observation, Ambassador Hoorash, that silicate beings of classification R-6 would possibly shatter, or at least risk their equivalent of frostbite, when they come in contact with carbon-based humanoid life forms like myself. Perhaps such annoying trivialities are best ignored, and our meetings kept on a more philosophical basis."

McCoy lost his composure, and started laughing. Kirk followed, as did Scott and the rest. Over the merriment of the Humans, the gravel-on-steel noise of the ambassador’s laughter was even audible. Only Spock remained calm.

"Touché, Spock!" laughed the ambassador. "And those silly Ylkans told me Vulcans had no sense of humor! Either way, I have been in this life-support suit for several days, and am eager to get out of it so I can... can...."

"Scratch? Stretch your limbs?" McCoy offered helpfully.

"Stretch my limbs. Yes. I am eager to see my, ah..."

"Pup tent?" Kirk suggested with a smile.

"Close enough." Hoorash let out a sound akin to steam escaping from an overheated teapot. "This translator is just not handling the nuances of your language well, I fear, which is a dramatic pity. It appears that you have a most remarkably colorful language."

"Aye, that we have," Scott interjected. "An’ if ye’re fortunate, ye’ll—"

Spock interrupted Scott. "English has quite a number of remarkably colorful, if somewhat illogical, expressions, Ambassador Hoorash. Perhaps we could discuss them at your leisure."

"Without doubt, Spock. And I hope many other things, as well. But first, I should definitely like to make arrangements to bring up the rest of my little portable habitat, and see it assembled. Perhaps, good Engineer Scott, you would be so kind as to assist me in putting it together?"

"Aye, Ambassador. I’d be delighted t’ do so, if for no other reason than to see what manner of technology can keep you comfortable on the inside without roastin’ everyone outside."

"I would be pleased to assist Mister Scott as well," Spock offered. "I am most curious to see your native environment, at least as it is reproduced in your life support habitat."

"Then you shall, Spock," the ambassador promised. "Once the habitat is assembled, and I’ve had a chance to... stretch my limbs, I believe the phrase was, I shall extend my limited hospitality to you. There is a small, motorized pod that you should be able to use to join me in my abode."

"Pity there isn’t a second one of them, Hoorash," McCoy quipped. "I’d love to be there and see Spock’s face when he’s confronted with an environment hotter than Vulcan."

"As it happens, there are two, and I shall expect you to join Spock as my first official visitors."

McCoy pulled a wry face as Hoorash extended the invitation.

The ambassador’s metallic suit turned slightly, appearing to face Scott. "Engineer Scott, I observe that I probably won’t fit through your doorways. Do you think you could arrange to interface the transporter’s controls with the systems in my suit, so that I can make my way around the ship via transporter?"

"We don’t usually do intraship beaming, Ambassador; it’s a bit tricky, but I think we can find a solution for ye. But first, let’s be gettin’ your wee bit of a house together. Mister Spock, d’ye think that the shuttle bay would be th’ proper place?"

"Unquestionably, Mister Scott. There should be ample room for the habitat, and an adequate power supply is easily available. Mister Ambassador?"

"Hoorash, please, Spock. I’ve been ‘Mister Ambassador’ for several years, and I’m getting quite tired of hearing it. I’m ready to get to this shuttle bay as soon as possible, and out of this obnoxious suit. Mister Scott, could you oblige?"

Scott nodded silently, his fingers dancing across the controls of the transporter like a pianist’s fingers playing a piano. The ambassador disappeared. His fingers danced a few moments more. He turned to Spock. "Well, Mister Spock, that looks like the lot of it. We’ve a wee bit of work to do in the shuttle bay. Shall we?"

The Vulcan and the Scotsman stepped into the turbolift. McCoy turned to Kirk. "Well, I’m not quite sure what to make of this Suzran Ambassador as a whole, but one thing’s sure: I like his sense of humor."

Kirk shook his head. "It figures. I suppose we might as well cancel the reception for the ambassador; I doubt that Hoorash is going to be interested in our finest wines and cheeses."

"I agree that Hoorash won’t want to bother with the reception other than perhaps a token appearance in the suit, Jim, but I’d hold it anyhow. It’s been too long since our last shore leave, and frankly you’re showing the signs of wear. So’s the rest of the crew. A nice, gala reception is just what the crew needs."

"I’ll consider that ‘Doctor’s Orders,’ Bones. Starfleet Command made it clear we’re to take our own sweet time getting to Falla; I suppose they wanted us to impress the Ylkan Ambassador or something. I guess the same orders hold for our Suzran. See you at the reception."


It was long after the reception when McCoy and Spock arrived in the shuttle bay to take Hoorash up on his invitation. As they rode to the bay in the turbolift, Spock turned to McCoy. "It would appear, Doctor, that the Suzrans are not yet part of the Federation. From what I have been able to find in the memory banks, Suzr is in an area that is in dispute between the Federation and the Klingons. I presume that Hoorash has been sent to find out as much as possible, with the intent of helping the Suzrans decide whether to join the Federation, try to stay neutral, or become part of the Klingon Empire. It might be prudent if you took that into consideration during our visit."

"Thanks for the briefing, Spock. Did you happen to notice that the entry on Suzr also pointed out that the Suzrans are blessed with a remarkably Human sense of humor, and are often offended when people fail to laugh at their jokes? Or did you only read the sociopolitical information?"

Spock was rescued from answering by the opening of the turbolift door. The two men walked into the shuttle bay, each to one of the two pods waiting for them. The pods looked like an egg with treads and a pair of manipulators. Other than a small seam that McCoy assumed was the entry, the surface was almost featureless. "Wonder how we’re supposed to see, Spock?" McCoy wondered out loud. "Don’t see a window anywhere."

"I would presume, Doctor McCoy, that there are sensors concealed below the surface. Will you need assistance with your pod?"

McCoy walked up to the closest one, and waved his hand in front of where he assumed the entry would be. A door opened in response. "Don’t think so, Spock. But I think I’m going to practice a little before I try moving around in the ambassador’s quarters. His quarters are roomy enough, but a mistake could cause a crash. I expect he’d be annoyed if I ran this thing into the walls."

Silently, Spock climbed into his own pod. After a few moments to master their use, first McCoy then Spock cycled through the lock and into Hoorash’s quarters. The room they entered had little in the way of furniture, and seemed far larger inside than it had looked from outside. Scattered on the floor were three or four squat, bullet shaped objects that McCoy deduced were probably the Suzran version of chairs. Off to one side, one of the squat bullets sat near what was apparently a writing surface. McCoy trundled his pod over to inspect it. On the surface, there was a framed picture that, were it of Humans, would have looked at home in any of the crew’s quarters. Using the pod’s manipulators, he picked it up. Portrayed were three large, tree-like beings with perhaps a dozen smaller ones clustered around. He grinned; some things, he decided, were probably universal, and family portraits must be one. McCoy’s reverie was broken by the ambassador’s arrival.

"I see you’ve found my family picture. I’d guess you’d be McCoy. Correct?"

McCoy turned his vehicle until he saw Hoorash. The being looked more treelike with his suit off, if that was possible. The eightfold greater gravity had apparently shortened and thickened not only his trunk, but his limbs as well. In Hoorash’s skin, there was what appeared to be a delicate, almost lace-like tracery of subdued silvery lines.

"Sure am. Nice family you’ve got there, Hoorash; which one are you?" McCoy returned.

"The one behind the camera, where you can’t see me. The larger three are my life mates; the rest are our young."

"I thought you were all the same gender; male for a while then female. How come three spouses?"

Hoorash laughed. "I forget; your species has separate males and females, doesn’t it? And yours, too, am I correct, Spock?"

"Precisely, Hoorash. I take it you form stable familial groups for reasons other than reproduction?"

"Depends on how you look at it, Spock. When we...we..."

"Flower? Pollinate? Fruit?" McCoy suggested.

"I’ve been browsing your literature on Terran trees, and come into flower is the closest term, I guess. The male portion matures before the female; we... I think you would say pollinate copiously. The air is rarely free of pollen, frankly, probably never. When our female portion matures, we produce three or four, hmm.... fruit, I suppose, that we nurture into youngsters. The time of reproduction happens to us about every sixty-five or seventy of your years, on the whole. We share the task of nurturing the ‘fruit’ and the young, and by having individuals of several ages, we are able to provide considerable stability and able to conserve material assets as well. The familial group I’m part of has been continuously active for five, perhaps six thousand of your years; there are ones that are nearly ten thousand years old, or at least that’s what they claim. When one individual dies, another one marries in, so to speak. It works well."

"Sounds pretty good to me, Hoorash," McCoy said. "Not to my tastes personally, of course, but..."

Spock interrupted, changing the subject. "If I may be so bold, Hoorash, what is your field of specialty?"

Hoorash was silent for a moment, presumably thinking. "Difficult to say; I guess you’d say I was a linguist, a teacher, and a historian. With a three hundred year lifespan, we have time to master several disciplines, you understand. It was the general consensus that I’d be as likely as anyone to know what to look for, and to recognize it when I saw it. That, and I have to admit that I find studying your assorted languages fascinating. I never realized how heavily the language of our species was shaped by our environment until I realized that most sentient species’ name for their planet was a synonym of ‘soil.’ The few marine organisms I’ve visited have named their planet a synonym for ‘ocean,’ or for ‘water.’"

"I’d noticed that too, Hoorash," McCoy agreed. "Correct me if I’m wrong, Spock, but isn’t the Vulcan name for Vulcan an old synonym for ‘shelter’?"

"Not exactly, Doctor. ‘Shade’ might be more accurate, but there are overtones of the presence of a supply of water; ‘oasis’ might fit best. I would be interested in the meaning of Suzr, if you cared to share it."

"It’s an old word that once meant ‘hardness’ or ‘solidity.’"

"For a planet with a rocky crust floating in lava seas, that seems logical."

"Thank you, Spock. What do you think of my environment?"

"I assume that the sensors of the pods Doctor McCoy and I inhabit have been as carefully adjusted to our sensory apparatus as the internal environment has been, Hoorash; I really do not have a great deal of data to comment on."

"Don’t mind ol’ logic-happy, Hoorash," McCoy interjected. "The Ylkans were right, you know; Vulcans are pretty nearly devoid of a sense of humor. You’ve got a nice place, here, as long as you don’t mind me staying in my little buggy. How long did you say it’s been since you’ve been back on Suzr?"

McCoy noticed that Hoorash’s upper limbs drooped a bit as he spoke. "I checked the trip record I’ve made, McCoy. It’s been just short of eleven of your Federation years." Hoorash reached for the picture McCoy’s machine was holding. McCoy released it to him, and Hoorash stared at it, silently for a moment before speaking again. "Wharrash, Surress and Hoorerhy, my three most recent offspring, will be almost as tall as I am now, and on the verge of adulthood. Hrashass, the eldest of my life-mates, is in decline, they tell me; if I am delayed more than a few months more, Hrashass may not survive to welcome me home." Hoorash let out a sound like a teakettle hissing. "I sincerely hope that your hospitality extends to ferrying me home, gentlemen. I am informed that the ship that was waiting at Falla to carry me home has been forced to move on without me."

"It would have to be cleared through Starfleet Command, Hoorash," said Spock, "but I am sure that Fleet Command will be more than happy to have us extend that courtesy to you."

McCoy winced as Spock spoke, knowing that the Vulcan was unquestionably right, and dreading the time in parking orbit around Falla while waiting for approval from Admiral Komack.

"Tell me, Hoorash, how did your people get into contact with the rest of the folk out here? Seems to me that you having to hitch rides from place to place hints that you’ve still not developed warp drive," McCoy asked.

"An excellent deduction, McCoy, and an accurate one. As it turns out, we didn’t discover you; you discovered us. What with the atmosphere on Suzr being steam, and the temperature and pressure drop in the higher reaches of the atmosphere, our planet is shrouded with an immensely thick cloud layer. It has only been in recent decades, as we sent probes into the upper reaches of the cloud layer, that we realized that there was anything in the universe other than Suzr. Some of our philosophers and scientists had speculated on the possibility, but without first hand observations, it was considered to border on science fiction, if not fantasy. The thought that there might be other intelligent life forms than our own had not crossed our minds at all.

"That was when the mining expedition arrived from the Caldonians, one of the neutral planetary governments in our sector of the galaxy. Their probes landed near the edge of one of our larger crustal plates, and were immediately seized and studied. Other than a near total ignorance of astrophysics and astronomy, our sciences were almost as advanced as your own, and it took only a short period of time to deduce the nature of the machinery. Establishing contact with the mining expedition took a week or two, but once we did, apologies were exchanged and we began our odyssey into interstellar civilization. We set up a trading agreement, not only for some of the metals they wanted, but for some of our electronic circuits as well--mainly because of their durability in what you would consider extreme temperatures and pressures. We’re looking at some agreements concerning large scale chemical manufacturing, too, working in reactions that exploit our naturally higher temperatures and pressures.

"I must admit that I find this all quite remarkable. As I mentioned a moment or two ago, I’m a language specialist. Seeing how the different environments have shaped the languages of different intelligent species will profoundly alter our concepts of communication at home on Suzr. And seeing how your different peoples interact, despite their immense physical differences and the barriers of their languages is simply marvelous. I’m already working on a small monograph on the language issue, actually, for my own people."

Spock nodded. "I would enjoy reading your observations. I do not doubt that your perspective as a silicate life form will add some interesting and useful thoughts to the field."

Hoorash bent his trunk toward Spock slightly. "I would be most pleased if you would read it, Spock. Perhaps you would also be willing to direct me to useful references concerning the languages of your Federation members."

McCoy’s head leaned to one side. "I’m sure that we can download the lexicons of all the major Terran languages across time, and the current languages of the Federation members. Spock probably could get you grammars for ’em too. Think we could download what we have on Klingon and Romulan as well?"

"Of course, Doctor. Would you also like a couple of texts on comparative linguistics, Hoorash?"

Hoorash’s limbs moved in what McCoy assumed was a gesture of appreciation. "If you would be so kind, I would be most grateful."

"Why not see if Scotty can whip up a couple of sets of blueprints for translators, Spock? That may be the most interesting and useful thing of all. I’d bet the translator in that suit of yours is of non-Suzran make."

"Excellent deduction, McCoy. We certainly would appreciate being able to manufacture translators using our own circuitry. Do you think that would be permissible under your Prime Directive?"

McCoy noticed the image of Spock’s face on the monitor in the pod showed the raised eyebrow that usually signified Spock being surprised, if not puzzled. McCoy smiled as he answered Hoorash. "Don’t think it would be a problem, Hoorash. Mostly, that directive is aimed at not interfering with the development of cultures that are technologically widely distant from the Federation. Seems to me that you’re about on a par with us, outside of the warp drive technologies. I’ll bet that within a few years, you’ll be manufacturing your own starships anyhow."

"Unquestionably, Doctor," Spock observed. "One of the valuable mineral resources comparatively abundant on Suzr is dilithium."

"Which," Hoorash added, "is one of the critical metals in the construction of warp drives. However, we are wise enough to know that it would be better to draw upon the wisdom of other star-traveling species as we develop our own warp drive capability. No sense in running down blind alleys others have already been in. But enough of politics, gentle beings. In your computer library, I have discovered something called poker. A most fascinating game, to all appearances. Do you think I could induce you to indoctrinate me into the intricacies of the game? I have prepared a deck of cards suited to this environment," Hoorash produced a stack of thin, metallic-appearing plates from what was obviously his writing table, "And I’m sure that the manipulators on the pods can handle the cards without too much difficulty."

McCoy grinned. "Pity you didn’t warn me in advance, Hoorash; I’d have had Scotty make us a couple of decks." He maneuvered his pod toward a table, took the cards Hoorash was offering and began to clumsily shuffle them with his pod’s manipulators. "Do I deal you in or not, Spock?"

Spock’s face on the monitor registered a look of resignation. "Deal me in, Doctor. I assume we’ll be playing one of the stud poker variants? That would be easier in these pods."

"How about five card stud, low hole card wild, gentle beings?" Hoorash drew one of the bullet shaped objects up to the table and draped himself over it, confirming McCoy’s assumption of their function. He produced a stack of differently colored metallic disks and divided among the three of them. "Ante up, fellows."

Hoorash took the cards from McCoy and began dealing them out, considerably more familiar with the procedure than he’d expected. McCoy wondered how he’d be able to read Hoorash’s body language well enough to guess when he was bluffing, and whether Hoorash would be able to read a Human or Vulcan face.


The trip to Falla took nearly three standard days, several times longer than it should have, but as per orders, the Enterprise took the trip slowly, allowing the ambassador to tour the Enterprise, and to interact with the crew as much as was feasible. The transporter control that Scott had cobbled together and installed in Hoorash’s life support suit was working marvelously, and the ambassador had clearly mastered its intricacies easily. Hoorash’s business on Falla had been conducted without any major problems, and the crew had been able to enjoy a degree of shore leave.

Kirk was asleep when the communicator in his cabin went off. He actuated it sleepily. "Kirk here. What’s the problem?"

Hoorash’s baritone came from the speaker. "Hrashass, Captain. I have received word that Hrashass’ condition is deteriorating rapidly."

Kirk sat up on the side of his bed, his head clearing rapidly. "Hoorash! Forgive my rather informal greeting. How severe is Hrashass’ situation?"

"Grave, I fear, or I should not have awakened you. How quickly can you get me to my home world? Hrashass is especially dear to me, having been the one that asked me to marry into my family. We’ve been companions for most of my life, and..." The speaker shifted to a noise that reminded Kirk of a steel beam giving away under its load. He didn’t need a translator to recognize it as a wail of grief.

"I understand, Hoorash; we will make every effort to get you home as swiftly as we can."

"Thank you, Captain, for your help with my problems."

"It should be no trouble, Hoorash. Kirk out." Hopefully, no problem, anyway, he thought to himself, feeling a dire certainty that it wouldn’t be as easy as it looked. "Bridge!"

"Bridge here." It was Sulu’s voice. "What’s the matter, Captain?"

"We need to get to Suzr as fast as we can. The ambassador’s oldest and dearest spouse is apparently dying, and he wants to be home before it happens."

"Understood, Captain." There was a brief silence. "How urgent is it, Captain? There seems to be a minor problem with the direct route."

"I’d guess pretty urgent, Sulu. What’s the problem?"

"Chekov says the most direct route cuts across a wall of unclaimed territory where there has been significant Klingon activity lately. Diverting around would be safer—but significantly slower, perhaps two or three times longer."

Kirk stared at his feet for a moment, lost in thought, remembering racing home as his grandfather Samuel was dying, trying to imagine what it must feel like for Hoorash. He wondered, briefly, how long Hoorash had been married to Hrashass. Ultimately, he decided, it didn’t matter: what mattered was that they were married. "We’ll just have to take our chances, Sulu. Have Chekov plot the direct course. Get us there with the fastest warp Scotty will give you."

"Aye, Captain. Bridge out."

Kirk turned to the readout on his desk. A few moments checking told him that there would be a couple of hours before they entered Klingon territory, and there would only be three or four hours in it. Time enough for a shower and a decent breakfast, at least. He turned to the wall communicator. "Hoorash’s quarters."

Hoorash’s baritone sounded off key as he spoke. "Yes, Captain?"

Before Kirk could reply, he felt and heard the warp drives kick in, hurling the starship toward Suzr. "We are on the way to Suzr, Ambassador, as fast as the Enterprise can move. Unfortunately, we will have to take the chance of cutting through unclaimed territory where Klingons have been sighted; if they intercept us, there may be combat. You’d better get into your life support suit in the next hour or so—just in case."

"You would take such a risk on my behalf?"

"Some things transcend species, Hoorash, and I think that family bonds are one of them. If it was someone in my family dying, I’m sure you’d do the same for me. Anyway, we’ll only be at risk for a few hours. The risk isn’t all that great." Kirk’s reassurances felt empty as he spoke them.

"Thank you again, Captain. Hoorash out."

Kirk wondered what kind of tears a Suzran produced when it cried, if any. He shook his head, and moved to the shower. That question could wait until later; getting the ambassador home was his first priority.


Kirk reached the bridge shortly before the estimated time of arrival in the supposedly neutral space. "Yellow alert, Mister Sulu. Spock, keep watch for Klingons. Uhura, watch the communications bands the Klingons use, especially for traffic locally. Chekov, up shields and be ready for battle. I’m in no mood to be caught unaware or unprepared, ladies and gentlemen."

There was a chorus of acknowledgments, followed by a tense silence, broken only by Sulu announcing, "We are now entering the disputed sector."

The time seemed to pass more and more slowly as they moved through the thin wall of space outside the Federation. On the bridge, indeed the ship as a whole, the tension was mounting with each passing moment. The half-way mark passed uneventfully, as did the three-quarters point. The closer the Enterprise came to exiting the unclaimed wall of space, the more the hopes of making it through without being detected rose, and with them, the tension escalated even more rapidly. They were almost to safe territory when a Klingon D-7 battlecruiser uncloaked in front of them.

Kirk’s reaction was rapid and almost instinctive. "Red alert, Sulu. All hands to battle stations! Uhura, open a channel to the Klingon vessel; let’s see if we can reason with them."

Uhura’s fingers moved rapidly across the communications console, searching for an available channel. After a few moments effort, the forward screen was filled with the face of a Klingon Commander.

"This is Commander Garg of the Klingon Imperial Fleet. Do you wish to surrender now, or die in battle?"

"This is Captain James T. Kirk of the United Starship Enterprise. Commander, we are ferrying the ambassador from Suzr home to be with a dying spouse. We mean no harm, and intend no threat to the Klingon Star Empire. Out of respect for the Suzran ambassador, we request diplomatic immunity."

"Spare me the lies, Kirk, or at least have the courtesy to come up with a better lie than that. The Federation wouldn’t bother sending a starship to ferry a single ambassador, and we both know it."

Kirk’s hands clenched in restrained anger. "If you would prefer to confirm the truth of my claim by talking to the ambassador, I—"

"Don’t treat me like a fool, Kirk. Any of my junior officers could produce a convincing fake ambassador. Either prepare to be boarded or prepare for combat."

Kirk debated only briefly. "Garg, there isn’t time to trade words or potshots with you. Get out of our way."

The front viewscreen blanked, and the Klingon battlecruiser answered with a photon torpedo.

"Evasive action, Sulu. Chekov, lock on the Klingon and fire at will. Try to disable it as quickly as you can, so we can get out of here."

"Aye, Kyptin."

Sulu and Chekov began working together almost as a single organism. Despite the Enterprise shuddering from the onslaught of the Klingon battlecruiser, Sulu maintained a steady stream of evasive tactics, shifting position rapidly and almost randomly, ever pressing forward towards the goal of neutral space. Chekov poured the Enterprise’s formidable firepower at the battlecruiser, seemingly anticipating Sulu’s evasive tactics as he fired.

Suddenly, the Enterprise shuddered again, sparks flying from several consoles on the bridge. Scott’s voice came across the communicator. "Captain, we’ll not be able to handle another hit like that. The engines are overheatin’ already. We’ll..."

There was a flash on the forward screen, as Chekov scored on the Klingon vessel, followed by the Enterprise lurching again. The lights on the bridge died, to be replaced by emergency lights.

Spock looked up from his station. "The Klingon vessel seems to be disabled, Captain. Mister Chekov’s last effort has severely damaged their S-2 graf units and power supply."

"Aye," Scott’s brogue interrupted, "But ‘tis cold comfort, Mister Spock; our warp drive’s out, and so are forward shields."

"Then it’s a race between you and their engineering crew, Scotty. If you can’t get the Enterprise running first..." Kirk’s voice trailed off; no one needed reminded of the alternatives.

Suddenly, Hoorash’s voice entered the conversation from the communications. "Forgive me for overriding Lieutenant Uhura’s communications protocols, Captain, but what is the matter?"

"I’m sorry, Hoorash. The Klingons, unfortunately, didn’t see fit to let us through unmolested. We seem to be having some mechanical difficulty with the warp drive, but Engineering assures me that—"

"The Enterprise seems to be dead in space, Captain, and time is running out with Hrashass. How long?"

Kirk stared at his clenched hands. "I don’t know, Hoorash."

"And if the Klingons are operational before you are?"

"I’d rather not think about that. It wouldn’t be exactly pleasant, I’m afraid."

"This is intolerable, Captain. I shall have to take action." The communication channel with Hoorash’s quarters closed abruptly.

"Transporter energizing, Captain," Spock announced calmly. "It would appear that Hoorash is hoping to find sanctuary with the Klingons."

Kirk’s jaw clenched. "I guess I can’t blame him, Spock. He’s probably safer there than here. If we repair our systems first, we won’t be inclined to destroy the Klingon ship. However, the reverse situation would be less than pleasant. Besides, he doesn’t really owe us anything, after all; there’s no treaty, no agreement of any kind. I wish him luck; he’s going to need it."


On the Klingon vessel, activity was furious. As Hoorash materialized in the engine room of the battlecruiser, the feverish effort to repair the warp drive was so intense that none of the Klingons appeared to notice his arrival. After a moment or two of waiting, Hoorash hailed them. "Greetings, Klingon Warriors! I am Hoorash, Ambassador from Suzr. I come claiming sanctuary, asking you to transport me to my home world."

Almost to a man, the Klingon engineers turned to face Hoorash. The ambassador extended one of his upper extremities in what he hoped would be interpreted as a friendly gesture. The Klingons turned their disruptors on it. To their surprise, the disruptors only melted the metallic sheath around Hoorash’s limb, exposing it. They moved to fire a second time, but before they did, Hoorash’s arm whipped forward, grasping the nearest Klingon. As he lifted the warrior, the heat of Hoorash’s arm ignited the Klingon’s uniform, and before his companions could react, Hoorash had hurled him against them. With surprising speed, Hoorash moved forward, brushing them out of his way. Another Klingon appeared, to be sent flying backwards into a bulkhead. Hoorash turned one way and the other for a minute, finally spotting the main bank of dilithium crystals. A few strides, and Hoorash was at the panel, tearing the crystals out of their housings, shattering some of them, stacking some at his feet. Klingons began appearing from everywhere. Hoorash’s harvest of intact crystals disappeared in the sparkling of the transporter. Several disruptor bolts struck Hoorash, then he, too, disappeared into the transporter as well.


On the Engineering deck of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the crew was running furiously, trying to get the starship functional. In between shouting orders at the engineering crew, Scott removed the cover from the dilithium crystals. As he looked at the array of crystals, his shoulders slumped. Every one of them was either shattered or burned out. Given time, he could replace enough of them to get the Enterprise back to a starbase for repairs, but there wasn’t enough time in the midst of a battle. He leaned his head against the housing, fighting the urge to break into tears. Assistant Chief Engineer Gabler noticed Scott’s sudden lack of activity.

"Is there a problem, Mister Scott?’

Scott backed away from the opening and pointed. "They’re gone, Gabler. Not a single dilithium crystal left intact. It’ll take hours to replace all of them, a miracle to get us out of this dish of haggis, an’ I dinnae believe I can manufacture a miracle here."

Unseen, behind Scott, the sparkle of a transporter burst into life, leaving behind a stack of charged dilithium crystals. "With all due respect, Mister Scott, it looks like someone else has provided us with a miracle this time." Gabler pointed at the crystals.

"How in the name of..."

"Does it matter, sir?" Gabler asked, rushing toward the crystals. "They’re here, and we have hope."

A smile split Scott’s face. "Aye, Gabler, ye’re right. Put ‘em in place, lad, while I clean out the shattered ones." Scott’s hands began to move almost too fast for the eye to follow. Gabler scooped the crystals up, gently, almost reverently, and began putting them in the sockets Scott was emptying.


Back on the bridge of the Enterprise, the crew was scurrying, hoping to repair the ship before the Klingons repaired theirs.

"Captain," said Spock from the hooded viewer of his library-computer station, "I believe that the ambassador has returned. I would suggest that Doctor McCoy report to the ambassador’s quarters immediately; it appears that Hoorash has sustained severe injury during his brief visit with the Klingons."

Suddenly, the bridge lights flickered back on, and Scott’s brogue announced, "Warp drives are functional, Captain!"

"Scotty, you’re a miracle worker," Kirk enthused. "Sulu, get us out of here!"

"With pleasure, Captain!" Sulu tapped rapidly on the navigational console, and the reassuring sounds of the warp drives hurling the Enterprise into the comparative safety of neutral space filled the bridge.


McCoy hurried into the environmental support pod outside of the ambassador’s life support unit, fretting about what would be inside it. Once inside, McCoy’s fears were confirmed. Hoorash lay on the floor of the enclosure, his environmental support suit half melted from him. The delicate tracery of silvery lines on his skin were nearly invisible, and from the stump of what had once been an upper limb, Hoorash was leaking a silvery fluid. Several areas of Hoorash’s skin looked wrong to McCoy, thought he couldn’t quite say why. Without a second’s pause, he moved his pod to where he could reach the injured Suzran.

As he began stripping the suit off him, McCoy called Engineering. "Scotty, McCoy here. Need some help up here."

"Aye, Doctor. Something broken in Sickbay?"

"Not that simple. Do you happen to have anyone that can whip up a batch of an alloy for me? Looks like about twenty-five percent lead and bismuth, fifty percent tin, give or take a little."

"No need to, Doctor. We’ve kilos of it around here; it’s one of the low temperature solders we use on occasion. What on Earth do you—"

McCoy interrupted the Scotsman. "Good. Get up here with about ten or fifteen kilos of it. And if you have anything that I could use to pump it while it’s molten, particularly if it’s got a small orifice, bring that too. Just get up here as fast as you can."

"Doctor, the engine room’s still a shambles; I canna get loose at the moment. In case ye’ve forgotten, we’ve just had a rather nasty scrape wi’ the Klingons. The Enterprise needs a good deal of fixin’. I’ll send someone up to Sickbay with the solder, but—"

"Forget Sickbay, Scotty. I’m in the shuttle deck. Hoorash is badly injured, and as far as I can tell, your solder is as close to a transfusion as I can get. Now get your kilted behind up here before I—"

"I’ll be there as quickly as I can, Doctor McCoy. Scott out."


If it was possible, Hoorash looked even worse with his life support suit off, and McCoy was beginning to fear that the ambassador was already dead. One of the remaining upper limbs moved feebly. The doctor turned the pod to face Hoorash’s upper end. Through the translator in the pod, McCoy heard Hoorash’s voice.

"Doctor McCoy, I presume?"

"That’s right, Hoorash. Just lie still, will you? You’re wounded, and I’m waiting for one of the crew to bring a few things that we’re going to need here."

"McCoy, when you get to Suzr, remind my family that I loved them. There are a few trinkets that you can give them for me...."

"Deliver them yourself, Hoorash. I have no intention of letting you die on me. I haven’t lost an ambassador yet this year, and you’re not going to be the first one." McCoy wished his confidence matched his bravado; the leakage of the silver fluid was continuing despite the pressure on the wounded limb, and several large areas of skin were oozing it, whether from burns or frostbite, McCoy was unsure.

"Brave words, Doctor, and I thank you for them. But I doubt that..." Hoorash’s voice trailed off into silence.

The door behind McCoy cycled, and the other pod entered, carrying containers. "Here’s the solder ye were wantin’, Doctor. And..." Scott choked for a second. "Is yon mess the ambassador?"

"Yes, Scotty. And the puddle of silver that’s rapidly growing on the floor by him is his life blood. I’m hoping that that bucket of solder you’re swinging around will help me keep him from dying until we can get him back to Suzr, where they can do the job properly. Now give me that stuff, and whatever you’ve rigged for a pump."

Scott’s pod inched forward, and the manipulators selected a box with a pair of hoses coming from it. Scott dipped one into the now molten solder, and gave McCoy the other. "Find a way o’ puttin’ the business end o’ this tube somewhere it’ll do some good, and then trip this switch."

McCoy studied the end of the severed limb, looking for a likely place to start an IV line for molten metal. He wished that the pod had magnification available. One of the manipulators on Scott’s pod reached into another container, and began dusting Hoorash’s oozing skin with a dark colored powder.

"What do you think you’re doing, Scotty?"

"Tryin’ to stop the beastie from losin’ all the solder ye’ll be pumpin’ into him. Just a wee bit of a couple of metallic powders that should raise the meltin’ point of what he uses for blood; I’m hopin’ it’ll get it up enough to solidify and stop the leak. An’ I’ve brought a wee bit of silicon cement. It worked well enough with the Horta."

"You’re a genius, Scotty. Just give me a daub or two of that to hold this fool thing in Hoorash’s vein or whatever it is." Scott complied, and McCoy applied the slurry to the stump of Hoorash’s missing limb. McCoy started the pump. Slowly, the web work of silvery lines on Hoorash’s skin began to become visible again, and the loss of fluids slowed to a trickle. McCoy adjusted the pump speed a little bit.

Hoorash stirred. "McCoy?"

"Right here, Hoorash. I told you I wasn’t about to let you die, and I meant it."

"The other pod. Spock?"

"Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott at your service, Mister Ambassador. Th’ good doctor here isnae as comfortable working wi’ silicon and molten metal as we are down in Engineering. I’d guess the dilithium crystals that appeared out o’ nowhere in Engineering were a wee gift from you and the Klingons."

One of Hoorash’s upper limbs gestured. "Indeed. Klingons weren’t willing donors, but..."

"Ye bailed us out, right enough. Ye’re all right in my books, Hoorash."

"Thank you, Mister Scott." The ambassador’s limb fell back limply.

"Hoorash, you’d better rest. This lash-up that Scotty and I have put together isn’t exactly Sickbay quality material; you still need to get into a hospital on Suzr."

"We have no such, Doctor McCoy. We normally regenerate lost parts without trouble, and have never developed any medical skills. It is.. It is..."

"It is time, Hoorash, for you to sleep, or whatever you Suzrans do. Doctor’s Orders--and they outrank Captain’s Orders around here."

"Yes, Doctor." Hoorash began to produce a noise reminiscent of a gentle wind blowing through pine trees. McCoy assumed it was the Suzran equivalent of a snore.

"Good work, Scotty; we’ll make a doctor out of you yet." McCoy looked at the bucket of molten solder. "Can you get eight or ten more kilos of that stuff, Scotty? And that marvelous powdered metal you used as a coagulant?"

"Aye, Doctor; and if you don’t mind, I’ll be takin’ a sample of yon puddle on the floor, to see if we can make an alloy that’s a closer match. No doubt ye’ll be stayin’ with th’ ambassador?"

"Of course. Until we can get him to Suzr, anyhow."


McCoy spent most of the next day and night at Hoorash’s side, hovering over the Suzran until they went into orbit around Suzr, giving the injured ambassador the molten alloy Scott had made to match the one on the floor. While Hoorash had been resting, McCoy had tried to clean up some of the mess, with only modest success. Hoorash’s skin had begun to regrow, but McCoy was concerned about it; it looked wrong, almost as if it was rolled up at the healing edge. As for the missing limb, all there was at the stump was a large ball forming. Hoorash spent most of the time sleeping.

"Doctor," Spock’s voice came across the communications link, "we have arrived at Suzr. We have discussed the situation with the Suzrans, and have reached the conclusion that you should beam down with Hoorash, if you’re willing. Mister Scott is ready to transport, at your command."

"Great, Spock; I’ll be glad to get Hoorash turned over to whatever they use for handling the injured." McCoy edged the pod closer to Hoorash. "Have you established whether Hrashass is still alive? It was pretty important to Hoorash."

"Hrashass lives, Doctor, but is not expected to last much longer. You will be transported to a spot close by. The pod you are in should be able to help Hoorash to his life-mate."

"Good enough, Spock. Just let me make sure the power cells on this thing are at full charge before we go; I’d hate to have it fail on me in that steam-bath Hoorash calls home." There was a brief pause. "Okay, Scotty. Ready to transport."

"Aye, Doctor." The Suzran and the doctor disappeared.


Once on the surface of Suzr, Hoorash seemed to rally, standing and turning to the pod. "McCoy?"

"Yep, still me, Hoorash. You’ve slept a lot lately; I hope you’re feeling better."

"This looks like my home area on Suzr. Do you know if Hrashass lives?"

"As of last check, yes. If I’ve got my bearings straight, you’ll find Hrashass over that way. Don’t overdo it, now; you’ve had a nasty..."

Hoorash ignored McCoy’s advice and began moving as rapidly as possible in the direction McCoy had indicated. Fearful for his patient, McCoy followed as fast as the pod would go. After a short trek, the pod crested a small knoll. In the valley on the other side, it looked as if there were a silicate forest centered around one, large tree. McCoy guessed, from the appearance, that the central tree was Hrashass. The bright silver lines visible on the other Suzrans were a duller color, and instead of the almost golden color the other Suzrans' skin appeared, Hrashass’ skin appeared more of an ivory. Hoorash was moving as rapidly as possible, calling Hrashass’ name. As the pod came to the edge of the crowd, the Suzrans parted, allowing McCoy to follow behind. He pulled the pod up beside Hoorash, ready to intervene at the first sign of trouble. A quick look at the readout of his tricorder reassured him: being back home was doing Hoorash a world of good. McCoy scanned the other Suzrans in the crowd; as scant as the data the Federation had on the Suzrans, he knew that the scan’s results would be invaluable.

McCoy returned his attention to Hrashass. The limbs were clearly drooping further. McCoy shook his head. There was no mistaking the signs of death nearing. He brought the tricorder around to scan Hrashass. Something about standing idly watching the impending death of another sentient being offended McCoy’s soul. He moved near Hoorash. "Uh, excuse me, Hoorash. I know this is a tough time for you and all, but would it be all right if I, ah, tried to do what I could for Hrashass?"

Hoorash seemed to turn and stare at the life support pod. His voice was filled with grief. "Hrashass suffers direly, McCoy. If all you do is reduce that, I will be grateful. Let me ask my other life-mates." Hoorash’s voice boomed without translation for a moment or two; two other Suzrans boomed in response. "We are agreed, McCoy. Please, do what you can."

McCoy studied the tricorder a moment, then flipped his communicator open. "Scotty, do you have any of that stuff you whipped up for Hoorash left?"

"Aye, Doctor. Kilos of it."

"Could you rig a pump to pull the stuff out of a vessel and pump in fresh?"

"Nae problem at all. I’m guessing ye’ll be wanting it as soon as possible?"

"Yesterday would be nice, Scotty. And thirty or forty kilos of that alloy."

Within a moment or two, the mechanism appeared near McCoy’s pod, along with a large vat of the alloy. Gingerly, McCoy found the largest leaden colored line on Hrashass skin, pushing the tips of the two pumps in, pointing away from each other. He muttered an almost silent prayer as he triggered them both. Hoorash moved closer to McCoy, watching eagerly. As the fluid in the vat began to run nearly out, McCoy had Scott transport another batch into it. A second and third new batch were transported. Slowly, Hrashass’ limbs began to raise, and the lines on Hrashass’ skin began to be a brighter hue. Hoorash grasped McCoy’s pod in excitement. Even McCoy could tell Hrashass was recovering. As the last of Scott’s alloy was pumped into Hrashass' vessels, McCoy disconnected both pumps.

"That’s as much as I can do, Hoorash. I hope it’ll be enough."

Hoorash’s trunk bent deeply. "It is more than we could have hoped, McCoy. I and my family thank you."

McCoy blushed inside the pod. "All in a day’s work, Hoorash. Look, the power cells are running out on this little machine. I’ve got to get back to the ship." A wave of tiredness washed over McCoy as he spoke. "I think I’m running my own power cells down, too. I’ll check back with you when I’ve had a nap, okay?"

"Of course, McCoy. And again, our thanks." The Suzrans moved away from the pod, and it disappeared as Scott transported it to the Enterprise.


Much refreshed after a long nap, McCoy returned to the bridge. Kirk turned as he entered. "About time, Bones! Hoorash has been calling every fifteen minutes for the last three hours. Seems to be in a hurry to talk to you. What did you do? Manage to convince one of those cute trees to fall in love with you?"

McCoy tried to look innocent, with a total lack of success. "Well, not exactly, Jim. I just couldn’t stand there and watch his life-mate die without trying to help..."

Before McCoy could finish his sentence the forward viewscreen burst into life.

Kirk turned to Uhura who just raised her hands in helplessness. "I don’t know how they do it, Captain. I’m sorry."

"It’s all right, Lieutenant," he chuckled. "Their communications technology is just better than ours."

A Suzran, obviously not Hoorash, was in the middle of the viewscreen. "Captain Kirk, is McCoy available? Hoorash wishes to speak to him, if possible."

"At your service, sir!" McCoy said.

The Suzran bent slightly, and gestured to someone off screen. Hoorash and another Suzran walked slowly into the screen.


"Hello, Hoorash. How’re you doing? Didn’t like the looks of that burn of yours last time I saw it."

"It is healing well, Doctor. A week or two, and my... my... either my skin or my bark, I’m not sure which... either way, it will be back to normal. The lost limb will take a month or so, but it should be as good as new. I have someone here I want you to meet."

"I’d guessed as much. Who’s your friend, there?"

"Hrashass. What you did has restored Hrashass to very nearly normal health."

Hrashass' voice joined the conversation; it was a booming basso. "I owe you my life, McCoy. I offer my thanks for that, and for your restoring Hoorash to me. I look forward to our people learning a great deal from your Federation, if you will welcome us into it."

To Kirk’s amusement, McCoy blushed. "Don’t mention it, and I’m sure you’ll be more than welcome. Anyhow, we owed Hoorash one, after he got us out of the scrape we were in with the Klingons. Hoorash, why did you do it? You were risking your life for us all; you didn’t owe us anything."

"Perhaps, perhaps not. I had a good reason that had nothing to do my being in your debt."

"Getting home to Hrashass?"

"That, too, I suppose. But there was an even greater force that drove me, McCoy. Do Humans ever get homesick?"

McCoy’s jaw dropped open. Kirk entered the conversation, rescuing his speechless companion. "We sure do, Hoorash, we sure do. I’d probably have done the same thing if the roles were reversed."

Hrashass spoke again. "I am sure that your crew must also be homesick, then, Kirk. Yours is a short-lived species, and you are no doubt eager to see your loved ones, too. We shall look forward to your return."

"Thanks, Hrashass. We’ll make arrangements with the Federation Council. An ambassador will be dispatched immediately, I’m sure, to work out the terms with your people." Kirk stood and looked at the ambassador with fondness. "I hope we’ll meet again. End transmission." Kirk turned to Sulu. "Mister Sulu, take us somewhere we can get some shore leave. I’m feeling homesick already."

"Aye, Captain!" Sulu engaged the warp drive, and the Enterprise left Suzr behind.

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