September 8th 2295
Commander Uhura looked at the meals she and her young friend were having, and shook her head. "Sweet potato fries, pork roll, egg and cheese, and a guacamole burger. So much for the exotic cuisine of the Beta Quadrant. I could have gotten all this at Bay's. Our friendly captain has some funny ideas about where to put in for a short shore leave. Add in bar pie pizza night, and we're already home."
As far as Uhura could tell, Lieutenant Peter Kirk wasn't enthused by their selections either. "Would you believe Saavik made me promise to eat meat while I was away? She doesn't want to feel like she's forcing me into vegetarianism. I don't eat that much meat to begin with. This junk will probably skew my cholesterol on through to retirement. But everything else here is served with layers of heavy cream and melted cheese. Apparently, they consider a flame-cooked burger with a thick Mexican topping as part of their exotic light menu."
Uhura held up the menu again. "Deep-fried kielbasa, onion and cheese piroshki delivered in a pumpernickel bread shell with even more onions, sour cream and a heavy dose of hot paprika? Who made first contact with this world, a crew of Eastern European chefs?"
Kirk held up a finger. "Actually, Commander ...yes. They were on their way to a cook-off on one of the outer colonies, evaded some Orions, and got hopelessly lost."
As Peter munched on his burger, Uhura waited for the chuckle. It never came. "You're serious?" He nodded. "The town center here is Boleslaw Kubelski Square. The local officials refer to a certain segment of the public as 'the goulash vote'."
She rolled her eyes. "Pavel would be right at home here."
Kirk shook his head. "Not possible. No borscht, and I'm sure most of this isn't even kosher. Willis O'Brien's in hog heaven, though. Says eating food that's been flash frozen is making him skinny. He should be by soon."
A thought that did not necessarily brighten Uhura's day. The reporter was, to her mind, as apt to broach sensitive subjects as her circle of friends aboard Enterprise were to never even think of bringing them up. Happily, Peter Kirk was among those who liked privacy and also respected it.
"I'm glad you two are getting along. But doesn't he push you to your limits sometimes?" she asked. "I mean, as socially inept as he is..."
Kirk, smiled, made a fist, and then mock-punched his own nose. "Lets just say that we two have something of an understanding. Besides, his big thing with me right now is that interview about the Kirk family and the media. Won't that be a little slice of heaven?"
A platter came to the table, and it was indeed the aforementioned dietary nightmare: double-stuffed piroshki. Uhura only knew that she hadn't ordered them. She shook her head. "Peter, no."
While Kirk did take one, he made the dish's origins clear. "Willis asked me to order them. Geez, it tastes like it was deep-fried in bacon grease! I better not write Doctor McCoy about this place; he'll have the Federation declare war."
While it was doubtful that the man who had just returned from the Klingon home world with a new bride would care right then about a distant planet's poor diet, Uhura smiled to think about McCoy's possible reactions. "It isn't just nostalgia that brings me here with you, Peter. I miss doing things like this. Just lunch...or maybe brunch with a crewman whose company I enjoy. Since last December, its all been a push session."
Kirk nodded. "It's only recently that I feel like I've stood down from all that happened at the end of last year. In fact, I still haven't written Doctor McCoy with my congratulations, or seen a picture of his new bride. You know what they say about remarriages? I wonder if she looks anything at all like Tere..."
Uhura's wristcom beeped, just then. It was the captain of the Enterprise. "Chekov to Uhura."
"Uhura here, Captain," she responded immediately.
Chekov's voice sounded neutral, perhaps indicating that this call was not about an emergency. "Penda, pick two officers on leave with you and send them to meet the local constables at the following coordinates." The digital display on the comm unit gave her the coordinates, and then he continued, "Apparently, a Federation citizen has broken several truth-in-selling laws, and the planet's government wants a Starfleet presence as he is taken in. I am assured he presents no danger, so any two officers at lieutenant grade or above will do."
Uhura gave Kirk a look. The younger officer seemed to catch on quickly, and nodded. "With your permission, sir, Mister Kirk and I will handle this one ourselves. We need to work off some of the local cuisine."
"Da. I had heard it was a trifle...filling. Mister Kirk, I've located a kosher deli approximately three hundred meters from your present position."
"Understood, Captain. Your usual bagels and lox?"
"Also, pick me up a rye, a nice brown mustard, and some thin-sliced pastrami."
"Yes, sir. Kirk out."
Uhura surveyed his half-eaten double-stuffed piroshki. "You want a to-go box for that?"
Peter shuddered. "No," he barely mumbled while shaking his head. "I've already developed the worst case of heartburn I've had since we tried the fire apples on 1728 Hydra Four. I leave it to our beloved media-rep, when he comes. And he can have it."
After paying their tab, having the food held for O'Brien, and checking their phasers to ensure a stun setting was locked in, the pair began their short walk to another local eatery, not run-down or seedy, but not quite as well-kept as the one they'd left. The doors and porch had something of the aspect of a saloon. Uhura looked over at the oaken-seeming entrance. "The OK Corral it's not."
Peter turned with a start and then realized she wasn't referring to the Melkot-induced illusion of a re-enactment of a historically twisted version of the famous gunfight locale.
Uhura caught the panicked look on his face. "Something I said?"
"Sorry, just a tad touchy. Must be post-trauma from having a nosey reporter as a cabin mate." Peter Kirk surveyed the area around the saloon with eyes that while not those of an eagle, had in fact been trained to notice even the most minute things by a sentient being very much like an eagle. This had been Security Chief Ch'terr's way of showing other crew that even some of the best fighters needed extra security training.
"I'm glad its not the OK Corral, Commander. Gunfights in the Old American West were notorious for having hidden gunmen on rooftops and in barrels and such. Some of the most noted--and notorious--showdowns were not as one-on-one as we've been taught. History is replete with inaccurate versions of many famous events. Even my uncle and Mister Spock were both completely confused about the legendary gunfight at the OK Corral."
A lightbulb lit up in a corner of Uhura's mind. "The Melkotians... Now I remember. Sorry, didn't mean to dredge up your old family history." But she made a mental note to keep the younger Kirk away from Ambassador Spock, whenever possible. The young Kirk reminded her of how Pavel Chekov used to try to out-Vulcan the Vulcan. "So do you see any lookouts or such, Lieutenant?"
"Negative, Commander. However, I also don't see any signs of our contacts in local law enforcement."
Uhura set a timer on her wrist-comm. "Then we wait for a while. After that, we contact the captain."
During the fifteen minutes that followed, Kirk showed an unease that Uhura finally began to feel herself. "Something to say, Mister Kirk?"
He shook his head. "Nothing concrete, Commander. But I just got the same exact feeling I did when I was a kid playing spin the bottle, just before the bottle pointed towards a girl I was not interested in kissing."
Uhura tried to joke him out of this near-funk. "Kissing while on duty is against regulations, Mister. Besides, you're not my type."
The beeping timer rescued them from one of Peter Kirk's notorious one-liners, and the executive officer made contact with Enterprise. "Uhura here, sir. No sign of the local constabularies." Chekov was not letting them off the hook just yet, though. "Penda, you and Peter make a quick surveillance of this eatery before beaming back up. Determine if the Federation citizen--a middle-aged Human male named Hercules Farnsworth Martens--is still in there, and whether he is all right at present. That should satisfy our obligations. In the meantime, I'll let the local police department know our dim opinion of those who don't keep their appointments. Chekov out."
Uhura secured her weapon out of sight, and Kirk did the same. She reminded him of the basics. "Our uniforms can prove provocative enough, so don't go looking for trouble."
Peter Kirk did not respond, knowing that Commander Uhura would likely say the same to any officer short of Chekov as they walked into an iffy situation. As they entered the saloon, though, Kirk pointed to a table in the far back, and some men playing cards. "I can't make him out just yet, but that man seems to match Martens' description. I'll ask the manager to confirm his ID." Yet this was to prove unnecessary as 'Hercules Farnsworth Martens' rose up from his seat at the card game, looking indignant and sounding oh-so familiar.
"Why, sir! The very idea that a card player of my skills should even be accused of cheating is beneath contempt! I am, therefore, taking my winnings and departing your sorry company immediately! Good day, sir--good day, indeed!"
Both Starfleet officers knew him. Neither felt very proud of this fact. The man before them was neither friend, ally, nor enemy. He was mostly a royal pain in the ass. The bald, graying pate, handlebar-style moustache and innate phony swagger in his voice and stance said all the rest. Disconcertingly, the lieutenant and the commander spoke as one. Neither sounded pleased.
Caught up in his own show of false bravado, Mudd did not yet see or hear the Enterprise officers. Uhura shook her head slowly. "I'm getting too old for this."
Perhaps Kirk at times tried a little too hard to be helpful. But he thought he had a simple solution to their problem. "Commander, he's leaving the game. I suggest we hide ourselves from Harry's view, watch him withdraw, and follow him discreetly at a distance. Then, when we've verified he's been arrested by the local cops, we beam the hell up. The captain will be glad we avoided him."
Uhura rubbed the left side of her head. "As would his first officer. But Peter, trust me on this. Things are never that simple with Harry Mudd."
Kirk reminded her of something. "I know. I spent three years locked up with the man in Tantalus. Now, that was true punishment."
Penda shook her head. "Just what did he do that got him three or more years?"
Peter looked over. Mudd was still on a long-winded tear about his supposed honesty. "It was his recidivism rate. A judge had apparently warned him about showing up in his court again. Harry ignored this warning--"
"--yes. And to boot, our Harcourt Fenton Mudd pleaded insanity. The judge agreed. I remember when Harry first showed up. The doctors actively tried to avoid sessions with him. After a few months, Doctor Noel was even asking my advice on how to deal with Harry--and this was after I nearly jumped him. Did you know her hair had no gray in it before she met him?"
Uhura merely nodded. "That I believe. I believe your uncle's hair receded another centimeter each time we encountered him." She considered the situation. "I like your advice, Mister Kirk. So let's see if we can just wait him and the local police out."
At the card table, one of the aliens seated pulled a knife on Mudd. "Shut up, Martens! Just shut the hell up. You are very likely a cheat, and you are not leaving here with that much of our money. Understood?"
Harry sputtered something plainly in fear, and the two Starfleet officers knew their task had just gotten more complicated. Kirk tried offering a solution, inwardly not as confident as he sounded. "Commander, I've gotten him out of this kind of thing before. Back in Tantalus, Lenore Karidian and Irina Galliulin were once going to roast him on a spit."
Uhura sighed. "That place was a regular reunion hall, wasn't it? Approach with caution, Mister Kirk. I have you covered. But be prepared to evacuate."
Peter Kirk grabbed at his queasy stomach. "I think I almost did, just now. Those double-stuffed piroshki are making for an excellent purgative."
Uhura muttered under her breath as he walked towards the card game. "Many thanks for sharing that with me, Peter." But she was also thankful that he was taking this seriously. Little situations like this could hide some very large powderkegs. And that was without the presence of a glad-hander like Harry Mudd.
His opened hands up raised to the level of his shoulders, Lieutenant Kirk made his presence known to the card players. "Pardon me, but I think I see an easy way out of this."
Mudd's panicked face took on a look of recognition when he looked at Kirk. "Peter, me lad..."
The knife-wielder pointed his weapon in the newcomer's direction. "Stay back, and stay out of what doesn't concern you!"
Peter Kirk's eyes shot a sharp glare at Mudd, then at the cards being used, and finally back at the knife-wielder. "I can't. This man, this professional pain in the ass, is a Federation citizen. And he has done what he does best, get himself and others in way over their heads. I'm a Starfleet officer, and his protection is my sworn duty."
"Aye," Mudd beamed, "yer still a fine lad, Petey, me boy. A fine lad jus' doin' his duty, as it were. Why, my old dear friend, his uncle, happens to be very highly placed in our Federation. I think he's President For Life, now, Petey?"
Kirk sighed. "My uncle Jim is dead, Harry. But you're still alive and swindling...a fact which makes me question the very concept of divine justice."
The knife-wielder looked at Mudd. "Ahh. Then he really does know you."
"All that being said..." Peter put his hands on Harry's piles of credit-chits and pushed them over to the knife and the other players. "...I'm only here to protect his life and legal property. I'm not here to cover his speculation. If there's a dispute as to whose money this is, then that keeps me from protecting his life. So here's the money--end of dispute."
"But you can't do that to me!" Mudd's face crumpled. "You can't!"
Uhura was still nervous about all this, but she had to keep back for several reasons. One of those was to provide Kirk with cover. Another was among the harshest truths of command. His life was expendable. Hers, as First Officer, was not. Still, he seemed to be handling it all rather well. "Now, if we could only get you to delegate more."
But Harry Mudd was, predictably, not enamored of Kirk's solution. "Petey, m'boy," he continued his pleadings, "those are all my winnings! Perhaps though, as a gesture of intergalactic goodwill as it were, we could allow the gentleman to keep some small portion of what he has quite honestly lost, but I can assure you that, I, Harcourt Fenton Mudd, have never once cheated in any game of chance!"
The knife-wielding man's eyes narrowed to slits.
"You said your name was--what is your name?"
Peter shook his head. "Oh, our man here has quite a few names. Leo was one. Makes me sorry I was born under that sign. As to his cheating? I agree, Harry. You've never once cheated. You're constantly cheating." He pushed Harry away from the table, his winnings, and two men who looked as though they were ready to kill.
"Harry, I have to get you out of here. That man wants to hurt you, and I'm not at all certain I want to stop him. Now take the hit and leave the game alive."
Mudd was almost turning his nose up at the thought. "Why, I won't hear of it! My honor and my dignity have been badly impugned, and you, Petey, wish to reward this rapscallion's besmirchment of my good name by giving away my earnings! Hmmph! You think yourself better than me? Sir, I'll have you remember, you were an inmate at that facility, the same as I!"
The other player briefly spoke. "Huh? Him I don't have to guess, but what were you in for?" Peter Kirk tried his best to keep calm. As had his uncle before him.
But he was now failing, Uhura chimed in, "He shot a man on Rigel, just to watch him die. But he was my best security officer, so I had him sprung."
The other player maintained his silence after that.
Kirk kept on. "Harry, you're right. When you're right, you're right. I am no better than you. I'm probably worse. So as one lowlife to another--it's time to be moving on. Quickly, and with all due and undue haste. Your would-be attackers don't like you. Your would-be rescuers don't like you. Harry, most people don't like you. The constables want you, though. They want to talk with you. They don't have knives like these gents do, and they don't know you well enough to be truly pissed off just yet. Harry, me fine lad--it's past time to leave the money and run. Savvy?"
His arm around Harry's as he stood him up, Peter Kirk began to inch Mudd away, slowly but surely. "Petey, may I--"
"Not a damned word, Harry. If you stay, he'll kill or wound or maim you, and I am not missing out on making Lieutenant Commander because of you. Remember what I did to those boards at the Tantalus Gym?"
Mudd gulped, nodded and at last began to move of his own accord. But the knife had other ideas.
"No damn you, Martens, Mudd, whoever! You will stay and finish this game, or be branded a cheat in every corner of this world. You won't even be able to gamble with kielbasa chits, when I'm done with you. I still haven't figured out how you crossed me, so sit the hell down."
To both Kirk and Uhura's exasperation, Harry Mudd sat right back down at the poker table. "Understood, Mister Sanololen. Perhaps I am to blame in some fashion, after all. I was a trifle hasty in leaving your fine game before giving you a chance at winning back some of the funds you lost so fairly and squarely."
Peter Kirk chose then to let the situation get the better of him. He held a card up to the light, and looked Mudd straight in the eye. "Harry? This game is now over. Mark me on this, and mark me well."
Sanololen, the knife-wielding alien of a species even exobiologist Kirk couldn't nail down, now stood up and yelled. "These cards are marked, then?" Both local players stood up, knives at the ready, and began advancing on the withdrawing Mudd and Kirk.
Kirk winced. "They figured that out?"
Mudd gulped again. "Petey, my old android friend Norman could have figured that one out."
A spray of stun-set phaser fire knocked the angry players down. Her weapon still hot from the sudden use, Uhura walked over and looked as though she could slap Kirk. "Mark me? You actually said that while holding up a card? Are you out of your mind, Lieutenant? Time and place, Mister Kirk. Another pun that insipid and unthinking, and I'll put you on report. Mark me?"
Her eyebrows furled, then relaxed. "You did try, I'll say that. Maybe I'll just chalk it up to the pressures of dealing with Harry Mudd.
"Ah, the lovely Uhura, with her beautifully bountiful..." Mudd paused, at a loss of how to continue without further aggravating his position.
Uhura rolled her eyes anew at the inane wonder. "No. Not maybe. With Harry, its just a given that someone will misstep."
"Shut up, Harry. You're coming with us to the local jail. Peter, let's get going."
"Petey, my dear boy?"
"Shut up, Harry, and stop calling me Petey." He turned to face the executive officer. "Agreed, Commander. And you were right about the joke--it was both lame and inappropriate."
Mudd was exasperated and nearly panicking. "While I am greatly delighted to see the both of you, may I point out..."
They looked at him in utter contempt. "SHUT UP, HARRY!!!"
Mudd pointed beyond their backs, a look of terror on his face.
Uhura and Kirk turned to see that the knife-wielding alien apparently had friends. Ill-tempered friends. Nausicaan friends. Three of them. All very tall and muscular, with apparent body hair and fur, and upper molars that crossed downwards along craggy mouths. They carried large Mark XII blasters that effectively negated the advantage of their phasers--not to mention calling for a quick beam-out.
Uhura spoke to Mudd. "You played high-stakes poker with a marked deck with a knife-carrying man who has Nausicaan cronies?"
The rotund man tried to joke it all away. "Well, it would be foolish of me to deny it now, now wouldn't it?"
"Harry Mudd, you haven't changed one damned bit." Uhura now sorely hoped her junior officer was in his best fighting trim. "Peter, you take out the big one."
His eyes wide, Kirk looked at her. "They're all the big one!" But disobeying or truly questioning her was not really in him, and so he recalled what he knew of Nausicaans. Fierce and strong, but not even as powerful as Segh vav Klingons were. As a species, surly and often spoiling for a fight. And they specialized in underhanded tactics.
One of the Nausicaans spoke to the others, and the Enterprise officers were suddenly reminded that Nausicaans loved to taunt. "Keep the fat bald one alive. He doubtless owes Sanololen money. But kill the boy and his mother."
A furious Uhura shot at all three simultaneously, her phaser blazing at one of those receiving the orders and administering several kicks to the groin, stomach, chest and skull of the one who had issued them. "He is not a boy, and I am not his mother!!!"
The third Nausicaan rolled away and tried to fire at Uhura. Peter Kirk shot the blaster out of his hands, something an Old West gunfighter probably could not have done with the weapons of that day. The Nausicaan now came at him with a dagger. "You must be insane to cross us, Human!"
Peter's eyes bulged in apparent anger. A button had been pushed. "Don't call me insane!" A jump kick caught the Nausicaan square in his solar plexus, and then Kirk's fist knocked the attacker down. A few more face punches while he was down knocked him out cold. Kirk shook his hand out, hurting from striking the thick-headed opponent. "I was crazy once. But I'm feeling much better now."
With another swift kick to the ribs of the one who had taunted her, Uhura turned to Kirk and Mudd. "Let's go now."
"Yes, ma'am," Peter responded still feeling sheepish after his blunder. He tossed the bartender a decacredit.
Harry Mudd gulped, and tried a bit of bravado. "Well, I'd best be off before certain people start asking certain questions." As he turned, the formerly absent local deputies stood behind him in the company of Captain Chekov. Mudd frowned sadly. "People like these."
Mudd strode toward Chekov, as though greeting an old friend. "Ah, Pavel, m'lad! A captain at last! And well-deserved, to be certain. Could you prevail upon these fine officers to have me placed into Federation custody? These are gentle folk, to be certain, but they do believe in harsh helpings of community service. Not my cup o' tea, you understand."
Chekov shook his head. "Sorry, Harry. But when in Moscow, one must do as the Muscovites do...And if you want to dance, you have to pay the piper." He tisked repeatedly while shaking his head. "Besides, I'm sure sixteen months of hard labor repaving the streets of Yeltsin Five will do you vwonders." He patted Mudd on his overample tummy. "Wonders, I'm sure."
Harry Mudd was taken away, looking pretty much as he always did after encountering the officers of the Enterprise.
Captain Chekov then turned and nodded at his subordinates and friends. "I contacted the constables, and they said 'Martens' had so many charges against him, they were still processing them all. Then they sent me his picture. After I went 'oy vey' a few times, I decided you might need back-up." Chekov surveyed the waylaid Nausicaans and their other two associates. "This is the last time I send you two for deli take-out. Know that I'll be anxiously awaiting the report on this one. Chekov to Enterprise. Three to beam up."
Uhura spoke softly to Kirk before the transporter officer could lock on to their coordinates."Peter, it may only be in the galley, but we are having that meal together."
"Fine by me, Commander. So what are we having?" Uhura fought down a ferocious burp that she didn't want to release, even in front of officers likely to respect her privacy. It seemed that her pork roll, egg and cheese might have been cooked in the same bacon grease as the double-stuffed piroshskis.
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