A FUNNY THING HAPPENED By: M. C. Pehrson
The Enterprise was settling into orbit around the planet Kreet when Spock noticed a brief sensation, like a mild shock of electric current tingling through his body. The bridge crew shifted in their seats and muttered as he consulted his instruments.
Captain Kirk left the command chair and came up beside him at the science station. "Spock. What was that?"
Gazing into his sensor hood, Spock replied, "Most curious, Captain. The disturbance is emanating from deep within the planet core; some sort of pulsing energy flux that becomes physically tangible in areas of highest concentration." He straightened to finish his report. "The preliminary scan suggests energy-radiant mineral deposits, harmless to plant and animal life."
"There's no record of this."
"True. First contact was established by the disabled freighter, Tarvlod. Sensors aboard such vessels are usually quite limited."
Kirk had received a comprehensive report forwarded from the freighter's log. Class M planet. Space travel limited to orbital capability. Natives rather simian in appearance and highly argumentative. The Kreetans had enjoyed their first taste of bananas from the Tarvlov's stores, and as a measure of goodwill, the Enterprise was delivering the fruit stock they had requested. Correction: vociferously demanded.
"Keep it monitored," he said.
Their eyes met in silent understanding. A recent encounter with a strange phenomenon of warp space harmonics had proven chaotic. Spock had also judged that anomaly safe, even while the majority of the crew was rapidly going mad.
Kirk could almost smile about it now. Privately he thought, Should have gotten his pay docked for that one. But he probably would have found some way around it.
"Captain." Uhura's quiet voice distracted him. "I've established communication with His Awesome Highness, Trogg of Kreet."
Kirk had barely returned to his command chair when a startling visage appeared on the forward view screen. Even more unsettling than Trogg's grimacing, apelike features was the belligerent tone in which His Awesome Highness demanded the immediate delivery of his banana shoots-as if the shipment was a month late instead of two days early. Handling the excitable Trogg called on all of Kirk's diplomatic skills. When His Awesome Highness at last huffed away to consult his aides, Kirk gratefully turned to his own executive officer for a dose of Vulcan calm. But alas, he found Spock immersed in his computer terminal, obviously bewildered by a deluge of little papers spewing from a slot. The normally immaculate station was littered with printouts.
"What the Sam Hill is going on?" Kirk asked.
Spock was too distracted by the current situation to remark on his captain's use of the McCoyism. "The computer. It...is not functioning normally."
"Oh?" Considering past difficulties such as sultry computer voices and endearments, Kirk almost expected to find love notes. And as Spock made way for him, a quick scan of the printouts revealed that he was not too far wrong. Breaking into a grin, he asked, "Is this some kind of joke?"
The dark Vulcan eyes reproached him. "Captain. Are you actually suggesting that I..."
"No. Of course not." Starfleet pay statements for the amount of one million credits each were not really amusing, not when they were all made out to Commander Spock. Nevertheless, Kirk had a difficult time appearing solemn. "No, Spock. I'd certainly expect you to take your criminal activities very seriously."
The printouts stopped appearing. With a look of longsuffering, Spock gathered every one into a neat pile and shoved them into the bridge disposal chute. With a few expert adjustments, he soon had the overpayments deducted from his account. But that was not the end of the day's trouble.
The Kreetans, being suspicious as well as disagreeable, refused the use of the ship's transporter for both themselves and the fruit stock. All Kirk's attempts to reassure them had no effect, and the temperamental simians also balked at Spock's Vulcanly persuasion. In the end, a pair of Kreetan observers were shuttled aboard ship to supervise the loading of their precious cargo.
Kirk, Spock, and Lieutenant Uhura were in the landing bay when two disoriented, space-sick Kreetans stumbled from the shuttlecraft. Spock nimbly sprang forward, saving one bowlegged alien from a nasty fall while Kirk attempted to steady the other, but both were rudely rebuffed. An unintelligible scolding followed, eluding even Uhura, who had gleaned the fundamentals of Kreetan speech from a Tarvlov log tape and programmed a universal translator which hung around her neck. The three officers stood in mute dismay before their snarling, foot-stamping guests.
The mass of guttural outcries brought a shriek from the overtaxed translator that further excited the Kreetans.
"Turn that thing off," Kirk ordered. "Uhura, just try talking to them."
Killing the translator, Uhura gamely stepped forward. The Kreetans fell silent, simian muscles tensed, leathery fingers poised at bejeweled dagger hilts. Maintaining a prudent distance, Uhura struggled to imitate the harsh Kreetan tones in a formal greeting. The aliens relaxed somewhat and rephrased their complaints in slow, simple language. Uhura's jaw tightened as she heard them out.
At last she interpreted, "Our Kreetan guests found travelling in our shuttle disagreeable."
Kirk snorted. "I bet they had more to say than that."
"A loose translation, sir."
"Yes, loose." Kirk had arrived at Kreet with an open mind, but these feisty aliens were stressing his natural tolerance to its outer limit. As the Kreetans began to poke their twitching nostrils into each and every crate of banana shoots, he could not resist murmuring to his officers, "Remind you of anyone?"
Chief Engineer Scott had arrived to watch. "A wee bit like Klingons," he said with distaste.
Spock nodded. "There are certain similarities."
Kirk's thought exactly. He was not surprised when, with the crates securely loaded and ready for delivery, the head Kreetan erupted into a fresh tirade. "Well?" Kirk asked his beleaguered communications officer.
Uhura glanced uneasily at Scott before issuing her report to the captain. "Due to the Kreetan's general anxiety in regard to our space vehicle, they...respectfully...request a thorough examination of the shuttle prior to boarding."
"What?" Scott bristled. "Captain, I can assure ye, this vessel's in prime condition."
Kirk sighed. "Yes, I'm certain of that, Scotty, but our honored guests don't share my confidence. If a simple preflight check will ease their fears...and get them on their way..."
"By all means, do it," Spock interjected.
Turning to the irksome, insulting task, Scott grumbled, "I say throw ‘em in a torpedo tube an' be done with ‘em."
He had travelled only two steps when Uhura's voice stopped him. "Wait, Mister Scott." Apologetically she explained, "They want Spock to inspect the shuttle." With a hint of a playful smile, she turned to her significant other. "It seems that they've taken a liking to Vulcan ears."
"His...ears?" Scott considered this a direct affront to his profession. "Why, the bleedin' little black-hearted-" A sharp glance from the captain silenced him. In rigid protest he withdrew, hands on hips, as Spock usurped his engineering duties.
Hovering nearby, the Kreetans watched Spock's every move with venomous suspicion. Their occasional comments drew responses from Uhura, ludicrous apish sounds that served to restrain them. Spock made an impressive show of contorting his body into impossible angles as he pried open panels and studied their contents.
At last he muscled himself upright, and pausing to straighten his uniform tunic, sighed audibly. "The shuttle has passed inspection, and the Kreetan disposition is not apt to improve with any further delay."
"Nor is ours," Kirk noted drily. As the irascible aliens were escorted aboard the Galileo, he could not help thinking, I'll be damn glad to get rid of them-permanently. Then he accompanied his senior officers to the observation booth and waited as the bay depressurized.
The boxy Galileo rotated on its pad and embarked without mishap.
Turning from the window, Scott declared with a sour expression, "Well, there goes trouble, an' good riddance if ye ask me. I canna help feelin' ‘twas an ill day that the Tarvlod drifted upon that menagerie."
No one disagreed.
"They are," Spock said, "a most difficult people." As the others drifted away, he stood gazing out at the bay doors, his lips compressed into a grim, contemplative line.
Barely out of earshot, Scott said, "Ye know, I think those Kreetan baboons actually got under Spock's skin, too...though he'd never admit it. Imagine tryin' to establish diplomatic relations with-"
"Captain!" The thunderous shout made Kirk and his companions turn.
Spock was at the booth's small viewscreen, eyes wide open in horror. "Jim...the shuttlecraft. It...it exploded! Disintegrated. The Kreetans, our pilots, the cargo...all lost."
There was a rush to join him. The screen held only bits of debris drifting off toward infinity.
There was no problem with Uhura's translator now.
Seated in the briefing room, Kirk felt dangerously tempted to end Trogg's mad blustering with a flick of a control. Somehow he restrained himself.
"Tell me, Kirk! Who is responsible? Who are you protecting?"
Kirk felt perspiration on his forehead as he took stock of the officers in their customary seats. Scott and Uhura looked understandably tense. Spock appeared as cool as ever, but totally self-absorbed, eyes distant and unfocussed. Each man was feeling the strain in his own way.
"A crime against Kreet!" shrieked Trogg. The translator's tiny speaker vibrated from the onslaught. "A heinous act committed by the Federation warlords!"
Kirk cleared his throat. "A tragedy, yes, but hardly a crime. My first officer personally inspected the shuttle prior to launch, at your representative's request. I was present, and I assure you there was no possibility of sabotage."
"The Vulcan?" Trogg's tone made the word sound obscene. Spock's attention riveted to the tabletop screen. "Then he tampered! That Vulcan pig is guilty by your own admission! Kretan justice demands that you deliver him into our hands!"
Scott spoke in a low aside that bypassed the directional speaker. "Just who does that tin god think he's talkin' to?"
In the same circumspect manner, Kirk answered, "He's damn well going to find out." Turning back to the monkey-faced Trogg, he said, "Most Awesome Highness. I have already expressed my regret and offered condolences for the accidental loss of your people and your banana shipment. I have assured you that the cargo will be replaced at the very-"
"Captain," Trogg growled deep in his throat, "will you also replace my sons?"
With a sudden wash of static, the com screen went dark.
Scott jumped for the console, worked various controls, and frowned. "The entire com system's gone dead, Captain."
Kirk eased back in his chair, relieved. "Well, I can't exactly say I'm sorry. This breakdown came at the best possible moment, and we'd better take advantage of it." He glanced around the table before his eyes settled on Spock. "Any thoughts?"
"The ruler's sons," Spock said thoughtfully. "Princes of Kreet. They made no mention of the fact when they were here."
"We've no cause to disbelieve Trogg."
"Indeed, Captain. It would explain what seems to be excessive behavior, even for a Kreetan. This is more than a political blow for His Awesome Highness. He has suffered a deep personal tragedy."
"An' now he's hot for revenge," Scott said. "But accordin' to the Tarvlod, the Kreetans have no weapons that can reach us here in orbit."
Kirk shook his head. "I wouldn't stake 400 lives on that report. As a safeguard, we're going to yellow alert. No one's about to be sacrificed on Trogg's altar of vengeance."
"Why not just warp out o' this mess?" Scott wondered.
"The repercussions would reach all the way to Starfleet Command," Kirk replied. "Remember, we came here as goodwill ambassadors."
"Aye, but not even Starfleet Command expects the impossible."
Kirk offered a wry smile. "I suppose not, Scotty, but they do expect to see their orders carried out. I'm afraid it's up to us to get ourselves...and Starfleet...out of this mess." His face grew somber as he thought, If only this miserable incident had never happened...
"Captain," Spock said at last.
Kirk snapped himself from the useless spiral of wishful thinking. There was work to be done. "First an explosion that claimed four lives and a shuttlecraft loaded with prime banana shoots. Now a malfunction here in the briefing room. I want answers and I want this ship functioning smoothly."
Scott rose from his chair. "I'll start on the com issue, Captain."
Uhura followed him up. "I'll check the system from my bridge console."
"Yes, please." And on second thought Kirk added, "But not too quickly."