"Captain's Log, supplemental. Due to our lengthy repairs at Starbase 140, the Kongo has been reassigned to exploration duty in the outer rim sectors. We have now reached the outer limit of our specified patrol area. Beyond this point is the unknown. We are free to roam the area seeking what there is to find, as well as looking after the occasional Federation citizen that is to be found. For the crew and myself, a prime assignment." Kirk turned to the Vulcan seated to his right. "Your deck, Mr. Spacik. I think I'll loosen up a bit."
"I am familiar with your idea of 'loosening up Captain', I will inform medical."
Kirk grinned. "No martial arts today. A jog and a quick swim I think. We do have water in the pool this time?"
"Yes sir, that was taken care of two weeks ago."
Kirk left the bridge.
First Acertor looked out over the bridge from his high seat above the working stations. He ruffled his wings and settled his feathers in place. All was well within his view. He looked out on the virtual universe shown in his viewspace. Each of his five escorts was in its assigned place. Order ruled over his sector of the Galaxy. Acertor, First of the StarLance 5 was satisfied with his lot in life. The Empire had approved a sweep outside the normal patrol zone. Once again the Empire felt safe within and was willing to look outside its borders.
"First attention." Called the sensor Second. "Contact pinion 3 quill 57."
Acertor looked at his smaller tactical screen. A blip, a great distance away. Good, he thought, their preysense is keen.
"Contact unknown, probable course from the core."
A first meeting, good. In all his years he had never had a first meeting.
"Flock attention. Alter course, pinion 3 quill 57, make Light Factor 42, assume migrant formation."
Affirmatives came from his ship's Firsts, and from his own bridge crew. The great fleet turned to meet the new challenge.
Tim Kirk had just finished his workout. Ship life could make you flabby if you let it, and he was getting of the age where the battle of the bulge was a constant fight.
"Captain to the bridge."
Tim rolled his eyes, it was always at the most inconvenient moments. The price of the center seat. He hit the intercom in the shower. Who thought to put intercoms in the gym shower in the first place?
"Kirk to bridge. What's up?"
Spacik answered. "We have a contact rimward. Six ships from the look of it. They have altered course to intercept."
"Time to intercept?"
"I estimate 3.45 hours Captain."
"OK, maintain course, let them come to us. I'll be up when I am finished here."
"Yes Sir, bridge out."
An hour later Kirk walked onto the bridge. Spacik gave him the comm.
"We are tracking 6 ships. Data since I last spoke with you indicates that the largest of the ships is three times our length, and eight times our mass. The other five vessels are one sixth the size of the first one. They have assumed a formation with the largest at the head and the rest trailing off the right and left rear flank."
"Unknown as of yet."
"Very well, we will maintain. Arm photon torpedoes, fill the queue."
"Do you expect hostilities Sir?"
"I don't know and I hope not. But I would rather look nervous that suddenly hostile."
Acertor stood in the sensor pit looking over the Second's shoulder. A model of the contact rotated in the viewspace.
"Beautiful, most elegant."
"Yes First. It looks fast standing still."
"But is it? That is the important question."
"And the answer is a difficult one. Scans of their waste trail indicate they should not be making the speed they are."
"And then, how do they do it?"
"I have consulted with engineering. The answer lies in more efficient use of the energy produced, or cloaking."
"I hypothesize that they use energy more efficiently. No effort has been made to stop me from scanning their ship."
"I cannot know that. Unless their peak performance is ascertained, I cannot determine if that is their best speed or a slow cruise. I must have the energy curve."
"Well, we have something to learn from them at least. We will play the Game, and see if some data can be sent your way. Any information on weapons?"
"The range is still too great."
"Well done, keep scanning."
The Third puffed in recognition of the praise. "Yes First."
Kirk sat at the table of the conference room. Two arrowhead shaped models turned in the holofield. Regiban continued to update them as the data came in.
**The two ships are night and day. The larger is, from the data gleaned, a bit on the ponderous side. She well out powers us, but it has a lot to move with that power. The smaller ship is the opposite in almost every respect. Each is about the mass of an Excelsior class ship, and more heavily engined. I speculate they would match, or even surpassed us for maneuverability.**
"We can't out fight them."
**No, not together. One at a time, I would say yes. The big one alone, maybe, I am sure we could out run it. The smaller ones I doubt we could out run.**
**Not yet, the range is still too great.**
Doc Hanson threatened to over turn his chair leaning back. "Tim, what makes you think they will fight?"
"I don't know if they will or not."
"Then why all the worry about size, power, and weapons?"
"Simple, if they don't fight, I have wasted our time, and gained a little useful information. I know how to proceed for a peaceful contact. However, if they fight, what I learn here might well save our hides.
The intercom interrupted. "Bridge here Captain, 20 minutes to contact."
"Very well Mr. Failee. Make Yellow Alert.
"First, we are within 5 partings of contact."
First Acertor considered a moment. "Flock to Arrow formation. Vigilant will play the Game, all others stand down."
The Kongo sailed through space at an easy warp 6. Kirk looked over the tactical display.
"Make Red Alert. Mr. Failee, Make our complements to the unknowns, universal greetings of peace and friendship."
"Drop to one half impulse."
"Aye Sir, one half impulse."
"First, they leave lightspace. We are receiving a message in the midband ranges. Translators are working on it."
"Drop to reaction drive, match speed with the unknown. Sensor, are they armed?"
"Yes First, multi-phase shielding, quite good."
"Then we will play with them."
Lt. Cmd. Solin said. "Captain, unknowns are dropping form warp. They are playing follow the leader behind the big one."
"The large ship is shielded and armed. Weapons unknown."
"Unknown, they are in the Sensor shadow of the big ship."
"Any answer to the hails?"
Failee said. "No sir."
"Try again. Helm, veer to the port, let's get a look at the smaller ships."
"First, same message as before. We are still working on it."
Sensor reported. "They are trying to flank."
"Correct. Increase speed and open fire at one third full. We shall judge how they play war."
Failee Said. "Unknown closing Captain. Firing weapons."
The Kongo shook with the impact.
Spacik said. "Report, damage."
Kirk ordered. "Let him close, sound violent evasive."
Failee reported. "Rear shields down 17%, minor system damage."
The wail sounded through the ship.
Solin said. "He's coming up fast."
"Hazard one, eight to the mother, two each for the chicks and phasers at will...
First Acertor watched the smaller ship take the hits from his guns. It made no attempt to get away. Most Second stood to the right of him and watched.
"Will they give up that easy?"
"The brood is not laid, never mind hatched. Hold on!"
The smaller ship suddenly switched end for end and fired her reaction engines full power. She shot over the top of the Vigilant almost too fast to follow, beams from the ship sought weakness in the Vigilant's shields and small missiles rained down from the edges of the saucer. She was over them when the shots hammered home.
As big as she was Vigilant shuttered under the impacts. Damage reports flowed in. Most Second gaped in horror.
"First, they are firing on the others!!"
Kongo shot over the stern of the massive warship. Even as she cleared the shadow of the big ship the port turret fired on the first of the small ships in line.
Regiban squealed. Kirk swung around, audible sound from an Ane was rare. The starboard turret fired at the next in line as the phasers and torpedoes dug into the hull of the first. It lost way and fell off.
**Captain, these ships are UNSHIELDED.**
Kirk ordered. "Break off, break off, make warp two away."
Even as he spoke the second ship below him vented fire and fell away crippled by the shots. It ripped in silent agony as the quantum torpedoes slammed home.
First Acertor watched in horror as his first two Strikers reeled from the war shots. Damage to the Vigilant was bad enough, much to heavy from anyone playing the Game. The beams were deflected well enough, but the little missiles punched right through the shields. Then, as if answered by silent prayer to the first shell, the unknown broke off the attack on the helpless ships, helpless by his order, and went outspace."
Kongo swung around at warp 2, she moved several light minutes away.
She came to a full stop.
"OK, what happened, no one goes into battle with most of the ships unshielded. Hail them again hopefully they have finally translated our first message."
"This is Captain James T. Kirk of the United Federation Starship Kongo. Do you understand us?"
First Acertor watched as his ships burned from the unexpected attack. Tears formed under his flight lids. His Most Second raged nearby. A Bulto from communications handed him a film. He blinked his eyes clear and read it.
"We are the Starship -----, We come from the United Federation of Planets, a gathering of over 150 worlds living in peaceful coexistence. We wish peaceful contact with you and other people, please respond."
"I have made a dreadful error."
First, they have stopped a short distance away, you must unleash the Strikers against them, such dishonorable contact in Game cannot be ignored!"
"We will do nothing, a mistake has been made."
"But First, we can't let them get away with that!"
"An incoming message First."
"A moment, yes, we can, and I will. A mistake has been made. Read this." Acertor handed his Most Second the film. "Comm, put them through. Stand down all weapons, lower shields."
"This is Captain James T. Kirk of the United Federation Starship Kongo. Do you understand us?"
"Yes Captain Kirk, I now understand your words."
"May I ask what in Hell you are doing?"
"You may ask, but the answer may take some time. In partial answer, a mistake has been made, I assume full responsibility for the ships damaged and lives lost Captain. We will not attack you again. Close Channel. Most second, I place you in command of the Flock, I will surrender my person to the Federation Captain."
"First, you don't know what they will do! It is ours that have died, and they did the killing."
"No Most Second, it is ours that have died, and I caused the killing."
"I must protest it is not the place of a First to surrender to an unknown power. What message will this send to the ranks of Acceptian power?"
Acertor cocked his head at his Most Second. "The right one Most Second. With power, comes responsibility. Please loan me a shuttle."
"At once First."
"Captain, The Alien is opening a hail again."
"Let's hear it Mr. Failee."
"Federation Ship. I Acertor, First of StarLance 5 have stepped down my command. I wish to surrender my person to you for the mistake made."
"First, your surrender is not required. Understanding is what we want."
"I would take transport to your ship. One shuttle, unarmed."
"Agreed, we can discuss, terms, at that time."
"I accept, Acertor out."
"Kirk to shuttle bay, prepare to accept the Alien shuttle, full security, in full dress."
Spacik said. "Captain, do you intend going to accept this surrender?"
"I am going to discuss terms, Mr. Spacik, we will play it by ear from there."
The Alien shuttle was graceful bird-like machine, impulse only. Once it had landed the "honor detail" marched out onto the deck and took position. Kirk flanked by Spacik, and Miritath waited at the end of the line. The hatch opened, and a bird got out. First Acertor was about six and a half foot, with taloned feet, a beak on his face and six limbs, legs, arms, and wings. Otherwise he was a rather thin humanoid. Kirk checked the universal translator, and stepped forward with his officers. The bird-man waited by the shuttle.
Kirk said. "First Acertor, I am Captain James Timothy Kirk, welcome to the Kongo. This is Spacik, my first officer, and Miritath, my chief of security."
"Greetings Captain James, I will assume no more customs. I place myself at your disposal, for what ever that may mean."
"It is our custom to discuss terms before accepting a surrender."
"What are these terms?"
"The treatment of the surrendering party usually."
"And if agreeable terms cannot be decided upon?"
"Then the surrender is off, and when everyone is back where they belong, each must decide what to do."
"How long do such discussions take?"
"Sometimes days. I am not in a position to dictate terms. Therefore you are free to find them agreeable or not."
"And if I find them agreeable?"
"Then each party will abide by them."
"This seems to me, a most civil system Captain, I will honor these pacts."
They had walked slowly away from the shuttle as they talked. Kirk looked back on it.
"Will you require quarters for your shuttle crew?"
"It was not intended that they stay, but with terms to discuss, perhaps they should."
He turned to the shuttle crew standing by their craft, rubbernecking, and trying to look like they weren't rubbernecking.
"Third." The pilot turned to face him. "Please contact Most Second and see if there will be any problem in with your staying a while."
"Yes First." He vanished into the shuttle. Acertor turned back to Kirk.
Kirk said. "First Acertor, is they anything we can do for your damaged ships?"
"You would help us?"
"Yes, it is our way."
"The offer is considered, but I think we are well in hand. Where do we discuss these 'terms'?"
"This way First Acertor, I think the main conference room will suit us."
The First was quiet on the ride back to the conference deck. Kirk gave him his silence, and made arrangements.
**Tathilan, have the senior officers meet in the main conference room. I am coming in with First Acertor. Let's try and make a favorable impression.**
**I hear and comply. Anything else?**
**Have the bridge keep an eye on those ships, they sill have us outnumbered, and out gunned.**
**Not trusting yet?**
**No, not yet. Maintain red alert.**
This took them to the conference level. Kirk directed them to the conference room directly. Acertor looked about. The officers stood as he entered.
"My staff First Acertor. My second in command you have met, Commander Spacik, Operations officer Solin, Chief Engineer Felialan, Ship's Counselor Deatali, Sciences Officer Regiban, Security and Tactical officer Miritath, you have also met, and last, but hardly least, Doctor Hanson, our Chief Medical officer."
"Greetings to all of you. I would normally offer the greetings of the Acceptian Empire, but I do not find myself qualified to do so at this time. Please accept then my personal greetings."
"I accept in the name of my ship, and the United Federation of Planets. Let is begin the business that brings us together."
At that moment, a seat materialized with a thin back, offset at the bottom. Acertor looked in surprise."
"My crew is efficient. The seats in your shuttle have been scanned, and replicated. Please, be seated."
Kirk cleared his throat. "As much as it pains me to ask, why did you fire on us?"
Acertor braced himself. "An error on my part Captain."
"After a fashion, I mistook, rather assumed, you to be someone that would understand my customs."
"And what custom was that?"
"That of the Game."
Spacik said "A 'game', of shooting at one another?"
Deateli said. "Would you consider yourself of a warrior culture Acertor?"
"Yes, that would be a fair estimation, if your translators are accurate."
"Captain. Among many warrior cultures, the practice of 'counting coup' or testing martial skill on meeting in a less than deadly fashion is not uncommon. Acertor, is this 'game' a similar custom?"
"I think you have the understanding. We test one another with weapons set to half strength or less. There may be some damage, but never serious. My mistake was assuming it was your custom also."
Kirk said. "The culture of the Federations is not based on a warrior ethos."
"I commend your skills in that case."
"We don't fire weapons in play without clear prior arrangement. We took your attack to be one in earnest, and reacted accordingly."
"As you can now see, the error was indeed mine. I stand ready to pay for the mistake."
Kirk rubbed his nose. "First Acertor, I can not say I am the injured party. While yes, I suffered a few minor shorts, it is your ships which took the hurt."
"I feel as if I fired the weapons myself."
"I understand this, but I am not sure on what to do."
Spacik said. "Captain, if I might be so bold as to suggest a possible solution?"
"By all means."
"We are experiencing a clash of cultures, First Acertor's and ours. Knowledge and understanding are related. We lack knowledge of each other. Therefore, we lack also understanding. Let us consider the question of Acertor's mistake, and while we consider, he and we can gain knowledge, each of the other, and in so gaining perhaps find understanding."
"I find this acceptable. First Acertor, I am reluctant to begin an interstellar relationship with a punitive action against the Admiral of a power I just contacted."
Acertor said. "If such action is required?"
"I have yet to see that such action is required. You are cast in the role of having to argue for your own punishment."
"I am prepared to so argue."
"I am prepared to listen, but over the course of some days. Let us do nothing in haste."
"I bend to your will Captain Kirk. I shall remain as long as your require to make your determination. Are we to remain here in limbo?"
"No, that will not do. Both your fleet and my ship have business to conduct. Please come to the bridge, we will speak with your Most Second."
They rose together and went up to the bridge. The Kongo crew took their accustom stations.
Kirk said. "Mr. Miritath, hail the Acceptian Fleet."
"Channel open Sir."
"Vigilant, this is Captain Kirk of the Kongo. We have come to a tentative agreement with First Acertor."
"What are you intentions Captain Kirk."
"We have determined that we know too little of each other to take steps that would be of a permanent nature. First Acertor will travel with us for a time, and we will learn each other's ways. We will then determine punitive measures, if any."
"What period of time?"
"When would be convenient for you or another ship to return here?"
"My patrol will bring me in this area in one month."
"Then that is the period will we allow ourselves. First Acertor doubtless has items of personal worth that will make his time with us more comfortable. We will also make room for up to five other personnel if he has staff that are willing to accompany him."
"I will arrange for his personal effects to be transported to you."
"Unnecessary. As we have one of your shuttles here, First Acertor can return and see to his own needs. Kirk out."
Acertor looked at Kirk with the quizzical look common to his people.
"You are just going to send me back to 'gather my effects'? What is to stop me from warping out of here, and leaving you behind?"
"Nothing. Nothing at all, I won't even chase you."
"First Acertor, you impress me as a being of your word. I have decided to trust that word as I would want my word trusted. This is the first basis for understanding."
Acertor's eyes widened. "I, see. Then I must live up to your trust, or how can I live up to myself."
"Acertor, I can see that we are like beings, and understanding has begun. Please, see to your needs, the Kongo will await your pleasure."
Acertor looked around his suite for anything else he might need. Meanwhile his Most Second agitated nearby.
"Sir, you cannot simply wander off with these aliens. They do not even understand civilized ways."
"That is why I must 'wander off' Tr'eel. They do not understand us, and we do not understand them. How many have we lost due to 'misunderstanding'?"
"137 dead, 215 wounded. Due to their firing on us!"
"Tr'eel. Who would you call responsible if an adult handed a fledgling a deadly weapon, and the child did injury with it?"
"The adult, of course."
"I assumed a custom, without verifying that it was their custom."
"But First, they could be savages."
"Mammal prejudice Tr'eel? It is unbecoming of you. I will remind you, that the first non-formal word out of Captain James' mouth was; 'Can we help your injured.' Hardly the mark of a savage."
"If you have abdicated your command, I do not have to let you go."
Acertor fluffed his feathers, appearing larger. "Are you challenging me Tr'eel?"
"Then you must let me go."
"I don't like it, and you are leaving this ship under protest."
"Then protest if you must, but I gave my word, I am leaving."
Kirk looked out the ready room viewport, again, at the waiting Acceptian fleet. Visually mere dots the alien ships were enhanced by the sensors to a size that revealed detail. Spacik sat on the couch sipping his green tea.
"Really Captain, staring at the ships will not speed the process."
Kirk looked out the viewport again. "Yes, I know that. Impatience, it is a nasty human habit of mine."
"All will unfold in its own time."
"Has Tathilan been working on you as well?"
"Why would you think that Captain?"
"She is constantly feeding me the same line."
"Ane and Vulcans have many points of philosophical understanding. Patience is one of them. How do you plan to proceed?"
"Cautiously. We are babes in the wood where this people are concerned, and they know just as much about us. We need to proceed slowly. I think Doc Hanson gets the first crack at him. It would look bad if he died of a cold while we had him as guest."
"Indeed, and if he can get along with the good Doctor, he can get along with anyone aboard."
"Do I sense humor in that Mr. Spacik?"
"It is well known Captain that Vulcans do not jest."
"And Ardorians are green."
**Captain, the Acceptian shuttle has departed the Vigilant.**
"Good give them clearance and see to their needs Tathilan."
"The waiting has ended Captain."
"Yes, and the hard part begins."
Continued in Part Two
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The Above is a work of fiction. All characters are fictional, any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.
Copyright © Garry Stahl: July 2000. All rights reserved, re-print only with permission.