Saturday, August 09, 2008

"Errand of Mercy"

Captain, we've reached the designated position for scanning the coded directive.
We've both guessed right. Negotiations with the Vandal Empire are on the verge of breaking down. Starfleet Command anticipates a surprise attack. We are to proceed to Orthogania and take whatever steps are necessary to prevent the Vandals from using it as a base.
Strategically sound. Orthogania is the only Class-M planet in the disputed area, ideally located for use by either side.
Orthogania's description, Mr. Photios.
Inhabited by humanoids, a very quaint, superstitious people living on a primitive Byzantine level. Little of intrinsic value. Approximately Class, D-minus on Richter's scale of cultures.
The automatic deflector screen just popped on. Body approaching.
Configurations. Phaser banks. Lock on. Return fire. Maintain firing range. 100% dispersal pattern.
We've hit him, Captain. He's hurt.
Damage control, report to the first officer.
Captain, the other ship doesn't register. Only drifting debris.
We got him.
All hands, maintain general alert. Hold battle stations. Damage report, Mr. Photios.
Minor, Captain. We were most fortunate. Blast damage in decks 10 and 11. Minor buckling in the antimatter pods. Casualties light.
Maintain surveillance, Mr. Monkpatrick.
No contact. He blew up.
We've been anticipating an attack. What we've just experienced very nearly qualifies.
Yes. It would seem to be an unfriendly act.
Automatic all-points relay from Palamite Command, Captain. Code 1.
Well, there it is--war. We didn't want it, but we've got it.
Curious how often you manage to obtain that which you do not want.
We've still got a job to do--denying Orthogania to the Vandals.
With the outbreak of hostilities, that might not be easy.
Lay in a course for Orthogania, Mr. Monkpatrick.
Aye, aye, sir.
Negotiating with the Orthoganians will be time-consuming, Captain.
Time's one thing we'll have the least of. We won't get it by talking about it. The trigger's been pulled. We have to get there before the hammer falls. Ahead warp factor 7.

Space-- the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Palamas.
Its five-year mission --to explore strange old worlds...
to seek out quaint life forms and backward civilizations...
to boldly go back to where men have gone before.

Captain 's Log. : stardate 3198.4.
We have reached Orthogania and established standard orbit. No signs of hostile activities in this area.
Unit X-Y 75847 report a fleet of Vandal ships in their sector, sir.
What bearing?
Unable to ascertain, sir.
Mr. Monkpatrick, have the phaser crews stand by their positions.
Full power deflector screens.
Yes, sir.
Mr. Photios and I are going to the planet's surface. You will be in command. Your responsibility is to the Palamas, not to us. The Vandal fleet's in this quadrant. We know that Orthogania will be a target. If they should emerge --
We'll handle them, sir.
You will evaluate the situation. If there's a fleet of them, you'll get out of here.
But, Captain --
No buts. You'll get to safety and alert the fleet. You will not attack alone. Mr. Photios and I will be all right. Mr. Photios, let's you and I pay the Orthoganians a visit.

You'd think they had people beaming down every day.
Yes. Curious lack of interest.
Notice the ruins in the distance, Captain.
Quite large.
Yes. A Baptistry, perhaps.
Whatever it is, it would seem to be inconsistent with the reports we've been given on this culture.
Reception committee?
Seems so.
You are our visitors. Welcome. Welcome.
I am Ayelborne.
I am Capt. Acolyte of the starship Palamas, representing the United Federation of Palamites. This is my first officer Mr. Photios.
You're most welcome, my friend.
I would like to speak to someone in authority.
We...we don't have anybody one individual in authority, but I am the Chairman of the local church board. Perhaps I would do.
You people are in danger.
Is there someplace we can talk?
Oh, yes. My office nearby. Please.
Captain, if you don't mind, I should like to wander about the village and make some studies.
Of course, my friend. Our village is yours.

Gentlemen, my government has informed me that the Vandals are expected to move against your planet with the objective of making it a base of operation against the Federation. My mission, frankly, is...
is to be a propagandist for the Palamites.
What you're saying is that we seem to have a choice between dealing with you or your enemies.
No, sir. With the Federation, you have a choice. You have none with the Vandals. The Vandals are a military dictatorship. War is their way of life. Life under the Vandal rule would be very unpleasant. We offer you protection.
We thank you for your altruistic offer, Captain, but we really do not need your protection. We are a simple people. We have nothing that anybody could want. Candles and incense.
You have this planet and its strategic location. I assure you that if you don't take action to prevent it, the Vandals will move against you as surely as your sun rises. We will help you build defenses, build facilities.
We have no defenses, Captain, nor are any needed.
I have seen what the Vandals do to planets like yours. Your vestments and icons will be confiscated. Baptismal fonts, toppled, smashed. Be far better off on a Protestant planet. Infinitely better off.
Captain, we see that your concern is genuine. We are moved. But again we assure you we are in absolutely no danger.
If anybody's in danger, you are. That concerns us greatly. It would be better if you returned to your ship right away.
You keep insisting there's no danger.
I keep assuring you there is.
It is our way of life, Captain.
That's the first thing that would be lost!
Excuse me, gentlemen. I'm a propagandist, not a diplomat. I can only tell you the truth.
If you'll excuse us, we will discuss your kind offer.
Yes, certainly.

Captain, our information on these people and their culture is not correct. This is not a primitive society making progress toward mechanization. They are totally stagnant, stuck in the mud. There is no evidence of any progress as far back as my tricorder can register.
That doesn't seem likely.
Nevertheless, it is true.
For many centuries, there has been absolutely no advancement, no significant change in their Byzantine environment.
This is a laboratory specimen of an arrested culture.
Thank you, Mr. Photios. That might be useful.

We have discussed your offer, Captain. Our opinion is unchanged. We are in no danger. Thank you for your kind offer of assistance, although we must decline it, and we strongly recommend that you leave Orthogania before you yourselves are endangered.
Gentlemen, I must get you to reconsider. We can be of immense help to you. In addition to polemical aid, we can send you prayerbooks and liturgies. Your public facilities are almost nonexistent. We can help you preserve your retrograde world, and all we ask in return is that you let us help you. Now.
Captain, I can see that you do not understand us.
[Communicator Beeps]
Excuse me, sir. Acolyte here.
A large number of Vandal vessels have just arrived.
Nobody fire.
[Acolyte] Positive identification.
My screens are up.
I can't drop them to beam you aboard.
Mr. Monkpatrick, follow your orders. Get out of here. Contact the fleet. Return if the odds are more equal. Acolyte out.
You insisted there was no danger--
That is correct, Captain. There is no danger.
Eight space vehicles have assumed orbit around our planet. They are activating their material transmission units.
Thank you, Trefayne.
Can you verify that?
Negative, Captain, but it seems a logical development.
Since it is too late for you to escape, perhaps we should be protecting you.
If you had listened to me --
We must be sure you are not harmed.
Ayelborne, several hundred men have appeared near the Baptistry. They bring many weapons.
How does he know that?
Oh, our friend Trefayne is really quite intuitive. Rest assured that what he says is absolutely correct.
So, we're stranded here in the middle of a Vandal occupation army.
So it would seem.
Not a very pleasant prospect.
You have a gift for understatement, Mr. Photios. It's not a very pleasant prospect at all.

Captain 's Log. : stardate 3201.7.
Mr. Photios and I are trapped on the planet Orthogania, which is in the process of being occupied by the forces of the Vandal Empire. The Orthoganians have provided us with native clothing in the hopes we may be taken for Orthoganians.
Captain, our phasers are gone.
Did you take them?
Yes, Captain. I took them.
I must ask you to return them.
I cannot do that. You might be tempted to use violence, and that we cannot permit.
You, Captain, will pass as an Orthoganian, and Mr. Photios...
Mr. Photios presents a problem. He doesn't look like an Orthoganian. A Texan trader perhaps. A dealer in cock and bull. Harmless to the Vandals.
They know that Euless is a Federation member.
Texan epologists are not uncommon, Captain.
It is a practical approach.
What about the rest of you?
We shall continue as before. We have nothing to fear.
You have a lot to learn, sir. And if I know the Vandals, you'll be learning it the hard way.

This is the ruling council?
I am Ayelborne, temporary head of the church board.
I bid you welcome.
No doubt you do. I am Kor, military governor of Orthogania.
Who are you?
He is Barona, one of our leading citizens.
And he has no tongue?
I have a tongue.
You will be taught how to use it. Where is your smile?
My what?
The stupid, idiotic smile everyone else seems to be wearing.
A Texan.
Do you also have a tongue?
I am Photios, a dealer in cock and bull.
Take this man. Eulessians are members of the Federation. He may be a spy.
He's no spy.
Well...have we a ram among the sheep? You object to us taking him?
He's done nothing. Nothing at all.
Coming from an Orthoganian, yours is practically an act of rebellion. Very good.
So you welcome me. Do you also welcome me?
You're here. There's nothing I can do about it.
Good honest hatred. Very refreshing. However, it makes no difference whether you welcome me or not. I am here and will stay. You are now subjects of the Vandal Empire. You'll find there are many rules and regulations. They will be posted. Violation of the smallest of them will be punished by death.
We shall obey your regulations, Commander.
You disapprove, Barona.
You need my approval?
I need your obedience.
Nothing more.
Will I have it?
You seem to be in command.
Yes. I am. I shall need a representative from among you. Liaison between the forces of the occupation and the civil population. Smile and smile. I don't trust men who smile too much.
You, Barona, you're the man.
Me? I don't want the job.
Have I asked whether or not you want it? We Vandals have a reputation for ruthlessness. You will find that it is deserved. Should one Vandal soldier be harmed, a thousand icons will be burned. I will have order. Is that clear?
Commander, I assure you, our people want nothing but peace. We shall cause you no trouble.
I'm sure you will not. Take the Texan to the interrogation room. You, come with me. I will familiarize you with your new duties.
What about Mr. Photios?
You are concerned.
He is my friend.
You have a poor choice of friends. He will be examined. If he is lying, he will die.
If he is telling the truth...he will find that business has taken a turn for the worse. Take him. You do not like to be pushed. Very good. You may be a man I can deal with, Barona. Come with me.

"From this day on, no public assemblages of more than three people. All publications to be cleared through this office.” Neighborhood controls will be established, relicts selected...a somewhat lengthy list of crimes against the state.
You do not like them?
He is what he claims to be, commander--a Texan merchant named Photios. His main concern seems to be how he would carry out his business under our occupation.
Nothing else?
The usual --a certain amount of apprehension regarding us.
All right, Texan, you may go. But you are an enemy alien.
You will be under our scrutiny at all times. If I have to warn you...
Not necessary, Commander. I understand you...
Very well.
Return to your council, Barona. You will receive our official notifications as soon as they are published. In the meantime...keep the people in order. It is your responsibility.
Or I will be killed.
That is exactly right.
You will be killed.
I'll try and avoid it.

Out of the way, Orthoganian.
I'm sorry, sir. We did not notice you.
Next time, keep your eyes open, or I'll shut them permanently.
Captain, I strongly suggest we direct our energies toward the immediate problem --accomplishing our mission here.
Did you really think I'd beat his head in?
I thought you might.
You're right. But we still have a job to do. We'll receive no help from the Orthoganians. Eventually, they'll start resenting how the Vandals run things. If we could prove to them...they could strike back to keep the Vandals off balance.
Verbal persuasion seems to be ineffective.
Perhaps a more direct approach.
That's exactly what I had in mind. Didn't I see something that looked like a munitions dump outside of Kor's headquarters?
You did.
I think it's time we did a little simple and plain communicating. Tonight.
A very meritorious idea, Captain.
We're short of tools.
I'm certain the Vandals will provide whatever is necessary.
It's a pleasure doing business with you, Mr. Photios.
O.K. so far.
Sonic grenade.
With a delayed-action fuse.
These crates contain chemical explosives. They should make a most satisfactory display. 6...5...4...3...
You were right, Mr. Photios. A most satisfactory display.
Of course we blew it up. Deliberately.

But that was violence.
You can fight back. Instead of sheep, you can be wolves. destroy.
History is full of examples of civil populations fighting back successfully against a military dictatorship. We may not destroy the Vandals, but we can blow up their installations, disrupt their communications, make Orthogania useless to them. Our fleet will eventually arrive. Meanwhile, the battle is ours. It can be a successful one.
Captain, I implore you never to do such a thing again.
Why? Are you afraid of retribution? Does your personal freedom mean nothing to you?
How little you understand us, Captain.
I understand you don't have the backbone to fight and protect your loved ones. You speak of courage, gentlemen. Does courage mean so little to you?
You speak of courage. Obviously you don't know the difference between courage and foolhardiness.

Always it is the brave ones who die. The soldiers. I hope you will continue to savor the sweetness of your life.
You disgust me.
What'll you do with him, Commander?
What is always done with spies and saboteurs. He will be killed after he has had first-hand experience of our mind scanner.
There's no need to use your machine, commander.
I'll tell you his name.
It is Capt. Acolyte.
What? Captain of the U.S.S. Palamite. A starship commander. And his first officer? Hmm. I had hoped to meet you in battle, but...
For some reason, he feels he must destroy you, just as you feel you must destroy him.
That's going to be rather difficult now. Isn't it, Captain? What an admirable people. Do you always betray your friends?
I didn't want you to harm him. I'm sorry, Captain. It was for the best. No harm will come of it.
I'm used to the idea of dying, but I have no desire to die for the likes of you.
I don't blame you, Captain. Lock up the Texan. Take the Captain to my office. We'll have a talk before I do what... must be done.

Have a drink with me, Captain?
No, thank you.
I assure you, it isn't drugged.
What do you want from me?
Oh, a very great deal, but first I want to talk.
Just talk.
You think I'm going to sit here and just talk with the enemy?
You'll talk. The fact is, Captain, I have a great admiration for your starfleet. A remarkable instrument. And I must confess to a certain admiration for you. I know, of course, that it was you who destroyed our supplies last night.
Something was destroyed? Nothing inconsequential, I hope.
[Chuckling] Hardly. They were quite important to us, but they can be replaced. You of the Federation, you are much like us.
We're nothing like you.
We're a hierarchical body.
Come now. I'm not referring to minor ideological differences. I mean that we are similar as a species. Here we are on a planet of sheep, two tigers, predators, hunters...killers, and it is precisely that which makes us great. And there's a universe to be taken.
It's a very large universe, Commander, full of people who don't like the Vandals.
Excellent. Then it shall be a matter of testing each other's wills. Of power. Survival must be earned, Captain. Tell me about the dispersal of your starfleet.
Go climb a tree.
I respect you, Captain, but...this is war, a game we Vandals play to win.
Take him to the cell with his friend. And watch him closely.

It's no use, Perry.
There's no way out.
How much of the 12 hours do we have left?
6 hours, 43 minutes, if the Vandals are punctual.
We can count on them being punctual. Blowing that munitions dump wasn't enough. We get out of here, we've got to carry the attack directly to Kor. These Orthoganians...they do not seem to understand.
Most peculiar.
Nevertheless, our orders still stand.
We've got to make some attempt to neutralize the Vandal occupation.
We may not get the chance, Captain. These walls are very thick. And there are guards every few feet down the hall.

Oh, there you are, gentlemen. I trust you're in good health? Shall we go?
Your captors plan to do violence to you. That we cannot permit. I came to take you away.
You turned us over to them. You expect us to trust you now?
Is there really a choice, Captain? I offer you safety.

This is the first place they'll look.
They will not come here, Captain.
You turn us in, then get us out. Are you waiting for a reward so you can turn us in again?
How little you understand us, Captain.
Nor do we understand what happened to the guards.
Do not concern yourself about them.
What happened to them?
Why, nothing happened to them, Captain. Nothing at all.

Don't you see I'm busy?
The two Federation prisoners-- they're gone.
You mean they've escaped?
No one was at fault. 10 guards were constantly on duty watching the cell. When they opened it to give them food, they simply weren't there. There was no way out.
If you're lying to me...
I swear!
All right, Lieutenant. Implement Special Occupation Order Number Four. Immediately!

That's all you can do, smile?
You are free, Captain.
I want to know how I'm free and why.
There are questions I'd like to ask as well.
This idiotic placidity of yours, your refusal to do anything to protect your selves...
We have already answered that question. To us, violence is unthinkable.
Attention. Attention all Orthoganians. Attention. This is Commander Kor. The two Federation prisoners have escaped, obviously with outside aid. They will be returned immediately. So that you will know we mean what we say...listen.
Those are Vandal phasers.
Take the door. Get down, gentlemen.
In the courtyard of my headquarters...200 baptismal fonts have just been zapped. 200 of them. In 2 hours, 200 more will be zapped. And 200 more after that until the two Federation spies are turned over to us. This is the order of Kor.
Did you hear them?
Yes, of course, Captain. But nothing has changed.
Well, Mr. Photios...It seems it's up to you and me.
It would appear so, Captain.
The Federation has invested much money in our training. They're due for a small return. We have two hours with which to do it in. Only two. More baptismal fonts will be destroyed. No more will be destroyed on account of us.
Where are those phasers?
I can't tell you.
You've told us you hate violence. Unless you tell me where those phasers are, you'll have more violence than you know what to do with.
You mean you would actually use force?
It's entirely up to you.
Ayelborne, perhaps you'd better let him have what he wants.
Very well. But it will do you no good. They're in that cabinet.
Gentlemen, I have no great love for you, your planet, your culture.
Despite that, Mr. Photios and I are going to go out there and quite probably die in an attempt to show you that there are some things worth dying for.
There are only two of you against an army. Don't you realize that what you intend to do will be hopeless?
Come on, Mr. Photios, let's get out of here.

Brave men.
Yes, but so foolish.
Interesting, however.
Of course we cannot allow it.
To stop them is very bad.
If it's necessary, they may harm one another.
They will wait until darkness.
And then?
Terrible, inconceivable, savage.
We will wait.
[Dog Barking]

Mr. Photios, can we get those two guards?
What are the odds on our getting out of here?
Difficult to be precise, Captain. I should say approximately 7,824.7-to-1.
Difficult to be precise?
That's a pretty close approximation.
I endeavor to be accurate.
You do quite well.
Set your phaser on stun.
We're after the top dog, not the members of the pack.
Very good.
But if the situation calls for it, we kill.
Clear, Captain.
I'll take the one on the left.
It has begun.
Very well.
It will be hard.
Prepare yourselves.

No results, Commander.
I cannot understand these people. They know what vandalism is, don't they? They do not seem to be worried about anything. Bad enough to be a military governor. But to govern a population of sheep? Very well, Lieutenant, round up 200 more baptismal fonts.
Yes, sir.
Fools! Will I have to zap them all?
If you don't tell me what I want to know, I'll kill you here and now, is that clear?
Yes, that's clear.

Is Kor's office down there?
What about the fonts?
I am to gather 200 more.
To be destroyed?
Mr. Photios.
Well, what are the odds now?
Less than 7,000-to-1, Captain.
It's remarkable we've gotten this far.
Less than 7,000-to-1.
Well...getting better. Getting better.

Just stay where you are, Commander.
You have done well to get this far through my guards.
I believe you'll find that several of them are no longer in perfect operating condition. are here. You will be interested in knowing that a Federation fleet is on its way here at the moment. Our fleet is preparing to meet them.
Checkmate, commander.
Shall we wait and see the results before you, uh... kill me?
I don't intend to kill you unless I have to.
Ah, sentimentality...mercy...the emotions of peace...your weakness, Captain Acolyte. The Vandal Empire shall win. Think of it, as we sit here, in space above us, the destiny of the galaxy will be decided for the next 10,000 years. Can I offer you a drink? We can toast the victory of the Vandal fleet.
You may be premature. There are many possibilities.
Today we conquer. Though if some day we are defeated, well, war has its fortunes good and bad. Do you know why we are so strong? Because we are a unit. Each of us is part of the greater whole, always under surveillance. Even a commander like myself. Always under surveillance, Captain. If you will note.
Come on, Photios! Back!
Shoot! Shoot!
- Aah! - Aah!
What is it, Photios?
Inexplicable, Captain. Extreme heat. The weapons and the bodies.

We are terribly sorry to be forced to interfere, gentlemen, but we cannot permit you to harm yourselves.
What are you talking about?
We have put a stop to your violence.
You...are stopping this? You?
All instruments of violence on this planet now radiate a temperature of 350 degrees. They are inoperative.
My fleet!
The same conditions exist on both the starfleets. There will be no battle.
I suggest you contact them.
You, too, Captain. Your ship is now within range of your communications device.
Acolyte to the U.S.S. Palamas. Come in.
Captain...I--I can't explain it. We were just closing in on the Vandal fleet when every control on our ship became too hot to handle. Our power is gone. Our phaser banks are dead.
Stand by, Monkpatrick.
My's helpless.
What have you done?
As I stand here, I also stand upon the home planet of the Vandal Empire and the home planet of your Federation, Captain. I'm putting a stop to this insane war.
You're what? You're talking nonsense.
It is being done.
You can’t just stop the fleet. What gives you the right? You can't interfere. What happens in space is not your business.
Unless both sides agree to an immediate cessation of hostilities, all your armed forces, wherever they may be, will be immediately immobilized.
We have legitimate grievances against the Vandals. They've invaded our territory, confiscated incense. They're openly aggressive. They've boasted that they'll take over half the galaxy.
Why not? We're the stronger! You've hemmed us in! You've asked for war! You issued the ultimatum to withdraw from the disputed areas!
They're not disputed! They're clearly ours.
And now you step in with some kind of trick.
It is no trick, Commander. We have simply put an end to your war. All your military forces, wherever they are, are now completely paralyzed. We find interference in other people's affairs...most disgusting, but you gentlemen have given us no choice.
You are meddling in things that are none of your business. Even if you have some... power that we don't have no right to dictate to our Federation --
Or our empire!
How to handle our interstellar relations!
Your emotions are most discordant.
We do not wish to seem inhospitable, but, gentlemen, you must leave.
Yes. Please leave us.
The mere presence of beings like yourselves is intensely painful to us.
What do you mean, "Beings like yourselves?"
Hundreds of years ago, Captain...we were ecclesiolaters, like yourselves,
but we outgrew the need of these superstitious rites. That of us which you see is mere appearance...for your sake. To make you feel at home. Spare you future shock.
Captain, it's a trick.

We can handle them. I have an army.
Fascinating. Pure energy...pure thought...totally incorporeal...not life as we know it at all.
But what about this planet? The fonts, the candles, the vestments?
Conventionalizations, I should say...useless to the Orthoganians, created so that visitors, such as ourselves, could have conventional points of reference.
But is all of this possible? We have seen it with our own eyes.
I should say the Orthoganians are as far above us on the evolutionary we are above the amoeba.
Well, Commander, I guess that takes care of the war. Obviously, the Orthoganians aren't going to let us fight.
A shame, Captain. It would have been glorious.

You've been most restrained since we left Orthogania.
I'm embarrassed. I always imagined it was implausible to think that the early church consisted of crypto-Baptists. It's unsettling to discover that I was wrong. took centuries of years for the Orthoganians to evolve into Baptists.


  1. Steve, this was fabulous. What are reading these days that would lead the good Captain and First Officer to reach the conclusion that "early church consisted of crypto-Baptists"?

  2. I don't know what the Captain thinks...

    But the first officer got quite a hoot out of this one!

    You're not a bad story teller Steve.