Spock and the rest of the landing party materialized on Idaus in what looked like a throne room gone to seed. According to the research he had done, these were the correct coordinates for what the Idausians called "The Hall of Great Decisions", but it hardly looked like the same opulent palace that had been described in the Federation Ambassador's official report. Dust was everywhere. It floated in the air, making it difficult to see, and grit and dirt covered every visible surface. A long, richly carved wood table was turned on its side in the middle of the room, and pieces of what looked to be chairs were scattered about the room. The charred remains of what might have been a second ornate table lay in one corner of the hall. Debris and wreckage were everywhere.

All of this Spock took in within a half a second, but before he could issue a command, a familiar raspy voice called out from behind him.

"Captain Spock! I'm so relieved that you decided to meet with me face-to-face. It's really the only way to make agreements, don't you think?"

Spock turned to see the owner of the voice. From his research, he knew that Pyloc was about 64 earth years old, which was a little past middle age for an Idausian. A less logical humanoid might have described Pyloc as looking like a pile of pink gelatin stuffed into a silk sack. A healthy Idausian would be considered obese by human standards, but Pyloc raised the bar in this area. He stood only about four feet tall, and he was literally as wide as he was long. There was no hair anywhere visible on his body, which was also normal for his race. Pyloc had three chins that quivered when he spoke, a bulbous nose, and bulging eyes. He was lavishly dressed in an ornamental silk gown, and he fairly dripped with gold and jewels. The contrast between the wreckage surrounding them and the opulence in which Pyloc had ensconced himself created an impression in Spock's mind that the Controller might be somewhat unbalanced.

"What happened here?" Spock asked, gesturing at the ruins around them.

"Come, come," Pyloc answered, ignoring Spock's question. "We must not talk here. It might not be safe. I can't guarantee that this room is structurally sound. If my communications system had not shorted out I would have provided you with better coordinates. There are other areas of the palace that are better for discussion." He turned and waddled toward a doorway. "Sadly, the palace is in desperate need of repairs, but that will all be fixed shortly, now that you're here." He turned and smiled over his shoulder at the bewildered Enterprise crew.

Pyloc led the landing party down a dark corridor. At regular intervals along the corridor, doors led to other rooms. Some of these doors were open, and revealed similar wreckage to what had been seen in the Hall of Great Decisions. Eventually the corridor ended at a stone door. Pyloc pushed this door open to reveal a set of stone steps that descended into blackness. He fumbled around on the wall for a moment before finding a switch that illuminated the room at the bottom of the stairs.

He led them down into a large basement room lined with shelves. It looked as though it had once been a storehouse, but now it was serving as the Controller's living quarters. There was a small cot in the corner of the room that looked hardly adequate to hold Pyloc's impressive girth. A chipped wash basin stood beside the cot, and metal shelves held ornate silk robes, carefully folded. A table and chairs had been set up in the middle of the room. "Please, take a seat, all of you. We have many things to discuss. I regret I am not in a position to offer much in the way of hospitality, but if anyone is thirsty I can at least provide refreshment." He poured himself a glass of amber liquid from a crystal decanter, and offered to do the same for his guests, who declined.

The five members of the landing party took seats around the table. "Controller Pyloc," Spock began, "What has happened to this building?"

Pyloc sighed. "Let me start at the beginning, Captain. As you well know, we are a capitalistic society. Before the discovery of vast stores of dilithium crystals beneath our surface, our primary industries were gold and brillian mining." Pyloc paused, noting some confused looks around the table. "This is a brillian," he said, pointing to a luminous gem around his neck. It was black, but flashed red and green in the dim light, and seemed to shine with an inner glow. Pyloc waved a bejeweled hand. "Anyway, once dilithium crystals were discovered here, mining for jewels and precious metals became a secondary concern."

Pyloc paused and took a sip of his drink. "We began focusing our energy on mining the much more lucrative crystals for sale, first to the Klingons, and then to your Federation. We have always had three social classes on Idaus, the mining class, the between class, and the deciding class. I, of course, am a member of the latter. The deciding class is largely made up of elected officials, and we make the laws and govern Idaus. This arrangement has worked fine for hundreds of years, until very recently. About two cycles ago, some malcontents in the mining class began spreading dangerous ideas among their kind. They were unhappy with their lot in life, and decided to stir up trouble. They wanted more money, more freedom, property. Of course, we threw the leaders in prison, but it wasn't enough. The ideas had spread, and many began refusing to work. As you can imagine, this was a very distressing situation for us. How could we continue to provide dilithium crystals for your esteemed Federation without the necessary labor? It occurred to us to use those miners which we had incarcerated to continue the mining, under penalty of the whip. This worked for a short while, but some of them were lunatics. Absolutely mad. No matter how much we punished them, they refused to work. More and more of them refused to do their duties, and were imprisoned." Pyloc's voice was becoming shrill as he told his story. He was so focused on telling his tale that he failed to notice the negative reaction he was getting from the Enterprise crew. "Finally, we had to make an example of a few of their leaders. It was regrettable, of course, but as you can clearly see, we had no other choice. After their execution…"

"You executed the leaders of the mining class?" Spock interrupted.

"Well, I just explained why we had no other choice," Pyloc spat out. "We were on the verge of anarchy."

"And this proved to be an effective measure?" Spock could guess the answer to his question, based on the wreckage surrounding him.

Pyloc took a deep breath and continued in a more pleasant tone. "Unfortunately, we underestimated how widespread this lunacy had become. The mining class took up arms against us, and overtook the prison where we kept their members. They managed to set all of the criminal miners free, along with some other dangerous felons. Then… they came here." Pyloc sighed, his facial expression that of a persecuted victim. "They attacked at night. They came in and destroyed the Hall of Great Decisions, as well as the private chambers of all of the Deciders. They captured or killed all except myself. I managed to hide down here until they left. They have been back three times, looking for me, but I have evaded capture. I suppose they now think I am dead, or have run away. But they do not suspect that I have more potent allies than they could ever imagine… the Enterprise, and all the power she commands." He said this last sentence gleefully, clapping his hands and laughing as his three chins wobbled furiously.

"What is it that you expect us to do?" Spock asked, one eyebrow raised.

"Well, your weapons are far advanced above anything the miners have. I would simply need you to provide a display of power so awesome that it would scare the resisters back into compliance. They have taken a warehouse not far from here as their base. One blast of fire from your ship would destroy it, and kill their leaders, leaving the rest in disarray. Then you could arm my military with your weapons. They all scattered and hid, but we could find them and give them strong weapons. That would ensure that nothing like this would ever happen again." Pyloc had a gleam in his eye as he spoke that made him look unhinged.

"I am afraid you have misinterpreted our offer of assistance," Spock said calmly. "We will not be able to provide you with weapons, nor will we destroy any structures or cause any loss of life. However, we would be happy to aid you in initiating and carrying out negotiations with the miners. Some agreement may be reached that would be satisfactory to both sides."

Pyloc's fleshy face turned red and his bulging eyes protruded even further than normal. "Negotiations? Negotiations? That is entirely unacceptable. I will not allow anything less than military might in this situation. They must be stopped, they must be taught a lesson, everything must go back to the way it was. I will accept nothing else!" Pyloc was screaming now, and pounding his fist on the table.

In comparison to the irate Controller, Spock seemed even more composed than usual. "I am sorry that our solution is unacceptable to you, Controller Pyloc. However, it is against the Federation's most fundamental directives for us to get involved in any way in this situation, other than as a moderator. If you cannot accept this help, I am afraid we must leave."

Pyloc stood abruptly, knocking his chair over. He was breathing heavily, and his bulging eyes glittered black in the dim light. To the Enterprise crew he looked like a lunatic. "I was afraid you would respond this way. But no matter. I have taken precautions." His face suddenly changed, as he regained control of himself. He smiled at each member of the landing party in turn, ending with Spock. Then he spoke in a low voice. "Your captain is very ill, is he not? Dying, I believe." His slimy smile made him look like a snake that has just swallowed a whole deer.

"How could you know that?" Lt Uhura burst out, forgetting herself.

The greasy smile got wider. "Oh, I know, because I planned it. I caused it. Indirectly, of course."

"How could you possibly be responsible for the Captain's illness?" the Communications Officer demanded. "We just got here, and he's been sick for days."

"Oh, I've been planning this for some time. Just a safety measure, in case you didn't see things my way. The Captain should have been more careful who he shared his bed with. You never know who someone might be working for." The Controller's laugh echoed crazily in the cavernous room.

The anger emanating from the Enterprise crew was almost palpable. They looked at each other in confusion. Even Spock's cool demeanor seemed to be slipping slightly. This time, the calm in his voice was deadly. He spoke very slowly. "What have you done to Captain Kirk?"

"Oh, well, if I told you that, I'd lose my leverage, wouldn't I?" Pyloc chuckled. "Suffice it to say, that by my estimations, your captain will be dead in twenty-four Earth hours. That is, if you don't cooperate. If you decide to meet my demands, I will be more than happy to tell you how to save your captain."

There was a moment of silence. Finally, Spock spoke. "If what you are saying is true, and you are responsible for Captain Kirk's current condition, you will be arrested for crimes against the Federation. But I still would not issue a command that would take a life on your planet… even if it would save the Captain's."

Pyloc smiled. "Oh, I didn't expect you to give in so easily." He took several steps back, so that he was standing under a low-lying beam in the ceiling. Reaching into his ample robes, he pulled out what looked to be a Klingon disrupter, and aimed it at the Enterprise crew. "Don't move," he said, aiming it at Spock. "You wouldn't want to be down to your third in command, would you?" Pyloc cackled as if he'd just told a joke. "Now, I regret being forced to aim a weapon at you, but I didn't want you to get any foolish ideas about beaming me up to your ship with you. I'm not going to harm you, as long as you leave peacefully. Go back up to your ship. Check in on your Captain. I'm quite sure he's in agony. No one would ever wish to die the way he is dying. Perhaps seeing his pain might cause you to change your mind." Pyloc gestured above his head. "This beam is coated in brillian dust, which is proven to scramble transporter signals. So don't get any bright ideas about beaming me up with you. It won't work." Pyloc pointed at Spock with the disrupter. "Go ahead, call your ship and beam up. Think about my offer. Your captain doesn't have much time."