(Part 3 of Part III): Now I spend my time just making rhymes of yesterday

A/N: Sorry for the delay. Here's the final part of Part 3 which should have been all one part to start with. (sigh) For those who have asked, the original title "One is the Loneliest Number" is an old(ish) song by Three Dog Night. This "chapter" is named after one of the lines of the song. It was the only line left I hadn't used. The song, as it turns out, is extremely repetitive. So this title doesn't have anything to do with this chapter. Is that confusing enough?

It wasn't too hard for Jim to determine which of the structures just outside of town was the seat of government, where he was pretty sure he'd find the Califer and his 'advisors.' Because there was something more going on down on this God forsaken planet than had been obvious to them. And he was determined to find out just what that something more was. It had already gotten him temporarily relieved of command. If he could find the evidence he needed, he'd either regain his command or be permanently relieved. Either way, he'd be damned or freed by the truth.

He was crouched behind a convenient hedgerow just outside to governmental complex, studying the comings and goings of the inhabitants. He hadn't seen anyone who looked like the Califer although he had yet to see him in person. He had studied the mission briefings enough to know if any of the natives leaving or entering were the ruler of the planet. And none of them fit the description.

There was a back door to the imposing structure and he decided that was his best bet to gain entry. Slip in hopefully undetected, find the Califer and then…. Well, that part of the plan was a little sketchy but he'd done more with less.

As he started to rise to move closer to the back entrance, a very warm hand clasped his shoulder, pushing him back down. Jim's heart was racing and his brain momentarily shut down. Shit. Caught already, were his slightly panicked thoughts. Right up until Spock whispered in his ear.

"You should have told me you were coming down," Spock said, studying his Captain with a look of impatience. He was also wearing only his black undershirt and regular pants, deciding as had Jim that the gold and blue were too obvious in the dark of night.

Jim shook his head in response to Spock's statement. "You need to go back up. I'm already relieved of command."

"Unjustly," Spock said. "I cannot allow them to do this to you."

"You can't be in this, Spock. I have to do this alone."

"You do not," Spock corrected. "As you so often state, two heads are better than one."

"We don't need two heads on the chopping block," Jim insisted quietly. "This is my fight."

"This is our fight, Jim. One we will win together," Spock said.

Jim shook his head. "No, Spock. Go back up. I'll be fine. I have to clear my name. And, no offense, get my ship back."

"I have the same goals. I do not wish to be Captain," Spock said.

Jim sighed. "Please."

"No," Spock said, ending the debate and studying the back entrance. "What is your plan for getting inside?"

"I don't know. I'm making it up as I go along," Jim said.

"You have been watching Raiders of the Lost Ark again," Spock observed, making Jim laugh softly.

"Now you've decided to experiment with Human humor?"

Spock shrugged, intently watching the doors of the complex. There seemed to be a lot of activity for so late into planet's night.

"What are they doing? It's close to midnight and it's been like this since I got here 10 minutes ago," Jim said, crouching low beside Spock.

"I am curious about the same thing," Spock agreed. "There. See those two in the ornate blue robes?"

"Yeah," Jim agreed, watching them follow the cobblestone path that led up to the front door.

"They just exited the back. Why would they leave through the back to enter in the front?"

"An excellent question. And none of the natives we encountered wore robes. They were all dressed like the ones we accidentally brought up – simple pants seemed to be their usual manner of dress."

"Yes," Spock agreed. "If we can intercept two such figures, we can use their robes to go in undetected."

"You think?" Jim asked, watching three more cloaked beings leave the back door and go to the front entrance to be admitted by a smallish figure wearing the pants the others had been wearing. "What if they are having a meeting that requires a secret handshake?"

"Then you will figure out what that handshake is," Spock said in certainty.

"Thanks," Jim chuckled softly. "This is just weird."

"It is indeed. I am relieved that you decided not to simply accept the actions of the Admirals," Spock said, turning to study Jim with intense black eyes.

Jim shrugged. "Once I got over feeling sorry for myself, I got really pissed. Anger always motivates me."

"That is good to know," Spock said, returning his focus to the mysterious activities at the front entrance.

"You already knew," Jim replied, Spock quietly agreeing with his statement. "Okay. Let's go toward the back. You can nerve pinch the next two into oblivion."

"Do you have a phaser?"

"No. I couldn't beam down undetected if I took one. Stupid safety protocols."

"Why did you not simply disengage the scanner?" Spock asked.

"Would have taken me too long to reroute the circuits. By the time I finished, Scotty or Sulu would have been alerted."

"I see. You may need to practice," Spock suggested, making Jim laugh.

"Yeah. I need to remain adept at subterfuge on my own ship."

"It could be helpful should we ever be overtaken by intruders."

"I do know that," Jim agreed. "Look. There's two now. Come on."

Spock nodded and followed Jim closer to the back entrance, staying behind the hedgerow until they were parallel with the two robe clad figures. Jim and Spock silently approached from behind, Spock disabling them simultaneously.

"You sure you can't teach me that?" Jim asked as he divested the first of his heavy blue cloak, conveniently complete with a deep hood.

"Quite sure," Spock said, fastening his robe at his throat and pulling the hood over his head. They moved the bodies to the opposite side of the hedgerow, going to the front door where they were admitted with no questions asked, no secret handshake required. The beings who had already entered were still in the huge foyer, a curved stairwell hugging the back wall. Everyone's focus seemed to be on the stairwell so Spock and Jim looked that way as well.

It wasn't long after they entered that two men appeared at the top of the stairs, looking down over the balcony. One was clearly the Califer, adorned in regal purple robes, gold markings woven into the fabric.

Jim had to bite the inside of his cheek to stop his gasp when he saw the second man. He could feel Spock's surprise course through his body to echo his own. Commander Kor stood next to the Califer in his Klingon uniform, scowling down at all those looking up at him.

Jim instinctively took a small step backward, wondering how soon they would be able to exit the gathering. They had all the information they needed. The Klingons had gotten to Ksaddurru first and were apparently manipulating the Califer for their own purposes. Which with Klingons was never going to end well. Having him relieved of command was obviously a bonus.

"Our plan is progressing better than we had hoped," Kor said with great satisfaction, those gathered murmuring and nodding. "The Captain of the dreaded Federation starship has been humiliated and dismissed. We will not be bothered with those lowly Humans and their pathetic attempts at 'peace.' The Klingon Empire will protect you and your resources in exchange for a fair share of your minerals and precious metals."

"The ship remains above our planet," one brave soul said, safe to voice concern in the anonymity of the group.

"It will depart before many more hours. We have disgraced them and left them no reason to remain," the Califer said, to Kor's nods.

"Your job is now to secure those resources we have agreed to accept in exchange for your protection," Kor said. "I expect to see the entire inventory delivered here within the next 4 days. If you fail me, my ship will have no choice but to depart, leaving you defenseless when the Federation exacts their harsh retribution against you."

"That is something we will not tolerate," the Califer said in reinforcement of Kor's words. "For now, we will celebrate our victory. Join us in the Hall of Mirrors for a victory feast."

There was general agreement with that, all of the robed beings going toward a wide hallway to the immediate left of the stairwell. Kor and the Califer remained on the balcony so Jim and Spock had no choice but to follow behind, hoping to find a convenient exit. That opportunity arose just before they were going to enter the huge Hall of Mirrors when a servant exited the kitchen, Jim and Spock quickly entering, to the surprise of those working. It didn't take long from them to arrive outside, discarding their cloaks and requesting transport from a very startled Lt. Zandi. Once they were safely back on board, Jim went straight to the communications panel, ordering Lt. Zandi to take them out of orbit.

"Coordinates, sir?" Lt. Zandi asked.

"The nearest moon or planet that will disguise our presence," Jim ordered. "I'm on my way to the Bridge. I'll explain when we get there."

"Yes, sir," Lt. Zandi agreed. They heard him issuing the order as they hurried out of the transporter room. Lt. Zandi stood as they entered the Bridge, leaving the Captain's chair for the rightful Captain.

"Turns out the Klingons arrived before we did," Jim explained to the Gamma crew on the Bridge. "They are exploiting the planet – demanding their natural resources in exchange for 'protection' from the Federation."

"That explains a lot," Bones said as he crossed over to Jim and Spock from the turbolift. "What are we going to do?"

"Did Admiral Pike contact us?" Spock asked.

"He did, sir. Half an hour ago. Lt. Scott explained that you were indisposed. Both of you," Zandi said.

"Okay. Food poisoning in space is no fun," Jim said. "Lt. Russell, please see if you can reach the Admiral."

"Aye sir," he responded, turning to do so. It was only a matter of minutes before Pike appeared on the viewscreen.

"Are you two okay?" Chris asked in undisguised concern.

"We're fine, sir," Jim assured him. "We were on the planet."

"I see," Chris said, eyeing them both. "What did you learn?"

"The Klingons beat us here," Jim said, the realization dawning on Chris' face.

"No wonder," Chris said. "All right. Spock, you need to remain in command until I can get this straightened out. Jim, stay out of sight, please. What is your current heading?"

"Lt. Zandi?" Jim asked.

"We are heading toward Dokuwo Major at impulse, sir. Once we are out of detection of their sensors, we will go to warp 2 and arrive there in short order."

"Very good," Pike said. "The atmosphere of Dokuwo will hide you from the Klingons."

"Our thoughts exactly, sir," Zandi agreed.

Pike nodded, focusing back on Jim. "Lay low. I know it will be hard for you."

Jim shrugged. "I'll keep myself busy and out of trouble, sir. Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, Jim. I'll tell you all about it later."

"Okay. Lt. Zandi, I will be in my quarters. I'm sure you won't need me but if you do, you'll need to ask Mr. Spock instead."

"Understood, sir," Lt. Zandi said with a nod, watching the three men leave the Bridge. He was just glad that the Captain was back and would soon be back in his rightful place, on the Bridge. As it should be.