If there are images in this attachment, they will not be displayed. Download the original attachment

A PIECE OF OUR ACTION

By Lorraine Anderson

"Computer, freeze action." Captain Picard said. Dixon Hill's secretary stopped in the middle of putting on her coat. Picard shot a meaningful look at Riker, also in period costume, then sighed. "We're what, Worf?"

"The Enterprise is getting a page from lotia on a Federation channel," Worf repeated over the comm channel.

"From where?" Riker said. "I didn't know there was a Federation Planet out in this sector." He caught the look Picard threw him. "In fact, I know there isn't, come to think about it."

Picard shrugged. "Is it a general page, or is it directed towards the Enterprise?"

"They are calling specifically for the U.S.S. Enterprise. There was a crude scan before the paging started. What should I do, Captain?" Worf rumbled.

"Answer the phone," Picard said.

"What, Captain? The 'phone'?" Worf sounded puzzled.

"Answer the page. We'll be right up," Picard sighed. It wasn't very often he got to use the holodeck, and he had thought that Riker would enjoy this mystery...but it wasn't to be. "Computer, save program."

Picard and Riker strode onto the bridge, still in costume. "Put it on screen," Picard said, sitting down. "Yes, Captain." Worf made the connection.

"I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the U.S.S. Enterprise." The picture from the planet came up on the screen, and Picard felt a sense of deja vu. The man, middle aged and balding slightly on top, was wearing the same suit that he was. "Captain Picard," the man mused. "What happened to Captain Kirk?"

The bridge crew gave Picard a startled look. "Captain Kirk...retired some time ago," he said. "May I help you?"

The man looked slightly disappointed. "Kirk got knocked off, huh? Well, that's the way the cookie crumbles. Anyway, I'm Bela Oxmyx the Third. What we wanna know is when is the Enterprise goin' to come around to pick up their cut?" In spite of the belligerent tone of his voice, the man looked friendly.

Picard and Riker exchanged glances. "Our...cut?" Picard queried. "I'm afraid I don't..." Data was giving him signs. "Just a second, Mr. Oxmyx. I'll be right back to you." When Worf paused the transmission, Picard turned to Data. "Yes?"

"I took the liberty of reading about the history of this sector, Captain. He is quite proper in asking when the Enterprise is going to pick up its 'cut'."

Picard and Riker stared at Data. "I am sorry I did not bring it to your attention before, sir, but the report on the earlier contact made no mention of the s having Federation technology. In fact, they were just making use of internal combustion engines."

"I think...we had better have a staff meeting," Picard muttered. "Worf, re-open channels...Mr. Oxmyx?"

"Yeah, Captain?"

"We will come by to discuss the...arrangements."

"Fine, fine...some of my boys will escort you in. Oxmyx out." The connection seemed to make an audible click.

"Escort us...?" Picard mused. He looked at Riker.

"Captain," Worf said. "Two small ships are coming up from the surface...they seem to run on dilithium power, although there are some very odd readings..." He looked up. "They have phaser capability, but no shields."

Riker looked bemused. "From a culture that didn't have internal combustion engines a hundred years ago? They're three hundred years ahead of where they should be." He looked up at Worf. "Any threat to the ship?"

Worf seemed amused. "Hardly."

"Any sign of Ferengi?" Picard asked. "Perhaps they've discovered this planet."

Worf looked down. "No, sir. No sign of Ferengi."

"Captain, it is very possible that they have dilithium power by now," Data said.

"Oh?" Picard intoned, his eyebrows up. "I shall be very interested in hearing your report."

Data looked down. "The ships are coming up beside us, Captain. I can give you a close-up picture."

Picard shrugged. "Make it so." The picture came up on the screen. Picard started, and raised his eyebrows at Data. "Indeed, Mr. Data. Very interested."

Floating beside the Enterprise was a modified reproduction of a 1920 Packard. Four men were gaping out the bubbled windows at the Enterprise - two men were in pin striped suits, and the other two men were in Federation style uniforms of eighty years before. The man beside the steering wheel looked like he had a headache, and he was speaking frantically into an old-fashioned clamshell Federation communicator.

"All this from one forgotten communicator?" Riker asked rhetorically, shaking his head.

Data looked at him. "Yes, Commander. Doctor McCoy reported that he may have left a communicator on Iotia. However, since the Enterprise was diverted to deliver medical supplies to ease a plague situation on Andorra, it seems very possible that all concerned had forgotten the missing equipment."

"Still, Captain," Troi said. "I doubt that Captain Kirk guessed that the Iotians would get so far by dissecting one communicator."

"I wouldn't have thought so," Picard said, loosening his tie. "But the fact is that they have progressed far beyond where they should be." He turned to Data. "What about the 'cut' Mr. Oxmyx mentioned?"

"The Iotian society at the time of Captain Kirk's visit was based on the Chicago, Illinois, United States of America, of the 1920's. This was due to the original Federation contamination by the U.S.S. Horizon. Taking guidance from what they called "The Book," the capital city was sectioned into territories, each representing a certain section of the of the planet. These sections were headed by leaders called 'bosses', who kept order in the capital city and in the outlying areas by security members called 'gangsters."

"Um...Data...," LaForge said. "I've read about gangsters, too. They were more like terrorist groups than security forces. And their basic motivation was currency."

"Ah. I will make note of that." He paused for a second. "In any case, Captain Kirk saw that the original contamination was not healthy. In an attempt to unify the planet, he set up the Federation as the 'big boss', so to speak, with the first Bela Oxmyx as planetary leader. At regular intervals, a representative of the Federation was to visit the planet to pick up our 'cut', which was envisioned by Captain Kirk to be reinvested into the planetary treasury."

"Which rapidly fell by the wayside, I suppose," Picard mused. "I imagine the Federation council was thrilled."

"They tabled the issue. I do not believe that even Captain Kirk took his suggestion seriously. I believe they wished to minimize Federation contamination with Iotia. Perhaps they thought the Iotians would solve their own problems, if the Federation did not interfere."

"And they're still waiting for the Federation to pick up their cut," Picard sighed, rubbing his forehead. "Inthe meantime, developing space flight, phasers, and who knows what else."

LaForge sat forward. "You know, that's not easy to do - - to develop all that stuff based on observations of one communicator. And in less than a century! We shouldn't underestimate them."

Troi looked at LaForge, then at Picard. "I agree, Captain. They are obviously bright and inventive, and it appears they want to bend over backwards to be like us. They just had the wrong template."

"'The Book.' Riker said.

"Yes." Troi smiled. "I wouldn't be surprised if we see some changes - beyond the obvious."

Picard rubbed his forehead. "You may be right.. however, I'm not sure I trust Mr. Oxmyx's basic motivations." He wished briefly that Troi had been on the bridge. "Will, you're not going to like this, but I believe I should head the landing party."

"You're right. I'm not. Why?"

"I have already established myself as 'boss' aboard the Enterprise. Unfortunately, I doubt that Mr. Oxmyx will want to talk to anyone less than the boss."

Worf cleared his throat. Picard looked at him and smiled slightly. "I'll take Worf, Troi, and Data...and a couple more security guards, Mr. Worf, visibly armed." Picard caught Riker's look. "A show of force will be advisable, also...no 'bosses' went anywhere without their goons." He thought a moment and looked at the costume he had on. "Counselor, do you think we should go in period costume?"

Troi looked thoughtful, then smiled. "No...Captain, I think you should play up our differences. We really don't want to give them an inaccurate impression of the Federation. It would just give them more reason to cling onto 'The Book' as their template." She looked at his clothing. "I would tell them the truth about your costume."

"Ah." Picard thought wistfully of Dixon Hill. "Ready a shuttle. We had better not make Mr. Oxmyx any more nervous than he undoubtedly is right now. We'll let one of his... cars... guide us in."

#

The bemused guards, all in old Federation uniforms of yellow or blue, cautiously hurried the landing party into a brick building, then into an office. This done, they faded into the back of the room. They alternated watching Worf cautiously, and gazing at Troi appreciatively. Worf glared back at them, keeping one hand close to his phaser. Troi, studiously ignoring them, blushed.

"Captain!" Mr. Oxmyx came out of his plush chair as if propelled by springs. He extended his hand. "Welcome to Iotia!"

Picard shook Oxmyx's hand cautiously, somewhat overwhelmed by the man's enthusiasm. "We thank you for giving us the opportunity to view your planet, Mr...Oxmyx." He paused. "Pardon me, but I'm afraid I didn't catch your title?"

"I'm the Big Boss on this planet. We tried to figure out a fancier title, but it didn't stick."

"Ah. Economical." Picard turned to introduce his companions. "This is Deanna Troi, ship's counselor; Mr. Data, our second officer; Mr. Worf, Chief of Security..." Mr. Oxmyx's eyes widened as he noted Worf but he didn't say anything. "...and John Barnes and Julia Moreland, security officers."

Mr. Oxmyx raised his eyebrows. "You have women serving aboard your ship?" He smiled. "That wasn't mentioned in 'The Book' appendix, but I can live with that. I kinda thought women got a hard deal here anyway. I've known too many smart cookies." He grimaced. "Including the boss of the Levana territory. She can be quite a...witch." He glanced at the women. "But I can handle her."

Troi was frowning slightly, then a blank look came on her face. Picard started to get doubly cautious. "'The Book' has an appendix?" Troi asked.

"Yes, ma'am. All about the Enterprise visit. The fellows compiled all their experiences together, and one of them wrote an appendix of our observations." He smiled. "My Pop was one of them. He was just a boy when Kirk was here, but he let Pop get a piece of the action. He was the one who distracted the guards while they bopped 'em. Kirk told my granddad, then Grandad adopted Pop."

"So your father was not really Mr. Oxmyx's son?" Data asked.

"Naw, he was just a street orphan. Granddad was too smart to be hitched to one of his dolls - though he just might have had some sons somewhere that called other men 'Pop'. He was pretty popular with the dolls." He grinned in reflection, the n looked at Troi. "He woulda liked you. No offense intended."

"And none taken," Troi said, but she looked sharply at the grinning guards.

"But I ain't complaining. Pop got a pretty good cut." He looked around. "I'm forgetting my manners. Can I get you guys something? Gin, bourbon?"

"No, thank you, Mr. Oxmyx," Picard said.

"Oh. Well, maybe you'ld like some joe?"

"'Joe?' Picard said. "Oh, yes, coffee. Certainly. Yes, I would like some coffee." He wished he could have some tea, but he doubted if they had Earl Grey. "I can't speak for the others."

"Well, I'll just get a pot and some cups and let you serve yourselves. Satisfactory?" Oxmyx gestured to one of his guards.

"Very..." Picard's voice dropped as he watched one of Mr. Oxmyx's men walk over to an old-fashioned Federation food slot and stick a card in. The metal food slot looked rather incongruous in the setting with the intricately carved wood furniture and the oriental-style carpet.

"You seem surprised, Captain. Don't you have one of these on your ship? It's in the Appendix. Jojo Krako said he saw one." Oxmyx took the platter the guard gave him, set it on his table, and started to pour the coffee.

"Um...we do, yes. However, we didn't realize you had one."

Oxmyx smiled. "This is the prototype. I just had it installed this year. Still not as good as home cookin', but it does coffee pretty good." He handed Picard the cup. "We're also very close to figuring out your transporter. We're doing okay, aren't we?"

Picard's eyebrows raised. "Um...very 'okay.' I think our chief Engineer will want to meet some of your scientists."

"Good. Good. Maybe he - or is it a she?" Oxmyx glanced at the women. "Maybe the Engineer can give them some hints. They haven't tried to transport people yet...and some of them poor animals they tried..." Oxmyx shuddered.

Picard shuddered simultaneously and tried to put the picture out of his mind. He was at the scene of a transporter accident once. It wasn't a pretty sight.

"Captain," Data said. "May I look at the food slot?"

"Go ahead, go ahead," Oxmyx said. Picard nodded. Data wandered over to the wall. "Well, sit down. I guess we better get to the meat of this discussion."

"Our 'cut'." Picard took a seat as Oxmyx settled by his desk. Troi sat beside him. Worf and the security guards remained standing, and Oxmyx took no notice of them.

"Yeah. The Federation seemed to have forgotten to take their cut." Oxmyx seemed slightly put out.

"So I've been told. The agreement was that we come by every year to pick it up?"

"Well, yeah. Not that we're complaining, mind you. In fact, my dad gave some thought to not setting aside anything for your cut, but I guess the Enterprise put on some pretty big demonstration of your big heater the last time you were here."

Data spoke up from over by the food slot. "That would be when the Enterprise stunned a whole city block."

"Yeah. 'They're not dead, but they may as well be so, had we wanted it.' I think that's pretty close to what Kirk said."

Picard smiled ruefully. "Extortion."

Oxmyx smiled back. "It worked. Only two or three hits a year, and mostly nobody's offed, with these new kind of heaters."

"That's very good," Picard said. He wondered briefly if Troi understood any of the above exchange. He was somewhat familiar with the idiom due to his affection for the Dixon Hill books.

"Captain, may I speak to you?" Picard turned and discovered Data beside him. Picard looked at Oxmyx. "Go ahead," Oxmyx said. "I'll try not to listen."

Data regarded Oxmyx briefly, then cocked his head to one side. "I examined the technology of the food slot It is primitive, but it utilizes some very interesting innovations which could be incorporated into Federation design. I speak of energy utilization in particular."

"'Energy utilization'?"

"The food slot runs on 220 watt current. It is similar to a twentieth century microwave, but it is a functional food slot"

"I see," Picard said, raising his eyebrows.

Data looked over at Oxmyx. "May I examine a phaser?" Oxmyx nodded to one of the guards, who reluctantly started to hand Data a phaser. "You may hold it in your hand," Data said, then ran a tricorder over the body of the phaser. "May I see the power source?" he asked the befuddled guard. The guard put the lock on, then turned the phaser over and popped a hatch. He pulled out a small square object Data ran the tricorder over it. "Captain, this is what was commonly known as a battery. A similar unit of power was used in the late twentieth century on Terra. I believe Geordi should examine this."

"I agree, if Mr. Oxmyx agrees," Picard said.

"Tell you what," Oxmyx said. "Rather than deprive Bruar here of his heater, why don't you examine a couple of my personal stock." He pulled open a drawer, and took about five phasers out. Worf growled.

Data picked two out of the group. "Thank you. I promise they will not be harmed." He punched his badge. "One to beam up." Data disappeared into the transporter beam.

"Wow," Mr. Oxmyx said admiringly.

Picard sat back. Noting the signals that Troi was sending him, he decided to come straight to the point. "Mr. Oxmyx, if I may be so frank, I believe you have another concern besides our 'cut'."

Oxmyx rubbed his chin. "Mind readers, too?" he said resignedly.

"Not exactly."

"Captain, I know of your Non-interference Policy..." He looked at Picard, and some hesitation came on his face. "That is, we don't know your Non-interference Policy exactly, but one of our guys heard your guys mention it and we kinda figured it out from there. It means you weren't even supposed to come here, don't it?"

"Yes," Picard said, rubbing his forehead and wondering how much the Iotians did know. "To put it simply, the Noninterference Policy states that the Federation is not to make contact with a culture until it reaches a certain level of technology. The Horizon landed here long before the policy was in effect."

Oxmyx nodded ruefully. "I had a hunch. Then leaving The Book was a mistake."

"Yes. I'm afraid so."

He glanced over at a wooden stand supporting a large book. "Does The Book even mean anything in the Federation?" Picard looked over to Troi, who nodded slightly.

"The Book is a history of one town in one point of time - almost four hundred years ago. Our culture has changed greatly since then. I doubt if many of the cultures in the Federation even know of its existence."

Oxmyx looked at a picture of the senior Oxmyx on his desk. "Those dummies..." He sat reflecting for a moment, then shook himself. "Let me come to the point, Captain. I need help. Our people are dying." He got up and paced around the room, obviously anguished. "I wasn't entirely truthful with you before. We were visited last year by aliens who claimed they were representatives of the Federation. Shifty-eyed guys, with big ears. Fer...Fer."

Picard's eyes widened. "Ferengi. Oh, my." If the Ferengi were here, there could be no small amount of problems. "We know of them. They are not entirely... honest."

"So we found out. They tried to collect your cut. They took it in that funny quartz-like stuff that we found in your communicator."

"Dilithium."

Oxmyx pointed at Picard. "Is that what you call it?"

"So what tipped you off?"

"Well, it wasn't the sign that said 'good-bye, sucker', though it might as well have been." He grinned ruefully. "It was because they didn't know Fizzbin."

"Ah." Picard smiled doubtfully. Fizzbin? he thought. He decided not to pursue that line any further until he could have access to the computer.

"But your ship said 'Enterprise' right on it, so we knew you were Feds guys." He shook himself "We chased them out, but right after they left, people started getting sick. I kinda wonder whether they might've brought some bug in for revenge."

"Bug?"

"Sickness."

Picard grimaced. "They wouldn't bring it in deliberately. Not into a culture they hope to trade with."

"Maybe so, Captain, but people are kicking the bucket. Four hundred yesterday planet-wide, and thousands of others sick. It's slow, but everyone is getting it. Our hospitals are overloaded." He looked incredibly tired. "What I want to know is whether you can do anything about it?"

Picard stood at his office window, looking wearily down at Iotia. What could he do about it? That was the question of the hour. The laws of non-interference were clear on that point - yet he had already bent those laws by setting foot on the planet. What could he do? Could he, in all conscience, let more Iotians die?

The door to Picard's office chimed. "Come," he said without turning.

"Captain," Dr. Crusher strode into the room. "We must do something."

Just what he was thinking, but he didn't let on. He turned and sat down on at his desk, and motioned the doctor to do the same. "What did you find out on Iotia?"

"Mr. Oxmyx wasn't exaggerating. The population of lotia is being decimated by this disease."

"And?"

"And I did a full scan of the two we beamed into the sickbay. And I've also talked to their doctor - or, rather, their doctor condescended to talk to me. He didn't quite believe I knew what I was talking about." She grimaced. "Anyway, it's a infection very similar to the common cold in humans, but in Iotians it causes high fevers, rashes, pneumonia, you name it. It wouldn't be fatal with a good antibiotic, but they have no good antibiotics." She sighed. "It's very possible that the disease is like the common cold in Ferengi, but since Iotians have no tolerance..."

Picard leaned back heavily. "It's like when the white man brought measles into the New World."

"Exactly." She sighed. "I'd like to have permission to try to treat them. Since we are days away from the Federation, I will need to consult with their medical staff to find native compounds the Iotians can manufacture quickly to combat the disease."

He knew she was going to ask that, but he winced anyway. "What about medicine from the Enterprise?"

"Not nearly enough."

"Is there any possibility that they would develop an antibiotic on their own? I...would like to minimize contact between us and the lotions."

Crusher looked at him intently. "And I appreciate your position, Captain. But no. They are years away from developing an effective antibiotic." She smiled grimly. "The doctor informed me that most of the research money goes to weapons technology. He was not apologetic." Her smile faded. "I'm afraid if we don't interfere, there may no Iotians to contact in the future."

"So you think we should break the Non-interference Directive." He thought a moment and smiled without humor. "In spite of the fact it seems to have been broken numerous times."

Crusher frowned ruefully. "Unfortunately, yes."

Picard rubbed his forehead. "I have been considering an option that I'm going to propose to the Federation. I had hoped you could wait until I had my answer, but it seems you can't."

Crusher stood, sober. "Thank you. I hope we won't regret this decision."

"I do, too."

#

The man was Deltan, but the voice and the face were almost mechanical. Picard wished he could talk back to the man to see if he was as mechanical as he seemed. "Captain Picard. Your request has been brought to the attention of the Directive Review committee. They will bring it under advisement, and will inform you of their decision in three solar days. Federation out."

Riker rolled his eyes. "In the meantime, half of the Iotian population could be decimated. Committees!" He looked at Picard. "As much as I'm worried about it, I'm glad you let Crusher go ahead."

"Frankly, I can't see how the culture can be any more messed up than it has been," Picard sighed. "How is the research going?"

"Dr. Crusher reports that she should have a useful antibiotic in a day."

"Good." Riker leaned forward reluctantly. "You know, I hate to be your nanny..." Picard smiled at the reference. "...but do you really need to go on this guided tour?"

Picard smiled ruefully. "Well, it would be rather rude if I didn't. Actually, I'm looking forward to it. I only wish I could wear my Dixon Hill costume."

#

The voice on the comm channel sounded very apologetic and somewhat frightened. "Um...l don't know how to tell you guys this."

Riker felt a chill of premonition. He glanced over at Troi, who nodded grimly. "Go ahead, Mr. Oxmyx."

"Picard has...um...disappeared. Nabbed." Riker could almost hear a gulp. "It seems one of my boys got paid off by the boss in the Levana Sector. Damn her."

"Kidnapped."

"Yeah. It's not too far away. I'm getting my boys ready to go over there on a hit..."

"No!" Riker said forcefully. "We have ways of tracing..." He caught sight of Data, who was shaking his head. "Just a second, Mr. Oxmyx..." He waved at Worf to cut the channel.

"Commander," Data said. "I checked the commlink when Mr. Oxmyx informed us the Captain was missing. The commlink is working, but I am getting Iotian readings."

Riker motioned to Worf. "Mr. Oxmyx, did the Captain have his...badge on when he was kidnapped?"

The voice paused. "He did...but it was knocked off in the brawl. I got it in my pocket now. Why?" Riker sighed. "It just makes tracing the Captain a lot more difficult...that's all."

"Choina wouldn't hurt the Captain...he's more explosive 'n dynamite down here. At least, she wouldn't normally. But maybe you and your boys better come down here and help out."

Worf growled. Riker glanced at him, his eyebrows up. "Just a second, Mr. Oxmyx."

Worf cut the communications. "I must protest, Commander! I do not trust Mr. Oxmyx_ And the ship cannot afford to have the both of you on the surface."

Riker snorted. "You've been listening to me talk to the Captain."

Data looked back. "I must agree, Commander. I would recommend that you send Mr. Worf and I to the surface."

Riker considered a second, then shook his head. "Your recommendations are noted. However, I have a feeling that undercover work will be required - and the two of you would stick out like a sore thumb. Since chains of command are regarded highly on this planet..." He motioned to Worf.

"Sorry for the wait, Mr. Oxmyx. I and a few of my...boys will beam down into your office shortly."

"Good. Good. I really do feel badly about losing your Captain. Whatever I can do to help..."

#

"We'll discuss it when I get down there. Riker out."

Troi had a determined look on her face. "I would like to go down on the planet. I want to help."

Riker looked at her, uncertain of her mood. "This sounds personal," he said lowly.

Deanna looked at him, her face blank. "Why, Will, why would you think that?"

"I know you too well... I think you have some sort of score to settle."

Troi smiled in reply.

Oxmyx looked at Troi in amazement. "I thought you said you were bringing a few of your boys down...my pardon, Miss Troi."

"I reconsidered and decided that the Federation should remain in a advisory capacity," Riker said, his face blank.

"Huh?"

Troi smiled. "We'll just watch."

"But...um...I don't want to take Miss Troi on the hit. She might get hurt."

Riker looked surprised. "Are you saying that Troi cannot handle herself?...I see you are." Riker smirked. "She is deadly accurate with a phaser...and you should see her in a fistfight."

Troi kept her face straight with an effort, but she kicked Riker in the shin. Don't overact, Will, she thought. She was fairly accurate with a phaser, and she had taken some Karate, but a fist-fight?

"Good at a one-two punch, huh?" Oxmyx looked surprised, then looked at her appreciatively.

Oh, what the hell. "Tops in the ship in my weight category!" she said, deadly. Riker nodded.

Oxmyx looked at her, then shrugged. "Ok, she can come."

"She was coming anyway," Riker said.

#

Picard looked up at his captor and wished he had taken Riker's advice. At the very end of the rather lengthy tour, he had been pushed by one of Oxmyx's men into a car, leaving Oxmyx and the rest of his men on the curbside as mad as hornets. He realized later on the long, silent ride, that the man must be a double-agent - or whatever they call it in this culture.

He had spent the rest of the night on a hard, narrow cot, hoping that Riker would know where to find him - especially since his commlink was missing. He was awakened

roughly in the morning, told to perform his ablutions, then was led to this office.

Not that his captor was unpleasant for him to look at. She was dark haired, almost sultry in her beauty. She was wearing a dark blue zoot suit, and the only concessions to her sex were a large pair of earrings and a gold chain. She was also looking at him with an unreadable expression.

"Boss of the Levana sector, I presume." Picard said blandly. He looked around the office. It was almost a carbon copy of Oxmyx's, even down to the ever-present guards.

The woman inclined her head. "I'm the duly elected official, yes."

Picard's eyes widened. "Elected. Mr. Oxmyx didn't mention that."

The woman leaned over Picard. "We have had elections on Iotia for nearly twenty-five years...I don't imagine his description of me was very complimentary."

"He...barely mentioned you." Picard said diplomatically.

"I'll bet." She moved over behind the desk, then motioned her bodyguards to back off. She smiled, but there was no mirth in it. "Nonetheless, Bela is a good sort. I can't find it in my heart to stay mad at him for long."

"I'm glad to hear that," Picard said. "It's very odd, then, that you choose to kidnap a guest of his."

The woman grimaced. "I'm sorry I had to kidnap you, Captain, but it was the only way that I could be sure that my side was heard. We may have elections here, but we also have suppression." She paused. "By the way, I don't suppose Bela found it necessary to mention my name." Picard shook his head. "I'm Choina Kesd. Please call me Choina." She got up and reached over the desk, extending her hand.

Picard got up and shook her hand. "And I'm Jean-Luc Picard."

"Jean-Luc. What an odd name."

"Common in the region of the planet I come from." He paused and hoped be wasn't treading into forbidden territory. "You don't talk like the others...like The Book."

Kesd snorted. "I'm an..: atheist', I suppose the term is. I never did believe The Book was any more than fiction." She looked at him intently. "Perhaps you can enlighten me."

"Ah." Picard raised his eyebrows. "Well. The Book is not fiction...but it does describe a society from over four hundred years ago on my home planet. My planet...and our section of the galaxy in particular...has changed greatly since then. Our ways are the ways of peace, not terrorism."

She took this information in stoically, and her eyes seem to brighten. "No such things as 'hits'?"

"No. Not by the Federation."

"But there is violence. You have phasers."

"Unfortunately, some cultures do not agree with the Federation's ways. We of the Federation are usually not the aggressor, but we will defend ourselves if attacked."

She laughed suddenly, gaily. "Do you really think we have the means to attack you? You saw our pitiful fleet. I understand they escorted you down the first time."

Picard remained sober. "No. You as a planet would have no chance against Federation forces. However, you have committed violence on me."

Kesd sobered quickly. "Yes. There is that." She looked over at a picture on one of the walls. "Perhaps if I make myself clear, you will find it in your heart to forgive my methods...which were the only option I had to see you."

"You mentioned that before."

"Yes. Let me go around this in a roundabout way." She looked at him. "I understand that some of your top officers are female. Am I to understand that females hold an equal status in your culture?"

Picard nodded, puzzled. "Of course. All individuals are equal in the Federation. I understand that was not always so...but we have progressed beyond that point."

"Sounds nice. Women here are usually treated like...objects or brood mares." She stared at him intently. "Before you ask, yes, I am married, and no, I can't have children. I'm sterile. That's the only way I got elected." She grinned. "That, and a little help from a certain sector. You should've seen the other bosses sputter."

Picard shook his head. "I wasn't going to ask how you happened to get elected."

"Well. Ok." She looked suddenly weary. "I would like for the Federation to take control of this planet."

Picard raised his eyebrows. "That's quite a request."

"It's not a request I take lightly, Captain."

"Even presuming it was possible, why do you ask?"

"I...and my people...are tired of the ever-present violence by the bosses. I suppose Bela played it down. Even with of the interdict on 'hits', they do go on...and quite a number of them, too. Why do you think I keep my guards?"

"I get your point."

"I, and many other women, am tired of the role females play in this society. I thought perhaps if the Federation took over, you could improve situations a bit."

Picard looked at her. "We could put a stop to these hits, but we absolutely will not. It is against our policy to interfere with a developing culture."

"Ah, yes...the Non-Interference Policy." She brushed her hair back. "Why, then, are you treating our people?"

Picard sighed. "It's a very gray area, but basically I decided your culture could not develop if all of the Iotians were dead."

She grinned honestly. "There is that."

Suddenly, they heard a commotion in the hall, followed by shots of phaser fire. The door was flung open, then two phaser beams shot in. Kesd's personal guards slumped over. "Hit the floor," Kesd yelled. Picard dove for one of the loose phasers, then he blacked out...

He woke inside another car, flanked by two guards in old Federation uniforms. He shook his head, then decided that the motion was a mistake. He closed his eyes and put his hand up to his forehead. Not again, he thought. "Are you all right, Captain?" he heard a familiar voice say.

Picard looked up to the front seat. Riker, in period costume, was looking back at him, concerned. Picard smiled wearily. "I am now."

"Deanna is in the car in back of us."

Picard looked slowly back. Deanna was smiling at him from the front seat of the other car. He waved slowly, then slumped back. The car screeched to a stop, Riker and the guards jumped out and scanned the area. Picard tried to get out of the car, and was pushed back by one of the guards. Riker nodded and the guards dropped into a wedge position.

The guard offered his arm, then and he and Troi escorted Picard out of the car and into the middle of the wedge. They hustled Picard into Bela's building. Picard noticed the

guards avoided looking at Troi, and wondered why. He glanced at her. She smiled mysteriously.

"Will," Picard muttered as they were about to enter the Boss's office. "Wouldn't it have been easier to beam me direct into Mr. Oxmyx's office?"

"Yes," Riker grinned, "But not as showy. We wanted to make a statement to the other bosses."

"Ah." Picard opened the office door.

"Captain!" Oxmyx bellowed. Picard put his hand to his head in pain. "Are you well?" He said in a softer voice.

Picard sighed. "Nothing that a short visit to Sickbay wouldn't cure. Hello, Mr. Oxmyx."

The man jumped out of his chair and peered at him closely. "I am so sorry! I never dreamed that Choina would dare..."

There was yelling in the hallway, then the office door slammed open. Choina Kesd stood in the opening, surrounded by Oxmyx's personal guards. "Hi, Bela." Kesd said calmly.

"Choina." Oxmyx looked madder than a hornet. "What were you doing to my guest?"

"Talking, dear, which is what I would've explained to your goons had they cared to listen." She said unflappably. "What else do you think I'd be doing?"

"And what have you been talking about?"

"Why, nothing much, my husband," she said calmly, boring her eyes into his.

Picard's head snapped up, and he forgot his headache for the moment. "You two are...married?"

"Usually happily," Kesd muttered.

Oxmyx sighed. "But don't tell anybody else. Nobody knows it but you, them..." he gestured at Riker and Troi "...and our personal guards, of course. Wouldn't look good. Especially when we have to hit each other."

"I won't tell a soul," Picard said, looking back and forth between the two. "What is your argument, if you don't mind my asking? It strikes me that you are both striving towards a common goal."

"Not exactly," Kesd said. "He's a bit of a traditionalist. He believes in The Book. I actually think he likes hits."

Oxmyx winced. "I had my doubts, Choina, as you well know. Picard told me about the truth about The Book, and I believe him."

"Then you agree it's time for a change."

"Jeezo, peezo, Choina!" She looked at him coldly. "Yeah, of course I do! If I didn't believe it was time for a change, I wouldn't've supported you in your last election."

Choina smiled. "Thank you, Bela. Now, will you tell your guys to lower their heaters so I can give you a proper kiss without fear of being attacked?"

Bela motioned to the guards, and they moved into each others arms. Picard, Riker, and Troi looked discretely away. "How is the medical research progressing?"

Riker looked back at the pair, then at Picard. "Beverly found the proper formula, and the Iotians have started production." He hesitated and smiled wryly. "Oh, and the Committee has approved your request for a waiver."

Picard sighed, relieved. "Good. Good." They stood silent for a couple of minutes. "I do wish they would come up for air," Picard said lowly and a mite impatiently.

"I heard that, Captain," Kesd said.

"Forgive us," Oxmyx said. "We have our arguments, but we like making up, too."

"Ah, yes," Picard said. "Weil, if I'm not needed here anymore, I think I'll go back to the ship." And take a long nap, he thought to himself.

Oxmyx seemed disappointed. "I was hoping we might get in a game of Fizzbin."

"Not now, you idiot," Kesd said.

Picard blanked for a second, then had a idea. "You know, I doubt if Captain Kirk had time to enlighten you on the finer points of the game. I will bet that the version you play is nothing like ours."

Oxmyx and Kesd looked at each other. "I bet you're right," Oxmyx finally said. "Perhaps you can come down again and give us a proper explanation."

Picard resolved to set Data to work on a new card game based on Kirk's fictions. "I will, Mr. Oxmyx. I will." As soon as I learn the game...or maybe I can teach them poker, he thought ruefully. Then he thought a moment. Perhaps I should give them something more then "Fizzbin." He was almost shocked by the audacity of his thought.

#

Picard sat back in his chair in his suite, hoping he had done the right thing, and watched the ship move away from Iotia. The door chimed.

"Come," he said, and swiveled his chair.

"Captain," Riker said. "I was wondering if I might borrow your copy of Hitchhiking Through the Federation. Iknow it's on computer, but that's nothing like holding a real book."

Picard smiled. "I'm glad you agree, Will." His smile faded. "Unfortunately, I've already lent it out."

"Oh," Riker said. "Maybe I can borrow it later?"

"I don't expect it back for a while," Picard said with a blank face.

"Oh." Riker's eyebrows went up, and he looked pointedly out at Iotia. "You know, it's fascinating reading. The author did a lot of research, hitchhiking on freighters from planet to planet and learning from the average native's point of view on how each civilization achieved peace."

"Yes," Picard said. "It certainly is a fascinating book...by the way, Will, did my missing corn link turn up?"

"No." His face was deadpan. "I understand that one of Deanna's books has come up missing, also - a study of Women's Liberation in the Twentieth Century."

Picard's eyebrows went up.

"However, I'm sure someone will return it someday," Riker continued. He looked out at Iotia and nodded. "Perhaps sooner than you think," Picard sighed.

End