Notes: This was a oneshot idea, that exploded into a full-on plot, that exploded into a full-on story. Manly sarcasm and mattmetzger-brand realism/cynicism abounds. Also, some of what is truly going on doesn't become apparent until the second and third chapters.

Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek 2009, and I make no profit from this work.


"There's my man," Jim crowed when Spock and Uhura joined the senior command crew at their regular table for dinner.

"Spock?" Sulu snorted.

"Well, he better not mean me, 'Karu," Uhura pointed out, squeezing with that grace only women possess into the impossibly small space between Dr. McCoy and the helmsman.

"You're right, I don't," Jim smirked. "Spock, Admiralty sent new orders through - I'll need your input by Alpha shift tomorrow."

"Very well, Captain."

"Specifically, how we're meant to hop, skip and jump over to the Monaris system in the middle of an engine upgrade," Jim pulled a face. "Admiral Nogura's got his head so far up his ass..."

"Can we not discuss Nogura's ass at mealtimes?" Sulu put in.

"Oh thanks," Jim's face scrunched. "Urgh. Thanks a lot. Now I can't not think about it."

McCoy rolled his eyes, and said nothing. He had an edge over everyone else on the ship in having roomed with Jim, and therefore also being immunised to his immature banter, and the images it produced. Instead, he reached over the tabletop and stole Spock's datapadd, placing it on the bench beside himself out of reach.

"No shop at the table," he said.

Spock was likewise immunised to the doctor's instructions (although that did not mean he obeyed them) after three years, and so merely carried on eating as though he had never been interrupted. After about two and a half minutes, Uhura casually reached around McCoy, took the padd herself, and passed it back.

"And to think I liked you," McCoy grumbled.

"Why?" she asked.

"Mostly because you've been puncturing Jim's ego for six years on the go without pause," he admitted.

He could not have gotten a better reaction if he'd written sonnets in flawless Andorian about her beauty - and really, to gang up on Kirk had become an unofficial game amongst the command crew, so perhaps it was the equivalent of calling her brilliant.

Jim often bemoaned it, but three years of being belittled, mocked and psychologically tortured at every turn by these razor-sharp, brilliant people was...fucking awesome, actually. Even if he was pretty sure they did have a ranking system that rivalled most professional football leagues.

Because even if they did make a sport out of taking him down a peg or six, they were also steadfastly loyal, absolutely fucking brilliant at what they did (with the possible exception of Sulu, who Jim swore steered them into asteroid belts just for the challenge of getting them out again) and made damn good friends when the situation called for it.

This was routine, now. To sit in the mess after Alpha shift, in the lull between the official shift and the hour of preparing for tomorrow's shift, and listen to the senior command crew cut each other to pieces over lasagne (McCoy) and unidentifiable stir fries (Sulu) and bowls of rice and spices that smelled like the street outside the Chinese takeout in Riverside (Uhura and Spock and sometimes Chekov, when he felt adventurous). Sometimes Scotty would tear himself away from the engines long enough to grab a meal, slap it between two sides of a ridiculously large baguette, and stutter out a conversation to Uhura, before vanishing back into the bowels of the ship and leaving the communications officer torn between amusement and sympathy. Sometimes McCoy and Uhura would argue, and Spock would watch, and sometimes the Commander and the doctor would argue, and Uhura would watch - and Jim would watch all three and snicker over his food and imagine the sorry lives of Captains who didn't have these people.

He had watched them grow and change. He had watched Chekov go from mute, terrified shyness to firing off questions in Spock's direction whenever the Science Officer came around. He had watched Sulu and Uhura glue themselves together like a duo against the world, and watched in horror when they turned that devious friendship against him. He watched with glee - always - when Bones and Spock fought ("Discussed, Jim.") and how the dynamics shifted when Uhura got involved. He had watched their very fabrics change - watched the fallout from the break-up of his science officer and his communications officer, and the disaster that had been the Sulu v McKenna war over the helm, and the gradual shift as Chekov went from that kid too young to have the job to that weird-accented maths nut that practically lived in the astrometrics lab.

They had routine - shifts, habits, plans - but they were always changing, and Jim never tired of watching them do it.

But watching forever was not an option, and as he eventually had to every evening, he pushed his tray to one side and slapped his thighs, preparing to stand.

"Well, children, I have to..."

"Look who's talking."

"...go and prepare for tomorrow like a good captain does," Jim spoke loudly over Sulu's scepticism. "Spock, drop by my quarters when you get an hour to run over those new orders with me. From the sound of it, Nogura's going to have a cow if we can't get to Monaris in five days."

"I'd like to see that," McCoy noted mildly, and Uhura shook her head in exasperation.

"I will do so, Captain," Spock said, ignoring the pair of them in favour of the returned datapadd - which Jim caught sight of McCoy stealing again as he returned his tray to the chutes.

God, he loved this job.


"Enter," Jim called, hitting send on the final memo before twisting to see the doors of his cabin close behind his First Officer. "Hey," he grinned. "Pull up a chair, I'm nearly done."

"I have reviewed the new orders," Spock said succinctly. "I estimate that if we shut down science labs fourteen through nineteen, we can provide the extra manpower to engineering to continue the upgrades without undue disturbance or impairment to the Monaris orders."

"Sounds like a plan," Jim nodded, taking the offered padd and scanning it quickly. "I'll run that by Scotty in the morning, see if he thinks we can do it. We can probably get inside their deadline at warp five, so as long as we can keep the girl running at those speeds..."

"That should not be too difficult; the primary upgrade is to the secondary thrusters, which can be locked offline up to warp six."

"Awesome," Jim grinned. "Then Nogura can go fuck himself."

He laughed at the look of faint distaste that swept across Spock's features, and rose from his chair to step around his desk.

"C'mere, you," he smirked, his tone laced with heavy affection, and he sank down straight into Spock's lap without shame, winding himself around the Vulcan's body like a trap and sucking deep, hard kisses into his mouth like a dying man in the desert finding water.

Nobody knew this part. Nobody knew this - how Jim could curl around him and taste the morning tea over paperwork. Nobody knew what their bare skin, side-by-side and intertwined, looked like in ship's lighting. Nobody knew that they had only ever played chess twice, and had never finished that second game, the pieces caught in limbo on the board in Jim's quarters.

Nobody knew - and nobody would.

Starfleet Command would not just have kittens, they'd have basketfuls. Each. It broke something like fourteen regulations, and that wasn't even factoring in the fact that the Interspecies Committee would probably have basketfuls of kittens too. Spock and Uhura had had to sit through enough interviews and reviews and judgemental decisions, and Jim being the highest-ranking member of the crew just made the paperwork breed like the aforementioned cats. In heat.

And on a ship of over four hundred people, they couldn't guarantee that someone wouldn't report the breach to the higher-ups. And then it would be over.

And so nobody knew. This place - under the dim lighting in Jim's sleeping space, where clothing was discouraged and sometimes, if Jim was really lucky, he got to see a small Vulcan smile and feel the skitter of thought from those alien fingers - was theirs. This was their place, and perhaps Vulcan children and Human children shared the importance of secrets - and neither Spock nor Jim had entirely grown out of keeping them.

This was theirs, and theirs alone, and waiting all day through paperwork and shift rotations and battle drills only made it worth it, when Jim's tunic and Spock's would mix in puddles on the deck, and they could breathe together on the bunk.

Nobody else.


Jim woke with a snort, lurching his face out of his pillow before he suffocated, and rolled over, scratching idly at his balls. His sheets were on the floor, and he frowned sleepily before realising a) that he really should turn the screeching alarm off, and b) Spock hadn't reset the temperature controls before leaving last night. Probably as punishment for Jim dragging out that second orgasm for too long. Passive-aggressive, pissy Vulcan.

"Alarm, off," Jim yawned, sliding from the bed and almost landing on the deck before his knees remembered how to function and he staggered to reset the thermostat. It was probaby just as well that they couldn't share quarters. He'd die of heatstroke actually sleeping with him as well as just sleeping with him.

It was all part of hiding, and Jim didn't really much mind. They couldn't share quarters because that was more or less taking out billboard space to announce it to the brass, and if any of the crew actually saw them coming out of each other's quarters in the morning - together - then the rumours would be just as effective as the billboard in the end.

Plus, really, their living patterns weren't too compatible. Spock came and went a lot - he worked funny shifts, because of the whole superVulcan thing, and Jim was too easy to wake up. And then there was the temperature difference, Jim's allergies to most Vulcan incense, Spock's need for absolute quiet when he meditated, and frankly, sleeping for two in a standard issue bunk was just downright impossible. (Jim knew; he'd tried enough times in the Academy.)

So he didn't mind too much, apart from when Spock committed those passive-aggressive acts of affectionate bitchiness. And then even, it just gave him an excuse for a longer shower.

Shaved, showered, dressed and awake, Jim was therefore almost ready when Scotty dropped by with his own view on their upcoming trip, and they walked to the briefing room together, heads lowered over Scotty's padds and projections until they entered the briefing to find that they were the last to arrive.

"Captain's prerogative," Jim cut in, before Uhura's eyebrow could do its full-on imitation of Spock's, and she rolled her eyes at him. "Morning, everyone. Have you all had your coffee?"

Several raised plastic cups and half-asleep grumbles were his reply, and he grinned. Command meetings were always held before Alpha shift, because Jim had learned from experience that they couldn't afford to hold them during shift because of the stress on the duty rota, and nobody (not even Spock) gave a rat's ass what was to be said after shift.

Plus, whatever else the replicators couldn't do, they put a shit-ton of caffeine in the coffee. (Probably to make up for the crap taste.)

"Okay, guys, the Monaris system," Jim said. "Apparently Monaris I and Monaris II have declared war on each other, without so much as a warning, and as they're both Federation members, we have to go and smooth things over."

"Who made the declaration?"

"Monaris I," Jim said, scrolling through a datapadd. "No reason was given in the formal announcement. They haven't informed the Federation or the 'Fleet at all; the Tellarite Ambassador on Monaris II was the one to keep us up to speed."

"Are they requesting assistance?" Spock asked.

"Nope," Jim shook his head. "Neither side is. If anything, we've been told to keep out, but as it's between two member races, we just can't do that. We're to negotiate with the government of Monaris I for an immediate ceasefire; the Yorktown is being ordered in to handle the government of Monaris II and she'll be joining us in the system a couple of days after we're scheduled to arrive."

"Wait, they've just kicked off into a war without any reason, without telling anyone, and want to do it all by themselves?" Sulu interrupted.

"It's Monaris I," Uhura said, then sighed when she received a table of blank looks. "Monaris I is divided into two major government zones, and the dominant one is a monarchy. It worked so well at keeping the peace that they were admitted membership - they're the only true monarchical government in the Federation. But ever since their current queen came to power, the government's actions have been completely erratic."

"Including war?" Jim prompted.

Uhura cocked her head. "I would have to look further into it, but there have been clashes between the minority and majority governments since her coronation, yes."

"Do it," Jim said. "And figure out who's next in line. If she's dragging them into wars with other Federation members, we may have to negotiate a change in leadership."

The atmosphere at the table dimmed. Negotiating anything was tiresome work, but changes in government were the most delicate, picky types of negotiation going. Nobody liked to be told by an outside party that they had to change the way they governed themselves, and more often than not, it provoked war in itself. On the other hand, Monaris I was not a big planet, nor an especially advanced one. They had only achieved warp in the last fifty years, and to declare war on the Federation would be an act of outright suicide.

"We're treating this initially like a tense diplomatic function. Lieutenant Uhura, I want you to compile the usual cultural program and have it ready within 48 hours. Commander Spock, I want you to assemble a diplomatic team, and Lieutenant Giotto, you supply the Commander with the security personnel he requests," Jim said briskly. "Nobody wants open war, so we have five days to prepare and then we'll be working seventy-two hour shifts again until this is sorted."

"I suppose you'll be leading the negotiations?" Dr. McCoy finally spoke over the top of his own clenched fist.

"Yes," Jim said flatly.

There was a pause, then the doctor nodded. "In which case, you'll need your immunity boosters and your antihistamines upgraded. I don't know a lot about the Monaris system, but I can tell you that place has a shit-ton of grass."

Uhura hid a smile, and Jim smirked, grateful that the doctor hadn't opted to fight him on this one.

"Will do, Bones. Alright, people. Finish up your coffee and get to your stations. We have stars to warp past."


Upon stepping into Sickbay, Spock's initial impression was that it was quiet.

"Touch me with that hypo and I'll punch your lights out!"

Or perhaps not.

Jim shot out of McCoy's office, rubbing his neck and scowling, and darted behind Spock before even giving him a greeting. A moment later, McCoy stalked into the main bay, smirking unpleasantly and holding a particularly large hypospray aloft.

"Just one more," he said.

"No! No more!" Jim hissed. "Spock, protect me."

"From a routine vaccination?"

"Yes."

"He's not going to do that," McCoy said, and when Spock's hand closed around Jim's upper arm, the captain groaned theatrically.

"I'll have you both court-martia - ow!" he howled, and McCoy stepped back.

"Thank you, Commander," he said pleasantly, tossing the disposal needle into the sharps canister and dropping the rest of the spray into a decontamination bucket.

"I hate you both," Jim groused.

"Perhaps between nursing your injuries and expressing your negatives feelings about necessary procedures, you could sign this?" Spock asked, handing over a padd of requisition forms.

"You get more sarcastic every day, Spock," McCoy drawled as Jim hunched over the padd and began scrawling signature after signature.

"It is the price one pays for working in a predominantly Human environment."

"Socialisation?"

"Contamination."

Jim snickered openly as he handed the padd back. "Am I needed up on the bridge yet?"

"Not at present; we will not arrive at Monaris I until 1700 hours tomorrow, and most of the command crew are studying Lieutenant Uhura's cultural portfolio on the Monarians."

"Well, that should take you about thirty seconds," McCoy drawled.

"Indeed, doctor. I am working through the Captain's paperwork in an attempt to bring him at least within a month of current requirements."

"Hey, I'm not that bad," Jim groused.

"Yeah, Jim, you really are," McCoy grunted.

"If you will excuse me, gentlemen."

And then it happened - a quite ordinary exchange changed, as the doors slid shut behind Spock's heel and he distinctly heard the doctor's, "I'll never know what you see in him."

Spock...paused.

"What I see in him?" Jim asked.

"Come off it, Jim, if he wasn't Vulcan, you'd have made a drunk pass at him at a Christmas party by now."

Spock's eyebrow twitched; luckily, there was nobody in the corridor to see it. Jim had made a drunk pass at him one Christmas - it had been, however, in the privacy of Jim's quarters and therefore not witnessed by any third party.

Jim snorted. "No I wouldn't."

Spock cocked his head. But he had. And he knew he had.

"Uh-huh."

"No, I wouldn't," Jim stressed, and snorted again. "Come off it, Bones. He's Spock. I just wouldn't."

"Wouldn't sleep with him, or do it drunk?"

"Both. Jesus, my self-preservation instinct's not that bad."

McCoy snorted, and Spock came back to himself. He was stood in the hallway, eavesdropping, and yet couldn't find the inclination to be ashamed of it in light of what he had just heard. Namely, Jim denying their relationship to McCoy, and moreover, denying that it was even possible.

Why?


It was not until after shift that Spock had time to process what he had heard, and he found himself changing into his meditation robes in his quarters without much memory, over the confusing wash of emotion, of what his shift had actually contained for the remainder of the afternoon. He folded himself into a corner of his quarters, taking unnecessary time in finding a comfortable position, and reflecting coldly that the time-wasting was simply another manifested symptom of his distress - and yes, distress. He would admit that, if only to himself. He was distressed.

While Spock was remarkably promiscuous for a Vulcan - having had a total of three romantic and sexual partners thus far - he had not once entered a relationship without a view to its long-term sustainability. When it had become clear that he and Nyota would not be able to conform enough to each other's requirements to sustain a permanent relationship, he had terminated it. (She had not been pleased with him for a long time, but that was beside the point.)

He had himself been, at the time, somewhat negatively affected to realise that their relationship was not viable (which in itself was odd, compared to his minute relief at having been freed from his betrothal to T'Pring).

This, however, was not 'somewhat negatively affected.' This - the swirling confusing of emotion lurking in his synapses and threatening to overwhelm his control - was far beyond mere upset. He was actively distressed by what he had heard, and the application of logic...

Logically, he would not have been surprised or disheartened to hear Jim making the same denial to a mere colleague. They had to keep their acquaintance secret, after all, and to broadcast it to every passing crewmember would ensure that the admiralty heard of it within days and put a stop to it. To hear Jim making the same denial to a crewmember at random would be meaningless; Spock would barely think about it.

But it had not been a random crewmember. It had been Dr. Leonard McCoy.

McCoy and Jim were, to use the Human vernacular, best friends. There was extremely little - if anything - that McCoy did not know about Jim Kirk, and vice versa. Spock knew for a fact that McCoy's young daughter referred to Jim as an uncle, despite any lack of genetic relation, and Jim carried a hatred for Jocelyn Davis as powerful as if he had been the one to divorce her. If anyone on board exercised the same amount of influence over Jim that Spock did, then it had to be Leonard McCoy.

Simply put: Spock had thought he'd known.

At the very least, if McCoy did not know, why had Jim not only kept it from him, but openly denied it?

The first option was that he was extending his policy of secret-keeping to even those that he trusted - and yet that seemed to be at odds with not only how Jim and McCoy related to one another, but how Jim trusted McCoy already with things that he should not know. Spock knew that Jim had told McCoy about the contents of files for the captain's eyes only - he was not in the game of keeping secrets, whether he should or not, from McCoy. He did trust McCoy to keep those secrets - even Spock trusted him to keep them, and he didn't particularly like the man in the first place.

Therefore, Jim was not keeping it a secret out of the desire not to get caught.

Which was in itself the only reason that Spock knew of that they had kept it secret in the first place.

Other options, applied to Humans in general, suggested themselves as Spock ran over the problem in his head. The first that presented itself was a natural reluctance: Nyota had never been in the game of broadcasting her own relationships, with Spock or anyone else. She believed that it was nobody else's business, and had never felt the urge to tell anyone that she was involved at all, never mind with whom. But this was not true in Jim's case: he often spoke of previous conquests to both Spock and the rest of the crew. It was common knowledge that he had nearly married another cadet, Carol, at the Academy, and the entire third-year war between Cadet Kirk and Cadet Finnegan had been because of a girl named Ruth.

Another option was that McCoy harboured some negative ideas about their arrangement that Jim wished to avoid - namely, that he was either homophobic or xenophobic, and would object to Jim's involvement with either another male, or an alien. And while Spock could forsee perhaps that McCoy would not be impressed at Jim being involved with him, he could not attribute homophobia (in fact, certainly could not, considering the shadowy rumour of a mysterious Paul that McCoy had apparently dated in the Academy) or xenophobia to the doctor.

Even if he was xenophobic, why would it stop Jim? Jim had never been in the act of letting the opinions of others dictate his own actions, and had clashed with the doctor repeatedly over differences of opinion without giving way. It simply did not seem likely.

Two final options coalesced in Spock's mind, and neither particularly attractive.

Jim was deliberately hiding it from McCoy, and in the absence of any kinder option, was either ashamed of their relationship, or viewed it not as a relationship at all. Either he wished to keep Spock a secret from all and sundry - dirty little secret, the Human phrase - or he viewed Spock as nothing more than a way to pass the time and sexual frustration.

Spock tensed, and opened his eyes.

Meditation would not come easily tonight.


"We will arrive at Monaris I in roughly half an hour, at which point Mr. Spock, Lieutenant Uhura and myself will beam down with a security team and begin negotiations with this crazy queen of theirs. Sulu will have command in light of the ongoing engine upgrades requiring Scotty's time and attention," Jim surmised, sitting back in his chair. "Any questions?"

He was met with silence.

"Alright. Dismissed. Commander Spock, a word please?"

Jim waited until the last man had left before pushing his chair back and frowned across at Spock.

"Are you okay?"

"Quite well, Captain."

"Really?" he pushed.

Spock raised an eyebrow.

"You didn't come by last night."

Of course he had not. Spock was not used to experiencing strong emotions, but they were not so alien that he did not know the, frankly, idiotic ways of dealing with them. Overexposure to the cause would only serve to exacerbate things, and as it was, Spock had taken most of the night to think the matter over, unable to reach any firm conclusion.

"Spock?" Jim prompted, nudging his boot with his own under the table. "Is everything okay?"

Spock took a breath. "Negative."

"What's up?" Jim coaxed. His face, when Spock glanced up to observe it, kept shifting between his professional mask and anxiety, unsure which path to take until he heard the problem.

"He's Spock. I just wouldn't."

"I am terminating our arrangement."

Words did not hurt. That was simply illogical Human fancy, but the sudden sharp twist to Jim's features made Spock wonder, just for a moment, if Humans did possess some physical response to words in such a manner.

"What."

It was not a question, exactly. Jim's voice was quiet, flat and - dangerous.

"Computer, engage soundproof barriers on Briefing Room One."

"Soundproofing enabled."

"Explain. Now."

"It has come to my attention that our arrangement is unsustainable in the long term and generally unwise to pursue any longer. As such, I am terminating it, effective immediately."

"Explain."

"I have provided..."

"You just provided jack," Jim snapped, fists clenching on the tabletop. "That was Vulcan buzzwording bullshit and you know it. Tell. Me. Why!"

Spock stiffened, rising from his seat and folding his hands behind his back. Jim rose too, something a lot like fury written into his face.

"It is unwise to continue."

"Okay, great, got that," Jim snapped, waving it aside. "What brought this to your attention then? What woke you up to that stunning little fact, because I gotta say it, Spock, I know. We knew right from the off it was a crap idea but we did it anyway so why now?"

"I do not see the need to discuss this further."

"Like hell we're not discussing this further. You think I'm just going to let you toss me aside like a used paper towel the minute you're done? Well, think a-fucking-gain."

"There is nothing to say," Spock said icily, irrationally angry at Jim accusing him of exactly what Jim himself was doing. "It is unwise to continue with our acquaintance, and to do so will only result in further negativity in the future..."

"As opposed to now?"

"...therefore I am terminating it."

"And I don't get a say in this at all?"

"It is what you said that brought the problem to my attention!" Spock outright snapped, and took a step back, furious with himself for having lost control for that short, short moment.

"What I said? When? What the fuck did I say to..."

The communications console on the table whistled. "Bridge to Captain Kirk, we're approaching orbital distance of Monaris I and are being hailed by the majority government."

Uhura's smooth, calm voice - blissfully unaware of the tension she had just ruptured - sliced through the anger in the room, and Jim's jaw worked angrily for a moment before he inhaled deeply through his nose and visibly backed down.

"We have work to do," he said quietly. "But the minute we're off duty again, you will explain where the hell this has just come from."

Spock felt his face tighten almost involuntarily.

"Because if you think I'm just giving you up because you've got some crazy Vulcan whim going on in there, then you're sadly fucking mistaken," Jim snapped, and swept from the room as though it were on fire.

Spock remained a moment longer, pushing down and locking in his own irrational anger - and hurt, distinct hurt that he had not expected - before following.


The atmosphere was frosty when the diplomatic party assembled. Jim Kirk was radiating anger and tension, and Spock nothing at all, and the security personnel shifted uneasily at the atmosphere as they gathered on the transporter pad. Uhura, never one to miss a thing, flicked her gaze between Jim and Spock repeatedly, and moments before transport, shifted a hair to the left.

Closer to Jim.

The moment the thick, spongy grass of Monaris I materialised under their feet, however, Jim's smile and charm were back in place for their welcoming party - although their equally icy expressions did not suggest welcome - and the personal crisis was promptly pushed to the side.

"Captain Kirk, of the USS Enterprise," Jim introduced himself, saluting in the Monarian fashion, and bowed respectfully to the tiny female at the centre of the welcoming party, her shortness in stature only exaggerated by her very tall hat.

Monarians were not an attractive species. Vaguely humanoid, they seemed generally fairly grotesque simply because everything was ridiculously out of proportion by both Vulcan and Human standards. Their heads were too small, reminiscient of golf balls on sticks, and their necks bobbed and weaved like Andorian antennae, but without the purpose. Their arms were short and muscular, even on the women, and their legs too short for their long torsos, and often different lengths in themselves, forcing them into a strange rocking gate like a monkey trying to run fully upright. Their skin was a dark, blotchy brown, and their eyes a variety of colours but invariably so pale as to be slightly creepy - and their golf ball heads were not helped by the fact they were all entirely bald.

And when they smiled - as the tiny queen did for Jim - they showed off mouthfuls of crooked teeth that reminded the diplomatic party uneasily of rodents. Of the vermin variety.

"Greetings, Capt-ayne," she said, her voice high and shrill, like a blackbird being strangled. "I extend welcome, but your Federation weaponry is not required here."

Her Standard was formal and flawless, but very oddly accented, and the shrill tones of her voice made it almost painful to listen to.

"We hope not to need our weaponry," Jim said. "I'm sure we can come to some form of agreement without having to add weaponry to the terms."

"I doubt it," she said flatly. "Come. We have prepared a conference."

Monaris I had two moons which interfered with Starfleet technology to varying degrees. As such, both planets had a rendezvous point equipped with heavy, industrial signal boosters, and this circle of efficiency was where they beamed down, surrounded by a tiny cluster of government buildings and rolling, grassy hills, and nothing much else. Now, the queen and her silent entourage took them from the centre of the massive circle to one side of it, protected from the weak Monarian sunlight by flimsy trees and thicker, spongier grass.

She sank into a chair, and Jim wondered if she was very old and he simply couldn't tell, and gestured for her guards to step back a little.

"I will keep this short," she trilled. "I do not wish Federation interference. Our affairs are our own."

"Not as a member race," Jim corrected gently. "It is in the membership contracts - you simply can't attack other members without the Federation - and the fleet - intervening. We are meant to be on the same side."

"We are merely retrieving our wayward colony. There are no two sides," she said gravely - and dreamily, almost. Jim decided that she probably was very old.

"A formal declaration of war was made, and - Lieutenant Uhura, when was Monaris II declared independent?"

"2214, sir."

"Thank you. They are, under Federation law, no longer a colony, and this is war."

"This is - silence!" she snarled suddenly, her voice squeaking and disappearing altogether as a bell clanged loudly in the surrounding buildings, not fifty metres (judging by the way the air shivered from their current position).

Jim would not have been alarmed but for the way the Monarian guards were suddenly handling their weapons.

"Security alert," he snapped, stepping back from the queen's chair. "What is that alarm?"

"Alarm, alarm," she squeaked, and shrilled unhappily. "The rebels - minority scum, westerners - they raid and pillage and call themselves heroes. They come for you, Capt-ayne."

The security team clustered tighter, and suddenly the impenetrable wall of force of a fully-grown Vulcan was at Jim's back.

"For me?"

"The Federation. We do not like the Federation interference," she trilled, almost sleepily, and then shot up from her chair with a shriek when the bell clanged louder and shadows began to cross into the open space of the rendezvous point. "Shoot them! Shoot them all!"

"Down!" Jim roared, as the first shot zipped past over his head, ruffling his hair.

The team hit the ground, and Jim was fumbling for his communicator when the tiny queen screamed - a horrific, grating squeal, like nails on a blackboard, that had every hair on his body standing on end and rattled his brain as surely as if he'd been shaken.

The shriek died away - and there was a gun in the small of Jim's back.

"Up."

The command was delivered in a similarly high, unpleasant voice, but the accent was heavier and Jim instinctly realised that the command of Standard was worse. Still, he wasn't one to argue with a gun in his back, and the party rose back to their feet to find themselves surrounded - partly by the guard of the queen, hovering back under the shade of the flimsy trees, and partly by a new group of paler-skinned Monarians with clothing that resembled that bought off the Orion black market.

The closest - with the gun in Jim's back - exploded into a chatter, like a hedgerow of birds, and Uhura cocked her head.

"He claims to be the leader of the First Resistance," she said.

"And they are?"

"I've never heard of them," she blinked, nonplussed. "He is..."

The leader - if that's what he was - turned those pale eyes on the assembled officers, and jerked his firearm in Jim's direction.

"You," he rasped. "And Vel-kin."

Presumably that was supposed to mean Vulcan, and Jim and Spock exchanged a swift glance before slowly stepping away from the rest of the group. The leader eyed them almost suspiciously for a moment, before looking back to Lieutenant Uhura and the security team, and homing in on her.

"You. Fi-mayul?"

"Ik'tenash," she supplied warily, and Jim watched in muted admiration as, despite the sudden tension radiating off the security officers as the rebel leader approached her, Uhura merely stood her ground and stared right back at him.

"You take mah-sedge," he insisted. "We tayuk your leaders - insurayance."

"Oh, great," Jim muttered under his breath. Hostage situations - his favourite.

And then everything just got a lot worse when that heavy firearm swung around and - perhaps fired was not the right word, at the muffled, dull thump that it emitted when the Monarian pulled the trigger, but Lieutenant Luciani's sudden gurgle before his eyes rolled back in his head and collapsed said it all.

"Stop it!" Jim roared, but too late - the firearm thumped four times, and each of his security team sustained a large, bloody hole to the chest before collapsing without fanfare.

"One needed for mah-sedge," the leader intoned gravely, holstering the firearm again. "Fi-mayul go. Leaders - with we."

"Sir?" Uhura said, still not taking her eyes off the Monarian.

"Do it, Lieutenant," Jim said flatly. "Get a message to Command telling them what's happened here. Find out why we weren't properly informed about the situation, especially that queen of theirs. And go to level two."

She stiffened and nodded. "Yes, sir."

Level two. War scenario.