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Star Trek:

Aesculapius' Staff

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Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager and all related characters, situations and other items are owned by Paramount/Viacom © 1999

Star Trek: Aesculapius Staff, and all in it that is none of the above, is created by Niels van Eekelen

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Screenplay by Niels van Eekelen

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VENI, VIDI, VIXI
("I came, I saw, and I survived")

-/\-
Set a few months after Entrance.
-/\-

After a thorough investigation Cmdr Ryalla Tesoras of the starship U.S.S. Aesculapius had found that the people of Maulus VIII brewed a very nice glass of ale. It could hardly match the ale of her homeworld, but then, the Andorians were famous - or perhaps infamous - throughout the galaxy for their manificent, and especially, potent ale.

Vaguely, Ryalla recalled not having to be on duty the next morning, so she decided that she could stay for one more glass of ale. She also remembered deciding that before. Several times.

In one large gulp Ryalla emptied her glass, and with her other hand she gestured to a waiter for another one. Then she turned back to the Mauli male sitting across the table from her, waiting. He looked as drunk as she felt.

"Where were we?" Ryalla asked him.

"Ve had a bet," the Maulian replied, slurring enormously. "For a bottle of Colvos wine. You shaid syou could beat me vith arm vrestin'. I shaid syou couldn't."

"Yeah, that's right," Ryalla said, her memory refreshed. "This'll be a piece of cake," she continued, to rattle the man. She wondered if she was slurring as badly as he was. It was quite possible, considering how much she'd drunk, but she could never tell with herself. Ryalla leaned her right elbow on the table and waited for the Maulian to do the same. It took him a moment before he understood what she wanted. Then he blinked, leaned his elbow on the table too, and grabbed her hand - despite his drunkeness - firmly.

One of the dozen or so people watching started counting down. "Three . . . two . . . one . . . now!"

For a moment, at the 'now' Ryalla's adversary gained the advantage - Ryalla was caught by surprise, because she'd been watching the waiter bring her her new ale. But when the Mauli male had pressed her hand exactly halfway to the table, Ryalla tensed her muscles and started pushing back.

The moment she did, the two hands halted.

Then, slowly, Ryalla's hand started moving up, up, over the top and down again. Halfway down, the hands stopped moving again. With her left hand, Ryalla took her glass of ale from the waiter, thanked him, and took a swallow. Her adversary's eyes widened as Ryalla held her hand still, apparently without effort, while he put all of his remaining strength behind his. Ryalla put her glass on the table, but still held it with her left hand. With a loud bang, the two hands slammed into the table, Ryalla's on top. Four or five empty glasses on both sides of the table fell over. Fortunately, Ryalla had been smart enough to hold on to her still half-full glass.

Not really surprised, the spectators raised a brief cheer.

The defeated party had apparently not expected the inevitable outcome of the match, and he got to his feet angrily. He swayed dangerously. "Syou . . . syou cheath!" he exclaimed. Then someone laid a hand on his shoulder and gave him a gentle push down. The Maulian fell back into his chair, and promptly closed his eyes and began to snore.

Now it was Ryalla's turn to get to her feet. If she swaggered as much as the man had, she didn't pay any attention to it. She raised her glass high into the air. "This needs celebrating!" she called. Maulians, as a xenobiological fact, simply had much less physical strength than Andorians, so it wasn't much of a victory, but that had never stopped her from celebrating before, and it wouldn't now. "Bring me a bottle of your best Colvos wine, and put it on my friend's bill." The bar's owner smiled at her. Wine, especially that from the Colvos system, was expensive in these parts.

Ryalla turned around, and succeeded in a courageous attempt not to fall over when the floor suddenly shifted, when she heard a familiar voice speak behind her. "I really can't take you anywhere, can I?" Captain Ethan Blevins said. His voice was stern, but a broad smile was plastered on his face.

"You didn't take me anywhere, Ethe," Ryalla objected merrily, "I came here all by myself."

The captain of the Aesculapius nodded. "I just thought I'd come check on you. Now I am wondering if it wasn't a bad idea." He sighed melodramatically. "Well, I suppose I'm lucky you behaved at the official party this afternoon."

"'s Right," the first officer replied. She staggered towards Ethan and slammed an arm around his shoulders. "Bring me two glasses with that bottle!" she called to the barkeeper. "My pal and I are going to get drunk together!"

"I really don't think so," Ethan muttered as he guided Ryalla to a relatively quiet table in a corner.

"Why?" Ryalla asked with a drunk bluntness. "Because you aren't going get drunk, or because I already am drunk?"

"A little of both," the captain answered, while dropping his XO in a chair. He sat down next to her. After a little while, he spoke again. "God, I don't think I can even remember the last time I got drunk. I mean, really drunk, like you are now."

"Yes, you can," Ryalla told him without bothering to lift her face from her arms, which were lying on the table. That, and the amount of alcohol the Andorian had consumed resulted in making her words nearly incomprehensible. Still, she spoke too clearly for Ethan. "On Deep Space Six," she continued. "After meeting with that admiral."

Ethan cringed, and he felt the color rise to his cheeks. That particular incident was far too humiliating for a captain to remember. Of course, that meant that Ryalla woundn't even forget it when she was stone drunk. Even worse, when he remembered that time on DS6, Ethan always automatically thought of the occurences of a week after that. He wished he had still been drunk on Antaris II - like Ryalla had often suggested that he had been - then he might not remember everything so clearly.

-/\- -/\- -/\-

Ethan's elbow leaned on the arm of his chair in the center of the U.S.S. Ceasar's Bridge. On the palm of his hand he leaned his chin, with his fingers cupping his cheek. It was about six days after he had left the space station Deep Space Six, and it would be over eight months before he would travel to the Colvarin Alliance.

"What's our ETA on the Antaris system?" Ethan asked.

"Two hours, twenty-seven minutes, Sir," ensign Quisor replied from his position at the Helm.

In the chair beside the captain's, Ryalla grinned. "Of course, with that hangover, it'll seem more like days."

Ethan closed his eyes and silently counted to ten. To his regret, he realized that if they were still serving together in ten years, his friend would still be reminding him of the evening that had already become legendary among the crew. There were a dozen stories circulating, some mentioning amounts of alcohol consumed that Ethan honestly didn't think he would have survived. He hadn't been all that terribly drunk. It was just that his people weren't used to seeing him drunk at all, or anything like it. That was more Ryalla's department.

Still, the stories about how Ethan had gone to the bar after leaving his meeting with the admiral while being quite furious were disturbing him more. Only Ryally and Security chief Petrucha had actually seen Ethan be furious. Someone must have talked, and it wasn't hard to guess who.

"Commander," he said calmly, "if you either mention or refer to what happened on DS6 one more time, you can spend those two hours and twenty-seven minutes in the brig." She only smiled. "Lt Gathried," Ethan continued in a louder voice, "send a copy of the Antarises' 'rules of engagement' to all members of the senior staff to review before the reception. I want no mistakes."

"Yes, Sir," the Milonian replied.

"Ms Tesoras, the Bridge is yours. I'll be in my quarters getting ready."

"Yes, Sir," the Andorian echoed Gathried.

The captain walked to the left turbolift door, and as soon as the door closed behind him, several of the Bridge officers on duty turned to Cmdr Tesoras. "So what happened next?" ensign Perez, at the Sciences station, inquired. They had all been waiting for the captain to leave ever since he had come to the Bridge an hour ago. Now their first officer could finally continue separating fact from fiction - though even her facts often weren't completely realistic.

Ryalla, on her turn, eyed the turbolift suspiciously. "I'll tell in just a minute," she said. "I want to be sure captain Blevins isn't coming back first. I'm not so sure if he was joking about the brig."

-/\-

As the purplish glow faded, Ethan saw the abundance of nature surrounding him. The eightteen Starfleet officers that had transported down to Antaris II's surface were standing on grass on a wide field. When he took in his surroundings, Ethan saw there was a forest about a kilometer to the south. Seen from the distance, the woods reminded him of his homeworld of New France, but there was something strange about these trees that he couldn't pinpoint. Something alien, which, after all, they were. Of the president's villa only the rooftops were visible, as it was built in an artificial gorge.

"Captain Blevins!" a voice called, and Ethan saw a small band of people come in their direction from the villa. He recognized the one in front as one of the president's assistants. When the group reached the crew from the Ceasar, the assistant - Ki Fa Ju his name was - touched the tips of his fingers to his neck, in the Antaris fashion of greeting. Ethan returned the gesture, and so did the others. "It is an honor, captain."

Ethan nodded in reply, and they started walking away. Further introductions would take place inside, and not before. The Antarises were very strict on protocol, and what was more, they were very strict that it was their own, which was so obviously superior to all others. Ethan sighed. It was only one of many reasons why he would have to tell the president that the Federation had rejected Antaris II's petition to join the United Federation of Planets.

They walked down a stairway hewn out in the rock and stepped onto a large balcony, which in turn brought them to the palace. A large double door appeared to be the main entrance to the building, and the group went through it. Waiting on the other side were the president of Antaris II and his large entourage. They would all be introduced one by one, and after that, it was the Starfleeters' turn.

-/\-

"This is my first officer, Ryalla Gellis Tesoras, of Andor," the captain spoke. Ryalla was glad that it was finally her turn. The Antaris officials had all been introduced to Ethan only, and Ryalla absolutely couldn't stand being ignored. She took her step forward impatiently.

"I am honored, Mr president," she said.

"As am I, commander," the president spoke the standard reply to Ryalla's standard words. She couldn't resist taking a glance at the other Antarises, to see if they were as fed up with being ignored as she'd been, now that it was their turn, but they didn't show any signs of it. They must have been used to the long ceremonies. Ryalla snapped back to attention when the captain glared at her.

The rest of the introductions went by without further incident, and finally the party could begin. In spirit with Antaris' traditions, Ethan would only get to tell the Federation's decision regarding a membership for Antaris II at the end of the night.

Ryalla felt better at ease during the more informal part of the party. There were local treats to eat and drink, and at least no one had to stand around and be ignored anymore - except for the Security personnel. Oh, she still had to be careful just who she talked to and what she said to them, but all in all it didn't make much difference whether she had to do that for ceremonial reasons or for political reasons, like it would be with most such parties.

The Andorian was talking to one of the eight Security officers they had brought with them - excluding Cmdr Petrucha, who, as a senior officer had had to come anyway - when she first saw the woman. Under the guise of pulling her cumbersome dress uniform straight, Ryalla watched her for a short while. There wasn't anything that set this woman aside from the other Antaris women present. Nothing that Ryalla noticed, anyway. Except that this woman was talking to Ethan, and it looked like she had his full attention.

-/\-

When Ivrilla insisted, Ethan ultimately agreed to the tour she wanted to give him. He knew that he shouldn't leave the main hall, because the only way his subordinates were allowed to speak to the higher ranking Antaris nobility was through him, but he'd really have loved to see some more of the Antaris architecture. The palace they were visiting resembled nothing as much as a castle like they could be found in history books of the Earth's medieval period - or the equivalent of them on a great many other worlds - but with all modern technology neatly incorporated into it. It was most likely the best Antaris II had to offer, to his tastes.

Except maybe for Ivrilla herself.

Ethan wasn't sure, but there was something about the woman . . . like he had known her for a long time, and they were only getting reaquainted. He smiled. He especially liked how informal she was compared to the other Antarises. He offered her his arm, and after a slight hesitation, Ivrilla took it. Ethan made a mental note to ask her later if this was custom on her world or not.

"The villa is beautiful," he said after some time, and meaning it, "but shouldn't we be getting back? I don't want to be late for my own speech." The president will be ticked off enough as it is, he thought.

"We still have some time," Ivrilla said. "The party will last for at least another hour before you are expected to make the announcement." With a hand on his shoulder, she pushed Ethan down on a couch in the center of the room and sat down with him. The couch didn't have a back or arms, but was just the seat, so a person seated on it could easily face any direction and admire the paintings on the wall.

Ethan did so, but he did not care much for the abstract painting style that was currently popular on Antaris II - it seemed to contrast so much with their architectural style - and he soon turned back to Ivrilla. He found her looking at him, almost staring. He couldn't help but stare back. The Antarises differed from Humans by their tiny ears, less than half the size of Human ones, and their extra large eyes. With Ivrilla, those eyes didn't make her look as alien as the other females and the males of her species, only more . . . beautiful.

When he realized that the two of them were slowly letting their heads sag closer together, Ethan was startled back to reality. He had to remember that he was here as a Starfleet captain, and with the nature of the news he was bringing, personal involvement would only make things harder.

"Um . . ." Ethan said, breaking the trance. "Ivrilla, do you suppose you could give me some advice on your people's customs? I mean, I've read about how I should do my speech, but I know from experience that such things are often done different than it's described in an info-file."

Ivrilla looked a little chagrined. Ethan was almost sorry that he had broken the spell - there was something special about Ivrilla, and he was seriously considering if he might be falling in love with her - but he knew that he'd regret it later if he had kissed her. Because that was what they had been heading towards.

"I wouldn't know what I could say to help you," the Antaris woman said. "We - my people - perform ceremonies pretty much literally as they are written down in the prescripts." She was silent again for a few moments, and resumed staring into the captain's eyes. For the first time, he started to feel uncomfortable about it. Ivrilla was staring so intently, as if she was trying to accomplish something by doing it. Almost as if she was hypnotizing him . . .

"So," Ivrilla said finally, "is it good news you are bringing my people?"

Ethan smiled. "Now you're trying to cheat. I know that I am not allowed to tell the Federation counsel's decision to anyone until the official proclamation." He thought he heard footsteps approaching, and tried to look up, but he couldn't move his eyes an inch from Ivrilla's.

She laid a hand on his left cheek, and Ethan could have sworn that he felt a light electrical shock where Ivrilla touched him. "Won't you make an exception?" she asked in the sweetest voice. "Just for me?"

-/\-

Two pairs of Starfleet boots marched through the corridor in perfect sync. The two Andorian Starfleet officers wearing them, however, weren't.

"If you think this is such a horrible idea, Miss Keteon," Ryalla was saying, "then why the hell are you coming along with me?"

"I'm going to get you off the captain's back as soon as he gives me permission. Sir. Who knows, he might need an officer to escort you to the Brig."

Ryalla sighed, and tried not to think about punching the Operations lieutenant out. Had they been just Andorians, she might actually have done it, but they were also Starfleet officers. Sometimes Ryalla hated her job. With all the Andorians in Starfleet, why did she have to be stationed on the same ship as a Keteon? Ryalla was hardly close with the rest of the Tesoras clan back on Andor, but somehow she still couldn't shake off their family feuds. "That may be so, lieutenant," she said, "but until he does, make certain that you don't get any closer to insubordination than you just did." Keteon was silent. "Do I get a reply?" Ryalla asked in a crisp voice.

"Yes, Sir!" Keteon replied surly.

Ryalla increased her pace, so she came to walk a little ahead of the lieutenant, and grimaced. She had noticed the way Ethan and the Antaris woman had been looking at each other earlier, and wanted to catch them in an awkward moment to tease the captain about later. She knew Ethan well, and knew that he wouldn't get into anything that would be too awkward, or else she wouldn't be doing it. She was his friend, after all. The only thing wrong with her plan was that she had told some of the others about it back in the main hall, and that Keteon had overheard.

-/\-

Ethan was lost in Ivrilla's eyes. He couldn't have looked away if he had wanted to. But he did want to. He felt in love, different than ever before, but in some faraway corner of his mind, it seemed all wrong.

He heard the footsteps again, closer this time. They stopped right behind him.

"I see you have him," an unfamiliar male voice said. "I told you you could do it, Ivrilla."

"You idiot, Aph Ka Ihm!" Ivrilla sounded irritated. "I can only barely keep the mindhold on him! I told you their minds are different. If he hadn't already been infatuated with me, I would never have been able to hold on to his mind, and I don't need to tell you what will happen to us if any of the Federations find out what we are doing."

"Complete disgrace and banishment from the Speaker caste. But that will not happen if you do your job. Anyway, you should not be bothered by such concerns. It is imperative that the right alliances are made, and those alone. The cause is all that matters. The upper goverment must -"

"The cause, the cause! That's all you can think about!" Annoyance flashed across Ivrilla's face - she still hadn't looked away from Ethan. "Let me tell you: I'm in this for the money, I'm not a member of your precious Speaker caste, and if I get caught in the palace pretending to be, I am going to spend the best years of my life behind bars!"

"All right, all right," the male voice replied defensively, "don't get excited, Ivrilla. We'll get this show running as smoothly as a fyshua play, and when it's over, no one will have a clue." Ivrilla nodded. "Ma He Ujl, Ki Fa Ju, take our friend to a more private location. Ivrilla and I will join you in a minute. We have to talk first."

Two other men voiced their consent. Ethan was startled when two pairs of strong arms grabbed his arms and began to drag him to his feet - away from Ivrilla. He was about to resist, but then he felt - not heard, but felt, in his mind - Ivrilla telling him that it was all right, that she wanted him to go with the two men. Ethan let them lead him away.

One corner away, Cmdr Tesoras was listening intently. Standing in the shadows as she was, the Andorian appeared to be pressing herself against the wall, but she was not. Between her and the wall was another person, Lt Fiorin Keteon. It was she who was being pressed against the wall, with one hand covering her mouth.

When the two of them had approached the corner, Fioron had missed the sound of talking coming from up ahead at first, but Tesoras hadn't. Either by some twist of luck or instinct, the commander had at once realized that there was something going on that wasn't supposed to, and had quickly silenced Fiorin in the most expedient matter available to her. Still, there was no need for her to still hold Fiorin now she realized that something was going on as well, and they both knew it. But it wasn't the first time that either of them had stepped out of line to satisfy their personal feud, and never had the other reported it.

When two of the Antaris men prepared to leave with the captain, Tesoras finally let her go, and the two of them tried to melt into the shadows. They had both received the warrior's training of their species when they were youngsters, and they were more than ready to face the Antarises if they came. Unfortunately, they did not come, but instead left in another direction.

"What is it, Aph Ka Ihm?" the woman who captain Blevins had left the main hall with said. "What exactly do we have to talk about?"

"You know what I want to ask of you, Ivrilla," the man, whose name Fiorin remembered from the long list of province governors, spoke pleadingly.

"And you know that I don't care for your rebellion of the lower goverment." There was a second's worth of silence. "All right," Ivrilla said exasperatedly, "I want a change of goverment nearly as much as you do, but I will gain nothing except for the money I earn when - if - the lower goverment dethrones the upper. The Speaker caste will still lead, and I am only Holder caste."

The two Andorians jumped when Fiorin's tricorder suddenly beeped, announcing an incoming message. The Operations Chief had ordered her staff to relay all messages to her tricorder in script, so she could read them at the party without being overheard, but she hadn't expected such bad timing. Quickly she reached down and silenced the accursed thing. Then the two officers stood frozen, afraid that they had been discovered, but fortunately, the conversation went on undisturbed.

"You can profit from the revolution, Ivrilla," Aph Ka Ihm said. "You can become one of the Speaker caste."

"How?" the woman asked sceptically.

"Marry me, Ivrilla."

Fiorin envied Tesoras' position nearest to the corner. There was another brief silence, and only the commander stood close enough to the entrance of the room to watch what was happening. Then, so softly that at first she thought she was imagining it, Fiorin heard chuckling. "Come on, Aph Ka Ihm," the Antaris woman said in an amused tone, "let's go join the others. We still have to convince the captain to speak in our favor."

When their footsteps had vanished. Tesoras jumped out into the room, and Fiorin followed. "Keteon!" the commander ordered. "Follow those two. I'll have captain Blevins beamed out, but I want those people caught and dissected!"

"I'm afraid not, commander," Fiorin replied, checkng her tricorder for the message. "Antaris Radiation Control has just raised the planetary shields. The system's ion storm is drifting past the planet close enough for the ion radiation to become a threat again. We can't transport through."

"Damned convenient." Tesoras cursed. "You'll have to follow them anyway. They went in that direction. I'll go to the others. Don't do anything, but keep in touch."

"Yes, Sir," Fiorin answered. Tesoras nodded, and Fiorin took off into the corridor.

-/\-

"So as I understand it those people are the rebels the goverment supposedly made peace with before their petition to the Federation's president. One of them was the president's assistant, who would be the one to deal with the rest of the Federation if Antaris' membership is approved."

"Do you think these rebels want the power the membership would bring to this world for themselves, to aid them in their rebellion?" Stan Petrucha hypothesized.

Ryalla nodded. "That's what seems most likely to me. What I don't understand is what they hope to accomplish with this. Even if Ethan says whatever they want, he simply doesn't have the authority to make it the truth."

"In Antaris curtom," Susan Perez, from Sciences, supplied, "it would be a total disgrace for our president if he had to take back a promise to their president. An Antaris leader would rather do whatever it took to fulfill the promise than take it back. At least, that is what the information we got said." Chief Engineer Ke'val nodded his agreement.

"I get it," Ryalla said. She hadn't expected to need that kind of details, so she had skipped them. "So if we can't free the captain before his speech, the Federation will probably lose political relations with Antaris II."

"Not to mention commercial relations," Petrucha added. "Starfleet gets a lot of its cellumite for those new gellpacks from this place. But what do we do? If even the president's right hand is part of this 'lower goverment', any Antaris could be, and if one of us tries to speak to the president himself, he'll be so insulted that he won't even listen."

"We'll just have to go for the straightforward solution. We barge into whatever room Ethan is, apologise and say we didn't know we weren't supposed to be there, and leave with the captain. I just hope that telepathy-thingy will break if we talk to him. Anyway, Lt Keteon should -"

At that moment, her commbadge chirped. "Keteon to Tesoras."

"Speak of the devil," Ryalla muttered. "Tesoras here," she said louder. "Report."

"I followed the two Antarises to a room, and I saw captain Blevins inside before the door closed. Now I'm guarding what I think is the only way in."

"Good work. Stay there and we'll get to you soon." She thought for a moment. "Set your commbadge to emit a tracker signal on this frequency. It'll be easier than giving directions."

"Yes, Sir. Keteon out."

Ryalla spoke to the others again. "Petrucha, I want you and four of your men with me. The rest will have to stay here, or people will get suspicious." She looked around. "Any questions? Good, let's go."

-/\-

Five minutes later the semi-away team joined Lt Keteon at a door one floor lower. Stan Petrucha was angry with himself that he hadn't known that there were still rebels sooner. When the authorities of Antaris II - the real ones, probably - had invited the senior staff to the party, they had spoken as if they had expected a Security detachment to come along as a matter of course. Now Petrucha suspected that they had been tricked to help in a plan to scare the rebels away from the ceremony. The Antaris president must have known that the Federation didn't even consider planets still at war with themselves for membership.

The Ops Lieutenant was awaiting them impatiently. She was shifting on her feet, but didn't say a word. All present were silent during the final preparations. Petrucha checked his phaser, and made sure that the other Security officers did the same. He didn't expect to need them, but he was rather safe than sorry.

"Everybody ready?" Cmdr Tesoras asked. When she received nods only, she continued. "All right then. When we're inside, let me do the talking. Keteon, scramble the lock."

The other Andorian directed her tricorder at the lock mechanism, and within seconds, the door swung open. Taking large, self-assured steps, Tesoras immediately stepped inside. Petrucha and the others quickly followed. The room was about five meters across, and its occupant was obviously a wealthy man. There were tapestries and carpets covering every square inch of the walls and floor. The moment the Federations came in, Petrucha saw movement in the far corner of the room: some people were hurrying out through the back door, one of them wearing what could only be a Starfleet dress uniform. Then the door swung shut behind them and only one Antaris man remained in the room, standing in its center.

"Well hello," Tesoras said, acting - but very badly - surprised. She walked on towards the lone man, and behind her back gestured to the others to check the second door. "I'm so sorry," she continued, "we didn't know that these were private rooms. I hope you're not too upset about us just barging in here, but the door wasn't locked."

While the Antaris was still trying to get a word in between Tesoras' waterfall, Petrucha, Keteon and ensign Furman reached the back door. The ensign gave it a hard push and it flew open. Petrucha jumped through at once. He found himself in a corridor just like the one on the other side of the room, and quickly checked both directions, but the corridor was empty.

Stepping back into the room, the commander heard that its occupant had finally found a chance to speak. "It's a total disgrace that you just come bursting into my rooms! I don't know how it is on your world, but we have such a thing as privacy here!" Petrucha saw that Cmdr Tesoras was watching him intently over the man's shoulder, and shook his head. "I should - !"

Tesoras raised her hands defensively in front of her, and the man fell silent. "Hey, I said we were sorry, all right? But I saw my captain leaving when we came in. You know, Human, dark brown hair, average height? Any idea where he's headed?"

The Antaris turned red in the face from indignation. "Out!" he shouted. "Get out! There was no one here until you disturbed my rest! Get out!" Seeing that there was nothing to be gained here anymore, Tesoras nodded her head towards the door, and the group moved out.

"Not a trace?" Tesoras asked Petrucha as soon as the door fell shut.

The Chief of Security shook his head. "There was any number of doors they could have reached before we got there. Ms Keteon, trace the captain's commbadge."

"Yes, Sir." Keteon took her tricorder again, and the others waited in silence for a few moments while she did her job. "He's heading back to the main hall."

"Damn!" Tesoras said. "Is it time for the announcement yet?"

"It is if the captain wants to," Petrucha replied. "He's in charge of that part of the ceremony."

Tesoras slapped her communicator. "Tesoras to Blevins! Maybe I can get through to him." At first, there was no reply, and the commander was just raising her hand to try again when Blevins' voice finally came through the commbadge.

"I'm sorry, Ryalla, but it'll have to wait. I'm kind of busy right now. Blevins out."

"Ethan, wait!" Tesoras said. "This is important. I need to talk with you. Ethan?" But the commline had already been terminated. "Damn!" she repeated herself more loudly. "Let's get back." The seven officers set off in the direction of the main hall at a run.

-/\-

Lt Ke'val was surprised when he saw captain Blevins walking back into the hall, chatting with a female Antaris. She must have been the telepath Cmdr Tesoras had spoken about. Ke'val looked, but didn't see the Andorian woman anywhere, so he surmised that she and the captain must have missed each other. When he started towards Blevins, his commbadge chirped.

"Petrucha to Ke'val."

He tapped his commbadge to reply. "Ke'val here. The captain walked in a moment ago. He's heading towards the podium."

"Antas' blood!" Tesoras cursed in the background. "Can you get there before he does? He isn't responding to commsignals."

Ke'val looked around at all the people gathered to hear the captain speak. "I'll try, but I don't think so, not in this crowd."

On the other end of the commline, Tesoras spoke to Petrucha. "Commander, what do you think will do least damage, the wrong speech or a disturbance?"

"What kind of disturbance are you talking about?"

"Making a few scratches on the ceiling with my phaser and preventing the speech until we put some sense back into the captain." Ke'val was a bit shocked by Tesoras' plan - and knowing the commander, there was no doubt that she meant it - but under current circumstances, it might actually have been the best they could do.

"I'm not really certain," Petrucha answered. "Both would be seen as an enormous disgrace for the Federation. I don't know which -"

"Then we'll let fate decide," Tesoras decided. To Ke'val she said: "Lieutenant, if we get back before Ethan starts talking, stand ready to get him out of there. If not, we'll let him do the speech."

"Yes, Sir," Ke'val replied.

"Tesoras out."

Ke'val tried to close in on his captain, but it was no use. In another minute Blevins was standing behind a microphone on the podium. Cmdr Tesoras and the others with her arrived just whe he began speaking. The group came to a dead stop in the large doorway, and stood panting from their run.

"I stand here today," captain Blevins spoke, "as an authorised representative of the president of the United Federation of planets and of the governing counsel of the same." The captain had been spared having to write a speech himself, because even in this, the Antarises were very strict with their guidelines. "I come here today to divine to the honorable president Wu Je Fa of the Antaris System Republic my president's reply to the petition filed by the Antaris goverment on stardate 48259.1."

Awaiting his next words, the Starfleet crew in the hall collectively held their breaths. "It is my sad duty to inform you, Mr president, that my goverment has deemed Antaris II as yet unfit to join the ranks of the ranks of the planets forming the Federation. It is, however, our hope that circumstances will change for the better, and that Antaris II will one day request Federation membership once again."

Ke'val was too confused to pay much attention to the rest of captain Blevins' speech. Wasn't he supposed to have said something else? - or rather, not supposed to, but going to? "In its consideration of a membership for Antaris II, the Starfleet commission assigned to this task found . . ."

-/\-

Not far from the podium, Ivrilla watched with a satisfied and slightly proud smile on her face how the Starfleet captain said exactly what she had told him to. Aph Ka Ihm handed her a delicate crystal glass with hif wine, and they toasted to their succes.

-/\-

"I have to admit," she said, "for a while there I didn't think we would manage to pull it off. But you have what you wanted now. The upper goverment won't receive any support from Starfleet, and with that, the lower goverment has bought its takeover a chance, at least. And we certainly wouldn't want to forget that I will get my payment now."

"Just a moment, Ivrilla," Aph Ka Ihm interrupted her, "you haven't answered my question yet." A pleading tone entered his voice. "Will you marry me?"

"I did answer your question, Aph Ka Ihm," Ivrilla responded coldly. "I laughed in your face. You know my account number. Make sure that I get the money before the end of the lunar cycle." With that, she turned on her heels brusquely and stalked out of the room. She did not look back, and did not see the sad and longing look Aph Ka Ihm could not pry from her receding back until she had vanished from his sight.

-/\-

Ryalla had to lean against the doorframe to stay on her feet. First all that running, and now this . . .

"For god's sake, Ryalla," Stan Petrucha complained, "will you stop laughing? You're hurting my ears!" Instead of complying to the man's demand, Ryalla burst out in another wild fit of laughter before getting a hold of herself.

"I'm sorry," she said finally. She was still barely understandable through her laughing. "It's just that . . . we were so convinced that the lower goverment wanted another decision than the one which was actually made . . . but they thought that we wanted Antaris II to join all along. Of course, how could we not want to be buddies with their oh so beautiful world!" Ryalla burst out laughing again, and Petrucha stuck his fingers in his ears to demonstrate his disapproval.

-/\- -/\- -/\-

Ethan smiled wryly. With the help of a Betazoid telepath on the Ceasar, he had regained his full memory of the ceremony on Antaris II soon after they left the planet, and ever since he had regretted that fact. Ryalla would never let him hear the end of it.

Usually when Ryalla thought of the incident, she would bug him about it for the following several days, but with a little luck, she wouldn't remember to, this time.

He emptied his glass of wine, and shook his friend's shoulder. "Ryalla?" he asked. "Did you pay your bill already?"

"Mmmm," Ryalla replied. Without lifting her head from the table, she nodded it slightly.

"Good," Ethan said. He got to his feet slowly, regretting his third glass of wine when he wobbled slightly. He probably shouldn't have drunk at all tonight, after drinking at the dinner that afternoon. Having walked around the table, Ethan put his hands under Ryalla's arms and attempted to lift her to her feet.

"Lemme 'lone," the Andorian complained weakly.

"Come on," Ethan encouraged her, "don't you want to go to the Aesculapius? You have a bed there, a bucket to be sick in . . . even doctors to give you something for your hangover tomorrow morning. If they feel like it."

"Soun's good," Ryalla agreed. With a little assistance from her, Ethan got her to her feet. Leaning Ryalla against him, he freed one hand to tap on his commbadge.

"Blevins to Transporter Room One. Two to beam up."

"Aye, Sir," came the reply. "Energizing." As the transporter beam caught them, the bar faded from their sight.


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