Sarek had left the secure facility with Aiden and other government officials to assist in the search for the insane individuals and to ascertain whether other attacks were imminent. Some had argued that it was not yet safe enough to leave the more secure area, but everyone agreed that action was better than hiding.
The identities of the perpetrators had been widely distributed, and with the Enterprise sensors also searching for the acidic compounds, nine of the remaining individuals had been detained already. The remaining conspirator would not be free much longer.
Sarek glanced at the map that had been speedily constructed on the wall of Aiden’s office. Current building evacuations were marked in red, showing where the corrosive elements had been discovered. It would take some time to insure the structural integrity of those buildings. Other colors marked those areas being investigated and those deemed safe. He had no doubt that every other populated area on Derilia had similar maps and similar investigations. He was gratified that no more loss of life had occurred, though two more buildings had collapsed shortly after evacuation. The insanity of ten individuals could indeed cause unprecedented destruction in a very short amount of time.
Spock had contacted him a short time ago with information about the experiment he and Saavik had performed with the colonist Jasai. He had noted the recent scar on his son’s head and was gratified that the experiment had not resulted in more injury to any of the participants. He noted also his own continued concern for his son and his bondsmate, and chided himself for the unnecessary emotional response. He had accepted long ago that there was little logic where his family was concerned, but it was still disconcerting to feel so deeply.
“Regent, Ambassador,” Magistrate Carliyel called as he approached the open door of Regent Aiden’s office. “I have just received word that the Enterprise has apprehended the last of the conspirators... and the Wramuth general.”
Sarek raised an eyebrow but Aiden broke into a relieved smile. “General Taln is in custody?” he asked hopefully.
“He is,” Carliyel confirmed. “Captain Kirk has requested that you and the ambassador be present for his questioning.”
“I can arrange transport,” Sarek answered Aiden’s questioning look. “It will only take a moment.”
As he called the ship to relay the coordinates, Aiden felt the considerable stress of his office fading away. He would soon see his daughter again and perhaps the threat of the Wramuth would also be eliminated. Then the real work could begin to repair the relationship with the colonies and to once again convince the Federation that they were worthy of membership.
Sarek finished the communication and showed him where to stand to await the transport. He couldn’t help but hold his breath as the bizarre feeling of dematerialization washed over him. There was nothing natural about this means of transportation, but if it brought an end to the planet-wide crisis, he would gladly endure it.
They rematerialized onboard the Enterprise and he could see Captain Kirk waiting just beyond the platform with Spock and Saavik on one side and Doctor McCoy on the other. Captain Spock stood without a cane or other assistive devices and appeared to be recovering well from his injuries. Aiden stepped carefully off of the transporter pad and shook his head to clear the slight dizziness.
“Welcome to the Enterprise, Regent,” Captain Kirk greeted him. “The transporter effect is not permanent. Just move slowly until the sensation has passed.”
Aiden nodded as he followed the aliens from the small room.
“We will take you to your daughter first,” the captain told him. “When you are ready, we can question the prisoner.”
“Thank you, Captain,” the regent replied, trying to move carefully due to the lingering effect of the transporter, but wanting desperately to hurry. Even so, when they arrived at the observation lounge, he paused a moment before entering.
The cacophony of many conversations stopped when the doors opened and the gathered people turned as one to see the new arrivals. Many familiar faces broke into smiles when they recognized the regent, and traditional greetings were happily shouted across the large room. Aiden scanned the people and smiled brilliantly when his daughter emerged from the crowd and ran toward him.
“Dalina!” he cried, encircling her in his arms. They embraced for several minutes, the only sound a soft trill of relief. At last he held her at arms-length to look at her and braced himself for the answers to his question.
“Did they hurt you?” he asked haltingly.
“No, father,” she said, smiling to relieve his worry. “They threatened much, but they did not touch us.”
He relaxed as he absorbed that answer and embraced her again. Their vocal trill rose and fell again in a type of celebratory song.
As the Derilians continued their private reunion, Kirk and the others walked among the gathered people to see to their needs. As soon as the matter of the Wramuth was resolved, he could take them home. In the meantime they seemed to be enjoying the variety of food and drink available from the synthesizers, and the glorious view of their planetary system just beyond the expansive windows. The colonists from the shuttles had segregated themselves to one side of the room, but slowly the native Derilians began to approach them, first in hesitant greetings then in heartfelt conversations. Kirk smiled at the tentative reconciliation.
At length Aiden approached the captain with his daughter close beside him. “We should see to the prisoner now,” he said.
“Of course,” Kirk said, glancing around the room to alert the others with a look. The doctor and the three Vulcans returned to his side as Aiden turned to Dalina, holding her hands tightly.
“Stay here a little longer,” he said. “Soon we will go home.”
She smiled her agreement and embraced him once more before fading into the crowd again. Aiden looked after her a moment then reluctantly followed the others from the room.
The detention area was deserted except for the guard on duty. They could see the alien commander in the cell across the room. He was neither yelling or pacing as many prisoners did, but stood still in front of the force field, looking out as if expecting the arrival of his captors. His eyes narrowed to acknowledge their presence, but his position did not change as they entered the room.
“I do not know your species,” Commander Taln said slowly as they stopped in front of his cell. His eyes shifted between Kirk and the Vulcans, noting not only the physical differences, but also the not so subtle differences in their expressions and demeanors.
“I am Human,” Kirk answered, watching to see if the term was familiar. “And these are Vulcans,” he continued, indicating the others. “We are members of a cooperative organization called the Federation.”
Taln made no comment to Kirk’s answer but stared at him with eyes that barely blinked.
“Why do you hold me here?” he demanded in a voice barely above a snarl.
Kirk stared back at him with the tension of contained fury. “The destruction on Derilia must end, “ he stated in a similar voice.
“I have destroyed nothing,” the alien answered without changing his expression.
“You assisted the perpetrators,” Spock interjected, “resulting in massive destruction and the death of hundreds. How does your culture determine guilt in these circumstances?”
Taln shifted his gaze to the Vulcan and stared at him a long time. “I am sent to acquire,” he finally said. “The means are not important.”
Kirk’s posture stiffened visibly. “Death does not concern you?” he demanded.
The Wramuth made no obvious reaction to Kirk’s anger and simply tilted his head in what might have been a shrug. “Death happens to all,” he said, “my concern would change nothing.”
Kirk stared at him in shock and even Sarek opened his eyes wider in the Vulcan equivalent of surprise. Few races were as unconcerned by death as this alien seemed to be. According to Federation law, Commander Taln had committed murder many times over, and yet there he stood, sincerely unable to comprehend his crime. Kirk wondered whose law prevailed when there was no common ethical reference.
Aiden stepped forward, squarely facing the being who had held his planet hostage for more than a year and who had caused the death of many of his friends and colleagues. “You have taken by force what we would have freely traded,” he said, “and you have taken many lives before their natural end. Are all of your race so indifferent to suffering?”
Taln stared at him and tilted his head again. “We must survive,” he said simply.
“In the Federation, we help one another to survive and flourish,” Sarek stated.
The commander turned his attention to the Vulcan. “Why?” he asked, his narrow eyes showing clear confusion.
Kirk turned to Saavik. “Are all the Wramuth in custody?” he asked.
“Yes,” she confirmed. “There were no other Wramuth on the planet, and their ship was found behind the third moon. The crew has been transferred safely to the prison facility on the island.”
“Now that we’ve got them, what do we do with them?” McCoy wanted to know.
“Indeed,” Spock agreed, “it would be logical to assume that more Wramuth would eventually come to search for their comrades.” He eyed the prisoner with interest. “Unless of course, they truly do not care about the lives of others.”
The alien was watching Spock with little change of expression but his eyes had begun to blink rapidly. “They will come,” he assured them.
“Let them,” Kirk said as he took a step toward the cell. “Our races value life and will defend it.”
“Captain, if I may...” Sarek interrupted, then turned to address the prisoner. “Commander Taln,” he began, “what is the ultimate purpose of your raids? Conquest? Terror?”
Taln paused as the universal translator rendered the question. “We harvest what we require,” he said slowly, wondering if these creatures could understand the basic tenets of life. To question something so simple surely indicated an inferior intellect.
“You harvest what belongs to others,” Sarek continued. “Would it not be easier to trade with these people?”
Taln’s narrow eyes searched the Vulcan’s. “The galaxy belongs to the Wramuth,” he said as if to a child. “I have found no other people in it.”
Every Vulcan eyebrow rose at that statement as the human’s eyes opened wide.
“You think we’re animals?” McCoy demanded. “I suppose you go around the galaxy training the local animals to give you what you want?”
Taln just looked at him, unblinking. McCoy couldn’t tell whether the translation was unclear or the commander simply chose not to answer. The doctor felt his anger rising.
“Well I’ve met some arrogant species in my day,” he said, “and quite a few with a superiority complex. But the Wramuth have got to be the pinnacle of pretentious, infantile beings! If you haven’t noticed, your technology is sub par to ours and your culture is in the Dark Ages!”
“Bones...” Kirk warned.
“I’m sorry, Jim,” the doctor continued undeterred, “but a lot of people died needlessly on the planet and many more are maimed for life. Hell, even Spock could have died if it wasn’t for modern medicine and dumb luck! People like the Wramuth don’t need my understanding! They need a good swift kick in the rear until they learn to play nice in the galaxy!”
Kirk agreed with the sentiment, but he manged to turn to Aiden with more decorum. “Regent,” he said, “we will of course assist you with the Wramuth that will come for their comrades. But the prisoners are rightly subject to Derilian law.”
“We have never had such a crime,” Aiden said sadly, “nor need of laws to deal with it. I will need to consult with the Council in this matter.”
“Of course,” Kirk answered as he turned his back on the prisoner and led the others from the room. A confrontation with the Wramuth was coming soon and his place was on the bridge. It was not presumptuous to think that his decisions would affect the lives of billions and set the future course of this planet. His personal feelings concerning this mysterious race needed to be ignored for the moment. He watched Spock, Aiden and Sarek get off the turbolift at deck nine and road the lift to the bridge in silence with Saavik and McCoy. It was late in his career to expect yet another miracle, but he really needed one about now.