Spock looked to McCoy, seated across from him at the briefing room table and raised an eyebrow.

McCoy chuckled. “Old Earth expression, Spock. It means—”

McCoy’s smile sagged.

“They do, according to Admiral Jomack,” Kirk fired back.

He stood up and began to pace the room, gesturing dramatically with his hands as he spoke. “That’s the problem. I’ve been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion, but the verdict was reached based upon on false evidence.”

“Technically the allegations are correct,” interjected Spock. “However, details of the extenuating circumstances under which some of your more… controversial command decisions were made have been almost entirely omitted from these reports. Considering the limited information to which they’ve been made privy, members of the viewing public have arrived at the only logical conclusion available to them.”

McCoy’s eyes burned like hot coals. “Blast it, Spock, sometimes I wonder if you’re even capable of exercising tact.”

Kirk stopped pacing and held up his hand. “No, Spock’s right. Without context, the facts could be, and have been, misconstrued. It’s damning not only to me, but to the Federation as whole.”

McCoy crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair. “Alright. So what exactly are we supposed to do about it? If we rush in there like the gestapo and shut ‘em down, doesn’t that make us exactly what they say we are?”

“They’re operating within Federation space, and they’re violating Federation law,” Kirk explained. “They’re obtaining and disseminating classified information, and they’re doing so using official Fleet subspace channels.”

McCoy’s face perked up. “Well then what’s the problem? We go in, pull the plug, make some arrests. Problem solved.”

Kirk sat down again, trying like Hell to keep the sudden twinge of back pain he was experiencing from reaching his face. He failed.

“Jim, I wish you’d let me prescribe—”

Kirk waved his hand impatiently, and the Doctor fell silent.

“Working…” came the shrill, monotone reply.

“What is it, Spock?” asked Kirk.

“Just a theory, Captain.”

The computer rattled off a lengthy list of stardates as Spock listened intently.

“Fascinating,” he whispered when it stopped speaking.

McCoy was visibly annoyed. “Well, Spock? You going to clue us in on—”

“Patience, Doctor. Computer, what Federation starship was in closest proximity to Jeska IV at the time of each FedWatch transmission?


Kirk and McCoy looked at each other, then back at Spock.

The Federation starship in closest proximity to Jeska IV during each transmission was the USS Enterprise.”

“It’s a trap,” said Kirk. “For us. For me. They’re trying to lure the Enterprise to Jeska IV.”

“So it would seem,” Spock replied.

“That’s why they’re focusing so heavily on me. They’re trying to antagonize me.”

“Jim, you’re a friendly guy,” said McCoy, “but you make mortal enemies like nobody’s business. Could be any one of them, out for revenge.”

“Sheer speculation,” noted Spock.

“Speculating is what we’re supposed to be doing here, if I’m not mistaken, Mr. Spock,” said McCoy. “And while we’re at it, here’s some further speculation: there’s something off about all of the people in all of those newscasts. I can’t explain it, there’s just something… artificial about them.”

Spock’s face went slack, and his eyes grew distant.

“Spock, what’s wrong?” inquired Kirk.

“The Doctor and I had a similar conversation on stardate 4513.3.”

McCoy leaned forward and folded his hands on the table.

“Oh? This is the first I’ve heard of it. Do tell.”

“If you’ll recall,” replied Spock. “You and I were engaged in conversation in the corridor when one Crewman Norman passed us by. You informed me that you found something ‘odd’ about him. Initially, I dismissed your concerns. Your instincts, however, proved correct.”

McCoy’s face perked up. “Oh yeah, that’s right,” he said, wagging his finger at Spock. “That’s what these people remind me of. Mudd’s androids. Well, Spock, I’m glad to hear you finally admit you were wrong about something.”

“Computer,” said Kirk, glancing back at the wall monitor, upon which the scathing editorial about him still played silently on. “Freeze playback.”

All three men stared at the face of the reporter frozen on the screen.

“Increase magnification,” said Spock.

“Computer,” said McCoy, “remove the mustache and glasses. Shorten the hair and darken it.”

“Working,” said the computer.

“Norman,” said Kirk. “Or at least a unit sharing his design. Gentlemen, I think I know who we’re going to find pulling the strings when we reach our destination.”

McCoy groaned. “Angels and ministers of grace defend us.”

“I hardly think divine intervention will be necessary to ensure our survival, Doctor,” said Spock.

“No,” said Kirk, “but I wouldn’t turn it down. He wants us to take this bait. He’s counting on it. He wouldn’t be cocky enough to think he could take us on unless…. Unless he had reason to.”

“He’s quite crafty,” said Spock. “We would be wise to proceed with extreme caution.”

“That, Mr. Spock,” said Kirk, “goes without saying. We arrive in two days. I know we’re pretty far out yet, but see what you can dig up from long range sensor sweeps. Signs of cloaked ships, unusual civilian traffic patterns and the like. Contact all outposts in the vicinity and request copies of their logs. Look for anything that feels out of the ordinary.”

“Feels, Captain? Need I remind you that as a Vul—”

“Save it, Spock. I’ve served with you for far too long to fall for that whole ‘I’m a Vulcan, I don’t have hunches” bit. I know for a fact that you do, and they’re good ones. Come up with some. Dismissed.”

Spock nodded. “Aye, sir.”

He rose and exited the room.

McCoy watched him leave, then turned to Kirk.

“I wonder if he knows how lucky he is.”

“What do you mean, Bones?”

The doctor grinned. “I just passed up a prime opportunity to rub Spock’s face in the fact that my flawed human intuition was right yet again. It was somebody from James T. Kirk’s personal rogues gallery.”

Kirk looked back at the image of Norman on the screen.

“Yes,” said Kirk. “The worst one.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” said McCoy. “What about Khan Noonien Singh?”

Kirk spun back around in his chair. “Bones, this is serious. I’m not in the mood for jokes.”



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