Disclaimer: Star Trek is the property of Paramount/Viacom. This story is the property of and is copyright (c) 1978 by Johanna Cantor. Originally published in R&R #5, Johanna Cantor, editor. Rated PG.

ONE BRIEF SHINING MOMENT

Johanna Cantor and Caroline Carrock

"Mr. Kyle! There's a call from the Bridge!"

Sam was a bit breathless, and I'd have to admit I jumped right from steam cabinet to intercom. Well, the gym intercoms are audio only, so I didn't have to worry about Uhura's lovely complexion.

"Kyle here."

Nothing for a minute--not so good. Ever since we lost Lumada, my main relief has been Kysato. He knows the transporter, but he doesn't have many hours under his belt yet. If someone in the landing party'd been hurt, they might want me to operate the controls to minimize-

"It's the captain, planetside, Mr. Kyle," Uhura's voice told me. "Tying in."

I relaxed. If there were an emergency, Captain Kirk wouldn't be bothering to talk to me directly.

"Lt. Kyle?" The captain sounded relaxed, too.

"Kyle here, sir." I didn't let my voice sound relaxed, you can imagine. The captain's easy going, but he wants a smart crew.

"Sorry to call you on your off watch, Mr. Kyle. But I think you could help us out down here."

"My pleasure, Captain. Kyle out." And I meant it. It's nice to be needed, but I sometimes wish I'd opted for a specialty that would get me landing party duty, just once in a while. I nipped off to our quarters, scribbled a note for Mary, and was planetside before the captain had time to get impatient. It was like materializing inside an oven, and right away I noticed my first contact with the native fauna. The bite itched like a flea's.

The landing party was scanning the dunes with binoculars, but the captain turned as I reported. "Thank you, Mr. Kyle," he said. I just nodded. It's expected, after all. "All right," the captain went on. "We'll head for that ridge. Our objective is the humanoid, but we may as well do some preliminaries while we're here. Mr. Spock, fill Mr. Kyle in. Move out, formation J."

J's a loose formation, designed to let a party spread out to collect data and specimens. So I ambled easily over to Mr. Spock, curious to know why I'd been called. I helped him gather a bunch of lichens for his collecting bag (Sulu says Mr. Spock can spot an unusual plant form at twenty feet), and fell into step beside him.

"As you know, Mr. Kyle, we were simply star-mapping and making flyby probes. But, 1603, Lt. Uhura and I both picked up a distress beacon emanating from this area."

"A beacon?" One doesn't interrupt Mr. Spock while he's briefing, but that seemed impossible. I mean, the area didn't look capable of supporting a desert rat, let alone a higher life form.

"A beacon," Mr. Spock repeated patiently. "It was repeated four times. Just as we had an accurate fix, it ceased. We were unable to analyze it fully, and sensors could find no higher life in the area. But it was a laser, similar to the Starfleet design. Consequently, we beamed down to see if we could render assistance. As we materialized, we saw a male humanoid standing on top of this dune we are now approaching."

"I looked around nervously, but Konll had already begun circling.

"He called to us through an amplifier. "Hallo! Glad to see you. But you've got to come this way, don't you know?'! We had barely recovered from the dislocation of transportation, and none of our equipment was out. Therefore, we have no data on this humanoid. The captain shouted for him to come back, but he continued running toward the ridge. Occasionally he climbed a dune, hailed us, and beckoned us to follow. Then we lost sight of him."

"Accommodating chap."

"The only noteworthy aspect of the humanoid was that he spoke with a pronounced British accent, like your own. If, as seems possible, he is a derelict, marooned here, our appearance may frighten him. The captain thinks that when we find him, your presence might reassure him."

"I see." There was something in it, of course. The galaxy is full of drifters, and some of the Terran blokes haven't even heard of the unification of Earth, let alone the Federation and some of the members and allies we've picked up over the last century or so. Why, Mary's great-grand-uncle left Earth before the unification, having made his part of old Africa a bit too lively for his own comfort. The family never heard of him again until the Enterprise opened Ordon to Federation traders last year. Mary went ashore with the first party and met him just in time to get us both invited to his 170th birthday party. Or so he said. We never were able to disentangle the truth from the old reprobate's tall tales. And then there was that colony of Kmins living right on the Terra-Vulcan shuttle route. The shuttles used to all but rattle their chimneys going over, but no one knew they were there til the New Hope crash. It's a big galaxy, to coin a phrase.

I looked the landing party over, trying to see us with a derelict's eyes. We're so used to it that we never give it a thought, but there's no denying that we're a varied crew. The captain and Dr. McCoy, of course, are fine upstanding examples of the human male, but Mr. Spock's half Vulcan, and Konll and Fonti are Titans. Fonti's the midget of his family -- he only stands a head above me. Not surprising a derelict might find us a bit formidable.

Of course, while I was mulling over all this, we were heading toward the ridge. There was no sign of the humanoid, and our instruments couldn't pick him up either. Now and again Mr. Spock would stop to analyze something or add a specimen to his collecting bags, but I have no planetside specialties Starfleet would approve of, so I just toddled along after him, making myself useful when I could. At that, it was a pleasure. I've never worked closely with him, but it's common knowledge that at the same time that he's collecting his preliminary data, he's mentally drafting his report. He beams back to the ship ready to dictate. A real expert.

I was watching him analyze some kind of rock -- looked like a quartz type to me -- when our communicators beeped.

"Spock and Kyle."

"We've come across a group of primitive humanoids, Mr. Spock. I want you and Mr. Kyle to join me quietly at these coordinates. We have not been observed."

"Acknowledged." We set out at a trot -- not the most comfortable way to travel in that climate, but I was too excited to mind. I rather think Mr. Spock was just a bit excited too. It's always an event when you find an intelligent life form, especially in a hostile environment. You never know just what you might turn up.

Mr. Spock led us right to the captain's coordinates. He was in a group of rocks, scanning with his binoculars. The rest of the party were already there. I peeked over the cover, but all I could see at that distance was figures. My binoculars were in my kit, underneath a belt full of specimen bags, so I tapped Konll, and he gave over his glasses like a gentleman.

"What do you think of that, Mr. Kyle?" It was Captain Kirk, whispering in my ear. "Look familiar?"

"Yes, sir. Almost too familiar. Terra. Australia. Bushmen, any time up through the last century."

"Right. And take a look at that plant over there. Mr. Spock?"

"Yes, Captain. The Australian wild yam. It was one of the aborigines' main sources food. But I have seen it nowhere else today."

"Are those people registering on your tricorder?"

Mr. Spock took a quick reading. "Yes, sir. Body temperature averaging 32, pulse averaging 82, and--"

"Okay. We'll get the details later. Does your phaser work?"

Mr. Spock drew out his phaser and retired discretely. In a moment, there was a tiny pop from the next dune. "Operational, Captain," he reported, coming on back.

"So this is not an illusion." The captain sounded relieved, and I'd have to admit the hairs on the back of my neck smoothed. I was sitting with Scotty and the Doc one boozy night when they got to talking about the Melkots. Well, they knew it wouldn't go any further. But spooky is what I call it, and I don't care if I am a scientist.

"It would seem to be another illustration of Hodgkin's Law, Captain."

"Either that or our friends the Preservers at work again. But Spock, the humanoid we saw first was clothed."

"Agreed, Captain."

"What they meant, and I think we all realized it, was that this wanted looking into.

"We won't risk contact until we know more about this culture. Fan out. Mr. Spock, observation stations and assignments, please. Keep in touch by communicator at check-in times, but if you see the clothed humanoid, report immediately."

Mr. Spock teamed me with Konll, assigning us food gathering and subsistence. The spot he'd picked for us was perfect, and until planet sunset, we were able to observe and record. But about that time, the tribe started moving. Soon it was obvious that they were heading back toward the ridge for the night. "They may have caves or shelters there," Konll whispered. We all conferred by communicator, and soon each team was heading for the ridge. Fonti and the Doc were the last to rendezvous, and they arrived with a large landing kit, just beamed down. So we were going to spend the night.

"The aborigines have withdrawn into a large natural cave, Captain, and built fires around the entrance points. It may be that there are predators in the area. I suggest that we also take suitable precautions."

The captain just nodded. We all fell to, and soon we had a snug camp inside a warded blind. The galley had beamed down a good hot dinner -- the captain's party doesn't eat survival cubes if the galley can help it -- and there was even spiced tea for Mr. Spock and me. I just stretched out, and enjoyed. You hear crew wondering why the captain and Mr. Spock so often choose to lead landing parties. Well, I'd forgotten too. It's super to get away from the ship and its responsibilities on a long tour, even overnight.

I'd been assigned the dawn watch, and I slept soundly til Konll shook me awake. Then I got another treat. R and R being what it is, even for an old married, man, it had been years since I'd seen a planet dawn. I was still admiring it when I heard footsteps on the rise above us. In the growing light, I could see that a footpath ran right by the dune that formed part of our camouflage. Well, the blind was desertwear, impossible to see through the wrong way. Still, I shook the others awake so they'd know not to make noise.

It was a food-gathering party of kids -- mostly young girls. They'd have been a lovely sight if they hadn't all been so thin. Even so, it was pleasant to sit and watch them work. All at once, though, Mr. Spock whispered, "Listen." None of us heard anything.

"What is it, Spock?"

"An animal. Look! Stalking the children." We looked where he pointed and my stomach turned straight over. The things looked like a Terran gila, grown half the size of a man. But the complexities of modern life do have their compensations. A quick phaser blast, and the food-gathering party was safe. They went right past the stunned beast without even noticing it.

"Nice shooting, Mr. Spock."

"Thank you, Captain."

It felt good to hear normal voices in that desert quiet. Somehow our blind wasn't so pleasant any more. We ate in a hurry, and broke camp. Maybe that's why it happened. I don't know. All I know is that we'd been working several minutes before Mr. Spock suddenly called, "Is that creature still stunned?" Konll was closest, and he dropped the rubbish he was disintegrating and trotted over on the double. The beast lay still til he got within jumping distance. Then it went for him.

Well of course the first thing one does is draw a phaser, but we couldn't get a clear shot. The captain ordered us to hold fire, and by that time Mr. Spock was halfway there. I saw the beast rear up, roaring, with Mr. Spock clinging to its neck. Then it went over with a crash, and lay still.

"Tranquilize that thing this time!" the captain snapped. The Doctor was already working on Konll; one arm was badly mangled. I helped the captain drag the beast off Mr. Spock. He was out. Captain Kirk took his head and eased it off the rock it had hit, and I looked away for a minute. They were mates, of course.

"Call the ship," the captain ordered.

"Aye aye, sir." I flipped my communicator open, and got the biggest shock of my career -- I hope -- when the bloody thing refused to beep. Fonti and the captain stared at me for a second. Then they tried theirs. Nothing.

"Mr. Kyle, when did you last contact the ship?" The captain had Mr. Spock's head in his lap now, but he was all business.

"0600, sir. Reported all well." I hated to say it. It meant at least two hours before they got worried about us. But the captain just nodded. "Bones, if you're not using the tricorder--"

The Doc was bandaging, so I went to get the medical tricorder and handed it to the captain. Konll was unconscious, lying limp in Fonti's arms, pale as a ghost. His face twisted, then his body convulsed. Fonti had to grab him to hold him down. "Jim, I need the tricorder," the Doc said, cool as a cucumber. "That thing must be venomous."

I started over to get the tricorder back, and then I froze. I don't know what brought them -- maybe we'd made some noise. But there stood the whole tribe, spears and all. And we were surrounded. My hand went for my phaser, and I rather think Fonti's did too. "Hold your position," the captain ordered.

"Who are you?"

"We are men. Like yourselves." Even on the ground with his first's head in his lap, the captain sounded dignified. But just then Konll gave another mighty heave. The man who had spoken walked over to look at him, then he looked back at the beast. "There is medicine," he said.

"Where?"

"In the cave. It would be wisest to take him there. There are other dangers."

"Can he be moved, Bones?"

"We'd better take the chance, Jim. This venom is something new. And without the ship--"

I was already rigging the pack into a stretcher frame, just as they teach you in Basic.

"What about Spock?"

McCoy went over, tricorder in hand. Fonti and I got Konll strapped to the stretcher. There was a good bit of him left over, but it would serve. The head man gave an order, and a bunch of the men took the stretcher poles and started up the footpath. That was all right with me -- a Titan's no featherweight. The Doc sat back as they went by. "It's not serious, Jim," he said. We all took a deep breath, then Fonti went over, picked up the Vulcan like a baby, and started up the path.

The next hour or so was all Sickbay stuff. I helped when I could, and as transporter officer, I've had more practice than I really care for. Pretty soon, though, we knew that the natives' medicine was going to work. And although Mr. Spock was still out, the Doc had taken a complete scan, and he said it was just a matter of time. Soon they were both settled comfortably. So I scanned the water, borrowed some fire, found a quiet corner, and made us all an early lunch. The fungi the kids had gathered were probably edible, but they didn't look like sustenance to me. The others ate absent-mindedly, but they were better for it.

Every now and again I tried my communicator. No joy. So as soon as we'd missed a check-in, I rigged our emergency signals and a directional beam around the cave mouth. There'd be a rescue party down soon. But another hour passed, and no one came after us. I wanted to take Fonti and go looking, but the captain vetoed that. Said if they hadn't found us by the signals, they just weren't looking. He was right, of course, but what he said didn't make me feel any better. In fact, nothing much did. Even when Mr. Spock came around, it didn't help. I'd never heard him groan before, and even though he got himself under control quickly, it still unsettled me to see a Vulcan vomiting just like a human who's taken a hard blow on the head.

Finally I decided that what was bothering me was inactivity. A group of women were pounding the fungi, and I went over to fraternize. I thought they might know something about the mysterious Englishman who'd gotten us all down here in the first place. They didn't; or else they wouldn't talk about him. But I did find out something else. I got it by accident at first, but the questions I asked seemed to confirm it.

"Captain?"

"Report, Mr. Kyle." He'd seen what I was doing, of course.

"Captain, these people were brought here." Mr. Spock's eyebrows flew up, and the captain said, "Explain."

"They seem to have no memory of any events before. But three years ago, the whole tribe was brought here. The head man knew about desert survival, and he taught the others."

"The women say years?"

"Yes, sir." I'd answered before I really realized how strange that was. Reckoning time periods by years instead of seasons is one of the determinants of B minus on the Richter Cultural Scale. Yet here was a pre-A level culture, with the women talking about three years.

"There are other anomalies, Captain," Mr. Spock said. "The Australian yam, confined to one area. The people's reaction to us. The head man--"

"Yes. Let's talk to this head man."

"Right away, Captain," I said, and nipped off after him. The mood I was in, I'd as soon have brought him in by the neck. But there was no problem. He seemed to have been waiting for this.

"This isn't your homeland," the captain started. "Where are you from?"

The man was standing calmly, looking respectful, but he just shook his head.

"Who brought you here?"

"I am sorry. I have no authority to answer your questions."

"Who signaled us?"

The head man shook his head again. "I am truly sorry. But I do not have the authority--"

"Well, who does? Who's in charge here?"

The man thought a moment. "My instructions do not cover this situation. I think it would be best if you spoke to my superior."

"All right. Where do we find him?"

"This way," he said, starting toward the entrance.

"Bones, you and Fonti stay here with Spock and Konll. Mr. Kyle?"

We started to follow the head man, but the exit was blocked. "Captain, I respectfully request--"

"No, Mr. Spock. I want you to stay here and rest. That head injury--"

"Will not impair my efficiency, Captain. I assure you."

I watched, curious. If Mr. Spock hadn't been a Vulcan, I'd have said his feelings were hurt. And it seemed the captain thought so too. At any rate, he turned back to the Doc. "Bones?" The Doc hesitated, and I could feel him framing an order to keep Mr. Spock off his feet. But there was too much at stake.

"All right, Mr. Spock," he said. "Be careful not to overdo, and report back to me if you notice any symptoms of concussion."

"Understood, Doctor."

The head man was still waiting for us, patient and respectful. He led us along the ridge for about three kilometers, and stopped at what looked like the entrance to another cave. "Through here, gentlemen," he said. The captain ducked in, followed by Mr. Spock and me. We seemed to be in a long tunnel, but there was light at the other end. We started crawling toward the light, and suddenly the tunnel seemed to dissolve around us. We stood up, and-

Well, I won't repeat what the captain said. But mind you, if ever a man had an excuse for language, Captain Kirk did then. I shouldn't wonder if I contributed a bit myself. We were standing on green grass, in some sort of forest clearing. And we were looking at a group of early Britons. I'm not kidding. Druid stuff -- blue clay and all. I stood stock still, and blinked, and I rather think Mr. Spock did too.

They'd seen us, and they started for us. They were cautious, but it struck me that they were more curious than frightened. Just like the aborigines.

Well, it took us a while to get our wits together, and even longer to get the answers we wanted. But to make a long story short this group, like the aborigines, had been brought here three years before. Their leader had shown them how to live like prehistoric Britons. They showed us around, and answered all our questions proudly. But as to who had brought them here, no joy. It was the same story as before. "I do not have the authority to answer that question." The captain kept after it, though; and finally the head man said we'd better see his superior.

This time it was a giant tree, and I don't mind telling you I had to grit my teeth to make myself go into the time tunnel, if that's what it was. The captain was getting to his feet when I made it through.

"Look out!" I yelled, and started for the captain. But that Vulcan's reflexes are quicker than any Human's. So we bowled over in the following order: the captain, knocked over by Mr. Spock, the first officer, barreled into by yours truly, and me, on the top. So it was one Lt. Kyle who got kicked in the back by one of the flying hooves, and that was the last I knew for quite some time.

When I woke up everything was moving, and for some time, I just held on to a grip some thoughtful chap had left within my reach. But as I came more to myself, I began to get it sorted out. I could feel a stiffness in my back, but I'd been given some painkiller. And the sky was jerking around because I was jouncing up and down in some sort of vehicle. I got my hands underneath me and tried to push up.

"Steady, Mr. Kyle." The voice sounded like Mr. Spock's, but the hand on my shoulder was as gentle as a woman's. I was eased over and laid back against a sack of some sort, and there I was in the back of a wooden cart, looking up at the captain and Mr. Spock.

"What the hell?" I suppose it wasn't the brightest comment on record, but I'd like to see how you'd do under the circumstances. The captain grinned at me.

"You have just become the first member of the Enterprise crew to be decorated for extreme valor in a jousting match," he said.

"A -- what was that, sir?"

"Apparently," Mr. Spock said, "we emerged from that oak into some form of horseback duel. One of the knights was almost on top of us before he saw us. He was most apologetic, but of course it was not his fault."

"Where are we?"

"It seems, Mr. Kyle, that we are in Arthurian Britain. You ought to feel right at home." That's the captain, allover. Of course, he'd had some time to get used to the idea. It was all new to me.

"Where are we going?"

"To Camelot. No one here has been able to answer our questions, so Ms. Nell and her father very kindly offered to drive us there."

I turned around cautiously, and saw that the cart was being driven by an old man. A young girl sat next to him. She turned and smiled at me, then smiled at the captain, giving me a pretty shrewd notion of why they'd consented to take us.

"How are you feeling?"

"Not bad, sir."

"Good. But be careful. Two of your ribs are broken. They're immobilized, but not knit. We couldn't get back to Dr. McCoy."

"I understand, sir."

"Lie back and rest. It's another four hours to Camelot. You too, Spock." With that, the captain climbed up front with the girl. "Maintaining friendly relations," the manual calls it. Mr. Spock lay down next to me, staying out of sight, but we didn't talk much. I think his head was bothering him. And anyway, what was there to say? I was pretty comfortable, but I found it hard to keep my thoughts from turning around. I wasn't any too happy at the situation we were in, but worse, it was at least eight hours since we'd missed checking in. Had something happened to the Enterprise? And even if the ship was all right, Mary must be frantic. She's the one who goes on landing parties, leaving me aboard to fret. She's used to my being in one place.

"Lt. O'Herlihy is a sensible woman, Mr. Kyle," Mr. Spock said.

I started. "Meaning she has too much sense to worry about me, I suppose?"

"No, Mr. Kyle. I mean--"

"Mr. Spock." That was all the captain said. But Mr. Spock stopped, and didn't bring it up again. I felt sorry I'd snapped. But at the same time. I was grateful to the captain. That ruddy Vulcan will pursue a subject long after any Human would know enough to let it drop. We rode in silence as the cart creaked on toward Camelot.

By the time the towers came in sight. I was feeling well enough to be fractious. "What are we going to do when we get there?" I asked. "Talk to King Arthur?" I saw Nell and her father start, so I shut up, ashamed of myself, even before the captain shook his head at me.

"We will find the head man." he answered. "It seems to be the only chance of explaining what has happened to us, and perhaps finding the others." He spoke matter of factly. but his voice was strained. I was sorry I'd spoken.

Though, as it turned out, I was right.

The captain was silent for a long while, I suppose to give Nell and the old man a chance to recover from my brilliant remark. But eventually, he said "Old man, can you advise us? To whom can we speak, to enquire about our comrades?"

The old man must have been thinking it over. "I have a cousin in Camelot," he said gruffly. "He is only a freedman, but his daughter is betrothed to a servant in the house of Rolf, who holds office in the Bakers' Guild. He may advise you."

It didn't sound promising, but it was a place to start. The old man drove us through the streets -- which was all right with me, considering their condition -- and to the door of a hovel just inside a set of gates. The captain jumped down, and I started to climb out. But Mr. Spock stopped me and pushed me back, hiding the tricorder with his body while he took readings. Then he started to get out a hypo.

"You'd better save it," I whispered. "I'll be okay now the jolting has stopped." We only had our emergency kits, you see. Everything else was back with the Doc, wherever he was. Mr. Spock hesitated, but he saw the logic of it, so he gave me an arm down.

The captain was already inside, talking earnestly. He stopped as we entered, to give the family a chance to get used to us. They shied a little at the sight of Mr. Spock, but then an older woman came forward, welcomed us prettily, and had us all sit at the table. The table was interesting to look at, but I hoped we wouldn't have to eat at it, since my eyes and nose told me the carved depressions were plates, and the whole thing got scrubbed down with herbs -- once in a while. My head was buzzing. Who the hell were these people?

The old man's cousin was shaking his head, so I tuned in. He was saying it was impossible for us to see Rolf, at least through him. It was pretty obvious that he was scared, and I don't know what would have happened if little Ms. Nell hadn't set to work. She wheedled, and teased, and pretty soon it got to being a joke, with the family sitting around enjoying the show. Finally she got the man to say he'd take us there. The girl gave him a big buss, then ran across to throw her arms around the captain's neck. He blushed, with the whole family laughing at him, then leaned down to give her a peck. But he did it like a matter of duty, which seemed so unlike the captain that I began to worry. A few minutes later, though, I got downwind of Ms. Nell. Then I understood.

They wanted us to stay and eat with them, but the captain got us out of that without giving offense, saying we had to hurry to find our men. Nell and her cousin took us to the house of Rolf the Baker. All the servants there knew them, and we got passed along pretty speedily up the ranks and finally to the presence of Rolf himself.

"On behalf of the Bakers' Guild," he boomed, "I welcome you to Camelot." He was a big man with a hearty manner. Kind of reminded me of Terglon playing Falstaff. Apparently it was part of his job to welcome visitors, because he was well launched in a description of a tour of the city he'd give us tomorrow before the captain could get a word in edgewise.

"This is most kind of you, sir," Captain Kirk said when the baker finally stopped. "But we must find our comrades."

Well, now we had a fuss. It was clear that Rolf the Baker's instructions covered guests. But guests who had not yet arrived would just have to arrive. Then they too would be given the hospitality of the Guilds Hall, the tour of the Market -- he was off again.

It took the three of us the better part of an hour to argue him down. And when we finally did manage to convince Rolf that we didn't want to take his tour and that we wouldn't be put off, he pouted like a baby. But it was more than insult -- it was uneasiness. I got the distinct impression that his orders didn't cover visitors who refused to be welcomed. And when the captain began to question him about the other civilizations, I was sure of it, and my heart began to pound. Rolf denied any knowledge of them, but the man was lying. The captain knew it too, and he kept after Rolf until finally the baker got tired. "It is not allowed to talk of such things!" he cried.

"Oh, ho! But they do exist? Who brought you here?"

That seemed to be the last straw. "Brian!" Rolf roared. "Run to Thomas the Butcher He gave us an evil look and sat down and John the Chandler and beg their presence here." He gave us an evil look and sat down by the fire, ostentatiously turning his back to us.

We sat down too, glad of the chance. "Curious," Mr. Spock said wearily, "how complex even a D culture can be when one must work through it step by--"

"The butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker!" I shouted. "Excuse me, Mr. Spock. It just struck me."

Mr. Spock looked astonished, as well he might, but the captain understood. "The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. Yes. What's that from?"

"I don't know, Captain. But it's from something. And what's more, this is all wrong. The historical Camelot, if it existed, can't have been any more than a B plus culture. But these houses, and the furnishings. The guilds. It's all--"

"Sir Thomas Malory," Mr. Spock said suddenly. "Unidentified, but known as the author of the Morte d'Artur, floruit 1470 old calendar--"

"Right," the captain said. He drew his phaser, and strode over to Rolf. "All right, Rolf the Baker," he said. "Who's in charge of this charade?"

Rolf stiffened up, very much on his dignity. "I hold office in the Guilds' Council," he said. "I answer only to my brother officers." The captain pointed the phaser at him, but he only looked at it curiously, so the captain put it away. "Who--"

"King Arthur!" I blurted. It had been in the back of my mind all afternoon, and when I saw Rolf start, I was sure I was right.

"Of course. Where's the castle?" Rolf only yammered at him. "Never mind. We'll find it. Let's go."

"Wait! You cannot! My office -- my duties--" We left poor Rolf still protesting as we rushed out the door.

The streets around the castle weren't any better than the others; we were ankle-deep in muck. But we raced through it. We took wrong turnings a couple of times, but the natives, as gentle and unalarmed as all the others, always put us right. We had to stun two knights and blast out the main door to get into the castle, but before I'd had time to think, we were at the Round Table, confronting King Arthur.

"Well, really, gentlemen," he said reprovingly. "There are proper channels--"

"Cor!" I couldn't hold it in. "Another bureaucrat?"

The captain was as edgy as I was. "Where's my crew?" he yelled. "And what have you done with my ship?"

"They are quite safe, Captain Kirk. Really, gentlemen, this haste is unseemly. I had ordered a tour of the city, the hospitality of the Guilds Hall..." His voice trailed off as Captain Kirk drew his phaser and fired at the tapestry on the wall. It disappeared, along with a fair section of the wall.

"Where are my men!"

"Captain, please! There are formalities to be-

The captain raised his phaser again and took careful aim at the Round Table.

"No! Wait!"

"Where are my men?" The captain was panting, and I saw him tremble slightly. It's no pleasant thing to threaten unarmed primitives. I started toward him, and Mr. Spock stepped to his side. "Where are my men?" the captain said again, and this time we all aimed our phasers.

King Arthur threw back his head and yelled for all he was worth. "Merlin!"

"How now, what churlish knave is this

Who thus betrays a maiden's kiss?"

We all whirled. And there, on the balustrade above our heads sat Merlin, in his sorcerer's hat and robes.

"Merlin!" King Arthur hailed him in relief. "These men-

"By sorcerer's machination here.

My King did well, so have no fear."

King Arthur bowed in a gratified way. I snorted, feeling anything but gratified. This bloke had an English accent, I suppose. But to say it was like mine! I mean, mine's just the way I talk, you know? But this fop was so la-di-da I expected him to break into French.

"Captain." Mr. Spock's quiet voice cut into my annoyance. "Do we not know this magician?"

The captain studied Merlin for a moment. Then he rehooked his phaser. "All right, Trelane," he said. "What's the game this time?"

Merlin disappeared. I mean, he just winked out. But less than a second later he reappeared, seated at the Round Table. He was twice as regal as King Arthur. But there was something off about him. I couldn't put my finger on it then, but I've often thought since that of all the people on that planet, he was the only one who knew he was playing a part. And he was just a touch too studied.

At the time, of course, I was much too interested in getting some information out of this bloke to worry about subtleties. The captain started to ask a question, but Trelane-Merlin waved a hand, and a set of goblets and a decanter appeared on the table. I jumped, and I rather think King Arthur did too. Certainly he gave Merlin a worshiping glance. But the captain wasn't having any. "Trelane," he said dangerously, "where are my men?"

"In the cave they rest content,

Into no danger sent.

They--"

"And my ship?"

"The skimming dove in heavenly flight

Pursues her course unchecked.

Her captain's voice assured her--"

"I haven't spoken with the Enterprise since--"

"No. But I have. Every check in time, I have spoken with that lovely Nubian..." Trelane rolled his eyes, the rotter. Then he snapped to attention. "Enterprise," he barked, "this is Captain Kirk." His voice sounded so like the captain's that even Mr. Spock stiffened in surprise.

Then the sense of what he'd said swept over me: the ship was all right. The floor tilted, and I caught at Mr. Spock. But he'd gone rubber-legged too -- taking the pressure off will do that to any man, even a Vulcan. Fortunately, the captain looked back at us, and he hurried over to give us each an arm. He walked us over to the table, and I swear two of the chairs pulled out, all by themselves. But I gripped mine as the captain eased me into it -- it was solid, anyhow. I heard his voice, and guessed he was asking me if I'd do. I nodded. The captain sat Mr. Spock down next to me, then turned back to Trelane.

"I want to be sure my ship's all right."

"You may believe a wizard wise

Who speaks in rhyme but never lies.

My word is--"

"I've had your word before, Trelane."

Trelane shrugged. "Contact your ship, Captain."

The captain gave him a hard look, but he got his communicator and flipped it open. It beeped, and he made contact. As soon as I heard Uhura's voice, I knew Trelane had told the truth. She wasn't the least bit anxious. The captain asked for a status report, and Scotty fed it to him, and maybe it didn't feel grand to hear that matter-of-fact voice reporting standard orbit routines. The relief made me dizzy again, and I noticed Mr. Spock lean his head on his hand.

But Scotty's report gave me the breather I needed. "Captain," I began, "request permission..." Probably I was a bit too casual. In any event, I didn't even have to finish my request. The captain just passed me his communicator, with the channel still open.

"Uhura?"

"Well, how are you, Lt. Kyle?" You could have used her voice to chill a drink, but I knew why.

"Listen, beautiful. Do me a favor? Tell Mary there was a reason."

"Are you hurt, John?"

That sounded more like Uhura. I started to say no, but then I remembered the peculiar flipflop my stomach did the time Mary beamed up with a bandaged arm she'd neglected to mention. "Tell Mary I've a broken rib, but I'm okay. That wasn't the reason. But there was a reason. Okay?"

"Okay. Take care, John."

"Right." I handed the communicator back to the captain and sat up, ready for business. It wasn't til I saw him grin that I realized I was grinning like the Cheshire Cat. I shut it off quick, but the captain winked at me before he turned back to Trelane.

"My landing party?"

"Their talking boxes work quite well

And--"

The captain cut Trelane off by ordering Uhura to make contact with the party, have them beamed up, and send the Doc down to us. It wasn't two minutes before McCoy was in the room. He looked around for a second, then started for Mr. Spock and me, scolding like a bluejay. He'd scanned us both, hypo'd us, and inspected my bandages before he'd finished his opinion of us all. The captain just waited patiently until the Doc started repacking his kit.

"Are they all right, Bones?"

"No. But they will be. What happened to us?"

"We met an old acquaintance," the captain replied, nodding at Trelane. The Doc looked at him, then stared at him hard. Trelane gave him a flourishing bow, and the Doc opened his mouth. Then he shut it again.

"We've been watching a puppet show, Bones. This is the puppet master." Trelane bowed again, and the captain sighed. "All right, Trelane, you got us here. What do you want?"

Trelane rose and extended his arms:

"Doom hangs over Camelot

'The bluebird will not sing--?"

"Can we do it without the doggerel?"

"My dear captain," he said languidly. "You have not changed a bit, have you? Very well. In prose, then, since you will have it, what you have seen on this planet is an experiment. Unfortunately, circumstances will shortly compel me to abandon that experiment, months before its completion. But if I abandon my specimens, they will die."

"Your specimens? Where are these people from?"

"The system you call Galen Quatro. The second planet."

"That civilization destroyed itself years ago, Trelane. There were no survivors."

"You mistake, Captain. One area remained uncontaminated when I arrived. These people are the survivors."

"That was an advanced civilization, just short of space flight."

"Advanced, Mr. Spock? Hardly. Like so many of your humanoid civilizations, the Galeans' technology had far outstripped their wisdom. It seemed best, therefore, to return them to a level more consonant with their abilities. The question was, what level? Thus the experiment you have seen. Unfortunately, I have not had time to determine which social level is best for them. Would you care to finish the experiment?"

"Damn it! These are people! You can't just--"

"Temper, Doctor. Temper. They have been quite content, I do assure you. And surely this was preferable to the fate they would have met on their contaminated homeland."

"Being kept as laboratory specimens?" I'd never heard Mr. Spock's voice sound so cold.

"My dear sir, I recreated for these people worlds compatible with their level. They have been happy, upon my word."

The Doc said something under his breath. I couldn't hear what he said, but the tone of his voice expressed my sentiments exactly. The captain was boiling too, and he leaned forward, hands on the table, to confront Trelane. "Do your parents know about this?"

Well, I don't mind admitting that for a second, there, I thought it had all been a bit too much for the captain. I glanced at the other two, but they seemed to find his question perfectly reasonable.

"No." Trelane spoke a shade reluctantly. "In fact, my dear captain, that is the root of the problem. I must shortly accompany my parents on an extended trip. And unfortunately, the native state of this planet is the desert you saw first. Only my transformer maintains the climate for the Druids, and Camelot and its environs. The transformer requires constant monitoring. So I cannot simply leave the experiment in progress. The good citizens of Camelot might rise one morning to find themselves in the Australian bush. Imagine their distress."

"Yes," the Doc rasped, "imagine it." He was nearly purple, and I know my heart was pounding so loud it's a wonder it didn't interrupt the conversation. To think of what those poor Galeans had been through, and what could happen to them now! I thought of Nell. I looked at King Arthur, who sat listening anxiously, not understanding at all, but watching Merlin with such faith that my foot fairly itched to boot that fakir where he'd remember it best.

"And what do you suggest we do?" the captain asked tightly.

"Why, continue the experiment, of course. Your technology is inadequate to maintain the transformer, but you can take these people to a more compatible environment, rebuild their ecosystems, and continue along the parameters I have established."

"Why, you mincing--"

"Tut, tut, Captain. You may not care for my choice of words, but surely two gentlemen can preserve the decencies of debate. I--" Suddenly Trelane's eyes unfocused; he seemed to be listening to something. "Well--" he continued, "it has been a pleasure, gentlemen. I entrust my people to your care. Au revoir." Trelane winked out. And from somewhere, far away, there was an enormous dull thud.

I'm not too clear what happened next. I know what I think I saw, but I'll admit that being dumped backwards on the sand didn't do my ribs any good, so what I saw most of at first was stars. When I pulled myself together, I was sitting on a pile of sand, back in the desert. But next to me, right where he had been, was King Arthur, stark naked. He looked around numbly. The castle -- the whole town of Camelot -- everything was gone, and there was just a bunch of naked people frozen in shock. In the silence, I heard the Doc's voice. "That son of a bitch!" he said. Then everyone was screaming.

Well, I'll pass over the events of the next few hours, if you don't mind. I never felt sorrier for anyone in my life, and I still think those Galeans got a ruddy rotten deal We did what we could to reassure the Camelot group, and Mr. Spock got Supply to beam down a public address system with speakers for the aborigines and the Druids as well as the outlying farms. He kept repeating over the speakers that the people were not alone and we'd help them, and gradually they quieted. Most of our crew beamed down, and by nightfall we had them all in temporary shelters.

What happened to them? Well, it took Starfleet's finest socioanthropologists a week of consultation by subspace to resolve that. The main trouble was, you see, that they had been a Class K civilization. But all that had been wiped clean.

All the people themselves wanted to do was return to their own life -- even the aborigines. The experts had a lot of trouble coming around to their way of thinking, but Mary told me, early on, that she was sure they were absolutely sincere in wanting to go back to the only life they remembered. The head men even had some improvements to suggest, once they'd decided the Enterprise could do most of what Trelane had done. The head aborigine wanted a more convenient water hole and King Arthur mentioned several times that Merlin had promised him a new forge.

Finally the Federation decided to let them have their way. Oh, not on that same planet. Its native environment is just too hostile. They're over in the Zetan Quadrant now. Well, yes, you could say we're continuing the experiment, in a way. But what else could we do?

The only thing that really bothers me is that Trelane. He didn't say goodbye. "Au revoir," was what he said. I put that to the captain and the Doc and Mr. Spock the other day. They'd all noticed it too. But there doesn't seem to be much we can do about it, except wait. The Doc says he'd still like to wring Trelane's neck, and that's my view precisely. But the captain says that at least Trelane seems to be learning a sense of responsibility toward his pets. The thought seems to comfort the captain. I'm not so sure.

THE END