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“And you’re certain there’s no way to pull back the curtains?”

It was only through years of exposure to humans, and this human specifically, that he didn’t comment on the figure of speech as he would have once done. A trait most people found irritating, he’d realized years ago, and it was for that knowledge alone that he continued to pick apart most sentences the good Dr. McCoy spoke in his presence. As it was, this was not the time, the place, or the person to pick apart. Certainly not when the Captain was correct in his suspicions.

“None that I can see, Captain.” Spock spoke evenly at once, splitting his attention between his Commanding Officer and the readings. The latter unfortunately continued to confirm his words; the sensors reflecting back the energy barrier surrounding Seskilles VII. “It is most curious; our sensors cannot breech the atmosphere, but that appears to be the extent of the barrier. All other systems will work as normal, including transporter and communication use.”

Kirk ran a hand over his jaw, peering down over Spock’s left shoulder to examine the data for himself as if to hope for another result. When none appeared, his expression grew only stonier. “I’m not exactly enamored with the idea of beaming down blind, Mr. Spock.” His voice was neutral enough for the moment, but there was an edge behind the words. Once, Spock knew that he’d have not heard the subtleties of human emotionalism, but with this particular man, he heard the meaning loud and clear.

“Indeed sir, nor am I.” Both of them knew, of course, that their own suspicion and comfort was irrelevant here. They had their orders, and the Federation council would not accept anything short of success in this.

“Keep trying. I want to see what we’re getting into.”

“Yes sir.”

The mission was, for all intents and purposes, simple. To establish friendly communication between the Seskille, the people of Seskilles VII, and the Federation. The rumors of the planet being rich in Pergium- untouched by the population- made it a high priority for Starfleet, and for the Enterprise, to open up negotiations for mining rights. This was not their first diplomatic mission, and it should not have proved to be a difficult mission, but the situation had become less-than ideal upon entering orbit. The unknowns of space, in all it’s great vastness, had complicated the matter.

An energy barrier, of sorts, around the planet below, preventing all sensor readings- environmental, scientific, and otherwise. All attempts to, as the Captain said, ‘pull back the curtain’, had been ineffective. Their orders were to beam down to negotiate in person, and their mission wouldn’t allow them the luxury of hesitation.

“Captain Kirk, I’ve established communication with the Seskille.”

A soft sigh from the Captain’s chair, a relieved one. It was pure emotionalism, but Spock thought he could understand the feeling in the barest sense. He could feel it in the periphery of his own emotional control. The relief of the bridge crew for a success at long last. The first sign of improvement in their current dilemma. Opening a channel between the Enterprise and the surface had been an ongoing struggle for 2.174 hours now, and they were becoming all the more certain that not only would they be beaming down blind, but deaf as well.

“Is there visual?”

“No sir, audio only. Apologies sir, there is a large amount of interference, but it is coming from their end. I’m unable to clear it.”

Kirk paid her a warm smile, leaning back into his seat and crossing one leg atop the other. A posture that Spock had come to learn was his way of expressing confidence. It worked much like a ripple effect, the rest of the crew relaxing. Perhaps not visibly, or in a way most would notice, but he could see the tense edge ebb from their gaze. The only one he thought it didn’t affect was the Captain and himself, who both knew that confidence was for show. There was nothing ideal about this situation; quite the contrary, and much hinged on what would happen next.

“That’s alright, Lieutenant. Patch me through. Let’s see if we can’t clear this all up.”

“Communications open, sir.”

At once, there was a curious popping sound over the audio feed, crackling and spitting like great amounts of  static. Curious whines, both low and high pitched, making most of the crew frown and himself withhold a wince. The frequency was as such that the human ears would fail to register the full effect, but his own picked up quite well. It was unpleasant and grating, and he fought to block it out as best he could.

“This is Captain James Kirk, of the U.S.S Enterprise, representing the United Federation of Planets,” The Captain spoke aloud, voice professionally neutral once more. “To whom am I speaking with?”

The whining grew louder, popping and cracking.

“Welcome Captain James Kirk, it is our happiness.”

Fascinating. Spock briefly took his attention from his station to mentally examine the audio. The voice was not human in nature or vocal tone, despite speaking perfect Standard. It seemed to be forming words with sound, but not that typical of the language. Sharp sounds and audio frequencies, much like the sound the machine, a Tesla Coil created. Tones made of energy, rather than vocals. If it were not for the audible inflections, of which there were many, he would suggest it was a machine communicating. And potentially it was, for without visual, it was impossible to know for certain. There was no gender markers present; no identifying male or female tones. It sounded androgynous with its crackling tones.

“The pleasure is ours,” Kirk was quick to reply, friendly now that the greeting had been received and returned satisfactorily. Their information on the planet was extremely limited, only made up of brief encounters of previous vessels, but the people were said to be kind in nature. “Am I speaking with your leadership?”

For a moment, there was nothing but the whines and popping that made Lieutenant Uhura look particularly irritated. She was frowning at her console, fingers moving over the controls to attempt to clear the channel’s interference. Spock, and he suspected the Lieutenant as well, knew it would be ineffective. Whatever the cause of the noise, it was not in their power to correct.

“There are no leaders. All are equal. No better than another.”

Spock raised a brow at that, intrigued and curious. A planet without a governing body of any sort; it was not unheard of, but it was exceedingly rare. Often times, they had at the very least a council of some kind, or even wise elders to guide the younger generations through the ages. Teachers that held some measure of power or influence. He could feel that fascination was shared with the Captain, for the man’s expression seemed to share his own.

“I see.” To his credit, the Captain recovered swiftly, and spoke as if this had been expected information. “We were hoping to beam down and establish a more direct communication with you; talk about our culture and your own. The Federation is interested in opening up friendship between us.”

The audio distortions continued, but the voice was silent for a long moment. Long enough that Uhura was moving over her console quickly and Kirk began to frown. But then it came back, louder before, with the whines increasingly uncomfortable to his own Vulcan ears. Whereas before the voice- if it could be called that- was calm, it now appeared to be considerably more excited.

“We would like this greatly. To show you what we have made; and to learn of what you have made. To share ourselves with yourselves and the opposite. This is most welcome to us.”

The voice was warm and pleased, and Spock could not recall hearing more welcome in any planet they had visited for the duration of the Five Year Mission. It went beyond, he thought, of what a human was capable of, and the pure emotionalism made him uncomfortable. It was fascinating, but he thought himself the only one to think so. Emotions for the rest of the crew were less foreign than they were for him.

A positive beginning to what they all hoped to be a future alliance, despite the initial and current sensor interference. The problem of the sensors, however, still remained and would not be resolved on their end. He had exhausted all possible solutions; the energy barrier was foreign in nature, unknown in origin or design, and it only registered on his sensors at all for the very lack of any sensor data. Scans of the nearby asteroid belt had given the expected results, as had the barren Seskille IV, but Seskille VII had proven entirely sensor-dead.

“Sir, Ambassador Hammett is in the turbo lift.”

No one could miss the way that the muscle in Kirk’s jaw jumped as he clenched his teeth. His expression, however, was forcefully pleasant. He gave a brief nod towards Communications, and returned his attention to the audio feed.

“Fantastic, I’ll contact you when we are ready to beam down. Enterprise out.” The communication channel closed just as the turbo lift doors opened to reveal a beaming Ambassador Hammett; the man moving swiftly towards the Captain.

Spock moved as well, and reached the chair first. With his arms comfortably at his back, leveling the Ambassador an even look, he made certain that the Captain and himself presented a unified front.

The Ambassador was, from Spock’s evaluations and personal opinion, entirely harmless in nature. There was no direct threat from him; on the contrary, there appeared not to be a harmful instinct in him. That did not, however, mean he was inoffensive. As Dr. McCoy had grumbled in the mess hall that the man was a ‘Grade A idiot’, an unusual use of phrasing but was not... entirely inaccurate. Roger Hammett’s skills in diplomacy had yet to be put to use, but his attempts at using other supposed skills had been a great disruption in the normally smooth operations of the Enterprise.

Already, Dr. McCoy had banned the man from medical, and Spock himself had been forced to have words with the man about interfering with the science labs. He was not purposefully harmful, but his attempts to improve the experiments had caused a number of setbacks. Engineering similarly had issues of the same nature, and was the only of the warnings that Hammett seemed to heed. Commander Scott had been most volatile over the damage, to the point of requiring the Captain’s direct intervention to prevent actions that would necessitate a court martial.

Mr. Scott’s face was already turning an alarming shade of angry red, simply staring at the Ambassador from across the bridge.

Ahh, Ambassador Hammett; you’re a moment too late; I’ve just ended initial communication with the Seskille.” Kirk’s smile was made entirely of insincere charm, and it seemed that only Roger Hammett was unaware of that. The rest of the bridge turned back to their own consoles, although Spock knew their attention was primarily on the conversation.

“Did you really?!” Hammett’s smile widened. He clapped a hand on the Captain’s shoulder. “Wonderful news- just wonderful! And did they seem amiable to further conversations? When are we to beam down?”

“Yes, about that; the Seskille seemed open to a landing party, yes. I’ll have the transmission patched through to your room for further analysis. As for an away team, there are complications. Mr. Spock?”

Spock straightened as the bright blue eyes of Hammett turned to him, and seemed to grow increasingly excitable. The man had thus far not been outright rude to him, but he lacked a certain amount of insensitivity in regards to various aspects of Vulcan culture. One could say that he was oddly condescending. Curious, especially for a diplomat of his rank. He seemed to take great delight in making arguments against an emotionless mindset. Although Spock remained unaffected by the slights, he had seen the Captain become increasingly agitated by them, as had, strangely enough, Dr. McCoy.

Offence was a human emotion, and one that he felt not. Hammett’s words and efforts to debate him were ineffective. The man had not singled him out in this alone; his insensitivity towards the rest of the department heads had been equally spread. It was not, Spock thought, born of any hostility but by an odd desperation to prove himself equally competent in their fields. And in Spock’s case, to be seen as an equal. Why this was, he was uncertain, and more than that, uninterested.

Explaining this observation to both Jim and Dr. McCoy had not improved their opinion of Hammett either.

Spock stood at-the-ready now, hands stiffly behind his back.

“All sensors and scans have been ineffective at penetrating the atmosphere. A barrier of unknown energy has blocked all attempts at surface and environmental study. Origin unknown, type unknown, composition unknown. Without further information, beaming onto a planet with unknown conditions would be hazardous at best, fatal at worst.”

Hammett stroked his jaw idly, lips pursed in concentration.

“But it is possible to beam down?”

“Yes sir; however if I may point out, the Enterprise would be unable to detect the landing party.”

Kirk leaned back in his chair, and his hazel eyes were hard. That expression seemed reserved for those low in his personal estimation, and they were focused on the Ambassador.

“Until we get more information, I’ll not risk my men going in blind,” He said sternly, and even Hammett seemed to quail back from the tone in his voice. However, the round man gathered himself together remarkably quickly.

“We have visuals of the planet from five years ago, correct? I read them en route; estimations suggest it to be similar to Earth’s desert. They didn’t scan the planet- maybe they couldn’t either- but there was nothing to suggest it was dangerous.”

This, unfortunately, was correct if a simplified version. The trade vessel Boa, had been one of many to pass by the planet, but had been the first to establish communication and detailed visual. Reports had suggested it to be a Class M Planet; a desert world, rocky and hot. Without sensor data, it was impossible to estimate the climate or further detail about the composition of the surface. The communication to the Seskille had been brief, the Boa merely seeking tradable goods, but the Seskille had seemed uninterested in trade entirely. They had, however, mentioned that there were ore deep beneath the surface, and that ore matched a description of Pergium.

It was no use to a trade vessel, which had no mining capabilities or crew experienced in such matters. It was of great interest to the Federation.

“Unfortunately, Boa’s scans are now invalid. As you can see; the planet is visually different from those visuals.” Kirk motioned towards the view screen, showing the large planet below them. No longer a desert surface with a sparse cloud covering, it seemed entirely consumed by a thick white atmosphere. Whether the desert-like environment remained, it was impossible to tell; nothing was visible through the cloud coverage.

“Captain, need I remind you the importance of this mission?” Ambassador Hammett smiled widely, cheeks flushed red. “I hardly need to tell you how to do your job; we both have our orders, and unfortunately, mine are... well.” He cleared his throat. There was no need to say that his orders took priority; the crew was unfortunately well aware. “I understand your concerns, I do, but we cannot delay the mission for them.”

It was exactly as they both had known, but that did not make the decision easier to hear. Spock glanced at the Captain, and met the hazel eyes that had looked towards him. Years of working immediately with each other provided a certain degree of silent communication. Perhaps not the most efficient, but most effective despite that. Through the shared glance, they were in perfect agreement.

Concerns?!” Mr. Scott seemed unable to keep to himself, turning his chair with a scowl on his face. The attitude the man had shown towards the Ambassador since the man’s incident in Engineering had been nothing short of disrespectful and occasionally outright hostile. “It’s hardly a wee concern, Ambassador. As Second Officer, it’ll be I who’ll have to scrape you off that rock if something goes wrong, an’ I cannae do that without those sensors operating.”

“Thank you, Mr. Scott; I’ll take it from here.” Kirk’s voice was marginally warmer towards Engineering than the outburst had warranted. There was muttering from Engineering, but Mr. Scott only turned back to his screens after another dark look towards Hammett. His hands pressed his controls harder than necessary. “He’s correct; it’d put us in enormous danger to beam down without further information. There’s no telling what we’ve be beaming down into.”

But the Ambassador only smiled widely.

“I’ll invite you gentlemen to look for another alternative, then! I’ll give you two hours- if you don’t find something by then, I doubt you will. Orders are orders are orders, unfortunately! The mission hinges on us establishing friendship, and no true friendship can be made via a machine! Apologies, no offense meant to you, Mr. Spock.”

“Apologies are unnecessary. A machine is not Vulcan. There is no offense.” Whilst he did not feel offended by what he thought to be a poor attempt at a joke, that did not seem to be the case for the majority of the bridge. Kirk’s fists were clenched, jaw grit tightly. Mr. Scott had wheeled around in his chair once more, and seemed to be on the verge of beginning an outright brawl. It was... not touching, but something close to it, if he were able to feel such. Jim had once commented that between friends, certain kinds of humor could be shared that were unacceptable towards acquaintances or strangers. Perhaps this was one such situation; he had not understood it fully then but thought he may now.

“We’ll let you know what we find in two hours,” The Captain spoke sternly but his voice was nothing if not polite, and he turned around to face the view screen in obvious dismissal. “If nothing, I suppose you’d best prepare for a landing mission.”

Hammett floundered for a moment, both red-faced at the way no one had found his attempt at humor amusing, and at the behavior of the Captain. He stood there for a few moments, glancing at the rest of the Alpha Shift. They had followed their commander’s cue, and all were hard at work. Spock also turned on one heel and fluidly moved back towards the Science station, relieving Ensign Keller. She shot him a small, sympathetic smile as she moved back towards Environmental.

Finally, the Ambassador left the bridge, and the room visibly relaxed once the turbolift doors had closed.

Focusing back on his readings, fingers flying instinctively over the dials, Spock felt rather than saw the Captain approach his side. The warmth of Terran was close to his back as Kirk leaned in close to privately speak with him. Hi voice was low to prevent the rest of the crew from overhearing.  

“Do you think we’ll find anything?”

Spock didn’t need to look at his data for information; it was exceedingly easy to memorize what little information there was. No part of it promised any breakthroughs in sensor readings, nor did they suggest a way around the barrier.

“Improbable; I estimate the chances to be-“

“No, I get it. Thank you for trying anyways. Two hours; it’s worth it if only to have him out of my hair for that long.”

Whereas earlier he had not commented on the Captain’s use of expressions, this time Spock did. There was a time and a place for such things, and whereas earlier had not been appropriate, he thought it would be well-received now. Pointing out such figures of speech never failed to irritate Dr. McCoy, but it seemed only ever to amuse Jim.

“He was at your right shoulder, sir, not on your head.”

Kirk didn’t smile outright, but his face relaxed and he huffed a sound that could have almost been a laugh. It sometimes surprised Spock how controlled this particular human was in comparison to others. Even at his most outwardly expressive, it was often displayed with a careful amount of consideration and great personal manage.

“So he was. Carry on, Mr. Spock. We’ve got two hours to make a miracle, and if there’s any chance of finding one, no matter how slim, I want it found.”