James T. Kirk had expected the mission to be easy. Just a diplomatic conference with a species that wanted in on the Federation, and if it went well, then they'd sign the contract. What could possibly go wrong?
He really should've learned by now that whenever he said or thought things like that, things went awfully wrong.
The Ohk-Pallas were a kind race with the ability to do amazing things with their minds. They freaked out most of the crew though, so Jim went down to the planet with a security detail of two of the five people in all of security who weren't weirded out by the Ohk-Pallas.
They were rather fragile, as smart and as mentally advanced as they were, so they lived in caves deep inside mountains. The females came up to Jim's chest, and the males to Jim's waist. They had small, frail looking bodies but rather bulbous heads. Their skin was nearly translucent, green veins clearly visible all over their bodies. Large, green, owl-esque eyes took up most of their face, and a small razor toothed mouth took up some of the rest of it.
Jim was set to have dinner with their ha'karr, a queen-like figure that ruled over them. After dinner, they would talk, and, if everything went well, the ha'karr would sign the contract. Then the Enterprise would be on her merry way, and the Federation would have another addition.
When they beamed down to the planet, right outside of the main entrance, they were greeted by an Ohk-Palla who introduced herself as Karrea.
"You are Captain James Tiberius Kirk?" She quipped. Her voice was high and reedy, like all of the Ohk-Pallas. Large eyes blinked at him as she awaited a response.
"I am," he said. "But you can call me Captain Kirk." Karrea nodded and turned away, beckoning for them to follow.
Follow they did, and for a good fifteen minutes, walking through a maze of winding tunnels that kept branching off until Jim was sure that if they got separated from Karrea, they'd all die before they found a way out. They were unable to be beamed up from inside the mountain, and despite how friendly the Ohk-Pallas were, that fact made Jim feel just the smallest bit unsettled.
The tunnels were beautiful, though. Bioluminescent rocks cast a soft purple light over everything, and they were shot through with glittering black streaks of some foreign mineral. Eventually, Jim could hear the sound of running water from somewhere up ahead. Karrea seemed to be following the sound, and they eventually emerged into a massive chamber.
The chamber was the same rock as the rest of the mountain, with a stream running through the center of it. Trees were scattered throughout the chamber, fed by the eddies that branched off of the main stream. Although maybe trees wasn't the right word. The glowing, pale blue vegetation looked more like massive ferns than trees. A path ran the circumference of the chamber.
Karrea didn't seemed fazed by the ethereal beauty of the cavern, and of course she wouldn't. She had grown up knowing this place; the awe would've worn off long before now. But for Jim and his two security officers, they were craning their necks for a better look around as Karrea led them farther into it. They crossed over a small arched bridge, and Jim could see that the water glittered like quicksilver in sunlight as they passed over it, with diamond-like rocks lying at the bottom of the stream.
"Do you enjoy the rocks in the river?" Karrea asked. Her Standard was rudimentary, but her message was easily understood. They all nodded.
"The rocks are very beautiful," Jim said.
"You can take one if you would like that," Karrea said. "They can be a symbol of our appreciation." Jim smiled at her.
"You are very kind," he said. "Laurens? Mulligan? Would you like some rocks?" Laurens and Mulligan tried not to look too enthusiastic about that, and both stooped down to pluck a stone from the stream. Jim himself bent down and picked one from the side of the river, one of the smaller stones. He didn't know why he had chosen it over all the others so easily, but if he had to explain, he would've said something along the lines of "it called to me."
After they had each chosen their stones, they continued to follow Karrea to the other side of the chamber. Eventually they found themselves in a clearing, in the center of which stood a throne crafted from the same stone as the rest of the mountain. Beside it stood two guards in full armor, long baton-like weapons included. On the throne sat a female Ohk-Palla, clearly the ha'karr. Thin billowing robes of vivid colors surrounded her small figure, and a circlet of what looked like the stones from the water rested upon the top of her bulbous head.
"Esteemed ha'karr," Jim said, bowing. Laurens and Mulligan followed his lead. "We are pleased to be in your presence." The ha'karr tittered, her laugh like a jingle bell.
"We are pleased to have you in turn, Captain James Tiberius Kirk, and your companions as well. Rise, we are all friends here." So she spoke fluent Standard. That was good. They rose, and Jim aimed his most charming smile at the ha'karr.
"Your territory is very beautiful," Jim said. "It is an honor to be witness to such a lovely place."
Sulu and Spock would love this place, Jim thought absently as he glanced around again. The fern trees alone would probably have Sulu near tears, and Spock would probably collapse from exhaustion before he would let himself be dragged away from everything in this room, even if it was illogical to neglect bodily needs.
"We are honored to share it with you," the ha'karr said, rising from her throne. "Please, follow me to the dining chamber." She stepped down from the throne and walked towards the path circling the chamber, guards flanking her. Jim stepped forward to walk beside her when she beckoned for him, and his guards fell into step behind them, next to the ha'karr's guards.
"If I may ask," Jim started as they strolled. "How did you learn such fluent Standard? We only sent you a transmission to help with learning standard a month or so ago. You almost sound like you speak it natively." The ha'karr's eyes glittered with amusement.
"You are aware that we are considered highly intelligent by your standards, but I think you may have underestimated just how intelligent we are."
"It seems I have. I understand that you can communicate telepathically, though. Why bother speaking with us?"
Because it is often unwelcome and frightening for psi-null individuals. I feel that this is not the case with you, Captain James Tiberius Kirk. Her voice was cool and soothing inside his head, and he could feel her presence in the back of his head, at the edge of his mind. It is also perceived as invasive and rude to enter someone's mind without permission, as humans and many other species regard the mind as a sacred, private place. I feared crossing the border of propriety.
As long as you ask before entering their mind, and do not do not do anything other than converse, I believe it would not be rude. It depends on the individual, though. I'd suggest asking the person before you enter their mind so you can get their permission.
A very wise policy, Captain James Tiberius Kirk. One I will teach my people so that they may abide by it.
Please, you can call me Captain Kirk.
Of course, Captain Kirk.
"We hope you will find the dining here to your liking," the ha'karr said as they approached a tunnel.
They turned into the tunnel, walked about fifteen feet, and found themselves in another large chamber, this one containing a large stone table with stools of the same material. At the head of the table sat two chairs. One fancy backed chair that Jim assumed was for the ha'karr, and one simple backed chair to the right of the first chair.
"If your food is anything like the rest of this place, I'm sure we'll love it."
Jim and the ha'karr were ushered to the head of the table. The ha'karr sat in the more elaborate chair, and Jim in the more simple one. Both pairs of guards sat in the first two chairs on either side, each pair closest to the person they were supposed to protect.
Not a moment after they had sat down, six male Ohk-Pallas swept out of a small side hall, each carrying a bowl of food. The Ohk-Pallas did not eat smaller coursed meals during forms events, as a surprising amount of other cultures did, but one larger meal. The plate set down in front of him, accompanied soon after by a goblet of water, was some sort of soup-like food. The broth was pale green, with foreign vegetables and meat.
"This is a delicacy among our people," the ha'karr said, gesturing to the meal. "Please enjoy." Jim waited until the ha'karr had picked up her spoon until he picked up his own. His nose wrinkled at the smell, but he took a bite anyways, hoping it tasted better than it smelled. It did. It tasted a lot like chicken soup, but with a southwestern Asian twist that nearly had Jim shoveling more into his mouth instead of taking neat bites, as one would expect of a diplomat.
In no time at all, everyone had emptied their bowls and sat back in their chairs. Or at least, Jim and the ha'karr sat back. The others didn't have backs on their chairs. Jim felt pleasantly full, and a warm feeling was beginning to spread. He could easily have taken a nap.
"Come now, Captain Kirk. We have a treaty to discuss." Kirk rose, and the security guards stood to follow the two of them. They left the dining chamber, leaving the Ohk-Palla servants to clear the table, and continued along the path for another fifty feet in a comfortable silence.
"Guards are not necessary beyond this point- it is only the two of us." The ha'karr said. The ha'karr's guards moved to stand on either side of the entryway. Laurens and Mulligan looked wary, but Kirk nodded at them and they moved to each join an Ohk-Palla guard. So Jim and the ha'karr continued into the chamber.
It was a rather small room, with only a rounded table surrounded by simple backed chairs. The ha'karr sat in one, and gestured for Kirk to sit in the chair next to her. The treaty sat on the center of the table. Jim did, and the first couple seconds were spent in silence.
"Tell me, Captain Kirk," the ha'karr said quietly. "What does the Federation mean to you?" Jim blinked at her for a moment, confused. He had been prepared to spew economic benefits and moral righteousness, not answer personal questions.
"Well," he said as his brain frantically scrambled to organize a response. "It's... It's supposed to be a peacekeeping organization, but it really represents family to me. One large, cohesive unit. My crew have connected, grown bonds with people they never thought they'd befriend due to cultural differences, all because of the Federation." The bridge crew flashed through his head, Uhura and Sulu and Chekov and Spock and even Scotty, and his next words came out unfiltered. "I myself have a family because of the Federation, one that I love and would do anything to protect. After all, family isn't just blood.
"The Federation, to me, also represents how humans have grown as a species. We used to kill each other over things such as religion and skin color and sexuality. We couldn't even stop killing each other long enough to see how much damage we were doing to our planet. But we've grown. We've progressed so far from there, from that dark point. We've been able to go from a species that couldn't even refrain from killing each other to a species that talks and befriends and even falls in love with entire other species from different planets, and that's just... that's an amazing thing to me."
Jim looked up from his hands, where his eyes had wandered, to the ha'karr's face. She merely blinked at him, giving nothing away. Unease twisted Jim's stomach. Had he failed? Succeeded amazingly? Done mediocre?
"Alright," the ha'karr said. "We will join the Federation." Now it was Jim's turn to blink. Was that really all it had taken to convince the Ohk-Pallas to join the Federation?
"I see you are confused," the ha'karr said. "Why? Did you not expect us to join?"
"No, I just... I don't mean to say that you shouldn't join the Federation, or that my opinion isn't good, but why are you basing your entry to the Federation on one person's review of them?"
"Well," the ha'karr said. "If the members of the Federation to not like or respect the Federation, what reason is there to join? It is clearly a sub-par organization. But you are honest, I can see it in your face, and you have given quite a nice review. I trust you." Jim nodded.
"Okay," he said. "That sort of makes sense." The ha'karr's eyes glittered with amusement.
"You are an entertaining human, Captain Kirk, and a most pleasant guest. I would like to grant you a gift, if you would accept it." Jim thought for a moment, then decided that one: it would be very undiplomatic of him to refuse a gift, and two: gifts were always cool.
"Of course," Jim said. The ha'karr smiled, or more accurately bared her teeth at him, as she slid the treaty towards her and signed it before passing it to Jim. He signed it as well before turning back to the ha'karr.
"This gift," he said. "Is it physical? Mental?" After all, he should probably know the nature of the gift, lest it end up being a nasty surprise.
"It is mental," the ha'karr said. "I sense a great tragedy in your past, the details of which are shared with none of your friends or family. Harboring such a great secret does nothing good for the mind. If you would permit me, I can help relieve the stress that secret causes you."
Jim knew instantly what 'tragedy' she was talking about, and was too surprised to even question how she knew.
"Can you really help?" Jim asked quietly. "Without... Y'know, without going inside my head and bearing witness to it all?" The ha'karr nodded.
"Indeed I can," she said. "But in the end, you must know that the actual task of relieving your stress, of sharing that secret, will fall to you to accomplish. The gift cannot be completed until you do that." Jim nodded, slightly too overwhelmed by the idea of being free of all that pain to really pay attention to what she was saying.
"Okay," Jim said, and then followed it up with the phrase commonly used to accept a gift in the Ohk-Pallas society. "I accept your gift."
The ha'karr raised her hands to his face, placing the middle of her three fingers on each of his temples. She began to whisper what sounded like nonsense to Jim, sounds like old rustling paper and whispery scratches. After a moment, she retracted her hands, looking him in the eyes and nodding.
"It is done," she said. "Live well, Captain Kirk." Jim smiled at her.
They both stood and exited the chamber, and the ha'karr accompanied them back as far as her throne. Karrea escorted them the rest of he way back to an area where they could be transported up. At tht point, Jim made a mental note to tell Bones about the gift in case there were negative side effects.
"Beam us up, Scotty," Jim said, but the world around him didn't swirl and reappear as the transporter room. No, the world swirled and then descended into blackness.