Captain's log, stardate 7421.7: Now that Admiral Nogura is seeing things my way about the command of the Enterprise after V'Ger, I'm looking forward to walking on alien ground again ...
"Classic postmodern pre-lightspeed humanoid society," murmured Spock, stealing glances at his tricorder.
Kirk could have told him as much. "Except for lapel width and the variety of skin colors," he complained, "it might as well be Earth three hundred years ago."
"There appear to be no new data here, for either the physical or sociological disciplines," Spock admitted.
McCoy had been looking forward to something new too, apparently. "Hodgkin's Law is a pain in the ass."
Dressed in conservative twentieth century fashions and presenting comparatively bland pigmentation among all those moving casually down a busy city street on Theta Oblonga VII (known to its natives - or at least to those who spoke the most dominant language - as Pisb), the Enterprise officers fit right in. "It's so familiar, I almost expect to run into someone I know," Kirk grumbled.
"Captain! Mr. Spock! Dr. McCoy!" came a feminine voice from across the street.
Kirk glared at Spock as if he was responsible. Defensively Spock said, "The odds against it, particularly at that moment, were some 7,438,211 to one."
"But who is she?" McCoy wondered.
Approaching them across the street, seemingly mindless of the vehicular traffic but nonetheless successfully avoiding it, was a slender young blonde woman. The drivers concerned were not quite so blase about it, however, if the noises created by their braking devices were any measure. One of them added quite a bit of vocalization to the proceedings as well.
"Oh, double glimits on you," the woman rejoindered as she arrived on the walk where Kirk and his officers waited. Her skin coloration was Earth-Causacian or close enough. For no discernable reason she was wearing a simalcrum of an Arabic caftan, the hood of the burnoose down, no veil, in an attractive robin's-egg blue that went well with her hair. "How nice to see you gentlemen again," she said. Kirk didn't know her.
"Do I know you?" he said.
The woman was nonplussed for a moment, then shook her head with a silly-me smile. "I'm sorry - you don't recognize me, do you? It's Romana. I've regenerated."
Kirk exchanged looks with Spock and McCoy. "Now his girls are doing it," McCoy groused.
"Involvement of the Doctor," said Spock, "revises the odds I previously quoted to two in five."
"The Doctor's here too?" Kirk asked. It didn't take a starship captain's instincts to know that that could mean trouble. But it helped. "Where is he?"
Romana leaned toward them and waved them closer conspiratorally. "He's working undercover."
"Paper or plastic?" asked the Doctor.
The Doctor took from the customer a draught on a bank account instead of a credit transfer card.
Lesser men might have reacted with astonishment or at least disconcert at the idea, let alone the sight, of a Time Lord of Gallifrey in his shirtsleeves checking groceries for a supermarket. At minumum wage. Kirk and his officers only waited patiently with Romana until the Doctor got a break.
"Captain!" grinned the Doctor, shrugging into his greatcoat and great scarf. "I thought you'd been kicked upstairs."
"I'm afraid of heights," said Kirk. "Doctor, what are you doing here?"
"Research," said the Doctor, waving at the magazine rack at the nearest checkstand. Spock moved off to investigate them himself.
All Kirk saw were paper magazines. "Research?"
"What do you know of 'tabloid news'?" the Doctor asked.
Kirk hadn't lived as much history as the Doctor - quite - but it was one of his hobby horses. And he'd just been through the least engrossing two years of his Starfleet career. "At the height of sensational journalism on Earth, the worst of them all were newspapers printed in tabloid format. The 'golden age', if you will -"
"The golden age of yellow journalism," said Romana with enthused derision.
"- Is pretty much regarded as having started with the death of Elvis Presley, and having ended with the death of Lady Diana Spencer."
"King William's mother?" McCoy said. "What's she got to do with tabloid journalism?"
The Doctor grinned, and ducked his head as if something embarrassing might be showing on his face. "She'd be quite pleased that you have to ask."
"Every planet goes through something like that during its Communication Age, Doctor," said Kirk.
"Not like this!" The Doctor pointed at the rack that Spock was now perusing, about fifteen feet away in the crowded store. "I tell you, this whole planet is in danger of being pushed beyond the brink of worldwide mob mentality!"
Somehow remembering all the absurd things the Doctor had ever said that turned out to be true never helped when Kirk was confronted with a new one. "It can't be that bad."
"It is, and it must be stopped now, or this world will fall into a dark age!"
"It's a normal developmental step in any society," Kirk argued. "Before I believe anything like that, I'll need some kind of confirmation -"
"Captain." Spock was back, speaking in a low voice that no one in the milling crowd would overhear. He brandished several different mass produced, multi-paged but unbound documents, all printed on flimsy paper, and all exclusively covered with headlines that ended in the local equivalent of exclamation points. "I may have been wrong when I suggested that there were no new sociological principles to be observed here."
Kirk looked up from them to the Doctor, who spread his hands in a sharp, impatient gesture with an expectant look on his face.
"Doctor," Kirk started, "the Federation's Prime Directive -"
"Oh no," said Romana.
"Not again," said McCoy.
"Captain, you were just telling me what's normal, and this isn't it!" the Doctor exhorted. "The Prime Directive doesn't apply because this planet is already subject to an outside influence!"
"That is one of my hypotheses," Spock admitted, "but it is unproven by the data I have yet gathered."
"Do you have proof, Doctor?"
"Not yet," said the Doctor, still declaiming. "Not yet, but I shall. I've been working here one day a week - the day the new numbers of these magazines go up for sale - since Romana and I landed here, hopping over the intervening days in the TARDIS -"
"And what fun it's been coaxing that out of the old girl on a regular basis," said Romana drily. "Why bother with the randomizer to avoid the Black Guardian, if you're just going to override it?"
"Black Guardian?" said Spock.
"Would these be this week's new issues?" McCoy asked, pointing.
With practiced efficiency, a young Pisb man with orange skin in a purple coverall was restocking the magazine rack of the nearest check line, pulling what remained of the issues Spock had sampled and dropping them in an empty box, then replacing them from a full box. When every slot in the rack had received this treatment he moved on to the next rack.
The Enterprise officers and the two time travelers went to the magazine rack. As they approached it, however, as one they began to slow their pace, rather like people who step toward a desk clock and notice only belatedly that it's displaying not the time but a countdown and that there are explosives wired to it.
They stood staring at the rack's new contents for some moments before the Doctor spoke. "Well, I think this rather settles the question of off-planet involvement."
Kirk said, "This doesn't prove anything about the person or persons behind this."
"Not their involvement, Captain! Mine!" For on the front page of every magazine, with varying degrees of prominence among, in every case, the same two to four other stories, was a different photograph of the Doctor checking groceries. For the benefit of the Starfleet officers, whose translators were functional only on the spoken word, the Doctor said, "All the headlines are variations on:
"ALIEN TIME TRAVELER WORKS IN GROCERY STORE
"Let's get to the TARDIS," said the Doctor. "It's just outside."
The five explorers exited the store. The Doctor was in the lead - since Kirk and his officers didn't know where the TARDIS was parked - and watching the ground, lost in thought, rather than where he was going; so when the party turned the corner into an alley, the Doctor continued on for several paces after the others had come to a sudden halt.
"Doctor," Kirk called.
"What is it?" snapped the Doctor, looking back at them, who were all looking ahead beyond him.
Surrounding the TARDIS were about two dozen natives. Some of them had the universal air about them that says "journalist". Some of them wore spectacles and shirt pocket protectors. One woman was pregnant.
"I suspect," said Spock as the Doctor began backing toward the other four in an even now fruitless attempt to keep from being spotted, "at least one of those newspapers listed the address of this store ..."
"It's him!" shouted a fat middle-aged man with a recognizable "flying saucer" pictured on his t-shirt. The Enterprise officers and the Time Lords turned and ran. "It's the alien!" "His friends are probably aliens too!" "Get them!" The crowd of natives surrounding the TARDIS broke into shouts as they broke into a run.
As Kirk led his two officers' and the two Time Lords' dash from the alley, a long black Pisb automobile pulled up to block the way to the street. Kirk didn't even slow. He vaulted onto the chassis of the vehicle even as two natives in black suits jumped out. The one on the far side of the auto was brandishing some kind of hand-held device so Kirk landed on him. He saw Spock, McCoy and Romana follow him over the car. Spock hesitated as Kirk grappled with the man in black. "Get to safety!" Kirk shouted. Spock nodded and, over their protests, herded McCoy and Romana off.
Kirk had just time to notice that the Doctor was scuffling with the other man in black, his interminable scarf flapping in all directions, when there was a bright flash and the captain lost consciousness.
END OF CHAPTER 1
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