The argument went in circles. Nobody got anywhere, least of all Spock, who was there representing the Federation.

The king told him again, "You simply do not understand our ways, Ambassador. Not to mention showing any respect for them."

Fortunately, Spock had years of discipline -- Vulcan, Starfleet, and the Diplomatic Corps -- so he felt no exasperation. He did entertain himself, however, with the thought of Jim Kirk's reaction to the constant change in demands. Or better yet, Leonard McCoy's.

The Crugaar made a person long for a spacestation full of tribbles.

"Your Highness," Spock said, then turned his head towards the queen and members of the court. "Your Majesties and honored courtiers, I do have a deep respect for your customs and an understanding of the current issue. I ask for your respect and understanding for our side of this issue. My consort is simply unable to attend these negotiations."

Saavik might have attended if they had only known she was required. Even with the Crugaar's tendency to rapidly shift their culture to new traditions, if they simply communicated these changes, this whole problem would have been avoided.

The scholar in Spock did demand to know how something could be called a tradition when it was in place for so short a time, some of them not even lasting a standard Federation month.

But apparently clear communication from the Crugaar was too much to ask. Their existance came from one Terran colony spawning another, and then that one begat its own. After seven reiterations of this, the resulting colony bore the Crugaar, so distantly related to Earth that they felt no sense of 'returning home' when the Federation had discovered their existence. They concluded their ancestors had left that planet (and never returned) for a reason. They kept themselves insular, and every trade renewal brought problems stemming from their adamant stance that only their own ways were right.

Spock now excused what he had considered the previous negotiator's very unprofessional, personal note on the official record: "Maybe it's time the Federation undiscovers the Crugaar."

The Federation might have considered it... if the Crugaar didn't export some of the finest dilithium in the universe.

The Queen's fair brows drew together. "Then you admit you misrepresented yourself, Ambassador. You presented both you and your wife when you contacted us!"

Her paleness, her ice blue eyes, and her warrior's gown of the same shade revealed the angry red color in her cheeks by stark contrast. The Crugaar's homeworld orbited their sun at a distance that kept it from every tanning their people, but the planet also produced a very large race of humans, with the fighting tendencies of the Klingons, and the business minds of the Ferengi.

To think that Spock had once found their evolution interesting.

"I regret, Your Majesty, that my initial contact has caused this error when it was intended to prevent any repetition of previous ones."

His predecessor had arrived for the last trade renewal considering himself well briefed, only to find that the language of colors had changed the morning of his arrival -- and without notice to the Federation. His proper black suit went from being respectful to calling the Crugaar imbeciles.

"In that initial contact, you stated you wanted a Vulcan representing the Federation--"

"We always choose a different species." This from the king as fair and large as his amazon wife.

"Such a practice displays a true respect for diversity." A diplomatic way of explaining the Crugaar's demand that the Federation trot out its variety of people. "After reviewing my record, you requested information on my wife."

"And your children," the king said. "But we placed emphasis on your consort."

The Crugaar had fallen in love with the Vulcan common use of the word 'consort'. Spock expected it would be the next new tradition, replacing the word 'spouse'. It would most likely last a week.

"Who we choose as our partners says a lot about us, Ambassador. We told you that, and you gave us her records!"

"I did, but I request an understanding that asking for records does not necessarily translate into requiring her presence."

"Why," the queen demanded, "would we ask for the records of someone we didn't expect to see?"

In a twisted way, it was a logical question.

Last night, Spock had gotten them to see that people often requested information without it meaning the object of that information be brought to them. After all, the Crugaar had requested data on all the Vulcan people and their culture. That did not mean they wanted all Vulcans showing up on their doorstep.

Last night, they had agreed to this reasoning. This morning, they were supposed to sign the trade treaty, but instead, they had gone back to arguing.

The Queen's hands hooked into her weapons belt, and he knew the next part of their complaint was now going to be argued. Again.

"We also told you that we were greatly concerned with your pacifism, despite your military service. Clearly, you do not have the mindset to understand us. We hope Admiral Saavik will be different since she has continued in the Fleet. Unlike you."

Obviously, the fact that Saavik would prefer her Starfleet career be known for exploration, rather than war making, was one Spock had to keep to himself.

The king threw his copies of the treaty as well as Spock's and Saavik's records across the table. The three dimensional icons representing each section of the contract -- the mining, the shipping, the distribution -- flickered, and the sound of metal on metal grated Spock's ears. "This is ridiculous! Forget what you thought then and tell her to come here now!"

As if Spock hadn't thought of that days ago. As if he didn't want the trade reestablished. As if he wouldn't welcome an opportunity to see his wife.

But he knew her schedule; Saavik was on Gevir IV. When the Crugaar first made their demands, he had investigated if Starfleet could replace her there to bring her here. Command's response echoed his and Saavik's own thoughts: if they had known ahead of time, they would have accommodated the request; but they hadn't, so the answer was unfortunately no.

Spock had to get that dilithium anyway.

The Crugaar monarchs had Spock sandwiched between themselves and the rest of the standing, large figures of their Court. They believed chairs at a meeting was a sign of weakness; so, apparently, was standing on a well cushioned carpet.

"Ambassador! We will listen to no more words! The Crugaar are not a passive people! We speak with action! Such as tossing out this treaty and you if you continue to insult us!"

Spock's aide entered, his slate gray clothing almost blending into the metal, embossed walls. He asked for permission to speak to the Ambassador, and handed him a padd. "Sir, it's marked urgent."

His eyebrows shot up as he read the message. He asked for a second to talk with the aide. "When is this effective?"

"They said immediately, Ambassador! But I don't know if--"

He got cut off by Starfleet officers bursting through the double doors, hitting the room like a strike team. Phaser rifles came to bear on the Crugaar court just like the cold eyes behind them. The half-circle opened at the point position and Saavik strode hard and fast into the room.

Spock forced control over the sight of her. Her white dress uniform jacket emphasized the large dagger and phaser strapped to her belt and the hardness in her expression. She stripped off a lirpa, slung against her back by an ah-woon, and tossed both weapons to Spock. A large, dark male closed up the circle again as she passed him. Spock knew Aban Suhayl-Wajih was a peaceful man, the Arabic tattoos on his cheeks a loving tribute to his God, but the human had turned his appearance into something impersonal and sinister through a device as simple as a scowl. He and the rest of the team looked like assassins begging for Saavik's order to strike.

The Crugaar loved it.

The Queen recognized Saavik with a delighted look, and signaled to her husband that she would take this opponent. She began warming her muscles in a preparation for a welcome challenge.

But Saavik never broke stride. "This is not a spar." Her words came out impersonal, all business, and only Spock recognized the emphasis she placed on giving a warning. "You should defend yourself immediately."

She came across the table fast, and caught the Crugaar woman off-guard who had expected her to walk around. Saavik's right foot caught her in the chest, the left kicked up and took her in the chin. It only stunned the big woman, but it still gave Saavik the second she needed to move into position and squeeze the right nerve plexus. The Queen went down, unconscious.

Saavik swung, phaser and dagger suddenly in her hands and aimed at the king. "Is our business concluded?"

He didn't even blink. He smiled. "Of course. The Federation has demonstrated its strength. Although why it took so long to get what we asked for--"

Saavik turned away, striding back to the double doors. She only slowed as she passed Spock. With her back to the Crugaar, her face softened and she held out paired fingers. He touched them, and, with her slower steps, their fingers stroked each other as they broke apart.

Then she was gone.

He watched the space where Saavik had been and listened to the sound of the transporter until the last bit of its hum faded. Then he turned back, watching the Queen as she rose to her feet, stroking the sore spot on her chin with approval.

In his mind, he silently repeated the message from the padd:

-From Starfleet Command:

With our compliments, Admiral Saavik has finished her mission on Gevir IV slightly early. Since her flight path to Etalik is relatively close to your location, her ship has been diverted. You get her for five minutes only, Ambassador, and that is a literal statement. She believes it will be enough, based on your data. Regardless, she must leave on time! Make the most of it.-

Saavik's own message followed, beginning with: Of all the duties required of me as your consort, this is the most--

He had skipped the rest of that part. It wasn't his fault the Crugaar acted as they did.

Her note ended with: At least it is five minutes we never expected to have together.

The touch of her fingers still tingled.

Spock leaned forward and rested the lirpa on the table, significantly detaching the ah-woon. If Saavik had to play at this farce, so would he. He calculated he would not be asked to give the same display his wife had just given, but with the Crugaar, the element of unknown put the calculation at risk. He plotted the quickest way to reach that necessary nerve plexus.

The king thumped him on the back. "Excellent! Excellent! We'll make strong allies!"

Next time, the Crugaar would probably demand a Tellarite ambassador prove the Federation wasn't a confederacy of warmongers.

Whatever they demanded, Spock planned to be unavailable on the other side of the universe. And Saavik with him.