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James T. Kirk watched his adversary closely wondering who would emerge victorious from this battle. Or to put it more simply, did his three of a kind beat whatever hand Chris Larabee was holding?

The most senior officers of the Enterprise were playing poker in the captain's quarters, along with another Starfleet officer hitching a ride back to Earth with them. Jim had met Chris Larabee (now Commander Larabee) back in his days at Starfleet Academy. Chris had been starting his first year at the academy and had been way too intense for his own good, or so said his adviser when she told Jim he would be Larabee's mentor for the year. Jim couldn't believe his ears that he, the Academy's golden boy, would be mentor for a freshman. Oh he had mentored before but usually only to those at the top of their class, not a newbie. Jim started to chuckle as he remembered the two of them butting heads over every little thing, neither willing to give in. In the end they had become friends but only after some loud and magnificent fights.

"Are you going to place a bet, or sit there laughing at our academy days?" asked Chris.

Jim didn't ask how Chris knew what he was thinking; Chris had always been good at reading people, a useful skill in a command officer.

"I'll cover that bet and raise you two more. I think you're bluffing, Chris." Turning to his science officer he asked, "Spock, what do you think of our young commander here, is he bluffing?"

"I do not know if Commander Larabee is bluffing Captain but I believe you are, therefore I will meet your bet and raise you as well."

And so the game went on…

+ + + + + + +

Later that night after the others had left; Chris and Jim shared a nightcap.

"It has been good to see you again kid," Jim smiled at Chris' frosty glare. There was only a hand full of years difference in their ages but as the upper classman Jim had never missed a chance to get a dig in. Besides Chris hated nicknames of any kind. Jim dropped the smile as he offered his condolences.

"I'm sorry about your son Chris. I hadn't heard about your loss till we got back from our last mission."

"Thank you," Chris tossed down his drink. "Those long assignments can be a real bitch with your home life."

"That's why most Starfleet personnel don't get married till after they retire. How did Sarah take it?"

"Bad," Chris got up and began to pace around the cabin.

" I was off planet at the time. If I had managed to come home a few days earlier it might have made a difference."

"No Chris, not according to Dr. McCoy," Jim got up and put his hands on Chris' shoulders and turned the younger man to face him. "Sudden Infant Death Syndrome was thought to be a thing of the past. If it didn't show up in any of the tests they gave to Adam when he was born, then there was no way for you to know to watch out for it. Don't blame yourself for something you didn't know anything about."

"I tell that to my head, but my heart doesn't listen, I miss him every day. I lost Sarah as well when Adam died. She wouldn't go to grief counseling. She threw herself into her work, hell we both did as a way not to face the loss of our son. When she stopped living only for her work, she came to me and told me she wanted a divorce. I turned into one mean son of a bitch after that. It wasn't pretty. It's a wonder I didn't get court marshaled. If it hadn't been for Buck making me go to grief counseling I probably would have."

"Good old Buck. What's that rogue doing these days? Still having all the ladies at his beck and call?" Jim asked.

"Yes, they can't seem to get enough of him." Chris smiled as he talked of Buck. "He is my second now, Starfleet decided we made a pretty good team. Especially after we cleaned up that mess on Barr-5. And then there were a few other situations where we kept the Federation from being politically embarrassed or worse." Chris sat down and accepted another drink and explained what he was doing now. Jim sat back and listened to his friend as he wondered if he could have gone on after the loss of a child.

+ + + + + + +

Commander Chris Larabee waited outside the building of North American studies on the campus of the University of Virginia. He was waiting for the chance to meet the man he had crossed light years to see; an expert in North American History, specializing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Hopefully this man would be able to solve a problem for the Federation. Commander Chris Larabee smiled. The man didn't know it yet, but he was about to be drafted into what some were calling a prime directive nightmare.

+ + + + + + +

Prime directive nightmare, not so to the race in question. The O'tams were an old race of beings; far older them the Federation who now shared their space with them. So old in fact that they had out lived their reason for being and had settled down to wait for the last of them to pass on from this existence. They had no regrets at their passing. They had lived long and full lives, seeing and doing much in their time. O'tams had chosen a beautiful class M world to spend their last years and were content with their decision. They observed the younger races in the area grow via their transmissions. The O'tams were content till the day they received a transmission from a primitive world called Earth. The O'tams didn't know what to make of these strange images at first. Soon they realized they were some type of entertainment for the young race. But still they watched with fascination at what they saw. The entertainment transmissions came in many types; the most numerous ones were called Westerns. They became the favorite of the O'tams. It gave them a new reason to continue as they waited for the next chapter of the story.

+ + + + + + +

Chris watched the throngs of students rush in and out the building. He was waiting for his second to return with the information they needed to find their quarry. He had been gone for a while and Chris was getting impatient.

Students started leaving the building, it was the last day of the semester and they were in a hurry to start their vacations. Many paused to glance at the grim looking Starfleet officer as he weaved his way through the mass of young people. At the building's doors he met up with his best friend and second in command Lt. Commander Buck Wilmington.

"You got it?" asked Chris.

"Yeah." Buck held up a data pad as he stepped back as another group of students hurried by. "Room number and directions how to get there." Buck worked his way into the building the students were leaving.

"Seems like yesterday we were the ones in a hurry to get off campus."

"Wasn't that long ago Buck." Chris reminded him.

"Almost fourteen years, pard. We've seen a lot of space in them years"

Chris smiled at Buck; they had been through a lot in those years, with Wilmington by Chris' side for most of them. Together they had earned a reputation for being the best at what they did; trouble shooting. Larabee and Wilmington had saved Starfleet much in the way of political embarrassment by dealing with a number of small incidents before they grew into large problems. They’d saved a lot lives and property in the process as well.

The problem that brought them to the University of Virginian wasn't a small one. It wouldn't become a major one if kept in check. Sighing, Chris walked through the doors hoping the Professor would be a willing participant in straightening out this mess.

+ + + + + + +

It was the last day of the last semester for the year and Professor Ezra P. Standish was looking forward to the summer break. Funny even after all this time and the many changes in the education system they still use the ancient terms to describe school functions. Ezra smiled to himself as he remembered trying to explain them to off world visitors. The Vulcans especially didn't understand the need to break up the year so that there would be a rest period between the semesters. The Vulcans, it seemed, taught classes year around with no breaks at all. Not for this Southern boy thought Ezra. He was going to use his time this year to work on his latest book. Packing up his case with his data pads he didn't at first see the two men coming into his classroom. Both men were dressed in Starfleet uniforms. That wasn't unusual, the campus was open to all and many of the subjects taught here were not offered anywhere else. He didn't know the blond man at all but the taller man with the bushy mustache seemed familiar.

"Gentlemen is there something Ah can help you with?"

The officers had made it up to the podium when Buck started talking.

"There sure is Ez."

That's when Ezra placed the tall dark haired man. Shortly after earning his Doctorate, he had been asked to fill in for an ailing history professor at Starfleet Academy. Buck Wilmington had taken one of his classes. He had been told that Buck was between missions and was recovering from an injury while his ship was in space-dock. Not wanting the injured officer too far from his ship, his superiors thought a few classes would keep the young man out of trouble.

"Mr. Wilmington, I didn't recognize you with that tribble under your nose. And the name is Ez…ra," sounding out the two syllables name, "Ah know even you can remember something that simple." Ezra was delighted to see the easygoing man again. Buck's questions and batter had kept him on his toes in class and had encouraged the younger cadets to open up and challenge him with their questions as well.

Buck remembered bemoaning the fact he was taking classes again after all this time out of the academy while his ship was being repaired and he was recovering. Having taken out the Admiral's daughter may or may not have had a hand in it. She looked of age and she sure behaved liked she was. Fortunately nothing happened other them they had a good time seeing the shows at the New Vegas. The MPs caught up with them before anything could. The Admiral's daughter confessed that she had led Buck to believe she was older then she was, but still Buck had ended up with two choices; confined to his ship or take a couple of classes at Starfleet Academy.

The classes it was, the nights would still be his to do whatever he wished, as long as it wasn't with the Admiral's daughter. The first class was on tactical and, after experiencing the real thing, he knew he'd ace the course even if the instructor was as boring as hell. The other was on a subject he always enjoyed, North American History and this class was to be on the wild and wooly west.

Walking into the classroom the first day had been strange; the young pup teaching the class didn't look dry behind the ears. Buck thought he was one of the cadets and wondered why he wasn't in uniform, only to find out he was an expert in his field and had his doctorate to prove it. Turned out he was a damn fine teacher. Professor Standish challenged him to rethink what it was he thought he knew. He showed them all how the real west was a lot different than the picture shows old Hollywood created for entertainment. Being closer in life experience if not in age with each other than with the cadets, they hung out together till the semester ended. Buck went back to his ship and Ezra went home to the University of Virginia.

Chris let the two reminisce for a while before he stepped forward.

"Professor Standish, I hope Buck was a better student for you than he was when we went through the Academy."

"Hell Chris, Ezra here made the subject come alive. Not like a lot of the teachers we had who could make ya fall asleep from just saying hello."

Ezra had been waiting for Buck to introduce him to his friend. The blond officer was almost as tall as Buck and must be the same age, about thirty-six or thirty-seven. That would be eight years his senior but Ezra never did have much in common with his own age group. Larabee carried himself as a man used to command, used to having his orders carried out without question. Ezra on the other hand had spent a large portion of his life irritating people like that. He had just never taken to authority figures and couldn't resist seeing how far he could push them. That's probably why he never joined Starfleet.

Buck finally remembered his manners, "Dr. Standish may I introduce my oldest friend and my commanding officer Commander Chris Larabee." Turning to Chris he spoke again. "Chris this here is Ezra P. Standish a hell of a good teacher and an even better poker player them I am."

"Glad to meet you Dr. Standish, I've come a long way to see you."

+ + + + + + +

It was late as the three men sat in the professor's home talking. Ezra had brought out a bottle of brandy to share with the others.

"Let me see if Ah got this right," Ezra said as he sipped from his brandy shifter. "Ninety-eight years ago Earth gave permission for a group of humans to establish themselves on a world they knew was already inhabited by the O'tams."

"They didn't ask for permission." Chris told him, "This was at a time when Starfleet was just starting, the Federation was just an ideal not yet realized. We weren't the peacekeeping force we have become today. The O'tams made an offer to the settlers in exchange for the planet, which the settlers were quick to agree to. By living as if they were in the old west they would inherit the planet when the last of the O'tams passed on."

"That primitive?" Ezra asked. "The odors alone would send most of them packing. Not counting the discomforts of everyday life and lack of medical resources. The old west was not a neat and clean place."

Ezra was dumbfounded why anyone would want to live like that. He enjoyed his personal pleasures. Hot water was on the top of his list of must-haves. His Mother was a cutthroat businesswoman whose work had kept her moving throughout the galaxy. She had taken her only child with her on these trips. Many of the worlds he had been to as a child hadn't understood the needs of human hygiene let alone the joys of a hot bath. Ezra had sworn that if he ever got a home of his own he would always be insured of his creature comforts.

"No not quite that bad. While the buildings look like the time period, they do have environmental controls inside as well as up to date conveniences. No modern transport and only clean energy is allowed, solar, tide and wind mostly. There are doctors though they are called healers not doctors. There's no problem about going off world and coming back. The original settlers were farmers, craftsmen and a large number of the back to nature, living off the land types in the group. They have done quite well for themselves there," Buck informed him. They’ve kept the best of what the twenty-third century has to offer without losing the feel of the old west."

Ezra caught the words original settlers and asked Buck if there was now a difference.

"You have the original settlers, their children and their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, then there are others. A few individual groups have asked and been granted permission to live on the planet under the same rules as the others. Not all of them are human; Klingons, a few Ferengi, ex-Orion slaves and a handful of other individuals. Possibly even a few that haven't asked if they could but have anyway."

Chris added, "There's been a small tourist trade as well, people wanting to experience the Wild West. It has increased in the last few years and that Doctor is your fault."

"Ma fault, Ah didn't even know of this world before you invaded ma classroom. How could it be my fault?" Ezra inquired.

"You're a writer. You wrote a novel based on your dissertation on the real west, as you put it. Romanticizing the life of living in a more simple time," countered Chris, "where people made it on their own, by their own merit."

"Ah never said simpler, it was anything but. Furthermore Ah have written other novels without anyone blaming me for a planet's counter culture." Deciding to change the subject off himself, Ezra asked.

"If every one on the planet is happy the way things are, why the Federation’s interest?"

As Buck finished his drink, he looked to his friend to answer. Chris set his glass down and sighed.

"Not everyone is happy. There is a growing group on the Federation council that believe that Earth's culture is influencing the other races too much and would like nothing better than to see this world go up in flames." Pausing a moment to finish his drink he went on, " Even though the O'tams are an ancient race that can speak for itself and want this, there are those who are saying that the prime directive has been violated. Too many other races are emulating the human culture and are pointing to the O'tams as the prime examples of the contamination"

"Bullshit." this came from the refined Professor Standish; both Starfleet officers looked up in surprise. This was the first off color word out of the man.

"By the very definition of the term, the prime directive is to protect races that do not have warp drive capability and therefore are too immature to interact with the rest of us. After they have gained the ability to travel at warp speeds they are considered to be culturally mature enough to join us tramping across the galaxy. O’tam’s culture is in place and unchangeable, an ancient race wanting to play at being cowboys. It sounds more like sour grapes than anything else."

"I agree with you doctor, but the other races colonizing that world are also playing cowboys as you put it and are not from ancient races." Chris told him.

"Still gentlemen they all choose to participate in the O'tam fantasy. Are they all not living peacefully together in this mock Western?"

"They were. In the last few years there has been some trouble, desperados, raids on ranchers and mining camps as well as shootouts in towns. The ranchers and town folk have fought them off with an assortment of weapons, everything from energy weapons to slug throwers. There have been a few deaths; the local law dealt with the ones in or around cities and towns, if they catch up with the killers before they leave the vicinity. But no one follows up on those that travel beyond the settled areas. Before this started, there hadn't been any major trouble on the planet and no one we talked to can figure out why it has started now. The planet leaders are concerned as well; the local law is not trained to handle anything like this. That’s the other reason we're going, someone needs to find out what’s going on and put a stop to it. Being that the planet has this arrangement going with the O'tams, no one’s sure who has the right to enforce the laws and who's laws should they be."

"Why the code of the west of course." Ezra smiled as if this settled all their problems.

Chris and Buck looked at him as if he had lost his reason.

Ezra sighed and was glad his students weren't this thickheaded.

"While the real laws of the time were based on the same principles as of today, the conduct of people was far more cruel and violent in carrying out the punishments. By our standards it was primitive and barbaric. But it was justice just the same; in the real west the more brutal the crime the more brutal the punishment. The O'tams views of the period come from the television broadcasts they watched of the nineteen-fifty's through the early twenty-first century, do they not?"

"Yes," Buck said slowly, he thought he saw where Ezra was going with this. Ezra added.

"Good, you understand."

"Uh?" Chris wasn't getting it, so Buck answered him.

"We have to get lawmen to uphold the laws of the people of O'tams. To chase down the bad guys wherever they go and bring them to justice. Someone the outlaws will be afraid of, someone who has the authority to find out what’s going on and deal with it. To keep the peace." Buck was proud of himself. He had figured it out.

"Bravo Mr. Wilmington you get an A," Ezra congratulated him.

Chris looked at both of them, "Are you two nuts. The O'tams’ council will not allow us to bring in a peacekeeping force to impose order on them. That would be a violation of their rights even if the whole population was human and it isn't."

"Mr. Larabee Ah'm sure the O'tams' settlers have their own laws and police force for each township. The problem as Ah see it, is there is no one overseeing the whole thing. No one is going after the raiders or the desperados when they fall outside of a town sheriffs' jurisdiction. All you would need is a few good men who can be trusted not to abuse the power given to them." Ezra sat back in his chair and smiled at them.

"You make it sound simple Professor." Chris told him glaring at the man, thinking it couldn't be that easy.

"Our ancestors called them Federal Marshals, the O'tam will be partial to that idea. Ah believe there was a television program called Gunsmoke that featured a Federal Marshal upholding the law."

"Well with you there to help sell the idea to the settlers and the O'tams it might work." Buck told him.

"Oh no gentleman, Ah don't leave Earth, Ah've had ma full of space travel as a child. You have ma help as long as you are on Earth." Ezra told them.

"I'm sorry to hear that Professor, when we left Dr. Sanchez on O'tam he assured us of your willingness to help." Chris was unprepared for the Professor's reaction. The man was on his feet and half way across the room toward him before stopping. Changing directions Ezra walked to the window and looked out at the night sky. With his back to the Starfleet officers he asked.

"We are speaking of one Doctor Josiah Sanchez, an anthropologist of some note. A spiritual man who believes in omens, who is as comfortable speaking to leaders of planets as he his sitting around a camp fire sharing a meal with headhunters, that Josiah Sanchez?"


"Aw Hell!" Ezra began to bang his head against the heavily insulated windowpane. Ezra would never admit it to anyone but he missed the big man. Josiah had been his adviser when he had first started college and soon after his mentor. Josiah had become the first constant male figure in his life since his father had died. He even managed a truce between his mother and himself; a feat that Ezra thought would never happen.

+ + + + + + +

Maude Standish had been displeased at her only child's choice of careers. She had wanted him to follow her into the world of big business. That was the life she lived and breathed. Following the death of Ezra' father she had sold their holdings on Earth and set off to make their fortune. She had won an old space freighter in a high stakes poker game and planned to use it as the genesis of their future fortune. It had been a gamble but with a lot of hard work and luck, it had paid off. For the next twelve years she and Ezra had traveled known space and a few places that weren't known, making investments and making money. Maude was successful; she could out deal a Ferengi and had the holdings to prove it. Twenty-three years later, her name alone could cause a panic on the interstellar trade market. But in the beginning it had been a hand to mouth existence.

At the age of six, Ezra went from a stable home life at the death of his father to one constantly on the move. Maude would never be the ideal mother, but she did the best she could under the circumstances. She tried to keep Ezra close to her when possible, but there were times and places she couldn’t take him and had to leave him behind. But she made sure he knew that he was important to her. She taught him the ins and outs of how to run a successful business deal. He learned to read people, to understand the subtleties of human (and alien) interaction and how it could influence a transaction. Ezra would later joke that a few hundred years earlier his Mother would had been arrested as a con-artist. Maude always delivered on a deal, but never a credit more.

Maude had all but disowned him when she found out he had switched his major from Business to American history. Josiah had somehow managed to get her to see both sides of the matter and that gave Ezra a chance to prove himself. She made a deal with both of them, Ezra had six years to finish school and make something of himself. If he failed, he would rejoin her in running her corporation and Josiah would say nothing against it. Ezra did all she asked and more; he graduated early with honors, got his masters, and then his doctorate. After successfully defending his dissertation, he published it.

First he published it as a straight document for the academic world where it was well received. Then, as a fictional work of romance/adventure, it became a best seller and not just on Earth. Other books followed making him a rich young man and gaining him a seat on the teaching staff of the university. He had kept his agreement with his Mother; he had made a name for himself and a modest fortune to go with it.

In the end Maude was very pleased by the way things turned out. Having accomplished all she set out to do in the world of big business, (making more money then God) she turned her sights to a different arena, the political arena of the Federation council. Having a son who was an academic as well as a published author was an asset. If only she could pry him off Earth, he would be a political asset as well if he would campaign with her. Ezra had put down roots at the university and liked his life the way it was; neat, orderly and clean. A hobbit in a hobbit's hole as he liked to think of it.

Josiah had also been trying to get Ezra off Earth as well, asking him to go on expeditions with him for the past few years. Now it seemed that Josiah had finally found a way to get him off planet. He knew there was no way Ezra would allow his friend and mentor to face his crows alone. When had Josiah realized he was Ezra's only weak spot? Leaving Josiah alone on a planet where he could get himself killed was out of the question for Ezra.

"Uh, Ezra you all right?" asked Buck. The head banging worried him.

"Of course Mr. Wilmington," Ezra stopped banging his head against the windowpane. "How much time do Ah have to prepare before we have to depart?"

"A standard week." Chris told him, he found it hard to believe that Standish was giving in so easily. Just a few moments ago he was adamant about not going.

"Not much time to get the two of you ready and everything organized."

"Ready for what Professor?" asked Chris.

Ezra didn't answer as he picked up a data pad and sat down next to Buck making a list. Buck read over his shoulder.

"Let see there's an artist in New Mexico that makes period costumes for reenactments. We'll see her first thing in the morning. Her husband does metal work and will be able to locate or possibly make the guns you'll need. He can also teach you how to use them. The replicas he made for me are unique. Ah do hope you have good eye-hand coordination gentlemen, you'll need it."

"Wait a minute Professor, Starfleet can make what we need." Chris didn't like the way Standish was taking over. He was in command of this mission, damn it.

"But not as well as this lady can and you do want to impress the O'tams with your sincerity, don't you?" drawled the Southerner. "How else are we to find out why the tranquil life on O'tam has been disrupted, who is responsible and why?"

+ + + + + + +

Jim and Dr. McCoy waited in the transporter room as the three men beamed up from the planet. He was looking forward to meeting this Professor Standish; anyone who could get under Chris' skin the way Standish had must be a real smart-ass. The last transmission from Chris had been full of expletives about the annoying Professor Standish. The good professor ignored his orders and could care less about rank or any of the trappings of Starfleet. But Chris did say the man knew his stuff.

The familiar sound of the transporter brought his attention back to the platform. The three men materializing could have stepped out of the pages of a history book. In front was Standish dressed as what Jim believed to be a riverboat gambler. The red coat he wore had ruffles sticking out from the white shirt he wore under it. A fancy embroidery vest, a matching tie, dark pants and a black hat with a flat top finished his costume. He also had a sidearm of some kind on his hip. Flamboyant, Kirk thought as he took in the historian's appearance. Professor Standish stepped off the platform and made way for Buck to follow him.

Now Buck was dressed more the way Jim expected a cowboy should be dressed. A worn cowboy's hat sat on his head and a red bandana around his neck. An off white cotton shirt with a leather vest, blue jeans with tan chaps over them. There was a holster on his hip with what appeared to be a very real looking antique gun in it. The spurs jingled on his boots as he walked, his costume looked well used and comfortable. But where was Chris?

Before Jim could call out Chris stepped forward out of the shadows and the words died on his lips. There stood a man dressed in black; as cold and deadly as any Klingon warrior. He looked more comfortable in this western attire than he ever had in his Starfleet uniform. From the black hat to his black boots with the silver spurs he had a look of danger about him. His hat shaded his eyes making the angles of his face stand out hard and unforgiving. The black shirt and jeans fitted him with an old familiarity. The black duster he wore was pulled back so as not to cover the gun holster that hung low on his hip. And forever after when Kirk thought of Chris Larabee he would remember him this way.


Buck stepped forward and answered him before Chris had a chance to do so.

"Our Professor Higgins out did himself with our Liza Doolittle didn't he Jim?" Buck asked the Captain of the Enterprise.

Jim walked around the gunslinger taking in the full effect of the outfit."

"That he did Buck, that he did."

The arctic glare that Chris sent their way did not effect Jim. But Buck, Ezra and Dr. McCoy each took a step backward away from the pair.

"I will say Chris, you do look authentic in that getup. But I don't see you punching cows in that." With a chuckle Jim asked. "Are you going to be one of the bad guys?"

Ezra stepped in before Chris could answer and gained himself another arctic glare.

"Mr. Larabee is a gun fighter, his personality didn't match that of an easy going cowpoke. We want the O'tams to believe that he can handle the job of ridding the countryside of the bad elements infesting it. Black does suit him quite well for that purpose, don't you agreed Mr. Kirk?"

"Yes it does, and that's Captain, Professor Standish."

+ + + + + + +

The three men stayed in their western ware at Professor Standish's insistence, they needed to feel comfortable in the clothes before they got to O'tam. Later after dinner in the Captain's mess, Sulu had gotten Buck and Standish to show him the guns they were carrying. Chris left them to file a report on the mission so far. Standish was showing Sulu his Remington revolver explaining it's history to the navigator and the other officers in attendance. Buck left his Peacemaker, a Colt 45, with the Professor when he went over to speak with the Captain.

"How's it goin' pard?" asked Buck as he sat down next to Jim Kirk.

"Is that how you address a commanding officer Lt. Commander Wilmington?" asked Jim. But he asked the question with a smile and a raised eyebrow to let Buck know he was joking. Jim had met Buck when he was Chris' roommate at the Academy and the pair became good friends and even friendly rivals when it came to the ladies.

"Heck yes, us cowboys don't have good manners," chuckled Buck.

Sitting off to the side they were far enough away from the others as not to be overheard. Jim saw this as his chance to ask Buck about Sarah and Adam.

"Buck, how is Chris handling it?"

Buck didn't need to ask what Jim meant by it, he lowered his voice before he answered.

"He's doing better now, he still has days when he's not fit to be around. For a while there I thought I lost all three of them. I tried my best to get both of them into grief counseling. They just threw themselves into their work instead. Sarah's father blamed Chris, he said it couldn't be his family with the bad genes that was responsible for Adam's death. He got Sarah to listen to him and damn the man if he didn't talk her into the divorce. It got real ugly there for a while. Chris wasn't handling the loss of his family well, he turned mean. No one wanted to work with him."

Buck shook his head before he went on, "Did you know there are places on Earth where you can still get blind drunk and stay that way. After a three-day binder I dragged his sorry butt to counseling and took it with him to make sure he stayed. Told him he lost a bet with me while he was drunk and this was the payback I demanded. Hell by that time I needed it too. I loved that little boy as if he were my own."

Buck looked away before going on. Kirk let him talk, this was something Buck needed to get out and Kirk needed to hear not only as a friend but also as the captain. Buck seemed to know what was going on in Jim’s mind when he told Kirk.

"It’s been a long road getting this far. Adam’s been dead for three years and Chris is doing ok now. He lost part of himself with Adam's death; it left a hollow place inside him that nothing’s seemed to fill. But he's as good a commanding officer as he ever was." Looking Jim straight in the eye Buck told him "Chris is fit for duty, the brass haven't had any problems with our work up to now and this assignment won't be any different."

"Not with you standing by his side it won't." Jim agreed with him.

+ + + + + + +

Chris came back with data chips in his hand and went to where Jim and Buck were sitting.

"Thought you might want to know a little more about the planet you’ll be dropping us off at," he said as he placed the first chip into the reader. McCoy and Standish came over and joined them. The screen showed a blue-green world with lots of water and several large landmasses. Chris pointed to the largest one.

"The O'tam's planet has two large continents, three slightly smaller ones and numerous sizeable islands scattered about, the rest is sea. The largest continent is where the settlers are living. It's believed that the O'tam are living on one of the smaller land masses on the other side of the planet."

"Aren't they participating in their Wild West show?" asked Ezra.

" Nobody knows for sure. Only the heads of the colonies have met with the O'tams and they aren't saying where or if the O'tams are living among the settlers."

" How many original settlers were there?" asked Dr. McCoy.

"There were just under five thousand in the original group. Of course that population has grown over the last ninety-eight years." Chris told the doctor.

"There were four thousand, eight hundred and twenty-one to be exact, Commander." Mr. Spock said.

"Thank you Mr. Spock." said Jim.

"That’s enough for a healthy gene pool. What’s the population up to now?" Dr. McCoy asked.

"Ninety-five thousand humans and ten thousand from non human races.

"How's the population geographically divided up?"

Chris placed another data chip into the computer; the screen showed a map of the largest continent. "Most of them settled into four main groups on the four sides of the continent in order to avoid anything taking out all of them at once. They named their settlements after famous cities of the time period. San Francisco on the West Coast, Boston on the east, Denver in the mountainous area in the north and Texas in the south."

"Texas was a state in what was at the time the United States of America, not a city." Ezra told them.

"We asked them about that," spoke up Buck, "And were informed that Texas was a state of mind therefore it could be a city if they wanted it to be. The O'tams liked the movie The Alamo and at least six hundred of the settlers came from that area on Earth or had family that did."

"The back to nature groups scattered across the plains in the middle. Some became nomadic while others set up farms and ranches. The ranchers crossed their cattle with the native bovine; they got a large ill-tempered beast that has become a favorite on meat eating worlds. They export a lot of them off planet every other year. In the last forty years small towns have grown up around these farms and ranches.

"Like what happened in the real West," Ezra explained, "The ranchers and farmers went first and others followed to fulfill the needs they created. Now there is a need for lawmen to handle the larger population and the problems that they bring with them. It also makes it easier for outsiders to cause trouble. Are the cities and towns self supporting or do they import goods?"

"For the most part self supporting." Chris answered, "San Francisco is a port city for both sea craft and space ships that dock there. It's the only place on the planet where you can beam in. What the other cities export must go through this city. Imported goods are warehoused there until needed."

"Why is San Francisco the only place where you can beam on to on the planet?" asked Jim.

"The O'tams didn’t want anyone to just beam or even shuttle in without authorization, thought it would help give the settlers some control over the planet. Not having shuttles flying over head would also keep the feel of the old West from being destroyed. The O'tams have set up some form of force field that keeps transporters from operating outside of the San Francisco area and keeps shuttles from flying." Chris explained.

"And the other cities, what are they like?" asked Sulu.

"Boston is where the planet’s government is centered; also it's the seat of higher education as well as a sea port. Most of the healers go there to learn their craft, teachers, lawyers etc." Chris told the group listening. "With the seat of government on the other side of the continent, they’re insured that only the most important or the most insistent bother the government’s heads or the O’tams."

"The government, is it a democracy?"

"Yes, everyone over the age of eighteen gets to vote, no matter which race they belong to as long as they are registered as a citizen living on the planet." Chris went on to describe the other cities.

"Denver has mining, there are crystals and minerals in the mountains that are only now being tapped commercially. There’s some logging in the mountains but it’s under strict controls. There are mountain ranges running down each side of the continent; the longer one on the east, the shorter on the west. In between the land is much like it was in North America of the nineteen-hundreds."

"And what of Texas Mr. Larabee?

"Energy development and cattle Professor Standish." Chris picked up another chip.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra had disembarked from the stagecoach and was looking around the town of Four Corners. The trip had been made in less time and in a great deal more comfort than any made by his ancestors. The interior of the stagecoach had environmental controls that kept it at a pleasant temperature inside and kept the dust and heat out. Anti-gravs made the trip agreeable by eliminating most of the bouncing as well as the drag. The horses had little to do but run before the stage.

Passengers could experience a more realistic trip if they wanted to. The driver had asked if they would like the controls turned off. He seemed disappointed when they turned down his offer. Ezra would bet money that the driver enjoyed his job more when he got to handle the rig and horses on his own.

+ + + + + + +

Four Corners sat where the three trails coming from the other settlements of the planet became one. Three trails merged into the one road that went through the mountain passes to San Francisco. Cattle drives, wagon trains carrying freight or people passed through the town of Four Corners at one time or another on their travels.

The town was an odd mixture of old and new. There were horses tied up at hitching posts, but there was no manure marring the street. The street had poles that appeared to be for gaslights but of course weren't; each had a small solar panel build in them. The buildings appeared to be built of weathered wood and unless you looked closely you couldn't tell that the glass in the windows was insulated to cut down on the day’s heat. Most of the older buildings were in fact made of synthesized construction material shaped into synthetic wooden boards, though a few were made of real wood. Newer structures for the most part seemed to be a mixture of both synthetic and real wood.

As Ezra signed in at the hotel he noticed the clerk fed the information into a computer discretely hidden under the desktop.

After checking on his room and finding it acceptable he left his bags and went in search of information. Somewhere in this town was Josiah and Ezra was sure he had more answers to what was going on than the two Starfleet officers.

Larabee and Wilmington were a day's ride behind him. They were riding in on horseback, having purchased two mounts at the way station the day before when they parted company. He hadn't been pleased at Larabee's parting words.

"Stay out of trouble Standish I don’t want to have to drag your sorry ass out of any difficulty with the locals."

Ezra had taken offence at the remark but hadn't had time for a rebuttal, as the stage was ready to pull out. Later he and Mr. Larabee would come to an understanding of his ability to take care of himself. He had been doing so for most of his life and saw no reason to depend on anyone now.

After checking in, Ezra took a walk around town wanting to know the layout of Four Corners first hand. If the need arose for a quick get away he’d know the best ways out. Ezra chuckled to himself. Even after all these years Mother’s training was still there. Look after number one first. Looking around him, he saw in the distance a building reminiscent of a church in the late nineteenth-century. That's where he was sure to find his friend and mentor Josiah Sanchez.


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