Maddox, DeCoursey and Chadwick were left in the holding cell. Events were now deteriorating.

"What did he mean by the Endurance experiencing 'technical difficulties'? Some kind of communications jam, perhaps?"

He'd had enough experience of being confined in cells to do a complete search of it: Looking for weak points, things to use and things to exploit if an escape opportunity presented itself. As Chadwick checked under the chairs, the back of the door and the small, slit window that was so thin no man could crawl through it, he spoke his thoughts out loud to the others.

"What I don't get is what Tinker thinks he's going to get away with. He knows we've got a well armed ship in orbit and he knows we're part of a larger organisation that won't take too kindly to its officers being held hostage so what's his game plan?"

Chadwick stopped searching the room and stood up, deep in thought. "He's playing for time...but what for?"



"Are we your prisoners?" Leah asked wanting clarification of the situation.

"Prisoner is such an unpleasant word..." Tinker smiled as if for a camera, "I'm going to have the gentlemen escorted downstairs for a bit, and you and I can continue this conversation like civilized people Lieutenant Ashby."

Maddox lurched forward and was detained by several of the guards, "You won't get away with this Tinker... my ship'll be looking for us when we don't report in."

"Yes, well..." The network president pressed a button on his desktop console, "...I suspect that by now the Endurance has discovered that they are experiencing 'technical difficulties'. Take them away."

The guards took the male Endurance officers by the arms and removed them forcibly from the office.

The doors closed behind the men, and they were alone.

"Now my dear," Tinker licked his thin lips, "What shall we discuss?"


Diplomatic Relations

Leah's eyes grew wide as she looked at the pistols. They'd already shot someone, their own citizen even, so it was clear, to her, that these barbarians wouldn't think twice about killing again. The only leverage the crew seemed to have was their popularity. If Tinker killed them, he'd be without his little ratings darlings. That had to give them advantage. She also knew that she was of particular interest in regards to these ratings. That may give her a bit more leeway than the other three officers.

"Are we your prisoners?" Leah asked wanting clarification of the situation.

She already knew the answer, but given that this was an official diplomatic mission, she wanted an official answer. She wanted to see how Tinker would respond to such a straight forward question. If anyone would be able to sweet talk Tinker it'd be her.


"He's dead, Sam" said Chadwick, standing up and looking at the guard. "That was one accurate shot" he added.

"He was trying to break his contract." The guard said looking down at the body.

Tinker stepped through the crowd that was beginning to form, several cameras had showed up.

"I'm sorry you had to see this, Maddox." Tinker shook his head, knowing how hard it would be to fill Cameron's spot on the PBN hit program. "That young man beat out 20,000 applicants for this job. A job that fed his family and gave them full health care."

Captain Maddox angrily snatched up the guard by his collar, "He was only a kid! Look at him, what is he, eighteen?"

"Show business is a business Maddox." Tinker said as the cameras looked on without pity.


"The alien Samuel Carter Maddox today railed against Viden social policies." The newscaster later announced.

"Maddox, Captain of the starship Endurance, Entered orbit earlier today, responding to Viden's PEACEFUL request for a cultural exchange with the United Federation of Planets."

"Public approval for Planetary Broadcasting Network, owner of the "Family Business" sitcom, fell FIVE points after the incident."


"Your outburst has put me in a difficult position Maddox." Tinker sat behind his desk, arms folded in thought. "The other networks are using this incident to gain political leverage with our viewers."

"That's YOUR problem, President Tinker..." Maddox pointed angrily across the desktop, "... my job was to observe conditions and file a report with the Federation about your planet's suitability for a cultural exchange."

Captain Maddox pulled out the communicator from his mission belt and flipped it open, "I've seen EVERYTHING I need."

The four guards by the office door pulled their pistols.

"Unfortunately captain," Tinker smiled, "WE have not. Our audience wants to see more of you and your crew... and we always give the audience what it wants."

I've been waiting a long time to say this...

Chadwick instinctively pushed past Maddox, Tinker and the guard and rushed to the side of the fallen Cameron. One look at the chest wound told Chadwick that the situation was grim: The bullet had gone straight through the heart.

"He's dead, Sam" said Chadwick, standing up and looking at the guard. "That was one accurate shot" he added. Chadwick gave Maddox a look that said "this could have been avoided" but said nothing more, lest he jeopardised his Captain's diplomatic mission.


"Problem?" Cameron shouted, "I'll tell you the problem... slavery, forced labor, no rights."

Tinker put up his hands, "Now Cameron..."

"Well I won't take it anymore," Cameron cried out, "It won't be the first time you've had to write a character off this show. Or will you just hijack another 'actor' to take my place?"

"Perhaps we could all sit down and talk about this..." Maddox added.

"No! No never!" Cameron staggered a bit before making a run for it.

He shouldered his way past one of the nearby guards who made a desperate attempt to latch onto the young man. It all happened in a flash, the pistol was in the guard's hand and then the report of the weapon as it went off.

Cameron clutched his chest and fell to the pavement.


Chadwick looked at Cameron and noticed the sweating, the dilated pupils and the nervous movements of the young man. He couldn't believe that someone who is trained as a performer and who is the star of a top rated entertainment show could be suffering from mere stagefright.

"What is the problem, Cameron?" was his simple question.


In the alley

Tinker and the group made their way down an alley that ran behind the studio, it seemed to be a storage area for oversized flats, large set pieces that weren't currently in use.

The rear double door had a red light next to it that shone to indicate that the show was being broadcast live from within.

"Is this it?" President Tinker asked.

Maddox looked over deCoursey's shoulder at the tricorder screen, "Yes, he's just beyond those doors."

Tinker nodded to the studio guards that had converged on the location, "Well then, I guess I ought to go in and have a little talk with him before he's missed from the show..."

The studio president didn't have a chance, the back doors burst open and the young teenaged actor ran out into the middle of the alley. When he saw the studio guards and the PBN boss, he froze, eyes wide.

"You brought the visitors?" was all the panting young actor could muster when he spotted the Endurance crew.

"They helped us find you Cameron," Tinker said in a stern, fatherly tone, "Now let's get you back on set before you botch the whole show. You'll ruin everything for everyone boy, there's more at stake here than just what YOU want."

"NO!" Cameron shouted, "I won't go back..."