July 3rd 2264
I always find it interesting when we have midshipmen on board to see if I can spot potential top officers. As usual, the ones Ill notice will be the ones who stand out, the best and the worst. With only an assignment to check out Byonvallaria III as a possible colony, training the midshipmen is giving us something worthwhile to do on route.
Salford smirked triumphantly at Chekov as their instructor sent the midshipmen off to their days assignments. The burly midshipman was delighted by any chance to denigrate the cadets who stood so much higher than he did in the class list. "I guess Peters favoritism isnt going to get you anywhere on this ship, Chekov."
"Whats that supposed to mean?" Chard demanded angrily, his green eyes gleaming. He knew Salfords agenda only too well, but how the other cadet could think he still had a chance at the command track mystified him as much as the rest of the class. "Lieutenant Peters told us wed be assigned to different departments."
"But some of us have proved we dont have what it takes to stand a bridge watch," Salford sneered. Their evaluations this year would determine the tracks they would follow for the rest of their training. He had spent most of it trying to understand why the instructors did not consider him the top cadet of his class. "Youve had a couple of chances on the bridge, Chekov, and shown you dont have what it takes. Thats why Peters has assigned you to the science labs now."
"So you think a science officer is inferior to a bridge officer, Midshipman Salford?" The midshipmen turned in response to the quiet question to find Captain Orford studying them. Behind the tall grey-haired captain of the Lexington, Lieutenant Peters assessed the younger boys expression. Chekov had not looked anything but pleased when he had detailed their assignments for today; to the Academy instructors relief Chekov only looked scornful.
"Of course, sir," Salford answered, with his usual abundant self-confidence. "Bridge officers are far more important than any science officer could possibly be. Science is one of the places where Starfleet stick the officers who dont have what it takes to command."
Orford looked at the younger boy. "You dont appear to be unduly crushed by your inferior assignment, Midshipman Chekov?"
"Of course not, Captain. Theres nothing inferior about being a science officer. Bridge officers are important in one way, science officers in another. Im hoping Starfleet allows me to follow both the command and science tracks, but I dont think of either as superior to the other. Im hoping to specialize in the triple fields of exobiology, exozoology and exobotany." Chekov eyed the captain demurely. "Just as you did, when you were a science officer, sir."
"Im sure youll find them just as rewarding." Orford saw the delight in Chekovs dark eyes, the grins on the faces of the other midshipmen at Salfords suddenly aghast expression. "I opted for command and science myself back when I was at the Academy. It isnt an easy choice, but well worth the work. You got an excellent report from my navigator. Now see if my science officer can give you an equally good one."
"I will, sir," Chekov assured him.
"You certainly know how to make an impression on senior officers, Midshipman Salford." Peters shook his head in disbelief, but he had no intention of taking the matter further. Salford seemed to think the fact he towered over most of his class actually counted for something; as one of the smallest instructors, Peters had long since learned how irrelevant size was. "Get to your duty stations, Midshipmen."
"Id like to take Chard and Chekov down to Byonvallaria Three," Commander Balhami, the Lexingtons science officer announced. "Theyve both impressed me a great deal, and I certainly cant fault either of them for the amount of work theyre prepared to put in."
Orford smiled at the blonde officer as he considered for a moment. Taking untried cadets only added to the risk for everyone, but he trusted Balhamis judgment. "Commander Wychwood, youre leading the landing party. What do you think?"
Wychwood, the English first officer, turned to Peters. "The scans showed an abundance of vegetation but a limited number of lifeforms. Im prepared to take them if you think theyre up to it, Lieutenant?"
Peters nodded. "Theyll be fine working as science officers, sir."
Peters eyed his expectant cadets as they waited for their orders. The Lexington had gone into standard orbit above Byonvallaria III during the third watch. None of them had expected to be involved in the landing parties, but they were all looking excited at the thought of orbiting an unknown planet even though Byonvallaria III was a Class M planet safely within Federation space.
"Midshipmen Chard and Chekov, report to the transporter room in thirty minutes with tricorders and phasers. Youve been assigned to a landing party on Byonvallaria Three."
"Aye, sir!" the two cadets responded in unison before exchanging delighted looks.
Chekov turned. "Yes, sir?"
Peters closed his eyes for a moment as he thought of the predicaments Chekov had managed to find himself in. The other midshipmen grinned at his expression. "As far as we know, Midshipman Chekov, there is nothing untoward down there. Please, lets keep it that way!"
Chekov could not decide whether that was an order or not. "Ill do my best, sir."
"Chekov, I cant believe theyre letting us on a landing party," Chard breathed as they entered the turbolift.
"Nor me." Chekov felt his excitement spiral until he could barely contain it. This was why he wanted to join Starfleet and what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. He had expected only to look at Byonvallaria III from the viewscreen. The most he had hoped for was that with the ship in orbit, he might be allowed to take the navigators station.
Greatly to their surprise, the two midshipmen found not only the officers detailed for the landing party in the transporter room but also the captain. Orford took one look at them and grinned. "Relax, boys."
"Its just we never expected to go on a landing party, Captain," Chekov tried to steady his voice.
"Yes, thank you, Captain," Chard added.
"Just make sure you thank me by coming back in one piece, both of you," Orford instructed. "Carry on, Mister Wychwood."
"Aye, sir." Henry Wychwood studied the two midshipmen for a moment. "Midshipman Chard, you stay with Commander Balhami. Midshipman Chekov, you stay with Lieutenant Unst, as youve worked with her in exozoology. Commander?"
Linda Balhami smiled at the two excited midshipmen. "All Im asking of you initially is that you use your tricorders to scan the area. Do that until I or Lieutenant Unst tell you to do something else. Anything unusual, tell us. Anything you dont understand, ask about. Dont worry about sounding silly or stupid. We dont expect you to know very much for obvious reasons, and wed much rather you asked. Clear?"
"Yes, maam," the pair answered in unison.
Wychwood smiled. "Places everyone. Chekov, Chard, remember not to move until youve assessed your surroundings." He glanced at his team and then nodded to the transporter operator. "Energize."
As the transporter beam faded, Chekov found himself for the first time in his life standing on an unexplored alien planet. He exchanged another delighted look with Chard before training took over, and he assessed his immediate surroundings as he had been taught to do. Both boys were oblivious to the fact they were under the observation of the three officers who had beamed down with them as Wychwood, Unst and Balhami divided their attention between their surroundings and their midshipmen.
Wychwood satisfied himself both midshipmen had remembered not to move and directed the whole of his attention to his surroundings. They had materialized in a woodland clearing that was both Earth-like and yet managed to be remarkably alien. There were certainly recognizable trees and flowers, but the shades of greens in particular were subtly different to anything that might have been found on Earth. The small plants under their feet gave off sharp alien scents in protest at being crushed. On the edge of the clearing a number of grotesquely huge caterpillar-like beings fed on some larger vegetation, their skin striped with red, orange and yellow bands. They appeared quite unworried by the appearance of aliens. Two butterflies, their bodies far more slender, perched on a branch overhead. The wings of one were a pattern of blues and green; the second seemed more closely allied to the caterpillars as its wings were red, yellow and green.
As Balhami took Chard off to explore, Chekov took up position with the dark-skinned Unst. She smiled at her own charge. "So, first impressions?"
Chekov turned from his survey of the clearing and gestured to the caterpillars; they were quite as long as a Human body, and he could only wonder that if their internal structure was similar to that of an Earth caterpillar. "Those creatures dont look as if they can move any faster than Earth caterpillars, maam, so either they dont have any predators or theyre so poisonous nothing will touch them. Judging by their vivid coloring, Id incline to the latter. That might mean they could pose a risk to us, too."
"So we stay well away from them until we know, one way or the other. Theyre not reacting to us so they might not be intelligent, maam." Chekov looked at her enquiringly as he wondered how much detail Unst wanted. This was more an assessment of him than the planet.
"Youre not ruling that out?" Unst smiled at the qualifier.
"Im not ruling out the fact they might be intelligent, maam. Im just saying theyre not doing anything to indicate it."
Unst knew she had a flair for teaching and regarded the stint she would be expected to do at the Academy at some time in her career as something to look forward to, not dread, as many officers did. "You were right to assess any lifeforms first. What about the planet as a whole? What strikes you most about landing on an alien world?"
"This is a beautiful world, if this area is anything to go by." The midshipman considered the lieutenants second question. "I think its how alien it smells, maam."
Unsts beautiful face lit. "Thats what I enjoy most about going back to Earth. Smelling all the things Ive missed. Right, Midshipman, Commander Balhami is studying the lifeforms so begin scanning the vegetation first. Look for anything thats going to pose a problem."
"Aye, maam." Chekov began to work and soon lost himself in the readings his tricorder was giving him, as much in fascination at the device as what it was telling him. He had been trained to use one, but they had been cautioned that it took some time to become fully competent with the instrument because it was so versatile; Chekov had learned that over the past months, and he had worked hard at improving his skills. He looked up as the lieutenant spoke. "Maam?"
"That is the second time Ive spoken to you, Midshipman." Unst eyed him severely. "You must not allow your fascination with your work to reduce your alertness. Remember we still know nothing at all about the lifeforms on this world. A moments inattentiveness could get you or someone else killed."
Chekov flushed in embarrassment. "I beg your pardon, maam. I wont do it again."
"Im sure you wont. Lets move over there."
Chekov began to reply, only to scream as sheer terror seared through him. He had been frightened before. Now Chekov found out that had only been a mild twinge of unease in comparison to this. Waves of terrible fear swamped him, and he clutched Unsts arm, unaware everyone in the clearing was staring at him as he yelled at her, "Get back to the ship! Weve got to get back to the ship now! Its too dangerous to stay here! Weve got to get back to the ship quickly!"
"Chekov, whats wrong?" Unst reached out to reassure him only to find herself staggering back as Chekovs free hand struck out at her.
Henry Wychwood was already moving towards them. He did not yet know what had so panicked the cadet, but as he saw Unst fall, he was sure the boy was far beyond the reach of reason for the moment. "Midshipman! Report!"
"Get us off the planet!" Chekov screamed at him, his eyes wide with terror. "Get us off the planet!"
"Tell me whats wrong?" Wychwood grabbed his shoulders, only to fall as Chekov hooked his leg out from under him. The Lexingtons first officer did not bother getting up as he pulled out his communicator. If they could get him back to where he knew he was safe, Chekov might calm down enough to tell them what had frightened him so much. "Lexington, beam us up now!"
As the landing party materialized in the transporter room Chekov collapsed on the platform. Chard bent instinctively over his friend, only to find himself pulled sharply back by the first officer. To Chards astonishment, Wychwood had his phaser out and leveled it toward the younger boy. Without taking his eyes from the shaking midshipman sprawled on the transporter platform the first officer ordered everyone else off. "Lieutenant, get medical and security down here now! Then, inform the captain what happened, and that Im checking out the possibility Midshipman Chekov may be under an alien influence."
"But Chekov wouldnt do anything to harm us or the Lexington, Commander," Chard protested. He had watched his friend strike two officers with a terror that almost equaled Chekovs; there was nothing that could excuse such behavior. It would not matter how brilliant his friend was or how good his record was; unless Wychwood was right, Chekov would be lucky if he was only expelled.
Balhami pulled him back. "Boy might not have a choice, Chard. Keep back out of the way until we have some idea of whats going on here."
She held firmly onto the older midshipman to make sure he obeyed. Linda Balhami found herself hoping fervently her first officer was correct and that an alien influence was responsible for the younger boys behavior. Just working with Chekov for a few days had shown the science officer he was one of the more brilliant cadets the Academy attracted; she knew she would find it hard to forgive herself if taking him on a landing party before he was ready had destroyed any chance he had of a Starfleet career.
Chekov was pushing himself groggily into a sitting position. He eyed Wychwoods leveled phaser uncertainly. "Sir?"
"Stay where you are and stay silent," Wychwood ordered as two guards entered, their eyes widening in surprise as they took in the scene in the transporter room. He gestured to the young midshipman. "If Midshipman Chekov makes one move without orders, stun him."
"Aye, sir." The two guards separated and moved to where they each had a clear shot. Chekov watched. His head was still spinning, and he felt physically sick with the memory of that terrible fear. A quite different fear replaced it more quickly than he had anticipated; if he had panicked so badly on a routine landing party, Starfleet would never allow him to continue at the Academy. Next to Balhami he could see a frightened Chard watching him. Unst stood on the other side of his friend, her expression puzzled as she studied him, too.
Doctor Goathland rushed in, medical kit in hand, and a little out of breath. As his fellow officers pointed out, the stout doctor tended to ignore his own strictures about regular exercise. "What happened?"
"Chekov panicked for absolutely no reason," Wychwood stated. "He lost all control, and I want to know if anything is affecting him." As the doctor started to scan the young midshipman, Wychwood looked at the opening door in disapproval. "Captain, Id really rather you didnt come in here until weve some idea of what happened."
"Too late, Commander," Orford answered easily as he strode in to the transporter room with the air of a man who intended to know what was going on on his ship. "What happened?"
He frowned as his first officer finished his brief account. "That doesnt match with what I know of Midshipman Chekov. His record so far says he wouldnt have panicked if something had gone wrong, and from what youve just told me, there was nothing for him to be scared of!"
"Thats what made me think of an alien influence so quickly, Captain. I might have overreacted, but until we have some idea of why Chekov reacted so strongly, I wanted us all off that planet."
Orford nodded. "Doctor?"
"All I can find is evidence of shock. Thats what Id expect in anyone as scared as Commander Wychwood described." Goathland studied his young patient. "How do you feel, son?"
Chekov looked questioningly at Wychwood, who grinned. "Sorry, Midshipman, but I wasnt about to take any chances. Starfleet has had some pretty nasty encounters with hostile telepathic aliens before now. Go ahead."
"I feel fine," Chekov assured the doctor. "Perhaps a little shaky, thats all. What exactly happened?"
"Whats the last thing you remember?" Goathland asked. The answer had been calm enough, but the doctor wanted some answers of his own. An alien influence could be harmful in more ways than one; it was a possibility that haunted most Starfleet doctors in the small hours of a sleepless night.
"Being more scared than I ever thought it was possible to be, but I dont know why," Chekov answered, "because there was nothing to frighten me. Commander Wychwoods right about that. The only lifeforms wed seen were giant caterpillars and butterflies, and they ignored us."
The midshipman considered and added, "I dont want to sound conceited, Captain, but when Im scared I dont act in that way. I dont stop thinking. This time I couldnt. I couldnt think of anything but getting off that planet as quickly as possible."
"No," Unst corrected. "You werent just determined to get yourself off that planet, Midshipman, which is what Id expect from someone as panicked as you were. You insisted we all had to get back to the ship. You became really frantic when we tried to ask you why instead of returning to the ship."
"Did I?" Chekov shook his head. "I dont remember that, maam."
"Your mind feels normal, Midshipman Chekov?" the doctor pursued.
"Yes, sir. When I sat up I felt groggy for a few seconds, but my mind is clear enough now." The others in the room could see the anxiety in the dark eyes, but none of them made the mistake of thinking the cadet was really worried about the possibility of his mind being taken over by an alien. What concerned Chekov was the report that would be going back to the Academy about this.
"That was all you wanted to do, Midshipman?" Orford asked, his own expression concerned. There were a lot of risks attached to exploring unknown planets; one that haunted all captains was the possibility that their crews minds might be taken over by alien telepaths. "You didnt want to do anything else, such as take over the ship?"
"Not that I remember, sir," Chekov answered honestly.
"Thats it!" Unsts exclamation drew everyones eyes, and she elaborated, "I knew something didnt make sense, and thats it. If you were an alien telepath, why pick on the mind of someone who has no authority to give anyone on the team any orders? Chekov didnt even have the power to order us all back to the ship."
Wychwood nodded. "Id have been a much better choice."
Everyones eyes turned back to the midshipman as they considered that. Orford spoke for the others. "So, why pick on you, Midshipman?"
He looked at the two security guards. "Keep an eye on Midshipman Chekov. Stun him if he tries to run, but I propose we continue this discussion in the briefing room, once youve all had mandatory checks. Midshipman Chekov is the only one sitting down, and he doesnt look very comfortable. I think well have Lieutenant Peters in on this, too."
Chard moved quickly over to help his friend up before anyone could countermand him. "Are you sure youre all right, Chekov?"
Chekov nodded as he began to recover some of his composure. The officers of the Lexington seemed quite convinced an alien influence was behind that moment of utter panic, and if that was true, no one would blame him. He wondered if he would ever be that scared again; he hoped not.
Orford gestured everyone to chairs. "Lets have some coffee. Midshipman Chard, see to it."
"Aye, sir." Chard moved towards the replicator only to be stopped by Wychwoods raised hand.
"Even with the possibility of Midshipman Chekov being taken over by a hostile telepathic alien, I am not prepared to drink coffee!" The English first officer directed a reproachful look at his captain. He had been the first officer of the Lexington for two years now, and Orford was still inclined to forget his dislike of coffee when things became tense. "Tea, milk, no sugar, please, Midshipman. The captain and Commander Balhami prefer their coffee black. Ensign? Youre the only one without a preference."
"Tea without milk, please, Midshipman." Unst thought the doctor looked relieved by the exchange. It was giving Chekov the time to recover he needed. Lieutenant Peters entered and obeyed Orfords gesture to take a seat while Balhami quietly brought him up to date. The instructor joined the other officers in eying his midshipman with concern; all the instructors had high hopes for this particular cadet.
Orford had appreciated the chance to think for a few moments, too. He had read his science officers expression easily enough as she talked to Peters. Orford knew he would also find it hard to forgive himself if this ended any chance Chekov had of a Starfleet career. He watched the young midshipman take a sip of the Russian tea Chard had given him without needing to ask what his friend wanted. "Midshipman Chekov, it would be a good idea if you described everything that happened from the moment you beamed down. It will give the people who were with you the chance to detect anything out of the ordinary, and it will tell Lieutenant Peters and me exactly what was going on."
"Include exactly how you were feeling too," the doctor added.
"Aye, sir." Chekov took another sip of tea. "I was excited about the chance to explore an alien planet even before we beamed down. It was even more exciting actually being on the surface."
"You werent scared then?" Goathland asked.
"No, sir. I knew things might go wrong, of course, but it was all so peaceful. In fact," Chekov blushed. "I was so engrossed in what I was doing Lieutenant Unst, had to speak to me twice before she attracted my attention. She reminded me then not to assume the planet was safe."
"Did that annoy you?" Goathland enquired.
Chekov shook his head. "No, Doctor. I should have remained alert, and Ensign Unst was quite right to tell me."
"I did wonder if youd taken that as more of a reprimand than Id meant," Unst put in. "Lieutenant Peters has commented on how much you hate not doing as well as you expect."
"I dont like making mistakes, but no, I didnt, maam," Chekov agreed readily. "I know enough to know you might have saved my life by that reminder so, in answer to the doctors question, I wasnt annoyed."
"You certainly werent frightened then," Unst nodded. "I was actually looking at you, and you went in a split second from being, as you described, a young midshipman excited at being on an alien planet to someone too terrified to think and for absolutely no reason."
"So," Orford was still studying the midshipman. He appreciated the honesty of the boys replies. "What scared you so much, Midshipman, and why? Why you? You dont have any telepathic abilities do you?"
"No, sir," Chekov assured him.
"Does the thought of a telepathic contact scare you, Chekov?" Unst asked, with her usual encouraging smile.
"I dont think a friendly one would scare me, maam," the cadet answered.
"So, who or what chose to frighten you so much when all you were doing was standing in the middle of a clearing scanning it with a tricorder?" Orford asked.
"And why pick on one of the only two people who not only couldnt order an immediate beam up but also one of the only two whose fears might not be taken seriously by the rest of us?" Wychwood added another question. "If Commander Balhami or Lieutenant Unst had told me we ought to beam up immediately Id have complied and asked why later. If Chekov or Chard had told me the same thing wed all have checked out their readings first because they dont have the training or experience yet to assess a risk."
"So," the doctor commented thoughtfully, "if something on that planet was reading your minds perhaps it was what you were thinking thats the key, Midshipman Chekov?"
"I was thinking how lucky the colonists would be who were given such a beautiful world, sir, and I was visualizing farms and people growing crops," Chekov answered promptly.
"But," Chard reddened as the eyes turned to him but continued, "Thats what I was thinking!"
"So was I," the first officer nodded. "Perhaps not at that precise second, but Ive surveyed a number of worlds that have later been granted to colonists, and Byonvallaria Three is one of the most beautiful."
"I thought that," Unst added, her comment echoed by the science officer.
"I can understand why someone might have objected to the thoughts of their world being taken over," Orford sighed. "That still leaves us the same question. Why you, Midshipman?"
"Just a moment, Captain," Wychwood said, his eyes alight. "If the question is why Midshipman Chekov? perhaps the answer is that he was the only one thinking about a colony at the precise moment someone started reading our minds. I know I wasnt, not at that moment." He looked around his team. Within moments, they had all assured him that at the time Chekov panicked, they had all been thinking about another aspect of their work.
Chekov heaved a sigh of utter relief. With the knowledge that the officers around the table were certain an alien influence had been responsible for his behavior, he was too close to euphoric to care very much. Whatever happened as the result of this, it would not get him thrown out of the Academy as a coward, and Chekov found it hard to care about much else.
"Commander Wychwoods idea makes sense." Linda Balhami nodded, a note of excitement in her voice. "Captain, I dont see how we can leave things where they are."
"I agree, Midshipman Chekov is the only person whatever lifeform is down there has contacted. He perhaps has the best chance of being contacted again, at least initially. Midshipman, are you prepared to beam back to that planet?"
"Take a moment to think about that," the captain suggested, smiling at the prompt response. "Weve no idea what will happen."
"I know things could go really wrong, Captain, but Im still volunteering to go back because if I dont, then Im going to spend the rest of my life wondering what would have happened if I had."
Wychwood grinned. "Thats as good a reason as any for a Starfleet officer to go!"
Wychwood eyed the younger of the two cadets. "Midshipman Chekov, calm down. Places everyone. Midshipman Chard, where do you think youre going?"
"Im assigned to the landing party for Byonvallaria Three, sir." Chard eyed him hopefully. He had no idea what his chances were of getting away with this, but he thought it was worth a try. He wanted to know what his friend was facing.
"Not this time. Stand down." The first officer surveyed his team. It was larger than he would have preferred, but the doctor had insisted on coming, and he needed Balhami and the security team. "The aliens might be able to read our minds too, so I dont want it to just be Midshipman Chekov who thinks first that we dont colonize inhabited worlds and second that Starfleet wants to make friendly contact. I want all of us thinking that, too. Understood?"
The first officer waited for the acknowledgements before smiling encouragingly at the cadet. "Midshipman Chekov, if the aliens do make contact with you, if you can, relay the conversation aloud so the rest of us have some idea whats going on."
"Good luck." Wychwood nodded to the transporter operator. "Energize."
The landing party materialized in the same clearing as before. Both the caterpillars and the butterflies had vanished. The depredations the caterpillars had wrought on the plants accounted for their absence; there was very little left to provide evidence any plants had ever existed.
Chekov was barely aware of his surroundings. He knew he could trust the others in the landing party to watch for any threats. He concentrated on thinking as clearly and strongly as possible that Starfleet explored the galaxy with the aim of making friendly contact with other intelligent races.
Wychwood glanced briefly at the midshipmans intent face before he contacted the Lexington to confirm their safe arrival. He joined the others in scanning their surroundings as he tried to obey his own orders and copy Chekovs thoughts. He jumped suddenly as he felt someone grip his arm. He found Chekovs hand there, but the midshipmans eyes were closed, his expression even more intent than before. Wychwood saw the others glance across to them briefly before their attention switched back to watching their perimeter. Everyone tensed as they saw movement among the trees only to stare as a cloud of the huge butterflies flew into the clearing. Unlike the caterpillars, there did not seem to be any two with the same wing patterns; they still somehow gave the impression of being of the same species. The insectoids fluttered around the wary landing party before all but one settled onto the branches of the nearby trees.
"These are the aliens?" Balhami gazed at the insectoids in complete astonishment. "What a discovery it would be if they are! Theyll be the most beautiful intelligent lifeform in the galaxy."
"Chekov, ones heading straight towards you," Wychwood warned.
The midshipman opened his eyes to see how close the butterfly was, its wings an intricate pattern of gold, green and blue. As he realized its intentions, he braced himself to take the weight, but as it settled, Chekov found that it weighed only as much as one of his grandmothers cats. The two front legs clung to his shoulder, and he could feel the others attached to his shirt.
The rest of the landing party watched, their wariness back with full force. The aliens had shown once before how strongly they could affect the young midshipmans mind and that had been from a distance; now the alien was in actual physical contact with him and the rest of the Starfleet personnel had to wonder at its motives.
Chekov stared at it in wonder before he turned to Wychwood, glowing with excitement. "Sir, I can talk to her! Her name is BThen." He reached up with one careful finger to stroke the delicate antenna before adding softly, "BThen says no one else has ever told her she is beautiful."
"Midshipman, do these people have a name for themselves?" Wychwood asked. One huge fear had lifted from him as the midshipman spoke. They could not leave these people believing their planet was about to be taken over by colonists who would change it forever. The first officer had still worried over the inexperience of the only person with whom the aliens had made contact. He remembered his own mistakes as a cadet. The thought of being killed or seriously injured had never really entered his mind.
"BThen says until we came they had never thought any other intelligent lifeforms could exist, let alone such enormous solid ones. Its even harder for her to accept that anyone could endure to live without flight. She says the time they must spend earthbound and mindless is called the unthinkable time as it is so dreadful. BThen wants to know if weve chosen to sail through space in our great ships because we cant fly through the skies of our own world?"
"Tell her the thought of flying through our own skies filled our dreams for very many thousands of our years, and she may well be right about why we explore space." Wychwood was unworried by the indirect answer to his question. This was the first time he had taken part in a first contact, but he knew the rules; whatever worked within the bounds of the Prime Directive was permissible. BThens understanding that they had travelled through space removed one Prime Directive complication. At least the butterflies knew about other worlds and were prepared to accept that other lifeforms existed.
"BThen says they have not needed a name for themselves, but she can understand why they will need one now." He looked at the first officer. "Shes read from my mind about all the different intelligent lifeforms in the Federation, sir, and BThen says they would like to be called Byonvallarians."
The midshipmans eyes closed again in concentration for several minutes as the others watched. At last, Chekovs eyes opened at the same time as BThen and the rest of her people fluttered away.
"They need to feed before dark, sir," the cadet explained, as he staggered from sheer weariness. Wychwood caught his arm and supported him, his expression concerned. "BThen knew I was getting tired, but she wants to talk again tomorrow. She also wants me to speak to the captain for her."
"Wychwood to Lexington. Beam up the landing party."
"Commander Balhami, I refuse to wait another minute. Please show us what happened this afternoon."
"Of course, Captain." Linda Balhami activated the large screen and showed the landing party in the Byonvallarian clearing. Chekovs concentration was clear enough, and she explained the orders the midshipman had been trying to follow. Gasps sounded from around the table as the huge butterflies appeared. The personnel in the room listened to the conversation in the silence of utter fascination.
"Midshipman, what is it you need to tell me?" Orford was pleased to see some of the boys exhaustion had vanished now he had a good meal inside him.
"When we made the second contact, sir, BThen could read everything in my mind. I didnt try to block her access. I thought that might stop her trusting me if she thought I was trying to hide something, and I dont know any sensitive information. The Byonvallarians know about other worlds. Even though theyd decided other intelligent species couldnt exist, theyd at least thought about them, and they accepted us easily enough so I knew some parts of the Prime Directive didnt apply."
"We didnt get as far as that, but youre right, Midshipman, and the Prime Directive has to be applied differently to telepathic races."
"BThen and her people approve very highly of the Prime Directive and of the principles of the Federation, Captain, so much so they want to join," Chekov went on.
Orford blinked. He had not expected that particular complication to raise its head quite so soon. The Byonvallarians might know about other worlds, but there were no signs their civilization was of a level that would qualify for them for Federation membership, and he proceeded to say so. Chekov did not look surprised.
"BThen told me they need nothing machines or buildings could provide, Captain, so theyve never bothered trying to develop them. They do have one qualification she told me about; the Byonvallarians live in peace together, and theyve never had wars." The young midshipmans expression became troubled. "Captain, BThen also read about Klingons, Romulans and Orions in my mind, and they did frighten her. I could tell her it was very unlikely Romulans would ever come here, but I couldnt promise Klingons or Orions wouldnt, and her people wouldnt have any defenses at all against them. Even if the Federation decides Byonvallaria Three doesnt qualify for membership, she wants the planet to become a protectorate, and BThen and some of her people want to come back to Earth with us and speak to the Federation Council themselves."
Orford saw the amused gazes of his officers. "Youre asking me to fill my ship with giant butterflies, Midshipman?"
The midshipman managed to suppress the grin that was trying to form. "Yes, sir. If you did, Id be more than willing to look after them."
"Assuming they dont manage to make contact with anyone else that is," Balhami put in.
"They arent going to try, maam. BThen understood how much the contact tired me, and she wont inflict that on anyone else. She wants to wait and try with Vulcans, for example."
"I have to ask you to make further contact then," Orford decided. "We do need to find out more about the Byonvallarians before we risk taking them aboard. So, Midshipman, since the onus of that contact tomorrow and perhaps the remainder is going to rest on you, go and get some sleep."
Thomas Orford looked around the briefing room. "Opinions on the reliability of what Midshipman Chekovs told us? I dont doubt his honesty for a moment, but hes only repeating what he was told, and we wont be able to judge that against an experienced officers report."
"Given time, Ive no doubt we can persuade the Byonvallarians to use another method of communication, Captain," Unst said, as she considered that part of their problem. "After all, this is the first time theyve faced the problem of communicating with a non-telepathic race. Weve managed to set up alternative methods with every other telepathic race. Even if we cant, the Vulcans will surely be able to make contact."
"I dont like the idea of the butterflies encountering Klingons or Orion slavers," Wychwood said emphatically. "Could you imagine what Orions would do with something so beautiful to enslave?"
"At least the Orions would leave them alive," Balhami snorted. "Klingons would just exterminate them. You know how they feel about non-Humanoids."
Goathland nodded. "BThen seems to have searched young Chekovs mind for the best ways of protecting her people, and I wont fault her for that. I was scanning him throughout the contact, and the only ill effect was from exhaustion. I believe him when he says shes genuinely sorry for scaring him the way she did."
Wychwood agreed. "I really do think the Byonvallarians want a friendly contact, Captain. Now they know everything that was in Chekovs mind about the Federation and Starfleet, not to mention the more unpleasant types who inhabit the galaxy, I dont see how we can just leave them to worry about who might arrive next."
"Weve got to at least make the planet a protectorate. What about the effect on the Byonvallarians if we bring them aboard the Lexington or take them to Earth?" Orford asked.
"If the Byonvallarians really have scanned Chekovs entire memory, they know a great deal about us. I dont see we can make matters much worse by allowing more contact."
"Im inclined to agree, Commander." Orford leaned back with a sigh. "I just dont like putting all this pressure on a middy."
The landing party materialized in the same clearing, but this time the trees around the site were already filled with the graceful forms of the Byonvallarians. BThen fluttered down to land on Chekovs shoulder, and they went into silent communication for several minutes as he related to her what had happened when they beamed back the day before.
"I wonder if theres any significance in the colors on the wings?" Balhami said.
"Yes and no, maam," Chekov answered. "I was just asking BThen about that. The closest we can get is that its due to the dreams they have as a chrysalis. Byonvallarians arent intelligent when theyre in the larval stage; theyre basically just eating machines, in the same way as Earth caterpillars. The adults keep an eye on them, but there arent any predators here so they dont need much care. After the seventh molt, they turn into a chrysalis for a quarter of Byonvallaria Threes year.
"During this time, intelligence and telepathic ability develops along with sexuality. I think BThen told me that that depends on the dreams too, but Ill have to check I got that part right. During the pupal stage, once the brain develops, they dream all the time, far more than they do as adults. Once they emerge, they join the other adults in thinking.
"BThen has read in my mind of the type of home and civilization that Humans have, but she says they dont need anything like that. For obvious reasons they dont need any form of infrastructure to allow them to travel, and that means the civilization is spread over the whole planet, and theyre not territorial. She also says they dont need shelters as the climate is so mild. The adults all feed on nectar and caterpillars eat several food plants that are all very plentiful so they dont need farming. That means a lot of what we think of as necessary to civilization they neither need nor want.
"They dont like the idea of machines at all, but they can see the logic of using ships to explore space. They understood how complicated it is to keep one running and the infrastructure we need, such as starbases, but they wont use machines themselves. Im afraid as far as establishing communications goes, artificial means are out."
"Midshipman Chekov? Whats wrong?" Wychwood asked, as the midshipmans expression changed. This was only the third landing party, and he was still braced for possible complications.
Chekov reached up to gently stroke an antenna. "I suppose BThen and the others are only being practical, sir, but theyve just told me they want to bring some chrysalises along too, in case anything happens to some of them. They trust Starfleet to take good care of them, but since theyve never been on another planet they dont know what will happen. I just hated the thought of any of them being hurt."
"I suppose that makes sense, Midshipman." Wychwood repressed the urge to sigh as another responsibility landed on them. He was already worried enough at the thought of taking such fragile creatures to Earth. "Tell them were willing, but we need to know of any specific requirements the chrysalises will need."
"Aye, sir." The midshipman consulted his companion.
"BThen says the chrysalises need to be hung from trees and sprayed with lukewarm water, sir, but shell be able to tell us when and at what temperature they need to be kept," the midshipman reported. "As for the adult Byonvallarians, all they will need will be perches, water and nectar. BThen wants Commander Balhami and me to come with her, sir, so she can show us some of the flowers on which they feed. I told her wed need to make a careful analysis of the nectar to be sure we could match it. BThen says there are plenty of the right sort of flowers around us."
"Id like to see a chrysalis too, Midshipman," Balhami added. "To give us some idea of what we need to provide for them."
Chekov consulted BThen once more. "She says the nearest are a short distance away, even for people who cant fly. Well have to walk, maam. BThen and I cant agree on linear measurements. I think its something to do with the way they dont like thinking of the time they have to spend planet-bound and mindless."
"That sounds reasonable, Midshipman," Balhami said and looked enquiringly at the first officer.
"Well all go on this little expedition. Id like to see more of Byonvallaria Three than this clearing," Wychwood announced.
It was a pleasant walk through woods filled with a sunlight that was close enough to Earths to seem homelike. As far as the personnel from the Lexington were concerned it ended all too soon as another glade revealed a number of enormous chrysalises hanging from the branches of the trees. Despite the fact they were even larger than the caterpillars which had formed them, they bore a remarkable resemblance to ones that would be found on Earth, with the shapes of wings and bodies clearly identifiable within the hard outer shell.
"BThen says these are hers, sir," Chekov paused for a moment. "Not from her eggs. Byonvallarians dont care for their own eggs, but theyre assigned so many caterpillars to watch over and then chrysalises to nurture. Thats another reason why she wants to take them with her." He looked at the second butterfly that had chosen to accompany them. "GThar as a male doesnt have the same level of responsibility and hes regarded as more expendable anyway. Hes quite happy to take the risk of coming with us just for the chance of doing something as exciting as visiting another planet."
The first officer of the Lexington surveyed the chrysalises thoughtfully. "Correct me if Im wrong, but dont Earth caterpillars dissolve completely inside the chrysalis and then reform as what is, in effect, a completely different lifeform?"
"Youre worried about the transporter effect, sir?" Linda Balhami nodded. "I was starting to wonder about that myself."
"I think well employ a shuttle for the chrysalises, just to be on the safe side," Wychwood said. "So we might as well use it for the adults, too."
"BThen thanks you for your consideration, sir." Chekov was barely aware he was interrupting the first officer. "She thinks your idea will be much safer."
"I think youve really got somewhere this time, maam," Chekov told Unst enthusiastically as they headed towards the wardroom for dinner.
The Lexington was due to reach Spacedock in three hours where Starfleet had a Vulcan science team waiting. The Byonvallarians had settled comfortably into life on a starship, somewhat to everyones surprise. The four adults had been so fascinated by the Humans aboard that the trees on which they perched had been quickly moved from the park to the rec deck so the delicate aliens could observe as many members of the crew as they wished.
"I hope so, but your idea might prove even better. Good evening, Captain."
"Good evening, Ensign." Orford eyed the young midshipman. "What idea would that be, Midshipman?"
"I know how concerned you are about the fragility of the Byonvallarians, sir, so I wondered if we could ask the Tropaeolumi for help?" Chekov explained. "Theyd make certain no harm came to the Byonvallarians. They could offer safe perches, and theyd be able to move to wherever the Byonvallarians needed to be."
Orford was completely taken aback by the suggestion, but as he thought of the tree-like aliens, he could see its merits. "That would be ideal, if the Tropaeolumi agreed. How would we broach it, without offending them?"
"I think I could ask, sir."
"You could? I know you helped with establishing good relations a decade ago. Ive heard Commander Wychwood on the subject of small boys who get involved in tricky negotiations with aliens and show Starfleet how to do it."
The midshipman blushed, despite the fact it was a memory he cherished. "Its more than that, Captain. Ambassador Ttchcht sponsored my application to the Academy so I went to thank it and tell it Id been accepted. It told me it hadnt felt able to keep in contact with me before, as my parents are opposed to Starfleet, but it asked me to write once I started at the Academy. Weve been exchanging letters ever since. Ambassador Ttchcht is very interested in what I do. It might refuse, but I dont think it will be offended if I ask. It did tell me I could ask it for help if I needed any."
"Then well beam you down and find out."
As Chekov entered the large garden that formed the Tropaeolumi Embassy that adjoined the Vulcan Embassy, a tentacle waved in greeting. "I am pleased to see you, Pasha. Did you enjoy your training cruise?"
"Tremendously, Mister Ambassador. Ive made a first contact!" Chekov told it.
"I can imagine how exciting that was. With whom?"
"Thats why Im here, sir. Ive come to ask for help, at least to ask you if some of the Saplings could help." Chekov explained what had happened and why the fragile aliens had come to Earth. He did not expect the ambassador to come, but Tropaeolumi Saplings were a different matter. It took seventy years for a Tropaeolumi to grow to maturity and the Saplings were on Earth to continue their education.
"How precisely do you wish the Saplings to help, Pasha?"
"When we were discussing the best way to keep the Byonvallarians from being injured, I thought if the Saplings were willing, they could provide the perches the Byonvallarians will need. Theyd be much better than ordinary trees because theyll be able to move with the Byonvallarians wherever they need to go. The Byonvallarians should feel a lot safer, much safer than theyd feel with non-intelligent perches, even if they cant communicate directly."
"Why has Starfleet not asked?" Ttchcht enquired.
"They think its a good idea, but theyre worried about offending you. As you told me to ask for help, I thought youd just say no if you didnt want the Saplings to do it."
A tentacle patted him approvingly. "We will help, but I am coming, too. I am curious to see these beings."
Chekov pulled out his communicator. "Chekov to Lexington."
"Lexington here," Orfords voice answered. "How are you getting on, Midshipman?"
"Ambassador Ttchcht has agreed, Captain, but its coming, too. It says it is curious."
The voice on the communicator gave a distinct sigh. "That would be coming as in full dress uniforms and an honor guard, Midshipman?"
"Well need a couple of minutes, lad. Keep talking down there. Lexington out."
"Welcome to the Lexington, Mister Ambassador." Orford stepped forward as the honor guard snapped to attention. "Were very grateful you, and the Saplings agreed to help."
Ttchcht waved away any obligation. "I am looking forward to meeting such delicate beings. It is fascinating to think they have developed both intelligence and a civilization. My own lifeform has an extremely long life span and is hard to destroy. I can understand why you are so anxious to protect this one."
"This way, if you please." Orford had never actually encountered a Tropaeolumi before. With all his years of experience, he reflected, it still felt very odd to be walking along one of the corridors of his ship surrounded by mobile, intelligent trees. It was, he reflected, fortunate the Tropaeolumi only had to bend a little to fit into the starships corridors. "Our guests are looking forward to meeting you. Until they encountered us, they werent sure other intelligent lifeforms even existed, but theyve enjoyed being with the crew so much we housed them here on the rec deck."
When BThen saw Chekov, she fluttered down to meet him. Around the area of the large deck allocated to the delicate aliens stood trees from the exobotanical department; some were hung with the large forms of the remaining chrysalises.
Two of the Byonvallarians had emerged en route, and the entire crew had heaved a sigh of relief when the emergences had gone without any problems. Goathland had paced the deck throughout, muttering he was a doctor not a lepidopterist.
The Tropaeolumi climbed into the large pots placed in readiness for them. Once they were settled, Orford nodded to Chekov. "Ask the Byonvallarians to transfer to the Tropaeolumi, please, Midshipman. Mister Ambassador, do you want to take an active part in this or would you prefer to merely observe?"
"I am willing to offer myself as a perch too," Ttchcht assured him. It had been fascinated by what it had heard. "When Pasha went to the Academy I expected only letters, not the chance to become involved in his work."
The Byonvallarians fluttered happily around the new group of aliens for a few moments before settling. They had listened to the plans for involving the Tropaeolumi with interest. One of the Saplings suddenly waved an excited tentacle. "I can speak to the being on me!"
"So can I!"
Ttchcht was flushing the deep green of great excitement. "And I! I thought perhaps the Saplings might make contact, but I never dreamed I could do so myself! This is truly a wonderful experience."
Orford blinked at the unexpected turn of events. "We never hoped for so much success, Mister Ambassador. As you know, only Midshipman Chekov has so far made contact. There arent any others of your race on Earth, are there? I know Starfleet would like to find out if this ability extends to all your people."
"There are several Segments of Forest on Earth at various universities," Ttchcht answered a little absently as it listened to the Byonvallarian. "I am sure they would wish to try."
"Youve agreed to precisely what, Mister Ambassador?" Orford asked. The Vulcan science team had not been needed; the Tropaeolumi were more than ready to speak for the Byonvallarians.
"To share our planets, Captain," Ttchcht answered. "This contact, this meeting of minds is not something any of us could bear to sever. My only regret is that BThen will not live as long as I will, but I will seek another Companion when she dies. I can assure you that will mean the Byonvallarians will be protected from anyone who might wish them harm."
"Im certain of that, Mister Ambassador." Orford was. The Tropaeolumi were a very peaceful race, but no one, not even the Klingons, made the mistake of thinking that meant they could not defend themselves. "Im also sure that youre the perfect allies for the Byonvallarians as you can share their planet without imposing any infrastructure."
"They would not be happy with that," Ttchcht agreed. "Once we have established whether the nectar on our home worlds is suitable or established food plants for them, they may share our worlds, if they so choose, but our ships will take care of any transportation. I cannot think of any Tropaeolumi who will not wish for a Companion."
Im very pleased by the way things have worked out for you both."
"And I have a new Tree for my Forest." Ttchcht curled a tentacle around the startled midshipman. "I could not offer when we met before. When you gave us such help you were only a Sapling yourself, Pasha, but now, after this wonderful thing you have done for us, I make you a Tree of the Blue Mountain Forest."
Stunned, Chekov could only manage, "Thank you."
Somehow, the thought of an alien adoption did not seem at all strange, but he wondered if anyone would be able to tell him quite what it was going to involve. Chekov took his leave of the ambassador, and Captain Orford as he decided thinking about the remainder of the summer assignments due to be posted soon would be simpler.
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