Thomas Harden, Randall Landers and Kevin Morgan
Captain James Tiberius Kirk concentrated on the main viewing screen. His thoughts were on their present mission to Nissaba. They had received an emergency distress signal from the science team they had deposited on the planet three days ago. The signal was repeated twice before it mysteriously ceased. The entire incident had Kirk on edge, especially since Nissaba was located on the far side of the Romulan Star Empire's territory where there was no Neutral Zone.
"Entering the Gamma 8759 system, Kyptin," said Ensign Chekov, interrupting thoughts.
"Thank you, Navigator. Helm, standard orbit over Nissaba."
"Aye, sir," said Lieutenant Hadley, Sulu's alternate.
Kirk looked to his science officer. "Spock, your analysis, please."
The Vulcan looked through the hooded viewer as the
information was relayed directly to him. "Neither the planet's topography nor the
atmosphere was changed since we left the scientists on the planet. No changes in the
climate or temperature that could be considered abnormal. However, there is a definite
lack of sentient life." Spock turned from the science station. "Captain, the
scientists are dead."
Five figures materialized in a wooded area. Kirk had the landing party members wear the protective environmental suits in case of trouble. Upon materialization, Kirk turned to Kelowitz. "Scan the area with your tricorder, Commander."
"Yes, sir...Sensors show no harmful microorganisms in our vicinity."
Doctor McCoy turned to Kirk. "Jim, we'd better keep these suits on anyway. There might be some sort of alien virus that won't even register on our sensors."
"Very well, Doctor. We'll move to the expedition's campsite. Distance, McMahan?"
"About fifty yards in that direction," she said, pointing.
They began to walk.
"Captain, I see them up ahead," said Lieutenant Rosenburg. The domes of the encampment had been ruptured.
"Just like Triacus," muttered McCoy.
"And just like Triacus, all dead," said Kirk, after seeing that all the scientists were dead. He went to the nearest one. "Professor Aloor-Em, the most famous biologist in the Skorr system."
McCoy knelt by the body. "Looks like his tricorder exploded and killed him," the doctor declared after a brief examination. "I wonder what caused--"
"Captain!" called Kelowitz. "The same thing's happened over here. This man's communicator exploded and killed him."
"Strange," said Kirk. "I wonder..." His communicator beeped twice. "Kirk here."
"Spock here, Captain. Sensors are recording the build-up of a field effect on the planet's surface, and we also detect--"
There was a sudden high-pitched whine behind him. McMahan's phaser rifle was on overload.
"Get rid of it!" ordered Kirk. "Drop!"
She threw the weapon and dropped to the ground along with the rest of the landing party. The rifle exploded violently, raining debris on them for a few seconds.
"Spock," said Kirk as he rose to his feet. "Beam us up," he said, depressing the communicator key on the chest plate of the environmental suit.
'"We are unable to at this time, Captain. We are experiencing a massive equipment failure all over the ship."
"Then get that ship out of there."
"That was an order, Mister Spock. Leave orbit immediately."
"Captain, our sensors now detect--"
Kirk's communicator overloaded, and he quickly removed his hand from the device. "Get rid of all your electronic gear!" he ordered. "Everything! Suits, phasers, 'corders, now!"
The landing party began to strip themselves down the to the black T-shirts and shorts worn in the suits.
"Now get to cover!" Kirk shouted over the high-pitched whining of the abandoned equipment.
McCoy picked up his medikit and jumped into a nearby gully as Kirk and the other members of the landing party scattered throughout the surrounding areas of the forest. The five piles of equipment exploded almost simultaneously, yet after the explosions, Kirk could still hear the whine of a device in his ears. Suddenly, it dawned on him why as he saw McCoy's medikit fly out of the gully, only to explode in midair.
"Captain!" called Rosenburg, pointing to the sky.
Kirk looked dup. A ball of fire burned brilliantly like a seconds sun in the green afternoon sky and then faded from view.
"What is it?" asked Kelowitz.
"The Enterprise," said Kirk softly.
"What do we do now, Jim?" demanded McCoy. "We have no food, no weapons."
"We survive," stated Kirk firmly.
Kirk put the pencil down as he read what he had written on the pad of paper he'd found in one of the domes. Funny, he thought to himself, how he felt about losing the Enterprise. Spock, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu and all the others. He knew he shouldn't think about it, but he felt he had to. They'd been his life. He slowly became aware that Rosenburg was standing before him.
"Found anything edible, Lieutenant?"
"Yes, sir. We're piling it up in the shelter Commander Kelowitz and Lieutenant McMahan are constructing near the river we found."
McCoy stepped out of a nearby dome with what appeared to be an emergency survival kit. "Jim, I've found plenty of water purification tablets and some medical supplies in this box. And I've also found a report made by the group's hydrobiologis that states all freshwater fish are edible. Apparently he was planning on doing some fishin'. I've gathered up his fishin' tackle, too."
"Good, Bones. We won't starve to death or die of thirst. Let's get to the shelter. With any luck, it should be finished by dark."
They walked to the river and down one of the banks to where Kelowitz and McMahan were constructing the shelter from remnants of the domes. The temporary housing units had exploded when the electrical lighting system within them was overloaded by the field effect. Many of the scientists had been killed that way.
"How goes it, Kelowitz?" asked Kirk, setting the food packets onto the ground.
"Pretty good, sir. I can even guarantee that it won't leak in the rain. I found some epoxy in a repair kit."
"Good. McMahan, Rosenburg, I want you two to scout this area out. bones, why don't you try to get a fire started while I help Kelowitz with the shelter."
"Yes, Captain," replied McMahan and Rosenburg as they left.
"Good idea, Jim. Thar might be some ferocious critters in them thar woods," drawled McCoy in the deepest accent he could muster.
Kirk laughed and reached into the survival kit. He tossed McCoy one of the trimagnesium tablets to start the fire with. "Good luck, Bones."
"What for? I'm an old hand at this."
Kirk, McCoy and Kelowitz sat around the doctor's blazing fire. All three men had eaten their rations, and all three were wondering where McMahan and Rosenburg were. Dark was rapidly approaching.
"What's keeping them?" asked Kirk rhetorically.
"Maybe they're off somewhere crew--" McCoy was interrupted by the arrival of McMahan. She was carrying a wounded Rosenburg.
"What happened, Lieutenant?" demanded Kirk.
"Some Romulans got him with a spear, sir," she explained, setting the wounded officer on the ground before the chief medical officer.
McCoy examined the wound, gently probing it with his fingers. he looked up at Kirk and shook his head, "No."
"I don't want to die," sobbed Rosenburg. "Please, not here, not this way!"
"I'm sorry, son," said McCoy gently. "There's nothin' I can do."
Kirk knelt beside the body. "Lieutenant, I'm sorry, I..." The captain could not think of the right thing to say, if there ever was a right thing to say to a dying man. "David," he finally began, "is there anyone in particular you want to be told..."
The environment specialist had stopped sobbing, facing death with an inner courage that Kirk's compassion had somehow touched. "My mother, sir. I just..."
The young officer expelled his last breath.
McCoy reached out to check for a pulse. Finding none, he closed the lieutenant's eyes and turned to Kirk. "Jim, there was nothing I could do...Nothing you could do..."
"I know, Bones," said Kirk. He turned to McMahan. The young woman was looking at the ground. "Lieutenant, you mentioned Romulans."
"Yes, sir," she responded. "We surprised them as they were obtaining water downstream. One of them threw a spear at me, and David took it instead..." She was at a loss for words. Kirk decided not to press her further.
"Captain, let's go after them," insisted Kelowitz.
"No, it's almost dark. We'll wait until morning before we even consider a confrontation. We'll bury Rosenburg at the science encampment before it gets too dark to see."
McCoy and Kirk picked up the environment specialist's body and carried it to where they had buried the members of the science team. Working together, all dug a hole in the soft loam next to where Professor Aloor's body lay. After a few, brief words, they covered the body and returned to discover they had been visited.
"Our food's been stolen!" shouted Kelowitz upon entering the shelter.
"Damn," muttered Kirk as he surveyed the empty bins which had been thrown carelessly upon the ground.
"It must've been the Romulans, Captain," said McMahan.
"We'll get it back in the morning."
"How, Jim? Just walk up to them and say, 'May we please have our food back?'" snapped McCoy angrily.
"A little surpass raid on their camp. It can't be too far, and it must be near where Rosenburg was speared. McMahan, you and I will do a little bit of scouting tonight while the others stay on guard here. Kelowitz, if we're not back in three hours, you are to assume we have been captured and act accordingly."
"Wish us luck, Bones," said Kirk as he began to leave with McMahan.
"You're going to need it," growled McCoy, "so I might as well."
Kirk smiled as he and McMahan began to make their way downstream. Kirk didn't mind the fact that his security chief was a woman, despite the steady stream of complaints he received from the more "macho" members of the security section. They insisted that a woman was incapable of performing as well as a man in the position. She'd proven them wrong countless times, confirming his decision to appoint her as his security chief had been a good one.
"Captain, we'd better improvise some weapons for defense," she suggested as they came to an outcropping of bamboo-like growth. Using a knife they'd found in the hydrobiologist's tackle box, she quickly sharpened tow poles into spears.
Kirk approved. "I'll gather some rocks from the river bed for throwing," he said as she went to work on yet another spear.
Soon they continued their trek downstream to where Rosenburg had been lanced. The captain stopped suddenly and motioned her to do likewise. He had heard someone talking a few meters from the riverbank.
She crept up to his side and pointed. Through the thin stand of trees, several guards, a centurion and a commander were visible, gathered around a campfire. They were arguing vehemently about something, but without their universal translators, Kirk could not understand what. he thought it might have been about the attack on his two junior officers, judging from their and motions.
"Now what, sir?" she whispered.
Kirk's eyes widened. He knew that the Romulans' hearing was as sensitive, if not more so than that of the Vulcans. His fears were justified as several of the Romulans looked toward them. "We've had it now. Run for it!" he ordered.
Stumbling along the rocky bank of the river, they made their way back to the shelter as fast as they could. Fortunately, there was no sign of Romulan pursuit.
"I wonder why they're not chasing us?" pondered McMahan, halfway from their camp.
"It's dark now, and they'd have very little chance of capturing us. Let's get to camp. I'm tired."
They slowed to a walk. "Lieutenant, you need to remember that the Romulans have very sensitive hearing," Kirk admonished.
"I'm sorry, sir."
"Don't be. You made a mistake, that's all. The only thing it proves is that you're Human...something a number of the people in your section said you're not."
She blushed. "Those anachronistic chauvinists! They're just impossible. They clung to an outdated notion that somehow, because I'm a woman, I'm incapable of doing my duties."
"And you just kept on proving them wrong, Lieutenant."
She smiled wistfully. "I just wish they were still alive. Do you think there's any chance they are?"
"Lieutenant, as Mister Spock says, there are always possibilities," Kirk answered enigmatically.
A few minutes later, they were in camp. "You all right, Jim? Lieutenant?" demanded McCoy.
"I almost got us captured," explained McMahan. "I forgot about their sensitive hearing."
"I know how easy that is," remarked McCoy, referring to the time in orbit about Deneva he'd forgotten about Spock's.
"Did you see their camp, sir?" asked Kelowitz.
"Yes, there were about eight or nine Romulans there. They picked a good site. It's hard to approach without being seen."
"Do you think they'll attack us tonight?" queried McCoy.
"Probably not, Bones. We'll post a guard to be on the safe side, though. You can have the first watch. Kelowitz, the second; McMahan, the fourth. I'll take the third watch myself. Now, let's get some sleep. We've got a long day before us."
It was a long night as well. McCoy was relieved by Kelowitz early. The survival expert was beginning to wonder if any of them would survive with a contingent of Romulans nearby. He had heard stories of their death camps. It was like living in Hell, he'd been told by one of the crew of the Nimitz, a Federation vessel which had inadvertently crossed into the Neutral Zone. The crew had to spend three years in a concentration camp before the diplomats could work out the details of an exchange. It was not surprising since it was the first time Romulans had taken captives.
Kelowitz had been told of the various methods used for extracting information. The most gruesome was a combination of electrical shock therapy and the old Earth water torture. A man was strapped onto a table and a phaser overhead fired bursts of stun beams at periodic intervals. The strength of the beam was also increased logarithmically until information was divulged or until the prisoner's neural network was shorted out. Such men were returned as mere vegetables.
His thoughts were interrupted by what he thought was a digging sound. It came from nearby. He decided to awaken his captain.
Kirk sat up abruptly. Years of service had taught him to sleep so lightly that he would awaken at the sound of a twig snapping. "Yes, Lieutenant?"
"Something's making a digging noise."
Kirk crawled out of the shelter to listen. "It sounds like it's coming from the science team's camp." He listened intently for a moment. "Wake the others. I don't like the feel of any of this."
The other members of the landing party woke as easily as Kirk did. McMahan and McCoy joined Kirk and Kelowitz outside. "Sounds like some grave robbers to me," remarked McCoy.
Suddenly, McMahan screamed. Kirk turned to see where she'd been looking to see someone who shouldn't have been there: Rosenburg.
"David?" asked Kelowitz, who began to go to the side of his friend.
Rosenburg was gone.
Kirk looked to McCoy. "Bones, you said he was dead..."
"He was, Jim. You saw it. No pulse and no respiration. There couldn't have been. The spear severed his aortic arch."
"Then what we saw was a dead man," concluded Kirk.
"Or an optical illusion brought on by stress," suggested McCoy.
At that precise second, the Romulan commander Kirk had seen earlier came out of the woods with a centurion and two guards. "Commander, I think we should discuss the terms of a truce now," said the Romulan in perfect English.
"Why do you want a truce after you killed one of my men?"
"That was an accident. The guard who killed your crewman was inexperienced in dealing with Humans. Besides, he is dead, along with the rest of my landing party. He was attacked and killed by your people."
"My people?" echoed Kirk, confused.
"Yes, the big, yellow bird-man and several others."
"Sounds to me like he's describing the Skorrian we buried today, Jim," proposed McCoy.
"But they're all dead..." McMahan began.
"They are not dead," argued the Romulan commander. "They killed seven of my men. We had beamed down here from our ship as a scouting party to see why Humans were on an Empire territorial planet. My ship called me, saying they were in trouble, and then the ship explode. Our electronic guns and communications units began to malfunction and explode, and we discarded them. We established a campsite down the river from here, then we found you."
"The same thing happened to us," said Kirk.
"All our devices exploded, too. Perhaps we'd better have that truce now. Our survival
depends on it."
Kirk sat down beside Romulan Commander Korlius. "Captain Kirk," the vulcanoid acknowledged. "We must formulate a plan of defense against these creatures."
"It would seem to me that our best bet would be to follow our 'dead' crew members and scientists and capture one of them. Maybe Doctor McCoy can find out what's going on."
"I am in complete agreement. We must know the enemy if we are to combat it," said Korlius. "I will inform my warriors of the plan."
A few hours later, one of the Romulans shouted excitedly from the bank of the river.
"What is it?" asked Kirk.
"We've captured one of the creatures."
"Bones, McMahan, let's go!"
Kirk, McCoy and McMahan followed the Romulans to the place where the creatures had been caught, hoping it was Rosenburg. It was not. It was the mutilated corpse of one of the scientists.
"What happened?" Kirk asked Korlius, who was standing beside the body.
"We stumbled onto him while exploring."
"How did you knock him out?"
"Korko, here," said the Romulan commander, gesturing to the largest of the Romulans, "took a limb from a tree and struck him in the back of the neck." Kirk, he had the normal strength of a Human, but nothing we did hurt him until Korko broke his neck."
"That's what got him, all right," agreed McCoy. "The spinal cord's been severed from where the neck shattered like glass. That would make anybody useless."
"What did you say?" asked Kirk.
"The neck shattered..."
"No, any body useless." Kirk thought for a moment. "Bones, suppose that some alien entity was using that body."
"I don't know, but what do you think?"
"Is it probable?"
"It sounds logical." He acted as if he tasted something sour. "Oh, that word. Sorry, Jim. I miss him, and I know you miss him..."
"Yes, Doctor, I do," said Kirk, turning away and walking back to camp.
The Romulans looked at each other, confused, wondering whether or not McCoy had uttered some sort of blasphemy.
McMahan was waist deep in the water, bathing in a pool upstream from the camp as McCoy set guard. Kirk was busy scratching out his log onto the paper pad he'd found, and the Romulans were downstream, trying their hands at fishing
McCoy was leaning against a tree, grinning as he thought of the time he had said something about 'peeping in the line of duty.' It was a warm afternoon, and the droning of the native insectoids relaxed the doctor, perhaps too much. He was soon asleep.
McMahan was thinking about the fate of the landing party. Her thoughts were broken by the rustling of leaves behind her. She realized that it was getting dark and the water was getting cold. She heard another noise and crossed her arms in front of her as she turned to see who it was.
Rosenburg was on the bank, his face blank, standing on her clothes.
"David, do you hear me?" she asked. There was no reply as he advanced toward her, wading into the river.
"David, what's happened to you?" Again, no response. "Doctor McCoy, he--" she began to scream, but Rosenburg wrapped his fingers around her throat and began to push her under the water.
McCoy woke with a start, turned around and started toward Rosenburg. "Jim! Help!"
Kirk and several Romulans came running as McCoy managed to free McMahan from Rosenburg's grip. The creature, seeing that capture was imminent, left the water and began to run.
"Try to take him alive!" ordered Kirk.
Kelowitz and Korko leaped for the creature and brought it to the ground. "No, invaders, no!" it shouted.
Kirk knelt beside the struggling body. "Wait. listen to me. We don't want to hurt you. Listen to me!"
"Lies! Lies!" shrieked corpse. "You kill...many of us. We die!"
"We didn't kill anyone."
"You invade. Your presence destroys us. Pain!!! Murdering!!! Murderers!!!" the body shouted before the body went limp. A cloud of flashing lights rose from the body, and then it disappeared.
"Where did it go?" asked Kelowitz. The question was not answered.
"Electrical energy," said Kirk after a brief amount of time. "Pure electrical energy with no body, fighting back in the only way it knows how."
"They," reminded Kelowitz.
"But why?" pondered Korlius.
"It said something about how our presence here causes them pain and death," prompted Kirk. "Commander, it is the electrical impulses of our own bodies that is killing them, and so they are killing us."
"Is this possible?"
"We've encountered species before which cannot stand to be in our presence such as the Organians, and there are those who we cannot stand to be near such as the Medusans."
"We know of the Medusans," said Korlius. "Your
argument is logical. But how do we survive?"
It was well into the night when Kelowitz announced, "Captain, I think our friends are coming in force."
"Well, I guess this is it," McCoy said. "We're outnumbered. They'll wear us down and tear us to shreds."
"Unless I can get them to listen," contended Kirk.
"Jim!" The doctor pointed to the surrounding woods. The survivors of the landing parties were completely surrounded.
"Shouldn't we try to run?" asked McMahan.
"They'd catch up to us sooner or later," explained Kirk. He went to the edge of the camp, and Korlius came to his side. "Listen to me!" shouted Kirk at the approaching squadron of corpses.
"It is no use, Kirk," said Korlius after no response. "I am glad to have gotten the chance to know you. Now, let us die like Romulans and Humans."
There was a burst of phaser fire which disrupted the group of animated corpses that was closest tot he camp. Spock was there with a security team.
"Quickly, Captain. Get behind us!" shouted the Vulcan.
The Romulans and the Enterprise landing parties grouped around Spock and his men. "Get us out of here, Spock," ordered Kirk.
"Enterprise, beam us up," Spock said into the communicator.
"Aye, Mister Spock!" replied Scotty before they dematerialized.
"Cap'n, are ye all right?" asked Scott as he stepped to the platform of the cargo transporter.
"Yes, Scotty. Spock, that's what I call precise timing."
"What happened down there?" inquired Spock.
""I'll tell you later," Kirk answered as he walked to the nearest intercom. "Captain to Helm. Take us out of orbit on the double."
"What about us, Captain?" asked Korlius as Sulu acknowledged Kirk's order.
"Well, Commander, since it took a matter of trust for us to work together down on Nissaba, I guess I can use that matter of trust to drop you and your men off at the nearest outpost where you can be transported back to Romulus."
"Remus," corrected Korlius. "I realize it was my ship that was destroyed by the field effect instead of yours."
"Yes, I'm sorry, Commander."
"No matter. The Empire will assign me another ship. We
are, after all, very efficient in such matters."
"Really, Captain," Spock sounded disapprovingly after Kirk finished recording the ship's log.
"Really, Spock." The captain's thoughts turned to other matters. "We'll have to return to Gamma 8759 shortly and place quarantine buoys in orbit above Nissaba and outside the system."
"Of course, sir, per Starfleet Order Sixty-three, Section B, Paragraph Fourteen which calls for the installation of such buoys around planets with surfaces deemed 'too hostile' to support life."
"Funny you mention Starfleet regulations, Spock. Isn't there a regulation against endangering the entire ship and its crew to save a handful of lives?"
The Vulcan did not answer. He knew he had committed a totally Human act. His head tilted slightly.
"Thank you, Mister Spock."
The Vulcan almost smiled. "You're welcome, is indeed the correct response, Captain."
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