"Mister Spock, Limnanthia Five looks interesting. I'm not getting anything close to the readings I'd expect from a gas giant," Chekov reported.
"I can only agree, Ensign."
"A gas giant, Ensign? What's so interesting about that?" Kirk looked up from signing the latest report, pleased by any possible diversion; his current yeoman, Rowston, had two decades of experience when it came to pinning down reluctant captains.
This mission had started alarmingly enough with the arrival of six unknown warships. It had transpired that when Chekov went in search of a present for his grandmother he had, in all innocence, bought an artifact stolen from the Astelia nearly two decades before. It was regarded as the most important thing they possessed. As if that had not been alarming enough, the ensign had managed to fulfil a religious prophecy when he had told the Astelia his reason for buying it. Five of those warships were now at Starbase Fourteen, offered as hostages for the good intentions of the sixth, the Astera. She was now escorting the Enterprise to Astelia III so that Chekov could return the Egg of Succession. (see "The Present")
Kirk had explained to Hrrosbon, the captain of the Astera, that the Enterprise intended to scan the systems they passed on the way to Astelia and that if any seemed to have planets of interest, they might investigate them on their return. Hrrosbon had not raised any objections, he had been too interested in hearing how Starfleet mapped and studied a region at that.
Kirk had not objected to conducting a class in exploration; the Astelia were clearly going to show as much interest in their surrounding space as Starfleet. The captain of the Enterprise wanted to ensure both that they could do so without any disagreements over planets and that the Astelia learned something about how risky exploration could be. If the Astelia showed any interest in the Federation, he hoped he might be able to discuss membership.
The navigator put the long-range scan on the screen. "Look, Captain. I've never seen such an atmosphere around a gas giant before. It extends far further from the planet than I would expect, given a gravity of six standard g."
"I'm picking up some unusual emissions too, Captain," Uhura added. "I don't know if I'd go as far as to call them signals but they might be."
"It is most intriguing," Spock agreed as he began to correlate the data the other bridge officers were sending him.
"We'll take a proper look on the way back from Astelia. We can't divert now. Just gather as much data as you can."
"Of course, Captain." Spock returned his attention to his console, wondering once more why Humans needed to state the obvious, only to stagger and fall to the deck, his hands clasped to his head. Before anyone could react, Chekov collapsed across his console, his cry echoed by one from Uhura as she slumped into unconsciousness. There was a wail from Lethende before it curled into a tight ball of tentacles.
Without waiting for orders, Chief Petty Officer Maxton leapt for Uhura's console; some of the bridge officers were still conscious, but he was not counting on that continuing. Rowston's compuclipboard went crashing to the deck as she moved to check the navigator. Maxton took a breath. "Emergency back up teams to the bridge! Sickbay! We've got a major medical emergency on the bridge with four officers down for unknown reasons!" With help summoned, he checked on Uhura. "No pulse or respiration, Captain!"
"No pulse or respiration, Captain!" Rowston reported crisply as she pulled Chekov from his chair and laid him on the deck to begin resuscitation.
Sulu quickly slaved Chekov's board to his, peripherally aware that Bates had moved to help Spock and that another crewman was eyeing Lethende uncertainly, wondering how to help it.
Kirk had to put other priorities first too. "Red Alert! Security, we've got four people down on the bridge so make sure everyone else is checked out!"
"I'm on it, Captain." His security chief's voice was as calm as ever. "Any idea why?"
"None, they just collapsed," Kirk answered. "Bridge out."
Rowston looked up briefly from her efforts, her expression taut. "Still no pulse or respiration, Captain."
"Or Lieutenant Uhura, sir," Maxton added from where he worked to revive the communications officer.
"Mister Spock seems just unconscious, sir." Bates put the first officer into the recovery position before he went to help with the navigator.
McCoy erupted onto the bridge, only to look around in dismay. "What happened?"
"No idea, Bones." Kirk knew how much McCoy needed information but he had nothing to give him. "They just collapsed within a few seconds of each other. Spock first, then Chekov, Uhura next and then Lethende."
As the medical teams began to work, Maxton moved to cover the communications console. "Captain, there's a signal from the Astera."
"On screen." The captain of the Enterprise wondered if he was about to receive a cry for help or a demand for surrender. One would be as bad as the other.
"Captain Kirk." Hrrosbon took in the working medical teams. "I see your ship is affected too. What has happened?"
"I've no idea. How many of your people are affected?" Kirk opted for directness. He could see limp bodies behind Hrrosbon, and people moving to help them.
"Three. You have much more experience of exploration than I do. Has this happened before?" the Astelia captain demanded.
"Not as far as I know." Kirk had to make sense of this, but he also had to ensure the situation was not complicated by an aggressive reaction from the Astelia which might end any chance of finding out what was really behind this. "We were scanning the Limnanthia System, and we'd picked up some odd emissions from the fifth planet, possibly signals, so my first thought is that whatever happened is connected with this."
"Are you certain?"
"Far from it," Kirk replied honestly. "But what else could it be? Our sensors didn't pick up any sort of beam, let alone a weapon, hitting us."
"Nor ours," the Astelia captain confirmed. "But that planet is a gas giant. Surely life could not exist there?"
"We've learned not to discount anything, no matter how impossible it appears, so a life form we've never encountered before, perhaps one we don't even recognise, seems the most likely possibility. I'm going to hold position here until we have more information."
"I can give you some, Captain." McCoy had only the worst possible news to report. "Spock's just unconscious, and I'm none too sure about Lethende but Chekov and Uhura. I'm not getting any indication of brain functions at all."
"You mean they're dead?"
"I'm afraid so, Jim. Whatever happened, we've lost them both." McCoy started to tell his teams to stop their determined efforts at reviving the two officers.
"No!" Kirk was not going to see two friends die without a fight, not when every instinct shouted at him not to accept this. "Keep going."
"Captain, there's no point. Resuscitation won't work; there's nothing to resuscitate," the doctor stated flatly. "Whatever was there, their souls, life force, life essence. whatever you want to call it, just isn't there any longer. We've lost them, Jim."
"I'm not prepared to accept that, not until we've made sense of what happened and at the moment, we can't. We've got a totally unprecedented situation here," the captain of the Enterprise stated. "You can put them on life support, can't you, to keep them alive?"
"I can keep them alive for years but..." The doctor had seen that expression before; Kirk was not going to compromise on this. "All right. I'll put them on life support for the moment but only for a limited period, Captain. I am required to inform you that I will implement their termination options if you can't find the cause of this within a reasonable period of time."
"Captain Kirk, those of my officers who have collapsed," Hrrosbon looked at the bridge of the other ship, "they are key officers, my navigator, communications officer and first officer."
"And mine. The same three positions, plus Mister Lethende from the engineering station. We might not have picked up any sign of aggressive action against us but are you saying someone has tried to leave us open for attack by removing our key officers?"
Hrrosbon shrugged. "It would be an obvious form of attack."
"Only by someone who doesn't understand how quickly backup officers arrive or how other members of the crew are trained to cover the posts in an emergency," Kirk replied as Rowston moved to allow Hadley to slide into the navigator's chair, and Palmer came to take over communications. "But it's worth considering. We've got to make sense of this somehow. Mister Sulu, you don't feel any ill effects, do you?"
"No, I'm fine, Captain," the helmsman responded. "I didn't feel anything at all."
"There might be another reason. The three officers first affected were all scanning the fifth planet. Maybe someone there was reacting to that. Mister Leslie, see if Mister Lethende was doing the same."
"Captain, Doctor, security says the only other person down is Ensign Thlar." Maxton's eyes widened as his thoughts took another path. "That's..."
"Chief?" Kirk was willing to listen to anyone who might have something to contribute.
"Just struck me, sir, we've one male and one female Human affected, plus several of the alien members of the crew," the chief petty officer pointed out soberly. "Do you think someone's sort of collecting specimens?"
"That would explain why Spock was only knocked unconscious," McCoy agreed. "He'd have the mental control to fight such an attack; the others would be taken too off guard." He studied the Salixa worriedly as two of his orderlies carefully moved it onto an anti-grav stretcher. "Jim, I'm not sure I'll even be able to put Lethende on life support. I don't even know if it's possible."
Kirk knew the Salixa could regenerate from almost any injury, but he shared his old friend's misgivings as to the effect this would have on it. He hated the thought their ignorance might lead to the death of Starfleet's first Salixa officer. "Do your best, Bones, and see if you can bring Spock around. He might be able to tell us what's going on."
The captain of the Enterprise looked across at Palmer; she had excellent ratings but by the nature of things, he did not know her as well as Uhura. "Lieutenant, send signals to every planet in that system, see if you can get any response. It was the fifth that seemed interesting and the one we were scanning but don't discount the others."
"I do not know if we can find an answer to this, Captain Kirk, but you are the one with experience of such situations. Anything you wish to try, I will back, as I will have my people kept alive for the moment, too." As Hrrosbon looked at a young man being lifted onto a litter, his face contorted with grief for a moment. "I would do my best for my crew in any event, as I know you will do for yours, but one of the casualties is my son."
Chekov tried to pull his thoughts from the swirling mists of confusion. He had been on the bridge of the Enterprise; now, he seemed to be floating in the upper atmosphere of a planet as some sort of invertebrate, one with enormously long arms, so long he promptly reclassified them as tentacles, and between each arm was a transparent membrane that supported his body and allowed him to float safely through the atmosphere; a tentative attempt showed him he would be able to move through this strange environment. If this was a dream, Chekov could not imagine what had led him to create the weird alien beauty around him; as sunlight caught the multilayered strands of the atmosphere, they radiated in various colours and came to his new senses as different tastes. It seemed odd to think of sensing taste when he knew somehow that the sunlight provided all the energy he needed.
Instinct told him he was a being of the upper atmosphere and that even allowing himself to fall into the denser atmosphere closer to the planet below would be fatal. A Limnanthia never reached the surface so many miles below, not even after death. His body would be torn apart long before it reached the surface. The name Limnanthia crystallised his thoughts. He saw other creatures floating nearby, training impelled him to find out if other members of the crew had been seized, too. "Sound off. Chekov."
Uhura looked dreamily out over the swirling currents that supported her new body as she thought how beautiful this alien environment was. It was a few moments before her thoughts cleared enough for her to wonder how she had arrived in this strange situation. It's usually Pavel who ends up in such fixes as this! Though if you were asking me for odds that our chief navigator isn't here somewhere... She caught the thought. "Uhura."
Lethende stretched out its new tentacles and looked around for its friend. "Lethende. Knowing friend being in the middle of this. What happening?"
Thlar fought back panic as he tried to work out what had happened to him and where he was. The last thing he remembered clearly was going to the wardroom after standing the night watch. "Th-Thlar."
Devan Hrrosbon looked around as bewilderment mixed with fascination. His euphoria at finding the Egg of Succession had been mixed with exhilaration at the thought of meeting people who had dedicated their lives to exploring space. Now, he appeared to be having a strange adventure of his own. He caught the thoughts around him. "Hrrosbon."
"Captain Hrrosbon, you've been seized, too?" As the responses told her she was the senior Enterprise officer, Uhura tried to keep the dismay out of her thoughts over what that would mean for the situation between the two ships but that was something Kirk would have to handle.
"Not Captain Hrrosbon." Devan's thoughts steadied as he found he was not alone. "I'm his son, Lieutenant Devan Hrrosbon. I think there are other people from my ship here, too, but I can only obtain very fragmentary thoughts from them."
"Shock," Uhura told him carefully. She was not sure she wanted to think about how traumatic this must be for people whose whole careers had centred around the long search for the Egg of Succession. "You're the one they know and trust, so just keep sending them reassuring thoughts, while we try and find out what's going on here."
"What is going on is that we wish to speak with you. I am Fourth Mind of the Swirling Currents, one of those who live above the planet you term Limnanthia Five. Do not be alarmed. We do not mean you any harm. We have hoped for contact with beings from other worlds for many centuries, but you are the first who have come close enough."
"But we aren't speaking," Uhura informed the alien, her mental voice conveying tartness. "You have somehow moved our minds from our own bodies into these alien forms without our permission and without asking if you can do that without harm coming to us. Why have you done that? It was hardly a friendly act."
"It was only to make speaking to you easier," Fourth Mind of the Swirling Currents replied. "We will return you to your own bodies at the end of the conversation, in a year or two."
Chekov had worked out the orbit of Limnanthia V as a matter of course. "Fourth Mind of the Swirling Currents, that is not compatible with our continued existence in our natural forms. Beings have different natural life spans. Ours comprise less than one of your planet's revolutions around its primary. I am even less sure of the effect of removing our consciousness from our corporeal bodies. I am certain we will need to return to them as soon as possible."
He realised they might already have been declared dead; the best that could be hoped for was that they were on life support but even that would not continue beyond a limited period, and he felt real fear course through him at the thought that that might not be possible for Lethende; a Salixa went into automatic regeneration when injured severely enough, but he did not have any idea how his friend would react to this. "But I will clarify that later. For now, I must ask you to return the consciousness known as Ensign Lethende to ensure its continued survival. Its corporeal body is unsuited to the life support provisions on the Enterprise. We need to inform the other beings on our ships of our situation, and it will do that. The rest of us will remain and talk to you for a brief period, one compatible with our continued existence. Then I hope you will return us when we ask."
"Harm will come if I do not return the being you specified?"
"Harm will come," Chekov confirmed.
Uhura could feel the growing panic in some of the minds linked to hers. Either she or Chekov could talk to the alien, but she doubted if he had the experience to hold onto the people around them. "Chekov, Thlar is having trouble with this, so are two of the Astelia. I'll hold onto them; you keep talking."
Kirk pondered on their situation. It was now eleven minutes since the officers had collapsed and they were no nearer to working out what had happened to them. "I'd have thought if the aim was to attack, taking us away would have been the logical choice."
"Perhaps that indicates the intention is not hostile?" Hrrosbon responded. The whole situation was so far outside his experience it was even more frightening to think that the Starfleet captain, who had dedicated his whole adult life to exploration, was equally at a loss as to how to proceed. "And that whoever these alien beings are, they understand a captain's position is to remain on the bridge?"
"I've got Sickbay, Captain," Palmer reported hopefully.
"Just wanted to let you know Lethende is on its way to the bridge."
"It's all right? You've released it?" Kirk brightened at the news that not only was one of the snatched people awake but that it did not seem to have come to any harm.
"Released it?" McCoy snorted. "I didn't even get to talk to it! I was with Spock, trying to get him to wake up when there was this whooshing noise."
"A whooshing noise?" Despite the gravity of the situation, Kirk grinned.
"A whooshing noise," the doctor confirmed. "By the time I turned round, it had gone and I'd swear it was moving faster than the speed of sound because the doors had closed behind it before I heard its voice say, 'Doctor looking after friends. Telling Captain.' The rest of them are unchanged. Let me listen to its report, Captain. I need all the information I can get."
"Keep a line open to Sickbay, Lieutenant." Kirk thought of what was heading his way. The Astelia had taken the sight of the most alien member of his crew equably enough but he was not sure how they would react to a Salixa in a state of high agitation and if Lethende had had to leave other members of the crew when they were in danger, that was exactly what he was expecting. "Brace yourself, Captain Hrrosbon. Mister Lethende can be a little...excitable at times."
The turbolift doors opened, and the wildly waving column of tentacles he had anticipated rushed out. Within seconds, it seemed that most of the tentacles were wrapped around him. He patted one soothingly. "Now just calm down, Mister Lethende. Take a deep breath and tell me what happened."
"Aye, sir. One minute being on Enterprise, Captain, next minute finding consciousness inside being floating high in upper atmosphere of Limnanthia Five." Lethende appreciated why Chekov had sent it back to the Enterprise so quickly. "Not being surprised to find friend there, too. Being very interesting situation floating above gas giant. Wanting to stay with friend, but Chekov being worried about alien friend not being on life support, so asking Fourth Mind of the Swirling Currents, Limnanthia making contact, to send friend back." It waved a minor tentacle at the screen. "Captain Hrrosbon, two of minds from your ship being in shock so Lieutenant Uhura looking after them. Lieutenant Hrrosbon being like Chekov and enjoying himself."
"Thank you for explaining, Ensign." Hrrosbon knew now where his son's consciousness was; one part of him was proud of Devan for being the officer from the Astelia who had coped best with what had happened to him; the part that remembered holding Devan's baby hand as his son took his first steps was frankly terrified. "Captain Kirk, why should one of my junior officers be able to cope when two more senior officers cannot?"
"Just a moment, Captain Hrrosbon. Mister Lethende, how did Mister Chekov contact you?" Kirk thought he had a clue as to why two of the Astelia had reacted badly but he needed more details.
"Being telepathic contact, Captain," the Salixa replied.
"That probably explains it." Kirk looked at the other captain as Lethende confirmed his suspicions. "They'd be in a state of shock at being forcibly dragged out of their bodies to begin with and then....telepathic contacts are very few and far between, but one thing we've already found is that not everyone, not even trained Starfleet personnel, can cope with even a friendly one."
Hrrosbon smiled ruefully. "I am not sure whether to be relieved my son is not one of the ones who reacted badly or frightened for what he may be facing."
"Join the club, Captain." Kirk sighed. Lethende had at least been able to tell them not only what had happened and that the life forces of the captured officers still existed but he had no idea what the chances were they would be able to return. "Mister Lethende, can you give me any more details? You were inside an alien?"
"Being alien. Being much larger than Salixa life form, Captain," Lethende replied, several of its tentacles waving for emphasis as usual. "And being perfectly evolved for conditions. Aliens only living in upper atmosphere." It paused thoughtfully. "Not sure how knowing that but knowing somehow, just as knowing even when Limnanthia dying never reaching surface. Knowing spending whole life living in upper atmosphere. Whole environment being very beautiful."
"The aliens call themselves the Limnanthia?" Kirk queried.
"Not exactly doing that, Captain, but using name for moment," the ensign responded.
"And how did the alien contact you?" Kirk asked. His own crew were used to finding themselves in the most peculiar situations but this one would test any of them. He did not want to think how alien the mind of a being evolved for the environment Lethende had just described might be.
"Finding myself near friend. Chekov sending thought but not knowing if finding someone else from Enterprise or alien," Lethende explained, adding, "Then Fourth Mind of the Swirling Currents joining in conversation."
"Did it say why the Limnanthia grabbed you?" Kirk asked. If they could only establish that, they might be able to make sense of this and find a way to get everyone else back.
"Fourth Mind of the Swirling Currents saying that its people wanting to make contact with other intelligent races for a long time, but we being first going close enough. Saying not meaning any harm. Lieutenant Uhura being fierce and telling it she not thinking it being very friendly to seize people without asking consent or without any idea of what harm it might be doing. Chekov being worried about alien friend not being able to be on life support and asking alien to send Salixa back to tell what happening."
"At least these beings seem friendly, even if their action could have caused great harm if you had not been so insistent the affected personnel be put on life support, Captain Kirk." Hrrosbon sounded relieved.
"That being good news, Captain Hrrosbon," Lethende told him. "Bad news being that Fourth Mind of the Swirling Currents wanting everyone to stay talking to it for one or two years...its years."
Lieutenant Kyle looked up from the science console, his face white. "Captain, a year for Limnanthia Five is one hundred and eighty standard years!"
"Saying being bad news," Lethende agreed sadly. "Having to hope friends talking their way of this one!"
"I have sent back the one you asked," Fourth Mind of the Swirling Currents announced. As it sent the thought, the remaining officers could see a Limnanthia body lose its coordination and begin to drift off until it was snared by another alien and carried away.
"Did you create these bodies just for us?" Chekov asked.
"We did. I am not sure I can explain it to you, as your bodies are so very different to ours and you have told me they cannot exist without your minds unless kept alive by artificial means, but we hatch first as simply bodies, a mind is not present. A group of adults must unite together to implant the beginning of a mind, which we then nurture until we have another adult to add to our community. This does not have to be done at once, only within a year, and so we always keep a few bodies from each hatching without minds for some time, once we have caught the new ones."
"Caught?" Chekov asked.
"Yes. When two Limnanthia join, so that each may fertilise the other, the eggs are sent to drift among the currents until they are ready to hatch. Then, as the bodies leave the eggs, their instincts tell them how to survive among the currents; they do not need intelligence for this, though they usually find an adult to follow. When we realised your ship would come near enough for us to be able to communicate with others at last, we used some of the bodies we had kept in readiness," Fourth Mind of the Swirling Currents explained. "We are not entirely sure it will be possible to implant intelligence once you have used the bodies, but we were willing to lose them to gain the chance to talk to you."
"May I ask how many of your years you expect to live?" Chekov enquired carefully. The casual mention of talking to them for a year or so had been alarming enough and Fourth Mind of the Swirling Currents clearly did not expect keeping a body without a mind for one of its years would have any serious effect on later development.
"Some two hundred of our years," Fourth Mind of the Swirling Currents replied. "But that is not all within the same body. When we know the end of one physical existence approaches, we transfer our mind to a new hatchling. That is why we thought we could invite you to talk to us for a year or so as we understand you can expect close to a similar life span."
"We expect to live up to one hundred and fifty of our years, if we are fortunate, but only in one physical body." Chekov could feel how the alien instincts from his new body were affecting his mind; a large part of him wanted to simply delight in the beauty of this wonderful environment, and head off to explore every current in the upper atmosphere he could find. "Uhura, are you finding this difficult, too?"
"Yes. Keep talking. We've got to find a way out of this." Uhura returned her attention to the minds she was as determined to protect as they were to answer the call of the currents and float away.
Chekov forced the still Human part of his mind to concentrate on what was becoming an increasingly urgent priority, convincing Fourth Mind of the Swirling Currents it had to send them back. "Our planet lies much closer to its primary than does yours. One of our years is only a miniscule fraction compared to yours. The time you planned to talk to us far exceeds our expected life span and you would cause us great distress if you kept us here even as long as one of our days, which is an even smaller fraction of one of our years."
"But that is barely long enough to exchange names!" Fourth Mind of the Swirling Currents protested.
"It is long enough to exchange a great deal of information and to decide if we could be friends, but friends do not imprison each other or cause harm to come to each other." Chekov could imagine how ephemeral their lives seemed to a being who expected to live for more than thirty-five hundred years.
Kirk found his chief medical officer at his elbow, at least as close as McCoy could get given the number of anxious tentacles still curled around the captain of the Enterprise. "How are things going in Sickbay, Bones?"
"No change." McCoy ran a sensor over the Salixa. "How do you feel, Mister Lethende?"
"Being worried about friends."
"I understand that," the doctor told it gently. "But I need to know if you feel your usual self."
"Mister Spock." The worried voice of his junior doctor made McCoy whirl, even as Kirk swung his chair round, his face lighting at the sight of his first officer; spirits rose around the bridge as everyone felt that now Spock was back on his feet, they were much closer to finding a solution to the problem facing them. Spock looked extremely shaky, but he was managing to stand alone, away from the anxiously hovering M'Benga. "Are you sure?"
"I will recover fully in a few minutes, Doctor."
M'Benga had felt obliged to accompany Spock to the bridge but when it came to arguing with a stubborn Vulcan, he was only too ready to leave the challenge to his head of department. "I'll get back to Sickbay, sir."
"Can you tell me what happened to you, Mister Spock?" Kirk asked. "You were the first person affected."
"An attack by a strong mental force, Captain, one which seemed to be trying to suck my consciousness out of my body. It was so unexpected it almost overwhelmed me," Spock replied.
Kirk eyed him thoughtfully. "You just described it as an attack, Mister Spock, yet Mister Lethende, who was actually taken, told me the alien, who seized four officers from this ship and three off the Astera, claimed its intentions were friendly. The alien certainly sent Mister Lethende back when Mister Chekov asked."
"Please bring me up to date, Captain." Spock listened intently to both Kirk and Lethende. "I described what happened as an attack, as I regard any uninvited invasion of my mind as an attack, but I now regret I fought so hard against the attempt to remove my mind. Finding oneself as an alien being must be a fascinating experience, and I would have been in a position to aid the officers seized."
"Spock, don't you dare!"
"Don't send out any thoughts inviting the Limnanthia to take you, too, and that's an order." Between Spock's scientific curiosity and his sense of duty, the captain of the Enterprise knew exactly what his first officer had in mind. "We still don't know for sure we can get the others back. There's no point in putting yourself at risk too."
"Very well, Captain. The officers with the aliens are all of considerable ability. I am certain they will cope with the situation."
"We do not wish to imprison any of you." Fourth Mind of the Swirling Currents sounded quite horrified by the suggestion. "We wish only to talk, as I told you. We had simply not expected beings whose life spans are so brief."
"May I ask why you did not opt to send out thoughts to us in our own bodies and make contact that way?"
"It never occurred to us," Fourth Mind of the Swirling Currents answered simply. "We thought this would be more comfortable for you."
"It is not. It is extremely harmful to us both physically and mentally," Chekov replied. "The act of wrenching the consciousness from the bodies of one of the Enterprise officers and two of the Astera officers has caused them severe mental trauma. Please, if you wish further contact, I must ask you to promise to send out your thoughts to other races instead of putting their consciousness into your bodies. If you do this again, then every ship in this area will stay well away from your system."
"You are troubled by the contact?" Fourth Mind of the Swirling Currents asked. "I feel discomfort from your mind and that of the others."
"I think that is due to the way your bodies exist first, before your minds develop." Chekov was finding it harder by the moment to resist the urgings of his new body. "You are evolved to deal with it but I can feel it affecting my mind. My body wants to live here, but my mind wants to return to the Enterprise."
"We have gone the wrong way about this, haven't we?" Fourth Mind of the Swirling Currents responded. "We sought only to talk and yet we have caused harm."
"It is your first contact with another race," Chekov told it gently. "And it is very common for such problems to arise. If you will promise, as I asked, to make only mental contacts, then other people will come and talk to you, but I must remind you that the contacts will be very brief by your standards."
"We must think about this again, more carefully. We have caused harm where we never intended. We ask that contact with us be resumed in a year from now, one of our years, and we promise it will be from a distance, but we must think about how to talk to beings with such short life spans. Your mind has given a great deal of information about other beings, and we will consider that too. For now, I must send you all back so that no further harm comes to you. Farewell."
Christine Chapel leaned forward hopefully as she saw Chekov's eyes open; after a moment he smiled at her, a smile that gave her a good deal of reassurance. "Doctor M'Benga, Mister Chekov's awake!"
"And Lieutenant Uhura!" Betancourt's voice held as much relief as that of the chief nurse. The entire medical staff had been worrying over their patients. It had not helped that all they could do was monitor them. "How do you feel, ma'am?"
"Fine," Uhura told him, her head turning automatically to check that her fellow captives were safely back, too. Chekov seemed his usual self, as he smiled at her, but the monitors began to shriek an alarm as Thlar went into deep shock. She decided on a question of her own as the medics devoted their attention to the only officer reacting badly. "Pavel?"
"I'm fine too," he assured her. "But I'm glad to be back. Were you finding it as hard to cling onto being Human as I did?"
Uhura nodded. "If Fourth Mind of the Swirling Currents hadn't listened to you and sent us back so quickly, I don't know what I'd have done. I couldn't have held onto Thlar and the Astelia much longer."
"How was Hrrosbon managing?"
"He was having a great time, mostly because he knew too little to understand what a fix we were really in." Uhura looked over to the Andorian ensign. "It was Thlar who really had problems. I'd never have held onto him or the Astelia if Hrrosbon hadn't helped me."
Kirk looked around the briefing room and at the screen which showed a similar room on the Astera; Hrrosbon had agreed readily with his suggestion they correlate what had happened to their officers.
"Lieutenant, Ensign, the floor is yours."
Uhura only smiled at her friend. "I concentrated on holding onto everyone, Captain. Mister Chekov?"
"Yes, ma'am." Chekov had been as insistent as Uhura they could leave Sickbay, but when McCoy had told them of the dramatic scene he had found on the bridge after they collapsed, he could appreciate why the doctor had wanted to attach the sensors. As it had got him out of Sickbay, he had not objected. "Captain, Captain Hrrosbon, this contact was truly weird."
"I think we'd second that, Ensign, not to mention alarming, as we both had key officers collapsing at their stations on the bridge for starters," Kirk informed him. "Since that seemed to indicate we might be under some form of attack, it was something of a shock when Mister Lethende informed us the Limnanthia intended a friendly contact."
"The Limnanthia are very friendly, Captain," Chekov agreed. "And very upset they caused us any harm. All the complications were created by the peculiar physiology of the Limnanthia." He described what the Limnanthia had told him. "Fortunately, when I explained to Fourth Mind of the Swirling Currents how urgently we needed to return, it sent us back.
"It was very distressed to think of the error it had made. The Limnanthia want further contact, and they're prepared to try straightforward mental contacts but they're going to spend the next one of their years discussing the project so they make certain they don't cause any further harm."
"Fascinating. I have never regretted studying Vulcan discipline before, but I admit to regret that it led to me missing such an experience," Spock commented.
Kirk grinned at him. "Well, you'll just have to drop by for the next contact, Mister Spock! Put the date in your diary!"
"An excellent suggestion, Captain. I will do so." Spock merely raised an eyebrow as the room erupted into laughter.
Free counters provided by Vendio.
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES --
2266-2270 The First Mission
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES On-Line Fiction
Click Here to Return to the Orion Press Website