January 19th 2267
Spock put a planetary system on the screen. "This is the Chondronalla system. It possesses nine planets. Our interests lie in the second. It consists of eighteen small continents and nine thousand, eight hundred and twenty three small islands. The entire climate is tropical, varying between jungles and plains in the interiors of each continent. Eight continents have significant mountain ranges, as do a number of the larger islands. Around the coasts and over the smaller islands a swamp-based ecology exists. I propose to send down a number of landing parties to study all areas, utilizing my junior science officers."
He changed the screen to show the largest continent and the teams he had assigned to each area.
"The thing that bothers me about those teams of yours, Mister Spock, is that I dont see my name on any of them," Kirk put in.
"This is merely a scientific survey, Captain. It does not require your presence."
"Mister Spock, most of the time we send teams down to unexplored planets will be for scientific surveys and I do not propose to sit on the bridge while you and your teams have all the fun. Im coming." Kirk reflected he could also give some of his junior line officers field experience. Sulu would appreciate the chance to study the plant life of Chondronalla II and Chekov could both work as a science officer and gain some valuable experience in leading a team. He considered who else might benefit too.
Clevedon looked at the members of Security crowding into the transporter room. "Split up into your teams. I want everyone ready when the captain arrives."
"Good morning, everyone." Chekov appeared, his expression cheerful, to demonstrate that it was not only Security who considered it prudent to arrive in good time when they were assigned to a landing party.
"Morning, sir! Morning, Mister Sulu," the guards added as the helmsman entered. "Good morning, Captain, Mister Spock."
"Good morning, everyone. Youve all been briefed as to what we intend this morning, so lets not waste time. Places, my team. Enjoy yourself down there, Mister Spock. Energize." The transporter beam seized him before his first officer could inform him that enjoyment was an emotional reaction.
"Perimeter watch, Ensign," Kirk instructed shortly after his landing party materialized.
"Perimeter watch, aye, sir," Jennie Grey responded.
Kirk waited until the guards were pacing their careful perimeter before turning his attention to a member of his crew he did not know. It was one of the reasons Nancy Kilsyth had been assigned to his team; it was a good chance to see how one of his junior science officers worked and he was pleased to see she was already scanning their surroundings. "How do you wish to proceed, Lieutenant?"
"Id like a little longer for this preliminary scan before I answer that, Captain."
"Fine by me, Lieutenant. Let me know when youre ready to move out." Kirk devoted his own attention to what he loved best about his life, setting foot on an alien planet for the first time.
The plant lifes varying shades of green were pleasant to the Human eye. They were broken by a number of flowers of very alien appearance and he eyed them with a benign wariness; Kirk had learned to appreciate beauty on alien worlds, no matter how strange. His ears were beginning to distinguish between the various sounds around him to tell him that the jungle contained a number of lifeforms, some quite close.
Kilsyth finished her careful scan and pointed. "Captain, Id like to proceed in that direction. Im getting some odd lifeform readings from the ravine about a hundred meters ahead of us."
"Lets go." Kirk was ready to see what else this alien world held for them.
"Aye, sir," Grey responded. "Brown, youre with the lieutenant. Im with the captain. Perivale, you bring up the rear."
Kirk led the way through the jungle. It was hot and humid and his shirt was soon sticking to his back but as he breathed in the alien scents, he added them to the list of things he was enjoying about Chondronalla II.
Sulu joined his science officer in scanning their surroundings. When the chance presented itself, Sulu hoped to take some of the plants back to the Enterprise for further detailed study but that would have to wait for later landing parties. He glanced at the pretty exozoologist and wondered how he could have avoided noticing Abbeyleix until now. Once they got back to the ship, Sulu planned to seek her out and become more closely acquainted. "Ready to move out, Lieutenant?"
"Yes, sir. Ive no preference as to direction."
"I have," Sulu informed her. "Well head in that direction." He wanted to cover as much of his assigned area as he could in the time they had been given and the science officer looked as though she would be some time in making up her mind.
"Perimeter watch, Chief," Chekov requested as the transporter beam released him.
"Perimeter watch, aye, sir," Maxton responded as he wondered what complication the young officer would find with this landing party.
Chekov began a careful scan of his surroundings. Spock had assigned him to the swampy areas on the fringe of the continent the first officer had selected for their initial evaluation and he looked forward to the challenge. He eyed with awe the readings his tricorder was giving him before he looked around. "Chief, I want everyone concealed among those rocks, now!"
"I can see why you wanted to check this out, Lieutenant." Kirk gazed at the ravine. It had to be at least two kilometers wide and what appeared to be spiders webs stretched out across it.
"These beings are certainly some sort of arachnids and the webs indicate a degree of co-operative behavior but their body mass is far too small to suggest intelligence. I would like to observe their behavior before I come to any conclusions, though."
"That sounds eminently sensible, Lieutenant. Ill give you ten minutes now, if you wish, but after that youll have to put it down for later study."
"Thats fine, thank you, Captain." Kilsyth nodded. "I want to cover as much ground as I can but I do need to get some idea of the risk these web masses might offer. There are a lot of ravines in this area."
Kirk could not quarrel with that. "Perimeter watch, Ensign Grey."
He surveyed his surroundings once more as his science officer worked. "Any idea why the webs are here, Lieutenant? Are the creatures are similar enough to Earth spiders to use them to catch food?"
"I cant think of any other possibility, sir, but my tricorder is reading enormous numbers of these arachnids. Its hard to see what lifeform could provide enough food for all of them." She frowned. It was the first time she had worked with Kirk and Kilsyth wanted to make a better impression than this. An idea occurred to her. "The only other possibility I can think of is that this is the breeding season, and the arachnids have gathered together. Perhaps at other times they are far more dispersed."
"Captain!" Brown called out a warning. "There are strands of thread blowing over this way!"
"Lets get out of here!"
Sulu considered the abrupt change in the terrain as they left the jungle. That had certainly contained plenty of lifeforms but the narrow area between the jungle and the ravine seemed empty of life.
Abbeyleix's eyes gleamed as she saw the silver threads spread over from one side of the ravine to the other. "Look, Lieutenant! This time were the ones wholl be making the first contact!"
"Just calm down, Lieutenant," Sulu ordered sharply. "It takes more than a three second glance to decide beings are intelligent. What makes you think these are? These creatures are too small for intelligence to develop."
"The webs are clearly co-operative behavior, Mister Sulu."
"That doesnt necessarily mean intelligence," Sulu countered. "Think termites or honey bees."
Benson surveyed the webs. "I cant see anything around those webs might catch, sir. What do you think?"
"Good point,P.O." Sulu agreed. Only a few low growing plants broke up the area of rocks yet there had to be something here to support such a large colony of arachnids. There was constant movement among the webbing and he could see hundreds of the tiny creatures. "Given the way they stretch across the ravine and to such a height, Id say it has to be something that flies. Linari, youre looking south. Can you see anything?"
"No, sir," the guard replied as Sulu turned to scan the jungle they had just left.
The helmsman shook his head as he studied his readings. "Whatever it is must fly through this ravine at a different time of day, creatures going to roost, perhaps. Sensors will establish what it is. Ill get some beamed down and we can set them before we leave." He pulled out his communicator and began to detail his requirements to Supply.
"Its quite obvious!" Abbeyleix took advantage of his momentary distraction. She was already scrambling up towards the ravine. "These beings have formed a community, Lieutenant. It is up to us to establish contact with them." She turned towards the mass of webbing and began to call out greetings.
"Abbeyleix, get back down this minute!" Sulu ordered sharply. "Theres no evidence whatever these creatures are intelligent and if they are, that isnt the right way to go about contacting them."
Abbeyleix ignored him to continue calling out greetings, her hands outstretched towards the arachnids.
"Look out!" Linari shouted as a shadow passed over him. A huge bird swept down and scooped Abbeyleix from the rocks, its wings more than twelve meters across. She screamed in agony as it bore her effortlessly away.
"Theres another one!" Linari had not taken his attention from the area he was supposed to be watching, but he only had a few seconds before a second large creature appeared. The one that had seized Abbeyleix appeared to be the forerunner of a flock. Before anyone knew what was happening, more of the creatures were attacking.
"Hit the deck!" Sulu yelled as his landing party took a terrifying turn. "Transporter room! Lock onto Lieutenant Abbeyleixs signal and beam her aboard!" He screamed as claws raked his back and pulled him into the air. Accompanying screams added the unwelcome information the other members of his landing party had been captured too. "Beam up the rest of us!"
"Maam, we have a problem!" Clevedons voice was urgent and breathless. "This ground is too swampy!"
Howlett turned at the security ensigns warning to see that while she had advanced over the mossy growth without any problems, the heavier men were floundering badly, Hindhead and Lascetti were up to their knees while Clevedon and Wilkins had sunk as far as their waists but it was the sight behind them that made her eyes widen as Howlett reached for her communicator. The whole area around them had broken away from the bank and was moving out into the lake in a purposeful manner Howlett found terrifying. "Transporter room! Emergency beam up for my entire team!"
"Now I dont want you to think for one moment I dont approve of what you did, laddie, but even if I dont choose to get involved, I do want to know about any projects you think up." Scott benignly eyed the most alien junior engineer he had ever had. With so many landing parties on the planet, he intended to stay on duty in the transporter room until they were all safely back on the ship. He had brought Lethende along to use some of the waiting time in having a friendly talk with the being. He had already learned to respect its work and they were on good terms so he did not want to hurt its feelings. "If you want to work on something alone, thats fine. Just tell me what youre doing. If you want to discuss what youre doing, Ill be pleased to do that too. Ive seen enough of your work to know youve got the making of a fine engineer and itll be both my pleasure and my duty to make sure you fulfil your potential."
"Understanding, Mister Scott. Liking to know about new idea now?"
Scott eyed it warily. "Aye, go right ahead, laddie. Lieutenant Uhuras got the bridge, so Im not needed there, and I might be here if they hit any problems on planet."
"Thinking it being good idea " Lethende barely had time to begin before Scott responded to Sulus first call. As the transporter beam deposited Abbeyleixs bleeding body on the platform, Lethende did not wait for orders before signalling Sickbay for an emergency medical team. At the helmsmans second call for the rest of his team to be beamed up, the screams in the background made it use more of its tentacles to carefully lift Abbeyleix clear of the platform as it informed Sickbay to send all standby medical teams.
The moment the rest of the team materialized it added, "Thinking it being good idea to clear platform, Mister Scott, just in case!"
"Ill not argue with that, lad." Scott dared not leave the transporter console but as he watched in amazement, he saw tentacles find the pressure points for the wounds Sulu and his team had incurred and the bleeding slowed.
"Lieutenant Abbeyleix being dead, sir," Lethende announced sadly.
"Any chance of resuscitation, Ensign?" Scott asked as the first medical team rushed in, McCoy at their heels. "Check Abbeyleix first, Doctor. Lethende says shes dead."
McCoy did not need his sensors to confirm that; one glance at the science officers terrible wounds told him nothing could be done. "What happened?"
"No idea." Scott started to contact the bridge to warn Uhura that at least one landing party had hit problems only to break off as Howletts signal reached him.
"Its in front of us, too, Captain!" Perivale called as he skidded to a halt and a cloud of webbing swept over them. Within moments the whole landing party was wrapped in cocoons of webbing.
Kirk made a tremendous effort and managed to reach his communicator. "Emergency beam up for my entire team!"
Scott looked over the second landing party. Most of them were dripping water all over the transporter platform but they seemed uninjured. "Anyone hurt?"
"I dont think so, Mister Scott." Anita Howlett looked around at her landing party. The security team appeared quite unaffected by their adventure; Hindhead was shaking. "Any problems, anyone?"
"Were fine, maam," Clevedon assured her as he took in the scene. "Doctor McCoy, can we give you any help?"
McCoy sprayed bandages over Sulus gashes. He appreciated the offer but he had things under control. "I dont think so, Ensign, thank you."
"Clear the transporter platform," Scott ordered sharply as he received his third call for an emergency beam up in as many minutes. "The captains team has hit problems too!"
Hindhead seemed too stupefied to react; Wilkins and Lascetti seized him and hauled him off the platform as Clevedon and Howlett jumped clear. If the arrival of Sulus team had created alarm and Howletts mainly relief, the sight of five mummified figures produced shock.
Kirk could see the astonished faces; he knew it would be only seconds before they reacted but he was not sure he and his team had seconds. "Strands are tightening. Cant breathe."
"Thinking best way is to remove wrapping, Captain." Lethende slithered forward and inserted tentacles inside the webbing around its captain. Before the rest of the people in the transporter room realized what the mass of whirling tentacles intended, there was a series of ripping sounds as it tore apart the webbing covering all five members of the landing party. That done, it slid tentacles around all five and helped them gently to their feet, supporting them as they gasped for breath.
"Thank thank you, Ensign." Kirk had been only too pleased at the Salixas quick action and he was equally grateful for the supporting tentacle. He looked at the rest of his team. "Is everyone all right?"
"Ive got a couple of cracked ribs, Captain, but otherwise Im fine," Kilsyth answered. The security team added their own assurances.
"Update me, Mister Scott," Kirk ordered as he took in the sight of Sulus team being loaded on litters. One still figure was covered but for the moment he could not identify who it was. "Doctor?"
"One fatality, Captain, Lieutenant Abbeyleix," McCoy stated grimly. "She was dead on arrival. The rest of the team have been pretty badly clawed up. I havent had time to check Ensign Howletts team or yours for that matter."
"Ensign Howlett, what happened to you? Kirk asked.
"We headed for a lake, Captain, and we walked out towards the edge of the moss. Im by far the lightest, so I didnt spot any problems but the others began to sink into it. When I turned, at Mister Clevedons warning, I didnt just see the problems they were having but I also saw that the whole area of moss had left the bank and was heading out into the lake. I called for an emergency beam up."
"Well done." Kirk nodded, before he smiled at the figure of his chief helmsman. "Mister Sulu, are you up to telling me what your team encountered? I dont need too many details, just enough to tell us what to watch out for."
"Giant birds, Captain," Sulu managed.
Kirk put a hand on his shoulder. "Thats enough. Lets get you all to Sickbay." He turned to the engineer. "Mister Scott, contact all the other landing parties and warn them to watch out for giant birds, spider webs and moss at the edge of lakes."
"Aye, sir." Scott responded. The three teams had been on planet barely an hour, and they had all hit trouble; that argued this planet would be one for the book.
"I need all of you for mandatory checks as soon as possible, Captain." McCoy paused as MBenga supervised the teams taking Sulus landing party out.
"Not until I know the rest of my people are safe, Doctor," Kirk retorted.
"What do you think it is, sir?" Fairford surveyed the red growth that surrounded the rocks onto which the landing party had scrambled as the alien lifeform advanced towards them.
Spock continued to study the red moss. "I am unable to answer that, Ensign. I cannot determine whether the lifeform is a plant or an animal. It appears to possess the characteristics of both."
"Arent there some lifeforms on Earth like that, sir?" Fairford ventured.
"Indeed there are, Mister Fairford." Spock continued to study the red growth as his security team watched it nervously. Their first officer seemed more interested in what it was than how close it was.
"Are there any signs of hostility, sir?" Fairford asked after a moment. "Venom or anything like that?"
"Not that I can determine, Mister Fairford, though you are right to be aware of the possibility." Spock studied the red growth. It was now half way up the rock towards his feet. It suddenly redoubled the speed of its advance as if it had become truly aware of its prey. "However, it may be prudent to relocate. Spock to Enterprise."
Before the ship could respond, the lifeform reacted. The entire landing party found themselves spattered with drops of red material and, as it touched their skin, they discovered it was acid based.
"Enterprise here," Scott sounded harassed.
"Emergency beam up for the entire team into full decontamination against acid!"
"I have to say, sir, you certainly have the knack of meeting interesting lifeforms," Maxton commented as he surveyed the herd of enormous beasts making their steady, ponderous way across the plain; the landing party was on the edge of an area well supplied with plants but also with more open areas. It made it easier to see how large the herd was; it consisted of over fifty adults with an equal number of young of varying sizes.
The creatures were incredibly huge, with massive bodies on tree-like legs. A long neck stretched up to an equally large head and he could not remember ever seeing anything so impressive. The brown eyes surveyed their world with a benign placidity that confirmed they were herbivores even before the nearest took a large mouthful of vegetation and chewed it slowly. As the beings were eating as they went, he expected the passage of the herd to take some time but the chief petty officer was content to remain within the shelter of the rocks. It was the only safe place. "Ive never seen anything like them!"
"Neither have I, not on land anyway, Chief." Chekov studied the creatures in fascination. Even his childhood interest in dinosaurs had not prepared him for the awe inspiring effect of the sheer size of the animals munching placidly at the vegetation. "We ought to be safe enough here."
"Think youre right, sir. Unless one of them happens to step right over us at just the wrong moment! Wed be a while living it down if we beamed back covered in fresh manure!"
"Id rather not think about the image youve just created in my mind, Chief!" Chekov considered he landed himself in enough embarrassing situations without visualising that one.
"What do you think might hunt them, sir?" Maxton asked. The only risk the creatures posed to the landing party was if they stepped on someone and he had started to consider what indirect hazards the herd might pose. He had noted with approval how quickly the ensign had found his team somewhere safe while the herd passed but that refuge would not work against a serious predator attack.
"I was just wondering about that myself, Chief. Theyre certainly evolved from creatures that were hunted. Look at the armor on their back; a creature doesnt develop protection without due cause. The question is, if these creatures have evolved from much smaller specimens, have their predators increased in size, too?" Chekov was working things out as he talked and his security team were content to listen to his reasoning. "Not to mention they might consider varying their diet if they saw us!"
"Only too pleased to hear you thinking along those lines, sir," Maxton told him.
"I thought you might be, Chief! Were certainly going to have time to find out because I do not propose to move until the herd is well past us. Theyd squash the lot of us without even noticing!"
"Ive just decided what these creatures remind me of," Fenni remarked. "Tortoises. Do you think theyre egg layers, Mister Chekov?"
"Lets see if we can work it out, Mister Fenni," Chekov answered. "It would help if we knew the smallest ones were new babies, then we could watch to see if any of them suckle." He looked more closely at two of the largest creatures. "Now what do you think theyre doing?"
"Couple of males challenging for leadership?" Fenni suggested.
"Could be," Chekov agreed, before he shook his head. "No, I dont think so."
The two huge animals were entwining their necks, rubbing them against the other. As the fascinated landing party watched, after some preliminaries the two backed carefully against each other and remained in position for several minutes, ignored by the rest of the herd who continued to feed.
"I wonder if the male is so large he cant mount the female because hed crush her?" Chekov was looking forward to showing his report to the first officer. "Once Ive recorded this Im going to ask for a beam out to another position. I need more data before I can plan out a proper evaluation of this area."
Spock and his team materialized, their uniforms full of holes and their skins dripping blood. Kirk looked at them in horror. No one expected an unknown planet to be safe but Chondronalla II had proved to be full of danger; teams were beaming back only minutes apart, having encountered different but equally lethal hazards. "What happened to you, Mister Spock?"
"An apparently minor hazard, Captain. It was extremely fortunate the option of a beam up was open to us." Spock checked on the welfare of his team before he described the events of the past minutes as he stripped off his uniform. He found a tentacle proffering him a fresh one and thanked Lethende. "I gather you also experienced difficulties?"
"Just a moment, Mister Spock." Part of Kirks attention had remained with his chief engineer. "Mister Scott?"
"I cannot raise Lieutenant Coverack or any of her team, Captain," Scott answered. "I cannot pick up any Human life signs from the area."
"Then Im beaming down," Kirk announced but even as he spoke he became aware of an ominous tightening in his chest. "At least I cant breathe!"
Scott looked around in alarm as he saw every member of Kirks team was suddenly struggling to breathe. If it had not been for the tentacles curled around them, he was sure they would all have fallen. "What is it about this planet? Mister Lethende, get me some more med teams!"
Spock was already signalling the navigator. After a moment, Chekovs unworried voice answered, "Chekov here, sir."
"Are you experiencing any problems, Ensign?" the first officer inquired.
Spock had been aware for some moments of an odd rhythmic pounding in the background of the ensigns signal. "What is that noise?"
"Some creatures Ive been observing, sir," Chekovs voice became enthusiastic. "They're so huge thats the sound of their feet you can hear. Mister Spock, theyre incredible! They out mass even the largest dinosaur ever discovered! "
"I regret I must disturb your observations, Ensign. We cannot raise anyone from Lieutenant Coveracks team or detect life signs so we are going to beam you to her last reported position," Spock told him. "Proceed with extreme caution and report in every fifteen minutes."
"Aye, sir," Chekov replied. "Phasers on heavy stun, everyone. Ready when you are, Enterprise."
"Beaming you over now, Ensign," Scott told him.
"Ensign Howlett, Mister Clevedon, if you feel able, stand ready to beam down should Mister Chekov request further help."
"Im fine, sir." Howlett was willing enough to beam down.
"Ready when you give the word, sir," Clevedon assured the first officer. He was only too ready to beam back.
"Perimeter watch, Chief," Chekov ordered as he swung his tricorder around. Only a few moments were enough to tell him it could not detect any signs of the missing landing party. He had not really expected to, when the ships far more powerful sensors could not. He pulled out his communicator. "Chekov to Enterprise."
"Enterprise here," Spock responded.
"There isnt a sign of Lieutenant Coveracks team, sir, or of anything happening to them, such as a predator attack. How long ago did she report in?"
"Thirty-five minutes, Mister Chekov."
The navigator knew just how much ground the other team might have covered in that time. "Did she give any indication of the direction she intended to take, sir?"
"North, Ensign. Ensign Howletts team is ready to beam down again, if you require more assistance?"
"Yes, sir, I do," Chekov answered without hesitation, still scanning his surroundings. "I've too much ground to cover and given the hazards youve already warned me about, we might not have much time. May I also request Ensign Lethende?"
"Of course. They are beaming down now, Ensign," the first officer replied. "Spock out."
"Found anything, sir?" Clevedon asked.
Chekov could only shake his head. "Not a sign. Mister Spock says they headed north so all we can do is to head in that direction but I want every team with two people equipped with poles long enough to check the ground ahead of us." He pointed to a bamboo-like growth. "Mister Lethende, that plant checks out as safe. Break me off four stems long enough to provide three meter poles."
"Aye, sir." The Salixa complied with an efficiency that had the guards eying it with admiration. They had all learned to respect its abilities at unarmed combat but none of them were entirely sure why Chekov had requested it join the team on what was proving to be an unusually hazardous planet.
"Do you want us to split up?" Howlett asked.
"I want us to move forward in two parallel teams," Chekov explained. "That will both widen the search area and increase the chance we wont all fall into the same hazard or any other for that matter. If one of us hits a problem, the other team ought to be able to get them out in time."
The ensign nodded. "How far apart do you want us, Mister Chekov?"
"As far as possible to extend the search area, but I want both teams in line of sight of the other at all times, so the distance may vary," Chekov replied. "Whatever happened to Lieutenant Coveracks team, they didnt have time to signal."
"And the poles?" Clevedon asked.
"I want to check the ground ahead of us," Chekov told him simply. He saw his teams were ready and ordered them forward. "Mister Lethende, youre with my team."
"Being pleased." The Salixa glided happily forward. It was a long time since it had been on a landing party with its friend; engineers did not often beam down and that was the only thing it regretted about its chosen career track. "Knowing being with team finding all trouble now!"
Scott looked wryly at the first officer as the ensign reported his teams were moving off. "Now thats something I dont envy the lad, Mister Spock, looking for a team in trouble when the others have all hit problems."
"It would be prudent to have more security teams standing by," Spock agreed. The Vulcan suddenly put a hand on the transporter console to steady himself as a wave of dizziness swept over him.
Before Scott even had time to ask what was wrong the door opened and Bessbrook, one of McCoys orderlies, ran in with a medical team. He saw Spock and paled before he rushed over to the Vulcan and pressed a hypospray against his neck. "Doctor McCoy sent me to bring you to Sickbay, sir. The rest of your team have had a bad delayed reaction to whatever hit you on that planet. Ive just administered an antitoxin."
Spock allowed the team to help him onto the litter they had brought. He already felt too ill to argue but there was one fact he had to ascertain. "What is the captains condition? Has he been released from Sickbay?"
"Captain Kirk is claiming he feels fine, sir, but he doesnt look it. Doctor McCoy isnt going to release him from Sickbay for at least twenty four hours," Bessbrook replied.
Spock only nodded. "Then you are in command, Mister Scott. Please keep me apprised of the situation on planet."
"Aye, sir," Scott promised. "Dont you worry about that."
Leonard McCoy rubbed a harassed hand across his brow as he wondered what to do first; his entire Sickbay was packed with casualties of one sort or another from Chondronalla II and it was difficult to prioritise. Sulu and his team were ready for surgery now their conditions had stabilized. Kirk and his team were all breathing normally, albeit with masks over their faces, but he was most worried about Spocks team who had all lapsed into comas. He was still waiting to hear what had happened to Coveracks team or what trouble Chekov and his teams would find as they searched for the missing landing party.
"Doctor McCoy!" Bessbrook burst into Sickbay, his team at his heels. "Mister Spocks stopped breathing!"
Well that sure sorts out what to do next! McCoy told the team to get the first officer onto the only vacant diagnostic bed as he sent a nurse for the necessary medication. "How long since the antitoxin was administered and since he stopped breathing?"
"Three minutes for the antitoxin, and hed stopped breathing just as we reached Sickbay, Doctor," Bessbrook answered. "I could see the toxin was affecting him the moment I entered the transporter room and we got Mister Spock straight onto the litter but we were delayed a few seconds because he had to ask me about the captain and then hand command over to Mister Scott. Then we got him here as fast as we could. Once I saw hed stopped breathing, it wasn't worth trying anything when we were just outside the door."
"Everyone halt!" Chekov called out after twenty minutes steady walking. The terrain had been easy enough to cross and the distance the missing landing party might have covered was beginning to concern him. Before so many teams had hit problems they had been told to only report in every hour.
"Spot something, sir?" Maxton appeared at the ensigns shoulder. As far as he could see, the area ahead of them did not hold a sign of the missing personnel.
"The vegetation is markedly different ahead of us, Chief." He grinned at the large chief petty officer; it was definitely reassuring to think he had the chief at his back. "My analysis doesnt show anything out of the ordinary, but Im not about to take any chances, so I dont think any of you are going to love me very much. Chekov to Enterprise."
"Enterprise here. Any sign, Ensign?"
"No, sir. Please beam down environmental suits for both teams," Chekov requested. "The ground vegetation is changing and in view of what Mister Spocks team found, I want everyone protected."
"On their way, lad." Scotts voice held approval. The ensign might be erring on the side of over caution, though his record did not suggest that was a characteristic of his.
"Thank you, sir." Chekov saw the sparkle of the transporter and called the other team over, telling them to suit up as quickly as possible.
Clevedon repressed the urge to grimace; he hated working in environmental suits. As he began to wriggle into his own, Clevedon wondered what Lethende did when one was required. He had never yet seen it when a number of tentacles were not writhing and he could not imagine how it would cope inside the confines of a suit.
"Mister Lethende, you have the option of beaming back, if you wish?" Chekov turned to his friend as he began to pull on his own suit.
"Staying, sir," Lethende stated firmly. "Wanting to find out what trouble friend finding."
The navigator smiled at it. "I thought youd say that. Seal your breathing tubes before you move out onto that plant."
"How long can you manage with them sealed, Mister Lethende?" Clevedon knew that was something he needed to know.
"Twenty-four hours if busy," the Salixa replied. "Forty-eight minimum if still."
Clevedon made a mental note to read up on the Salixa lifeform and to talk to Chekov about his alien friend. "May I ask if you have a specific reason for getting us to suit up, sir?"
"No, just a feeling it would be a good idea." Chekov had allowed the questions as his people got ready but now he did not want to waste any more time. He informed the Enterprise they were proceeding. "Move out."
The teams were still not sure what had impelled their commanding officer to insist on environmental suits but they could all see that they were moving into an open area of undulating ground covered in what appeared to be just one type of plant. The going was easy enough through the ground-hugging vegetation but there was something unnerving about the stillness. The jungle had been alive with various lifeforms but there was nothing moving here, not even one of the tiny creatures that had filled the air with their whining flight.
Chekov stopped abruptly as he reached the top of the first low hillock even as he activated his suit communicator. In front of him were four Human shapes but they were completely covered by the green growth. He would have expected them to be either sprawled on the ground, overcome by the growth, or fighting to free themselves but the four seemed to be just standing upright.
Completely astonished by what he saw, Chekov clung to the only priority. "Mister Scott, Ive found Coveracks team but theyre smothered in one of the growths here. Can you beam them up into decontamination?"
"I can only detect your teams, lad." Scotts voice held a taut note as he studied the readings the console was giving him. The worst nightmare of any transporter operator was a malfunction; being unable to beam up casualties ran it a close second and he could not think what the ensigns report meant for the trapped personnel. With the situation on the planet and the number of casualties they had incurred so far, Scott had opted to leave Uhura in command on the bridge and remain in the transporter room. His expertise might be needed here and he had no qualms whatever about handing the bridge to their communications officer.
"Theyre four point two meters directly in front of me, Mister Scott," Chekov gave Scott precise co-ordinates. "Theyre alive in there, my tricorder can detect heartbeats and breathing."
"Thats more than the transporter can do, lad," Scott reported regretfully after another attempt. If the people under the growth were still alive the transporter should be able to lock onto them, but his console obstinately refused to admit there was anyone on the planet but Chekovs and Howletts teams. "Can you get them out somehow?"
"The heartbeats and breathing are steady enough, Mister Scott," Chekov answered. "Mister Fenni and I are just doing a second analysis of the growth now. It didnt read as anything out of the ordinary when I checked it out before we walked onto it but there must be something I didnt detect. Maybe a phaser stun will work but I need to be certain." He looked at the information his tricorder was giving him. "Mister Scott, weve got a real problem here. May I speak to Doctor McCoy?"
Scott did not like the sound of that. Chekov had already demonstrated he was resourceful but something about the trapped landing party had him immediately requesting advice. Scott opted for complying without demanding more details first. Once he listened he would know if the problem was down to the ensigns inexperience or if there genuinely was a serious problem. The chief engineer had an ominous feeling it was the latter. "Hold on, Ensign, and Ill patch you through. Just give me a moment to explain. Scott to Sickbay."
McCoys strained voice responded. The moment he heard the intercom, he expected the second officer to announce the missing people had been found and his medical teams were needed once more. "Mister Scott, I hope youre not about to tell me Ive more casualties heading my way?"
"I wish they were, Doctor. Weve casualties all right, but theyre still on planet. Chekovs located the missing team. Theyre completely covered in a growth and the transporter cant lock onto them," Scott told him.
"Are you saying theyre somehow still alive?" McCoy demanded, an incredulous note in his voice. Alien planets had presented him with some horrendous problems in the past, and Chondronalla II had already given him far too much work.
"Chekov reports their heartbeats and breathing are steady enough, Doctor, so he analyzed the growth before he took any action. Whatever he found, hes asking to talk to you before he takes any action, so lets not waste time we might not have. Patching you through now."
"Ensign, whatever the problem is youve got, Ill do my best to help," McCoy told him. "What exactly is it?"
"Can you activate a screen, Doctor?"
"Go ahead," McCoy told him.
Chekov linked his tricorder to the ships computer. "This is what weve found." He heard two exclamations at the four people-shaped images and knew Scott was looking too. "I started to analyze the growth to see if a phaser stun might get it off them but look at the readings, Doctor, and tell me if Im right in saying that the growth is actually breathing for them?"
McCoy handed the task of closing Sulus remaining wound to Chapel in favor of devoting his entire attention to the screen when he heard that horrible question. His dismay grew as he studied the data; Chekov was not exaggerating the predicament of the trapped landing party. They had not suffocated, as he would have expected with their mouths and noses completely covered, because the strange alien growth had locked onto their skin and was somehow keeping them supplied with air.
McCoy did not know how, and he was even less sure he wanted to think why. "Ensign, Im beaming down. I cant deal with this long distance. Theres too great a chance of a mistake and losing someone. I need to know more about what that growth is doing." He looked over at MBenga; despite all the casualties filling Sickbay no one was in immediate need of treatment. He could safely leave everything to his very competent junior doctor. "Take over here, Doctor."
"Do you want us to do anything in the meantime, Doctor?" Chekov asked. This was a medical problem and too far out of his field for him to know what was the best thing to do.
"Keep an eye on those vital signs, Ensign, and keep analyzing that growth," McCoy ordered. "Let me know the moment anything changes."
McCoys blue eyes widened in dismay as he saw what Scott was holding ready for him to don. "I dont have time for that thing!"
"Doctor, youre wearing it or youre not beaming down," Scott informed him. After the ensigns peculiar report, he was not about to argue with the chief medical officer's decision to deal with the problem at first hand. "What do you think has kept the lads people from joining Coveracks but his thinking of that precaution?"
"Chekovs teams are working suited up?" McCoy shook out the hated suit.
"They are. Im not sure why he decided on it, but if he hadnt, his teams might in the same mess." Scott came to check on the seals.
McCoy jumped on the platform. "Energize."
The doctor materialized in the middle of a security team keeping a wary perimeter watch next to the navigator who was engrossed in scanning the four unmoving figures, while Fenni kept a check on the plant itself. The scene looked far worse than it had when McCoy had simply looked at the picture on the screen in his comfortable Sickbay. "Update me, Ensign."
"All four still read stable, Doctor, but Im not as certain the growth isnt making further inroads. Thats the best way I can put it because Im far from sure exactly what its doing to them." Chekov showed the dismayed doctor his readings. "This is truly out of my field. Do you think a phaser stun would work?"
"Knock the creature out long enough to get them free, you mean?" McCoy asked, his tone dubious.
Chekov nodded. "That was my first thought until l realized it was breathing for them."
"I need to gather more data. Ive never met up with a problem such as this before either. It might be within my field, but I cant see a clear way to proceed."
Lethende reached out a tentacle and tapped something into Chekovs tricorder.
"If its you pulling them out, Id already thought of that, but Id rather try stunning it first to encourage it to let go." Chekov patted a tentacle. He knew the being would try anything he asked of it.
McCoy looked up from his medical tricorder, his face bleak. He understood why Chekov had so promptly asked for medical advice; the doctor just wished he could as promptly provide some. The only data he had gathered so far simply increased the urgency of acting quickly. "Weve got to get them out as fast as possible. Youre right about that thing taking them over. I can read that its reached their lungs. Try stunning it. However a phaser works on that thing, at least it shouldnt do any harm to its victims."
"Do you want to try getting them all out or one at a time?" Chekov asked about the only point that would affect how he proceeded.
"One at a time." McCoys voice was more strained than ever as he thought of the unknown ground they were breaking. "I truly dont know if well be killing them if we try this, so just one. If that doesnt work well have to think of something else."
Chekov hated the thought one of the landing party might have to die in order to help them find a way to rescue the others but he only nodded and turned to his security team. "Who are the best with phasers on cut mode, Mister Clevedon?"
"The chief and I, sir."
"Then I want you standing to the right and left of Mister Lethende and me," Chekov told them. "Ill fire a stun shot at the nearest person. The moment I do, Mister Lethende, you grab them and try and lift them free. If the creature tries to hold onto them, then I want a cut below the person to free them, and well have to hope we can beam them out." Chekov considered a moment before he signalled the ship and requested four anti-grav sleds. "If we cant, then we get them on the sleds and away from this area."
The anti-grav sleds appeared and Chekov told Wilkins to bring one as close as he could. He looked at everyone. "Ready? Doctor, keep a constant scan on the life signs. Im firing now!"
"No!" McCoy cried. "It isnt going to work!"
"Whats wrong?" Chekov lowered his phaser.
"I just did a deeper scan. How long have they been covered by that plant?"
"About an hour, Doctor. Why?" Chekov asked.
"Because in that time, its somehow invaded every pore in their skins," McCoy answered. "A phaser stun wont work."
"Weve got make it release them, you mean?" Chekov wanted to be clear on that. "Withdraw?"
Chekov looked at the analysis Fenni had made of the alien lifeform. "Its mainly water- and carbon-based so nothing complicated there. While it can clearly react to prey, I dont see how there can be any intelligence. Mild heat might make it retreat but the problem is were so far into it."
Lethende tapped something else into the tricorder.
"Go on," Chekov invited, before his dark eyes lit as the Salixa added something else. "Of course! Lethende is using a mild electrical charge to prevent the creature creeping up its tentacles," he added, enlightening everyone else as to what the two were discussing. "Thats working so far, so a stronger charge might make it release its hold. Doctor, any thoughts as to how strong?"
McCoy shook his head. "Only that its as mild as you can make it, Ensign, since we dont how much the charge will travel to the people under that thing."
"Mister Lethende, wrap a tentacle around the nearest person and see if you get a reaction," Chekov ordered. The Salixa obeyed but the watching personnel could not see any movement.
"Im beaming you down a couple of portable generators now, Ensign." Scott had been listening closely too, ready to activate the transporter at the first sign he could help. He was as aware of the passage of time as the people on the planet. The trapped landing party might not have very much longer.
"Thank you, Mister Scott." Chekov waited until the generators appeared. "Im going to try this on the creature itself, rather than on one of the landing party. If we can make the whole creature retreat, we might be able to get them all out."
He and Lethende moved swiftly to position the leads, attaching them to the poles the security guards had been using to probe the surface so they could manipulate the points, before Chekov announced they were ready. He and the engineer activated the leads they had pushed into the being but without effect.
"Double the charge," Chekov ordered tersely and everyone watched as Lethende complied.
This time the effect was evident, and the creature began to retreat, sliding away in a manner that revealed it was capable of movement, albeit very slow. The two ensigns moved carefully closer to the trapped personnel as Scotts alarmed voice came over the suit frequency. "Mister Chekov, are you still all right down there?"
"Yes, sir," Chekov answered.
"The creature is reacting to what youre doing, not just around you but over the whole of it. Ive lost the transporter fixes I was keeping on your teams," Scott told him. "Youre going to have get completely clear of the area that beastie covers before I can beam any of you out."
"Understood, Mister Scott, but the electrical charge is working, the creature is retreating," Chekov answered, his voice full of relief. "Were just starting to try and make it release one of the landing party."
He positioned his nearest lead close to whoever had been unfortunate enough to stand at the rear as the creature moved. There was a moment of stillness then, with an abruptness that startled everyone, the creature moved away from all four members of the original landing party, leaving them standing briefly upright before they began to collapse, clearly unconscious, their skins red raw where it was visible.
"Mister Lethende, get them all onto the anti-grav sleds and get out of here!" Chekov ordered. "Beam up into decontamination the moment Mister Scott gets a fix on you."
Under the astounded eyes of the security team, all braced to offer assistance the moment the trapped team were freed, the Salixa caught all four people in its tentacles. It laid them onto the waiting sleds before it took the control bars in minor tentacles and began to pull them clear, moving with a speed that further astonished the security teams.
Chekov saw the way the creature was reacting and knew it was not only the freed team he had to get clear of what might prove a major threat. "Take Doctor McCoy with you!"
The doctor had also been standing in amazement as he saw how quickly the Salixa could move and how many actions it could perform at once. He quickly discovered it could add one more; before he realized what had happened, a fifth tentacle had whipped him off his feet and was carrying him out of danger.
"Phasers on heavy stun!" Chekov added an order for his security team as he began to retreat from the ominous wall of green that had formed within seconds. It was beginning to advance towards them in a way that suggested they would soon be in as much trouble as the original team. He started to wonder just how quickly the moss form could learn. "Lets get out of here!"
Suspended helplessly, McCoy had an excellent view of the retreating teams starting to fight their way clear as Lethende carried him away. He began to protest furiously but the Salixa ignored him. It saw the edge of the moss creature ahead and contacted its head of department as it crossed the line between the different areas, ordering full decontamination. Scott was ready. The moment he had a transporter lock, the anti-grav sleds and their loads, Lethende and McCoy vanished.
They found themselves on the transporter platform as McCoy was still demanding to be released. Lethende was still ignoring him, as it pulled the anti-grav sleds clear of a platform that might be needed for more emergency beam ups; Lethende knew only too well that with more than one team to beam up, its friend would insist on being in the last team to return to the Enterprise and it intended to ensure Chekov did not have to wait.
The Salixa checked the four rescued people. "No one breathing! No hearts beating! Doing heart massage but not resuscitation!"
In proof it began to administer cardiac massage as Scott responded by signalling Sickbay for emergency medical teams. McCoy rushed to the door and grabbed three members of the crew who were passing by in the corridor; they were not as highly trained as his teams, but they would keep the rescued people alive until the med teams got here.
The doctor knew he did not dare simply put the four into stasis. He needed to get them breathing first and their hearts beating; he was too unsure of the alien effect to risk a delay. The three crewmembers simply nodded at his hasty explanation as he gestured them to the anti-grav sleds. Their eyes widened as they saw Lethende giving heart massage to four people at once, but they promptly began artificial respiration on the security team as McCoy took on the science officer.
"Can anyone update me?" Scott had his attention on the readings his transporter console was giving him but he could not get a lock on anyone else yet.
"Electrical charge working, Mister Scott," Lethende answered. "Creature suddenly released all four people, so Mister Chekov ordering me to put them on anti-grav sleds and get them clear, taking Doctor McCoy and signalling for beam up when being clear of growth. Obeying but seeing that creature forming wall three meters high ready for attacking people remaining on planet!"
Scott looked at him in dismay for a moment before he tried to contact Chekov.
"Stun isnt working, sir." Clevedon fired straight at the alien growth advancing towards them but he could see the beams, even from so many phasers, were not having any effect.
"Put phasers on low heat and cover me!" Chekov ran towards the green wall and dived for the remaining generator. He turned it up to maximum before he ran back towards the security teams. The other generator was already invisible behind the advancing wall; he could only hope one would be enough to win them time to get clear. There was a crackling sound behind him as the creature flowed over the generator, but by then he and his teams were at the edge of the strange creature. He turned to look back but it was not making any attempt to follow them. "Everyone stop. Chekov to Enterprise."
Scott responded instantly. "Enterprise here, lad. Are you safe?"
"Were all clear, Mister Scott, and no one was hurt," Chekov assured him. "What about Lieutenant Coveracks team?"
"Weve just got everyone breathing and theyre being taken to Sickbay now, so well done to all of you." Scott told them. If Coveracks entire team had been lost no one would have held Chekov responsible but he doubted it would have been easy to convince the ensign of that. "Lets get you all back to the Enterprise now."
"With your permission, sir, Id prefer to remain on planet. I consider I need to make absolutely certain I havent harmed an intelligent being," Chekov requested.
"From what youve told me about that creature, lad, it would have problems finding somewhere to put a brain!" Scott answered finally.
"I agree, Mister Scott, and I dont think it is intelligent. It did produce a variable response to the stimuli we provided, so it is something I need to ascertain."
"Very well, Ensign. Keep an open link with the ship and inform your teams that remaining on planet is strictly volunteers only," Scott ordered.
"Aye, sir. Everyone has volunteered to remain."
Scott was only too pleased to think he did not have McCoy here to hear that entirely predictable answer. "Carry on, Ensign."
McCoy surveyed his latest batch of patients with considerable satisfaction. The four were going to be uncomfortable for the next couple of days until their skin recovered completely, but they were going to survive. That was something he had been far from sure of when he first saw what the alien creature had done to them; he warned the nurse on duty to keep a very close eye for any strange reactions and went to bring the captain up to date.
Kirk had been allowed as far as the patients lounge, mostly because they were running out of beds. After the day he had had, McCoy did not intend to let anyone affected by Chondronalla II out of his sight until he was certain they were not going to spring any more surprises on him.
Kirk had been trying to read but he abandoned all pretence the moment he saw who had entered. "Doctor?"
"Theyll all pull through, Captain." McCoy stuck to formality; the lounge was full of people he had refused to release as fit for duty. "Though theyre going to be unhappy with life for a couple of days. There isnt an inch of their skin that wasnt affected." He looked around the lounge with suspicion. "Wheres Chekov and his team? They know they cant go wandering around the ship without having completed their mandatory medicals."
"No idea, Bones. They havent come in here." Kirk wondered where Chekov was too; the ensign might dislike Sickbay but he was far too conscientious to avoid the medical that was mandatory for all personnel beaming back from unknown planets.
Frowning, McCoy activated the intercom. "Sickbay to Transporter Room."
"Scott here," the chief engineer answered after a moment.
"Mister Scott, where are Ensign Chekov and his teams?" McCoy inquired. "Theyre not in Sickbay."
"Ive just beamed them up, Doctor," Scott replied. "Theyre on their way to you now."
As if in response the door opened and Chekov looked in. "Doctor McCoy, could we have medical checks, please?" He looked past the doctor, his dark eyes widening as he saw how many people were in the lounge. "I hope everyone is all right?"
"Were fine, Mister Chekov, and I cant wait to hear your report, once the doctors cleared you, of course!" Kirk smiled at the young officer.
There had been a warning note in his voice that McCoy heeded. "I can't think why any of you wanted to spend a minute longer on that death trap of a planet than you had to," he grumbled, his scowl deepening as no one showed any signs of wanting to enlighten him. They passed all his tests, and he released them.
"Thank you, Doctor." Chekov slid rapidly off the diagnostic bed. His intention to escape as swiftly as possible was so evident that the doctor was hard put not to glare at him again.
"I hope everyones found somewhere to sit or at least perch!" Kirk smiled around a lounge that was more crowded than ever. With everything that had happened on Chondronalla II he wanted as much input as possible from everyone involved before he decided how their exploration was to continue.
The only people missing were Coveracks team and Goldstein, the most seriously injured of Sulus team; Kirk had also added Scott and Uhura as he wanted his remaining senior officers up to speed, especially as Scott was in command until Kirks confinement to Sickbay was lifted. Whatever had caused the coma affecting Spocks team, it had been mercifully brief, and they had all regained consciousness, to McCoys relief. The doctor had also allowed the rest of Sulus team out of bed, albeit with ferocious warnings to take things easy.
"I know most of us are stuck in here for at least the next twenty-four hours until Doctor McCoys certain hes got every atom of toxin or whatever we picked up out of our systems but given that weve had such an eventful morning, I want to correlate everything thats happened. I think well deal with whats happened in the order that people requested emergency beam ups. That means youre first, Mister Sulu."
Kirk would have put the helmsman first in any event; Sulus team was the only one that had incurred a fatality and giving such a report was something best got out of the way as quickly as possible. The helmsmans expression told him the lieutenant was not taking Abbeyleixs death well, but that was only what he expected of an officer of Sulus caliber.
As Spocks report ended, Kirk grimaced at the thought of some of the risks his people had run today. No one had diverted from correct procedure with the exception of Abbeyleix, who had paid the ultimate price for her stupidity. Kirk looked at Chekov with particular interest; it had been necessary to correlate events but he had already heard most of what the other team leaders had had to report. "Mister Chekov, perhaps youd like to explain how it is youre the only one who didnt need an emergency beam up?"
"We didnt get into trouble because we didnt actually go anywhere, sir." Chekov put up the image of the behemoths on the screen with a tiny, stylized Human figure for comparison. He was quite pleased with the gasps of amazement. "Not when these inhabitants of Chondronalla Two turned up!"
"Chekov, how did you avoid getting turned into pancakes?" McCoy demanded.
"We hid in the rocks and pretended we werent there at all!"
McCoy snorted. "Spock, you arent going say that was logical, are you?"
"I am unsure as to what other term you would wish me to apply, Doctor. It was an eminently reasonable course of action," Spock responded austerely. "How long did you spend studying them, Ensign?"
"I did bear in mind it was only an initial survey, sir," Chekov replied to something more than the question Spock had actually asked, as his audience carefully maintained an air of solemnity. "I wanted to get some idea of any direct and indirect threats the creatures might pose us."
"Indirect threats?" McCoy eyed him in astonishment. "Were you expecting them to produce bows and arrows?"
Spock was not in the mood for the doctors interruptions. "Doctor, if you could refrain from delaying matters with your unnecessary and ill-informed questions, Ensign Chekov could explain!"
"Aye, sir." Chekov decided to err on the side of prudence and take that as an order. "I wanted to be certain the creatures themselves didnt pose anything other than the obvious threat that theyd squash anything they stood on. I didnt see any indication they can move any more quickly than you can see but that doesn't mean they cant. The indirect threat I wanted to check out was from any predators that might follow the herd. I was going to ask to be beamed to a different position when two of the creatures began a courtship ritual, and I decided it was worth waiting to record that; it might be something we dont get the chance to observe again."
"You sound a little regretful, Mister Chekov?" Kirk eyed him curiously.
"Given a choice, Captain, Id rather have observed the other end of the process. Watching one give birth or lay eggs would have answered a lot more of the questions I have about them," Chekov explained.
Kirk grinned. "True. Go on."
"Aye, sir." Chekov put the mating sequence on screen, to some amazed comments.
"I prefer something a little more romantic!" Uhura chuckled. "But it doesnt look as if they have any option."
Chekov nodded. "Mister Fenni and I were going to try and see if we could determine whether they were egg layers, because if they are they must be at the absolute limit for that lifeform. I would like to study them further, Mister Spock, once weve finished the initial scans."
"Of course, Ensign." Spock nodded approval. "I shall join you. The opportunity to study such a fascinating lifeform should not be missed. Do you have anything to add to your report on the creatures?"
"No, sir. It was then that you signalled to ask if wed experienced any problems," Chekov replied.
Spock turned to the captain. "After you were overcome by the effects of your encounter with the arachnids webs, Captain, I signalled Mister Chekov in order to ascertain the status of his team. Mister Chekov beamed over to Lieutenant Coveracks last reported position and requested a second team and Mister Lethende. At this point the alien toxin overcame me, so I cannot report directly. I shall be extremely interested to hear how you proceeded, Ensign."
Kirk smiled at the young ensign. "So shall I. Mister Chekov, lets hear your thinking as you describe what happened."
"Aye, sir. First, Id like to commend the actions of Ensigns Howlett and Fenni and all the security personnel throughout the time we were on planet, in particular for volunteering to remain with me." Chekov paused as the tentacle that had been wrapped around him unwound to poke him indignantly, only to continue, his expression innocent. "And Ensign Lethende, who was of the greatest assistance, as youll hear."
"Noted. Go on."
"Aye, sir." Chekov considered for a moment, before he continued, "I sent Ensign Howletts team out to the left to widen the area we could search but with orders to remain in line of sight at all times, and we checked the ground. Wed proceeded uneventfully when the terrain changed to this." Chekov put on screen the low, undulating, apparently mossy growth. "Even though my analysis didnt show anything but a simple plant form, something about it sounded warning bells."
"Specifically?" Kirk asked.
"There wasnt anything specific, Captain. The only definite fact I had was that none of the four members of the team, all experienced personnel, had had time to signal they were in trouble," Chekov explained. "Taken with the fact there was such a marked change in the vegetation, I requested environmental suits for all the Humans."
"Not Lethende?" McCoy demanded, only to jump as a tentacle poked him hard in the ribs.
"Not needing suit, and Chekov knowing that," Lethende informed him. "Doctor keeping quiet. Getting to good bit where showing Captain what Salixa can do!"
Chekov hid a grin as the doctor subsided. Kirk was not even bothering to do that and it was an effort to keep his face straight as Chekov continued, "I topped the first mound and saw this."
Chekov thought the entire room gasped at the sight of the four growth-covered people but decided it was only the ones who had not seen such an unnerving sight before. "The transporter couldnt lock onto them, even though my tricorder could clearly detect stable breathing and heartbeats. I wasnt entirely sure I was interpreting the data correctly as it showed me the growth seemed to be breathing for the people it had trapped. That was when I contacted the Enterprise and requested to speak to Doctor McCoy. He took one look at the readings and decided he needed to be on planet to study the problem at first hand."
"Before you continue your account, Mister Chekov, please put your analysis of the lifeform on screen," Spock requested, "in order than I may compare it with my analysis of the one that attacked my team. It would appear that Chondronalla Two has a most fascinating range of apparently simple lifeforms that are anything but. We will add a study of the moss creature that attempted to entrap Ensign Howletts team."
"Aye, sir." Chekov looked only delighted by the first officers announcement they were going to study a lifeform that had already attempted to trap one landing party. "Perhaps well be able to establish if its one creature that breaks off just enough of its mass for the size of the prey or a colony of them."
"Indeed, Ensign. Captain, the comparison of the two lifeforms does show some similarity, but a more detailed study is required." Spock wondered how much longer the doctor was going to insist on keeping him in Sickbay. "I am aware we do not have the time now, so continue with your report, Ensign."
"Aye, sir." Chekov considered for a moment before he related the details of how they had freed the trapped team. "I ordered Mister Lethende to grab them and get them onto the anti-grav sleds, get clear of the creature and beam up to the Enterprise. When I saw the creature had risen up into a green wall and appeared about to attack us, I added an order for it to take Doctor McCoy as well."
The doctor snorted. "Did it have to be horizontally?"
Lethende patted him apologetically. "Being in a hurry."
"Im sorry I missed it." Kirks eyes were dancing as he waved to Chekov to continue.
"We fired at the creature, but heavy stun didnt have any effect. I ordered everyone to tune their phasers to low heat and keep firing while I activated the remaining generator. That gave us enough time to get clear, and I reported to Mister Scott. I requested time to remain to study the creature as from its varied responses to stimuli, I wasnt certain we hadnt harmed an intelligent being. I would like to commend everyone else for volunteering to stay with me."
"Noted," Kirk smiled.
"Did you receive any significant response, Ensign?" Spock looked interested at once.
"No, sir." Chekov detailed the tests he had tried before he looked inquiringly at his scientific mentor. "Im aware that was only a series of basic tests, sir, so if you think Ive missed anything?"
"No, Ensign." Spock was gratified to see the ensign was keeping such an open mind but his tests had followed a logical progression. "It was entirely necessary to ascertain whether the creature was intelligent, and you worked methodically. I cannot see you omitted anything. The fact the creature was able to vary its response to stimuli and threats appears to suggest it may eventually evolve intelligence. Indeed, the similarity of your scans to mine seems to postulate a whole range of apparently simple lifeforms are evolving on this planet in a most intriguing manner."
Chekov nodded. "The analogy that occurred to me was the parallel evolution of the apes and early humanoids on Earth, sir."
"It sounds very interesting, gentlemen," Kirk told them, a little wearily. He was beginning to find it hard to keep awake; he certainly could not match the enthusiasm of the two science officers. "I look forward to learning more, if we can find a way to keep landing parties in one piece. For the moment though, Ensign, to you and all the members of your teams, well done for getting Lieutenant Coverack and her people off that planet alive. You too, Doctor. Very well done, all of you. My report will reflect this."
"Thank you, Captain."
"Captain, you for one, need some sleep." McCoy eyed the captain of the Enterprise anxiously as he thought of the delayed reactions that had already hit so many of his patients. "Youre not feeling worse again, are you?"
"No, just tired," Kirk assured him. "Still, since you have to wait to beam down, Mister Chekov, it will give you time to write your report." He saw the disappointed expression. "Or did you have something else in mind?"
"Ive only been able to carry out fifty-four minutes of my planned assessment, Captain, and Mister Spock told me to take six hours." Chekov eyed his captain hopefully. "Couldnt I beam back and finish?"
McCoy opened his mouth to object, only to find he had earned himself another poke in the ribs from a minor tentacle. Kirk simply grinned and waved in the direction of his chief engineer. "Youre in command, Mister Scott, so hes all yours!"
Scott shook his head at the ensign. "Who were you planning to take with you, Mister Chekov?"
"Just my original team, Mister Scott." Chekov found he was being poked again. "Though if you can spare it, Mister Lethende would be welcome."
"Aye, well, I think weve all learned why you asked for it in the first place, Mister Chekov, so by all means." Scott went to answer the comm unit. When he returned, he looked regretful. "Im afraid you wont be beaming down, lad. Captain, weve got an emergency call from Janus Six, something to do with unexplained deaths. Starfleet orders are to be there as soon as possible."
Chekov was not the only one to sigh in disappointment, the doctor noted. The loudest sigh came from the captain of the Enterprise.
The ensign turned to see Valerie Coverack smiling at him. "Yes, Lieutenant?"
"I just wanted to thank you, Ensign. I and my team would never have made it off Chondronalla Two if it hadnt been for you."
"Im only too pleased I was able to help," Chekov assured her. He eyed the lieutenant for a moment before he decided she looked sufficiently at ease with an unnerving experience for him to risk a question. "May I ask what you remember about it?"
"All of it, as a matter of fact," Coverack told him. "If youre not doing anything, would you let me tell you about it? Id like to hear how it seems from your perspective. You had experience as a middy with non-humanoid intelligence. I would like to hear what you think before I write my report."
"Id be only too pleased, because I did wonder about the sentience of the creature involved." Chekov obeyed her gesture to join her in one of the alcoves scattered around the edge of the rec room.
"Bones, are you sure Sulus up to a bridge watch?" Kirk asked.
"Physically, hes fine," McCoy assured him. "Its Abbeyleixs death that concerns me. He isnt taking it well. Sulu will be better with something to do."
McCoy heard the override signal on his door. He told whoever was signalling to enter, only for his blue eyes to widen in surprise as a clearly worried Chekov appeared. "Whats wrong, Ensign?"
"Im not sure anything is, Doctor, but we might not be finished with Chondronalla Two yet," Chekov answered. "Did you scan the minds of Lieutenant Coverack and her team?"
"Yes, they came up normal. Why?
"Sit down and tell us about it, Mister Chekov," Kirk told him kindly. With a possibly dangerous mission ahead of him he did not want any further complications, but if any were looming, he intended to find out what they were.
"I might be making something out of nothing, Captain, but Lieutenant Coverack told me about the impressions shed received while she was covered by that lifeform. I thought it was worth asking the security team about theirs. They told me they didnt remember anything about the experience at all."
"Security is notoriously pragmatic about such things, Mister Chekov." Kirk eyed the ensign curiously. "I can see that isnt the point that occurred to you?"
"It never crossed my mind, Captain," the ensign agreed.
"So what did?" McCoy inquired.
"That Lieutenant Coverack is the only female member of the team," the ensign answered simply. As his two senior officers gazed at him, he continued rather apologetically, "Thats what I meant about perhaps overreacting, but my training emphasized reporting any atypical reactions."
"No, you were quite right to come, Mister Chekov, even if youre wrong," McCoy assured him. "Id rather check out a thousand false alarms than have someone not tell me about something I could have prevented if Id only got on to it quickly enough."
"And you think Chekov is wrong in this case, Bones?" Kirk asked.
"How do I know?" McCoy demanded. "He was right to tell me and Im going to check that team over very thoroughly, Coverack especially!"
Kirk entered the transporter room. He had a bad feeling about this mission and the ensigns concerns about Coverack had not helped; McCoy was still concerned about the lieutenants landing party. He saw his chief medical officers expression. "Bones?"
"I suppose Im still worrying about Coveracks team," McCoy replied slowly. After actual injuries and deaths, unexplained reactions to alien lifeforms was high on the doctors list of pet peeves and the main reason he sometimes thought longingly of a medical career spent entirely on Earth.
"May I inquire as to the cause of your concern, Doctor?" Spock asked.
"Lieutenant Coverack told Mister Chekov she remembered everything that happened to her while she was under that creature. It wasnt until he spoke to Ensign Gosport and his team and they told him they didnt remember a thing that Chekov learned there was any discrepancy. He reported it to me, and I checked all four of them again without finding anything wrong. Im just not easy in my mind about it, though I suppose youd say Im being illogical?"
"I do not know that I would, Doctor. You and Mister Chekov are both correct in believing that any odd reaction after such an experience is a cause for concern until it is proved otherwise."
"Youre keeping an eye on them?" Kirk made it more of a statement than a question.
McCoy nodded. "Theyre all wearing sensors, though I havent pulled anyone off duty. I know youll need Gosports team, and you might need Coverack too. Theyre under orders to report to Sickbay the moment they so much as sneeze."
"Thats all you can do for the moment. Lets go, Mister Spock."
Giovanni Fenni ushered his friend firmly into the exobotany area known to the crew as the park. Part of his mind was full of the fascinating data on Chondronalla II they were still entering into the database but he had other concerns for the moment. Chekov set himself such impossibly high standards, he reacted badly to any hint of a mistake. "Pavel, calm down. You raised perfectly reasonable concerns. The captain and Doctor McCoy didnt tell you youd overreacted."
"That was before Doctor McCoy couldnt find a thing wrong with any of the team," Chekov fretted. "Now what is the captain going to think about me? He wont take someone on landing parties who panics over minor details without due cause."
"I dont think Captain Kirk is going to tell you that you overreacted." Fenni tried for a lighter note. "Hes more likely to be pleased you showed some degree of caution!"
"I wish I could be sure of that."
"Pavel, youre only just out of the Academy. Even if you did make a mistake, no one expects you get everything right. Youre the only one who does that!"
"The captain and Mister Spock are giving a very good impression they do, too!"
A sound alerted them to the fact someone else had entered the park; Fenni smiled as he saw it was Valerie Coverack who had entered. They had worked together since he joined the Enterprise, and she had always been very friendly and willing to help and encourage her juniors.
To his astonishment, she did not return his smile but walked straight past him as if he did not exist, her face oddly expressionless. Fear replaced astonishment as Fenni gripped his friends arm. "Pavel, somethings wrong. Lieutenant Coverack? Lieutenant?"
Coverack ignored the ensigns to walk towards an area where the soil had been cleared in preparation for some new planting. As the worried pair watched, Coverack stood on the soil, a quiver running through her, before she stripped off her clothing and stood naked. Fenni passed from worry straight into terror as her skin turned bright green. "Pavel, I dont think you overreacted!"
Almost before the equally appalled Chekov knew what he was doing, his hand found the lethal contamination panel and a warning klaxon reverberated through every deck of the Enterprise as airtight doors slammed closed and the life support systems moved to a compartmentalized regime.
Scott surveyed the extremely uninteresting surface of Janus VI filling the viewscreen as he wondered if he was going to be involved in the actual mission. He did not object to taking command for short periods, but his main interests would always lie in engineering, and he had just started on a very exciting new project with Lethende and Renwick.
He was pondering on the best way to continue as he eyed the column of tentacles at the engineering station affectionately, only to sit up abruptly as the lethal contamination klaxon began its chilling warning, backed by the dispassionate voice of the computer. "Lethal contamination alert! Lethal contamination alert! Lethal"
"Quiet that, Lieutenant!" Scott ordered Uhura as he looked over to where Lethendes tentacles were already working. A lethal contamination alert might be one of the deadliest signals any ship in space could sound but he could not think what was behind this one. "Ensign, where did that alert originate?"
"Being from the botanical section, Mister Scott," Lethende responded promptly.
Scott eyed it blankly. Whatever he had expected to hear, it was not that. "From botany?"
"Being certain, Mister Scott," Lethendes voice held a hint of reproach.
"Im sure you are, laddie. I wasnt expecting your answer, thats all," Scott reassured it as he turned to Uhura. "Lieutenant, see if you can raise anyone. We cant deal with this until we know whats behind it."
"Ive got Ensign Chekov for you now, sir," Uhura replied.
"Chekov here, sir." The ensigns breathless voice could barely be heard over frantic screaming. His next words were even less reassuring. "Can you get us some help? Its Lieutenant Coverack, sir. Shes gone berserk."
"I can hear that, lad. What happened?" Scott was shaken by the mindless screaming coming from the park. He still had to find out what had caused Chekov to sound a contamination alert rather than simply signal for help. Why a member of the crew had suddenly cracked up would be a matter for medical to solve. "What do you need?"
"A security team, sir, but male and suited up. Armed and with a sealed litter. Quickly, please, sir. I dont know how much longer we can hold her! Oh, theyd better bring suits for us, too."
"Where exactly are you, lad, and whos with you?" Scott asked the only question that concerned him. Chekovs last sentence seemed to indicate the ensign thought he was also affected, but he sounded rational enough, unlike Coverack. The chief engineer found that mindless screaming more unnerving by the minute.
"Mister Scott," Uhura interposed. "Ive got a call from Doctor McCoy saying the sensor Lieutenant Coverack is wearing is giving very peculiar readings, and he has to get to her as quickly as possible."
"Tell him to get suited up and get a sealed litter ready with an all-male team, then stand by."
"Botanical section, sir, with Ensign Fenni," Chekov responded, more breathless than ever. "Thats the problem. Coverack is desperate to get back into the park but"
"Belay the explanation until I can hear you, Ensign," Scott told him. "Weve help on the way. Can we lift the contamination alert everywhere else?"
"Im sorry, sir, but I dont think so, at least on the evidence I have so far," Chekov gasped. Despite his breathlessness and Coveracks screams, no one on the bridge had any difficulty in hearing the fear in his voice. The ensign was not panicking, as his responses showed, but something about this situation had made Pavel Chekov very frightened indeed.
"Ill not argue with the man on the spot, lad. Mister Lethende, tell the computer to clear a way for the medical team," Scott ordered. "Lieutenant Uhura, tell medical to head for the botanical section, but not to enter until we get Security there."
He stopped, appalled, as he remembered the entire security department was standing by, ready to beam down to Janus VI. When every member was likely to be needed to guard the extensive mining colony, he did not dare to divert them to deal with a problem that might lead to them being barred from beaming down.
"Aye, sir." Lethende began to work. "Mister Scott, Security not being available so volunteering to help friends. Not being likely being affected by moss creature."
"Youre saying Lieutenant Coverack is?" Scott realized he had been left out of the loop somehow. McCoy had had a reason for attaching the sensor to the science lieutenant, and Lethende clearly knew something had happened after the reports Scott had listened to at the meeting.
"Being most likely cause of this, Mister Scott. Going? Being able to stop her hurting herself or anyone else," Lethende promised.
"Aye, get yourself down there, lad. Tell Mister Chekov to report the moment he can."
Scott leaned back to wait. He glanced at the communications officer. "Lieutenant, do you have any idea of whats behind this?"
Uhura shook her head. "No, sir. Its clear enough its something to do with that landing party on Chondronalla Two, but I dont know any more than you do."
"Lets hope young Chekov can tell us."
Chekov gasped as Coverack threw him against the bulkhead with more power than he thought she could possess. Fenni had already dropped stunned to the deck. The ensign was certain his collar bone had just broken as Coverack turned back to the door of the lab, her fingers scrabbling frantically at the lock. He began to struggle to his feet. Chekov did not know if preventing Coverack from gaining access to the soil she was so desperate to reach would stop whatever was happening to her, but he could not think of anything else. To his utter relief, the other door of the lab opened to reveal Lethende. Within seconds, its tentacles had encircled the hysterical lieutenant, while a spare one helped Chekov to stand. "Thanks, Lethende!"
"Being welcome, Pavel. Having suit." Lethende continued to support the swaying ensign as McCoy and his medical team entered.
The horrified doctor stopped abruptly as he saw the bright green form of the science lieutenant. He had not known what to expect after the news from the bridge, but this was beyond his imagination. "What the devil has happened to her?"
"She just took off all her clothes and turned green," Chekov explained shakily, as one of the medical team lifted Fenni out of harms way. With a few seconds free to think, he began to worry what Scott and after him, Kirk would have to say about a mere ensign calling a major alert.
McCoy heard the pain in his voice and gave him a hasty scan before administering a painkiller. "Youve got a broken collar bone. Ill deal with it as soon as we reach Sickbay."
"Mister Fennis just stunned, sir," the technician reported.
"Thanks," Chekov gasped. "Doctor, this is tied in some way to that creature on Chondronalla Two, but I dont know how. Lieutenant Coverack is desperate to reach that bare patch of soil in the park. Thats where she stood, before she took off her clothes, and all I could think was that she might have a chance if we got her away from it. It took both of us, and we barely managed to get her through the door."
"Was that why you asked for suits and the litter?"
"Weve got to isolate her." Chekov nodded. "Us, too. Weve been in direct contact with her."
"Lets get her sedated first." McCoy knew he had to end that dreadful screaming quickly, but he had wanted some information first. He injected a heavy sedative into Coveracks arm, and within a few seconds she had slumped into unconsciousness. He heard sighs of relief as Lethende quickly laid her in the litter. "Get that sealed. Can you get in that suit, Chekov?"
He reached out a hand as the navigator swayed only to see a tentacle curl around him. "Not worrying, Pavel. Helping." Lethende kept one tentacle curled around the unsteady ensign as, under the fascinated eyes of the doctor and his medical team, it used other tentacles to help him into the environmental suit and seal it before it did the same for the groggy Fenni.
Some of the team had seen how the Salixa helped in the transporter room as the casualties from Chondronalla II beamed up; that did not lessen their interest in seeing it in action once more. "Helping to Sickbay next, Doctor?"
"That would be a good idea, Mister Lethende," McCoy agreed as he led his team back to Sickbay. "Im going to ask Mister Scott if you can stay to keep an eye on things. Under the circumstances, Ive no idea how effective that sedative is going to be, and you know I cant ask for Security."
"Helping, if clearing things with Mister Scott, Doctor," Lethende assured him, as it guided the two ensigns along the empty corridor.
McCoy waited until he had everyone safely in isolation, before he looked at the navigator. McCoy quickly fixed Chekovs clavicle with an osteo-regen as he said, "Are you able to update Mister Scott? Id rather you deal with that; Ive got to find out whats happened to Lieutenant Coverack. Ask for permission for Mister Lethende to remain while youre at it."
"I can manage that." Chekov nodded. Now his collar bone had been treated, his head was beginning to clear. He reached for the intercom. "Chekov to bridge."
"I have Mister Chekov for you, sir," Uhura reported.
"Put him on. I hope Doctor McCoy wont need to keep you in Sickbay, Mister Chekov. I need a report from you as soon as possible."
"Its not treatment thats keeping me here, Mister Scott. I thought I ought to put myself in quarantine after what happened to Lieutenant Coverack. Ensign Fennis here too." Chekov sounded exactly like a number of young officers Scott had heard over the years; someone trying to make sure he included everything he needed to say as he handed his problems over to a senior officer.
"Now just take it easy, lad, and tell me what happened." Scott put a soothing note into his voice.
"Before I do, Mister Scott, Ive a request from Doctor McCoy," Chekov went on. "Will you clear Mister Lethende to remain and help restrain Lieutenant Coverack if necessary? He doesn't know how shes going to react to the sedative, and he cant ask for a security team."
"Thats fine, lad," Scott told him. "Now, tell me just what has happened to Lieutenant Coverack, and Im thinking it would be a good idea if you told me anything you know about the background to this. Its more than I do, other than its something to do with that landing party to Chondronalla Two."
Chekov described what had happened after the team had been cleared by Sickbay and the extra check McCoy had made. "Id taken a break from working on the database on Chondronalla Two for Mister Spock, and I went to the park with Mister Fenni. Lieutenant Coverack came in and walked straight past us as if we didnt exist. Then, it was horrible, Mister Scott."
"Take your time, laddie," Scott encouraged, as he wondered just what had produced that description. "Get your thoughts in order and tell me. The situation in Sickbay is under control at the moment, isnt it?
"Oh, yes, sir. Doctor McCoy sedated Lieutenant Coverack after Mister Lethende immobilized her, and shes still unconscious. Im not quite sure what hes doing at the moment, assessing her condition I think." Chekov took a breath audible to all the intent listeners on the bridge. They still did not know exactly what had happened but it had clearly shaken the ensign severely. "Lieutenant Coverack went over to where a patch of soil had been cleared ready for new planting. Mister Fenni spoke to her but she didnt answer. She stripped off all her clothes before she turned bright green!"
"What?" Scott exchanged an amazed glance with Sulu and Uhura. The reason why Chekov was so disturbed had suddenly become unnervingly plain. He felt disturbed himself. Some very strange things had happened to members of Starfleet since they began to explore the galaxy. "That was when you sounded the contamination alert, lad?"
"Yes, sir." Chekov was beginning to sound calmer in the knowledge he had acted correctly. "My first thought was to make sure whatever was happening to Lieutenant Coverack didnt spread."
"Aye, Ill not be quarrelling with that, lad," Scott informed him. No one would call the ensign on an eminently sensible precaution. "You kept your head very well. Is that all?"
"Not quite, Mister Scott. As Lieutenant Coverack had headed straight for that patch of soil before she turned green, I considered perhaps her best chance of the condition being reversed was to remove her from it, so we carried her into the lab and sealed the door. Thats what all the screaming was about when I called you. She was desperate to return to the park."
"Good thinking," Scott approved. It might not have been the right course of action, but the ensign had been reasoning soundly enough, and the chief engineer would back him. "Did you have any thoughts as to why it was only Lieutenant Coverack who received those impressions?"
"Yes, sir. She was the only female on that team," Chekov responded promptly. "Doctor McCoy didnt discount that as a factor. He just couldnt come up with any evidence to show anything was wrong with any of them, but he wasnt happy with the situation either."
"Youre not feeling any ill effects, I hope?"
"No, sir. Mister Fenni is fine now, and Ive just got a few minor injuries, mostly bruises," Chekov assured him.
"Youve done very well, including thinking of stipulating those environmental suits and so Ill be telling the captain," Scott promised. "Youd be advocating sealing off Botany until we know whats going on, Im thinking?"
"Right, lad. Youve done all you need to, so just take it easy and dont worry. Scott out." The chief engineer leaned back and surveyed the concerned expressions of his bridge crew. "This is well out of my field. Young Chekov seems to have taken care of any points Id have thought up but if theres anything anyone can see he or I have missed?"
"A ship-wide order to all personnel to report immediately if they feel other than perfectly fit?" Uhura suggested before she sighed. "Though I dont know how useful that will be. Lieutenant Coverack was wearing a sensor to alert Sickbay if her condition changed, and Doctor McCoy didnt contact us until after she must have been in the park for several minutes."
"In fact, I dont think her vital signs changed enough to alert him until she became agitated when Chekov and Fenni removed her from the park," Sulu said. "So whatever affected her didnt even show up on his monitors."
"I think youre right there, Mister Sulu, but its not a comforting point." Scott touched a control.
"Transporter room," Kyles voice answered promptly.
"Get the medical tricorder out, Lieutenant, and check over Ensign Gosport and the team who were with him on Chondronalla Two. I want to know how they feel," Scott ordered.
"Aye, sir." Kyle sounded puzzled but he responded almost immediately. "Mister Gosport and Cruz check out as perfectly normal, sir, and say they both feel fine."
"Is there a problem, Mister Scott?" Clive Clevedon asked. "Because were starting to beam teams down to Janus Six. The commanders already on the planet."
"Coveracks had a bad reaction, Ensign," Scott told him. "Im not saying you cant use Mister Gosport or his team but could you hold them until last?"
"Commander Giotto wasnt using the same teams, Mister Scott. Kelly is already on the planet," Clevedon replied. "Do you want me to pull him back?"
Scott thought of Chekovs theory that Coverack had been affected because she was female. "No, lad. Carry on."
The chief engineer leaned back. He had to decide if the situation on the Enterprise warranted alerting the captain when Kirk was trying to deal with an entirely different problem on Janus VI. He decided it did. "Get me the captain, please, Lieutenant."
McCoy gazed in dismay at the green figure screaming in Lethendes gentle tentacles. "That sedative should have knocked her out for hours! Mister Lethende, are you having any problems holding her?"
"Worrying hurting the lieutenant, Doctor," the Salixa responded. "Having to hold her quite tightly."
Chekov came over to the window of the next isolation unit, his expression worried. "Doctor McCoy, I wonder if I made the right decision when I removed Lieutenant Coverack from the soil. This could be perfectly harmless to the victim if its allowed to run its course."
"You thought it might be her best chance. Im certainly not going to call you on that, son. If Id been there, its what Id have advised. Now you think it might not be?"
"There are only two options, arent there?" Chekov responded. "If this is connected in some way with Coveracks sex, we dont know if the female victims survive the experience. It might be in the creatures interest for them to do so."
"I wont argue with any of that, Ensign," McCoy sighed. They desperately needed more data on this, but he could not think of a way to get any, other than by observing the effect on the unfortunate Coverack. The longer they did that, the more permanent the effect might be. "If we hadnt had this call, wed still be in orbit around Chondronalla Two, and we could find the answer to that question."
He surveyed the green form sadly, before a thought occurred to him. "Chekov, Coverack managed to knock Fenni right out, didnt she, and all the breath out of you?"
"Yes. She was incredibly strong."
"So why didnt she unlock the door?"
"The lieutenant was scrabbling at the lock," Chekov answered slowly. "She was still desperate to return to that patch of soil."
"But she didnt simply unlock the door?" McCoy was thinking aloud too. "In those few minutes Coverack had forgotten how to operate a door, hadnt she?"
"Is it already too late to save her?"
McCoy did not want to answer that. "I just wish I had more information or that I could get more."
"If the moss plant does use the eyes and ears of the creatures it captures, that still doesnt explain why only Lieutenant Coverack could see and hear," Fenni pointed out. "Why didnt it use the rest of the team too?"
"It could only deal with one set of images?" Chekov suggested.
"Perhaps." McCoy pondered on the image Fennis words had created. "Ensigns, how many of the creatures on Chondronalla Two had two sexes?"
"The few terrestrial ones on which we collected data, Doctor, except for the various moss creatures," Chekov told him. "We still havent decided if theyre plants or animals. There really wasnt that much time to collect data at all. Was I right after all, about Lieutenant Coveracks sex being a factor?"
"Ive never discounted it, Mister Chekov," McCoy answered. "I just didnt have any evidence to prove it one way or the other. When I know the creature must capture animals of both sexes, Im inclined that way." He slammed his hand against the bulkhead. "I need more data!"
"Doctor, Lieutenant Coverack being much hotter." Lethende promptly provided the doctor with additional data he could well have done without. "Even in last minute, her temperature rising!"
"Doctor, its at a dangerous level!" MBenga said, as he studied the monitors.
McCoy signalled the bridge and asked Scott to have soil brought to Sickbay.
"Go ahead, Mister Scott. Is there a problem?" Kirk asked.
"Aye, Im afraid there is, Captain, but thanks to Chekov and Fenni Im hoping I wont need to do more than to update you," Scott told him heavily. It was not any lack of faith in his ability to command but experience that brought the despondency into his tone. It was up to medical to solve this; the chief engineer just wished he had more hope they would be able to. "Its Lieutenant Coverack, Captain. She walked into the park, stripped off her clothes, stood on some bare soil and turned bright green!"
"What!" Kirk knew McCoy had been unhappy about Coverack, even though the lieutenant had passed all his tests. "Is anyone else affected?"
"No." Scott described what had happened.
Kirk breathed a sigh of relief. The situation could still deteriorate, perhaps affect the rest of his crew but there was no doubt the two young ensigns had done all they could to make sure it did not. "Chekov and Fenni have certainly earned themselves commendations, Mister Scott, and Ill see that they get them."
Kirk had an absurd impulse to beam back, even though he knew there was nothing whatever he could do and that McCoy would promptly bar him from Sickbay on the off chance he might be affected too. There was, at the moment, only one life in danger on the Enterprise; there were still hundreds of people down on Janus VI at risk from whatever was roaming its tunnels. He could not make a difference on the Enterprise, but he could make a difference here. He had to, now the option of beaming the miners to the Enterprise no longer existed. "Mister Spock, is there anything you can suggest?"
"Only what I imagine Doctors McCoy and MBenga are already doing, Captain: observing Lieutenant Coverack in the hope of understanding what is happening to her," the first officer responded.
"Keep me updated, Mister Scott," Kirk ordered.
"Aye, sir. How are things going down there?" the second officer inquired.
"Were heading down into the tunnels now to take a closer look. Ill keep you updated, too. Kirk out."
McCoy watched the engineering team maneuver the tray of soil through the door of Sickbay. Chekov had been right when he stated they only had two ways out of this for Coverack. They either removed her from the soil and stopped whatever was happening to her, as the ensigns had tried to do, or they let it take its course and hoped she would survive. The doctor was far from sure they were taking the right course of action, but after Coveracks temperature had risen so dramatically, he had not seen any alternative. It had proved impossible to reduce the lieutenants fever, and her temperature had reached a level that could kill her. They had to try this last resort, but he found himself becoming more pessimistic with every passing moment.
McCoy turned to find his junior doctor at his elbow. "You look about as certain of this idea working as I feel."
"I think its going to kill her, but what other option do we have?" MBenga agreed unhappily. "If that temperature doesnt kill her outright, shes going to suffer brain damage."
"How do you want to handle this, sir?" The engineering ensign could not take his horrified eyes from the naked green figure in the isolation ward. Milano sometimes envied his Salixa crewmate for the number of things Lethende could do, but he did not envy his fellow ensign the task of preventing Coverack from hurting herself; there seemed very little about the science officer that was still Human.
McCoy indicated the airlock. "Were using maximum decontamination, Ensign, so get that tray in there first."
"Bringing it inside isolation if friend doing that, Doctor McCoy." Lethende waved a spare tentacle at its fellow engineer. "Not wanting to put friend at risk."
McCoy already had Chapel and his other female staff safely out of Sickbay and checking out the entire crew, paying particular attention to anyone with whom Coverack had come into contact. What use that would be when Coveracks vital signs had been normal even when she had turned green he did not know. That one fact worried McCoy more than any other; this strange infection could spread through the crew before anyone else displayed any symptoms. All he could do was to protect them as well as he could. Once more, he found himself grateful for the versatility of the alien ensign. "Try it, Mister Lethende."
The engineering team steered the heavy tray into the airlock and stepped out, sealing the door. McCoy stared down at the tray and wished he knew just what was behind Coveracks desire to touch soil. Once he gave the order to Lethende to move the tray to where Coverack could regain contact with the soil, McCoy did not have the slightest idea what was going to happen next, and every doctors instinct he had was screaming at him not to let her anywhere near it. "Whats her temperature now?"
"Up another two degrees," MBenga answered grimly. "No Human has ever survived one that high."
"Open the airlock, Mister Lethende, and get that tray inside," the Enterprises chief medical officer ordered, his voice harsh.
"Right, Mister Lethende, let her go," McCoy requested. Once he had given the order, he found himself holding his breath.
"Yes, Doctor." Lethende uncurled the tentacle that was holding the feebly struggling Coverack. Neither doctor could understand how she had remained conscious when her temperature was so impossibly high. Though she was visibly weakening, the science officer was still able to stand. The moment she was free, Coverack staggered over to the soil and simply stood there as her companions watched. No one had the least idea of what she would do but the first thing of which they were aware was the silence.
McCoy sighed in relief. "At least the screaming has stopped "
"And her temperature is coming down," MBenga reported. Even if Coverack recovered physically from her ordeal, they were both certain she would be irreparably brain damaged. It was not something either of them could contemplate easily.
"Lieutenant Coverack, can you hear me?" McCoy asked quietly. He remembered he had barely spoken to the lieutenant before Chondronalla II and added, "Its Doctor McCoy." He waited a moment but the strange figure in isolation did not respond.
"Temperature is dropping rapidly." MBengas attention was on the monitors.
"I should have left her in the park, shouldnt I?" Chekov put in miserably.
"Dont start blaming yourself, Ensign," McCoy ordered sharply. "You made a judgment call, and if Id been there, Id have made exactly the same one. You were trying to save her life, and you risked your own to do it. How could you know if you were making the best of two bad choices? You were the one who pointed out we didnt know if this was something we needed to interrupt or let run its course. With someone whod forgotten how to unlock a door, it was probably too late from the moment that creature covered her. What about the rest of the crew? For all we know, the next stage of this is for the effect to spread to everyone else. The longer Coverack stayed at large, the greater the chance of more people being affected."
Chekov looked considerably comforted, despite knowing just who had suffered the most exposure to the alien creature infecting Coverack and that he and his friend Fenni might be affected next. "Its just not knowing what this is doing to her."
As they watched, Coverack seemed to shiver from head to foot before she sank gracefully to the bed of soil. She snuggled into it, seemingly intent on making as much contact with the soil as possible. There was silence for several seconds before the monitors shrilled their warning as all the indicators went level.
McCoy looked sadly at the still, green form. The only consolation was that he doubted if Coverack had had any idea of what was happening to her from the moment she had walked past the ensigns in the park; they had certainly been unable to obtain any response from her. During his years in Starfleet, the doctor had seen personnel die in more ways than he had ever imagined but this was one of the strangest. "Lets get suited up, Doctor. Well do the autopsy in there and then destroy the body."
"We cant take any risk of that effect spreading," MBenga agreed, with an uneasy glance at the panels monitoring Chekovs and Fennis vital signs. They were as unchanged as they had been since the ensigns volunteered to help study what was happening to their colleague.
"Doctor, Im getting some very strange readings from the lieutenant." MBenga reported.
"Get yourself into the other section of isolation, Mister Lethende, now!" McCoy ordered sharply. The image in his mind at that precise moment was of the way fleas would leave their preferred host when it died and settle on the nearest acceptable substitute.
Lethende was already tapping the communications unit. "Telling what happening, Doctor McCoy?"
McCoy was not about to dispute the trio had earned the right to know. "Ill link your screen. Mister Chekov, Mister Fenni, Id appreciate your input too."
"Shes definitely dead?" Fenni asked.
"Oh yes," McCoy assured him. "Whats causing those respiration indications I dont know, but its not her lungs."
"The thickness of the green covering is increasing too, Doctor," Chekov added. "Look!"
Under the revolted eyes of the people watching, Coveracks skin seemed to bubble before the bubbles collapsed to reveal hundreds of raw wounds in her flesh. Within moments, tiny moss creatures began to crawl out of the open wounds before they settled and began to feed.
"Thats enough!" McCoy grated to the relief of everyone else. He instructed the computer to destroy Coveracks body and sterilize the entire compartment.
He looked at the three ensigns. "Im not taking any chances with any of you now we know how that creature reproduces. Youll have to stay in there for at least a week!"
"Not arguing, Doctor. Having chess set, please?" Lethende requested. "Computer console too. Spending time on project for Mister Scott."
"Ill get them for you," McCoy promised. "What about you, Mister Chekov? Mister Fenni?"
"Id like a console, too, please," Chekov requested. "Ive got plenty of work to do for Mister Spock."
"So have I. Between chess and the work Ive got in hand, I wont have any problems filling in the time, Doctor," the science ensign assured him.
"Ill see to it." McCoy promised them. The trio would all be better off keeping busy. "The three of you just settle down and enjoy yourselves."
The intercom chirped for attention, and Chapel answered it. "Doctor," she reported, "Captain Kirk needs you to beam down to Janus Six."
"Oh, joy "
Following the departure of the Enterprise from Janus VI, and the discovery of a unique and peaceful lifeform, a board of inquiry was conducted to examine the aftermath of the events precipitated by the mission to Chondronalla II. Once the inquiry was completed, the captain had summoned everyone involved with the matter. The briefing room was packed, and there was tension in the air. Kirk smiled genuinely at the assembled officers and crew. The board had been called to determine events, not to assess blame, and he did not want anyone worrying. He had already had one concerned response from Starfleet, but he gathered from his chief medical officer that it did not compare with the ones arriving from Starfleet Medical.
Yeoman Tamura rang the bell three times, and Kirk addressed those present. "This board has identified a number of areas where procedures need to be tightened. Mister Spock, Doctor McCoy and I will revise the established procedure for landing parties, both on planet and afterwards, and it will be required reading for anyone beaming down.
"Now, in regards to our findings, this board has found that Ensign Gosports team could not alert Doctor McCoy as they were unaware of the contact. If Lieutenant Coverack had only mentioned her unique reaction when she heard them asking Doctor McCoy what had happened, everyone would have known of the discrepancy from the beginning. Lieutenant Coverack contributed to what happened to her by not reporting accurately to Doctor McCoy, for a reason we will now never know but can speculate that she was already being influenced by the lifeform within her system.
"This board accepts the doctors opinion that an earlier report probably would not have enabled him to save her. She was culpable in that she failed to report something that could have adversely affected not only herself but other members of the crew. This board does not find anyone else is in any way to blame. Ensign Chekov alerted the doctor the moment he learned of the anomaly, and Doctor McCoy checked all members of the team immediately.
"This board commends Ensigns Chekov and Lethende for their actions in rescuing the team, as well as the other members of the rescue party. Mister Lethende is also commended for volunteering to help Lieutenant Coverack. Ensigns Chekov and Fenni are due the highest commendations for their actions in the park. The board of inquiry is ended."
He tapped the gavel twice and dismissed the assembly.
"Is something still troubling you, Captain?" Spock inquired.
"The ifs, Mister Spock. Mainly that if Chekov hadnt alerted McCoy, we might have lost the entire crew." Kirk knew the mission had shown him several areas where his still comparatively new crew had not met his standards.
"I am not sure I follow you, Captain. Anyone else would have done the same."
"Thats whats bothering me. An experienced officer would have reported to McCoy, knowing theyd done the right thing and not worried, unlike Mister Chekov." Kirk gestured to Chekov and Fenni as they left. "The survival of my entire crew might have come down to a friendship between two ensigns. If Mister Fenni hadnt been intent on convincing Mister Chekov that he hadnt overreacted, they wouldnt have been in the park. Who knows what would have happened then?"
Kirk knew that one point worried him more than anything else. It had been so random and he did not want the survival of his crew to depend on random factors. He wished they could have returned to Chondronalla II to gather further data and answer all the questions they had. But the assignment to Janus VI had been successfully completed, and Starfleet had already sent fresh orders and the Enterprise was on her way to their next assignment.
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