The ChiWah had not been to the WanTuc Mountains in over twenty cycles of their world's journey around its sun. Indeed, it had been a long time since the balls of fire had ignited the night sky, hurtled to the ground and thundered into the cliffs, spewing clusters of rock and smaller fireballs in their wake.
They had waited several sunrises before they dared venture near the charred debris that littered their habitat and filled it with strange odors and sounds.
The ChiWah had approached with utmost caution, all except the young cubs, whose curiosity superseded their experience in such matters. They were often hissed a warning by their elders, or swatted with heavy paws as an admonishment.
Their long pointy ears twitched like antennae in all directions, picking up vibrations and sounds in the foreground and background. Their noses, sensitive to the natural and familiar scents of their environment, digested the strange odors of burnt synthetics, metal alloys and flesh.
At the earsplitting sound of the unidentified noise made by 'the wailing one,' each ceased movement as if by some unheard command. The fur down the middle of their backs stood erect. The tails of the younger ones puffed to twice their normal size. All their coats twitched nervously, from the eldest of the ChiWah to the youngest cub, and they remained frozen in their positions until they were satisfied that no attack from an unseen predator was forthcoming.
A nervous growl escaped the throat of a female. A warning to the young precocious cubs who padded cautiously, heads extended, eyes wide and pupils dilated with anticipation, towards the opening from which the wailing sounds came. One young cub, the one closest to the mouth of the fallen star, turned quickly, paw extended and ready to do battle, only to realize that nothing at all threatened it. Instead, it hissed at no one in particular and continued its investigation into the mouth of the unknown.
Several of its siblings had joined in the adventure. Of course, each at a discrete distance. Each wanting to be the first to see from whence the wailing sounds came, and yet not wanting to be the first. Each wishing that the unknown was known, thus the danger would be past and not impending.
Hesitantly the first, the one called P'taH, poked his small furry head into the gaping, charred mouth of the fallen comet. His ears flattened to his head, his eyes widened, his tail a mass of spiked fur, low between his legs. A low growl rumbled deep in his throat. A warning that he would defend himself and attack any aggressor who dared approach him.
The smell of long dead kill and defecation assailed his nostrils. Alien bodies, the likes of which he had never seen, lay strewn about the interior; some burnt, some mutilated beyond recognition. In a small corner of the interior, seated on the floor amidst debris and a large unmoving form much like its own, sat the source of the wailing. A small alien shape. Ugly. Different. It had small slightly pointed ears, not atop its head like P'taH's, but on either side. They did not move like his, but remained stationary. It did not have paws like P'taH's, but instead had short extensions with digits and its hind quarters did not appear to have a tail. The only fur noticeable upon the creature, was a dark, blood-smeared patch upon its head. Its eyes were small and water ran from them, streaking through the dirt and grime on its ugly face. And there was a large, nearly round gaping hole below a small protrusion, from which the sound escaped.
P'taH growled softly but stood his ground. His ears twitched in an effort to pick up any sounds which might forewarn of danger. But the only sights and sounds were of wires that smoked, lights that flickered in the dim red darkness and sparks that danced from one point of debris to another. He had never seen such things and did not know that it was all bits and pieces of an alien culture. But then again, he had never been inside the belly of a fallen star.
He sniffed at the air and promptly sneezed. An action that caught the attention of the strange little wailing organism. It was now suddenly silent. No longer did it make the sound that had assaulted their delicate ears.
A head, followed by another and yet another, poked through the gaping mouth of the once celestial body to see what had made so unpleasant a sound.
The ugly living thing began to squirm and struggle, frightening the young ChiWah, who in turn scampered out the maw of the fallen star to hide behind their elders. All ran except P'taH. He stood his ground and watched as the little being stood on short hind legs and began to waddle in his direction. No fool, P'taH, took several steps back, his tail erect and puffed threateningly, his ears flattened back, his lips curled back to reveal sharp needle-like teeth and fangs. but not even this, his most menacing look, deterred the strange, ugly little creature. Instead, it continued its approach. Step by uncertain step it waddled closer to P'taH. But he was not afraid, sensing no danger from that strange, little ugly thing. And slowly, cautiously, he took a step. Not backwards as would be expected, but forward. And as the creature's small paw that was not a paw, came down on his brow, P'taH lowered his head and spread his ears to make room for the creature's touch. And thus, with the ugly little being holding onto his fur, he guided it slowly, as its legs were not as strong nor as sturdy as his own, out of the rock that had fallen from the sky and towards his elders.
The young ChiWah, who had followed him into the dead star, as well as the older ChiWah and the elders, followed at a safe distance sniffing at the air to familiarize themselves with the creature's scent. It was obvious that this was P'taH's prize and a gift from the gods to him, his family and the tribe.
It had taken the ChiWah many seasons to grow accustomed to the scent, strange appearance and variety of cries the little one emitted. In time, L'Chi, the name they had bestowed upon it, was nursing from the queens and scampering with the young cubs.
P'taH, who had ordained himself its protector, was always close enough to administer an admonishment in the form of a swat to any cub who had gotten too rough with the frail little entity.
As time went on, the ChiWah noticed yet another difference between the little lifeform and themselves. Unlike the cubs who were weaned by three moons and were already moderately successful hunters, the cub-thing grew at a substantially slower pace. This posed a dilemma for the ChiWah; for as the seasons changed, food would become scarce and the L'Chi showed no signs that it would be able to keep up with their migratory needs.
But seeing how the gods had given them such a unique gift, they could not abandon it without fear of incurring their wrath. And so, they were determined to bring it with them, even if it meant that they would have to carry the little hairless beast upon their backs from hunting ground to hunting ground.
As the L'Chi matured, it became swift and strong. It learned how to hunt and fish. How to protect itself against the elements of the environment in which they traveled and how to defend itself against predators, both large and small.
By the age of seven cycles, it could run with the swiftest cub and catch as many fish in the streams as it had digits upon its paws that were not paws. At twelve cycles, it had devised a spear with which to destroy the smaller of their predators. And by fourteen cycles, its body had begun physiologically as well as biological changes, and it was understood that the L'Chi was female.
L'Chi had, from an early age, recognized that she was different from her siblings, but out of respect for her protector, P'taH, and the elders of the clan, she never questioned the reasons. Then one night, many hours after they had eaten their fill of raw fish and lounged lazily under the night sky, she spotted a star that flashed across the heavens and disappeared. It seemed to arouse some long forgotten memories and so she dared ask the clan why she was different.
The ChiWah had gathered round the L'Chi and all their thoughts seemed to flood her mind at once. They told her of the night the sky had exploded and how the stars had fallen from the heavens. How P'taH, her brother and keeper, had found her alone within the belly of a fallen star and brought her out to his people. And then the ChiWah promised the L'Chi that someday they would bring her back to the WanTuc Mountains where the gods had delivered her to them.
And so it came to pass that the ChiWah kept their promise to the L'Chi, and delivered her to her beginning.
They had begun their long journey back to the WanTuc Mountains six moons past and had endured the hardships of dust storms in the deserts, heavy rains and flooding in the tropical regions, and hunger in the provinces where food was scarce and they themselves became the hunted.
Finally, after many hardships, the WanTuc Mountains loomed in the distance, silhouetted against the backdrop of two full orange moons.
Years of vegetation had covered most of the debris that had been scattered throughout the area. Rock slides and avalanches had covered many of the smaller pieces of rubble that had been flung outward and away from the fireball upon impact that fateful night, burying nearly all evidence under mud and rock. The bodies that had been flung into the elements had either decomposed or been picked clean by scavengers, leaving only sun dried bones. This was the legacy left to the L'Chi. This and what lie waiting in the belly of the fallen sky rock.
The next morning, the ChiWah allowed L'Chi to explore the perimeters alone. She discovered odd pieces of matter and materials that resembled the insides of a creature long dead, but had she understood the intricacies of her discoveries, she would have realized they were the wires, cables and skeletal remains from various parts of the ship that had once carried her, her parents and many others, to the outer regions of space and finally to their ultimate demise.
It was the discovery of a grouping of bones which lay on the floor within the dark and damaged craft that stirred a long forgotten memory; though the skeleton had been covered by years of dust, and the fabric was nothing more than torn and tattered remnants that clung to the skeletal remains, the sight had stirred a vague recollection of beings who were much like herself. She remembered yells and screams and flashes of bright lights; feeling hot, hungry and wet. She remembered crying until she could not control her own breathing and the one thing that had stopped that crying. P'taH.
L'Chi shut her eyes against the memories, finally understanding why she was different. Somehow, those who were like herself were no more. But the question remained, where did they come from, since the ChiWah said they had fallen from the sky, did they come from the stars, and why in her many journeys with the ChiWah, had they not encountered others like herself?
When she opened her eyes, a ray of sunlight had filtered into the darkness and fallen upon a strange insignia on a small piece of faded cloth that clung to the breastbone of the skeleton at her feet. She bent down and picked it up. Upon it there was a strange pattern with what could have been a star within the center. She studied it for a while before she tied it to the end of her spear.
As she turned to leave, she tripped over a lump of mechanical debris and fell into a panel. This set off a flicker of lights and a deep alien voice. Frightened, she reached for her spear, clambered to her feet and fled from the confines of the cavern until she found P'taH and his mate and their young cubs. She crouched at his side and held him tightly to her.
The U.S.S. Enterprise glided through space on three-quarters impulse power as was the standard operating procedure during routine planetary systems charting missions.
Captain James T. Kirk sat in the command chair, fingers tapping absently on his armrest as he surveyed his bridge crew, who seemed as equally bored with their mission as he. Only his first officer appeared to be engrossed in the scientific data they were accumulating. He was, or so it seemed, oblivious to his surroundings and the boredom that had engulfed everyone. He sat at his station busily entering and logging all pertinent data into the ship's computers.
Uhura listened to the redundant static and chatter of subspace on her transceiver with an almost dull expression. Kirk couldn't recall the last time he had ever seen her look so...blank. Except for the time Nomad, a damaged Terran space probe that merged somehow with the alien probe, Tan ru, after becoming damaged, had completely wiped out her memory.
Hikaru Sulu and Pavel Chekov were engaged in idle conversation as they kept their eyes and fingers on their instruments. Kirk was almost certain he had overheard Chekov say, "I vwish he'd stop tapping his fingers like that! He's driving me crazy!" and so, for a moment at least, he had stopped, only to start again without realizing it.
McCoy, who usually spent a few hours on the bridge to while away the hours, or met Kirk in the lounge for lunch and a bit of deliberation, hadn't been on the bridge at all that morning. He glanced down at his chronometer and realized that he hadn't seen the good doctor since he's stopped by his quarters last evening for a Saurian Brandy. It was then he recalled that McCoy had said he was going to take advantage of the lull to conduct the required quarterly physicals.
The only superior officer he hadn't heard from in several days was Montgomery Scott, the ship's chief engineer. He was the only one, Kirk realized, who didn't mind the lull in activity for it provided him the opportunity to spend time calibrating, recalibrating and refitting his precious warp engines and driving his technicians to distraction in the process.
He didn't know about the others, but as for himself, he was beginning to feel, What did McCoy call it? 'Antsy.' Several days of cataloging a star system and staring at a viewscreen full of stars, he felt, would drive any sane man crazy. Not even his routine trips to the gym helped alleviate the tension he felt from the lack of excitement.
He was about to call McCoy to the bridge when Uhura turned to him. "Captain. Picking up a signal," she said and paused a moment to touch the transceiver in her ear. She adjusted several controls on her communications panel. "It appears to be an old style signal. Perhaps twenty to twenty-five years..."
A thin smile crossed his lips, "Put it on audio, Lieutenant."
The reception was static ridden."This is Commander Ron Wolfe of the S.S. McAuliffe, FV-1986-S. Due to severe sunspot activity in Sector R13, our instruments, including our deflector shields, have been rendered inoperable. As a result, we have suffered severe damage in a meteor storm. We are attempting repairs, however it is doubtful we will reach a starbase. Before the interference, we registered a small class M planet. We may be forced to attempt a landing. Requesting any Federation starship within the area to...." At that point the transmission became unintelligible.
"Sorry, Captain," Uhura apologized as her fingers ran the gambit over her comm panel. It was the most animation Kirk had seen from his chief of communications since the start of their mission. She actually appeared to relish the diversion from the redundant bleeps and subspace chatter she'd been forced to monitor for nearly a week.
"It appears the relay systems are damaged at the source, Captain. The message is repeating itself. In all likelihood, it is an automated signal," she added after a moment. Her fingers sped diligently and with purpose over her communications array. "Pinpointing location. Transferring data and coordinates to sciences and helm."
"Excellent," Kirk stated, rubbing his palms together. "Mister Spock, what have we got on the S.S.McAuliffe?" he asked as he spun his command chair in the first officer's direction.
Spock's fingers were already dancing over his computer keys as he responded, "Working on it now, Captain."
Kirk nodded. "Very well. Let me know the minute you have something."
The science officer's only response was a marginally raised brow. Kirk turned his attention to the helm station. "Sulu, what's the status of our warp engines?"
His helmsman glanced down at his panel readouts to verify what he already knew. "Warp engines on line, Captain."
Kirk hit a button on his armrest, "Kirk to Engineering."
"Engineerin', Scott 'ere," a reply came after a few moments.
"Scotty, we've received a distress signal. Do you have any objections to our responding at warp speed?"
"Nay, Captain. It'll give me a chance to see the work my techs have completed."
Kirk smiled. He'd been right. Scott would never be bored. Not as long as he had his precious engines. "I'm sure that they've done an excellent job, Mister Scott. Kirk out."
He looked up at the viewscreen with a smile. "Mister Sulu, plot a course to the coordinates Uhura's fed into your station. Ahead, warp one. Lieutenant Uhura, notify Starfleet of our current status."
Sulu and Chekov exchanged a brief look and shared smiles before each made a quick nod of approval. "Course plotted and locked in, Captain. Warp one, engaged. E.T.A. four point two hours."
"Captain, I have the information you requested," Spock stated from his station. Kirk stood and gave a quick tug on his uniform shirt before he stepped down from the command seat. He strode leisurely toward his science officer and placed a firm hand on the enamel smooth guard-rail while simultaneously keeping his eyes on the panorama of stars that flitted across the viewscreen.
"We're all ears, Mister Spock. Go ahead," he replied with a smile.
"The S.S. McAuliffe was named after a twentieth century school teacher, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, the first United States female civilian to be selected as a member of the space shuttle Challenger, and who perished along with the rest of the crew in its catastrophic explosion.
"The ship was a Federation prototype, to be utilized strictly as a science and exploration vessel, which would seek out worlds for agricultural settling.
"The craft weighed approximately ninety thousand tons and was equipped only with deflectors shields and limited military armaments for self-protection purposes against hostile actions.
"It was captained by L. Lambert, a retired Starfleet captain. The crew consisted largely of civilian personnel, all with varying scientific backgrounds, and their families. There were, however, ten Starfleet officers on board, primarily for observations of civilian behavior in space," he stated, then paused as the turbo lift doors swished open to admit Doctor Leonard McCoy.
"What's goin' on, Jim?" McCoy asked, noticing the activity on the bridge as he walked up to Spock's station and stood behind the first officer.
"We're answering a distress signal, Bones. A long overdue one."
"Just exactly how long overdue?"
"I would estimate about twenty years," Kirk ventured.
"Twenty-one point six, to be exact, Captain," Spock corrected.
McCoy looked dumbfounded. "A twenty-year-old Mayday! And we're just now gettin' around to answering it?! Would someone mind explaining that one to me!?" he declared, exasperated.
Kirk looked up at his first officer with a wan smile. "Spock?"
"And don't be long-winded about it either, Mister Spock. I don't want to spend the entire afternoon here on the bridge. I'm a very busy man."
The Vulcan ignored McCoy's comment and directed his response to his commanding officer.
"Starfleet Command deployed a Federation starship, the U.S.S.Ticonderoga, to the last reported co-ordinates of the S.S.McAuliffe. However, they found only bits and pieces of debris. Sensor scans of Delta Aquilae Four, a small class M planet in Sector R13, which is an F0-IV star system--that is to say, Doctor, a white-yellow subgiant classification--were inconclusive due to the severity of sunspot activity. Starfleet was informed of their findings and the difficulty experienced in obtaining accurate planetary readings due to the intensity of the electromagnetic storms on the sun's surface.
"At the time, the Federation was experiencing difficulties with Klingon activity in what is now the Organian Treaty Zone. Starfleet classified theMcAuliffe and all hands lost, and ordered the Ticonderoga to defend Federation space," Spock stated. He then turned to McCoy. "Was that adequately brief enough for you, Doctor?"
McCoy humphed as he looked down at the Vulcan seated at his station, "You're improving, but not by much. And don't think I didn't catch that little dig about the star system either, my pointy-eared friend," he uttered and walked over to the steps leading down to the command area.
The first officer's head jerked stubbornly upward as both brows rose into his dark bangs. "I intended no such, dig, as you put it, Doctor McCoy." he announced.
McCoy glared at him, uncertain as to whether or not the Vulcan was being truthful. "In a pig's eye," he declared, catching that ever elusive glint in the Vulcan's dark eyes.
"What do you think we'll find out there, Jim?" Do you think anyone could've survived a crash landing?" he queried and stood beside Kirk, glancing up at the viewscreen.
Kirk shrugged as Yeoman Rand approached and handed him a fuel consumption report. "Somebody's sending that signal," he returned as he read over the report, signed it, and handed it back to the attractive young blonde. "..or at least, something is."
It was McCoy's turn to raise a quizzical brow. "I don't think I like the sound of that."
Kirk only smiled. He slapped a hand down on McCoy's shoulder.
"Join me for a cup of coffee, Bones?"
"Why not? If you want to call that simulated liquid gunk coffee...."
"'Gunk,' Bones? I don't think I've ever heard you use that colloquialism before."
"Well now, we're in the presence of mixed company, Jim, and I do have a reputation as a Southern gentleman to uphold."
Kirk shook his head and stifled a chuckle as he took the steps in an energetic bound. McCoy followed close behind. "I didn't mean that to be funny. Jim," he quipped somewhat indignantly as he took the steps one at a time.
"Of course not. Sorry, Bones," Kirk said apologetically and turned to his helmsman. "Mister Sulu, notify me the moment we arrive in Sector R13. Mister Spock, you have the conn."
L'Chi sat with her arms wrapped around her knees for nearly an hour, staring at the tattered piece of cloth tied to the end her spear which lay on the ground beside her. Occasionally her eyes wandered to the hulking mass of rubble some thirty meters distant. Her delicate ears managed to hear the strange words repeated by a voice that was somehow familiar.
Images had formed in her memory of the creatures that looked like her. But some were different in physical form, color and shape. Some wore wrappings that bore those strange emblems, others wore wrappings with no such emblems; instead their wrappings were colorful. She heard voices and words, none of which made any sense to her now. There was a being who was tall and dark of hair. Its hair was short, and it always had a smile when it held her. "My little girl...." were the words it spoke. There was another, who looked much like herself, with upswept brows and pointed ears, who held her, fed her, and spoke softly to her. A word began to form in L'Chi's throat. A word she hadn't spoken in many years. It started as a low, throaty growl. "...Mmm."
P'taH, who had been lazily asleep a few feet away, under the shade of a tree, raised his head and blinked sleepily over at his L'Chi. E'taH, his youngest cub and her closest companion, did likewise as she tried the word again. "...Mmmaa-th-rr..." And again. "Mmmaa-tthhrr... Ma-thr...Moo...Mo...Mo-ther." A warm sense seemed to flow into her, and suddenly there were tears brimming forth in her dark eyes.
Leonard McCoy and James Kirk had been seated in the officers' lounge sipping coffee and talking quietly for nearly three hours. The conversations had ranged from what they might possibly find on Delta Aquilae Four to how they survived so long. If there were any survivors, why didn't Starfleet hear anything from the doomed vessel in over twenty years. Of course, everything they discussed on the subject was nothing more than speculation.
McCoy had noticed that since the Enterprise received the distress call, a new twinkle had entered the captain's hazel eyes. Kirk seemed more alert and full of energy and McCoy knew it had nothing to do with the swill they were consuming, but with Kirk's need to be involved in the adventure which usually accompanied discovery and exploration. An' in a couple of hours...he'll be up to his hair follicles in it, the doctor thought. Kirk was not the kind of man who would be satisfied merely charting a star system, transporting ambassadors or dignitaries to their destinations or sitting behind a desk bogged down with paperwork and bureaucratic red tape. He was the kind who had to be a part of what is out there, even if it meant he had to make his own rules--which he often did.
The distress signal was just what Kirk needed. A distraction from the boredom the captain had been experiencing the past few days. McCoy was certain that had he gotten around to giving Kirk a physical, he would have found his blood pressure elevated.
McCoy's own pressure was elevated, not from the boredom that had engulfed most of the crew, but from his concern about the condition for the beings they would find.
"You know, Jim, I could never understand the Federation's policy of allowing civilians--scientists or archaeologists--to scamper around the galaxy as though it were some kind of giant backyard filled with grassy knolls, shade trees and a few mountain ranges to be explored, instead of what it really is."
"And what's that, Bones?"
"A dark, airless void filled with dangers that often catch you by surprise and you're lucky if you escape with your skin intact."
"Is that what it is to you?" Kirk queried.
"Exactly. Why? You don't think so?"
"No, not at all. To me, it's a place filled with mystery, wonder and excitement. Worlds that may open new doors to medicine, help feed millions throughout the Federation, possibly even supply homes to existing worlds that are overpopulated. Worlds that may possess new life, new things for us to learn. After all, isn't that the spirit that opened the western territories in America's wild frontier?"
"That was different."
"What's so different? The people still had to face the unknown, risk their lives not only against the elements but Indians. Thousands died. Faced capture, torture and even death."
"I guess it's all a matter of perspective," McCoy conceded. "Personally, I'm not all that excited about it. I'm here only because you requested me, otherwise I'd still be stationed on Starbase 7. Where, in case I haven't reminded you recently, I was quite content at playing doctor."
Kirk smiled that mischievous boyish smile. "Bones, you seem to forget the benefits of space exploration."
"Oh, like what? Give me a for-instance."
"How about the High Priestess of Yonada, Natira. Or Nurse Chapel. Spock. Myself."
"Yes, and the salt vampire on M113 who conned me into believing it was Nancy and almost cost you your life. Or the spores on Omicron Ceti III that almost cost you your command. Not to mention the beating you took from your first officer. Or the so-called Andorian spy that nearly killed you on our journey to Babel for that diplomatic conference."
"You always manage to look at the dark side of things, my friend."
"I suppose I do. But then again, when we run up against something like this, a distress signal from a civilian exploration vessel, I can't help myself. I wonder if the Federation has the right to ask civilians to take such chances. Sending civilians, particularly families, out here to face the unknown isn't like sending them on a fishing trip. As far as I'm concerned, they've sent those people out here and only God knows what we'll find when we reach Delta Aquilae Four."
"Maybe we'll find a colony of survivors who can teach us a thing or two about survival," Kirk commented in an understanding tone.
"Yeah, maybe. Then again. Maybe not."
Before Kirk could respond, the wall comm whistled. He stood with a tug on his shirt and excused himself.
"We have just entered Sector R13, Captain. No unusual readings. Sunspot activity is normal," Spock's voice stated.
"Very well. I'll be right up. Kirk out."
McCoy was no longer seated at their table, but instead waited by the door for his captain. Both men left for the bridge in silence.
"Status, Mister Sulu," Kirk ordered as he stepped onto the bridge with McCoy.
"We've just dropped to impulse power, Captain. E.T.A., at Delta Aquilae Four, five minutes."
"Take us into standard orbital approach. Lieutenant Uhura, see what you can do about raising someone on the frequencies. Mister Spock, any abnormal sunspot activity, readings on the planet's surface?"
His first officer's face was buried in his hooded viewer as he spoke, "Sunspot activity is minimal; nothing will affect the transporter functions."
Kirk heard McCoy mumble something in his right ear that sounded like, "I'm thrilled by that tidbit of information..." as he listened to his first officer's report.
"Planetary scans indicate several land masses, large bodies of water..." He adjusted several controls on his comm control panel with long agile fingers. "There appear to be several large masses of debris on the northern most hemisphere...various indigenous lifeforms in the area and..." Spock seemed to hesitated a moment "...a solitary humanoid lifeform," he stated flatly as his face pulled slowly away from the scanner and turned to face Kirk.
"Bingo..." McCoy muttered.
"No other humanoid lifeforms evident on the planet's surface, Mister Spock?"
"Captain. On orbital approach," Sulu announced.
"Take us into standard orbit, Mister Sulu," Kirk stated as he hit the comm button on his armrest. "Mister Scott to the transporter room. Mister Spock, Doctor McCoy, you'll accompany me to the surface."
"You sure about those transporters, Spock?"
"I am quite certain, Doctor," Spock replied stoically.
"Good. I don't feel like havin' my molecules scattered all over the planet's surface. It's not exactly on my agenda," he returned. "I'll meet you gentlemen in the transporter room," he added and left the bridge.
The hum of the transporter beam was the first thing the ChiWah and L'Chi heard. However, it was the ionized static that filled the air around them that frightened them and sent them scurrying about seeking shelter. Trees, burrows, crevices and small caverns along the WanTuc Mountains soon found themselves filled with the various sizes and shapes of the ChiWah.
L'Chi had taken to a tall tree and sat on a thick branch just below P'taH where the foliage provided them with camouflage yet gave them adequate visual range of the area. There they perched and watched with wide eyes as three columns of sparkling colors materialized out of nowhere.
P'taH growled softly, but his thoughts were clear, "The gods have sent others like yourself... They have come to reclaim you, L'Chi."
She looked up at him, eyes wide with terror, "But what if I do not wish to go back with them?" she asked.
"It is sometimes better to obey the gods than to disobey them." P'taH stated.
He knew that he and his kind were not as powerful as the deities that governed their destiny, and it was often wiser to follow their wishes. L'Chi looked back at the strange beings whose wrappings were the color of the golden leaves on the ChaTuch trees, the brightest blue of their summer sky and as black as the moonless nights.
Two of the beings, the one in gold and one in blue, entered the mouth of the fallen star. The other one, taller than the other two, remained outside within their sight. It seemed to be staring down into a small black box which it moved from side to side. Then suddenly, it looked up in their direction.
L'Chi found something oddly familiar about the alien creature. She seemed to sense it more than see it. There was a certain feeling of calmness present. A strange melancholy, intermixed with wisdom, peace, and a sense of difference. It had thoughts, of that she was certain, but she could not hear them as clearly as she could her brother's.
P'taH felt a linkage to the newcomer that was almost comparable to the mental bond he shared with the L'Chi. He perceived images and picked up words that were strange to him, yet somehow he knew they were connected to what the creature was doing with the small black box, he believed the stranger called a tricorder.
Touching the L'Chi's thoughts, he found it odd that she did not notice the organism's thought processes in the same manner in which he did. Instead, her awareness was limited to vague images, her senses seemed to focus only on the entity's aura and not its thoughts. And when he believed she had nearly achieved a minute semblance of the being's thoughts, the others emerged to join it.
"The message was pre-recorded. Even if there were someone to transmit a live mayday, the equipment is beyond repair. Find anything, Spock?"
The Vulcan had the impression that every move they had made since they had beamed down was being watched. He felt a presence touch his thoughts. His instinctive reaction was to use the Vulcan disciplines to shield his mind but reconsidered when he sensed that this was an attempt to communicate.
"I believe we are being watched, Captain. From above. That cluster of trees, eighty-five point two meters due north." He paused and glanced at his tricorder. "One lifeform is humanoid," he announced.
"I gather that means we're bein' watched by more than one set of eyes..." McCoy ventured and activated his medical tricorder out of curiosity. He glanced down at it for a moment and then out across the sea of tall grasses budded with pale yellow, rising and falling with each dip of the hills and ridges that spanned the distance between them and the cluster of tall trees, wherein the creature hid.
"Hmmm... One seems to be almost feline in physical structure, somewhat like the Kzinti, but different," he reported. After a pause, he added, "Now, that's damn interestin', Spock."
"What is, Bones?"
"Well, Jim, the physiology indicates a female. Approximately twenty-three years of age..."
"Twenty-three, Bones! My God, that would mean..."
"That somehow a toddler not only survived this crash, but managed to fend for itself for nearly twenty-two years. That alone is unbelievable... But I'm referring to her make-up. Her readings are very similar to our pointy-eared friend over here. Which means that she's either Vulcan, Romulan...or a species very similar to both."
Spock's right brow lifted slightly into his dark bangs. "Fascinating," he stated. "In reviewing the data on the McAuliffe, I found no references made to any children being on board. There was a listing of personnel, and there was a Vulcan scientist, T'Sar, but no others."
"You're slipping, Spock..." McCoy chided with a grin.
"We can look into that later, gentlemen. Right now, I need your recommendations on how to approach this young, er, woman, without sending her into a panic," Kirk stated.
"That's easy, Jim. Just use your charms. It's worked miracles in the past," McCoy declared with a boyish grin.
"Perhaps a non-aggressive approach, utilizing the standard universal gestures and your, charms, as Doctor McCoy put it, would be the best method to alleviate any potential fears or inhibitions, Captain," Spock remarked.
Kirk stared at him for a moment. The Vulcan showed no sign of a smile, but there was something akin to a twinkle in his piercingly dark eyes. Sensing that his first officer had indeed made a humorous retort, Kirk merely smiled and shrugged. "Perhaps you're right, Mister Spock. After all, charm is three quarters of diplomacy. Shall we, gentlemen?" he said and started forward.
Spock and McCoy followed their commander, pushing the tall grasses to the side as they made their way to the young woman's location. Both men glanced down occasionally at their respective readings as they went along.
"Picking up a hint of agitation, Jim," McCoy announced as they came within yards of L'Chi and P'taH's hiding place.
Once again Spock had the feeling that his thoughts were being touched by someone. He perceived, though vaguely, a sense of apprehension which prodded him to issue a gentle warning. "I would recommend caution at this time, Captain."
No sooner had Spock uttered those words than a spear sailed out of nowhere. It grazed the first officer's left shoulder and landed ominously in the ground a few feet away.
"Spock!" Kirk yelled. McCoy was already at his side applying an ointment to the wound by the time Kirk reached his friend. "He'll be fine, Jim. Just grazed the skin. You were lucky, Spock. A few more inches and it could've gone right into your chest, pierced a lung or worse, killed you."
"Thank you for your concern, Doctor. However, luck had nothing to do with it. I sensed the danger and moved in order to avoid being struck."
"Exactly how did you sensethis?" McCoy wanted to know.
"I am not sure. I seemed to perceive an image of an object being hurled in my general direction."
"I see..." McCoy muttered, not quite sure he understood what the Vulcan was envisioning or sensing.
"Then I guess this is as far as we're going to be allowed to go, gentlemen," Kirk voiced.
"Indeed," Spock agreed.
"Isn't this where you're supposed to let those charms do the talkin', Jim?"
L'Chi and P'taH watched as the one in gold and two in blue made their way slowly in their direction. P'taH found it impossible to touch the minds of the two who had emerged from the fallen star and believed it was because they were inferior to the other. He could not even sense their emotional state, and it made him wonder as to whether or not they had any at all. He decided that he would watch those two more closely, as their actions would have to speak for them.
"They know we are here!" L'Chi stated in near panic. "We must leave this place! Come, P'taH!"
"Stay, L'Chi! Face the newcomers without fear. Open your heart, and you will hear the one speak. Perhaps its words will enlighten us," P'taH returned.
"But if they have come to take me away..." she said and looked up at him with pleading eyes, her heart pounding hard in her ears.
"Be silent and listen!" he commanded and turned his round eyes once again to the three approaching figures.
In all the years they had been together, P'taH had never been so stern with her. She obeyed her brother and protector, but not without fear rising deep within her very soul.
As the three figures continued in their approach, P'taH noticed that they did so in a very curious manner. The one in gold walked not like the L'Chi, with arms swinging at its sides, but with its paws extended, pads facing upward and he wondered if there was some significance to this act. The others walked slightly behind the golden one and glanced down occasionally at little black boxes, which the one called tricorder, each held in one paw.
L'Chi noticed the emblem outlined in black on the golden wrappings worn by the one whose paws were extended and brought the head of her spear up to look at the piece of tattered cloth tied there, and though the pattern was faded, it appeared to be similar.
As she watched the one in gold, a long forgotten image slowly made its way forward. A tall thin man with wavy, silver hair and golden shirt soon took Kirk's place. She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on that face of long ago. It had been only a short time before the thunderous sounds, the screams, the running feet, the impact...the hunger.
The one who had called her "My little girl" was holding her in his strong arms, a place she remembered as feeling safe and secure. There was a gathering of beings and she was receiving various objects. One of which was small furry thing that reminded her of P'taH. The only difference being that it had no head, no tail or any moving parts. She seemed to remember that it had a cooing sound that soothed her and the one she called 'mother'. Her mother had taken her from the safe one's arms and placed her gently on the floor speaking words with her mouth, not her mind. But try as she might, she could not recall the words that were spoken. She could only mimic the strange sounds she had uttered that day. Sounds she hadn't made in over twenty years. "Tankoo cattan..."
"What strange sounds. What a strange manner to communicate," she thought as she opened her eyes at the fading memory. And the man with the silver hair was gone.
Without thought she moved to steady herself on the tree limb, raised her arm and aimed at the spot several feet ahead of the strange beings. Once the spear hit the ground, P'taH's paw came down heavily on L'Chi's head as a reprimand.
"Why do you not open your heart and listen?!" he said.
"Because I do not understand the images, P'taH! They frighten me! I cannot touch their minds the way I can touch yours. Things are not clear! I only know you, my brother! I do not know them nor their thoughts! I cannot hear them!"
"Do you not hear the one?"
"Not as clearly as I hear you. His images are hazy, and it is like walking in the white clouds that touch the ground on hot days in the DashNa lands. You can blink to clear your vision, but still you cannot see! I do not want them to come closer! I want them to leave!"
P'taH yawned, and his tail twitched in irritation. Her manner was annoying him more than he let on. There were times, he realized, that she was as stubborn as his youngest, most mischievous cub, E'taH.
"Had I feared you, L'Chi, when I first came upon you in the fallen rock, I would have destroyed you then as my enemy. Instead, I opened my mind and found that you were but a newborn cub, younger even than I, and nothing to be feared, for you would learn as we would learn, and so, we have learned together. You were ugly--different--and made a noise that pained our hearing. But we did not turn you away. We did not destroy you. You are here."
"Yes. I am here. And I wish to stay here with you. With the ChiWah! I will not let them take me away!"
"If you do not wish to go with them, neither will we allow them to take you," P'taH returned.
But L'Chi did not hear his words. Her fear and her anger had blinded her. She stood and took a step forward, reached for a vine and grabbed hold. As she did, the limb below her feet snapped, and she fell to the ground with a thud.
"Luck or intuition, Mister Spock, you were a lucky devil," Kirk commented as he noted the tattered piece of cloth that was tied to the tip of the spear. He grabbed the hand-crafted weapon and pulled it out of the ground and took a closer look.
"A command insignia," he said simply. "Question is, was this meant as a warning not to go any further or was her aim off?"
"It is my contention, Captain, that it was meant as a deterrent, indicating her desires for us to leave this place."
"Jim, both lifeforms appear to be highly agitated. No tellin' what can happen. This girl hasn't seen a Human in over twenty years. She's wild. Unpredictable. Not civilized," McCoy stated.
"I get the picture, Bones. Mister Spock," Kirk said and turned to his first officer. "You've been awfully quiet. Anything wrong?"
"I am not certain, Captain. I am somehow receiving what I believe may be thought projections. Vague images. Someone or something is attempting to communicate."
"What exactly are you picking up, Spock?" McCoy asked.
"Basic fear... normal curiosity... a semblance of intelligence," Spock returned, eyes fixed on a spot high up in one of the trees ahead of them.
Kirk and McCoy turned and stared at the trees, hoping to catch a glimpse of whatever hid there. Suddenly there was a rustle in the branches, the crack of wood and a half naked body fell from a height of nearly twenty feet. Concerned, all three ran to assist.
P'taH watched as the creatures ran to the still form of his L'Chi. Sensing that she was unable to protect herself against possible attack, he sprang from the tree and landed in front of her unmoving form, teeth bared.
The three men stopped dead in their tracks. Kirk was about to reach under his shirt for his phaser when Spock stopped him. "Captain, this creature is her protector," he stated.
"How the blazes do you know that, Spock?" McCoy nearly yelled.
"I'm not sure, Doctor. But if you wish to assist the female, I suggest you first utilize your tricorder."
McCoy had no alternative but to heed the first officer's recommendation. The cat-like creature that stood protectively by the fallen woman was large; nearly a meter tall at the shoulders, and although it had a rather benevolent face, its bared teeth were ominously threatening.
The three men of the Enterprise noted with great apprehension how it observed every movement each of them made. For the first several seconds, all three watched it just as intently as it watched them.
"Doctor, I would strongly advise you to apply your medical skills with utmost caution," Spock stated.
"Oh, now would you, Mister Spock? You wouldn't happen to have any other brilliant suggestions you'd like to make?"
"I would suggest you do not make any movements that would be interpreted as hostile," the Vulcan returned, one brow raised slightly to his dark bangs.
McCoy glared at him. "Damn you, Spock! For all I know, blinking could be considered a hostile act to that creature!" he whispered heatedly and raised his tricorder with deliberate care not to make any sudden moves. He glanced down quickly at the visual display, then back up at both Kirk and the first officer. "Do me a favor and keep an eye on that damn thing while I do this, will you?"
"Bones, just get on with it," Kirk prompted softly, but adamantly.
"Don't rush me, Jim. This may be the only opportunity I get to do a complete reading..." McCoy asserted as he adjusted the three main controls that activated several screen overlays. He was silent as he took his readings. The only sound in the air was the hum of his tricorder.
"No sign of a concussion, Jim...but she's gonna have a headache for a while due to the blow she's taken. Mainly, she's just had the wind knocked out of her..." he said after a few moments. He glanced up quickly at the big cat and then back down at his readings, adjusted the controls again.
"Body temperature 91, blood pressure 80/40, respirations 16, pulse 242, blood chemistry..." he commented aloud in a near whisper and then looked over at the first officer.
Spock was quite intent on the alien lifeform. McCoy turned his attention over to Kirk, who had been watching him with great concern.
"What is it, Bones?"
"Seems that our Vulcan friend over here isn't as unique as we all thought, Jim. She's part Vulcan--part Terran according to my readings."
With that, both men looked over at the Enterprise's first officer.
P'taH touched the one's mind, and though he did not comprehend the language in which it thought, the being's mind was calm and well organized. He did not feel the creature withdraw as he had on his first attempt at contact. Now, the images flowed smoothly, emotions were subdued to almost non-existence, and it was apparent to P'taH that the being was not only attempting to interpret the impressions it was receiving, but to communicate as well.
Spock felt that his endeavors to transmit images to P'taH regarding incidents which depicted concern or assistance to other alien cultures appeared to be successful. He sensed P'taH's apprehension over the strange black boxes that hummed, and through various means of mental visualization, managed to lull the creature's fears. The first officer of the Enterprise emitted an aura of benevolence which helped to alleviate much of its anxiety over the well-being of the L'Chi.
P'taH's strained link with the first officer helped him understand these alien creatures and their differences. He finally understood why he found the others' minds littered with words and disorganized images. The creature who stood before him, studying him so intently was a Vulcan. Its name was Spock. The others were Human and it was obvious that their thoughts were too chaotic to even sense his attempt at touching their consciousness and so, he decided that the onecalled Spock was the more advanced.
Spock watched the creature with a growing fascination. Earlier, at the sight of the wreckage, he perceived an attempt at mind communication and had assumed it was the female. Since she lay unconscious several feet away, he ruled out the possibility. Within the beast, he felt a semblance of rationality. Not animal. Not Human. But there was most definitely an intelligence lurking behind the large round blue eyes. The discovery that this species was somehow striving to achieve a mutual exchange of thoughts intrigued him.
Being a touch telepath, it was a difficult process for Spock. He had to concentrate to a greater degree to get across the simplest of ideas to the alien. He found that receiving images from the entity was not as troublesome, and was soon gratified to find that their attempts at mental imagery through thought transference had helped the feline entity resume a more benevolent posture. It sat with its teeth no longer bared.
He had become so engrossed in their complex attempts at visual imagery and mental exchange that he had not heard Doctor McCoy's analysis regarding the female, nor his name being called until Kirk placed a hand gently on the Vulcan's shoulder.
"Spock? Spock, are you all right?"
The first officer turned to see the worry etched in the faces of both the captain and McCoy.
"Are you all right, Spock?" Kirk asked again letting his hand drop to his side.
"I am fine, Captain. I was, however, in communication with the lifeform."
"Spock, I don't understand. I thought you had to be in direct physical contact..." Kirk said and looked at the entity who sat watching them with what he could only interpret as bewilderment.
"That is not necessarily true, Captain. The lifeform is an intelligent species, and is obviously capable of receiving and transmitting thought. I did find the exchange somewhat difficult, and I believe I would obtain better results through touch," Spock returned.
"You've got to be joking!" McCoy said incredulously.
The first officer turned to face the chief medical officer with a raised brow. "Doctor, I never joke."
P'taH, apparently understanding the Vulcan's reference to direct contact, stood and began a slow, yet steady, approach toward the three men. Kirk and McCoy each took a step back until they were on either side of the first officer.
"Its readings appear to be slow and steady, Jim. Not agitated as they were a few minutes ago."
"I suppose that's a good omen," Kirk replied as the quadruped sat back on muscular haunches directly in front of the science officer.
"I don't know why, Jim, but I've got the distinct feeling that that fur-ball understood exactly what Spock said."
"As I've stated, Captain, it is an intelligent lifeform."
Kirk acknowledged with a nod. "Then do what you can, Mister Spock. Explain that we mean no harm. That we've come only in answer to a recorded message for help."
The Vulcan took a step forward and slowly crouched until he was no more than arm's length from the entity. Mulch from the accumulation of leaves, twigs and ferns from the tall elm and fern-like trees provided a relatively soft cushion below his right knee. An earthy aroma, touched with the scent that reminded him of freshly cut grass and Marigolds, rose up from the ground and reminded him of his mother's small atrium on Vulcan.
Slowly the first officer of the Enterprise brought the palm of his right hand out toward the huge cat-like creature. P'taH lifted his large head slightly and waited patiently for the strange being to make contact. Spock placed his hand on what he believed were the appropriate points of reference on the beast's head and face and within seconds, his mind was jolted by the imagery and the complicated language of the ChiWah.
Kirk and McCoy, grateful for the shade and cool comfort the trees provided, watched their Vulcan friend and the alien lifeform with concern throughout the mind-link. McCoy glanced down at his tricorder occasionally to assure himself that the ship's science officer, and his friend, was not experiencing any mental identity crisis. His tricorder also indicated that many of the creatures were encroaching upon their position from the low ridges of grey and black boulders three or four meters away.
"We've got company, Jim," he whispered and glanced in several directions. Kirk followed his gaze and saw several of the lifeforms watching curiously the proceedings unfolding before them. "If they're as intelligent as Spock says, they're in all likelihood curious to know what's going on," he returned.
"I don't know how you can remain so calm, Jim. These critters are big... They're not exactly house-cats. And even house-cats can be dangerous what with their claws and sharp teeth..."
"Relax, Bones. If we were in any danger, we'd have been mauled long before now."
"So, what's to say they're not thinking of us as part of their menu as we speak?"
"The fact that that young woman is still in one piece," Kirk replied and nodded at the dark-haired woman laying on the hard ground, still unconscious.
"Well, I suppose you've got a good point. But that doesn't make me any less nervous about them watching us," McCoy stated just as Spock withdrew his hand from the animal and stood to face the two men.
"What were you able to find out, Spock?" Kirk asked.
"Their language is quite difficult, Captain. However, communication through imagery is possible. An empathic or telepathic species will have difficulties, but they are not insurmountable. The creatures call themselves the ChiWah. They are, to the best of their knowledge, the only indigenous lifeform on this planet with intelligence as we know it. The ChiWah are a migratory species which exist on small prey, fish and fauna.
"The female was discovered by this male when she was very young in what he calls the belly of the fallen star. It seems that her crying managed to save her life. They were curious about what made such a piercing noise.
"This male is called P'taH. She has been named L'Chi, which translated means 'the wailing one.' P'taH is concerned for her well-being. His worry is akin to that of a parent for its offspring.
"I assured him that she is not seriously injured, and that if he wishes, Doctor McCoy may be able to revive her.
"He has also informed me that L'Chi is frightened that we have come here to take her away from her people..."
"But, they're not her people, Spock," McCoy interrupted.
"On the contrary, Doctor. They rescued her, raised her, and protected her for twenty-one point six years. They are all she knows."
"But they aren't even humanoid," McCoy insisted.
"I agree with Spock, Bones. As far as she's concerned, they are her family," Kirk contended and looked up at the Vulcan. "Did you explain to...P'taH...that we wouldn't take her against her will?"
"I believed I managed to convey that message, Captain, as his anxiety seems to have decreased."
"That's all well and good, Jim. He understands. But with a communications barrier complicated by her fear, how are we suppose to get through to her, let alone convince her come with us?"
"We don't, Bones," Kirk replied matter-of-factly. "We allow P'taH to handle the explanations and we let her make up her own mind as to what she'd like to do," Kirk added and removed his communicator from his belt. Before McCoy could utter another protest, he flicked it open. "Kirk to Enterprise."
"Enterprise. Uhura here."
"Lieutenant Uhura, send a priority one message to Admiral Nogura, Starfleet Command, Earth-Sol System. Inform him that we have discovered a survivor from the McAuliffe and an intelligent feline lifeform, known as the ChiWah. Request a science vessel with anthropologists and sociologists be deployed. Teams to be headed by species with telepathic abilities for communication with the lifeform. We are attempting to find the identity of the survivor and will inform them as soon as we have any information in order that her nearest living relatives can be contacted. Stress the need for above adequate shields for the vessel's protection against any sudden electromagnetic flare-ups from the sun."
"Sulu here, Captain."
"Sulu, have the cartographic section scan and chart the entire planet, and tie all the data into Computer Bank Twenty-Two. Have a team of six beamed down with portable computers, digging apparatus, and camping equipment. You know the routine. Inform the crew that they'll be working with Doctor McCoy. Uniform of the day--Coveralls. Make certain that all electromagnetic studies are sent directly to Admiral Nogura ASAP. Kirk out."
"Now what. Jim?"
"We set up, we communicate, we learn, and they learn," he stated
The Enterprise crewmen set up a series of work areas, complete with portable computers and other equipment and materials from ship's stores.
Based on existing evidence and tricorder readings, Lieutenant Commander Spock had theorized that the captain of the doomed science vessel--in a desperate attempt to save as many civilians as possible--had evacuated personnel by utilizing the shuttle crafts.
His hypothesis was substantiated by data provided by the cartographic section, close range scans and by Ensign Chekov's diligent work in locating the ship's recorder about a thousand kilometers further north.
McCoy and his crew had located the remains of seventy-two people among the debris and provided a decent burial for those who had already been identified.
During the day, the ChiWah were ever present. Some lounged in the encampment and watched the activities of the alien creatures. A few padded softly about with quizzical expressions or loped up to scientific equipment, and much to the doctor's chagrin, they were particularly interested in his microscopes, sneaking a peak at whatever was set up for analysis.
The younger cubs were often chased away from elaborate apparatus by the older ChiWah and only on rare occasions by crewmen, who felt the little ones were in danger of being injured.
Kirk could not suppress a smile or chuckle at the antics of the younger ones, especially when they attempted to assist the digging crews, and, in their exuberance, covered the crews with soil.
L'Chi kept her distance from the strangers from the sky even though P'taH had assured her that they meant neither her nor the ChiWah any harm. She decided she would observe them from a distance as they performed their peculiar activities with their unfamiliar gadgets and equipment.
For three days and two nights, she watched and listened as the diversified lifeforms removed skeletal remains from the area, excavated bulky rubble, studied their little black boxes, created dozens of small obelisks from the boulders along the hillside with a tiny black box that emitted a beam of light and a high-pitched whine that assaulted their delicate hearing and caused the younger ones to scurry for cover. They then hooked up their instruments to huge box-like objects that beeped and hummed.
P'taH spent a great deal of time with the one called Spock and the others the one called Kirk and McCoy. And when the sun set beyond the mountains, P'taH told the ChiWah and the L'Chi of the work that had been completed among the lifeforms that day.
Through P'taH they learned the reasons why the strangers did not answer their questions."They cannot hear your thoughts. Their minds are too cluttered with their duties and emotions. Only the one who is like L'Chi can hear your thoughts. Why the one whose eyes were blue, the one called McCoy always pointed the black box he called tricorder at them. "He is attempting to study our physiology and anatomy in the hopes of developing a means of communication between our two species. He told them why the aliens had dug up the bones of those who were no more only to place them in receptacles and back into the ground. "As we have our beliefs and our gods, so do these strangers. And, most importantly, "that beings able to communicate with us will soon come from the little points of light in the sky."
L'Chi found herself listening to P'taH's words with great interest. Through him she discovered many words she'd long forgotten. She sat on the outskirts of the encampment and practiced these new sounds. She listened to the strangers as they spoke and watched with a curious fascination the one called Spock.
Kirk noticed her fascination with his first officer, but said nothing. Her interest in his Vulcan friend was irrelevant. What mattered was the fact that she was beginning to approach the encampment.
Spock sensed her consciousness touch his on more than one occasion. He found a pureness and innocence within her thoughts that was somehow refreshing. He felt that perhaps she was relearning a language she never quite grasped, due largely to her age when orphaned. Yet he did find her almost animalistic, or more accurately, barbaric emotions disquieting. He realized that what she felt and thought was no fault of her own. She never had the mind disciplines taught to a Vulcan child. Disciplines which began at the age of four.
She was a Vulcan female with the instincts of the ancient ones. The Vulcans of a time before Surak, when emotions ruled and nearly destroyed a world. He wondered if she could be taught the Vulcan ways or whether she would be better able to adapt to her Human heritage. The thoughts that he found most disquieting were the one that obviously displayed a sexual interest in him. The latter came as no surprise as she was a maturing young Vulcan female. He felt certain that due to her natural maturing, within a matter of a few days, she would initiate contact.
A few kilometers from the alien campsite, L'Chi slept beneath the star-studded canvas of black. Her dreams were filled with strangers, vivid colors and sounds, and equipment that was somehow familiar, yet unfamiliar...
She was a toddler clinging to the trousers of a tall man, dark of hair and fair of skin. He seemed vaguely familiar.
Beads of moisture trickled down his pale face and he looked frantically around at, and yet through, people who pushed and moved quickly from one place to another.
He reached down and picked her up. She didn't understand why, but she sensed that he should have been smiling as he always did when he held her. But this time there was no smile. No sensation of safety.
There were loud noises. People yelled. Feet clanked on the metal floor of a large foreign room and a loud whooping noise echoed in harmony with a red blinking light. She was crying as the man took a step up into a small room. She heard his voice, soothing, yet nervous.
"It's all right, honey. Daddy's here. Mommy's coming."
"Come on, Doug! Put her in the damn thing! We don't have much time!"
The man kissed her forehead and placed her in a clear protective shell which had a cushioned seat. He shut the dome and activated a shield around the encasement.
A woman stepped into the room, and a door slammed with a solid thud behind her. L'Chi cried out, "Mother!"
There was a thunderous explosion as everyone struggled to get into a seat or a safe position on the floor. Through a window in the front of the small room, L'Chi saw a large door lift upward revealing the blackness outside. She felt vibrations all around her and as she looked out that little window, she saw strange crafts float out into the darkness. The darkness grew larger until it took up the entire frame. A ball appeared in the window. At first, it was small then it appeared to grow rapidly larger. Her stomach tickled as the small room rocked and creaked and glowed. Suddenly, there was a hail of light, a horrendous jolt and screams from the men and women who sat in seats or on the floor.
"My God! We're not going to make it!"
"We've lost visual!"
"We're going to crash! Everyone! Brace yourselves!"
L'Chi awoke in a panic. Sweat trickled from every pore. It had been a long time since the nightmares of her childhood had haunted her. And now they had returned with a vengeance.
She sat bolt upright and stared at the campsite. The twin moons illuminated the area. All was quiet in the encampment. She could sense the one. She took several deep breaths, closed her eyes to steady herself and, once calm, she reached over and took her spear, stood and walked toward the camp. Her consciousness sought the mind of the one called Spock, and sensing it, she walked towards the only tent in which there was still light. She ignored the nervous greeting of the security guard as she approached.
He smiled at her. She only stared at him a moment before she walked past him. As soon as she was several feet away, he removed his communicator from his belt. As it opened, she heard it chirp. She walked back to him and looked down at it with a curious expression.
"Kirk here," a voice said from nowhere.
L'Chi studied the young man's face. Particularly his full lips and curly hair.
"Kirk here. Report," the voice said again. L'Chi squinted and looked quizzically at the man's mouth that didn't move, then back down at the little black box with the silver grate.
"It's a communicator," he said softly and raised it slowly for her inspection. He lifted it closer to his mouth and spoke into the device," Ensign Johnson here, sir. We have company," he said.
"We'll be right there, Ensign. Don't make any sudden moves."
"Believe me, sir. That's the farthest thought from my mind," he admitted.
Kirk and Spock jogged several yards outside of the encampment and found Johnson standing within arm's length of the young woman. She was holding the communicator and turning it over in her hand, simultaneously flicking the grate open and shut, obviously amused by the chirping sound it made.
L'Chi looked up at the two approaching men and held the communicator out to the first officer. "Bird inside?" she asked, looking somewhat puzzled.
Kirk glanced at his first officer, who had raised his left brow. "Fascinating," he remarked.
It was obvious to Kirk that he was as visibly surprised to hear her speak as he was.
Spock extended his hand and accepted the small device. He, in turn, gave it back to Johnson, who quickly returned it to his belt.
"There is no bird inside. The sound you heard is produced by doutronic circuitry," Spock explained, the entire time projecting images of the components that made up the device.
L'Chi did not retreat from his thoughts. Instead, she eagerly and excitedly accepted them.
"Great goin', Spock!" McCoy stated as he approached the group. "Like she understands what circuitry is, let alone duotronic circuitry."
"Bones! What're you doing up so late? Thought you turned in hours ago," Kirk said, surprised to see the doctor.
"Couldn't sleep with all this racket," he shot back. "What's goin' on?"
"It looks as though we've made contact," Kirk returned with a smile.
L'Chi looked at McCoy. "No bird inside, Bonz!" She stated almost adamantly. "Two..oh..tron..ic cir..cat..tree!!" she added.
"Well, I'll be..." McCoy said, awestruck.
"Spock?" Kirk queried.
"A simple matter of projecting correlating images and dialog, Captain," the first officer replied matter-of-factly.
"But how the blazes can she be speaking?" McCoy asked. "She couldn't have been more than three when she was orphaned."
"Doctor, Vulcan children are capable of speaking complete sentences by the time they have reached three years of age. By the time a Vulcan child is eight, they are being trained in visual mathematics, neurological organization, physics, calculus, quantum physics, Vulcan Anthropology..."
McCoy put up his hand. "Please, Mister Spock, spare me!" he stated in exasperation.
"Spare me!" L'Chi stated, mimicking him.
"Well, whaddiya know... A girl after my own heart!" McCoy said with a grin as he placed his hands behind his back and bounced on the balls of his feet. Johnson started to smile and thought better of it.
"Doctor, you needn't sound so pleased. I believe she was merely mimicking an unfamiliar phrase and gesture," Spock stated stoically.
"Well, we don't that for sure, now do we, Spock?" he rebutted, still grinning.
"Gentlemen. Mind your manners. We have a guest. L'Chi, this is Doctor McCoy and my science officer, Mister Spock. I am Captain Kirk. The young man you were speaking to is Ensign Johnson," Kirk interrupted. He looked over at the young black man, "Job well done Ensign. You may resume your watch."
"Yes, sir," he replied and began his walk around the perimeter.
"L'Chi. We've been hoping you'd eventually come to us," Kirk said, hoping she understood him. "We must admit, we're a little surprised that you're able to speak," he added.
"Speak. Yes. Not..under..under..stand much."
"We'll try to speak slowly. Help you understand. In the meantime, if you'd like, you're welcome to spend the night here," he added.
"Yes. Night here," she answered quickly, remembering her nightmare and the reason why she had decided to approach the strangers, and together they walked into the camp.
L'Chi and E'taH, youngest and favored cub of P'taH, were Spock's constant companions the following day as he went about his duties as science officer.
The Vulcan had the patience of Job as he answered a variety of L'Chi's inquiries regarding duties he performed and why; about the diversified lifeforms--men and women, and alien species as well--where they came from, why their appearances were different, and what their home worlds were like.
She remained with him, careful to keep her distance and yet close enough for her to take in his scent. She followed him like a shadow through the encampment as he went on his rounds, meeting with the teams and instructing them as to their current duties and where they were to bring their findings. She followed him and his team some four kilometers out of the encampment as they searched for other parts of the fallen star. She would watch with fascination as the one deftly worked on the equipment they found and used their little humming black boxes. And when they returned to the encampment, she sat and observed his routine of downloading the information into much larger black boxes with blinking lights of yellows, greens and reds.
As he resumed his work in the make-shift laboratory that he and Doctor McCoy had set up in a tent in the center of camp, she became quiet and pensive. With elbows on the ebony porta-table, and face in her hands, she watched the Enterprise's first officer and found herself wondering what it would be like to touch him. And yet, she could sense that to touch this strange being would not be appropriate and could not understand why. He was tall and lean. His hands were large yet delicate, his fingers long and thin, and yet she could sense that they had a strength that was as well hidden from the normal observer, as were his thoughts. Even his dark eyes appeared to hide an inner power.
Spock sensed that L'Chi was doing more at the moment than observing him and he was beginning to feel somewhat uncomfortable. But he dared not attempt to touch her thoughts for fear of embarrassing both himself and the young woman. The Vulcan customs prevented such an invasion of privacy without first requesting permission to touch one's thoughts.
Eventually L'Chi's thoughts strayed from the sensual and she stared at the Vulcan's features, in particular, his pointed ears. His hearing organs are very much like my own. The others do not have such hearing organs. Theirs are different... rounded... Why? she thought.
"What is it you wish to know?" he asked, not turning from his work.
"Why do we not look like the others?"
He knew the question would arise sooner or later, considering her interest in the Andorian crewmen she had inquired about earlier. Yet the inquiry still managed to raise an eyebrow.
In actuality, it was a simple question. However, there was no simple reply, as he had denied his Human heritage and chosen the Vulcan way in his youth. L'Chi had no such opportunity. Perhaps someday she would be able to make such a choice. It would not be an easy decision nor a simple matter, particularly if she decided on the Vulcan way. She would have to undergo extensive training in Vulcan mind techniques and deny the feelings she had learned to express while maturing in this environment.
He put aside his work and turned on his stool so that he faced her, "You and I are the genetic product of a Vulcan-Human bonding."
"Bonding... This is like mate? Human...like the ones, Kirk and Mac-Koy?"
"That is correct."
"They do not have hearing organs such as ours. Why is this?"
"Those are Vulcan characteristics."
McCoy, who had been listening to the question and answer session at his bio-computer just a few feet away, put down his stylus and clip-board and walked over to them.
"That, young lady," he interrupted, "is a loaded question. Now if you'd have asked me, I would've said that a Vulcan is a walking, talking, living, breathing computer devoid of all emotions. But then again," he said and glanced affectionately at the first officer, "we know better, don't we, Spock?" he concluded with a grin.
L'Chi looked at both men obviously confused. "I do not understand this...com..pu..ter."
"Neither does Doctor McCoy," Spock retorted flatly, with an almost satisfied look at the expression on McCoy's face. "I believe you were in the process of classifying the remains of that deceased crewman, Doctor."
"Harumph!...no damned sense of humor...that's what being a Vulcan means," he grumbled as he returned to his work station.
"Vulcan is a humanoid species, much like the Andorian species you saw earlier."
"Are all Vulcan a combination with Human?"
"No. Only you and I."
"This is good?"
"'Good' is an inadequate term. 'Unique' would be more appropriate," Spock stated and returned to his work.
L'Chi heard McCoy mumble, "'Interestin's' more like it...two complete opposites combined in one body...it's gotta be a headache for more than just me..."
She walked over to him and placed a hand gently on his shoulder, startling him. He looked up at her, "Didn't hear you coming..."
"It is difficult to hear the approach of a friend when one is making so much noise alone..." she said smiling. "You are just Human? No Vulcan?"
"Just Human...Plain and simple," McCoy said with a smile.
P'taH watched as his L'Chi and youngest cub, E'taH, fraternized with the one called Spock. There were many wonders his youngest could discover through this stranger from the stars, and he realized the same held true for L'Chi.
The longer he watched the interaction between L'Chi and the one, the sadder he became. Not for himself, but for her. To remain among the ChiWah as she desired, would be to deprive herself of the opportunity to discover the worlds among the stars and the knowledge of her own heritage.
Among the ChiWah, she would have no such interaction, no mate, and therefore, no cubs. There would be no one to carry on the lineage of L'Chi of the ChiWah. She would be denying herself a variety of experiences, and these thoughts troubled him. He decided that he would discuss the matter with her and somehow make her understand that to remain with the ChiWah would be wrong.
As the last rays of the sun faded beyond the WanTuc Mountains P'taH found L'Chi and E'taH by the cascading waters of the ChiDoc river.
L'Chi, seated on the ground, was leaning against the trunk of an A'toH tree, chewing slowly on a piece of its sour pulpy fruit. E'taH lounged at her side, chewing lazily on a piece of sweet meat from a fish-like creature she had caught for him.
Inwardly, P'taH smiled. Since E'taH's birth, she had taken care of him. He was weaker than his siblings, and she had taken it upon herself to protect him as P'taH had protected her. She wrestled with him to strengthen his muscle development and coordination, taught him how to swim and fight and hunt. Without realizing it, she had repaid P'taH a thousand fold for his loyalty, affection and protection.
Upon hearing him approach, she turned and touched his mind only to find a sadness there that she had never sensed before.
"What is wrong, my brother?"
"We must speak, L'Chi."
"As you wish. But what is it that troubles you?"
"You," he replied as he sat beside her and nuzzled her neck affectionately. She returned the gesture by wrapping her arms around his massive neck and nuzzling him back.
"What have I done to upset you?"
"My spirit is saddened because you will not go with the strangers from the stars."
"But why should this sadden you?"
"Because, my sister, you are of their clan. You should learn of their universe. Of worlds and beings and of things that are new, like the black boxes that perform magic...of mates and companionship and of cubs..."
"Do you not care for me?"
"It is because I care that I feel it is time you learn of new things...new worlds...that you join those of your own kind..."
"No! My home is here! This is my world! This world I know! The ChiWah I know! My enemies I know! I have touched glimpses of events in the mind of the one called Spock and there is one thing I did see that troubles me! The thing they call 'diversity' among the species brings with it, not only knowledge, but aloneness and unknown enemies! There is not much trust among them!"
"But growing is learning, L'Chi. You will eventually learn as you have learned among us, who your enemies are and who you can trust. Do not deprive yourself of seeing and of learning of these worlds nor the lifeforms they contain because you fear an unseen or an unknown enemy. For yesterday's enemies can become tomorrow's allies. And perhaps, someday, among the strangers, you will find a mate...and the aloneness will be no more."
"Why is a mate so important, P'taH?"
"L'Chi, all creatures require a mate. Even now, without realization, you desire the one. But in truth, they are feelings you do not as yet understand. You are growing...maturing, as all must mature with time. And there will come a time when you require a companion in life just as much as you may require a mate, as all creatures in nature must, in order to perpetuate their species. All I ask...is that you consider my words," he replied gently.
"I will consider them, only if you consider mine. I know that E'taH is your favorite. If I choose to go to the stars with the strangers, you must permit E'taH to journey with me. Will you?" she asked, hoping above all else that he would drop the issue.
He was silent for many moments. "If you choose to go with the strangers from the stars, then I will permit E'taH to journey with you. For someday, you will both return to this world and tell us of the wonders you have seen," he stated and sauntered away.
It had been several days since P'taH or the members of the Enterprise crew had seen L'Chi. It was P'taH's contention that she had gone deep into the mountains to decide on whether she would remain with the ChiWah or leave with the strangers. He assured them that she would return when a decision had been made.
McCoy and his team completed the grueling task of identifying and burying the remains of the deceased and Kirk had scheduled a formal burial service for dusk that day.
A number of the McAuliffe's logs had been located by the diligent scanning efforts of both Sulu and Chekov, as well as the cartographic section. Lieutenant Commander Montgomery Scott had several teams deployed to the planet's surface to proceed with excavation methods in order to remove the logs for examination by the first officer.
Spock managed to extract from the ship's recorder and various logs, an adequate detailed culmination of data on the anomalies that had contributed to the McAuliffe disaster.
The excavation teams had managed to locate a large section of the ship's sickbay facility intact, and at Spock's request, Scott had the medical logs transported immediately to his coordinates.
Spock immediately set to work, cleaning, adjusting, and tinkering. An hour later, he was able to get into the ship's medical records and determine the identity of the ship's only survivor.
Kirk entered the coolness of the canvas tent with two steaming cups in his hand, one coffee for himself, and a cup of tea for his friend. "Thought you could use a cup of herbal tea, Spock."
"Thank you, Captain."
"Mister Scott's informed me that you have most of the McAuliffe's medical records. Were you able to find out anything about L'Chi?"
"As a matter of fact, Captain, I have just completed a study of the medical records and have discovered that L'Chi was born to T'Sar of Vulcan and her Terran spouse, Professor Douglas Torry, several months after they were assigned to the McAuliffe, by the Vulcan High Council. They were the Vulcan representatives assigned to participate in the peaceful mission of scientific exploration. Her given name is T'Pai."
Kirk took a sip of his steaming coffee and swallowed. "Anything in the records regarding immediate family? Someone that can be contacted on her behalf? Aunts, uncles, grandparents?"
"She has an aunt, Olga Southern, on her father's side, residing on Earth, in Montreal, Canada. Her Vulcan grandparents, at the time, were residing in the city of ShiKahr in the capital of ShanaiKahr," Spock replied.
Kirk took another sip of his coffee, moved several pieces of equipment from the corner of his first officer's work-space and sat on the edge of the table. He glanced over at his friend as he placed his cup down at his side. "Small world isn't it, Spock?"
"Isn't that where you were raised?"
The Vulcan nodded. "That is correct, Jim. Her grandfather was affiliated with the Vulcan Academy, and had some say in diplomatic dealings. He and my father may be acquaintances."
"Were you able to obtain a name from those records?"
"Sujek of Vulcan, father of T'Sar of Vulcan."
"Excellent," Kirk remarked as he removed his communicator from under his tunic and flicked it open. "Kirk to Enterprise."
"Enterprise. Lieutenant Uhura here, Captain."
"Uhura, send a transmission, priority one to Admiral Nogura, Earth-Sol system. Inform him that we have discovered the identity of the young woman. She has a Human aunt and Vulcan grandparents. Name of aunt, Olga Southern. Last known location, Earth, Montreal, Canada. Grandfather's name, Sujek. Last known location, Vulcan, in the city of ShiKahr in the capital of ShanaiKahr. Mother's name, T'Sar of Vulcan. Father, Douglas Torry. Got that, Lieutenant?"
"Yes, sir. Enterprise out."
Kirk stood to his feet. "By the way, Mister Spock, where is your shadow today?" he said with a smile looking around the tent realizing he hadn't seen the attractive young woman for several days.
"P'taH has informed me that L'Chi has taken to the WanTuc Mountains to ponder a discussion they had several days ago in regards to her future decision in joining her own species."
"I see," Kirk said somewhat softly. "Having to make this decision is obviously bothering her."
"Perhaps, Jim, it would be wise to respect her choice," Spock stated.
"I don't know why we shouldn't, Spock. There's an old Earth saying, 'If Mohammed won't go to the mountain, then the mountain will go to Mohammed.'"
"Hum. A typically illogical saying, as mountains cannot 'go' anywhere," Spock commented.
Kirk merely smiled, took his cup and left his first officer to his work.
By late that afternoon, much of the equipment that had cluttered the crash site had been packed and stood ready for transport back to the ship. With their work completed, Kirk had requested and received permission from P'taH and the Elders for members of his ship to spend time planetside.
Planetary scans had uncovered, along with ship debris, a vast supply of minerals, ores and plant life that could be utilized in the medical profession. Surprisingly, Delta Aquilae Four also had vast deposits of dilithium crystals. Kirk relayed all new information directly to Starfleet Command.
He had received word from Admiral Nogura that the Federation was in the process of preparing a special envoy to Delta Aquilae Four, which included members of both families of the young woman who wanted to meet with her. In the meantime, he was instructed to do the best he could to develop relations with both the ChiWah and T'Pai.
L'Chi arrived shortly before the funeral services, conducted by Kirk, were completed. Sensing that the proceedings in the valley were a somber occasion, she and E'taH remained on the outskirts and observed until the services were over.
Once the small crowd of aliens had begun to disperse, she and her young companion slowly made their way towards the three senior officers of the Enterprise.
"I'm glad to see you've come back," Kirk commented in a soft voice and a warm smile.
"Yeah. Your big brother over there," McCoy added thumbing in the direction of P'taH, "said you'd gone away to do some thinking. He said you'd be back, but I had my doubts, considering you've been gone so long. Come to any kind of decision?"
"Decision, yes. I do not wish to travel to the stars. Not at this time. Perhaps much later."
"Then we respect your decision," Spock replied.
"L'Chi," Kirk began, "we understand your anxiety and reluctance to leave the world and people you've known nearly all your life. We didn't come here to take you away from them. Perhaps, if the situation were different...say for example, your parents and others survived with you, you would in all likelihood, be coming with us." Kirk paused a moment and then continued in a slow steady voice, "But as it stands right now, we cannot force you to do anything that would make you unhappy. That is our intent. Do you understand?"
"I understand," L'Chi acknowledge.
"We have received word from our superiors, that a special envoy is on its way here to your world. They will have telepaths, beings who will be able to communicate orally with you and mentally with the ChiWah. There will be archaeologists, anthropologists, sociologists... All beings who are interested in you, your world and your people. They will bring teachers for you, beings who can teach you the wonders of the universe without your having to leave your world until you feel that you are ready." Kirk paused for a moment, taking her hand in his and giving her time to assimilate the information he was giving her. "And most importantly, we have discovered who you are and who your family is. And they are coming to meet you," he concluded.
"They are Human and Vulcan?" she asked, looking at the first officer with an almost worried expression.
"Your mother was Vulcan. Her name was T'Sar, daughter of Sujek of Vulcan, therefore her parents are Vulcan. Your father was Human. His name was Douglas Torry. He has a sister. Her name is Olga. She is therefore Human."
"They will not dislike one another like you and Mac-Koy?"
"Whatever gave you the idea that Spock and I don't like each other?" McCoy asked with a big grin.
"You are always angry with one another," she stated adamantly.
"Nonsense. That's just the way that pointed-eared..." McCoy caught himself and coughed to clear his throat, "Hell, that's just our way of dealing with our differences. Isn't that right, Spock?"
The Vulcan looked at the well-meaning physician, his right brow raised slightly upward, a smile seemed to almost, but not quite, touch the corners of his mouth. "Indeed, Doctor."
"And they will not make me leave this world?"
"No, I highly doubt it. They'll more than likely agree to remain here with you until you decide it's time to leave. In the meantime, you will have educators who will teach you and answer your questions. Mister Spock will explain it all to you. He'll tell you what he's managed to find out about you from the computers," Kirk interjected. "And he'll be able to give you a little background on both your Human and Vulcan heritage. Isn't that right, Mister Spock?"
"That is quite correct, Captain. And, perhaps Doctor McCoy would like to join me. Perhaps even explain, in greater detail, the intricacies of Humans and their illogical behavior."
"It isn't illogical behavior, Spock. It's emotional. Get it straight, will you?"
"Exactly my contention, Doctor."
"Are you sure that you like one another?" L'Chi asked.
McCoy coughed again and cleared his throat, "Glad to be of assistance, Spock, no problem. Isn't that right, Jim-boy?" McCoy said sheepishly, glancing over at his friend.
Kirk smiled and slapped him on the shoulder, "Right, Bones."
"And I do not have to leave my people?"
"As the captain stated, no one will make you leave before you are prepared to do so."
"Good. Then they may come."
"Well, I'm glad that that's settled. Now, how 'bout we grab somethin' to eat?" McCoy suggested as he leaned over and picked up a straw basket. "Uhura's sent us down some southern fried chicken, cole slaw, potato salad, and some of that green plumak somethin' or other soup for you, Spock."
"It is called Plomeek soup, Doctor, and it is orange in color, not green," Spock replied. He turned to L'Chi, "I had the kitchens prepare it according to an old family recipe. I thought you would appreciate tasting a traditional Vulcan dish."
"Well, I don't know whether or not she's gonna appreciate it, but I guess it's the thought that counts," McCoy laughed. He turned to his commanding officer, "Care to join us, Jim?"
"A picnic out here," Kirk exclaimed, expanding his arms to encompass the panorama of green rolling hills and blue heavens, "with friends, old and new. I couldn't think of anything I'd enjoy more. Unfortunately, first things first. I have a little matter of shore leave schedules to take care of. I'm afraid I'll have to catch up with you later." And with that he flicked open his communicator.
"Kirk to Enterprise. One to beam up," they heard him say as they walked toward a grassy knoll and tall shade trees.
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