Scott looked over at the captain. "I feel a wee bit foolish, orbitin a black hole, tryin to beam a couple of beings up from the event horizon without a ship or a planet within several light-years. Its just not right."
"Right or not, Scotty, thats what were here to do." Kirk shrugged. "It seems a bit bizarre to me, too, but apparently the Shuul live in the gas envelope around this black hole. What I dont understand is why the location is so secret. Input, Mister Spock?"
"It appears, Captain, that the Shuul are remarkably facile with certain facets of crystal technology, including several areas that have made the manufacturing of duotronic circuitry easier and more precise." The Vulcan raised an eyebrow. "They also are extremely skilled at getting past security barriers in computer systems. I conjecture that it is the latter that has caused their home to be classified. However, it must be pointed out that their ability to evade security systems implies an ability to produce improved security protocols. In the two years since their affiliation with the Federation, they have helped make our systems almost an order of magnitude more secure."
Kirk nodded comprehension. "I see." He looked at Scott. "Mister Scott, what seems to be the problem?
"Im not sure, Captain. Im locked on to one bein, but I was told thered be two to beam aboard. Were you told there would be a change of plans?"
"No, Scotty, but then plans have changed before without my being notified." Kirk turned to his Vulcan science officer. "Spock? Opinion?"
"It might be appropriate to beam up the individual onto whom Mister Scott is locked. It is logical to hope that the being may be able to shed some light on the situation."
"Good thought, Spock." He turned to face his chief engineer. "Mister Scott, bring him, her or it up."
The characteristic sparkle of the transporter formed and dissolved, leaving behind a being that looked very much like a multicolored quartz crystal, suspended a small distance above the ground. The upper six sided pyramid was a deep crimson; below it, extending perhaps fifteen centimeters or so down the cylindrical portion of the being, was a patch of royal blue, fading to the translucent white to grey color that made up the rest of the creature. Inside the blue portion were two, bright red ovals that seemed to shift from side to side, as if they were eyes taking in the situation. In both the red and translucent white portion of the being, subdued highlights in an almost bewildering assortment of colors, sizes and shapes moved, appeared and disappeared.
For a moment, silence reigned, Scott finally breaking it. "I was told thered be two of you tbeam aboard. Was I misinformed?"
"Not at all." The voice seemed to come from somewhere deep inside the translucent part of the crystal. "I am Chonahoa. I have brought the Badmash."
"Im afraid I only see you, Chonahoa. Wheres Badmash?" It was Kirk this time.
"The red part, on top of methat is the Badmash." The two red circles moved, appearing to fix on the captain. "I am the rest. We are " There was a pause as Chonahoa seemed to be struggling to find the proper word. "We are united. Perhaps fused or married would be better. It is so hard to be sure what the right word would be. I am not confident that your language has the word I need." Chonahoa and the Badmash moved off the transporter platform as Chonahoa spoke.
"We greet you, Chonahoa and Badmash. I am called Spock." Spock clearly was wishing for his tricorder, so he could scan the beings. "Your fusion is no doubt the reason for our confusion; we were under the impression that there would be two separate individuals beaming up. Clearly there are two individuals, functioning as one."
"I greet you, Spock, as does the Badmash." The red ovals shifted to Kirk. "The Badmash and I greet you, too. You are Captain Kirk?"
"I am Captain Kirk." He pointed to the Scotsman. "That is Mister Scott, my chief engineer."
"I greet you, Mister Scott, and so does the Badmash."
"I am curious, Chonahoa, why you greet us for the Badmash." One of Spocks eyebrows lifted. "It is rather unusual. Is the Badmash incapable of speech?"
"The Badmash speaks to none, except to me or through me. Why it is so, I do not know; it just is. Life is full, I believe, of inexplicable little things; this is one such." Chonahoas internal lights danced a little more wildly for a moment. "Be that as it may, I would definitely appreciate a chance to rest and to nourish myself. If one of you could escort me to my quarters?"
"I will be happy to do so, Chonahoa." Spock moved to the turbolift. "If you will follow me?"
The multicolored crystal moved into the turbolift with the Vulcan, and the mechanism whisked them both off. Kirk turned to Scott. "Thats an interesting pair, and no mistake about it, Scotty. I just hope that they can give us some insight into the nature of the Tholians."
"Well see soon enough, Captain, as soon as we find indications of a new Tholian colony. If we survive the contact, that is." The Scotsman shook his head. "I dont like getting the ship that close to their wee tricks, you understand. Tis dangerous."
Kirk stepped into the turbolift. "Maybe if we can understand the Tholians, we can get along with them, and have our contact with them become something other than dangerous."
Spock stood next to the crystalline beings in the turbolift, patiently waiting to be carried to the assigned quarters. "Are there be any specific environmental accommodations that you or the Badmash require?"
"No. We are quite adaptable, thank you. I assume that you will have a power source in the room off of which we can feed; more than that will be unnecessary. Sleep is not a necessity for us, as we understand it is for other organisms." Lights flickered in the red portion of the crystal. "The Badmash asks if access to your computer system will be available in our quarters."
"There is a readout in the room, and you have been given security clearance. I presume that you will be able to use a visual data display."
The turbolift opened; Spock led the beings to a door, which slid aside.
"I can read the terminal without trouble, yes." They floated into the room. "The Badmash should be able to achieve more direct contact swiftly. How long before we are able to transport to where we can observe the Tholians?"
"It is not clear. Tholian activity has been observed approximately six point three light years from here, but finding the specific system involved might take some time. Is there anything else that I can offer you?"
After a moment or two of the lights in both crystals fluttering and flashing, Chonahoa spoke again. "It would appear not. Our thanks."
Kirk was out of his bed and dressing before he was awake enough to be aware of the fact that he was responding to an emergency signal. The passionless voice of the computer was intoning that there was a fire in one of the cabins on the Enterprise; he recognized it as being the one that had been assigned to Chonahoa and the Badmash. Without bothering to turn on the lights in his cabin, the captain finished dressing and ran to the turbolift, coming out of it at a dead run when he arrived at his destination.
Even if he had not known the number of the cabin involved, he would have had no trouble finding it. Spock and a pair of engineering cadets were positioning a pair of force field generators to create a containment field around the door to the cabin, and nearby, Scott was finishing the process of donning a fire suit. Kirk looked at his chief engineer. "How bad, Scotty?"
"Its hard to tell without gettin in there, Captain, but from what the tricorder says, its probably an inferno. What I dont understand is why the fire suppression system failed to operate." As Scott spoke, Spock came over and inspected the suits seals. "Ive about an hour in this thing, before Ill risk overheating; I should be able to take care of things in a third of that, but its not me that Im worryin about."
"You probably could extinguish the fire within seconds, Mister Scott; just glare at it the way you do at misbehaving cadets. Im more worried about our passengers. Will the door mechanism work?"
"Probably not, Captain, but this wee suit has power augmentation of my movements; in it, I should be able to force the door open, whether itll work or not, and if I cant, I can rip it open. Tis not the hardest alloy on the ship." He cast an eye at the seals on his suit, double-checking that it was up to full power. "Mister Spock, would the field be ready to contain whatever we find?"
"Yes, Mister Scott. I believe we are ready for you to enter." The Vulcan flipped the helmet visor down, fastening it tight. "I believe it is the Human custom at this point to wish you good luck."
Inside the clear helmet, Scotts head nodded, his voice coming out of a speaker grille on the front of the mechanized suit. "Thank you, Spock. Ill be careful; I give you my word."
With a determined, but powerful, step, the combination of man and machine moved toward the door, patiently waiting until the signal was given him indicating that the force field was in place and it was safe to proceed. Scott moved to the door, trying to convince the door to open on its own. To no ones surprise, the door remained adamantly closed. First gently, then with considerable force, the engineer tried to slide it to the side with no greater success. Having no other recourse, the man drew back one arm, throwing an augmented punch at the center of the door; weakened by the heat, the door crumpled and fell out of the way. As it did, the forcefield contained flame and smoke, concealing the engineer as he stepped through the threshold.
Engulfed in flame and smoke, Scott looked down at the small display on the panel in the front of the suit, reading the view generated by the suits radar. Cautiously, he moved forward, looking for evidence of the cause of the blaze, and for any evidence that, against all hope, Chonahoa and the Badmash might have survived. Briefly, his mind went back to the course in fire science Aiglekdos had insisted they both take at the Academy. He could still hear the professor calling fire "the Beast" and reminding them all that it was ever hungry for more fuel, and perfectly happy to feed on them if it could. What had his name been? Bakerthat was it, Martin Baker.
Scott looked for the control for the fire suppressant foam, running through his memory all the things he remembered Baker saying about how best to deploy the suits extinguisher, aiming at the base of the flames rather than the flames themselves. Systematically, he began putting out what he could, hoping to find the cabins inhabitants, or at least their remains. Before him, floating a few centimeters above the floor, Scott saw Chonahoa and the Badmash, grimed with soot. "Are ye all right?"
"We are in no distress."
"You need to get out of here; Ive got to get this fire under control before the heat ignites the cabins nearby." Scott rotated the suit slightly, pointing to the door. "You can escape out that way."
"Thank you. Actually, I can see the door quite clearly, despite the smoke. We will exit as you request." The crystal moved toward the door and through the forcefields with ease.
With the cabins inhabitants out of the way, the chief engineer set to the task of extinguishing the fire with determined will. Between the resources of the suit and Scotts understanding of the structure of the ship around him, only a comparatively short period of time was needed to complete the task.
Around him, where the fire suppressant foam allowed the rooms features to show, it was clear that the cabin was a total loss. The aluminum of the ceiling was sagging; the carpet, the bed and the furniture were charred ruins; and the wall surface was cracked and peeling off. Refitting the room was essentially out of the question without the facilities of a starbase.
Carefully, the engineer looked to see if he could determine the cause of the conflagration. Near the middle of the room, hanging through a hole melted in the ceiling, was a power line that had suffered severe degradation. Studying the pattern of the burn marks around him, Scott concluded that it must have been the source of energy that triggered the fire, though there was no obvious reason why it would have overloaded so severely.
Disappointed that the root cause still eluded him, he made his way to the door, joining the crystalline beings outside the forcefield containment. He checked a sensor; the ambient temperature was safe enough, and the air was clearing quickly. Flipping the helmet back, he nodded to Spock, who shut down the forcefield generator. Scott gestured to Chonahoa and the Badmash, allowing them to move forward.
"What happened in there, Scotty? I realize there was a fireIm wanting to know what caused it." Kirk was clearly concerned about the welfare of his ship, now that his civilians were apparently safe.
"I believe I can answer that for Mister Scott, Captain." It was Chonahoa. "We were tapping into a power line, feeding on the energy from it. Our dining on the energy must have caused a drain that overheated the power cable and initiated the combustion." Chonahoas inner lights flickered for a moment or two. "We did not realize that the combustion was a problem, or we definitely would have stopped tapping the power supply. The Badmash and I both tender our apologies for what appears to have been some significant damage to our quarters."
"I wish youd have told me you fed like that," Scott interjected. "I could have saved us all a load of effort by supplyin you with a more direct power supply, perhaps runnin off a couple of charged dilithium crystals." As the Scotsman spoke, there was a sudden ionization above the Badmash. "What in space? Are you sure youre both all right?"
"Oh, were both fine." There was almost an embarrassed tone to Chonahoas voice. "What you observed is, ah, the Shuul equivalent of a Human belch. The Badmash said that the power supply and the energy from the conflagration were delicious. Im afraid my, um, spouse has rather over-eaten."
The sheer absurdity of the situation forced a laugh out of Kirk, despite his being tired. "Ive been known to commit that error myself. If youre in no distress other than that, perhaps you would like to retire to another cabin. Just do us a favor and let us provide you with a personal power supply before you snack again."
"I shouldnt worry, Captain. The Badmash and I will not need to feed again for several days, perhaps a week." The crystal floated back toward the corridor wall, suddenly shedding its layer of soot and grime, then moving toward Spock. "But I give you my word that we will not tap into your power supply, or any other system in your ship, without checking with Mister Scott to be sure that we wont cause you any further trouble."
"Good." Kirk turned to Scott. "See if you can settle them into a new cabin. Im going back to bed. You might as well just seal that door, and leave it until tomorrow. You probably need the sleep, too." That said, Kirk disappeared into the turbolift.
Kirk made his way onto the bridge, only slightly worse for wear from the loss of sleep. Spock, as ever, seemed unruffled, indeed unaffected by the events of the night. Planting himself in the command chair, the captain turned to his Vulcan science officer. "Spock, tell me what we know about Chonahoa and the Badmash and their species."
"Very little, Captain. They are native to the high-energy area just outside the event horizon of the modest black hole from which we beamed them aboard."
"Thats unusual. How in space did we detect them?"
The Vulcan tilted his head slightly to one side. "We did not, Captain. They detected us. It would appear that they have mastered Federation Standard from our subspace communications and communicated with Starfleet by that medium. Two others of their kind previously worked with Captain Thrax Kal Kevaran of the command cruiser Red Cloud and Starfleet Engineering on developing Federation crystalline technology. However, we know essentially nothing of their social structure or their language."
Kirk rolled his eyes. "Im confident youll learn something more than that before were done with this mission. What are you turning up on the hunt for Tholian activity?"
"There appears to be some activity compatible with Tholians in the 38 Gemini system, and white main sequence star 91.14 lightyears from Earth." Spock looked up from the console. "A Tholian presence there would be too close to Earth to be tolerated, Captain. The appearance indicates only a small amount of activity, suggestive of an early colonization."
"Excellent. Sulu, take us there."
"How long until we arrive?"
"From our present position, at warp four, about two hours, Captain," Sulu offered. "If time is of the essence, we could move to a higher warp."
"Two hours will be sufficient, I think, Mister Sulu." Kirk turned to the Vulcan. "Spock, you have experience in extreme environment suits, do you not?"
"I have logged over seventy hours in them, Captain. I believe I have more hours, in the aggregate, than anyone else on the ship."
"Good enough. Find at least one other crewman with what you consider adequate experience and plan to go to the surface with Chonahoa and the Badmash. I presume youll need a couple of hours once were in the system to locate the colony and get an idea of whats happening with it."
"Naturally, Captain." The Vulcan busied himself with the console. After a moment or two, he looked back at the captain. "Ensign Chekov has logged over fifty hours in extreme environment suits, Captain; his experience is even greater than Mister Scotts."
Kirks eyebrows raised as he turned to face Chekov. "Thats incredible, Mister Chekov. How did you manage that?"
Chekov looked up from the weapons display, a cross between a wry smile and an impish grin on his face. "Is what I get for spending time in northern Siberia, Kyptin. That far north, is always extreme conditions in winter." He looked at the captain. "Is rumored that is extreme conditions all of the year, but is not the case. Most of year, it is possible to be out with just two or three layers of parkas on. On a few days, there is even snow meltingbut just in the heat of the summer." He turned to his console and then back to the command chair. "Heat in relative sense, of course. It is still below five degrees centigrade, even then."
Controlling his mirth took all the professionalism Kirk could muster. "Excellent, Mister Chekov. Hopefully youre as good with the heat as you are with cold."
"Should be no problem, Captain; in fact, I will be looking forward to it. It will probably be the first time since Siberia that Ive had chance to get really warm."
The only being on the bridge not laughing was Spock. Even Spock had one eyebrow raised.
"Entering the 38 Gemini system, Captain."
"Thank you, Mister Chekov. Uhura, take us to yellow alert. Mister Sulu, be on the alert for any Tholian craft in the area. Spock, wheres the Tholian activity?"
"There appears to be a colony in progress on the planet closest to the primary, Captain. The environmental conditions appear to be almost ideal for Tholian life." He looked up from the science console. "It will take some time for Mister Chekov and I to suit up for that environment. If I may suggest it, I would counsel having us begin that process."
"Good enough, Spock. How long?"
"Twenty-eight point four minutes."
"Mister Chekov, go with Spock. Ill meet you both in the transporter area as soon as were in orbit."
Something less than an hour later, Kirk and Scott stood in the transporter area, staring at Chonahoa, the Badmash, Spock and Chekov, the last two in the bulky environmental suits. Scott looked at them carefully, his engineers eye double checking the suits as best he could, one last time. "Are ye ready to go, gentlebeings?"
"I believe so, Mister Scott," Spock intoned. "Chonahoa?"
"Ready and eager, Spock. The Badmash and I are most curious to learn what we can about these Tholians. The Badmash is especially excited over the opportunity to study them." In the red pyramid above Chonahoas horizontal blue stripe, the internal lights were flashing and shifting rapidly, as if to add force to Chonahoas statement. "Let us be at the task."
Scott looked at Kirk, who nodded. The Scotsman triggered the transporter, letting the trio dissolve into the transporters sparkle.
What seemed like no time at all later, they materialized on the inhospitable surface of the nameless planet. Spock turned his head slightly, looking at the tricorder display built into the helmet. "It appears that the Tholians are this direction."
"I perceive them, Spock." The voice was Chonahoas, oddly enough coming through the headsets of the two others. "If I understand the Badmash correctly, there are about twenty Tholians, eighteen warrior types, two of an unclear type, and eggs, several dozens. The Badmash has deduced that the two unidentified Tholian specimens are a queen and a brood tender of some sort."
"How do you suggest vwe approach them, Spock?" The Russian studied his own tricorder display. "There is a ridge in the terrain just a little off to one side of here that vwe may be able to use it as a shield to approach the Tholians proto-hive vwith minimal risk of being seen."
"It appears to be the best way, Ensign. Will you be able to make the observations you need with the ridge between you and the Tholians, Chonahoa?"
"No." The crystals flashed brilliantly and rapidly for a moment. "However, from what we have been able to determine from your files on these beings, we are not likely to be harmed by the weaponry that they use, or so it appears to us. It will be easy enough to get just enough above the ridge to observe with sufficient precision, and drop below the top of the ridge before any weaponry is deployed. Let us move forward."
Without waiting for the others, the crystal beings moved in the direction of the ridge Chekov had indicated. Spock and Chekov moved as swiftly as their suits would allow, following behind.
The scenery was surreal. Metallic hoar frost was visible on the shaded side of a large stone formation; shining pools of tin and silver scattered the parched landscape. Wind-carved stone seemed to be everywhere, shaped by the sulfur dioxide laced steam the planet used for an atmosphere. In the heat driven by the planets proximity to its primary and the runaway greenhouse effect, the very rocks glowed a deep red.
Blissfully unconcerned by the exotic landscape, Chonahoa and the Badmash set a pace almost too fast for the Russian and the Vulcan to follow. Spock pointed to a modest defile, taking the lead moving down it, periodically consulting his tricorder display.
Chekov heard a sound from behind and turned. A Tholian fired, barely missing him; without thought, the Russian shifted into a concealed position, hoping not to have to fire. Sweating from the combination of the stress, the exertion of keeping up with the others and the heat, he hustled to catch up with Spock, Chonahoa and the Badmash.
A Tholian crested the ridge, perhaps drawn by the whine of phaser fire. It targeted Chonahoa and the Badmash, its weapon causing no damage.
Throwing caution to the wind, the joined crystalline creatures swiftly moved straight to the top of the ridge and over it to a position where they were clearly visible to the Tholians below. Predictably, the remaining Tholian warriors turned their weaponry on Chonahoa and the Badmash. Rather than dissolving into ions, it almost seemed that the fused beings were suddenly surrounded by an ever-increasing corona of progressively intense energy. Just as the corona became unbearably intense to view, it decayed into a sheet of light that returned along the line of the Tholians fire, terminating it.
"It is safe to join me, Spock and Chekov." Chonahoa and the Badmash moved down toward the area where the Tholians were. "The beings will not fire on you."
Neither the Vulcan nor the Human felt inclined to be sure of the assertion, moving forward cautiously. True to prediction, however, the two were able to move to the top of the ridge without being assaulted. Before them, the pair saw the egg racks destroyed, but the remaining Tholians moving around, apparently unconcerned, clearly tending to tasks they considered significant.
Spock looked over at the crystalline creatures. "Have you gleaned what information was needed?"
"Yes. We can return to your ship. These beings will be no further trouble."
The Vulcan triggered his communicator. "Enterprise, three to beam up."
Kirk looked up as the turbolift door slid open, seeing Spock, Chekov and Chonahoa debark onto the bridge. "Welcome back. What have you learned about the Tholians?"
Chonahoas clear crystalline body flashed with lights for a moment. "As I understand it, based on what the Badmash was able to download from your computer data banks, you would call them a degenerate intelligence."
One of Spocks eyebrows lifted slightly. "I am not sure that I comprehend your statement. Could you clarify it for us?"
"Of course. They have a high level of individual intelligence, roughly on a par with yours, Spock. However, theirs is a hive society: each individual is physically and mentally structured to perform a specific task. The individuals ability to perform any tasks outside that specific social role is, at best, limited."
"Sounds like their role is immutably fixed for them, then." Kirk shook his head. "That sounds pretty inflexible."
"There are many levels of function in a given role, Captain," Chonahoa returned. "As we understand it from mining their minds, this is particularly true in their warrior role. They feed on radiation. Where protecting their hive is involved, they are implacable. In many ways, they are like your Terran ants or bees: each is focused on their task, and all the tasks are coordinated to protect and enlarge the colony or nest. It is a very focused, very efficient society."
"Then how did you convince them to be so tolerant of us?" Chekovs voice clearly communicated his astonishment at the dissonance between Chonahoas remark and what he had seen just before leaving the planet.
"We did not. We do not believe such an act to be possible." Lights flashed in the red part of the being that represented the Badmash. "But your worlds are safe. The Tholians on the planet below are gone. We..." More flashing of lights occurred, apparently representing the Badmash and Chonahoa conversing. "...changed them. We reproduced, using their crystalline structures for our offspring. When you are done with our services, we would greatly appreciate being returned to the surface, to care for our offspring. Perhaps later, they could return home with us."
One of Spocks eyebrows lifted, almost touching his hairline. "Indeed."
Kirks countenance was a mixture of revulsion and amusement. Finally, he chuckled. "As solutions go, thats a creative one."
"Not creative, Kyptin." Chekov grinned. "Is procreative solution."
Free counters provided by Andale.
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES --
2266-2270 The First Mission
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES On-Line Fiction
Click Here to Return to the Orion Press Website