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Mary L. Barnes


In two days he would be free of this stinking hell pit. The acrid smells and thick black dust had irritated his nose for two weeks. Even after scouring his skin and washing his clothes the tenacious particulates clung to every surface like a second skin. Sunlight could barely penetrate the continual clouds of grey that belched from the mining company; at night there were no stars, only the reflected ground lights off of the floating gloom. In essence, day and night were almost identical.

However, one thousand credits would make up for all of the inconveniences. Roger White packed up his work equipment and headed downstairs to the entrance of the mines. Petros UTC owned the mining company and rights to all the ore that was mined on Beta Arae. The planet’s native population was no match technically and intellectually for the powerful company. On Earth, their civilization would have been post-Renaissance and pre-industrial. Beta Arae was primarily an agricultural planet; there was not a large market for their native produce, but the rich soil was perfect for growing plants and produce from other worlds and regions.

The Betaruns, the name the natives called themselves, profited quite well from opening their planet as a source of commerce to the needs of the galaxy, but at a cost of their own identity. When iron, gold, dilithium and other minerals were found, Petros UTC moved right in. The effects of the mining company insidiously grew larger; agriculture suffered, and was replaced by businesses that catered to the miners' needs and whims.

Soon the native Betaruns were being diluted by the immigrants and visitors to their planet; one of whom was Roger White. Roger was here to make some extra cash. His friend, Thos Bortuk, had sent him the notice about a high paying temp job working for Petros. Roger had taken two weeks off from his other job for a paid vacation, and now he was going to get doubly paid. The only catch, Petros was very anti-Federation, and Starfleet had forbidden any of its employees or servicemen to work for or with Petros. Working in Environmental Control on a space station didn’t pay enough for Roger's desired life style, and his job with Starfleet planetary relations was shaky at best. Bortuk had obtained a fake ID for Roger under the name of Rick Jenkins. Petros usually asked no questions: all you had to do was show up and work hard while keeping your fingers out of the company's pockets.

How Petros controlled all of its employees was beyond Roger’s comprehension. He had been lucky, so far, that no one had noticed he was a Fed. Bortuk was waiting for him at the first level lift to go down to the mines. There were a large group of workers in line for the lift: Tellarite, Andorians, Klingons, Humans and humanoids, and some other races Roger had not seen before. The lift arrived and as the doors opened, the workers squeezed inside. Roger would not miss these dirty, smelly bodies, though after a full day in the mines he didn’t smell too good either. Just two more days, he thought to himself. Don’t screw up! Everything had been going well except for his Level Supervisor, Jackson. That guy had been eyeing him for the past week and it was making him very nervous. Jackson started watching Roger more closely after one of the other employees had whispered something to Jackson while pointing at him. White did not recognize the employee from his position as a planetary relations officer.

The lift doors opened at level ten, White and Bortuk’s level. As they exited the lift, a voice called out. "Hey, Roger White!"

White turned in the direction of the voice; it was Jackson. Quickly thinking, White replied, "Who’s Roger White?"

But Jackson did not answer back; he turned and went back into his office.

"Man, Roger, you have got to be careful. Two frigin’ days left!" Bortuk said angrily.

"Sorry, he caught me off guard," White muttered.

They started to head down to their work area when Jackson came out of his office. At least he was smiling at them. "Wait you two. I have a special job for you to do and it’s an extra bonus in pay. Follow me," Jackson said.

Slowly White and Bortuk followed him past their usual site and into a maintenance tunnel. There was a gate, and Jackson keyed in the code to gain entrance. He turned on the lighting discs that lit the tunnel. He eyed them impatiently then motioned them a little further. "This is one of the richest veins we've hit. You see the equipment down there? Start there and I’ll be back in a couple hours. Don’t mention this to any of the other workers; this area is only for those who have shown they can work hard."

Before either White or Bortuk could reply, Jackson turned and walked out of the gate. He turned back to them and put a finger to his lips. "Remember, not a word to anyone else."

After he walked off, White went up to the gate and tested it; it was locked, but the force field was deactivated. "Oh, hell!" White said, starting to panic.

Bortuk, trying to be reassuring, said, "May be he’s on the level. Maybe this really is a special work area."

"Oh, I hope so, Thos, I hope to God it is. I guess we can go down and check out the equipment and the walls for ore," White said nervously.

When they arrived at the equipment, it appeared to be appropriate for the job, but there was no indication that any mining had been started.

They walked down the tunnel further; the air was foul and the floor of the tunnel had become sticky and soft. Dark brownish-red soil with white and brown pieces of a woody substance covered the floor.

"What the hell is that smell?" Bortuk asked. His boot stepped on something hard and they heard it crack. Bortuk bent down and picked up the piece that was under his boot.

He and White examined it closer to the overhead lights. "Oh, God, it’s a piece of bone!" he whispered, his face draining of color.

It dawned on them that the color of the floor was dried blood and the fragments were bone and tissue.

"What’s going on in here? What kind of hell pit is this?" White yelled. His heart rate was racing and he began to feel queasy. Bortuk was hyperventilating; he tossed the bone fragment on the floor. They ran back in the direction of the gate. Suddenly Bortuk fell, screaming in agony. White turned back to help his friend and he stopped, horrified at the scene before him. A huge black shape filled the tunnel; the creature had attacked quickly and stealthily. Thick leathery skin covered its muscular body. It was a quadruped and its forelegs ended in five, long, taloned claws. Its massive head had two pairs of large, close-set, luminous yellow eyes; its muzzle opened wide displaying sharp serrated teeth. With its thick muscular jaws it was able to bite through Bortuk’ leg easily as the forelegs held Bortuk captive.

White was frozen, unable to run or try to save his friend. Bortuk’ screams filled the tunnel. White put his hands over his ears, and he could hear himself screaming also.

Then it was only his voice filling the tunnel, the only noise coming from in front of him was the creature devouring its prey. How he had made it to the gate, White could not remember. He was screaming for help and shaking the gate in futility. There was a stinking odor behind him and he could feel the creature’s breath on the back of his neck. A crushing pain engulfed his chest followed by only darkness.


Captains Log, Stardate 6966.2

I have received orders to proceed to Beta Arae for a three-fold mission.

First: to assist the crew of the scout ship, U.S.S. Veritas, NCC-671, in their investigation into the disappearance of a Federation planetary relations officer by the name of Roger White. Mister White failed to return from his two-week leave, and his last known location was Beta Arae. During their investigation, the Veritas team noted extensive contamination of the soil and water on the planet. Flowing from one of the purging systems outside of the mines, there were tissue, blood and bone fragments. Human and Vulcan DNA were discovered in the fragments as well. In response to the mining being suspended due to the pending investigation, a riot broke out around the Petros compound. Chief Medical Officer Doctor Fernandez of the Veritas and Dan Sherman, his medical examiner, were killed in the riot. The Enterprise will support the investigative team of the Veritas and help with security enforcement. Doctor McCoy will have a dual responsibility of assisting the forensic team and helping with the health crisis that has arisen on Beta Arae.

Which brings me to the second part of this mission: to investigate the contamination of the soil and ground water around the Petros mines.

The contamination is both bacterial and chemical. The bacterial contagions have caused an isolated epidemic among the inhabitants, both native and non-native. The data on the isolated organisms was transmitted to Doctor McCoy and he has started planning a course of treatment.

Life sciences, under the leadership of Mister Spock, will investigate the chemical contamination and plan a course of action for controlling and correcting it.

Security Chief McMahan and I will plan the security details on how to protect the personnel investigating the deaths of the victims in the mines and the Veritas team.

The third part will be to investigate the evidence of Vulcan DNA. Ambassador Sarek will be rendezvousing with Enterprise at Beta Arae. Two Vulcan scientists disappeared after being sent to investigate reports of extensive contamination on Beta Arae five months ago. With the discovery of Vulcan DNA in the tissue and bone samples discussed earlier, Ambassador Sarek will be rendezvousing with Enterprise at Beta Arae to investigate this matter on behalf of the Vulcan government.

Tomorrow morning the Veritas staff will meet with my officers and Ambassador Sarek to present their evidence obtained thus far. Tomorrow afternoon, the president of Petros UTC and the company physician will meet with the Enterprise staff and Ambassador Sarek. They have voiced their concern about these events and have offered their full support in our investigations.

I will be meeting with my officers at 0900.


Jim Kirk and Mister Spock entered the briefing room at 0830 and sat down at the table. Kirk was anxious to get the meeting started; there was a lot to plan. He sipped his cup of coffee as Spock readied his station.

"Good mornin’, Jim, Spock," McCoy said as he entered the briefing room.

Kirk noticed that McCoy’s eyes were vibrant blue, a good indication McCoy was exhilarated about the upcoming assignment, or was it something else? "Good morning, Bones," Kirk replied.

"Good morning, Doctor," Spock said not looking at McCoy. He continued to set up for the meeting.

McCoy walked over to the food processor. "Jim, do you want a refill on your coffee?"

"Sure, Bones, thanks," Kirk answered.

Scott, Uhura and Chekov entered shortly after, arranging themselves at the table.

Kirk allowed his officers to settle then opened the meeting. "I have received orders from Starfleet to assist in an investigation concerning the death of a Starfleet officer, Roger White. He was reported missing from his duty station as a planetary relations officer for Deep Space Station K-One, and his remains were located on Beta Arae. During the investigation of his death, evidence of other deaths was discovered. Human and Vulcan DNA was also found in the same vicinity as White's." There were surprised gasps from his officers, except Spock. "The DNA evidence was discovered in the purge fluids exiting the Petros UTC mines."

"So those bloody pirates have made it out to Beta Arae," Scott said. "Trouble always follows that’ dirty lot."

"Yes, it seems so. Which brings up the issue of the Vulcan DNA. The identity of the Vulcans has been verified as the two scientists that were sent to investigate reports of chemical pollution on Beta Arae. Mister Spock, can you fill us in?"

"Yes, Captain. Doctors Stov and T’Wem disappeared after their shuttle landed on Beta Arae five months ago. No trace of the shuttlecraft was found, and until two weeks ago, no trace of the scientists was found either."

"Your father, Ambassador Sarek, will be arriving later today. Tomorrow morning, we’ll discuss the findings with him and the investigators of the Veritas." Turning to the other officers, Kirk continued, "Unfortunately, during the investigation, there was a riot at Petros. The medical examiner, Doctor Fernandez, and an investigator were killed during it. Petros has tried to block the investigation stating that it was interfering with their mining operations. Part of our mission is to help the Veritas team continue processing that scene.

"Doctor McCoy, you will be the acting medical examiner and coordinate the retrieval and analysis of the evidence. Also, you will be in charge of controlling and treating the victims of a local epidemic that has arisen from the contaminated outflow from the Petros plant. The source of the contamination is the same area where the victims' remains were found. Apparently, pathogenic bacteria have been detected in the soil samples and water supply around the plant. There have been reports of illness, but no fatalities so far," Kirk said.

"Mister Spock and Mister Chekov will be assessing the chemical pollution that has compounded the bacterial contamination. We need to identify the specific chemicals involved and try to contain them if possible.

"Mister Scott, you will be in charge of providing a way to purify the water for the people there and assisting with the survey of the mines and processing area. Lieutenant Uhura, you will be our invaluable organizer of each team’s efforts so that this mission runs smoothly," Kirk finished, he took a sip of his coffee.

"Miss McMahan, as Security Chief, you'll be in charge of seeing to the safety of all Starfleet and Federation personnel and staff on the planet's surface."

McCoy frowned. "What a tragedy to lose Doctor Fernandez. He was a leader in forensics. I've had to ask him for advice on many occasions. His knowledge of life forms, botany and microbiology was immense and the data that he contributed to Starfleet’s medical databanks was astounding." He shook his head. "I’ve heard several negative reports of the working conditions in the Petros UTC companies. Who in the blazes are they?"

Kirk turned to Spock. "Would you enlighten us, Mister Spock?"

Spock steepled his long fingers. "Petros UTC is a interstellar conglomerate that has numerous mining and processing plants on different planets. This conglomerate is privately owned and operated. Petros has maintained a very hostile attitude to any outside interference, especially Starfleet and the Vulcan Science Academy. Any investigative process into the organization has been met with antagonism and violence. The planets that Petros targets are usually not under the protection of the Federation. They are primitive and underdeveloped. These situations make the planets easy prey for the conglomerate. Petros UTC has great financial and legal resources at its disposal. Their combined network makes them a very formidable and malignant adversary; it could make our mission at Beta Arae quite difficult. Unfortunately, there are Federation and Starfleet personnel that have had surreptitious dealings with Petros. For example, Roger White."

"How did Starfleet track down Mister Vhite?" Chekov asked.

"When he failed to return from his two-week leave, one of his co-workers became concerned. White had been in contact with a Thos Bortuk before leaving on his vacation. Bortuk had been tracked down as a temporary employee of Petros. We believe White was working under the alias of Rick Jenkins. Petros confirmed that a Thos Bortuk and a Rick Jenkins were both employed at the mines," Kirk informed them.

McCoy sat forward, glancing around the table. "I am acquainted with the medical examiner from the Veritas, Lieutenant Linda McDonald. I don’t know if you all remember the tragedy on Gannor Six. Linda’s husband, Doctor Scott McDonald, was killed while investigating the suspicious deaths of children on that planet."

"Yes, seven years ago, if memory serves me," Spock replied. "McDonald was a great humanitarian and advocate for children of all races and life forms. He died under similar circumstances as Doctor Fernandez, did he not?"

McCoy replied, "Quite right, Spock. A company was illegally dumping hazardous chemicals into a reservoir that supplied the inhabitants of one of the regions. Scott and his team of volunteers assisted with treating the children affected."

"I believe that particular company was a subsidiary of Petros UTC," Spock added.

"The physician for the company, I believe Reichter was his name, tried to treat the victims with a medication formulated at the company site. The results were ineffective and in some cases worse than the chemical contaminants themselves. I was assigned to help Doctor McDonald with the crisis, but before I arrived, Scott had been beaten to death by some of the Gannor Six population, probably assisted by personnel from the company. We were eventually able to isolate and provide the right treatments." McCoy paused. "I had the honor of doing my pediatric residency under Doctor McDonald. He loved children. He was an excellent pediatrician, and as Spock said, a great humanitarian."

"Are the chemicals similar to vwhat is being dumped on Beta Arae?" Chekov asked.

"At this point of the investigation, that is unknown," McCoy continued. "But we do know what bacterial contaminants we are dealing with. Since many of the miners are from different planets and regions, the Veritas has identified many strains. What was an abnormal find was the presence of bacteria that are associated with decomposition in humanoids, and there are two strains the microbiologist could not identify. Unless miners are dropping dead in the mines and are not being removed, we can't account for the presence of this sort of bacteria. No reports were filed about any missing employees or deaths for that matter from Petros.

"The chemical contaminants are the result of mining and processing: they consist of heavy metals and solvents. We’ll know more when the Veritas crew meets with us tomorrow. I think the Veritas staff needs to be commended on the excellent work they have done so far. Especially with the death of two of their team," McCoy finished.

Jim Kirk turned to Spock. "Life sciences report, Spock."

"As the captain stated, the biological evidence was found emerging from the same run-off outlet at the plant sites." Spock pulled up a diagram of the mining and processing plants run-off/purging systems. "Each level of the mine has a large drain-off that bottoms at the base of the mine. The chemicals, ore and debris are then sucked up and then pumped out of the mines onto the land and in the water."

Scott snorted. "Primitive indeed, sir. This is what we engineers call the ol’ ‘Whore and Ore’ business; drill deep, pay cheap, then sweep and go. The faster the drillin’, the faster the demand for more ore comes. Some of these mine conditions haven’t changed in a long time. It’s cheaper to dig a large hole for minin’ and run it with primitive equipment and keep the pipes patent with a good flush of water or chemicals. There are no safety codes in these mines; there’s no need for ‘em, cause once they're through drillin’, they’re done with their business. Then they all get what they want and leave the holes, dirt ‘n broken machinery behind."

"And the toxic chemicals and bacteria, too," Uhura said.

Spock placed another image on the screen; it was a schematic of the flow from the company’s run-off. "The run-off flows from the base of the Petros refinery, here." Spock zoomed in on the area in question. "This ground is a steep decline and when the run-off flows out, it immediately runs downhill to the body of water that the inhabitants utilize for their drinking and irrigation water. The ground around the water is very porous and absorbs the contaminants, continuing to poison the water."

Scott shifted in his seat and handed Spock a computer disc. "What I’ve planned, Captain, is to set a group of satellite water purification sites. Mister Spock will ye place my disc in please? Thanks." Scott’s diagram of water purification satellites appeared before the officers. "This lil’ darlin’ will pull up water from the contaminated source and run it through several carbon-fiber meshes as well as several xenylon membranes. The chemicals and bacteria will be eliminated by the filtration process and reverse osmosis, but it’s goin’ to take a long time to clean up this mess."

Kirk looked around the table at his officers; he was blessed with the best crew in Starfleet. All were efficient, loyal and able to take their assignments seriously. "Any other thoughts or ideas?" he asked.

"With the security detail I've planned, it will be easier to tour the mines and examine those drainage tunnels," McMahan said, her voice grim. "No telling what kind of beasties we’ll uncover. When we pull out all that muck, there’s bound to be some surprises at the very bottom," she added.

Uhura winced. "I’m glad you got that detail, Pamela. Just don’t bring any of the ‘beasties’ back up here!"

"If that is all? Good, you are excused. We will have a dinner reception for the crew of the Veritas and Ambassador Sarek at eighteen hundred hours. Dress uniforms." Kirk shot a look at McCoy. "Sorry, Bones." He laughed as McCoy’s hand reflexively went to his neck. "When does the Veritas shuttle arrive?"

"Fourteen hundred. My staff will help them unload the evidence collected and the bodies of Fernandez and Sherman. M’Benga and I will perform the post mortems on them," McCoy replied.

"I’ll meet you at the shuttlecraft bay, Bones."

"See you then, Jim," McCoy said as he left for Sickbay.


At 1330, Kirk found McCoy anxiously waiting for the shuttlecraft to arrive. He placed a hand on his chief medical officer’s shoulder. "How long has it been since you’ve seen McDonald, Bones?"

McCoy sighed. "The last time I saw her was at Scott’s funeral, seven years ago. We’ve kept up with each other, usually through Joanna. They were her godparents. Scott was also Joanna’s pediatrician. During my divorce from Heather, I don’t know what I would have done without the two of them. They let me come over and vent my frustrations, cry, and most importantly, they listened.

"Scott was made to work with children, Jim. That man had the biggest heart. It takes someone strong to work with sick and dying children. I don’t have that strength; it tears me up inside.

"I didn’t meet Linda until after they were married. Jim, she was the first nurse to ever put me in my place." McCoy smiled.

Kirk shot him an incredulous look. "Really, Bones? Were there others?"

"Only Christine." McCoy laughed. "One day, I was making my rounds with my interns. It was the day from hell up on the pediatric ward. I had admitted a very sick little girl from ER and needed the tests and treatments started STAT. There was a new graduate nurse that was assigned to the girl. She blew off my orders saying there were other patients who needed her attention. Being the young, impatient resident, I became rather out of control. Even my interns were backing away!"

"You out of control, Bones? I can’t picture that at all," Kirk said as he rolled his eyes.

"Don’t be sarcastic, Jim. I had to flex my newly-acquired professional powers. Well, the nurse broke down in tears and said it was her fourth admission in two hours. To her rescue rushes up the charge nurse. She had red hair and the greenest eyes I'd ever seen. She asked what the problem was, and I voiced my frustration about the grad brushing off my orders, etcetera. Those green eyes took on a glow like the luminescent aquatic life on Argo. She proceeded to tell me that if I ever talked to one of her nurses like that again, she would read me my last rights. I showed her the orders then I was sounding off to Scott and told him about the new bitch up on Pediactics. He just smiled and said, ‘Well Len, you’ve just met my wife, Linda.’ Jim, I never yelled at another nurse on Peds, well, at least if Linda was there."

McCoy’s expression changed, it was more serious. "They became my closest friends. It’s ironic that someone who loved children like Scott and Linda were never able to have their own. But I think Scott embraced all of the children he helped as his own. Scott later closed his pediatric practice and became an interstellar child advocate. His work was his passion and, unfortunately, the cause of his death."

"Captain Kirk, the shuttlecraft from the Veritas is approaching, sir," Uhura’s voiced announced over the intercom.

"Thank you, Lieutenant Uhura," Kirk replied.

Kirk and McCoy waited for the light to turn green indicating the repressurization of the hanger bay. Then the doors opened and they walked to the shuttlecraft.

Five people emerged from the craft, all looking exhausted. The eldest of the group was a petite woman in her late forties or early fifties, the once red hair laced with tones of white and silver. Kirk noted a delighted look of recognition on McCoy’s face. McCoy stepped toward the woman. He scanned her face and hair appraisingly.

"Red, you’re getting more silver every time I see you." McCoy laughed, giving her a hug.

She returned the hug and looked up at McCoy, then pushed back. "And you are still too skinny!" she said, poking him in the ribs.

McCoy guided her towards Kirk. "Lieutenant, meet Captain James T. Kirk. Jim, this is Lieutenant Linda McDonald."

McDonald shook Kirk’s offered hand. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Captain. The crew of the Veritas is grateful for your help and hospitality. When we heard it was the Enterprise that was being deployed to assist us, we were relieved and excited. It has been a very rough week, especially after the deaths of Doctor Fernandez and Sherman."

"We are here to be of assistance, Lieutenant." McCoy was right, she had bright green eyes. She also had a trace of a southern accent but not as strong as McCoy’s.

"I was also excited to be working with Doctor McCoy." Her eyes sparkled as she glanced over at McCoy.

"Yes, Doctor McCoy was telling me about his days as a resident on the pediatric ward." Kirk smiled.

McDonald’s smile brightened. "Leonard was my husband’s favorite resident; no one else could fill his shoes in his opinion. Scott valued Leonard’s friendship for a long time."

McCoy placed a hand on her shoulder. "Linda, we have guest quarters for you and your crew. My staff and Life Sciences are going to take over from here. You all need an evening of rest before we start reviewing the evidence." McCoy’s demeanor sobered. "Doctor M’Benga and I will be doing the post mortems on Fernandez and Sherman. All of the evidence that you have collected is being transferred to our science labs."

"It is tragically ironic that Doctor Fernandez will be part of the evidence," McDonald said, lowering her gaze to her hands. Then she straightened and looked up at McCoy. "I am going to miss him, as will Starfleet. What a horrible end to such a brilliant man’s career."

"Like Scott’s," McCoy said softly.

McDonald’s eyes misted.

Kirk said, "I will leave you in the capable hands of Doctor McCoy. We will have a dinner reception for your team and Ambassador Sarek tonight."

McDonald smiled. "Thank you, Captain. My team is looking forward to meeting your officers and crew. It will be an honor to meet Ambassador Sarek as well."

The captain bid them a good afternoon and walked off toward the lift as McCoy escorted McDonald to her quarters.

"Len, you look wonderful! Being the CMO of the Enterprise seems to agree with you. I’ve kept up with your career through your research studies, publications and through Joanna. Scott would have been proud of you. I know I am. Joanna informed me we almost lost you when you were diagnosed with xenopolycythemia. However, you did find a cure for such a deadly disease? Mister Spock assisted you with the cure, did he not?"

McCoy said, "As my research indicated, Mister Spock gets full credit for the discovery. I was only the guinea pig." McCoy changed the subject. "Linda, when did you join Starfleet?"

"I needed to continue Scott’s work, but I needed the strength of Starfleet behind me to do this. However, there were times when he would be so discouraged and frustrated by being a small man in a big universe. His heart began to blind him to the unbiased eye of science and he became obsessed. The conditions on Gannor Six overwhelmed him, and then he was careless."

McDonald paused as her eyes misted again. "It’s been seven years since his death, and the pain is still there. I see him in the faces of so many children..."

McCoy gently drew her into his arms and held her. "Linda, there are many children, teenagers and adults who are now prospering because of the work that Scott and you have done. Don’t forget that; I haven’t."

McDonald pushed back and gazed into McCoy’s eyes. "Thank you, Len."

They arrived at her quarters. "Here you go, my dear. I’ll let you unpack and rest," McCoy said. "I’ll be by at seventeen-forty-five to escort you to dinner, and after that, I'll take you on a tour of Sickbay."

Her face brightened. "I am looking forward to that." She gave him a kiss on the cheek and went inside her quarters.


McCoy pressed the buzzer at McDonald’s door.

"Who is it?" she asked.

"Your escort to dinner, my dear."

He heard her melodic laugh. "Do come in, sir."

McCoy entered. He was tugging at the collar of his uniform. "I hate these damned tunics! A man needs room to move his head, not have it set in a fabric vice."

"Well, Len, you look very handsome in it," McDonald said as she finished brushing her hair.

McCoy enjoyed the light play off the silver in her hair. There were some traces of red still there and her hair looked soft and fine. She still had the peaches-and-cream complexion but the years had added soft lines to her face. The blue color of her uniform complimented the red in her hair and enhanced the jade color of her eyes. "You look beautiful, Linda," McCoy said.

"I clean up pretty good, don't I?" She paused and looked at McCoy, his eyes were still very blue, his lower lip still had that slight pout, but there were deeper lines on his face now.

"Well, shall we?" He extended his arm to her, and she slipped her arm in his.

The officer's dinning room was spacious, not like the cramped lounge on the Veritas. He escorted her to her seat and sat down next to her. McDonald scanned the officers around her. Across from her was a handsome man named Montgomery Scott, the chief engineer. He had dark brown hair and eyes and was approximately Len’s age. He had strong facial features and his eyes seemed kind. Next to him sat a beautiful woman with dark skin and eyes; she seemed to possess an elegant intelligence. "Lieutenant McDonald, meet Lieutenant Uhura, our communications officer," McCoy said. The two women shook hands.

Next to her sat a young man of Asian descent. He was thin but athletic looking and had a bright engaging smile. Next to him sat a young man with dark hair and eyes. His eyes glistened with energy and his face still had the boyish look of youth. Captain Kirk sat at the head of the table and next to him sat his first officer, Mister Spock. On the other side of the captain sat a distinguished, older Vulcan, the elegance of his attire reflecting the authority of his position. He was introduced to McDonald as Ambassador Sarek who nodded to her in greeting.

Mister Spock was quiet and elegant without pretence or arrogance.

Kirk was handsome. He had the same coloring as her husband had; light brown-blondish hair, but Kirk’s eyes were hazel. Kirk carried the position of captain well; the handsome face was calm and reflected controlled strength.

McDonald observed two of her fellow officers entering the dining room. One of the officers was Lieutenant Ami Kovoor and the other was Doctor Ferdinand Lopez. Kirk stood up to welcome them and guided them to their appointed places at the table. Kovoor had light mocha-colored skin, thick shiny black hair and sparkling obsidian eyes. Lopez had graying dark hair and amber eyes. "Welcome to the Enterprise," Kirk said making eye contact with the three officers of the science ship. "I hope that your quarters are comfortable?"

"Thank you, Captain, mine are very nice," replied McDonald.

Kovoor and Lopez voiced satisfaction of their quarters as well.

Kirk turned to McCoy. "Doctor McCoy, would you please introduce our guests."

"Yes, Captain," McCoy said, "This is Lieutenant Linda McDonald, Chief Pathologist and now Chief Medical Examiner of the Veritas; Bio-Chemical and Botanical Specialist Lieutenant Ami Kovoor; and Xenobiologist-Microbiologist Doctor Ferdinand Lopez."

Kirk said, "Thank you, Doctor. Now let me introduce my officers." After introducing his senior officers, Kirk gestured toward the other Vulcan present. "This is Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan." Then Kirk nodded to the galley staff indicating they should begin.

The five course dinner was a treat for the Veritas crew, who went from eating on the go to actually remembering how to eat with silverware and drink from crystal glasses. Soon the clank of silverware on plates gave way to mixed conversations around the table as the Enterprise and Veritas staff got acquainted. Kovoor and Lopez left with Sulu and Chekov for a tour of the ship. Ambassador Sarek went back to his quarters. Kirk and Spock moved down to where the remaining officers were seated. Coffee, tea and wine were served.

Kirk looked at McCoy then at McDonald, his eyes twinkling mischievously. "Linda, I bet that you have some stories about Doctor McCoy when he was a young resident."

McDonald glanced at McCoy then laughed. "How much time do I have?"

"McCoy was telling me that you were the first nurse to ever put him in his place," Kirk replied.

"The first time we met," McCoy said.

"Oh, that day!" she said as she took a sip of wine. "I was in a patient’s room when I heard yelling from up at the desk. I went up to the desk to see a resident having a full blown temper tantrum. I confronted this resident..."

"Confronted?!" McCoy gasped, "More like a lioness defending her cub! Linda got right up in my face, her eyes turning bright green. I saw the red hair, and I knew I had made a big mistake. I left quickly! I gave Linda the nickname ‘Red" after that," McCoy said smiling.

Kirk laughed, "Any more stories about Bones?"

McDonald looked puzzled. "Bones?"

"Jim’s nickname for me," McCoy stated.

"Is that because he’s all boney?" McDonald asked teasingly.

"It’s a shortened version of the old derogatory word for doctors, ‘sawbones,’" McCoy snarled.

"Has our doctor always been so skinny?" Uhura asked, laughing at McCoy’s grouchy reply.

"Oh, he’s put on weight since his days as a resident. He was very skinny. The mothers and grandmothers of some of the pediatric patients felt so sorry for this starving, hardworking resident with big blue eyes and dimples that they would bring food up for him. Some of the nurses had secret crushes on him and would bring him food, too. We used to call him Doctor Locust because if there was any food around, he would swoop down from nowhere and devour it. And those skinny legs, when he would run he would bounce like a grasshopper."

McCoy growled, "Now you’re exaggerating."

Spock added, "I have seen you run, Doctor. The resemblance to a locust is an excellent analogy."

Kirk and Scott were laughing so hard they had tears in their eyes.

McDonald patted McCoy’s shoulder. "I never met anyone who could talk so slow and have such a high metabolism!"

McCoy snorted. "Look who’s talking, Red."

"I’m sorry, Len. You’re being very good natured about this," McDonald said.

"Don’t let him off the hook, McDonald. McCoy needs a dose of his own medicine," Kirk said still laughing.

As promised, McCoy took her on a tour of Sickbay after dinner. He showed her the diagnostic beds and equipment, the surgical area and the science labs.

"Len, this is incredible! I’d heard rumors that starships like the Enterprise had some the best medical and laboratory equipment in the fleet." She turned to him and smiled. "Not to mention the best CMO." At McCoy’s blush, her smile broadened.

"I have a very good staff to help me," he said, returning her smile. "Speaking of which, Christine Chapel and Doctor M’Benga want to meet you."

McDonald was excited to meet Christine Chapel. Christine had earned the respect of Starfleet. She was known for her excellent nursing skills, scientific research and knowledge, and McDonald felt that she would be a great help on the investigation. When they entered the main area of Sickbay she saw the tall blonde woman with classic beauty and empathetic blue eyes. "Welcome to Sickbay, Lieutenant," Chapel said, her low voice was gentle.

"Please call me Linda, Christine. I heard you speak at a conference on Nursing Interventions for Multi-Planetary Lifeforms. You are a gifted speaker and a great source of information."

"Yes, she is," McCoy said. "I’m very proud of her accomplishments. She keeps me in line, too." Both of the nurses flashed him an incredulous look. "Oh, come on, I’m not that hard to work for!"

"Only after you have had your coffee and you are not a patient." Chapel laughed. "Linda, it was nice to meet you. I’ll see you tomorrow at the briefing."

They found M’Benga in the doctor’s lounge. Dark skinned with silky dark hair, he was an elegant man and brilliant from what McDonald had heard from Joanna McCoy. Her father rarely bragged about anyone. When it came to M’Benga and Chapel, she said, McCoy had no complaints, except when he was their patient.

On the way back to her quarters, McCoy took her by the botany lab. McDonald marveled at the collection of plants and flowers as well as the spectrum of colors and the natural perfumes that were encased in this small oasis. They stood close together not speaking for a while; the silence was not awkward, but peaceful.

McCoy broke the reverie. "Isn’t this incredible? Sulu has turned this lab into a small paradise."

McDonald nodded. "Ami will go crazy in here! This has taken a lot of work and dedication to detail."

McCoy laughed. "That’s Sulu for you. Everything he touches flourishes. This was his hobby, but it has developed into quite a scientific collection of flora. The medicinal bounty here would be a study in itself." He walked away from her and picked a flower which he handed to her. Vibrant pink in color, the lily-like bloom gave off a fragrance similar to wisteria, McDonald’s favorite flower.

"I may not leave here!" she said inhaling the fragrance. "It’s beautiful. May I take it back to my quarters?"

"Of course, you can. Sulu won’t mind. You need to get some sleep; we have a busy schedule tomorrow. We need to compile the evidence and information before the CEO and CMO of Petros UTC arrive tomorrow afternoon. Their CMO is Doctor Arnold Reichter."

The blossom fell from McDonald’s hand and her color faded dramatically.

"Linda, are you all right?" McCoy asked concerned.

"Arnold Reichter is the Petros physician?" she asked Petro. There was anger in her voice.

"You’re upset about something. Does it have to do with Scott’s death?" McCoy asked.

She turned away. "In a way. He was on Gannor Six when Scott..." She composed herself then faced McCoy. "After Scott died, Doctor Reichter pursued an unwanted relationship with me. He was relentless and obsessed; I couldn’t breathe let alone grieve. God knows why. I’m not quite in his league as far as women go."

"What does that mean?" McCoy asked.

"Reichter has a taste for exotic, beautiful and rich women...not some widow of a pediatrician," she said quietly.

"You are beautiful, and you’re intelligent; he may have been drawn to that. He publishes scientific articles frequently and he’s made a name for himself in research circles. I’ve read some of the articles. They’re primarily about chemicals and toxins, natural and otherwise." McCoy looked into her eyes. "So how long did he try to see you?"

"Over a year. Eventually he gave up...I moved back to Earth to be near my parents in Texas. Dad had retired from law enforcement but he had some contacts with local law and Federation agents, just to keep an eye on Reichter. Len, it was so bizarre even obscene. Scott and I only had contact with him through the clinic Scott had set up for the children."

"Well, you’re safe here." He smoothed her hair back from her face. He felt compelled to kiss her. It had been nine months since Yonada; the need to touch and be touched welled up inside. McCoy ached for validation of his existence, to be needed and to be loved. He recalled Natira’s initial passion and desire for him to be her husband; but the broken, brief relationship left him feeling empty. He remembered the way McDonald had loved Scott; he had been a very lucky man. His fingers stroked her cheek, and he felt her respond to his touch. McCoy leaned forward and kissed her. She returned the kiss and there was a subtle trembling in her lips. He gently pulled away and looked down into the green eyes. "Well, I should let you get some sleep," he said. "Tomorrow, I’ll come by and take you out for some breakfast."

"That would be great," she said

When they reached her door, she kissed him again; then went into her quarters.


A large stone residence sat ensconced on a metal platform on the side of a mountain. The morning clouds were still down below the level of the house, and the sun was just rising. When the sun warmed the air, the clouds would rise up and give a brief illusion that the house was floating on them. Dawn and evening would color the clouds in reds, oranges and purples. It was like living on Mount Olympus. When storms would erupt, he was surrounded by a cacophony of sound and undulating light; it energized him. Reichter stood close to the large windows in his library. Before him was his reflection, and he studied it with a satisfied eye. Bronzed skin over a well-built, muscled body, stark-white hair, and above the high cheek bones piercing grey eyes the color of storm clouds. Chronologically close to sixty years of age, he had the appearance of a man in his late thirties. Power: his body radiated it, his residence shouted it, and his position at Petros UTC secured it. Reichter turned away from the window and walked back to his bedroom. Draped across his bed like pillows, slept his entertainment from last night. Two women he had met at a ‘society’ function last night; they were young, exotic and willing. Satisfying women was easy for him, he could outlast an Orion slave girl, and he had worn out a Klingon female in his conquests. But none of these dominated females had satisfied him.

Though he had the appetite for something brief or fleeting, he had a desire to possess someone of value. His residence was filled with artifacts and treasures from many planets; they gave him respect from his piers and colleagues. Some of these items were fragile and delicate; they were kept in glass enclosed cases where he could view them and see his reflection imposed over them.

The intercom sounded in the living area. He answered it. "Reichter," he said.

H’Mui, the CEO of Petros, appeared on the screen. "Are you ready to leave?" the deep raspy voice asked. Toad-like in appearance, the chief executive officer was olive-green in color, and his body was rotund, not due to adipose tissue, but normal for his Orion physiology. Deep-set black eyes looked at Reichter; they were impossible to read and the CEO’s expressions were flat.

"I will be in two hours, H’Mui," Reichter said.

"Good, we will arrive on the Enterprise tomorrow and meet with Captain Kirk and Ambassador Sarek in the afternoon. The Veritas crew will present their findings. Guess who one of the medical examiners is."

Reichter sighed annoyed, he hated guessing games. "Who?"

"Linda McDonald."

The grey eyes widened then narrowed. "Scott’s widow? Well, well...I thought the Veritas was a Starfleet vessel."

"It is," H’Mui replied. "Lieutenant McDonald has been with Starfleet for two years."

"How very interesting." Reichter sighed. He remembered her sea-green eyes and the red-gold hair. She was intelligent, gentle and fiercely loyal to her dead, idealistic husband. What had he given her, chasing after the ill, the ghosts of children and futile lost causes. The big tough man had been beaten and crushed.

He remembered McDonald’s crystalline tears on her pale face as she cried. He wanted to taste those tears; they would be like the sweet saltiness of a finely pressed oil. To have her cry those tears, not for the dead, but for the ecstasy he would give her. Porcelain skin under his touch, the warmth of her body, the taste of her skin and his body taking total possession of her. He had wanted this seven years ago as he tried to comfort her, holding her close, feeling her breasts against his chest as she cried... the smell of her hair... the silkiness of her cheek... To have a partner of that caliber would bring stability to his reputation.

"Arnold, are you paying attention?" H’Mui asked.

"Uh, yes. So she will be presenting the evidence. What is this about a meeting with Ambassador Sarek?"

"The fools on Beta Arae killed two Vulcan scientists. The director said they were becoming too nosey and asked too many complicated questions," H’Mui continued. "Unfortunately, a Starfleet officer working under an alias was killed and disposed of on Beta Arae also. They had suspected him of being a Federation spy."

"How did this officer get past the security detail?" asked Reichter.

"Beta Arae’s plant is too new and too big; it’s hard to control all of the miners and workers. It started as a satellite processing company, but the discovery of dilithium and other metals has made it one of the richest finds for Petros. The mines are protected by an unusual means...very effective, inexpensive and resourceful for dealing with problems. Unfortunately, the system has its flaws, and the Veritas found the remains of the Vulcans and the officer," H’Mui said.

"Stupid, incompetent fools!" Reichter yelled. "You need to be more careful who you set up as director of these companies. These mistakes will effect us all...I have too much invested in Petros to have it blown away by damn idiots! I heard Doctor Fernandez was also killed. What did they do with his body?"

H’Mui sighed. "The Veritas team was able to retrieve his body and the medical examiner’s as well. The Enterprise CMO will be one of the medical examiners."

"Who's the CMO?" Reichter asked tensely.

"Doctor Leonard McCoy," H’Mui stated.

Reichter’s face burned with anger. "Shit! Damn it to hell." He paced in front of the monitor. McCoy had humiliated him on Gannor VI, pushing aside his attempt to treat the children, implying that it was ineffective and dangerous. The doctor was impossible to work with; he was irascible and had the backing of Starfleet behind him. McCoy had also been friends with Doctor McDonald. "What is our plan going to be?"

The Orion answered, "My problem will be Captain Kirk, Starfleet’s golden boy. Kirk can be relentless when he is on a mission. Don’t forget the first officer, Mister Spock, is a Vulcan. My contacts tell me Ambassador Sarek is his father. The two Vulcan deaths are going to be the worst for Petros. The officer was working illegally on Beta Arae, in violation of Starfleet's own edicts. There is also the problem of leaking contaminates from the mining company; some of the residents are ill because of it."

Reichter glared at him. "I had not been informed of this. Of all the negligent things to happen. Well, this is going to be a huge liability for Petros, and this also will give Starfleet another foothold to grab Beta Arae from us. Especially if McCoy is involved." Reichter was pensive, his eyebrows lowering over the steely eyes. Then he looked at H’Mui. "Petros will supply whatever medications are needed to treat this problem, at no cost to the people. We will also supply whatever food or supplies they need. We will be their deliverers, not Starfleet. The mines are too valuable to be wrested from our control. I will handle McCoy. If he gets in the way, it will be unfortunate. He has a reputation for being a bit of a rogue in Starfleet, and his acid tongue does not help the situation. You handle Kirk and the Vulcan issue, and I’ll handle the medical issues. I’ll see you in two hours. Reichter out."

He stormed in to his bedroom to pack. Pulling the sleeping beauties roughly out of the bed, he sent them away in his private transporter. His mind was racing, what would his next move be? Suddenly he smiled. Treating the sick and injured in a mining colony can be dangerous work, especially when you're hated, as Starfleet is. One could get hurt badly or... but how to do it furtively? He had just the person in mind.


McDonald was gathering the information cassettes when the buzzer at the door sounded. "Come in," she said.

McCoy entered, he looked tired. He smiled at her. "Did you sleep well?"

"Yes, this ship is so quiet, and the bed was very comfortable." She returned his smile. "I’m starving. Are you hungry?"

He laughed. "You know me, Linda, and I’m always running on empty."

She sighed. "I wish I had your metabolism, I look at food and gain weight!"

McCoy scanned her frame. "You look wonderful...for a woman your age."

McDonald punched him on the arm. "Watch it, mister!"

McCoy feigned injury. "Ouch! You’re still as tough as you used to be."

She poked a finger at him. "Don’t forget it either!" Then she laughed.

McCoy had forgotten how mellifluous and contagious her laugh was. He scanned the room. "Do you have all of the information for the meeting?"

McDonald picked up a blue case and patted it. "It’s all in here, sir."

They went to the officer’s mess for breakfast. She saw Kovoor and Sulu talking animatedly. It must be about botany, she thought. Nothing else excited Kovoor more. Lopez was not present; he usually breakfasted alone in his room.

McCoy suggested that they see the observation deck before the meeting. The room was vacant, only the view of the stars was present. They watched the procession of the stars for a while, and then McCoy guided her to one of the seats.

He faced her, studying her features. "Last night in the botany lab, when we was very nice. Linda, we have known each other for a long time. I don’t know what feelings you have for me..."

McDonald silenced him with a gentle finger on his lips then traced his lower lip with the soft touch. She leaned forward and kissed him on the mouth.

McCoy pressed his lips firmly to hers, and both their lips parted. He felt her hands on either side of his face and he ran his fingers through her silky, fine hair. Their kiss was interrupted by some crew members who entered the room. They pulled back from each other reluctantly. McCoy glanced at his wrist chronometer. "We need to get to the meeting," he said standing up and helping her up from her seat. He glanced at her face; she was looking at him with confirmed desire, and he kissed her again then they left the room.

When they arrived in the briefing room, most of the officers were seated. Chapel, M’Benga, Kovoor and Doctor Lopez were present as well; they took their seats next to them. Ambassador Sarek was seated next to Spock.

"Now that everyone has arrived," Kirk said, "we can start the briefing. Lieutenant, would you update us on the evidence so far?"

McDonald passed her computer discs to Spock, who entered them into the computer. An image of a piece of bone appeared on the view screen; it had irregular sharp indents along its edges.

"This is a piece of bone that we have identified as belonging to Roger White. The sharp edges that you see on the bone are not tool marks; they are teeth marks," McDonald informed them.

"Teeth marks? How can you tell?" McMahan asked.

"The serrated edges vary but are consistent with bite marks made by very sharp teeth and made with significant pressure, estimating the forced to be 211 kilos of force per square centimeter. There was also the presence of digestive enzymes and fecal material on and around the bone fragments. We also were able to isolate some tissue as well." There was a stunned silence around the table. "We also were able to identify two strains of bacteria; they are consistent with the normal intestinal flora of the dire-dogs of the Gamma Coma Berenices. The digestive enzymes and fecal material confirm this."

Uhura’s hand went reflexively to her throat. "You mean that the victims were eaten?" she gasped.

McDonald brought up another image; this piece of bone was smoother and stained. "This one had passed through the digestive system. See how smooth and stained it is in comparison to the earlier image? So some of the bones fragments were digested while others had fallen out of the dire-dog's mouths when it was chewing."

"Were ye able to determine if the victims were alive when they were being eaten?" Scott asked.

"Not with all of the chemicals mixed in with the specimens," McDonald said. "We did, however, note that the bones of the Vulcans showed more decomposition than the other bone fragments, which would support the premise that they were killed months before being ingested. Other bone fragments were identified as belonging to several animal species on Beta Arae. Lieutenant Kovoor, would you please talk about the chemicals that you have identified?"

Lieutenant Koovor listed the chemicals that she had isolated. "All of these chemicals are toxic to any lifeform, carbon-based or otherwise. They cause the following: corrosion of the gastrointestinal tract causing bleeding; kidney and liver damage; bone marrow suppression; and nervous system damage consisting of seizures, confusion and paralysis. Another problem with some of these chemicals is that they have a propensity to bind with certain metals such iron and copper. This poses a health risk to those whose hemoglobin is iron- or copper-based. We have seen the consequences of this reaction on the planet surface. Approximately thirty of the inhabitants have died..."

Kirk interrupted. "Excuse me for interrupting, Lieutenant Kovoor, but we were told there were no fatalities."

"Told by whom, Captain Kirk?" Kovoor asked.

"The Petros plant director," Kirk said.

"You will find there is quite a lot of deception and secrecy from the director," McDonald said. "He is a belligerent and wily individual. It was frustrating working the crime scene. He had sent some of the miners to assist with our efforts, only to have them destroy or contaminate some of our samples. At the temporary morgue set up in the company’s medical clinic, Doctor Fernandez and Dan Sherman were attacked in a riot stirred up by some of the miners. They were also telling the towns people that they were desecrating the bodies of their loved ones."

"What was the cause of the local people’s deaths?" McCoy asked.

"As Kovoor stated there were the chemical contaminants and Doctor Lopez will address the bacterial and microbial evidence," McDonald said, looking over at Doctor Lopez.

"We have identified many strains of bacteria, some indigenous to Beta Arae and many more due to the divergent population of the mining company. It was the bacteria of the Berenicium dire-dogs that have made some of the population ill: diarrhea, vomiting and other complaints. None of the fatalities were linked to the bacterial contamination. The deaths were attributed to the chemical poisoning," Doctor Lopez stated.

"Why have the dire-dogs?" Sulu asked. "Wouldn't armed men better suit the need for security for the plant?"

Sarek answered this question. "The semi-intelligent creatures in question have been used by the inhabitants of Gamma Coma Berenices Six--better known as Xenar--for millennia. They are an effective means of protection and, as it appears, an efficient means of disposal as well. These animals, though not canine, were named ‘dire-dogs’ by an Earth-owned company on Xenar, who unfortunately bred the creatures and sold them on a private and corporate level, especially to companies such as Petros. Inexpensive to maintain, but they cannot be tamed; they are solitary and deadly."

"I’d hate to be the veterinarian that has to treat them!" McCoy snorted.

"I wonder if you could teach them a few tricks, Bones," Kirk laughed.

"Fetch would be the first one, and the stick would be thrown over a cliff," McCoy said shuddering. "So it appears they keep these dogs for protection and other uses. I bet it keeps down the prospects of stealing from the company not to mention a cheap retirement plan."

McDonald elbowed him in the side. "Not funny!"

"Sorry," he replied. He hadn't meant to make a joke in poor taste at the expense of McDonald's dead friends and colleagues.

The rest of the meeting was spent reiterating what each department was assigned to do for Ambassador Sarek and the Veritas crew.

"Are there any questions?" Kirk asked as he scanned the table. "Good. At 1600, there will be the meeting with the CEO and CMO of Petros."

McCoy turned to McDonald. "M’Benga and I are going to do the autopsies now. I will let you know what we find out." He stepped a little closer and ran his hand down her arm. "I’ll come by to escort you to the meeting with Petros."

She looked up into the blue eyes. "I’ll be waiting."

"Linda, feel free to use the computer. We have an extensive library on file," McCoy said.

"Maybe I’ll shop for some cute little outfits." She laughed.

"Pearls before swine!" McCoy said. He gently squeezed her arm and left.

McDonald stayed and talked with Sulu and Kovoor about the botany lab before heading back to her quarters. A light feeling had taken place in her heart this morning on the observation deck, and it had changed the perspective of how she viewed herself. To be viewed as someone attractive revived feelings that were dormant. It was different from being admired or respected for her competency or acumen in her job with Starfleet It was like the flower last night; she admired the beauty and fragrance without a second thought as to its botanical function or value. She had always thought Len was attractive: the intense blue eyes, the dark hair and the way his lower lip pouted out at times. She also admired the brilliant doctor who not only excelled at surgery and medicine but was a proficient researcher and scientist.

The sound of the door buzzer broke her thoughts. "Who is it?" she asked.

"It’s Len," McCoy said. When he entered she noticed his serious expression. "Reichter is on board; the meeting will begin in forty-five minutes."

McDonald glanced at the chronometer, it was already 1515. "What did the autopsies reveal on Fernandez and Sherman?"

"Caused of death on both was blunt force trauma. They both took a severe beating." He sat down wearily in the desk chair. "Did you get any lunch?" he asked.

"Yes, did you get a chance to eat?" she asked as she went over to his side and smoothed the dark hair from his forehead.

"No. Come with me back to Sickbay, I’ll grab a quick snack, and then we’ll go to the meeting together."


McCoy and McDonald sat down next to Spock at the briefing room table. Several minutes later, Reichter entered the room. He paused scanning the room like a jungle cat, his large muscled frame was taut and ready to spring. Beside him was H’Mui, a short, rotund Orion who radiated virulent strength; it would be unwise to underestimate him.

Both men were impeccably dressed to the point of opulence; their attire reinforced the understanding that they were rich and powerful. Captain Kirk went up to them and guided them to their seats. Before he sat down, Reichter studied the faces at the table, then his eyes met McDonald’s. The intensity of his stare made her hold her breath; she had forgotten how penetrating his pale eyes were. McDonald quickly looked away, regretting her action immediately. To back down would make her appear vulnerable. Focusing her attention on the information discs in front of her, she moved them closer to her. She tried to keep her hands from shaking.

McCoy’s warm hand settled on top of hers. "Are you okay?" he asked.

"Yes, I’m anxious to get this meeting out of the way," she said.

McCoy kept his hand in place; his touch steadied her hand, and as his thumb stroked her skin, her body relaxed.

Kirk watched McCoy and McDonald, and then glanced at Reichter. He did not like the way the man looked at McCoy; there was an undercurrent of hatred in those eyes. He also noted the way he looked at McDonald; there was a strange expression on his face, akin to jealousy. He recalled the meeting McCoy had called with Kirk and Spock informing them of Reichter’s behavior after Scott’s death.

In the back of his mind, Kirk also recalled what McCoy has said at the officer’s briefing, that McCoy had had prior contact with Reichter. The Reichter who sat at the meeting today was a different man; he was in a position of power. McCoy would have to be very careful around him.

Sarek, Uhura, Kovoor and Lopez entered the room and took their places at the table. Kirk opened the meeting. "I want to extend a welcome to Mister H’Mui and Doctor Arnold Reichter, who are here to represent Petros UTC. We appreciate their willingness to help in our investigation concerning the events on Beta Arae."

H’Mui turned his head toward Kirk, looking at the captain with his deep-set, black eyes. "Thank you for that welcome, Captain Kirk. We are as upset by these events as you are." The olive-skinned head turned toward Sarek.

"I am honored by the presence of Vulcan’s ambassador, to whom I wish to express my sympathies in the loss of their two scientists. I am at a loss as to how these honored gentlemen were found in such retched conditions on Beta Arae. The director of the mines on Beta Arae has expressed concerns over the conduct of their employees. It is a difficult business running a mining/processing company on such a backwater planet; one needs strong and skilled laborers. Unfortunately most of these laborers are undisciplined and transitory at best. We have not been able to track down who was responsible for the scientists’ deaths. The Starfleet officer, Mister White, was working in this plant under an alias. There were reports that he was seen trying to steal some of the company’s equipment and he broke into the locked storage area in one of the maintenance tunnels. His level supervisor also reported that he was drunk and disorderly most of the time. White’s friend, Mister Bortuk, was in league with him. White and Bortuk were killed by the company’s guard beast in the act of stealing." There was a silence at the table, and then H’Mui continued. "As to the unfortunate deaths of the medical examiner and death investigator, we can only offer our condolences."

"Your condolences?" McCoy said angrily. "They were conducting an investigation into the deaths of Betaruns caused by contaminants from your company."

"Into which we are conducting a full investigation," Reichter replied icily, meeting McCoy’s glare with equal intensity. "We have found the source of the spillage and are making repairs."

"I’d like to take a look at the repairs, meself," Scott said, "I have to file me report as to what the problem was. A spill o’ that size shows it’s been a growin’ problem for some time."

"Of course," H’Mui said. "Our mines and plant are open for your examination."

"I would like to address the bacterial and chemical contamination that the esteemed team of the Veritas reported," Reichter said, his eyes focusing on McDonald. She did not meet his gaze as she passed the computer discs to Spock to enter into the computer. H’Mui and Reichter were shown the evidence so far. Reichter only glanced at the screen; he kept his attention on McDonald, his face a deceptive calm. He also noted McCoy had taken his hand off of hers. "Very impressive work, in spite of working short-handed. As I stated, the cause of the contamination has been dealt with. Petros will take care of the problem from here."

"How do you plan to remove the toxins from the ground and water supplies?" Kirk asked.

"We have a team of engineers working on that problem at this moment," H’Mui replied with typical Orion smugness.

"Lieutenant Commander Scott already has a solution for you and we are able to set the plan into motion immediately," Kirk said. "Mister Spock, if you please pull up Mister Scott’s recommendations."

H’Mui and Reichter studied the schematics. Reichter started to say something, but H’Mui cut him off with a wave of his hand. "We accept your assistance, Captain Kirk."

Kirk looked over at McCoy. "Doctor McCoy, would you like to address the needs of the surviving victims of the contamination?"

"I would like to set up a treatment center in the medical clinic. I have the mediations ready for dealing with both of the causes of the illnesses. The bacterial infections are an acute problem, but the chemical poisonings are going to present with chronic problems. My staff stand..."

"Stand ready to take over?" Reichter asked. "Do you have any idea how dangerous it is around the area of the clinic? The residents have expressed the need to be treated by Petros only. If the problem is going to be chronic, does Starfleet really want to staff and maintain a clinic for these people? Petros has the financial means to do this; Starfleet has other areas of concern to better dedicate its resources."

"I’d like to discuss the medications and treatment plans with you, Doctor Reichter," McCoy said calmly. "The Enterprise can at least get the treatments started and then you can take over. Any further delay will have dire consequences."

Reichter glared at him. "What would we do without the help of Starfleet?" His tone dripped with sarcasm. "However, I do want to reinforce the danger you will face. Starfleet has not learned from its encounters with cultures that do not want its assistance. One cannot provide treatment or assistance where one is not welcome. The price can be too high." He shot a glance at McDonald. "I think some of you have already paid that price, have you not?"

"That sounds like a threat," McCoy said.

"It was not intended to be," Reichter said. He cast a cold stare at McCoy. "You can’t protect everyone, not even yourself."

A heavy silence filled the room, and the increasing hostility between McCoy and Reichter was palpable.

"I believe Doctor McCoy is correct in wanting to start the remedies immediately," H’Mui said, glancing over at Reichter. "You have made him aware of the risks. Doctor McCoy, we will encourage the miners and any other Betaruns to receive treatment at the clinic. You may set up the clinic, get it started and then we will take over." The stony eyes swung to Kirk. "I believe we are finished with the proceedings so far. I will contact the director of the company and encourage full cooperation from him and the employees. Mister Scott, I will arrange for you to implement the water purification satellites. Thank you for the information and assistance." The CEO stood up and walked out, not even waiting for Reichter, who remained seated.

"I will welcome your recommendations for treatment, Doctor McCoy. I will be with H’Mui at the Petros company apartments should you need to contact me. Lieutenant, the years have added some changes, but you are as lovely as ever." There was sincerity to his voice. He rose up out of his chair and left the briefing room.

There was a brief silence after the two Petros representatives left, and then murmurs filled the room as each group expounded on what was discussed.

Kirk cleared his throat. "All right. Let's get back to business here. Mister Scott, how long will it take your engineers to set up the water purification systems?"

"I’ve already got the preliminary work done in the computer; it will take about six hours overnight to have the components readied by the ship’s stores. About four hours of puttin’ the units together, and once on the planet surface, about eight hours to get the lil’ darlins up and runnin’. I’ve received the schematics of the water system from the city and the units will fit perfectly at each water station. It’ll be a good days honest work, but we should have everythin’ up and runnin’ by eighteen hundred tomorrow, Cap'n," Scott said.

Kirk smiled. "Well done, Mister Scott. When you are through with that we can take the tour of the mining tunnels and drainage systems."

"I’m lookin’ forward to that, sir," Scott replied.

Kirk turned to McCoy, "Bones, what are your plans regarding the clinic?"

"First of all, Jim, we need to go scout out the clinic. After the riot, we don’t know what kind of shape it's in. The clinic was used as a temporary morgue; we need to check how many bodies are still there. I was planning on using one of our portable units as a morgue. This will isolate the living from the dead to prevent another outbreak of infections caused by decaying bodies. I also propose setting up a triage of sorts to separate the acute cases from the chronic. The sicker patients will be brought up here to Sickbay, where they can receive more accurate tests and medical treatment."

McMahan spoke up. "I'm going to send two security guards with you to be present at all times. We can increase that number if need be."

Kirk addressed his first officer. "Mister Spock, what is on your agenda?"

"Mister Chekov, Lieutenant Kovoor and I are analyzing the metals and chemicals in the spill. I agree with Mister Scott in that this contamination will be difficult to eradicate. I propose the building of a separate water reservoir for future use. The permeable rock strata has acted like a sponge, absorbing the chemicals and metals, thus re-contaminating any water that flows there. Lieutenant Kovoor and Lieutenant Sulu have listed some aquatic plants that may help in absorbing and metabolizing some of the toxins in the current water reservoir," Spock informed the group.

"Thank you all for your ideas," Kirk said, "We have our work cut out for us and we have to do it with our eyes open at all times. We cannot afford to let our guard down for an instant with the volatile conditions around the mines. We will have another meeting at eight hundred hours. Dismissed." As the officers were rising, Kirk went over to McCoy. "Bones, please be careful around Reichter, he worries me; but your temper and your tongue worry me more." Kirk noted a look of gratitude from McDonald.

"I’ll be on my best behavior, Jim." McCoy flashed him one of his wry smiles. "Besides, I’ll be too busy to mess with Reichter.

"Well, make sure that you do, Bones. I don’t want a riot breaking out over something that you have done or said," Kirk said seriously.

McCoy turned to McDonald. "Do you see what I have to put up with?"

She looked at McCoy with the same concern as Kirk. "I only hear your captain and your friend making sure that you will be safe, Len."

Kirk’s expression softened. "Will I see you both at dinner?"

"Sure, Jim," McCoy replied, "We’ll see you at nineteen hundred."


The dinner and the company were relaxing after the tense meeting with H’Mui and Reichter. McDonald was fortunate to sit next to Sarek. Though his outward appearance was stoic, the dark eyes reflected an agile mind; conversation with him was informative and enlightening.

During dinner, McDonald noted a little verbal interplay between McCoy and Spock. She remembered the verbal sparring that Scott and the doctor had at times; it was never intended to be hurtful or spiteful and they both would laugh afterwards. Scott said it was just two friends sharpening their tongues. As if Kirk could read her mind, he informed her that this was commonplace for Spock and McCoy to banter and sometimes it could be quite entertaining.

McCoy invited McDonald, Kirk and Scott to his office for some Saurian brandy. McDonald had never had the pleasure of drinking the infamous liquor. She had heard rumors that it was like being stunned with a phaser. It was somewhat smooth on the tongue, but once swallowed it infused her with a blossoming, pleasant warmth. Later Kirk and Scott bade their ‘goodnights’ and left them alone.

"That’s some potent stuff you’ve got there, Len. I know I’ll sleep well tonight," McDonald said, twirling the glass with her fingers.

"It helps to keep the peace around here." He laughed. "Now Scotty could drink the entire bottle and still function."

They sat in a comfortable silence for a moment. Then McCoy scanned her face, her eyes met his eagerly. The chief medical officer put his glass down and leaned closer to her, then he closed his eyes and his warm lips met hers.

She could taste the brandy on his lips and tongue.

McCoy stopped and whispered in her ear, "Would you like to go to my quarters?"

She nodded. McDonald could feel her heart racing; between her desire and the brandy, she was slightly breathless.

Inside his quarters, McCoy was patient. He offered her another drink, but she refused. It had been so long since she had made love, she was nervous.

McCoy discerned this; he enveloped her in his arms and just held her. She could feel his lips brushing against her hair. Relaxing at the contact, she wrapped her arms around his lean chest. She could feel the flex of his chest muscles and the beat of his heart; she was relieved that it was beating as fast as hers.

"Linda, I don’t want you to feel pressured. I want to make love to you." His voice was soft.

She pulled away and looked up at him; her hands caressed his face, then her hands brought his face to hers and she kissed him. As they removed their clothes, there was a visual and tactile examination. Dark hair covered his lean ropey arms and muscled chest, it was soft to the touch, and his abdomen was firm and flat.

Her skin was so soft to the touch as his hands traveled over her breasts and body. Each gave as much as they took; the sex was a frantic hunger once it started. Afterwards they lay in each other's arms, satiated in body and in spirit.

McDonald laid her head on Len’s chest, listening to his heart beat and caressing the dark chest hair; her body was relaxed from the heat of his. As he stroked her hair, she fell into a tranquil sleep. Later in the night, she awoke. She watched him sleep. There was a boyish look to him as sleep smoothed the lines from his face, dark eyelashes lay on his cheeks and every once and while the lower lip would protrude slightly more. She wanted to kiss those lips, but she let him sleep. She settled back next to him as sleep claimed her again.

McCoy woke up to find McDonald’s arm draped over his chest. He looked at the silver and red hair fanned out on his pillow. He gently lifted her arm, kissed her fingers then got out of bed. She stirred a little then continued to sleep. He took a shower and put on some lounge wear. It was 0630 and the staff meeting started at 0800. He walked over to the bed and stroked her hair. She stirred under the touch. Then she woke up with a start. "Oh, my gosh, what time is it?"

"It’s 0630. Would you like some coffee?" he asked, helping her sit up.

"Yes, please." Her fingers combed through her hair. "I bet I look like a mess."

McCoy gave her his charming half smile and kissed her. "You look beautiful," he said, his lips close to hers. "Thank you for last night."

There was no reply as he was pulled back on to the bed; the coffee would have to wait.


After the 0800 meeting, McCoy, M’Benga, Chapel, McDonald and two orderlies beamed down to the company’s clinic. It was situated across from the plant. Monotones of grays colored the sky, the buildings and the streets. The once brightly colored buildings and permanent structures were dulled by the ubiquitous black residue that permeated everything. There were some residents about; they only stared at the medical team but there was no hostility noted. As they approached the clinic, there was a trail of debris that led to the ruined clinic doors. Once inside, they observed the clinic had been ransacked. All of the medications, equipment, bedding and linens had been stolen. The temporary morgue had been raided also; all but two of the bodies remained: an elderly female and an infant male approximately eight months of age. It was difficult to view the forgotten victims. Both had been stripped of their clothes and coverings, their naked forms twisted and crumpled. Chapel and McDonald searched for some blankets. Unable to find any they used some disposable surgical drapes to cover the victims. The nurses’s tear-streaked face mirrored McDonald’s as they gave the deceased some dignity that the local people had taken away.

McCoy and M’Benga made a list of the supplies that they would need and notified Sickbay. Then the medical team cleaned out the debris from the clinic, cleaned the floors, and walls; then organized the clinic into stations to expedite the care of the locals. Between the transporter and the Veritas’ shuttlecrafts, they had the clinic set up and operational in four hours. A portable shelter was set up as the temporary morgue. McDonald, Kovoor and two science lab personnel set up a small lab in back of the clinic. As promised by Captain Kirk, two security guards were posted outside the clinic for crowd control. The local people start arriving shortly after the doors to the clinic were opened. Most of the cases were minor gastro-intestinal symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea. There were ten more serious cases of the metal-solvent poisonings. These were taken up to the Enterprise under the care of M’Benga and Chapel who had returned to the Enterprise to oversee treatment of these extreme cases. There were also seven cases of end-stage organ failure; these victims were very close to death, and they were given the comfort they needed in the limited time that they had. One woman had been carried to the clinic by her partner and left so he could go back and bury their two children. When McDonald and Kovoor had completed the exams and tests on the elder female and young male victims, they returned to the Enterprise as well to add the information to the rest of the cases. Doctor McCoy, Nurse Ling and Orderly Schmitz remained with the dying patients. Providing a comfortable and peaceful area for these victims was their only priority.

McCoy held the hand of the woman who had been brought in by her partner; she was too young to have endured this much loss. She had been attractive, but now her skin and the whites of her eyes were an amber yellow color. Her nose and gums were also bleeding. Her hand fell from his grasp as she began to go into a seizure, then she was gone. McCoy glanced over at Nurse Ling who was rocking a three year old child who lay unresponsive in her arms. The little girl’s eyes were rolled back, and the once full lips were now blistered and dry. Orderly Schmitz called McCoy over to pronounce another victim deceased.

Suddenly, there was the sound of phaser fire, and the doors to the clinic burst open.

The two security guards were dragged inside by four aliens; the guards were dumped roughly on the floor. Schmitz rushed to the aide of the guards but was stunned as well, his thick body falling unconscious to the floor with a thud. Nurse Ling, still holding the child, leapt up and stood behind McCoy.

"What do you want?" McCoy asked angrily as he scanned the four aliens. One was probably a Betarun male; one was a human male; one was reptilian like a Gorn, sex not distinguishable; and the last was a tall, muscular felinoid female. All of them were armed with phasers and other weapons. Immediately the Betarun and the Human began looking for drugs and portable equipment. The Gorn-like alien walked over toward McCoy; it looked at Ling. Greenish amber scales covered its body, its eyes were red. "I want her," it said as a red tongue snaked out to lick the end of its muzzle. McCoy pushed Ling further back behind him, and he blocked the reptilian’s path with his body.

"Take all of the blasted medications or equipment you want, you can’t have her."

The reptilian broke its stare at Ling and looked down at McCoy as if he were a small insect. "What did you say to me, Terran?"

"You heard me. Take all of the damned drugs you want and leave, now!" McCoy yelled. The felinoid female growled and hurried over to the Gorn-like creature. "Grab hold of him!" she hissed. Most of her body was covered by a silver suit; her fur was dark brown and long, white tufts of fur lined the side of her face.

McCoy was grabbed by the reptilian from behind; its arms went under his armpits, forcing his arms back and one of the reptile’s hands grabbed his face. Ling, in a panic ran to the back room of the clinic with the child still in her arms. The felinoid walked up to McCoy; she was large, well over six feet tall. She studied him with her carnelian colored eyes as her right hand came to rest on the left side of McCoy’s face. Her claws were extended, and he could feel them dig into his skin.

"How dare you talk to us like that, you pathetic Human!" she spat. Her claws extended more then she trailed them down his face. McCoy gasped at the pain as the nails traveled down the side of his neck to his throat. One of the claws bounced over his carotid pulse. The nail pushed more firmly. McCoy could feel a trickle of blood flowing down his neck.

She tore the skin deeper. "So fragile and so exposed, the flesh of Humans is. If I push too deep, it would be unfortunate for you." Then she leaned closer and sniffed his neck, deep throaty sounds emanated from her, and her hot breath was felt on his skin. "Do you know what one of the delicacies we have on our planet is?" Her hand left his throat and she brought it to her mouth; she sucked on one of her nails. "Human blood! We delight in its taste...but only if it is fresh." Her orange eyes bore into his then she moved closer, and he felt her mouth close over the scratches on his neck and flinched as the rough tongue lapped at the torn skin. Abruptly, she stood back and using both her hands, she ripped his shirt open with her claws and danced them over his chest nicking skin here and there. Then her right hand slammed down over his heart and again the claws extended, digging into his skin, McCoy grimaced and clenched his teeth.

"If one of my claws were to go too deep through a rib...or..." She suddenly dragged her hand down over his abdomen. McCoy screamed in pain. Her other hand raked the other side of his chest and abdomen. McCoy could hear Ling crying in back of the clinic.

"Finish him off!" cried the reptilian, and it struggled to hold McCoy still.

"We cannot; we were told to make him aware of how powerless he is. Make him know how fragile he is," she said almost gently. She brought up a bloodied hand and stroked McCoy’s cheek as she studied his eyes. "Such beautiful eyes. I would value them as a trophy." Again she licked her fingers and nails. "What a pity I cannot finish you off."

A blinding, piercing pain invaded McCoy’s mind as her other hand grabbed hold of his abdomen, and her claws dug in deeply. He could feel his skin tearing. Blood flowed from the torn flesh, and a nauseating vortex dragged him down into darkness.


True to his word, H’Mui had arranged for the company’s large cargo ships to help transport the materials needed for the water purification units. The local people and some of the company employees assisted with the instillation of the units. In keeping with his reputation as a miracle worker, Scott had all of the units up and functioning by 1500 hours.

Kirk, Spock, Scott, Chekov, Sarek and four security guards toured the different levels of the mines, accompanied by H’Mui and the level supervisors. At 2000 hours, they reached the tenth level. Kirk asked to see where the ‘dire-dog’ was kept. Taken aback, the supervisors looked at H’Mui, who nodded his approval. Jackson, the Level 10 supervisor, led them to the maintenance tunnel and the gate. The gate was a slated titanium-alloy structure; the force field was deactivated.

"We keep the extra equipment in here to keep theft to a minimum. Between this gate and our guard animal, the equipment is well guarded," Jackson said.

"I thought you said White gained access to this area and was killed while attempting to steal equipment," Kirk said to H’Mui.

"Every system has its failures," H’Mui said, sounding annoyed.

"Roger White had gained access to the code, and he and his partner were able to get in," Jackson said.

"Do you have any visual proof of his breaking in?" Spock asked.

"No," Jackson said a little too quickly. "White had apparently disabled the computer camera also. There were no records found."

"Is there a drainage channel in the maintenance tunnel also?" Scott asked.

"Yes," Jackson replied abruptly.

"Would it be possible to observe the ‘dire-dog’?" Spock asked.

"That would be unwise; we can’t..." Jackson was interrupted by H’Mui’s dismissive hand gesture.

"Is there a way to call the beastie to the gate so we can get a look at it?" Scott asked, amused by Jackson’s discomfort at being put on the spot.

"I guess I can bring ‘Bruce’ a snack and place it near the gate," Jackson said angrily. "I’ll go get his food." He stomped off then returned with a large leg from some animal. Jackson keyed in the code to the gate, entered the tunnel and threw the meat a short distance from the gate and walked out. He reset the code and joined the group. "It doesn’t take him long to smell his food," he said, wiping his soiled hands on his pants. "Here he comes."

At least six feet in length and three feet wide, the black, smooth-skinned creature emerged from the dark tunnel. Its smooth gait reminded Kirk of how foxes on earth seemed to effortlessly glide. It was extremely agile for a creature of such a large size. Large, lean muscles strained under the leathery skin, and its head was enormous. Oblivious to the group watching him, the creature sat on his haunches and grabbed his food with the powerful forelegs. The four yellow eyes blinked randomly as the serrated teeth made quick work of the meal. When he was finished, ‘Bruce’ looked at the group and sniffed the air with a long muzzled snout. A black tongue licked the residue of meat and tissue off of the muzzle. Then he went back on to four legs and faded into the blackness of the tunnel.

"Is it common to use these ‘dire-dogs’ in your companies?" Kirk asked.

"The current director has a fondness for these ‘pets,’" H’Mui said. "He claims they cut down on theft and are cheaper to use than security personnel."

Chekov snorted. "I vwould hate to see the grocery bill and who cleans out his cage?"

"Our automatic irrigation systems take care of that problem," Jackson said. "He’s really not that bad. Sometimes you forget he’s even here."

Sarek’s obsidian eyes bore into Jackson’s then he turned to H’Mui. "You still have failed to answer the question as to why our scientists were fed to this creature. Certainly two deceased scientists would pose no threat to the security of this company."

There was silence. Jackson turned to H’Mui for direction. H’Mui stared ahead as if he did not hear Sarek’s question. The Vulcan ambassador waited patiently for a response.

H’Mui sighed and looked at Sarek, but before he could answer his question, they were interrupted.

Suddenly, the lift door opened, and three security guards rushed out. Chief Security Officer McMahan ran up to Kirk. "Captain Kirk, the medical clinic has been attacked. The security guards and Orderly Schmitz were phaser stunned; Doctor McCoy was injured."

"When did this happen?" Kirk asked.

"Twenty minutes ago, sir. Doctor McCoy’s been taken to Sickbay," McMahan informed him.

"Were any others injured?" Kirk asked.

"Nurse Ling was the only one not injured. She said Doctor McCoy protected her."

"How many people were involved in the attack?" Kirk asked.

"Four, sir," McMahan answered.

"How extensive are Doctor McCoy’s injuries, Lieutenant?" Spock asked.

"He’s torn up pretty bad, sir," the young woman answered.

"Torn up?" Kirk repeated.

"Nurse Ling stated that one of the intruders looked like a Gorn; the other she only described as being felinoid in appearance. It was the felinoid that caused Doc’s injuries, sir."

"Was the attack recorded?" Kirk asked.

"Only outside of the clinic, sir. We have the recording up on the computers. One of the four was a Betarun, one was Human, one was the Gorn-like alien and the fourth was the felinoid," McMahan replied.

"Kyptin, I vwould like to check out the clinic," Chekov offered.

"Excellent idea, Mister Chekov. Have the Veritas investigators and our science teams assess the scene as well," Kirk ordered.

"Yes, sir," Chekov said. "If you vwill lead the vway, Lieutenant?"

"Of course, sir." McMahan nodded to the her security guards, and she said, "Follow me," to Ensign Chekov.

"How unfortunate for Doctor McCoy," H’Mui said. "He was warned of the dangers here."

Kirk rounded on him angrily. "We had no difficulty today in setting up the water purification units, no hostilities. In fact, the people and the company employees were of great help. Yet the clinic was attacked. Where is Doctor Reichter?"

"Surely, Captain Kirk, you do not suspect that Doctor Reichter had anything to do with this?" The big Orion laughed.

That stirred Kirk’s anger more. "I hope he is not involved with this. Where is he?"

"I believe he is at his apartment. He was making plans for the takeover the clinic. Why would he sabotage his own plans?" The small black eyes grew denser.

"Tomorrow, we want to view the drainage collection pit. I want to make sure there are no further surprises." Kirk whipped out his communicator. "Eight to beam up, Lieutenant Uhura."


McDonald and Kovoor were working in Science Lab II when the call came over the intercom.

"Lieutenant McDonald and Lieutenant Kovoor, you are requested to meet Mister Chekov at the Medical Clinic," Uhura announced.

"Mister Chekov? At the clinic? Why, Lieutenant Uhura?" McDonald asked.

There was a pause. "The clinic has been attacked. They need you both to process the scene."

"The clinic was attacked?" McDonald gasped. "Oh, my God...was anyone hurt?"

"Doctor McCoy was injured; he is in surgery now," Uhura said.

"When did this happen?" Lieutenant Kovoor asked.

"Approximately forty minutes ago," Uhura stated.

McDonald stared at the intercom in shock. "Why didn’t they inform me...?"

"I’m sorry, Lieutenant. I have no further information at this time," Uhura answered.

McDonald collected her self-control. "Thank you, Lieutenant. Please tell Mister Chekov and Lieutenant McMahan we are on our way. McDonald out." She fought the tears that were threatening to burst forth.

There was a sense of déjà vu when she entered the ransacked clinic. McDonald saw a pool of red blood and the numerous footprints from the pool to the door. The medical and security personnel had blurred the footprints of the assailants. Chekov walked up to her. She scanned his young face for answers. "Have you heard any reports on McCoy’s condition?" she asked.

"No, Lieutenant, I have not. The kyptin was just informed about twenty minutes ago," he said.

McDonald viewed the scene; she turned to Kovoor and the technicians. "Ami, have your team process the door to the table over there. My team will process from there to the back of the clinic." McDonald took out her tricorder and took readings. She found a large amount of evidence. There was an abundance of fine hairs, dark brown in color; green scales and the human blood. A bloodied chip of a finger nail or claw was found also. The tricorder picked up shredded epithelial cells, some saliva droplets and blue fibers.

McDonald and Kovoor finished over an hour later. They returned to the Enterprise with the collected evidence. After they had logged the specimens, McDonald returned to her quarters. She collapsed on the bed; she was too tired to undress. Raw from the emotional and mental toll, her head and body ached. Was Reichter behind the assault on the clinic? Was he involved with Scott’s death, also? As she tried to remember the circumstances of Scott’s death, she fell asleep.


"Hey, Linda, wake up!" Kovoor’s voice sounded somewhere in her quarters. "Linda, are you in there?"

McDonald woke up and jumped out of the bed. She stumbled to the intercom. "I’m here, Ami. What is it?" she asked groggily.

"Get down to Science Lab Two now! We have something to show you." Kovoor sounded excited.

McDonald glanced at the clock; it was 0930. She had slept hard and dreamless; she still felt worn out. "I’m on my way."

McDonald freshened up and put on a new uniform then rushed to the lab. Kovoor and a technician were seated in front of a computer screen. A colorless strand of hair was displayed; there was follicle attached to the hair.

Kovoor grinned. "We found this hair mixed in with the fur from the felinoid. It was identified as being a Human male, middle aged..."

"Reichter?!" McDonald gasped.

"Ninety-one percentage probability. This is probably transfer evidence, but we have four hairs so far." McDonald tried to stay calm and keep a clear objective mind, her heart was racing. "Any clue as to who our felinoid assailant is?" she asked.

"Yes, she tests as a Barzan descendant; there are other contributors to her gene pool: Kzinti, Caitian, Vedala. Our mystery lady has quite a record with Starfleet. Her name is Ramta Shur, and she has a nasty reputation. She is a well-known assassin. The Gorn-like male is a DNA mix that has some Gorn strands to his genetic make up, along with some Saurian and even Axanarian. We ID’d him from the scales you collected at the scene. He is known by Abor Zou; he runs with the same criminal circles as Ramta, and is also an assassin."

McDonald felt her cheeks redden with anger. This was no random raid on a medical clinic; this was planned. "Have you notified Captain Kirk of this information?" she asked.

"I wanted you to do the honors." Kovoor then asked, "Have you seen Doctor McCoy this morning?"

McDonald shook her head. "I just woke up when you called, and I want to notify Captain Kirk of this immediately." She gave Kovoor a big hug. "Good work, Ami!"

"Good team work, you mean," Kovoor said looking over at the tech. "All of us deserve a pat on the back and a long vacation!"

"I'll see that we all get one!"


McCoy was gradually aware of noises first, the sound of his heart beat on the med monitor, then voices. Then the pain of his face, neck, and abdominal wounds returned. His eyes fluttered open and his vision cleared. He struggled to sit up but winced in pain and fell back.

"Let that be a lesson to you, Boss," M’Benga said striding over to his side.

"Ben..." McCoy growled. Suddenly, he looked into the dark eyes of his assistant chief medical officer. "Ling--is she all right? The security guards... Schmitz...?" he gasped.

"They all are fine. Ling was able to call for help, but your attackers had left before Security could catch them," M’Benga told him.

"The clinic, the medications...?" McCoy asked weakly.

M’Benga frowned. "The medications were taken, and the clinic was trashed, again."

McCoy sighed; his hand reached up gingerly and touched the bandages on his neck and abdomen.

"Don’t you know better than to play with alley cats, Bones?" Kirk asked as he and Spock walked up to his bedside. He winced as he looked at McCoy’s ripped up face, then his eyes wandered down to his neck and abdomen. "Doctor M'Benga tells me those scratches are going to smart for a few days." McCoy snorted then grimaced from the pain. On a more serious note, Kirk asked, "Bones, did you recognize any of your attackers?"

McCoy shook his head. "No, one of them looked like a Gorn, only smaller; the other one was a female feline. Foul-tempered, scratches deep and has a taste for Human blood, literally." McCoy shifted his position, and winced again.

"Do you need something for the pain?" M'Benga asked concerned. He looked at McCoy’s monitor. "You could use something, Len. Your blood pressure is up." McCoy nodded, and M’Benga delivered a dose with a quick flash of a hypospray.

Kirk pulled up a chair and sat at his bedside. Spock remained standing with his arms behind his back. The captain placed a hand on McCoy’s shoulder, and he could feel the tight muscles begin to relax. Kirk was about to ask a question when he heard the doors to Sickbay slide open behind him.

As McDonald entered Sickbay, she literally ran into Chapel. "How is he, Christine? How bad are his injuries?"

"He’s stable but in lot of pain. There are some scratches on his face and neck. He received some deep lacerations to his abdomen; the lacerations went down through the muscle layers and fascia, but no organs were injured. Leonard lost a lot of blood, but he's going to be all right. In fact, he’s got some visitors." The nurse indicated Kirk and Spock.

Kirk rose from his chair as McDonald joined Spock and him at the doctor’s bedside. McDonald gasped when she viewed McCoy’s torn face and the bandages on his neck and abdomen.

"Oh, Len," she said softly. She looked up at the monitor; his readings were stable, and his pain levels were low.

McCoy’s heavy-lidded eyes opened wider when he saw her. "Linda, there you are." He held out his hand for her to come closer. "I was in a fight with a mean ol' pussy cat," he drawled, the effects of the pain medicine becoming evident.

Chapel and Kirk laughed; it was more a release of anxiety than any humor of the situation and an expression of relief that McCoy was indeed on the mend.

"I see that, Len," she said taking hold of his hand. It was cool to touch. With her free hand, she gently brushed the hair back from his forehead. The red scratches were vibrant on his pale skin. "I want you to get some sleep; I have some information to relay to Captain Kirk."

"Stay a spell. I'll have Christine make some tea..." he said as his eyelids grew heavier, then she felt his grasp on her hand slacken, and he was asleep.

McDonald looked up at Kirk, Spock, M’Benga and Chapel. She reiterated the results of the tissue analysis for them.

"Assassins?!" Kirk’s countenance darkened. "I’ll have Uhura find out when and how Shur and Zou arrived on Beta Arae and if they had any communications with Reichter. Good work, Lieutenant. Between the Veritas and the Enterprise staff, we can nail that bastard and Petros." He glanced back at his friend sleeping peacefully.


That afternoon, Kirk received a call from Lieutenant McMahan of Security. The bodies of Shur and Zou had been found in the drainage collection pit. Security and the forensics teams were dispatched. Doctor Lopez took the call for McDonald and Kovoor since they had worked late yesterday. Kirk and Spock joined the investigative teams an hour later.

Lopez walked up to Kirk. "Captain Kirk, both of their throats were cut, but they were not killed here. There is too little blood present. There are also cuts and scrapes that suggest they happened post mortem. The bodies have apparently been flushed through the drainage system."

Kirk looked at Spock. "If these two were killed, do you think that the other two were killed as well?"

"There could be that chance, Captain. Perhaps another inspection of the tunnels would be warranted," Spock answered.

Doctor Lopez’s communicator beeped; he answered the call then reported to Kirk. "There may be a lead up on Level Four; I’m going to check it out." Lopez took his collection equipment and headed for the lift with one of Lieutenant McMahan's security guards at his side.


McDonald was at McCoy's side when she received a call from Lopez requesting her assistance on Level Four of the plant. She quickly got her gear together, reported to the transporter room and beamed down. When she materialized on in the tunnel, the lights were off. She turned on her hand light illuminating the tunnel before her.

"Doctor Lopez? Ferdinand?" she called out. Her voice echoed down the tunnel; there were no other sounds. McDonald walked forward, the light piercing the inky darkness before her. She called his name out again. No response. "Perhaps he's further down the tunnel," she said aloud. The beam of light bounced with her hurried steps. Still no sign of Lopez.

She pulled out her communicator. "McDonald to Enterprise."

"Enterprise here," Uhura said.

"I received a call from Doctor Lopez requesting assistance, but I have not been able to locate him yet. Have you received any call from him?" McDonald asked.

"Negative, Lieutenant. How did he contact you?" Uhura asked.

"He called me while I was in Sickbay."

"That's odd. There's nothing in Lieutenant M'ress' duty log about a call from the surface. I'll talk to her about it."

"That's fine. I’m going to search a little further then contact you in five minutes. McDonald out."

McDonald took out her tricorder and scanned the area. There were very faint life form readings ahead. She followed the direction of the readings, ebbing as they were even though she was getting closer to the source.

Suddenly, Lopez’s pale face was luminous in the beam of light. He lay on the floor of the tunnel in a pool of his own blood. There was a large gash where his throat had been and a red spatter on the wall indicated arterial spray. She looked into the sightless, wide-open eyes. No respirations or pulse the tricorder verified; he was dead.

Then the tricorder picked up another signal, a strong signal and growing stronger. She swung the light around her, but saw nothing in the blackness. She didn’t need the tricorder to register the sound of breathing behind her. Slowly, she pivoted around and saw the face of Reichter, the pale eyes glowing in the beam of light. Startled, McDonald stepped back and fell over the body of Doctor Lopez, her light falling from her hand and landing on the floor of the tunnel. The beam of light bounced erratically over the walls and floor as the unit rolled around.

Lopez’s blood soaked through her uniform, and her feet could not find purchase on the slippery floor as she struggled to stand. Reichter stepped over the body and grabbed her right arm, hauling her up to a standing position. Still holding her firmly, he pressed her back to the wall of the tunnel.

"Lights on," Reichter ordered.

McDonald closed her eyes from the sudden light.

"Open your eyes, Linda," his deep voice said. It was a command. She gradually opened her eyes and looked up at him. There was a controlled furry in his face, then she saw his blood spattered shirt. She gasped as he grabbed her by her throat, but he did not squeeze. She could feel her heart beat race against his skin and the convulsive movement of her swallowing.

Reichter leaned in closer, his lips were inches from hers. The hand on her right arm moved to her chest. He tore open the front of her uniform, letting his fingers fondle her breasts. Then his lips pressed hard against hers, his tongue trying to gain access. She tried to turn her head away, but his hand tightened on her throat.

McDonald could feel the lack of oxygen signaling the fright and flight reaction of her body. Her mouth opened in an attempt to gasp air, the action only inviting Reichter’s piercing tongue. She pounded against his body ineffectively and his grip on her throat increased. Lights danced before her eyes and she could hear her pulse pounding in her ears. Suddenly his grip slackened; she gasped for air her chest hurting from the force of her deep breaths. A draft of air whooshed around them and there was a loud roar. Cold water rushed past her feet and ankles and the current knocked Reichter off of his feet.

"The damn fools are flooding the tunnels!" Reichter screamed. He struggled to get on his feet, but he fell down again. The still body of Lopez rolled downward in the current and slammed against Reichter.

McDonald concentrated on staying where she was. She pressed harder against the wall of the tunnel, shivering in the cold water now calf-deep. The bodies of Reichter and Lopez continued down with the racing water; she could hear his curses down the tunnel. Her feet were dislodged, and she fell backwards hitting her head hard against the wall. Before she lost consciousness, she felt an iron grip on her arm pulling her against the current.


McCoy was awakened by an increase in activity around the bed next to his. Nurse Ling and Orderly Schmitz were setting up treatment and medication carts. "I’ll check and make sure that the OR is set up also," Ling said.

"What happened?" McCoy asked.

"There was another attack in the mines," Schmitz informed him. "Doctor M’Benga and Chapel went to the transporter room."

M’Benga and Chapel raced through the doors with an antigrav-stretcher. McCoy struggled to see who it was they were treating. His view was blocked by more Sickbay staff as they lifted the patient on to the bed. As the staff parted, he saw McDonald’s unconscious body. He gasped at the blood-stained, torn, wet uniform; her hair was wet and blood stained at the back of her head. As they cut away her uniform, he tried to see if there were any more injuries.

"Oh, God, no, no, what happened?" McCoy asked as he pushed himself up into a sitting position and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Ling tried to push him back onto the bed but he resisted her.

M’Benga glanced at McCoy. "Leonard, you are in no condition to get out of that bed! We have the situation under control."

"No!" McCoy shouted and tried to stand up pushing against Ling.

"Christine..." M’Benga said he motioned with his head at McCoy. "Leonard, I will sedate you if you do not get back in that bed."

McCoy still resisted, and M’Benga nodded at Chapel, who brought over a syringe and injected it into McCoy’s arm. As he relaxed, Chapel and Ling were able to put him back into the bed. They gently held him in place until he fell back peacefully.


A feeling of warmth surrounded her, and she could perceive light beyond her closed eyelids. Slowly, she opened her eyes and saw the faces of Kovoor and Chapel looking at her. She lay on a bed in Sickbay.

"Welcome back, Linda," Kovoor said. "Don’t ever pull that stunt again. Next time you wait for back up when you go to a scene!"

"How is she? Is she awake?" McCoy’s voice carried from the bed next to hers.

McDonald swallowed, her throat was sore from where Reichter had gripped her and a throbbing in her head was becoming unbearable.

"You have a concussion," Chapel informed her. "I’ll get you something for that headache now that you are conscious."

McDonald raised her head slowly, careful not to move too fast. She looked around then saw McCoy’s pallid face. It was deep with lines of concern and there were dark circles under his eyes.

"What the hell did you think you were doing?" the doctor growled. "Do you have any idea..."

"Down, Bones," Kirk said as he entered Sickbay and approached McDonald's bed. "How are you doing, Lieutenant?"

"What happened? Where’s Reichter?" she asked.

"We didn't find him, but we recovered Doctor Lopez’s and Security Officer Onozuka's bodies. It was H’Mui who sent the flood waters. He wanted to purge out Reichter and dispose of Doctor Lopez. He had no idea you were there, or so he claims."

"Someone grabbed me and saved me," McDonald said.

Kirk turned to Spock. "Lieutenant Uhura reported to Mister Spock about a suspicious transmission that you had received, and that you had failed to call her back in five minutes. Our scanner picked up on your tricorder signal. Spock and Security arrived just in time."

"Thank you, Mister Spock," McDonald said looking into the dark eyes.

"You are welcome, Lieutenant. Your tricorder also recorded that Reichter was indeed there, and that he attempted to strangle--"

"What!" McCoy yelled. "Why didn’t anyone let me know? Why didn’t anyone have the blasted courtesy to inform me?"

Spock turned to McCoy with a trained patience. "What would your actions have been, Doctor?" His dark eyes met McCoy’s.

McCoy fell back against the bed in a display of helplessness. The bandages were off and he had plastiskin covering the scratches on his face and neck, a tunic hid the abdominal wounds. He shot a sheepish look at the Vulcan. "Thank you, Mister Spock for your timely rescue." There was no sarcasm in his statement. He was genuinely relieved.

"You are welcome, Doctor," Spock said.

"I am relieved that your condition is stable, Lieutenant," Kirk said, and then he glanced at McCoy. "I think we should let these two get some rest."

Koovor gave McDonald a hug. "Call me if you need anything, okay?"

She smiled. "Okay, Ami."

"And no more sneaking off either," Kovoor said as she left with the others.

Chapel gave McDonald the pain medication and slowly brought up the head of her bed. "I’ll be right out here, Linda. Holler if he starts to get out of line," she said nodding to McCoy.

"I will, Christine." McDonald laughed. She looked at McCoy, the anguish on his face almost moved her to tears. "Len, I’m all right."

"Linda, when they brought you into Sickbay, I saw your torn uniform and your head wound.....the blood on your uniform....I thought Reichter had done the unthinkable. What made you go down there?" he asked.

"I received a call from Doctor Lopez. He said he needed assistance. I guess Reichter had set up a trap for me. Len, they found the bodies of Shur and Zou, their necks had been ripped open, too. They have not located the other two attackers."

"Jim said they haven’t located Reichter either," McCoy said. He noticed her eyelids were closing. "Get some sleep, I’m right here." She smiled and sighed. McCoy watched her and the bed monitor for a while, then fell asleep himself.


The next morning Kirk went to visit McCoy. Due to McDonald’s presence, McCoy was a little more behaved. M’Benga was examining the wounds on McCoy’s abdomen. The deep lacerations were healingm but their location still made movement painful for McCoy.

Kirk looked at his friend's wounds; he had no idea they were that deep.

McDonald had been released from Sickbay, but was seated at McCoy’s bedside. Purple and green marks stood out against the pale skin on her neck; four marks on the right side of her neck and one mark on the left, an imprint of Reichter’s hand. "Good morning, Bones, Lieutenant," Kirk said pulling up a chair.

McCoy did not answer, he was glaring at M’Benga. "Come on, Ben; the wounds are healing. My pain is manageable," McCoy whined.

"All right," M’Benga finally conceded. "You need rest, but I'll let you out of Sickbay. No duty for forty-eight hours."

"I promise to rest in my quarters," McCoy said, and then looked at McDonald. She shot him a look that said, Yeah, right you would rest!

"What’s going on here?" Kirk asked.

"Your CMO is being a big pain in the ass, Captain," M’Benga stated.

"Doesn’t that mean he’s feeling better?" Kirk laughed.

"Lately, whenever he’s a patient, he’s consistently a bigger pain," M’Benga said looking at McCoy, who had his arms crossed against his chest. There would be hell to pay when McCoy was back on duty, but the Masai doctor enjoyed the brief position of power while it lasted. "You need one more day of rest to let those abdominal wounds heal. Nothing strenuous. You hear me?"

"I’ll make sure he behaves. I promise," McDonald said in response to M’Benga’s recommendation.

McCoy grinned in victory. He finally acknowledged Kirk’s greeting. "Mornin’, Jim. What brings you down to Sickbay?"

"I wanted to bring you up to date on all of the details, since you two have been out of commission," Kirk said.

"What details are those, Jim?" McCoy asked as his cup of coffee was brought over by Christine. She waited to hear what Kirk had to say.

"Well. I have finished talking with Starfleet about the situation with Beta Arae, and they agree. The Federation should keep an eye on the Petros plant here for several reasons: the contamination from the mine and the building of a permanent reservoir. ‘Bruce’ the dire-dog will be transferred back to Xenar where he will have all of the space that he needs and all of the legal food he can eat. Both of the directors on Beta Arae and Caelum Four were arrested for the murder of the Vulcan scientists. They still both deny any involvement in the murders. Level Supervisor Jackson was arrested for the murders of White and Bortuk. He also will be charged in the disposal of the Vulcans’ bodies. Jackson claims he was only following orders; he thought White was a Federation spy. The other two assailants were arrested for the attack on the clinic; they were caught trying to leave Beta Arae. They both confirm that they were hired by Reichter to ‘rough you up,’ Bones. They supposedly had no idea that the assault would go so far." Kirk paused; he glanced at McCoy and then at McDonald. "We still have not found Reichter’s body. We have searched all levels and the collection pit."

McDonald’s color paled further, and she slumped against the back of her chair. M’Benga went to her side. He ran the Feinberger over her head and chest.

"I’m okay," she whispered, "I can’t believe he hasn’t been found. I saw him go down with Doctor Lopez. How could he survive the current?"

McCoy sighed, his blue eyes widening. "Surely with all of the equipment we have on this ship, we should be able to locate a body. We have his DNA profile, scanning for that would make the process easier. That’s just damned odd for him to just vanish."

McDonald sat forward. "When I was looking for Doctor Lopez, I only had his bio reading on my tricorder. Then Reichter’s readings just appeared. If he had been waiting for me in that tunnel, I would have picked up both bio readings. Perhaps he had someone beam him in and out of there."

Kirk contemplated this idea. "If he did there would be residual transporter readings. I’ll have Mister Spock check into that. At any rate, we have enough evidence to charge him with the murder of Doctor Lopez and the assault on both of you. He probably murdered Zou and Shur." Kirk then smiled. "Now, onto the good news. Since we did such a phenomenal job on this assignment, the crew of the Enterprise and the Veritas have been given a day of leave on the nearby world of Althea Oceanus. We will be in orbit in thirty minutes. Rest up, Bones." Kirk winked at McDonald. "I’ll think you’ll need it."

McCoy smiled, and he looked at McDonald mischievously.


Her body was warmed by the sun above and the fine sand below her. Waves broke against the beach in contented sighs, and the breeze caressed her skin. A shadow eclipsed the solar radiance. McDonald opened her eyes and looked into the face of McCoy as he gingerly sat down beside her. He leaned over her and kissed her; his lips were soft and had a hint of bourbon and mint. She felt his hands on her sun warmed body, they were cool and soft.

"You’re getting a little red, Linda; you need to take another melanin-stim capsule."

"Later. I’ve got you as my umbrella," she said, smiling as his soft lips trailed down her neck. She ran her fingers through his hair.

McCoy stopped and settled down on his side, propped up on one elbow. His eyes drank in the image of the person next to him. Silver and red hair lay fanned out on her beach towel; it shimmered in the gentle breeze. A spray of freckles decorated the bridge of her nose and cheeks, and her eyes rivaled the celadon-colored water foaming around them.

His stomach still turned when he looked at the fading bruises on her neck; their presence still upset him. Reichter still had not been located; he felt he could not totally relax until his whereabouts were known. Her hand on his face brought his thoughts back to her. She was studying his face concerned. "Are you okay, Len?" she asked.

"Yes," he said, smiling at her. "Let’s go back to the room; you’ve had enough sun for today, Red."

She looked at her arms and legs. "Ooh, you are right, I am red!"

They gathered their belongings and went back to their room. That evening they made love; their heated bodies cooled by the breezes that flowed in through the open door and windows. The passion of maturity slowed the desperate pace and focused on what would please the other. There were times that a reassuring touch was enough to soothe the soul. Coral light filled their room the next morning and stirred their passions again. After breakfast, they walked on the beach, and they met Kovoor and Sulu. Sulu told them of a nature path in back of the guest quarters that led to a waterfall and pool that was breathtaking. They packed up a picnic basket with wine, bread, apples and cheese and set out on their expedition.

The path was well-traveled, but nature struggled to reclaim it with vines, shrubs and trees, all out blooming the other in a myriad of colors and perfumes. Fragile, iridescent winged life forms darted in and out of the flora, sometimes hovering near them in curious inspection. Opalescent waters flowed from the waterfall into the pool; the mild turbulence bubbled around their bodies as they swam. Soft grasses cushioned their bodies as they made love, and occasionally the spray from the waterfall would cool their warm bodies.

McDonald gathered some of the flowers and took them back to their room; the fragrances permeated the air. They had dinner on the balcony of their room.

McCoy went inside to bring out some wine, when he returned he noticed McDonald was looking out into the ocean, her expression pensive. He put the bottle on the table and went to her side. He scanned her face for a moment unsure of what to say. "What’s on your mind?" he asked directly.

She turned and looked at the cerulean eyes. "Our shore leave will be over tomorrow morning. This has been wonderful."

He drew her in his arms and kissed her hair. "Yes, it has, and it still can be wonderful."

"How?" She smiled, running her hands over his lean back.

"You could transfer to the Enterprise," he said nuzzling her hair more. It smelled so fresh and felt so soft.

She sighed and gently pushed back, looking into his eyes. "I love my work on the Veritas, and I know the Enterprise cannot function without its CMO. What are we to do?" Then she smiled impishly. "We both have shore leave accrued...we could rendezvous..." He silenced her with is lips. They kissed deeply.

"There are mysteries and crimes committed all over the galaxy," McCoy said.

"Definitely, a crime scene on every planet...just waiting to be processed," McDonald said between kisses.

McCoy stood back and looked sternly in her eyes, "I am still the acting medical examiner, and I think I should evaluate your forensic skills." He jumped as her hand made an inquiry.

"Lead the way. I think I know where the evidence is leading to..." she said as she kissed him.

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