Scott Riggins headed to the main security squad room. A couple of fellow security officers greeted him with playful back slaps. "Hey, Riggo, hows it going?"
"Just fine." Riggins greeted both officers as he walked to a work station.
Ensign Antonio "Tony" Perez, who was seated at the neighboring workstation, turned toward Riggins. "Our next destination sounds like a scientists paradise. There is an astronomical observatory, a marine biology institute, and even a geophysics lab."
"Yes, Alpha Andromedae Three is the perfect place for scientists of any specialty." Lieutenant Avram Belinsky, who was standing behind Perez, joined in the conversation.
Perez could not resist a dig at Riggins. "Like your friend, Dubofsky. Isnt he the guy who visits aquariums and swims with the sharks for fun?"
Riggins nodded in agreement. "Well, hes told me hes really looking forward to this world since therere all sorts of interesting aquatic lifeforms."
"You two are an odd couple. Youre a security officer whos usually so spontaneous while Dubofsky is an uptight biologist whos got his day planned to the nth degree."
Blanchard cracked, "Well, Riggins and Dubofsky have one thing in common: Theyre both physical fitness buffs."
"I see." Perez eyed Blanchard.
"Will there be much need for us there?" inquired a wide-eyed Sidney Malkin, a newly assigned officer and relatively recent graduate from Starfleet Academy.
"By us, I take it you mean security officers." Belinsky scratched his head and furrowed his brow. "Well, as you may have heard, weve been installing new computers and software at several facilities so they might need someone to do security accreditation testing. If thats the case, Im sure Chekov will let us know. But I understand there are plenty of things to do for shore-leave there."
"Thats nice to know," Malkin said.
Belinsky turned to Riggins. "Lieutenant Chekovs just glad that you and Dubofsky took the initiative in packing up the stuff for Staubach, Longley and Salieri. Almost as grateful as a lion would be if you removed a thorn from his paw."
Riggins adopted a faux Russian accent. "I know dis folktale. It vas inwented in Russia." As everyone laughed in response, Riggins thought to himself, One rule for getting ahead on the job is to volunteer to do a task the boss doesnt want to do which, in the case of Chekov, means packing up the personal belongings of deceased officers and getting them shipped home.
Lieutenant Chekov called his security officers for a meeting. "Were here to discuss security assignments for this world. I know many of you are wondering about why we need security officers on a world where our main mission is to install computer upgrades at scientific institutions. You see, the Nerean Marine Institute is hosting a scientific conference, and its director, Doctor Lussier, has asked the Enterprise to provide a security detail for it."
He paused and turned in the direction of Assistant Security Chief Anne Nored. "Lieutenant, Id like you to lead the security team for this mission and see fit to assign officers as needed. Most of the assignments will be in the daytime, except for the evening session on the second day."
Nored nodded. "Yes, sir."
Chekov continued, "Later today, well beam down and meet with Doctor Lussier for more specifics on her security requirements. Lieutenant Xon, wholl be leading our team of biologists, will beam down with us."
The Russian security chief continued describing assignments. "Well also need security officers to perform security accreditation testing at each of the scientific facilities where were doing the computer upgrades. Lieutenant Commander Uhura and Lieutenant Tamberrino will first perform the upgrades at the geophysical lab, and then at the Konacki Institute. Theyll upgrade the marine institute last so as not to interfere with the conference going on there."
At that point, Chekov allowed Nored to assign individual officers to the upgrade effort at the geophysical lab.
Soon after the meeting broke up, several of the security officers were talking among themselves in the squad room. Perez turned to Blanchard. "Joe, even though were assigned to work the conference, I hear well get evenings off and get to partake of the local entertainment."
Blanchard, who was inventorying equipment, turned. "Thats what I hear, Tony. The entertainment facilities on this world are just fabulous. Theres this great restaurant in the Cliffside Mall area where you can look out at the Sea of Fire. And there are some live shows at a dinner theater thats not far from the Institute. Do you have any particular plans?"
Perez shook his head. "Not at the moment."
Blanchard turned his attention to Riggins, who was seated at a nearby workstation. "What about you, Riggo?"
Riggins looked up from his workstation and hesitated before answering, "Well, maybe..."
Perez came closer to Riggins. "Whos the lucky girl this time?"
Riggins blushed. "Well, uh..."
Blanchard put down the phaser he was examining. "So cmon, tell us. Whos the lucky girl this time, Riggo?"
Riggins face turned crimson with embarrassment. "Well, I havent asked her yet. But Id like to ask Cynthia Tamberrino out. Shes a nice looking girl with a dynamite figure and, as far as I can tell, shes unattached."
Blanchards eyes lit up with recognition. "The computer specialist?"
Riggins was enthusiastic. "Ill have to work real fast to get anything going with her since shell be leaving the Enterprise after shes done installing all her software."
Perez objected, "Scott, I dont think that ones going to work. I dont think dating the girl your boss likes would be a very good idea."
Blanchard nodded in agreement. "Plus, shes about seven years older than you and not your type at all. She goes for the intellectual types."
Riggins admitted, "Id heard that she might be interested in Chekov, but had no idea whether or not it was mutual."
Blanchard suggested an alternative. "Well maybe you could try asking Taryn Springs out. Shes helping Uhura out in testing the communications software for the sites here, so shell be down on the surface."
Riggins facial expression was dubious. "I tried last monthwithout success. I figure I should try someone else."
Blanchard was persistent. "Ive heard on good authority that Taryn likes you. But she wants you on her terms and is playing hard to get."
"Yeah, right." Riggins was skeptical.
The next morning, all the biologists and security officers slated to go planetside assembled in Transporter Room 3. When Riggins arrived, Lieutenant Nored was flanked by the rest of the team. Lieutenants Chekov and Xon stood near them along with a few other scientists selected for the mission.
"Everyone is ready?" asked Chekov as he looked at the security gear worn by his officers. Probably overkill, he thought, but regulations are regulations. Noreds right to make her team wear them.
As they stepped onto the transporter disk, Xon pointed out to Chekov, "Lieutenant, at least one security officer should be present on our diving expedition."
Chekovs brows furrowed. An unusual suggestion. I wonder what our Vulcan genius is thinking. "Very well. Lieutenant Nored, your recommendation please?"
Before Nored could reply, one of the scientists, Lieutenant Antonia Avilova, interjected, "Preferably a senior security officerlike yourself, Lieutenant."
Chekov shook his head vehemently. "I dont think so. I need to come back to the Enterprise after our meeting with Doctor Lussier." In reaction, Avilova looked disappointed.
Seeing Avilovas expression, Chekov tried to reassure her. "Dont worry; Lieutenant Nored will make sure one of her team goes with you."
They rematerialized outside the entrance of the Nerean Institute. Xon lead the entire group inside toward the reception desk. "Were from the starship Enterprise and would like to meet with Doctor Lussier."
"Let me buzz her," the receptionist said as she looked up.
Soon, a tall slender brunette with hazel eyes that almost appeared violet, came to the entrance of the institute. She raised her hand in the taal, the Vulcan hand greeting. "Live long and prosper," she intoned pleasantly.
"Peace and long life," Xon answered. If he was surprised, the Vulcan would never show it on his face, at least not intentionally.
"Allison Lussier, director of this institute and chair of tomorrows conference."
After the obligatory introductions were made, the director escorted them to a conference room near her office where they discussed the security requirements and schedule in greater detail.
When the meeting concluded, Lussier got up from her seat. "If youll excuse me for a moment, let me get the members of my team who are taking part in the diving expedition. Im sure youll have plenty to talk about until the Gagarins crew arrives. Their ship is in orbit, and they should be coming down here within the next hour."
A few minutes later, the conference room door swooshed open, revealing Lussier and two slender males in tow, the shorter one having light brown hair and fair skin and the taller one having dark brown curly hair. She stood closer to the shorter scientist and presented him to the visitors. "This is Doctor Sickenberger, who has been studying the aquatic lifeforms on this planet for the last five years." She then pointed out his companion. "And this is Doctor Chute, who has been working with him the entire time."
Xon and Avilova stood up and faced the scientists. The Vulcan spoke first. "Im sure our visit here will be most informative."
"Now Starfleet can see what weve been doing the last few years." Sickenbergers face was filled with his eagerness.
Avilova shook hands, first with Chute and then with Sickenberger. Her joy was obvious. "Pleased to meet you both. Well be joining you in your barracuda diving expedition."
"Glad you can join us."
Lussier introduced the visitors from the Enterprise to her team. Once that was complete, Chute announced, "We can dispense with ranks and titles on this expedition. Just call me Austin, and my friend here, Will."
After the introductions, Chekov stood up. "If youll excuse me, I need to get back to the Enterprise. Ill leave you scientists to talk among yourselves."
Nored looked towards Riggins. "Scott, I know youve taken a scuba class at the Academy. Id like you to accompany the scientists on the diving expedition."
"Yes, sir," Riggins agreed.
Nored got up from her chair, motioning the rest of the security team to follow her lead. Before leaving the room, she promised Lussier, "Well report between 0800 and 0810 tomorrow."
As soon as they left the room, Nored addressed the rest of her team. "These assignments are tentative, but this is my current plan...."
An hour later, all scheduled members of the diving expedition had arrived. Besides the scientists from the Enterprise and from the Nerean Institute, the remaining members of the expedition included two scientists from the Gagarin, and Doctor Lester Kaufman, a marine biology professor from the Academy currently on sabbatical. The plan was for Xon, as senior Starfleet officer, to be commander of the expedition while Kaufman, who had more experience with deep sea diving than the others, would be the main guide.
Ben Dubofsky, who had been assigned to this mission by Xon, was very pleased to see Kaufman. "Les, you were my favorite professor at the Academy! I remember all the stories you told us about the lifeforms you studied on diving expeditions to other planets."
"And this time well be bathing with barracudas, as opposed to swimming with sharks," he cracked. The other scientists laughed in response.
In addition to carrying Starfleet issued communicators and tricorders, the Gagarin officers, Guarnaccia and Badawy, carried bags containing scuba suits and related diving equipment. Avilova greeted each of them with a Russian bear hug. "Pleased to see you guys. We havent seen each other since our Academy days."
Badawy concurred, "Keeping in touch via subspace mail is not quite the same as seeing you in person."
"At least its better than nothing, Charlie," Avilova sighed.
"Antonia, youre still as beautiful as always." Badawy smiled.
Guarnaccia interjected, "When we heard your ship was coming to the conference, Charlie and I were pleased to hear the news."
"And I was looking forward to seeing you both." She continued her conversation with them, which included discussion of scientific discoveries, as well as gossip about mutual acquaintances.
Doctors Chute and Sickenberger led the others to the hangar bay of the Nerean Institute which housed the vessels used for sea exploration. The specific vessel they would use was the Cousteau, an aquashuttle, which was designed to fly in space or in an atmosphere, sail like a boat, and function like a submarine. Above all, it had massive transparent aluminum windows which allowed its passengers a great view.
As he climbed into the pilots seat, Chute offered,"Ill take us down. You can take us back, Will."
"Go right ahead, Austin," replied Sickenberger.
As the official guide of the expedition, Kaufman took the front passengers seat next to Chutes. Before the aquashuttle launched, Chute turned around. "Do any of you have any aquashuttle piloting experience? Well need a relief pilot to guide this shuttle when we go out diving."
Xon replied, "Security Officer Riggins here has experience piloting an aquashuttle."
Kaufman turned to the lieutenant. "Mister Riggins, do you think you could handle this baby?"
Riggins smiled at the professor. "I think so. Piloting is like riding a bike. Once you learn how, you dont forget."
As soon as everyone was seated, Chute piloted the Cousteau to a group of coral reefs just off the coast where the Nerean Institute was located. The plan was to study the aquatic lifeforms there, first hand, concentrating on the barracuda-like species. All brought special tricorders that could operate under water and included programming to emit an alarm whenever a new aquatic lifeform was detected. They also brought containers designed to hold any aquatic lifeforms they planned to bring back to the Institute for further study.
Soon, they reached their destination.
"This reef is beautiful and so brightly colored!" gushed Avilova as the vessel braked to a stop. "They must be generating their own biochemical luminosity. At this depth, red and orange wavelengths of light are unable to penetrate water."
"An excellent observation, Antonia, and quite correct. We suspect the bioluminescence is an integral part of reproduction," Kaufman explained.
"Isnt that almost always the case?" Chute remarked.
"If everyone can gear up, well be getting started soon," Sickenberger suggested.
All the assembled scientists put on specifically designed diving suits, equipped with communication devices so they could communicate with each other under water. As soon as everyone had donned their diving gear, Chute piloted the craft downward, ten meters underwater. Badawy opened a hatch on the floor, allowing entry into a small chamber from which they could exit directly into the water. Riggins stayed behind in the craft to monitor the divers.
"Tally ho." Kaufman waved to Riggins as he descended into the floor hatch.
As soon as all members of the expedition were outside the ship, Xon and Kaufman huddled together, discussing the exploration plans. Not too far away, one of the Enterprise science officersLieutenant Goodobserved the fish swimming near them and turned to the others. "Its sure different looking at fish from below the water, instead of up above."
"Or even in an aquarium," Sickenberger added.
At that moment, Xon addressed the group. "To maximize our ability to explore this area and considering that Starfleet regulations require that water exploration teams consist of at least two members, our most logical course of action dictates that we divide our team into groups of two or three and disperse in different directions, remaining in contact via communicator. Each group will have at least one Starfleet officer."
Xon allowed the expedition to quickly team up, and then turned to Avilova. "Would you object to accompanying me, Lieutenant?"
"Of course not, Lieutenant."
Xon and Avilova swam close together, observing the nearby fish and taking tricorder readings. They also paid attention to whether their tricorders would alert them of any aquatic creatures unknown to the Federation. However, all the lifeforms they had encountered so far had already been discovered. In spite of that, they gathered some additional data about the native aquatic species.
Soon, Avilova heard a beep from her communicator. "Avilova here."
"Its Courtney!" The device muffled the voice of Lieutenant Good, but she sounded excited. "Austin seems to have found a new species of barracuda. Or at least, this worlds version of them."
"A new species of barracuda," Avilova murmured.
"Well, we were swimming around when Austins tricorder sounded the new species alert. So, Will and I went over to take a look at what he found. Sure enough, it was a new breed of barracuda, unique to this world."
Lieutenants Xon and Avilova rendezvoused with Lieutenant Good and her team to confirm the discovery.
Xon scanned the fish in the region. "Fascinating! An interesting example of Hodgkins Law of Parallel Development."
Avilova retrieved a small container to capture a specimen. "We can bring back some immature specimens for study."
"I concur," Sickenberger said as he brought out a similar container.
Accordingly, Avilova and Sickenberger harvested several of the smaller barracudas and placed them in the containers. They were soon contacted by Dubofsky who reported a similar discovery.
When all the scientists had finished gathering samples, they returned to the Cousteau.
They returned to the Nerean Institute mid-afternoon. As Riggins and Dubofsky walked out of the institute together, the biologists enthusiasm was obvious. "Tonias making dinner reservations for us all at the Barracuda Bistro. After that, we get to do a behind the scenes tour of the aquarium here. Do you want to join us?"
Riggins shook his head. "Ill pass." The security officer figured that he had spent enough time that day with aquatic creatures and the scientists that studied them.
Dubofsky shrugged. "Suit yourself. See you later."
Riggins walked through the neighboring park where he encountered Lieutenant Commander Kevin Riley.
The Irishman greeted him with a wide smile. "So hows it going, Riggo?"
"Im doing just fine. How about yourself?" the security officer greeted Riley in return.
Rileys enthusiasm was obvious. "I just bought a whole block of tickets for tonights performance at the Alpheratz Dinner Theater. Theyre doing Brian Boru, High King of Ireland. Shaun Kelsey and I are looking for folks to join us!"
Riggins was not sure of the reliability of that particular endorsement as he knew that Riley and Kelsey were two of the most outspoken Irishmen on board the Enterprise. He deadpanned, "Seems like the best entertainment being offered around here."
Riley expounded enthusiastically, "You cant resist the luck and charm of the Irish. Brian Boru was one of the greatest kings of Ancient Ireland. He was the last great High King. He even repelled the Norse invaders!"
"It sounds like good entertainment. I spent all day with a bunch of marine biologists on a deep space diving expedition. I cant see how this could be any worse. Besides, I need to try something different."
"You sure do. Some scientists are so intense that all they want to do is immerse themselves in their science specialty. Its true of some of the geophysicists at the lab where Ive been installing the new computers. I hear its even truer of the astronomers at the Konacki Observatory where Im headed next."
"Thats definitely true of the marine biologists I was with. They plan to go out to dinner and then do a behind-the-scenes tour of the aquarium. And do all this, after spending all morning and the better part of the afternoon in the ocean. Ben Dubofsky is really happy. But hes the kind of guy that goes to aquariums for fun."
"At least this world has plenty of entertainment available for non-scientists. Speaking of which, would you like two tickets for yourself and a guest?"
"Sounds good." Riggins accepted the tickets from Riley.
"Well meet in the front courtyard at 1800 hours."
Who should I bring as my guest? Riggins thought to himself as he continued walking through the park and into a café. There, he noticed a petite golden-haired figure standing in line, waiting to purchase a beverage. It was none other than Lieutenant Taryn Spring, the very girl that Joe Blanchard recommended he pursue.
He approached Spring. "Hi, Taryn. How are you?"
"Listen, I was wondering if youd like to accompany me to tonights performance at the Alpheratz Dinner Theater."
She furrowed her brow before responding disdainfully. "Not tonight, Scott."
"Another time, perhaps?" pleaded Riggins.
"Well see." Her tone of voice was frosty.
So much for going out with Spring, Riggins thought with annoyance.
Unsuccessful in getting a date for the evenings play, Riggins brought Ensign Darrell Monk, an engineer and his roommate, as his guest. The agreement was that the entire group from the Enterprise would rendezvous in the courtyard near the dinner theater. When Riggins and Monk arrived, several of the group were already there, including Cynthia Tamberrino and Sharon MacFarlane, one of the nurses in Sickbay.
The two women were deep in a conversation about the unreliability of all men in general, and of Pavel Chekov in particular. Riggins kicked himself mentally. Here I cant date Tamberrino since Chekov supposedly is interested in her, yet, what has he done to pursue her? Nada!
Little by little, the other ticket holders in their group arrived at the courtyard. This included Riley, who brought a date with him, Eimear OConnor, an Irish art historian he had met earlier that day, and her younger sister, Alexandra. The remainder of the group included fellow crew members and friends of Riley, including Uhura, Sulu, Scotty, Indri, Gabler and Kyle. Conversation drifted to the scientific events occurring on this world, including the Marine Biology conference. Several people pumped Riggins for more details about his diving expedition earlier that day.
Sulu scanned the group, giving his companions a puzzled look. "Wheres Chekov? I assumed hed be joining us tonight."
Tamberrinos anger was obvious. "Well, I asked him, but he said going to the play would be too long a night. He claims hes been tired all the time, ever since he got over the Saurian Flu. But then I find out that hes going out to dinner at the Barracuda Bistro with Antonia Avilova."
Riggins countered, "Im not sure it counts as an official date since my marine biologist friend and the other people on our diving expedition from this morning are also going. I guess Avilova must have convinced Chekov to join them."
Sulu added, "And you know Pavel. Hes such a die hard Russian that he cant resist a going to a restaurant bearing the same name as one back home."
Tamberrino looked at him, puzzled. "Is there really a restaurant in Russia with that name?"
Sulu nodded his head, as his tone of voice was less than enthusiastic. "He dragged me to it on at least three occasions. I must admit, I prefer sushi to the food there."
Uhura added, "Ive seen Antonia flirt with him lately, but I dont think hes all that interested in her. Theyre friends to be sure, but thats about it." She opted not to reveal Chekovs long-term relationship with Angela Moretti.
Somewhat mollified, Tamberrino looked around and settled in next to Kyle for the rest of the evening.
When all members of their group had assembled, they proceeded to their table. Noting that Rileys dates sister was unattached, Riggins made sure he sat next to her. Shes not bad looking. Maybe I could get to know her a little better. And who knows
"Ive got this splitting headache," complained Riggins to his roommate as they were getting dressed for duty the next morning.
Monk, an African American from Syracuse, New York, was of a more serious disposition than Riggins, but nonetheless, they were friends. Monk took a break from combing his hair. "You and Riley were both drinking a fair amount last night. I could tell you got too carried away when you told Alexandra to loosen up, Sandy baby and then fell from your chair. You certainly raised a few eyebrowsand not just among the Vulcans."
Riggins said soberly, "Ill bet that story is circulating around the whole ship by now."
"Scott, the trouble with you is, whenever were on a world with good shore leave facilities, you get so obsessed with girls and partying. Itll be the death of you some day."
Riggins shrugged. "I know I should be more careful but sometimes after being cooped up on a starship for long periods of time, I feel I need a release and want to make up for lost time."
"Almost like the drunken sailors of old."
"At least Im not too impaired to report for duty. And Ill be okay after taking something for my headache."
"Thats good. Just take care."
After some breakfast, Riggins proceeded to the transporter room where he encountered Ben Dubofsky at the entrance. "Greetings, Riggo. How was the play last night? It might have been interesting to see, except I already had another commitment."
"The play was enjoyable. Its amazing what Ive learned about ancient Irish history. I must confess that Im not as into Irish history as Kevin or Shaun even though Im also Irish."
Dubofsky laughed, "No one else around here is as interested in Irish history as either of them, from what I hear."
Riggins changed the subject. "Howd your Sleeping with Sharks experience go?"
"It went very well. We got a great view of the aquatic species here. Its so different to see the aquariums here in the night instead of day. There are a lot of local icthyoid species with Terran and Andorian counterparts."
"Im glad you enjoyed it."
"It was a very productive day overall for us. After you left us yesterday, we spent some time preparing a habitat for our baby barracudas. They are fascinating to watch. Lieutenant Avilova was especially fascinated with them. Shes becoming the ships expert on the aquatic life here."
"Speaking of Antonia, I understand she convinced Chekov to join you folks last night?"
Dubofsky shook his head. "Well, yes and no. She did convince Chekov to join us for dinner, but thats all. He left us before dessert, claiming that he was tired. I can see that she seems interested in him, romantically speaking."
Riggins pondered Dubofskys latest words before commenting, "Chekov didnt join us for the play either."
At that point, the two young officers stepped onto the transporter platform where the technician on duty beamed them down to the institute for their duty assignments at the conference.
When the first day of the conference was over, many of the Enterprises science officers met with the Institute scientists to check on the barracuda habitat they had built earlier. Riggins walked in the room with them as part of a general end of the day security sweep but lingered there as they talked. They were discussing their current observations of barracuda behavior in preparation for their final presentation.
Throughout that time, Riggins noticed that Antonia Avilova seemed to grow paler. At one point, she placed a hand on her abdomen, before complaining to her companions, "Im feeling somewhat faint!"
Before anyone could act, she slumped forward in her seat and fell to the floor. She did not lose consciousness but was in obvious distress.
Alertly, Xon pressed his communicator. "Xon to Sickbay. We have a medical emergency. Lieutenant Avilova just collapsed."
The voice of Lieutenant Commander Uhura could be heard. "Acknowledged. Stand by for transport!"
"Doctor, my stomach is killing me, and I feel ready to throw up," Avilova explained. "And my head feels like a Klingon is trying to squeeze my brains out."
McCoy listened to the Russian science officers complaints as she was carefully placed on the diagnostic bed with compassion. "Well, lets see whats going on here, Missy." The doctor then scanned her with a sensor. "I see elevated levels of antibodies and white blood cells. Theres obviously an infection, but I cant figure out what is causing it. The symptoms could indicate either gastroenteritis or food poisoning. At the minimum, we will need imaging studies or blood work to determine the cause."
After he finished his initial scans of Avilova, McCoy issued an order to MacFarlane, one of his head nurses. "Sharon, well need to keep her hydrated. If she can tolerate fluids without vomiting, offer her small sips of clear liquid. If not, then well need to set up a bio-line IV."
"Way ahead of you, Doc," replied the nurse, who was already gathering the necessary materials.
In the meantime, McCoy walked over to the computer work station to analyze the data from the scans of Avilova. He thought to himself as he pored over the data. Looks more and more like food poisoning is the cause. Now to determine whether its bacterial, or caused by some toxic agent.
After half an hour of testing, he shook his head in frustration as he looked up from the computer screen. "Damn!"
Doctor Chapel walked by at that moment and noticed McCoys frown. "I take it you still havent identified the infective agent for Lieutenant Avilovas disease."
"I sure havent," grumbled the chief physician of the Enterprise. "Lets get a sample of her blood under the electron scanner. I also want a detailed toxin screen. Weve got to find whatevers causing her to be sick."
"Ciguatera poisoning? Not very likely. Were a long way from Earth, unless somehow the scientists on this planet have brought samples of Earth-algae with them," McCoy answered when confronted with Chapels toxin analysis.
Science Officers Xon and Good entered Sickbay. "Hey, Doc, hows Antonia?"
Doctor Chapel shook her head. "Shes not doing very well, Courtney. Weve run a tox screen and found an alkaloid in her body, similar to the ciguatera toxin poisoning contracted by diners whove eaten large reef fish."
Good nodded her head. "Like barracuda."
"Interesting," Xon remarked. "We discover a barracuda-like species here, and then one of the leading researchers contracts an illness often caused by consuming a barracuda. I find the odds of this happening too high to be a coincidence."
There was a moan, and a call for help. "Nurse!"
As MacFarlane helped Avilova to the head, Good looked on in sympathy. "Shes better now, though, right?"
The doctor shook his head. "If anything, shes gotten worse. There has been a lot of diarrhea and vomiting. Were pumping as much fluid into her as we can to prevent her from dehydrating."
"Poor Antonia!" murmured Good.
"Unfortunate," agreed Xon. "Could she have caught this disease while we were underwater?"
"Its possible, of course," Chapel answered. "She could have ingested a small amount of sea water containing whatever the source of this toxin is, or it could have been transmitted through her skin. We simply dont have enough information to make an educated guess."
"An educated guess?" Xon repeated as if to begin an inquiry on the semantics of the term.
McCoy stifled that immediately. "More likely than not, its from something shes eaten. With that in mind, can you remember what Antonia ate? And since no one else is sick, what did she eat that was different than the rest of you?"
Good thought about it only for a second or two. "We went out to eat at the Barracuda Bistro where we all had seafood dishes native to this world, except for Xon, whos a vegetarian..."
Xon tilted his head at an angle in acknowledgment. "Unfortunately, every Enterprise officer ordered a different item off the menu, and then several exchanged samples of each others entree. A common practice, Ms. Good has assured me."
Good tilted her head, mimicking Xons move a moment earlier, then winked at Doctor Chapel before remarking, "Im surprised that no one else has gotten sick."
Xon remarked, "Indeed, it would lend even more credence to the theory if someone else who partook of the same type of fish presented with the same symptoms as Lieutenant Avilova."
McCoy scowled. "Thats one of the things I was explaining to Doctor Chapel before you arrived. But so far, Antonia is the only person ill."
Xon considered the information. "Our next logical step will be to contact Doctor Lussier of the Nerean Institute and Captain Pekarsky of the Gagarin, apprise them of the situation with Lieutenant Avilova, and inquire if any of their personnel are affected with similar symptoms."
Behind them, Avilova was helped back into bed.
"Agreed," McCoy said. "Meanwhile, Christine, lets develop an anti-toxin and see about administering it to the lieutenant."
A thorough survey of the underwater mission team showed that none of them had developed the same symptoms as Avilova. An inspection team from the local health services office found no traces of food toxins in the Barracuda Bistro, and an analysis of the diving gear, which had been decontaminated thoroughly by Institute personnel, found no traces of bacterial contamination.
All in all, it had been a thoroughly unproductive day, Scott Riggins decided.
That evening, Riggins and his friend, Ben Dubofsky, decided to work out together in the ships gymnasium. After about fifteen minutes of riding the stationary bicycles side by side, Dubofsky abruptly stopped riding. He was panting furiously.
"Riggo, maybe its nothing, but right now I feel queasy."
"Really? Wed better get you to Sickbay. This is how it started out with Antonia."
A quick visit with Doctor McCoy revealed the worst news. "Son, it appears your friends come down with the same disease as Lieutenant Avilova has. It seems to be communicable but not highly contagious. We know that Avilova and Dubofsky spent most of yesterday together."
"Yeah, they did, what with the diving expedition and dinner and spending the night at the aquarium. I guess Im glad that I had my fill of marine life for one day and skipped dinner and the aquarium altogether."
McCoy grumbled something about having his fill of patients, and left Riggins to spend a few minutes visiting Dubofsky who had grown worse since leaving the gym. In addition to feeling miserable, the young biologist was disappointed that he would miss the rest of the conference.
As Riggins left his friends bedside, he said, "Let me know if theres anything I can bring you when I come by tomorrow."
"I cant think of anything off hand, but Ill let you know if I do."
Riggins turned around to the sight of Xon and McCoy talking.
The Vulcan looked greener than usual. "Doctor, Ive been experiencing a disquieting sensation in the abdomen."
In reaction, McCoy led Xon to a diagnostic bed, and scanned him. "Hmm. It appears youve developed similar symptoms to Antonia. They are not as severe. It appears that your infection is less serious than that of Avilova and Dubofsky due to your copper-based blood. Your Vulcan physiology is blessed with more natural resistance to this particular infection, but Im afraid Im going to want to put you in here for observation."
McCoy furled his brow. "Didnt you tell me that when you were at the restaurant, you didnt share your food with the others?"
"Correct, Doctor, nor did I partake of theirs either."
"That pretty much rules out food poisoning as the cause of all this."
"Not entirely, Doctor, but the evidence does seem to support that conclusion." Xon quickly stepped toward the head. "If you will excuse me, I seem to have developed another symptom of this illness."
The next morning, Doctor Lussier contacted the Enterprise for an update. "How are your ailing crew members doing?"
Captain Kirk, who was on the bridge at the time, replied, "Not good. Theyve been getting worse, especially Lieutenant Avilova. Doctor McCoy is still investigating."
Lussier sounded unhappy about the news, a frown evident on her face on the monitor. "Our medical staff have thoroughly investigated the aquashuttle, the aquarium, the restaurant, even the air conditioning system. Weve found nothing that would lead to the type of illness your officers are experiencing. Our staff has suggested that you may have, in fact, contracted this disease elsewhere."
"Have any of your staff developed this illness?" asked Spock from the science station.
"No, Commander. Only visitors from your ship and from the Gagarin." Lussier leaned forward in earnest. "If this news gets out, people are going to be afraid to come here. The number of visitors to our aquarium has already dropped drastically."
Kirk was about so snap off something hed regret, instead Spock spoke up. "That would be regrettable, of course."
The captain, now collected, added, "But we would like to make sure that there are no fatalities."
Lussier offered, "Well bring up some of the barracudas we harvested up to your vessel. You can examine them yourselves and see that theyre not the cause of this illness."
Kirk favored her with his famous charming and disarming smile. "That would be the logical thing to do."
Spock raised an eyebrow in approval. "Doctor McCoy is likely to request a few blood and tissue samples from your team to see if there are any differences between them and those we extracted from his patients."
She nodded in agreement. "You can take samples from us after we arrive on board your ship."
"Energize," Spock ordered.
Chief Petty Officer Rand moved the control slides back, and three figures and a rectangular object materialized on the platform.
"Welcome to the Enterprise, Doctor Lussier."
"Thank you, Commander Spock. These are two of my assistants, and with them the objects of everyones curiosity."
Spock moved forward to see the aquarium and its occupants. "Interesting. They are remarkably similar to the Terran genus Sphyraena. Is there any evidence to suggest they were transplanted to this world?" He glanced at the readings on the antigrav platform and confirmed they were properly set for operation aboard a starship.
"None whatsoever, Commander," she said, stepping off the platform. "They appear to have evolved here. Their DNA is definitely not of Terran origin."
Spock studied the darting fish for a few minutes. "Interesting. Allow me to escort you to Sickbay. Doctor McCoy would indeed like those samples we discussed."
"Of course." As the Institute scientist exited the transporter room, her assistants guided the antigrav-mounted aquarium down the corridor behind her and Spock. "Its always been my dream to be able to tour this ship. I just wish it wasnt part of this nightmare."
"Perhaps with your assistance, we can end this nightmare, Doctor Lussier."
As they entered Sickbay, Leonard McCoy looked up from his work, a grim expression obvious on his face. "Now that the incidence of illness has expanded beyond the Enterprise, its more urgent that we find the cause and cure."
Lussier nodded. "This morning, after I finished talking to Commander Spock and Captain Kirk, I received a message about several other conference guests, especially the Centaurean delegation, becoming ill." She shook her head. "I have already ordered the Nerean Institute be closed to the general public until further notice. We may not understand whats going on, but its becoming clear that we are the source of the infection."
"Laudable, Doctor. If youll excuse me, I shall take the aquarium to the biology lab. I will personally oversee the analysis of the fish," Spock explained.
"Now lets get you and your assistants thoroughly examined," McCoy said. "Weve got to find out why its only the visitors to this world who are affected by this disease."
The Konacki Observatory was the last site that needed is computer system upgraded. Chekov and Riggins had beamed down with Uhura and Tamberrino who were performing the upgrades, along Taryn Spring who was assigned to do the functional testing. It had taken most of the morning, but the task was quickly moving toward completion. At noon, they had gone to the observatory cafeteria to take a break and grab a bite to eat.
Chekov immediately spotted Uhura at a small table in the corner of the cafeteria, and headed there with his plate. "May I join you?"
Her face showed concern. "Sure, Pavel."
Across the room in the food line, Riggins and Spring both observed the conversation between their immediate superiors. Spring spoke softly to Riggins, "I get the feeling that Uhura and Chekov want to have a private conversation."
Riggins replied, "No kidding. I know for a fact that Pavels had an awful lot on his mind lately, with everythings thats been going on."
"Being Security Chief sounds like a thankless job. I wouldnt want it."
"Maybe in a few years but not yet," Riggins commented, dreamily.
As they continued talking, Spring and Riggins got their lunch and sat together at a table across the room from where Uhura and Chekov sat. Both knew better than to try to eavesdrop on a conversation between senior officers.
A somewhat worried Chekov expressed his feelings to Uhura. "I cant help but think that I should be more involved in the investigation of Antonias illness. Its spread beyond the Enterprise."
Uhura tried to soothe him. "Pavel, youve done what you could. Youve already sent teams to check out the Cousteau and the restaurant you ate at. Doctor McCoy and the medical lab need to take it from here."
"I cant help but feel a bit guilty. Antonia practically begged me to go on the diving expedition with her, but I decided to participate in Security Accreditation testing instead."
Uhura pointed out, "So? I know you tend to feel responsible for everything that happens in your department, but you cant be in two places at once. And your being there probably wouldve resulted in your getting ill, too."
Chekov frowned. "Shes been trying to start a relationship with me. I have great affection for her, and Im very grateful that she came to visit me in Sickbay while I was recovering from our encounter with the Gorgons, but as for a relationship..."
"I understand how you feel, Pavel, and who you have feelings for," she answered, obliquely referring to Angela Moretti. "But you have always had good relationships with members of the opposite sex."
"Just not long-lasting ones."
She laughed. "Eight years with you and...well, thats a long time, Pavel."
"If you mean Angela, thats not a stable relationship. She is assigned to another ship. And she is my friend, not my girlfriend. Friends with benefits, da, but just friends."
"So you play the field...with permission, of course...but you cant put your heart into it."
The Russian security officer shook his head. "I gave Ann Nored the job of handling security for the conference and the diving expedition since I didnt want to deal with Antonia. Right now, Im more interested in pursuing Cynthia Tamberrino instead."
"Ive noticed," Uhura smiled.
"But I cant help but wonder if I had gone with the aquashuttle crew, could I have done something to prevent the disease?"
"Yeah, and you couldve contracted it. In your weakened condition, after all that time in Sickbay recovering from the Gorgon attack, it might even have killed you." She leaned forward and took his hands into hers. "And I for one couldnt bear to have that happen, Pavel Andreievich."
After lunch, the computer upgrade tasks continued. As software modifications were installed, Taryn Spring would conduct functional testing while Riggins would conduct Security Accreditation. During that time, the two of them developed a good working relationship.
Christine Chapel jumped out of her seat, excitedly. She, McCoy and Lussier were working in the biolab adjacent to Sickbay, trying to make sense of the readings from the blood samples and from the icthyoids as well. Determining the cause of the illness would them help develop a cure.
"Doctor McCoy, Ive got an idea about this disease. Its caused by a virus whose main host is the barracuda-like species on this world. You remember that we found an alkaloid in all the patients blood samples. This alkaloid is actually an atypical amino acid and the virus causing this disease has this amino acid in its protein capsid."
"Hows the virus spread?"
"Any variety of ways, including handling the cudas."
"But why didnt anyone stationed at the Nerean Institute get this illness?" Lussier gazed at the two doctors.
"Ive been analyzing the blood samples of your scientific team," Doctor Chapel reported. "It seems that theyve developed an immunity to this pathogen, probably by ingesting the local cuisine. Id bet a hefty research grant that after a meal or two before exposure to the barracuda is all the exposure that anyone needs. However, any visitors to your world who have first-hand contact with the barracudas before developing the immunity are vulnerable."
Doctor McCoy explained, "With the repeated exposure to the lifeforms on this worldespecially those which ingest small amounts of reef algaetheres a good chance that they had developed a milder, perhaps even undetectable, form of the illness at one point and are now immune. If so, it would be similar to the discovery in the nineteenth century that anyone who had ever developed cowpox would be immune to smallpox which was caused by a similar virus. That discovery led to developing a vaccine for that disease. And the same principle was used to develop vaccines for other diseases."
Lussier looked up from her research at the doctors. "So the next step is a cureor a means of prevention."
At that moment, there was a beep on the BellComm terminal near the chief medical officer. "McCoy here."
The image of Nurse Sharon MacFarlane came into view. Her facial expression and tone of voice were obviously alarmed. "Avilova is looking really bad! She needs your attention immediately."
McCoy, followed by Doctors Chapel and Lussier, darted from their work stations toward the ward. The medical sensors in her bio-bed told them that her condition was critical. They connected her to a cardiopulmonary stimulator to try to revive her but all efforts were in vain. The medical indicators dropped to the bottom of their range.
"Shes dead," the chief medical officer announced, punching the intercom to inform Captain Kirk.
Lussier asked somberly, "Now that we finally isolated the specific cause and are only hours away from the cure? Its just not fair."
"No, its not." Chapel placed a reassuring hand on Lussiers shoulder, and with grim determination said, "But for the sake of our other patients, well still have to work to find a cure."
For the remainder of the day, McCoy, Lussier and Chapel worked on synthesizing a cure to the Barracuda Flu, as the disease was now dubbed. Eventually, they came up with a preliminary formula and were discussing plans for how to test it before giving to a live patient.
Before they finalized their plans, there was an urgent message from Doctor Timreck, the chief medical officer of the Gagarin. "Lieutenant Guarnaccias getting worse. Hes having trouble breathing. I dont think hes going to last much longer."
"Ill be right over," McCoy said. "Weve developed a treatment. Its untested, but its probably his only chance."
"Hurry, Doctor. Timreck out."
McCoy and Chapel raced to the transporter room with their formula. After materializing aboard the Gagarin, they were rushed immediately directly to its sickbay where they examined the unfortunate scientist. Guarnaccia was gasping for breath when they arrived.
McCoy gave the pre-filled hypo to the Gagarins chief medical officer.
"Nothing like a live test on a Human guinea pig." Timreck injected Guarnaccia with a hypo with the new formula. They waited in suspense for a few minutes.
Guarnaccia still had his eyes closed but began to breathe easier. Soon, he stirred. "Doctor," he called out weakly to his physician.
"Welcome back to the land of the living, Max," the doctor said with a laugh.
"Im no longer feeling queasy. I think Im going to be all right."
McCoy reported, "Your illness was transmitted from the barracudas you had harvested."
"Barracuda flu," the biologist murmured. "Barrafluda..."
"Leave it to Max to come up with a wacky name like that!" cracked Timreck as she left Guarnaccias bedside and turned her attention to Badawy, injecting him with the antidote as well.
McCoy patted Chapel on the back. "Chris, our serum works! Lets get back to the Enterprise. Weve got some patients of our own to treat."
A memorial service was held for Lieutenant Avilova. It was attended by most of the crew of the Enterprise, the crew of the Gagarin with whom she had worked, and the scientific team from Nerean Institute. After the service, Riggins coordinated the preparation of a memorial data chit to send to her family. He was primarily assisted by Xon and Good, who recorded memorials. The chit even included recorded tributes from Guarnaccia and Badawy from the Gagarin, in addition to those from Enterprise crew members.
"Ive had too much recent experience preparing recorded memorials," Riggins commented to Good as he gathered recording equipment.
"Aint that the truth," Tamberrino said.
Over the next few days, the rest of the computer installations on Alpha Andromedae III were upgraded without incident. On the evening before the Enterprise departed from the planet, Riggins once again decided to ask Spring out for a date and this time she accepted. They had gotten to know each other during the installation process. He took her out to the Sirrah Grand Café.
After they rematerialized in front of the restaurant, Spring turned to Riggins, murmuring dreamily, "Our last night here. And its a beautiful night."
"And the start of a great relationship." The security officer took her hand as they entered the restaurant where the maitred escorted them to a corner table.
They heard a distressed, Russian-accented voice after reaching their table. "Bozhe moi! I left all my credits back on the ship!"
"I can cover it, Pavel," a female voice said.
Riggins turned around and noticed it was Cynthia Tamberrino who was seated next to Chekov. Tamberrino and Chekov were in the final stages of their meal at the time Riggins and Spring had been escorted to their table.
"You shouldnt have to, Cynthia."
Spring whispered to Riggins, "That can be so embarrassing. I know how Lieutenant Chekov feels, and Cynthias probably even more embarrassed."
At that moment, Riggins was struck with inspiration and summoned a waiter. "Sir, do you see the dark haired young man whos about three tables away from us?"
"I do," the waiter said.
"Their meal will be on me."
"Ill tell him."
A few minutes later, Chekov and Tamberrino stopped by their table, thanking them profusely, and promising to return the favor soon. Then the two made their way out the door, leaving Riggins and Spring to finish their meal.
After dinner, they took a walk on the promenade. Spring spun around and planted a kiss on Riggins face. She smiled at him. "One sure-fire way to get ahead at work: Buy your boss dinner."
"Especially if it saves him face in front of his lady friend." Riggins slyly grinned at Spring, in return. "You know, I saw this nice, sandy beach not far from here..."
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