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Pamela J. Corsa



Taleena rose gracefully from her command chair, taking the few steps necessary to reach the forward screen. So many stars and so unfamiliar. How long? Six years. No matter how many times she said it, it was still hard to comprehend. At times, it seemed like only yesterday the small exploration crew of fourteen had left Meona... Meona, with its auburn night sky and green waters. The air always fresh, even in the most populated of cities. It was the Rancas tree which purified the air and water. So rare and so beautiful.A wave of longing flooded her senses. How can it be six years? Too long to be away from home.

Taleena hadn't realized she was sighing until the sound of it reached her ears. We should have found a place by now, she thought despairingly.

Feeling a familiar touch by her right foot, she looked down to see A'Tel wrap himself around her leg, his long brown hair lying close to his slender body. A body which was almost twice as long as it was high. She met his large, black eyes, as dark and fathomless as space itself and just as mysterious. Were there tears forming in those eyes?

"Oh, please let them be colored gold," she whispered.

"Did you say something, Taleena?" asked Race.

"Race, you startled me." She was surprised at how he'd yet again managed to approach her without being noticed. "It's A'Tel; I think tears may be forming."

Race lifted one corner of his brow questioningly.

"I don't know. We'll just have to wait," she replied.

The brow leveled. "Again wait, Taleena?" Disapproval was obvious in his voice.

"We have been through this before, Race. It is all we can do, and..."

"Commander, a vessel at extreme range on grid six, quadrant four," interrupted Rata, her navigator.

Taleena quickly returned to her command chair, her gray eyes alert. She raised her hand toward her hair, then stopped. She had recently begun to pull her long, violet hair back into a braid on top of her head instead of wearing it loose around her shoulders. The motion to flip the hair back was born of habit, and had become a mannerism. She returned her hand to the control panel at her right, her index finger automatically seeking out the proper button to depress.

As she found it, a slight frown formed on her forehead, causing her long brow to form wrinkles and its hair to stand on end.

The forward screen changed from the luring star pattern to a large grid. In one corner, a blue light was flashing.

"Rata, can you compute its speed and course?"

"Three quantomas toward sector eight," came the efficient response of her navigator.

"Not very fast," she mused.

"Perhaps a cruising speed," Race interjected.

"The shields are in place?" she asked Rata.

"As per your previous order, Commander."

Race stared intently at the flashing light. Insignificant as a flashing light, very significant in its potential. "Will we intercept?" he asked.

"Of course."

"But, Taleena, the last time--"

"Is not this time."

"Commander," cried Rata, pointing to A'Tel.

"Taleena, the tears are blue," Race said.

Taleena's lips pressed together. "They're light blue. We will continue."

"But, Taleena--"

"Rata, plot an interception course."

"Yes, Commander."

"Oh, Taleena. Can we go through this again?"

It was hard to ignore the plea in Race's voice. Her breath caught in her throat. "We must."


Captain James T. Kirk sat in the center seat of the Enterprise's bridge, frequently shifting his weight in boredom, his fingers drumming the arm of his chair. After two weeks of routine star mapping, the Enterprise had been dispatched to an uncharted area of space where unfamiliar transmissions had been picked up.

At first, everyone's spirits rose in anticipation of the new adventure, but after a week, they appeared to be no closer to finding the transmission's source.

The captain of the Enterprise let out a deep sigh, his body sinking down a bit further in the chair.

"Bored, Jim?"

Kirk visibly jumped. "Bones, don't do that."

"I just wanted to make sure you were still breathing," McCoy said, smiling.

"It's not funny. You could cause a heart attack that way."

McCoy continued to smile. "If I do, I'll fix it."

Kirk turned in his chair to focus on his chief medical officer. His peripheral vision also brought Spock into view. The science officer's posture didn't seem right. Turning around the other way in his seat, he addressed his first officer.

"Have you found something, Mister Spock?"

Spock stood up, but didn't reply.

McCoy took a step closer. "Have those long ears of your finally stopped doing their job?" he chided. "Your captain asked you a question.

"Spock?" Kirk repeated, rising from his chair when, again, there was no answer. He walked over to the Science Station. McCoy followed, his look now one of concern.

"Spock, what's wrong?" Kirk asked.

The look on Spock's face could only be described as intent, yet distant. Kirk had seen that look once before. Intrepid. "Spock, what is it?" he asked softly.

"Captain, I see something."

Kirk looked at McCoy, both frowning in confusion.

"In the viewer?" the captain asked.


"Well, man, spit it out!" the doctor said in exasperation.

"Quiet, Bones," Kirk snapped with a stern look. "In your mind then?" he prompted the Vulcan.

"Yes. I don't understand the images. They don't make sense."

"Can you describe them, Spock?" McCoy asked, keeping his voice low.

"Colors, water." He turned his head to meet his captain's eyes. "I sense fear."

"From here, on the ship?"

Spock was shaking his head. He turned his gaze to the forward screen. "Out there."

Kirk followed his gaze. "Do you think someone is trying to contact you?"


"Spock, can you shield against it?" McCoy asked.

"I was not attempting to, Doctor. I wish to locate it."

"Can you?"

"Not at this time." He looked back at Kirk. "Jim, this is most..."

"Disconcerting?" McCoy filled in.

"Yes, Doctor."

"Spock, I want you to use whatever mental barriers necessary to shield yourself. If there is something out there, we'll find it."

Kirk studied his friend a moment longer, then returned to the center seat.

Spock glanced around the bridge. Everyone was busy at their post. No sign of anything unusual having happened. They don't feel it, but I feel the colors the water, and most of all, the fear. He continued to glance around the room. They have no idea. His scrutiny of the bridge ended with his captain. His friend's body had stiffened with tension. His captain felt a threat, that much was certain.

Without turning around, Kirk spoke. "Do you believe this has anything to do with the transmissions?"

"It is a possibility, of course."

"I want you scanning at maximum range."

Spock acknowledged his captain, then returned his attention to his viewer. There it is. But what is it? Spock's brows drew together, his breathing almost stopped with his intense concentration. "Captain, I have something."

Kirk turned. "A ship?"


"Put it on the mainviewer."

"On mainviewer," the Vulcan echoed.

Kirk strained his eyes. "I don't see anything."

"I will attempt to increase magnification of the area."

The screen wavered a second and was replaced by the stars. However, a slight distortion could be detected in the lower right corner.

"A cloaking device, Spock?"

"Quite possible." The Vulcan's brows were drawn together in concentration.

"Can you tell its size, speed, anything?"

"It appears to be moving toward us, at a rather leisurely rate, I might add. The size is impossible to determine. The energy readings seem to spike out at constantly changing points, making it impossible to outline a steady shape."

"I want us on Yellow Alert, just to be on the safe side." Kirk rubbed his hands together, noticing the moisture on them. "Mister Sulu, I want you to slow to Warp One. DiFalco, change our heading by two degrees. I want to see if it changes with us."

"Aye, Captain."


"Commander, the vessel has reduced speed to one quantomas and changed course to quadrant five," reported Rata.

"They have detected us," Race observed.

"I would agree, but do they know just what they have detected?" questioned Taleena. Her brow raised at both ends. "Rata, do not change our speed or course. If they do not change their course again, at our present course, we will be able to pass by them close enough to gather information."

"And if they do change their course, Commander?"

"My action will depend on the nature of those changes."

Taleena leaned back in the command chair, the soft back allowing room for her slightly protruding vertebrae.

"If their sensors could penetrate our shielding, their action would not have been so subtle," she continued.

"Perhaps their commander is setting a trap."

"Race, must you always think the worst? If they believe we are a neutral force, they would move a short distance to avoid, yet study it. I would do the same."

Race turned and faced the grid. The flashing light slowly moved towards them. But just what was moving towards them? Death again? Taleena accused him of always thinking the worse, but how could he help it? He shuddered inwardly as his mind replayed their last encounter.

They had tried to communicate with the great winged ship. Tried in vain. A bolt of energy was the only response they received. Taleena had hoped it contained a message. It did, but not the one she had hoped for. Their science specialist evaluated it as a weapon. It was a useless attempt for as soon as the bolt hit one of their pulsating energy fields it exploded, consuming the alien ship.

Race inhaled slowly. Is this is to be a repeat of the last time? Shifting his stance, he could see A'Tel sitting by his commander's feet. A'Tel's eyes were dry now, no alarm present.

We are all waiting, he thought.


"There's has been no change in the course or speed of the phenomenon," Spock informed Kirk after their course change.

"Then you don't believe it's a ship?"

"I have no evidence to support or dispute that supposition at this time.

Kirk rubbed his forehead. "If we move back to an intercepting course, how soon before we encounter it?"

"Jim, you're not thinking of putting us in the path of that--that, well, whatever it is? I mean, we don't know what it is," interrupted McCoy.

A slight smile found its way to Kirk's lips. "Bones, that's one of the reasons we're out here, Remember?"

"I remember a lot of things. I'll be in Sickbay, preparing."

McCoy's departure was swift enough to cause a breeze on Kirk's face. He turned and met his first officer's eyes. "The good doctor is concerned," he said.

"Obviously. To answer your previous question, we will intercept the first of the longest energy rays in five point three standard hours."

"Very good. Chekov, weapon status?"

"We have full phaser and photon torpedo capability," came the quick reply from the security station.

"That's fine, Chekov, but let's not be too eager. Remember, patience is a virtue."

"Of course, Kyptin; we Russians excel in it."


"Sulu, DiFalco: put us back on our original course and speed."

"Aye, sir. Back on course," the brunette navigator responded.

Spock moved to his captain's side. "I am somewhat puzzled as to why you have us back on a direct intercept course. We would have been able to gather information on your corrected course."

"I'm well aware of that, Mister Spock. So would the captain of that ship, if that's what it is."

"So you believe it's a vessel of some sort?"

"Let's just say I'm playing a hunch."

Spock raised a brow. He'd learned to respect Kirk's hunches. By returning to their original course, he might communicate to a possible captain he didn't buy their ruse. We know you're a ship; we're coming to meet you. If it turned out to be a natural phenomenon, no harm would be done. The Enterprise could easily move out of its way when necessary.

Both prospects fascinated the Vulcan first officer. As a natural phenomenon, the data he would collect would provide for interesting research and study. If a ship? Surely one never encountered before. A new civilization held endless possibilities.


His captain's voice brought him back from his speculation. "Yes, Captain?"

"Have you been able to determine the source of your previous episode?"

"Negative. I sense nothing at this time. Whatever it was has ceased."

"I was wondering if it might have come from our little mystery out there."

"Little mystery?" Spook shook his head at Kirk's choice of terms. "I cannot answer that at the moment. I will occasionally leave myself open for any further contact."

Kirk nodded, then returned his gaze to the front viewer. There was nothing to do but wait. Despite his lecture on patience to Chekov, it was not something he excelled at himself.


Taleena's brow was a series of wrinkles as she stared at the blue light. The commander of that ship had returned to its original course and speed. What was the reason? It would have been far wiser to remain on the slightly altered course.

Race spoke, "They know we're a ship. They are challenging us."

His skepticism was unnerving, though she had to admit lately he seemed to be right more than wrong. "You cannot know that." She glanced down at A'Tel. He was asleep. His hair bristled out to detect any movement near him.

"Taleena, it's not too late. We haven't met anything that can match the speed of the Sceelar."

"We cannot avoid other life forms. Race, we need help."

"We can survive on our own, Taleena. I have complete faith in our science department."

Taleena shifted slightly so as to face Race fully. As she did, she smoothed her brow. "As do I. However, we have been six years in our search, and more than a year since we heard from Meona." She couldn't stop her brow from wrinkling as that thought reached her lips. "Race, I don't mind telling you, I'm worried. What if we're too late?"

The ends of Race's brow turned down with compassion. "We won't be. We can't be."

Taleena shifted her gaze to the forward screen. "How much longer, Rata?"

"Two megos, Commander."

Only two, and then what? Destruction again? Taleena reached down and stroked A'Tel's head. His hair immediately flattened as he awakened and responded to her touch. Taleena picked up the scent he gave off when he was content. Maybe it would be all right this time.


Only two more hours. The captain of the Enterprise found himself actually pacing on the bridge. McCoy had not returned. Perhaps he should go down to Sickbay and speak with him. The doctor had seemed more upset that usual. "Spock, anything new?"

"I have just determined that part of the energy given off by that disturbance is protoplasm. There are other components present, one I have never seen before. I shall, of course, continue to evaluate."

Kirk nodded. "I'll be in Sickbay."

Alone in the turbolift, he allowed himself to rub his eyes. They felt strained from staring at the distortion on the screen. As if I could make it give up its secret and tell me what it really is. His deep sigh caused his lips to puff out. The lift door opened, and he forced a smile to form on those lips as two crewmen entered.

As he stepped off, his legs felt heavier than usual. He caught himself sighing again. What's wrong with me? I should be pumped up, not dragging about like this...

And what about Spock? Kirk really was concerned about the earlier episode on the bridge. Would this meeting of whatever was out there hold a special danger for his Vulcan friend? And why is Bones being so obstinate? Maybe he was worried about Spock as well. Another sigh. Damn.

"You looking for me?"

Kirk had barely been aware he had arrived at McCoy's office. Once again he jumped at the doctor's voice. "Bones, I swear you do that on purpose. One more time, and I'll bring you up on charges of trying to kill your commanding officer."

Kirk relaxed a bit at the smile his statement had brought to the physician's face.

"Anything new?" McCoy inquired.

"No, not when I left. Only two more hours. How are you doing here?"

"We're fine. Ready for anything, I hope."

Kirk could not miss the underlying tone of the statement. He stared at his friend's blue eyes. "I missed you on the bridge. You didn't come back up."

"Why? Would you have listened to anything I might have said?"

Kirk closed his eyes and took a deep breath, suddenly feeling as if all his energy had been drained from him. He felt McCoy's hand on his arm.

"Jim, are you all right?"

He slowly opened his eyes. The brightness of the office lights caused him to squint. "Bones..." What could he say his friend already didn't know? That, yes, he valued his opinion. He did understand how his friend felt about any possible loss of life. That he needed him. "Yes, I would have listened. I always listen. I need to listen."

The blue eyes he stared into immediately softened, and McCoy looked down at his boots. "I guess I get a little contrary at times."

"A little?" Kirk teased.

"How's Spock? Any new developments with what he felt earlier?"

So Bones had been worried. "No, not that he's told me about, anyway." Worry lines formed between Kirk's brow.

"Jim, why don't you sit down?"

As Kirk complied, McCoy opened a cabinet and started to reach for some glasses. Kirk raised a hand to stop him. "I don't think a depressant is what I need. Besides, with less than two hours..." He let the sentence finish in silence.

McCoy nodded. "I just thought I could help take some of that weight off your back."

Kirk settled back in the chair. "You have."


A'Tel lifted his head, nudging Taleena's leg, his eyes glistening as his gaze rested on her. She immediately turned her attention from the viewer to meet those large black eyes.

"A'Tel?" she questioned.

He rose and stretched his long neck in one fluid motion. Approaching the large view screen, his gaze shifted from Taleena to the view. A single tear fell. Race had joined Taleena, and observed it, too.

"It's violet," he said with enthusiasm.

"Yes, Race. The symbol of hope." She looked back at the approaching starship. Its lines were sleek enough, but somehow lacked in the grace her ship had. No matter, it would be the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen if it held what they needed.

"Perhaps we should drop our shields?"


Race's eyes, which a moment ago had shone with renewed hope, now showed only caution. Sometimes he was as much a wonder to her as A'Tel. She smiled. "Let's try sending a message," she suggested.

"But we're not close enough."

One corner of Taleena's brow rose. "How do you know? They might be quite capable of picking up our transmissions."

"Perhaps, but I think we should get closer. Try and gather as much data as possible with our scanners."

Taleena smiled again. As she was somewhat impulsive and idealistic, to the same extent, Race was sure to be ever careful and skeptical. They were a good match. She wondered if the commander of the approaching ship was as fortunate. One would have to be to survive in space. So dark, yet light at the same time.

Once again, Meona beckoned her thoughts. Ever warm, and so many colors. Not the black she stared at now, but not all black. There was the approaching ship. What colors do you hold inside? What hope?

She felt a hand rest gently on her shoulder. "Taleena, your thoughts are deep." It was not a question.

She met Race's beautiful green eyes, so striking, so penetrating. "This is the first positive sign we have had in almost six years. I want so much for it to be all right. I want to go home."

Race's brow was level, the hairs perfectly flat, displaying calm. He nodded his head. "This may be the time." He glanced at A'Tel who was still staring at the viewer. It may be indeed.

With less than one half megos left, Race took his place at the scanning station. He noticed Taleena returned to the command chair, A'Tel by her feet once more, not willing to leave her side now.

Race stared at the information beginning to coalesce on his screen. Not that much different from the other ship. His heart was heavy, the ends of his brow dropped. Maybe it would not be any different.

"Race, what information do you have?"

"There is currently no shielding, but they have the ability to do so. However, it would not be sufficient against us. Their weaponry would also be ineffective. We are in no danger.

"There appears to be numerous life forms, over four hundred in fact. Many more that the other ship. They are biped, as we are. The atmosphere would be acceptable to us for one point five megos." His brow suddenly raised in surprise. He turned to Taleena. "They have the ability to know we are scanning them," he said.


"Captain, we are being scanned."

Kirk quickly rose and moved toward Spock's console. "So it is a ship."

"It would seems so." Spock's eyes flicked back and forth as he took in the information. Fascinating. Very sophisticated.

"Can we scan them?"


"Uhura, try and hail them. Send universal peace and hello."

"Aye, sir." Her fingers flew across her board, the memory in their tips as well as in her mind.

Spock raised a brow. "That will prove unsuccessful."

"Captain, the message is being reflected back."

"Yes, Captain. Due to the nature of their fluctuating energy rays, our signal will only penetrate as far as the shortest of those rays. When that ray extends, it pushes our signal right back at us."

"Then communication is impossible."

"At this time, and in that manor, yes." Kirk frowned at that answer, but before he could question it, Spock continued, "It also means our weapons would be useless as well. Worse. There is a 98.32 percent chance the energy from our own weapons would be reversed against us."

Kirk paced back to the viewer. "I don't like this." He rubbed his brow. "We'll continue yellow alert." He turned to face Spock. "Any suggestions?"

"They have not taken any hostile action toward us. Their course and speed remain the same. Interception in thirteen point one minutes."

"Full stop."

"Full stop, aye, sir," Sulu replied.

"Chief DiFalco, plot an evasive course and be ready to implement on my command."

"Aye sir."

Kirk met Chekov's eyes. "Lieutenant, your services could mean our deaths."

The weapons officer nodded, then, looking down, made some adjustments to several dials.

"Spock, is all that energy the actual ship, or shielding of some kind?"

The Vulcan looked away from the scanner to find his captain once more looking out the viewer. "Since I have been unsuccessful in my attempts to penetrate the energy field, I cannot give you an accurate answer."

Kirk nodded slowly. "I'm guessing it's shielding. You said we can't communicate with it by usual means. Did you have unusual means in mind?"

Spock's brows elevated slowly. "One could only conclude it would have to be so."

A small smile reached Kirk's mouth.

"Captain, I'm receiving a message from the ship." Uhura cocked her head to one side. "Translators are having difficulty." She frowned. "It appears to be a message of greeting and peace."

"Can you put it on screen?"

"Negative, there's too much interference."

"Well, Mister Spock, it would seem they are capable of getting through to us. How long before we make contact with the longest rays?"

"Eleven point eight five minutes, if the pattern does not change."

Kirk turned suddenly to face his science officer. "So, there is a pattern?"

"It's very complicated. I have only just concluded so now."

"Is there any way we can imitate that pattern?"

Spock's brows drew together, wrinkles of concentration forming on his forehead. "Perhaps in a display of lights."

Their eyes locked in understanding. Kirk nodded once. "Get to it."


"They have come to a full stop," Rata announced. "Interception in one-fourth megos."

"So, they know," Race said, the hair on his brow rising slightly.

"Yes. Rata, contact communications and send out greetings."

"Yes, Commander." After a few moments, "Commander, message has been sent and repeated. No reply."

Race stepped up to Taleena's chair. "It is as before. Like the previous ship."

Taleena glanced down at A'Tel. He was still staring at the viewer. "I don't think so. Perhaps they don't understand. Rata, go sub."

"Yes, Commander. Contact in five megos."

"I think we should lower our shields."

"Before we know their intent?" objected Race.

"You have read their banks. They are an exploratory ship," answered Taleena.

"Their records could be false. With our shields down, their weapons could destroy us."

The hair on Taleena's brow was fully raised. "Rata?"

"Three megos, Commander."

"Full stop."

"Full stop, Commander."

Taleena and Race's eyes met.

"Commander, communications is reporting patterned lights from the vessel." She paused, then leaning forward, looked at Taleena. "They're imitating the pattern of our shields."

Taleena stood up so quickly it caused A'Tel to jump to his feet. "They are trying to communicate with us."

Race looked up from his panel. "It is so."

A'Tel rubbed against her leg, causing her to look down and see a large blue tear fall.

"Extreme danger. I don't understand."

Race started to move toward her crossing behind Rata's console. He automatically glanced at it. "Rata, we're drifting toward the ship!"

Taleena's eyes widened. "Shields down!" The viewer flashed white. "No!"


"Captain, they're drifting!"

"Shields. DiFalco, evasive--"

Sound. Had there been a sound? Spock moved his head slowly. There was much pain and bright lights. But my eyes are closed. He forced them open. It was dark. No, dim lights from a few panels. He would be able to see in a moment. The Humans would be virtually blind.

His hands were clenched. He slowly opened his left one and something fell to the floor. The noised caused his head to pound. He tried to remember what he had been holding. His right hand still grasped something. Part of the panel he'd been clutching. He forced himself to release it. There was a shooting pain in his wrist. It was broken. He closed his eyes. Breathing. He could hear breathing, but nothing else. Not even a moan. Everyone on the bridge was either unconscious or dead.

His eyes flew open, then squinted with the pain even that small movement caused. Jim, where is Jim? He tried to remember which direction the captain had been thrown. It was toward the back railing. He might have been able to hold on enough to avoid serious injury.

"Captain? Jim, can you hear me?" Nothing. "Commander Uhura, Sulu? Are you able to respond?"

A moan. Masculine. "Spock?"

"Jim, how bad are you hurt?"

"My ship?"

"Jim, answer me!"

"So dark..."

"Captain, what is your medical status?"

"I...my head hurts. Side...wind knocked out of me. I can't see."

"Look towards the engineering panel. There is light coming from there."

"I see it." A pause. "Spock, are you hurt?"

"I am functional."

Spock was sitting now, trying to control the vertigo his rising had caused. Every inch of his body seemed to be bruised, but nothing else was broken. He considered himself most fortunate. "Jim, can you sit up?"

"I am." In fact, he was reaching around to see if anyone was near him. His hand touched something sticky. Pulling it back quickly, he took a deep, painful breath. He knew what it was. Blood he was responsible for. He carefully slid nearer, running his hand along the body. It was a male, and he was dead. He couldn't tell who it was for sure, but the man was too tall to be either Sulu or Chekov. Maybe Michaels of Engineering or Andrews from Life Support.

"Damn." He knew both of their families. Both were fine officers. His officers.


"I found a man. He's dead."

Pain, not physical, but emotional. His captain's, his own. There would be more bodies found, Spock knew.

"Is there anyone near you?"

Spock didn't have to feel for bodies. He could see there were none in his vicinity. "Negative. I believe DiFalco, Sulu and Chekov would be near the front of the bridge. Uhura could be behind you."

Kirk twisted to move in that direction. He winced at the sudden pain. No, he'd have to turn his whole body. It turned out to be easier to crawl. He found a leg. Definitely female. A shoulder, neck, frizzy hair. A strong pulse, steady breathing. "I found Uhura. I think she'll be all right."


"Chekov, how are you?"

"I think all right. What happened? I can't see."

"Look toward the engineering panel."

"To answer your question, Mister Chekov, we came into contact with the longest most tip of one of the weaker rays. It could have been a lot worse. Can you locate Mister Sulu or Chief DiFalco?"

"Aye, Mister Spock. Sulu's partly under me. He's alive. I think his left arm is broken. Maybe his shoulder. DiFalco's at my feet. She seems to be okay. There's blood on her face, though."

The sound of Uhura's board signaling caused everyone to jump. Kirk crawled over and pulled himself up. The reason no light had shown from it was because a body covered the entire panel. As Kirk eased the man down, it appeared the panel was undamaged. He flipped a switch to receive the message. As his finger increased in pressure, a distant part of his consciousness noticed a rough edge on it. He wondered if it had always been so.

"Jim, are you all right?" came a gravelly voice over the bridge intercom speakers.


"Yes, Jim. How are things up there?" demanded the chief medical officer.

"I'm not sure. It's pretty bad up here. What can you tell me?"

"The bridge was hardest hit. There are numerous injuries being reported, but so far no deaths. Damage crews are working on various parts of the ship. Scotty's down in auxiliary to see what control we can get back. There's a crew working on the turbolift doors now, and I should be able to make it up there in ten minutes. What are conditions on the bridge?"

"Only lighting from some panels. Chekov and Spock are conscious. Sulu, DiFalco and Uhura are alive. I'm not sure about anyone else. I know I have one dead."

There was a short silence. "Try and take it easy. We'll be there as soon as possible. McCoy out."

Kirk took a careful deep breath. "Spock?"

"I consider us...lucky."

Kirk nodded, although he didn't think anyone could see. "I understand, Spock." He eased himself to a sitting position on the floor to wait.


"By Meona's heart, what have we done?" Taleena stared at the view screen in horror.

Rata's hands were in front of her face. "It's my fault. I pushed the stabilizer forward. My fault." She cried in a high, thin voice.

Taleena tore her eyes away from the screen to look at her navigator. A flash of anger rushed through her body at the cost of the carelessness. Calm yourself. "Rata attend your post!"

Slowly, Rata lowered her hands to her console. "We are stabilized now," she said in a shaky voice.

"Good. Race?"

Race spoke while looking into his viewer. "Most of the damage was to their control center. There are probably many injured. I read three less forms than I did before. There is a minor breach in their hull. They are repairing it. Two of the deaths are in that area. One on the control center. Some power has just been restored there."

"Rata, contact Communications and have them send a message offering our assistance."

"Yes, Commander."

"Race, does Medical have enough information to offer aid to that department?"

"Uncertain. It might not be wise."

Taleena found she was wringing her hands. She never did that. "We must do something. Rata, any response to our message?"

"No, Commander."

She turned to say something to Race. His eyes were open wide, and he was staring down at her feet. She followed his gaze. "A'Tel! Oh, Race, what's wrong with him?"

Tears of many colors were falling soundlessly to the deck. Blues of every shade, dark greens, reds and purples. He was rapidly shifting his weight from one front paw to the other.

Taleena felt her own tears on her cheeks. "I've never heard of this happening. Is he dying?"

Race was on his knees. He extended a hand, but was afraid to touch A'Tel. Never had he seen this. What can it mean? "I don't know. It's not for us."

"For them? That's impossible."

"There is nothing wrong with us, or our ship. It has to be for them."


The wave of emotions hit Spock with the force of a comet. Pain, denial, anxiety, anger, confusion, fear. Oh, the fear. So intense. Spock clutched at his head. He concentrated on shielding from the intensity.

It began to ease, but not all of it. He realized some of them were his own. Shutting his eyes, he concentrated harder. When he opened his eyes, he saw the auxiliary lights were on.

"Spock, what's wrong?"

Kirk was moving toward him, but suddenly he couldn't see him. Colors. All those colors again. He heard a moan.

McCoy bounced on his heels as he rode the lift with a tactical team to the bridge. When the doors opened, he nearly jumped out, taking in a scene from a living nightmare. Unconscious men and women lay in every imaginable position. He saw Chekov holding Sulu. A noise caused him to turn toward the communications panel. The board was lit to capacity. A technician attended to it. McCoy's gaze lowered to Uhura on the floor. Starting toward her, he heard a moan, and looking up, he saw Kirk holding Spock. He hurried over. "Spock?"

"I think it's the same as what happened before, but much more intense," Kirk said, in between short breaths.

"I'll give him a sedative. Knock him out."

"What if something is trying to take over his mind? He'll have to stay conscious to fight it."

McCoy's lips pressed together as he checked the med scanner. "Jim, he can't go on like this. His brain is being overloaded."

Kirk increased his grip around his friend. As he did, he felt Spock relax. "I think it's passing."

McCoy nodded his head as he rechecked his scanner. He moved a little closer. "Spock, can you hear me?"

Spock was surprised to see the doctor's face only inches from his own. He tried to move back, but found he was being held. He didn't have to look to know who it was.

McCoy watched one brow rise.

"Indeed, Doctor."

McCoy's face relaxed into a slight grin. "He's all right, Jim, but don't move that wrist; it's broken. And I bet you have one hell of a headache."

"Captain!" came a technician's call. "We're receiving a message from the enemy ship."

Kirk flinched inwardly at the word 'enemy.'


"What are they saying?"

"Can you believe they're offering assistance?"

Kirk nodded slightly. "Make no reply." His eyes met McCoy's first, then Spock's. "Well?"

Spock was struggling to get up. McCoy helped him. Kirk found when he tried to stand, he couldn't straighten up completely. The doctor immediately ran the med scanner over him. "Take it easy, Jim. You have a cracked rib. It's not bad, but it's bound to hurt like hell." He pressed a hypo into Kirk's arm."Just try and not do anything too strenuous until I can get you into Sickbay."

"Captain," Spock said. "The ship is surely awaiting a response. They dropped their shields at the last instant, I believe, in an attempt to avoid what happened. If they hadn't the force of their shields would have completely destroyed us. If they have not raised their shields again, we should be able to communicate with them directly."

Kirk turned to stare at the communications console, and for a moment, didn't realize Uhura was sitting at her chair. McCoy went over to her and ran his scanner. He nodded his head in apparent satisfaction of her condition.

Additional medical personnel were coming onto the bridge with anti-grav stretchers. Two were lifting Sulu. Chekov was shaking his head 'no' and working his way back to his chair. DiFalco was wiping the blood from her nose while seated at navigation. Kirk's eyes came to rest on the crewmen putting the body into a sterile bag. It was Andrews. No matter what the form or color, nothing could disguise a body bag, or what it meant.

"Captain, the alien vessel?" Spock said softly. He had been studying his friend. He knew the special tortures the Human mind could produce. Concern was clearly marked on his face and in his voice. McCoy rejoined them.

"Kyptin, photon torpedoes are operational."

Spock went over to his own terminal. It was damaged, but he was positive the other vessel had not raised its shields.

"Uhura, damage reports," Kirk said urgently. Soon she was listing the various damages which had occurred to the Enterprise. Outside of the bridge, none of it was serious. There had been a breach of the hull. Uhura paused. Two bodies had been found in separate chambers which had been opened to space. The doors had automatically closed to maintain atmospheric pressure, but it had cost the two their lives. She looked over at McCoy and Kirk.

The chief medical officer was staring at the floor. He spoke quietly. "None of us are born alone. It's a pity that so many of us have to die that way."

The captain reached out to him, but the doctor took a step back. "What are you going to do, Jim?"

Spock spoke up. "They have not re-raised their shields."

Kirk turned his attention to his first officer. "What happened to you a few minutes ago? Were you in communication with them?"

Spock opened his mouth to speak, but stopped. I could never explain it. Not even to Jim.

Kirk could see the sadness in his eyes. "What is it, Spock?"

"I...I think it had to do with the alien ship. There were emotions, fear, anxiety, and colors."


"Many. It was blinding. I do not know what it means, but it's as though the emotions were a reflection of their feelings or ours."

"Maybe both."

Spock shook his head. "I don't know, but I did not feel a direct hostility toward us."

Kirk started to take a deep breath, but remembered McCoy's warning. He turned to the doctor now.

"Jim, look what they've done!"

"Bones, we don't know any of this was intentional. Besides it was as much my fault."

McCoy's eyes widened. "Now just how do you figure that?"

"You were right." His eyes drifted over the bridge. "I should have been more careful. Taken more precautions."

"Captain, I see no reason for you to reproach yourself. You acted accordingly. I believe this to be an error," said Spock.

"Yes, but whose?"

Uhura's voice interrupted them. "Captain, they are repeating the message."

"Tell them we appreciate their offer, but we are initiating our own repairs. Ask them if they could send us information on themselves, and request a meeting."

"All right, if we're going to a meeting, I want both of you in Sickbay, now." Kirk noted McCoy had included himself in the possible meeting.

"Captain, they have agreed. Information is being directed to the library banks and access can be made from auxiliary control," the communications officer informed them.

"Captain, I request permission to go to Auxiliary to start evaluating the information they send us," interjected Spock.

"After Sickbay. Bones is right; this is not over yet."


"Commander, they're replying." The enthusiasm in Rata's voice was undeniable. "They're refusing our offer of help, but request information on us and a meeting."

"Grant it."

"Taleena, perhaps we should hold back--"

"We have held back too much, too long. They will have what they ask for."

Taleena stroked A'Tel's head. The tears had stopped, and he lay trembling in her arms. She looked up at Race. "I think he will be all right."

What could it have meant? So strange. What are these beings who could affect A'Tel so? Poor thing. Did he even understand what happened? The small body she held stopped its shivering, and he looked up to meet Taleena's eyes. Oh, so dark, she thought. Yes, he understood. Now, can we?

"Race, can they survive in our atmosphere?"

"Only for one-quarter megos."

"Then we'll request a meeting on their vessel."

"But, Taleena--"

"They will feel safer. We have done enough damage." She was staring sternly at Race. She would not be swayed in this. "Race, there had been hope. I won't lose this chance."

Race's brow leveled, indicating acceptance and support. It had been hard on Taleena. She had left her family to take command of the Sceelar. When they had lost contact with Meona, he secretly feared the worst. He even suggested returning to find out what had happened, but they had already come so far. If this failed, he now felt Taleena would return home. A'Tel did look better. His behavior was unprecedented. It was a wonder he survived.

"Rata, are they receiving the information?"

"Yes. Their ship is called the Enterprise."

Taleena's brow wrinkled slightly. Strange sounding name. I wonder what creature it was named for?


Spock was a flurry of activity; gathering, analyzing, and sorting the information the Sceelar was sending. A truly fascinating culture. Technically advanced in many ways.

"Find anything useful?" McCoy asked.

One brow raised. "Everything." How could it not be?

Kirk was seated next to Spock. He felt much better after leaving Sickbay, and took advantage of his ability to take a pain-free deep breath.

Information was coming across faster than he could assimilate, but Spock didn't appear to be having any trouble. In fact, Kirk could say he had rarely seen him happier.

McCoy spoke up. "Have you decided where this meeting is going to take place?"

"It's going to be on the Enterprise, Briefing Room Two."

"Well, that's a relief. I really didn't feel up to a long visit on an alien ship."

"It would have only lasted fifteen minutes, Doctor. Without life support aid, you would have died after that."

"Oh, what about you?"

"I would have been dead three point eight five minutes sooner."

"Really?" McCoy seemed almost pleased that good old Human anatomy would outlast the Vulcan's in this case.

"What about the Meonians? Will they be wearing life support equipment?"

"I'm not sure. They are capable of sustaining life for nearly one point five two hours unassisted."

"Spock, do we know what they look like?" Kirk inquired.

"One moment." He tapped out some keys and soon a black and white composite of a male and female Meonian appeared. McCoy quickly grabbed it, and Kirk looked over his shoulder.

Their heads were slightly pointed, but there was no bony ridge. Their faces were a bit angular with one long brow across their foreheads. Their noses were small and similar to Humans. Lips almost non-existent, chins delicately rounded. Two eyes, set somewhat wide apart with very long lashes.

They were biped with long graceful limbs. Their fingers seemed unusually long with an additional joint in each digit. Nothing else appeared unusual about their bodies a slightly protruding vertebra. Kirk thought it would be uncomfortable to lean back on. He made a mental note to make sure extra padding was inserted into the backs of all the conference room chairs. All in all, they were a handsome race. Obviously intelligent, hopefully a friend.

Spock's brows were drawn together.

Kirk noticed. "Spock?"

"They're seeking aid, Captain,"

McCoy piped in. "What kind of aid? Medical?"

"No, their planet is in trouble. A disease has attacked a particular agricultural form. Without its existence, the planet life is doomed. After a decade of research, their scientists have not been able to find a cure. They were sent to enlist aid, or in case of the worst, find a new home."

Kirk sat down. "Can we help them?"

"There is not nearly enough information for me to tell you, but we are their first true outside contact. The Federation has many members. It would think it most likely. I've indicated our willingness to try."

"Good. Bones, what do you think?"

"I think I'm ready to meet them."


"It has been scheduled to take place in two hours. I will need that time to continue my study of them."

"Very well."


The lights of the conference were dimmer than usual. Further study had shown the Meonians' eyes were more sensitive to light. The temperature was slightly warmer as well. McCoy pressed his hand into the back of several chairs to make sure there was sufficient padding. He ran his tricorder over the tray containing drinks. There were only a few liquids safe for both Meonians and the crew of the Enterprise. Kirk had wanted them to be all drinking the same thing, if possible.

As Kirk walked in, McCoy was finishing his last check of the room.

"Ready to go, Bones?"

"How come they're not beaming over?"

"They are advanced in many ways, but they don't have that capability. I didn't think this was the time to introduce ours. A delegation of four is coming over on one their shuttles."

"Well, we better get down there." He tugged at the collar of his dress tunic.

The ride down in the lift was one of silence, each lost in his own thoughts of what was about to happen.

Entering the shuttle bay area, both noticed Scott and two security men in their blue-gray full dress uniforms.


"Yes, Scotty?"

"Shuttle is on schedule and will be docking in two minutes."

Kirk couldn't help notice the gleam in his engineer's eyes. He had to admit he, too, was anxious to study some of their technology close up.

McCoy was looking about. "Where's Spock?"

Kirk glanced about. "Something must have held him up. I'm sure he'll be here soon."

"Captain, their shuttle has docked, decompressing now."

"Okay, everybody, let's look sharp."

The door opened, and Kirk hoped his face did not reflect his surprise at their colorful appearance. There were two males and two females departing from the sleek shuttle dressed in brightly-colored uniforms.

Kirk took a step forward and held out his hands in the universal gesture of peace.

"I welcome you to the Enterprise on behalf of the United Federation of Planets. I am Captain James T. Kirk." He turned to introduce McCoy, but it was Spock who was standing beside him. "This is First Officer and Science Officer, Spock. Chief Medical Officer, Leonard McCoy, and Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott."

Kirk watched the man with green eyes and darker green hair step forward.

"I am Race, Second in Command." Turning to the woman with scarlet hair and blue eyes, he said, "This is Vera, our science officer." He motioned to the other male, with brilliant black hair and eyes, introducing him as Tocan, our medical officer. He stepped back.

The taller of the two females came forward. Kirk was adjusting to the unusual colors of their hair and clothes. This one had violet hair pulled back into a large braid which started at the crown of her head and extended just past her shoulders. He couldn't help wonder how that hair would fall if let loose.

A movement at her feet caused Kirk to look down. A small animal stood beside her with its head extended upward on a long flexible neck. Its body was covered with short, dark brown hair, and a delicate tapered tail wrapped around one of her legs. It could have been either a show of protection or insecurity. The creature had large, black, round eyes. Kirk found himself drawn to them, but they were staring at Spock.

A smooth voice pulled his attention back to the woman.

"I am Commander Taleena of the Sceelar" She never took her eyes off of Kirk's but lowered her right hand and pointed, "This is A'Tel. He is the Vision Beyond Our Sight."

The creature immediately rose from beside Taleena and started to approach Spock.

"A'Tel!" Race commanded.

"Race, let him be."

Race faced her, his brow hairs raised, its tips pointing upward. "But...he's left you!"

"Do we not trust him?"

Race's brow leveled.

Spock eyed the small creature as it stopped and sat in front of him looking up with huge, trusting eyes that seemed endless in their depths.

Both McCoy and Kirk took a step closer to Spock.

Taleena's brow lifted in amusement. So, they would protect him from A'Tel.

"Captain, I believe A'Tel is the source of my previous perceptions."

"You mean that weasel-like creature?" McCoy exclaimed.

"Bones!" Kirk reproached. "Spock, is it telepathic?"


"Are you in danger?"

"I do not believe so. If anything, I feel...good."

Both McCoy's brows shot up, but he said nothing.

After blinking back his own surprise, Kirk decided they should proceed to the conference room. "If you will follow us, we have a room prepared for our talk."

As they moved out, he noticed A'Tel fell in step beside the commander.

Taleena forced her brow to remain level, hairs flat. She must not let her anxiety show to these strangers. A'Tel's behavior was so unusual. What does he know of these beings? What is so special about the one with the pretty green shading? She watched as their host preceded them.

Such a bland-looking race. They all wore the same blue-gray uniforms. Although they had different-colored hair, they were still very dull. With the exception of the one called Spock, the only one with a proper adult name, they appeared on the short side, somewhat lacking in grace. No matter, despite the damage the Sceelar had caused, these people had offered to help them. They were most gracious. The room selected for such important decisions to be made, also seemed quite dull to Taleena. A glance from Race told her he felt the same way.

"Please be seated," Kirk said.

A yeoman poured the grapefruit juice for all. Tocan checked the readings on his portable scanner and nodded to Taleena. There would be no toast. Kirk had learned it was not a custom of the Meonians. The refreshments were just that: refreshing.

Taleena was surprised at how comfortable the seats were. In fact, more so than her own command seat. Their captain met her eyes. It was time. "Please allow me to extend our deepest regrets over the accident which led to the loss of life and injuries to your crew, as well as the damage to your vessel. Our navigator inadvertently released the forward stabilizer." Her brow hairs began to rise as the pain she felt over this incident touched her soul once again. A'Tel stood up and moved to sit in front of her. "There is, of course, nothing we can offer to compensate for the loss of your crewmen. However, we are willing to attend any reasonable request as compensation for your ship."

Kirk was impressed by her sincerity. "That will not be necessary. Repairs are well under way. We understand we may be of help to you."

Remarkable, Race thought. Taleena is right to trust these people. He spoke up now. "We are most grateful, Captain. Vera can best explain our needs."

All attention focused on the female Meonian with the scarlet hair. "Our home planet, Meona, has a very complex ecosystem with its keystone centering around a particular tree called Rancas. This tree has the unique ability of absorbing our pollutants and purifying them both for both air and water. The tree is capable of reproducing only once every..." She paused and checked her comp file. "...seventy point two of your years. It forms a single blossom."

Vera looked over to her commander. Taleena nodded, and she continued, "Because of its rarity, the blossom is highly prized. Its value, well, beyond most peoples imagination. This being the case, there are those who would steal the blossoms preventing the chance of new Rancas trees to develop. As I said, the balance of our system is very delicate. The blossoms were poached until there were not enough new Rancas trees to combat our pollutants. Our old trees were dying, and soon, so were many of the lower life forms."

She took a deep breath and again looked to Taleena. Although the commander's eyes were closed, she nodded again.

"In an effort to restore the balance to our system several scientists developed a formula they hoped would cause the remaining Rancas trees to blossom once every..." again she paused, "ten years, thus repopulating our stock." Her eyes closed, and Kirk thought she was fighting tears. A'Tel stood once more.

"It backfired. The Rancas tree started to produce numerous blossoms, but all died before they matured. Trees which were supposed to produce a flower that year produced ten to fifteen, none fertile. It has been that way every since. Nothing we have tried has reversed the situation. Our entire ecosystem has begun to crumble. Tens of thousands of species are already extinct. Many feel we are doomed. This is why the Sceelar was sent out. To find a cure or a new home." She stared at the top of the table as she finished.

Spock steepled his fingers. "Surely the people responsible for poaching the blossoms knew what might happen."

"They did," Taleena said. "They thought they would live out their natural lives before any repercussion would occur. They never thought it would happen so fast." She turned to her medical officer. "Tocan?"

"One-half megos, Commander."

Kirk shifted in his seat. "Of course we'll try and help you and your people. What was their status when you last contacted them?"

Taleena looked to Race. "We have not been able to contact our home world for a little over a year," he said. "The status at that time was grave. We fear the worst."

"Maybe we are simply out of range," Taleena put in.

"If you would allow us to check your communications system, perhaps we could determine which it is," Kirk offered.

"That seems a good place to begin, Captain," Race agreed.

Kirk looked to Spock and saw the Vulcan staring at A'Tel, who was now at his feet. "Spock?"

"Yes, Captain. If they would permit myself and Lieutenant Commander Uhura to board the Sceelar and check out the communications system."

"Of course," Taleena agreed. "Tocan?"

"It is time."

"Captain, we should return to our ship.

Kirk escorted them to the shuttle, followed by Spock and Uhura, who headed for an Enterprise shuttle.


"I don't know, Jim. It seems hard to believe an entire world would depend on a single tree."

"Not really, Doctor," Spock interrupted. "On many worlds, there exist certain keystone species. Even Earth has them. With the loss of these species, the entire ecosystem begins to break up. Such a breakup had started in Earth's early twenty-first century, but because your planet was not dependent on a single species, you were able to recuperate. The fewer the keystone species, the faster the destruction. If you only have one..." He didn't have to finish.

Kirk nodded solemnly. "What did you and Uhura find out about their communications system?"

"It is not nearly as sophisticated as our own. The commander may be right in thinking they merely out-distanced their capability. The signal they were generating was the source of the unidentified transmissions we were dispatched to locate. We have the coordinates of Meona and the frequency for transmission. They are composing a message for us to relay for them. In the meantime, I am attempting to do some modifications in an effort to receive any possible message being sent out to the Sceelar."

"When do you think you'll have that ready?"

"By the end of the shift. If you'll excuse me?"

Kirk nodded and started to leave. McCoy joined him. The captain was shaking his head. "Interesting."

"What is?" McCoy asked.

"Well, they're advanced in so many ways, yet a hundred years behind us in others."

"Nothing so special about that. Each of us, whether as a race or an individual, will develop according to one's needs. Some of theirs exceeds ours, others didn't."

Kirk smiled. "You make it sound so simple."

McCoy nodded. "Sometimes it is."


Taleena rubbed her forehead and at the same felt A'Tel rub against her leg. He was curling up contentedly around her feet. What do you think, A'Tel?

As for Taleena, her thoughts were on Meona and the likelihood they would be returning home soon. It would only take two point three years to return, as they would be going at top speed and on a direct route. Still, even that long... Almost too long to bear, but they might be able to forward a cure for the Rancas tree. The thought warmed her heart.

She jumped when Race put his hand on her shoulder. "You were lost in thought, Taleena. Meona?"

"Yes. Soon we may be able to start for home."

Race nodded and looked at the viewscreen which showed the Enterprise off their port bow. "Not an attractive ship."

Both ends of Taleena's brow rose in amusement. "What color would you have her be?" she asked.


"Of course. The ship of hope. Fitting. What did you think of the female which accompanied their first officer to check on our communications system?"

"You mean her color?" Race asked.

"Yes, so dark."

"I've noticed their skins come in several different colors. Perhaps that's why they wear the same colored uniforms." He absently ran his hand down his bright green vest.

"It could be so. They are so different."

"I'm sure they perceive us to be different as well."

Taleena smiled. "That could be." Her smile faded. "Their first officer said our long range sensors were inadequate. He indicated we may have passed by a number of populated worlds and never have known it. In fact, he gave specific odds on that likelihood, given our six-year travel. The female Uhura said it made our search likened to finding a needle in a haystack. Race, what is a needle in a haystack?"

Race smiled. "The Enterprise?"


"Spock, how are you doing?"

"I have completed my calculations and adjustments. I should have something soon."

"Good. The Meonians are on their way over. I'll meet you in Briefing Room Two."

Spock nodded as he continued his work.

The same group as before arrived with and additional female member. She was introduced as Beeo, their communications specialist.

"Captain, we have prepared a rather lengthy message to be sent," the new member said.

"I don't think that will be a problem," Kirk answered, as Spock moved to join him. The captain immediately knew something was wrong.

Spock spoke in grave tones. "That will not be necessary."

"What are you talking about, Spock?" McCoy asked, annoyance in his voice.

"We have been receiving incoming messages, or message, to be exact, from Meona."

"Well, that's good news, Spock," McCoy said.

"No, Doctor, it is not." How to tell them? Already they suspect something. Better not to hesitate."It is a single message which repeats itself over and over."

Race and A'Tel moved to stand close to Taleena. Spock handed her a print-out and one to Kirk.

To the Sceelar, our hope and only future. We wish this message to find you well. The worst has happened. A complete collapse of all biological systems. There are only three of us left. You and your crew must find a new world now, and carry on. A'Tel will guide you. In the name of Meona's heart, good luck!

Taleena slowly slid onto the nearest chair. The room was deathly quiet, and she watched as the hand which held the print-out shook. Surely not her hand. How could she be holding the end of all she knew? Such a short message to be the last they would ever hear from their home. Something more should be happening. It can't be like this. "Not like this," she whispered.

Race took the print-out, read it, and handed it to the rest.

Kirk had let McCoy read the message with him. "Bones, they have to relocate. A colony."

"I know."

"But there are only fourteen of them."

"Now I understand." He held Kirk's stare. "In reviewing their medical records, I was more than a bit interested to find each one appears to be a genetically perfect representative of their species, and diverse enough within the gene pool to be totally compatible with any mate they might choose among themselves."

"You mean, they have been deliberately screened for this outcome?"

"It would seem so."

"Do they know?"

"Someone did."

"But only fourteen?"

The corners of McCoy's mouth turned up. "I hear we Humans started with only two."

Kirk had the briefest of smiles, but it quickly faded as he thought of their pain. He looked at Taleena. She had literally just lost her whole world. They all had. How would that feel?

A'Tel jumped onto her lap. She stroked his head before realizing he had never done that before. She gazed into his eyes. "There should be tears. Race, there should be tears."

"Why? He must have known."

She looked at him with widened eyes. "When?"

"Perhaps at the time this last message was sent."

"Surely not."

"What other answer could there be?"

Suddenly, A'Tel jumped down and, as before, went to sit in front of Spock. Race's eyes followed A'Tel. "He seems to think you have the answer."

"Perhaps I do."

Both Kirk and McCoy turned their attention to Spock. "The Enterprise has recently concluded a lengthy star-mapping project. We have run across two planets which will support your life forms. One has animal life present, and may not be suitable for colonization. Our scientists have not concluded if the higher life forms might develop into a culture.

"The other planet...here let me show you." Spock walked over and engaged the view screen. The star pattern changed to show a single planet. A swirling mass of colors. "This planet has vegetation and lower animal forms only. The various colors indicate specific growth of that area. Of course, further studies would have to be..." Spock's mouth parted slightly as he stared at Race. Tears were flowing down his face. Taleena followed Spock's gaze.

"What's wrong, Race?" She followed his eyes to A'Tel, her breath suddenly taken from her.

"Captain, we have found our answer, our home." And she, too, wept, as she gazed upon golden tears.

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