"Ma here. Whats happening?"
"This is Jack from Missions Control. Weve achieved contact with the Jovian Platform, Jorip. Youd better get over here."
"Ill be there in ten minutes." He hung up the telephone, threw on some clothing and was out the door.
It was barely over seven minutes before Jorip arrived at the Deep Space Videoconferencing Center. As he walked into the main communications area, he could hear Doctor Eletto debriefing.
"...Anyhow, thats the gist of it. Its taken me most of the rest of the time to get the communications system here in the infirmary reconfigured to communicate with you." Eletto looked at his watch, then back at the camera. "Figuring in the time lag, Id guess that youre there now, Jorip. To give you the quick version of the details Ive given everyone else at the center, something blew a hole in the bottom of the platform, right through the outer wall of the water storage. The entire water supply vented explosively, sending us careening off trajectory. Worse yet, the tether to the counterweight for the centrifuge effect snapped, throwing the Jove off on some screwball tangent. Thank heavens we never lost attitude control, or Id never have gotten the communications dish reconfigured. The rest of the crew was tending to the garden area thats supposed to feed and recycle things for the research team you were planning to send once we achieved a stable Jovian orbit. I was cleaning things up in here after closing a wound in Charlies hand. It seems that whatever blew the water tank had a friend that hit the dome over the garden area, shattering it. Decompression appears to have been almost instantaneous, Jorip. There were no survivors. Most of them left with the atmosphere. Tell the families that I buried the three remaining bodies in shallow graves in the soil they were tending. My gut feeling is that this was sabotage, but Ill leave that for others to figure out."
Jorip looked over at the tracking officer. "Got any idea where the Jove is?"
"Heading above the ecliptic, at a furious pace. That explosion produced enough thrust to send them out of the solar system. Theyre going to be a challenge to catch, Chief."
"I have food that will last about a week," Eletto continued, unaware of the exchange at the Video Conferencing Center. "Water for ten days if I dont bother washing, power until the platform falls apart, and oxygen for about another seventy-two hours. Theres no way that I figure youre going to catch up with this thing before I run out of air." Eletto paused.
"Look, Giacomo, there has to be something we can do," Jorip responded, forgetting that it would be minutes before Eletto heard his response. "Lets not quit yet." He turned to an aide. "Get Doctor Ika here immediately."
"Theres only one solution left open as far as I can tell, and Im going to need you to kick Doctor Ika out of bed, if you havent already. You and Bill are going to have to monitor the freeze as Im settling into the hibernaculum. Youre going to need at least a couple of months to catch up with me, and theres no way I can last that long any other way. Ive got it programmed to handle the chilldown and freeze, with stop points where you and Doctor Ika can adjust the settings once Im in."
"Giac, I dont like this, not one bit," Jorip interjected. He turned to an aide. "Where is Doctor Ika?"
"Hell be here in five minutes Mister Ma."
Jorip nodded appreciatively. "Good work, Jack." Jorip turned to the screen again.
"Ah, there you are, Jorip. Your face just appeared on my screen here. You look as horrible as I feel, and you probably have gotten more sleep than I have."
"Giac, Bills coming. Well have you chilled down in two hours, frozen in five, and home in a couple of months."
"I havent given up, Jorip, as you have heard. Look, Ill get the vascular access and all that started on myself in a few minutes. Do me a favor, will you? If things go sour, tell my sons, Dave and Matt, that I went down trying, just like I taught them to." Eletto choked for a second. "Put some flowers on Louises grave for me once in a while, too, will you? And tell the grandkids that Grandpa Eletto will be back, and will be there for them, somehow, someday, okay?"
Jorips face tightened. "Ill take care of it all, Giac. But youll be playing with your grandkids before you know it."
"Ive adjusted things so that I can see and hear the screen, Jorip; all youre going to be getting will be sound from me, at least for a little while, and data from the monitors as I start to go down. I hope missing my ugly mug on the screen wont break your heart. Hey, good to hear that Bills on the way. Someones going to have to find a faster way to communicate, you know it? This time lag really ruins a guys conversational style. Like you hadnt noticed. Ill switch my side to data and voice now." Giacomo Elettos face disappeared from the screen, replaced by the hibernaculum display. There was a pause, followed by the hibernaculum monitor beginning to register Giacomos presence. "Thanks for playing messenger boy, Jorip. Youve been a good friend for a long time, even before Matt married your daughter. This is where I go silent; youre going to need the bandwidth to control this infernal machine. Goodbye for now."
Jorips head drooped. "See you before the end of June, Giac. Sleep tight." Jorip turned to the rest of the people around him. "Okay, team. Weve got a rescue to pull off. I want a concrete plan on my desk at 0800 hours today. Doctor Ika and I will oversee the chilldown and freeze from here, as soon as he arrives."
"Im here, Ma," Ikas voice came from the back of the room. "Lets get going."
Jorip turned. "Good to see you Bill. Hey, Jack, you have any of that tar you call coffee? Ika and I are going to need it." Out of nowhere, Jack produced two styrofoam cups of dark, strong coffee. "Thanks." He turned back to Doctor Ika. "Okay, Bill, tell me what you think of Giacs present status...."
The two men worked together, overseeing the Elettos entry into the long sleep. Before they could do more than ensure their friends safety, the rescue effort was aborted by the outbreak of World War III. The Jovian Platform, and its only surviving crewmember, moved out of the solar system and into interstellar space, all but forgotten.2288
Kirk closed the captains log somewhat dejectedly. One did ones duty, and followed orders as given, but sometimes he wished he felt he had greater freedom to refuse some of the more routine missions. True, the bridge crew was operating with its usual precision and efficiency, but there was a bored, almost depressed air about their activities. Barring surprises, they expected to spend most of the time sitting idly in a parking orbit around Gamma Virginis II, waiting for the team they were transporting to finish their task. Idleness was one of the few things that the crew of the Enterprise found almost intolerable, and most of the bets were that it would be at least several months before they could call the task finished.
Spock interrupted Kirks depressed reverie. "Captain, I have detected a derelict ship, moving at sublight velocity, seven point three astronomical units from our present course. I would recommend diverting our course and intercepting."
Temptation clutched Kirks heart, but his sense of duty overcame it. "Plot its trajectory, Spock. Get the best resolution scan you can manage, and report it to Starfleet. I dont think we can justify diverting to explore a dead hulk."
"If the derelict had been dead, Captain, I would not have suggested intercepting it. However, the scan shows evidence of a surviving Human on board. Considering that the rescue operation would not take more than two point four hours, the delay seems to be negligible to rescue the remaining survivor. It is my opinion that the derelict is sufficiently impaired to warrant the need for urgent intervention."
Kirk nodded, hiding his inner rejoicing at what looked to be a brief episode of relief from the impending tedium. "Very well, Spock. If youll transfer the coordinates to Mister Reichard?"
Spock tapped on the control surface. "Done, Captain."
"Mister Reichard, bring us along side this thing. How long will it take?"
"Less than half an hour. Itll take longer to match the velocity than to get there. Its moving at 0.15 C."
"Good enough. Take us there, Reichard. Spock, you and McCoy meet me in the transporter room in thirty minutes; well be going extravehicular to rescue this poor soul. Uhura, let Starfleet know that were going to divert for a rescue operation, and get me Engineering, please."
"Scotty here, Captain."
Kirk smiled to himself, wondering if his chief engineer would ever lose his Scots brogue. He hoped not; hed grown fond of it. "Captain Scott, were going to be pulling alongside a derelict. Im want you to look over the scans, and tell us whether or not this thing will survive being towed to Kahla, and whether or not its worth the effort to salvage. Well be rescuing the sole survivor."
"Captain Spocks feedin me the scans now. Ill have an answer on the structural integrity in, oh, fifteen or twenty minutes. But if she can be towed, shes well worth the effort. Ill take a bit longer to pin her down, but shes clearly one of the larger ships from the early to mid twenty-first century, from right before World War Three. Were dealin with a museum piece, and no mistake about it."
"Very good, Scotty. Youll be transporting us there in thirty minutes. Well meet you in the transporter room. Bridge out." A thin smile creased Kirks face. It didnt matter too much what the derelict was, really; if it was at all stable enough to be towed to Gamma Virginis II, it would keep the crew from suffering too much boredom, and from the inevitable pranks boredom seemed to produce.
In just over half an hour, McCoy, Spock and Kirk materialized on the derelict, surrounded by what looked like several acres of frozen farmland. The three surveyed the scene themselves. McCoy pointed off to their left. "Look, hand- made crosses. Our survivor was at least healthy enough to bury the others."
Spock looked up from his tricorder. "Indeed, Doctor. The lone survivor currently appears to be in a hibernaculum." He pointed toward a large structure in the center of the frozen wasteland. "The passage to the surviving crew member goes below, through that doorway." The three moved toward the area Spock was indicating. To their amazement, the door opened without difficulty. Confidently, Spock led the trio down a few corridors to a closed door. The Vulcan studied his tricorder again. "The survivor is on the other side of this airlock. However, it appears that the mechanism operating it has been damaged. I do not believe that we can enter the chamber without decompressing it."
"Bah," McCoy responded. "Lets get Scotty over here with an emergency seal, and have him cut our way in."
"It might be easier to have Scotty beam the hibernaculum to the Enterprise, Bones. Spock, what do you think?"
The Vulcan considered the readout on his tricorder. "If Captain Scott could construct a replacement power supply for the hibernaculum, and connect it within twelve point seven minutes of its arrival in Sickbay, I believe the transfer is feasible. The hibernaculum appears to be completely self contained, other than an external power source; it even has a modest internal battery for backup power."
"Bones?" Kirk demanded, "Think its safe?"
"Hey, remember the trouble we got into thawing Khan, Jim? Other than that, I dont see a lot of trouble with the transfer. And as I read this scan, whoevers in there is no superman."
"I agree with Doctor McCoy, Captain," Spock added. "This ship is from the middle of the twenty first century, not the end of the twentieth. I consider it extremely improbable that this individual will pose any risk similar to Khan."
Kirk nodded inside his life support suit. "Then well do it. Spock, youve got the coordinates established adequately?"
"Of course, Captain. And Captain Scott should have no difficulty providing a replacement power supply; it appears to run off a standard electric power system."
"Given that you thought it was of Earth origin, Spock, that hardly surprises me," McCoy quipped. "Which reminds me, I forgot to ask, did you or Scotty identify this hulk?"
It was the Vulcans turn to nod. "Captain Scott has identified it with considerable certainty. It is the Jovian Platform. It was sabotaged and lost just before the outbreak of World War Three. If the captain agrees that it is appropriate, we will be able to tow it with us to Kahla."
Giacomo Eletto suddenly realized that he was awake, and that he could hear voices, two of them, talking with each other, somewhere not too far away. He remained motionless, listening.
"Doctor MBenga, the monitor indicates that the individual should be awakening soon." The voice, from its pitch, was clearly female.
"Thank you, Nurse Webb. Ill let Doctor McCoy know; he wanted to be here to see the man as soon as possible after his awakening. Captain Kirk will want to be here, too." The voice was male.
"You might want to have Captain Spock join us, Doctor. Given the length of time hes been asleep, there might be some difficulty with the language."
"Good thinking, Marie. Ill see if he can join us. We might need to restrain our sleeper when he awakes; Spocks Vulcan nerve pinch might come in handy, too." Eletto heard what sounded like the man walking away. His first clear thought was the realization that Jorip and his friends at NASA must have been unable to rescue him.
Eletto opened his eyes slightly. He could see that he was in one of the beds in what he supposed was a sickbay. Between the reference to a captain, and the layout around him, he guessed he was in the sickbay of an interplanetary ship of significant size. All of the equipment was thoroughly unfamiliar. How long, he wondered, had he been in the hibernaculum? As quickly as the question formed, his train of thought was interrupted. He heard the sound of footsteps approaching, ones that sounded feminine. He shut his eyes. A gentle hand touched his face, as if to feel if he had a fever. Giacomo opened his eyes, looking her squarely in the face. "Tell me, Nurse Webb, when am I?"
She pulled her hand away from him, as if he were suddenly contagious. Eletto smiled inwardly: his guess about the womans identity had obviously been correct, judging from her reaction and the look on her face. After a moment composing herself, she responded, "Youre on the starship Enterprise, heading toward Kahla. I thought you were unconscious. How did you know my name?"
"I snooped on your conversation with Doctor MBenga, Madame. Please forgive me if I have upset you. I appreciate you telling me where I am, even though Im not sure I understand what youve told me, but youve still not answered my question: when am I?"
"Its Stardate 8846.45," Webb stammered.
From behind the nurse, came another voice. "I believe that in the calendar you are more accustomed to using, you would say that it is May 18, 2288."
Eletto turned to face the source of the new voice. The individual was tall, slender, and of a greenish hue. "You dont look Human," he blurted out, surprised.
"Quite correct," Spock replied. "I am Vulcan, native to the second planet orbiting 40 Eridani A. My name is Spock, at least the name that Humans can pronounce. Would you be willing to tell us who you are?"
"After youve wakened me from cold sleep, I figure I owe you that much. I am Doctor Giacomo Eletto, the physician on board the Jovian Platform."
"Well, welcome aboard, Doctor!" McCoy chirped cheerfully, from behind Spock. "Doctor Leonard H. McCoy, at your service. Glad to have another physician on board to share the load. Sit on up, boy, and make yourself comfortable. After the work weve put into you over the last several days, you should be pretty much up to grade."
Eletto complied with McCoys request. Beside the doctor, there was a third adult male. "Youd be Captain Kirk, I suppose. Youre probably not Doctor MBenga; MBenga definitely sounds Swahili, and you dont look the part."
"Youve got a sharp ear, or youre a good guesser. Im Captain James T. Kirk, and Im glad to meet you Doctor Eletto. Welcome aboard."
From behind Spock, MBengas voice announced, "I am Doctor MBenga, Doctor Eletto, and I am glad to see you well. I will, however, have to be more cautious about what I say in your presence, wont I?"
Eletto nodded in acknowledgement, then looked at the faces around him, finally fixing his eyes on Spock. "Spock, if I may be so bold as to ask you to repeat yourself, what did you say the date was? I just want to be sure that I understood you correctly."
"In the Gregorian calendar system, the date would be May 18, 2288."
Giacomo shook his head, and stared at the floor. A single tear formed, and trickled down one cheek. "2288? Ive been in cold sleep over two hundred years."
"To be precise, two hundred thirty-five years," Spock corrected.
Giacomo looked up again. "Then theyd all be long since dead. Jorip Ma, Bill Ika, my sons Dave and Matt, their wives Lynn and Adael, all of my grandchildren." A flood of tears welled up in his eyes. "All of my comrades from NASA, everyone that Ive ever known, that Ive ever befriended, ever loved. Theyre all gone, long gone." Elettos head bent forward, his eyes squeezing tightly shut, and for a moment, he was clearly fighting not to start sobbing. Finally, dropping his hand, he wiped the tears off his face. "Sorry. It just hit me all at once. I just suddenly felt, well, felt so totally alone, like there was nowhere in this world where Id fit. Im not sure if any of you can quite understand what it feels like."
"Vulcans are trained to control emotion, Doctor, but being half Human, I believe that I understand how you feel: similar to Moses self analysis in Exodus 2:22, a stranger in a strange land."
"Stranger in a strange land, yes. If I recall correctly, Moses was back with the children of Israel after being in Midian forty years, and probably feeling out of place. I guess you do understand, better than anyone else here. Ive got a lot of history to catch up on, Spock. Perhaps you could spare me the occasional off-duty hour, to talk with me about whats happened while Ive been asleep?"
The Vulcan nodded. "Indeed. And like Moses, you will no doubt manage to adapt to your new surroundings. I would be happy to help acquaint you with the basics of the history you have missed in the hibernaculum. I am sure that you will have insights from your era that will be remarkably valuable, as well. I am certain that there are numerous individuals in the crew who would be glad to share in them."
Kirk broke into the conversation again. "Myself included; Im a bit of a history buff. Im sure that Captain Spock and Doctor McCoy will be happy to start bringing you up to speed on our century."
"Sure will," McCoy grinned. "Especially introducing you to the new medical technology."
Eletto gave McCoy a wry look. "If my arithmetic is up to its usual par, Doctor McCoy, the medical technology of my day is further from yours than medical technology of a Civil War physician was from mine. Im sure Ill be able to ogle it and be impressed with your technology, but I doubt that Ill understand it."
"You underrate yourself, Doctor Eletto," MBenga responded, before McCoy could say anything. "Most of the technological changes since your time have done little but make the technology more portable, more precise, simpler to use and easier to interpret. The few really major advances, technically speaking, are mainly surgical in nature, and ones that would be comparatively easy for you to master."
"Other than that," McCoys drawl added, "Its just newer drugs for the same old stuff, and a handful of exotic new infections that weve imported from other planets. Youll catch on pretty quickly. Youll see."
"Thank you for your votes of confidence, gentlemen. However, at over two hundred eighty years old, Im not promising anything." Eletto felt a sudden wave of dizziness. Spock caught him by one shoulder before he fell.
McCoy looked up at the biomonitor. "Dont forget you slept most of that time. And it looks like you need some sleep now, too. Youd better lie down before you fall down. One thing about medicine that hasnt changed is the fact that we hate having to deal with broken necks. Cord crush injuries still dont do as well as Id like."
Eletto felt gentle pressure from Spocks hand. "There is another aspect of medicine that probably has not changed. I suspect that Doctors Orders generally outranked Captains Orders even in your time, Doctor Eletto, just as they do now."
Eletto surrendered to the firm pressure of the Vulcans hand, returning his head to the pillow. To his surprise, he quickly drifted back to sleep.
Only moments seemed to have passed before Giacomo felt his shoulder being gently shaken. "Time to wake up, Doctor Eletto." He recognized the voice as Doctor McCoys. He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the biomonitor pallet.
"I suppose its time for you to start introducing me to twenty-third century medicine?" he asked.
"Oh, eventually, I suppose, but I had a couple of other things I wanted to do first."
"Well," grinned McCoy, "How about introducing you to such things as twenty-third century showers, twenty-third century clothes, and maybe even a twenty-third century breakfast before we tackle twenty-third century medicine?"
Giacomo returned the grin. "Come to think of it, its been over two hundred years since my last shower and snack. That," he looked down at himself, "And I doubt that Id look professional in my current garb, so I guess a suit of clothing wouldnt hurt. Hot waters still on the left?"
McCoy nodded. "Yep, its the one with the red dot in the middle. Cold waters on the right, with a blue dot. Weve been trying to get the hot water knob to sweat, and the cold water knob to shiver, but so far, no such luck. Scottys down in Engineering, still working on that."
Webb appeared from another room. "These should fit you, Doctor Eletto." She handed Giacomo a uniform nearly identical to Doctor McCoys.
"Thank you, Nurse. Uh, could you point me toward a shower?"
"Right over there, Doctor," she said, pointing. "If its all right with you, I think I have business elsewhere."
"Doctor Eletto will be with us throughout the day, Marie," McCoy added. "Mostly observing, for now, working with Doctor MBenga and me." Webb nodded her understanding and left. McCoy turned to Eletto "Now, you scuttle into the shower. Well have breakfast for you in twenty minutes, then its off to work you go."
Eletto looked at the pile of garments in his hands. "I dont mean to sound ungrateful, or anything, but this is obviously the uniform of a medical officer in, uh, was it Starfleet?"
"Its Starfleet, and thats the uniform alright."
"Should I be wearing it, then?"
"Yup. Spock did some checking last night. Seems that you were never discharged from your position in NASA. Not long after you went into the cold sleep, there was quite a ruckus on Earth; Ill let the history buffs fill you in on that, later. Anyhow, a few years after the ruckus ended, NASA and a handful of other space agencies across the Earth fused into a single organization, the United Earth Space Probe Agency, and that eventually became a part of Starfleet. When that happened, all the civilian employees that didnt specifically opt out were granted rank commensurate with their time of service. Due to a combination of bureaucratic inefficiency, and your not being officially dead, nowhere along the way were you dropped from the roster, Grandpa. According to the computer records, youve got over two hundred fifty years of service in. I can hardly wait to see what the Brass are going to do with you when they find out. Do you realize how much rank that could give you, if they count all the time you were in cold sleep? Theyll have to invent a new rank or something." It was obvious that McCoy was thoroughly amused by the consternation that he expected Elettos status would create.
"Dont worry; Ive no plans for pulling rank, at least, not until I know what Im doing, and by then, the Starfleet bureaucrats will have figured out that the best thing to do is to mothball me by making me something or other emeritus."
"Depending on how they figure it, youve might have the rank to tell them thats how to solve it, but for all of me, Id rather you let em sweat it out all by themselves. Getting back to the present, for the time being, youll be functioning as something along the lines of a physicians assistant, Giac, as you re-learn the trade. The uniform is marked appropriately for that. In a couple of days, Spock, MBenga and I will get you set up with a re-education program. Now, get your shower, or youll miss your first chance at breakfast in centuries "
"Aye, aye, Doctor!" Eletto snapped off a mock salute, and headed for the shower.
After a quick shower and a more leisurely breakfast, Eletto spent the day tagging along with MBenga and McCoy, studying the new technologies and techniques. The day went swiftly, and as it came to a close, he found himself being escorted by the ever-present McCoy to a cabin.
"E Deck, Giacomo. This part of it is technically officers country. Step up to the door, will you?"
Eletto obeyed. The door opened, revealing a modest, but comfortable cabin.
"Scotty keyed the door to your identity earlier today. There will be some clothing in the drawers; Marie will have seen to that, if I know her, and there will be a supply of the usual toiletries. The shower has a built in replicator which can manufacture additional clothing and the like. Youve already caught on to the rudiments of the readouts and the food dispenser well enough that you should be able to get anything else that you need."
Eletto stepped into the cabin, then turned. "Thank you, Doctor McCoy. See you in the morning, I guess." The door shut behind him, separating him from the rest of the ship. For an instant, Giacomo felt a wave of loneliness wash over him, but he forced it to the side. Later, there would be time to deal with the past, he told himself. Coping with the present was the first issue. He planted himself in front of the computer readout. Feeling somewhat out of place, he spoke to the machine. "Computer, do you have any educational modules available to me?"
"There are 1,347,229 individual adult educational modules available. Please refine request."
"Lets start with educational modules in pharmacology, specifically on the drugs of choice for specific conditions."
"Accessing. There are 127 modules."
"Begin with medications for bacterial infections, then, starting with the most basic module and moving forward."
"Recommendation: assess current knowledge base prior to selection of initial modules."
Eletto mentally kicked himself. He should have realized he needed to see where he was, first. That was probably why McCoy had decided to wait a couple of days before putting together a plan for his education. "Then lets start with a general assessment of medical knowledge, so you can create a focused educational plan."
"Accessing. Signal readiness to begin."
"Im ready." Giacomo settled in to the screen, reading and responding as the assessment modules progressed. Slowly, but steadily, he worked his way through one module after another, until he could barely stay awake. In some ways, he was amazed at how relevant what hed learned remained; in too many other areas, how totally, uselessly obsolete what had been cutting edge technology in his day had become. The pseudovirion technology that hed helped develop to attack retroviral DNA had blossomed, come to flower and died, for instance. He sighed, feeling more out of place than ever. Catching up, Giacomo realized, was going to take a lot of time, months if not years. He showered, and lay down to sleep. Whether it was due to his intense study, or to the unfamiliarity of the mattress, Eletto found that sleep escaped him. After tossing and turning for nearly an hour, he decided that it was time to change environment for a while, to try to relax. Dressing again, he left his cabin, carefully making sure he remembered the number on it, and made his way the short distance to a turbolift. The door slid open, and after he entered, shut. Silently, he stood in the small cubicle, unsure where he wanted to go. After a few moments, the turbolift asked, "Destination, please."
"Forward observation deck," Eletto replied, almost without thinking. The turbolift moved swiftly, disgorging Eletto at his chosen destination. Almost reverently, Eletto moved to the large ports that showed the stars in front of the Enterprise, slowly approaching. He stood entranced. Even though he had realized the speeds implicit in interstellar travel, seeing it in the motion of the stars was something altogether different. Slowly though they moved, the stars and their motion held him in their thrall. Behind him, Eletto heard the door of the turbolift open and close, followed by nearly inaudible footfalls. He waited a moment to be sure, then broke the silence. "Tell me, Spock, do you ever tire of seeing the stars moving in front of the ship?"
"One grows accustomed to the sight, Doctor Eletto, but I have not as yet tired of seeing it. I often come here to meditate; there is something about the grandeur of the stars that helps me to remember that I am only a small piece of a much greater universe. Your greeting me by name was unexpected. How did you know who it was?"
Eletto smiled, halfheartedly. "Oh, it wasnt too hard. At this hour of the day, I guessed that anyone coming up here would likely be looking for me. That narrowed the possibilities down a lot: Doctor McCoy, Doctor MBenga, Captain Kirk, you and a very few others. Of them all, you are the only one that I know who moves with the almost feline quietness you displayed as you left the turbolift."
Spock nodded. "I see. However, it appears to me that your logic could easily have misled you: not all of your assumptions are beyond question."
"Dont let me kid you, Spock," Eletto confessed. "The clinching argument was the fact that I could see your reflection on the glass in the port in front of me. All the rest was ad hoc." Eletto turned to the Vulcan. "Were you having trouble sleeping, too?"
"I do not require as much sleep as the rest of the crew, Doctor. I thought we might spend an hour or two conversing, as you suggested yesterday. When I found you had left your quarters, I suspected that I would find you here. If you are tired, there are means of assisting you in achieving a good nights sleep."
One of Elettos hands gestured rejection. "Im not that tired, not yet, Spock. After having just awakened from one artificial sleep, Im in no hurry to enter another one. And please, call me Giac. Its what my friends used to call me." Eletto turned to the port again. "It wont make the loneliness go away completely, but itd help a little."
"As you prefer, Giac." Spock moved next to Eletto at the observation port. After studying the field of stars briefly, he pointed to one star, almost exactly forward. "Do you see that star system?"
"The yellowish white binary? Looks like maybe theyre both spectral class F, right?"
"Correct. Both stars are F0 dwarf, main sequence stars, each only slightly more massive than Earths sun. The star on the left is the one that Kahla orbits. We should enter the Gamma Virginis system at 14:15 hours tomorrow."
Eletto shook his head in wonder. "It still amazes me to realize that before long, Ill do what people in my day only dreamt of, you know? Reaching another star system, and perhaps setting foot on a planet that orbits another sun. Once, I thought Id give anything to do that, but I never thought that I would. Strange to think that now, having lost almost everything, Ill be given the privilege of seeing a new world." Eletto leaned forward, putting his forehead against the cool of the port. "The adjustment seems easier if I focus on that sort of thing."
"I understand your loneliness. Being half-Human, and half-Vulcan, I have known loneliness myself, as much as one trained in Vulcan emotional control could be expected to do."
Eletto turned to face the Vulcan again. "Having parents from two divergent cultures is hard, isnt it, Spock? You never really fit into either culture as well as youd like, not deep inside anyhow, no matter how well you look like you fit externally."
Spocks eyebrow raised in curiosity, if not surprise. "A most remarkable insight, and an accurate one. How did you reach it?"
"Thanks, but theres nothing remarkable about it. Giacomo Eletto may be a very Italian name, but Im not exactly what youd call fully Italian. My mother was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian, and until the day she died, she still called me by my Indian name, Adini Noquisi, roughly meaning Stares-at-a-Star in English."
"Then you are half American Indian?"
"Not quite. Grandma Eletto, my dads mom, was a full-blooded Apache. Im more Native American than I am anything else. Genetically, anyhow. Grew up on an Indian reservation, learning the ways of the Indians the best I could. But with Dad calling me by my Euro name, and with my partially Euro appearance, somehow I didnt quite meld. Then, when I moved off the reservation into college and then medical school, my Cherokee and Apache ways made blending with the other students almost impossible. By the time I was done with my medical training, I had become almost totally Euro in outlook." Eletto laughed wryly. "I mean, neither a real Cherokee or Apache would be spilling his guts to someone that is essentially a total stranger, like Im doing now. Anyhow, when I got back home to the reservation, I was just another Euro to everyone but my immediate family. I should be used to feeling out of place." He stared at Spock for a moment before continuing. "Hey, sorry, Spock. I didnt mean to drag you into my personal pity party."
"I could not join your pity party because I do not pity you. Pity is an emotion Vulcans are trained to avoid. We are trained to show compassion instead."
"That makes you unique, then, I think. Im thankful that at least one member of the crew feels something other than pity for the poor fossil dredged up from the past." Eletto shook his head. "Drat, Im doing it again, feeling sorry for myself. Maybe I should talk to Doctor McCoy about that, maybe theres something to help with it. Wish I could figure out why he delights in calling me Grandpa, too. If you ignore the time I spent frozen, I think Im actually younger than he is."
Spocks face flirted with registering amusement, before it regained its controlled appearance. "Perhaps you should ask him, Doctor, when you talk to him about your feelings of isolation and sorrow."
Eletto struggled unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn. "Ill do that. I think Im going to head back to my quarters, Spock. Thanks for the company and the conversation; it seems to have done me a world of good. Maybe we could do supper tomorrow, when you go off duty?"
"Technically, Doctor Eletto, that would be later today. It is after midnight. However, I would be quite willing to join you at your evening meal."
"And McCoy said you didnt have a sense of humor." Eletto yawned again. "Later today, then. If I dont get back to my quarters, Im gonna fall asleep in the turbolift." The pair made their way to the turbolift, and back to their respective cabins. Sleep came easily, the second time.
Morning saw Eletto back in Sickbay, working with MBenga more than with McCoy. Under MBengas gentle tutelage, Giacomo became increasingly comfortable, then facile with the medical tricorder and the hypospray. Thankfully, there was no call to use the surgical equipment; that was one area that Eletto was comfortable leaving for a much later date. Before the morning was over, MBenga had decided to let Giacomo work on his own, coming for assistance only when there was some uncertainty Giacomo needed clarified. Surprisingly few individuals balked at his presence. To most of them, he was just a new face in the Medical crew, and with all the new faces that had boarded the ship, hardly anyone noticed one more. Those few who registered surprise seemed satisfied with the explanation that he was returning to clinical medicine after getting rusty from too many years out of contact with direct patient care.
Eletto walked over to a young appearing male, clad in a red and gold Engineering jumper instead of the "mountie" suits that most of the crew wore on duty. He extended his hand to the man, with a bit of a smile. "Good morning. Im Doctor Eletto. What seems to be the problem?"
The younger man shook hands and released Giacs hand quickly. "Engineering Cadet Michael Frensa, Doctor. Im feeling a bit stiff and sore, more than I think I should, and a bit feverish. The big thing thats worrying me is this rash." He extended a hand, covered with small, reddish-purple blotches. "Ive got it on my arms, my chest and about everywhere else. I was wondering if it was a toxic reaction to some solvent or other."
Eletto turned the medical tricorder on his patient. "Not too surprising that you feel achy and feverish; youve got a temperature of 39.5." He studied the tricorder for a few more minutes, shaking his head. "Look, I think this mediscanners malfunctioning. Ive been having a little trouble with it anyhow." It wasnt really a lie, Eletto told himself; he just wasnt admitting that the trouble had been his limited familiarity with it. "If youll excuse me a moment, I need to sneak around the corner and see if I can scrounge one that works."
The fellow smiled, looking a little sheepish. "Why does it figure that your machine would decide to fail when you were using it on Engineering personnel? Who says the universe hasnt got an ironic sense of humor?"
"Youll never catch me saying that, Cadet. Back in a second, okay?" Eletto hustled to where MBenga was catching up on paperwork. "Doctor MBenga? I think I need a hand, here."
MBenga looked up. "Call me Keme; its what I prefer to go by when Im not in front of patients. Whats up?"
"Can mediscanners go insane?"
"Care to explain that question?" MBenga was clearly puzzled.
"Got a cadet back there thats obviously sick, but this machine says it detects glycoproteins specific to Octococcus polyliformis rigeliae. Now, most of the rest of that label doesnt make sense to me, but if the naming habits of microbiologists havent changed a whole lot more than the rest of the language has, that should mean its a microbe from Rigel. Maybe Im out of line, but that just doesnt seem right to me."
"Nor to me, Giac. Weve dealt with that particular deadly plague on this ship before, but theres now a standard inoculation against it. Besides, no one on board has been on Rigel Seven in months. Let me see that mediscanner." Eletto gave his colleague the tricorder. MBenga studied it for a moment. "Oh, man, am I going to get Hardav for this one." He looked up at Eletto. "Look, Giac, youve apparently been the victim of a practical joke that was probably aimed at me. According to this machine, the cadet has Rigelian Fever. Twenty years ago, it might have wiped out the crew. Nowadays, its pretty rare off Rigel, almost unheard of. Human to Human transmission is pretty easy, but like I said, Starfleet vaccinates everyone for it if theyre going to Rigel and gives prophylactic treatment, just in case, before they get back from Rigel. Since only Humanoids harbor the microbe, the Federation has been working toward eliminating the disease altogether."
"I take it this Hardav is the one that you figure to have played the joke. Whos Hardav?"
"Oh, theres no question about his being the one who did it. No one else could do it, except maybe Spock, and he wouldnt. Harrison Davids is his real name. Physicians assistant, and he prefers to work the late shift, when most of the crew is sleeping. That way he can spend more time pulling pranks like this. Brilliant fellow, actually, and he should have been a physician, but I think he offended one too many people. Rigged a mediscanner to do nothing but surface scans, and for females put, Aint she fine! on the screen. Then he swapped it for my mediscanner. Wouldnt you know it, the first person I saw that morning was Nyota Uhura, who, in my opinion, is one of the finest ladies on the Enterprise, and possibly the universe. I turned the scanner on her, and almost died of embarrassment. Was I ever thankful that you cant tell when a Zulu blushes. Well, unless youre another Zulu, anyhow. When she saw my consternation, she wanted to know what was up. Without thinking, I handed her the mediscanner. I have no intention of telling you what Hardav had programmed to go next to my surface scan. Uhura got Hardav back for both of us."
"Surface scan? Youve not taught me about that one, Keme."
"Its used to look for rashes and skin tumors, without the patient disrobing. Got it?"
"I hope Hardav suffered direly for that one. Look, that cadet is waiting, probably thinking hes dying or something. Want to get a scanner that hasnt been fiddled with and bail me out?"
"Hardav suffered direly, for several days. Trust me!" MBenga reached for his mediscanner. "This mediscanner has been at my side for the last couple of days; I can guarantee its safe. Come on."
The two men moved back to the area where Frensa waited. As they entered the area, MBenga began acting as if he were continuing a technical discussion. "I agree; its patently ridiculous, Giac. Lets see what this scanner shows. Probably have to have Scotty work that one over." MBenga turned the second mediscanner on the cadet. "Mamah weh! Will you look at that? I get the same readings. I just dont believe it."
Eletto turned to Frensa. "Your roommate happen to be from Rigel?"
"Didnt have a roommate, Doctor. But my best friend was from Rigel, and his parents came in on their private yacht, especially to see him graduate. We spent a good deal of time celebrating with his folks for a couple of days."
MBenga smiled widely. "Then the readings make a lot more sense. Son, youve picked up Rigelian Fever, probably from your buddys parents. Hed have been immune, and since it was their private ship, theyd probably have not had to bother with the official paperwork. Ill have Doctor Eletto back in a couple of minutes. Youre not allergic to ryetalycycline, are you?"
"Good. Youre going to be on it for a while and off duty. Dont go away. Giac, come with me."
Eletto followed MBenga around the corner. MBenga set the hypospray for him before speaking. "Good thinking, Giac; Id never have thought about exposure to the parents of a fellow cadet. Heres the ryetalycycline; 100mg."
"Dont be all that impressed with me over that, Keme. Before I shifted into NASA, I did some work with the International Center for Control of Infectious Diseases. That sort of stuff was my daily fare for, oh, six or seven years before Jorip pulled me into NASA to help with a couple of projects."
"Thanks for the personal history, but Im going to remain impressed. Now go treat your patient."
"Ill have him get us a list of contacts, too."
"Do that, but Ill connect with Captain Scott, too, and see who Frensas exposed, and get them dealt with. Get back to work, Giac."
Eletto returned to Frensa. "Give me that arm of yours, will you?" The cadet complied, and Eletto applied the hypospray. "Youll be getting a dose of that daily for a while. Head back to your quarters, son. Youre going to be hiding out there for a couple of days, so you dont share the Rigelian Fever with any more of your fellow engineers. Once youre there, well need a listing of your contacts, so we know who you may have exposed." The hypospray hissed as Eletto was talking.
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
Eletto watched Frensa leave. There being no one else in Sickbay needing attention, he turned to a readout. "Access files on diagnosis, pathophysiology and treatment of Rigelian Fever."
Before he could do more than read a page or two, MBenga returned, looking very serious. "Doctor Eletto, we need to talk about your allergies, and what immunizations youve had."
Eletto looked up from the readout. "I should have thought to deal with this before you left; I guess Ive been exposed to Frensa enough to have potentially picked up the disease. Im not allergic to anything other that ragweed pollen, Keme, which I doubt is in the picture here. Routine immunizations for someone born in 2006; Rigelian Fever wasnt among them, but since it was shortly after the Eugenics War, neoanthrax vaccine was. So was synthopox, and pseudo-rabies. Usual childhood stuff for the twenty-first century. Any of them going to do me any good?"
MBenga shook his head. "Not for Rigelian Fever. It looks like you have the privilege of being the first on the list to receive prophylaxis for it. Since you discovered the case, you have also earned the unparalleled privilege of going to Engineering to give as good as youre about to get."
Eletto pulled up his sleeve. "Why did I know this was coming?" The hypospray hissed, painlessly delivering the medication. "How many folks do I have to dose?" He pulled his sleeve back in place as he spoke.
"Everyone in Engineering, Giac. Including Captain Scott. Lots of luck with him!"
Judging from MBengas grin, Eletto knew he was in trouble. "Metata wingi, eh? Many troubles. Asante, bwana."
MBenga straightened up, clearly surprised. "Where did you learn Swahili?"
"From a nurse I worked with once. And you started it, saying Mahma weh! you know. Never did figure out why Swahili uses Oh, mama rather than Oh, brother. Anyhow, to be honest, I only know a few phrases, but theyve come in handy. If youll give me a couple more loaded hyposprays so Ive got enough ryetalycycline, Ill head down to the engineering deck."
"Better take a couple loaded with dendromycin, too, just in case someones allergic to the ryetalycycline."
Loaded and set hyposprays were quickly provided, more than enough to handle the need. As Eletto stepped into the turbolift, he heard MBengas voice saying, "Kwa heri, Eletto!"
"Kwa heri, bwana! Asante. Or, in English, bye, boss! Thanks." The turbolift door slid shut.
Eletto was still in Engineering, administering medication when the Enterprise reached Gamma Virginis II. Anaper Oti and Galori Iaffrey had joined Kirk on the bridge, for the initial meeting with the colonys chief executive officer.
"Signal from the surface, Captain," Uhura announced.
"Mainviewer, please, Uhura," Kirk responded.
On the main viewing screen, the image of a lean, middle aged man appeared. "Greetings. Im Aaron Del Anders, the leader of the colony here on Kahla. Welcome to Kahla, Enterprise. I admit, Im a little surprised that the Federation used a Constitution class starship to transport two engineers, but Im glad they did. It looks like were going to need the assistance of your medical team, as well."
"Im Captain James Kirk," he replied. "Allow me to introduce Doctor Anaper Oti, Ph.D. in Civil Engineering. Shes going to be helping redesign your water supply and waste system." Kirk gestured to the statuesque brunette next to him. "And this," Kirk said, turning to the raven haired beauty on his left, "Is Doctor Galori Iaffrey. Her doctorate is in construction engineering; shell be helping you implement Doctor Otis design." Doctor Iaffrey nodded, her black hair falling across her shoulders as she did.
Del Anders smiled. "Ladies, Im glad to met you both. The reputation of your remarkable abilities preceded you. No one warned me that you both were beautiful, as well as brilliant. Without doubt, we will have to take steps to keep the eligible bachelors on Kahla from trying to distract you from your efforts."
Oti laughed. "You neednt worry about that. My new husband is reason enough to keep me focused on my task; Im eager to get back home to him."
"As for me," Iaffrey added, "Ive children as old as I suspect your eligible bachelors are, and at least one grandchild on the way. Unless, Anaper, theres something you havent told your mother..." Iaffrey donned a hopeful expression.
Oti rolled her eyes in mock agony. "Mothers! You get home from your honeymoon, and they want you pregnant. His mother bought me a subscription to the Journal for Working Parents. Hint, hint, hint. Aaaughh!"
It was Kirks turn to be surprised. "No one warned me I was ferrying a mother-daughter team. I thought you were Centaurian by birth, Doctor Oti."
"Only by marriage, Captain. Zander, my husband, is Centaurian, and being his wife means Im technically a Centaurian, even though Im a native of Earth."
Del Anders laughed. "I can see this is going to be an interesting project. I give you both my word that Im going to stay out of anything but business." His face became more serious. "Captain Kirk, I am informed that you have brought an unusually large structure along with you. None of us were aware that it was expected. Might I be so bold as to ask what it is?"
"Its a derelict that we rescued along the way, Mister Del Anders. One survivor on board, in suspended animation, that we rescued and resuscitated, otherwise wed have let another ship do the salvage operation," Kirk responded. "Its a side issue, as far as your colony is concerned, I expect. Will it be possible for Doctor Oti, Doctor Iaffrey and a few members of our Engineering staff to beam down for an in-depth briefing on the your situation?"
"Im afraid not. How much were you told about our little problem?"
"Just that there was some sort of problem with the water supply and the waste treatment, and that we needed to help you folks redesign and rebuild that section of the colonys infrastructure," Iaffrey responded. "We were hoping to get more refined details from you."
"Ill transfer the specifics to the Enterprises computers, if thats agreeable."
"There should be no trouble, Mister Del Anders," Spock said. "I presume that you use standard Federation data transfer protocols?"
"But of course. Our problem has become rather more complex than we had anticipated, and as I said, we will need the assistance of your medical department, Captain, as well input from Doctors Oti and Iaffrey. It appears that our water supply is contaminated with a remarkably robust unicellular parasite that is surviving our standard water purification procedures. From what we can determine, it gets into the gallbladder, where it sheds incredible numbers of spores into the gut, contaminating the waste stream, and re- infecting the environment. Before you ask, it seems to be too enduring for our waste treatment facility, too. The biggest trouble is that when we tried to eliminate the parasite from the folk who are infected, they start having major side effects from the drug. Worse yet, theyre getting horrendous autoimmune problems if we dont eliminate it. We lost our colonys only physician over that. Until your medical team manages to find a drug to eradicate the parasite, you dont want to visit the surface." Del Anders face brightened. "Perhaps your chief medical officer is as magnificent as Doctors Oti and Iaffrey? And single? Weve lots of eligible bachelors, and we need a new doctor..."
McCoy joined the conversation. "Doctor Leonard McCoy, Chief Medical Officer of the Enterprise, at your service." He bowed slightly. "Sorry to disappoint you, and although I'm hardly the stunning beauty these fine ladies are, I'm happily engaged to be married next month. Hopefully I can make up for that by being remarkably clever medically."
"I hope so, Doctor. Essentially the whole colony is infected with the parasite, now, as far as we have been able to determine."
"Im sure Doctor McCoy will be more than happy to assist in any and every way possible, Mister Del Anders," Kirk interjected. He turned to Spock. "Is the data uploaded?"
Kirk turned back to the mainviewer. "Is there anything else we can do for the moment?"
Oti interrupted. "Mister Del Anders, does the uploaded data contain recent scans of your colonys infrastructure?"
"Indeed, Madame, such as our infrastructure is; Im afraid its a bit of a hodge-podge. The scans were completed just two days ago," Aaron Del Anders replied. "We had them especially done, anticipating that you and your mother would need them. And before you ask, Doctor McCoy, weve provided scans of infested individuals, and the molecular structures of the antiparasitics that weve used unsuccessfully. We are hopeful that youll be able to give us some assistance in dealing with the infestations."
"Glad to hear it," McCoy said. "Ill go over them myself, as soon as I get back to Sickbay."
"Is there anything else, ladies and gentlemen?" Del Anders asked.
Kirk looked at the faces around him; none registered any indication of further need. "It looks like we have what we need for the moment, Mister Del Anders. Unless there is something else, we will talk to you as soon as we have anything worth hearing."
"Quite so. I anticipate it will be a day or two; youve quite a lot of data to go over. Goodbye for now, Enterprise." Del Anders broke the connection.
Anaper looked at her mother. "Well, Mom, I guess its time we started wrangling with the data. You still sticking with your bet that theres a break in a couple of lines thats causing cross contamination?"
"Its where the odds are, kid. As far as Im concerned, youre still wet behind the ears if you think theyve set up an inadequate purification plant."
"It seems more likely to me than suggesting that they were idiotic enough to lay in sewer lines right next to their water lines," Oti quipped back, as the two entered the turbolift.
Galori pretended shock. "Do you mean to tell me that you honestly believe that the lines werent laid out by men? And the bets off if the water and sanitation systems are as totally primitive as it sounds like they may be: both of us were assuming they had something organized, even if it was laid out by males. Either way, daughter, I could tell youve been married only a couple years without knowing your wedding date, you sweet, naive young..." The turbolift door closed, sheltering the bridge crew from the ongoing banter.
"Sounds like weve got us a couple of live wires here, Jim," McCoy opined.
Kirk shook his head. "It probably runs in the family, Bones."
"Congenital, all right. No question about it." McCoy obviously appreciated their sense of humor more than Kirk did. "Id better head off to Sickbay and see what sense I can make of the data theyve sent me from the planet." McCoy headed for the turbolift himself. "I bet theyve overlooked something simple."
"I hope so, Bones," Kirk responded. The turbolift door shut. "But for some reason, I wouldnt bet on it." Kirk sat down in his chair, wondering what, if anything, he could do to wile away what looked like a prolonged period in orbit. It was obvious that shore leave was out of the question, at least until the problem with the parasite was solved. After staring aimlessly for a moment or two, he snapped back to the present. "Uhura, could you get me Scotty?"
"Of course, Captain."
"Engineerin here, Captain. Im guessin youve heard about our wee problem?"
"Cant say I have, Scotty; I had other things on my mind. Whats up?"
"Just a cadet that exposed the lot of us to Rigelian Fever. But therell be no problemwere gettin the proper treatment. What did you need?"
"I wanted some input on the derelict, Scotty. Could you give me a bit of a status report? How badly damaged is it?"
"The Jovian Platform? Shes got a great, ugly, gaping hole in her underside, and a smaller one in her upper dome. Several smaller structural problems, and, of course, the agricultural areas frozen deader than a cooked haggis. Atmospheres gone, except in the medical area, and its not the best there. Power supply is primitive, by our standards, but"
"Enough, Scotty, enough already. Let me rephrase the question. How tough would it be to bring it back to its original status?"
There was a brief pause, as the engineer pondered. "Itd not be too tough, Captain, at least structurally. Id recommend goin to a matter-antimatter power supply, mind you, rather than the fusion reactor she was originally powered by, and Id use trititanium rather than ultrasteel for the repairs to the hull, except for using transparent aluminum to patch the dome, since thats what the dome was made of in the first place. Once we had her airtight, and had an atmosphere back in her, making the other repairsd be easy enough, just time consumin to find what needed fixed and fix it with matchin components. Are ye thinkin what Im thinking?"
"If youre thinking that repairing that thing will keep the engineering crew out of trouble, and once its fixed, might do the same for some of the rest of the crew, yes. Especially if we start trying to restore the agricultural area, we can keep a lot of folks out of mischief. Willing to go for it, Scotty?"
"Aye, sir! Wi pleasure! But dye not think we ought to ask Doctor Eletto how he feels about it?"
Before Kirk could react, Elettos voice entered the conversation. "Captain, Im down here in Engineering, dosing folks over their exposure to Rigelian Fever. Im all for letting the repairs to the Jovian Platform proceed, as long as appropriate steps are taken with the remains of my dead comrades."
"I guarantee that we will take care of them in whatever manner you feel is appropriate, Doctor Eletto. We will discuss the alternatives at your convenience, but certainly we will be pleased to accord them full military honors."
"Thats most generous of you, Captain. Get her repaired, then."
"Thank you, Doctor. Scotty, go to it!"
Kirk smiled, contentedly. Suddenly, the time in orbit around Kahla was looking better.
When Giacomo Eletto returned to Sickbay, he found Doctor McCoy pouring over the readout. McCoy heard his approach and looked up. "Howdy, Eletto! MBenga told me about your diagnostic coup with Frensa and the Rigelian Fever. Howre you doing?"
"Are you kidding? My hands hurt. Ive gone through over four hyposprays full of ryetalycycline, and nearly two of dendromycin, dosing the entire engineering staff of the Enterprise, and a handful of others that were exposed. I had to threaten Mister Scott with having Spock erase the food dispensing program for haggis before hed let me give him a prophylaxis for Rigelian Fever. I think he thinks hes immune to disease because hes an engineer, or something."
"You should talk Spock into erasing haggis anyhow. Horrible stuff. And youre not answering my question. How are you doing, Giacomo?"
Giacomo dumped the hyposprays on a table, with a half smile on his face. "Im a doctor, Doctor McCoy. Ive just spent the last several hours making a significant difference in the lives of a large number of people by preventing their coming down with a virulent, fatal disease. Wanna guess how Im doing?"
"Quit evading my question, Grandpa. I can see how Doctor Elettos doing; hes doing fine. I want to know about the person behind that medical facade. How are you doing?"
"Youve been talking with Spock, havent you?"
"Of course, and if I have, whats the difference? Ive asked you a perfectly reasonable question, and youre still evading it. Again, how are you doing, Giacomo?"
Eletto stared at McCoy for a moment. "Whos asking? Doctor McCoy or a concerned colleague?"
"Are those my only choices? Or can I say both, and a concerned friend as well?"
Eletto walked over to the food dispenser and slipped in a program disk for coffee. The dispenser opened, and Eletto retrieved the contents: a liter carafe and two cups. He sat down next to Doctor McCoy and poured two cups. "You take it black, dont you?"
"Yes. And youve got to be the most artful dodger Ive ever, at least met since Spock. Ive never seen anyone use coffee to avoid answering a question before."
Eletto took a swallow before answering. "You havent now, either." Giacomo sighed. "Ive asked myself the same question, Doctor McCoy."
"Leonard, Giac. Len will do in a pinch. Save the title for when youre sick, or theres patients hanging around."
"Leonard, then. Im not exactly sure, to be honest. Ive only been in your era a short while and Ive got to admit that Im still a bit bewildered by everything. Getting me working in medical here was a masterstroke; its reassuring me that I may, just may, be able to find a niche. Frensa and the Rigelian Fever was a fortunate thing, as regrettable as it may be medically. I think MBenga was as surprised by that as I was. A few more months, maybe a year or two, and I think Ill be comfortable, especially with the self study program you and MBenga have planned for me. For now," Giacomo sighed again, "for now, I feel adrift. You, Spock, MBenga, and a handful of others are all the people I know. Oh, Ive met the entire engineering department, now, but its not exactly the same as meeting you, and working here in Sickbay. Im still feeling pretty lonely. Spock and I are going to grab a bite together, tonight, and Im going to try to get up to speed socially, a little bit."
"Spock? Hes the last person Id want to study social skills under, Giac!"
"Um, not what I meant. I was thinking about an overview of history, not input on handling interactions with Humans. Id be willing to bet that people havent changed much there. Show an interest, ask a couple of questions, and let em run off at the mouth while you listen, and theyll think youre just the life of the party."
McCoy nodded. "Youre right there. Probably worked in the Babylonian Empire, too. Look, let me get technical a sec, okay? Any feelings of depression? Disorientation?"
"Nothing too bad, and not to the point that its interfering with my function. I miss my kids, you understand, and I miss my wife, Louise, more than I can say, but she died in a car accident a year or so before I went up to the Jovian Platform. Once I start getting connected with enough people in this century, I suppose itll be only a minor thing."
McCoy refilled his cup of coffee. "Want a warm up, Grandpa?"
Eletto extended his nearly empty cup. "Id appreciate it. Id also appreciate it if youd answer a question for me."
"Sure. What do you want to know?" McCoy poured as he answered.
"Whats with you calling me Grandpa all the time? Physiologically, youre older than I am, and I cant believe you think its still funny the dozenth time youve used the nickname. Just trying to make me feel older than you are?"
A surprised grin washed across McCoys face. "You havent guessed?"
"Would I have asked if I had?"
"Good point. Look, you had a son, David, right?"
"Yes. He and Lynn had a son, Jimmy, who was pushing three, and Lynn was pregnant with their second. Matt and Adael were expecting their first when I went into the cold sleep."
"Right. And James Eletto had a son, who had a daughter, who had a son, whose daughter married my paternal great grandfather. Basically, I just refuse to throw in all of the preliminary greats that I should."
Giacomo put his coffee cup down on the table and stared, slack-jawed. "You mean..."
"Yup, I do mean. I may be physiologically older than you, Giac, but Im your lineal descendent. Grandpa, indeed." McCoys face became suddenly serious. "Look, while you were catching some sleep after youd been awake long enough to tell us who you were, I had Spock hunt up your geographically closest descendant. I was just hoping that we could help you connect in with the twenty-third century by finding you some descendant or other to hook up with. Id no idea that you and I would be related. To be honest, with both my parents being dead, it sort of feels, well, kind of warm and fuzzy having an older kinsman on board." McCoys face registered an almost wistful appearance.
Eletto stood up. "I trust it is still acceptable to hug ones grandpa, however many greats were ignoring?" Eletto spread his arms.
McCoy responded by getting up and wrapping his arms around Eletto, giving and receiving a bear hug. "It sure is, Grandpa. Just dont tell anyone I can get this maudlin, will you? I dont want to ruin my image."
"I promise. Especially not Spock. Just dont sit on my lap and ask me to read you any bedtime stories, okay?"
"I wont ask you to sing me any lullabies, either, Giac." McCoy grinned happily. "Speaking of Spock," he continued, looking at the chronometer on the wall, "I expect hell be arriving shortly to collect on that dinner and discussion engagement you promised him."
Almost as if on cue, the turbolift door opened, and Spock stepped into Sickbay. "Good evening, Doctors. Giac, are you ready for your evening meal?"
"Youd better believe it, Spock," Eletto grinned. "These sadistic workaholics here in medical didnt even let me grab lunch. Im famished."
"Several crew members are history enthusiasts, Doctor, and have expressed the desire to have you join them at an open discussion of your era over an informal meal. Would you be willing to do that this evening?"
"As long as they dont mind my talking between bites."
"Frankly, Giac," McCoy chimed in, "I doubt theyd notice. If I know the crew, youll be trying to shout over the deafening munching noise of the lot of em eating everything in sight."
Spock walked over too a wall communicator. "Excellent." Spock triggered the mechanism. "Ensign Carpenter?"
"Yes, Captain Spock?"
"Doctor Eletto has agreed to having you join us. Will the aft dining area be suitable?"
"Meet you there in fifteen minutes?"
Spock turned to Eletto, who nodded agreement. "That will be quite suitable."
"Meet you both there, then. Carpenter out."
Spock turned to Eletto. "There will time to stop at your quarters, if that is necessary."
"Dont think so, Spock. Out of curiosity, are any of the crew, other than Doctor McCoy, my descendant?"
"Not according to the data files."
Eletto nodded. "Just checking. One surprise was enough. Shall we be on our way?"
Spock responded by moving to the turbolift. As the two entered it, McCoy called out, "Ill join you folks in a bit, Okay?"
Within minutes, Spock and Eletto stepped out of the turbolift and made their way to the dining area. As they entered it, Eletto noticed that the people in the dining area were all crowded at one end of the hall, and that the ventilating system was running at an almost deafening volume. One of them stepped forward. "Welcome aboard, Doctor Eletto. Im Ensign Carpenter, and weve prepared a little snack for us all to enjoy as we talk."
While Carpenter spoke, the crew shifted to either side, revealing a table laden with assorted foods. At one end of the table, Captain Kirk was standing next to a large charcoal grill, wearing an apron that said "Kiss The Cook!" Elettos jaw dropped. "What on Earth?"
Carpenters face registered disappointment. "Its not obvious, sir? I was trying to duplicate the menu of a twenty-first century outdoor barbecue. Ive sort of made a hobby out of the history of cooking, and..."
Eletto shook his head, interrupting. "Youve done magnificently, Carpenter. The only mistake youve made is that none of the food is burned. Last time I barbecued for the family, the burgers looked like charcoal, and the wieners were, well, strictly carbonized." Kirk grinned broadly at Elettos remark, and bowed slightly to acknowledge the implicit compliment. As Eletto continued, Kirk started putting burgers and wieners into buns and stacking them on the table near him. "Its better than what I ever managed, but otherwise it looks remarkably authentic. However, the proof of the barbecue is in the tasting." With mock seriousness, Eletto moved toward the feast. "Since Im the only one with first hand knowledge, I suppose Ive been elected to take the risk." Eletto grabbed a plate and began loading it, munching as he went along. "Mmmm. Yes. Good. Hope theres enough for the rest of you. Might not be any left when Im done doing quality control here..."
Carpenter smiled, relieved. "In that case, wed better tuck in before you hog it all." He grabbed a plate, and the rest followed suit. Even Spock delved into the vegetable dishes provided.
Eletto looked at a tub in the corner. "Is that what I hope it is? Beverages buried in ice?"
"Exactly. Colas, beer, juices, and a few more recent additions to the beverage line, all in authentic aluminum cans." Carpenter was obviously quite proud of the authenticity he had achieved.
Giacomo scrounged in the tub, triumphantly recovering a container of cola, marked with a bright red design. He popped the top and took a deep draught. "Ahh, youve even discovered the secret ingredient!" Contentedly, the doctor plopped next to a table. Between bites, he looked up. "Well, theoretically, you guys wanted to pick my brain about history as I remember it. You going to do that, or are you too busy eating?"
From somewhere near the table, a voice called out, "What did you think of how World War Three started, Doc?"
Giacomo turned, unsure whod asked. "Nothing. How did it start?"
Kirk looked up from the grill. "Oh, come on. It started in 2053. Surely you remember?"
"Nope. When did it start in 2053?" Eletto asked.
"In the Gregorian calendar, March 18, right after Saint Patricks day." Giacomo picked the voice out; it was a lady from Communications, one that hed not met.
"I see. Look, I entered the long sleep on March 14, 2053. My guess is that World War Three is what prevented Jorip Ma and the NASA team from staging my rescue."
"You knew Jorip Ma?" It was Kirk, again, clearly awestruck.
"Knew him? Good grief yes. His daughter Adael married my son Matt. We were good friends for years. In fact, it was Jorip that talked me into shifting into working with NASA. My only grudge against the man was that he could barbecue things better than I could." Giacomo punctuated his comment by taking a bite out of the wiener he was holding. "Which is not, I might add, difficult to do. Carpenter, I hope these wieners dont have as much fat in em as the ones we used in my day, or Im going to be plugging up every artery I own."
"All of the flavor, Doc, none of the fat."
"Glad to hear it. Hey, the way you asked that question, it almost sounds like you hold Jorip in something just short of abject awe. How come?"
"You wouldnt know, would you? He was the mastermind behind taking out Colonel Greens Command Center in the Australian Outback, virtually ending World War Three."
Giacomo nodded. "Figures. Jorip was a genius, no question there. Probably threw rocks at it, right?"
A voice from the chow line piped up. "Are you kidding? He..."
Before the voice could finish the sentence, Spock interrupted. "A most curious comment, Doctor. Exactly what do you mean by it?"
Eletto turned to face the Vulcan. "Exactly what I said. To be more precise, a silicate asteroid, nudged out of orbit and dropped on the command center. We figured one about two hundred meters in diameter would be more than enough. You have any idea of the size of crater that would make, and the Richter magnitude of the resultant quake?"
The Vulcan nodded. "Assuming a density of approximately three grams per cubic centimeter and an impact velocity of approximately twenty kilometers per second, the crater would have been 2.86 kilometers in diameter, approximately 560 meters deep, and the impact would have released 22.42 megatonnes of energy, registering 6.9 on the Richter scale. Most fascinating. That was precisely how it was done. Might I ask how you knew that?"
"Easy enough, Spock. Jorip and I had discussed the idea privately for years, and had worked out the figures you just quipped off. The way Colonel Green was acting, with his idiotic ideas about purging the gene pool of the evil yellow genes, we figured hed start something sometime. We decided a silicate asteroid would be the best bet; both the tactical and surveillance radar systems had been programmed to ignore those years and years ago. Carbonaceous chondrites wouldnt have been detected either, but we figured that theyd be too likely to break up before hitting the target. I wanted to have Gday, Mate! emblazoned across the front of the asteroid, but we couldnt figure out how to do it so it would survive the drop through the atmosphere. To be perfectly honest, part of the reason for launching the Jovian Platform was to have a base near enough to the asteroid belt to select and send silicates. I suppose Green figured that out, and sabotaged her, come to think about it, so Id guess Jorip used a hunk of lunar crust. Anyhow, the Jove was risky, and we all knew it, especially since Green had toured Houston Mission Control and looked over the design. We knew there was a risk that hed sabotage it, and we decided the risk was worth taking." Eletto sighed. "Twenty three of my closest friends lost their lives taking that risk."
The woman from Communications shook her head. "I cant believe it. The history books claim no one suspected Colonel Green was planning to try to wipe out the Eastern Coalition of Nations. Obviously, at least you and Jorip Ma could tell it was coming."
"Call me Brenda, if you will."
"Very well, Brenda Ifyouwill." There was general laughter. When it died down, Eletto continued. "Actually, there were a lot of us that could see the conflict between Colonel Green and ECON coming. But the North American government wanted to try to appease Colonel Green; to try to keep him happy until they could deal with him in a somewhat more tasteful way than staging an all-out war. On top of that, I guess the quislings and the chamberlains in the government thought that they could get him so hooked on their generosity that hed be scared to twit them, taking the age-old approach of Peace at any price.
"But most of the folks I knew, well, we didnt see it that way. We expected him to keep pushing until either we started the war, or he did. Id be willing to bet that Colonel Green started it."
Brenda nodded. "Youre exactly right. How did you know?"
"I didnt know, Brenda. I guessed. Ive seen his like all too often. Targeting Orientals this time instead of the Jews, but..."
"I would be interested, Doctor," Spock interjected, "in knowing how you deduced that."
"Me, too," Kirk chimed in.
"Just plain horse sense. Bullies are pretty well universal, and reasonably predictable, even if theyre something less than logical. If you dont rise to their bait, theyll eventually get angry enough to throw the first punch. Colonel Green was a bully, pure and simple. Oh, he was a liar and a coward, too, as well as a few other things that I wont repeat in polite company, but a bully at rock bottom nonetheless. Many of the people in my day who saw through Green were waiting for him to make the mistake of starting the fight, and then planning on crushing him shortly afterward."
"Excuse me for asking, Doctor," Brenda said, "but you called Colonel Greens intention of purging the bad genes from the gene pool idiotic if I recall correctly. Now, I agree that wiping out nearly a quarter of the worlds population, and focusing on a single racial group is dumber than a chunk of space rock, but are you trying to tell us that removing, say, the sickle cell gene from the gene pool wouldnt improve the Human race?"
Giacomo turned to face Brenda again. "You picked a poor gene for your example, Brenda. Although full blown sickle cell anemia is a curse, carrying one sickle gene and one normal gene was a blessing, at one time, in some areas of Africa. It conferred resistance to malaria. When the malarial schizont entered the red blood cell in a sickle cell carrier, the cell would sickle, killing it."
"Well, then, pick something else, like hemophilia maybe, or the gene for Tay- Sachs. There are still some folks who think it would be a good idea to try to improve the Human race artificially."
Eletto shook his head. "Youre parroting exactly the sort of tripe that Green spouted, Brenda. His propaganda was chock full of things about genetic diseases needing purging from the gene pool, mixed in with comments about how most of the worlds devastating infectious diseases started in Mainland China before they spread across the world, devastating the superior genetic stock. Of course, he ignored smallpox, which was of European origin, and all the porphyrias, which were mainly a Mediterranean mutation, and despite harping on China, his main hatred was for the Japanese. But more importantly, the real problem boils down to knowing what is better, and what isnt. My mothers father, Stalking Weasel, once told me a story that applies here. Want to hear it?"
Brenda shrugged. "I suppose. I have my doubts that one of your old family stories would enlighten things here, but Im open."
"You might be surprised. After all, I was born shortly after the end of the Eugenics War, and the ideas that had fueled it were still being actively and hotly discussed. And despite his using a strictly tribal name, Stalking Weasel wasnt a dumb savage, Brenda. He taught advanced mathematics and theoretical physics at the University of the Cherokees in Oklahoma after he retired from the military. Grandpa said it was an old Indian story, but then, he said all the good stories were. Anyhow, heres the way Grandpa told it...
"God decided He wanted to make a better creature, called Man. He asked the wolf what this better creature needed. The wolf suggested that the best thing to do would be to make Man more successful at hunting in packs. God then asked the mole, who said that the wolf was wrong: to make a better creature, He would have to make one that could dig faster and further. No, said the fish, if Man is to be better, Man must swim faster. The eagle insisted that improving the creature would require that Man have sharper sight, and better flying ability. One by one, each of the creatures gave its opinion, and they all were basically the same: each creature said that, to build a better creature, the Almighty should make Man like the creature itself, but with more of whatever made that creature distinctive. God, so Grandpa said, rightly decided to ignore their detailed suggestions and take their general idea. He made Man as much like Himself as a finite, mortal being could be."
"What youre saying is that we really dont know what would make a better man, right?" Carpenter asked.
"Bingo. Wed just say the better sort of man would have more intelligence, and less disease, things like that. Wed never think of an entirely new, much better quality than we have; frankly, like the animals in Grandpas story, we simply couldnt. Worse yet, in building that Better Man, wed eliminate the genetic diversity of our kind. The whole thing is, when you see it from that light, utterly asinine. Only a modest handful of people bought into Colonel Greens theory, really." Eletto shifted in his chair. "But it looks like that handful stirred up a real hornets nest of trouble."
Spock nodded. "This casts a new perspective on the records from that time, Doctor Eletto. What can you tell us of the Eugenics War?"
Giacomo chuckled. "You remember that I was born in 2006, dont you, Spock? I was part of the post-Eugenics war birth explosion."
"I recall that you had just alluded to that fact, Doctor. However, perhaps one of your parents or grandparents might have shared something with you that would be of interest to our group."
Eletto munched on a handful of chips for a moment, clearly in thought. "Well, youd probably be more interested in the stories told by Grandfather Stalking Weasel, especially about how he was able to penetrate Khans headquarters."
"I know the names of every individual involved in that action, Doc, and there was no one by that name in the team. Nor does anyone know how they got into the command center. Are you sure your grandpa wasnt just pulling your leg?"
Eletto turned, to realize it was Carpenter speaking. "Maybe the name King rings a bell? Colonel Theodore Andrew King, United States Marine Corps?"
"Ring a bell? Man, he led the expedition."
"I know. In fact, he volunteered to lead it, even though everyone else thought it was a suicide mission. He knew otherwise. Ted King was the first one to penetrate Khans defense perimeter, actually, and managed to cut power to it so that the rest of the assault team could move in to finish the job off. With the command center taken, the war was pretty much over. Unfortunately, Khan had disappeared, along with most of his kind; no one ever figured out where, but given that none of them ever showed their faces again, we assumed theyd all died, or maybe committed mass suicide."
McCoys voice came from the back of the room. "Wrong on both counts, Giac. Thats a story for later."
Eletto turned to face his colleague. "Hi, Doctor McCoy. Welcome to the party. Ill hold you to that." He turned to face Carpenter again. "Anyhow Ted King rapidly got sick and tired of all the hoopla over his being such a big hero and all, so he retired and returned to the Cherokee reservation. Except for his pension checks from the military, he left the name Ted King behind forever. It wasnt until he died that my mother told me out that Stalking Weasel had ever been called anything else."
Carpenters eyes widened tremendously. "You mean your grandfather Stalking Weasel was Ted King?"
"You bet. And he told me how he got past Khans perimeter. Even taught me how to do it."
Spocks eyebrow almost reached his hairline. "I think we all would be most interested in hearing about it, Doctor. It is a mystery that has been the focus of considerable speculation."
Eletto was pensive for a moment. "Well, I guess after two hundred plus years, I dont need to worry about a breach of national security." There was a polite round of laughter before Eletto continued. "You have to remember that Khans outpost was in India. That was the trick, you see, because even though Khan had no use for the Hindu faith himselfGrandpa said the only thing he could figure that Khan worshipped was Khan, if you see what I meanKhan had to avoid anything that ran too badly counter to Hinduism. What that boiled down to was that Khan had to arrange for his automated defense perimeter to ignore cattle. First of all, there were so many of them wandering around freely that hed have used up an unbelievable amount of energy killing the ones that got too close. Secondly, the Hindus would have had ten fits if he killed even one, and theyd have been storming his command center in a fractured second over it.
"Anyhow, Stalking Weasel ditched all his weapons, and everything else he thought that Khans surveillance system might detect. Then, he managed to suspend himself under a Brahman bull, and rode it past the defenses. By tickling one leg, and holding another one back a little, he was able to guide the bull just about anywhere he wanted. Grandpa said it was an old American Indian trick, and pretty simple, really, if you think about it. Anyhow, once he was inside, all he had to do was short out the main power bus, which wasnt really all that hard to do. When the perimeter was down, the rest of the troops were in and it was all over."
Carpenter shook his head in amazement. "Whod have guessed it? But it fits the facts perfectly."
Spock nodded agreement. "Remarkable. It is the same trick the mythical Ulysses used to escape Cyclops. You will, I am sure, be willing to share this with the Federation historians?"
"Why not? Maybe theyll teach me a thing or two worth knowing in return."
Kirk grinned. "Dont bank on it."
Eletto chuckled. "Now theres one thing that must not have changed. Teachers teach what interests them, not necessarily what you need to know to get by." There was a chorus of laughter again. "Lets get to something less gloomy than war, folks. Anyone want to talk about sports in the twenty first century?"
No one bit on that, but a string of other questions were forthcoming. It was almost midnight before McCoy insisted on Eletto leaving the gathering. "I need him awake and alert tomorrow, folks," McCoy asserted. "Im going to be busy trying to sort out what to do over that parasite on Kahla, so Doctor Elettos going to have to pick up the slack." He took Elettos arm and dragged him to the turbolift. Once the door slid shut, and the turbolift was in motion, he turned to Eletto. "Well, Grandpa?"
Giacomo smiled. "Better, Leonard. Not home free, but better."
Oti and Iaffrey stepped off the turbolift in Engineering, and began looking for Captain Scott. It didnt take long to find him. Over the railing of the balcony they were on, they could see and hear him very clearly.
"Ye should be doing this in hard vacuum, rather than just in your suits, ye sloppy sassenachs! Now move! I want those impulse engines phased and tuned to less than a ten thousandth of perfect, and I want it done in five minutes, dye hear me? Ill not tolerate sloppy work in this department!"
Anaper looked over at Galori. "Mom, I think this is a good time to get while the gettings good. That is one man in a towering rage."
"Daughter, you are dead right. He is definitely not in the right mood for asking favors from. This is a good time to sneak out before were noticed." Galori started moving toward the turbolift.
Before they could reach the turbolift, Scotts brogue reached them. "Ladies! To what do I owe the honor of your gracin Engineering with your presence?"
Galori looked at her daughter. "Weve been caught, daughter."
Anaper nodded. "Caught dead to rights. At least he doesnt sound mad at us, Mom. Maybe well survive." She turned to face the Scotsman. "We were hoping to talk to you about a thing or two. But since youre obviously busy "
"Not a bit of it, ladies. If youll step into my office, Ill be with you in a moment." Scott turned back to the cadets, slaving rapidly to comply with Scotts demands. "Indri! Youre in charge of this sorry batch of cadets! Ive business in my office. Report to me there when theyre done. And theyd better have it perfect!"
"Yes, sir, Captain Scott, sir!" Indri turned to the cadets. "You heard him! Now get to it! And Im not going to have you greenies make me look anything less than brilliant, do you hear me?"
Scott turned to the two women. "Please, allow me to offer you some refreshment in my office. Itll be much quieter, I promise you." He ushered them into his office. "What can I offer you?"
"Lemonade would be fine, Captain Scott, preferably tart and cold," Galori responded.
"The same for me, if its not too much trouble, Captain," Anaper agreed.
Scott turned to the food dispenser, getting a pitcher and three glasses. He turned back, serving the women. "Doctor Oti, Doctor Iaffrey, I hope its to your tastes."
Anaper took a sip. "Its magnificent, Captain Scott. But please, its Anaper and Galori. Were informal."
"Good enough, Anaper. And please, call me Scotty. Its only with the cadets and the like that I insist on the title."
"Im surprised youre in such a good mood, Scotty," Anaper ventured. "You sounded so, well, so utterly furious at the cadets."
The engineer chuckled. "Ah, my pretended fury fooled you, too? Good. Then theyll likely believe Im in here hunting for a claymore to behead the lot of them if they dont get it right."
Anaper looked scandalized. "You were faking it? Why?"
The Scot smiled kindly. "You have to understand, lassie, that I have to train these cadets to face any kind oengineering disaster, and fix it quickly and correctly under hostile fire. You dont learn to do that without a lot of experience at fixing things under hostile conditions. Since weve no Klingons or Romulans to put us under fire, Ive got to be their stressful and hostile condition. I cant have them falling apart in combat." For a moment, Scott remembered his nephew holding his post, dying there when others with less or poorer training had fled in panic. He continued, choosing not to mention the painful memory. "Its not just their lives at stake, ysee: it could be the lives of the entire crew of a starship. If they fail now, all they have to do is face my artificial fury. If they fail in combat, theyre dead. I forgive. Klingons, Romulans, Tholians and all, they havent a scrap of forgiveness anywhere in em. Best that they face the consequences now, dont you think?"
Anaper turned to her mother, obviously shocked. "Dont look at me, child. Remember? Im the woman you said had a Ph.D. from Mean Mommy School when you were a kid. I seem to remember having the nickname Attila the Honey and hearing you call your father Colonel Green behind our backs. Im on Scottys side on this one." Galori turned to face Scott. "Youve never married, Ill bet."
"Right enough, Galori. These cadets are the only bairns Ill ever have. Ill not let them leave here anything but properly prepared tface the worst the universe has tthrow at them. But I doubt that youre here to trade pleasantries over training engineering cadets."
Galori nodded. "Youre right there. Youre almost a legend in Starfleet, for your own skills, and the skills of the cadets youve trained. We were sort of hoping to tap into those legendary skills, especially your legendary ability to improvise."
"The flattery is appreciated, Madame, but Im at your service with it or without it. What can I do for you two?"
"We were hoping," Anaper said, "That youd have a trick or two up your sleeve to speed the manufacturing and installation of the supply and return conduits for the water and waste water systems. As near as we can tell, it could take over a year using the standard methods."
"Closer to a year and a half, as I figure it," Galori added. "Im sure the crew of the Enterprise would hate to be idle for that long."
"Aye, that we would. Almost as much as Anaper would hate being that long parted from her new husband. Ill be wanting to see the schematics, first. Could you display them on the wall monitor?"
"Easily enough." Galori walked over to a control surface, and tapped for a moment or two. Across from Scott, the wall-sized viewscreen burst into life. "This is the general structure of the system Anaper and I have put together, superimposed on the topography. After we looked at the haphazard connecting of several partially adequate water supplies, and the utterly chaotic waste water treatment system, it seemed to us better to start from scratch, and build all of it from the ground up, so to speak. There are a few points that have us concerned, especially with respect to excavating to lay the conduits. For instance "
"Before you start showin me the problems, could I have a wee peek at it on my own? Itll take only a moment or two."
Galori nodded her assent. The engineer stared at the wall screen for a moment, his face a frozen mask of concentration. After a short period, his hand slipped to the control surface on his desk, and began moving rapidly. The cursor began flying across the screen. Scott zoomed in and out on numerous areas of the design, the image moving faster than Anaper and Galori could follow. Nearly ten minutes passed, with Scott moving nothing but one hand. As suddenly as he had dropped into his concentrated examination of the plans, Scott returned. "Theres a place or two that need a wee bit of adjusting, youre right. But I think Indri and I can give you a bit of help. Twill be interesting to use the firepower of a Constitution class starship for something other than combat. Well need an inventory of what youll need, of course. If youd base your plans on sections of conduit, say, a hundred meters long?"
"Can do. Youll want diameters for the thermocrete castings, as well," Galori opined.
"And detailed specifications for the confluence chambers and the access chambers," Anaper added.
"Diameters, of course. But the confluence and access chambersmost of them are made as a single block. If youd be willing to let us, I think Indri and I can come up with a basic module that we can assemble into the larger chambers make a lot of those, and lash em together to make what you need. Itd save a good bit of time."
"Fine by me," Anaper responded.
"Now, as to the materials," Scott continued, "You were planning to use cast thermocrete, no doubt with appropriate reinforcement. Would you be willin to consider something else, like basalt or granite for your larger conduits?"
"Of course, but I would have thought that the thermocrete would be easier to work with. Granite would be fine, but cutting and shaping it would take a lot of time," Galori observed.
"Weve phasers on the Enterprise that can cut trititanium like butter. I dont think granite will be a major problem. And theres a wee trick or two with the transporter that might save us some time digging trenches to put these things in. If youre willing, of course."
Anaper took the lead, again. "Any trick youve got, Im for. The Enterprise is nice, but Im starting to miss Zander, my husband. Give it all youve got, Scotty. How long before youre ready to start strutting your engineering stuff?"
Scotts brow furrowed with concentration for a moment. "Well, the main thing will be makin a bit of a design modification to the cargo transporter; thats a tricky thing to do. A week, maybe a day or so more, to get it done up to grade. Will that be soon enough?"
One of Galoris eyebrows raised in surprise. "Soon enough? We were afraid of twice that, maybe worse. I can see your reputation as an engineering miracle worker is well deserved. Itll be wonderful. Does that include getting a design done for a base module for the confluence chambers and all?"
"It does indeed; there will be a good bit of that time that will be cadets buildin and testin circuits, so Indri and I can be working on the module. Is there anything else youll be needing?"
"Not that I can see, just yet. If we find anything, well call, trust me," Galori replied. "I trust that if you have any thoughts on modifications of the layout, youll share them with us?"
"Of course. Not that Im likely to improve on your work, of course."
Anaper looked at her mother out of the corner of one eye. "This, from the man who claimed he wasnt into flattery. Wed better watch this one, Mom."
"Hush, child." Galori stood, Anaper and the chief engineer doing likewise. "Thank you for your input, Captain Scott." She extended her hand. "When youve got things adjusted and done to your satisfaction, perhaps you and Indri can join Anaper and I for supper, as we go through the plans?"
The Scotsman accepted the offered hand and shook it. "Flattery may get you nowhere, but bribery is amazingly effective. Ill consider that a bargain, if Indris willing."
"Done!" Anaper extended her hand as well, shaking Scotts. "Let us know!"
The two ladies headed for the turbolift. Scott returned to the diagram on the wall screen, studying it. A moment or two later, Indri entered the office.
"Ah, Indri, how did the impulse engines fare under the cadets tender attentions?"
"Tuned and phased to less than one part in ten million of perfect, Captain. Theres three or four in this new crop of cadets that show the hint of real genius. Only two or three appear to have suffered major brain damage during training. If they dont shape up, we can always get them assigned to a starbase."
"Aye, Indri, or to teaching at the Academy."
Indri nodded gravely. "Perhaps so, but I have hopes theyre not quite that hopeless. I take it that the ladies were here for assistance on the project on Kahla?"
Scott nodded. "Exactly so. They went for the granite, as wed hoped. Ive found a large, remarkably homogeneous, granitic pluton on one of Gamma Virginis Ones moons that should have all the material well need. How goes the modified transporter circuitry?"
"The last module should be done later today. Testing tonight, but I doubt there will be any trouble. We should be able to transport hundred meter cylinders of any diameter, and bury them in the ground without trouble. Ive inserted a secure system that will allow you and I to switch to and from the standard to the modified mode without having to do any rewiring."
"Did you put in an automatic reversion to standard?"
Indri nodded. "Naturally. After two minutes of idleness, it reverts. The gaskets to make the seals water tight should be a pushover to produce. Even the least competent of our cadets could do them blindfolded. If all goes as planned, we should be able to start shaping and burying granite in four, or at the most five days."
"Excellent. Now, lets sit down with their plan. They bought the idea of the modular design for the confluence chambers and access chambers without even seeing the plans wed worked out, so were well along. But there is a place or two that I think we could adjust and improve things a bit. Theyve invited us to a wee bit of a meal with them once we have things the way we want them, so we can talk it over with them. We can time that to suit your convenience."
"I figured theyd want to do that; theyve been doing that with others in the crew, I guess mostly for the sake of having company. Spock probably drove em crazy. Getting back to the subject at hand, lets plan on that supper in about three days. Ill get the refreshments." Indri turned to the food dispenser, programming it to deliver half a liter of Saurian brandy and two glasses. He turned back to face the viewscreen, bottle and glasses in hand. "I wonder how long itll take before people realize how many of your engineering feats involve your anticipating things well in advance?" He poured for them both, and took a sip. "Ah, magnificent."
"If you dont tell, Indri, I wont. To our little secret!" Scott touched his glass to Indris, and took a sip. "Now, to that diagram, laddie."
The men focused on the wall screen, and began happily wrangling over design modifications.
It had been a little over a week since hed awakened from the long sleep, to begin the process of adjusting to the twenty-third century, and Giacomo was starting to get comfortable enough with his personal routine that he had started venturing out, exploring the Enterprise. Using the turbolift, it hadnt taken him long to find the forward observation deck, and to realize that there was usually plenty of conversation and debate to overhear, to say nothing of numerous games of skill and strategy being played. Better yet, there was more than adequate opportunity to join in the general banter. It surprised him how easily he could keep folks from asking embarrassing questions about his ignorance by making jokes about having spent too long with his nose in a book, or doing research. On the whole, the crew accepted him as another unfamiliar face, and those that knew that he was a Human anachronism were kind enough to make no comment. Having finished his days labor in Sickbay, and several educational modules, hed decided the time had come to unwind with whoever was in the recreation area. When he stepped out of the turbolift, the first voice that greeted him was Frensas.
"Hey, Doc! Good to see you. I guess I owe you a couple for quarantining me. I missed out on one of the Old Mans worse disaster drills. Cmon over!" Obediently, Eletto complied. "I was just complaining to Bill here that Im tired of hanging here in orbit, being a plumbers helper."
Eletto snorted with laughter. Frensa looked confused. "Hey, sorry, Mike, but I dont think you realize what you just said."
Frensa shrugged. "I guess not. Wanna enlighten me?"
"You asked for it. Plumbers Helper is a late Twentieth and early Twenty- first century nickname for a plunger, a tool used to unclog plugged toilets." Eletto grinned. "So you were basically saying the Enterprise was a giant plunger, unstopping plugged toilets. It was so close to the truth that it about broke my funnybone."
Frensa and his friend looked at each other in astonishment, and started laughing. "You mean Oh, man, thats just too much! Have you got any idea what one of those gadgets looked like?"
Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, Eletto concluded that admitting hed used plungers more times than he cared to remember was probably unwise. "Yeah, I think I could sketch it. Got something I can draw on?" A padd and stylus were produced. Giacomo sketched as he talked. "Handle was, oh, sixty or seventy centimeters long. Early handles were wood; later ones, spun polymers of an assortment of kinds. Hard, anyhow. Then, on one end, here, the handle screwed or was glued into the bell. That was flexible, rubber at the start or later on, flexible polymers. Looked like this, a bit. Anyhow, you put the thing bell end down on the output for the blocked toilet and shoved hard, hoping the surge of water pushed forward would dislodge whatever was blocking the pipe. Simple, and usually effective."
Frensa looked at his companion. "Bill, this looks interesting, dont you think?"
"Very. Hey, Doc, can I swipe the diagram?"
"Sure, help yourself. But you could probably find better diagrams in the computers library files under plunger if you were curious."
"I bet you could stick this thing to a wall, too," Frensa commented. A couple of other engineering cadets drifted over to look at the diagram.
Eletto nodded. "Sure could, or to a ceiling, or about any flat surface. I guess it was a standard cartoon thing in that era to have characters tie plungers to their legs and use em to climb walls and such. Wouldnt have worked, Im sure, but that gives you the idea, at least. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, just curious, Doc. Just curious. Hey, how about a game of Tri- dimensional chess?" Frensa was clearly trying to change the subject, but Eletto couldnt figure why.
"Never got into it, Mike. Guess I didnt have time, studying and all. Want to teach me?"
Frensa shrugged. "Im lousy at it. If you want to learn " He turned to one side. "Hey, Charlie! Got a new victim for Tri-D chess for you to teach." Another cadet left the table he was sitting at and came over. "This is Doc Eletto, Charlie. Hes all yours."
The cadet extended his hand. "Glad to meet you, Doctor. Cadet Charles Grimshaw, at your service. Id be pleased to teach you the game, if youre interested."
"Sure, why not?" Eletto responded. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Frensa and his friend making their way out of the recreation area, talking excitedly. For a moment, he wondered what they were up to, but found himself swept into the complexities of Tri-Dimensional chess and dropped the line of thought.
Studying chess under the tutelage of Charlie Grimshaw had been fascinating, but frustrating: Grimshaw was clearly a championship player, and after less than an hour of play, Eletto had begged off, claiming that he was tired, as well as overwhelmed with knowledge. He decided hed have to practice the game against lesser rivals before tackling Grimshaw again. Sleep had come quickly, but had been short. According to his cabin chronometer, it was 05:12 hours when his eyes popped open in the sort of early morning awakening that clearly indicated hed slept enough, and all further attempts at sleep would be consummate failures. He decided to accept the inevitable, and head to Sickbay early.
Moments later, the turbolift opened onto Sickbay, allowing Eletto to debark. Only one other person was visible; Giac guessed it would probably be Harrison Davids. The man was tall, and spare, with blond hair, cut conservatively, and a short-trimmed beard. The only hint that there might be anything other than ordinary about the man was a single, pierced earring in his left ear. At the sound of Elettos arrival, the man looked up from the readout.
"Well, if it isnt the incomparable Doctor Giacomo Eletto. Welcome to Sickbay, Doc. I see theyve got you in medical, with PAs bars on your uniform. Just as well, I guess; itll take you a while to get the hang of medicine again. Harrison Davids, at your service. Most folk just call me Hardav." He extended his hand in greeting.
Eletto took the offered hand. "Id guessed youd be Hardav. MBenga mentioned you the other day. Howd you know me?"
"Dont be absurd, Doc. You were here in Sickbay for three, maybe four days recovering from being an interstellar icicle. Third shift gets lots of fun details, like cleaning under the toenails and such. I got to know your face pretty well. And a lot more of your anatomy than youre likely to appreciate."
Eletto pulled a wry face. "Thanks for the information overload."
"Hey, youre welcome. How goes the catch up?"
"Not bad," Eletto shrugged. "Im still eye deep in learning the new wrinkles in physiology and pharmacochemistry, and in some of the biological field theory. A lot of it was sort of far-off dreaming in my time, you understand."
"Space gas. Thats not what you need to learn, and we both know it." Hardav shook his head in frustration. "You need to be memorizing whats good for what, and how to recognize it."
"MBenga and McCoy dont see it that way."
"Ah, what do they know? Look, for ninety percent or more of what you see, all you have to do is knee-jerk with the right drug, and the games over. You think about it, that was how it was even in your day, right? So learn the right knee-jerks."
"I dont mean to be a smart aleck, but I was of the opinion that knowing the basic science information was pretty much the key to medicine."
Hardav picked up a mediscanner and turned it on Eletto. After a moments study he shook his head. "Nope, brain is not gone, nor has it ceased function, no matter how much it sounds like it. Look, use your head, man. Someone comes in here with a sky high fever, feeling rotten, looking worse and the readout shows some exotic microbe on the mediscanner, what do they want? A dissertation on the Human immunologic response, and how it makes them feel the way they do when theyre invaded by some obnoxious organism? No! They want drugs, and they want them now, so that they can be better already. Beam back to reality, Eletto!"
Against his will, Eletto started chuckling. "Ill give you credit, youve got a point, I suppose. Although Id check to make sure no one had played with the mediscanner first, with you on board. But youre not going to convince me that the science stuff is irrelevant, you know."
"And who said I was?" Davids looked at the ceiling in frustration. "Its just that you can wait on that until youve got the reflexes straight. MBengas been telling stories on me again, hasnt he?"
"Just one, actually, when wed found the cadet with Rigelian Fever. He mentioned the time youd reprogrammed his scanner for surface scans only."
Hardav winced. "Dont remind me. Uhura had my communicator going off every time I went to the john, to the shower, and every hour or so while I was sleeping. It days was before she quit. Take my advice, man, do not offend that woman. She is quality where it comes to vengeance."
"What you need, Doc, is to meet Beat the Reaper. Thatll get you up to speed faster than what youre doing now."
Puzzlement registered on Giacs face. "Beat the Reaper? Whats that?"
"A demonstration beats a description any day. Hike over to that readout over there, will you?" Hardav turned to the one hed been reading when Eletto arrived. Giac complied. Harrison Davids mumbled at his readout, softly enough that Giac couldnt hear. Suddenly, the readout burst into life. On it, there was a mediscanner readout, the only abnormal findings being a fever and pharyngeal bacterial infestation with a microbe showing Streptococcal glycoproteins. Next to the mediscanner readout was a hooded figure carrying a large sickle. Across the figures chest, there was a numerical countdown progressing.
"Well, Doc, what you gonna do? Stand there and let your patient die? Tell the readout what you want done, itll obey."
Without thinking, Giac spoke to the readout. "Neokef, five hundred milligrams, left deltoid." The countdown stopped, and the hooded figure threw its sickle down, hopping in apparent frustration.
"Good going. Try it again." Hardav mumbled inaudibly again.
This time, the scan readout didnt seem too far out of line, other than a slightly rapid heart rate without evidence of cardiac problems. Eletto thought for a moment, then acted. "Endocrine analysis." Several different readouts flashed onto the screen, but before he could respond, the countdown hit zero. The readout produced a hideous cackling sound, and the figure swept his sickle across the screen, clearing the data. Across the screen flashed a commentary on what hed failed to do in time.
"Too slow, Eletto. Youre going to have to speed up." Hardav rose. "Care for some coffee?"
"Dont mind if I do. Black, if you please."
Hardav headed for the dispenser. "Couple of cups of my blend, Jeeves." He extracted the cups, taking a swallow from one, and handing the other to Eletto. "Just letting you know I havent spiked it with anything weird."
"If you had, youd just have taken the antidote." Eletto took a swallow himself, pleased with the flavor. "Hey, this isnt standard brew, either; its much better."
"Private blend. Best you ever tasted, I bet."
"Not exactly," Eletto responded. "Second best. Jack, back in Houston Mission Control made the best. His own private formula, roasting some wheat with the coffee beans before he ground it. Brewed it strong, but it was never bitter. Never figured out how the man did it."
A sudden groan came from the speaker near the readout. "The Reaper calls, Eletto," Hardav grinned. "To the rescue, Doc!"
Eletto turned to the readout, read the mediscanner results and reacted. New results appeared, and he responded again, beating the Reaper. Another patients scan appeared, then another, and another, rapid fire. Some, he solved correctly, sending the Reaper into any one of a number of different tantrums; most he failed to solve, being repaid for his failure by seeing the Reaper do one or another of his obnoxious victory dances, and gleefully, if not insultingly, explaining what he should have done, but didnt.
There was a brief break, barely long enough to take the last couple of swallows of his coffee, then came another barrage of patients. Another cup of coffee showed up at his elbow. Between challenges thrown by the Reaper, he took a swallow. Distracted by the barrage of challenges on the readout, he said, "Thanks, Jack. Good, like always: strong, but not bitter." Several simulated patients later, the terminal blanked, and he took another swallow, suddenly realizing that the coffee might have been Jacks brew, but Jack wasnt around, not by a wide margin. Over by another readout, Hardav was sipping a cup of coffee, grinning triumphantly.
"Got it right, didnt I?"
Astonished, Giac nodded. "How on Earth For a minute, I thought I was back in Houston, drinking Jacks brew."
"I agree, by the way. Best coffee I ever tasted. That Jack fellow had the right idea, all right." It was clear there was no answer to Elettos question on the horizon; Hardav was willing to gloat, but not explain. "Itll give you the stuff if you ask for Jacks NASA blend. Look, Im about to go off shift, and youre about to start yours. Enough with Beat the Reaper for now."
Grateful for the coffee, Eletto decided not to argue. "Any chance you can give me access to the program? I suppose its your own product."
Hardav bowed deeply. "Im most flattered, Doctor! Yes, its my own little program, and if you dont mind letting it access you, youre welcome to access it."
"Consider it a done deal. Not much sense in having it go only one way, right?"
"Exactly." On Hardavs face, there was a grin that worried Giac, but he decided to let it slide. "Ill get the access rigged later on today, and when Ive got it done, Ill let you know on the ships Intranet. For now, I need some sleep. Gnite!" The Physicians Associate headed for the turbolift. Just as he stepped to the door, it opened, releasing McCoy and MBenga. Davids swapped greetings and places with them, disappearing into the turbolift.
The day in Sickbay had been slow, and Eletto had been able to work on a few modules during the slack periods. In the early afternoon, he noticed that Hardav had sent him an Intranet message letting him know that he and Beat the Reaper had access to each other. Amused by the apparent eccentricity of the message, Giac had spent some time working with the program, progressively improving his practice, even if not his comprehension of what he was doing. At shifts end, he concluded that the best use of his time would be to browse the ships computer library on a handful of points that hed come across in Beat the Reaper, ones where he had been sorely and frequently trounced by the obnoxious, sickle-wielding animation. Once in his quarters, he decided a preliminary shower to clear his wits was in order.
Eletto had no more than entered the shower when it sounded like the communicator chimed. Hurrying out of the washroom, dripping wet, he discovered that the sound had come from the readout speaker, and the readout had the Grim Reaper on it. Over the next three-quarters of an hour, he found himself tackling one problem after another, wondering when the stream of crises would stop. As suddenly as the program had invaded his privacy, it disappeared. Mutual access, indeed, Eletto mused. Well, I agreed to it. Welcome back to internship and non-stop call. Itll hammer things in, I guess, so I should be grateful. At least the patients are artificial, if I wipe them out.
By morning, Elettos gratitude was beginning to wane: the Reaper had been by twice more. On the other hand, he reminded himself, hed learned more practical medicine than he had from all the modules put together. He went to the dispenser. "Jacks NASA brew, half a liter." It had kept him going in the twenty-first century, and it was going to have to do it in the twenty-third, too.
Over the next several days, Eletto discovered that Beat the Reaper only assaulted him when he was in his cabin. To have any certainty of peace and quiet, he was driven to abandon his cabin. With utter fascination, he had spent significant blocks of time in the aft viewing deck, watching huge cubes of granite be transported from Gamma Virginis Ones moon, then towed to a stable orbit around Kahla. It was in orbit around Kahla that the real fun had started: out of the hundred meter cubes of rock, solid granite pipes of assorted diameters were being transported and "stacked" in orbit. Repetitive as the process was, it still held Giac fascinated, sufficiently so that he failed to notice Captain Scotts arrival.
"Tis fascinatin, isnt it, laddie?"
"Id have thought it would have been routine for you, Scotty."
The Scotsman shook his head. "Were tryin a trick thats never been tried before, so tis almost as fascinatin to me as it is to you. Once weve got the pipes all cut, well slice up the left over smooth surfaces and use em to pave an area on the surface, sort of make a stone plaza for em. Then well transport the pipes to where theyll be needed under the soil. We cant go too deep, mind, but for the needs we have here, itll be enough."
Eletto pried his eyes away from the growing supply of pipes, looking the Scotsman in the face. "Somehow, I have the feeling that youve got more on your mind than seeing how impressed I am with your little engineering trick, here. What else is on your mind, Captain Scott?"
"Youre right, Ill not deny that. Would you mind coming with me? I was wonderin if you could give me a little insight into an object that showed up, stuck to the wall across from my cabin this morning."
"Probably not," Eletto shrugged, "But Ill try. Lead on."
The two men took the turbolift to Scotts office in Engineering. Once in the office, Scott shut the door, and reached behind his desk, retrieving a metal and rubber object, and holding it in view. After a moment or two of study, Eletto finally made sense of it. Two plungers, with long, thinner handles and small bells, were mounted on a third, stockier one, all of the bells pointed the same direction. A fourth plunger, with a handle shortened to the point of near absence and an immense, flat bell was mounted at the far end of the squat plunger, its bell pointed toward the ceiling. With only a little imagination, he could see the shape of the Enterprise caricatured by the plunger-based model. It took monumental effort to keep from giggling.
"Tis obvious," Scott observed, "That theres a story here you could tell. Would you mind sharing it?"
"Ill try. If I can keep a straight face. Youre familiar with plungers?"
"I am now; I had to look these things up in the computer to find em. Theyve not been used for, oh, a hundred fifty to two hundred years. I thought you might know a wee bit more than the computers engineerin files. Thats why I came to you, Doctor."
Eletto nodded. "Would it help you if I told you that they were called plumbers helpers? Which is what some of the Engineering personnel were saying the Enterprise was being used for when I was in one of the recreation areas a couple of days ago."
"Interestin indeed. Would it have been Frensa that you were talkin to?"
"Frensa and one of his buddies, I forget his name. Howd you guess?" Eletto was clearly surprised.
"Hes the only other person thats accessed data on plumbers helpers." Scotts face broke into a grin that, Giac suspected, might bode ill for the cadet. "Ill be needing a wee talk with that lad."
"Listen, Im sure it was all in fun. No need to be hard on the kid." There was honest concern in Elettos voice.
"Hard on him? Dont be daft, man. This is wonderful stuff. Ill be wanting at least a handful more of em, smaller ones especially. It might even make a worthwhile trophy for an exceptionally slow cadet or two." Merriment was written all over Scotts face. "Now, keep this to yourself, if you dont mind; well have much more fun if you do."
Eletto could only nod. Struggling to control himself, he headed for the turbolift. Only when he was safely inside did he break into laughter. Plumbers helper indeed! He wondered how long it would be before one showed up on the bridge, or in Sickbay. Or, for that matter, outside his own cabin.
After two weeks of being assaulted by "Beat the Reaper" at all hours of the day and night, Eletto decided that was enough was enough. It wasnt that he objected to the program, or even overly much to the interruptions; it was just time to arrange for a little payback. Realizing that getting back at Harrison Davids would require more resources than he personally could muster, Giac decided to pay Scott a visit. The rumors hed heart about the appearances of the Plumbers Helper Enterprise had convinced him that Captain Scott would be a willing, if not an eager, co-conspirator. Having finished his tour of duty in Sickbay, Eletto made his way to Engineering. Only a few moments were required to locate the Scotsman.
"Captain Scott, could I have a moment of your time?"
Scott turned to face Eletto. "As long as ye dont have plans with one of those hyposprays, laddie, youre welcome to as much of my time as ye need. Whats on your mind? Malfunction in your cabin?"
"Um, not exactly. Actually, a business proposal of sorts. Mind if we duck into your office? Id rather keep this, ah, more or less private."
Intrigued, Scott led the way, carefully shutting the door behind him. Moving behind his desk, he tripped a switch. "Thatll keep pryin ears out of the way. Had to install it a few years ago, when one of the cadets thought itd be a good idea to snoop on me, and figure out what I had in mind. Now, you said you had a business proposal?"
"Yes, indeed. A bit of barter for your services," Eletto nodded. "Its a little off the beaten path, mind you, and maybe a bit shady, but perfectly legal."
"Barter, is it? Would you be offering me permanent freedom from yon hyposprays?"
"Not exactly, but maybe something almost as good. I understand youre a connoisseur of fine spirits. Does the name Chivas Regal ring a bell?"
"Aye, that it does. Go on. Im listenin."
"As it turns out, I am able to offer you a liter bottle of well aged Chivas Regal in return for a little help. Would you be interested?"
The Scotsman registered a combination of surprise and disbelief. "Interested, but Im a wee bit skeptical. Theres not a bottle of Chivas Regal to be had within several light years of here, and thats a fact."
"Not exactly. You see, Jack Kinney, one of the crew of the Jove, liked to toast the completion of a mission with Chivas when we managed to arrive at our destination. Hed smuggle the stuff aboard, and stash it. I happen to know where it is. Were talking aged with a vengeance."
"Have you forgotten how cold it gets in interstellar space? Tis a pig in the poke." Scott shook his head. "The bottle surely shattered when the contents froze, and by now, its thawin and all over the floor."
"Not if it was stored in Medical. And it was, and I know where, and I know the combination to get into where it is. What do you say?"
Scotts face lit up. "Id say you were makin a mighty generous offer. If the bottles intact, Ill owe ye several favors! Youre on. What were you wanting?" The captain of engineering extended his hand, to seal the bargain.
Eletto took the hand and shook it. "Its a done deal, then. I have need of your assistance in wreaking a little vengeance, preferably creative vengeance, on Harrison Davids. His little program Beat the Reaper has been beating me out of a lot of sleep lately, and I thought a little payback was in order."
"Harrison Davids?" Scott snorted. "If yed told me that Id have offered ye a bottle of Saurian brandy for the privilege of helpin pull one on him."
"No kidding? Whats he done to you?"
"For starters, Ive got to unsnarl some of the little bits of imagination hes pulled. Had to reprogram the occasional mediscanner, for instance, and install some special devices in a cabin "
"That one, Id heard about from MBenga."
"Did he tell you about the food dispenser stunt?"
Eletto shook his head. "Nope."
"Twas one of Hardavs worst. He found a loophole in the programming that controlled the food dispensers, and programmed them so that no matter what you asked for, ye got beans, black bread and water. It was terrible. The load on life support alone was incredible, and the crew was about to mutiny. The only thing that saved the man from being court-martialed was that hed been complainin about the loophole through official channels for a year or more, pointin out that if he could find it, so could the Klingons and all, and they would program in something nastier than beans. That, and the fact he showed the brass how to plug the hole."
Eletto started chuckling. "A deals a deal, Scotty. Ill tell you how to get the Chivas anyhow. Its no use to me. Im a teetotaler."
"Itll be easier if we just go over to the platform together, and you get it."
"Im a doctor, Scotty, not an engineer," Eletto disagreed. "I dont breathe vacuum particularly well, and Im not trained in using your environmental suits."
"Dont be pretendin youre stupid, Giac. Theyd never have let you on the Jovian Platform if you didnt know how to go extravehicular to rescue a shipmate, and we both know it. And theres no way you could have done the burial without wearing a suit. If you could handle the suits of the twenty-first century, you can handle the ones we use. Give me half an hour with you, and youll be using one of them like you were born wearing it."
"Thats a horrible thought, man."
"Being proficient in a modern suit?"
"No, trying to deliver someone wearing one. Ooooh, hard on the mother."
"Im trying to be serious. I want you to come with me."
"Why? Give me one good reason."
Momentary surprise registered on Elettos face. "Im not following you."
"Didnt you have a few personal effects with you on the trip? Pictures, maybe, or a trinket or two? Seems to me that you might like to retrieve them. Not that Id suggest your living in the past, of course, but theyd be a link to it, and an important one at that."
"Pictures... Yes, there are a couple. Most of my pictures were stored as data files, which Im sure will be easy enough to download, but a few were hard copy." He sighed. "Especially one of Louise. Youve won your point, Scotty. How soon do I start training?"
Scott stood up. "Sometime tomorrow, I think. Soon enough?"
"Soon enough." Eletto stood as well. "Until then?"
"Until then, laddie."
As Eletto rode the turbolift back to his cabin, he wondered what Scott had in mind for Hardav. He smiled to himself. Whatever it was, it was bound to be good.
MBenga had seen his last patient for the morning, and was on his way to get a bite of lunch when McCoy hailed him.
"Ben? Just need to pick your brain for a minute."
"Now, theres an unusual turn of events! Whats up, Leonard?"
"Couple things, really. First of all, I need you to run over the Kahla medical data, to see if you can catch anything. Im drawing a total blank."
"Can do, Chief. What was the other thing?"
"I just need to know if youve been tutoring Eletto off hours. Hes been doing things way beyond what the modules covered should have trained him to do. He did a field resection of a pinhead lung cancer, as sweet as if hed been doing it for years, and he hasnt even touched those modules."
"I havent been tutoring him, Leonard, but ." MBenga rubbed his jaw for a moment. "I bet hes been being beaten up by Beat the Reaper. Thatd explain why Elettos looked so tired so many mornings. The Reaper shows no mercy."
McCoy shook his head in confusion. "I presume youre going to clarify, before I die of curiosity."
"Its a program Davids, the night shift PA wrote. Hes the one that chivvied me into leaving my desk job in Starfleet and return to front line medicine. When I expressed doubts about being able to dredge up the skills Id need to do that, he just grinned and unleashed it on me. Three months, and I was ready for anything, especially an uninterrupted nights sleep. It was brutal, but it made me a real doctor again."
"No kidding. Maybe I need to talk to Davids about it. We all could stand some practical review, once in a while."
MBenga looked at his colleague closely, hoping to see signs that he was kidding. Clearly, McCoy wasnt. "Look, before you go doing something crazy like that, at least let us solve the Kahla problem, okay? Unless youre suddenly allergic to sleep, that is."
Grinning, McCoy shrugged. "If you say so. But if its half as good as some of the practical jokes that boys pulled " He let his sentence die unfinished.
"Its that good. And Im famished. Let me get some lunch, will you?" MBenga tried to look as starved as he could, hoping for some pity.
"Oh, get out of here and feed your face." McCoy returned to his readout. "Just remember, your annual physical is in six weeks, and Id hate to find that you were overweight enough to be put on a restricted diet."
"Thanks for the reminder, Leonard. You sure know how to ruin a guys lunch." The Zulu smiled. "Of course, your annual physical is scheduled for after mine, as I recall " MBenga hustled out of ear shot before McCoy could reply.
Eletto had arrived in Sickbay, as usual, surprised to see Harrison Davids talking with Doctor McCoy. McCoy looked up. "Oh, Eletto. Theres been a last minute schedule change, Im afraid. I need you to rest up a bit, and "
The wall communicator chiming interrupted the conversation. "Scott here, Doctor McCoy. Can you spare Doctor Eletto from his days efforts for a few minutes?"
"Temporarily. You need him?"
"That I do, if you can spare him. I need him over on the platform for a few moments. Itll not take long."
McCoy looked at Eletto, who nodded assent. "I guess I can spare him, Scotty."
"Good. Ill come for him now. Scott out."
The chief medical officer turned to face his colleague. "As I was saying, Ill be needing you to pick up some slack later today. Harrison, here, will be working until about noon. Once youre done on the platform, Im going to need you back here for an extended shift, until about midnight. Im going to have Ben go over the Kahla data. Ive been over the scans so many times Im about cross-eyed. Im whipped. I want you to cover for him while Bens looking at it."
"His full name is Baraka Keme MBenga. I prefer Ben. Either way, once Scotty gets you back, I need you here."
The turbolift door slid open, and Scott stepped out. "Doctor Eletto?"
"Im ready to go, Scotty."
"Come along, then." The engineer led the doctor to the turbolift.
Just over an hour later, two suited men materialized in the garden area of the Jovian Platform. Eletto looked above himself, staring at the gaping rent in the transparent aluminum dome. He began to rise toward it. Scott moved alongside.
"Whatre you lookin for, Giac?"
"What I find, Scotty. There wasnt much light here when I buried them. I want to see for myself."
Scott made no reply, sensing that none was needed. The pair ascended toward the dome, the tortured metal becoming silvery white and opaque as it approached the rent. After a few moments of study, Eletto began his descent.
"You didnt stay long, laddie," the engineer observed, puzzled. "What were you looking for that was so quickly found?"
"Answers. One answer, really." The doctors voice was almost angry.
"Aye, I understand. I think. Would you be minding telling me the question?"
There was a long pause, so long that the Scotsman was beginning to wonder if Eletto had heard him. Finally, Eletto responded, "The hull was bent outward by the blast. The support beams were bent inward."
"I dont quite follow you."
"Where would that put the explosive device?"
"Between the two of...." Scotts voice trailed off into silence. "I see what you mean, Giac," he said, sympathetically. "I suppose I might feel the same if someone in Starfleet sabotaged the Enterprise."
Both men landed on the frozen, desiccated soil, Eletto harder than the Scotsman. "It was over two hundred thirty-five years ago. I guess it doesnt really matter, any more, but I had to know. I had to know, no matter how much it hurts to realize there was a traitor among us." He turned to face the engineer. "Do you understand, Scotty?"
"Aye, laddie, I understand only too well."
The two men moved toward the central island that lead into the interior of the ship, Eletto leading. Confidently, Eletto lead the Scotsman to the ships Sickbay. Over the door, there was a makeshift air lock. Scott cycled the mechanism. "In you get." He followed Eletto in. "The locks for convenience when were workin on the platform. We occasionally want to be out of our suits to work on something. Dont mind the mess."
Once the lock repressurized, Eletto opened the door to the familiar room. Several of the working surfaces had unfamiliar tools neatly piled on them, but on the whole, nothing much had changed other than the removal of the hibernaculum. After a moment or two of silence, he moved over to a small locker and keyed in a sequence of digits. The door opened, and Eletto retrieved its contents, handing it to the engineer.
With something just short of reverence, the Scotsman accepted the bottle, turning it gently in his hands. "Chivas Regal, bottled in 2039. Youre a generous man, Giac." Gently, he slid the bottle into a large, padded sample container slung at his belt. "Its worth a small fortune, laddie."
"Enjoy it, Scotty. I believe in paying folks well for services rendered. To my cabin, next?"
"Lead on." Scott cycled the lock, letting Eletto take the lead again.
The trip was shorter, this time. Stopping at one door, Eletto keyed in a sequence of numbers, and the door slid open.
The cabin itself was small, barely large enough for a bed, a chair and a desk, with a closet in one wall. It was to the desk that Eletto moved. Opening one of the sample bags that came with the suit, he collected the few books on the desk and put them in. He picked up a picture and stared for a moment.
"Thatd be your wife, Giac?"
Eletto nodded, forgetting that the Scotsman couldnt see his head moving. "Yes, thats my Louise." He turned, showing the picture to his companion. "It was taken just a couple of days before the car accident that... that killed her."
"She was beautiful."
"Thank you, Scotty. I thought so, too. Patient and sweet, to boot. I guess she had to be, to put up with me." Eletto put the picture in another sample bag, picking up another. "This is Dave and Matt, our sons. Matts the one on the right; Daves on the left."
Scott smiled. He reached for another picture. "Dave and his wife?
"Exactly. Lynn was pregnant when I went into the cold sleep, Scotty. So was Adael, Matts wife." Giacomo put the picture he was holding into the bag and picked up the last one on the desk. "One of these days, Im going to have to see what became of them. But not today." He put the final pictures in the bag.
"Giac, laddie, would it be okay if I made duplicates of these for you, and returned the originals here?" Scott asked, softly.
"I guess so, but whatever for?"
"Authenticity. When the Jovian Platforms repaired, itll be made a historical monument. Having the original objects here would be better, if its all the same to you."
"Itll be fine with me, Scotty. Look, weve done what we were here to do. Lets head back."
The men retraced their steps. In the garden area, Eletto looked around one last time.
"Have ye seen enough for now?"
Doctor Eletto looked around the garden area. "Yes. Time to move on to the Enterprise."
The night shift had been reasonably quiet, and Harrison Davids decided that the time had come for the Grim Reaper to visit Eletto again. Turning to the readout, he quietly logged in a sequence of commands, activating the program and giving the Reaper an idea of the kind of harassment to deliver.
Unexpectedly, the lights around him dimmed. Hardav spun around, wondering if there was some sort of problem. Other rooms that he could see from where he sat were adequately lit; only the one he was in was darkened. Taken somewhat aback, he stood up, only to find the doorway blocked by an apparition that was moaning piteously. Slowly, the vague outline took the shape of a hooded figure clutching a sickle.
Hardav smiled: hed pulled similar tricks years ago, using a holoprojector. This wasnt going to get his goat. He stepped toward the figure, only to find himself pushed backwards by its bony hand, the bright red eyes glaring out from the dark depths of the hood, staring at Hardav. Suddenly realizing this was more than a holoprojection, Hardav began to sweat. When the numbers appeared on the Reapers chest and began counting down, the apparition shifted its grip on the sickle, preparing to swing it. There was no doubt in Hardavs mind that he would be the target.
Slowly, menacingly, the Reaper approached, raising his weapon. At the instant the numbers zeroed out, the sickle was thrown down. The skeletal apparition cackled gleefully, did a victory dance, and disappeared, leaving Hardav shaking. The Physicians Assistant sat down, hard. In his heart, he knew it had to have been Eletto pulling this one on him, but that didnt provide any reassurance. That Reaper had been too real, too solid. Badly shaken, he cleared the readout. Before Beat the Reaper got loose again, Hardav decided hed better do some checking.
Just in case, of course, it might not have been a prank.
Come morning, Eletto was back in Sickbay, feeling slightly triumphant over what hed bribed Scott to do to pay Hardav back for "Beat the Reaper" interrupting his sleep. Scott had shown him the sequence that had been created, combining a holoprojector and a force field to convince Davids that the projection was real. Rumor had already reached Giac about how thoroughly Hardav had been scared.
Somehow, knowing hed arranged to best the man made him feel like hed arrived, in some sense, and after the several weeks of training that hed undergone, much of it more formal than Hardavs program but not anywhere near as effective or fun, Eletto was feeling almost at home in Sickbay. There was a steady stream of folks with minor complaints, ones Eletto was able to handle without difficulty.
Only one major problem had surfaced, an individual from Engineering who had managed to get his arm crushed by a falling engine casing. On that, MBenga and he had spent nearly an hour working together trying to sort out and repair crushed and severed muscles, blood vessels and nerves. As they were beginning the process of closing the skin, the sound of two women quarreling began to drift in.
"Mom, I mean it. Drop the wishful thinking, will you?" There was the clear sound of someone throwing up. "This is not morning sickness, and Im not pregnant. In case you hadnt noticed, its late afternoon, not morning, and this is definitely the wrong time of my month."
"Honey, if you dont quit arguing with me, I may have to turn you over my knee and paddle you. If youre not knocked up, youre sick, and even more in need of..." The voice was interrupted by the noise of dry heaves. "Medical help. Heavens, child, I wasnt this sick when I was totin you."
"Just keep me from falling over when I retch, okay, Mom?"
MBenga looked up from the operative field. "Sounds like Doctor Oti and Doctor Iaffrey, our two fancy civilian engineers here to handle the problem on Kahla . I can finish here, Giac. Why dont you see if you can deal with the bickering ladies out there before Oti floods Sickbay."
"Experience gives one privilege, Doctor Eletto." MBenga flashed Eletto a toothy grin. "The quadribenzamides in the second cabinet from the left."
Giacomo backed out of the surgical field. "Thanks, Keme. Ill do what I can, if the two of them dont claw each others faces off, first." He rummaged in the cupboard for a moment or two, emerging with a loaded hypospray. Pretending to be walking to his execution, he stepped through the door into the antechamber. Before him, he saw two women, one sitting on the floor clutching a waste container, intermittently retching at it. The other, presumably the mother, was holding her daughters long brown hair out of harms way, and helping her sit steadily. Both of the women looked up as they heard Eletto enter. "If we could have a shoulder exposed, so I can deliver a little something for the nausea?" A sleeve was pulled up, and the hypospray applied. Eletto turned the mediscanner on the woman holding the wastebasket.
"Would I be correct in assuming that youre Doctor Oti?"
She nodded weakly. "Yeah, whats left of me. I think Ive upchucked everything Ive eaten in the last six months. Maybe more."
Eletto nodded sympathetically. "How much coffee have you been packing away, Madame?"
"Im throwing up all over the place, and youre wanting to talk about my preference in beverages? Look, shouldnt you be worrying about why Im so ill?"
"Knock it off, Anaper," Galori said. "He doesnt tell you how to design sewers, so dont you tell him how to doctor."
Eletto chuckled. "Dont take bets on my staying out of the sewer design; Ive had my nose in that sort of thing, once in a while. Back to our present problem, ladies. It looks like youve probably been packing away too much strong coffee to me. Having a headache, too, arent you?"
Iaffrey nodded. "Both of us are."
"Um hmm. I would have thought, Doctor Iaffrey, that you would have had better sense." He turned the mediscanner on her. "Figures. Look, how much coffee have you two soaked up in the last couple of days?"
The women looked at each other for a second. Finally, Oti answered. "Come to think of it, quite a bit, black and very strong. We were studying the scans all night."
"No kidding. Both of you have enough caffeine in your bloodstream that Id have to use coffee if you needed a transfusion. Trust me, ladies. Coffee is a beverage, not life support."
Anaper looked up at her mother. "Is he trying to tell us caffeine isnt a food group?"
"Typical male. He would probably deny that chocolate is a food group, too, honey. Humor the bum. Poor man, he just doesnt know better."
Eletto chuckled. "How about considering the adage, Too much of a good thing. Look, Anaper, youve got enough caffeine on board that youre toxic from it. The reason it feels like your heart is skipping beats is because it is, as a result of your hideous caffeine levels. The headache is part of it too, just like the vomiting. And," he turned to face Galori Iaffrey, "the same is true of you, Madame. Both of you have serum caffeine levels at toxic levels. Both of you need to get a nights sleep, and to stay away from the caffeine for a couple of days."
Iaffrey looked at her daughter. "The mans obviously out of, pardon the oxymoron, his mind. Quit coffee?"
"Homicidal, Mom. Hes definitely a homicidal maniac."
"Im also one of the ships doctors. Dont force me to endanger the rest of the ship to protect you two." Oti and Iaffrey looked at each other, clearly puzzled. Eletto continued, an impish grin forming on his face. "If I dont have your word that you wont touch any caffeinated beverages for the next forty-eight hours, Ill have Engineering reprogram the food dispensers to decaffeinate everything. Have I made myself adequately clear?"
"Daughter, he has us trapped. I believe hes just insane enough to do it."
"I told you, Mom; hes homicidal. I just didnt recognize the suicidal bent."
"Male, honey. Males are all suicidal, I think. Otherwise, theyd never marry the likes of us. Theyd all marry nice, safe, blonde bimbos."
Giacomo was struggling hard not to crack up laughing at the two women bantering. "Oh, I dont know. Some of us prefer red-headed tarts." He ducked as Iaffrey tried to clip him one. "Look, ladies, Im serious. Youve pushed your bodies to their limit, and theyre showing signs of being close to falling apart. Thats not my opinion. Its the mediscanners opinion, okay?"
"Last I checked, mediscanners were neuter, Anaper."
"Hes got us there, Mom. Unless theyve figured out how to make male scanners."
"Im sure some engineer is working on it, honey." She gently stroked her daughters long brown hair. Iaffrey turned to face Eletto. "So were banished to our rooms, and sentenced to bread and water?"
"Tell you what, how about saying youre sent to your bedrooms for a nap? And you can join me for breakfast in the morning, so I can oversee what you eat. Does that sound better?"
"My, we are a sneak, arent we?" Oti opined with a half smile on her face. "Not only are we making sure our patients got their sleep, were making sure they eat breakfast with nothing other than juice." Oti turned to Iaffrey again. "We better watch this one, Mom. Hes catching on."
"Ladies, I caught on longer ago than either of you would believe. Now, to bed with both of you. I just hope youre in separate cabins."
Iaffrey smiled. "We are, Doctor. And well meet you for breakfast, so you can oversee and make sure we dont cheat." She bent down and put Anapers arm around her shoulders. "Cmon, sweetheart. Lets get you to bed." She gently helped her daughter stand, wrapping an arm around her waist, as much in affection as for support.
Oti looked up. "Yes, Mommy. You gonna tuck me in, too?"
"Okay, child, but I draw the line at a bedtime story." Iaffrey turned to Eletto again, and noticed a tear running down one cheek. "Doctor, is there something the matter?"
Giacomo shook his head, embarrassed at being caught. "No, not really, Doctor Iaffrey. Its just that for a moment there, you two reminded me of Louise and Adael, my wife and daughter in law."
"And that makes you cry?" Iaffrey was obviously surprised.
"It still does, Madame, yes. Theyre both dead. Excuse me." Eletto turned, to hide his face, surprised that the memory of Louise and Adael had hit him so hard after as many weeks as hed been in the twenty-third century. He felt the warmth of a small, feminine hand on his shoulder.
"Im sorry, Doctor. I didnt know. Judging by how youve handled Anaper and me clowning, they were fortunate women to have had you for a husband and father-in-law. I hope you dont take Anaper and me too seriously when we talk about men; were not really androphobes. Have they been gone long?"
Reluctantly, Eletto turned to face the women. "On the one hand, it feels like it was just yesterday, Madame, but on the other, it feels like its been centuries. If that makes sense to you."
Iaffrey nodded. "Sort of. Darren, my husband, has been gone for yearsbut sometimes, when something reminds me of him, it seems like just yesterday that I lost him." Iaffrey reached up, wiping the lone tear from Elettos face. "Ill put Anaper to bed, and then go to bed myself, I promise. And no coffee or caffeine for either of us, on my word of honor."
Eletto nodded. "Good enough. And you dont really have to do breakfast with me, ladies; that was just me entering into your banter."
"No matter. Anaper and I hate eating alone, so lets meet for breakfast anyway. Well meet you here in Sickbay when we get up and moving."
"Ill look forward to it."
Eletto watched as the two made their way to the turbolift. As the door slid shut, he could hear Iaffreys voice, "Hey, kid, dont expect me to carry you. Once was enough, trust me. Im not horribly old, but Im not that young anymore. And youre not as tiny as you were when you were five."
Eletto smiled, weakly. The two doctors did remind him of his wife and daughter-in-law, the way they sparred. It had caught him off guard, he supposed, but it wouldnt happen again. He turned, intent on returning to see how MBenga was doing with the wounded engineer. To his surprise, he saw MBenga standing just inside the doorway, with McCoy at his side. Both of them were staring at him.
"MBenga, I dont believe it. He almost had that bevy of beauties eating out of his hand." McCoy looked Eletto in the eye. "Grandpa, you gotta share your secret with me."
"Forget him, Giac. Let me in on it. Ive been angling to get Uhura to realize I exist for weeks, and she still doesnt know I exist as anything other than a communications address."
Eletto shrugged. "I guess they both like older men. Really, really older men." He chuckled a moment, then went on. "I doubt that you two were hanging around back there trying to study my technique with women. Shall we save us all a great deal of time and get to the point?"
"At the risk of raising a painful issue, Giac," McCoy replied, "There is the issue of the remains of your fallen comrades on the Jovian Platform. Captain Kirk has indicated that he wishes to discuss that with you at your first opportunity."
"I see. That would probably mean now would be appreciated, eh?" Eletto asked.
MBenga grinned widely. "He might enjoy discussing it with you over breakfast tomorrow, Giac, considering the company youre planning to keep. Especially since Iaffrey seems to be potentially available."
McCoy groaned. "All the more reason why you ought to get the issue taken care of tonight. With that pair at the table, youll never manage to get Jim to do any serious business. At least with you. Ill take you to the bridge personally. Now."
"I get the point. Lets go. That arm all fixed, MBenga?"
"Hell be back to full duty in three or four days, Giac. Itll ache for a bit longer, but I think he wont complain about that since its still attached. At least, he shouldnt."
The turbolift door slid open. "Glad to hear it, Keme."
McCoy hustled both men into the lift. "Cmon, Grandpa. If we dont hustle, well miss catching Jim on the bridge."
The door slid shut. "Would that be a disaster, Leonard?"
"Not really. But the sooner you get that issue off your shoulders, the better youll be able to get on with life, Giac. Have you even thought about what you think should be done?"
Eletto stared at his feet. "Not really. Ive been trying to avoid thinking about it, I guess."
"I understand, but you cant ignore it forever."
"I know." The turbolift door opened onto the bridge. "Its just that Ive already buried them once, if you see what I mean. Not with the proper pomp and all, I suppose, but still, it feels sort of odd facing doing it again." The two men stepped out of the lift. Eletto looked at people, each managing one area of the ships function. "Reminds me vaguely of Houston Mission Control."
Kirk stood up. "Ill take that as a compliment, Doctor Eletto. Bones, youve let him know whats up?"
"Sure have, Jim."
"Then lets go to a briefing room, where we can talk in private. Spock, you have the conn." The three men stepped into the turbolift, dropped one deck, and entered the V.I.P. lounge. Eletto and the captain sat across the table from each other. McCoy stood, just behind Eletto, where the captain could see him, but Eletto could not. Kirk turned to Eletto. "Have you reached any decision concerning your fallen comrades, Doctor Eletto? Their remains are safe in the Enterprises morgue, but Im sure Doctor McCoy is as eager to deal with them as I am."
"Of course, Captain. Is burial in space an option? I mean, we all spent most of our lives focused on interplanetary travel, and dreaming of interstellar travel, so I suppose that they would have been satisfied with such a burial. All their families would be gone by now. Im their last living friend, so we dont have to worry about anyone else achieving closure."
"There should be no problem, Doctor Eletto. Scotty can make sure theres enough thrust on the caskets to get them back into interstellar space. There is one other issue I would like to address."
"That would be?"
"The eulogy. Would you be willing to do it for them? If not, Id understand, but Id need your help."
Eletto sat silently for some time, staring at the tabletop before him. Kirk and McCoy remained silent, as well, respecting Elettos need to think. "I dont know if I can do it, Captain, but I feel that I need to try. Ill write out some notes ahead of time, and if I get to where I cant go on, youll have to finish it for me. Will that be suitable?"
McCoy caught Kirks eye, and nodded. "I can, Doctor, if you need me to, but I dont think youre going to need my help. McCoy says youre managing quite well, all things considered."
"Youll do fine, Giac," McCoy agreed. "It wont be easy, but I think itll help a lot. One other issue, however, that seems to have slipped the captains mind. Do you wish to open the ceremony to the whole crew?"
"I dont know. Do you think many would come? After all, these folks were all dead long before anyone on this ship was born. Other than me, that is."
"Its hard to tell, Doctor Eletto," Kirk responded, before McCoy could. "You have to understand, you and your colleagues are sort of folk heroes to a lot of people on this ship. You were braving interplanetary travel with little more than simple rockets and raw courage. How would you react if you had the chance to attend the funeral of, say, Yuri Gagarin or Alan Shepherd?"
"Or hear John Glenn speak their eulogy. Your point is well taken, Captain. From that perspective, I couldnt deny them the privilege, if they counted it such. How soon?"
Kirk looked at McCoy, clearly passing the question on. "Wed have to do the final preparation of the bodies, and Id like to do a detailed scan for archival purposes, which Ive not gotten around to. With three of them, no sooner than tomorrow, and preferably the day after. If everyone else can be ready that soon." McCoy looked at Eletto.
"If I can do it at all, I can be ready by then."
Kirk nodded. "Youll do fine. The day after tomorrow, then, with full honors."
Eletto stood. "Let it be so, then. Captain Kirk, will there be anything else? If not, Im beat. Ive had a couple of late nights, and early mornings. Hard as it may be to believe, I need to catch up on my sleep."
"So Ive heard." Kirk stood and extended his hand. "We may have to put you in protective custody, just to let you get a good nights rest."
The two men shook hands. "Hopefully, that wont be necessary, Captain. But just in case, I will lock my cabin door."
"Think you can find your way back to your quarters on your own, Giac? I need to bend Jims ear for a few moments more."
"I hope so, Leonard. I cant have you escorting me everywhere. Think of the rumors it would start."
Kirk buried his face in one hand, obviously trying to keep from laughing. "Hes got you there, Bones."
"If were done, then, Ill head to my cabin." Eletto left the briefing room.
There was a brief pause, as both men waited to be certain that Eletto was out of ear shot. Kirk broke the silence. "Well, Bones?"
"Its not about Eletto, Jim. Its about Kahla . Ive gone over the data theyve provided, and frankly, this just isnt making sense. Theyve used a couple standard idazole antiparasitics, and had devastating results. It just shouldnt be happening. None of them have the kind of toxicity were seeing."
"I dont follow you. I could almost believe that youre trying to tell me the drugs are only toxic on Gamma Virginis II, and nowhere else, but thats too preposterous to be true."
"You better fasten your seat belt, Captain, because thats exactly what Im trying to tell you. According to the biocomputer, what these drugs are doing to the folks on Kahla is utterly impossible. Bens been through the data as well, and reached exactly the same conclusions. Unfortunately, that doesnt seem to be stopping it from happening."
"Think it might be due to their using out of date equipment?"
"Not a chance, Jim. Theyve got top line stuff, as good as weve got on the Enterprise."
"Any chance there is a contaminant in their manufacturing of the drugs, Bones?"
"Nope. They bought em. Got em from the same supplier Starfleet uses."
"I hope youre not expecting me to out-doctor you, Bones, because it isnt going to happen. Im fresh out of ideas."
"I am, too, Jim."
"Great. Maybe you ought to sleep on it." Kirk studied his friends face closely. "Did you sleep at all last night?"
"Not much. This problem is eating up a lot of my time."
"Id guessed as much. Maybe a good nights sleep will help. Any input from Oti or Iaffrey?"
"Not so far. Other than both of them showing up at Sickbay, with Oti sick as a dog. They got banished to bed, too, for the same reasonstaying up all night working on the Gamma Virginis problem."
Kirk nodded. "Looks like an epidemic, Doctor. Deal with it, will you?"
"I hear and obey, Captain!" McCoy chirped. "At this rate, you and Spock are going to be the only folk on the ship not banished to their bedrooms like naughty children."
"And youre just gabbing to avoid your bed time, Bones. Be off with you, or Ill have MBenga declare you unfit."
McCoy shrugged, and left the room. Kirk stayed where he was, staring at the walls, wondering.
Eletto rode the turbolift to his quarters, and prepared for bed. For an hour or two, he worked with educational modules on the computer, continuing to get up to speed on the new medications. Before long, however, the toll exacted by the late nights and early mornings drove him to bed. For a few moments, Eletto stared at the blackness above him, then dropped off to sleep.
Suddenly, Eletto found himself moving through space at a furious pace, ending up standing outside the windows of his own home. Inside, he could see people moving around, apparently enjoying each others company. One face turned to look outside the window--he recognized it as Jack Kinney, one of the men buried in the soil of the Jovian Platform. Dave Harris and Frank Lafferty, the other two on the Platform, joined Jack.
For a moment, the three stared at Eletto, smiling and obviously content. One of them, Eletto couldnt tell which, turned and appeared to shout at the others in the house. Almost immediately, the window was crowded with faces, all of them familiar: Jorip Ma and his wife Jodhi, Doctor Bill Ika and his wife, Dave and Lynn, Matt and Adael, Louise, all the others from NASA and the Jovian Platform.
Everyone seemed to be saying something, but Eletto couldnt quite make it out. One by one, the faces disappeared from the window, until finally no one was left but Louise and Adael, standing in the window, arms around each others waist, still trying to make themselves heard. Slowly, the house faded from view, leaving only the window and the two women. Just as they began to fade, Adael waved at Giacomo; suddenly, he realized that everyone had been trying to say goodbye.
Giacomo sat up suddenly, wide awake and shouting, "No! Dont go! Louise! Adael! Everyone! Come back! Please!" He looked around, seeing only the semi-darkness of his quarters, and realized it had been nothing more than a dream. Lying down again, Eletto buried his face in his pillow, and wept until a dreamless sleep claimed him.
To his surprise, Giacomo found that he had awakened a few minutes before the alarm sounded. Even more to his surprise, he found that he was thoroughly rested. He looked in the mirror, and flinched. The events of the night before had not been kind to his face, that much was obvious. Cold water and a shave helped considerably, he decided, but not as much as hed wished. Fleetingly, he wondered if he could take a rain check on meeting the two Ph.D.s for breakfast, then decided against it. What point was there in refusing to move into the inescapable future, just to try to hold on to the irretrievable past?
He could almost hear his son, Matt, reminding him that hed always told both Dave and him that they might as well meet tomorrow head on, because if they didnt, tomorrow might just run them down. Oddly, the memory didnt sting quite as badly as Oti and Iaffrey reminding him of Louise and Adael had done the day before. Giacomo dressed, and headed for Sickbay.
Eletto was barely out of the turbolift when McCoy hailed him. "Hey, Grandpa, I seem to recall you have a breakfast date. You sure youre ready for that?"
Giac wasnt sure if he was hearing honest concern, or being needled. "Look, you young whippersnapper," Eletto responded with mock seriousness, "Aint it about time you quit tryin to teach Grandpa how to play checkers?" He became serious again. "In all honesty, Leonard, I dont know. I think so, but until I try, how do I know? Is there anywhere here, semi private, where the ladies and I could share breakfast without being mobbed by the rest of the crew?"
McCoy rubbed his chin for a moment. "Well, theres the V.I.P. area on B Deck where we met with Captain Kirk." The doctor pointed to a nearby turbolift. "Theres a quite a food dispenser in it, mostly intended for victuals for long conferences among the senior staff and important guests. It should be roomy enough, and very private. Whatve you got up your sleeve, anyhow?" A leer creased McCoys face.
"Breakfast and chatter, Doctor, following up on an couple of sick folks from yesterday, in case youve forgotten." Eletto chuckled. "Remember, I just met these ladies yesterday, and at least one of them was sick as a dog."
"Okay, point made. Youre planning to save any possible romance for later."
"My, we have a one-track mind, dont we, Leonard? First youre warning me away from women, and now youve practically got me courting them. Look, this got started as a wise-crack that ended up turning serious."
McCoy whooped. "Getting serious already? Good heavens you work fast!"
Giacomo held his head in mock agony. "The things a poor, old man has to put up with! Im being friendly, and youre already planning a wedding!"
"Thats right, Grandpa! I got dibs on being Best Man!" McCoy was obviously having more fun than he needed.
"Gee, I thought grandkids were supposed to be ring bearers, and the like. Maybe you ought to be the flower girl?"
"You wouldnt dare."
"Wanna bet? I might make MBenga best man, too."
McCoy rolled his eyes. "At least you werent planning to make him maid of honor. Get out of here and go get that breakfast started, will you?"
Eletto pretended to look pained, and headed into the V.I.P. lounge. He stared at the food dispenser, debating with himself. Finally, he ordered a selection of chilled fruits and juices. On a whim he ordered crepes Suzette. As he was putting it on the table, Oti and Iaffrey were ushered into the room by a grinning McCoy. "Now, you be a good boy, you hear?"
Giacomo just shook his head and escorted the ladies to the table. "Youre both looking much better than last night. If youll pardon the discourtesy?" Eletto produced a mediscanner, using it on both of the women.
"Do we have to wait for your approval before you let us eat?" Iaffrey demanded. "Im famished, and those hot, skinny pancakes smell gorgeous."
"Crepes Suzette, Galori, and please help yourself. You have my blessing." Iaffrey and Oti dug in with abandon.
After letting the two women load their plates, Giacomo joined them. He gave them a few moments to take the edge off their appetites before speaking. "What seems to be the problem with the data from Kahla?"
"Nothing, now. Water supply systems perfect," Oti mumbled around a mouthful of crepes. "Weve double checked our design, and gone over the assembly process endlessly. Thats the whole, stupid problem. Got a cyst thats getting into the water supply and surviving a purification process that is supposedly absolutely, unquestionably perfect." She stuffed another forkful into her mouth. "Hey, these things are great. Whatd you say they were?"
"Crepes Suzette, Anaper," Giac replied. "Dont ask me how to make em. I just ordered em and let the system do all the rest."
"So you cook like I do, then." Iaffrey picked out a piece of melon and started on it. "Anyway, the trouble is, there are no flaws in the system to cause the contamination. Its got us baffled. We were hoping youd had a chance to look at the medical data and give us a hand."
"Ah, the real motive for sneaking back here for breakfast! No such luck, ladies. Doctors McCoy and MBenga are the only ones thatve seen it so far. Thats fine by me; looks like its driving them batty."
Oti looked at her mother. "If he thinks McCoy and MBenga are batty, we got troubles, Mom. That pair must have gone way off the deep end."
"Men are supposed to be batty, child. Some are just worse than others."
Giacomo decided to ignore the gibe. "Doctor Oti," he began.
"Oh, dont be so stuffy. Anaper."
"Anaper, then. What are you using to sterilize the water supply? Chlorine? Ozone? UV laser?"
"Ozone initially; settling & filtration, then gamma. Theoretically, no carbon based life form could survive it, even in spore or cyst phase. I dont see how the organism slips through."
Giacomo nodded. "And youre already convinced that the new supply lines are structurally intact?" Iaffrey nodded agreement. "Puzzling."
"Youre telling us?" Iaffrey asked. "Why dyou think the data drove Anaper and I to the brink of death by caffeine?"
"An excellent point, Madame. I was merely confirming the obvious. Guess Ill have to talk with Doctor McCoy to see what hes found. If, of course, I can get him to quit playing matchmaker. Hes already trying to get me married off. Pushy, pushy."
Oti eyed her mother. "Like some people I know are about babies?"
Iaffrey concentrated on finishing her slice of melon, and stayed silent.
Eletto decided to let that one pass. "Well, its obvious that you both are back to as close to normal as you'll ever get." He downed a last swallow of juice and stood. "Id better clean up and get back to work, or McCoy and MBenga are going to accuse me of trying to start a harem, with you two as my first two additions." He began collecting the scant leftovers to return in the recycling chute.
"We probably ought to get back to the data, too, Doctor...." Iaffrey looked amused, suddenly. "Do you know, despite having seen you a couple of times, weve no idea as to who you are?"
"Youre right. I was too busy dealing with the medical issues last night, and somehow it just hasnt come up today. However, I can rectify the oversight. Im Doctor Eletto, Giacomo Eletto. Despite being in a Starfleet Medical uniform, Im sort of Human cargo, like yourselves. Im just getting back into clinical medicine after a, well, really prolonged absence on a deep space mission."
"This ship seems to be full of Human cargo, then: you, us, and that fellow they rescued off the derelict that the Enterprise is towing," Oti commented. "Wonder if there are any stowaways, too?"
"Probably not, Anaper," Iaffrey responded. "From the scuttlebutt Ive heard, this wasnt listed as a high-excitement trip. Whod want to stow away?"
"Do you plan to be at the funeral tomorrow, Doctor Eletto?" Anaper asked.
"Of course I do. I " Elettos face betrayed surprise at the question.
"Its all over the ships newsnet," Anaper interrupted. "From the way I read it, it looks like the lone survivor is going to be doing the eulogy for his twenty-three dead friends. Bet it feels strange, going into a cold sleep, and waking up a couple centuries later. Wonder how the poor fellow feels?"
Without thought, Eletto responded, "Lonely, Anaper, very lonely. But as the circle of acquaintances grows, less so daily. Think it through. How many of friends, relatives, acquaintances, and whatnot are likely to have survived two hundred or more years? I"
Iaffrey nodded, interrupting. "Seems to me it ought to be interesting to hear him do the eulogy, and maybe have a chance to meet him afterward. Think thats possible?"
Eletto bit his tongue. "Are you kidding? I"
Galori talked over Eletto again. "Tell you what, Doc, why dont you join us at the funeral service? Its at eleven. Perhaps we can find each other before it gets started. You plan to be there, dont you?"
"Wouldnt think of missing it, Madame. Im sure well be able to find each other. You see, I"
"Then its settled. And in between then and now, you can see what you can wheedle out of Doctor McCoy on the Kahla problem."
Eletto gave up on trying to identify himself. "I shall wheedle as much as I can out of him, just to satisfy my curiosity, Galori; if I learn anything, rest assured Ill be happy to share it with you." Eletto dumped the last of the refuse into the recycling chute. "Offhand, Id say wed both better get back to work. Tomorrow, okay?"
"Okay." The two women left the room, and stepped into a turbolift. As the door slid shut, Anaper turned to Galori. "Mom?"
"Eletto. He sort of reminds me of Daddy."
"Child, there are times that I swear anything male and even vaguely humanoid reminds you of your late father." Iaffreys face donned a softer look. "But youre right, Anaper. He does remind me of your late father, too. A lot. Not so much in the appearance as in the personality, what little weve seen of it."
"Hes single, too. Remember last night, he mentioned we reminded him of his late wife and their daughter?"
"Daughter-in-law, dear, and yes, I remember. But Im not shopping for another man, at least not yet. Maybe after you and Zander get your family started, okay?"
"That doesnt give you a lot of time, Mom, so maybe you shouldnt ignore this guy. Zander and I are going to start trying to get pregnant when I get back from this mission."
Iaffrey turned, and hugged Oti. "Good luck, to both of you." The door slid open. "All the more reason to get back to work on this project with a vengeance, then."
Oti rolled her eyes. "Anything to get another grandchild. Lets get to work."
In Sickbay, Eletto was greeted by McCoy as he exited the turbolift. "Well, Giac, whatd you learn about the Gamma Virginis problem?"
Giacomo feigned surprise. "I thought you had this figured for a romantic tete- a-tete, Leonard! Suddenly, Im supposed to have interrogated them on the sewer system and water supply! Make up your mind!"
"Since when was it impossible to mix business with pleasure? I still want to know what you learned."
"Zilch. Theyre convinced that the water and sewer system thats been installed is totally up to snuff, and that its impossible that the parasite is getting through the sterilization system. Any chance this thing is vectored by inhaled spores or cysts or something? Or maybe through some contaminated food product?"
"Nope, not a chance, Giac. Theyve actually detected the cyst phase in the drinking water. The air and the food supply is clean. Strictly vectored by drinking the water."
Eletto thought for a moment. "Curious. Ill have to think about that. Any chance that I can review the data youve got?"
"Not this morning. Theres too much on schedule for Sickbay, and youve got the eulogy to prepare. If you can get the eulogy done to your satisfaction this afternoon, you can run over it in your quarters. Ive got to talk to the bigwigs from the surface tomorrow afternoon, and to be honest, Im hoping your perspective will find something Ben and I havent, so that I wont have to admit weve learned almost nothing."
Eletto nodded, and put his efforts into the mornings load. With MBenga still taking second shift, the load was a little heavier than he was used to, but after having spent endless unexpected sessions with Beat the Reaper, he found it easy enough to cope.
Over lunch, hed written down a brief, if unimaginative, eulogy and managed to convince McCoy he was considerably more satisfied with it than he really was. Thus freed of his duties, Eletto returned to his quarters, where he had immersed himself in the medical data from Gamma Virginis II. Only a handful of records needed review before he was convinced that what McCoy had told him was true: the parasite was strictly borne by the water supply, that it infected the biliary tree, and its cysts were excreted through the colon.
Hours later, reviewing the reports of the autopsies done on the individuals who died when the antiparasitics had been used and the medical records of those who had been harmed by the antiparasitics or who had developed autoimmune problems when they werent used had taught him nothing more.
Eletto stood up, suddenly aware of the growl of his empty stomach and the stiffness of his joints. A glance at the chronometer told him hed been hunched over the readout for far too long. Walking over to the food dispenser, he ordered a carafe of Jacks Blend and a couple of sandwiches. Back at the readout, he decided to branch his search out, looking at the previous medical problems of those whose records hed reviewed. To his amazement, other than minor infectious illnesses, there was little or nothing to see. A chemist, he thought to himself. One of the ones that died after being given an idazole was a chemist. Maybe theres a chemical exposure thats a key to this mess. Again, he was disappointed. The only significant observation had been her being exposed to a chemical spill of some sort. Out of nothing more than idle curiosity, Eletto checked the chemical, finding that it had been carbon tetrachloride. Carbon tet, eh? Mostly liver toxicity, he mused. Some kidney. Now where were those autopsy records? When they flashed onto the screen, he realized that the idazole had damaged the chemists liver.
Curious. Lets see, the one with the brain injury caused by the idazole, which record was that? Ah, yes, here. A construction worker, it looks like, that got hit in the head by a falling steel I-beam sometime in his past. Eletto dug into the past records, finding a remote head injury. Odd, he thought. Ive seen people killed by blows to the head less severe than that. Wonder how he managed not to end up dead, or paralyzed? He should have been, after that injury, and all he suffered was what looks like a severe concussion. One by one, the records began showing the same pattern. Where there was an autoimmune reaction, or toxicity from an antiparasitic, there had been injury to the area at some time in the past.
Weird. I wonder if they shipped images of the microscopic examination of the tissues? To his surprise and relief, they had. One by one, he looked at the photomicrographs. Nah, its impossible, he thought to himself. Im probably getting cross-eyed staring at this absurd little screen. Wonder if MBengas busy in Sickbay? He downed the last of his sandwich and coffee, then headed for the turbolift.
Stepping out of the turbolift in Sickbay, Giac was met by MBenga. "Hey, whereve you been?"
"Banished to my quarters by our chief medical officer, Keme."
"Far as I know, you havent been a bad boy, so it must be the Gamma Virginis data, right?"
"What tipped you off? The fact that he made you review it?"
"Doctor McCoys more than a little frustrated, no mistake about it. I dont blame the man; the data just doesnt make sense at all. You find anything?"
"I dont know. Do they make those readouts the size of a whiteboard? Id like to look at a couple of the records with you, to see if Im crazy."
"Theres one that size in the conference room you had breakfast in. As for whether or not youre crazy..."
"I asked for that. Cmon."
The two doctors stepped into the conference room. MBenga activated the wall padd. "Here you go. Show me what youve found."
"Heres a chemist. The idazole killed her, virtually destroying her liver. Whats interesting is that she had a major exposure to carbon tetrachloride several years prior, and was unharmed. Look at the microscopic sections of the liver. See that?" Eletto pointed to one particular cell on the screen.
MBenga shrugged. "Big deal. The cell is undergoing mitosis. Dont tell me you didnt know that the liver can self repair, Giac. They knew that back in the early to mid twentieth century."
"You dont see anything interesting in the mitotic figure?"
"No, not at...." MBenga stopped mid sentence. He moved close to the padd. For a few moments, it was obvious that he was counting and recounting. "Mahma weh! Theres fifty-two chromosomes there. Thats bizarre."
"You think thats bizarre? Try this one. Its from a construction worker that got hit in the head hard enough that it broke his skull. Despite an injury that should have killed him, based on my twenty-first century experience, he survived. He gets the idazole, and promptly suffers brain toxicity, right where the injury had been, long years before. Heres the tissue from the autopsy. Look." Eletto pointed out another cell. "Neuron, undergoing mitosis. You dont usually find that in the brain."
MBenga counted. "Nor with fifty-two chromosomes, Giac. How well does this hold up on the other autopsy specimens?"
"Havent checked them all, Keme, but it checks for all the deaths. Look at this one. Older fellow, ninety something, with a brief history of cardiac disease. According to the scans, he had a total occlusion of a coronary artery that should have blown out the entire anterior wall of his left ventricle. They got to him in time, and opened the vessel. To the amazement of all involved, he experienced a total recovery. Four years later, hes suffering an autoimmune cardiomyopathy. The only thing thats kept him alive is potent immuno suppression. What no one noticed was that it was in the same area as what should have been a fatal infarct. Heres the endocardial biopsy specimen. Notice anything?"
"Fifty-two chromosomes in the mitotic figures, Giac. This simplifies things incredibly!"
"It does? Not for me it doesnt. All this does is change the confusion from one area to another. Knowing that there are six extra chromosomes in the cells the idazole kills, and what looks like an identical extra six in the cells that suffer from an autoimmune assault still leaves us with the question of how they got there, and what theyre doing there. Unless, of course, youre going to try to convince me that in a mere two hundred thirty-five years, the Human genome has added six chromosomes, and fifty-two is normal."
"The parasite has six chromosomes, Giac. Somehow, it has fused with the cells. It explains almost everything. Kazi nzuri!" MBenga slapped Eletto on the back. "Attaboy! Good work, man, good work."
Giac sat down, hard. "Of course. Protective mimicry, taken to the ultimate degree. Engulf a cell, take over its genetic material, and become the cell itself. The body would hardly notice, would it?"
"It wouldnt notice until the cell started expressing surface proteins unique to the parasite. Which would cause...?" Kemes face clearly expressed the expectation of an answer.
"Which would cause an immune response that an unsuspecting physician would mistake for an autoimmune response. On the other hand, killing the parasite would cause the replaced tissue to die, too."
"Exactly," MBenga agreed. "Id hazard the guess that healthy cells are too tough to engulf, and only damaged, dying or freshly dead tissue was susceptible. No ones ever seen the like of this before, at least I dont think they have."
"Well, not in Humans, I guess. Some species of sea creature harvest the stinging cells from other creatures they eat, and wear them as their own. Numerous species of amphibians, insects, butterflies and even a few birds harvest toxins in their diet that they concentrate to protect themselves from predators."
"Thats not even close to what were seeing here, Giac, and you know it. Where do you want to take this from here?"
"Ive already taken it where I figure I should take it: to you. I got lucky, and stumbled over something you and Leonard missed. That doesnt mean I know what to do with it." Giacomo shook his head. "Bounce it off McCoy in the morning. Itll give him something to report on when he talks to the folk planetside tomorrow afternoon."
"You found it. You tell him."
"Sorry, Keme. Ive got a eulogy to prepare, remember? Im not really happy with the half-witted effort I used to con McCoy into letting me see the data. Doing it rights not going to be easy, either. I mean, what do you say about dead friends to an audience that has never heard of them?"
"Under the circumstances, Id say share your heart, Giac. The funeral service isnt about your dead friends, you know, nor the audience, nearly as much as it is about the surviving friends and family dealing with death. That means that its about you. Share whats in your heart. Nothing else really matters, does it?"
"If you say so, Keme. But Im not really sure whats in there."
MBenga stepped forward to his seated friend, lifting Elettos face until their eyes met, the rich mahogany of his skin contrasted to the pink of Elettos. "You have until morning, Doctor. Look deeply into the well of your soul. To look there is frightening, most especially in times of grief like this, but what you need to say to honor your fallen comrades, you will find there and nowhere else. Now go, my friend."
Giacomo stood. "McCoy said your first name was Baraka. Thats Swahili for blessing. Today, Baraka Keme MBenga, you have deserved that name, because you have been a blessing to me. Thank you."
"Youre welcome, Giac. Back to your quarters, and prepare for morning. Ill pass on what youve learned."
Eletto stepped into the turbolift. "Thanks."
In the morning, Giacomo stayed in his quarters, turning the eulogy over in his mind. It wasnt until the annunciator chimed that he realized how late it was. "Come!"
Captain Kirk entered. "Good morning, Doctor Eletto. The funeral is in fifteen minutes. Ill escort you. Still feel up to doing the eulogy?"
He nodded. "I think so, Captain. It wont be long, Im afraid." He held up a single sheet of paper, with writing on only one side. "This is it." He folded it and put it into his pocket.
"Brevity, I think, is the heart of wisdom in this sort of thing. When I have to give or hear eulogies, I prefer them to be brief, and to the point. Lets go."
The two made their way to the photon torpedo tubes. To his surprise, Eletto noticed that there was a reasonable crowd awaiting their arrival. Kirk smiled at his companion. "A bit of hero worship. Like I said before, you and your fallen comrades are from an era of space flight that is almost a legend to us. Ill get you to where youll stand. Spock will give you the signal to start. At your signal, Scotty will send the caskets down the photon torpedo chute, and launch them. Usually, I close with some sort of remark about consigning their remains to travel the trackless depths of space."
The doctor nodded.
"Yes, Captain. Ill be fine once I start, I promise."
Kirk escorted him to where the three caskets lay on the launching ramp. "Whenever youre ready." Kirk stepped backward.
Eletto let his eyes run over the crowd. Oti and Iaffrey were there, obviously surprised to see him standing by the caskets. MBenga, Harrison Davids and McCoy were visible, too, as were Spock, near a control at the wall, and Scott at the controls of the launch mechanism. Spock caught Elettos eye, signaling that it was time.
Giacomo stepped closer to the containers that held the remains of his long dead friends. For a moment, he reached into his pocket, to draw out the carefully written eulogy hed prepared. Before he could act, he could hear a voice whispering to him. The words were MBengas, but the voice was not: it was the voice of Louise, his late wife. "Speak your heart. Nothing else really matters." He thrust the paper back.
"Men and women of the Enterprise," he began, surprised at how steady his voice sounded, "We have come to honor three men, all of whom died centuries before the Enterprise was even designed: Jack Kinney, David Harris, and Francis Frank Lafferty. Twenty other men died at the same time, their mortal remains hurled into space as the atmosphere vented. Outside of this room, few, if any, know the names, and even fewer remember them. Yet each of them were willing to risk their lives to fly a craft, woefully primitive by your modern standards, to take their post and to be prepared to take their part in defending their country, and the people of their world, against the insanity and violence that is now known as World War Three.
"It could be argued that they were the first casualties in that war, their ship having been sabotaged by the lackeys of Colonel Green. All those aboard the platform knew the risk they took. In the hope of protecting millions, indeed billions of their fellow creatures from Greens genocidal policies, they willingly took that risk. They chose to meet their tomorrow head on, hoping to keep it from trampling millions of others. Before they could, they met their eternity.
"To honor them, all that we can do is to pledge ourselves to be willing to do as they did, to pledge our effort, our fortunes, our lives, to finishing the task that they tried to do: making their world, their universe a place where free men and women can live without fear."
He caught Spocks eye, then Scotts.
"They lived with the dream of exploring the universe," Eletto began. As the first casket began moving, the room was filled with the sound of the Star Spangled Banner. Briefly, Eletto choked on his emotions, then continued. "Working in a nation dedicated to do its best to allow all its members, indeed all whom it could touch, the privilege of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Tears began running, as his emotions overcame him while he heard his nations anthem. "Let their remains travel between the stars they longed to reach, until times end."
The last of the caskets entered the tube as he finished. Eletto stepped backwards, stumbling as he did so. Before he fell, he felt hands catching him. He looked up, seeing Kirk and Hardav supporting him. Spock joined them, obviously concerned for Elettos welfare. He looked at the Vulcan. "Thank you, Spock, for playing the American National Anthem. It was a beautiful touch, and it meant a lot to me."
"It seemed the logical thing to do, Doctor Eletto."
Giacomo regained his footing, just in time to see Oti and Iaffrey arrive.
"It was kind of you to step in at the last minute," Iaffrey said. "You did a good job covering for the fellow they rescued."
Kirk looked blankly at the two women, then at Eletto. "Time for me to go, Giac. Come on, Spock, Davids. If you will excuse us, ladies?" Kirk shot the Vulcan and the Physicians Assistant a pointed glance, silencing them, and making it clear they were to come along.
Eletto took a deep breath, trying to regain his composure. "Doctor Oti, Doctor Iaffrey, I owe you an apology. I was not stepping in at the last moment. Those three men were my shipmates. I was born in the year 2006. If you count the time that I was in cold sleep, Im two hundred eighty-two years old."
"What was with you, yesterday? Why were you playing us for fools, letting us prattle about the poor, rescued waif, when it was you all along?" Iaffreys voice held a distinctly sharp note.
"Knock it off, Mom," Anaper interrupted. "Neither of us would let the man finish a sentence. He probably tried to tell us, but we wouldnt let him."
For a moment, Giacomo stared at the floor. Without looking up, he replied, "Shes right. I did try to tell you, Doctor Iaffrey, but not as hard as I could, I suppose. I guess it was just that I was enjoying being treated as just another person, rather than an unfortunate waif, rescued from a wreck and trapped in a time not his own."
He looked the woman in the eye. "For a moment, I felt welcomed for who I am, not what I am or who I was, and I didnt want to spoil the feeling. Sounds stupid, doesnt it? Look, Im sorry. I was acting like a boorish cretin, taking advantage of your medical need, and your ignorance of who I am."
"No, Giac, you dont sound stupid, and you were neither a cretin nor a boor. Anapers right; when we were talking about the funeral, neither of us would let you get a word in. I was the boor, not you, and I apologize. Yesterday, you said that getting to know a wider circle of people was helping that rescued waif feel less lonely. Id like to think that Anaper and I were part of that." The sharpness in Iaffreys voice had disappeared, to be replaced by a softer, almost maternal note. She reached for his hand.
Hesitantly, Eletto extended his own. Iaffrey took it, her hand disappearing in his. "Lets have done with grief and recrimination, Doctor. Anaper and I were planning to go to lunch with both of your identities, if youd come. I guess I owe you that much, anyway."
Eletto donned a lopsided grin. "Well, I suppose you still want to learn what Ive chivvied out of McCoy."
Anaper took Elettos other hand. "That makes a good enough excuse. Come on."
Meekly, Eletto went with the two engineers.
McCoy stepped out of the turbolift onto the bridge. Kirk swiveled his chair.
"Bones! Were expecting to hear from Del Anders any minute now. Where are the ladies?"
"I dont know, Jim. Last I saw them, they were leaving the funeral, dragging Eletto with them." Behind McCoy, the turbolift door opened, unnoticed by the doctor. "He must arouse the maternal in em or something."
"Well, thank you!" Oti exclaimed, pretending to be furious. "Mother, do you have any idea how old wed have to be to be Elettos mother?"
"Over three hundred years, daughter. Shall I hold him and let you hit, or shall we do it the other way around? After accusing us of being that old, he deserves a beating!"
Oti and Iaffrey began to move toward McCoy, doing their best to look as menacing and dangerous as possible.
"Ladies, ladies! Please!" Kirk intervened. "Del Anders will be hailing us shortly, and I cant afford to have Doctor McCoy look like hes been mugged. Could you at least save it for later?"
"Hes got a good point, Mom. Too many witnesses anyhow." Anaper turned to face McCoy. "You have been granted an undeserved reprieve."
"Only a temporary one, however. Implying that were over three hundred years old merits execution, Doctor."
McCoy decided to enter the game, and feigned terror, facing the captain. "Any chance of protective custody, Captain?"
Kirk stood, realizing that McCoy had met his match. "Bones, you got yourself into this. You get yourself out of it." He turned to the two women. Before he could say anything, Uhura interrupted his train of thought.
"Were being hailed, Captain."
The forward viewing screen suddenly showed Aaron Del Anders. "Greetings, Enterprise. Im hopeful that youve all had the chance to review the data we sent you. I would be most interested in hearing your conclusions."
Anaper took the lead. "Doctor Iaffrey and I have been over the data you sent with a fine toothed comb, Mister Del Anders. As far as we can tell, the new purification system is robust enough to wipe out any carbon-based life form currently known."
"On top of that," Iaffrey interjected, "Weve been over and over the scans on the new water delivery and sewer lines. Theres no chance that we can see of any cross contamination at all."
"I was afraid that was what youd find. Wed reached the same conclusion. Doctor McCoy, have you any information about the difficulties with the toxic reactions and the autoimmune problems weve been seeing?"
"You arent having any such troubles, actually." Before Del Anders could respond, McCoy held his hand up. "Give me a minute, first, then tell me Im insane if you want. It looks like the parasite is pirating the DNA in damaged or dead cells, using it to pretend to be whatever the cell was. What looked like an autoimmune reaction was the immune system correctly recognizing the cells as foreign. The toxicity you thought you were seeing was nothing more than the parasites dying, leaving the poor soul with damaged organs. Utterly bizarre, but weve been over the data youve sent, and its the only thing that fits."
"You realize what youre implying?"
"Sure do, Del Anders. Only Im not implying it, Im saying it outright: your problem is essentially unprecedented, and considerably more complex than we thought."
For a moment, Del Anders sat motionless, clearly stunned. "Doctor, do any of you have any idea as to how to progress from here?"
"If it wouldnt be too much trouble," Iaffrey said, "Wed like to do some confirmatory studies, run tracers through your water supply, to see if we can detect any crossover, and run a batch of contaminated water through your system to see if it really eliminates the parasite."
"And Id like to get some scans of people that are infected, but not having problems," McCoy chimed in. "No offense intended, but Id rather send one of our people down."
"You realize that there is a risk," Del Anders pointed out.
"Sure do. But one thing stands out in the data: its all spread through your drinking water. All we need to do is use water from the ship for drinking. Canteens, or canned water, or some such. Which reminds me, have you tried establishing a boil order?"
"First thing we tried, actually, once we figured out what was happening. The cyst phase survived boiling without trouble."
"Tough little beasts, arent they, daughter?" Iaffrey opined.
"Mucho macho, Mom," Anaper agreed. "And obviously obnoxiously persistent. Almost as bad as anthrax spores. And some Humans I know."
"Either way, ladies," Del Anders continued, "I wouldnt care for you to take the risk down here."
"If we can find a volunteer, would you permit us to send one down?" Kirk asked.
"I suppose so, Captain, but Im not enthused about it. For that matter, Id have to clear it through a couple of other folks, and I suppose theyd want to talk to your volunteer in advance, face to face, just to be sure that everyone is on the same screen about the risks."
Kirk nodded. "Could you give us a couple of hours, then? Well call you when weve got our volunteer, and you can have your folk make sure were all in line. Good enough?"
"Good enough. Two hours from now, Captain?"
"Done. Two hours." Del Anders face disappeared from the mainviewer. Kirk turned to face McCoy. "Well, Bones?"
The doctor tried to look pensive. "I dont suppose youd let me go, right?"
"Brilliant deduction, Doctor." The look on the captains face made it clear that there would be no negotiation on that issue.
"Doctor McCoy," Iaffrey butted in, "perhaps Doctor Eletto might be willing."
"Grandpa?" McCoy responded, "Yknow, its not a bad idea."
"Bones, hes barely defrosted. You cant be serious." Kirk was clearly scandalized by the idea.
"Dont know why not, Jim. He was the one that picked up on the extra half dozen chromosomes that MBenga and I missed. I think he could handle it as well as any one of us could."
The captain sighed, realizing his friend was probably right. "Ask him, then." Kirk turned to the women. "Do you think you can get Eletto up to speed enough to do the tracer studies you wanted to do?"
"Oh, I dont think thatd be a problem," Anaper replied. "You think so, Mom?"
"Heavens, it shouldnt be any trouble at all, child." Galori turned to Kirk. "He got some training in such things while he was working with the design of the Jovian Platform, or so he said. Being competent both in medicine and this particular aspect of civil engineering, hes a natural."
McCoy nodded. "Looks like hes elected to volunteer, then. Ill see if I can sell him on the idea." McCoy entered the turbolift. "E Deck."
Moments later, the Enterprises chief medical officer was standing in front of Elettos door, waiting to be acknowledged. From inside, he heard Elettos voice bid him enter. To his surprise, McCoy found him packing a backpack.
"What on Earth are you doing, Grandpa?"
Eletto looked at the pack, then at McCoy. "I suppose that its hard to tell, looking at the evidence. Im building a one-person warp drive from my bed sheets and night light."
"I deserved that, I suppose. Whats with the backpack?"
"Just getting ready to look for the Broad Street pump. After listening to Anaper and Galori over lunch, it was obvious that they were going to try to talk you into sending a volunteer down to the surface to do some testing for them. When they realized I know a little about sewers and water supplies, I knew whose name was going to come out of the hat. Anyway, Im the most expendable person on the ship. Im the logical choice."
"Well, I wouldnt exactly say you were expendable, Grandpa, but you guessed right about everything else. Im going to have you do some medical checking. Whats the Broad Street pump?"
"London, cholera epidemic in 1831-1832. Lord Snow tracked the source of the epidemic to sewage contaminating one of the Vauxhall companys pumps the Broad Street pump, to be exact. It was one of the earliest major successes of what eventually became epidemiology. Thats basically what Im going to be trying to duplicate on Kahla."
"Now that you mention it, I vaguely remember something about that from back at Academy, and youre right. Either way, would it be reasonable to assume that your efforts with that back pack mean that youre willing to go?"
"Im eager to go, to be honest. Try to see this from my point of view: to step on the surface of a new world, light years away from my home world is the stuff of impossible dreams for me. Im more than willing to take a risk or two to do that, Leonard."
The doctor shrugged. "I guess Im jaded on that score, Grandpa. The time when Humanity wasnt traveling between the stars is ancient history, to me; I keep forgetting that its all new to you. I suppose youre going to have to get clearance from the folks on the surface, first, but I doubt that youll have a lot of trouble doing that. Oti and Iaffrey will want to prime you as to what they want done."
"Been there, done that. A lot of the lunch hour was filled with their plans, really. I think they were initially just bouncing them off me, to see if they made sense, but it got a lot more detailed quickly, especially once they realized that I had at least a little knowledge in the area. Youre the one that needs to brief me."
McCoy chuckled. "That pair of women are sneakier that I thought. Well, theres not much to tell you, really. Try to get scans on a fairly broad sample of different folks, especially ones without symptoms. Try to get it over a wide span of ages, and in both genders. Between what you find doing that, and what your experiments on the system find, well hopefully have the data that we need to figure out our next steps."
Giacomo nodded. "Good enough. When do we meet the folk that need to interview me?"
"Youve got time enough to finish packing, if thats what you mean. Well meet on the bridge in just a bit over an hour and a half."
"Guess Id better finish packing, then." Eletto turned back to his backpack. "Wonder how much water I should take?" he mumbled to himself as McCoy quietly left the room.
Just under two hours later, Eletto arrived on the bridge.
"Youre just in time, Doctor Eletto," Kirk announced. "Del Anders and one of the bigwigs down on the colony will be calling us in a couple of minutes. I guess they want to be sure that you know the risk youre taking."
The doctor nodded. "I quite understand, Captain. If the roles were reversed, Id want to do the same thing. However, Im quite sure that I understand the risks that Im taking quite thoroughly. Doctors Oti, Iaffrey and McCoy have briefed me on what they need done. Other than my mediscanner and water, almost everything else Im likely to need is probably available on the surface. Just in case, Im taking some other supplies, but Im not expecting to need them."
Kirk looked at the backpack Eletto had deposited next to the turbolift door. "Looks like youre planning an extended vacation, Doc."
"Just bringing things I might need, to be sure I dont catch any disease and pestilence to bring back to the Enterprise "
"The surface is hailing us, Captain," Uhura interrupted.
The main viewscreen displayed two men, Del Anders and another. Before Kirk or Del Anders could speak, Eletto blurted out, "Matt?"
At the same time, the new face exclaimed, "I dont believe it! The familys frozen asset! And I thought you were just a legend!"
Kirk collected himself and stepped in. "Mister Del Anders, would you mind introducing your friend?"
"This is Douglas Eletto, Captain. And yours?"
Douglas answered before the captain could. "Giacomo Eletto. Youve got to be Giacomo Eletto."
Eletto nodded. "And youre the spitting image of my long dead son, Matthew. Its unbelievable."
"No kidding. Welcome to your world, Doctor Eletto. If you wish to come down, we would be honored. My house is open to you, as long as you wish, until a dwelling of your preference is built for you."
Staring in unabashed astonishment, Kirk looked at Douglas Eletto. "Im thoroughly pleased to see that youre ready to welcome Doctor Eletto, but I think some explanation is in order. What do you mean by saying this is his world? And that hes your familys, what did you say, frozen asset?"
"Exactly what I said, Captain Kirk. I am his direct lineal descendant. I grew up on the story that Doctor Giacomo Eletto, our multiple great grandfather, was waiting out there somewhere in space, frozen in a hibernaculum but ready to arrive to bail us out in our time of need. My father, Richard, had an old picture of him, passed down and copied for I forget how many generations. We laughed, and called him our familys frozen asset. Now, the legend stands before me, alive. Incredible, but I cant deny it. That derelict in orbit with you, is it the Jovian Platform?"
"Yes," Kirk responded. "He was in suspended animation on it. We stumbled over it, and rescued him on the way here. Youve still not explained your remark about his planet yet."
"Id sort of like to know what you meant by it, too, Douglas. It was enough of a shock finding you. Now youre accusing me of owning an entire planet." Giacomo was clearly puzzled.
"Do you remember the trust you set up before you left on the Jovian Platform?"
"Of course. It was to be invested, and distributed to my children on my death, and " Giacs voice trailed off.
Douglas Eletto nodded. "I see youre catching on. Given a couple of centuries to work with, and some remarkably astute investments, that trust fund has doubled in value several times, maybe twenty or twenty-five times, probably more. Helping to provide the start-up funds for the Cochrane Institute only increased its growth. This colony is one of the investments made by the trust you created in 2051. The Gamma Virginis colony was a small group, initially, and poorly funded. The Foundation decided the colony had potential, and invested. Eight, maybe ten years ago, when a grain smut almost wiped the colony out, they poured more funds in, and even helped repopulate Kahla with new colonists. Since the trust is still in your name, you own this colony, and therefore this planet. Your arrival is fortuitous: as the family story said, so it has happened. You have arrived when we needed you. Again, welcome."
Del Anders and Kirk both stared mutely. After several moments of silence, Del Anders finally spoke. "It seems, Captain, that your volunteer is more than acceptable. As soon as Doctor Eletto is ready to be transported to the surface, we will welcome him."
It was McCoy who finally broke the stunned silence on the bridge. "Wonderful! Weve rescued a multigazillionaire! Our retirement is secure."
Eletto shook his head. "I suspect that Im not as wealthy as you think, Leonard. Douglas, as I recall how I set the trust up, its independently managed, and I have no access to any of it. In fact, Id bet that all my assets have been liquidated, long since. In point of fact, Im probably a pauper. Am I right?"
"If you mean that you have currently no assets to your credit, yes," Doug responded. "And given that you cant stay on the Enterprise forever, its worth knowing that on Kahla, I personally guarantee that you will never be in want."
Kirk looked at McCoy, then back at the mainviewer.On Gamma Virginis II
As he materialized at the coordinates Scott had been given, he realized that the leading citizens of the colony had been brought together to welcome him.
Douglas Eletto stood at the front of the crowd. "Welcome! We have prepared a small reception for you, principally to let folk here meet you."
Giacomo shrugged out of his backpack, putting it on the ground at his feet. "I hope no one will be offended if I dont partake of the food and beverage. Im not interested in having to deal with being infected by your parasite."
Del Anders stepped forward. "You dont need to worry, Doctor. Our colony may be self-supporting, on the whole, but the food is still not as exciting as we hope to find it in a couple more generations. With a little negotiating, we were able to arrange for the Enterprise to cater. We hope that Ensign Carpenter was able to duplicate the menu you would have expected in your century."
"Carpenter, again, eh? If hes the mastermind behind the victuals, theyll be good, and probably authentic too." Giacomo reached for his backpack.
Del Anders shook his head. "No, Doctor. Let us carry it for you. Today, you are an honored guest, and we insist. Tomorrow will be time enough for you to do what you must."
Reluctantly, Giac allowed his backpack to be carried by another individual. "If you must. Just let me keep my mediscanner, will you? Im supposed to get scans of people of various ages and both genders; this sounds like a good way to do it. Frankly, Id rather be working; Im not used to being fawned over. All I can say is that I hope that you folks havent decided Im some sort of super genius thats going to solve all your problems, because if you have, youre in for a sore disappointment."
Doug shook his head. "Youve got the wrong perspective here, Giac. Even if it was unwitting on your part, to us, youre our great benefactor. When the trust offered to step in and help, the colony was floundering. I came here after retiring from a lackluster career in bioengineering. Shortly afterward, a grain smut started poisoning us all. There was no outside currency flowing in, not even enough to purchase medication. Folks here were dying right and left, needlessly. With only a modest influx of currency, we were able to modernize a bit, deal with the health issues, develop a few areas for wealthy retirees who wanted to go to a more rustic setting, and get back on our feet. The planet is self-sustaining, now, on most fronts. We dont have any expectations of you, other than that youll do the best you know how."
"I guess thats what Im here to do." Giacomo looked around himself. "Looks a lot like Earth, to be honest."
Del Anders nodded. "It is, particularly near our single major city. Get four or five kilometers from the edge of the colony, and it can start getting a bit strange. Even at its worst, though, its pretty Earth-like. We hope youll like it here. After all, we do need a new doctor." Del Anders grinned.
Giac returned the grin. "Ive still got a way to go to be ready for that, Aaron. Well, lets get to that reception, so I can get to work."
The reception had been, as far as Giac was concerned, almost interminable and devastatingly boring. Hed always wondered how it would feel to be the great celebrity, and treated like an honored hero; hed never thought it would be as exhausting and difficult as it turned out to be. Thankfully, the slightly exotic foods that Carpenter had prepared were enough of a distraction to the colonists that he didnt feel totally smothered. He scanned everyone he could, getting an adequate cross section for McCoys use, which he managed to transmit back to the Enterprise. In the end, hed convinced Del Anders to find him a quiet corner where he could sleep.
Morning had come at a reasonable hour, with one of the colonys civil engineers arriving to escort him to the water treatment facility.
"Doctor Eletto? Im Ed Bower. Ill be working with you this morning."
"Please, call me Giac. If you folks dont quit making such a fuss, youre going to convince me Im something more than Human. Im not interested in catching that sort of attitude."
"Glad to hear it, Giac; I was afraid youd be a bit of a snob. Anything particular youre going to need?"
"Nope. Everything Im likely to need is here in this pack." He donned his backpack. "And frankly, Id rather carry it, if you dont mind. Need the exercise."
"Come on, then," Bower said. "Follow me. Well be walking; vehicle transport is still limited to heavy hauling." The engineer set off at a brisk pace, Giac following.
Although Bower was clearly a decade or more younger, Giac found that he was keeping pace without as much trouble as he expected. He picked up a stone, throwing it into the air, wondering if it would show a slower rate of fall than he expected.
"If youre trying to detect a difference in the gravity here, you and the stone wont do it," Bower announced. "Chances are that youre not going to notice any difference. Gravitys a bit over ninety percent of Earths, or so Im told. There would be less than five percent difference, I think, in the time of flight. The fraction of oxygen in the atmospheres a shred higher, too."
"That explains why Im keeping up with someone years younger, then."
"Exactly, Doctor Ele... Giac." The men came to a bluff. Bower pointed off to the right, at a large building. "Thats the new water treatment facility. There, beyond it a short distance," Bower pointed to a large, painted cylinder, "is our water tower. Its a bit oversized for our population at the moment, but were hoping to outgrow it in ten or twenty years."
Turning to his left, Bower pointed again. "Waste treatment facility over there. As youll notice, its half a kilometer or so down stream from the water intake. Where do you want to start?"
"At the water treatment facility, Ed. Thatll be quicker."
The two set off at a brisk pace. Within moments, they arrived at the treatment plant. "Is there a cutoff we can use to divert the water from the city supply? And is there somewhere you can dump the test solution into the inflow?" Giac asked.
"See that valve?" Ed pointed to a large, manually operated valve. "Its the cutoff. If youll turn it clockwise, itll divert the output stream onto the ground. Ill take care of adding the test solution, if youll let me have the flask."
Eletto rummaged in his backpack, producing a two-liter container of a murky gray solution. "Here it is. When Ive got the flow diverted Ill holler."
Bower accepted the flask and moved to the intake side of the treatment facility. As he did so, Eletto studied the valve and pipe, deciding that the easiest solution would be to sit on top of the pipe and work the valve from there. Shouldering his tricorder, he climbed up, turned the valve as far as he could, and watched the outflow pouring onto the ground. Before calling out to his companion, he turned his tricorder on the flow. No sign of the cysts were visible.
Given the magnitude of the outbreak, he was a little surprised, but not severely so. He recalled an outbreak of Leptospirosis hed been involved with, where the water was only intermittently contaminated, and then only after a brisk rain had washed the bacterium into the water supply; theyd finally tracked it to the waste from a herd of deer in a nearby forest. "Okay, Ed," he called. "Dump it in!"
There was a brief pause before Bower answered. "All aboard, Giac. Keep your eyes open!"
Through the senses of the tricorder, Giac watched the water pouring out. It took most of twenty minutes for the tag compound to signal the test solutions arrival. Over the next half-hour, it rose to a peak and dwindled to nothing again.
"Well, Giac? What have you found?"
"The tag compound came through, all right, but the cysts have been removed."
Bower nodded. "That figures. I didnt think it could get through the system here. Lets reset that valve." The two men opened the valve, then returned to the ground.
Eletto nodded. "Dead right, man. I hope that things got some sort of access to the inside of the tower, so we can dump the tracer in."
"Its got an easy access, if you dont mind climbing a hundred meters of stairs to get to it. If you dont mind climbing a little further, you can get to the observation platform on the top, to get a good look around. Views pretty impressive."
"Lets get going, then. Lead on!"
The distance was short, the two men taking only a short time to cross it. Climbing to the access for the tower took rather longer, but was accomplished with little difficulty and even less conversation. Dumping the two flasks of tracer into the towers contents took almost no time at all.
Moments later, the two men were on top of the tower. Eletto looked around himself. "Its beautiful, Ed. Land, essentially unspoiled by Human activity. I hope you folks make sure you leave large tracts of it as permanent parks. Too many areas on the Earth forgot that, and we lost some great and wonderful scenery over it."
"So Ive read. Dont worrywell leave large preserves. Not that you need to worry, you know. Federation law mandates that for all colony worlds. Besides, from what I hear, you own the whole place."
With difficulty, Eletto tore his eyes from the vista, turning them to his companion. "I dont really own this world, Ed. Even if it is some fancy trust that I created that shelled out the money to jumpstart this colony, I couldnt really own it. You own it, all of you. Its your sweat that watered the soil; your labor that has cultivated it, built your city and all on it; and its the bodies of your dead ancestors that have nourished the soil. Im just a visitor, a guest." Giacomo turned back to the view. "And a guest thats honestly thankful to have been given the privilege to help make all this possible."
Bower shook his head, mostly in astonishment. "Cant say thats something I expected to hear. Youre all right by me, Giac." Something caught Bowers eye, and he pointed. "See that, over there? Middle of that meadow?"
With only a little effort, Eletto located what Bower was indicating. "I see it, but Im not sure I believe it. That cant be a herd of buffalo, can it?"
"Bison americanus colonialis, Giac. A special strain of buffalo, bred for colonies like this. Even the original buffalo could thrive on scrub that would starve cattle to death. These critters have been bred to reproduce rapidly, and can survive on almost nothing, and do well. As soon as it was obvious that there werent predators that could handle them on this planet, we released a hundred head or so, mostly cows. That was, oh, three generations back, maybe seventy-five or a hundred years ago. Theres got to be something like a several thousand now, and growing rapidly. From all I hear, theres a half dozen herds going, some from the original stock, some from additional animals brought in to keep the genetic stock from getting too narrow. Theyll tame more of the planet than we do, if you think about it."
"No argument there." Giacomo continued to drink in the scenery. "And to think they were almost extinct by the middle of the twentieth century. Now, theyre traveling to new planets along with us." Taking one last look, Eletto sighed. "Time to get that monitor on the effluent set in place, Ed. Come on."
Reaching the outflow pipe of the sewage system took some time, and mounting the monitoring device took at least an hour more. Eletto took a few minutes to scan the effluent. To his surprise, no spores appeared there, either. Bower either didnt notice his scanning, or was uninterested in the results.
After regaining the top of the embankment, Eletto looked around, getting his bearings. "Ed, its probably going to be a while before we start getting any useful information out of the monitor. Why dont you head back to the colony without me? Id like to do some exploring, just to see what I can find."
Bower looked doubtful. "Look, I cant have you getting hurt or lost, you know. Theyd have my hide for a wall hanging if you did."
"Dont sweat it," Eletto replied, reaching into a pocket on the side of his backpack. "Ive got my communicator, and if all else fails, I can get myself beamed up. Its not like there are any large predators here, right? Go on back, Ed. Let me have a little fun, eh?"
The civil engineer shrugged. "I guess I cant begrudge you that. Ill head back, but you take care of yourself."
Eletto donned his backpack. "Word of honor, I wont get hurt, lost or stranded, okay?"
As the engineer headed back to the colony, Giacomo made his way toward a copse of trees.
Kirk sat in the captains chair, wishing something would happen. Unlike other members of the crew, particularly those in the Engineering section who were having the time of their lives restoring the Jovian Platform, Kirk felt compelled to stay at his post rather than spend time repairing the derelict Jovian Platform. Every system on the Enterprise that could be checked had been checked. All the paperwork that had been collecting, waiting for a calm moment, was done. He was beginning to feel bored. Behind him, he heard the turbolift open.
"Morning, Jim! Has Eletto checked in yet?"
The captain turned to face his friend. "Not yet, Bones. I thought the plan was for him to return last night. I take it he didnt."
"He didnt. I bet hes got a bevy of fancy ladies down there eating out of his hand. I wish I had whatever it is hes got. Maybe we could figure a way of bottling it. You have any idea of the fortune we could make out of it?"
"We can worry about that later. Maybe we ought to check in with Del Anders and figure out whats happened to our wandering waif. Uhura..."
"Captain, we are being hailed by the colony," she interrupted.
"Great minds think alike, I guess. Forward viewscreen."
Del Anders face filled the screen. "Good morning, Captain Kirk. I trust Doctor Eletto is ready to return to the surface to continue studying our little problem?"
The surprise Kirk felt registered clearly. "Actually, Mister Del Anders, we were under the impression that he was staying on the surface last night, contrary to our plans. Perhaps with Doug Eletto, or something."
"Im afraid not. Ed Bower, the civil engineer that went with him to check the water treatment facility, said that Eletto had expressed the intent to do a little sightseeing, and then be transported back to the Enterprise. That he is not on board your vessel concerns me greatly."
"It concerns us, too. Is there any chance that he could have been assaulted by any of the fauna on your planet?"
"Unless he was foolish enough to throw himself in front of a buffalo stampede, or a herd of deer on the run or something equally stupid, no. We dont actually plan to import any large carnivores for another fifty or sixty years, other, of course, than our fellow Human beings. Theres nothing large enough and aggressive enough to be a threat to a Human, Captain." Del Anders was clearly as concerned as Kirk. "We will begin such a ground search as we are able."
Kirk nodded. "Excellent. Well do what we can from orbit. Any information that you can offer to help us?"
"Only that he was last seen at the waste water treatment facility. Thats not much to go on."
"Its better than nothing. Well get to work immediately. Enterprise out." Kirk turned to Spock. "If I know you, Spock, youve already scanned the area."
"Indeed, Captain, but to no avail. Unfortunately, we will need to do a high-resolution scan to locate Doctor Eletto, which will take some time. If we are fortunate, we might be able to locate where he spent last night."
"Come off it, Spock," McCoy interjected. "If you cant find him, how do you expect to find the latent body heat or the dent in the underbrush where he stayed?"
"I do not expect to find either. However, it is quite probable that he would have chosen to make some sort of shelter using the materials available, and probably have made a fire. Either of those would be eminently recognizable, even on a moderate resolution scan. The issue, of course, is where to look. I would propose a modified exponential spiral search." The Vulcan turned to his console, and began working. "Centering it on the waste treatment facility, and weighting it more heavily towards the side away from the colony should prove the most efficient means." Spock became deeply involved in his task.
"Well, if you find anything, come up for air long enough to let the rest of us know, will you?" McCoy gibed.
Spock continued working, making no reply.
"Leave him alone, Bones. If I were you, Id be thinking about what medical support might be needed when hes found. Im not so confident of Doctor Elettos survival skills, nor of the gentle nature of the wildlife on Gamma Virginis."
"I get the point, Jim. Leave Spock alone, and get ready for the worst."
"Good idea, Bones. Act on it."
Even with the sophisticated scanning capacity of the Enterprise, the search for Giacomo was painfully slow. It was less than an hour before local sunset when Spock straightened up from his console. "I believe I have found Doctor Elettos camp, Captain. It appears to be a primitive shelter, with remains of a fire."
Kirk swiveled to where he could face the Vulcan. "Transfer the coordinates to the Transporter Deck. You and McCoy beam down, and wait for him."
Spock stood up. "That seems to be the most logical approach, Captain."
Within minutes, Spock and McCoy appeared near the remains of Elettos fire. Spock looked around the area. Hanging from the branch of a tree, Spock saw the backpack Eletto had brought. "It would appear, Doctor, that he plans to return here. I suggest that we build a fire to see if we can attract his attention."
"Easy enough, Spock. Looks like theres plenty of fallen limbs to work with." McCoy collected enough to get a decent blaze started. "Why dont you get it started, Spock, while I rustle up a couple more armloads of firewood."
Resetting his phaser, Spock turned it on the collection of firewood, heating it to ignition.
"Ill make a Boy Scout out of you yet, Spock!" McCoy grinned, dumping a load of dry, fallen limbs. "But arent you supposed to rub a couple of dry sticks together? I thought using the phaser was cheating."
"I was unaware that this was a test of our survival skills, Doctor McCoy," Spock responded, sitting down on the trunk of a fallen tree near the fire. "Otherwise, I would have used a different means."
McCoy joined Spock on the log. "I wish youd brought your Vulcan harp, Spock. You could have played Row, row, row your boat for us, and we could have sung along."
Spock lifted his tricorder. "Although I failed to bring along my harp, I do have a recording of my playing that folk song stored in the tricorder, having anticipated your facetious request." The melodious tones of a Vulcan harp began emerging from the tricorder, playing the simple tune.
"Attaboy, Spock!" McCoy cheered. "I knew I could count on you!"
As the tricorder began its second time through the tune, Spock spoke again. "I felt that the motif deserved a little musical enhancement. After this time through, it will show some improvisation on the basic theme."
True to the Vulcans word, the third time through, the simple melody began to show some subtle harmonies chasing the melodic line. With the fourth time, the harmonic interplay became even more hauntingly complex and entrancing. As it came toward its end, both individuals felt someone tap them on the back. "I count coup on both of you." Both of them stood and spun around to find Eletto facing them, wearing a breechcloth, with a communicator and tricorder incongruously hanging on the leather thong.
"What do you think youre doing, Grandpa?" McCoy was clearly angry.
Giacomo held up one hand. "If it would be possible, Id rather get my dressing down after Im properly dressed up."
Spock detached the backpack from where it had been hung, silently giving it to him. Giac disappeared into the shadows, returning a few moments later wearing his uniform. Before McCoy could begin his angry tirade, Spock spoke. "I am most curious to know what you meant when you said you counted coup on Doctor McCoy and me."
"Its a holdover from my youth, on the reservation. To sneak up on another person and either strike them with your hand or a coup stick was called counting coup on them. Counting coup was considered a significant thing: the more coup you had counted, the better you were as a stalker and warrior. I guess it was a way to get us to practice our stalking skills. My coup stick had many, many marks. Lost count of them all, actually." Giacomo turned McCoy, and waited.
McCoy was still thoroughly angry. "Whats wrong with you? Where do you get off, deciding to abandon your assignment and go running off into the woods, practically naked? Had you forgotten you were down here to collect data to resolve a problem thats affecting the entire population of this planet? What do you think youre doing?"
Giac stood silently, his face as stony and emotionless as a Vulcans. Even after McCoy was done talking, he made no comment. Finally, McCoy looked him in the face. "Well? Dont you have anything to say, Doctor Eletto?"
"Yes," Eletto responded. "Blow it out your ear."
Spocks eyebrow lifted. "I am not sure I comprehend your response to Doctor McCoys questions. Could you be more specific?"
"Okay." He turned back to his colleague. "Blow it out your left ear, Leonard. You, MBenga and your two fancy engineers have gone over and over the data on the sewer and water systems, and the folks that are infected. You havent found anything to resolve the situation. You sent me down here, to collect more data of essentially the same kind, hoping, I suppose, that more of the same will magically give you an answer that it didnt have before. Well, it wont."
Eletto extended the tricorder. "This might. I decided it was time someone broke out of the little box this whole mess was pretending to be able to function in, and looked elsewhere, getting the data first hand rather than by long distance scanning. I did. In the tricorder is data on all the streams, all the animals I could get close to, all the plant life growing wild, the fish, even the spiders and insects in this area. Go on, take it. Its not contaminated, its just the sort of thing you and your ultra fancy technology doesnt have time for, anymore. All it has is the data you need to start making some real headway on the problem, by finding out where this parasite is coming from."
McCoy stood, speechless, his mouth hanging open. It was the Vulcan that accepted the tricorder, and began running through the data in it. McCoy finally found his voice. "Giac, Im sorry," he apologized. "It never dawned on me that you were doing anything but playing hooky. Why didnt you just come out and ask me?"
"As thoroughly as you trust your technology to tell you everything you know, would you have let me go, Leonard?"
"Why should I have let you, Grandpa? To get the detailed scans youd need, youd have to get almost to within touching range of your quarry. Until you managed to sneak up on us, I wouldnt have believed you could have done it. I guess youre rightId let myself get too wrapped up in my technology box."
"That, and youd have been worried sick about me, too, right?"
"Blast your hide, I was worried sick anyway," McCoy confessed. "What did you find?"
"Im not sure." Giac hooked his thumb toward the Vulcan. "Maybe we ought to ask him. The way hes pouring over the data, Im beginning to worry that hes going to forget to breathe."
Spock looked up from the tricorder. "Even in Vulcans, breathing is autonomic, Doctor Eletto." He returned to the tricorder, running through the data.
Looking nettled, McCoy turned to the Vulcan. "That wasnt the point of his comment, and you know it, Spock. What are you finding?"
"I will want to run this through the computers on the Enterprise, particularly the medical computers, to confirm my preliminary findings," he responded. "However, it appears that what he found is not the problem. It is what he did not find. I do not see any evidence of a natural reservoir for the parasite."
"Thats impossible, Spock!" McCoy sputtered.
Eletto shook his head. "I was afraid youd find the same thing I thought Id found. You realize what this means, dont you?"
The Vulcan nodded. "The parasite is being purposefully cultured and added to the water supply by a party or parties unknown. I believe this would be called bioterrorism, or ecosabotage. It is time to return to the Enterprise." He opened his communicator. "Mister Scott, three to beam up."
Moments later, the trio were beaming up to the Enterprise.
On the bridge of the Enterprise, Oti, Iaffrey, and Eletto, along with the usual bridge crew, were staring at Del Anders face on the forward viewscreen.
"Frankly," Del Anders said, "Accepting your conclusion about our problem is difficult. I mean, to ask me to believe that someone in the colony is purposefully sabotaging our efforts "
"I realize that it must be difficult, Mister Del Anders," Iaffrey replied, "But given the additional data that weve amassed, its the only conclusion that we can draw. Especially since there is nothing even vaguely similar to the parasite in your biosphere."
Del Anders nodded. "Thats certainly a telling point. You understand that we will want to go over the additional data ourselves, just to confirm your conclusion. No offense intended, you understand."
"Im sure wed want to do the same," Kirk offered. "This is no small charge that were making."
"Thank you for understanding, Captain. However, it seems likely that we will reach the same conclusions. The real question is where do we go from here?"
"I would suggest," Spock opined, "that apprehending the individual or individuals who are contaminating your water supply might be the most reasonable next step."
Del Anders nodded. "Naturally, Mister Spock. That is, however, easier said than done. Unless you have a suspect?"
The Vulcan shook his head. "Not at the moment, Mister Del Anders, but I believe that it should be relatively easy to flush our suspect out. It is apparent that the individual responsible has gone to great lengths to maintain a reasonably steady supply of cysts in the water supply. After reviewing the data Doctor Eletto collected, we re-evaluated the water tower; the perpetrator had even gone to the trouble to prepare a slow release mechanism to leach them into the water tower. That suggests that the perpetrator would be likely to return to the tower and reintroduce the cysts if the tower were properly sterilized."
"Exactly," Oti added. "And that would be easy enough to do; a gamma burst of not more than about an hours duration would take care of things nicely. Theres no need to admit that we know its sabotage; we just tell everyone that the source has been identified, and that well eliminate it at the tower at a given time. Let them know, so they can stay away from the tower during the time of the gamma burst. Set up a monitoring system inside, and we can catch the person red handed."
Del Anders nodded, again. "The plan seems simple enough. Perhaps it would be better if the data wasnt released to our staff after all, on the off chance that it is one of the administrative personnel that is the guilty party."
"I agree," Kirk chimed in. "No sense in broadcasting it. Will you need any help with the sterilization procedure?"
"I think it might be wisest if your people took care of it, Captain. Again, the fewer folks involved down here, the better."
"Very well, Mister Del Anders. When should we do it?"
"How long will it take to be ready?"
Kirk looked at Oti and Iaffrey. Iaffrey spoke first. "The parts needed should be off the shelf in Engineering. From what Ive heard about Montgomery Scott, the captain of engineering on the Enterprise, Ill only have to give him the basics, and hell have it together in no time flat. We might be able to do it today."
Del Anders shook his head. "Well need longer than that to warn everyone to stay clear. How about tomorrow afternoon?"
Looking at the two civilian engineers, and at Mister Scott, Kirk saw no signs of disagreement. "Tomorrow afternoon, then. Is there anything else that we can do for now?"
"I dont think so, Captain. Until tomorrow?"
"Good enough. Enterprise out." With the connection broken, Kirk turned back to the engineers. "Ladies, if you would give Mister Scott an idea of what you need?"
"It wont be necessary, Captain," Scotts brogue commented. "Ive the dimensions of the tower, and therere a number of designs we could use. Twill be nothing more than their lettin me know which of the alternatives they prefer. Ill have the thing built in two hours, or less."
Smiling appreciatively, Kirk returned his attention to Iaffrey and Oti. "Any preferences, ladies?"
Iaffrey turned to her daughter. "A male, asking if we have preferences? Mercy, child, the man must be unaware that were female."
"From what Ive heard, hes well aware of our gender, Mom. He must just be doing the politeness thing, trying to get us to admit our preferences without a struggle."
"Might be worth cooperating, honey. Think?"
"Personally, I couldnt care less how they do it, just so it gets done."
McCoy was suppressing laughter. "Jim, Id take that as a no preference and run for your life."
"Scotty, Im with Bones. Take it and run."
"Aye, Captain. Ill do that, indeed. Indri and I can have the gamma generator together easily enough. As for watchin for our culprit, if I recall correctly, theres a wee antenna used for broadcast control of the system on the water tower. Ill just connect into that to broadcast to the Enterprise. Yon sassenach will never suspect hes being watched."
Kirk nodded appreciatively. "Sounds like a winning plan. Go to it, Scotty! The rest of you are dismissed."
McCoy and Eletto stepped into the turbolift together. "Giac, why dont you go on back to your quarters, and work with getting caught up medically. Theres not much needing dealt with in Sickbay."
Eletto nodded, saying nothing.
After a moment of silence, McCoy spoke again. "Whats the matter? Klingons get your tongue?"
"No. Just lost in thought, thats all. With all due respect to Captain Scott, this sounds too easy to be true." The turbolift door opened. "Tomorrow, Doctor McCoy?"
"Tomorrow, then. Scotty wants you for a while. Engineerings been busy on the platform, and I think he wants to show off their handiwork."
"Id like that, Leonard." The turbolift door slid shut. "E Deck," Eletto requested.
When Eletto stepped out of his turbolift, he was surprised to see Hardav stationed near the door to his quarters. The Physicians Assistant smiled broadly, sticking out his hand. "Congratulations, Giac! I dont know how you corrupted Scotty into doing it for you, but that was one sweet piece of vengeance you pulled."
Eletto accepted the offered hand. "Glad youre not upset over it, Hardav."
"Get sane, Doc. If I couldnt take it, I wouldnt dish it out. Got a sec? Id like to trade a few words with you. In private."
Wordlessly, Eletto entered his cabin, Davids following. He ordered coffee, Jacks Blend, and two cups. "Have a seat, then, and a cup of coffee." Eletto poured. "Whats on your mind?"
"Two things, really. First of all, youve seen the last of the unpredicted arrivals of Beat the Reaper. Congratulations, old man; youve pretty much mastered everything you need that Reaper can teach you. Access it when you wish, of course, just to keep your hand in on the rare stuff, but its out of your hair. Put all your energies into understanding why things work, now that you know whats going to work."
Giac tried to perform a creditable bow from a seated position. "Thanks, Hardav. Hearing that from you is major praise."
"Careful with the flattery, or the midnight visits from the Reaper just might return," Hardav grinned. His face became serious again. "Secondly, if I were you, Id pack that knapsack of yours again. Id bet youre going to need it."
"How do you figure?" Giac scratched his head in confusion. "I guess you, ah, overheard Scotty say he was going to set up a monitor to watch the door on the tower."
"Dead right. I figured something was going to happen so I snooped." Hardav stood, turning to face the wall a moment, obviously debating how to make his next remark. Giac waited, silently. Turning back to face Eletto, Hardav finally continued. "Do you really think someone clever enough to design that parasite is going to get suckered by a simple trick like this? Not a chance, man, not a chance. I heard about what you did to Spock and McCoy on the surface. I hope you can track like you can stalk, because I figure youre going to have to track this crumb to his lair."
Two or three minutes passed, during which Eletto sipped his coffee, deep in thought. "I hope youre wrong, but youre probably right. Ill take that advice, Hardav."
The Physicians Assistant nodded. "Smart man. Thanks." Davids turned, and left Eletto to his thoughts.
Eletto had barely arrived in Sickbay the next morning when Scott arrived to escort him to the Jovian Platform. "Therell be nothing happening down on the surface for several hours, Doctor Eletto, so Ive a good bit of time free," Scott announced. "If youll come along with me? Id like to show you what weve done on the Platform since you were last on her."
Both men stepped into the turbolift. "Transporter deck," the engineer ordered. Scott turned to Eletto. "Youll not need a suit to go back this time, Giac. Weve got her airtight and supplied with an atmosphere, and the water tanks been refilled, courtesy of Kahla. Weve modernized her a bit, as well; theres artificial gravity, a matter-antimatter power supply, and backup life support, just in case. Shes spaceworthy by modern standards."
"You must have been driving the Engineering crew mercilessly to get it patched up this quickly. Most of the work would have had to be done working in a hard vacuum."
"Tis good practice for them. Im not interested in having a major hull breach in combat, and only to find out theyre not at peak performance or moving slowly because theyve half forgotten how to do it. So theyve been being driven a wee bit harder than might be necessary to repair a relic." The look on Scotts face said volumes. "After all, its not just their lives at stake, ysee; it might be everyone else on the Enterprise."
"No wonder youre known as the cadets worst nightmare."
"Aye, no wonder at all. And I fully intend to keep earning that reputation." The turbolift door opened, allowing the two men to make their way to the transporter. Indri transported them to the platform.
As the men materialized, Eletto looked up at the dome. Through the repaired transparent aluminum, he could see the stars one direction, and Gamma Virginis IIs sun in the other.
Hard though he tried, Giacomo couldnt see where the repairs had been done. "Marvelous work, Scotty. I cant tell its been repaired."
Giacs eyes wandered over what had once been crops and ponds. The ponds had been restored; the frozen, desiccated greenery had been cleared, and the ground prepared.
To one side, he saw an unfamiliar structure, a ragged looking dome. Pointing to it, he looked at Scott. "Whats that? It wasnt there before."
"Come along, laddie. Its a wee surprise that Indri and I put together for you. We built it out of the aluminum we cut away from the hole in the dome. Its where you buried your three comrades."
The Scotsman led the way.
Eletto was still over a meter away from the structure when he realized there was writing on it. He stopped to read it.
Under the NASA emblem, it read:
of the twenty-four courageous men who chose to risk their all, to position themselves as a defense against the aggression of Colonel Green. In the hope of protecting the lives of millions, indeed billions of their fellow Humans, from Greens genocidal plans, they gave their all, becoming the first casualties of World War III when the Jovian Platform was sabotaged by Greens minions. They faced their tomorrow head on, hoping to keep that tomorrow from trampling millions of others. On March 13, 2053, before they met that tomorrow they met their eternity. Only one survived.
Let us then honor them by pledging our labor, our fortunes, our lives to finishing the task they died to promote: making the universe a place where free men and women can live without fear.
They lived the dream of exploring the universe. It is fitting that their mortal remains have been buried in space, to roam between the stars they longed to visit. May they travel in peace until times end.
The text was followed by the listing of all twenty-four names, followed by their dates of birth and death. Last of all was Giacomos, with only a date of birth. He turned to face the Scotsman.
Scott spoke before Eletto could. "I hope you dont mind the wee liberties we took with your eulogy; for the plaque, we thought a little editing was necessary. Step forward a bit further, Giac."
From deep inside the dome, MBengas rich and mellow baritone voice announced, "The National Anthem of the United States of America," and The Star Spangled Banner began to play. After a few bars, the same voice sang it.
Once the anthem had finished, Eletto turned to the Engineer. "Its beautiful, Scotty. But I dont deserve to be on that plaque."
"Aye, you do, Giac. Just because you were spared a bit longer doesnt mean you were any less courageous, or any less determined. All it means is that you can press on with the task a wee bit longer than they did."
"If you say so. I dont feel like I belong there, to be honest, at least not yet."
Scott clapped his companion on the back. "If you felt you belonged there, laddie, it would be more than likely that you didnt, and vice versa. Does that make sense?"
Eletto shrugged. "More or less. Im still not sold on the idea, but its not worth quarreling over. Im honored that you took the time to honor my fallen friends."
"Twas the least we could do. Several of the crew on the Enterprise are quite the gardeners, and theyre planning to turn this part of the platform into a park. Itll be a few years before things are quite in shape, but Im sure theyll be more than eager to share their thoughts with you."
"Im grateful to you all, and honored. Id love to see those plans, when its convenient."
Nodding, the Scotsman smiled. "I thought you would. That can wait until later, though. Weve a rascal to catch down on Kahla, first. Lets head on back to the Enterprise."
Kirk, McCoy, Spock and Eletto materialized on the surface of Gamma Virginis II, not far from the water tower. Aaron Del Anders was there to meet them. Eletto turned to Del Anders. "Am I fortunate enough that the area around the tower remains undisturbed since last night?"
Aaron nodded. "Indeed so; we asked everyone to stay out of range, supposedly just in case the device continued to produce stray gamma for longer than we expected. Ive not come any closer than where Im standing. Any tracks you find should be those of our culprit."
Removing his back pack, Eletto drew out a thin, metal rod that sported several rubber O-rings on it. "Im glad to hear that. Itll make things a little easier. If you folks would humor me a few moments, while I do some preliminary examinations?" Without waiting for an answer, he moved toward the tower.
Stationing himself about a meter from it, he crouched down, slowly moving clockwise around it, studying the ground carefully. He had gone almost a quarter of the way around the tower when he straightened up, turning his back on the tower.
A few moments of staring, and he was back to the ground again, carefully setting one of the O-rings a short distance from one end of his rod, apparently recording some measurement he saw on the ground. Repositioning the rod, he put another ring at a second measurement. Apparently satisfied, he returned to circling the tower.
Near the stairs up the side of the tower, Eletto stopped, studying the ground carefully. Carefully, he began making zigzags back and forth, moving away from the stairs, sweeping the ground with his rod on occasion. Suddenly, he began moving swiftly from the tower for a few paces. After walking ten or twelve meters, he stopped, as if suddenly remembering that there were others present, and returned to the four men who had been silently watching him.
"Whatve you learned, Doc?" Del Anders asked.
"Much. Come." Eletto led the foursome to where he had first stopped. Pointing to the ground, he looked at them, mostly at Spock. "Here. The tracks are moving toward the tower. See how little disk there is, here in the toe? He moves slowly, warily. He suspects a trap, but he is not sure what it will be."
"Why do you say he, Giac?" Spock interrupted.
Eletto squatted, pointing. "See? Where he walks straight, the outer side of the track is a trace deeper. That speaks of a male. The female tends to put more pressure on the middle edge of the track, because of the greater width of her pelvis, to accommodate the birth canal." He stood again, moving toward the tower. "Here, he circles. At this point," he pointed toward a set of prints, "He stands. Spock, do you see the prints?" Eletto dropped to his haunches again, the Vulcan joining him.
"Several, some with different depths from the other in the front and back. How do you read them?"
"Here, and here, the front is a little shallower; our man looks up. He seeks something. When he finds it, he places something on the ground, just here." Eletto pointed toward a handful of marks on the ground. "It had three supports, and he positioned it very carefully. Look at how the ground is scarred around the final prints. Suddenly, he moves back to circle toward the stairs." Eletto stood, just behind the prints looking upward. "Do you see that?"
All four men craned their necks upward. "I see what youre meaning!" Kirk announced, pointing upward, with a tinge of excitement entering his voice. "Theres an antenna there, for broadcast control from the city."
"I suspect, Captain, that he was placing a jamming device, and looking to see if there were other antennae," the Vulcan added. "See how the prints are slightly deeper away from the tower, as if he were looking high above himself?"
Giacomo smiled appreciatively. "Your eyes are sharp, and your mind sharper, Spock. The disk in front deepens; he is also hurrying." Eletto led them to the stairs, pointing at another pair of marks. "For a moment or two, he stands, unsure. Will he chance it? Does he dare not do what he has come to do? The sides of the printsthere, where the soil is softest. They show some wobble, as if there were doubt in his soul. He is anxious, for some reason; he feels that there is risk, perhaps, if he does not go, as much as if he does. Look, at the fore part of the track: stuttering, as his feet shift a little forward and back. It is some time that he stands; there are many overlapped prints.
"Suddenly, he makes his decision to go for it: the disk on this last print is large, almost doubled. He breaks into a brisk trot, climbing the stairs. How long is he there? The tracks do not clearly say, but I think it is not terribly long. He returns, collects his device, and comes back. Here are his tracks away. They go toward that ridge." Eletto pointed as he spoke. "Again, the disk suggests he hurries. Perhaps the dawn is coming, and he wishes to be long gone before first light; more likely, it is still late at night, and he hurries because there is some distance to go before he reaches his lair. Lookhis stride lengthens a little, too. But he is confident; the stride is constant and the prints are without stutter, without wobble."
McCoy shook his head. "Grandpa, I can scarcely make out the marks youre talking about. I cant believe youre able to read all that from em."
"Perhaps, Doctor, it is because he has training you lack," Spock responded. "When he explains what he sees, I see and not only comprehend his analysis, but agree with it completely."
Eletto turned to Kirk. "You have been silent, Captain. Do you see what I describe?"
"Nowhere nearly as clearly as you do, Giac, but I can make out the tracks. When I was a kid, I learned a little bit about tracking. Id never have set the world on fire with my skill at it, but I was tolerable. Why?"
"We follow these tracks together," Eletto said, clearly taking charge of the party. "I will lead. You will walk to my right, a meter or so to the side and about the same behind. Spock, you take the same position to my left. I want both of you to keep your eyes on the ground, looking for signs that our culprit has strayed off the straight path. McCoy, Del Anders, follow behind. If one of you could carry the backpack?"
Del Anders picked it up. "How about we take turns carrying it, Doctor McCoy? Its heavier than it looks."
"Water, for hours of walking, Aaron, a thing or two to eat if we need it, and a few things I think we might want at the end of our journey. The waters the heaviest part of the load. Before long, I suspect well all wish it was a little heavier." Without waiting for a response, Giac began moving forward, carefully running his eyes over the ground before him.
Spock and Kirk fell in, as requested, with the other two men following behind.
Although their journey had begun in the mid-morning, the sun had risen to its zenith, and had dropped several degrees before Eletto stopped. Only the Vulcan was showing no signs of the heat, and all but Spock were visibly tiring when Eletto crested a small ridge. No sooner than he had done so, Eletto dropped to the ground. He motioned for the others to join him on the ground. "Spock, do you have your tricorder handy?"
"Of course, Doctor Eletto."
"Would you use it to survey the valley on the other side of this ridge? The tracks seem to run straight toward a building near the bottom of the valley. I want your opinion of what well face there. Just keep your head down, and let the tricorder do the work, please?"
The Vulcan made his way forward, staying concealed as Eletto had requested. He returned, his face unreadable. "Remarkable. The building you indicated is a minor fortress. There are auto-targeting phasers studded around the perimeter, and there is just enough of a force field over the top of the building to keep sensors from detecting the building and to prevent a transporter from moving anything into or out of the structure. I also observed that there is a moderate sized herd of buffalo grazing in the proximity of the structure, apparently being ignored by the targeting devices." He turned to face Eletto. "It is, I believe, analogous to the situation faced by your grandfather, Stalking Weasel."
"I was fifteen, Spock, when Stalking Weasel taught me the trick. I only managed it twice."
Spock locked eyes with Eletto. Uncharacteristically, Spock reached out and put a hand on Elettos shoulder. Human and Vulcan eyes locked. After a moment or two of silence, he spoke again. "Do I guess rightly, Adini Noquisi, 'he who looks at the star,' that you succeeded both times, and never tried a third time?"
Eletto nodded. Something in his demeanor had changed dramatically with Spocks touch, and when he heard his Indian name. "Your eyes see deep, green-skinned one, and you speak truly. Once already have I evaded death. Perhaps I can do it again. There is no other way."
"What did you do to that boy, Spock?" McCoy blurted out.
"Very little, Doctor; nothing more than bringing back a few old memories. Hush, please." The Vulcan turned back to Eletto, his hand still on the doctors shoulder. "What will you need, warrior?"
"The hide of a small buffalo, head, hooves and all. Many thongs of leather. My breechcloth from my backpack. A little time to reach deep into my spirit."
Kirk opened his mouth to speak, only to have Spock gesture a request for silence. "It will be done, Adini Noquisi. We will return with what you request."
Spock walked away from Eletto. The others followed the Vulcan, silently.
As they left, Eletto turned toward the ridge. It has been too long since I last tried it, he told himself, even ignoring the length of time I was in the hibernaculum. Who do I think Im kidding?
Climbing to the top of the ridge, Eletto stared at the buffalo, calmly feeding on the lush grass. Off to one side, away from the building, there was a small cluster of trees. Greedily, he drank in the scene before him. Long before his heart was sated with the beauty of the vista below, he closed his eyes, to reach back into his soul, seeking what memory there might remain of the lessons from Stalking Weasel.
In his mind, he could almost hear the voice of his long dead ancestor: Look before you, Adini Noquisi. Yanassia awaits you. Today, you must ride him, you must show that you can enter the opponents village unseen.
Eletto almost felt fifteen again, virtually tasting the combination of excited anticipation and deep fear he had felt...
My grandfather, he began.
Call me in Tsalagi, the language of the Cherokee, Stalking Weasel insisted.
Agidudai, I do not feel ready. I do not hear the buffalos call.
Yanassia, not buffalo, Adini Noquisi. Buffalo speaks only of the flesh and bones of the beast. Yanassia includes the spirit of the buffalo. It is the spirit you must touch before you touch the flesh and bones that will carry you.
Theyre still just animals, agidudai, he remembered complaining. What can they know other than simple reflex and instinct?
Stalking Weasel had sighed, seeming frustrated. To be honest, speaking strictly as a scientist, I dont know. They shouldnt know much of anything. Yet I have learned that they seem to. The scientist in me does not comprehend. The Cherokee sees and understands, but does not need to question. It is the Cherokee that can do this, not the scientist.
Eletto remembered digesting that for several minutes before responding. I do not understand, agidudai, but I am open to learn.
That is enough, Adini Noquisi. Let yanassia teach you. Don the buffalo hide. Go among them. Feel as they feel; think as they think; find the one that will bear you, and return. Speak their Indian name, greet them in The Language. They will know. Now, go. Stalking Weasel sat on the ground, near a small boulder jutting out of it. His face had made it clear that nothing more would be said, until the task was done. The young Eletto knew better than to gainsay his grandfather.
As Elettos memories shifted to sensory images, he became aware of the others returning. Del Anders voice broke into the chain of recollection.
"I dont think hes moved a centimeter in the twenty minutes weve been gone. Is he all right?"
McCoy pulled out his mediscanner. "No sign of any trouble, Aaron. Spock, can you make anything out with that Vulcan mind touch of yours?"
"The mind touch is imprecise even between Vulcans, Doctor McCoy; it is even less so between a Vulcan and a Human. It is, however, logical to suppose that he is immersed in his memory of learning from his grandfather."
Giacomo snapped the thread tying him to his memories, turning to face the others. "I have wandered deeply in the caverns of my memory. I have returned. I am ready. Do you have the hide?"
Even Spock registered surprise at the change that had come over Eletto; his demeanor, his stance, even his face seemed to have undergone a subtle, but striking, further transformation, almost as if it was another person looking out through Elettos eyes. "We have what you need, Adini Noquisi."
Silently, as if afraid to break whatever spell had come over Eletto, Del Anders extended the hide of a moderate sized buffalo calf.
Eletto took it, with a nod of gratitude. Spock produced a modest leather pouch. "Within this pouch are specially treated leather thongs. Peel the covering off them, and they will corrode through the insulation of the power buses, allowing them to short out the power supply."
As Eletto took the pouch, Spock brought his tricorder up. "Here," he said, pointing to the sketchy layout displayed, "is where the power is generated; there is a service entrance here, on the northwest, that enters next to the main power bus for the whole building."
The Vulcan pointed to a corner of the building in the valley. "It is near that corner. Depending on the thickness and the composition of the insulation, it will take between five and six minutes for the corrosive to do its work. You must exert caution in positioning yourself; the energy released is likely to be large, perhaps explosive, and the corridor will focus it considerably."
Looking at the building, Eletto nodded. "I understand."
"Will you need us to stage a diversion, Stares At A Star?"
"If stealth will not serve, no diversion will make it possible."
"How will we know when to come to the building?"
"Come down when the screens fall. Bring many, with weapons. We cannot count on our quarry being peaceful. I must dress appropriately." Eletto took the buffalo hide, and foraged in his backpack, retrieving his loincloth.
After a moment or two behind a bush, he returned, wearing hide and loincloth, several strips of hide and the pouch dangling from his leather waist thong. Pointing as he spoke, he asked, "Can you have me put in the middle of that clump of trees?"
"Yes." Spock retrieved his communicator. "Spock to Enterprise. Captain Scott?"
"Aye, Mister Spock. Will you be wanting to beam up?"
"Not just yet. You have my coordinates?"
"There is a shielded area approximately seven hundred and thirty meters from me. There is a herd of buffalo nearby, next to which there is a copse of trees. Do you have that located?"
After a brief pause, Scotts voice responded, "Located."
"On my signal, please transport Doctor Eletto into that copse of trees." Spock looked at Eletto. "We will be watching. The moment the shields are down, we will transport in."
For a moment, Elettos face seemed to change, to look more familiar. "Thank you, Spock. I dont know what you did, but thank you for bringing back those lost memories." Elettos face resumed its former appearance. "I must go now."
"Captain Scott. Please transport Doctor Eletto." The doctor shimmered and disappeared. Spock turned to the rest. "Captain, I would suggest that we transport to the Enterprise, and await the falling of the shield. Will you join us, Mister Del Anders?"
"I dont think so, Spock," Del Anders replied. "It might be better if I maintained a token presence here, just to keep our quarry a little off balance."
"Very well," Kirk said, reaching for his communicator. "Scotty, three to beam up."
The three men disappeared, leaving Del Anders behind. After a moment or two, he found a convenient place, sat down, and watched, waiting for the drama before him to unfold.
Giacomo materialized at the edge of the cluster of trees nearest the buffalo, still feeling somewhat amused at the scandalized look Scotts face had worn during the brief period the Scotsman had seen him in the transporter room. Returning to his task, Giacomo reached back into his memory, picking up the thread he had dropped moments before.
In his minds eye, he could see his grandfather Stalking Weasel, sitting on the ground, legs crossed, hands on his knees, in the posture that said he would wait, silently, for as long as it took for the task to be done.
Giacomo could hear his grandfathers voice, again, echoing out of long forgotten memories. The scientist, the doctor cannot do it, Adini Noquisi; only the Cherokee, the Apache within you can do this. It is for this day that I have taught you, grandson. Yanassia calls you. Honor your people.
Eletto let his eyes drift shut, focusing on his immediate environment. He began to become more sharply aware of the odors of the trees around him, and of the grasses, the flowers, and the soil beneath his feet. Slowly, the sounds and smells of the herd of buffalo worked their way into his awareness. Without hesitation, he moved toward the herd, reveling in the feel of the grass against his bare feet, letting his heart and mind experience the buffalo around him.
Moving into the heard, he found himself accepted by the creatures, treated as one of their own. One buffalo, a cow, stopped, staring at him intently. Returning the steady gaze, Eletto spoke softly. " Yanassia, I come in peace, to ask a kindness of you." The buffalo cow stared without moving. "I must go to yonder building, yanassia, and I ask you to carry me there. I will ride under you, if you will let me."
The buffalo made no sign. Cautiously, carefully, Eletto moved, draping a pair of long leather thongs over the buffalos back, then tying them into a crude cradle. Still the buffalo waited. Once Eletto slid into the cradle, the buffalo returned to grazing. Tickling first one leg, then another, he slowly prompted the creature to move forward. To his surprise, as the beast he rode moved away from the herd, it remained surrounded by a handful of other buffalo, one of which was a bull. Reaching the building was slow work; long before he arrived, Eletto could feel the ache of muscles no longer accustomed to such abuse, and the sharp discomfort of the thongs cutting into his skin. One step, then another; grazing for a moment or two, then three or four more steps. Unmolested, the buffalo passed the automated phasers that guarded the perimeter, finally moving to the side of the building, almost reaching the service entrance. Eletto untied himself, removing the thongs of leather from the cow, discarding the hide he had worn.
"My thanks, yanassia. Return now to your own. Graze in peace, and go with my gratitude." Having whispered that, he turned to the open service area. In no greater hurry than they had shown approaching, the buffalo began their wandering back to the herd. Swiftly, but almost silently, Eletto moved into the building, seeking the power buses Spock had indicated.
Time, he was sure, was of the essence; he was under no delusion that his quarry had left an opening to his lair without having it monitored. Having found them, he tied the specially prepared leather strips around them in several places, then moved slightly backward. Before he could escape the building, someone stepped into the end of the corridor.
"Move, and Ill fire."
Eletto remained motionless, his eyes fixed on the hand holding what was clearly a phaser. "Do you think you can move before I can duck? Your power supply is behind me. Dare you risk hitting it with your weapon?"
The mans thumb twitched. Eletto moved swiftly, erratically, first one way, then another, slowly approaching his opponent. As he did, he stepped into an area of brighter light.
"It cant be you." The man stepped forward, becoming visible. "Dont do this to your own flesh and blood, Giacomo. You dont understand."
Eletto recognized the face. "I claim you not, Douglas. I am shamed that one who is my descendant has done as you have."
Capitalizing on Douglas surprise, Giac moved forward, still shuttling randomly from side to side. He could hear the treated leather corroding its way through the insulation. Timehe needed only a little more time. "You poison the peoples water." The distance shrank, slowly, steadily; Giacs eyes remaining fixed on the hand holding the weapon. "I need understand nothing else."
"Yes you do, Giac. Its not what it seems, I swear it. I "
He was close enough. Giac moved swiftly, one foot lashing out, catching the hand holding the phaser, knocking it out of Dougs hand. Behind him, Giac could hear the hiss caused by the current starting to flow through the specially treated leather. Only a few minutes, and it would all be over. Giacomo grabbed Dougs hand, almost before the man was aware of the assault.
In an instant, Doug had hold of Giacs throat with his other hand, trying to strangle Giac. The muscles in Giacs neck stood out like cords, trying to hold the grip at bay. Giacs other hand swept up, crushing the wrist near his neck, twisting it, trying to break Dougs hold.
For an instant, time seemed to stand still, as the two men stood, locked in a battle as much of will as of physical strength. Behind him, Giac heard the sound of the short beginning, then felt, more than heard, the explosion as the power lines shorted out completely, the blast hurling him against his opponent, then past him. Giac had barely landed on the floor when six men materialized between him and Douglas.
Kirks voice rang out immediately. "Security, take that man, and put him in the brig."
The security detail took Douglas Eletto, and transported up. McCoy looked around, finally seeing Giacomo. "Grandpa!" McCoy ran to where Giac had landed, his mediscanner at hand.
Giac lifted himself, slightly, facing McCoy. "Leonard, dont waste your time," he said, breathing with difficulty. "One of the problems with being a doctor is that we know. I cant feel anything below my navel. My ribs feel like several are broken. Judging from the way my belly feels, Ive got major internal injuries. Just give me something for the pain, will you? Im dying, and I know it."
"No! Im not going to lose you, not now." McCoys hand flitted to his pouch, bringing out the hypospray. It hissed, delivering something for the pain he knew Giacomo was suffering. Looking at his mediscanner, he knew Giacs assessment was accurate enough. Elettos back was fractured, and compressing his spinal cord; his liver and spleen were damaged badly, and one of his kidneys looked like it had been shredded. Frankly, the other one didnt look all that good either. One lung was torn and leaking, and there was bleeding around Elettos heart. McCoy looked up. "Spock, quickly. Get some water. Now."
"I did not bring any from the Enterprise, Doctor McCoy. I did not anticipate the need."
"Blast it, get it from the tap here. Now. Hurry."
Spock consulted his tricorder, and hurried down the corridor, returning with a vase filled with water. "Here, Doctor. It is clearly contaminated, however, and "
McCoy snatched the container from Spock. Lifting Elettos head, he put it to his lips. "Drink it, Grandpa. Please."
Giac looked up at his colleague. He looked like he was going to refuse, but decided against it. Weakly, he let McCoy pour the water into his mouth, swallowing. After a few swallows, he tried to refuse more, but McCoy was persistent. Once Giac had finished it, McCoy let him lay back down. Tricorder in hand, McCoy watched.
Almost imperceptibly, Elettos appearance began to change. First, his breathing became less labored. One foot twitched, then the other. Eletto looked at McCoy. "Whats happening? My legsthey hurt, but thats impossible."
"Just dont move, okay, Grandpa?" McCoy ordered, still obviously concerned for his patients welfare. "If youll just hold still until I can get you to Sickbay and finish dealing with your broken bones, you just might duck the Grim Reapers sickle a second time. Im going to knock you out for a couple of hours; I cant afford to have you moving on me." The hypospray hissed, and Giac went limp.
Spock and Kirk both looked at McCoy, amazed.
"Bones, how on Earth?"
"The cysts, Jim. I need to be kicked for being a total idiot. They take over freshly dead or dying tissue, remember? And then pretend theyre the intact cells. Get the point?"
It was Spock that responded. "Amazing. It would be equivalent of repairing the injury, cell by cell. Fractured bones would need to be stabilized, but almost any injury to the soft tissues would be corrected swiftly."
"I think we need to get to the Enterprise. You have a patient to tend, and I think Ive got an apology to tender, to Douglas Eletto." Kirk reached for his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise. Four to beam up, Scotty."
Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Eletto disappeared into the sparkle of the transporter.
Three hours later, McCoy stepped out of the turbolift onto the bridge. Kirk swiveled around to face him. "Hows Eletto doing, Bones?"
"Which one, Jim?"
"MBenga, Davids and I have spent the last three hours patching up his broken bones, and clearing the blood up from the assorted places it puddled. Give him a couple of days, and hell be almost as good as new. Is that all you called me up here for?"
"No, Bones. Weve got to explain all this to Del Anders, and I want you here when we do."
"This could be tricky, to say the least."
"No kidding. Uhura, could you hail Mister Del Anders on the surface?"
"Hailing, Captain." There was a brief pause. "I have contact."
"Mainviewer, please." Del Anders face appeared. "Good evening, Mister Del Anders."
"Good evening, Captain Kirk. I trust youll forgive me; Im a little nonplussed, to be honest. Id intended to have Douglas Eletto here with me as you told us what youd found, but he seems to be unavailable at the moment. Is there any way that we could delay this until Ive located Doug?"
Kirk looked at McCoy out of the corner of his eye. The doctor was pointedly staring at the ceiling, trying to look innocent. Deciding to take the initiative again, Kirk said, "Im afraid you wont find Douglas Eletto on the surface, Mister Del Anders. Hes on the Enterprise."
Surprise registered clearly on Del Anders face. "What on Earth is he doing up there?"
There was an uncomfortable pause before Kirk answered. "We were holding him for ecological sabotage; hes been contaminating the water supply of Kahla ."
Del Anders shook his head. "I cant believe it. Ive known Doug for, oh, ten years or more. He has a major stake in the success of this colony. Theres no way that hed sabotage it. This has to be a mistake, thats all."
"Theres no mistake about the identity of the culprit, Aaron," McCoy chipped in. "He admits to putting it into your drinking water. The mistake was in all of us jumping to the wrong conclusion."
"How can you reach a wrong conclusion about introducing a parasite thats producing autoimmune reactions that have been devastating people?" Del Anders was clearly becoming upset.
It was Spock that intervened. "The error is simple, Mister Del Anders. What was apparently a damaging parasite introduced by a bioterrorist turns out to be a major medical breakthrough developed by a genius. By engulfing the damaged or recently dead tissue, the parasites protective mimicry causes it to replace the tissue it engulfs, effectively healing the injury. If a means of removing the parasites chromosomes from infected cells can be developed, this may pave the way for a revolutionary technology in medicine."
Puzzlement replaced surprise on Del Anders face. "Having the immune system damage major organ systems is revolutionary? Im missing something here."
"We all were, Aaron," McCoy interjected, "At least until we were in Dougs lair. When Giac shorted out the power supply to the building, there was quite an explosion, as Spock predicted. Giac took the brunt of it, hard. Not only did it break his back and crush his spinal cord, it made mincemeat out of several vital organs. Within a few minutes of downing some contaminated water, the parasite was replacing the damaged tissue and pulling Giac back from an otherwise certain death. When were done stabilizing that broken back of his, hell be about as good as new. Once we get the extra chromosomes deleted, hell probably be better than new."
"Is that possible? Del Anders asked.
"I believe so," Spock responded. "The old antisense DNA technique, using a pseudovirion to deliver it, should be effective in this context, as much as it was in eradicating the retroviral diseases of the mid twenty-first century. With Douglas Elettos assistance, it should be comparatively easy to generate the antisense DNA. Doctor Eletto is apparently thoroughly familiar with the pseudovirion technology, and should have no trouble taking the final steps. With the resources of the Enterprise to draw on, I do not believe it will take more than a week or two to develop a workable solution."
"And since the two individuals who are pivotal in developing this are both tied to Kahla," Kirk added, "It seems pretty likely that the production facilities will be, at least initially, on your planet. Im willing to bet that the trust that Doctor Eletto founded will be willing to finance it all."
Del Anders was dumbfounded. "I dont know what to say, Captain. This is going to take some digesting. "
"I understand. It took me a little while to come to grips with it myself," Kirk admitted, "And I watched Giac outwit the Grim Reaper the second time. Maybe after youve had a chance to sleep on it, we can talk again."
"I agree. In the morning, then." Del Anders broke contact.
Kirk turned to face McCoy. "I guess wed better let Giacomo know how things came out, Bones. Shall we head for Sickbay?
"Maybe not yet, Jim," McCoy replied. "When I left, I had Harrison Davids bring Doug Eletto down to Sickbay to talk with Giac. I had him bring our two lunatic Ph.D. engineers down, too, to referee if things got out of hand. Lets give them a little more time to talk."
Giacomo Eletto lay on the biomonitor bed, staring at the ceiling, trying to piece together what had happened to him. There had been the explosion that had thrown him through the air, and the haze of pain after he landed, followed by the realization that he was almost certainly dying. McCoy had arrived with pain medication, then not long afterward, there had been something that had rendered him unconscious. Giac moved his feet; he knew that should have been impossible, too. Before his self-examination could proceed further, Davids came into view.
"Giac, Ive brought a couple people here to talk to you." Doctor Oti and Doctor Iaffrey stepped into view, smiling. "We brought the ladies along to keep you from killing your third guest until hes had a chance to explain. Since Im not wearing a flack jacket, I think Ill leave you folks, now."
MBenga left the room, Davids with him. As he did, Douglas Eletto stepped into view. Giacs face tightened. "Im not sure that I want to hear what youve got to say, Douglas, but Ill listen."
"Try to have an open mind, will you?" Douglas begged. "I tried to explain before everything went to pot on the surface, but your mind was pretty closed then."
"Im listening," Giac said, still clearly hostile.
"Did it ever dawn on you that having something pretend to be dead or dying tissue might be a good thing? That maybe the replacement might save your life? Whats the last thing you remember before McCoy put you out?"
Somewhat taken aback by the question, Giac thought for a moment before responding. "I guess it was McCoy giving me a drink of water, I think out of a decorative vase or something. I was a little surprised by that, but I guessed he was just trying to ease my demise or something. The next thing I remember was that my legs started hurting pretty badly, then McCoy put me out for the count."
The two men stared at each other silently for several minutes. Slowly, realization dawned on Giac. "The water he gave meit was laced with the cysts. They found the damaged tissues and " Giac suddenly looked embarrassed. "I owe you an apology, Douglas. And my life."
Doug shrugged. "McCoy deserves a lot of credit for quick thinking, too, you know, and for patching up your broken bones. Theres a lot of things this parasite isnt going to fix, after all. Too many diseases involve damage to non- cellular components of the Human body, and these parasites arent going to reverse the changes caused by wear, tear and aging."
"Why didnt you just publish this? Its going to cause a major medical revolution."
"You think I didnt try? My peers thought the idea was so laughable that they forced me into early retirement, claiming that Id gone insane. Conveniently, the Trust had just decided to invest in the colony here on Kahla, so I came along. When I got here fourteen years ago, I was hoping I could finish out the research Id started, or at least get it far enough along that I could publish it.
"Just as I was finishing up the last of the work preparatory to writing and publishing the paper, the crisis hit: the grain supply was contaminated with a fungus that made a particularly virulent, multi-system-toxic mycotoxin. People were dying right and left. I hadnt quite finished my work, but there was nothing else anyone could do, so I did what I could, putting the cyst into the water supply. Almost over night, people started recovering.
"Thats when I should have told folks what Id done, but, well, I was afraid to, afraid that theyd misunderstand, just like others had. Like you did, for that matter, and I dont blame you. After all, it does "
"Doug, I misjudged you badly, and I apologize," Giac interrupted, extending his hand. "Now that I know the rest of the story, Im proud to know that were kin. Are you willing to forgive me?"
Doug returned the smile, shaking the offered hand. "Of course I will; Id probably have misjudged my actions if I were you, anyhow."
"And men say were incomprehensible, Mom." Anaper rolled her eyes in mock agony. "I think thats the pot calling the kettle black!"
"Oh, hush, honey child. You want them catching on that we know? For shame!" Iaffrey tried to look worried that Anaper was disclosing a deep, dark secret.
Giac scratched his head. "One thing I dont understand, Doug. Once youd taken care of the mycotoxin crisis, why did you keep on adding the cysts to the water supply? Wasnt your job done?"
"I thought so, too, but thats when the animals Id used the cysts on started getting into trouble. You see, Id rigged the parasitic genome to go unstable a year or so after it took over the Human cell, intending that the parasites chromosomes would disappear. The trouble was, when that happened, it started killing the cells, too. To keep everyone from dying off when the parasitic genome started to go, I had to re-rig the parasite to take over humanized versions of itself, clear out the old genome and replace it with new. If Id have stopped replacing it, everyone that had ever been rescued by it would have died within a few years. In the first few years, I tried to find a fix, but before long, I was so busy trying to keep up the facade of a normal life while producing and spreading the cysts to keep everyone alive that there just wasnt time to work on the issue. Before long, I was scared stiff Id get caught, or that something would keep me from replenishing the supply, and the whole colony would collapse."
"And I was calling you a heel, Doug." Giac shook his head. "You realize theyre going to hail you as a hero, now, at least here on Kahla."
"Maybe, maybe not. It doesnt really matter, unless we find a way of clearing out the parasites extra chromosomes."
"Youre probably going to face charges before someone or other too, Doug. Grateful as I may be for your work saving my life, what you did was unethical. I expect that the Federation hierarchy will see this as you performing unauthorized experimentation on sentient beings, and without consent, either. Unless courts have changed more than I expect they have, theyre probably not going to care a great deal about what pushed you to do it."
"No quarrel. And there are a lot of people who died from misguided attempts to eradicate the parasite, or who are still suffering from immune reactions to the replaced tissue. Im going to have to answer for that, too, I guess. I feel at least partially responsible for every one of those deaths, for every person whos suffering. In a way, I guess Im glad its over, even if I have to face the music on charges of murder. You wouldnt believe how this has weighed on me over the years." The younger Eletto looked forlorn.
"To be honest, Doug, its not hard for me to believe; I still feel half guilty over being the only survivor on the Jovian Platform. But dont forget how many people were walking dead before you introduced the parasite. When you look at it, all you really did was change the number and the names of the dead and wounded, and as far as I can see, you dramatically reduced the number of the dead, for that matter. Again, the only reason Im alive is that parasite of yours. I havent forgotten that I owe you my life."
"I dont think I deserve as much credit as you give me; I still havent forgotten McCoys quick thinking." Doug shrugged, shuffling his feet as if he were embarrassed, then looked at Anaper and Galori, then back at Giacomo. "Look, Ive got to go work with Spock and McCoy on finding a way to deal with the immune problem. Spock was talking some sort of scientific gobble-de-gook about pseudovirion vectors and antisense DNA, and expecting me to solve the whole problem that way. At least I can run for my life. Youre still stuck on that bed, at their mercyor lack of itfor now."
Giac nodded. "I follow where Spocks going with that; I worked with building pseudovirion vectors for antisense DNA to treat retroviral diseases before I switched over to NASA. I may be able to help there. Maybe I should barter my help for some protection from these two."
Douglas laughed. "Like I could protect you from them! Im out of here. Fend for yourself, old man!" He ducked out of Sickbay, pretending to be running for his life.
Giacomo looked over at Anaper Oti and Galori Iaffrey. "Your project heres over ladies. I assume that youre going to be heading home?"
"I will, anyway," Anaper responded. "Zanders probably missing me, and I miss him, too. He and I have some serious business to transact as soon as I get back."
"If its a boy, are you going to name him after me?" Giacomo asked.
Anaper turned several shades of red. "Mom, have you been telling stories out of class?"
"Heavens no, child. He may be male, but he was able to work that out on his own."
"Im sneaky like that, Anaper." Giacomo turned to Galori. "Youre probably off back to Earth, I suppose?"
"Im not sure, Giac. If you folks can solve the immune problem with this parasite, Kahla is going to need some major help designing and building the production facility. I thought I might hang around and help."
Giac nodded, reaching out to take Galoris hand. "Im glad to hear it."
Anaper smiled, and tiptoed out, realizing it was time to leave the pair alone.
Kirk closed the log. McCoys voice replaced the captains. "I dont think theyre going to do a whole lot more than rap Doug Eletto on the knuckles, Jim. The way it sounds to me, the whole Kahla colony figures they owe Doug their lives."
The captain turned to face his friend. "Youre probably right, Bones. But hes still going to have to face Federation justice."
"As constipated as the Federation court system is,. Eletto probably doesnt have to worry. Hell be dead and buried long before the Federation bureaucracy gets a tribunal set up on Kahla."
Kirk nodded, chuckling. "Just as well, Bones. Itd almost be hypocritical for the parasites in the bureaucracy forced on us to call Doug dumping parasites on others a crime. At least his parasites did something useful."
Everyone on the bridge except Spock broke into laughter. Not even the Vulcan voiced disagreement.
In engineering, Indri arrived at Scottys office. "You summoned me, Captain Scott?"
"Aye, Indri," Scotty burred, lifting the trititanium-and-rubber model of the Plumbers Helper Enterprise and studying it closely. "Dye think we might be able to design a workin model of this thing?"
For a moment, Indri pondered the question. "There would be some minor technical challenges on scaling up the rubber suction units, but I do not think they would be insurmountable. I fail, however, to see a reason for such an endeavor."
"Well, I was just thinkin that if we could build one large enough, perhaps it would help deal with the output of Starfleet brass "
"I see," Indri laughed. "I dont think we could scale it up that much "
His shift over, MBenga returned to his quarters, exhausted. With Eletto staying on Kahla, the workload in Sickbay had increased back to its usual level. He hadnt realized how much slack Eletto had been taking up over the months that he had been on board. After showering, MBenga decided to turn in early. It was going to take a week or two to get back in stride.
As MBenga drifted off, he remembered the incident with Eletto and the Rigelian Fever, which reminded him of Uhura, and Hardavs prank, reprogramming the mediscanner. He smiled, wondering if anyone suspected that one of the major motivations for his returning to front line medicine was to find a way to be around her more.
As dreams came, they were about Uhura, walking with him along the beach on Californias coastline, watching the sun set and the moon rise. Just as Uhura turned, looking longingly, indeed hungrily into MBengas eyes, he was violently wrested from his dream paradise by a loud, agonized moan.MBenga jumped out of bed, recognizing the unmistakable moan as the call of "Beat the Reaper," yelling, "HARDAV!"
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