April 7th 2295 U.S.S. Excelsior, NCC-2000
"Hi, Hikaru," greeted Doctor Ariel Cord.
Captain Sulu looked up at her from his viewscreen. "Afternoon, Ariel," he responded distractedly and turned his attention back to the image on his screen.
"Ariel, two years ago, during the trial of Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy on the Klingon homeworld, we lost a crewman."
"Of course. Dmitri Valtane."
"And you pronounced him dead, yes?"
"Well certainly. He died as a result of a severe electrical shock and plasma burns when his station exploded." Her eyes narrowed. "You know that, of course. Heck, Doctor Noel even brought it up with you several months ago."
Sulu nodded. "Then who is this?" He swung the priviewer around. There was a shot of the bridge of the Excelsior as seen during a CommPic communication. Captain Sulu was in the front, a fond smile on his face. On the left, was Lieutenant Don Harden, who had transferred to the Kongo a year ago. On the right, Lieutenant Commander Boris Lojur, Sulus second officer, sat placidly. From the right to the left were Cadets Farley and Rosen, Commander Rand, Cadets Anderson, Ward and Land. A couple of cadets were obscured by the captains cheerful visage, then one could easily see the late Kevin Jordan, David Jones and Laurie Morgan, who were cadets themselves at the time. Then there was the Hjjudini, Cadet Thweo, who had been killed last December in an extended battle with the Tholians at Alpha Tucanae IV. But standing next to him was... Dmitri Valtane.
"When was this image recorded?" Cord asked, suspecting she already knew the answer.
"Just as we were about to leave orbit from the Klingon colony world Khitomer. Its from a transmission I sent to Captain Kirk before his return to Earth on the final cruise of the Enterprise-A, telling him how nice it was to see him in action again. That was weeks after the battle in the Azure Nebula."
"Then how can that be Dmitri Valtane? He was already dead by that time."
Sulu swung the viewer around. "I dont know how this can be explained."
"How did you find it?"
"I didnt. Uhura did. She was going through the Enterprise-A log recordings for storage into the Enterprise-Bs data archives. She saw that particular communications file, and opened it. Then she noted who was standing in the right-hand corner."
"Have you checked the Excelsiors transmission logs?"
Sulu nodded. "Hes there, all right."
The captain snorted. "Unlikely, Doctor."
"Almost as unlikely as an immortal medical officer?" she asked, referring to her own uniqueness. Only recently discovering she was the granddaughter of the man currently calling himself "Flint", she had estimated she probably had more than four thousand more years of life.
That gave him a pause. "Well, hopefully more so."
"Then what do you think it is?"
"Im not sure," answered Sulu, "but I intend to find out." He addressed the open-air intercom mike. "This is the captain speaking. All senior staff officers are to report to the briefing room in five minutes."
"Youre calling a briefing...over this?" Cord asked.
Sulu smiled and remembered something that James T. Kirk had once said. "Youre the doctor, Doctor. Can you explain this?"
"Well, no," she admitted, completely unaware that he was quoting his former commanding officer. "But to call a staff meeting?" Her head tilted. "Thats not like you, Hikaru. Usually, youre the one who makes the decisions and solves the problems without our input."
He winked at her and smiled broadly. "Ive been working on that."****
Five minutes later, Sulu strode into the briefing room and was pleased to see that his senior officers were all present. He glanced around the room: Executive Officer Janice Rand, Captain of Engineering Deneice Maliszewski, Chief Helm Officer Boris Lojur, Chief Navigator Linda Parker, Security Chief Brai, Chief Tactical Officer Peterson and pro tem Chief Science Officer Tuvok were all at their usual seats.
"Good afternoon," Sulu said as he slid into his seat and Cord slid into hers. "I called this rather impromptu senior staff meeting because of one thing and one thing alone. We have a little mystery here that, well, I want solved." He punched the comlink. "Computer, display transmission image file number 22930827175631."
The image was quickly displayed on the briefing room viewscreen.
Lieutenant Peterson asked the obvious. "Okay, Captain, we see you and a some of the crew. Hey, Ensign Rosens a cadet there, so its from some time ago. Whats so mysterious about that?"
"Lets see if someone whos been on board longer than three months can guess, Mister," Sulu pursed his lips in disapproval. He glanced around the table, and all eyes seemed focused on the image...except for Tuvoks. He seemed to be staring blankly at the image as if trying to discern some trick, some deception on the captains part.
Maliszewski answered, "Well, Id guess its from around three years ago. Cadet Farley there was on bridge rotation at that time. He left Starfleet two and a half years ago when his mother passed away. He was the oldest brother, and he had to take care of his younger siblings."
Sulu nodded. "I remember." He glanced at Tuvok and waited. Still nothing was forthcoming from the Vulcan.
Janice Rand spoke up. "Isnt that from Khitomer orbit? We had stopped the Klingons from destroying the Enterprise, beamed down and stopped that renegade admiral and some Marine colonel from killing the president of the Federation."
Sulu nodded. "Very good, Janice. Its hard to perceive something like this because this was not your point of view. Notice anything else? Something unusual?"
"Unusual?" asked Rand.
"Captain, its probably out of line but Id like to ask Unusual in what way?" said Peterson. "I dont want to be presumptuous here, being the newest senior officer and all, but I mean, what are you looking at that you want us to see?"
"Someone thats out of place," explained Sulu. The captain turned to Tuvok. "All right, Ensign. Whos out of place?"
"Tuvok," interjected Maliszewski. "He wouldve been there."
Sulu blinked in surprise, realizing that she had a valid point. "Tuvok isnt there because he was stationed at Science Three which is forward of the ship-to-ship imaging system." The captains eyes turned to the Vulcan. "Whos there that shouldnt be?"
"Dmitri Valtane," answered the acting chief science officer. "I am...at a loss as to how to explain this. He died on Stardate"
"Good Lord!" exclaimed Rand, startled. "Thats right! He died weeks before the battle above Khitomer!"
"So how is it possible that hes here in this recording?" asked Sulu. "Thats why Ive called this impromptu meeting."
"Logically," said Tuvok, "he cannot possibly be there, so it bears to reason that its not him. Merely someone who resembles him."
Sulu spoke through the comlink. "Computer, isolate the figure on the left of this image. Zoom in, and sharpen the image."
The image zoomed in on Dmitri Valtane.
"Oh my God," whispered Rand.
Linda Parker leaned forward as if trying to perceive a trick of light. "Perhaps someone has superimposed his image into the recording."
Security Chief Brai now spoke into his comlink. "Computer, is there any evidence that this image has been altered? Microbyte level analysis, please."
There was a brief pause, and then the computer answered, "Negative. Image has not been altered."
Sulu tapped the table pointedly with the end of his stylus. "Lieutenant, I am not incompetent. Ive already had the image analyzed. Its genuine. The image from the Enterprise-As reception file matches the image from the Excelsiors transmission files down to the microbyte level. Im just not sure how this is possible."
"It isnt," Janice Rand said decisively. "That man is an impostor. Wed just beamed up from Khitomer. Maybe one of those rogue Starfleet officers assumed his identity in order to get beamed aboard and infiltrate the ship."
"And no one notices? Not the transporter chief? Not the ships computer? Not you or I or the captain? I think thats unlikely," disagreed Cord.
Sulu tapped the table again. "Lets hear everyone out, Doc." He turned to his chief engineer. "Deneice?"
"Temporal anomaly," she suggested. "The plasma rupture which Science One exploded punched a microrift in the space-time continuum, and his image not Valtane himselfwas preserved in that rift through photonic retention," suggested Maliszewski. "Then the explosion of the Klingon bird of prey disrupted the space-time continuum again, and the microrift released the photons, and Valtane appeared on the bridge for the few seconds the message was being transmitted."
Sulu blinked repeatedly, then raised an eyebrow. "Interesting..."
Tuvoks voice came from across the table. "I must"
Lieutenant Peterson rolled his eyes. "What a load of tribble shit!" he mumbled under his breath.
The captain tapped the stylus a bit more loudly this time. "The purpose of an investigation like this is to examine all the possibilities. Right now, were just listing the possibilities we will examine, Ensign. Well weed out the unlikely ones soon enough. Save your argument for that time."
The captain turned to his security chief. "All right, Lieutenant Brai, your turn."
"A shapeshifter such as an Antosian, Chameloid or a Vendorian. Captain Kirks report from his internment on Rura Penthe includes mention of a Chameloid in league with the Klingons running the prison camp. Perhaps she was not alone," answered the big Rigelian Kaylar.
"Good point. Doctor Cord?"
The chief medical officer shifted uncomfortably in her chair. "Id shoot this one down, too, but it goes along with what Janice was suggesting. It would not be terribly difficult to surgically alter the appearance of an operative and place him aboard the Excelsior. But they made a mistake. They placed him onboard not knowing Dmitri was already dead."
"Not a bad theory, by the way," Rand conceded, putting aside her personal dislike of Cord. "Wed maintained communications silence for a few weeks there, you know. The log report of Valtanes death hadnt even been transmitted to Starfleet Command."
"Agreed," Sulu conceded. "All right, Mister Peterson. Now that you know what the problem with the image is, whats your theory? How is this possible?"
"Two words: Evil Twin," answered the tactical officer.
"Evil Twin?" asked Sulu as eyebrows curled all around the room in disapproval.
"Sure," the lieutenant answered, "everyones got an evil twin. This is Dmitris. Somehow hes on board, no doubt to usurp ship operations whenever possible."
Sulu stared at the young, dark-haired man for a few seconds placidly.
Commander Rand, though, was almost beet-red in anger. "Lieutenant, if the captain ever wants a flippant answer, hell ask for it. I promise. But if you dont have anything of value to add to this discussion, you can either keep your mouth shut or you can leave. And you can expect a reprimand added to my log this afternoon."
Peterson said nothing, but the looks he received from the others around the briefing room table told him how they all felt. Castigated, he lowered his eyes, folded his hands on his lap, and said, "My apologies, Captain."
Her reprimand complete, Sulu turned to his chief navigation officer, Linda Parker. "Lieutenant, whats your theory?"
"Actually, Mister Petersons remark, though uncalled for," she shot an angry glare at the tactical officer, "may not be far off the mark. What if this Dmitri Valtane is his counterpart from the mirror universe, or an alternate universe?"
"An interesting notion, but it begs to ask two questions: What would he be doing there? Why would he risk being seen?"
Parker shrugged. "I cant answer you that, sir. Just brainstorming, as it were."
Sulu nodded. "Ensign Tuvok, your analysis, please?"
"Being a Vulcan, I am uncomfortable about voicing ungrounded theories, but as everyone else has done so, I gather it will be expected of me. However, I must respectfully decline, Captain. There is no evidence other than this visual record on which one could base a conclusion," the young man replied.
"I understand, Ensign. Thank you." The captain turned to his chief helm officer. "Boris, your turn."
The taciturn middle aged man shook his head slightly. "Youre not going to like my answer, Skipper, anymore than I or anyone else here cared for Mister Petersons."
Sulu smiled slightly. "And any more than I dont like the fact that weve got a mystery here?" he asked wryly.
Lojur chuckled softly. "Okay, then, I will give you my answer. Understand," he addressed the group of his peers, "that I was raised in Armenia, which is still a rather backwater region of Earth. The people there are a superstitious lot, and my upbringing reflects this."
"So what do you think it is?" asked the captain, extremely curious.
Sulu leaned back, crossing one arm across his chest while bringing the hand of the other up to his chin, massaging it gently while pondering Lojurs suggested solution. He sighed deeply, slowing drawing his hand up to the bridge of his nose which he clasped between forefinger and thumb.
"Everyones had their say," Janice Rand said. "What do you think, Skipper?"
"I think that youve all given me a lot to think about," Sulu decided. "Id like everyone to see if you can produce any evidence which could back up your theory," he glanced at Lojur, "far-flung or not."
Several eyes blinked in surprise. A few eyebrows raised, a few heads turned. Sulu was rarely the sort of captain who ended a meeting without a conclusion to the problem. Of course, he was rarely the sort of captain who even invited his officers input into his command decisions. This was just not like the captain as they were used to him being, and it showed on their faces.
Sulu smiled at the reaction. "Dismissed."****
Kang snapped awake with a roar, the memory of his sons horrific death screams echoing in his mind. There is nothing so devastating to a father than the death of a child, and Kurzon, his only beloved son, had died a terrible death.
The Albino would pay dearly for this ungodly crime against three innocent children! Hed almost paid two months ago, but that interloping Federation scoutship got in the way at the last minute! Damn them!
Kang looked around his quarters. Glancing at the chronometer, he knew that Mara would be on duty by now. It didnt matter. They had not shared a bed since the death of their only child.
The door to the cabin opened, and Mara entered. Kang lay quietly in his bunk, feigning sleep. What was Mara doing here when she should be on duty?
He watched through slitted eyelids in the darkness as she stared at his form, as if contemplating some dark action. Finally, he saw the spark of a decision being made on her face. She drew her dk tagh from her breastplate. She clicked it open, and stepped silently toward Kangs still form.
She drew her arm up, as if to strike the dagger deep into his chest. As her arm came down, he caught her wrist easily mere inches before the blade pierced him. His fury smoldered barely under control, and he swiftly swung his legs around, sitting up. He crushed her wrist, and yet she did not drop the blade.
"So, you have decided to give me an honorable retirement," he concluded. "May I ask why, my wife?"
"I think you know, Kang." She gestured toward the empty crib. Kurzons crib. "Is it not enough that my son was killed? Is it not enough that he has not yet been avenged? Is it not enough that you have not been a man with me since? Is it not that you are already dead?"
He struck her with the back of his gauntleted hand, and she was flung against the far wall of their quarters. "I am not dead, wife. But you may soon wish I were."
"Then kill me, husband. I will not be married to a ghost, a mere shadow of the great man who took me as his mate."
"Arghhhh!" he screamed in anger. He withdrew his own dk tagh and strode menacingly for her.
She stood up straight, proud. "This is the most life I have seen in you since our child was taken from us." She opened her breast plate and bared her bosom for him. "Strike me. Kill me. Send me to the afterlife of Sto-Vo-Kor. At least I will die an honorable death rather than die this lingering death with you."
He clicked the dk tagh open and pressed the point to her right nipple. "Is that what you truly think, wife? Am I truly dead? Can you not feel my blade?" He pressed it into her, not quite enough to draw blood.
"The blade I want is not made of steel and tempered with water. It is made of flesh and tempered with blood and love and lust." She met his eyes defiantly. "I married a man who is but little more than a shell of what he was. I deserve better, and the man I married would know that."
He withdrew his blade and sighed.
"Stop it!" She struck him with her fist. "Stop it! Stop it!! STOP IT!!!" She pounded her fists on his chest and snarled, "Are you some pathetic Human that you hiss and sigh like a weakling? Where is my husband, for you are not he!"
He struck her, and she returned his blow. He grabbed her by the throat. "You will not address me that way, wife."
"I am not your wife. My husband was Kang, Admiral, mightiest of the Khteb warriors, who stood in challenge against the greatest Khmyr warriors that could be bred. Kang, who survived unbelievable torment in a cell on the prison planet, Kragyr. Kang, who secured peace amongst the Klingon peoples by establishing the DHar." She spat on his face. "You are not he."
He stepped back and wiped her spittle from his beard. "As always, my wife, you have a way of cutting through the targh dung." He regarded her intently. "I have dwelt on death for far too long." He withdrew his disruptor pistol and took aim at Kurzons empty crib. He opened fire and lay waste to the crib and any other remembrances of their child. He holstered his weapon as the alarms blared.
The doors burst open. Two guards entered, weapons drawn. "Admiral! What"
"Were just redecorating our quarters. Have a repair detail report in five minutes."
The two guards looked in confusion at their commanderand even longer at his bare-breasted matebut said nothing other than, "Yes, my lord!" before leaving.
"And now what?" she asked.
"Let us see if we can mete out some vengeance for our loss." He regarded her with interest. "Afterwards..."
He unbuckled his chest plate and stepped toward her, his loins stirring.
Five minutes later when the detail arrived, the couple was still going at it, and it was another hour before they allowed the repair crew inside.****
The Albino was not a happy man. Sitting here in his study, at a rock-hewn desk and chair, he was not at ease. And it was not all due to his aching leg either. On the monitors placed against the wall of the dry cave that served as his office, he looked on at his guests as they arrived with raw hatred.
He was being hunted again, and again by his old foes: Kang, Kor and Koloth. His ships were being attacked, and whether or not he hid in Federation space, it did not matter to his pursuers. The Klingon Empires three greatest commanders had made his life difficult. Only a few months ago, they had nearly shot out his ship from underneath him. He had managed to escape only by shielding himself behind a hapless Federation scoutship, no doubt thinking he was trying to prevent an unwarranted Klingon attack on his ship. Idiots, he snorted. By maneuvering his ship behind that one, the Klingons weapon systems had little chance of targeting him accurately. Still, the damage to his cruiser was extensive, and the injury to his leg was nearly crippling. And they would pay dearly for that.
He looked and saw that the last of his guests had arrived, and he now considered them briefly:
The aging, balding, thin Human with eyes of blue steel was Admiral Yves Gervais, Starfleet Intelligence, and rumored to be leader of something far more sinister. The entire assassination of Gorkon, the attempted assassination of the Federation president had no doubt been orchestrated by Gervais and those loyal to him, including Admiral Cartwright and Colonel West. He chuckled as he wondered if Commander-Starfleet Lystra Davis knew her Intelligence Director was the very person who was the greatest danger Federation had.
The typically heavy-built, knot-headed Khmyr Klingon was General Kiran, Klingon Ministry of Intelligence, a ruthless man whose enemies had an unfortunate tendency to die of horrible accidents, often involving transporters or air vehicles. He was an accomplice of General Chang who had been killed above Khitomer in a heroically tragic battle against superior Federation forces.
Admiral Nunosan, Head of the Tal Shiar, Romulan Imperial Intelligence Service, whose name was the most feared in the Empire. He had had his own brother, Ambassador Nanclus, extradited, arrested and executed for failing to succeed in his mission to prevent a Federation/Klingon treaty.
TLera, Director of VShar, the Vulcan Security Agency, a seeming pacifist like all Vulcans, but a bloodthirsty murderess at heart. She was always seeking a means for Vulcan to withdraw from the Federation. Reputedly, her forces were seeking some sort of Vulcan mental weapon, but her efforts were, to date, relatively unsuccessful.
Kryton, Sire of Subterfuge, Kzinti Patriarchy, a sniveling coward, but a clever and dangerous opponent. Nearly three decades ago, it had been his operatives that had briefly obtained but later lost to their own stupidity a Slaver weapon of almost limitless power.
Master Shinas, the rogue leader of the Andorian League of Assassins, an evil man who delighted in the clever ways he could dispatch his foes. According to rumor, he had been working on a new type of energy draining weapon that would absorb the life-force of those struck by its beam.
The Director of the Barrier Alliance Consortiumnow calling itself the Orion Syndicatewas historically regarded as the most ruthless villain in the known galaxy. Dressed in a solid black hood and tight-fitting coveralls, he was not the same man who was the ultimate thorn in the Federations side nearly forty years ago. He was not the same man who caused the Federation to establish "The Orion Barrier," a permanent blockade of the old Orion Empire. He was a pretender to the throne, and not even a reasonable facsimile. The Broks were dead, both father and daughter. However, he was still a force to be reckoned with. And he had the most funding available with his lucrative income from drug trafficking, sexual slavery and mercenaries.
And lastly, but certainly not the least, Dah!Qa!~on, Overseer of Information and Terror, Breen Confederacy. His presence here was astonishing to The Albino, but he was glad for it. Everyone present kept casting cautious glances toward the Breen whose body was concealed in the environmental suit it had to wear in order to keep its body cool.
Yes, he had a good audience for his presentation today.
He chuckled, gathered his datachits and limped, using the cane his physician had insisted he use, into the adjacent cavern where his guests were waiting.
"Greetings, my fellow scoundrels. Welcome to my humble abode," he called for their attention.
Suspiciously, they moved to face him, casually, cautiously, ever wary of each other and the threats they all posed to each other. Many of those gathered most of them, actuallywere sworn enemies, and all of them detested each other.
"Whatve you got up your sleeve today, Albino?" demanded Kiran.
"Bronk-mennnp-guuuuuuunnnnk," intoned Dah!Qa!~on in typical Breen arrogance. "Gnnnnnnnnniiiiiiiii thopppppppp," it added for good measure.
The Albino chortled. "More than you could possible imagine, Dah!Qa!~on. And more than you could possible afford, Kiran."
Gervais sighed. "Im not one to be trifled with, Albino. Show your wares, name your price, and lets get on to business. Otherwise I might have to call in reinforcements and place everyone here under arrest."
"Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!" laughed Shinas. "Yourself included, Im sure."
He smiled as he watched all of them eye him cautiously as he signaled for his staff and sat down in a large stuffed chair, grateful to take the weight off his still-healing leg. The staff served large goblets of the MinTala Masein. His smiled widened as he watched them sniff the thick golden liquid carefully. Hell, if he had been one of them, hed be suspicious of anything served to him. Poison was a frequent assassins tool after all.
The Andorian tilted his head, relishing the fragrance from the liqueurs that were wafting toward his sensory organs. "How did you manage to obtain Orion draka nut oil syrup? I hear that the folks on Eta Orionis Fourteen regulate it closely."
"Oh, it is. But," the Albino sniffed the heady fragrance then sipped the mixture slowly to appreciate the taste, "as you know, if I want something, I get it."
"That is true," the Director of the Orion Syndicate nodded from under his hood as he savored the drink.
Kryton sniffed, then lapped the golden fluid. His tail curled around appreciatively. "You have not overdone the rum or the brandy as many are wont to do to. Thus all three complement each other."
"Im glad you approve." The Albino stood, still favoring his injured leg. "I promised the bartender his life if he succeeded."
"And his gonads wrapped in koza leaves and served to him for his last meal if he failed, no doubt," Gervais snorted.
"Of course," the Albino bowed to the admiral.
"You didnt call us here just to let us enjoy ourselves, did you?" Kiran snapped. He didnt like the topic of the discussion, preferring to cause the horrible deaths of his luckless foes with his own hands. Arranging "accidents," like torture itself, could be such an enjoyable past time.
"I called you here for dinner," the Albino stated. "A civilized act. I prefer to conduct some businesses in a moreculturedsetting."
And while his enemies often were killed through cleverly arranged catastrophes, Kiran was an old school Klingon: Hack and destroy with ones bare hands or crude weapons, thinking that the only way to wreak havoc and dread was by brute force. He should visit his three nemeses. Hed see there were other ways to create terror and dread in ones enemies.
"We will dine, and talk, and then, after dessert, we will discuss business. As civilized people do."
Leading the party into the dining room, he noted that again, they avoided moving too close to each other. He was glad that he had had the larger table installed. Made it easier to seat this motley crew without having to hire mercenaries to stop possible bloodshed.
Sitting at the head of the table he signaled again, and the servants brought in the appetizer to whet their appetite and to help finish off the Masein. Then another signal brought in the main course. Courses. With so many different preferences, he was not about to have one or the other get upset because their tastes were ignored. The discussion stayed on innocuous topics that all could speak about and not cause a near riot. Not that they were really enjoying the conversation, if he was to judge by the way that the knives were hacking apart the meat and the forks were spearing whatever was on the plate. As he had pointed out, they were all gentlemen and ladies. Cutthroats, assassins, thieves, slavers, and worse, but still, gentlemen and ladies.
The Albino lifted a finger and the servants brought in the dessert, a strange concoction of Earth chocolate, Orion coconut and Romulan sweet sauce. With it he served a variation of the Masein. Instead of rum and brandy, it had Orion crème de cacao and Saurian brandy with the draka nut oil syrup. Just the right touch to bring out the various flavors of the dessert.
Once dessert was finished, he stood and marched back to the den where theyd first enjoyed the Masein.
Another finger lifted signaling the staff to bring in the after dinner drink. Another variation of Masein. The Albino sat once again in his easy chair. A look at the group sent them to finding chairs to sit in.
All comfortable. The staff served each as they sat, leaving a tray at their elbow.
"Now," demanded the giant Klingon, "why have you brought us here?"
"It is time," TLera nodded. "While I appreciate the delicacies that you have procured and provided, I, too, must insist that business now be conducted. Our absence will soon be noticed."
The Albino nodded his understanding. He savored the drink then looked at the group. "Biogenic weapons."
Nunosan stared at him over his goblet. "You cannot be serious!"
"Quite serious," the Albino leaned back and sipped his drink.
Shinas glared at the Albino, not impressed by the topic. "Doesnt seem a fair way to dispatch ones victim."
"It depends," the Albino conceded.
"On what?" Gervais demanded.
"On how clever of a way you choose the method of delivery." The Albino took another sip with a grin.
"Indeed," Shinas agreed.
"Ive arranged a demonstration for you," the Albino added.
"A demonstration of your cleverness or of the efficacy of the biogenic weapon?" asked TLera, raising an eyebrow in suspicion.
The Albino laughed. "Both!"
TLera raised a second eyebrow, then stood and walked to a side bar and placed her half-filled goblet on it.
Kiran roared in laughter as he tossed down the last of the drink and put the empty glass on waiting tray. "Vulcan coward," he belched. "Hed be a fool to infect one of us, or any of us, for that matter." He belched again and grinned widely at his host. He didnt notice the shocked look of the others as he grinned toothily. "And the Albino is..."
Kiran stopped, suddenly feeling lightheaded. And a burning in his belly. And an uncharacteristic weakness in his limbs. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, then stared at the streak on the back of his hand. Blood. His blood. He stood and pulled his dk tagh as he advanced on the white Klingon. He staggered almost drunkenly, then stumbled, landing at the feet of the Albino. "No!" he managed to roar.
The Albino kicked the body of the Klingon away from his chair with his good foot and took another sip from his chalice.
The Director turned his head to face the Albino. "What is the transmission vector?"
"Ingestion, obviously," Kryton stood and advanced forward. "The only question is, which food item did you put it in since...." Then he, too, fell over dead, his body twitching slightly, blood oozing from his nose and mouth.
In alarm, the remaining guests drew their concealed weapons and raised them against the Albino.
"Now, now, my friends," he one hand placatingly. "Just settling two very old scores."
"How many more scores will you settle today?" asked Gervais.
"Just one more, Yves." The Albino put his now-empty goblet on the waiting tray. He laced his fingers together, letting the index fingers steeple. His hands moved slowly. The index fingers pointed at the Human. "You."
"Me?" Gervais suddenly staggered. He tried aiming the phaser and pulling the trigger, but found himself too weak to move. Blood trickled down his face from his nose. There was moisture in his pants. A look at the front of his pants showed it was not urine or semen. Blood. The weapon dropped to the floor as he wiped his face. "You and I have never crossed paths. Why?"
"Because Admiral, I rather liked Sienna Gillette."
Gervais eyes were beginning to glass over. "The news bimbo?" With that question, Yves Gervais was dead.
The Albino stood. Stepping over Kiran and Kryton, he limped over to the body. "Yes, that news bimbo was one of my key operatives in Federation territory. That mindwipe you did on her lost me my control over Intergalactic News Service mogul Brad Bashaw as well as my in with Starfleet Operations. Itll take years to replace her." He sneered. "As Sienna always said, Yves, paybacks a bitch." The Albino kicked Gervais lifeless form. "And she was a great piece of ass, Yves."
The Albino turned and faced the surviving members of his dinner party. "Now, where were we?" He frowned a moment, then smiled. "Oh, yes. Biogenic weapons."
"Tohhhhhhhnnnnnnnnn fffffffffeeeeeeeeeennnnnnnn brap zzzzziiiiin?" asked Dah!Qa!~on in a tone of voice that told the Albino that he was pleased not to be among the dead.
"Why the Romulans, as a matter of fact," the Albino answered truthfully.
Nunosan protested, "We did no such thing! We abandoned all research into biogenics weapons when our key researcher fell victim to it."
"Quite true. The blood catalyst of Sarnac Three developed by Doctor Toraq was simply mishandled. Using that biogenic weapons technology, my scientific team was able to successfully convert the blood catalyst into a full-fledged plasma plague."
"Then we are all infected," concluded TLera. She brandished her weapon dangerously. "I will pull the trigger at the first sign of autonomic distress in my physiology."
"I dont doubt that you will, my Vulcan vixen, but Kryton was correct. Youd have to ingest it to become infected. Actually you have to ingest both parts: the organism, then the catalyst to activate it. I made sure that only the ones I wanted were given both. Surely you saw that each of you had a specific person serving you. That way only the ones I wanted killed were killed. And this form is not contagious. However, for my next demonstration, we will be using an airborne version of the same plasma catalyst. The results will be most...spectacular, I assure you."
"And who do you intend to die for this particular demonstration?" asked Shinas, an Andorian flabbjellah in his hand.
"Well, perhaps youre aware of my recent...difficulties with the Klingon Empire."
"Were aware that you killed the first born sons of Kor, Kang and Koloth, and that they have sworn a blood oath against you."
"Yes, well, Ive been rather displeased with the Klingon Empire for allowing this to go on. Therefore, I have chosen a Klingon target."
"QonoS itself perhaps?" Nunosan asked hopefully.
"Guuuunnnnnn blan torrrrrrr zop jinnnnnn," commented Dah!Qa!~on dryly.
The Albino roared with laughter. "I had no idea that you two were so blood thirsty."
"And if your demonstration works, and you cause mass death, how will it profit us?" the Director asked bluntly.
"Because, dear sir, if each of us has this biogenic weapon at our disposal, just think how much the governments of the galaxy will pay us to spare their worlds!"
"Nnnnnnnn voooooo pop reeeeeeeeen," Dah!Qa!~on joked.
"Quite so!" the Director agreed. "Maybe the price the Federation pays will make up for the decades of lost profit for my operations."
"And if it doesnt, you can always wipe out Earth," TLera added.
"Or take the money and wipe them out anyway," Nunosan quipped.
Laughter resounded throughout the cavern.
Lifting his goblet, the Albino stated, "I would say this requires a toast, dont you?"****
Kang leaned back in his command seat and watched the stars move on the view screen. For the first time in months he felt alive. He let a smile play on his face as he felt the stares on his back. Even his crew could tell the admiral was back from the gates of Sto-vo-kor. His entire demeanor was now animated, alive. Even his gait had a bounce that had long been missing.
Granted, he could partially thank his wife for her assassination attempt that finally broke him from his lethargy and grief. He hated to admit to himself that he had acted more like a Human at the loss of his son than a Klingon, but he had. It had not been an easy pregnancy for his wife. Nearly losing her even as she gave him his son. The midwife and doctor had had to work near miracles to keep her alive. And they both cautioned her against any more pregnancies.
Still, in typical Klingon behavior, she had come to his bed and was planning on giving him another son for the House. And another child for her to cherish.
Kang let his mind wander back to the day that young Kurzon died. In his arms. Struggling to draw in air, turning a dusky hue before shuddering in a death throe and, after a final strangled scream, cease to draw breath.
Kang had stood, the still-warm body in his arms and walked out to the courtyard where he stood and howled in anger and anguish. Then he put the cooling body of his now-dead son on the stone bench and walked into the house, his steps automatic and the blood oath uttered by rote.
Kang let himself remember that pain even as he pushed the other emotions back where theyd been banished. He needed to remember the pain, so that when the time came, he could inflict that, and more, on the assassin of innocent children.
"A message for you, Admiral," the communications officer announced. "From Admiral Kor."
"Ill take it in my war room," Kang announced.****
"Me and my big mouth," muttered Deneice Maliszewski. "Temporal anomaly, my ass." She snorted.
"Whats that, Chief?" asked Lieutenant Ted Krasnyk, one of the three assistant chief engineers in her department. Hed been with her since she had first started work on the transwarp engines that had failed miserably.
"Nothing, Kras, nothing. I just need to learn to stop being a technobabble-spouting bullshit artist."
Krasnyk vigorously nodded in agreement, and Maliszewski burst out laughing. "I didnt expect you to agree with me so readily, Kras."
The captain of engineering had been reviewing the sensor log data from three years ago to substantiate her rather preposterous theory that a temporal anomaly had somehow resulted in the image of Dmitri Valtane appearing on the bridge of the Excelsior during a communication transmission to the Enterprise-A.
Actually, she rather liked Petersons "evil twin" theory, but conceded that this might be one of those weird things that would end up unsolved, that perhaps Lojurs "ghost" might end up being the unofficial official answer.
"Anything?" she asked Krasnyk. "I dont see anything. Do you?"
"Nothing temporal, Chief." He pointed to the data readouts from the bridge during the Klingon attack. "Heres where the blast shook loose the plasma conduit behind Science One. Heres where the grid shut itself down, and presumably by this time, Valtane had died. Theres no temporal anomaly. Theres a spike in the plasma column from the rupture, but that cant account for what you showed me. Heck, it was barely enough to kill him."
"So what is, then? How can Valtane be on the bridge during this transmission to the Enterprise-A?"
"You got me, Chief."
They both stared at the image for a long time.
Commander Janice Rand sat in the center seat of the starship Excelsior, en route to Vulcan. Another day and theyd arrive. Not that shed be happy. To be honest with herself, shed have to admit that shed never been happy. Not while aboard the Enterprise some thirty or so years ago as a lowly yeoman with a crush on her commanding officer. Not while aboard the up-rated Enterprise some twenty or more years ago as its chief transporter officer. Not while serving as Junior and later Chief Communications Director of Emergency Operations at Starfleet Command in San Francisco a decade ago. And certainly not here and now aboard this ship while serving as Executive Officer/Chief of Communications.
Hikaru Sulu was aloof, cold, distant. Almost Vulcan, shed long ago decided. He was always accusing junior officers and green ensigns of being "presumptuous," and they honestly probably were, but there were better ways of handling it than to criticize them in front of the senior officers. She thought back to Captain Kirks handling of Chekov and.... Damn it, Sulu is not Jim Kirk! she reminded herself. Thats not fair to either of them!
She glanced around the bridge. Sulu had a good crew. Hell, he had a great crew. Lieutenant Commander Boris Lojur was a Terran male, about forty years old. A seasoned space veteran, he was a quiet, shy, unassuming man whose accent was Armenian, from what Rand could guess. He rarely spoke with anyone outside his department, and never socialized except with the flippant chief tactical officer, Lieutenant Peterson. An odder couple, she couldnt imagine, but they had been rooming together for three months, since Petersons coming aboard, in fact.
She knew that Lojur and Valtane had been lovers, but when she had turned to console him following the ensigns death, she was stunned to see Lojur hadnt even reacted when Valtane had died on the bridge in Tuvoks arms. He was a staunch defender of the captain, though, and a solid second officer. And he certainly didnt have the charisma or the desire for command of his own ship.
Linda Parker was a relatively inexperienced navigator. Shed originally been in Communications, but was more interested in interstellar navigation rather than her initial field. As a result, she had been granted a post on the bridge by Sulu because, as he explained it to Rand, he had recognized a seed of brilliance in her work. Rand suspected it might have been more from the appreciation he obviously held for her attitude: she was absolutely in love with the idea of interstellar exploration. Rand had to admit that a beautiful, fresh young woman in awe of the universe and all its mysteries was a welcome addition to the bridge crew and especially for every male on duty.
Ensign Tuvok was a Vulcan. All Vulcan. More Vulcan than Spock could ever have hoped to be. But whereas Spock always had struggled to be Vulcan, it came naturally to Tuvok. And with that came an almost annoying set of habits that irritated Sulu to no end. The ensign had served nearly three years aboard the Excelsior, and she had hoped he would be made Chief Science Officer following the deaths of the science team on Muselpheim IV. That was not to be the case, she gathered. Sulu had given the position to the young Vulcan on a pro tem basis only, and Rand assumed he must have someone else waiting in the wings to fill the position.
There was a brief flurry of activity at the communications bay. She turned expectantly as her relief, Ensign Jared Behn, acknowledged a message. "Commander Rand, weve receiving orders to divert to Beta Eridani Twelve. Admiral Gervais has died in his sleep, and were ordered to transport the remains to Starbase Three for transfer to Earth."
"Admiral Gervais? Of Starfleet Intelligence? Whats he doing off-planet? Or rather, so far off planet?" Rand wondered aloud. "Very well, Commander Lojur, set course for Beta Eridani Twelve."
Boris Lojur nodded. "Yes, Commander."
"Lieutenant Parker, Warp Factor Six," Rand ordered.
"Diverting to Beta Eridani will delay us by two hours from our arrival time at Vulcan."
"Increase speed to Warp Seven, Mister Lojur. Ms. Parker doesnt want us to keep the ambassador waiting."
The bearded man smiled slightly. "Yes, Commander. Increasing speed to Warp Factor Seven."
Yes, it was a good crew, but it hadnt jelled yet into a great crew. They worked together reasonably well, but they hadnt established a rapport, even though theyd been together some five years.
And rightly or wrongly, Janice Rand held Hikaru Sulu responsible for that. She turned to Communication Officer Behn. "Ensign, ask Captain Sulu to report to the bridge."****
"Let me get this straight," Captain Hikaru Sulu said to the Yridian on the mainviewer. "Youve got the corpse of Admiral Yves Gervais of Starfleet Command down there with you, and were here to transport the body back to Earth for interment, and yet we still have to pay you for funeral expenses?"
"Oh, yes, yes, yes," the mouse-like Yridian nodded eagerly.
"And the reason for this?"
"Well, weve already cremated him, of course. In accordance with local customs."
"How convenient," remarked Tuvok from Science One. "Cremation, of course, will have a deleterious affect on any test Starfleet Medical might wish to make in order to attain the cause of the admirals death."
Sulu coughed in surprise. "Deleterious, you say? Hmm. Did you hear that, Mister Ghan? Your preparation of the body has...well, basically eliminated the need for us to pick up the admirals remains."
"That is none of my concern. I expect payment in full for the arrangements I have gone to great lengths to prepare!"
"Well, it seems to me that theres no need for me to retrieve the remains." He shrugged. "If you want to give the admiral a proper funeral, thats your decision. You can have him, and you can bill his estate for the services, Im sure...if you can find someone, of course. Admiral Gervais had no family whatsoever. Helm, set us a course for Vulcan. Theres nothing more we can do here..."
"Wait! Wait!" the Yridian was frantically hopping up and down, arms and paws all akimbo.
"No time, Mister Ghan. Weve got a schedule to keep, an ambassador to pick-up."
"Perhaps...yes, perhaps a counter offer?"
Sulu shook his head, dismissing the notion completely. "Nonsense. I never haggle. Navigator, plot a course for Vulcan."
"Then perhaps a reasonable fee?"
Again, he shook his head. "Theres nothing reasonable about cremating a body before an autopsy can be done. Your actions have rendered the remains... worthless."
"Ah, woe is me! I had not thought it would matter. Perhaps you could at least reimburse me for his receptacle?" He held up the urn.
"Fifteen hundred credits?"
He snorted with contained laughter. "Fifteen hundred for an ash tray?" He shook his head again with finality. "Helm..."
Seeing the captains determination, the Yridian blurted, "No, no, Captain! Fifteen credits. A slip of the tongue. I meant to say fifteen credits."
Sulu feigned mild interest. "Fifteen credits? For an ash tray?"
"But its an urn modeled after one of your own planets Ming the Merciless Mongo Dynasty!"
Lieutenant Commander Boris Lojur almost fell out of his seat. Rand hissed threateningly at him from the communications bay, and chastised, he assumed an indifferent pose at the helm.
"Well, I dont know..." Sulu looked as though he were skeptical...with good reason of course. Even he was aware of exactly how far from the truth the Yridians claims were.
He nodded his assent. "Twelve credits."
"There will be a slight fee for transporting the remains"
"No, there wont. Helm, engage"
"which we will, of course, waive on your behalf."
"Tell you what. Well beam it up for you right now." He nodded at Tuvok who relayed the coordinates to the transporter chief. A few seconds later, the urn dematerialized.
"And my credits?"
"Were transferring twelve credits into your account now, Mister Ghan. Thank you for doing business with us."
The mouse-like Yridian twitched its nose and shook his head sadly. "I would thank you for not doing business with me again."
"Ill do my best to accommodate you, Mister Ghan." He cut the transmission. "Bridge to Transporter Room One. Chief Hamilton?"
"The remains are secure, sir. Ive called for a security honor guard to escort them to Sickbay."
"Very well. Thanks, Chief." He chuckled. "Helm, get us out of here before someone decides to charge us a departure fee."
Sulu thumbed the intercom button. "Bridge to Sickbay."
"Sickbay, Doctor Viger here."
"Doc, the cremated remains of Admiral Gervais are on their way to Sickbay. Id like as comprehensive of an autopsy as you can do on those remains."
The Bolians voice came back with undisguised amusement. "You expect to autopsy a pile of ashes which may or may not be the remains of Admiral Gervais."
"Yes, Doctor, I do. At the very least, you can perform whatever tests you can on it. Starfleet wants a complete report as soon as youre finished."
"Then I shall do my utmost to comply with your order, Captain."
"Why...thank you, Doctor Viger," he added with a droll expression. Sarcasm was almost always lost on a Bolian.
"Youre most welcome, Captain Sulu. By the way, Ive been meaning to set up an appointment with you to go over several improvements in policies and procedures Id like to implement."
Sulu rolled his eyes, grateful that the communications were audio only. The ingratiating nature of Bolians always annoyed him, and he had no doubt that Viger would suggest enough revisions to procedures and policies to such an extent that Ariel Cord would become apoplectic. "Certainly, Doctor Viger, Im always open to suggestions. Schedule an appointment for next week with my yeoman."
"Of course, Captain, I look forward to it."
"As do I, Im sure," Sulu said with a straight face. "Bridge out."
As he heard his executive officer laugh, he spun the center seat to face her. "Laugh it up, Janice. So hows the search for clues to solve our mystery going?"
Rand stopped laughing. "I, uh, havent gotten started on it."
"Lets do it, Janice. Im not kidding when I say I want this cleared up."
"I have a suggestion for you, Tuvok and Brai, though."
"And that would be?" asked Brai from Security, walking over to stand next to Rand.
"Indeed?" remarked the Vulcan as he approached.
"Sound General Quarters Four, Intruder Alert. Use the ships scanners to identify every individual on board. Are we extra a crewman?"
"Logical," said Tuvok. "I would also suggest that we have all Vulcans on board, myself included, examined by Sickbay personnel to verify that we are, in fact, who we say we are."
"Why Vulcans?" asked Brai.
Tuvok turned and explained, "Four months ago on the Enterprise, a Romulan infiltrator was discovered on the bridge. He had been surgically altered to resemble a Vulcan."
Sulu nodded. "According to a high-level report Starfleet issued to its starship commanders, the Romulan took his own life while in detention rather than face interrogation. The investigation continues."
"As does ours. I suggest we have the unannounced drill at 0300 ships time, Captain," said Brai. "If there is an infiltrator aboard the Excelsior, itll be easier to flush him out in the middle of the night."
"Lets do it."****
"An evil twin?" Linda Parker asked again in disbelief.
She was seated at a table in the Forward Rec Deck of the Excelsior. Across from her sat the ships tactical officer. They were dining on cheeseburgers, fries and milkshakes from the ships dining hall. It wasnt often that she would treat herself to such a high fat content meal, just often enough to reward herself, in fact. But Peterson seemed to thrive on them, and she couldnt resist the temptation herself when dining with him.
Ryan Peterson shrugged. "Okay, Ive got to admit it wasnt my best moment. All right? I admit it. Lets just leave it at that, Linda, okay?"
"An evil twin?" she repeated. She narrowed her eyes then let go with a swift but playful kick to his shin.
"Ouch!" Peterson hollered. "Whatd you do that for?"
"It wasnt me," she replied sweetly. "It was my evil twin."
"All right, all right. I may have deserved that, I admit it. Now, can we change the subject?"
"All right," she agreed. "Lets figure out this mystery. Maybe that will restore you in the captains eyes."
Peterson snorted. "Well, its not like Ive ever been in his favor, now has it? I mean, since I came aboard three months ago, everything Ive said has not been, well, shall we say well received...by the captain, now has it? Rather presumptuous for a new member of my crew to suggest this or that, dont you think, Lieutenant?" He mimicked the captain remarkably well, she noted. "Ive had enough of Mister Peterson today, Commander Rand. Send for his relief."
"Thats not going to wash with me, Ryan," answered the navigator. "You give these protracted, self-demeaning yet utterly flippant answers to any question he asks, and you cant understand why he gets angry with you." She sighed and reached out her hand, putting it over his. "What ever am I going to do with you?"
He slowly withdrew his hand from hers, much to her dismay. "I have a feeling I know what you want to do with me, but Im involved. You know that."
She smiled. "Cant blame a girl for trying. Besides, I just cant picture you and Boris. Heck, I cant picture anyone with Boris."
Peterson shrugged. "Dont knock it until youve tried it, Linda."
"I am trying to try it," she smiled. "Back to the mystery. So, is there anyway you can think of to prove theres an impostor on board?"
"Ive been thinking we can check the transporter logs and see if they add up."
"Well, if say an infiltrator came aboard by transporter, itll show up that we had more people beam up than we had beamed down. Secondly, both Medical and Security scans the number of crew aboard every two hours. If someone did come aboard, theyd only have about thirty to forty-five minutes to come aboard as Valtane, get caught on the holovid feed to the Enterprise-A, and then eliminate another person before the security and med scans report an incongruity."
"Unless this person has an accomplice already on board," she argued.
"Agreed," Peterson conceded.
"I think we need to bring Tuvok and Brai up to date on this discussion as well as the captain."
"Hes not going to be receptive to anything I might suggest."
"Now whos being unfair?" she asked, smiling.
He sighed. "Touché."****
Chief Medical Officer Ariel Cord ran her feinberger over the powdery, chunky ashes of what was reputed to be the cremated remains of Admiral Yves Gervais. She repressed a shudder of revulsion, but continued with the grisly task.
She spoke into the open comlink. "Computer, analysis, please."
"Working," the computer responded.
"Doctor Cord, you must realize that this is going to be a pointless exercise," Doctor Viger opined.
"This is why youre not Chief Medical Officer, Dars," she shook the feinberger at him to make her point. "Youre unwilling to attempt the pointless when your commanding officer has ordered it."
The Bolian threw his arms up into the air. "But I already told you the results. The ashes have some hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen compounds, but that can be roughly translated to 54% calcium, 29% phosphorus, 6.5% potassium, 4.5% sodium, 4.3% chlorine, 1.1% magnesium and measurable quantities of rubidium, iron, zinc, boron and cobalt. In other words, its very likely that our subject was a human born and raised on Earth and had a rubidium transponder."
"And I never had any doubts that our subject here wasnt Human, Dars. I want to know if we can make any determination about his identity. For example, the likelihood that this is Admiral Gervais is increased by the analysis. Humans raised on other planets have different quantities of metallic salts in their systems. Heck, theres no Technetium in his system, so we know hes not native to Xartheb."
"Agreed," conceded Viger.
"Analysis completed," announced the computer.
"Okay, girl, heres a softball for you," Cord said. "Given the subject was a Human male, at what temperature was the body cremated?"
"Based upon the analysis of the residual organic compounds, the subject was cremated at 600° to 625° Celsius."
"And thats too high for a DNA strand to withstand!" stated the Bolian doctor authoritatively.
"Computer, scan for bone or teeth fragments."
"Located seventy-three fragments ranging in size from one millimeter to two millimeters. No larger fragments surviving."
"In other words, the cremated body was pulverized."
"Probability greater than ninety percent," the computer commented.
"Isolate the largest surviving fragment," Cord ordered. "Extract from sample and deep scan for DNA."
A probe arm came down from the instrument package overhead, and inserted a small instrument into the ashes. A second later, it retracted and placed the instrument into the biocomp unit next to the lab table. Then the arm withdrew back into the overhead compartment.
"Report," ordered Viger. Cord glanced approvingly at the Bolian who now seemed intrigued.
"Analysis confirms a fragment of Human DNA present."
"Can you do an analysis on the DNA to determine the identity of the individual?" asked Viger.
"Negative. Fragment is incomplete."
"See?" the Bolian said. "A waste of our time."
"Doctor, you are an idiot," Cord said, tired of her assistant. "Computer, report on DNA analysis. What can you tell me about this individual?"
"Analysis of fragment reveals the subject was a Human male. Based on the degree and pattern of gene methylation, subject is estimated as being approximately sixty to seventy years of age. Subject had the male pattern baldness gene, and the subject has a seventy percent probability of having blue eyes. Subject also has a sixty-two percent probability of being less than six feet in height."
Cord raised an eyebrow in triumph. "Computer, display on monitor an image of Admiral Yves Gervais."
The short, thin admiral with blue eyes and thinning hair appeared on the screen.
"Computer, what is the likelihood that the cremated subject was, in fact, Admiral Gervais?" asked Viger.
"A remote possibility. Odds are approximately four million to one against," reported the computer.
"Wrong question, Dars." She sighed deeply. "Computer, does Admiral Gervais fit the characteristics yielded by the DNA analysis?"
She turned with a smug smile. "Now, Doctor, weve proven it might be him. And thats a start."
"Computer, isolate Rubidium components of ashes."
"Extract and perform isotopic analysis."
"Working," it replied, and the probe arm descended again.
"What are you hoping to do with the Rubidium, Ariel? Again, it wont prove anything. All flag officers are required to have a transponder implanted in their person. Its common knowledge, and can easily be fabricated."
"Agreed, but they cant fabricate the isotopes of the Rubidium. The distribution of stable isotopes of any given element differ from planet to planet. Hell, they different from one geological region to another. Using isotopic analysis, you can examine an ancient Egyptian silver bracelet and determine which silver mine it came from."
"Isotopic analysis complete," the computer reported.
"Rubidium isotopes are from Tharsis region of Mars, at a mine operated by the Starfleet Corps of Engineers."
"And that increases the likelihood," Cord concluded, "that this is an official Starfleet-issued Rubidium transponder."
"And what does this prove?" Viger demanded. "All you have is circumstantial evidence supporting the possibility that these are the remains of a Starfleet admiral."
Cord nodded. "Yes, thats exactly what Ive done."
"I...I dont understand."
"Ive proven that this may indeed be Admiral Gervais. But more importantly, by proving that, Ive ruled out the possibility that it isnt the admiral altogether. Were these the remains of a tall, black, Human female with brown eyes from Xartheb, wed know beyond a shadow of doubt that it wasnt the admiral." She smiled. "Sometimes knowing that it isnt what it could be is more important than knowing that it is what it could be."
And with that she turned and left the Sickbay to a completely befuddled Bolian doctor who was, no doubt, formulating some new report to the captain on her gross incompetence. She snorted at the thought.****
As she stepped out into the corridor, she almost ran into Lieutenant Commander Lojur. "Hi, Boris," she said, startled. "What can I do for you?"
"Walk with me, Ariel," the helmsman requested.
She nodded, and they walked down the corridor toward the Engineering section. "Whats on your mind?" she asked.
The taciturn officer sighed. "I cannot believe I suggested there was a ghost on the Excelsior to the captain."
She chuckled softly. "Actually, I suggested the same thing to him about five minutes before the briefing began."
"Well, that makes me feel a lot better," he said sarcastically. "Were both crazy."
She laughed. "No kidding. So what else did you need? You didnt come down to Sickbay to make self-deprecating remarks, did you?"
"Is there any medical way to detect an alien shape shifter among the crew?"
"Well, to be honest, if theres one on board, we should have detected it during the quarterly crew physicals, or at least during the annual comprehensive review I conduct every December. To be honest, thats one of the reasons we have medical exams every quarter. Starfleet is well aware of the danger coalescent lifeforms present to Federation security."
"Mitri died in August 2293. Thats two comprehensive exams during which an alien impostor would have been detected, right?"
"Wrong. You said a shape shifter. Wed be able to detect an alien masquerading as a Human pretty damn quickly. Coalescent lifeforms just cant mimic Human physiology that completely. There would be some readings that just couldnt be explained."
"And I gather there were no abnormal lifeforms detected?"
"None at all."
"So that puts us at square one again, doesnt it?"
A look of enlightenment crossed her face. "No, it doesnt. It means we dont have an alien shape shifter on board." She chortled. "I was just trying to explain this to Dars." She grabbed Lojurs elbow. "Lets go see the captain."****
In the captains ready room, an impromptu meeting of senior officers was developing. Sulu had gone into his office in order to get some work done, and was soon joined by officer after officer. The room was nearing capacity, and Sulu considered moving those assembled to the adjacent briefing room, but he wanted to hear everyone out as soon as possible.
"So let me get this straight, Doctor," the captain concluded, "first of all, its not impossible that the remains are from Admiral Gervais."
"You and I will get back to that later. But secondly, youre ruling out an alien shape shiftera coalescent lifeform, I believe you called it?"
Cord nodded again. "No Vendorians, no Chameloids..."
Sulu turned to Maliszewski. "And youre ruling out your...interesting theory that a temporal anomaly was involved."
The chief engineer nodded.
The captain turned to his tactical officer. "And you have examined the transporter logs and?"
"And we have a stowaway, Captain. No doubt about it. There were fourteen of you who beamed down to Khitomer, Captain Sulu. Six of you returned within an hour. Another six an hour later. And lastly, three of you returned ten minutes after that."
Sulu was pleased and displeased simultaneously. "I took two security squads of five men down with me. They returned separately prior to my return to the Excelsior." He then looked at Peterson. "Well done, Lieutenant."
He addressed the assembled senior officers. "Individually, we each had key pieces of the puzzle. By working independently and together, weve eliminated several possibilities, leaving us with a single likely possibility, an answer, if you will."
"I think this is serious, Captain," Lojur said. "We have an infiltrator who came aboard with the Khitomer landing party. He then went to the bridge as Dmitri Valtane, was caught on the holovid transmission, then presumably killed someone on board and disposed of the body neatly and efficiently so that sensors didnt detect it."
"And there can be no doubt that this individual is a danger to the ship," Brai concluded. "He has killed one of this crew, and assumed his identity for what cannot be anything other than nefarious reasons."
"Agreed," Sulu said.
The door buzzed, and Chief Hamilton strolled in. He glanced at the assembled officers. "Oh, sorry, sir. I..."
"Can I help you, Chief?"
The burly chief transporter officer ran his hand over his smooth scalp. "Well, I helped Lieutenant Peterson find a discrepancy with the transporter logs from three years ago. And, well, Ive found another."
Everyones interest was captured. Sulu leaned forward from behind his desk. "And?"
"And about an hour later, there was an unauthorized test conducted on one of the cargo transporters in the aft cargo decks."
"What was done?"
"The transporter buffers were engaged briefly, then cleared."
Tuvok raised an eyebrow. "And that explains how the body was disposed of."
"You mean the victim was beamed into space?" asked Cord.
The Vulcan shook his head. "Negative. The body was converted for transport, and stored in the pattern buffer. Then the pattern buffer was deleted, in essence, permanently disintegrating the body."
"Where does the extra mass and energy go?" asked Parker. "I mean, you cant just convert mass to energy without it going somewhere, right?"
"Actually, I would presume that the energy was shunted into the warp nacelles where it would never be noticed," the science officer hypothesized.
Maliszewski sat up at that. "Not necessarily, Ensign."
Sulu turned to his captain of engineering. "Something, Mallie?"
"Let me think on it a bit, Skipper," she said. "I may have something for you soon."
"What about tonights drill?" Janice Rand asked.
"Completely unnecessary," decided the captain. "But dont cancel it." He smiled. "Nothing like keeping the crew on its toes." He turned to Parker. "Estimated time of arrival to 40 Eridani?"
"We should arrive at Starbase Three at 0600 tomorrow morning, ships time. Transit time from there to Vulcan is six hours at high impulse."
Sulu nodded. "Doctor Cord, go ahead and prepare a report for Starfleet Command. Id like it on my desk by 0500 tomorrow morning."
"Youll have it tonight before we hit the sack," she answered.
"Commander Rand," the captain turned to his executive officer, "Id like you to be responsible for Ambassador Sarek.
"With your permission, Captain, Id like to assign Ensign Tuvok to serve as his liaison."
Sulu considered it briefly. "Agreed." He looked at the assembled officers. "We have a murderous infiltrator on board. Doctor, Id like a comprehensive physical exam for the entire crew underway by tomorrow afternoon."
Cord nodded. "Absolutely. Dars and I will get on it today, in fact."
The captain looked at the chronometer over the door. It read 1836. "Not sure well have time this evening, Doc, but if you want to get an early start, Im all for it."
He stood and regarded his command staff. "Excellent work, people. Youve done me proud. Now, lets find the bastard. Dismissed."****
"What do you want for dinner, Karu?" asked Cord from the food processing unit. She was standing in the corner next to the dining booth of the captains quarters, dressed in her usual T-shirt and shorts.
"I dont care," Sulu answered, relaxing in his T-shirt and sweat pants as he reviewed a report on his padd. "Whatever you want, Ariel."
"Okay, roast beef sandwiches with horseradish cream sauce. You want hot tea with that?"
"Uh, no. I dont want that for dinner," he responded.
"Well, then, what do you want?"
"I dont know. Whatever youre having." The pillow that thwopped him upside the head surprised him greatly. "Roast beef will be fine," he called, wisely reconsidering it. "Hold the bread, though, and Id like gravy and mashed potatoes and crowder peas as side dishes."
"Your wish is my command, Captain."
He put the padd down. "Ive read your report, Ariel. Good work."
"Thank you, Hikaru. I appreciate that."
"I dare say Starfleet Intelligence wont be able to put together as good a report as yours." He smiled at her.
"And I dare say youve made some changes in your methods of command."
Sulu nodded. "And it seems to be working out well, dont you think?"
Cord pondered it for a moment. "Can I can ask you why you dont think one of your senior staff is the infiltrator?"
Sulu took a sip of his hot tea. "Actually, Brai voiced that very concern with me before anyone else arrived. He rightly pointed out that the impostor could be any one of us."
"Except for you, Hikaru."
"Why eliminate me from the list of suspects?"
"Because youdve never initiated the investigation if you were an impostor. Besides, Id know the difference."
He regarded her with a smile. "Im sure you would. Id like to think the same could be said of you."
She nodded. "Who else do you trust?"
"No one. No one else at all. Brai said it could be fatal to everyone on this ship if I do."
"Hes right, you know."
"Yes, I know."
"So whats up for tomorrow, then? Were just going to beam the remains to Starbase Three and proceed on to Vulcan?"
Sulu nodded as he stood and stepped toward the dining alcove. "I received a communiqué from Kevin Riley that he will come aboard and collect the remains himself."
"That name sounds familiar. Old shipmate of yours?"
The captain again nodded as he sat down. "We served together aboard the Enterprise under Captain Kirk. After the ol girl was blown apart above Serenidad, I went to the Cooper. He went into Starfleet Intelligence. During the Kelvan War, most of us were given command of corsairs, but Kevin got the Enterprise. After the war, he returned to Intelligence, and thats when he virtually disappeared. He was assigned to command various intelligence operations, including a captaincy of a surveillance ship. But when Chekov saw him a few months ago, well, the way he tells it, Rileyd turned cold to him."
"Were they friends?"
"Kevin was there to see him off when Chekov had gotten the captaincy, and seemed pleasant enough. But a few weeks later, after Pavel had captured a Romulan infiltrator on his bridge, Riley was, according to him, outright hostile."
"I wonder why?"
"Well, Pavel was going through a really rough time. Hed just taken command of a troubled ship, had to assemble a new command crew, had to deal with the Tholians. He didnt do too well on his search for the Jenolen, and when I offered a few suggestions, well, he went quasar on me."
"Uh-huh," Cord responded neutrally. "If I recall correctly, Karu, you went around his back to Admiral Soyen." She wagged a finger at him. "Not the best way to treat a friend, you know."
"Look, Ariel, Pavels my friend. A good friend. I cant help but try to keep an eye out on him."
"Uh-huh," she responded again, bringing the serving dishes to the alcove table.
"Anyway, so Im sort of looking forward to seeing Kevin tomorrow." He started eating as she slipped into the alcove next to him. "And then its on to Vulcan where were going to pick up Ambassador Sarek."
"Do you know the ambassador well?"
"Not really, to be honest. But Id like to. Hes one of the Federations greatest diplomats. If anyone can bring the Klingons into the Federation, it will be Sarek."
"Is that what this mission to Korvat is about?"
Sulu regarded her carefully. "In all honesty, yes. But officially, no. The likelihood that Azetbur would bring the Klingon Empire into the Federation just seems completely unlikely. But..." He took a sip of his hot tea. "But stranger things have happened."****
The deliveryman made his way into the Khumdo province on Korvat. It had been an unusual assignment, to be certain, but honor demanded that one not only accept unusual assignments but fulfill them to the best of ones ability. While he might not be a Klingon warrior, he at least took pride in doing that which was his trade: deliveries. He had made hundreds of deliveries into the Khumdo province over the past five years hed been on Korvat, and theyd all been simple, straightforward assignments. Tonights delivery was unusual in that it wasnt often one was called upon to deliver Terran foodstuffs on a Klingon colony world, let alone one of their chab known as a "pISaS."
Tonight, something was wrong in Khumdo, and the delivery man knew it.
Every window in the province was darkened, as if theyd never been turned on for the evening. There were ground vehicles everywhere, as though abandoned. And every once in a while, there was a twisted form of a Klingon in the street, as if theyd died of agony.
Honor demanded he investigate and report this to the proper authorities, of course, but sometimes discretion was the better part of valor. He had not exited his ground vehicle, but used his communicator to notify the authorities and waited for them in the vehicle. As his was the only one in the province with its running lights and headlights operating, he expected the authorities would have no problem locating him.
Unfortunately, he was right.
There was a knock on the door of the vehicle, and Lhocc answered, "Yes?"
"This is the Korvat Colonial Police. Open the door and come out."
"Certainly," the deliveryman replied, and stepped out to see three figures clothed in red hooded vinyl wear, similar to the kind he had worn when he served as a volunteer firefighter. "Im glad you got here. Somethings terribly wrong. I think everyone in the province is dead."
"Not quite," said one of the figures as he opened fire on the unsuspecting delivery man. As Lhocc died in the agonizing cleansing disruptor beam, another figure walked up. "Sergeant, Im confirming it. Scanners show the whole population of this province is dead. It appears to be a plasma plague."
"Poor man," remarked another figure. "At least he died a hero."
"So now what?" asked the third.
The fourth answered, "Ive already called for an orbital disruptor volley. Weve got thirty tup to get out of the region."
"I think weve got less than that," remarked the second figure, as he pointed up at the incoming disruptor volley.****
Doctor Susan Nuress sat in her office on Starbase 3 and sighed. Shed just finished ten weeks of grueling (and gruesome) work on Obi VI, working on a heretofore unclassifiable form of plasma plague, and she was just plain tired. Not that it mattered to Starfleet, of course. All they were interested in was results.
There was a chime at her door. "Come," she called.
A handsome man with a beard strolled in, dressed in the black slacks and white tunic worn as a casual uniform by Starfleet officers. "Hello, Doctor Nuress," he spoke, a faint smile on his face. "I hate to bother you, but..."
"Come in, whoever you are," she answered, not getting up from her desk.
"Im Captain Kevin Riley, Starfleet Intelligence," the man explained. "Theres a situation developing, and Ive been asked to enlist your help." He took out a communications scrambler and placed it on the table. "This will allow us to speak freely."
"What kind of situation?"
"Plasma plague on a Klingon colony world," he answered; his eyes seemed to be gauging her response.
"Are you sure?"
"As sure as we can be when dealing with Klingon sensors," he said grimly. "Most of their science technology is really inferior to ours. Which is why we had sent a team to work with the Klingon agronomists to counter an agro-blight that was affecting Korvat when this occurred." He withdrew a padd from his belt clip and handed it to her. "As you can see, an entire province on Korvat has been wiped out. They sterilized the area by space-to-ground disruptor volleys shortly after this was taped. The sensor analysis is pretty clear, though. Its a plasma plague of some kind."
She nodded. "Okay, I see that. What happened to this team?"
"Sterilized," was Rileys answer, short and clipped.
"Oh.... I see. And what is it you want me to do, Captain?"
"The Federation is about to send Ambassador Sarek to Korvat."
"Well, I wouldnt advise it, Captain Riley. Youd be sending the man to his death. Unless he took the vaccine. And even then, theres no guarantee that it will protect him."
"The ambassador is well aware of the risk. He feels that peace is worth such a risk. Dont you agree, Doctor?"
"No, I dont. Not with the life of Sarek. Hes probably the greatest diplomat the galaxy has ever known."
"Im sure he is," Riley commented. "But orders are orders. Here are yours." He handed her a padd.
She reviewed it briefly. "Wait a minute, Im supposed to leave now? With no preparation? No support team?"
Riley shook his head. "Youll receive all the support you need from Starfleet, Doctor. Were not just sticking you there to get rid of you." He smiled. The smile was tight, forced, insincere.
Nuress sighed. "All right. When do I leave?"
He opened his communicator. "Now."
She disappeared in a shower of silver sparkles.****
"Message from Admiral Kor for you, sir," the communication officer informed Kang as he strode onto the bridge.
Nodding curtly, Kang marched into the ready room. "What do you want, Kor?" he demanded as he joined the conference.
"I have information, old friend, from Dax. We have wounded the bastard that murdered our children," Kor answered, smiling. Then he shrugged and sighed, "Unfortunately, he is now in hiding."
"The way a coward such as he would do," Kang nodded.
"That raid two months ago did more damage than we had anticipated," Kor continued.
"To the Albino or to the so-called peace agreement with the Federation?" Koloth put in.
"More to the Albino, I am pleased to say," Kor answered.
While he hadnt minded the skirmish with the Federation vessel, he would have preferred that it had been at a different time. The smaller vessel had only been doing its duty in protecting the strange ship that had called for help. The Albino, coward that he was, had called for assistance instead of facing his attackers. Had the Federation ship not been there, they would have gotten the mutant Klingon then. Instead, they had had to hunt for him while doing their duty to the Empire.
"So, what more do we know?" Koloth leaned forward.
"That the butcher has had a falling out with some of his cronies."
"Oh?" Kang raised an eyebrow.
"Several people who were closely associated with the Albino are now dead. Including," Kors eyes narrowed, "Kiran."
The general had been a source of unrelenting trouble for the three admirals, trying to ingratiate himself with Azetbur and the House of Durit. It was an open secret he was planning on wresting control from Azetbur. It was the how that had the rest of the Council betting on the outcome. Would he battle her for the mantle of chancellor or bed herwith or without her consentto get it?
"That targh dung is dead?" Kang raised an eyebrow.
"And very painfully, I hope," Kor nodded. "Klingon High Command was notified of his death and requested to pick up his remains."
"He was off-planet?" Kang raised an eyebrow. The last he heard the General had been on QonoS helping Azetbur plan that stupid conference with the Vulcans and the Romulans. Trying to get the most from whomever to save the Empire without totally prostituting themselves to get it.
"So it would seem." Kor snorted. "Of course," he smirked, "it is hard to tell what killed the bastard since what was offered as his remains was ash."
"We know that Kiran is dead?" Kang raised the question.
"The residue was difficult to analyze," Kor shook his head. "But we are as certain as we can be."
"The Albino does not suffer fools, it seems."
"So it seems," Kor nodded. "It is a warning to us, old friend. We had best not be foolish."****
The Albino limped to his office, leaning heavily on the cane, now that he didnt have to appear strong. His "guests" were back in their respective spheres of influence, each waiting to see how his latest demonstration went. If it went as promised, then theyd meet again and discuss the price for the engineered organism.
He groaned as he sat down in his chair. His injuries had been serious from that attack several months ago. Not life-threatening, but serious. And his so-called doctor at the time had, unfortunately not been up to the task of caring for his wounds with less than state-of-the-art equipment. Needless to say, the doctor had been the first to be served the little organism in the liquid medium. Poor sod had never known what had happened. But he did beg so nicely for life, promising to do better the next time.
His new doctor was slowly repairing the damage that had been done. Hed been one of the few folks in the Albinos employ that had stood up to the man.
"You were badly injured," the small alien had said. "And my predecessor, while not well equipped, did not use what he had to minimize the damage. Now you will have to suffer through the repair. And it will take time and you will have to be patient, and do as I say. If you cannot, then I cannot be your doctor. And you will never recover."
It was one of the few times that the Albino had been silent in reply.
Still the man had kept his word. The limp was all that was left of the injuries hed sustained. And if he adhered to the rehab regimen that the doctor had prescribed, not cheating, the doctor had promised the limp would also be a thing of the past. If he cheated, then the limp would be with him forever, and the doctor promised that he would not pay for his patients fool-hardly behavior.
The doctor was now letting him leave his retreat, albeit for short jaunts only.
The Albino knew where he wanted to go, and what he wanted to do.
It would be good to get into space again.****
"So what did the Trill give us?" Koloth demanded.
"The monster is planning on moving some contraband from the Romulan lands into Federation space," Kor announced, leaning back in his chair. He could care less what the bastard brought from the Romulan Empire into the Federation space. "It is suggested that he is aiding the Director of the Barrier Alliance with moving that contraband." That suggested it might be Romulan ale.
"As long as he avoids Klingon space," Koloth sighed.
"Ah, but due to the trouncing he took two months ago," Kor smiled, "he is limited in vessels. For now. To keep the shipping time to a minimum, he will have to cross through Klingon space."
"An excellent reason to attack him," Koloth grinned back. And perhaps to get some of that Romulan ale for his own private stock.
"He will cross over near the Skingol systems," Kor told them. "All we lack is the name of his vessel and the time he will come."
"So we take a pack and wait for him," Koloth recommended. "It will give the young ones a taste of action."
"Whatever we do, we cannot harm the other Human vessels," Kang cautioned. "That would provoke a war, and lose us any support we have."
"So we wont," Koloth returned with a grin. "We challenge all who come, and once we are sure that they are not the Albino, we let them pass. After weve had a little fun with them."
Kor grinned. The youngest had learned a lot with his numerous scraps with the Human Kirk.
"The Humans will not be pleased to see us," Kang warned the youngest Klingon.
"No, I imagine not," Kor grinned. "Still, as Koloth has said, we can have some fun at their expense. We will stay our weapons until the Albino appears. Then we strike."
"You know the Federation will send at least one starship to stop us." Kang sat back, musing. "We will have to make sure that the young ones dont do anything foolish when it appears."
"Yes, unfortunately." Kor shook his head. "It was so much simpler before. When we were younger." He sighed and leaned back in his chair. A wistful expression crossed his face. "A pity that Kirk cant be in the starship that will come to stop us."
"Kirk?" Kang raised an eyebrow.
He knew that Kor was one of the few Klingons who did not celebrate to hear of the mans death. He had been another. Koloth had been a third.
"You would wish to have Kirk be the one we oppose?" Koloth snorted.
"Yes, I would. Then we could really have some fun."
The computer alerted, "General Quarters, General Quarters. All hands to General Quarters."
Deneice Maliszewski looked around Engineering as Security personnel dressed in combat gear swept through, their phasers drawn, their eyes keenly attempting to discern anything amiss, anything out of place. She nodded in approval. "Wheres Kras?" she asked.
Ensign Fahd answered, "He called. Hes in the simulator running a new warp drive configuration."
The Captain of Engineering shook her head. "He just wont give it up, will he?"
"Look, Chief, you and he created the transwarp drive and used it twice, and then you couldnt repeat it. Hes doing his damnedest to find out why."
"Well, now is not a good time." She tapped the communicator. "Mallie to Kras. Get down here now."
"Im trying, but the turbolifts are locked down, you know."
"Please dont tell me you didnt have authorization to use the simulator?"
"Well, Chief, I knew youd give it to me, so I didnt see the need to ask."
She sighed. "Kras, all you had to do was hand me a datapadd, and Idve signed off on it. But you didnt, and youre going to get us both into trouble. Youre supposed to be here according to the duty roster, and youre not."
Maliszewski shook her head. "Ill handle it. Get here when you can."
She glanced across the Engineering section. The ensign in charge of the security squad was checking a padd, no doubt looking at her duty roster. He glanced at her then stepped toward her. "Captain, Ive been going over your roster, and youre missing a crewman."
"Assistant Chief Engineer Krasnyk is in the engineering simulator on Deck Four."
"As you know, sir, thats not where hes supposed to be."
"I know, I know," Maliszewski agreed. "Go ahead and mark it okayed by me instead of logging it, and Ill kick his ass later personally, okay?"
"Ive already logged it, Captain," the squad leader answered. "Sorry."
She sighed and nodded. "No problem, Ensign."
The squad leader shrugged apologetically and made his way out the Engineering section into the corridor beyond.
"Damn," Maliszewski sighed again, shook her head and pinched the ridge of her nose. "Why me?"****
"All decks report secure, Captain, except for Engineering," reported Brai from Security.
Sulu spoke into the comlink. "Bridge to Engineering. This is the captain. Mallie, whats going on down there?"
"Kras was trying to come up with a reason that the damned transwarp engine wouldnt work any more, only he decided to do so on his own and was in the simulator when the damned GQ drill was run and of course he didnt have authorization, hoping to get it from me after the fact, and now he and I have a black mark cause he wasnt here where he was supposed to be."
All that in one breath. Obviously the chief engineer was upset. And pissed. And ready to do something vicious to someone. Hopefully not him.
"Sorry about that Mallie."
"Just, dont throw the damned book at either of us," Mallie grunted. "He was, after all, trying to fix this damned problem."****
Hikaru Sulu felt his stomach lurch as his office door chimed. Only one person was due to his office: Captain Kevin Riley from Starbase 3. Once a junior officer on the Enterprise, he was now a ranking Intelligence officer. Some said he was Gervais protégé.
He was remembering the reports he had received from Pavel Chekov after Riley had taken custody of the Romulan who had been masquerading as a Vulcan on the Enterprise during its first mission. While he and Pavel had had their differences, they had managed to work through them, and remained friends. And if Pavel said that Kevin Riley had changed, and not for the better....
"Enter," he said, and stood behind his desk.
He found himself straightening as the man entered. Then he blinked as he took in the change in the man.
Captain Kevin Riley was still tall with dark eyes and hair. He even had a beard now. But the playful glint that Sulu remembered in Kevins eyes was gone. There was nothing there. His face, once so mobile and full of emotion was now bland. Worse than any Vulcans emotionless face. At least the Vulcans' faces were stoical. Rileys was just this side of dead.
This man would never sing "Kathleen" until everyone was ready to kill him and could not stand to hear that song for a long, long time. Or order ice cream be served to the crew and command the women to let their hair down and dress more alluringly.
"Captain Sulu," Riley nodded at the captain, a smile suddenly on his face. It was a faked smile. As if he had been taught this is what people did when meeting each other. No true emotion to the smile. Hell, Vulcans did a better job when they smiled.
"Captain Riley," Sulu nodded carefully, trying to temper his trepidation as he indicated the chair in front of his desk.
The Intelligence officer sat down. He seemed uncomfortable in the chair. Perhaps because he was not in the chair he was used to being in. "Captain Sulu." His head jerked in a short nod. "Im glad that youre the one transporting Ambassador Sarek to Korvat. You were especially chosen for this assignment."
"I consider it an honor. Ambassador Sarek is one of the Federations best diplomats," Sulu answered trying to decipher the tone in Rileys voice. "But Im sorry that we are meeting under such conditions."
"The death of Admiral Gervais," Riley nodded. For a brief instant there was real emotion on the mans face. Was that satisfaction? Relief? Perhaps a bit of regret? It sure didnt look like grief. At least, not grief as he knew it. "Im here to take the body back to Starfleet HQ for proper burial."
"The remains are in Sickbay," Sulu told him.
"Yes, of course."
"What is left of him, that is," Sulu added dryly.
"What do you mean?" Rileys face went through another change of emotions.
"The damn Yridians cremated him," Sulu snorted.
Again a strange change of emotions on Rileys face. "Cremated?"
"To ashes," Ariel Cords voice put in from behind him. "Very fine ashes for the most part. Sorry Im late. Patient came in suddenly. Fortunately nothing serious."
"I...see." Riley stood to meet her. His face was bland again. "So there is no way to tell what the cause of death was."
"No way to tell if it was even Admiral Gervais," Cord corrected him as she sat down in the chair next to Rileys. "Though we know the remains were a Human male, probably born on Earth who had a Rubidium transponder. That he was between sixty and seventy at the time of death, probably balding, under six feet and had blue eyes. And that does fit"
"You examined the remains?" Kevin Riley suddenly stood and stared down at the doctor.
"Of course I examined the remains," Cord retorted, glaring up at him. "Considering who gave us the remains, I wanted to make sure the Federation got back its admiral, not some pile of ashes from a Yridian barbecue that they decided they could make a profit with! You wouldnt want to take these remains back to Starfleet, give it a heros burial, complete with photon casket shot off to the sun and have someone suddenly show up at funeral with a very live Yves Gervais, would you?" She had risen from her chair during her retort, and now stood, glaring angrily at the Intelligence captain. "Well? Would you? Or is that what you were hoping for?"
"Damn you!" Riley snarled. "We know that Gervais is dead!"
"An unimpeachable source, no doubt," Cord snorted.
"Yes!" Rileys voice almost sounded like it would crack with emotion.
"But what killed him?" Cord shot back. "He was only in his sixties! He had at least another forty or fifty years ahead of him!"
"That is none of your concern, Doctor," Riley ground out. "His death is the concern of Starfleet Intelligence, and no one else!"
"His body, or what is purported to be his body, is in my Sickbay," Cord snarled back. "That makes it my concern!"
"The hell it does!" Riley was turning red with rage.
"Until you take possession of his remains," Cords voice dropped to a deadly low tone, "hes mine, and I will do whatever I feel needs to be done to be sure that this really is Yves Gervais, Admiral, Starfleet Intelligence."
"Fine," Riley snarled as he stormed to the door.
"And where are you going?" Sulus voice was level, but still commanding. The man might be his equal in rank, but this was still his ship, and he was still in command.
"To Sickbay, to take possession of Admiral Gervais remains," Riley snapped. "Per orders. That will relieve you," he glared at Ariel Cord, "of your... obligation."
The door slid shut behind him. Cord looked over at Sulu.
"Well, that went well," she quipped. "So tell me, Karu," she walked around the desk and slid into Sulus lap, letting her head drop on his shoulder, "has Riley changed as much as Pavel suggested? Or was he sugar-coating it like he usually does?"
Sulu ignored her. "Bridge, this is the captain. Standby to make way for Vulcan. As soon as Captain Riley departs, I want us en route."****
"Permission to enter orbit has been received," Parker reported to Sulu. "Vulcan Space Central sends its greetings."
"Assume orbit," Sulu nodded.
"We are being hailed by the Ambassador," Rand told him. "Hes requesting permission to come aboard at once." She frowned. "Sounds like hes in a hurry."
"Vulcans do not hurry," Tuvok corrected. "Vulcans do not dawdle either. They work at the required pace to see that the task is done in a timely manner."
"By shuttle?" Sulu asked Rand, all but ignoring the young Vulcan.
"Actually, hes requesting to be transported aboard."
"Damn! Get the honor guard there on the double," Sulu shot out of his seat and toward the lift. "As soon as the Ambassador is aboard, obtain permission to leave orbit and set course for Korvat, best speed."****
Sulu stood as Sarek entered the room, an aide walking respectfully behind him. Hed opted for a rather formal evening dinner as the reception for the ambassador instead of a party-type reception. It was rather ridiculous to have a party with only one ambassador and his attachés, Vulcans at that. However, he knew that the Vulcan and his staff would understand the need for a formal dinner as part of the duties of a diplomat, and it would give his senior staff a chance to rub elbows, so to speak, with a diplomat.
Cord stood next to him, looking positively regal in her dress uniform. Janice Rand stood at the other end of the table, as far from Cord as he could seat her. While a good exec, she barely abided Cord. It could (and often did) make for a very uncomfortable time. Rand was professional enough to know that she had to tolerate the doctor until she got a transfer to another ship or Cord decided to move on, but it didnt stop her from snide remarks and such during her off-duty times.
Around the table were the rest of the command crew. Hed made sure that Tuvok was near to Sarek. The Vulcan might appreciate someone not Human close to him. And it would start to teach the younger Vulcan something about diplomacy. And how to get along with his non-Vulcan associates.
Sarek nodded at the assembled parties, noting the vegetarian meal and non-alcoholic drinks in deference to his Vulcan preferences. There were other delicacies there as well. Delicacies he knew his wife would have appreciated had she accompanied him. But Lady Amandas health was not as well as it once had been. He had no desire to see her in the ships Sickbay. He recalled his own stay in Sickbay on the Enterprise those many years ago as if it were yesterday.
"Vulcan honors us with your presence," Sulu said attempting the Vulcan hand salute as Sarek was shown to his chair. "We come to serve."
"Your service honors us, Captain," Sarek nodded formally at Captain Sulu returning the salute. He remembered the man from the near disastrous Babel mission so many years ago. "I am pleased to see that you were finally able to obtain your goal."
"It was worth the wait," Sulu responded with a restrained smile. He then proceeded to introduce the ambassador to his command staff, introducing the medical doctor last. "And this is Ariel Cord, my chief medical officer."
"Doctor Cord," Sarek dipped his head minutely at her.
He recalled seeing her years ago when he had been on a diplomatic mission that had been held on Chrysalis, hosted by Aaron Cord himself. The man might be a hedonist, and illogical to the extreme, even for a Human, but he did know how to conduct a business meeting. Cord had been his hostess back then. Many years ago. She aged well. For a Human....
"I was sorry to see that your wife, the Lady Amanda, was not able to accompany us," Sulu went on. "I was hoping to return the hospitality that she showed us when we were on Vulcan."
"The Lady Amanda has other duties on Vulcan that requires her presence," Sarek responded as he sat down. It was not the Vulcan way to reveal personal things to others. "And her presence is not needed on Korvat."
Sulu nodded his understanding as he sat down. There would be no parties on Korvat. Perhaps some drinking by individuals after the sessions so no need for a person with hosting skills. And considering the fact that Azetbur was unable to decide what she felt for any of the other powers that were wooing the Klingons with offers to help them fix their world in exchange for some muscle, it was probably a good thing. Sarek was going to be trying to convince her that the best thing for the Klingon Empire was to ally themselves with the Federation. No, it was no place for any civilian who didnt have to be there.
"How long until we arrive at Korvat?" Sarek queried as the stewards served the meal.
"Tomorrow morning, 0930," Sulu answered.
"Excellent," Sarek nodded, savoring the taste of the meal. While not as good as what would have been served on Vulcan, it was definitely palatable. Obviously, the Humans had been doing their homework. "I would like to be on the bridge at the time."
"That can be arranged," Sulu nodded. At least this diplomat would know that if a problem occurred that he had to stay out of the way of the professionals.
"Do you know when the Chancellor will arrive?" Sarek asked.
"No, unfortunately," Sulu answered. "The Klingon High Command has not provided me with the itinerary for the Chancellor."
"A pity," Sarek shook his head.
But then, Klingons were as illogical as Humans, and more foul tempered than Humans as well. It would have been better if he knew when Azetbur was arriving; he could make plans based on that information. However, he had learned long ago that the only beings who understood that level of honesty and straightforwardness were other Vulcans.
Sarek settled back and let himself enjoy the meal. It would probably the last calm meal he would get until this mission was completed.****
Azetbur glared around the command center of the battlecruiser. She had chosen to arrive at Korvat secretly and well before the diplomats. She wanted to be standing on Korvat, in full battle gear, when the Federation, Romulan and other diplomats arrived. They would see that while the Klingons needed help from them, they were not in such bad straits that they were bargaining from a position of weakness. Even if they were.
She had heard the whispers of the warriors on the bridge. That the problems started when she had taken the reins of the Empire when her father was assassinated. That the Empire was suffering from letting a be hold the power of the Empire. No matter that many a be in the past had wielded power behind the throne, from the sidelines, from the bedsheets even. It was not permitted for a be to openly wield power for the Empire.
Perhaps if she had been a member of the Sisterhood, or of the House of Durit, her power wouldnt be questioned.
But she was neither. So her power was always questioned, challenged.
So far, she had answered each challenge and won.
Fortunately, no one knew about the plague that had caused the sterilization of Khumdo province on Korvat. She had been assured that the Khumdo plague was an isolated one. And that none of the neighboring provinces were affected. It wouldnt have been very politic, let alone smart, to bring the ambassadors to a plague planet and have them die when she was trying to get one, or all, of them to assist her ailing Empire.
"We are here, Chancellor," the captains voice reported.
"Very well," she nodded at the man as she made her way off the bridge.
Doctor Susan Nuress decided that it was going to be her lot in life to be tired for the rest of her life. Shed been tired when she got back to her apartment from Obi IV after finally finding a cure for that damned plasma plague. She was still tired when that damned Intelligence officer had appeared in her office and whisked her off the starbase to Korvat.
The shuttle that had snatched her from the starbase had been barely the size of a decent hotel suite, and there were two guards as well as two pilots in the shuttle as well. Shed been sequestered to the back part of the shuttle. A cot and a chair with a small table were crowded into the small room in the aft section of the warp shuttle with her. She had found a bag on the cot, a standard Starfleet bag that had some clothes for her. A quick look at the contents showed that they at least had her size correct. There wasnt much else one could say about the clothes. Lab jumpsuits werent all that glamorous. Unless one was built like Ariel Cord, that is.
Which she wasnt. Cord was tall, statuesque and blonde. And smart as hell. Susan Nuress was short and small, almost to the point of being diminutive with coal black hair and eyes. About the only thing that they had in common was intelligence.
Another bag at the foot of the bed proved to hold many of her tools. Or at least tools she was used to. Damnation, that man hadnt even let her pack her own tools and equipment before being shanghaied to the far ends of the galaxy!
As she tried to settle on the thin, less than comfortable cot, she found sleep was the one thing that she couldnt do. After all the long, sleepless nights that shed spent on Obi IV, she had been hoping to finish her report and then curl up on a beach somewhere and forget about the devastation that she had had to work through.
Only that had not happened. Instead the tall dark-haired, dour-looking man from Starfleet Intelligence had come along and unceremoniously dumped her on the shuttle without even a bon voyage.
Nuress sighed wearily and turned over to look at the other bulkhead. She still wasnt sure what had caused the plasma plague. There was a hint that it might have been more than nature at work in the plague, but to be honest, she had been too busy seeking a cure, or at least a way to stop the disease from spreading, to really study the little bugger closely. At least she had done that provided a way to stop the plague. Now the big boys back in the safety of the biohazard labs could take the little monster apart at the atomic level and find out what made it tick, and, if was man-made, find out who would be so cruel, so inhuman, to do such a thing.
Groaning, Nuress sat up and ran a hand through her hair, then stood up and stretched until bones popped. Fatigue still on her face, she wandered out of her small room and smack into the chest of one of the guards.
"Step aside," she grumbled.
"Maam..." the guard began.
"Look," Nuress looked up at the man who had to be the youngest guard she had ever seen. And considering she wasnt all that old herself, that was saying a lot. "In case you havent noticed, that little cell you have me sequestered in is missing two very important items. A coffee pot," she ticked the items off on her fingers, "and a head." Glaring up at him, she put a firm hand on his chest and pushed him to one side. "So unless you want to clean up a God awful mess, get the hell out of my way."
Nuress moved around the man and disappeared into the small bathroom and shut the door in his face. She ran the water and splashed some on her face. If she wasnt going to be able to sleep, she could at least look less like the walking dead.
Exiting the bathroom, she found the guard standing by the door. Why the hell he was doing that was beyond her. Where the hell was she going to sneak off to? Chrysalis?
Shaking her head, she wandered to the small galley and helped herself to some coffee. If she couldnt sleep, she could at least read the report.
For the umpteenth time.
At least it would give her something to do.
And perhaps this time she could figure out what the hell had happened to the colony world. As she sat down, rather defiantly, in the observers seat behind the pilot with her coffee and her padd, she sighed sadly. In all likelihood, the only thing she would do was give herself another raging caffeine headache.
"Doctor Nuress," the pilot reported just as she got comfortable in the seat.
"Yes?" she looked up from the padd, letting her displeasure at being disturbed show on her fatigued face.
"We have arrived."
Nuress let her head drop back on the chair for a moment in disbelief. Why the hell couldnt they have arrived a few hours earlier, when she was uncomfortable, tossing and turning on the damned cot?
Smiling sickly at the pilot, Nuress got up and went back to the little room and gathered her bags after donning a contamination suit. She wasnt surprised when the tingle of the transporter touched her and the shuttle disappeared from view.****
Doctor Susan Nuress looked around her. She was in a lab; that much she could tell. Closer examination showed that a lot of the instruments were Klingon as well as Federation issue. Well, that was to be expected. This was a Klingon world. And a Federation team had been here when the plague first hit. That the Klingons had chosen to "sterilize" the province instead of isolating it and discovering a cure was also typical Klingon behavior.
What she didnt understand was why that crazy female Klingon chancellor was still insisting on holding this meeting on a world that was a potential plague world. But then, Nuress sighed as she started to set up her equipment, who could ever figure out the Klingons?
"Hell, who cares about the damned Klingons? Who can figure out the damned Federation?" Nuress muttered as she looked through the items trying to keep the disgust off her face. "Why the hell couldnt they make sure that I at least got some decent equipment and information?" Looking around her, she frowned. "And where the hell is the support team that I was promised?"****
Sarek stood to one side of the captains chair and watched as the small planet of Korvat started to fill the viewscreen. The ambassadorial compound soon was in the in the center of the viewscreen. Azetbur stood proudly in the center of the compound, wearing battle armor. Showing that she was ready to battle for her empire, one way or another.
"Sarek of the Federation," her voice called as though she were hailing him over the distance instead of a comlink. "You are punctual."
"I am here, Azetbur of QonoS," Sarek responded. "I am ready to come to the conference."
"I am ready for you to come to the conference," she nodded.
Sarek turned to Sulu. "Captain, my entourage and I will beam down at once."
"Of course," Sulu nodded as he stood.
"There is no need to accompany me, Captain," Sarek looked at the captain. "I am sure that you have other, more important things to do than see me to the transporter room."
"It is a part of the...." began Sulu.
"It is a useless ritual," Sarek concluded.
"Perhaps," Sulu agreed. "But if I dont, Ill never hear the end of it."****
Ariel Cord was busy in the lab. There were still questions to be asked about the supposed death of Admiral Yves Gervais. Questions that she desperately wanted answers to. Questions that Riley obviously didnt want answered. At least not by anyone other than Starfleet Intelligence.
Which was why, when he had taken the remains, he didnt get all the remains. Any more than a person got the entire body back from a medical examiner. Certain parts of the deceased body were left for the medical examiner to continue his or her examination.
A part of her was telling herself that it was wrong; they were the remains of a Starfleet officer, and deserved to be given a proper burial, all of them. But another part of her was still angry that she still couldnt say with certainty that the remains were that of said Starfleet officer, nor that she couldnt report what killed him. A man that young didnt just die in his sleep. Not anymore.
And therein lie the crux of the problem. He was reported to have died in his sleep. That just didnt happen to a man of Yves Gervais age. She needed to find out what had happened to him, even if she didnt like him personally. No matter what Kevin Riley said, it was her examination and would remain so until the Starfleet Surgeon General told her it was not. And she knew that Leonard McCoy would not pull her off this little medical mystery.
"There has got to be an answer here somewhere," she muttered. "Something that didnt get seared by the cremation."
"Whatever it is youre studying can wait until after lunch, right?" Sulus voice said from behind her.
Cord looked up and saw the captain leaning against the open doorway. "Well," she rested her chin on a hand, "I suppose." She looked at the small amount of ash in the container. "Its not going anywhere after all."
Sulu peered over at the container. "Do I want to ask, or...?"
"Dont ask," Cord shook her head as she secured the small vial and closed it in her desk. He couldnt testify to something he didnt know. And she knew that Riley would be royally pissed if he found out she still had a piece of Gervais. "Lets just say I have my own mystery that Im working on and leave it at that."
"What?" Sulu looked at her in mock shock as she walked over to him, letting her arms start to encircle him. "My little mystery not enough for you?"
"What can I say?" Cord shrugged, smiling wickedly as she let her fingers find sensitive areas around his head and her lips tease his. "Im fickle. Besides, my mystery isnt being looked at by anybody but me. Yours has the attention of the entire senior staff."
"Except you," Sulu pretended to pout. It was hard to do with Cord exuding her sexual charms.
"Okay, except me," Cord tilted her head. "But Im always available for consultations."
"You want to eat in the mess deck or...?"
"If we go to your quarters," Cord murmured in his ear, "I have a feeling food will be the last thing that either of us gets."
"And that would be a bad thing?" Sulu murmured back.
"You are incorrigible," she giggled.
"This from the Sex Goddess of the Universe," he laughed as he covered her lips with his.
"Bridge to Captain Sulu," Rands voice sounded over the speakers.
Sulu groaned as he broke contact with Cords lips. "Sulu here."
"Sorry to interrupt your lunch," Rands voice sounded anything but sorry, "but the Korvat council has jut given us permission to break orbit."
"Finally," he grumbled. "Wonder what took the Klingons so long?"
"Easy," Cord murmured soft enough so her voice wouldnt be picked up on the bridge, "it is their planet, and they have the say so when it comes to who leaves when."
Sulu sighed. The sigh started out as tempered patience and ended in a moan caused by Ariels lips nibbling along his jaw.
"Very well," Sulu answered, hoping not all of it was getting picked up by the comlink, "set course for our next destination."
"Understood, sir." Rands voice was neutral. He wondered if she had heard something she shouldnt have.
"Now, about lunch..." he began again.
"What about it?" Ariel whispered in his ear.
"The mess deck or my quarters?"
"Oh definitely your quarters," Ariel smiled into his neck. "Definitely your quarters."
"Bridge to Captain Sulu," Rands voice interrupted them yet again.
Sulu took a deep breath and slowly disentangled himself from Cord. If he didnt know better, hed say that Rand was doing it deliberately.
"Yes, Commander?" He hoped the peeved feeling was getting through to her.
"Sorry, sir. We were just received a hail from a Federation official on Korvat," Rand answered. "Its a distress signal. Once I took it, I knew you and Doctor Cord would want to speak to the official."
"Very well," Sulu took another deep breath. "Well be on the bridge in two minutes." He cut the connection and sighed heavily.
"Two minutes?" Cord smirked at Sulu. "That doesnt leave us much time, now does it?"
"Give it up, Ariel. Its a distress signal," he said, heading for the door.
"Probably some sort of shortage of medicinal alcohol that someones having problems with customs..." she said, following him.****
Sulu slid into the command chair with Ariel Cord standing behind him. He nodded to Rand curtly. Rand nodded back, and the viewscreens image of stars faded to be replaced by a disheveled dark-haired woman.
"Oh, thank God," the womans voice sounded relieved. "I was beginning to wonder just when my support crew was going to get here."
"Support crew?" Sulu asked puzzled.
"Yes, damn it," the woman snapped. "Oh, hell," she ran a weary hand through her short black hair, then rubbed her eyes. "Sorry. Its been a bitch of a day. For the past three months. Look, Im Doctor Susan Nuress, and I was sent here by Starfleet Intelligence. I was promised a support crew to help me get a handle on this plasma plague..."
"Doctor," Sulu interrupted her, "our mission was to transport Ambassador Sarek to the conference with the Klingon Chancellor on Korvat. Nothing more. We know nothing about a plasma plague here..."
"No! Tell me you didnt transport him to the surface," Doctor Nuress face became ashen.
"We had no reason not to," Sulu answered.
"You had every reason not to!" Nuress screamed. "I dont care if he was inoculated against everything in the universe, it was still too dangerous to come here until wed established that this particular sub-virus would respond to a vaccine."
"Madam," Sulu tried to keep his voice reasonable, "I think it would be best to start at the beginning."
"Damn it!" Nuress interrupted him harshly, "you just sent Sarek onto a plague world! This planet must be quarantined immediately!"
"Oh my God!" Sulu stared at the woman for all of two microseconds. "Rand, raise the ambassador, now!"
Rands hand played on her panel. She turned back to the captain, "Signals are jammed, sir."
Motion behind Sulu pulled his attention to Cord heading for the turbolift.
"Where are you going?" he demanded.
"To the planet surface," Cord answered.
"Ariel!" Sulu jumped out of the chair and moved to stand in front of her. "You cant!"
"On the contrary," Cord answered. "I can. I will."
"Damn it!" Sulu put a hand on her arm, stopping her. He took a deep breath, then guided her to the ready room. The bridge was not the place to discuss this.
"Whats the big idea?" Cord demanded angrily.
"Didnt you hear what Doctor Nuress just said?" Sulu demanded just as angrily. "Korvat is a plague planet!"
"And?" Cord looked at him.
"The CMO of a starship doesnt go down to a plague planet."
"Bull," Cord spat back at him, turning to leave the ready room.
"Damn it, Ariel!" Sulu gripped her arm, pulling her back to in a tight embrace.
Cord pulled back and looked at Sulu. "I have to go there, to help Doctor Nuress," she said. "And Im the only one who can. And you know why."
"Ariel...." Sulu looked at her, anguish on his face as his grip on her arms tightened. "Just because youre immortal doesnt mean you cant get sick and die! I cant lose you too!"
"Oh, damn, Karu," Cord let the man pull her close. "You wont lose me. I promise."
"You cant promise," Sulu said roughly. "No one can make any kind of promise about the future."
"Karu...." Cord started when the comlink interrupted yet again. Rand had to be doing it deliberately.
"Sorry, Captain, weve just been hailed by Starfleet Command," Rands voice said.
"Ill take it here," Sulu said as he pulled himself together.
"Captain Sulu." The admirals face filled the smaller viewscreen. "We have a bit of a problem."
"So I gather," Sulu answered drolly. "Doctor Nuress just hailed us."
"I see. So you know that a virulent plasma plague has stricken the planet of Korvat."
"No, I didnt know that," Sulu shook his head. "She just called for assistance, and wanted to know if we were her support crew."
"Well, as of now," the admiral said, "you are. Shes going to need a lot of assistance to get a handle on this plague."
"I understand, sir," Sulu nodded. "Doctor Nuress will get our best."****
"The Klingons are demanding to know why weve come back," Rand looked at Sulu as she stepped into the ready room.
Sulu answered, "Doctor Susan Nuress is here and requires our assistance."
"So why the hell didnt someone tell us this before we left orbit?" Rand demanded.
"Good question," Sulu sighed. "When we get back to Starfleet Command, perhaps you can ask someone."
Rand let him know what she thought of that suggestion with a look. "So, what exactly are we going to do to help her? I mean, we cant just get send a team down there. Can we?"
"We know she needs a support team," Sulu answered. "Weve got a vaccine against plasma plague. Developed by her, in fact. Well inoculate the team, send them down, and follow plague planet protocols when it comes time to bring them up."
"Understood," Rand nodded. "Now, who all is going?"
"Doctor Cord is going to be going, of course," Sulu managed to get out without blanching or stammering. "She has decided to leave her technicians here."
That hadnt set well with him, even if he understood why she had decided to be the only one to go to the surface. Doctor Viger hadnt been too understanding at all. Oh he could understand that only one person go to reduce the number of people that would be exposed to the disease, but why did it have to be her? He was just as good as she was, perhaps better, and he followed protocols and yadda, yadda, yadda. Apparently he was figuring on going, coming up with the cure just before dying and getting some sort of laurel and become a martyr to boot.
"She plans on sending information to us. And on occasion, samples and data."
"I see," Rand looked at Sulu, her face neutral.
Shed been mildly surprised that the woman had volunteered to go, then had arbitrarily turned down all help. That was not at all like Ariel Cord. Ariel Cord usually only got involved with things that interested her. And Ariel rarely liked working with other women. Except in porno films.
Still she had to give the woman some points. Even with the vaccine that Doctor Nuress had developed, there was no way short of a direct order that she herself would set foot on a planet with plasma plague.
"Ill be in Sickbay, seeing what else Doctor Cord will need," Sulu stood up.
"Understood," Rand repeated, also standing.
"Ill join you on the bridge after Doctor Cord is on the surface."
"Of course, sir," Rand nodded, then left the room.****
Ariel Cord checked everything in the center of the floor yet again. "Im missing something," she muttered, "I know I am."
"Me?" Sulus arms wrapped around her tightly.
Cord leaned back in the embrace. "Yeah, and I havent even left the ship," she murmured. "Damn bad timing, if you ask me. We didnt even get our lunch break."
"I know," Sulu grumbled. "Ariel, I dont like this. Something feels wrong. And dont ask me what, because right now, I cant put my finger on it. I just know that something is wrong here."
"Tell me about it," Cord shook her head.
"I mean, is it coincidence or what? Azetbur decides to hold a conference on a small, backwater Klingon planet so that there will be little or no interference from the rest of the universe, andwham!theres a plasma plague on the planet which somehow no one in Starfleet Medical knew about but Starfleet Intelligence did and didnt have the balls to let anyone else know about it so that Sarek wouldnt get infected!" Sulus voice had risen and gotten angrier and angrier with each word until he was yelling. "And the worst of it is," he held her tighter, "is that you have to go down there and help Doctor Nuress because Starfleet expects us to do our best and give our best, and damn it, you are the best!"
Cord twisted in his arms so she was facing him. It was a miracle he wasnt crying right now. It was a miracle she wasnt crying because she sure as hell wanted to. Because he was right.
"Maybe I am, and maybe one of my staff would be better in the lab with Nuress. I dont know." She let him hold her tight. "But I have an advantage that no one else around here has, and you know it. And thats why the unlucky slob to get sent to the planet has to be me. So, help me get this crap down to the transporters and transport it and me down to that damnable planet so that Doctor Nuress and I can get this stupid little bug whipped and I can get back here in time for dinner. Breakfast at the latest. In your quarters. Without food."
"Hell, yes," Cord grinned as she began nibbling him. "And heres a taste of the meal I intend to fix."
She began devouring his mouth, letting her tongue explore his mouth deeply. He was soon returning the exploration, using not only his tongue in her mouth but his hands on her body. Reluctantly she broke off the kiss first. "Think that will keep you going until I get back?"
"Its going to have to, I guess," he grumbled. "Give me few minutes to get myself together, okay?"
"Only a few?" Cord smirked.****
Ariel Cord looked around her, noting the barrenness of the area. Klingons were not big on gardens unless it was for food, and this area of Korvat was not exactly brimming with natural flora due to the recent blight. From the looks of it, it hadnt been overflowing with flora before the blight either. At least, not the kind of flora that Humans would appreciate. No one could figure out what the Klingons appreciated. Perhaps theyd like something like a Venus flytrap.
She took a deep breath and cursed silently. This damned containment suit was not the most comfortable that had ever been invented. Hell, it was still a throw-back to the late 20th century style. Of course, the style worked, and that was what mattered.
"Still, youd think theyd come up with something better-looking in two centuries, wouldnt you?" a voice sounded behind her.
"Doctor Nuress?" Cord spotted a similarly-clad figure.
"In the flesh and containment suit," she barked ruefully.
Cord smiled. A woman after her own heart. "So tell me, where do we work?"
"This way," Nuress indicated a small building. "I was able to rig up a containment field so we wont have to wear these god-awful things all the time."
Once inside the building, Nuress showed Cord where to ditch her suit, and led her to the small living quarters she had fixed up.
Like most good researchers, Nuress knew how to make a little go a long way and be somewhat comfortable. There were several cots, probably Starfleet issue and therefore less than comfortable, in one corner that was blocked off to give the area privacy and quiet. Near them, but far enough away to keep noise at a minimum was a small kitchen. The Klingon version of a kitchen was not exactly something that most Humans found themselves at ease with. Of course, most Humans preferred their food well dead instead of freshly-killed or still wriggling on the plate. On the other side of the small make-shift dorm was another privacy curtain. Probably the portable commode. Considering the Klingon version of a kitchen, no Human in their right mind wanted to see what those facilities looked like.
The largest part of the room that was protected by a second containment field was set up with all the equipment that had come with Nuress on the small shuttle. Not exactly a great lab, but adequate to get the study started. Cord nodded and started to set up the additional equipment that she had brought with her from Excelsior.
"So when did you get here, Doctor?" Cord asked after the two women finished stowing the other gear that she had brought along. Stuff that she hoped would get them finished with this problem quickly.
"Call me, Susan. We dont have any needs for titles here, Ariel. If we dont get this solved, were dead anyways. To answer your question, though, Ive been here since about 0100," Nuress grumbled. "Still havent gotten a decent amount of sleep since I got back from Obi Four. Didnt get much there either come to think of it."
"Good lord woman!" Cord stared at Nuress. "Its a wonder you arent punch drunk by now!"
"Who says Im not?" Nuress raised an eyebrow at Cord. "Look, from what I got from our little conversation, you didnt know I was here."
"Didnt know the plasma plague was here either," Cord added. "Otherwise I know the captain wouldnt have let Sarek beam down. No matter what the man wanted."
"I just cant believe that Starfleet Intelligence didnt let the rest of Starfleet know," Nuress shook her head as she poured a cup of coffee for both her and Cord. "I mean this Captain Riley informed me that I was coming here, and that the Ambassador was aware of the situation"
"Kevin Riley?" Cord stared at Nuress.
"Yeah," Nuress nodded.
"Damn! Next time I see him, Im gonna kill him!" Cord growled.
"Thatthat bastard was on Excelsior and never said a word about this!"
"Yesterday morning," Cord answered as she sipped the coffee, then moved over to the small computer and started scrolling, reading Nuresss notes.
"He met with me two days ago." Nuress voice was faint. "He knew then. About the plague on Korvat."
"So I gathered," Cords voice growled. "Like I said, next time I see him, Ill damn well kill him. He never said a word!"
"He promised me support from Starfleets finest. Like I said, he told me that Sarek knew about the plague and was going down in spite of it." Nuress was still sounding shell-shocked.
"Like I said, bastard," Cord looked over at Nuress. "Youve been a busy lady," she added.
"What?" Nuress looked over at Cord.
"From the looks of things, youve already got a pretty good handle on whats going on," Cord replied.
"It helps to be a supposed expert in the field," Nuress smirked.
"Still, as tired as you must have been, youve done a hell of a job," Cord looked over at the exhausted woman.
"Thanks," Nuress smiled wearily. "Now, in that bag of tricks on your shoulder, you dont happen to have something to let me get a little nap while you continue to study my notes, do you?"
"Yes," Cord moved over to the exhausted woman. "Pick your cot, get comfy and get ready for a trip to the land of Nod."
"Please," Nuress practically flopped on the nearest cot.
The hiss of the hypospray was soon followed by the slow steady breathing of the researcher.****
Cord poured another cup of coffee and read the notes that Nuress had compiled. Nuress had managed to isolate the organism and had begun studying it closely. It appeared to be a mutated and engineered strain of the same sub-virus that had been found on Obi IV. It also appeared to be very behave very similar to the blood catalyst that was found on Sarnac III.
Cord sat up suddenly.
She remembered that place all too well. It was on their way to Sarnac III that she had seduced Hikaru. Wearing nothing but a smile and a black velvet ribbon. Who would have thought that theyd still be together, still as much in lust and love as they had been five years before?
That was also when she first knew, really knew that she was different. When she had survived the explosion in her Sickbay when Jimmy hadnt....
Cord closed her eyes and tried to shake off the feeling that always seemed to overcome her whenever she thought of her surviving that blast when Jimmy didnt. And only because she had a set of genes that guaranteed her survival. It was the same feeling that she got whenever she remembered the accident that took her mothers life.
"Computer," Cords voice was soft, and emotionless. Soft so as not to disturb the sleeping woman on the cot. Emotionless so she could do her job. "Access all information gathered about the blood catalyst isolated on Sarnac Three. Display only, no audio."
There was a quiet chugging, then the screen lit up with small print.
Doctor Nathan Morris had tried to find out what it was before it killed off the entire population of the agricultural planet. It had been a fast-acting, highly unstable biochemical, making studying it nearly impossible. His biocomp had not been able to identify it. Of course, the fact that the biocomp was an old one, a very old one, didnt help the man. But then, Morris hadnt figured hed need state of the art equipment to help keep an agricultural settlement alive on a planet that had no harmful bacteria. Just stuff to keep the farmers and livestock hale and hearty from anything and everything theyd brought with them.
And it hadnt helped that nothing was found in the bodies that had been autopsied.
The sudden explosion in the sickbay of the Cooper when she had been trying to save the Romulans life had pretty much pushed all thoughts of studying the medical mystery out of everyones mind.
But perhaps someone on her staff had managed to keep a cool, level head. Samples could have been scanned and stored in the Hazardous Material Locker outside of Sickbay. And those samples could had been turned over to Starfleet Intelligence when the Cooper had returned to Earth. Doctor Mandela had informed everyone how the samples had been jettisoned during the firefight with the Romulans... Could he have been lying?
What if he had been working for Starfleet Intelligence? And what if he had taken the samples and worked with them? And found a small segment of an engineered sub-virus? Still, it was easier recreating a dinosaur from a bone fragment than it was to recreate a sub-virus from a segment, but they might have discovered her deep secret, one that she had shared with no one, not even Hikaru Sulu: that the blood catalyst of Sarnac III was based on a biochemical produced by a simple Rigelian plasma virus and had apparently been engineered to be more deadly than the Rigelian variety. Much more.
Cord touched the screen and looked at the next page.
It showed the work Nuress had done on the sub-virus found on Obi IV.
Again, it was a sub-virus, and again it was based on the Rigelian plasma virus. Again it had been engineered to be much worse than the parent sub-virus.
Another touch of the screen showed the work on the Korvat plague.
"Another strain of the engineered plasma plague," Cord whispered. "Just what is going on here?"****
"So thats what we have so far," Cords voice sounded tired to Sulu.
"An engineered virus," Sulu shook his head.
"Sub-virus," Cord corrected him. "Not quite a retro-virus, but close. And very sneaky."
"Ill take your word for it," Sulu snorted. "So, now what?"
"I need it passed on to Starfleet Medical so that they can work on it from their end," Cord said.
"Done." Sulu tapped some buttons on his desk. "Now what?"
"The next step is for Susan and me to start working on the way to stop it."
"Stop it," Sulu rubbed his forehead. "You think you and Doctor Nuress can?"
"Well, she managed to stop the Obi Four plasma plague all by herself," Cord answered. "Granted it took her ten weeks, but she didnt really have much of a clue what she was working with there. Here we do. We should be able to start from there. And on Obi Four, she was pretty much working by herself. Im here. Hopefully it wont take too much to find a way to stop this variation of the plague."
"And what about the conference?" Sulus concern was etched on his face.
"So far," Cord looked at him, "the plague seems to be contained to this area. We havent heard of any more outbreaks from the surrounding provinces, or whatever theyre called here. But then, we havent heard much from anyone since we got here. Apparently the Klingon version of plague sterilization is working. So far."
"So far?" Sulu looked at her in trepidation.
"Look, this little bugger is real nasty," Cord shook her head. "And its engineering makes it even hardier than if it were a natural mutation. So far, all weve got is what Susans managed to discover about this monster. I hope the conference wraps up real soon so that Sarek and the others can get off this planet, and out of harms way."
"Do you want me to pass that little message on as well?" Sulu asked.
"It wouldnt hurt," Cord answered seriously. "Look, I mean it. This is a potentially deadly situation. And the fact that someone in Starfleet Intelligence didnt pass that information on to us and to Sarek really bothers me."
"What?" Sulu stared at Cord.
"Your old shipmate Riley knew about the plague being here on Korvat," Cord spat out. "And he never said a damned word. Not one bloody damned word!"
"Damn! I knew he was hiding something!" Sulu growled. "I thought it was something to do with the death of the admiral. Instead it was because wed just been discussing going to Korvat with Ambassador Sarek, and he knew that we were taking the ambassador into a potentially deadly situation." He took a deep breath. "Of course, even if Sarek had known, he probably would have gone in anyway."
"Yes," Cord nodded. "But he would have gone in with his eyes open to the situation. And some of Susans vaccine in him."
"Like you did."
"Yes, like I did."
"So now what?" Sulu asked.
"First, you get that information off to Starfleet," Cord sighed. "Then I wake up that poor woman, and we get busy on busting this monster back to its molecular components. And you wish me luck."
"Always, Ariel," he smiled sadly at her. "Always. Is there anything else you need? From the ship, I mean," Sulu asked, not wanting to break the connection with his lover.
"Right now, no." Cord shook her head. "Oh, wait, I need to get more information on the Sarnac incident. "
"Sarnac?" Sulu shuddered. He, too, remembered that incident. Of nearly losing the woman after just finding her.
"Yes, Sarnac," Cord nodded. "It seems that this bug is somehow related to that catalyst."
"It is?" Sulu let his eyebrows rise in surprise.
"It is. Oh, and Ill need everything on the Obi plasma plague as well. Everything that Starfleet Medical has on both, and as fast as you can," Cord said. "And a jeep. We might have to travel a bit, and you know how hard it is in those suits."
Sulu tapped several commands into the console, then turned back to Cord. "Done. Anything else?"
"No, not really," Cord sighed. "Now, neither of us wants to say goodbye, so I want you to pretend that Rand is calling you from the bridge regarding some urgent message. Ill pretend that I have something equally important to get back to, and we both promise to get back to each other as soon as possible." She gave Sulu her serious look. "I mean it Karu. Do it."
"Just promise that you will get back to me as soon as you can."
"Of course, I will," she smiled at him wickedly. "I still have a lunch date with you. Remember? And a dinner date. And a breakfast date. And..."
Sulu felt the blood rush from his head to his groin. "Oh, yeah," he grinned.****
Janice Rand got up from the center seat as Sulu walked out of the ready room. She knew he had been talking to Ariel Cord. And not necessarily about the business on the planet.
She shook her head, mentally reprimanding herself. It didnt matter what they talked about, or didnt talk about. And she had no reason to think anything about that woman except as a part of her crew that was in danger from the damned plague that was present the planet. Or, she reflected, the Klingons who might decide to continue their sterilization practices while the woman was down there.
It didnt matter that the woman was a former porn star that dabbled at medicine in Starfleet. She was still a member of the crew and a Federation citizen. It was her job as a Starfleet officer to keep that person safe.
Besides, she managed not to frown as Sulu moved from the ready room to the elevator, looking like a very lost puppy. A tired lost puppy. He has every right to, she sighed. Hed put in a very long day in spite of her requests that he get some rest. Shed hoped hed used the sofa in the ready room to grab some sleep, but after seeing the circles under his eyes, she knew he hadnt.
And he was just getting over his former lover, Janet Rachelson, lost in the Kelvan war. Rand didnt want to think what losing that woman on the planet surface might do to Sulu. She had sometimes wondered if the loss of Rachelson had contributed to his closed-off nature. Not that he was opening up that much since seeming to recover from the loss of his former lover. But at least he was starting to seek out his crew. If he lost Ariel, he would probably revert to his old, cold self, asking nothing of anyone.
"Captain?" the young woman at the communications station turned to Sulu, stopping him from leaving the bridge and grabbing some sleep. "I have a priority one message from Starfleet."
"On screen," Sulu commanded.
It was Admiral Barstow.
"Captain," the admiral nodded brusquely at Sulu. "We have a situation in the Delta Sagittarii system. It seems that the Klingons are operating in that system. Three battlecruisers were detected by our outpost on Kaus Media Prime."
"The Chosin is closer than we are," Sulu frowned. "I spoke with Captain Kelsey only yesterday."
"Unfortunately, the Chosin is on a priority mission," the admiral shook his head. "It cannot be diverted. The Excelsior needs to respond."
"You do understand that there is a situation on Korvat," Sulu countered. Rand could see a slight sheen pop out on her captains forehead. "We are serving as support for Doctor Nuress."
"Yes, I do, and I know that," the admiral nodded. "And right now, you and the Excelsior are just sitting up there providing moral support. The outpost on Kaus Media Prime and the Andorian colony on Kaus Media Two need you for a bit more than just moral support."
"I understand, sir. Excelsior out."
Sulus voice was suddenly perfunctory, with no emotion. Rand shot him a glance. He was wearing that inscrutable expression that she remembered from when he found out that Rachelson had been killed.
"Well be leaving in less than five minutes." Sulu swung around and stared at the communications officer. "Get me the landing party."
"Hailing frequencies open," she responded as Cords face came on the screen.
Cord looked up, surprise on her face. She took in Sulus expression, not liking it. "Whats the matter?"
"A situation has developed," Sulu chose his words carefully as he tried to keep his emotions under wraps. "Seems the Klingons have taking a fancy to our colony worlds in Delta Sagittarii. Theyre apparently playing their little games with the colonists and an outpost there. We have to leave."
"I...see," Cord sighed. "Well, that means that Susan and I are going to have to hold down the fort by ourselves, right?"
"Yeah." Sulus voice was rough. "Well get back as soon as we can."
"I know you will," Ariel smiled at him. "So get going, kick some ass and get yours back here. Probably by the time you get back here Susan and I will have this bugger whipped into shape, have a vaccine or something, and we can have a celebratory dinner. What do you say?"
"Id say you have a date," Sulu grinned at her. "Just, you...and Doctor Nuress...take care of yourself."
"We will," Cord promised. "You guys watch yourselves. Klingons have a tendency to play rough."
"I intend to play rough myself," Sulu responded. "Besides, Im not the one fighting a plasma plague on a Klingon colony." He sighed. "Excelsior out." He turned to Lojur and Parker. "Navigator, set course for Delta Sagittarii. Helm, best speed," Sulu commanded.
"Aye sir," the chief helm officer answered.
"Maintain Yellow alert until we get there," Sulu added as he stood up. "Rand, you have the conn. Ill be in my ready room. Call me when we get there."
"Aye, sir," Rand moved back to the center seat as Sulu got up and moved away.
So much for the man getting any sleep.****
Cord turned to the sleeping woman on the cot. Shed been sleeping for almost eight hours now. And in the eight hours, Cord had been trying to piece together the interesting and intriguing bits and pieces that Nuress had uncovered.
A plague sub-virus had been engineered. An engineered sub-virus that must have started in the Romulan labs. Just who the hell had brought that particular monster that everyone in Starfleet Medical thought had died out on Sarnac III back to life?
Sighing wearily, Cord moved over to the sleeping woman and gently shook her. It took a second shake to bring the woman back to consciousness.
"Coffee, black, hot and guaranteed to take off paint if spilled," Cord said holding the mug in front of the womans face.
"Hmm, standard Starfleet issue," Nuress yawned.
"Of course," Cord agreed.
"Just the way I need it. How long did I sleep?" Nuress took a sip, then slowly levered herself to a sitting position.
"Eight hours," Cord answered, smothering a yawn.
"Trying to spoil me?" Nuress raised an eyebrow as she took another sip, then stood and made her way to the portable commode behind the privacy screen, depositing the mug on a table on her way.
"You needed the sleep," Cord told her after Nuress came out, zipping up her suit.
"Really? Ive been existing on less than two hours of sleep a day for..." Nuress looked at the doctor, frowning. "What is todays stardate?"
"Like I said," Cord laughed, "you needed the sleep."
Cord pointed to the table where the coffee mug was still sitting. Next to it were several ready-to-eat meals. Not the best tasting meals in the universe but still nourishing and still warm.
"And you need to eat. Ill wager that you havent been getting regular meals the past few months."
Nuress sniffed the meal a bit warily, then took a bite. "Not bad," she looked at Cord.
"I was right," Cord chuckled as she sat down across from the doctor. "You havent been getting regular meals lately."
"Ive became a junk-food junkie," Nuress admitted. "But I didnt starve. And I took my supplements. So, what have you been up to while I was asleep?"
"Reading up on what youve found and what Starfleet had managed to piece together," Cord answered. "Trying to see if there was any other information available. We can discuss it after dinner."
Sulu moved quickly from his ready room to the bridge at the klaxons sound. The ship had just dropped from warp as it neared the Delta Sagittarii system where the worst of the raiding had occurred. From the sound of it, the Klingons were mostly young bloods, earning their spurs, as it were. Doing whatever they could to prove they were still Klingons without endangering the tenuous peace that now existed between the two powers.
"What have we got?" Sulu slid into the seat vacated by Rand.
"A dozen ships," Rand answered. "Mostly Ktingas, but there are a few Bird-of-Preys and an old D-7 as well. Theyve been hassling all of the merchant ships that have been using this shipping lane for the past few days. Seems as if they looking for something in particular. Still it didnt stop them from hassling the rest of them."
"Uh, like that, I, uh, would venture to, uh, maybe suggest?" Lieutenant Peterson drew their attention to the view screen.
As one, the two senior officers looked as the pack surrounded the small merchant vessel moving closer and closer, using their phasers to maim the vessel.
"Open a hailing frequency," Sulu commanded.
"Hailing frequency opened," Ensign Behn responded. "But I dont think theyre listening real well."
"Klingon wolfpack, stand down!" Sulu barked. "You are in Federation space, attacking a Federation vessel."
"Like I said," Behn commented when there was no response, "I dont think theyre listening real well."
"Mister Peterson," Sulu commanded, "lets get their attention. Lock phasers on the nearest Ktinga and fire. To disable only, for now."
"Uh, sir," Lieutenant Peterson looked at the captain from Tactical as his fingers did as they had been ordered, "once we get their, uh, undivided attention, would you mind if I, uh, well, Id suggest that we, uh, get a few torpedoes ready? Just in case those guys want to, well, play a little rougher than we are?"
"By all means, Lieutenant, please do," Sulu grinned at the young tactical officer. New he might be, and arrogant and flippant and annoying as hell, but he did know his stuff.
A large Ktinga gracefully moved from the pack and angled until it was facing the Excelsior.
"Maximum power to forward shields!" Sulu shouted as a disruptor bolt collided with the Excelsiors shields.
The ship rocked momentarily. Another bolt came at them from the Klingon vessel, and a salvo of torpedoes flew from the starship toward the Ktinga vessel. They collided with the vessels deflector shield. The rest of the wolfpack pulled back, three Ktingas still worrying the merchant ship.
Without a word from the captain, Peterson sent a salvo of torpedoes toward one of the smaller Klingon ships. He whooped softly when one slipped through the deflectors and injured the ship. Suddenly, the other Ktingas turned and took aim at the Excelsior.
"Helm, full reverse!" Sulu shouted gripping the arms of the chair.
"Full reverse, aye." Lojurs hands flew over his board.
"Helm!" Sulu spared the man a glance.
"Not responding sir!" Lojur answered.
"Mallie!" Sulu hit the comm button.
"Working on it!" Mallies voice came back at him. "Keep them guys occupied for a few minutes."
"What do you think were doing?" Sulu came back at her.****
Mallie moved from her station to the main board, Kras right behind her as the ship rocked from one the deflected phaser blasts.
"What the hell is going on?" she demanded.
"Dont know Chief," Kras shrugged. "Helm didnt respond to full reverse."
"Why the hell not? Those engines have been checked six ways to Sunday not over an hour ago!"
"Chief, I dont know," Kras shook his head.
"What the?" She stared at the board. "What the hell?" She looked over at Kras, her eyebrows raised in surprise. "You know that ghost of Lojurs might not be so far off the mark."
"These engines have been programmed for transwarp!" Mallies hands flew over the board. "Try it now, Skipper," she called into the comm. She was rewarded to feel the ship lurch and then move gracefully to wherever the captain was ordering it.
"Someone musta hit a button by mistake."
"Some mistake," Mallie shuddered. "I was sure I deleted that program."
"Why would you do that, Chief?" Kras stared at the chief engineer.
"Kras, it doesnt work," Mallie answered patiently. "Like just now. It worked. Once. Twice. Oh, weve used the technology to advance regular warp speeds, but transwarp is at least a century away."
"Oh," Kras frowned. "But youve been working on it."
"Yeah, but not when were on Yellow or Red Alert," Mallie shook her head as she hit another button. "There, now the program is definitely purged from the system. No more problems like that again."
"But if it worked once, twice, it could again," Kras looked at her. "Chief "
"Relax, Kras," Mallie smiled. "I still have the program. Its just not in the main system any more."
"Its not?" Kras stared at his superior officer.
"No, its not. Its safe in my BellComm terminal," Mallie stated emphatically. "Protected by numerous firewalls and passwords. It would take a real computer hacker to get to it."
"Good," Kras nodded. "Perhaps once we get out of this situation we can work on it again."
Cord woke up smelling coffee. A cup was moving close to her face. She grabbed it, took a swallow, then got up and disappeared behind the screen that hid the privy.
The after-dinner discussion had been tabled when Cord had found herself with her nose inches from the tabletop.
From the looks at the lab, Nuress had spent that time working on the research trace she had set up and had started working on it.
"So you ran into this little bugger on Sarnac?" Nuress asked.
"Well, its recent forebear, apparently, but we had no idea someone still had the data," Cord admitted, joining her with two breakfast meals. They could eat while they talked and brainstormed. "We literally found nothing. No trace. We knew what it did to the humanoid body, and I deduced it was similar to a biochemical produced by a Rigelian plasma plague, but I never discussed that with anyone. I was about to prepare a report, but we had a little problem that sorta got my mind off of that."
"And what might that have been?" Nuress frowned as she began to make notes.
"Wed picked up a Romulan, injured, badly injured," Cord began, her voice starting to get shaky. "As we were working on him, trying to save his life, I heard a noise." She took a deep breath, willing herself to stay calm. Not easy. It had happened to her. Not to someone else. "The guy was booby-trapped. He exploded into a fireball that consumed my sickbay completely."
"Shit!" Nuress stared at Cord. "At least you managed to get out of that alive."
"Yeah, well, not everyone did," Cord cleared her throat and stared at the screen. "But subsequently, we were attacked by the Romulans. One of our civilians, Doctor Mandela, jettisoned the samples during the battle. We didnt want to risk an accidental outbreak aboard the Cooper. Id forgotten about it until I started to read on that thing you worked with on Obi Four."
"No wonder," Nuress shook her head.
"So we know that somehow or other they are related," Cord summed up.
"And that its very nasty." Nuress shuddered. "The one I was working on had a means of destroying the clotting factors right near the end of the cycle. Very nasty."
"No, it was spread through the water table."
"The one on Sarnac seemed to be airborne," Cord mused. "Like here."
"Still, from what Ive read about the Sarnac catalyst, it was a very unstable biochemical. Not even qualifiable as a sub-virus."
"Apparently," Cord leaned over Nuresss shoulder. "Since we couldnt ever find any trace of it while we were there, in the atmosphere or in the tissues."
"It took some real high-powered sensors to find the fragment in the samples brought back by the Cooper," Nuress nodded. "Id been working on that little monster when the report came from Obi. So I started from there. And I got lucky," she admitted. "But Ive precious little to work with here."
"Well, at least we know the bugger isnt real fond of space-to-ground disruptor volleys," Cord quipped.
"Neither were the infected hosts," Nuress responded. "And it makes this that much harder. This thing likes its hosts alive and well."
"I had a search running when I crashed," Cord mused. "To see if anything like this had been found before. Maybe find it in its natural form."
"Didnt find one of those," Nuress shook her head. "Didnt when I was on Obi either. Pity. It would have made making an antidote or cure that much easier."
"Well, if Im reading this right, the organism on Sarnac Three was in reality a catalytic agent."
"Right. A biochemical which on its own did nothing. Add to blood, andpoofno more hemoglobin. It literally broke down the hemoglobin." Nuress rubbed her eyes. "Where that little piece of stuff came from is anybodys guess. But apparently someone else found it, and used it to turn a simple Regulan blood burn into a very nasty plasma plague. It wasnt airborne, though," she went on. "Rather it was spread through the water table. Really nasty. Neither man nor beast was safe." Nuress shuddered, remembering the sight of dying and dead animals and Humans on the small planet. "Wait, heres something," Nuress let her eyes roam over the screen. "Apparently another piece has been found, and recently."
"Oh really? Where?" Cord looked over at the screen.
"In your lab."****
Sulu looked at the screen. The wolfpack had pulled back to their previous positions. Sulu didnt mind taking a shaky breath. It had been a near thing. Fortunately, Mallie had been on top of things, as usual.
"Sir," Peterson reported. "Looks to me like, well, that theyve gone back to, uh, harassing that freighter."
"Lets try this again," Sulu ordered. "And lets make sure they get the message this time."
The ship raced toward where the small vessel was desperately trying to avoid the volley of disruptors that were flashing from the Ktingas and smaller attack ships.
"See if we can cover it with our shields," Sulu ordered.
"First, we gotta get to it," Peterson remarked. "And those guys are doing their damnedest to make sure we dont get to it."
"We can see that," Rand all but growled at him.
"Yeah, but check it out, maam," Peterson looked at her. He was still remembering the reaming shed given him at the staff meeting a few days ago. "The reports we have say these guys hassled the freighters, but let them go after a bit. They aint letting this one go."
"Youre right," she admitted, her voice full of surprise. "It looks like they want to take this guy apart stembolt by stembolt."
"If it were made of stembolts," Sulu nodded.
"Its warp engines are off line," Tuvok reported from his station. "Impulse engines are damaged."
"Peterson, see what you can do to discourage them. But"
"I know, skipper," Peterson let his hands play over the board. "Dont destroy em. Can I bloody their noses a little?"
"By all means," Sulu nodded his assent.
He sat back in the command chair as the young tactical officer pressed the board in front of him. Peterson occasionally said a word to Lojur at the helm and the two, working as one, soon maneuvered around a battlecruiser, shooting a volley of torpedoes. One struck a nacelle. Injured, the Ktinga moved to cover the weakness, and the others moved to take on the new attacker. All but three ships.
"Slip down and then around," Peterson said as he sent another volley of phaser fire and torpedoes toward the majority of the ships. "We should be able to slip around and grab the freighter with our shields and tractor and get it and us out of here...if thats what the captain wants to do, that is..."
An explosion shook the ship as one of the Klingon disruptor beams struck the ships shield. Then the Excelsior slid around and careened around the battlecruisers. Everyone was grabbing railings or other crewmembers as the ship maneuvered at the fastest speeds available while in the star system. As they neared the vessel, an explosion caused the screen to blink, dim, then come back to life again as the starship rocked from the concussion of the detonation.
"What the?" Rand blinked. "Sir, Im not reading the freighter any more."
"Damn it!" Sulu swore angrily. "They destroyed it!"
"Negative," Brais voice came from behind him. "Sensors show the explosion was from the freighter."
"It self-destructed?" Sulu looked at the young Rigelian Kaylar in surprise.
"According to these readings, yes," Brai nodded.
"Any signs of an escape pod?"
"Sir," Behn reported, "the Klingons are answering our hails."
"A day late and a dollar short," Sulu snorted. "Put em on."
"Ah, Captain Sulu," Kang smiled into the screen.
"Ah, Admiral Kang," Sulu smiled toothily at him. "Seems to me, the positions are reversed from the last time we met."
"Youre right, they are," Kang nodded after a moment. "I apologize for the overzealousnessof my fleet."
"You were chasing a Federation vessel," Sulu said tightly.
"A vessel masquerading as a Federation vessel," Kang raised a finger. "I have it on good authority it was an Orion marauder attempting to smuggle contraband from the Romulan Empire to the Federation, using Klingon space to aid them. And since we are now, in effect allies, we felt it our duty to stop this blatant illegal act."
"Really?" Sulu smiled dubiously at the Klingon.
"Really," Kang returned a wolfish smile.
"Pity we have no way of substantiating that claim," Sulu sighed.
"Pity," Kang nodded. "Though, from what I understand, that is the way that the Orions behave, isnt it? Rather than be caught?"
"That is standard procedure for Orion pirates," Tuvok stated calmly.
"Youre right," Sulu sighed, feeling hed been bested, somehow. "On behalf of the Federation, we thank you for your diligence. But," he glared at the Klingon, "in the future, please notify us so that we can work together to stop the smuggling."
"Well take it under advisement," Kang smiled at the Human. "Kang out."
The view screen went blank.
"Rand," Sulu began.
"All the Klingon vessels are pulling back," she reported. "All their weapons are powering down."
"I want a sensor sweep of the area," Sulu said, standing from his chair. "See if there is anything left besides wreckage. And check to see if there was an emergency life pod launched. In spite of what the Klingons say."****
"My lab?" Cord stared at Nuress. "Youre kidding, right? I mean, theres been nothing new in my lab, except...."
"What?" Nuress demanded.
"Not a what, exactly," Cord frowned. "A who. Or rather what was left of a who."
"We picked up the remains of a Starfleet admiral," Cord stated, still frowning. "His ashes, anyway. I did a post mortem. Well, as much as I could. To be sure that the ashes were that of the admiral as the Yridian said."
"And you found?"
"Very little," Cord answered. "I mean, the body had been cremated at a temperature that pretty much destroyed the DNA of the person, let alone any hint at what killed him."
"Well, apparently some of what survived was a piece of my sub-virus," Nuress told her. "It must have been in the ash sample."
"Whoa!" Cord shook her head. "Well, at least that takes care of that mystery," she added.
"Oh, nothing." Cord dismissed the thought. "So we have a very weird trail of this thing traveling from Sarnac to Obi to somewhere to here. Thats not the pattern of a naturally occurring pathogen. Crosses too much space. Even if we assume it used a host as a vector. And it changed from airborne to water-based to airborne again."
"And I havent found any link between the three worlds," Nuress added.
"Dead end," Cord sighed. "So whats next?"
"Well, I need to get more samples from here," Nuress said. "I was trying to figure out how to do that and still be on hand when my support team showed up. And incidentally, why arent there more of you down here?"
"Not enough vaccine on the ship," Cord lied. "Figured out who would be the best one to come and give you a hand then drew straws."
"You got the short straw."
"Lucky me," Cord moved toward her suit. "So, what do you want? Sample wise, I mean."
"Look I should be the one"
"No, you look," Cord shook her head. "Im still way ahead of you on sleep. And besides, you know what youre looking for, sub-virally. I dont. Not yet. You can get things cooking here, and I can bring you what you need. Support. Remember?"
"But the Klingons sterilized this place, remember?" Nuress reminded her.
"Yeah, I do," Cord said. "But who says it was just in this area? Im taking the jeep out beyond the next province and do my sampling there."
"You sure the Klingons will let you?"
"If its there, they wont stop me," Cord answered. "And if its not, once I let them know whats at stake, I dont think theyll stop me either."****
The Albino snarled at the captain as he tried to make himself more comfortable in the pod. He was cramped, and he was in agony. A piece of shrapnel had caught him in his leg. His bad leg. Again. As well as other places.
"If you dont stop trying to help me," the captain finally growled at the mutant Klingon, "you are going to get us all killed. Now if that is your plan, Ill sit back and let you finish. If not, let me do what you pay me to do!"
"Very well," the Albino snapped. "But send a message to my operative on Korvat. Tell him to initiate phase two. Lets see how those three feel when their precious chancellor is dead."****
Kang stared at the screen. "So we dont know if the Albino is dead or alive?"
"No," Koloth shook his head.
"It was more prudent to withdraw than to demand that we search the area," Kor nodded.
"The reports I have state no life pod was detected," Curzon Dax put in. "But, I dont suppose that thats really conclusive, is it?"
"Not when it concerns the Albino," Kang shook his head. "Damn!"
"Its my fault. Im sorry," Dax shook his head. "I didnt realize that there was another starship close enough to interfere. If Id have known"
"And how would you have kept Starfleet from sending it without exposing yourself?" Kang asked. "You did well. We all did well. It just wasnt good enough."
"This time," Koloth tacked on. "Only this time."
"We have dealt our enemy a crippling blow. He will go to ground again," Kor stated. "And we will bide our time, and keep our eyes and our ears open."
"And one day," Kang added, "he will resurface, and we will go after him. Again. And again. And again. For as long as it takes."
"Until he is dead," Kor concluded. "Or we are."****
Cord stopped the jeep just outside the door of the building they were using. She was tired. Bone tired. More tired than she should have been. And hot. She was sweating. Profusely.
The suit, while state of the art, could only take care of so much body heat.
It also limited her movements. Getting those samples from the carcasses and corpses had been rather awkward. She hadnt felt so amateurish at getting body samples since her med school days. Which was a long time ago.
Groaning, she hefted the sample bag and made her way into the room. She was going to shed this suit and take a shower, if such a thing existed here. Even if she had to use the Klingon version.
"Susan!" Cord called out.
"Finally!" Nuress stood on the other side of the containment barrier. "I was beginning to wonder if youd make it back before nightfall."
"Found another province thats been hit," Cord shook her head. "Guess I was wrong thinking it was contained to just this province. Doesnt look like the Klingons know about it. Yet."
"Damn! Well have to let" Nuress stopped and stared in horror at Cord as she pulled the helmet off of her head. "Oh. My. God."
"At least theres no living... What?" Cord frowned in confusion, grabbing a table as she felt a wave of nausea and dizziness sweep over her.
"You-your face." Nuress face was ash white.
"Well, yours is ghastly right now," Cord tried to joke. "Damn, must have over extended myself." She blinked. "Can you give me a chair?"
"Ariel," Nuress said, moving a stool over toward her, "your face! Its covered with blood!"
"Wh-what?" Cord sank onto the stool.
Looking at her reflection in a nearby window, she noted that the liquid she had thought was her perspiration was in actuality her blood. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Bone weary no longer described how she felt. Bone weary would have felt good.
"Look at your suit," Nuress pointed at her leg. "Its got a hole in it."
"Are you sure?"
Cord tried to remember when she could have nicked her suit with the laser scalpel. There were many times. Too many times. Bodies didnt always fall in ways to make taking samples easy. And it was not easy to turn the bodies to get to the samples with spiny Klingon plants around.
"God, yes!" Nuress was near to tears now. "Im sure."
Cord tried to moisten her suddenly dry lips. "Okay. We can handle this."
"But youre showing the symptoms of the end stage!" Nuress protested.
"I was inoculated with your vaccine," Cord reminded her.
"The vaccine was for the Obi variant! I told you I wasnt sure if it would work against this one!"
"Still, its more than what the locals had," Cord felt herself fading. "Look, you have my med-kit on your side of the containment barrier. Get it. Get out my tricorder and scan me."
Nuress continued to stare at the blood-streaked face of Ariel Cord.
"Do it!" Cord snapped.
Nuress jumped, found the kit and pulled the tricorder out. With shaky hands, she scanned the doctor.
"You-youre bleeding internally," Nuress got out. "Massive bleeding. From every major organ. It-its a wonder-wonder youre still alive."
"Must be my lucky day," Cord smirked weakly. "We need to set up an isolation area for me. And youll have to wear a suit when you come close."
"I may have the title doctor, but Im not a physician," Nuress protested. "Im a plasma virologist!"
"Youll do fine," Cord smiled at her. "Um, a cot would be nice. Please?" She was barely able to focus on the smaller woman now.
"All right," Nuress gulped as she pushed the cot through the barrier, close to the woman. "And then Im calling Starfleet to get the Excelsior back here as soon as possible."
"Wait," Cord halted the woman. "Dont tell HikaruCaptain Suluwhat happened. Just tell him you have a live victim. When he asks to talk to me, tell him Im working to keep the victim stable and cant come to the screen."
It wasnt too much of a lie. She was the live victim, and she was praying her strange genes would do their damnedness to keep her from succumbing to the disease.
"But hell want to send down a team"
"No!" Cord cried. "No! You cant let him. Find a reason to keep everyone on the ship. Tell him," she felt herself trying to fade out again. "Tell him theres not enough room here for anyone else. Or-or, better yet, the vaccine that you developed doesnt work against this strain and we both refuse to expose anyone else. That-that will work. And then well go from there."
"Listen," Cord struggled back to wakefulness. "We can do this. We can beat this. Keep taking readings. And samples. Lots of samples," she added. "Lots and lots of samples. Promise me."
"Ariel, Im not a physician!" Nuress wiped a tear from her eye.
"Youll do fine," Cord grinned at her. "Just give me a minute to regroup," she added, falling onto the cot. "Then Ill get out of this suit, and well get to work on this little bugger. Whip it. Put it in its place...."****
Kor frowned as he activated his view screen. He was getting rather perturbed and that was a mild word for what he was feelingat being forced to jump when the alien yelled. Still the creature had given them good information. It wasnt his fault that the colonists had called for help or that the Excelsior responded so quickly.
"What is it, Curzon?"
"Hes still alive," Dax responded.
"I was afraid of that," Kor sighed. "The Albino has more lives than the proverbial targ."
"And like a targ, he always lands on his feet," Dax shook his head. "And strikes out with all claws."
Kor raised an eyebrow.
"The bastard has a biological weapon of some sort," Dax went on. "Dont know anything about it except its nasty."
"He plans on using it to kill your chancellor and anyone else in the vicinity."
"By the Lords of Kheloz!"
"Theres no way in hell I can get this information to Starfleet without jeopardizing my informant," Dax went on. "Youre going to have to act on it."
"Theres no way I can go to Korvat," Kor shook his head. "I also have information that the Albino might be here somewhere. Koloth and Kang are in areas where he was also purported to be."
"Were screwed," Dax grunted. "The bastards gonna murder your chancellor, Ambassador Sarek and Ambassador Trellan from Romulus and the others if we dont do something."
Kors eyes narrowed. "He has killed his last Klingon by this perverse means."
"And how you gonna stop him?" Dax demanded.
"Leave that to me," Kor grinned.
"Just remember to invite the rest of us if theres a certain party member around," Dax reminded him as he signed off. "We all have a little score to settle with him."
"I will, Trill," Kor said softly as he whirled around in his chair.****
Kor looked up as the younger Klingon strode in the room, proud and arrogant. All the things a Klingon was.
"Kmpec," he nodded, motioning the officer to a chair.
"You wanted to see me. Why?" Kmpec demanded.
Kor nodded. He was a perfect choice. That he was also a relative and therefore also interested in bringing the Albino down was a bonus.
"I have learned that the Albino is threatening the meeting on Korvat."
"He is there?"
"Unknown. The blackguard has managed to be in at least four places at the same time." Kor stood and turned to look out his window at the speeding stars. "Which means that I cannot go to Korvat. Nor can Koloth or Kang." Kor turned back to Kmpec. "I want you to go."
"And do what?"
"If nothing else, stop the cad from killing Azetbur," Kor snapped. "Whether we approve of her as chancellor or not, we cannot let him be the cause of her death."
"True," Kmpec nodded. "How will he attempt to kill her?"
"Unknown. But knowing the Albino, some way that is less than honorable."
"Then I will go and remove her from harms way."
"I have other intelligence that indicates the Albino was using a distant province on Korvat to test a biological weapon," Kor went on. "It was sterilized," he added, "as per our policies, but we have learned that the organism has spread beyond that province."
"Spread?" Kmpec raised an eyebrow. "Or seeded."
"It matters not," Kor shook his head. "All that matters is that Azetbur, and the ambassadors must be removed from Korvat before they are infected."
"Ill leave at once."
Kmpec rose and left the ready room. Kor watched the Klingon depart, nodding to himself. The Klingon would go far, he knew. He wondered just how far the Klingon would go.****
Sulu stared at Deneice Maliszewski, his expression totally unreadable. "Youre telling me that the engines malfunctioned during a Red Alert because of a program gaff?"
"Its the only reasonable explanation I have," Mallie shook her head. "I know how I had the engines programmed. And I know what I saw on the board when the engines didnt respond."
"And that was?"
"It was trying to run in transwarp," Mallie answered.
"I thought you told me you had that program purged from the system," Sulu said tightly. "That the only place it existed was on your BellComm terminal.
"I did," Mallie insisted. " And it is. It was. And then it wasnt."
"I told you, the only reasonable explanation I have is a program bug, which I have taken steps to make sure doesnt happen again."
"You said the only reasonable explanation," Sulu looked at her.
"Dont!" Mallie held up a hand. "Dont get me started. Were trying to solve one mystery for you; lets not get started on another one. Okay?"
Sulu looked at her blandly.
"All right, Mallie," Sulu sighed. "But," he added with a hit of a smile on his face, "only until we solve this mystery."
He stood and stared out the window as she left and Rand stepped in.
"We finished here?" he asked.
"We should be," Rand said, "but the local authorities want us to stick around a bit longer. To make sure that there are no more Klingon raids on their freighters."
"And I suppose Starfleet wants us to stay here."
"Yes sir," she nodded. "However," she added, "I managed to get them to agree that we can go back to Korvat tomorrow morning at 0800."
"Sorry," she shook her head.
"What about that freighter? Anything?"
"Weve examined the remains. It was an Orion marauder disguised as a standard Federation merchant vessel and using a Federation Friend or Foe transmitter. And it was carrying contraband: Romulan Ale, to be exact."
"Damn!" Sulu shook his head. "I could use some right about now, you know?"
"I know what you mean," Rand chuckled. "Still, you know wed have had to turn it all over to Starfleet Command as soon as we reached the base." She shrugged. "At least, whatever was still on the ship when we got there."
"You think theyd figure out where the rest of it went?" Sulu asked.
"Probably," Rand sighed. "And then theyd confiscate whatever we had secreted around the ship."
"Damn," Sulu repeated. He rubbed his eyes tiredly.
"Sir, may I suggest that you grab some shut eye?"
"Look, you staying awake twenty-four/seven is not going to make the time go any faster, sir," Rand interrupted him. "Probably make the time go slower. And once we get back to Korvat, it wont help Doctors Cord and Nuress if you are dead on your feet and acting like a blithering idiot from sleep deprivation."
"Dont mince words," Sulu chuckled. "Tell me what you really think."
"My intentions, exactly," Rand responded.
"All right, Janice," Sulu stifled a yawn. "Ill go to sleep. I promise. If you insist, well have Doctor Viger give me something to make sure Ill sleep for eight solid hours."
"Id suggest you take something to help you sleep," Rand said. "Because I dont think youll be able to get to sleep on your own until youre reunited with Ariel Cord."
"Youre probably right," he sighed. "Okay, call him and tell him what I want. But youd better stick around. Hes liable to talk a blue streak before he gives me the damned medicine."
"And this would be bad because...?" Rand raised an eyebrow. Shed been around the man enough when he got talking and knew she had to work to stay awake when he started to drone on and on.
"Well, knowing him, hed talk the entire time Im supposed to be sleeping. Granted it might bore me to sleep, but then hed wake me up to make sure I was listening to him. And then hed want to give me the medication."
"Youre right," Rand nodded. "Ill get Madison up here. She wont waste any time."
Kmpec ordered the Ktinga into orbit around the planet. Hed pushed the battlecruiser as fast as he could. It still seemed that he had been too slow.
"Scan the planet," he commanded.
"There have been a total of seven provinces sterilized," the officer reported.
"I see," he frowned. "What else?"
"There is a small Human party in the center of one of the sterilized provinces."
"Yes," the science officer nodded. "The Federation insisted on sending one of their science teams to study the plague."
"Foolhardy," he snorted. "But then, thats the definition of a Human."****
Cord felt her head lifted a cup pressed against her lips.
"Here, drink," she heard a voice encourage her. "You need the fluids."
"H-How long?" Cord croaked.
"Ten hours, give or take," Nuress answered. Her voice was muffled in the suit. Still there was a note of shaky relief in it.
"You took samples?" Cord asked.
"Samples. Readings. Anything and everything I could think of."
"Well, I thought I lost you there, once," Nuress bit her lip. "It was touch and go there for a while. Had me nearly freaking."
No doubt. Cord was glad that shed been unconscious as her body fought back against the plasma plague.
"Looks like your vaccine works against this bugger."
"No," Nuress shook her head. "The Klingons have had to sterilize more provinces. Several had my vaccine."
"Still, Ive found some antibodies in the latest samples from you that seem to be combating this strain."
"Good," Cord murmured tiredly. "Got anything stronger than water to drink?"
"Ariel, youve been at deaths door for nearly four hours!"
"All the more reason to have something with more kick to it than water," Cord groaned as she sat up slowly.
"Hand me that tricorder," Cord commanded, her voice getting stronger. "And something stronger than water. We need to correlate all the data, and then run tests with those antibodies you found in me. See if they really work against this bug. If they do, then we need to get it mass produced and sent to the meeting that Azetbur is hosting and the rest of the planet."
"You feel that much better?" Nuress stared at the pale woman in shock. Come to think of it, Nuress frowned, she didnt look quite as pale as she once did.
"Honey, Im alive. Thats definitely better than dead," Cord smiled. "I can handle anything else."
Nuress shook her head in exasperation. "Honestly...."
"Oh, and whats for breakfast?"****
Janice Rand looked over as Captain Sulu walked onto the bridge. Shed managed to grab some sleep after she was sure that he was sleeping soundly even if it was with medication, then had turned the conn over to Jared Behn, instructing him to call her, not the captain for any problems.
He looked rested, better. Not great yet. But then, she mused, he probably wouldnt start to look great until that blonde bimbo was back in his arms. Then she sighed silently. There was no accounting for a persons taste. Unfortunately. As long as the lady did her job and didnt hinder the captain in the performance of his duty she supposed she had no reason to be catty. It wasnt as if she wanted to crawl in his bed.
"We just left the star system," Rand reported as she stood from the center chair.
"Understood." Sulu took his teacup and sat down.
"How soon before we reach Korvat?"
"At best speed, about nine hours."
"Nine hours," Sulu sighed. "And nothing to do until we get there. Boring."
"I know," Rand sighed. "But after the excitement of the last few days, boring is nice. Boring is good."
"Well, in that case," Sulu stood up after signing some reports, "Im going to take a walk around the ship. Clear my head from that stuff that Madison pumped into me."
"Just dont get lost," Rand quipped.****
Cord looked at the readings that Nuress had taken during her ten-hour ordeal. And shuddered. She was grateful that she had been unconscious during the entire thing.
"It seems that this particular variant likes to force the entire bodys blood supply to try to clot up," Nuress said.
"Like DIC," Cord mused.
"I suppose," Nuress nodded, sitting up suddenly. "Which means," she added eagerly, "the best way to counter this is to inject subjects with something to inhibit the cascading effect. From the looks of things," she pointed to another screen, "thats what your body started to do on its own. But how...?"
Innocently, Cord shrugged. "Divine intervention?" she suggested.
"Ill take all the help I can get from whatever source," Nuress responded. "Okay, that means we have a way to stop this variant."
"We do. And," Nuress added eagerly as she began to code in commands, "not just from you."****
Sulu looked around the Engineering section. A mystery had occurred here. One that had Mallie upset.
"What are you doing here, Skipper?" Deneice Maliszewski met him at the door, a cup of coffee in her hand.
"Needed to clear my head," Sulu explained. "And I was intrigued by that mystery of yours."
"Hikaru, give it a rest," the engineer pleaded. "I really dont want to go into it."
"Mallie..." Sulu tried to wheedle.
"I mean it, Skipper," Maliszewski moved around the engine room, checking readings. "Look, I read mysteries when I was a kid. When I wasnt reading some engineering journal, that is. And that was fun. I mean, you could drive yourself crazy trying to second-guess the story. But if it got to be too much, too frustrating, you could turn to the last chapter and read the solution."
"Skipper," she stopped and stared at him. "There was no way that that program could be reactivated," the captain of engineering said. "None that makes sense, anyway. I had the program out of the system. I was the only one who had the access codes to put it back in the system. And I didnt."
"Just like Valtane shouldnt have been on the bridge at Khitomer," Sulu mused.
"Exactly," Maliszewski nodded. "Now you know why I said I didnt want to get into it."
"Sorry, Deneice," Sulu shook his head. "It has to be investigated."
"I know, I know," the engineer sighed.
"If you hadnt been there, hadnt known how to disengage the program..."
"I know!" she stormed. "And I have the investigation under way. I justId rather not have to think about it too hard." She shuddered. "You know?"
"Let me know when you have something," Sulu ordered her.
"Definitely," she answered. "Most definitely. Now, will you get out of here and let us get some work done?"
"All right," Sulu sighed.
He wasnt going to get anything more here.****
Deneice Maliszewski walked toward her office. She had hoped that Sulu wouldnt have followed up on the problem with the engines. She should have known better. He could be like a rat terrier when he wanted to be. And when it came to his ship, hed want to be.
She sighed again. It had been a crazy few days. She hoped the craziness was behind them.
"Hey, Kras!" she called when she saw Krasnyk sneaking around Engineering. Except for the Red Alert, hed been avoiding her. "Whats up?"
"Uh, nothing, Chief," he shrugged, stopping and hunching his shoulders.
"Kras...." She glared at him. Then she sighed, "I know youre in trouble because you were in the simulator when you didnt have authorization, but I also know that Captain Sulu isnt going to punish you severely."
"Still," Kras pulled his head between his shoulders, "I wasnt doing anything wrong. I just wanted to fix the transwarp engines."
"I know, Kras. So does the Skipper. Thats why you wont be severely reprimanded. But you werent supposed to be there, you know."
"Yeah, I know," Kras all but sniffed. "But I wanted to fix the problem. As a present to you."
"Thats sweet, Kras," Maliszewski grinned. "But from now on, you want to use a simulator, you clear it with me."
"Well, in that case," Kras looked at her contritely, "could you okay some time for me later today?"
"Consider it done. Ill log it as soon as I get to my office. In the meantime," she looked at him, "I think theres a warp core that needs your attention."
"Gotcha," Kras grinned as he moved over to his station.
The captain of engineering shook her head and made her way into her office where she had a backlog of paperwork. The bad part about being a department head was that there was always a lot of paperwork to try and bog one down. Well, the paperwork would wait until she logged simulator time for Kras. She didnt want him to get into any more trouble.
The bellowing scream that erupted from her office brought the entire engineering crew at a run. The second bellow had Lieutenant Brai and a security squad forcing their way through the group into her office. Deneice Maliszewski was standing outside her office, her hands fisted, and her jaw clenched.
"My terminal is destroyed!" she raged. "The drives are gone, the memory wiped."
"What?" Brai let his expression show surprise.
"Whod want to do that?" Fahd asked.
"God, I dont know!" Deneice looked like she wanted to destroy something.
"Seal the room," Brai ordered. "Then check it top to bottom. Use a microscanner if you have to. I want to know everyone who was in that room in the last twenty-four hours."
"Damn!" Maliszewski swore. "Its all gone."
"Oh, the network stuff is safe," she laughed harshly. "But my research was on a separate drive. Its not a part of the network. Those drives are totally destroyed."
"But there should be backups," Fahd stated.
She held up some disfigured chips. "Yeah, there were," she said. "Not any more."****
Susan Nuress nearly jumped a foot when the communicator chirped. Ariel Cord looked at the virologist.
"We expecting any calls?"
"No," Nuress shook her head. "Maybe Excelsior is back?"
"Maybe," Cord nodded. "This is the landing party," she announced into the communicator.
"Landing party, this is Kmpec of the Death Grip. We have learned of your work on the planet."
Cord stared warily at the communicator. "We have permission..." she began.
"I am aware of that!" Kmpec growled. "What have you found?"
"You mean besides that its spread from this province?"
"A total of ten provinces have been struck. All in a westerly direction."
"The same way of the prevailing wind pattern," Nuress guessed.
"Yes." Kmpec snapped.
"And I take it, the meeting is west of us," Cord guessed.
"Correct," the Klingon growled.
"Look, we think we have a means to stop the disease," Cord stated. "But the only way well know is if you stop sterilizing every province that shows the signs of the disease."
There was a pause, then Kmpec barked, "Be prepared to be transported aboard with your cure."****
Sarek stared at the young Klingon woman. She was stubborn, brash, and scared. That he could tell. But then, who wouldnt be scared? Her empire was on the verge of collapse. To bring it back would mean some changes in their life styles. Not a pleasant thing to anticipate. Especially when one had to go to those once considered enemies to make those changes.
He frowned when he saw a young Klingon male enter the meeting chamber with a tray of drinks. No one had ordered drinks.
"To cool your throat, sir," the aide smiled at him as he put a large goblet in front of him, then in front of the Romulan ambassador, then the other diplomats. He turned to Azetbur last, placing a goblet in front of her. "Lady."
"I dont need anything to cool my throat," she growled. "I need something to make these imbeciles understand we are not beggars!"
"Chancellor," Sarek looked at her, "we do not think you a beggar seeking a handout. Rather, we are concerned that what you ask of us will do more harm than good."
"Do you think we are fools then, Sarek of Vulcan?" she snarled at him.
"No," he shook his head. Stubborn, opinionated, refusing to see a larger picture, but not foolish. "I think you desire the best for your Empire. However, sometimes it takes someone from the outside to see that what one hopes is for the best is not."
"And what would you have us do, Sarek?" She stood and swallowed the contents of the goblet in one gulp. "Join your Federation?" She paced around the room.
"Madam, I will not deny that the unification of your Empire with the Federation would be beneficial to both our peoples," Sarek answered. "However"
He was cut off as the Romulan ambassador gasped and stared at Azetbur. Sarek let an eyebrow raise in surprise.
"What?" Azetbur frowned angrily at the two ambassadors.
"Lady, you seemed to have injured yourself"
"I have done no such thing!
"The blood leaking from your nose says otherwise," Trellan snorted.
The door was kicked open just them.
"How dare you!" the Romulan started to snarl. A hand snaked to her hip.
"Stay your hand, Romulan!" Kmpec raised his weapon. "Chancellor," he turned to Azetbur, eyeing the chancellor an appreciative look, "I have intelligence that indicates your life, and the life of these are in danger!"
"We are well, as you can see," she snarled at him.
He was tall, young, good-looking and assertive to the point of aggressiveness. Everything a Klingon woman seeks in a mate.
"Nay, Lady," he shook his head. "You bear the signs of the plasma plague that has ravaged ten provinces of Korvat."
"You had us come to a plague planet?" Trellan raged at the chancellor.
"There was an outbreak in one province which was halted by sterilization." Susan Nuress stated from the doorway. "The sterilization worked."
"Then how did the other nine provinces get the disease if the sterilization worked?"
"Try it was deliberately spread," Ariel Cord said. "The organism is not natural. Its been engineered."
"Engineered?" Trellan raised both her eyebrows.
"Engineered," Cord walked around to Ambassador Trellan. Doctor Nuress walked toward Ambassador Sarek. Kmpec strode over to Azetbur. "But, Doctor Nuress has worked with an organism similar to this one and created a vaccine and now a treatment to stop the disease." She lifted her hypospray and gave the ambassador a dose. The other two repeated her actions. She and Nuress continued to inoculate the other delegates. "Weve spent the last two hours getting the medication mass produced and getting it to the population. You here were the last on the planet."
"I see," Azetbur stared at the warrior with the hypospray still in his hand.
"You are sure this will work?" Kmpec growled at the two women.
"It should." Cord walked over to Azetbur, concern on her face at the continued trickle of blood from the chancellors nose. The tricorder swept over the woman. "We mixed both treatments together." She shook her head. "This variant is different from the other two," she told Nuress.
"Oh, hell," Nuresss eyes rolled in exasperation.
"But its slowed down the internal bleeding," she reported. "A little more of the inhibitant should do the trick." Cord looked at Azetbur. "Madam Chancellor, I know this meeting is of utmost importance to your people, but could I convince you to take a break, so that we can treat you?"
"Lady," Kmpec interrupted her. "It might be for the best. To let the others recover."
"Very well," she nodded. "Please have the aides show our guests to the guest rooms," she looked at aides.
Strange, one seemed missing....
"A problem, Lady?" Kmpec narrowed his eyes, studying her.
"The aide who served the drinks," she frowned, finding herself leaning against him to keep upright. Nice body. Very nice. If only they werent working... "Hes not here."
"The drinks?" Kmpec continued to study her.
"Yes, he just brought them in..."
"Who else took a drink?" Cord looked around the room.
"No one," Trellan answered. "I find Klingon refreshments lack any real taste."
"Bah!" Azetbur snarled at the Romulan. "You just have not refined your tastes to a true warriors treat."
"Enough!" Kmpec roared, finding himself holding the chancellor close to keep her upright. And liking it.
Cord whipped her tricorder around and scanned the drink. "Damn!" she gasped. "Theres something in the drink." She whipped around and scanned the Romulan over her protests. "And an inert form of the organism in your system."
"You poisoned us!"
The Romulan pushed the Human out of her way and charged at the Klingon. Kmpec thrust the weakened chancellor toward his aide and moved to take the brunt of the Romulans attack, grabbing her and flinging her back toward the table.
"Enough I said!" he roared again. "In case it has slipped your attention, she is also poisoned! And," he snarled in her face, "the only one to be suffering the affects!"
Nuress had joined the doctor, looking at the readings on the tricorder. "Its okay," she broke into the heated discussion. "Its okay. The treatment will work on this variant. And as long as no one takes a drink, everyones gonna be okay."
"Not for long!" the aide returned, a disruptor in his hand. Turning to Azetbur he snarled. "What does it take to kill you, be?"
"Something better than you!" Kmpec bellowed as he charged the young Klingon.
Surprise was on his side as he batted the disruptor from the aides hand with one fist, and let the other fist bury itself in his face.
Pressing his advantage, Kmpec raced over to where the Klingon was crumpled against the wall and pulled him to his feet, then shook him the way a rat terrier shakes a rat before throwing him against the opposite wall. Striding purposefully over to the fallen Klingon, he pulled the semi-conscious warrior to his feet.
"Speak!" Kmpec thundered. "Where is the beast that ordered this?"
"Where you and your ilk will never find him!" the Klingon spat back.
"Well see!" Kmpec grinned wickedly at the Klingon. "Well see. Take him to my ship for interrogation," he ordered one of his soldiers.
Kmpec turned to look at Azetbur, now sitting in a chair, looking a bit ashen for a Klingon. "Chancellor?"
"Shell be all right," Cord assured the still-agitated Klingon. "Its just the blood loss. Once she gets her count back up, shell be good as new. Until then, she should rest..."
"Escort the chancellor to her quarters." Kmpec ordered another soldier. "Be sure there is an armed guard at her door. No one enters without proper authority." He looked over his shoulder at the delegates. "And, the same for them. Ill not have the Albino take out our guests while I am on guard."****
"The landing party isnt there," Ensign Dashner reported. "Im sorry, sir," he added. "There is nothing alive there."
Sulu stared at the viewscreen, trying to hide the shocked fear from his crew. It was not right to show weakness to his crew. His vulnerability.
Hed known that something was wrong as soon as they had entered the star system. Hed been hailing the landing party almost non-stop since theyd come into range. Thered been no answer. This had forced him to order the ship to the planet at the fastest, safest speed possible.
"What about surrounding areas?" he asked, forcing his voice to remain calm, neutral, commanding.
"Sir," Ensign Behn looked over at the captain, "we have an incoming hail from the orbiting Ktinga. Commander Kmpec of the Death Grip."
"Put him on," Sulu nodded woodenly.
"Captain Sulu," Kmpecs face filled the viewscreen. "Im glad you could finally return to Korvat. I believe the summit meeting was forced to terminate prematurely. Some here need you to transport them back to Federation space. At once."
"I see," Sulus eyes narrowed as he gazed at the Klingon. "However, I have a landing party in the Khumdo province that is missing..."
"Not missing," Kmpec laughed.
"No, theyve been my guests!" Kmpec continued to laugh. "And very proper, Human guests too. Much to the disappointment of a large number of my crew. Your Doctor Cord especially."
"Theyre both okay?"
"I said they were my guests!" Kmpecs grin faded as a snarl started to take control of his face. "Whether Klingon or Human..."
"I understand and meant no offense, sir," Sulu held up a placating hand. "I just had feared theyd succumbed to the plague, Commander."
"Ah, of course," Kmpec nodded, remembering how hed felt when hed seen Azetbur in the throes of the disease. "Forgive my hasty conclusion. They are also eager to transport to your vessel."
"Yes, at once!" Sulu nodded. "Uh, just give us a moment to set up the containment...."
"Wont need it, Captain," Cord said, her voice coming from along side Kmpec. "Weve got the disease under control. No need for special procedures."
"Youre sure?" he looked her closely.
"Weve been on the Death Grip for almost six hours, and thereve been no cases," Cord reported. "And the plague on the planet is under control. We whipped its ass...sir."
"I see," he exhaled slowly. "Well, then, whenever youre ready to return..."
"Now," she smiled at him. "Right now. Not," she turned to Kmpec, "that Im tired of your company, understand, but I would like to get back to my ship and my duties."
"Of course," he laughed knowingly. "Duties."****
Ariel Cord sighed happily as Sulus lips nibbled her neck. The summit was a bust, but there had been some progress made, according to Sarek. Not as much as he had hoped, but some. And some was better than none.
"So, what was the ruckus about at Delta Sagittarii?" she murmured.
"Weve been separated two days, and you want to talk shop?" he raised himself on one elbow to look into her eyes.
"Even the Sex Goddess of the Universe wants to hear about mundane things while shes resting up for round two."
"Since when does the Sex Goddess need to rest up?"
"Since her mate has been deprived for two days and has proven it in round one," she ran her hand down his chest. "So, what happened?"
"Well, we kicked a little Klingon butt, they kicked back," he shrugged. "You know, the usual."
"Now why," she let her finger run lightly down his arm to his thigh, "do I not believe you?"
"Havent a clue," Sulu answered innocently nuzzling her ear. "So how did you spend your time while I was playing with the Klingons?"
"Oh," she moved a leg so that it cover his, letting her body get closer to his, "boring really. You know, find the bug, identify the bug, kill the bug."
"It seems you managed to do just that," Sulus hand gently caressed her arm before pulling her even closer. "Were you careful?"
"Of course I was careful," she lied as she began to kiss his face. "I am always careful."
"So why," Sulu asked between his own kisses on her face, "dont I believe you?"
"I dont know, Karu," she rolled on top of him. "I really dont know. Do I look like a liar?"
Sulus hands roamed over her body, relishing the warmth, the aliveness of her. He had a feeling that there was something she wasnt telling him, would never tell him, would never put in her report.
But right now, that didnt seem to matter much.****
"I am fine, you old man!" Azetbur roared at the doctor.
"You still need to regain your strength! To recuperate!" the older Klingon roared back. "Otherwise we will be seeking a new chancellor!"
"Bah!" she threw an empty goblet at him.
He dodged it skillfully. Having been her doctor since she had been an infant had taught him to read her body language very well.
"Have that commander..." she looked to her adjunct for a prompt.
"Kmpec, Lady," he supplied.
"Yes," she smiled. "Have Kmpec report here. I would know what he learned from the assassin."
"I said you need to regain your strength and recuperate!"
"I can rest and regain my strength and still listen to a report," she argued. "Summon him!"
"You wished to see me, Lady?" Kmpec strode in confidently.
"Yes," she practically purred. She turned to the doctor and the adjunct. "Leave us."
She merely glared at them. They left.
"So, Lady, you wish a report?" He moved so he was standing by her bed.
"Yes." She looked up at him, smiling. He looked even better than he had that afternoon.
"He is stubborn," Kmpec shook his head.
"Still not talking?" she asked, moving so that there was room on the bed for him to sit.
He looked at the space, then at the chancellor. He wasnt seeing the chancellor right now. Just a very desirable female.
"No, Lady," he shook his head, remaining standing.
"Sit," Azetbur invited him.
"Sit," she commanded. "It is a pain to have to look up to you from here."
"Then perhaps you should get out of bed."
"Perhaps. But that old man would be most upset if he were to suddenly come in and find me not recuperating."
He sat down, watching her reaction. So far, so good.
"I dont think," he removed his battle armor, moving closer, pleased that she was not throwing things at him, "that this is what your doctor meant by recuperation."
"Let him recuperate his way," she smiled as he settled next to her. "And Ill recuperate in my way."
The Albino sat in his office watching as his guests arrived, his face a mask of undisguised hate. He was still being hunted. He had escaped from the three only by sheer luck. Again.
Admiral Nunosan and Dah!Qa!~on were escorted into the office.
"No refreshments this time?" the Romulan queried.
"After we finish our business," the Albino answered. "I think you both want a clear head during our negotiations."
"Grnnk iiidd thptttt?" Dah!Qa!~on asked.
"Yes, this is all that will be coming," Albino nodded.
"Brrnngggii thiiiippttt. Ksssstttii."
"They werent interested in purchasing the plague sub-virus from me," he shook his head. "So," he leaned back in the large chair, grateful that it was comfortable, "I had them killed."
"Ah, no witnesses," Nunosan nodded. "A wise act."
"Well, said," Albino laughed. "Well said."
"The Federation did find a treatment," Nunosan reminded them.
"True, they did," the Albino agreed. "This time."
The Albinos head fell back as he roared in laughter. The first true laugh hed enjoyed in a very long time. "Well said again, Breen! You truly have a way with words."****
Sulu stared at the report in his hand, finding it more and more intriguing. He looked over at his chief engineer.
"And this is all they were able to find?"
"Thats it, Skipper," she sighed. "The only person who was in my office from the time I closed it the night before when everything was peachy keen to the time I opened it and found a mess was me."
"This is impossible," Sulu shook his head.
"So is having Valtane on the bridge after hes dead," Deneice said. "Maybe Lojur is right. We have a ghost on board."
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