"Good morning, Admiral. Live long and prosper."
"Peace and long life to you as well, Captain. Your services, and those of your ship, have been requested in transporting an individual from Walven to an outpost near the Klingon border, Denkhoren Four. I have communicated with Fleet Captain Chekov, who has agreed to your performing the mission, if you are willing."
"We will be more than happy to ferry the individual, Admiral. It seems rather unusual that we would be pulled that far from our sector of service."
The Vulcan nodded. "Superficially, it does seem illogical, Captain. It is, however, my observation that in dealing with Humans, some degree of illogic is not unusual. Furthermore, in Starfleet, the superficial appearance may not reflect the reality below. Perhaps the logic will be clearer when you have received your encrypted orders."
Hearing that the orders were to arrive encrypted piqued Uhuras interest, but out of respect for the Vulcan officer, she controlled her surprise. "I see. I trust that the orders will be forthcoming shortly?"
"Naturally. May I speak with your chief communications officer directly, Captain?"
Uhura was somewhat puzzled, which showed on her face despite her efforts. "Of course, Admiral." She turned to face TSoral and nodded.
The Vulcan moved to where she was visible. "Peace and long life, elder brother."
"Peace and long life to you, also, younger sister. I call to your memory our fathers most memorable assistant."
"I remember many, Sevral. Only one seems most notable; it was almost as if they shared one mind."
The admiral nodded. "Indeed so, my sister, even though he was distressingly emotional. No doubt you recall what we did to outwit our father planning the celebration for his hundredth birthday."
"Clearly. And though that assistant was distressingly emotional, I recall him as being comparatively well controlled, by his own standards. Do we recall the same person?"
"It would appear so. It is good to see you on the bridge of a starship, TSoral." The admiral shifted to face Uhura again. "I will transmit the orders as soon as we have disconnected, Captain."
"Very well, Admiral. Is there anything else?" Uhuras confusion remained obvious, aggravated rather than relieved by the interaction between the two Vulcans.
"Only one thing, Captain. I thank you for taking TSoral on as your chief communications officer. I trust she is performing well?"
"As good as, if not better than, the chief communications officer on Kirks Enterprise, Admiral."
"Coming from you, Captain, that suggests that TSoral has been more than satisfactory. Admiral Sevral out." The mainviewer went back to the starscape.
The captain turned to her chief communications officer. "TSoral, what was that all about?"
There was a brief pause before TSoral looked up from the communications console. "The admiral was using our shared background to communicate an arbitrarily chosen seed for the encryption randomization. We used a similar trick to choose an encryption seed to communicate between each other as we planned a celebration for our fathers hundredth birthday." She looked at her console, then back at Uhura. "Although there remain several possibilities as to the seed, the listing is finite, and comparatively short." TSoral bent over her console for a little longer. "The orders are unencrypted, Captain."
"Ill have to remember the trick, TSoral; its a good one. On the main screen with it."
The Vulcan complied. An instant later, Sevrals face was back on the screen. "You will pardon the apparent illogic of my discussion with TSoral. It seemed to be the best way of broadcasting the key for the encryption algorithm. You will have deduced, of course, that the selection of your vessel was made so that we could use our shared experience to safely communicate it." The admiral paused briefly, then continued. "You will proceed to Walven, to pick up one Doctor John Roberts, a specialist in mythopoetic literature whom you will transport to Denkhoren Four. On the official record, Denkhoren Four is a simple colony. In actuality, although there is a colony there, it is primarily a listening station, spying on Klingon subspace transmissions. There has been an outbreak of an infectious disease that our Starfleet Medical team suspects may be the Klingons testing out a new biological weapon. As you transport Doctor Roberts to Denkhoren Four, you will pass by a particular star system, designated in the text portion of the orders. There is a stable colony on the third planet of the system. You will pick up an individual from the planets moon, delivering both Doctor Roberts and the individual to the observation station at Denkhoren. I trust that your growing reputation for creative solutions to challenging problems will find a way to make the side stop credible. Once the mission is completed, you will be free to return to your usual duties." Sevrals face disappeared again.
"Well, at least this makes some degree of sense; picking up Doctor Roberts is apparently just a smoke screen." Uhura turned to the communications console. "Whats the colony were to visit on the way from Walven to Denkhoren?"
"Tropal Three, Captain."
Drevan looked up from his station. "No wonder were doing a smoke screen, then. The research station on Tropal Threes moon is probably the biggest secret in the Federation."
"Is it, now?" Uhura faced her chief science officer. "Until you made that remark, I didnt know that there was a secret there. I think I need a little more information before we head there."
The Andorian scratched his head, between his two antennae. "Under the circumstances, I suppose its safe enough. The airless moon of Tropal Three has become the research site that stores cultures of every known biological weapon developed. Some of the microbes, especially the ones left over from the Eugenics War, are so dangerous that they are only handled with tractors. If the Brass is concerned about a possible bioweapon being deployed on Denkhoren Four, were probably going to pick up one of the researchers."
"I was under the impression that the United Federation of Planets did not use biological weapons, Drevan."
"We dont, Captain, at least as far as I know. The efforts on Tropal Three are focused more on finding improved means to detect and disable bioweapons, and to anticipate possible new ones." Drevans head shook sadly. "We may not use that sort of thing, but theres nothing that says others cant or wont. It boils down to doing our best to imagine every possible assault, and finding a way of handling it. You wouldnt believe some of the things out there."
One of Uhuras eyebrows lifted slightly. "After some of the things I saw when I was on the Enterprise with Captain Kirk, Im not sure that theres much I wouldnt believe." She turned to face the helm. "Marsden, take us to Walven."
Uhura, Drevan and Indri stood in the transporter room, waiting for the signal from the surface that Doctor Roberts was ready to transport aboard the Hyperion. The captain looked at the wall chronometer. It wasnt that they were on a tight time schedule, but she was beginning to be concerned; they had been waiting for an unusual length of time.
A light appeared on the transporter console. "Ready to transport, Captain. Finally. On your order."
"Beam him up, Indri."
An instant later, a man and shabby valise appeared on the transporter. As shabby as the valise appeared, the man seemed even shabbier. The tweed coat that he wore over the light, checkered vest had obviously seen too many years of use; the elbows had apparently worn through, and been repaired by being covered with leather ovals. The man himself was of only slightly more than medium height, or would have been if he had stood upright; as it was, his shoulders were slightly stooped, and his head slightly jutted forward, giving him the appearance of being somewhat nearsighted. On the whole, he looked like a cross between someones grandfather and an unmade bed. He had barely materialized when he started walking off the transporter platform, valise in hand. "Ah, I would suppose, madam, that you would be Captain Uhura. If I recall correctly, your ancestry is Bantu, is it not?"
Startled, Uhura replied without thought. "Yes, it is."
He nodded, happily, turning to Drevan. "You, of course, are the Andorian, Drevan. You, at the transporter control, would you be Indri?"
"I am, and before you ask, I may be from India, but I have no idea of my parentage."
"Of course, of course." He turned to face Uhura again. "Kind lady, may I be so bold as to ask whether that Zulu fellow, Doctor MBenga is still on your ship? And the half-Cherokee physician, Eletto, is he part of your crew, as I had heard?"
"Well, Doctor MBenga is half-Zulu, half-Masai, but otherwise, youre on the button," Uhura responded. "Id be most curious to know why all this matters to you, Doctor Roberts."
Rather than answering immediately, the professor patted his pockets, finally producing a bulging, white, paper sack from one. Opening it, he selected a brightly colored disk from it, popping it into his mouth. He extended the bag to Uhura, who noticed it was filled with more disks. "Would you care for a fruit jelly, madam? They are quite excellent. The culinary department at the Royal University in Kings Town prepares them for me. But you really dont want to try the green ones streaked with tan; theyre flavored with birkeen. Rather strong for Humans, but as I reviewed your crews roster, I noticed you had a Vulcan communications officer, and I thought that she might like them. No sucrose in any of them, of course; dont want the woman getting tipsy, you know."
Despite the difference in appearance, the man began to remind Uhura of her garrulous grandfather. She selected a deep red one. "Thank you, Doctor." She bit into it. "Cherry! And delicious, too. But you havent answered my question, Doctor. Why have you gone to so much trouble looking up the ethnic backgrounds of my crew?"
Roberts extended the sack full of jellies to Drevan and Indri as he spoke. "Oh, I thought that Id do a little research in my area of specialty while you were transporting me. Given our destination, Denkhoren Four, I deduce that Im little more than an excuse to pass somewhere else, pick up someone or something else, and make a secret delivery." He shook his head. "I mean, sending a high-power research ship like the Hyperion to pick up a professor and transport him to the middle of nowhere is patently sillyunless, of course, youre covering up something else."
"Well, thats a real interesting deduction, Doc," Drevan returned. "Whether or not its accurate, well leave to you to guess. The captains question remains only partially answered, and the curiosity is killing me. What on Earth is Mythopoetic Literature, and how do you plan to use us to research it? Were mostly scientists and engineers and such."
Selecting another jelly, Roberts looked Drevan in the mid forehead. "Oh, my deduction is accurate enough; I have folk on Denkhoren Four that I contact regularly. Theyve had a bit of an epidemic there, and I suspect youll be picking up someone to investigate it." The college don nodded to himself, as if approving of his own deduction. "However, if nothing else does, your evasive pseudo-answer proves the point. If you havent picked up whomever or whatever it is, might I suggest staging an engine problem? This is supposedly an experimental vessel brought up to fleet standards; it will be an eminently believable excuse to go wherever you must." Carefully, he bit into the jelly, clearly enjoying it. "As for my researches, well, thats simple I should dearly love to spend an hour or two with you, and several others on the ship, having you relate to me the bedtime stories your parents and grandparents told youor, for you, Indri, your caretakers at the foundling home. My area of specialization is in using the myths and bedtime stories and such things to deduce as much as possible about the morphology of a culture. Very interesting; surprisingly informative, if you understand the basics." Offering the bag of confections to the others in the room again, but getting no takers, he slipped the bag back into a pocket. "Of course, thats why theyre using me as a smoke screen; my doctoral thesis was on the bedtime stories Klingons tell their children. Spent several years on QonoS, as an aide in the Federation Embassy there, studying the subject. Most enlightening. Its why Im so much in contact with the folk on Denkhoren Four, you know: helping understand some of what they hear. May I assume one of you kind souls is willing to conduct me to my quarters?"
"Im just finishing my shift, Doctor," Uhura replied. "Ill escort you there."
The professor picked up his valise again. "Delightful. And once I have shed this valise, perhaps you can spare me an hour or two to tell me bedtime stories that your parents told you? Particularly those you believe are uniquely Bantu, of course, but even the universal ones as told with a Bantu flair will do nicely."
"Im no story teller, Doctor Roberts. For that, you might want Running Bear, from Engineering." Uhura led the way to the turbolift. "If I recall correctly, hes descended from some American Indian tribe or other."
"The Illiniwek people, Captain." The turbolift door opened; Roberts gestured for Uhura to precede him. "I hope to spend several hours with him, hearing the stories from one whose ancestors owned them. Its so fascinating." The professor followed the captain into the turbolift. "For instance, do you know that every sexually dimorphic species that has an institution similar to marriage has a story similar, if not identical, to the Human story of the Beauty and the Beast? Even the Klingons and Vulcans. Its true; the story teaches a great deal about "
The turbolift door closed, cutting off the rest of the conversation. Drevan looked at Indri. "Man, Im telling you, that walking word-storm is a real prize. Talk about a living, breathing, Human stereotype, hes one. That man could out-talk an echo. I wonder if he ever talks about anything other than bedtime stories."
The engineer winked at the Andorian. "Youd know he does, if you were paying attention. He made it perfectly clear that he knew he was a smokescreen, and told us how to keep our smokescreen as dense as possible. Im going to need to talk to Marsden to see when I need to blow a board on the warp drive. That diffuse, grandfatherly persona hides one dangerously sharp thinker, Drevan. Bank on it!"
Professor Roberts followed Uhura into the turbolift. "For instance, do you know that every sexually dimorphic species that has an institution similar to marriage has a story similar, if not identical, to the Human story of the Beauty and the Beast? Even the Klingons and Vulcans. Its true; the story teaches a great deal about a number of things, for instance that too many women only learn about how wonderful their husbands are only after theyre dead, and "
"Klingons have a legend similar to Beauty and the Beast?" Uhura interrupted. "Youre kidding, arent you?"
"Not at all, Captain, not at all. Most versions are called Thakras Husband although other Klingon names are used in the title, too. A very pretty story, considering its source." The turbolift door slid open; Uhura ushered the college don out into the corridor. "If you are interested, I could tell you the bare bones of it, perhaps over a cup of tea. Once, that is, we have me safely ensconced in my quarters." Under the captains guidance, Roberts stepped before a door, which slid aside. Unceremoniously, he tossed his valise into the cabin and stepped back, allowing the door to slide shut. In full courtly manner, he bowed slightly and offered Uhura his arm. "If your hospitality would extend to leading me to your ships equivalent of a sidewalk café?"
"Only if you promise to tell me that Klingon story, whats-her-names husband, as we go." Uhura obligingly took his arm and allowed him to pretend to lead her to the turbolift. "But youd best not let Doctor MBenga catch us like this."
Amusement washed across the mans face. "I am far too careful for such a mistake such as that, dear lady, and I suspect old enough that even MBenga would consider me fairly harmless on that score. Now, as to Thakra and her husband." They stepped onto the turbolift. "The plot is simple, of course. Thakra is a Klingon female, eldest daughter of a great Klingon family, and a mighty warrior. The patriarch of another great Klingon family, a being old enough to be her father and well known for being a remarkable lowlife, decides he wants Thakra for his harem. Unwilling to play second fiddle to a gaggle of other wives, and well aware that this being will keep her coddled rather than let her go out and do battle, she convinces her father to let her marry some great warrior about her age. In most of the legends, she is married to a fellow named Bohrghass. It doesnt take poor Thakra long to decide this Bohrghass is a total loser. When they are side by side in battle, she invariably finds him behind her. Worse yet, Bohrghass simply wont leave her alonehes always within reach of her. If you know anything about Klingons, and Im sure you do, you can understand that she rapidly decides the fellow is an utter coward, and despises him."
"Im not Klingon, and having a husband do that would make me want to throttle him," Uhura interrupted.
"Precisely, and Thakra liked it no better than you would. Relations grow tenser and tenser between them, until ultimately there is a great argument between them, and she bids Bohrghass leave her, calling him every Klingon name for coward she can find. He refuses, telling her that if she wishes rid of him, she must do the leavingwhich, in a huff of fury, she does. Alas, she is hardly out of his sight when she is set upon by three big, burly Klingon males, whose livery declare them as being in the service of the Klingon that wanted her for his harem." The turbolift door slid open. Roberts bowed slightly, gesturing for the Bantu to take the lead. "Thakra fights valiantly, of course, but is almost taken when Bohrghass comes exploding out of nowhere, bellowing defiance, taking the three of them on and literally shredding them, receiving mortal wounds in the process. All too late, Thakra realizes that Bohrghass has been driving off her potential abductors for years, protecting her from a danger she didnt see. As he dies in her arms, she vows vengeance. In most versions of the story, they have one childKahless the Magnificent."
Uhura led the way to the forward cafeteria. She motioned Roberts to a chair, returning with a handful of teabags, two cups and a pot of steaming hot water. She set them before the professor, taking a chair on the other side of the table. "That hardly sounds like the Beauty and the Beast I know."
Roberts selected a teabag, pouring himself a cup and, after Uhura had selected a bag, poured her a cupful. He steeped the bag, seemingly concentrating on it carefully, before he responded. "Oh, the superficial details differ, but the basics are still the same, you know: the female is attached to what she believes to be an unacceptable male, and feels most put upon over it. Finally, the male dies, and she realizes that he had actually been magnificentbut she had been too blind to see it."
"I cant believe thats all there is to it," Uhura responded. "Its just to tell women that their husbands arent as bad as they look?"
"Hardly, my dear." He sipped his tea. "An excellent blend of tea, madam. The story speaks to the men, too, you know; it tells us a bit of how we look to our spouse, and subtly suggests that if we just talked to our ladies a little more, if we just let them see under the gruff shell we wear, they just might think better of us, rather than poorer." Without thinking, he dug out the paper bag full of jellies, offering one to Uhura. She declined, and he continued. "Of course, there are messages in there about proper behaviorhow individuals should ideally act toward spouses, and in the Klingon version, how a Klingon adult should handle battle, as well as a subtle message about watching your own back and being slow to judge others. The superficial differences from the Human version say a vast amount about Klingon psychology and behavioral ideals."
"I see." Suddenly, Uhura began to suspect that there was more to the bedtime stories and myths she had heard from her parents than she had thought; for an instant, she almost felt as if she were peering over the edge of a cliff, looking at depths she had never suspected existed. "When you said you studied this sort of thing, I thought it was sort of silly. It appears that it isnt as silly as I thought."
Professor Roberts chuckled. "Quite a common reaction, quite common, but usually very quickly dispelled. Childrens stories, especially bedtime stories, and the myths of a culture have broad similarities amongst themselves, ones that inculcate the societys values. Consider the Klingon stories, if you will. The villains attack without showing themselves, often using poisons or the like, or else they are such cowards that they have others do the dirty deeds for them; on the contrary, the heroes, even if they ambush someone, confront them face to face, often shouting defiance as they do so, and invariably fight their own fights, always ultimately victorious, and often dying in securing the victory."
"I seelike the Human tales, where the women are always chaste and beautiful, the men, courtly and handsome, the heroes always honest and brave, the villains cowards and liars."
"Yes, yes, my good Captain, quite correct. Youre obviously starting to see the point. But here, Im doing most of the talking, and I was hoping to do the listening, instead." He produced a small padd from his coat. "Do you remember any of those wonderful stories your folks told you, when you were a child? I should love to make a few records of them, whatever you remember."
Uhura was pensive for a moment. Suddenly, she tucked her feet back under her chair and leaned a little forward, her elbows ending on the table. "One story comes to mind, really. It was one of my favorites when I was a little girl. It all began with a Bantu chief who had two sons, each of whom wanted to be the chief after their father. As the chief aged, he decided he needed to demonstrate to all which of the two sons was best suited to be the chief, to prevent an internal conflict when he died. It wasnt enough, you see, that he was sure which of the two was better suited; the whole tribe had to know. One day, he called his sons together "
As Uhura told the story, the professor made the occasional note, his padd recording her voice for future transcription; he made the occasional comment, encouraging her to continue. Once she had finished her first story, it reminded her of another; then a third and a fourth came to mind. John Roberts listened carefully to them all. Concluding yet another story, Uhura looked up at the chronometer on the wall, surprised to see that over two hours had passed. She looked at her companion. "I cant believe Ive been talking this long!"
"Youve been quite remarkable, madam." He picked up his padd, returning it to a coat pocket. "Do you know, you lapsed into Swahili twice while telling your stories? Utterly magnificent. Havent the least idea what you said, but I shall get it translated soon enough. Now, if my stomach does not lie," he patted his rotund abdomen, "as it has been known to do on occasion, I do believe it is suppertime. Perhaps you could see if Doctor MBenga would join us for supper, so you could introduce me to him?"
A thin smile graced the Bantus face. "Happily!"
"Indeed." Roberts seemed slightly amused, but not surprised, by her reaction. "Perhaps I should retire shortly after introductions are made, and let him tell stories in the morning."
Uhura settled herself into the captains chair. The time she had spent with their passenger from Walven , the night before, had been interesting at the least; she had never thought about childhood stories as being anything more than amusing tales. Obviously, there was more to them than the surface simplicity indicated. Her eyes drifted to the time, noticing that the Hyperion was getting near the Tropal system. Before she could wonder what, if anything, Indri had planned to make an excuse to go to Tropal III, the ship lurched, the lights went out, and the emergency lights came on. The captain turned to her Vulcan communications officer. "TSoral, get me Engineering."
"Engineering, Indri here. How can I help you, Captain?"
"Power would be nice, Indri. Failing that, in the next minute or two, how about an explanation of whats happened and an idea of how long it will take to fix?"
"Full power is going to take a while, Im afraid. A component on one of the boards controlling the power in and out of the dilithium crystal array exploded, sending shrapnel through the array. About two thirds of the dilithium crystals are in shards, and the rest are damaged. Partial power, at least enough for lights and life support, will take about another ten, maybe fifteen minutes. Full powerwell, either we get new crystals, or I recast the old ones. If we can get replacement parts, were looking at two, maybe three days to properly balance them, at the worst, probably less. If I have to recast the dilithium, well, ten days to two weeks, maybe a little more."
Uhura turned to face the helm, knowing the answer before she asked the question. "Marsden, any starbase or colony nearby where we might be able to get parts?"
"The only thing close is Tropal Three, Captain. I think it should be within shuttle range."
"TSoral, get Tropal Three for me." Uhura turned to face the mainviewer. After a short delay, it was filled with an unfamiliar face.
"Good day, Hyperion. Tropal Three, here. Whats happening?"
"Weve had a major malfunction on board; we need to pick up replacement dilithium crystals. Any chance that you have a cache of them?"
"Depends on how many of what kind you need, Captain."
TSoral looked over. "Indri says he needs a dozen A7Gs, Captain."
Uhura turned back to the mainviewer. Obviously, the individual on Tropal III had heard TSoral. "Weve enough A7Gs to loan you, Hyperion. Weve no ship to send with them; can you limp here, or will you send a shuttle?"
"Engineering says we wont have warp until we get the new crystals." Uhura shifted slightly in the chair. "Well be sending the shuttle for pickup. If you could provide coordinates for the pickup?"
The functionary on Tropal III smiled. "Transmitting, Captain. Well look forward to the shuttle. Perhaps you can spend a little shore leave with us when you come back with new A7Gs. Tropal out."
"TSoral, have Reichard take the shuttle to Tropal and return with our cargo, so we can get back on trajectory. Wouldnt want Doctor Roberts to be overly late." As Uhura spoke, the main lights returned.
"Very well, Captain. For his copilot?"
The captain turned to face the helm. "Marsden? We wont be going anywhere for a while; why dont you go?"
The helmsman stood. "Happy to, Captain. Ill thumb wrestle Ken for the controls."
Doctor John Roberts let the turbolift door slide open, taking time to peer out into the engineering deck before he debarked from the relative safety and security of the turbolift, trying to be sure that there was no flurry of activity that he might disrupt. Before him, the area seemed quite empty, other than a lone engineer, embroiled in an activity that involved his head and shoulders disappearing into an access port. The professor moved toward the other Human. Clearly, the engineer was engrossed in his task; he seemed utterly oblivious to the professors presence, perhaps as much a result of his having his head and shoulders through the access as his concentration. After several moments wait, Roberts coughed. When the engineer pulled himself out of the port, turning to face him, the professor was first struck by the intensity of his gaze, more than the decorated braids hanging down beside his head.
"Sorry, friend. I didnt hear you arrive. Most folk around here know theyve got to kick me or something to get my attention when Im working." He picked up a soft cloth, wiping off his hands with it. "Something I can do for you?"
"I hope so. Rumor has it that there is a fellow down here in Engineering by the name of Jesse Running Bear. I should like to converse with him for a while, if I might. Would you be able to guide me to him?"
"You must be that professor we brought on board yesterday; Ive heard rumors. Dont worry, nothing bad, Doc." He selected a tool off the cart nearby. "Just let me finish this, and Ill get you connected, okay? If I dont get this done, Ill get skinned alive, and deserve it, to boot." Head and shoulders disappeared into the access again. A hand suddenly popped out. "Could you hand me the microwave soldering wand? Its the centimeter diameter metal tubethe one about the diameter of your middle finger, and about twice as long."
Selecting what he hoped was the right implement, Roberts delivered it to the waiting hand. The hand grabbed and disappeared into the portal again.
"Thanks!" A moment or two passed, then the hand returned, bearing the wand. "Let me trade this for the Jefferies field toollooks like a lollipop with a really, really fat stick..."
Retrieving the wand, the professor found the best match to the description given, delivering it to the outstretched hand. It disappeared, then returned, carrying the field tool and bringing the engineer behind it. "That should do it." He flipped a switch just inside the housing. Lights burst into life on the monitor. "Good!" The engineer returned his tools to the chest, then faced the professor. "You were looking for Running Bear, right?"
"Precisely. Could you lead me to him?"
"No need, Professor." He stuck out a hand. "Jesse Running Bear, at your service. I go by Running Bear. Ill put the kit back in its locker, and Im all yours for the morning. Indri gave me fair warning. Anywhere in particular you want to gab?"
"Anywhere quiet, kind sir." Roberts watched as Running Bear returned his tools to their proper place. "Perhaps somewhere you can find yourself something to drink as we talk?"
"Tell you what, how about my quarters? Ill brew you some tea, Native American style. Sound good?"
"I should be fascinated." The pair moved to the turbolift. "As we travel, would you be willing to enlighten me on a point in engineering?"
"Id love to, but I thought you were into bedtime stories, myths, fairy tales and the like. I wouldnt have pegged you for engineering questions." Running Bear lead the professor into the turbolift. "Fire away!"
"Its more engineering history, I fear; historical studies are so important to understanding the legends and tales of a social group, every bit as much as the myths and stories are to understanding the history." Roberts pondered for a moment. "Im just a little confused on a point. The earliest ships with warp drive had a single, great nacelle housing the warp thing, almost always mounted level with the dish, or a bit above. Later ships had twoone mounted a bit above, the other, a bit below the midline. Now, its usually two nacelles, level with or above the dish. It simply defies me to understand it. And why stop at two, rather than go to three or four or more?"
Running Bear nodded. "A good questionyoure more observant than most, although I have to point out that all three configurations are still in use, as well as a couple of others. Look, there are some pretty intense fields generated to make warp drive possible, and they last only a short while. Well, with the earliest drives, they only lasted a tiny fraction of a second, anyhow. The big problem that limited how fast a warp drive could go was heat dissipationcooling the field generators off before using them again. Zefram Cochrane got the bright idea that he could use two field generatorsfire one off, letting the other cool, then switch it around. Why his contemporaries did it above and below rather than right and left, I dont knowthey just did. It worked fine. They tell me that the Klingons, at the same stage, used side-by-side field generators. They still do, come to think of it."
"So, why the transition to the main modern structure?" The turbolift door opened, and they walked out, Running Bear leading the way.
"Simple enough. Someone decided to see what happened when they fired them off at the same time. It worked surprisingly well, as long as the two were tuned properly to each other. Even a little deviation from the generated fields being perfectly parallel caused the ship to move above or below the expected trajectory. To an engineer, thats an opportunity to fiddle and improve. Turns out that the current configuration is optimal, for most applications; we can shift one or the other of the two just a little out of balance, or slightly misalign them, and we can make the ship move about any which way we want, unlike the earlier ships that had to be pointed the way they wanted to go. Its a lot easier."
Roberts sighed. "Um, yes. Of course, of course." He was obviously somewhat befuddled. "Are you trying to tell me that the current way of doing it is for steering purposes?"
"Yep. And the above-and-below was an attempt to go faster. Going to more wouldnt make a blip of difference, other than costing a whale of a lot more." Running Bear stepped into his quarters, John Roberts at his heels. "In fact, if you had to, you could probably leave the two main field generators in perfect balance, and make course changes with a small steering mechanism, about the size of a chair, causing a minor imbalance in the fields. It just takes less circuitry to do it this way. I guess you could make a single-use field distortion circuit that you could carry in your hands, sort of an oversized Jefferies field tool, but I cant see why you would."
As the engineer busied himself getting what he needed to prepare the tea, the professor looked around the room. The decorations were clearly inspired by North American Indian motifs: painted shields, dream catchers, spears festooned with feathers, and on one wall, a heavily decorated pipe. Running Bear returned, seeing the professors fascination with the pipe.
"Its called a calumet, doc, also known as a peace pipe, though there is a lot more to it than just symbolizing peace. That ones a serious antique, too, owned by the fellow who more or less rebuilt the culture of my people, Daryl something or other. Its from the early twenty first century. How strong do you like your tea?"
"Middling strong, thank you. And served with stories, if you please, especially ones of your tribal people. Illiniwek, wasnt it?"
"It was, and theres a handful of stories I can share. For instance, theres the one about the Great Manitou "
Roberts pulled his padd out, happily recording the tales Running Bear was spinning. Without warning, the lights went out. Running Bear stood up. "Relax, Professor Roberts. Its probably a small blip in the power system." The wan red of emergency lights illuminated the room. "Id better give Indri a call, to see whats up." He moved to his communication module. "Engineering. Hey, boss, Running Bear here. What gives?"
"Explosive failure on the distribution control for the dilithium crystal array, Im afraid. Looks like someone used a board that wasnt up to specs: what a shock, right? Were going to have to send out for new A7Gs before we can warp again. Ill have life support and such back shortly. You can stay put. Youre with Doc Roberts?"
"Sure am, Indri."
"Then you tell him Ill have the dispensers reprogrammed to dispense those jellies of his by mid afternoon. Indri out."
Running Bear returned to his chair. Before he could add a comment, the professor spoke up. "We must be near the Tropal system, I should suppose. If you would thank Indri for his kindness on the jellies; he did that without my asking, you know."
The Native American tilted his head to one side. "Under the circumstances, I think he felt he owed you one. Im sure you understand me?"
"Not in any way to which I shall admit. Now, you were telling me about the Great Manitou, werent you?"
Running Bear picked up his narrative where he had left off, continuing to spin the tales of his childhood long after the lights returned.
In the warp-capable shuttle, the trip to Tropal III had taken something less than an hour. Reichard and Marsden sat, side by side, piloting the shuttle from Tropal III, the replacement dilithium crystals and their passenger safely loaded on board. Seeing that the man had finally satisfied himself that his equipment was safely stowed in position, Marsden turned to the passenger. "Didnt catch your name when we brought you aboard. Im Jim Marsden." He stuck out a hand.
"Dugan Wright." Wright took Marsdens hand briefly, then released it. "Im going to Denkhoren Four, right?"
"Thats what they tell us. Were just peons, you know; the fancy brass doesnt confide in us a whole lot. By the time were back, that may have changed. Rumor has it youre a specialist in some branch of infectious diseases." Marsden gestured at the mans luggage. "I suppose most of that stuff is your tool kit?"
"Tool kit and a couple of changes of clothes; thats about it."
"Why all the excitement about all this, Dugan?" Reichard chipped in, without taking his eyes from the controls. "From what Roberts said, it looks like its a pretty minor infection, not much more than a bit of a rash and a lot of sneezing."
"Its also spreading faster than a good joke," Dugan shook his head. "There seems to be good reason to suspect that the Klingons might be testing out a new vector for a biological weapon. Hence, we study it carefully. Remember that the Denkhoren system is barely a hairs breadth outside Klingon territory. Itd be the easiest place to do the testing."
"Hes got a point, Ken. I mean, youd want to be sure that whatever you were using was going to spread quickly from person to person, and that there wouldnt be so robust an immune response that the epidemic would die out quickly once it got started. The rash probably makes it easy to tell whos got it, so that the spread would be easily traceable, I suppose."
"Quite astute, Marsden, and absolutely correct. On the other side of it, though, if it works well, they can take the proven vector and modify it to produce some sort of devastating toxin or to target more critical organ systems. When its first released, everyone will think its the mild, annoying disease and ignore it. If you do your design right, it will spread like mad before people start dying of it. By the time that you realize youve got a problem, its too late. The can of worms is wide open."
"Thats bad news. I mean, once you open a can of worms, re-canning them takes a much larger can." Marsden looked over at Reichard. "Its better to have a large enough can ready for re-canning em. Suddenly, this makes a lot more sense, Ken, especially the secrecy bit." He looked back at Wright. "Still, whats the point? Id think that wed be yelling it to the stars, to convince the Klingons that whatever vector theyre trying out is a known entity, and not worth deploying. Or am I being naïve?"
"Youre being normal, Jim. Look, if the Klingons realize were on to this vector, theyll just whip up a new one, and test it somewhere else. Think it through, man. This way, we know what it looks like, we know its signature on scan, and we can have kiloliters of vaccine ready to deploy at an instants notice. The Klingons hopefully havent a clue that were on to it."
Marsden rubbed his chin, thinking. "Youve got a point. Better to know whos who in the zoo, I guess."
Reichard decided to butt in. "Look, Dugan, is there anything specific that youre going to need or want once we get you to the Hyperion? Any specialized tools, access to the biological databases and such in Sickbay, special power supply?"
It was Dugans turn to think. "If I got the story straight, youve got Doctor Roberts on board as a cover for taking me there. Id like to chat with him for a little bit, to see what I can dredge up from him about this infection. These folks know him personally, you understand, and might tell him things I might not hear aboutor the colonys doctor, either. You never know when you might learn something useful."
"Data from the grass roots is usually the bestand most thorough, sometimes. Im sure that we can arrange for that. Anything else?"
"Not really, I dont suppose. Just a hand moving all this stuff. Its rigged to run off almost any power supply. Our tools have to be pretty portable, you understand." Wright looked over at Reichard. "Just dont be shocked at the power consumption from my room. Okay? Ill start charging the equipment as soon as I get it in my cabin."
"Ill warn Engineering." Reichard looked at the console. "Time to dock, folks. Try not to jiggle my elbow for a minute, will you?"
The subspace tight beam found its source. "Ghalak here."
"The Hyperion is on the way to Denkhoren Four. I have what you want. Do you have the payment?"
"It is ready. The warp diverter is in place, ready to go?"
"It is. Have the ships ready at the agreed location. The device is activated, and if your techs have done their job properly, we will be there."
Ghalak chuckled evilly. "We will be waiting."
The connection ended, unnoticed by any others.
The professor stepped out of the turbolift into Sickbay. Doctor Eletto looked up from his desk. "Good morning, Doctor Roberts. Ive been wondering how long it would be before you wandered down here. Are you after me, or Doctor MBenga?"
"Either or both of you, Doctor. Would you be Doctor Eletto?"
The physician pretended to look at his ID badge. "Looks like Im me, anyhow. You never know; these things can change without notice." Eletto gestured at a chair near his desk. "Care to have a seat?"
"Happily. Have you a few spare moments, to assuage an old mans curiosity?"
"You? Old?" Eletto shook his head. "Not compared to me youre not old! And hopefully Ive got plenty of time to satisfy your thirst for tall tales."
"Then the rumors about you are true?"
"Depends on the ones you mean, Doctor Roberts. The ones about Marie and I are certainly not even close to "
"Heavens, not that sort of scurrilous rumor! Dear me, I must learn to be more specific. The one about you being nearly three centuries old, and born before World War Three, that oneit is true?"
"I was born in 2006, yes, but I spent almost two and a half centuries in a hibernaculum, so dont get any ideas about me being this great source of wisdom."
"Oh, not at allno offense intended, you understandits just that you remember childhood stories as they were told in the early twenty-first century, from first hand experience."
"I told a few of em back then, too. Dave and Matt, my sons, were adults before I did the freezer pop routine."
"Magnificent, just magnificent. Rather than telling me stories that I already know, would your kindness extend to discussing the stories we both know, and what they meant to you?" Roberts was clearly quite excited by the prospect.
"As long as you dont mind me disappearing on occasion to tend to people coming in for care, Id be happy to dialogue with you. Ask anyonethe trouble isnt getting me to talk; its getting me to shut up." Eletto winked, half in jest. "But seriously, maybe you could tell me a Klingon childrens story then explain it, to give me the flavor of what you want; Im a little unsure of what youre looking for, you understand."
"Quite, quite." Roberts thought for a moment or two. "Perhaps the most informative one would be the story Kahless, Warrior and Kohlt, Peacemaker. I..." Eletto started laughing. Puzzled, the professor interrupted himself. "Excuse me, but I fail to understand the humor."
"Oh, I cant expect you to, I dont suppose." Regaining his self-control was clearly not easy for Eletto. "Its just the name, Kohlt, Peacemaker. I mean, for a Klingon, thats hilarious." The physician wiped the back of his hand across his face, wiping off tears from his laughter.
"It is? Pray tell, why?"
"Oh, believe me, it is if you know the history involved. You see, back in the days of the American Wild West, mid 19th century Earth, there was a projectile weapon called the Colt 45 revolver. It was nicknamed The Peacemaker. Someone pulled that on you, either you made peace quickly, or you would rest in peace forever. Either way, it made peace, get it?"
It was Roberts turn to laugh. "Oh, my, that is utterly delicious! The whole central theme of the story is Kahless investigating a rumor that Kohlt was making peace with his enemiesa cowardly thing to a Klingon, almost as bad as attacking without facing your adversaryand discovering that the peace Kohlt was making with his enemies was the peace of the grave. Thats just too funny."
Before he could say anything else, a crewman came limping out of the turbolift. "Glad I could make your day. Ill be back in a minute, Doc; looks like Ive got a victim." Eletto opacified the walls before he left. "Make yourself comfortable; Ill be back as soon as I can."
The remainder of the morning saw John Roberts sitting in Elettos office, or wandering around in unoccupied areas of Sickbay, listening to Eletto when he could. Doctor Eletto came around the corner again.
"The shuttle just got back, Doctor Roberts, and a fellow came with them. Apparently, hes going to be going to Denkhoren Four, too, and wants to gab with you, preferably soon. Its got something to do with a disease outbreak there."
Roberts nodded. "No doubt a specialist in infectious diseases wanting to get whatever details I can offer him. Where shall I meet him?"
"Ill take you to him, if you dont mind; Ive a bit of expertise in this area myself, you understand, and the captain has suggested I join the discussion, at least as an observer if not a participant. We can pick up on the literary discussion later, if youd like."
"Oh, unquestionably, Doctor Eletto, unquestionably. You have no idea how valuable having data about the thoughts and all of folk from your era about these stories really is. Especially the little historical details you recall, like the Colt 45 Peacemaker! If youll lead on?"
Without bothering to reply, Eletto moved toward the turbolift, Roberts at his heels.
Other than Doctor Roberts trying to talk to everyone he could, for as long as they would tell him stories, the journey from Tropal III to Denkhoren IV had gone smoothly, indeed utterly uneventfully. As the Hyperion was making its final approach to the Denkhoren system, Indris voice came across the communicator. "Captain Uhura, we have a problem with the warp drive. I would suggest that you have Marsden shut it down as soon as possible."
"An impending failure, Indri?" Uhura was not eager to shut the drive down before delivering their Human cargo; repair and refit would be easier in orbit.
"I wish. Weve got an increasingly powerful distortion of the warp fields, Captain. As close as we are to Klingon space, even a modest distortion could make the difference between arriving at Denkhoren Four safely, and ending up facing a flotilla of Klingons over our invading their space. Under the circumstances, Id rather deal with being a little later than we already are, rather than face Klingons with an attitude."
The Bantu turned to her helmsman. "Marsden, kill warp. Indri, have you any idea of the source of the distortion?"
"I have it partially pinpointed, Captain; I didnt report it the instant I found it, hoping to be able to tell you where it came from, but things were getting too tight. The distorting field is emanating from the dish. To be precise, its coming from one of the guest cabins. Ive tried to determine which one, but as I said, were close enough to Klingon territory that I figured Id better call a halt before its too late."
TSorals head turned. "Unfortunately, Captain, it is too late. Commander Ghalak demands your attention."
The captain turned to her weapons officer. "Evidence of six, cloaked Klingon ships, Ktinga class, Captain; they are englobing us. Theres no way out of this one, even if we were a war ship, which we most emphatically are not."
Somewhere in Uhuras mind, comments made by Roberts about Klingon psychology gelled into an idea. "TSoral, when you put Ghalak on the main screen, I want static, lots of it. Lets roll."
The mainviewer filled with a Klingon face. "I am Commander Ghalak. You have intruded on Klingon space. Prepare to be boarded or be destroyed."
"Im sorry, Commander Galk. Im having trouble with the transmission. Were experiencing some technical difficulties. Please try again?"
The Klingons voice ratcheted up several notches in volume. "I am Commander Ghalak, Captain. You are in Klingon space. Prepare to be boarded, or to be destroyed. Your transmission is full of static. Fix the problem, or we will deal with it for you."
"Klingon space? I dont doubt you, but I confess to being surprised. We will prepare to be boarded, Commander, but I request a little time before you send over a boarding party."
"Are you requesting I delay taking your ship? What sort of fool do you take me for?"
"I dont take you for a fool at all, Commander Ghalak." Uhura made a point of staring the image on the viewscreen squarely in the eyes. "Thats why Im suggesting you delay sending someone over. Were obviously having trouble with field generation over here, otherwise we would never have ended up in Klingon territory. I wouldnt want a sudden, brief field fluctuation to accidentally disrupt the transporter, disgracing your boarding party by having them die outside of battle." The captain maintained her gaze, unflinchingly.
Ghalak turned to someone off screen. "Vorgat?"
"If theyre having field fluctuations intensely enough, Commander, it is quite possible that the transporter could be disrupted."
Ghalak turned back to Uhura. "You have ten minutes, Captain. Either fix your field generation system or shut it down. I dont care which. If we cannot board you then, we will destroy you and your ship. Have I made myself clear?"
"As clear as this channel will permit, Commander. Ten minutes." The connection broke. Uhura turned to TSoral. "I want every transmission coding and scrambling scheme flushed out of memory, and all even possibly compromising communications records wiped. Make sure all backups are scrambled with a unique seed." She turned to face the helm. "Marsden, I want the navigational record done the same way. Tucker, clear out anything youve been working on in terms of fancy weaponry tricks. Drevan, anything in the Sciences databank that is in the least risky for Klingons to know, wipe it and scramble backups. In fact, do that with anything in the ships computer system. TSoral, get me Indri."
"Engineering, Indri speaking. What can I do for you, Captain?"
"Random field fluctuations for the next five minutes, preferably of large magnitudethen stopping abruptly. And if there is any cleverness youre working on, I want it out of Klingon reach. Well hidden and magnificently scrambled, you understand?"
"Already on that last, Captain. Ill get the field activities going. Engineering out."
"TSoral, I want Reichard and three security officers rounding up Roberts and Wright. I want their quarters searched for anything that might distort the warp fields." Uhura turned to face the mainviewer. "They may have us surrounded, and they may board us, but theyre not going to take us. I want all of you working on a way out of this." She turned to her chief communications officer. "TSoral, overhead. I need to warn the rest of the crew were about to be boarded."
Reichard led his team out of the turbolift, intending to enter Roberts and Dugans quarters. To his surprise, he saw Dugan Wright on the floor, clearly unconscious, with Roberts bending over him. The college don looked up. "I should keep my distance, if I were you. Dugan came rushing out when the overhead warning of the impending Klingon boarding came overhead, and then collapsed. I thought it might be his heart or something, so I came to check him, but his heart is beating fine. Considering where he came from, you understand, I think you might want to summon Sickbay for me. And, as I said, I should definitely keep my distance."
Signaling the three security guards to move behind him, Reichard drew his phaser and, keeping it pointedly aimed at Roberts and Wright, moved to a wall communicator. "Sickbay, we seem to have a problem. Litter to this site immediately." Reichard moved to the center of the hallway again, watching both men carefully. "This phaser is set on stun. If either of you try anything "
"Oh, hes quite unconscious, sir. I dont think hell try much until he regains consciousness." There was a look of sincere concern on Roberts face.
"That is as may be; appearances are often deceiving. Twitch wrong, and if youre lucky, you wake up in the brig. If youre not lucky, you dont wake up at all. I trust that I have made myself abundantly clear?" Reichards voice was soft, but there was no mistaking the fact that he meant business and that he had no compunctions about using his weapon at the least provocation. The men stood, immobile, until the litter arrived.
Eletto pushed the litter in front of him, Webb at his side. Seeing Reichard, he stopped. Without comment, Reichard waved Eletto to pick up the fallen Human. He and Webb gently moved Wright to the litter, then moved him to the turbolift. Roberts moved to go with them.
"Not so fast, Doctor Roberts," Reichard said. "Youre conscious enough. Come with me."
"I dont think so, sir," Roberts responded. "If this fellow has something infectious, I have been quite heavily exposed. I could easily contaminate you. I should prefer not to do that."
Looking up from the litter, Eletto turned to Roberts. "Infectious? What makes you say that?"
"He collapsed, Doctor, for no ascertainable reason. As I indicated to Reichard, where he came from suggests a distinct risk." Despite his repeated assertions of concern about Wrights being infectious, Roberts seemed inappropriately calm.
The physician pondered for a moment. "Reichard, wed better take him with us, just in case. Plan to meet us in Sickbay so you can take custody when were done checking him out."
Reichard nodded. "Very well. Just dont lose him. I think the captain wants to question both of them."
The college professor moved to the turbolift. "I have no intention of trying anything, gentlebeings. We seem to be in this together." He turned to face Eletto. "I sincerely hope that we can work together."
The turbolift door closed, whisking the beings to Sickbay. The commander moved to the wall communicator, making his report.
Uhura, Reichard and Indri stood in the transporter deck. The captain turned to her chief engineer. "Drevan said you did a magnificent job with the fields, Indri. Looked like an impending disaster. Everything under control now?"
"Never left my control, Captain. I have the coordinates. Ready to bring the Klingon boarding party on board."
Four Klingon warriors materialized on the platform. One looked at Uhura. "I am Vorgat. I will take command of this ship."
Nodding, Uhura motioned to the turbolift. "I will escort you to the bridge, Vorgat. Will you use your own crew to handle the navigation, or do you want my navigational crew to take your orders?"
"Neither. Commander Ghalak will tow the ship, if it is to be moved. Your warp drive is clearly inferior; we do not wish to have it wander off course again."
"As you wish. Out of simple courtesy, I must tell you that we have a problem on board. We have a couple of civilians on board, one of whom appears to have fallen ill."
Vorgat sneered slightly. "Bratag, go to their Sickbay and evaluate the situation." The Klingon turned back to Uhura. "You will take me to your bridge. You," he pointed to Reichard, "take Bratag to the sick civilian."
"Very well." Reichard was quiet. Uhura looked at her second in command, silently making it clear that cooperation was the order of the day. He led Bratag to the turbolift. Uhura led Vorgat to another lift.
Eletto was standing over Dugan, Roberts in the cubicle standing against one wall, Webb between him and the exit. Doctor Eletto was studying the readout on the monitor, double checking his findings. The turbolift slid open, delivering Reichard and the Klingon officer. Roberts turned at the noise. "Bless my soul, if it isnt little Bratag, all grown up. Die young, but bravely, Bratag!"
Squinting, as if uncertain as to what he saw, Bratag stared at Roberts. Finally, he found his voice. "I remember you. You are the bedtime story Human."
"Precisely. I hope your parents have both died gloriously in combat, and I hope that I will soon hear that you have, too."
Bratag moved into the cubicle. "What is happening?"
Before the physician could respond, the professor did. "Hes trying to figure that out, Bratag. Now do be a patient warrior, and let him do his work for a moment. You always were the impatient one." Roberts turned to Eletto. "Doctor, I dont mean to tell you your business, but looking at Dugan, I have a thought about his problema rather old infectious problem: Trojan Equine Encephalitis. Read about it in a Greek history book, and he looks just like it."
Puzzled, Eletto looked up at Roberts. The professors eyes locked with his, seeming to plead with him. Rechecking the results of the biomonitor, Elettos eyes narrowed. The findings were strongly suggestive of a powerful blow to the back of the heada rabbit punch, in fact, that had knocked Dugan cold. He almost responded when the suggested diseases name sunk in: Trojan Horse. Elettos face tightened. He needed to double check his guess; it was no time to guess wrong. "Are you talking about the virus that caused Priams Disease?"
Roberts nodded. "Priams indeed, Doctor. Most astute of you to know about it."
"Nice try, but Im afraid its not that at all; its much worse. Its pseudorabies, strain C-45; we called it the peacemaker. It was a problem in the Eugenics Wars; it either killed you, or left you mindless."
"Peace either way. I understand." There was relief on the professors face. "I hope its not contagious."
"No such luck, Professor; its wildly contagious. Remember, this stuff was a biological weapon. We are all going to have to be in quarantine. Marie, if youd let Doctor MBenga know?" Webb looked at Eletto, baffled but willing to play along. "Of course, Doctor. Thankfully, Im immune. Were you vaccinated?"
"It was standard in my day; I dont think anyone else has been, other than you."
Bratag finally forced his way into the conversation. "I am a Klingon; you will not hold me here."
Before either of the Sickbay staff could answer, Roberts did. "Oh, no, we wouldnt think of holding you, Bratag. Please, do go! Why dont you hang out with the other Klingons that came with you, and then after youve had a chance to infect them, then when you start feeling ill, return to Ghalaks ship so they can check you over. Why, you could infect the whole Klingon population for us, if you wanted. That would be awfully kind of you."
"Bah, I am surely immune to this disease." Although Bratags words sounded full of bravado, there was an undertone of fear and doubt.
It was Eletto that picked up the thread. "Only in a sense, Bratag. According to a handful of studies done on neuronal cell cultures, Klingons probably would survive the disease, but as nearly mindless drones, barely able to take care of their own bodily needs, pacifically doing as they are told. If he had caught it, it would have turned Kahless into a coward. Right, Doctor Roberts?"
He shrugged. "I wouldnt pretend to know the medical aspects of this. Nurse?"
Catching on, Webb nodded vigorously. "I survived a minor outbreak of this in St. Louis, when I was a young lady, so Ive read up on the disease. My only point of issue with Doctor Eletto is that theres been a couple of papers lately suggesting that the Klingons might not always be mindlessjust always peaceful if not fearful."
The bravado in Bratags voice ebbed. "I will discuss this with Vorgat. I do not believe you. You lie, to try to scare us off your ship."
Eletto looked at Roberts, then spoke. "An excellent idea, Bratag; Im all for it. Why dont you all four get together on this issue, eh? But do take some really deep breaths in here before you go, would you? I mean, just to be sure." The physician paused before continuing. "Ah, I mean, to be sure we all know how brave you are, and how sure you are that Im lying. Breathe really deep, now."
Bratag did nothing of the sort. He favored Eletto with a scowl that would have gelled tetralubisol, then stomped out of the cubicle.
Quietly, the three people in the cubicle watched through the transparent walls as Bratag disappeared into the turbolift. Once it had disappeared, Eletto turned to Roberts. "You rabbit punched him, didnt you?"
"If thats the technical term, I suppose so. It was an incapacitating blow I learned on QonoS, actuallyfrom Bratags mother, in point of fact." The college don tilted his head to the side. "You both did remarkably well. Peacemaker, indeed. The question is how we get the rest of the Klingons to buy this cock and bull story."
"Bratag seemed pretty convinced, Doctor."
He turned to face the nurse, fishing out his ever present bag of jellies and offering them to her. "Bratag, my dear lady, is unusually gullible, even for a Klingon. His mother had him terrified of Feklhr, the Klingon equivalent of the bogeyman for years. Vorgat, I suspect, is not, and Im sure Commander Ghalak is skeptical to a fault: lasting long enough to be a commander requires that, or so Ive observed. Well need something more to convince the commander."
"Its a start." Eletto triggered the wall communicator. "Doctor MBenga."
"MBenga here, Giac. Whats happening?"
"I need you at the exam room, Keme, preferably immediately."
The connection broke, and Doctor MBenga appeared. "What gives, Giac?"
Webb motioned for MBenga to come nearer, which he did. "A little con artistry, Doctor MBenga," she responded. A tight smile formed on her oval face. "Weve got at least one of the Klingons about a half convinced hes been infected with a terrible virus that will make him peace-loving and cowardly."
There was a hiss as Eletto administered medication to Dugan. "I called it pseudorabies, Keme, the peacemaker strain. Garbage, but only you and I know it. If it doesnt kill you, makes you peaceful and mindlessand Klingons, as Marie said, cowardly and peaceful. Feed into it, will you? Declare Wrights quarters quarantined, maybe the whole corridor and turbolift, whatever. Use your imagination. Just act like the plague is on the loose, and youre beating your brains out trying to keep it controlled."
The Zulu grinned widely; the expression was reminiscent of a lion rejoicing over a kill. "And youre keeping him sedated, right?" Eletto nodded. "Good. We cant whip the Klingons, so we outwit them, eh?"
"Its worth a try, anyway. Weve done what we can; youve got to take it from here." Eletto sat at the desk in the exam cubicle. "Lots of luck conning Ghalak."
Straightening slightly, MBengas smile tightened dramatically, a thin line of brilliantly white teeth peering between his lips. "You will quickly find that there is much more that you can do, my friend. Much more. I guarantee it. Leave Ghalak to Uhura and me." The chief medical officer turned to a wall communicator. "Harrison Davids."
A somewhat groggy voice responded. "Harrison Davids, Physicianss Assistant. Whats up?"
"MBenga here. We have the beginnings of an epidemic, Hardav. I realize Ive probably awakened you, but we need you in Sickbay immediately. Eletto and Webb are already quarantined, and youre going to have to pick up the slack."
Davids voice was suddenly wide awake and all business. "Full protective gear, Doctor?"
"Full gear; it looks like a strain of pseudorabies."
"Fifteen minutes soon enough?"
"I hope so. Hustle. MBenga out." He turned to Eletto. "Keep this between us, for now, I think. Ghalak is about to fly full speed into a dense cluster of asteroids." Without elaborating on his remark, MBenga disappeared into the turbolift.
Vorgat sat in the command chair on the bridge of the Hyperion. He looked up as Bratag returned. "Report?"
"They claim Dugan has pseudorabies, a Human biological weapon of an earlier century. I do not believe a word of it."
The Klingon leader shrugged. "As long as it does not affect us, what does it matter?"
"Their doctor claims it will. It is clearly not possible."
"Speak little, Bratag, when you know little. It is not impossible." Vorgat turned to face Drevan. "What do you know of this pseudorabies, Andorian?"
"Not a lot, frankly. Developed by Noonien Singh Khans forces during the Eugenics wars, it spread faster than gossip, and killed or incapacitated 97% or more of its victims. There used to be a vaccine that, if it was given early enough, could prevent the spread and sometimes minimize the damage. Its been pretty much extinct for, oh, a hundred fifty or two hundred years outside of a single outbreak caused by an accidental release of stored virus, twenty or thirty years ago. Thats about all I know. Ask Nurse Webb or Doc Elettoshe was involved in the release a while back, and Im sure Eletto remembers it well for other reasons. That pair probably know more about the disease than all but a handful of people in the Federation."
"It is this Eletto that made the claims, Vorgat." Bratag was clearly becoming increasingly concerned. "What are your orders?"
MBenga came out of the turbolift, before Vorgat could reply. "Where are the captain and Commander Reichard? I need them immediately."
Turning, Vorgat favored the Zulu with an angry stare. "You need nothing I do not allow you to need."
MBenga returned the stare. "Its your brain, Klingon. Im trying to stop an epidemic. You want to join the epidemic and be turned into a quivering mass of cowardice, thats your business. My business is to try to protect the rest of the crew from that." He turned to Drevan. "Well?"
"They said they were heading to the cafeteria, overlooking the arboretum, Doctor."
"Good enough. TSoral, come with me. You were exposed, too."
"The being is a Vulcan, not a Human," Vorgat objected.
The physician closed his eyes and slowly took a long breath, as if controlling his anger, before responding. "Allow me to remind you, Vorgat, that you are a Klingon warrior, not a physician trained in xenomedicine. Klingons and Humans can interbreed. That means we are sufficiently close, biologically, to be susceptible to the same microbes. Do I need to draw you a picture? Now if you dont mind, Im trying to protect your hide and mine both. Would it be asking too much for you to let me do my job with a minimum of interference? Or do you have some sort of craving to catch an infection that will turn you into a mindless coward?"
Vorgat was clearly becoming furious, but equally knew he couldnt argue with MBenga. Muscles in his arms bulged, his grip on the command chair whitening his knuckles. "Take your Andorian officer with you, too. We will man the bridge without any of you." He turned to Bratag. "Take the Andorians console. Tachad, you take the Vulcans."
Making no acknowledgement of the Klingons orders, MBenga moved to the turbolift, nodding to TSoral and Drevan to follow. As the turbolifts door slid shut, they overheard Vortag softly cursing in Klingon.
Reichard looked up suddenly, hearing the turbolift door open. Rather than a Klingon, he saw MBenga, TSoral and Drevan coming out. He nodded to the captain, who picked up where she had left off. "Theres only four Klingons on the ship, Reichard. Theres got to be a way of getting out of this. Maybe we should see if Indri can rig a way to block the tractor at a critical moment, so we can escape."
MBenga sat down between Uhura and Reichard. "We may not need that. The Hyperion is about to experience a major outbreak of a terribly infectious biological weapon that seems to have arrived with Dugan Wright. You and Reichard have been exposed. So has TSoral. Ive got Davids setting up Sickbay to handle the potential influx of ill, and to manage the best quarantine ward he can manage for the number of individuals Im concerned that well be facing. Elettos already in a quarantine area with Wright."
"Correct me if Im wrong, but Webb and Roberts are in there with him, arent they?"
Uhura looked MBenga squarely in the eye. "How much danger am I in, Keme?"
The Zulu smiled thinly. "Not near as much as Reichard is, Nyota." Faster than either could react, MBengas hand swept against Reichards neck, applying a hypospray, then restoring it to his medikit. The captain looked up at the physician, aghast. His face suddenly turned concerned. "I was afraid of this. Another victim, already. Captain, if you would call Sickbay and get a turbolift sent here with a litter, while I do what I can for Commander Reichard?"
Uhura slapped the communications patch. "Emergency! Litter to the cafeteria, now. Send no personnel; this is potentially infectious. Once we have cleared the area, send a decontamination team immediately." She turned, to see MBenga gently laying Reichard on the floor. "Keme, did I see what I thought I saw?"
There was a twinkle in his eye as he responded. "If you saw Reichard collapse unconscious, yes. If you think you just saw me give him a dose of prolethene to cause him to slump, why, I should hope not, Captain." MBenga winked. "I am fearful he has caught pseudorabies from Dugan Wright."
Uhura made no response other than a gentle nod. "I think I understand." There was a moment of silence. "Keme, is TSoral still on the bridge?"
"No. I went after her, since she was potentially exposed. Vorgat kicked both her and Drevan off the bridge. She and Drevan felt they needed to go to Engineering."
Again, Uhura walked over to the communicator. "Engineering."
"Indri here. How can I assist?"
"Uhura here. Is TSoral there?"
"She and Drevan both, Captain."
"Excellent. I will be there shortly; we need to talk about an issue with the communications. I will probably need all three of you to handle it."
"As you wish, Captain." It was clear Indri was puzzled. "Might I inquire what the issue is?"
"Just a follow up on something you mentioned a while back. Probably all hyperbole on your part, but " She let the sentence die, unfinished.
There was a brief pause before an answer returned. "At least you didnt accuse TSoral of hyperbole, Captain. Engineering out."
With the connection broken, Uhura triggered the communicator again. "Sickbay. Doctor Eletto, is Harrison Davids there?"
"Not yet, Captain. We expect him shortly."
"Tell him to remember the beans. Uhura out."
The turbolift arrived, opening to reveal an empty litter. The captain removed it, pulling it near Reichard. MBenga looked up at her. "What in space was that all about, Captain?"
She reached down, starting to move Reichard. "Never mind, Keme. Just me thinking Ive found our way out of this, thats all. Now give me a hand with your patient, will you?"
Since there seemed nothing else to do, the Zulu helped his captain put Reichard on the litter, summon a turbolift and send him to Sickbay. Uhura summoned another turbolift. "Doctor, youre going to be needed in Sickbay. This epidemic is about to spread without your help." She stepped into the turbolift. "Engineering."
Hearing the turbolift door open, Eletto was relieved to see it was the physicians assistant, not the litter that returned. "Hardav, am I ever glad to see you. Weve got another victim coming. Oh, and Ive got a message from the captain: remember the beans. Does that make sense to you?"
Davids flipped the helmet of his biological isolation suit open. "Perfect sense, Giac, perfect sense; Ive reprogrammed the food dispensers before, remember? Its just that Ill be doing it legitimately, for once. And Ill adjust a couple of your mediscanners, too, just in case the Klingons decide to check to see if were pulling a fast one. Let me guess: youre using prolethene. I can put it in random orders from the food dispensers."
It was clear that the PA had caught on. "Whatevers easiest, I guess. Just dont do anything embarrassing with the mediscanners, you hear me?"
"Word of honor, Doctor Eletto!" Davids put his right hand over his heart, lifting his left above his shoulder. "I dont want to face the sort of revenge I had to put up with last time I made that mistake. Shes a captain now, and can really get me back."
The turbolift arrived as Davids was speaking, causing him to flip his helmet back into place. Reichard and the litter were retrieved and gently transferred to a monitored bed. The PA turned to his colleague. "Giac, I have to get on the computer for a few minutes. Think you can get by with me for, oh, about another five or six minutes?"
"I think so."
Davids disappeared, returning with a couple of mediscanners. "Here, lets swap, so I can deal with the one youve got. Ill have to get MBengas here soon."
Before the physician could answer, the communicator burst into life. "Indri here, Sickbay. Sending up two cadetsboth look infected. Look sharp!"
The two men looked at each other. It was, however, Roberts who broke the silence. "Well, Nurse Webb, I should guess that Sickbay is about to fill up. Do you think we might consider this whole area under quarantine, and perhaps we could get out of this silly cubicle?"
"I think so," Eletto responded. "Theres what, ninety two in the crew, I think. Wed better get ready for a real onslaught."
"Im sure Professor Roberts wouldnt mind being of help, would you?" Webb smiled at him, her long, oval face lighting up with the smile.
"My dear lady, I should be more than happy to be of such assistance as an old codger like I am can be." He moved to the turbolift, which opened as he approached, revealing two unconscious cadets. "The poor lads. Would one of you kind folk give me a hand?"
No sooner than Davids and Roberts had the two men pulled out of the turbolift, MBenga arrived in full biological protection. He looked over at Eletto, clearly all business. "Status, Doctor?"
"Two more down, as you can see, Keme. Check with Engineering, will you? There must be a failure in life support, at least in terms of scrubbing this stuff out of the atmosphere." Eletto wiped his hand across his forehead, onto his short cropped, dark brown hair. "Ive been running through files, looking for something that we can use to combat this, and there just isnt anything better than what Grandpa had."
"What about getting vaccine production going, Giac?"
"I can have enough to vaccinate the whole crew ready in," the physician cocked his head to one side, calculating, "about two weeks. Read that as too late to do any good. I "
The wall communicator interrupted. "Sickbay! Four down, main cafeteria. Theyre coming via turbolift immediately."
"Davids, come with me," MBenga ordered, moving toward the turbolift. "Weve got incoming."
Uhura stepped off the turbolift onto Engineering, to find Drevan, Indri, TSoral and Running Bear in deep discussion. Indri looked up. "Welcome, Captain. What can I do for you?"
"You might let me know what you were talking about before I arrived, Indri. Skullduggery, I hope?"
TSoral shook her head. "Not exactly. Just a theoretical discussion on subspace reflectors."
"Is that so? Would it have anything to do with a comment you made a couple of months ago, when I asked you if you had anything up your sleeve, Indri?"
One corner of the engineers mouth lifted in a hint of a smile. "Ah, you do remember. I thought you did, with that remark you made. Youre right: were trying to put together a trick to make it look like were receiving a subspace tight beam from somewhere else. We thought it might help if the Klingons thought there was a fleet coming after us."
"Forget the fleet, Indri. Ive got another idea. Are any of you good at imitating voices? Heres the general idea Ive got in mind "
"Tachad, get me Commander Ghalak. We need to complete this mission." Vorgat was clearly becoming impatient.
Ghalaks face filled the main viewscreen. "Status, Vorgat?"
"There is a problem. These miserable Humans are suffering an outbreak of a plague, some strain of pseudorabies, or so they tell me. Their sickbay is full to overflowing, and the Human we are after is in isolation, where we cannot get to him."
"Ratach, search the database on this pseudorabies. What do we know of it?"
"Not much; Humans have not used it on us. Computer simulation indicates it would be infectious and easily spread among Klingons, as well as Humans and Vulcans, probably causing damage to one or another of the higher cognitive centers."
Ghalak turned back to Vorgat. "Well?"
"It is what their physician here also said. Supposedly, he is an expert with pseudorabies." Vorgat made an angry gesture with one hand. "This should have been a simple transaction, Ghalak."
"Do not remind me. Can you get what we need from the mans quarters?"
"They are quarantined, too, Ghalak, but not yet decontaminated. I"
"Vorgat," Tachad interrupted. "We have an incoming message, scrambled. I have it triangulated; it is from inside Federation space. Orders?"
Ghalak didnt wait for Vorgat to respond. "Get the ships captain to respond, but be certain that we both can hear it." The connection terminated.
Feverishly, Tachad worked the console. Summoned by the Klingon at communications, Uhura arrived. Tachad turned to the Bantu. "I need the seed for the scramble."
"Ill handle it, Tachad. Im experienced with communications." Uhura moved toward the console.
"You will give me the seed, Human. I will take care of the rest." It was clear that Tachad had been warned.
Holding up her right thumb, Uhura shook her head. "Im rather attached to my thumb. Id rather apply the thumbprint myself, if you dont mind. Were not stupid, you know; it can tell a live thumb from a severed one, and it wont accept the severed thumb no matter how fresh it is."
As close to sheepishly as a Klingon warrior could manage, Tachad moved back from the communications console. Uhura applied her thumb to what she hoped he would interpret as an appropriate sensor. The bluff worked. On the main screen, a Vulcan face appeared.
"Xon of the Cooper, Captain. Voice response only. Have the Klingons taken the bait?"
Uhura turned to Vorgat. Even the Human could see there was both anger and surprise written large in the Klingons posture and facial expression. "We have a minor problem, Captain Xon. There seems to be a minor epidemic on the Hyperion."
"I feared that the pseudorabies would erupt too soon. I will notify Kelsey and Chekov to keep the Chosin and the Enterprise at ready, rather than deploying. Cooper out."
Vorgat looked at Bratag, sitting at the science console; at Bratags elbow was a half-empty cup. The order he intended to bark died before it was voiced: Bratag had slumped forward, unconscious. Vorgat turned to Uhura. "What is this about bait, Human?"
"You have a fallen comrade, Vorgat, and all youre worried about is a Vulcans remark about bait? What kind of warrior are you, anyhow?"
Vorgats calm snapped. The Klingon erupted out of the command chair, swinging a blow at the Hyperions captain. Effortlessly, she dodged the blow, adding what extra momentum she could to Vorgats swing, putting her foot in his path and allowing the Klingon to sprawl on the floor. The other two Klingons stood, turning to face Uhura, as Vorgat regained his feet. She dropped into a defensive stance, her back to a console, facing the three of them. "Go ahead, come and get me. Ive been vaccinated against this, and Im central in spreading it. All I have to do is let you connect, then wait. Youre all dead meat. Come on." An almost predatory expression formed on her face. "What, youre terrified of a mere Human woman?" She moved toward Vorgat. "I promise not to scratch you too hard, Lieutenant Vorgat; if you just let me scratch you a little bit, itll be much faster." Uhura reached her hand toward the Klingon, her nails stretching for Vorgats cheek.
Eyes wide, Vorgat, Tachad and Ratach backed away from Uhura. She moved to the communications console, playing her fingers across it swiftly. Ghalaks face appeared on the screen. Uhura turned to face him as best she could. "Youve got a Klingon down here on the bridge, Ghalak. I can send coordinates to you, so you can transport him to your sickbay. Weve all we can handle with our own sick. You might want to send a couple of other Warriors over, to help with things herewere getting very short handed here."
"You must take me for a total fool, Captain. I heard the exchange with the captain of the Cooper." Ghalak spat on the floor before himself in derision. "We will not be party to any of your tricks. Give me back my warriors, and be gone. Only a total coward would use a trick like this in combat. Vorgat, prepare to return with your team."
The three remaining Klingons moved next to Bratag. The four beings disappeared. Uhura triggered communications. "Marsden, Tucker, Drevan, TSoralto the bridge immediately. Lets get out of here while the gettings good. I give us five minutes before the Klingons find out Bratag was sedated."
Instants later, the four beings exploded out of the turbolifts and to their stations. "Marsden," Uhura demanded, "Whats the fastest warp you can wring out of the Hyperion?"
"Warp Five, I think, Captain."
"Denkhoren Four, at Warp Seven, Mister Marsden. Now."
The Hyperions warp engines roared into life.
Uhuras dictation was interrupted by the turbolift door opening. Doctor John Roberts entered the bridge, and she turned to face him. "I believe we all need to thank you, Doctor. That was quick thinking on your part, knocking Dugan Wright out. What was it that caused you to realize he was selling a neoanthrax strain to the Klingons?"
"Oh, I hadnt the slightest idea that was what he was up to, Captain Uhura. Really! Its not like I can read peoples minds, after all. It was just all such an improbable set up, obviously to get someone near Klingon space. I knew I wasnt trying to get back to QonoS, so the only other possibility was that Wright was, for some reason of his own." The college don fumbled with his pockets, producing his ever present bag of sweets. "I had no idea how he would divert us to Klingon space. Care for a jelly, my dear?"
"I still dont see how you saw it," Uhura selected a Kelly green candy, popping it in her mouth. "If that makes sense."
Roberts sighed, selecting a confection for himself, and restoring the bag to his pocket. "A pity; I thought it would all have been obvious from your understanding Thakras Husband as it compared to Beauty and the Beast after all." He shook his head sadly. "You seemed to be such an excellent student. No honorable Klingon would use a deceptive maneuver like what Wright was suggesting the Klingons were doing on Denkhoren Four, Captain. Its all there in the childs tale, you know. But come, madame, youre the real hero in this little tale: you picked up the opportunity, got Davids to put the medication in the food supply, got Indri and all to fake a communication that looked it was from another starship, and most of all, you saw how to trigger enough fear in the Klingons souls to make them abandon your ship, running for home."
"That much I got from Thakras Husband believe me. But the epidemic on Denkhoren Four? What about that?" Uhura was curious, more than puzzled.
"Oh, it was nothing, reallyexactly what it appeared to be, if I have understood the good MBenga correctly. Denkhoren Four has viral outbreaks every few months, like many other colonies do; Id heard of similar before. I conjecture Wright took advantage of the most recent one, blowing it out of proportion. It doesnt take much effort to weave a large tapestry of tales from just a small thread of truth; look at, say, Paul Bunyan or Kahless."
"Well, no matter how much you try to duck the credit, Doctor Roberts, I still feel like I owe you a debt of gratitude."
"Oh no, it is I who must thank you, Captain. Ive studied childrens stories and myths all my life, you understand, and this episode has been an amazing treat for me. How the other folks in Mythopoetic Literature Studies will envy me!"
Knowing full well she was being pulled into something, Uhuras curiosity compelled her to ask. "They will? Why?"
"Why? I should think it is obvious. All of the others can claim to have studied myths and stories, but Ive actually watched one happen."
"Hah!" It was Marsdens voice. "Its better than that, man: you were actually an integral part of this one!"
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