After half an hour, Captain Uhura turned to Science One. "How tough can it be, Drevan? Why dont you look up Cruithneacht Three and see what you can find on it?"
"Im on it Captain." The Andorian buried himself in his console.
"Were being hailed by a Federation transport tug, Captain." TSoral looked up. "I have the feeling that Fleet Captain Chekov may not have told us everything about the situation in his communication. I suspect this is no coincidence. If so, the situation is likely to be more urgent than it appeared."
"Forward viewer, TSoral." Uhura sighed. Despite nearly a month in orbit around Renzal V, she was uncharacteristically tired. It was, she supposed, the stress of dealing with the situation. Before her, a familiar face appeared. "Walking Bear?"
"Captain Walking Bear, at your service, Captain Uhura. It may not be the Enterprise, but the Al Rashid is a fine vessel. Besides, Im hoping to get a cruiser after this tour of duty ends year after next." The Comanche almost seemed apologetic about commanding a transport tug.
"Dont worry about it, Dawson. I spent altogether too much time on the Anwar Sadat and teaching at the Academy before I landed this berth. Youll get there. Whats up?"
"Load of grain for youseeds for Cruithneacht Three, Id guess. That and some mature plants, and a few ready-to-plant starts. In fact, its a couple of hundred mature and a couple thousand starts, as I recall it." Walking Bear shrugged. "Im to the point that I no longer question the fleet captain."
"Whats the genus, Captain Walking Bear? Did they tell you?" The voice was Drevans.
"Amaranthus cruentus xenocolonialis. It took me nearly half an hour to get it straight enough to say that one. Its a remarkably hardy strain of amaranth, so Im told, one that was specially bred to use for colonies." Walking Bear consulted the readout on his command chair. "Supposedly its remarkably disease resistant; itll grow on almost anything short of a granite slab; and with even marginally favorable conditions, will produce nearly a kilo of grain per plant." He looked up again. "Probably tastes like tetralubisol, given its other, magnificent specs. Not that I know what tetralubisol tastes like, you understand."
Uhura smiled. "If I find out, Dawson, Ill let you knowthe grain, that is, not tetralubisol. Ready to transport it over?"
"I am when you are."
"Good. Ill have Indri start immediately." She nodded to TSoral, who turned to her communications console. "Good seeing you again."
"Good seeing you, too. And belated congrats on being made Captain of the Hyperion; you deserved a good ship. Al Rashid out."
Uhura turned to her chief communications officer again. "I suppose I should break the news to Durok and Subhar, TSoral."
"Already working on it, Captain. I presume that you will wish to tell them face to face."
"Correct. Hopefully Drevan will have some data to share with them."
"Already have it, Captain," Drevan spouted. "Theyre not going to like it." The Andorians antennae curled a little tighter. "I dont, any how."
"Wonderful. Prepare for a briefing in fifteen minutes in the ready room, Drevan. TSoral?"
Easing back into the command chair, Uhura let out a deep breath. If its not one thing, its another, she mused. Its starting to feel like Im back on the Enterprise with Jim Kirk, again. I wonder if the rest of Starfleet sees this much action? She let herself relax the best she could. It wasnt a question of whether or not something unexpected would happen; it was, as far as she was concerned, a question of what.
Once settled in her chair in the ready room, the captain turned to her chief science officer. "Drevan, if you could fill us in on what is happening on Cruithneacht Three?"
"Its pretty straightforward, really." Drevan sipped the beverage in front of him. "Its a fairly young Terran colony, about fifty-five years along and doing pretty well until around three and a half years ago. A fungus native to the planet developed a liking for Terran vegetation, particularly for wheat. Unfortunately, neither the wheat, nor the potatoes, nor the maize has any significant resistance to the stuff. The colonists are rapidly moving toward starvation, as far as I can see. Most of their crops have totally failed over the last two years."
Subhars eyes narrowed slightly. "What does Starfleet expect of Durok and me? Neither of us are particularly facile in mycology."
"No offense intended, Subhar, but I should think its obvious." Durok rubbed the base of his ample, hog like snout. "Both of us have fancy degrees in areas related to getting these plants established. The way I figure this, were there to overawe them with our magnificent credentials, so that some new, resistant crop can be established." The Tellarite turned to the Bantu. "How am I doing with the guess, Captain?"
Inwardly, Uhura agreed with the research botanists analysis, but decided that tact was probably more to the point. "I gave up trying to outguess Starfleet brass and what they were thinkingin fact, even whether or not they are thinkingyears ago. From where I sit, my thought is that there is a significant risk that we may have to have you assist with getting the new crop started."
Subhar nodded. "Most logical, Captain. Have you been told what we will introduce?"
"Amaranthus cruentus xenocolonialis; from what I understand, it is relatively robust." She turned to her science officer. "Anything to add to that, Drevan?"
"The original plant was cultivated by natives in North America for centuries; they ate the grain, mostly, but occasionally the foliage, too. It tolerates heat and drought well. You can pop it like popcorn; boil it like rice; and grind it like wheat. The new variant, xenocolonialis is extremely disease resistant, but without losing much of its productivity."
"I am familiar with the plant, Drevan." Subhar shrugged. "I do not see where we will be much help; it is a most remarkably robust species."
"No question about it, Subhar." It was Durok again. "But Starfleet Command doesnt seem to like taking chances, you know that. Never know what can happen, right? What was it, the Law of Unintended Consequences? We might grow more giant mushrooms or something."
"Personally, I usually prefer to quote Murphys Law." Drevans face sported a concerned expression. "Either way, its probably just as well that we have you along. Theres a little more to this situation than you think. The colony was started by a group that was somewhat anti-establishment; they are not exactly anarchists, but they dont miss it by much. Theyre intensely proud, self-sufficient folks, with a minimum of centralized government, but they still respect the opinions of educated individuals, and beings of your stature would be more likely to be heard than plain folk like us."
"Pity they didnt send a sociologist or some such." There was no mistaking Duroks annoyance. "Or maybe a high-powered psychologist. Make that a team of brain benders, come to think of it. Sounds like this colony is full of loonies."
"Would I be accurate in deducing that they had a significant distrust of anything that seemed military?" It was clear that the Vulcan did not believe the Tellarites comment either required or merited a reply.
Drevan turned back to Subhar. "The file didnt say anything about that, but Id guess youve got it dead to rights, Subhar. Maybe we should toss in a distrust of anything that smells like a centralized power structure."
"Like the United Federation of Planets, eh? Suddenly you and I being here make a lot more sense, Subhar. We get to do the talking." Durok nodded to himself. "Just as long as they dont have an ingrained xenophobia, we should be fine, my good Vulcan. All things considered, I suppose youll be the better choice for the first visit; on the whole, Vulcans are not as abrasive as we Tellarites tend to be, and you are by far the smoother of the two of us." He turned back to Drevan. "Any other booby traps that youve noticed?"
"Not so much a booby trap as a precaution: theyve got some slightly unusual ideas about ownership. Ownership and possession are, um, something close to synonymous. Transfer of ownership can be, well, occasionally it can be remarkably informal." The Andorian shook his head. "From what I could tell, I wouldnt take anything down with you that you want to be sure to take back, unless its attached to your person, preferably with a strong cord. Trititanium cable might be a good choice."
"Duly noted, Drevan." Subhar looked back at Uhura. "Is there anything else we need to know, Captain?"
"Not as far as I know. There will be comparatively generous resources to draw on to introduce the amaranth, but the expectation is that it will not take too long to get it established. Chief Nutritionist Lou Ghassi will be spearheading getting the folks taught how to prepare and use amaranth." Knowing Ghassi, Uhura figured that he was probably already experimenting with the grain. She made a mental note to double-check anything she got from the cafeteria.
"Are other crops heavily affected, Captain?"
"Our data is scant, Subhar, but apparently fruits seem comparatively immune, and most vegetables are only modestly affected by the fungus that is devastating the grains." She turned to Drevan. "Do you have any other data on that?"
"Thats about the size of it, Captain. Sugar cane seems immune, and most of the nuts are relatively resistant, other than peanuts, which are technically a legume any how. Most of the beans are doing poorly; yields are apparently a third of what they should be, which is pretty well the case with the peanuts, too." Drevans antennae stiffened slightly. "Were going to have to thoroughly decontaminate the ship after this mission; I suspect that there will be so much going to and from the planet that it will be impractical to do it piecemeal. Either way, Id rather not see this fungus loose."
"Good thinking, Andorian." Durok turned to Subhar. "Long term, of course, the mycologists are going to have to deal with this stuff; we cant have a grain smut like this getting loose on other worlds, but thats some other beings headache. That pretty much sum it up, Captain?"
Uhura turned to Drevan, who nodded. "Looks like it." She reviewed her notes. "I suspect that even now some other starship is having to deal with the Troglytes and Stratos City Dwellers for zenite."
"And that will probably take months," Drevan almost mumbled under his breath.
"Then if you dont mind, I think Im going to sneak back to my quarters and read up on Amaranthus cruentus xenocolonialis." The Tellarite stood. "If youll excuse me?"
Uhura stood as well. "Please, feel free. We will reach the Cruithneacht system in approximately thirty-six hours." She turned to the Vulcan. "Is there anything else I can tell you, Subhar?"
"Since I shall be doing the initial negotiations, will there be any limit on my authority to bargain?"
"Short of selling my crew into indentured servitude, or giving away vital, classified information, or something equally irrational, I dont believe so. Just about any bargain you can strike that will get the amaranth and its grain into their hands will be tolerable."
"Essentially any logical, comparatively reasonable appearing effort will be suitable to Fleet Captain Chekov and to Starfleet Command, then, Captain?"
"Thats my understanding. Somehow, I have the gut feeling that Pavel Chekov will be the least restrictive issue you deal with as you negotiate."
Subhar nodded, silently, obviously thinking deeply.
One by one, the beings left the ready room and made their way to their separate places. On the bridge of the Hyperion, Uhura settled back into the command chair. She turned to face the science console. "Drevan, I need you to dig deeper on the Cruithneacht colony, and whatever historical parallels you can find, if any."
"Already digging, Captain."
She turned back to the mainviewer. There was little left for her to do other than wait.
Subhar materialized in front of the building that served as the communitys central seat of governance. It was, by Federation standards, modest: two stories, with wood shingle roofing and siding. The Vulcans eyes flitted to the area under the eaves: the wood there was of a richer color than the areas more exposed to the elements; the building had a good number of years on it, but was hardly old.
Briskly, he moved toward the door, opening it and stepping into an antechamber with walls richly paneled with woods of an assortment of subtle colors, with fine but complex grain. The desk behind which the clerk sat was made of an equally beautiful wood. The clerk looked up. "Ah, appreciating our hardwoods, I see."
He nodded. "Indeed so. Such things are, to a degree, a matter of professional interest to me, as a specialist in ecology. I do not recall having seen woods of the color of some used here, particularly those of a blue to violet cast. Are they stained?" Subhar moved toward an area of the colors he was describing.
"Not at all. Rubbed with a natural oil to bring out the grain, then clear coated. They are quite fine, are they not?" It was clear that the functionary at the desk was pleased by Subhars interest.
"Most remarkable. I shall have to look into the coloring at a later date." The Vulcan turned from the paneling to the man behind the desk. "For the moment, I have somewhat more pressing business. I have an appointment to speak with a representative of your colony in approximately four point two minutes."
"Thatd be with Allan Montano, then. Let me show you to his area." Rising, the man led Subhar through a door and down a long corridor, ushering him into a small but comfortable waiting area. "Im sure Citizen Montano will be with you shortly." The young man disappeared down the hall.
True to prediction, a door on the other end of the waiting area opened revealing an older gentleman, the gray of his still plentiful hair giving him more of a stately, august appearance than an appearance of being old. His eyes flicked to Subhars ears; the hand that was almost extended for a handshake shifted to a clumsy version of the taal. "Ah, a Vulcan. Live long and prosper. Citizen Montano, at your service. Please join me in my little work area." He led the way through the door he had just negotiated, Subhar following. Montano waved the Vulcan to a chair. "May I offer you refreshment?"
"Thank you." Subhar nodded in assent. "Water will suffice, preferably slightly chilled."
"Ice water it is." Montano produced two glasses and a carafe. He poured for both, giving one to the Vulcan, sipping the other himself. He planted himself in a chair within easy sight of the Vulcan. "I am at your service."
"I am at your service, too, Citizen Montano. It is my understanding that there has been some difficulty with your grain crops, a grain smut that has impoverished your agricultural yield." The Vulcan ran his eye over the Human; his clothing, though well made, clearly had become too large for him, and his face, though not gaunt, clearly showed that he had been eating sparingly. Subhars careful evaluation did not escape Montanos notice.
"It is true. Many of our staple crops, especially the grains, have suffered direly from a fungal infection. We have planted extra hectares of the crops that are unaffected or only minimally affected, but it will be some time, I fear, before some of the extra plantings will bear fruit." His eyes shifted down to his clothing. "Rationing has been in place for some time; those of us who are of a more corpulent habitus have voluntarily restricted our intake a little more than needed, living off the fat of the land, so to speak. Our children, however, experience no rationing; they are, after all, our future, and deserve to be guarded with special care."
"Naturally. Any civilized, intelligent being would agree with you, Citizen." Subhar sipped his water, contemplatively. "We feel that everyones children are the future for all. We have come to be of what assistance we can."
"Those who study such things assure me that in a year or so, we will be back to supporting ourselves; there is reason to hope that, between what stores we have and the crops that are not affected, coupled with a little rationing, we should be able to make do until then." There was a look of resolution on Montanos face. "We do not wish to receive charity, no matter how kindly intended it may be. Self sufficiency is a great virtue to us; it was one of the founding principles of our colony."
"I quite understand." The Vulcans face clearly expressed the fact that he did. "We will willingly trade with your people. The woods I have seen on your walls, and in your furniture, are most magnificent. Perhaps we could exchange grain for wood."
"If the wood of our world is of value to you, we would let you harvest it yourselves, asking nothing in return other than due care and prudence in harvesting it, so that the forests are minimally disturbed. To pretend otherwise, by trading it, would be hypocrisy of the worst stripe. We have little use for hypocrites here on Cruithneacht Three."
"You and your people have firm convictions, and hold to them in the face of adversity. This is a trait all too rare, and one I admire greatly." The interventional ecologist looked the Human in the eyes, as if trying to read his mind. "I must point out, however, that there would be significant labor needed to harvest the trees, for which we would be willing to pay well."
"I doubt that anyone here would be willing to accept the work." He shrugged. "We pride ourselves in being masters of our own destinies, you understand. It is, I suppose, related to our preferring to be self-sufficient. To be in anothers employment is to lose self-sufficiency."
Subhar nodded. "I believe I understand." There was a moment or two of silence, as Subhar considered his next approach. "Our chief of nutrition has expressed an interest in sharing what useful information he has with your people, and learning what they have discovered in terms of new recipes and the like. He is most particularly interested in learning what he can of the crops indigenous to this planet, and offering back what things he learns that may be useful. Would that be permissible?"
"I am sure that many folk would be eager to trade knowledge with him or her."
"Lieutenant Commander Ghassi will be pleased to hear it. He is, I understand, always eager to try something new, and since he left the Academy, he has been frustrated at the lack of teaching opportunities. Would it be possible for me to procure some of your unique foodstuffs for him to study before coming down to your planet? I am empowered to make an exchange for such, in whatever means you prefer."
"You are subtle, Subhar. We will be pleased to exchange food for food, but only at an exchange rate that is mutually fair." Montanos face tightened slightly. "I cannot arrange for an exchange that is clearly nothing more than concealed charity."
"Nor would I ask you to do so: that would be a grave insult. If you prefer, you may choose the equivalence, and you may limit the amounts we procure. I would only ask that it not be strictly kilo for kilo; most of what we can provide is grain, and it would be more appropriate, in terms of the nutritional value, to provide a moderately larger amount of grain, which is primarily starch, for each kilo of the more nutritive vegetables, fruits and such, do you not agree?"
There was no mistaking that both beings were treading carefully, each for different reason. The Vulcan studied the Humans face briefly before continuing. "A two to one ratio, particularly for an unfamiliar grain, does not seem illogical to me."
"Two to one; I think I can live with that." The man fidgeted with his glass briefly. "But I do not think I could manage more than five, or at the most ten, kilos of mixed produce. At least not initially."
"I shall assume that ten kilos will be the limit. I will communicate with Lieutenant Commander Ghassi to see what he will wish to procure." There was another, uncomfortable but brief pause before Subhar continued. "I have a colleague with me, a research botanist. Durok would very much like to go through your forests and meadows to see if there might be any flora that would be of interest or use. Would that be permissible? He would, I am certain, be most willing to share any findings with your people. Two or three other individuals would be willing to assist, myself among them. Would that be tolerable?"
"They may come freely, and find what they find." Montano shrugged. "The only trouble they could get into would be straying into someones agricultural fields. I presume they have the wit and wisdom to avoid that. Is there anything else we need to consider?"
Subhar stood, returning his nearly empty glass to the surface of a nearby table. "Nothing of which I am aware Citizen Montano. If further topics of discussion are needed, may I offer to discuss them over a meal? Given the specific dietary practices of the Vulcan people, I would be willing to provide the meal as a convenience to you, so that neither of us need worry about the dishes being suitable. Depending on the issue, it may be necessary to have several individuals other than you and me in attendance."
Montanos eyes narrowed slightly, then relaxed. "I believe that will be acceptable. I have no specific dietary limitations that you will need to worry about. If more than two or three of us are needed, we will each bring a local dish to share, as well. It is our way, you understand."
"Excellent. My only need is that the dishes be vegetarian, if I am to partake of them: it is the way of Vulcans, as I am sure you know. With your permission, I shall return to my companions."
"I shall escort you; it is the least I can do."
Montano led the Vulcan through the corridors, to the door, opening it for him. "Long life and prosperity, Vulcan." This time, the taal was done crisply and well. "We will await your return."
Subhar inclined his head, acknowledging the Human. "Long life and prosperity to you as well, Allan Montano, in whatever way you choose to measure prosperity." He stepped into the street, finding himself surrounded by children, all of whom were excitedly staring at their unusual visitor.
As they crowded around him, Subhar was aware of his empty pockets being explored by small fingers deftly looking for something to pick from them. Benignly, he looked down at them. "Little ones, I must return whence I came; you must step back so that I may do so." Reluctantly, they stepped back as Subhar retrieved his communicator from a concealed pocket. "One to beam up, Hyperion."
The children stared in amazement as he disappeared in the transporter beam.
Indri and Uhura stood in the transporter room, watching Subhar materialize. The energy of the transporter beam had barely dissipated when the captain began speaking. "What results, Doctor?"
"Mixed, Captain. Their representative made it abundantly clear that they would accept no charity. I sincerely believe that he, and all the other adults in the colony, would rather starve to death than admit they are not self-sufficient. Im not even sure that should the Federation manage to obtain a sufficient amount of zenite to fight this plague that they would allow it to be dispersed in their atmosphere."
"Proud fools." Uhuras lack of sympathy for their willingness to starve rather than accept help was clear.
"Perhaps, Captain, but I am sure that you would agree that such strength of conviction is to be admired, even if it is imprudent. I had some limited success: they were willing to let Lieutenant Commander Ghassi teach what he will, and learn what he can, for instance."
"To what end?"
"It seems to me entirely possible, Captain, that a nutritional analysis of their principal foodstuffs may allow the commander to find combinations that are both comparatively palatable to Human taste, and nutritionally more complete, much like serving rice and beans on Terra. Equally, he can allow his students to prepare the dishes in questionand retain the result, if not take it home to their families, to assay the reaction to the food. If we use ships resources to provide most of the ingredients, we can subtly feed those who come."
Uhura smiled. "I get it. Cook it, taste it to adjust the seasoning, then take it home to see if the family likes it, then come back tomorrow to tell Lou how they liked it, so he can adjust his methods. Ghassis going to love this one."
"I am sure you are correct, Captain. Unfortunately, it will be nothing more than feeding them for a day or two, rather than resolving the problem. Their representative, Citizen Allan Montano, allowed me to convince him to sell us some of their foods for Ghassi to study. Payment will be made in kind: food for food, at a two-to-one ratio by weight. Considering that the amaranth seed is dry, and comparatively light, the return for what we purchase will be somewhat more than two to one in nutritional value. Permission was granted for Durok and me to see if there are any untapped food supplies in the wild; perhaps one or two of the crew will have some knowledge in that area and be willing to assist."
Indri looked over at the captain. "Running Bear and Eletto, Captain. That pair are heavily studied up on what the North American natives used to gather and eat; theyd be the best pair going."
She nodded. "I agree, Indri. You see to it that Running Bear is freed up; Ill get MBenga to shake loose Giac." She turned to the Vulcan again. "Any other thoughts?"
"I attempted to convince Montano to allow us to buy some of their wood for export: I was turned down flat; if we want it, we can harvest it, but they refuse to sell it." Subhar shook his head. "Frankly, their woods are unique and magnificent. It is my deduction that his refusal was based on a belief that we were making an excuse to deliver the grain by offering to buy their hardwood, which is far from the truth. Captain, you would not believe the magnificence of some of their hardwood, and the workmanship is on a par with the Terran Chippendale, or the Vulcan TShall. If I am able, I intend to see if I can convince one of their craftsmen to produce a Vulcan harp for my wife."
"I see. Look, if you manage to find someone that will do that, let me know; Im a bit of a harpist myself. Id not mind getting a Vulcan harp and a Celtic harp made, if theyre as good as you say. Maybe some of the crew will be interested in other things, too."
"My only concern is that the interest must be real, Captain: feigned interest will not do. If they smell hypocrisy, it will not go well with us."
"Duly noted, but thats no surprise, Subhar. Anything else?"
Subhar rubbed his chin for a moment. "One thing, but it is devious and perhaps slightly dishonest, so I would not care to be seen as recommending it."
"If its not flagrantly illegal or immoral, Im interested."
"Their children are, it appears, accomplished pickpockets, or at least they seem to believe that they are. Perhaps this could be exploited: crew could carry modest amounts of wrapped sweets, ones that the nutritional department has prepared to be desirable, but rich in nourishment." Subhar tilted his head slightly. "The crew, of course, will have to be instructed to be seen eating them, too. However, if the children purloin the majority of them..." The Vulcan let the comment die unfinished.
"Thats another good idea. Anything else of help?"
"Alas, no, Captain."
Uhura nodded. "Its a great start, any how. Indri, do you think you can get the construction diagrams for Vulcan and Celtic harps downloaded?"
"Unquestionably. Anything else?"
She shrugged. "Not that I can think of; if you come up with any good ideas, let us know. If you would talk to Durok about hunting up untapped food supplies, Subhar? And Indri, if you would get those diagrams and get Running Bear freed up?"
"Just one thing, Captain. Drevan feels that he has found a historic parallel that contains a possible approach, drawing on the records of the residents of the Terran Appalachian mountains during the colonization of North America. I think I might be able to pull it off, with your permission."
"Do what it takes, Indri." The captain turned to the Vulcan. "Any other thoughts?"
The three beings went their separate ways, each to their separate task.
Indri materialized on the main street of Cruithneacht IIIs main city, a large container next to him. Behind him, the sun was starting to move toward the horizon, painting the sky in delicate shades of pink. Only a few folk were on the street, most of them shop keepers that were closing up their businesses. Leaving his parcel behind him, confident that it was safe because of its size, he approached a younger individual. "Citizen, might I beg a little of your time?"
The man locked the door he was standing near before turning to face the engineer. "You need not humiliate yourself by begging; you can have it freely. What do you need?"
"A little help with a project, actually." Indri looked up and down the street before he continued. "A project Id sort of like to keep under wraps for a little while."
The mans eyes narrowed. "I am disinclined to become involved with anything that is of questionable legality, and even less so if it is clearly illegal. What do you propose?"
Indri winked. "Nothing illegal, man, just an idea that needs a little work, and that might be a real nova if things work out well. Rumor has it that youve some unusual woods here."
"We do. You are free to harvest what you wish, as long as you do not damage the forest ecology." The suspicion in the mans voice was obvious. "You explain nothing by your comment."
"I know, man, I know. Look, see that box over there?"
"Naturally. It is very hard to miss, you know."
"I know. We need to move it, if youre in this with me. What Ive got in there is a fermentation chamber and a still." Indri looked up and down the street again, shifting his voice to an almost conspiratorial whisper. "Do you know anything about making whiskey?"
"Little more than that it is a distilled alcoholic beverage. I take it you know a bit more about the subject."
"You bet your eyes I do, Citizen. Learned it from Montgomery Scott, an incredible engineer and a prize whisky brewer on the side. The big trick in alcohol is charcoal filtering. In the old days, they used to store it for ten, twelve years in oak barrels that had been charred on the inside; later, they filtered the distillate through ground charcoal to get the same taste." He hooked his thumb toward the edge of town. "Now, the way I figure it, we could set up the still and fermentation system out in the woods somewhere, and use some of the more exotic woods for the charcoal. It stands to reason that they would give the resulting brew a unique color, and possibly a new flavor. Were talking a potentially amazingly valuable product, here, if we can get the mix right."
Slowly, the man nodded. "I confess to some degree of interest. Citizen Caedog, at your service. Will we need something to move the box with?" He extended his hand.
"Indris the name, Caedog." Indri took the offered hand, shaking it. "I had the foresight to have rollers on it; we can tilt it and go. You lead, Ill follow."
Caedog led the way swiftly down the street, Indri following, until they came to a small outbuilding near a larger house. "This is my home; the outbuilding I have used for storage, but no longer need. Will it be suitable for your system?"
"Let me look. Seems to me it may be. Theres the issue of charcoal, though. If youll harvest the wood, Ill help make the charcoal; for now, lets look into the shed."
Indri inspected the building; it was fairly clean, with little other than some cobwebs to remove. The floor was packed earth, smooth but not overly hard. "Thisll do fine Caedog. Lets get things set up, then get started on the charcoal."
With practiced ease, and Caedogs help, the fermenter and still were quickly set up. "Well need some sugar and some water. How tough will it be to get sugar?"
"Not hard, Indri. The water we can get from my well easily enough. What have you that I can use to trade for the sugar?"
"What will people take, and how much will it cost for, say, five kilos of it?" Indri busied himself with adjusting a coupling in the machine. "Were going to have to use solar energy to run the still; Ill bring the reflectors and the heat exchange system down in the morning. No sense burning the wood to make heat; its more valuable as charcoal, and well need to collect less that way, any how."
"Most wise. How soon will you want the sugar?"
"Cant start the fermentation without it, but tomorrow at the soonest. Well need to get the brewers yeast starter from the ship, you understand." Indri straightened up. "What sort of thing will you need to trade for sugar? Asked you a minute ago, and you forgot to answer."
Caedog rubbed his chin. "The trick will be to avoid people realizing that the material comes from your ship, Indri. That means we will be better off using meatbeef, pork, poultry and perhaps sausage of assorted kinds. Like most others here on Cruithneacht, I raise a little livestock on the side; no one will be suspicious. For the amount of sugar you want, a kilo to a kilo and a half will do."
"Ill bring three kilos, then; get as much sugar as you can." He shooed Caedog out the door of the shed, closing it carefully. "Ill be back bright and early with the rest of the mechanism, the yeast and some grain; you can get the sugar, and well get Junior here up and running."
Uhura looked at the buildings on the main street of Cruithneacht IIIs main city, wondering where to start her hunt for a wood worker. She was sure that there were shops in the buildings, but their presence was not announced by any signage that she could recognize. A woman passing by noticed her, and came over. "You appear confused. May I help?"
"I hope so. Im looking for someone that is a craftsman in wood; there are a couple of things that I am hoping to have made."
"Indeed. What would you want? A building? Furnishings? Implements?" The woman seemed sincere in her question.
"Neither, maam. Im interested in getting a couple of harps made."
"I see. Then Citizen Hansmith would be your preference, I believe." The woman pointed. "He works in the tan colored building, there. A good day to you, madam, and good fortune." Before Uhura could say anything else, the woman moved off to see to her own business, leaving Uhura to tend to hers.
Hansmiths was only a short distance away, and the captain quickly made her way into the building, finding herself in a large room filled with guitars, dulcimers, banjos, violins and other, less familiar, musical instruments. A tall, slightly balding man appeared from a doorway. "Good morning, Citizen. Is there something I can do for you?"
"It seems likely." Uhura looked at the instruments on the wall, and made a mental note to let Reichard know about the guitars she saw. "If you are Citizen Hansmith, any how. I was told you might be willing to make a couple of harps for me. I have the designs I would prefer used: one is a classical Celtic harp, the other, a Vulcan harp."
"Interesting. Do you play the harp?" Hansmiths voice showed a subtle hint of suspicion.
Unruffled, the Bantu woman smiled. "If you have a harp available, I could let you be the judge of that."
The man nodded. He reached into a cabinet, bringing out a harp wrought of a rich, deep red wood. Silently, he handed it to Uhura. The captain inspected it, gently running her fingers across the strings. She tightened two, and ran her fingers across again. Satisfied, she began playing. Initially, her fingers moved slowly, but as she began to become more comfortable with the instrument, they moved with greater and greater speed, until notes fell upon the ear as fast as raindrops falling in a thunderstorm. When the last note died, she looked at the proprietor. "Well?" Uhura extended the harp back to the man.
Hansmith bowed slightly. "I apologize for doubting you, madam." The hint of suspicion in his voice was replaced with sincere respect. "It seems that you are a virtuoso harpist. It would be an honor to build such harps as you request, but alas, I do not have the proper material for stringing them."
To her surprise, Uhura realized that Hansmith was not reaching for the harp she held out to him. "Please, take this back. I had the presence of mind to bring sufficient material to string both harps, but I cant get to them while Im holding this." The woodworker took the harp, gently placing it on a nearby surface. Uhura reached into a concealed pocket, bringing out strings and a hard copy of the design for the harps. "If you are willing to make the harps, here are the designs, and the material to string them."
"For a musician of your caliber, I will be honored to make the instruments. Let me show you the woods I have that would be suitable. If you would follow me?" He led the way through the door by which he had entered the room. Uhura followed. On the other side was a workshop, well supplied with tools and woods of assorted grains and colors. Hansmith pointed to one stack of lumber. "These would be suitable for the body of the harp."
She fingered the woods: the colors and grains were, as Subhar had said, magnificent. She selected two, one a deep green, the other a rich blue tone. "Perhaps this green colored one for the Celtic harp, and the other, for the Vulcan?"
"Excellent choices. Will you wish any inlay? It will neither harm the tone nor the strength of the result. Mother of pearl is popular with both of the woods you have selected, although contrasted colors of wood is also very beautiful."
Uhura considered carefully. "There is an issue of time, Citizen Hansmith, and of cost. How will I return value to you for the value you will provide me? The workmanship in the instruments that I have seen is as magnificent as the wood of which they are made, if not more so." Instinct, for some reason, caused Uhura to shy away from anything sounding like buying and selling.
"For your kind words, I thank you, but I ask nothing in return. To provide tools to a harpist of your remarkable caliber is reward enough for me." He looked at the designs again. "Without inlay, I should have them done in three days, perhaps a little sooner. I have not been busy, recently. Will three days from now be suitable?"
Surprise clearly showed on the Bantus face. "Very suitable. You work swiftly."
"Again, I thank you for your kind words. Allow me to give you the harp you first played. I would appreciate the gift of your playing on it, again."
"Well! I dont get asked to play nearly as often as I would like; I would be very happy to oblige." Uhura followed him to the front room again, accepting the harp back. "Is there a particular kind of music you prefer?"
"I believe you would call it Celtic, but anything cheerful and lively will do."
"Cheerful and lively. I can do that." She strummed the strings gently, then began fingering the melody of an Irish jig. "But you are evading my question, Citizen Hansmith. You will be putting considerable effort into producing two harps for me. I need to return some value for them."
"We can negotiate that when they are made."
Running Bear stood at the controls of the transporter, watching the captain materialize. To his surprise, he saw that she was holding a beautifully wrought, red, wooden harp. "I see you found what you needed quickly enough, Captain. Congratulations! What did it set you back?"
Uhuras face clearly registered frustration. "Essentially nothing, Running Bear, which is the problem. Heres a man that is starving, and he wants to give me a harp instead of letting me buy it. Look at this thing, will you?" She stepped off the transporter platform. "Its magnificent workmanship, and this wood is unstained."
Gently, the engineer took the offered musical instrument and examined it carefully. "No kidding. I can barely see the joints in the wood. This guys good stuff." Running Bear returned the harp. "What would you say this thing was worth?"
"At a conservative estimate, a couple of hundred credits, probably more. Why?"
"Oh, I think I can see to it that he gets what he deserves. You were what, five meters in front of his store when I beamed you up?"
"Give or take. Why?"
"I still have the coordinates, Captain. What do you want to bet I can transport a batch of whatever you specify, for the value of that harp, into his shop?" There was a lopsided grin on the Native American face. "Dont worry: he wont balk, unless we get excessive. Ive studied up on cultures that show some similar structuresInuit and Klikitat come to mind."
"If you say so. Transport down a mixed supply of foodstuffs, as much of it as you can packaged to last a while. You know the value Im looking at." The Bantu strummed the strings of the harp. "Frankly, I need to talk to Ken; hes going to go crazy when he sees the guitars and such that Hansmith makes. Look, if you can get away with transporting food to them secretively, maybe thats how we should solve the problem."
"Youll drive Ken more crazy, Captain." The engineer winked conspiratorially. "We drove him nuts months ago."
"There isnt a pole in the universe long enough for me to touch that one, Running Bear. And even if there was, I probably couldnt pick it up."
"As to transporting the food into peoples houses surreptitiously, that might work for one or two households when there has been a significant gift given one of us, but on the whole, dont plan on it working. Im willing to hazard a guess that when the time comes for you to pay your way clear on the two harps, hes going to want payment in kind, varnishes and glues and the like." The Native American shrugged. "Its a nice thought, though."
"Oh, well, we can at least do it with Hansmith. Look, how soon are you, Durok and Eletto going to head down to the surface to look for harvestable stuff the locals have missed?"
"In about two and a half hours. Giac said he wanted to bone up on a couple of things before we left." He shrugged. "It seems to me he probably needs that like I need a spare thumb, but who am I to argue? With Durok along, and a couple of tricorders reprogrammed to assess food safety and flavor, we should be able to make great strides in a short period. I hope."
"I do, too, but no matter what you find, you still have to convince the population to harvest and eat it." Uhura plucked a couple of minor chords on her newly acquired harp, punctuating her remark. "That may be harder than it looks."
"As may be. All I know is that Im going to try. Nothing like a little sales pitching, eh?"
Uhura just shook her head. "Ill leave that to you and Giac." She strode to the turbolift. "Im heading to the bridge to talk to Reichard and show off my new harp."
Drevan stood at the window of the shop, looking more at the individuals shaping the wood than at the furniture that was on display. As he watched, he felt a small hand trying to get into one of the pockets on his uniform. Without warning, he dropped, turning to face the child who was trying to pick his pocket. She looked to be about four or five to him; her blonde hair hung freely, framing an impish face with brilliantly blue eyes. Even Drevan, only marginally familiar with Human children, could tell this child was bright. "Good morning, little girl. Did you know that it is not polite to pick an Andorians pocket without being properly introduced?"
To his surprise and pleasure, Drevan saw that the little girl maintained her composure. "Youre not an Ando-whatever. Youre just a blue man with two funny things growing out of his head."
"No, Im a blue man, with lots of white hair and two funny things growing out of my head. Thats basically what an Andorian is, little one. Well, some Andorians are blue women with white hair and two funny things growing out of their heads, but I figure a clever little girl like you could figure that out without being told." The science officer smiled, reaching into his pocket. "Care for a candy?" He unwrapped one and popped it in his mouth. "I hate eating alone, you understand. It is so much more fun when youre sharing with a friend."
The little girl put on a mock serious face. "We people dont think its nice to be friends unless weve been properly introduced." A smile replaced the seriousness. "Whats your name?"
"Its a long thing in Andorian, but you can call me Drevan. Whats yours?"
"Okay, now weve been properly introduced, so we can be friends. Have one." He extended a candy, which Luri duly accepted, unwrapped and put in her mouth. There was no mistaking the fact that she enjoyed the confection as she gently sucked on it. "Those people in there, they make nice furniture. Do you think the man and woman in there could make an Andorian chair for me?"
"Thats my mommy and daddy. They can make anything with wood." Pride shone from Luris face. "Theyre the bestest furniture makers anywhere."
"Ah, that is very good to know. Do you think you could introduce me to them? Since they are the bestest, I probably should have an introduction, dont you think?" The Andorian extended a blue hand to the girl, who grabbed it and began dragging him through the door.
"Daddy, this is Drevan, and he wants to meet you, and hes my new friend." Luris enthusiasm seemed boundless.
Man and wife looked up from their work. The woman spoke first. "No doubt, Luri dear, but dont you think that its unnecessary to pull the poor beings arm off? He might need it for something later. Perhaps you can let go of it."
The man emptied his hands. "Names Gavin, Drevan. This is Talla, my wife. What can I do for you?"
"A chair, frankly. Being exoskeletal and endoskeletal both, the chairs made for Humans arent particularly comfortable for me. I..."
"Whats ex-o-skel-e-tal, Drevan?" Luri asked, making a very careful effort to pronounce the unfamiliar word.
Before Gavin or Talla could chide the child for interrupting, Drevan pulled a sleeve up. "Tap my arm. See how hard?"
Luri did as she was told. Her eyes got big. "Boy, thats really hard! Its hard as bone."
"Well, almost, Luri. I have bones on the inside and the outside of my arms and legs, and muscles to move them. That makes me quite strong." He turned back to Gavin. "Unfortunately, I dont have any hard stuff on my fanny; that makes sitting in a Human chair a pain, and you can guess where. The exoskeleton on my thighs cut into my behind a bit, unless I have a small ledge properly placed, if you see what I mean."
Gravely, Gavin nodded. "I think I see well enough to know what you need, but Id prefer you to sketch the details, if you would, especially anywhere you would want or need padding."
"Easily done." Drevan felt Luris fingers checking out the pocket with the candies in it; he chose to ignore it, hoping she would empty it without being too obvious. "Two areas need a little padding, about a centimeter thick: just behind my knees and, um, roughly at my hips." Talla moved in where she could see more clearly. "Like this. Now, heres the rough dimensions of this, but maybe itd be better if I let one of you take measurements."
Talla nodded. "I think Gavin should make some measurements, yes." She looked up. "This will be an interesting challenge, but I think we can rise to it."
"Glad to hear it. Youll need to work with this a while before you know what Im going to owe you, Im sureand how much you want in return for your time and materials." Drevan straightened up slightly. "To be honest, a nice chair that is comfortable is worth a good deal to me. Im not as young as I used to be."
"I understand." Gavin winked at his wife. "Talla, why dont you and Luri check the livestock for me, while I measure up this being? Ill be back in a moment."
"Come with me, honey." Talla took her daughters hand.
"Bye, Drevan! You can come back any time you like! Nice meeting you!" Talla whisked her daughter through a door.
"You have a delightful child, there, Gavin."
"And a chatterbox, too. Now, lets get those measurements." Out of a pocket, Gavin produced a small tape measure. "Can you give me some guidance as to where to measure to and from?"
"You bet. Theres the issue of returning value for value received. How do you want it? Federation credits or..."
Gavin didnt let the Andorian finish his statement, almost as if he guessed that Drevan would suggest payment in food. "Glue. Well, to be more honest, adhesives of several sorts. Making the sort of things I do, high quality, high endurance adhesives are of utmost value to me." The Human knelt by the Andorian, measuring tape in hand. "I presume you have them in liter-sized quantities, and in several different kinds. Now, lets get to work on those measurements, shall we?"
The sun of Cruithneacht III was barely over the horizon when Indri materialized by the shed. Caedog came out of the house. "Good morning, Indri. The still is running fine."
"Figured it would. Come on." Indri ducked into the shed, Caedog at his heels. From the still, a steady stream of clear fluid was pouring into a long, charcoal-filled container, a greenish-tan fluid flowing out the bottom, collecting in the container below. From another orifice of the machine, some light brown tablets were being extruded.
Caedog pointed to them. "Whats this?"
Indri looked over. "Oh, those are yeast tablets. This is a special strain of brewers yeast; it can run the alcohol content of the mash to unusually high levels. Youre going to need one of those to seed every batch of mash you process."
"You must be expecting to make a lot of this stuff. Theres got to be several dozen tablets there."
"Probably a hundred or more. Look, the machine was developed for challenging colonies, where the alcohol was supposed to be used as a fuel, and the tablets were to be used as a nutritional supplement. The yeast is also remarkably high in vitamins and protein, at least for a species of yeast. It was too much trouble to deactivate the tablet part. Just make sure youve got a bunch of them stashed, so you can start other batches, okay? You can do whatever you like with the rest."
"I understand." Caedog watched the output from the charcoal filter. "Are we ready to sample the product?"
"Depends. You have some ice? The stuffs still fairly warm." Indri looked at the flow. "Were about done here, though."
"I shall return with ice and a pair of glasses."
As his co-laborer returned, Indri was shaking the last drop loose from the filter. "Looks good, man, looks good. There wont be a whiskey like this anywhere in the Federation." Caedog extended the glasses to Indri, who poured a small amount of the product into each. Indri put the container back down, accepting a glass. "Heres to our little project!"
The men touched the rims of their glasses, then tossed the brew back. Within moments, both of them became red-faced. Caedog, being nearest to the door, was the first out, but Indri was close behind, joining Caedog in retching up what hed consumed, and everything else he could find. Several minutes passed before Indri looked up. "Tell you what, lets just call this one a total failure, shall we?"
"Failure. Total and complete. Fuel, man, thats all its good for." The colonists face looked as wan as the engineers did. "And itll take more grain to feed it than its worth, until we get the crop problem licked."
Indri nodded. "Yeah. No kidding." He stood, somewhat wobbly. "The yeast tablets will be safe enough, any how; I know the machinery was rigged to make them safe." The engineer braced himself against the wall. "Tell you what, I think Im just going to go back to the ship, and see if there is somewhere inconspicuous that I can curl up and die, okay?"
"Yeah, fine." Caedog looked like he had similar plans. "Hey, next time you get a hotshot idea, do me a favorpick on someone else."
"I promise." He reached for his communicator. "Either that, or Ill lay down and try to forget it. Hyperion, one to beam up."
Uhura looked around the ready room, hoping to see a face that showed signs of a hopeful idea. Beside Durok and Subhar, all the department heads and a number of others were present, Eletto and Running Bear included. None of the faces before her showed any signs of hope. Gently, she sat down in the chair at the head of the table. "Gentlebeings, we all know the situation on the surface well enough that I dont need to elaborate on it. We are getting nowhere."
"No kidding." The voice was Ghassis. "Since the kids caught on that we wanted them swiping the hard candies, theyve quit playing pickpocket."
"Thats no shock," Drevan added. "Given their social structure, particularly their aversion to government give-aways and their need to believe theyre self-sufficient, it was only a matter of time before they caught on." The Andorian turned to Uhura. "Unfortunately, now they wont sell anyone anything, either, because they think were buying it as a pretext to get them food. I just wish theyd not decided that until I got the chair I wanted." His antennae drooped in disappointment. "It was going to be custom shaped to my, um, personal needs, unlike these chairs designed for strictly endoskeletal beings that I have to use around here." Drevan made a point of squirming in the chair he was using, to express his discomfort.
"Im sympathetic, Lieutenant." Despite her statement, Uhuras voice held little sympathy. "Let me be blunt. None of us leaves this room until we have a concrete plan that seems to me to have a hope of success. I want to hear some ideas."
The silence was deafening. All that seemed to be happening was the individuals around the table staring at each other, hoping someone else had something, anything to suggest. There could be no question that every being present was wracking their brain, seeking any possible idea, but nothing was forthcoming.
Lieutenant Commander Greggson, the chief security officer on the Hyperion, finally broke the prolonged silence. "Are you willing to trust me, Captain? If you are, I think I can guarantee that Ill have this unpronounceable plant being farmed by most if not all of the colonists within a month or less."
"Im open to anything, Wills. What do you have in mind?" Uhuras attempt to mask her skepticism was only partially successful. Subtlety was hardly one of Greggsons strong suits.
"Give me a free hand, Captain, and enough of the crew for security guards, and Ill show you." The thin, almost wiry mans face was a stony mask. "You wouldnt believe me if I tried to explain it."
"Look, you cant force them to grow it at phaser-point, Wills." It was Ghassi. "At least give us some idea of what youre up to."
Greggson stared at Ghassi for a moment. "Potato head."
Scandalized, Uhura was about to reprimand her chief of security for the insult, but Eletto beat her to the punch. "I get it. Captain, I think I see where hes taking this. Potato heads, indeed. I should have my rear end kicked from one side of the Federation to the other for not seeing it earlier. I say let him do it. Ill even take a shift with a phaser. How many acres?"
Suddenly, there was a sparkle in Ghassis eye. "Sure! Captain, I suggest that we give Greggson the free hand he wants. Nothing but a skeleton crew on the bridge, and the rest of us on the surface in shifts."
Appreciation exploded on Greggsons face, as clearly as bafflement did on Uhuras. The security chief looked at Ghassi and Eletto. "I figured one of you would catch on. Eight hour shifts, gentlemen; Ill run the graveyard shift, and you two can flip for whichever other one you want to run. We can set up a greenhouse; itll be easier, and involve a whole lot less area."
Durok shook his head. "Ive never been impressed with Human sanity, but this is over the top." He turned to MBenga, who was as confused as most of the others. "Any chance you could get him down to Sickbay and help him?" He turned back to Greggson. "What on Tellus are you thinking?"
"Something better than Swifts modest proposal." Greggson remained stone faced, but with a tight, thin smile.
One of Subhars eyebrows raised. "Fascinating. I see the parallel from Earths history, now. I shall assist in designing and building the greenhouse."
At this point, Uhura was staring from face to face, slack jawed. "I dont believe this." She looked at Subhar. "Surely you see the illogic in my agreeing to something I dont even know about."
"Quite on the contrary, Captain, I see clear logic in your doing so." The Vulcan held up one hand, staving off Uhuras reply. "Consider: what I deduce Lieutenant Commander Greggson is proposing is most unorthodox, and thus potentially somewhat risky. Although I believe his confidence in what he proposes is well placed, the less you know, the less you can be held to account for, Captain."
Drevans antennae stiffened. "Im with you on the night shift, Greggson. What you have up your sleeve, I dont know, but my night senses are distinctly better than a Humans."
All but the three who had apparently caught on to Greggsons idea were clearly somewhere between confused and scandalized. Drevan finally looked at his captain. "Let me be blunt, Captain. Unless anyone else has an idea to offer, I suggest we take Greggsons idea and go forward. I am willing to let the record show that you agreed to the idea, otherwise sight unseen, because there was no other visible, viable alternative. Gentlebeings?"
"Well, considering how thoroughly my plan to get brewers yeast grown down there for a nutritional supplement flopped, Im willing to follow Greggsons lead." Indri shrugged. "I havent the least idea what youre up to, Wills, but if you need any help building that greenhouse, let me know. We can turn out whatever you need."
"I could have saved you the grief, Indri," Drevan offered. "That strain of yeast is engineered to manufacture a little disulfiram with the alcohol. Disulfiram plus hooch plus Human equals misery, trust me."
"I found out, Drevan. Believe me, I found out."
"How fast can you churn out clear, three millimeter polymer sheeting, Indri?" The voice was Elettos. "I know a trick that will save us a bundle of time."
"Depends on the width; if its less than three meters wide and the polymer isnt too exotic, probably a couple hundred meters an hour."
Greggson looked at Eletto. "Good thought." The security chief turned to Uhura. "All we need is your permission. Subhar is right: the less you know, the safer you are."
The Bantu took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "Wills, youre sharp and youre resourceful, and I trust you. As long as you dont do anything immoral, illegal, unethical or too bizarre, you have my authorization. Ill even take my turn guarding whatever, if you want." She closed her eyes tightly for a moment, then opened them again. "Just try not to embarrass me, okay?"
Greggson stood. "Thank you, Captain. I appreciate your trust. Indri, Eletto, Subhar, Drevan, Ill need your hand with a little design work. Ghassi, if youll join us?"
"Design isnt my bag, but Ill join you." Ghassi levered himself up. "Time is wasting. Lets get going. Ill have my staff get rolling on keeping folk fed during the planning and execution."
Still puzzled, Uhura looked up at Ghassi. "Despite being totally puzzled otherwise, I can at least understand the catering. One point, Ghassimake sure everything you serve on the surface is made with the amaranth and other things available on the surface."
"Captain, youre a genius. Of courseshould have seen it myself." Ghassi turned to Greggson. "Forget me at your little design confab, folks; I have to do a little experimenting down in the kitchen. This is going to be fun!" Ghassi was out the door before anyone could react.
Eletto looked at Subhar. "Lucky you. Your sense of taste is easily a hundred times less sensitive than mine. At least youll be able to eat what that madman comes up with without problem."
"Oh, get out of here, all of you," Uhura said. "Get to work. Dismissed!"
Greggson stood on the edge of the meadow, watching as crew from the Hyperion shoveled topsoil, plants and all, into wheelbarrows that were being dumped into the hopper of a moderately large machine. As the soil was removed to an adequate depth, others were laying out a floor of hard polymer, the squares interlocking to form a single, solid surface. Still others were building up short walls, into which engineering cadets were inserting transparent aluminum studs that were being welded to headers made of the same material.
First a few, then numerous individuals from the colonys main city began collecting, watching the activity. The chief of security turned to face them. "Just keep back, now. Were not up to anything you need to be concerned about, so you can be about your business." Without waiting for them to respond, he turned back. "Okay, the east walls up. Lets get going on getting that sheeting fixed to it, and getting the north and south walls started. Subhar, hows the topsoil processing?"
The Vulcan poked his head from behind the machine. "Proceeding well. We should be ready for the first of the flats in about twenty minutes. How soon will the shelves be ready?"
"Theyre ready now; we just need to get the first of the rafters up and covered with the clear polymer sheathing and well be ready." Greggson looked over at the engineering cadets slaving under Running Bears oversight.
"First batch will be going in place in three minutes, or I know some cadets that will be suffering direly." Even as the Illiniwek spoke, four cadets hoisted the first roofing element in place, two others plying their microwave welding wands to lock it down. "Well be ready before Subhar and his dirt machine are." Running Bear turned to the cadets. "For crying out loud, get the ridge beam in place first, will you? Thatll save you bucket-loads of effort, not like Im concerned about you guys sweating more than you have to, but were on a tight time schedule."
Greggsons dismissal of the people of Cruithneacht III was utterly ineffective; if anything, it caused the number of onlookers to grow. He waved at a couple of his security force, who gently moved the colonists backward, making apology for the inconvenience, but firmly clearing the area to the pre-chosen perimeter.
By the time that Allan Montano arrived, the greenhouse was all but finished, and the promised tables were rapidly being stacked with flats filled with the output from the topsoil machine. Each small pot of topsoil in the flat was being planted with a small seed by a small army of crew. The people were working with such intense focus that it took Montano some time to catch anyones attention. Rather than respond personally, the cadet whose eye Montano caught sent William Greggson to talk.
"Good morning, Citizen Montano." Greggson extended his hand. "Wills Greggson, from the Hyperion. What can I do for you?"
"Satisfy my curiosity, I believe. What do you and your team think youre doing?"
"Nothing you need to worry about, Montano." The chief of security turned as if to get back to work.
"A moment, please. I had no intention of worrying about anything; the land you have chosen is claimed by no one, so I would not choose to interfere, but my curiosity remains unsatisfied. Again, what are you folks doing?"
"Building a greenhouse, and getting some stuff started in it that were going to plant, grow and harvest to ship to an assortment of markets in the Federation. Thought youd be able to guess." Greggson again turned to the work. "Hey, Ghassi, you want to get the coffee area set up now? Were about done getting things put together, and we want the guards to stay awake."
Before he could move back to the construction effort, Greggson found himself caught by Montanos hand. "I am still somewhat unclear, here. Guards?"
The security officer turned back, shaking his sleeve free of the other mans grasp. "Guards. You know, people to make sure that no one decides to make off with the stuff were trying to get started. Were going to be taking it with us, and we want the best yield for the effort expended." As he was talking, Subhar came up, joining them.
"Good day, Citizen Montano. If I may interrupt a moment, I need to talk to Lieutenant Commander Greggson." The Vulcan turned to Greggson. "The lightsthey have to be removed, Wills. Itll disrupt the growth on the plants that weve already got sprouted."
"I thought plants fed on light, Subhar. Since when do they need dark?"
"It is during the dark periods that the metabolic activities like growth peak, for one thing; more significantly, the light-dark cycling is one of the things that controls setting fruit. Disrupt that, damage the yield." The Vulcan pointed. "Regrettably, those lights have to be removed."
"Oh, well. Ill have em taken down before sunset. Anything else?" The Vulcan shook his head, retreating to oversee other aspects of the operation. Greggson turned back to Montano. "As I was saying, nothing going on here to worry you. Given the slightly unorthodox ideas you folks have about ownership, though, I thought protecting the investment was probably necessary. Dont worry, Allan; well put up a light fence as a reminder to people where we want them to stop. Probably get to that tomorrow morning; were too busy with other construction activities at the moment. Unless theres something else, Ive got to get back to the construction crew."
"I guess there is nothing else." The colonys representative looked at the greenhouse the cadets were finishing. "Guess Id best let you go."
"Thanks." Greggson moved off, shouting as he went. "Okay, guys, knock it off with the lights; our Vulcan plant specialist says theyre a no go. Get em down, and well take em back to the ship."
The sun was slowly disappearing behind a cloud as Greggson materialized on the surface near the greenhouse. Eletto waved. "Good to see you, Lieutenant Commander. All quiet on the planet front. Sunset in five minutes, local, but with the clouds coming in, you wont be able to tell."
"Hows the supply of rubbernecks, Giac?"
"Up. Theyve been particularly looking to see how those more mature plants are doing in the small area we cleared just beyond the greenhouse." The physician gestured at the plants under discussion. "I think a couple of them are going to have mature heads of grain in less than a week; more significantly, so does Durok."
"Duroks still clueless?"
"Everyone is still clueless, Wills." Eletto grinned. "Except the five of us." He looked at the folks on the perimeter, then at the contents of the greenhouse. "Two gets you five, it should be tonight. If not tonight, then almost certainly tomorrow night."
"I checked with Drevan; hes predicting rain tomorrow night, maybe a good thunderstorm. Tonight, Giac; it has to be tonight. Want to stay?"
"Leave, and miss all the fun? I was going to beg for the chance. I get the south face! Its nearest the forest."
"Its nearest the coffee and food, you mean, Doc. Thats where I want you, frankly; let the younger folk do the fancy work." Greggson looked at the people at the edge of the plot of land they had fenced off before continuing. "Also, nearest to a source of light. Just dont get hurt."
"Same to you, fellah. Just in case, Ive got my mediscanner and kit." He patted the pouches hanging off his belt. "I dont really expect any problem, do you?"
"No. New moon; comparatively heavy cloud cover expected in about an hour, with just enough wind to make some noise to mask clandestine operations. This is going to be a pushover, I think." He looked at the growing crowd at the fence. "But Im still glad youll be here, just in case we need treatment for field injuries. Thats the real reason I want you by the coffee pot; well know where to bring the injured. You know the plan?"
"Stone cold, Wills, stone cold. Youve briefed the next set of guards on the plan?" It was clear that the physician was concerned.
"Briefed them on the Hyperion, just to be sure no one overheard." The chief security officer turned to look at the horizon; the clouds were forming rapidly. "Drevan promised me there wouldnt be rain tonight. TSoral had meteorology double check, and they agree."
"Good. Commander, I turn the watch over to you. Im heading for a jug of java."
"Thank you, Lieutenant. Make sure its the real stuff; we may want you alert and ready."
"High test, Wills, high test. Ill have Hardav beam down a couple of liters of Jacks Blend." Eletto looked at Greggson for a moment. "Good luck, Wills. I just hope this works the way we expect, or were both going to end up on a bread line."
Off to one side, six crewmen materialized; an instant later, a second sextet materialized near them. They moved off to their position, relieving their compatriots.
"Either that, Giac, or were dead."
"TSoral, I want Greggson up here. Now." Uhura was clearly not pleased with the situation as it had been reported to her.
The Vulcan communications officer could read the captains mental signature clearly enough to know that any response other than obedience was neither needed nor safe. As quiet as the bridge was, it was obvious that a Vulcans ability to sense mental signatures was unnecessary to recognize the captains restrained fury. The door of the turbolift slid open, allowing Greggson to enter.
"I think I am owed an explanation, Lieutenant Commander. An entire greenhouse filled with plants has been emptied in a single night, with twelve guards supposedly protecting them. What do you have to say for yourself?"
"Oh, the more mature plants that we had in the ground are gone, too; in fact, everything but the structure and the fence has disappeared. I would have thought, Captain, that you would have been overjoyed. The plants are now in the hands of the colonists." He shrugged. "I didnt think it mattered how they got distributed."
The captains mouth moved, but nothing came out of it, and her face practically shouted astonishment. It was several minutes before she could collect herself enough to talk. "What?"
"The colonists stole the mature plants, the older seedlings, and every flat of amaranth seedlings that we had started. By this point, I would guess that there isnt a household on Cruithneacht Three that doesnt have a good sized plot of amaranth planted somewhere they dont think well find it. If there is, its because theyre catching a few extra winks after being out late last night." His face wrinkled slightly. "The only injury was a guard who sprained an ankle, tripping over his own, clumsy feet. That, and a few unofficial entrances cut in the sides of the greenhouse." Greggson stood, calmly facing the captain.
"You expected them to steal the plants?" It was clear that Uhura was struggling with the idea.
"I did everything I could to bait them into doing it, Captain." He shrugged. "Given their somewhat unusual ideas about ownership, it seemed to be a good bet that they would steal the amaranth, given a chance."
Uhura shook her head, comprehension finally occurring. "I see. You were right, Wills; I would never have let you talk me into this, if you had told me what you were planning. I guess all that matters is that the trick worked. Fleet Captain Chekov wont need to know how we got the amaranth distributed. I still dont understand how Subhar, Ghassi and Eletto caught on."
"I practically told them. You might have Drevan dig up the history of the beginning of the Irish love affair with the potato. The whole plan is there; I just adapted it to the modern situation." Greggson winked. "Only one detail needs dealt with, I think, since Durok and Subhar will be staying on Cruithneacht Three for a week or two more, without us."
"And that would be?"
He turned to Drevan. "I think you have a chair to pick up, Drevan."
"And Im going to make sure Ghassi hasnt got any excessively bizarre recipes planned." Uhura chuckled. "Mister Marsden, take us back to our routine patrol. I think we could stand a little mundane routine."
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