November 2nd 2297
Captain Nyota Penda Uhura was starting to become a tad drowsy. The night before had been restless, for some unknown reason, and alpha shift had been quiet, to say the least. Greeting Diskartedor, the Illyrian ensign that had been delivered to replace the late Joe Tucker, had been the closest thing to excitement that the shift had offered. She was beginning to look forward to the end of her shift on the bridge. TSorals voice snapped her to alertness. "Captain, incoming message from the Enterprise."
"Mainviewer, TSoral." Chekovs face filled the screen before her. "Fleet Captain Chekov! To what do we owe the honor of your call?"
"The usual, Nyota: a mission."
The Bantu smiled. "That figures, Pavel. Whats up?"
"An evacuation. It is a modest colony on Menno Three; according to StarfleetSciences, their sun is showing signs of going nova soon." Chekov shrugged. "Whether than means two weeks or two decades or two years, they didnt tell me, which probably means they are unsure themselves. Given that the star showed no signs of this kind of instability when the planet was colonized nearly a century ago, I would be willing to bet that they are thinking sooner rather than later. The Hyperion will be overseeing and assisting in the evacuation to a nearby star system."
Something in her friends demeanor triggered an alarm in Uhuras mind. "I have this hunch that theres a catch somewhere. This is more than just assisting the planetary government in organizing the evacuation, isnt it?"
"Dont worry; there wont be any Klingons or Romulans, Nyota. The problem is that the colony has chosen to stay with antiquated technologysomething equivalent to late nineteenth or early twentieth century Terran technology." The Russian shook his head. "Your main task is going to be constructing the containers to ferry the population, whatever livestock they wish to bring with them, and the cultural artifacts that they feel a need to bring with them."
"Why arent we using the troop transports or Mark Four container ships?"
"The Lejeunes are all spacedocked right now, pending an analysis of the warp core failure of the Daly. And the Mark Fours are engaged in the colonization of Theta Reticuli Eighteen which is quite some distance from your present location. Further, were well aware of the Hyperions superior manufacturing facilities. Outside a starbase or deep space station, your starship has the most advanced engineering labs in Starfleet. Is one of the reasons I insisted Hyperion be a part of the Sixth Fleet."
"I guess that explains why the brass is sending us." Uhura winced; the task sounded as if it would take some time. "How large is the colony?"
"For a colony as old as it is, surprisingly small: nine or ten thousand, at the most. Not all of the children stay; most want more than the older technological approach affords, but there is a steady influx of individuals that want to return to a simpler life. Starfleet compared them to the Amish of Old Earth."
Trying to imagine transporting a colony of Amish from one planet to another taxed the captains mind. She shelved the thought. "I understand, I think. Well manage. Any other information, Fleet Captain?" She smiled, taking the formality off the title.
"Nyet. Well, not that theyve warned me about, anyway." Chekov shrugged. "But you know how the brass are. Never seems to failtheres a catch they dont know about."
She turned to her helmsman. "Got the coordinates, Marsden?"
"Logged and ready to go, Captain!"
Uhura turned back to Chekov. "If I run into anything we cant handle, well yell for help."
"Of course." Fleet Captain Chekov smiled. "I doubt that youll need us, Hyperion."
"Just one detail: where are they going?"
"Coordinates for the planet youll be taking them to will be transmitted to you once youre in a parking orbit around Menno Three. I think the brass is still stewing over where to put them."
"If there is nothing else, then?"
"Thats it, Captain. Enterprise out." Chekovs face disappeared, replaced by the star field in front of the Hyperion.
"Marsden, take us to Menno Three." The Bantu turned to her Andorian chief science officer. "Drevan, what can you give me on the Menno star system?"
"Not a lot in the data bank on the system, Captain." There was a brief pause. "One interesting thing, though; the star has been cutting through a carbon current for some timethe computer estimates that its been for a bit over two centuries. Guessing from the..."
"A carbon current, Captain. The area of space the star is in has a higher than usual amount of carbon in the interstellar, interplanetary void. Its probably left over from the high energy jet from some star or other that collapsed ages ago." Drevan scratched his head between his two blue antennae. "The connection is conjectural, of course, but some of the astrophysicists at StarfleetSciences have theorized that one of the things that drives nova formation is picking up enough extra carbon to super-catalyze the Bethe reaction that converts hydrogen to helium in main sequence stars."
"Thats interesting, Im sure, but does it give you anything to estimate how much time weve got before the star goes nova?"
"Maybe. Let me do a little modeling." The Andorian hunched over his console for a moment or two. "TSoral, any chance you can scrounge the recorded spectra on the Menno system over the last decade or so?"
"Working. Im sure Starfleet Archives has something I can download." The Vulcan communications officer tapped on her console rapidly. "I believe this will suit your needs." A final tap on the console transmitted the data to the chief science officer.
After a few moments further study, the Andorian shook his head. "Cant pin it down precisely, Captain; theres a good deal of variability. Less than a chance in a hundred itll be less than two weeks, Id say, and about the same odds that itll be more than three months." His antennae moved forward, slightly. "Thats assuming the carbon current theory is as good as its proponents think it is. Im not betting on anything."
"Thank you, Drevan. Its a lot more than what Chekov got." She turned to TSoral. "I think wed better let Indri know whats coming. He may want to start working on a design for a transport vehicle."
Uhura, Indri and Eletto materialized on the surface of Menno III. To their surprise, they were facing several immense, metallic structures.
"Captain, no disrespect to TSoral and Marsden intended, but are you sure weve ended up in the right place?" Indri tilted his head back, judging the distances. "Those things have to be at least thirty, maybe thirty-five meters tall, and Id be willing to guess theyre almost perfect cylinders. If the information we got from Starfleet through Fleet Captain Chekov was accurate, well, they shouldnt have been building this. Thats got to be trititanium, from the look of it." There was no mistaking the surprise on the engineers face.
Uhura turned to answer, but was interrupted by a bass voice from behind. "Greetings, friends. Rest assured, you have arrived at the right place if you have come to rescue us from an impending nova."
All three turned to see a man, of stocky but solid build, looking at them with a benign smile on his face. His steely gray hair fell almost to his shoulders, and the equally gray beard he sported rippled onto his chest. The clothes he wore were plain, but clearly well made. Behind him, at a modest distance, was a moderately large village, its buildings made of stone and wood, and much more in keeping with what the team from the Hyperion had been led to expect. The man nodded. "I see that you are most surprised by our little transport containers. Even though we prefer to use what you would consider outdated tools, we are not ignorant of the most recent technologies, as you can see. It seemed prudent to make use of them to move to our new home."
Uhura realized that she had been gaping. She brought her jaw back into control. "Apparently we were inadequately informed as to your resources. I am Captain Uhura, and this is Chief Engineer Indri and Doctor Eletto, one of the physicians on the Hyperion. We had come to try to assess what you would need for the evacuation, but it appears that you have things in good shape."
The man bowed slightly. "You are most kind, Captain. I am the closest thing to a leader that this colony has. Come! Let me bring you before our people."
Without waiting for a response, Gustav turned and began moving toward the village at a rapid pace; the trio struggled to keep up with him, despite the fact that even Uhura was taller than he was. "I checked, Captain. The planet has about twenty percent greater gravitational pull than Earth." Eletto stopped talking for a moment to catch his breath. "Thats why were having a tough time keeping upand probably why he is so short and stocky compared to us."
Uhura and Indri just nodded. Uhura made a mental note to remember to check that sort of thing before doing planet-fall, and to try to get used to higher gravity when the need arose; both chose to concentrate on keeping up with Gustav. Only a few moments passed before they reached the center of the village, where each of them was greeted by an individual carrying a padded chair.
"If I recall correctly, the gravity around here is more than you would be used to. Please accept my apologies for the chairs; theyre built for our slightly shorter stature." Gustav turned to a man standing near him. "Sergei, see if you can round up something for these travelers to eat and drink, will you? And a bite or two and a mouthful to drink for the rest of the council, too, if your kindness would extend that far."
Sergei disappeared into a nearby building. As he did, Indri turned to Gustav. "We were given to understand that you chose to restrict yourselves to the technology used in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century on Earth. I admit that you were right; I was astounded to see what youd done in preparation for your evacuation."
The man shrugged. "Thats a common enough mistake, friend, based on a misunderstanding of what we are doing. Our main goal is to re-address old technologies, using newer materials and understanding, to see if there is something of value in them. To really test that sort of thing, we choose to live without most of the modern conveniences, other than those that are truly necessarylike the subspace communicators we use to communicate with Starfleet."
"Ah, I see; youre sifting through yesterdays technology with todays knowledge, trying to find nuggets of gold that had been missed." It was Elettos voice. "Reasonable enough; Ive a fondness for that sort of idea. What sort of things have you turned up?"
"Have you heard of Amaranthus cruentus xenocolonialis?"
"We actually assisted in getting it started on a new world, Gustav." Uhura grimaced at the memory. "You wouldnt believe what we had to go through to get the native population of the planet to accept it."
Gustav erupted into a rolling, infectious laugh. "People are people, my lady, whether they are Human, Vulcan, Andorian, or anything else, I think, and were always suspicious of anything newor anything that we think is new, no matter how old it really is. Amaranth was cultivated, its seeds used as grain and its leaves used as salad greens by North American Indian tribes thousands of years ago. We just bred an already amazingly adaptable food plant into an even more versatile resource."
"Impressive." Uhuras face clearly showed that she was honestly impressed. "Is that your only contribution?"
"Its the greatest one, madam. However, weve improved on a few other, outdated technologies, ones that the Federation hasnt found a need for quite yet. We are working with Zea maiz, which is simple corn, believe it or not, trying to make a good colonization tool out of it. Weve bred it to have a sap that will do for sugar production, and a fiber in the leaves that can be used like the fiber in flax, to produce cloth like linen. At the moment, increasing the protein content of the grain is the main issue. If we can get it just a little higher, it will be ready for use, I think."
"So youre focused on agricultural things?"
Gustav shook his head. "No; we are in every area of technology, Captain, even weaponry. If I may demonstrate?"
"Please do." Uhura accepted a glass from Sergei, and selected a pastry from a platter he offered. "I admit that Im almost as fascinated by this as Doctor Eletto seems to be."
"An atl atl, I think. Harvel, have you one I can use?" The object was rapidly provided. It looked like a pair of metal rods, one with what looked like small fins and a sharpened end.
"Thats a rattle of some sort?" Indri asked. "It doesnt look the part."
"A weapon, the atl atl; I confess, it does sound like rattle-rattle when I say it. It was used by the Aztecs, as I recall it, but they used wood rather than steel, and they never thought of fletching it like we have with these small fins." Gustav looked around for a moment. "Do you see that tree?" The man pointed to what looked like an oak, some twenty meters distant.
"I shall try to put this into the knot in the trunk, just below the lowest branch. Watch." Gustav hefted the atl atl in his hand, then his arm swept in a rapid arc, the part he grasped in his fist propelling the finned portion with surprising speed, embedding it in the trunk of the oak to the first set of fins, dead in the center of the knot he had chosen. Gustav nodded. "Imagine what that could do in surface combat, Captain. Silent, swift and deadly."
"Tucker wouldve loved it." The captain was impressed. "I believe I understand what you and your comrades are trying to do." Several other individuals were gathering in the open area Uhura, Indri and Eletto shared with Gustav. One brought Gustav a chair; the others brought chairs that they fashioned into a rough circle. "I take it that this is the ruling body gathering?"
"Our council, at least," Gustav looked around himself. "We advise; we do not command. We have chosen a mode of social organization more similar to the one used by Native Americans. The council seems to have convened in full force. If each of you would do us the honor of introducing yourself?"
Uhura nodded. "I am Captain Nyota Penda Uhura." She turned to her two companions.
"I am called Indri. I am the chief engineer on the Hyperion."
"Doctor Giacomo Eletto, Ships Physician, at your service."
Gustav turned to another individual, his face making his expectations clear. "I am Radoc, friends. My task has been overseeing the design and construction of the transport habitats. I address myself to you, Indri."
"Im listening. How can I help?"
"I would ask of you that you inspect the habitats, friend Indri. Particularly, I am somewhat concerned over the life support and artificial gravity." Radoc nodded to himself, his chestnut hair and beard dancing as he did so. "I doubt that the trip will take more than a few days, but I wish to have your evaluation of the systems. My experience with such things is understandably quite limited. Nithin, Dutt and I have done what we can, but we covet your wisdom."
"It will be my pleasure. I will report to you when I am done."
Another voice entered the discussion, an older woman with a twinkle in her eyes despite her age. "I am Karrold, friends. I address you specifically, Captain Uhura. How many are there aboard your ship?"
The question caught Uhura off guard. "About a hundred, counting the cadets, perhaps a few more or less, friend Karrold. Why?"
A smile flitted across Karrolds face. "Great though the stores of foodstuffs may be that will be taken with to New Menno, much will be left behind. This night, we plan to celebrate your arrival. There will be more than enough for all. If it is agreeable with all, we would ask you to join us."
Around the circle, heads nodded in agreement. It was Uhuras turn to smile. "Im sure we would be most pleased to accept your generous offer."
"It is good." Karrold lapsed into silence.
One man, his hair thin to the point of being almost absent and his beard brilliantly white, looked at Eletto. "I am Jacob. It is to you, kind doctor, that I address myself."
"Im listening, friend."
"Many here may have need of services such as you can provide. The trip to the new world will take many days, I am sure, and with the thousands going, it is to be expected that there will be injury, illness and the like." The old mans steel gray eyes fixed on Elettos. "Can we count on your willingness to serve in that capacity?"
"Upon mine and, I am sure, that of the others in the ships sickbay, friend Jacob."
"Good. We have several ladies who are expected to increase our population shortly. I trust that your obstetrical skills remain in good shape."
"Im sure we can handle it. Doing a few deliveries would be good for the staff." Inwardly, Eletto smiled, keeping a serious face externally; MBenga, he knew, was totally out of touch with obstetrics, and Hardavs experience was hardly better. Picturing either of them faced with a woman in labor was delightful, but he knew hed be doing most of the deliveries, if not all of them. "From what I can see, your people seem robustly healthy."
Jacob tilted his head to one side in acknowledgment. "My apprentice Kynan and I have tried to keep them that way. There are few diseases that hard work, careful attention to an adequate diet, proper hygiene and sufficient sleep will not prevent, the ravages of age being the greatest exception."
Gustav moved on through the circle present, no one else raising any issues. Finally, he locked eyes with Eletto. "It is our custom, in community meetings, for those who have concerns to express them when I give them permission by looking at them. We extend to you the same courtesy, counting you as members of our community for the time being."
"I am satisfied for my part, Gustav."
"Indri? Captain Uhura?"
Indri shook his head. Uhura did likewise.
Gustav stood. "I seek consensus. Shall we move forward as we have agreed?"
There was a chorus of agreements. Gustav turned to Uhura. "Kind lady, when your good engineer is satisfied with our efforts, we will board. I trust these are still small enough to transport?"
"One at a time, but yes." It was Indri speaking. "My counsel is that we connect them to each other once theyve been transported into orbit; that will make towing them considerably easier. We can put a tractor on the center of the assembly."
Radoc looked at the chief engineer. "A wise thought, friend Indri. Will you take counsel with me on how we may best prepare for that before the habitats are in orbit? Let us make the effort in vacuum suits as minimal as possible."
"I like your approach, friend." Out of nowhere, Indri produced an engineering padd. "I would be pleased to take counsel on the subject."
"Away with your tool, friend Indri! There will be time for that tomorrow." Gustav clapped his hands as he spoke. "We celebrate tonight. Everyone, prepare for the festivities!" At the command, the circle broke up, other than Gustav and the folks from the Hyperion, each scurrying to make whatever preparations they needed for the evenings activities.
Uhura sat in the command chair with unusual care. All but the skeleton crew that had been left on the Hyperion had spent hours on the surface of Menno III, in exuberant celebration with its inhabitants. At one and a fifth Gs, she decided, celebration needed done with greater care, much greater care. Briefly, she toyed with seeing what Sickbay had to offer her, but decided against it. She let her eyes roam around the bridge. Only TSoral seemed to have weathered things without problem, which was no surprise; being a Vulcan, she was accustomed to even higher gravity than Menno sported, and although she had been present for the festivities, she had been much more subdued and professional.
The turbolift opened, allowing Indri to make his way onto the bridge. The chief engineer was walking gingerly, too. "I guess Im not the only one that over did it in the higher gravity last night, am I, Indri?"
Indri winked. "You ought to see Running Bear, Captain. Compared to him, Im in great shape. Im not here to brag, though. Running Bear and I have been over every cubic meter of the structures the colonists have built, and theyre ship shape. Radoc and Dutt are making the preparations for hitching them together in orbit as we speak. I figure well be ready to assist with loading them in about two hours."
"Good. How much will they need in terms of assistance?"
"Thankfully, not much. Just a couple of us to dog down the outer hatches for them, really; Running Bear and I can take care of that." The engineer stretched his back slightly. "Well, I think we can. Ive got the rest of the folks in engineering turning out the connecting pieces for the structures once we have them in orbit. I give it sixteen hours, and we can tow them to New Menno."
"Good." To everyones surprise, it was Drevans voice. The Andorians blue face turned to the captain. "Judging from the changes Im seeing on the scans of this star, that nova is going to happen comparatively soonId give it twenty-four hours, maybe thirty-six. You wouldnt believe how the neutrino flux is ramping up, Captain. Ugly, very ugly."
Uhura turned to Indri. "How fast can you get things together, Indri? I want out of here in twelve hours or less, colonists in tow. Can you do it?"
"Well find a way, Captain. Tell Ghassi in Dietary hed better increase the caffeine levels in the coffee. Thatll help. I think."
"No doubt." There was no question that Uhuras face gave the lie to her words. "Let me know the minute youre ready to start transporting. Get back to it, Indri."
"On my way." The engineer disappeared into the turbolift.
"Drevan," Uhura turned to face her chief science officer. "Just to make sure, be ready to scan the area and reassure me that weve got everyone off the planet before we leave. This is happening in a hurry, and I dont want that to cause us to overlook someone on the surface."
"Can do, Captain. Theres no one off this continent, so we should be in good shape from where we are. Ill do a high resolution scan, just to make sure."
The Bantu eased back into the command chair. All they needed to do was get out of the system before the sun went nova, and help the people to their new home.
TSorals voice broke the silence on the bridge. "Engineering, Captain."
"On speakers, TSoral. Bridge here."
"Indri here, Captain. The modules are all up and linked, and tractors are in place. We are ready to move when you give the word."
"Excellent. Thank you, Indri. Bridge out." Uhura turned to Drevan. "Is the planet cleared?"
"No. Looks like there are eighty or ninety individuals still in the main communication area." Drevan looked up. "Theyd better get up here; the readings on this sun give us only three or four hours to get out of here before that star novas, if that."
"TSoral, get me the surface. Mainviewer."
"Already working on it, Captain."
In front of her, Uhura saw Jacobs face. "Friend Jacob! You and several others are still on the surface of the planet. If you will collect together, we will transport you up as swiftly as we can. Your sun is about to go nova."
"It will not be necessary, kindly Captain." Jacob smiled benignly. "We will remain here."
"The indications we have strongly suggest the planet will be vaporized in less than four hours. You need to leave, now." Uhuras face was creased with sincere concern.
"I think not, Captain. I, and the others who remain, are old. I have seen over a hundred years of life." He shrugged. "As a child, I helped conquer this planet, Captain. I have no desire to go conquer another one at my age. Let the young fight that battle. We who remain feel that we would be a hindrance to the others. Our lives have been full; let them end here, on the world we have helped to conquer."
The Bantus face relaxed, her look of concern being replaced by understanding. "I respect your wish, Jacob. We must leave then."
"Please do. We will broadcast for as long as we can. The data we transmit will be, we hope, of some significant scientific value." The elderly man straightened slightly. "It is, I suspect, most unlikely that anyone has ever observed a nova from this close, friends. Now be off with you before this star goes off. It cannot be long before it does. Menno Three out."
Drevan looked up. "Hes right; radiation is going up, neutrino flux is almost off the charts, and the stellar wind is starting to move towards ion storm proportions."
Uhura turned to the helm. "Marsden, get us out of here; maximum possible warp with the habitats in tow."
"Maximum warp, Captain. Trajectory to New Menno." Marsden tapped the console before him, and the Hyperion hurled itself away from Menno III.
"Drevan, I want the status of the containers the people are in."
"Theyre doing fine, Captain. If I may make a suggestion?"
"That was the point of my asking, Lieutenant." She turned to face the science officer.
"Put us between them and the star, and put our shields up at maximum. Preferably soon."
"Helm, weapons, make it happen."
Ingram and Marsden answered in unison, "Aye, Captain." The forward screen showed the rapidly dwindling star Menno III circled.
"Status of the star, Drevan."
"The data Jacob and the others are sending is incredible, Captain. There isnt much to go on, but what little data Ive got on other novas indicates this one is going to be a real hull banger, any second now. The output is rising at supra-exponential rates. I..."
Before Drevan could finish his sentence, the mainviewer went white. Uhura turned to her communications officer. "TSoral! Get the crew to secure themselves immediately." Even though it was several minutes, it seemed like only an instant before the Hyperion lurched, the relativistic particles hurled by the nova sun hammering the ships shields. "Status check on the folk from Menno Three first; status on the crew and ship second."
"Already working, Captain." With typical Vulcan efficiency, she worked her console. "Minor damage reported in the modules, Captain, and that mostly to inanimate objects that were not properly lashed down. Little or no damage to the ship, Captain."
"Drevan? Status of the star?"
"Menno Three is gone, Captain; the star is rapidly contracting to a white dwarf. We should be past the worst of it by now." The Andorian looked up. "The loss of life is grievous, but the data weve collected is amazing, absolutely amazing. I dont think there has been any observations of a nova as close as what the folks on Menno Three gave us, or even as close as what we got with our sensors. This will make incredible strides in allowing nova prediction possible, once Starfleets astrophysics research department is done fiddling with it." He turned back to his console. "Absolutely fascinating. There are even a number of the stabler transuranics out there, on top of the lighter metals and their isotopes. Marvelous, utterly marvelous."
Drevan turned to the captain again. "With all due respect, we need to make the best use of warp drive we can; theres some pretty nasty radiation out there, and I dont think the colonists little habitats are up to it. Marsden, any way you can make sure we travel through warp around that?"
"If there is, Ill find it. You find me the lowest density band, just in case."
"On it." Drevan plunged into his data again.
Uhura leaned back. The worst, hopefully, was over.
Lieutenant Commander Ken Reichard stood on the transporter platform, surrounded by five cadets. Indri watched, patiently, as the cadets tried to get themselves in some semblance of order. Reichard turned. "Look, fellows, this isnt exactly transporting into hostile territory, okay? If there were any concern about danger to the landing party, you guys wouldnt be going down. This is strictly a routine check of the intended site for planting the colonists, nothing more."
"Yes, sir, Lieutenant Commander. But there is always risk of hostile activity, sir. This is technically unknown territory, sir!"
Reichard nodded. "I realize that, Jenkins. I also realize that the survey less than two years ago indicated that there was no evidence the planet is inhabited, and that there was virtually zero risk for colonists other than the occasional large predator."
"Either way," Indri interjected, "if you guys dont get in place pretty quickly, Im going to have to blow the dust off the controls to be able to see what Im doing. Its good practice and all, but this is getting absurd."
The cadets finally managed to get themselves in order. Reichard looked around himself. "Okay, Indri. Looks like this lot is ready to go. Send us down."
Reichard and his retinue of cadets materialized on the surface. Reichard lifted his tricorder. "Stand pat, kids, and be ready for anything." There was an incongruous reading that startled him. "Looks like there may be Klingons within range after all."
There was an almost familiar birdcall: it was a Klingon spiderbird, as Reichard recalled it. He reached for his phaser, turning in the direction of the call, preparing to have the Hyperion recall the team. Before he could do anything else, he fell forward, losing consciousness as he struck the ground.
Disruptor fire felled all but one of the five cadets.
From over the crest of a small rill, two Klingon warriors came forward.
"Jenkins here, brothers!" The cadet gave the Klingon salute. "I hardly expected that I would be of service this soon."
"You must be one of the moles weve planted. You did well, taking care of the party leader, Jenkins." The Klingon knelt by Reichard, pulling out a knife. "Hes out cold." Knife in hand, the Klingon stood. "Ill leave him to answer for the death of his away team; that would be worse for him than dying." He faced traitorous cadet. "Well be heading to the rest of our team, Jenkins."
"Ill be going with you, wont I?"
"And have the Hyperion crew wonder what happened to you?" The Klingon swung the knife, stabbing the cadet in the center of the chest. "You betrayed your own kind, Jenkins. How can you expect us to trust you?" The young man collapsed on the ground, his face registering both agony and surprise as he died. "Come on, Gordung; lets get back to the others."
Reichard slowly became aware of his being in Sickbay, the cool support of a medbed under him. Try as he might, he couldnt recall how he got there. The last thing he remembered was beaming down; after that, there was nothing. He opened his eyes, looking around. MBenga stepped into view. "Hi, Ken. What happened?"
"I dont know. Thats what I was trying to figure out. How did I get up here?"
"You failed to check in on schedule; Greggson and a security detail beamed down and found you face down and unconscious." Oddly, the doctor kept a stone-face.
"The cadets, Docwhat about the cadets? Why didnt they call for backup when I was out of commission?" Reichard was clearly puzzled.
"They couldnt, Ken. Youre the only survivor of the party. They were all dead."
Reichards face said more than words could; devastation was written deeply on it.
"Before you ask, Ken, we dont know what happened. Ive got Eletto and Davids working on it." The physician looked at the monitor. "How are you feeling?"
"After that news? I feel like a starship just rammed me in the gut, man, at Warp Ten. Other than that, I feel fine." He shook his head. "I still cant believe this. If you were Hardav, Id accuse you of playing a prank, but youre not."
"Its no prank, Ken. I wish it was." MBenga shook his head sadly. "Medically, youre fine, but youre in no shape to function. Head for your quarters and rest, relax; Ill clear you from duty until we know what happened."
The man slowly nodded. "Okay, thanks, Doc. I guess Im going to need some time to sort this out."
The tall half-Zulu, half-Masai physician reached out a hand, laying it on his patients shoulder, looking him squarely in the eyes. "I understand. Man to man, Ive had to deal with this sort of feeling every time Ive lost a patient, Ken. Just promise you wont do anything stupid. The last thing I need is to have to deal with you trying to commit suicide. You try that, and I will personally kill you, even if I have to bring you back from the dead to do it."
"Dont worry." He sat up, only marginally amused by MBengas attempt at humor. "Im not considering suicide. What Im doing is trying to figure out what went wrong." He stood up.
Nurse Marie Webb came into view, carrying his uniform. Reichard took it, nodding his thanks and disappearing into the lavatory to change. Webb looked up at the chief medical officer, who motioned for her to stay quiet. Reichard came back out, giving his medical gown to the nurse. He nodded his silent thanks and disappeared into the turbolift.
"There goes one hurting Human, Doctor MBenga." Webbs face showed deep concern.
"No joke. Ill see if Hardav will check in on him in a little bit. Hes taking this awfully hard."
Webb turned to face her superior officer. "Like you do when you lose one." She turned back to the turbolift. "Maybe I ought to check in on him, too."
"Maybe. Once youre off duty."
"TSoral, get me Gustav as quickly as you can. Ingram, prepare to deal with a Klingon vessel, surface or space. Jim, just in case theres a cloaked mother ship somewhere near preparing for rendezvous, be ready for evasive tactics." Uhura turned to her chief science officer. "Apparently there is a Klingon activity down there. Find it, Drevan."
Gustavs face appeared on the forward viewer. "An early good morning, friend Uhura." Although his hair was combed neatly, and he was dressed in his usual attire, Gustavs face clearly announced that he had been aroused from a deep sleep. "To what do I owe the joy of your call?"
"An issue on New Menno, Im afraid." One of the captains hands gestured as she spoke, belying her displeasure. "A small group of Klingons appears to be loose on the surface. There will be a slight delay in putting your people down, Im afraid, unless you wish to seek for another planet."
"This world is almost identical to the one we left, Captain. Gravitation is a percent or two less, and the oxygen level a fraction of a percent more. We could not hope for better." The steel-haired head nodded. "But there need be no delay in putting us on the surface, Captain."
"You must not be familiar with Klingons, Gustav. Theyll do the best they can to enslave you, and if they cant bend you to their purposes, they will kill you."
"They will try, no doubt, Captain." The mans eyes narrowed. "I am familiar with Klingons, and with their ways and weapons; I have studied their culture, weapons and even their technologies as deeply as Federation records permit. They cannot enslave us, and unless the force is overwhelmingly large, I doubt that they can eradicate us. How large a force do we face?"
Uhura looked at Drevan. He looked up. "Six at most, Captain. Ive located their ship; its on a main continent, right about where spring is starting. Looks like their warp drive went out; explosively, I think, from what I can get on the scan. Its almost where we should place the modules."
Gustav responded before Uhura could. "Excellent. If we could plan to be placed at no great distance from them, it would be good. It will make dealing with them easier."
The Bantu was clearly surprised by the response. "These will be seasoned Klingon warriors, Gustav. At least let us deal with them for you."
The man straightened, a gentle hint of fire in his eye. "That will not be needed, Captain. Our fathers bought Menno Three with their blood, as they subdued it for us. We do not fear doing likewise with this planet. The Klingons will be as hampered by the higher gravity as you would be; we will find it no trouble."
"I understand your point." There was no question that Uhura not only understood Gustavs reasoning, but also respected it. "At least let us help you, Gustav."
"Certainly! Particularly, your assistance in locating them would be helpful; your removing their ship, so that they cannot use its resources against us would be especially appreciated." He stroked his ample beard. "As for the rest, it will be our task, though you may join us if you will."
"Very well. Prepare to go to ground in four hours, Gustav."
"Thank you, friend Uhura, most particularly for understanding. May I assume there is a way of warning these Klingons that they need to surrender or be taken captive?"
She turned to her chief communications officer who nodded. Uhura turned back to the forward screen. "I am assured that we can do that. You realize that the chances of their surrendering are not large, dont you?"
"They are essentially nil, Captain; to surrender is a great shame to a Klingon, worse than being taken captive. We still need to warn them, after we are on New Menno. Again, thank you." Gustav disappeared, the view of his new home filling the mainviewer instead.
"Drevan, what do you think our chances of being able to beam up the ship would be?"
The chief science officer turned to face her. "Barring booby-traps, I think we can. Its a small ship, after all, not much larger than our armored shuttle. Itll be useful to study."
"TSoral, get me Engineering."
"Engineering, Indri speaking. How may I help you?"
"Klingon ship, about the size of the armored shuttle. I want it beamed aboard, if possible."
"Tractors might be better, Captain, and docking it in the shuttle bay."
Uhura nodded, even though Indri couldnt see her. "Good enough. How soon?"
"Drevan has already sent me the coordinates. I will get to it immediately, Captain, if you wish."
"I wish, Indri."
"It is my pleasure. Engineering out."
"Sam, just in case, shields up, half power; spread them to protect the colonists, like we did leaving the Menno system." Uhura turned to face the mainviewer. She had barely done so when there was a flash on the screen. "Drevan?"
"Booby-trapped, Captain." The Andorian turned to the center seat. "Indri locked on with the tractors, and the antimatter containment fields collapsed, at about twenty-two kilometers altitude. Thankfully, the atmosphere will shield most of the lower energy stuff, and the bulk of the radiation will be high enough energy that itll pass through with minimal interaction. Good thing we didnt try that after we put the folks down."
She swiveled back to face Drevan. "I suppose it would be asking too much for the Klingons to have been in it when it went off."
"Dont know if it would be or not, but I can tell you that they werent." The Andorian shrugged, his antennae jiggling gently as he did. "A pity. Now we have to track them like wild animals. For some odd reason, Im not able to pinpoint them as well as Id like."
"Tracking them like animals." She turned. "TSoral, I need Greggson."
Reichard sat in his quarters, staring at the walls, racking his brain for answers. It seemed that none were coming. Five cadets had died, leaving him as the lone survivor, and he couldnt remember what happened. His usual total self-assurance was deeply rattled. Behind him, the annunciator chimed. "Who is it?"
"Wills Greggson and Doctor Eletto, Ken. We need to sit and talk with you."
"Cmon in. Im not busy with anything else."
The two men entered the room, sitting in chairs where they could see Reichard clearly. Greggson took the lead. "Has anything else come to mind about what happened down on the surface?"
The lieutenant commander shrugged. "Nah, nothing. Ive been beating my memory bloody trying to figure it all out, and I cant. What have you learned?"
"That I need to check a few things, still, Ken. Do me a favor, pull up your pant legs, will you? Doc, get that widget of yours out." The doctor pulled his mediscanner out. "I need a really high resolution scan of your shins."
Surprised, Reichard complied. "Yknow, its my memory thats malfunctioning. Last I heard I dont use my shins for that."
"Dont bet on it. Your shins may remember an answer you dont know." Eletto crouched, getting close to Reichards shins with his scanner. "Hey, you have a stylus I can swipe? If you dont mind, I want to sketch on your skin a little bit. Pick something with ink that will wash off."
The request did nothing to improve the mans comprehension of what Eletto was doing, nor of Greggsons sudden fascination with checking out Reichards shins. Painstakingly, the physician put a handful of dots on Reichards left shin, followed by another handful on his right. Satisfied, Eletto straightened up. "Does that pattern suggest anything to you, Ken?"
"Yeah, Wills. It suggests Im not the only one with brain damage. What in warp space is the point of the marks?"
"Its the edges of some remaining inflammation on your shins, thats what it is." Carefully, Eletto studied the markings a little longer.
Greggson squatted next to the physician, looking at the marks, nodding to himself. "Ken, I know this isnt making any sense, but would you mind standing up? And keep the trouser legs hiked, will you?"
Silently, Reichard complied. At Greggsons direction, Eletto moved to Reichards left, lifting his right leg, moving it until it roughly matched the pattern on Reichards shins. The chief of security grunted in satisfaction. He moved to sit, again, gesturing for Reichard and Eletto to do the same. "Ill probably need Doc, here, to do a little more high resolution scanning, Ken, but I need to get some answers. First thing I need to know is where each of the cadets was standing when you beamed down."
For a few minutes, Reichard sat, eyes closed, concentrating. "Thisll be easier if I draw it out for you, okay?" He got up, getting a stylus and a note padd. "I was here; call it one oclock. To my left, call it the eleven oclock position, was Chris Jenkins. Let me see... Bradshaw was at three oclock, Ing at nine. Goodfellow and Langston were at the back, but Im not clear who was at five and seven oclock."
"It doesnt matter; Ive learned what I need on that score." Greggson made a note on his own note padd. "Lets take this a step forward, now. You have just beamed down. What do you see?"
"Meadow, mostly; there are some rills not far away, and some forest. I lifted my tricorder, to see what there was around us. It looked like there might be two Klingons nearby. It wasnt immediately clear to me how close they were; I think the tricorder might have been malfunctioning a little."
"Good. Then what did you do?"
"I pulled out my phaser, and told the kids to stay still. I was just about to call Indri to beam us back aboard when I heard something, a bird call...a Klingon bird call, in fact. I moved, hit the ground, and lost consciousness." Reichard sighed. "The next thing I knew, I was in Sickbay."
"That fits, so far. Look, was this the bird you heard?" The security chief tripped a contact on a small digital recorder, playing back a bird call.
"Yeah, that was it." Reichard seemed almost excited. "Its a Klingon spiderbird, isnt it?"
"Actually, its Hardav making the bird call that Klingons use to tell each other that enemy has been spotted; I think he said it was the call of the tragth." Greggson stood, signaling the physician to do likewise. "I think that clears everything up nicely. Thanks, Ken. Just let me have Giac scan your head a moment."
The mediscanner came out again, moving in close proximity to both sides of Reichards head. Eletto showed Greggson the scan, pointing out the area of interest. "I guess that pretty much makes the case."
The two men moved as if to leave. Reichard quickly moved to block their exit. "Youre not planning to leave without an explanation, are you? Because I want one, very badly."
It almost seemed that Greggson was surprised for an instant. "Oh, sorry. I was so deep in thought, you understand, I forgot I owed you an explanation. Look, when I had my leg in front of yours, what did the position suggest?"
"Its where it should have been for a standard leg sweep, if we were in combat and you were trying to..." His voice trailed off. "What are you trying to say?"
"Nothing. Im leading you to see the obvious. Not a tree near by, let alone a tree root, eh?"
"Wait a minute, are you trying to tell me one of the cadets tripped me?"
The security officer shook his head sadly. "Im not telling you anything, Ken. The evidence is telling you that the cadet roughly to your left took you down. By the way, if Eletto isnt pulling my leg with that last scan, he also planted a foot against the side of your head; that fall wouldnt have knocked you cold."
"Sounds like it." Greggson sighed. "According to the autopsies on the cadets, the other four cadets were killed by Klingon disruptor fire, but Jenkins took a knife to the chest in the standard Klingon blow used to kill traitors. Why you were spared, I dont know; Im just glad you were, Ken."
"Thanks, Wills. Now all we have to do is find the Klingons and deal with them. I think I can claim Ive got a score to settle."
Uhura and her chief of security, William Greggson, stood where the Klingon scout had once settled, both with phaser in hand, watching for a possible ambush. Drevan stood, just to one side of them, tricorder in hand, but phaser at his belt, Sam Ingram with his back to all the rest, standing rear guard. Satisfied that the situation was safe, Greggson moved around the perimeter for a few minutes. He brought his communicator around. "TSoral? I need Doc Eletto and Running Bear. There are tracks to follow. Oh, and send me that new weapons officer from second shift, toothe Illyrian, Diskeater or something. Yeah, Diskartedor, thats who I mean. I want her to do guard while Sam and I use this to polish our tracking skills."
The three individuals materialized. Greggson looked over. "Diskartedor, take Ingrams place. Giac, I want you at my elbow, double checking me. Running Bear, you stick with Sam. Cmon. Tracks are this way."
Following the chief of security, the four men arrived at the tracks and hunkered down. After a few moments study, Eletto looked over at Greggson. "How do you read these, Wills?"
"Boots of four sizes, heading that way." Greggson pointed. "Looks like six separate sets of tracks, given the pattern of overlap, which is in line with Drevans analysis of the ship. Please follow me." He led the way in the direction he had pointed, without looking to see if the others were following. Ingram, Running Bear and Diskartedor disappeared into a transporter beam
Uhura moved up close behind the doctor. "Whats with Sam, Diskartedor and Running Bear disappearing, Wills?"
"He leapfrogged ahead, along the direction of the tracks were following, four or five hundred meters." Greggson stopped suddenly, Eletto almost bumping into him. They dropped to the ground for a moment, discussing the pattern of marks before them, then Greggson rose, triggering his communicator. "Sam? The Klingon party split, eighty meters out; three and three, I think. What have you found?"
"Must have re-collected between us; Ive got six sets of prints again, about twenty degrees west of the original direction. Leapfrog?"
"Will do. Ship Indri coordinates for the target. Out." He flipped his communicator shut and looked around. "Were going to be transporting. Be ready for anything, okay?"
Instants later, the five beings materialized. Greggson and Eletto dropped to the ground again, moving forward staring at marks on the ground that only they seemed to see. Greggson gestured for silence, then slowly moved back, making almost no sound at all. The others remained motionless, phasers drawn. Almost too quickly for the others to follow, he tapped a contact on the communicator.
The next thing they knew, the troop was on the transporter deck of the Hyperion. Greggson let out his breath. "That was close. Indri, you can bring Running Bear and all back up. As I read the muddle of tracks crisscrossing each other, where you dropped us, we were less than thirty meters from where the Klingons were holed up."
"Clear the transporter, folks, and Ill have them up in a trice." Indris hands hovered over the controls, awaiting their compliance. No sooner than they were off the transporter, the others were materializing.
"Aya, niihka." The voice was Running Bears, momentarily speaking his native tongue. "You were close?"
"Too close, my friend, or very nearly. I think you pinpointed them. Wills and Sam look like theyve got this tracking thing down."
Running Bear chuckled. "Having an Illyrian along to run an estimate on how far and what direction doesnt hurt a bit, you know." He looked at Diskartedor. "Lady, any time you want to learn tracking, let Giac and I know. We could use your talents."
The Illyrian rolled her eyes. "Ugh, how totally applied. I think I need to shower after doing that." She made as if to brush soil off herself. "Illyrians are into theoretical stuff, remember? And challenging stuff, not simple arithmetic. Really!"
Uhura turned to Indri, amused but remaining practical. "Can you lock onto the Klingons and beam them aboard?"
"Negative, Captain. I cant register them at all."
Greggson turned to the captain. "So whats next, Captain? Do we let Gustav and the colonists land on the planet?"
"No choice in the matter. Weve been up here for three days. Thats longer than we anticipated. They intend to set down, not overly close but not too far from the Klingons." Her eyes locked with Elettos. "They want to deal with the Klingons themselves."
"Theyre open to help."
"Good." Greggson frowned. "I want to know what they were doing this deep in Federation territory. And Reichard figures hes got a score to settle; hes going to want in on this."
"Youll mainly be serving as scouts for the colonists. Theyll handle the Klingons themselves. Since this colony is fully chartered by the Federation, Gustav and his friends are free to conduct the defense of their planet in the way they see fit." It was Uhuras turn to pull a wry face. "Look, Im not all that happy about it myself; if the transport modules could have tolerated the trip Id have taken them somewhere else and let a Starfleet Marines Special Forces unit deal with it. Are you willing to function in that role?"
An almost predatory smile erupted on Greggsons face. "Can I have Sam, Ken, Giac, and Running Bear with me? I may need Running Bear and Giac for backup on tracking."
"Fine, as long as there isnt something obstetrical requiring Giac in Sickbay."
"Thank you, Captain. Im in." He turned to the others. "Game, gentlemen?"
The others suddenly shared Greggsons predatory expression, making further answer unnecessary.
"Men," she snorted as she left the transporter room.
One of the six Klingon warriors threw another piece of firewood onto the meager blaze. "Good thing you set the ship to self destruct, Bhatag."
"A pity that we didnt have time to collect our batlhetlhs and bring them with us." Yolagg shrugged. "Such are the fortunes of war, eh? Still, we have what we remember; hopefully the Empire will come for us in time. What I miss is the foodblood pie especially."
Bhatag shrugged. "For now, our business is to survive until rescue comes; it cant be too long, we sent the signal out several days ago. As for the food, there has been game enough, even if it isnt to our taste. Its better than nothing, until were rescued. With that cursed ship having spotted us, the Humans will be watching this planet closely, especially since they planted what looks like a colony of their own not far from here. The utter gall of their telling us to surrender or be capturedparticularly by an unmanned broadcast droneis unbelievable, even for Humans."
"Their threats do not concern me. Nor am I concerned about the Humans watching this planet. A cloaked scout ship will elude them; even Vogav could get through." Gordung ducked as Vogav took a swipe at him. "Hold the temper, youngster. Remember, youre a warrior not a navigator."
"Mind your tongue, Gordung, and keep yourself under control, Vogav." Yolaggs hand moved toward his disruptor. "We dont need to fight among ourselves. Settle any scores after were off this wretched world. I just wish youd found a planet with a more reasonable gravity, Gordung. Its got to be at least a third higher than Im used to."
"Thirty-two percent, Yolagg." Karssed shook his ridged head. "But its a problem for the Humans, too; on the whole, we should have no trouble holding our own, if it comes to that. They arent much for hand-to-hand combat, and the colonists wont be any better than their military."
Degral looked up. "Most of them arent. Ive heard there was one that bested three Khmyr."
"Ive heard a lot of fairy tales, Degral; as far as Im concerned, thats one of them." Vogav shrugged. "Even if it is true, it would be their trained warriors, not the peaceful colonists. Whether its true or not, we dont need them finding us if we can avoid it."
"With the scan-scrambling battle outfits we wear, I dont see them finding us. What we do need," Degral asserted, "is something to eat. The last kill is getting a little ripe, even for my eclectic tastes."
"Then take Vogav with you and find us supper. Just try to take down whatever you catch without using the disruptors this time, will you? With the ship gone, weve no way of recharging them. Now, go." Yolagg turned to face the fire more squarely, settling himself against a tree trunk. "Maybe we can have some peace around this fire that way."
Degral and Vogav moved into the forest around the camp, rapidly spotting a path worn by native creatures. Vogav dropped to look at the tracks, nodding with satisfaction. "Prints look pretty decent sized, Degral. Probably a large plant eater of some sort."
"Excellent. As I recall it, there is a large meadow not far from here; Id guess thats where theyll be grazing." Degral rubbed his chin, deep in thought. "Tell you what, Vogav, why dont you circle around a bit, and scare the herd towards me. Ill follow this path to where it opens out onto the meadow, and when Im ready, Ill make the sound of a tragth; surely no bird on this planet will sound like a Klingon bird. You come running toward them, and Ill pick one and break its neck."
"Sounds good to me. Just give me enough time to get on their far side, before you make the tragth call. No need to shock them into running the wrong way."
"Dont try to teach an old warrior how to handle weapons. Move quickly and silently." Degral gave Vogav a gentle shove. Vogav got the point, disappearing into the brush. Degral moved forward along the trail, carefully watching the path in front of him. The clearing was at least a hundred meters ahead, but there was no reason to hurry; Vogav had at least seven hundred or more meters to go to get around the other side. In front of him, Degral spotted a loop of rope, poorly concealed in the detritus across the path. He let his eye run to the edge of the path: there was a carefully poised stake, with a cord going to a sapling that had been bent over to provide a spring for the simple trap.
The Klingon shook his head. Setting a simple trap like that and thinking it would catch a seasoned Klingon warrior was an insult of the worst stripe. Carefully, Degral judged the distance, then leaped over the loop of rope, his landing on the other side of it jarring the ground enough to trigger the simple mechanism and send the sapling springing upward.
Vogav moved through the brush as swiftly as he could, while still remaining as quiet as possible to avoid spooking the prey they hoped to find. Degral not only had the advantage of a well-marked path, but also had a significantly shorter distance to traverse; Vogav did not relish the thought of the mockery he would have to face at Degrals hand if Degral had to wait any great amount of time. Before long, Vogav stumbled across another path, worn by what appeared to be the same creatures, leading the direction he needed to move. Taking it, he found that it did indeed lead to the other side of the meadow, as he had hoped.
To his surprise, Vogav found that he had arrived on the other side of the clearing before his hunting companion appeared at the end of the path they had followed. Patiently, the younger Klingon watched the animals peacefully grazing as he waited for Degrals appearance. Finally, it became obvious that Degral was not going to make his appearance soon enough to take advantage of their little strategem. Vogav looked around himself, selecting a medium-sized rock. The plan was still sound enough; he just had to find a way of spooking the herd without Degrals help. Hefting it carefully, the Klingon warrior hurled it in a high arc, hoping to see it land on the far side of the animals, driving them toward himself.
With the higher gravity, Vogav misjudged his throw; it hit the flank of an animal on the far side of the herd. The effect, however, was more than adequate: the animals charged toward him, terrified by the agonized shriek of their surprised herd-mate. As the last of the herd rushed past the tree behind which the Klingon had concealed himself, Vogav jumped out, wrapping a muscular arm around the neck of one of the beasts, violently twisting the beasts head in a modified Klingon death grip. The results were both immediate and gratifying: with a spastic twitch, the creature fell limp. He looked across the meadow; Degral still had not appeared.
Vogav cast an eye at the planets sun, gauging how much time he had before it set. There was scarcely enough time to get back to the camp before it set, at least with the dead animal to carry.
Whispering a curse on Degral for his laziness, the Klingon lifted the carcass onto his shoulders, inwardly rejoicing that he had taken down one of the smaller beasts. Rather than circle around the meadow, Vogav decided to cut across it, to save precious time. When he reached the outlet of the path Degral should have been on, he was not at all surprised to see no traces of his fellow Klingon. Annoyed that Degral had chosen to abandon him, Vogav moved forward with steady but rapid tread, intent on accusing the being of both laziness and cowardice when he confronted Degral at their camp.
Despite the load on his shoulders, Vogav made good time. Though the shadows were beginning to lengthen, he knew that there would be enough time to reach the camp before sunset. Off to one side, Vogav noticed a darker shadow. Looking up, he saw Degral, tightly wrapped in a net pulled around him by a pair of saplings, a simple loop of rope sitting on the ground just a little further down the path. Softly, Vogav whispered, "Degral?"
"Im here, caught in this wretched thing. The accursed Humans set a double trap, a fake one there to fool me into tripping the real one. I dodged the loop, and landed squarely in the middle of the net. Id have thought that was obvious enough." The irritation in Degrals voice was obvious. "A thousand curses on them."
Vogav shook his head. Obviously the Humans were craftier than any of the Klingons had given them credit for being. "It looks like getting you out of this is going to take at least two of us." Infuriated, he returned to the game hed killed and hustled to the fire.
Yolagg turned to face him. "I was beginning to think you and Degral had gotten lost. Where is he, anyway?"
"Caught in a net. The Humans set a trap, and he fell for it." Vogav dropped his prey on the ground. "It was clear that itd take two of us to get the trap sorted out, Yolagg. Maybe we could have some of us do a little butchering and get supper going while the rest of us rescue Degral."
"I agree. Karssed, you and Gordung butcher the beast and start cooking part of it." Yolagg added a few more pieces of wood to the fire. "Vogav, you and I will go rescue Degral. Lead on."
Unhappily, Vogav lead Yolagg out along the path he and Degral had negotiated earlier. The tree was no great distance from the camp, and the trek was made swiftly. To Vogavs surprise, the trap to which Degral had fallen prey had been removed. Before the lower rank Klingon could express his astonishment, the senior warrior pointed. To one side of the tree, near the path, a stick was set in the ground with Degrals identification tags hanging from it.
Yolaggs face contorted, half in fury, half in frustration. "This is probably their way of telling us that they have no fear of us, Vogav, or perhaps the Humans expressing their disdain. Theyll have taken his disruptor, and all the other weapons they could find, make no mistake about that. Degral is either dead or taken captive." The groups leader spat derisively. "We will teach them better manners. Come, Vogav." He turned, rapidly leading the way back to the camp.
With mornings arrival, what few things the Klingons had managed to rescue from their scout ship were bundled up in the hides of the animals they had killed over the last several days. Karssed was carefully covering their fire pit with the sod theyd turned to create it, making the fire pit harder to find, and Bhatag was hurling the last of the stones away. Making no comment, Yolagg lifted what looked like the largest of the bundles. "Karssed, take the lead. Bhatag, Gordung, take the other bundles. Vogav, youre rear guard. We need somewhere defensible; no need to make it any easier for the Humans than we must."
"Theres a cliff not far from here; I suspect that there will either be a small cave we can use, or an area we can wall off with stone and make defensible." Karssed oriented to the sun, now about a third of the way up the sky. "It should be this way. At least we can manage a semblance of a roof over our heads."
"The sooner you move, Karssed, the sooner we will have better shelter." There was no mistaking Yolaggs impatience.
Karssed made no reply; instead, he lead the party forward, scraping and poking the ground in front of him with a section of tree limb.
In the clearing between the trititanium habitats, Gustav sat, looking at Greggson, Ingram and a handful of other colonists. Gustav turned to the two men from the Hyperion. "How do you guess the Klingons will move?"
Greggson and Ingram looked at each other briefly, Greggson taking the lead. "They will certainly decide to break camp, Gustav. Knowing we have captured one of them will tell them we are on their trail; they will not want to let us choose the field of combat."
"He is right, Gustav." It was Nithins voice. "I expect a more defensible camp, this time, perhaps less well hidden." Nithin looked at Ingram before turning to face Gustav again. "But no matter where they hide, they must eat. The camp, no matter how well chosen, will not provide Klingons with food. It is their foraging for food that will make them vulnerable."
Nodding, Gustav looked at Greggson. "Your engineers have studied the captured disruptor. How fragile is it?"
"Not particularly. Theyre designed to take considerable abuse. A forceful enough blow might shatter the dilithium crystal power source but I wouldnt bet on it." The security chief shook his head. "You dont have the strength to hit that hard, bare-handed. Better to hit it just after it fires; the emitter crystal is hot, and much more fragile. Thats the only time youve got a chance, really; given a cudgel about a meter long, with your strength accentuated by living at about 1.2 gs, I think its possible. However, there is no need to break it, you know; all you need to do is knock it out of their hands, which should be well within your abilities."
Gustav nodded. He turned to one of the others. "Nithin?"
"Easily enough done. I can weight the end with lead, augmenting the force generated. The difficulty will be getting them to draw, on our terms."
"I agree. All else is prepared."
Gustav turned to the two men from the Hyperion. "Then we must get the Klingons to deploy their disruptors, on our terms. This will be difficult."
"Perhaps; and perhaps not." A strange, almost incomprehensible, expression found its way onto Ingrams face. "Humans as bait might do it."
"We cannot allow a suicide mission; anyone trying to bait the Klingons will be killed on sight." There was no mistaking Gustavs inflexible attitude.
"There is a way. Let me offer a suggestion..."
Indri and Drevan stood, hunched over a workbench in Engineering. "Well, I suppose this explains why you and Reichard had so much trouble locating them on the scanner, Drevan." Indri pointed at the readouts his scanner had produced on the vest they had harvested from Degral. "That scanner is what, all of a meter from the vest, and the image is blurred enough that its unrecognizable as a vest. I cant even clearly see the section of the workbench under it. This is bad news."
"Maybe, maybe not." Drevan studied the image. "Are you game to try to take this miserable thing apart? I mean, there has to be some sort of clue as to how this thing works. Given the total lack of a power supply, the system has to be a passive one, or at the most, one that runs on absorbed scanning energy." The Andorian shook his head, as if to clear his vision. "This may sound stupid, but even using my augmented antennae-based senses, this thing is blurred. Its almost like Im out of focus."
"Out of focus." Indri rubbed his chin, deep in thought. "Theres a thought. Before we do anything else, what say we try scanning it at a different wavelength? I suppose its possible to produce a defocusing system, but only in a limited number of frequencies, I would think, not all of them. Im willing to bet that if we can find just the right frequency, we may get some useful information. Game to try?"
"Totally game." Drevan studied the vest. "But its going to take some time, no question about it."
Without responding, Indri shifted the position of the scanner slightly, trying to get a decent scan. Drevan moved slightly, trying to see better. Neither were pleased with the results, and moved again, then again, determined to unlock the secret of the scan-defeating vest.
Using strips of hide, Bhatag lashed the last of the branches over the small stockade. "That should do it, Yolagg. We can see through the gaps between the logs, and if needs be fire between them; if worse comes to worst, we can retreat into the small cave behind it."
"The cave was a good find, no mistake about it. Pity we dont have tools to make a good stone wall quickly enough." Yolagg shrugged. "Still, a wooden stockade is better than nothing."
From inside the stockade, Karsseds voice joined the discussion. "Wood for the stockade is all well and good, Yolagg, but Id like some for a fire. I hope Bhatag has left us room for a smoke hole."
"Bah! As loose as this roof of branches is, you shouldnt need a special chimney. I dont see it as keeping rain outjust animals and Humans."
"What we need is to suspend a couple of hides to handle the rain." It was Gordung, this time. "And I wouldnt object to having those hides arrive here filled with something to eat. Hacking down trees with knives and brute strength is hungry work."
"Good idea, Gordung. You and Bhatag go hunt down some game." Yolagg looked over at the stockade. "While youre gone, Vogav and I will get a ladder lashed together, so we can get in and out, and round up some firewood. Trust Karssed to get himself trapped inside and dodge the rest of the work."
"Someone has to check this cave out, you know, despite the cold and damp. If were fortunate, well find an underground pool nearby for water. Ive got a couple of dry branches here I can use for a torch, if I can get a small fire going."
"Saves us throwing them to you." Vogav laughed. "Or on you, which is more likely."
"Just keep your eyes open, Karssed. There are a couple of trails that lead here; I dont need some hostile lifeform killing one of my men." Yolaggs voice contained no sign of humor. "Keep your disruptor handy, but dont use it unless you must."
"I wont. The torch will probably be weapon enough."
Bhatag and Gordung moved off along one of the paths, deciding to ignore the banter, following the paths twists and turns, Bhatag in the lead. Without warning, Bhatag stopped, pointing. Silently, Gordung crept up beside him, looking around the corner where his companion was pointing. Clearly visible on the trail, there were three Humans: Nithin and Gustav heaving on a rope, holding a sapling bent down, and Eletto setting up a simple wooden trip mechanism and attaching the rope to it. All three had their backs turned to the approaching Klingons, and were sufficiently focused on their task that they had failed to hear the intruders arrive.
Making as near to no noise as they could, both Klingons drew their disruptors, taking careful aim. On Bhatags signal, both Klingons fired. Almost simultaneously, there was the sound of shattering glass, as the mirror they had aimed at shattered, and the sound of cudgels hitting the drawn disruptors, knocking them to the ground.
Angered, the Klingons turned to face the colonists wielding the cudgels, lunging to grab the cudgels away from them before they could be used as a weapon. Both men grappled with their Klingon opponents, barely holding their ground. Gordung grappled with Radoc; despite the Humans greater strength, the Klingons greater battle skills drove Radoc backward, until his back was against the trunk of a nearby tree. Radoc raised his metal cudgel, swinging for the Klingons head, only to have Gordung grab the weapon. In the moment of distraction as Gordung tried to wrestle the weapon from Radoc, Dutt dropped on Gordungs back, a thick band in his hands.
As Dutt dropped to the ground, the band swept the Klingons hands downward. Dutt released the device, allowing it to clamp tightly around the being, pinioning his arms. Out of what seemed to be nowhere, Radoc produced a thinner, longer piece of metal, slapping it against Gordungs thighs at a bit of an angle. Warmed by the Klingons body, the metal remembered its earlier, spiral shape, wrapping tightly around Gordungs thighs, immobilizing all but his mouth.
Things had not progressed as well for Kynan, who was facing Bhatag; unlike Radoc, who was more experienced and practiced with combat, Kynan had lost control of the cudgel to the Klingon, and was trying to dodge his own weapon, with only marginal success. Dutts assault on Gordung caused Bhatag to turn. The distraction was slight, but sufficient: Harvel, another colonist, dropped out of the tree, using the heavy metal band the same way Dutt had, then reaching behind the tree to get the metal strip Kynan had planned to use, pinioning Bhatag. With the second Klingons fall, Gustav, Nithin and Eletto came hurrying through the brush.
The physician deployed his scanner. "You got off easily, Radoc; some bruises, a couple of fractured ribs and a broken wrist." There was a hiss as he pressed the hypospray against Radocs shoulder. Eletto turned to the other colonist, making a face as he studied his mediscanner. The hypospray hissed again. "Good thing Greggson put me on this one; he probably expected the injuries. Better, Kynan?"
"Better." Kynan was gasping for air.
"Good." Eletto turned. "Nithin? Can you and Dutt take care of Radoc? Kynan needs to get to Sickay, now."
Gustav, who had knelt beside Kynan almost as soon as Eletto had done, stood. There was a sharp edge to Gustavs voice that Eletto wasnt sure he liked. "That will not be needed, friend Eletto. He has passed beyond your help."
Eletto deployed his scanner; Gustav was right. Before the physician could do more than open his mouth, Gustavs hand raised. "Kynan knew the risk he took, Doctor. He volunteered, knowing that he had only a short time left to live: he spoke of it little, but he suffered from Lompocs mitochondrial degeneration." Gustav looked down at the man, then at Eletto. "Rather than slowly degenerate into an invalid over a few years, Kynan wanted his death to count for something, and it has. We will bury him by our new colony. We will remember that his life was part of the cost of having this world, and will be all the more ready to confront our enemy to claim it."
Soberly, Eletto turned back to Radoc. "We need a splint for that arm; Nithin, see what you can do about a decent branch."
"Of course." Nithin selected an appropriate branch, tearing it down from the tree. Eletto stripped off his belt, using it to bind the branch to Radocs arm. At Elettos signal, the two Klingons were transported up to the Hyperion to be stored in the brig. Within minutes, the entire troupe disappeared into the brush again.
Andorian and Human were both beginning to look frustrated by their efforts. Finally, Indri put his tricorder down. "Drevan, we are definitely doing this the hard way. This is a brute-force approach. Were both cleverer than that. Whats your impression?"
Antennae drooping slightly from tiredness, the Andorian scratched his snow-white hair. "I stand by my comment earlier. This thing is just totally out of focus, no matter how I look at it."
Indri closed his eyes in concentration for a moment. "Out of focus. That triggers something in my memory, and its eluding me. Give me a sec, will you?" Suddenly, the brown eyes popped back open. "I am a total idiot, Drevan. The answers obvious. Just a second, I need to find a data port to hitch this fool tricorder to. You watch that readout over there on the wall, will you, my friend?"
"Sure, happy to. Mind telling me what Im looking for?" Drevan shifted to where he had a good view of the viewscreen. "Might make it easier for me to know Im seeing it when I do, know what I mean?"
His tricorder connected to a data port, Indri moved over to a control surface. "If you need help to recognize what Im hoping to display, then Im not getting the job done." On the mainviewer, a blur suddenly came into existence.
"Hey, I recognize that blur! Havent we been staring at it for the last several hours?" The lack of excitement in Drevans voice was obvious.
"Just hold on, will you? Im looking for the algorithm I need." The chief engineer was hunched over a small readout. With a noise of triumph, he triggered the piece of software that hed found. "Thatll do it."
Suddenly, the vest was in clear focus on the screen. Layer after layer of the material composing it was removed from the image, displaying details of its structure in detail that amazed both Human and Andorian. Drevan turned. "What did you do, Indri? This is magnificent!"
"Dug up an old electronic focusing trick from the early days of digital imaging." The Humans face split with into a huge smile. "You can read up on the details later, but it basically was an attempt to make allowance for imperfections in a cameras lens. It did such a good job re-focusing the image that they actually started making the lenses imperfect just to make the algorithm work better. Theres a little bit of loss in the grain of the picture, mind you, but with modern technologies, its not that critical."
"Ive got to love this. All we have to do is run up an algorithm to recognize the signature of this blurring vest, and apply this bit of programming you dug up, and Ill bet we can locate anyone wearing it with unprecedented precision."
Indri nodded. "Thats the way I figure it. Another bit of Klingon engineering defeated by Federation ingenuityand sneakiness. Im going to get some shuteye, Drevan. We can get this to Starfleet Command in the morning."
Through the small chinks between the logs set up to form their stockade, Yolagg watched the sun of New Menno slowly dip below the horizon. The Klingon leader shook his head, returning to the relative safety of the cave in which they had taken shelter. Vogav looked up. "Looks like Gordung and Bhatag arent going to be back tonight."
"Brilliant deduction, Vogav." Yolagg snapped. "I just hope theyre holed up somewhere safe."
From outside the enclosure, a Human voice, slightly distorted by the electronics of a translator with an electronic megaphone, entered the conversation. "They are safe, as prisoners aboard the Hyperion."
Karssed, closest to the stockade, applied an eye to a chink between two logs. Gustav stood, defiantly, at the edge of the forest.
"Your companions are captured, Klingons," Gustav continued. "There are no more than three of you left; there are thousands of us. You have no hope. Surrender and we will return you to QonoS unharmed."
"Bah! Klingons do not surrender." There was no mistaking Yolaggs determination to live by that creed.
"Then you can stay in the cave and starve until you have the wisdom to surrender. Its your choice. We will be watching." Gustav disappeared into the trees, just before a disruptor fired where he once stood.
Karssed looked over at his leader. "The cave does not show any signs of any other surface entrance, Yolagg; the air is absolutely still. We leave out the front, or not at all."
"What do you propose?"
"There is no moon, and from the signs in the sky, I expect that there will be ample cloud cover." Karssed shrugged. "That assumes, of course, that weather more or less functions the same here as it does back on QonoS, which is not too unlikely." Karssed looked at the wall, then back at Yolagg. "We climb over the wall, silently, when the darkness is deep. Its not as if we have to go a long distance in near total darkness, after all. Then, while they watch our hideaway..." The Klingon science officer let his voice dwindle away, the look on his face expressing his thoughts with sufficient eloquence.
"Ill bundle up the absolute necessities, then," Vogav offered. "The pack should be manageable if we dont take anything but the barest necessities."
Only a short time was needed to get ready to make their escape. The Klingons huddled around a small fire, waiting with patience. Yolagg finally stood. "It looks dark enough. Put out the fire, and lets move. Vogav, you carry the bundle; Ill take the ladder once were all down."
"Best to leave the fire burning; no sense in putting it out and telling the Humans something is afoot, eh?"
"Good thought, Vogav. Karssed, a little more wood on the fire, then, as long as it isnt going to make our escape visible."
"If we hug the cliff wall, there should be no trouble; the palisade is almost solid there." Kharssed inspected the wooden stakes, then the small hand scanner he carried. "Not a gap worth talking about. And I dont have any indication that they are using any monitoring electronics. They must be foolish enough to believe the threat of their watching out for us will be enough to frighten us into immobility."
The three Klingons clambered up the ladder, positioning themselves carefully on top of the wooden stockade. Karssed silently lifted the ladder up and over, his two companions steadying him. With equal speed, the threesome descended, keeping huddled to the cliff face. Yolagg gently lifted the ladder, gesturing to the others to follow behind him. Scarcely lifting his feet, to minimize the noise as he moved, Yolagg made his way forward.
Barely more than four meters from the wall of the stockade, his foot hit a small bit of cord, setting bells jingling. Almost immediately, a large stone plummeted from the top of the cliff, landing in the stockade, blocking the entrance to the cave. All three moved swiftly, the ladder now discarded, moving out to the forest before them, each with a hand outstretched ahead, sweeping from side to side to detect any obstacle before hitting it.
Hardly had they abandoned the tripwire before a boulder smashed down on it. Determined, the Klingons maintained their pace, turning to one side just as they came to the edge of the trees, moving along the side some distance before plunging in.
The first tendrils of dawn found the Klingons several kilometers away from the abandoned lair. Karssed was the first to awaken; he gently woke the others. There was no need to communicate; they all knew that their task was to put additional distance between themselves and the knot of Humans on the planet. In the background, there was a yipping noise.
Vogav turned. "Thats the oddest bird call I ever heard. Karssed, what do you make of it?"
"That this is not QonoS, and that bird calls change from planet to planet," the science officer hissed as quietly as he could. "Shut up and move; we can compare notes on birding when we have somewhere safer to hole up. Maybe some of the birds will be tasty."
Through the majority of the morning, the Klingons remained on the move, doing their best to confuse their trail, accompanied by the occasional yipping song. It was easily eighteen kilometers, as the bird would fly, before they stopped to make camp. Yolagg looked at his companions. "Ill get a fire going. One of you go and catch something to eat."
Karssed looked up, nodding silent acquiescence.
"Leave your disruptor, Karssed, just in case. We may well need it."
The science officer looked at Yolagg, then acquiesced, handing Yolagg the disruptor before disappearing silently into the woods. Vogav started collecting firewood.
Karssed was uneasy about going off without his disruptor; he consoled himself by sliding his long knife from its sheath as he crept through the brush, seeking a trail that might lead him to some game. It was not long before his search was rewarded. More swiftly, he pushed his way along the path. The yipping bird call seemed to haunt his every step. From behind, he heard a Human voice.
"Surrender or be taken, Klingon."
He turned to see Reichard, standing behind him on the path, with no phaser in his hand. Karssed allowed himself a small, but cruel, smile. "Prepare to die, Human." Knife in hand, Karssed charged Reichard.
A thin, trititanium net exploded from behind a tree, wrapping itself tightly around the Klingons chest. Surprised, Karssed turned, seeing Harvel next to a tree; he chose to lunge for Harvel with his knife. Karsseds knife flew, burying itself in Harvels belly.
Reichard swept behind the Klingon, bringing his hands down, forcefully against the Klingons exposed neck, rendering him unconscious, then ran to Harvel, tearing off his shirt to use as a pressure bandage with one hand and reaching for his communicator with the other. "Hyperion! Three to beam up to Sickbay; medical emergency." Klingon, crewman and colonist disappeared together, Reichard doing the best he could to staunch Harvels bleeding.
The sun was halfway to its setting when Vogav looked at Yolagg. "Its been too long. Karssed must have gotten lost."
"Taken by the cursed Humans, more like it." From outside the small clearing in the woods that they had taken for a temporary camp, the yipping birdcall sounded again. "A pestilence upon that bird! I am sick of its call. If I thought such creatures could talk, Id accuse it of telling the Humans where we were."
"Maybe it is, Yolagg, indirectly. Our being here probably annoys it, causing it to call out to assert its territorial rights." Vogav shifted uneasily. "You dont have to be a genius to use that sort of thing; just sharp of ear and mind."
"It is not birds, Klingon; it is a form of communication the Basque once used." The voice was Gustavs, but the Klingons could not clearly locate it.
Another yipping sounded from the edge of the clearing. Vogavs disruptor moved swiftly, but not swiftly enough. Yolagg put his back to Vogav, holding his own disruptor. "Youll have to be faster than that; what kind of warrior do you think you are?"
Before the younger warrior could respond, stones flew from different places beyond the edge of the clearing, striking the disruptors, knocking them far from the Klingons. Vogav dove to retrieve his weapon, only to see the weapon disappear in phaser fire. Three balls, yoked together with trititanium wire to form a bola, flew from somewhere at the perimeter, wrapping tightly around the Klingon. When the balls landed against the being, it became clear that they were hardly passive: there was enough repulsion between the balls to hold the wires tight against all the force Vogav could muster. An instant later, the Klingon disappeared in a transporter.
Yolegg reached for Karsseds disruptor, turning to face the direction the stone had come from. He saw no one. Warily, he waited and watched, moving toward the other disruptor. Phaser fire erupted from the edge of the clearing, vaporizing it. Yolegg fired at the place one of the phasers had come from; no one remained to feel the energy. Determined to take at least one of the Humans down before they captured him, he scanned the perimeter. From one side, a large stone flew, hitting the disruptor, knocking it out of his hand. Before it hit the ground, phaser fire destroyed it.
Gustavs voice rang out behind Yolegg. "Come, do battle with me, Klingon."
Yolegg turned, seeing Gustav standing at the edge of the clearing. "And have those hiding at the edge of the clearing cut me down with their phasers? You must think me a fool, Human."
"Your refusal to surrender has already proved that, Klingon." Gustav began to walk toward Yolegg, whirling a leather strap over his head with increasing speed. "If that had been our plan, you would be dead already. Draw your knife; let this be between us. If you kill me, you will be allowed to go free. Or are you the one Klingon warrior that is too cowardly to fight a single, Human opponent?"
With a snarl of rage, Yolegg rushed toward Gustav. The Klingon had covered less than two meters before Gustav launched the steel ball in the pouch of the shepherds sling he was whirling; it planted itself squarely between Yoleggs eyes, striking his ridged forehead with immense force. Bleeding, Yolegg continued to move toward Gustav; a second steel ball found its mark, higher in the Klingons skull, dropping the Klingon face first on the ground. Cautiously, Gustav moved toward his fallen opponent.
Once Gustav was within easy reach, Yolegg leapt up, reaching for the Human. Almost as if he expected Yoleggs action, Gustav slapped the blade to the side, sending the knife flying. With a look of surprise on his features, Yolegg moved toward the Human, only to find a fist driven by strength honed by a lifetime on a higher gravity planet driven into his stomach. As the Klingon doubled over, the wind knocked out of him, Gustav hurled the other fist upward meeting Yoleggs face as it came down, flipping the Klingon back, leaving him unconscious.
Almost in pity, Gustav looked down. "I gave you your chance, all of you. Would that you had received the kindness that you were offered. Now, you must return home, shamed both by being captive and by being defeated." Even as Ingram and Reichard came out of the forest, Gustav walked toward it.
Uhura closed the log, looking at the viewscreen in front of her. "Six Klingons taken using modernized versions of obsolete weapons. Thats surprisingly good, I guess."
Ingram turned to face the captain. "Thats surprisingly good, even with phasers, Captain. I guess that proves that its not really the weapon that makes the difference, its the warrior behind it."
Drevan looked up. "I could have told you that; its an old Andorian proverb."
Free counters provided by Andale.
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES --
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES On-Line Fiction.
Click Here to Return to the Orion Press Website