"I'm a pink skin," Drevan moaned. "A ruddy,
monkey boy. Lovely."
The Andorian science officer sat up on the edge of his bio-bed, looking around at his fellows: Davids on one side of him, Reichard on the other.
Examining his cosmetic handiwork, Chief Medical Officer M'Benga smirked. "It's only temporary. A brief induction of pigments into a plasticene layer over the exposed areas your skin. Actually, with the yellow I've added to your hair, you look Nordic...much like the population below."
"And my antennae. You didn't have to bend them so tight to hide them, did you? I can hardly use them; it makes me dizzy."
"I'll release them when you get back. But I've had enough whining, thank you. Judging from your medical records, it's not the first time you've had either procedure done."
"That's because when you're in Clandestine Operations, you go with the flow, Doctor," the Andorian scowled.
"Well, let me give you a word of advice: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. And when on an alien planet, look as the aliens do."
Harrison Davids chuckled. "And when on an ice planet, go with the ice flows."
Reichard shook his head in not-so-mock agony. "That's enough. Let's get to Sociology and get our costumes on. I hate icy worlds, and the idea of three hours down there is really grating enough without the two of you and your banter."
Upenda Nyota Uhura sat back in the center seat and yawned
before she could stifle it. She blinked twice and again forced herself to resume reading
the report she had on their next assignment: a scientific experimental mission on an idea
for a new power supply for the Federation. The last connection with an experiment along
that line had not produced particularly cheerful memories.
The communications station beeped, and she heard Communications Officer T'Soral acknowledge the hail. "Hyperion here. Go ahead, landing party."
Uhura glanced at the chronometer on the astrogator before her. "Fifteen minutes early. I guess they're ready to come back aboard. I hope Ghassi has a lot of hot coffee ready."
"Say again, Mister Davids," T'Soral's voice sounded concerned...well, as much as a Vulcan could sound concerned. "Very well. One moment, please."
Uhura spun her chair to face the communications station. "What is it, Lieutenant?"
"Captain, Mister Davids is requesting an emergency beam down of a search party. He reports that the other members of the landing partyDrevan and Reichardhave disappeared."
"On audio, T'Soral," she ordered. "Have Greggson report to the bridge immediately."
The Vulcan nodded as she switched the channel to the bridge's speakers.
"Hardav," Uhura addressed the physician's assistant by his nickname, "what's your status?"
"I'm freezing my cohones off, Captain."
"Duly noted; it's an ice world. Where's Ken and Drevan?"
"I'm not sure. I was discussing some medical matters with the local equivalent of a tribal medicine man in his fire lodge, and when I came out, they were gone. I've asked several of the locals where they went, and they simply say they've probably gone missing.'"
From the engineering station, Assistant Chief Engineer Running Bear turned with a start, but said nothing as Security Chief Greggson entered the bridge.
"What do they mean gone missing'?" the captain nodded a silent greeting to the silver-haired man in charge of the Hyperion's security.
"I'm drawing a blank with them, Captain. They expect me to understand the cultural reference, but I've got no idea what they mean, sir."
As Uhura ordered Cadet Owens at the science station to scan the surface of the planet for the missing officer, Greggson frowned. "Lieutenant Davids, do you think the locals are responsible?" he asked as the engineer squirmed in his seat.
There was a pause. "No, sir. They're not even apologizing. They clearly don't hold themselves to blame. The medicine chief even said that his nephew went missing yesterday, and that it's been a bad year for it."
"No sign of the missing landing party personnel, Captain," the cadet manning Drevan's post at the Science One announced.
Uhura pursed her lips. "I don't like the sound of that. Hardav, what if I bring down an armed search squad?"
"They'll have no problem, Captain. These people are the furthest thing from xenophobic. I'd make sure that we bring down only humanoids to avoid cultural shock, but it's my opinion that we'll have no problems there."
"Very well. Stand by. Lieutenant Commander Greggson will be beaming down with some of his staff to assume command of the situation."
"Tell them to bring me down a thermos full of hot coffee and a new, fully-charged power pack for my thermals."
"Will do. Hyperion out."
Uhura looked up in the weathered face of her security chief. "Wills, I may be asking a lot of you and your staff, but I want my officers found and returned alive."
"I'll do my best, Captain, but if I may ask a question?"
Greggson turned to the assistant chief engineer. "All right, Lieutenant Running Bear, you're squirming like you've got a secret to share. What do you know about this situation?"
Uhura turned her chair with a start to face the engineering console.
"Commander Greggson, I'm an Iliwinek, not an Eskimo, a Plains tribe not one of the snow and ice, but I'm familiar with the legends of many North American cultures."
"Go on," he pushed, stepping to the railing next to the engineering station.
"Kushtaka," Running Bear said.
"Land otter man'," said T'Soral from communications. "That's a translation from the Tlingit term our assistant chief engineer has used," she explained.
"And these Kushtaka are what?" Greggson pressed.
Uhura glanced at the science station. Owens was standing there, oblivious that an answer from him was expected. "Cadet!" she snapped.
She sighed. Most of the crew knew she preferred ma'am' to sir', but no matter. What was frustrating was that the cadet had been following the discussion but hadn't the insight to anticipate her queries for information. She stood and strolled to the science station. Quickly flicking a few controls, she stared into the viewer. Scrolling down with the side control, she read aloud the entry, "Kushtaka are mythical creatures found in the stories of the Tlingit Indians of Southeastern Alaska. As T'Soral said, loosely translated, Kushtaka means, land otter man'. They are similar to the Nat'ina of the Dan'aina Indians of South Central Alaska, and the Urayuli of the Eskimos in Northern Alaska."
She scanned more of the data on the display. "Physically, Kushtaka are shape-shifters capable of assuming either Human form or the form of an otter. In some accounts, a Kushtaka is able to assume the form of any species of otter; in others, only one. Accounts of their behavior seem to conflict with one another. In some stories, Kushtaka are cruel creatures who take delight in tricking poor Tlingit sailors to their deaths. In others, they are friendly and helpful, frequently saving the lost from death by freezing. In many stories, the Kushtaka save the lost individual by distracting them with curiously otter-like illusions of their family and friends as they transform their subject into a fellow Kushtaka, thus allowing him to survive in the cold, but he can never return to his family." She straightened up and whispered something to Owens about reporting to her ready room after the crisis was over.
"Is that what you think we're dealing with, Lieutenant?" Greggson snapped. "Some Earth legend from a neo-lithic people that has managed to magically transport itself light years away from its origin?"
"The phrase gone missing' was used by the Eskimos to describe those taken by the Kushtaka," Running Bear held his head high. "I suppose Doctor Roberts, the specialist in mythopoetic literature we met a while back could make more sense, but just as similar conditions and physiologies can and do produce similar cultures, it's reasonable to suppose they'd produce similar legends."
Greggson's steel-gray eyes held Running Bear's deep brown ones for a moment as Uhura made her way to the security chief's side, leaving a quaking cadet in her wake. "Good point, Running Bear." He rubbed his chin pensively. "Sort of a mythological version of Hodgkins Law of Parallel Planetary Development."
"Running Bear, I want you to accompany Mister Greggson and his team to help conduct the search for our missing men."
Uhura waved off the "Ma'am, I'm an engineer" and "Captain, this man is an engineer" before either could finish their objections. "Gentlemen, let me make this perfectly clear. Two of my officers are missing. I want them found immediately. Dismissed."
"Does it snow here all the time?" Security
Technician Jeremy Ryans, one of Greggson' best men, looked at his superior officer,
clearly displeased with the weather.
"Don't know," answered Greggson as he increased the intensity of his scanning tricorder to maximum. The bulky unit was unlike the ones used by the science officers under ordinary landing conditions. It was angular, bulky and quite heavy, resembling some sort of heavy weapon than a tricorder. "Don't particularly care." Two others in the team of five security officers adjusted their scanning tricorders as well. "Formation Delta." He turned to the engineer. "I want you five meters to my right and three meters behind me, Lieutenant. Ryans, five to my left and three behind."
"Yes, sir." The assistant chief engineer bundled up in his Starfleet gear, still looking at the dwellings behind him. "The village looks almost like those of the ancient Vikings."
"'Similar environment and similar physiology result in similar technology and similar culture'," quoted Greggson. "Hodgkins Law of Parallel Planetary Development."
"Now, where have I heard that before?" the engineer chuckled, moving into position.
They proceeded the rest of the way to the nearest lodge in silence. A lone figure, dressed in white animal furs stood waiting for them. Running Bear handed him the requested thermos of coffee. The physician's assistant gulped greedily. "Ah, Jack's Blend, Eletto's favorite. Excellent. That hits the spot."
"Now that you're thoroughly refreshed, Lieutenant, where did you last see Drevan and Reichard?" Greggson' sarcasm was either ignored or undetected by the scraggly Davids.
"Right there," he pointed to a totem pole of sorts on the edge of the encampment.
"After you," Greggson bowed, sweeping one arm toward the target.
Taking the power pack for his hidden thermal wear with a grateful smile to Running Bear, Harrison Davids led the security squad to wear he'd last seen his friends.
The totem pole was a garish thing, made of carved bones with angular, almost frightening faces aimed at the village. "What's this thing, Hardav?" asked Running Bear as Greggson directed his security team into Formation Omicron.
"A representation of heroes who have protected the villagers in this encampment from the evil spiritsthe Ghubruwho apparently kidnap the villagers when they get a chance."
Greggson turned with a start. "Is there any basis in reality for their beliefs, Mister Davids?"
"I don't know, sir. The first I heard of it was after I reported Ken and Drevan missing," the P.A. shrugged. "The people here, the Cymbrini, don't like talking about these Ghubru. The old chieftain, N'leq, tells me that it is said that the Ghubru will imitate the cries of a baby or the screams of a woman to lure victims to their deaths."
"Gruesome," Running Bear commented. "And surprisingly similar to some of the legends of the Kushtaka."
"I still struggle to believe that an Earth legend would have any bearing on what is transpiring here. There must be a logical explanation for their disappearance."
"You think there's something to their legend, Running Bear?" asked Davids sotto voce to the assistant chief engineer as the landing party progressed in the proscribed search pattern.
"I don't know, Hardav, but I'm not going to discount the possibility that there's something to these old legends. Chieftain N'leq lost a nephew to whatever it is going on down here only two days ago."
The wind began kicking up. "Is it near nightfall?" asked Ryans.
"Negative," answered Greggson. "This planet rotates horizontally on its orbit. This hemisphere always faces the sun."
"Odd that these people would be able to survive here," remarked Running Bear.
"Not at all. The seas nearby are heated by geothermal vents, similar to the Ross Sea in Antarctica. There are fish that form the primary diet of the Cymbrini, as well as some sort of cetacean and a large tentacled mollusk similar to squid." Davids pulled his fur coat a little tighter as he spoke. "Can't imagine why they don't have any agriculture, can you?
Suddenly, in the chilly wind, they heard a diminutive cry. "Commander Greggson, I think it's a child" Even as he was speaking, Ryans suddenly disappeared from sight.
"Everyone, remain where you are!" Running Bear shouted.
Greggson looked at the engineer in disbelief. "You overstepping your authority, Lieutenant. Exactly what do you think you're doing?"
"Saving everyone's life. Now please, stay still." The assistant chief engineer took out his communicator. "Running Bear to Hyperion."
"Go ahead, Lieutenant. We're reading you," came T'Soral's serene voice.
"Scan this area for our missing crewmen."
"Cadet Owens reports no sign of them," came Uhura's concerned voice. "He also reports that your search team is missing one member. What's going on down there?"
"Captain, I know where our people are. I'm going to need some specialized equipment, to get to them and rescue them, though. Here's what I need..."
In the main lodge of the Cymbrini tribe, Uhura listened
intently as Running Bear explained. "It's the structure of the ice here," the
engineer took a sip of the hot fishy drink served by the Cymbrini. "It's honeycombed,
possibly as a result of the geothermal vents that keep their nearby sea thawed.
Interference from those vents made detecting our missing personnel impossible. The same
shifting of the ice plates that opens up the honeycomb, potentially trapping people,
causes air shifts in it, making the crying noise we heard."
"Using a plumb line to find them and to guide the communications hard line to them was a master stroke, Running Bear; using the aquashuttle's phasers on low power to melt a channel to them was equally brilliant." Security Chief Greggson bowed slightly toward the engineer. "Mister Running Bear, I have to congratulate you on a job well done."
Running Bear returned the bow. "Thank you, Commander."
The young nephew of Chief N'leq was running around the lodge, scampering from Starfleet personnel to members of his tribe, delightfully playing some game with Drevan, Reichard and his brothers.
N'leq himself had tears in his blue eyes. "We are grateful for the return of my sister-son, Uhura. And we are grateful in the knowledge of what you have taught us about the area beyond the foonthu pole."
"Your people were wise enough to place the foonthu there to warn you of the danger ahead. It was fortunate that we knew enough to pay heed to legends but to remember as well that legends often are borne of the truths we've forgotten."
"You speak wisely, Chieftain Uhura. Will you tarry long in our lands?"
"I think not. Others of our kind may visit you in the distant future. We are deeply grateful for the hospitality you have shown us."
N'leq bowed slightly as Uhura bowed deeply. "Until our paths cross again."
Uhura came out of the ready room, Cadet Owens in a subdued
mood behind her. She took to the center seat as though she were born into it, and asked,
"Status, Mister Drevan?"
The Andorian looked uncomfortable. "Ship's status nominal. Aquashuttle Piccard has been stowed. All personnel present and accounted for."
"Standby to leave orbit," ordered Reichard from the helm.
"One request, if I may, Captain?" came the Andorian's voice from Science One.
"Considering all you've been through," Uhura looked at his restored blue skin and slowly uncurling antennae, "I'm sure I can accommodate you."
"Could you turn up the heat?"
"Aye!" came Reichard's voice from the helm.
"Running Bear, if you please?" she turned to the engineer. "That is, of course, if you have no objections."
"Joyfully, Captain. Raising bridge temperature three degrees," replied the assistant chief engineer.
"Navigator, plot course for our rendezvous as Beta Gamma Four. There's a scientist we're supposed to pick up," said Uhura, standing up.
"Plotted and laid in, ma'am," the navigator responded.
"Helm, Warp Factor Three," the captain ordered as she drifted up the steps to Science One.
"Helm answering. Warp Factor Three, aye."
As the ship leaped into subspace, Uhura leaned toward Drevan. "I thought Andor was a rather cold planet."
"It is. But that doesn't mean we like it cold," the science officer replied.
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