January 18, 2298
in the evening
Uhura turned to her communications officer to make a comment about the lull, only to have her remark die unsaid. T'Soral turned from the communications console. "Incoming message, Captain."
"Mainviewer, T'Soral." Uhura looked hopeful of an assignment.
The mainviewer was filled with the face of her fleet captain. "Kyptin Uhura, greetings! I trust that married life is agreeing with you."
Uhura smiled broadly. "Very much so, Fleet Captain Chekov. I wish M'Benga had popped the question years ago, and so does he, but knowing you, Pavel, I'm willing to bet that there's more to this call than repeated congratulations over my getting hitched."
"You know me too well, Nyota." Chekov scratched his chin, almost nervously. "You aren't afraid of bugs, are you? Some people have phobias about them, you know."
"I'm not particularly fond of them, but I don't have a bug phobia. Where are you going with this? The suspense is killing me." Her face made it abundantly clear that she was telling the truth.
"I'm glad to hear you can handle insects. Are you familiar with Celina Four?"
"I seem to recall they're a new member of the Federation on a couple of major trade routes. Chances are, they're going to make out like bandits over that. Anything else I should know?"
"Da, Kyptin. It seems that there are two major political/economic powers on Celina Four, both monarchies." The Russian held up one hand, responding to the Bantus suddenly wry face. "Don't worry; they're not at war with each other. They are, however, in competition with each other politically and economically. With the looming involvement in interstellar trade, the two Kings have realized that they will both be better off if they are united; that way, one isnt trying to undercut the other, to get the bigger bowl of borscht, you see." Chekov paused, clearly expecting a reply.
"So far, I follow you, Pavel, but I'm having a hard time seeing where my being happily married and not scared of insects fits into the picture, here." The Hyperion's captain shifted herself slightly. "I'm hoping you're going to clear that up."
"The dominant life form is a sentient insect. They look like oversized, lumpy beetles to me, a little like the Merakan, but a lot less attactive and a lot lumpier. The two Kings plan to unite their respective countries by marrying one king's son to the other one's daughter." The fleet captain paused again, as if unsure how to continue.
After an uncomfortable pause, Uhura shook her head. "Go ahead, Pavel, tell me. What's the catch? Is one of them uglier than ugly or something? Or maybe one is in love with someone else?"
"Nyet. Well, not ugly by their standards, anyways. By ours, they both probably are. Supposedly, they are both physically very attractive specimens of Celinan morphology, and reputedly reasonably sweet on each other. The princess just flat out refuses to marry the prince."
The Bantu nodded. "And Starfleet is hoping I can convince her to get married?"
"Exactly." The Russian grimaced. "How the brass figure a Human can convince an insectoid on this topic, I can't imagine, but what with you recently getting married, I suppose they expect you to be so deliriously happy that everyone around will be wanting wed." He snorted somewhat derisively. "It's absurd, nyet?"
A smile filled Uhura's face again. "It's not as absurd as you think, Pavel. You ought to see T'Soral and Eletto. Maybe I should send that pair to negotiate with her."
"Take them with you, Kyptin. Well, at least T'Soral; the psych team at Starfleet suspects the princess suffers from a dose of androphobia." He rolled his eyes. "Do what you can; that's all Starfleet Command asks."
"I'll try. Anything else?"
"Isn't that more than enough?" Chekov shrugged. "The only other point is that all negotiations will have to be done on your ship or out in the open; the species is less than half a meter tall. I wouldn't fit into one of their rooms."
"Thanks for the warning. If you'll transmit the location and whatever you have on the people and culture, we'll be on our way."
Chekov nodded. "It's on its way. There's almost nothing on family life, marriage customs and anything else that would be useful, if thats what youre hoping to find. Youre going to have to fly this one pretty nearly blind. Sorry!"
"I'll manage. I'm thankful for whatever you've sent. Hyperion out." Uhura turned to her chief science officer. "Drevan, what have we got on the Celinans?"
"Not much, I'm afraid; hardly more than what the fleet captain gave us." Drevan's antennae curled in frustration. "The way it looks to me, the Federation was in such a hurry to get them on board that the cultural survey was a bit slipshod. About all that stands out is the lack of data on marriage, child rearing and family life, as we were warned; it looks like there's some sort of cultural taboo about discussing that kind of thing." He shrugged. "Vulcans and Andorians aren't exactly gabby on the issue, either."
"Both cultures have good reason for that, Drevan." The voice was T'Soral's. "We Vulcans find the loss of emotional control during pon farr, particularly in the male, distasteful to contemplate or discuss. Its no easy thing for the female either, as you might recall."
"Good point; we Andorians are more than a little embarrassed over what happens with our wives, too. I'm willing to bet that's where the trap lies." He looked over at Uhura again. "Sound plausible?"
"I suppose. Marsden, take us to Celina Four and let's find out."
"Aye aye, Captain!" Marsden ran his fingers over the control surface, setting the Hyperion's engines to their task.
January 24, 2298
Uhura, Drevan and TSoral stood by the far end of the shuttle bay, watching and waiting as Indri guided the Celinan shuttle to a gentle landing. The craft had barely settled in place when a door on one side opened. Out of it came a troupe of two-meter long insects, their wing cases intricately decorated in what appeared to be inlaid silver. As what was clearly the Princess security team made sure the area was secure, Uhura took time to study them. Chekovs impression that they were reminiscent of beetles was accurate enough, but the resemblance was more superficial than she had expected. The creatures heads sported eight faceted eyes, arranged in four pairs, one pair substantially larger than the rest. Behind the largest of the eyes, there was a pair of fist-sized lumps, behind which were a much larger pair of nodules that stretched back almost to the wing cases. Fascinated, she watched them do their business. From the corner of her eye, she noticed that both Drevan and TSoral had scanners in hand, and were making use of them.
Several minutes passed before the Celinan team appeared satisfied that all was in sufficient order. In unison, the insectoids formed into a double file leading from the door. From the still open door on the shuttle, what was clearly the Princess descended. Somewhat smaller and almost delicate in comparison to the other Celinans, her wing cases sported an intricate design in gold, silver and copper. Confidently, she moved toward Uhura. "You are, I presume, the captain of this vessel?"
"Captain Uhura at your service, Your Majesty." She curtsied. "My companions are TSoral of Vulcan," she pointed to her communications officer, who bowed her head slightly, "and Drevan of Andor." The Andorian bowed deeply.
"I see." The Princess turned from one to the other, then back to the captain, her wing cases lifting slightly as the wings under them rubbed together creating the chirping that the translator turned into Federation English. "Well, I suppose you need to say whatever you have to say to try to convince me to be cheerful about having to marry, so you might as well do it. Youre the one thats going to do the talking, as the ranking officer, arent you?"
"Begging Your Majestys pardon, I am here to listen, not to speak." Sensing that discretion might be prudent, Uhura chose not to elaborate.
The Celinan royal turned to Drevan, her long antennae lifting then relaxing onto her back again. "Bah, youre male; only an idiot would expect you to convince a woman to marry another male." She turned to TSoral. "So Im going to get a Vulcan lecture on how logical it would be for me to marry my handsome prince, is that it?"
"Forgive me, but I must contradict Your Majesty. My husband asked that I make record of your people using his medical scanner." To emphasize her point, the Vulcan displayed the machine. "I am not here to talk at all. Although if Your Majesty would permit the procedure, I would be most honored to be allowed to scan you, strictly in the interests of medical science. There is remarkably little in our files concerning your anatomy and physiology, and we would be interested in changing that."
"Feel free, as long as it isnt going to damage me, which I suppose would get you into incredible trouble with my father, the King." The Princess' wing casings snapped together a time or two, a movement that seemed to indicate annoyance. As TSoral deployed the mediscanner, the Princess turned back to Uhura. "If none of you are here to convince me, what are you all here to do other than scan me?"
"With all due respect, Your Majesty, I am here to listen." Uhura straightened slightly as she spoke. "We know virtually nothing of your kind and your marriage customs. All we know is that you are strictly monogamous. Your Majesty surely understands thats not a lot with which to work."
"Ill have to admit, youre at least making some sense, which is more than I can say for a lot of the other folks Father has deployed to get his way." She turned to face her retinue. "I assume that you have determined that this ship is safe and secure, so why dont you relax and let me go somewhere with the captain and her Vulcan friend so we can talk girl to girl? Im sure the captain can find somewhere we can be private and safe."
What was clearly the chief of the security team shifted his posture in what looked like acquiescence. "As Your Majesty wishes. Your Majesty has an engagement in two and a quarter hours, and it will certainly take at least one hour to return to the surface."
"Ever the careful one, arent you, Kreechip? I havent forgotten." She turned to Uhura. "Lets ditch the men and the three of us talk, shall we? And you might as well call me Chirpeep. Its as close to my name as your vocal apparatus is going to get."
Uhura bowed, hoping that it would be understood, then led the way to the turbolift. "If it is suitable to you, perhaps my quarters would be a good place for us all to relax."
"As long as well have it all to ourselves, Im fine with it." Princess Chirpeep moved toward the turbolift. "After you, Captain." The three females disappeared into the lift.
Drevan shrugged. "Time for me to go back to the bridge, I guess. Im not going to achieve anything more here." He hung his tricorder on his belt and addressed the princess' guards who had hunkered down into a circle, sitting quite comfortably on their chitinous shanks. "Make yourselves as close to home as you can manage. I'll have a crewman bring you some refreshments shortly." The Andorian hustled to the turbolift, stepping into it. The door slid shut on him.
Uhura ushered the Celinan and the Vulcan into her quarters. "Is there any refreshment I can provide?"
The Princess' antennae twitched slightly. "I doubt it. Even if you could, I suspect Celinan feeding practices might be distasteful to you." She moved to an area where she could comfortably face a pair of chairs. "You might as well sit down, ladies. Its just us, and Im currently a little unenthused about the royalty thing. Im sure you understand."
"Ive never been royalty, so its a little hard for me to imagine." The captain settled into a chair, TSoral settling in one next to her. "The closest Ive ever come to that was sharing the royal box with High King Peter of Walven, years and years ago."
"Being royaltys a pretty lonely life, Captain."
"Please, call me Nyota, since were being informal."
"As you will. Being royalty is pretty lonely, like I said. The life is full of having to be places and look like youre not bored to bits with people trying to cozy up to gain some sort of advantage or something. Being an only child doesnt make it any easier, and spending most of my childhood being educated in how a princess should act didnt help any at all."
"I cant imagine what that must have been like." The sympathetic tone in Uhuras voice was wasted on the translator.
"It is the price I paid. You said you wanted to listen. Im willing to bet you want to know why I dont want to marry my handsome prince, dont you?"
TSoral nodded. "It is logical to wonder why your choice is as it is."
Chirpeep turned to face the communications officer. "Tell me, TSoral, do you think I have a good mind?"
"You appear to be very articulate, quite well educated, and very probably exceptionally intelligent. I have no doubt that you have a very good mind."
"Thank you, kind Vulcan. Whether its exceptional or not, Im rather fond of my mind. I simply wish to retain it, rather than become an egg-laying machine."
TSoral acted as if she was going to reply, but the captain silenced her with a gesture. "Thats a strong statement. Would you help us understand it?"
"I would have thought it was self explanatory. I value my mind. I do not wish to lose it."
Uhura nodded. "Both TSoral and I are married, Chirpeep; I know she still has an excellent mind, and Im fairly sure I still have a passable one. Is it a cultural thing, where the woman has to stay at home as wife and mother, and give up all her other activities?"
"No." Chirpeep went silent for a moment before continuing, shifting all six of her feet to and fro in a way that clearly indicated nervousness. "Its not a social thing, its a biological thing. When a marriage is consummated, the female is invariably impregnated, and the male is permanently physically altered, being rendered incapable of ever impregnating again. Never mind the details of how that happens. Once she is impregnated, the female begins producing eggs at a furious rate, ultimately going into a frenzy of egg laying during which she will lay anywhere from five to fifteen thousand eggs. As a result of either the incredible nutritional demands or the endocrine changes that occur as a result of this incredible production of eggs, her brain undergoes permanent damage. By our adult standards, she becomes a mindless carnivore, competent to do nothing but oversee her brood, and barely competent to do even that. That is not a future I wish to endure."
"I understand. Your position is quite logical." TSoral thought for a moment. "With your mother having produced an egg clutch of five thousand or more eggs, surely you have a sister who could take your role."
"I have already told you Im an only child. When the eggs hatch, the grubs are vicious carnivoresand cannibals. Usually, even when the brood room is heavily provided with meat, only four to ten survive to metamorphose into adult form. I was the only one in my brood to do so. Mercifully, even my mother was killed and consumed by my siblings and myselfas is the usual case." The Celinan Princess opened and shut her wing case in the Celinan equivalent of a shrug. "Its probably pretty obvious why we dont talk about our reproductive biology to others, or even much among ourselves. Even before we came in contact with other intelligent organisms, we found the topic embarrassing if not outright repugnant."
"I understand. What of the dozens of women that were part of the delegation the cultural surveyors met?" Had Princess Chirpeep been human, she would have recognized the puzzlement on Uhuras face.
"Obviously, they are virgins. Most of them decided to be, I believe you would say, neutered." From somewhere under herself, the insectoid produced an object she held in front of her face, then restored to its origin. "I hate to be a party-pooper, but I really have to get going. If Im not back to the shuttle bay soon, Kreechip will have a major fit of frustration."
"Of course. Would you be willing to talk with us again, perhaps in a day or two, after we have had time to digest the information youve shared with us?" There was, Uhura realized, a dire need to at least try to convince the Celinan to accept the proposed union.
"Id be glad to. Frankly, its sort of pleasant to be around someone thats not pressuring me to marry Prince Churrkrit. Ill have to see where Kreechip can find an open slot in my schedule." Chirpeep moved toward the cabin door. "You have my word, we will spend more time together, soon. But for now..."
Silently, Uhura led the group to the turbolift, then back to the shuttle bay. With what she was sure was the Celinan equivalent of royal pomp, Princess Chirpeep was ushered into her shuttle and taken back to the surface.
The Bantu turned to her Vulcan compatriot. "That was an earful, wasnt it, TSoral?"
"If I understand the Human idiom correctly, Captain, I believe it was very much an earful." The turbolift door slid open, interrupting the Vulcan. Both stepped out. "With your permission, Captain, I need to meditate."
"Me, too, TSoral, me too." Uhura shook her head. She stepped back into her quarters, deep in thought.
MBenga stepped through the entry to the expanded cabin that he and his bride, Uhura, shared. Life had been hectic in Sickbay, and he had been later than usual in getting back to what he affectionately referred to as home. To his surprise, the cabins air was rich with the odor of cooking. A modest table, usually inhabited by a lamp, had been covered by a tablecloth and set with cutlery. As he was taking the surprising situation in, Uhura came out of a doorway, a plate of food in each hand. "Hi, Keme. Make yourself comfortable. Hardav told me you were on the way."
Both Humans sat down by the table, MBenga digging in with a will. After a few moments, he realized that his wife was hardly eating, despite the fact that the nights dinner offering was one of her favorite casseroles. The man put his fork down. "Youre not eating, honey; something must be eating you. Its that Princess, isnt it?"
Without looking up from the food she had been ignoring, Uhura shrugged. "Yeah, I guess."
"You guess? You know full well it is." He leaned forward. "Is my sweet, clever, resourceful bride afraid she might fail, hmmm?"
She looked up. "Not really, Keme. Im afraid I might succeed."
"Whoa, woman, thats not something I ever thought Id hear you say." MBengas eyes opened widely in astonishment. "That needs some explanation."
"Its all about their reproduction. Getting pregnant and laying eggs destroys the womans brain, literally." The captain stirred the food on her plate a little. "Its a one way trip to oblivion."
"I see." The physician scooped up a mouthful of food, chewing pensively. "So, whats the problem?"
It was Uhuras turn to go wide-eyed. "Baraka Keme MBenga, I dont believe I heard you say that!"
"Believe it." He took another bite. "Youve described what happens, and I want to know why it happens."
She rolled her eyes. "Hello! Have you forgotten what happens on wedding nights? Making due and just allowance for different species, its the same thing that causes the problem." Uhura shook her head in astonishment. "Think about it, you overgrown lummox."
"I have. Sweet bride, you have obviously forgotten what kind of ship you command. This is a research vessel." He stabbed the fork at the air, emphasizing his comments. "You have a biological problem, on a ship with the King of Crazy, the Clown Prince of Thinking Outside the Box, and a whole troupe of other scientifically sharp people, one of whom just happens to be your espoused husband, all of whom could apply their talents to resolving the problem, and youre moping about whether or not you want to succeed. You need to be agonizing over whether or not youre going to have time for your shipload of screwball scientific talent to solve this problem up to your exacting standards."
"Youre right." She pulled a wry face, filling a fork with food. "I guess I got too wrapped up in the problem and forgot that." The fork entered her mouth, delivering its payload.
"Wasnt TSoral there with you?"
"The whole time; Giac had her scanning everyone with a mediscanner while Drevan was doing the same with a standard tricorder." Another bite disappeared.
"Ill bet my boots that that woman is communing with her husband, the Clown Prince, going over the scans they collected, looking for a solution." MBenga finished off his meal. "Relax, beautiful. Your motley crew is probably hard at work on making you look brilliant."
"I do. Now finish your supper, and Ill go get dessert." The physician leaned over and hugged her. "Dont give up until the battles over. And even then, keep trying."
"No buts, my love." He stood. "Eat up."
January 25, 2298
Still somewhat tired from a nights sleep that had been rendered less than restful by her mulling over the problem posed by Princess Chirpeeps revelations about Celinan reproduction, Uhura made her way to the bridge. Planting herself comfortably in the center seat, she turned to the science console. "I would be interested in your reaction to our little meeting with the Celinans yesterday, Drevan."
The Andorians antennae curled in revulsion. "They were insectoids, Captain. Despite my having a Ph.D. in biology, I really, really dont like bugs. It took all the professionalism I had not to look for somewhere to hide."
The Bantu controlled her amusement as she stared at Drevan's twittering antennae. "Ill try to remember that for future encounters. I was thinking more of what you learned from the scans you did."
"Nothing spectacular. Theyre exoskeletal and have a dorsal, ladder-type nervous system, with the two pairs at the head end being tremendously larger than the rest, probably operating as the brain. The gonads in the male are about ten percent of the bodys weight, which is nothing to the females gonads, which are about thirty percent of her body weight. Thats assuming the princess was typical; her guard was all male, for some reason. For an insectoid, pretty standard." His antennae curled in revulsion again, his blue body shivering slightly. "Bugs. Ugh."
"Thank you, Drevan." She pursed her lips to avoid saying anything and turned to communications. "TSoral?"
"Incoming communication, Captain." The Vulcan turned. "It appears to be from the King."
"Mainviewer." The screen was filled with the visage of the King; out of the corner of her eye, Uhura could see Drevan struggling not to cringe. "Your Highness, we are honored."
"Your willingness to come and talk to my daughter honors our planet and people, Captain. My daughter was very impressed by you and your Vulcan companion yesterday. I am curious as to what progress you have made on convincing my daughter to wed Prince Churrkrit."
"It seemed prudent to focus on laying a foundational relationship, Your Highness. There is much we do not know about the things that motivate choices among Celinans, and even more that we do not know about family life." The captain shifted her weight slightly in her chair, knowing that she was about to step onto thin ice. "If it is possible, perhaps I could spend an hour or two communicating with a happily married woman of your kind? That would make it considerably easier to extol the virtues of marriage. Being from as widely divergent taxa as we are, it is unclear how much of the Human experience would be applicable to the Celinan."
The Celinan Kings wing cases lifted a little higher, as if he were considering flying away. "Im afraid that will not be possible, Captain. After marriage, our females are strictly sequestered from all but their offspring. It is a very strong cultural taboo; I dare not risk the reaction of my people by broaching it, no matter how important the reason may appear."
"I see. I beg your royal forgiveness; the information that we were given failed to inform us of that, Your Majesty." The half-truth caused her to shift uneasily again. "I trust Your Highness understands that this may hamper my progress."
"Naturally. I am, however, confident of your success, Captain." The Kings antennae lifted slightly. "Prince Churrkrit has set the date for the wedding eight days from now. Princess Chirpeep will be there to do her royal duty. It would be preferable to have her there willingly, you understand, but with her consent or without it, she will be there."
Uhura was suddenly glad that there was little chance that the insectoid would be able to read the change in her facial expression. "Then I must redouble my efforts, Sire. I had hoped to meet with the princess this afternoon, to continue yesterdays discussion. Will that be possible, Your Majesty?"
"I will see to it that her schedule is cleared until the wedding. She will be at your disposal. You have eight days, Captain." The King gestured to someone out of view, and disappeared.
The captain took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Everyone on the bridge made a point of focusing on their duties, recognizing the signs of displeasure that Uhuras face and body language almost shouted. Finally, she broke the silence. "TSoral, I want Davids and Eletto in my ready room in fifteen minutes. Drevan, be prepared to join us. Get Subhar and Durok to join us; they may be specialized in plants, but theyll still have insights that are worthwhile."
Drevan swiveled to where he could see the communications console. "Hey, Mole, you been digging for good stuff?"
The Vulcan nodded. "There is a considerable corpus of material on Celinan reproductive physiology available in their library system, Drevan. None of it is open to public perusal." TSorals voice underwent a subtle change. "But da Moles been told what you need, and she found it and got it." Her voice shifted back to its normal pattern. "We are fortunate; their entire genome has been thoroughly mapped, and there has been considerable experimental work on the issue we face, regrettably all of which has been unsuccessful. At least we will have a definite starting point."
Uhura allowed a small smile to cross her face. Her man had been right: she had forgotten the resources her ship represented. The only open question was whether they could solve it swiftly enough.
January 27, 2298
Princess Chirpeep found herself ushered into Uhuras cabin again, her antenna limply lying on her wing casings. Unlike her previous visit, she found herself facing only the captain. For a moment, the two stared at each other, waiting for the other to speak first. The princess took the lead. "My father told me he had spoken with you. You know my situation."
"Yes, Your Majesty."
"Chirpeep, please. Right about now, I would gladly give up my royal status."
The Bantu woman nodded. "I understand, Chirpeep, and I cant say that I blame you." There was a brief, but uncomfortable silence. She finally decided to break it. "Are you willing to gamble a little?"
Chirpeeps antennae tightened slightly, without leaving her wing cases. "You mean to wile away the time? Not really; Id rather do something more constructive, not that it really matters."
"Thats not what I meant. Are you willing to take a chance to try to survive this wedding more or less intact?"
With surprising speed, the insectoids antennae whipped forward, almost touching Uhuras chest. "Was that a rhetorical question? If not, it should have been. Right now, Im guaranteed that within a couple of hours of being married, my intellect will start to disappear at an abysmally rapid rate, and that within a couple of weeks, Ill be trying to avoid being eaten by my own, carnivorous and voracious offspring. Youre asking if Id be willing to take a chance to change that to something more pleasant. As an honest question, thats got to be the most absurd one Ive met in a long, long time."
"Absurd or not, Chirpeep," Uhura responded, imperturbably, "it is an honest question. May I assume that your response was an unequivocal yes?"
"Toss in emphatic, energetic and thoroughly enthused, and youre getting close. Its a lot more than that, but youre as close as youre likely to get without dancing and whooping."
"I get the point." The captain stood. "Please come with me. I want you to see what Im talking about." She moved toward the door, then the turbolift, the insectoid following. Within minutes, they were in the ready room. Before the pair, there were two Humans, a Vulcan, a Tellarite and an Andorian wearing goggles and gloves, moving their hands absurdly. To one side, TSoral sat quietly, as if she were watching them at work.
Turning to face the Captain, Chirpeep let her antennae lift a little. "If youre trying to convince me that insanity or total mindlessness isnt all that bad, forget it. They may be crazy and enjoying it, but Id rather not join that party."
A small smile creased Uhuras face. "Im not up to anything of the sort. These are some of the most creative minds on the ship, perhaps the Federation. What theyre doing isnt insanity. Its called virtual chemistry. Using the ships computers, theyre trying out compounds to prevent the damage to your mind, while still leaving you able to reproduce."
"Im not sure I follow." As she spoke, Chirpeep turned to look at the beings around the table. Their hand motions began to make a little sense, suddenly; it looked as if they were grasping, bending and modifying something they could see but she could not, then handing it off to someone else. "Is there any way that you can show me what theyre seeing?"
"Working, Captain." The Vulcan tapped a few times on a control surface in front of her. On a viewer on the wall, a picture showing several pairs of hands moving and modifying molecular structures, allowing them to interact with other, very large structures and then, based on the results, modifying them yet again.
Entranced, the Celinan watched for several minutes before speaking. "This is all very pretty, but Im not following it."
It was TSoral that responded. "We are using the computers on the ship to model the molecules being designed, then we are using the computers to test how they interact with your species gender-related steroid receptors."
"Impossible. After the miserable failures that have happened in years past, that data has been put where only a few Celinans can access it." Chirpeeps antennae flattened to her wing cases. "Im not sure I could even get to it. And we tried the computer chemistry thing, but the computers were too slow to get anywhere."
Uhura straightened slightly, without losing her half smile. "Princess Chirpeep, this ship has more computer capacity than your whole planet put together, and runs between three and five orders of magnitude faster than anything you have. Youd be surprised what my crew can manage. Weve copied every computer file that even looks like it might be relevant to Celinan reproductive biology and fed it through our system, and this team is doing in minutes on the ships computers what it would take months to do otherwise." Her pride in the crew showed clearly, even if the Celinan was unable to see it. "Correct me if I am wrong, TSoral, but they have checked every failed compound and figured out why it failed the way that it did, have they not?"
"Correct, Captain. Understanding the reasons for the previous failures was critical to building a successful molecule. The process took three point seven seven hours to complete." The Vulcan paused for a moment. "There have been twelve thousand, six hundred and forty-nine other compounds tested and found only partially adequate since then. At this point, it is entirely possible that we may know more about Celinan physiology and reproductive pharmacology than your people know about themselves."
Chirpeeps antennae stood almost straight up. "I confess myself to be thoroughly impressed. That two Humans, a Tellarite, an Andorian and a Vulcan can cooperate like this on a single project gives me hope for the Federation, and for myself."
"Two Vulcans, Chirpeep." Uhura tilted her head slightly. "TSorals husband is part of the process. Since they are in permanent meld, if hes in it, she can be too, and she is."
Her antennae pointed to one individual after another, going around the room two or three times before she responded. "For the first time, I have a glimmer of hope. Captain Uhura, Ill take the chance."
The Vulcan looked up again. "Please understand, this modeling procedure is as precise as we can make it, but it is still not a guarantee of results. We have had considerable difficulty with the drug metabolites interfering. With your kind having an open circulatory system as you do, the task is considerably more difficult than it appears."
"That is," Chirpeep responded, "as it may be. Just remember, Im making a choice between the hope of a ray of light and the guarantee of total darkness. I choose the hope of a ray of light, even if the hope is an empty one. Come, Captain. Let us go talk somewhere and let these people work their magic."
"As Your Majesty wishes. Im thoroughly curious as to how much 'girl talk' crosses taxonomic lines as widely separated as ours are." Uhura dropped into a half-facetious curtsey. "Dare I hope that your father will be more pleased with your attitude?"
"Daddy will be pleased not to have to drag me to the altar drugged as he thought he would have to up until now." Chirpeeps wing casings opened and closed slightly several times, in what seemed to be the Celinan equivalent of a chuckle. "Ill be even more pleased to talk to you a week after Im married. Time is wasting. This may be my last chance to let my antennae hang limp around anyone. Lets go."
January 28, 2298
Taking her place in the center chair, Uhura began a mental countdown, certain that the Celinan monarch would be on subspace a matter of seconds after the alpha shift on the Hyperion began. Her expectations were met; less than ten seconds into the shift, TSoral announced that a message from the King was coming. The Celinan Monarch filled the screen.
"Captain Uhura, I do not know what magic you worked yesterday afternoon, but my daughter seems to be looking forward to the wedding." There was a movement of the Kings antennae that Uhura was unsure how to interpret. "More or less, anyhow. She seems quite nervous about it, too."
One of Uhuras eyebrows lifted in an expression of amusement. "Your Majesty, I conjecture that every bride of every sentient species has some degree of anxiety facing the consummation of her marriage. I know I was a tad nervous, and I was a trained, combat-hardened Starfleet starship captain at the time I married. Off hand, Im not surprised if shes a little nervous."
"Naturally, naturally; I should have remembered." The Kings antennae lifted slightly. "My daughter has a rather unusual request, Captain. I realize that your mission is now complete with my daughter agreeing to marry Churrkrit, but she would be most pleased to have you all remain here until after the nuptials, and her child or children entering pupation."
"I count myself most honored to be invited to do that, Your Majesty. It is a thing that I must clear with my superior officer, as I am sure Your Highness understands. How long will the time be?"
"One of your weeks past the wedding, Captain; not an odiously great duration." His antennae twitched for a moment. "I must confess that I fear she will back out at the last minute if you can not honor this wish of hers, so I am very eager to have you stay."
"I will be sure to tell the fleet captain, Your Highness." Uhura thought for a moment. "I will do my best to convince him."
"If you succeed half as well as you did with Princess Chirpeep, I have nothing about which to worry. My thanks, kind lady." At a gesture, the King disappeared from the viewscreen.
"TSoral, I need Fleet Captain Chekov, please."
"Working, Captain." The Vulcan busied herself at the console.
Chekovs face filled the screen. "Kyptin, greetings! Whats on your mind?"
"I think I have succeeded in the mission, Pavel, but now the princess wants us to stay around until her brood goes into their cocoon. Its a long story, and if you want, Ill have TSoral transmit the basics as a text file, but the condensed version is that the King just called and asked us to"
"Pardon me, Kyptin," Chekov interrupted, "but apparently I am receiving a priority call from Starfleet Command. Can I get back to you in a moment? You can have the file sent while youre waiting."
"Do what you must. I bet I know what the call is." The screen before the Bantu woman went back to the star field. She turned to her Vulcan communications officer. "Credits to crumpets thatll be the brass telling Chekov to let us remain in a parking orbit. What do you think?"
"Your deduction is most logical, Captain." TSoral looked down at the console before her. "I conjecture that this is the fleet captain reconnecting."
"Mainviewer, then." Uhura shifted to face the screen, which, as expected, displayed Chekovs head and shoulders again.
"Hello again, Nyota. Fleet Admiral Davis has cleared you to stay in orbit around Celina Four until the princess is comfortable releasing you." The Russian grinned slightly. "Id accuse you of wrangling a chance at shore leave, but with the Celinans being oversized beetles, I somehow cant imagine it."
"Trust me, Pavel. Id have maneuvered it elsewhere, no question about it." She returned the grin. "Things will be a whole lot more comprehensible if you read the text file. We had to cut a fancy deal with the princess to talk her into marrying, and now that were cleared to stay in orbit, we can hold up our end of the bargain. The estimate is about twelve days, unfortunately."
"Hopefully, the United Federation of Planets can survive that long without you, Kyptin. Enterprise out." Chekovs face disappeared.
"TSoral, if you could raise His Highness?" The captain settled back in the center chair. Spending nearly two weeks in orbit around a planet not particularly suitable for shore-leave would be a strain on her crew, but one did what one had to do, and at least, she was sure, the medical crew would be busy.
February 1, 2298
The period of time leading up to Chirpeeps wedding had been intensely busy for the crew of Hyperions sickbay, but virtually no one else on the starship, other than Durok, Subhar and TSoral. Even though the time dragged for Uhura, it seemed as if the night before the wedding came all too quickly. The Princess beamed up, and was quickly escorted to Sickbay, where the staff was awaiting her arrival. Although Eletto, Davids and Webb were all present, it was MBenga, the chief medical officer, who took the lead.
"Your Majesty, welcome. Are you still determined to move forward with the prototype medication?"
"Do I look like I want to become a mindless drone, and fodder for my own young?" Chirpeeps antennae flipped forward. "I am more than determined: I am eager. Lets get going with it."
"For the record, Your Highness, I need to state clearly that although we have modeled this drug and its effects on Celinan physiology with the utmost care, and have selected the best candidate out of untold thousands of alternatives, computer modeling still is no guarantee." MBenga paused, as if searching for the right words. "There may be, and frankly probably will be, unanticipated consequences, ranging from injury to one or more critical organ systems, through allergic reactions to who knows what else. Frankly, this is an experiment, and as such, fraught with peril. Im sure you realize that, but for the record I need to say it clearly. Understanding that, are you still willing to proceed?"
"I am, Doctor MBenga. Understanding the consequences of the alternative, do you blame me?" Her antennae lay flat across her back. "As long as I survive to get through my marriage tomorrow, I dont think Father is going to care a buzz in the background about anything else. Well, other than progeny, which I cant imagine youd risk blocking."
"We have done what we can to guarantee that wont be an issue, Princess Chirpeep." MBenga took a deep breath. "It is, however, totally unpredictable. After all, you might have been sterile without this stuff, you know."
"Pretty unlikely, but that is as may be. Lets get on with this, can we? Like now?" Not even the translator could hide the insectoids eagerness. "What do you need me to do?"
Eletto took the lead, motioning to Davids. "We need you to assume what Id guess is a somewhat embarrassing posture. Theres an ideal site for administering injected medication, just under where your wings attach to your thorax. Accessing it will require you to lift both your wing casings and wings out of our way, exposing your abdomen and the structures attached to it."
As Eletto and Davids positioned themselves at opposite sides of the insectoid, she moved to make things easier for them. "Youre a pretty good guess. Under normal circumstances, only the royal physician or my husband would ever see me this way. However, since youre all medical professionals, and from a widely divergent species, I dont suppose it matters much." She assumed the required posture. "I hate to sound like a sissy, but how much is this going to hurt?"
"Hopefully not at all." The physician's assistants hypospray hissed. "If our modeling is worth a hoot, this should numb things pretty well. Youll hardly feel a thing."
Eletto moved carefully, inserting a slim needle just under the place where the wings came out, taking care not to lean on the other exposed tissues. Gently, he pushed the plunger home. "Wed have used a hypospray, but with the thickness of your cuticle, it just wouldnt have managed to do the job. What with one thing and another, there just wasnt time to re-engineer one to do it."
"Im impressed. I dont feel a thing." Chirpeeps antennae waved in what seemed to be appreciation. "Well, not from what youre doing. Im starting to get a cramp from holding up those wing casings so high. Is this going to be much longer?"
Eletto and Davids stepped back. "Were done, Your Highness."
The wing casings dropped back into place as she turned to face the two men. "Im impressed. I had sort of figured this would take a lot longer than it did."
"We would like to monitor the drugs distribution and metabolism, Ma'am." It was MBenga taking over the conversation. "This has to last long enough to get you through a significant period of time, at least two and a half weeks. It would be nice to get a little data on that, and if need be, bump the dose a little."
"Sounds like youre trying to reduce the uncertainties. Im all for that." Chirpeep turned to face MBenga again. "Have you given any thought to the immense nutritional demands involved in all this?"
"We have. There are a handful of critical nutrients wed like you to load up on," MBenga replied. "Gorging on protein wouldnt be a half bad idea, either." As the physician spoke, Indri made his way into Sickbay, carrying a pair of what looked like mounted gemstones.
Uhura nodded to her chief of engineering, then turned to the Princess. "Your Majesty, if we might, we would like to adorn you with some jewelry, as our wedding gift. It is our understanding that it is common to attach a pair of gemstones to the back of a brides head area, just above where the wing casings pivot. Indri has brought what we hope will be a suitable adornment."
"Thats most kind of you." Chirpeep looked at the two pieces of jewelry Indri was holding in his hands. "They are exquisite. What are the stones?"
"Dilithium crystals." Indri smiled. "What the captain didnt tell you is that these things are actually subspace communicators, Your Majesty. Just lift your wing casings a little bit, and theyll switch on two way communication with the Hyperion. The dilithium crystals are the power supply. It ought to last months at the power demands we expect."
"I love it. If I still have any wits, Ill be able to tell you about it. Go ahead, attach them!" Chirpeep moved toward Indri, making the area in question easier to reach. Indri did as he was bid. "Mind if I try them out?"
"I would be appreciative if you would, Your Highness." Indri stepped back.
The Princess moved her wing casings slightly, to be greeted by a chirp and TSorals voice. "Hyperion here, Princess Chirpeep. Do you read?"
"Loud and clear!" Her casings flopped back into position. "You seem to have thought of everything, Captain. Thank you. I hope that all of this effort doesnt prove to be for nothing. Thank you all, very much. Youve given me an incredibly precious gift, one that I could never adequately reward you for: hope."
Uhura spoke for all present. "Itll be reward enough to talk to you in a week or so, Chirpeep, and see that youre still yourself."
February 9, 2298
Waiting in orbit had begun to be tiresome to Uhura, to say nothing of the rest of the crew. The royal wedding had come and gone without any fuss, the Princess arriving in full regalia and clearly happy. With the ceremonies completed, she and her groom had disappeared, as was the custom, neither to reappear until the eggs were laid. It was just over a week when communication from the surface resumed.
"Princess Chirpeeps father, the King, is hailing us, Captain."
"Ive been expecting this, TSoral." The Bantu composed herself. "Mainviewer."
On the mainviewer, the King reappeared, his antennae lying stiff, just above his back. "Captain, I want to know what you and your crew did to my daughter!"
Her face held carefully impassive, Uhura looked squarely at the image before her. "Your question is an interesting one, Your Majesty. I would be most interested in knowing what makes you believe that anything was done to your daughter, other than what was necessary to convince her to marry cheerfully."
"She has laid exactly six eggs, Captain, and has clearly ended her laying. I have consulted with the palace physicians, and they are quite clear about the fact that a female in health as good as she had should have produced a thousand to two thousand times as many." The monarchs wing casings began to snap against each other in what seemed to be annoyance. "I demand an explanation, now."
"You were given one, Your Highness." The captain leaned slightly forward. "I did what it took to make your daughter gladly marry Prince Churrkrit."
"And what, pray tell, was that?"
She stood, taking a step or two toward the viewscreen. "Why dont you ask your daughter yourself, Your Majesty?"
"You know that I cannot do that. I have already told you about the cultural taboo."
"A cultural taboo that conveniently came into existence a matter of weeks before the cultural survey team from the United Federation of Planets arrived, according to the records we have checked over the last two weeks." There was a brief silence as the captain allowed her remark to sink in. "Frankly, Your Majesty, its clear that the cultural taboo is just a cover to hide the details of your reproductive physiology. The truth is that you believe your daughter no longer has enough mind to be able to talk to you, now that she has mated and laid eggs."
"That is as may be. If we have chosen to conceal something that embarrasses us, what is that to your Federation? I would hazard a guess that you do not tout your sexuality to every species that you contact, either. I still want to know what you did to my daughter."
"What we needed to do to get her to marry cheerfully, as Ive said several times now. We struck a deal. If she would marry willingly, we promised to put the full resources of our ship to the problem of protecting her mind from the ravages of reproduction. Both parties, Your Majesty, kept their promises." Uhura returned to the center chair. "Perhaps you were not informed that this is a Federation research vessel, Sir. Our resources are not trivial."
"Impossible. We have tried before. Many times than I can even count! It cannot be done!" The Kings antennae whipped up and down furiously as he spoke. "The best minds on Celina have wrestled with this."
"Then call my bluff, Your Majesty." Uhura turned to TSoral, nodding, then back to the King. "Talk to your daughter, and prove me wrong. Those two gems on her carapace are actually subspace communications devices. If you have the nerve, I can have my communications officer pipe their input through to you."
"I dont believe you."
The captain turned to her Vulcan communications officer. "TSoral, connect us."
"Audio only, Captain." The Vulcan tapped the console before her.
"Captain! Greetings!" Even through the translator, it was clearly Chirpeeps voice.
"Hello, Princess Chirpeep," Uhura responded, "or should I say Queen Chirpeep?"
"Queen. I like that, but it's Princess for now. One day, though, I'll be the first Queen on my planet to have offspring and still have a mind." There was a noise the translator could not handle. "I find that both pleasing and amusing. Daddy will be so surprised when he finds out, wont he?"
"You are an impostor." It was the Kings translated voice. "I do not believe you are my daughter."
"Oh, youre such a total foot in the dung heap, Father. Uhura, could you turn your translators off for a minute or two, so I can convince the King that Im really me?"
"Of course. Will three minutes be enough, Queen Chirpeep?"
Uhura turned to Communications. "TSoral, disengage the translator for three minutes."
The bridge was filled with the sounds of cheeps, scrapings and chirps as well as other noises for which there were no Human names. After the promised three minutes, TSoral restored the translators activity, allowing those present to overhear.
"...and not only that, I took the time to look, and Churrkrit is pretty much intact, too. Its going to be a new world in more than one way, Father. I can hardly wait to see the grubs; the few Ive seen have been so cute I can hardly wait to see my own"
"Indeed." The King's antennae rippled slightly in what looked like amusement. "I am delighted that you are still the child I have loved so long, Chirpeep; I never hoped to find it so."
"Me either; Id planned to be a spinster forever. Looks like that Im going to get more than Id ever hoped, too."
There was a brief pause before the translated voice of the King returned to the overhead. "Hyperion, have you come back on line?"
"Just barely, Your Majesty. Are you convinced?"
"Completely. Dare I beg you to share this incredible advance with my people?"
"You dont need to beg, Your Majesty." Uhura allowed herself a smile. She turned to Drevan and TSoral, nodding. "Im sure my crew has the data file on its way, and Ill talk to Medical to see if theyll be willing to prepare a preliminary supply of it for you."
TSoral turned to face the captain. "They have approximately one point two six kilos prepared already, Captain."
"I see your crew has anticipated my request." The Monarch turned to someone out of view, then back to the captain. "Coordinates for the transporter will be provided momentarily. I believe we can say that your mission has been completed with abundant success. Chirpeep?"
"I agree, Daddy. Theres no need for them to stay. I can send you pictures of my cute little grubs, when they hatch, Uhura. Im sure they will be utterly adorable."
The Bantu suppressed the urge to wince. "Thank you, Chirpeep. I shall look forward to them. Will there be anything else?"
"Just our thanks." The Celinan Monarch's antenna lifted slightly. "Chirpeeps and mine, particularly, but ultimately from all our people." The screen blanked.
Uhura turned to her chief science officer. "Its a lucky thing that the stuff you folks developed reduced the number of eggs the Celinans produced; could you imagine how quickly they might overrun the Federation otherwise?"
Drevans back straightened. "Luck?" He turned to TSoral. "Did she say luck?"
"Indeed." The Vulcan tilted her head to one side. "Humans are so illogical. This is not the first time that I have heard them call the product of intense effort luck."
For an instant, the captains jaw dropped, then she laughed. "I should have known. Marsden, lets get back to business. Warp Factor Two."
"How about maximum warp, Captain?" Drevan asked. "Did I mention I really, really dont like bugs?"
The whole bridge, save only the Vulcan, broke into laughter.
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