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Jim Ausfahl


Captain's Log, Stardate 9710.7

We are en route to Renzal V, where the Earth colony there is apparently in an ecological crisis. On the way, we will be picking up an interventional ecologist and a botanist who will be spearheading the project. We will also be picking up a load of engineering cadets.

Captain Uhura stepped out of the corridor into the transporter room. "Morning, Indri. Ready to transport?"

"I am when they are. I’m still waiting for the coordinates, Captain." The chief engineer looked at the console. "Any minute now, we’ll be bringing the two scientists over through here; the engineering cadets will be coming over on the cargo transporter. Running Bear will be handling that."

Indri scanned the console again. "If those folk don’t get in gear, Running Bear will be done transporting the two dozen engineering cadets they’re sending us before I get two scientists across." He looked up from the transporter controls. "How long do you expect we’re going to be hanging around on this project?"

"Good question. The only answer I’ve got is nowhere near as good: we’re there until the job is effectively done. This could be one long project, Indri." The expression on the captain’s face made it clear that she was less than enthused about it.

"Wonderful. Can you imagine what a load of cadets are going to do with that much idle time?" A signal on the console flickered into life. "Well, at least we’ve got the coordinates for the scientists."

"Bring them over, Indri. All things considered, I’m sure you and Running Bear will find a way to keep the cadets busy and out of trouble. I’m a little concerned about how I’m going to keep the rest of the crew out of trouble."

Without further comment, Indri energized the transporter. A Vulcan and a Tellarite materialized.

"Welcome aboard the Hyperion, gentlebeings. I am Captain Uhura, and this is my chief of engineering, Commander Indri."

The Tellarite nodded. "Name’s Durok. My traveling companion’s Subhar. He’s the interventional ecologist; I’m the research botanist. Sorry about the delay getting up here, but we had to sort things out with the cadets and their luggage—didn’t want them being transported up with Subhar’s and my stuff; too much risk."

"I see." Uhura clearly did not, but was not interested in pursuing it further; she presumed that, since Subhar was a Vulcan, there was a thoroughly logical reason.

"If it would be possible," Subhar suggested, "it might be prudent for Durok and I to oversee the transporting of our mutual luggage. Several of the items we have brought with us will require some care, particularly my molecular library."

Indri nodded. "Of course. I will escort you to the cargo area personally, and assist you in handling the luggage. With the captain’s permission?"

Uhura nodded. "After that, I’m sure they will be wanting to meet with Drevan." She turned to the Vulcan and Tellarite. "Drevan’s our chief science officer, and will render you whatever assistance he can."

One of the Vulcan’s eyebrows lifted slightly. "Drevan? Would I be correct in assuming that he is an Andorian?"

"He is. Do you know him?"

"Perhaps, Captain. The name is common enough on Andor to render conclusive identification impossible, you understand." Subhar turned to the Tellarite. "Shall we oversee our luggage, Durok?" The Tellarite nodded. Subhar turned back to Uhura. "May we plan to meet with your Andorian science officer in, say, two hours?"

"I will arrange it personally. Indri?"

"Gentlebeings, if you will follow me?" Indri led them into the turbolift. Uhura took the next turbolift, heading for the bridge.


Uhura settled into the center chair on the bridge, turning to her Andorian chief science officer. "Drevan, our two guests expressed a desire to meet with you in a little less than two hours. I’ll need you to be ready to brief them on the situation on the surface."

"Can do, Captain."

"Answer a question for me, if you will. Why in space would Durok and Subhar be worried about the handling of their luggage?"

"Durok and whom?"

"A Vulcan named Subhar. What would they have in their luggage that they would be worried about? Is there a safety risk?"

Odd as it seemed, Drevan’s face shifted colors to a delicate periwinkle. "It all depends on what’s in their luggage, Captain. But if Subhar is the interventional ecologist, and he’s who I think he is, then he’d have brought his molecular library of DNA, RNA and capsid proteins and lipids for semisynthetic virions. If that got loose, it could get very ugly, very easily. But if he’s who I think he is, Subhar’s a careful being, so I wouldn’t worry too hard about that. I’m probably the only one at risk."

The captain’s face registered surprise. "Oh, really? And exactly why would you be at risk and the rest of us not?"

"Um, well, it’s probably nothing, Captain, but long ago, when I was getting my Ph.D. in biology at the University of Centaurus, there was a Vulcan professor named Subhar on loan to the university. I was in his class, and I, ah..." Drevan’s voice disappeared before he finished the statement.

"Let me guess. You heckled him endlessly, right?"

"Not exactly endlessly. I quit heckling him after I finished the course and he returned to Vulcan. Probably not the same fellow. I hope."

Suppressing a chuckle was difficult. "That might explain why he thought he recognized your name. I think, Lieutenant, that your chickens are about to come home to roost."

The Andorian’s color began to shift to a delicate shade of lavender. "Request permission to report to the morgue now, and save Sickbay the trouble of transporting me there after Subhar has killed me. Either that, or permission to change my name and hide."

If Drevan hadn’t looked so serious, Uhura would have broken out laughing. "I’m sure he has no plans to kill you. Do you want a security detail to accompany you to the meeting?"

"I guess not; Subhar’s a Vulcan, and if I’m very fortunate, he may have gotten over it. If not, I suppose torture is more logical than murder, at least when revenge is involved. Either way, I’d better have my data perfect, or I’m going to suffer direly. I may just suffer any how, you understand." The Andorian turned to his console. "What hurts isn’t the fact I expect to suffer; it’s remembering how richly I’m going to deserve whatever he does." His antennae drooped in apparent repentance. "I was a younger being, then, you understand."

"Oh, take your lumps like an adult," Tucker laughed. "My advice is to be ready to give as good as you get. I’m sure you can handle that."

"Spoken like a true weapons officer, Joe." Secretly, Uhura agreed with Tucker on both points, but concluded that it was best to keep her opinion to herself. "Drevan, if you need to go somewhere quiet to reinforce what information you have, feel free to go to the ready room. That’s where the briefing will be."

"Thank you, Captain. I think I’ll take you up on that." The Andorian moved toward the door. "Although I may spend most of the time making peace with my Creator..."

Rather than respond, Uhura just rolled her eyes.


Indri ran his eye across the lineup of Engineering cadets. Two Vulcans, three Andorians, a Tellarite and the remaining eighteen, Humans. None of their dossiers had appeared exceptional. Even though the Vulcans’ testing scores had been outstanding, their evaluations had indicated a chronic, severe dearth of imagination. Not a one of them looked particularly promising. "I have to congratulate you all on execrably rotten timing. You have arrived on the Hyperion just in time to sit in orbit around a peaceful planet that is suffering an ecological problem of some sort, and will therefore probably make few or no demands on our department. Since Running Bear and I have just finished going over every scrap of wiring, circuitry and machinery on this ship, there isn’t a thing for you to do other than screw things up, which I am not going to tolerate."

He gave them the once-over again, hoping to see a greater glimmer of wit in someone’s eyes than he expected. He didn’t. "Other, that is, than get in trouble, which I have no intention of permitting. The captain would have my hide hanging on her cabin wall if I did, and I’d deserve it. Since there’s going to be no other scope for developing your talents, we are going to have a contest. Running Bear?"

The Illiniwek Indian stepped forward, passing out data chips to each cadet. "The data chips have the full description of the rules and limitations on them, as well as a listing of who’s on which team. Here’s the gist of it. You’re stuck with the team we’ve given you; no swapping of personnel. You’re eventually going to have to learn to work with whoever is in Engineering around you, so you can start practicing getting along with the rest of your team now. Commander Indri and I will put together a maze of cordage in an empty shuttle area. Your assignment is to design and build a machine that will cut the cordage loose and pile it where we tell you to pile it. Simple enough."

Indri nodded to his colleague. "Thank you, Running Bear. Questions?"

One of the Vulcans stood. "What will the layout of the cordage look like, Commander Indri?"

"You’re Sudek, I believe."

"Yes, Commander."

"Running Bear and I will design that the night before you blood your machines, Sudek. You’ll have to rig it to handle any possible pattern of crossings, branchings, knottings and the like that you think he and I can devise." Sudek sat down. "Any other questions?"

"Cadet Kelvin, sir." The Human stood as he spoke. "May I presume that you have an algorithm devised for scoring our efforts?"

"An excellent question, Cadet. We do. You’ll have a charged dilithium crystal to power your device; Running Bear and I will decide the amount of energy to be stored in it, but you’ll all have the same supply. Scoring will be based on how much or little energy you use; on how rapidly the task is performed; on how thoroughly the task is completed; and on how cheaply and easily your device can be manufactured."

Kelvin nodded. "I see. So we’ll have to play off speed against energy efficiency, and power against ease of manufacture. Will external control by a cadet be permitted?"

"Another excellent question. No, that would be too easy. The unit must be totally autonomous. It will start on the floor, away from the tangle of rope, be required to find and clear the rope tangle, pile it in a designated area, and return to its starting point, all without external guidance."

Kelvin sat down. Another cadet, the Tellarite, took the floor.

"Cadet Razar, sir. Are we restricted to using the limited experience of our team, or can we tap other members of the Hyperion crew?"

"None of you will be allowed to tap the experience and skills of any member of the Engineering crew, other than to show you how to use the fabrication machinery we have on board. Sciences personnel will be too busy with Subhar and Durok, so they’re off limits. T’Soral, our Vulcan communications officer, is going to be busy coordinating communications between the surface and the ship, so she’s off limits. Anyone else we need to restrict, Running Bear?"

"Captain Uhura will have her hands full, too, I believe; best she be off limits. If they get Nutrition too busy to keep the food automats stocked, they’ll get to breathe vacuum. Without coffee, I get mean, really mean. Otherwise, no." The man’s grin made the humor in his last remark clear. "The only point I’d add is that whoever is recruited by one team is off limits to the others."

"I’ll add one more restriction, I think." Indri rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "No recruiting until fifteen minutes before end of shift. You need the time to get together as a team and talk over where you’re going to head to recruit. Other questions?"

A Human stood. "Cadet Jones, sir. It is obvious that we are forbidden to delve into your engineering expertise in dealing with our task; however, I would be curious if we would be permitted to tap into your wisdom in areas not directly involved in the engineering of our mechanical contest."

A brief smile flitted across Indri’s face. "Up to a point. You have to find out which members of the opposite gender might be available and interested on your own. But on the whole, you’re welcome to whatever non-engineering wisdom we have. Anyone else?"

Carefully, Indri looked over the cadets to be sure no one was hanging back with an unasked question. Hearing nothing, and seeing no evidence to suggest there were any other questions, Indri dismissed the cadets. As they disappeared into the turbolift, Indri noticed that Cadet Jones remained behind.

"Something on your mind, Cadet?"

"Yes, sir. I have a question for you that I didn’t want the others to hear.

"Really? What?"

Jones looked at Running Bear, then Indri. "I was wondering who you both thought were the two best people to recruit, outside of yourselves."

Running Bear nodded, then looked over at his superior officer. "Boss man, I think we got us a cadet with an above average number functioning brain cells. It’s altogether possible that a couple of them may actually have managed to form a complete, possibly even functional, synapse."

"I’ll take that as a compliment, sir. I would still like your opinion as to the two best choices for us to recruit." He turned to face Indri. "And yours, too, sir. This appears to require a significant amount of creative thought, so it seems prudent to ask who the best out-of-the-box thinkers might be."

Almost simultaneously, Indri and Running Bear said, "Hardav! And Doctor Eletto!"

"I see. Doctor Eletto would be down in Sickbay. This Hardav, where would we find him?"

"Sickbay, too, Cadet, on the night shift."

"Thank you, sir." Jones headed to the turbolift, disappearing into it.

Indri turned to Running Bear. "Man, I hope we’re ready for this."

"Don’t worry, Chief. I’m just hoping that they’ll tie up enough of the rest of the crew to keep everyone else out of trouble." Running Bear chuckled. "I have this feeling the engineering crew is going to have all it can do to keep these kids from hurting themselves on the machinery we’ve got."


Subhar and Durok allowed Uhura to escort them to the Ready Room. Before she could introduce the beings, Subhar took the lead.

"You would be Drevan, I believe."

The Andorian swallowed nervously. "Looks like you remember me from back on Centaurus."

"Unquestionably. You were the only student in the class with sufficient wit to challenge me. It was most refreshing to have a student of your unusual caliber, although I admit that the incident with the sucrose was less refreshing than the interaction in class."

"Now, just a minute! That wasn’t me. I would have given it to you after the lecture, not before it. Honest."

"I quite believe you, Drevan. However, you have to admit, it was a most unique lecture."

"Unique. Yes, I like that way of saying it. I’m still trying to forget helping you back to your quarters. You were singing What Do You Do with a Drunken Vulcan way off key, in Vulcan. It was not pretty; I’m surprised you mentioned it."

"If he was fed enough sucrose to be sloshed, he probably doesn’t remember; Subhar was probably stewed to the top of his ears. With all due respect, as much as I appreciate the reminiscing, we’ve got serious business to get down to," Durok interrupted. "Could you two save this for later? I’d rather get to the briefing on the Renzal issue, if it’s all the same to you."

"Of course. Subhar, we’ll have to go over old times later. I have the feeling it’ll be more pleasant for us both than I had thought." Drevan smiled. "Captain, unless you feel a need to wade through the scientific wrangling, I think I can handle it from here."

"Good enough." She gave her chief science officer a knowing smile. "It’s going to be a day and a half before we get to Renzal, so you’ve plenty of time." Uhura headed for the bridge.

Subhar turned back to the Andorian science officer. "I would be interested in hearing about the issue, Drevan."

"It’s deceptively simple. Somehow, someone brought a specimen of Vulcan tripweed to Renzal Five. I checked; you’re both authorities on the genus."

Durok snorted. "Enough to know that tripweed isn’t all that robust, Andorian. I can’t see how that stuff could be a problem."

"Nor could anyone else, Durok. Unfortunately, on Renzal, the climate is suitable enough to it that it grows well. Worse yet, a native Renzalian plant was able to cross-pollinate the tripweed. The resulting hybrid is a nightmare. Let me show you what I mean."

The chief science officer toggled a contact, throwing a picture of what looked like a huge mass of weeds. It was only with closer inspection that it became apparent that the scene was a building rapidly being smothered by the huge mass of plant growth covering its surface. A video clip followed, showing a group of individuals hacking their way out of the building, shredding the vine-like plant that was covering it. Moments after they left the building, it collapsed under the weight of the biomass growing on it.

"I think that makes the point, gentlebeings. Apparently the tripweed hybrid can grow two to three meters in a single day. The devastation of the planet’s ecology should, I think, require no further comment."

Subhar nodded. "Indeed not. Even though these are certainly chosen as extreme cases, it is clear that the hybrid will utterly devastate the planet within a matter of a few years, unless something is done."

"Years?" The Tellarite snorted. "Months to a year, I’d say—the stuff’s incredible. Let me guess. Subhar and I are supposed to pull some sort of miracle out of our ear and get rid of the stuff, right?"

"Well, that’s not exactly how I would have put it, Durok, but the essence is accurate. The goal is to control the Renzalian madweed—they’re calling it madweed on the surface, you understand—or better yet, eliminate it. Any means short of sterilizing the surface will be just fine, according to the folk on the planet. Cost is no limitation."

The Vulcan nodded his head slowly. "Of course. If this got loose on other worlds, the results could be even worse. Consider what it might do, for instance, to Terran or Tellarite agriculture, for instance." He turned to face the Tellarite. "Durok, I believe we have our work defined clearly. I would say it’s time to begin getting a complete genome for this hybrid as swiftly as we can." He turned back to Drevan. "I would be most interested in knowing what your thoughts on the matter are."

"In all honesty, considering the risk to other planetary ecologies, I’d recommend evacuation and sterilizing the surface, Subhar." The Andorian’s antennae stiffened slightly. "Anything this aggressive demands an aggressive response. As it is, anyone returning from the surface is going to have to go through a full-bore decontamination as they transport back to the ship. Last thing we need is a handful of the seeds getting on board."

"Oh, don’t overreact, Drevan," Durok snorted. "And don’t forget the possibilities this plant represents. Can you imagine what it might be able to do if we dumped it on a marginal world and let it run rampant for a decade or two? A little tinkering, it could be a tool that could transform a planet to a habitable paradise; kill it off and let it rot, and you’ve got quality soil in a couple of years. That’s where you could use the phasers; cook it into oblivion, which will speed the mulching process. At least, it looks like that could easily be in the picture."

"That presumes that we can find a safe and effective way of killing it, preferably short of phaser fire." the Vulcan responded. "That remains to be achieved."

"It can’t be too tough." Durok stood. "Come on, Subhar. Time’s wasting. Let’s get to work. It looks like we might be able to use your little library of DNA and RNA and all to build a suitable viral tool."

The Vulcan nodded. "Indeed. I conjecture that we could target a porin or an auxin receptor that is unique to Vulcan biology. Design the virion to trigger an apoptosis gene, and let it destroy its host. I agree, Durok; it seems easy enough."

"I seem to remember a professor of interventional ecology at the University of Centaurus who kept reminding me that the knottiest problems are usually the ones that seem simplest." Drevan nodded to himself. "What are you two going to need to do this with?"

"You’ve got an arboretum on board, Andorian," the Tellarite said. "So we need to go elsewhere than the ship to do whatever we do. What’re the chances you can get us a decent sized shuttle to blood this virion on plants from the surface? And for that matter, to manufacture it?"

"From what I’m told, cost is not an issue. What would you say if I tried to get you a large orbital greenhouse that reproduces the conditions on the planetary surface? Would that be more to your tastes?"

Subhar chose to answer instead of the Tellarite. "That would be ideal, if it could be built to an adequate scale. It would need to be a hundred meters in diameter, you understand, and we would need a side module for producing the supply of viral agents, and the like. My one concern with this is that it would take months to establish a relatively accurate mimic of the surface ecologies."

"And neither Subhar nor I want to sit on our heels waiting for you to get the dirt in the greenhouse properly filled with the right plants and bacteria and all that. I’m sure you understand." It was clear that Durok agreed that the approach would be ideal, but that he was equally sure that it was totally impractical from a time standpoint.

"Tell you what, I have a thought or two along those lines. Durok, how many biomes will you want emulated in this thing?"

The Tellarite rubbed the base of his ample, hog like snout. "I’ll need to do a bit of a surface survey with the scanning equipment I brought, Drevan, before I can really answer that. I’m thinking it’ll be around six or ten. None of the plots have to be more than a few meters across, you understand, but there needs to be a way to isolate them."

"I’ll start with the assumption that I’ll need ten biomes, and two laboratory facilities." The chief science officer made a couple of notations on his padd. "Will you be potentially sleeping in the facility, gentlebeings?"

"It may be needful to put in prolonged periods of effort." It was the Vulcan’s voice. "However, I do not necessarily need sleeping accommodations, as convenient as they might be."

"Convenient is all I need to justify putting in quarters. I’ll see if I can get a module for that going, too. Hmm... I’ll have to twist Ghassi’s arm to get nutrition systems installed and stocked. Maybe Indri and Running Bear can give me some help on the structure." The Andorian’s blue fingers were dancing rapidly across his padd. "I’m willing to bet that we can get the folks on the surface to build this. If we can, that’ll save a ton of time. Then we can transport it up, let it stay in vacuum, and cycle it through lit and unlit a time or two to sterilize it, unless..."

Drevan’s antennae bent forward and downward a little bit. "Low energy phaser fire would be faster, come to think of it. Cool overnight, in the planet’s shadow. Then transport up the actual stuff from the planetary surface, en bloc... That’ll take, hmm...Of course, might not need to sterilize it, come to think of it, if we can get these things made on the surface." Drevan reached over to the wall communicator. "Engineering."

"Engineering, Indri here. How can I help you?"

"Drevan here. Need to borrow your skills, my friend. How about coming up to the briefing room with a couple more engineering padds? And if Running Bear isn’t up to his eyes with the new cadets, how about dragging him along, too? Have a modest design thing to do, and need a little input."

"Ah, excellent. Hopefully it will allow us to put the cadets through a few paces, independent of the little project I’ve set them. I shall be there momentarily. Engineering out."

Drevan nodded, turning back to his padd. "Let’s see... Artificial gravity for the quarters and the labs and the biomes, but simplify things by ignoring it in the connecting tubes. Use a radial layout, I think..."

Subhar looked at Durok, nodding. The Tellarite leaned back in his chair, clasping his hands behind his head. Subhar moved to where he could see what Drevan was doing on the padd, making no comment as he moved back to his chair. It was clear to both beings that, until the Andorian finished his preparations, there would be nothing they needed to do.

Indri and Running Bear stepped into the room, huddling over the padd with Drevan, very quickly making alterations in the design, attending to the two others only when there was a question. It was clear they were an experienced team, best left to their devices.


Eletto applied the hypospray to Reichard’s shoulder. "That should get you back to grade, Ken. Next time, watch your step, will you? I don’t need you stepping on any more sharp objects and ignoring the wound until it gets this badly infected again."

"I won’t. This was obnoxious enough." Reichard hopped off the table, wincing a little as his foot hit the floor harder than he’d planned. "Okay, make that is obnoxious enough."

The physician shook his head as he watched Reichard head toward the turbolift. Reichard was one of those people that thought he was indestructible, or very nearly so, and never seemed to take the time to get things checked until they threatened to turn into full blown disasters. Before the lieutenant commander could reach the turbolift, the door opened, releasing a gaggle of cadets. Dodging them, Reichard made his way into the turbolift.

One of the cadets, the Tellarite, marched up to Eletto. "We’re looking for a fellow named Doctor Eletto. Know where we might find him?"

"Depends on what you folks have in mind once you find him. Aren’t you part of the new crop of Engineering cadets?"

"Yes, sir." It was Jones, this time, rather than the Tellarite, Razar. "I suppose you must be Doctor Eletto. We’re here to enlist your assistance. Indri and Running Bear have proposed a project of some degree of complexity, and we were hoping that you might be able to give us a pointer or two."

The thought clearly amused the Human physician. "Did you notice this is Sickbay? I’m a physician, gentlebeings; engineering is a little bit outside my usual activities. What were you thinking that I might contribute?"

The Andorian stepped forward. "Cadet Yothan, sir. With all due respect, we have discussed this as a group, and feel that your greatest value would be offering creative approaches, ones that might not come to our minds. Thinking out of the tetrahedron, as it were. Perhaps if we shared the nature of the challenge with you, it would clarify our needs." He produced his data chip. "Permission to display the task and the rules?"

Eletto waved the being to a readout, then rapidly read the contents of the data chip. A half-knowing smile formed on his face. "Let me guess: either Indri or Running Bear put you up to tapping me, right?"

"I asked their advice on the issue, Doctor," Jones responded. "You were suggested by both men."

"Just wait until their next routine physical; I’ll get them for this. Have any of you got an idea as to how to do this rope round-up?"

"Cadet Jenkins, sir. To be honest, we’re totally lost in space on this one. Cut a network of ropes loose and stack the rope on the floor? You think you’re out of your realm! With all due respect, sir."

Without speaking, the Human physician walked over to the food automat, getting a carafe of coffee. "If you beings haven’t eaten, maybe you should scrounge something. This might take a while." Eletto poured himself a cup, then picked a padd off of a desk. "The trick here is to get something that is energy efficient, nimble, but strong. Let me give you a couple of thoughts." With practiced ease, the physician began outlining a diagram. "Here’s your basic starting unit. Each of these lines is a strip of an organic piezoelectric of some sort, connecting the two plates. Call it a ten by ten array."

Yothan shook his head, his antenna sensors wobbling. "No, no, not ten by ten. Eight or sixteen or thirty-two; easier to rig controls." Yothan produced a padd, himself. "Like this. Then you can design a control circuit much more easily: bit is on, current flows, otherwise not. You can put in a shift register structure, pumping in the pattern for the next state and transferring it. See?"

A circuit diagram was rapidly evolving on the Andorian’s engineering padd. "And if you gang them together, say using eight or sixteen of them attached head to tail, hmm..." There was a moment of silence. "Hey, Ganderstone, get your blue eyes over here and gander at this will you? You’re the one that did the best in molecular design. What’s cheap, strong and easy here?"

"As I was saying..." Eletto reasserted his control over the session. "While Ganderstone and Yothan work out the details of this mover, here’s what you do with it. Hopefully you can get good power with a cross-sectional area of a couple square millimeters."

Before Eletto could start sketching, Harrison Davids, the physician’s assistant who handled the night shift in Sickbay, came out of the turbolift. "Whoa, Giac, what’s up? The greenies feeling even greener around the gills?"

"Hi, Hardav. Nah, they think my granny was an engineering genius or something, and they want me to solve all their little engineering problems here."

Jones turned to face the PA. "You are Hardav?"

"No, not really. I’m his clone. Hardav is on vacation." Davids struggled to stay serious-faced with indifferent success.

"Ah, well, then, until the real Hardav returns, would you be willing to officially join us in our little project? As in becoming our official Team Clone?" It was clear that Cadet Jones wasn’t above giving as good as he got.

"Did he say Team Clone or Team Clown, Hardav? You’d fit in either way." There was no mistaking Eletto’s amusement.

"Clone, I think, Giac. Looks to me like you’ve got the other alternative sewed up." Davids ducked as Eletto threw an empty cup at him. Davids caught it. "However, if that’s Jack’s blend, and still hot, pour me a cup, and I’m your man."

Eletto poured the coffee while the PA poured over the readout.

Picking up the padd, Eletto tried to continue, sketching and talking at the same time. "Once you’ve got the actuator programmed, you can put them in opposition across a hinge, like this. Control the force by the number of piezoelectric threads you have triggered at any given moment. Heat dissipation should be easy enough: swap off between different sets of however many threads are triggered. Do it fast enough, and you don’t need to worry about a given thread overheating."

The cadets, other than Yothan and Ganderstone, were leaning over Eletto’s shoulder. "Build a gripper like this; I figure, two joints, then at the body, a joint that pivots up and down inside one that goes front to back. So far, so good?"

"I see what you’re up to, Giac." It was Hardav, coffee in hand. "Four to a side, right?"

"You got it, Hardav." Eletto was nodding vigorously. "The issue is cutting the rope, though."

"That, sir, is an engineering issue I think we may be able to work out." It was Jones’ voice. "The issue I’m concerned about is the control system."

Hardav answered before Eletto could. "No sweat, man. The basics were worked out years ago; it’s probably on file in the ship’s database. You just have to know where to look." He winked at the physician. "Do I guess right, Giac?"

"I expect you do. The neuroanatomy of a spider is thoroughly described, and probably easily enough emulated." The physician watched the faces of the cadets as the significance of the design began to dawn on them.

Razar snorted. "Of course. For crawling webs, build a mechanical spider. I should have seen it myself."

"Oh, don’t be absurd. Last time I looked, you were engineers, not biologists. Now, there’s the issue of the visual recognition systems and such." Davids pried the padd out of the physician’s hands. "Here are a few thoughts on that issue."

As the physician’s assistant diagramed the algorithm on the padd, Ganderstone and Yothan came over, looking over his shoulder with the other cadets. Within moments, the whole group was in deep discussion.


The turbolift to the bridge opened, and an engineering cadet stood at the door. "Request permission to enter the bridge, sir."

Uhura turned to face the cadet. "Permission granted, Cadet. What can we do for you? And it would be nice to have a name, too."

"Cadet Kelvin, sir. I have been deputized by my engineering team to recruit one of the bridge crew, Captain. You are aware of Commander Indri’s challenge?"

"The rudiments, Cadet. Most of the folk here will be off limits; I’m going to be too busy, and so are Drevan and T’Soral."

"Of course, Captain. Commander Indri put all of you off limits."

Marsden looked over at Tucker. Tucker winked and smiled. Both men balled up their fists, and Tucker counted, "One, two, three, shoot."

Marsden stuck out his index and middle finger; Tucker kept his hand balled into a fist. "Hah! Stone blunts scissors! I win!"

Tucker turned to face Kelvin. "I’m your man, Cadet." He turned to Uhura. "If the captain doesn’t mind, perhaps I could accompany this cadet to his team?"

"Given the distinct improbability of our being assaulted this deep in the Federation, Joe, I think I can spare you."

"Thank you, Captain." The cadet led Tucker to the turbolift, and both stepped in.

"Well, what do you need of me?" Tucker asked as the lift’s doors slid close. The weapons officer was clearly curious.

"Mostly creativity, sir. You are aware of the details of the little contest?"

"Not in enough detail, yet, particularly the scoring algorithm." The two Humans stepped out of the turbolift, into the cafeteria area. "Let’s find a readout and look at the rules."

"A readout will not be needed, sir. The data chip will interface with my padd. Will you want refreshment as the issue is reviewed?"

"You learn fast, kid. An experienced trouper always looks to his next meal. Let me get some grub, then look over your rule book." While Kelvin joined his team mates, Tucker moved to the food dispenser and accessed a meal. Tucker joined the group, eating and scanning the rules as he did. "Did any of the cadets hang behind when the rest of you left?"

A Vulcan female answered. "Cadet T’Drinn, sir. Cadet Jones stayed behind. Why do you ask?"

Tucker swallowed a mouthful of food. "My guess would be that Jones had the sense to ask Indri or Running Bear for advice on people to recruit. That means Team Three will probably have recruited Davids and Eletto. They’re the two biggest wackos on the ship, which makes them valuable additions to your team. Hmm...." Before continuing, Tucker gulped his coffee. "Offhand, that means we’re going to have to add the fifth worst wacko on the ship, I guess. A pity."

"With all due respect, sir," the Andorian offered, "if being wacko is an asset to the project, perhaps it would be wiser to recruit the individuals you consider to be numbers three and four on the list."

"What’d you say your name was, Cadet?"

"Cadet Temdar, sir."

"Well, Temdar, Marsden and I are tied for number three slot, and you’ve already got me. I’ll lay you seven to two that the other team has recruited Marsden by now. That leaves us with number five. If you guys are willing to trust me, I think I know who we want to recruit. Besides being a major wacko, Lou Ghassi may just have a trick that will let us exploit a flaw in the evaluation algorithm. Look here. If we use no energy, or have a negative energy use, our score skyrockets. If it’s okay with the rest of you, I say we recruit Ghassi."

There was a general hubbub of agreement. Finally, Kelvin spoke for the rest. "If you vouch for Ghassi, we’ll go with him. Which department is he in?"

Tucker got up. "Dietary. The way I see it, if anyone can figure a way to use the rope to generate power for our little machine, it’s Lou. C’mon, Kelvin. Let’s go recruit us a new team member."

As Kelvin and Tucker made for the elevator, the other cadets looked at each other, obviously feeling foolish for not having seen the trick Tucker had found. They started sketching thoughts for the mechanism while they waited for the others to return.


Reichard stepped out of the turbolift onto the bridge, carefully guarding his wounded foot. "Good evening, Captain Uhura!"

"To you, Ken, it’s good morning. There’s nothing of significance unresolved, other than the Renzal effort, and nothing seems to be looming on the horizon." The Bantu stood, surrendering the command chair to her first officer. "Looks like things are going to be quiet for you."

"I can live with that. Where’d Tucker go?’

"A bunch of cadets recruited him for the project Indri’s got them all on. I..." Uhura turned, as the turbolift opened again, delivering a cadet. "I don’t believe in jinxes, but I think I may have just jinxed you. Here’s one now." She turned to the cadet. "Which team are you on?"

"Cadet Clements, Captain. I’m on Team One. I was hoping that Lieutenant Commander Reichard would be willing to serve in an advisory capacity to our team, sir."

"I’m no engineer, Clements. I’m not sure if I can be any use as an advisor. Don’t you think one of the engineering staff would be more suitable?" There was clear puzzlement on Reichard’s face.

"Engineering personnel are off limits, Ken," Uhura volunteered. "Indri figured that the cadets would be forced to do more thinking for themselves that way. You’re just going to be a source of ideas, I think—at least that’s what Indri seems to have had in mind when we talked this over an hour or so ago."

"I see. Well, if the captain doesn’t mind, then I guess I’ll do what I can. I’ve got to stay on the bridge, at least for now." Reichard nodded, hoping he looked profound and sage as he did so.

"Thank you, sir. Will it be permissible to bring the team to the bridge?"

"As long as you keep out of the way." Reichard turned to Marsden. "Jim, how about joining me at this? Sounds like it might be fun."

The helmsman shrugged. "If the cadets are comfortable with a loose cannon on the team, and if you don’t mind me grabbing a meal before I come back, no trouble."

Silently, Reichard turned to Clements, his face making questions unneeded.

"Excellent, sir. We would be most pleased to have you join us."

Marsden got to his feet. "Ingram and Blakesley should be here to man weapons and helm shortly, and O’Doul to manage communications, Captain. With your permission, I’ll grab a bite and come on back." He turned to Reichard. "I’d say most of us had best set up in the ready room, and you can come in once in a while to toss in your insights."

"C’mon, Jim," Uhura offered. "Keme’s busy with paperwork tonight. How about joining me for supper?"

"Just don’t get Doctor M’Benga jealous, Jim," Reichard gibed. "Wouldn’t want him seeking vengeance."

Both Captain and Helmsman rolled their eyes and headed for the turbolift, dodging Ingram and Blakesley as they entered the bridge.


Tucker and Kelvin stepped out of the turbolift. Before them, a middle aged, somewhat overweight, graying male was looking at a readout. "Okay, you need to be doing a restock in both of the cafeterias, especially in terms of animal protein. Better load it as full as you can; those cadets eat more food in a day than a Troyian’s marriage party does in a week. And they’re going through carbohydrates like the matter-antimatter reaction chamber will shatter if they don’t. We’re going to have to do double time on the refills there." He shook his head as he turned. "Better restock the recreation areas dispensers with... Oh, hi, Tucker. I thought you were one of the dietary staff; they’re about the only folk that ever get down here. Sorry."

"I’ve said you were a sorry specimen for years, Lou. Look, Indri’s got these kids on a bit of a competition, and we thought you could give us a hand."

"A food freak helping out engineering? Now there’s an unlikely one. What’s the contest— seeing who can scarf the most hotdogs, buns and all? Do I get to put hot peppers on ‘em before they’re allowed to stuff the things in their faces? That might be fun to watch!"

"No, sir," Kelvin offered. "It’s not like that at all. We’re supposed to build a machine to clear a rope thing, with as little energy use as possible. Lieutenant Tucker pointed out that if we could figure a way to use the rope for fuel, we could greatly minimize our energy use. Of course, you would be the best one to teach us how to do that."

"Hmpf. Burn rope for fuel." Ghassi turned to his readout, playing the control surface to access what he sought. "Several different forms of cordage, mainly differing in weave and size. Let’s see, only three different molecular structures in the polymers making them up." He tapped a few more times. "All of ‘em are moderately high energy, but poorly combustible. But with a little help, that should be addressable."

Ghassi turned back to the weapons officer and the cadet. "I’m your man. Look, this is going to require a little catalytic trickery, here, Cadet. Anyone on your team hot with molecular designs?"

Kelvin wrinkled his forehead. "Well, Kelly Rhus is a good bet. She coached me when I was falling apart in that course."

Ghassi nodded. "Good. Now go away, and send me Kelly. You guys figure out how to get it into a reaction chamber, shredded, and let us alone." Lou turned to the readout. "This is going to be done in the ship’s atmosphere, isn’t it?"

"Yes, sir." Kelvin was already retreating to the turbolift.

"Good. Send Rhus. Go do mechanical things behind my back, and leave us to work."

Tucker winked at Kelvin and stepped into the lift. The cadet gave the lieutenant a nod of acquiescence and followed.


Marsden returned to the bridge, a turbolift full of cadets with him. "Hey, Commander Reichard, want to look at the designs these kids have cobbled together?"

"Why not? Let’s have a padd." Reichard reached for one. He surfed through a few design ideas. "Look, the name of the game is cheap, quick and easy, right?"

"Cadet Edwards, sir. Do not forget that we will be graded on energy efficiency, as well."

Reichard nodded. "Of course, but that’s only one aspect. You guys are all busy trying to figure out how to get the thing to move reliably, and hunt and pick up stray things. Just because you can’t tap Indri and Running Bear and all doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to tap designs that are in the database on the ship, does it? So use the design for one of those."

Reichard pointed to an inconspicuous machine cruising around the edge of the bridge. "Those cleaning units have a lot of the structure you’re going to need. Believe me, if Starfleet lets us have ‘em to keep the ship clean, they’ve got to be cheap. They’re probably as energy efficient as you’ll get anything, too."

The Vulcan cadet, Sudek, nodded. "Your suggestion is remarkably logical. The main modification will be to alter the optical recognition subsystems to target the cordage, and to provide a mechanism for cutting the cordage." A padd appeared from the satchel she carried. "The mechanism should be simple enough to devise."

Langley, another cadet on the team, rolled his eyes. "Sudek, why don’t you disappear into the ready room over there, and tie into the library system, to get the design specifications of the automated cleaners, before you start deciding how to modify them?"

"Most logical, Cadet Langley." The Vulcan disappeared into the ready room.

"Lieutenant Commander, modifying a dust bunny is the best idea I’ve heard in hours." Langley saluted Reichard jauntily. "Thanks!"

Langley, with the rest of the cadets in tow, disappeared after the Vulcan. "We’ll be back in a few hours for more input, with your permission," he turned from the door.

"Just be sure that whatever you use for cutting the cords down is adequately extensible, kid." The executive officer settled into the command chair.

"Don’t worry, Ken. I’ll make sure they toe the line," Marsden said, his head sticking out the door. "And in case you’re worried, I’ll make sure that the cutting gizmo will send the end back to the main machine. This may just turn out to be a load of fun!"


Drevan, Subhar, Durok and Indri all stood on behind Captain Uhura on the bridge. Uhura turned to her Vulcan chief of communications. "T’Soral, if you could raise the Renzalian representative?"

Seconds later, the mainviewer was filled with the face of an apparently exhausted young woman whose face spoke volumes about having had to make hard decisions and take harsh action that was not to her tastes. "Zhara Brids at your service, Captain Uhura. I’m the governor of this colony. I hope you’ve come ready to help rid us of the madweed."

Through the window behind Brids, Uhura could see the city, which was apparently clear of the madweed. "That’s what we have come to do, but judging by what I see outside your window, it looks like you may have already found a solution."

The colony’s chief administrator shook her head tiredly. "Our solution, Captain, such as it is, is hardly satisfactory. We have taken to a scorched earth policy here in Primus City: we have covered every square centimeter of soil in the city with ten or more centimeters of thermocrete, and have scorched a two hundred meter wide perimeter of soil outside the city. Most of us are doing several hours a day on perimeter patrol with phasers, destroying anything green and growing in the area. It’s a short term solution at best."

Seeing the tiredness in Brids eyes, Uhura guessed she’d done more than her share of duty on the perimeter. "I see. We will need some help from the surface, particularly manufacturing components for an orbital habitat."

"Whatever you need, we stand ready to try to do. Could you transmit the plans?"

Uhura looked at Drevan, who nodded to T’Soral. The Vulcan tapped a control surface.

After a few moments of study, Zhara looked back up. "This won’t be much of a problem. We’ve already almost got what you want done. When the madweed started showing itself to be a major problem, we constructed a half dozen or so enclosed domes, about thirty-five meters in diameter, in every major biome we had, hoping to keep at least a part of the biome in pristine condition until the madweed was controlled. About a third of them were contaminated any how. Since the transparent aluminum domes went several centimeters into the bedrock, to be sure things were sealed tightly, we’ve already got almost exactly what you need." She sighed, obviously exhausted. "One request, if I may make it."

"I’m listening." Given the situation, Uhura felt it best to be somewhat guarded.

"Your ship is equipped with phasers, is it not?"

"Of course, as well as limited degree of other weaponry. We’re a research vessel, primarily, but unfortunately combat can become unavoidable."

"Good, good. Between spending hours on perimeter patrol and still trying to keep this colony functioning, we are burning ourselves out, physically. If you could see your way clear..."

Sympathetically, the Bantu nodded. "I’m sure that we can manage to assist, if not take over the operation." She looked to Tucker, who nodded energetically from the weapons console. "My weapons officer assures me we can manage it for you."

"Thank you, Captain. Between trying to keep ourselves fed and keeping the madweed out, very few of us have been able to get much sleep." The reason for Zhara’s haggard appearance was suddenly all too clear.

"Is there anything else we can do, Zhara?"

"Let me answer that one after a good night’s sleep, Captain. I will have my staff direct your engineering team to the biodomes you will be shifting into orbit, and I’ll have your design sent around as well. It shouldn’t take too long to put the gravity generators together, so I will hope that things will progress rapidly."

"We’re hoping the same." Uhura looked at the others on the bridge; no one seemed to have any input they felt needed made. "Until tomorrow, then. Hyperion out." The forward screen blanked.

"Well, that’s a bit of good fortune, and no mistake about it, Indri," Drevan quipped. "Looks like the domes are pretty much done. All we have to do is connect them up."

"It would seem so, Drevan." It was obvious that Indri’s hopes were not as great as Drevan’s. "Perhaps the easiest thing to do would be to connect them with tractors initially, and transport from place to place. Let me look into that. Sounds to me like we’ve got the time. We could build a more permanent, mechanical connecting system over time—probably three or four days—while Subhar and Durok are getting rolling. The main issue seems to me to be making sure that the bedrock is solid enough. I’m sure you’ll be able to find a moment here or there to use the phasers to fuse the bedrock, won’t you, Tucker?"

"The way it looks to me, Indri, I should be able to stay parsecs ahead of this madweed without trouble. I’d guess I can take care of that perimeter of theirs in about fifteen minutes, twenty at the outside. Do that every couple of hours, and we’ve got it made. That gives me plenty of time for target practice on your bedrock."

"Look, there’s no need to be in such an all fired hurry, you know." It was Durok’s voice. "Subhar and I will be foraging through the madweed’s genome for a while yet. You might as well go with the trititanium connections you were jawing about in the ready room right off the bat. Save some effort, eh?"

"Excellent." There was something about Indri’s tight smile that seemed to bode ill for the cadets. "A little exercise in vacuum suits and large scale assembly is just what the chief engineer ordered. Running Bear and I will finalize the designs tonight, and we’ll be rolling come morning."


Uhura sat in the center chair, watching as domes were transported up from Renzal’s surface, their rock under-surfaces fused to glass by the ship’s phasers, and the tractors moving them into place in the rapidly growing orbital structure. As soon as the glassy bottoms were cool, it looked like a horde of bright specks descended on it, assembling a webwork of girders to connect it to the last one. Inside the domes, looking for all the universe like an army of hyperactive ants, a further group of engineering crew and cadets swarmed, modifying the environmental support systems to handle the added rigors of being in a vacuum.

Uhura heard the turbolift slide open. She turned to see Subhar entering the bridge. "Welcome Doctor Subhar. Live long and prosper. To what do I owe the pleasure of your visiting the bridge? I would have thought that you and Durok would have been deeply engrossed in working on the Renzal problem."

"Peace and long life to you, Captain. I quite expected to have been working on the issue, too; however, we found that there was an immense log of nucleic acid sequences available to us; all of the most common flora and fauna have been completely sequenced, and a large proportion of the less common. We did not have to do any sequencing at all, which has accelerated the process remarkably. The data that is already available has been submitted to the ship’s computers and to the specialized systems that Durok and I brought with us. Until that analysis is complete, there is little or nothing that needs to be done."

The captain nodded as the Vulcan spoke, awaiting her turn. "I’m glad to hear that, Subhar. However, it is not logical to believe that you would have come up here just to visit me. I suspect that there may be a secondary motive."

Subhar inclined his head respectfully. "Your logic, Captain Uhura, is impeccable and quite correct. I deduce that there is a significant probability that you will be contacting the individuals on the surface soon, and I wished to express my gratitude for the thorough preparation that they have done."

Before Uhura could respond, T’Soral’s voice sounded. "We are being hailed by the surface, Captain."

"Mainviewer." The Bantu turned to Subhar. "Excellent timing. I’ll bet this is Brids."

As predicted, Zhara Brids’ face appeared on the forward screen. Although clearly the same individual that they had spoken to the day before, the face was dramatically different. The blue eyes now had a hint of sparkle in them, suggesting a potential for good-natured mischief; the blond hair was now neatly pulled back, revealing a high forehead and a face that clearly was well rested. "Captain Uhura, good morning. As I hinted yesterday, I’m just checking in to see how things are going. I notice your Vulcan researcher is there with you. Doctor Subhar, what news?"

Uhura nodded to the Vulcan, who took up the conversation. "I am most impressed by the volume of data your scientific team has amassed, Governor Brids. It is remarkably complete for a colony as young as yours; it will greatly aid us in our task. You are to be commended for your effort."

Brids laughed merrily. "If you weren’t a Vulcan, sir, I would accuse you of flattery. It’s no credit to us as a colony, I’m afraid. This colony started out as a research station, hunting through the remarkably rich and complex flora and fauna of the planet for useful genes and enzymes and such. Our little colony grew around the research station, as it became obvious that there was going to be a number of useful biologic products to exploit." She shrugged. "Wish I could honestly accept the compliment; it’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me in weeks."

There was something about the impish grin on Brids’ face that brought a smile to the captain’s face. "Whether the compliment is deserved or not, it’s yours to enjoy, Governor. Now, is there anything that we can be doing to help with the situation beyond what we’ve already got going?"

Brids cocked her head to the side, in thought. "Well, if you could spare a couple of kilos of coffee, that’d be nice. The coffee plantations were among the first things to go when the madweed hit. We’ve plenty of fruit and vegetables, otherwise. Meat, though, has become scarce; the livestock hasn’t been able to find much forage, and they won’t eat the madweed."

"Both are quite within our means, at least in the short term, and we can arrange for larger scale supplies easily enough. I’ll speak to our chief dietician. Anything else?"

There was a twinkle in one of the woman’s eyes. "Well, now, since you’re asking, a listing of good looking, eligible bachelors on your ship would be very much appreciated. For my personal use only, of course."

"That might be more challenging, Governor." The captain was clearly somewhat taken aback by the bold request. "I’ll see what we can do, though."

"Good! That should do it, then. Doctor Subhar, may I presume you’ll be giving me an update when you have something ready to deploy?"

"Most assuredly, Governor Brids." The Vulcan bowed slightly.

This one’s a charmer, Uhura thought to herself. Better be careful with the Humans in the crew if she’s getting this kind of response from a Vulcan. "Thank you, Governor. I’ll check with you on our status in, shall we say, three days?"

"Three days, Captain," Brids responded. "And please, call me Zhara. I’m so tired of the formal title; I’m sure you understand. Renzal out."

Subhar turned to Uhura. "I regret to inform you, Captain, that any hopes that you have of our having a possible solution in seventy-two hours are unlikely to see fruition. Although I am reticent to be certain without a full computer analysis, after having visually scanned the data on the madweed DNA, I suspect that there have been several hybridizations, perhaps as few as three but possibly as many as eight. This will complicate the project quite considerably, you understand."

"How so?"

"It dramatically reduces the probability that there will be a unique, shared receptor or porin that we can target with a virion. This is, to my knowledge, unprecedented. For a hybrid to form between plants from two separate planets is quite unusual; for several different plants to hybridize with a plant from another planet is quite beyond anything with which I am familiar." Subhar nodded, as if he were talking to himself. "Once the crisis here is resolved, understanding how this could be possible will be a most significant effort. It could be exploited heavily in modifying plants for restructuring a planetary ecology to be more favorable to the sentient lifeforms of the Federation, prior to colonization. Think of how swiftly this could allow plants to adapt and acclimatize to the new environment."

"Obviously." The expression on Uhura’s face made it clear that she understood as much as, if not more than, she cared to understand. "Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"At the moment, no. With the captain’s permission, I believe I shall return to the tripweed genome and see how it compares to the madweed hybrids. Most interesting." Deeply involved in thought, Subhar made his way to the turbolift, still lost in his analysis, mumbling to himself under his breath, as the turbolift whisked him off the bridge.

"Never thought I’d see that, Captain," Marsden gibed.

"See what, Ensign?"

"The Vulcan version of an absent-minded professor." Marsden shook his head. "Glad I’m not Drevan!"

Uhura smiled, deciding not to voice her agreement.


Indri had just finished his final check on his environment suit, and was putting it into storage when Running Bear stepped into the area. Indri looked up at his colleague. "What do you think of the job the cadets did, Running Bear?"

"Are you kidding, Boss? We had a gaggle of experienced engineering crew breathing down their necks every second. There isn’t an imperfect weld in the whole thing. I bet those kids are going to be stiff and sore tomorrow—with a vengeance. We got two days worth of construction done in a single twelve-hour shift. We drove those poor kids." The Illiniwek lieutenant brushed one of his braids off his shoulder. "I checked out the environmental support systems, too. All is in order. I’m a little nervous about pod five, though: it’s the one that’s got the fake lake in it. Humidity might get too high."

"That’s an issue, but I think we can manage it. I checked the quarters and work areas out; they’re ship shape, but I think we’re going to have to augment the computer systems on it. It’s fine by civilian standards, but this isn’t exactly a civilian project."

"Memory, processing or both?"

"Both. And I’m thinking that we need to rig a subspace datalink to the ship’s systems, too." Indri walked over to a automat, punched a selection, and brought out a flask and two glasses. "Lemonade, tart and cold, just the way you like it, my friend. Make yourself comfortable." Glasses filled, Indri extended one to his comrade. "The question is whether we’ve got the computer parts on hand, or if we’re going to have to produce them on board. Quicker if we have ‘em, and I, for one, don’t relish rotting in orbit."

Running Bear drew a deep draught on the lemonade. "The scrounged stash is pretty healthy, Boss. Unless you plan something unusually huge, we can do it, and then just make more to replenish the stash." He took a couple more swallows and extended the glass, mutely asking for a refill. "Never ceases to amaze me how dry I get working in an environmental suit."

"Me neither, and I understand why it’s inevitable. Getting back to business, what do you say to us giving the cadets a couple of extra days to get their preliminary designs on my desk? They lost today, and I don’t figure they’re going to be worth much tomorrow."

"Indri, you’re a softie sometimes, do you know that?" The gruff tone in Running Bear’s voice was contradicted by the kindly expression on his face. "We ought to make ‘em live with the original schedule, just to get them used to how tough life in Engineering can be. Forty-eight hours, though, is reasonable. You want to tell ‘em or do I?"

"I’ll do it."

The younger engineer nodded. "Good enough. Look, have you given any thought to figuring out how we’re going to build this web of rope?"

"Just knot it together on the floor, then connect it to struts, I suppose. Can’t be too hard."

"Sure it can’t. You’ve totally forgotten the Fifth Law of Thermodynamics, Boss."

Indri was clearly puzzled. "Last I looked, there were only three. Care to enlighten me?"

"You must have skipped class the day they covered the rest. There are at least five." Running Bear put his glass down, ticking the laws off on his fingers. "First law: Energy is neither created nor destroyed; it just changes forms. Second law: Heat, or energy in general, flows from higher to lower levels. Third law: Entropy, or chaos, is non-decreasing. Fourth law: It takes longer, and costs more. Fifth law: It’s harder than it looks."

During the recitation of the first three laws, Indri’s face registered mild to moderate boredom; he’d heard them before, and on occasion, reminded cadets of them. With the fourth one, he grinned and with the fifth, he snickered outright. "Okay, I’d never heard of the last two, but I’ll have to admit they’re as inescapable as the first three. Your point is well taken, Running Bear. Tell you what, I’ll see what the computer has on knots and such." He yawned prodigiously. "Tomorrow, at the earliest."

Running Bear returned the yawn. "Agreed. I’m going to get me some shuteye, Chief. Catch you in a couple thousand winks."


Eletto was sitting in Sickbay, catching up on the latest in medical research as Sendal and Durok made their way into Sickbay. As usual, Durok was insistently trying to make some point, gesturing with one hoof.

"Come on, logic addict. We’re dealing with a plant virion, not some weird super synthetic something or other. It’s not like you’ve rewritten the entire entry binding protein, you know. This is a consummate waste of time."

Totally unruffled by the Tellarite’s insistence, Sendal moved to where he could talk with Eletto. "Doctor, Durok and I have come up with a potential virion that should be effective against approximately eighty-seven percent of the strains of the madweed. Generating the virion, however, has required some subtle modification of the capsid proteins that allow it to bind to and enter the victim cell. If it is not too much trouble, I would like to run the proposed structure through the ships biocomputing systems to be certain that there is no significant crossover to any sentient species."

"No trouble at all, Doctor Sendal. Better to take the occasional unnecessary step to be sure it’s safe than to end up sorry we didn’t." Eletto waved to a readout. "If you’ll bring up the design, I’ll submit it to the biocomputer."

The Vulcan moved into position, rapidly keying in a sequence. When he stood, Eletto took the Vulcan’s place, doing the same. Eletto stood. "I expect it will be ten or fifteen minutes before we have an answer, gentlebeings, although I have to admit there are a few sequences that looked oddly familiar. May I offer you refreshment? Perhaps iced tea would be suitable to us all?"

"Better make it unsweetened," Durok said. "You wouldn’t believe what sucrose does to a Vulcan."

"Oh, yes I would. I’ve read Sorel’s Tractate. Any how, I prefer it unsweetened myself." Eletto accessed the beverage as he spoke. "Never saw the sense in sweetening it. Care to talk shop on the virion while we’re waiting for the biocomputer to do its thing?"

"I would be most interested in knowing if you have had any experience in this area. You mentioned that a sequence looked familiar to you; logically, that suggests that you are experienced."

The physician nodded. "An accurate deduction, Sendal. Did some work with Zander Oti, back on Kahla, tackling a similar problem with a semi-synthetic parasite. Did a lot of work in the earlier days of my career, but with much simpler tools than what we’ve got here. But since it’s going to take a bit of time for the biocomputer to do its work, it seems to me that it probably doesn’t matter if I’m a total ignoramus on the issue. I mean, you have the time to kill, and you might as well shop talk with me to make the best use of it you can, don’t you think?"

"He’s got you there, Subhar." Durok turned back to Eletto. "You have any ideas?"

"More curiosity. Did I get the scuttlebutt right—this Vulcan plant managed to cross pollinate with several Renzalian plants?"

The Vulcan nodded. "Five different species from Renzal; two to four different cross pollination events per species. The breadth of the different fusion structures, you understand, is what causes us the problem."

"I see." The Human rubbed his chin for a moment. "That may be the weak point, you know. If it’s all that good at incorporating bits of foreign DNA, maybe you could do a two-barreled approach. Infect it with a virion that causes it to show a specific cell receptor structure, then use that structure to target your killer virion. That might get your other thirteen percent or so."

"A most excellent idea, Doctor." Subhar turned to Durok. "Is it feasible, do you think, Durok?"

"It’s a heap better than nothing." He rubbed his hog-like snout. "What’s going to be tricky is making sure it only fuses with the madweed DNA. Shouldn’t prove too tough. I..."

The Tellarite’s remarks were interrupted by a chime from the readout. Eletto drained his glass and turned to it. "Gentlebeings, I don’t think you want to deploy this one. Take a look."

Vulcan and Tellarite leaned over the Human’s shoulders. Durok snorted. "Guess it’s good we checked. Looks like it binds to critical structures on Tellarite neurons. Don’t think I need to be around the stuff, after all."

"Indeed not." Subhar turned to face his coworker. "It is also harmful to Vulcans, Humans and possibly Andorians."

"Hey, it’d be a good microbial warfare weapon, wouldn’t it? See, it destroys Klingon cardiac and renal cells." Eletto shook his head. "Better try again, I think. I’ll run anything you need checked through the medical computers; I’ll count it a privilege to assist you."

"To keep us from wiping out the Federation, you mean." The Tellarite biologist shrugged. "Subhar, it’s back to the drawing board. Come on."

"Doctor, I think we will see what your idea generates; perhaps we will have greater success with it than we have with our approach."

"More power to you, Subhar." Eletto watched them head for the turbolift, then returned to his reading.



Engineering Log, Supplemental
Commander Indri dictating

The orbital biological laboratory is complete, and the two Federation researchers are safely ensconced in it, trying to find a solution to the Renzalian madweed. The single greatest challenge in building it has been deflecting the cosmic radiation and solar wind; second, and all but tied with that, has been simulating the appropriate day/night cycles. Both issues have been resolved to my satisfaction.

Running Bear and I have reviewed the designs submitted by the three teams of cadets, and returned them, with comments, to the teams for revision and resubmission. They have been reviewed again, and the cadets are busily building their proposed mechanisms. The more experienced engineering staff is now doing its best to ensure that they do so without significant personal injury, a task that has proved considerably more difficult than any of us anticipated.

Indri’s log entry was interrupted by the sound of a cadet quarreling with Running Bear. Despite the fact that he knew Running Bear was quite able to handle anything the cadets could throw at him, Indri decided to see what was going on.

"Look, the computer analysis of the circuit design says there’s only five volts at not more than fifteen milliamps going across this connection. I’ve spent all day tuning this thing up and getting the settings right. I turn it off, I lose it all. Just let me connect it, will you?"

Running Bear shook his head. "No. Try that and you are dead, Allen." The Illiniwek looked up, seeing his superior officer. "Indri, do you think there’s any chance you can talk some sense into this cadet’s head?"

Indri stepped up to the bench, scanning the circuit board quickly. "Where were you proposing to put that bit of jumper wire? Show me on the circuit diagram here."

"Connecting these two points, sir."

Indri nodded, looking at the board the cadet had assembled. "Running Bear, how about getting me an HD testing device with connectors at, hmm... three point two centimeters. I think we can handle the educational process fastest that way."

"HD three point two it is, Boss. Three minutes." Running Bear disappeared, returning with a hot dog that had two pieces of copper wire sticking out of it. "Do you have an insulated grab?"

"Good to twenty kilovolts at fifty amps, my friend." Indri pulled it out of his pocket, using the business end of the tool to grab the wired frankfurter. Indri turned to the cadet. "Shall we do the test sequence?"

It was clear that the cadet was convinced both men were totally insane. "I’m not familiar with this testing procedure, sir. I, uh, am not exactly sure that I’ll be able to interpret the results of this."

"Oh, I know they didn’t cover the HD testing system at the Academy, but I’m pretty sure that you’ll be able to handle the results. Ready?"

"I guess so, sir."

Indri moved the wired weenie into place, Running Bear moving back as he did so. When the second copper wire completed the circuit, there was a loud pop and the weenie exploded, sending shards of hot meat all over, some of which hit the surface of the circuit board, causing secondary short circuits. "May I assume that you comprehend the results of the test, Cadet Allen? If you had hand wired that connection, it might have been your finger, rather than that hot dog, spraying all over everywhere."

Ashen, the cadet nodded. "Point made, Commander. But the computer said that..."

"The computer, Cadet, assumed you would do the circuit correctly. You want to look at the DC transformer you installed?" Running Bear’s face was impassive. "You might find it interesting."

For a moment, the cadet stared at the circuit board, his face registering confusion. Suddenly, his jaw dropped. "I seem to have wired it incorrectly, sir."

Running Bear nodded. "Exactly, Cadet. Now, without using the computer to do your calculations for you, give me an estimate of what you would have been facing."

"Instead of dropping the current from 100 volts, direct current, to 5 volts, it would have jacked it up to about 2 kilovolts, sir."

"And if I hadn’t slapped your hand out of the way, as you were trying to connect that bit of wire to the live end, what would the result have been?"

There was a brief pause as the cadet collected himself. "It would have grounded through me, sir. I would have probably made a considerably larger mess than the hotdog, sir."

"Not exactly." Indri’s face was as impassive as Running Bear’s, but the tone of his voice spoke volumes. "The interrupt would have kicked in before you exploded. You would have been thoroughly dead, however, despite the interrupt. In case it hadn’t crossed your mind, Cadet, let me remind you that the safety precautions were not put together by academic knuckleheads; they were compiled by real world engineers who learned from the injuries or deaths of colleagues and friends. Try to remember that, will you? Because of your limited level of experience, the only way you’re going to teach anything to the likes of Running Bear or me is by finding a novel way of maiming or killing yourself. Have I made my point?"

"Yes, sir. Very clearly, sir."

"Good. Go to your cabin and review reading circuit designs and building them for the next four hours." Head hanging, the cadet moved into the turbolift, disappearing. Indri turned to Running Bear. "Good catch, man, good catch. Thanks. You know how much I hate sending those ‘deepest sympathies’ messages on cadets."


Subhar entered the main communications module of the orbital arboretum that he and Durok had been using as their base of operations, to be surprised by seeing the lower half of a Human body protruding from a panel. Deducing that the Human was working on the computer circuitry, he decided to wait until the being was clearly safe to interrupt. As he stood silently, a hand came out from under the cover, placing a tool on the floor, and retrieving another.

"I’ll be done in a second, Subhar," Running Bear’s voice announced from somewhere inside the cabinet. "I’ve got the modifications about done."

"Excellent." The Vulcan stood, watching as the engineer continued his efforts. "I am most curious to know how you deduced my identity."

The Human backed out of the cabinet, replacing the access cover. "Only two other beings over here, and Durok would never have stood around silently as long as you did." Running Bear picked up his tools. "Let’s see if it performs up to specs, shall we?"

A small tool came out of the engineer’s pocket to be connected into a slot on the control surface. In a few moments, a green light flashed. "Superb. It’s good to go. What brings you here, good Vulcan?"

"Work, actually. Durok and I have a couple of new thoughts on an assault on the Renzalian madweed that I was hoping to convert into data files and ship to your Doctor Eletto and the Hyperion’s biological computing area."

"This’ll save you some time. We’ve rigged a subspace connect to the medical computers for you; you can submit it from here, and get your answer back directly."

"Excellent. I shall hopefully be able to submit candidate virions shortly." He produced a data chip. "The basic elements of the design are here. I need to refine them somewhat using the more powerful systems available here, then I shall submit them."

"Glad to hear it. You’ll find that the computers here are a good deal faster and better than what you recall them being; I’ve augmented them using some spare stuff from the ship. I’m going to head back to the ship. Keep in touch!" Running Bear pulled out his communicator. "Hyperion, one to transport, full decontamination." He disappeared in the transporter’s beam.

Subhar sat at the console, quickly playing his fingers across the control surface, studying the virions, making minor modifications to the rejected ones, submitting them again and again, looking for what he needed. Slowly, the virions increasingly were safe for other lifeforms. A few taps on the control surface sent the data files back to the computer in his quarters to check them for effectiveness against the madweed.

An hour passed, then two, as the Vulcan continued modifying the proposed structures. Finally, several seemed to have reached a level of virulence for madweed, and safely enough for other organisms, at a sufficiently high enough safety factor to meet even the Vulcan’s standards. Satisfied, he plucked the data chip free of the connection and headed off to find Durok, intent on selecting the most likely approach to testing the virion.


Engineering Log, Stardate 9712.3

The engineering cadets have built their prototypes, and have petitioned for permission to field test them on the ship prior to their being required to clear the rope webbing that we will install in the shuttle bay. At this point, an unexpected amount of my time has been consumed with learning how to handle rope, so that Lieutenant Running Bear and I can construct the web.

The bench before Indri was littered with meter long pieces of rope of various diameters, most of them sorted out in piles of identical diameters. Those that weren’t in piles were either knotted or were demonstrating failed attempts to create a knot. There was no mistaking the look of consternation on Indri’s face as he tried to properly tie a knot to connect two bits of cord of different diameters based on the diagram on the readout in front of him. Although the square knot was tied properly, the thicker cord slid out with only modest effort.

Shaking his head, the engineer flipped to another knot to see if it would work better for cords of unequal diameters. The bowline came up. He studied it for a few moments, realizing that he could use it to tie thinner cord around thick cord. Intending to try it with the same two pieces of rope, Indri looked down on the bench, only to discover that they had disappeared. Surprised, he reached for another couple of pieces, only to find that two of the piles of cordage to his left were gone, and a third was considerably smaller than it had been just a few minutes ago.

Briefly, the engineer considered having Medical check him over, but before he could make up his mind, a metal grasp with a sensor cluster on top of it appeared over the edge of bench, grabbing a bit of rope and disappearing with it. His knotting project temporarily forgotten, Indri watched. Moments later, the grasp came up again, snatching another bit of rope. Walking around the end of the bench, he saw one of the cadet’s machines shredding the rope, dropping the fragments into an open orifice. Amused, Indri picked up a thick piece of the cordage, dangling it before the sensor cluster. Almost eagerly, the machine snatched the bit of cordage, feeding it to the maw of its hungry shredder.

Team Two’s machine, I think, Indri decided. He reached for a tarp to throw over the cordage on the workbench, hoping to outwit the machine. That’s the one that recruited Ghassi from down in Dietary. From the faint whiff of chemicals, I’ll bet they’re digesting the rope. Clever.

The rope offering now consumed, the sensor and grasp appeared again, scanning the bench for another piece of rope. Seeing none, it retracted, and the machine rolled off silently, looking for something else to put in its hopper.

With an almost paternal smile, the chief engineer watched the machine disappear through a door. Satisfied, he turned back to the readout, looking at the diagram for a bowline. The bowline definitely looks versatile. All I need to do is figure out how to tie the fool thing.


Durok allowed the mechanism in front of him to fill the last of the flasks with an off-white solution. "That’s it, Subhar. We’ve got enough of these filled to test our virions out. Where first?"

For a moment, the Vulcan was lost in thought. "I think pod five would be best. The biota is most complex there, including a small marine ecology. Dispersal is an issue, though."

"Nah, not really. Just transport the liquid into the air-circulating machinery, and let that do its job. It’ll probably aerosolize things marvelously." The Tellarite yawned prodigiously. "This has been an exhausting effort, and not being a Vulcan, I need some sleep. Can you handle the delivery and initial observation?"

"Yes, but after that, I will need to turn things over to you; even my Vulcan endurance has its limits."

"I’d have never guessed. It’s been what, a day and a half since you last slept?"

"Forty-two point seven hours, Durok. You rest now; I will do so later."

Durok nodded, disappearing into the turbolift. Subhar turned his attention to the task at hand. Moving one of the containers to the transporter, he made a few adjustments to the settings. After double checking, he was sufficiently satisfied with the settings to trigger the transporter. All but a small volume of the fluid in the container disappeared in the transporter beam.

With the solution containing the mixture of virions dispersing, he turned to the replicator and accessed a simple meal then sat by the monitors, watching what happened to pod five with typical Vulcan patience. Little, it seemed, was happening. A little less than four hours after the release of the virion, the madweed loose in the pod began to show signs of wilting; by five hours, the leaves were brown and falling. At six hours, the vines themselves were rapidly disintegrating. Subhar ran through the various sensor systems installed. Nothing else was, it appeared, being affected. An additional hour showed no further change.

The Vulcan looked at the chronometer on one side of the display; it was at least an hour before Durok would be back. With a quick look at the display to be sure all was stable, Subhar decided to take a short nap. An hour’s sleep would enable him to work for several more hours before needing a longer period of rest, and the interventional ecologist wanted to be in reasonably sound shape if Durok wanted to make a direct investigation of the dome. Stretching out on the floor, Subhar willed himself to sleep for an hour.

Precisely one hour later, the Vulcan snapped awake, significantly rested. The monitors displayed a major change in the contents of pod five, far more complex than would have been expected from the madweed dying off. Visual inspection seemed impaired; the inner surface of the transparent aluminum domes was smudged with a dark-colored powder. Before the Vulcan could progress significantly in deciding its nature, Durok stepped back into the work area.

"What in space is happening in the biome?"

"It is difficult to be sure, Durok." The Vulcan’s voice was impassive. "I was trying to answer that question when you arrived. This happened in something less than an hour. The virion solution killed the madweed most efficiently, as we had expected, without other visible effects. I chose to take a brief respite, and found this. The current status is currently inexplicable."

The Tellarite slid into a chair next to the Vulcan, scanning the displays. "Utterly bizarre. It’s time for me to go over and look for myself. None of these readings make a shred of sense. Don’t we have a portable tricorder or two around here?"

"Of course." Subhar produced one from a cabinet. "I trust that you will maintain continuous communications while you are there."

"Of course." Durok stepped onto the transporter. "Let’s get me there."

Minutes later, the Tellarite’s voice came across the speaker. "You’re not going to believe this. It looks like some really monstrous mushrooms are growing in here, and I mean monstrous. I’m going to see if I can get this to transmit a scan to you. Hold on."

Data began streaming across a readout, the eyebrows of the interventional ecologist rising higher and higher as it did so. Subhar turned to the communications console. "These mushrooms seem to have reached a height of two point four meters; most remarkable. I would not have thought it possible. Can you get a more detailed scan of one of them?"

"Already working on it. If I duck, I can just get under the cap of this overgrown fungus here; it’s large, even among the bloated specimens here. That way, I can get better data on the gills. I..." Durok’s voice suddenly was replaced by the sound of coughing and sputtering.

Subhar’s reaction was immediate: he moved swiftly to the transporter and, setting it based on the coordinates of Durok’s communicator, brought the Tellarite back. When the transporter beam finally faded, the research biologist collapsed on the floor, coughing, apparently struggling to breathe. All over the being’s head, face and shoulders, there was a layer of a black powder. Subhar tripped the communicator switch. "Hyperion, we have a medical emergency. Request medical personnel immediately."

Harrison Davids materialized on the transporter pad, next to the Tellarite, his medical tricorder in hand. Kneeling at the being’s side, he brought out a hypospray, applying it to Durok’s shoulder. Davids consulted his medical tricorder again, then gave an additional dose. Carefully, he wiped his hand across Durok’s face. "If I read the tricorder correctly, he’s covered in spores from a mushroom. He inhaled a lungful of them, too. If that’s all he’s facing, he’ll be back to his usual self here shortly. Mind telling me how this happened?"

"Something caused a fungal specimen in pod five to grow to immense proportions; Durok moved in under the cap, and presumably triggered the gills to dump the spores."

"That figures." Hardav shook his head. "What was he thinking? He should have been in full protective gear, even if there didn’t seem to be any risk."

Durok was clearly recovering. The Tellarite sat up, mopping his face. "Biggest mushroom I ever saw. Should have realized it’d do that." He handed the tricorder to the Vulcan. "Doesn’t look like the virion genomes are incorporated either. See what you can figure here." Durok got to his feet. "With all due respect, gentlebeings, I am in dire need of scrubbing. If you wouldn’t mind, however, Human..."

"Lieutenant Commander Harrison Davids, Physician’s Assistant, at your service, Doctor Durok."

"Well, Davids, I’d appreciate it if you stuck around until I came back. I’d like to be dead sure I’m back to grade."

Davids nodded. "I’m all for dead sure over just plain dead, too; I’d planned on watching you for a little longer."

The Tellarite made his way back into the turbolift. The PA turned to where Subhar was working with the data. "Looks like the law of unintended consequences got you, Subhar. Any idea what created the monster mushrooms?"

"It appears that the madweed released a large amount of this compound as it died." The Vulcan pointed to a structure on the screen. "The compound is a potent initiator of reproductive growth in this particular species of fungus. The amounts delivered were sufficiently high that the response generated excessively large fruiting bodies. With the large amount of dead vegetable material created by the death of the madweed vines, there was plenty of fuel to permit the aberrantly large growth." He shook his head. "This will greatly complicate efforts. The particular mushroom species is almost ubiquitous."

"Still, maybe the virion triggered the production of the stuff," the Human offered. "Either that or maybe it just jacked the amount up sky high."

"It does not appear so, Lieutenant Commander Davids. The levels are not significantly different from those in other samples that had not met the virion."

Durok returned, clean and in a clean set of clothing. Davids turned the mediscanner on him. "You look like you’re fine. Hey, did you manage to taste that mushroom while you were getting showered by it?"

"I forgot to bring a skillet and butter to fry it in, Human. You want to go and see for yourself?"

The PA smiled. "You’re back to grade all right. I think I’ll just head back to the ship and decontaminate." He opened his communicator. "The medical issue is resolved. One to beam over, full decontamination, Hyperion."

Durok looked over at his colleague. "This is an obnoxious twist, and no mistake about it. Unless you have a clever way of killing this stuff without creating the monster mushrooms, we’re torpedoed, big time." He scratched the base of his hog-like snout in frustration. "Got any ideas?"

Subhar stood silently, for a moment, lost in thought. "Perhaps we can tame the plant. If we could divert sufficient amounts of its metabolic activity to something other than growth, it would become less of a pest to the colonists."

"Sounds good to me, Vulcan. What’d you have in mind?"

"At the moment, nothing specific. Let us look at the plant in some detail." Subhar turned to a data readout, tapping the keyboard. Data on the madweed flitted across the screen with moderate speed.

"Whoa, speed reader, back to that last frame, the one on reproduction." The Vulcan complied; the Tellarite jabbed a digit at the screen. "There, Subhar. That’s the trick. Look at that stupid excuse for a fruiting body. It can’t be more than two millimeters across. What’ve you got on the controls on fruiting body size? If we can get it growing to several centimeters, it should keep the rest of the growth slowed, and maybe it’ll be worth eating."

"I shall let you deal with the eating end of it." The Vulcan began working rapidly with the computer. "I will see what I can do with inducing the enlarged fruiting bodies, though after your recent experience, I find myself somewhat surprised you wish to trigger giant fruiting bodies on something else."

Durok snorted derisively, saying nothing else. Both beings stood quietly, as Subhar made his way through alternative approaches.

After a time, Subhar straightened up. "See what you think, Durok."

"Looks good, very good. Run it through the other creatures, and through the Hyperion’s medical computers." Moments later, the readout was filled with the results. Durok nodded. "Looking good. No effect on anything but the madweed and one insect—and the only thing that happens with the insect is a few percent increase in the size of the male gonad. You realize it’ll be four, maybe five days after we deliver the virion before we see any significant results?"

"Naturally, Durok. I shall begin production immediately."


Running Bear stood motionless in the Arboretum, his senses straining to hear Eletto’s approach. The physician had developed an annoying knack for appearing out of nowhere and counting coup on him, using a trick that Running Bear was still unable to outwit.

Almost simultaneously, the Illiniwek felt a tap on his shoulder, and heard Eletto say, "I count coup!" Although he turned as quickly as he could, he failed to see where his companion had gone. The engineer closed his eyes, to sharpen his hearing. Off to one side, he heard movement in a bush. Running Bear smiled; it had to be Eletto, making his escape. When the two men practiced tracking each other in the Arboretum, they almost invariably had it to themselves; crew who had made the mistake of accidentally joining them had suffered too many practical jokes to be willing to risk another episode with them. He began to move toward the bush.

Just behind and to one side of him, Running Bear heard the sound of Eletto dropping to the ground. "Game’s over, brother. We have a visitor."

Only rarely did another crew member wander into the Arboretum during their exercise; when someone made the mistake, the pair usually made a point of tracking and surprising them. Running Bear nodded smiling. He pointed to his friend, gesturing upwards, then himself, pointing to his knees.

Eletto nodded, understanding: he was to hit the intruder high, and Running Bear would hit him or her low. With a nod, Eletto disappeared up a tree, making a sound like a mourning dove’s call. Running Bear nodded; that, then, would be the signal to move.

Making hardly as much sound as a falling leaf, both men moved toward the bush, taking up their positions on either side of the individual who had entered the Arboretum. The physician pointed at a small chokecherry bush that had been invaded by the vine of a small wild grape; it was visibly shaking. Nodding, the engineer moved into place.

Eletto signaled, and both moved swiftly, Running Bear across the ground and Eletto dropping from the branch above.

Behind the bush, they saw their invader: a modest sized, silvery, spider-like machine that was tugging at the grape vine, trying to pull it off the chokecherry. They burst into laughter, watching the machine struggle to pull it loose despite the fact that it was clearly wrapped around a good sized branch.

"Looks like your team’s little effort, Giac."

Eletto laughed. "It is, it is indeed. There is some poetic justice in this, don’t you think? They set junior here loose a couple of hours ago, to see if it could wander around the ship, and wouldn’t you know it, it had to end up here."

The engineer walked around the machine, finding the panel that concealed the dilithium crystal that powered the machine, and deftly removed it. It slowly collapsed to the ground, releasing the vine. "I’ll call one of the cadets, and have them cart it back to Engineering. Same time, next week?"

"You’re on." The men shook hands, the physician disappearing out the door as the engineer moved to a wall communicator.


Stardate 9713.6

Subhar looked at the readout carefully. "It appears that the virion we have introduced in pod eight has achieved its intended purpose. Vine growth on the madweed is less than five percent of what it was before."

"And will you look at those fruiting bodies? They’ve got to be nine, maybe ten centimeters across." The Tellarite nodded appreciatively. "Big enough to peel and eat."

"Perhaps so, but not until there has been a more detailed analysis of their safety." The Vulcan stood. "One of us should go over to the pod and do a more detailed inspection. Under the circumstances, if you are comfortable operating the transporter, I suspect it might be prudent for me to go this time."

"I’m all for it. They’ve got the transporter rigged to make shipping you there and back fairly easy." From a cabinet, Subhar extracted an environment suit, and began to don it.

The Tellarite smiled slightly. "Not taking any chances, I see. Good thinking. The madweed will probably pollinate you to death."

"No sense in taking unnecessary risks, Durok." Subhar closed the last seal, making his way to the transporter pads, tricorder in hand. "If you would oblige?"

"Just keep communications open, okay? I won’t know if an emergency happens if you don’t. Don’t need you out of commission."

"I shall maintain continuous contact." The Vulcan disappeared from view.

To Subhar, it seemed that no time passed before he materialized in the pod, at the edge of a small copse of trees. He could see several vines of madweed, and could see that they had large fruit hanging from them, bodies ranging eight to ten centimeters across. Clearly, the virion had done its work; how large the fruiting bodies would grow remained a guess, but the results were, in Subhar’s opinion, quite satisfactory.

Durok’s voice sounded in his ears. "What’s the matter, Subhar? Malfunctioning communications?"

"No. I was studying the fruiting bodies. Let me transmit a scan of a vine." Subhar triggered the scanner to do so. "I should be interested in your opinion."

"Looking good, Vulcan, looking very good. Not looking exactly edible—tannins are pretty high in those things; they’d be terribly bitter. To grow to that size in the three days since we’ve deployed the virion, though, they must have really sapped the resources of the madweed."

"No doubt." Carefully, the Vulcan made his way into the wood, his scanner deployed in one hand. Near the edge of the trees, he noticed what looked like a dead squirrel. Kneeling, he turned the scanner on it. "I’m transmitting another scan, Durok; a dead rodent, it appears. No sign that the virion killed him, as far as I can tell. See what the system there can tell us."

A moment or two passed before Durok’s voice filled the helmet. "I’d say that the poor beast was stung to death. It’s a little hard to be sure, but it looks like it had been stung, oh, a hundred fifty or two hundred times. For a creature that size, that’s incredible."

"I see several other creatures down, clearly dead. I conjecture that they all have died from the same cause." Cautiously, thankful for the protection of the suit, the interventional ecologist made his way into the clump of trees. "The scanner is set to transmit continuously. I am moving into the trees." The Vulcan looked around himself, studying his environment carefully, hoping to find a clue as to the source of the stings. It seemed that every step he took revealed more dead creatures, essentially all small mammals or birds. From one side and far above, he heard a buzzing. Orienting to the sound, he saw a large, paper-like nest on a branch of a tree near him. He turned, training the scanner on it. "Insect nest, just above me, Durok. It looks very much like the nest of a Terran hornet."

"Did you catch the size of that monstrous hive? If I’m not misreading your scan results, that thing’s over a meter across, and maybe a meter and a quarter long, if not more. Just a second, let me do a quick check, here." There was a transient silence. "If I were you, Subhar, I’d get out of there pronto. It’s the bug that got its gonads enlarged. I’m willing to bet that it will be..."

Before the Tellarite could finish his sentence, a swarm of flying insects came out of the nest, diving toward Subhar, the noise of their flight drowning Durok’s voice out. Knowing he was safe inside the environment suit, the Vulcan remained calm, playing the sensors in the scanner on the insects. "I am not confident that you can hear me over the noise of this swarm of insects, Durok. I shall turn the gain on the suit speakers up, so that I can hear you. Can you hear me?"

"Just barely. Judging from the readings I’m getting, I’d hazard the guess that you can barely see through that cloud of insects."

"Vision is difficult. Hearing is not easy either. I shall attempt to move away from the nest."

"Good idea. Let me know when they quit picking on you."

Carefully picking his way back, feeling the path with his feet, the Vulcan made his way toward the perimeter of the dome. To his surprise, the swarm of stinging insects continued to follow him, being reinforced by new droves coming from the hive. Ultimately, he reached the transparent aluminum wall, the hornet-like creatures continuing to nearly cover his suit completely.

"Are those little monsters still all over you Subhar?" Durok’s voice was filled with sincere concern.

"It appears so. I would not recommend bringing me back to quarters at this point."

"No kidding. Having that lot of insects loose in here would really be abysmal. Look, there’s got to be something that we can do. Let me think."

"There is only one solution, Durok. Have the Hyperion transport me into open space. Between the vacuum and the temperature, these insects should die relatively swiftly. If not, perhaps a short exposure to low energy phaser fire will be sufficient to kill them. I will be safe enough in this suit." Subhar’s voice, despite his situation, remained totally calm.

"I’m on it, Subhar."


Stardate 9713.9

From the direction of the science console, Uhura heard the sound of something falling, a splash, and Drevan making a noise of annoyed disgust. She turned to see her chief science officer wiping spilled coffee off of his lap and the side of one leg. A dust bunny was heading toward the spill on the floor, intent on cleaning up both cup and fluid.

Drevan was, Uhura realized, clearly feeling the strain of the project. With the failure of their most recent effort, he, Durok and Subhar had been slaving to find an approach to the madweed that would not devastate the Renzalian ecology. She turned to face the mainviewer, lost in thought. Durok, she decided, would be in no better shape than Drevan, and although the Vulcan, Subhar, was blessed with considerably greater endurance than the other two, it seemed likely that he, too, was suffering from the effort.

What they need is to take a break. The trick is going to be getting them to take one. She got up. "Tucker, take the conn. Drevan, you look like you’ve been hit by an ion storm. Go to your quarters and get some rest."

"But Captain, I..."

"But Captain nothing. Go take a nap. How long has it been since you last slept?"

"I got a twenty minute cat nap, oh, a little over three hours ago."

T’Soral looked up. "He was away from his console twenty-two point four minutes, three point nine two hours ago, Captain. His time away from his console before that was nineteen point three hours prior, and it was only one point seven hours. Drevan’s mental signature is showing considerable signs of exhaustion."

"Thank you, T’Soral." Uhura turned to the Andorian. "Your face shows the exhaustion, too. Get off my bridge before you fall asleep at your post. If you don’t move it now, I’ll personally escort you to your quarters. If you give me any lip, I will personally tuck you in and sing you a lullaby, and I guarantee you, I’ll be way off key. Have I made myself adequately clear?"

"Yes, Captain. Go to my room willingly, or face the direst of consequences." Reluctantly, Drevan left his post, looking over at the Vulcan communications officer. "Squealer!"

Uhura watched until Drevan was in the turbolift. Nodding to herself in satisfaction, she turned to T’Soral. "Lieutenant, I need to get Drevan, Subhar and Durok off their project for a little while, to let their minds rest. My first instinct is to suggest that they join me for dinner, preferably somewhere like the Ready Room, where we can have some privacy without being too far out of reach. Drevan would come, just because he’s crew; Durok, I suspect, would grab at any chance of a good, square meal. I would like your opinion on Subhar’s being willing to join us."

The Vulcan communications officer thought for a moment, her head tilting slightly to the right as she did so, giving her face an almost elfin appearance. "I believe, Captain, that the implicit honor of dining with you would be enough to motivate him to come. It is, however, not certain: a Vulcan engaged in a task is often hard to distract from it, even for a very brief period of time."

"No kidding, T’Soral; I learned that years ago, interacting with Spock. But if you think I’ve got a fighting chance of his coming..." She let the sentence die off, the question implicit in the tone of her voice.

"I believe so, Captain."

"Excellent. If you would communicate the invitation to Subhar and Durok, and put a message in Drevan’s BellComm for when he wakes up, inviting them to join me after my tour of duty ends, I’ll go down and see what I can do about getting Lou to whip something up."

T’Soral turned to her communications console as Uhura moved to the turbolift.


Moments later, Uhura stepped out of the corridor into Nutrition. Ghassi looked up, then stood up. "Captain! To what do I owe the honor of your presence?"

"I need a favor, Lou."

"If it is within my power, consider it done. What did you need?"

"Could you put together a formal dinner for four, and serve it in the Ready Room? Drevan, Subhar and Durok need a break from what they’re doing, and I thought that would be a good way to pull it off."

"Ah, a chance to exercise my culinary skills. You will, I assume, wish to make sure that they are with you for a good hour or more, will you not? The meal needs to be leisurely, am I correct?" It was clear that Ghassi was relishing the thought.

"You’re a mind-reader, Lou. Only one glitch: it’s in five hours. Can you do it?"

Ghassi straightened his back. "Can I do it? Madam, you and your intrepid bridge crew pull off far more difficult things with much less time to prepare!" The chief nutritional officer relaxed and grinned. "For you, Captain, I shall rise to the occasion, with formal servers, background music, and a menu that will delight the palates of all of the separate species represented. Fear not! I shall apply all my wit to this, and do you proud." He turned to his readout, then back again. "Um, I promise not to go totally wacko, Boss, but do you mind if I pick on Indri or Running Bear to whip up some fancy cutlery and candelabra and that sort of jazz? You know, try to make the atmosphere just right for relaxing, without sacrificing formality?"

The captain pursed her lips a little. "Just remember, I don’t need something outrageously expensive that I have to explain to Fleet Captain Chekov, okay? When the brass said cost was no object, I’m sure they were looking at the project itself, not the things we do while we’re killing time here."

Ghassi bowed, which was, given that he was sitting and far from slim, was an amusing sight. "I shall be the soul of prudence, good Captain!"

"Good enough. Be ready to serve, one hour after shift end."

"Can do." He turned to his terminal. "Four different species to cook for... Hmm... There’s got to be something they all can safely eat and enjoy..."

Quietly, Uhura headed back to the turbolift and the bridge, confident that whatever Lou Ghassi did, it would be better than she could have expected.


With her shift ended, and Reichard safely ensconced in the center seat, Uhura hurried to her cabin for a quick shower and change of clothes. She opened her closet, running her eye over the resources; her dress uniform seemed to be the best bet. It was clean, and didn’t seem particularly wrinkled. Pulling it out, she snagged one corner on the door latch, tearing the seam of the skirt up one side a modest distance.

Somewhat annoyed at herself, Uhura quickly retrieved needle and thread, doing a quick repair before hurrying into the shower. By the time she was done showering and getting her hair the way she wanted it, there was barely time to dress and return to the bridge. Without more than a cursory inspection of herself in the mirror, the captain made her way to the turbolift and the bridge.

Debarking onto the bridge, the first thing that caught the captain’s attention was a savory aroma that both assaulted and titillated her sense of smell. Only after the appetizing odor registered did she notice that the area of the bridge near the door of the ready room had been transformed. A pair of what looked like small palm trees flanked the door; over the door, a sign had been applied, sporting the title "Lou’s Place" in a fancy script.

Reichard stood up, bowing slightly. "Valet parking, madam! May I take care of your vehicle for you?"

"Thank you." Uhura turned back to the ready room, seeing Ghassi’s ample form in a tuxedo, a towel over one sleeve.

"A party of four, I believe?" The chief nutritionist waved toward a round, wooden table filling the center of the ready room, chairs drawn up to it. "Your table is waiting."

The captain allowed herself to be escorted to the ready room, which had been completely transformed. Running Bear and T’Soral stood at one end, in formal attire, flanking what was clearly the storage unit holding the evening’s offering. Running Bear reached into a compartment whisking out a tray laden with a wide selection of hors d’oeuvres. "Madam’s party seems to be still collecting. May I offer something to prepare your palate while madam awaits the rest of her party?"

Either he has an incredible natural talent as a server, or Ghassi has schooled him fast and well. Uhura nodded, selecting a small cracker and cheese combination. T’Soral was at her elbow. "Would madam care for a beverage?"

"Do you have raspberry iced tea?"

"An excellent choice, and certainly available." She seemed to have hardly disappeared before she returned with a glass. Uhura sipped it, noticing that Drevan had stepped into the Ready Room, and that Subhar and Durok were coming out of the turbolift. Running Bear lightly bumped her elbow as he moved toward Drevan with the hors d’oeuvres, causing her half-eaten selection to shed its top layer. A dust bunny scooted over, removing the fallen material and disappearing again. As Durok and Subhar entered, a dust bunny followed them.

"Ah, the party is complete!" Ghassi was clearly enjoying his role as Maitre d’. "Allow us to seat you." With a flourish, he seated the captain, T’Soral and Running Bear seating the others. Swiftly, the engineer and the Vulcan served bowls of a steaming hot soup, Ghassi providing the beverages. At Subhar’s place, T’Soral put several small containers of Vulcan spices. Subhar nodded appreciatively; T’Soral disappeared without reaction.

As the meal progressed, Uhura made a point to keep the table talk focused on light conversation, asking questions about families, homes, and pranks Drevan had played on Subhar back on Centaurus. The soup was replaced by an offering of exotic breads and cheeses, then a salad. Discussion began to focus on the meal, and speculations as to what might be served next.

Only one of the two dust bunnies in the room scrambled for crumbs. The other seemed to be systematically searching, ignored by all. It cruised near Uhura’s legs, hidden under the table. From the hem of her skirt hung the free end of the thread she had used to make her hasty repair, the quickly-tied knot having loosened, allowing the thread to dangle freely.

The machine weighed the inputs from its sensors. Silently, another sensor deployed, getting a more detailed imaging of the thread. It was somewhat thinner than expected, but it certainly had all the other characteristics of rope. A grasp gently deployed, pulling the thread loose, all unnoticed by the captain, who had become deeply involved in conversation with Durok over a point of Tellarite culture. The thread from the repair harvested, the machine sought further such threads; another free end appeared, and was slowly teased loose, completing the disruption of the seam repaired less than an hour before.

Just as the modified dust bunny’s task was completed, the chief dietician brought the main course to the center of the table, a mountain of spaghetti with a vegetarian marinara sauce generously deployed across it. With great pomp, Ghassi delivered generous servings of his culinary artistry to each of his four guests, Running Bear and T’Soral delivering small bowls of vegetables and platters of garlic bread as Ghassi did so.

One strand of spaghetti slid loose, dangling over the edge of the table, to be spotted by the machine below. The mechanism realized this was another strand of what it was there to harvest, and it clearly led to the top of the table. Even with the comparatively primitive computer capacity the machine owned, it was a reasonable deduction that more would be found above the table.

Unnoticed, a small sensor peeped over the edge of the table only to find what looked like the mother lode of strands. The automaton exploded into action, with several grasping devices reaching into the remaining spaghetti, hurling marinara sauce all over the room.

As the marinara sauce sprayed her face, Uhura jumped to her feet, backing away from the table. Unbeknownst to her, this was a major tactical error. The harvested threads from her skirt had left it unable to hold its place, allowing it to drop loosely to the chair behind her. Aware of her sudden exposure, and more greatly affected by it than the flying sauce, she grabbed at the remnants of her skirt, flushed darkly in embarrassment, and dashed out the door.

During the meal, activity on the bridge had been focused on trying to maintain adequate alertness. The smells wafting from the ready room provided an endless distraction from duty and a stimulus to the hope that anything left over would be offered to those on the bridge. At Uhura’s sudden entry, the bridge crew snapped to attention; the captain flew out of the door, covered in red sauce.

O’Doul slapped the console in front of her. "Sickbay! Wounded on the bridge, unknown number. Immediate response!"

Ingram was the only one not panicked. Ignoring the clutched skirt, he walked up to the captain, gently wiping a little of the red material off her collar. He sniffed it, then tasted it. "O’Doul, cancel the call to Sickbay; this is marinara sauce, not blood. With all due respect, I think the captain would appreciate a blanket or something to wrap around herself." It was clear that Ingram was very pointedly looking the woman in the face.

Suddenly aware of the Bantu’s plight, the communications officer pulled a blanket out of the emergency kit, as Blakesley dug up toweling to offer to the other individuals leaving the ready room, all of whom were coated in spaghetti sauce. Through the still-open door, Running Bear was visible, removing the rear access port from a dust bunny, and pulling its power supply. Other dust bunnies from the bridge converged on the mess in the ready room, intent on cleaning it up as swiftly as they could.

Her voice steady and controlled, Uhura looked over at the communications console. "Ensign O’Doul, I want everyone involved in this little contest of Indri’s, along with their machines, assembled in Engineering in exactly one hour. Their contest is officially over. I will deal with this personally. Is that clear?"

Running Bear was the last to leave the Ready Room. "Captain, allow me to apologize for..."

Smoldering eyes turned on the engineer. "Don’t bother, Mister. Get yourself cleaned up and down to the Engineering Deck now and start collecting up everyone involved. That includes you and Indri."

Silently, the assistant chief engineer disappeared into the turbolift, not willing to push his luck with the captain.

Durok moved in. "Captain Uhura, this is clearly some sort of mistake, not a prank. I’m not offended, and I’m sure Subhar and Drevan aren’t either. There’s no need to..."

"You, Drevan and Subhar are to be down there, too. You have fifty-eight minutes." Uhura disappeared into the turbolift, clutching the blanket to herself. "I suggest you get cleaned up." The doors slid shut, whisking the captain away from the bridge.

Drevan broke the stunned silence on the bridge. "Mister Reichard, I think we need to notify Sickbay of the likelihood that they’re going to need extra space in the morgue. The way I read this, we are all dead meat."

"I sensed considerable emotional upheaval in her mental signature, Drevan, but it did not seem like anger. It is logical to hope that all involved will face something other than fury." The chief communications officer shook her head, marinara sauce dripping off one pointed ear. "I am not able to ascertain what emotion we will face, other than its being almost blindingly intense, and that it does not seem to be anger."

"Still, I think I’m going to take the time to double check my last will and testament." Reichard stood. "Mister Ingram, take the conn. Looks like I’ve barely over fifty minutes to finish my final preparations."

Ingram moved to the command chair. "Yes, sir! Um, and if worse comes to worst, can I have your guitar?"

Reichard just stepped into the turbolift.


Indri stood resolutely, the collected cadets, their machines and the crew they had recruited behind him and the turbolift, out of which he expected the captain to come, before him, with Running Bear to his right, and Drevan, Subhar and Durok to his left, almost as if the five of them planned to be a protective barrier for the people behind them. All there was to hear was the hum and click of the ship’s machinery; the air was charged with tension as they awaited the captain’s arrival.

The sound of the turbolift’s arrival and its door sliding open was almost deafening in the dense silence. Uhura debarked, T’Soral a step behind her. Silently, the Bantu looked at each of the machines, then at each of the teams, her eyes finally locking with Indri’s. Even a cursory look at the chief engineering officer’s face made it clear that he was ready to take full responsibility for the faux pas to protect the others.

Uhura took a deep breath, releasing it slowly, before speaking. "I have taken the time to go over the designs of these three mechanisms with Lieutenant T’Soral. You." She pointed at the group standing behind the spider-like structure. "How small can these be made?"

"Ensign Razar, Captain, sir! Small enough to fit on your hand, easily, sir! With difficulty, a quarter of that size, maybe a little less. Sir!"

"I see. And why not smaller?"

"Sir! The processing capacity needed to recognize rope can only be miniaturized so much. There are also the issues of power and speed, and possibly strength at the smaller sizes. Sir!"

Uhura nodded. She turned to Ghassi. "Yours eats rope for fuel. Can it be rigged to eat anything else?"

There were still stains on the shirt the chief dietary officer was wearing, left over from the debacle in the ready room. "Yes. Almost any high energy compound could be tapped for fuel, Captain. It would boil down to designing appropriate catalytic systems and such."

Indri turned to Running Bear, a flash of understanding in his eyes. The younger engineer looked over, initially puzzled then suddenly comprehending.

"Team Two’s machine could be enlarged quite considerably, Captain," Indri interjected. "It could carry a load of both of the other machines, dozens of the ones for Team One, and if they weren’t too large, perhaps hundreds of the design of Team Three. Team Two’s machine can be redesigned to power itself and to charge dilithium crystals on the other two. They could go and forage, with the modified dust bunny deploying the spiders and returning with the load of harvested material for the main machine to harvest."

A thin smile crossed Uhura’s face. "I see. Excellent." She turned to face Durok, Drevan and Subhar. "It is clear that you’ve seen what I’m moving toward, Indri. I trust that you can work with these cadets to finalize the design, and to teach it to recognize madweed." She smiled at the assembly. "You are all relieved of other duties until the design of an operative system is completed and a prototype built and successfully tested."

Comprehension lit in almost everyone’s eyes. "Of course. Use these mechanisms to harvest the madweed, burn it for fuel, leave the remnants of the fuel activity in the soil as fertilizer." Drevan straightened. "Brilliant. I am ashamed that I didn’t think of it first."

"Never mind who thought of it first. Just get to work and get it designed and built." The captain scanned the faces before her, seeing relief written over almost all of them. She turned on her heel, disappearing into the turbolift.

Indri turned to the still stunned crew behind him. "You heard her, folks. Against all the odds, we have been reprieved. Get to it. Move!"

Padds appeared, and the steady hum of voices wrangling over engineering details began to fill the deck. As everyone else huddled into working groups, Running Bear looked over at Indri, whispering, "Hey, Boss, just between us, did you have this in mind with the contest?"

"No. But if neither of us admit that, maybe they’ll think we did." Indri winked. "No need to ruin the potential for being thought far cleverer than we are, eh? C’mon. Let’s join the fray."


Captain’s Log, Stardate 9717.8

We have completed the prototype of what we hope will be the mechanism that will rid Renzal V of the madweed. We will be transporting down with it shortly...

Uhura and her team transported into the center of the burned corridor around Primus City. Zhara Brids stood, facing the tangled growth around the city. As swiftly as they materialized, Uhura moved toward Brids; Durok, Subhar and Drevan turned to face the flora at the edge of the scorched earth. A few instants later, Indri and Running Bear materialized.

"Greetings, Captain!" Brids’ voice was clearly cheerful. "I can hardly wait to see this marvelous contraption you’re going to test. Looks like you’ve even brought me a couple of the eligible bachelors." She looked at Indri and Running Bear. As she did, a large, boxlike metal object materialized in front of them, and they hustled toward it. "Hmm... Maybe not. Looks like they’re married to their jobs. Oh, well..."

Indri looked up. "Governor Brids, where do you want the output stacked?"

"Ten meters from the edge of the city would do. How much will there be?"

"We’ll see. You’ll probably want to spread it around, later." Indri turned, tapping the surface of a control module for a few moments. "Ready to roll, Running Bear?"

The younger engineer backed away from the machine. "Looks like all systems are go, Boss. Let her rip!"

Indri touched the control module one last time. This time, things began happening rapidly. From the underside of the machine, lifting it off the ground, there appeared four large, rubber tires. A sensor popped up from the upper surface, slowly swiveling. At the outer perimeter of the scorched zone, it spotted a knot of madweed. As the behemoth moved toward the weed, doors opened on either side, disgorging a mass of smaller mechanisms that trundled to the vine. Out of each, an army of hand-sized silver spiders poured, swarming up the madweed vine, clipping it where they could, marking areas too large for them to clip. The medium-sized machine moved forward, deploying a larger cutting tool, taking out the larger sections of vine. All the pieces were loaded into small wagons that ran between the mechanical work crew and the main machine, emptying loads of harvested madweed into its great maw. Only minutes after the effort began, the vine was stripped to the ground.

"I’m impressed at how quickly it cuts and collects up the vine," Brids commented dryly, "But if the roots aren’t removed, it’ll be back with a vengeance."

"Watch!" Indri smiled. "The best is yet to come."

The swarm of smaller machines moved aside, and the larger mechanism moved up to the stump. A set of grabs deployed, burrowing into the ground around the stump. Suddenly, the spiders assaulted the stump, moving soil away along the roots as they traced them to their ends, their larger companions helping to keep the upper layer of soil from caving in on them. Without warning, the root system came free, to be dumped back into the hopper where its vines had been loaded. The roots gone, a probe from the largest machine deployed into the hole, spraying it with superheated steam, killing any remaining rootlets. While the spider-like machines began hunting for more madweed, the larger unit moved toward Primus City. At the spot Brids had designated, the machine unloaded a large black mound of soft material.

"Check it, Governor," Indri suggested. "See what you think."

Brids walked over to the pile, skeptically grabbing a handful of the material. She worked it in her hands, sniffing it as she did so. "Topsoil?"

"Topsoil, Zhara," Subhar responded. "Sterile, but otherwise top quality topsoil. Durok and I believe that within seventy two hours, the soil microbes will have permeated it, and the small soil organisms will be throughout it within a day or two longer. Spread it ten or twelve centimeters deep over the scorched area, and it will be blooming beautifully again within a few months or less."

"Look, Brids. The machine is going for more." Durok pointed. The Tellarite was correct: the mother mechanism was depositing its load of machinery on several other vines, absorbing and processing the delivered biomass.

"The smaller mechanisms will run for several hours without recharging. When they are low on power, they will return to the main machine, which will recharge their dilithium crystals with energy derived from the rapid conversion of the plant matter into topsoil." Indri smiled. "It’s almost totally self-sufficient, other than repairs."

"Impressive." Brids turned from the machine, which was unloading another mound of topsoil, and faced Indri. "How tough are these to make?"

"Not all that hard, actually. This was the prototype, and we had it up and going in less than a week. We’ll have another six or eight done in another week, and by the time we’ve got those on the surface, you should have your own facilities going, turning them out even more quickly."

Brids’ forehead wrinkled. "Only a week, eh? That’s a problem."

Puzzled, Uhura looked Brids in the eyes. "How so?"

"Are you kidding? You haven’t even given me the list of your eligible and available bachelors, yet! How am I supposed to snag one in only a week?" The twinkle in Brids’ eyes belied the humor behind her mock-serious face.

"That, madam, I shall leave to you." The captain nodded at her companions, who took their positions around her. "Hyperion, six to beam up."


Captain’s Log, Stardate 9719.5

The Renzal project is essentially complete. Indri will transport down the last of the eight machines this afternoon, and he has given his seal of approval to the manufacturing facilities on the surface that will be turning them out. With the madweed controlled, as much of the crew as possible has been allowed to enjoy shore leave in Primus City, where the population, especially Governor Brids, has been remarkably hospitable. The crew, especially the engineering cadets, is eager to get back to routine patrol.

Uhura signed off on her log entry, leaning back in the center seat. From her standpoint, the only unresolved issue on the whole project was how Subhar and Durok would be returned to their respective home worlds. She hoped that they would be able to leave them behind on Renzal V for another vessel to handle; the crew had begun to get restless after sitting nearly a month in orbit despite generous amounts of shore leave. Before she could turn to her communications officer, T’Soral’s voice interrupted her brown study.

"Incoming message from Enterprise, Captain."

"Thank you, Lieutenant. Mainviewer, please." Uhura found herself confronted by Fleet Captain Pavel Chekov. "What can we do for you, sir?"

"I understand that you are almost done with your project on Renzal Five. Is the rumor correct?"

"Indri will be transporting the last of the mechanisms down in a matter of minutes, sir."

"Excellent. I trust that Doctor Subhar and Doctor Durok are still with you?"

She nodded. "They are, Captain, and I am sure at least Durok is anxious to get home." It took little effort to guess that she was hoping that Chekov would give instructions on their disposition.

Chekov, in turn, nodded. "That is good. There is an emergent situation on Cruithneacht Three that needs both your ship and your two visiting scientists to address. The colony is suffering a major agricultural crisis. The Al Rashid will meet you at Renzal Five to transfer seed stock and plants for you to deliver to Cruithneacht Three. You will assist in helping the colonists begin planting, harvesting and preparing the new grain for use. I will personally arrange for the information to be transmitted as soon as we are done."

T’Soral looked up. "Indri indicates that the last mechanism is on the surface, Captain."

"Thank you, Lieutenant T’Soral." The captain turned back to the forward viewer. "It looks like we’re ready to go as soon as the seeds and starts are transferred, Fleet Captain Chekov."

"Thank you, Uhura." He winked at her. "Chekov out."

The stars of the Renzalian sky replaced the Russian’s face. Uhura turned to Drevan. "Well at least this sounds comparatively easy."

"Too easy, Captain." Drevan shook his head. "Never trust an easy assignment, especially from one’s superiors—that’s my motto."

Uhura chuckled as a yeoman handed her the matter-antimatter consumption report to review and sign. "I agree, Drevan, but maybe just once, life will be simple. Why don’t you see what you can find about what might go wrong?"

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