El Dorado (Kathleen)

Summary:
Category:  Star Trek
Genre:  Sci-fi
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  41,000


Part 1

EL DORADO (second definition) is the second and the fourth largest planet in the Exos Star System. It is listed on the star charts as Exos II. A class M planet, Exos II is more spherically shaped than Sol III and slightly larger. Its equatorial diameter measures 8,025 miles, and the polar diameter 8001 miles. It circles its sun in 372 days, nine hours, eleven minutes, and four point eight two seconds. It rotates on its axis in twenty‑six hours, forty‑five minutes, and seven point zero three two seconds. The ratio of land mass to water is the same as that of Sol III: one quarter land to three quarters water. Exos II’s land mass is divided into four major continents and three large islands. Two natural satellites orbit Exos II. The larger of the two is known as Cortez, and the smaller El Conquistador.

‑entry, ENCYCLOPEDIA GALACTICA; Volume V (Standard Edition)

“Doctor Chapel, I’m beaming up the last of the cargo now,” Lieutenant Janice Rand reported briskly, making the necessary transporter adjustments.

Doctor Christine Chapel nodded.

Ten crates immediately materialized on the transporter platform. Armed with clipboard and stylus, Chapel counted the crates and double checked her records. The totals balanced. She mutely nodded to two crewmen, clad in olive green coveralls. Acknowledging her unspoken command with curt nods, the men quietly loaded the crates on a waiting anti‑grav cart.

Chapel turned to Captain Kirk and Commander Spock and reported that the entire cargo shipment was on board the Enterprise. “With your permission, Captain, I’d like to go down to the cargo hold myself and make a final inspection,” she requested, tucking the clipboard under her arm.

“Yes, by all means!” Kirk readily gave his permission. This shipment consisted of a highly perishable vaccine destined for a new colony on Exos II, a.k.a. El Dorado. The need for that vaccine was critical, assuming there were colonists still able to take advantage of its curative benefits. Nearly one year ago, a deadly plague had broken out among the settlers on Exos II. The colony was immediately quarantined. Three months later, all communications from Exos II had abruptly ceased.

Kirk’s grim features relaxed into a wan half smile. “I’ll escort your new man to sickbay personally, Doctor.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Chapel said gratefully in parting.

“Captain, I believe Dr. Mitsu’s replacement is a woman,” Spock corrected Kirk in a hushed tone.

“Oh?”

“Yes, Sir,” Spock continued. “She completed her required under graduate studies at the University of New Athens on Centauras, then transferred to the Starfleet Academy where she earned her doctorate. Her grades place her in the top two point three six percent of her class.” He paused briefly, then resumed his recitation: “She has just completed the required one year internship in the hospital on Starbase Four, and must now serve AT LEAST one year of active duty. She comes highly recommended by‑‑”

“Spock, please!” Kirk cried out in mock horror. “I don’t recall asking you for the complete story of her life!”

Spock’s left eyebrow rose slightly. “I was merely providing a list of her credentials, Captain,” he replied a bit too patiently. “However, if you wish her entire biography, she was born‑‑”

“That won’t be necessary, Spock,” Kirk cut him off with a long suffering sigh. “Who says Vulcans don’t have a sense of humor?” the captain wondered silently. “Spock’s is subtle, VERY subtle; but definitely there.” Kirk grinned, then said aloud, “Did it ever occur to you that I might want to hear a complete biography from the good doctor herself . . . over a candle light dinner, with a good bottle of Saurian brandy . . . a little mood music, perhaps . . . . “

“Such a method would be quite time consuming,” Spock hastened to point out. “The computer can give you that information in a matter of minutes.”

“True, the computer would save a lot of time,” Kirk agreed, “but my method would be a lot more fun.” He punctuated that statement with a lecherous cat‑that‑ate‑the‑canary grin.

“Excuse me, Sir,” Rand cut in, “Starbase Four reports that Doctor Joanna McCoy is ready to beam aboard.”

Kirk glanced over at Spock upon hearing and recognizing the name. His first officer showed no sign of surprise whatsoever. “You knew, Spock!” he accused.

Spock nodded.

“When did you find out?”

“I met her quite by coincidence in one of the gift shops along The Promenade,” Spock explained. The Promenade was a small shopping center on Starbase Four, that housed a dozen gift shops and boutiques. “After an initial exchange of pleasantries, Doctor McCoy told me that she had received orders to report for duty aboard the Enterprise this morning, Starbase Four time.”

Kirk grinned. “Well, that’s a pleasant surprise,” he mused. “I wonder if Bones knows?”

“I do not think so, Captain,” Spock replied thoughtfully. “The younger Doctor McCoy received her orders less than an hour prior to our encounter.”

“Captain, Doctor McCoy is beaming aboard now,” Rand announced.

Kirk and Spock immediately turned their attention to the transporter where a slender female human form had already begun the first stage of materialization. The captain stepped forward to greet the newest addition to his crew.

“Welcome aboard the Enterprise, Doctor McCoy,” Kirk greeted her cordially. A hint of a smile tugged at the left corner of his mouth. “I’m sure you remember Mister Spock?”

Kirk silently studied the new arrival while she and Spock exchanged greetings. Joanna had changed quite a bit since the last time he had seen her on the occasion of her graduation from the University of New Athens. The happy‑go‑lucky carefree kid was gone. In her place stood a lovely, self assured young woman.

Smiling now in spite of himself, Kirk introduced Joanna to Janice Rand, then left them briefly to order the navigator on duty to set course for Exos II. “Now then, Doctor McCoy,” he said, returning his attention to Joanna, “if you’ll follow me, I’ll take you on down to sickbay.”

Joanna nodded and fell in step beside him.

“Your personal things’ve been taken to your assigned quarters,” Kirk explained as they walked towards the door leading out of the transporter room. “You’ll be given the remainder of the day to unpack and get settled.” They stepped out into the relative privacy of the corridor. “You little minx! Why didn’t you tell me you’d been assigned to the Enterprise?” he demanded in mock tones outrage.

“I would have except you were tied up in all those briefings about this trip we’re taking to El Dorado,” Joanna retorted good naturedly. “I’ll bet I got my orders not five minutes after you reached Admiral Kormak’s office.”

“You might’ve waited,” Kirk teased.

“I did!” Joanna replied. “For two hours! How long were you in there anyway?”

“Nearly FOUR hours,” Kirk groaned. “Unfortunately the good admiral tends to be rather long winded.”

“So I’ve heard,” Joanna replied smiling. Kirk suddenly realized this was the first time she had smiled since stepping off the transporter platform. “May I ask you one question, Uncle Jim?”

Kirk grimaced when she addressed him as uncle. It was fine when she was a kid. But having her as grown woman calling him Uncle Jim made him feel positively ancient. “Sure! Ask away!” he invited.

Joanna lowered her voice. “Would it be out of line for me to give you a great big hug and tell you how glad I am to see you again right here in the ship’s corridor?” she asked a trifle too innocently.

*****

“No, THAT won’t be out of line, but the ‘Uncle Jim’ stuff is,” Kirk replied. “When we’re off duty I think Jim will do.”

Smiling broadly, Joanna threw her arms around Kirk and hugged him fiercely. He eagerly returned the gesture. “It is good to see you again, Uncle . . oops! Jim!” She sighed as they separated. “Sorry about that! Old habits die hard!”

“At least you’re trying,” Kirk replied. His hazel eyes sparkled with pure mischief. “Tell me something! Does your father know?”

“Know what?”

“About your being assigned to the Enterprise.”

Joanna shook her head, her smile fading. “I don’t think so, Jim, not unless someone from Starbase Four told him. Sending me was kind of a last minute decision.”

“Oh?”

“Doctor Miles Coleman was originally chosen to replace Doctor Mitsu.”

Kirk’s eyebrow shot up in surprise. “THE Doctor Coleman?” Doctor Miles Coleman was the physician who had managed to isolate the virus behind the plague on El Dorado. He had also overseen the development and manufacture of the vaccine now stored in the ship’s cargo hold.

Joanna nodded slowly, averting her face towards the deck. “I was probably chosen in Mi‑‑ Doctor Coleman’s stead because I assisted him in developing the vaccine.”

Kirk noted that her eyelids blinked excessively. “I remember hearing that he died a month of so ago,” he remarked casually. “Massive cerebral hemorrhage, or something like that?”

“Massive cerebral hemorrhage my ass!” Joanna snapped with a vehemence that startled both of them. It took a long, uncomfortable moment for her to regain a measure of self control. “Sorry!”

“I’m the one who should be sorry,” Kirk apologized ruefully. “You knew him well?” It was more a statement than a question.

Joanna nodded. “He was a brilliant physician and a wonderful friend, Jim,” her voice caught on was.

Kirk privately suspected that Miles Coleman was much more than simply a brilliant colleague and good friend. His death had affected her profoundly.

“Miles was murdered,” Joanna continued, drawing a surprised look from her companion. “I have no way of proving that now. His body was cremated almost the minute he was declared dead.” She fell silent for a moment. “But . . . ” she shrugged, “I don’t know, call it instinct or intuition perhaps! I know Doctor Coleman didn’t die of natural causes.”Kirk nodded sympathetically.

“At any rate, I’m glad things worked out as they did,” Joanna quickly changed the subject. “It’s been quite awhile since I’ve spent time with my father.”

Kirk chuckled softly. “I can’t wait to see the look on Bones’ face when he sees you.”

Joanna noticed the impish gleam in his eyes and could almost hear the wheels in his mind spinning in overdrive.

“You’re reasonably sure your father doesn’t know you’re coming?” Kirk asked innocently. Too innocently!

“Yes, reasonably sure,” Joanna replied warily.

“Good!” Kirk chuckled and rubbed his hands together gleefully. “Tell you what! When we reach his office you wait outside and let me go in first. When I give you your cue, you make your grand entrance!”

“Alright, Jim, I’m game,” Joanna agreed.

*****

A few minutes later, Kirk and Joanna were standing before the entrance to the chief surgeon’s office. Joanna demurely took her place just outside the door and waited for her cue. Kirk gave her a playful wink as he ambled on in. “Bones, Doctor Chapel’s gone down to the cargo hold to make sure everything’s stowed away properly,” Kirk announced briskly. “So, I took the liberty of escorting your new man here myself.”

McCoy frowned, noting the gleam in Kirk’s eyes and his too nonchalant pose. Something was definitely afoot. “Alright, Jim, where is he?” the chief surgeon asked warily.

Kirk looked highly offended. “SHE, Bones, really!”

“She, huh?” McCoy said. An amused grin tugged at the corners of his mouth. “I should’ve known since you took the time and trouble to escort her here personally.” He paused, the grin faded. “Alright, then, where is SHE?”

“Right here!”

“Ta‑dah!” Joanna entered right on cue.

McCoy’s reaction was all the schemers had hoped for! His eyes bulged right out of their sockets, and his jaw dropped. “God Almighty! I don’t believe it!” he barely managed to stammer. “Is that really you, Squirt?” His eyes looked unusually bright.

“In the flesh, You Big Mushball!” Joanna returned his greeting affectionately.

“Well, I’ll be damned!” McCoy was out of his seat like a shot. “Jim, how long have you known?”

“I only found out a little while ago myself,” Kirk replied.

McCoy caught Joanna up in a big bear hug, which she returned with equal fervor.

Kirk pointedly cleared his throat. “I guess this is my cue to exit?”

“You’re a bright boy, Jim,” McCoy retorted good naturedly. A bare hint of his native Georgia drawl surfaced. “Keep thinkin’ like that, an’ you’ll go far!”

“Well, Leonard, the cargo’s‑‑” Chapel entered the room a few moments after the captain had gone. She glanced up from her clipboard, stopping abruptly at mid‑sentence upon catching sight of her immediate superior officer in a clinch. “Oh dear! Am I interrupting something?” she asked pointedly.

“You certainly are!” McCoy growled back.

“Well, excuse me, Doctor McCoy, I’ll come back when you’re not so busy,” Chapel retorted. She turned to leave.

McCoy let his daughter go reluctantly. “Don’t be silly, Chris! It’s not what you think!”

“How do you know what I’m thinking? Have you been a Vulcan, adept at mind melding, all these years without me knowing?” Chapel queried, giving Joanna a playful wink.

“God forbid!” McCoy muttered under his breath. “Chris, this is my daughter, Joanna, remember?”

“Yes, of course!” Chapel said with a warm smile. “You’re Doctor Mitsu’s replacement, I presume?”

“That’s right!”

“Well, it looks like medicine runs in the family,” Chapel said. “Welcome aboard the Enterprise, Joanna!”

Joanna returned Chapel’s smile. “Thanks, Chris!”

“So tell me!” Slipping into a pseudo‑Bronx accent, Chapel slipped her stylus down between her fingers, and held it as one would a cigar. “Have you become a real cut‑up like your old man, here; or did you specialize in something else?” She grinned, raising and lowering both eyebrows rapidly three times.

“Nope! I’ve ended up a real operator just like my dad,” Joanna replied, using an accent that sounded like a hybrid cross between Italian and Bronx.

McCoy grimaced. “All I’ve got to say is you’d better ‘Marx’ my words and cut that out,” he advised. “The captain hates bad puns.”

“How about good puns?” Joanna quipped.

“That, M’ Dear is a contradiction in terms,” McCoy replied. “Now, to completely change the subject, how were your grades?”

“It’s all right here,” Joanna replied, handing him a small cassette.

McCoy slipped the cassette into the computer terminal. Joanna’s scholastic record was quite impressive. She had maintained a solid three point eight average beginning with her freshman year at New Athens University right through her graduate work at the Starfleet Academy’s Medical Division. High praise and commendations from various instructors were also included. “Very good, Joanna, very good indeed!” McCoy said, feeling a powerful surge of parental pride.

“I’ve also earned the equivalent of a black belt, first class, in the art of kung‑fu, Dad,” Joanna added.

“Uh oh! Remind me not to pick any fights with you!” McCoy teased. “Not while I’m standing within arm’s reach anyway.”

“I wouldn’t worry about that, Leonard,” Chapel quipped. “Between her black belt and that surgically sharp tongue of your’s, I’d say you were pretty evenly matched.”

“You’re quick on the draw with your’s, too, Chris,” McCoy retorted. Then, all at once the amusement gave way to a look of horror. “Oh shit!”

“Dad? What is it?”

“Damn! Jim called a meeting of all department heads to debrief us on the particulars of this milk run to El Dorado,” McCoy explained. “It’s supposed to start at 1300 in briefing room three . . . “

“1300?” Chapel echoed incredulously. “Leonard, it’s nearly 1350!” Half past the hour.

“I know what time it is without a damn’ coo‑coo clock reminding me,” McCoy growled. “Just do me one favor?”

“Why not? You already owe me eleven,” Chapel retorted. “May as well make it an even dozen!”

“Smart ass!” McCoy muttered under his breath. Aloud, he asked, “Would you see that Joanna gets down to personnel, then see her on to her quarters?”

“Sure thing, Leonard, it’ll be my pleasure,” Chapel replied. Turning her attention to her new colleague, she said, “OK, Joanna, step this way.”

“You do and I’ll have you both court‑martialed,” McCoy threatened.

*****

McCoy was not the only one to arrive late for the meeting in briefing room three. Commander Montgomery Scott brooded in the privacy of his quarters totally oblivious to the passage of time. His eyes were riveted to his tape viewer. Today, it was not the usual technical journal that held his attention. It was the last tape he had received from relatives on Exos II just before the planet had been quarantined.

The face appearing on the viewer belonged to Scotty’s sister‑in‑law, Fiona O’Brien. Her’s was a homey kind of face, with its fresh scrubbed peaches and cream complexion. Her bright green eyes and voice betrayed her weariness.

” . . . two more neighbors fell sick during the night,” O’Brien spoke quickly, her voice carrying a trace of an Irish brogue. “Between them and the Elliotts, the rest of us have our hands full.” She sighed. “Erin remains hale an’ healthy, thank the good Lord, but I am worried about Sean.” Doctor Sean O’Brien was her husband of the past twenty‑five years. “He’s been draggin’ his feet for the better part of the past two weeks now. He keeps telling me not to worry . . . that it’s only because he’s working too hard . . . but I can’t help it.”

“I’m sorry to be cutting you short this time, Scotty, but it’s my turn to cook dinner for the Elliotts tonight.” Fiona sighed morosely. “Mother of God, Scotty, that poor family! Both the parents’re pretty far gone and now the two oldest are down sick. The youngest‑‑” She shook her head vigorously, as if seeking to physically dislodge her errant train of thought. “Sorry, Scotty, I don’t mean to be burdening you with our poor troubles. Just rest assured that Erin’s alright, and next time I promise you a real long newsy tape. Until then, we all send our love. Take care, Scotty, and let us hear from you soon.” The tape ended there, leaving a blank screen and no answers.

Scotty leaned back in his chair. One week, to the day, after getting that tape, Exos II was quarantined. Sub‑space transmissions continued for a couple more months. Then, suddenly, nothing! Scotty leaned forward and hit the rewind button on the viewer. Somewhere, somehow, there had to be a clue to the O’Briens’ fate in this last tape.

“Scotty?” A familiar childish voice called to him from far away. “Scotty, I need your help!”

He opened his eyes and started violently. Standing before him was a transparent image of Erin as he had last seen her. She was about thirteen, perhaps fourteen then. “Good God, Lass, is it really you?”

“I hear you, but I can’t see you‑‑” the voice and image started to fade.

“Erin, wait!”

“Please come soon, Scotty! We need you . . . “

“Erin, come back!” She couldn’t just go and leave him hanging like this.

” . . . we need you‑‑”

The sound of someone pounding on his cabin door startled him. Scotty shook his head. “Come,” he called out wearily.

Commander Chekov stepped inside. “Mister Scott, are you alright? I heard you yelling just now . . . “

The chief engineer rose, barely managing a wan smile. “I’m alright, Lad. I must’ve dozed off a moment and had a wee bit of a nightmare.”

“I see,” Chekov accepted the explanation. “I guess that’s why you’re late for the meeting . . . “

Scotty sat up rigidly in his seat. “Meeting? What meeting?”

“You know! The meeting about our trip to Exos II?” Chekov prompted. “The keptin sent me around to get you.” He studied the Scotsman anxiously for a moment, noting that he looked a bit pale. “Of course if you’re ill . . . ”

“I’m fine, Lad, just a trifle disoriented, that’s all,” Scotty rose and donned his uniform jacket. “That nightmare was pretty vivid.”

Chekov nodded. “I’ve had dreams like that myself,” he said sympathetically. “They’re so real, it takes awhile to realize you’re lying in your own bunk.”

Scotty grunted ascent, without really hearing Chekov’s words. His mind focused on the O’Brien family, to the exclusion of all else.

“At any rate, you’re not the only one who’s late,” Chekov rambled on, by way of making conversation. “Doctor McCoy hasn’t shown up yet, either.”

There was no response.

“Mister Scott?”

“Oh! Sorry, Lad, m’ thoughts’re wanderin’ elsewhere,” Scotty apologized hastily. “What were y’ sayin’?”

“I just said that Doctor McCoy hasn’t shown up yet, either.”

“Tha’s nae unusual,” Scotty replied. “Y’ know wha’ they say about a doctor’s work is never done.” He shrugged. “Someone’s always poppin’ a blister or sprainin’ a wrist at t’ last minute.”

“Not this time!” Chekov said grinning.

“What do y’ mean, Lad?”

“You haven’t heard, Mister Scott?”

“Heard what?” Scotty favored his younger companion with a bewildered stare.

“Doctor McCoy’s daughter, Joanna’s signed aboard,” Chekov replied. He noted that Scotty winced when he said daughter. “It seems she’s Doctor Mitsu’s replacement . . . ” His voice trailed away to an awkward silence.

They walked the remainder of the way to briefing room three without speaking. Chekov racked his brains the entire way, trying to remember what he had said to upset Scotty.

*****

Huffing and puffing, McCoy tore into the briefing room at break neck speed. He gasped out a hasty apology for his tardiness, then collapsed into his seat.

Uhura grinned. “The captain told us about Joanna signing aboard, Doctor McCoy Sugah,” she drawled. “Frankly, I’m rather surprised you even bothered to show up.”

“I’ll letcha in on a li’l secret, Commander Uhura Honey,” McCoy returned, laying on the native Georgia accent extra thick. “If this meetin’ turns out to be a rehash of the pep talk Jim got down on Starbase Four, I’m gettin’ the hell outta here.”

The exchange elicited a few scattered chuckles around the room. Even Kirk could not help grinning. “Sorry, Bones, I wish it were that simple,” he said, his grin fading.

“Goddam! Leave it to bureaucrats to cut through the red tape lengthwise,” McCoy muttered. “OK, let’s get this show on the road, shall we? I did promise Joanna I’d have dinner with her tonight.”

“I promise I’ll have you out of here in plenty of time to keep that dinner date,” Kirk assured the doctor. “But I’m afraid we can’t start until Mister Scott arrives.”

McCoy’s face registered mild surprise. “Scotty’s not here yet?” he echoed incredulously.

“That’s what the man said, Sugah,” Uhura retorted.

“That’s odd,” McCoy mused thoughtfully. “Scotty’s usually punctual to a fault.”

No sooner had McCoy voiced his thoughts, the pneumatic doors parted with a soft hiss. Scotty entered, with Chekov following close behind. “Sorry I’m late,” the chief engineer apologized contritely. “I was, uh . . . looking over one of m’ technical journals an’ . . . well, kinda lost track of the time.”

“No harm done, Mister Scott,” Kirk said agreeably. “If you and Mister Chekov would care to sit down, we can get started.” He paused, glancing at the assembly of familiar faces seated at the table. “I’m sure you’re all just as anxious to get this out of the way as I am.”

A soft murmur of ascent was heard around the table. A moment later, it gave way to expectant stillness.

“I think it’s fairly common knowledge that both the Federation and the Klingon Empire have their eyes on the Exos System,” Kirk began. “First off is the matter of security. The Exos System lies inside the neutral zone, established by the Organian Peace Treaty, not three parsecs from our borders.”

“Two point four three parsecs to be exact, Captain,” Spock interjected quietly.

Kirk heard a sharp intake of air from someone seated at the table. Glancing around, he found it had been Lieutenant Commander John Smith, Chekov’s assistant. “Second,” Kirk continued, “Exos II, or El Dorado if you prefer, has a large amount of fertile land.” He glanced around the table. “Enough to support a completely agrarian society for the next three, maybe four centuries, assuming of course proper care is taken.”

A number of surprised murmurs could be heard around the table. Very few colonial worlds had the capacity to support a total agrarian society. Besides farming, colonial governments often had to rely on mining and manufacture for economic self sufficiency. The rare planet that was able to support an agrarian society could not be expected to do so for more than fifty years; a century at the outside, if care was taken to safeguard the soil’s nutrients.

“I don’t understand.” A puzzled frown creased Uhura’s brow. “I thought the Federation had already been granted settlement rights by the Organians three years ago.”

“The Federation was,” Spock replied. “Since the outbreak of the plague, however, the Klingons have filed for an appeal of that decision.”

“That’s crazy!” McCoy exclaimed in utter disbelief.

“No, Doctor, it is not crazy,” Spock said quietly. “Under the terms of the Organian Peace Treaty, disputed systems are awarded to the side best able to develop said planet.” He paused. “Logically, if the colonists are all dead, they cannot develop the planet at all.”

“I know that, Spock,” McCoy sighed, frowning. He noted that Scotty had quickly inclined his face toward the table when Spock mentioned the possibility of the entire colony being dead. “If the Klingons went down to the surface of El Dorado, wouldn’t they catch the disease, or plague . . .whatever the hell that is . . . too?”

“No, Bones,” Kirk quietly regained the floor. “The Klingons claim that most of their races are immune to the disease.”

“Most likely because they’re the ones who created it,” Lieutenant Commander Smith spoke up for the first time.

“That has not been sufficiently proven, Mister Smith,” Spock pointed out.

“The evidence is in as far as I’m concerned,” Smith growled back.

“The Organians’ve given us a one year grace period to find a means of combating the plague,” Kirk pointedly continued on. “Within the past five or six months, the virus responsible for the plague on Exos II has been isolated and a vaccine found. A large quantity of that vaccine was manufactured on Starbase Four, and now it sits down in one of our refrigerated cargo holds.” He paused. “Our job is to make sure it reaches El Dorado safely and to oversee the settlers’ inoculations.”

“Captain, is there any reason why the vaccine shouldn’t reach El Dorado safely?” Uhura asked with a touch of wariness.

Kirk nodded grimly. “Intelligence feels that the Klingons want the Exos System very badly. Bad enough to secure it through any and all possible means.”

Stunned silence reigned for a long moment.

“Keptin, could the Klingons have manufactured the plague on Exos II as Mister Smith suggested a few moments ago?”

“Intelligence seems inclined to think so, Mister Chekov,” Kirk replied slowly. “However, as Mister Spock has also pointed out, there’s no concrete proof.”

“They think the Klingons will try and prevent us from reaching Exos II with the vaccine, right?” Chekov prodded.

“We must be prepared for that possibility, Mister Chekov,” Kirk replied. “Two attempts were made to poison the vaccine back on Starbase Four.”

“How in the hell do we know for sure it was the Klingons?” McCoy demanded.

“They found traces of ryplar in one of the batches, Doctor McCoy,” Smith replied curtly.

McCoy shuddered. A distant cousin to the nightshade family, ryplar was a highly potent toxin. There was no known antidote. Klingon espionage agents carried small amounts for committing suicide if faced with the prospect of capture and interrogation. “None of this makes one damn’ bit of sense to me at all,” the doctor muttered, shaking his head.

“Explain, Bones,” Kirk prompted.

“Alright,” McCoy sighed. “For the sake of argument, let’s assume the Klingons want the Exos System for the same reasons we do. Don’t you think they’ve go to some pretty drastic measures just to secure a little bit of farm land?”

“That’s the way Klingons operate, Doctor,” Smith stated vigorously. “When they get it in their heads they want something, they stop at nothing to get it.”

“For God’s sake, Mister Smith,” McCoy returned, “don’t you think manufactured plagues, sabotaged vaccine, and ryplar a bit extreme under the circumstances, even for them?”

“Nothing is too extreme for Klingons, Doctor,” Smith insisted stubbornly.

McCoy glanced over at Kirk, making eye contact. “Come on, Jim, surely you can see none of this adds up?”

“Perhaps if you would be so kind as to elucidate, Doctor?” Spock queried.

McCoy sighed. “Alright!” he began with a touch of impatience. “We want it for food production. Granted, it has fantastic farming potential, but we do have other options. I have to assume they do, too.

“Security? Sure, it would provide a nice comfortable margin of safety between us and them, but it isn’t really all that vital. Hell, I’ve looked over the star charts. The Exos System, for lack of a better way of putting it, lies ‘way the hell out in the boonies. If we loose it, Federation security won’t be jeopardized one iota. More than likely, the Klingon Empire won’t either! So my question remains! If what intelligence believes is true, why all the goddam cloak and dagger?”

“I keep trying to tell you, Doctor, they want it,” Smith declared. “Because they want it, they’ll stop at nothing to get it. That’s the way those . . . those . . . animals operate.”

“Captain, what do we know about the Exos System?” Uhura asked pointedly. To the relief of all present, with the possible exception of Lieutenant Commander Smith, she successfully steered the subject away from the Klingons and back on track.

“Mister Spock?” Kirk turned the floor over to his science officer.

Spock ordered the computer to display a map of the Exos Star System. The holographic projector, planted in the center of the table quietly switched on. A three dimensional image of the entire Exos Star System hung suspended over the center of the table. “As you can see, the Exos System consists of one G‑type star, six planets, and an asteroid belt between Exos III and IV. Exos II is the only class M planet in this system.”

Spock requested a map of Exos II. The Exos Star System faded into a blue‑green world, much like Earth. “Very little of this planet has been explored by manned expedition teams,” the Vulcan continued. “The Exos System was discovered and charted by Captain Robert April, then in command of the Enterprise approximately thirty‑five years ago. A landing party beamed down on the largest land mass, aptly named the Emerald Continent, right here where the Golden River empties into the Enterprise Ocean.” A flicker of light appeared marking the place Spock had just mentioned.

Scotty half smiled, remembering that day, as if it had happened yesterday rather than four decades ago. He was a green lad of nearly eighteen years then. Included in the landing party were Sean O’Brien and Colleen; beautiful Colleen with bright red hair and laughing green eyes. She was as adventurous as her younger sister, Fiona, was homespun.

“Captain April named Exos II El Dorado for the legendary land of gold sought for by the Spanish conquistadors during Earth’s sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,” Spock continued.

“Tha’s because the landin’ party found a rather sizable lake borderin’ on a large ruined city of gold,” Scotty told the others. “Of course the city wasna built of real gold. Its buildings were constructed of a gold colored material tha’ gleamed an’ sparkled like gold in the sunlight.” Scotty also remembered how obsessed Colleen had been with that ancient ruined city. She longed eagerly to explore it. Scotty had promised to bring her back, so that they might explore it together. Regretfully they never did find the time to make that return trip. “Sarah . . . Doctor April said the setting, wi’ the lake an’ city reminded her of the El Dorado legends.”

Spock glanced over at the engineer, his eyebrow arched slightly betraying mild surprise. “That is correct, Mister Scott.”

“Aye,” Scotty nodded sadly. “I was there.”

“I see,” Spock murmured quietly. He paused for a moment before continuing. “To resume our discussion, shortly after discovery, the entire system fell into dispute between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. The matter was finally resolved three and a half years ago, when the Organians awarded the Exos System to the Federation.

“Two farming settlements were established in the same general area where the Enterprise party beamed down thirty‑five years ago,” Spock continued. “The first and largest settlement was established at the mouth of the Golden River. It was named Robertstown, in honor of Captain April. The second, named Sarahsota in honor of Doctor Sarah April, was established some fifty miles further in land, along the banks of the river.” Two more pin pricks of light appeared showing the placement of both farming settlements.

“Over the next two and a half years, other settlements and small towns were established,” Spock continued. “New Mexico City currently serves as the seat of government.” A tiny point of light appeared just below the mouth of the Golden River, about twenty miles due south of Robertstown.

Scotty sighed softly, realizing that the O’Briens made their home in New Mexico City.

“According to the most recent records, there are seven small fishing villages lying along the coast, south of New Mexico City,” Spock went on. Again, lights appeared on the holo‑vid map showing the location of the fishing villages. “A third farm settlement was to have been established further in land, some twenty miles west of Robertstown. Unfortunately, the plague struck first.”

“That ruined city sounds absolutely fascinating,” Uhura murmured with a wistful smile. “Did you get a chance to explore it properly, Mister Scott?”

Remembering Colleen’s ardent curiosity, Scotty could not help wincing as he shook his head. “Lieutenant Commander Trask . . . he was Captain April’s science officer . . . wouldna allow it. He felt we should leave artifacts an’ ruins to t’ archaeologists.”

“What a pity!” Uhura sighed mournfully. “Mister Spock, did anyone ever get back to explore it?”

“Negative,” Spock replied. “An archaeological team was put together with financial backing from the Vulcan Science Academy and the British Museum. Before they could make the journey, the Klingons put in their claim on the Exos System.” He paused briefly. “Although the Federation was awarded the Exos System three and a half years ago, establishing colonial settlements took top priority. The plague broke out before anyone could even think of mounting a second archaeological expedition. However, that first landing party from the Enterprise did get some interesting holographs . . . “

Spock ordered the computer to display the pictures of the city, known unofficially as Tenochtitlan. The image was breath taking. Tall golden spires reached gracefully towards the sky. Many of the buildings had been reduced to crumbling ruins by the elements and neglect during the past two or three millennia. Still, an air of majesty and splendor prevailed.

“How lovely!” Uhura murmured.

Scotty remembered Fiona telling him in one of her tapes that Erin seemed drawn to the mysterious ruined city. She often took the family sky car out to the ancient metropolis and spent the entire day out there. Erin was so much like Colleen in many ways. “Damn! Why in t’ hell’d Sean have to take her t’ El Dorado in t’ first place?”

“Did you say something, Mister Scott?”

The sound of Kirk’s voice jarred Scotty out of his bittersweet reverie. “No, Captain, jus’ musin’ t’ m’self, tha’s all . . . “

Kirk nodded, then tactfully steered them back to the primary subject: safeguarding the vaccine. He asked Chekov what security measures had already been taken.

Chekov briskly reported that all boxes of vaccine were present and completely accounted for. He and Doctor Chapel had completed the final inventory themselves. Two armed guards had been stationed at the door, ’round the clock. The three keys to the cargo hold would be distributed as follows: one to Doctor McCoy, one to the ranking guard on duty, and the last one to Lieutenant Commander Smith, who had been placed in charge of maintaining security on the vaccine.

Kirk nodded, satisfied. “I’d like that vaccine checked at regular intervals,” he stated.

Smith nodded. “Doctor McCoy, why don’t you select five or six people for the job,” he said, with an ever so slight hint of arrogance. “I’ll add those names to the ones already on a list that Mister Chekov and I’ve already prepared. Copies of that list will be distributed to the guards on duty. The guards have been instructed not to pass anyone, unless their name is on the list.”

“Sounds reasonable to me,” Kirk approved the plan. “How about you, Bones?”

McCoy nodded, still bristling at the arrogance he had heard in Smith’s tone. “I’ll have a list of names drawn up within the hour.”

“Permission to voice an opinion, Captain?”

“By all means, Mister Smith,” Kirk readily granted the assistant security chief the floor. “I did call this meeting to get input from all of you.”

“It’s been my experience that the only way to prevent trouble is to catch it before it has a chance to start,” Smith began. “If there is a Klingon agent aboard, and I think it highly likely, we should be going after him before he has a chance to come after us.”

“Mister Smith, would you mind telling me how a Klingon agent’s going to be able to smuggle himself aboard this, or for that matter, any other ship in the fleet?” McCoy demanded, perversely anxious to put the man in his place. “All personnel are required to submit to a complete physical before boarding ship. A Klingon agent’d be spotted right there like a shot.”

“Not necessarily, Doctor,” Spock disagreed. “The inhabitants of at least ten member worlds produce physiological readings very similar to certain races living within the Klingon Empire.”

“There are differences, Spock,” McCoy growled back.

“Minor ones,” Spock returned.

“Don’t forget the Raduns, Doctor McCoy,” Smith added. He grimaced, as it the words he spoke tasted somehow bitter. “They’re the descendants of a Klingon colony established on that planet a millennia or so ago.”

“By the same token,” Spock continued, “we know of at least one planet within the Klingon sphere of influence whose inhabitants could very easily pass as humans.” He paused for effect. “Basharra!”

“That’s true,” McCoy conceded with much reluctance. He didn’t mind so much losing an argument to Spock. What galled him the most was having to admit defeat to Smith, pompous ass that he was!

“Besides all that,” Smith continued, seemingly oblivious to the stony gaze McCoy aimed in his general direction, “the rules don’t say where the physical has to take place. Aboard ship, of course, is the ideal place, but many opt to take their medical exams at the starbase hospital.” He fell silent, allowing his words to sink in. “Granted, Doctor McCoy, if an agent submitted to a physical exam aboard ship, he, most probably would be found out. Unfortunately, the records of a medical exam supposedly carried out in a starbase facility can be faked. I’ve seen it happen a number of times.”

“Bully for you!” McCoy muttered under his breath, drawing a sharp jab to the rib cage from Kirk.

“Are you suggesting that every crew member who was examined in a starbase medical facility report to sickbay for a physical?” Spock asked, lifting an eyebrow slightly.

“Not a bad idea, Mister Spock,” Smith found the notion agreeable.

“Are you two out of your ever lovin’ minds?” McCoy demanded indignantly. “I’d have to roughly estimate that two thirds of our personnel had their exams in a starbase facility. We happen to have over four hundred crew members aboard this ship.”

“Four hundred twenty‑two at present, Doctor McCoy,” Spock added.

“Four hundred . . . four hundred twenty‑two, what the hell? It still boils down to the simple fact that this ship can make three round trips between Starbase Four and El Dorado, and my people still wouldn’t be finished with the chore of examining everyone who happened to take their medical exams at a starbase facility prior to boarding.” He fell silent, forcing himself to take a few deep even breaths. “Besides, our uniforms are equipped with monitors that measure our physiological readings continuously and feed them into the primary medical computer in my office,” he continued in a quieter tone. “If an enemy agent did produce false records showing that he had been examined in a starbase facility, we’d still catch him.”

“Perhaps we might compare the readings that computer’s getting from all the personnel examined on whatever starbase and compare them with earlier readings,” Smith suggested.

“The hell you do!” McCoy protested vehemently. “Those records are highly confidential, accessible only to the ship’s chief medical officer.”

“In certain situations, the chief medical officer is required to turn over that information to investigating security officials,” Spock stated.

“This isn’t one of those situations, Spock,” McCoy insisted stubbornly. “And before I allow Mister Smith, or anyone else for that matter, access to those records, he’d better damn sight be able to offer good, solid, concrete proof.”

“That would probably be just as time consuming as examining two hundred fifty plus crew members,” Kirk interjected quickly.

“Mister Smith’s initial idea is not without merit,” Spock said thoughtfully. “And I know how we might narrow down that ‘two hundred fifty plus figure.”

“What do you suggest, Mister Spock?” Kirk asked.

“We all know that the work in isolating the virus and developing the vaccine has been public knowledge,” Spock explained, “to keep worried relatives and friends current on progress. Approximately one year has elapsed since the outbreak of the plague until now. I suggest we order all those who have transferred aboard during the pat year and received their medical exams in starbase medical installations, report to sickbay for a complete physical examination.”

Kirk nodded and turned expectantly towards McCoy. “Well, Bones?”

McCoy took a moment to do some mental figuring. “Yes, Mister Spock’s proposal sounds a bit more realistic,” he agreed unwillingly. “I’ll get my staff right on it.”

“Doctor McCoy, if you don’t mind, I’d kind of like to be there to keep tabs on things personally,” Smith said.

“As I’ve said before, the crew’s medical records are highly confidential, to be viewed by medical personnel on MY AUTHORITY ONLY,” McCoy informed the assistant security chief stiffly. “If we find anything significant, we’ll let you know.”

“Doctor McCoy, need I remind you that we might have a Klingon espionage agent loose aboard this ship?” Smith’s voice cracked like a whip. “If so, it’s my responsibility to catch him.”

“Might? If?” McCoy returned. “Those words sound pretty doubtful to me, Mister Smith. Unless you can show me something definite, you’ll get access to my medical files when hell freezes over. Is that clear?”

“Doctor McCoy is right on that score, Mister Smith,” Kirk interjected quietly but firmly. He looked across the table, establishing eye contact with McCoy. “However, he will see that you get a daily progress report. Will that suffice?”

“Yes, Sir, for now!” Smith replied sullenly.

Kirk nodded, satisfied that all was, for the moment, settled. “Does anyone have anything more to add?” Mercifully his question was answered by silence. “Good! This meeting is adjourned.”

*****

The minute Kirk adjourned the meeting, Lieutenant Commander Smith was out the door like a shot, feeling elated for the first time in quite a while. He strode briskly down the corridor towards the cabin occupied by his lover and only real friend, Ensign Lori Clarke. She was the only person aboard this tub who really listened and took him seriously, up until now anyway. “Too bad she’s not my commanding officer,” Smith mused silently. “If she was, I’d be an admiral by now.”

Smith knocked on Ensign Clarke’s door, hoping against hope she was there. The captain and most of the other senior officers had really paid attention to him, for once. He was dying to share that news with her.

“Come,” Clarke invited.

Smith bounded in eagerly. “Lori, guess what?”

She smiled warmly. “It must be fantastic, whatever it is,” she replied, linking her arm through his. “I haven’t seen you this happy in ages.”

“That meeting the captain called? About this trip to Exos II?”

“Yes?”

“They listened to me in there, Darling, they actually listened to me!” Smith caught her slight form up in an exuberant bear hug. “Not only did they listen to me, they actually liked my ideas. Why Mister Spock even referred to one of ’em as logical.”

“Does that really surprise you, Love?” Clarke asked. “I’ve known you were a dedicated, competent officer for a long time. It was only a matter of time before others realized that, too.”

His dark eyes strayed longingly towards the plunging neckline of her robe. “I love you, Lori, you know that?”

“Yes, but I adore you telling me often, Darling,” Clarke said, stepping into the circle of his arms. “By the way, John, I love you, too.” She sighed contentedly as he began to unconsciously massage her back. “So tell me, is the vaccine secure?”

“Oh yes,” he murmured, drinking in the sweet floral scent of her perfume. “I’ve got two guards standing watch at the door ’round the clock.”

Clarke pressed closer. “Is that going to be enough protection?” she whispered, running her long, slender fingers through his dark hair. “I mean . . .well, you know how Klingons are . . . “

“I’ve got a list drawn up,” Smith explained. “Just as soon as McCoy gives the names of his staff that’ll be permitted into that hold . . . “

“Go on, Darling,” Clarke prompted. Her lips brushed against his cheek in the merest whisper of a kiss.

“Oh, uh . . . sorry, Love, I got a little distracted’s all . . “

“I’ll accept that as a compliment,” Clarke purred. “Now what about that list?”

“That list will be turned over to the guards,” Smith explained. “They won’t allow anyone to enter the hold, unless his name’s on my list.”

“Brilliant! I dare any Klingon agent to get past that barrier,” Clarke laughed, taking his hand. But enough of lists, and vaccine, and Klingons!”

Smith silently allowed her to lead him to her bunk, hidden behind the privacy screen. He wondered, for the umpteenth time how a sweet, innocent woman like Lori could be so damned provocative at the same time.

*****

Lieutenant Sharla opened her eyes and found herself standing in the midst of a ruined city. It bore strong resemblance to Bhanya, the ancient underwater city on her home world, Delta. The wide streets and tall, graceful buildings could easily have been created by the same designers.

Sharla moved slowly down the wide, deserted street, heading due south. Once, the Elements only knew how many centuries ago, this had been a thriving, prosperous metropolis. She could almost see the city and its people as they were in the height of its glory. Odd thing, though. The former inhabitants of this city looked remarkably like Deltans.

Suddenly, she paused, mid‑stride. She wasn’t alone. She saw no one else, but she could definitely sense a presence. The Other presented something of a paradox. Sharla perceived that by Human or Deltan standards, The Other was not much more than a child. Yet, she was also quite old, on the order of at least a dozen centuries.

<<Hello?>> Sharla reached out with her mind.

<<What are you doing here?>>

Sharla gasped, as the words of the reply seared into her brain. Yet, she sensed no evil or intent to harm on the part of her unseen companion. Panic, not her own, surged within her accompanied by a vast mantle of all consuming grief. Sharla closed her eyes and forced herself to take deep even breaths. <<I won’t hurt you,>> she called out to the mind of The Other. <<Please don’t be afraid.>>

<<Go away!>>

Sharla fortified her thoughts with reassurance. <<I won’t harm you,>> she repeated. She raised her arms slowly, in the Human gesture of surrender. <<You can see I’m not armed.>>

<<Who ARE you?>> The Other queried warily.

<<My name is Sharla d’Hai, of the House of Ki’trahn.>>

<<The house of Ki’trahn? ’tis an ancient and honorable lineage! I am gratified it survives.>>

<<I and mine are honored.>> Astounded, Sharla gave the formal response. <<How is it you know of Deltan culture?>>

<<I . . . I’m not sure, exactly, I . . . >>

For a moment she felt The Other lower her formidable mental barriers. Sharla closed her eyes again, and tried to focus on a visual image. She screamed with the other’s blind terror.

<<No! Go away!>> The Other’s barriers snapped back into place.

<<Wait! Please don’t go!>> Sharla begged. <<I told you I won’t hurt you.>> But, there was nothing. She was quite alone once more.

“Sharla?”

She opened her eyes, and found herself once more back in her bunk. Tamis, her lover and bondmate bent over her anxiously. “I am alright, Tam‑Chi,” she hastened to assure him. She didn’t need telepathy to read the anxiety in his face. “I was dreaming.”

“You, too?” he asked, mildly surprised.

“Too?”

“Yes.” He reached up and switched on the amber night light over his head, as he related the contents of his dream.

For the most part it was virtually identical to her own, except he apparently woke up before meeting the invisible other. “I remember seeing a crystal at the very beginning,” Tamis concluded. “It was a gray, lifeless thing until I reached out and touched it. Then, all at once, I found myself in that city.”

Sharla frowned. His description of the crystal struck a familiar chord within her memory, although she was fairly certain it had not entered into her dream. “Tell me something, Tam‑Chi! This crystal you saw . . . was it like the d’jahai stones we wear?”

Tamis nodded. “Yes, it was exactly like our d’jahai stones, only larger. MUCH larger!”

“Why does it sound so familiar?” Sharla wondered aloud.

Tamis smiled at her indulgently. She could hear the faint echoes of his amused laughter within her mind.

“What’s so funny?”

“Surely, Sharla‑Chiya, you remember the ancient legends?”

“Which ancient legends?”

“The ones that speak of a time when our own race pushed out into space and built a vast empire,” his eyes shone with delight. Now Sharla smiled at him indulgently remembering his love for the old stories. “Back then, the psi‑gifted ruled the galaxy and built their technology on their psi‑powers, linked to the great d’jahai crystals.”

“Ah, but they are only stories, Tam‑Chi; stories told to amuse children and pass the time on a cold winter’s night.”

“Sometimes, I am not so sure, Sharla‑Chiya.”

“Come, Tam! Surely you don’t believe in d’jahai stones as big as this room!” she chided her lover gently. “No one has ever seen any that size, at least not within recorded history.”

“There is more that the old records don’t say,” he said cryptically. “Besides, as Mister Spock has often said, most myths and legends have their basis in fact somewhere.”

*****

In the privacy of his own quarters, Spock woke up drenched in a cold sweat. His face was chalk white and his hands trembled. He took a slow, deliberate breath, held it for a few seconds, then exhaled slowly. Closing his eyes, he continued the simple breathing technique, easing himself into a light meditative trance. Within a short time, his heartbeat slowed to its normal pace, his hands stopped trembling, and his breathing had resumed its normal cadence. Spock slowly opened his eyes and wiped the perspiration from his brow.

Spock knew he had been dreaming. At the start, he had found himself in a small room with an enormous crystal. Cut to perfection, it was a dull grayish hue. That particular shade reminded him of the thoughts he had picked up from his maternal grandparents, when Grandfather Grayson learned he was dying of a rare and incurable form of leukemia. Both of them had tumbled headlong into a pit of hopeless despair and apathy. Ever insatiably curious, Spock reached out and touched the cool smooth surface of the stone. The instant his fingers came into physical contact with the crystal, he found himself mind linked to someone else.

<<Who are you?>> she demanded. Terror and a flood of overwhelming grief emanated from his unseen companion.

Spock steeled himself against the relentless onslaught of her unbridled emotions. <<I am Spock,>> he answered in as measured a tone as he could muster. <<Do not be afraid. I mean you no harm.>> He had instinctively closed his eyes. When he did, the vague outline of a humanoid female began to take shape before his mind’s eye, much the same way a body materializes in the transporter.

Her terrified scream ripped through every level of his mind. Only the strength of the Vulcan mental disciplines, gained through a lifetime of practice, kept him from screaming with her.

<<Wait!>> Spock could feel her pulling away.

<<Let me go!>> she pleaded. <<Please!>>

<<If you wish!>> Spock allowed her to terminate the link. The crystal faded into the welcome familiarity of his own quarters.

Spock gently roused himself out of his trance. “Interesting,” he mused aloud. He sensed that this dream was not entirely a dream, in the technical sense of the word. He was convinced that he had actually been mind linked to someone; but who? The individual was certainly no one aboard this ship. He knew that much for certain. Someone on Exos II, perhaps? If so, she would have to be immensely powerful to be able to reach him at this distance.

Spock made a mental note to seek out Doctor McCoy tomorrow, following his duty shift. Perhaps he might be able to gain access to the ESP test scores of the individuals known to be residing on Exos II.

*****

“Good morning, Christine,” Joanna greeted her new colleague and friend with a yawn.

“Good morning, Yourself,” Chapel returned the greeting with a lazy smile. She stirred a pack of sugar into the luke warm cup of coffee before her, then glanced up and studied Joanna for a moment. “Boy! You look terrible,” she said, her smile fading into an anxious frown.

“Are you always so diplomatic?” Joanna inquired wryly.

“No, most of the time, I’m brutally frank,” Chapel retorted.

Joanna yawned again.

“Didn’t you get enough sleep last night? I thought you were retiring early.”

“I did,” Joanna replied, “but I couldn’t sleep. I kept having this strange dream all night.”

“What about?”

“I only remember bits and pieces, actually,” Joanna began slowly. “An immense blue crystal . . . an ancient ruined city, the like of which I’ve never even imagined let alone seen . . . and a terrified . . . woman. Yes! She was definitely female!”

“Any idea who this terrified woman was, or what she was terrified of?”

“I kinda got the impression she was scared of me,” Joanna replied. “I don’t think she’s anyone I’ve met before, but I can’t be sure.” She paused briefly. “Y’ see, I never saw her, actually, I felt her presence.” Joanna shook her head and smiled ruefully. “Real beaut, huh?”

“I’ll say!”

“I hope it doesn’t qualify me for a padded cell,” Joanna said. “That would be a terrible way to start my first day on duty.”

“Hardly!” Chapel flashed Joanna a reassuring smile, and shook her head. “You can’t come by a section eight that easily around here. Its probably just a mild case of space sickness.”

“Space sickness? Odd! I didn’t seem to suffer any the first time I took a deep space voyage two years ago,” Joanna mused thoughtfully.

“Well, you know how it is . . . space sickness can hit anyone at anytime.”

“I won’t have to be hospitalized or anything like that, will I?”

“Nope! For such a mild case as your’s work’s the best therapy in my opinion,” Chapel thrust a clipboard and stylus into Joanna empty hands. “We have to make regular checks on the cargo we’re taking to Exos II. Mister Chekov’s orders! It’ll be time for the next check in about ten minutes, which’ll give you just enough time to get down there if you leave now.”

Joanna tucked the clipboard under her arm and saluted crisply. “Aye aye, Suh!” she snapped, slipped into a good imitation of her father’s native Georgia drawl.

“Carry on, Lieutenant,” Chapel smartly returned the salute. McCoy entered his office promptly at 0800. His first sight was that of Christine Chapel lounging in his chair with her feet propped up on his desk. The cup of coffee in her hands had, by that time, gone cold. “At‑ten‑shun!” McCoy barked fiercely, like a colonial marine drill sergeant.

Chapel scrambled out of her seat so comically, she made the antics of the Keystone Cops seem rational and competent by comparison. The minute she reached her feet she snapped to rigid attention. “Sir, I am gratified to report that Joanna is unpacked and settled in, Sir!” she barked back like a marine recruit still in boot camp. “Sir, I would like to add that I like her very much, Sir! Sir, this could be the start of a beautiful, new friendship, Sir!”

McCoy grinned. “OK, Soldier, at ease!” he said chuckling. “And speaking of Joanna, where is she?”

“I sent her down to check out the cargo about twenty minutes ago,” Chapel replied, vacating McCoy’s chair. “I felt kinda lazy this morning and I DO happen to outrank her.”

“I see . . . ” McCoy sat down, looking a bit uneasy.

“She should be up in another half hour or so,” Chapel saw his anxiety and hastened to assure him.

Before McCoy could reply, Commander Chekov entered the office looking very grim.

“Good Lord, Mister Chekov, you look terrible,” McCoy stated bluntly, giving the security the once over with a professional eye. “I heard y’all had quite a party in the officer’s lounge last might.”

“Da, it was Ensign Pelham’s birthday,” Chekov tried to smile, but found it too painful. “She just turned twenty, Sir.”

Amusement twinkled in McCoy’s bright blue eyes. “Ah, yes! Among other things, she’s now old enough to drink,” he sighed. He opened the top drawer of his desk and took out two packets, each containing a pair of tiny fire engine red pills. “These li’l babies’ll fix you right up,” he said placing both packets in Chekov’s hand. “Take two now and the other two in twelve hours. By tomorrow morning, you’ll never know anything was ever ailing you.”

“Thank you, Doctor McCoy,” Chekov said gratefully.

He turned to Chapel. “Chris, I think you’d better fetch a generous supply of those little red pills from the cabinet. I have a feeling we’ll be getting a lot more customers for ’em later on.”

Chapel looked at him askance. “Leonard, are you sure you want me to get out the red ones?” She lowered her voice to a soft whisper. “They’re placebos!”

“Just get the pills, Chris. I know what I’m doing.”

“Alright!”

“Is there anything else, Mister Chekov?” After he had dispatched Chapel, McCoy noticed that Chekov was still standing there.

He nodded, looking a little apologetic. “The keptin sent me after you, Sir. There’ll be another briefing in ten minutes.”

McCoy stared at the security chief incredulously. “Another briefing? What the hell for?” he demanded.

“It seems Mister Smith was a busy little bee this morning,” Chekov replied with a bitter smile. “He claims to have caught the Klingon agent.”

McCoy’s eyes went round with astonishment. “I’ll be damned. Did he tell you who it was?”

“He didn’t tell ME a thing,” Chekov said sardonically. “He went straight to Keptin Kirk.”

“I see . . . ” McCoy murmured. So Chekov’s headache didn’t entirely come from ingesting too much vodka the night before. It came in part from his assistant going over it. That notion didn’t set well with McCoy at all.

“Shall we go, Doctor?” Chekov prompted.

“Yes, by all means!” McCoy agreed, then called for Chapel.

“You called, Leonard?”

“Yes! When Joanna gets back, tell her I had another meeting,” McCoy said. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

*****

McCoy followed Chekov into the designated briefing room. The vague uneasiness he felt upon learning that Joanna was down checking on the vaccine had coalesced into a cold hard lump of worry. One question burned relentlessly in his mind. Did the Klingon agent find Joanna before Smith found him? Besides being a trained Starfleet officer and doctor, she was also proficient in the Chinese martial art of kung‑fu. Logic told him with those credentials, she was well able to take care of herself. The parent in him imagined all sorts of dire fates that might have befallen her at the hands of an enemy agent.

McCoy glanced at the faces of those already present as he took his seat. Spock’s face wore its usual impassive mask. One look at Kirk’s set grim face increased his anxiety a thousand fold. It took every once of will he could muster to remain seated against the natural impulse to run back to sickbay to see whether or not the security guards had rolled Joanna in on a stretcher. “Jim, what the hell’s goin’ on around here anyway?” McCoy demanded testily. “Did Smith tell you who it was?”

“I know just as much as you do,” Kirk replied. “Mister Smith informed me that he had caught the saboteur. Period!” He sighed impatiently. “I called this meeting in order to question whoever it is that Smith caught.”

The briefing room door swished open, startling McCoy. Smith strode in triumphantly with a bewildered Joanna McCoy in tow. “She’s the one, Gentlemen, just as I’ve suspected given all the facts,” he announced confidently. “I caught her right in the act. Even so, she had already damaged some if the vaccine.”

Joanna stared at the assistant chief incredulously unable to believe what she had just heard. “What?” she cried in outrage. She turned to appeal to Kirk. “Captain, if he’s accusing me of‑‑”

Kirk struggled to keep his own rising anger in check. Losing his temper wouldn’t help matters any at all. “Alright, Both of you, sit down,” he ordered laboring to keep his voice calm. “I think we all want to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible.”

Everyone present murmured their agreement.

“Suppose you start by telling us what happened, Mister Smith?” Kirk requested curtly.

“In addition to posting guards, I have been going down to the cargo hold to check on that vaccine personally,” Smith began his account with a faint trace of arrogance. At 0750, he had gone down for another inspection. This time, all was not well. He found both of the guards lying outside the cargo hold unconscious. With heart in mouth, he bolted into the open hold. “You know what I found there?” Smith queried angrily. “Her!” He gazed down at Joanna as if she had just turned into a pile of loathsome slime. She glared back. “She had a broken vial in her hand and there was more broken glass lying at her feet.”

“I see,” Kirk mused. “Did you actually see Doctor McCoy break into the case?”

Smith seemed a little taken aback by the question. “I, uh . . . no, I didn’t.”

Kirk turned his attention to Joanna, thinking that while no one was really beautiful when angry, she at least was magnificent. He shook his head to dislodge that errant thought and returned to the dilemma at hand. “Alright, Doctor McCoy, suppose you tell us what happened?”

“Doctor Chapel sent me down this morning to check on that vaccine at around 0725, maybe closer to 0730,” Joanna began, turning her attention to Kirk. “When I got there, the guards were lying in front of the door, unconscious. I checked them to make sure they weren’t any WORSE than unconscious, then, I ran into the hold. I found that the lid of the nearest box had been forcibly pried open, and shards of glass lying on the deck in front of it.” She favored Smith with a dark glare. “I was examining one of the broken vials I found inside the case when this gentleman, and I use the term very loosely, rushed in, grabbed me, and called you on the intercom.”

“Jim, when I reported for duty at 0800 this morning, Doctor Chapel told me that she had indeed sent Joanna down to check on the vaccine,” McCoy added, giving Smith a look that bordered on real hatred. “And if you’d check that damned list of his, you’d find Joanna’s name on it, along with Doctors Chapel, M’Benga, T’Vaun, and myself.”

“Doctor McCoy is correct, Captain,” Spock interjected. “I have Mister Smith’s list in the computer screen before me.”

“I have one more question for you, Mister Smith,” Kirk said slowly.

“Yes, Captain?”

“When you brought Doctor McCoy in here, you intimated that you had suspected her for quite some time,” Kirk said. “Would you mind elaborating on that?”

“Not at all, Sir,” Smith agreed readily. He was not adverse to letting the others glimpse the thoroughness of his detective work in the least. “When I checked the personnel records, I found that the younger Doctor McCoy has been stationed on Starbase Four for the past year and a half,” he began. “That would place her there at the times both attempts were made to poison the vaccine. I also found out that Doctor McCoy was actually involved in the research to discover this vaccine and in its manufacture, which would afford her ample access and opportunity.”

“Captain, I didn’t do it!” Joanna angrily maintained her innocence.

“Doctor McCoy, I’m not saying you did,” Kirk replied.

“What?” Smith blurted out incredulously. It had never once occurred to him that the others, at least the captain, Mister Spock, and Mister Chekov, wouldn’t come to see his point of view.

“Mister Smith, granted you’ve accumulated a good bit of circumstantial evidence,” Kirk allowed. “But I need something more concrete before I can haul Doctor McCoy, or anyone else for that matter, before a court martial board.”

Smith scowled. “You’ll have it, Sir,” he vowed with grim determination.

“I would also like to remind you, Mister Smith, that a person is to be regarded as innocent until PROVEN guilty, and that beyond any shadow of doubt whatsoever.” Kirk paused to allow his words to hopefully sink in. “Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Sir,” Smith growled.

“Good! You’re all dismissed!”

The minute he was granted permission to leave, Smith indignantly turned heel and marched out of the briefing room. The others filed out at a slower pace.

“Bones, just a moment,” Kirk called to McCoy just as he had reached the door. The doctor turned and gazed inquiringly at the captain. “A word with you, if I may . . . in private?”

“Sure, Jim,” McCoy grumbled, returning to the table. “What is it?”

“Bones, I’d like you to take Joanna’s name off that list,” Kirk came right to the point. “I’d rather she not come into contact with that vaccine at all, until we reach Exos II.”

“Goddam it, Jim,” McCoy exploded. “Don’t tell me you actually believe that . . . that glory seeking son‑of‑a‑bitch?!”

“Simmer down, Bones, I said nothing of the sort,” Kirk hastily defended himself. “I’m only trying to keep peace.”

“You’ve picked a helluva way to do it!” McCoy returned scathingly.

“Doctor McCoy,” Kirk tersely addressed him by his title, “I think you can see as well as I can, that Mister Smith isn’t going to take my advice. He’s so convinced of Joanna’s guilt, he’s going to hound her unmercifully if she ventures anywhere near that cargo. She won’t take kindly to that; nor, I expect, to any further public accusations like this one.”

“Would you?” McCoy growled.

“Of course not, that’s my whole point!” Kirk shot back. “Bones, please! If, in fact, we do have an enemy agent running loose aboard this ship, the last thing I need is a crew choosing up sides between Joanna and Mister Smith. The best thing all the way around is to keep them apart as much as possible. Surely you can see that?” He gazed over at McCoy beseechingly.

“Damn it, Jim, why in the hell can’t Smith be ordered to keep away from the cargo?” McCoy demanded sullenly.

“Mister Smith is in charge of guarding that cargo,” Kirk reminded him stiffly. “I can’t very well tell the man he can’t do his job, now, can I?”

McCoy sighed, knowing full well that Kirk was completely in the right. Still, the thought of giving in to Smith rankled. “Alright, I’ll take Joanna’s name off the list and order her to stay away from that hold,” he promised reluctantly. “But for the record, Cap’n Suh, it stinks!” With that last parting sort, McCoy turned abruptly and walked briskly out of the room.

Kirk let him go. He had done what he felt necessary. Now Bones needed time for his anger to cool. That done, Kirk felt confident that McCoy would come to see matters his way.

*****

McCoy’s quick temper had spent itself before he had gone a quarter of the way back to sickbay, leaving him with a terrible nagging thought. Smith did have his facts straight concerning the time Joanna was stationed on Starbase Four and her activities there. She did have the time and opportunity to make both of those attempts at destroying the vaccine. Furthermore, she had been in close proximity when a third attempt was made aboard this ship.

“Come on, Leonard, what can you possibly be thinking of? You ought to know your own daughter’s no damn traitor!” McCoy chided himself. Or did he? It had been a good seven years since he had last seen her. A lot could happen in that time. In fact, how could he even be sure she was his own daughter? One could get amazing results with a little plastic surgery.

“You’re her father,” instinct reminded him. “If she was an imposter you’d’ve known it at once.” Slowing down to a somewhat less frantic pace, he couldn’t help smiling. That is hardly a logical assumption, Doctor McCoy! He could almost hear Spock saying that now. Granted, instincts and hunches may not be logical, but more often than not, they certainly proved true. Even Jim could attest to that!

“Jo is my daughter; and I mean to stand by her no matter what happens,” McCoy vowed silently. “Even if she does turn out to be guilty!”

*****

Captain’s log; stardate 3726.8. An attempt to destroy the vaccine was made sometime between 0700 and 0750 this morning. According to the report from my chief medical officer, only one point two percent of the vials were actually smashed on the deck inside the cargo hold. He has also assured me that there’s plenty of vaccine left to treat the sick on Exos II. Lieutenant Commander Smith accused Doctor Joanna McCoy of the sabotage. Although Mister Smith found Doctor McCoy at the scene, he lacked sufficient evidence to back up his allegations. Therefore, I have ordered Doctor (Joanna) McCoy to return to duty. I am thankful to report that neither of the two guards, who were attacked in this morning’s fracas were seriously hurt. Doctor T’Vaun reports that one is being held over night for routine observation. The other was treated and returned to duty.

Yeoman Carla Donaldson awoke with a start. At first, she wasn’t sure where she was. Then, she remembered! Early this morning, less than an hour before she and her partner, Ensign P’Turr, were scheduled to go off guard duty over the vaccine bound for Exos II they were attacked. Their assailant was very small and fast. Before they could even think of reacting, they had been knocked unconscious.

“He must’ve been something, whoever he was, to be able to knock over P’Turr so easily,” Donaldson mused ruefully. Ensign P’Turr was a big Caitian. Most times, he was the proverbial gentle giant. However, he could and did put up a good fight when necessary.

“Good afternoon, Mister Donaldson, or perhaps I should say good evening.” It was Doctor M’Benga.

“Oh dear! What time is it?” Donaldson asked.

M’Benga grinned. “A little after 1700. You’ve just about slept the whole day through!” The grin faded, as he glanced over her with a professional eye. “Is everything alright?”

“Y‑yes, I’m alright . . . “

M’Benga frowned anxiously. A quick glance at the diagnostic panel over her bed indicated that all was in order physically, but the patient looked a little disoriented. “You sure?” he probed.

“I am OK, Doctor M’Benga, really!” Donaldson hastened to assure him. “I just woke up out of a rather vivid dream, that’s all. It left me feeling a bit, well . . . you know! Kind of out of it for a few minutes.”

M’Benga pulled up a chair beside the bed. “You want to talk about it?” he invited, taking a seat.

“It was so strange!” Donaldson said with a shudder . “I found myself in a room, I guess it was, with this huge crystal. At first it was kind of grayish, like the color of ashes. When I touched it, it turned a bluish color.”

“How big was this crystal?” M’Benga asked slowly.

“Very big, Doctor! Almost as big as the room it was in, which, was just about the size of Doctor McCoy’s office,” Donaldson replied. “At any rate, when I touched it, my mind felt like it was being turned inside out.” She shrugged and gazed over at the kindly doctor apologetically. “That’s the best way I can describe it. I could also see and hear what all my friends were thinking. It was really weird!”

“Interesting, Mister Donaldson. Was there anymore?”

“Oh yes!” she replied. “Next thing I knew, I was standing in the middle of a large deserted city. I’ve never seen buildings like those before, ever!” She smiled. “It was so beautiful! The buildings were made of gold and they looked like something right out of a faery tale.”

“I see!”

“I thought I was alone at first, but soon realized I wasn’t!” Donaldson continued.

“What was the other person like?” M’Benga asked thoughtfully.

“I don’t know, Doctor, I never saw her,” Donaldson replied sheepishly. “But I definitely felt her presence.”

“You’re sure it was a woman?” M’Benga asked.

“Positive!” Donaldson declared with an emphatic nod. “And she was afraid of something . . . no! More than afraid! She was absolutely terrified.”

“What was she scared of, Mister Donaldson?”

Donaldson shrugged. “I don’t know. I wanted to ask, but she ran before I could.”

“Odd!” M’Benga mused silently. The crystal, the city, reading the minds of friends and acquaintances, and a terrified invisible companion; all elements common to dreams Doctors Joanna McCoy and T’Vaun had experienced the evening before.

“Oh my God!” Donaldson cried out suddenly, her eyes round with fear. “I just remembered something, Doctor M’Benga”

“What is it, Mister Donaldson?”

“One of my friends has a secret! A terrible secret!” she whispered, her eyes darting furtively about the darkened room. “He . . . or she is a murderer! They’ve killed once, and won’t hesitate to do so again!” Her entire body trembled, and there was an edge of hysteria in her voice. “Doctor M’Benga, please! You must warn the captain!”

“Can you remember which of your friends it was?” M’Benga asked, taking great care not to agitate Donaldson any further.

Donaldson desperately racked her brain trying to recall who, but the memory remained frustratingly elusive. Gazing up at the kindly doctor helplessly, she finally shook her head.

M’Benga remained with her for another quarter of an hour, simply talking and trying to reassure his distraught patient. At length, she finally calmed down. “Well, I have to complete my rounds, Mister Donaldson,” he said, rising. “Can I get you anything before I go?”

“Just promise me you’ll warn the captain?” she begged. “About the killer, I mean!”

“I will,” M’Benga humored her. He had no intention of carrying a wild tale like that to the captain. Besides, her anxiety was no doubt a residue of that dream. By tomorrow morning, she would see that very clearly.

“One more question, Doctor?”

“Shoot!”

“When do I get out of here?” Donaldson asked. “I kinda feel like a malingerer.”

M’Benga smiled. “Barring any complications, and I foresee none, you should be out of here by 0800 tomorrow. Just in time to report for duty!”

“Thank you, Doctor M’Benga!” Donaldson yawned and drifted off into a light slumber.

*****

“Come on, Joanna, shake a leg!” Chapel ordered. “As of now, we are officially off duty!”

Joanna entered from sickbay’s ward.

“So how’s Yeoman Donaldson doing?”

“Just fine,” Joanna managed a wan smile. “Poor kid! She spent most of the day sleeping, which means she’s going to be wide awake all night.”

“Oh dear! She’ll never be fit for duty without a good night’s sleep,” Chapel shook her head. “I hope Doctor M’Benga prescribed something to help her off to dream land.”

“Yes, he did,” Joanna nodded, trying to stifle a yawn. “He also asked me to call it in to pharmacy.”

“Alright, but be quick about it!” Chapel replied. “I’m so hungry right now, I could eat the entire contents of every food synthesizer aboard this ship!”

Joanna grimaced in much the same way her father did when thinking of having his molecules scrambled up and beamed half way across the galaxy. “That’s not hunger, Chris,” she teased. “That’s desperation!”

“There’s always cannibalism,” Chapel suggested pointedly, gazing at Joanna as if she had just turned into a nice juicy cheeseburger.

“OK, OK, I get the message!” Joanna opened the nearest wall intercom. “Doctor McCoy to pharmacy!”

“Pharmacy,” a girlish voice squeaked. “Ensign Clarke here!”

Joanna was momentarily taken aback. “Ensign Clarke?! I thought you clocked off duty at 1650?”

“I was supposed to, but Yeoman Siku wasn’t feeling well,” Clarke explained in a tone that was a bit too sugary sweet for Joanna’s liking. “So, I offered to take her tour of duty for her.”

“Good for you!” Joanna retorted wryly. “Is the pharmacist in?”

“Yes, Doctor, Mister Yrex’s right here!” Clarke informed her coolly.

Joanna placed Doctor M’Benga’s prescription with the pharmacist. He cheerfully promised to have it delivered to the head nurse on duty as soon as possible. That done, Joanna turned to Chapel. “Shall we go?”

“I thought you’d never ask!” She and Joanna bade Doctor T’Vaun and Lieutenant Eileen MacKenna, the second shift head nurse good night.

“Ah, the exuberance of youth!” Chapel sighed enviously, as she and Joanna stepped from sickbay into the nearly deserted corridor.

“What?”

“I was thinking of Ensign Clarke,” Chapel explained. “First, she puts in a long hard day on her own shift, then pulls double duty for a sick friend. She’s certainly a busy little bee, isn’t she? God, if only I had half her energy!”

“That busy little bee probably flits from amphetamine vial to amphetamine vial,” Joanna retorted caustically.

“Uh oh, what’s eating you?”

Joanna sighed. “Sorry, Chris, I didn’t mean to bite your head off,” she apologized contritely.

“You’re still upset about this morning, aren’t you?” Chapel probed gently. Through out the entire duty shift, she had nursed a severe attack of the guilts. She was responsible for sending Joanna down to the hold in the first place.

“I’ve gone beyond upset, Chris,” Joanna muttered. “Right now, I am royally pissed! Damn! What I wouldn’t give to be able to wad that pompous asshole up in a tiny ball and stuff him out the nearest airlock!”

“Then you’d be court‑martialed for murder instead of treason,” Chapel pointed out.

“You kidding? No judge in the galaxy’d convict me after reading a transcript of what he did to me this morning,” Joanna countered. “The case would be dismissed as justifiable homicide.”

“It was a rotten thing to do,” Chapel had to agree. “He really could’ve cleared things up very quickly by asking you a few pertinent questions while you were still down in the hold.”

“What possible glory is there in that?” Joanna snorted. “Everyone knows you have to drag your defeated enemy through the streets in chains for all to see!”

“Well, sooner or later, he’s gonna get his come‑up pence!” Chapel declared stoutly. “His kind always does! In the meantime, however, you desperately need to unwind!” She paused briefly. “What say we go on to our quarters, change, and meet in the officer’s mess at 2000 hours for a late dinner. I’ve taken the liberty of asking Lieutenant M’Ress and Commander Uhura to join us.”

Joanna sighed. “Maybe I ought to take a rain check, Chris. I really don’t think I’m going be very good company tonight.”

“Alright, Doctor McCoy, you are forcing me to get rough!” Chapel said with mock severity, slipping into a hard Prussian accent. “You vill go at vunce to your quarters, change, undt meet me in der officers mess in . . . ” she stole a quick glance at her wrist watch, ” . . . forty‑fife minutes! Zese are not requests, zese are orders!”

Joanna smiled in spite of herself. “Undt I suppose you haff some ver‑rr‑rrr‑ry eenterestink vays uf making me obey if I refuse,” she quipped, holding her stylus between thumb and forefinger.

“Javol, mein doktor!”

“In dat case, see you in vun hour!” Joanna stood at rigid attention, smartly clicking her heels. “Seig heil!” she said, giving Chapel a Nazi salute.

“Seig heil, yourself!” Chapel retorted, glad to see her companion smiling. “See you later!”

*****

Joanna reached her quarters a few moments after parting company with Doctor Chapel. She briefly toyed with the idea of taking a quick shower before changing into her civvies. In some ways, a sonic shower could be just as relaxing as one using water. After a day like this one, Joanna felt she could use all the relaxation she could possibly get. The clock on her night table, however, indicated there would not be sufficient time. “Damn!” she muttered, throwing her closet door wide open.

Joanna unconsciously selected the blue jumpsuit, normally reserved for casual occasions. She had purchased it in a discount department store, marked down by half, during her freshman year at New Athens University. It had held up remarkably well over the years. Joanna had come to see the garment as a nice comfortable old friend. She effortlessly tossed the jumpsuit onto her bunk.

Her door bell chimed softly, as she slipped her regulation outer tunic over her head. “Come,” she responded, a bit surprised to have a visitor. If memory served, she had agreed to meet Christine and the others in the officers’ mess.

McCoy entered briskly, looking a bit distracted. “I, uh . . . just thought I’d stop in and check up on you, Squirt,” he began hesitantly. “You have any plans for dinner?”

Joanna invited her father to sit with a gesture. “Chris has invited me to have dinner with her,” she replied, stuffing her tunic into the laundry chute. “She’s also invited a couple others . . . a Lieutenant M’Ress and Commander Uhura.” She smiled ruefully. “I think she wants to try and cheer me up.”

“I see,” McCoy winced.

“Dad, why don’t you join us?” she invited him on impulse. “You look as if you could use a bit of cheering up yourself.”

“It shows, huh?” he returned her smile with a tired one of his own.

“Yup!”

“Well, you know how it is, Squirt! We doctors tend to wear our hearts on our sleeves,” McCoy said quietly. “You sure the others won’t mind?”

“I don’t see why they should!”

“Then I accept!” McCoy decided. It sure as hell beat dining alone. And besides! Uhura had a delightful knack for lifting him out of his doldrums.

“Good! Make yourself comfortable while I slip into my civvies,” Joanna snatched the jumpsuit off her bunk and ran into her bathroom. “Be out in a jiffy!” She changed clothes in record time, and ran a comb through her wavy, dark hair. Placing the comb on the vanity table, she reached for her compact, to freshen up her make‑up. To her chagrin, it wasn’t where she had put it the day before. “Damn!”

“What’s the matter, Jo? You loose something?” McCoy called after her upon hearing the expletive.

“Yeah, my compact!” Joanna replied sheepishly, returning from the bathroom. “I was so sure I put it on the vanity along with my comb and brush.”

“Don’t worry, it’ll turn up,” McCoy assured her. “Probably got misplaced in all the unpacking and settling in yesterday.” He grinned. “Besides, you look beautiful WITHOUT all that war paint! Fortunately, you take after your mother in the looks department.”

“Flatterer!” Joanna teased, linking her arm through his. They stepped out into the corridor together. “I’ll bet you tell every woman on this ship they’re beautiful.”

“True,” McCoy admitted readily, “but I only mean it when I tell you and maybe five or six others! No! Make that seven others!”

“Indeed?” Joanna quipped, raising her eyebrow, a la Spock. The thought of her father being a romantic interest and possibly even a sex object was an odd one. It would certainly take a little getting used to!

The McCoys ambled down the corridor a short way in companionable silence.

“Dad?”

“What is it, Joanna?”

She gazed up at him beseechingly. “What did I do to deserve Smith coming down on my case the way he did earlier today?” she asked. It was the first time this morning’s events had been mentioned between them.

“I’m afraid Smith’s the only one who knows the answer to that one,” McCoy answered, relieved that the subject had, at long last, been brought out in the open. All day long, he had racked his brains searching for a tactful way of broaching the subject. He had found none, much to his frustration. “Between you and me, Jo, I think he singled you out because you were the most convenient.”

“What do you mean by that?” Joanna queried with a puzzled frown.

“For starters, you came aboard at the same time the cargo did,” McCoy explained. “You also worked closely with the vaccine on Starbase Four.”

“Then Smith’s grasping at straws, and pretty flimsy ones at that,” Joanna declared heatedly.

“Look, Squirt, this won’t lessen the indignity of this morning for you any, but maybe it’ll help you understand some things,” McCoy said quietly. “To put it bluntly, Smith’s an ambitious climber. He wants top rank and privilege yesterday, and he doesn’t care who he steps on to get it.”

“Charming fellow!” Joanna remarked caustically.

“Take this morning!” McCoy continued. “Did you know, after he rushed in and grabbed you, supposedly in the act, he went over his immediate superior and right to the captain?” He paused, allowing his daughter to absorb the content of his words. “He never told Chekov a damn’ thing!”

“That stinks, Dad,” Joanna declared. Although her first introduction to him occurred under less than favorable circumstances, she had rather liked Pavol Chekov. He struck her as a dedicated and highly competent officer. “This dirty deal of Smith’s won’t hurt Mister Chekov any, will it?”

McCoy shook his head. “You ought to know better than that! Jim . . . the captain . . . is perfectly capable of, shall we say, reading between the lines? Even if he couldn’t, all he’d have to do is take a look at Chekov’s record. That more than speaks for itself!”

Joanna smiled. Her father was right. She should’ve known better. After all, when it had become clear that the fiasco in the cargo hold was a plain and simple misunderstanding, Jim had readily come to her own defense.

“Y’know, the only real friend Smith has aboard the ship is that little blonde girl in pharmacy,” McCoy mused thoughtfully.

Joanna knew of only one blonde girl assigned to pharmacy. “You’re kidding, Dad! Surely you don’t mean Lori Clarke?”

“None other!” McCoy almost laughed out loud at the comical look of disbelief on her face. “Come on, Jo! Surely you’ve seen the love sick puppy look on his face whenever he goes down to visit her?!”

” ‘fraid not!” Joanna shrugged.

“Well, ‘course you are the new kid on the block, still findin’ your way ’round . . . “

That cute little pixy, with a hyperactive thyroid, and the formidable Smith?! Never in her wildest imaginings could Joanna begin to picture those two together! “What in the world could she possibly see in him?” she wondered aloud. “I mean, for openers, he’s practically old enough to be her father.”

“Well, he’s no doubt attracted to her youth, beauty, and innocence, while she’s drawn to his worldliness and sophistication,” McCoy replied.

“Lori Clarke? Innocent?” Joanna snorted. “Not since she entered puberty, I’ll bet!”

Joanna’s remarks took entirely him by surprise. McCoy found the realization that his daughter knew of such things a bit disconcerting. It shouldn’t be, though. After all, she was a doctor, like himself. But deep down, a little voice kept reminding him that she was still his little girl. McCoy shook his head, as if trying to dislodge that errant thought. “Ah well, their relationship probably fulfills their need for a wild, passionate fling,” he remarked aloud. “They’ll probably tire of each other within a short time.” McCoy sighed. Ironic! HE had always believed Lori Clarke to be a nice, sweet, and above all, innocent young lady.

*****

Yawning, Lori Clarke lightly touched the palm lock to her cabin door. She had paused a moment to glance at the chronometer in the pharmacy lab on her way out. The time then was a few minutes shy of 2000 hours. “Thank the gods business was non‑existant tonight,” she sighed wearily. Nurse McKenna, bless her heart, had dismissed her early. All in all, between her own shift and half of Siku’s, it had been one long, hard day. Clarke was exhausted. She didn’t mind the hard work; nor, the long hours. By now, she had grown well accustomed to both.

“I could’ve done without all the tension, though,” she mused grimly, as she stepped inside her cabin. For some reason, both Doctor McCoys were in foul moods the entire shift.

Entering her cabin, Clarke was surprised to find the light on back in her private area.

“Lori?” it was John.

“Yes, it’s me, Darling!” Clarke flew to his side at once. “Sorry I’m so late!” She remembered with a guilty pang of conscience that she was supposed to have met him here two hours ago. “I had to fill in for Ensign Siku at the last minute.”

Smith stretched and sat up on her bed. “It’s OK,” he generously accepted her apology. “These things happen!”

“I didn’t figure you’d wait around,” Clarke gushed, seating herself on the bed right next to him. She fell silent, studying his face. He looked unusually grim. “You OK, Love?”

“No!” Smith shook his head ruefully.

“Care to talk about it?”

“I’d better not,” Smith declined reluctantly. “It’s getting kinda late . . . ” What point would it serve to dump his troubles on Lori anyway? It wouldn’t change anything.

“Oh, come on, John, it’s not that late!” Clarke purred. Whatever had happened, he needed to talk and get it off his chest. She could see that quite clearly. “I, uh . . . heard through the grapevine you caught the Klingon spy this morning. Does it have anything to do with that?”

Smith nodded. Trust Lori to hit the nail right on the head! Sighing, he related all that had transpired in the cargo hold and in the briefing room.

“Oh, John Darling, that’s wonderful!” Clarke cried jubilantly, throwing her arms about his neck. “You actually caught her red handed!” She hugged him fiercely for a long moment, before leaping to her feet. “You don’t know how relieved I am to hear that!” she babbled with excitement . “Whenever I’d go down to check that vaccine, I couldn’t help thinking of what might happen if the saboteur’d decided to do her dirty work while I was there. Thank goodness, I don’t have to be afraid anymore.”

“Lori, I told you the captain let her go, for lack of evidence, remember?” Smith reminded her gently. “And besides! Now, I’m not so sure whether or not Doctor McCoy really is the agent I’m after.”

“Why ever not?” Clarke queried with a puzzled frown.

He smiled over at her indulgently. “Because Captain Kirk is right, Love. All I had was circumstantial evidence!”

“But you checked all your facts, didn’t you?”

“Of course I did!” Smith assured her.

“Alright then!” Clarke said. “Haven’t you always told me to go with my first impressions? Because they’re usually the right ones?”

“Yes . . . “

“Then stay with it, Darling,” Clarke urged. “Sooner or later, you’re bound to get the concrete proof you need. You simply must!”

“I don’t know, Lori. Suppose I’m wrong?”

“Never!” Clarke declared stoutly. “Just because THEY doubt you, doesn’t mean you have to start doubting yourself.”

“You’re absolutely right, Darling. I’ll nail that traitor’s hide to the wall, if it’s the last thing I do!” he vowed with grim determination.

“It’ll hardly be the last thing you do,” she said. “You pull this off, Love, it’ll be a whole new beginning.”

*****

The McCoys met Christine Chapel in the officers’ mess at the appointed time. “How wonderful! You’re right on time!” she greeted them with a smile.

“It doesn’t happen too often, does it, Chris?” McCoy quipped.

“In our profession, it almost never happens,” Chapel sighed, then turned to McCoy with a warm smile. “I’m glad you could join us too, Leonard.”

“So’m I, Chris,” he replied.

Chapel lead the McCoys over to the table where Uhura and M’Ress sat waiting, and introduced them to Joanna. After allowing the three to acknowledge the introduction and engage in a few moments of small talk, she ushered the entire group over to the food synthesizers. The five of them enjoyed a nice leisurely meal together. Happily, the McCoys were, at last, able to put the day’s unpleasantness behind them. After dinner, they adjourned to the rec room.

“Since Joanna’s the new girl on the block, she chooses tonight’s entertainment,” Uhura suggested.

This was met by a chorus of approval.

“What choices do I have?” Joanna asked.

M’Ress and McCoy outlined the numerous available options.

“You left out one!” The five turned in unison. Commander Haikaru Sulu stood in the doorway smiling, his arms folded across his chest. “There’s a poker game forming in my quarters in ten minutes!”

Joanna smiled. “That sounds good to me!” she opted for the poker game.

“Haikaru, may I ask you a stupid question?” Uhura asked, as the group fell in step with Sulu.

“Sure!”

“Why are we playing in your quarters?”

Sulu lowered his voice to the decibel of a stage whisper. “Because it’s Scotty’s turn to provide refreshments,” he replied. “He and Lorraine are bringing a couple of gallons of their latest batch of homebrew.”

“Well I hope this one tastes better than the last batch,” McCoy declared with a grimace. “I swear, it tasted like they took burned dilithium crystals and liquified ’em.”

“Well Mister Scott did confess to adding a secret ingredient,” M’Ress reminded the others. Her words were punctuated by a low rumbling sound that sounded like a cross between a growl and a purr. Those who knew her best recognized it as the Caitian equivalent of laughter.

“Chris, do you mean to tell me that a still is a standard piece of equipment in engineering?” Joanna asked in surprise.

“Well . . . I guess the clear answer to that one is a good straight yes and no,” Chapel replied. “As far as most of the crew’s concerned, it is! But, strictly for medical purposes, of course.” She paused briefly. “As far as Starfleet Command is concerned, that still is highly classified information.”

Moments after leaving the rec room, they reached Sulu’s quarters, where Commanders Chekov and Riley waited along with Lieutenant Rand.

“I managed to round up five more players,” Sulu announced.

“You mean five more pigeons, don’t you?” Riley chuckled. “Folks, I’m laying my cards on the table right up front, so don’t say you weren’t warned.” He paused melodramatically. “The luck of the Irish flows through my veins like never before. I’m afraid you’ve all lost your week’s pay before you’ve even started.”

“Sounds like a lot of Irish blarney to me!” Uhura retorted, taking the empty seat beside him. “I’ll have you know that I’m winning back everything I lost to that pirate over there!” She nodded her head in Sulu’s general direction.

“That, Fair Lady, remains to be seen!” Sulu countered, with a roguish grin.

“Nyota, how remiss of you not to introduce me to this gorgeous creature!”

“Joanna, this is Kevin Riley,” Uhura made the necessary introductions. “If he starts bothering you, we can stick him back on his leash and muzzle him.”

Riley gallantly took Joanna’s arm and lead her back to the sofa where he had been sitting. “Are you new aboard this ship?” he asked.

“Yes, I just signed aboard yesterday,” Joanna replied, enjoying the mild flirtation.

“I thought so! I’d certainly remember it, if I’d ever met you before.”

McCoy watched Kevin Riley and his daughter with a frown. He seriously considered asking Uhura to break out that leash and muzzle.

“Come on, Folks, enough small talk,” M’Ress said impatiently. “I came here to play cards!”

“Sorry, M’Ress,” Sulu apologized. “We can’t start until Scotty and Lorraine get here. They’re bringing the refreshments, remember?”

“OK, we’ll wait a few more minutes,” McCoy quipped, forcing himself to turn away from Joanna and Kevin. “Then we play! I have some leave time coming up, and I need spending money.”

Sulu nodded, and left McCoy with M’Ress and Janice Rand. “So, you’re Doctor Mitsu’s replacement,” he flashed Joanna a warm smile, taking a seat next to her. He blithely ignored the murderous scowl Riley, seated on the other side of Joanna, leveled in his direction. “I’m definitely going to have to visit sickbay more often.”

“You’ll be visiting sickbay a lot sooner than you think if you don’t get lost,” Riley threatened.

“A duel! How exciting!” Sulu exclaimed with pure delight. “Our new lady doctor gets to treat the loser!”

“The loser?” Joanna echoed. “I thought the lady ended up with the man who WON the duel.”

“Not in this case,” Sulu said.

“Why not?” Joanna asked.

“You’re a doctor,” Sulu replied. “The loser of the duel’d get a nice sample of your bedside manner.”

“It’d be a lot easier to become a hypochondriac,” Joanna suggested, her eyes twinkling impishly.

“Now that you mention it, I have had this horrible headache that’s been bothering me for months,” Sulu groaned melodramatically.

Riley sighed and shook his head. “Oh brother! How romantic!” he said caustically, then turned to Joanna. “Don’t mind him, My Dear. Poor Haikaru can’t help it if he wasn’t born Irish.” He paused briefly. “Ah, Joanna, you deserve a setting of soft tropical breezes, scented with the fragrance of exotic flowers; soft melodic music, and the light of a nice full moon.”

“That sounds wonderful!” Joanna agreed. “Add to that a nice private tropical island and a cool ocean gently washing over your bare feet, and everything would be perfect.”

“A lady after my own heart!” Riley declared.

“Oh, Kevin, how corny can you get?” Sulu queried in a patronizing tone. “Joanna, as a doctor, you’re also a woman of science, am I right?”

“I’ve never thought of it that way, but I suppose you’re right,” Joanna replied.

“As a doctor and a scientist, don’t you prefer things to be clear, concise, and pretty much straight forward?” Sulu continued.

“That would keep things in proper perspective,” Joanna agreed.

“But you’re still a woman, Joanna,” Riley countered, “with the romantic heart and soul of a woman.”

“She’s also a master of kung‑fu,” McCoy piped up, unable to stomach the attentions Riley and Sulu lavished on his daughter. “The equivalent of black belt, first class or some such, isn’t, M’ Dear?”

“Thanks a heap, Dad,” Joanna sighed, while both Sulu and Riley discreetly put themselves well out of arm’s reach. “I think you’ve just killed any chance I had of ever having a social life aboard this ship.”

“Ah, there isn’t much of a social life aboard this ship anyway, Jo,” McCoy replied. “Anyone around here can tell you, we pretty much roll up the corridors at 2200 hours.”

“That’s right, Sugah,” Uhura chimed in, giving McCoy a playful wink. “We go to bed nice ‘n’ early, though we don’t necessarily go right to sleep.”

Before McCoy could think of a suitable retort, Scotty entered, with Lieutenant Commander Lorraine Masters and Lieutenant Anjuli Rhada following behind. The three of them carried two gallon sized jugs of their latest batch of homebrew apiece.

“Finally!” M’Ress meowed.

McCoy introduced Joanna to Scotty, Lorraine, and Anjuli while Sulu and Uhura commandeered the refreshments.

“Yuir goin’ t’ love this batch, Len,” Scotty promised. He took a paper cup full from Uhura and thrust it in McCoy’s hands. “Go on, taste it!”

McCoy gingerly raised the cup of clear liquid to his lips and took a small step. All eyes in the room fastened themselves expectantly on his face. “Well, I’ll be damned!” he exclaimed with a broad grin. “Jus’ like my great‑gran’daddy used to make!”

“I knew you’d love it!” Scotty crowed. “Y’see las’ time Lieutenant McDaniels took shore leave, he managed t’ pick up some real honest t’ God corn. We used it t’ make this batch.”

“Hmm! Not bad!” Chekov took a tentative sip from his cup. “Not bad at all! It can’t compare with wodka of course, but nothing’s perfect.”

“Vodka?” McCoy snorted indignantly. “Are you kidding? Vodka doesn’t even begin to‑‑”

“Oh come on, let’s play,” M’Ress impatiently urged the others, as she took her place at the table.

“Who’s dealing first?” Sulu asked, sliding into a chair beside M’Ress.

“How about letting the good doctor deal first?” Riley suggested.

“Which doctor?” asked Uhura, glancing over at both Doctor McCoys and Doctor Chapel.

“Waddya mean witch doctor?” McCoy demanded indignantly. “I’ll have you know that, in spite of what Spock says, I do not use masks and rattles!”

“Instead of which, perhaps we should ask doctor who,” Rhada suggested.

“Ah, yes, the doctor,” Sulu quipped, doing a passable British accent. “Fine chap, all fifty of ’em!”

“Can we play?” M’Ress asked pointedly.

“Alright, I’ll deal first,” Scotty volunteered, taking the gigantic stack, consisting of three and a half decks, from the center of the table. He quickly shuffled the cards. “First hand’s five card draw, red deuces wild,” he called as he dealt.

Rand frowned at her hand, as she arranged her cards. “Oh dear . . . it’s been quite awhile since I’ve played any poker,” she sighed.

“Yeah, sure!” Riley retorted good naturedly. “It’s also been a long time since Captain Kirk’s played any chess.”

“Come on, Kevin, I’m serious,” Rand protested.

“Forget it, Jan,” Rhada advised with a chuckle. “That ploy’s older than Commander Ner’d’s jokes!”

” . . . I still say you’re a mushy cornball,” Sulu teased, playfully jabbing Riley in the ribs. “That so called romantic dribble went out while ol’ Ner’d’s jokes were still new material.”

Riley drew himself up stiffly, and downed the remaining contents of his cup in a single gulp. “I’ll havya know, Haikaru, that romansh . . . I mean ro‑mance,” he carefully enunciated each syllable, “is somethin’ timeless an’ classic. Unlike Ner’d’s dumb jokes, it never goes outta style!” He shook his head and placed a patronizing hand on Sulu’s shoulder. “Fortunately, thish cloddish approach uf yurs is but a passhin’ fad that’ll die out in time. Hopefully a short time!”

“Ugh!” Uhura grimaced, slipping the last card in her hand. “What a mess! Scotty, I call a misdeal!”

“Sorry abou’ that, Lass,” he retorted good naturedly. He dealt Joanna her last card, then his own. “The rules say five cards apiece! There’s nothin’ tha’ says they hafta be good!”

“Alright,” Uhura sighed. “Give me three!”

“Ante up first, Lass!”

Uhura dropped the required three chips in the center of the table. Scotty dealt three cards off the top of the deck and slid them, face down, across the table.

“I’ll take two,” Chapel decided.

” . . . well, I for one, don’t like to waste time with a beautiful woman,” Sulu continued his discussion with Riley.

“That’s for sure, judging by your crass line tonight,” Riley agreed.

“Ha! You came on pretty crass to that little blonde number down in pharmacy,” Sulu hastened to point out. ” ‘Hi, Honey! My quarters, or your’s!’ If I remember correctly!”

“She took me up on it,” Riley crowed.

“And she took ME up on it the next night,” Sulu crowed right back.

“What?”

“How many cards would you like, Janice?” Scotty asked, raising his voice so that it might be heard above Sulu and Riley.

“I’ll take four,” Rand answered primly.

Uhura, Masters, and McCoy exchanged feral grins. Perhaps Janice Rand was serious after all when she had told them her game was rusty.

“Whaddya mean she ended up with you?” Riley demanded in outrage.

“Well, Kevin, that’s show biz!” Sulu retorted with a triumphant smile. “In the end, she opted for my superior intellect and wit.”

“And your humility, no doubt!” Riley added caustically.

“Are you two talking about Ensign Clarke?” Joanna asked.

“Yeah! How’d you figure?” Sulu asked.

“She’s the only blonde working in pharmacy,” Joanna replied. She sighed and shook her head. “You ended up loosing her finally to Lieutenant Commander Smith.”

“I still can’t figure that one out!” Sulu admitted with a shrug.

Nor could Joanna! Riley and Sulu both possessed more than enough of their own brands of charm to dazzle the socks off a young girl like Lori Clarke. Had Joanna been that age, she would have fallen for both of them like a ton of bricks. It made no sense at all that a girl like Lori would reject the likes of Sulu and Riley for a dour taciturn man like Smith. “Then again, affairs of the heart rarely do make good logical sense,” she mused silently.

“How many cards for you, Len?” Scotty asked, passing his cup to Uhura for a refill.

“One,” McCoy replied. The others glared over at him suspiciously.

“You’re bluffing, aren’t you?” Chapel’s question was more of a statement.

“CLIFFS bluff, not doctors!” McCoy retorted primly.

The remaining players exchanged their cards and dropped the required number of chips into the kitty. Scotty finished up his second glass and opened the bidding at two chips.

“Alright, Scotty, I’ll see your raise and up it by two more,” Chekov challenged with an eager, savage grin. He took another small sip from his cup. He wasn’t about to repeat last night’s mistake so soon.

“I’m folding!” Uhura announced, throwing her cards down on the table in disgust.

“You’ll never get your money back that way,” Sulu teased.

“I won’t get it back by wasting all my chips on lousy hands, either,” Uhura retorted.

“Well, I’m gonna see Chekov’s raise an’ up it by one more,” McCoy announced, slipping into his native Georgia drawl.

M’Ress and Rhada folded.

“Alright, Dad, I’ll see your raise and up it by three,” Joanna dropped three more chips one at a time in the center of the table, then passed her empty cup for a refill.

McCoy’s eyebrow shot up in surprise. “Jo, isn’t that your third glass?” he asked.

“Who’s counting?”

“I am!”

“Then I guess it IS my third glass,” Joanna replied with a shrug.

McCoy watched her anxiously as she swallowed her third helping down in a single gulp. Joanna had always been able to hold her liquor pretty well, but this was pretty potent stuff. It had an unfortunate tendency to sneak up on a person and hit hard. He sighed, turning his attention to Anjuli Rhada, seated to his right. “My Dear, that’s a lovely sari you’re wearing tonight,” he complimented with a smile. That particular shade of green suited her.

“Why, thank you, Doctor McCoy,” Rhada said graciously.

“Please, when we’re off duty, feel free to call me Leonard,” he invited. “By the way, did I ever tell you about my trip to Omicron‑Beta VI?”

“Omicron‑Beta VI?” Chapel laughed uproariously. “A well fed doctor like you? In that jungle? I don’t believe it!”

“It’s true!” McCoy declared indignantly.

“I thought you were a doctor, Sugah, not a story teller,” Uhura purred saucily.

“Look, Nyota, you’re not too old to turn over my knee and spank,” McCoy warned.

“Ooh, kinky! Shall we make that your place or mine?”

“Smart ass!”

” . . . I’ll see you your three, Joanna, and raise it by one more,” Rand said, adding four chips to the kitty.

“I’m folding,” Riley announced reluctantly.

“Hey, Clancy, what happened to all that luck of the Irish?” Sulu teased.

“What luck of the Irish?” quipped Chekov. “I’d always thought it was the luck of the Russian.” Riley picked up a cushion and hurled it in the general direction of Chekov’s head.

“Come on, Leonard, I want to hear your story,” Rhada urged.

“Me, too!” Rand piped up.

“There were six of us,” McCoy began, delighting in his eager audience of two. “We spent four days aboard ship and seven in space.”

“I’d always thought you were kinda spaced out, Leonard,” Chapel quipped.

“Was that at sub‑light or warp speed?” Rhada asked.

“Hah! T’ only warp aroun’ here’s yuir mind, if y’ actually b’lieve tha’ tall tale he’s spinnin’,” Scotty snorted.

“At long last, our ship entered into standard orbit above Omicron‑Beta VI,” McCoy continued his narrative. “We got our gear together and, after taking the last look at civilization we’d ever see for awhile, we beamed down.

“We made camp at once and set ourselves to a rigid schedule. The first morning, we were up at 0500, had breakfast at 0600, and made it back in the sack by 0700. Of course, we became more efficient as time passed. Within three weeks, we were up at 0500, had our breakfast and managed to get back in the sack by 0600!”

Scotty interrupted the story long enough to up the ante by five. “It’s time we separated the adults from the children,” he challenged. He picked up the open jug and poured himself another glass.

McCoy studied the chief engineer with a professional eye. “Looks like Jo’s not the only one here drinking into oblivion,” he mused silently. He’d willingly bet any amount of money that Scotty had indulged himself in a few drinks before coming. Now, he was working his way through his fifth glass. Searching his memory, McCoy realized that Scotty had been troubled for some time. “Ever since word came that all contact with El Dorado’d been lost.”

“What’d you say, Leonard?” Rhada asked.

“I, uh . . . just said I folded,” McCoy replied, laying his cards on the table.

“Com’n, Doctor McCoy, I wanna hear the res’uv yur story,” Rand said. They hadn’t even finished playing out the first hand and she was already slurring her words together.

“Did you do any hunting?” Rhada asked.

“Yep! First morning out, we shot big bucks! It was the biggest game we had the entire trip,” McCoy continued, while trying to keep tabs on his daughter and Scotty.

A chorus of agonized groans could be heard around the table.

By this time, everyone had folded except for Scotty, Joanna, Sulu, and Rand. The dealer called.

“Read ’em an’ weep, Folks!” Sulu said with a smug grin. “Three tens, right in a row! Count ’em!” He placed his cards down on the table, face up, for all to see.

“Not so fast, Lad,” Scotty gloated, as Sulu reached for the enormous pile of chips in the center of the table. “I’m reading yuir hand, but yuir t’ one who’s gonna be weepin,!” He placed his own hand on the table with a flourish. “Three pretty ladies, all in a row!” He reached past the crestfallen helmsman for the kitty.

“No, you don’t, Scotty,” Joanna admonished. “I have a full house!”

“Oh dear,” Rand sighed woefully. “I guess I shouldna tried t’bluff!”

“Not with this band of cut‑throats anyway,” Chekov murmured sympathetically.

“What did you have, Jan?” Uhura asked.

“Jus’ twos! Two pair of ’em!”

“Two pair of . . . oh no!” Joanna groaned, as Chapel slid the pile of chips in front of the astonished Janice Rand.

Uhura took the monstrous stack of cards from Scotty and began the laborious chore of shuffling. “This time, the game’s Black Rings around Nebulon,” she announced with a sly smile. “Black aces wild!”

“Black aces can’t be wild!” McCoy protested. “This is still the first week of the month!”

“No, it’s not,” Joanna argued. “We left standard orbit around Starbase Four almost twenty‑four hours ago, which puts us two more days ahead. That means today’s officially the Tuesday, in the SECOND week of the month. Anything goes, except the king of spades, the queen of hearts, and all black eights.”

“Except for one thing,” Sulu quipped. “We passed through the Mugharku Nebula three hours ago, which puts us three days behind. That puts us in the last half of the first week again, when the only cards allowed to be wild are red kings, black jacks, and all cards with a face value of less than five.”

“Willya hurry up an’ get the rules straight?” M’Ress demanded irritably. “I’ve gotta be on duty at 0600 sharp.”

“OK, OK, I’ll compromise,” Uhura decided. “Jokers and eights wild!” She finished her second drink and asked Lorriane for a refill.

“Just a minute! Today’s Friday! Red eights can’t be wild!” Riley argued.

“You’re thinking of Chase the Rings ‘Round Saturn, Kevin,” Sulu protested. “In Black Rings Around Nebulon, the eights can be wild anytime, anywhere!”

The game continued for another three hours, with almost half that time being spent in getting the complicated and often creative rules of Black Rings Around Nebulon straight to all the players’ satisfaction. Even so, every last drop of the home brew had been consumed and Janice Rand succeeded in relieving everyone of the next month’s pay.

“Aaawww, durn!” Rand pouted, barely able to stand. “Why’re we leavin’ sho urly? I’m jus’ beginnin’ t’ getda hanga this game.”

“You broke us, rememmer?” M’Ress purred, feeling too mellow at the moment to mind. She was none too steady on her feet, either. However, she still managed to stagger around with a certain cat like grace.

Rand’s eyes rounded in comical horror. “I broke you? Oh no, I’m sho shorry.” For a moment, she appeared on the verge of tears. Then, all at once, she smiled. “Shay! Mebbe Doctor McCoy kin putcha all back t’gether agin! Y’know, like good ol’ Humpty‑Dummy!”

“I think dash s’posed t’ be Dumpty Hummy,” Rhada giggled.

McCoy fervently prayed those little red pills he had given Chekov this morning would work just as well with this crew tomorrow. After consuming six gallons of corn liquor, this group was in for one grand‑daddy of a hangover. He sighed; then, being a member of the relatively sober minority, took charge of the situation. “Pavol, you seem pretty steady on your feet. Would you mind seeing Janice, Anjuli, and Lorriane to their quarters?”

“Da, I’d be more than happy to,” Chekov tactfully rounded up his charges and herded them towards the door. The three women had started composing their own ballads of Humpty‑Dumpty, and singing them in discordant keys.

*****

“Waddya mean I havva romannic soul uva computer?” Sulu demanded in pure drunken outrage.

“Iffa shoe fits, wear it!” Riley shot back.

“Dassa grievous insult!” Sulu declared. “I deman’ shatisfaction!”

“Grannid!” Riley agreed enthusiastically. He lost balance and tumbled into one of Sulu’s bean bag chairs. “I choosh fensin’ swords!”

“An’ I choosh the gym. When’ll we duel it?”

“How about right now?”

“How about bed?” McCoy suggested sternly. They’d be hard pressed to walk a straight line, let alone fight a duel with fencing swords. “Save it for tomorrow morning, if you still have the stomach for it.” He turned to Riley. “Kevin, can you make it to your quarters?”

” ‘course I kin!” Riley declared. “An Irishman kin alwaysh hold ‘is liquor.”

“I’ll take your word for it!” McCoy ushered Riley pointedly to the door. Fortunately his cabin was three doors down the corridor from this one.

Uhura and M’Ress agreed to see each other to her quarters. Thankfully, they were next door neighbors. Accurately surmising they were sober enough to reach their own cabins, McCoy dismissed them. “Chris, would you mind seeing Joanna to her quarters?” he asked. Chapel was a good deal more sober than his daughter. Unfortunately, that wasn’t saying much at all.

“Be more ‘n happy to, Leonard,” Chapel giggled, trying desperately to focus. That brew was definitely heady stuff. She had only had five glasses the entire evening. Or was that six?

McCoy covered Sulu, who had fallen to sleep under the table, with the blanket from his bunk. “OK, Scotty, let’s go,” he turned his attention at last to the chief engineer.

“Where are we goin’?” Scotty asked.

“To your quarters,” McCoy sighed, pushing Scott towards the door. “It’s bed time!”

Scotty cheerfully stumbled into his quarters singing the last stanza of the old Irish folk song, Finnegan’s Wake. His companion breathed a silent, grateful prayer of thanks for reaching this haven safely, without some irate crew member having the pair of them slapped in the brig for disturbing the peace.

“T’en Mickey Maloney raised ‘is head

as a bottle o’ liquor flew at ‘im.

It missed an’ fell on t’ bed.

T’ liquor scattered over Tim!”

Scotty stopped singing and turned to McCoy. ” ‘ey, Doc, kin I getcha a drink?” he queried with a silly grin. He started in the direction of his liquor cabinet.

McCoy sighed, rolling his eyes heavenward. “No, thank you!” he declined firmly. McCoy, then, took Scotty by the shoulders and steered him in the opposite direction. “I’ve had quite enough to drink already, and you’ve had too much.”

“Who sez I’ve had too mush?”

“Me!”

” . . . an’ jus’ who t’ hell’re you to tell me I’ve had too mush?” Scotty demanded indignantly.

“I’m your doctor,” McCoy replied authoritatively. “However, if you don’t believe me, your head and stomach will convince you in the morning.”

“Are you insinuatin’ I canna hold’ me liquor?”

“You hold your liquor very well when you DRINK it,” McCoy snapped. “You don’t do very well when you INHALE it. Somehow, I get the feeling you didn’t particularly want to hold your liquor tonight.”

” ‘ey, Doc, I didna finish m’ song,” Scotty remembered. “Lessee now . . . how’d the rest of it go? Oh yeah . . .

Begorrah, a voice! See how he rises!

Timothy’s risin’ from t’ bed,

Sayin’, ‘Here y’ are hurling whiskey

like blazes!

Thunder an’ lightenin’ do y’ think I’m dead?”

Scotty giggled. “Y’see, Doc? They all thought ol’ Finnegan wuz dead, but he wasn’t!” He dolefully repeated the last chorus.

McCoy privately decided that Scotty’s ear for pitch had died, even if Tim Finnegan hadn’t.

” ‘ey, Bones, how abou’ tha’ lass t’night?”

“Which lass, Scotty?”

“Lieutenant Rand o’ course! Cleaned t’ lot of us out good an’ proper, she did!”

“Hah! Beginner’s luck, that’s all! We’ll get her next month,” McCoy vowed.

“Speakin o’ lassies, yuir’s is somethin’ else, too!” Scotty giggled again, but the agony in his eyes belied the his outward merriment.

“You mean Joanna?” McCoy studied Scotty’s face closely.

“Aye! She almos’ put me right under t’ table,” Scotty admitted. “Would’ve fer sure, if t’ game hadna ended when it did.”

“I think you had a head start on her,” McCoy said quietly. “Unless I miss my guess, I’d say you had at least three drinks before you came tonight.”

“Close! I had four!”

“Scotty, is something bothering you?” McCoy asked.

“Wha’ makes y’ think that?” Scotty asked. “Oh, I fergot! Yuir a doctor! Docs know everything!”

“Hardly, but I do know you retire to your quarters immediately following your tour of duty, instead of puttering around in the engine room for hours on end,” McCoy said quietly. “Your alcohol intake’s increased over the past couple of months, too, hasn’t it?”

“Who’s t’ blabber mouth?” Scotty demanded sullenly.

“Someone who’s deeply concerned,” McCoy replied, taking care not to identify Lorriane Masters by name.”

“My drinkin’ or anythin’ else is no one’s business but my own!”

“Alright, Scotty, the way I see it, you have two choices,” McCoy said firmly. “One: you can keep on the way you’re going and end up in deep trouble; or two: you can deal with the problem.”

Scotty sank down on his bunk like a limp sack of potatoes. “I canna deal wi’ a bloody thing,” he declared sullenly. “There’s nothin’ anyone kin do! Tha’s the whole problem.”

“You’re wrong, Scotty,” McCoy sat down beside his distraught companion. “You can talk and I can listen.”

“Wha’ t’ hell good’ll ‘at do? It won’t change anythin’!”

“No, but you’d be amazed at how much better you’ll feel by simply sharing your problem with someone else,” McCoy urged gently.

Scotty sighed. “If y’ mus’ know, I’m worried about t’ O’Briens an’ about Erin. They live on El Dorado, in New Mexico City!” He rose on unsteady legs and started pacing the floor.

McCoy nodded. “Ah, yes! I remember you mentioning that you had relatives there in that meeting yesterday,” he said quietly.

“I haven’t heard a thing since contact was lost wi’ the settlers on El Dorado,” the words tumbled out in a rush, as if a dam had suddenly burst. “No one has! Bones,” Scotty’s pleading eyes met and held McCoy’s sympathetic blue ones, “I’ve heard some people sayin’ tha’ we might find all the settlers . . . dead.” He could barely bring himself to utter the word. “Is tha’ really possible?”

McCoy wanted, more than anything, to assure Scotty they would find all the settlers alive and well upon their arrival. But he knew nothing less than the truth would serve. Regretfully, he nodded his head. “That is a very real possibility, Scotty; however, until we get there we just won’t know.”

“That’s t’ whole trouble,” Scotty groaned. “It’s this not knowin’!” He pounded his balled fist down on his desk in sheer frustration. “Damn! I’d almost rather’ve heard that they’d died. Tha’ way, I could grieve an’ get on wi’ things. This way . . . ” he sighed, ruefully rubbing his aching hand, “I feel like I’m in some kind of limbo.”

“I know exactly how you feel, Scotty,” McCoy said softly.

“You’ve gone through this before yuirself, haven’t ye, Bones?” It was more a statement of fact, rather than a question.

“Yes,” McCoy nodded, then related the incident.

Leonard McCoy and his then wife, Gillian, had sent their daughter to spend time with his sister, Bernadette, on Tarsus IV. They had just come to the realization that their marriage was coming apart at the seams. Looking back on those years with the twenty/twenty vision of hindsight, McCoy saw, with painful crystal clarity, that he and Gillian had been slowly, inexorably drifting apart for months; perhaps even years. When had it first begun? McCoy couldn’t begin say.

“Gillian and I thought, if we could just get away for a few months by ourselves . . . away from our career demands . . . our friends and relatives . . . and Joanna . . . maybe we could talk things over; find a way to work things out. We decided to go to Tahiti for a second honeymoon.”

Three months later, word came of Governor Kodos’ massacre from the first supply ship to reach Tarsus IV. Nearly half the colonists had been mercilessly wiped out. The McCoys thrust aside their own problems, and concentrated their energies on ascertaining the fates of Bernadette’s family and their daughter. For what seemed an unbearable eternity, the answers they so desperately sought, remained frustratingly elusive.

“A tape came from my brother‑in‑law, Cliff, about a month or so later,” McCoy said. “I can still remember his words. ‘Leonard, Gillian, I regret to inform you that Joanna is dead. Had she NOT come here, she would, not doubt, still be alive; so would my wife and your sister, Bernadette. However, its far too late for regrets now. All we can do it try and get on with our lives.

We were both numb with shock,” McCoy continued, wincing. Even now, the memory of that time hurt just as badly as it had twenty odd years ago. “Gill and I just sat there in silence for . . . ” he shrugged, “I don’t know! It seemed like hours. Finally Gill broke the silence to tell me she didn’t want to stay in a marriage that had indirectly caused the death of her only child. I found myself agreeing with her.”

“Obviously Joanna did turn up alive an’ well,” Scotty prodded hopefully. “How did ye find her?”

McCoy explained that he had spent nearly two and a half years in psychotherapy trying to reconcile himself to his daughter’s death and failed marriage. At that time, his doctor suggested that he make the trip to Tarsus IV to lay Joanna to rest. “When I got there, I found her alive in some orphanage,” he continued. “Jo recognized me at once. Later, I found out from Mother Veronica, the lady running that orphanage, that up until my appearance, Joanna had suffered total amnesia. I figured someone had taken her there, thinking her entire family was dead.”

“So she turned out like ol’ Tim Finnegan, too,” Scotty murmured.

“Yes, she did at that,” McCoy smiled wistfully. “The strange thing is, Joanna has no memory at all of her visit to Tarsus IV, to this day.” He sighed and shook his head. “Tell me something, Scotty. How is it a good Scotsman like you is almost obsessed with the song ‘Finnegan’s Wake?’ I’d always thought it was an IRISH folk song.”

“Erin recorded it a year ago, for m’ birthday. She has a real bonny voice, y’ know,” a look of real pride shone in Scotty’s eyes. In a flash, pride turned to fury. “Damn!” Scotty shouted. “Why ‘n the hell Sean have t’ take her there in t’ first place?” He faced McCoy, tears of anger, frustration, and grief, shimmering in his eyes and on his cheeks. “Sean was offered a teachin’ post at the MacTaggart Institute of Medicine an’ Genetic Research. Did y’ know that?”

“Really? And he turned it down?” This shocked McCoy to the core. Only the best people were offered places at the MacTaggart Institute. No one walked away from a plum offering like that without a good reason. “Scotty, did the O’Briens tell you why they’d decided to go to El Dorado?”

“I asked, but I couldna get a straight answer,” Scotty said helplessly. “They finally told me tha’ Erin had been sick an’ they felt the unspoiled freshness of El Dorado’d be jus’ t’ thing t’ help her get back her strength.”

“Damned peculiar!” McCoy mused silently. A frontier world was no place to take an ailing young girl.

“Bones, you found Joanna alive! Is it possible I’ll find Erin alive on El Dorado, too?”

McCoy noted that Scotty’s anxieties seemed to center around Erin. “Like I told you before, there’s always a chance. We won’t know anything until we beam down to El Dorado’s surface,” he fell silent for a long moment. “To be perfectly up front, Scotty, I know very little about this plague myself. You might ask Joanna tomorrow. She did help out in the work to isolate the virus and create the vaccine.”

“Aye, maybe I’ll do that,” Scotty murmured, making his way to the desk across the room. “Maybe if I know a little something, I’ll rest easier.” He paused at the viewer, perched in a prominent place on top of the desk, and slipped out a rectangular cartridge. “This is t’ last tape I got from Fee, shortly before they quarantined El Dorado.” He gazed down at the tape wistfully. “I keep playin’ this thing over an’ over again, trying t’ spot something . . . anything t’ give me a clue as to Erin’s fate.”

McCoy nodded sympathetically. “I know, Scotty. I did the same thing with the tape Gillian and I got from Cliff.”

“It’s interfering wi’ m’ sleep, too, Bones,” Scotty lamented. “It seems as if I dream of Erin every time I doze off, or go to sleep.” He sighed. “Yesterday f’ instance . . . jus’ before t’ briefing?”

“Yes, I remember you were late arriving,” McCoy said quietly.

“I’d dozed off then, right after re‑playin’ Fee’s last tape,” Scotty continued, sitting down in the chair at his desk. “Suddenly, Erin was here! Right here!” He gestured to the space in front of him. “She was as I’d last seen her. That would’ve been when she was fourteen or fifteen. She kept tellin’ me over an’ over tha’ they were alright.”

“Who, Scotty?”

“Herself and Aunt Fee!”

“What about Sean?” McCoy asked.

“I canna remember for sure, but I don’t think she mentioned him,” Scotty said slowly. “Then there was last night’s dream . . . “

“I’m all ears, Scotty.”

“I canna remember all of t’ first part fer sure,” Scotty related slowly. He stood and resumed his pacing. “Next thing I knew I was standin’ right smack in the middle of Tenochtitlan.”

“Tenocht . . . what?” McCoy made a brave attempt to pronounce the name, then gave up.

“Tenochtitlan, t’ golden city on El Dorado,” Scotty explained. “We saw holo‑vids on it during t’ briefing yesterday.”

“Yes, I remember now.”

“At any rate,” Scotty continued, “I met Erin there, only this time she looked wha’ I guess ‘s more her proper age. She looked sad, an’ terrified at t’ same time. She kept lookin’ over her shoulder, as if she’d suspected someone was followin’ her. She told me one more time tha’ they were alright, then poof!” He snapped his fingers. “She ups an’ vanishes like that!”

McCoy couldn’t help thinking how some of the elements in Scotty’s dream of the night before paralleled with ones Joanna and Dr. T’Vaun had experienced.

“Bones, what’s it all mean?” Scotty implored.

“I’m not much in the business of interpreting dreams, Scotty, but one thing’s quite clear,” McCoy said. “You’re so worried about Erin, I’d say she was YOUR daughter, instead of‑‑” The stricken look of the engineer’s face stopped McCoy cold. “I should’ve guessed.”

“Aye, she’s mine,” Scotty said sadly. “I was married for a short time myself. Her name was Colleen McKay, an’ she came from a small village in County Mayo, Ireland.” Scotty took a seat on the bunk beside McCoy. A dreamy, far away look had crept over his dark eyes. “We met at Starfleet Academy and ended up servin’ together under Captain April aboard this very ship.”

“Really?”

“Aye! Captain April officiated at our wedding ceremony in t’ ship’s chapel,” Scotty continued. “By t’ time Captain April resigned his commission, Colleen was pregnant. We put in for a ground assignment. She became a teacher at the Academy, while I settled down to write a few text books.”

“Most of which are still required reading for engineering majors,” McCoy mused silently.

“Colleen . . . died givin’ birth t’ Erin,” Scotty’s eyes shone with unshed tears. “Doctor April said there were complications due to certain genetic anomalies . . . ” He shrugged. “I canna remember all t’ technical jargon now.”

“I’m sorry, Scotty,” McCoy placed a comforting hand on the Scotsman’s shoulder. The pain of that loss still hurt, after all those many years.

“I went crazy wi’ grief,” Scotty continued. During that time, Colleen’s younger sister, Fiona, and her husband, Sean, cared for Erin. Finally, unable to endure the pain of being around the people and places that reminded him of Colleen, he returned to active duty. Sean and Fiona could not have children of their own, and were more than willing to raise Erin. “I’ve kept in touch wi’ her, an’ seen to it she was taken care of financially, but I’ve never visited much. As much as I do love Erin, it’s too painful bein’ around her sometimes.”

McCoy nodded.

” . . . an’ now she may be lyin’ down there dead, an’ I’ll never have t’ chance t’ . . . well, t’ explain things, an’ maybe get to know her better.”

“Sickbay to Doctor Leonard McCoy,” it was Ensign Starnak, summoning him via intercom.

“Damn, not now!” he moaned silently, rising to his feet. He walked over to the intercom and opened the channel. “Sickbay, this is Doctor McCoy. What’s up?”

“Yeoman Donaldson has taken a turn for the worse,” Starnak replied. “Doctor M’Benga is working on her now. He requested that I to summon you for assistance.”

“Go on, Doc,” Scotty said, as McCoy turned expectantly towards him. “You were right! Talkin’ can be a great relief. I’ll be alright now.”

“You’re sure, Scotty?”

“Aye! You just run along an’ tend t’ Yeoman Donaldson.”

McCoy nodded curtly and turned back to the intercom. “I’m on my way, Ensign. McCoy out!”

McCoy left Scotty’s quarters at a dead run, not stopping until he reached sickbay. En route, he racked his brains trying to figure out what had happened to Yeoman Donaldson. She hadn’t been hurt that badly in the fracas this morning. She was only being held for strictly routine observation. Ensign Starnak met him at the door.

“What’s happening, Mister Starnak?”

The young Vulcan nurse fell in step beside McCoy. He reported that Yeoman Donaldson’s vitals had started fluctuating earlier, at around 1975 hours. Although the fluctuations had not been serious, M’Benga had ordered ’round the clock surveillance. At 0110 hours, Yeoman Donaldson’s readings began to drop. “Mister Donaldson lost consciousness two and one half minutes later. Doctor M’Benga ordered the patient moved to intensive care and is working to stabilize her vital signs.”

“Thank you, Nurse! I’m going in to assist,” McCoy was at M’Benga’s side in an instant. “Any idea what’s causing this?” The low readings shocked him. This shouldn’t be happening at all.

“Doctor, respiration and heart levels dropping,” the nurse assisting M’Benga announced tersely.

“Damn!” M’Benga swore vehemently. “Nurse, give her another four cc’s of coradrenalin!”

The nurse immediately did as ordered.

McCoy and M’Benga worked over Yeoman Donaldson for the better part of the next two hours, but their labors were in vain. Yeoman Donaldson died.

“I don’t understand this at all!” McCoy muttered, covering the body with a sheet. He curtly nodded to the nurse to remove the body to the morgue. “I only had her admitted routine observation, for God’s sake!”

“I can get started on the autopsy right away, if you wish,” M’Benga offered.

“If you feel up to it,” McCoy replied. “If not, it’ll keep until morning.” He paused, suddenly feeling very tired. “I’d better prepare the dispatch for her next of kin. Do you know who that might be?”

“I think it’s her father,” M’Benga replied slowly.

McCoy’s heart went out to the man, where ever he might be. He knew how devastated he’d feel if that were Joanna lying on a cold slab in the morgue. His thoughts turned to Scotty and his daughter, Erin. McCoy fervently hoped that Scotty wouldn’t have to face the same tragic news in store for Yeoman Donaldson’s father.

*****

After Christine had left her off at the door to her cabin, Joanna stumbled inside and collapsed on the bed, without bothering to undress. That corn whiskey hit a lot harder than she thought it would. Of course, she had to admit, in all honesty, that she had hit that jug pretty hard herself. Sleep came the instant her head touched the pillow.

<<We’re alright! We’re alright! We’re alright!>> the words echoed through Joanna’s head like the staccato beat of a snare drum.

<<Who’s alright?>> She slowly opened her eyes. To her amazement, the walls of her cabin were gone. She stood in a small room with a slate gray crystal before her.

<<We’re alright, we’re alright, we’re alright,>> the rhythm and tempo of the words quickened. Two splotches of greenish‑blue light appeared on the top surface of the crystal, throbbing in time to the spoken words.

Across the tiny room, a dim shadowy figure took shape.

<<Who are you?>> Joanna asked, her fingers lightly brushing the surface of the crystal. The minute she touched the stone, she was acutely aware of pressure being exerted at the base of her skull. <<. . . and who’s alright?>> An agonized cry punctuated her last question, as an invisible hand reached into her mind. Suddenly, her entire world went sickeningly topsy‑turvy.

<<WHO ARE YOU?>> The words slammed into Joanna’s mind like the blows of a sledge hammer.

<<M‑my . . . my name is . . . Jo‑Joanna!>> she forced the words out against the shadowy other’s agonizing psychic onslaught.

<<GO AWAY!>> A surge of negative emotions accompanied the command.

Joanna found herself caught up in a vortex of anger, grief, and sheer terror. Numerous faces swam dizzily before her mind’s eye. Some she recognized: her parents; the aunt and uncle who had raised her on Centauras; fellow crew members she had met in the past day and a half; her kung‑fu instructor; Jim; and Miles. Many of the faces she had never seen before: faces emaciated, ravaged by pain and sickness; and the faces of an ancient people, long dead. Oddly enough, she felt as if she DID know them. Strong emotional currents carried her towards a dark bottomless chasm of fear and hopeless despair. She floundered helplessly, unable to distinguish her own thoughts and feelings from those belonging to The Other.

Joanna woke up screaming. She bolted to a sitting position, gazing in dazed shock at the walls of her own cabin. “Th‑thank G‑God, it was only a d‑dream,” she murmured to herself in breathless relief. Suddenly, an intense wave of nausea, brought on by over indulgence, hit her hard. Joanna barely managed to reach the head in time.

*****

Kirk was rudely awakened from a peaceful slumber by the harsh buzz of the intercom shortly after 0400 hours. Muttering a string of choice obscenities under his breath, he forced himself out of his bunk and stumbled across the dark room. En route to the com‑unit on the far wall, he stubbed his toe. “Shit!” he bellowed at the top of his lungs. Thankfully, the room was completely sound proof. He banged the channel open with his fist. “Kirk here!” he growled. This had better damn’ sight be good, whatever it is!

“Smith here, Sir!” the assistant chief’s voice filtered through crisply. “There’s been another attempt to sabotage the cargo.”

Kirk exhaled a curt, exasperated sigh. “What happened?” he snapped.

Smith tersely gave his report. At exactly 0237 hours, he had received a call from Ensign Starnak informing him of another sabotage attempt. When the young Vulcan had gone down to make the 0200 check, he had found all four guards unconscious and reported at once. Starnak then waited for Smith’s arrival before entering the hold. After turning the injured guards over to on duty medical personnel, Smith and Starnak entered the hold. According to the latter’s estimate, a total of five point two one percent of the vaccine had been destroyed. “I knew it was a mistake to just let Doctor McCoy go, Sir,” he concluded his report with a trace of smugness.

Kirk bristled. “I thought I made myself quite clear yesterday, Mister Smith,” he snapped. “Doctor McCoy is innocent until proven guilty.”

“I have the hard evidence you need this time, Sir,” Smith replied. “A woman’s compact was found inside one of the crates containing damaged goods. The initials on the top are J and M.”

Kirk sighed. “Bring it and Mister Chekov to my quarters,” he snapped, “and be here in fifteen minutes! Kirk out!”

Fifteen minutes later, to the second, Smith and Chekov reported to the captain’s quarters. The former entered with an easy, confident stride. The latter shuffled in, clad in slippers and robe, trying unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn. Kirk gestured for them to sit.

“What’s going on?” Chekov asked, gingerly lowering himself into the nearest chair.

“There’s been another attempt to sabotage the cargo, Sir,” Smith answered smoothly. “This time, however, the perpetrator left behind a clue.” He triumphantly held up a plastic bag containing the compact.

Kirk accepted the bag gingerly, and took a quick peek at its contents before passing it on to Chekov.

“Keptin, according to personnel records, there’s three women with the initials J M,” Chekov reported, while studying the compact. “Lieutenant Commander Jill Madison, zoology; Lieutenant Joanna McCoy, medical department; and Cadet Jeannette Mignon, communications trainee.” He paused long enough to hand the bag back to his assistant. “Of the three, we can safely eliminate Lieutenant Commander Madison. According to her records, she was examined by Doctor T’Vaun in our sickbay when she signed aboard.”

“What about the other two?” Kirk asked.

“Cadet Mignon and Lieutenant McCoy were examined in facilities on Starbases 12 and 4 respectively,” Chekov replied.

Before Kirk could reply, the intercom buzzed again. “Kirk here!”

“McCoy here, Jim,” it was Bones. “I wanted to let you know that Yeoman Donaldson died shortly after 0300 this morning.” He paused. “Doctor M’Benga is doing the post mortem now.”

“Doctor McCoy, how could this’ve happened?” Smith demanded. His face had turned chalk white and his entire body went rigid. “You said she was only being admitted for observation. That there was nothing really wrong with her!”

“I said I wanted TO BE SURE there was nothing wrong with her,” McCoy said quietly.

“Damn!” Smith swore furiously. His eyes were unusually bright.

“Gentlemen, I’m calling another meeting in briefing room three at 1000 hours,” Kirk said grimly. “Bones, will Doctor M’Benga have Yeoman Donaldson’s post mortem ready by then?”

“Yes,” McCoy yawned.

“Mister Smith, if any of the injured guards are up to questioning, I want them there, too.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Mister Chekov . . . “

“Yes, Keptin?”

“I want you to see that Lieutenant McCoy and Cadet Mignon are present as well.”

Chekov nodded curtly.

“Now that that’s done, Gentlemen, let’s see if we can all salvage a few more hours of sleep,” Kirk said with a pointed glare at Smith. “You’re all dismissed.”

*****

Smith stormed into Clarke’s quarters, where she anxiously awaited him. The minute the doors whisked shut, he vented his anger and grief by seizing the nearest breakable object and hurling it across the room. It hit the wall with a loud crash, and shattered into a million pieces.

“John?” Clarke threw on her robe and hastened to his side. In the whole time they had been together, she could never recall seeing him so angry. “Darling, what’s happened?”

Sobbing, Smith told her about Yeoman Donaldson’s death.

Clarke slipped her arms about his waist and held him close. “How did it happen?” she asked.

“They don’t know yet for sure,” he spat. “But I’ll lay you any odds that Klingon bitch killed her.”

Clarke winced away from his vehemence. “Y…you mean Doctor McCoy?” she squeaked.

Smith nodded grimly. “She could’ve done it easily enough! She had easy access to poor Carla.” His anger quickly gave way to grief. “y’ know, Carla would’ve made a fine officer one day. She . . . she told me once her dream was to . . . to command her own s‑s‑starship,” he sobbed.

“Really?” Clarke asked softly.

Smith hugged Clarke close taking a measure of comfort in her embrace. “Y‑yeah! Carla an’ I . . . we used to talk a lot! She kinda reminded me of my baby sister, Illrena . . . ” His words gave way to heart wrenching sobs. Clarke held him while he wept. After his tears had subsided, she quietly asked him about Illrena.

“She’s dead!” Smith said more harshly than he had intended. “I’ll never bring HER murderers to justice, but I sure as hell can Carla’s!”

Kirk called the meeting he had mandated hours earlier to order promptly at 1000 hours. Desiring to get this bit of unpleasant business over post haste, he gave the others present a condensed report covering Smith’s account of the latest sabotage attempt. He also mentioned Yeoman Donaldson’s death. “Bones, do you have an report on the autopsy findings?”

“She was murdered, Jim,” McCoy stated grimly. “There was enough ryplar in her body to kill FIVE people.”

The doctor’s pronouncement was met with stunned silence.

“The time it takes for ryplar to kill varies, depending on how it was administered,” McCoy explained to the others. “If taken orally, as in the case of Yeoman Donaldson, the time factor ranges anywhere between six to twelve hours. If it’s given directly through the blood stream, death results in a mere two hours at the outside.”

“Good God, Bones,” Kirk murmured. His faced had turned a shade or two paler. “Are you sure that ryplar was indeed the cause of Yeoman Donaldson’s death?”

“Absolutely no doubt whatsoever,” McCoy replied coldly.

“What about the guards who were attacked this morning?” Kirk snapped out the next question.

“One man’d been hit by a Klingon disrupter, judging by the burns,” McCoy began. “He’s been treated and released to convalesce in his quarters for the next forty‑eight hours. He should be fit to return to duty at the end of that time.” Another man had suffered a dislocated shoulder and several broken ribs in hand‑to‑hand combat with his assailant. He was presently confined to sickbay. The third man had sustained a scratch across his chest with a dagger. Since the wound was superficial, he was treated and released to light duty for the remainder of the day. He would be back on normal duty tomorrow. Ensign Marcus Post, seated between McCoy and Smith, was the most fortunate of the lot, having sustained a few minor cuts and bruises. He had been treated and returned to duty.

Kirk turned his attention to Ensign Post. The young man was clearly ill at ease; almost terrified. The captain managed a reassuring smile. “I understand this procedure is new to you, Ensign,” he began kindly. “All you need to do is relax, and try to answer the questions put to you as best you can.”

Post returned Kirk’s smile with an uncertain one of his own. “Yes, Sir,” he murmured.

“What time were you assigned to stand watch?” Kirk asked.

“I was assigned to stand watch between 2400 and 0400 hours, Sir,” Post answered stiffly.

“Relax, Ensign, this is Starfleet not the Colonial Marines,” Kirk teased gently.

“Yes, Sir,” Post tried to relax, but was not overly successful.

“Do you remember what time you were attacked?” Kirk continued.

“I . . . I’m not sure, Sir, but I think it might’ve happened sometime between 0250 and 0300.”

“Tell us exactly what happened, Ensign, and take your time,” Kirk said.

Post swallowed and fell silent for a moment, trying to muster his thoughts and his courage. “The first thing I remember is the sound of phaser fire, but it was a different sound than I’m used to hearing,” he began his testimony haltingly. “I saw Evans collapse. He was stationed at the end of the corridor. The rest of us drew our weapons.”

“Why didn’t you fire?” Smith asked curtly.

Post flinched away from Smith’s angry glare. “I, uh, we couldn’t, Sir. He was too f‑fast.”

“Who was too fast, Mr. Post?” Kirk asked taking care to keep his tone soft and even. The boy was already badly shaken by proceedings. He had no desire to upset him any more than absolutely necessary.

“The s‑saboteur, Sir,” Post replied. “He knocked over Evans’ partner, Bahoda, before any of us could even move.”

“Please continue,” Kirk ordered.

“He . . . the saboteur that is, came after my partner, Sabarat, and me,” Post continued. “I fired my weapon, but it didn’t even slow him down.”

“What setting did you have your weapon on, Mister Post?” Chekov asked quietly.

“Light stun, as ordered, Sir,” Post replied. “The saboteur leapt on Sabarat. While they fought it out, I changed the setting to heavy stun and waited for an opening. When it came, I let ‘im have it . . . for all the good it did.”

“What do you mean by that, Mister Post?” Kirk asked, frowning.

“I meant it had no effect on him at all,” Post replied, squirming uncomfortably in his seat. “Then, I saw our attacker pull a knife from his boot. I fired again, with the weapon still on heavy stun setting. That one got through, I think.” He swallowed. “I heard him cry out. Then he swiped Sabarat with his knife, and came after me.”

“Interesting,” Spock murmured softly.

“I moved the setting to kill,” Post continued, “and fired again, hitting him square in the chest. He doubled over and fell.” The young ensign blushed and hung his head. “I approached, with the intent of nabbing him, Sir,” he continued in a low voice. “I really thought he was down for the count.”

“What happened next?” Kirk prodded gently.

“Before I knew what’d happened, he kicked my phaser right out of my hand, then,” Post shrugged, “I don’t know, I guess he must’ve knocked me out. The next thing I remember is Mister Smith and Mister Starnak staring down into my face.”

“I find it most interesting that your weapon failed to stop the saboteur,” Spock stated thoughtfully. “Are you certain you hit him?”

“Absolutely, Sir,” Post declared. To his dismay, he broke out in a cold sweat.

“Perhaps if you would describe your assailant?” Spock requested.

“He was small, Sir. Kinda short and very thin!” Post replied.

Spock rose. “How tall would estimate your attacker’s height in comparison to mine, Mr. Post?”

“I’d say he’d just about reach the middle of your chest, Sir,” the young ensign replied. He quickly drew his hand across his forehead, wiping away the excess moisture on his jacket sleeve. After clearing his throat, he continued. “He wore loose fitting black clothing, pants and a long sleeved shirt; black gloves, and a black hooded mask like some kinda medieval executioner. He also wore a belt, Sir, with a real fancy buckle.”

Spock’s eyebrow rose a fraction of an inch. “Indeed!” he said thoughtfully. “Please describe the belt buckle, Ensign.”

“It was made out of some kinda silvery metal, Sir,” Post replied, “and set with what looked like blue crystals. I can draw it for you, if you’d like . . . “

Spock procured a stylus and a piece of paper. Post quickly drew a rough sketch of the belt buckle worn by the attacker, and handed it to Spock. The Vulcan silently studied it for a long moment. “This is not unlike the force‑field belts we use for short trips into environments inhospitable to our life forms,” he finally commented.

“That’s why Sabarat couldn’t kayo him!” Post exclaimed. “He hit in all the right places, but the blows didn’t seem to connect, somehow.”

“The belt must need recharging at frequent intervals,” Spock added. “The attacker felt the phaser blast from Mister Post’s weapon, when set on the ‘heavy stun’ and ‘kill’ settings.”

“Mister Post,” Smith spoke up, “you said your attacker was small. Could this person have been a woman?”

Post thought the matter over. “Y‑yes, Sir, I suppose that’s possible . . . ” he ventured hesitantly.

Kirk asked if anyone else present had anymore questions for Ensign Post. No one did. “Do you have anything further to add, Mister Post?” he asked.

“No, Sir,” Post shook his head.

Kirk gave a satisfied nod and dismissed the young man. Rising, Post gave the captain a look of grateful relief. He then turned heel and quickly left the room.

“Judging from Ensign Post’s account and seeing the injuries sustained by the others, it’s perfectly clear to me their attacker knew just where to hit,” Smith stated, glaring pointedly in Joanna’s direction. “Someone trained extensively in any of the Oriental martial arts, such as kung‑fu, would aim right for those target areas in hand to hand combat.”

“As would any security personnel, after adequate training in hand‑to‑hand combat techniques,” Joanna countered along with a venomous glare. After another night of wakefulness and unsettling dreams, coupled by a hum‑dinger of a hangover this morning, Joanna was in no mood to tolerate Smith’s false accusations.

“Mister Smith found something in one of the damaged crates,” Kirk interjected quickly. The mounting tension in this room was bad enough, without Joanna and Smith erupting into open warfare. He held up the bag for Joanna and Jeannette Mignon to see.

“That’s my compact!” Joanna cried out in surprise. “I was looking all over for that last night. How in the . . . ” She lapsed into stunned silence as the implications of the situation suddenly dawned on her.

“That’s good enough for me!” Smith declared, totally oblivious to the black scowl McCoy leveled in his general direction.

“Captain,” Joanna appealed to Kirk, “I don’t know how my compact got into that cargo hold. I only know that I didn’t put it there.”

“Yeah, sure!” Smith sneered. “It sprouted legs and walked.”

“Mister Smith, you’re out of order!” Kirk snapped more viciously than he had intended. He took a moment to put a lid on his rising temper, then quietly dismissed Cadet Mignon from the proceedings. Like Post, she, too, was relieved to finally be out of that room. Kirk turned his attention to Joanna. “Doctor McCoy, I want a full account of your activities last night.”

“After I got off duty, I went directly to my quarters,” Joanna began. “Doctor Chapel walked with me part of the way, and Dad met me there a few minutes after I’d arrived.” She paused as a wave of dizziness swept over her.

Spock turned and quietly studied the younger Doctor McCoy. The pale face, dizziness, slightly trembling hands, and most telling, the way she held herself apart from the others at the table were all classic signs of ESPer shock.

Joanna, unaware of Spock’s scrutiny, continued with her account of the previous evening’s activities. “Dad and I met Doctor Chapel, Commander Uhura, and Lieutenant M’Ress for dinner.”

“Which I can certainly verify,” McCoy declared, with a triumphant glare directed at Smith.

“After dinner, the five of us went to Commander Sulu’s quarters for a . . . uh, friendly game of . . . ” Joanna hesitated. She had known ‘Uncle’ Jim Kirk for many years, but CAPTAIN Kirk was a different kettle of fish altogether. She had no idea in the world how he felt about gambling among his officers. As a rule, most field commanders didn’t object to a penny‑ante game of chance now and then, but there was always a hard nose in every crowd.

Kirk sensed the reason for her hesitation and grinned. “So tell me, Doctor. Did Mister Sulu clean the lot of you out again?”

Joanna managed a wan smile, in spite of her misery. “No, Sir, Lieutenant Rand did.”

“She sure as hell did, Jim,” McCoy grinned, and allowed himself to relax a little. “Here I thought I was the poker champ around here, then that little blonde upstart comes along and beats the pants off me without even half trying.”

“I lost my shirt to Janice myself, Keptin,” Chekov added.

An exaggerated look of horror crossed Kirk’s face. “Gentlemen, I don’t mind a friendly penny‑ante game now ‘n’ then. I don’t even mind high stakes games, as long as things remain friendly. But I must draw the line at strip poker!”

The ensuing laughter served to break up some of the unbearable tension. Kirk asked Joanna to continue.

“After the game broke up, Doctor Chapel walked me back to my quarters,” Joanna fervently hoped she wouldn’t have to account for her physical condition at the time. “She left me right at the door.” The emaciated faces of sick and dying people swam before her vision, superimposed, like images on a double exposed negative, over the faces of her fellow officers seated at the table.

At the same time, Spock felt a familiar tingling at the facial points one touched for the purpose of mind melding. Closing his eyes, he willed his psychic barriers in place. The strength of Spock’s psi powers was formidable. Yet, it took every ounce of hat strength he could muster to keep The Other out of his thoughts.

“Do you remember what time you reached your quarters?” Smith had asked pointedly, in the meantime.

Joanna squeezed her eyes shut against the nauseating double images relentlessly assaulting her mind. “I . . . I’m not sure exactly,” she replied. “I think it might’ve been somewhere between 0200 and . . . and 0300 hours.”

“The act of sabotage occurred between 0250 and 0300, according to Ensign Post’s testimony,” Smith reminded the others. “Doctor McCoy could’ve done it if she had reached her quarters closer to 0200.”

“I slept through the night, dammit,” Joanna defended herself irritably. She refrained from mentioning the dreams.

“I concur,” Spock said quietly. “On the basis of her present physical appearance, I would have to conclude, logically, that Doctor McCoy was quite ill last night. In such physical condition, she could not possibly have overcome the guards or sabotaged the vaccine.”

At that moment, Joanna emphasized Spock’s words with a distressed moan, then fainted. Spock hovered on the edge of unconsciousness himself, as the pressure against his psychic defenses increased. Then, suddenly, it was gone.

“Spock?”

He opened his eyes. Kirk and McCoy peered down at him anxiously.

“Spock, are you alright?”

“I will be in a moment, Doctor McCoy,” the Vulcan replied stiffly. “Your daughter?”

“Has been taken to sick bay,” McCoy said briskly. “I think I’d better have a look at you, too.”

“That will not be necessary,” Spock assured the doctor. “However, if I may ask what might be a somewhat personal question?”

“Go ahead . . . “

“What were your daughter’s ratings on the standard ESP tests?” Those tests were routinely given upon entry into Starfleet.

“I can’t recall the exact numbers, Mister Spock, but I do remember them being significantly high in comparison to normal human standards,” McCoy replied. “Why do you ask?”

Spock had his reasons, of course, but preferred not to discuss them until he could gather more data. “I was merely curious, Doctor McCoy,” he replied.

“Bridge to Captain Kirk!” Uhura’s brisk tone filtered into the room, via intercom, before McCoy had a chance to press Spock further.

Kirk opened the channel at the table com‑link. “Kirk here, Commander Uhura. What’s going on?”

“We’re picking up a shadow at the extreme limits of our sensor range, Sir,” she replied. “It could be a malfunction . . . “

“Lieutenant Arex here, Captain,” the Edoan reported from the science station. “I just finished running a check on our sensing equipment. There’s no malfunction!”

“Mister Uhura, go to yellow alert! I’m on my way, Kirk out!”

*****

Kirk, Spock, and Chekov reached the bridge a few moments later.

“Commander Uhura, report!” Kirk ordered tersely.

Uhura vacated the captain’s chair. “So far, our shadow has maintained its position in relation to us, moving as we do. We’ve tried hailing it on all frequencies, but have received no answer.”

“Captain, according to computer records, we are the only ship military or civilian, authorized to be in this area,” Spock added, as Kirk took his seat.

“I want ’round the clock surveillance on that shadow,” Kirk ordered grimly. “If that thing so much as sneezes, I want to know about it.”

“Understood, Captain,” Spock acknowledged the order.

“Commander Uhura, I want you to maintain yellow alert until further notice,” he added. “That sensor shadow game’s the oldest trick in the book.”

*****

Captain’s log; stardate 3728.5 A second attempt against the vaccine was made early this morning, between 0250 and 0300 hours. As before, the guards escaped their confrontation against the unknown saboteur with minor injuries. The testimony of Ensign Marcus Post has given us invaluable information. We now have a general description of the person responsible and we know that he wears a force field belt during his raids.

I also have a casualty: Yeoman Carla Donaldson. She died early this morning, in sickbay, where she was being held for routine observation. Cause of death: ryplar poisoning.

Our sensors have also picked up a shadow, just at the edge of our range. Lieutenant Arex ran a complete check of the equipment and found no sign of malfunctioning. I must conclude that the Enterprise is being tailed by person, or persons unknown. Attempts to communicate have, thus far, proven fruitless. I have placed the ship on yellow alert, and ordered a twenty‑four-hour surveillance on that sensor shadow.

*****

When McCoy stopped by his daughter’s cabin to check on her, he was surprised to find her engrossed in the computer terminal on her desk. “Joanna? I thought I told you to rest,” he admonished her gently.

“I’m feeling much better now, Dad, really,” Joanna tried to assure him.

She didn’t look any better. Her face was still much too pale and dark circles, due to lack of sufficient sleep, had started forming under her eyes. “What’re you doing?” McCoy asked, entering the room.

“I thought I’d do a little investigating on my own,” Joanna answered with a touch of defiance. “I am not going to sit idly by while that arrogant son‑of‑a‑bitch, Smith, railroads me into a penal colony for something I didn’t do.”

McCoy pulled up a chair and sat down beside her. “Find anything?”

“Plenty!” Joanna replied with a predatory grin. “Since Smith’s so eager to find me guilty without benefit of judge and jury, I decided to start with him.”

“What’ve you got?”

Joanna gave her father an absorbing earful. For openers, John Smith had been born Riger Gratlix on the planet, Basharra; a world that had willingly overthrown its democratic government for the autocratic rule of the Klingons. The Gratlix family, consisting of his mother, Linian; Riger, and his uncle, Rad, escaped their home world and sought asylum within the Federation. Nearly a decade later, Rad Gratlix was found to be a double agent working for the Klingons. He escaped. The ensuing investigation found Riger and Linian innocent of any wrong doing or knowledge of Rad’s activities. After the investigation, Riger and Linian changed their names to John and Linda Smith, respectively.

“That’s more than enough right there to recommend him for the position of prime suspect,” McCoy said wryly.

“It certainly is,” Joanna agreed wholeheartedly.

“You suspect him, Jo?”

“I should, in light of how hard he’s working to prove me guilty,” she replied.

“Let’s see what’s in the rest of his file,” McCoy suggested.

“Computer, please continue scrolling Lieutenant Commander John Smith’s file,” Joanna ordered.

The McCoys watched as the computer revealed Smith’s academic record. Throughout his entire student career, he carried a significantly high over all grade average. His name never left the dean’s list while attending the Academy. He had also graduated with high honors. Numerous commendations from various instructors were also included.

“Good heavens! I don’t believe some of these letters, Dad,” Joanna remarked in awe. “Especially this one, written by Doctor John Gill. Since he taught Earth history, we called him Der Fuhrer behind his back.”

“Really? WE used to call him that, too!” McCoy admitted contritely. Though he, personally, never cared much for the man, he regretted the tragic demise Gill met on Ekos.

“But look at this letter of commendation he wrote about Smith!” Joanna said, drawing McCoy’s thoughts back to the matter at hand. “Never in a hundred million billion years would I’ve ever thought him capable of gushing with praise like this.”

“I must say, it comes as quite a surprise to me, too,” McCoy agreed. “What does Smith’s service record say?”

“Let’s find out!”

Smith’s service record equaled his scholastic one in overall excellence. He had been decorated for heroism no less than six times, and cited on numerous occasions for action above and beyond the call of duty. The only black marks on his service record were the times he had landed in trouble because of his intense ambition.

“Good Lord!” McCoy murmured. “Smith’s record almost rivals Jim’s!”

“My question is, why is he still a lieutenant commander playing assistant to someone else?” Joanna asked. “With an outstanding record like this, most men his age would have a command of their own with the rank of at least commander.”

McCoy digested all the information he had learned about Smith silently. “Y’ know, I’ve overheard him say on several occasions that his past held him back. I’d always thought it was sour grapes, but now, I’m not so sure.”

“That could account for his ambition,” Joanna added. “In order to get anywhere, he’s got to be at least two or three times better than the competition.”

“No wonder he’s trying so hard to prove you guilty!” McCoy exclaimed. “If he does catch the saboteur, it’ll be quite a feather in his cap, to say the least.” He sighed and shook his head. “I still don’t like it, but at least I can understand it . . . . a little.”

“Wait! Here’s an interesting tidbit,” Joanna said. “According to this he was transferred from his last assignment, the Potempkin, to Starbase Four nine months ago.”

“Work to isolate the virus and produce the vaccine would’ve been pretty well underway by then,” McCoy remarked.

“He was stationed there for five and a half months before shipping out to his current assignment: the Enterprise,” Joanna added grimly. “Dad, that puts him on Starbase Four when both attempts were THERE made to sabotage the vaccine.” He would also have been there when Miles died. “So help me,” she vowed silently, “if Smith had anything to do whatsoever with Miles’ death . . . “

McCoy studied Joanna closely with a professional eye. If anything, her face seemed a good deal paler and the hands trembled even more. Her entire body had also become rigid with tension. “Hey, Squirt, you sure you’re feeling much better?” he prodded gently.

“I . . . I was thinking of Miles, Dad, that’s all.”

Her voice caught on his name. “Doctor Coleman?”

She nodded, unable at that moment to speak.

McCoy recalled Jim mentioning that Doctor Coleman’s sudden demise had hit her rather hard. “You want to talk about him?” he offered kindly.

“I was assigned to work with Doctor Coleman when the project was h‑half way to completion,” Joanna began. “Then, he was a . . . a teacher and r‑respected colleague. We got much closer . . . “

“How close were you and Doctor Coleman, Jo?” McCoy asked cautiously. He certainly didn’t want to pry, but he couldn’t stand the thought of her hurting either.

“H‑he . . . he’d asked m‑me to . . . to marry him, Dad.” Tears cascaded from her eyes and on down her cheeks.

“Really?” This was news to him. He vaguely remembered her mentioning Miles Coleman in her last letters, with increasing frequency, but she hadn’t said a thing about marriage.

“I‑I couldn’t give him an answer,” she sobbed.

“You shouldn’t feel the least bit guilty about that, Jo,” McCoy said quietly. He gently slipped his arms around her and held her as he did when she was a child. “Marriage is a big step. One that shouldn’t be rushed into or entered lightly! I’m sure he understood that.”

Joanna nodded. “Y‑yes . . . he‑he told m‑me to . . . to take all the t‑time I‑I needed,” she continued. “When I did, it was too late.” She fell silent, trying to regain a measure of control over her emotions. “I wasn’t going t‑to say yes to m‑marriage right away,” she explained, wiping her eyes and cheeks to the handkerchief that McCoy had given her. “I wanted a one year trial c‑contract first.” She blew her nose. “When I dropped by his apartment to tell him? That’s when I found him . . . “

“Dead?”

Joanna nodded.

“Oh my God!” McCoy murmured. He couldn’t even begin to imagine what he would have said or done in her place. He hoped he would never be in a position to find out. “Joanna, he knew you loved him,” he said soothingly. “Believe me, no man asks a woman to marry him if there’s not even the slightest possibility she’s going to say yes.”

Joanna quietly considered his words.

“Like you said, he understood it was a big decision that you needed to think through,” McCoy continued. “When he died, I’m sure he didn’t feel that you’d in any way rejected or abandoned him. He was happily anticipating a positive answer.”

Joanna blew her nose and wiped the last of her tears from her eyes. She felt as if a ten ton weight had just been lifted from her soul. In the days to come, she would miss Miles, of course. The difference now was, for the first time, she actually felt free to start getting on with her own life. “Good‑by, Miles,” she silently let him go. “I hope you find peace where ever you are.”

*****

That evening, Joanna made her way to the officers’ gym for the first time. “Dad would probably shoot me if he knew I was here,” she mused silently. Admittedly, the strange visions she saw in the briefing room earlier had knocked her for a real loop. She felt much better now, though. Maybe not quite up to 100%, but still much improved over this morning. Right now, a good, hard physical work out was just the thing she needed, after finally releasing her grief over Miles’ death and her troubles with Smith. “Who knows? Maybe I’ll even get a good night’s sleep for a change.”

She located the locker room and changed into her kung‑fu workout garb in record time.

“Think you could use a sparring partner, Joanna?”

She glanced up upon entering the gym from the locker room. To her surprise, she found Kirk taking a break from his own work‑out. “I’d love one, Jim,” she replied.

“There’s a catch to this arrangement, however . . . “

“And that is?”

“You’ll have to teach me kung‑fu first,” he replied with a grin. “I know absolutely nothing at all about the Oriental martial arts, except for what Starfleet teaches its officers in hand‑to‑hand combat techniques.”

Joanna found the idea appealing. “Jim, I have a proposition for you . . . ” she said slowly, as an idea of her own formed in her mind.

“My dear Doctor McCoy, I feel it only fair to tell you right up front that I never do that on a first date,” Kirk said primly.

This from a guy who supposedly hates puns? Joanna laughed out loud. “Not THAT kind of proposition, Jim,” she said. “I meant a deal! In return for me teaching you kung‑fu, you give me a few pointers in chess.”

“Agreed!” Kirk liked the idea immensely. “My lessons begin right now, your’s begin tomorrow night rec room five, deck three at 2000 hours.”

“Fine!”

Joanna began by teaching Kirk the basic exercises. The first three were simple.

“For the next one, put right your leg in front of you like this,” Joanna instructed. They were already sitting on the matted floor.

“That’s simple enough,” Kirk said, obeying her instructions.

“Now bring your left leg as close to your chest as you possibly can,” Joanna took her left ankle and brought her leg up so that her foot touched her chest. “Then straighten it out like this!” Still holding her ankle, she swung her leg out to the side. “We do that twenty times on each leg.”

“You’ve got to be kidding!”

Kirk grimaced so grotesquely, it brought another smile to her face. “Nope! Shall we do them together?”

“Alright . . . “

As they did that particular exercise, Kirk’s face shifted from one comical look of agony to another. He might have been convincing, had it not been for the mischievous sparkle in his hazel eyes. Joanna was in absolute stitches.

“Hmpf! Some doctor you are!” Kirk retorted good naturedly. “Getting pleasure from other people’s torment!”

“Here, I am not doctor,” Joanna countered. “Here, I am Si Hing.”

“Is that Chinese for torturer?”

“No, it means instructor.”

Joanna taught him the remaining stretching exercise. His constant teasing, exaggerated moans and groans, and the ludicrous pained faces had her laughing so hard, her sides ached. It felt wonderful. Joanna suddenly realized that it had been a long time since she had laughed. She scrambled to her feet, dragging Kirk with her. “Alright, Jim, to the bar,” she said, starting for the bar used to practice dance steps.

“The bar?” Kirk echoed. “Oh no! I’ll bet you had enough of Scotty’s homemade stuff last night to sink a battle ship.”

“Uh oh, how did you find out about that?” Joanna gulped.

“Elementary, My Dear Doctor,” Kirk slipped into a passable British accent. “Quite elementary! I’ve sampled that stuff on occasion myself, and remember feeling just the way you looked in the briefing room the next morning.”

“I see!”

Kirk grinned at her momentary discomfiture. “Don’t worry! I don’t mind, as long as you don’t make it a habit,” he said lightly. “Besides! It gives you an ironclad alibi for this morning between 0250 and 0300.”

“You sound as if you believe me,” Joanna ventured quietly.

“Of course I do.”

Joanna stared at him incredulously. “Even though my compact was found in one of the damaged crates?”

“Joanna, you’ve always struck me as a very intelligent young woman,” Kirk said. He took her hand and gave it a gentle, reassuring squeeze. “If you WERE the guilty party, I doubt that you’d be so stupid as to leave your compact or anything else lying around at the scene of the crime.”

Joanna smiled. “Thank you, Jim. I needed to hear that.”

“I’m glad were still friends,” Kirk returned her smile.

“Why shouldn’t we be?”

“After those sessions yesterday and this morning, I wasn’t sure,” he said ruefully.

“I WAS angry, but not at you,” Joanna said as they reached the bar. “You took up for me in there and it meant a lot!” On impulse, she leaned over and lightly kissed his cheek. “Thanks, Jim.”

“You’re welcome,” Kirk replied, feeling curiously warm inside.

At the bar, they first stretched each leg for one minute. Then Joanna demonstrated the next exercise. It consisted of putting one leg up on the bar, bending down to touch the floor then back up to touch the toes of the other foot. “Twenty times each leg, Jim,” Joanna said.

“After this, do we get to see if I can remove the pebble from your hand before you close it, Master Po?”

“You watch too many Tri‑D‑vids, Grasshopper,” Joanna countered with a smile. “And that’s Si Hing to you!”

Kirk gingerly placed his leg up in the bar. As he leaned down to touch the floor, he lost his balance. Joanna tried to brace him without success. She fell, and he landed on top of her.

“Looks like you’ve fallen for me, Si Hing,” Kirk said with a wicked grin. He thoroughly enjoyed the closeness.

“Under you would be a more apt statement,” she groaned.

“Are you alright?”

“I will be in a minute,” Joanna replied. “The fall knocked the wind out of me, that’s all.”

Kirk gently smoothed a stray lock of hair from her eyes, then impulsively bent down and kissed her lips. Once the initial shock had passed, Joanna found herself responding at first tentatively then with more enthusiasm.

“Goodness!” Joanna exclaimed tenderly, when they parted. “If that was supposed to be mouth to mouth resuscitation, it didn’t work. I’m afraid you’ve left me more breathless than ever!”

“We can always try it again,” Kirk suggested.

*****

“Captain, I’m picking up a distress signal,” Cadet Mignon greeted Kirk somberly, when he reported for duty the following morning. She manned the bridge communications station under the watchful eye of her mentor, Commander Uhura. “It’s a standard automatic beacon repeating the SOS signal . . . ” She frowned. “But it is in code TWO!”

“Code two?!” Uhura echoed incredulously. “Are you sure?”

“Oui, Monsieur Uhura, it is in code two.”

“I thought we’d abandoned code two several years ago, when the Klingons cracked it,” Sulu remarked.

“We did,” Spock said blandly. “Two point seven three years ago to be exact.”

“Mister Spock, can you get a fix on the source of that signal?” Kirk asked.

“I believe I can, Captain . . . ” A moment later, Spock found the signal’s origin point. “The signal is coming from somewhere in the Omicron‑Sigma System.”

“Mister Mignon, see if you can establish contact with whoever’s sending that distress call,” Kirk ordered. He had an uneasy feeling about this in the pit of his stomach.

“Oui, Captain.”

“Spock, have any Federation vessels, civilian or military been reported missing in this sector within the past . . . . say four years or so?” Kirk asked.

Spock diligently checked the records. “Yes, Captain, a privately owned freighter, registered under the name Corrigedor,” he replied. “The ship and her crew were reportedly lost in an ion storm. Her last known position was 027 mark 5 and 395 mark 8.” The Vulcan glanced up from the hooded viewer abruptly, meeting and holding the captain’s gaze. “That is within two parsecs of the Omicron‑Sigma System.”

“Captain, I’ve established contact with the people sending out that distress call,” Mignon announced, feeling unexpectedly nervous. This was the first time anything of significance had ever happened while she manned the communications post. “The man identifies himself as Captain Abram Welles.”

“According to the records, Captain Welles was the Corrigedor’s last known owner and commander,” Spock affirmed.

“Alright, put it on audio, Mister Mignon,” Kirk ordered slowly. “Let’s hear what Captain Welles has to say.” He waited a moment for her to complete the assigned task. “This is Captain Kirk in command of the U. S. Enterprise. Please confirm identity!”

“Captain Kirk, you don’t know how glad I am to hear your voice,” a masculine voice filtered onto the bridge. The dead monotone, laced with heavy bursts of sub‑space static gave lie to the words. “I’m Captain Abram Welles, in command of the Corrigedor. Our ship crashed on the second planet in the Omicron‑Sigma System after being crippled in a sudden ion storm. Needless to say, we’re in need of a lift back to civilization.” In the background several half hearted cheers went up.

“Captain Welles, can you give me the serial number of your ship, the place of registry, and the name of your last employer?” Kirk asked, unconsciously chewing on his thumbnail.

“More than happy to oblige,” Welles agreed readily enough. “Serial number MC3‑15279, registered out of New Dodge City, Martian Colony III. I was hauling farm equipment to new settlements established in the Exos System for Intergalactic Harvesters, Incorporated.”

“Captain, his information checks out against the records,” Spock reported.

Kirk touched a small button on the arm of his chair that would prevent Welles or anyone else from eavesdropping. “Spock, I want you to see if Welles’ voice prints match the ones on file with Intergalactic Harvesters,” he ordered softly.

Spock raised an eyebrow slightly, and nodded.

“Mister Mignon, I want you to try and get Welles on visual.”

“Oui, Captain.”

Kirk released the hold button. “One more question, Captain Welsh,” he said carefully. “Would you please name the members of your crew?”

“Certainly!” Welles agreed. “In addition to myself, there’s my navigator, Jose Hernandez; helmsman, Djmtri Ilvonivich; communications officer, Lincoln Kyle; Meg Welles, my first officer and wife; relief crew, Hans Schaffer, Desiree Kyle, and Greg Mittendorf. We also had Intergalactic’s sales representative aboard.”

“His name?” Kirk prompted.

“HER name, Captain Kirk. Allison Clarke.”

“Captain Welles, please stand by.” Kirk pushed the hold button and turned expectantly towards Spock. “Well?”

“His crew and passenger list checks out,” Spock replied, “and the computer is running a comparison on those voice prints.”

“Mister Mignon?”

The young Frenchwoman shook her head helplessly. “Commander Uhura and I are still trying, but we still can’t seem to establish visual contact,” Mignon replied. “There seems to be some kind of interference . . . “

Kirk’s uneasiness increased tenfold. “Can you pin point the cause of the interference?” he asked.

“Non, Captain, but we have determined that the interference originates at the same place as this transmission,” Mignon replied.

Something was very definitely rotten in Denmark! And Kirk could ill afford to stay around long enough to learn what that something was. Not with a load of highly perishable vaccine sitting down in the cargo hold! “Captain Welles,” he began slowly, taking his finger off the hold button, “I’m afraid you’re going to have to sit tight just a little longer . . . “

“What do you mean, Kirk?” Welles demanded.

“Captain . . . “

“Stand by, Captain Welles!” Kirk hit the hold button again and turned facing his science officer. “What’ve you got, Mister Spock?”

“The prints match,” Spock replied. “However, the prints taken from this transmission show an abnormally high stress factor.” He paused. “On a scale from one to ten, with ten being the highest, Welles ranks at eight point six nine seven.”

For a moment, Kirk felt deathly ill. That stress factor rating could only mean one thing! The Klingons held Captain Welles, and possibly the rest of the crew hostage. It was a hard decision, but there was really no other possible choice. “The Enterprise is presently engaged in a mission of mercy,” Kirk explained with much regret. “The time factor involved allows for no deviations whatsoever.”

“Kirk, y‑you can’t just leave us here,” Welles protested.

There was something else in Welles’ tone. Fear, or was it relief? Kirk would never be sure. “Your position will be transmitted back to our nearest starbase,” he continued. “A rescue ship should reach you within the week. Two at the outside!”

“Two weeks?” Welles echoed. “We can’t wait that long! Y’see, uh . . . one of my crew is ill. That’s it! Very ill! It’s, ummmm, Clarke! That’s right! Allison Clarke!”

“Allison Clarke . . . Corrigedor . . . ” Those names struck a familiar chord within Chekov.

“She must have medical attention immediately or . . “

“Cut transmission, Mister Mignon,” Kirk ordered grimly.

“Transmission cut, Sir!” Mignon carried out the order.

“Relay the Corrigedor’s position back to Starbase Four,” Kirk continued. “Inform them also, that in my opinion, the call was a ruse to lure us off our course.”

A hush fell over the bridge personnel like a heavy shroud. In that period of uneasy silence, Chekov realized why those names sounded familiar. Ensign Lori Clarke was Allison’s daughter.

*****

At precisely 1975 hours, Joanna entered rec room five on deck three, and found it sparsely populated. There were about half a dozen cadets clustered around one of the holo‑games. From the look of things, they were deeply engrossed in Tri‑D Dungeons and Dragons. Jim was supposed to meet her here at 2000 hours to give her chess pointers. Because of the present yellow alert status, Joanna fully expected him to stand her up. Even so, she had decided to come just in case.

While she waited, Joanna decided to wander around and see the options this recreation room had to offer for herself. The tables in the center of the room were set aside for cards, and the classic board games like chess, backgammon, and checkers. Two and three dimensional versions were available for all games. The usual assortment of holo‑games were on the left side of the room, while the right side was reserved for reading lounges and conversation nooks. To the back of the room was the snack bar.

“Are you ready for your first lesson, Joanna?” She turned and, to her surprise, found Captain Kirk standing behind her, grinning.

“As ready as I’ll ever be, I suppose,” Joanna replied, falling in step beside him. “Where do we start?”

They seated themselves at one of the game tables in the center of the room. “First off, I need to know how well you play,” Kirk replied, as they set up the board for the first game. A crafty smile spread slowly across his face. “I’ll bet I can checkmate you in five moves or less.”

Joanna knew at once the strategy he meant to employ. Against a beginner or perhaps an unwary opponent, he might have a chance. She, however, was neither. “How about a friendly wager to make this game a little more interesting?” she suggested a bit too casually.

“Sounds good to me!” Kirk agreed. “What kind of stakes did you have in mind?”

“How does sirloin, medium rare, sound?”

Kirk grimaced. “Like a bad pun!”

“Oops! Sorry about that,” Joanna apologized, but anyone with an ounce of perception could see she was not the least bit sorry. “It kinda slipped out.”

“Tell you what?” Kirk could forgive her anything when she smiled at him in just that way, even her indulgences in the lowest form of humor. “The next time we get shore leave, the looser buys the victor a steak dinner in the restaurant of his or her choice, which ever the case may be. How does THAT sound?”

“Like a pretty sneaky way of asking me to have dinner with you the next time we get some r & r,” Joanna quipped.

“Do we have a bet?”

“You BET we do!” They shook hands on the deal.

“You may make the first move, Joanna,” Kirk offered chivalrously.

Joanna started off tentatively, lulling her worthy opponent into a false sense of security. Kirk’s third play left his queen wide open for the plucking, as she knew it would. Her eyes gleaming like a bird of prey, Joanna swooped her knight in for the kill. “Check, Jim!”

Kirk countered by taking her king’s bishop. It was small consolation. The game continued for another half an hour. To his surprise and delight, Joanna whipped him soundly. He conceded defeat by tipping his king. “Very good,” he praised her game sincerely.

“And you owe me a steak dinner next shore leave,” Joanna reminded him smugly.

“I’ll pay up with pleasure,” Kirk declared with relish. “You have the potential for becoming quite a formidable opponent. That’s a rare breed around here these days.” They cleared the board and set up for another game. “In fact Spock’s the only one who presents any kind of a challenge.”

Joanna warmed to his words of praise. “I have a confession to make, Jim.”

“Oh?”

“I knew what strategy you were going to use when you told me you could beat me in five moves or less,” she admitted.

“Oh really? Looks like your SUGGESTING we wager was a sneaky way of asking ME to have dinner with YOU,” Kirk retorted good naturedly. Deep down, he rather liked the idea.

“It worked, didn’t it?”

“Alright, you little con‑artist, how about another game? No tricks this time!”

“Agreed!”

Kirk won the second game, but his opponent gave him a good run for his money. With a few pointers in strategy and a lot of practice, she stood a good chance of challenging him for the unofficial position of Enterprise chess champion in a few years. At 2225 hours, they left the rec room together.

“Tomorrow night, I get my second kung‑fu lesson,” Kirk mused aloud. “Shall we make it for 2000?”

“Lord willin’ an’ the creek don’t rise,” Joanna quipped, using one of Great‑Gran’pa McCoy’s oft used expressions. Suddenly, a wave of dizziness buffeted her hard. She would have fallen, had it not been for Kirk’s lightening quick reflexes. He caught her, just as she lost balance.

“Joanna? What’s wrong?” Kirk quizzed her anxiously.

A tangle of images paraded before her mind’s eye, wavering and overlapping each other and the real world. First, there was the gigantic crystal. Next came visions of the ruined city, only this time, it was inhabited. “D‑Deltans . . . ” Joanna gasped.

“Deltans?” Kirk echoed.

“Yes, Jim . . . in the city!”

Kirk’s own stomach felt a little rocky all of a sudden. Taking her gently by the shoulders, he propelled her through the nearest door. Luckily, it turned out to be a small conference room. He sat her in the closest chair and knelt down beside her.

For her part, Joanna tried desperately to hang on to her real physical world. Bit by bit, the corridor and Jim gave way to the unfathomable depths of a black vortex. The maelstrom was made up of other beings, their physical forms and mental barriers totally stripped away. She could feel herself being drawn into that whirlpool; her uniqueness merging and becoming part of their oneness. For a brief horrifying moment, she could not tell which thoughts were their’s and which were her own. <<Jim, help me,>> her mind screamed in terror.

“I’m here, Joanna,” Kirk said, taking her limp hands in his. “I’m right here. Please, try and hold on . . . ” Her fingers loosely curled around his.

Thus steadied, Joanna became aware of the presence she had come to know as The Other in the center of the storm. The latter’s terror lashed out with such raw violence, it nearly severed her tenuous moorings to Kirk. Anchoring herself to him more securely, she focused her thoughts on the other. <<Don’t, please! It’s alright! I won’t hurt you!>>

“Who, Joanna?” Kirk asked. She held his hands in a painful, vice like grip. “You won’t hurt who?”

Joanna could feel The Other withdrawing. <<Wait! Please don’t go.>>

“Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere,” Kirk assured her gently.

Then, as suddenly as they had come, the visions were gone. Joanna found herself with Jim in a strange conference room. She gazed down at Kirk lethargically, with the look of a person just waking out of a very vivid dream.

“Are you alright?” Kirk asked kindly.

“I‑I’m not sure, I‑‑” Suddenly Joanna’s entire body went rigid. “Oh my God!”

“What is it?” Kirk asked tensely. He feared that she was on the verge of another seizure.

“It’s Ensign Sabarat! Something’s wrong!”

“What?!”

Joanna bolted out of her chair and left the conference room at a dead run before Kirk had a chance to question her any further. Puzzled, he rose to his feet and followed.

Joanna and Kirk reached Ensign Sabarat’s quarters in seconds. The former pressed the chime anxiously several times. “C‑come,” hissed a weak voice.

Joanna burst into the room with Kirk close at her heels. They found the reptilian security man sprawled on the floor. His normal ruddy complexion had faded to an anemic pink. “Doctor McCoy . . . thank Ssshasskha y‑you have . . . come . . . ” his words slurred together.

“Captain, please call sickbay,” Joanna ordered, kneeling down to examine the stricken Slissharian closely. His pulse and breathing were both rapid, and his yellow eyes were glazed. “Have them send a team with a stretcher on the double.”

“Right!”

Kirk barely took two steps towards the wall com unit, when the door swished open. Doctor T’Vaun, looking more sallow than usual, entered followed by two bewildered orderlies and a stretcher.

“That was fast,” Joanna remarked, as she made room for T’Vaun.

“It certainly was, considering that I didn’t get within two feet of that com unit,” Kirk agreed wryly.

“I knew something was wrong and I came,” T’Vaun’s tone sent an ice cold shiver down Kirk’s spine.

Ensign Sabarat was taken to sickbay, where Doctors T’Vaun and McCoy examined him. Within minutes, they discovered that he was dying of ryplar poisoning. T’Vaun listlessly ordered the assisting nurses, Starnak and George Compton, to remove the patient to intensive care and make him as comfortable as possible.

“Doctor McCoy, does Mister Sabarat have any friends among the crew?” T’Vaun asked, suddenly feeling every second of her one hundred and fifty‑three years.

“Yes,” Joanna replied in a hallow voice. “His cabin mate, Ensign Slithe . . . ” Not many could pronounce the Gorn’s real name, so by mutual consent, they had long ago agreed on the moniker, Slithe. . . “and Ensign Post.”

“I will see that both of them are notified,” T’Vaun said quietly. Although her face was still pale, she had regained a measure of her regal composure. She studied her colleague silently for a moment. “To quote a Terran phrase, she looks like death warmed over.” the Vulcan physician mused to herself. Aloud, she said, “Doctor McCoy, perhaps you should return to your quarters and rest. I can mind the store until Doctor M’Benga comes on duty.”

“But you were just about to finish your tour of duty,” Joanna protested, her head swimming. “You must be much more exhausted than I am.”

“Vulcans have nearly twice the physical stamina of humans, and we can go for longer periods without sleep or rest,” T’Vaun reminded Joanna matter‑of‑factly.

“That’s a good point!” Joanna surrendered graciously to the logical. “Good night, then, Doctor T’Vaun.”

“Good night, Doctor McCoy.”

After her colleague had left, Doctor T’Vaun contacted Ensigns Slithe and Post to inform them of their comrade’s impending demise. The young security guards were badly shaken by the news. Both offered to keep vigil at Sabarat’s deathbed. T’Vaun gave her permission. That done, she informed her immediate superior officer about Ensign Sabarat.

T’Vaun had no sooner finished speaking with the elder Doctor McCoy, when the contact points in her head and face began to tingle oddly. She took a seat in the nearest chair and eased herself into a light trance. Granted, she was powerless to stop The Other from forcing these mind melds upon her without her consent. However, she could take the steps necessary to protect herself from the torrent of unbridled emotions that accompanied the link.

*****

Joanna, meanwhile, wearily entered her father’s office, where Kirk anxiously waited, and sank into the nearest chair utterly exhausted. She took a deep, ragged breath, and brought Kirk up to date on all the details concerning Ensign Sabarat.

“You’re certain, Doctor?” Kirk queried incredulously.

Joanna nodded. “Unfortunately, yes! If you remember Ensign Post’s testimony yesterday . . . ” Was it only yesterday? Somehow it seemed like a century ago! “Ensign Sabarat was slashed with a dagger when he went against the saboteur hand‑to‑hand. The dagger must’ve been coated with ryplar. That would explain the high concentration of the stuff we found at the wound sites.”

At that moment, McCoy entered his office looking decidedly grim. His standard medical uniform had apparently donned in great haste. “I just got the word about Ensign Sabarat a few moments ago,” he stated, looking from Joanna to Kirk.

“I’ll give you my report in the . . . morning.” Once again, her surroundings swam nauseatingly before her eyes. The warm mahogany hues of her father’s desk shimmered and faded into the cold slate color of the lifeless crystal. “Oh no! Not again!” she groaned as she lost consciousness.

Once again, Kirk caught her as she fell. Lifting her carefully in his arms, he carried her to the sofa facing the desk.

“Good Lord, Jim, what the hell’s going on?” McCoy growled, moving to his daughter’s side.

“I wish I knew, Bones,” a wave of dizziness washed over him. He caught the back of the sofa to keep his balance. “Whatever this is, it’s knocked her for a real loop this time.”

“THIS time?” McCoy echoed, staring balefully at Kirk.

Kirk briefly told McCoy about the seizure Joanna had suffered earlier, following her chess lesson, and of her regaining consciousness with the knowledge that Ensign Sabarat’s condition.

McCoy wasn’t so sure he cared for the idea of Jim giving Joanna chess lessons. He had no time to dwell on the matter, however. In the moments that followed, Joanna’s eyelids started to flutter and his desk intercom buzzed insistently. “Stay with her, Jim,” McCoy ordered, leaping to his feet. He ran over to the desk and banged open the com‑channel with his fist. “Sickbay, Doctor McCoy here!” he barked.

“Commander Riley here, Doctor McCoy. I need a doctor or a nurse up on the bridge fast. Lieutenant Sharla’s passed out cold!”

“I’m on my way, McCoy out!”

By the time McCoy reached the bridge, Lieutenant Sharla had already started regaining consciousness. He took a hypo from his kit and injected her with a mild stimulant. Her black eyes snapped open. She tried to sit up, but McCoy gently restrained her. “Take it slow ‘n’ easy, Lieutenant,” he advised gently. “Sit up too fast and you’ll be out like a light again.” He gently eased her to a sitting position. “Think you can make it to sickbay?”

“That won’t be necessary, Doctor McCoy,” she stated firmly. “I’ll be alright. I need a few moments to collect myself.”

McCoy checked her vital signs. The readings were somewhat higher than normal, but steady. “What happened?” he asked.

“I heard the lieutenant cry out to . . . well, to someone. I think it was someone because she kept telling him to wait,” Riley replied with a bewildered frown. “Then she fainted.”

“My seizure was of psychic origins,” Sharla explained. “The someone I spoke to was FEMALE.”

McCoy recalled the similar paroxysms Joanna had suffered at about the same time. “Could this be some kind of psychic ATTACK?” he asked. A dim sense of foreboding settled over him like a mist.

Sharla shook her head. “She’s hurt and terribly frightened, but not belligerent.” She sighed and gently massaged her temples. “I’ve never in my life felt such emanations of terror and despair from anyone.”

“Mister Riley, I want you to get a replacement up here for Lieutenant Sharla,” McCoy ordered brusquely.

“Doctor, I am fine,” Sharla protested.

“You let me be the judge of that,” McCoy said in a gentle, yet firm tone. He carefully helped her to her feet, then gestured towards the lift. “After you, Lieutenant.”

*****

Medical log; stardate 3730.2; chief medical officer, Leonard McCoy recording. Doctor M’Benga pronounced Ensign Sabarat (dammit, I wish I could pronounce his family name) dead at 0350 this morning. The cause: ryplar poisoning. It was introduced directly into the blood stream via superficial wounds sustained in hand‑to‑hand combat when the second attempt to destroy the vaccine was made. Because Slissharians are cold blooded and have a much lower metabolism than most humanoid species, it took the ryplar nearly eighteen hours to kill him. His is the second death by ryplar poisoning since our departure from Starbase Four. In addition, some crew members have been stricken by seizures, occurring randomly. Those affected to the greatest degree are Deltans and Vulcans. Both of those races are known to possess limited telepathic ability. A few Humans, those whose records show unusually high scores on the standard ESP tests, have also been affected.

McCoy shut off the recorder and rubbed his eyes. He knew he should try and salvage what remained of the sleep cycle, but his mind ran a thousand miles a minute. In that state, he wouldn’t get a wink of sleep no matter how exhausted he was. He took the newly opened bottle of Kentucky bourbon at his elbow and poured a second shot glass full.

The door chime buzzed softly. McCoy started violently, nearly dropping the bottle. “Who in the hell can THAT be first goddam thing in the morning?” he groused silently. Only one way to find out! “Come,” he growled.

Spock entered. At first glance he presented a sedate, dignified appearance; but, a second look at the face told another story. His complexion was just as pale as T’Vaun’s when she finally retired to her quarters a couple of hours ago. The same haunted look was in Spock’s eyes as well.

“Good Lord, Spock, you look like death warmed over,” McCoy remarked, rising.

“Thank you, Doctor,” Spock replied with a touch of irony. “I must say that you are looking well yourself.”

McCoy’s eyebrows shot up. “A joke, Spock? You MUST be ill!” He pulled an empty chair up close to the one he had been occupying. “Sit down. Would you like a drink? Oh! That’s right! Vulcans don’t usually indulge.”

“I AM half human, Doctor, as you are usually so quick to point out,” Spock reminded, taking the empty chair. “This time, I believe I WILL indulge.”

“A red letter occasion,” McCoy remarked, as he poured a shot of bourbon for his unexpected guest. He placed the glass in Spock’s hands and raised his own. “Cheers!”

“To red letter occasions, Doctor,” Spock touched his glass to McCoy’s.

“So what brings you to my humble abode, Mister Spock?”

Spock sipped the amber liquid gingerly. The taste left a great deal to be desired. Perhaps it was one acquired with the passage of time. “A favor, Doctor McCoy.”

“I’m intrigued,” McCoy downed the contents of his glass in a single gulp. “What can I do for you?”

“Do you have access to the medical records of the colonists on Exos II?” Spock asked. “I know that prospective settlers to any new frontier world are‑‑”

“You don’t have to quote the rules for my benefit,” McCoy interrupted wryly. “Believe it or not, I know them just as well as you.” He paused, long enough to set his empty glass on the desk next to the bottle. “You lookin’ for something specific, Mister Spock?”

“Yes, I am, Doctor,” Spock replied. “I am primarily interested in their scores on the standard ESP tests.”

“May I ask why?” McCoy was genuinely curious.

“I have formulated a theory, but at present have insufficient data to‑‑”

“Does it have something to do with these odd recurring dreams, visions, and seizures certain people’ve been having since we set course for El Dorado?” McCoy asked bluntly.

“An astute deduction, Doctor,” Spock complimented.

” . . . and you think someone on El Dorado is responsible,” McCoy mused.

“I am reasonably certain of it,” Spock stated quietly. “I have spoken with Doctor T’Vaun and your daughter. Their dreams have increased in intensity and in frequency as the ship draws closer to Exos II. The images from their dreams have begun to invade their waking hours as well.”

“Your’s too, I would imagine,” McCoy replied.

“Affirmative,” Spock admitted.

“And now these seizures,” McCoy added with a shudder. “I was there when Joanna had her second one. I don’t mind telling you, it scared the livin’ shit out of me!”

“And well it should, Doctor! Not only for her, but for every other human so afflicted,” Spock mused uneasily, in silence. Vulcans, and Deltans too for that matter, had always been trained from early childhood on in the use and control of their inborn telepathic abilities. Although a vast majority of humans have high ESP potential, few ever achieve it. The rare human who did manifest his latent psi abilities posed a great danger to himself and those around him because he lacked the sufficient training and discipline necessary to cope. Case in point, the late Gary Mitchell.

“You realize, Mister Spock, that if someone on El Dorado is in fact responsible he or she’d have to be one helluva a powerhouse to reach us at this distance?”

“Such is not unheard of, Doctor.”

“Computer on!” McCoy ordered brusquely.

“Working!”

“I want to see the medical records of the colonists who settled on Exos II, a.k.a. El Dorado; specifically the ESP test scores.”

“Please identify!”

“Commander Leonard McCoy, M. D.; serial number SC532‑7162CEM.”

“Prepare for retina scan.”

McCoy leaned forward to allow the computer to scan the configuration of blood vessels inside the eyeball. They were as individual as fingerprints.

“Identity confirmed. The requested information is on screen.”

McCoy rose. “All yours, Mister Spock. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going down to the officer’s mess for a cup of warm milk. I’ve got to get some shut‑eye, and the whiskey’s not helping me worth a damn.”

“By all means, Doctor,” Spock replied taking the chair McCoy had just vacated. “I shall not be long.”

*****

Spock was not the only one researching computer records in the early hours of morning, ship’s time. In the privacy of her own quarters, Joanna sifted through the logs kept on the vaccine. Her eyes ached and about an hour ago, the numbers and letters all started to run together. She yawned, then rose intending to finally go to bed. Suddenly, she remembered something.

“Computer,” she snapped, “scan the reports Lieutenant Commander Smith filed on the sabotage attempts.”

An instant later, the computer announced. “Scan complete!”

“Question! In both instances, who reported the damage?”

“Working!” A moment later, “In both instances, Ensign Starnak reported the damage.”

“When is he due to check the vaccine next?”

“Working!” Then, “According to records in the medical files, Ensign Starnak is due to make his next check at 0550 this twenty‑four hour cycle.”

Joanna glanced down at the chronometer on her night stand. It was 0482. Snatching her robe off her bunk, she started to slip it on. “Damn!” she swore silently. “I just remembered! That hold’s been declared off limits to me!” What a quandary! When faced with the daunting prospect of rousing Jim or her father at this unholy hour of the morning, her confidence in her reasoning evaporated. On the other hand, she couldn’t just stand idly by while the saboteur made a third attempt. She wrestled with the dilemma a moment longer before concluding there was only one thing to do. “I’ll check it out myself,” she decided with grim determination. “If I’m wrong, I’ll sneak back to bed with no harm done. If I’m right . . . I’ll cross THAT bridge if and when I reach it.”

*****

“Good morning, Gentlemen!” Joanna greeted the guards at the door leading into the hold with a brilliant smile and just the right amount of Georgia drawl. She recognized Ensign Post readily. The other, she had not seen before.

“Uuuhhh, ‘morning, Doctor McCoy,” Post returned her greeting warily.

“Y’all mind if I have a look at that cargo?”

“Ensign Clarke was just here, Doctor,” the other guard stated. “She said everything was alright.”

“Surely no one’d mind if I kinda double checked things?” Once, back when she was still in pig tails and braces, she remembered Jim telling her she could get anything she wanted by just turning the ol’ Southern charm on to the fullest. She desperately prayed she hadn’t outgrown the ability somewhere.

“Gee, I don’t know, Doctor McCoy,” Post ventured after exchanging uncertain glances with his partner. “Y’ see only certain people are allowed in there, an’‑‑”

“One of you gentlemen could go in with me,” she suggested. “Just to make sure everything stays on the up ‘n’ up.”

They looked at each other and nodded. “Alright, Doctor McCoy, I’ll go with you,” Post relented. “In case you get any funny ideas, just remember my phaser’s set on stun.”

“Of course!” Joanna agreed affably. But deep down, the implication of guilt hurt.

Under Post’s watchful eye, Joanna began checking the crates at random. She found no new damage, but in one case, she found the contents slightly askew. The packing material had been moved and three vials were half out of their holders. “Ensign, someone’s been pawing through this box,” she said, all traces of Georgia gone from her voice.

“How else’re you supposed to check it?” Post asked peevishly.

“With a tri‑corder,” Joanna snapped irritably. “That’ll not only tell you whether or not it’s all there, but alert you to a number of other things like poison, or broken glass‑‑” Her lecture was interrupted by a loud commotion outside.

“Halt, or I’ll fire!” one of the guards stationed in the corridor cried. His challenged was answered by the sound of a Klingon disrupter being followed.

Joanna and Post bolted out of the hold. Outside, two guards, a Vulcan and a human, both female, lay unconscious on the floor. Ensign Post’s partner battled with a slight figure, attired in loose black clothing and mask.

“Stand off, or I fire!” Post cried, leveling his own phaser at the assailant’s mid‑section.

Turning his attention to Post, the intruder drew his own weapon. The other guard quickly kicked the disrupter pistol out of his hand, then dived giving Post a clear shot. Post fired, but the shot had no effect.

“Quick! Set it on kill, then fire,” Joanna ordered tersely, remembering the second briefing.

“Yeah, right!” Post quickly changed the setting. Before he had a chance to fire, the intruder slapped it out of his hand.

The other remaining guard struck the intruder hard at the base of the neck. Joanna watched in horrified fascination as his hands bounced off just short of making actual physical contact. The intruder spun, lightening quick, and seized the other guard by the throat. While their enemy choked the life out of his partner, Post went for his fallen weapon. The intruder was quicker. He pulled a dagger, concealed in the loose folds of his clothing and hurled it with fatal accuracy at Post’s chest. Toppling to the floor, Post clutched spastically at the dagger embedded in his chest.

Furious, Joanna quickly retrieved Post’s weapon and changed the setting past kill to disintegrate. At this point, she could ill afford to be generous. She pulled the trigger and kept a continuous burst of fire on the intruder. He cried out in pain and outrage. Then, tossing the other man’s body to the floor like a limp sack of potatoes, he turned and advanced on Joanna. Under her continuous bombardment, he slowed but still maintained his advance. Joanna backed away, still firing, until her back was literally to the wall. With a desperate, savage kick, he succeeded in disarming her. She, in turn, threw a few well aimed punches. Her blows did not send him down for the count, as she had hoped. But he felt them through his severely weakened force field. His arm lashed out hitting her square in the jaw. The force of his blow sent her reeling into the nearest wall, knocking her unconscious.

*****

Captain’s log; stardate 3730.5. Early this morning, between 0500 and 0700 hours, a third attempt was made to destroy the vaccine. Two guards, Ensigns Marcus Post and Maru Thann, were found dead. The remaining two, along with Doctor Joanna McCoy were found unconscious. They have been taken to sickbay for treatment. In the meantime, Dr. M’Benga and Nurse Starnak are checking the cargo for any signs of damage previously overlooked.

Kirk paced the floor in McCoy’s office like a restless, caged animal, waiting for a report on the two unconscious guards and Joanna. Although he was concerned about the guards’ well being, the majority of his anxiety centered on Joanna. One minute he was worried sick; the next, he wanted to wring her neck for going down there against orders. He tried to convince himself that she must have had a good reason for doing so, apart from the obvious. Still, it looked bad for her; very bad indeed. He could almost hear Smith accusing Joanna now. “I only wish I knew just what the hell she’s trying to prove,” he muttered under his breath.

After what seemed an eternity, McCoy entered looking haggard and grim.

“Well, Bones?” Kirk demanded, heart‑in‑mouth.

“Not good, Jim, not good at all,” the doctor sighed wearily. He sank down on the sofa like a lead weight. “Yeoman Ross suffered severe brain damage. She sustained several blows to the head, I assume during hand‑to‑hand combat with the saboteur.”

“Any chance at all of recovery?” Kirk asked, stunned.

“Some,” McCoy sighed. “She’s comatose now. With proper care, I’d say she stands a good chance of coming out of her coma. And who knows?” He shrugged fatalistically. “They can achieve a lot with rehabilitation therapy, nowadays. With luck and a lot of work, she may even be able to live independently again some day. But that one’s a long shot, Jim.”

“Damn!” Kirk sat down beside McCoy. His concern for Joanna increased tenfold.

“Yeoman T’Pari sustained a few broken ribs,” McCoy continued. “Two are dangerously close to her heart. Doctor T’Vaun still has her in surgery.”

“And Joanna?” Kirk prompted with a touch of impatience.

“She fared the best of all, Jim,” McCoy replied with undisguised relief. “She’s got a lump on her forehead the size of a chicken’s egg and her jaw was fractured.”

“Can I see her?” Kirk asked. “I’ll only be a few minutes.”

McCoy glanced up sharply, scowling. Something he heard in Kirk’s tone . . .

“Bones, I need to question her about what happened,” Kirk said quickly, feeling oddly on the defensive. A long interval of strained silence descended between them.

“She just came out of surgery to repair that jaw,” McCoy finally broke the stillness. “I expect she’ll be in recovery for an hour, maybe two.” He paused. “I’ll let you know when she can be questioned, Jim,” he promised.

“In that case‑‑” Kirk rose to leave.

“Bridge to Captain Kirk.”

Kirk ran to the nearest com‑unit and slapped it open with the palm of his hand. “Kirk here, Mister Uhura. What’s up?” he demanded tersely.

“Sir, our shadow’s gone,” Uhura reported curtly.

“What?” There was a nagging sense of uneasiness in the pit of his stomach.

“The shadow’s gone,” Uhura repeated. “Mister Arex just reported that the sensors have suddenly cleared‑‑”

“I’m on my way up, Kirk out!” Without further word, he turned heel and bolted out of McCoy’s office.

*****

“Mister Sulu, report!” Kirk barked out the order, as he stepped out of the lift. Spock followed at his heels.

“A few moments ago, the shadow disappeared from our sensors,” Sulu reported. “Perhaps it WAS some kind of malfunction‑‑”

“Don’t you believe it, Mister Sulu,” Kirk said grimly, taking his place in the center seat.

“Captain, sensors show five vessels flying in V formation headed for our port side,” Spock reported sharply.

“Mister Sulu, activate port screens!” Kirk snapped. “Mister Uhura, go to red alert!”

Kirk calmly studied the on coming formation, while Uhura tersely called all hands to battle stations. “Spock, are those vessels what I think they are?” he asked dubiously.

“Affirmative, Captain! All five of them are Klingon viper craft!” Spock reported. “However, sensors do not indicate the presence of a carrier within range.”

“How in the hell can viper craft operate this far out without a carrier?” Kirk wondered briefly, then turned his mind to the matter at hand. There would be time enough to find the answer to that question later. “Evasive maneuvers, Mister Sulu,” he ordered aloud. “Mister Uhura, see if you can establish communications with the formation leader.”

“Aye, aye, Sir.” A moment later, she informed him that she had established ship to ship communications with the formation leader.

“This is Captain Kirk in command of the U. S. Enterprise,” he identified himself curtly. “You are trespassing well within Federation Space in direct violation of the Organian Peace Treaty. If you break off your attack and surrender peacefully, no harm will come to you or the other pilots.”

On the screen, the on coming formation gave way to the tense face of a young squad leader. “Suck anti‑matter, Kirk,” he sneered. “This is disputed territory!” With that, he abruptly cut transmission.

“Alright, let’s show ’em we mean business,” Kirk said decisively. “Mister Chekov, fire port phasers across their path.”

“Port phasers firing, Keptin,” Chekov reported, carrying out the order.

“Sir, they’re not even slowing down,” Sulu related.

“Captain, the inner two vessels are separating from formation,” Spock said, “and circling towards our starboard side.”

“Mister Sulu, get us above them, on the double!” Kirk barked.

“Lead and two circling craft opening fire,” Spock warned. “Impact five seconds‑‑”

The Enterprise shuddered under the cross fire.

“Power to bottom shields down nine and a half percent,” Scotty reported tensely.

“Mister Chekov, fire photon torpedoes, port side,” Kirk ordered.

Chekov obeyed. The formation leader took a direct hit. The remaining two vessels on the port side dived. One escaped unscathed, by the skin of his teeth. The other was badly crippled.

“Sixty‑seven point eight percent loss of power to weapons and engines,” Spock reported blandly. “Life support down forty‑one point nine percent and dropping steadily. Pilot alive, but badly injured.”

“Captain, the two on our starboard side are circling for another run,” Sulu announced curtly.

“Let’s get them before they get us,” Kirk said. “Mister Chekov, stand by on fore and starboard phasers. Be ready to fire on my order.”

“Phasers primed and ready, Sir,” Chekov acknowledged the order.

“Captain, they’re approaching us head on,” Sulu announced.

“Switch to front view,” Kirk ordered.

Two vipers swooped toward the Enterprise at twelve o’clock.

“Mister Sulu, hard to port,” Kirk snapped out the command. “Mister Chekov, fire starboard phasers.”

Slender, lethal beams of light issued from the ship’s starboard side catching the lead vessel as it tried to dodge.

“He is irreparably crippled, Captain,” Spock reported prosaically, his eyes fastened to the hooded viewer at his station. “All power is gone. Life support is sixty‑nine point three percent functional.” He paused. “The remaining two vessels have regrouped and are retreating.”

“Shall we pursue them, Captain?” di Falco asked.

“No! Getting this vaccine to El Dorado takes top priority,” Kirk stated. “Mister Spock, any survivors in those disabled ships?”

“Two, Captain, both wounded,” Spock replied.

Kirk opened the com‑unit at his post. “Kirk to transporter room.”

“Transporter room, Lieutenant Rand here, Sir.”

“Lock transporters on the two surviving pilots out there,” Kirk ordered. “Beam them aboard, but keep them in suspension until I get there.”

“Yes, Captain!”

Kirk closed the com‑unit and turned to the communications officer. “Mister Uhura, I want a medical team and security detachment in the transporter room on the double.” He rose. “Shall we go, Mister Chekov?”

“Coming, Sir.”

Kirk turned control of the bridge over to Spock and accompanied Chekov to the transporter room, where an armed detachment of security guards and a medical team waited.

“Energize, Mister Rand,” Kirk ordered, once everyone was in place. Two pilots, both male materialized. One lay face down on the transporter platform, unconscious. Kirk recognized the conscious pilot as the over zealous formation leader. Two security guards searched the prisoners, while their detachment leader, Lieutenant Mioshi Tamora covered them.

“You’ve won this battle, Kirk,” the formation leader conceded. “Savor the moment while you can. In the end, WE will be the victors.”

“That remains to be seen,” Kirk replied. “Mister Chekov, get them out of here.”

Both prisoners were hustled down to sickbay under heavy guard. The one was treated for minor injuries, then removed to a maximum security cell in the brig. The unconscious pilot taken into surgery.

*****

With the battle over, Kirk retreated to the privacy of his quarters. He had intended to stretch out on his bunk and catch a quick nap. “With crew members suffering strange psychic seizures and three attempts now to destroy the vaccine bound for Exos II, I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since we left Starbase Four.” He removed his boots, jacket, and vest, then stretched out on his bunk. Though he dimmed the cabin lights and closed his eyes, sleep eluded him.

Two things preyed relentlessly on his mind. The first was the five viper craft they had just battled. Klingon vipers were small craft, built for short flights. They were launched from either a planet side base or a carrier. There were no star systems close enough to have quartered those vipers; nor had ship’s sensors indicated the presence of a carrier. “That’s another thing!” Kirk pondered anxiously. Carriers were large, bulky, slow moving vessels, unable to do much more than warp four. How, then, could one of those vessels keep pace with a constellation class starship traveling at warp six?

“Chekov to Keptin Kirk!”

He rolled over with a sigh and opened the com‑unit on his night stand. “Kirk here, Mister Chekov.”

“I just wanted to let you know both prisoners are secured, Sir,” Chekov reported. “The one’s been placed in maximum security, the other’s still in surgery.” He paused. “I’ll keep you posted on the dewelopments as I get them.”

“Thank you, Mister Chekov,” Kirk replied. “Kirk out!”

Closing the con‑unit, his thoughts anxiously centered on the other matter topmost in his mind: Joanna.

“Sickbay to Captain Kirk!”

“Kirk here, Bones. What is it?” he snapped.

“Joanna’s out of recovery, Jim,” the doctor reported brusquely. “You can have a few minutes.”

“I’ll be right there! Kirk out!”

Kirk found McCoy waiting impatiently at the door when he reached sickbay. “How’s she doing, Bones?” he asked, falling in step beside the doctor.

McCoy studied the captain, noting his genuine deep concern for Joanna. Granted, he had known her since she was knee high. She was also a member of his crew. On both counts it was natural for him to have an interest in her general well being. However, for one brief disconcerting moment, he felt that Jim’s solicitude exceeded those bounds. “Physically, she’ll be fine with a few days proper rest,” McCoy replied irascibly. “Emotionally, she’s a wreck.” He stopped walking and turned, meeting Kirk’s steely gaze head on. “I’ll be up front with you, Jim. If it had been up to me, you wouldn’t be here. Joanna, however, insisted on seeing you, the minute she was coherent.”

“Good!” Kirk mused silently. Perhaps he wouldn’t have to work as hard as he had thought to convince her to cooperate. “I’ll try not to upset her unduly, Bones,” he promised quietly.

When they reached the ward, McCoy asked Kirk to wait at the door. “I’ll just go on in and tell her you’re here.”

Kirk nodded curtly and watched McCoy approach the bed currently occupied by his daughter.

“Joanna?”

She started. “Oh! It’s you, Dad . . .”

“Sorry, Squirt, I didn’t mean to startle you,” McCoy apologized gently. “I just came in to tell you that Jim’s here.” He paused, noting the somber anxiety mirrored in her eyes. “Look, Jo, if you don’t feel up to this . . . “

Truth was, she dreaded this meeting with Jim. Still, she knew she would have to talk to him sooner or later. Better to get the unpleasantness over and done as quickly as possible. “It’s OK, Dad. I’ll see him now,” Joanna said listlessly.

McCoy reluctantly waved Kirk on over to the bed. As the latter drew closer, he noted how sharply the purplish bruise on her cheek and dark circles under her eyes contrasted against her chalk white complexion. “I have to ask you a few questions, Joanna,” he began, feeling uncomfortably on the defensive. “I’ll try not to upset you.”

Joanna nodded.

“First of all, I need to know what happened,” Kirk said, pulling an empty chair up close to the bed. To his immense relief, McCoy silently withdrew leaving them alone.

Joanna contritely gave an account of what had happened in the cargo hold earlier that morning. Her own confrontation bore out Spock’s theory of the saboteur using a low energy force field belt in carrying out these attacks. At the conclusion of her narrative, she sighed. “I know you told me not to go down there . . . “

“Since you bring it up, why DID you disobey orders?” Kirk asked more sharply than he had intended.

“I’ve been doing some research on my own,” Joanna admitted with a defiant glare. “I discovered a pattern. The first two attempts were reported by Ensign Starnak.”

” . . . as was the third,” Kirk added.

“I checked the records and found out he was supposed to make his next check at 0550 this morning,” Joanna continued. “I thought I’d try and head the saboteur off at the pass.”

“You could’ve gotten yourself killed,” Kirk pointed out.

“I know,” she murmured apologetically.

“Why didn’t you tell Mister Chekov . . . or me?”

“It was almost 0500, Jim. I didn’t want to drag you out of bed only to be proved wrong,” she explained.

“Do you realize you may have jeopardized your whole case?” Kirk said sternly. “The way MISTER SMITH sees it, you went down there to finish the job you’d started the last two times. You fought with the guards, killing two and injuring the other two. Except this time, one of ’em got in a lucky shot, stunning you with his phaser.”

“Is that what YOU believe?” The tone was angry, but her eyes revealed her underlying pain all too clearly.

“You know better than that,” Kirk chided her gently. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you just now. It’s just that I don’t want to see you court martialed for something you didn’t do.”

“I don’t either,” Joanna agreed.

Kirk took her hands in his and looked her straight in the eyes. “Joanna, do you trust me?”

“You’ve never given me any reason not to,” Joanna replied, meeting his steady gaze.

“Then tell me everything your research has unearthed,” Kirk entreated her. “Please! I believe you’re innocent and I want to help you.”

Joanna began with the information she had uncovered about Smith.

*****

“Mister Spock, I believe our shadow’s back,” Lieutenant Arex wryly reported from the science station. “As before, it lies just within sensor range, moving as we move.”

“Mister Mignon,” the Vulcan turned to Uhura’s protegee, “see if you can establish contact.”

“Oui, M’sieu Spock!”

The lift doors snapped open with a soft hiss. Kirk stepped vigorously onto the bridge. The bridge personnel could not help noting that his mood seemed considerably lighter than it had been for the past few hours. “Mister Spock, report.”

“Mister Arex just informed me that our ‘sensor shadow’ has returned,” Spock replied.

Kirk nodded mutely, not in the least surprised.

“Sir,” Mignon addressed her comments to the captain, “I’ve been trying to hail them on all frequencies, as M’sieu Spock requested. But I get no response.”

“Thank you, Mister Mignon,” Kirk replied. “Mister Spock, I want a ’round the clock surveillance put on that ‘shadow’, like before.”

“Sickbay to bridge!” It was McCoy.

The captain opened the com‑channel in the arm of his chair. “Kirk here, Bones. What’s up?”

“Just wanted to let you know that Ensign T’Pari’s out of surgery, Jim,” McCoy reported. “She’s in intensive care under constant watch now. Doctor M’Benga will let me know when she can be questioned about this morning’s events.”

“Thanks, Bones, Kirk out!” It would be several hours, at least. A Vulcan, Ensign T’Pari presently lay deep in the healing trance, helping her body in its recovery. She would remain so until the time came to forcibly revive her.

“Captain!” Mignon squeaked. “Our shadow is sending out a message!” On impulse, she seized a blank cassette and slipped it in the recorder. “I don’t think I’ve ever encountered this code before, Sir‑‑ Wait! Someone is answering!”

Kirk bounded over to the communications console. “Can you get a fix on the receiver?” he snapped.

Though agitated with Kirk and her mentor, Uhura, looking over her shoulder, Mignon managed to carry out her assigned task. One of the more colorful French expletives involuntarily escaped her lips. Her cheeks flamed bright scarlet. “I located the receiver but didn’t have the chance to pin it down to a specific area,” she reported sheepishly.

“Where is the receiver?” Kirk asked.

“Somewhere aboard this ship!”

Mignon’s reply was met with stunned silence.

“Captain, I got a recording of their message,” she ventured timidly. “Perhaps M’sieu Spock can decode it?”

“Well, Spock?” Kirk turned expectantly towards his first officer.

“I will try,” Spock agreed, taking the cassette from Mignon. As he listened to the recorded transmission, he felt a sharp tingling at his temples. “No! Not again!” the Vulcan cried out in silent protest. He instinctively raised his own mental barriers. “Not now! None of the crew aboard this ship can afford to be incapacitated at this crucial moment!”

“Mister Spock?” Uhura saw the science officer grit his teeth and wince. “Are you alright?” She had the beginnings of an odd headache herself at her temples and at the base of her skull.

“I am . . . adequately . . . f‑functionary.” It took a supreme effort of will to utter the words. The twinkling lights on his panel became the polished highlights of the large bluish gray crystal. <<No! I must not . . . >> He forced his mind to focus on the image of the panel at the science officer’s station. Every muscle of his body went rigid with concentration. <<I must . . . I WILL resist . . . >>

<<No, Chi’hya, do not be afraid,>> Sharla telepathically beseeched The Other. <<None of us wish you harm. We want to help.>> Somewhere, in the far distance, she heard someone cry out.

“Captain, Cadet Mignon’s fainted!” Uhura cried out in surprise. She wasn’t feeling well either. That headache grew worse by the minute and now, she felt a sharp twinge of nausea.

“Get someone up here f‑from sickbay . . . on the double,” Kirk snapped, feeling lightheaded and horribly sick to his stomach.

*****

In sickbay, T’Vaun and Starnak once again felt themselves being drawn unwillingly into a mind meld with the unknown other. Like Spock, they braced themselves, physically and mentally, against the violent torrent of emotions certain to follow.

Joanna, at present confined to her quarters following the surgery to repair her broken jaw, had no reserves of physical or mental strength left to fight. Like the metaphorical house built on a foundation of sand, her mind was swept into a maelstrom of insane terror.

*****

“Mister Masters, did y’ run that test on‑‑” Scotty’s stomach lurched mid‑sentence.

“Mister Scott?” Lorraine Masters noted with alarm that his face was white as a sheet.

“Dinna fret y’self, Mister Masters! It’s just a wee bit o’ lunch that didna agree wi’ me, that’s all,” Scotty tried to make light of her concern as the engineering section swam sickeningly before his eyes. His body swayed.

“I don’t know what this is, but it sure as hell ain’t lunch,” Masters muttered. She firmly seized Scotty by the shoulders and propelled him to the nearest chair.

“Mister Scott?” It was Ensign de Soto.

“Mister Scott’s, uh . . . busy, Ensign,” Masters stated. “What can I do for you?”

“Sir, Lieutenant MacGregor’s out cold,” de Soto reported, “and three others are ill. Very ill!”

Masters noted that de Soto’s olive complexion was a few shades paler than normal. She stepped over to the nearest com‑unit. “Engineering to sickbay!”

“Erin?” Scotty groaned softly.

“Mister Scott?” de Soto peered down anxiously at her stricken superior officer.

Scotty was no longer aware of de Soto or the engineering room. The beige walls and soothing hum of the engines had given way to a ruined city and a deafening silence. With a start, he recognized the city. <<Tenochtitlan!>> he gasped.

<<Scotty? Is that you?>> The voice sounded wary and uncertain.

<<Erin?>>

Apprehension and fear gave way to overwhelming relief. <<Scotty? Thank God! I’ve found you at last! I’ve been searching and searching . . . >>

Scotty felt giddy and lightheaded, like a great emotional burden had just been lifted. He was uncertain whether it had been her fears or his own anxieties. <<Easy, Lass, I’m here! Y’ dunna have t’ be afraid.>>

<<We’re alright, Scotty. Aunt Fee and I are alright!>> Grief mingled with onerous fatigue. Scotty suddenly felt as if he could just curl up and sleep through the next week. <<When will you come?>>

<<I’m on m’ way, Erin. I’ll be there soon.>> He could sense her pulling away.

<<Please come soon, Scotty. We . . . all of us . . . need you.>> A twinge of sadness, then she was gone like the elusive will‑o’‑the wisp. All at once his mind was deluged with intense foreboding. He groaned, as thick darkness obscured his senses.

*****

“He’s beginning to come around now, Leonard.”

“Thank God! I was starting to worry!”

Scotty half opened his eyes and found Doctors McCoy and Chapel peering down at him anxiously. He tried to sit up.

“Not so fast, Scotty!” McCoy gently, but firmly held him in place, until he quit resisting. “Get up too quickly, too soon, you’ll be out like a light again. Ensign Starnak learned that little lesson the hard way.”

“Just lie still for a few moments, Scotty,” Chapel advised with a warm reassuring smile.

Scotty gingerly glanced at his surroundings. “Hey! This isn’t engineering!”

“No, you’re in sickbay!”

Scotty groaned and closed his eyes. “Wha’ happened?”

“Suppose you tell me,” McCoy suggested wryly. “You were dead to the world when they carried you in here.”

Scotty slowly opened his eyes and allowed Chapel to help him sit up. “I’m nae too sure m’self, Bones,” he said thoughtfully. “T’ last thing I remember is talking t’ Erin in t’ ruins of Tenochtitlan.”

“What?” Chapel exclaimed.

“I don’t know, maybe I was dreamin’,” Scotty said with a helpless shrug. “But at the same time, I feel like I was really there.” He paused for a moment, then related the details of his encounter with Erin.

“Our other patients said the same thing,” Chapel said pensively. “They mentioned a ruined city and the presence of an unknown other who was terrified at first, but finally found a measure of peace.”

“Let’s hope so,” McCoy sighed, noting that for the first time in months, the lines of worry were gone from Scotty’s face. “This time, those psychic seizures affected the entire crew in one way or another. If they keep on growing in severity like this, the next one could wreck havoc on our efficiency ratings.”

“You have a talent for understatement, Leonard,” Chapel remarked grimly.

McCoy nodded, wishing he could shake the vague uneasiness that had settled in the pit of his stomach.

*****

Spock stared at the computer terminal in his quarters over his steepled fingers for a long moment. “Computer,” he spoke at length.

“Working!”

“Check through the ESP test scores of all those presently on record as residing on Exos II, a.k.a. El Dorado,” he ordered somberly. “Question. Given the results of those tests scores, is it possible for any of them to have reached us at our current position in relation to this Exos II?”

“Working!” A few minutes elapsed. “Answer negative. None of the residents on Exos II have sufficient power to reach Enterprise crew from origin point of Exos II, according to their ESP test scores.”

Spock reflected on that piece of information for a long moment. “Computer, check records on all vessels, civilian and military, presently in this sector,” he stated slowly. “Question. Does anyone aboard, crew or passengers, have sufficient ESP ability to effect Enterprise from their present position?”

“Working!” It came back with the answer in less time. “Negative. The only vessel, civilian or military, authorized to be in this sector is the Enterprise. None of its present crew has sufficient ESP ability required to carry out attacks of such magnitude or selectiveness.”

“Interesting!” Spock mused.

The door chimes buzzed softly.

“Come,” Spock responded blandly.

McCoy entered. “I thought I told you to rest,” he greeted the Vulcan irritably.

“I AM resting,” Spock replied, his eyebrow lifting slightly.

“Spock, when I said rest, I meant‑‑”

“A matter of semantics, Doctor,” Spock interjected quickly, hoping to head off one of McCoy’s lectures. “Personally, I find research to be quite restful.”

McCoy looked dubious. “What’re you researching this time?” he asked.

“The ESP test results of those presently residing on Exos II,” Spock answered the question with a touch of reluctance.

“I see!” McCoy folded his arms across his chest and stared incredulously at the Vulcan. “You still think someone on El Dorado’s responsible for these psychic seizures, or whatever the hell they are?”

“Affirmative!”

“Your research turn up anything yet?”

“Negative!” Spock shook his head. “According to the records, fifty‑nine point seven percent did score significantly higher than established Human norms on the standard ESP tests. Of that percentage, twelve percent can actually be classified as functional telepaths.”

“But none of ’em have sufficient power to reach us all the way out here,” McCoy second guessed Spock.

“That is correct, Doctor,” Spock admitted.

McCoy fell silent, remembering what Scotty had told him upon regaining consciousness in sickbay following the latest psychic bout of . . . whatever. “Spock, would you mind checking the ESP test scores for a resident by the name of Erin Scott?” he asked thoughtfully.

“Is your interest personal or professional?” Spock queried.

“A little of both, actually . . . “

“I see! Computer!”

“Working!”

“Retrieve and scan the records for Erin Scott,” Spock ordered. “Question! How did she score on the standardized ESP tests?”

“Working!” A moment later, “Subject Erin Scott tested as completely psi‑null.”

“Odd!” McCoy mused in silence. “Granted, Human psi ability remains, for the most part, dormant. Still, it’s pretty rare for a Human to actually come up a complete psi‑null.”

Spock studied McCoy briefly. “Am I correct in assuming that you were not expecting the answer given by the computer just now?”

“You are indeed, Mister Spock,” McCoy replied, taking the empty chair beside the desk. He gave Spock a brief account of Scotty’s dreams.

“Fascinating!” Spock murmured. “Tell me something, Doctor. When the ESP tests are given, it is generally assumed that the patient is being completely honest, is it not?”

McCoy frowned. “I’ve never thought of that before, but yes . . . I suppose it IS assumed that the patient’s answering truthfully.” He shrugged. “Why ‘n the hell would anyone want to lie on those tests anyway?”

“Why indeed?” Spock replied. “Computer, retrieve all biographical data available on Erin Scott.”

She was born Erin Rahne Scott at the base hospital in San Francisco to parents Montgomery and Colleen McKay Scott. Her mother had died shortly after giving birth of unlisted complications. Erin was placed in the care of her aunt and uncle, Fiona and Sean O’Brien, when her father shipped out once again aboard the Enterprise, this time under the command of Captain Christopher Pike. The O’Briens returned with Erin to their native Ireland, living in the city of Dublin until the girl reached the age of ten. She was hospitalized for a time at the MacTaggart Institute in Scotland. The O’Briens leased a modest house in Edinburgh, near Erin’s paternal grandparents, the Scotts. Two months later, she was placed under the care of one Doctor Miranda Jones on out‑patient basis. Doctor Jones and her companion, Ambassador Kollos, were stationed at the Medusan consulate on Earth at the time. Erin remained in Doctor Jones’ care for nearly one year, Earth reckoning.

“Now that’s what I’d call damned peculiar,” McCoy stated bluntly. “Why ‘n God’s creation’s a known telepath like Doctor Jones spending all that time with a girl who tests as psi‑null?”

“Colorfully expressed, Doctor,” Spock replied, “but a point worth investigating. Computer, for what reason was Erin Scott hospitalized at the MacTaggart Institute?”

“Working!” Then, “Data unavailable!”

Spock and McCoy looked at each other askance.

“Let me try, Spock,” McCoy said. “Computer, this is Commander Leonard McCoy, M. D.” He paused. “I’d like to see the hospital records of the MacTaggart Institute. Patient’s name: Scott, Erin Rahne.”

“Working!” An instant later, the reply was, “Data unavailable!”

“I’ll be damned!” McCoy exclaimed, nonplused.

“Computer, please continue with Erin Scott’s biographical data,” Spock ordered.

The O’Briens remained in Scotland for the next four years, until Montgomery Scott’s sister and brother‑in‑law, Fran Stewart and Andrew Preston, sued for custody of Erin. A long and bitter legal battle ensued, lasting for eighteen months, by Earth reckoning. In the end, the judge found in favor of the O’Briens. Fearful that Stewart and Preston would follow through on their threats to file an appeal with a higher court, the O’Briens left Scotland and filed for settlement rights on the newly opened frontier world of Exos II.

“Computer, why did Fran Stewart and Andrew Preston sue for custody of the child, Erin Scott?” Spock asked.

“Working!” Then, “Data unavailable!”

“Again?!” McCoy exclaimed.

“It would seem so, Doctor.”

“Maybe you can access it by callin’ up all of the child custody cases heard around that time,” McCoy suggested.

Spock’s eyebrow lifted a fraction of an inch. “A LOGICAL suggestion, Doctor McCoy,” he remarked. It was worth a try. He took a moment to compute the approximate dates in his head, then requested a list of all child custody cases heard in Edinburgh between those dates by name. The case of Stewart vs. O’Brien did not appear on the list.

“Perhaps it’s under her husband’s name,” McCoy suggested.

“Computer!”

“Working!”

“Re‑scan the list of child custody cases heard in Edinburgh between the dates given,” Spock ordered. “Question! Is there a case listed as PRESTON vs. O’Brien?”

“Scanning!” A moment later, the computer announced, “No case by that name listed.”

“Computer, scan the child custody cases heard in Edinburgh for that entire year,” Spock requested. It was possible that he had miscalculated the dates. “I am specifically interested in a case listed as either STEWART vs. O’Brien or PRESTON vs. O’Brien.”

“Working!” A full five minutes passed. “No case listed by either name for the year given.”

Spock’s eyebrow shot up. Could he have miscalculated the year? “Computer,” he said with a bare hint of exasperation, “check all child custody cases tried in Edinburgh for the year before and the year after.”

“Working!” Seven and a half minutes elapsed this time. “No case by either name listed for the years given.”

“So that’s that!” McCoy mused aloud. “A lot of questions and no answers.” He paused, then turned to the first officer. “So what’s the verdict, Spock?”

“I do not have sufficient data to reach a verdict, Doctor McCoy,” Spock replied with a touch of asperity.

“But you have an opinion?”

“Yes,” Spock admitted diffidently.

“Well?” McCoy prodded.

“Well what, Doctor?”

“Come on, Spock, spit it out f’ God’s sake!”

The eyebrow shot up indignantly. “Dr. McCoy, I am not in the habit of‑‑”

“Dammit, Spock, I meant what’s your opinion,” McCoy bellowed.

“Why did you not say so in the first place?” Spock queried a little too blandly.

“I did!”

“Very well,” Spock resigned himself to the inevitable. “I am of the opinion that Erin Scott is in fact responsible for the psychic disturbances that have occurred since leaving Starbase Four.”

“Oh?” The dark scowl gave way to a look of mild surprise. “On what do you base your assumption, Mister Spock?” McCoy asked a shade too innocently. “The computer didn’t provide us a whole helluva lot of FACTS to go on.”

The good doctor stared at him with an exultant gleam in his eyes. Spock sighed. “I am basing my assumption on the data given and the data that is missing as well.”

This time, McCoy’s eyebrow shot up. “Playin’ a hunch, Mister Spock?” he crowed.

“Yes, Doctor McCoy, I am,” Spock replied. McCoy would not let him hear the end of this for a good long time, even if he did prove correct in his assumptions.

McCoy grinned triumphantly. “I only wish that Jim could’ve been here to hear you say that.”

*****

Captain’s log; stardate 3732.5: A short time ago, we were attacked by five Klingon viper craft, approaching in v‑formation. One was totally obliterated. Two more were crippled, and two retreated. The pilots in the crippled vessels have been beamed aboard and placed in custody.

Kirk met Chekov and Smith in the small interrogation room in the brig’s maximum security area promptly at 2050 that evening.

“Captain, permission to speak?”

“Permission granted, Mister Smith,” Kirk said warily. He earnestly hoped that the man wasn’t about to go off on another tangent about Joanna being guilty.

“Any word on Ensign T’Pari’s condition?” Smith asked. “Last I heard, she was still in a healing trance.”

Kirk relaxed, studying the man’s anxious face at length. He may be over zealous in some matters, but he was still an officer who genuinely cared for the welfare of those under him. “Doctor M’Benga informed me that Ensign T’Pari came out of her healing trance about an hour . . . maybe an hour and a half ago,” he replied with a half smile. “Right now, she’s resting quietly in sickbay. Doctor M’Benga will release her to convalesce in her quarters sometime tomorrow morning, barring any unforseen complications.”

“Thank you, Sir. I’ll stop in to see her, if Doctor M’Benga OKs it.”

***End Part 1***

Click here to go to Part 2

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