El Dorado – sequel (Kathleen)

Summary:  Part 2 to El Dorado
Category:  Star Trek
Genre:  Sci-fi
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  38,000


 

Part 2

Further conversation was cut short by the arrival of the formation leader, under the escort of three grim faced guards. He was placed in the empty chair at the head of the table. “Three guards? I’m flattered, Kirk,” the Klingon remarked caustically.

“Never mind the jokes,” Chekov said tersely, switching on the recorder. “State your name and rank.”

The Klingon shrugged. “Why not? I am Sub‑Commander Jertax,” he replied.

“Home world?”

“Thetis,” Jertax replied. “Not that it’ll do you much good! I doubt you’ve even heard of it.” He grinned smugly.

“Thetis circles a star named Xartarus by its inhabitants,” Smith said coolly. “It’s located roughly five and a half parsecs from the point when the Klingon Empire borders the Gorn Alliance.”

Jertax glanced over at Smith in mild surprise, then shrugged and once again assumed his air of almost insulting indifference.

“You were piloting a viper craft,” Chekov stated blandly. “What provided your transportation?”

Jertax laughed derisively. “You just said it yourself, Earther. My viper craft!”

“No viper craft can travel this far into deep space without a lift,” Chekov said in a slightly condescending tone.

The Klingon bristled.

“Where is your carrier?”

Jertax met Chekov’s unflinching gaze with a blank stare. “My carrier?” He grinned. “Oh, my carrier! Your language does tend to be difficult at times . . . ”

“Com’n! Cut the crap and answer the question” Smith ordered impatiently.

“Mister Smith, you’re out of order!” Chekov snapped. “One more outburst like that, and I’ll have you removed. It that clear?”

“Yes, Sir,” Smith grumbled. It was humiliating enough having that presumptuous Russian upbraid him in front of the captain. But in front of the Klingon as well was too much.

Completely oblivious to the horrible vengeance Smith fantasized against him, Chekov returned his attention to the Klingon. “Alright, Mister Jertax, about that carrier‑‑”

“It’s in the shuttle bay, where your tractor beams have no doubt dragged it,” Jertax replied caustically. “Or perhaps I should say dragged what’s LEFT of it.”

“Come on, Sub‑Commander, we know it’s out there,” Chekov pressed.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Earther.”

Smith had all he could possibly stand of this insolent Klingon. “Look, Jertax,” he made the name sound like the worst insult, “we have the means to make you talk.”

“Go ahead,” Jertax sneered. “Do your worst!”

“Mister Smith, you are dismissed!” Chekov said curtly.

“What?!”

“I told you . . . one more outburst and you’re out of here,” Chekov reminded his assistant sternly. “You can also consider yourself on report and confined to quarters until further notice.”

“You can’t do this!”

“Do you want me to have you thrown in the brig for insubordination?” Chekov challenged.

For a moment, Smith thought Chekov was bluffing. A quick glimpse at the Russian’s dark eyes, now hard with anger, immediately told him otherwise.

“No, Sir,” Smith backed down. “I’ll be in my quarters.”

“It’s so hard finding subordinates who know their place these days,” Jertax remarked. The sarcasm in his tone was heard loud and clear.

“Let’s get back to the first subject, Mister Jertax,” Chekov said. “Namely, the carrier that brought you and your viper craft out here! What’s it’s current position?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about,” Jertax said primly.

“So you choose to be uncooperative,” Chekov mused aloud. He opened the com‑channel at the table. “Chekov to sickbay!”

“Sickbay, Doctor Chapel.”

“I have a wery tight lipped patient down here in the brig, Doctor,” Chekov said with a feral grin. “Do you have something that’ll help loosen his tongue a little?”

“I’ll be right there. Chapel out!”

“Torture me all you want,” Jertax sneered. “I won’t tell you anything more than I already have.”

“We are not in the habit of torturing our prisoners for information,” Chekov informed his reluctant guest. “We have far more efficient means.”

A few moments later, Chapel entered with her little black bag. At Chekov’s order, she gave the Klingon an injection.

“Your drugs won’t work either, Earther,” Jertax laughed derisively.

“We’ll see,” Chekov countered blandly.

The drug took effect within a few minutes. The Klingon’s vital signs had dropped to the equivalent level of a Human or Vulcan in a meditative trance, and his eyes had clouded over.

“State your name, rank, and home world,” Chekov ordered.

“My name is Jertax . . . rank, sub‑commander . . . home world, Thetis,” he replied in a dead monotone.

Chapel checked the Klingon’s physiological readings once more. “He’s under,” she announced. “Ask him any question, he should answer.”

“Jertax, what is the position of the carrier that brought you and your viper craft here?” Chekov asked.

All he got in response was a blank stare.

Chapel, Chekov, and Kirk all stared at one another askance.

“Doctor Chapel, are you sure he’s under?” Chekov queried.

Chapel checked Jertax’s physiological readings for the third time. “His vital sign readings indicate that he is,” she replied.

“Try asking him the question again, Mister Chekov,” Kirk suggested.

“Alright,” Chekov turned back to the Klingon. “From the top! State your name, rank, and home world.”

Jertax complied readily.

“Tell us the position of the carrier that brought you here,” Chekov continued.

Another blank stare and no answer.

“Some kind of psychological conditioning, perhaps?” Chekov asked, directing his question and gaze at Chapel.

“I suppose,” she shrugged. “Except this drug’s supposed to over ride any kind of psychological conditioning.”

“May I, Mister Chekov?” Kirk asked.

“By all means, Keptin.”

Kirk turned his attention to the prisoner. “Mister Jertax, why do your people want the Exos System so badly?”

“We need it for food production, security, and expansion,” Jertax replied in the same dull, flat tone in which he had given his name a few moments ago. The words coming from his lips sounded stilted, like a memorized script.

“Are there any other reasons why your people want this particular star system so badly?” Kirk pressed.

Again, the blank stare and no verbal response.

“Doctor Chapel, are you sure you gave him the right amount?” Chekov asked.

“Yes, I am,” she replied indignantly.

“Can you afford to increase the dosage?” Kirk suggested tactfully. “Perhaps this one has a higher tolerance for the drug.”

“I can give him one more shot without risk,” Chapel answered stiffly, refilling the hypo.

At Kirk’s nod, Chapel gave Jertax another shot. They waited a few moments allowing the drug to take effect, then began the second round of questioning. The results were the same.

“Damn!” Chekov swore. “How is it he still withholds the answers to crucial questions?”

Kirk turned to Chapel. “The drug can over ride psychological conditioning,” he said slowly, “but how about telepathic conditioning?”

“I don’t know, Captain,” Chapel replied. “I don’t think it’s ever been tested against telepathic conditioning.”

“We need someone who is capable of probing Jertax’s mind telepathically,” Kirk said.

“How about Lieutenant Tamis?” Chapel suggested. “He won’t have the emotional reservations that Spock or T’Vaun would. And, I think he’s presently off duty.”

“Call him,” Chekov ordered.

Tamis arrived five minutes later. He quickly established a mind link between himself and the Klingon. In searching Jertax’s mind for the questions he had refused to answer, even under the influence of truth serum, Tamis encountered strong telepathic barriers. He called all of the skills he possessed into play, trying to negotiate the barriers without success. At length, he terminated the link and reported to the others . “In my opinion a stronger telepath than I is responsible for setting up those blocks,” he concluded.

“Mister Tamora, take the prisoner to sickbay’s maximum security area until the drug wears off,” Chekov ordered. “Keep close watch on him at all times. Is that clear?”

“Yes, Sir,” Tamora nodded curtly. She and the other two guards escorted the numb Jertax out of the interrogation room. Chapel followed a few steps behind.

“I didn’t know any of the telepathic races living within Klingon sphere of influence were so powerful,” Chekov mused aloud.

“Nor did I,” Kirk agreed. “The thought is sobering, to say the least!”

“The Klingon’s conditioning is not only impenetrable, but also highly selective,” Tamis added.

“Tell me something, Mister Tamis,” Chekov said slowly. “Are you and Lieutenant Sharla capable of such selective barricading?”

“Not unaided,” Tamis replied. “We must have the consent of the other party, and the help of the d’jahai crystals.”

“D’jahai crystals?” Kirk echoed.

“As you know, like the Vulcans, we Deltans also have limited telepathic ability,” Tamis explained quietly. “The d’jahai crystals act as an amplifier to boost our power when needed.” He paused. “At birth my people are given a d’jahai crystal. Over the years, as we and our powers grow and mature, we become psychically linked to our birth d’jahai. When, and if, we choose to take one as a bondmate we exchange our birth d’jahai as part of the ceremony, in the way you Humans exchange rings. It symbolizes our decision to bind ourselves one to another for life.” He loosed the collar of his tunic and gingerly pulled out a crystalline gem, emitting a faint green glow. It was attached to a gold chain around his neck. “This is Sharla’s birth d’jahai. She wears mine.”

“It’s beautiful,” Chekov complimented with a smile.

Kirk remembered the dreams and visions of a larger blue crystal. “Is that as large as they come, Mister Tamis?” he asked.

“Yes!” He tucked the crystal back under his tunic and fastened the collar. “However, our legends do speak of larger ones. Much larger ones! Capable of boosting one’s psi potential to almost infinite levels.”

Kirk shuddered, remembering Gary Mitchell and Elizabeth Dehner. “Are any of those large ones still around?” he asked.

“No,” Tamis shook his head wistfully.

“What happened to the larger crystals?” Chekov asked.

“Our history and legends concur that the ka d’jahai were destroyed during my planet’s dark times, a millennia ago,” Tamis replied.

“You just called them KA d’jahai,” Chekov said thoughtfully.

“Each type of stone fits into a different category,” Tamis explained. “The ones Sharla and I wear are called NE d’jahai, or birth stones. Then there were numerous EL d’jahai, or elementals. They represent the earth, air, wood, fire, and water. The ka d’jahai were also referred to as soul stones.”

“Why is that?” Chekov pressed.

“During the last of our civil wars, the kai or the soul of the most psi‑adept prisoners‑of‑war was forcibly removed from the body and imprisoned within the large stones,” Tamis replied. “His psychic energy would provide the stone with power. The psi‑adept, or in some cases, adepts would be the guiding force. He who powered the ka d’jahai would, in essence, become a formidable weapon against his own side.”

“That’s horrible!” Chekov shuddered.

“Of course, it’s only legend,” Tamis replied.

“Did your people do any off‑world colonizing during the times they allegedly used the ka d’jahai?” Kirk asked.

“The records of Delta’s off‑world colonization period are fragmentary, Captain,” Tamis explained. “But, from what our historians have been able to piece together coupled with our legends, it would appear that we did.”

“I see,” Kirk murmured thoughtfully. Could Tenochtitlan in fact be a remnant of Delta’s era of colonizing and expansion? He remembered Joanna mentioning a city peopled by Deltans during the seizure she suffered following their chess game.

Tamis stole a glance at the chronometer on his wrist. “Will you be needing me for anything else?” he asked his companions. “I am due on duty in five minutes.”

“You may go, Mister Tamis,” Kirk dismissed him. “Thanks for the brief cultural exchange.”

“Anytime, Sir,” Tamis said with a grin.

“Keptin, may I have a word with you before you leave?” Chekov requested, as Kirk started for the door.

“Certainly, Mister Chekov,” Kirk returned to the interrogation table. “What’s up?”

“As much as I hate to admit this, I think Mister Smith’s suspicions about the younger Doctor McCoy merit checking,” Chekov replied, bracing himself to the verbal barrage sure to come.

“What would you suggest I do?” Kirk asked in an ice cold tone that sent shivers down his security chief’s spine. “I don’t have enough evidence to have her arrested, and I’ve already ordered her to stay away from that vaccine.”

“She disobeyed that order this morning, Sir,” Chekov respectfully pointed out.

“She had good reason, as I’ve already told you,” Kirk said morosely.

“I can put a twenty‑four hour watch on her,” Chekov suggested. “The man would be very discreet.”

“I don’t know, Mister Chekov,” Kirk hedged. The idea seemed a trifle underhanded to him.

“It would go a long way towards proving her innocence as well as her possible guilt,” Chekov pointed out.

“That’s true . . . ” Kirk admitted with reluctance. “You’re sure the man will be discreet?”

“She won’t even know he’s there,” Chekov assured him.

“Alright, put a twenty‑four hour watch on Doctor McCoy,” Kirk ordered reluctantly. “And, Mister Chekov, keep it between us, alright?”

“Mum’s the word, Sir,” Chekov agreed readily.

*****\

Joanna McCoy reported for duty promptly at 0850 the next morning feeling more fatigued than ever. She had slept through the night, with the aid of two little yellow pills from Doctor M’Benga. But her slumber was haunted once again by the dreams.

“Good morning, Jo,” McCoy took a sip of his morning coffee while scrutinizing her with a critical eye. “You feeling alright?”

“None the worse for wear,” Joanna replied.

“Did you sleep alright?”

“I slept fine,” Joanna sighed wearily. She pointed to the coffee cup in her father’s hands. “Mind if I have a sip?”

“Be my guest!” McCoy handed her the cup. “Go ahead and finish it . You look like you need it more than I do.”

“Thanks,” she retorted drily, then took a deep gulp. “I just wish the damned dreams would stop!”

“You dreamed?” McCoy queried in amazement. “Those little pills M’Benga gave you should’ve induced dreamless sleep.”

“If those pills are still under warranty, I’d strongly suggest you return ’em and get your money back” Joanna suggested with a yawn.

“Were they the same dreams you’ve been dreaming, Squirt?” McCoy asked kindly.

Joanna nodded, and took another sip of coffee. “Except they ended differently this time.”

“Oh?” McCoy asked. “How so?”

“At the end of the dream The Other seemed to have found what she’d been looking for all the other times,” Joanna related the events of the dream slowly. “Instead of running away in terror, she found peace.” She paused long enough to yawn again. “Which is more than I can say for me!”

“Is Smith harassing you again?” McCoy asked darkly.

“No, this has nothing to do with him, thank God!” Joanna replied. “Right after The Other left, I was hit by strong feelings of foreboding,” she explained. “The residue of it’s still with me.”

“Odd you should say that,” McCoy remarked. “I felt the same kind of thing after last night’s . . . oh whatever the hell’s been going on around here.”

“There was another of those psychic attacks again last night?” Joanna asked.

“Yes,” McCoy replied. “You would’ve been asleep by that time.”

“That would explain why the pills didn’t deliver on the dreamless sleep,” Joanna remarked.

“It would at that,” McCoy agreed. “At any rate, last night’s was stronger than any of the previous ones. The entire crew was hit in one way or another.”

“And you were left with deep seated feelings of foreboding?” Joanna asked.

“They’re still with me, Jo.”

Further conversation was brought to a halt when George Compton, the head nurse burst into McCoy’s office. “Doctor McCoy, it’s Ensign T’Pari! Her vitals are dropping fast!”

“Damn!” McCoy swore. This shouldn’t be happening! T’Pari was fine when she came out of her healing trance. “Where is she?”

“In the examining room, Doctor!”

“Good! George . . . Joanna . . . I want both of you to assist me,” McCoy ordered.

McCoy glanced up at the diagnostic screen on the wall next to the examination table. “Good God!” he muttered. T’Pari’s vital signs had dropped past the critical point. While McCoy, assisted by Nurse Compton, labored to keep the unconscious T’Pari from slipping further from life. Joanna ran the chem scan.

“Damn!”

“What is it, Joanna?” McCoy asked.

“Ryplar!” she answered grimly. “It’s all through her body.”

“Oh my God! How could she have possibly . . . ?” Compton gazed over at Joanna, his eyes filled with suspicion. Word through the ship’s grape vine was that Chekov’s assistant considered Doctor Joanna McCoy a prime suspect. The man had to have some good reason for his suspicions, even though the captain felt he lacked tangible evidence.

“Does Mister T’Pari have any close friends aboard this ship?” McCoy asked somberly.

“She has a brother in engineering,” Compton replied. “I believe his name’s Cadet Stenn.” He paused. “I’ll tell him if you want me too.”

“Thanks, Son, but I think it would be better if he heard it from Doctor T’Vaun, or perhaps Mister Spock and myself,” McCoy replied. “In the meantime, I want you and Joanna to move her into intensive care, and see that she’s made comfortable.”

After McCoy left, Joanna and Compton worked in stony silence, preparing Ensign T’Pari for removal to the intensive care unit.

“Dammit, I really hate this thing,” Compton murmured aloud, as he assisted Joanna in hooking their dying patient to the life support systems. “If she had a chance, it would be different. But she doesn’t! All it’s doing is prolonging the agony! Hell, if she had any say in this, she’d probably stop us on the grounds that it’s totally illogical.”

“I agree with you, Nurse,” Joanna replied, taking care to lower her voice. She couldn’t shake the uncanny feelin that Ensign T’Pari, though unconscious, could hear everything they said. “However, the General Surgeon’s office doesn’t quite see it that way.”

Compton frowned. “Yes, I’m sure you DO agree, given the circumstances,” he said coolly. “But, as you just said, we must all obey our orders, mustn’t we?”

“Are you trying to make some kind of point, Nurse?” Joanna snapped.

“No, forget it,” he said sullenly.

“Easy for you to say!” Joanna wanted to scream back at him, knowing all too well the point he had wanted to make. She had seen that look of mistrust aimed in her general direction with increasing frequency ever since Smith had his first accusation.

“The patient is hooked up to the life support systems, Doctor,” Compton said stiffly. “May I be excused? I have other patients to check, and it won’t require both of us to keep vigil until your father returns.” His eyes clearly added, “you can’t do any more damage than you already have . . . ”

“Yes, you may go, Nurse,” Joanna curtly dismissed him. The last thing she wanted right now was Compton’s presence foisted upon her. She softly pulled up a chair, and sat down to wait for her father and Ensign T’Pari’s brother to arrive.

<<No . . . not the one . . . >>

“Ensign?” Joanna shook her head. She had seen two patients die of ryplar poisoning. Once they slipped this far into coma, there was no reviving whatsoever. Yet, she had heard Ensign T’Pari speak quite clearly.

<< . . . not the one! I know who . . . >>

There is was again!

<< . . . mind not trained . . . forgive . . . must communicate this way . . . no choice . . . I know . . . >>

Suddenly, Joanna realized it was Ensign T’Pari’s thoughts she heard echoing within her own. The horrors of the forced mind link in her dreams threatened to overwhelm her. She labored with all her strength of will to remain calm. <<You’ve done nothing to require my forgiveness, Ensign,>> Joanna thought back. She became vaguely aware of having broken some basic Vulcan taboo. It forbade tampering with the mind of an untrained telepath. Joanna couldn’t understand why such a thing would pop into Ensign T’PARI’s thoughts now. “Time enough later for answers!” she told herself silently, then focused her thoughts back on her dying patient. <<Ensign, what are you trying to tell me?>>

<<I know the one . . . >>

<<The saboteur?>>

<<Yes, I know . . . >>

Joanna could feel T’Pari’s thoughts growing steadily weaker. Strange, fiery red images of a high mountain retreat, and Vulcan priestesses clad in white filled her mind. She had no understanding whatsoever of the alien images that flitted through her head; nor of the meanings of such words as Seleya or katra. She only knew that T’Pari must somehow hold on until her brother, Stenn arrived.

<< . . . I know who . . . enemy . . . >>

<<No, Ensign, save your strength,>> Joanna gently admonished the dying Vulcan. <<Stenn is coming./>>

A few moments later, she was startled out of her dismal musings by the arrival of her father, followed by Mister Spock and a young Vulcan lad. “Ensign T’Pari’s brother, Stenn!” Joanna surmised silently. Behind the carefully set stoic mask, the boy’s grief and anger burned white hot. Realizing this, Joanna quickly averted her eyes in shame.

“Joanna, would you mind?” her father tactfully dismissed her.

“Not at all,” Joanna replied gratefully, then took her leave. She beat a hasty retreat to the solitude of her father’s office. “Oh, Lord, what’s happening to me?” she wondered aloud. Knowing Ensign Sabarat’s mortal distress without having been told; the increasing suspicion and doubt mirrored in the eyes of other crew members; Compton’s blatant unvoiced hostility; hearing the dying T’Pari’s voice in her head; and seeing Stenn’s emotions; where was it all going to end? “Everyone around me seems like an open book, with all the pages laid bare for me to see, whether I wish to or not,” Joanna mused silently. She sank down heavily into the plush softness of the sofa, banishing all thought from her mind. If she could just blank her mind completely, if only for a few minutes . . .

“Joanna?” Jim’s voice was like a bucket of ice water thrown in her face.

“If you’re looking for my father, he’s in the intensive care unit with Ensign T’Pari,” she replied in a cold, flat monotone. Kirk shivered, rather his thoughts did. Bewilderment tinged with hurt surfaced. She retreated deeper into her mind.

“I just received word that the ensign’s dying,” Kirk said carefully, taking a seat beside her on the sofa. She caught a mental image of his treading on egg shells.

“Yes! Ryplar poisoning, and I’m not responsible!”

“I don’t recall suggesting you were,” Kirk said gently.

“I’m sorry, Jim, I don’t mean to take your head off,” Joanna apologized meekly. “I just wish Mister Chekov would hurry up and find out who’s really sabotaging the vaccine and killing off security personnel.”

“You’ve been under a lot of pressure since we left Starbase Four, with Mister Smith’s accusations and those strange dreams and visions,” Kirk said, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. She felt his concern in the physical contact and something more. “I think you’ve held up remarkably well under the circumstances.”

Joanna shook her head. “Sometimes, I’m not so sure of that.”

“Well, I’M sure!”

“Thanks, Jim,” Joanna said warming to his words of praise and the emotions accompanying them. Then, in the back of his mind she saw something else. “Surveillance? You’ve actually had me under surveillance for the last twelve hours?”

“H‑how . . . how could you p‑possibly . . . ?” Kirk stammered in amazement.

“I thought you believed me!”

The air seemed so charged with her hurt and anger, he felt as if he could slice through it with a knife. “Joanna, please, I‑‑” How in the hell did she found out?

“Never mind how, the fact is I did find out!” Joanna unwittingly spoke to his unvoiced thought. She snatched her hand from his and rose stiffly. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll tell Dad you’re here.” She turned heel and walked out without even a backward glance.

Kirk had a sudden urge to go after her and make her listen. His reasons for allowing Chekov to put her under surveillance were good ones. He had to make her see that. Then the words of his great‑grandfather, Samuel Kirk’s favorite catch phrase sprang to mind: you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. “I’ll try and talk to her after she’s had a chance to cool off,” he decided.

*****

McCoy entered, a few moments later, looking haggard. In the space of a single morning, he seemed to have aged at least twenty years.

Kirk rose. “Well, Bones? What’s the word on Ensign T’Pari?”

“She just died a few minutes ago,” McCoy sighed, collapsing into the over stuffed chair behind the desk. “Ryplar!”

“I know, about the ryplar that is . . . ” Kirk replied. “Joanna just told me.”

“Doctor T’Vaun and Nurse Compton are autopsying the body,” McCoy continued, “and Spock’s taken her brother to the bridge to dispatch a message to their parents.”

Kirk nodded. A horrible thought had just occurred to him. Yeoman Ross and Ensign T’Pari were the only guards to have survived the most recent attempt against the cargo. The former, having sustained severe brain damage in the battle against the unknown enemy agent, couldn’t testify as to what had happened. Worse, as far as he knew, no one had an opportunity to question Ensign T’Pari about yesterday morning’s sabotage attempt. Now, with her dead, there was no one left to collaborate or refute Joanna’s story. Coincidence? No way! Someone had definitely gone out of their way to permanently silence those guards. “Who?” Kirk wondered silently. “Joanna?” That would be the obvious choice. “No! It HAS to be someone else! Joanna couldn’t possibly . . . ” But what possible motive would anyone have for framing her specifically?

“You!” a feminine voice growled savagely.

McCoy and Kirk whirled in their tracks. Ensign Lori Clarke stood framed in the open doorway, her face contorted with rage.

“You bastard!” Clarke directed her venom at Kirk. “You’re no better than a common murderer!”

“Ensign, I don’t understand‑‑” Kirk stammered in complete bewilderment.

“You ran off and left my mother to die!” Clarke screamed, her eyes glistening with angry tears.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Ensign,” Kirk tried to salvage a bit of his composure. “Why don’t you come in and sit down‑‑”

“The Corrigedor, remember? They called for help and you chose to run off and leave them stranded on that God‑forsaken mud ball of a planet!” Clarke sprang for Kirk’s throat, all nails bared. “Murderer!”

Kirk managed to catch Clarke by the wrists in the proverbial nick of time. “Ensign, please! Let’s sit down and talk about this,” he tried desperately to reason with the hysterical young woman.

“You’ll go down alright, Captain,” she spat. Tears rolled freely down her cheeks. “And by God, I’ll see that you don’t get up again for killing my mother!”

“Mister Clarke, will you please try an’ listen to reason?” McCoy moved in and grabbed the struggling woman from behind.

“Let go of me!” Clarke screamed. A well placed kick dislocated the doctor’s knee. McCoy tumbled to the floor howling in pain and astonishment.

“Doctor?” It was Nurse Compton. His eyes popped right out of his head as he beheld the scene in the chief medical officer’s office. Kirk continued to struggle against the enraged young ensign, while McCoy lay on the floor holding his aching knee.

“Dammit, don’t just stand there gaping, Boy! Hit her with a tranquilizer!” McCoy shouted to the dazed young man.

“Yes, Sir!” Compton left, then returned a few minutes later with a filled hypo. He quickly administered the recommended dose, catching the crazed ensign’s left shoulder.

Clarke struggled fiercely for a moment more, before her entire body went limp. Kirk caught her as she fell.

“Let her lie down on that sofa, Jim,” McCoy ordered, as Compton helped him to the chair behind his desk. “Nurse, get Doctor T’Vaun, Doctor McCoy, or whoever the hell’s out there to come in and see to that girl. I’m not gonna be movin’ around very much for a while, that’s for damn’ sure.”

“Yes, Sir,” Compton murmured, making a hasty exit.

A few moments later, Joanna entered, carrying a portable medical kit. “What happened?” she directed the question to her father.

“Ensign Clarke went off the deep end and tried to scratch the captain’s eyes out,” McCoy sighed irritably. “I had Compton give her a tranquilizer to help settle her down.”

“Oh, G‑God, I’m s‑s‑sorry! S‑s‑so sorry . . .” Clarke’s rage had evaporated leaving behind grief and remorse.

Pointedly ignoring Kirk, Joanna knelt down beside the stricken girl. “Can you tell me what happened, Ensign?” she asked kindly.

Sobbing, Clarke poured out the entire story about the distress signal from the lost Corrigedor and of her mother’s plight.

“I did what I thought was necessary to‑‑”

“Not now, Captain,” Joanna snapped. “I don’t want to set the ensign off again.”

“Sorry,” Kirk apologized stiffly.

Joanna returned her attention to Clarke. “Think you can make it to your quarters?” she asked.

“I‑I don’t know,” Clarke replied meekly. “I feel kinda wobbly!”

“Go with her, Joanna,” McCoy ordered.

“Alright!” Joanna gently eased Clarke to her feet. “I’ll send Doctor T’Vaun in on my way out.”

*****

Uhura stopped humming in the middle of a refrain and frowned. “Mister Spock, I think our shadow’s sending out another message,” she reported.

The first officer reached her station in three long strides. “Can you locate the reception point, Commander?”

Uhura focused all her concentration to the task at hand. “I have it, Sir,” she announced triumphantly. “Deck ten . . . cabin 38‑E. I’m picking up a message going out from there, too.”

Spock turned to the security chief. “Mister Chekov, who is assigned to that cabin?”

Chekov ran a quick check of the roster. “That cabin was assigned right after we left Starbase Four, Mister Spock,” he replied with a sinking heart, “to Lieutenant Joanna McCoy.”

Stunned silence fell over the bridge complement like a heavy shroud. Spock’s next order broke the hush like the crack of a whip: “Mister Chekov, dispatch a security team to Doctor McCoy’s cabin at once. Mister Uhura, please inform Captain Kirk.”

Uhura reluctantly carried out her assigned task. “Mister Spock, the captain said to tell you he’s on his way to Doctor McCoy’s quarters now. He’ll meet you and Mister Chekov there.”

Spock rose. “Thank you, Mister Uhura, you have the conn,” he replied, then turned to the security chief. “Shall we go, Mister Chekov?”

“It’s not as if I had a choice,” the Russian grumbled under his breath.

*****

The insistent sound of her cabin chime roused Joanna to a state of semi‑consciousness. Awkwardly raising herself to a sitting position, she glanced about her surroundings in astonishment. “How in the hell did I get into my quarters?” she wondered aloud. The last thing she remembered was entering Ensign Clarke’s quarters.

There was another buzz, followed by the sound of someone pounding loudly on her door. The noise rattled her teeth and made her blinding headache even worse. “Come in, it’s open,” she responded, wincing on every word.

Kirk, Spock, and Chekov burst into the room with three armed guards at their heels. All six looked grim. “Guards, I want a complete search made of this cabin,” Chekov ordered.

Joanna swung her legs over the edge of her bunk, rubbing the back or her head as she did so. To her surprise, she felt a lump. “Captain? What’s going on?” she asked, totally taken aback.

“Perhaps you might tell me that,” Kirk snapped. Joanna flinched away from the pain and anger she heard in his voice. “Commander Uhura pin‑pointed this room as the reception point for a message sent by our shadow out there.”

“My quarters?” Joanna blurted out incredulously. “That’s impossible!”

“Mister Chekov, I found these in the top bureau drawer,” one of the guards, an Andorian female reported tersely. In her hands she held a communicator and disrupter weapon. Both were of Klingon issue.

“Doctor McCoy, do you recognize these?” Chekov took them from the guard and trust them in Joanna’s face.

“No, of course not!” she snapped back, her own anger rising. “I’ve never seen them before in my life!”

“Sir,” the other two guards approached Chekov. “We found these clothes hanging in the closet, and gallons of some clear liquid in the shower stall.”

“Don’t touch the stuff in the shower,” Chekov ordered. “Ensign Adriyone?”

“Yes, Sir?” the Andorian stepped forward.

“Get someone from pharmacy down here to check out the stuff in the bathroom,” Chekov ordered, “and remain here until they arrive.”

“Right away, Sir,” Adriyone moved to the nearest wall com‑unit.

Chekov took the clothing offered by the youngest guard present, Yeoman Galv, a feisty Tellarite. The black pants, loose fitting blouse, hooded mask, and belt with the fancy buckle; the saboteur’s costume was all there. “Damn!” the Russian muttered through clenched teeth.

Kirk abruptly turned his back on the entire group. “Mister Chekov, lock her up!” he ordered in a tight voice.

Joanna couldn’t believe her ears. “What?” she cried out incredulously.

“Charges are destruction of Federation property, first degree murder, espionage, and treason! There will be a hearing tomorrow morning at 0900 to determine whether or not we have sufficient cause to start court martial proceedings.”

Chekov curtly motioned Yeoman Galv and Ensign Sanchez over. “Please escort Doctor McCoy to the brig,” he ordered.

Galv and Sanchez took Joanna firmly by the forearms and started to escort her out.

“Jim? Spock?” It was McCoy. The doctor hobbled into his daughter’s quarters with difficulty. Bracing himself against the wall, he stared aghast at the scene before him. “What the hell?!”

Kirk’s heart went out to McCoy, but somehow he couldn’t bring himself to meet the doctor’s sharp blue eyes. “I’m afraid Mister Smith was right, Bones,” Kirk’s quiet voice was edge with bitterness.

“About what?” McCoy demanded indignantly.

“About Joanna being the enemy agent,” Kirk replied.

“Dad, no! It’s a frame!” Joanna protested.

“Jim, what the hell is this? If it’s another of your damn’ jokes, I find it in very poor taste.”

“It is no joke, Doctor,” Spock said somberly. He gestured towards the clothing, weapon, and communicator in Chekov’s hands. “The guards found the evidence in this room, along with several gallons of a clear liquid, which we suspect is ryplar.”

The color drained from McCoy’s face as he stared at the damning evidence in Chekov’s arms. Then, without a word, he turned and abruptly left the room.

As the guards marched Joanna out of the room, she quickly lowered her head so that no one present would see the tears spilling from her eyes. Her heart broke when the captain literally turned his back on her. When her father turned and left without so much as a good‑bye, how could you, or kiss my ass, it shattered into a million pieces. Never in her entire life could she ever remember feeling so alone.

“Jim? Are you alright?” Spock asked quietly, once they were alone.

“I will be in awhile,” Kirk replied, lying through his teeth. After this he was sure he would never be alright again. How could she have deceived him so completely? Worse, why had he been more than willing to believe her? Was it simply because she was Bones’ daughter, or were there deeper reasons? He shook his head to clear it of those unwanted thoughts. “Spock, you have the conn,” he ordered in a flat monotone. “If you need me, I’ll be in my quarters.”

“Very well, Captain,” Spock nodded and left the room.

Alone, Kirk forced his personal feelings to the back of his mind. He knew he was going to have to deal with them sooner or later, but not now. Until this mission was complete, he had to put those feelings aside and keep himself together. Kirk swallowed, and wiped the tears from his own cheeks before stepping into the corridor.

Captain’s log; stardate 3733.7 It’s my painful duty to report that Lieutenant Joanna McCoy, M.D. has been arrested and charged with the following: destruction of Federation property, i.e. the vaccine; six counts of first degree murder; espionage; and treason. Messages sent out by an unidentified vessel (presumably Klingon) were received and sent from her quarters. A search of her cabin, made at the time of her arrest, unearthed the following evidence: clothing fitting the description of same worn by the saboteur; a weapon and communicator, both of Klingon design; and thirty‑five gallons of a clear liquid which our pharmacy department identified as ryplar. The prisoner has been questioned at length by Commander Chekov. She stubbornly maintains her innocence of any wrong doing. A hearing to determine whether or not Doctor McCoy faces court martial, is set for tomorrow morning at 0900.

*****

Kirk switched off the recorder and exhaled a soft, melancholy sigh. “Joanna, you’re one hell of an actress! I’ve gotta give you that,” he mused in bitter silence. He grabbed the half empty bottle of whiskey on his desk and poured himself another hefty glassful. He had consumed far too much already, hoping the alcohol would numb the aching despair inside. So far, it hadn’t even made a dent. If anything, he felt worse. “Here’s to thespians everywhere,” he raised his arm in a mocking salute. “Cheers!” He downed the entire glass in a single gulp. “What the hell? I’m officially off duty!”

The door chime buzzed softly.

“Who . . . is it?” Kirk responded. It took a supreme effort of will not to slur his words.

“Spock, Captain. May I enter?”

“Yeah, sure! Why not?” Kirk shrugged, screwing the cap back on the whiskey bottle.

Spock slowly entered Kirk’s cabin.

“Checking up on me, ‘ey, Spock?” Kirk greeted him with a wan smile. “Pull up chair and sit down.” He held up the whiskey bottle. “Care for a drink?”

“No thank you, Jim.”

“Well, I’m gonna . . . ” Kirk defiantly opened the bottle and poured his . . . how many was it? He shrugged indifferently. It didn’t really matter. “So, what brings you to this neck of the woods, Spock?”

The Vulcan stiffly took the empty chair next to Kirk’s desk. “I have seen very little of you since Joanna McCoy’s arrest,” Spock replied. “I . . . realize this must be painful for you and her father as well. I thought perhaps you might wish to discuss the matter.”

When Spock mentioned McCoy, Kirk felt a twinge of guilt. “Here I am wallowing in a pool of self pity without even considering how much worse Bones must feel!” he chided himself silently. Aloud, he asked, “How’s Bones doing, Spock?”

“I do not know, Jim,” Spock answered quietly. “It seems that no one has seem him since he was treated for the dislocated knee inflicted upon him by Ensign Clarke.”

“I see.”

“If you wish, I could drop by his quarters,” Spock volunteered.

Kirk smiled wanly. It was a very generous offer on Spock’s part. An encounter with McCoy at present was bound to be highly emotional. “That’s alright, Spock. Sometimes we Humans need time alone to pull ourselves together after a traumatic experience. McCoy’ll come to us, when he’s ready.”

“I see! Jim, if you would rather be alone, I‑‑”

“No, Spock, stay still! I think I could use a little company right now.”

“I had noted that you and Joanna seemed mutually attracted to one another,” Spock ventured.

Kirk half smiled at the thought that she might have reciprocated his feelings. “You don’t miss much, do you?”

“I do pride myself on my powers of observation,” Spock stated matter‑of‑factly. “Tell me something, Jim? In your opinion, do you think she is guilty?”

“God knows, I don’t want to,” Kirk sighed. “But in the face of the evidence, what logical choice do I have?”

Spock did not comment.

Kirk studied the silent Vulcan for a moment. “You think she’s innocent, don’t you?” he asked hopefully. If the ever logical Spock had reason to believe in her innocence then maybe; just maybe . . .

“I reserve judgement,” Spock hedged.

Kirk wasn’t fooled for a moment. “Look, Spock,” he said, setting his drink aside untouched, “I know you pretty well, too. Granted my powers of observation aren’t as keen as your’s, but I’m still pretty good at seeing things.” He paused. “And right now, I’d be willing to bet my last cent that you think Joanna’s innocent.”

There was no way of evading the matter. “Very well, Jim, I do,” Spock admitted reluctantly.

“How? LOGICALLY, she’s as guilty as sin!”

“It may prove a lengthy explanation . . . ”

“That’s OK, Spock, I have plenty of time!”

*****

Locked away in a cell down in the brig, Joanna paced the floor relentlessly, like a caged animal. She desperately racked her brains trying to figure out how all the incriminating evidence had made its way into her quarters. “I sure as hell didn’t put it there,” she mused grimly.

The last thing Joanna remembered before her arrest was leaving sickbay with Ensign Clarke. She had escorted the young woman from sickbay to her quarters. “I remember following Ensign Clarke through the door, then‑‑”

“Doctor McCoy, you have a visitor,” Lieutenant Mioshi Tamora announced. “Please stand away from the door.”

Joanna glanced up as she moved a few steps back. A solemn faced Christine Chapel stood a few feet behind the guard with a cloth covered tray in her hands.

The guard nullified the force field barricading the door. “I can only allow you a few moments, Doctor Chapel,” Tamora said curtly.

“Thank you,” Chapel returned sardonically as she stepped inside the cell. The force field snapped on right behind her.

“Oh, Chris, am I ever glad to see you!” Joanna greeted her on the edge of tears. “I was beginning to think I’d been abandoned.”

“Don’t you believe that for one minute, Joanna,” Chapel admonished her gently. “I brought you a little something.” She placed the covered tray on the small table within the cell.

“Thanks, Chris, but I’m not very hungry,” Joanna sighed morosely.

“This isn’t exactly something to eat,” Chapel said, removing the cloth. On the tray sat a single glass filled to the brim with a clear liquid. “Scotty sends it with his compliments.”

Joanna picked up the glass, taking care not to spill, and took a sip. “Good God!” she exclaimed coughing between words. “This stuff’s pretty potent!”

“That’s the new batch,” Chapel explained. “Scotty sent you the first sample.”

“Give him a big hug for me, willya, Chris?” Joanna said, genuinely touched by the gesture. She had a sense that Scotty didn’t give the first sample of a new batch to just anyone.

“Hmpf! Knowing him, he’d rather collect in person,” Chapel retorted with a smile. They lapsed into a moment of strained silence. “I, uh . . . just want you to know that we all . . . Kevin, Nyota, Haikaru, Scotty, and everyone else believes you’re innocent.”

“No, not everyone else,” Joanna mused sadly thinking of Jim and her father. “Thanks, Chris,” she said aloud managing a wan smile. “You don’t know how much this means to me.” She took another sip from the glass. “Tell me something. How’s . . . how’s Dad taking all this?”

Chapel’s heart sank. She had hoped that Joanna wouldn’t ask about McCoy. She had more than enough problems of her own right now. The last thing she needed was the added burden of worrying about her father.

When her visitor didn’t answer, Joanna knew at once something was amiss. “Chris, what is it?” she prodded anxiously.

Oh well! Maybe it would be better in the long run to be right up front! “I haven’t seen much of him . . . since your arrest,” Chapel began slowly. “He’s pretty much kept to his cabin, resting that hurt knee of his.” She sighed. “George took him a bit of supper a little while ago‑‑”

“And?” Joanna prompted, biting her lip in dismay.

“Scotty said he saw George bolting out of your father’s cabin at warp speed,” Chapel explained, “with the supper tray flying close behind him.”

“Damn!” Joanna silently vowed to inflict upon the real enemy agent the physical equivalent of the pain both she and her father presently suffered. She quickly averted her eyes to the floor so Chapel couldn’t see the tears she could no longer keep back.

“Joanna,” Chapel said gently, placing a comforting hand on her distraught colleague’s shoulder, “he needs time to come to grips with this situation, too. After he’s thought things through, he’s going to high tail it right down here to see you.”

“I . . I hope so, Chris . . . ” Joanna half sobbed.

“Well, I know so!” Chapel declared stoutly. “Deep down, I think you do, too.” She paused briefly. “Even before we met for the first time, I’d already felt like I knew you because he talks about you; a lot. It may not seem true right now, but believe me, your father loves you very much.”

“Doctor Chapel, your time’s up!” Mioshi Tamora announced, stepping up to the door.

“Chris, do me a favor?” Joanna asked, as she and her visitor rose.

“Anything, Joanna, you name it!”

“Tell Dad I love him and that I’m innocent,” Joanna replied.

“I’ll tell him,” Chapel promised. She turned to the guard waiting on the other side of the force field barrier. “I’m ready, Lieutenant.”

The instant the force field was switched off, Joanna struck with the swiftness of a cobra. She knocked the unsuspecting Chapel unconscious with a blow to the back of the head. Chapel’s inert form fell heavily against the petite Lieutenant Tamora, allowing Joanna more than enough time to bolt out of her cell. Another strike rendered the guard unconscious before she could even think of summoning help.

“I hope you can find it in yourself to forgive me when this is all over, Chris,” Joanna whispered to Doctor Chapel, as she dragged her and the guard back into the cell. “I have no other choice.” She gently stretched the unconscious women out on the floor and relieved Tamora of her weapon.

“Alright, Doctor McCoy, hands up!” Yeoman Galv came upon her just as she had turned on the force field barring the door of her cell.

“Damn!” Joanna turned and raised her hands.

“Now throw down your weapon . . . nice and slow,” the Tellarite ordered, advancing.

Joanna tossed the phaser pistol against the wall to her right. Keeping a sharp eye Galv, she forced herself take slow, even breaths. “Relax,” she told herself.

Galv moved slowly towards Joanna’s weapon, his dark eyes and pistol trained on her the entire time. When he reached it, he knelt down. Their eyes met and held each other’s gaze. Galv remained in his crouched position eyes still fixed on his prisoner for what seemed an interminable length of time. Neither of them moved a muscle. Frustrated, Joanna bit her tongue to keep from screaming.

Finally, Galv turned to retrieve her weapon. The minute he took his eyes off her, Joanna lashed out with a powerful side kick, catching the side of his head. Galv crashed into the wall, landing ignobly on his generous rump. Before he had time to recover, Joanna dove and retrieved her weapon. “One false move, Mister, and you’re dead!” she snapped, aiming her pistol at Galv’s mid‑section. She fervently hoped he hadn’t noticed that the phaser was still set on stun. “Now YOU drop YOUR weapon, right there in front of you.”

Visibly shaken, Galv complied.

“Get those hands up!” Joanna ordered tersely. “Now kick that phaser over here in front of my feet. Nice and easy!”

Again, Galv did as ordered.

Joanna stooped down to retrieve Galv’s weapon, keeping him under surveillance the entire time. A quick glance out of the corner of her eye revealed that Chapel and Tamora were still unconscious. She immediately felt a pang of conscience. “OK, OK, I’ll apologize to one and all later,” Joanna vowed to her stinging conscience. “Right now, I have more pressing matters to attend to.” She nullified the force field over the door to her cell. “Alright, Mister, inside!”

Galv entered the cell sullenly, hands still in the air.

“Stand over there, against the back wall,” Joanna ordered.

“You won’t get away with this, Doctor McCoy!” Galv said. “There’s no way you can get off this ship.”

“You have an unfortunate tendency to talk too much,” Joanna said, taking aim with her phaser.

“No, wait . . . ”

“Pleasant dreams!” Joanna pulled the trigger and stunned the guard. His terror and astonishment at the prospect of his immediate demise had nearly overwhelmed her. “He’s in for one helluva surprise when he wakes up and finds out he’s alive,” she mused grimly. When Galv lost consciousness, his emotions had vanished leaving her with her own guilt. “I had no choice!” Joanna silently tried to justify her actions. “I can’t take the risk of him summoning help before I can get out of the brig.” She turned on the force field barrier to the cell she had just vacated and left.

*****

“Lieutenant Tamora, I’m relieving you!” Smith called out as he entered the brig an hour later.

There was no answer.

“Lieutenant?” Something was wrong. Smith pulled his phaser and set it on the heavy stun setting. “Lieutenant Tamora, please answer!”

He heard a faint moan from the area where they had placed Doctor Joanna McCoy. “Lieutenant, is that you?” Smith bellowed, making his way quickly in the general direction from whence he had heard the sound. Reaching the cell, he was horrified to find Joanna gone. In her place, Doctor Chapel, Yeoman Galv, and Lieutenant Tamora lay stretched out on the floor. Tamora moaned again, and tried to sit up.

“Stay still, Lieutenant, I’ll be right there!” Smith cut the force field and dashed inside. “What happened?”

“Doctor Chapel c‑came down . . . to visit the prisoner,” Tamora reported slowly, as Smith gently helped her to a sitting position. “Her time was up. I came to remove her and . . . ”

“And what?” Smith prompted.

“I‑it happened so fast, I‑I need time to think,” Tamora rubbed the back of her neck, wincing.

“Mister Smith, is something wrong?” it was Ensign Adriyone.

“Doctor McCoy’s escaped,” Smith told the Andorian tersely. “Get on the horn to sick bay on the double. She’s left three casualties in her wake.”

“Yes, Sir!”

“And inform the captain and Mister Chekov!” Smith called after her.

Chapel’s eyelids started to flutter. “Oh God, this hasta be the wors’ hangover ever . . . ” she groaned.

“Lie still, Doctor Chapel.”

At the sound of Smith’s voice, Chapel’s eyelids flew open. The cell and Lieutenant Tamora sitting next to her with her head between her knees . . . suddenly, it all came back. “Joanna?”

“Gone, Doctor,” Smith informed her curtly.

“Gone?” Chapel echoed. She sat up quickly, making her head spin again. “How in the hell can she be gone?”

“She’s escaped,” Smith spat. “Knocked all three of you over the head and split! If that doesn’t prove her guilt to certain people, I don’t know what will.”

“It proves nothing,” Chapel shot back irritably, “except that she’s desperate.”

*****

Captain’s log; stardate 3734.2. Commander Chekov has informed me that Doctor Joanna McCoy escaped from custody several hours ago. I have ordered a full scale priority one search. So far Doctor McCoy has not been found.

McCoy returned to his quarters feeling so low he could easily crawl under a snake’s belly, to quote one of Great Gran’daddy McCoy’s oft used catch phrases. He had just spent the last few hours alone among the specimens in the botany lab, trying to think through this mess concerning Joanna. The more he had tried to sort things out, the more tangled they became. In disgust, he had given it up and returned to his quarters. “This can’t be really happening! Maybe I’m still sleeping off that home made hootch I guzzled during that poker game a few nights back! If I am, I just wish to hell I’d wake up sometime soon.”

McCoy realized with a start that he wasn’t alone, the minute the door whisked shut behind him. He stood rooted to the spot for a moment. “Who’s there?” he finally ventured, peering into the darkness.

“Dad?” It was Joanna. “Oh, thank God! For a minute I thought you’d moved and left no forwarding address‑‑” Her words tumbled out, one over another.

“What are you doing here?” McCoy demanded in a tone as cold as ice.

Joanna shivered. “I need your help,” she ventured hesitantly.

“MY help?” McCoy echoed incredulously. “To do what? Finish the job you’ve already started?” e adamantly shook his head. “No, Joanna! I won’t betray my oaths as a doctor or as a Starfleet officer. Not even for you!”

This was too much! “What makes you think I’m asking you to do that?” she demanded, giving full vent to all of the anger, frustration, and grief that had accumulated over the past several hours. “You think I am the Klingon agent, don’t you?”

“What the hell do you expect me to think?” McCoy shot back. “God knows, I believed you. Even against that mountain of evidence Smith kept piling up. Even when you were arrested, I clung to the hope that you were innocent!” He averted his gaze to the floor so she wouldn’t see the tears glistening in his eyes. “This escape’s taken that last hope from me.”

“Did you expect me to sit in that cell twiddling my thumbs while that son‑of‑a‑bitch railroads me into a penal colony?” Joanna countered furiously. “Dammit, I’m innocent!”

The desperation in her voice came through loud and clear. Perhaps she was innocent after all. “Jo, listen to me,” McCoy pleaded. “You’ve got to turn yourself back in.”

“I can’t, Dad.”

McCoy walked over and placed his hands on her shoulders. “You’re desperate! I see that now! That’s why you pulled that escape, isn’t is?”

Joanna nodded.

“That’s why you’ve got to turn yourself in, Jo,” he tried to reason with her. “We have to prove your innocence through proper legal procedure.”

“Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?” Joanna queried sardonically. “Isn’t that the way the legal system’s supposed to work?”

“Yes, but . . . ”

“Did you hear yourself just now?” Joanna pressed. “You said I have to prove my INNOCENCE through proper legal procedure.”

McCoy could not answer.

“Let’s face it, Dad,” Joanna argued. “The deck’s stacked against me. My judges and jury are going to be convinced of my guilt before the trial even begins.”

“You’re probably right,” McCoy admitted reluctantly. “People have been convicted on less evidence than Smith has lined up against you.” Evidence? Hell, all most people need is a lousy rumor! He remembered all too well the raised eyebrows and doubtful looks people cast in her direction once word circulated that the assistant security chief considered her a prime suspect. The pitying stares directed at him were even worse.

“Well, Leonard, you’ve sure got one helluva a choice to make, don’t you?” McCoy realized in silence, as he sank down in the nearest chair. If he agreed to help her, he risked facing a court martial board himself. And what if she did turn out to be guilty? He shook his head. “You know better than that, Leonard McCoy,” he admonished himself severely. “It’s one thing to doubt your belief in her for a time, but quite another to start believing in your doubts.”

On the other hand, what if he turned her back over to Chekov? Legally, ethically, morally, and Spock would no doubt add logically to that litany, he was bound to do so. “I do that, she’ll probably never speak to me again. Frankly, under those circumstances, I don’t think I could blame her.” He sighed. In the end, there was only one choice he could possibly make. “Alright, Jo,” he said aloud. “I’ll help you.”

Joanna felt the sting of tears in her eyes as she knelt down in front of her father’s chair. “Thanks, Dad,” she said simply, “I know you’re risking a lot . . . ”

McCoy slipped his arms around her and held her close for a moment. “We’re not going to accomplish a damn’ thing if we both sit here blubbering,” he said at length, as they wiped their eyes in unison. “What’s our plan of action?”

In a low voice, Joanna told him.

*****

“Damn! What I wouldn’t give to be alone on some nice deserted tropical island right now,” Uhura groused silently, as she slipped on her uniform jacket. “No troubles, no worries, no Klingons, and no vaccine!”

Ever since the ship’s departure from Starbase Four, crew morale had steadily gone downhill. Now that word of Joanna McCoy’s arrest for trying to destroy the vaccine had circulated throughout the entire crew, it was the absolute pits. Everyone was edgy, but on the bridge the tension was felt more keenly. “Especially when the captain’s present,” she realized. To quote Mr. Scott, “he’s been stewin’ like m’ Aunt Matilda’s haggis.” Uhura glanced at the chronometer on her night table. “I’d better be off! It certainly wouldn’t do to make matters worse by reporting to my post late.”

Humming the tune to a popular ballad softly, Uhura left her quarters and walked to the lift at the end of the corridor. As the doors snapped open, she heard voices.

“Com’n, Jeannie, don’t pull this shy act with me! We both know you really want to‑‑”

“How many times must I tell you to leave me alone?”

“Not even a li’l French kiss?”

“Why you . . . you crass, arrogant, son of a pig!”

“I happen to outrank you, CADET. Shall I make that an order?”

Uhura recognized the woman at once. That French accent was a dead giveaway. “Bridge,” she said crisply, stepping into the elevator. The man with Cadet Mignon was Ensign Andrew Furgeson, known among the junior officers as “Randy Andy.”

“Mister Furgeson, you are in violation of rule six, paragraph two, subsection A,” Uhura snapped. She had made up the numbers off the top of her head, but he wouldn’t know that. “It specifically states that no ranking officer may force his or her attentions on an unwilling subordinate. To put that in layman’s terms, Ensign, sexual harassment will not be tolerated in any way, shape, or form.”

“Sexual harassment?!” Furgeson sputtered indignantly. “Now wait just one minute!” It hadn’t occurred to him at all that Cadet Mignon or any other attractive Human female might find his amorous advances unwelcome.

“You want to add insubordination to the list, Mister?”

“No, Sir,” he mumbled sullenly.

“I understand you already have TWO black marks on your record for sexual harassment,” Uhura continued. “You know what would happen if you got a third?”

Furgeson stared at her, not knowing what to say. He was a young man well used to having the upper hand in any and all situations, especially those involving the opposite sex. Not being in control left him feeling uneasy.

“For starters, you’d probably be transferred back to the nearest starbase once we’ve finished our business on El Dorado,” Uhura informed him affably.

Furgeson paled. All his life he had dreamed of exploring the vast depths of unknown space. Transfer from active duty to a desk job on some obscure starbase was a fate worse than death.

” . . . and if those three marks for sexual harassment ever reached the attention of upper echelons . . . ” Uhura went on in the sugary sweet tone that identified her at her worst.

” . . . it’d probably be a cold day in hell before I ever got a command of my own,” he wailed.

“That’s right,” she sang out.

Furgeson resisted the wild impulse to throw himself on his knees. That would be too humiliating. However, under the circumstances, he wasn’t above begging. “Sir, if you’d over look it just this once, I swear I’ll never do it again.”

He was sincere, but Uhura knew his kind well enough. Once she let him off the hook, that vow wouldn’t last five minutes. “I don’t know . . . ” she hedged.

“Please! I’ll do anything! Anything at all!” Even throw himself on his knees!

“Anything?” queried Uhura.

“Yes! Just don’t report me, please!”

“Alright, I think we can work out a deal,” Uhura said agreeably. An evil smile spread slowly across her face. “The captain hasn’t called any surprise inspections in quite awhile. In fact, we’re long overdue! And given the mood he’s been in lately . . . ”

Furgeson shuddered.

“The cadets who occupied the cabin now shared by Mister Mignon and her two roommates were notorious slobs,” Uhura said. “When they were transferred back to the Academy to continue their studies, they left that bathroom floor in desperate need of scrubbing.”

“Mais oui, it is a terrible mess,” Mignon agreed, trying hard to keep a straight face. She was thoroughly enjoying this.

“What time do you get off duty, Ensign?”

“I’m off duty now, Sir!”

“Good! I want you to report there on the double, soap and toothbrush in hand and get to work.”

“Yes, Sir . . . wait a minute! D‑did you say soap and . . . t‑toothbrush?”

Uhura pointedly turned to Cadet Mignon. “Do you hear an echo in here, Mister Mignon?” she asked innocently.

It took every ounce of will she possessed to keep from bursting into an unseemly fit of giggles. “Oui, M’sieu Uhura . . . now that you mention it . . . . I think I did.”

“S‑Sir . . . surely you don’t m‑m‑mean‑‑”

“Soap and toothbrush, Ensign Furgeson. I’ll be there at 2200 to inspect that floor personally,” Uhura said crisply, as the doors opened at deck five.

“Y‑yes, Sir,” Furgeson resigned himself.

“And one word of advice, Ensign . . . ”

“Yes, Sir?”

“When it comes to inspections, I tend to be picky! VERY picky!” Uhura said ominously. “So you’d better do a good job.” The doors opened on the bridge. “Shall we go, Mister Mignon?”

“Mais oui, M’sieu Uhura!”

*****

The McCoys, meanwhile, crept through the long corridor in the ship’s cavernous cargo bay. Joanna grimly led the way, armed with the phaser she had taken from Lieutenant Tamora. McCoy followed, with Galv’s phaser in one hand and a portable medi‑kit in the other.

“We turn left here, then left again,” McCoy whispered as a million doubts assailed his mind. He turned a deaf ear to them, determined to see this insane venture through to the end. “There will be two guards posted at the junction between this corridor coming up and the one leading to the hold, as well as two guards in front of the cargo hold itself.”

“Uh oh . . . ” Joanna gasped, her entire body stiffening.

“What is it, Squirt?”

“Someone’s coming! Quick! Let’s duck in here!” Joanna grabbed her father’s arm and dragged him into the concealing darkness of an empty cargo hold.

Seconds later, they saw two men, an insectoid, and a Caitian woman pass by the open door.

“Damn!” McCoy muttered under his breath. “I forgot! It’s time for the changing of the guard.”

“That was close!”

“TOO close!”

They remained in their hiding place until the four guards, who had just been relieved, passed by the open door.

“Alright, Jo, I guess it’s now or never!”

Joanna nodded and peered out into the corridor. The coast was clear. She cautiously ventured out into the empty corridor with McCoy close behind. T hey moved silently towards the first junction and flattened themselves against the wall. Joanna peered around the corner. Two guards, the Caitian and one of the men, stood at the second junction a few meters from the McCoys’ position. “Ready, Dad?” Joanna asked, chewing her lower lip nervously.

“Ready as I’ll ever be!”

“Let’s go!”

Joanna leapt around the corner, opening fire on the Caitian. She roared indignantly, then slumped to the floor unconscious.

“Halt, or I’ll‑‑” the other guard’s challenge ended in a groan as he fell under the fire from McCoy’s phaser.

“Come on, Dad!” Joanna urged. “We’ve got to take out the other two, before they can call for help!” She darted around the corner into the barrel of a phaser pistol aimed at her chest.

“Doctor McCoy! The weapon drop!” It was Ensign Clac’tt, the insectoid.

Joanna surprised him by hurling her weapon at his head with all her might. With a faint buzz, Clac’tt edged out of the path of the flying missile. Joanna followed up with a swift, powerful side kick to his mid‑section, while he was off balance. Clac’tt tumbled over backwards, hitting the floor hard. McCoy rushed in and stunned Clac’tt with his own weapon, leaving Joanna free to deal with the remaining guard. She easily disarmed him with a brisk snap kick to his wrist. Sizing up the situation, the young man realized he was unarmed and out matched. He bolted for the nearest wall com‑unit.

“Oh no you don’t,” Joanna cried, taking off after him.

The guard moved alarmingly fast over the short distance. As he reached up to open the com‑channel, he heard a faint hiss. Suddenly the walls and ceiling began to waiver. He reached out to the wall too steady himself, then collapsed into McCoy’s waiting arms.

“Good work, Dad,” Joanna smiled triumphantly.

“Yeah!” McCoy grinned back. “We make a great team, don’t we?”

“The best!” Joanna agreed as they stepped over Clac’tt’s inert form into the cargo hold in which the vaccine had been stored. “By the way, what did you just inject that guard with?”

“Something that’ll make him sleep for a long time, Jo. A real long time!”

*****

“Captain, we will reach the Exos system within two hours,” Sharla reported wearily.

“Thank you, Mister Sharla,” Kirk replied, then turned to Chekov. He would ask one more time, then let the matter drop until they had finished their business on Exos II. “Mister Chekov, any word on Joanna?”

The Russian curtly shook his head. “No, Sir,” he replied. “We are continuing with our priority one search. I’ve also positioned security personnel at Joanna’s cabin, as well as her father’s and Doctor Chapel’s.” He paused. “I figure she would be most likely to seek refuge with one of them.”

Somehow that hurt, not being considered as one of the people Joanna would be most likely to seek out for help. After all, he had known and loved her since she was nine years old. Then, he was her doting Uncle Jim, who spoiled her rotten with toys, candy, and ice cream. Now . . . memory of the kiss they had shared in the middle of his first kung‑fu lesson sprang unbidden to mind. Kirk shook his head. Perhaps it was just as well Chekov didn’t think of him as being close. “Thank you, Mister Chekov,” he said in a tight voice. “Keep me informed.”

“Aye, Sir.”

“Mister Mignon,” Kirk firmly turned his attention to the communications station, manned by Mignon and Uhura. “Are we within sub‑space hailing range?”

Mignon chewed her bottom lip nervously, as she check. “Oui, Captain, we are just within range. Shall I try to establish contact?”

One step ahead! Kirk liked that in a potential officer. “Yes, Mister Mignon,” he replied.

“Captain, our sensor shadow has left the screen,” Spock announced blandly.

Kirk’s stomach tightened. “Mister Sulu, hard to starboard at once,” he snapped. “Mister Scott, raise those shields!”

The order came in the nick of time. Nine viper craft emerged from a cloak of invisibility the port side. They bore down on the larger starship, all guns blazing. Though the Enterprise had managed to dodge the worst of the vipers’ disrupter blasts, she took two hits to the lower portion of her hull, on the port side.

“Power to lower front and port shields down ten and a half percent, Captain,” Scotty reported tersely. “Minor damage to outer hull and port photon torpedo cannons.”

“Get a repair team on those cannons on the double,” Kirk ordered. Somehow, he knew they would need them before this battle was over. He turned to the communications station. “Mister Mignon, go to red alert!”

“Oui, Captain!”

“Mister Sulu, screen on starboard. Go to magnification two.” Suddenly, he felt a twinge of nausea, accompanied by lightheadedness. Closing his eyes, he could almost see the nine vipers out there breaking formation. Four would approach from their starboard, the other five would dive on them from above.

“Screen on starboard, Captain,” Sulu reported, “magnification two.”

The vipers had just broken formation.

“Mister Scott, divert power reserves to top and starboard shields,” Kirk order tensely, his eyes riveted to the main viewing screen. “Mister Chekov, be ready to fire starboard phasers on my order!”

*****

Joanna led her father through the maze of crates containing vaccine. “The one that looked like someone had been tampering with the contents was right over here,” she explained.

“How can you possibly tell one from the other?” McCoy asked. “These packing crates all look pretty much alike to me!”

“Here it is!” Joanna announced.

“How do you know?”

“I marked it right here!” Joanna pointed to a red “X” drawn through the “O” in Exos II with red lipstick.

“What the bloody hell . . . ?!” McCoy muttered. It was the red alert klaxxon along with Cadet Mignon’s voice calling all hands to battle stations echoing through out the ship. “What the hell’s going on up there now?”

“Never mind that,” Joanna said lifting off the top of the marked crate. She placed the lid on the floor and removed the packing material on top. “This is the one tray I‑‑” All of a sudden, she felt dizzy. Hazy visual images overlapped the arrangement of trays and vials within the crate. “Oh shit!” she groaned. “I . . . I thought w‑we’d seen the last of th‑this . . . ”

“Joanna?” McCoy was at her side in an instant.

“I’ll be alright in a minute, Dad . . . I think!” She gripped the edge of the open crate for support so hard, her knuckles had turned white. “H‑hand me the tri‑corder, and . . ”

“You stay still,” McCoy ordered. “I’ll make the tri‑corder scans. Which tray did you want me to check?”

“You’re not doing anything, Doctor McCoy.” It was Smith. His phaser pistol was pointed right at Joanna. “I want both of you to move away from these crates and stand over there, next to the wall.”

“Now just a goddam minute, Smith,” McCoy sputtered angrily.

“I said move!” Smith snarled back furiously. “Looks like I’ve caught TWO traitors instead of one.”

*****

“Captain, five vipers diving toward us from above at ten o’clock,” Spock reported. “Four more approaching from our starboard side.”

“The four to our starboard are within phaser range,” Chekov announced tensely.

“Fire, Mister Chekov,” Kirk barked out the order. “Aim for the two ships in the center first.” Why he had added that, he didn’t know.

“Direct hit on both center ships, Captain,” Spock reported. “One craft has been obliterated. The other is badly crippled. Shields and weapons gone, life support down eighty‑four point one percent. The pilot is alive . . . ”

“We’ll take prisoners later, Mister Spock,” Kirk tersely cut him off. “Mister Sharla, lay in a course that’ll take us out of the path of the five approaching topside.”

“Plotted and in, Sir,” Sharla replied.

“Mister Sulu, evasive action!”

The Enterprise dived and circled up behind the formation of five.

“Captain, one is separating from the formation and regrouping with the remaining two that just attacked us from our starboard,” Spock announced.

“Mister Chekov, lock front phasers on that target,” Kirk ordered. “Fire at will!”

“Front phasers firing, Sir,” Chekov reported.

“Target took a severe hit to her port side, Captain,” Spock reported. “Port weapon gone, shields down fifty‑seven percent, power to life support down fourteen percent.”

“Alright, Mister Sulu, let’s get that formation of four,” Kirk ordered.

*****

McCoy took Joanna by the shoulders and steered her in the direction Smith indicated with the business end of his drawn weapon. “Look, I can explain‑‑”

“You’ll both have ample time to tell it to the judge,” Smith spat. “Now drop your weapons right there on the floor in front of you.” He glared pointedly in Joanna’s direction. “You’re not pulling any of your nasty little surprises on me!”

The McCoys dropped their phaser pistols at their feet, just as their captor had ordered.

“Kick both of those pistols over here to me,” Smith ordered.

“Look, Smith, Joanna and I haven’t done anything,” McCoy snapped, glaring murderously at the assistant security chief.

“That’s because I happened along before you had the chance,” Smith retorted as he bent to retrieve their weapons.

“Or maybe our presence here prevents YOU from finishing the job YOU started,” Joanna accused in spite of her own growing misery.

Smith’s face twisted in rage. “You . . . you dare accuse me, you . . . you Klingonese Mari’ta?”

In her state of increased sensitivity, his fury hit Joanna like a hard slap on the face. She could feel her father’s rising anger as well at Smith’s insult. Mari’ta was a double agent during the interplanetary wars following the Orions’ period of colonization and expansion. According to the more ribald and popular legends, she was also a nymphomaniac with an endless appetite. By making vast use of her ample sexual prowess, she betrayed many governments and leaders to whoever happened to be her employer.

“Don’t go getting self righteous on us, Smith,” Joanna snapped, releasing the anger and resentment she had harbored against the man since his first accusation. “You had the audacity to ask me if I was here to finish the job I’d started?! Maybe I should be asking you whether you’re trying to pick up where your dear uncle left off.”

“That’s a pretty cheap shot!” Smith snarled back. “Care to explain how your compact turned up in that case and not my after shave?”

“Easy! You’re a security man,” Joanna shouted back. “If you don’t have access to a master key, you’re probably quite adept at picking locks. Stealing my compact would’ve been just as easy as planting that costume, the weapon, communicator, and ryplar.” She paused, overcome briefly with remorse. She was being needlessly cruel.

“I don’t care!” A small voice declared rebelliously. “Think of the needless pain he’s inflicted not only on me, but others who matter to me very much!” Of all the faces that came to mind, Jim’s stood out most clearly. “I’ve lost him!” she cried out in silent anguish, remembering how he had literally turned his back on her. “Dear God, I’ve lost him . . . ”

*****

For a moment, Kirk suddenly felt as if someone had brutally ripped his heart right out of his chest. <<No, Joanna, I’m here!>> he felt himself silently cry out. <<I want to help you. Please believe that!>>

“Captain, the formation of four moved to regroup with the other two,” Spock reported, jarring Kirk out of him momentary lapse.

Kirk shook his head, as his dizziness increased. They would regroup and approach head on. “Mister Sulu, go to front screens,” he ordered. “Mister Chekov, full power to front phasers and photon torpedo cannons. Be ready to fire on my order!”

“The six have regrouped,” Spock reported. “They are coming at us head on at twelve o’clock.”

“Keptin, they’re just within firing range,” Chekov announced.

“Stand by, Mister Chekov, I’m going to let them venture in a little closer . . . ” Kirk said, his eyes riveted to the screen.

*****

“There’s one small detail you’ve overlooked,” Joanna ruthlessly continued with her verbal assault. “There’s no way in hell that costume can fit me. I’m too tall! But, now that I think of it, that clothing would easily fit someone short and petite, like your girlfriend, Lori!”

“Joanna, take it easy,” McCoy warned, alarmed by the murderous fury Smith directed at her.

Joanna, however, was enraged past all caution and propriety. “You Klingonese Fagin!” she sneered maliciously. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself, involving a sweet, innocent young girl like her in your dirty work.” The words describing Clarke were delivered with searing irony.

“Dammit, you leave Lori out of this!” Smith shouted, his face turning purple.

“Oh dear! D‑did someone mention my name?” ventured a timid feminine voice. All three heads turned. Lori Clarke stood framed in the doorway, looking very small and very frightened.

“Come on in, Honey,” Smith’s manner softened as he extended his free hand towards her. “I’ve just rounded up some Klingon scum, caught in the act!”

“Dammit, Smith, I told you we haven’t done anything!” McCoy growled.

Joanna watched as Clarke entered and demurely took Smith’s hand. The instant their eyes met, she knew. “You!” she exclaimed incredulously. “You’re the one!”

“Joanna?” McCoy gazed over at her anxiously, half fearing that she had finally taken complete leave of her senses.

“Dammit! I’ve been a fool!” Joanna cursed herself. “Here I thought it was Smith, and all along it was her!”

The color abruptly drained from Clarke’s horror stricken face.

“Come on, Doctor McCoy,” Smith sneered condescendingly. “Let us make up our minds! Who do you accuse next? The captain, perhaps? Or how about the ever logical Mister Spock? No one would suspect him in a million years!”

Clarke gently released Smith’s hand. “I’m afraid she’s right, John,” she confessed reluctantly. Taking a few steps backwards, she raised the hand phaser she had kept hidden under her tunic.

“L‑Lori?” Smith couldn’t believe what he had just heard.

“You can come in now,” Clarke yelled to someone standing out in the corridor.

Jertax entered, armed with a Klingon disrupter. “I have them covered, Lori. Take their weapons.”

Clarke nodded, returning her phaser to its place of concealment. She took the three phaser pistols from Smith, not daring to meet his eyes.

*****

“Mister Chekov, fire phasers and photon torpedoes,” Kirk ordered after what seemed an interminable wait.

The two lead vipers were completely obliterated by phaser fire, while a photon torpedo took out the end craft flying at the far left of the formation. “Two have regrouped and are retreating,” Spock reported. “The remaining one is too badly damaged to fly.”

“Survivor?”

“Affirmative! She is injured, but alive.”

“Spock, see if you can track the two in retreat,” Kirk ordered. “I want to find out where they go.” He turned to the communications channel. Cadet Mignon looked pale and visibly shaken but she had come through her first major space battle like a trooper. He grinned. “Mister Mignon, alert the transporter room that we’re beaming aboard another prisoner.” He rose. “Dispatch a security and medical team to the transporter room as well.”

“Oui, Captain.”

“And one more thing, Mister Mignon! I’d like to commend you on a job very well done under fire.”

Mignon blushed, greatly encouraged by his praise. “Merci, Sir,” she replied modestly.

Kirk smiled at the cadet, then turned towards his security chief. “Mister Chekov, you’ll accompany me to the transporter room. Mister Spock, you have the conn.”

“You won’t get away with this you know,” McCoy told Clarke and Jertax. “There’s no way either of you can get off this ship.”

“We know, Doctor,” Jertax replied soberly. “For Ensign Clarke and me, I guess this is what you would call a suicide mission.”

“Suicide mission?!” McCoy echoed incredulously. “In God’s name, why?”

“Perhaps your daughter might’ve been able to tell you,” Jertax replied cryptically. “Had any of you lived!”

McCoy’s eyes darted over to the nearest com‑unit. Luckily, it was on the wall a few feet from where he stood. He noted that Clarke and Jertax concentrated their attention on Joanna and Smith. “Probably think I’m too old and too soft to try anything!” The thought prickled his ego. “Well, they’ve just made a stupid mistake!” He quietly edged in front of the wall channel and leaned against it. He heard the soft click, indicating the channel was open. “I just hope to God that somewhere, someone is listening!” McCoy prayed silently.

Clarke looked up and met Smith’s eyes imploringly. “I’m sorry it has to be this way, John. I really am!”

“Sorry?!” Smith chuckled bitterly. “You know, you still almost make me believe you?”

She winced at the pain behind the bitterness. Granted, she didn’t love him as he had loved her. But she had come to care for him a great deal. “I’ll see to it that you’re remembered as a hero,” Clarke continued. “Doctor McCoy, at the last, minute elected to join forces with his daughter. They came down to finish to job she had started together. You came in and surprised them, John. There was a fight. You killed the McCoys, but just before she died, Joanna got in one last lucky shot and killed you.”

“Very considerate of you, Lori,” Smith retorted caustically. “Why bother?”

“Because we’re Basharran, John.”

That revelation caught Smith like a hard blow to the stomach. “Y‑you’re Basharran?” he stammered.

“Yes, John. Or perhaps you’d rather I addressed you as Riger.”

“My name is John Smith,” he said pointedly.

*****

“Monsieur Spock, someone’s left an intercom channel open down in the cargo hold,” Jeannette Mignon reported with a frown. “Shall I close it?”

Spock started to reply in the affirmative, then caught himself. “No, Mister Mignon,” he replied slowly. “Someone evidently desires an audience. Let us, for the moment, indulge him. On audio, Cadet.”

Uhura averted her face, to keep Spock from seeing her smile. Spock, respectful of others’ privacy to a fault, actually eavesdropping? She could hear Doctor McCoy now.

“How in the hell can you be Basharran?” McCoy demanded. “Lori Clarke is a real person. Joanna and I checked.”

“The real Lori Clarke ran away from home several times,” the bogus Lori Clarke replied. “The last time, she didn’t return home. I went in her place.”

“Yes, of course!” McCoy said slowly. “That would tend to explain a few glaring discrepancies we found. Up until that last time she ran away from home, Lori Clarke was of average intelligence. She also tended to be lazy and irresponsible.” He paused. “When you showed up, all that changed. Lori Clarke suddenly developed high goals and worked hard to achieve them. Also, your I.Q. puts you almost at the level of genius. What happened to the real Lori Clarke, by the way?”

“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “Probably fell victim to Earth’s sleazier elements of humanity, I suppose.” She turned pointedly towards Joanna. “What I am interested in right now is how you figured out that I am the agent everyone’s been after.”

Joanna’s first thought was to tell her flat out it was none of her damn business. McCoy glanced over sharply and caught her eye. His message was loud and clear. Stall for time! She took a deep breath. “I, uh . . . have suspected you for quite some time now,” she lied. Truth was, she hadn’t known at all until she saw it in Clarke’s mind when she entered the cargo hold a few moments ago. Joanna wasn’t about to say that. The notion seemed a little crazy to her anyway.

“How did I give myself away?” Clarke pressed.

“Well, to begin with was your record, as Dad just mentioned,” she replied slowly.

“Enough of this!” Jertax interrupted impatiently. “We have a job to do.”

“We have plenty of time,” Clarke snapped.

“What about the guards?” Jertax demanded.

Clarke smiled evilly. “The McCoys came in at the beginning of a watch. I’d estimate that we have another four hours before the relief shows up.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“I’ve watched them, Sub‑Commander. I know!” Clarke turned her attention back to Joanna. “Please continue!”

“You were also assigned to pharmacy. Your position there no doubt made it easy for you to kill Ensign T’Pari and Yeoman Donaldson.”

“Oh my God, Carla!” Smith winced. “If I hadn’t have been so damned thick . . . ”

Joanna suddenly saw Clarke overhearing the late Carla Donaldson telling Doctor M’Benga about a friend having a terrible secret. “Yeoman Donaldson suspected you herself, didn’t she?” it was a statement of fact more than a question. “That’s why you killed her!”

“She didn’t suspect me personally at the time of her death,” Clarke smugly corrected Joanna’s assumption. “She only knew it was someone close to her.” She paused. “I regretted having to kill her, but I couldn’t afford to take any chances. Not then!”

“Ensign T’Pari knew and tried to tell me right before she died.”

“I was fortunate her death was so timely,” Clarke replied. “I had no idea at all your telepathic abilities would awaken as they have.”

“Your time factoring may not be so accurate either,” Jertax pointed out. “Let’s kill them now and be done with it.”

“Alright, Ensign Clarke . . . Sub‑Commander Jertax, drop your weapons!” It was the proverbial calvary, led by Pavol Andrevich Chekov himself. Kirk, and an entire detachment of grim looking security guards flanked him on all sides. “No one is killing anyone!”

“We’ll see about that!” Jertax growled, raising his blaster to the level of Joanna’s head.

Smith lashed out, savagely kicking the blaster from Jertax’s grasp. Before the Klingon could even think of reacting, Smith tackled him. Both of them crashed to the deck hard. In the ensuing melee, Clarke turned and bolted for the door with Joanna in hot pursuit. “Oh no you don’t, Sweetie Pie!” she hissed through clenched teeth, as she grasped Clarke’s tunic collar. “You owe me, and I intend to collect with interest!”

Clarke broke free from Joanna’s grasp. She pivoted, aiming a vicious round house kick at her opponent’s temple. Driven by instinct and many years of practice, Joanna blocked the kick and followed through with a straight punch to Clarke’s jaw. Clarke crashed to the floor, landing in an ungainly heap. Though down, she was by no means out. She immediately brought Joanna down with a quick, powerful sweep with her right leg. “We’ll see who pays who, Bitch,” Clarke snarled as she leapt on her enemy.

Joanna’s leg snaked out, catching Clarke square in the stomach. She reeled, allowing Joanna time to scramble to her feet. Joanna grasped Clarke’s collar, and struck her full force across the face. Clarke’s teeth rattled. Her vision blurred and she felt sickeningly dizzy. Whimpering, she struggled in vain to free herself. Joanna prepared to deal another blow.

“Joanna, please! Don’t! You’ll hurt her!”

Turning, she found Kirk standing behind her. “I want to hurt her,” Joanna snapped. “I want to inflict on her all the pain she’s caused me, and those I love.”

“She’ll pay for her crimes before a court of law,” Kirk pressed. “Justice will triumph, you have my word on that.”

“The same justice that damn near sent me off to a penal colony for HER crimes?” Joanna countered.

Kirk winced. “It would’ve been thrown out of court the minute Sam Cogley had you try on the costume she used to carry out her raids,” he argued.

“Who’s Sam Cogley?”

“A lawyer and a damn good one! I’d already made the arrangements,” Kirk replied. “Ask Commander Uhura if you don’t believe me!”

Joanna hesitated.

“We have Ensign Clarke’s entire confession down on tape,” Kirk pressed. “And besides . . . did your sifu teach you to keep kicking your opponent after he or she’s down?” Kirk’s tone was quiet, but firm.

“No!” Joanna allowed a security guard to take charge of Clarke.

“Mister Chekov, you and Mister Smith see that these two join the other prisoners in the brig,” Kirk sighed. “Bones, I want you to check out that vaccine for further damage.”

“Right, Jim,” McCoy replied. “Joanna, if you could give me a hand‑‑”

“Get someone from sickbay,” Kirk ordered. “Your daughter and I are retiring to my quarters. She and I need to have a little talk.” He glanced over at her and gestured. “After you, Joanna.”

She nodded and fell in step beside the captain.

“Good Lord!”

“What is it, Bones?” Kirk demanded, halting mid‑stride.

“This entire case . . . Jim, every last one of these vials are laced with enough ryplar to kill this entire crew ten times over,” McCoy reported, his face ashen.

While the others stood, paralyzed momentarily by the shocking portent of McCoy’s revelation, Clarke seized her opportunity. With a sudden, desperate twist, she freed herself from her security escort. She pivoted, drawing a concealed dagger from her boot. Moving at blinding speed, she managed to stab Joanna three times in the stomach before anyone could move to stop her. “Looks I have the last laugh, Doctor,” she gloated as her victim collapsed and fell heavily against Kirk.

It took three guards to subdue and disarm her. “Get her out of here,” Smith ordered curtly, then turned to the nearest wall com‑unit. “Smith to sickbay!”

Kirk, meanwhile, lowered Joanna to the floor. McCoy dripped to his knees, ripping his outer tunic into long strips. “What happened, Jim?” he demanded.

“Damn! It happened so fast . . .”

“When . . . when I get hold of . . . of that little bitch . . . she’s dead, Jim,” Joanna murmured.

“You just lie still and take it easy,” McCoy admonished her severely. He tried to staunch some of the bleeding with the make shift bandages from his outer tunic.

“Doctor McCoy, I just called sickbay,” Smith reported in a flat monotone. “Doctor T’Vaun’s on her way down with a stretcher.”

*****

Captain’s log; stardate 3735.6. The Klingon agent has, at long last, been apprehended. Her real name is Karlinian Melintar, and for many years, she has lived and worked under the alias of Lori Clarke. In her confession, Ms Melintar stated that she had usurped Ms Clarke’s identity when she (i.e. the real one) ran away from home in her late adolescent years. For now, the fate of the real Lori Clarke remains a mystery. In addition to her recorded confession, we have more than enough physical evidence of Ms Melintar’s guilt and the testimonies of Lieutenant Commander Smith and Lieutenant McCoy, M.D.

Officially, Dr. Joanna McCoy stands clear of all charges. None of the guards she assaulted in her jail break nor Lieutenant Commander Chapel, M.D. intend to press charges. Doctor McCoy is presently in sickbay undergoing surgery to repair damage from stab wounds inflicted by Ms Melintar in an aborted escape attempt. In the wake of Ms Melintar’s capture, and the events surrounding it, a serious problem has surfaced; a VERY serious one. Doctor (Leonard) McCoy reports that the vials in almost half the crates down in our cargo hold have been doctored with ryplar. Lieutenant Commander Yrex, my chief pharmacist has his people working ’round the clock manufacturing more vaccine. We have the all the necessary ingredients, but no where near enough time to make enough to innoculate the entire population of Exos II.

“Captain, we’re approaching Exos II now,” Sulu announced. The planet appeared two thirds of the way up the screen, shining like a brilliant star. “We’ll be entering standard orbit in another hour.”

“Mister Uhura, any response?”

She shook her head grimly. “No, Sir! I’m hailing on all frequencies, but all I get back is static.”

Kirk thought of the Klingons and the mysterious Karlinian Melintar. “Any possibility of jamming?”

“No, Captain,” she dolefully shook her head. “I’m picking up the automatic beacon warning all approaching ships that this world is under quarantine loud and clear.”

“Keep trying, Mister Uhura.”

“Captain, there is no sign of activity out there other than our own,” Spock reported. “All is quiet!”

Too quiet! Kirk couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that somewhere out of range of their sensors, someone sat watching and waiting. “Maintain surveillance, Mister Spock,” he said, rising. “Mister Uhura, you have the conn. If you need me, I’ll be in sickbay.”

*****

Kirk quietly entered McCoy’s office. Bones sat behind the desk staring into the untouched glass of brandy between his hands. “Any word yet, Bones?”

“Jim?” McCoy started, nearly upsetting the brandy.

“Sorry, Bones, I didn’t mean to startle you like that,” Kirk apologized ruefully.

“Forget it,” McCoy replied. “Come on in and sit down.” He held up the half empty bottle of Saurian brandy. “Want some?”

“I’d better not,” Kirk declined, taking a seat on the sofa facing the desk. “Technically, I’m still on duty.”

“That’s right,” McCoy took a tentative sip from his glass. “At any rate, I haven’t heard a thing.”

“Nothing? Bones, it’s been two hours,” Kirk said, frowning.

“Almost three, but who’s counting?” McCoy retorted wryly. “I’m starting to get a little worried, to tell ya the honest to God truth!”

“She’ll come through alright,” Kirk tried to reassure McCoy. “Joanna’s always been a fighter. If what she told me down in the cargo hold just before she passed out’s any indication, I’d say she still is.”

“I know, Jim, and with Doctors T’Vaun and M’Benga working on her, I also know she’s in very good hands,” McCoy sighed. “It’s the blood situation that worries me.”

“Oh?”

“Joanna has a rare type, Jim,” McCoy replied. “She’s AB negative, like me. We have very little in the ship’s blood banks.” He sighed and shook his head. “I gave what I could, of course . . . ”

“Bones, have you forgotten that I have AB negative?” Kirk admonished him severely. “And that new drug used to boost a donor’s red cell and plasma production works especially well on me.”

“Damn! In all the excitement, I did forget,” McCoy’s face brightened noticeably. “Jim, you’re not doing anything pressing for the next hour or so?”

“I’ll check!” Kirk walked over to the call and opened the com‑channel. “Kirk to bridge.”

“Bridge, Commander Uhura here, Captain.”

“Mister Uhura, report. Is everything still quiet up there?”

“Yes, Sir,” she replied. “Nothing within sensor range and Mister Sharla just told me we’ll be entering standard of orbit around El Dorado within the next half an hour.”

“Thank you, Commander, Kirk out!” He closed the com‑channel and turned back to McCoy. “There you are, Bones. I’ll be more than happy to donate what I can.”

“Great! I’ll notify Doctor T’Vaun,” he reached for the inter com unit on his desk.

“After you tell her, I want you to prepare to beam down to Exos II with the landing party,” Kirk said.

“B‑but, Jim . . . ”

“No buts! I’m making that an order,” Kirk said quietly. “I think you’ll feel better if you keep busy.”

“Who asked your opinion, DOCTOR Kirk?” McCoy growled.

“Look, Bones, you’re not going to do Joanna any good sitting up here tearing out your hair and biting your nails,” Kirk admonished him sternly. “Or yourself either!”

“I guess you’re right,” McCoy admitted reluctantly.

“I’ll bet by the time you return, Joanna’ll be out of surgery,” Kirk said grinning.

*****

“Mister Uhura, we’ll be entering standard orbit around Exos II in three minutes,” Sulu reported.

“Thank you, Mister Sulu,” Uhura replied, watching the approaching planet on the bridge main screen. It looked so much like Earth, with its white clouds, blue oceans, and verdant land masses. “It looks beautiful from up here,” she mused. So beautiful, she had forgotten for a moment the gruesome possibility of beaming down to a world populated by rotting corpses.

“Mister M’Ress,” Uhura turned to her relief at the communications station, “have you been able to establish contact with anyone down there?”

“No, Sir,” the Caitian replied.

“Mister Uhura, we’re entering into standard orbit over the equator,” Sulu announced.

“Thank you, Mister Sulu,” she replied. “Mister M’Ress, please inform Captain Kirk.”

“Mister Uhura, I am getting data from our sensors,” Spock reported. “New Mexico City appears to have been abandoned. No human life readings, though sensors indicate the abundant presence of animal and insect life.” He paused. “There are a large number of corpses lying through out the city, unburied. Most of the other large settlements have been abandoned as well.”

Uhura shuddered. “Any signs of LIFE down there, Mister Spock?”

“Affirmative! There is a large settlement, surrounded by half a dozen smaller ones lying fifty kilometers due west of New Mexico City,” Spock replied.

“Fifty miles due west . . . Mister Spock, that’s where Tenochtitlan’s located,” Scotty murmured.

“Pass the co‑ordinates on to Mister Rand,” Uhura ordered. “Mister M’Ress, have all landing parties report to the transporter room.”

*****

The personnel, selected for the landing party, materialized in a secluded area half a kilometer from the main settlement. The golden city of Tenochtitlan towered above the tangle of forest surrounding it.

“It looks so much like Bhanya,” Tamis murmured, gazing at the slender graceful spires, entranced. “I only wish Sharla might’ve been able to beam down.”

“Aye,” Scotty agreed wistfully. Memories of Colleen flooded his mind full force.

Spock took out his communicator. “Spock to Enterprise!”

“Enterprise, Commander Uhura here!”

“The five of us have arrived in one piece, Mister Uhura,” Spock reported. “We are heading towards the largest settlement, which lies roughly half a kilometer southeast of our current position. I will keep you informed. Spock out!” He pocketed his communicator. “Shall we proceed, Gentlemen?”

“Mister Spock, I sense the presence of someone nearby,” Tamis reported, as the others quietly fell in step behind them. “I don’t think she means us any harm . . . ”

Spock nodded. “I sense her presence as well, Mister Tamis,” he admitted.

“Scotty?” a feminine voice rang out. Ahead of them, blocking their path stood a slender red haired young woman, aged nineteen.

“Erin!” Scotty responded, his joy and relief upon seeing her plainly evident. He caught the girl up in a big bear hug, his eyes stinging with tears. “Thank God you’re alright! For awhile, I’d feared t’ worst!” He held her for a moment longer, then introduced her to his companions.

“How are Aunt Fee and Uncle Sean doin’?” Scotty asked, as the group resumed their trek towards the main settlement.

“Uncle Sean died a few months ago, Scotty,” the girl replied slowly, her voice breaking on her uncle’s name. Even after all this time, it still hurt to think of him as being dead. Her eyes blinked excessively.

“I’m sorry t’ hear that, Lass,” Scotty said quietly, handing her a handkerchief. “How’s Aunt Fee holdin’ up?”

“Right now, she’s coping by keeping busy giving Governor Nikolas a hand,” Erin replied, wiping her eyes. “There’s a lot to be done . . . almost too much.” She paused. “That bloody disease has left things pretty chaotic around here.”

Seeing Scotty with Erin reminded McCoy of his own reunion with Joanna nearly a week ago. “Damn! Why in the hell haven’t I heard anything?” he asked himself silently, as all his worries surfaced with a vengeance. Taking a deep breath, he sternly reminded himself that Joanna couldn’t be in better hands. It was routine surgery. There was nothing to worry about. When he looked up, he was astonished to see his concern mirrored in Erin’s face. She blushed and quickly broke eye contact.

“Ms Scott, how many are presently ill?” Spock asked.

“A good number, Mister Spock,” the girl replied, lightly slipping her hand through Scotty’s arm. “I can’t give you an exact head count, though.” She sighed wearily. “I’m so glad you’ve finally come. I . . . WE have done everything we can.”

Spock caught the I, followed by the odd emphasis on the first person plural. For the moment, however, decided not to question it.

“The sick are isolated in kind of a make shift hospital,” Erin continued, addressing her remarks to McCoy.

“How many medical personnel do you have?” McCoy asked, taking out his little black pouch.

“Doctor Le’s the only physician now,” Erin replied. “He and about four or five nurses have been running the hospital. The rest of us pitch in as we can.”

“Doctor Le will soon have all the help he needs,” McCoy replied, taking a diagnostic scanner from his pouch. He quickly scanned Erin. “Excellent! No sign of the virus! You’re a very lucky young lady, you know that?”

“Uncle Sean always said it’s the luck of the Irish,” Erin replied, warming a little towards the doctor. She saw him take a hypo from his little pouch. “Who’s that for?” she asked dubiously.

“You!” McCoy replied with a grin.

“A vaccination against the disease, right?”

“That’s right!” McCoy replied. “If you would be so kind as to extend your arm?”

Erin complied. “Will it hurt?”

“You won’t even know it happened,” McCoy assured her, placing the hypo against her forearm.

When the landing party reached the main settlement, they were surprised to find a welcoming committee waiting. Erin left Scotty’s side and ran towards the care worn woman standing on the far right. “Scotty’s here, Aunt Fee,” the girl cried with excitement. “Just like I said!”

Fiona O’Brien saw the Vulcan’s eyebrow rise slightly. “Shush, Child!” she admonished her ward severely. “If you don’t watch after your words, it’ll be Edinburgh and Dublin all over again!”

“S‑sorry, Aunt Fee,” Erin mumbled an apology. At her guardian’s urging, she introduced the landing party members to Governor Alexandra Nikolas and Doctor Le Yin.

“Doctor McCoy, am I ever glad to see you!” Le greeted him with a tired smile. “I understand you bring a cure for this loathsome epidemic.”

“Yes, Sir, unfortunately supplies are limited,” McCoy said gravely. He gave Le a brief account of what had transpired en route to Exos II. “Our people in pharmacy are working ’round the clock to produce more.”

“We will make do,” Le said quietly.

“I have a medical team standing by in the transporter room as well,” McCoy added. “I can start bringing them and the vaccine down when you give the word.”

“Consider the word given, Doctor McCoy.”

Medical log; stardate 3735.7; Doctor Leonard McCoy recording. Although the situation here is grim, it doesn’t begin to approach the scenario my worst fears imagined. According to Doctor Le’s rough estimates, only a quarter of the population has actually died. I had expected the death toll to be much higher. Doctor Le has the sick isolated in a make‑shift hospital located half a mile away from any of the settlements. There’s an estimated 17,000 people quartered here now, with more coming in all the time. In addition to the vaccine, I’ve beamed down all available medical personnel, leaving behind a skeleton crew aboard ship. Even so, we all have our work cut out for us.

*****

Meanwhile, Joanna McCoy’s surgery to repair the wounds left by Karlinian Melintar’s dagger continued. Kirk lay quietly on an adjoining table watching the blood flow from his veins to her’s, while Doctors T’Vaun and M’Benga labored over their patient.

“Captain?” It was Nurse Compton. “How are you feeling?”

“A little tired perhaps, but otherwise fine,” Kirk replied, managing a half smile.

Compton stole a glance at the diagnostic panel over Kirk’s head. The readings were low, but well within acceptable levels. “So far, so good!” he said blandly. “Shouldn’t be much longer.”

“He said that about an hour ago,” Kirk mused uneasily, in silence. His eyes strayed towards the diagnostic panel over Joanna’s head. He didn’t have to be a doctor to know those readings were much too low.

“Damn! Not again!”

The vehement expletive from the normally soft spoken M’Benga startled Kirk. He glanced sharply at the doctor, then back at the panel. To his horror, the indicators were inching downward.

“Doctor, can she take anymore cordrizine?” T’Vaun asked tersely.

“Point two milliliters!” M’Benga replied. “I don’t dare give her anymore.”

“Give it to her,” T’Vaun ordered.

M’Benga complied. Joanna’s readings steadied, but remained at an alarmingly low level. “Why in the hell do her readings keep dropping like this?” he muttered under his breath.

“Doctor, I want you to run a chem‑scan,” T’Vaun ordered, hoping her suspicions would prove wrong.

M’Benga ran the ordered test. “Oh shit!” he swore softly.

A few colorful, albeit rarely used, Vulcan terms, passed through T’Vaun’s mind as well. She knew the verdict before Doctor M’Benga gave it voice.

“Doctor T’Vaun, the entire upper thoracic area’s laced with ryplar!”

After Doctors McCoy and Le parted company, the others retired to the Quonset hut, which served as office and personal residence to Governor Nikolas. She ushered her guests through a maze of packing crates to a small sitting room next to the kitchen.

“Please, sit down where you can find space,” Governor Nikolas invited graciously. “Would anyone care for tea?”

“I would love some,” Tamis replied.

“Sit still, Alex,” O’Brien said, as she and the governor rose. “I know my way around your kitchen. These gentlemen must have a thousand questions, and you’re the best one for answering them.” She turned to Erin. “Would you come give me a hand, please?”

“Sure thing, Aunt Fee!” Erin leapt gracefully from the ottoman on which she had been sitting and followed her aunt into the kitchen.

“We do have some questions for you, Governor Nikolas, although Mrs. O’Brien has exaggerated the number somewhat,” Spock said.

“I think I can guess the first one,” Nikolas said. “Why haven’t we kept in touch? Am I right?”

“That would be a logical place to begin,” Spock agreed.

“Ever since our arrival, the quality of our subspace signals have gone from bad to worse,” Nikolas explained. “Something here on the planet itself has been slowly eroding the delicate transponders in our subspace radio equipment.”

“I remember Fee mentioning that in a couple of her correspondence tapes,” Scotty said slowly. “Any idea what’s causing it?”

“None, Mister Scott,” Nikolas shook her head. “We barely had time to get ourselves settled when that damned plague hit. We’ve had our hands too full with that to do any investigating.” She sighed. “At any rate, the transponders finally deteriorated past the point of no return. By then, El Dorado was under quarantine.”

In the kitchen, the kettle whistled shrilly. “It’s about time,” O’Brien murmured, taking the kettle off the tiny camp stove. “Erin, would you get me the tea bags? You’ll find them in that cabinet next to the refrigerator.”

“Aunt Fee, I think the Vulcan knows,” Erin’s voice trembled slightly as she opened the cabinet. “Or at least suspects!”

“Suspects what?”

“You know . . . ” Erin replied ominously, removing a box of tea bags. She closed the cabinet and turned back towards her aunt.

“He has no proof,” O’Brien said more sharply than she had intended. The girl winced as if she had just struck her. “I’m sorry, Erin, I didn’t mean to snap at you like that,” she apologized.

“I know, Aunt Fee. I’m scared, too.” Erin handed O’Brien the tea bags.

“Don’t be! Like I said, they have no proof! Your uncle, God rest him, saw to that,” O’Brien said.

“What if we find out they do have more than just their suspicions?” Erin asked.

“Lass, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” O’Brien said, managing a reassuring smile. Hopefully, that matter would remain academic. Like she had just got through telling Erin, none of them had a shred of proof. They couldn’t possibly! “We never even told Scotty about Erin,” she mused with a pang of conscience. When the child’s abilities surfaced, things happened one after another, without let up. They hardly had a moment to catch their breath, let alone sit down and dictate a letter. “Besides! That’s not the kind of thing you trust to a letter, especially to someone in Starfleet. God only knows what THEY’D try to do if they ever found out!”

Suddenly, the box of tea bags flew out of O’Brien’s hand and crashed into the nearest wall. The stack of tea cups and saucers on the table rattled and shook. O’Brien ran to catch them before the vibrations could move them right off the edge of the table. “Erin, will you please . . . ” When she turned towards her niece, she found that the girl’s face was white as a sheet.

“Aunt Fee, it’s Doctor McCoy,” Erin whispered, her eyes round with horror. Her slender body trembled. “Something terrible’s happened!”

“Oh dear God! To him?” O’Brien asked.

“No, to someone he loves,” Erin said slowly. She closed her eyes, assuming a meditative pose. “His daughter! He just got word that she’s dying!”

“You’re sure about this?” O’Brien’s stomach knotted.

Erin nodded. “I felt it, Aunt Fee,” she replied. “Can you manage the tea by yourself?”

“I suppose so,” O’Brien said warily. “Why?”

“I must find Doctor McCoy,” Erin said, moving towards the back door. “I can help him just like I did‑‑”

O’Brien moved quickly, barring the girl’s path. “You’ll do nothing of the kind,” she hissed. “It’s much too risky!”

“I can’t let someone else die, Aunt Fee,” Erin said with an air of quiet resignation. “Not while I have the power to prevent it.”

Sighing, O’Brien moved aside. “You’re right, Erin,” she admitted. “Do what you can!”

“I’ll need the keys to your sky car,” Erin held out her hand.

O’Brien dug the keys out of her jacket pocket. “You’ll find it parked out back,” she said. After Erin had left, Fiona picked up the tray and carried it into the governor’s “all purpose room.”

“I find myself somewhat perplexed by your surprisingly low death toll, Governor,” Spock was saying as O’Brien entered the room.

“I, for one, am thankful,” Scotty said.

“I am not, in any way, complaining, Mister Scott,” the Vulcan hastened to explain. “I am merely curious.” He turned his attention back to the governor. “According to my calculations, taking into account the high contagion factor and long incubation period, roughly SEVENTY‑EIGHT POINT NINE PERCENT of the population should have died.”

“Like Mister Scott, I too am thankful it’s no worse than it is,” Nikolas replied soberly. “However, I’m at a loss to explain not only the low death rate but Fiona’s complete recovery.”

“Indeed?” Spock’s eyebrow shot up and he eyed O’Brien with keen interest.

“That’s easily explained,” O’Brien said quickly. She was so shaken, she nearly dropped her tray in the governor’s lap. “I only had a touch of the flu, not this disease.”

“But Doctor Le said‑‑”

“Doctor Le was wrong,” O’Brien said abruptly. She immediately regretted her harshness. “Sorry, Alex,” she apologized contritely. “It’s been a long day.”

“Sit down, Fiona, I’ll pour,” Nikolas offered.

O’Brien smiled wanly and nodded her thanks.

“Fee,” Scotty whispered, as his sister‑in‑law took the ottoman Erin had vacated a short while before. “Where’s Erin?”

“Something’s happened to Doctor McCoy,” O’Brien whispered back without thinking. “I sent her out to look for him.”

Before Scotty could press her for details, Spock’s communicator beeped. “Please excuse me,” Spock said, as he took out his communicator. He opened the channel. “Spock here!”

“Uhura here, Mister Spock,” her voice sounded strained, as if she had been crying or was trying not to cry. “Is Doctor McCoy with you?”

“No, Mister Uhura, he is not,” Spock replied, casting a dubious glance in Fiona’s direction. “Is something wrong?”

“Joanna’s . . . . dying, Sir,” Uhura reported dismally. “The dagger Ensign Cl . . . I mean Ms Melintar used was apparently coated with ryplar.” She fell silent for a moment. “I was told that when the captain and Doctor M’Benga informed him of Joanna’s condition, he cried out and broke contact. When we re‑established communications, a Doctor Le told us he had just taken off. We’ve been trying to locate him, but . . . ”

“Continue with your efforts from there, Mister Uhura,” Spock ordered. “I will do what can be done from here. Spock out!” He closed the cover and slipped it into his jacket pocket. “Mrs. O’Brien,” his black eyes seemed to bore right through her, “how did you know about Doctor McCoy?”

O’Brien’s eyes rounded with terror. “I‑I, well, I just heard it from you, of course,” she stammered.

“I must disagree, Ma’am,” Spock said quietly, more certain about his suspicions concerning Erin than ever. “Though I did not mean to eavesdrop, I did overhear you telling Mister Scott that something had happened to Doctor McCoy.”

“He’s right, Fee,” Scotty replied. “You told me you’d sent Erin out t’ look for him.”

O’Brien’s entire body went rigid. She gazed from one face to another with the panicked look of a trapped wild animal.

*****

Erin had no difficulty locating Doctor McCoy. His grief stood out in her mind like a bright beacon. He had apparently left the hospital and bolted into the nearby woods.

“Looks like from here on, I travel on foot,” Erin mused grimly. She landed the sky car near the main path leading into the woods and set out. Erin found the doctor fifty meters later, sitting dejectedly on a tree stump. As she drew closer, his intense emotions threatened to overwhelm her. “Remember what Miranda said,” Erin reminded herself sternly. “Your mind is like an open house. It’s your job to go through and shut all the doors and windows.” Erin pictured the house in her mind. With each step she took, she closed an open window or door. By the time she reached McCoy, she had regained most of her composure. “D‑Doctor McCoy?” she spoke his name quietly.

McCoy turned ready to scream, “God damn it! Will you please just go away and leave me the hell alone?” The stricken look on her face made the words die in his throat. The girl winced and drew away as if he had just screamed at her. “I‑I’m sorry . . . Erin, isn’t it?” McCoy mumbled an apology. He felt he owed her one, but wasn’t sure why.

Erin swallowed, as she knelt down beside him. “Doctor McCoy, I can help you,” she said in as calm a voice as she could muster.

McCoy blinked the tears from his eyes and stared down at her. For one crazy moment, he felt a wild surge of hope. It faded as his logical mind reasserted itself. “I wish to God you COULD help me, Erin,” he sighed bitterly. “But you can’t! No one can!”

Erin steeled her emotions against a fresh onslaught of raw grief. “Doctor McCoy, Joanna has an hour! Maybe even less!” she said sternly. Garnering that information from his mind as she just did was an unforgivable breech of privacy. Her aunt and uncle had made that quite clear from the beginning. “Damn it, I don’t have time to moralize!” she told her stinging conscience. Erin forced all her attention on Dr. McCoy. “Come on! If we’re going to save Joanna, we’ve got to get moving!” She took him firmly by the hand and literally dragged him to his feet.

As they made their way back down the path, McCoy felt as if he were being pushed, pulled, and dragged along all at once. “Can I at least know where we’re going?” the doctor asked wryly as he climbed into the passenger’s side of the sky car.

“Tenochtitlan,” Erin replied.

*****

Kirk wandered into the intensive care unit, where Joanna had been placed following her surgery. Doctor Christine Chapel sat on the far side of the bed, keeping vigil. Deep shadows hid her face, but the captain had little doubt of what was there. He glanced down at Joanna, noting how peaceful she looked. “You’d think she was just sleeping, not lying on her deathbed,” he mused sadly, as he drew up a chair along side the bed.

“Did you tell Leonard?” Chapel asked, wiping her eyes on her shirt sleeve.

“Yes,” Kirk replied, taking one of Joanna’s hands in his. He quietly told Chapel what had happened.

“Oh my God!” Chapel half sobbed. She glanced over at Kirk for the first time since his arrival. “Have they found him?”

“I haven’t heard.”

“Damn! It’s not fair!” Chapel declared angrily.

“No, it’s not,” Kirk agreed. She studied Chapel for a long moment. She looked pretty ragged. “Doctor Chapel, if you want to take a breather, I’ll stay.”

Chapel opened her mouth to decline, but something in his steady gaze stopped her. She suddenly realized that he wanted to be alone with Joanna. “Thank you, Captain,” she said, rising. “I‑I would like to be alone for a moment. I’ll just be in Doctor McCoy’s office. If anything happens . . . ”

“I’ll call you,” Kirk promised. Left alone, he gazed down at Joanna sadly. “There’s so much I want to tell you, but I don’t know where to start. The thoughts are all jumbled up in kind of a bottle neck.” He gently smoothed a stray lock of hair from her face.

“Maybe I should begin by telling you that I’m sorry I had to hurt you,” Kirk began, remembering her reaction upon learning that he had put her under a security surveillance. “It was in the line of duty, and had to be done; but all the same, it hurt.” He paused briefly. “It just about killed me, too, Joanna. Knowing I had to do my duty, but knowing it would hurt you . . . and Bones, too.”

<<Jim?>>

Kirk blinked in surprise. For a moment, he could have sworn that she had spoken. Wishful thinking, perhaps? His eyes moved from her face to the diagnostic panel over her bed. The indicators continued their steady, relentless plunge. An abundance of things suddenly sprang to mind; things he wanted desperately to tell her before time ran out. To his dismay, he couldn’t find the words. Kirk gazed down at her face again, and thought for a moment that she smiled.

<<I know, Jim.>> Her words caressed his thoughts the way the sun gently warms the earth in the spring. <<I love you, too. In one way or another . . . I always have.>>

*****

Erin set the sky car down in the middle of a deserted piazza. To McCoy’s right stood the remains of an enormous water fountain, carved of what appeared to be black marble. A tall, spiraling abstract sculpture arched gracefully towards the bright blue sky overhead.

“Come on, Doctor,” Erin urged. Her voice broke the stillness like a clap of thunder. She ran towards the building looming directly in front of the car. Built of the same gold material as the rest of the crumbling ruins in this city, it stood three stories high. Erin disappeared amid the row of tall, slender columns running the entire length of the building’s face.

“Erin, wait!” McCoy shouted. “I wouldn’t go in there! It may not be safe!” She didn’t answer. Swearing under his breath, McCoy ran after her.

Erin stood waiting, just inside the front entrance. “This way, Doctor McCoy,” she said with a touch of impatience. Taking him firmly by the hand, she led him deeper into the dusty gloom.

“Erin, where are you taking me?” he demanded, punctuating the question with a sneeze.

“Bless you,” Erin replied. “It’s right down here!”

“Down?” McCoy echoed dubiously. As his eyes adjusted to the murky gloom within the ancient building, he could barely discern the outlines of a stairwell in the center of the room.

Erin paused at the top of the stairwell. “Yes, it’s down here,” she said.

All he could see beyond her was a solid sheet of impenetrable blackness. “I don’t suppose you thought to bring along a flashlight . . . did you?” McCoy asked wryly, as she started down.

“We don’t need it,” Erin replied.

“Would you mind telling me just how in the hell we’re supposed to see where we’re going?”

“Watch this!” Erin stepped carefully down on the first step. To his utter amazement, it began to glow with a soft inner light. Then, the second step glowed, followed by the third. One by one, each step lit up like a row of falling dominos.

“Well, I’ll be damned!” McCoy murmured, as he followed Erin down. “What kind of place is this?”

“I don’t know,” Erin replied. “At first, I thought it was some kind of temple. Now, I’m not so sure.”

“I kinda feel like I’ve just entered someone’s house uninvited,” McCoy said, casting a furtive glanced over his shoulder.

The stairs ended in a small pentagonally shaped room. As they entered, the entire area was flooded with a soft bluish light. A large slate gray crystal, set in an ornate gold stand dominated the entire chamber. The scene before him produced an intense feeling of deja vu. Then, he remembered. “Joanna and T’Vaun both dreamed of a stone, exactly like that one!”

“I’d always felt drawn to this city, somehow, ever since we come to El Dorado,” Erin explained softly. “In the beginning, while we were settling in, I’d borrow Aunt Fee’s sky car and fly down here without them knowing.”

McCoy smiled wistfully, recalling Scotty saying that Colleen, this girl’s mother, had felt drawn to this place as well, when the Enterprise paid its first visit to this world.

“Was she really?” Erin asked.

“You’ll have to ask Scotty more about that,” McCoy said. “When did you find this stone?”

“Just after Uncle Sean died,” Erin replied in a hushed tone. “After the funeral, Aunt Fee held his wake at the house. A lot of people came. My uncle was pretty well liked by everyone who knew him.”

“I’m sorry I never had a chance to meet him,” McCoy whispered back. “I’ve read most of the books and articles he’s written on the subject of genetics. Some of his theories were fascinating.”

Erin’s smile was wistful and ironic. It faded as she resumed her explanation. “At any rate, I couldn’t stand all those people crowding into our tiny house. I . . . I felt like I was . . . ” She shrugged. “. . . drowning or suffocating. I had to get away!” She shuddered at the memory. “So, I swiped the car keys and flew out here. When I landed in the square, I could feel someone calling to me.”

“The stone?” McCoy stared at the immense crystal ambivalently.

“I’m not sure,” Erin shrugged. “Whatever it was, it led me here.” She put out her hand and gently caressed the smooth top. A bright blue glow, emanating from within the stone, appeared under Erin’s hand. “This stone can work miracles, Doctor McCoy.”

There was a slight resonance to her voice. “Kinda the way Jim, Spock, and Ann sounded when Sargon, Hennock, and Thalayssa inhabited their bodies . . . ” The hair on the back of his neck stood on end.

“I used it to cure Aunt Fee when she became sick, and I’ve used it to keep others from dying,” Erin continued. Her voice deepened and she drew herself up to her full height. In a few moments, she had aged from a shy teenager into a confident mature woman. The blue glow from the crystal threw the recesses of her face into deep shadow, giving her face an eerie, skull like appearance. “It can also save Joanna.”

The story of Faust sprang perversely to mind. “To save Joanna, I’d dance with the devil himself,” McCoy decided. “How does it work?” he asked aloud.

“Touch the stone, Doctor,” Erin replied.

McCoy did so tentatively, noting with a start that the bluish glow appeared under his hand as well. He sensed a disconcerting openness that he had never known before. “Now what?”

“We join our minds together,” Erin answered. “I’ll anchor us to the stone and channel it’s power to you. You will do the work.”

“But I’m no telepath,” McCoy protested.

“It’s never manifested itself, but you have high potential,” Erin said thoughtfully. “Your’s combined with mine, amplified by the crystal will be more than enough to do the job. But we must work quickly. Joanna’s time is running out!”

“Let’s get to it, then,” McCoy said gritting his teeth with fierce determination.

“Give me your hand, Doctor McCoy!”

Ignoring his misgivings, McCoy firmly took her outstretched hand in his. He could feel Erin’s mind moving towards his own and lightly touching it. The sensation was not unlike a Vulcan mind meld, which he had shared with Spock on several occasions.

*****

The indicators hovered just above the brightly hued red area marking the critical zone. Kirk opened his mouth to call Doctor Chapel. Before he could utter a sound, he felt Joanna stirring. “D‑Dad?” her voice was weak, but she had definitely spoken aloud.

Kirk gazed down at her in complete astonishment. None of the other victims of ryplar poisoning had ever regained consciousness. They had simply lapsed into coma and faded away.

“Dad? Is that you?”

She had to be delirious. “No, it’s me . . . Jim!” Kirk said quietly. “Your father’s not here.”

“Jim?”

“Yes, Joanna, it’s Jim!” All of a sudden he felt the unsettling presence of someone standing silently behind him. He darted a quick glance over his shoulder. No one was there. “I could’ve sworn . . . ”

“Jim, Dad IS here, and . . . . SHE’S with him,” Joanna murmured warily.

Kirk decided to humor her. “Who’s she?” he asked wistfully.

“The Other . . . ”

McCoy and Erin stood side by side behind Kirk, in spirit. The doctor spoke a few words of reassurance to his daughter, then told her to relax. He was a bit surprised to find Kirk at her bedside, keeping vigil. “Surely, he must have other things to do.”

<<What’s next, Doctor McCoy?>> Erin prodded, none too gently. From what she had learned of ryplar poisoning via the mind link she presently shared with the doctor, they had a big job ahead; and, if that diagnostic panel was any indication, they had very little time left to accomplish it.

McCoy forced his attention to the task at hand. Opening his mind, he let Erin see how ryplar broke down the myelin sheath surrounding the nerve endings. This interfered with the electrical impulses coming from the brain. Voluntary functions were affected first, followed by the autonomic functions. The patient died when the heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, or any other major organ finally gave out. <<Erin, do you understand?>>

<<Yes.>>

<<Concentrate on the nervous system, then.>>

McCoy watched, fascinated, as Joanna’s body dissolved. The outer layers of clothing and skin faded, followed by her muscles, bones, vital organs, and blood vessels. All that remained was the intricate conglomeration of her nervous system. It was one thing to see the process in Erin’s mind, as she had remembered it happening when she cured her aunt of the disease; but quite another to view it first hand.

<<Now what?>> Erin asked.

<<Think of the ryplar.>>

Erin nodded.

The two of them began to shirk and levitate at the same time. The process left McCoy feeling horribly disoriented. It took every ounce of will power he possessed to keep his mind on his job. Soon, they had actually become small enough to see the ryplar working. The myelin sheaths appeared to be a healthy red, while the poison was a vivid shade of noxious green. In places where the ryplar had bonded with the myelin, the red had turned to a rotting brown color.

McCoy grimly pictured the removal of the ryplar from the myelin. To his amazement, it pulled away in feathery layers, like cotton candy. Together, he and Erin moved from nerve ending to nerve ending, pulling the ryplar from the myelin. She encased the poison within the confines of an invisible barrier to keep Joanna’s body from reabsorbing it. The job seemed to take hours. There were so many nerve endings, with lots of myelin.

<<There! That’s the last of it!>> McCoy finally announced with a tired smile. Then, less than a heartbeat later, he and Erin were standing once again at Joanna’s bedside restored to normal size. McCoy paused for a moment to glance at the diagnostic panel. The indicators hovered for an instant, then inched upward. He nodded approvingly.

<<Dad? Where are you going?>>

<<Don’t worry, Squirt. I’ll be back soon.>>

<<Promise?>>

<<I promise! Now go on back to sleep.>>

*****

Kirk glanced at the diagnostic panel over Joanna’s bed. The indicators hovered for an instant, then began to inch upward. He closed his eyes tight and pinched himself. He had to be dreaming. When he opened them, the indicators had risen even higher. “Doctor Chapel!” Kirk shouted. “Come quick!”

Chapel bolted into the intensive care unit, heart in mouth. She fully expected to hear the worst.

“Doctor, look up at that board and tell me what you see,” Kirk ordered.

Odd request! Chapel complied. “Oh my God! I don’t believe it!” She glanced sharply at Kirk. “How can this be happening?”

“I have no idea,” Kirk replied.

Joanna’s eyelids fluttered, then opened slowly. She looked from one face to the next, bewildered by the expressions she saw there. “H‑hi,” she ventured hesitantly, managing a weak smile. She tried to sit up.

“Hi, yourself, Joanna!” Kirk smiled back, and placed a restraining hand on her shoulder. “You just lie there and rest. You’ve been through some rather grueling surgery.”

A bewildered frown creased Joanna’s brow.

“The stab wounds, remember?” Chapel prompted gently. “We had to go in and repair the damage.”

“Is that all?” Joanna yawned. “Then how come the two of you keep staring at me as if I just came back from the dead, or something?”

*****

McCoy groaned feebly. This had to be the worst damned headache he’d ever had in his entire life. “I wish I could remember what I had so I’d never drink it again as long as I live!” Then, he remembered! This wasn’t shore leave; nor had he spent the entire night pub crawling with Scotty. He cautiously opened his eyes, and immediately regretted it. The walls and ceiling twisted and pulsated sickeningly. “Aaaww shit!” he moaned, squeezing his eyes shut.

“Doctor McCoy? Are you alright?” It was Erin. The reserved adolescent Erin who had met the landing party at the beam down point; not the woman Erin he had seen within the crystal.

McCoy opened his eyes, just a crack, and found her peering at him anxiously. She looked as miserable as he felt. “I‑I’m alive . . . I think!” he groaned. This was a thousand times worse than any hangover could possibly be! “Didja get the license number of the truck that hit us?”

“Take it easy, Doctor,” Erin said weakly. “It always takes a lot out of you. Especially the first time!”

“Bones? Erin?” It was Scotty. His voice echoed strangely through the building.

“Down here, Scotty!” Erin yelled back at the top of her lungs.

“Dammit, Erin, y’ don’t hafta shout,” McCoy grumbled irritably. “I’m not deaf!”

“S‑sorry,” Erin apologized meekly.

They heard the murmur of familiar voices, and the sound of footsteps scurrying down the stairs. A moment later, Scotty entered the room, followed by O’Brien, Spock, and Tamis.

“Good God!” Scotty exclaimed, as his eyes fell on Erin and McCoy. “Y’ both look like t’ wreck of the Hespers!”

The immense crystal, presently emitting a faint bluish glow, caught the attention of Spock and Tamis as they entered the room. Both knew at once that this was in fact the stone that had figured so prominently in their dreams and visions. Ever curious about things unknown, Spock slowly approached it. Tamis hung back, gazing fearfully at the crystal. “K‑Ka D’jahai . . . ” he whispered.

Spock reached out and lightly touched the smooth polished surface of the stone. He noted the bluish glow under his fingers, then suddenly found himself in telepathic rapport with everyone in the room. He also sensed the presence of someone else. Gasping, he quickly withdrew his hand, as if the stone had turned into a hot potato.

“Scotty, call the ship!” McCoy ordered, as he struggled to sit up. His head spun. “Joanna’s going to be alright!”

Scotty stared at the doctor pityingly as he knelt down beside him. “Bones,” he said gently, “Commander Uhura called a while ago. She told us t’ lass is dyin’ of ryplar poisoning.” That was nearly two hours ago. Joanna was probably dead by now.

“Dammit, willya stop staring at me like that?” McCoy growled, then softened. They wouldn’t know. How could they? “Look, Scotty, I’m as rational as you are.”

The Scotsman gazed back at him, openly skeptical.

“Dammit, I am!” Sighing, McCoy turned to Spock and Tamis. “I know I must sound like a raving maniac to you, but Joanna’s going to be fine!”

“Which’ll be more than we can say for you if you don’t lie still,” O’Brien admonished him severely.

“I believe you, Doctor McCoy,” Spock said slowly.

“W‑what?!” Scotty sputtered. “Mister Spock, have YOU gone completely daft?

“I am quite sane, Mister Scott, that I can assure you,” Spock replied, his eyes riveted to the crystal. “Using this stone, Doctor McCoy and Erin saved Joanna’s life in the same manner Erin cured her aunt and kept the disease from taking the considerable toll it would have naturally.”

Erin’s face went chalk white. For a moment, Scotty and O’Brien half feared that the girl was going to faint.

“I had to tell them, Erin,” O’Brien whispered quietly.

“Wait a minute!” McCoy said, massaging his temples gingerly. “You lost me! She had to tell who about what?”

“Fee told us all about Erin’s telepathic and telekinetic abilities, Scotty replied.

Erin gasped. “Aunt Fee, you didn’t!” she wailed in dismay.

“Are the lot of you crazy?” McCoy demanded. “She tested psi‑null on the‑‑” He stopped abruptly at mid‑sentence, remembering how she had known all about Joanna without him having told her a single thing. She had also responded to an unspoken thought about her mother. “Erin, why have you kept this such a big secret?” McCoy asked gently.

“Let’s just say that my powers have gotten all of us into a lot of trouble on a few occasions,” Erin replied on the verge of tears.

“You have nothing to fear from us, Erin,” Scotty told her with a big reassuring smile.

“You mean . . . it doesn’t matter?”

“Finding out about your psychic abilities doesn’t change how I feel about you, Lass,” Scotty assured her gently. “I love you very much. Nothing will ever change that!”

Erin impulsively touched the surface of his mind, and to her surprise, found his words to be true.

“Your powers saved my daughter’s life,” McCoy added. “I can see that you risked a lot in offering to help.” Unable to find the words to express his gratitude, he allowed the feelings to surface.

Erin sensed them, as he knew she would. “Thanks, Doctor McCoy,” she murmured.

Tamis knelt down beside Erin, keeping a respectful distance between himself and the crystal. “Tell me something, Erin,” he began slowly. “Have you used the stone for other things? Besides saving your aunt and Doctor McCoy’s daughter and keeping the disease under control!”

“Yes,” Erin replied. “I have experimented with it a little. Then, about a week ago . . . ” She frowned. “Maybe it’s been two! I’m not really sure. At any rate, I knew that Scotty was coming. I tried to use the stone to contact him. To let him know that Aunt Fee and I were alright.” She looked up, meeting Scotty’s eyes. “It took several tries before I finally reached you.”

Scotty stared down at his daughter in utter amazement. “Y‑you mean that dream I had in sickbay . . . ?”

“I think so, Scotty,” McCoy said. His voice sounded a little stronger. “When you woke up, you kept telling Chris and me that Erin was alright. You knew it beyond any shadow of a doubt!”

“In her attempts to use the stone to contact Mister Scott, Erin must have been responsible for our dreams as well,” Tamis mused aloud. “I remember this room and that crystal.”

“As do I,” Spock said quietly.

*****

Lieutenant Commander John Smith slowly paced the interrogation room, feeling acutely humbled. For most of his life, beginning with that horrible moment the authorities burst into their house and arrested Uncle Rad on charges of espionage, it seemed that he had had to bust his butt two or three times harder than anyone else to get anywhere. That knowledge had led to its own kind of pride. In the past, he could glance at his peers and colleagues, knowing beyond any doubt, that he was a better man than they. Now, he no longer felt so sure.

“I had the real agent right under my nose,” Smith mused in bitter silence. At a time when he was feeling especially down, she sought him out offering friendship. “I trusted her! I’d even come to love her! And all the while, she was just using me!” Wincing, Smith remembered all the confidences they had shared. She would sit there demurely, hanging onto his every word. Her earnest attentiveness touched him deeply. “But she WASN’T listening!” he realized bitterly. “Not really!” She had only been gathering the information needed to enable her to complete her mission. “And like a damn’ fool, I supplied it!”

“Mister Smith?” Lieutenant Tamora quietly entered the room.

Thankfully, she looked none the worse for wear following her tangle with the younger Doctor McCoy. “Damn, that was my fault, too!” Smith mused remorsefully. “If only I hadn’t been so blinded by Lori’s charms . . . ”

“Mister Smith!”

He started. “Sorry, Lieutenant, I was lost in thought for a moment,” he apologized.

“I have the prisoner outside, as you requested, Sir,” Tamora said. “I will escort her in and seal the door. When you’re finished, yell to the guards posted outside.”

“Thank you, Mister Tamora,” Smith said, unable to look her in the eyes for shame. “Bring the prisoner in.”

Tamora nodded curtly and left. A moment later, she returned with a contrite Karlinian Melintar in tow. Gone was the bubbly and energetic Lori Clarke he had known and loved so dearly. In her body stood a melancholy, reserved woman. Tamora sat the prisoner at the small table inside the room, then quietly withdrew.

“I understand you wanted to see me,” Smith said in a tone that dripped icicles.

Melintar forced herself to look up and meet his eyes. She immediately flinched away from the horrible pain and anger she saw there. “John, please!” she begged softly, gazing down at her hands folded on the table. “Please don’t be so angry with me.”

“You haven’t really cared how I feel all this time,” Smith retorted caustically. “Why start now?”

She winced. “That’s not so!” she denied his charge quietly, then sighed. “OK, in the beginning, maybe it WAS true, but later‑‑”

“Yeah, it’s always later, isn’t it?” Smith returned. An uneasy silence fell between them. “Tell me something, Lori.”

“My name is Karlinian Melintar, NOT Lori Clarke,” she corrected him quietly, but firmly.

“Lori . . . Karlinian, whoever the hell you are, just tell me one thing!” Smith said curtly. “You told me in the cargo hold that you’re from Basharra.”

“Yes!”

“Then how in the hell can you possibly work for those bastards after what they’ve done to our people?” Smith demanded acidly.

“The Klingons have done WELL by our people,” Melintar stoutly defended her employers. “Unemployment stands at zero percent! Everyone now has ample food on his table, clothes on his back, and a roof over his head. The entire population has free health care and the crime rate’s been reduced to practically nothing.” She paused, allowing her words to sink in. “Can the old government make the same claims?”

“All those things had a high price tag, Lori,” Smith argued. “All the news that appears in the papers, on radio, or tri‑d vision must be approved by the occupying government. We can’t assemble publicly in groups larger than three people. We can’t travel more than ten miles distant from our homes without a permit. Our places of worship have been closed. We can’t voice our opinions without fear of arrest.” He paused briefly. “The list goes on and on.”

“Alright, so we’ve had to give up a few personal freedoms,” Melintar admitted. “We’re a lot better off in the long run. If you could only see for yourself‑‑”

“I’ve already seen quite enough of Klingon generosity,” Smith spat. “Within a few days of their arrival, two officers and about eight soldiers broke into my father’s house. The family . . . my parents, sisters, infant brother, grandmother, and myself . . . were all herded into the living room.” He paused, glaring venomously down at his unwanted companion. “I guess my baby brother was the luckiest of the lot,” he continued with biting sarcasm. “He died very quickly, when one of the soldiers bashed his brains out against the wall.”

Melintar winced, and bit her lip.

The younger soldiers dragged Grandmother and my sisters, screaming and crying, from the room,” Smith continued, oblivious to her misery. “A few days later, Uncle Rad found Grandmother, what was left of her, in the cellar. They’d fed her alive to the ranking officer’s vile pet.

“Ytke and Illrena . . . ” His sisters’ faces, as he remembered them, appeared in his uppermost thoughts. Ytke, the gentle and endearingly shy one! She was forever bringing home stray animals to care for and love. By contrast, Illrena was high spirited and adventurous. Her insatiable curiosity got her into worlds of trouble. Carla Donaldson was a lot like Illrena in that respect. “I never saw them again.” Acrid tears stung his eyes. “I just hope to God they’re dead. Better that, than being playthings in the hands of Klingon scum!

“My father and I were forced to stand by and watch the officers rape my mother,” Smith continued, half oblivious to Melintar’s presence. He wearily sank down on the other chair facing his companion. “That was the last thing my father ever saw in this life. After they’d finished with my mother, they k‑killed him.” Smith angrily wiped away his tears with his hands. He was surprised to find that the memory of that horrible day hurt far worse now than it had initially. For him, time had brought no healing balm for his wounds. It had allowed them to fester with blind, unreasoning hatred. “That’s why I was so determined to prove Doctor McCoy guilty!” he decided remorsefully. That mistake cost him the lives of half a dozen men, including Carla.

“I’m sorry, John,” Melintar murmured softly. She impulsively reached out a comforting hand to touch him.

“Save your sympathy, Lady, I don’t need it,” Smith snatched his hand out of her reach.

Melintar’s compassion hardened to anger at his rejection. “You think you’re the only one in the entire known galaxy who’s suffered personal tragedy, don’t you?” she countered tersely. “Well you’re NOT, Mister! Not by any means!”

Before Smith could reply, Melintar launched into her own autobiography. She had been born in a government sponsored medical center located in the ghetto area of Aishahar, Basharra’s capital city. She was the oldest of six children born to a poor family. “That place was nothing more than a glorified butcher shop,” Melintar said bitterly. “We could always tell the new people. They were so excited about being able to help those less fortunate than themselves, and all that good shit. It didn’t take long for their idealism to sour. Within six months, more often less, they were gone. Do you know why no one ever stayed, John?”

“Why?” Smith sneered.

“Because pulling teeth from a Terran chicken was a hell of a lot easier than dealing with the damn’ bureaucrats in your so called democratic government,” Melintar shouted. “None of those government sponsored medical centers had adequate funding supplies, or personnel. Ever! That’s because the government cared more about having the necessary forms filled out in triplicate than they did about people. And nine tenths of the time, they’d loose the damned paperwork!”

“At least the medical care was FREE,” Smith shouted back.

“To the poor?” Melintar snorted. “The hell it was! The poor paid most of the taxes, John, while rich people like your family got a free ride with all those tax free loop holes! And if the medical centers were any kind of examples, I’d have to say we got precious little for our money!”

“You got a hell of a lot!” Smith countered, his cheeks flaming crimson with anger. He rose and resumed his pacing. “Not only free medical care, but food coupons, welfare, job training opportunities‑‑”

“Oh spare me!” Melintar groaned. “If you took a good hard look at all those nice benefits, you’d find out very quickly they were nothing but FOOLS’ gold at the end of the rainbow! The monthly food coupons and welfare allotments could barely feed one person for a week! Needless to say, it didn’t go very far at all with a family of eight!”

“Welfare and food coupons were never meant to be permanent solutions,” Smith declared loftily. “That’s why they also had job training and placement programs!” Melintar laughed bitterly. “The job training and placement programs were at best one big joke,” she snorted. “Oh sure! They trained you to hold jobs! Menial ones! A man with a wife and family to support has to do a lot better than that.”

Smith stopped his pacing and glared down at the diminutive woman. “But you’ve got to start somewhere!” he snapped. “And that somewhere is usually at the bottom! No one walks right into a big cushy executive job be he rich, middle class, or poor.”

Melintar returned his glare with a defiant one of her own. “At least the upper classes could begin at the bottom with the hope of advancement. Those so called job training programs were designed to train you for menial labor and keep you there.”

“Save the sob stories, Sister!” Smith snapped. “Anyone could do anything he wanted, if he was willing to work for it! The trouble with you poor people was, you were too damn’ lazy to work! You just sat back on your big patoots living like parasites off the tax payers, and‑‑”

“That’s a damned lie!” Melintar shouted. “My father was more than willing to work. He worked on an assembly line for nigh on twelve years!” Her eyes stung with tears. “Do you know what the rewards were for all his hard work? He among the first to be laid off when the company’s gross earnings dropped.”

“Then he sat back on his ass and lived off the tax payers like all the rest, am I right?” Smith retorted caustically.

“I wish to God he had,” Melintar half sobbed. “But no, he had his pride! He got out there and pounded the pavement from early morning to late at night.” She wiped her eyes on her shirt sleeve. “At first, he picked up a few odd jobs here and there. After awhile there was nothing. The longer he was unemployed, the more his pride and self esteem suffered. In the end, he turned to the tai‑zhe vendors for relief.”

Smith paled. His anger vanished in the light of her revelation, leaving him numb with horror. “Tai‑zhe? Good God!”

“Well! I’m glad your sheltered life hasn’t kept you in total ignorance of life on the seamier side,” she retorted acidly. “At least your father died a whole man, John, with the love and respect of family and peers. When my father f‑finally died, he was hopelessly a‑addicted to tai‑zhe. All he lived for was the next dose. You know, he actually pimped my mother to earn money to buy tai‑zhe?”

For perhaps the first time in his life, Smith found himself at a loss for words. He could only stare down at her helplessly and shake his head.

Melintar’s mouth twisted into a wry half smile. “My mother and I found him dead in a back alley from tai‑zhe overdose,” she continued as the smile faded. “That man was a stranger, held in utter contempt by all who knew him.”

“E‑even you, Lori?” Smith stammered.

“Especially me, John! I hated that man!” Melintar spat. She fell silent for a long moment. “The father I knew and loved died the day his company laid him off, I think,” she added wistfully.

Smith could see that the manner in which her father had died had wounded her terribly. Gazing down at the prostrate woman, looking excruciatingly vulnerable in her grief, he saw once again the Lori Clarke he had loved all these past months. For one brief insane moment, he wanted to gather her in his arms and comfort her the way she had him when he was down. Then reason asserted itself like a cold bucket of ice water thrown in his face. “She’s a KLINGON spy,” an inner voice whispered. But she had her reasons. He couldn’t agree with all of her opinions of course, but he could at least understand how she had come by them. “Come on! Wake up and smell the coffee!” that inner voice counseled with a sneer. “She’s an actress! She made a big enough fool of you with her pretty little lies. You going to let her do it again?” The answer to that, of course was a big resounding no. “Have you anything else to say?” he asked coldly.

His abrupt coldness took her by surprise. “You bet I do,” Melintar snapped back, her own voice hardening with anger. For some odd reason, it had become vitally important that he at least understand why she had chosen to work for the Klingons. “And damn it, you’re going to sit there and listen to every word!”

Her father’s death left her mother totally alone with a brood of six to feed, clothe, and shelter. She had no money and no relatives to help her. Most of her family were in the same dire financial straights as she. “Like m‑my father, she, too had her pride,” Melintar sobbed. “She would’ve taken any kind of job! Anything at all! The only problem was no one in his right mind would h‑hire a woman!”

“Oh come on! There were a lot of women in the work force,” Smith sneered.

“They had relatives in high places, too! I’d be willing to be every damn’ last credit in the known galaxy on it!” Melintar shot back, drying her tears on her shirt sleeve. “You think about that, John! You’ll see it’s true!”

Smith opened his mouth to refute her words, then snapped it shut without uttering a sound. All of the women he knew that worked outside their homes DID owe their jobs to high placed relatives. “We had anti‑discrimination laws . . . ” he said in a small, unconvincing tone.

“Those laws weren’t worth the paper they were printed on,” Melintar said bitterly. “In Basharran society, the reality was men ruled, women stayed barefoot and pregnant.”

Her statement was met with stony silence.

“My mother ended up having to continue as a prostitute,” Melintar continued in a dull, flat tone. “One of her sicker clients killed her.” Her eyes glistened again with bitter tears. “It w‑was horrible! The police picked her up as . . . as an unidentified Jane D‑Doe. For w‑weeks they had her picture on the . . . on the tri‑d‑vids . . . theaters . . . s‑s‑street corners?” The emotional dam broke, and Melintar began to cry in earnest. Still, she continued. “She w‑was so d‑disfigured . . . n‑not even her own children recognized her!”

Smith curtly handed the distraught young woman a handkerchief.

“The m‑man was a‑a high ranking government official,” Melintar spat venomously, as she dabbed her red, swollen eyes. “My mother was b‑branded a no good whore, John, while the low‑life who k‑killed her got off! Scott free!”

“No way!” Smith declared stoutly. “No one could do such a thing and get away with‑‑”

“Does the name Senator Arlinn Zratmare mean anything to you?” she demanded.

“He was one of my father’s best friends,” Smith replied at once, “and my godfather!”

“He was also my mother’s murderer,” Melintar snapped back.

Her accusation hit him like a hard blow to the stomach. The blood drained from Smith’s face. “Y‑you’re lying!” he stammered. “He can’t be . . . . h‑he’d never . . . ” The weak protests died away to silence, as he remembered. A few months before the Klingons came, Senator Zratmare did get into a bit of trouble. He had never learned the exact details. He only knew it was something the adults spoke of in soft whispers when the children weren’t around. “No!” he denied it silently. “Uncle Arl was the kindest man I’ve even known, next to my father. He couldn’t possibly have . . . could he?”

Melintar, meanwhile, started pacing the confines of the small interrogation room slowly. “With both my parents d‑dead? It was up to me to care for my brothers and sisters. I was the oldest!” She nervously twisted the soggy handkerchief in her hands. “The only thing I could do was . . . continue in the same work as my mother . . . ”

Smith winced, remembering the passionate nights he had shared with her. “You’re still good at prostituting yourself, Lady,” he remarked bitterly. “I gotta give you that!”

Gritting her teeth, Melintar turned and slapped him hard across the face. The force of her sudden blow toppled him from his chair. “You bastard!” she spat, her slight body towering over him. “How dare you say that to me? How dare you? You think it’s all fun and games, don’t you?”

“Isn’t it?”

“I don’t think it’s much fun being treated like a . . . . like a piece of meat! To them, I wasn’t a person, just something to be used, then cast aside like so much garbage,” Melintar shouted. “Then there were the sick ones who got their jollies out of tying me up and beating me senseless!” She shuddered. “The whole time, I lived in terror that my next client was going to be like my mother’s last one.”

Smith slowly picked himself up off the floor, gingerly rubbing his aching cheek at the same time. “You must’ve had a fine ol’ time with me,” he spat bitterly. Tears stung his eyes. He abruptly turned, not wanting her to see them. “I’ll bet I was a laugh a minute! And all the while, I actually loved you . . ”

“I cared for you, too, John,” she said gently. “Please believe that! In the beginning, perhaps I‑‑”

“Save it, Sister, OK?” Smith savagely cut her off. “I don’t want to hear anymore of your sob stories!”

“John, please‑‑”

“I said save it!” he snarled, then shouted for the guard.

Lieutenant Tamora entered. “Yes, Sir?”

“Take the prisoner back to her cell.”

“Yes, Sir!” Tamora curtly gestured for Karlinian to rise. “This way, Ms Melintar.”

Melintar rose and fell in step in front of the guard. “His family did suffer terribly at the Klingons’ hands,” she admitted silently. “But they proved the salvation of me and mine!” Her own future looked bleak. Still, she had known the risks when she had taken the job of espionage agent. “At least I can rest assured that my brothers’ and sisters’ futures hold a lot more promise than they would have under the old rule!” Somehow, she had to find a way of making John understand that.

*****

Medical log: supplemental; Doctor M’Benga recording. Due to the decreased supply of vaccine, we have been forced to resort to triage. This entails dividing the sick into three groups: those who can wait for treatment; those who must be treated without delay; and those too far gone to benefit from treatment, at the maximum dose available to us.

We are down to the last five crates of the original shipment, and the sick pour in faster than we can treat them. The Pharmacy Department staff aboard the ship is working ’round the clock to make more vaccine. Lieutenant Commander Yrex says the first batch will be ready within the hour. Per my recommendations, a request for more vaccine and helping hands has been dispatched to Starbase Four.

On a personal note, there is one thing I find very strange. Doctor Le, the man in charge of running this hospital, tells me no one has died here in the past three months at least; not even the most critically ill. Neither he, nor any of his staff has an explanation why. I also have some good news to report: Doctor (Leonard) McCoy has been found, alive and in one piece.

“And looking like death warmed over!” M’Benga mused silently, as McCoy entered Doctor Le’s make shift office leaning heavily on O’Brien and Scotty. Erin, Spock, and Tamis followed quietly behind. Erin didn’t look any better than McCoy, but M’Benga had to give her credit for being able to walk in unaided.

“Alright, Doctor M’Benga, what’s been goin’ on around here during my, uuummm . . . absence?” McCoy asked sheepishly, as Scotty and Fiona deposited him in the nearest chair.

M’Benga sagged weakly against the wall facing McCoy, and gave a condensed version of the information he had just finished logging.

McCoy noted his colleague’s lassitude with concern. “Would you like to sit down, Paulo?” he started to rise.

“Sit still, Len,” M’Benga declined quickly. “As tired as I am, you still look like you need that chair more than I do.” He gently massaged his temples. “What happened to you anyway?”

“It’s a long story,” McCoy said gravely. He gave Erin a reassuring smile. “I’ll tell you the whole thing once we’re done here over a glass of Saurian brandy.”

“It’s a date!” M’Benga managed a tired grin. “One thing bothers me though,” he said, the smile fading. “A good number of people in the third group might’ve had a chance if we’d been able to offer the medicine at the recommended dose.”

“I know,” McCoy murmured sympathetically.

“How some of ’em keep hangin’ in there I don’t know,” M’Benga sighed. He pulled away from the wall and stretched. “Not that I’m complaining! If they can only hold on until help arrives‑‑”

“Speaking of that, how long before we get an answer from Starbase Four?” McCoy asked.

“Commander Uhura said it would take two or three days for them to get our message and us to get their reply,” M’Benga replied soberly. “They have the facilities to brew up another big batch of this medicine, so that won’t be a problem. The only hitch is how far away the nearest available ship is.”

“Damn! Could be anywhere from a week to God only knows,” McCoy muttered. “Wait a minute! Maybe‑‑”

“Maybe what, Len?” M’Benga asked.

“I’ll explain later,” McCoy hedged. “Just do me one favor?”

“Sure, anything!”

“Get me a list of those most critically ill,” McCoy ordered. “Those who won’t last out the week if the disease is allowed to take its natural course.”

“I’ll have it within the hour, Len,” M’Benga promised. “I’d best be getting on back to work, though . . . ”

“By all means,” McCoy agreed.

“Doctor, are you thinking of having Erin use the crystal to cure the most critically ill?” Spock asked.

“Not quite,” McCoy took care to keep his voice down. “I’m thinking more along the lines of Erin and ME using that crystal.”

“Y’ can’t, Man!” Scotty blurted out in dismay. “T’ both of you are ready t’ drop in you’re tracks now after usin’ that beastie t’ save Joanna. Another attempt‑‑”

“I don’t mean right now this very second,” McCoy said irritably. “I meant later, after we’ve had a chance to rest.”

“I’m willing,” Erin replied.

“Perhaps the crystal would not exact as great a physical toll if others, like Mister Tamis and myself for instance, pooled our psi‑energy as well,” Spock suggested.

McCoy glanced over at Erin. “What do you think?” he asked.

“I think it might work,” Erin replied. “You and I working together saved your daughter in half the time it took me to save Aunt Fee.”

McCoy’s smile included Spock and Tamis. “If the four of us work together, we can save four patients in the time it took Erin to save her aunt. It’s worth a shot at any rate!”

“I agree,” Spock said quietly.

“I’m afraid it’ll have to be the three of you,” Tamis stated with uncharacteristic coolness. “I want no part whatsoever of that crystal!”

*****

Joanna exhaled a soft melancholy sigh. Thankfully, they had just moved her from the intensive care unit to the small hospital ward. “If they’d kept me there one second longer, they would’ve had to move me into a rubber room!” she mused wryly. While still confined to the intensive care unit, she could feel the pain, terror, and anguish of all the patients who had occupied that room before her. The longer she remained, the stronger those feelings grew; until, at last, they threatened to consume her. She shuddered, recalling the dreams about the vortex.

“Hey, Joanna!” Chapel burst into the room, smiling broadly. “Guess what?”

“Oh thank God!” Joanna cried out in heartfelt relief.

“What?” Chapel gave her patient a bewildered stare.

“You know . . . they’ve found Dad!”

“Yes! How did YOU know?” Chapel asked, taking a seat on the edge of the empty bed next to Joanna.

Joanna frowned. Hadn’t Christine just said so? She had heard it plain as day. “I, uh . . . I guessed?!” she ventured hesitantly.

“Mister Spock and Scotty found him in that ruined city, Teno . . . Tenoc . . . ”

“Tenochtitlan?”

“Yes, that’s it!” Chapel nodded. “Has someone else already told you all this?”

“No.”

“Then how did you know the name of the city?”

“I, uh . . . ” Joanna frowned. She had heard the name of the ruined city on the planet below mentioned, but for the life of her couldn’t recall the time or place. “Wait a minute!” She remembered the strange dream about her father and the one she knew as The Other. “They came from Tenochtitlan to help me.”

“Joanna? Enterprise to Joanna . . . ”

“Oh!” Joanna snapped out of her reverie. “Sorry, Chris, I just kinda got lost in thought.” She paused, then asked, “Did you tell Dad that I’m out of surgery?”

“Yes,” Chapel replied, as a bewildered frown creased her brow. “Strange thing, though . . .”

“What’s that?” Joanna prompted.

“When Nyota told him you were alright, he told her that he already knew,” Chapel replied.

“Interesting,” Joanna mused. In light of her dreams about her father and the other, she found Chapel’s revelation a bit unsettling.

“Hello! Is this a private session, or can anyone join in?” Chapel and Joanna turned and found the captain standing framed in the open door.

“Please join us, Captain, by all means,” Chapel invited with a smile.

“Why? Are we coming apart?” Joanna quipped with a weak grin.

“Don’t mind Joanna, Sir,” Chapel retorted wryly. “She’s still a little delirious, yet.”

“I think your diagnosis is faulty, Doctor Chapel,” Kirk said, glaring down at Joanna. He pulled a chair up beside the bed and sat down. “Your patient knew EXACTLY what she was saying.”

“Well, I’ll let you deal with her as you see fit then,” Chapel said rising.

“I don’t mean to chase you away, Doctor,” Kirk offered a weak protest. In truth, he was overjoyed at the prospect of being alone with Joanna.

“Think nothing of it, Captain,” Chapel assured him. “I do have a lot of paperwork that needs catching up, and I’d like to get it done before the OTHER Doctor McCoy shows up.”

“In that case, I won’t detain you,” Kirk replied, smiling.

“I’ll check in on you later, Joanna,” Chapel promised, then left.

“I must say, you’re looking a lot better than you did the last time I saw you,” Kirk greeted her affably. “How do you feel?”

“Like I’ve been hit by a fifty mega‑ton freighter and dragged nine parsecs,” Joanna quipped wryly. “Other than that, I feel fine.”

“Just the kind of response I’d expect out of her father!” Kirk mused silently. His eyes twinkled with amusement. “She may not take after Bones in the looks department, but she’s certainly inherited some of his personality traits.” Suddenly, the grin faded. “Uh oh! I hope she doesn’t start in on Spock . . . ”

“Now why would I start picking on Mr. Spock for heaven’s sake?” Joanna demanded in amazement.

“W‑what?” Kirk stared at her incredulously, wondering if Chapel might have been right about her being delirious.

“I‑I thought you’d just said . . . ” Joanna stammered, taken aback by his bewilderment. He had compared her favorably to her father, then said something about her starting in on Mr. Spock. She had heard it just as clearly as she had Christine when she came in a short while ago to report that her father had been found. “Except Chris hadn’t said anything!” In fact, Christine had reacted in much the same way as Jim did just now. “Oh dear Lord, what’s happening to me? Am I going mad?”

“Joanna? Are you alright?” Kirk studied her anxiously. Her face was white as a sheet and her hands trembled slightly.

“I’ll be OK, Jim.” She shrugged apologetically. “I guess I’m still a little groggy from the anesthetic.”

“Do you feel up to accepting an apology?” Kirk asked, taking her hands in his own.

“About putting me under surveillance?” A puzzled frown creased her brow. “But, you’ve ALREADY apologized and explained.”

“I did?” Kirk gave her a bewildered stare.

“Of course! It was when . . . when . . . ” Joanna’s voice faded into silence as she tried to recall the exact time. “That’s odd! I can’t remember when! Do you suppose I dreamed it?”

“Maybe not . . . ” Kirk said thoughtfully. “After Doctors M’Benga and T’Vaun finished with you in surgery, they had you taken to intensive care.”

“I’ve been wondering about that,” Joanna said. “I thought it was standard procedure to take the patient from surgery to the RECOVERY room.”

“There were, uh . . . a few complications afterward,” Kirk hedged, unsure of how much he should be telling her.

“I was dying?!” Joanna’s eyes were round with shock. “Oh my God! The dagger Ensign Clarke stabbed me with was coated with ryplar!”

Kirk nodded. “I didn’t know Doctor Chapel had already told you.”

“She didn’t, Jim,” Joanna said. “YOU just did . . . didn’t you?”

“No,” Kirk shook his head in bewilderment. “The matter did cross my mind, but I . . . . . ” His voice trailed away to stunned silence. “Yes, of course! That would explain everything!” he murmured aloud. The dreams; the visions, following seizures of psychic origin; the times he thought he had heard her voice while she lay dying in the intensive care unit; and her responding to his unspoken thoughts just now . . . all that pointed to one possible conclusion. Somehow, Joanna’s latent telepathic abilities had been awakened.

Joanna easily read his thoughts. “Then, I’m not going crazy?” she asked, staring up at him hopefully.

The idea of her picking up on his unspoken thoughts was still unsettling, even in the light of revelation. Part of him wanted to flee. “I can’t,” he silently admonished himself. “She needs me now more than ever!”

“No, Joanna,” Kirk said aloud, flashing her a warm, reassuring smile. “You’re not going crazy!”

“Thank God!” Joanna sighed with heartfelt relief. “Jim, you think we can put the unpleasantness of the last few days behind us?”

Kirk grinned. “I’m willing.”

“Good! So am I!” Joanna returned his smile with a bright one of her own.

“You know? You should smile like that more often,” Kirk said quietly.

“I probably will, as long as you’re around to furnish provocation,” Joanna countered, remembering that she had enjoyed her first good laugh in many months in his company. Suddenly, the smile faded. Her body went rigid and her blue eyes clouded over with dread.

“Joanna?” Kirk gazed down at her anxiously, concerned about her abrupt mood change. “What is it?”

“I‑I’m not sure!”

Kirk gathered her trembling body in his arms and held her close. “It’s not The Other again, is it?”

“No!” Joanna replied quietly, grateful for his protective embrace. “It’s like a cloud of doom hanging heavily over our heads.”

“Bridge to Captain Kirk!” Uhura’s voice crackled with urgency.

Kirk reluctantly released Joanna and bounded over to the nearest wall com‑unit. “Kirk here, Mister Uhura!” he responded tersely. “What’s going on?”

“Sir, Mister Arex’s picked up a large vessel at the edge of the Exos System,” the communications officer reported. “It’s projected course takes it in a straight line from it’s present position to El Dorado.”

“Damn!” Kirk muttered. That had to be the carrier responsible for ferrying the vipers, the Enterprise engaged a day and a half ago, out here.

“Captain,” Lieutenant Arex cut in tersely. “I have a positive I.D. on that large craft.”

“Klingon carrier, right?”

“No, Sir,” Arex replied. “It’s one of their new dreadnoughts!”

Kirk’s could feel his heart banging hard against his throat. According to the scant information Intelligence had, the new dreadnoughts had ten times the fire power of a constellation class starship. It also had the same ability to maneuver and with the added advantage of viper craft. “We don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of defeating that monster,” he mused in grim silence. “Mister Uhura, contact the landing party. Tell them to prepare to beam up on the double.”

“Jim, what’s wrong?” Joanna asked.

Forcing his thoughts of the approaching dreadnought to the back of his mind, Kirk managed a wan smile. “Something’s come up on the bridge, Joanna,” he replied in as calm a tone as he could muster. “Just a minor detail . . . nothing to worry about.”

Joanna darted a quick glanced into the corridor beyond. “How in the hell can you stand there and tell me a Klingon dreadnought’s nothing to worry about?” she demanded, taking care to lower her voice.

Kirk was at her side in three bounds. “Tell me, Joanna, have you ever known me to face next to impossible odds and loose?” he asked, taking her gently by the shoulders.

“No, never,” she replied slowly.

“That’s right! I never have believed in no‑win scenarios,” Kirk informed her with a roguish grin.

In his thoughts, Joanna saw a much younger Jim Kirk sitting in the captain’s chair of a mock up bridge. He was about to participate in something known as the Kobyashi‑Maru test. The image abruptly faded.

” . . . and I’m afraid I’m getting too old and set in my ways to change that now.”

“Promise me you’ll come back down as soon as the shooting match is over?”

“You bet, Sweetheart!” Kirk kissed her lips gently, then bolted out of the ward at a dead run.

“C‑Captain Kirk?!” Chapel yelped. She ungracefully leapt aside, narrowly averting a head on collision. The box of brand new glass beakers dropped from her hands and crashed loudly when it hit the floor. “Sir, where do you think you’re going? You haven’t been released‑‑”

“Sorry, Doctor Chapel,” Kirk called out an apology over his shoulder. “I have pressing business topside!” The doors whisked open, the instant Kirk reached them. “I’ll see Doctor T’Vaun about an official release later!” he promised, darting through the open portal.

“B‑but . . . ”

The doors snapped shut before Chapel could voice her protest.

*****

Personal log; stardate 3735.9, Lieutenant Tamis recording. I am terrified; more so than I have ever been in my entire life. We have just received word that a Klingon dreadnought has entered the Exos System, and is headed on a direct course for this planet. According to reports from Starfleet Intelligence, their dreadnoughts can out‑run, out‑maneuver, and out‑gun anything we care to send against them. I have a strong sense that the Klingons have known of the ka d’jahai crystal and its enormous power for quite sometime. All of their other tactics to possess Exos II have failed; so, in desperation, they now bring out the big guns. Battle between us and them is inevitable!

I do not fear death. I have always been taught that death is not an end, but rather a beginning. For me, to die in battle is to be born into a new and different plane of existence. I cherish those teachings, and find great comfort in them.

While the prospect of imminent death holds no terror for me, the mad plan of Mister Spock’s devising does. It calls for linking the child, Erin Scott, with the twenty crew members who made the highest scores on the standard ESP tests, into one vast mind meld, which will be channeled through the ka d’jahai. Of the twenty chosen to form the link, a surprisingly high number are Humans, whose psionic abilities are dormant. Catalyzing those inactive abilities has its own enormous risks. Channeling those untrained minds through a ka d’jahai stone is dangerous beyond imagining. I have tried to warn Mister Spock of this, but to no avail. He does not understand; how can he? Doctor McCoy also believes the plan to be madness, and has said so in language that does not bear repeating. His reasons differ from mine, however.

We, Mister Spock, Mister Scott, his daughter, Erin, and myself, have been working diligently to free the ka d’jahai from its pedestal, while the medical personnel return to the ship. The task is complete, and the others have started toward the surface with the stone. I have lingered, to make this recording. If what I fear should come to pass, I hope and pray there will be scholars among my people, who know enough of the old legends to know what to do.

A few moments later, Spock, Scotty, Tamis, and Erin stepped from the deep shadows of the ancient columned veranda into the sunlight. Spock led the way, with Scotty and Erin following close behind. Erin telekinetically levitated the immense ka d’jahai crystal, while Scotty helped guide her. Tamis walked a few yards behind them, keeping as much distance as possible between himself and the crystal.

“Can y’ get that beastie over there next to that fountain, Lass?”

“Easy as pie, Scotty,” Erin assured him with a grin. She moved the large stone, a clear smokey gray in the sunlight, next to the ebony fountain, where the elder Doctor McCoy and O’Brien waited. She gently set the ka d’jahai down on the dusty ground.

“Spock, I still think this idea of your’s is crazy!” McCoy objected for the umpteenth time.

“Do you have a better idea, Doctor McCoy?” Spock asked with the barest hint of tetchiness. “If so, now is the time to voice it.”

“No, I don’t,” McCoy admitted reluctantly, then sighed. “When the first archaeological teams get here and see what you’ve done to get that overgrown engagement ring out of it’s stand, there’s gonna be hell to pay. You know that, don’tcha?”

“If my plan does not succeed, I seriously doubt there will be anything here for archaeologists to study,” Spock pointed out with exasperating patience. He turned his attention to O’Brien, while removing his communicator from the left jacket pocket. “Ma’am, I would suggest you return to the settlement until‑‑”

“Nothing doing, Mister Spock,” O’Brien said firmly. “I’m coming with you.”

“Fee, are y’ daft?” Scotty demanded, staring at his sister‑in‑law incredulously.

“Mrs. O’Brien, may I remind you that we face what may end up a losing battle with a Klingon dreadnought?” Spock said with a touch of annoyance. “The Enterprise is hardly a place of refuge under such circ–”

“I know the score, Mister Spock,” O’Brien said in a tone that brooked no argument. “If you people loose that fight up there, how long do you think that settlement’s going to last? If I must die, I’d prefer to do so with my family.”

“She has a point,” McCoy had to agree.

“Very well,” Spock agreed reluctantly. He opened a communications channel. “Spock to Enterprise!”

“Enterprise, Commander Uhura.”

“Has all of our medical personnel returned to the ship?”

“Everyone except for Doctors T’Vaun, M’Benga, and Nurse Starnak, Sir. They’ve elected to remain behind and continue helping Doctor Le.”

“Very well, then, seven plus one large stone to beam up. Lock onto my signal for co‑ordinates.”

When the seven materialized in the transporter room, they found Kirk, his face slightly paler than normal, waiting anxiously. “Spock, are you crazy?” he stammered gazing incredulously at O’Brien and Erin.

“No, Sir, I am not,” the Vulcan replied stoically. “My last psychological evaluation indicated‑‑”

“Never mind that!” Kirk abruptly cut him off. He indicated Fiona and Erin with a broad sweeping gesture of his hand. “This is hardly the place for a couple of civilians. Need I remind you‑‑”

“Excuse me,” McCoy interrupted in a loud voice. “Permission to return to sickbay?”

“Sure, go ahead, Bones,” Kirk dismissed the doctor impatiently.

“Thank you, Cap’n Suh!” McCoy said grandly, then turned to O’Brien. “Mrs. O’Brien‑‑”

“Fee!”

“FEE, would you be so kind as to escort me to sickbay? I am still a bit wobbly on my feet.”

“I’d be happy to,” O’Brien agreed readily, slipping his arm around her shoulders.

“Now wait just a minute, Bones!” Kirk protested.

“I’ll have that list for you as soon as possible, Mister Spock,” McCoy promised in parting.

“What list?” Kirk demanded. Out his peripheral vision, he caught a glint of light from the transporter platform. He turned and noticed the immense crystal for the first time. “What in the hell is that?”

“I can explain, Captain,” Spock offered.

“Please do!” Kirk invited.

Spock quietly ordered Scotty, Erin, and Tamis to take the crystal on up to the bridge. He and Kirk, and Chekov followed at a slower pace. En route, Spock told his companions about Erin Scott’s incredible psi‑powers and revealed his hastily conceived plan.

Kirk silently digested all the information Spock had just given him. Everything depended on the much vaunted powers of a young girl. However, if a Klingon dreadnought was, in fact, making a bee‑line for Exos II, Erin was the only chance they had of escaping the encounter in one piece. The thought left him with a terrible sense of uneasiness.

*****

“Captain, the vessel has just passed this system’s outer most planet,” Arex reported as Kirk, Spock and Chekov stepped from the turbo‑lift onto the bridge.

“Mister Sharla, plot an interception course,” Kirk ordered, taking the center seat.

“Plotted and in, Sir,” Sharla reported. “We should intercept them in half an hour, just this side of the asteroid belt.”

“Mister Sulu, ahead at half light!”

Scotty tightened the last screws holding a make shift pedestal together. After he and Erin gently placed the crystal upon it, the Scotsman turned to Spock. “It’s in and ready t’ go,” he reported.

“Thank you, Mister Scott.”

“Mister Spock? I need to know something about the vessel we’ll be facing,” Erin spoke up softly.

Spock nodded and turned to Kirk. “Captain, permission to ask Mister Chekov to escort one of the Klingon prisoners to the bridge.”

“Permission granted, Mister Spock.”

Spock quietly glanced over at Chekov, and nodded. The Russian inclined his head slowly, and left the bridge.

“Mister Spock?” It was Uhura. “Doctor McCoy reports that his list is ready.”

“Transfer it to my station, if you would, Commander,” Spock ordered.

“At once, Sir,” Uhura complied.

“Spock, you never quite explained what that list was,” Kirk reminded him, with a puzzled frown.

“It is a list of the twenty individuals who made the highest scores on the standard ESP tests,” Spock explained blandly. “Their ability coupled with Erin’s will be magnified further through that stone.”

Sharla took a quick glanced at the stone, now set in its new stand between the navigation and helm station and the captain’s chair. “It’s lovely,” she murmured. She glanced over at Erin, then returned to her post, frowning. “She IS The Other, and yet NOT The Other.”

“What was that, Mister Sharla?” Sulu inquired good‑naturedly.

Before Sharla could reply, the turbo‑lift doors swished open. Chekov and Smith grimly stepped on the bridge with Jertax between them.

“You waste my time, Earthers,” Jertax sneered. “You got nothing from me the last time, and you won’t do any better THIS time!”

Jertax’s smug attitude reminded Erin of Aunt Fran Stewart and Uncle Andrew Preston. Like this Klingon, they, too, were always so certain that their ways were the only right ones. “That remains to be seen, Klingon,” she scathingly threw his taunt right back in his face.

Jertax threw back his head and laughed derisively. It had a harsh, bitter sound. “What is this, Kirk? You actually send a child to do a man’s work?” He shook his head. “And a female child at that! Come on, you may as well admit it! You’ve as good as lost this system!”

“I would suggest you remember this, Klingon,” Erin said grimly. “The ball game ain’t over, ’til it’s over! We’ve just played the first inning on this one.” Without further ado, she reached out with her thoughts and lightly touched the edge of Jertax’s mind.

The smug arrogance abruptly drained from Jertax’s face. He could hear Erin inside his head, laughing at him. She probed deeper into his mind, gaining entry to areas a Vulcan mind meld could not reach. Within a short time, she had located the barriers that had stopped Tamis. Erin bypassed the blocks with terrifying ease. Beyond them, lay the information she sought and more.

The bridge complement watched in horror as Erin’s eyes flashed with anger. Jertax screamed, then collapsed to the deck like a lifeless rag doll. Tamis rushed to the to the stricken Klingon’s side. “By the forge of Kratarra, Child, what have you done?” the terrified Deltan cried out.

“I have gained the information we need,” Erin replied in a cold, angry tone that made Tamis’ blood freeze in his veins. Noting the stricken faces around the bridge, she softened. “I’m afraid I didn’t have time to be gentle,” she added.

*****

Tamis grimly entertained second thoughts about participating in this wild plan Mister Spock had devised. If that stone was a ka d’jahai, as he suspected . . . “I doubt that I, or even Mister Spock, could prevent the power of the ka d’jahai from corrupting our kai. How much more vulnerable is a Human child with no training whatsoever?” At the same time, Tamis realized he had no choice. The very survival of not only the Enterprise, but the colony on Exos II, depended on the success of Mister Spock’s plan.

“Ms Scott, I have the list of those crew members chosen to form your power base,” Spock reported gravely. “I have committed the names to memory and will guide you in seeking them out.”

Erin nodded. “Are you ready to begin, Mister Spock?”

“Affirmative! You may commence any time you wish.”

*****

Erin walked over and stood motionless before the crystal for a moment, mentally preparing herself for the ordeal to come. At length, she put out her hand and gently caressed the smooth surface of the stone. A bright blue glow appeared under her hand. After establishing rapport with the crystal, her mind sought out Mister Spock.

Spock closed his eyes and allowed his mind to touch her’s. For an instant, he felt the natural apprehensions rise within. These were easily abrogated. That done, he dropped into rapport with Erin, channeling his power to her. As their minds melded together, the bluish glow diffused throughout the gray stone. At the same time, Spock experienced a psychic power surge unlike anything he had known previously; even the energy barrier at the edge of the galaxy. It was both exhilarating and frightening.

<<Who is next, Mister Spock?>>

<<Lieutenant Sharla, the navigator.>>

<<Mister Spock . . . Erin . . . >> Sharla’s voice echoed clearly in their melded mind. <<I am ready.>>

Establishing rapport with Sharla was easier than with Spock. Unlike the Vulcan, she had no emotional reservations.

<<Who is next?>>

<<Lieutenant Tamis! He was part of the beam down party. Do you remember him?>>

<<Yes!>> Memory of his face, stricken with terror, when he had looked up at her after she had struck down the Klingon, Jertax, hit her like a hard blow to the head. <<He may prove difficult.>>

<<Perhaps! He can be stubborn, when he’s of a mind to be.>> It was Sharla. <<But, do not worry! I will help you.>>

*****

“Captain, I’m getting something visual in the lower left corner of the screen at seven o’clock,” Sulu reported tersely.

Kirk tore his eyes from the soft blue glow of the crystal and forced himself to concentrate on the main viewing screen. He spotted something that looked like a miniature star cluster moving towards them at high speed. “Go to magnification four!” he ordered.

“Magnification four, Sir!” Sulu complied.

Centered on the main screen was a squadron of vipers.

“A total of fifty‑one, according to our sensors,” Arex reported grimly from Spock’s station. “Course heading zero five one mark four! If they keep to their present course and rate of speed, they will intercept us in one minute fifty‑three seconds.”

“Damn!” Kirk muttered between clenched teeth. “Mister Uhura, go to red alert!”

*****

Lieutenant Tamis finally entered rapport after much pleading on the part of his bondmate, Sharla. Doctor T’Vaun was brought into the mind link next. Like Spock, she, too, seemed reluctant at first. Then, the logic of the situation asserted itself, enabling her to quell her emotional reservations. That done, she easily slipped into rapport with the collective mind.

<<Who’s next, Mister Spock?>>

<<Doctor Joanna McCoy! You will find her in sickbay!>>

Erin reached out, adjoining her mind to Joanna’s. The instant contact was made, the latter drew back in terror. Erin, and the others making up the mind link perceived that Joanna’s dormant abilities had been awakened.

<<I had my suspicions, but did not know for certain that Doctor McCoy’s psi‑powers were active until this moment,>> Spock reported somberly.

<<If we bring her into the meld in her present state, we run the risk of her slipping further into ESPer shock,>> T’Vaun stated flatly. <<We dare not risk it.>>

<<Sharla and I have worked a great deal with ESPer shock victims,>> Tamis spoke for the first time. <<I think we can shield her from the worst of its effects, and still be of use within this circle.>>

<<Doctor McCoy, you know the risks involved,>> T’Vaun said. <<If you wish not to participate–>>

<<No! As long as I can be of any use, I will take part.>>

Erin gingerly touched Joanna’s mind once more. <<Don’t be afraid,>> she coaxed gently, as Joanna instinctively drew back in terror. <<It’s as simple as opening the door and walking through.>> Suddenly, Erin’s mind was assaulted by Joanna’s nightmares of the dark vortex. It’s black currents threatened to inundate her thoughts completely.

*****

Spock, T’Vaun, and the two Deltans stepped in at once, and began to deal with Joanna’s fears. Sharla appeared as a vision of the Earth mother; whose gentle rains and fertile soil brought forth an abundance of life. Her bondmate, Tamis, by contrast, shone brilliantly like the sun, providing warmth and light. Spock and T’Vaun were both steadfast fortresses, built on an unmovable foundation of rock. Between them, they offered an anchor in the coming storm and protection. Joanna opened the door, as Erin had instructed, and stepped with fear and trembling into the meld.

<<Ms Scott, the time grows short,>> Spock reminded.

<<Who’s the next one?>>

<<Lieutenant Mioshi Tamora,>> Spock replied. <<You will find her in the ship’s chapel.>>

*****

“Shields up, Keptin,” Chekov reported from the security station, “and all weapons are operating at full power.”

Kirk nodded his thanks, his eyes straying to the crystal, now glowing a brilliant blue. “Mister Uhura, open all hailing frequencies.”

“Hailing frequencies open, Sir.”

“This is Captain Kirk, commander of the Enterprise,” he began. “You are trespassing well within Federation Territory. You are ordered to break off your attack and surrender.”

A moment elapsed. “No answer, Captain,” Uhura reported.

“Enterprise to squadron leader,” Kirk said tersely. “You have thirty seconds to break off your attack and surrender. If you refuse, we will be forced to open fire. Do you copy?”

Still no reply.

“Cut communications channels, Mister Uhura, we’re going in,” Kirk ordered. A savage smile spread slowly across his lips. By the eerie glow emitted by the crystal, his face took on a faintly demonic appearance.

*****

Captain’s log; supplemental. It seems the dubious honor of being the first Starfleet vessel to engage a Klingon dreadnought in battle has fallen to the Enterprise. The known data on the dread‑nought is scant. However, we do know that it is at least, three times the size of our constellation class cruisers (of which the Enterprise is one); and allegedly packs up to ten times the fire power. The dreadnought is also capable of transporting a vast number of the small single man craft, known to us as vipers. Unlike the carriers, it is highly maneuverable.

Our only chance of victory, and perhaps SURVIVAL, lies with a plan of Mister Spock’s devising involving a powerful telepath, by the name of Erin Scott, and an immense crystal, referred to by the Deltan crew members as a ka d’jahai. According to Mister Spock, this stone is able to magnify the psychic abilities of the user. By channeling Ms Scott’s power with the powers of twenty among the crew who achieved the highest scores on the standard ESP tests through the ka d’jahai, we hope to use telepathy to discern their battle strategies and telekinesis to strike at the dreadnought’s weakest structural points. This plan is a long shot! Mister Spock has estimated the odds favoring our success at one in . . . . oh, never mind! The exact number is too depressing to contemplate. But it is the only chance we have.

*****

“Interception in thirty‑two seconds,” Sulu reported, his eyes riveted to the view screen. A thin film of perspiration covered his forehead.

“Captain Kirk, the link is complete,” Erin announced, her voice resonating even more than it had when she and McCoy had used the stone to heal Joanna. Erin closed her eyes and scanned the on‑ coming horde. “They are about to break formation. The minute they do, fire at the one remaining at dead center. He is the squad commander.”

Erin had no sooner spoken, then the formation did break up. “Mister Chekov, lock fore phasers on approaching target,” Kirk barked out the order.

“Phasers locked on target, Sir.”

“Fire!”

Chekov complied. The tiny craft shattered into countless fragments.

“Captain, vipers regrouping on our starboard and port sides,” Arex reported tersely.

“Evasive action, Mister Sulu!”

As the Enterprise maneuvered out of the path of the two groups of vipers, Erin’s mind focused on two key vessels among the group that had reformed on the ship’s starboard side. Both flew in the center, just behind the lead vessel. She located their fuel lines and ignited them.

“Captain, two vipers just . . . detonated!” Arex’s ruddy complexion paled. “The explosion took out the one in the center and two more, positioned at the edge of the formation.”

Kirk glanced over at Chekov askance.

“It wasn’t me,” the Russian declared, anticipating Kirk’s question. “The only time I fired was when you gave the order.”

“Mister Arex, any idea as to what caused that explosion?” Kirk asked, frowning.

“Sensors indicate no PHYSICAL causes,” the Edoan replied, casting a furtive glance in Erin’s direction.

“It was necessary,” Erin informed them curtly. The iciness of her tone was more frightening than the fury she had shown when she struck down Jertax. “If I hadn’t reduced their numbers‑‑”

“Captain, the second group is breaking formation,” Arex reported.

“They plan to surround us and open fire simultaneously,” Erin added.

“Mister Sulu, prepare to dive when I give the word,” Kirk ordered tensely.

Sulu nodded, chewing his lower lip nervously.

Kirk watched the vipers on the main viewing screen. They fanned out and encompassed the larger starship, leaving a gaping hole at the bottom. “Steady . . . steady . . . ” he murmured in a low voice. His hands clutched the arms of his chair so hard, his knuckles had turned white. “Easy does it . . . . . steady as she goes . . . ” The captain’s voice faded into apprehensive silence. Tension on the bridge was so keen, it could be cut with a knife.

“Dive, Mister Sulu! Now!” Kirk’s voice shattered the stillness like a clap of thunder. Several of the people started violently.

The Enterprise plunged through the hole the swarming vipers had left in the bottom of their formation a split second before her adversaries opened fire.

“Captain, they’ve opened fire on each other,” Arex reported incredulously. “Roughly sixty percent of them have been completely obliterated. The rest have all sustained major damage in one way or another‑‑”

“Sir, I’m picking up several SOS calls‑‑” Uhura began.

“They’ll have to wait!” Kirk cut her off abruptly. “We have a dreadnought to stop!” He turned towards the science officer’s station. “Mister Arex, can you get a fix on ’em?”

“Y‑yes, Sir,” the Edoan replied with great reluctance. The feral gleam in the captain’s eyes frightened him. “Still keeping to their original course.”

“Mister di Falco, plot an interception course,” Kirk ordered.

“Plotted and in, Sir,” di Falco reported. “We should intercept them in five minutes, fifty‑three and a half seconds.”

“Excellent!” Kirk rubbed his hands gleefully.

*****

The science officer, Mokara, muttered a string of vile obscenities under her breath in her native tongue.

Kai’vroth glanced over at his wife sharply. “What is it, Science Officer?” he growled.

“Our last remaining vipers just opened fire on each other, Commander,” she reported tersely.

The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Kai’vroth clenched his hands into tight fists, lest anyone see them trembling. The vague uneasiness he had felt upon entering this accursed system had grown as his dreadnought drew closer to the second planet; the one his people called Osi’rkai, roughly translating into Standard as The Harbinger of Life and Death. With the science officer’s report, his uneasiness had blossomed into out and out fear. “What of the Enterprise?”

“It moves toward us on an intercepting course,” Mokara replied tersely. “They will be within our firing range in approximately three of their minutes.”

“Go to battle alert!” Kai’vroth ordered sullenly. The pandemonium in the background, as his crew prepared for battle, faded to a dull roar. He had an uneasy feeling about this fight. Why, he couldn’t begin to fathom. His ship was bigger; maneuvered easily, despite its size; and outgunned the approaching Federation ship ten to one.

His would‑be opponent’s suicidal behavior disturbed him. Logically, they should be high tailing it out of firing range at least. Though Humans, and most other races making up the Federation, were by no means cowards, Kai’vroth had never known them to act out any kind of death wish, unless that held the only alternative to surrender.

“Commander, I’m getting a message from the enemy ship,” Kzar, the communications officer, announced.

“On screen!” Kai’vroth ordered, curious as to what the Federation commander had to say.

“This is Captain Kirk, commander of the Enterprise . .”

Kai’vroth studied the face on his main screen with interest. He had heard much of this Captain Kirk, and, like many others of his rank and position, longed for the opportunity to do battle with this one. Victory over an enemy who could win the grudging admiration of such as Kor and Kang would win him and his house much honor and favor among his people.

” . . . you are trespassing well within Federation Territory,” Kirk continued. “This constitutes an act of war between your empire and the Federation. If you surrender‑‑”

Kai’vroth laughed sardonically. “Surrender, Kirk?” he echoed incredulously. “You forget, my ship alone outguns you ten to one. And with my vipers‑‑”

A sly, almost evil smile spread slowly across Kirk’s lips. Kai’vroth repressed a shudder. “You forget, Commander, I’ve destroyed all of your vipers,” he gloated. “I can destroy you as well! The choice is your’s.”

“I choose to call your bluff, Kirk!” Kai’vroth abruptly motioned for Kzar to cut transmission. “Divert all auxiliary power to shields and weapons! Let’s see for ourselves whether or not this Kirk . . . ” he spat the name “. . . has the stomach for a real fight!”

*****

“He plans to wait for you to come within range of his weapons, Captain,” Erin told him. “Since his range is much greater than yours, he figures that it’ll be easy to blow us right out of space.”

“I need a some kind of diversion,” Kirk mused.

“Coming right up!” Erin’s mind reached out and gathered the debris from the shattered vipers. She wadded it together, forming a gigantic ball of scorched and twisted metal.

“Good Lord!” Scotty whispered, awe struck. “I had no idea she was this powerful.”

“I never knew anyone could be so powerful,” Uhura whispered back.

“Commander Uhura . . . ” Smith spoke for the first time.

“Yes, Mister Smith?”

“I thought she’d told the captain that her mind link was complete,” Smith said, darting a quick furtive glance at the crystal.

“She did,” Uhura nodded.

“Then, take a look at that crystal‑‑ NO! Not directly!” Smith said. “Doesn’t it look a bit brighter to you?”

“Now that you mention it . . . yes! It does!” Uhura said slowly, her anxieties quickly mushroomed into fear.

“I understand your plan, Erin,” Kirk told the girl, unaware of the conversation between his senior officers. “Are you sure you can control it from so far out?”

“Easy!” Her reply brought to mind Gary Mitchell, as he stood on the transporter platform, waiting to be beamed down to Delta‑Vega: “I’ll squash you like insects.”

*****

“Commander, a large object has come within firing range,” Mokara reported tensely.

“The Enterprise?” Kai’vroth asked, a bare hint of a grin playing at the corners of his mouth. He genuinely regretted his seemingly easy victory.

“No, Commander! It’s mass is much greater, and I’m picking up no life readings at all,” Mokara reported frowning.

“Weapons Officer, lock onto target and open fire!” Kai’vroth shouted. “Quickly!”

*****

A blast from the dreadnought’s great disrupter cannons blasted Erin’s sphere, made from what remained of the vipers, into fiery oblivion. The Enterprise took that moment to slip in close from behind. Erin smiled with grim satisfaction, then closed her eyes and concentrated on their bridge.

*****

“Commander, our shields are losing power!” the chief engineer, Kh’saad, reported tersely.

Kai’vroth reached the engineer’s station in three bounds. “Can you localize the power drain?”

“I‑‑” Kh’saad stared at the panel before him in utter disbelief. “My instruments indicate that everything’s functioning normally.”

Kai’vroth had the eerie feeling that someone, apart from his chief security officer, watched him. He could almost hear her laughter echoing inside his head. A vile obscenity escaped his lips. Was this Kirk indeed some kind of sorcerer, as some had suggested?

*****

“Captain, their shields are dropping,” Arex reported, staring at the instrument panels incredulously.

Kirk’s eyes gleamed like those of a bird of prey as it swooped down on its helpless victim. “Mister Chekov, fire a volley photon torpedoes at their port cannons!”

“Aye, Sir, firing torpedoes . . . now!”

*****

“Commander! It’s the Enterprise!” Mokara reported with dismay. “She snuck in close on our port side while we were firing at that unidentified object!”

“Fire port cannons! Now!” Kai’vroth shouted at his weapons officer.

The commander’s order came a split second too late. The Enterprise hit the dreadnought’s port cannons first, turning them into a pile of useless slag metal. The Klingon ship trembled violently against the assault, toppling its bridge compliment from their seats.

“Damage reports!” Kai’vroth shouted as he slowly returned to his seat.

“One hundred fifty are dead, Commander,” Kzar reported, his normally swarthy face ashen. “Another two hundred wounded!” He paused for a moment to listen. “Damage control reports a large gaping hole piercing the hull next to what remains of the central port cannon. They cannot repair it before all of our pressure is lost.”

Kai’vroth and his wife, Mokara, exchanged agonized glances. Their only son, Hassim, was assigned to the port weapons station. Whether he presently lay among the dead or wounded they did not know. Mokara blinked back her tears, and nodded.

Kai’vroth looked over at his wife, conveying his silent thanks for her support in the next decision to come. There was only one way to keep the entire ship from losing pressure and oxygen. “Seal port decks ten through sixteen,” he ordered angrily.

“Commander, the Enterprise is signaling us once again,” Kzar reported in a tight voice.

Kai’vroth turned to his weapons officer, Zajphir. “Do we have photon torpedoes?” he asked.

“Two of the tubes remain functional,” Zajphir replied. “As do our port drones!”

“Excellent!” Kai’vroth said grimly. “Arm photon torpedoes and drones! Be prepared to fire on my order!”

Zajphir nodded grimly.

Satisfied, Kai’vroth turned to his communications officer. “Alright, Kzar, let us hear Kirk’s last words before he meets his death!”

Kirk’s face appeared on the main screen. The strange bluish highlights and the deep shadows reminded Kai’vroth of the ancient cave paintings of Kah’Li, the six armed goddess of death. The Klingon commander carefully schooled his own features into an stoic mask of uneasy calm, lest he bring dishonor upon himself and his house by showing fear before an enemy.

“You have thirty of our seconds in which to surrender, Commander,” Kirk gloated.

“What are your terms?” Kai’vroth asked coldly.

“Surrender must be unconditional!” Kirk snapped. “You now have twenty‑three seconds!”

“We will give you our answer now, Kirk!” Kai’vroth nodded for Zajphir to fire photon torpedoes.

*****

“Captain, they’re opening fire!” Arex reported, his eyes round with fear.

“Damn! Scotty! Will our shields hold?” Kirk rounded on his chief engineer.

“Not at this close a range,” Scotty replied tersely.

“Don’t worry about your shields, Captain,” Erin said with a sly smile. “I’ll handle this!”

“Commander, our torpedoes missed their target!” Mokara reported, her eyes round with shock.

“What?!” Kai’vroth spun in his chair, facing her. “How can that be, at this close a range?”

“I do not know, Commander,” she shrugged helplessly. “It looks like our torpedoes hit up against . . . some sort of invisible wall between us and the Enterprise.”

“Let’s see just how powerful this invisible wall is!” Kai’vroth murmured angrily. “Weapons Officer, launch all three drones!”

“But, Commander‑‑”

“At once!”

*****

“Captain, they’re launching three drone missiles,” Arex reported tersely.

“Mister Chekov, lock phasers onto targets and‑‑”

“Sir, they’re peeling off away from us!” the Edoan reported, nonplused.

Erin’s face shone with exhilaration. Her mind rode through the black void with the swift drones. She sent two of them around the large Klingon vessel in opposite directions. They collided on the dreadnought’s starboard side in a massive fiery spectacle. With the third the playfully looped both ships, then struck out on a course for the dreadnought’s bridge.

*****

Mokara grimly reported all that had transpired.

A string of obscenities passed through Kai’vroth’s lips. “How is Kirk able to pull such trickery?” he muttered, banging his clenched fist down hard on the arm of his chair.

“Perhaps he IS the sorcerer they say,” Kzar ventured hesitantly.

“A sorcerer, perhaps,” Mokara declared, her lips thin with anger, “but not in the way they say!”

“Explain, Science Officer!”

“On that last transmission, did you not see the blue tinge to Kirk’s face?” Mokara replied. “It is as the High Council feared. The Federation has discovered the secret of Osi’rkai!”

“Yes, it makes perfect sense,” Kai’vroth nodded. That more than explained his own uneasiness and Kirk’s arrogance. How could he have been so blind? No matter! “We must make sure that none of them live to pass on the secret,” he said with grim determination. “Weapons Officer, blast that drone with starboard disrupters!”

Outside, the drone exploded, raining down a shower of blazing sparks on top of the great vessel.

*****

Erin reeled from the impact, as if she had taken the hits from the Klingon disruptors herself.

“Oh my Lord! Erin!” Scotty cried leaping from his seat.

“It is alright, Scotty!” Erin recovered quickly, but the timbre of her voice had changed. Her accent had taken on a faintly Deltan flavor. She scanned the dreadnought’s energy nacelles with her mind, then smiled. “Klingon scum!” she murmured. “I am through toying with you!”

Arex uttered one of the more colorful Edoan expletives. “Captain, their energy nacelles are building up to an overload!” he reported grimly.

*****

” . . . explosion will occur in three minutes, fifty‑five seconds,” Mokara reported.

“Engineer, can you locate the cause?” Kai’vroth demanded tensely.

“No, My Lord Commander!” Kh’saad replied with fatalistic calm. “According to my instruments, everything is as it should be.”

“I would have preferred an honorable death in battle over this cold blooded slaughter!” Kai’vroth muttered furiously. “Engineer, put tractor beams on the Enterprise and hold her. When we go, we take Kirk with us!” Inside his head, he heard the child‑demon laughing mockingly at him again.

*****

“Captain, I’ve checked and double checked our scanners,” Arex reported with a touch of exasperation. “I can’t find any reason at all for their energy nacelles building up for an explosion. No sign of malfunctions, or‑‑”

Whatever it was, Kirk had no intention of staying around to find out! “Mister Sulu, get us the hell out of here!” he ordered, gritting his teeth. “Maximum warp!”

“We’re not moving, Captain!” Sulu reported.

“What?!”

“Sir, they’ve got us held fast in a tractor beam,” Arex reported.

“Damn’ swine!” Kirk muttered under his breath, drawing sharp glances from his senior officers. “Mister Scott, is there any way at all you can negate their tractor beam?”

“I’m tryin’ everythin’ I know, Sir,” Scotty replied grimly. “But that beastie’s holdin’ us tighter ‘n ever!”

“Keep trying!” Kirk ordered. “Mister Arex, how long before that ship explodes?”

“One minute twenty‑two seconds, Captain!”

“Shit!”

“Don’t worry, Captain,” Erin said in a faintly condescending tone. The Deltan accent grew more noticeable. “I am more than capable of protecting us from harm.”

Scotty gasped in horror as realization dawned on him. “Oh my Lord!” he whispered. “Erin, their energy overload . . . is that y‑your doin’?”

“Of course!” she gloated.

“Good God, no!” Knowledge of the truth shocked Kirk back to his senses. “Erin, stop! You can’t do this!”

“Why not?”

“It’s murder, Erin! Cold blooded murder!”

“I say it’s justice!” Erin returned coldly.

“Justice?!” Kirk echoed incredulously. “Justice? Who appointed you their judge, jury, and executioner?”

“When I read Jertax’s mind, I saw that their’s were the hands that manufactured that damnable plague that killed so many of us!”

Kirk winced against an onslaught of raw grief.

“They killed Uncle Sean and almost killed Aunt Fee!”

“Erin, k‑killing . . . killing the Klingons . . . won’t . . . bring. back. the dead. on Exos II . . . ” Kirk gasped, wrenching his eyes away from the compelling glow of the crystal.

“Why do you of all people defend them, Captain?” Erin taunted. “Did the Klingons not slay your own son not so long ago?”

Her words ripped opened wounds he had thought long healed. “Yes . . . yes, they did!” Kirk murmured, his anger rising in tandem with Erin’s.

“Then let me take vengeance for the dead on El Dorado and for your son as well,” Erin offered.

“Yes, I do want vengeance for David’s death,” Kirk replied, his voice matching beat for beat the pounding in his head. His eyes were drawn once more to the crystal. “An eye for an eye; and a tooth for a tooth!”

<<Jim, don’t!>>

<<Joanna? Spock?>> Kirk could feel them in his mind, like a pair of brilliantly shining stars. <<How‑‑?>>

<<Explain later! Do not allow them destroy the Klingons.>>

Kirk frowned, taken aback. <<Them?>>

<<Erin and the ka d’jahai.>>

<<You mean to tell me that another entity is trying to possess Erin?>>

<<Yes, Jim,>> Joanna’s thoughts carried a note of quiet desperation. <<She who inhabits the ka d’jahai relentlessly consumes Erin’s soul. Part of Erin fights it, but part of her welcomes it, too.>>

<<You are all that stands between them and the crew of that dreadnought,>> Spock reminded urgently. <<You must stop them!>>

<<Dammit, those Klingon miscreants murdered my son,>> Kirk snarled. <<Am I not entitled to vengeance?>>

<<With all due respect, Jim, Kruge murdered your son,>> Spock corrected. <<He was, by that time, driven mad by the deaths of his crew. You killed Kruge on the Genesis planet, avenging David.>>

<<I–>> Kirk faltered.

<<Jim, the ka d’jahai must be stopped here and now,>> Joanna begged, her voice edged with fear. <<If she isn’t, not only will the crew aboard that dreadnought be destroyed, but Erin and those of us forming this mind link–>>

All at once, Kirk’s mind was assaulted by the terrible maelstrom of Joanna’s nightmares. The souls of his crew were dragged into the black, frothy waters of the gigantic whirlpool, including those he considered his closest friends: Spock, Bones, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov, Uhura, and Joanna. Their fear, terror, and accusations knocked him off his feet and threatened to drag him into the hellish maelstrom as well. As he struggled to free himself from the awesome currents, he heard someone in the far distance screaming.

“Captain Kirk!” Uhura screamed, as he toppled to the floor like a sack of potatoes. Beyond him, Erin winced as the crystal flickered and dimmed.

“Get someone from sickbay up here on the double!” Scotty ordered tersely, as he moved to the fallen captain’s side. He gently probed for the pulse at the base of Kirk’s neck. It was weak, but steady. “Erin,” he pleaded, gazing beseechingly into her face. “Y’ve got to stop this! Now!”

“I will not!” Erin refused adamantly.

“Fifty‑two and a half seconds before . . . . ”

“I don’t need a bleedin’ coo‑coo clock,” Scotty snapped back at the Edoan. “Lass, please! Killin’ t’ crew of that ship willna bring back t’ dead.”

“Perhaps not,” Erin conceded coldly. “But they may rest easier!”

Doctor Chapel quietly stepped from the lift to the bridge. She proceeded over to the stricken captain and knelt down beside him.

“Erin, if you kill them like this, you’ll be no better than they,” Scotty quietly persisted.

“No, I . . . but . . . ” Erin stammered, as Scotty’s words hit home.

“Mister Scott, may I try?” Smith asked quietly.

“Sure, Lad,” Scotty sighed. “Give it yuir best shot, an’ Godspeed t’ ye!”

Smith quietly stepped over to Erin’s side. “Please, Erin, you must listen to me,” he begged. “Like you, I, too, hate the Klingons! Bitterly!” He allowed his intense hatred to surface, taking care, for the first time in his life, that it not overwhelm him.

Erin easily picked up his feelings. They were so powerful, they were almost tangible. Worse, Smith’s feelings acted as a mirror to Erin’s own soul. She had no liking for what she saw. “Why do you hate them so much?” she demanded coldly.

Smith swallowed and opened his heart to Erin as he had to no one else. He told her of how the Klingons had invaded his home world and of the horrible things his family had suffered at their hands. She knew his grief when he left Basharra with his mother and uncle, and the shame he and his mother endured when that same uncle was found to be a double agent working for the Klingons. With that revelation came the humiliating investigation into his activities and those of his mother.

“Everything . . . the books we read, magazine subscriptions, our friends, what we eat, when we slept . . . was all cause for suspicion, Kid,” Smith told her. “Starfleet Command holds all that against me to this very day! No matter how high my grades were, how much I’ve busted my butt, I’m always at the bottom of the promotion list.”

Erin winced at the awful bitterness and despair emanating from the assistant security chief.

The hardest part for Smith was telling Erin about Lori Clarke. “I loved her, Kid, more ‘n I ever loved any woman, outside o’ my mother an’ sisters,” he continued. “She was more precious an’ dear to me than the air I breathe . . . . ”

Erin saw his loneliness. The man tended to be stand‑offish. To his deep regret, he had never reached out in friendship to anyone, be they classmates, fellow crew members, or those under his command. By the same token, no one had ever extended him the hand of friendship either, until Ensign Lori Clarke came along. Their’s was an intense, passionate love affair. For the first time in his life, Smith knew camaraderie and friendship. Then came the agony of learning that she wasn’t really Lori Clarke at all. She was a Klingon agent from his home planet by the name of Karlinian Melintar.

“Ironic!” Smith mused wryly. “I was really hot to catch the Klingon spy planted among us! I would have, no doubt, been decorated with a medal, an’ it might have even meant a promotion.” He sighed fatalistically. “Come t’ find out the spy was right under my nose an’ in my bed more often than not. Hell, she got most of her information from me without half tryin’.”

<<Do not listen to him, Chi’hya! Vengeance is not only your right, but your duty as well!>>

<<I don’t know I . . .>> Erin wavered.

“Thirty‑one seconds before detonation,” Arex ventured hesitantly, “if anyone’s interested . . . ”

“Look, Kid, my life and career are as good as over! For God’s sake, don’t repeat my mistakes,” Smith begged, taking full advantage of her momentary indecision. “You do this, they’ll lock you away forever in a penal colony; or, worse, putcha in some hospital an’ run tests to figure out what give you your psi‑powers.”

“No!” Erin sobbed, as he hit her square in the face with the possibilities she and the O’Briens feared would come to pass if her psi‑powers were ever found out.

“Twenty‑two seconds . . . ” Arex said softly.

<<Think! Vast, almost unlimited power is at your fingertips . . . your’s simply for the taking.>>

“You’re young, Kid . . . ”

<<Not only can you avenge the deaths on El Dorado, you can take vengeance on all those who’ve hurt you, your aunt and uncle over the years. A chance like this comes along only once, Chi’hya! Don’t throw it away!>>

” . . . don’t throw away your life before you have a chance to really live it.”

<<Think of those you hate! The school children who taunted you, calling you ‘daughter of Kahn’ . . . Aunt Fran Stewart, who tried to take you from Aunt Fee and Uncle Sean so she could ‘put an end to all this psychic nonsense once and for all.’>>

“Erin, think of the people who love you,” it was Scotty this time. “Me . . . yuir Aunt Fee an’ Uncle Sean . . . yuir best friend back in Ireland, Mary Kate . . . Doctor McCoy . . . ”

“Ten seconds before detonation . . . nine . . . ”

Erin squeezed her eyes shut and gritted her teeth. The bluish glow within the crystal flared and glowed with blinding brilliance. Her breath came in audible, ragged gasps much akin to an asthma sufferer in the midst of a severe attack.

” . . . seven . . . six . . . five . . . ”

Suddenly, there was a loud crack as the crystal shattered into a million pieces and fell to the deck like rain.

“The energy build‑up is decreasing,” Arex reported, to the relief of all concerned. “Their systems returning to normal!”

Erin swayed unsteadily on her feet. “I‑I’m sorry . . . ” she whimpered, “so t‑t‑terribly sorry . . . ” With a soft moan she collapsed and lay unmoving among the shining blue‑gray shards.

Spock groaned and fell heavily against the counter at the observation post.

“Chris, over here!” Uhura cried, as she moved to the Vulcan’s side.

Unknown to the others on the bridge, Sharla’s birth d’jahai, worn about the neck of her bondmate, flashed brilliantly at the same instant the ka d’jahai fragmented on up on the bridge.

*****

Captain’s log; stardate 3740.9; Commander Spock recording for the duration of Captain Kirk’s confinement to sickbay. Everything has turned out remarkably well. The arrival of the Lexington two days ago brought an abundance of medicine and extra hands. Doctor M’Benga reports that the plague on Exos II is well in hand. Per his request, and that of Governor Nikolas, I recommend that Doctor Le and his staff be cited for their unwavering dedication and hard work through what had to be formidable circumstances.

Governor Nikolas reports that volunteers among the colonists and well as crew members from the Enterprise and Lexington are making short work of the grisly clean‑up detail in New Mexico City. It should be fit for habitation within the week.

I am also gratified to report that we have agreed to a truce, albeit an uneasy one, with the Klingons concerning the Exos System. Taking into account the very real possibility of finding more of the ka d’jahai crystals secreted among the extensive ruins of Tenochtitlan, both sides have tentatively agreed to a joint archaeological expedition. The specific details will be ironed out in a conference here on Exos II within the next month. In the meantime, one vessel from each side will remain in orbit above Exos II, abiding by the terms of our established truce.

Erin Scott dominated Spock’s thoughts as he switched off the recorder. The girl was presently listed in critical condition, suffering from severe esper shock. Doctor T’Vaun had placed her in stasis, under which her rapidly deteriorating condition had finally stabilized; then, confined her to the isolation ward. In her early adolescent years, Erin had apparently developed formidable telepathic and telekenetic abilities over which she had minimal control at best. Prolonged use of the ka d’jahai crystal, found among the ruins of Tenochtitlan, had increased her powers far beyond her ability to manage them.

A soft knock on the door roused Spock from his musings. “Come,” he invited quietly.

Scotty and O’Brien entered, looking haggard and anxious. “I was told y’ wanted t’ see t’ both of us, Mister Spock?” the former ventured.

“Yes, Mister Scott,” Spock rose to greet them. “Please,” a term somewhat alien to him, but one that meant a great deal to Humans, “come in and sit down. Has there been any change in Erin’s condition?”

“None,” Scotty sighed, as he and O’Brien pulled up a couple of chairs. “I feel so helpless seein’ her lyin’ there so still. Is she goin’ t’ remain that way for t’ rest of her life?”

“I cannot answer that for certain, Mister Scott,” Spock replied, “however, in my opinion, she has an excellent chance for recovery on Vulcan.” He paused. “Forgive me, if I am prying, but has Erin had any kind of training at all in the use of her psi‑powers?”

“The only training she’s had at all was from a Doctor Miranda Jones at the MacTaggart Institute in Scotland,” Fiona answered. “I know, it was rudimentary at best . . . ”

“Mrs. O’Brien, are you aware that an untrained telepath of Erin’s capabilities not only poses a danger to those around her but to herself as well?” Spock said more severely than he had intended.

“Look, Commander Spock,” O’Brien bristled, “my husband, God rest him, Erin, and I’ve suffered enough at the hands of unfeeling bastards who looked on her as everything from dangerous to Satanic.”

“Easy, Fee, easy!” Scotty admonished his sister‑in‑law gently. “Mister Spock wants t’ help.” He turned his attention to the science officer. “What do y’ have in mind for Erin?”

“With your permission, Mister Scott, I would like to have her admitted to the Shi’Khar Institute,” Spock explained. “The healers and teachers there have had excellent results in teaching individuals, like Erin, to cope with and manage their powers.”

“Y’ mean t’ tell me they’d actually consider takin’ on an illogical, emotional Human?” Scotty stared at Spock incredulously.

A bare hit of a smile twitched at the corners of Spock’s mouth. “In cases such as Erin’s, they would consider it the only logical thing to do, Mister Scott.” He sobered. “I have taken the liberty of contacting my parents concerning Erin. I received word from my father a short while ago, that the Shi’Khar Institute will accept Erin as a patient as soon as we can transport her there.”

Tears stung O’Brien’s eyes. Not wishing to shed them in front of a logical Vulcan, she bit her lip and quickly averted her eyes to her lap. “Stop acting like a cry baby!” she admonished herself severely. Sooner or later, Erin’d be striking out on her own anyway! But this was much too soon!

“Fee?” Scotty peered anxiously into her face.

O’Brien took a deep breath and straightened her posture. “I’m alright, Scotty. Just a wee bit tired’s all!”

Scotty saw the unshed tears glistening in her eyes. “Look, Fee, if y’ have any objections‑‑”

O’Brien shook her head vigorously. “I love the lass like the daughter Sean an’ I never had,” she said. “I want what’s best for her, and right now, it looks like Vulcan’s it.” She sighed. “I just . . . m‑miss her already’s all.”

Scotty patted her shoulder. “We’re both agreed, Mister Spock,” he said quietly. “Erin goes t’ Vulcan.”

*****

Upon regaining consciousness, Kirk found himself in sickbay. He opened his eyes and tried to sit up. “Uuuhh shit!” he groaned, as his stomach lurched. “I hope I ate recently! There’s nothing worse than d‑dry heaves . . . ”

“Jim?”

Kirk turned and, much to his delight, found Joanna lying in the bed next to his. She looked as miserable as he felt.

“You OK?” Joanna asked anxiously. “You’ve lying there so still, for so long, I was worried.”

Kirk managed a wan smile. “I’ll live . . . I think,” he replied. “How are YOU feeling?”

“Rotten!” she replied bluntly. “Dad was here a little while ago to look in on both of us. He said that mind linking through the crystal takes a lot out of you.”

“That’s an understatement!” Kirk said wryly. “How long have I been out?”

“You’ve been in and out of it for the past couple of days.”

“Days?!”

“Days!”

Frowning, Kirk gingerly propped himself up on his elbow. “Last thing I remember, before blacking out, was . . . somehow talking to you and Spock,” he said thoughtfully. “You kept telling me that I was the only thing between them and the Klingons.”

“From the bits and pieces I can fit together, that crystal‑‑” Joanna frowned. “We kept calling it something else . . . I can’t quite remember . . . ”

“Ka d’jahai?”

“Yes, that’s it!” Joanna replied. “At any rate, it was inhabited.”

“I remember Mister Tamis telling Mister Chekov and me the legends of the ka d’jahai,” Kirk said thoughtfully, then recounted it for her.

“My God, Jim, that’s horrible!” Joanna shuddered.

“The emotions of anger and hatred were forced to the surface, before the captive was psionically transferred from his or her body to the stone,” Kirk added. “Unless strict protective measures were taken, the adept or adepts using the stone ran the risk of being corrupted by the entity within.”

“That damn near happened to Erin,” Joanna reflected soberly.

“Speaking of Erin, what finally happened?” Kirk asked.

“When you blacked out, the entity inhabiting the stone lost ground,” Joanna replied. “Scotty and, of all people, Mister Smith, talked her out of destroying the Klingons.”

“Mister Smith?!” Kirk stared over at his companion incredulously.

“I swear, God as my witness!”

“Will wonders never cease! I’d’ve thought him to be among the first to try talking her into destroying that dreadnought,” Kirk shook his head. “Well, they say the truth is stranger than fiction. Where’s Erin and the entity now?”

“The entity was presumably destroyed when the crystal shattered,” Joanna replied soberly. “As for Erin, Doctor T’Vaun had to put her in stasis. Prolonged use of that crystal apparently increased the psi‑powers she already had. Erin went into severe ESPer shock when the stone was destroyed.”

“Oh my God!” Kirk whispered, shaking his head. “Will she . . . recover?”

“Doctor T’Vaun and Mister Spock seem to be of the opinion that she has an excellent chance of not only recovery, but of learning to use and cope with her abilities at the Shi’Khar Institute,” Joanna replied.

“I hope everything works out,” Kirk said quietly. “What about you? I know from those dreams, visions, and seizures, your latent abilities have somehow awakened.” He paused. “Will you have to go to Vulcan, too?”

The dejected look on his face at the prospect of her leaving touched her. “Oh no, James Tiberious Kirk!” Joanna scolded him gently. “You’re not rid of me THAT easily!” She smiled. “I’ll have to be tested of course, but Mister Spock’s fairly certain that my psi‑power level roughly equals his own,” she explained. “He said he’ll be able to teach me to cope with and properly use my new found telepathic abilities.”

Kirk rose slowly and walked over to her bed. “I’m glad you’re staying,” he declared, taking a seat on the edge of her bed.

“So am I, Jim,” she agreed, gazing into his face intently.

For a moment, Kirk just sat there on the edge of her bed, gazing into her luminous blue eyes. Then, on impulse, he gently gathered her into his arms and kissed her.

“Well, Jim, looks like you missed your calling in life! With a unique bedside manner like that, it seems a shame you didn’t become a doctor.”

Kirk broke off the kiss and glanced up sharply. McCoy stood on the other side of his bed, arms folded across his chest, leveling a ferocious scowl in his general direction. To his utter dismay, he blushed like a first year plebe. “Bones, I . . . uh, you were so quiet, I didn’t hear you, uh . . . come in?”

“That’s obvious!” McCoy growled.

“Oh come on, Dad! Surely as a fellow doctor, you must know that tender loving care is an essential part of any recovery,” Joanna hastened to point out.

“You stay out of this, Young Lady!” McCoy ordered, feeling more like an overly protective father than a physician. “Furthermore, for the next week or so, you’re NOT a fellow doctor. You’re my patient.”

“OK, then,” Joanna shrugged, “as a patient, I happen to like the captain’s bedside manner.” She squeezed Kirk’s hand and smiled. “It has a nice . . . PERSONAL touch.”

“That does it, Cap’n Suh!” McCoy exploded. “Out!”

“I can’t, Bones! I haven’t been discharged yet!”

“You have now!” McCoy countered pointedly.

*****

“Ms Melintar?”

Melintar glanced up and found the insectoid guard standing outside the force field barrier over the entrance to her cell. “If it’s supper time, just take it away! I’m not hungry!” she sighed morosely.

“Your meal not delivering am I,” Clac’tt replied. “Visitor have you. From the door away stand!”

Melintar nodded and moved well away from the door. “A visitor?” she wondered silently. “Who could possibly . . . ?”

“Lori?” To her complete amazement, John Smith entered her cell. “Oh! Sorry! Force of habit!”

” ‘s OK, John,” she murmured, feeling oddly shy. “You can call me Lori if you want to . . . ”

“When leave wish you, me call,” Clac’tt told Smith as he switched on the force field.

“I will, Mister Clac’tt,” Smith said gruffly. “Until then, you’re dismissed.”

“Good very, Sir,” Clac’tt replied, then withdrew.

Strained silence fell between them for what seemed an eternity. In truth, it lasted only a few moments.

“Well, John?” Melintar finally broke it, unable to bear the tension any longer. “You, uh . . . wanted to see me about . . . something?”

Smith nodded. “I’ve had a chance to . . . well, to sit down and really think about . . . things,” he began hesitantly.

“And?” she prompted, when he fell silent.

“I’ve had to face some hard truths about myself,” he continued, unable to look into her face. “None of it was pleasant . . . ”

“I kind of . . . gathered as much,” Melintar said in a small voice, her eyes fixed squarely on her feet.

“I don’t have time to dwell on the, . . . uh, details.” With a sharp pang he remembered how, not so long ago, attentively she had once listened. “The upshot of it’s this! I’ve been a blind, obnoxious, first class jerk.”

“Is that what you came to tell me?”

“Yes,” Smith nodded, and took a seat on her bunk. “I also came to hear the rest of your side of the story.” He paused. “That is, if you still want to tell me . . . ”

Melintar smiled and sat down beside him. For a moment, it was almost like having Lori back. “It’s a long story, John,” she warned gently.

” ‘s OK, Lori . . . I have plenty of time!”

***End of Part 2***

Click here to go to Part 3 (the conclusion)

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