Unto Space We Commend Thy Spirit by Djinn (CARTER #3)

Part 2

*******************************

Christine watched with satisfaction as the isolation area was raised. The walls were set up first, fixed in place easily as the corpsmen moved the gravlocks into the secure position. Then the crews went to work on the decon fields.

Carpenter joined her on the grass. Her face was difficult to see through the respirator. She pointed at the men working. "I need to borrow them when they're through here. I want to put in an examination room, and a waiting area for those we think might be infected. Someplace they can come that we can still control." She glanced around at the large town that began at the edge of the field. "I don't want to set up shop there."

"No problem." Christine motioned the ranking medic over and instructed him to report to the other doctor when his crew was done with the isolation area. As he walked away she turned back to Carpenter. Pointing to the people already starting to congregate at the guarded barrier that they had erected at the field's edge she grimaced. "I can't believe they are doing that. One infected person in there and they could all come down with it."

"I know, Commander. I'm appalled too. But they may not be affected."

Christine nodded. "We'll know more when Commander Farrell and I start the surveys. The Minister's office is supposed to be bringing by a list of all the Canarans that have died. Once we have that we can start tracking down the possible infected members."

The beep of Christine's communicator caught their attention. The transporter chief announced that Moorehouse was beaming down with Sovar. They waited till the two had fully materialized before walking over to them.

"Commander Moorehouse, I imagine you want to inspect your facility?"

"Yes." Moorehouse strode off, already calling out to the medics to make adjustments to the field.

Christine turned to Sovar. "I'm a bit surprised to see you down here."

The young Vulcan nodded somberly. "I have been talking with others in the diplomatic section. We wish to help. But we know that caring for the sick is perhaps not the best way to do this. I have come to find out how we can assist your team."

Christine thought for a moment. She couldn't have them in the hot area. But the surveys were intensive and tedious. The more hands on those the better. "Thank you for the offer. I do intend to take you up on it but it may be a few days before we need you. We plan to conduct surveys in the town and surrounding smaller populated areas. But first we need to map the extent of the virus' reach. Once we do that we can demarcate the active zone from the safe areas, and safe is a relative turn, even they may not be totally free of illness. We will need you to conduct surveys, look for indigenous wildlife as well as domesticated companion animals for sampling. As soon as we have completed our contagion map we will call you down."

Sovar seemed satisfied with her plan. "An efficient use of our skills."

"Thank you, Mr. Sovar. Now please, get back up to the ship, this area will soon be ground zero."

He did not argue and after he had beamed up she and Carpenter turned back to watch the final touches of the building go up. Moorehouse was in the thick of the construction and Christine chuckled as she watched the other woman. "Come on," she said to Carpenter, "let's go see if she needs help."

They walked slowly, still getting used to the tight fitting hazard uniforms. Christine could already feel a blister forming around her right ankle where her boot was pressing the tight pant leg into her skin. If all I get is a blister out of this I'll be damned lucky, she thought as she tried to ignore the rubbing.

Moorehouse looked up as the other doctors approached. "It's solid, Commander. Containment is perfect according to my readings. I'm going to check a couple other different ways but I think we're a go. I'll have the beds, supplies, and medicines beamed down while the crew construct the decon showers and set up the suits. Then we'll be ready for customers."

Christine smiled at her enthusiasm. Moorehouse was a seasoned professional, this was no callow show of good spirits, she was truly looking forward to the challenge of beating back another disease, of saving some, maybe many, lives. Christine again felt a surge of respect flow through her for the woman.

Carpenter explained her plans to set up an examination area and Moorehouse expressed approval, even had some suggestions for making it work better. Christine left the two designing the waiting room and walked over to the barrier.

The guards, already very alert, snapped to attention. "Sir."

"At ease," she said immediately. "Have any of the citizens tried to get in."

"No, Sir." One of the marines, an older woman that Christine remembered as Sergeant Mandra, explained, "They have stayed well back from the barrier. They seem more curious than anything else. Several of the children asked about our respirators."

"What did you say?"

"That it was to help us stay well, that we weren't used to their air."

"Close enough. Don't need a panic. And this thing may not be airborne. Until we know for sure though, I want you in respirators whenever you stand duty on the planet. Understood."

"Yes, Sir."

Taking a last look at the villagers, some of whom had brought picnic lunches out to eat as they watched the activity, Christine walked back to the main camp. She picked a place off to the side for the spot she would have the crew erect her office. Not just hers, she imagined others would find it useful also. Then she took out her tricorder and setting it on broad scan she searched the area for fauna. In rodents alone, one of the most likely animal vectors, she counted eight varieties in the fields and wooded areas, three in the urban area, and three flying ones. Insects were incredibly numerous as well. There were companion animals similar to cats, a wild creature somewhere between a dog and a fox, several large livestock animals, and numerous birds, reptiles, and fish. She scanned again. Interesting. No non-human primates.

She opened her communicator, heard Saldusta respond. "Yes, Commander?"

"Is Lt. Kavall there?"

"Yes, Sir," the science officer answered.

"Lieutenant, could you run a planet-wide scan. Categorize all fauna by genus and species--you may have to cross-reference against the Ministry's databanks--and give an earth equivalent if possible. Send me the data once you have it."

"Yes, Sir. Anything else?"

"No. Chapel out." She turned back to her scans. She would wait to see what Kavall's scans showed but at this point she thought the rodents were the most likely host of the virus. Perhaps one of these varieties was new to the area. It was as good if not better a theory than any of the others she had heard. Whatever caused this disease was an interloper. The Ministry said that they had no record of a similar epidemic, or even isolated cases, ever taking place.

She heard several voices and turned to see some medics approaching. "Is this where you want the office, Sir?"

"Yes. And that area over there," she pointed to the vast expanse between the isolation area and the barrier, "I want to be the staging area for the air cars. We need a decon unit and a resting area for the drivers. I also want you to cordon off an area to be used for transporting personnel in and out. I want it at least 50 meters from the isolation area, so that should put it just in front of the staging area."

"Yes, Sir," the senior crewwoman said as she and her team set to work.

Christine took a final look around and pulled out her communicator. "Carter, one to beam up."

******************

30 hours later, the containment area was completely transformed. The only constant was the group of townspeople still watching at the barrier.

Christine walked with several nurses from the beam-down point to the diagnostic area. The young women were complaining about their respirators, but Christine ignored them. She turned to look at the containment area; from here she could see nothing of what went on inside. She knew from her frequent trips down to the planet and from the reports constantly being sent up to the ship that there were now 33 patients in the area. More were on their way from the several nearby urban areas. They were being moved in the Federation air cars in special negative-pressure isolation units. The families of those infected were being surveyed. Those that had had close contact would be brought along for observation. Those that were not deemed in immediate danger were given special miniaturized tricorder-communicators and were instructed to activate the machines three times a day. Their vital functions would be relayed automatically to the medical unit responsible for tracking their readings. If anyone failed to call in, even once, an air car would be immediately dispatched to bring him or her in.

Christine watched as several Canarans who had apparently been exposed to the disease were sent out of the diagnostic area to a special holding area Carpenter and Moorehouse had asked to be set up. There were three stages but only the first one was in use at the moment. For the first week, which from the records they had received from the Ministry appeared to be the incubation period, the person under watch was fairly isolated, staying within their own families and not allowed to gather for group activities. Anyone who broke with symptoms was moved at once to the containment area. Whoever proved clean after a week was transferred to the second area where they would remain for another seven days. This stage allowed more contact and the people within could congregate in small groups. The final stage was at the very outskirts of the camp and had no protocols except that the person could not leave the area until the final week was over. Christine anticipated that this area would be the area most likely to give rise to problems as boredom overcame fear and the people looked for outlets to their restlessness. She had worked with Troi to install plenty of entertainment for the children and adults. She had been surprised when several of the priests had come to her and volunteered to stay in the area and offer comfort and religious instruction to the people within. They had understood that they would not be able to leave the area once they entered it. Troi had agreed with her initial assessment that their presence could only be a good thing so she had allowed them to set up.

As she entered the waiting portion of Carpenter's section she saw a number of people waiting to be seen by the doctors. Anyone already showing symptoms was taken directly to the containment area. These people here were primarily the close friends and families of the victims that were either inside the other building or already dead. They had seen their loved ones die a horrible death and were now in this place because they too might be infected. Christine could almost feel their fear.

"Commander." Carpenter's voice startled her out of her reverie. "I'm going over to start my shift at GZ. You want to come?"

Christine nodded and they set out for the containment area. The crew had already dubbed it Ground Zero or GZ for short. As good a name as any, she supposed. It was accurate if not exactly optimistic.

They passed several sets of guards before they came to the entryway. The sound of a scuffle caught Christine's attention and she turned to watch as several medics were trying to guide a young man into GZ. At first he seemed calm but when he saw the decon shield and the personnel in full biosafety suits waiting beyond it he began to panic.

"No! Please don't take me in there. It's only a little fever. And an occasional nosebleed. I have them all the time. Really." His struggles intensified the closer they came. "No, please. If I go in I'll never come out again. Please!"

"Damn it," Carpenter had moved quickly and grabbed a hypo spray from her pack. She had the youth sedated in a matter of seconds. As he stood numbly, waiting to be moved in, she turned on the medics. "The idea is to keep the patient calm. Next time sedate first. I don't want to see a repeat of this. Understood?" As her staff moved the young man into the decon shield she walked back to Christine.

"If he had been actively bleeding, what we just saw."

Carpenter didn't let Christine finish, "I know. It could have been catastrophic." She pulled out a tricorder and gave the area a thorough scan. "No evidence of blood, not even trace. We were lucky."

Christine nodded, satisfied that this would not happen again. They moved into the first decon shield. Christine felt a tingle as the field did its work. This area served no purpose except being a gray area between the outside and the hot area. A second shield let them into the changing area, which was the beginning of the negative pressure rooms, designed to keep the infectious agents inside. The suits they would put on were positive pressure, which would keep the pathogens away from them. They changed carefully and bypassing the showers walked through the third shield into the area that the patients first saw as they entered. A fourth shield stood between them and the wards. Christine took a deep breath and stepped through. She imagined the tingle as her suit made contact with the field. Once she was clear of the decon shield her mind started imagining little armies of viruses attacking her suit. She would get sick; she would be the next one they had to drag into GZ. For a moment she felt blind panic and wanted to run from the room. She fought the feeling and took a step into the ward. Then another. By the time she was in the middle of the room the need for flight had subsided.

Moorehouse had divided the room up into wards. Those patients in whom the virus had recently broken were in the area closest to the door. She looked around for the young man that had just been admitted and saw that the nurses were already administering fluids and antiviral support.

"This area is where we can make the greatest difference," Moorehouse's voice sounded in her helmet. She moved into Christine's field of vision. "The sooner we begin supportive therapy the greater the chance we have to get the patient through this thing."

"You're using antivirals? Ebola and Marburg don't respond to them."

"We don't know that this is an Ebola type virus. It could be more like Lassa, which does respond. In any case, the antivirals we are using here have a low incidence of side effects. They can't hurt."

"Are you going to try immune sera as well?"

"Yes," Moorehouse motioned them to follow her as she continued talking. "Dr. Redmoon is isolating some even as we speak. We don't have that many patients to make it from yet because of those that survived only a few have been willing to come forward to give blood. But now that we have the patients here we will have a ready supply of donors. Even if they aren't quite willing," she added grimly.

Christine watched the patients become increasingly ill as they progressed through the isolation levels. Finally they came to the last area. The patients here were gone, shells at best. Their eyes were red and did not close any longer, their faces already set in a death mask. The sheets that covered the mattresses were soaked with blood as their insides bled out from all available orifices, and some newly created. One old woman had tears in her skin where the flesh had dissolved away. Christine swallowed bile as she took in the scene.

"Horrible, isn't it," Carpenter whispered.

Moorehouse turned to look at her closely. "You aren't going to throw up are you?" When Christine shook her head, the other doctor continued to study her. "This isn't for everyone, Commander. It's no strike against you if you can't take it."

Resolutely Christine let out the breath she hadn't realized she had been holding. "No. I can do this. It just takes some getting used to."

"Ok." Moorehouse's attention moved from Christine to a young woman in a far bed who, unlike most of the patients, was moving. "Shit!" Moorehouse moved quickly to help, the other doctors following.

"Epileptic seizure." Carpenter explained.

A nurse that had been working close to the bed was already trying to help, but the patient began to thrash as the grand mal seizure took her. "Doctor?" the nurse nearly screamed as her suit was splashed. There was a thick layer of blood dripping down her faceplate.

"Hold her down," Moorehouse instructed.

The nurse grabbed the shoulders, watched as her hands caused the delicate skin to separate. "Oh god," she said as she held up her gloved hands, now covered in blood. She started to try to remove them. "Noooo," her moan was past hysterical.

Christine moved to stop her, "No don't!" She knew in her heart she would be too late.

The whine of a phaser rang out and the nurse slumped to the ground. A marine that Christine had not even noticed moved aside to let two medics by. They lifted the nurse carefully and carried her out of the room.

Christine turned to the guard, who even under the thick faceplate looked shaken. "Well done, you just saved her life."

"Yes, sir." The marine looked at the patient that had been seizuring. "Not hers though."

Christine glanced at the corpse. "She was beyond saving, soldier."

Moorehouse finished removing the life support equipment. She instructed the medics to take the body to a small room off the main ward.

Christine followed her, leaving Carpenter to take care of the patients. "I don't remember this room in the plans."

"It wasn't. I realized that we hadn't allowed for a place to do autopsies or prepare corpses. I had this added at the last minutes." She started taking samples that she would send up to the lab. "Commander, we still haven't worked out an adequate arrangement with the families and the priests on the burials. They expect us to hand over the bodies to them immediately. Their customs allow too much exposure with a corpse that is just as hot as the living patient was. We need to convince them to let us prepare the bodies."

"I'll get working on it."

Moorehouse called in two medics to prepare the body. "As it is now, we'll double wrap the body. And they'll unwrap it as soon as they get it home. Then they'll bathe it. Do you know what that really means? They clean up all the waste and blood, *all* of it.outside and inside.with their hands. One cut and the virus has a new host. It defeats the whole purpose of containment."

"I understand. Maybe diplomatic can help. That's what they're here for, right?"

Moorehouse looked unconvinced but nodded grudgingly. "Put the diplomats on it, about damn time they started earning their pay around here."

*******************************

"I must go in."

Christine was walking back from town where she had been conducting surveys of the families of the deceased when she saw the High Priest arguing with the guards at the barrier.

He saw the guards react to her presence and turned. "Ah, it is you. You are in charge of this abomination."

"I am in charge of the medical mission, yes." She refused to rise to his bait. "How can I help you?"

"Let me in. My people need me."

"I'm afraid that's impossible. If we let you in then we can't let you back out."

"Yet you move freely back and forth." His tone was sarcastic.

"I also wear protective clothing and equipment, walk through special forcefields, and take frequent decontamination showers." She pulled him aside. "Your holiness," he didn't grimace at the title so she continued, "there is a way you can protect your people, all your people both here and outside."

"How?"

"For the duration of this epidemic we need your people to allow us to prepare the bodies of their loved ones for burial. Once we have done so they must not be disturbed. Your support in this matter would be of immeasurable help."

"The funeral traditions are quite specific. Kormox himself dictated them. To change would be to admit defeat to this disease, to say it has power greater than Kormox. We all know that our god will protect those who worship him. They have only to pay him the proper respect. To ignore the needs of the dead would be disrespectful. Kormox would be angry."

"Your people will die if they handle these bodies, possibly even if they sit with an unprotected corpse."

"Kormox will protect them."

Seeing that she was getting nowhere Christine turned and walked back to the guards.

The priest hurried to catch up, then grabbed her shoulder stopping her progress. "You must let me in. My people need me."

"Yes but they need you alive."

He puffed his chest out, seemed to pull himself up to nearly her height. "I am the living representation of Kormox. Nothing mortal can touch me."

Christine felt her patience wear thin. "Think of this virus as immortal then." She pushed past him and walked toward her office. The guards closed ranks behind her. She tried to ignore the sound of argument coming the barrier. Finally she turned around. "What now?" she yelled down to the guards.

"Sir, he's threatening to make this a diplomatic incident."

"Then get the damn diplomats down here." At his look of confusion she pointed up. "Call the Captain."

"Of course, Sir. Sorry."

**********************

She was in her office going over the native animal list that Kavall had sent down when Spock entered. She didn't look up as she asked, "Got him all calmed down, did you?"

"For the moment." He sat down in one of the spare chairs, managing to look calm even within the ventilator.

"I couldn't just let him in." She looked to find his eyes only slightly disapproving. "He wanted into the containment area."

"I know."

Feeling like a child caught out by her parents and found wanting, Christine scowled at him. "What was I supposed to do, Spock? He wouldn't have been satisfied with anything less than full access."

"I know that too."

"Then quit looking at me with that disappointed expression."

"Very well. You asked him about the burial rites?"

"He was not inclined to listen to me. Spock, all our work will mean nothing if they don't observe containment after death."

"I understand. Commander Troi will be working on the issue."

"Good." There was a thick silence for a moment. "I'm sorry, Spock. I should have done better."

"Probably. But your role here is to be in charge of the medical. Let's leave it to diplomatic to see if we can convince the Priest to work with us." He stood up and moved around to her side of the desk, lifted the animal list. "Are you any closer to finding the vector?"

She shook her head in disgust. "No. We've trapped and tested fifty species of insects and all of the rodents as well as the companion and livestock animals. Nothing. No carriers and not one of the animals we've found has been exposed either. We're moving to birds next."

"It has to have a source does it not?"

She nodded slowly. "Yes, but so far we aren't even close to knowing what it is. "

He put the list back down on her desk. "Well I will leave you to your search. Do remember to rest, Christine. You will do no one any good if you overtire yourself"

**************

Christine's days fell into an established pattern. For the most part she stayed out of the containment area unless they asked for her, both Moorehouse and Carpenter preferred to have her working as liaison between them and the community, the lab, and those trying to track down the source of the virus. To that end, she helped Farrell with the surveys and had been happy to report to Spock that they had run up against the eastern edge of the outbreak. One side was now drawn in on their contagion map, once they had the other three they could set diplomatic against those settlements that weren't in the hot areas.

She checked the latest reports. So far 15 people dead. Christine had worked hard on the people taking the bodies, explaining why they should leave their relative in the wrapping the Starfleet doctors had provided. Some of the family members seemed to accept what they were told and Christine had noticed that these people were not showing up in the groups of newly infected cases. But many were, in fact so far this week ten were traceable to having handled the dead. If they could just stop this practice they would stand a better chance of stopping the virus, which Redmoon had dubbed Canara Seltax Virus or CSV. He had isolated it soon after the containment area had been set up. It was a filovirus similar to but not a match to Ebola. It did not respond to antivirals so they had discontinued that therapy but immune serum did seem to have an effect. The survival rate for new cases was up to 75 percent, thanks in good part to Moorehouse's aggressive therapies and the fact that the disease was responding to the survivor's blood. But at the beginning they had lost nearly 85 percent of all the advanced cases. Christine had spent much more time in GZ during that time helping with the support of the worst cases. She had been horrified by the carnage that the virus wrought on the bodies of the patients but she had continued to go in to help until the first cases had burned themselves out.

They had suspected early on, and Redmoon had confirmed that aerosol transmission was not a factor. That meant that those outside of the containment area could work without the uncomfortable respirators. And even many of the staff within GZ had moved back into the more comfortable hazard uniforms and ventilators while others, less trusting, kept wearing the suits. So far no one in the medical staff had contracted the disease. If anyone was inclined to get sloppy, Moorehouse and Carpenter were quick to reprimand them. They were determined that people pay attention to what they were doing and intended to have no casualties on their watch.

Farrell and Christine were no closer to finding the source of the virus. They had interviewed so many people that the stories had all merged in Christine's mind. She knew that they were missing something and looked back over her records to the first recorded cases. They had started their interviews with the family and friends of these people but Christine suddenly had the idea to try again. One woman in particular had struck her as knowing more than she was saying. Christine resolved to talk to her the next day. For now, it was time to return to the ship. She walked slowly to the transporter area, using the decon field before calling up to the ship for transport.

Once back in the ship she grabbed some food at the nearest mess hall and carried it back to her office to eat. She knew that she should be resting but wanted to catch up on the official messages. She ate as she read and when her comm unit chimed she ignored it. It rang again. Damn it all, she thought as she hurriedly swallowed her last mouthful of food. She voiced her irritation in her reply, "Chapel here."

"I'm sorry to disturb you, Sir." The Beta shift communications officer sounded extremely nervous.

She instantly felt bad. Not his fault, she shouldn't take it out on him. "What it is, Lieutenant?"

"Sir, I've just been notified by a Starfleet Command shuttle that they will be rendezvousing with us in a few minutes to drop off an incoming crewmember."

"What?" Christine tried to remember if the Carter was missing any crewmembers. Her exhaustion made it hard work. "A new crewmember? For what section?"

"Diplomatic, Sir."

Christine sighed. She was so far behind on the messages between the ship and headquarters. She supposed that a whole new crew could have been arranged during her time on the planet. "Very well. "

"Sir, do you want to meet her? Or do you want me to notify the Captain."

"I'll go now. Please notify Captain Spock as well."

"Yes, Sir." The channel went dead.

Goddess give me strength, she thought tiredly. I really don't have the energy for this. She shut off her padd and entered the turbolift for the short ride to the transporter room. She nodded to the ensign on duty then turned to the pad.

"They're ready for transport."

"Energize."

"Aye, Sir."

The beam appeared and as she watched the figure of a woman appeared. For one moment before the image solidified into a person she thought she saw the figure waver and distort. She blinked several times then looked again. An old woman stood on the pad. I must be more tired than even I realized, Christine thought uncertainly.

The woman looked at her, her eyes boring into Christine as if reading her very soul. Her expression was like stone, then, as if liking whatever she was seeing in her examination, she broke into a smile. The gesture spread the wrinkles around her face, her eyes nearly disappearing into the laugh- lines that radiated up her cheeks. Christine found herself smiling back.

The woman's voice was strong and deep and her walk firm as she moved off the pad. "Ambassador-at-large Ts'its'tsi'nako reporting for duty, Commander."

"Welcome aboard, Ambassador Ts'i." Christine stumbled over the name. The woman laughed and the sound seemed to ring up and down Christine's spine.

"Just call me Nako." She turned as the door opened and Spock walked into the room. "Ah, *Captain* Spock. How you have grown."

Spock inclined his head, "Ambassador Nako. Welcome aboard."

"You used to call me *Grandmother* Nako, Spock." Her smile was warm.

"I also used to be three years old." Spock's tone sounded almost teasing. Christine could see him visibly relaxing in Nako's presence.

Who is this woman, she wondered.

"Allow us to show you to your quarters," Spock said as he gestured for her to precede him. He turned to Christine, speaking softly, "I have given her the quarters that were to have been Colonel Kerr's."

"Logical."

They had to hurry to catch up with the ambassador. She may look old, Christine thought, but she certainly doesn't act, or sound it. She watched the woman's jacket billow out behind her. It was intricately woven from beautifully dyed fabric. Her pants were also woven although of a different pattern. She made them herself, Christine suddenly felt certain, although how she knew she couldn't say.

"Nako," Spock asked when they were again by her side. "I was surprised that you would ask for service on the Carter. You could lead a mission of your own if you chose. You have been offered the role of Head Ambassador for the Federation multiple times but have always turned it down. Now you are here, on a Starfleet vessel, in a minor role? I am surprised."

"I have my reasons, Spock." She turned to Christine, dismissing him entirely. "You are exhausted beyond measure."

Surprised, Christine looked into her eyes and saw only compassion. "Yes," she said simply.

"I wish I could tell you it would be over soon."

"I know it won't." Christine tried to smile but knew that the end result was more of a grimace. "We can't stop this if they won't give up their funeral rituals. We can do all the containment in the world when the patients are alive. What good does it do if the body is put right back among the populace once it is dead?"

"The people won't listen?"

Christine snorted disdainfully. "The Priest won't listen."

Spock hastened to explain. "He has power nearly on a level with the Minister. We are here over his deepest objections. And I'm afraid that Commander Chapel has not had the best dealings with him."

Christine laughed in spite of the seriousness. "You're such a master of understatement, Spock."

Nako seemed to watch them with interest and Christine suddenly felt self- conscious. She was glad when the lift deposited them on deck 2.

"Your quarters are along this way," she said as they walked down a branch of the hallway. She heard a door open and Redmoon stepped out of his quarters. Christine called out to him. "Dr. Redmoon, you have a neighbor at last."

He walked down politely to say hello. His expression as he gazed at the Ambassador turned thoughtful.

"What is it, Grandson?" Nako's face was serene as she looked at him.

He seemed to shake himself. "You looked familiar for a moment, Ambassador."

She laughed. "I have that kind of face, Redmoon." The way she said his name seemed to make two words of the syllables. "Well, this old woman is tired from her journey. If you will excuse me?" Once the others had said goodnight she let the door close behind her.

"And I'm keeping someone waiting. If you'll excuse me?" Redmoon hurried down the hall.

Somewhat uncomfortable, Christine turned to Spock. Before she could say anything he indicated the hallway with a small nod of his head.

"Shall I walk you home, Christine?"

She smiled. "That would be nice, Spock."

As they rounded the corner she thought again of Nako. "So you didn't request Nako?"

"No. I know her from long ago. She worked with my father on an extremely sensitive diplomatic matter. She often visited us when I was young."

Christine smiled at the thought of a three-year old Spock. "Why is she here?"

They had reached her door. He raised an eyebrow and shook his head slightly. "I imagine she will tell us that when she is ready. In the meantime we should be glad to have her. My father once told me that Nako was the most astute negotiator he had ever witnessed. He said it was as if she could enter a person's katra and read the truth that lay within."

"Then we are lucky she is here." Christine turned to her door. "Good night."

"Sleep well, Christine."

The familiar words touched her more than she wanted. "You too, Spock."

*******************************

"Am I going to die?"

Christine felt her heart wrench as the girl looked at her trustingly.

"We're going to do everything we can for you, sweetie."

The girl's face fell. "I'm going to die aren't I?"

"Not if I can help it," she said as she took a look at the adolescent's readings. Fever too high, blood already seeping in too many places.

"My mother died." The girl shifted tried to get comfortable, grimaced as every movement brought a stab of pain. "I got it from her didn't I?"

"I don't know, honey."

Christine had come into GZ to help out but had really not been needed. She had noticed the young girl lying in the corner of the last ward. She had seemed so alone as she bore her suffering. Christine has been sitting with her for the last several hours.

"That's what I don't understand. My Father kept me away from her. I never saw her when she was sick. Not till the funeral. When we took care of her."

Christine fought the rage that threatened. One more unnecessary death. How many more would there be?

She was about to answer but the girl had drifted off again. The lapses into catatonia were becoming more frequent. Her brain was being affected. In a way it was a blessing. Or she assumed that the pain disappeared along with the girl's personality. It was too awful to think otherwise.

She rose and walked over to watch Carpenter move around the patients that had been brought in with the child. All of them involved in the funeral. Damn this world. Damn the unreasoning stubbornness of the Priest and his religion.

She moved back to the girl's bed, sat in silence broken only by the hiss of her respirator. For hours she watched over the now expressionless child. She sat vigil as the girl's tired heart gave up, too weakened to pump as it drowned in blood. As the girl died Christine was there, not touching, seemingly composed but feeling her resistance, her determination crumble in the face of this latest death.

"She went fast," Carpenter was unhooking the life support. The other doctor took a close look at Christine. "You did make a difference, you know. You stayed with her. I'm sure she knew that."

"A difference? I'm not making any damn difference here at all." Christine rose. Tears stung her eyes and finally fell freely to pool at the bottom of her goggles. She saw the compassion on Carpenter's face, wanted none of it. "I'm going up. I've had enough of this planet."

She navigated carefully through the ward toward the exit. The guard gave her a sharp look but she found the presence of mind to stop and talk to him, knowing she had looked panicky, realizing he had almost stopped her with his weapon. A few seconds later she was on the move again. Through the barriers, into the showers, back into her hazard uniform. Then out, into the fresh air, and to the transport area.

"Carter, one to beam up." Get me the hell away from here, she silently pleaded. Please just let me forget.

************************

From her vantage point near the bar Christine saw Kerr rush into the Special Forces Lounge. She took another long drink of her whisky. She watched as he asked one of the marines something, saw the young soldier point her way. Oh oh, she thought woozily. Someone's in trouble.

He made his way hurriedly through the crowd of off-duty marines. She smiled and gestured broadly, nearly spilling her drink in the process. "Hey sweets. Pull up a chair."

"Christine." He seemed to consider whether he wanted to sit down.

"Randall." She fought the impulse to giggle. "I guess somebody told on me?"

He sat. "I guess so. You want to tell me why you're in here drowning your sorrows?"

"Nope." She took another swig then put down the empty glass. "Barkeep!" She yelled a little too loudly.

The marine acting as bartender looked over but turned away when Kerr shook his head.

"Hey!" Christine glared at him. She spoke very slowly. "I.want.another...drink."

"And I want to be boyishly handsome, but neither are likely to happen."

She rose to go get the drink herself, but his hand covered hers. She tried to pull away but his grip was like iron. "Let me go, Colonel," she hissed at him.

He rose slowly, moved to stand in front of her, effectively blocking the rest of the room's view of their conversation. "Commander," he said firmly, "There is one of two ways this is going to play out. Either you walk out with me now or I carry you out. I suggest you pick the first option if you wish to preserve any semblance of dignity."

She moved closer to her. "Leave me alone, Randall. I don't want you here. I'm doing just fine."

"Two choices, Christine. In a moment I'm going to pick one for you."

She set her glass down with a bang. "Fine. I'm tired of this place anyway." Without waiting to see if he was following she pushed her way through the crowd. "Can't even relax without some busybody meddling in my business," she muttered as she stumbled to the turbolift.

She felt rather than heard him come up behind her. "Touch me and die," she warned him.

"I have no intention of touching you. I just want to get you to your room before you do something you regret."

The lift deposited them on deck 2 and he followed her to her door.

"Sure you don't want to tuck me in," she said sarcastically.

"Very sure." He turned to leave.

Anger surged through her. And desperation. "Randall?" Her voice wavered.

He looked back. "Good night Christine."

"Come in for a while," she cajoled.

He closed his eyes for a long moment. His shoulders tightened as he whispered, "And do what?"

She moved toward him, stopped just short of touching him. "Anything you want," she purred. "Wouldn't you like that?"

His eyes opened slowly. "More than you probably realize, Christine. But it's not going to happen tonight. How about you ask me again when you're sober?" He turned her toward her door. "Go to sleep."

She tried to turn, "Randall."

He gave her shoulders a little shake. "Don't insult us both by asking again, Christine. Now get some rest."

Suddenly, through the drunken haze she was in, she felt shame flood her. "I'm sorry." She tried to turn but again his hands stopped her.

"Go to bed, Christine. This never happened."

She nodded and walked back to her door. Staggered inside, thought she heard him curse softly as the door closed. She leaned against the wall for a moment. What the hell just happened? What am I doing? She found the replicator and ordered some detox. Injecting it through her clothes she fell into her bed. Sleep followed instantly.

*******************************

"You wished to see me?" The Priest's tone was imperious as he stepped out of the sanctuary and into the waiting area where Christine stood.

I don't like this man, she thought bitterly as she tried to form a friendly smile. "I wished to clear the air between us. I was not at my best the last time we spoke."

His look did not change.

I *really* don't like this man, she corrected as she continued, "What I mean is perhaps I didn't spend the time I should have explaining what exactly we are doing here. And why we so desperately need your help."

"All the children of Kormox, even godless interlopers such as yourselves, are welcome to the assistance of the High Priest."

Not quite what I meant, she mused. "In the matter of the burials then."

His expression darkened immediately. "The matter of the burials is closed."

Must not lose my temper this time, she thought desperately. Don't think of the child. "But we."

He did to let her finish. "We shall not discuss it again."

A new voice sounded in the room. "Surely you are not afraid of a frank and open discussion."

Christine and the High Priest turned as one to see Nako standing in the doorway.

The old woman moved confidently into the room. "Commander Chapel, I took the liberty of inquiring as to your whereabouts. I thought perhaps I could be of assistance."

"Old woman, what possible help could you be?" the Priest sounded indignant.

Nako turned to him and their eyes met and held. She was not the first to look away. "What help indeed grandson. Perhaps you and I could speak more privately in there?" She gestured to the room the Priest had come from.

For a long moment no one moved. Then the Priest nodded slowly and retreated to his sanctuary, Nako close on his heels. When Christine got up to join them the ambassador stopped her at the door.

"This is not your fight, child. Go back to the mission." When Christine started to argue, Nako gently laid her finger against her First Officer's lips. "No arguments."

Christine stared rebelliously at the older woman. Who the hell was she to order her around? But the infinite patience in Nako's eyes stopped her. "I'll go back and wait," she said softly.

"Everything will turn out as it should, granddaughter. You'll see." Nako turned and closed the door gently in Christine's face.

*******************

Two hours later, Christine's comm unit went off. The guards were warning her that Nako was on her way back. Barely stopping to save the work she had been doing, Christine hurried out of her office and rushed to meet the diplomat. "Well?"

"He will instruct his people to allow you and your doctors to prepare their dead. He will tell them to bury their loved ones quickly and hold memorials for them afterwards."

"How?" Christine was delighted but stunned.

"My dear, surely you know a good diplomat doesn't give away her secrets." Nako's eyes sparkled as she looked at Christine.

"Who are you?"

"Just an old woman who knows a thing or two about people."

Christine shook her head. "I don't believe that."

"Believe. Don't believe. That is up to you." She took Christine by the arm, "Now I want you to tell me what has made our Captain so sad. I have never seen Spock so full of pain."

"It wouldn't be proper to discuss him with you," Christine protested, even as she let Nako draw her back into her office.

"I dandled him on my knee when he was a toddler and made him laugh. I saw what a misery the children of Vulcan made his growing years. And I observed the rift grow ever wider between him and his father. But I have never seen Spock so hurt. What has happened?"

"Kirk. His death." Christine faltered.

Nako grimaced. "Of course. I should have realized." Her eyes were serious as she turned and demanded, "Tell me everything."

And Christine did.

*******************************

"Commander, you've been here twice already. What more do you think I can tell you?" The Canaran woman studied her curiously.

"I'm not sure. But please, could I come in? Just for a minute?" Christine knew this woman held a piece of information that she just hadn't found yet. She had believed it nearly a week ago when she had paid her a second visit, and she believed it still.

With a long-suffering sigh the woman moved aside to let her enter. She trailed Christine to the sitting area in the front of the dwelling.

"You said you weren't sure how your brother contracted the disease."

"That's right."

They had been over this ground before. Christine tried to think of another way to approach it. "Your brother was one of the first to get sick. He and the friend who worked on his boat. And a bunch of naval guardsmen."

The woman looked up in surprise.

Christine continued. "We just found out about the sailors. The Ministry was keeping their deaths quiet. Or the priesthood was." Christine waited for the woman to comment, when she didn't she sighed in exasperation. "This is a new twist. Can't you see that? These deaths have a connection now. They all were seamen. So the source of the disease is somewhere they all were."

"Maybe my brother caught the disease from the sailors?"

"No. They came down nearly at the same time. They were infected together or nearly together. Where would they have met? Was there a bar at the harbor that they all congregated? Or someone's house they might have all gone to? A mutual friend perhaps?" Or girlfriend, Christine thought to herself. Prostitutes were deadly during an epidemic like this.

"My brother would never have spent time on the wharves. He hated fishing. He inherited the boat from our father but he was trying to get out of the life. He worked all the time to earn the money to start over somewhere far from the sea."

"But he must have had places he liked to go when he was in harbor."

"Yes, his apartment to sleep. That's what I'm trying to tell you. He was exhausted most nights. He didn't have the time to do more than fall into bed to get up the next day and start over. His drive to get out of this life wouldn't let him goof off. All he wanted to do was get rid of that damn boat."

This was going nowhere. Again. Christine rose. "I'm sorry if I've upset you." She walked to the door, the other woman not even making the pretense of seeing her out. Then a thought struck her as she reached the entrance. She turned around. "Where is it?"

"What?"

"The boat."

The woman's expression became guarded. "I don't know."

"But it's yours now, isn't it?"

By the expression on the other woman it was clear she was unsure how to answer the questions. Christine pressed her advantage. "Yours to sell or use. Where is it?"

"I don't know." Her voice was now desperate.

"You're lying." Christine knelt in front of the woman. "Whatever made your brother sick, might be on that boat. He might have brought it back with him." No effect. She rose, towered over the other woman. Her voice was cold. "Tell me what you know," she ordered. "Damn it! I'm not leaving until you tell me what you are hiding!"

Something seemed to go out of the Canaran. Her shoulders slumped. "It is forbidden."

"What is?"

"To speak of the boat."

"Why?"

"It was on the holy island. Kampara. It is taboo to be there, taboo to even approach it."

"Kampara?" Christine had never heard anyone mention it.

"It is forbidden to even speak the island's name."

"Why?"

"It is the home of Kormox. To visit it is death."

Perhaps literally, Christine thought. "And your brother's boat was there?"

"Yes. He was fishing. Heard a distress call. From the guardsmen. Their boat had broken down. Drifted to the island. He and his partner had gone to help. They had set foot on the island. I think they explored it but he would not admit to that. He told me this when he got back, before he got sick. Swore me to secrecy, but he didn't have to. To speak of it would have been to suicide. In the past there have been those who thought there was treasure on the island. They went there. Those that weren't struck down by Kormox were killed by the priests. It is forbidden."

"Those that weren't struck down? There have been other outbreaks of this before?"

"In the far past. It is whispered of sometimes."

"Someone has known all along." Anger warred with relief at having a possible suspect in their search for the source of the virus.

"Please, don't tell them I told you." The woman was truly terrified.

"I won't. The guardsmen are the angle I'll use. Your brother's name, if it comes up, will do so as part of that discussion." She rose to leave, then realized that her original question had not been answered. "So where *is* the boat?"

"In impound. In the harbor. I think."

And possibly virally hot as hell, Christine thought angrily. "Thank you. I'll protect your information. I promise."

"It's been so hard not to say anything. He was my brother. I loved him. I want to know what happened to him."

"So do I." Christine gave her a grim look. "So do I."

*********************

In her office on the ship, Christine laid out everything she knew on a padd, detailing the dependencies and possible correlations that she had learned from the sister of the sailor, as well as from her own subsequent investigation. She studied the data again. One thing was sure. She had to get on that boat. Rising she made her way to the bridge.

The senior crew was on duty. Their smiles of welcome when she had entered the bridge were warm. Even Sabuti seemed genuinely glad to have her back, even if only on a temporary basis.

"Saldusta, please patch me through to the Ministry."

The comms officer worked for a moment, then she announced. "The Second Minister is ready for you."

"On screen." Christine smiled at the Canaran woman. "Minister. I have good news. I believe we have found a possible lead on the virus. But I am having difficulty getting some answers. I was hoping you could help."

"If I can be of assistance, then please ask."

"We believe the guardsmen that were among the first victims are key. I have been trying to trace their movements during their last weeks. Unfortunately everyone I have spoken to has refused to help."

The Minister's expression became somewhat less open. "It is a matter of some delicacy."

"So I have come to understand," Christine replied wryly. "Minister, we are here at your request. If we don't find the source of this virus, it will surely recur. Possibly with even more dire repercussions for your population."

"I will of course see what I can find out for you Commander. And we do appreciate all your help."

Stonewalled again, Christine thought bitterly. Time to play the wild card. "Minister? Before you go I have one more question. During my investigation, I've spent some time in the harbor area. I couldn't help but notice that you've dedicated a rather large area of the dock as well as a substantial amount of guardsmen to one small boat. Can you tell me about that?"

The Minister's face went cold. "I don't believe so, Commander. Ministry out." The screen went dead.

*****************

Christine was on her way to her quarters when she heard someone behind her call out, "Commander Chapel?" She turned to see Saldusta hurrying to catch up.

When she reached her, Saldusta motioned her to keep walking. "I have something I wanted to talk to you about, Commander. In private."

Christine felt her whole body tense. She was so exhausted. Couldn't this wait? "I appreciate your urgency, Lieutenant. But perhaps we could do this another time."

"This isn't a personal matter, Sir."

They stopped in front of Christine's door. She sighed. "Ok then. Come in."

Saldusta waited till the doors closed then rushed to explain. "Do you think that the boat you mentioned to the Minister has something to do with the outbreak?"

Christine looked at the younger woman in tired confusion. "Possibly. I didn't realize you were interested in epidemiology?"

"I'm not. I'm interested in helping you."

Christine sat down at her table. She tried to make sense of Saldusta's words. "Help me how?"

"With the boat. If I read between the lines correctly, you want access to it. But your problem is that for now you can't get to it." She stopped. Looked down then back up to meet Christine's gaze with eyes that shone with confident purpose. "I can. Nobody would ever know."

For a few seconds there was no sound in the room except for the gentle hiss of Saldusta's humidity device. Then Christine realized what the woman was offering.

"No. Absolutely not."

"But why? You need to get out there. I can do it. I can get whatever information you need."

"It's too dangerous. Far too dangerous." She could tell the communications officer didn't agree with her. "Saldusta. I want your word that you won't try this. I don't want you to. Give me your word."

"But."

"Your word. I'm too tired to play games. Give me your word or so help me I'll put you in the brig until we leave orbit."

Saldusta looked startled. "You can't do that."

"I know a few people in Security. Now give me your word or I'll call one of them."

The woman looked completely defeated as she mumbled, "You have my word."

Christine reached out, put her hand on Saldusta's shoulder, gave it a gentle squeeze. "It's not that I don't appreciate it, Saldusta. I do. I can't tell you how much it means that you are willing to try. But it's too dangerous. Do you understand?"

"I guess." Her face tightened as she turned to leave.

"Saldusta?" She waited till the other woman turned back. "If I didn't care about you, I wouldn't have reacted so strongly."

The other woman stared back at her, the look of betrayal slowly disappearing. She finally gave a small smile and nodded her head. "Good night, Sir."

"Good night, Lieutenant. Thank you."

As the door closed behind Saldusta, Christine thought again of that boat, bobbing innocently in the impound area. I will get on you. If it's the last thing I do, I will get on you.

*******************************

"Chris?" Farrell's voice sounded just outside Christine's office.

"Come on in, Ren." She looked up to see her friend poke her head in the door. "What's up? Is something wrong?"

"Nope. But I need you to come out to the staging area." When she didn't move, Farrell scowled. "Now, Commander. Please?"

Sighing Christine put down her work and followed the other woman to the transport area. A group of health workers were already assembled. Christine could see Moorehouse and Carpenter in the small crowd and even Redmoon had beamed down. "What's going on?" she asked as they neared the group.

"A celebration. A small one anyway," Ritsuko emerged from behind the others. "I thought you could all do with a little party. I provided the food." She gestured to the spread laid out behind her. "Now it's up to you to provide the reasons."

Moorehouse spoke up quickly, "How about the fact that we've had no new cases in 54 hours?"

Restrained clapping broke out.

Christine felt herself getting into the spirit of the occasion. "How about Nako's arrival? We never would have got through to the Priest without her. But I'm damned if I know how she did it."

Carpenter laughed, "Who cares *how* just *that* she did it!"

"Hear hear," Redmoon agreed.

Farrell laughed. "I've got one more. We just finished indexing every species native to this area and found no vectors. Not perhaps the results that we wanted, but a milestone nonetheless."

Ritsuko gave her a shy but familiar smile. "See I knew there would be a reason for me to bring this down." She pushed Moorehouse and Carpenter to the table. "I know you two have to get back to GZ, so you go first."

The food was worthy of a diplomatic feast and everyone set to eating with gusto. Christine laid claim to the sushi rolls and had to be forcibly removed by a grinning Farrell who warned the catering head, "Run Umachi, before she asks you to marry her for your cooking."

Christine felt some of her tension melt as she enjoyed the chance to eat and talk with her colleagues. Claiming that duty called, Ritsuko beamed back up to the ship and the nurses and medics drifted back to work leaving the senior medical staff in an impromptu meeting. Christine quickly briefed them on her suspicions of the boat and the island.

Farrell frowned as she listened. "But how are we going to get on the thing? It doesn't sound like you made any headway getting them to cooperate."

Christine smiled confidently, "*I* didn't. But I bet I know who can."

*********************

"Spock, I'm glad you came." She met him at the entrance to the medical camp. "I want to show you something. Come on." She strode off then realized he was not following. She turned back. "Well come on."

He raised an eyebrow as he caught up with her. "You seem quite exited by something. I take it you have made some kind of breakthrough?"

She nodded fiercely, "I think so. It's this way." She maneuvered through some broken fence.

"Christine, I do not think we are supposed to be in here."

"Just come on, Spock." Her tone was impatient as she walked quickly over the weeds and dumped machinery that littered the area. Finally they came to the shoreline. The harbor lay just ahead; many ships tied to the docks, the men and women that worked them moving purposefully. At the end of the area a containment fence decorated with the colors she had come to associate with the priesthood of Kormox surrounded one dock. A dock that stood unutilized except for one small vessel. There were a larger number of guards guarding it than she remembered from the last time she had snuck in to look at it. Apparently her call to the Ministry had served only to increase security.

"Whatever it is we're looking for is on that boat," she said pointing to the impound area.

Spock studied the scene. "It does appear to be under significantly more security than it's appearance would warrant." He turned back to her. "We received a call this morning from the Ministry, confirming that they could not help you. I take it you spoke with them?"

"Yes. They know something, Spock. I can feel it in my bones."

"Not precisely scientific, Christine. And I'm afraid, irrelevant. According to the Ministry, the Priest has declared the boat taboo. There is no chance that you will get on board."

Christine explained to him about the island, what she had learned from the sister of the sailor. "I want to get to the island. But we have to start with the boat. I think if you were to talk to the Minister, try to reason with him? Maybe he could make an exception. Maybe he would go around the priest. It must happen occasionally."

"We would be deliberately disregarding this culture's religion and traditions."

"For the sake of its survival, yes."

"We have already had an impact on their culture. The burial rites, the isolation areas. I am afraid we have reached the end of their cooperation. I am a diplomat as well as a Captain. You are asking me to ignore the things this world holds most valuable." He turned to walk away.

Anger erupted inside her. Hours and days of non-stop work and worry came to a head. She grabbed him. Physically yanked him back to her. His surprise was palpable. "No, you cold hearted bastard! That's not what I'm asking." She pointed out to the harbor again. "I'm asking you to get me that boat! One stinkin' boat. One! And we can save lives. For one.damn.boat." She let go of his arm and stormed off, no longer caring if he followed her or not.

**************************************

"They are prepared to release the boat."

Christine looked up, unprepared for Spock's presence at the door of her makeshift office or his words. "What? How?" She circled round her desk and walked over to him.

He met her in the middle of the room, eyebrows rising in self-deprecating humor. "It seems you were right about the Minister. He cares more for his people than for religious superstition."

"So the boat is mine?"

He nodded. "Just tell them where and when you want it and it is yours."

She didn't think, she just reacted, launching herself into his arms and hugging him furiously. "Thank you! Thank you!" Just as she realized what she had done she felt his arms tighten around her.

His voice was low in her ear, and she thought his lips brushed her hair as he said, "You're welcome, Christine. I am only sorry that you had to shame me into getting it for you in the first place."

They stood that for a few minutes, warm arms holding tightly before he pulled away. "So where and when *do* you want it?"

"Tomorrow afternoon, in the open water. We'll beam out to it. We'll need it dragged out. Oh and we'll also need a couple of ships to stand guard. I can't imagine that the priesthood is going to sit by silently while we desecrate their boat."

"I'll make the arrangements."

She followed him out the door, intent on telling Moorehouse, Carpenter, and Farrell the good news. As she walked she placed a call to the ship to let Redmoon in on the wonderful surprise.

*******************************

"Energize."

Moorehouse, Chapel, and Redmoon all in biosuits appeared on the deck of the small sailing vessel. They were floating out in the open sea, flanked by three Ministry ships, one of which was busy keeping out a smaller boat flying the Priesthood colors.

"Didn't take them long to stage a protest," Redmoon noted wryly.

"I was afraid of this." Christine looked toward the horizon. It was empty. Where were the other ships? Surely the Priest wouldn't just send one? It was barely a token protest.

Moorehouse's voice shook her out of her reverie. "Let's get busy." She was already scanning the boat. "Trace elements all over the place here."

"I'm getting it too." Redmoon adjusted his equipment, narrowing the scan. "Someone or something was wounded when it was brought aboard here" He pointed to some stains on the boards. "This blood is old now. I don't know how much data we'll get. If we could just find a convenient rodent or bug."

Christine sighed in frustration. "The ship was in harbor long enough for any rodents to leave before now." She scanned the far end of the ship. "I'm coming up zero on flying insects. But there is a spider-like thing in here just under this board." She pointed to a storage area.

Redmoon pulled out one of his traps and scraped the creature inside. "Anything else?"

Christine shook her head. "Not on my tricorder."

"Mine either." Moorehouse concurred.

Christine scanned the stains. "This blood matches the Canarans we've been treating. One of the guardsmen might have been hurt, maybe scratched himself or was bitten by something on the island. Definitely traces of the virus here. But they wouldn't have been showing symptoms, much too early."

"There's nothing to find here." Moorehouse sounded dejected.

"Commander Chapel?" One of the guardsmen was hailing her. "Is it safe to approach?"

"Yes." She saw the guardsman say something to the men on the Priesthood boat. Then he threw back the line he had forced them to relinquish and motioned the boat to move ahead. It headed toward them.

"What the hell?" Redmoon turned to her in confusion.

As the small vessel neared, Christine was surprised to see the High Priest standing next to the pilot.

"You didn't find anything did you?" For once the Priest didn't sound smug.

"Trace elements only. The virus was brought onto this boat from somewhere. Somehow, I think you know where that might be, your holiness."

The man met her eyes squarely. "You think me a man lost to reason, don't you Commander?" He continued before she could answer. "I am not. I have prayed and fasted and begged Kormox for an answer to this terrible crisis. I am not immune to the horror that has overtaken us." He seemed thoughtful for a moment before he pointed off to the north. "We need to go there, to Kampara."

"We?" Christine asked in shock.

"We." He said firmly. "I have gone through our records. This has happened before. It is always hushed up. For the good of the people. Because it was deemed Kormox's will. At first I thought that is what I should do too. I would rise to the challenge that Kormox had set for me. Keep the sacred things from being profaned. But I cannot believe that our God wants us to die for no reason. That he would abandon us. And he did not. He sent us you. It is a lesson in humility that beings as vexing as you and your people could be the one that will show us a new way."

Christine resisted the urge to give him a sarcastic reply. "What do *we* do?"

"We recreate the path the guardsmen took. I have their statements with us. They are somewhat incoherent but I believe we can retrace their steps. We can use this vessel to get there."

"I'll need to contact my ship, get some more biosuits sent down."

"Fine." He held out his hand," The sea is calm, you should transfer over now."

Silently praying to every goddess she could think of that this wasn't a trick, Christine grabbed his hand and let him pull her to his boat. As Moorehouse and Redmoon followed her, she called the Carter and asked for Kavall. "You'll need to scan the High Priest and his men. I need biosuits set for their measurements sent down immediately."

"Aye, Sir."

As the boat set out for the island, one of the Guardsmen's ships followed them. The other two veered away to return to harbor.

"Commander?" Kavall's voice sounded loud in Christine's helmet.

"Go ahead."

"Suits are ready, beaming down now."

The bulky equipment materialized and Moorehouse and Redmoon began assisting the priests in putting it on. Christine looked back to the little sailing boat still bobbing gently in the sea. The sister of the owner could not use it now, not when it was still considered taboo. "Lieutenant, are you ready to destroy the ship?"

"Yes, Sir. Awaiting your command."

"Keep the beam narrow.and fire."

From the heavens a bolt of light streamed down and obliterated the small craft. The priests, to give them credit, looked on in awe but little fear.

"No readings remaining, Sir."

"None here either, good work Kavall. Stay on this channel. If you lose contact with us, beam us directly to GZ, do you understand?"

"Yes, Sir. Good luck."

We're going to need it, she thought, as the island came into sight on the horizon.

*******************************

They had circled the island three times now. Redmoon had taken every reading he could think of but the water and the sea creatures within were still coming up clean. He straightened up and shook his head. "Whatever it is, it's on the island. The water is normal, the animals are virus- free."

They had not really thought it would be in the water. But they had to be certain. Christine turned to look at the island. The priest joined her. She sought his eyes within the helmet. "We have no choice, your holiness. We have to go there."

He looked out at the island, turned back to her. "I know. It is the only way." As Christine started to move away he surprised her continuing, "Commander? I do have a name."

She smiled, "I never doubted it." She was shocked to see an answering grin.

"Since *your holiness* is so cumbersome why don't you just call me Rishud."

"Ok. I have a name too, if you want to use that instead." He seemed to consider the prospect for longer than necessary. Then she realized he was teasing her. Imagine that, she thought. "It's Christine."

"Christine." He seemed to be trying it out. "Christine, Christine, Christine." He nodded, apparently satisfied. "We met on difficult terms. I am not usually considered an unlikable man."

"If you say so," she offered glibly.

He looked at her askance, then relaxed. "Now it is you who teases me."

"Commander? Your holiness? We are at the site that the guardsmen used to land on the island. Shall we take down the small boat?"

Christine spoke first. "No. We beam over. These suits are strong, but I don't want to risk their integrity any more than we have to." She looked at the team. "We've gotten spoiled with the rounded corners of GZ. This is the real world. There are things that can slice and tear. Be very, very careful once we are on the island. Understood?" She waited for each member of the team to nod before calling the Carter and requesting transport.

They reappeared just above the surf line. It was clear from the remnants of the tracks in the dry sand that the route they were tracking had gone into the trees. The Priest was shocked. "They should not have gone into the woods. They knew better. It was an affront to Kormox to explore here."

Moorehouse was taking readings on the sand. "Same as the boat. Trace elements here but nothing hot. Whatever we're looking for is in there." She pointed to the woods.

Christine turned back to the Priest. "We have to go in there. If we are going to find the truth." He looked about to protest but she continued quickly. "I know it is an insult to your god to go in without his permission. But perhaps if you were to explain to him. To offer him the respect he needs. Perhaps then we will go with his blessing not his wrath following us?"

"Do you mock me?"

Christine shook her head, "I'm serious. This is a holy place. Only the god can make us welcome. You are the emissary of the god. Only you can talk to him."

"I will try." The priest's eyes closed and the others drifted away from him back toward the water's edge.

Christine looked out at the boat, where the others from the priesthood still waited. They had not appeared surprised or upset that Rishud was cooperating with the offworlders. She was hopeful that the High Priest would give them the god's approval.

"We can go now. I have told Kormox all that I can. I have told him that you are in charge."

"Thank you." She approached the jungle's edge. "We need to take it slow. Follow whatever signatures from the tricorder or visuals that we can find that might give us an idea where the guardsmen and possibly the sailors went when they were here."

Redmoon stepped up to her. "The signatures are very faint. This won't be easy. As for the visuals, there isn't much to go on. Things grow fast in this environment. We'll be lucky to see anything."

"Understood. You lead, Dr. Redmoon." The team set off into the trees, the light immediately getting dimmer as the forest closed up around them.

It has to be here, Christine thought grimly. And if it is, we're going to find it.

************************

Five hours later, they were back on the sand.

Sweat was dripping down her faceplate but Christine called for another sweep through the woods.

A hand on her arms stopped her from moving. Moorehouse's voice was gentle as she said, "No, Commander. No more."

"But it's there. We know it's there."

"Yes. We do." Moorehouse's eyes shone with sympathy. "But we've made five passes already. We've been in caves, we've tested the stream, we've dug up soil samples, we've scanned the wildlife. And it's not here."

"It is," Christine insisted. "We just aren't looking in the right place."

Redmoon shook his head. "We may never find it. CSV is proving as elusive as its sisters. You know that we haven't found the vectors for Ebola and Marburg yet either. Somehow, in some way we don't understand, these viruses go dormant for long periods. They come alive again when some opportunity in the form of an animal or human presents itself to them. But somehow until that happens they survive.unknown, unthreatened, possibly right underneath us."

"We can't just give up." Christine looked at her doctors, then at the Priest.

"Kormox has no answers," he said firmly. "You have done your best. There is nothing to find. It is time to leave." He moved to her side, took her shoulders and turned her away from the woods and toward the sea.

She allowed him to push her away from the trees. "What then? Kampara is never spoken of from this point on, just as it was before? Till one day, someone comes here again and the whole thing starts over?"

"I am uncertain what Kormox will want me to do. I don't think hiding the truth is the answer anymore. But we need to keep people off this island. And we need to depend on more than just the fear of taboo I think. Perhaps the Federation could help us with that? Some kind of sensor that would tell us if anyone got too close." He looked at Christine hopefully.

She smiled encouragingly. "I think that we probably could do that."

"Good. Now, not to be critical, but could we please get off this island and out of these suits. I feel as if I am going to die in here."

"Yes, of course." She turned for one last look at the trees before signaling the Carter to beam them back to the boat.

They lost no time in getting out of the biosuits. None of them smelled too fresh, but the wind that met them as the boat made full speed back to harbor at least cooled them off.

Once they had tied up, Redmoon beamed up to the ship with the few samples he had collected. "Don't hold your breath for anything earth shattering. I'm sure this will be just more of the same.'

Christine knew that he was probably right. She felt Moorehouse squeeze her arm and shot the other woman a grateful smile.

"I'm going back to GZ, you want to come or are you going back up to the ship?"

Christine pointed up. "I'll need to report this in. The Captain will want our estimate for how much longer we will be needed."

Moorehouse thought for a moment. "Probably another week. Our last cases will be strong enough to leave GZ by then and those in the isolation area will be on the final phase."

"You have done well here, all of you," the Priest surprised them both with his comment. "I have not said Thank You. I have been remiss. You have saved many lives here. You have made a great difference to our planet."

Christine felt her eyes fill up. She blinked hastily. "Your world is beautiful and peaceful. It would have been wrong to stand by and do nothing."

"I must go. The blessing of Kormox be upon you." And the Priest was gone, striding purposefully down the dock as he called to his aides.

"An interesting man," Moorehouse said quietly.

"Yes. More open-minded than I realized."

"I'm not sure anyone is really what we think at first. Seems like everyone is pretty complicated once you get to know them."

Christine laughed. "A doctor and a sage? I'm not going to tell Starfleet about that or they'll start charging me double."

Moorehouse smiled back and set off down the dock. She turned back to yell, never breaking stride as she walked backwards. "We done good, Commander! I think this calls for one hell of a party when we all get back on the Carter."

Christine yelled back. "I'll get on that right away."

The other woman waved in reply and turned around.

Christine watched her for a bit then turned around again to look at the island. Give it up, Chapel, she silently berated herself. Just give it up.

"Carter, one to beam up."

*******************************

"My planet cannot thank you enough, Captain Spock." The First Minister spoke earnestly. Behind him, stood the High Priest.

"No thanks are necessary, Sir. It was our duty and our pleasure to be of assistance."

"Pleasant journeys to you and your crew, Captain. Canara Seltax out." The screen went blank.

"Our new orders are sending us to Felstrar Colony, in the Boriaus sector." Spock instructed those gathered on the bridge.

"Course plotted and laid in, Sir." Sabuti answered.

"Mr. Kimble, take us out of orbit."

"Aye-aye, Sir." Kimble was clearly glad to be going somewhere again.

Christine sat in silence. Unutterably relieved to be saying goodbye to Canara Seltax and also very glad to find herself once more on the bridge with the senior crew.

"Lt. Sabuti, you have the con." Spock rose, turned to Christine. "I should like to speak with you in my ready room."

"Of course." She rose and followed him into his office. She wasn't exactly up for lecture on the diplomatic woes of the Felstrar Colony but she wasn't about to tell Spock that.

"Sit down, please." He gestured to one of his couches and not to the chair in front of his desk. She sat and he chose a seat near her. "You have done well. You and your team."

"And a good portion of your team as well. We couldn't have finished the surveys without them."

He nodded acceptance of her words. "I am pleased with this crew."

She smiled softly, turned to look at the stars streaming by the window. "They are a fine crew, Spock."

"I have not been a fine Captain though."

She turned to him in surprise. "Actually you've been an excellent Captain."

He seemed taken aback. "I shut you out."

"Well *Spock* shut *Christine* out. But I think the Captain and the First Officer did ok together. I'm learning that there is a difference."

"Interesting. It is a hard lesson."

"Yes. It is."

"I have struggled with the pain I felt. With the grief." His eyes met hers. He seemed to study her intently. "I am still struggling with it."

"I know. It will take time to lessen."

"I find it difficult to speak of this."

"To me, you mean." She looked away again. "You need to find someone you *can* talk to, Spock. Maybe Nako or Troi?"

"Nako has been to see me. I found her counsel of value. But I miss your advice. I miss you, Christine."

"I didn't go anywhere. I'm right here, Spock. I've been here the whole time."

"I realize that. But.it is still fairly crowded inside me."

"No room for me at all, huh?" She decided she wanted to escape before the conversation got out of hand. She rose quickly. "If there is nothing more I'm going to get back to work, Spock."

His voice rang out, stopping her before she reached the door. "We never had that celebration dinner. Perhaps tonight?"

She turned to him. "We can't, the medical department is throwing the mother of all parties or have your forgotten?"

"I was trying to."

"Well you have to put in an appearance. And I'm one of the hostesses."

He nodded in defeat. "I will be there. Dinner tomorrow then?"

"You're on, Spock." She found herself grinning at him. She walked the rest of the way to the door. Before it opened she turned back. "Spock." He looked up. "I've missed you too."

Their eyes met and held in a moment of perfect understanding. Then she turned and walked back to her own office to finish up the medical reports.

****************************

The party was in full swing and Christine was having a wonderful time. Music, loud conversation, people filling 3-Forward and spilling into the corridor. It was incredibly chaotic and she felt herself relaxing for the first time in what was only weeks but seemed like much longer. She glanced over at Spock talking to Redmoon and Moorehouse. She could tell by his body language that he was about to bolt. Such opposites we are, she laughed to herself.

"Hey stranger." She turned and saw Kerr standing behind her, sipping from a glass and holding another that he promptly handed to her. "Peace offering?"

"Were we fighting?"

He grinned and she couldn't help smiling in return. "I don't know. You haven't talked to me since *that night* and I thought I better track you down."

"I haven't said how sorry I am about that."

"It's forgotten. I said that then and I meant it. You just weren't supposed to forget me along with it." Again the grin that she found so irresistible.

"I haven't. I've been a little busy."

"I know. Saving a planet, charming a priest, solving the mystery."

Christine laughed out loud. "These people," she gestured to the medical staff, "saved the planet. That woman," she pointed to where Nako was standing with Sovar and Penhallon, "charmed the priest, and nobody solved the mystery."

"So what *did* you do?" he teased.

"I'm not sure."

"Well when you think of something let me know, because I want to take you out for a celebratory dinner. In fact, how about tomorrow?"

Suddenly she felt very self-conscious. "I have plans tomorrow." She looked up at his trusting gaze. "With Spock."

His expression didn't change. "So you guys are finally making up. That's good. I know that will be a load off your mind." He took another sip from his glass. "So the day after then."

"The day after?"

He grinned. "For dinner?"

"But I'm having dinner with Spock."

"Yeah, I heard you the first time." He leaned in, pitched his voice so only she could hear it. "You don't think I'd give up that easy do you? One dinner and you want to count old Randall out of the running? I don't think so, Christine." He leaned back and again lifted the glass to his lips. His eyes dared her to contradict him.

For once, Christine found herself at a loss. "I'm not sure."

He took pity on her. "It's going to be a long voyage, Christine. Who knows how this will all turn out? Now are you going to have dinner with me or not?"

Laughing helplessly, Christine held up her hands. "Ok. I will."

"Great." He leaned in again. "Relax Christine. You don't have to choose right away. You can have us both.for awhile anyway." And with that he walked away to join Kavall and Saldusta at the nearest food tray.

Christine felt an arm on her shoulder. Farrell, obviously a little tipsy, pulled her down so she could whisper in her ear. "Our first mission is over, Chris. And we did good, don't you think?"

"We did, Ren. We really did." Christine looked up to find Spock's eyes upon her briefly before he turned to leave. She smiled her goodbye and laughed when his eyebrow rose in response. As she turned to Farrell she caught Kerr's attention. He lifted his glass to her.

"It's going to be an interesting voyage." Farrell said, hugging her.

Christine laughed and hugged her back. "Very interesting indeed."

FIN