Under Fire: Chapter 8

"What do you mean you think you know what's killing the children?" Christine asked him. She scooted over on the dirt to get closer to him.

Spock finished drinking and placed the bottle on the ground. "There are photo-luminescent stones down there. That could be indicative of high ionizing radiation in whatever it is that they are mining for. There is also a high probability in primitive mining operations like this one that the workers' DNA is damaged which, of course, would be passed on to their offspring or could be carried home on the clothes of the guards and contaminate the children. Since we have no idea how easily this radiation can be detected or how many mines there are on this planet, we have no idea how many people are affected."

Christine looked at him, anger blazing in her tone, "Do you think that the rebels knew or suspected what was killing their children and didn't want Starfleet and the rest of the planet to find out?"

"Impossible to know. Remember the guards wear no protective gear either. Tritium is the element that does come to mind. It is hard to detect and there would have to be a great deal of exposure in order to exhibit signs of sickness," he said.

Christine answered, "But not for children. Their systems are more delicate and undeveloped and would be much more susceptible to radiation poisoning. And if it is tritium, it's illegal, isn't it?"

"Not illegal, per se. With the proper protective gear, it can be quite safe. Exposing workers by keeping them in the mine itself without protection violates Starfleet health and safety codes."

"So that's probably why they attacked the capital just as we arrived. Our more advanced equipment would have been able to pinpoint radiation sickness immediately," she said. Anger filled her voice again, "And those bastards said it was for 'religious' reasons. It was for the oldest damn reason in the book—greed! All those children and babies-"Christine voice broke and she grabbed Spock's water bottle and threw it in a rage toward the mouth of the cave. She heard it give a satisfying smack on the rocks, and then she dropped her head down on her knees and tried to slow her breathing and to calm her fury.

Spock sat there placidly, waiting for her anger to subside.

Christine reached back into the bag and took another water, opened it and drank it down quickly. She finished and turned to look at Spock. "Okay, what are your orders?"

"I suggest that we go back through the tunnel and alert the rest of the landing party," Spock said.

"I was afraid you were going to say that."

"I realize that is not your favorite option but at least it will be safer than trying to escape by finding an exit through the fence."

Christine sighed. Why? Why? Did she always end up underground?

They began to collect their gear when blinding bright light came from at least two directions.

One of the larger guards they had seen in the quarry stepped forward. "Aliens from the Federation." It was not a question.

Neither of them spoke. There were at least a half dozen weapons of some sort pointed at them.

"Take them down to the Jefen. He can decide their fate," the large guard ordered.

No one saw the little eyes that watched from the brush and scrub above the plateau.