by Lorraine Anderson
I had been staring gape-jawed at the monstrosity looking down my cleavage, then suddenly realized that Captain Kirk was talking to me. I blushed and fiddled with my tricorder. What was the question? Oh, yes, the Universal Translator. "Not enough sample yet, Captain." Why wasn't Uhura here? Oh, yes, she thought an away mission would be good training for me.
This was supposed to be routine. Just a short shuttle reconnaissance of a supposedly colonizable planet; a simple training exercise for Ensign Pulver and me, so the Captain said. We even both had a chance to pilot the shuttle, my first time apart from Starfleet Academy's trainers.
And my Dad's shuttle.
Damn. I wasn't going to think about Dad.
And it is a pretty planet. Class M, with a vengeance, reminding me of a mild Midwest summer. We were in a nice little valley, rimmed by large grass covered hills. There were a variety of flying and crawling insects, and small furry animals that stared at us curiously, without fear. I smelled cinnamon and roses and coffee in the air. No, I couldn't explain the coffee, either.
Why did the hills remind me of English barrows?
Then a huge furry being with a big snout materialized in front of us. Stood there looking at us. And, apparently, jammed communications with the ship. And I'm supposed to communicate with this oversize thing?
Merde. I'm in deep merde.
What would Uhura do?
"He doesn't seem to be the talkative sort, Jim." Dr. McCoy drawled.
"Analysis, ensign?" The Captain moved in front of me, almost defensively. He kept glancing over his shoulder at the thing.
Think, dammit. Ignore the Captain, ignore the Doctor, ignore security ensign Pulver over there snickering in his sleeve and fiddling with his equipment belt. I'm going to get him later, with something devious... maybe a cream pie in the face...
I'm the best and the brightest. That's what they told my graduating class at Starfleet Academy. Of course, that's what they tell everybody who graduates, including the class clown. Means crap, when we get out on a starship. Still, I must have something, or I wouldn't be here, right?
My Dad told me I was bright.
Right. Then act like it, stupid!
"Maybe we don't know how to say hello?" I said, then flinched. What a stupid thing.
But the Captain regarded me thoughtfully. "Possible - it may be waiting for a correct response." Why did the Captain remind me of Dad?
I blushed and went on. "It may be telepathic. Or mute." Doctor McCoy started to say something, the Captain hushed him. That's what was reminding me. He was hovering just like Dad does... did... when he wanted to protect me from danger.
Think, Jonie. I scanned the creature quietly. Wait a minute, what was that? Gone. My fingers must have twitched. "He has a developed voicebox, which implies speech. He's also male," I added unnecessarily. Dad said never to offer unnecessary information to the Captain. He should know.
But maybe the Captain needed to know that the alien was male...?
The Captain smiled and glanced at McCoy. "Ensign," he said. "I know you're nervous. I know this is your first away mission. But I've also reviewed your academic record, and believe me, you wouldn't be aboard my ship if you weren't the best..."
Kirk's head snapped around, and suddenly I found myself on the ground underneath him. I gasped, thought briefly about saying "Captain, I didn't know you cared!", then retroactively remembered hearing a phaser shot. I looked up at the alien. He was still standing, but I could see the sky through a hole in his chest. Was that metal? No, must be sunshine. He looked at the sky plaintively, screamed a undulating cry, then looked almost accusingly at us. He sighed, his eyes closed, and he dematerialized.
"Damn," the Captain murmured. rolling off me. He grabbed his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise."
"Captain," I said, "communications are out..."
"Guess not," I muttered.
"Beam us up, Spock! We're under attack."
"As are we, Captain." He sounded like he was reporting the weather. I heard a crash in the background.
"I knew he was going to say that," McCoy grumbled from his spot on the ground next to Pulver.
"Defend yourselves and get back to us when you can." The Captain was on his stomach, looking around for the attacker, his phaser already pulled. Pulver was doing the same. (When had they pulled their phasers?)
I gaped, then started the tricorder. The Captain looked at me. "No life signs, Captain," I reported, starting to sit up.
He pushed me down. "Check for other energy signatures. Also check for some sort of motion. We may not be dealing with a biological life form."
"Oh." I hadn't thought of that. I should've. I reprogrammed the tricorder to do both at once, while telling it to ignore the wind rippling the short grass around us. "Slight energy flux that direction." I said, looking at a rock outcropping. I focused on it. "Electrical."
"I'm feeling mighty exposed out here, Jim," the doctor said.
"I know, Bones," the Captain muttered, but there was no rancor in his tone. He scanned the horizon. "Why was he shot? We've been walking around for an hour..." He stood up, looking around cautiously.
"Captain..." Pulver said, half rising up, fearful, annoyed. I could understand his tension; it was his butt either way.
I looked at my tricorder. "No increase in electrical activity, sir." I scanned again. "And no movement."
"I think we can all get up." He reached down a hand to help me up... his gallantry showing there: I was almost up before he offered.
Pulver was muttering to himself. The Captain glanced at him, sighing. "Speak up, Ensign. I don't punish my crew for bad guesses."
"Not all the time, anyway," McCoy said with a small grin, brushing himself off."
Pulver blushed. "I was saying that we must've encountered an automatic weapon... one that was species specific. Unless it's a radically different lifeform taking potshots at us, sir... one that doesn't register on our tricorder."
"Which is a possibility," the Captain muttered.
"Sir?" Pulver said.
McCoy glanced at the Captain. "Should I hug the ground again?"
"Which direction, Whiteside?"
I pointed to planetary Northeast. I looked at the tricorder again. "I see more phaser blasts, sir... very weak."
The Captain raised his eyebrows. "My guess is that they just noticed us. We'll investigate it." He strode off, leaving the rest of us to catch up.
"If somebody is shooting, I'm in no hurry, Jim."
The Captain ignored him. I was trying to ignore both of them and keep myself upright. My legs were trembling and going numb. The last time I felt like this was my first day at Starfleet Academy. But my Dad reassured me that I would be fine.
I could still hear his voice. My legs steadied.
"Are you all right, Ensign?" the Captain said, turning around. I hadn't noticed him glancing at me.
"Just a little scared." Was there guilt on the Captain's face? I must've imagined it.
McCoy shot the Captain a sharp look, then looked at me. "Well, I'm a lot scared, Ensign Whiteside," he smiled. "Speaking of which, you do have a first name?"
He was trying to comfort me. Or was this interchange for the Captain? Surely he knew my name from my medical records. I smiled. "Joan, sir."
"Well, Joan... and Mr. Pulver, if you two weren't nervous right now, you'd be in my sickbay the next chance I got." He smiled. "But I have to pronounce the two of you..."
Husband and Wife, my treacherous brain replied.
"Thank you, sir," Pulver said.
"How far do we need to go?" The Captain interrupted.
"Approximately one kilometer, Captain."
He grimaced as he looked at me. Was it my imagination, or did he seem a bit nervous? "That's quite a phaser to shoot a kilometer, Ensign. Pulver, perhaps you and I..." He chopped himself off.
McCoy noticed my startled glance. "Would you prefer the two of us stay behind, Captain?" he drawled.
"No!" McCoy looked at him. "No. We may need your expertise."
"Thought so. Nice to be needed for once... in some capacity."
"Can it, Bones. Later."
What was going on here? I thought back. Oh. Yeah. Ensign Sallie Acron was killed last week on an away mission under Kirk's command. I had forgotten that. I hadn't known the woman very well. She was rather a loner.
As I had been, lately. I hadn't felt like mingling. Receiving the news that your father was killed on an away mission from the Discovery will do that. I was the only family, so I decided to stay on duty.
But it still hurt.
Maybe he was nervous about me? The Captain? But Pulver was as new as I was... he was male. That was it. I had heard that, too. The Captain was very protective of the females under his command. Oh, how very old-fashioned!
And so like my father. Although the Captain wasn't nearly as old.
"I'll be fine, Captain."
He looked at me a long moment.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge." Of not getting killed, I added in my head.
"I know you are, Ensign." He looked ahead. "Any increase in activity?"
I looked at my tricorder. "No, Sir."
"Let me know when we're on top of it..."
I was still looking at the tricorder. "Activity ceased, Sir," I interrupted.
The Captain compressed his lips. "But you still have the approximate location stored, Ensign?"
Yeah, I had thought of that. "Yes, Sir."
We walked on in silence. I have to admit that my bladder felt full. No toilets there though. Well, at least it kept my mind off my nervousness.
I kept monitoring the tricorder. "Right ahead, Captain."
He looked around. Pulver said, "I don't see anything..."
I took a step forward... and was suddenly falling. I landed with a bump in darkness... well, not complete darkness. The hole above me let sunlight in... where? I looked around. I couldn't see anything.
"Ensign Whiteside!" The Captain's head blocked the opening.
I quickly shook out my limbs. "I'm all right, Captain." I looked around again, noticing how my voice echoed. "I seem to be in some sort of chamber, sir." My eyes were getting used to the darkness. "It seems to be filled... with coffins."
"Coffins?" The head withdrew. "Stay there, I'm coming down."
I hadn't planned on going anyplace. I never have been terribly squeamish, but getting close to one of the coffins wouldn't have served any purpose, since I couldn't see anything.
A phaser shot sounded beside my head, I shrieked and ducked behind a coffin, then peeked around a corner. A robot, dull with dust, was fumbling around, and, as I watched, bumped into the side of a coffin and fell over. It made an abortive attempt to get up, then started shooting straight ahead. After the third shot, it died completely.
I couldn't help it. I started giggling.
But I needed to get back to work. I raised my tricorder, aimed it toward one of the shapes, and started recording. It wasn't a coffin, unless the people of this planet were building coffins with built-in electronics. But... there was a faint organic residue inside the chamber. I was having a hard time reading this, it was as if my tricorder was blocked.
There was an interruption in the sunlight and I looked up. The captain was descending via a rope... who had the rope. Pulver? He did have one on his equipment belt, didn't he?
As the Captain landed on the ground, he glanced at me, then looked around. Pulling a flashlight from his belt, he shone it around the room. I told him my findings. He grunted, then looked closer at one of the chambers. "Your analysis, Ensign?"
I think he already knew, but it was a relief to see him get his composure back. "I believe that these are cryonic chambers which..." I gulped, "... have failed." My imagination was running on overtime. Did they suffer? Did they wake up before they died? I had heard about cryonic failures before, but this was the first time I had seen one.
The captain pulled open a lid. As I had thought. A skeleton, humanoid, was laid in the chamber, bits of cloth still hanging from it. We stood there in respectful silence, then the Captain whirled, pulling his phaser. I turned. An image was flickering in and out against the wall. I trained my tricorder. "A hologram, Captain," I said unnecessarily.
He nodded. Suddenly the program seemed to pull more electricity and steadied. I pointed my tricorder to record the image. It seemed static. I shifted my weight, and the Captain walked toward it. It came to life and spoke in odd cadences. I looked at the tricorder to see the universal translator still running.
I saw a motion beside me and noticed that Dr. McCoy was standing beside me, one eyebrow quirked up. He sighed in rueful silence, then his eyes widened, and he pointed to the hologram. The hologram was holding another hologram, a representative of the behemoth who was killed before my eyes.
Or was it? I looked closer. No, there were tiny differences. Silly things. The fur was a different color. The snout was proportionately bigger, the body was bent. The figure gestured, and we saw a representation of this world, a thousand ships with criss-crossing phaser shots, fighting off other ships who were no match, reaching the planet... and crop-dusting. No, there were people dying. Biological warfare. Then we saw people being sealed into... well, their coffins. The last part was obviously instructions on how to revive them, if something happened to the automatic functions.
Something did happen. They all died anyway.
The recording ended.
"That would explain the phaser, Jim," the doctor said. "They obviously didn't want their enemy anywhere near these people."
"Can you approximate a date of death, Bones?"
"Oh, I'd say about one thousand years ago. But I can't tell how long the cryonics chamber ran before it failed. I don't have the equipment."
"We need to broadcast this to the enemy ship..." The Captain opened his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise."
"Enterprise here," Mr. Spock said. "The enemy has retreated for the moment and is hovering at our starboard bow."
"Waiting for reinforcements?"
"None showing on sensors, Captain," He paused. "I believe we can lower the shields long enough to get you aboard."
"We're fine, Spock." He looked at my tricorder. "Have you been able to talk with the other ship?"
"They have done nothing but talk, Captain. It appears they wish us tp understand why they attacked." Spock hesitated. "You did not shoot their representative?"
"Of course not, Spock. He just stood, looking at us."
I frowned. Did they send down a deaf-mute for first contact, or was this an incredibly dumb test? I take it we didn't pass? It wasn't my fault.
The Captain looked at me. "The lack of communications was not your fault, Ensign."
Deja vu. "Yes, Captain."
"Spock, we're going to transmit the contents of the tricorder. I want you to transmit this simultaneously to the enemy. I believe we may have a case of mistaken identity." He paused. "Can you patch me through to the other ship?"
"We can, Captain." A pause. "Go ahead, sir."
"Captain Kirk to unknown vessel. We grieve with you on the loss of your colleague." He paused "I realize you may think that we may have shot your colleague, but I have new evidence that will prove our innocence.
"I believe you to be an honorable people. I ask that you please consider this recording we accidentally triggered in a underground chamber on this planet. We will transmit from the beginning."
A cue if I ever heard one. I started the tricorder almost before the Captain pointed at me.
It finished, and I shut the tricorder off. The Captain took a deep breath and continued. "I would speculate that some time in the far past your people and the inhabitants of this planet had an altercation." And the Captain thinks he wouldn't make a diplomat. "I ask for the cessation of all hostilities. I believe you may wish to study this... tomb that we found..." Stumbled into, Captain. I was starting to feel the effects of my bumps and bruises. "...with a security force and a scientific team. If you wish, we will leave the area. It is now very obvious that you have prior claim to this planet. Captain Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise out." He stayed silent for a moment. "Kirk to Enterprise."
"Spock here, Captain."
"Did they get the transmission?"
"We show that they received it, Captain... message coming in. Should I relay?"
"This is Captain Atsen of the starship Deneteews. We have received your transmission... and we have much to think about. I do not know that these were our ancestors, but old tradition proclaims that they must be. We have had tales of our race traveling among the stars in olden time... But that is irrelevant right now. We must apologize to you, Captain."
The Captain looked puzzled. "Apologize, Captain?"
"Yes. We are a cautious race. What was shot was one of our probes, designed to look, act, and scan like one of our race. We use this probe to make first contact with other races. We... talk through it, if you will, then if we judge the race to be friendly, we withdraw it and store it for the next use, with no one knowing and no harm done. We apologize that we used this deception on you, and that you felt responsible for its... death."
So that metal I saw and the anomalous reading I had was real...
The Captain frowned. "That is an odd way of making first contact, sir."
"I know. I am sorry. I use it only because my government tells me to."
The Captain snorted. "I think we have more in common than you think."
"But it didn't talk!" I blurted out.
"Excuse me?" said Captain Atsen.
"One of my ensigns. She was commenting that the probe didn't speak."
"Ah. I am embarrassed. We had a slight technical problem with the probe and was attempting to fix it when it was shot."
The Captain smiled. "Yes, we do have a lot in common. Things do go wrong, don't they?"
I heard a sigh. "Yes, Captain, they do." A slight pause. "We will meet you at your coordinates. Give us a few minutes to prepare a shuttle."
"I look forward the meeting. Kirk out." He closed the communicator, then looked at the Doctor.
"Must Whiteside and Pulver and I stay for the diplomacy session? It still may be dangerous." the Doctor said, glancing at the Captain.
"I'd like you two to come up with some answers," the Captain said decisively.
"Good," the Doctor said under his breath, looking at me.
I believe he meant that the Captain was less nervous about me. Or something. Who am I to second guess the Captain? Then suddenly I realized something.
Well, it may not have been the most dangerous away mission, but I was still here. Daddy told me that if I survived my first away mission, I'd be fine. Well, Daddy, I think I'm going to be a Starfleet Officer.
Just like you were.
And now Daddy, I have to go to work...
For H.J.A. and E.C.C.