Dr. McCoy joined the captain and Spock to prepare for transport. The transporter wasn't one of his favorite pieces of technology, but this time he was almost eager to be split into a billion bits. Anything to get off this blighted dustball and back to civilization.
He had been forced to sleep in the dirt last night, but at least he had been on top of it rather than under a tomb of rocks, like Senior Geologist D'Amato. Their rescue had been close -- none of the landing party had had a sip of water for nearly twenty-four hours. He, for one, was ready for a hot meal and a long sonic shower.
Sulu also took his position in the proscribed circle for transport. He was holding his arm again, in pain from the injured shoulder. Dehydration had aggravated the wound.
McCoy tensed, anticipating the familiar tug of the transporter.
The chamber seemed to sparkle and fade. But it was only for a moment. Then they were back again, inside the Kalandan station.
"The joys of modern technology!" McCoy exclaimed. "How can anyone trust these things?"
Kirk flipped his communicator open. "Enterprise, what happened?"
"Sir!" The voice of the transporter operator wavered. "The automatic sequence was interrupted by a biofilter alert. There is an unknown organism in your systems."
McCoy unslung his medical tricorder. "It must be the organism that the Kalandans accidentally created."
Spock also began to scan the chamber. Security Guard Joe Reinhart, a big, stocky man, looked distinctly uncomfortable.
Pulling out the tiny medical scanner, McCoy checked Reinhart. "Go ahead and breathe. It's already infected all of us."
"Fascinating," Spock murmured. "There are several unusual parasites on this planetoid."
"The one inside us doesn't appear to be a true virus, but it's certainly not bacterial." McCoy shook his head over his medical scanner. "This thing can't seem to pinpoint the exact nature of the organism."
Kirk nodded shortly. "That must be why the transporter biofilter didn't work."
"I'll have to perform a level one bio-scan," McCoy agreed. "That will give the computer the specifications it needs."
Sulu was looking bleak. "That could take hours."
Kirk glanced around the chamber, placing his fists on his hips. "Gentlemen, it looks like we'll be here for a while longer. Might as well make ourselves comfortable."
McCoy grumbled, "Sure, you get comfortable while I get to work."
"Aren't doctors always on call?" The captain adjusted the dial on his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise. No one, I repeat, no one is to transport down to the station until further orders."
Scotty sounded determined. "Aye, sir. I wish Wyatt was here. He was a genius with biofiltration systems. I'll just run down -- "
"Hold on there, Scotty. What happened to Wyatt?" Kirk glanced at Spock, who was nodding slowly.
"I'm sorry, Captain, Transporter Chief Wyatt was killed at his station."
Kirk clenched his jaw while McCoy felt his stomach twist. None of them had wanted to believe the transporter chief was dead. Wyatt had been seeing one of McCoy's nurses for the past year. Medical Technician Michaels must be distraught right now.
Security Guard Reinhart was looking uncomfortable. "We never found the intruder who killed Wyatt or Engineer Watkins."
"Watkins, too?" Kirk demanded. Now he looked angry. "How?"
Scotty must have thought the question was directed at him. "According to Dr. M'Benga's autopsy, Captain, every cell in their bodies was disrupted. We don' know how it happened, but I heard Watkins call out a warning about a woman in engineering."
"Could it have been Losira?" Sulu asked, startled.
"I don't doubt it," Kirk said flatly.
That made three crew members dead. McCoy sincerely hoped they would be the last, but he had a feeling it wouldn't be that easy.
Scotty was saying, "I ran to help, Captain, but I dinna get there in time."
"It's not your fault, Scotty. None of us could stop her."
"Aye, Captain." Scotty sounded unconvinced.
"Maintain an open channel to sickbay so Dr. McCoy can perform a level one bio-scan."
"That we can do, Captain."
"And Scotty, perform a continuous scan of this sector for approaching ships. Since this is unexplored territory, there's no telling who might happen by."
"Aye," Scotty agreed dourly. "We'll keep an eye out up here. Don' you worry about that."
McCoy half-listened while Spock continued briefing Kirk on what had happened while the landing party was stranded. The captain only interrupted once to express shock at the extreme warp speed the Enterprise had managed to sustain. What would normally take months to travel at warp 9, had taken little more than a day at warp 14. It was typical of Spock to act like it was all in a normal day's work.
Meanwhile, McCoy started sending orders to Dr. M'Benga in sickbay. Not only did he order a portable bio-computer and diagnostic unit, but he also asked the technicians to send down half-a-dozen emergency ration kits, complete with food and water. It wasn't as good as a sonic shower, but with a little bit of nourishment inside him, he could tackle this organism and get them back to the ship before the next duty-shift.
Near the Starfleet border, the cruiser 'Ong of the Klingon Defense Force made its scheduled rounds.
Captain Mox had been spending most of his time in his own narrow quarters. Only Mox knew why, but his crew would find out soon enough. Any time now, one of his officers would receive tidings from Qo'noS containing the latest news of his father, Sowron.
As a devoted follower of the Cult of Kahless, Mox believed in honor above all. Kahless had shown the way, decreeing that a warrior's honor was founded on the honor of his father's house. And Mox's father had no honor!
Mox slammed his fist into the reinforced wall above his sleep bench. There was a sour stench in the air from his unwashed, unkempt body. For days he had battered the walls of his chamber, to no avail. He kept the lights low, so the heavy bulkheads curved into the darkness over his head. He wanted no witness to his struggle, not even himself.
His crew would never understand. He was the only one on board who adhered to Kahless' teachings. Some of his crew complained about his strict adherence to honor. Their scorn would flow freely when they found out about his father. Many would doubtless be amused that Sowron had squandered the family fortune on attempted "cures" after he had fallen sick with a wasting illness. Then Sowron had fallen down dead in the City Council Chamber in front of gathered officials from across the Klingon Empire, struck down by a tiny parasite that had slowly eaten away his gut.
Mox let out a roar of fury every time he thought of it. He would not return for his father's funeral. His father was nothing to him now.
He could find no resolution, as much as he tore at his armor and hair, growling in frustration. If only he could go to battle! Only that would restore honor to his family.
No -- if only his father had listened to the words of Kahless! A true Klingon would have ended his life in glory, choosing a valiant enemy to battle his way to death. But no, not his father. From a mighty house, they had fallen far.
Mox was in the foulest of tempers when his first officer signaled. Gulda's surly face was the same as usual, her frizzy brown hair standing on end. "Captain! Long-range sensors are picking up the remnants of a power surge. From the degradation of the signal, it appears that, at the source, the energy expended would have been off the scale."
Mox called up the log on his screen without bothering to settle his bulk into the chair. "It comes from near Federation territory."
"Yes, Captain. Shall I relay the information to High Command?" There was an odd look in Gulda's eyes, no doubt taking in her captain's disheveled armor and his bleeding fists.
Mox made his decision. "Set course for the source of that power surge."
"But, Captain -- " his first officer protested, her sneer becoming more pronounced.
"TammoH!" Mox shouted.
So Gulda knew. That meant they all knew.
She was sullen as Mox ordered, "Proceed at warp 8."
"By your command, Captain!" She did him the courtesy of waiting until Mox closed the channel first.
Mox knew his first officer would do as he said, but her slow response would show her disdain. His crew would mock his dishonor as surely as they had chafed under his rules.
All of his warriors would react like Gulda. But none would dare break rank and contact Klingon High Command about their course alteration. They were heading toward the furthest reaches of space, where the Neutral Zone had not yet been designated. It was one vast, unexplored zone, so, technically, Mox was not violating orders.
Before his dishonor, he would have been satisfied to report the unusual power surge to High Command. His duty rotation would have taken him out of the area before his superiors could determine whether they wanted the phenomenon investigated.
Now, it was in his hands. Mox intended to wrest some glory from this mission if it took every drop of blood in his body and that of his crew to do it. He would give his crew a chance to die a good and noble death. Whether they appreciated it or not.
While McCoy analyzed the bio-readings of the deadly organism, Spock took the opportunity to examine the computer cube. At his request, the Enterprise sent down a lift unit to raise him up to the crumpled rock ceiling of the chamber.
Getting the outer casing off proved to be a challenge, but one that Spock met with dispatch. The cube was attached to the ceiling with electrostatic bolts. With the muted colors still cycling over the surface, Spock laid the cube on one of the telescoping supports of the lift.
Inside the cube were hundreds of thousands of monofilaments connecting to various devices, which Spock proceeded to scan. The other ends of the monofilaments disappeared into a stasis-sealed junction in the rock ceiling.
Spock theorized that the cube was an interface node, operated by a computer in a remote location via the monofilaments. That theory was confirmed by the statements made by Losira in her message concerning the computer defense system. However, he was unable to trace the monofilaments beyond the edge of the wall, where they disappeared behind the diburnium-osmium alloy. Even the sensors on the Enterprise weren't able to detect anything beneath the layer of diburnium and osmium. These alloys should not be capable of blocking their sensors, so Spock surmised that something else was contributing to the sensor block.
Due to McCoy's unfortunate habit of talking aloud while he worked, Spock was able to simultaneously follow the medical analysis while he performed his own investigation. The doctor evidently considered the organism to be a "near-virus." There were subatomic anomalies that McCoy couldn't explain, but the doctor repeatedly assured Captain Kirk that a basic identification should be enough for the transporter to filter the organisms out of their systems.
Spock was familiar with an antiquated human quote about protesting too much, but he refrained from comment.
McCoy downloaded his work and transmitted the specs of the organism to the ship's computer. "That should do it. Now the biofilter will be able to handle this bug."
Kirk jumped up, ready to go. Spock followed at a slower pace. He intended to return to the Kalandan station at his earliest convenience to continue his investigation.
"Prepare to transport," Kirk ordered.
The five crew members stood in a circle, anticipating transport. The degree of muscular tension in Kirk's stance indicated that he was impatient to return to the Enterprise. He was naturally concerned about the damage done to the ship by Losira's sabotage. Power overloads and malfunctions had occurred in almost every system. The fused matter/antimatter integrator had severely damaged the warp engines. At the time of the crisis, Spock had estimated their chances of survival were a mere twelve percent. However, Mr. Scott had performed his job adequately, and the engines were shut down by a manual bypass of the integrator.
"Energize," Kirk ordered into the communicator.
There was a brief disorientation as dematerialization began. But the cycle ceased 1.204 seconds into the sequence. The landing party remained on the Kalandan station.
"What in blue blazes is this thing!" McCoy exploded.
"I don't know, Doctor, but it's your job to find out." Kirk adjusted his communicator. "Scotty, as you can see, it didn't work."
"Aye, Captain. There appears t' be a problem with the quantum differentials."
Kirk gave Dr. McCoy a sidelong glance. "We'll factor that into our calculations." Snapping the communicator closed, Kirk asked, "What's next, Doctor?"
"Well, I can't even tell if it's an organism that mimics a virus or the other way around," McCoy wearily admitted. "I'm not sure how we got infected, though it's most likely airborne, because it happened so quickly."
Spock ascertained that the doctor was paler than normal. Humans had a tendency to react adversely when deprived of their comforts, McCoy more so than others, in his opinion.
Indeed, Kirk ordered, "Why don't you get some rest, Bones? Now that the ship has your specs on the organism, the medical staff can take over your analysis."
McCoy hardly protested before going to lie down next to Sulu, flinging one arm over his eyes to shield them from the bright ambient light.
Security Guard Reinhart was seated on the other side of the chamber, keeping watch on the doorway. His phaser hung loosely in his hand.
Spock climbed back up on the lift and recommenced his analysis of the devices inside the computer node. There was one cluster consisting entirely of omnidirectional diodes. Several of the components formed advanced forcefield projection units and graviton beam emitters. There was also a targeting scanner, with a protected feed through the rock ceiling.
As absorbing as his investigation was, Spock was distracted by the captain's pacing through the chamber. After a while, as Kirk continued his restless back-and-forth march, Spock finally leaned over the railing of the lift. "You are disturbed, Captain. May I be of assistance?"
"Find me that computer, Spock. I want to see the machine that's capable of transporting a starship a thousand light-years away."
Spock knew there was no need to correct Kirk's approximation at this moment. "I am currently endeavoring to do so, Captain."
"Yes, I know, Spock. But it makes me antsy to be sitting on top of that much power. It's here -- somewhere -- and we have to find it." Kirk narrowed his eyes. "That energy burst was off the scale. Somebody's bound to come looking for what caused it."
"Indeed, that is a reasonable assumption, Captain."
Kirk glanced over at the stash of phasers the Enterprise had sent down, then at Reinhart, who was watching the doorway. "Our position is too vulnerable." He flipped open his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise."
"Scotty here, Captain."
"Any sign of ships in this sector?"
Spock discerned relief in the engineer's voice. Apparently Kirk heard it, too. "We're lighting up the sensors down here, aren't we?"
"Aye, Captain, yer lifesigns read clear though the rock. The tricorders and diagnostic unit are also sending out power spikes."
Kirk considered the options. "Scotty, tell me more about that portable shield you've been working on."
Scotty's voice warmed like he was talking about an old friend. "She's making progress, Captain! I just finished synchronizing th' forcefield frequencies to conceal the phase rotation."
"The question is, Scotty, does it work? Can it hide the entrance to this station?"
"She's got a few bugs yet, sir. But I think she'll do the trick for ye," Scott said approvingly. "Ye never know who might come nosing around at this end of th'quadrant. The Klingon border isn't far from here."
Spock believed it was a measure of Kirk's agitation that he agreed, "Send it on down, Scotty."
Kirk figured it was worth a try. Scotty had pulled off miracles enough times before that he wouldn't doubt his chief engineer now.
Not long after Scotty signed off, a bulky gray unit materialized on the polished floor of the chamber. It was a double square joined together by a fat Y-junction. There were several aerial feeds on top. The dials on the side were activated, and the power cells were fully charged.
Kirk circled it. The unit didn't look very impressive. Was this why Scotty had spent every off-duty day in the engineering lab rather than relaxing and joining crew activities?
"Reinhart, you're with me." Kirk grabbed one handle of the portable shield unit while Reinhart took the other. Spock raised one brow, making a silent commentary on the probable effectiveness of Scotty's latest pet project.
Kirk gave Spock a warning look, and the Vulcan complacently returned to his examination of the computer node in the ceiling. Now that the neat cubical covering had been removed, the node looked like an explosion of monofilaments and inverter nodules.
Reinhart helped Kirk carry the shield unit up the passageway that doubled back to the doorway. Kirk realized something was different -- it was darker in the passageway than before.
It turned out that the door was down, shutting them inside the station. But as Kirk and Reinhart approached, the panel abruptly slid up into the rock. After a moment, the large slab that concealed the doorway moved aside.
"It must be automated," Reinhart ventured.
The dusty surface of the planetoid was the same. The sky was in its "night" phase, which was only slightly darker than normal. The yellow-blue blades of grass growing in the lower cracks of the rocks appeared to be barely clinging to life.
Reinhart looked around with interest, having never seen the surface of the planetoid before. "Where do you want this, sir?"
"Over here." Kirk was trying to remember the instructions Scotty had poured through the communicator. In his opinion, Scotty needed to scale down on the operating requirements to make the shield more user-friendly.
He and Reinhart carried the shield unit to a spot just outside the sliding rock slab. It would probably close again once they went inside, and would add another layer of protection for the landing party.
Kirk activated the levelers and checked the imager to make sure the shield would encompass the entire rock mass. There was room to spare, so he tightened the parameters. Reinhart took care to stand inside the area Kirk indicated. Then it took numerous tiny adjustments to get the gauges pointing in the same direction.
Finally Kirk opened his communicator. "Scotty, we're going under the shield. Maintain an open channel at all times."
Kirk activated the shield. A hum rose from the unit, and a faint pearlized sheen appeared. From the outside, everything would look exactly the same, with the shield unit concealed within. Or so Scotty said. Kirk sniffed. It smelled like hair was burning, but he could see no smoke coming from the unit.
"What do you get, Scotty?" Kirk asked.
"Sensors reading no life-forms, Captain. No power spikes. She did it!" His voice broke with emotion. "That's a fine piece of machinery, sir!"
It didn't take much to make Scotty happy. Just a few circuits and microchips did the job. "Good work. Kirk out." He was pocketing his communicator. "Well, that will -- "
The doorway slid down and the rock slab suddenly began to move. Kirk pushed Reinhart out of the way. They both ended up tight against the shield, with the rock slab passing inches in front of their noses. It stopped short of the shield unit.
"Sir?" Reinhart asked uncertainly.
Kirk hadn't expected the rock slab to close until they were inside, but he wasn't going to admit that to his security guard. The shield would let them step through, from the inside out. But then they wouldn't be able to get back in again until someone inside the station deactivated the shield.
"We got in before, Reinhart, we'll get in again."
"Yes, sir...but how?" Reinhart was splayed against the rock slab.
Kirk was similarly stuck. Whenever he brushed against the shield, there was static discharge.
He tried to remember what had happened when the landing party had found the entrance to the Kalandan station. "We were tracking the power surge, and the indicator on my tricorder pointed directly to this rock outcropping."
"Do you have your tricorder?" Reinhart asked hopefully.
"Oh." Reinhart shifted, sending up a few static sparks. He pressed his lips together against an unseemly exclamation.
"It was the only time the power surge didn't disappear, so we were able to track it." Kirk thought hard about what he'd done. "We walked right up this slab. The tricorder said the entrance was here -- "
The rock slab shifted. Kirk peeled himself off the shield, pulling Reinhart with him. Then the doorway slid up, revealing the passageway into the station.
Kirk straightened his uniform. "An effective system, I'm sure Mr. Spock would say."
"Yes, sir," Reinhart said, in obvious relief.
As they reentered the main chamber, Spock glanced down. "Any trouble, Captain?"
"None, Mr. Spock."
Reinhart took a deep breath. Whatever he had been about to say was lost in his shout. "Watch out! She's back!"
The humming came from the wall behind Kirk, where Losira appeared. He saw right away that it wasn't the deadly replica, but merely an image on the wall. Losira's beauty always had the same impact. There was something very appealing about the way her eyes slanted upward at the outer edges. He even liked the streaks of pink and green, and that unusual purple uniform.
Reinhart had his phaser out, pointing it at the rock wall. Spock also turned, aiming his tricorder at the image.
Her lips opened briefly in a slight smile. "My fellow Kalandans, welcome. A disease has destroyed us. Beware of it. After your long journey, I'm sorry to give you only a recorded welcome..."
"It's the same message," Kirk said. "It must have been triggered by our entrance."
Spock agreed. "Which means this image is controlled by other means than this damaged computer node."
"Perhaps the computer is capable of repairing itself." That wasn't exactly a comforting notion, considering how the computer had operated.
"Unlikely," Spoke replied. "I am not reading any energy emissions from this computer node. It is currently inert."
The image of Losira was saying, "The computer will selectively defend against all life-forms except our own. My fellow Kalandans, I, Losira, wish you well." Losira closed her eyes and stood impassively, waiting as she had for hundreds of years.
ar"Did your tricorder get all that, Mr. Spock?" Spock nodded affirmatively. "Send it to the Enterprise. I'll include it in my subspace report to Starfleet. They must be informed that a weapon of this power exists."
After a few moments, Losira's image disappeared. Kirk figured that would be the last time he ever saw her. But if they could penetrate this station somehow, there might be more wonders to discover.
Kirk settled onto a folding stool near the lift unit while Security Guard Reinhart resumed his post, keeping watch on the entrance. With a minimum of words, Kirk recorded his message to Starfleet and filed his log on the communications unit. He added the log Spock had kept while he was in command of the Enterprise. As auxiliary documents, Kirk included Losira's message and Dr. McCoy's specs on the deadly organism.
Kirk concluded his message by saying, "I believe this station is worth further investigation, if only to ensure that the defense system is fully deactivated. Request permission to remain in this sector. Another ship can take over our diplomatic assignment in the Cister system." They would be late reporting to that engagement now, at any rate. "I await your decision. Kirk out."
Kirk sent the message to Uhura on the Enterprise, asking her to encode it at the top security level. No need to let anyone else know about the incredible technology concealed on this planetoid.
Kirk was dozing fitfully when Spock informed him that the Enterprise had signaled with a coded transmission that had arrived from Starfleet Command. Kirk stumbled up from the bedroll, noting that both Sulu and McCoy continued to sleep. Even Reinhart was snoring lightly, slumped in his post near the entrance. Only Spock continued to work.
Kirk sat down with the portable communications unit to listen to the message. It was from Commodore Enwright, which meant Starfleet considered this to be a matter of galactic defense. Enwright's smooth, dark face was impassive as usual, giving no indication of his inner thoughts. But Kirk could guess at the commodore's mood; Enwright was known for his sour temper and rigid adherence to duty.
"Captain Kirk, send a full report, including technical data regarding the interstellar transporter you have discovered. Do not, I repeat, do not allow that technology to fall into enemy hands, especially those of the Klingons or the Romulans. We must protect the balance of power in this quadrant. Understood?" the commodore demanded.
Kirk understood. The Romulans could use an interstellar transporter to send assassins into the very heart of the Federation. The Klingons would undoubtedly want to know the secret of cellular disruption, to incorporate it into their own weapons.
Armed with his orders, Kirk went to help Spock assemble the technical data they had acquired thus far. It was up to him to make sure the Kalandan station was protected.
Copyright © 2001 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
One Small Step
One Small Step
Having defeated the hostile computer program guarding an abandoned Kalandan outpost, Kirk and his crew are exploring the artificial planetoid in hopes of discovering the secret of an ancient apparatus that has hurled the Starship Enterprise over nearly a thousand light-years. Unfortunately, the reactivated Gateway has attracted the attention -- and avarice -- of various alien explorers, including a mysterious race who claim to be none other than the enigmatic Kalandans themselves!