Doctors Orders | Chapter 4 of 9

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somehow insulting. But the Ornaet shook itself a

 

bit and said, "You inquire of method? Or

 

condition?"

 

Thank heaven, McCoy thought, they've got the

 

first-stage idiom sorter

 

installed. At least these critters won't have to be

 

relentlessly literal . . . and neither will we.

 

"Condition," he said.

 

"No complaints," said the Ornaet.

 

McCoy chuckled a bit at that. "You're about the

 

only one I've seen today who seems willing to say

 

that," he said. "Except maybe for them." He

 

nodded at the Lahit, waving a hand at them for good

 

measure in case the Ornaet

 

might not know how to read the head gesture.

 

The Ornaet put up eyestalks for a moment and

 

gazed at the Lahit. "They

 

don't complain either," it said after a moment.

 

Now this was interesting. "How can you tell?"

 

McCoy said. "Oh, and leave those eyestalks out

 

for a moment, would you? I want to look at them."

 

The Ornaet kept looking. "Just know," it said.

 

"Feeling."

 

"Hmm," McCoy said. There was no direct

 

way to test esper ratings in a new species,

 

except to have a known psi-talented crew member do

 

an assessment; and the only one he would really trust

 

to do that was Spock. But Spock had his hands full,

 

and besides, McCoy hated to ask him to do psi

 

evaluations on 73

 

other entities. From what he understood of the

 

Vulcans' code of mental

 

privacy, asking something of this sort was like asking a

 

doctor to test for diabetes mellitus the

 

old-fashioned way. Not very pleasant at all, either

 

sensually or esthetically. Better to wait for more

 

vocabulary, and then run a rhine series.

 

"I take it that you and the Lahit see one another

 

pretty frequently," McCoy said. "I mean,

 

you socialize." This is amazing, he thought. The

 

optical

 

tissue is actually multicellular. That's

 

recognizable retinal tissue,

 

there, with rods and cones. And a compound

 

lens, very sophisticated. But it all goes away

 

at w"...Would you mind terribly making one of those eyes

 

go away? Can you do just one? Not too quickly,

 

please."

 

"Of course," the Ornaet said, and slowly the

 

lefthand eyestalk was subsumed back into the

 

Ornaet's main body mass. "Yes, we

 

socialize."

 

"What about?" McCoy said. "If I may

 

ask. What kinds of things do you do

 

together?" Damn, look at that. The cells just

 

melted away. Not all at once, either, but one at

 

a time. I wonder, if we found the right words; could

 

we teach these creatures to synthesize new organs

 

for themselves? Would they want to, though? Or need to?

 

He shook his head and put the mediscanner

 

away.

 

"We talk," said the Ornaet.

 

"Can you tell me what about?" said McCoy,

 

sitting down next to the Omaet. And then added,

 

"I'm sorry. I was calling you Hhch yesterday.

 

Was that

 

really your name? Or was I mispronouncing it?"

 

The creature made that scratchy noise again that the

 

translator clearly

 

rendered as laughter. "You mispronounced," it

 

said, "but no harm. You have words slowly, yes?"

 

"Yes, indeed," McCoy said, and laughed a

 

bit himself. "We'll get more as we go along."

 

"My name is Hhhcccccchhhhh," said the

 

Ornaet, and then he and McCoy both laughed

 

together, because it was clear the words weren't there yet.

 

"Maybe tomorrow," McCoy said. "But what do you

 

and the other species talk about?"

 

There was a pause. Then, "Life," said the

 

O rnaet.

 

McCoy nodded. "This means yes," he said.

 

"Well, so do we, my friend. The details will come out

 

with time."

 

"What do you talk about?" said the Ornaet.

 

McCoy stretched, thinking. "Work," he said,

 

"play, relationships . . . the things that happen in the

 

world . . . things that we can do something

 

about, and things that we can't."

 

The Ornaet was quiet for a moment. "Yes," it

 

said. "What is work?"

 

Oh brother, McCoy thought. "Work," he said,

 

"is when one must do things one doesn't always feel like

 

doing, because they need to be done, for some

 

reason. If you're lucky, you like doing

 

work most of the time. Not

 

everyone's that lucky."

 

Another long silence. "Yes," it said. "I

 

know. Some of us work."

 

"Really?" McCoy said, surprised. "Doing

 

what?"

 

The Translator emitted several short blasts

 

of static.

 

"Oh well," McCoy said, "never mind.

 

We'll have more words in a while."

 

"No," said the Ornaet. "I can show you."

 

"Really?" McCoy was on his feet in a moment.

 

"Where?"

 

"Come," said the Ornaet.

 

They went off through the clearing, the Ornaet

 

leading the way, McCoy following, trying not

 

to trip over other Ornae-they did seem to be

 

everywhere this morning-and zigzagging around more copses of

 

Lahit. There were more and more of them, too, rustling and

 

hissing, and

 

looking at the Enterprise people with all their eyes.

 

The Ornaet led him out of the clearing, into the forest

 

again, by one of the many paths. This was a broadish path that

 

seemed to have seen a lot of use recently, to judge

 

by the broken branches on either side of it.

 

Also, there seemed to have been something rather larger than the

 

Ornae using it. "Tell me something," McCoy

 

said as they went along. "Do you have animals around

 

here?"

 

"Animals?"

 

"Other creatures able to move about, like you. But not

 

talkers, not

 

intelligent."

 

"Oh yes," the Ornaet said. "But we keep

 

them away."

 

"How?"

 

There was another static attack. "Never mind,"

 

McCoy said again. "I'm much more interested in work at

 

the moment."

 

"Here," said the Ornaet.

 

They came out into another clearing. This one was wider

 

than the one where most of the Enterprise people were. There

 

were none of the wonderful self- built buildings as in

 

the other clearing. But there was a large stone, set right

 

in the middle of everything a tall, oblong stone,

 

brownish colored, roughly cylindrical, well

 

set into the ground.

 

McCoy walked up to it with interest, then looked

 

around the clearing, and finally at the Ornaet. "Where

 

is the work, then?" he said.

 

"Here," said the Ornaet.

 

"You mean someone set this stone up, as work?

 

Hmm." He turned to look at it. There were

 

certainly marks on it that could be construed as

 

tool-marks. Chipped stone? he thought. Metal,

 

perhaps?-Or maybe-what need does a

 

species have of tools, when it can make tools out

 

of itself?

 

"No, no," the Ornaet said. And it laughed at

 

him, so that McCoy looked at it in astonishment and

 

confusion. "This is work." It paused a moment, then

 

said, "This is working. his

 

"It is?" McCoy said, looking up at the

 

stone, very bemused. Some kind of machine, inside the

 

stone? Wouldn't be the first time we've found something like

 

that-

 

And then the stone moved.

 

Not much. McCoy backed away in the time it

 

moved about a foot, leaning

 

toward him. But somehow it had not moved. There was no

 

change in the earth at its foot no crumbling, no

 

change in the grasslike plants that grew

 

there. The rock was suddenly simply a little closer

 

to him than it had

 

been.

 

"Wait, wait," said the Omaet, clearly

 

pleased with itself. "Not,

 

it-indefinite-pronoun is working.

 

Itpersonal-noun is working."

 

McCoy's breath caught somewhere south of his

 

breastbone.

 

"And I can't pronounce your name either," he said

 

to the beAt. "Not even the name of your species."

 

There was a long silence. The beAt looked at

 

him. How McCoy knew it was

 

looking at him, he couldn't say. But he knew

 

it was; and he was too

 

surprised, and-to his own bemusement-awestruck,

 

to do anything but stand there.

 

The creature was not fully physical. On these

 

grounds at least, the initial survey report had

 

been correct. It was not a question of the creature being

 

somehow vague, or misty-looking. It was not. It was

 

as solid as any Swiss mountain seen from its lower

 

slopes against clear sky . . . and there was an

 

equivalent feeling of weight to it, solidity,

 

thereness. But at the same time, you had the feeling that that

 

thereness might suddenly stop-a feeling you did not get

 

with any mountain. McCoy knew that no matter how

 

many times he might say to the Jungfrau,

 

in the old words, "Be thou removed," it would stay

 

right where it was. But looking at the beAt, one was

 

left with the

 

impression that it might remove itself without warning,

 

and take a great deal with it if it wanted to.

 

"At any rate," McCoy finally managed

 

to say, "good morning."

 

"Good morning to you, Doctor," the beAt said.

 

No hesitation, no difficulties with the syntax;

 

though the voice itself, even translated, tended

 

to drive thoughts about syntax away. It was a voice

 

with overtones of earthquake

 

about it, of avalanche-of great force, controlled, but

 

force that could be suddenly unleashed to some huge effect.

 

McCoy took a deep breath or so to help him

 

manage himself. Then he said, "Sir or madam or

 

other, do you understand the meaning of the concept

 

doctor?"

 

"It is not a concept we use ourselves," the beAt

 

said, "but I believe we

 

understand the general sense."

 

No syntax problems at all. Oh dear.

 

Kerasus is going to have a fit. In

 

fact, I d have one myself, right now, if there was

 

time. "Then may I

 

examine you as I have done with my friend here?" 78

 

"You may."

 

Nothing else just the sound of the wind in the trees.

 

McCoy cleared his throat, pulled out the

 

mediscanner, and did a hasty recalibration on

 

it-he wanted all its available bandwidth working for this

 

scan. He keyed it on and began walking around the

 

beAt. "Would you mind if I touched you?" he

 

said.

 

"Feel free."

 

Idiomatic, too. Good Lord on a bicycle.

 

He paused halfway through his

 

circuit to put a hand on the stone. It was warm.

 

The mediscanner was

 

ingesting data much too fast for him to be able

 

to tell anything from the sound of it; he was thrown back

 

on his physical senses, which told him

 

nothing except that the creature's outer surface

 

looked very like an

 

igneous stone, granite or something similar.

 

He wondered idly if there was any radioactivity

 

that would indicate genuine igneous formation, and

 

resolved to check later. "May I ask you a

 

question, please?" he said.

 

"Ask." The rumble sounded good-natured

 

enough.

 

"How many of you are there on this planet?"

 

"All of us." Was there an edge of humor there?

 

Was he being joked with?

 

McCoy cleared his throat again.

 

"Ah, yes. Do you have a problem with our number

 

system?"

 

"We understand it well enough, I think. Our

 

numbers in manifestation vary between nine hundred

 

thousand and one million."

 

Vary why, and how?-but it would have to wait. "My friend

 

here, whose name I can't pronounce," McCoy said,

 

"said to me while we were coming here that you were doing work."

 

He finished his circuit. "May I ask what you

 

were

 

doing?"

 

His communicator went off.

 

He didn't swear this time; it seemed as

 

inappropriate, somehow, as swearing at the

 

Jungfrau would have been. "Excuse me, please,"

 

he said, and pulled it out. "McCoy here-was

 

"Bones, was Kirk's voice said, "what do I

 

have to do to get a word with you these days?"

 

"Jim," McCoy said, as politely as he

 

could, "I promise you on my Oath that

 

I'll be up there in a minute. I just need to-was

 

"Sixty seconds, was Kirk said, "and I'm

 

counting. his

 

"But-was

 

"Your Oath, you said. his

 

"McCoy out," he said. He looked longingly

 

at the mediscanner and shut it down. "Sir or

 

madam or other-was

 

"As I understand the term," said the long slow rumble

 

through his

 

Translator, "I think "sir' would do.

 

"Thank you. I have to go. I'll be back as soon

 

as I can. Will you still be here?"

 

There was no answer for a second or so. Finally the

 

beAt said, "That is a philosophical question of some

 

complexity-was

 

The golden shimmer took McCoy away. This

 

time he did curse, as soon as he couldn't see the

 

beAt anymore.

 

"Though perhaps," it added then, was "madam' would have

 

been correct as

 

well."

 

McCoy burst into the Bridge so torn between

 

delight and wild annoyance that he didn't know which

 

to let go with first. For the first moments, at

 

least, the 80

 

need to choose was aborted. Kirk was sitting there

 

in the center seat,

 

facing the elevator doors.

 

"You made it," he said, "just."

 

"Jim," McCoy said, "we've got a

 

breakthrough on our hands here. It's the beAt."

 

"Are you catching cold?" Kirk said, looking

 

suddenly concerned.

 

"No, I am not catching cold! Jim, I think

 

we're concentrating on the wrong species here. I

 

was just talking to one of the beAt, and-was He paused for a

 

moment and looked around the Bridge. It was

 

surprisingly empty for the time of day the only ones

 

there besides Kirk were a Communications officer and someone

 

from Navigation, sitting in Sulu's spot. "Where

 

is everybody?"

 

"Down on the planet, most of them, or

 

coordinating data. Or off shift. Sulu had just

 

done two back to back, and I remember what

 

I'm told about shift relief."

 

"Oh. Well, good. Jim, the beAt translation

 

algorithm seems to be OK, they have idiom and

 

everything, and this one said to me that it was-was

 

"Doctor, was Kirk said, "you have been

 

overworking yourself just a bit. I

 

think it's time you got some rest. But not even your

 

own staff seems able to get you to slow down. Nurse

 

Burke has been complaining to me."

 

I'll kill her, McCoy thought.

 

"You say a word to her and I'll dock your pay,"

 

Kirk said, wagging a finger at him. "I want you

 

to sit down here and write me a decent report, not

 

like that whitewash you did for Starfleet a little earlier

 

today. They may be suckered in by all your long words,

 

 

you can't hand me that stuff and expect to get away

 

with it. I want an

 

analysis of what's going on down there."

 

"But I can't do that without more data-was

 

"Give me what you've got, and make sense of

 

it. If you just sit still and think for a while, you're bound

 

to come up with something that will do me some good. And you stay out

 

of Sickbay to do it, too. You go down there, you'll

 

just start treating someone for something. Sickbay is off

 

limits to you except for legitimate medical

 

emergencies, until further notice. That's a

 

direct order. Understood?"

 

McCoy glowered. It was best to humor Jim when

 

he got in these moods. They passed quickly

 

enough. "Understood," he said.

 

"Good. And just to keep you out of trouble-was He got

 

up from the center seat and stretched. "Here. Sit

 

down."

 

McCoy stared at him.

 

"Come on," Kirk said. "Have a seat. It's

 

nice and comfortable; you can sit here and dictate your

 

report. But anyway, I'm leaving you the conn."

 

McCoy was outraged. "You can't do that," he said.

 

"7 can't do that!"

 

"Of course I can," Kirk said, "and of course you

 

can. You've had line

 

officer's training. Not the full Command course,

 

naturally, but enough to know what to say at the right times.

 

Not that you'll need to. And I can

 

leave anybody with the conn that I please, most

 

especially a department

 

head and a fellow officer. There's no need to be in

 

the direct chain of

 

command at all-that's a common misconception. I

 

could leave an Ensign

 

Third-class with the conn if I 82

 

liked, and the situation seemed to call for it.

 

Well, at the moment, it

 

seems to call for Captain's

 

discretion."

 

"Uh-was

 

"So sit down," Kirk said.

 

"Uh, Jim-was

 

"I am leaving the Bridge, Bones. Then I

 

am going to get something to eat. And then I am going

 

to go down to the planet and have a chat with Spock, who

 

is also overworking, and who I've also got to yell

 

at; and then I'm

 

going to meet some of these people we're supposed to be

 

talking to. I've stood it up here about as long as

 

I can. And you, Doctor, are going to sit in this comfy

 

chair, and have a nice relaxing time, and coordinate

 

data, which you are better equipped to do at the moment

 

than I am, and then

 

you're going to call me on the planet's

 

surface and give me sage advice. You got

 

that?"

 

McCoy nodded.

 

"Then get down here."

 

Slowly, McCoy walked down to the center seat,

 

and very slowly, very

 

gingerly, lowered himself into it. It was indeed very

 

comfortable.

 

"You have the conn," Kirk said. "I'll

 

be back at the end of the shift. Have fun."

 

"Mmf," McCoy said as Kirk walked away,

 

and the Bridge doors closed on him. Leonard

 

McCoy sat in the command seat of the Starship

 

Enterprise and

 

thought, I'm going to get him for this.

 

Kirk had a sandwich and a cup of coffee,

 

grudging

 

the time for anything more complicated. He then took

 

himself straight off to the Transporter room, and

 

down to the clearing on the surface of Flyspeck.

 

The sweet taste of the

 

fresh air made the hair stand right up on his

 

neck, as usual. It was one of the small, secret

 

delights that he had never really managed to tell

 

anyone about-the scent of a new world's air, for the first

 

time, with its

 

particular compendium of strange new aromas. This

 

one smelled as if there

 

had been rain recently; and there was an odd edge

 

of spice to the air too, as if the growing things here were

 

mostly aromatics.

 

He glanced around him at the business of the

 

clearing-all the Ornae and

 

Lahit rolling or trundling or wading

 

around through the ground-and at his crew, doing their jobs,

 

talking, examining, collecting data. Spock must

 

be around here somewhere, he thought, and looked around for him,

 

but couldn't see him anywhere.

 

"Morning, Captain," someone said behind him; he

 

turned and saw that it was Don Hetsko, one of

 

McCoy's people. "Looking for anyone in particular?"

 

"Oh, Spock, if you've seen him."

 

"Not for a while. The Doctor went off that way just

 

a few minutes ago,

 

though," Don said, pointing toward one of the paths that

 

led out of the

 

clearing. "You ought to be able to catch him."

 

"Thank you, Mr. Hetsko," Kirk said, and

 

went off that way, smiling

 

slightly.

 

His businesslike stride slowed to a stroll as he

 

got into the forest

 

proper. The quality of the light here was unusual,

 

somehow more intense than he had been expecting. It

 

was as if some photographer had purposely lit the

 

place to look both warm and coolly enticing; a

 

curious effect,

 

caused by the brassy gold of 84

 

the planet's sun, probably, and the

 

extreme greenness, almost

 

blue-greenness, of its plants' dominant

 

chlorophyll. The science of the

 

situation aside, it was a very pleasant effect,

 

re/l, and he was in no

 

mood to get out of it in a hurry.

 

The path gave onto another clearing, bigger than

 

the first one. Kirk paused on the fringes of it,

 

looking at the great stone shape in the middle. He

 

remembered the pictures of the beAt from the briefing;

 

he remembered McCoy's insistence that the beAt were

 

the people he wanted to talk to. But at the same time

 

an odd reluctance came over him, almost a shyness.

 

There was a sense of remoteness about this creature,

 

somehow, a feeling that it knew things that might make it

 

wiser not to disturb it . . .

 

Odd feelings, and baseless, of course. Kirk

 

shook off the slight case of nerves and stepped out

 

into the bright sunshine of the clearing.

 

The beAt @ddaw him coming, Kirk knew, though it

 

had no eyes that showed, and seemingly no other sense

 

organs. I wonder if Bones managed to get a

 

scan on it, he thought. Have to ask him about that later.

 

Some feet away from it, Kirk slowed down, and

 

stopped.

 

"I beg your pardon," he said.

 

There was a long silence before the beAt said to him,

 

"I am not aware of

 

your having done anything that requires pardon."

 

The voice was astonishing it rumbled like a

 

landslide. But there was

 

nothing threatening about it. Rather, its tone of voice was

 

so grave, and at the same time so humorous, even

 

through the Translator, that Kirk

 

smiled. "That's good," he said. "The phrase is

 

an idiom of my culture,

 

interrupts another. I didn't want to take the

 

chance that I might have been interrupting you in the middle

 

of something important."

 

"You have not interrupted me, Captain," said the

 

beAt.

 

"I'm glad." He paused and said, "You must have

 

been the one with whom the Doctor was talking."

 

"We did speak," said the beAt.

 

Kirk hesitated. "I hope you'll excuse

 

my ignorance," he said, "but I have no name to call

 

you by. Not even a gender designation, if you use

 

such

 

things."

 

"The Doctor would have called me

 

Sir," said the beAt.

 

Kirk nodded. "If I may, then. Did the

 

Doctor speak much to you of why we are here?"

 

"He began to," said the beAt, "and I said to him

 

that the matter was one of some philosophical

 

complexity. He then disappeared."

 

"He went back to our ship," Kirk said. "The

 

vessel in which we travel, and by which we came here."

 

"Enterprise, was the beAt said.

 

"That's right."

 

"I see it," said the beAt. "All silver, but

 

it shines gold where the

 

sunlight touches it. And it has lights of its

 

own, for the dark."

 

"Yes," Kirk said, while thinking with some

 

excite

 

ment, These creatures must have a sensorium that

 

we've never seen the like of. I know the sound of a

 

direct

 

perception when I hear one. Anything that can see a

 

starship, somehow, from the surface of a planet-what

 

else can it see? "Sir," he said, "did he

 

speak to you at

 

all of why we came?"

 

"No," said the beAt. "No more than

 

did the first party who arrived here,

 

though they asked us many a question. They were cautious.

 

But we knew well from the sight of them that they did not

 

come of this world, and had

 

traveled from some other."

 

Kirk shook his head, thinking, There has to be a

 

better way to get these initial surveys done.

 

Dammit, these are intelligent species we're

 

dealing with, not idiots. They figure out what's going

 

on quickly enough. How does it make us look?

 

He glanced up. The beAt had not moved, but the

 

sensation that it was looking closely at him grew quite

 

strong-in fact Kirk was finding it a little

 

difficult to breathe normally, with the closeness of that

 

regard acting

 

almost like a physical pressure on him. There was

 

nothing angry or

 

threatening about it. It was merely a level of

 

interest so intense that it was actually affecting his

 

body.

 

"Sir," he said, "that ship up there, and the people who

 

are here with your people and the Ornae and the Lahit, are under

 

my command. We have all come here to see how much we can

 

discover about your people, and how much we can tell you about us.

 

Once that is done, we have some questions we would

 

like to ask all three species as a whole-if that is

 

even possible. That is one of the things we need

 

to discover."

 

"Many questions," said the beAt. "And what questions do we

 

get to ask?"

 

"Any you like," said Kirk, just a bit nervously.

 

"So we shall," said the beAt, and fell silent.

 

Kirk stood in that silence and felt the hairs

 

rising on the back of his

 

neck again, but this time for no reason that had anything

 

to do with the sweetness of the 87

 

morning air. That intense interest was bent on him,

 

and on his ship, and all his people. He could feel it on

 

his skin, like sunlight, but it was not a

 

warming or calming feeling at all.

 

"When will we start?" he said at last, when the

 

silence became too much for him.

 

"We have started," said the beAt.

 

McCoy sat in the center seat and yawned.

 

He was tired, and annoyed, but at the same time

 

he felt a certain smug

 

satisfaction. Kirk had counted on his being

 

terrified by this experience. Unfortunately he had not

 

reckoned with McCoy's great talent for learning

 

to cope at high speed. It was probably

 

the first important thing a doctor or nurse

 

learned-how to turn the sudden surprising or annoying

 

situation into a commonplace.

 

He had been playing with the buttons on the center

 

seat's arms. There was quite an assortment of links

 

into the library computer, so that even

 

without a Science officer at his or her station, you

 

could display all

 

kinds of information on the main Bridge screen, and

 

even do things like

 

voicewrite reports. McCoy had finished the

 

report that Kirk had asked him for, and then had gone

 

back to playing with the machinery, pulling various information

 

up out of the library computer and annotating his report

 

with it.

 

The Bridge intercom whistled, and McCoy

 

glanced over to the communications officer on post,

 

Lieutenant DeLeon, to say that he would take it

 

himself. He pushed the appropriate button on the

 

seat console and said, "Bridge.

 

McCoy."

 

"Heaven help us, Doctor, what're ye doing

 

up there?"

 

"Blame the Captain, Scotty," McCoy

 

said. "He stuck me with the conn two and a

 

half hours ago."

 

Scotty chuckled a little at that. "Well, it'll

 

do you no harm, I suppose. Himself is

 

downplanet, I take it. his

 

"You take it right. Anything I can help you with?"

 

"Not a thing. He had asked me to do a reset on

 

the warp engines, and I have the figures for him on how

 

long it would take and how much antimatter we would

 

need. It can wait till he gets back up. his

 

"Why did he want a reset?"

 

"bebledh, I talked him into it. It's a matter

 

of maximizing our fuel

 

consumption, is all. He was looking to save some

 

power by resetting the

 

fusion timing. I found a better way, but I

 

shan't trouble you with the

 

details. his

 

"Thanks, don't," McCoy said. "I'll

 

let him know you've got the figures for him."

 

"Right you are, was Scotty said. "Engineering out.

 

his

 

McCoy pushed the button with satisfaction, and

 

sat back in the center seat. "DeLeon," he

 

said, "would you get me the landing party? I want to see

 

what they're up to down there."

 

"Yes, sir," said DeLeon. A moment later

 

the screen was showing the main

 

clearing down on Flyspeck and crewpeople

 

all over the place, busily doing their work.

 

McCoy saw Spock, and Lia, and various

 

other people he knew; but there was no sign of Kirk.

 

"Off gallivanting again," he said. "Pinpoint the

 

Captain, would you,

 

Lieutenant?"

 

"Sure, Doctor." DeLeon touched a few

 

controls, then peered at his board. It was a curious

 

look.

 

"What's the matter? Did he turn his

 

communicator off? Just like him," McCoy said,

 

grumbling.

 

"No, Doctor," said DeLeon. "I can't

 

find him."

 

McCoy got up and stepped up to the Communica-

 

tions station, looked at the scanner screen, and

 

frowned. No trace of the

 

Captain was showing at all. Even if Jim had

 

dropped his communicator, the

 

scanners would still clearly indicate where it had

 

fallen.

 

But there was no trace of it at all.

 

McCoy swallowed hard and called Spock.

 

WHEN SPOCK ARRIVED on the Bridge,

 

McCoy was so utterly glad to see him that he was

 

tempted to jump up and hug him. Instead, he just

 

said, "Spock, your damn scanner's gone on the

 

fritz again."

 

Spock favored him with an expression that was

 

skeptical at best. "Doctor," he said very

 

gently, as if to a brain-damage case, "that

 

hardly seems

 

likely. Nonetheless, I will run some checks."

 

The Vulcan went over to the Science console and

 

began touching controls

 

with the swift certainty of someone who barely even

 

needs to look at them. "I take it matters are

 

sufficiently under control in Sickbay as to not

 

require your presence there," he said.

 

McCoy humphed. "Fat chance, Spock.

 

Kirk handed me the conn and told me to stay out of

 

Sickbay except for medical emergencies."

 

That made Spock blink. He looked up from his

 

console-though he did not stop keying in instructions-and

 

said, "Forgive me, but I should not 91

 

want to misunderstand you. You say the Captain left

 

you in command?"

 

"His idea of a little joke. Ask DeLeon,

 

he was here."

 

"It will be on the Bridge procedural recording

 

as well," Spock said, and turned his attention

 

back to his work again. McCoy turned away and

 

watched the front screen for a moment. There was a little

 

forest of Lahit in that clearing now, and about two

 

hundred of the Ornae seemed to have gotten

 

together to build a much larger structure than had

 

been there the day

 

before-more ornate, with plenty more room inside. They

 

were considerate

 

hosts, if nothing else about them was very clear as

 

yet.

 

McCoy turned back to Spock to see the

 

Science Officer staring at his

 

console with a concerned expression. "Doctor," he

 

said, "we have a

 

problem."

 

He had known that, but hearing Spock admit to it

 

somehow made it much

 

worse. McCoy sat down in the center seat, more

 

by reflex at this point than by preference, and said,

 

"He is missing."

 

"The instruments are working correctly,"

 

Spock said. "The Captain's

 

communicator is not on the planet. According to the

 

instruments."

 

"Never mind the communicator, Spock, where is

 

he??"

 

"Doctor," Spock said, stepping down to the

 

center seat, "calm yourself.

 

There are ways to explain why we might not be able

 

to find the Captain."

 

"Such as?"

 

Spock raised an eyebrow. "The Captain

 

may be in an area having a high

 

concentration of some other rare earth element, so that the

 

communicator's signal is washed out in the

 

background radiation-was

 

"And did you locate any such?"

 

"Well," Spock said, reluctant, "I must

 

admit-was

 

"So? What else then?"

 

Spock looked at him with as close to a helpless

 

expression as McCoy had

 

seen on him for a long time. "Nothing," he said.

 

"Well, the hell with this, was McCoy said.

 

"I'm going where I can be of some use . . . down

 

there, to help look for Kirk. You mind the

 

store."

 

He was halfway to the Bridge doors when

 

Spock said, "Doctor . . . I am

 

afraid you don't understand the situation."

 

McCoy stopped and looked at Spock in

 

surprise. "What part of it?"

 

"Your part, at least," he said. "Doctor, you

 

are in command. You cannot

 

leave the ship under these circumstances."

 

"Dammit, yes I can! I'm turning command over

 

to you! Where it ought to be, by the way. You're the one who

 

went all the way through Command School, and you're the

 

second most senior officer aboard ship. You sit

 

in the damn

 

chair."

 

"Doctor," Spock said quietly, "as the

 

Captain might put it, it would not matter if I were

 

Commanding Admiral of Starfleet and had a note from

 

God. I could not accept command from you under these

 

circumstances. Nor could anyone else. Fleet

 

regulations are most specific in this regard. An

 

officer placed in nominal command of a vessel must

 

retain command until relieved by the commander of

 

official record. The Captain is not around

 

to relieve you. Anyone who exercised command

 

in your place would be liable to

 

court-martial-and would not have a leg to stand on, as it

 

were, in court. And any effort by you to leave your

 

post-in this case, the Enterprise 93

 

would also be a court-martial offense . . .

 

especially in these

 

circumstances, when the Captain is missing. An

 

emergency, to say the least."

 

McCoy sank down onto the Science station

 

chair and stared at Spock in

 

dismay.

 

"You are "stuck," Doctor," Spock said.

 

"I am very sorry." And he sounded it.

 

McCoy looked over at Spock. He took

 

a deep breath or two, thinking, Calm yourself,

 

boy. You're going to need your wits about you today.

 

"All right," he said. "You'd better go down there and

 

get a search started. Find out who saw him last .

 

. . take it from there."

 

Spock nodded and headed for the Bridge doors

 

himself.

 

"And by the way," McCoy added, "can I at least

 

have a restroom break?"

 

Spock nodded. "Give the conn to Lieutenant

 

DeLeon," he said, "but don't be away

 

too long. Though," he added, from just inside the

 

turbolift, "I

 

believe the Captain would say, "You should have gone

 

before we left.""

 

"Why, you-was

 

The lift doors closed.

 

McCoy looked at DeLeon and said, "Take

 

it, son. I'll be back in a few

 

minutes."

 

"Yes, sir."

 

"And see if you can get Uhura away from her

 

business downstairs. I need

 

some advice."

 

"Right, Doctor."

 

When he came back to the Bridge, she was there

 

waiting for him.

 

"Lieutenant," McCoy said to the young Comm

 

officer, "go take a break or

 

something. When does your shift end?"

 

"In about an hour, Doctor," said DeLeon.

 

Lord, where has the day gone? Time goes fast when

 

you're having fun. He

 

glanced at Uhura; she nodded, and McCoy

 

said, "Never mind coming back, son. You go on

 

ahead."

 

"Thanks, Doctor," he said, and headed out.

 

When the lift doors shut, Uhura said softly,

 

"I hear we have a little

 

problem."

 

"You bet your sweet-well, never mind. Yes,

 

we do. Do many of the crewpeople down there know?"

 

"All of them do, now. Search parties are working

 

their way through the

 

area." She looked worried. "But the trail

 

may be getting a bit cold at this point.

 

Nobody's seen the Captain since this morning, and

 

only very briefly then."

 

"Where was he going?"

 

"Off through the woods, on one of those paths. That

 

big one that seems to get a lot of use."

 

A sudden suspicion flowered in McCoy. The

 

one that led to the clearing

 

where the ,At was-"Has anyone seen any beAt

 

around there?" he said.

 

"No," said Uhura, sounding faintly

 

surprised. "Doctor, I think it's more of a

 

glottal stop, that noise."

 

"Never mind the pronunciation. Anyway, I

 

want to hear one of them say it. Uhura, I saw

 

one this morning. I was talking to it when Jim

 

made me come up here. I think he may have met it

 

too. "

 

"You were talking to it?" she said in surprise. "But

 

we have hardly any of the algorithms for their

 

language yet. The survey party could hardly get

 

anything out of them. Was it fairly easy to understand?"

 

"As easy as you are. I was surprised."

 

Uhura looked very concerned. "Doctor," she

 

said,

 

"this is very odd. It can't be happening this way . .

 

. unless that species knows a lot more about us than we

 

think it does."

 

McCoy thought of that slow, silent regard bent

 

on him, the feeling of

 

concealed, controlled power, and shivered a little. "I

 

wouldn't put that past them. Uhura, we've got

 

to find at least one of them and see what it knows."

 

"It would help if we had some scan information,"

 

she said, sounding

 

dubious. "On the outside, they just

 

seem to look like big rocks. There are a lot of

 

rocks on this planet."

 

"Not that many rocks that move, was McCoy said.

 

"And only about a million of them, according to the beAt

 

I was talking to this morning. Never mind that;

 

I've got a scan. Here." He reached down for his

 

instrument pouch, which had come straight up to the Bridge

 

with him, and handed Uhura his mediscanner. "Good,"

 

she said, and went over to her station, popping the scanner

 

into one of its input ports. She touched a button

 

on her board, then squinted for a moment at the readout

 

screen. "Uh-uh," she said. "It's dumped its

 

memory."

 

McCoy muttered. "Yes, it would have. Check the

 

library computer; the file should be in there."

 

Uhura nodded, touched a few more controls, and

 

waited. "Here we are," she said, gazing at the

 

screen; then started to shake her head.

 

McCoy's stomach began to tie itself into a little

 

knot. "What's the

 

matter?"

 

"I've got your uplink here," she said, "but

 

there's trouble in the visual component. What's this?"

 

She touched another control and brought what she was

 

seeing up onto the

 

main screen. In the back-

 

ground of the shot, McCoy could see the other side

 

of the big clearing, the view changing as he carried the

 

mediscanner around something in the center of the shot. What

 

the something was, though, there was no telling.

 

All the screen showed was a silvery vagueness,

 

foggy, an oblong shape with no

 

detail.

 

"Damn, was McCoy said.

 

"Your scan information is gone too, I'm

 

afraid," Uhura said. "Not wiped; the scan bands

 

are just blank, as if your scanner didn't

 

record."

 

"This isn't my day for machinery, I can see that,"

 

McCoy said.

 

"Not the machinery's fault," Uhura said

 

promptly. She had been doing

 

something else with her console. "I get faint

 

scan artifact in some of the bands from the background

 

life forms-too faint to be of any use for data

 

collection, naturally. But your scanner was picking

 

up some of the fluid movement in the plant life in the

 

background, for example."

 

"Yes, it does that . . . but usually the life

 

form it's being directed at simply drowns out the

 

background readings, by proximity. Now what does

 

this mean?"

 

Uhura shook her head and took the scanner out

 

of the reading port, handing it back to McCoy. "Your

 

guess is as good as mine," she said.

 

"Probably

 

better, since you saw the beAt, and I

 

didn't." She looked very curious.

 

"What did it sound like?"

 

"Trouble," McCoy said, only half listening.

 

"Like something you wouldn't want angry at you." His

 

stomach went cold at that thought; he had to con-

 

sciously push the fear away. "Never mind.

 

Maybe," he said, thoughtful, "it didn't want

 

to be scanned?"

 

He looked at Uhura. She tilted her head

 

to one side, eyes narrowed.

 

"Possible," she said. "Species that are 97

 

good at handling energy flows can do that sometimes.

 

Take our scans of the Organians, for example,

 

before they revealed themselves. We thought we were dealing with

 

hominids . . . and they manipulated our instrument

 

readings to make it look that way. We never thought

 

to question what was going on. These people-was She looked at the

 

screen. "That," she said, "is energy management of

 

great virtuosity, if your theory's correct. A

 

creature that could do that could do all kinds of other

 

things."

 

"But it didn't try to trick us, as far as we

 

know," McCoy said, trying very hard to keep

 

strictly to the facts. "It just concealed its own

 

readings. Why would it want to do that, I wonder?"

 

"Privacy taboos?" Uhura said.

 

McCoy sighed. "Until we talk to more of them,

 

we'll never find out. And

 

they don't seem to be quite as forthcoming as the other

 

species."

 

Uhura laughed at that, a short sound, and

 

slightly sarcastic. "Don't bet on the others

 

being any more "forthcoming," Doctor. I spent

 

all morning

 

discussing the nature of reality with some of the

 

Ornae. They don't really believe in us."

 

McCoy blinked. "This theme keeps coming up,"

 

he said. was "Don't believe in us" how? Are

 

we against their religion? Or is there something they

 

don't approve of?"

 

"Not that, exactly," said Uhura, sitting back

 

and sighing. "They just don't think we're real. Or

 

no, that's not exactly it. They know we're here. But

 

they don't think we're human."

 

"What? Two arms, two legs, one head, what

 

else should "human' be? More or less."

 

"Not that way. They don't think we're people. It's

 

98

 

not prejudicial on their part. They like us well

 

enough; they like talking to us. But they don't think we

 

matter, particularly. The things we find

 

important seem laughable to them. And why not?"

 

Uhura said. "In their

 

worldview-theirs and the Lahit's both, they seem

 

to share this-the basic

 

survival needs, air, water, food, are all

 

there for the taking-or don't even need to be taken, in

 

the Ornae's case. You just live. They simply

 

start at a higher rung of the self-actualization

 

ladder than we do. They have all

 

those basic physical needs met already, and

 

don't have to deal with them

 

consciously. Their concerns are all social. They

 

may be the most social

 

species the Federation will ever have encountered, in

 

fact."

 

"Be a nice change from some people we've run

 

into over the years," McCoy muttered.

 

"Well, yes. They understand the idea of a Federa-

 

tion, too-more or less. They just don't understand

 

our reasons for having one. They might join us just

 

to chat. But they would never think of joining us because we had

 

something they wanted. As far as I can tell,

 

we have nothing they would want or need-except perhaps

 

ourselves, to talk to. The language of any

 

association agreement would have to be

 

changed to reflect that, and I'll be telling the

 

Captain so-was

 

"When we find him."

 

"Yes," Uhura said, and concern showed in her

 

face. "I must admit, I'm

 

worried."

 

"You think you're worried," McCoy said.

 

"Well, never mind that at the

 

moment. I suppose Starfleet is going to want

 

to hear from us sooner or

 

later and find out how we're getting on." He

 

groaned. "This is one

 

conversation I'm going to love having."

 

"It won't be a conversation," Uhura said, "not

 

at

 

five hours' subspace radio distance, it

 

won't. You put together a report and get it ready

 

for me-our next scheduled transmission should go out in

 

about an hour and a half, and you don't want them

 

getting any ideas that you're

 

having trouble with things by being late with the news."

 

"I am having trouble with things,

 

dammit!" McCoy said. "I'd be delighted if

 

they'd relieve me. Here, quick," he said, "get

 

me a padd. I'll certify

 

myself unfit to command. Stress, that's a good

 

excuse. Then they'll put

 

Spock in this miserable chair instead of me-was

 

"Doctor," Uhura said, her voice full of

 

pity, "don't you just wish. But

 

there's no way they'll do it. Relief of command

 

by "remote control' is very rarely done,

 

specifically because it very rarely works out. On this ship

 

in particular. The time or two that Fleet has done

 

something so dumb, they've regretted it. And think how

 

it would look on your service record."

 

"Mmf," said McCoy unhappily. "Hadn't

 

thought of that."

 

"Think of it," Uhura said. "Poor Doctor.

 

You've got the tiger by the tail this time."

 

He nodded. "Nothing to do but hang on, I

 

guess."

 

"You do that. We'll all help you."

 

"Find me the captain," he said. "That would

 

help."

 

Uhura nodded and turned back to her station.

 

McCoy sat there drumming his fingers on

 

the arm of the seat. He shifted

 

uneasily. The cushions were feeling a lot

 

less comfortable than they had earlier.

 

Spock came back from the planet surface some

 

three hours later, looking, to McCoy's

 

practiced eye, 100

 

very drawn-not physically tired, but showing the

 

effects of not having

 

produced any results whatever.

 

"We're going to have to have a department heads' meeting

 

in a while, I

 

guess," McCoy said to Spock, "and record

 

it and send it along to

 

Starfleet."

 

"I would not do that," Spock said, sitting down at

 

his station and dropping a couple of tricorder tapes

 

into one of its reader ports. "Call the

 

meeting, certainly. We must intensify our search

 

for the Captain. But

 

Starfleet does not require the details of our

 

decisionmaking process.

 

Also," and there was a slight glint of humor in his

 

eye as he glanced over his shoulder at McCoy,

 

"there is no point in giving the, ah, bureaucratic

 

elements at Starfleet any more insight

 

than necessary into how we arrive at our decisions."

 

"How I arrive at my command decisions, you

 

mean," McCoy said.

 

Spock nodded. "The bureaucratic mind," he

 

said, "will always find some way to meddle if at all

 

possible. If faced with a decision-making process

 

that they find too . . . original . . ."

 

"Too intelligent, you mean. Or too

 

consultative."

 

"Precisely. Under such circumstances, you could

 

find yourself issued orders which you would be required

 

to carry out, but which would be most . . .

 

distasteful."

 

"You mean stupid."

 

"I believe I said that," Spock said. "Though

 

perhaps not in so many words."

 

"Spock," McCoy s aid, in a moment's

 

gratitude, "when this is all over, I'm going

 

to cancel your next physical."

 

The look Spock gave him had more than a

 

trace of mischief about it.

 

"Dereliction of duty, Doctor?" he 101

 

asked. "I could never allow you to behave in such a

 

manner. I will take my physical in good part."

 

"And find some other way to ride me about

 

this for the rest of my life," McCoy said.

 

Spock didn't quite smile as he turned away.

 

"All right," McCoy said. He looked over his

 

shoulder. "Uhura, call the

 

department heads . . . tell them we should meet in

 

the briefing room in an hour. Special attention

 

to Linguistics and Biology; I want everything

 

we've got on all the species so far. I also

 

want a report to the minute on when the Captain

 

disappeared. Starfleet is going to want at least a

 

few concrete facts."

 

"Yes, sir," Uhura said, and started calling

 

around to the various

 

departments of the ship.

 

McCoy looked over at Spock. "I take

 

it," he said, "that no one has seen

 

anything of the beAt today."

 

Spock shook his head. "Uhura was kind enough

 

to give me your mediscanner's readout file for

 

signal analysis," he said. "I must admit that

 

at first I thought you might have mishandled the device

 

somehow. But two thoughts

 

suggested otherwise the fact that you are most

 

intimately familiar with the equipment after years of

 

using and even improving on it; and the

 

certainty that even you could not misuse an instrument

 

so selectively and skillfully."

 

McCoy sat still for a moment doing mental sums in

 

his head and trying to work out whether that sentence, taken as

 

a whole, came out to a compliment. He decided it

 

didn't, and decided to ignore it. "Thank you,"

 

he said. "Were you able to tell anything useful from the

 

scan?"

 

"Something not useful," Spock said, "but certainly

 

odd. Your scanner picked up some incidental

 

 

radiation in the neighborhood, for which it was not

 

specifically calibrated, but which it recorded

 

nonetheless."

 

"Radiation? Anything dangerous?" McCoy said,

 

alarmed.

 

Spock shook his head. "Merely odd. There was

 

an over-threshold amount of high-energy particle

 

decay some Cerenkov radiation, and Z-particle

 

remnants. Most peculiar."

 

"But Cerenkov radiation is associated with

 

black holes," McCoy said. "There aren't any

 

of those here."

 

"Indeed not. Cerenkov radiation, however, is also

 

associated with the

 

sudden deceleration of a superrelativistic body

 

in atmosphere."

 

"Someone traveling faster than light, and slowing

 

down-was

 

"Or some thing. Mere subatomic particles can be

 

responsible. The number

 

your scanner recorded was very small, too small

 

to indicate a spacecraft or anything of the kind."

 

"But still above the threshold amount," McCoy said.

 

"Yes."

 

He shook his head. "What about the

 

Z-particles?"

 

"Again," Spock said, "I am at a loss

 

to understand their presence.

 

Naturally occurring Z-collisions and decay

 

are rare enough that it has

 

always taken great amounts of sensitive equipment

 

to detect them. But here they do not seem to be rare.

 

Or did not while you were scanning. My own

 

scans, conducted over the past hours with much more

 

sensitive equipment, showed no such collisions

 

taking place."

 

"Then it's something associated specifically with the

 

beAt," McCoy said.

 

Spock nodded. "I feel that is a

 

safe assumption. But

 

what it can mean, I have no idea. It is a pity

 

the rest of your scan was not more revealing, but it was most

 

skillfully interfered with.-

 

64 You think it did that on purpose?"

 

McCoy said.

 

Spock frowned a bit. "We have no direct

 

evidence of that," he said, "but on the other hand, if the

 

beAt in question had not wanted its internal workings to be

 

known or theorized about, it could hardly have managed it

 

better.

 

Statistically, I would find this data at least

 

suspicious."

 

McCoy sighed. "All right," he said. "I'm

 

going to go take a break. Have

 

everybody get their notes together, and I'll see

 

you in an hour."

 

He went down to his quarters. The sound of the

 

door closing behind him

 

filled him with a wild sense of relief, which he

 

knew was completely

 

spurious. In an hour he would have to go out and sit

 

at the head of the

 

table in the briefing room and pretend to run things.

 

He sat down in his favorite chair,

 

probably the oddest thing in his

 

quarters, certainly the most expensive. It was

 

an antique, and he had given up most of his

 

personal-possessions space allowance for it. It was

 

a

 

genuine Shaker rush-back rocking chair, circa

 

1980; not the most venerable of its kind-the really old

 

ones were all in museums-but good enough. It was good for

 

back problems, and the rocking was soothing.

 

I need some soothing now, he thought, as he sat

 

down. The motion was

 

physically comforting. His mind, of course, was

 

running around in little circles, screaming and biting itself

 

in the small of the back, 104

 

but then that was understandable-and the more clinical parts of his

 

mind

 

weren't troubled by the fact. If he kept rocking

 

long enough, the body would affect the mind eventually.

 

It had no choice.

 

"Take about a year at this rate, though," he

 

muttered. He ran a quick check on himself. Palms

 

clammy, pulse elevated, some fine muscle

 

tremor, general malaise. Stomach spasm.

 

Physician, feed thyself, he remembered Kirk

 

saying. When did I eat last? Was it

 

really this morning? Not like me to miss meals. My

 

blood sugar must be down in my socks somewhere. He

 

reached out, tapped the intercom button, and said,

 

"Commissary."

 

"David here."

 

"McCoy. Can you have somebody send me up a

 

sandwich and a coffee? I'm in my quarters."

 

"He leaned back again and sighed, glancing around.

 

The room seemed smaller than usual. Was this the

 

way Kirk felt when he took a break during a

 

crisis? As if the whole world's trouble was

 

pressing on the outside door, and would come rushing

 

over him the minute he opened it again? He could

 

understand why sometimes he had to tell Kirk to take

 

a sleeping tablet.

 

Sleep wouldn't come anywhere near him until all

 

this was resolved.

 

Yes, it will, said one of the clinical parts of his

 

brain.

 

A mind that isn't rested is useless. Lowering your

 

own

 

efficiency won't get Kirk back. If you have

 

to sleep, you

 

take the damn pill, or get Lia to hit you

 

on the head

 

with a hammer, or whatever. You don't get

 

to indulge

 

yourself in staying awake and feeling miserable. . .

 

not this time.

 

He sighed. All the times he had given Kirk

 

his

 

advice, and had been so sure he was right, while

 

Kirk sat in that center

 

seat and joked with him, and sometimes took the

 

advice, and sometimes

 

ignored it .... Often McCoy had been sure

 

that things would have worked out better, more elegantly, more

 

simply, if Kirk had done what he told him.

 

They had worked out anyhow, as a rule, and McCoy

 

had shrugged and tended his own business in Sickbay,

 

and made that part of things work.

 

But now there was more business to tend to than just

 

Sickbay, and it was all his responsibility. And

 

no matter who gave him advice, and no matter

 

how good it was, the responsibility for the choices

 

he made would lie with him.

 

And if he had a good idea, and acted on it, and

 

it didn't work, that would be his responsibility too.

 

He found himself wondering how Kirk had ever been

 

able to accept his advice with such good humor,

 

when he did accept it.

 

He found himself wondering whether any of his advice

 

had ever been good at all, all those times he had

 

hung over the back of the center seat and made

 

off-the-cuff suggestions.

 

Well, he thought, at least some things are going right

 

around here. I've gotten all introspective again.

 

First time I've had the leisure for it in hours. Not

 

that being introspective was bad for a doctor at

 

all, especially when he had the kind of

 

psychiatric responsibilities that McCoy

 

had, with the whole gestalt of a starship more or less in

 

his professional hands. But overdoing it could be a

 

mistake, and sometimes McCoy veered that way. It

 

was a tendency he had learned to watch out for.

 

Someone touched his door signal. He got up and

 

answered it. There was no one there but a tray, hovering

 

on its automatic transport pad. McCoy

 

chuckled a little apparently Meg had gotten

 

Scotty to teach her transport pads a new

 

trick or two.

 

He picked the tray up, and the pad silently

 

zipped off down the corridor and around the corner, out

 

of sight. "Just as well," he muttered, taking the

 

tray inside. "I was out of change for a

 

tip."

 

The sandwich vanished in short order, followed by the

 

coffee. McCoy began to feel better almost

 

instantly. Blood sugar, he thought. I've got

 

to eat bigger breakfasts if I'm going to be stuck

 

in this job for long. Tea and toast doesn't make

 

it.

 

His intercom whistled then. "McCoy," he said,

 

finishing the last of the

 

coffee.

 

"Doctor, "Spock said, "five minutes to the

 

meeting. his

 

"What? Never. I just got here," he muttered.

 

"Oh, hell, I guess time does fly when you're

 

having fun. I'll be right down, Spock."

 

"Acknowledged. his

 

McCoy took just long enough to change into a fresh

 

uniform tunic-no time for even a sonic shower, it

 

would have to wait-and headed out.

 

"All right," he said, looking around the concerned

 

faces at the table in Main Briefing. "One at a

 

time, from best to worst. Engineering."

 

"No problems, nothing to report," Scotty

 

said.

 

"Bless you. Keep it that way.

 

Communications."

 

"Same as Mr. Scott," Uhura said, "with the

 

exception of our inability to find the Captain by the

 

usual means."

 

"We'll get back to that. Recreation."

 

Harb Tanzer, the big silver-haired rec

 

room chief, said, "No operational problems.

 

Crewmen coming in on their off-shift time are a bit

 

nervous about the Captain's disappearance, but it isn't

 

a serious situation as yet."

 

"Mmf. How are they vi ewing the present, uh,

 

command?"

 

Harb smiled a bit. "With some amusement," he

 

said, "but positively. You've bandaged up too many

 

of them for them to doubt your general expertise, and they

 

know you're getting good help."

 

McCoy allowed himself a breath or so of

 

laughter. "All right. Science."

 

"We have a huge body of data to add to what we

 

gathered yesterday," Spock said, "especially as

 

regards plant life and subsoil flora and

 

fauna. It may interest you to know-it will certainly

 

interest Starfleet-that this planet is one of the most

 

promising sources of medicinal substances that we have

 

ever found."

 

"That's wonderful," McCoy said, meaning it, "but

 

it also means that

 

Starfleet is going to put that much more pressure

 

on us for a three-species agreement. My delight

 

knows no bounds.-What else?"

 

"There is also much more information about the

 

physiologies of the Ornae and Lahit. We are

 

coming to some conclusions that may shortly lead to

 

theories that will explain how such very different

 

species evolved here. On that count, at least, our

 

present information agrees with that of the

 

original survey."

 

"You mean, they were actually right about something." There

 

was muted

 

McCoy smiled sardonically. "Noted. What

 

have you been finding? Any fossil

 

records?"

 

"Surprisingly, yes. One of the landing-party

 

teams, from Geology, has been concentrating on some

 

submerged strata off the northern coast of the

 

continent where most of our research is taking

 

place. There is a

 

possibility, bizarre as it sounds, that the

 

Lahit and the Ornae have a

 

common ancestor-species."

 

McCoy shook his head. "That would be an

 

eyeopener. Anyway, I take it that this information

 

has all been packed up for the next transmission

 

to

 

Starfleet."

 

"It has."

 

"Good. Security."

 

Ingrit Tomson, the tall, blond security

 

chief, said, "Nothing to report

 

shipside, sir. On the planet, we have search

 

groups combing the entire area where our contacts with the

 

Ornae and Lahit have been concentrated, and

 

then spiraling outward. Nothing has been found as

 

yet, though we've covered some fifty square

 

kilometers. There is no sign whatsoever of the

 

Captain, but there have also been no overt signs of

 

foul play."

 

"There is also something rather peculiar," Spock

 

said. "Doctor, after you furnished me with the

 

coordi

 

nates to which you beamed down, I was able to get a

 

temperature scan of the area-even when some hours

 

have passed, there are infrared heat-traces of the

 

passage of the human body." Spock reached out

 

 

touched the data terminal in front of him. A

 

sec

 

ond later, everyone's terminal was showing a

 

picture

 

of the clearing, seen from above, its colors process

 

ed by the computer to indicate areas of latent heat.

 

There was a wavering line that came from one side of the

 

clearing, circled around one spot, and then vanished.

 

"That's what Jim did?" McCoy said.

 

"No, Doctor. That is what you did. This is

 

the Captain's trace." He pointed to another fat

 

smudgy line, off to one side of the clearing, that entered

 

it at the same point . . . and faded out.

 

Glances were exchanged around the table. "Somebody

 

else's transporter

 

beam?" McCoy said.

 

"Unlikely, Doctor. That too leaves some

 

slight thermal trace, and some

 

characteristic background radiation. This fade-out is

 

atypical, and does not resemble a beam-up."

 

"Great," McCoy said. "Something grabbed him and

 

spirited him away.

 

Something subtle enough for us to need methods like this

 

to find out about it." He sighed. "Any theories?"

 

"None as yet," Spock said.

 

"All right. Defense?"

 

"Nothing to report," Chekov said. "All

 

ship's defense systems at normal and on

 

standby."

 

"Good. Medicine?"

 

Lia, sitting down toward the end of the table, said,

 

"Business as usual, Doctor. Routine small

 

interventions. It looks as if Morrison's

 

problem was some kind of allergy, by the way. No one

 

else has reported a similar

 

problem, and his skin irritation is almost gone."

 

"That's good. Communications-was

 

"Linguistics and I have been working closely

 

together," Uhura said, "trying to improve the level

 

of translation a little faster than would be the norm.

 

 

Unfortunately, we're having some

 

difficulties-not with vocabulary so much, at this

Comments

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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