Star Trek 1 | Chapter 7 of 13

Author: James Blish | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1855 Views | Add a Review

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Any SOS commands instant attention in space, but there was very good reason why this one created special interest on the bridge of the Enterprise. To begin with, there was no difficulty in pinpointing its source, for it came not from any ship in distress, but from a planet, driven out among the stars at the 21-centimeter frequency by generators far more powerful than even the largest starship could mount.

A whole planet in distress? But there were bigger surprises to come. The world in question was a member of the solar system of 70 Ophiucus, a sun less than fifteen light-years away from Earth, so that in theory the distress signals could have been picked up on Earth not much more than a decade after their launching except for one handicap: From Earth, 70 Ophiucus is seen against the backdrop of the Milky Way, whose massed clouds of excited hydrogen atoms emit 21-centimeter radiation at some forty times the volume of that coming from the rest of the sky. Not even the planet’s huge, hard-driven generators could hope to punch through that much stellar static with an intelligible signal, not even so simple a one as an SOS. Lieutenant Uhura, the communications officer of the Enterprise, picked up the signal only because the starship was at the time approaching the “local group”-an arbitrary sphere 100 light-years in diameter with Earth at its center-nearly at right angles to the plane of the galaxy.

All this, however, paled beside the facts about the region dug up by the ship’s library computer. For the fourth planet of 70 Ophiucus, the computer said, had been the first extrasolar planet ever colonized by man-by a small but well-equipped group of refugees from the political disaster called the Cold Peace, more than five hundred years ago. It had been visited only once since then. The settlers, their past wrongs unforgotten, had fired on the visitors, and the hint had been taken; after all, the galaxy was full of places more interesting than a backwater like the 70 Ophiucus system, which the first gigantic comber of full-scale exploration had long since passed. The refugees were left alone to enjoy their sullen isolation.

But now they were calling for help.

On close approach it was easy to see why the colonists, despite having been in flight, had settled for a world which might have been thought dangerously close to home. The planet was remarkably Earth-like, with enormous seas covering much of it, stippled and striped with clouds. One hemisphere held a large, roughly lozenge-shaped continent, green and mountainous; the other, two smaller triangular ones, linked by a long archipelago including several islands bigger than Borneo. Under higher magnification, the ship’s screen showed the gridworks of numerous cities, and, surprisingly more faintly, the checkerboarding of cultivation.

But no lights showed on the night side, nor did the radio pick up any broadcasts nor any of the hum of a high-energy civilization going full blast. Attempts to com-municate, once the Enterprise was in orbit, brought no response-only that constantly repeated SOS, which now was beginning to sound suspiciously mechanical.

“Whatever the trouble was,” Mr. Spock deduced, “we are evidently too late.”

“It looks like it,” Captain Kirk agreed. “But we’ll go down and see. Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Yeoman Rand, and two security guards, pick up your gear and report to me in the transporter room.”

The landing party materialized by choice in the central plaza of the largest city the screen had shown-but there was no one there. Not entirely surprised, Kirk looked around.

The architecture was roughly like that of the early 2100s, when the colonists had first fled, and apparently had stood unoccupied for almost that long a period. Evidences of the erosion of time were everywhere, in the broken pavements, the towering weeds, the gaping windows, the windrows of dirt and dust. Here and there on the plaza were squat sculptures of flaking rust which had perhaps been vehicles.

“No signs of war,” Spock said.

“Pestilence?” McCoy suggested. As if by agreement, both were whispering.

By the dust-choked fountain near which Kirk stood, another antique object lay on its side: a child’s tricycle. It too was rusty, but still functional, as though it had been indoors during much of the passage of time which had worn away the larger vehicles. There was a bell attached to the handlebar, and moved by some obscure impulse, Kirk pressed his thumb down on its lever.

It rang with a kind of dull sputter in the still air. The plaintive sound was answered instantly, from behind them, by an almost inhuman scream of rage and anguish.

“Mine! Mine!

They whirled to face the terrible clamor. A humanoid creature was plunging toward them from the shell of the nearest building, flailing its arms and screaming murder-ously. It was moving too fast for Kirk to make out details. He had only an impression of dirt, tatters, and con-siderable age, and then the thing had leapt upon McCoy and knocked him down.

Everyone waded in to help, but the creature had the incredible strength of the utterly mad. For a moment Kirk was face to face with it-an ancient face, teeth gone in a reeking mouth, contorted with wildness and hate, tears brimming from the eyes. Kirk struck, almost at random.

The blow hardly seemed to connect at all, but the creature sobbed and fell to the pocked pavement. He was indeed an old man, clad only in sneakers, shorts, and a ripped and filthy shirt. His skin was covered with multi-colored blotches. There was something else odd about it, too-but what? Was it as wrinkled as it should be?

Still sobbing, the old head turned and looked toward the tricycle, and an old man’s shaking hand stretched out toward it. “Fix,” the creature said, between sobs. “Somebody fix.”

“Sure,” Kirk said, watching intently. “We’ll fix it.”

The creature giggled. “Fibber,” it said. The voice gradually rose to the old scream of rage. “You bustud it! Fibber, fibber!”

The clawing hand grasped the tricycle as if to use it as a weapon, but at the same time the creature seemed to catch sight of the blotches on its own naked arm. The scream died back to a whimper. “Fix it-please fix it-“

The eyes bulged, the chest heaved, and then the creature fell back to the pavement. Clearly, it was dead. McCoy knelt beside it, running a tricorder over the body.

“Impossible,” he muttered.

“That it’s dead?” Kirk said.

“No, that it could have lived at all. Its body temperature is over one-fifty. It must have been burning itself up. Nobody can live at that temperature.”

Kirk’s head snapped up suddenly. There had been another sound, coming from an alley to the left.

“Another one?” he whispered tensely. “Somebody stalk-ing us… over there. Let’s see if we can grab him and get some information… Now!”

They broke for the alley. Ahead of them they could hear the stalker running.

The alley was blind, ending in the rear of what seemed to be a small apartment house. There was no place else that the stalker could have gone. They entered cautiously, phasers ready.

The search led them eventually to what had once been a living room. There was a dusty piano in it, a child’s exercise book on the music rack. Over one brittle brown page was scribbled, “Practice, practice, practice!” But there was no place to hide but a closet. Listening at the door, Kirk thought he heard agitated breathing, and then, a distinct creak. He gestured, and Spock and the security men covered him.

“Come out,” he called. “We mean no harm. Come on out.”

There was no answer, but the breathing was definite now. With a sudden jerk, he opened the door.

Huddled on the floor of the closet, amid heaps of moldering clothing, old shoes, a dusty umbrella, was a dark-haired young girl, no more than fourteen-probably younger. She was obviously in abject terror.

“Please,” she said. “No, don’t hurt me. Why did you come back?”

“We won’t hurt you,” Kirk said. “We want to help.” He held out his hand to her, but she only tried to shrink farther back into the closet. He looked helplessly at Yeoman Rand, who came forward and knelt at the open door.

“It’s all right,” she said. “Nobody’s going to hurt you. We promise.”

“I remember the things you did,” the girl said, without stirring. “Yelling, burning, hurting people.”

“It wasn’t us,” Janice Rand said. “Come out and tell us about it.”

The girl looked dubious, but allowed Janice to lead her to a chair. Clouds of dust came out of it as she sat down, still half poised to spring up and run.

“You’ve got a foolie,” she said. “But I can’t play. I don’t know the rules.”

“We don’t either,” Kirk said. “What happened to all the people? Was there a war? A plague? Did they just go someplace else and accidentally leave you here?”

“You ought to know. You did it-you and all the other grups.”

“Grups? What are grups?”

The girl looked at Kirk, astonished. “You’re grups. All the old ones.”

“Grownups,” Janice said. “That’s what she means, Captain.”

Spock, who had been moving quietly around the room with a tricorder, came back to Kirk, looking puzzled. “She can’t have lived here, Captain,” he said. “The dust here hasn’t been disturbed for at least three hundred years, possibly longer. No radioactivity, no chemical contamination-just very old dust.”

Kirk turned back to the girl. “Young lady-by the way, what’s your name?”


“All right, Miri, you said the grups did something. Burning, hurting people. Why?”

“They did it when they started to get sick. We had to hide.” She looked up hopefully at Kirk. “Am I doing it right? Is it the right foolie?”

“You’re doing fine. You said the grownups got sick. Did they die?”

“Grups always die.” Put that way, it was of course self-evident, but it didn’t seem to advance the questioning much.

“How about the children?”

“The onlies? Of course not. We’re here, aren’t we?”

“More of them?” McCoy put in. “How many?”

“All there are.”

“Mr. Spock,” Kirk said, “take the security guards and see if you can find any more survivors,.. So all the grups are gone?”

“Well, until it happens-you know-when it happens to an only. Then you get to be like them. You want to hurt people, like they did.”

“Miri,” McCoy said, “somebody attacked us, outside. You saw that? Was that a grup?”

“That was Floyd,” she said, shivering a little. “It happened to him. He turned into one. It’s happening to me, too. That’s why I can’t hang around with my friends any more. The minute one of us starts changing, the rest get afraid… I don’t like your foolie. It’s no fun.”

“What do they get afraid of?” Kirk persisted.

“You saw Floyd. They try to hurt everything. First you get those awful marks on your skin. Then you turn into a grup, and you want to hurt people, kill people.”

“We’re not like that,” Kirk said. “We’ve come a long way, all the way from the stars. We know a good many things. Maybe we can help you, if you’ll help us.”

“Grups don’t help,” Miri said. “They’re the ones that did this.”

“We didn’t do it, and we want to change it. Maybe we can, if you’ll trust us.”

Janice touched her on the side of the face and said, “Please?” After a long moment, Miri managed her first timid smile.

Before she could speak, however, there was a prolonged rattling and clanking sound from outside, as though someone had emptied a garbage can off a rooftop. It was followed by the wasplike snarl of a phaser bolt.

Far away, and seemingly high up a child’s voice called: “Nyah nyah nyah nyah. NYAH, Nyah!”

“Guards!” Spock’s voice shouted.

Many voices answered, as if from all sides: “Nyah nyah nyah nyah NYAH, nyah!”

Then there was silence, except for the echoes.

“It seems,” Kirk said, “that your friends don’t want to be found.”

“Maybe that’s not the first step anyhow, Jim,” McCoy said. “Whatever happened here, somewhere there must be records about it. If we’re to do anything, we have to put our fingers on the cause. The best place would probably be the local public health center. What about that, Miri? Is there a place where the doctors used to work? Maybe a government building?”

“I know that place,” she said distastefully. “Them and their needles. That’s a bad place. None of us go there.”

“But that’s where we have to go,” Kirk said. “It’s important if we’re to help you. Please take us.”

He held out his hand, and, very hesitantly, she took it. She looked up at him with something like the beginnings of wonder.

“Jim is a nice name,” she said. “I like it.”

“I like yours, too. And I like you.”

“I know you do. You can’t really be a grup. You’re-something different.” She smiled and stood up, gracefully. As she did so, she looked down, and he felt her grip stiffen. Then, carefully, she disengaged it.

“Oh!” she said in a choked voice. “Already!”

He looked down too, already more than half aware of what he would see. Across the back of his hand was a sprawling blue blotch, about the size of a robin’s egg.

The laboratory proved to be well-equipped, and since it had been sealed and was windowless, there was less than the expected coating of dust on the tables and equipment. Its size and lack of windows also made it seem unpleasantly like the inside of a tomb, but nobody was prepared to complain about that; Kirk was only grateful. that its contents had proved unattractive to any looters : who might have broken into it.

The blue blotches had appeared upon all of them now, although those on Mr. Spock were the smallest and appeared to spread more slowly; that was to have been expected, since he came from far different stock than did the rest of the crew, or the colonists for that matter. Just as clearly, his nonterrestrial origin conferred no immunity on him, only a slight added resistance.

McCoy had taken biopsies from the lesions; some of the samples he stained, others he cultured on a variety of media. The blood-agar plate had produced a glistening, wrinkled blue colony which turned out to consist of active, fecund bacteria strongly resembling spirochetes. McCoy, however, was convinced that these were not the cause of the disease, but only secondary invaders.

“For one thing, they won’t take on any of the lab animals I’ve had sent down from the ship,” he said, “which means I can’t satisfy Koch’s Postulates. Second, there’s an abnormally high number of mitotic figures in the stained tissues, and the whole appearance is about halfway between squamous metaplasia and frank neoplasm. Third, the choromosome table shows so many displacements-“

“Whoa, I’m convinced,” Kirk protested. “What does it add up to?”

“I think the disease proper is caused by a virus,” McCoy said. “The spirochetes may help, of course; there’s an Earthly disease called Vincent’s angina that’s produced by two micro-organisms working in concert.”

“Is the spirochete communicable?”

“Highly, by contact. You and Yeoman Rand got yours from Miri; we got them from you two.”

“Then I’d better see that no one else does,” Kirk said. He told his communicator: “Kirk to Enterprise. No one, repeat, no one, under any circumstances, is to transport down here until further notice. The planet is heavily infected. Set up complete decontamination procedures for any of us who return.”

“Computer?” McCoy nudged.

“Oh yes. Also, ship us down the biggest portable bio-computer-the cat-brain job. That’s to get the live-steam treatment too when it goes back up.”

“Captain,” Spock called. He had been going through a massed rank of file cabinets which occupied almost all of one wall. Now he was beckoning, a folder in one hand. “I think we’ve got something here.”

They all went over except McCoy, who remained at the microscope. Spock handed the folder to Kirk and began pulling others. “There’s a drawer-full of these. Must have been hundreds of people working on it. No portable bio-comp is going to process this mass of data in anything under a year.”

“Then we’ll feed the stuff to the ship’s computer by communicator,” Kirk said. He looked down at the folder.

It was headed:


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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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