He looked at
the legend at the bottom of the map. Fourteen miles. I could do 14 miles just
like that! He snapped his fingers. At least I could have, when I wore a
younger manís clothes. He grimaced. Looking around at his camp site and
then up into the sky, he made his decision. It took only a few minutes to take
down the tent, gather up his gear, and put out the fire. Without a backward
glance, he set off.
Far later than he had first expected, Steffen arrived at his
destination. Hot, tired, and dusty, he stood on the high bank of the river and
looked around him. Across the slow- moving water, a broad plain sloped gently up
to a magnificent forest of tall trees. His practiced eye could tell that the
river had been deeper once. Looking down, he could see a relatively shallow
place, which would afford him an easy way to cross. He slid down the bank and
began to wade across, the cool water coming up to his waist at the deepest part.
By the time he climbed up the opposite bank and onto the rich, green grass of
the plain, the sun had begun to dip toward the horizon. It took only moments for
him to pitch his tent, build a fire, and eat a quick dinner. It was his first
night of deep, uninterrupted sleep for months.
The end of his first day at his new campsite had convinced
him of his error. There was nothing on the plain to interest him. He spent
several hours pouring over his map―wondering. Finally, it dawned on him.
The plain he sat on had been underwater long ago. If there were any ruins, they
wouldnít be here. But, two miles further across the plain, beyond the trees,
was a line of tall cliffs; they were probably the original riverbank. An hour
after he rose the next morning, he arrived.
The landslide had been recent. So recent that the spring
rains hadnít had a chance to smooth the edges of the cliff where the earth had
fallen. Probably no more than a month or so ago, Steffen thought. He
scanned the face of the cliff. At the very edge of the landslide, a glint of
something caught his eye. He scrambled up the pile of dirt and rocks and stared,
his heart beating faster. Metal! Itís metal! Not a rock, not a vein,
but worked metal! He reached into his pack and pulled out a collapsible
shovel and began to dig wildly.
Three hours later, he had uncovered a door. A small door, but
a door nevertheless. It was about five feet tall and as wide. To Steffenís
surprise, there was a simple latch on one side. He pulled out his palm-sized
personal computer and made a sketch, making careful measurements and reproducing
the intricate designs in detail. Satisfied that he had recorded everything,
Steffen reached for the latch.
It was a struggle, but he finally managed to get it open.
Behind the door was a large room, with several tunnels branching off in
different directions. The walls were smooth, obviously worked with some kind of
machinery. The floor was made of something Steffen couldnít identify. It
looked like ceramic, but it was soft, like carpet. He took out his light,
flipped it on, and tried to decide which tunnel to enter. There were no marks
next to the entrances, no clue as to where they led. On an impulse, he took the
one furthest to his right.
The tunnel was straight as an arrow, disappearing into the
darkness beyond his light. The air was dry, slightly musty, and cool. After 200
yards―Steffen was counting his steps―the tunnel suddenly opened into
another room. He stopped, staring at the sight before him. On one wall of the
room there was a pile of containers. The brilliantly colored containers reminded
him of Greek urns. In front of the pile was one of the urns broken into pieces.
Lying next to it was―a skeleton!
Although an experienced archaeologist used to believing two
impossible things before breakfast, Steffen Heininger was dumfounded. He bent
down and examined the bones. All good archaeologists knew a great deal about a
large number of subjects, and Steffen was no different―in fact, he had
almost completed medical school before switching his studies―and he knew
these bones belonged to no known species. Overwhelmed at his discovery,
Heininger sat down heavily and stared, unbelievingly.
Question after question raced through his mind.
the skeleton come from? Did it belong with the containers? Or was it another
explorer like himself? What was in the containers? How did the being die? And
why? Was there a relationship between the beingís death and the contents of
After a while, when there were no answers, just more
questions, Steffenís professionalism came to the surface. He knew that his
discovery could be one of the greatest finds in recent history. And he knew that
he couldnít excavate this site himself. He would need help―and a lot of
it. He would need financial backing―and a lot of it. He got up to leave.
He would have to return to Alpha Beorne, where he knew he could get the help he
needed. Just as he reached the tunnel entrance, he turned. Forgetting for a
moment one of the basic precepts of an archaeologist, he lifted one of the urns
and put it in his pack, being careful to pad it well. He put the pack on his
shoulder and, with the lightest steps he had taken in years, headed back to the
door in the cliff.
A week later, Steffen Heininger sat in his hotel room,
staring at the urn propped up on the dresser. He had sent his messages,
carefully couched in ambiguous terms, to several philanthropists he had known
for years. It would take several days to get any reply. In the meantime, he sat
and stared. The next passenger liner wouldnít leave Webster for Alpha Beorne
for another week and there was nothing left for him to do but wait―wait,
and wonder. With every passing hour, his curiosity about the contents of the urn
grew. He ran his fingers through his unkempt hair. He had quit taking care of
himself, ate little, and slept less. The urn was all he could think of. The
urn! The urn! Whatís in the urn? The words had paraded through his mind so
often that they had become almost a mantra. Nothing else was important anymore,
not his appearance, not his health, nothing. The urn! The urn! Whatís in
the urn? He coughed and rubbed his eyes. The urn! The urn! Whatís in
the urn? He tried looking away, but it didnít work. The urn! The urn!
Whatís in the urn? He closed his eyes, but that didnít work. The urn!
The urn! Whatís in the urn? He reached for it, then pulled his hands back.
The urn! The urn! Whatís in the urn? The words became so insistent that
they began to echo in his mind. The urn! The urn! Whatís in the urn?
With a cry of desperation, he grabbed the urn and wrestled
off the cap. He moaned in disappointment. It was empty! Nothing! Thereís
nothing in it! He fell on the bed, hugging the empty urn to his chest.
Steffen Heininger sobbed in frustration and exhaustion. Nothing! He kept
repeating to himself. Nothing! Finally, he fell asleep. He didnít know
that he was already dead.
USS PHOENIX (NCC 2315), Main Bridge
The stars were sprinkled across the blackness of space like
drops of paint splattered on a dark canvas. At unimaginable distances galaxies
rotated, their movement impossible to see. A pulsar did its deadly dance,
flashing at a rate, which would not change for millions of years. It was 0330
aboard USS PHOENIX and the Main Bridge was quiet. The lights were dimmed to
reflect the lateness of the shipís "night." Voices were muted and
conversations addressed duty matters.
CAPT Talon Steele sat in the Command Chair, her right hand
absentmindedly stroking the rich, dark leather of the armrest. The shake down
cruise is only half over, and already Iím tired. She glanced at the time. In
15 minutes, I can go to bed and get, what? Three-and-a-half hours of sleep? The
next dayís drills would start promptly at 0800. She rubbed her tired eyes. At
least Iím not the only one whoís tired. Everybody else is too. I wonder if I
should call a stand-down day so everyone can rest up. She shook her head.
No, part of the process of a shakedown cruise is to test the crew as well as the
Talon looked around the Bridge at the junior officers who
were on duty with her. They look tired too. She thought back to the
schedule she and CDR Stryker, her First Officer, had developed. At least we
have one more week of "daytime" drills. Then we go into random,
unannounced scenarios. Ship casualties―some major, and some minor―
would be called on a random basis for two weeks. Every department would have
their ďturn in the barrel.Ē It would start small, with problems confined to
a single department. But that wouldnít last. Major failures, which would
affect, and require coordination between and among, several departments would be
instituted. That will be the true test of the crew, Talon mused.
are still a lot of rough edges, which had better, smooth out pretty damned
She frowned. If that ensign down in Engineering doesnít
shape up pretty soon, Iím going to kick her butt off my ship. It had
already been a topic of discussion with the Chief Engineer. LCDR McKay has
requested, and received, a "stay of execution." He felt that, with a
little more work, Ensign Robertson would shape up. Sheíd better or sheís
The turbolift doors opened and CAPT Steele turned to see who
had arrived. It was CDR Wolphbayne Stryker, who would relieve her. Steele
watched him move toward the center of the Bridge. His eyes flickered from left
to right as he noted the shipís status. By the time he arrived at Talonís
side, he already knew the important facts: shipís course, shipís speed,
status of impulse and warp engines, and the condition of the environmental
systems. Once again, Talon Steele offered a silent prayer of thanks for her
First Officer. Heís everything I wanted, and more. To whoever was watching
over me when I made my selection: Thank youvery much.
"Good morning, Captain. How are you on this fine,
Talon Steele answered with a yawn.
"That good, huh? Well, just think, you have three whole
hours of sleep waiting for you in your berthing compartment. Give me a quick run
down and get on down there before it runs away."
"Commander Stryker, you can be absolutely the most
despicable person Iíve ever known. How can you be so cheerful?" Steele
gave him a mock frown.
"Actually, Captain, Iím still asleep. Itís just that
my body doesnít know it yet. And when it finds out, Iím gonna be in big
trouble. So, where are we, and where are going?" Stryker sat down in his
own seat to Captain Steeleís right.
"Weíre still doing circles in space. Our next course
change is in―Ē she thought for a moment. ď―One hour and 15
minutes. Weíre on impulse power, with warp engines on two-hour standby. There
are no changes in the Night Orders. All systems are up, with the exception of
the Maelstrom. It has a navigation computer glitch that wonít be fixed
until we return to Starbase Flying Cloud."
Steele nodded. "Itís a parts problem. We havenít
received our full load out of spare parts. Thatís one of the ones we donít
have yet. But, I donít think weíre going to need our aquatic shuttle for a
while, so itís not critical."
Talon shook her head. "No, nothing else."
Around them, the off-going watch was being relieved by new
personnel. CDR Stryker would have fresh people to run the consoles until they,
as well as he, were relieved at 0745.
"In that case, Captain. I relieve you. Now get out of
here and get some sleep. I hate to say this, but you look terrible."
Talon stifled another yawn. "You could have a little
more respect for your commanding officer, you know. Howís this going to look
on your fitness report―making nasty comments about your superior officerís
"If itíll get you off the Bridge and into bed, Iíll
take my chances." Stryker got serious for a moment. "I relieve you,
"I stand relieved," Talon replied.
Stryker raised his voice. "This is Commander Stryker, I
have the deck and the conn."
Steele got up from her chair and stretched. "The ship is
yours, Stryker. Donít hit any bumps." She headed toward the turbolift
Stryker stood up and headed for the coffee pot. "Since
thereís nothing exciting going on, I believe Iíll get myself a cup of coffee
and watch the stars go by."
Somewhere, a man named Murphy laughed and rubbed his
hands together in glee.
"Sir!" The young ensign on the communications panel
had a tremor in her voice as she turned to look at Stryker.
"Yes, Ensign, what is it?"
"Calm down, Ensign. You were taught how to make a report
in the Academy. Remember what they told you," Stryker said calmly. CAPT
Steele stopped just short of the turbolift and turned to listen.
"Yes-s, Sir." The ensign took a deep breath.
"Iíve received a Mayday from the planet Webster."
Stryker choked on his coffee. "Say again?"
Steele stood silently next to the open turbolift door. She
was completely awake now
"Iím receiving a Mayday from the planet Webster,
"Put it on speakers."
The sudden voice right above his head startled Stryker.
"Turn it down some, Ensign, so we can understand whatís being said."
"Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. This is Jorge Sanchez of
the planet Webster. Please help us. If you can hear me, come quickly. Everyoneís
dying! I donít know what to do! Please help us. Mayday. Mayday.
The voice was edged with hysteria.
"Ensign, open a channel, quickly! Helmsman, give me a
tactical display of the Webster system. Navigator, plot a course to
Webster." Strykerís calm but insistent voice was the direct opposite of
The once sleepy Main Bridge burst into action as the crew
responded to the First Officerís orders. CAPT Steele, the color drained from
her face, came back to her chair in the center of the Main Bridge.
"I canít raise the planet, Sir. Itís a looping
message, unattended." So much for that idea, Stryker thought.
"Webster system on screen, Commander." A diagram of
a planetary system flashed onto the Main Viewscreen with the second of seven
planets marked as "Webster."
"Course plotted and laid in, Commander. Maximum speed
available is 0.9 warp, impulse engines only. Estimated time of arrival at this
speed is 48 days." The screen split and a small diagram indicated the shipís
path from its current location to Webster. Alongside the curving path was the
annotation "48 days."
Stryker punched the communications button on the arm of the
Command Chair marked Main Engineering. "Engineering, Bridge. I need warp
speed as soon as you can bring the engines on line."
"Yes, Sir. I can give you warp speed in two hours,
Stryker frowned at the answer. "Get the Chief Engineer.
Tell him I want warp power faster than that. Tell him I want it two hours ago,
not two hours from now. Bridge out." He closed the circuit, not waiting for
"Science Officer, tell me about Webster." CAPT
Steele sat down heavily in her chair.
"Webster is a Class-M planet―an Earth twin―colonized
approximately 150 years ago. Current population estimated at 15 million.
Inhabitants are from virtually every known oxygen-breathing species. It is in a
low-threat area of space and has no organized defense forces. It is a major stop
on the cruise ship routes. Records indicate that, at this time, there are five
passenger liners in orbit: the SS Aransas, SS Stellar Queen, SS
Dr. Lykes, SS Barsoom, and SS Tranquility. Total passengers on
their manifests are 3,500. Six cargo vessels are also in standard orbit around
the planet. One of them is a deuterium freighter. No Starfleet vessels in the
vicinity." Silence descended on the Bridge as the information sank in.
Stryker and Steele looked at each other in dismay. They were
thinking the same thing: Weíre not ready for this.
Talon Steele activated the circuit to the Chief Intelligence
Officerís quarters. "Commander Spahn, this is the Captain."
"Yes, Captain." Considering the time, Spahnís
voice was surprisingly alert.
"Activate SMIDGEN. We have an automated Mayday from the
planet Webster. I need information and I need it quick."
"On my way, Captain."
"Bridge, Engineering. Chief Engineer here."
"Commander McKay, I need warp power as soon as you can
"Warp power? But, Sir, weíre on two-hour
Captain Steeleís voice sounded like her name. "Angus, I
have a Mayday from a planet―not a ship―a whole damned planet! At
impulse speed, itíll take us 48 days to get there. Iím not sure, but I donít
think they can wait that long.Ē
There was a noticeable pause. "I can have the warp
engines back on line in 45 minutes, Captain, but itíll mean bending some rules
totally out of shape."
"I donít care if you have to break every damn rule in
the book, Angus. Get me warp speed―just donít blow us up in the process.
We wonít be any good to anybody dead."
"Aye, Aye, Sir. Iíll keep you advised. Chief Engineer
Talon turned to Stryker. "I want a Department Head
meeting in half an hour."
Captainís Conference Room, USS PHOENIX
Six department heads sat around the oblong table in the
Captainís Conference Room―three on each side; the Chief Intelligence
Officer made seven. CDR Spahn sat halfway down the table, between the Chief
Medical Officer and the Chief Engineer. Two chairs were empty, one at the head
of the table and one at the foot. The first chair was reserved for the Captain,
the second for the First Officer. Neither had shown up yet for the meeting.
There werenít many happy faces in the room. The Mayday call
from the planet Webster had been unexpected and unwelcome―even more
unwelcome than a Mayday would normally be. The ship and crew were in the middle
of their shakedown cruise. Although USS PHOENIX was well built, there were still
systems, which werenít up to standards, and there were few supplies aboard
other than what was required for the six-week period. The shipís full load out
was scheduled upon their return. Crewmembers were still in the process of
learning the ship, becoming familiar with their duties, and forging friendships.
They talked quietly among themselves.
The door to the conference room opened and CAPT Talon Steele,
and CDR Wolphbayne Stryker, entered. As though the action had been
choreographed, all seven senior officers stood.
"As you were," Steele said quickly. She stood by
her chair and waited for Stryker to reach the end of the table. Once there, she
sat down and began immediately.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a problem. Perhaps not as
serious as the people on Webster, but a problem nonetheless. I suspect we are
not ready for this task. However, I want to hear from each of you before I say
anything. Commander Spahn, will you begin?"
LCDR Llunith Tr Annhwi, the Chief Intelligence Officer,
stood. "Captain, Commander. Here are the facts, as we know them. One hour
and 15 minutes ago, the following message was received on the interstellar
distress frequency," Spahn reached down and activated a control on the
tabletop. A voice that trembled with obvious fear and confusion came from the
"Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. This is Jorge Sanchez of the
planet Webster. Please help us. If you can hear me, come quickly. Everyoneís
dying! I donít know what to do! Please help us. Mayday. Mayday. Mayday."
Spahn turned the recording off. "The message was
repeated for 11.2 minutes, then stopped." He looked at the faces around the
table. There was surprise, concern, and several frowns. "Since then, there
has been no additional contact with the planet." Spahnís fingers danced
on the tabletop control panel. A holographic projection materialized two feet
above the center of the table, showing the planet Webster. Spahn continued.
"Webster is a Class M1 planet―a virtual twin to
Earth, with the same gravity, the same atmosphere, and the same
landmass-to-water ratio. It is, however, much more tectonically and
environmentally stable than Earth. There are no significant seasonal changes.
The average temperature is 75 degrees Fahrenheit, with a minimum recorded
temperature of 55 and a maximum of 85 degrees Fahrenheit. It is in a sector of
space without significant hazards and, because of its environment and location,
has rapidly developed into a major tourist attraction. It is a favorite port for
passenger liners and freighters. Starfleet uses it extensively for shore leave.
It was colonized approximately 150 Earth years ago and has developed
He pressed another button. Several ships appeared in orbit
around the planet. "Five passenger liners, six cargo vessels, and three
corporate space yachts are currently at Webster. It has a nominal population of
15 million and no significant defensive capabilities. There are no other
Starfleet vessels currently closer than 14 days to the planet." The
holograph of Webster faded from view. Spahn continued. "Jorge Sanchez has
been identified as the Minister of Agriculture. Why he, and not a more senior
member of the government, issued the Mayday, is unknown. SMIDGEN is fully
operational at this time; however, we have not acquired any additional data. No
one on the planet has contacted us, and neither has any ship reported to be at
Webster made any transmissions. For all intents and purposes, Webster is a hole
in space as far as emissions are concerned." Spahn sat down.
Steele was quiet for a moment, and then spoke. "Now you
know as much as I do. Commander Sterling, what is the status of
C. J. Sterling began to stand up, but Steele motioned her to
remain seated. "Well, Captain, weíre not in the best of shape. We only
have three shuttlecraft aboard, the Unicorn and the Centaur, both
short-range shuttles and the aquatic shuttle. The two long-range shuttles and
the medical shuttle are at Starbase Flying Cloud, awaiting our return. We
do have two WorkerBee craft, but I suspect they will be of little use to us in
this situation," C. J. paused. "Whatever this situation is."
From the end of the table, CDR Stryker spoke up.
"Commander, what is the status of the three shuttles?"
"Unicorn and Centaur are fully
operational, Sir. The aquatic shuttle is down. I have two experienced shuttle
pilots on board: Lieutenant McConnell, the Chief Helmsman; and Lieutenant
Somerville, the Chief Navigator."
"I, too, am qualified in shuttles, Commander,"
Stryker smiled at her.
"Thank you, Commander. We may need you."
"Anything else?" Steele asked sharply.
"Thank you, C. J. Now, Engineering?" Steele looked
at LCDR McKay.
McKay cleared his throat. "Shipís warp engines are
on line and I can give you Warp 4 for short periods of time, Sir."
"Is that all?" There was unmistakable dismay in the
"Yes, Sir. Our dilithium crystals have not yet seated
and I recommend against that speed for more than 15 minutes at a time. If the
crystals should de-tune. . . ."
Steele nodded, acquiescing to the inevitable. "I
"All replicators are on line as well, but our raw
materials are in short supply. Iím not sure we can support too many more
Stryker interrupted. "Then Iíd suggest you start
breaking up the furniture."
"Sir?" McKay looked confused.
"If we need those replicators, Angus, weíll need them
badly. Use whatever you can find to bring the raw material bins to full
capacity. We donít know what weíre facing here. We have to be prepared for
the worst. If it doesnít happen, then weíre ahead of the game. If the worst
does happen, and weíre not prepared, well. . . ." Stryker left the
McKay nodded his head. "Yes, I see." He looked
back at Captain Steele. "All transporters, with the exception of the Number
1 Emergency Evacuation Station, are on line. If pressed, I can transport up to
125 people at a time, every 45 seconds, so long as there are no other major
demands on our engines. I hope it wonít come to that, Sir." McKay was
"Weapons?" Strykerís question fell like a
"Weapons, Commander McKay. Remember, we donít know
what weíre getting into."
"Full phasers, Captain, so long as we arenít at warp
and donít try to recycle quickly, but no photon torpedoes at all." His
words seemed to echo in the silence.
Steele turned to the Chief Security Officer, LCDR TíVal.
"I have not instituted a higher state of alert for the
department at this time, Captain. We have 100 percent of our personal weapons
allotment on board and 75 percent of our personnel. Without knowing more about
the situation on Webster, I am unable to address specific training needs.
However," she smiled faintly, "the Security Department is ready to
handle anything thrown at us, Sir."
Captain Steele nodded. "At least thereís some good
news. Commander Gordon?"
The Chief Medical Officer shook her head. "Not good,
Captain. Although all diagnostic programs are up and running, I have less than
35 percent of my allotted medical supplies. Unfortunately, the replicators
cannot duplicate my needs. If we get an influx of patients, Iím not sure how
weíll be able to cope. Iím still short several doctors and
CDR Stryker leaned forward. "Commander Gordon, what is
the status of the emergency first aid kits?"
"Theyíre all there, CommanderĖa full loadout."
What the First Officer was getting at suddenly dawned on her. She nodded
vigorously. "Yes, yes. Iíll have them stripped and the supplies
transferred to Sickbay."
"Iíd leave the ones in the Transporter Rooms,
Commander. We might need them, and the ones in the Hangar Bay," Stryker
"Weíre not sure how the Science Department can help in
this situation, Captain, but our people are standing by to help." LCDR
Gwawren sat comfortably in the chair developed by LT QaS. "We can augment
Medical if they need us. We also have several security-trained personnel in case
they need help."
"Good, Commander Gwawren. They might be needed."
She looked at LCDR Stringfellow Hawk the Chief Logistics Officer.
"Commander Hawk, what can you tell us about Logistics?"
Hawk sat up straighter in his chair and cleared his throat.
"Well, Maíam. . . ."
Steele frowned. "Commander, please donít Ďmaíamí
me. Sir will do just fine."
"Sir," Hawk hastily corrected himself. He cleared
his throat again. "I donít think we can help you a lot, Captain. Less
than half our personnel are aboard and," he got a dispirited look on his
face, "thereís not a lot Logistics can do in a situation like this. At
least I donít think there is."
"Just be available, Commander. You never know what
hidden talents you have that may be useful."
The vote of confidence made him feel better. "Yes, Ma―Sir!"
CAPT Talon Steele looked around at her senior officers.
"Weíre not useless, people, but weíre not completely ready. Weíll
have to do what we can with what we have. Until we know more about the
situation, thereís really not anything else we can do. What is our ETA?"
"Twenty-three hours, Captain," C. J. Sterling
"In that case, Iíd suggest we split our time between
doing what we can in our own departments and getting some sleep. It just might
come in handy in a couple of days." Steele took another look around the
table. "Any questions?" No one spoke.
SMIDGEN, USS PHOENIX
LCDR Spahn had an uncharacteristic frown on his face. It had
been there for hours. He stared at the Communications Console in SMIDGEN as
though he could force something out of it by will alone. He had been awake now
for over 24 hours and the strain was beginning to show. We will be in orbit
around the planet in three hours, and still I have no new information. He
sat down and rubbed his eyes. The voice of his Communications Officer droned in
the background as it had for hours, repeating the same phrase over and over.
"Planet Webster, this is USS PHOENIX on Channel 16, come
On the Main Bridge, Spahn knew that LT Tyler was doing the
same thing, but on difference subspace communications channels.
"Planet Webster, this is USS PHOENIX on Channel 16, come
in please. Planet Webster, this is USS PHOENIX onó"
The sudden silence brought CDR Spahn to his feet. The console
operator waived frantically and reached for a switch, which would activate a
It was weak, and static often drowned out the words, but
there was a voice nonetheless.
"PHOENIX, this is the Planet Webster. Security Officer
Johanna Melody here. Can you hear me?"
"Lock and enhance the signal," Spahn spoke rapidly.
"Webster this is PHOENIX. What is your status?"
"Chaos! The dead and dying are everywhere. No water,
food is scarce, and looting is widespread. We need help, PHOENIX!"
"Find the Captain and feed this to her, right now."
The Communications Watch Officer moved quickly to another
console and began to page Captain Steele.
"What has happened? Why are people dying?" Captain
Steeleís voice broke in.
"Thereís an epidemic of some kind spreading like
wildfire. I canít tell you much about it, Iím not a doctor, but my sister
is. Sheís here with me."
Another voice, just as strained and exhausted as the first,
came through the speaker.
"I am Doctor Elvira Mykos, Chief Surgeon at Harwood
Medical Center. I donít know where this came from, but itís pandemic."
The voice of CDR Jana Gordon broke in. "This is the
Chief Medical Officer of the PHOENIX. What are the symptoms?"
"No precursors. Sudden hemorrhaging from the nose,
mouth, ears, and eyes, followed by collapse, then catatonia. From onset of
symptoms to death is 24 hours. The morbidity rate is 90 percent."
"How is it transmitted?" CDR Gordon asked.
"Unknown, but I suspect itís airborne."
Captain Steele sat back in her chair and looked in dismay to
CDR Stryker sitting across the table from her.
"Commander, contact Third Fleet Headquarters. Institute
medical quarantine procedures immediately."
Stryker nodded and began the process of isolating the planet
Webster. When a planet is quarantined, no civilian ship is allowed within one
light year of the surface. All commerce is stopped. Even Starfleet vessels must
specifically request permission to come closer than one light year.
He contacted LT A. J. Tyler, the Chief Communications
Officer, on the Bridge. "Lieutenant Tyler, send this message to Third Fleet
Headquarters, Flash priority: ĎFrom Commanding Officer, USS PHOENIX. Medical
Quarantine Level 5 instituted on planet Webster effective immediately. USS
PHOENIX will take up station in orbit around Webster to provide assistance and
act as On-scene Commander. Additional details to follow.í Append a copy of our
conversation with the planet to that message. Begin transmitting standard
Weíve locked the barn doors. Hopefully, the horses are
still inside. Talon Steele thought as she listened to the continuing
conversation between the shipís CMO and Dr. Mykos. The language had become
highly technical, and Talon couldnít understand more than one word out of
four. But thatís O.K., Steele thought. I donít need to know all
the gory details.
"Level 5 quarantine established, Captain." Stryker
told her. "We have only one Class 6 Emergency Beacon on board." He
looked at her.
Steele nodded. No captain would voluntarily use the last
Emergency Beacon on board a ship except in the direst of circumstances. It meant
that the PHOENIX would have to remain in orbit around Webster until relieved,
but she had already decided to stay as long as necessary.
"Doctor Mykos, is there any information on Patient
Zero?" Jana Gordon asked. Patient Zero was the first patient showing
symptoms of a disease. Knowing who was first is extremely important in the
medical field. It could be a vital clue in combating or mitigating the disease
"I can answer that," Johanna Melody interrupted.
"Steffen Paul Heininger, a renown archeologist, was found dead in his hotel
room by a maid five days ago. Her death less than 24 hours later, the first
witnessed death, indicates that he was Patient Zero."
Another voice broke into the conversation. "This is
Commander TíVal, Chief Security Officer. Where had this Heininger person
"We donít know for sure. He arrived on planet a couple
of weeks ago and almost immediately set out for the area of the planet we call
ĎThe Outback.í I donít know if itís important, but he had a strange urn
in his room."
"An urn?" Captain Steele asked.
"Yes, an urn―an empty urn. One of our own
archeologists, our other sister, looked at it and couldnít identify it as
belonging to any known civilization." Johanna paused and, in a voice devoid
of emotion, said, "She died several hours later."
"Has the room been secured and left untouched?" TíVal
"Yes, just the body was removed and put in
Captain Steele thought for a moment, and then rejoined the
conversation. "Thank you, Johanna, Doctor Mykos. There are things I must
attend to. Give my officers all the information you can. Weíll be there in
less than three hours. By then, perhaps weíll have a plan put together.
Captain Steele out." She reached out and closed the communications circuit.
Lost in thought, Talon stared at Stryker without really
seeing him. Stryker recognized that the out-of-focus look in her eyes meant
Steele was thinking hard. He kept quiet, his own mind wrestling with
possibilities and alternatives. There was a lot to do, and not much time to do