Pandemic
Up Phoenix Rising Pandemic Intruder Alert! Enya By Starlight Black Ice The HanIíRhy Mystery Passion Fruit The Object Tombstone Trek City Under Glass The Witch Hunt Spindizzy Turn Off the Lights Trekkin' Flying Cloud What The Hell's... Survival Of The Fittest On The Edge Candescium Blindsided Shore Leave Melissa Wells The Listening Post Nostalgia The Artifact The Darkness Within Let The Games Begin Enemy Action Here's Mud In Your Eye The Tungsten Factor Xanadu Sicilian Defense When Worlds Collide Color Of Justice The Gin Joint Sabotage It's About Time Papa The Willow Race

 

Table Of Contents

Mission #2: Pandemic

The contents of the Ship Logs are considered to be a "compilation" under the provisions of Title 17, U.S. Code (known as the Copyright Act): that is, "A work formed by the collection and assembling of preexisting materials or of data that is selected, coordinated or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship." As such, it is the property of the shipís Captain; however, automatic transfer of ownership to STARSHIPS OF THE THIRD FLEET is effected upon publication of this mission by the shipís Captain ipso facto.

As outlined in Circular 1 (Copyrighted Basics, Library of Congress, Washington DC, USGPO 1989-262-309/12), "copyrighted in each separate contribution to a periodical or other collective work is distinct from the copyright in the collective work as a whole and vests initially with the author of the contribution."

This mission may not be reproduced in any form without the express, written authorization of STARSHIPS OF THE THIRD FLEET.

Prologue

 

Steffen Paul Heininger reached for the coffee pot sitting on the open flames and poured himself another cup. Leaning against a tree stump, he watched the sun rise for the third time. Towering cirrocumulus promised a storm later in the day. Steffen didnít care. In fact, he didnít care about anything right now but enjoying the peace and quiet. The last few months had not been the best of his life. It wasnít bad enough that he had found his wife in bed with his "best friend." It was even worse when the unfaithful bitch won virtually everything he owned in the divorce. The crowing insult was when the Curator of the Evanoff Museum of Natural Science called him in and, with a quiet voice, told Steffen that his services as Chief Archaeologist were no longer needed. Steffen didnít remember everything the matronly Evelyn Hummel had said, but it had nothing to do with his work―Steffen Paul Heininger was still a well-respected scientist with a ďstellar reputation.Ē In fact, Steffen remembered with an angry frown, it had everything to do with him being divorced. What a divorce had to do with archaeology he wasnít sure, but it was evidently important to the Museum. Or, at least, it was to Evelyn Hummel. So, here he was, for the first time in 40 years, without a job. He reached for another cup of coffee. So who gives a damn?

He had left Alpha Beorne within a week, determined to go somewhere heíd never been before and do nothing but relax. The trip out aboard the passenger liner Stellar Starr had lasted two weeks. Two weeks cooped up. But now, now he was back where he belonged, with the sky and the trees and the rocks and the--No, he thought, thatís what was missing. There werenít any ruins for him to uncover. No secrets to find, no answers to discover. He reached into his pack and pulled out a map of the area. Smoothing it out on the still damp grass, he studied it.

There! Thatís were I would have built a city―at the confluence of those two rivers. 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. Where did 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 the containers?

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 ship.

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. There are still a lot of rough edges, which had better, smooth out pretty damned quick.

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 history.

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 you―thank you very much.

"Good morning, Captain. How are you on this fine, Starfleet day?"

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."

"Oh?"

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."

"Anything else?"

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 looks?Ē

"If itíll get you off the Bridge and into bed, Iíll take my chances." Stryker got serious for a moment. "I relieve you, Captain Steele."

"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 doors.

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?"

"Itís―itís―Ē

"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, Sir."

"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. 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 Jorge Sanchezís.

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, Sir."

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 an answer.

"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 get it."

"Warp power? But, Sir, weíre on two-hour standby."

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 out."

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 speakers.

"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 rapidly."

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 Operations?"

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.

"No, Sir."

"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 Captainís voice.

"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 understand. Continue."

"All replicators are on line as well, but our raw materials are in short supply. Iím not sure we can support too many more hungry mouths."

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 thought unfinished.

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 obviously worried.

"Weapons?" Strykerís question fell like a thunderclap.

"Weapons, Sir?"

"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. "Security?"

"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 technicians."

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 added.

"Yes, Sir."

"Science?"

"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 answered.

"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.

"Dismissed."

 

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 in please."

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 speaker.

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 interdiction message."

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 process.

"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 been?"

"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 asked.

"Yes, just the body was removed and put in quarantine."

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 it.