April 2008 Challenge - Real Science
Oranges and Lemons
USS Enterprise Stardate 41450.7 Chief Medical Officer's log, Beverly Crusher recording. The Enterprise has been tasked to provide emergency medical aid to an undercover first contact team on Rendalla V. I can only hope that the message has been garbled in some way because we've been told they have some sort of local plague.
It would be six hours before the Enterprise got to Rendalla V, even at high warp, so Beverly Crusher settled herself at her desk and resolved to spend that time researching as much as possible about Rendalla and its native species.
* * *
As soon as the Enterprise entered orbit of Rendalla V, Captain Picard contacted Captain Kitchener, captain of the USS Telford. The Corps of Engineers’ ship had brought the first contact team to Rendalla V and had remained in orbit ever since. Picard invited Kitchener over to the Enterprise to lead the initial briefing on their mission.
Worf, La Forge, Riker, Data, Troi and Crusher were already in the briefing room when Picard entered with Captain Kitchener. Very tall and rake thin, Kitchener walked slightly stooped, probably from constantly having to duck through doorways - the rumour was the Telford had been specially outfitted with taller corridors to fit him. Picard introduced his crew and then handed the briefing over to Kitchener.
Kitchener sighed, "It's been a mess from the start," he spoke with a deep voice, hoarse from lack of sleep. "The Tellarite Cruiser Ma'Roq crashed into Rendalla V. They're an agrarian pre-warp society. We were called in to clean up the wreck of the ship and a First Contact team went in to the closest village - Tanda-Streq, High Hill in the local language - to see if anyone had seen the crash and if they were affected by it." Kitchener yawned, "Sorry, we've been pulling double shifts to clear this up as quickly as possible."
"The First Contact team are reported to be suffering from a plague," Crusher interrupted. "Are any of your crew sick?"
Kitchener shook his head. "My crew have been spending as little time as possible on the planet to minimize chances of being seen. We haven't felt any ill effects at all. I got our medic to run diagnostic scans on us when we heard the reports of sickness. He says we're all healthy. I'll get him to send you the scans."
Crusher nodded her thanks and turned to Picard, "Captain I'm going to have to go down onto the planet to see the First Contact team."
"What about the risk to our people?" Worf asked.
"We won't be there long," Crusher reassured him, "and if no-one on the Telford has got this sickness then it's unlikely that we'll be affected in the time that we're there." She tapped her PADD on the briefing table, "I have to see them. We can’t just beam them out of there because of the Prime Directive, so I have to go to them."
Picard nodded, "Agreed. You'll need to amend your appearance to look like a Rendallan native," he looked over to Worf, "which unfortunately rules you out for duty here Lieutenant."
Worf growled in his throat but nodded. "Ensign Fraser will accompany the away team."
Picard turned to Riker, "Doctor Crusher will be in charge from a medical standpoint, Commander, but I want you to lead the away team."
Riker nodded, "Understood." He looked around the room, "We'll keep the team small; me, Fraser, Doctor Crusher and Counselor Troi."
Picard agreed, "Make it so Commander."
* * *
Down on the planet, the away team made their way slowly towards the village.
"I sure would feel safer with at least a tri-corder," Fraser commented.
Riker grinned, "Me too, but the rules are very strict - nothing on the planet that doesn't match their technology. Count yourself lucky, Rendallans are pretty similar to humans, only these brow ridges and the skin pigment needed adding, it could be worse... a lot worse."
Crusher sighed, "I should be grateful that they've discovered a good level of medical tools. At least we aren't dealing with leeches."
They were getting close to the village, Riker held up his hand to stop the conversation.
"Okay everyone," he said quietly, "We're friends of Droanth - that's the name the leader of the First Contact team is using. We're from his village Matta-Hran. We've heard he was sick so have come to see him. The simple rule here is: if you're not sure of something, do nothing and say nothing until we are alone."
Crusher, Troi and Fraser nodded. Riker led the way into the village. The main section of habitation was a collection of houses along a wide street. Riker saw signs hanging from the doors of the houses indicating they were businesses of various types. There were several people going about their day on the street, glancing at the away team but no-one seemed alarmed at the sight of strangers. Riker and Troi had already agreed that she would be the least threatening of the team so she should make the first approach to the villagers. He nodded to her.
Troi went over to a woman who was walking close by. She smiled pleasantly and held her hand palm up under her chin as was the local custom for greeting.
"Forgive me for approaching," Troi said carefully, "We are from Matta-Hran. Our friend Droanth is visiting here and we heard he was sick. Do you know where he is?"
At Troi's use of the name Droanth, the woman's pale green skin went white and she took a step backwards. She pointed to a large building behind her, "Church" she said and then hurried off.
Troi looked at Riker and shrugged, "I think she's worried we are also infected. There's a definite fear associated with Droanth and the town of Matta-Hran."
"We need to get this sorted out soon before word really does spread," Riker said quietly.
The away team walked to the church and saw that there was a single storey building next to it. Riker was about to enter the church itself when Crusher pulled on his arm, she pointed over to the other building. Entering there was a Rendallan man carrying a tray holding plates of food.
"I bet that's the patients' lunch," she whispered. "They must be using that building as a hospital."
Riker nodded, "Good spot, Doctor. Let's go."
Troi once again led the way and when they caught up with the Rendallan man, she repeated the story about being friends from Matta-Hran. He nodded and looked them over speculatively.
"Interesting," he said. "You all look healthy. But then so did Droanth and his friends when they first arrived"
He led them over to the four beds. Fraser gasped when he saw the men lying in the beds, they had dark spots on their skin and inflamed wounds on their arms, blood was coming from their ears and nose and their breathing was ragged and strained. Riker, Troi and Fraser sat at the bedside of Droanth. Crusher hung back and spoke to the Rendallan man.
"Are you their doctor?" she asked.
The man sighed, "As close to one as they're going to get," he said. "I'm Hedrek Matupa, the minister here but I have a little medical training. It suffices for every day problems. Once these men started showing signs of some strange plague I knew there was little to be done. I've been keeping them comfortable as best I can."
Crusher nodded, "And we thank you for it. I'm a doctor back in Matta-Hran. Could you tell me how they got sick?"
Matupa rubbed his brow, "We don't know. They arrived three weeks ago and seemed perfectly healthy. Traders they said they were, looking for new business possibilities. They'd been here ten days when they started complaining of sickness."
"Would it be all right if I examined them?" Crusher asked.
Matupa nodded, "Go right ahead.” He waved his arm towards the beds. “We're not too proud to accept outside help when it's offered."
Crusher smiled, "I hope I can help. Thank you for looking after our friends."
Crusher went over to Riker, "I've got permission from the minister to examine the men," she said in a low voice.
Riker nodded and stepped back to give her room. As she started to examine Droanth, Riker turned to Troi. "I'll stay here with Dr. Crusher, you two talk to the other patients. We'll meet up outside."
Troi nodded and led Ensign Fraser over to the next bed.
Crusher reached into her bag and pulled out a stethoscope. Putting the tips into her ears, she pressed the base to Droanth's chest and listened to him breathe.
* * *
Outside the hospital, the away team gathered for a meeting. Crusher and Troi sat on one of the benches by the garden, Fraser stood guard behind them, and Riker paced in front.
Troi spoke first, "The first contact team are suffering a lot of stress. They feel very isolated. They cannot understand why they alone are sick and why it hasn't affected either the Rendallans or the Engineers team."
Crusher nodded, "I can't figure that out either. My research before we arrived showed the Rendallans to be close enough in physiology to us that a disease that affects us should affect them too. And someone from the Telford’s crew should be affected for all that they didn't stay on the planet much."
Troi looked at Riker, "Droanth's team believe they've been poisoned by the Rendallans, although they don't have any idea why. They think they are dying - which means they are losing interest in protecting the Rendallans from cultural contamination. We could have a real problem here soon."
"We already do," Crusher interjected. "Commander, these men are dying and there's nothing I can do here. I need to get them back to the ship. Immediately."
"Do you know what they are suffering from?" Riker asked.
Crusher shook her head, "No, but I can tell that there's fluid in their lungs which is impeding their breathing, and going by the bleeding in their nose, ears and mouth, I'd guess it's blood in their lungs.” She paused, “If I don't get them proper care, they'll drown in their own blood."
Riker stared up at the sky in thought. "How can we get them out without breaking protocol?" he mused.
"Maybe the minister would lend us a hand cart?" Fraser suggested, "I've done historic recreations back home and we use them then. You can get them big enough to hold the four patients and the Commander and I could pull it out of the village. I wouldn't want to do it for long, but we could get them out of sight of anyone here easily enough."
Riker nodded, "Good suggestion, Ensign. You go with Counselor Troi and arrange it with the minister. Dr Crusher and I will go and explain this to our patients."
Riker led the way back into the hospital and, after checking that Matupa wasn't around, went with Crusher to speak to Droanth and the others.
Speaking quickly and in a low tone, Crusher explained to Droanth what she had discovered so far and reassured him that they were going to take them all back to the Enterprise. Droanth sank back onto the bed in relief.
"Thank God," he whispered. He started coughing and grabbed a cloth to cover his mouth. When the coughing fit finally passed and he set the cloth down, Crusher could see that it was speckled with blood.
Crusher took his hand, "Just hold on a little while longer. We'll get you out of here."
Crusher went to each man in turn and explained the plan to take them all back to the Enterprise. The overall weakness of the patients was alarming to her and she hoped she was convincingly hopeful to each of them when they asked her if she knew what was wrong with them. The truth was that she had no idea, but at least once they were all back on the ship she could run proper tests.
* * *
Once they were all back aboard the Enterprise, Crusher ran every test she could think of on the four men of the First Contact team. There were no viral pathogens, no alien bacteria, and no sign even of any antibodies to indicate their bodies were attempting to fight a disease. Crusher was stumped.
Finally she gave up on the tests and went back to her office. "Computer," she said leaning back in her chair, "List all conditions that affect humans and carry these symptoms: spots on the skin, bleeding from the mouth and nose, internal bleeding into the lungs."
The list that the computer provided was a long one, there was nothing particularly unique about any of the symptoms - what was strange here was how this team of Starfleet officers who were previously at the peak of fitness should get sick while no-one else did.
Crusher rubbed her temples, the words were beginning to blur in front of her. She really did not want to believe Droanth's accusation that the Rendallans had poisoned them but what else was there?
And there it was.
At the bottom of the list:
A condition so old that few people on earth had suffered from it in nearly six hundred years and yet it was very simple to succumb to and thankfully, equally easy to treat.
Crusher tried not to get her hopes up too high. After all, she hadn't actually proved that it was scurvy, but it fit the criteria. Since it was caused by a lack of vitamin C rather than a disease, there were no pathogens for the scanners to detect. There was no disease for the engineers or the Rendallans to contract. And it explained why the Telford’s crew hadn't got sick - they were minimizing their time on the planet, which meant they would be eating aboard the Telford.
Luckily, the cure for scurvy was simply to replenish the body's supply of vitamin C - something that was already happening naturally now that the men were eating ship's food, and something that wouldn't do them any harm even if it turned out they were suffering from something else.
Crusher took a deep breath, time to see if she was right, "Computer. Access flora and fauna details from Rendalla V. Search for the presence of Vitamin C in the food chain."
Working... There is no Vitamin C naturally occurring on Rendalla V
That was it.
Crusher knew that the human body needed regular doses of vitamin C from food. Without it, the body ran out of its supply very quickly and caused scurvy. The first contact team had been without the vitamin for three weeks.
Crusher strode out of her office, calling for Nurse Ogawa.
"Alyssa, start all of the patients on 6,000 mg of vitamin C immediately."
Ogawa was bemused, but nodded and attended to the task. Crusher went over to Droanth, or Philip Samuels as she needed to get used to calling him.
"When you were preparing to go down on to Rendalla V did you have time to do a full dietary analysis of Rendallan food?" she asked.
Samuels shook his head, "There wasn't time. We needed to be planet-side as soon as possible, so I got the doc on the Telford to make sure nothing was poisonous and left it at that. We weren't going to be there that long, I thought we'd be okay."
* * *
Two weeks later, the first contact team was recovering well and the Telford had finished clearing the wreckage of the Tellarite ship. Samuels and his men had transferred back onto the Telford to go back to Starbase 45.
Picard leaned back in his chair in the ready room and looked over at Crusher, "So, Doctor, tell me how they got sick?"
Crusher sighed, "A classic case of trying to do something too quickly and not preparing well enough. The first contact team needed to get down into Tanda-Streq as soon as they could, so Samuels didn't wait for a full analysis of the food they'd be eating as natives, he settled for knowing nothing was actually poisonous. Well, nothing was. But there was also nothing that contained any vitamin C. Humans need vitamin C but our bodies can't produce it, we have to get it all from our food. Most animals on earth can produce their own, it's only humans, simians and a few others that can't. I guess the Rendallans can also produce the enzymes to create the vitamin in their livers or kidneys - we don't know enough about them yet to be able to say."
"Are you saying those men almost died because they didn't eat enough oranges?" Picard said incredulously, he shook his head, "It sounds like something out of a pirate story!"
Crusher laughed, "Luckily eating oranges is all it takes to cure them as well - they should all make a full recovery."