UES Enterprise. Orbiting Galador III.
Captain's Log. October 15th 2151.
The Enterprise has taken up geostationary orbit around the newly discovered third planet. Due to the relative position of the worlds in this system, it will be quicker to head here and then proceed to the battle site near Galador V than the other way round. Commander Hernandez is clearly frustrated by this change of plan, but appreciates the value of this discovery. It occurs to me that there may be a way to kill two birds with one stone...
Hernandez had tried being polite, she'd tried being reasonable. Neither had worked, so she changed tack. "Now look here, mister. I'm the XO on this ship. When Captain Archer isn't around, I give the orders. Understood? Now get out of that damned chair!"
The object of her ire lifted his head and regarded her impassively for a moment before yawning openly. He then returned to the task that had so engrossed him, nuzzling his groin.
Hernandez rolled her eyes in frustration, and glanced over to Sato, who was grinning broadly. The communications officer bent down and clicked her fingers. "Porthos!"
The beagle looked around at the sound of his name, then jumped down and trotted over to Sato, who picked him up and scratched behind the ears. "Good dog! You're a good dog, aren't you boy?"
The commander nodded in thanks and sat down. She squirmed slightly in the seat. "Ewwww. Dog-warm." she said.
The green blue globe of Galador III took up half the view screen. Amazing to think that it hadn't been discovered before. Though admittedly
, she thought, we had our hands full last time we were here. I wonder if the Axanar know about it? Almost certainly. They've sent at least one survey mission here. Of course, the current regime has a more....isolationist stance than the last lot. They're consolidating, not expanding. So perhaps they're not interested. Not yet, anyway.
She found herself staring intently at one spot on the screen. At this distance Galador V, a gas giant almost the size of Jupiter, was no more than a particularly bright dot. Unbidden, names and faces came to her, friends and shipmates she'd not thought about in years. Not allowed
herself to think about. She blinked back a sudden tear, looking furtively around to see if anyone had noticed.
Gradually she became aware of a warm pressure against her leg. Porthos was up on his back paws, front ones on the chair, trying to push her away with his head. She reached down and picked him up so she could stare him straight in the eye. "I don't know. Your owner seems to have a thing for letting waifs and strays onto the bridge. Complete disregard for procedure, that's what it is. Isn't it?" she said with mock severity.
"I do hope you're not planning your mutiny just yet, Maria." Archer said, entering through the aft hatch. He'd caught her words to Porthos.
"No sir, not yet." Hernandez said, standing. "My horoscope says I should put off any changes at work till next month." She put the dog down. In a flash it was back on the chair.
"Good, I'll mark it in my diary."
"Anything interesting sir?" Sato asked.
He nodded. "The planetary science lab are collecting a great deal of data. The first two landers are down. Based on their findings, it's looking good. Almost certainly habitable, at least in the short term. We don't know about disease risks yet, that'll take a while to verify." He paused, and rubbed the back of his neck, thoughtfully. "Maria, I know this isn't really your cup of tea, but surveys are a vital part of our mission. Why don't you head on down to the lab? Have a look at what goes on, get a feel for it."
She wasn't enthusiastic, but could see the sense in his suggestion. "Yes sir."
As she left she had to smile at the sound of Archer trying to coax his dog from the chair.
Planetary Science was one of several labs squeezed into a cramped area not really designed for such use. In regular, military Declaration class ships this area was storage for orbital bombardment missiles. When Enterprise was re-tasked for exploration there'd been some considerable modifications made. Even so the whole section had an unfinished, jury rigged look to it. In addition to the usual pipes and conduits that could be found in the ships typical corridors these had a mass of snaking cables, for both power and data. Most of the walls were bare metal, and there were only about half as many light fittings as in the rest of the ship.
The hatch to the lab was propped open, and as Hernandez approached it became obvious why. It looked like almost every member of the civilian science group was crammed within, several sweating profusely. As she entered she was hit by a wall of heat. A ceiling fan struggled valiantly to keep the room habitable.
Several console units with integral displays all faced a large, wall mounted screen. This currently showed a multicoloured bar chart, constantly altering itself. Exactly what it indicated was lost on Hernandez. Over the screen a cluster of clocks showed different times. The largest one was set to Enterprise time. She guessed that the ones marked 'PP1' and 'PP2' meant planetary probe-one and -two respectively. Certainly the times displayed corresponded to the time elapsed since they'd landed, as far as she could tell. The third clock, 'PP3', displayed a flashing line of zeros.
She spotted Jeff Murry at one of the consoles near the door, someone she knew from the regular Catholic meeting group. A small skinny man, he was bald on top with thick white hair at the back and sides, like some one had partially draped a small woollen scarf around a hard boiled egg. She tapped his shoulder. "Hi."
"Oh, hi Maria. This is a bit off your beaten track, isn't it?" he said.
"Yeah, I thought it would be smart to get used to this sort of thing, you know. If I'm going to be on an exploration ship, I should know the ropes."
He looked at her with a hint of amused scepticism. "You
thought that? I must admit, I am surprised. None of us had you pegged for any interest in anything scientific. Especially
as, when Captain Archer was here, he said he'd send you down to have a look. Said it would do you some good."
"Oh really? Well, as it happens I'd already decided to come here." she said, with forced conviction. "And, don't forget, I do have a physics degree, yeah? So I'm not exactly unscientific."
"You're a gunnery officer, Maria. A degree in physics is a requirement. It's not nessacarily an indication of an enquiring mind."
She waved that away. "All right, all right, I'm here under orders and threat of court martial, I admit it. Happy now? So, what are
Jeff pointed to his screen, which displayed a number of faintly glowing solid circles. "OK. Each of the landers have a number of these on board, bio-sample discs. They're an advanced form of the Petri dishes you'd have used in biology class at school. Assuming you attended those classes." he added with a grin.
She shot him a killer look. "Keep that up, sunshine, and I'll slap the marrow out of your bones. So you're checking for micro organisms then."
"In a nut shell, yes. These ones are exposed briefly to the atmosphere, and these ones have samples of local vegetation. Each lander's got a remote arm to pick up samples. And these two are kept sealed."
"The control experiment?" she asked, and got a pleased nod in return. She gestured to the screen. "None of them seem to be showing much activity."
He shrugged. "Well, the lander has only been down a little while. It'd take a day or two before we can pull in any significant data, really. Then we'll know if it's safe down there. There are samples of anti bacterial agents on board the lander. We can add these to the bio discs and see how our medicines affect things."
The intricacies of scientific surveys was not a subject that had ever concerned her before. Despite this, she found herself interested. Exploration. She didn't share their enthusiasm, the UESPAs and the scientists, but she could understand it. And each of these consoles were running their own different experiments. They must be learning a lot.
"Complements of the captain!" a voice called. Hernandez turned to see crewman Daniels in the hatchway, lugging a heavy ice box. There were smiles and thanks, even a few cheers, as he started handing round soft drinks. She took a Coke gratefully, gulping it down.
"Sure is hot in here."
Jeff nodded. "Lots of equipment in too small a space. We're going to have to find a better way of doing this."
"Jeff! How's it going?" said Professor Partridge, approaching them. She had a bottle of lemonade in her hand. "And Commander Maria! How good to see you. Have you come to expand your comprehension as to the function of our activities related upon this occasion as to empirical observation and it's place within the realms of natural philosophy?"
Hernandez blinked. "Err, pardon?"
"I asked, are you here to get all learned up about science?"
"Ah, yes. It's quite interesting, actually."
"Hmm, you needn't sound so surprised."
Murry gestured to his display. "The preliminary readings. Too early for anything significant, of course."
"Of course." Partridge agreed. She glanced at the screen and tapped one of the circles. "Although you may want to keep an eye on this sample. Give it point five milligrams of inaprovaline in about, well, an hour should do it."
He examined the display carefully for a moment. "Oh yeah..." he smiled as he realized what she was aiming at.
Hernandez peered closer. She couldn't spot anything different about that sample. "Is there any point my asking what's so special about that one?"
"Well I could explain," Partridge said evenly, "but I calculate a seventy eight point four per cent chance that you'd lose interest in the first two minutes."
"Two minutes eh? How long would the full explanation take?"
"Until about, er, let's see, what time is it now? Yeah, if I explained the whole thing, and you got it first time so I didn't have to repeat myself, I reckon we'd have it covered by Thursday next."
"I'll give it a miss then." Hernandez took another swig of her Coke. "God, it's hot in here. Aren't you roasting
in that outfit?" She gestured to Partridge's rubbery black catsuit.
Partridge shrugged. "Hey, I look good in it."
That, Hernandez noted, wasn't actually an answer to her question. She felt some slight satisfaction at the fact that, for all her aplomb, the scientist did look rather flushed, and there was a faint sheen on her brow. Though she was dismayed to admit it, Hernandez couldn't deny a tiny, tiny iota of jealousy at Polly's glamour and poise. Sweating slightly showed she was mortal.
A high pitched beeping came from the third clock. A two minute countdown started. Partridge put her bottle down and clapped for attention.
"Alright people, secure all stations. Lander three is on final approach, put all non essential work on hold. Yes
Simon, I'm looking at you! If anything goes wrong with the automatics we'll have to use the manual over ride to take her in. So I don't want the band width clogged up with anything else. Trev, you stand by on manual, just in case."
The main screen flickered, becoming an aerial shot of a rolling plain. To the east lay a thick forest, to the west an undulating river that widened to a lake further south.
"Looks like Earth." Hernandez murmured.
"Quite similar, yes." Partridge agreed. "The first two landers have found chlorophyll in plant life, hence the green hue."
Brow furrowing, Hernandez asked "That's a bit of a coincidence, isn't it? The same compound present on two different worlds, light years apart. Or is this the part where you give the 'the laws of science are universal, there's only a limited number of was things can develop' speech?"
"You're learning. On almost all the M-class worlds we know of, plant life uses chlorophyll. There's actually been some interesting speculation about that, related to the preponderance of left handed amino acids in living things, and there you go, your eyes are already beginning to glaze over. You know, I really must time how long it takes, one of these days, and perhaps write a monograph upon it. 'Some observations as to the boredom threshold of a Fleet officer'. Did you know the first recorded use of the word 'boredom' was in Dicken's Bleak House
? Have you ever read it, by the way? It's one of---"
"Oh, good grief!" Hernandez interrupted. "Here's an idea for an experiment, see how long a scientist can just shut up!" Despite her words there was enough levity in her tone to avoid giving offence.
"Sorry. Sorry. I do tend to get chatty when nervous. Or excited. Or bored. It's not irritating though, not really. You may think it is, but you are wrong. It's actually quite an endearing trait, because basically everything I do is brilliant and everyone likes me."
The commander stared at her for a moment. "I can never work you out. Are you for real or is it just an act?"
Partridge leant closer as if imparting some great secret. "If it is
an act," she observed, tapping the side of her nose, "it's a very convincing one."
"Thirty seconds." announced Trev, the scientist at flight control.
Hernandez pointed to the screen. "Looks like there's a boulder in the projected landing site. I suggest you divert ten meters north, that looks clear."
"Yeah, I see it." Trev said. "Diverting north. Twenty seconds."
On the screen small grey shapes could just be made out, darting frantically into concealment.
"We seem to have upset the locals." Polly observed.
"Ten seconds....five....contact lights green! We have touchdown!." There was a cheer from the various scientists, and applause. Hernandez was somewhat startled when Partridge suddenly hugged her.
"Alright everybody! Trev, secure the flight systems. Once that's done we can get on with the good stuff!" Partridge said. She picked up a communications hand set from the nearest console and typed in the code for the bridge. "Hoshi, hi, it's Polly. Yeah, let John know probe three is down safely, would you? OK, bye bye now."
The assorted scientists were now busy at work, doing...whatever it was they did. Hernandez drained her Coke, and looked around for another. No sign of Daniels, or the ice box. Sticking her head out of the hatch she saw it just outside. She stepped out, moving to one side of the hatchway so she couldn't be seen, and loosened her uniform tunic. "That'll need changing." she muttered. She could feel, and smell, the sweat underneath. Not nice.
After a few moments to let cool air reach her she refastened her tunic---it wouldn't do to be seen in less than immaculate condition--- and picked out a new Coke. Holding the bottle to her blazing brow she went back in. Partridge had moved closer to the viewscreen. She was studying it intently, whilst chatting to a colleague about a slight magnetic variance they'd detected, and whether it indicated the presence of ferrous materials.
Suddenly a dark mass manifested itself on the screen. Polly, who'd been leaning close at the time, let out a yelp of pure fear and leapt backwards, onto a sitting position on top of the console behind her. For a moment she balanced precariously, before tipping backwards with a wail. Hernandez, and a couple of the nearest scientists, rushed forward to grab her before she cracked her skull on the deck.
"Whooah! Woo! Oh, all the blood's rushing too my head!"
"Don't worry, well get you upright." Hernandez said, fixing one of the scientists with a lethal glare. Whilst he'd undoubtedly helped arrest the Professor's fall, there was no longer any need for him to keep his hands where they were. He caught her look and let go guiltily.
"Thanks." Partridge said, when vertical once more. She took a few deep breaths. "Scared the stuffing out of me. What was that thing?"
Whatever it was had disappeared from view, but it was an easy matter to replay the footage. The thing's appearance was so sudden Partridge flinched even though she now expected it. It was a shapeless, amorphous mass, no detail, just a blur of grey and brown...
And then, abruptly, it formed into something tangible. It was too close
, Hernandez realised, the camera needed a moment to focus. "Looks like a meerkat." she said, thinking of the creatures she'd seen on survival training. "Or maybe a mongoose."
"It does, doesn't it? With perhaps a hint of a ferret in there, as well. The first animal life discovered here. Now what's he doing?" Partridge asked, as the creature bared his teeth. "Ah, he's seen his reflection. Probably thinks it's a rival. Ow! Now that must have hurt!" The creature had banged it's nose on the camera lens.
The creature swarmed upwards, but now others of it's kind were coming into view. Though clearly cautious, they also seemed curious about the lander. Hernandez looked around. The scientists all seemed spellbound by the sight, chattering away excitedly about taxonomic classification, evolutionary development and so on. She suddenly felt very depressed. The Enterprise already had a mission in this system. OK, yes, she could see the value of this work, but right now it looked to be no more than a distraction. What was it Jeff had said? A day or two before they had useful data and knew if it was safe. And if it was safe, there was no way Captain Archer would ignore this. No, a full exploratory party, at the very least. He'd probably want to spend a few days there, treat it as a camping trip. And that would mean more delays.
Again,in the blink of an eye, she saw the faces of her friends, friends she'd lost on the earlier mission. They seemed to be waiting.
Waiting for her.