Apologies for the lack of updates recently. A combination of odd shifts at work and writers block have stymied my writing efforts. So I'm just posting as much as I've done of the next part, in the hope that having something out there on the interwebs will trigger a burst of creativity.
It's got to be worth a try.
30th November 2151.
Councillor Vrok had been right on one count. Several Enterprise personnel had indeed visited Governor Trex's office. There had been no grand conspiracy to hide the truth, however. Archer simply thought it best to report their discoveries to the Governor as soon as possible, and in confidence. It would be up to the Denobulan leader to decide how best to proceed. After due consideration Trex decided that a full council meeting would be the appropriate response, and one was hastily convened.
The task of identifying the creature in the tunnels was given to Professor Partridge. The blood samples, along with scraps of skin apparently scraped off when the creature banged it's head, would be enough for a DNA analysis. Two facilities were available that would be more than adequate for such work, but whilst Enterprise's laboratories were state of the art---indeed, Partridge had designed them herself---she really did not fancy the journey back to the ship. That left Doctor Soong's lab. It was a simple matter to patch her communicator into the local comms net, so she called him up to explain the situation. Taking the call, Soong explained that he was not at the lab at the time, having dinner at a friend's house. He had almost finished, and would head straight back to activate the machinery in preparation for her arrival. They arranged to meet at the lab in about twenty minutes time.
Trex offered to put a land car at her disposal, but Partridge decided she would rather walk. The lab was not too distant from the Governor's office, and the apartment building where most of the humans lived was next door to that. A number of rooms had been assigned for the Enterprise people, so when she and Soong had finished she wouldn't have far to go. Besides, after so long cooped up aboard the ship, she wanted a change of scenery and a chance to stroll more than six paces without having to duck under some exposed piping. Taking her case with the samples she left the building around the same time the council meeting began.
Despite being named a 'city' the locale had more of a small town feel to it. Most buildings were low and squat, although the civic buildings were considerably larger. Denobulan architecture favoured soft curves instead of right angles at the corner, giving the surroundings a curiously organic aspect. This applied to the traffic layout too, with roads snaking sinuously around the buildings. A lot of thought had clearly been put into making the environment a pleasant one. The pavements were liberally decorated with plants, and walls had been painted with vibrant colours in a variety of styles. Some were abstract, others representing what she assumed to be significant people and events in Denobulan history.
Her path took her through what could loosely be called a down town district, lots of bars and restaurants. The crowds were thicker here, and she was pleased to receive numerous stares, some curious, some admiring. Music spilled through open doors and windows, accompanied by exotic scents. A rumbling from her stomach reminded her that she had not eaten since breakfast, and this morning felt a very long time ago. Glancing at her watch, she decided she had time for a quick bite to eat, and diverted through the nearest open doorway. On entering, she thought it looked more like a bar than a restaurant, but some people were eating. Snacks, rather than full meals, it looked like, but that would do.
At her entrance all conversation had ceased and all eyes turned towards her, as if she were a gun-slinger entering a saloon in an old western. A lot of people would be intimidated by such attention, but Professor Polly Partridge was not one of them. Looking round and smiling pleasantly she made her way to the bar.
"Good evening. Do you speak English?" she asked the woman behind the bar. At her look of polite incomprehension, she turned to address the crowd. "Hello, does anyone here speak English? No? Oh, botheration."
Casting her mind back to the formal dinner on the Enterprise, she tried to recall which Denobulan foods she had liked. "Ah...collex?" she hazarded, holding up three fingers.
"Colleex?" the bartender asked.
Polly nodded. "That's it, yes. Colleex. Also, guman juice. Guman?" She mimed drinking.
The drink arrived. She took a deep swig. It was most refreshing, rather like a non sparkling lemonade (she preferred the fizzy sort, but the Denobulans did not like carbonated drinks) with a hint of tangerine to it. Her food took a little longer, and when it arrived was not entirely like the meal she'd had on the Enterprise. There the colleex, a type of spiced sausage, had been served with vegetables. These ones came wrapped in flat bread, with a selection of condiments in small pots at the side of the plate. The aroma reminded her of just how hungry she was and she wolfed them down with great relish at the bar, not even bothering to get herself a seat.
After paying for the meal with a credit chit from the Governor's office, and being very relieved that it was accepted, as she hadn't been paying attention when the Captain gave it too her and had no idea what the upper limit was, she left and resumed her journey. The city, she decided, was a nice place to visit, though as she had yet to see what she considered the three most important signs of civilization--libraries, museums and dedicated shoe shops---she wouldn't want to live there. Maybe in a few years.
It was getting dark now, and the street lighting was coming on. Her path passed a small park, and on an impulse she entered it, finding a bench away from the lights. Wrapping her coat tightly around herself, for it was getting rather chilly, she leant back to watch the sky.
The Enterprise herself was clearly visible, a bright spot highlighted by the rays of the setting sun. As the light faded further the stars begun to appear. A beautiful view, and an eerie one, for whilst many of the stars themselves were familiar sights on Earth their positions here were new to her. It served to bring home just how far she was from the planet of her birth, and how this was only the second planet she had visited. She hoped she'd always feel this way, no matter how many worlds she travelled to.
Presently, the moon rose. It was three quarters full, and bright enough to dazzle when looked at directly. A surface of glass...the energy required to do that could be calculated, but not truly comprehended. Dust and rock melting in an instant, running like syrup under the relentless heat...And then there was this world, Herroton, which some how had weathered the storm, wounded, battered and bruised, yet still unfathomably alive. It should be a dead world, it's atmosphere ripped off into space, it's surface ravaged by unchecked radiation. Against all reason life had not merely survived, but flourished.
There was an electronic chirrup from her communicator. Fumbling through her pockets, she fished it out and flipped it open. "Ahoy-hoy!"
" It was Doctor Soong. "Are you alright? I was expecting you some time ago
"Oh, sorry. Lost track of time, thinking cosmic thoughts. You know how it is. I'm on my way."
Before leaving the park, she crouched and peeled off one glove, pressing her hand to the ground, feeling the life of the planet. Grass did not exist here, but a thick moss took it's place in the environment. It was slightly spongy, giving off a rich earthy smell when compressed. She smiled, stood, brushed her hand off against her coat, and set off. It was as she reached the exit from the park that the street lights began to flicker, before going out completely. So did the lights in all the buildings she could see. The brakes on a passing ground car screeched as the driver rapidly reduced his speed, and groans of disappointment and frustration came from nearby pedestrians. Many of them produced flash-lights, obviously well used to these blackouts. Partridge had come prepared too, though it took a few moments pocket slapping before she could find her own torch.
The combination of flash lights, moonlight, and the head lamps of passing vehicles made it bright enough to navigate. Soon she stood out side the low cluster of buildings used as laboratories by the human science team. She found Doctor Soong's and pressed the door bell automatically. Nothing happened. Realising her mistake, as the power was still off, she rapped hard against the door. After a few seconds with no apparent response, she raised her hand to knock again. The door swung open to reveal Soong with a portable lamp. He saw her, fist raised, and leapt back with a cry.
"Good grief, Polly, you frightened the life out of me!" he exclaimed. "I thought you were going to hit me again. OW!"
She had hit him again. Learning the lessons of the past, she'd employed an open handed slap to the face, rather than a punch. "Yeah, well, you deserve it." She pushed past him into the lab. "It's the least you deserve for your complete betrayal."
"Complete betrayal? Polly, if I didn't know of your propensity for hyperbole and melodrama, I might suspect that you had a propensity for hyperbole. And possibly melodrama. Look, let's go through to my office. I've got a battery powered camp stove there. We can sit down, have a cup of tea, and talk it over reasonably."
"Well, I do like tea...and being reasonable. OK."
The office was small, made smaller by a large desk, several bookcases, and a sofa. There were blankets and a pillow on the sofa. Partridge remembered Soong had always tended to work late, grabbing naps when he could. There wasn't much in the way of decoration, although she did spot a picture of the staff and pupils at the Institute, all those child geniuses and their tutors. Her own five year old face beamed back at her. She was still staring at it when Soong handed her a mug of tea.
"They were different times." he said, as much to break the silence as anything else.
"No. They were the same times. We were just different people." she sighed.
Soong thought about this. "I'm not sure I understand what you mean."
"Me neither. It sounded profound, though." She turned on him. "So why don't you tell me what really happened? Alex, Dave, Lucy...how come they got special treatment? When the Institute closed down you recruited several of my class mates for your special project. But not everyone. Not me. Why not? Weren't we good enough? Was I
not good enough?"
"It wasn't like that Polly."
"Then what was
He sighed, sat behind the desk, and gestured her to the chair opposite. She remained defiantly standing, jaw jutting forward. When it became obvious she was not going to accommodate him, he spoke. "The Institute was funded by private concerns as an educational system, to create the great scientists, military leaders, industrialists, economists, politicians and innovators of the future. What came after, what you call 'my' special project--it wasn't mine, not at all, though I was a large part of it--had a very different purpose."
Partridge's voice was carefully neutral. "I'm listening."
Soong sipped his tea. "You weren't picked, Polly, because you didn't fit the requirements. You scored too low on certain tests."
"What requirements? What tests?" she snapped.
"How has life treated you, Polly? Hmm? How have things been?"
Disorientated by the sudden change in the conversation, she blustered "Wha...what do you mean?"
"I've read your biography." Soong said, pointing to a bookcase, though in the half light she could not see if that tome was present or not. "Sounds like you had a bit of a rough time of things when you were working on your...what was it? Your third doctorate? Got more than a little stressed out. You got over it though. You threw off all those influences, all those voices telling you who you should be, and chose who you wanted to be. Chose how you wanted to present yourself to the world and forced it to accept you on your own terms."
Partridge wasn't sure where this was going, but could tell it was going somewhere. She sat in the chair.
Soong leant towards her, his voice low and earnest. "Those others, they needed help. You didn't. They cou...No, don't interrupt. You didn't need the help we were offering. I know you've had disagreements with your family, but they love and cherish you. They could afford to see to your education. They were always there for you. You know the others, know their backgrounds. Not everyone had those advantages. Some were orphans, some abandoned by parents frightened by their own children's abilities. And the tests I mentioned? Psychological instability. Oh, you push the envelope Polly, but you can operate in society. There was a seventy eight percent chance that David would have attempted suicide by the age of eighteen, if unsupervised, did you know that? No, of course you didn't. Many of the others...a similar story.
"And that's the truth, Polly. The 'special project' was educational, yes. We helped develop some brilliant minds. But mostly, we were looking after them. Caring for them. Those who wouldn't be able to cope, and who hadn't the sort of family that could help them develop."
That was news to her, stunning news. All her assumptions turned upside down. She barely noticed when main power came on. Soong asked for the samples, he could now run the tests. As if in a dream she handed them over, not responding to his enquiry as to if she wanted to help out. She had a lot to think over.