30th November 2151.
"Polly, come look at this! Polly! Stop moping!"
Professor Partridge drew herself up from her reverie. "I am not moping." she stated, sharply. Taking a sip of tea---it was still warm, only a couple of minutes had passed---she stood and turned to Doctor Soong. "What is it?"
"Come see for yourself." he replied, darting back into the main lab. She followed, nursing her tea.
With the power back on, the lab was revealed to be an eclectic mix of cutting edge equipment and elaborate jury rigged components. The companies that funded the expedition must have provided the very latest technology, she reasoned, but this far from home if something did fail spare parts would be difficult to come by. Improvisational repairs were the order of the day. Still, the main display screen was in full operating condition. A DNA double helix danced and swirled on it, almost obscured by the message 'NO MATCH FOUND' in bold green letters.
"Nothing?" she asked. "How comprehensive is your library?"
Soong shook his head sadly. "Nowhere near as it should be. There's not been a fully detailed examination of this world, much less a total genome mapping. But we have checked every life form we can find within a hundred kilometres of here, and this does not match any of them."
Partridge keyed in the code for Captain Archer on her communicator. "Better tell Johnny about this. Just a thought, but can we be certain it's native to this world?"
"Pretty much. There are a lot of genetic markers that I've only ever seen here. A lot of them. I'd say the possibility of this being of non-Herroton origin is negligible."
"So in that case we---Hello? Johnny, it's me. We've just finished the tests, the creature is not in the data banks, completely unknown. If we---what? OK, hold on, I'll ask." She looked at Soong. "Uncle Arik, is there any possibility, any possibility at all, that this is a mahwee?"
"None. The mahwee are on file, any resemblance would be flagged."
She said "That's what I thought. But could we double check? Apparently it's a matter of some importance in the Council Chamber right now."
With a shrug he tapped at the keyboard. The flashing message disappeared and a second DNA strand popped up by the first. Rapidly the two scrolled up the screen, segments flashing to indicate area of high similarity. But it was obvious within seconds there weren't enough similarities, even before the machine had finished it's run and announced 'NO MATCH FOUND' once more.
"Nope, definitely not a mahwee John. And right now I have no idea what it could be. There's whole segments of it's DNA that are totally bizarre. This certainly requires...oh, OK. I'll talk to you later then. Bye." She closed the communicator. "Well, from what Johnny says, they're having a bit of a ruckus at the chambers. Seemed convinced the mahwee were responsible, so I'm guessing our news will set the cat amongst the proverbials."
"But the mahwee have always been harmless." Soong said. "How can anyone think they're involved?"
"Search me. But if we can be sure that they are not involved, that raises more questions." She tapped the DNA image on the screen. "Just who are you? Where did you come from? What were you doing in the underground complex? Come to think of it, if there's only one way in, how did you get there without being detected?"
"Three possibilities spring to mind." Soong mused. "They're stealthy enough to get in past security. They were down there before the security was put in place. Or---"
"There is another way in there." Partridge finished. She drained her tea."I'm going to have to consider this. It is quite a three pipe problem."
"A three pipe---oh, Polly. Don't tell me you've started smoking."
Partridge produced a brown paper bag from a coat pocket. "Nope. I've always liked liquorice. Try one, they're rather good."
Soong waved the bag away. "I'll pass, thanks. I'm old enough to be wary of sudden risks to the digestive system."
She chewed the confectionery thoughtfully, pacing around the room. Her path took her to a glass fronted display cabinet. A large skull looked back at her. "What's this?" she asked, pointing with the stem of the liquorice pipe.
"That? Ah, appropriately enough, that's a mahwee skull. The poor fellow was hit by a car and died a couple of years ago. Very unfortunate, but it did give us an opportunity to examine the anatomy in some detail."
Opening the case, Partridge lifted the skull out. "Alas, poor Yorrick! I knew him Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest...." Trailing off, her brow furrowing, she turned it over in her hands. Something was....not wrong, but out of kilter in some vague yet fundamental way.
"You see it, don't you?" asked Soong carefully. "Something unusual you just can't put your finger on. Look at the next one along."
There was another, smaller skull there. She picked it out, comparing it with the one she already held. "Same genus, different species, I'd hazard. Bearing a similar relation to the mahwee as chimpanzees do to orang-utans back on Earth."
"That's what we thought too, when we found that. Except we've never seen anything like that round here. Anywhere in fact. What ever it is, it appears to be extinct. That skull was discovered during excavation for construction work."
"An ancestor perhaps? There are enough similarities."
Doctor Soong pulled up a chair, wincing as it scraped loudly on the floor. "Sure looks that way. But how old an ancestor?"
"For this sort of development, call it around five, maybe six thousand generations. How old do mahwee get?"
He said "Life span is forty to sixty years, as far as we can tell, but no one's been here long enough to verify that first hand. Reproduction usually starts at around twenty years, we think."
She held up the smaller skull. "So this chap here must be around a hundred thousand years old. Which puts him squarely between the mass extinction event and now. Except...no. He, or she, begging your pardon ma'am, if you are a ma'am...this one is smaller, which almost inevitably means a shorter lifespan. So....very
provisionally, without more data, I'd say about sixty to eighty thousand years."
"According to our best dating techniques, and the depth at which the remains were discovered, that skull is some ten thousand years, at the most."
"What?! That's absurd. It can't be an ancestor then. This amount of development in that amount of time? No way."
Soong chuckled. "Our financial backers are very keen to keep things quiet, until they've worked out if there is a profit to be made. That's probably why you've not heard about this before now. But there must have been a leak somewhere, because we got a group of creationists here a while back convinced that the mahwee proved evolution wrong."
"Oh, I wish I'd been here to see that. I love creationists. I can point and laugh at them for hours. No, this has got to be a different species, one that's died out. That's what species do, as a rule." She put the smaller one back, looked at the mahwee again. "Still, that gets me thinking, the mahwee's ancestors must have been pretty well developed when the extinctions occurred. Certainly it's taxonomic family survived, probably it's genus. Anything less closely related couldn't evolve to the present form, not in this time span."
Soong stood, pressing a hand to the small of his back. Partridge looked over in concern, and asked "Are you OK?"
"Yes, yes. Just the odd twinge. If you'll excuse the banality of the statement, I'm not as young as I was. Now, here's something you will find interesting. As I say, there's never been a full examination of life on this world. But what studies there have been have shown something...well, see for yourself." He tapped at the keyboard. A wire-frame image of Herroton appeared on the screen, slowly spinning. The geographical features were plainly visible. Scattered, apparently randomly, across the world were a number of pulsing red dots. No, Polly realized, not entirely randomly. They only appeared on land, and in the warm and temperate zones. As the globe turned she noted that one of the spots was located almost exactly on Herroton City.
"What is this?" she asked.
"This is the location of every known mahwee group. And I'm not surprised you look shocked."
"Shocked? I'm flabbergasted! My gast has never been so flabbered, and make no mistake. For a species to have spread so far in such a short amount of...whoa there! Hold on! Those ones are across the ocean. How the deuce did they get there? Carried by swallows?"
"I have no idea." Soong said. "And there may be more, undiscovered so far."
"This looks familiar..." Partridge murmured. "Where's my case? Ah, here we are." Pulling out her pad, she called up an image of the world. Certain sections were highlighted. "When we carried out our own survey, certain zones showed very poor returns on active scans. If you compare it to your image, there is an unusually high correlation."
Soong looked at the pad, then back to the screen. "You're right. And those places where there's poor return but no known mahwee presence, those areas have had minimal surveying. There could easily be groups there too. But why would the creatures congregate there?"
Polly shrugged. "I don't know." she said enthusiastically. "But as a working hypothesis, that ziggurat seems to be the epicentre of one such zone. It may well be responsible some how. Or, the zone was present naturally, and the ziggurat placed there. I'm going to ask Enterprise to send a shuttle to one of those zones, see if there's anything to be found."
"You think there may be more ziggurats?"
"It's possible. This one was buried. Others may be too. What's that noise?" A steady beeping was coming from a piece of machinery.
"It's my secondary scanner. A bit slow compared to the rest of the equipment. I've had it examining that hair you brought, just as a back up. I expect there will be little difference from the blood samples...." He stooped to look at the small inbuilt display screen, then stood back up. "Of course, I could be wrong."
Partridge bent to look. It took only seconds to see what was up. "This is plant DNA. How could....ah, here's your problem. Rather than the hair itself, the automatics have focussed on a spot of pollen on it. We can...hang on. Pollen...Rub a check on that, see if it comes from a plant in your data-banks."
The answer was quick in coming. "Here we go..." Soong said. "A flowering bush found in large amounts in the mountains south east of here."
"Mountains, why does it always have to be mountains...?" she muttered, checking her pad. "And there's a zone of low sensor return in that region. I think we may have discovered a back door into the tunnels."