Chapter One

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The science lab was bustling with its usual and routine commotion.  Erin Keller couldn’t help but smile upon seeing every crewmember in the exact position she had seen them upon her last visit several weeks earlier.   Apparently, Kendall’s attempts at injecting the science team with spontaneity had failed.

 

Despite that fact, Keller had found at the very least, a minimal improvement in the spontaneity of Kendall himself.  Instead of performing sensor analyses with the rest of the bunch, Johnson was congregated with her and Lucas at the island station in the center of the lab, ready to save the universe, no doubt.

 

“We could always try remodulating the shield harmonics to block out verteron particles,” suggested Tompkins as the brainstorming session commenced.

 

Erin nodded.  “Won’t work,” she said bluntly.  “What if their shields get damaged in battle?”

 

Tompkins slowly nodded his understanding.  “The verterons will rush in and we’ll be out a perfectly good starship.”

 

“Bingo,” said Keller.  She sighed.  It had only been a few minutes, and already she was growing tired of the brainstorming.  It didn’t help matters that Keller felt as if her mind was enjoying a bright, sunny day.  As she glanced at Commander Tompkins, she saw he seemed to be suffering from a similar affliction.  “You didn’t sleep well, either?” she inquired as the chief engineer wearily rubbed at his eyes.

 

To her surprise, Tompkins sent her a negative nod.  “Actually, I slept quite well,” he admitted.

 

Keller frowned.  “Are you sure?”

 

“Quite,” he affirmed, acquiring an increasingly suspicious tone.

 

“Well you don’t look to well,” said Keller, now becoming even more aware of Tompkins’ frail nature.  He looked pale, as if he had just seen a ghost, and his eyelids looked as if they had weights hanging from them. 

 

“That’s ridiculous.  It’s just the lighting in here,” said Tompkins defiantly.  He sighed, turned back to the console, and pretended to go over some sensor schematics.

 

It didn’t fool Keller.  She peered over his shoulder and saw a three-day-old replicator repair request scrolling across the screen.  She sighed and briefly glanced up at Kendall Johnson.

 

He was paying little attention to their banter, and instead concentrating on his own sensor data.  Upon closer analysis, Keller noticed Johnson wasn’t looking very well, either.  But that was old news to her…

 

 

 

“I bet you’re wondering what I wanted to talk to you about,” Erin asked as she fiddled with the chicken salad situated in front of her.

 

Kendall briefly looked up at her, but avoided any direct eye contact. “A little,” he admitted.

 

Erin drew herself closer to Kendall.  His pulse was racing, his skin was flushed, and he had the slightest hint of perspiration on his brow.  “Are you feeling okay?”

 

“I’ll live,” he groaned. 

 

 

 

Though their symptoms were different, Keller couldn’t help but notice at least a few parallels in their two respective cases, the most obvious being denial.  Though with them both engrossed in sensor readings, or at least pretending to be, Keller took the opportunity to take a closer look.

 

Having already seen Johnson’s symptoms up close, Keller discretely surveyed Tompkins for the telltale signs that could link their cases.  Although Tompkins’ skin was flushed, and he had a thin layer of perspiration across his brow, Keller couldn’t tell if his pulse was racing or not.  Those two symptoms alone, however, weren’t enough for Keller to suspect anything more than a bad case of indigestion.

 

Nevertheless, these were her friends, and the last thing Keller wanted to see was them suffering, so she decided to take matters into her own hands. 

 

“If you’ll excuse me?” she asked as she took several steps away from the island console.

 

Tompkins looked away from his phony sensor display.  “I don’t see us making any progress at the moment,” he said wearily.  “I think we can get by without you.”

 

Keller smiled.  “Very well, then.”  With that, she slipped past Tompkins and stormed out into the corridor, passing several fellow officers on her way to the turbolift.  Had she not seen them emerge from the lift, Keller knew she would have undoubtedly plowed them over.

 

“Deck five,” she barked upon entering the lift.

 

The computer hastily complied, and moments later, deposited her on deck five, several meters away from sickbay.  Trying to stay composed, Keller took on a slower pace as she made the final leg of her trip.  She didn’t want to alarm the crew if this turned out to be a simple case of indigestion.

 

Sickbay was bustling with its usual air molecules—and Sarah Hartman, who was hard at work in the back corner of the medical bay performing some kind of task imperative to the survival of the Federation.  Erin was sure.

 

“Sarah,” called out Erin as she came to a halt at the bio-bed nearest the door.

 

The Doctor looked up from her work and quickly tossed her haphazard hair into a state of relative order.  “What can I do for you, Commander?” she asked formally.

 

Keller sighed.  “Put my weary mind at ease,” she said.

 

Hartman reached into the pocket of her white lab coat and pulled out a medial tricorder.  “What’s wrong?”

 

“With me?” Keller inquired, pointing at herself.  “Nothing,” she said. 

 

The statement barely roused Hartman’s excitement, but at least got the Doctor out of her chair.  She slowly approached the Commander with a curious look on her face.  “Then how can I be of service?”

 

Keller carefully slipped up onto the bio-bed.  “I’m worried about Kendall and Lucas,” she said quietly. Even though there was nobody else in the room, going behind her friends’ backs in such a fashion gave Erin the distinct feeling of betrayal.  For some reason, keeping her voice down made her felt a little better about doing this.  “Both of them have been looking a little under the weather.  I’m no Doctor, but I’ve taken enough medical courses to know when someone’s not well.  Now they both adamantly deny any illness, but I know better…”

 

“Well, given that, I can officially diagnose them as men,” Hartman muttered.

 

Keller grinned sheepishly.  “Oh really?  I would have never guessed,” she mused. 

 

Hartman raised an eyebrow.  “Why?  Have you… encountered a reason to disprove my analysis?”

 

Keller’s jaw dropped.  “Hardly,” she said.  “But I would greatly appreciate it if you could somehow check up on them…”

 

Hartman shrugged.  “Send them in.”

 

Keller nodded negatively.  “You see, as long as they think there’s nothing wrong with them, they won’t come willingly.  You’re going to have to fabricate a reason to get them down here.”

 

Hartman hastily clapped her tricorder open and shut as she composed an insidious plot.  “I could start the yearly medical examinations,” she suggested.  “Or I could tell them that there’s been an outbreak of the Telurian plague on the ship, and that they’ll be dead in five days unless they report to sickbay.”

 

Keller smiled.  “I’ll leave that one up to you,” she mused before starting to slide down the bio-bed.  Hartman quickly held her back.  “What?” Keller demanded.

 

“Nothing,” said Hartman as she concluded a quick scan of Keller.  “You spend a lot of time around both of them.  I was just making sure you were hadn’t been exposed to their alleged ailment.”

 

“And?”

 

“You’re fine.”

 

Keller let out a brief sigh of relief.  Though she had failed to consider that very real possibility, it was good to know that she was, at least for the time being, fully functional.

 

 

 

As Lucas Tompkins strode into main engineering, he couldn’t help but recall Erin Keller’s earlier accusations regarding his health—especially now that he was beginning to feel his health degrading.

 

He suddenly found himself drained of all energy, and fighting a minor case of the chills.  His head was pounding and his legs felt as if they could give out at any moment.  Quickly, though sure not to draw any attention to himself, Tompkins settled down in the nearest vacant chair and started running an analysis of the ship’s systems.

 

Almost immediately, it popped up a message indicating the atmospheric controls had been radically altered.  Tompkins turned to the ensign at the station beside him.  “The temperature in here is six degrees below standard.  Why?” he snapped.

 

The ensign froze like an icicle.  “I don’t know, sir,” he quivered.  “May I direct you to Lieutenant Trinn?”

 

Tompkins barely found the energy in himself to nod to the Ensign’s response.  But he did, and slowly rose from his chair in search of his second in command, a Trill named Jayla Trinn.  Under normal circumstances, she was easy to spot… given her spotted nature. 

 

Now, Tompkins could barely keep his eyelids open long enough to focus across the engine room.  But luck had smiled upon him, and Trinn suddenly approached him from behind.  “Here are the results of the transator diagnostic,” she chirped, producing a padd for Tompkins to inspect.

 

He waved it aside.  “Why the hell is it so cold in here?” he snapped.

 

Trinn took a step back, clearly stunned at Tompkins’ behavior.  “It was getting a little warm in here,” she said.  “Apparently, several crew members had boosted the temperature.”

 

“So you lowered it to six degrees below standard?”

 

“Standard for humans,” she said quietly.

 

“Computer,” said Tompkins.  “Reset temperature to normal,” he barked.

 

Within seconds, the air gradually warmed to what the computer considered standard, but Tompkins was still freezing.  Glanced back at his station and saw that the temperature was correct—twenty-two degrees centigrade.  It hardly felt correct.

 

That was rapidly becoming the least of his concerns.  A chill suddenly traveled down his spine.  He could barely keep his eyes open, he knew he was sweating like a pig, and if he wasn’t mistaken, the room was spinning.  As he felt a sudden churn in his stomach, Tompkins finally realized that Commander Keller might have been right. 

 

Trinn placed a hand on Tompkins’ shoulder to keep him from falling over.  “Are you all right?” she asked.

 

“It’s nothing a good night’s sleep won’t cure,” he lied.  “I think… I think I’ll go get started on that  right… right now.”

 

 

 

After what seemed like an eternity of wandering through the corridors, and quite possibly, what seemed like the longest turbolift ride in the history of the known universe, Tompkins finally entered the confines of his quarters.

 

“Computer, increase temperature to… to thirty degrees,” he groaned as he stumbled toward the cozy chair nearest the doors.  As he plopped down into the chair, Tompkins immediately felt his energy drain even more.  He didn’t even know if he could get up—but given the hell that his stomach was raising, he truly hoped that he could.

 

Once he had rested for a bit, he would order a nice cup of tea from the replicator, hoping to be back up on his feet by tomorrow morning.  Yet the mere thought of feet brought Tompkins’ attention to the throbbing pain in his shin that he had been ignoring all day. 

 

Now that he was stationary, and able to concentrate on what felt like the war being played out in his body, Tompkins couldn’t help but notice the annoying ache.  He didn’t even remember what he had run into to cause such a wound.

 

Slowly, he lifted his pant leg up over his knee to inspect the bruise at a closer analysis—but was instantly mortified upon seeing a massive, crusty red welt bulging out from his shin.  It’s hundreds of tendrils crawling outward, expanding the wound.

 

That was no bruise.  In fact, Tompkins didn’t know what it was, but given the looks of it, it was definitely not something that could be healed by a cup of tea…

 

 

 

 

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