Stardate 76101.2; February 06, 2399
Edited by Peter Bossley
Written by Chris Adamek
Admiral Kathryn Janeway
Lieutenant Commander Turathan Karalis
Commander Stephanie Kerrigan
Lieutenant Ian Meade
Lieutenant Commander Amy Robinson
Lieutenant Flora Sanders
Lieutenant Jayla Trinn
The twin suns loomed overhead, scorching the barren scrub plains of Corneria IV with oppressive heat and humidity. There wasn’t a cloud in sight. The wind was nonexistent, and the heat just seemed to hang in the air, shimmering in the distant hills, but always out of reach. For a fleeting moment, Alan Christopher was content to believe himself wandering amidst the Leuda Desert on Ka’Tula Prime—but the fantasy quickly faded. There were no majestic mountains looming on the distant horizon, nor were there any birds or bugs flitting about the cerulean skies…. There was just an endless expanse of scrub grass and the occasional oasis of cycads, crawling all the way over the distant horizon.
As he traversed the dusty terrain, Christopher sighed and wiped the tiny beads of sweat from his brow. It might not have been Ka’Tula Prime—but it was close enough. “If only it were a few degrees warmer,” he mused to Justin Reinbold, who stood just a few meters away, pouring over the contents of his tricorder. “I’d be right at home.”
Justin immediately glanced up from his scans, skepticism crossing his face. “You’re insane.”
Christopher smiled. He’d been called a lot of things over the years, but insane was not one of them. “If the glove fits…” He unzipped his uniform and tugged at his bright red undershirt, hoping the action might circulate some cooler air down to his skin… but it did nothing of the sort. The oppressive heat just seemed to filter right in.
Suddenly feeling eager to return to the Starlight, Christopher finally decided to make himself useful. Thus far, he had simply acted as Justin Reinbold’s shadow, following him around the sweltering landscape as he performed some sensor scans for Sarah Hartman. Prior to the mission, Sarah had informed Christopher that he was not to interfere with Justin’s work, but it was so freaking hot down here that Hartman’s “prime directive” was about to fall by the wayside.
Christopher pulled the tricorder from his belt and flipped it open. “What are we looking for?” he asked—but even before he finished speaking, Christopher’s communicator chirped.
“Hartman to Christopher!”
He tapped the shiny—and warm—metallic broach upon his chest. “Yes, Sarah?”
The Doctor wasted no time getting to the point: “Put the tricorder away.”
Christopher froze, and his eyes darted toward the blazing blue skies above. “Are you monitoring me? Haven’t you got anything better to do?”
“Yes and yes,” Hartman calmly replied, casually sipping at a steaming cup of coffee in her office aboard the Starlight. She would have rather been studying the unique regenerative properties of the microbial life forms detected in the planet’s largest ocean…but she had known Alan Christopher for a very long time—and he was not to be trusted. “This is Mister Reinbold’s final exam as my student, and he is absolutely not to have any assistance from you.”
Glancing at the computer monitor on her desk, Hartman watched Christopher’s rather animated protest unfold. He threw his arms into the air and shook his head (undoubtedly for her benefit. Most normal people wouldn’t even have done that much). “It’s not like I’m going to be of much help in the first place!” he exclaimed—and he made a valid point. Christopher was no scientist.
“So you admit, your assistance would be more of a hindrance than anything else.” Hartman grinned. “So put away the damn tricorder before I have Lieutenant Sanders beam it out of your hands.”
That was a genuine threat, and Christopher did not doubt Hartman’s ability to make good on it. Thus, he snapped shut the tricorder and placed it back into its holster. “Satisfied?”
“For now,” replied the Doctor. “Hartman out.”
Once the conversation concluded, Christopher’s gaze shifted back to Justin. “I guess I won’t be helping you after all,” he mused.
Justin shrugged. “Not a problem,” he said. “I’m almost done, anyway. Just got a few more samples to collect, and then we can return to the ship.”
Occasionally glancing at his tricorder, Justin knelt down beside a ragged gray rock jutting out of the rough, reddish terrain. He scraped some pale yellow lichen from the rock’s underside, briefly analyzed it with his tricorder, and then stored the sample in a little Petri dish.
“How are you likin’ the lichen?” asked Christopher. He was only marginally curious about the moss—but he couldn’t pass up such a witty comment.
Oblivious to the little quip, Justin only shook his head and muttered, “I thought my mom’s jokes were lame.”
“Well,” said Christopher, a bit disappointed in his joke’s lukewarm reception, “you could have waited a week—then she could have come on this mission with you in my place.”
“Commander Keller could have come,” Justin readily suggested. “Or Lieutenant Trinn. Or Lieutenant Sanders. Or Ensign—”
Christopher raised a dismissive hand. “I know, I know… I get the picture,” he said. “I’m not quite as hot as Erin or Jayla—well, right about now, I’m sweltering, but… I get it.”
Justin provided something between a shrug and a nod—Christopher wasn’t exactly certain… but whatever it was, the motion essentially marked the end of their conversation. In retrospect, Christopher wasn’t entirely certain that the few words they exchanged actually qualified as a conversation. It might have been the heat or the exam or something else entirely, but Justin was apparently not in the mood to talk. Thus, Christopher decided to give the boy some room. The sooner Justin finished his work, the sooner they could return to the cooler climate aboard the Starlight.
As far as Christopher could tell, there wasn’t anything terribly interesting about Corneria IV. Located about seven light years from the Elorg border, it wasn’t of any strategic value. There were some life forms roaming the desolate scrub plains, but nothing more than insects and small amphibians—but on a blazing hot day like today, the vast majority of them were probably loitering around some distant watering hole.
Nearby, Justin was loitering over that same slab of rock jutting out of the landscape. As far as Christopher could tell, it was a slab of limestone—or a very similar sedimentary rock—and probably contained a brief history of the sweltering planet. Of course, that was mere conjecture, and since he was banned from using his tricorder, Christopher had no way to verify his suspicions. He would simply have to read Justin’s report.
After studying the lone rock for what seemed like an eternity, Justin finally snapped shut his tricorder. He shoved the scanner into his pocket and turned his placid blue eyes upon Christopher. “Done.”
“Good.” He immediately tapped his communicator. “Christopher to Starlight—two to beam up.”
“Acknowledged,” replied Flora Sanders a scant moment later. “Stand by for transport.”
Flora Sanders was so well acquainted with the Starlight’s transporter console that she could operate it in her sleep. In fact, on some rare occasions when things in the transporter room were slow, Sanders suspected that she might very well have been asleep at the controls. Hers was not the most exciting job on the ship—that much was certain—and after a few hours of boredom, one was bound to get sleepy. Still, she never allowed her boredom to interfere with her duties; sleepy or not, she was always ready to go.
Thus, when the Captain called, Flora Sanders was ready. She quickly guided the targeting sensors to the appropriate coordinates, locked on with an annular confinement beam, and brought the Captain and Justin Reinbold aboard—and aside from one minor detail, the transport was a success.
Even before the transport was complete, Sanders knew something was amiss. She hastily checked the computer for signs of trouble, but it insisted there was nothing wrong. Still, her gut instinct told her otherwise, and Sanders frantically ran a few diagnostics just to be sure—and every last one of them indicated a normal transport was in progress. But when the swirls of azure light faded, Sanders knew that she had been right all along, for the beings standing upon the transporter platform were definitely not Captain Christopher and Justin Reinbold.
At first, Sanders wasn’t certain what she was looking at. The pair of blue-tinged entities was so unlike anything she had ever seen that her mind simply could not process the unique visual data…
The beings were roughly humanoid; they had long, lanky arms and legs, and stood more than three meters tall—easily towering over Sanders. Even so, both of the aliens were frail and looked deathly thin, as if they hadn’t eaten in months. Not surprisingly, the hairless beings had very small, thin mouths; it was likely difficult for them to imbibe their meals—assuming they absorbed nutrition in traditional means. And while they had no discernable noses, each alien had a pair of large gray eyes that seemed to peer directly into Sanders’ soul…
Many of the aliens’ other features were beyond comprehension. In lieu of internal organs, each of the entities seemed to have large crystalline structures embedded into their chests, aglow in pale cerulean light. On occasion, the glow would shift to a soft shade of lavender or amethyst. It might have been some form of communication, but Sanders was not certain… They only thing she did know was that it was very, very weird.
Slowly, so not to startle the aliens, Sanders tapped her communicator. “Bridge, this is the transporter room… we’ve got a problem.”