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Fiction by Pen . . . . . not real, made up, purely intended for entertainment
Star Trek is not mine and I make no claim on it

By Invitation Only

Captain’s Log, Stardate 42639.4

The Enterprise is in the Mardalis sector, in orbit around the planet Bradar, following an emergency call from the planetary representative. The planet is not a member of the Federation, preferring to maintain a degree of isolation, and little is known of the specifics of the Bradari culture. However, I have been advised by Admiral Nakamura that the strategic placement of this system, and the fact that their world is unusually rich in jolium deposits, would make the Bradari a very welcome addition to the Federation.

The reaction to our arrival was somewhat mystifying. Commander Riker led an Away Team consisting of Lt Cdr Data and Lt Worf, and discovered that the reason for the distress call was a plague of an unusual kind which is devastating the inhabited continent’s only city. Physical symptoms may include fever, a scarlet rash, and uncontrollable thirst, but more distressingly, all those affected suffer from hallucinations. It seems that the planetary representative who answered our hail, Speaker Jaren Deljardo, was uncertain whether she herself had fallen victim to the plague, hence her disconcertingly brief response to our queries.

Commander Data has returned to the planet in order to collect information on the plague.

"Doctor Pulaski, do you have any idea what this disease might be?"

"For a start, captain, I doubt it’s a disease. It’s possible, of course," the doctor continued, "there are certain diseases that involve hallucinations—Joycean fever, Dormeline plague, and so forth, but I’d be more inclined to look for anomalous chemical substances."

"Drugs?"

"Exactly. This problem seems to have affected a lot of people within a very short time frame. These people aren’t primitives with sewage running through their streets and a superstitious approach to medicine. It’s true that their technology is at a lower level than our own, but from what the Away Team has already seen it’s clear that they shouldn’t, in normal circumstances at any rate, be vulnerable to an actual plague. I think it’s likely we’re looking at a contaminant rather than an infection."

"Are you saying there’s been deliberate sabotage, Doctor?" asked Riker in concern.

"Impossible to tell," she replied. "There may be some kind of industrial pollutant, maybe even a natural phenomenon involved. Of course, I might be wrong about this—it could be a virus of some kind."

"Perhaps Data will turn up something useful," Riker offered.

Dr Pulaski looked at him wearily. "I doubt it," she replied. "He’ll probably make a list of symptoms a metre long, and a statistical analysis telling me what percentage of the victims have a cough and what percentage have a temperature more then two points above the norm. None of which is likely to tell us anything."

"Still, it’ll be worth taking a look," Riker pursued.

"Naturally I’ll want to see whatever information he’s managed to gather," Pulaski said acerbically. "But in the end, Captain, I’ll have to go down there and see for myself."

Picard considered arguing, but looked at the determined set of Dr Pulaski’s chin, and decided it was not worth the bother. She was right, in any case. She would have to go down to the surface at some point.

"Not until you have examined Data’s findings. And when you do beam down, Doctor, take all possible precautions," he instructed. "I don’t want these delusions aboard the Enterprise."

* * *

"So, Data, let’s have it. Whatever you’ve got on the Bradari disease," the doctor instructed him wearily. "Symptoms, progress, whatever."

"I do not believe the Bradari are suffering from a disease, Doctor," the android officer replied. "From the rapid onset of the hallucinatory symptoms and the fact that I found no evidence that these symptoms can be passed from one person to another, I would hypothesise that the problem is caused by an anomalous chemical substance." The captain kept his face grave, but rejoiced inwardly. Much as he respected Dr Pulaski’s professional abilities, it was sweet to see her disconcerted once in a while.

"Moreover," Data continued, "I believe I have isolated the primary factor in these hallucinations. The tissue samples I took from several affected patients in the main infirmary were imbued with traces of job-ethyloselecybinamide, a substance I later discovered to be present in the circulatory systems of the sufferers. Persons unaffected by the hallucinations have no jobethyloselecybinamide in their bodies."

"Jobethyloselecybinamide—JBE—would certainly cause delusions," Dr Pulaski mused, "and the other symptoms, the rash, the fever, might be the result of an allergic reaction of some kind... I’ll want to look over your analysis, Commander."

"Of course, Doctor. I will arrange to transfer the data immediately."

"I’ll have to determine the exact differences in Bradari physiology before rushing in with a cure," Pulaski went on, taking no notice of his response. "Essentially they’re humanoid, the most obvious differences being the ear flaps and the extra finger joints; assuming their circulatory systems are similar to the human model, we should be able to flush out the JBE with a course of saline thorcosamine."

"Unfortunately we cannot tell how the jobetho—the JBE is getting into the Bradari’s bodies," said the captain. "If you are able to cure the victims, Doctor, is there any way to prevent more people becoming sick?"

"There’s no way to produce a prophylactic vaccine," Pulaski said. "The simple answer is, find out where the JBE is, and avoid it."

"Our top priority for non-medical personnel is therefore to locate the source of the JBE and neutralise it."

"Jobethyloselecybinamide is tasteless, odourless and colourless when in its liquid state," said the doctor. "And very potent. It would be simple enough to contaminate a food or water supply. But, Captain, the hallucinogen might be anywhere, possibly even airborne in certain forms. I strongly advise against sending anyone but Commander Data down to the planet until we know where the JBE is."

Picard scowled, but accepted the logic. He knew Pulaski would not let anything stand between her and her patients without very good cause. "Very well. Mr Data, you had better get back to the surface and start investigating the possible source of this phenomenon, as soon as the information transfer to the sick bay computer has been completed."

"Captain," Riker interrupted, "a full Away Team could make quicker progress than Commander Data on his own. Even at the risk of catching this ‘plague’, surely it’s a priority to locate the source of the contamination."

"Agreed, Number One, but until Dr Pulaski can confirm we have an antidote to this problem I don’t want to risk any of my... organic crew members starting to hallucinate. As soon as the medical staff have found a way to protect you I will authorise an Away Team. Until then, Mr Data will have to do what he can alone."

"Understood, sir."

"Doctor," Picard continued, "the ship’s personnel and resources are at your disposal. Please use whatever you need to deal with this situation."

* * *

Speaker Deljardo’s initial relief at discovering that the strangers in the sky were real, honest-to-goodness Federation Starfleet representatives rather than figments of a plague-ridden imagination, had dissolved back into gnawing worry for her people. So many were suffering, more every day, it seemed, and the emergency infirmaries which had been established in the centre of Valmar City were already overflowing. No-one had yet died of the plague itself, but there were reports of suicides, the victims terrorised by their own visions and pushed beyond the brink.

"Some of the plague-free are trying to leave the city," she told Data, "but many of the out-dwellers will not allow them to take refuge on the land. They claim the plague comes from the city and that in-dwellers should remain here. Other out-dwellers are arriving in Valmar to assist the physicians in caring for the sick, but we have nowhere for them to stay. The hostelries are already turned over to house plague victims."

"Are the people from outside the city unaffected by the plague?" Data inquired.

"Most are healthy, yes. Though not everyone in the city is affected, either. I myself—my family—we are unharmed, at least until now, as are most of the families of the Council. In fact, the apparent immunity of our most privileged citizens is causing no little resentment among the afflicted. I doubt it will last, though—if this plague continues much longer I fear every living being on Bradar will soon be a cringing lunatic."

"It is our belief, Speaker Deljardo, that what you describe as a plague is caused by a contaminating agent and is not, in fact, a disease."

"Wait—what?" The heavy-eyed Bradari was bewildered.

"The ‘plague’ does not appear to communicate itself from one individual to another, Speaker," said Data.

"But—but in the infirmaries, those who tend the sick often become ill themselves."

"That is true, Speaker, but you yourself have visited the infirmaries without succumbing, although you informed me that you made physical contact with many of the victims." Data went on to relate the conclusions which he and Dr Pulaski had separately drawn, and to explain that he had been instructed to locate the source of the contamination.

"Then—there is a cure?"

Data hesitated. "Our medical staff are attempting to develop a counteragent, Speaker. However, if the source of the hallucinogen is located, it should be possible to prevent further occurrences among the Bradari populace."

"Wonderful!" Deljardo beamed, and for a brief moment the lines of care smoothed away from her pale brown face, the delicate frills of her ear flaps flattened into a smooth line, and she was serene. Then she snapped back to business: "Can we help with your search? What do you need?"

* * *

The Enterprise’s sensors were of less help than Data had hoped. They had detected jobethyloselecybinamide throughout the city, but it was impossible to determine exactly where the contaminant was present. Logically, a water or food source seemed the most likely.

Lacking the backup of trained crewmembers until Dr Pulaski had confirmed the effectiveness of her proposed course of treatment, Data was pleased to have at his disposal such of the local populace as could be spared.

Scarcely two hours later, teams of youthful Bradari from the upper echelons of the city’s society (who were both plague-free and equipped with fast personal transport) were dispersing across the city, bearing analysis tubes and instructions to take samples from the air, food, water and medication supplies at locations throughout Valmar. The labelled samples would be collected centrally and beamed to the Enterprise for analysis.

Data himself was headed at top groundcar speed for the Tantene Water, a natural reservoir which supplied more than half the city’s water. Sensor readings pertaining to this lake were difficult to interpret, possibly due to perturbations caused by the jolium deposits in the nearby rock (jolium was a component element of JBE); he would therefore attempt a more exact analysis from close quarters. His driver, proceeding with a singlemindedness and panache that would have rattled even Commander Riker, was Marlen Deljardo, the Speaker’s elder daughter.

Hurtling over the rugged, thistle-strewn countryside, Data had to hold fast to the sidebars to avoid being thrown out of the bounding vehicle. After a particularly close call with a clump of thorn bushes and a jagged spear of rock, he was moved to recommend that a slight reduction in speed, with a commensurate increase in caution, would be the best means of getting them to their destination.

His driver, her cheeks darkening slightly, complied. "It’s just that I so much want to do something," she told him earnestly, keeping her eyes on the route ahead. "This plague is so horrible, all those people in such pain, it seems wrong that we, my family, I mean, should have escaped. It just seems unfair. I know Mother would prefer to be ill herself than see so many of our people stricken like this."

"That would not help the sick," Data observed.

"No, it wouldn’t, but maybe we will be able to. Help, I mean. Do you really think we’ll find the contamination at Tantene Water?"

"It is a distinct possibility," Data said. "Either there is a single factor affecting many people in the city, or a great number of sources have been contaminated. The former appears more likely. Water from a single source would reach a large number of city-dwellers almost instantaneously, and I believe it would be a relatively simple matter for a single incident or individual to contaminate the reservoir. However, if we do not find jobethyloselecybinamide in the lake we shall investigate the water processing plant at Tantene Edge."

"It’s hard to imagine that any Bradari would deliberately make other people sick," said Marlen with revulsion. "Could this contamination have occurred naturally?"

"It is possible," Data allowed. "When we locate the source we will be able to determine whether it is a natural phenomenon or artificial."

"There it is!" As the groundcar crested a small rise, the glittering expanse of Tantene Water was spread before them. Moments later they were at the shore. Marlen unloaded the analysis tubes from the groundcar while Data wielded his tricorder.

"I am detecting mendelevium, belactol and selenium trifluoride," he announced, "in far greater concentration than would naturally occur."

"What does that mean?"

"Although the tricorder does not register jobethyloselecybinamide itself, the substances mendelevium, belactol and selenium trifluoride are significant components of the hallucinogen."

Marlen’s jaw dropped. "You mean—we’ve found it? This is the source?"

"I believe so," he said absently, dipping a tube into the water for a sample and aiming his tricorder at it. "However, we should investigate further. The matter does not appear straightforward."

"Is it natural?" Marlen asked, almost fearfully. "Or did someone..."

"I am not certain. The Enterprise’s science lab will be able to determine the exact nature of the sample." The android tapped his comm badge and requested that the container be transported aboard.

How is your search proceeding, Commander? Picard’s voice asked.

"Captain, there are elements of jobethylo-selecybinamide present in the reservoir which constitutes the main water supply to Valmar City."

Well done, Mr Data.

"Thank you, sir. Has JBE been found in samples from Valmar?"

Yes and no, Geordi’s voice took over. Data, some of the water in the city is definitely contaminated, some is definitely clean, some... we’re not sure.

"Thank you, Geordi." Data considered. "Captain, the readings from my tricorder do not correspond exactly to the jo—the JBE I detected in the lymphatic nodes of the plague victims. I am not certain of the reason, but the hallucinogen itself does not register on my tricorder. I request that the sample be transported immediately to the biochemical laboratory."

Have you any hypothesis?

"At present, I have not."

Hmm. Dr Pulaski has produced the first batch of saline thorcosamine, so she is eager to get to the planet and apply the cure. If the source of the contaminant is in the water, it should be reasonably safe for a medical Away Team to proceed.

"I recommend that in any case no member of the Away Team should drink or eat anything while on the planet, and that the Bradari government be advised to find other sources of water until we can confirm its safety. Captain, there is a single water processing plant through which all potable water is sent to the city. It should be possible to eliminate the JBE before the water leaves the plant."

I’ll send Lieutenant LaForge to investigate straight away.

"Thank you, sir. I will make further investigations of this reservoir and attempt to determine whether the source of the contamination still exists."

Agreed. Keep me apprised, Mr Data. Picard out.

* * *

Lieutenant LaForge took Wesley Crusher along with his engineering Away Team to the Bradari water processing plant at Tantene Edge. They materialised just south of the low grey dome, and paused for a few moments to admire the grandeur of the landscape. The rough hills were speckled with granite and dark scrubby trees, the ground covered with a sage-green grass and great bushes of purple-topped thistles a metre high. Below them the vast expanse of the lake gleamed like lapis lazuli under the vivid sky.

Someone was coming out to greet them. He introduced himself as Powla Venapes, a junior tech-leader in the hierarchy of the plant, but for the present acting leader, since all the senior staff—and most of the juniors, too—had been affected by the plague. The unaccustomed responsibility obviously weighed heavily on his shoulders, and his greeting was warm and tinged with relief.

Once inside the plant, Geordi was impressed by the clean economy of the Bradari machines, all deceptively simple, elegant pieces of engineering. It soon became obvious that they had been designed with such economy of purpose that it was not going to be easy to devise an extra filter to get rid of JBE without sacrificing some other necessary process.

But they ought to be able to come up with something.

* * *

In the city’s main infirmary, Dr Pulaski and her team of medics were preparing their first volunteer patient for the saline treatment which would, they hoped, clear the JBE from his abused system. Counselor Troi was comforting the understandably twitchy Bradari male, sensing his panic as the hallucinations swept over him, calming his fears when she could. Speaker Deljardo, taut and anxious, stood watching with Commander Riker.

"Is your doctor certain that the treatment will cure my people?"

"Dr Pulaski has run every possible test she could complete in the time we had," Riker assured the Speaker. "There’s every indication that this treatment will work, and she’s quite certain it won’t do any harm. Unfortunately, since we have no prior experience with the details of Bradari physiology, the only way to know whether it’s a complete cure is to test it."

"If it works..." The Speaker was stroking her corrugated ear frills distractedly with one of those unexpectedly supple fingers, her eyes fixed on the little group of doctor, nurse and patient.

"I understand that fewer people are being affected by the hallucinations, Speaker," Riker said.

"Since the news went out that water from Tantene Edge is not to be trusted, there has been a considerable reduction in new cases. Water supplied from the Tantene is to be sent straight into the reprocessing system, and the personal wells in the Council acreage are supplying the infirmaries and the rest of the city, as best they can. Your people are being most helpful in organising water collections," she said, trying for an even tone but not altogether succeeding.

"I have every confidence that our engineers can help your water technicians to eliminate the contamination," Riker assured her. Speaker Deljardo agreed vaguely, but her real attention was focused on the medical team and their volunteer.

Pulaski watched vigilantly as the tubes were connected to the trembling patient, and the nurse proceeded with the treatment. Every few minutes the doctor consulted her tricorder, but it was her visual scan of her patient’s appearance that made her smile quietly and nod her head. She beckoned Riker and Speaker Deljardo closer.

"The JBE is being flushed out of his system," she told them. "I estimate it will take fourteen hours to clear him completely, but the cure has begun. He should be well by mid-morning."

Deljardo seized Pulaski’s hands and pressed them to her cheeks. "Thank you, Doctor. Thank you." Collecting herself, she straightened. "What must we do to administer this treatment to all the victims here?"

"We’ve managed to synthesize enough saline thorcosamine for the first fifty patients," Pulaski informed the Speaker. "I’ll have it transported here at once, and my staff will instruct your physicians on how to administer it. Actually it’s a fairly simple procedure. The difficulty will be in producing enough of the saline solution to treat all the victims. Thorcosamine isn’t easy to replicate satisfactorily, and we’ve about used up the ship’s supply. If you have local biochemical facilities that could manufacture more, and in greater quantities—"

"I’ll see to it at once." The lines of worry around the Speaker’s eyes no longer seemed so deep, and now that the end of the plague was in sight, her bearing was that of the authoritative planetary leader prepared to deal efficiently and effectively with the crisis. She nodded to Riker, and hastened out of the infirmary.

"How can I be of assistance, Doctor?" Riker asked.

"Not in here, Commander," Pulaski replied crisply. "Take your non-medical personnel and see how many unaffected Bradari you can locate. If they want to help in the infirmary, they can come to me or Nurse Ogawa for instructions. We’ll need as much saline thorcosamine as you can supply, so get one of the Enterprise’s biochemists to keep a check on how the local pharmacy is progressing. Oh, and tell Captain Picard what’s happening."

"Aye aye, ma’am," said Riker, grinning, and did as he was told.

* * *

"That’s why we didn’t catch the plague," Marlen said bleakly, as she and Data got back into the groundcar to begin a circumnavigation of the lake. "We have an artesian well in the grounds at home, and never use the city’s own water supply. It tastes different, you see."

"A fortunate circumstance," the android said.

"I suppose. And I guess the same thing protected you—you haven’t drunk any water from the Tantene, have you? Still, it was wise of your captain to risk only one of his people. If we’d had to quarantine the planet—mother was thinking it might come to that, you know—he’d have been able to leave you behind."

For a moment, Data looked startled. "I do not believe Captain Picard would abandon any member of his crew," he said firmly. "I have seen him take grave risks in order to secure the safety of a single individual in the past."

"Really? But—you mean, he might put the whole ship at risk for the sake of one person?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

Data looked puzzled. "I am not entirely certain. I believe it is one of the many facets of human nature which I am not equipped to understand."

"Oh. Well, I can’t say I understand it either. We Bradari would say that the minority must be sacrificed to save the majority, if necessary. That’s only sensible."

"It is the logical response, I agree. Yet..." Data tilted his head in thought, "there is something curiously appropriate about the human response. Halt here, please. I will take another sample."

The light was fading from the sky when Data announced that the current sample held twice the standard concentration of the three substances he had discovered earlier. "I surmise," he said, "that we are close to the precise source of the contamination."

So they walked cautiously along the shore, carefully sampling the clear water every fifty metres. Data attempted to configure his tricorder to locate the most powerful concentration, but the inconclusive result indicated merely that the point they were seeking was some way from the shore. And the sun was setting, leaving yellow and green streaks in the sky.

"I believe we must postpone our search until tomorrow. We must return with some kind of water craft."

"No! No, we can’t stop now!"

"Marlen, it will soon be impossible for you to see what we are doing. We can leave the groundcar here, if you wish, and ask the Enterprise to transport us back to Valmar—"

"Oh, no, no, I couldn’t go through one of those things!" She shuddered. "Being taken apart, molecule by molecule—no, I can’t."

"Then we must return by groundcar at once, before the light fades. The terrain is difficult—"

"But we don’t have to go back at all. We can use the sleeper." At his look of bewilderment, Marlen marched back to the groundcar and opened a hatch at the rear. It took her only 57.2 seconds to erect a small structure of some durable material, using the groundcar’s extendable rear posts for support at one end. "There are three sleeping cloths, and I brought something to eat and drink. Let’s stay here, Data, please? It would waste so much time if we have to come back in the morning. We’ve almost cracked it."

"Cracked what?"

"Uh, solved it. You know, found the answer. What do you think? It’s perfectly comfortable, really! There’s an inflatable floor, it only takes a few seconds."

Data opened his mouth to remonstrate, but decided there was little sense in doing so. It would not inconvenience anyone if they remained by the lake. Accordingly, Marlen contacted her home, and Data the Enterprise, to inform them of the arrangements. Data was pleased to learn that the occurrence rate of new ‘plague’ victims had been reduced by thirty-nine percent since their discovery of the water contamination, and that the rate was continuing to fall.

After inflating the shelter floor and setting the waffled thermal blankets inside, Marlen unpacked several shiny containers from a drawer in the groundcar, laid the food and drink on a small cloth, and fell to with gusto. Out of politeness, Data nibbled at the evening meal, sitting cross-legged on the rough grass as the bright sunset faded and the sky turned to diamond-flecked black.

"The stars are so beautiful," Marlen murmured. "You can’t see them so clearly from the city, with all the night illuminations bright. But here..." She shivered a little, and rummaged in the inflatable. "Do you want your blanket too?"

"I do not feel cold," Data replied.

"In that case," she said, snuggling up to him and wrapping the blanket round them, "you can keep me warm. I don’t want to go to sleep yet, I rarely get to see the stars on a night like this. Look, that’s the Thistle, and the Anglefish, and the Pentagon." She pointed out the constellations. Data was puzzled at some of the images supposedly presented by the sky, although he admitted that the Pentagon was a reasonable description.

"That bright cluster, about thirty degrees above the finger rock, that’s Sheren’s Chair," Marlen went on. "It used to be called just The Chair, but was renamed in honour of Sheren when she brought peace to our people. She was a Speaker for one of the archipelagos on the home world, and she ended a war by Naming the leader of the enemy as the father of the child she was carrying. Since he had to take vows and cohabit with her for five years, he couldn’t very well conduct a war at the same time."

"I do not understand. Surely the male would have known whether or not he was the child’s father?"

"No, no, that isn’t the point. The mother has the right to Name her child’s father. Some say we developed the custom during the long wars, when a female might mate with several males. She was entitled to choose for herself who would have the honour of being father to her child."

"But..." Data thought better of his objections. Who was he to gainsay Bradari custom? Perhaps their genetic science was insufficiently developed to give definitive answers. "What if he had refused to... to acknowledge the child?"

Marlen stared at him, amazed. "Why would any male refuse a child?" She considered. "I suppose it may be different for you, but for us, every child is very precious, and rearing a child the most important task of an adult’s life. I never met a Bradari who did not wish to be a parent. Though I sometimes wonder," she wriggled closer to Data and tugged the blanket around her, "whether Sheren’s child wouldn’t have been better off with a different father. Still, what she did brought about thirty years of peace, which was unprecedented on the home world. That’s where our home planet is," she pointed eastward, "the middle star of those three that form a vertical line. It’s only an insignificant star in the night sky, but it’s where we came from. Most of our people still live there."

"The Bradari do not seem likely to destroy themselves," Data observed.

"The establishers who came here were from a small sect," Marlen explained. "That’s why we called our new world Bra-Dar, which means Home of Plenty. The home world, Braf, was mostly water and the people were crowded and fought for land. They say it was all wars and flying metal and golems. In those days, thirty years of peace was a huge achievement. Imagine living on a world where war is the norm! Anyway, some of the people wished to leave, and managed to construct a colony ship and come to this system, to form our own government here. On Bradar, there is plenty of room for all, and we don’t have to fight for territory as they did. Of course, we haven’t been here many generations, but when the planet is full, some will leave to establish another world."

"Many planets experience a warlike phase during their history. Earth was one such, and might have destroyed itself."

"Which is Earth’s star?"

This was a tall order, even for Data, but he pointed out a faint speck, low on the horizon, as Sol.

"That’s good," murmured Marlen. "I s’pose... time to go to sleep." She sagged against Data’s shoulder, so he carefully gathered her and the blanket into his arms and laid them both in the inflatable shelter for the night.

 

Aboard the Enterprise, Wesley Crusher could not sleep. He’d spent too many hours yesterday staring at the jobethyloselecybinamide molecule, and now it was dancing in his head, splitting itself into pieces and joining up again as if choreographed by a cackling lunatic. He tried changing the mental subject—composing a letter to his mother, figuring out math problems, replaying his recent conversations with the fascinating but unattainable Salia... but those molecules kept performing their kaleidoscopic patterns, taking themselves apart, reforming, splitting again, reforming—

He sat up, heart thundering, leapt from his bed and into the nearest clothes he could find, and summoned up the details on his computer. JBE... mendelevium, belactol, selenium trifluoride, jolium... it wasn’t all there, but the pieces were so nearly complete... and the selenium trifluoride they had found in the water was an unusual compound, less stable than—it would reform with—what was missing? His thoughts whirlwinded.

"Crusher to LaForge: sir, about the molecular filter, I don’t think it will work."

What? Wes, you should be asleep. What... what time is it?

"Sir, I’m sorry to wake you, but it’s urgent. I think the JBE forms downstream of the processing plant. We have to devise a better filter."

There was a groan from the Chief Engineer. All right, I’ll see you in Engineering.

Now that Wesley had supplied the clue, Geordi couldn’t understand why neither he nor anyone else had spotted it before. With the assistance of a sleepy biochemical specialist, they confirmed a most interesting factor in the JBE equation: the molecules had been split. Instead of the long, complex chains that normally constituted this hallucinogen, each molecule had been snipped into several component parts, each of which was small enough to slip through the defensive water filters with ease. Traces of jolium were naturally present, and usually quite harmless; selenium trifluoride, belactol and mendelevium had been found in the Tantene reservoir. A few more oxygen and hydrogen molecules were necessary to the whole, but there was no shortage of those in the H2O. The remainder, a few crucial molecules, were absent from the processed water supply which flowed from the Tantene. How, and where, did the missing elements get into the water to recombine with the other elements to form jobethyloselecybinamide?

* * *

Viridescent streaks of dawn were brightening to the turquoise of the Bradari sky as Marlen stuffed the last crumbs of breakfast into her mouth and leaped to her feet. It took a mere two minutes to repack the shelter and its contents into the groundcar, and shortly after that, Data and his Bradari companion were hurtling along the shore to the next sample point.

They had worked their way a further 3.6 kilometres round the perimeter when Data’s communicator sounded. Picard conveyed the good news of Pulaski’s cure, which even now was being implemented in the Valmarene Infirmary—Marlen’s delight and gratitude were no less obvious, though less coherently expressed, than her mother’s had been.

Picard informed them that LaForge and the Bradari techs had devised a JBE filter and had fitted it into the water processing plant. He went on to explain that the matter was not so simple as had been thought, and Lieutenant Worf’s security teams were now conducting a city-wide search for the source of the missing portion of the hallucinogen.

They have not found the contamination as yet. However, Mr LaForge assures me that if the mendelevium, belactol and selenium trifluoride can be eliminated from the water supply, the remaining elements will not constitute a danger. He is liaising with the Bradari technicians to develop more specific filters.

"Understood, Captain. In this case, the sources of mendelevium, belactol and selenium trifluoride in the reservoir are certainly artificial."

Quite so, Mr Data. Find them if you can, and remove them. No doubt Speaker Deljardo would be very pleased to learn that the reservoir is clean once more.

"Understood, sir. We will continue our search."

Do you require assistance? Most of the crew are currently helping Commander Riker or Dr Pulaski in the city, or working on the refined filters with Lt LaForge, but I can release another Away Team if you wish.

Data considered for a moment. "Sir, I believe there is no need to remove anyone from their current duties. The plague victims must take priority, and the water will need to be filtered, even if the sources of contamination are removed. Our examination of the perimeter will be complete within two hours and thirty-two minutes."

Very well, Mr Data. Keep me informed of your progress. Picard out.

The shelter’s inflatable floor, it transpired, did double service as a cumbersome but serviceable boat. A folded propeller, attached to a compact power supply, was augmented by two sturdy paddles, and so by mid-morning, Data and Marlen were afloat, he in the bow with tricorder at the ready, she steering from the broad stern.

"Stop!"

The boat progressed a little further on its course before Marlen could halt the propeller in response to Data’s command, but with a little backing and paddling, they managed to achieve the position required.

"There is a very strong localised source of belactol immediately below us," Data reported, frowning at his tricorder. He recalibrated the instrument to scan for other substances. "None of the other constituents of JBE is so concentrated. I believe we have found only part of the pollutant." He scanned the water again. "There appears to be a container, constructed of ceramic material. Fortunately, the water is no more than three point two four metres deep at this point."

Marlen peered over the side. "I’m not sure what a metre is, but it doesn’t look like a difficult dive for a competent swimmer. Getting back into the boat won’t be easy, though."

"I am unable to swim. However, I believe I can retrieve the container and walk to the shore."

Marlen gaped at him. "That’s crazy! I’ll get it. Unless—unless the water will give me the plague?"

He considered. "I do not believe JBE can be absorbed through the skin. It will only cause the ‘plague’ if swallowed. Nonetheless I do not believe you should make the attempt. The water will have no adverse effect on me—"

He stopped, as the discourse had become pointless. A spatter of lake water patterned his uniform in the wake of Marlen’s capable dive. Moments later, her brown head broke the surface and she held up a pearl-pale sphere in one hand, as with the other she grasped the side of the boat. Data relieved her of the sphere and hoisted her easily over the side, noting with interest that her ear frills had completely covered her aural cavities, and were now retracting to their customary size. "Don’t think I swallowed any," she panted, and spat carefully into the lake. "But by Sheren, that’s cold!"

In moments Data had steered them back to the shore. Marlen hopped quickly out to find herself a blanket, and while she peeled off her dripping garments and dried herself, Data communicated his find to the Enterprise.

Marlen, water-sleeked and wrapped in a blanket, vehemently declined to transport aboard the Enterprise and take advantage of the ship’s facilities. Data therefore returned to the ship alone, and subjected the sphere to a quick computer scan. With the information already in the computer, it took only minutes for Chief O’Brien to pinpoint the location of two more spheres within the reservoir and transport them aboard.

* * *

Captain’s Log, supplemental

Commander Data has returned to the planet with one of the spheres in order to accompany his companion Marlen Deljardo back to Valmar. At her suggestion, they are going to consult a forensic specialist on Bradar, who may be able to identify the technology involved in the mysterious objects from the reservoir, and so lead us to a better understanding of the saboteur’s possible motives. The other spheres will be examined on board the Enterprise, although at present Lieutenant LaForge and his team are still working on the problem of the water filters.

Dr Pulaski has reported a steady improvement within the city of Valmar. As more of the patients are cured, more local physicians are able to assist in treating the victims. Cdr Riker continues to oversee the search for the missing JBE component; however, the Bradari have managed to set up an effective system of water supply and rationing to ensure that contaminated water is not consumed, and the number of new victims is reduced to almost none.

* * *

The journey back towards Valmar was more sedate than the frantic outward ride had been. Marlen gave directions from her blanket cocoon, and her wet clothes streamed out behind them like flags, drying rapidly. Convenient to their westerly position, the laboratory to which she navigated them was on the north-western side of the city, and even at Data’s dignified pace the groundcar took them there in only 33.2 minutes.

News of their arrival had preceded them. Marlen had still been unable to reach her mother directly from the groundcar, but was not much worried by this: it meant that the Speaker was busy getting things done. The Enterprise obviously enjoyed a priority communication channel, and had conveyed word of the spheres to the Speaker’s Bureau and to the laboratory, outside whose domes a sturdy, grey-bearded man was standing. Marlen leaped from the car and into a fierce embrace.

The hugging done, she introduced Data to her nunc’ Kamva, the forensic specialist who would be dealing with their discoveries.

"Nunc’ should have been Named my father, really," she teased. "We’re so alike."

"Sheren preserve me from your mother! Besides, that would have been dishonest," the specialist said, wagging a finger at her. "Not proper behaviour for the Speaker of Bradar."

"Pardon me," said Data, "but—you prize honesty, yet the Speaker who lied about her child’s parentage is regarded as one of your highest heroes. How is this possible?"

"I’ve been telling Data the story of Sheren and Yarga," Marlen explained. "The circumstances were exceptional."

"There’s an exception for every rule," Kamva said at the same time. They looked at one another, and as they laughed, Data thought he could discern the resemblance between them, more a nuance of expression than of bone or feature.

Kamva’s eyes grew grave, though, when he told his visitors that of all his staff, only he himself and one assistant remained unaffected by the plague.

"But the Voice brings good news from the city," he continued more cheerfully. "Your doctor," he bowed lightly to Data, "seems to have found the miracle we needed."

"The Voice?" Data was unfamiliar with the reference.

"Our communication network. Jaren—the Speaker—closed it down for several days, as there was no good news to be had and the bad news only made everyone more miserable. But it was up again last night to tell us of the progress in combating the plague, and that no-one was to drink water from the Tantene. We’ve had only encouraging bulletins since midday."

"I understand," said Data, but he appeared unsettled. "I am not certain it is wise to let the entire populace know that the plague is being treated. The spheres are proof that the outbreak was deliberately engineered. We have not yet discovered the purpose or the identity of the saboteur. Perhaps he or she will make another attempt."

"Hmm." Kamva was plainly disturbed by the thought. "Then we had better see what these devices can tell us about our saboteur. Let’s have a look at this sphere, then."

* * *

"I see you’ve rotated some of your staff back to the ship," Riker observed, catching Dr Pulaski between patients.

"It does them good to get a change of environment once in a while. Now that we have the situation in hand, I can let my staff rest. The Bradari physicians are very competent."

"You know, Doctor, it really wouldn’t hurt you to take a break yourself," Riker informed the CMO. "You can’t help these people if you are exhausted."

"Nonsense," Pulaski asserted. "I had several hours’ rest last night. I’m in no danger of falling asleep on the job, Commander. Speaking of which, how much sleep have you had?"

"Enough," he replied, grinning, "besides, I want luck more than I want sleep. I’ve had people all over the city looking for the source of this compound Geordi has identified, and we’re getting nowhere."

"What compound?"

"I don’t think it has a name," said Riker, offering her the tricorder on which the chemical formula was displayed. "It’s a component of JBE; it seems our saboteur is a very clever molecular chemist. The JBE is undetectable because it’s been split into several parts. We’ve found the sources of the other elements, but this one is very well hidden."

Pulaski sniffed. "Look around you, Commander."

He was confused.

"I can tell you precisely where this compound is located. It’s present in the blood of every one of these people. It’s the Bradari equivalent of haemoglobin."

Riker bit his tongue on a colourful collection of oaths.

"It seems," Pulaski went on, "that your molecular wizard has more than a passing familiarity with Bradari physiology. I’d say that means we should be looking for a disgruntled biochemist or a rogue medic."

"Why do you think so?" asked Deanna, who had been sitting by the next bed and had obviously overheard the tail end of the conversation.

"I had to access the city’s medical database in order to figure out the best way to flush the JBE out of these people’s systems," Pulaski replied, "but it was only the nature of the problem that led me to investigate so precisely the actual chemical makeup of the cells. I had to determine whether the thorcosamine would do any damage while it pulled the JBE out of them. The knowledge required to produce this so-called plague is not something that would be widespread among the population. Actually, I’d say it’s leading edge technology for the Bradari. There really can’t be many people here who could have done it."

"Could the ‘plague’ have been generated by someone off-planet?" Riker asked.

Pulaski considered. "It would be possible for an offworlder to do a covert scan of these people to obtain the medical information—but there are plenty of far easier ways to contaminate a water supply. They’d have to have thought of the idea first, then obtained tissue and blood samples... Occam’s Razor suggests that this was devised by someone who already knew the formulae involved."

"I’d better tell the captain. He’ll want to pass this on to Speaker Deljardo."

* * *

"It seems so impossible," Speaker Deljardo said morosely, "that any Bradari could deliberately inflict such suffering on so many of our people. Are you certain that the devices were not put there by an offworlder?"

"It is possible, Speaker," Picard said to the image on his screen. "When we have analysed the spheres aboard the Enterprise we should be able to identify the source of the technology involved, assuming it comes from a culture we know. But you yourself told me that it was extremely unlikely any visiting trader had been outside the city. Are there any... dissidents on Bradar? A group with a grudge against the government, perhaps?"

She hunched a defensive shoulder, and frowned. "There are disagreements, of course. No-one can please all the people. If we all thought the same way, we’d have died out long ago, from boredom. But..."

Picard waited patiently for her to unfold her thoughts.

"Some people believe that we have grown soft and weak. Mostly out-dwellers, who choose not to be confined by the city’s crowds. They would like us to build warships, at least to defend ourselves, and to keep an army. But most of us see no necessity for such things. Our lives have been so much improved in the last century, with no need to keep pushing resources into war—our medical technology, our buildings, our farming. So I suppose the disgruntled out-dwellers might have done this, feeling less kinship with the in-dwellers in the city."

"It seems an odd response, though. If these people want you to be more warlike, starting the plague..."

"You are quite right, Captain. It makes very little sense."

"Are there other disaffected groups?" he prompted.

"There are some who feel we should be doing more to help the home world," she began.

"The home world? Forgive me, Speaker, but I thought Bradar was your home world."

"Oh, no. Our native planet orbits another star. Our establishers came here with great difficulty some hundred and twenty orbits ago. The home planet was in turmoil, always. Too little land, too many people fighting for it. Some of my people believe we should communicate with Braf and show them that they need not be always at war, that there is room enough in the universe if they will go and find it. Most of us, however, believe that the Braf-yn should solve their own problems."

"And besides, it doesn’t sound as though these people would have anything to gain by starting the plague."

"No. Although of course, members of this group would be better versed in the technology involved than the out-dwellers would. Out-dwellers mostly concentrate on farming. I suppose..." the Speaker halted.

"You’ve thought of a possibility."

"It seems unkind to name someone who might be quite innocent. It’s just that one of the more vocal members of the Reunity group... well. I think we must wait until the spheres are analysed, Captain. If I am correct in what I suppose, my friend Kamva Enyiss will certainly be able to identify the saboteur."

* * *

Marlen bounced into the room. "I spoke to Mother," she announced. "They’ve definitely conquered the plague now. More people are being cured every hour, and no-one else is falling ill. Do you know, Kamva, our family well is now supplying nearly a tenth of the city! Rationed, of course, but how splendid!"

"It is very fortunate that there are uncontaminated water sources so close to the city," said Data.

"It’s lucky the saboteur could not get to the private wells. If those had been polluted too, there would probably have been no-one in the city sane enough to send a distress call," Kamva commented.

"So... it’s not someone from a Council family, anyway," said Marlen, thoughtfully. "That is, if we assume whoever caused the plague wanted the whole city to fall apart. That leaves disgruntled out-dwellers, madmen, or someone who’s in league with the home world."

"What about outsiders?" Kamva interrupted. "Otherworlders, I mean."

"I would speculate," said Data, "that the author of the jobethyloselecybinamide contamination is a native of Bradar. Whoever polluted the Tantene Water knew that the JBE components would pass the water filters at Tantene Edge."

"I say it must have been one of the alien traders," said Kamva stubbornly. "Perhaps someone wanted to sell us a cure, so they had to plant the disease?"

"If alien traders wished to take advantage of Bradar while most of the inhabitants were helpless, they are very late in arriving," Data pointed out reasonably. "The Enterprise was the only ship within hailing distance of your distress signal."

"Then... perhaps it was Federation people." Kamva draw back from the android, frowning. "Perhaps they sent you!"

"Don’t be silly, Nunc’. Data’s people haven’t tried to sell us anything! They’ve given us what we need, and haven’t made any demands at all. Besides, how long is it since any traders came from the Federation?"

Kamva muttered, obviously unwilling to give up his theory, but Marlen continued: "In any case, Mother told me that the Enterprise’s doctor has discovered that the missing component of the hallucinogen is found in Bradari blood."

Data was interested, and would have asked for more information, but that the sphere in his hands suddenly felt strange. When he examined it, a hairline crack was widening rapidly, then one hemisphere rotated smoothly, leaving visible a transparent internal reservoir and four tiny silver chips. Kamva pounced on the object with a cry of glee.

"You must have touched the trigger spot. I thought it would take us hours to get the thing open," Marlen said to Data as they watched the forensic scientist at work.

Kamva placed the opened sphere in a deep scanning device and took readings throughout several spectra. He scowled, stared, poked and prodded, carefully dissected the object, scanned each chip, and eventually sniffed crossly and turned to face his companions.

"Matani," he said.

Data was baffled, but Marlen seemed to understand. "Are you sure?" she queried.

"Very elegant work. Drip feed, regulated start time, anti-tamper device. We’re more fortunate than we realised: if Data here hadn’t managed to open the sphere by the proper trigger point, it might have blown his hands off. No, it’s Matani’s work. Besides, who else can you think of who’d have the expertise to cause a plague and the ruthlessness to implement it?"

"Who is Matani?" Data inquired mildly.

"An erstwhile colleague of mine," Kamva replied. "He’s got some very strange views, thinks we’ve forgotten our obligations to the home planet, never mind that our establishers would have been killed if they’d stayed on Braf, that kind of thing. He tried to join the Council once, but fortunately his views don’t get much support."

"I wonder why he did it..." Marlen was staring out of the large oval window. "Well, we’d better go and find him, don’t you think so, Nunc’ Kamva?"

"Absolutely. I’ll just... there. I’ve encoded a message for the Speaker. If we don’t find Matani at his retreat, she can get a search in motion. Come!"

The two Bradari hurtled outside. Data followed them with less obvious haste but no less speed. Moments later they had piled into the groundcar and were heading for the hills.

* * *

"I am more than happy to offer you our assistance in searching for the culprit," said Picard to the image on his screen.

Speaker Deljardo considered. "I think, Captain, that we should pursue the matter without your help. Don’t misunderstand me—I speak for all Bradar when I say we are profoundly grateful to you all for the help you have given. But for my people’s sake, we must take the remaining steps on our own. I believe we can deal with the problems now."

"Understood, Speaker," said Picard. In fact, he rather approved: it was not the Enterprise’s business to act as policemen for a planet which was well able to take care of its own. "I’ll instruct Lieutenant Worf to start withdrawing his teams back to the ship."

"Even your medical staff may leave," the Bradari woman continued. "They have taught our physicians how to fight the plague, and already the major part of that battle is fought and won. We can heal our remaining sick, now—and besides, your people need to rest! Your Pulaski is a marvel, but even she must need sleep sometimes."

Picard smiled ruefully. "Commander Riker will probably have to tie her up and drag her back to the ship, while there are still sick people who need help, but I agree, Speaker, that Bradar no longer needs our assistance. We’re glad to have been able to help."

"Oh," she smiled, "I’m not dismissing all the Enterprise can offer, Captain. I believe our engineers are still collaborating on the matter of the water cleansing."

* * *

The Starfleet engineers and Bradari water techs ate their cold luncheon in glum silence. The news conveyed via the ship that Pulaski’s team was successfully treating the plague victims had cheered them considerably for a while; but as the missing JBE molecules were in every Bradari’s bloodstream, it was impossible to contemplate life on Bradar—or at least in Valmar city—if the contamination could not be cleared from the lake, and so far, they had made precious little progress.

Geordi, Wesley and Powla Venapes sat side by side, faces wrinkled in concentration as they chewed absently on the sandwiches the Enterprise had replicated for them. Geordi had developed considerable respect for his Bradari counterpart’s abilities: trouble was, he thought, neither of them really knew the other’s technology in enough detail.

"Look, why don’t you come up to the Enterprise with me?" he suggested to the startled Bradari. "You know the set-up here, I know what the Enterprise can do—and on board ship we have a much more powerful computer to help us work. Duffy can stay here to see if there’s anything in your current system that might give us something to work with, provide a different perspective."

"I should probably send someone else," Powla said worriedly. "I do know more about the systems than anyone else who is fit enough to work right now, but I’m in charge. Zacha!" he called to a passing technician, who responded at once. "Will you go up to the Enterprise and help Lieutenant LaForge to work on the new filters?"

The burly technician recoiled. "Do you mean—I’d have to be transported? No, I’m sorry, but I—I can’t."

Powla grasped the man’s shoulder comfortingly. "No, it’s all right. I’d forgotten about the transporter. I don’t suppose there’s anyone here who’d be willing to undergo that. I’ll have to go myself." He swallowed, and squared his shoulders. "Please take over here. Senior techs Nortyn and Dario are due to return soon, but you will be able to manage until one of them arrives." As the unsettled technician scurried away, Powla faced the startled LaForge. "I’ll go with you."

"We can get a shuttle," LaForge offered. "It won’t take that long."

"No," said Powla, "no, it would be foolish to waste time in indulging my fears. I have always been pleased to try new experiences. I will try this one."

"Great," said Wesley, trying to reassure the wan Bradari. "You know, there’s really nothing to worry about. Being transported is—well, it’s fine."

The Bradari male gave him an uneasy smile. "I’m sure you’re right, Wesley. But... we Bradari have always declined to make use of transporter technology. When we settled this planet, five generations ago, we had no idea such a thing was even possible, and we—perhaps we’ve grown suspicious of many things which originated elsewhere. Of course, we do trade with the Federation, and others occasionally, but we don’t—it’s complicated to explain." He shrugged. "I like to think of myself as being comfortable with all kinds of machine, but the very thought of this frightens me. Let’s... let’s get it over with."

"Sure," said LaForge, and signalled the Enterprise. "Three to beam up."

In the transporter room, Powla Venapes stumbled down the steps, grinning maniacally and gasping for breath.

"See?" LaForge grinned back at him. "That wasn’t so bad, was it?"

"I am still alive, at any rate, not scattered across the universe! But I am most relieved to be in one piece again."

"C’mon, let’s get to Engineering. We’ve a lot of work to do."

The Bradari technician seemed fascinated by the Enterprise’s smooth corridors. His head snapped from side to side as he stared hungrily at every door, every display, and along every intersection. He looked like a tourist, gawking at the sights. Geordi teased him about it, and Powla admitted ruefully that he had never been aboard a space ship before.

"We have ships, of course, for trade and for moon-mining, but nothing so fine as this. It’s magnificent!"

Geordi grinned proudly. "She sure is!"

"She?" The Bradari male halted abruptly.

"It’s just a convention," Wesley explained. "For some reason, on Earth, ships have always been known as ‘she’, right back from the early days of sail."

"Ah, I see." Powla looked relieved, and started walking again. "Did your culture have a tradition of female explorers?"

"Uhh... you should probably talk to Captain Picard about that," Wesley suggested. "When the plague is dealt with, of course."

"With luck, we might get a couple of days’ shore leave when things are back to normal," Geordi suggested. "Bradar looks like a beautiful place." If you don’t mind thistles, he added mentally.

"It is! I would very much enjoy the opportunity to show you more of my home," Powla said enthusiastically, and went on to explain exactly why Bradar was the loveliest planet in this—or possibly any—sector of the galaxy.

* * *

Captain’s Log, supplemental

Thanks to Commander Data’s efforts the sources of pollution within the reservoir have been removed, but the water is still not safe for Bradari use. Some ship’s personnel are still working in the city to distribute the rationed supplies of uncontaminated water, although as the plague victims are restored to health, this duty is gradually being relinquished into Bradari hands.

Commander Data and the Bradari forensic scientist Kamva Enyiss have identified the saboteur. They attempted to apprehend him but found his home deserted, and are returning to the city to present their evidence to the Speaker and Council. A planet-wide search for the missing individual is being undertaken by the local authorities.

Speaker Deljardo has informed me that the Bradari physicians believe they no longer need the services of the Enterprise’s medical staff, although Dr Pulaski and some of her staff are remaining in the city to assist until such time as we are ready to leave orbit. This we will do when the matter of the water purity is solved satisfactorily. Chief Engineer LaForge is collaborating with a Bradari technician to devise effective filters, and they hope to have solved the remaining difficulties by midday tomorrow.

"What is it, Mr LaForge?"

"Sir, I think Data is in trouble."

"In what way?"

"You know that I’ve been working with Powla Venapes, the Bradari water tech."

"He came aboard to work on the problem of filtering the JBE. Go on."

"Captain, Powla seems to be one of the most... I guess the most flexible Bradari. He was willing to use the transporter—apparently most of them just won’t contemplate it. But when I asked the computer to run an analysis, he screamed."

"Screamed?" Picard sat forward in astonishment. "Why?"

"It took me a while to get the story from him. He was very upset. It seems they have some kind of prohibition, well, more than a prohibition, it’s more fundamental than that, against having machines with human characteristics. Bradari characteristics, I mean, but—"

"I get the picture, Mr LaForge. Please continue."

"So hearing the computer speak with a human voice, he just... lost it, Captain. He kept trying to hide, saying it was an abomination. Eventually we got him calmed down, and he said something about a machine which walked. It seems to have been something in the history of their original planet, Captain. Whether it was a legend or it really happened I can’t tell, but it’s really left its mark in Bradari culture. No machine is ever built with any kind of human—uh, humanoid characteristics. Not form, not voice, not anything."

Picard ran a hand wearily over his face. "Merde."

"Captain, we have to get Data out of there before anyone finds out he’s an android."

"I quite agree, Mr LaForge. Enterprise to Commander Data."

They waited for a disconcerting moment, but the expected response did not come. Instead, they heard the voice of Speaker Deljardo: Captain Picard, I regret to inform you that your personnel on Bradar are not at present permitted to communicate with you. I trust this is a temporary situation and will be resolved shortly. Meanwhile, please take no action to retrieve your crewmembers. No harm will come to them, you have my word.

* * *

"I just wish I knew what was going on!"

"I don’t like being without my communicator, either, Commander, but what choice did we have?" said Pulaski, reasonably.

"It was obvious they were ready to use their weapons if you resisted, Will. That wouldn’t have got us anywhere," Deanna put in.

"But what could have caused the Bradari to act this way?" Riker said, baffled. "One minute we were all getting along just fine, the next minute they act as though we’re their worst enemies."

"Nonsense, Commander. They haven’t done us any harm, they haven’t been hostile, we aren’t under arrest," said Pulaski. "We’ve simply been asked to hand over our communicators."

"And you find that acceptable, do you, Doctor? We’re stuck in here, unable to speak to the Captain, because suddenly our Bradari friends have turned nasty."

"I’d say they were very polite about it. Until you objected," said Deanna. "Will, I sensed no hostility from the officials who came to see us. I don’t think it seemed anything more than a routine matter to them. They were surprised when you refused to comply."

Riker glared at her, but could not deny the truth of her words. "I still don’t like it," he announced, and sat grumpily on the wooden chair by the small window.

"Will, the Enterprise can beam us out if there’s any need," Deanna pointed out. "They know where we are, and the sensors can pick us out from the local people with no difficulty."

"But we don’t know what’s going on!"

"Nonetheless, we’re not in any danger from these people. They did say it was a temporary measure. We’ll probably have our communicators back in half an hour."

Riker glowered.

The door opened, and through it came Speaker Deljardo. She smiled briefly at their astonishment, and held up a hand to quiet the babble of questions.

"Firstly, let me apologise for the necessity of keeping you all confined in here. It seems a poor repayment after your work on our behalf, but I hope you will understand that we deemed it important to separate you from Commander Data."

"Speaker, we don’t even know where Commander Data is right now," Riker said angrily.

"I can tell you that," she replied serenely. "He is at my home. However, you must make no attempt to communicate with him, nor he with you. It is for this reason that your communication devices were removed."

"I don’t understand what Data has done," Pulaski announced, "but I do know that there are still sick people out there who could use some help. We would be more use to you working in the wards than confined in here."

The Speaker considered. "Of course," she said. "If you give me your promise that you will not go outside Valmarene Infirmary or make any attempt to contact Data while you are here, you are free within these walls."

Pulaski thought about this. "Speaker, I do want to get back to my patients, and I know Nurse Ogawa feels the same, but perhaps we should know a bit more about the situation before we give you our word."

"Yes, Speaker," Troi broke in, "if you could explain?"

"It is perfectly simple," Jaren Deljardo told them. "Your Commander Data has been Named as the father of the child my daughter has lately conceived. He has not yet agreed to accept his responsibilities, and accordingly is being held at my home. We do not wish his decision to be influenced by anyone; it is important to know what manner of man my daughter has found to father her child. He will not be harmed, I assure you."

There was a stunned silence from the Enterprise officers, broken at last by Cdr Riker: "If you would give us a few minutes in private, Speaker, to discuss this?"

"Certainly," she said graciously. "I can see that you are surprised by this news. I will return shortly."

 

"I assume we’re all agreed that the situation is ridiculous," said Pulaski grimly. "The Speaker’s daughter made a big mistake when she chose to accuse the one man in Starfleet who could never have fathered her child!"

"How could she even imagine..." Nurse Ogawa began, and faded into embarrassed silence.

"Unless she’s very innocent indeed," Deanna said crisply, "I think we can assume that the Speaker’s daughter knows perfectly well Data isn’t really her baby’s father. I mean, he wouldn’t—well, he couldn’t be."

"No," said Riker, though with perhaps less conviction than Deanna had expected. Alone of those present, he could recall Data’s delicate statement that he had been ‘intimate’ with Tasha Yar. He could even remember the twinge of envy he had felt. Maybe Data and this girl had... but he couldn’t have made her pregnant in any event, so there was no sense revealing Data’s, hm, capabilities. "The girl must have had some reason for choosing Data rather than the actual father."

"But why would she do such a thing?" Nurse Ogawa wondered. "Why would she name Commander Data, rather than... someone from this planet? What can she possibly have to gain by it?"

They thought about this.

"Maybe... maybe she doesn’t want to reveal the true father’s name," Deanna suggested. "It might be someone the Speaker would find unacceptable. We don’t really know much about the society here, there could be political factions, or caste differences, or family feuds—anything."

"Montagues and Capulets," Pulaski muttered, then shrugged.

"It could be more subtle than that," Riker said. "Maybe the girl wants to marry a Starfleet officer, get off-planet. Data could seem like her best chance to get away from Bradar and see life on a starship."

"Now that I can believe," Pulaski admitted. "I guess Data was the one Starfleet officer this girl had had any contact with, so he was her only option."

"If the girl is the one who insisted that he be kept incommunicado, it might be so that we’d have no chance to warn him he’s being conned," Riker went on. "It’s an obvious possibility to us, but Data tends to see things differently. The girl probably realises he’s too innocent to notice he’s being used."

"Perhaps she just likes him," said Deanna with asperity. "Data can be very endearing."

Pulaski gave her a pitying look. "Counselor, do you really think that just because Data has certain pre-programmed appealing characteristics, he’d be a good choice for any flesh-and-blood woman’s husband?"

"I wonder if these people even know Data’s an android?" Riker murmured.

"Perhaps we should tell them. That would put an end to this nonsense," said Pulaski.

"I think we should wait and see if the situation resolves itself," said Deanna. "If this girl has some other motive, it might cause a lot of trouble if we clear up the situation and leave her no way to save face. As I just said, we really don’t know much about how Bradari society works."

"All right, Counselor," said Riker. "We’ll play along. For now."

"I take it there will be no objection if I get back to the sick, Commander?"

"No, Doctor. In fact, we can all help, if the Speaker will permit it. I’m sure you can find something useful for me to do." He grinned ruefully. "I think I’d rather carry slop buckets than sit looking at these four walls any longer!"

* * *

The small group sat glumly in the Observation Lounge. There were too many empty chairs around the table.

"I’m sorry, Captain, still nothing," Wesley announced wearily. He had reconfigured the sensors and scanned the entire continent, but Data was not to be found. "He may be underground, or in some kind of shielded facility."

"Have you located the Away Team?" Picard asked.

"Yes sir. They’re in the centre of the city, in the main infirmary."

"Hmm. Liaise with Chief O’Brien, I want him to keep a lock on them, in case we have to get them out of there. But for the moment, I suppose we had better wait and see what the Bradari do next."

"Sir," Worf interrupted, "we could send a team of security officers back down to investigate. People on the ground may be in a position to notice what the sensors cannot show us."

"I know, Mr Worf, I know. But Speaker Deljardo asked us not to interfere, and I am reluctant to take any kind of provocative action. So far, no-one from the Enterprise has been harmed in any way. What has Technician Venapes said about the situation, Mr LaForge?"

"Well, sir, it’s kinda strange. He doesn’t seem to think there’s anything unusual, except maybe for the fact that Data hasn’t owned up at once to being the child’s father."

"You inquired about genetic tests and so forth?"

"Yes, sir. But he just said it wasn’t necessary, that the mother would know."

"In this instance, I think we can assume he is incorrect. Of course, he is unaware that Data is an android."

"Yes, sir. After the way he reacted to the computer, I didn’t know what he’d do if he found out. But that’s what worries me, sir. If they find out, down on Bradar, that Data is actually a machine, I don’t know what’ll happen, but my guess is, it’ll be pretty bad. They’d certainly destroy him, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they tried to kill everyone from the Enterprise."

Wesley took over. "They’d think we’re tainted, Captain. For two hours after he heard the computer’s voice, Powla could barely bring himself to speak to Geordi or me, he didn’t want us to touch him or anything."

"He’s calmed down now, but Powla is about as open-minded a Bradari as you can get," said LaForge. "He seems to have accepted that a computer with a human voice isn’t necessarily an abomination, but I doubt if his fellow citizens would agree."

"In any case," Picard thought aloud, "they might simply act on instinct, and by the time rationality returned, it could be too late."

LaForge’s face was creased with worry. "Data could be in real danger. As far as we know, he doesn’t have any reason not to tell them he’s an android, it could come out any time. If he explains that he isn’t organic, that he can’t be the father..."

Picard drew in a long breath, and sat back in his chair. "What puzzles me is that Data has not denied the accusation. He may be aware of the Bradari attitude towards humanoid machines. Or... Is it, do you think, absolutely impossible that he could in fact be the child’s father?" The android’s admission of ‘intimacy’ stuck in his mind. "Perhaps his creator endowed him with a store of... reproductive material?"

"I guess it’s possible," Geordi said thoughtfully. "He could have a stasis chamber for genetic material. Of course, it would have to be compatible with Bradari DNA. Though how would he... uh..."

"Commander Data is an honourable man," said Worf gruffly. "He would not attempt to evade his responsibilities."

"Maybe... maybe Data wants to be the father," said Wesley. "He’s always trying to be more human, this could be part of it."

"Hmm," said Picard. "I cannot help but feel there is some factor in the equation of which we are unaware. If we—"

Captain, Speaker Deljardo is hailing us.

"Put it through." Picard swivelled in his chair to look at the Observation Lounge’s screen as it filled with the image of the Bradari Speaker. She was smiling.

"Captain, I am pleased to inform you that Lieutenant Commander Data has accepted fatherhood of my daughter’s child-to-be. He and Marlen will take vows in three days’ time." She went on to announce that Data, naturally, would remain on the surface as her guest, but the members of the Away Team would be released at once and permitted to return to the ship. The Speaker apologised for the uncomfortable situation that had arisen, offered her planet’s heartfelt thanks for the Enterprise’s help, and expressed the hope that all the crew members would attend the vow-making and partake of the celebration afterwards.

Picard, more than a little stunned, made a polite reply, and once the connection had been terminated, turned back to his officers.

"I don’t understand—why would he do this?" said Geordi. "It sounds like he’s being shanghaied into marrying this girl. What’s the phrase—a shotgun wedding!"

* * *

Captain’s Log

The Enterprise remains in orbit around Bradar. All crewmembers except Lt Cdr Data have now returned to the ship, although Lt LaForge and some of his engineering team have made a brief visit to the Tantene Edge plant in order to assist with the installation of the newly devised water filters. These are now working satisfactorily, so the threat from the reservoir has been eliminated.

Speaker Deljardo has informed me that, after the experience of working with Enterprise personnel, Bradar wishes to join the Federation. Accordingly, a Federation Ambassador is being sent to Bradar, but for now I have been authorised to welcome the planet in a formal ceremony which has been scheduled to take place shortly before Cdr Data and Marlen Deljardo take their vows. It is, in consequence, even more important that the Bradari are not made aware of the fact that Cdr Data is an android, as it is clear that in addition to putting Data’s life at risk, this would destroy the good relationship between ourselves and the Bradari.

The Enterprise is still unable to locate Lt Cdr Data, or to communicate with him, and so he is, as far as we know, unaware of the dangers of his position. We can only hope that he will not choose to reveal his artificial nature for any reason.

* * *

Valmar City Hall was a magnificent building, elegant in proportion and aligned with a long avenue of tall, sage-leaved trees. Like all the city’s edifices, it was constructed of the local grey stone, but the octagonal interior of the great hall—which bore no trace of its recent use as a temporary infirmary—was decorated with silk and slender panels of ornamental glass. And, apparently also in common with the other buildings of the city, a good half of the building was underground: a map of the Hall, located next to the entrance, showed that it was at least as deep as it was high. Perhaps this pattern of construction was a legacy from the home world, where land was scarce and war prevailed.

The senior officers of the Enterprise, together with almost all the medical personnel and a good many other crewmembers, sat in tiers along two sides of the octagon to watch as Captain Picard (in full dress uniform) and Speaker Deljardo (in a surplice of shimmering silvery cloth and wearing a jewelled badge of office) played out a ceremony of gratitude and welcome. The adjacent quarter of the hall, similarly tiered, was occupied by locals, though it was not entirely clear whether they were dignitaries or family members gathered to celebrate a wedding. But then, Riker mused, perhaps the local dignitaries were members of the Speaker’s family.

Picard and Deljardo were clasped in a final handshake when a commotion was heard at the door. Moments later, a small group burst in. "Speaker!"

"Kamva Enyiss! What are—ah. I see you have found our culprit."

Riker admired the Speaker’s calm. The stately occasion was disrupted by five distinctly grubby characters, one of whom had his wrists fettered to two of the others, and yet the Speaker was no more ruffled than was Captain Picard.

"He was in the hills west of the Tantene, Speaker Deljardo," Kamva announced importantly. "He appeared to be setting up some kind of astronomical apparatus."

The captive was thrust into the centre of the hall. Although dishevelled he was unrepentantly defiant. The Speaker turned towards him, but maintained a dignified distance.

"Matani Delvane. You are accused of setting devices in the Tantene Water to cause the recent ‘plague’ through the city. You will be brought before the assembly—"

"No need for a trial, Speaker. I admit it."

There was a hiss of comment from the Bradari in the tiers opposite. Riker watched them in some unease, but they remained in their places, and quietened to see what happened next.

"What cause can you possibly have had to inflict such suffering on our people?" the Speaker asked him sternly.

"Our people are—"

Another dramatic interruption, this time emanating from the Captain’s communicator.

Sir, sensors are detecting a fleet of seven ships entering the system.

Matani Delvane grinned in manic triumph. "Our people, Speaker, are in those ships. Coming to claim their share! I invited them! I told them nobody here would resist, that you’d all be delusional or too busy to notice them or stop them coming to settle this planet. I told them there was land here for all. You—" his gesture, though constrained by the ties on his wrists, encompassed the assembled Bradari, "you wanted to keep this world to yourselves, but I say, all Sheren’s people should have the chance of a life without war!"

Captain Picard cleared his throat. "Speaker, if you will permit it, I will return to the Enterprise. If these ships are unfriendly, you are entitled to call upon Starfleet to defend you."

"I thank you, Captain Picard, and I hope you will indeed stand ready to defend us. Unlike this deluded idealist, I am not convinced that the people on our home planet will be coming in peace to share our world. However, they will find us less unprepared than they expected," Deljardo said grimly.

So much for Data’s wedding, thought Riker, as he and his fellow officers were swiftly transported back to the ship.

* * *

Picard lost no time in establishing three-way communications with the incoming ships and the Bradari on the planet. However, the newcomers were not interested in talk. Neither were they interested in sharing anything with anyone: their intention was to take the planet from its present inhabitants, whom they appeared to regard with scorn, as cowards too weak for war.

Speaker Deljardo was unsurprised. "I think you may have to destroy them, Captain Picard," she said. "All the history I know of the Braf-yn tells me that these people are ruthless in the search for territory of their own. They won’t tamely turn around and go away."

Picard frowned. "I don’t think it need necessarily come to that, Speaker. Mr Worf, do the ships represent a threat to the Enterprise?"

Worf scowled at his console. "No, sir. Their weapons are insufficient to penetrate our shields. Their own shields are sufficient only for navigation, not for battle." Was there disappointment in the Klingon’s tone? Surely not.

"In that case, target their weapons systems. We will not fire unless they make the first aggressive move."

"Aye, sir."

It took the incoming ships more than two hours to get within range of Bradar, by which time the Speaker had informed Captain Picard that such planetary defences as existed were now manned and ready for action. There were, it transpired, missile sites on selected hilltops and in orbit. Clearly the Bradari had been prepared to maintain their peaceful existence with some determination.

There was an abrupt hail from the commander of the Braf-yn fleet. "Alien ship! Leave now, or you will be destroyed!" Picard’s eyebrows rose at this, but he made no comment, just caught his First Officer’s eye.

"Shields up!" said Riker.

The seven ships broke formation and surrounded the Enterprise.

"Weapons systems targeted," Worf reminded the captain, and a burst of yellow light appeared on the viewscreen as the Braf-yn ships opened fire.

"Very well, Mr Worf. Fire at will."

Thirty seconds later, six of the Braf-yn ships were circling helplessly, as the seventh wallowed in space, its engines disabled by the same phaser fire that had nullified its weaponry.

"I think perhaps they might be a little more amenable to reason now, don’t you, Number One?" Picard murmured. "Open hailing frequencies."

Back in his quarters, as he changed back into dress uniform (no sense wearing it on the bridge to conduct a battle, and besides, he hated the thing), the captain recalled with some satisfaction the astonished chagrin on the face of the Braf-yn commander as he was forced to offer his surrender.

* * *

Picard was impressed by the Bradari. Speaker Deljardo had proved remarkably unvengeful. She had invited the would-be invaders to remain in orbit—they were complying, under the watchful eye of Lieutenant Worf (Worf didn’t care for weddings, anyway)—and to participate in discussions in three days’ time. The Speaker had confided to Picard that she did not feel a fleet of invaders could ever integrate into Bradari society, and that it would be too great a risk to share the planet with such warlike people; but she was willing to offer them the data her people had gathered on the habitability of planets in reasonably accessible star systems. Picard had a shrewd idea that the Federation might be persuaded to assist the Braf-yn in their search for living space, if they proved reasonable. Since the rugged landscapes of Bradar were described as paradise by its inhabitants, it seemed likely that the Braf-yn would be tough enough to take on a less than idyllic world and make it into a new home.

Well, a Federation ambassador was already on the way, and would no doubt have his or her own opinions on the matter.

Smoothing a crease in the sleeve of his dress uniform, Picard prepared to beam back to the planet’s surface once more. This time, surely, there would be no further interruptions to the scheduled ceremony. Though he was still uncertain whether he should attempt to intervene: he and his officers had discussed the matter endlessly, it seemed, and yet failed to determine Data’s motives in consenting to this ‘shotgun wedding’. Might he request a few moments with his officer before the ceremony began? What would be the safest course?

* * *

In the guest suite on the lowest level of the Speaker’s house, a less decorous scene was being enacted.

"You lied to me!" The Speaker was furious. Her skin darkened and the tiny frills covering her ears splayed out aggressively. "You lied to me, and to our family and friends, and to the people of the Enterprise who were ready to attend your vows. Worst of all, you lied to this man, you allowed him to believe you were to have a child. How could you?"

"Mother, I had to. If I’d said there was going to be an invasion, you’d have thought I was hallucinating, affected by the plague." Marlen faced her mother pugnaciously, her small pointed chin thrust forward. Data, watching them in profile, noted that Jaren’s chin was similarly pointed and similarly thrust. "This way, I knew the Enterprise would have to stay in orbit, they would be there to protect us when the Braf-yn came."

"Quiet, child!" Jaren commanded. "Don’t try to justify yourself with more lies."

"I’m not lying, mother. I was trying to protect my home, Mother, and it worked! The plague was cured, the water filters were practically done—the Starfleet people were only here because they wouldn’t leave Data behind! If the Enterprise had left, the Braf-yn would have destroyed our home and probably killed us all."

The Speaker, balked but still furious, paced angrily across the octagonal room. "If you knew the Braf-yn were coming, if you had proof—"

"That’s just it, mother. I had no proof, I just... I just knew. When we went to Matani’s home, we saw some papers, didn’t we, Data? He’d left some of his notes, and a timetable, and I—I just—I can’t explain the logic, but I was right. The Braf-yn did come."

"Then you should have told the proper authorities. We could have requested the protection of the Enterprise. The Council had already decided to join the Federation, they would have had no reason to refuse."

"Captain Picard would not have refused you protection, Speaker," Data put in gently.

"But I had no proof, and if I’d said the Braf-yn were coming, you’d have thought I was hallucinating," Marlen said.

"That is a possibility," said Data. "Marlen was exposed to the Tantene Water when she entered the lake to retrieve the first sphere. I hypothesized that she had contracted the plague during that time when first I learned that she had Named me as her child’s father."

Both the Bradari females looked startled at that. Marlen began to laugh. "That never occurred to me," she admitted. "Is that why you didn’t accept fatherhood straight away—because you thought I might have the plague?"

"It seemed inappropriate," Data admitted.

The Speaker snorted, but clearly her wrath was cooling. "Yet you did accept the responsibility, Commander."

"After sufficient time had passed, I knew that if Marlen had been affected by JBE, it would have become obvious. I assumed that you would have informed me of her state of health. Since I received no such message, I was forced to conclude that she had some other motive for making such a statement."

"I hoped you’d remember the story of Sheren and Yarga. Of course," Marlen twisted her ear frills, "Sheren actually was carrying a child, unlike me."

Data inclined his head slightly but made no comment.

"Did you..." the Speaker paused, looking uncomfortable. "Did you believe that she had conceived your child?"

"That is not possible," he replied, gently.

"Of course not, you’re not Bradari," Marlen dismissed the notion.

"Nonetheless you Named the Commander," said Jaren. "And he was willing."

Marlen sighed, and appeared very much ashamed of herself. "I used you, didn’t I, Data? You see, from what you said to me, I knew your captain would not leave you here alone, just because the mission to help us was finished. I am sorry, truly sorry, but I had to have some means of holding the ship here. I knew the Braf-yn would be here soon, because Matani meant them to arrive when we were all in chaos due to the plague. But," she possessed herself of Data’s left hand, "I wish you were staying. I think I would have liked you to be co-parent to one of my children, when I have them. You’d be a good father."

Data’s lips parted slightly, and his eyes brightened. "Thank you, Marlen," he said gravely. "I would have been honoured."

"Instead it is time for the Commander to return to his ship," said Jaren briskly. "Taking with him your apologies and my thanks for his forbearance."

* * *

Commander Riker was waiting in the transporter room to escort Data to Sick Bay. Pulaski had obviously developed her own theories as to why the android had decided he was the father of Marlen Deljardo’s child, and wanted to examine him before he was allowed back on duty. It was plain that Data thought this unnecessary, but he acquiesced and sat on the biobed doing his best to ignore the doctor’s inquisitorial tricorder. Riker stood by, watching thoughtfully, then decided Data could probably do with some distraction.

"I take it the wedding is off?" Riker asked, a grin lurking in his eyes.

"Wedding, Commander?" Data wasn’t a whit embarrassed. Of course he wasn’t.

"You and Marlen Deljardo."

"Ah. You are under a misapprehension, Commander. The ceremony of vow-taking is not analogous to a human wedding. Unlike most humanoid races, Bradari do not pair-bond. Participants make vows committing them-selves to the upbringing of the child who is to be born."

"Oh. Then I guess she decided to admit you weren’t the father after all."

"In the Bradari culture, fatherhood is not based on genetic input but rather on the responsibility undertaken by a chosen male. The choice of father rests with the maternal parent: in general, the father is the genetic parent, but this is by no means inevitable."

"I see—then, it wasn’t a case of mistaken identity, or sticking you with another man’s indiscretion. You were chosen."

"Obviously you didn’t tell her you were an android," said Pulaski abruptly.

Data’s expression did not change. "No, doctor. It seemed unnecessary to volunteer the information, and I have observed that humanoids often display prejudice towards me when they are made aware of my artificial status."

Pulaski gaped like a goldfish for a few seconds. "Just as well you didn’t, Commander. The Bradari regard machines with humanoid characteristics as abominations."

Data’s eyebrows rose.

"It’s fortunate that you didn’t reveal it, either, isn’t it, Doctor?" Riker observed innocently. "You thought we should tell the Bradari Data couldn’t be anybody’s father because he was an android."

Pulaski folded her tricorder with a snap and pronounced Data’s system clear of jobethyloselecybinamide. He was at liberty to resume his duties whenever he wished.

"Thank you, Doctor," the android said politely, and stood. "Yes, Commander," he returned smoothly to an earlier point in the conversation, "I was chosen. Marlen Deljardo had other reasons for pretending to be carrying a child, but she informed me that I would be a good father." And he left.

Riker watched with a rueful smile as the door closed behind his friend. "I think she just might be right," he said, almost to himself.

Pulaski sniffed. "We’ll never know, will we?"

 

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