DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Karen A. Bates and is reprinted from Nuages One, published by Checkmate Press, April 1983. Checkmate Press is the property of Karen A. Bates. This story is Rated PG-13.
A Season for all Things...
Karen A. Bates-Crouch
** I **
With a tired gesture, Christine closed the lower instrument drawer and came to her feet. Why, she muttered, are instruments always kept in the bottom drawer? For the thirtieth time that day alone Christine asked herself if it was really all worth it. With a sidelong glance at the chronometer, she turned out the lights in the auxiliary workroom and trudged over to her desk. McCoy had long since left with the Captain for yet another evening of medicinal elbow bending, leaving her to clean up after surgery and finish her list of other duties. There was only one item remaining on the list to perform, but the dull ache in her lower back gave her an added incentive to commit a small act of defiance and Christine left sickbay with the task undone.
As she made her way down the corridors, her mind wandered on paths of its own. The three-day-old message tape safely tucked away in her top drawer replayed itself as her feet unerringly took her to her quarters. It had literally come out of the blue, taking Christine totally unaware. "...as the associate of the late Roger Korby ... most knowledgeable of his goals and aims not committed to paper or tape ... because of recent findings ... to continue his research, sponsored by the University of Epsilon Canaris II ...residency as full professor, heading the project..." The doors to her quarters opened and Christine went immediately to the work table, kicking off her boots as she settled into the chair. Still contemplating its contents, she dug the tape out of the drawer and held it loosely in her fingers. Leaning back, Christine bit her lower lip in thought as she flipped the cassette end over end in a distracted motion.
Epsilon Canaris II. Christine Chapel had spent many happy years there, first completing her Ph.D. in Bio research, then continuing as associate to the distinguished Roger Korby. It was a prestigious university, always at the center of the scientific community at large. The facilities were unequaled anywhere in the galaxy and it boasted of maintaining the largest central computer core library of scientific theses and dissertation services. Many of her own works were on file there, with countless others filed away in the auxiliary research library.
She'd come to space to find Roger, but now that he was proven dead and gone from her life there didn't seem to be much point in staying anymore. The excitement of space medicine and new discoveries had faded beneath the routine chores and subservient position under McCoy. Because of her title of Head Nurse, colleagues and shipmates either never realized or ignored her hard earned doctorate and the respect she held in her own field.
Christine pulled out a sheet of paper and started listing the pros and cons
of each alternative -- staying on the
As the lists grew longer, her thoughts went back to the years spent with Roger on Canaris. Those had been such happy times, always busy, yet finding time to fall in love and have that love returned and shared ... hours spent together in the lab poring over their microscopes and exchanging ideas, the long nights spent together planning the future while cherishing the present.
When had she stopped being Christine Chapel, living, breathing person and become Nurse Chapel, medical automaton? Why was one day little different from any other? Why was her isolated existence beginning to feel like a prison sentence? Would purgatory perhaps be a better description?
With an angry motion Christine ripped the paper in half and tossed the pieces aside. "This is ridiculous!" I can't think of one good reason to stay and here I am trying to rationalize my decision. Congratulations, Christine, you take the stubborn award of the day. Why don't you just admit it's that stupid, infantile obsession with Spock that's keeping you here, stagnating till kingdom come?
You've been trying for how long to get his attention? Four years. Four years and you're no further than day zero. Gee, with a track record like that you oughta start making some progress in, oh, maybe ninety years. By then, he'll be in the prime of his life and you'll be a candidate for the old folks' home and a rocking chair.
Let's not forget that wonderful moment on the bridge, when you received those sympathetic looks from the crew, as he announced that the beautiful woman on the screen was his wife. You expect to compete with someone like that? It's no wonder he never looks at you with a wife who looks like that. Only fools fall in love with married men. Always said that, didn't you? Yes, it was his fault for not telling you, but then, it was always a one-sided love affair, so why should he even take notice?
By morning, her resignation was ready for Kirk's signature.
* * *
Epsilon Canaris II, a beautiful planet with magenta sky glowing in one of
its more brilliant sunsets, was just as she remembered it from long ago. Much
different from the world of her childhood, Hebron III, with its great domed
cities to keep the poisonous atmosphere out. It had made life on the
The University had offered to have someone meet her at the spaceport, but Christine had declined, preferring to reacquaint herself with the planet, alone. Memories pressed on her as the shuttlebus carried her to the apartment she'd secured in advance. Campus buildings loomed in the distance, reflecting the last rays of the setting sun on their highly polished surfaces.
Setting her few pieces of luggage on the courtyard floor, Christine unlocked
the apartment door and quickly moved everything inside. It was small as
apartments went, but seemed overly spacious to her after the confining quarters
* * *
With the exception of an interview the day before, Christine had met no one and was facing the informal gathering of faculty members that night with considerable trepidation. It was her fifth day on Epsilon, but aside from a small amount of sight-seeing, most of her time had been occupied with a review of Roger's work and organizing her own resources.
As the shuttle tube carried her to the reception, Christine checked the faculty list one more time, recognizing only a few names as tenured professors still remaining from her days as student and other names, which struck familiar chords, from articles and papers she'd read. What kind of impression would she make on this prestigious group of people? Had she been out of the mainstream too long to belong immediately, or ever?
With a quick shake of her head and a quick brushup of her clothing, Christine collected herself and stepped out of the tube, walking briskly toward the newly constructed building where the reception was scheduled.
A brief wave of nostalgia swept over her as she stepped into the spacious
hall, reminiscent of a similar room on the
Damn, there she was again, dwelling on the past instead on concentrating on the present. It took a conscious effort to free herself of the memory entrapment and become aware that her name was spoken.
"Christine? Christine Chapel?" A burly man pressed his way through the congestion, holding out his hand in greeting.
"Jim? This is incredible! I never dreamed you'd be here, your name wasn't on the list or anything..."
"Typical bureaucracy. If you don't fill out the triplicate forms in all the right places and make sure each copy gets to the right idiot, you simply don't exist. Least, you made it here okay."
"Trouble with you, Jim, is you never figured out how to work with the system. Instead, you spend four times as long trying to wreak havoc on it rather than just 'filling out the proper forms'. Anyway, I'm glad you're here."
"Me, too. Now I have another chance of breaking you of that stick in the mud proper attitude. Korby was a bad influence on you, you know ... such a stickler for having the decimal point in the right place, rubbed off on you."
"Listen to you! Haven't changed a bit, have you? Still the same old Jim," Christine remarked as she lifted a glass from the passing tray. "It's no wonder Roger liked you so much, always raising just enough hell to keep things from getting dull."
Jim Robbins lifted his glass in toast. "Here's to Roger, the finest colleague a man could have." After a moment's silence, he phrased his next question with caution. "Did you ever find out what happened to him while you were out there in space, Chris?"
Christine breathed a quick thank you to Kirk for his deletion of Korby's actual demise from the official record. The Captain had felt it unnecessary to blemish such a distinguished career by a demeaning closing chapter. "I never did find him." Not quite the truth, not quite a lie. She had found a Roger Korby, but it wasn't the same one she'd known and loved on Epsilon Canaris II. "He's still officially listed as 'lost in space, presumed dead', and I've come to accept if over the years. I can't live my life in the past tense forever, I've discovered." Nice words, if only they were true.
"That's my Christine, always practical. Come one, I'll introduce you to the few people I know around here."
By the time Jim dropped her at her apartment, promising to see her the next day on campus, Christine was beginning to feel that things were looking up for her. The names and faces at the reception were pretty much a blur yet, but she felt confident that given a chance, her continuation of Roger's work supplemented with her own research would firmly establish her among their ranks. Canaris II boasted of three tiny satellites that chased each other in circles and Christine spent the next hour on the balcony, simply watching them.
* * *
"I swear every year I'm not going to come back here," declared Margaret Hall as she dropped a huge pile of reference material on the desktop. "And every year I find myself lugging this stuff around and digging through the cobwebs for who knows what obscure piece of 'I don't know' for some new and fancy idea somebody up here cooks up."
"You found them?" Christine asked excitedly. Her request for archive material was scant days old and already Margaret was hauling it into her office.
"Most of it anyway. Couple things yet to dig up from a corner that hasn't been discovered in fifty years probably. Why they can't finish cataloguing this stuff into the Central Computer Access, I'll never know. Is that another list, Dr. Chapel?"
"'Fraid so, Margaret. You might have to cross reference through the list of materials Jim Robbins is planning to request. We're working on two different phases of the same project, but some of the sources might overlap."
"Figures." Margaret looked over the new list. "Sure, I recognize these. Dr. Korby asked me to keep them all together in one place for him to use when he returned from his expedition. Dr. Robbins requested them first thing last week, when he arrived in town. Too bad about Dr. Korby. Such a shame! Going into space like that and just disappearing."
"Jim ordered these things last week?" Christine couldn't believe it. How could he have compiled this list so fast? It'd taken her a full week to dig far enough into Roger's manuscripts to make this latest order from the archives.
"No. No, I guess not. He's just a little further along than I thought." It was going to be a bit sticky asking him for the materials, especially so soon after he'd gotten then. Still, it couldn't be helped. She needed them and that was all there res to it.
"I'll bring the rest, when it's found."
"Thanks a lot, Margaret. I really appreciate this."
* * *
"Life is the usual up and down humdrum here. Had a close call last
week, but everything's back to normal now." Uhura frowned a moment in
recollection. Christine was surprised to find the message tape in her box only
two months after leaving the
"The new Head Nurse seems to be coping relatively well. McCoy still yells at her for being underfoot too much, I hear, but other than that I haven't heard much. Chekov is still Chekov. Jim is still recovering from the fight he had last week, in other words, status quo." The tape stopped for a brief blip, then went on. "Guess that's all the major news for now. I'm still doing what I'm always doing, no change there. Kyle says hello, he'll try and get a tape to you sometime in the next six months. Just about time for the last drop, so I better sign off and get this sent. Take cane of yourself and let me know how you're doing. Miss you."
Christine had just finished dressing when the buzzer rang. Jim certainly did have a habit of being punctual. Their once a week dinner engagement was also getting to be a habit. She wasn't sure if it was good or bad, though. No one had paid her much attention since Roger, which made it rather flattering, but it also made her uncomfortable at having to cope with a social situation after so many years of being out of practice.
Some nights they would just discuss their mutual research project, other times they would chat about inanities. There was a particular pattern they had started and doggedly continued, week after week.
There'd been no more news from Uhura, which wasn't unusual. Sometimes the
When morning came, her new life would take over and fill the many hours until night crept up again. Canaris had been such a happy part of her life when Roger was alive, now it was a vacuum. Each day was little different from the preceding one, and tomorrow was a repeat of today.
Christine checked one last time in the mirror, then answered the door. Why should tonight be any different from the others?
* * *
"Good morning, Margaret. What's the update on the Valcon Treatise?" Christine set aside her stack of papers and made room for the tapes Margaret had in hand.
"Can't figure that one out. I know it was in the same general location as the rest of those documents Dr. Korby was using. Just sure of it. But it isn't there now. I'll keep looking though." Margaret assured her.
"Thanks, I know you will. I don't understand why anyone else would want it, and so badly as to steal it. The only person that's used it in the last hundred years was Roger."
"What's in it, if you don't mind me asking?"
"From what I can make out from Roger's last notes, the Valcon Treatise contained the initial results of a dig on a planet somewhere in the system past Taurus Vega. Apparently, they uncovered the remnants of a long dead civilization that had been a 'seeded' colony from even further out in the galaxy. Roger was hoping to use the Treatise to actually 'retrace' the journey."
"And it was just after that when he went on the other expedition?"
"Yes. It's imperative that I locate that Treatise. All the preliminary work has been completed, but without the proper coordinates I could spend years trying to find that particular dig site." Christine slumped back in her chair in frustration. Why now of all times did things have to be falling apart? The months of hard research, of combing through every possible source including the private papers left behind by Roger, all of it was of nothing more than academic use if the link needed to tie everything together wasn't found. Her mind skipped to Jim momentarily, but she dismissed the idea. His part of the research project only overlapped hers, he couldn't possibly know about the Treatise, let alone its significance. There was nothing to do but continue searching and hope that it would eventually turn up intact.
* * *
Seasonal changes on Canaris were very subtle to Christine's mind. It was a picture perfect world on which to live, as planets went. Never too hot, or cold, flora of some type or another was in bloom year around, even the University and its surrounding city had been built in agreement to the countryside. Everything was lovely.
Only now to her, it seemed so static and placid. It matched her life too closely. She had everything possible under the circumstances; full professorship leading a well funded research project at one of the most outstanding universities in the galaxy, a fairly active social life, no pressing problems of any sort; what more could she want?
"What more could want?" she mimicked her thought aloud while sorting through a stack of papers and journals that had been thrown into a corner several months prior. "Here it is the end of the term and what do I have to show for it? Nothing. That's what I have to show for it. Zero progress in the last four months. What in heaven's name are all these papers? How can one person accumulate so much garbage in so short a time? What's in here? I don't remember this envelope." Christine slipped the top open and shook the contents out onto her desktop. Scraps of paper scattered every which way as the bulk of text fell out. The handwriting on the accompanying sheet was very familiar. If was Roger Korby's hand. Excitement seized her as she flipped through the pages, seeing diagram after diagram of star charts and copious notes beside each one. Roger had apparently copied the Valcon Treatise and placed his research and notes concerning it on the pages for his own use. How had it been placed here, in her office on the bottom of a stack of miscellaneous papers? She sat back on her heels cradling the manuscript carefully. Someone had put it there, no other explanation was possible. The corner had been empty last fall and this envelope was certainly not one of the articles she'd put there, herself. The whole thing was very peculiar.
It took her days of concentrated reading and studying to make it through the entire Treatise and Roger's glosses, but Christine felt sure that the answer had been found. Now that the approximate coordinates were available, it would be possible to mount an expedition and complete the job Korby had attempted five years before.
* * *
"I hope this eventually finds you. Has it been a whole year since I
"I understand Spock was on campus a month ago giving a lecture to a rather elite conclave of scientists. I considered attending, but then decided against it. It was hard staying away, but I'm glad I did.
"Had a letter from Kyle not long ago. Sounds like that last tour was a tough one. I was sorry to hear about Bielowiczy, she was one of the best nurses on the staff. It's a miracle more weren't killed by that virus.
"This will probably be my last tape to you for quite a while I imagine. At the moment, we're projecting at least two and a half to three years on this location before moving somewhere else. Maybe we will get lucky and find the answers we need right away, but I'm not counting an it. 'Good old practical Christine' as Jim would say.
"Hope everything is well with you. Say hello to all for me. Miss you much, Uhura. Bye."
** II **
I've decided to keep a personal log during this expedition. It seems the appropriate thing to do, I guess, since I'm in charge.
There are eight of us in the group: Makoni, Jorgenson, Grove, Sanders, Lenkowsky, Able, Jim Robbins and I. Most of this next week will be devoted to establishing a permanent base camp and scouting the area.
According to the notes Roger left in the Treatise, we should be very close to the spot where the original Valcon expedition landed and did their work.
It's going to take a while getting accustomed to this place. The sky is a lavender shade and the foliage has a yellowish dinge to it. Sanders has already observed that it's going to be difficult locating the exact area the Valcon party uncovered, because of the rain forest growth. Speaking of, there's been a constant drizzle from the moment we landed. There's no mention of a rain forest in the Treatise, but then again, maybe they didn't consider it important enough to mention.
I hear someone calling me, so I must keep this entry brief.
Able made the first headway today in deciphering some markings we located in that cave. He seems to feel they were placed there quite a bit later than the projected dates of the original colony, but still dating back several thousand years. According to Able, the writings refer to something 'down under'. Several of the markings have been obliterated by the passage of time, but there's still something about them ...
Progress at last! Jorgenson and Makoni have broken through the wall at the rear of the cave. Tomorrow we start beyond it. Sanders is still working on his theory concerning other outcroppings of rock, several miles from the camp. Robbins, Sanders, Grove and Lenkowsky have firmly established Base 2 camp at the site and are staying in contact with us daily.
I find it interesting to note the breakdown of the camp, as a whole, into small groups, already. Try as I can, the reason for this escapes me. There is no apparent cause for the hostility shown us by Camp 2.
It's been thirteen days since we broke through the back wall, but the torrential downpours have kept us pinned down at the camp that whole time. I hope it clears out soon; everyone in the camp is on edge from tension and boredom. Base 2 is cut off from us by the waters running down the large ravine. If the level doesn't subside soon, we may have to evacuate to higher ground, ourselves.
I've been using the last week or so to review the copy I have of the Treatise containing Roger's notes. The copy I have is not the original, only a duplicate that Roger had made to gloss. As I study it now, away from Canaris and knowing more about this planet, which we've dubbed "Water World", can see the error I made before the trip.
The pages I have are not the sum total of the original, but merely a part, and I suspect, a very small part. The factual findings and coordinates are there, but the journal or log, which the Valcon Party most certainly would have kept, is missing in toto. There are occasional notations of numbers in Roger's handwriting next to certain entries and charts, which I am assuming must refer to pages of the log.
Maybe it's just this lousy rain that's been pounding on my ears the last two weeks, or maybe it's woman's intuition, but I an certain the omission of those log entries in that envelope, which was left for me, was not accidental. I don't like mysteries.
Thank goodness the weather has broken at last! It's going to be soggy for a time because it's still drizzling, but we'll manage. Base 2 is pulling itself out of the mud and plans to start in again first thing in the morning. I'm eager to get back to that cave and maybe find some answers.
It's been almost four months now. The cave was such a disappointment. There's a large chamber beyond the back wall we took out, but after searching for quite some time we have still come up with nothing. I was just sure that was the cave mentioned in the Treatise as the source of the information they found. Tomorrow we move south.
This location seems better than the last to me. Not sure why, I just 'feel' it. The Base 2 group has rejoined us temporarily, but plans are already proceeding to split up again into two parties. A further enmity appears to be growing between Robbins' party and my own for some reason .
Base 2 has reported locating an underground cave not far from their camp. The entrance was completely covered by a rockslide of indeterminate age and it was strictly by accident they were able to locate the entrance, after tracing the cave's existence by tricorder. Although the find is an important one, my group has chosen to remain here and continue their own search.
Supplies and provisions are holding up well. We don't appear to have lost a great deal in the transition of breaking and setting up four camps.
Able presented his findings to our group this evening, concerning the markings on the passageway we discovered last week. According to his findings, the references are similar to the ones we found at our initial site five months ago. There are vague allusions to 'down under' again and what appears to be a warning, perhaps. Tomorrow we begin our descent of the passageway with packs for an extended trip, if necessary.
Base 2 has broken contact entirely now. For a time, we were still receiving official reports sporadically, but now it appears even that has been discontinued. Perhaps there is something I should have done differently, as the leader of the expedition, that would have deterred this outcome. Something I could have said, or done. I wish I knew.
* * *
Christine pushed the wisps of hair from her face, vainly trying to coax them back into the bun atop her head. The passage air was musty and the heat next to suffocating. For ten days, they had been following the winding and often treacherous path ever downward, wondering if it even had an end to it. She shifted the heavy pack carefully, easing the pressure on her shoulders from the straps. Time to move on.
"Chris!" It was Makoni's voice from further down the passage. Jorgenson and Able joined her as she hurried to the source of the call. "Look, more of the same markings as we found above!"
Able snatched his pad from a pocket and began hurriedly sketching the new drawings in with the others. The rest of the group waited restlessly for him to finish and let them in on his discovery.
"Like the other marker, I can't make out everything. It's like a hodge-podge of words and symbols, some make sense, some don't. Anyway," he continued, "from what I can translate, this is a distance post of some sort. It refers to this particular passageway by a symbol I can't identify and apparently relates it to the locations of other similar passageways."
"Does it say where it goes, who put it here or from where the markings came?" Jorgenson cut in.
"I'm assuming those funny looking squiggles near the bottom tell from where this came from, but I haven't the slightest idea of how to transcribe them into anything intelligible."
Christine stood back from the three in thought, letting their discussion/argument wash over her. They were constantly at odds over each detail and the discussion could go on indefinitely. Her mind went back to what Able had said before devolving into pure speculation. The marker said there were other tunnels, other passages, like this one. If Base 2 had discovered one similar, perhaps they had decided to keep it to themselves and the prolonged silence was due to their 'exploring' it.
Something like that would be right up Jim Robbins' alley as far as she was concerned. How could she have been so oblivious to his true colors on Canaris? He'd been so charming and friendly and a familiar face to her from the days with Roger. Jim and Roger went back years together, long before she came on the scene. For a time she'd even considered becoming seriously involved with him. Jim was so different from Spock.
The night Jim proposed to her, Christine had started to say yes, but something held her back. There was a little voice inside her that kept saying, 'you don't love him enough'. She turned him down politely, but began wondering, just how much was enough? Did it need to be a total commitment, or could she reserve a part of herself that would never be given? Was it right to say to a person, I love for right now in this time and space, but there's no way I can guarantee how I'll feel in the future? How could she be certain, how could she absolutely know what her feelings for him would be beyond today? Was it necessary to know? Gradually he had turned from her, after landing on the planet. It was a subtle thing, hardly noticeable, but she knew. For a time she had blamed it on her rejection of his proposal, but then decided life was too short to feel guilty. It was a slap in her face when Base 2 established their own camp again after rejoining the permanent set up, but by that time she knew it was too late to change things.
Here she was, deep inside a planet with only half the original staff, entirely out of contact with the other half, and no closer to her goal than when she left Canaris.
"Well, Christine, my girl," she remarked to the rock wall by her face, "maybe if you work real hard at it, this entire expedition can be a complete and unequivocal failure."
* * *
We journeyed for fifteen days, uncovering three more markers, but by that time we had reached the halfway point of our provisions and had to return to Base Camp. Able is certain we were nearly at the end of the passage by the particular symbols on the last one we found. I wonder what we would have discovered?
Jorgenson volunteered to check up on things at Base 2. I doubt there will be trouble, but I instructed him to carry a concealed phaser, just in case.
The heavy rains have begun again, too. Jorgenson should have plenty of time to reach Base 2 and return before it becomes necessary to remain inside the tents.
Jorgenson returned this afternoon. I am still uncertain of how to put his report in my log. Perhaps the best way would be to simply transfer the official report he made into the log.
"Jorgenson, Henry R.: Official Report on Base 2 Camp:
"Yesterday I set out for Base 2 Camp mid-morning and arrived late afternoon. The camp was completely deserted and I could find no sign of recent habitation. Upon closer examination of the digging site, I found traces of blood just outside the actual entrance to the underground passage they had discovered. My tricorder picked up no readings around the camp or down the tunnel of humanoid lifeforms.
"When I reached the tents, I located a collection of papers strewn all over, covering the desktop, floor, everywhere. I gathered them up and brought them back with me for Dr. Chapel and the reset of the group to study.
"What was most disturbing, however, was the presence of two very large ... lumps ... in the tent Sanders, Grove and Lenkowsky were sharing. One was blackish in color and the other had a buff hue. They were about two-thirds of a meter cubical and very irregular in shape. The darker of the two was sitting near the table and the other was several feet away near the door. I tried to get a reading on it, but it registered the same as the rest of the plants and vegetation on this planet.
"Because of the increased rainfall the past two days, I couldn't remain there any longer, but I recommend a more extensive search for any survivors when the rain passes. We have found no wildlife to date, but the blood in the cave was definitely human in origin and according to Camp records probably belonged to Robbins. Foul play is definitely possible. End of report."
The papers Jorgenson brought back with him from Robbins' tent were the notes Jim had been keeping since arrival. Apparently, the reports Base Camp received from Base 2 had been totally fallacious. I can't say that I'm surprised by this revelation anymore than the fact that the stack of papers also contained the original Valcon Treatise. I'd suspected Jim clear back on Canaris, but there seemed to be no motive for the theft, or why he would give me copies of only part of it, surreptitiously. Perhaps his notes contain information of why he did so, among other things.
* * *
Christine sat back momentarily from reading Jim's own journal, listening to the non-stop rain. Her glowing lamp spread out from the tabletop, but dimmed before reaching the far corners. It was taking forever, if seemed, to make her way through the writing because pages were unnumbered and totally out of order from being scattered in Robbins' tent. She poured another cup of coffee and dug in again.
"... I think a sufficiency of time has passed since our landing and tomorrow I will suggest to Christine that a second camp be established. Sanders, Grove and Lenkowsky were the perfect choices for this expedition and will be helpful, I'm sure.
"I knew the rain would be bad here but the Valcons didn't say it would be like this. Half of our supplies were washed away before we could move them to higher ground yesterday. We could obtain more supplies from the Base Camp, but that would mean the possibility of having someone from the other Camp nosing around here too soon. Sanders thinks it will be possible to supplement our remaining stock with native foodstuffs derived from the vegetation...
"We found the access today. It wasn't at the first site we chose after all. According to the Valcons, the journey should take about twenty days or so."
She couldn't locate the next page, but was able to pick up the narrative mid-sentence on another sheet.
" ... years spent with Roger on Findalla and then on Canaris. Always I was the true source and always he received the credit. As I sit here and read my words I can see where someone would get the impression that it was merely misplaced jealousy or the like which prompted my actions, but that isn't really true. I'm simply taking what should have been mine in the first place, but was given to him.
"Grove is complaining of severe pains today. I doubt it's anything serious."
"Lenkowsky reports symptoms similar to Grove now."
"I've been reviewing Roger's papers and notes fastidiously for the last five years, preparing for this expedition. The source of the Treatise has never been clear. It was something Roger would never divulge to me. The archive records dating back that far show only the date an anonymous donor presented it to the University. Roger was the first to use it as source material for his theories. I haven't decided if the missing pages at the end of the Valcon Log entries were an accidental or premeditated omission from the copy he allowed me to view.
"Tomorrow we land and the search begins."
Christine put the misplaced page where it belonged, at the beginning of the narrative, then continued reading.
" ... is such a fool. So practical, but no common sense or imagination. I've always been able to protect her moves, even back when Korby was still around. When he was missing in space, off she ran to join Starfleet, actually believing she could find him out there in the cosmos. How anyone in their right mind could for one moment believe it would be possible to find one lost man against such astronomical odds is quite beyond me.
"I think she really believed I wanted to marry her because loved her..."
"This rain is driving me crazy. I've spent the last three days doing nothing but writing in this journal about anything and everything just to take up time and ease the boredom, but it's not working anymore.
"I've been reviewing the Valcon again, but the last few entries make no more sense now than before. He keeps babbling on about the plants..."
"Sanders was gone this morning when I woke up. His pack and most of the provisions are missing. What few tracks I could find not already obliterated by this infernal downpour lead to the access tunnel. I would guess he has decided to strike out for the core on his own."
"Grove and Lenkowsky are in such agony I cannot bear to listen to them any longer. Sanders had a full day's start on me, but it won't matter. I contacted the Base Camp this evening to check on Christine's moves. Apparently they've discovered another underground cave, possibly an access tunnel entrance. Knowing Christine, it'll be quite a while before they actually begin exploring. I kept the log entries away from her for this very reason, to gain time."
"Sanders took most of the remaining supplies we brought with us, but I've been able to scrounge up enough native and the stuff he kept to make up a pack to last the trip. I haven't heard any sounds from the other tent for several hours now. I think I'll stop by on my way to the access and check on them, see if they're dead yet or not."
It was the last entry she could find.
* * *
Jim Robbins must have started down the tunnel about a week before we did by the sound of his notes. Since there has been no sign of his return, I must assume he is still down there. I have decided to take Able and follow the tunnel he took, rather than the one we found, in hopes of either finding Robbins and Sanders, or at least seeing if what the Valcon Treatise claims is true.
According to the actual log entries still remaining: the Valcon group uncovered one of the underground access tubes late in their stay on this planet. They were not an archeological expedition as I had thought, but rather a 'locator' group seeking a planet for colonization. Their world was quickly dying from a global war using chemicals and colonization was a last ditch attempt to save a race becoming extinct.
They traveled for twenty some days down the tube, following the markers, apparently the same ones we found until they reached what the person making the entries called 'the Core'.
The Core consisted of room after room, interconnected and extending outward in every direction. There was massive machinery in the 'hub' section, and one of the rooms was completely covered with star charts of systems the Valcon group couldn't recognize.
They explored for a couple days, not finding out a great deal because, as the narrator put it, "the Valcon race has always considered and prided itself on being the most advanced culture known to us, but compared to the race which built this place and these mighty works of technology, we have been reduced to mere children playing with building blocks." I can understand now why Roger was so obsessed with this expedition. He was a man driven to knowledge, to the constant striving for further advancement and the growth of the potential represented by the intelligent beings in this galaxy.
Anyway, their supplies began running short and it was essential to return to the surface, at least for a time. They believed the underground 'Core' would be the perfect place for immediate colonization of their planet. A home ready-made for them.
From this point on the records become quite sketchy and later incoherent. Something went wrong soon after their return to the surface and they left the planet within days, never to return.
I'm not sure what Jim hopes to find down there, perhaps the map for finding the original colonists does exist, but after so many millennia I wonder if the information is all that important or if we have the wisdom to use it properly.
* * *
Christine and Able decided to wait one more day for the rain to subside to its normal drizzle state before starting their journey. Makoni and Jorgenson were planning to recombine the two camp sites and do some further research on the finds of Base 2 while the other members were down in the tube.
Base 2 was a soggy mess when the four arrived there. Fungus and some other kind of slime was beginning to creep up the sides of the tents and lightly cover the inferiors.
"Can you believe this mess?" Makoni asked no one in particular.
"This yellow stuff's all over everything. I'll bet the other tent looks the same way."
"Might as well check it out while we're here," Jorgenson agreed. "I can see that you and I are going to be real busy cleaning up while they go looking for Robbins."
"I think I'd almost rather stay here and help you guys than go back down there again," Able replied, half in earnest.
"Henry, didn't you say those lumps you found were inside the other tent?" Christine asked suddenly.
"I don't see them in here now." She held back the flap for the rest of them to look inside.
"I know they were in there," Jorgenson insisted. "Ugly things. Wait, what's that over in the corner? Hand me the light a second." Makoni stood back and let Jorgenson slide by and into the dismal and cramped quarters. Most of the space was taken with boxes and crates of equipment with living area at a premium. "Yes, look, I was right. They're back there in the far corner. Don't know how they got there, but that's them."
"Maybe we can shift some of this stuff around or out of here temporarily and get a better look at them," Able suggested. "I don't remember ever seeing anything like those, whatever they are, before."
"I could swear one of them just moved."
"You've been on this planet too long, Henry, you're starting to see things," Makoni chuckled.
"Probably right. Christine, why don't you and Able go ahead and try to find Robbins and Sanders and in the meantime Makoni and I will clean up this place and find some way to keep those 'things' around until you get back. They don't seem to have changed any or gone very far since I was last here. They'll probably keep just fine until you get back."
"Sounds alright to me. I don't think we should delay any longer in trying to find them. Our gear's all ready to go."
"You two be careful down there, hear?"
"We will. Thanks. Hold down the fort till we get back."
"Come on, Makoni, it's slime duty time."
* * *
The echo of her footsteps rebounding from the stone wells reminded her of the cavern on Exo III. Christine shook her head furiously and ignored the twinge in her shoulders and lower back from the heavy pack. Why was it, everywhere she went, there was at least one reminder of a person from her past? If it wasn't one of the Vulcan professors striding dorm the university hallways reminding her of Spock or one of his many papers appearing in the latest scientific journal issue, it was something else bringing Korby back into her mind and life. Life on Canaris had become stagnant, but here on 'Water World' it was as though she'd died and was living with Korby's ghost all the time. Going to Canaris had been a mistake and coming here with this expedition was an even bigger one.
There'd been no sign of Robbins or Sanders in days, but the endless hours of trudging along behind Able gave her too much time to think. Thinking was a dangerous pastime for her. It kept pulling her back into the past instead of allowing her to move into the future.
Had she really been that gullible and naive with Jim? In thinking back, Christine was unclear whether she had overlooked his shortcomings because of need or because she wonted to ignore them. Was she so insecure as a woman that any attention paid her was something for which to be grateful, or was it something else that prompted her to pursue no-win situations? She'd been happy with Roger, there was never any doubt in her mind on that subject, but what man had really given her that same joy since then? Spock had no room for her in his life; he was already married to a beautiful Vulcan woman. Jim Robbins had used her for his own ends. How could she have been so blind? His log had made it clear that his opinions of her were extremely low. He'd even planned the move to restart the Korby project and have her lead it to keep a low profile and have any failures or blame placed on her instead of himself. Christine felt certain there was no worse experience than that of being used by someone. At least, Spock had never used her. He may not have been totally honest, but he didn't deprive her of her dignify either.
The rock tunnel still reminded her of Exo III.
* * *
Drs. Chapel and Able have been gone for thirteen days now. We can only hope they are okay and have encountered no major difficulties. It would be helpful if communication with them was possible, but the rock makes it prohibitive.
Makoni and I have managed to get most of the slime cleaned off the tents here and our own tents moved up from Base Camp. It should only take us a few more days to finish moving the rest of the equipment so everything is in one place. We've decided to just use Base 2 tents for storage and not bother resetting up our own storage tent after breaking it down to move.
The two strange lumps we found in Base 2 Camp seem content to remain in a small enclosure we built near the storage tent. They have the ability to move about, apparently, as we find them in different spots within the pen each day, but it would also appear that such movement is quite slow. Makoni says I'm crazy and not being scientific, but I could swear they are watching us.
The rain has increased again. These heavy downpours are coming more often now. It's getting more difficult to keep ahead of the slimy growth that thrives in this eternal wet.
* * *
It was sitting not far away from the last marker. A small lump, buff colored, about two thirds meters cubical in dimension.
Able slipped his pack off and moved closer to it, keeping distance between himself and a natural crevice. Christine decided to continue a short distance down, the passage on her own, doubling back for Able if he didn't catch up soon.
The tube made a slight bend end widened into a ramp ending at a huge door. "Able!" she called back excitedly. "We made it!"
"Chris! Come here, quickly."
What in the world? Christine shed her pack and ran back up the tunnelway. "What is it, Able?"
"Look at this." Her partner us pointing to the far side of the lumpy figure.
"What? I don't see..." Christine stepped back in horror as the vestiges of human fingers near the base of the lump became visible. "Oh, no, if can't be ... it couldn't ... "
"It must have been human once," Able said shakily. "There are only two other people down here besides us ... "
"Sanders and Robbins," she finished. "What a horrible fate ... How could such a thing happen? To die like this ... "
"There has to be some explanation for it, Christine. Things like this don't just 'happen'." He edged around to the far side near the drop off.
"Be careful, Able, I don't think that ledge is very sturdy."
"I'll be all right, just want a better look at this so we can report our findings accurately."
"You sound so ... clinical." Her retort was bitter.
"Just sounds that way. Actually I'm sick to my stomach. If figuring out how this happened can save our skins, I'm willing to take a better look at it now and vomit later," he replied
"I understand, but I still wish you'd be more careful."
"Hand me your tricorder, please." He stood back up from his kneeling position and moved over to give her room to get around the lump. She bent her head to slip the tricorder off and heard a strangled noise.
"Oh, my ... It's not dead, Chris, it's not dead, it's not dead ... "
"What! What do you mean? It has to be. Paul, listen to me ... "
"It's not dead, it's not dead," he kept repeating, inching away from the motionless blob. "I saw the fingers move ... "
"Paul, come away from the edge! You're too close ... "
"They wiggled ... " He couldn't tear his eyes away from the fingers that beckoned him to come closer.
"Take my hand, Paul. Move away from the edge," Christine pleaded, stretching to grasp his hand held out to ward away the horror. He was so close to the huge chasm. Their fingers met and the rock gave way beneath him. The scream echoed in her mind long after it had been silenced in reality.
* * *
Drs. Chapel and Able have been gone for eighteen days now. We can only hope they are well.
I'm fortunate to have any recording ability, considering the circumstances. The deluge we've been receiving has been the heaviest to date. Three days ago it became apparent the Camp would need shifting to higher ground due to the rising water level. Makoni and I managed to save the contents of this tent and the partial contents of one other before we were forced to abandon the effort. We saved the communications equipment, emergency beacon and Dr. Chapel's notes, papers and log. All the supplies were washed away, including foodstuffs, medicines, and all our equipment stored in the spare tent. The lumps, whatever they may have been, were washed away with the rest of it.
With the help of the tricorder, Makoni and I have managed to locate a sufficiency of edible foodstuffs to sustain us until at least the return of the rest of our party. Although everything has a sickish yellow look to it, the plants are actually quite tasty and rather palatable.
* * *
Christine just stood there, frozen in place, deafened by the silence that hung heavily all around her. After several minutes she forced herself into action. Digging through Able's pack she located the small phaser included in the expedition gear for emergency use. Her own weapon was in her pack lying some distance down the tunnel, but for what she was about to do, this would suffice.
She held her arm out straight in front of her, phaser directed at the blob, trying to ignore the fingers that moved mesmerizingly. Her voice shook as she spoke. "I don't know if you're Ben Sanders or Jim Robbins. I'm not sure I even care anymore. Maybe what I'm going to do is wrong, but I have a feeling that if I were in your place I would want someone to do it to me." It was difficult to press the firing button, but at last she did and with a brief shimmer, the creature was gone.
Leaving Able's pack where it lay, Christine pocketed the phaser and slowly walked back to her own, debating whether or not it was worth the bother to explore beyond the door or simply turn back and return to the surface leaving this planet and its secrets buried and forgotten in time. The scientist in her surfaced by the time she reached the door and in moments the counter-balance mechanism was activated and Christine stood within the Core Complex of a long dead race.
It was huge, rising above her head hundreds of feet and extending in every direction. She marveled at the feat of engineering that allowed a cavern like this to exist this far beneath ground and not give way with the passage of time. For all its size, however, the room was empty. Inscriptions similar to those on the markers lined the walls telling of something she couldn't begin to translate. As she walked the perimeter of the hall searching for another door, the feeling that she was in a tomb for the dead grew until it became an obsession.
Christine was relieved when the door was found and she was safely on the other side of it, away from the huge hall. For the next hour, she wandered from room to room recording everything possible on her tricorder searching for the one containing the star charts mentioned in the Treatise.
Her search was rewarded when one of the doors opened into a large room encircled with star charts creating the illusion of being out in space. The tricorder worked furiously taking in data as she stood in awe at the spectacle.
"It's beautiful," Christine breathed. "I never knew a map could be so glorious."
"I knew you would come," spoke a raspy voice from a darkened corner.
Christine whirled about, startled at the sound behind her. "Who's there?" Her hand crept into the pocket where the phaser was.
"The light panel is to your left, turn it on."
With her free hand, Christine gently nudged the panel and watched the stars fade away to be replaced by light streaming from where the maps had been.
"My star charts. Beautiful, aren't they?"
The encounter with the lump in the tunnel hadn't really prepared her for the sight that met her eyes when they located the source of the voice. Jim Robbins, or what was left of Jim Robbins, was propped up against a far wall slumped on the floor. Most of his body had congealed into the lumpy mass similar to that in the tunnel, but some parts were still visibly human.
"Jim," her stomach heaved at the sight. "What happened?"
"My beautiful stars. Sanders tried to keep me from them, but he never made it. I knew you would come, though."
"Jim, talk to me, can I do anything to stop this? What's going on?" Why was this happening? This wasn't an expedition any longer, it was a living nightmare.
"I stopped by the tent to check on them, but there wasn't much left ... just some fingers and toes sticking out and an eye that blinked at me. I knew the only place I would be safe was down here."
Lenkowsky and Grove. The lumps Jorgenson had found in the tent at Base 2 were now explained. Robbins continued babbling as his body slowly transformed inch by inch.
"I ran back to my tent and grabbed what I would need and started for the tunnel, but the pain was already starting. I knew when I cut myself in the cave that there was still blood inside of me and I had time. You thought I loved you, didn't you? Good old practical Christine ... I new you'd come sooner or later. Always could predict you ... doesn't hurt anymore ... I must be getting better ... knew I'd be safe here ... knew it ... " Her tricorder wasn't sure what reading to give as she turned it on him. Some of the readings were faintly human, but the rest were the same as the yellowish vegetation on the surface.
"Roger wanted all this for himself but I knew he wasn't the right one to have it. I can't seem to scratch my nose and it itches. You think I'm going to let you have this place all to yourself, don't you? Little mousy Christine ... always were a loser, weren't you?"
His words cut deep, but Christine kept reminding herself they were the remarks of an insane man. If wouldn't be long before the transformation would be complete. Never had she felt so helpless, in a medical capacity, as she did at this moment. The metamorphosis was rapid in this stage and there was nothing she could do to halt the process.
"It's the plants, you see. When the supplies run out you'll have to start eating the plants, and after a while the pain starts and goes on and on and on. But I'm safe down here. I made it in time. It'll happen to you, too, but I'm not going to let you come in here. The stars are mine."
"Are you saying that eating the natural vegetation did this to you? That's impossible. We ran a full scan on the place when we first arrived and found no harmful agents in it."
"Sanders and I, we were the clever ones. We kept eating the stores we'd hidden and made the others eat the stuff first. But the supplies ran out before I got here and there was nothing else to eat. It's okay now, though, I'm safe here in the map room. Would you scratch my nose for me? It still itches."
Christine didn't know what to do. This man who had once been both friend and lover was dissolving into a featureless lump before her eyes.
He seemed oblivious to what was happening to him, convinced, in fact, that being within the Core would keep him from the fate suffered by the rest of his group. Could she bring herself to kill this fellow human being before the metamorphosis was finished? On the other hand, could she sit idly by and allow the transformation to be completed, watch a person become something far less than human?
Jim was rambling on, sucked into his own, private little world. There was no order or rational coherency to his words. It was more like a string of random thoughts starting nowhere and ending nowhere. Christine brought the small phaser out of her pocket and set it to kill. Her hand pressed the panel once more and the lights were replaced by the shining star maps. The room was darkened and Jim lay hidden from view, hi s babbling stopped momentarily by the appearance of the charts.
"Go away, Christine. The stars belong to me. To me."
The phaser was pointed in the direction of the voice, unsteady in her grasp. At his next words, Christine pressed the button.
* * *
The journey back to the surface was a long and lonely one for her. Able's remaining supplies had been added to her own and the spare pack discarded near where he had died. Something had prompted her to spend a few minutes in the huge hall before leaving the Complex. The first time she'd been there, the only feeling it had given her was gloom. This time Christine felt she understood the room and what it signified. The time had come at last for her to bury Korby and Christine could think of no better place to do it than here in this great hall where his dream, and hers, had died. Without looking back, she walked away from the massive door, once more closed, and began the long walk home.
** III **
There's no one left except me now. I haven't had the heart to make an official entry since my return eight days ago till today.
When I arrived back on the surface I told Jorgenson and Makoni what had transpired below the surface, not knowing what had been going on above in the Camp. I didn't know Jorgenson and Makoni were already suffering pains brought on by eating the vegetation when I told them of Sanders' and Robbins' fate. How could I have been so stupid? I didn't know the main Camp had been washed away, what was left looked so much like the Base 2 Camp did when I left, it never occurred to me.
I'll never know whether they decided individually, or jointly, to take their own lives. I guess the decision making process is irrelevant at this point.
I set up the emergency distress signal that very day and have been waiting ever since. There's no guarantee that a ship will hear it this far out. This sector of space was charted and annexed only twenty years ago or so and no out post has been established yet. The Valcon race, only a system away had died as a race a hundred and fifty years before the Federation ever discovered their planet. How the Treatise from this Locator ship came to be in the possession of the University will probably never be known. What I do know, though, is that it brought death to them, and it brought death to our expedition. Roger died as an android on the planet he did find, but I think that kind of death was far better than the one he might have suffered here.
My supplies won't last forever, perhaps I shall be lucky and a ship will hear my signal. Able, Makoni and Jorgenson were good friends and fine scientists. I miss them a great deal.
The entries in the last several days have ceased to be 'official' and have become more of a personal diary. The only sounds here are the constant rain and my voice.
Jim Robbins was wrong when he called me a loser. This expedition was a failure, yes, but beyond that I have a great deal for which to be proud in my life. I was not succeeding in things because I allowed myself to believe I couldn't. Of course, it's all academic at this point. It hurt to be condemned by a dying man's words and I've been spending a lot of time convincing myself he was wrong.
I have many regrets in my life, but I think the greatest is that can't go back and live my life again. The hands of time stop for no man, as the saying goes. "A season for all things ... "
Actually, that's a pretty apt description of my life. Korby was my summer, Spock was my fall, and this expedition was my winter. Guess I just missed spring somewhere along the line.
The supplies are nearly gone. I haven't decided exactly that course of action to take once they have, but I know for sure one route I won't take. My problem is that I'm a survivor. It's difficult for me to give up once and for all. There's a piece of me that refuses to lay down and die. Spock was fond of saying that there were always alternatives. I wonder what he would consider to be mine, at this time? The signal will continue broadcasting for a long time. Even if help doesn't arrive in time to save me, at least there's a chance someone will eventually find my records and log entries keeping another expedition make making the mistakes we did.
This will probably be my last entry. I really don't have anything to say that I haven't already, somewhere in these last five weeks of log entries.
I think I'll make my decision tomorrow.
* * *
"That's the last of the planets listed in this sector, Captain." the helmsman reported as he logged in the details of their charting survey.
"Lay in a course for the next sector, Lieutenant, ahead warp one."
Several hours later Uhura cocked her head to the side as she struggled to bring in the weak signal. "Captain, I'm picking up a distress signal of some sort, faint, but definitely of a repeating nature."
"Source?" Kirk leaned forward in his chair intent on the star maps at the navigation console.
"I have it on my sensors, Lieutenant." Spock's hands played the panel. "From the ... L-625 system, just ahead."
"Lay in the course, warp six."
"Warp six," repeated Sulu as he complied.
"My records show a recent expedition to have landed here some ten months ago. They were led by ... Dr. Christine Chapel." The inflective rise in his voice betrayed his surprise. He knew she'd received an appointment to Canaris II which had prompted her departure from the Enterprise, but this was a new development.
"Our Christine?" Kirk asked in disbelief. "Let's hope we're not too late."
* * *
Kirk, Spock and McCoy beamed down to the source of the signal, drenched to the skin within minutes. "Any readings on the tricorder, Spock?"
"Not yet. Ship's sensors registered only vegetation; no fauna or other lifeforms."
"Should be somewhere near here, let's head toward those far rocks." The yellowish vegetation was so lush and dense it was hard to make their way through it. Footing was slick and treacherous, making their progress slow. When they did reach the 'clearing', they nearly missed the tents because of the heavy layer of fungus covering them.
"Anything yet, Spock?"
The First Officer panned the area with his tricorder. "Picking up something now, Captain, very faint. That direction." He led the way to one of the tents, ducking through the closed flap. "In here, Doctor, quickly," he called out.
McCoy rushed into the tent and knelt by the figure stretched out on the cot. "Pulse is weak, Captain. We need to get her up to the ship immediately."
"Spock, I'm going to stay behind and gather these papers and see what else I can find out. I'll follow before long."
"Affirmative." He gathered the emaciated form into his arms and nodded to McCoy to signal the Enterprise.
* * *
Christine Chapel, Personal Log:
I'm still alive. It feels good to be able to say that again. More than that, I'm thankful to be off 'Water World' and away from that hellish nightmare.
Haven't decided yet what I'm going to do when I'm fully recovered and able to function again. There are several options open to me, including rejoining Starfleet should I so choose. I think I'll give every alternative careful consideration before making any moves. The thought of going through another two years like the last two is more than I can bear.
Spock has come to see me twice in the last week, since McCoy released me from sickbay. He's not married as I'd thought. Maybe, just maybe, I'll find and have my season of spring after all.