DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Cheree Cargill and is copyright (c) 2005 by Cheree Cargill. This story is Rated PG.



THIS SIDE OF PARADISE: A SHORT STROLL IN PURGATORY

Cheree Cargill



Stardate: 3420.2, Personal Log, First Officer Spock recording.

We have dropped the Omicron Ceti colonists at Starbase 27, but were immediately forced to leave orbit and respond to a distress call from the Malourian system. The Federation science team there has reported that the planets are under attack from space, source unknown, but the signal was cut off before more information could be gathered. We are proceeding there at warp 7 but it will take approximately 32.8 hours to reach that system. The crew and officers are spending this time relaxing and preparing as best they can, taking advantage of the precious breathing space before confronting the cause of the distress signal. We have no clue what could be wrong and are attempting to be ready for whatever we find.

The three days that we were in transit from Omicron Ceti III to the starbase were used productively. Nearly the entire ship's company was engaged in the priority activity of cleaning every part of the ship that could be reached, removing all traces of the spores. Undoubtedly there are many places that are still infested, for the spores spread throughout the ship via the ventilation system. The ship needs to be decompressed and decontaminated, but there is no time for that now. It will have to wait until we can put in for maintenance and resupply at spacedock.

At least we know that the spores are relatively harmless and how to deal with them. There are still crewmembers being infected but this is easily dealt with now that we understand how to destroy the spore influence. Dr. Addison and the xenobiology department are working on a preliminary study of the spores and have had promising results, having discovered the infection vector.

The spores are not sapient but are a relatively simple form of life. The plants and flowers are a mature form of the parasite, with the spore bodies held in seed casings. When the plant detects a warm-bodied life form nearby, it triggers the ejection of the seed pods which break apart on contact. The spores themselves are then released. They are not truly spores at all. They most closely resemble spirochete bacteria although smaller by several microns. Reflexive inhalation by the victim results from the seed pod explosion in the victim's face and the spirochetes instantly burrow through the mucous lining of the nasal passages into the blood stream, where within seconds they locate certain polypeptides and attach themselves.

There, they stimulate the release of endorphins and other neurohormone transmitters. This is why the victim feels such euphoria and bliss. The spores feed on these biochemicals. They also stimulate the body's natural healing systems to an extreme degree, which explains the high order of good health among the colonists and the Enterprise crewmembers exposed. Negative emotions and pain shut down the manufacture of the endorphins, killing the spores. In actuality, they are extremely delicate, although exposure to Berthold rays seem to strengthen them considerably. Apparently they cannot survive in lower order life forms. The colonists' farm animals were all infected but died nevertheless from Berthold exposure because they could not respond sufficiently to the spores' demands for endorphin production.

I look forward to the scientific research that will result from this incident. If a way can be found to integrate the beneficial qualities of the spores with the need to shield colonists from the harmful effects of Berthold exposure, then a major step toward planetary colonization will have been achieved. Perhaps, someday, even Omicron Ceti can be colonized again.

I doubt, however, that these original colonists will ever return. I harbor a great fear that the spores merely delayed the inevitable for them. Berthold rays are indisputably deadly. They cause aggressive melanomas to form which quickly metastasize to other organs, swiftly developing into virulent carcinomas in those organs. Even with our modern methods of eradicating the various forms of cancer, nothing will stop the process of cellular breakdown once it has begun. I pray to the gods of my Ancestors that this fate will not await the colonists. Especially not Leila. Please, not Leila…

But I pray in vain. She came to me herself just before beamdown and told me what Dr. McCoy's medical scans had found. It has already begun in her. The spores were simply delaying what had started the moment she set foot on Omicron and was exposed to Berthold radiation. As the cancer developed, the spores rejuvenated the cells. When the spores in her died, the degeneration reformed. It has taken the form of breast cancer and is spreading rapidly.

I close my eyes and picture her breasts, so pale and fair beneath my lips, beneath my cheek. So lovely and perfect as she lay beneath me. We had run and laughed through the meadow, hand in hand, until, crossing the stream, I slipped and fell in. We laughed uproariously but my uniform was soaked. We went back to the settlement where she found me dry clothing, but somewhere between removing my old clothing and donning the new, she was in my arms again and we were atop her bed and I was making love to her as I had wanted to do for such a long time.

Such a long time... Since I had known her on Earth, when she had been my companion and colleague and friend. I had loved her then but could not show it. Did not even know it. I was Vulcan and Vulcans do not love. And, besides, there was always someone else in the back of my mind, watching.

I can still feel T'Pring's scorn, razoring through the bond to mock me. Her shame and disgust were made very clear to me. Vulcans do not love, but perhaps they hate. At least that is what it felt like to me before she closed the link and shunned me in her contempt.

Leila was her polar opposite, so bright and soft and willing. I believe I could have made a happy life with her, but I was locked to T'Pring by the katra'lal. And T'Pau would rather that I die by my own hand than dishonor the Family by asking that the Bond be broken. Worse, she would have done the ritual disemboweling herself ... and Sarek would have held me to the stone while she wielded the knife.

No, the only choice was to return to my ship, to leave Leila behind with a broken heart, and allow her to seek out her own escape ... to Omicron Ceti III.

And now I am responsible for what may be her death. If I hadn't come there ... hadn't seen her again ... If I hadn't allowed myself to become infected by the spores and given free rein to my love for her ... to awaken her hope again...

If I hadn't taken the spores from her and removed her protection...

If ... if ... I must stop this useless speculation! It is not logical and it serves no purpose except self-imposed misery! I am a Vulcan! I will cease this pointless self-recrimination! What happened has happened! Kai'idth! Leila will seek treatment on Starbase 27 for the cancer. There are always possibilities. She may be cured. They may find a way to use the spores to stop the cancer for good. I will not give up hoping that she - and the other colonists - will be returned to full health and productivity!

Meanwhile, we have a mission to pursue. The Malourian system is only hours away and I must devote myself to preparation for our arrival there. I must meditate and rest so that I can be fully alert and focused once we reach that system.

But, before I begin the Disciplines, I will spare one more thought to the irony that life has handed me... that I have lost, within a month of each other, the two women who have been such a significant part of my life … the woman I had but could not love ... and the woman I loved but could not have.

THE END

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Author's Note: This story is for Jill and our other sisters who didn't survive. Please consider making a donation to fight breast cancer to the American Cancer Society (http://www.cancer.org) or the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation (http://www.komen.org).