Author: Anthony Butler
“There is a light….burning at the Starshine place…” Lt. Ford said solemnly, kneeling before the large, red glowing orb that pulsated from within his closet, between his spare duty uniform and his “I’m Horny” sweatshirt.
Suddenly the doorchime beep-eeped, announcing a visitor.
Ford pushed off the pile of pillows in front of his closet and slammed it shut, throwing his ceremonial white robe off, revealing his uniform underneath. “Uh, hold on a second.”
Ford quickly crossed to the other side of his quarters and blew out all the candles that surrounded his coffee table and adorned his bookcase.
“Computer: lights,” Ford quickly said, leaping onto his couch and grabbing a padd. “Come on in!”
The doors to Ford’s quarters parted to reveal Lt. Brian Gellar. “Hey, sparky, what took you so long?”
Ford looked up from the padd he was reading. “Come again? Oh, well, I just wanted to finish this chapter.”
“What are you reading?” Gellar asked, looking over Ford’s shoulder.
“Uh…it’s an ancient Earth book. Gulliver’s Travels.”
Gellar took the padd and read a few lines, “‘The natural love of life gave me some inward motions of joy, and I was ready to entertain a hope, that this adventure might some way or other help to deliver me from the desolate place and condition I was in.’” Gellar looked over at Ford. “Pretty thick stuff for you, isn’t it?”
“Not at all. I like to expand my mind,” Ford said defensively. “What, do you think I’m not smart enough to read primitive Federation Standard?”
Gellar handed the padd back to Ford, holding up his hands. “Hey, don’t blow a gasket, sizzlechest.”
“Sorry,” Ford said, putting the padd down on his coffee table. “So, what do you want?”
“Don’t you remeber? We’re being sent to Cedran Two to evaluate a Federation colony today.”
“We are?” Ford asked, scratching his head. “No, can’t say that I do.”
“You’ve been acting really wierd lately, Ford,” Gellar said. “You were at the staff meeting this morning, weren’t you?”
“Yeah, I guess I just forgot.”
“Well, get ready. We’re supposed to leave in thirty minutes,” Gellar said. “And have your best pickup lines ready. Lt. Hartley and Lt. Tilleran are coming with us.”
Ford slapped Gellar on the shoulder reassuringly. “You can count on it, Brian.”
Gellar left Ford’s quarters still looking a little bewildered.
Once Gellar was gone, Ford went back to his bedroom and opened the closet, staring longingly at the glowing orb.
“Forgive those that haven’t opened their eyes to the light. They don’t know what goodness the Starlight holds.”
Clouds of grey streamed across the glassy surface of the pulsing orb. “They will,” it said in a basso voice.
Ford bowed before the orb and grabbed a few things, quickly shoving them into a bag. That done, he turned out the light and headed out of his quarters.
Chief Science Officer’s Log,
Stardate 52677.7. While the Explorer deals with an…emergency…situation, I have been ordered to take a team to the planet Cedran Three to do a routine colony evaluation. Although I have no problem leading an away team, I am a little skeptical about the complement of officers Captain Baxter assigned to me. Then again, I can truthfully say that there are no better officers on the Explorer.
Lt. Hartley leaned back in her bunk in the aft section of the runabout Roanoake and continued to bounce her ping-pong ball off the opposite bulkhead.
She caught the ball and held it when the doors from the cockpit swished open, allowing Lt. Gellar through to the aft compartment.
“Hey, Megan,” Gellar said, crossing over to the table at the rear of the compartment.
“Lieutenant,” Hartley said, continuing to bounce her ball.
Gellar grabbed his duffel from under the table and unzipped it. “Look, I brought my climbing gear.”
“So, the cliffs of Cedran Two are supposed to be fantastic. I thought maybe we could do some repelling.”
“Oh, you did, did you?”
Gellar put his bag aside and walked over to the bunk, kneeling down beside Lt. Hartley. “Don’t tell me you’re still mad at me.”
“Okay, I won’t tell you,” Hartley said, turning away.
“Jeeze, I don’t know why I even bother,” Gellar said, rising and returning to the table.
Hartley was about to hurl the ping-pong ball at him when the doors from the cockpit parted again.
“Hey, guys,” Lt. Tilleran said. “Lt. Ford says that we’re on course and scheduled to arrive at Cedran Two by 2200 hours tonight.”
“Yippee,” Hartley said, glaring at Gellar.
“Ooo…sexual tension,” Tilleran said, arching her eyebrow. “That always gives me a tummy ache.”
“You know, sometimes its nice not to have your emotions picked at by annoying telepaths who have nothing better to do!” Hartley said exasperatedly.
“I have plenty of better things to do,” Tilleran said. “I just choose not to do them.”
“Har har,” Gellar said, throwing his duffel back under the table.
“Why are we even going on this stupid mission?” Hartley asked.
“Well,” Tilleran said, scooting up onto the bunk on top of Hartley’s, “The Explorer is being diverted to the Atapi system to stop a rash.”
“A rash of what?” Hartley ased.
“It’s not a rash of anything. It’s just a, well…a rash,” Tilleran said, trying not to laugh. “So we’ve been put in charge of the Explorer’s normal colony duty.”
“They diverted a whole starship just to stop an epidemic of rashes on some far-off planet?”
“You never saw this rash,” Tilleran said. “It’s like an all-over yeast infection.”
“Yuck,” Gellar said, collapsing into a chair.
“And it spreads all over the body in seconds. Before you know it you’re itching in places you never knew you ha–”
“We get it!” Hartley cried. “Just tell us what our mission is already.”
Tilleran seemed taken aback. “I see no one here has an appreciation for the horrors that nature can inflict on us.”
“Get on with it,” Gellar said tiredly.
“Okay, okay, the Cedran Two colony is up for its regular three-year evaluation. And…”
“And?” Gellar asked.
“Well, there are rumors that there are forces working to undermine the Federation government there.”
Hartley stuck her head out of the bunk and looked up at Tilleran. “What kind of forces?”
“That’s what we have to find out,” Tilleran said. “And since the senior engineering and tactical officers may be tapped for emergency duty, they sent you two.”
“Hurrah,” Hartley said sullenly, ducking back into her bunk.
“I can understand the need for security, but why do we need an engineering officer?” Gellar asked.
“The Cedran colony has one of the Federation’s top deuterium manufacturing plants, and there’s a concern that it’s being sabotaged,” Tilleran said. “We have to find out who’s doing that, too.”
“And let me guess,” Hartley said. “The whole reason you’re here is because you’ll be able to sniff out the bad seed, whoever he or she may be.”
Tilleran shrugged. “It’s nice to be needed, isn’t it?”
Lt. Ford watched the stars whizz by through the viewport in front of him as he piloted the runabout.
‘Make them one of us. Make them see the light is the way. Always be polite and say please and thank you…’ the orb said, floating mysteriously in space just in front of the windows.
“Say please and thank you,” Ford repeated quietly to himself.
“You’re welcome,” Lt. Hartley said, sliding into the seat beside Ford. “Who were you talking to?”
“What do you want?” Ford asked.
“I asked you first.”
Ford turned back to the front windows. The orb was gone. “I was just talking to myself.”
“Well, that’s certainly normal.”
“What do you want?”
Hartley looked out the windows to see what was holding Ford’s attention. “I just didn’t feel like being in the same room with Brian. I’m still pissed at him.”
“Why, because of Ensign Madera? He really didn’t do anything with her.”
“Then why are you so mean to him?”
Hartley stretched out and smiled catilly as she leaned back in her chair. “Why do planets revolve arounds suns? Why are there stars in the sky? Why do humans breathe oxygen?”
“So planets can have gravity, so planets can exist, and so our blood can be oxygenated,” Ford replied.
Hartley looked over at Ford. “Are you okay, Zack?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Ford replied, looking away.
“I don’t know. I just keep expecting you to say something really obnoxious, and you never do. It’s just not…not you.”
“So you’d prefer me to be obnoxious?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Never look a gift Ford in the mouth,” Ford said with a smile.
“Right.” Hartley scooted out of her seat. “Well…it was nice talking to you.”
“Uh huh,” Ford said, turning his gaze back to the front windows.
“I tell you he’s acting strange,” Lt. Hartley said, sticking her head out of her bunk and looking up at the bunk above her. “Don’t you think, Ariel?”
Lt. Tillereran rolled over and stared down at Hartley. “Look at who you’re asking. Don’t you think I’d find out about something like that?”
“You’ve been tricked before.”
“Well…I’ve improved,” Tilleran said defensively.
Tilleran tossed an isolinear chip down to Hartley. “Punch that into your media player.”
Hartley shrugged and plunked the chip down into the receptacle next to her bed, placing the earpiece next to her ear.
“Hello, my blossoming little telapath,” an almost musical voice said. “It’s time we honed those skills, darling. Now repeat after me…”
Hartley put down the earpiece and looked back up at Tilleran. “Who the hell is this?”
“Lwaxana Troi,” Tilleran said with quiet respect. “One of Betazed’s most beloved telepaths.”
“Lwaxana Troi…” Hartley said to herself. “Wait a minute. I ferried her through the Badlands on a diplomatic mission once when I worked in the DMZ. She was bossy, pretentious, and most of all nosey. She had my brain picked apart before our runabout had even reached the planet.”
“Yeah,” Tilleran said, starry-eyed. “What a magnificent lady.”
Hartley just shook her head slid out of her bunk. “Whatever.” She shuffled over to the replicator. “Large hot cocoa.” She grabbed the cup out of the slot as it appeared and returned to her bunk. “Did you ever wonder why we were friends?”
“Because you like being told every thought you have before you have it?”
Hartley giggled as she sipped at her drink, stopping as soon as Lt. Gellar ducked into the cabin. “Hey, guys. Does anyone else think Lt. Ford has been acting wierd lately?”
“She doesn’t want to talk to you, Brian,” Tilleran said, reaching down and grabbing her isolinear chip. “Try someone else. And since I’m the only other female on the runabout, that leaves Lt. Ford or the airlock.”
“I’d try the airlock,” Hartley said with a grin.
“You know…” Gellar said, annoyed. Before he could finish, the runabout’s intercom system beeped.
“Guys…you’d better get out here,” Lt. Ford’s voice said eerily over the comm.
“Wonder what this is about,” said Hartley.
“Well,” Tilleran said, closing her eyes and putting her fingers to her temples. “Lt. Ford has just picked up a–”
“Never mind,” Hartley snapped.
“…ederation Starship, we are in need of help. There is a terrible plague affecting our planet. ***Scrrrtz**–hird of the population of our capital city in less than a week. Please send help soon!”
Lt. Tilleran’s brow furrowed as she studied the distress call on the small monitor set into the bulkhead next to Ford’s console. “Mr. Ford, increase our speed to–”
“Already punched us up to maximum warp, Lieutenant. We’ll be at Cedran Two in fifteen minutes.”
“Good work,” Tilleran said.
“Looks like those anti-federation elements may have beaten us to the punch,” Hartley said, looking up at Tilleran.
“Whether that’s the case or not, we have to get ready to handle a biohazard situation in fifteen minutes,” Tilleran said. “Lt. Hartley, I want you and Gellar to break out the emergency medical gear. I’ll try and see what our long range scans can tell us.”
“Oh, goody, we get to work together,” Hartley mumbled.
Gellar followed Hartley back to the aft compartment. “Don’t sound so enthusiastic.”
“I’m trying my best not to.”
Tilleran, Hartley, and Gellar materialized in the town square of Cedran Two to be greeted by…well, nobody.
“That’s funny,” Hartley said through her biohazard mask. “The colony’s profile indicates this as the center of town. You’d think that even at this hour there’d be at least a couple people out here.”
Tilleran studied her tricorder and looked around the empty town square. “The tricorder isn’t picking up any airborne particles, but we’d better keep our masks on anyway. There’s always the chance that whatever is causing this plague doesn’t show on my scans.”
Gellar withdrew his phaser. “I suggest we be very careful until we find out the nature of this ‘plague’.”
“Why, do you think we’re going to get attacked by sick people?” Hartley asked, raising an eyebrow.
“You never know,” Gellar replied defensively.
“Both of you be quiet,” Tilleran said, eyeing her tricorder. “I’m getting something!”
Gellar and Hartley glared at each other as they followed Tilleran up into the largest building in the square.
“According to the colony maps this is the town hall,” Tilleran said. “Presumably the distress call was sent from this building.”
“You’re hoping maybe that the person who sent this can tell us what happened?” Gellar asked.
“If he’s still alive,” Hartley said.
“Someone’s alive up there,” Tilleran said, looking up from her readings.
When the group reached the top of the stairs, Lt. Gellar took the lead. “I’d better take the point from here. There’s no telling what kind of condition that man could be in if he contracted the plague.”
“I don’t believe it,” Hartley said, rolling her eyes.
“Are you saying we’re not strong enough to defend ourselves, Lieutenant?” Tilleran asked.
“Of course not,” Gellar said. “But I’m the security officer. I’m the one they pay to take risks.”
“How corny,” Hartley moaned.
“Hey, if he wants to put himself on the line for us he’s welcomed to,” Tilleran said, indicating the door at the end of the hallway. “Lead the way, Machoman.”
“Thank you,” Gellar said, nodding his head gratefully at Tilleran and proceeding to the door at the end of the hallway. “Now stand back.”
Lt. Hartley watched in amusement as Gellar reeled back, lunged forward…and rapped his knuckles lightly on the door.
“Hello, anyone there?” Gellar asked cordially.
“My hero,” Hartley chuckled.
Gellar turned back to look at Hartley. “Standard protocol is to knock first.”
“Of course,” Hartley said.
“And since there’s no response,” Gellar said, “we try the doorknob.”
Gellar turned the doorknob and pushed the door open gently, searching the room with his palm beacon.
“Lieutenant Gellar…I’m picking up a lifeform…moving in from–” Tilleran said, when suddenly a dark shape drove into Lt. Gellar and slammed him into the wall.
“Errrrrg,” the shape growled, and heaved Gellar back into the floor.
“A little help,” Gellar croaked, as the dark figure lifted a chair into the air.
“Not so fast…” Tilleran said, leveling her phaser on the figure. “Drop it now.”
“Grugggg?” the figure asked, turning on Tilleran with the chair held menacingly above his head.
“That’s odd,” Tilleran said, cocking her head as the figure advanced. “Lieutenant Hartley, you wouldn’t believe what’s going through this guy’s head. It’s…oh, my…” The Betazoid quickly fired her phaser, dropping the figure to the ground in an instant.
Gellar picked himself up and stared down, waving his wrist beacon over the figure’s face. It was pale, almost colorless. And his eyes were completely blank.
“What happened to him?” Gellar asked.
“I don’t know…but whatever it is, it’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before.”
Suddenly the group heard a loud crash below.
“Guys,” Lt. Hartley said worriedly. She was staring out the window at the back of the room. “Come take a look at this.”
Gellar took one more glance at the still figure on the floor and followed Tilleran to the window.
“Oh, my,” Tilleran said, looking down at the town square below. Dozens of grunting, growling creatures like the one Tilleran had just stunned were grouped outside the building, ramming headlong through the outside doors.
“Errrrgg!” a creature cried, pushing into the room, prompting Gellar to turn quickly and fire his phaser.
“We have to get out of here!” Hartley cried.
“I concur,” Tilleran said, kneeling beside the figure she had stunned and tapping her comm badge. “Tilleran to Roanoake. Four to beam up.”
“Can someone tell me what’s going on here?” Lt. Ford asked, entering the aft cabin and standing next to Hartley and Gellar as Tilleran examined her patient.
The Cedran colonist was spread out on the meeting table rather awkwardly as the Betazoid ran her tricorder over him.
“This is amazing…I’m detecting cortical strands forming all over his body,” Tilleran said in awe.
“Well, that clears it up,” Ford said sarcastically.
Tilleran looked at Ford in annoyance. “It’s like his cellular structure has been fused with grey matter, Lieutenant.”
Ford wrinkled his nose in disgust and looked down at the subject lying on the table. “You’re telling me this guy’s becoming a big pile of brains?”
“Essentially,” Tilleran said. “But I won’t know more until the polycellular scan finishes running.”
Hartley shivered as she watched Tilleran work. That…thing…on the table was really giving her the creeps. Suddenly, Hartley felt a hand push a lock of hair away from her face.
“You know, you’re beautiful, Megan,” Gellar said from behind her.
Hartley glared at Gellar over her shoulder. “Too little, too la–”
Suddenly Gellar’s hand latched onto her shoulder and spun her around. “But you know what I really like about you?”
Hartley stared into Gellar’s eyes nervously. There was something different about him. Greying eyes, whitish hair, skin rapidly paling. He looked….a lot like that Cedran. “Um…my sparkling personality?”
“Nope, your brain!” Gellar cried, grabbing Hartley’s chin and attempting to twist her head off.
“Help!” Hartley cried, elbowing Gellar in the gut and trying to crawl away from him.
“Get away from her, Lieutenant!” Tilleran cried, aiming her phaser at Gellar and firing.
Gellar staggered back against the bulkhead, dazed.
“We’ve got a bigger problem than we thought,” Ford said, as Hartley caught her breath.
“Yeah, what was that all about?” Hartley asked, looking over at the dazed security officer.
Before Tilleran could reply, the Cedran colonist rolled off the table and pushed it into her, knocking her back into the bulkhead.
“Brains!” the colonist cried. “More brains!”
“More…brains?” Gellar asked, stumbling to his feet.
“Back to planet…” the colonist said. “Find more brains!”
Lt. Hartley scrambled for her phaser and fired at Gellar, who staggered back, but kept coming, pushing her aside and heading into the front compartment.
Before anyone could do anything, the Cedran colonist followed after Gellar, and the doors to the cockpit slid shut.
“He locked us out!” Hartley said incredulously, slamming a fist against the doorpanel.
Tilleran pushed off of the table and took up a position behind Hartley. “They couldn’t be trying to transport off the ship…”
“I don’t think they’re capable of forming a decent sentence, much less operating a transporter,” Ford said from behind Tilleran.
“Well, then what could they be doing in there?” Tilleran asked.
“Maybe they’re trying to land the ship,” Hartley said ominously.
“Do you really think they could do that in their condition?” Tilleran asked.
“Well, it’s something Ford is very good at. How difficult could it be?”
As if to punctuate Hartley’s statement, the Roanoake lurched downward nauseatingly.
Tilleran and Ford paced the aft section of the Roanoake for ten minutes as Lt. Hartley silently but swiftly worked.
“Any luck?” Ford asked.
“No,” Hartley replied. “They used phasers to seal it from the other side. We could possibly burn through with our phasers. But it would take a few minutes. The door’s made of a pretty strong duranium composite.”
“I don’t think we have a few minutes,” Tilleran said, peering out the side window as the runabout descended. “We’ve just hit the lower layer of atmosphere. We’ll be landing soon!”
“Landing or crashing?” Hartley asked.
“That all depends on what kind of pilots those two are,” Ford said.
“In that case, assume crash positions everybody!” Tilleran cried out, dropping to the floor and curling into a ball.
Hartley, Tilleran, and Ford huddled together as the runabout struck the first solid thing in its way: the peak of a long mountain chain that winded through the Cedran city.
“Hold on, everybody!” Ford shouted, as the runabout tilted and bucked against the craggy mountainside.
The Roanoake half slid, half sped down the mountain, jarring against a grouping of rocks and flipping over several times. The positioning thrusters managed to right it just in time to send it careening into a building.
Lt. Tilleran brought her phaser rifle to bear and blew the aft compartment emergency hatch. “Oh, Brian! Come out, come out, wherever you are!” She slung the rifle over her shoulder and pulled herself out.
Hartley and Ford followed, rifles at the ready.
“Where’d they go?” Ford asked, as they made their way around the Roanoake toward the front.
Hartley stood on her tip-toes and peered into the porthole next to the cockpit. “They aren’t in the cockpit.”
Ford indicated the open side-hatch with his phaser rifle. “Looks like they got out.”
“Then we have a Starfleet officer to find,” Tilleran said. “And we have to search a village full of brain-crazed zombies to find him.”
“Starfleet: Join and see the universe,” Ford mumbled.
“Come on,” Tilleran said, flipping her tricorder open.
“I just have one question,” Hartley asked, taking up the rear.
“What?” Tilleran asked, not looking back.
“Which one of you wants to donate a fat juicy brain to me?”
Ford stopped and looked back at Hartley. “Pardon?”
Now Hartley was palefaced and glassy-eyed. She grinned devilishly at Ford. She slammed the butt of her rifle into Ford’s face. “I…said I want…to eat your…brain.”
Ford rubbed his face and grimaced. “Gee, that’s what I thought you said.”
“Get back, Ford!” Tilleran cried, shooting Hartley with her rifle. “The virus must be spread by personal contact.”
Hartley stumbled to the ground as she was hit with the high-level stun blast.
“So Brian caught it when that zombie rammed into him, and Hartley caught it when Brian attacked her?” Ford asked.
“That’s the theory I’m working on,” Tilleran said, shooting Hartley again as she tried to climb to her feet.
Hartley grunted angrily as she was hit by phaser beams from Ford and Tilleran. “Brains!” she grunted. “Need brains!”
“And you know, it was her personality I was always attracted to,” Ford joked, shooting Hartley again and running behind Tilleran.
“We have to find a specimen and take it back to the runabout for study,” Tilleran said, taking up a defensive position in a nearby alleyway and catching her breath.
“Might I suggest the specimen that’s trying to take our brains right now?” Ford asked wryly.
“You might, if we had a way of knocking her out without killing her.”
“I’m sure as hell fresh out of ideas.”
“How about some brains?” Hartley asked, leaping into the alleyway.
Tilleran upped the setting on her phaser rifle, blasting Hartley again. “Maybe we can lure her back to the runabout.”
“That’s a great idea. But what can we lure her with?”
Tilleran pointed at her forehead. “Use your brain.”
“Of course, why didn’t I think of that,” Ford replied, scrambling after Tilleran as she lept over Hartley and made for the runabout.
“She’s coming!” Ford cried, sliding through the emergency hatch and into the aft section of the Roanoake.
“I’m going to try to get the isolation field on-line,” Tilleran said, ripping open a panel and yanking at some of the isolinear chips inside.
“Hurry!” Ford said worriedly.
“I’m going as fast as I can, Mr. Ford!”
“Well, go faster!” Ford cried, when suddenly Hartley’s head appeared in the escape hatch.
“Hello, nurse!” Hartley cried.
“You’re going to have to distract her while I finish this up,” Tilleran said as she punched some controls on the ship’s science panel. Ford looked at Hartley, who met him with a glazed, yet wild-eyed, look.
“I want your brain,” Hartley growled.
“So…” Ford said nervously. “How long have you been interested in brains?”
“Not long,” Hartley said, crawling into the cockpit and advancing on Ford.
“Hmmm. That’s good,” Ford said, backing towards the rear of the cabin. “Any other interests besides…er…brains?”
“Mmm hmm,” Hartley said, leaping towards Ford. “Brains.”
Ford grabbed one of the plush office chairs that surrounded the conference table and shoved it at Hartley, following that up with a phaser blast.
Hartley shrugged off the phaser blast and hurled the chair at Ford, knocking him to the deck.
“Ouch,” Ford said, rubbing his head. “You know, it’s not polite to play with your food. Besides, aren’t you afraid you might damage this precious brain of mine?”
“Not really,” Hartley said, yanking the chair away and diving towards Ford hungrily.
“Tilleran!” Ford cried out, squeezing his eyes shut. He opened his eyes again when he heard a familiar electric crackle.
Hartley bounced back as she hit the containment field and charged at Ford again, meeting with the same limited success.
“Good work, Tilleran, and not a moment to soon,” Ford said, dusting himself off and standing up.
Several minutes later, Ford emerged from the cockpit to watch Tilleran work. “So, Lieutenant, when do you think you may be finished here?”
“I don’t know,” Tilleran said, trying to stay clear of the field as Hartley rammed into it over and over again. “I’m having trouble isolating the DNA strand that’s causing this.”
“Oh, okay. I was just wondering…because, well…there’s a, you know, a…”
Suddenly the sounds of grunting and growling could be heard outside the runabout.
“Brains!” a voice that sounded quite a bit like Lt. Gellar’s said.
“We’ve got to hold them off!” Tilleran said. “Make sure the hatches are secure.”
“I already did,” Ford said. “They should hold out for a while–”
Suddenly the runabout shuddered.
”–unless they’ve found some kind of battering ram.”
“We need more time to study this thing. Get up to the cockpit and see if you can get the runabout’s phaser array working. If you set it on a wide beam you may be able to knock them all out at once.”
“I’m on it,” Ford said, ducking back into the cockpit.
“Hey, you know what?” Hartley asked sweetly as Tilleran studied the DNA scans.
“I want your brain.”
“Yes, I know,” Tilleran sighed. “You’ve told me that several times now. And that’s all you seem to be thinking according to–”
Tilleran suddenly stumbled back as a wave of disorientation hit her.
‘Help me, Tilleran!’ a voice cried out in her mind.
“Megan?” Tilleran asked.
No, the f***ing tooth fairy. Who do you think it is?
“It’s you all right,” Tilleran said tiredly. “What are you doing in my mind?”
‘A little sightseeing, maybe have some dinner, catch a movie. OR MAYBE STOP A F***ING ALIEN PLAGUE!’
“Alien?” Tilleran asked. “Are aliens causing this thing?”
‘BINGO! You win the prize of the day. Cedran Two is not being threatened by internal forces, it’s being threatened by external ones.’
“But what kind of race is capable of this? Not one we’re familiar with.”
‘Two in a row! I think you’re on a roll.’
“So how do I stop it?”
‘You’re the science officer. You tell me!’
“Well, I have to isolate the proper DNA sequence so that I can design an enzyme to destroy it.”
‘Sounds like a plan. What about all those guys out there attacking us?’
“Oh, them,” Tilleran said, peering out the porthole. Phasers lashed out from the runabout, knocking the attacking zombies back; unfortunately, it seemed like the entire colony was advancing on the runabout. There were just too many attackers.
“Tilleran to Ford. How long do you think it would take to get this ship operational?”
“Are you kidding? Brian crashed it into a mountain, then into a building. We’re lucky the thing’s still in once piece.”
“Well, we have to get out of here before the colonists tear the ship apart.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
‘I can help you,’ Hartley said from within Tilleran’s mind.
“Of course,” Tilleran said. “You can tell me what I need to do to get the ship back up and running.”
‘Geeze, it’s the disembodied leading the stupid.’
“Hey, I’m a science officer. I’m not stupid. I just don’t know a lot about runabout mechanics.”
‘Well, it’s time to take a crash course.’
“If you’re going to do something, do it now!” Ford cried over the comm.
Tilleran ripped open a panel in the floor, where several conduits thrummed with power. “I’m working on it, Ford.”
‘You see that conduit there on the left? It was damaged in the crash. You have to replace it, then reconnect the power supply and reinitialize the warp core.’
“Sounds easy enough,” Tilleran said, climbing underneath the deckplates and ripping the piece of conduit out.
‘Hurry Tilleran. If I have to spend one more minute watching my body act like that, I’ll go nuts.’
“I’m working as fast as I can.”
“Can I have your brain?” Hartley asked, clawing at the containment field.
‘Will you please tell me to shut up! I’m about fed up with all this brain garbage.’
“Shut up, both of you!” Tilleran cried, yanking the plastic cover off the replacement conduit section and shoving it into place. “The conduit’s in place.”
‘Good. Now reconnect the power supply and reinitialize.’
Tilleran ran over to the wall panel and began tapping controls and yanking at isolinear chips. “Done and done.”
‘Now tell Ford to punch it!’
“Tilleran to Ford: GO!”
The Roanoake’s engine thrummed noisly as it struggled under the debris that it was trapped under.
Suddenly the zombies that were surrounding the ship fell back as it lurched out from under the building’s concrete supports.
“We did it, Megan!” Tilleran called out, holding on as the runabout swung around one of the side streets and thundered up into the sky.
‘Now what, Miss Smartypants?’
“Now we need to find a place where we can distribute my enzyme into the atmosphere once I have it developed.”
‘Might I make a suggestion?’
“The deuterium plant?” Ford asked, as he steered the Roanoake through the clouds above Cedran Two. “Are you sure about this, Tilleran?”
“Absolutely. The plant is equipped with an exaust filtration system that spreads filtered by-products into the sky. It’s an environmental safety device that can alter the chemical makeup of the exaust and convert it into a benign form.”
“I see. And how does that help us?”
“When the computer has finished creating an enzyme structure to fight this plague, I can use the equipment aboard the runabout in conjunction with the filtration system and spread the enzyme instantly into the Cedran atmosphere. It was actually Lt. Hartley’s suggestion.”
“Lt. Hartley’s suggestion? Isn’t she–”
“It would take too long to explain, but suffice it to say she’s inside my mind.”
“Inside your–you’ve got to be kidding!”
“She says to tell you you’re a numbskull,” Tilleran said. “And she wants you to speed up.”
“Far be it from me to disagree with Lt. Hartley’s conciousness,” Ford said, punching up the speed on the engines.
Ford looked around cautiously with his phaser rifle as he and Tilleran moved through the dark and empty plant.
“Wonder where everyone is?” Ford asked, shining the light mounted on his rifle on the giant generators that took up most of the space in the huge building.
“Probably out scaring up some brains,” Tilleran said. “Now hurry up. The filtration system should be just down this corridor.”
“Another suggestion from Lt. Hartley?”
“No, that one’s from Lt. Tilleran, smartass,” Tilleran snapped.
“So, do you think this enzyme will work?” Ford asked.
Tilleran shrugged, patting the science kit that was slung over her arm. “Don’t know. I guess we’ll find out.”
“If the Cedran colonists stay zombified I guess that’ll mean it didn’t work.”
“That’s just brilliant, Ford,” Tilleran said, pushing a set of heavy duranium doors open and stepping through into a room full of blinking lights.
“Is this it?” Ford asked, shining the light from his rifle around.
“Yeah, I think so,” Tilleran said, withdrawing her tricorder and scanning the equipment. “Yes, definitely. This is the place. But I’m going to have to restore power to the converters before I can start pumping out that enzyme.”
“Well, do it quick. Something tells me we don’t have much time till those insane colonists find us.”
“Just be patient,” Tilleran mumbled. “This stuff takes time.” Ford whistled nervously and stepped outside the room while Tilleran worked.
“Oh, take your time. For Pete’s sake, we have all the time in the–urk!”
Suddenly Ford was tossed up against the back wall by an attacking colonist.
“Brains!” one of the zombies said, as he and hundreds of others plowed into the plant, ripping metal tubing off the walls and clubbing each other.
“We’ve got company!” Ford cried, firing his phaser rifle into the mass of zombies.
“Holy rings!” Tilleran cursed, attaching the enzyme replicator to the filtration system and adjusting some of the power circuits. “Just a few more seconds.”
“Tilleran…I don’t think we have a few more…a few more,” Ford stuttered.
“Ford, are you alright?” Tilleran asked worriedly as she worked.
“A few more BRAINS!” Ford cried, throwing down his phaser rifle and leading the zombies into the room.
“Damn!” Tilleran cried. “And then there was one.” Tilleran flipped the power converters on and set the discharge mechanism on full, adjusting the exaust systems flow valve so that some of it backed up into the room.
With a rush of air, the valve started pumping out the enzyme gas, both into the Cedran atmosphere and into the room.
“Does that help your moods any?” Tilleran asked, as the colonists advanced. The Betazoid ducked as a zombie lept towards her. “Obviously not! Tilleran to Roanoake. Computer, transport one now!”
Tilleran cursed to herself in Betazoid as she warmed up the Roanoake’s engines and gunned them.
“What went wrong!” she cried.
‘You must have miscalculated the dispersion of the enzyme,’ Hartley’s mind said. ‘Maybe you can distribute it in a different form.’
“What do you mean?” Tilleran asked, perplexed.
‘Ever seeded a cloud?’
Gellar, Ford, and the other zombies on Cedran Two ran through the streets, madly searching for the brains they held most dear, not realizing that each of them had a perfectly good brain to eat.
“Where are the brains?” Ford asked.
“Don’t know!” Gellar replied.
“What’s that?” a colonist asked.
Suddenly a grey object soared through the clouds, spreading some kind of tiny particles in its wake.
“Brains up there!” Ford cried.
“Can we get up there?” Gellar asked.
“Don’t think so,” Ford replied.
‘You’re doing it, Tilleran! It should rain any minute,’ Hartley’s mind said triumphantly.
Tilleran gave herself a mental pat on the back as she steered the Roanoake through the clouds. “Yeah. Guess we saved the day.”
‘Yep,’ Hartley said quietly in Tilleran’s mind.
Suddenly thunder cracked through the sky, as droplets of rain began to clatter against the front windows of the runabout.
“We did it!” Tillrean said, as the droplets of rain became a torrent.
‘Oh…Ariel,’ Harley’s voice said timidly. ‘…Did you set that containment field to cover the ceiling and the deck?’
“Of course not,” Tilleran said. “Why would I do that?”
‘Well, say you had an insane zombie girl in your containment field. Then suppose she watched you pull up the deck plates to fix the engines. Then suppose she had the…and I hesitate to use this term…brain of an engineer. And she knew how to squirm her way under the deck plates–’
“Hartley, what are you trying to–”
Suddenly the deck plating behind Tilleran ripped open. Lt. Hartley emerged with a wild, dazed look on her face.
“I used my brain!” Hartley cried, leaping on top of Tilleran and slamming her hands on the runabout’s helm controls at the same time.
‘Awful sorry about all this,’ Hartley said apologetically from inside Tilleran’s mind. ‘Guess we’re both pretty much screwed now, huh?’
“I’d say so,” Tilleran said, pushing Hartley into the bulkhead and grabbing the controls, pulling the Roanoake out of the dive Hartley had put them in. “Now I’m infected.”
‘I suggest you find some way to get wet damn quick,’ Hartley said.
Tilleran nodded. “I’m opening up the side hatch as soon as I–I…brains?”
Suddenly the hatch slid open, causing air to be sucked out of the compartment.
‘Fight it, damn you!’ Hartley cried in Tilleran’s mind, as visions of sugared brains danced in Tilleran’s head.
“I’m trying!” Tilleran cried, gripping her seat as the suction threatened to pull her out of it. Her mind kept turning to thoughts of brains. Nice, plump, juicy brains. Hot off the grill and covered in a succulent coat of honey mustard sauce…
‘I said fight it! What would Lwaxana Troi do if she was in this situation?’
Tilleran struggled with her thoughts as she struggled with the Roanoake’s controls. “She’d…she’d…she’d…eat brains?”
‘No, dammit! She’d use her superior mental capacity to fight this! She’d save the day no matter what the cause. I mean, she’s a daughter of the fifth house, holder of the sacred chalace of Ritz…’
“That’s Rixx, Hartley! The sacred chalace–” Tilleran squeezed her eyes shut as the runabout hurtled towards the ground, “The sacred chalace of brains!”
‘You have to fight this just a little longer. Pull us into a barrel roll…you’ve got to get the runabout on it’s side so the rain can come in through the hatch!’
“I’ve…got…to…” Tilleran said slowly, pushing the attitude control buttons.
“You’ve got to eat brains!” Hartley cried, slamming into Tilleran, knocking her right towards the open hatch.
Tilleran used her last ounce of control to grab onto the railing beside the hatch, holding with all her might as the air pressure tried to suck her out.
“Computer!” Tilleran cried, as the rain hit her and her sanity slowly began to return. “Level our descent and bring us to a safe landing!”
“Confirmed,” the computer announced.
“Confirm your brain!” Hartley shouted, slamming into Tilleran. Both officers flew out of the hatch as the runabout glided towards the surface of Cedran Two.
Hartley and Tilleran fell about six or seven meters and collided roughly with ground, rolling along a patch of grass near the center of town until their inertia finally subsided.
Tilleran sat up and rubbed a hand across her face as the rain poured down on her and Hartley, watching the Roanoake safely set down nearby.
Hartley sat up and rubbed her eyes. “Woah…I haven’t felt this disoriented since I drank that whole bottle of Bolian Brandy.”
Gellar and Ford ran up, flanked by several of the Cedran colonists.
“Are you guys okay?” Ford asked.
“Yeah, can someone tell me what’s happened here?” Gellar asked.
“I couldn’t tell you,” Tilleran said, looking up at the sky and opening her mouth, letting the drops of rain hit her tongue. “But I will say that it seriously affects this planet’s colony review report.”
Stardate 52678.1. We’ve arrived at Cedran Two to pick up Tilleran, Ford, Hartley and Gellar. And from what Tilleran told me over subspace, they have a hell of a lot to report.
“Evidently this alien species feeds on what we know as grey matter–the basic composition of our brains. They introduced this DNA strand into the colony’s atmosphere as a way to convert the entire population into food,” Tilleran said, wincing as Dr. Browning ran a scanner over her. “Hey, that tickles.”
“I know,” Browning said with a smile. “It’s just a precautionary measure to make sure you don’t have any trace of that wierd DNA in your system.”
Baxter ignored Browning and turned back to Tilleran. “So what about the rumors of government breakdown?”
“We obviously misinterpreted them. The Yridian that sold Starfleet Intelligence that information might have had an unreliable source.”
“Or there may still be some sort of infiltrator on staff at that colony,” Baxter said.
“Or worse, a changeling,” Browning said.
“Well,” Tilleran said, “that’s fine with me. I’d take either over a species that wants to turn me into brain stew and eat me for dinner.”
“Do we have any leads on the whereabouts of that species?” Baxter asked hopefully.
“Nope,” Tilleran said. “They’re probably not even humanoid. For all we know, they could be floating around in a nebula somewhere or something.”
“Oh well,” Baxter sighed. “I guess that’ll be a matter for some other starship to worry about. The point is, we got you guys back safe and you saved the Cedran colony.”
“And I take it you guys had equal success with the rash on Atapi Four?” Tilleran asked.
“Don’t you know?” Baxter asked. “I assumed you’d have already picked my brain by now.”
“Very funny,” Tilleran replied. “Really, what happened?”
“Well,” Baxter sighed, “the crew contracted the rash and we ended up burning out the replicators producing cortizone cream and cornstarch. So, in answer to your question, no, we didn’t have success at Atapi Four.”
“I figured as much.”
“You know our crew well, Lieutenant,” Baxter said, heading out of Sickbay.
When Ford arrived at his closet, the orb was waiting there, glowing at him disapprovingly.
‘What’s this brain stuff all about, Zachary?’
‘Funny story, actually.’
‘I am sure. You will tell me everything, after our daily chant. How does it go again?’
Ford sighed. “Hello my Starshine, my lovely Starshine! It’s great to see you, my lovely Starshine!”
Hartley poked her head inside Lt. Gellar’s quarters. “Brian?”
“Hi,” Gellar said dejectedly from the couch.
Hartley stepped inside, allowing the doors to close behind her. “What’s wrong with you? You look like you ate something that didn’t agree with you.”
Gellar swallowed hard and made an unpleasant face. “I did.”
“Oh, no,” Hartley said, trying to hide her amused expression. “You don’t mean…”
“Dr. Browning examined my stomach contents. I ate brains, Megan.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“There’s nothing you can say, Megan. I have to come to terms with the fact that I have the remnants of a human’s brain digesting in my stomach.”
“So did Dr. Browning suggest anything?”
“Well, she did suggest a nice kiante to wash it down with, but other than that, no.”
“So you’re just going to…”
“Let it come out the natural way? Yeah, I guess so.”
Hartley considered that a moment. “If it’s any consolation, I hear that brains are very high in protein.”
“…and if that’s not bad enough,” Gellar said, holding up his glass, “when I ordered a grape soda from the replicator, I got this big glass of cortizone cream.”
When Captain Baxter runs into an old Starfleet Academy rival, he soon becomes embroiled in a bet to see which captain can captain the best. Will Baxter win, or will the Explorer win…uh, second…prize? Find out, in “FRIENDLY WAGERS!”