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Strange Interlude

By Cami
Page 1 of 8

The room had once been a neat and orderly laboratory, an immaculate sanctuary of glistening metallic equipment and smudge-free white countertops and cabinets. Now, however, the order and calm had been replaced by a sense of chaos. Doors and drawers hung open. Stoppered test tubes were strewn about in the manner of fallen soldiers, resting on their sides rather than standing at stalwart attention in their requisite racks. Papers littered most of the flat surfaces, including a scattering on the floor, appearing to have been dropped wherever impatient hands had released them.

In one corner of the jumbled laboratory a grim-faced figure sat hunched over a computer monitor, flicking through data screens at a speed that seemed almost superhuman. Nearby, a younger man was scrutinizing the contents of a large cooling unit. He removed and examined a series of labelled vials. Most were tossed carelessly aside; occasionally, he tucked one, with almost revered gentleness, into the soft-sided carryall he wore over one slim hip.

The two men were concentrating so intently on their respective tasks that the intrusion of a disembodied voice caused them both to start.

"Avon, Tarrant. We have Federation ships on the scanners. They will be in firing range in six point four minutes. Are you ready for teleport?"

Avon continued to focus on the computer while pressing a button on the bracelet wrapped about his left wrist. "Not quite yet. Cally, listen carefully. I want you, Dayna and Vila to put on isolation suits before we return."

"Isolation...? I'll see to it immediately."

"Wait," Tarrant said, cutting in before his shipmates could terminate the transmission. "Patch me through to Zen."

"Patch complete."

"Zen, maintain an all-points scan for Federation spacecraft, compute positions and trajectories, and plot an evasion course. Be prepared to execute on command."


Tarrant released his communicator and looked at Avon. "We'll want to break orbit as soon as we're on board," he explained.

His shipmate scowled, drawing his brows together above his eyes until he appeared to have one unbroken line of hair instead of two distinct arches. "I have ears and a brain. I understood what you were doing without a schoolboy's lecture."

Though his face reddened to an embarrassed hue, Tarrant didn't cower under Avon's critical glare. "I think I've found everything related to the problem. What about you?"

Avon backed his chair away from the desk and stood. "I've transferred all of the primary files to a data crystal. Orac can retrieve any additional documents that we might need."

"Avon," Cally's voice interrupted, "we're ready to teleport."

"Then do it."

As soon as they materialized, Tarrant was on the move. Three long-legged strides took him to the transmitter that linked up to the flight deck. "Zen, execute evasion course."

+Confirmed.+ There was a slight lurch as the ship broke orbit and accelerated.

* * *

Three hours later, Zen reported all scanners clear.

"I'm glad we didn't have to fight," Dayna said, seesawing her stiffened shoulders up and down. "I can barely move in this bulky casing, let alone operate the weapons."

Vila abandoned his station, clawing at his isolation suit as he lumbered down the steps to the flight couch. "When can we get out of these things? I'm hot and itchy."

"What is their purpose?" Cally asked. "What did you and Tarrant find down there?"

"Everyone on Pel was dead or dying," Avon replied.

Tarrant slanted a concerned glance at Cally before adding, "They said that Federation craft blazed through the atmosphere two weeks ago, releasing a mist over the entire planet. Then people started to get sick."

"They were deliberately infected. Like Auron," Cally murmured, whitening behind her faceplate.

Dayna edged over to put a consoling arm around the other woman. "Isn't there anything we can do to help them? Perhaps find a cure?"

"Orac estimated that the few remaining survivors were beyond the treatment stage. Besides which, we have problems of our own to worry about."

"You've brought it back here," Vila whimpered. "You and Tarrant were exposed."

Cally swiveled about until she was facing Avon. "Is it contagious? Are you infected?"

Avon twirled a probe in his hand as he walked to the front of the flight deck. "That's something we need to find out. Cally, can you operate the diagnostic equipment while wearing that suit?"

The Auron was slow to answer, as if her mind was occupied elsewhere. "It will be awkward but possible. I'll go set up the equipment."

"Dayna and Vila, keep watch," Avon directed. "Contact me in medical if anything appears on the scanners. He glanced to where Tarrant was still studying readouts at his station. "Coming, Tarrant?"

"I'd feel more secure if I kept an eye on things here for a bit longer. I want to be certain those Federation ships aren't playing possum. Surely one of us is enough for Orac to diagnose."

"Now, Tarrant," Avon insisted, annoyed at having to repeat himself. Why was Tarrant always so difficult? Cally and the others always obeyed him without question.

* * *

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