"Captain's Log: The D'Artagnan is engaging in a final sweep of the quadrant's edge before heading to Starbase 17 for routine maintenance. So far, we've discovered nothing of any particular interest and the crew is looking forward to the excitement of leave."
"Beware of famous last words, Captain," Jerel Courtland whinnied from the Exec's seat.
"Regarding which?" Sulu said as he switched off the log recorder. "Nothing of interest or exciting leave?"
The Equian tilted his head. "Must I pick just one?" he asked.
Sulu chuckled as he rose from the con. "Maybe I should ask Jilla to bolt a piece of wood to one of your seats." He indicated the now empty Science Station chair. Jerel was both the Chief of Science and the First Officer.
"Ancient Terran superstition," Sulu answered. "If you knock on wood whenever someone says something positive, it's supposed to ward off evil or malicious influence."
"I knew that," Courtland replied, his blue eyes twinkling with mischief.
Sulu frowned. "Then why'd you..." he began.
"He's just making sure you don't lose your edge in explaining things to Jilla," Jeremy Paget put in from the Security Station on the other side of the Bridge.
"And why would...?" the captain began again.
"Since the bébé was born, you and she speak of little else," Monique DuBois said from the Navigator's chair, then turned to give him one of her brightest smiles.
Sulu shrugged, but a grin claimed his features. "Can I help it if Jenni's the best thing that's happened to me since her mother?"
There was a disgruntled snort from the chair next to Paget's. Sulu turned to the Communications Station. "Comment, Mr. Vale?" he asked.
The Indiian sighed. "No, sir, none sir," he said, his tone one of clear stoicism.
"Out with it, or you'll explode," the captain suggested.
"There is a Terran expression," Vale returned. "The sins of the father are not visited upon the son." He paused. "Or in this case..."
"Mother and daughter," Sulu finished. He waited another minute, then added, "But...."
Tristan struggled for a moment, then burst out, "But telmnori should not have children!"
Jeremy frowned at the Indiian, but Sulu smiled tolerantly. "There, now don't you feel better?"
"How long have you been keeping that one in," Dylan Paine chuckled from the Defense and Weapons chair, just past the port side turbolift.
"I'd hazard a guess at about a year, give or take," Jeremy rejoined. "Ever since the lady got pregnant." He grinned at Sulu.
"I didn't want to spoil the joy," Vale muttered.
"So you admit there's joy, huh?" Dylan asked with his own grin.
Tristan scowled at him. "Didn't I just say...?"
"Leave him alone, Mr. Paine," Sulu broke in. "If Jilla and I can accept his perfectly normal Indiian reactions, so can the rest of you."
"Thank you, Captain," the Communications Chief said.
Sulu nodded, then stretched and headed for the lift. "You have the con, Jerel," he said. "I'll be in the Nest."
"Where else?" Jeremy murmured as Sulu strode past him, and received a wide grin in response.
As the lift doors closed behind him, Sulu heard Tristan's exclamation, equal parts peeved and proud:
"See, that's why I respect him."
The Nest-part of the Nests - also called Lincoln-class heavy cruisers - was in the very center of the saucer section. It was the most protected part of the ship, having its own back-ups for life-support, shielding, replicator stores, communications and propulsion. In an extreme emergency, which meant one in which the rest of the ship was dead in space, the Nest was prepared to detach itself via an access port through the bottom of the saucer and escape to safety, carrying its precious cargo with it. Sulu didn't often think of that part of the ship's design. Starfleet officers knew the risks of having children in space. Nonetheless, everything had to be done to protect those children. Officers were expendable. Their children were not.
He was also well aware that the decision to allow Nests in the first place was a political one, designed to tempt races other than Terrans and Vulcans into Fleet. Indiian children, for example, couldn't be physically parted from their parents for at least three months after birth. Before the Nests, that had meant base-side posting for any Indiian wanting children - and Fleet rarely put someone back on a ship after that. The Nests were a god-send for the Indiians - and he chuckled and amended that to goddess-send. Other races and cultures also had damn good reasons for not wanting to serve if they couldn't have children - and one of Fleet's best-known and most well-loved Admirals, Robert April, pushed for the Nests precisely because he and his wife, Sarah - also a Fleet officer - had been denied the opportunity for children because of their chosen careers. Federation ideals took quite a beating when a crazy, pro-Human group known as Elihuites tried to prove 'aliens' - also known as non-Humans - were subverting Starfleet to their own nefarious ends. And to shut the Federation-wide protests down, Starfleet had promised Nest ships, designed to allow couples to bear and raise their children and still have careers in Fleet. The old Enterprise had been in the thick of that mess, and Sulu still shuddered to think of what had almost happened.
He determinedly put aside such thoughts as he entered the D'Artagnan's Nest. His daughter was as much a sensitive as her mother, and he didn't want his emotions to make her fussy.
"Not to mention she picked up a little bitty bit of empathy from her father," his Chief Medical Officer, Lian Rendell, had remarked with no little sarcasm in the days after Jenshahn's birth. The sarcasm had been made clear by the fact that she'd said it in a heavy Cajun accent, then added, "We'll just keep her away from the Paine, hmm?"
He put that thought aside too, and stepped up to the Nest's Chief Nurse, Rajana Blake.
The Ter-Indian looked up and smiled. "Jilla's already been here, Captain," she said.
He nodded his thanks, then turned around, reentering the lift. I should've known, he thought fondly to himself. Ever since the D'Artagnan's 'wee bairns' had received a rival about four months earlier, her Chief Engineer had been more than prompt in leaving her section at the end of her duty shift. He made a quick call to the Bridge, informing Courtland that he would be in his quarters rather than the Nest.
"Jilla beat you there?" the Equian asked.
"Yeah. Why?" Sulu replied.
"I just won ten credits," was the response, followed by a whinny.
"Who bet against her?" the captain wanted to know.
"I did, Captain," came the dour voice of the L'chal'dan Chief Helmsman, Zel.
"Why in the name of done deals would you do that?" Sulu laughed, and closed the comlink.
When he reached his cabin, the first thing he heard was Jilla's voice.
"Daddy, Jenshahn," she enunciated. "Dah-dee."
The four-month old gurgled back at her, clearly delighted.
Sulu walked over to the long, curved couch, where his wife sat with their child on her lap. Jenshahn was, to his eyes, a perfect blend of them both; she had her mother's features, except for the Asian slant to her eyes, hair in a burgundy shade much darker than Jilla's, eyes a dark brown shot through with grey. Even her skin color was a blend, a lighter bronze than Sulu's but with a sheen like Indiian silver, giving the impression that she'd been burnished.
"Not interested, is she?" he chuckled, then reached out. Jilla immediately stood, placing Jenshahn in his arms. He held her up, kissing her cheek, then said, "Ama."
"Ahhmmmm," his daughter repeated.
"That's my girl," he said approvingly and she squealed with joy.
He smiled, then bent down to give Jilla a kiss.
"Why does she say mother when she refuses to say father?" the engineer murmured.
"Maybe because you feed her," Sulu suggested. "Or maybe you need to teach her rosh instead of daddy." He pulled Jenshahn closer and jiggled her up and down in his arms.
"Or perhaps she prefers you," Jilla said, but she was smiling.
"So she does what I say?" Sulu allowed, then again put Jen up to his face. "That'll change when you hit puberty, won't it?" he asked her playfully.
"And you prefer her to call you 'daddy,' not 'rosh,'" Jilla continued.
"She can call me whatever she wants," Sulu vowed. "I intend to spoil her rotten."
"Of course." Jilla's reply was soft and adoring.
Jenshahn snuggled her head against Sulu's chest for a moment, then started squirming.
"Nummmm," she said. "Num-nummm."
"And speaking of feeding," Sulu said, and handed the child back to Jilla, who was already opening her uniform. As she settled Jenshahn to her breast, Sulu smiled at them both, then turned and headed for the bedroom, pulling his tunic over his head. He reached for the carrier Jilla had designed for Jenni, intending to put it on so that he could keep his child close to him while he did some paperwork. Even though she was past the critical first three months, they had both gotten used to having her with one or the other of them 24 hours a day. It had been a little awkward until they both got used to it. Now it was second nature.
Just as he got the device belted around his waist, the intercom signaled. He stepped over to it, thumbing the switch.
"Sulu," he said.
"I hate to disturb family time," Jerel said, "but sensors are picking up an uncharted nomad planet entering the quadrant." He paused. "And we're getting some very strange readings."
"Strange how?" Sulu asked.
"In any way you can imagine, sir."
"All right, I'm on my way," Sulu replied. He clicked off the com, then turned to Jilla. "Sorry, hon," he said.
She smiled up at him and from around her nipple, Jenshahn started to gurgle. He removed the carrier, setting it on the couch next to Jilla and got a fresh tunic from the drawer that was built into the extended head-board of the bed. He bent to kiss both Jilla and Jenni.
"Love you, hon," he murmured. "And you, too, Jen."
"Jenshahn," Jilla murmured in return, as she always did.
As he was leaving, he heard Jilla say, "That was daddy, Jenshahn. Dah-dee."
Jerel was neither in the con, nor at the Exec's seat. He was at the Science Station, his three- fingered hands moving over the display of the sensor, the improvements in the new ships eliminating the need for the older-style sensor hood. Sulu crossed the Bridge to stand next to the Equian.
"So, strange?" the captain asked after giving his First Officer time to complete his computations.
"The nomad is moving at approximately one tenth of one percent of lightspeed," Courtland reported.
Sulu whistled. "Damn fast for a planet."
"Its present course suggests it came from Quadrant One," Jerel continued, then glanced up at Sulu. "Yet we've received no information from other Fleet ships."
The captain turned to Communications, and before he could ask, Tristan Vale said, "I rechecked all the logs, sir. There's no mention of a nomad in any message we've received in the last standard month."
"Can we get a visual, Jerel?" Sulu asked, turning back to the Science Station..
"Only at extreme range," the Equian returned.
"On screen then," Sulu said.
A dull, golden ball appeared on the forward viewscreen.
"How big is it?"
"About 419,466 kilometers in diameter."
Sulu did a quick calculation in his head. "So about three times the size of Jupiter," he mused as he peered at the forward viewscreen. He moved to the railing separating the upper stations from the Helm/Navigation well, leaning over it toward Monique.
"Magnification?" he asked.
"I can only get a little more before losing definition," the navigator replied, manipulating her controls.
The ball almost doubled in size, and Sulu grinned.
"Good work, Monique," he said.
"Look, it has a satellite!" Dylan Paine exclaimed excitedly, rising from his chair.
"Down, puppy," Jeremy told him.
"Mr. Paine is correct," Jerel rejoined. "It's irregularly shaped, with the same odd compositional range."
"Odd compositional range?" Sulu asked, but before Courtland could answer him, Zel, sitting at the Helm, pointed to the screen.
"That's not a satellite," he said decisively. "That's a starship."
"That, sir," the First Officer announced as he slowly turned from the sensor controls, "is the Enterprise. And both she and the planet are pure gold."
Monique gasped. Tristan's sharp intake of breath was an audible hiss.
"Sweet Jesus," Jeremy murmured
Sulu stared, his heart thundering in his chest. "Pure gold?" he finally managed.
Courtland's voice was rough and full of pain. "And I detect no life forms."
"From the planet?"
"Or the Enterprise."
Sulu called an immediate briefing. The first order of business was to try and contact Starfleet, but communications were jammed.
"Could the planet be doing that at this range?" Sulu wanted to know.
Jerel shook his head. "Unlikely, Captain."
"Is there anything under the gold? Atmosphere, land, liquid?"
"Yes, sir," the First Officer replied, and the briefing room screens showed a fairly standard configuration of land and sea - all in gold relief.
"That's not exactly 'under'," Jeremy Paget pointed out.
Courtland shrugged. "There is a shell of gold that approximates the Karman Line. These formations, while also of gold, are under it."
"But still nothing other than gold," Sulu rejoined.
"If it is not the planet which is interfering with communications," Monique DuBois asked, "what could be?"
"I think you're all overlooking a more important question," Lian Rendell put in. She tapped one of the small screens. "If that's the Enterprise, what happened to her crew?"
"We're not overlooking it, Lian, believe me," Sulu replied grimly. "But if we can't establish communications, we can't very well find out, can we?"
"She is gold, Captain," Monique argued. "Even if we had communications, how do we contact gold?"
"We could get closer and beam over there and have a look for ourselves," the Haven doctor suggested.
Sulu took a careful breath, then turned again to Courtland.
"Would that be possible?"
"We can be in range in a few hours," the Equian stated, "and the senor readings do show the normal amount of space within the ship - though life-support systems aren't operating."
"We can use the support belts," Lian put in.
"Captain, with no information on how this happened," Paget countered, "I don't think that's a good idea. The nomad came from Quadrant One. That's the Enterprise's patrol. She clearly took the time to examine it and...." The Security Chief paused. "Well, look what happened to her."
"So we should just go about our business and..." Rendell offered.
"Of course not," Sulu broke in. "We obviously have to investigate this, but Jer is right. We need to do so carefully." He glanced around the room. "Tristan, keep working on restoring communications. If we're beaming to the Enterprise, I'll need Engineering, Medical, Security and Sciences. Jerel, I'll want you to stay here and monitor the planet and the Enterprise. I'll take Ensign Salok. Lian, Jer, you'll come with me."
"Redford from Engineering?" Courtland asked, making notes on his statboard.
Sulu's face tightened. "No, if there's any way to salvage any of the Enterprise's systems, I'll need my Chief."
As the others filed out of the briefing room, Jeremy hung back. When he and Sulu were alone, he turned to his friend.
"Babe, are you sure you want both you and Jilla goin' on this mission?" the TerAfrican asked. "There's Jenni now, and..."
"And if I base my assignments on my personal feelings I'll only prove the Nests are a failure and I'm not fit to command," Sulu interrupted.
"But..." Paget cleared his throat. "Her zilos and zilama are... were on the Enterprise," he finished softly.
Sulu swallowed. "I know," he said, his voice tight with grief. "I know."
Sulu spent the hours the D'Artagnan approached the nomad in his cabin with his wife and daughter. Jilla, of course, immediately understood the logic behind Sulu's choice of including her in the landing party. Though she and Sulu both did their best not to convey their fear to Jenshahn, the four month old was fussy nonetheless. Jilla studied the sensor data as Sulu walked the length of their quarters and back, trying to soothe his daughter.
"Hon," Sulu finally began, "if Ruth and Spock are really gone..."
"We have to make other provisions for Jenshahn," Jilla broke in calmly. She turned from her monitor, her eyes moist. "James and Jade would care for her," she suggested.
"I'm sure they would," Sulu replied. "But neither one of them is at all psychically gifted. Can they raise a sensitive?"
"I do not know," Jilla answered. "I do not believe it has ever been tried."
"I think Del and Calaya would be a better...." Sulu stopped talking as Jilla's face tightened. He stepped over to her, still rocking Jenshahn in his arms. "Aema accepted Jen at her zil-arin," he reminded gently. "She isn't damned, and Calaya will feel that."
Their gazes met, exchanging the memory of the Indiian ritual when Jenshahn was but a week old. She had been presented to Aema, and though both her parents had felt the sting of the divine contact, they had also both felt the Goddess' acknowledgement of Jen as one of Her children. Their sin would not, as Tristan Vale had alluded to, be visited on their child.
Jilla sighed tremulously. "I suppose you are right," she said. "Noel could certainly help her should she have inherited any of your..."
"Right," Sulu cut her off. "I'll prepare a message, just in case.... Damn!" he interrupted himself. "We can't ask them, communications are out."
"If we make a formal declaration in front of witnesses," Jilla stated, "by Indiian law, Miss Wheal cannot refuse." She bent her head, then raised it again. "And I cannot honestly see Noel rejecting such a request."
Sulu gave a half-grin. "The way he fawned over Jen at Daffy and Pavel's wedding, I can't either." He took a deep breath. "Ok, I'll make sure we make that declaration before we leave."
There was a long moment of silence, then Jilla murmured, "I cannot believe they are truly gone."
Sulu crouched down beside her, pulling her into his arms as best he could. It made Jenni snuggle against both of them, at last giving a sigh of contentment.
"We'll see when we get aboard the Enterprise," he promised. "Whatever's affecting communications could be fucking up the sensor readings, too."
Jilla tried to smile. "You are ever an optimist, my love," she said.
Sulu returned the expression, and kissed her gently. No, I'm not, he thought sadly. I just can't face it yet.
"Since we don't know what's causing the interference with our communications systems," Sulu began as his team assembled in the transporter room, "we don't know if our communicators will work once we're over there. We'll give ourselves an hour to explore the Enterprise. If we can contact each other and the D'Artagnan, we'll reevaluate. If not..." He turned to Jilla's assistant. "Mr. Redford, you have an automatic retrieval order one hour from now."
The engineer nodded, and if his gaze lingered too long on his chief, Sulu chose not to notice.
"Jerel," the captain continued, looking to his First Officer, "If anything goes amiss, get my ship out of here and find some way to contact Starfleet."
"And please inform Commander DelMonde and Yeoman Wheal on the Lincoln of our declaration," Jilla asked softly. The statement of their wishes regarding care for Jenshahn had been made minutes before.
"Aye, Captain, Mrs. Majiir," Courtland answered.
"Lady Takeda," Jeremy corrected - as always - and - as always - the Equian responded.
"'Lady' is not an accepted form of address within the ranks of Starfleet, Mr. Paget."
"They should make an exception in her case," the TerAfrican said. Those in the transporter room chuckled at the long-standing banter between the two - all except for the Vulcan Life Sciences ensign, Salok, who merely looked puzzled.
"All right, let's get this moving," Sulu said. He took his place on the transport disks, as did Jilla, Jeremy, Lian Rendell and Salok. He nodded to Redford. "Energize."
Five people encased in the faint glow of life support belts materialized on the golden Bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise. They stared in horror at the sight around them. To all appearances, this was a normal Starfleet crew; according to the golden chronometer displays, somewhere in the middle of the second watch of a routine day. The faces were relaxed, the positions those of working officers; talking, studious, thoughtful - and solid gold. Everything was solid gold; the instrument panels, the display screens, the chairs and railings and deck plates and uniforms.
"Communications check," Jeremy Paget said, and took out his communicator. "Paget to D'Artagnan."
"D'Artagnan here," came the immediate answer.
"Well, there's a surprise," he said to Sulu.
The captain opened his own communicator. "Mr. Vale, patch me in to Lieutenant Redford in the main transporter room."
When the connection was established, he said, "Geoff, our communicators seem to be working. Can you get a fix on our positions?"
"Yes, sir," Redford answered.
"Good. Then I'm canceling the automatic recall. We'll contact you when we're ready to beam back. Sulu out."
He closed the communicator, then had to take a deep breath, swallowing before moving toward the Science station and a perfectly golden Daffy Gollub. She was standing there, facing the center of the Bridge, apparently talking with her golden husband who sat in his usual place at Navigation. The captain of the D'Artagnan reached out, his shielded fingers touching the metallic face of his friend.
"Whatever happened here struck without warning," he murmured. Then he straightened. "What do our instruments say?" he asked.
Salok opened his tricorder, scanning slowly. "As we expected, Captain," the young Vulcan said, "everything reads as solid gold. There are no life or energy signs."
"Confirmed, Sulu," Lian put in. "I'd tell you if their blood was liquid gold - if I could distinguish those readings from the golden cellular walls of golden veins and arteries."
"Is that supposed to make us feel better?" Jeremy snapped.
The Haven glanced at him, her dark eyes full of the sorrow they all felt. "No," she answered simply.
"Check out the rest of the ship," Sulu ordered, turning away from the statue that had been Daffy Gollub. "And whoever finds Captain Spock, let me know at once."
It was tedious and physically challenging using the stairs and gangways to get from deck to deck and section to section. Everywhere were crewmen and officers going about their normal duties, caught in a casing of yellow metal.
The boarding party had split up, Salok to Sciences, Lian to Medical, Jeremy to Security, Jilla to Engineering, Sulu to the Officer's cabins. With no understanding of what had happened, or how, there was an unspoken agreement that each person would contact one of the others every few minutes.
So it was that as Jilla stared with tears in her eyes at a golden statue of Montgomery Scott, her communicator signaled. It startled her, and she had to shake herself to answer it.
"Anything working in Engineering, Jilla?" Lian Rendell's voice asked.
"How could it be?" was the Indiian's response. "Everything is gold."
The Haven sighed. "Here, too," she said. "Though apparently Leonard was arguing with Nurse Pinsky again." There was a pause, then Rendell continued. "I'll bet some of this is worth a small fortune."
"Doctor, how can you...!" Jilla began, outraged.
"Because I'm Haven," was the calm response. "And if I don't revert to form, I may throw up." She paused, and Jilla heard a shaky intake of breath. "I have to check the Nest. Rendell out."
Jilla whispered an apology, then quickly went to check the rest of Engineering. After a few more futile minutes, she opened her communicator.
"Yeah, darlin', any news?" Jeremy's emotion-roughened voice asked.
"The same," Jilla replied. "No life form readings. No energy readings. Everything is golden."
"Same here," Paget returned. "Sulu's gone to the briefing rooms, Salok is gonna check the crew quarters. I'm heading for the Mess."
"I will begin a check of the recreation areas," Jilla said.
"I wish I had a reason to say 'good luck,' Jilla."
"As do I."
She closed her communicator again, and made her way to the recreation area of the secondary hull. She wove her way through the crowd of statues listening to Alan Mulhouse's silent piano, and past two crewmen forever locked in a game of chess. The garden area was golden, grass, shrubbery, flowers, trees....
She caught sight of figures beneath what had once been a living elm tree.
Jilla froze, tears spilling from her eyes, her mouth opening in wordless expressions of grief and dismay.
A golden Spock held his son up to a tree branch, his own hand pulling it gently down to the reaching child. His face was frozen in a mixture of intelligence, pride and quiet joy. Sarek's eyes, even in pure gold, held wonder and delight. His mother was smiling at him and at her husband, the love and contentment that was Ruth Valley evident even through the metallic veneer. Her hand was on Spock's arm, linking the three of them in a golden sculpture to the tree and the ship and each other.
Jilla blinked back her tears, again taking out her communicator.
"Captain," she said.
"Anything, hon?" Sulu answered her.
"I have found Captain Spock."
Sulu stood in the rec room, Jilla's head buried against his chest, and forced himself to face the garden. His daughter's godparents were perfect in every detail, as if they had been frozen only a moment before. A strand of hair fell across Ruth's face. Spock's lips were parted, as if in speech. Glorf - everyone but Jilla and his father called Sarek 'Glorfindel' because that was Ruth's nickname for the golden-haired, grey-eyed, pointed-eared child, due to her fondness for the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien - looked ready to burst into enchanted peals of laughter.
Slowly, as he had done with Daffy, Sulu reached out to touch the faces of the people who were closer to him than nearly anyone else, and as loved as Jilla, as Jen, as Jeremy. Their skin was cool and lifeless, trapped in gold.
"They will never move," Jilla sobbed quietly. "They will not turn and speak to me..." Her breath caught in her throat. "Ruth only held Jenshahn once!"
"They obviously had no indication that anything was amiss," Sulu said, giving the only comfort he could.
"Jesus God, Spike!" came Jeremy's soft moan from behind him.
"No life form readings," was Salok's report - and Sulu realized that it was only through knowing Spock that he could hear the shock and pain behind the careful non-inflection.
"There's nothing more to be learned here," Lian stated as she, too, approached the garden. "Can we just get out of here before I lose what's left of my stomach?" She shuddered. "All those golden children...."
Jeremy moved toward her, placing a compassionate arm around her shoulders.
"There has to be some indication of what happened," Sulu insisted. "We can't just leave the ship - leave them like..."
"There's no life, Sulu," Lian broke in. "None at all. Anywhere. And no sign that anyone knew what was happening."
"Or even that anything was happening," Jeremy continued.
"We are unable to obtain any kind of informative readings, Captain," Salok added. "The most logical course of action is to send a landing party to the planet's surface, such as it is, and determine if anything can be discovered there."
Sulu took a deep breath, trying to calm the emotions raging within him. They were right, he knew it, yet there was a part of him that couldn't comprehend abandoning his friends in such a manner.
And what about potential danger to your ship, your crew? he asked himself. Whatever happened, it happened without warning. We have no idea how or why. And if it were to spread, somehow, to the D'Artagnan, would we even know it?
That thought got his brain working again, and he straightened.
"We've got to get back and find some way to inform Starfleet," he said "There's nothing we can do for the Enterprise."
Go To Part Two
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