Ming, Ciara, and Benson beamed down to the surface of the planetoid. Long-range scans had detected faint signs of humanoid life on the surface but interference from natural dilithium deposits had kept the Ronin's scanners from identifying the number or type of beings on the planetoid. As soon as the transporter beam shut down, Ming opened his tricorder and
"We must have beamed down onto a major dilithium deposit," Ming said. "The tricorder isn't picking up anything more than 20 meters away. Can you sense anything?"
Ciara opened her mind to pick up telepathic signals. "I'm picking up something but it's very faint."
Benson tensed his grip on his rifle. "Steady, Benson, it could be anything," Ming said. As Benson relaxed ever so slightly, Ming could see a change come over the man. He was more alert, his eyes betraying a more active mind. Almost as if he were planning something.
"Know what's on my mind right now?" Ming asked Ciara as he began setting up a geology experiment. He wasn't being suggestive, but rather signaling Ciara to find out exactly what he was thinking. Most telepaths, as a rule, refrained from reading the thoughts of others unless invited or unless it was absolutely necessary.
~ Yes, I'm picking it up, too, Ciara thought back. Benson's dopamine levels are extremely elevated, according to my tricorder readings. His brain wave activity has tripled in the time since we've beamed down. And more than that, the thoughts seem--more focused than usual. ~
~ Keep monitoring him ~, Ming thought to Ciara. ~ Both with your abilities and the tricorder. Be discreet. This is definitely significant! ~
"Sirs, I would advise you to contact the ship immediately," Benson said with utter clarity. Ming and Ciara looked at one another in amazement.
"What have you got, Benson?" Ming said, stepping up to look at Benson's tricorder.
"Four inbound signals, not sure what they are. Too much interference," Benson explained.
"Wang to Ronin--three to beam up immediately!" Ming said as he tapped his combadge.
Static came back. Too much interference here!
All three of them heard it at once: "bljeghbe'chugh vaj bIHegh!" Someone was shouting "Surrender or die!" in Klingon!
"Everyone take cover!" Ming ordered as the first Klingon cleared the ridge. Benson raised his rifle to his shoulder and took a perfectly aimed shot, striking the Klingon in the chest.
"Take that back to Fek'lhr!" Benson said as Ming and Ciara drew their phasers, looking for cover behind rocks.
Three more Klingons appeared from another direction. Before Ming or Ciara could aim and shoot, Benson had shot those three, only to be blindsided by a fourth carrying a bat'leth. Benson parried the bat'leth with his rifle and kicked the Klingon in the groin so hard that Ming and Ciara could hear his pelvis crack under the blow. The Klingon dropped to the ground, screaming in pain. Benson struck the Klingon across the head with his rifle, stunning him.
"The area's secured, sirs. You can come back out now."
Ming and Ciara looked at one another long and hard, not knowing exactly what happened.
"Survey's over. Let's get to an area with less interference and get the heck out of here!" Ming said.
They left the clearing, Benson at point as alert as ever. ~ I don't believe this ~, Ciara said. ~ Benson's brain wave activity is extremely strong right now--stronger than I've ever sensed from him before, and stronger than most humans for that matter. ~
~ Does he pose a danger to us? ~ Ming thought back, remembering what happened to the Klingons.
~ No; in fact, I'm sensing an almost paternal sense of protectiveness from him right now. ~
"A mother bear and her cubs," Ming thought aloud as they crested the ridge, keeping low to avoid any Klingons who might be standing guard over the encampment.
Sure enough, one Klingon was standing guard over what appeared to be an escape pod. The Klingon spotted something and began to raise his disruptor rifle. Benson shot the man down before he could do anything about it.
"It's your combadge, sir," Benson said. "The sunlight reflects off of it. You'll notice I'm not wearing one right now." He pointed at his chest and tapped a pocket on his pants.
"I'll...keep that in mind next time," Ming said.
"The interference seems to be abating," Ciara reported, looking at her tricorder.
"Wang to Ronin, three to beam up," Ming said. The transporter beam locked onto them, vanishing them away from the surface...
...and aboard the Ronin. "I'll report what we've seen to the Captain. Ciara, I'd like you to do a full work-up on Benson. Good work down there," he said, a little uneasily.
"Just part of the job," Benson said.
"Thank you, Lieutenant. I'll send down a security detail to investigate the escape pod. They're probably either survivors or deserters from that battle we had a few weeks ago. Am I to understand that Private Benson dispatched the Klingons?" Ryan asked.
"Yes, sir. All five of them, including one hand-to-hand. He showed remarkable clarity and presence of mind the whole time. Most people of average ability would have panicked. Something seemed to...change about Benson as soon as he was placed in danger."
"Keep me posted. I want to know more about this. Perhaps this first experiment wasn't as much of a failure as we thought," Ryan said.
Ciara was in sickbay scanning Benson and noting with astonishment the changes that had taken place in him. "This is incredible. Every significant neurotransmitter in his system has increased in concentration by a factor of five! I'm reading elevated levels of epinepherine in his system--that's to be expected, but there are other hormones operating here, too!"
"Can you track them to a source?" Ming asked.
"It looks like they're coming from the thymus gland. That's unusual," Ciara said. "In humans the thymus gland normally becomes more or less inactive after puberty. Benson's well past puberty but his is not only active but well-developed. If Benson were from alien stock, I'd almost swear this was a second liver."
"Did we identify any alien genes in his genotype?" Ming asked.
"We detected genes from several species not from Earth: sehlat, mugatu, thoat. These are all well-studied species, though. There's nothing like this structure in any of them."
"Perhaps this is something new. We'll have to track down which gene sequence is responsible for this organ. In the meantime, isolate the unknown hormones. I'm thinking we might find a way to boost Benson's intelligence without having to resort to continuous violence."
"I'm detecting one hormone that seems to directly stimulate brain activity. That might be a candidate," Ciara said.
"Is everything all right?" Benson asked. "Why am I here?"
"The hormone level is dropping off rapidly," Ciara said. "I think I've got a lock on its structure; we can probably synthesize it."
"Rob, do you remember what happened?" Ming asked.
"You said we were going to the planet. When are we going?" Benson asked innocently.
"He has absolutely no recall of anything that happened down there," Ciara said.
"The captain decided that we shouldn't go after all," Ming said, becoming suspicious. A berzerker--no other purpose in life but to fight, he thought bitterly.
Ming was up late that night, reviewing after-action reports from Benson's previous commanding officers. All of them noted one thing in common: however dense Benson may seem in garrison, once in the field he responded as well as--and frequently better than--any other Marine in the field. His many commendations were well-earned, but his inability to recall his experiences, combined with a low cognition level outside of combat, had kept him near the bottom of the ranks for his entire career.
Ming also looked over Benson's disciplinary record. In every case he read, Ming was convinced that Benson's reputation for brawling was well-deserved. Then again, he almost seems to get high off the sensation, and if that's the only way he could keep his intelligence halfway normal I wouldn't blame him. In one amusing set of incidents, another Marine had sensed the connection and deliberately provoked Benson on a continual basis in the hope of helping Benson function at a normal level. The two were separated when Benson was transferred to the Parnassus.
"Computer, report on status of following Marine officers," Ming said, listing off all the commanding officers Benson had had since boot camp. For good measure, Ming included Benson's drill instructor as well.
All of the officers Ming listed were dead or retired on disability: not surprising, since the Dominion War had comprised most of Benson's early career. Finally, the computer wound down to the end of the list. Captain Vladimir Sergei'ivich Degataryev is currently assigned to Starfleet Command, Research and Development Division. Major Charles Pennington was killed in action three days ago. Staff Sergeant John Hartman is currently assigned as Staff Non-Commissioned Officer, Supply Base 901.>
That's odd; the Parnassus was headed to Arcturus 3 for shore leave. That's so far inside the Federation it might as well be Earth! "What were the circumstances of Major Pennington's death?"
A death certificate displayed on Ming's terminal. Cause of death was listed as "airlock malfunction."
Curiouser and curiouser, Ming thought. Airlocks don't malfunction on Starfleet vessels--not unless they're helped! They must be on to me. Best to lie low for a while, he thought. But then again...
Ming began composing a message.