Benton walked around the Kelvan data core. Again. And not just for the second time. He'd been circling the confounding contraption for the past two hours, tricorder in hand, scanning at every wavelength he could think of. Since it had been brought aboard and deposited in the center of the shuttle bay, he had learned exactly one thing about it -- that it was impervious to all the techniques at his disposal. And that it frustrated him. Two things then -- it was impervious and frustrating.
He snapped the tricorder shut angrily and glowered at the core, cursing his Andromedan kin once again in his mind. The core just lay there, seeming to glower back at him, mocking him. Its very shape was sinister -- a huge, roughly cylindrical trunk five meters long composed of countless lesser trunks all wound and twisted together, thick knot at one end and tapering at the other -- like an ancient gnarled tree-trunk. The casing was the dull gray of carbon neutronium, but everywhere was laced through by long, thin veins of crystalline degenerate matter. The veins pulsed and throbbed with energy, blood red, giving the whole thing an obscene, organic appearance.
The guards that had been posted around the artifact were keeping their distance, and even so looked nervous. Benton didn't blame them.
He stopped his circling and considered the possibilities. As a Kelvan himself, he was familiar with devices of this kind. He had doubted that he would be able to gain any information from it using Federation technology. The obvious alternative therefore was to use Kelvan technology on it. Unfortunately, there was very little of that on hand. He was loath to admit defeat, especially when the stakes were this high, but it was starting to look like the Kelvan data core's secrets would remain just that.
He was just about to tap his combadge to report his failure to the Admiral, when a new thought suddenly came to him. Instead of his combadge, he slapped his forehead for not thinking of this sooner. Motioning for the guards to keep an eye on the artifact, he hurried from the shuttle bay.
Minutes later, Benton strode through the doors to sickbay. Ignoring quizzical looks from the medical staff, he headed straight for the wardroom where Ming Wang had been secured. Dismissing Lieutenant Tierro, he lowered the forcefield and stepped into the small room. The Captain had taken every precaution -- in addition to the forcefield, Lieutenant Wang was securely strapped to his biobed at the ankles and wrists.
When he heard Benton enter, Wang turned his head towards the door and opened his eyes. Benton hadn't expected those eyes, so he was momentarily startled. Wang's eyes were glowing! It was as though his head was a jack-o'-lantern, and the candle inside was shining through the cut-out eye holes. Benton found the effect extremely eerie and disconcerting, but forced his facial expression into stony, emotionless mask.
"Who are you?" asked Benton bluntly to the Kelvan inhabiting Wang.
The Kelvan inhabiting Wang declined to answer, but an evil smile formed on his lips.
Benton shrugged, making a point of dismissing the Kelvan's silence as irrelevant, determined not to allow him any advantage. He decided to try a bluff. "It doesn't really matter who you are, since your entire race is about to be obliterated."
That got a reaction from Wang, but not really the one Benton had been fishing for. Wang's evil smile grew wider and he began laughing out loud. It was a chilling sound. Under the Kelvan's influence, Wang's voice had deepened to an impossibly low bass, and resonated with odd harmonics and reverberations. "HAHAHAHAHA! VERY AMUSING HUMAN!" he said with utter contempt. "YOU PUNY HUMANS CAN DO NOTHING TO STOP US!"
"Oh no? We have one of your Planet's data cores stored in our shuttle bay. Soon we will know everything you have planned -- all your weaknesses...."
"HMPH. WHAT OF IT?" Wang snorted derisively. "YOUR PATHETIC SCIENCE CANNOT PENETRATE THE DATA CORE'S OUTER CASING, MUCH LESS MAKE SENSE OF THE INFORMATION STORED WITHIN."
Benton leaned closer to Wang and continued his bluff. "Are you sure about that? The Kelvans' knowledge of Federation science is over a hundred years out of date. Perhaps we have already opened the core's casing and are even now probing its data stores."
Wang smiled evilly again. "IF THAT WERE SO, HUMAN, YOU WOULD NOT BE HERE TRYING TO GET ME TO REVEAL THE SECRETS OF THE DEVICE," he said with smug arrogance, altogether confident in his complete superiority. "YOUR EFFORTS ARE FUTILE. BUT OPENING THE DEVICE WOULD DO YOU NO GOOD EVEN IF YOU *COULD* ACCOMPLISH IT. THE DATA CORE WILL ONLY RESPOND TO THE PRESENCE AND MENTAL COMMANDS OF A KELVAN, AND THERE ARE NONE ALIVE THAT WOULD EVER DO SUCH A THING!"
This time, the evil smile spread across Benton's face. He leaned on the edge of the biobed and loomed over Wang's face, looking straight into those glowing eyes, unflinching. "There is *one* Kelvan who might...." He then opened his mind to the Kelvan inside of Wang and let him see exactly who he was.
As recognition slowly dawned on Wang's Kelvan, Benton thought he could almost see fright building in the eyes. The pale yellow glow dimmed for an instant, but then flared brighter than ever as anger blazed. Wang's face twisted into a vicious snarl and he began straining against his bonds. An animal howl keened from him as he thrashed back and forth on the biobed.
Benton backed hurriedly away. The commotion had drawn the attention of Doctor Hancock. He rushed in, and on seeing Benton snapped angrily, "What the hell are you doing in here? What did you do to Lieutenant Wang?"
Benton didn't need to answer -- the doctor's attention had already shifted from him to trying to calm the thrashing figure on the bed.
Benton had the information he came looking for. Unnoticed by all in the midst of the ruckus, he slipped out of sickbay and headed for his cabin. There was a certain piece of equipment he needed to pick up before returning to the shuttle bay....