Train of Consequences


CHAPTER 1 by Tiger White

This land was once as proud as the people who walked her, with so many colors the spectrum ran short of names to call them. Daybreak brought a tranquil sun out, while the nights were filled with the laughter of old friends telling each other stories.

We were at peace with ourselves and the land about us. Why our Leaders would wish to disturb that balance, I do not understand. Of course, I am the Guardian of the WellSpirit. I know the full potential of the WellSpirit and the great harm that could come of its misuse. The Leaders say I am old and don't know what I'm talking about. They know better but are blinded by power. The power to create whole cities in a day, to reach destinations only to be dreamed about, and the power to destroy on a mere whim.

The WellSpirit dwells deep only in a few caves, the locations known only to the Guardians. We dedicate our lives to protecting this gift and would die before letting strangers learn how to use the WellSpirit. Unfortunately, it may come to that very soon.

And once the Guardians are gone, no one may survive.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Captain James T. Kirk gazed over the fifty-eight new crewmembers gathered in the Enterprise's main gymnasium intermixing with the other Enterprise officers. This was the largest influx of new officers Kirk had ever seen since he took command of the Enterprise from Christopher Pike. Also in the hoi polloi were most of the members of Dr. Ceth Bargdsen's archaeological team. The only person not in attendance, glaringly, was Bargdsen herself.

"She's rather aloof, Captain," Kirk remembered Dr. Rayland Danst saying apologetically, sounding as if he had to say that particular phrase on more than one occasion. Danst was a lithe, blond-haired man who fraternized enough for ten anti-social Bargdsens. After chatting with the young man, Kirk realized why Ceth kept him around.

The idea of the gathering was the brainchild of Doctor McCoy, seconded by Chief Engineer Scott, of course. Kirk was next to positive that if Mr. Spock had been on the bridge at the time, he wouldn't have been ambushed with this elaborate party plan.

Shaking up the status quo never killed us before, Kirk thought nonchalantly, cocking his head at Doctor Leonard McCoy who was standing close by to his left, enjoying himself immensely. "Well, Bones," the Captain said conversationally. "I must admit, this was a pretty good idea."

The Doctor's grin expanded. "All my ideas are good," he stated in his most immodest drawl. "People gettin' to know each other, relax, have fun." McCoy placed emphasis on the last word just as he saw the First Officer enter the gymnasium at the far end of the room. "Well, what do you know?" the Doctor snorted. "The green-blooded party pooper showed up after all..."

Kirk crinkled a brow at McCoy. "Bones, try to behave yourself."

The Doctor made a wide, sweeping gesture with his hands. "I always try..."

Spock ended up staying at the other end of the gym, engaging in a long talk with a Vulcan member of Bargdsen's archaeological team, then finally left with the female Vulcan right behind him.

"Hmph," McCoy said, his right eyebrow arching into his hairline. "As Spock would say, most fascinating..."

"Jealous, Doctor?" James Kirk grinned innocently.

"Jealous? Of those two computers?" Doctor McCoy ranted. I'd rather try to strike something up between me and that ice princess, Smorgasborg or whatever, before I'd consider..."

Kirk threw his hands up quickly. "Okay, you made your point. And her name is Bargdsen. Cethania Bargdsen."

McCoy paused. "You know her? Stupid me. Why in the world was I surprised by that?"

"It wasn't like that," Kirk clarified curtly. "And she wasn't always this way. Something just...happened. I don't know when or why." But I want to know, he added silently.

It was noticeably the beginning of the Beta shift. Most of the room's inhabitants began to filter out into the corridors. Kirk picked up a fresh drink and held it high to the remaining guests.

"Tonight's final toast, ladies and gentlemen," he announced. "To our new crewmembers, and our special guests, Dr. Ceth Bargdsen's archaeological team. Here's hoping we all find what we're looking for."

Glasses clicked and clacked together all around the room. After the toast was finished, Captain Kirk picked up an extra glass along with a tray of jellied grapes and left the gymnasium.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Dr. Ceth Bargdsen was busy reading the terrain reports of the planet Juna III when her door buzzer sounded. She snapped off the mini viewscreen, turning to face the door. "Who's there?" she called.

"It's me," a muffled voice replied dutifully. "Jim."

Bargdsen inhaled deeply. She had expected him to make a beeline for her after the evening festivities were done with. Keep it short and not so sweet, she told herself before she granted permission to see him.

Kirk stepped over the threshold slowly and into the room. "You missed a great party, but I didn't see why you had to miss out on everything." He presented the dessert tray and the glass of red wine he took from the gathering.

Ceth gave a crooked smile. "Thank you, Captain." She set the wine glass aside. "Sorry, I should have told you I don't drink. But I didn't expect you to come by so late tonight."

Kirk sat down on an extra chair across from her. "Like I said, Cethania, you missed a great party."

"Please don't call me that," the archaeologist demanded. "When people start calling me that, it seems like they no longer take me seriously."

The Captain could have told her that it wasn't her name that instigated unseriousness from others, but that seemed crass...not to mention she was within arms reach of him. She was a gorgeous woman back at the Academy, and still was despite the fact that she cut off the long auburn hair that reached the tip of her back and traded it for a more no-nonsense cut that managed not to touch her shoulders. It didn't matter. She exuded an appeal he found irresistible.

Dr. Bargdsen sighed. "When I asked the Station Commander at 324 to find me and my team the quickest transport to Juna III, I never dreamed they had the Enterprise in mind. If I had known, I most likely would have found another ship."

Kirk leaned forward in his chair. "Is my company really that bad?"

She set her eyes down to the floor. "No...just anything associated with Starfleet seems to unsettle me."

Kirk put his hand gently on her knee. "Ceth, you had a perfect Academy record...better than mine. Why did you just walk away? You probably could have been First Officer of the Enterprise by now."

Bargdsen met his hazel eyes straight on with a cold stare. "Did you hear what you just said? I could be First Officer. Jim, I ditched Starfleet when I found out that there was no way I would get a command of my own in my lifetime. It doesn't matter if you have a perfect record. If you're a woman, all you can hope for is to wear one of those ridiculous short uniforms and go nowhere. I loathed that thought! If I can't be in control of my own destiny, if I can't call the shots, I'd rather they just take me out back and shoot me."

This was it. This was the appeal that Kirk found in her, her independence, her strength. She said whatever was on her mind, and she didn't care if the whole galaxy disagreed with it. She was going to have her say. Unfortunately, they were so much alike that any serious relationship between them would have been a disaster made in hell.

"So you put together your own archaeological expedition? That doesn't make sense to me," Kirk stated, taking a sip of his Saurian brandy.

"What do you mean by that?" Bargdsen asked, taking the defensive.

"As I remembered, you had quite an aversion to dirt." He grinned.

She let out a short laugh. "Dirt has its moments." Ceth finally let her guard down, her natural smile breaking through. It was more radiant than he ever recalled. "What about you, Jim? Ever consider archaeology as a hobby?"

"Mucking around on land digging for hidden treasure never held much allure for me. The Enterprise is all the hobby I need."

Dr. Bargdsen nodded. "Spoken like a true child of the stars." She glanced at the chronometer on the wall. "I hate to throw you out, but I did schedule a meeting for 0730 hours tomorrow, and it has been an exhausting night."

They both stood up. Ceth Bargdsen walked to the door with him. He tilted his head to kiss her, but she held up her hand in front of her face and stepped back. "Don't push your luck, Captain. Thanks again for the jellied grapes." With that said, the door slid shut between them.

Kirk allowed himself a small smile before walking to the nearest turbolift.

Rayland Danst waited until the turbolift doors closed over the Starship Captain and went to ring Dr. Bargdsen's door buzzer.

The door slid aside suddenly. Ceth Bargdsen stood in the opening clad in a long, loose-fitting teal nightgown. "Oh, it's you."

Danst bit the inside of his cheek. "Nice welcome-on-in line."

Ceth shrugged. "I thought you might have been the Captain," she explained, stepping aside to admit him into the small quarters. "It's the kind of tactic I would expect from him. I just got him out of here before you came."

"I saw," he commented, plopping down into the chair Kirk had recently vacated. "Is he, uh, suspicious about anything?"

Bargdsen didn't reply, setting herself down on his lap instead. She coiled her arms around him and began to play with his hair. "What do you think? Relax, Rayland. These Starfleet fools think we're totally legit about what we're going to be doing down there on Juna III."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Captain's Log
Stardate 1149.7

We have achieved standard orbit over Juna III and will begin helping Dr. Bargdsen's team set up their equipment, along with doing a routine search of the planet in general to make sure it will be safe to leave the expedition here for the next ten months.

The Enterprise landing party materialized into the middle of what felt like Hell to probably everyone except Mr. Spock, who immediately flipped open the top of his tricorder and began taking readings.

"Surface temperature reading is sixty-nine-point-four Celcius," the Science Officer reported.

"Jim," McCoy's voice rasped. "We better get in those caves over there with the rest of the expedition. The human body wasn't meant to bake in the sun like this."

Spock raised an eyebrow at the Doctor. "How unfortunate for you. I, myself, find this quite refreshing."

McCoy glared at the Vulcan, then resumed the hike to the caves fifty meters away. "Refreshing, he says. If that's the case, maybe we can leave him here with the rest of the lunatics," he mumbled.

When they reached the caves, Dr. Danst had glasses of water waiting nearby for the three men. "We were told by the previous expedition to be prepared for the weather extremes," he said cheerfully as McCoy and Kirk drank down the liquids.

McCoy stared out over the parched landscape being bombarded by the searing, unmerciful sun. He impulsively shrank further back into the cave's protective shade. The Doctor then turned to find Rayland Danst standing beside him with an unintelligent smile on his face.

"Breathtaking, isn't it?" Danst said.

"Frightening was more the word I had in mind," Leonard McCoy confessed. "I don't understand how you people expect to stay here for a whole ten months, Dr. Danst."

Rayland picked up a glass of water. "The last expedition only lasted five weeks before they had to abandon this project, and they nearly didn't make it back to civilization intact. Yes, the danger is very real, but we came much better prepared than our predecessors. We brought with us a hundred pounds of salt tablets, and since we will be drilling down to unpollued subterranian water deep in this cave very soon, we won't need to use any of your ship's water supplies. And, if all else fails, our group physician is Dr. Tanra." He swung his hand out toward the Vulcan woman Spock had been talking to the night before.

"Water, here?" McCoy scoffed. "That's rich." Too late. The sun's already fried what was left of this character's brain cells, he couldn't help but think.

"It's true," the young man said earnestly. "In fact, if you'll come with me, I can give you a tour of the caves. Dr. Bargdsen is with Illesdan and Yangra setting up the drilling equipment right now."

"Oh, joy," Doctor McCoy replied, enthusiasm getting the better of him.

Rayland Danst lead the way into the cave's dimly lit passages with Captain Kirk behind him, while Spock and McCoy brought up the rear. The long excursion ended when Danst led them into a large area where Bargdsen was making adjustments to one of four laserdrills that were set up into a tight cluster around what was either a pedestal or a drinking well.

"Dammit!" she exclaimed, the sound reverberant in the giant cave hollow. "This thing won't synch up with the other three lasers."

Spock knelt down beside the woman. "Fascinating design. May I be of assistance?" he asked.

"Be my guest," she growled. "Before I chuck the blasted contraption into a deep hole." Ceth got up off her knees, brushing dust off her gray and red coveralls before walking over to Kirk and McCoy. "Captain...Doctor... welcome to Juna III. As you see, we've got a lot of remodeling to do."

Just as she finished speaking, there was a low rumble followed by the cave floor jarring everyone standing. Kirk grabbed his communicator, but Bargdsen held up her hand.

"Earthquake activity is common to Juna, Captain Kirk. Actually, we're safer down here than we would be if we were topside. Besides, I don't believe your communicator will work this deep down inside the caverns."

"Mr. Spock, what does the tricorder say?" Kirk asked the Vulcan.

Spock picked up the tricorder, ran the recorder back, and was silent. "The reading is 1.5. A tremor, I believe it is called."

Satisfied that nothing more sinister was afoot, Kirk began to study the elaborate designs that covered most of the room.

"What is it that brought you here, anyway? These hieroglyphics?"

Ceth Bargdsen gave the Captain a disapproving smirk. "Sort of. Illesdan and Danst are going to piece together this civilization's ancient dialect, while the rest of us hunt for artifacts and The Big Prize."

"Big Prize?" Kirk inquired. "What do you mean, Ceth?"

"You know about the last expedition sent here, right? They found a scroll, right over there where the laserdrills are set up, as a matter of fact. The Big Prize, as we're fond of calling it, is something called WellSpirit. Apparently, the people who used to inhabit this planet revered it greatly. Unfortunately, the scroll was rather vague as to exactly what WellSpirit actually is. This is why Illesdan and Danst are going to be working on the intricacies of the language while we search for the Big Prize."

Commander Spock stood up. In his hand, he held the fourth laserdrill. "Dr. Bargdsen, I am afraid I cannot fix this here. If I take it back to the Enterprise, Mr. Scott may be able to repair it to working order."

A crease of concern came over her face. "All right," she finally said, giving her permission. "But try to get it back to us quickly. We're on a tight schedule."

Spock gave a short nod and headed out of the cavern's chamber with the bulky laserdrill.

CHAPTER 2 by Trish Bennett

There are strangers among us.

As the Guardian of the WellSpirit, I am accustomed to intruders. They have come from many worlds, and they go by many names -- explorer...scientist...fortune hunter...

But now it is different. The WellSpirit is unsettled. I know that the arrival of these intruders cannot come to good. For with them, they bring greed. They bring deceit. They bring chaos.

There are strangers among us. And for the sake of the WellSpirit, I fear them.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Cethania Bargdsen straightened from her inspection of the tempermental laserdrill, placed her hands on her hips, and addressed the Vulcan beside her.

"Well, I don't know what you did," she said, "but it seems to be working now. Thank you, Mr. Spock."

Spock bowed his head slightly in acknowledgement. "Our Chief Engineer is highly competent. I trust you will have no further problems."

Bargdsen considered him silently a moment, then moved past the Vulcan to extend a hand to Kirk.

"Well, Captain," she said. "I hate to rush you off, but we do have a lot of work ahead of us."

"I understand," Kirk replied, accepting the handshake but keeping her hand firmly grasped in his. "We still have a few scouting parties out, so the Enterprise will be around for a couple of days. If you need anything, Ceth..."

"We won't," she replied impatiently, making an unsuccessful attempt to free her hand from his grip.

"If you need anything..." Kirk repeated, ignoring the interruption, "just call, all right?"

Ceth rolled her eyes. What a control freak! "I'll be sure to whistle. Can I have my hand back, please?"

The Captain gazed at her steadily, then finally released his grip. She could have sworn she saw a hint of satisfaction in his eyes, but it seemed to disappear as quickly as it had come.

"Goodbye, Captain."

Kirk shook his head ruefully as Spock joined him, and he reached to flip open his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise."

"Enterprise. Scott here."

"Two to beam up, Mr. Scott." He snapped the device closed and moved to reattach it to his belt. "Always a pleasure, Dr. Bargdsen..."

She offered him the most smug, sarcastic grin she could muster as the sparkle of transport began. Once they had disappeared completely, Ceth moved back to the newly-repaired laserdrill.

"I thought they'd never leave," she grumbled, tinkering with the gadget as Danst moved to kneel beside her. "That man is just too much."

"What are you doing?" Danst asked finally.

"Trust me, Rayland," she replied absently, continuing her work. "It's got to be here some...aha!"

Ceth straightened and displayed her prize proudly for Danst. He studied the small device with mounting concern.

"What is that?" he asked. "Some kind of bug? But how did you...?"

"Because I know him," Ceth replied distastefully, dropping the device to the cave floor and grinding it with the heel of her boot. " need to look for the one we're not supposed to find."

Danst glared at her. "I don't like this, Ceth."

"Oh, relax," she said curtly. "We'll just stay a step ahead of him, and he'll be gone in a couple of days."

But even as Danst turned grudgingly to his work, Ceth privately doubted that the Enterprise's Captain would make it as easy as that.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott chuckled as Kirk and Spock strode through the doors of Engineering. McCoy grinned coyly as he lounged against the bulkhead beside the Engineer.

"Remind me never to question your instincts again, Jim," the Doctor said.

Kirk shot a quick grin toward the Doctor, then turned his attention to Scott. "She found it already?"

The Engineer nodded, amused. "She might even find the second one if she looks hard enough. But there's no way in Hades she'll ever find the third."

"Nothin' like overkill," McCoy said dryly.

"Insurance, Doctor," Kirk corrected. "She's up to something down there. I want to know what it is." He turned to his First Officer beside him. "Have you found anything on that Big Prize she mentioned?"

"The information in our data banks is extremely limited, Captain," Spock replied. "Dr. Bargdsen had mentioned a scroll uncovered by a previous expedition to this planet which speaks of something called The WellSpirit. From what I can gather, it seems to hold some religious significance, but to what extent, I am not certain. If I were to equate it to an Earth counterpart, I believe it would be similar to your legends of a Holy Grail."

"So it's an object, then? Some sort of physical artifact?"

Spock seemed as if he were about to shrug but overcame the temptation. "I would use the word object only for lack of a better term. If this WellSpirit exists at all, we have no way of knowing whether it is an artifact, or an entity, or simply some form of energy."

"What I'd still like to know," McCoy interjected, finally pushing himself up away from the bulkhead and moving to join the two officers, "is how you got that laserdrill to conveniently malfunction so you could plant your little bugs in it. I know that wasn't just dumb luck."

Kirk shot a quick glance toward Spock before replying. "Let's just say that Mr. Spock has friends in many places."

McCoy seemed to consider the response a moment before finally taking the hint.

"That Vulcan woman you left the party with last night," he said, disappointed. "I should have known it was just business." He shook his head ruefully, then muttered, "A Vulcan spy...what's next? Tellarite dancing girls?"

Kirk and McCoy shuddered almost simultaneously at the thought, and Kirk turned quickly back to his Engineer.

"Keep an eye on her, Scotty. Let me know if you come up with anything."

"Aye, Captain."

Then, with his First Officer and Chief Surgeon on his heels, Kirk headed back for the bridge.

CHAPTER 3 by Kent Kass

They persist. The malicious ones from the stars continue to seek the WellSpirit. Their reasons for seeking it, I know not. But whatever they are, they cannot possibly be righteous.

As the Guardian of the WellSpirit, I must act soon. Otherwise, death will overtake many innocents.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The parched, barren planet Juna III hung like an overbaked cookie on the Enterprise's main viewer. Kirk silently stared at the blighted world and drummed his fingers on his armrest. He did not like being so out of touch with the happenings in the enigmatic caves of the planet.

Enough was enough. The Captain swiveled his chair toward the Communications station. "Lieutenant Uhura, any word from Doctor Tanra?"

"Negative, Sir," replied the pretty Communications officer with a shake of her head. "She's not scheduled to report in for another ten minutes."

"Thank you, Lieutenant," nodded Kirk.

McCoy had emerged from the turbolift just in time to hear the exchange. "What's up?" inquired the Doctor.

Tanra is a Starfleet covert operative, Doctor," explained Spock. "She has been planted in Dr. Bargdsen's team in order to observe her and keep Starfleet appraised of her actions."

"Really?" rasped McCoy. "And when exactly was Starfleet given the right to eavesdrop on Federation citizens?"

"Dr. Bargdsen and her team have visited ruins on fourteen Federation planets within the past decade," explained Spock. "Leaders from each of these planets have reported sacred items missing from sites investigated by the Doctor. The disappearances have been discovered shortly after her departure."

McCoy's eyes bulged. "Are you saying she's some kind of galaxy-hopping pickpocket?"

"We're not sure," said Kirk, taking up the explanation. "I don't buy the idea the disappearances are coincidences. But I can't do anything without proof." His eyes lowered, as did his tone. "Ceth and I had something special a long time ago. I don't want to believe that Starfleet's suspicions are right."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In the hieroglyphic-filled cave, Ceth Bargdsen punched a final sequence of controls on a portable control panel. The four laserdrills trained on the stone pedestal began to power up with a rising hum which echoed through the cavern.

"Stand back, everybody," she warned her colleagues. "It's showtime!" And she pressed the firing switch.

Bargdsen's heart quickened with anticipation. If she had read the scroll correctly, her trophy would be in her hands very shortly. Then, if the WellSpirit was truly as powerful as it was supposed to be, no man -- least of all James T. Kirk -- would ever take her for granted again.

She increased the laserdrills' power. Their hum became a thunderous whine. The pedestal's crack spread to its base. Then, in a deafening boom, it shattered, spraying the cavern with fragments and choking dust.

The drills automatically powered down. When the dust settled, Bargdsen and her staff gasped in unison. In the destroyed pedestal's place stood a gleaming mechanism, resembling a large toadstool with crystalline controls on its flat top. As the archaeologists stared, the device's jewels began to glow as it powered up for the first time in unimaginable ages.

"Is that the WellSpirit?" inquired Danst, eyeing the thing. "I kind of expected it to be...well, bigger."

Bargdsen shook her head with a laugh. "No, Rayland. But it is the final key to finding it. According to the hieroglyphics, this is an ancient computer terminal. All we have to do is program the right sequence into it, and it'll tell us where the WellSpirit is."

"Nice," nodded Danst. "And do you know the sequence?"

As they talked, Tanra silently stepped into a tunnel which led to the surface. Illesdan noticed the Vulcan's exit. He pulled an Orion phaser from his coveralls and gestured to Yangra, who nodded and produced a hypospray. The two of them strode into the same tunnel Tanra had taken.

The sun on Juna III had begun to set, moderating the relentless heat somewhat. The temperature shift was of little consequence to Tanra. The Vulcan stepped out of the cavern into the cooling desert. After gazing back into the tunnel and seeing no evidence of followers, she opened a flap on the breast of her coveralls, exposing a tiny golden badge in the shape of an arrowhead. She pressed the badge, which hissed and crackled. The prototype comm badge was experimental, and it was cantankerous. Tanra fiddled with its tiny controls until the static subsided somewhat. She glanced down the tunnel again, then spoke briskly into the badge.

"Tanra to Enterprise."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Captain," Uhura called. "I'm receiving a low-level audio transmission from the surface. It's Tanra."

Kirk sprang out of his command chair and strode over to stand behind Uhura. "Let's hear it," commanded the Captain.

Static crackled out of the bridge's speakers as Uhura worked to pull in the comm badge's feeble signal. Finally a voice broke through the electronic garbage. " in."

"Enterprise here," replied Kirk. "We're receiving you. Go ahead, Tanra." Uhura stabbed at the controls, fighting to clear up the signal.

"Dr. Bargdsen has unearthed some form of alien technology," reported Tanra. "Possibly an ancient computer system which will allow her to acquire the WellSpirit."

"Has she given any clues as to just what the WellSpirit is?" asked Kirk.

Tanra's response was exactly the one Kirk did not want. "Negative, Captain."

Kirk's fist banged down on the Communications console, making Uhura jump. Blast it! thought Kirk. I hate working in the dark! Composing himself, he called, "Very well, Tanra. Advise me of any new developments immediately."

"Understood, Captain. Tanra out."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tanra shut down the comm badge and closed the concealing flap over it. When she turned to head back into the caves, she immediately found herself staring into the emitter of Illesdan's phaser.

"Don't move, Doctor," hissed the archaeologist. "This little toy is set on kill."

"Why are you training that weapon on me?" inquired Tanra, the barest hint of fear nibbling at her Vulcan calm.

Keeping his phaser aimed squarely at her forehead, Illesdan tore the flap from her coveralls and ripped out the comm badge. "Dr. Bargdsen won't be happy to learn that James T. Kirk is spying on her."

Tanra's nagging fear gave way to contempt. "Dr. Bargdsen is a disgrace to the Federation scientific community," she replied. "She is a thief."

"Whatever," grunted Illesdan, waving the phaser toward the mouth of the cave. "Get in there. Move!" He accompanied the order with a hard shove.

Tanra landed a right uppercut, which set Illesdan staggering against the rock wall. But he kept his grip on the phaser which went off, sending a pink beam into the ceiling and starting a small avalanche. Tanra caught his wrist and applied her great Vulcan strength until Illesdan winced in pain and dropped the phaser. With her free hand, she delivered a deft nerve pinch. Her assailant slumped to the ground, unconscious. As she reached down to pick up the phaser, she felt something press against the back of her neck and heard a hiss. Her knees buckled and her universe went black.

"Next time, watch your back," muttered Yangra as he put the hypospray away and proceeded to tie Tanra's hands behind her back with wire.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Spock was fine-tuning the Enterprise's aft sensors when his console chirped at him. "Captain," announced the Science Officer. "Sensors have registered an energy discharge on the planet."

Kirk looked up from a report he was reading. "Energy discharge? Can you pinpoint it?"

"Yes, Captain," was the Vulcan's crisp reply. "The disturbance originated in the vicinity of Dr. Bargdsen's archaeological dig. It's profile matched that of a phaser being fired."

CHAPTER 4 by Sandy Adams

The interlopers draw nearer to the WellSpirit. They have found something they think will help them in their unholy quest.

But things are not always as they appear -- and the WellSpirit is not alone.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Kirk reacted immediately to Spock's report. "Why would there be a phaser discharge in an archaeological encampment?"

Recognizing a rhetorical question when he heard it, Spock said nothing. After a thoughtful moment, the Captain said, "Uhura, contact Dr. Bargdsen on the surface. I want to know what's going on down there."

"Yes, Sir." The Lieutenant's fingers danced gracefully across her Communications console. "Hailing frequencies open, response."

Kirk drummed his fingers on the arm of his seat, waiting. One beat. Two. "Uhura?"

"Sorry, Sir, still no response." She communed with her equipment for a moment more; then, "They are receiving us, Sir. They simply aren't acknowledging us."

"How unfriendly." There was a familiar note in the Captain's voice, steel under velvet. His hazel eyes narrowed. "Perhaps we should drop by and find out why they've stopped talking to us."

"Perhaps we should attempt to contact Dr. Tanra directly," Spock suggested, coming to stand beside the center seat. He folded his hands behind his back, lifting one eyebrow as he met Kirk's eyes. "Under the circumstances, it would seem acceptable to forego protecting the Doctor's cover."

Kirk nodded. "Let's just hope no one has been aiming phasers at her."


Uhura quickly carried out the order, then shook her head in frustration. "Dr. Tanra does not respond to hail, Sir."

Frowning, Kirk gathered Spock with a look and headed for the lift. "Looks like we'll have to do this in person after all, Mr. Spock. Lieutenant Uhura, you have the conn."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Ceth Bargdsen stared in disbelief at the unconscious Vulcan lying on the cave floor. Her two associates stood nearby, looking smugly pleased with themselves. Her first words wiped the twin smirks off their faces.

"You idiots! Do you have any idea what you've done?"

Illesdan and Yangra exchanged puzzled glances. "But...she's a spy, isn't she? Reporting to that fool on the starship?"

"Exactly." Bargdsen bared her teeth, as if she were part Klingon and longed to do more than figuratively bite their heads off. "And now that fool will want to know why she has stopped reporting."

"Oh," said two very small voices, in unison.

Bargdsen rolled her eyes eloquently. Billions of sentient beings in the universe, and she'd picked these two...who would have thought an I.Q. test should be a part of the hiring process when it came to illicit archaeological digs and henchmen? Next time, she would make it mandatory. Of course, once she had the WellSpirit, she wouldn't need to do any more illicit digs or hire henchmen, intelligent or otherwise. It was a reassuring thought.

She looked down at the Vulcan and sighed philosophically. What was done was done; she would just have to make the best of it. "Erect a portable force field generator and close off this cave. It's out of the way, maybe no one will notice it -- at least until we've finished up here."

She turned on her heel and headed back into the main tunnels. "We'll just have to hope like hell no one comes looking for her."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As the transporter beam released him, Kirk looked around in surprise. He and Spock had entered the transporter in the company of several security guards. But now, in the dim twilight of phosphorescent lichen clinging to the cave walls, there wasn't a comforting red shirt in sight.

For that matter, there wasn't much of anything in sight: no archaeologists, no equipment. Only Spock, stoic as ever, one eyebrow at half-mast.

"This does not appear to be the correct beam-down point," Spock said, voicing Kirk's thoughts aloud.

Kirk pulled out his communicator, flipped the grid open. "Kirk to Enterprise."

A howl of static greeted his effort. He adjusted he settings and tried again, with similar results.

"Something's interfering with..."

"Captain..." Spock interrupted, his gaze focused on a point over Kirk's left shoulder. "We are not alone."

Slowly, responding to the caution in the Vulcan's voice, Kirk turned.

At first, he saw nothing in the gloom. Then, with deliberate grace, a piece of the shadows detached itself and drifted nearer.

It spoke softly. "In the name of the WellSpirit, I bid you welcome. I am the Guardian."

CHAPTER 5 by Tiger White

Kirk regarded the voice slowly. "Guardian...may I ask what of?" he asked apprehensively.

The room promptly lit to a better degree of brightness. Out of what was left of the clinging shadows, a tall, robe-clad figure appeared. Slender, bony fingers reached up and drew back the overhanging hood of the cloak, allowing a long train of platinum-white hair to tumble nearly to the floor. Kirk took note that the man had a youthful aura about him, despite what his aged physical appearance suggested.

"I am the Guardian of the WellSpirit." He smiled beautifically. "The WellSpirit told me to bring you here...that you, Captain Kirk, and your companion, Mr. Spock, were the only ones to be admitted."

Kirk and Spock exchanged sideways glances. "You said WellSpirit, Sir," the Vulcan First Officer began. "Can you tell us something of the WellSpirit?"

The Guardian let out a gentle laugh. "The WellSpirit told me about you, Mr. Spock, that you have an infinite number of questions. I seriously doubt I alone can curb you curiosity, but you are welcome to proceed with your inquiries. If you will follow me, please."

Spock set out to trail the gaunt figure, but Captain Kirk grabbed the Science Officer's arm. "Wait a minute, Spock," he cautioned. Holding his ground, Kirk addressed their host. "Guardian, no disrespect to you or the WellSpirit, but why were my men not permitted to arrive with us?"

The Guardian folded his hands neatly together where they hung loosely in front of him. "Your security detail, Captain, was unnecessary. I am the protector of the WellSpirit, and the WellSpirit is the protector of us all."

Kirk was suddenly grateful Doctor McCoy had not joined them on this second trip. The Doctor's diplomacy with people who spoke in riddles was remarkably non-existent. The Captain regarded the frail man's words for several moments before shrugging. "When in Rome... All right, Guardian, we will follow you. But I warn you, if you are up to something..."

The Guardian waved away the Starship Captain's words. "You will find our intentions are only honorable, gentlemen."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"You will not get away with this, Dr. Bargdsen," stated Dr. Tanra in that steel-cold, grating voice that Ceth was getting tired of.

I can't stand Vulcans and their haughty superiority, so where in blazes was my head when I agreed to have this creature join my expedition? she wondered. "Rayland, where do you store the magnetic tape?"

Danst, who had taken great interest in the metallic, mushroom-shaped device in the middle of the room, snapped his head up to regard Bargdsen. "Search me. Illesdan handled all the supply-packing materials."

"Illesdan?" Ceth slowly hissed, turning around to stare at the wiry Alpha Centauri native.

"Uh, yeah, well..."

"Never mind!" yelled Bargdsen in disgust. "I don't want to hear it." The human woman shook her head and laughed bitterly. Drawing out a miniaturized phaser, she pulled the Vulcan to her feet by her hair and thrust the phaser under Tanra's chin. "I have to do something with you because you're starting to piss me off."

"Ceth," said Rayland Danst sleekly, hoping he would have some kind of calming effect on Bargdsen before the head archaeologist caused someone's immediate demise. "Um...why don't you let me --"

"Oh, relax, Rayland. Dr. Tanra and I are going to take a little walk, aren't we?" Enforcing her words, Bargdsen shoved Tanra out into the corridor. "Don't wait up on our account, boys. We'll be back...maybe." On that particularly unencouraging note, Danst shook his head regretfully and went back to studying the alien device.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Upon seeing that the only people that left the ship by means of the transporter were Kirk and Spock, Doctor McCoy exploded.

"I knew this blasted contraption was going to mix up its order someday!"

Mr. Kyle, who had been hunched over the transporter console poking desperately at various controls and toggle switches for the past half-minute, finally brought himself to face the Enterprise's Chief Medical Officer.

"Sir, someone or something redirected the transporter and prevented our security team from beaming down to the planet at the same time."

"You mean somebody snatched Jim and Spock off the ship? How did that happen?" asked an exasperated McCoy.

"I'm not sure," the Lieutenant swallowed nervously. "I can't find a trace of them anywhere on the planet."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Kirk and Spock were led into a large, expansive chamber that was illuminated solely by the phosphorous walls. The very room itself seemed to be alive. The Guardian abruptly halted in his steps, muttering to the air in an odd dialect. Soon after, the flourescent walls shifted, shimmered dully, and then took the shape of a viewscreen projector. On this screen were the images of Dr. Bargdsen's archaeological team. Captain Kirk could made out Danst, Yangra and Illesdan, but did not see Ceth or Tanra in sight.

"Captain," said the Guardian. "These beings shown here...are they of you?"

Well, thought Kirk, that question's about as clear as mud. Fortunately for the Captain, Spock came to the rescue, saving him from having to answer.

"They are human," explained the First Officer. "The same species as the Captain. But they are not official Federation representatives. They are archaeologists."

The Guardian nodded benignly, looking curiously pleased by Spock's answer. "That was very good, Mr. Spock. The WellSpirit was correct about you and your companion, Captain. Being the Guardian, however, I had to test you."

"Did we pass?" asked Kirk dryly.

"Indeed," the silver-haired man answered astutely. "If you had lied to me to protect these intruders, I would have had to dispose of you promptly."

CHAPTER 6 by Trish Bennett

Content with the knowledge that he and Spock were not in imminent danger of disposal (imminent being the operative word), Kirk turned his attention back to the problem at hand.

"Guardian," he said ever carefully. "If we are to help you, we're going to need to know what they're looking for. What exactly is this WellSpirit?"

The being studied them solemnly, his expression of trust clouded only by untold centuries of secrecy and silence. Finally he began to speak.

"The WellSpirit is that which protects and guides this world," he began. "Every rock, every branch, every living thing is dependent upon it."

"Is it a physical object?"

"In a way," the Guardian said softly. "The WellSpirit is the receptacle which houses the wisdom of the ages...the living essence of the ancestors of this world."

He wasn't quite sure, but Kirk could have sworn this Guardian person had just described this planet's heaven.

"Their living essence?" he prompted. "You mean, their souls?"

"That which survives after the physical body has ceased to function," the Guardian said liltingly. "It is the very fabric of our existence."

With a feeling that he was sinking deep into someone else's delusion, Kirk turned a searching gaze on Spock. But what he saw in the Vulcan's face made him wonder if they all didn't need a collective visit with the closest available psychiatrist.

"Are you following this?" Kirk asked pensively.

"Indeed, Captain," Spock replied quickly. "It is not an uncommon belief. The Vulcans, themselves, subscribe to a doctrine that is, in fact, quite similar."

Business at hand, Kirk told himself. Business at hand. Whether he believed what the Guardian had told him was completely irrelevant at this point. What was important was the fact that he believed it. And Ceth's team was causing these people unwelcome grief.

"Surely, though, the archaeological team can't be a threat to the WellSpirit," he said hopefully. "If, in all these centuries, it has never been found before..."

"Oh, but it has, Captain," the Guardian said, his voice suddenly very grim. "And the discovery has caused entire civilizations to fall in ruins...for whosoever controls the WellSpirit controls destiny."

Kirk swallowed hard, but the lump that had suddenly taken up residence in his throat was apparently here to stay.

"Are you telling me, if she gets her hands on this thing...?"

The Guardian nodded. "Millions will die."

Not on my shift, they're not! Kirk thought, and swiftly spun to Spock. It was time to take this proverbial bull by the horns.

"If I know Ceth, she's not going to listen to reason. We'll just have to make sure she doesn't find it." His mind raced quickly through their options. "Tanra's cover is blown...we've got to get her out of there anyway. But we'll have to think of a plausible excuse for coming back to the encampment."

Spock raised a wary eyebrow. Kirk knew the look well.

"Don't worry about it," he said firmly. "I'll think of something. Just play along."

"A long what, Captain?"

Kirk's eyes narrowed slightly as he looked into the Vulcan's face. Not a glimmer of emotion shone in the dark eyes. Kirk couldn't read him, and he hated that.

"On second thought, Spock..." he said lightly. "Maybe it'd be best if you didn't. Come on, let's get to the encampment."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Ceth Bargdsen was growing more impatient by the second. She scowled at the Vulcan spy, then shoved the tip of the phaser roughly up under her chin.

"I'm tired of playing this game, Tanra," she said in a low, primal voice. "I want to know who you are and why you're here...and you'd better not lie to me."

The Vulcan's eyebrow rose gracefully into her rounded hairline. Ceth got the distinct impression that the eyebrow itself was mocking her now.

"Vulcans are incapable of lying," Tanra said flatly.

Ceth could not resist the urge to laugh. "Really? That's funny...considering you're a spy. Isn't that kind of like your job?"

"I am not a spy," the Vulcan said. "I am an archaeologist."

"And what about Kirk?" she shot back furiously. "What is he, then?"

"He is a starship captain."

Ceth was on the verge of clamping her finger down hard against the trigger when a frantic voice sounded from the inner cavern.


She exhaled loudly and pulled back in anger from the extremely fortunate Vulcan.

"What?!" she snapped.

Rayland Danst's voice was on the verge of hysteria. "You'd better get in here, Ceth...he's back!"

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Kirk had not been surprised upon their arrival at the mouth of the caverns to find a force field in place. He was rather surprised, however, that Danst had disengaged it so willingly at their request.

As the wiry archaeologist fumbled through his excuse of using the force field to keep wild animals out of the encampment, Kirk took the opportunity to survey the cavern. Ceth and Tanra were still nowhere to be seen.

There appeared to be something they were trying desperately to hide, however, a large lump of something covered with a dusty tarp in the center of the cavern. Kirk eyed it curiously as he continued his conversation with Danst.

"We received a message from one of your archaeologists. The Vulcan one...what was her name, Spock?"

"Tanra," his First Officer replied dutifully.

"Tanra, that's it," Kirk continued lightly. "Said she had hurt herself somehow...and she knew Spock, here, was well-versed in Vulcan medicine..."

"It's really not as bad as all that," came Ceth Bargdsen's voice from a far alcove. She remained just a pace or two behind the Vulcan scientist as they entered the main cavern together. "Is it, Tanra? Just a bump on the head. Nothing to worry about."

The bump on her head appeared much nastier than that to Kirk. He looked firmly into the Vulcan woman's eyes.

"Are you sure you're all right?" he said, still managing to keep a lightness in his tone.

"Yes, Captain," she replied stoicly. "I am fine."

"She was just a little shaken at first, that's all," Ceth continued. "But we have the situation under control now, Captain, and all the medical supplies we need. Sorry to have bothered you with this."

Kirk didn't like the look in Ceth's eye, nor the tone of her voice. In fact, it made him extremely nervous.

"Oh, that's all right," he said, moving farther into the cavern toward the tarp-covered object. "Looks like you've been busy, Ceth. What's this...?"

He had just started to reach for the edge of the tarp when he saw the glint of the phaser in her hand. He froze in mid-movement.

"That'll be quite enough, Captain," Ceth said, finally moving past Tanra into the cavern, the phaser in her hand not wavering an iota. "Just be a good boy and go back to your ship, and no one will get hurt. Deal?"

Kirk felt Spock protectively close beside him. He was oddly comforted by it.

"Is this that thing you were looking for?" he asked, hoping desperately that it wasn't. "That WellSpirit?"

"No," Ceth said, the disappointment in her voice convincing him of her sincerity. "We haven't found it yet."

"Oh," he replied, resisting an accompanying sigh of relief. "Do you even know what it is that you're looking for?"

She shot him an angry glare, but suddenly her expression changed. It was as if she had read something in his face, and a realization had struck her.

"No...but you do, don't you?" she said warily, inching her way closer to him in slow, steady steps. "You know what it is...and you know I'm close to it, don't you?"

Kirk straightened, quickly making a mental note to have Spock teach him the fine art of unreadable expressions at the next available opportunity. Finally he offered her a shrug.

"You're right. I do know -- it's small, cylindrical, has a point on one end and an eye on the other..." He paused only briefly for emphasis. "It's called a needle, Ceth. And this planet is one awfully big haystack. To be honest, I think the isolation is starting to get to you..."

"I'm close," she repeated with absolute conviction. "How close?"

"Ceth..." He started toward her, but the phaser came up pointed squarely into his face. He stopped abruptly and allowed a look of concern to cross his face. "I mean it, I'm really worried about you..."

"How close?" she repeated, nearly shouting this time. "Damn it, Jim, tell me! You owe me that much!"

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she looked as though she could have turned the phaser on herself. Her face went pale, and she struggled to maintain her composure.

Kirk's eyes narrowed as he looked at her. "I owe you?" he repeated quietly. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Her eyes scanned the floor in front of her, then she made a visible attempt to shake off her embarrassment. She breathed deeply, squared her shoulders, and finally looked back into his face.

"It means that you are the reason I'm no longer in Starfleet."


This round-robin story is incomplete. Please e-mail me if you have any ideas or would like to help us finish it. Thanks!

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