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Captain's Log, Stardate 3290.9:
After two years, the Enterprise is returning to the planet Mestiko to aid in the task of restoring the planet's ecology following the devastating effects of a rogue pulsar that has been dubbed the Pulse by the locals.
The first thing Dr. Leonard McCoy saw when he emerged from the turbolift was Spock rising from the command chair in deference to the person McCoy had ridden up with. The first officer said, "Captain, we have crossed the orbit of Mestiko's second moon."
"Thank you, Mr. Spock," said Captain James T. Kirk, replacing Spock in the center seat. "Uhura, send best wishes to Space Central and request permission to establish orbit. And summon Dr. Lon to the bridge."
"Aye, sir," came Uhura's voice from behind him.
McCoy, meanwhile, turned his gaze to the viewscreen, showing a faraway view of a planet. "So that's it, eh?"
"That's it, Bones," said Kirk. "Mr. Sulu, viewer on full magnification."
"Aye, sir," replied Sulu. A moment later, the world came into sharper focus.
"What do you think of our patient?" asked Kirk.
McCoy was silent for a long time as he took in the more detailed image on the viewscreen. Immense patches of sere, barren earth, many encompassing entire continents, were evident, unobscured by an almost complete lack of cloud cover. The oceans looked dark, their waters listless.
"My God," said McCoy, finally. "I've read Piper's notes, but had no idea.... It looks almost dead."
Looking up from his station, Spock said, "A more accurate diagnosis, Doctor, couched in medical terms, would be that the planet is in critical condition. The planet's atmosphere was almost entirely denuded of its ozone layer by the radiation from the pulsar. The death of most of the oceans' plankton followed, reducing oxygen levels all over the planet. Mestiko was once a Class-M planet, but the Federation Science Council has temporarily redesignated it as Class-L."
"To hear Dr. Lon tell it, the emphasis is on 'temporary,'" said Kirk.
"So the people are living in enclosed shelters?" asked McCoy. "Unless they're compensating for the lack of sunlight, vitamin D deficiency will be a chronic problem for them. And I don't want to think about the nutritional situation."
"I'm afraid you'll have to, Bones," said Kirk, "until these people can get back on their feet. Uhura, do you have Space Central yet?"
"I'm having trouble establishing contact, Captain. The Pulse ionized the interplanetary medium around the planet."
"'The Pulse,'" said Spock, with a shake of his head. "A very inaccurate term for the event."
"It's their planet that got devastated, Spock," said McCoy with a shrug. "I guess they get to decide what to call the thing that did it."
"Perhaps, Doctor, but 'disaster,' in its original meaning, would be much more precise."
Before McCoy could reply to Spock's latest bit of pedantry, Uhura said, "Captain, I have Councillor Raya elMora."
"Put her on-screen, Lieutenant." Kirk said, rising from his chair.
McCoy had seen so many pictures of wounded and dying Payav, people scarred by radiation or killed by exposure, that he had forgotten how beautiful a people they could be, until he saw the woman whose face replaced Mestiko on the viewscreen. Her features, though delicate, gave the impression of an inner strength, and the lines her face bore spoke of having faced many struggles, and losing more than she had won. But the mouth was full and mobile, curving upward with an appreciation of pleasure by a person who had lately not seen much.
Her skin was quite pale, with an almost porcelain glow, with the delicacy of a living thing that might be beaten back, but could never be entirely eradicated. She was bald and might have been taken for a Deltan, save that her face was entirely hairless and her neck, swanlike and twice as long as the human norm, was covered with tattoos that complemented the graceful lines of her naked skull.
But the most intriguing aspect of her appearance, to McCoy, were her hands. They were as graceful as the rest of her, and a casual observer might overlook the fact that, in addition to the four fingers common to Federation standard humanoid species, each of her hands bore two thumbs. McCoy noted that Raya elMora had a habit of tapping the tips of her left thumbs together for emphasis when speaking, almost like a pair of pincers with a life of their own.
In a tone Kirk used with few planetary leaders, the captain said, "Madam Councillor, greetings from the United Federation of Planets and the U.S.S. Enterprise."
"Captain," she said. Her voice was low and musical, but gave the impression that, given the need, it could immediately sharpen and snap to enforce discipline. "How good to see you again. On behalf of the Zamestaad, I welcome you and your crew to Mestiko."
"Thank you, Madam Councillor," replied Kirk, making a little bow. "We are looking forward to seeing the progress Mestiko has made in healing itself over the past two years." The turbolift door hissed; McCoy and Kirk turned to see Dr. Lon enter.
"Excellent timing, Doctor," said Kirk. He motioned for Lon to join him and extended a hand at the viewscreen as if the woman whose image graced it were standing on the bridge. "Dr. Marat Lon, Madam Councillor Raya elMora."
"A pleasure, Doctor," said Raya. "I look forward to a full explanation of your satellite technology."
"I look forward to this chance to prove it," said Lon, "though I might have wished for less drastic circumstances." Tall and lean with ascetic features, Lon was typical of the Martian people descended from the colonists who had taken the red planet as their own centuries ago.
"I understand, Doctor, but it is the universe that dictates circumstances to us, not the other way around."
"With due respect, Madam Councillor," said Lon, "the science of terraforming may enable us to do just that."
Raya chuckled a little, and McCoy saw Kirk glance at Lon with a little smile, as though a child or a trained animal had done well. "Perhaps so, Doctor. I certainly look forward to discussing this with you. Captain, can you and your people join us for an evening meal with the rest of the Zamestaad? The menu may not be quite so elaborate as you're used to, but -- "
"I'm certain it will be quite sufficient, Madam Councillor," Kirk said quickly. "We'll see you tonight, then, if..." He paused.
"If we may receive permission to enter planetary space."
Raya elMora laughed again, and seemed to McCoy to be grateful for the opportunity to do so. "Of course, Captain. Permission granted."
"You heard the lady, Mr. Sulu. Standard orbit."
"Aye, sir," said Sulu, exchanging a slight grin with Chekov, "standard orbit."
"Thanks for introducing me," McCoy said archly after the viewscreen went blank.
"You'll have your chance to make an impression tonight, Bones," said Kirk. "I wanted to make a point of introducing Dr. Lon, as he's going to be living on the planet for a while. What did you think, Doctor?"
"They like their tattoos, don't they?" said Lon, judiciously.
Spock, naturally, had an explanation on tap. "The Payav have a long history of skin decorations, Doctor. It is their custom to think of their skin as a blank canvas they may adorn. Many generations of the same family can be found to wear identical tattoos."
"Filthy habit, injecting chemicals under the skin," said McCoy.
"Nonetheless, it is their way, Doctor," said Spock, "though it is less common than it was generations ago. I have made a study of the Payav body art that -- "
"I'll bet you have," said McCoy. "But no thanks, Spock. I've still got some medical records to go over." He glanced at Kirk. "I'm going to want a look at their medical facilities. Will that be a problem?"
"I'm certain we can arrange something, Bones," said Kirk.
"I'm certain you can," replied McCoy, remembering the look Kirk and Raya had exchanged.
"Such an arrangement is already in place, Doctor," said Spock. "Under the terms of the Organian Peace Treaty, inspection of humanitarian services is allowed."
"Everyone keeps citing that treaty," said Lon, a trifle aggrievedly. "I'm afraid I don't follow politics all that much, so I'm a bit unclear as to its meaning here."
"I suppose the entire landing party could do with a little review before we go planetside," said Kirk. "The briefing room in ten minutes."
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