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A light suddenly flashed on his belt. Lieutenant Richards, the new science officer, had presented Spock almost hesitantly with this, his latest refinement on paging technology: It kept the entire crew from hearing their captain being hailed. Messages awaited Spock in his quarters, one carrying the red light indicating urgency. Quickly entering his quarters, Spock just as quickly turned down the light until it was a more comfortable reddish glow, turned up climate control -- adjusted to a frugal Earth-normal in his absence -- to something approaching Vulcan-normal, then sat before his personal viewscreen and signaled for communications. Interesting, he thought, scrolling through the encrypted data, translating it as he read. No, fascinating. Spock's long fingers flew over the keypad, quickly calling up a visual. A stocky, sturdy figure appeared. A bearded face with wry dark eyes seemed to stare at him, and Spock felt the smallest thrill of recognition. The years had changed the human, of course, but Spock mentally removed the beard and visualized the face as far younger: Yes. David Rabin -- now, it would seem, Captain David Rabin. Spock played the audio, unscrambled: "Spock, or at least I hope it's you: Yes, it's your old desert pal, assigned to planetary duty on Obsidian. What am I doing here? Making the desert bloom, my pointy-eared friend. Or at least trying." Quickly, all humor gone from his voice, Rabin cataloged the list of problems, ending with, "I like these people, Spock. They deserve better. We really need your help, my friend. Rabin out." "Obsidian," Spock repeated thoughtfully, staring at the now-empty screen for an instant. His fingers flew over the keypad once more, bringing up first the planet's position -- on the edge of the Romulan/Federation Neutral Zone -- then an executive summary of planetological, biological, and anthropological data, and finally his old friend's official biography. Excellent fitness reports, of course; Rabin was not the sort to be idle. A good many successful desert excursions on a good many worlds: his friend had become as much a nomad as Rabin's ancestors. He has also cross-trained in hydrostatics, I see. Only logical, under the circumstances. Successful missions, yes, although comments about Captain Rabin's "initiative" had been duly entered. Such comments, Spock knew, were ironic: there had been several such in James Kirk's records. And none at all in his. What was Rabin doing on an outpost this small? I'm making the desert bloom, my pointy-eared friend. One corner of Spock's mouth quirked up in what would have been wild mirth for a human. Rapidly processing the data, he saw that Medical had red-flagged Obsidian; glancing at its star's spectrographic assay, he saw the cause. Loki could be called a main-sequence G-type star, but its recent level of solar flares and sunspot activity made the worlds orbiting it less than healthy places to live, complicated by the fact that Obsidian had almost no ozone layer. High infant mortality, high death rate of adults as well, mostly due to melanomas, carcinomas . . . Spock downloaded the medical data, preempting his science officer's task for the sake of efficiency; after all these years, he knew far better than Lieutenant Richards what Dr. McCoy would need, and the science officer would never reproach him. A new flash of light: an upgraded message from Rabin. "We've got trouble, Spock. The grain supplies are contaminated. The level of raiding against the cities by the wild nomads has stepped up. Someone is poisoning the wells!" Both of Spock's eyebrows shot up. "They're poisoning the wells!" was Rabin's personal metaphor, meaning damage. Prejudice. Danger. A long finger stabbed at a control button, opening a direct line to Lieutenant Duchamps. "Captain?" When will he stop sounding astonished? And when will the title stop sounding incongruous to me? Illogical. "Lieutenant, divert course to Obsidian, with all deliberate speed. I should suggest maximum scan and yellow alert as we parallel the Neutral Zone." "Aye-aye, sir." Curiosity tinged Duchamps' voice, but "aye-aye" was the only acceptable answer. Meditation was out of the question. One did not need to be a Vulcan to know that diverting course was likely to bring questions, if not outright debate. Spock took down his lytherette from where it hung near his copy of Chagall's Expulsion and began to tune it. Perhaps he could at least." Of course, the first interruption struck right then. "Yes, Mr. Atherton?" "Captain, I have just calibrated my engines and was counting on testing them at lower speeds when your order came." Atherton's clipped British accept almost trembled with protective outrage, just barely skirting insubordination. "I would hate to put undue pressure on the dilithium crystal mounts just because this David Rabin you mentioned has overreacted."
Copyright ® 1997 Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz