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When a famous Federation scientist dies, his son puts his inventions up for sale to the highest bidder, be they Federation, Klingon, Romulan, or Cardassian. Among the items at auction is a photon pulse canon capable of punching through a starship's shields with a single shot. Meanwhile, Wesley Crusher is kidnapped from the Academy by renegade Ferengi who have set their sights on the photon canon as well, and Captain Picard must outmaneuver enemies on every side to save Wesley and protect the EnterpriseTM from the deadly fire of the new canon.
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"There is an incoming transmission for you from Starfleet Command," came the gravelly tones of Worf. "It is marked as most urgent."
Picard straightened up in his chair. "Put it through to me here, please, Mr. Worf."
A second later, the communicator panel on his desk lit up with the Starfleet logo blinking to show a transmission was being received. Then Admiral Halsey's face blinked into existence. She looked tired and more than slightly irritated-pretty much how she always looked, whether she was declaring disasters or handing out commendations. "Captain," she said, nodding slightly. "I trust your crew would not be averse to fresh orders at this moment?"
Picard suppressed a smile. They had been mapping protostars for eight days, and most of the crew was bored of the constant views of ssv clouds.
Worf, for example, had been holding practice drills for his security team and demanding a five-percent increase in reaction times. He was driven by a frustration that most of the crew probably shared. "Well, Admiral," he answered carefully, "I suspect that stellar cartography would be the only department aboard that wouldn't exactly bless your name."
"It's always hard to keep them happy," Halsey answered, with no trace of humor in her tone. "And they won't like this either, I'm afraid. The Enterprise is ordered diverted immediately to the Buran System, Captain. Coordinates are being relayed as we speak. You are to head there at maximum warp and prepare to render all medical assistance possible."
Picard raised his eyebrows. "May I ask what, precisely, we will be heading into?"
"A plague, Captain." Halsey sighed, and ran a hand through her short, graying hair.
"TheBuran are suffering terribly from a highly virulent plague that is apparently one hundred percent lethal to anyone infected. The death tolls are staggering, and Starfleet has promised all possible assistance in this situation."
"Of course." Picard nodded slowly. "I'll have my medical staff begin work, and head for Buran immediately."
"There's one more thing, Jean-Luc."
He narrowed his eyes and stared at the admiral's image. There was always "one more thing." "Yes?" he prompted.
"I don't know if you know much about the Burani," she replied, and waited for an answer.
Thinking hard, Picard shrugged. "They're a relatively new race to have joined the Federation, I believe," he answered. "Within the last two years, if I recall correctly. Nothing more than that, I'm afraid."
"You've hit on the salient point," Halsey informed him. "They were inducted eighteen standard months ago. An Andorian trader recently stopped at their world, and the plague began immediately after this visit. The Burani vote to join the Federation was almost evenly split, Captain, and there seem to be a lot of them who feel that it was a bad move.
Some of the more vocal opponents of Federation membership are claiming that the plague came from the Andorians, and they're screaming for Buran to pull out of the Federation."
Picard frowned. "Is that possible?" he asked.
"That they might pull out? Yes. That the Andorians somehow transmitted the disease?" She shrugged. "That will be up to you and your crew to discover, Captain." She paused. "As you probably know, Starfleet is actively seeking footholds in this sector o strengthen our borders. Buran is quite important to us, since there is only one other world already in the Federation in that area of space. And three others under scrutiny. If Buran should pull out-or worse, decide to ally itself instead with the Romulans-it would weaken our presence in the sector severely." She paused. "Not to mention, of course, the terrible consequences of this plague from a humanitarian perspective."
"I understand," Picard said softly. "We will, of course, do everything in our power to address both. aspects of the situation."
Copyright © 1996 by John Peel
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