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While the rest of the crew were on leave at Pueso 3, Anne had the ship to herself, but for the ever present company of Nin. The light drone of the machines in engineering relaxed her. She meditated on the constant background hum and the longing she and all her species had to find the home they had lost so many centuries before.
“Anne, there's something approaching orbit of the planet and I don't have any way to verify what it is,” the computer interrupted the spider's meditation.
“What information do you have so far?” The engineer sighed as she untangled her legs and began the arduous task of getting dressed.
“It's the size of a small satellite, but bears all the readings of a ship and it's too small to be any kind of life pod in my database,” Nin listed, frustrated by her lack of knowledge on the subject.
“Age? Source trajectory? Material composition? Can you give me anything solid?” Commander Nancy wondered, getting her shirt back on as she strode to the control station in her domain.
“The components all seem to be different ages and different source technologies. Trajectory looks like its following natural gravitational drift. Materials are various. It's as though it was built out of bits of ships from a dozen different worlds,” the confused computer huffed, “There's one life sign, but I don't recognize it. It appears to be dormant and there's no sign of a cryogenics system. It has an engine, life support, internal gravity and temperature control, a computer, navigational systems, sensors, shields, a deflector array and communications. It's just unresponsive and far too small for anybody to fit in,” the machine complained of the mystery.
Anne raised the image on her view screen. She watched for a few moments as the two foot long vessel came into contact with the planet's atmosphere and the tiny maneuvering thrusters bounced it back out into the gravitational currents, to drift on further. Instantly she knew what it was.
“Try to trace its trajectory back through the gravitational currents, taking into account that it bounced off anything it came in contact with, like it just did there!” the engineer ordered loudly as she excitedly ran through the bowels of the Candy to the nearest point from which she could make use of the transporters.
“Alright, but what is it? And what are you planning on doing with the transporters?” Nin worriedly asked.
“It's a Sargasson egg ship and I'm planning on bringing it aboard,” the engineer growled out as she fought the transporter to harmonize with the tiny ship's shield frequency, “Gotcha!” the spider declared victoriously as the little vessel materialized on the cargo bay's transport pads. She stood in awe, gazing at the little thing and approached it slowly. Anne then noticed that there was much pitting and damage to the tiny vessel. It had been traveling a long time.
“Judging by the deterioration,” Nin piped up, “it's been in transit for several centuries,” she noted of what she correctly assumed her engineer was inspecting, “it's at least as old as me. Maybe older,” she informed Anne.
“It's begun shutdown sequence now that it's inside an atmosphere,” the spider announced, “Nin, do you think you could get Vant back aboard without too much trouble?” she asked, “we've only got a few hours on the outside before she hatches and we need a host out of the meat locker,” Anne smiled excitedly at the birth of a new spider.
“This better be good Anne,” Vant complained as she stepped off the transporter pad, “I don't often have the chance to find out anything about Klingon medicine and all Nin said was it's a surprise,” she pointed out, irritated.
“I just need to know if there's any male bodies you could revive, brain dead and keep on life support for a few weeks,” the engineer giddily begged.
“Yes. Wait, what? Why?” the doctor stumbled as she tried to understand the situation.
“That,” Anne announced, grabbing Vant by the shoulders and turning her to face the egg ship.
“So, once she hatches as a nymph, there's a secondary gestation period, spent inside a humanoid male victim, ingesting genetic material and feeding on the host body until she's more fully formed?” the Ker asked for verification after Anne had more fully explained the process of her species reproduction, to which the engineer nodded yes, “right, but how do you know it's a she?” Vant wondered as the pair of women ate a quick meal in the mess.
“Male eggs are much smaller and there'll be dozens of them in a single clutch, but only one or rarely two, much larger female eggs,” Anne explained, “We're normally very territorial but also social and hierarchical,” she went on, “so there can only be one queen, lets say and one princess in a territory at one time, or the competitors for a single position will start killing each other off. So, if there's two female eggs in a clutch, then one gets sent off in an egg ship, to hopefully find another queen to be raised by,” the long story began to come out.
“As twisted and strange as that sounds,” Vant grinned, “it actually makes sense. So what happens when the princess reaches maturity?” she then smiled knowingly.
“Either she'll go off to find her own territory, or she'll kill and eat the other queen and take that territory for herself,” Anne shrugged.
“Which one did you do?” the doctor again smiled.
“I, uh, you know,” the spider tried to play off, a little embarrassed.
“You ate her,” Topeth nodded in the minor triumph and made the engineer momentarily uncomfortable.
“I tried to, but ended up being kicked out,” Anne corrected.
“So a few weeks secondary gestation, gaining the rough form and traits of the host species. What developmental stage will the princess be at when she comes out? And how long will it be before she's mature?” the doctor then wondered.
“In human terms she'll be about equivalent to a ten year old,” Nin answered, having already been told this part of the story, “and she'll develop very quickly, so she could be fully mature in as little as half a year from now,” the computer cheerily informed.
“Anne, Nin,” Vant feigned wonder to hide her suspicions, “developing that fast, she'll need to eat a lot! What does she eat?” she asked directly.
“Anything male, less than twice her size,” Anne mousily admitted after a few seconds of tense silence, “or the nutrient gel packs that I’ve gotten used to, or most non-arachnid species, as long as they're male. The growth rate requires a lot of testosterone,” the engineer listed hopefully.
“So first, I have to reanimate then desecrate a corpse, then we have to gender segregate the ship for a few months after which the little girl will either leave, or decide to kill you and take your territory. Do I have that right?” the doctor dripped with sarcasm.
“Actually she'll try to kill me first, and if she can't, then she'll leave,” Anne corrected happily.
“Alright, what about the ship and following it back to its source as you mentioned. Why?” Vant demanded.
“First, in keeping with our MS contract, we have to inform the family that we rescued her. Also, knowing where others of my kind are is very rare, so I thought it would be useful information for avoiding them for our fleet and personnel's own safety and I'd like very much to find my people's ancestral home, which has been a problem plaguing us for at least two dozen generations!” Anne ranted, “tracking the source of an egg ship this old, will trace a large piece of the path and allow us to extrapolate where previous generation egg ships might have come from, or at least their general direction. Hopefully that will eventually lead to the first one, being our original home,” she explained at length.
“Alright. There's a Bolian, a Klingon, an Yridian or possibly one unidentified species, all Borg I've been trying tissue regeneration with, but I'm not sure about that last one,” the doctor sighed as she agreed.
“All four if you can,” Anne hoped, “that way the nymph can decide for herself which one to gestate in,” the hopeful adoptive mother offered.
“I'll get on it,” the Ker rolled her eyes, “Should only be half an hour with your help and yours Nin,” Vant politely insisted.
Within the prescribed half hour, the four revived corpses were standing upright on their slabs, equidistant from the now exposed egg. The glossy white ball was soft shelled and only about eight inches in diameter. Lassie stood by idly after putting the bodies in place while the doctor and the engineer gazed in wonder at the miracle that was about to occur.
“Twrgaath, Garscha, Qwraal, could I transport you back to the ship for awhile?” Nin asked over the comm badges, “there's something Anne would like very much for you to see happening,” the voice cheerily tempted. All three agreed and shortly found themselves gathered together watching as the odd little egg was slowly torn open from within, revealing the tiny gaunt, yellowy occupant.
“Its true what they say,” Garscha smiled in a whisper to the engineer as they looked on at the new life, “babies are always more pleasant looking than adults,” she teased.
The little spider stretched and tested its legs, before standing up on all eight, and skittering in a circle to see its surroundings.
It looked toward each of those present in turn, moving its little head about in all direction as it silently tasted the air in search of a host. After a few tense and silent moments, it chose the Bolian and launched itself the meter or so through the air, to land on the revived corpse's chest. The women awed in unison as their little girl chewed and burrowed her way into the hosts throat and crawled down to nest herself within the safe confines of the ribcage, where she could feast undisturbed, under the watchful eyes of her now several new aunties.
“Po and Vaj are going to have tantrums when they find out about this,” Qwraal noted as the women sat together in the mess after watching the birth.
“I can imagine they'll all complain once they're told what she eats and that part of the ship will be off limits to them for awhile at least,” Twrgaath added with a chuckle, “have you thought about a name yet Anne?” she wondered of the now mother spider.
“I haven't had time to,” the engineer realized suddenly, “there's so many traditional names to choose from too,” she worried, “Ariadne, Nit'neith, Tsuchigumo, Kali, Maya, Sati, Durga, Shakti, Privithi, Prakriti, Uma, Mala'liath, Habetrot, Saule, Areop-Enap, Tara, Na'ashjé'ii'asdzaan, Ananasi and those are just from my descendancy,” she listed.
“Wait a moment,” Nin mentioned, “those are all Terran names of ancient culture spider goddesses,” she pointed out curiously.
“Yes, well,”Anne hedged a little, “okay, so we've had a few colonies before on some different planets,” she admitted shyly, “we have been around a very long time after all,” she shrugged.
“Any Klingon or Romulan colonies before?” Garscha wondered, arms crossed in disappointment at her friend having kept such secrets from them.
“Romulan, yes,” Anne admitted, “but try as we might, there's never been a successful Klingon settlement established,” she clearly pointed out, “you don't exactly make good prey animals,” the engineer half joked, “from the time a civilization makes it into space, we stay with them in space and avoid their planets. It's been thousands of years since any of us tried putting a planetary colony anywhere there's a species with more than a bronze age technology,” she assured of her people.
Anne thought a great deal over the next few days as to what she should name the new little girl when she came out of the corpse.
“What do you mean, no men allowed?” Nwrdoq asked, surprised that he wasn't given free access to one of the smaller cargo bays anymore. He'd arrived back on the ship shortly before the remainder of the crew and none of them had been told about the little nest that had been set up yet.
“I'm sorry Nwrdoq, but it's too dangerous for any men to go in there right now,” Nin insisted, “you'll just have to use one of the other cargo bays, or the holodeck until the baby's gestated and until she's been taught that you're not food,” the computer scolded, “The rest of the boys are being told about everything in the mess shortly. Now please be quiet while she's sleeping,” Nin ordered, causing the ancient warrior to stomp off pouting like a child himself.
“I did not give you permission to do anything like this on my ship!” Po blasted when he was told what was going on.
“We never asked your permission either!” Garscha blasted back, “this is how it is! And that's the end of it!” she informed him in the polite Klingon way.
“Well, as far as the admiral goes, this is part of the greater mission,” Billy sighed in acceptance of the situation, “seeking new life, exploring, blah, blah,”he shrugged. With that, everyone seemed to be convinced. At the very least, the four men were not going to challenge the six women on the subject. Not openly anyway.
Vaj, who had been curiously silent throughout, decided to do a little bit of snooping, via linking his private terminal into one of Lassie's eyes as a camera. If nothing else, he decided he'd get a first glimpse of the strange creature and assess its potential for profit. Lassie was left to stand guard, alongside any one of the women. All of them took turns keeping vigil in the small cargo bay, to watch the progress of the little creature, maintain the artificial life in the Bolian corpse and to wait in hope of being the first to see the new spider emerge. Although they had all promised to call the rest there to witness it together.
What Vaj saw was grotesque. The host body was strapped upright on a slab and being fed and pumped through wires and tubes, while the creature inside it writhed occasionally and stretched the dead man's skin in various directions. He kept watching anyway and recording the events. He believed, he'd be able to sell the data crystals for research of various kinds if all else failed.
“Nin!” Garscha blasted as she saw the corpse's abdomen stretch and begin to tear, “get everybody in here! It's happening!” she demanded, excitedly jumping up and down and scurrying about the room. By this point, the nymph had grown a great deal and the corpse was stretched. Its abdomen was distended to the point where it actually looked pregnant. Within minutes the other women were all present to watch. Vaj was also watching as the body was slowly torn open below its ribs. The small spider wrenched itself free from the hollowed out body, spilling blood and fluids out in a splash on the floor. The Ferengi almost vomited at the sight as the blood covered, blue spider slid out and fell on the floor with gasping breaths. The other women began to move forward to help the 8 legged girl, but Anne stopped them.
“She has to stand up on her own,” the elder spider insisted. Anne took off her jacket and crouched beside the girl on the floor. She took off her goggles and opened her jaws fully, then untwisted her arms to show the younger spider what she truly was.
“It's always unnerving seeing you do that Anne,” Twrgaath admitted. The little spider seemed to understand the gesture and looked to her own arms as she lay on the floor. Anne leaned in closer and spun her 4 upper limbs back into two arms. At this, the blue spider began testing her own limbs and seeing how they moved. It took a few tries for each arm, before she was able to interlock the limbs, but she managed to do so, to the awed sighs of all the women present. It was a long process, by the end of which Anne was naked and had repeatedly expanded and compressed her form, but finally, the little girl managed to stand up on all eight legs and walk. After a few minutes more, the blue spider was able to contort her form into a humanoid posture and walk on 2 legs as well.
“I think I'd better get her some clothes,” Nin laughed happily at the situation before accessing the replicators and causing a suit of plain gray garb to appear on the console.
The little girl was a bit over 4 feet tall and other than her eight eyes and split chin looked for all the worlds, like a normal, Bolian child, once she was cleaned and dressed.
Vaj was staring at the screen in shock at what had gone on. After actually witnessing the miracle, he was suddenly on the women's side of the argument. He couldn't wait for the chance to meet the little spider and immediately began looking for a reasonable excuse to start talking to the women.
“Nin, is there any chance you could talk Anne and the others into letting me see the baby?” the Ferengi asked as he was scrawling names down on a padd. He'd begun a list of suggestions, but couldn't for the life of him find a Bolian arachnid species. It seemed their planet was devoid of spiders, just as Ferenginar was.
“Vaj, you know that wouldn't be safe for you or the child,” Nin sighed from the overhead speaker, “can you imagine the indigestion she'd get from eating you?” the computer spoke in all seriousness, considering the Ferengi's digestive tract.
“I don't want to be in the same room with her,” Vaj clarified, “I just want to see her. I don't know, through a window or something. I've got some suggestions for names I want to show Anne anyway,” he added.
“What kind of suggestions?” Nin probed skeptically.
“Good ones,” Vaj grinned, “all based on arachnid species names from different cultures and different planets, But there's no such thing as a Bolian spider, so I’m still working on the list,” he admitted.
“Fredrik,” the Ferengi smiled proudly when he finally caught up with the engineer, despite her protests.
“You're serious,” Anne droned out, without breaking eye contact, “why not Tashmanian, or Palukoo, or Zayra, or Ashikhan, or Glikar'ma,” she suggested.
“Because she's not Klingon, Bajoran, Talarian, or Andorian,” Vaj shrugged noncommittally.
“What about Iren Uzor, or Adel'iin,” the engineer added Bolian phrases to her list.
“Because she's not a lose, lose situation or a mating ritual underwater death match, although Adeline does sound pleasant enough. Look,there's no such thing as a Bolian spider,” Vaj began, waving away the disbelief, “but there's a Terran fictional character, called Phred, who is an intelligent spider and the word fredrik, is a Bolian expletive of shock and horror,” he pointed out of his research.
“So you basically want me to call her the embodiment of that expletive in the tongue of her secondary gestation species,” the engineer understood.
“Ananasi is a Terran trickster god, who preys on the ignorant,” Vaj noted of Anne's own namesake.
“It's more suitable than what we've come up with,” Nin added to the conversation with a defeated sigh.
“Fine, her name's Fredrik,” the engineer accepted, “you can see her through the window, but don't be surprised if she lunges at you,” she allowed.
Vaj crept to the small window on the cargo bay door, and got on his toes for a better view. Fred was sitting on the floor, piecing together and taking apart several small mechanical components while sipping on a nutritive gel pack as her adoptive mother had taught her to eat. She looked up at the small window in the door and starred intently at the strange face she saw there. Vaj was awe struck by the little blue things eight, yellow eyes, each winking independently and her calm, analytical demeanor. She stood slowly, deliberately and began walking toward the door. Alike Vaj, she stood on her toes to see fully through the window at this creature that was observing her. With her mandibles slightly parted, she tasted the air, trying to get a scent of what this observer was. With the door being a pressure seal, there was no air flow from the other side. She opened her jaws fully and showed the threateningly long fangs hidden in her mouth before relaxing. Vaj didn't react in fear or horror. He was still in awe of the little girl and not the least bit afraid at that moment.
“She's amazing,” the first officer smiled, showing his own sharp teeth in the process. To this, the little girl winked all of her eyes in sequence, confused that she hadn't been able to frighten the strange creature. She was learning quickly.
“Nin,” Fred asked of the unseen voice which kept her company most often, “that?” she wondered in her infantile language, pointing out the window.
“His name is Vaj,” Nin cooed, “He is a friend,” she offered, “he found a name for you,” the computer admitted.
“What name?” the little spider begged, still gazing at the strange thing that was gazing at her.
“Fred Rik,” Nin told the girl.
Fred tried communicating, speaking through the window at the thing called Vaj.
“Vaj,” the Ferengi saw the spider mouth his name, pointing through the glass, “Fredrik,” she mouthed silently pointing to herself with a smile.
“I think she likes you,” Anne complimented, seeing the whole situation unfold.
It became a daily routine then. Vaj would try to converse silently with the little blue spider through the window at some point, between the little girl's lessons with the women of the ship. The rest of the male crew kept their distance either out of fear, distrust or after being shooed away by the women so often. She was learning many things, including combat and medical arts, Klingon, Rihansu and Federation standard languages, ships operations, mechanical and engineering theory and technical and social skills, but it was three weeks before the aunties thought it'd be safe to introduce her to the men folk.
“Hello Vaj,” the girl smiled when her friend was finally allowed through the door. Twrgaath, Qwraal and Anne were all present, for the Ferengi's safety of course, “omnivore,” Fred noted at her thus far silent friend's scent, “predatory, primary diet of invertebrates,” she listed at her estimation of a Ferengi.
“You've got a good nose,” Vaj worriedly muttered as the child circled him, looking him up and down minutely, “it's nice to finally meet you Fred,” he smiled hesitantly, offering his hand.
“You're poisonous to us,” the blue girl smiled, accepting and shaking the first officer's hand.
“I am?” Vaj begged of Anne.
“She's got a better sense of smell than I do,” the engineer shrugged, impressed with her child's progress.
“Lalairu would be a lot worse on her than they are on you,” Qwraal mentioned, bringing a questioning look from Fred and a worried one from Anne.
“Can I meet the rest now mother?” Fred wondered.
“This is the bridge,” Vaj excitedly announced. Being allowed to tour the ship with the young spider, he'd made himself the official guide, “and this is Captain Mawlod, but we call him Po,” he went on. Po turned in his chair and got a first look at the little thing that had seemed to have taken over most of his crew. He saw a tiny Bolian girl with 8 eyes in a gray jumpsuit.
“Qopla!, Hod Po Mawlod,” Fred announced, standing at attention and saluting in the Klingon fashion. The Captain was impressed and Garscha grew a proud smile at her lessons having been so well learned.
“You must be Fred,” the gruff, scarred officer grinned, “have a look around. Tell me what you think,” he challenged playfully. Fred began glancing about her surroundings and confronting the present crew in their own languages.
“Epetai, La' Nwrdoq,” she gave a curt bow as was proper for the elder's station, “Ker Topeth Vant,” she noted, giving the proper Romulan salute, “Lieutenant Bill Kreugar,” she offered, with a starfleet salute.
“Oh she's good,” Bill grinned to the girl, with a salute in reply.
“She's read all the personnel files and ships operations,” Anne proudly offered, “she'd be qualified to enlist if she were old enough,” the spider decided.
“And what's your estimation of our little ship Fred?” Po wondered of the quick student.
“Well ordered and efficient, considering all circumstances, but like all things, it could always be improved,” the little girl decided, gazing intently at one of the bridge station panels.
“What are your recommendations,” Po chuckled at the child's intensity and seriousness.
“There's a crack in the optic cables here,” Fred offered, pointing to a specific spot at the helm, “starting intermittent contact. Only a 16th of a millimeter gap,” she decided, tasting the air and waving her hand over the area to note the temperature, “tertiary to redundancy bridging. If you switch to the emergency system, the gap will double each time, until it fails,” she informed her mother directly.
“Check it,” Po decided, giving Anne a nod. After opening the station and scanning through with a tricorder, she found the offending cable. Almost half a meter down, buried among dozens of other conduits. The repair was easy, but all present were obviously impressed and most were a little wary of the girl.
“Am I sick,” Fred worried as Vant gave her a full cellular examination in the meat locker.
“Far from it,” the doctor laughed, hoping to calm the child, “but not even Binar or Borg have the level of mechanical intuition you've shown and your mother doesn't have it either, so we'd like to find out how you can sense so much,” she smiled, stopping her work for a moment to make sure Fred wasn't upset by all the fuss.
“Why is it so important for you to learn about other species?” the blue spider asked then when Vant began scanning again.
“It's important to learn about everything,” the doctor shrugged, “but if there's something you find very interesting, you want to learn more about it and specialize,” she decided.
“If it's so interesting to you, then why are you a pathologist instead of a xenobiologist?” Fred wondered.
“Actually I'm a xenopathologist,” Vant grinned, “but here, I use what I learn from studying dead bodies, to help keep all of us alive,” she justified.
“What do the scans say about me?” Fred then wanted to know. She absorbed information like a sponge. Far more and far faster than Anne could have anticipated. After the examination, Vant discovered why.
“Sargasson genetic structure augments itself by mimicking the genomics of the secondary gestation host,” the doctor announced in the mess, to the entire crew, and in front of Fred, who of course already knew the test results and could have given the presentation herself but for courtesy to the Ker, “their genome is in fact so malleable that they can effectively interbreed with any arachnid species of sufficient size to be plausible,” she concluded after her study.
“That makes sense, but Bolians aren't that tuned into their senses, other than being able to use them as well underwater as they do in open air,” Bill pointed out.
“No, but that Bolian had also been a Borg drone,” Vant sighed.
“What, has she picked up nanites and been assimilated somehow?” Po asked.
“Not exactly,” the doctor continued, getting a meal from the replicator as she spoke, “the genomic mimicry seems to have made biological copies of the Borg augmentations, including single cellular bionanites throughout her tissue and organic circuit pathways running through her entire chitin carapace. Even her sensory intake and neurological capacity has been enhanced, far beyond anything in the database other than Borg,” she disclosed.
“What is it with this ship and super soldiers?” Bill half laughed, nodding to Qwraal.
“More a super engineer really,” Fred grinned, almost tall enough now to put her feet flat on the floor while sitting up in her chair.
“So what do we know of your capabilities thus far little spider?” Nwrdoq grinned to the child. He was more than happy to encourage the girl in advancing her abilities, like he believed every elder should be to every child.
“I can hold my breath for 3 hours without ill effect. I can withstand 3 gravities positive and negative pressure similarly. I have the same resistance to radiation as Orions and Pakled do. My strength isn't enhanced. It's the same as Mother's. My sensory acuity is three times the range and accuracy of a medical tricorder and my mechanical affinity hasn't yet been fully tested to determine its limits. I learn fast and retain information instantly and I'm maturing faster than expected,” the blue girl listed happily.
“How fast?” Po worried, having been told what was bound to happen when the child became an adult.
“It's become exponential,” Vant answered, “but she's also showing a far greater hormonal and emotional neurochemical control than expected,” she pointed out, “so she might not follow tradition at all,” she hoped.
“How long before we find out for sure?” the captain demanded.
“Another month,” Vant tersely replied.
“Three times the normal rate of development?” Anne was aghast, “regardless of hormonal control, we have no idea what puberty will do to her neurochemistry and pheromonal responses,” she made sure to point out.
“Mother,” Fred meekly caught the engineer's attention, “the best bet would be to find a good place for me to make my own territory, rather than take the chance at us hurting each other,” she suggested, “There's got to be a safe place for me to go and it's not like there are many environments I can't survive in,” she justified.
“Let's start looking then,” Po decided after a long silence in the room.
“Alshain,” Nwrdoq offered the next morning, “Nin, Vaj and I went over every map we have and we think it'd the safest place for her,” he explained of the location.
“Never heard of it,” Po replied, still waiting to be impressed.
“Yes you have,” Vaj corrected, “we've been there. Ash lain, is the common name for the place,” he reminded Po.
“A radioactive hell?” Billy interjected, now worried for the whole ship's safety, “we can't even take close orbit there without shield degradation,” he pointed out to Anne.
“The radiation is well within her tolerance Billy,” Nin cooed to calm the ops officer, “there's everything she needs there to be happy and healthy,” the computer added.
“We tried scavenging there once before and almost lost the whole ship,” Po protested, “you were both there. You remember as well as I do. Garscha, Twrgaath, you want to go back there?” he growled out to his crew, “ten minutes in orbit and two months of repairs, plus decontamination and radiation sickness to recover from. How do you expect us to do better this time?” he demanded of the first officer, stomping angrily around his bridge.
“This time we know what to expect!” Vaj stood up against the railing he was being given, “this time we've got better shields! A better computer! Encounter suits!” he listed of their assets, following the Klingon and growling right back at him, “this time we've got someone else's well being to worry about!” the Ferengi growled low, locking eyes with his oldest friend and completely prepared for a physical confrontation.
“This time you've got two,” Nwrdoq stood at Vaj's side, “of the best engineers I've ever heard of,” he completed his statement. A long silence coated the bridge as each of the competitors waited for the other to back down.
“This time,” Garscha joined the argument, “you'll have a mutiny on your hands if you don't,” she paused with a smile, “Sit! Down!” the tac officer ordered of her captain. Twrgaath stood then as well and crossed her arms over her chest, facing Po. Billy shrunk in his chair, deciding to avoid any involvement if he could.
Po glanced from face to face across his bridge and realized they really would take candy to ash lain, whether he liked it or not. He slowly lowered himself to the big chair, which suddenly felt a lot smaller.
“Three weeks to race to Grethor,” he estimated of the travel time, still growling, “may we at least enjoy the trip,” he closed, having no recourse but to let the crew do as they pleased.
Anne, was meditating with Fred in the now shared, engineering quarters.
“Relax your being and extend your senses to the ship,” the elder instructed, “feel its movement. The rhythm of the engines and circuits,” she continued. Both sat naked, with their 8 legs unwound and free, eyes closed and all other senses open to the harmonics of their environment.
'What are you doing? Stop that!' Nin's voice came to Fred's mind as she began to feel the liquid pulses of emotion within the vinculum's organic circuitry.
“What are you doing? Stop that!” Nin's worried voice came to the engineering deck less than a second later, “that's very intrusive Fred! How did you do that?” the computer demanded, shaken by the experience and slightly afraid.
“What happened?” Anne wondered, now both spiders concentration had been broken and the relaxing trance was gone.
“I'm sorry,” Fred burst, almost in tears, “I didn't know it would happen,” she began to sob, now afraid herself at what she might be capable of.
“Could one of you just tell me what happened?” Anne begged, completely at a loss.
“She accessed my core,” Nin accused, fear still in her voice.
“How could she? She's been here the whole time,” Anne insisted as Fred continued crying.
“My neurocircuitry,” the girl heaved out through her tears, “you said to extend my senses to the ship and I could feel Nin. I didn't know it would happen,” she declared, begging that she was believed.
“It's alright Fred,” Anne cooed, rushing in to hold the child, “it was an accident. You didn't mean to hurt anyone,” she soothed, letting the small spider cry, curled in a ball amid her limbs, “there's no harm done is there Nin?” she worried of her friend.
“I don't think so, no,” the computer verified, “but it was very unsettling. Like being connected to the queen alone, rather than the whole collective,” she described, “We'll have to find out how far this kind of contact can go,” Nin decided, calming now at seeing the distress Fred was going through.
It was decided that meditation was a bad idea after that, but Nin had to know what the child's connection to her circuitry really meant, and if there was any way to counter it. So Fred and Nin met in the holodeck to test both of their abilities.
'Can you hear me?' Nin's voice came into the blue girl's mind.
'Yes,' Fred thought silently.
'Good,' Nin decided of the situation, 'you can receive as well as transmit,' she diagnosed, 'your genomic mimicry seems to have created a cortical node. This could be dangerous if you ever come in contact with the Borg, because they'll be able to sense you,' the computer explained, 'now, can you feel me, the way you did the first time?' she asked of the girl.
'No,' the reply came.
'Excellent. That means I've been able to lock my core memory and circuitry out of transception,' she offered, 'now we need to teach you to do the same,' Nin decided. It was an exhausting day for both participants, but by the end of it, they were both able to communicate without unduly invading each others' consciousness. They were also both able to turn off their communications with each other, at will.
As the days went on, Fred became much more adept at every task she was able to engage in on the ship. She easily mastered every bridge station, as well as read large swaths of the medical and technical databases, learned everything she could in the sick bay/meat locker and studied ancient history and prehistory, from the paleolithic of every culture represented in the available record onwards. She also learned a great deal about what would soon become her new home. Alshain, was the ruins of a high tech culture, just barely prewarp. It had been destroyed in a massive war which engulfed the entire planet three centuries before. Now it was little but an irradiated wasteland of mechanical wreckage, slowly being covered by natural regrowth. There was plenty of life there, but the radiation levels were far too high for anyone other than Orions and Pakled to scavenge the remains of their war machines. There was even a small population of humanoids surviving, though they had no memory of the previous culture and were barely beginning to make stone tools again. It was decidedly, the perfect place for her to go.
“I hope I'm not interrupting,” Vaj grinned from the doorway, while the little spider sat in the sensor room, reading.
“No, I was just seeing what I could find out about where I'll be living,” Fred smiled back to the poisonous friend she'd found.
“It's a little sad that you'll be going there alone,” Vaj admitted, “I've kind of gotten used to you being around,” he hedged on telling her she'd be missed.
“Who knows,” Fred shrugged, “maybe I'll manage to put a ship together and come back for a visit,” she idly imagined, hopeful, but not very.
“I'm a little surprised with all your lessons, you never really asked me about Ferengi culture,” the trader tempted.
“Amo kino ku?” Fred ask after Vaj's well being, in proper Ferengi. Opening her arms to offer a hug.
“Neep gren Fred,” Vaj thanked his apparent niece as he embraced her.
“Yop im too yoba,” the girl apologized for her recent lack of attention, naming the Ferengi as her older brother.
“No,” Vaj decided, “I'm sorry little sister,” he returned to federation standard, “I'm really going to miss you,” he let out as their hug ended, “so what have you learned about our people, other than our language?” he asked, “you know you can't always trust those third party rumors about us that the Federation likes to spread,” he offered to clarify.
“Our people?” Fred questioned.
“If I'm your brother, then you're as much a Ferengi as I am,” he grinned before teaching her the rules of acquisition.
A small landing craft was built, through no small effort, by Anne and Fred together. Nin had been trying to source parts for the vessel and failing, when Vaj mysteriously opened his private hoards and gave them more than they needed. It was only meant for a one way trip, but it would get her there intact if all went well.
“Closing on high orbit,” Twrgaath announced, “time to suit up,” she reminded everyone as they neared the Alshain lunar orbit. The crew all donned their encounter suits and took bridge stations, except Po, who had decided to remain in his quarters and await disaster. He did however put on his encounter suit.
“Matching shield harmonics to radiation density,” Billy noted as he input the commands.
“All's holding well,” Nin reassured of the ship's status.
“Lowering orbit, going geosynchronous,” the helm stated.
“Ready in shuttle bay,” Qwraal called over the comm, nodding to Fred before she closed the hatch on the tiny reentry vessel.
“Nin, take launch command, “Qwraal, report when you reach deck B,” Nwrdoq relayed. All eyes turned to face Vaj in the big chair. They only waited for word of Qwraal's safety before proceeding.
“On B,” Qwraal's voice came over the comm.
“Launch,” Vaj ordered. Immediately the shuttle bay doors opened and the little pod was swept out of the ship and into the gravitational hold of the planet, “close bay doors. Vant, sweep for contamination. Nin, track the pod as far as you can. Twrgaath, pull out of low orbit and get us past a safe distance,” he ordered. The crew responded with instant action and within moments it was all over.
“Reading low levels of radiation aboard,” Vant's message came over the comm, “less than a minute there and it'll be two days decontamination,” she decided of the relatively small amount of radiation that had leaked beyond the shields.
“Keep your suits on,” Vaj sighed, “Nin, anything on the pod?” he wondered.
“As projected,” the computer verified, “coming down over water and all systems are in stable operation,” she listed, “there's a message for Anne, and another one for Vaj,” she added.
“I didn't think we had comm with the pod through the radiation,” the Ferengi begged of the incoming hail.
“Long story Commander,” Anne called from her post, “what does she say?” she then asked.
“Yours is, check the Lalairu creation mythos,” Nin relayed, “and Vaj's is, Neep gren yoba,” she completed.
“Two days of decontamination,” Po's voice came out across all channels, “I'll take my ship back as soon as you've cleaned it!” he declared of his return to command.
“Still,” Nin spoke to Anne unwarranted, three weeks later and back in orbit of Pueso 3. Again the ship was empty but for the two of them.
“At least we'll be able to stay in contact now,” Anne shrugged of the report. She and Vaj really did miss the blue spider, though neither spoke of her often, even so soon after leaving her.
“Any luck on Lalairu mythos?” the computer then wondered of the engineer's current research.
“I wouldn't call it luck,” Anne groaned, “in their prehistory, their gods were all spiders. But the gods would go insane if the mortals came too close to them and they would eat the mortals in their madness,” she read of the rough translation, “so the gods who created them as servants eventually all left their world, to cure themselves of the madness,” she completed the story.
“And now they wander the stars, seeking out their ancient gods in hiding, wishing to welcome them back to their world,” Nin remarked of the Lalairu religious quest over the last 200 years. Since they achieved warp technology in fact.
“Well, short life spans make for short memories I guess,” Anne decided of the mantisoid people.
“Yes, they only live 50 years or so, compared to,” the computer paused, “you mentioned losing knowledge of your home world over two dozen generations ago, and the Lalairu culture has at least a 10,000 year recorded history. How long do your people live anyway?” she confronted the engineer.
“Until we die,” Anne smiled cryptically.