12 February 2010
By Curtis C. Chen
"Everybody's sick," said the Doctor.
"That's not possible." The Captain glared at his chief medical officer. "You're not sick. I'm not sick."
"We're not showing symptoms yet. Scans confirm we're both infected. And before you ask, yes, I've run the tests three times."
The Captain continued glaring. "Winston, there are twenty-three different species serving on this ship. Some of our crew members aren't even carbon-based. How can one single contagion possibly affect us all?"
"Don't know what to tell you, Captain. I'm finding the same trace radiation in everyone." The Doctor held up a display pad. "It doesn't match any shipboard systems, so it's not leakage from our power grid. And it's not natural."
"How do you know that?" The Captain pointed a finger at the Doctor. "We were mapping an unexplored sector on the edge of known space. Maybe we found some new astronomical phenomenon. Maybe that's where the radiation came from."
The Doctor pursed his lips. "With all due respect, Captain, I've been over this with Commander Danek already." Jarrell Danek was head of the Ichneumon's science department. "External sensors are not picking up any abnormal readings outside the ship. Nothing is reacting with the hull, the superstructure, or the gravity field generators. We've tested everything."
"But it can't be making everyone sick in the same way," the Captain said. "You said before that our human crew were exhibiting 'flu-like' symptoms. But then—" he tapped at his console— "later, you said Ensign Moyeri had been infected. He's a Thraxian. He doesn't even have a respiratory system."
"No," the Doctor said, "he was experiencing numbness in his extremities. When he came to Sickbay, we found the same radiation throughout his body."
The Captain sighed. "Any idea what's causing the radiation?"
"You've been working on this for a week."
The expression on the Doctor's face was unreadable. "We are attempting to reverse-engineer a completely novel form of radioactive decay using only shipboard instruments. It could take years."
The Captain groaned. "Remind me again why we can't bring better equipment on board?"
"Because we don't know how the contagion is transmitted," the Doctor said. "We've been assuming it's airborne, but it could be anything. Some kind of nanotechnology, which might be small enough to get through the station's quarantine filters. Maybe even an energy virus."
"Now you're just making stuff up."
"It's theoretically possible. I read a paper—"
"All right, fine." The Captain shook his head. "I assume you came in here because there's some good news to report?"
"Oh, yes," the Doctor said. "So far, none of the crew has become severely ill. I don't think this thing is life-threatening, whatever it is. And with time, we should be able to collect enough data to find a pattern in how the contagion affects different species, and that should point us toward a cause."
"So we just sit here and wait."
The Doctor shrugged. "Science works. I never said it was fast."
The Captain said, "Sometimes I hate living on the frontier."
Photo: Enterprise-D model at Star Trek: The Experience, Las Vegas, Nevada, August, 2008.