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[Star Trek TNG] - Double Helix Omnibus, Page 3

Peter David

  It was a grim image, yet to her it painted a more accurate picture of the planet’s situation than a host of dry reports and nameless, faceless statistics. Things had to be bad indeed if they had resorted to putting people on floors.

  Her call to Dr. Tang had been routed to a public comm stand in the lobby of the Archo City Hospital. Tang had replied within five minutes of being paged. And when he answered, he cut through the usual niceties abruptly. “How soon can we get that Tricillin PDF beamed down here, Doctor?”

  “The drugs are being prepared for transport now,” she said. “The first fifty crates should reach your location in less than five minutes. If you can find a place to put them, that is,” she added, peering over his shoulder. “You do look a little full.”

  Tang turned and called to someone Dr. Crusher couldn’t see: “We need more room! The Tricillin PDF is here!…Right!” He turned back to her. “It will be taken care of. You can beam it down to these coordinates as soon as it’s ready.”

  “Good.” Dr. Crusher continued to stare at the hundreds of men and women and children beyond him. Something about them bothered her. They all lay curiously still despite being mashed in shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip. Is this the comatose stage? she wondered.

  “Is there anything else you need?” She forced herself to focus on Dr. Tang. Brusque though he might be, he was still in charge of the hospital.

  He snorted. “More doctors. A bigger hospital. A cure for the plague. Half a dozen tactical nuclear missiles lobbed at this city from orbit. Any combination of those will do.”

  Nuclear missiles? Was that an attempt at humor? If so, she didn’t find it particularly funny—and Tang didn’t seem to be laughing, either.

  “If you need more help, I will be glad to have some of my people beam down to assist—”

  “No!” He almost screamed the word. “Keep your people off this planet! They’ll be infected, too!”

  “We have biofilters aboard—”

  “Don’t you understand? Didn’t you read my report? They just don’t work!” He sucked in a deep breath. “This virus isn’t like anything you’ve seen before, Doctor. It…it’s smart.”

  She blinked. Smart? That didn’t make any sense.

  “Very well,” she said coolly. “We can work from the Enterprise just as well, with your assistance.”

  He turned and paced away, then came back. His face was red, and he seemed to be struggling to keep his temper in check.

  “Is something bothering you, Doctor?” she demanded, letting a professional mask hide her intense distaste for him. His appearance, his manner, his attitude—it all rubbed her the wrong way.

  “Let me be blunt, Doctor,” Tang finally said in a low voice. “We’re not just losing the battle, we’re losing the war. I have more than six thousand dead in my own hospital. Men, women, children, babies—” He gave a frustrated wave. “All die within a week…two weeks, with massive doses of Tricillin PDF. We haven’t had one survivor. Not one. Do you know what that means?”

  “I am well aware of the mortality rate.” Beyond him, Dr. Crusher watched a dozen men dressed in white containment suits burst into the lobby from a side corridor. They began picking up the comatose patients and tossing them aboard a low motorized cart—stacking them one on top of another like so much deadwood.

  Bodies, she thought with growing horror. They haven’t run out of beds, they’ve run out of slabs in the morgue. A few limbs jutted out grotesquely from the growing pile on the cart. The big toe on every left foot held an identification tag, she saw now. They’re all dead. Not just dozens, but hundreds of them.

  As she gave an involuntary shiver, she met Dr. Tang’s gaze again. He grinned at her now, widely, wolfishly, like a predator closing in on his next meal. He’s enjoying this, she realized—and that horrified her almost as much as the bodies.

  “Yes, Doctor,” he said almost mockingly. “You start to understand the real situation now, don’t you? It’s not pleasant.”

  “How can you be so cold about it—”

  He snapped back, “Don’t judge us unless you’ve been in the same situation. You don’t know how terrible it’s been here. I—”

  He paused and seemed to be trying to rein in his anger. Dr. Crusher didn’t know what to say. She hadn’t been in a situation like this before—and she hoped she never would be again.

  In a calmer voice, Tang went on: “I know it’s not a pretty little sickbay like you have aboard the Enterprise, but as you can see, we have room for that Tricillin now. Please get it down here as soon as possible, Doctor. We still have three thousand living patients who need it.”

  Dr. Crusher swallowed. “Immediately.”

  As a doctor, she had seen death many times and in many ways over the years, but even so, the cold unfeeling way these people were being tossed about still went against every grain of her moral and medical principles. She believed a certain dignity ought to come with death. The men in contamination suits might have been janitors cleaning up after a party instead of medical caregivers.

  And Tang’s rictus grin bothered her. Maybe it covered up a terrified interior, or maybe he had been pushed to the breaking point and beyond by the horrible tragedy unfolding around him, but she couldn’t help how she felt.

  He hasn’t just lost his healing touch, he’s lost his ability to feel empathy. He isn’t a doctor, he’s a…a body processor. The thought left her cold. No matter how bad things get, I won’t let it happen to me.

  “—and here is the access code for our medical computer’s database,” Dr. Tang was saying almost cheerfully, as though turning over the keys to a beach house. “You’re going to need it.” He entered it into the comm unit, and Dr. Crusher recorded it more by reflex than conscious thought. “It contains every scrap of information we have been able to gather about the virus. Precious little good it’s done us. Thankfully, though, it’s your problem now. Starfleet’s problem, I mean. Good luck.”

  “Wait!” she said as he started to end the transmission. That’s it? He’s just going to abandon me to my research? What kind of a madman is he?

  “What is it, Doctor?”

  “I will begin reviewing your data at once.” She swallowed at the lump in her throat. “In the meantime, I need a vial of contaminated blood beamed up. After that, I’ll need a patient in the earliest stages of the disease.”

  Tang’s eyes narrowed only the slightest bit. “I do not recommend that, Doctor,” he said bluntly.

  “Why not?” she demanded.

  “The plague leaps through biofilters like they weren’t there. For the first week, we kept them up around our quarantine wards, but it didn’t help. Nothing stopped it.”

  “That’s impossible,” she said. “Nothing as big as a virus can get through a biofilter.”

  He shrugged. “Maybe we made a mistake. Maybe the plague virus was already loose everywhere on the planet simultaneously. Or maybe it’s just smarter than we are. I just don’t know anymore.” He ran one hand through his unruly red hair. “But I still wouldn’t risk it. Not aboard a starship. If it gets loose in a confined space like that, with your ventilator systems—well, I wouldn’t want to be part of your crew. You’ll end up spending the rest of your lives quarantined down here with the rest of us.”

  “We have air purifiers—”

  “Not good enough.” He shook his head. “Not even close to good enough. Why don’t you listen?”

  She sucked in an angry breath. Count to ten. He’s not deliberately trying to provoke you. Count to ten, and don’t forget to breathe.

  “What do you recommend, then?” she managed to say in something approaching her normal tone.

  He leaned forward, his expression growing even more intent. “I don’t think this plague can be cured.” His voice lowered to a whisper, as though taking her into his confidence. “Archaria III has one of the finest hospital systems in the Federation. All our equipment is new and top-of-the-line. Maybe not as good as you have aboard the Enterprise, b
ut damned close. We haven’t found an answer, and I’ve had a hundred people working on it for the last three weeks. We’re not going to find an answer, Doctor. This is it for us.”

  “I refuse to accept that,” Dr. Crusher said. With such a negative attitude, no wonder his people hadn’t made any progress. “In human history alone, people have claimed that everything from polio to AIDS to cancer to Stigman’s disease wasn’t curable, and each time we’ve beaten the odds. There’s always an answer. We just have to find it.”

  Tang leaned forward. “You want to know what I really think, Doctor? Do you want the best advice I can give?”

  “Yes.”

  “Archaria III must be completely and forever isolated to keep the plague from spreading. Quarantine the planet, yes, that’s a start. Post guards in orbit. Hell, mine the whole system! Shoot down any ship that tries to enter or leave. Cut us off from the galaxy, and never let anyone set foot here again! And pray—just pray—that the virus didn’t jump planet with any of the dozens of starships that have already left.”

  Starships have been leaving? she thought with alarm. Are they crazy? Well, Jean-Luc would have to put a stop to that. She’d let him know as soon as she finished her conference with Dr. Tang.

  “We will contain the plague,” she said in her most reassuring tone. “This isn’t the first disease Starfleet has faced, and it won’t be the last.”

  Tang shook his head sadly. “Smug, arrogant Starfleet—you people always know better than the experts. Listen to me. This is the worst disease humanity has ever faced. It’s airborne. There are no survivors. It kills everyone it infects. If it ever mutates…if it ever attacks nonmixers…Archaria will be a graveyard planet within a month.”

  Dr. Crusher swallowed again. Some bedside manner. Tang certainly wasn’t pulling his punches.

  “I must reserve judgment until I’ve had a chance to study your reports,” she said flatly. “Have that blood sample prepared for transport. I’ll let you know when I’m ready for a patient.”

  “Very well.” He gave her a hopeless shrug. “It’s your funeral. And others’. Check the video I sent. Tang out.”

  Taking a deep breath, Dr. Crusher sat back in her chair and chewed her lip thoughtfully. Around her, nurses and doctors bustled about their duties, setting up equipment, tending to a sprained ankle or a burned arm, conducting the routine physical exams that Starfleet required of every crew member.

  Dr. Crusher ordered the computer to begin displaying the visual record Dr. Tang had sent. It showed a ten-year-old girl lying next to an older woman who, from the way she reached out to the little girl despite her own horrifying condition, could only have been her mother. They were dressed only in thin white smocks, although profuse sweating had turned the young girl’s smock almost transparent and her devastated body showed through clearly. A cure would be found, and Crusher knew it, but it would come too late for this child and her mother. She had not even begun her work, but already Crusher felt that she had failed.

  It can’t be that bad. Nothing is ever hopeless. We will find a cure. She had to believe in herself and her people. How could she go on with her work if she didn’t think they would succeed?

  For a second, she thought about calling off the away team’s trip to the planet. But no, she knew with 100 percent certainty that the Enterprise’s biofilters could remove anything as large as a virus, despite Dr. Tang’s histrionics. He had made a mistake somewhere. It’s a scientific fact. Nothing as large as a virus can make it through unless we want it to. Commander Riker’s mission could prove the key to unraveling this whole medical mystery and finding a cure.

  She tapped her combadge. “Crusher to Picard.”One last duty to attend to.

  “Picard here,” he answered immediately.

  “Captain, Dr. Tang informs me that starships have been leaving the planet since the plague broke out.”

  “I am aware of it, Doctor. We are using their flight plans to track them and order them back here.”

  “Good. Thank you. Crusher out.”

  Reassured, she accessed the Archo City Hospital’s computer, tapped in the access codes Tang had given her, and found herself in the records section…looking at thousands upon thousands of recent files, all marked “Deceased.”

  On a sudden hunch, she called up Tang’s personal records. I want to see how well you do your job, she thought. Since you think you’re so good—let’s see you prove it!

  To her surprise, Ian Tang, M.D., Ph.D, had received dozens of awards, commendations, and citations for a career filled with exemplary work, community service, and medical leadership. Not only was he the finest virologist on Archaria III, he had headed up half-a-dozen ground-breaking studies on Plimpton’s disease—including several she’d read. His name hadn’t registered at first, but now she recognized it.

  According to this file, he’s just a few ticks short of sainthood, she realized. Maybe he isn’t exaggerating after all.

  Brilliant researcher or not, the official records seemed quite a contrast to the man with whom she had just spoken. If everyone from the planetary governor to Starfleet’s Admiral Zedeker spoke so highly of Dr. Tang’s abilities, what could make him so determinedly pessimistic? It’s almost as though he wants us to abandon the planet, she thought grimly.

  A horrible thought came to her. Abandon it… maybe that was the answer. After all the mixers had been killed off by the plague, why not use the plague as an excuse to cut ties with the Federation?

  It might just work, she thought. If he can persuade enough people that there will never be a cure, the Federation may well post a permanent quarantine around the planet. And then the Purity League would be free to takeover and run things exactly as they want, with their humans-first philosophy, devil take the Peladians.

  She shivered. He was a virologist. He said they had state-of-the-art facilities. Could Tang be part of the Purity League? Could he have engineered the virus? What figures did Jean-Luc cite? Wasn’t half the planet supposed to be part of or at least in support of the Purity League? Why not a doctor, too. Why not Tang? She shook her head violently, as if to toss away the very thought.

  Just because I don’t like him doesn’t make him a killer, she told herself.

  Despite all his dire warnings, Tang proved true to his word. Within ten minutes the transporter chief hailed Dr. Crusher on the comm system.

  She tapped her badge. “Crusher here.”

  “O’Brien in Transport Room One, ma’am. I have a medical shipment for you from Dr. Tang at the Archo City Hospital. He told me to leave it in the transporter buffer until you had a secure facility to hold it.”

  Dr. Crusher heard a note of hesitation in the man’s voice. He wasn’t telling her everything.

  “Is there something else?” she asked.

  “Doctor…is this whatever-it-is safe? If you want, I can rig up a couple of extra biofilters and run it through them before we materialize it—”

  “No! Don’t filter it!” she cried. That was the sort of help she didn’t need. She still remembered one overefficient medical student in her class who tried to cut corners by beaming medical specimens from the lab to his research station. The biofilters had automatically filtered out the contaminants he was supposed to study, leaving him with useless tissue samples.

  “Yes, ma’am!” She heard him jump.

  She sighed. Tang really got to me. No need to take it out on O’Brien.

  “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to snap at you, O’Brien. Just hold everything in the transporter buffer for now. Make sure you disable the biofilters—these are medical specimens, and I need the contaminants. I’ll have a secure containment field ready for you in about sixty seconds.”

  “Right, Doctor.”

  “Crusher out.”

  She stood. “Computer, create a level-one containment field half on top of workbench one. Make it half a meter square on all sides. Tie in with Transporter Room One. The medical samples presently in the transporter’s buffer
must materialize inside the containment field. Do not run any biofilters!” She wasn’t taking any chances.

  “Acknowledged,” the computer said. A forcefield began to shimmer faintly around the workbench. Dr. Crusher knew it would flicker out of existence just long enough for her samples to beam in, then the computer would make sure nothing got in or out. “Level-1 containment field has been activated.”

  She tapped her badge. “Crusher to Transporter Chief O’Brien.”

  “O’Brien here,” he responded instantly.

  “We’re ready. Energize.”

  Lights twinkled around the workbench, and as they faded, she saw the small rack of a dozen tiny vials. Dark blood filled each one.

  Now, my good doctor, she thought, let’s take a look at this plague virus of yours.

  Chapter Four

  GEORDI LA FORGE FOUND a skeleton crew on duty in Astrometrics: three young ensigns, all hard at work updating the ship’s navigation logs and starcharts with new files uploaded from Starbase 40 the day before. All three snapped to attention as he strode in.

  “At ease,” he said. It was obvious they were fresh from the Academy, all spit-and-polish and ready to impress superior officers. “I’m just borrowing a computer console for a little while. Carry on with your work.”

  “Yes, sir,” they all said, and they turned back to their tasks with noticeably stiffer spines.

  Geordi knew they felt his presence keenly: they worked with more speed, precision, and more professional demeanors—and far less banter—than was normal for ensigns. He chuckled a bit, thinking back to his own days as a raw ensign. It felt like an eternity ago…and a different lifetime.

  As the ensigns worked, they began calling off the new charts smartly. They’re trying to impress me. Every few seconds, when they thought he wasn’t looking (of course through his visor he saw it all, down to the 3-centimeter-long string that had unraveled from Ensign Barran’s left sleeve), they glanced in his direction to see if their attention to detail was being duly noted.