Chapter 3.

"What was the idea of that?" asked Darras angrily. "You are not supposed to commit a crime on Argonaut. You were there when I told Jezakak that."

He had sought out the android, and ascertained they were unobserved.

The android looked at him without expression, its eyes unblinking. "I am now the instrument of another, so it is not your responsibility. In any case, what crime?" it asked. "There was a tremor, which shifted the cases. The man was there. I saw an opportunity to fulfil my function. I lowered my ambient temperature to leave no heat signature, pushed the case, and left. There was nothing to lose. If the man had survived he would have been unaware there had been an attempt on his life."

"Nevertheless," said Darras, "you are to wait until you are offworld before continuing. And do not return to my shop again before you leave the planet."

"That would have been unlikely in the circumstances," replied the android, and Darras left it where it was.

Captain Picard had called the leaders of the groups to his temporary quarters.

"We will delay our departure until tomorrow to give you time to bury your fellow," he said at the end of their talk. "If we can assist with whatever rituals you decide on, please let us know."

Felix Lattif was buried, as that was the custom on the planet. It had not become crowded yet, so burial space had not become any sort of problem. All of the members of the two colonies could not attend, but a lot did, including Eric and Shauna. Celeste went with them. Serena thought it just as well that she experience the rituals of death, but hoped it would not intensify her own fascination with it. The ranking officers of the Enterprise also attended, and Celeste eyed Deanna Troi curiously. Deanna must be finding the outpourings of emotion overwhelming.

Deanna was, but she noted to herself the way Celeste herself had blanked out her emotion. Then she realised that Celeste had never even met Felix, so she was unlikely to be affected by his death. She raised her shields again, and tried to concentrate on the ceremony. Others seemed to be emotional holes, too. The archaeologist, and the flower biologist were simply observing what happened. She looked around for the other biologist, but could not see her.

In an ancient custom the survivors buried the dead and had a party. Zetopek Lar calmly observed the gaiety around him, and simply noted it as a student might note the behaviour of laboratory animals. He was interrupted by Brendan Bock.

"Read any good hieroglyphics lately, Zetopek?" the latter asked.

"You know my first name?" he said in surprise.

"We met on Ararara Tau," said Brendan, mildly peeved to have been forgotten. "You were investigating the ruins there."

"Oh, yes," he said. "The planet with the tongue-twister name. One only finds hieroglyphics on earth, technically,.."

"A flippancy," sighed Brendan. "I should have known better. You were always somewhat pedantic."

"Thank you," acknowledged Lar. "I pride myself on my accuracy. It is good of you to recognise me in that."

"So, you two have met?" asked Brildan Furr, joining them.

"Once, on Ararara Tau," said Brendan. "We were both on a settlement team. They eventually decided the place was not worth colonizing, but it was interesting."

"Yes," agreed Lar. "The reasons the previous civilisation had died off were likely to kill off any new ones as well."

They gossiped about the place for a while, until Brendan moved off.

"I must admit, I don't really remember him at all," admitted Lar, "but I have a poor memory for faces. But I can identify any old building I have ever seen!"

Brildan laughed briefly, thinking Lar had meant it as a joke, but broke it down to a polite chuckle when he realized he had not. He soon excused himself and turned to move on. Eric ran into him, and looked apologetic.

"Oh, sorry, sir," he said in mild dismay. "We shouldn't have been running!"

"That's all right, son," he said. "We'll be running into each other a lot for a while. You're all with the Tolians, I guess."

"Yes sir, except Celeste," said Eric. "She's from the Enterprise."

"How are you, Celeste?" he said. "We must get to know one another. We'll be shipmates for the next fortnight."

She looked at him appraisingly, and wondered what he intended, but she said, "I'll probably be at school most of the time, sir."

"Call me Brildan, kids," he said. "Or Mister Furr, if you want to be formal. We'll see each other on board, I'm sure."

"I don't think that's a good idea," she said firmly, and he looked taken aback, but then grinned.

"I didn't mean anything by it," he said with a smile. "I just enjoy the company of children. But I guess you could be right."

"That was a bit rude!" expostulated Shauna after they had left him. "I'm sure he didn't mean any harm."

"My mother says not to talk to strange men," said Celeste primly. "If he gets to know my mother, I'll talk to him."

"If you're trying to cook up a romance with your mother," said Shauna with a grin, "he's not much use. He'll be leaving with us in two weeks."

"Why would I.." began Celeste, but she stopped, thoughtfully. It wouldn't do any harm to try to fix Serena up with a beau. Speaking of whom...

"Time to go home, honey," said Serena, appearing from the crowd. "Have you got your bear?"

"I put it in the luggage on the shuttle," said Celeste. "It's on the Enterprise already, I guess."

"I see the shop is closed already," said Serena.

"What shop?" asked Celeste.

"The one where you bought the bear," said Serena. "He must have decided there was no more business to be got from the Enterprise, so he's moved on."

"He didn't sell it to me," Celeste said. "He gave it to me."

"Oh!" said Serena. If the shop had still been open she would have gone and made enquiries, but they were almost back on board, so she did not pursue it. She might have found Darras hard to find. He was already ready to beam offworld, drumming up some business for his next creation.

The accident had thrown off the schedule, and things were slightly rearranged. When the group arrived at the shuttle stop, one of the ensigns was waiting to divert them. The alterations to the schedule meant that they would be beaming aboard, instead of flying up.

Celeste immediately turned to her mother in dismay.

"Mummy, I don't want to be transported like that!" she said. "You know I don't like them!"

"They're quite safe, dear," said Serena with a sigh. "Safer than shuttles, even."

"But in a shuttle you just go all the way, and you're yourself," said Celeste desperately. "I don't want to be dissembled."

"I think the word you want is disassembled, dear," replied Serena. "The best word is discorporated. But I'll be with you, don't worry."

Mothers! thought Celeste. Her daughter is in fear of her life, and she teaches her grammar! But she had no way to protest further, and it would only make herself the center of attention to create a scene, and she had no desire for that, so she gave way with ill grace.

Zetopek Lar, on the other hand, was showing no disinclination from creating a scene. He was shouting.

"I will not go on one of those infernal machines! How can my soul stay with me? I will wait for a shuttle! I do not want my atoms scattered throughout creation! I will stick with the atoms I have, thank you!"

Brendan Bock sympathized with him.

"It's Ok," he said. "If you really feel that bad, I'll stay with you. There's one more shuttle this afternoon. We can stuff ourselves on it. It'll be a bit crowded, but it won't be that long."

Lar calmed down, and the ensign reluctantly agreed, after confirming the request with the Enterprise. Celeste wondered if she should ask to go with them, but knew Serena would certainly say no. Mothers are a real nuisance sometimes, she thought.

They were to be transported from proper transporter tubes, and she relaxed a little. The prospect of being picked up at random, so to speak, from the landscape had troubled her. Some machine had to identify, somehow, which set of atoms to pick up, and it might miss some of her! This way, at least all of her should go! She felt she might be due for a short life, but a more romantic termination would be preferable than to be split asunder by a computer misreading! She realized she knew very little about transporters, and resolved to find out more.

The transporter terminal was a large area which could handle big crowds, and at one end were a small number of platforms with circular inserts. All of the others seemed unconcerned by the mode of travel, and were climbing on and disappearing in groups of eight. Celeste and Serena eventually climbed on in their turn, and Celeste found, to her internal amusement, the phrase, "A short life but merry," floating about in her mind. She must have heard someone say it.

There was a moment of what Serena had called 'discorporation', and she found herself on an identical platform, but in a much smaller room. She looked around at the operators, but they were unemotional, bored by the simplicity of their tasks. It was all routine to them, and she thought, "Worried over nothing, after all!"

Serena took her hand, and she did not pull away, for once. Serena noticed, and a thrill of pleasure went through her. She took a bit more pleasure in holding on to Celeste's hand a bit longer than necessary, and felt a closeness she had not felt in some time.

"So, how was it, worry-wart?" she said.

"It was a buzz!" exclaimed Celeste. "It's the only way to go!"

Lar and Bock came up with the shuttle later in the day. Lar seemed nervous, and Brendan calmed his fears, at the same time somewhat amused. While they were waiting, Illana passed by.

"Are you two part of the cargo now?" she asked in amusement. "I know we're not important, but...!"

"Zetopek doesn't like transporters," said Brendan. "We're taking the shuttle instead."

"Are there any seats?" asked Illana coolly. "I wouldn't want to stand for a sub-orbital trip. It would be worse than a bus, and not even any straps to hang on to."

"What's a bus?" asked Brendan in puzzlement.

"A primitive people-mover," replied Lar. Now that they were to travel by shuttle, he was calmer. "They have room for passengers to stand as well as sit."

"That's very well-informed of you," said Illana with respect.

"I am a historian," he said with pride.

"Any way, there are a few seats still," said Brendan. "It's a bit of a struggle to get in them with all the cargo packed in, but we'll manage."

"I might join you, if there's room," she said thoughtfully.

"What on earth for?" asked Brendan, then hurriedly withdrew the question. Maybe she wanted to be with him! That icy shield might hide a secret longing! "You're welcome of course," he added quickly.

"I like roughing it," she said, "and I prefer to avoid crowds."

Illana informed the supervisor of her decision, and he crossed her off his list to be beamed up. She sat with them as the door closed. If Brendan had been hoping for some revelation, or obvious thawing, he was disappointed. As they took off and soared towards the Enterprise, she maintained a very reserved demeanour. When they arrived she departed with a polite word.

The Enterprise's clocks had been adjusted to local time, as the stay was so long, otherwise there would have been a shipload of passengers with dislocated internal clocks, or jetlag, as it was first called. They were in different decks, and Bock made sure Lar was comfortable in his quarters before finding his own. He watched Lar key in his entry code, and move inside, then said his farewell.

In the small quarters allotted to him, Lar took a brief survey of the room, then, after assuring himself that his luggage had been correctly delivered, walked straight to the computer terminal and called up the research he had been working on earlier. He ignored the small meal that had been left for him.

Brendan Bock, meanwhile, walked through the corridors of his temporary new home, disdaining to use the turbolifts or other quick methods of transit. He wanted to get a feel for the place, perhaps a bit of exercise as well. Perhaps he was stiff after the shuttle trip, and needed to stretch. Whatever the cause, he covered a good bit of territory quickly. He walked around a few decks, and noted where he was and was not allowed to walk freely.

On the bridge, Jean-Luc Picard found himself glad to be back in the restrictive uniform and space of the captain again. This was home, and the landfalls might be fun, and a diversion, but they were just vacations, and now he was back in his office-home.

He took the Enterprise out of orbit himself, although it was unnecessary. Any of his immediate juniors could have done it. The death of Felix Lattif was a misfortune, and he had met the man long enough to have decided he liked him. In fact, the man might have been captain material himself, if he had not decided to become a pioneer. However, one man was never irreplaceable, and they would soon elect his successor. When they were on their way he stayed for some time in his command seat, enjoying the feeling of being in the right place again.

Commander Data obeyed the simple commands, and brought the Enterprise into its path for Regula IV. They moved to warp one.

Serena and Celeste unpacked their luggage, which was reasonably modest in size, and she and Celeste went down to the shuttle bay to fetch her Kritonian panda. It had been lying loose in the shuttle, probably too awkward a shape to be packed away. It had been sitting in an unused chair, and Celeste had greeted it with, "You can stop supervising everything now, Teddy."

"Teddy's not very original," said Serena, "but it'll do."

Serena was surprised at its size. It was almost a meter tall. She picked it up, and it was light enough for a young girl to play with. It looked heavier. She passed it to Celeste.

"It's a lovely doll," she said. "And he gave it to you?"

"I got the idea he was pretty rich," said Celeste. "I think he just does the shop like a hobby. The way he talked."

"Can you move its arms or anything?"

"Oh, it can move a bit. It's voice activated. Clap your hands, Teddy."

The two hands of the panda came together slowly, with a slight whirring sound.

"It's a bit noisy," thought Serena. "Perhaps it wasn't good enough to sell. But it's a beautiful gift for Celeste."

"It knows a whole lot of commands," said Celeste. "It's keyed to my voice. He did it in the shop. Would you like it keyed to your voice too?"

"No, but show me how, in case," said Serena, with interest.

Celeste told her the method, then played with it for a while. She started to set it walking back to the cabin, but it was too slow. She started carrying it, but Serena ended up carrying it most of the way. Back at the cabin, Celeste gave Teddy a few commands, then sat him down by her while she downloaded her diary into the main computer.

Security on the Enterprise was mostly a formality, and the various officers either patrolled set areas, or waited in their ready room for some alarm, drinking non-alcoholic beverages, reading or studying, or simply gossiping. However, the two new groups represented unknown quantities, so security was increased in their areas. It might be lowered again if no disturbances occurred, but probably not, since two weeks of extra duties was not an onerous load.

Serena apologised to Celeste for the extra hours she would be left alone, but surprisingly Celeste was unperturbed. She simply asked if she could go and play with her new friends. She left her new toy sitting in pride of place at her computer, and skipped off down the corridors.

The Tolians had a deck allotted to them, and were in comfortable quarters. Married couples and their families were up to four in a unit, and singles were in groups of two or three, depending upon the size of a room.

There was an atmosphere of gloom in the Tolian area, and Celeste was surprised to find herself feeling uncomfortable. She began in a quiet way to ask how the death of Felix affected them, and was upset when Shauna cried.

"I haven't had much to do with people dying," she said. "My daddy died when I was young, but that's all. Mummy cried a lot, but it was his job. It was always a chance he could die. I guess that's why I hate Starfleet."

"Felix was such a nice man," wept Shauna. "It's not fair that it should have been him. His wife is distraught."

"At least he didn't suffer," said Eric.

Celeste shifted unhappily, and changed the subject.

"Why are you going there?" she asked. "What's so good about Regulus IV?"

"Well, I guess we're going because our parents are taking us," said Eric. "They want to live somewhere where they are their own bosses, out in the open."

"It's supposed to be just perfect for humans," said Shauna, wiping away her tears. "The weather and the air are just right, and so is the gravity. Maybe they go together."

"But they won't be their own bosses," said Celeste with a frown. "There'll still be someone in charge."

"But they'll have their own farm, or business," said Shauna eagerly. "They just have to make it run properly, and nobody will bother them. We just have to make a town, so the scientists can come and explore the ruins."

Something of the same subject was being discussed in Captain Picard's ready room. Zetopek Lar had come calling.

"Good day, Captain," he said, peering around the doorway after it had opened. Picard looked questioningly at him, and repeated, "Come."

"Commander Riker said I might speak with you," he began. "I am Lar."

"Yes, of course," said Picard warmly. "I had hoped to catch up with you and Professor Gramm on Argonaut, but you only arrived at the last minute. A tragedy about the Professor."

"Indeed," said Lar. "I know something of your own work, Captain. I saw your report on Denexis in the Proceedings. Very thorough."

"Thank you," said Picard, a warm flush of pleasure suffusing his face. "I was very impressed with your writings on Deneb."

They gossiped animatedly for the best part of an hour, interrupted occasionally by some minor decision Picard had to make by intercom. Eventually Lar asked, "I would very much like to be able to study all the archaeological data in the Enterprise's computer files. Especially your own. Is it possible that I might be granted access?"

"I see no reason why not," said Picard with a smile. "I'll see that you get some access codes delivered."

Lar then departed with his usual distracted air.

Celeste walked alone along the corridors, taking in everything around her anew. She became aware that Mister Furr was hovering ahead of her. I wonder if he's waiting for me? she thought uneasily, and moved off in another direction. Better to avoid him, she thought. She sighed, and went off to have a look at the other lot of settlers.

The Ardurians had settled in similarly, but the atmosphere here was quite different. They had not known Felix, so there was not the same overlay of sadness. She was greeted by some of the children she had played with, and their parents. She gossiped happily with them.

The Ardurians were more like farmers than the Tolians had seemed. Perhaps it was because they were still behaving naturally, not bowed down by unexpected sorrow. She met Beryl and Belinda, two girls who showed her around.

The Ardurians generally found the accomodation luxurious. They had come from a rather primitive planet, and were used to a hard life. The children were treating the surroundings with glee, bouncing on the beds, generally doing minor damage, but still careful of such things as water, which was scarce on their planet. It was scarce on the Enterprise, too, but never wasted, as everything aboard was recycled.

Beryl introduced her around, and she met her parents, Jarran and Arandnia Dezic, and Belinda's father, Fillat Bleek. Jarran had the usual pointed beard, and was a rather stern and reserved man. His wife was also rather pinched, but they received Celeste with an old-fashioned courtesy. Fillat Bleek was a rather slow thinker, obviously going to be just a farmer, and not entirely comfortable on the starship. Belinda obviously managed to control him very effectively. Her mother had died years before, when she was very young. Celeste ran around with the children, bounced on beds with them, and startled them by doing a somersault from the bed to the floor.

"We have a gym on board," she told them. "You'll be doing somersaults by the time we get to Regula IV."

She took a few of the children to show them some of the recreational facilities, including the holodeck.

"You can only go in there with an adult," she told them. "I guess your parents wouldn't know how to work it, though."

"They know about them," said one of the boys defensively. "We just don't got any. Maybe one of the Enterprise people might take us in?"

"I don't know," said Celeste thoughtfully. "My mother is working mostly. Maybe Counselor Troi, if you ask her. She's nice."

Brendan Bock and Illana Borzovska, like Lar in the other camp, were each entitled to single rooms, because they were basically strangers, come in to give advice, but not part of the group. Brendan gathered his courage and dropped into Illana's room, and admired the amendments she had already made. The room already looked lived-in. She was in fact sharing, but her room-mate was not there yet. Space was at a premium, so she had decided it would be best to share. She preferred to live alone, but her room mate would be out most of the day, when she would want to spend time on the computer. It should be possible to seem to live normally, without letting her room mate see too much of her.

"Have you met the brains trust of the group yet?" he asked. "I didn't get a chance to speak to you much on Argonaut. We arrived a bit late in the piece."

"Yes," she said calmly. "But we should get to know each other well on Regulus. We'll be pretty much the experts on plant life there."

"How did you get to Argonaut?" he asked curiously. "There weren't many ships in orbit."

"I got there long ago," she said with a smile. "I took the opportunity to arrive early and have a long holiday in the jungle there. It has a very interesting biosphere."

"You studied its microorganisms?" he asked.

"No, not really," she laughed. By god, she really is perfect! he thought. "I just walked with a backpack. I really roughed it. I didn't even take a small replicator."

"Do they make small replicators?" he asked in surprise.

"A small joke," she said in amusement. "I know enough to live off a jungle, even here. I did take some rations, though, just in case. I can survive fairly well. I'm an Aquarian."

"Oh," he said in surprise. "I'm a Libran, but I don't take too much notice of astrology. It's not all that popular today."

"Nor do I. It's nonsense. I meant I'm from Aquarius. I was born there."

"Oh, were you," he said blandly, then decided to admit, "I have no idea where that is."

"It's a planet almost completely covered in water," she said. "We've developed underwater cities. I can live off algae if I have to. But I prefer a good steak."

He laughed, and they parted after determining to study the records of Regulus IV together. He mentioned that he himself was from Ardura, but had not lived there for a long time. When he had left, Illana sighed and went back to work on her computer. A nice man, and good-looking, but he would be repelled if he really knew her.

Serena enjoyed a few moments of peace while Celeste joined her friends, and decided to make a rare visit to Ten-Forward. As she walked in she realised that an older man had matched her step. Not all that much older, she thought, and not too bad looking, recognizing Brildan Furr. He eventually spoke.

"Good day, young woman, are you going for sustenance?"

"For a drink, yes," she answered doubtfully.

"Would you mind if I joined you," he asked. "If you're alone. I don't see anyone I know, and I hate to drink alone."

Serena was flattered, and agreed. They ordered drinks, and took them to a table.

"It's flattering to be picked out of a crowd," she said with a tinge of sarcasm, which he missed.

"It's not entirely random," he said with a smile. "Your beauty makes you stand out. I hope you don't mind my saying that?"

It doesn't make me stand out so much that you noticed me in my Security uniform, she thought with a smile, but she said, "What woman would mind you saying that?"

"You're Celeste's mother, aren't you? I'm Brildan Furr. With the Ardurians."

"How do you know Celeste?" she asked in surprise.

"She was playing with our children on Argonaut," he said. "A lovely child. I see where she gets it from."

Serena was amused at the clumsy attempt to ingratiate himself. She was aware that he would be leaving the ship in a couple of weeks, so there was no prospect of a romantic dalliance, but there was no need to be brutal.

"I'm Serena Moulton," she said. "I thought Celeste was playing with the Tolian children."

"I meant 'our' in the sense of the group. This idea of splitting us up in case we didn't get along is nonsense. But I suppose it doesn't matter. We will be separate on Regula, at least spatially. I have to admit I am a bit of a stranger to both sides. I am Ardurian, but I don't live there, and I only arrived on Argonaut the day they were leaving."

Did you, now? thought Serena curiously.

"Where is Celeste, by the way?" he continued.

"She's actually down in your area," Serena replied. "She's playing with the children again."

"I was hoping to say hello again, before we part company," he said, a bit diffidently. "For some reason I think she seems to be avoiding me. I don't know why. I'm worried I might have offended her somehow."

"Well, as you say, you won't be meeting again," said Serena, suspicion beginning to tinge her speech. He was showing more interest in Celeste than in her.

He realised he might have said too much, and hastily added, "Of course. I was just curious. But I would certainly like to speak with you again sometime soon. Just a bit of social intercourse, the pleasure of having dinner with a beautiful woman, perhaps?"

"Well, perhaps," she said, mollified, but still suspicious. "We'll have to arrange it later."

"I'm sure we'll run into each other from time to time," he said. "The ship is not that big."

"You'll usually see me in a Security uniform," she said. "I get all over the ship."

No harm in warning him that it might not be politic to mix too much with her daughter.

They parted politely after she had allowed him to buy her another drink, and she sat musing as Andrew Black pulled up a chair and joined her.

"Is that my competition?" he asked. "A man needs to know what he's up against."

"I'm not aware of any contest," she said with her eyes wide open in mock surprise. "Mr Furr has just asked me to dinner, that's all."

"I keep asking you to dinner, without much luck," he protested.

"You took me out to dinner on Argonaut," she said mildly.

"I meant just the two of us," he said.

"You'll just have to get used to not having any more luck," she smiled. "The pleasure of my company at work will have to do you."

Andrew grinned, and said, "You can't blame a man for asking."

"I might blame myself if I said 'yes' to anything," she responded tartly.

When he had gone, Guinan moved silently over, and asked, "Is he troubling you?"

Serena looked up in surprise, but smiled. "No, thank you though. Luckily he does take 'no' for an answer."

"But he keeps harassing you."

"I don't mind. I don't think he knows how to talk to a woman without propositioning her. He may be getting some 'luck' elsewhere, but he's not with me. But he doesn't press too hard. He's not too bad. He just lacks all the social graces."

Guinan smiled. "I guess I'll have to take him in hand and teach him gentleness and compassion."

"Well, get him to wear a name-tag afterwards," grinned Serena, " so I'll still recognise him!"

In the meantime, Celeste had returned to her room. She turned on the computer, and began by opening up her diary. Soon a highly colored version of the day's events was typed in and saved. She began to play around on the computer, with the panda sitting on its own chair beside her, its eyes seeming to take everything in.

The Enterprise flew silently on.

 

On to chapter 4, or back.