Chapter 2

The Journey

Bartok manipulated the controls that would bring his friend and the others aboard the Gorgon. Normally used for scientific research, the Gorgon was probably on its most important mission of its career, ferrying the answer to Betaís pandemic. The four columns of light coalesced into the familiar figures of Sher-Kan and Emily. Beside them appeared a younger couple, a human female and a shorter, stockier version of Sher-Kan. As Bartok studied the younger man he commented to his friend.

"Heís powerfully built, this son of yours, and he wears your handsome face and exotic color, heíll be surrounded by females fawning all over him."

Sher-Kan smiled at his friend; trust him to find humor in any situation. "He is already bonded my friend, as you can see, and he will not be in the public eye, at least not until the emergency is over."

Catherine and Vincent listened to the exchange not understanding a word of it; all they heard was a series of growls. Sher-Kan stepped down off the transporter platform and turned to help Emily down.

"Donít worry," she told the younger couple, as she took Sher-Kanís hand. "They were just commenting on Vincentís fine physique."

Catherine was surprised, "You understood all that? Youíve only lived with them for a few months!"

Sher-Kan had gone over to the console and come back to them, handing each what looked to be a small, beige button.

"These are universal translators, you place it in your ear and then anything that is said to you will be instantly translated into Earth English."

They stared at the tiny things in wonder then watched as Emily swept the hair back from her ear to show them the one she was wearing.

"Thatís how I knew what they were saying, although I have picked up some of their language, Iím far from proficient in it."

Sher-Kan handed Catherine down from the platform with Vincent following; they inserted the translators and followed Sher-Kan to the console.

"Bartok, may I present my son, Vincent and his bond-mate, Catherine."

Emily couldnít help but note the pride in Sher-Kanís voice as he introduced Vincent. Her heart swelled with love for him, for them both.

Bartok stepped from behind the console and placed a closed fist to his opposite shoulder, bowing slightly he greeted them.

"Welcome aboard the Gorgon, Vincent son of Sher-Kan and Catherine bond-mate to Vincent."

Catherine copied the gesture and thanked him, Vincent followed suit studying the being before him. This by all accounts was a typical Betazed, he was a match for Sher-Kan in size, being tall and lanky, but his coloring went from a light beige to a dark brown, to an almost black. He wore the same kind of clothing as his friend, a tunic length open vest with flared trousers and no shoes.

"Come, let us go to the bridge where you can see a view of Earth few humans ever have the opportunity to see." Bartok led the way through double doors that opened automatically as he approached them. He took them through a narrow corridor coming to a single door that slid open before him. They entered a room full of consoles with flashing lights. Bartok took a seat at one of them and touching some of the controls told them to look at the view port in front of him. As he maneuvered the ship around, the Earth slowly came into view. It blazed before them blue, white, green and brown, it was a breathtaking sight and one they would remember for the rest of their lives. Catherine reached for Vincentís hand, until this moment it really hadnít sunk in that they were actually leaving Earth. Vincent squeezed it reassuringly; he too was struck by the magnitude of what they were doing.

As Bartok reoriented the ship to leave the system the Earth fell from the port and the moon took its place. They were so close to it that they could see every crater and mountain and then it too left the screen. Under impulse power Bartok guided the ship past all the planets that were inline with his course giving them the opportunity to see each one. Once past the last he moved the ship into warp eight, the most the research vessel was capable of. There wasnít much to see when in warp so Emily took the couple to the cabin they would be using while aboard.

Remembering her own awkwardness with the sanitation facilities she showed them the head explaining that any waste matter that entered it was immediately disintegrated. The sink and shower didnít dispense water; they were both sonic beams cleansing whatever was put under them. Catherine sighed in dismay, how was she going to survive without a hot shower?

Emily winked at her, "Donít worry Betazeds love water, there are pools and showers all over the house and grounds. On the ships they have to be very concerned with space and conservation so youíll only have to use the sonics while youíre aboard."

Then Emily explained that the ship was completely interactive, if they wanted to know where anyone was or how to get to somewhere they just had to say: "Gorgon question," the ship answered her with, "acknowledged."

"Where is Sher-Kan?" She asked it.

"In the galley," came the reply.

She smiled at their startled faces, "show us the way to the galley."

The door to the cabin whooshed open and a panel in the wall glowed. As they moved out into the corridor a panel to the left of the first one glowed. They followed glowing panels until another door whooshed open. Entering this room they found Sher-Kan and Bartok ferrying food from an opening in the wall to a table.

"Good!" Sher-Kan gestured for them to sit, "youíre just in time for fifth meal."

Catherine looked at the collection of food on the table; it appeared to be several kinds of cheese with crackers and flat bread. Suddenly she realized she and Vincent hadnít had time to eat dinner and she was famished. Vincent too was very hungry, but hesitated at the unfamiliar fare in front of him.

Seeing the couple hesitate Sher-Kan explained that all the food was from Earth and handed them each a utensil that look like a cross between a spoon and a fork and showed them how to scoop up the soft cheese and place it on a cracker, popping it into his mouth with a smile. He followed that with a beverage that he explained was made from various fruits of Earth origin.

It wasnít long before everything on the table was gone. Bartok went back to the wall, he spoke to it and a moment later a door opened and he pulled out what looked to be a tray of pastries. He placed them on the table and as he sat he popped what looked like a cream puff into his mouth. He closed his eyes while he chewed and had such a look of ecstasy that Catherine was caught staring at him when his eyes opened. "I love those things," he mumbled sheepishly around a mouthful. "They are the best thing we ever brought back with us, itís Emilyís recipe actually."

She picked one up and nibbled on it delicately, no doubt about it a cream puff. She finished it off licking the cream that had spilled out onto her fingers. It was delicious.

Vincent had taken a look at their surroundings and noted that there was no stove; sink or refrigerator in sight although his mother had said this was the galley.

"Are all the appliances behind the walls?" he asked.

Sher-Kan seemed confused by the question, but Emily knew what he was referring to.

"No son, all the food comes from that opening in the wall, itís called a replicator. Donít ask me how it works because I havenít the faintest idea."

Sher-Kan smiled and patted her hand, turning to his son he explained. "Weíve scanned a sample of the foods youíve just eaten into the memory of the computer, giving it a pattern so that it can create a duplicate. The computer then uses subatomic particles to form the molecules required and arranges them in the pattern of the food, or any other item for that matter, that is requested. Itís based on transporter technology and saves a great deal of storage space."

Emily smiled at Vincentís shell-shocked expression. "He explained it the same way to me and I still donít understand it either so donít worry about it. All you have to know is that it works and you wonít starve."

Vincent recalled something Sher-Kan had said early, "You called this fifth meal does that mean you eat five times a day?"

Emily started laughing and Sher-Kan shot her a look of consternation. "Your mother seems to think it quite funny; she says we are on a hobbit schedule, whatever that means."

Now it was Vincentís turn to explain, "itís a fictional story about a race of beings that are not more than four feet tall, have furry feet, live underground and eat many times a day."

"Itís one of the books I brought with me," Catherine added, "you can read it if you like."

Sher-Kan mused, "perhaps I should, it seems to me that your explanation lacks what your mother finds so humorous in our eating habits."

Catherine turned to Emily, "So is it true they eat five times a day?"

"Actually itís seven, they start out in the morning with fruit; two hours later itís some kind of cereal or oatmeal, two hours after that a salad of greens, another two hours and itís a thick soup or vegetable stew and two hours later usually cheese and bread. The other two meals are any combination they feel like eating. It just goes on all day and thatís how they basically tell time, they wouldnít say Iíll meet you at 10:00, theyíd say Iíll meet you at second meal."

She smiled, glancing at the two Betazeds who found nothing at all amusing about the way they ate.

"When Sher-Kan first told me about it I immediately thought of Bilbo Baggins and all the hobbits in Hobbiton. But actually when you think about it, it is a good way to eat. The meals are never too large where you feel like you want to sleep afterwards and theyíre spaced out just right so that you never feel hungry. It took awhile to get used to, but I actually prefer it now to the way I used to eat."

"It doesnít sound like you eat any meat?" Vincent directed the question to the two Betazeds.

"No weíre vegetarians, our race gave up that barbaric food source years ago, we get all the nutrition we need with the diet we have now."

Catherine thought now would be a good time to ask what would happen when they reached Beta, she wanted to know what to expect.

"We wonít land the ship since there is a quarantine and we donít want anyone knowing about Vincent so weíll do a direct beam-in into the healers facility."

"But why Sher-Kan? Wouldnít it boost moral to know that there is a cure?"

Vincent answered her shaking his head, "These are desperate people Catherine, they could do desperate things. If they knew I carried the cure I could be kidnapped and killed for only the amount of blood I carry in my system now. Desperate people donít think they just act for the moment."

Catherine nodding thoughtfully thinking how people would kill for food in times of famine.

Sher-Kan continued, "At the facility the healers will evaluate Vincentís condition, take an amount of blood and then augment his healers abilities with their own. We decided not to do a point to point beaming incase of being traced so weíll beam back to the ship and from there Bartok will beam us to my estate."

Catherine was beginning to realize just how serious they were about security, she had just been concerned with Vincentís health, now it seemed he could come to harm at the hands of the very people he was trying to save.

Vincent felt the apprehension rise in her and put his arm around her shoulder pulling her into his side. He rested his chin on her head murmuring softly, "itíll be all right Catherine they are taking every precaution."

She clamped down on her fear, but when she looked at Emily and caught the look of trepidation in her eyes she knew she wasnít alone. She resolved right there and then to find out as much as possible about the security systems and weapons available. She might be from a technologically backward world, but she had brains and good sense and she was going to put them to use to protect her mate. To that end she asked Sher-Kan what systems, if any, he had in place on his estate.

He ordered the computer to display his home on a view screen that popped up out of the middle of the table they were sitting around. They rest of the evening was spent showing them the house and grounds with particular emphasis on ways in and out, on force fields and shields and various other systems that could be employed to protect Vincent. As they went to bed that night their heads were spinning with the advanced technology they would have to become familiar with so as not to be too dependent on others for their safety.

***

The morning brought them head to head with some of that technology as they tried the sonic shower. They had spent a restless evening in a bed that was narrower than their king size one and even though Vincent usually slept spooned around Catherineís slight form he felt like his backside had been hanging off the bed most of the time. Catherine too felt un-rested, the mattress was much firmer than she was accustomed to and she couldnít find a comfortable position. She was looking forward to a nice hot shower when she realized there was no water. She groaned as she stared at the shower cubicle trying to remember how to turn it on, she looked helplessly at Vincent who shrugged his shoulders and finally spoke to the ship.

"Gorgon, question."

"Acknowledge," the ship replied. Things went much smoother after that; if they had any trouble with anything they would just query the ship.

They met the others for first meal in the galley and they breakfasted on an array of fruits, some recognizable some not, but all were very palatable. When they had eaten their fill they all went up to the bridge to experience the trip through the wormhole, which they were approaching rapidly. The trip through was instantaneous and they found themselves deposited into another galaxy far removed from their own. Vincent stared at the stars that he would never had known had it not been for this journey; marveling that he was one of the very few ĎEarthersí that ever would. He wished, not for the first time, that this were a pleasure trip and not one of such dire need.

It would be a few hours yet, or in Beta terms, not till after third meal, that they would go into orbit around Beta. Catherine and Vincent busied themselves with looking at different images the computer provided of Beta. It was smaller than Earth and had a lighter gravity than what they were accustomed to. Emily had commented that when she first arrived on Beta she had felt as light as a feather, but soon got used to it. In contrast, the short time she had just spent on Earth she had felt like she had been moving through quicksand.

The colors of that world fascinated them; the sun, which they called Ra, was a red giant and loomed large in a lavender and orchid sky. The ground, the actual dirt of Beta, was shades of orange and beige with peach grass. The bodies of water, which were numerous, were of a purple hue, very dark almost black in the oceans and lighter in the lakes and streams.

The night sky showed two moons, the larger one called Rama, held all sorts of research facilities. The smaller moon, called Roo, contained manufacturing plants that were mostly automatic and made everything from the funny utensils they had used in the galley to transporters.

The population was sparse, only about eight million in all, a small number compared to Earths hundreds of billions. And their homes, or estates, were sprawling affairs always maintaining the integrity of the natural landscape, sometimes blending in so well that they were hard to see and no two were alike.

Transportation was point-to-point beaming or flitters, sort of air-born cars

Catherine thought of them. They came in all sizes from one person to large cargo carriers.

By the time second meal rolled around Catherine and Vincent were learning the names of the major landmasses and oceans. Catherine found it hard to mimic Sher-Kan and Bartok in the pronunciation of the Betan words. Most of the sounds were growls emanating from deep in the throat and rolling out. Vincent, on the other hand, found it quite easy; absorbing the language like a sponge.

That morning the five spent together was pleasant and it kept their minds from the time that was fast approaching when the disaster occurring on Beta would consume their every waking hour.

All too soon the ship announced its imminent approach to Beta. They all went to the bridge to watch their approach seeing the lavender and peach marble grow larger in the view screen. They listened as Bartok opened a hailing frequency to request permission to establish an orbit. Before he could do so, however, a harried voice reached them.

"Unidentified vessel this is Beta Space Central, we are currently in emergency quarantine mode do not, repeat, do not approach any closer."

"Space Central this is the Gorgon returning from a special assignment on the High Councilorís orders."

"Gorgon, please hold for a special tight beam security communication."

There was a pause and then the front screen lit up showing an older Betazed colored like a calico.

"Gorgon, youíve returned earlier than I expected, I hope this does not mean that your mission was a failure."

"No High Councilor, on the contrary, we were successful." Bartok told him enthusiastically.

"Sher-Kan, your son has accompanied you?"

Sher-Kan stepped into view of the screen. "Yes High Councilor, when told of our plight his response was immediate, he will do everything he can to assist us." The pride in his voice was unmistakable.

"I would speak to your son, Sher-Kan."

Sher-Kan motioned for Vincent to step up beside him. "High Councilor Kristr may I present my son, Vincent of Earth."

Vincent held his closed fist to his opposite shoulder as he had seen Bartok do and dipped his head in a slight bow.

Kristrís eyes widened slightly at this greeting and returned the gesture.

"Vincent, I bid you welcome, and thank you for your assistance. I would wish that your first visit here would have been under more favorable circumstances, but that is not to be. We will endeavor to make your stay as comfortable and safe as possible."

With that Vincent was dismissed and the councilor turned his attention back to Bartok.

"I am sending you several beam in coordinates, after transporting them to the first location I want you to move to the other sets and do mock beam ins as an added security measure."

After Bartok acknowledged the instructions, Kristr broke the connection.

Bartok moved the ship to the coordinates of the first location and everyone made their way to the transporter room. As he beamed them down he shook his head, poor Vincent would now be in the hands of the healers and just like himself they loved examining a new specimen. Vincent would be subjected to every kind of test they could think of the only thing in his favor was time; they were hard pressed to begin curing the sick.