Ultimately, Elijah Katanga had not needed to hijack a shuttle and instead had managed to wear down any resistance simply by his sheer persistence and tenacity, tricks he was well versed in thanks to his long and established career in the medical field and working with foreign government officials who had, more often than not, been unenthusiastic about the notion of allowing alien medical personnel to get involved in internal health crises.
Elijah had not been above sending one communiqué after the next to anyone and everyone who could possibly speed up the process of allowing him access to the planet below. He had started with the captain, purposefully going around Star, he had practically spammed Owens’ inbox with statistical reports which clearly demonstrated the death toll within an infected population, correlated directly with the time of intervention by knowledgeable doctors and researchers.
Of course, fully cognizant that the captain himself was not in a position to make a decision on this himself, he had started to send on those same reports, including case studies of various epidemics which had very nearly wiped out entire populations to Yorlo’s ship which had remained in close proximity to Eagleever since his visit.
He had been undeterred when the Krellonian official had kindly asked that he ceased the constant stream of data he was transmitting. Instead, he had managed, with a little help from DeMara Deen, to get around the communications blackout on the surface and found comm. addresses for the local government offices, the health department and even the personal address of Chief Administrator Chella herself who had sent back more than a few biting replies, not at all appreciating Elijah's initiative.
But eight hours after Yorlo's first visit and the beginning of his relentless campaign, a somewhat exasperated Captain Owens had informed Elijah that Yorlo had managed to obtain permission for Elijah and a small away team to beam directly into one of Piqus' medical facilities. Elijah, of course, had already been fully prepared once the word had finally come through. He had identified which members of his team he wanted to come along, had already arranged all the equipment and medication that he thought would be required and was the first man in the transporter room, fully decked out in a biological isolation suit, ready to beam to the planet.
Star joined him and the medical team with Nora Laas just a few moments later, both dressed in the same containment outfits. "Alright, here are the ground rules we've been given and we've been told to strictly observe at all times," said Star, addressing the away team of five. "We are beaming directly into one of Piqus' main medical facilities which, as far as we are told, currently houses a large number of infected patients. We will arrive unarmed and after beam-in we will be scanned by local security. We will then be escorted to a single wing of the hospital where we will have one standard hour to study a small number of patients. After the hour has expired we are expected to leave the planet. Everybody clear on this?" While she spoke she kept her eyes solely on Elijah.
“Let’s just get down there, shall we?” he said impatiently.
“Yes, let’s go,” she said but quickly stepped up to him and holding on to his arm before he could go and join the others on the transporter platform. “We’ll have another conversation about your unsanctioned information campaign later.”
He regarded her with a scowl. “Got us results, didn’t it?”
“Funny, here I thought you didn’t prescribe to the theory of the end justifying the means.”
“I subscribe to any theory that allows me to save lives while keeping the means justifiable,” he shot back.
“Right,” she nodded. “And you get to decide if they are?”
He freed his arm. “We’re wasting time,” he said and stepped up onto the platform.
Moments later the away team materialized in the medical facility. Elijah immediately identified the white, round and mostly featureless room as some sort of quarantine chamber. It was barely large enough to accommodate the entire team and the bright light blinded him for a moment.
Star took a step forward. “Hello? My name is Commander Star from the starship Eagle. We’ve—“
“Stay still,”the booming voice interrupted her. It was so loud and unexpected, it caused Elijah to reach for his head as he felt the sound waves penetrating his skull.
“Whatever happened to good old-fashioned hospitality?” Nora said.
“Let’s just do as they say,” said Elijah. “I’m sure this is nothing more than a safety precaution.”
A buzzing sound filled the air and moments later various bright blue light beams began to sweep across the small chamber and over their bodies.
“What the Prophets?” said Nora.
“Medical scans. Standard procedure,” Elijah said.
“A heads-up would have been nice,” said the Bajoran.
The buzzing stopped as quickly as it had begun, as did the scans. The entire forward section of the room, which turned out to be a curved door, started to slide sideways to reveal the room beyond. Once it was fully open, Elijah could spot six figures in green isolation suit which were slightly bulkier than the Starfleet-issue version they were wearing. Four of the figures had sidearms strapped to their chest.
“You may step out now,”the voice said, this time at a much more reasonable volume.
Star led the way but Elijah was only a step behind her.
The lead figure waiting for them, a woman of average height and middle age welcomed them. “I am Chief Administrator Chella. Welcome to Piqus.” She sounded anything but welcoming.
“Thank you for having us, Chief Administrator,” Star said. “This is Doctor Elijah Katanga, our chief medical officer. Lieutenant Nora Laas, security chief, and Doctors Barry Nelson and L’Nel.”
Chella considered Elijah first and foremost. “Doctor Katanga. I have heard quite a bit about you. Most of it from you directly. And quite frankly much more than I would have liked. Before you leave you will have to share with us how you managed to circumvent the communications blackout.”
“I have to admit that those things are not within my expertise. Our time would probably be served much better if you could show us to your patients who have contracted the disease.”
Chella kept her displeased gaze on him a while longer. It bothered him very little. He had long since gotten used to the fact that people didn’t like him. He had been given that very same look by Star just moments earlier and as far as he was concerned it was of little consequence what others thought about him as long as he got to do his job.
“Shall we?” he said with a forced smile on his lips.
“We’ll head directly to our main ward where we keep the worst cases. Don’t deviate from our directions and do not slow down or loiter until we reach our destination,” she said sharply and then turned towards the exit of the preparation chamber.
Following her and her guards, the team stepped into a jade colored corridor and the very first thing Elijah noticed were the many patients which were littering the walls of the corridor. Most of them were placed on mobile hospital beds but quite a few were on stretchers on the floor. His first instinct was to examine these people more closely and get some readings but the security guards behind him wouldn’t let him slow down.
A purely visual examination told him that the majority of these patients were likely at an early stage of this illness. All were displaying clear symptoms of immune system deficiencies, including low energy, clammy and pale-looking skin and signs of mild respiratory distress, like coughing and difficulty breathing.
The fact that these patients had been placed in the corridor, further told him that the medical facilities on this planet had already exceeded their capacity. This epidemic was getting out of control.
“These patients right here. What stage are they?”
“We call this stage two,” said the man by Chella’s side. “Patients at this stage are no longer ambulatory and need to be hospitalized. Patients lose consciousness around stage four and become acutely terminal at stage five.”
“This is Urnea Turee,” said Chella, indicating to the man who had spoken. “He is the head of our health department. We have over two hundred highly trained physicians and researchers here on Piqus. To be honest, if they are unable to determine the nature of this disease, I don’t really see what you Starfleet types can do. I don’t believe for even a moment that the Federation has some sort of magical medical answer to the ills of the galaxy.”
“Perhaps not,” Star said. “But we might offer a new perspective. The Federation has accumulated medical knowledge from hundreds of worlds over many centuries. And we are more than happy to share any such knowledge that might assist you in treating this outbreak.”
Chella was not impressed. “You’ll find Krellonian physiology quite unique to what you are used to. I would be surprised if you have come across anything that could be useful to us,” she said without slowing her stride.
They stepped into a large, open plan treatment room which was packed with occupied beds, allowing very little room for much else. It was in Elijah’s professional opinion, a terribly ineffective way to treat and examine patients with very little consideration given to medical staff and equipment. This, to him, looked more like a place for people to die rather than trying to save their lives.
Chella and her people finally slowed down, if for no other reason than that there was not enough space in the room to move quickly or at anything other than single file.
“These patients are mostly stage four and five,” said Turee who handed Elijah a medical padd containing information on one of the patients they had stepped up on, an unconscious young boy.
He reviewed the data and realized that this particular patient had apparently contracted the illness just six days earlier. He had moved through the stages of the disease surprisingly quickly, reaching stage three in just four days. According to the chart, he had entered the final stage a day earlier and had been given another two to three days at the most. The patient was only nine years old.
“Is this rapid deterioration consistent?” Elijah asked as he kept reading the patient’s file.
Turee nodded. “Unfortunately, it isn’t uncommon. Children and the elderly are particularly susceptible. Patients normally expire between seven and twenty days after entering stage one and exhibiting early symptoms.”
“I would be interested to see the full work-up of the RNA decay for this patient and compare this with the breakdown rate for patients at all stages.”
Turee looked at Chella for a moment before glancing back at Elijah.
“Is there a problem with that?” he asked.
The administrator answered the question. “We don’t have full cellular work-ups of all patients,” she said, sounding somewhat defensive.
“What? Why not?”
“Look around you, Doctor,” Chella said, letting her anger peak through now. “We have thousands of patients all across the planet. We can’t possibly have work-ups for every single case.”
“We do have general samples for various patients at different stages,” said Turee. “There are at least thirty samples available to review if you wish.”
But Elijah quickly shook his head. “That’s not enough. Not for thousands of patients with such a high infection rate. I don’t care if you are human, Krellonian or a Horta. Individuals do not all behave in the same manner. What might work for one patient is not guaranteed to work on another. We need much more data if we want any hope of getting to the bottom of this.”
Chella crossed her arms in front of her chest. “We don’t have the manpower or equipment for what you are suggesting.”
“That’s why we’re here,” said Star, quickly seeing her way in. “We are at your disposal.”
“And what exactly can the five of you do in one hour?” asked the administrator, clearly unexcited by Star’s offer.
“In one hour? Down here?” Elijah said. “Next to nothing. But we have a fully prepped medical facility set up on Eaglewith enough capacity for at least two hundred patients and a staff of nearly as many medical personnel and researchers to work on live tissue and blood samples around the clock. All you have to do is give the word and we can get started.”
It was Star who spoke up before the Krellonian could. “Doctor, I think perhaps we are getting a little ahead of ourselves here. We don’t even know yet what we are dealing with. There is a reason the planet is under a quarantine.”
Elijah didn't appreciate Star's overly cautious attitude. She may have been Dezwin Star once, a brilliant physician in his time, but clearly, her medical instincts had been dulled ever since her symbiont had moved into a new host body. Or even worse, her priorities had shifted.
“There is no way I will authorize Krellonian citizens under my protection to be transported onto a Starfleet vessel to be subjugated to the Creator knows what tests and probes,” Chella said. “Bad enough that I have to content with one looming in orbit above my world.”
“Fine. There is no reason we cannot set up on the surface instead. Wouldn’t be the first time. It will take a little longer but I have everything already prepared. We can have a field hospital in place within a solar day.”
Chella shook her head. “No. I was willing to allow for you to come down here and see what we are dealing with and share any data on this illness we have learned so far. But I will not allow Starfleet to set up any kind of facility on the surface, no matter how temporary.”
“Chief Administrator,” Star said, turning to Chella. “We have come here to help you in any way we can. To try and find a way to contain this epidemic and keep it from spreading and possibly devastated your entire world. But we can’t do this unless you let us.”
Chella stuck to her guns and Elijah had already stopped listening to the back and forth between the two women. Instead, he had stepped closer to the dying boy, looking over his thin and frail body, his now hairless head, the red rashes which had formed on his skin and the shallow, uneasy breathing as he slept. He consulted the data chart again and after a moment found a way to compare his stats with those of other patients.
Nora noticed his preoccupation. “What are you thinking, Doctor?”
“I think that we can help this boy.”
The Bajoran looked back towards Star and Chella who were still arguing before she considered him again. "Doesn't look like they really want our help on this."
He looked up then. “There comes a time you just have to take the initiative.”
“What does that mean?”
“A tactical move, Lieutenant. I’m sure you are quite familiar with the concept in your line of work. It’s not all that different in what I do.”
The security officer still seemed befuddled.
“It’s time for a calculated risk and to force a decision,” he said.
She quickly shook her head. “Not sure that’s a good idea.”
“As long as the means are justified,” he said and reached for the seal of his suit which kept his helmet in place.”
“Doctor, no,” but Nora’s warning came too late and she was not quick enough to reach him in time to stop him from opening the seal and pulling off the top part of his suit.
Star whirled around to look at him with total astonishment, along with the rest of the away team and the Krellonian delegation.
“Gods, Eli. What have you done?”
She couldn't quite remember ever having seen him quite this angry before. Michael Owens was one of the most even-tempered people she had ever known which one couldn't take for granted in a profession that tended to attract ego and ambition. At this present moment, however, his eyes looked as if they were on fire, even as they stared back at them via just one half of a computer monitor inside a small administrative office at the medical facility on Piqus.
Tazla Star knew exactly how he felt. After all, she was experiencing very similar feelings at present, still so upset over what had transpired a short while earlier, she didn’t trust herself to speak and was thankful that the captain had started out first, speaking up before she, or Yorlo, who took up the other half of the same screen and looked just as exasperated, had the chance. “Doctor, I have to say, I am extremely disappointed by your lack of judgment in this matter. Not only have you violated direct orders, you have put yourself and possibly the entire away team at risk by your actions.”
Katanga, who had since entirely removed his isolation suit, took the admonishment in stride, his arms stubbornly folded in front of his chest as if he was unwilling to accept that he had done anything wrong at all. “The only person I have put at risk is myself.”
“I disagree, but that will have to be a conversation for another time,”said Owens via the comm. channel, addressing him and the other two people with him in the office, Tazla Star and Chief Administrator Chella, as well as Councilman Yorlo who had joined this conference call from his ship. “We need to focus on our next steps.”
Chella shook her head. “Nothing has changed as far as I am concerned. The fact that one of your officers has purposefully exposed himself to this epidemic is not relevant to our previous arrangement. Which, in case you have forgotten, is that you retrieve your team after one hour. That hour expired ten minutes ago.”
“I am not comfortable with allowing a potentially infected person to leave the surface and risk further contamination,”said Yorlo.
“They brought this on themselves,” Chella said. “And the only contamination at risk here is to Starfleet. There is no reason for their vessel to have any further interaction with Krellonians after they have left orbit and returned to their space. Besides,” she added and looked at Katanga. “Did you not greatly espouse the quarantine procedures of your own facilities? Return to your ship and leave us be. If you wish to study this epidemic further, you may do so on yourself.”
Katanga met Chella's infuriated gaze with his own steely expression. "Let me ask you something, Administrator," he said and even Star noticed that the tone of his voice had noticeably softened. "What exactly do you fear you stand to lose by our involvement here? And more importantly: Does it not outweigh what you might gain?" He raised a padd he had been passed earlier and which he had kept hold of. “I've managed to run a few estimates based on the admittedly scant data I've been privy to so far. You currently have six thousand confirmed cases of the Piqus Plague.”
Chella frowned at the way he had coined the disease but kept her displeasure to herself for now.
“An average of twenty new cases are reported every day and every day you suffer at least ten fatalities. I'm not a mathematician but even I can tell you that at this rate your little colony here is going to stop functioning very soon. You still have no viable treatment, you haven't even found a way to slow down this virus and your quarantine measures, to be frank, are so inadequate, they might as well not exist at all. You are on the verge of losing control of this epidemic. In fact, I believe you have already gone over the cliff and are in a free fall. I guess the only question you have left to answer is: Do you wish your legacy to be the administrator who doomed her own colony or the one who was responsible for saving it in its darkest hour?”