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“We have identified this abandoned quarry as an ideal location for the temporary facility. It is located in an unpopulated area, twenty-five point four kilometers to the North of the capital city. The hospital will have an initial capacity to hold one hundred and twelve patients and sixty members of staff.”

Michael Owens looked over the plan which included not just the modular design of the field hospital, but also a map of its proposed location, all displayed on the inset wall monitor of the observation lounge while Xylion talked him through the proposal. Tazla Star who had returned from the surface stood nearby as well while Doctor Katanga's image was displayed in a rectangle at the bottom of the screen, still at the hospital in the city on the surface.

“And Administrator Chella has approved all this?” Michael asked.

Star nodded. "Yes. We can't have more than fifty personnel on the planet and we are not allowed from entering the capital or any other population centers, but she has signed-off on the location and agreed to give us access to patients for transfer and treatment at our facility. Under supervision."

“She’s not exactly happy about it but in the end, it’s the only choice and she knows that,”Katanga said.

“She’s not the only one displeased with how we got to this point, Doctor, I suggest you keep that in mind for when you return to the ship,” Michael said sternly.

“And I will. But you forgive me if I keep my focus on trying to find a way to stop this epidemic first.”

Michael turned to the Vulcan science officer. “How quickly can we get set-up?”

“The base foundation can be completed within three hours. This will allow us to add the first module in six hours and twenty-six minutes. If we encounter no unexpected delays, the facility can be operational within nine hours.”

“That’s pretty impressive,” said Michael.

“The plans are primarily based on Doctor Katanga’s work,” the Vulcan said.

Star glanced at the small image of the octogenarian physician on the screen. “You’ve planned all this, haven’t you?”

He shrugged. “You give me too much credit. But I did expect that we might be required to move our staging area to the surface. And I’ve had more than enough time to make preparations while we were sitting on our hands.”

Michael referred to his first officer, knowing full well her history, not just with Katanga but also with precisely this kind of work.

The Trill nodded. "It's definitely not the first time that we put something together in such a short time frame. When it comes to medical and disaster preparedness, every minute counts, so the quicker you can get your infrastructure in place the better. Eli and my former host worked hard to create a blueprint to allow such a rapid deployment."

Before Michael could respond, he was cut-off by an incoming audio message. “Bridge to captain.”

He glanced towards the ceiling. “Go ahead.”

“Sir,”Lieutenant Stanmore, the beta-shift operations manager began. “We are receiving a priority distress signal from the Agamemnon.”

That immediately captured his full attention. “Any details?

“No, sir. Just that they require immediate assistance.”

“Do we have their location?” asked Star.

“She is still in the Diaspora. About half a light-year away.”

Xylion had naturally already made the calculations in his head. “We could reach the Agamemnonin eleven point six two standard hours at warp eight point five.”

"Thank you, Lieutenant. Owens out," he said, closing the channel and keeping his eyes on Xylion before letting them fall back to Katanga on the screen. "Gentlemen, this changes our timetable somewhat."

Katanga nodded. “It is not ideal, but strictly speaking, we don’t need Eagleto build the facility. We can transport all building materials and pre-fab sections directly onto the surface and assemble them there. It might take a little longer to bring it all together and it would be a tight fit for a couple of days but it can be done.”

Xylion nodded. “I agree with the Doctor. We would also have to allow for an engineering team to join us.”

Katanga was already thinking ahead."I'm sure I can get Chella to agree to a slightly higher number of personnel, especially if it means she won't have a Starfleet ship above her in orbit. Xylion, if you can organize matters on your end, I don't see why we can't have everything we need unloaded within a few hours if everybody chips in. Hell, compared to our timetable back at Yerendi XI, this will be a walk in the park."

"Yerendi XI required us to transport medical supplies to a war-torn continent while we were being fired upon by both sides of the conflict," said Star with a small grin, recounting her adventures working with Katanga as part of the organization they had created. "I agree, I think we should be able to pull this one off."

But Michael had reservations, none of which were related to the efficiency of Xylion, Katanga and the rest of his crew to build a field hospital on a mostly unknown world without a starship to support them. Bad enough that Donners and her ship were likely in trouble, he was concerned about the idea of leaving a sizeable number of his crew on a planet which so far had not shown itself to be the most hospitable one to strangers. The last few times he remembered being in similar situations, it had not worked out very well for them.

Katanga could spot his reluctance. "I don't think we have much of a choice here, Captain. Naturally, we must respond to the distress signal but if we don't get started on building this facility now, we might never get another chance. Not to mention that we are already way behind the curve in our battle against this disease.Any further delays may mean that any help we can provide will be too little too late.”

"Doctor, you do not need to sell me on the urgency of the matter, you've already done a more than adequate job on that," he said and then looked towards Xylion. "Commander, liaise with Doctor Katanga on the surface directly. Bring in Lieutenant Hopkins and whoever else you need. Get me a feasible plan for making this work within the next half hour."

Xylion nodded but Katanga, unsurprisingly, was not entirely pleased. “Captain, that will be another half an hour we’ll lose while we await a decision. I would suggest—“

“Duly noted, Doctor,” Michael said but refused to let Katanga have his say this time. “Stand by, you’ll hear from us shortly. Eagleout." And with that, he tapped a command on the screen to cut the connection.

Xylion was already on his way out the door to prepare the report the captain had demanded.

Michael didn’t speak until the science officer had cleared the room. “So help me God, one of these days I am going to lose my patience with that man.”

"I think I may already have," said Star. "I have to be honest, I had forgotten how stubborn and obstinate he can be to work with. I had to deal with this kind of behavior for years and in hindsight, I should have taken better steps to find a way to curb his ways while he's serving on this ship."

Michael almost felt pity for his first officer. “To be honest, I get the impression you might have more luck taming a mugatothan getting Doctor Katanga to follow the rules.”

“I hate to say it, and I certainly don’t condone what he has done so far, but he has a point. I worked on enough medical emergencies to know that we are already on the back foot to try and find a way to slow down or even stop this disease.”

He nodded. “I’m not disputing that. And I also know that Katanga’s unorthodox methods may have just given us the opportunity to learn more about this potential threat Jarik is so concerned about.”

“What do you want to do?”

He considered that for a moment. Just a few minutes ago, he had been fully determined to see things through, put as many resources and personnel as were needed on the surface to ensure Katanga had every tool at his disposal to find a cure for a deadly disease sweeping across that world. But things had changed and he could not ignore the urgency of Agamemnon’sdistress signal which not only meant that the ship and crew were in serious danger, but was also very likely related to their wider mission of trying to prevent a full-scale incursion. The distress call could have very well have been the first precursor. For all they knew, Agamemnonmay have stumbled across an invading fleet.

"We'll have to pursue both for now. We can't afford to ignore either emergency. I want you to stay here along with Katanga and his team. Speak to Chella again if you have to, but I want a full security detail and every shuttle we can spare to stay behind with you until we can return. If things go poorly, I need to know that you have an exit strategy."

“Understood.”

“And take Lif with you as well. I know he won’t want to go but he remains our best option to learn more about any possible links between the Krellonians and these invading aliens. I am not going to order him to talk to people, but I want you to try and change his mind.”

“Which will be much easier if he’s on the same planet,” she said and nodded. “We better get started.”

“One last thing,” Michael said before Star could leave the observation lounge. “This cannot become another Tiaita.”

Star froze and Michael was fairly sure why. After all, their mission on Tiaita had ended in disaster thanks, primarily, to clandestine Federation involvement, including hers. He liked to think that she had become a different person since those fateful events had occurred.

“It won’t be,” she said resolutely.

He gave her short nod, accepting that she’d do anything in her power to ensure it wouldn’t. But even as he watched her leave, he wasn’t entirely sure if it was going to be enough.


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