Episode II: Investigation
Chapter 1: Detour
First Officer's log, Stardate 2687.8. The Enterprise has been diverted from its mission to study the Faren-Ortean planetary nebula in order to assist the Ton Selat mining colony, where the main power plant has exploded, killing or injuring a third of the population. The search and rescue operations are all but finished, and Mr. Scott reports that the new power plant is already up and running, with final tests of the automated control system scheduled to be completed in the next five hours. Captain Kirk is also planetside, coordinating the handover of the relief effort to Commodore Palidor, who arrived yesterday with the relief convoy from Starbase 25. As soon as they are aboard, the Enterprise will be ready to leave orbit. Meanwhile, I have received some surprising news regarding the mysterious Doctor John Smith.
Spock was sitting at the desk in his quarters, reading the message for the third time. He'd met T'Val three times before, in Vulcan, though the very respected but strict researcher had never shown anything but complete indifference towards her younger colleague's work, even after he'd published his first results lending support to her hypothesis on the resonance characteristics of Lh'th'kvar subspace waves. Nonetheless, he'd included her in the list of acquaintances to whom he'd forwarded his request for information on the Doctor. She was currently heading a team at the Zikran 27 research outpost in the neighboring sector, and as they were one of the parties interested in the data the Enterprise was collecting on the nebula, she knew where to find him. However, normal communications had been disrupted by the subspace disturbances that plagued this area of space, the same disturbances her team had been studying. It was only with the arrival of the relief convoy that the missives had finally reached him, along with all the other low-priority communications that had previously failed to be delivered to the Enterprise.
If her contacting him was unexpected, the content of her messages had left him disconcerted. The Doctor had taken the time to stop at Zikran 27 just to talk to her. Spock hadn't anticipated he'd be interested, or knowledgeable, in subspace field theory. But apparently he'd wanted to discuss the possibility of applying some of her research to the detection of cloaked vessels in deep space. She sounded dismissive of the idea, but she was positively animated about the experience. Quite peculiar. "A remarkable man," that was what T'Val had to say about the Doctor. They'd talked at length about her experiments, and she implied that not only he'd seemed interested in her work, he knew enough about it to impress her and even suggest a couple of novel approaches. Their conversation had then derived to other topics, and when the Doctor mentioned knowing Spock, she'd used the opportunity to try to obtain more information.
She dryly commented that she'd immediately remembered Spock's request upon first meeting the Doctor, but since her fellow Vulcan had neglected to mention the reason for his interest in the man, she'd inferred he intended to meet him again in person. So she'd found out that the Doctor was bound to stop next at the Ackathar colony, home for a small Federation academic institution, though he'd managed to avoid revealing anything else about his plans. Unfortunately, Spock wouldn't have been able to reach the Doctor there, even if her warning had reached him in time. Fortunately, T'Val was curious and interested enough to use her own contacts to confirm the Doctor's arrival and movements in Ackathar. She'd forwarded him the details, along with a request that Spock stop by Zikran 27 whenever convenient.
Spock straightened in the chair and tried to think. Too many questions were crossing his mind, and it took him some effort to reorder his thoughts. The priority was finding out where the Doctor could be going next. His presence in these outlying sectors of Federation space, so far away from where they first met him in Galinedoria Beta IV, was unexpected. But, for some reason, he was still stopping at academic and research institutions along the way. Therefore it remained the most promising approach to finding the mysterious man.
He called up the tridimensional model of Federation space he'd been working on for the last two months. All known academic and research institutions within this region of the galaxy were represented as bright silver spots in the holographic display. A number of them were marked with colored circles, denoting suspected or confirmed visits by the Doctor. Two deep blue circles marked Alander Prime and Geren III, on one side of Federation space, which he'd been able to confirm were the first two places the Doctor visited after Galinedoria. A third light blue circle marked Elender Station, which was almost halfway around, and the only other place where he'd previously had enough evidence to suspect the Doctor's presence with high probability. However, the distance between Geren III and Elender Station was very large, and there was a number of light green, yellow and orange-colored circles, scattered around the region, where a possible presence by Doctor John Smith had been reported, with estimated probabilities ranging from seventy to thirty percent. The scattered reports had previously prevented the route calculator from successfully deriving a trajectory that could explain the Doctor's movements with higher than fifty percent probability. Spock expected this'd now finally change.
The last communications package had also included some new information regarding a number of the previously reported Doctor visits, so he focused first on the three light green circles. One of the events, whose date had previously been uncertain, was now confirmed to have occurred around Stardate 2110, so even if the Doctor had been there, it'd happened before Galinedoria, so it was irrelevant to the current investigation. In the second event, the person involved, though also named as a 'Doctor John Smith', had been a shorter individual, with different facial characteristics, so he couldn't be the same man. Spock excluded both events from his map. The last report had just confirmed that one of the light orange events referred to an individual with the same physical characteristics of the Doctor, who had also asked for advanced papers in virology and epidemiology. Spock changed its probability accordingly, and its color switched to light blue. Since it happened at the same date as the third light green visit, he downgraded this one to a very low probability and it disappeared from the display.
Spock now looked for the spots corresponding to Zikran 27 and Ackathar and entered the dates the Doctor had been present there. They were updated with deep blue circles. There were now six blue circles, which along with a couple other yellow and orange events seemed to delineate a more of less direct route from the Galinedorian sector of space towards the area where the Enterprise was currently assigned to. He activated the route calculator algorithm. It quickly came up with a result, indicating with 93.20% likelihood a trajectory with Warp 5.3 maximum speed stopping by all eight spots at the recorded dates. If only the six blue events were considered, the necessary maximum speed fell to Warp 4.2, with likelihood 79.15%. Even so, there weren't many ships capable of such speeds and range, especially not privately-owned ones. But it was a very good fit for the available evidence. He finally activated the predictor algorithm. The highest likelihood trajectory extended into the Enterprise's current sector, with probability 97.76%. There were two spots present in the area, either of which could in principle be the Doctor's next destination. He might need more information to decide between the two.
Since that last report had made it three times when the Doctor'd asked for biology and medicine papers in a library, Spock set a filter, changing to a golden hue all the spots corresponding to facilities with active research programs in either of these two fields. Five of the eight spots along the route were now shining gold, except for Geren III and the last two ones. However, Geren III was home to one of the co-authors of a number of the immunology papers the Doctor seemed to be interested in, and that might be enough to explain his presence at the planet. It was exactly what'd happened in Ackathar. The Doctor had looked for one of the main authors of one of the epidemiology papers who had moved to that colony with his family and was starting a new college there. The Doctor's stop at Zikran 27 might seem odd in comparison, but it could easily be explained by his interest in defeating cloaking devices.
Spock turned his attention to the two next spots, one silver and one golden, and called up the information on the silver-hued one. Gabala VI was a Starfleet outpost, and the Doctor could arrive there in the next day or so. He cross-referenced its resident researchers with the list of paper authors. There was a renowned virologist who'd relocated with his wife when her research group moved there, so it was a distinct possibility. However it was also a military outpost, so the Doctor would risk capture by going there. The golden spot was New Sapienza, a large independent university who was famous for their reticence towards Starfleet. It was slightly closer to Ackathar, so the Doctor might already be there. There wasn't much time if they wanted to catch up with the Doctor.
Spock stepped into the bridge. The captain had arrived only a few minutes before, but the sooner the Vulcan managed to convince him to go after the Doctor the greater their chance of getting there in time. He approached the central chair, where Kirk was reviewing the many reports his yeoman had handed him.
"Captain, if you have a moment, there's something I need to discuss." Kirk raised his head. Spock knew that coordinating the rescue parties was extraordinarily demanding, but the captain seemed even more tired than he had expected.
"Can't it wait, Spock? Soon we'll be underway, and there'll be time enough for that."
"It regards our next destination, Captain. I would recommend that we delay the resumption of our study of the nebula so we can visit the University of New Sapienza and the Starfleet research outpost in Gabala VI."
"I thought you were anxious to go back to Faren-Ortean."
"It is fascinating, but the planetary nebula can wait." Spock noticed that Doctor McCoy had just arrived on the bridge. Stiffening, he continued, "I have evidence that the Doctor is probably in this sector, and we may have the chance to apprehend him." The ship's doctor silently descended the ramp towards the captain's chair, head tilted to the side. It was obvious that he was listening to their conversation.
"Are you certain? No, I don't want to see the evidence," the captain said, pushing away the proffered datapad. "I trust your analysis. But we can't simply divert the Starfleet flagship to go hunting for one man, even if he's a fugitive. We've already lost most of the time allotted for our study of the nebula, and our results are very important to the Starfleet astrophysics department. You've said as much yourself."
"Yes, Captain, but we could at least stop at New Sapienza. We would still have time to complete the study as scheduled. In any case, we've already collected most of the data from the nebula, and my analysis indicates that only a small subset of the remaining data points would be enough to complete the study."
"New Sapienza or Gabala VI?" The captain narrowed his eyes and studied his Vulcan officer and friend. "Gabala VI is closer to our route. We'd lose less time if we diverted there."
"Hang on," McCoy cut in, surprising the others, "I'd say New Sapienza is much more interesting than Gabala. I never understood why they chose that desolate rock to build a research station." Kirk turned to look at him.
"Do you also want to meet the Doctor, Bones?" he chuckled, while Spock watched warily.
"Well, Jim, I'll admit I'm curious about the man. But more importantly, Professor Finch is currently heading a research team in New Sapienza, and there's a paper I'd like to discuss with him."
"Is it that paper about the non-coding viral genome, Doctor McCoy?" Spock asked.
"Yes, exactly. All the papers you gave me were very interesting. You said they were the ones this Doctor of yours had asked for, right?"
"Indeed. Do you have any idea what his interest in them would be, Doctor?" asked Spock, as Kirk looked between them, amused.
"Not really, some of them are ludicrous. And I have no idea what they'd all have in common. But one of them-"
"Gentlemen," Kirk interrupted, "am I to believe you're both here to suggest we go after Doctor John Smith?"
"Uh, if he's also in New Sapienza, yes, I'd very much like the opportunity to meet this Doctor," McCoy put in. "The paper he asked for from Professor Finch raises a few points that made me remember that strange flu we caught some six months ago."
"When we left Galinedoria, Doctor?" asked Spock.
"Yes, now that you mention it, it was just after we left the planet. It was so contagious that at least a third of the crew was infected before I knew it was aboard. It may have been something you brought from the planet that somehow passed by the transporter's biofilters undetected. Luckily it was mild enough that-"
"Enough, Bones. I'm sorry, but your wish to talk to Professor Finch isn't enough to divert the Enterprise. However, if Spock can determine whether Doctor John Smith is on Gabala VI or New Sapienza, I'll consider going after him. You have three hours, until Mr. Scott is scheduled to return from the surface. Otherwise, we'll go directly to Faren-Ortean. Now, I'm going to head to my room and finish reviewing these reports in peace, so you can continue talking on the bridge." He stood to leave. "Spock, since you're already here, the bridge is yours."
"My apologies for bothering you, Captain."
"No problem, Mr. Spock. I'm looking forward to some quiet time. Bones, if you have an analgesic, I'd really like some. I have a headache."
"I believe I can arrange that, Jim." The two of them entered the turbolift, leaving Spock on the bridge.
Spock tried contacting both planets, but all he could determine was that the Doctor hadn't appeared in Gabala VI, at least not yet. However, Spock had no close contacts in New Sapienza, and those acquaintances he'd managed to reach in that short time had yet to return with an answer. There wasn't much else he could try, so, with the three hours almost up, he risked contacting New Sapienza space control to see if he could learn anything.
He got lucky. The junior controller that answered his call didn't ask whether he was Starfleet, so Spock didn't mention it, and when asked if any ship carrying a John Smith had recently arrived, the controller mentioned one that'd come in the day before. Therefore, when the captain finally returned to the bridge, Spock was able to say with reasonable certainty that the Doctor was probably on New Sapienza, and they were underway. It would be twenty-six hours before the Enterprise arrived on the planet, and he'd have that long to confirm the Doctor's presence. He only hoped their quarry wouldn't leave before they arrived.