dreamscape.gif (2973 bytes)
Jim Ausfahl

Stardate 9741.6
May 14th 2297

Captain's Log, Stardate 9741.6

We have been dispatched to Erle II to make contact with the Erleen, a technologically advanced civilization that has not developed warp drive, but has contacted the Federation requesting that we make formal contact with them. I have called together all the members of the crew we believe the Erleen wish present, so that all involved can be properly briefed.


Doctor Eletto, having had to finish dealing with an injury in Sickbay, was the last of the individuals to arrive at the ready room for the briefing. While they had been waiting, the folks assembled had lapsed into conversation, filling the idle moments with whatever pleasantries came to mind. The physician could hear the individuals' voices as he stepped into the room.

"No kidding, Drevan." It was Uhura's voice, as she spoke to the chief science officer. "I guess that must be more or less universal. Now, my grandma had this stare. I'd do something she didn't approve of, and she'd just stare at me. I just knew that if I didn't get into line, lightening would jump right from her eyes and reduce me to ash—either that, or her stare would freeze me solid, I never figured out which. I must have spent two or three years terrified of that stare of hers."

The Andorian's antennae bent slightly. "Precisely my point, Captain. With the possible exception of Vulcans, the young of almost all intelligent species go through a period of magical thinking. One of my professors suggested that it might be an invariant in a large class of intelligent beings—one of the very few, I might add. I'm sure that Doctor Roberts fellow, the professor we picked up a while ago that studied fairy tales, could come up with a dozen examples of young children and their fantasies about adults. Now, when I was a kid, I was convinced that Grandpa Draka's battle cry would, if shrieked loud enough, totally shatter if not liquefy my skeleton—endoskeleton and exoskeleton both—and if he was mad enough to utter it, if the battle cry didn't do me in, he would. Trust me, I made a point of not getting on his bad side, at least until I was old enough not to believe he was indestructible and invincible."

T'Soral, the Vulcan communications officer entered the conversation. "Even Vulcan children experience such thoughts, Drevan. The major difference, I suspect, is that they are more quickly trained out of Vulcan children. Several Vulcan anthropologists have also suggested that it may be an inescapable stage of the development of an intelligent mind. For instance..."

It was obvious that no one had seen Eletto arrive. He coughed, hoping to get the captain's attention and to get the briefing started. He certainly had no desire to hear about the childhood delusions of young Vulcans; he'd had quite enough silly ideas of his own when he'd been five or six. Mentally, he decided to ask T'Soral about such things later, during his lessons in Vulcan language and culture. Uhura looked up, nodding appreciatively; obviously she wasn't particularly interested in the issue, either.

"Gentlebeings, I believe we are all here." She scanned the group gathered. The usual folk at briefings were present: Reichard, her first officer; Drevan, her chief science officer; M'Benga, her chief medical officer. Several folks not usually present had been included, even Ghassi, her chief of nutrition. "For those of you who are not aware of it, we will be making contact with the Erleen, a species that is technologically very advanced but not yet space-faring. Representatives of their governing body have contacted the Federation, indicating that they wish to consider affiliation. They made it clear that they wished to have all the crew leaders present when we made contact. Although the request is somewhat unusual, it is not onerous, and it gives several of you an opportunity to be involved." Uhura turned to her chief science officer. "Drevan, if you would brief us on what is known about the Erleen?"

The Andorian nodded. "They're one of those species that no one seems to have guessed would be intelligent when the Federation studied the automated survey of the planet. An individual Erle is not particularly bright, having a cognitive ability on a par with a Human cat or an Andorian rathev. However, they are a communal species, similar to the Terran honeybee or the Vulcan ant fish; on top of that, it turns out that they are telepathic. As a result of that, a given Erle colony functions as a single, communal intellect. With the colonies ranging from ten thousand to a hundred thousand individuals, their aggregate mind makes for a dramatically respectable intelligence. On top of that, when the single mind is made up of tens to hundreds of thousands of individuals, space flight is rather less than feasible—they're too big to be doing anything like that. Starfleet Command suggested that their hope is to have us help them colonize other worlds. Questions?"

"Any idea what the individual creature looks like?" It was Reichard asking.

"They're about the size of a horse, with six legs and two grasping members. Head is right on the front; there's no neck, and it's not separate from the rest of the body. Like me, they're combined endo- and exo-skeletal. Like most colonial species, there is a single brood mother for each colony; all the members of the colony are descended from her; again, similar to the bee, the new individuals are born as adults. Since the Erleen have a communal mind, the adult is fully functional when it leaves its brood chamber for the first time. What happens when the brood mother dies, we're not yet sure, but the guess is that a new brood mother develops, and her descendants peacefully replace the older members of the colony over a few years' time."

"It would be logical," T'Soral remarked, "to comment on their social structure in a little greater detail. Some degree of comprehension of how they interact with each other seems necessary for interacting with them."

The Andorian nodded. "You're right, of course, T'Soral. Unfortunately, we're not exactly clear on that point. Individual Erleen seem to be of minimal significance, which is common in communal systems. Conversely, the collective mind of a given colony seems to be the closest match to what we could call an individual—and there is absolutely no data on how things work on that level of interaction. Before anyone asks, there's a good deal of question as to whether an individual Human will be treated as a single organism, or whether the Erleen will see the ship and crew as the individual. There's just a lot we don't know. Every contact with an intelligent, colonial species has been a challenge."

The captain looked at the faces before her. None seemed to be harboring any unasked questions. She resumed control of the briefing. "As I understand it, there is considerable doubt as to the meaning of several words in their language, too. For instance, it is anything but clear what they mean by ‘leaders' in the crew, which is why I have chosen to cast the net as widely as I have. If I understand the message correctly, we can expect them soon, and I—"

As the Bantu spoke, a brilliantly bright cylinder formed above her head. Since she seemed blissfully unaware of it, Eletto decided to interrupt. "Captain, I believe we have visitors." He pointed to the object above her head.

From under the table, Drevan deployed his tricorder. "It's a projected image, Captain, directly above your head."

Uhura turned, craning her neck to see the object, acutely aware that she had misjudged the time. "Welcome. I am Uhura, Captain of this vessel."

It seemed that the response came from the cylinder, and that its light pulsed as it made the sound. "Greetings from Erle. I am Communicator. What is Uhura?"

Meanings, she realized, could be slippery. "I am the being in charge of this vessel and its crew. We have come to make formal contact with your people per your request, and to invite you to consider becoming members of the United Federation of Planets."

Moments passed, the Erleen apparently digesting the information. "We do not fully understand you. We do not seem to exist in the same way you do. Our existence is in the realm of...of..." It was clear that there was some uncertainty as to the correct word.

"Thoughts?" Drevan offered.

"Ideas?" It was Uhura's suggestion.

"Dreams?" asked Eletto.

Drevan and Uhura looked at the assistant chief medical officer as if his suggestion indicated a large degree of insanity.

"Perhaps the word is dreams. We must meet on territory we can both understand, to measure the power of our ideas, our dreams, our thoughts, our concepts, our minds against yours. I struggle to communicate: we do not share enough words."

Faster than anyone could react, the cylinder almost explosively split into three parts. One moved atop Uhura's head; the second, Drevan's; and the last, Eletto's. All three froze in position.

M'Benga was the first to react, pulling the mediscanner off his belt. "All alive, but immobile. Brain activity is incredibly high, and almost everything else is at near shut down." He looked up. "I'm open to suggestions."

"The logical response, at this point, is to wait and watch." All eyes turned to T'Soral as she spoke, her eyes tightly closed. "Their mental signatures indicate awareness, but I am unable to discern of what they are aware. It is reasonable to conjecture that the captain, Doctor Eletto and Lieutenant Drevan have been shifted to seeing a realm that the Erleen are comfortable seeing."

"Am I the only one that noticed that the three picked were the three that said something?" Ghassi stared at the others. "I'm glad I kept my mouth shut, for a change. Either way, does the pattern of their choice suggest anything to anyone?"

"Not much," Reichard responded. "All it does is give me some hope that T'Soral's deduction may be right. If you wanted to talk, take the ones doing the talking. Makes sense."

"Human sense, Ken." Indri's eyebrows knotted together. "Unfortunately, the one sure thing I got from Drevan's description of the Erleen is that they're definitely a longer ways from being Human than a Vulcan or a Tellarite. Human sense probably doesn't apply here."

Ghassi shook his head. "Y'know, gear head, you could have gone days without reminding us of that. So much for our one scrap of reassurance. Thanks a bundle."


Uhura, Eletto and Drevan found themselves standing on an essentially featureless plain.

"I have to give the Erleen credit: they moved us in a big hurry. However, as decorators, they leave a lot to be desired." Eletto pursed his lips in frustration. "And as masters of etiquette, well, frankly, I don't recall getting an invitation, and if I had, I think I'd have declined."

Uhura turned to Eletto. "As much as I echo your sentiments, Giac, zip it." She looked around herself. "I'd much rather hear something constructive and useful about what we're supposed to do here."

Before Drevan could add his thoughts, the cylinder reappeared. "You will have thirty of your minutes. Prepare the field of meeting to your comfort, and we will allow our minds to meet."

"This isn't exactly a method of interaction we're familiar with," Uhura responded. "If you would, could you please give us a little bit more of an idea of what's going on, and what you expect of us?"

The cylinder pulsed for a moment. "Your mental images will form before you on this plain. They will be as strong as your belief in them, as strong as your minds can make them. The same will be true for us. The images will engage in combat; the stronger will be victorious, the weaker vanquished. By this we will understand your strength in thought. Invoke no machinery; invoke no Supreme Beings or gods; invoke no forces of nature, nor any infectious agents. In the distance, you can see your opponents. The contest will end when the mental images of one group touches the other group, or one when group concedes." The cylinder vanished, leaving the three beings to their devices. Far in front of them, the threesome could just see three specks.

Focusing his eyes and antennae on the distant images, the Andorian nodded. "Fits the description from Starfleet Command. That'll be our adversaries. Definitely not a scenario we covered in Starfleet Academy, Captain. I'm ready for orders, if you've got any idea what to do."

The Bantu looked at Eletto. "You did a lot of growing up in the Oklahoma and Texas chaparral, Giac. I was mostly raised on a highly civilized horse farm, which won't do us much good, and I doubt either of us would be particularly familiar with an Andorian landscape that can range from a mountain range of ice to a few islands in a tropical ocean. Drevan, would you be comfortable with a chaparral?"

"No problem, Captain! Spent some time doing a little graduate work, studying the Terran chaparral, and comparing it to a couple of similar biomes on other worlds. Just don't ask me to bring one into existence."

"I guess I'm elected." Eletto closed his eyes, rummaging in his memory. One part of the Oklahoma scrubland came to mind, clear and sharp; it wasn't exactly associated with the happiest of memories, but it was engraved in his mind incredibly deeply. The other two saw his brow begin to furrow. Almost magically, starting at Eletto's feet and moving away as fast as the eye could see, the featureless terrain began to take shape. Dry ground, with stunted bushes and grasses and abundant prickly pear cacti sprung to life. The occasional tree, and even rarer clump of trees, struggled to maintain a beleaguered existence in the dry terrain. Opening his eyes, the physician closed them and rubbed them before opening them again. A jackrabbit burst from a piece of brush, apparently scared by the trio of beings.

"This is amazing, Giac. I can almost smell the sagebrush." Wide-eyed, his antennae stiff and almost straight, the science officer looked around. "And I can definitely feel a slight breeze. I can sense numerous chaparral life forms, including insects and small rodents. How did you manage to remember this so clearly?"

"It doesn't matter, Drevan." It was clear that Eletto was not inclined to share a great deal more. "Suffice it to say that in Humans, it's often true that scenes attached with strong emotions tend to be etched deeply in our psyche. This one is etched very deeply in my soul."

"Even so, Giac, I'm impressed." Uhura's face clearly echoed her words. "The remaining question is how to proceed. I figure we've got not more than about fifteen minutes. I'm open."

"They let us choose the ground, Captain," the Andorian pointed out. "That means that they are confident that they can adapt anything we think up to their purposes and use, if they can make any sense out of it. I figure that we're going to have to use things that have really made impressions on us, major impressions. Conversely, we're going to have to shy away from things that are universally understood."

"What does that leave us? I can't think of much that'll fit that bill." Giac's puzzlement, even in the pseudo-world they inhabited, was clear.

Uhura tilted her head to one side, closing her eyes. Suddenly, a herd of bull elephants popped into view. One male trumpeted with deafening volume, leading the rest of the herd toward where the images had been visible earlier, their thundering tread all but shaking the ground.

"I thought you said you were more in the civilized areas growing up, Captain."

"Even city girls in Africa get out into the game preserves occasionally, Giac, and Grandma Ugogo often took me out for a week or two at a time to live in the bush." The Bantu's eyes narrowed. "I had the tar scared out of me by a herd of African elephants, once. Thankfully, they weren't after me, or I probably wouldn't be here talking about it. They're as close to invincible as I can imagine, short of a squadron of starships."

From the other direction, meeting the elephants at almost the midway point, there came what looked like gargantuan, armored caterpillars. The lead elephant hooked his tusks in the caterpillar, hurling it to one side. It rolled over and advanced again. Enraged, the lead male hooked the tusks on the caterpillar again, this time driving the points of the tusks deeply into its flesh, disemboweling the caterpillar as it threw the creature to one side. To either side, the other elephants were doing likewise. Behind the armored caterpillars, came another adversary—nearly identical, but with a thicker exoskeleton. These, the tusks could not penetrate; once the armored caterpillars came close enough, they began tearing huge chunks out of the elephants, feeding furiously. Tusks and trunks useless against the new adversaries, the elephants found their ranks rapidly decimated.

Drevan snorted derisively. "So much for elephants. Sic ‘em!"

Maroon, huge-headed reptiles came thundering across the landscape, their monstrous heads gulping everything in their path. The caterpillars began to give way, unable to cope.

Uhura nodded. "Of course. Guilt gulpers from Dandrin Four. Should have thought of that, myself."

Eletto watched as the caterpillars moved further and further back against the onslaught of the voracious reptilians. "What say I add a little extra?"

Before the others could agree, droves of mangy, wild, almost rabid dogs began running toward the armored caterpillars. It was just as well; as they approached, the reptilians began keeling over: the caterpillars, it seemed, appeared to have found a way to become poisonous. Unfortunately, the dogs fared little better; as they worried and tore the stumpy legs of the caterpillars, they, too, succumbed to the poison.

Drevan nodded. "Okay, let's try another approach, here, folks. How's this? Vulcan carnivore weed."

The dry ground of the chaparral suddenly sprouted plants that looked for all the world like oversized crabgrass. When one of the caterpillars stepped on a branch of the plant, the plant's branch bent, rolling around the caterpillar, carrying it to the center of the weed. As the caterpillar struggled, the grip of the weed tightened, slowly crushing the creature to oblivion, pouring its vital fluids onto the plant, nourishing it. As fast as the Erleen's caterpillars moved across them, the Vulcan carnivore plants obliterated them, the plants growing larger and more powerful with each caterpillar consumed. Drevan's face began to wear a smug look, until a wave of caterpillars came from beyond the plants, devouring the plants as they moved forward. No matter how the carnivore plant's limbs whipped, the voracious appetites of the caterpillars were more than a match.

Slowly, but inexorably, the armored caterpillars made their approach. Eletto turned to Drevan. "Ichneumon wasps?"

The Andorian nodded. "Good thought. Giant ones."

Over head, there was the sound of droves of flying insects heading toward the caterpillars. As the oversized wasps came to the caterpillars, each one lighted on the back of a caterpillar, driving its stinger deep into the tissues at the joints between the caterpillars' exoskeletal armor. Once stung, the caterpillar stretched to its full length, paralyzed. Rather than carry them off, as their natural counterparts would have done, these behemoth wasps stacked them into an ever growing wall between the competitors.

For several moments, it appeared that the competition was over. The wasps and their wall of paralyzed caterpillars had clearly stemmed the tide of the assault of armored caterpillars. Just as they began to hope they had been victorious, a cross between a crab, a lobster and a nightmare clambered across the top of the wall. As the wasps came within range, the creatures slashed out with a great claw, catching and crushing the wasps before they could light to sting.


For the hundredth, if not the thousandth, time M'Benga turned the mediscanner on the immobile forms of the captain, the chief science officer and his fellow physician. Mental activity remained high, but physically, they remained essentially immobile; eyes blinked, hearts beat and lungs breathed, but nothing else seemed to be happening. Even when M'Benga shone a bright light in their eyes, their pupils failed to react. "I've never seen anything like this, and I don't like it."

"It is definitely unusual, Doctor M'Benga." T'Soral took a deep breath, releasing it slowly, her eyes closing. "I am unable to provide detailed information, but their mental signatures show signs of definite, very intense activity, tinged strongly with some fear. It almost feels like they are in mortal combat. There is little else I can offer."

M'Benga reached into his medikit, drawing out a hypospray. Indri reached over, gently but firmly grasping the physician's hand. "I wouldn't, Doctor. In Engineering, we don't try to fix things until we understand what's wrong with them. Somehow, I can't believe you will do them any kindness by trying something when you're not sure what you're up against." The two men's eyes locked for an instant, then M'Benga looked away, clearly agonized. Indri released his grip on the wrist. The hypospray disappeared back into the medikit.

"You're right, Indri. The Erleen aren't hostile; we have to assume that they won't harm Uhura, Drevan or Eletto." M'Benga shook his head in resignation.

"Not intentionally." It was Ghassi again. "But do you really think they understand enough about us to know how not to hurt one of us?"

Indri turned to face Ghassi. "Way to go, hash slinger; now it's you taking away our one crumb of hope instead of me."


The crab-like nightmares came slowly, but with steadfast determination. Uhura looked at them carefully. They were hardly the behemoths the armored caterpillars had been, but they looked to be a good half meter across at the widest, and easily two or more meters long, unless you counted the long, gray, pincer-tipped arms that usually stayed folded at the creatures' sides. Eletto sent the wild dogs against them, with no success; the creatures were snatched up by the claw, to be shoved into and shredded by the crustacean's maw.

A thin, almost desperate smile formed on Uhura's face. "No more Captain Nice. They asked for this." Before her, the ground was suddenly almost black, covered with innumerable, two to three centimeter long ants marching rapidly toward the nightmare crabs.

The Erleen's creatures took no notice of the ants as they swept up to them, at least not at first. It was not so, though, for the ants; they swarmed over the monsters, covering them completely. Suddenly, one ant found a weak spot in the joint between the upper and lower plates of the beast's exoskeleton. It tore a piece of flesh loose. A second, then a third then a dozen other ants began doing the same. Within moments, the beast collapsed, its exoskeleton emptied by the ravenous army of ants. One by one, the crab-like nightmares went down, stripped by the ants.

"Good move." Drevan was clearly impressed. "Nothing stops army ants on the march. I should have thought of it myself."

Before they could crow about success, the apparent victory was snatched from them. More of the crab-like creatures began moving, but this time, the ants could find no point of entry, other than the great maw that shot out an anteater-like tongue, sweeping them up and depositing them into its gaping mouth.

All three looked on, astounded as the clawed monsters advanced.

"Okay," Drevan snapped. "Time for the big phasers, folks. They just think they know tough crabs. Look out, monsters!"

Drevan's eyes closed for a second, then opened. Before him, heading for the crustaceans the Erleen had conjured up, there were numerous crablike creatures advancing. Stopping them seemed impossible. The Erleen's crustaceans' claws snapped when applied to Drevan's mental images, and their tough carapaces shattered at a single blow from them. The Andorian smiled. "Grazzilat. Toughest crustacean in the known universe, and native to Andor. Those claws can bent a fifteen centimeter square iron bar into a pretzel, or snap it in two. They're not going to stop these babies, believe me."

Even as Drevan spoke, however, his words proved false. The Erleen's creatures suddenly became tougher, harder even than the grazzilat, shredding them without visible effort and advancing on the threesome again.

Uhura's shoulders slumped slightly. "We're done. No matter what we think up, they find a way around it. We've got to do better—I'm open to ideas, no matter how silly they sound. Giac, Drevan?"

Eletto sighed. For an instant, his memory transported him back to the time the chaparral had become so deeply engraved on his soul. He'd been a few months past his fifth birthday, and he'd been playing the local version of hide and seek with his playmates, finding a hollow tree stump to hide in, one that could be entered only from above, dropping down the hole in its trunk. No one had found him, and between the warmth of the late afternoon, and the quiet around him, little Giac had fallen asleep waiting to hear the call that all were in free. When he awoke, the sky was filled with stars, and the wan light of the waxing crescent moon lit the land.

Before the child could try to head home, he heard the unmistakable sound of padding paws and sniffling that signaled the presence of wild canines. Wolves, they were not; it was a pack of wild dogs, creatures whose ancestors once had been pets, but had either run away or been abandoned to their own resources and had turned wild. Dangerous, and at least as fierce as wolves, these creatures had long since had the fear of Humans bred out of them, and going wild had not brought it back. To these dogs, the young Giac was nothing more than an easy morsel. The shell of the trunk was far from sound; particularly near the ground, there were openings, one crack far larger than the remaining openings. One dog found the crack, sticking its muzzle in, but unable to reach. A second and third dog tried, equally unsuccessfully.

There was no way the pack was going to leave; even at his young age, Giac knew that. What hope he had was in keeping them at bay long enough that others would find him. Paws suddenly appeared at the aperture, digging vigorously, trying to widen the opening. Head and muzzle poked through, then pulled back, followed by more digging. Determined to sell his life dearly, if at all, the child grabbed the coup stick he always kept with him. His mother's dire warnings about playing with it came to mind; that made the best use of it clear. When the wild dog's face poked into the hole again, little Giac had rammed the end of the coup stick into one of its eyes with all his strength. Made strong by his fear, he ruptured the creature's eye, seeing the face disappear with a howl of agony. A second face entered, receiving the same treatment. The third was warier; as the child had driven the stick toward it, the dog turned its head, grabbing the stick and wrenching it out of his hand. Head and stick disappeared out the crack; only the snarling head returning. For a moment, it seemed that the issue had resolved; even this determined creature couldn't force its head into the opening.

Giac new better than to relax; he almost knew what was coming, and it came swiftly—paws again, digging in the soil, trying to open the aperture yet further. Looking around, the child sought any way to buy time that he could find. He considered putting his back against the side of the trunk, his feet against the other side, and inching up, but he doubted that the wood would hold from the pressure from inside; even if it did, he knew that the wild dogs would be able to jump up and tear at him until he fell. At his feet, the youngster found no pebbles or splinters of wood to throw in the beast's face. A snout forced in, almost far enough to make a grab at Giac's foot; the foot came from the side, hitting but barely harming the muzzle. Digging resumed. As another creature tried the growing hole, there came a voice, loud and almost familiar but with a tone in it was like nothing little Giac had ever heard before.

A booted foot caught the dog at the crack squarely in the ribs; the child could hear ribs breaking as the creature flew aside, howling in agony. Two legs, booted and determined, planted themselves at shoulder width and stood before the opening; the child could see the glint of the pale light of the crescent moon on a large, sharp knife in one hand. The familiar, yet unfamiliar voice made its position clear. "You'll have to get past me to get him, and that's not happening while I'm alive." Another wild dog leapt, learning the meaning of a knife wielded by determined hands. Fist, knife, foot, fury and seemingly indomitable determination held the pack at bay, its numbers dropping at the hand of the new arrival.

The voice rang out again. "Rick! Over here, at the stump near Giac's coup stick."

No voice answered, only the sound of rifles firing, and wild dogs feeling the impact of the bullets, howling and whining as they died. Within minutes, the wild dog pack was exterminated, and strong hands grabbed the side of the crack, tearing the half rotted trunk apart and grabbing the terrified child from inside and holding him close. Sobbing on the flannel covered shoulder of his rescuer, his arms clutched around the familiar, iron-muscled neck, little Giac knew he was safe, that nothing in the universe could harm him while he was protected by those arms.

Uhura's voice jarred Giac back to the present. "Wake up, will you? We've got a problem to solve, remember? This is a lousy time for you to be taking a nap."

Slowly, Eletto nodded, but said nothing, letting his eyes drop closed again. Between the oncoming crab-like monsters and the trio, a giant Human male clad in jeans and a buffalo check shirt popped into existence. In one hand glinted a knife, proportionate to the Human's huge stature; it looked more like a mammoth machete than anything else. Eletto's eyes opened, seeing what he had brought into being in the dreamscape around them. Unlike the other apparitions, this one stood its ground patiently, indeed defiantly, a cross between a snarl and a battle-eager smile upon its face. The physician nodded, confident and satisfied. "If I explain, they'll catch on. When you get it, join in."

Inexorably, the crab-like creatures came toward the two Humans and the Andorian. One reached for them. The giant's hand grabbed the clawed arm, snapping it like rotten wood. A booted foot came down on the carapace of the beast, shattering it. Others closed in, their size increasing with every wave. The giant let loose a war-whoop, tearing into them with ferocious abandon. Despite the giant's incredible strength, and seemingly indomitable determination, the sheer numbers began to get the better of him; he could only face one direction at a time, and the onslaught was beginning to flank him.

A light suddenly seemed to glisten in Uhura's eyes. Out of nowhere, an equally huge, dark-skinned female appeared. Her face wrinkled into an angry glare at one of the beasts that was approaching the first giant. From the squinted eyes, lightening leapt, reducing it to ash. A second one reached for her, to be turned to ice. All that could stand in her path was the other Human, by whom she took her stand in the conflict, sheltering the three smaller beings. The crab-like monstrosities came in ever increasing droves, quickly becoming harder and thicker in exoskeleton. Nothing seemed to diminish the two Humans' abilities, yet even with their continuing, apparently tireless efforts, it almost seemed that the monsters the Erleen were sending would get the upper hand.

Softly, Drevan whispered to himself, his white-haired head nodding in comprehension. Even before the being was visible, its voice rent the air, a piercing, almost painful shriek that shattered the exoskeletons of the oncoming hordes. A gargantuan Andorian waded into the fray, charging the crustaceans from behind, wading through them, hurling their crushed bodies to the side, taking his place to one side of the female, forming an invincible triangle around the three smaller beings, tearing the onslaught apart bare handed. It mattered not at all how the Erleen modified what they sent against these three beings; between the three of them, the creatures hadn't a chance. With Uhura, Drevan and Eletto surrounded by the three giants, nothing could get by them. With impassioned determination, the three giants drove back everything that was hurled at them.

Without warning, the plain was cleared of all but the combatants and the three giant beings. The giants turned to face each other. The three huge beings turned to face each other and raised their right fists in defiant salute, shouting, "Victory!" Without warning, the giants and chaparral disappeared.


M'Benga looked at his tricorder yet again. "T'Soral, I don't like what I'm seeing. If things don't start settling down soon, I'm going to have to intervene. Their metabolic activity has gone off the map; at this rate, they're going to run out of reserves and start burning critical tissue very soon. Give me something to go on, can you?"

"I can not. All I can say is that their mental signatures register fear and determination very clearly. More than that, I—"

The Vulcan was interrupted by Uhura shaking her head and looking around herself. Drevan and Eletto began moving as well.

"We're back!" It was Uhura stating the obvious as the cylinder over her head moved to reform a single cylinder with the other two.

"Where have you—" It was M'Benga's turn to be interrupted, as the brilliant cylinder made its appearance again.

Uhura turned. "Are you Communicator?"

"I am Communicator, Uhura. Your collective mind is remarkably powerful."

"Sorry, Communicator, but we don't have a collective mind." Drevan moved nearer to the Captain, motioning Eletto to do the same. "You were up against three separate minds, working side by side, not fused at all."

Color, shade and light chased each other on the cylinder as it gently bobbed. "Individuals? Single bodies and brains, not connected to each other?"

"That would be the gist of it, Communicator," Eletto responded. "We get along pretty well without connecting minds, actually. It's just not necessary for us."

Several minutes passed, presumably while the collective mind of which Communicator was a part digested this tidbit. "Then your minds are powerful indeed. You were up against the collective mind of over ten thousand individuals of our kind, and you defeated us on ground we know, but that you only partially understood. We are impressed."

"Thank you, Communicator." Uhura looked at Eletto and Drevan before she responded. "May I assume that you are willing to apply for membership in the United Federation of Planets?"

"We are. But one question first: those three beings, so like you, yet so unlike. We would know what they are."

The captain turned to the medical officer. "Giac, it was your insight. Explain, will you?"

"It was the most powerful force any child knows, Communicator, and one the child knows is totally dedicated to protecting and caring for children, and more powerful than any other being or force in the universe. It's a being the child is convinced knows everything, and is indestructible and well nigh all powerful, and a being that your kind have never experienced."

"So much we had learned from its behavior. What are these creatures called?"

Andorian, Captain and Physician looked at each other, answering in unison: "Grandparents!"

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