“That’s alright,” Exec told him. “Are any of us feeling the worse for the extra oxygen in the air? Remember the symptoms that Peterson listed.”
“With respect, sir,” Jody replied. “I don’t recall you and Ensign Peterson discussing symptoms for hyperoxia, just treatment.”
“No?” Exec turned to Archer, who nodded a slow confirmation. “My mistake. As well as I can remember, you’ll want to be watching out for tunnel vision, ringing in your ears, nausea, severe anxiety, dizziness, or a frequent cough.”
Jody froze in her tracks. “Sir, then it might be hard for me to determine if I’m suffering from hyperoxia in time to receive treatment. I was already experiencing several of those symptoms before we landed. I ascribed them to Kane syndrome – the hyperspace sickness.”
Exec considered this. “Then you should probably go back inside the yacht, just as a precaution.”
“But what about when you find the natives? I can’t do my job if I can’t talk to them.”
“There’s the intercom,” Archer suggested. “Or we could bring them inside through the airlock.”
“I’m not a xenobiologist, but I think it’s a bad idea to bring a native of this planet into a lower-oxygen environment than they’re accustomed to,” I said.
“Quinton, get back to the yacht. That’s an order,” Exec snapped to Jody. “We’ll reconsider what to do about your specialty when we actually have a native to communicate with.”
So Jody huffed back to the pinnace and disappeared inside the airlock, and the three of us continued to explore the local area. It seemed to me to be a small farm, with the farmhouse, shed, and silo centrally located among four fields of equal size. Three of the fields appeared to be growing different crops, while the one that we’d landed in was more like fallow land, with just about anything local growing in it. I didn’t see any sign of farm animals being raised – and we didn’t see any of the natives, though they might possibly be hiding in the farmhouse from the aliens landing on their property.
The one path led from the farmhouse out through the hedge fences around the farm area, straight towards the taller buildings of the large town in the distance. As soon as we’d gotten onto the path, Archer pulled out a set of little binoculars from his pack and peered off into the distance. “There’s some kind of vehicle, larger than the one I saw heading outbound, and it’s making towards us.”
Exec produced a small computer pad. “We landed approximately six kilometers from the edge of the town, and it’s been over thirty-five minutes since landing. Any guesses how quickly the vehicle is travelling?”
“I’d guess,” I said, “that they didn’t wait to set out until the native from here on the farm reached town to call for help. Somebody in that center must have noticed us coming down.”
“Very well,” Exec said. “We can afford to wait for them to arrive, I suppose, and figure out what to do about Ensign Quntion.”
So the three of us headed back to the pinnace, and met Melissa, who was just coming out as we approached the airlock. “Sir,” Melissa said, saluting Exec.
“At ease, Ensign. Have you anything to report?”
“The ship’s doctor said that there was no reason to think that Kane syndrome would make any of us more susceptible to hyperoxia, though the symptoms are somewhat similar. He doesn’t believe that the level of external oxygen is sufficient to make hyperoxia a danger for any of us. The interdisciplinary committee is running that through a computer model to confirm.”
“What interdisciplinary committee?” Exec snapped.
“Ensign Carla Jones of hyperspacial sciences, Ensign Victor Kane from computer engineering, and Nurse Practicioner Natasha Lyon, sir. The three of them are pooling their expertise, with the support of the senior staff, to attempt to discover a feasible cure for Kane syndrome without native assistance.”
“Very well,” Exec said, opening the external airlock door. We all filed inside again. “I suppose that means that Ensign Quinton is back on the job now.”
“I’m not sure, sir,” Melissa replied. “Ensign Peterson is concerned about how quickly her symptoms are progressing. He was consulting with the doctor about her case when I left.”
Once inside, we had a quick mission conference over rations. The bottom line was, Jody’s condition wasn’t good, but as long as she didn’t overexert herself physically, there was no reason that she couldn’t be outside and try to talk with the natives.
A few minutes later, something started beeping. “That’ll be the camera detecting significant motion,” Archer said. “I aimed it to cover the spot where the path enters the farm. We’ve got our natives to talk to.”
THE END – (for now.)