Captain Arnipt stepped through the hatch into the Control Area. Crewmen sat up straighter and tried to look efficient and busy. He strode to his platform in the center of the room, but remained standing with claws clasped behind his back as he addressed the company.
"Good morning!" His antennae stood straight, his skin a pale mauve; he was in a good mood. "And what a good day this shall be," he continued. "We will make first contact with yet another new species and share our knowledge with them. It has been many years since Learner discovered this world, and now we on Greeter are eager to reveal our species' gift to them and gain their friendship. Communications Officer!"
Teesn lowered his head briefly in acknowledgement. "Captain. The equipment is in perfect working order, I ran a diagnostic when I began my shift."
Arnipt turned towards Teesn's station. "Standard procedure. Have you been monitoring the communications of the subject world? Is there any indication they are aware of the approach of our spacecraft?"
"I have, Captain. The species has many languages but Communications Officer Primaga of the Learner is to be commended for her thorough grasp of them and her excellent translation routine. I have had no difficulty understanding the communications, but I have heard nothing about any such sighting."
Arnipt closed all of his eyes briefly in acceptance of the report, which had contained information not germane to his question. But Teesn could be forgiven his excitement on this day. Arnipt turned towards another duty station. "Navigator!" he called out.
Wyoam bobbed her head in response. "On course, Captain. We should be in orbit within two hours. As predicted."
Her last comment was a bit smug, but understandable. All crewmen onboard Greeter would gain more honor from another successful contact. "And there's no reason why it shouldn't be successful," he thought to himself. "We've done this too many times before. We are good at what we do."
But Wyoam wasn't through. "We are close enough to the world to get a good image, would you like to view it?" she asked. Without waiting for his response, she clawed a control. The display showed a world of blue oceans, two huge green landmasses and a few smaller ones, with white water-clouds flitting over all.
Everyone paused to look. Arnipt spoke quietly, as if to himself. "It is a lovely world." Then, more loudly, "Thank you, Crewmen. You have done your tasks well and we will all be rewarded by making the contact satisfactorily."
Arnipt sat down and the crewmen relaxed back to their tasks. One thing more remained to be confirmed. He clawed a control and requested Shildoh to come up immediately with his report.
A few minutes later the doctor entered the Control Area. The mottled eggplant color of his skin and antennae draped back along his skull made it clear he wasn't happy. His claws could barely contain the mass of papers he carried; he let them slither out of his grasp onto the console.
"Captain." he said, nodding. "During our voyage I have reviewed the material provided by Dr. Frebtl onboard Learner. As you know, she was responsible for determining our gift to the new species - an agent that would provide immunity to an abnormal cell growth peculiar to these beings. The agent was duly dispersed in the world's atmosphere before Learner left."
Arnipt closed all eyes, this information was known. He waved a claw for Shildoh to continue.
"I have been studying the communications received from this world, expecting to hear many exclamations of surprise regarding the sudden cessation of this disorder. I have heard nothing about it."
Arnipt's body remained still, but his antennae moved forward to more accurately receive Shildoh's next utterance.
The doctor continued, "I could not believe such a change would not be noticed and discussed so I went back to Frebtl's data." He clawed through the stack of papers, extracted one, and waved it in the air. "She is extremely competent, but she reversed a tiny section of this species' genetic map. It must have been a mistake."
Arnipt's antennae swept backwards, this did not bode well.
Shildoh brandished another page in front of his face. "I re-worked the equations, and determined that her fix is useless."
Arnipt relaxed a bit. "Then we can still make the contact, even though we have no gift to our credit when we greet them. It is not preferable, but in time we will find another gift to prove our friendship."
As he tapped a claw on the top page, only Shildoh's upper eyes looked in Arnipt's direction. "There is more. A peculiar and deadly syndrome first appeared on the world after Learner's stop here. The data indicate that in a few cases our agent mutated, and the new form spread world-wide. Instead of an agent causing immunity, it has become one that removes immunities. It has taken many lives."
Arnipt remained standing by sheer force of will. "Navigator, All Stop!" he commanded. The eyes of all the crewmen looked at him in surprise, though they clearly knew that something was horribly wrong.
"We had the best of intentions, but this dearly error has caused great loss of life," he said quietly. "How can we ever face them? We must communicate with the homeworld before that decision is made, but the most important thing is this - we must find a way to counteract the situation we have created. Shildoh, begin work immediately!"