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Old August 2 2010, 09:13 PM   #77
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

July 2010 Challenge: “Myth and Mayhem”, Part 1
(4657 Words)

Stardate 54533.33 (14 July 2377)
Border Service Cutter USS Sturgeon
En route to planet Xilien IV

“Now entering system boundary,” announced the helmsman.

“Take us out of warp and proceed at maximum impulse,” ordered Captain Lars Trondheim. He turned in his command chair and addressed the diminutive Asian woman at the Operations station. “Sinja? Any response?”

Lt. Sinja Tarrawa kept her gaze within the sensor hood. “Negative, sir. No response to our hails – only the automated distress signal.”

Captain Trondheim grunted and rubbed absently at his beard. It had been nearly two hours since they first received the frantic calls for help from the mining outpost on Xilien IV. The transmission had been garbled and disjointed but the underlying message was clear: The outpost was under attack.

“Go active on sensors, Lieutenant, full power. No point trying to sneak up on the attackers – maybe we can scare them off.”

“Aye, sir,” replied Tarrawa.

“XO, sound Red Alert – its time to go weapons hot and shields up. I want one Mark 22 and one Mark 9 armed and ready in the forward tubes. Have transporter rooms standby to send down SAR teams. Make sure Chief Zuan has his team loaded out for possible combat.”

“Already on it, Skipper,” replied Commander Jacqueline Porter. The tall, dark-skinned woman brought the cutter’s tactical systems on-line with cool professionalism. “Torpedoes loaded and armed. Targeting computer on stand-by. Chief Zuan has signaled that our SAR teams are ready and standing by.”

“Very well. Helm? What’s our ETA?”

“Twelve minutes, sir.”

The Norwegian CO grimaced. Not fast enough. The attackers could be gone in twelve minutes.

“Ops, what can you tell me about the planet and the mining outpost?” queried the Captain.

“Xilien IV is marginally class M, currently experiencing a planetary ice age. Scans from the first survey vessels indicate a space-faring civilization as recently as 400 years ago, but apparently the inhabitants moved on when the climate changed. The planet is rich in dilithium and chromium - thus the mining operation. It’s run by a Rigellian consortium and there are 56 souls working the Xilien operation.”

“Do they have any defensive capabilities? Shields? Weapons?”

Lt. Tarrawa shook her head. “No sir. Xilien IV is pretty much off the regular space lanes. There haven’t been any problems with pirates out this way, so the company did not install defenses.”

“I’m sure that made the bean-counters happy,” muttered the Captain. “Sinja, replay the original distress message before the automated beacon kicked in.”

“Aye sir – it’s audio only.”

Trondheim nodded. “Let’s hear it.”

There was a momentary squeal of static before a man’s voice spoke. The fear and confusion was evident, even with the poor signal quality.

“ . . . is the Xilien IV mining colony. We are under attack by . . . ,” Heavy static drowned out the frantic man’s next few words. “Please! Any ship in the vicinity . . . this is the Xilien IV mining colony . . . we have many casualties . . . please hurry! It may come back at . . .”

The recording ended abruptly, cutting off the rest of the man’s message.

It? Not ‘they’?” remarked the Captain.

“Perhaps he was referring to a ship or aircraft,” said Commander Porter.

“Perhaps.” But Trondheim did not appear to be convinced.

“Captain? I have a visual on the mining complex,” announced Lt. Tarrawa.

“On screen, Lieutenant.”

The starscape wavered and rugged, snow-covered terrain appeared on the main viewscreen. Centered in the image were the remains of three geodesic domes that connected to a central power core. Two of the domes were utterly destroyed, the third damaged, snow and ice blasted away to reveal ugly black scars. Tendrils of thick, black smoke poured from an opening in the last dome. The remains of the sensor and communications array were scattered about. Whatever had hit the mining station had done so with devastating effect.

“Any life-signs?” asked the Captain, quietly.

Tarrawa winced slightly. “It’s difficult to tell, Captain. There’s considerable background radiation hampering our scans. It’s also possible the miners took refuge below surface in the mines.”

“Let’s hope so. Any signs of whoever attacked them?”

“No sir. There are no other vessels in the system and no life form or energy readings on the planet’s surface.”

“Could be a cloaked ship,” pointed out the XO.

“Yes, but to what end?” asked Trondheim. “We’re a long ways from Klingon or Romulan space. Besides, what would either gain by attacking a small mining operation?”

“I didn’t say they were Klingon or Romulan,” countered Porter. “Someone else could have cloaking technology – the Maquis reportedly have a few class 4 devices. As to motive . . . maybe someone down there owes the Syndicate money. Or perhaps a Borg cube dropped out of transwarp for a little target practice.”

“You’re just full of happy thoughts, Jackie,” said Trondheim, dryly. “Helm, bring us into geo-stationary orbit over the mining complex. Lt. Tarrawa, continue your scans and keep hailing the miners. Maybe someone down there will answer.”

* * *

Stardate 54533.39 (14 July 2377)
Xilien Mining Complex
Sub-level 4

John Mason sat in the near-darkness as the emergency lighting began to fail. He shivered despite the warmth of the subterranean caverns that led down into the heart of the mine. It was fear, not cold, that caused him to tremble.

The day had begun as a routine work shift for Mason. He had enjoyed a large breakfast in dome B and was suiting up for work when the first tremors hit.

Ground quakes were not uncommon in the area. The entire continent was a major seismic event waiting to happen. But Mason and his co-workers had grown accustomed to the occasional rumbles and shaking. The surface domes were designed to absorb most of the shock from quakes and the special bracing and force-fields within the mine shafts provided generally good protection underground.

What Mason and the rest of the mining crew did not realize was the quake that morning opened up an ice cave that had been sealed for nearly four centuries.

The creature that had been trapped within came out of its period of hibernation, sensing the sudden rush of fresh air into the cave. It uttered a piercing shriek and spread massive wings, flinging aside heavy blocks of ice as if they were small pebbles.

With surprising grace for so large a creature, it hurled itself upward and out of its frigid prison into the foggy air of Xilien. It gained altitude like a rocket, breaking the sound barrier with a sound like cannon fire.

Some primordial instinct caused the creature to bank sharply and fly toward a point miles distant. Soon, its sharp eyes picked up three shapes on the ice that did not belong. It began its dive.

John Mason was about to enter the turbo-lift that would take him into the mines when the creature struck dome B. The sudden blast of icy air and the sound of rending metal and collapsing duracrete jolted Mason. He stumbled backward as a light panel crashed to the floor before him. A section of wall a mere ten meters away suddenly crashed down, burying two of his friends under duracrete and aluminum. Then he saw . . .

. . . Mason’s mind had difficulty comprehending what he saw next. A dark shadow fell over the opening where the wall had collapsed, then something darker still . . . dark but substantive and alive poked through the opening.

It took a few seconds for the word talon to come to his mind. Part of him wanted to flee, but he was entranced – frozen in place with fear.

The talons spread and grasped Glenda Ayers – the Beta Shift Foreman. She was dazed but began to scream as the talons tightened around her midsection until her breath was cut off.

Their eyes met momentarily. She looked confused, her expression seemed to say, “This isn’t happening . . .” Then she was gone.

Mason’s heart hammered within his chest. He glanced around for a way of escape. The turbo-lift doors were half-open and the lift car was dark. No escape there. Just ahead, though, was the ladder alcove that led down into the mines. If he could make it there . . .

A blast of wind like a hurricane nearly took him off his feet. The sound that accompanied the violent tempest was louder than anything he had ever heard – perhaps the main reactor had exploded?

The wind abated as quickly as it rose. The smell that lingered made his stomach twist. The acrid stench of blood and excrement was strong now – Mason did not require much imagination to figure out the source.

He began to move toward the ladder alcove when something dark again appeared in the jagged opening of the corridor wall.

It was an eye.

The eye regarded him with a deadly reptilian coldness. Mason could see his own reflection in the dark orb which was easily twice his height. The elliptical pupil was surrounded by green and gold and tracked him as he tried to sidle past.

With uncanny speed the eye disappeared to be replaced by a massive, gray beak – its edges serrated and deadly. Something hung limply from the monstrous beak.

It was an arm.

With a strangled scream, Mason hurled himself toward the ladder alcove as the monster began to work itself through the debris, widening the opening in the wall. He managed to slam the door behind him just as a deafening shriek reverberated down the corridor – a massive blast of wind nearly tearing the door from its supports.

Mason, long-practiced in traversing the ladders, hurled himself at the twin rails and allowed gravity to pull him downward into the darkened caverns below, ignoring the pain as friction burned his hands.

* * *

Stardate 54533.41 (14 July 2377)
Border Service Cutter USS Sturgeon
Geo-stationary orbit over Xilien IV

“We’re holding at 225 kilometers above the mining complex, sir,” announced Ensign Guaraldi from the helm.

“Still no vessels within scanning range,” said Lt. Tarrawa. “Tachyon detection is negative for cloaking devices.”

“That would seem to eliminate the Klingons and the Maquis,” observed Captain Trondheim as he turned toward Commander Porter.

“But not the Romulans,” parried the XO.

Trondheim shook his head. “It doesn’t fit, Jackie. The Romulans have enough problems of their own to raid a small outfit like this. There’s no strategic or tactical advantage to be gained.”

“Maybe not for the Empire, but the Romulans have more factions than before the war. Any one might be willing to stir up trouble and blame it on the government.”

The Captain smiled wanly. “Never one to pass up a good conspiracy theory, are you, XO?” He became serious once more. “Notify the SAR teams they are cleared to beam down.”

* * *

Stardate 54533.42 (14 July 2377)
SAR Team 1

The first Search and Rescue team materialized in the ruins of the dining hall. They held their defensive posture – formed in a circle with weapons facing outward – until Chief Zuan lowered his phaser carbine.

“Fan out, people. Do not get out of sight of your partner. Check in every ten minutes – sooner if you find any survivors or any perps. Got it?”

Each pair acknowledged and began to move out, carefully avoiding rubble from the collapsed dome and snow-covered debris.

Corpsman First Class Rhijan ‘kel Vernas shivered and rubbed her arms. “Frak! It’s cold.”

“Turn up the heat in your body armor,” replied Zuan as he scanned the devastation with narrowed eyes. “You can’t do your job if you freeze to death.”

“Gee, Chief, I didn’t know you cared,” she replied, sarcastically.

“I don’t.” Frowning, he stepped forward a few paces and knelt. He tapped the controls on the combat scanner strapped to his forearm, checked the reading, and grunted.

Rhijan came up beside him. “What?”

Chief Zuan pointed at the snow that lay before them. “That.”

The Rigellian gazed where the CPO gestured, puzzled at first. Suddenly, her eyes widened as she realized what she was seeing.

“Is that . . . a footprint?

“Not a foot. More like a claw or talon. I’m reading trace amounts of blood and DNA in the snow . . . Human, Trill and Bajoran.”

Rhijan continued to stare at the impression in the snow. She breathed a Rigellian oath. “That has to be . . . what? 5 or 6 meters across?”

Zuan stood and nodded. “That’s about right.”

“What could have made that track?”

The Chief looked around once more at the devastated facility. “My guess? Whatever frakked this place up.”

* * *

Stardate 54533.43 (14 July 2377)
Border Service Cutter USS Sturgeon
Geo-stationary orbit over Xilien IV

“Captain!” The urgency in Tarrawa’s voice caused Trondheim’s head to snap around. “I’m picking up a transient contact moving at Mach 1.5, altitude 2,644 meters, on a direct heading toward the mining outpost. It will be on top of them in less than two minutes.”

“Hail that ship, Lieutenant! Warn them off.”

Tarrawa continued to stare into the sensor hood, a perplexed expression on her face. She shook her head in disbelief.

“Sir . . . I . . . I don’t believe it is a ship. It’s a biological.”

“Impossible!” retorted Commander Porter. “No bird can fly that fast!”

“Get me a visual, Lieutenant,” interrupted Trondheim, “and warn the SAR teams. Tell them they’ve got a fast-mover inbound and to take cover. XO, see if you can acquire a targeting lock on that thing . . . whatever the hell it is.”

Both officers acknowledged his orders and turned to their stations. Captain Trondheim turned his gaze to the viewscreen. The dense cloud cover made it difficult to clearly see the rapidly moving object at first, but it broke through momentarily, allowing them to clearly see the creature.

It was no ship – rather it was the stuff of nightmares. Trondheim was momentarily speechless as the massive creature spread leathery wings and soared, gaining altitude. It vaguely resembled a Terran pterodactyl from pre-historic times, but this thing was larger by geometric proportions. Dark brown scales surrounded horn-like spikes on its midsection while meter long claws protruded from massive talons. Its elongated head was more reptilian than birdlike.

Whatever it was, it most certainly was a clear threat to the SAR teams.


The Captain turned toward Lt. Tarrawa who stared at the creature’s image with rapt horror.

“What was that, Lieutenant?” he asked sharply.

She seemed not to hear him. She spoke another word.


* * *
"Understand, Commander: That torpedo did not self-destruct. You heard it hit the hull, and I was never here."

-Admiral James Greer
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