31 Demon Sky
The away team beamed onto the promontory in an obscuring, toxic gale. Kathryn activated her tricorder. “Deja vu
,” she said.
“Captain,” Tuvok's voice transmitted through her EVA helmet speaker. “Surface temperature at five hundred twelve degrees Kelvin. Hazardous levels of thermionic radiation. Class Y atmospheric conditions confirmed.”
“Captain, reading traces of deuterium hydrogen sulfate,” said Lieutenant Carey. “But radiation is interfering with scans. I can't localize a deposit.”
“Dichromates?” she asked them.
“Negative,” Tuvok replied. “However thermionic radiation may interfere with those readings, as well.”
Captain Kathryn Janeway scanned the arid valley between high, jagged ridges formed from a violent clash of tectonic plates. They were likely the first - and last - intelligent life to step foot on this barren, poisonous, violent planet. If this were the Alpha Quadrant, she would never have ordered a mission to a Demon-class. But survival, she had learned, had a way of changing your priorities; and the survival of those under you – had a way of necessitating an unavoidable measure of risk – for
the crew, and from
the crew. As captain of Voyager
, she shouldered a priority that hadn't changed in a decade, and which superceded all others: to get her crew – and their children - back safely to the Alpha Quadrant. Today, like every other day, she would risk everything she had, everything she was, to that end.
“Mister Carey, you'll monitor the storm and transporter lock. Doctor, keep a watch on our EVA systems; and monitor for any presence of dichromates, proteins, or any other indications of mimetic life. Tuvok, you'll bring up the rear. Neelix? Neelix -“
“Don't worry about me, Captain”, the ever-ebullient Talaxian replied, lowering his drilling equipment. “I've done this dozens of times, in my, ahem
, former trade.” He surveyed the landscape, re-calibrated his tricorder and scanned a new direction. “Demon-class ground deuterium deposits usually vector to mineralization through a process of mechanical volcanogenic transport. My isotopic analysis is revealing some anomalous geochemical signatures in this direction, Captain; they might indicate possible aqueous-phase mineralization.” He surveyed the landscape. “We should follow along this synvolcanic fault two thousand meters to a footwall in the subvolcanic intrusion. Where the downslope transportation of magma and hydrothermal fluids quite probably interacted to produce our happy little deuterium and oxygen isotopes in the subsurface waters.”
Neelix looked up to find everyone was turned to him. “I've, ah, been putting in some time on the holodeck. Starfleet...expeditionary...geology.”
“You're on point with me, Mister Neelix,” Kathryn said.
Lieutenant Carey slung his transport enhancers, and looked around. “I don't see why we couldn't just use the deuterium we collect from cosmic hydrogen,” he said. “That is what the Bussard collectors are for, after all. Why risk coming here?”
“And let Voyager's ramscoops have all the fun?” Neelix was in his usual irrepressible form, happiest, as always, when he was contributing: “The low abundance of deuterium in cosmic sources requires significant processing, storage and energy, for low yields. Fluids derived from terrestrial magma contain elevated concentrations of chlorides and sulfate ions. They're also heavier in salinity. Voyager's deuterium storage facility can separate these molecules directly utilizing a chemical exchange process with hydrogen sulfide and water, resulting in far greater yields at much reduced expenditure of ship's resources.”
“Hydrogen sulfide. Interesting.” Lieutenant Carey gripped his phaser rifle and scanned the horizon.
The team filed down the ridge overlooking the shattered rock formations of the valley. “Interesting isn't the half of it, Lieutenant! Hydrogen sulfide was one of the main causes of early mass extinctions on your home planet, when Earth, well, looked more like this
. One particular mass extinction is believed to have resulted from volcanic eruptions of carbon dioxide and methane into the oxygen-depleted oceans, which absorbed increased hydrogen sulfide faster than the plankton could process it. This started killing plant life and reduced planetary oxygen and ozone. It spiraled downhill from there and resulted in the Permian Mass Exinction. 'The Great Dying
', I believe your people call it.”
Carey resumed his pace. “Nothing great about dying, Ambassador.”
Neelix continued. “On this class of planet, Captain, the bulk of a deuterium deposit will be inaccessible from hand tools. But if we approach it, say, from just under the volcanic footwall, near the extremity of a downflow, the ground should be permeable enough for penetration of the bore. That should yield transporter access to all the aqueous deuteride we require, Captain. Ah, I'm looking forward to a little honest physical labor
Captain Janeway stopped, and looked him over with a smirk. “Mister Neelix, I'm glad I authorized your proposal of an expeditionary geology department. Placing you in charge of it was clearly one of my smarter decisions. Your resourcefulness continues to inspire and strengthen us, Mister Neelix.” She put her hand on his heart. “You're a real credit to ship and crew. We couldn't have made it this far without you.”
Neelix moved to speak but found he couldn't.
The group scrabbled their way down the rock slope into the valley. Overhead, the wind-swept stormclouds lit with radioactive static discharges.
“Nice day for a walk,” Lieutenant Carey suggested. “Reminds me of Idaho.”
“I thought you were from Earth, Lieutenant,” Neelix replied. “I always find a good hike invigorating.”
“Give me space over planetfall,” Carey replied. “Navigating a shuttle through a planet's gravimetric flux; or configuring the transporter matrix for a challenging atmospheric condition. Scanning for minerals, drilling for deuterium – is just one of those chores that come with starship duty.”
“When I've seen as many barren planets as you have I'm sure I'd feel the same way, Lieutenant.”
“You've got it all wrong, Lieutenant Carey,” Kathryn interrupted. “We're not scanning for deuterium.”
Kathryn hauled herself up a boulder and scanned the ridge ahead. “And this isn't just any planet. It's unique. A uniqueness that's ours to discover – or remain ignorant of. Give me planetfall any day.” She folded her tricorder and considered it. “Technology may be powerful; but exploration – discovery
– that's what we're here after. What the tricorder doesn't
“Captain, I'm concerned about these levels.” The EMH interrupted her topographic analysis with Commander Tuvok, to show her his tricorder readings. “The environmental toxicity is elevating faster than predicted. I recommend we finish up and start again tomorrow.”
“Very well, Doctor. Janeway to Neelix. Status?”
We're beaming the final volume now, Captain. This last deposit more than suffices for our needs. We'll be ready to break camp in ten minutes.
She regarded the EMH, who nodded with a small discomfiture. She noted his concern, compounded, possibly, with annoyance at himself for losing his footing earlier, and falling down a long slope. Not only was the EMH a sight without an EVA suit, but his uniform was now covered in dried clay. Commander Tuvok had cautioned against resetting his emitter in the presence of so much thermionic interference, which might prevent reestablishment of a stable holomatrix. While the Doctor's holographic matrix may have escaped unharmed, his pride, unfortunately, hadn't.
The sky darkened. The crew looked up at the flashing discharges. Suddenly the ground tremored.
“Neelix, that's last call. Break camp, we'll double back to you.”
No arguments from me, Captain. We'll be ready. Neelix out.
The band hiked their way back through the exposed granite obelisks jutting through an ancient lava bed; it had eroded over the eons, leaving a forest of stone columns and wind-eroded arches.
The Doctor's tricorder pinged. “Captain. I'm picking up...I don't know what I'm picking up. But whatever it is, it wasn't there when we passed through the first time.”
A shrieking howl sounded through the valley.
She turned to the EMH, and worriedly eyed her team. “Phasers.”
Kathryn motioned for the team to stay put. She armed her phaser rifle and stepped to the edge of the stone wall. She peered around the corner; then stepped out. “Commander
Tuvok stood beside her. His expression shifted to one of concentrated logical calculation – and distrust.
Ahead, naked in the sand, lay a humanoid newborn baby.
The EMH scanned the lifeform, studied his readings, and looked at the medkit slung over his shoulder. He scanned his kit. “Captain. The sample containers. I was researching the environmental preconditions of the Demon, hoping to gain some insight into rapid cellular regeneration to aid in trauma treatments. My sample containers exposed residual cellular traces, and must have triggered a response from latent biomimetic lifeforms in the clay. When I...fell. It's my own fault, Captain.” The EMH lowered his eyes in self-recrimination.
“Why didn't the transporter biofilters recognize the celluar residue?”
“The samples may have been inert until activated by the atmosphere. The containers must have been improperly sterilized - which makes me question the validity of the other cellular research I obtained at the medical conference on Telorus III.”
“If that's true why wasn't the Doc copied?” Carey asked.
“Indeed,” replied Tuvok, “he may have been. However without a portable holoemitter, there would have been no way to stabilize his holomatrix. The magnetic field would have immediately dissipated.”
Neelix interposed himself. “We're not...just going to leave it there, Captain?”
It descended and alit on an obelisk with great articulated talons.
The EMH came forward; a look of disturbed recognition crossed his face. He checked his tricorder. “It's a Telorusian pterodactyloid, Captain.” He looked up. “Actually, a biomimetic duplicate.”
that,” Neelix contributed.
The Telorusian pterodactyloid fluttered an eight-meter furred leather wingspan, and tested the air. The baby cried. The great winged reptile angled its long-crested skull, shrieked and prepared to launch itself at the infant.
“Stay back,” Kathryn ordered them, and stepped forward raising her phaser rifle.
“No Captain!” Tuvok insisted. “They aren't real. They are both of this planet. Don't risk your life.”
Kathryn concentrated on the pterodactyloid and broke away.
Tuvok insisted: “Captain! You are in violation of Starfleet away team protocol!”
“It's not a child, Captain!” Carey added. “It's an electrochemical analogue!”
“For God's sake get it to safety!” She turned for a final look at their faces. “And get yourselves home. That's an order!”
The Demon sky rages as Katherine faces the beast. She crouches and fires.
The pterodactyloid notices her, and lunges at her from above; its talons shatter her helmet and claw into her heart. She seals her mouth against the burning atmosphere. The last thing Kathryn sees is Neelix gathering the infant, turning to his captain with silent strength, and disappearing with the others in a transporter field.
With her dying breath, she resists.
Blinding light penetrates her.
Kathryn found herself on her knees, on Voyager
's bridge, confronting the bottomless, luminescent eyes of the alien intruder; clutching at the alien's violent, energy-induced grip on her head and her heart.