The Beta Quadrant
One Hundred and Five Years Later
There weren’t any tropical forests on her world and for good reason.
Hers was a cold world of unforgiving temperatures and rough terrain. A world befitting a warrior people where only the strong survived and the weak perished.
Granted, it was an old fashioned view of Andorian society but it suited her, especially now as she stalked through this dense jungle, trying her best to ignore the myriad of bugs and insects, yearning after her blood, the irritatingly bright green colors all around her and the damned heat and humidity which kept her skin covered in a perpetual film of sweat and her clothes uncomfortably damp.
She halted once more as she did every few steps, crouching low on the mushy forest floor and listening intently. She thought she heard a bird cry somewhere nearby. She wasn’t sure if it was a mating call or if it was on the hunt and she cared little at this point.
The antennae on her head stood at full attention as they assisted her already keen senses in trying to track her enemy she knew to be in the vicinity. If she just stayed perfectly still and with her normally light blue skin and combat fatigues camouflaged to her jungle surroundings, she was nearly impossible to spot with the naked eye.
Movement, just a few meters up ahead.
Instead of heading straight towards it, she set out very slowly on a parallel trajectory, trying to flank whoever she thought she had spotted up ahead. She took extra pains to ensure to avoid stepping into rustling leaves or cracking twigs, adopting a well practiced stealth approach.
She never lost sight of her target and by the time she had maneuvered herself into the perfect ambush position, she already knew what to expect.
She brought up her black phaser rifle and closed in for deadly accuracy. There were three of them and under different circumstances she would have been delighted to find that they made an easy target, carelessly keeping their guard down.
She had managed to get within just a few meters of the unaware group, close enough to smell their sweat and then took aim. “Marines.”
All three of them whipped around, their rifles at the ready.
The one closest to her recognized her almost instantly. “Oorah,” he said quietly.
“Oorah,” she responded and then stood. “And by the way, you’re all dead.”
“Lieutenant,” said Corporal Sonier, the most senior Marine in the group, quickly and most likely in order to hide his embarrassment of being ambushed by his company commander. “We thought you were a goner for sure.”
First Lieutenant Beatiar Sh’Fane lowered her rifle and shook her head. “Not quite. I managed my way out of the valley just in time before the explosives went off. Who else got out?”
“Who’s left in Alfa Squad?” she said when she didn’t get a response.
“We’re all that’s left, Ma’am,” said Private Yiren, a short unjoined Trill who had been a rifleman with Alfa Squads’ Fireteam Two.
“How about Bravo?”
Sonier shook his head. “Sergeant Marcus was covering our flank but had to engage the enemy directly when they doubled back. I think they completely took out the enemy.”
The Andorian aimed a pointed look at Sonier. “Then where are they now?”
“They didn’t make it, Ma’am.”
Sh’Fane tried to reign in her impatience. “Corporal, you just told me they took out the enemy.”
“There is somebody left,” said the third man, another private. His voice was unsteady, betraying not just his youth and inexperience but also unmistakable anxiety.
Again they hesitated. Clearly none of them wanted to answer.
“How many?” she asked again, her voice taking on a sharp edge even while she kept her volume low enough to avoid giving away their position to whoever was still out there.
“Just one, Ma’am,” Sonier finally admitted.
“One?” she asked with disbelieve.
“He’s good,” the private quickly tried to explain. “Really good. And fast. He’s taken out Second Platoon almost single handedly. We just can’t get a bead on him, it’s almost as if he’s not really there. It’s like he’s everywhere and nowhere.”
“Jeez, calm down, Pedro. He ain’t a ghost,” said Sonier.
“Might as well be,” mumbled the private.
Sh’Fane looked at Sonier. “Do you have a location?”
“Would be easier if we had access to tricorders.”
“Well, we don’t, so no point in moaning about it,” she said sharply. “We do this the old fashioned way.”
Sonier nodded. “From what we can tell, last time anyone saw him, he was somewhere near the clearing to the west.”
“Nobody saw him,” Pedro mumbled.
The lieutenant ignored the private. “I don’t care how good or how fast he is, Charlie Company will not be taken down by a single individual. Do I make myself clear?”
There were nods, some more hesitant than others.
“I take point. Spread out and stay frosty,” she said as he brought her rifle back up and began to head towards the clearing, the three Marines following her.
She could hear that bird cry again and this time it seemed to be much closer. Then she heard the leaves above them rustling slightly and she took one knee and stopped, indicating her people to do the same by holding up her right fist.
She couldn’t feel the slightest breeze on her face.
“He’s here,” whispered Pedro. “He’s here.”
Sh’Fane had to agree that something indeed was here. She scanned the thick, green canopy above but could spot nothing out of the ordinary.
Then she heard the scream.
She whipped around just in the time to see something grab Pedro and drag him off his feet and into the dense underbrush of the jungle.
Whatever it was, it had moved so fast, she hadn’t been able to make it out.
Sonier and Yrien immediately opened fire but it was already too late for the private.
“Cease fire, cease fire,” she called out, concerned that they’d inadvertently take out their own man.
The shooting stopped.
“Did you get a look at that? What the hell was it?” Sonier asked.
But neither Yiren nor sh’Fane could answer.
And then the rustling sound overhead again. This time the lieutenant took it as a sign of another impending attack and whipped around again only to see a large mass swoop down from above and go after the Trill. He was carried away before she could get a clear shot on the attacker.
“Damn it,” Sonier cried. “It must be more than one. Two, maybe three of them?”
Sh’Fane shook her head, keeping her eyes on their surroundings and trying to anticipate the direction of the next attack. “No. It’s just the one.”
Her antennae picked up the movement first and she knew instantly that their attacker was going after Sonier next. “Get down,” she yelled and got up to get to him.
It was already too late.
She managed to get off one shot at the approaching ‘thing’ but missed before it grabbed the Marine by the shoulders and pulled him into the foliage above as he screamed.
His phaser rifle fell at sh’Fane’s feet.
She brought her own weapon up and spying through its viewfinder she aimed it at the canopy were Sonier had disappeared into. There was urgent rustling for a moment before everything was perfectly still again. She had no target.
“Ok,” she said, now left all by herself. “So you are fast.”
She heard the bird cry once more. This time louder and more aggressive, originating from somewhere right above her.
“Definitely out for the hunt,” she said and took off running at full speed, dashing past tree branches and leaping over obstacles effortlessly. Sometimes the best strategy was a tactical retreat.
Within moments she had her attacker exactly where she had wanted him. She could feel him swoop in on her from behind and immediately dropped down and rolled on the forest floor, feeling something trying to grab her but coming away with nothing more than scraps of her fatigues.
She came up firing. Two burst in quick succession but she knew at once that she had hit nothing of consequence.
Whatever it was she was fighting, not only was it fast, it seemed to defy gravity.
“Alright,” she said, “Let’s change the playing field, shall we?” sh’Fane dropped the rifle and sprinted towards a nearby tree. She leaped right at the massive trunk, giving herself enough of a boost to reach the lowest bough which must have hung about three meters off the ground.
She easily pulled herself up and then jumped up onto the next branch, all of which sturdy enough to support her weight, as she climbing upwards by leaps and bounds.
She estimated that she was a good twenty meters above ground when she stopped and took a knee near the trunk and hidden amongst the thick green foliage.
Once again she relied on her finely honed senses to tell her that her enemy was nearby. This time she had no interest in waiting to let him come to her. She wanted to turn the tables.
Sh’Fane pulled free the knife she carried strapped to her leg and then took off and down the length of the bough.
She took a calculated jump and impacted with something large and soft in midair which screeched loudly upon making contact.
She held on tight as they went tumbling downwards end over end, hitting numerous branches on their way which helped slow their fall. The sound of urgent flapping and a strong sudden draft came just before they hit the ground with a loud thud. Her attacker absorbed the brunt of the impact but it hardly slowed him down as he immediately began to fight her for dominance.
They rolled for a few meters, each of them trying to end up on top until sh’Fane managed to get her knife at his throat.
The avian’s blue eyes looked up at her right past his prominent beak. He wore a modified Starfleet uniform with a golden undershirt which allowed his large wings to protrude from his back. At the moment they laid spread out and flat against the ground.
“You lose, Lieutenant,” she said with the knife at his amber-feathered neck which was so fine it looked like fur.
That’s when she felt something press against her chest and saw his eyes lightening up.
“Drop the knife,” he said in a distinctly high-pitched, almost screechy voice.
She looked down to see that he had managed to bring an arm up against her and now the razor-sharp talons on his fingers were digging into her fatigues. And just to prove how dangerous they were, he effortlessly shredded the collar of her top.
Sh’Fane couldn’t have cared less about the state of her fatigues and instead applied more pressure on his neck. “Disengage or I will cut your throat.”
“Remove the knife or I’ll gut you wide open.”
“I’ll admit that your tactics were efficient. You and your people managed to hold out much longer than I had expected but it’s over now,” she said. “I’ve won.”
“You are mistaken. You have won nothing. Admittedly you’ve overwhelmed my men but I took out at least half your people by myself. Overall I’m rather disappointed.”
She shook her head. “Doesn’t matter. I’m still standing and you’re at my mercy.”
The sound coming out of his beak was fairly close to a sarcastic laugh. “Another misconception, I’m afraid. Computer, end program.”
The jungle was instantly replaced by the gridded holodeck and sh’Fane suddenly found herself without a knife while the Aurelian Starfleet officer still had his talons against her chest. He made use of her momentary distraction of seeing her weapon disintegrate in her hand and applied just enough pressure to the palm of his hand to push her off of him.
He gracefully stood to his impressive height, allowing his large wings to stretch out to their full imposing span.
The Andorian picked herself off the floor, refusing to be intimated by his posturing display and barely able to keep her rising anger in check. “You are cheating.”
He considered her for a moment. “I have talons, Lieutenant. They are part of me. All you had was a knife. A knife can easily be removed.”
“So can your claws,” she shot back. “And that would be a hell of a lot more painful to you.”
“You’re welcome to try. Point is, you were unable to score a decisive victory,” he said and turned towards the exit. “Perhaps you and your people should train a little harder before we try this again.”
“My people need to train harder?” she shot back with disbelieve. “Last time I checked, we moped up your security squad like they were first year recruits. Perhaps it is your people who need more practice. If you ask me nicely enough, I might consider providing a lesson or two.”
Lieutenant Lure Mer’iab stopped and turned. “I recommend you watch your place, Lieutenant. I am chief of security of this vessel and you and your Marines are merely guests here. I’ve given you a chance to prove to me that you have what it takes to take on more responsibilities and so far you have failed to impress me.”
The Andorian took a confrontational step forward. “You are worried about your job, aren’t you? You know that my Marines can do much better at providing security than your people ever could and you can bet your ass that that’s exactly what I will be putting in my reports to the captain and Marines Command.”
“Put into your report what you wish, Lieutenant. While you are on Agamemnon
you are on my turf and you will follow my rules,” he said and continued towards the exit.
“We are not done discussing this,” she protested.
“We most certainly are,” Mer’iab said just as he stepped through the parted doors.
* * *