Archaeological Site, entrance chamber. Herroton.
30th November 2151.
The voice was flat, tinny, making it difficult to identify the speaker. The words, though, were clear enough. "Trap One, this is Greyhound Two. We have reached point three eight, no anomalous contacts. Proceeding to point three nine. Over
Hoshi Sato was riffle shuffling her lucky deck one handed. With the other she tapped the transmit key. "Greyhound Two, Trap One. Message acknowledged. Please send test messages for signal analysis, over."
A small communications console had been set up in the entrance chamber. Although the marines had their own signallers, everyone had agreed that Sato was by far the best person to operate it. There were three systems in operation, conventional radio, the marines own LOSIR equipment, and the Morse beacon she herself had jerry rigged.
"How's it going, Hoshi?" Archer asked, approaching. Porthos strained at his leash, trying to jump up at her. Reed, in combat armour and toting a rifle, followed.
"They're making steady progress sir. More than half way to their destination."
A group of six marines, led by Sergeant Woo, were proceeding to what had been designated 'Alpha Charlie One', or Anomalous Contact One. It wasn't the only spot where the mysterious movement had been detected, or even the first chronologically, but it was the closest to the entrance. It had been decided that for practical reasons that it would be the first such spot to be investigated.
Reed asked "How are the signals holding up?"
Sato gestured to a display screen, a mass of bar graphs that meant nothing to Reed. "Well, the LOSIR system is performing pretty much as we expected. Signal strength is slightly lower than it should be over this distance, but it's still within standard parameters. It's more likely to be poor placement on one of the relays than the result of whatever it is that's been dampening conventional communications.
"On the subject of which...the radio signal is almost completely degraded, even at this range. I can use it to track them, for now, but at this rate it'll be too weak even for that when they get to their destination. And actually talking to them...no chance."
"What about the beacon?" Archer said, gesturing to the one on the console.
"Good news: It works. Bad news: It's slow. Tapping the message into the keyboard depends on how fast a typist you are, but because of the signal degradation we've had to make the dots and dashes extra long to make sure the receiving system can recognise them. A five word sentence will take over a minute. Yeah, even if they're short words. The odd thing is, if you've got two people who are good, I mean really good, at the ends, then you can do without the keypad and just listen in. Trooper Pashmut knows his Morse almost as well as I do. We've been practising, and we can get to more than double the speed of the automatics, just by being able to anticipate the message from context."
"So, use the LOSIR for most purposes, and the beacon if someone has to go off the beaten track." Archer pondered. "Sounds reasonable. Right, I'm going to see how Locke's doing. Give me a shout if anything crops up."
Archer and Reed walked away, Reed turning round as they did so. "Hey, Hoshi. Seven of diamonds."
Without turning from her screen she put her deck down, cut it apparently at random and held the card up for his inspection. He grinned and shook his head, not because she was wrong, but in bafflement at how she did it.
A large tent like structure had been set up within the chamber, near to the guards shack. Power leads snaked from underneath one side, connecting straight to the generator. Inside, along with four camp beds, the paraphernalia of a military field hospital. Doctor Locke was assembling a scanning microscope with grim determination, ciggarette smouldering in an already full ashtray beside him.
"I hope we won't be needing any of this." Archer said.
Locke grunted. "Better safe than sorry." He looked down, where Porthos was industriously sniffing his leg. "Did you have to bring that odius creature in here? It's not welcome."
Archer shrugged. "You heard the man, Malcolm, wait outside."
That got a single barked laugh from Locke, and a resigned sigh from Reed.
"How long till everything's operational?" Archer asked.
"Got the basic stuff set up already. Everything we need for the usual combat injuries. And when I get this put together," he gestured to the microscope, "we can get a preliminary analysis on any toxins, or pathogens. Not as in depth as sending samples back to the Enterprise for full tests, but time may be of the essence. And things will go a lot quicker if I am allowed to proceed uninterrupted." he added acidly.
Archer took that as his cue to exit. Outside the tent Phlane was organising a group of Denobulan Militia. Although the tunnel searching would be left to the marines, Archer felt it best to have a bit of extra security at the command post. He gave her a respectful nod as they passed, Reed offering a salute.
"So, Malcolm, does everything meet with your approval?"
Reed nodded. "Pretty much Captain. Given the choice I'd prefer to get a barricade of some sort up, maybe support weapons in fixed emplacements, overlapping fields of fire..."
Although unhappy with such militaristic ideas, Archer could see the sense of them. "Maybe we can shift some of those containers, use them as a barricade. On the other hand we don't want to use anything that might go boom if hit by a stray shot. When Trip gets here have a word with him, find out what would be safe...ah. Speak of the devil, here he is now."
Tucker was indeed standing at the entrance hatch, next to Professor Partridge, who was looking around the chamber with a huge child like grin all over her face. Whilst Archer and the others had standard issue cold weather jackets for the chill---they weren't needed in this chamber, warmed by the generator, so most were unfastened or removed entirely---Partridge made use of a long leather trench coat that swirled dramatically as she spun, taking in all the sights.
"Trip, Professor!" Archer called. "Over here!"
"I'll just...ah...just go and check up on...stuff." Reed muttered. He sidled away rapidly. Archer watched him go, nonplussed.
"Hiya cap'n." Tucker said, approaching. "You know that weird effect outside? The way the straight lines seemed to curve, an' Hoshi got all freaked out an stuff? Took Polly here all of two minutes to figure it out. Two minutes."
"Oh, stuff and nonsense, Trip." Partridge said, still twirling. "I had the reports from the surface yesterday, that gave me some clues as to what might be happening. Two probabilities presented themselves. Either something was altering your perceptions, or, given Hoshi's statement that 'the angles were wrong', that this is a temple to some Lovecraftian monstrosity. Nyarlathotep, perhaps, or even Great Cthulhu himself."
Archer rubbed the back of his neck. "So, you've ruled out the possibility of it being Yog-Sothoth then."
Partridge stopped turning, and narrowed her eyes. "You got the reference. It's not good when people get my references. It makes them think they're as clever as me. Darkness and despair lie along that path." she said evenly.
"Don't worry Professor, I know my place." Archer chuckled. "Now, what could have made us see things?"
She dug into a coat pocket, extracting a scanner. "There's a very intense electromagnetic field surrounding the ziggurat. Oddly, it seems to hug the outer surface very closely, it should radiate outwards. Very strange, and worthy of further study. At any rate, the frequency is very close to that of the human brain. I'd need to do further tests to be sure, but my working hypothesis is that it can cause an effect rather similar to epilepsy in the temporal lobes. Fascinating stuff."
"Hmm. Is it dangerous?" he asked.
She shrugged. "Hard to say with this data. Still, there's no evidence of any harm being done to those who worked here, that I know of. I'd suggest that, as long as people take care not to stand right next to the exterior, they should be fine. And I'll set this up to give us an audio warning if it detects anything similar in here." She started tapping at the scanner.
Archer looked round for the Denobulan security chief. "Phlane, have you got a minute? Thanks. I just wanted to check with you, I know you said before but I wanted to double check. There's never been any incident of long term effects from that disorientation outside?"
She shook her head emphatically. "No, never as far as I'm aware."
"Good, good. That's certainly reassuring." He looked around, thinking. "While you're here Professor, there's something else I'd like to pick your brains about...it may be nothing, but it...bothers me."
He pointed to the guard's shack. "The morning of the disappearances, there was heavy condensation inside the shack. Normally you get condensation when the temperature drops, but given how this whole chamber is warmed by the generator, that seems strange."
"That does seem strange. Perhaps the generator failed in the night?"
Phlane shook her head. "The buildings around the site are powered by it, and there were people working in them that night, all night. There were no power interruptions."
"Besides, I know that sorta generator." Tucker said. "They don't break down very often, an' when they do, it takes a while to get 'em goin' again. The first people to come in after Halliwell an' Velen vanished, they'd be coming into a darkened room. No power for the lights."
"More than that. The generator powers the elevator. If it had failed they would have had to use the stairs." Phlane added.
Partridge absently twirled a strand of hair round her fingers. "All very perplexing. It'd help if we knew just how cold it was that night. Compare external and internal conditions. Do you keep environmental records Phlane?"
"Not external ones, though we can get them from Central Records. We should have the interior ones here." She led Partridge into the shack.
"Did ya see the way Polly's coat moved when she spun? She was up all night once at university, sowin' lead weights into the hem, get it to move like that." Tucker remarked conversationally. "By the way, was it jus' my 'magination, or did I see Malky shoot off like'n scalded cat when we got here?"
"You did indeed, Trip. Time, I think, for a little investigation of our own." He led the engineer over to the area the marines had claimed for themselves. Those not part of the initial exploration party were waiting patiently, chatting amongst themselves, just passing time until needed. Reed himself was deep in conversation with the sniper, Grant. From the snippets of conversation Archer heard he was discussing the best place to deploy her. In this enclosed, short range environment there was little need for someone capable of choosing which eye to put a bullet through at more than three thousand metres. Eventually though he caught Reed's eye and beckoned him over.
"You wanted to see me sir?"
Archer nodded. "How's everyone holding up? Psychologically speaking."
Reed looked slightly affronted. "My men are the best of the best, sir. It takes more than a dark cave to worry them."
"Of course, of course. No insult intended." said Archer, holding up his hands in a placatory gesture.
"Ah, none taken sir."
"It's just that you know how important morale is."
"Yes sir. 'In warfare, the morale is to the physical as three is to one', sir. Napoleon said that."
"Really? Well, I suppose he knew about these things. So what about yourself?"
Reed asked "Me sir?"
"Yes, you. What I'm asking, I suppose, what I'm really asking...why, exactly, are you so scared of Professor Partridge?"
For a split second Reed's eyes widened, before he caught himself and adopted a poker face Hoshi would have admired. "Forgive for saying so Captain but that's nonsense. Complete nonsense. I fear no man." he blustered.
Archer and Tucker exchanged glances. "I don't know if you spotted this," Tucker drawled, "but if you look close, I mean real close, you might jus' notice that Polly there ain't no man."
For a moment Reed looked as if he'd argue further. Before he could speak, however, Partridge burst out of the shack and strode towards them. "Nothing!" she exclaimed. "Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary was recorded that night! Temperature, humidity, air pressure...all nominal."
Temporarily distracted by the way Reed had positioned himself on the opposite side of himself and Tucker the moment Partridge appeared, it took Archer a moment to register what she was saying. "Nothing? So what could have caused the condensation?"
"We're assumin' it was condensation." Tucker pointed out. "I don't s'pose you kept any samples?" he asked Phlane.
"No, we didn't think it necessary."
Archer thought about this. "And you cleaned everything in the room? There's nothing you didn't touch?"
"We cleaned everything." Phlane said. "Every available surface, the stuff was....no, no, wait a moment. The chairs. We just took them out, left them to dry and used a couple of spares. They should be...yes, there they are. I don't know if they'll be of any use to you but...Professor Partridge, what are you doing?
What Professor Partridge was doing was slashing at the seat with a Swiss army knife. "Just taking some samples! You see here, where the material is slightly discoloured? Looks like residue of some sort. Right...I'll need a lab. Is there anything in the city I can use? Otherwise I'll have to send this up to the Enterprise."
Pointing to the medical tent, Archer said "Doctor Locke has some facilities in there. I don't know if it's what you need, but there's a scanning microscope amongst other things. And we'll reimburse you for the damage to the chair." he added to Phlane as Partridge darted away.
"Forget it." she said wearily.
"An' where d'ya think you're goin'?" Tucker asked. Reed was surreptitiously edging away.
"Why are you scared of her? Spill it!" Archer added. "And don't try to deny it, or we'll get her to interrogate you."
Reed's shoulders slumped. "OK, OK, I'm...uncomfortable in her presence, I admit it." he hissed. "Look, keep it down, if my men find out it'll be a bloody nightmare."
"Why?" Archer insisted.
Reed took a deep breath. "Well, there's a couple of reasons."
"Oh." Tucker said. "Well, I suppose some guys can find those
"What? No! No, not those....well, maybe a little...no. They..that's not it. No."
"Well, what then?"
"OK. On our first mission, I managed to embarrass myself in front of her."
"Really? How did you do that?"
"Badly." Reed said with feeling. Before they could ask for more details he went on. "And then there's the fact---I only found this out quite recently---her family, her mum's family...Did you know they've been in the military? Since, like, forever?"
"Oh yeah. One o' her ancestors is pictured on the Bayeux Tapestry, supposedly." Tucker said.
"Right. Anyway, I'm from a military family too. And we go way back as well."
"Sounds like you've got a lot in common." Archer suggested.
"Hardly. Her lot have always been officers. Born to it. My family tend to gravitate towards Sargent. Good rank, sergeant, for those with the skill for it. Apart from myself, there's only been a couple of officers. So that's the problem. For centuries her family have been shouting at my family. Usually from on top of a horse."
"You do know she's a pacifist, right?" Archer grinned. "Unlikely to join the military anytime soon."
Tucker nodded. "Plus, she's afraid o' horses."
"Doesn't matter." Reed said, pressing his hands to his temples. "It's built in, now, ingrained. Part of my DNA. Every time she speaks I'm expecting to be ordered to bayonet charge a tank, or something equally suicidal."
A sudden flurry of movement seized Archer's attention. Partridge had exploded out, pirouetted round as she looked wildly about, then stalked over to them. "The blood stain. Where did you find it?" she demanded.
"I'll show you." he said as Reed made a rapid escape.
There was still a stain in the depression. Partridge used her knife to scrape some up onto a microscope slide. "Trip, you say there were barrels over this spot? Do you remember what was in them?"
"Yeah, trellaline. There were also some coolant barrels nearby."
"And did you notice if any of them were leaking?"
"First thing I checked. No sign o' any breech."
"Even if there had been," she muttered, mostly to herself, "neither of those compounds would match..."
Archer was feeling left in the dark here. "Match what? Professor, what have you found?"
She looked at him, puzzled. "I'm not sure. That is to say, I'm fairly sure, but not quite. Do you understand?"
"Not really." he admitted.
"I have an answer...but it raises more questions."
"Oh great." said Tucker laconically. "More questions. Just what we need."
They followed her into the tent. Locke was bent over the microscope's viewer. He straightened up as they entered, looking slightly stunned. On a screen beside him complex molecules danced and whirled.He took the slide Partridge offered him, using it to replace the one he'd been viewing, then made a few adjustments.
"We were looking at the blood itself, earlier." he said. "Never occurred to us to examine the contaminant....and...it's a match. The same as your sample, Professor."
"The stuff from the chair, was also in the depression where we found the blood?" Archer asked. "I'm guessing it's not condensation then."
"No." Partridge said hesitantly. She looked to Locke for confirmation. "It's...John, based on it's chemical structure...it's make up, it's...it appears to be...saliva."