Chaa't'ka fled, and the Dragon chased him.
He knew he could never escape the flames - the Dragon was eternal, unyielding, and he was but a simple acolyte. But the treasure he carried was too precious to leave to the fire. The edges of the heavy box dug into his flesh, drawing blood that fell on the baked ground and sizzled. Waves of heat shimmer transformed the grove into a nightmare of wavering ghosts, twisted husks that had once been beautiful trees heavy with fruit. Now the branches were bare, scorched blacker by each pass of the Dragon.
Chaa't'ka's one good eye searched desperately for safety - much longer exposed and he would end up just like the trees. He frantically searched the base of the ridge, pushing against the stone, raising and breaking blisters on his hands until one of the stones tipped aside, revealing a dark passage.
He pushed through the narrow opening and pulled the stone back into place, thankful to be shielded from the Dragon's sight. The heat was relentless, even protected by rock, and the air was thick with sulfur. He turned to the others, the ones who had found this shelter - and froze in horror.
Lying around the spring in the center o the chamber were a dozen still forms. The spring hissed and spluttered with steam, filling the chamber with toxic fumes, and Chaa't'ka knew that they were already dead. Numb, he let the treasure slip from his grasp - it was useless now, worse than useless.
He was the last of his kind.
Chaa't'ka slowly got to his feet and approached the opening, pressing his hands to the stone and pushing with all the strength he had left. The stone tipped, slowly at first until gravity took over and sent it crashing to the searing ground. He looked up, his single good eye looking up at the sky and its terrible heat.
He would die facing the Dragon.
Sector 19, en route to Ravala II
May 27, 2163
Lt. Tegan Webb drummed her fingers on the helm console and did her best not to yawn.
was a magnificent machine, even after her recent battle, but all too often that meant things worked too
smoothly. Webb barely had to monitor her station at all as the ship cruised along at a healthy Warp 4 - a cursory check every now and then was enough to ensure everything was functioning normally. To her, that wasn't piloting - it was babysitting. "Hell, at least give me a rogue planetoid or something," she muttered. "Maybe a healthy ion storm."
"If you're bored, I'm sure Commander Amara could use a spare set of hands," came Beaumont's voice from right behind her. "Maybe scrubbing the plasma vents?"
How the hell does she do that?
Webb thought, not for the first time. Beaumont had a talent for overhearing her various offhand remarks, some more colorful than others. Nothing worthy of disciplinary action, but the fact that the first officer could so easily sneak up on her was starting to get on her nerves. "No, sir," she replied carefully. "Not bored at all."
"Good," Beaumont replied, the ghost of a smile curling the corners of her lips as she sat in the command chair and checked a PADD.
At the Navigation console, Lt. Marakis chuckled. "Ever get the feeling she's keeping an eye on you?"
"Only every day," Webb replied.
A soft beeping came from Marakis' console. 'Commander, we are approaching the Revala system."
"Prepare to drop to impulse," Beaumont said, putting aside the PADD. Quiet warnings sounded from the ship's internal speakers, alerting the crew to be ready for deceleration. "Disengage warp drive."
"Aye, sir," Marakis said. On the main viewer the star-streaks of warp speed resolved into the pinpricks of individual stars. Pathfinder
trembled as the warp field dissipated, leaving the ship to make its way into the star system at a relative crawl under impulse power.
"Set course for Revala II, full impulse," Beaumont said.
Webb looked out at the Revala system on the main viewer. At this range, the only visible feature of the star system itself was its star, a larger pinprick among the thousands of smaller ones. But hanging ominously just beyond was the Veil, a massive cloud of thick black dust that stretched almost half a light year in every direction, blotting out half the stars that should have been visible.
At the science console, Lt. Cmdr. Kassin was already crouched over the scanner hood. "Nothing unexpected at first glance," he said. "Local space is quiet except for us."
"Hardly surprising," Webb said. "Only thing out here worth looking at is the Veil, and once you go inside it all looks the same - pitch black. Even the Tellarites never did more than a fly-by."
Kassin spared her an annoyed glance, despite the fact that she was partly correct. The Revala system was less than unremarkable - it was almost insignificant. No gas giants, no asteroid fields, and of the four rocky planets that orbited the star, three had long ago lost whatever atmosphere they might have had and were now scoured black. Only the second planet in the system had anything of interest - a viable Earthlike atmosphere.
The turbolift door slid aside and Captain Teague emerged, followed closely by Chief Medical Officer Ranik. The Tellarite waved a PADD in Teague's face, saying, "...Starfleet Regulation Sixty-One, subsection A, clearly states that all
crew disembarking to a planetary surface receive a full set of up-to-date inoculations." He shoved his portly frame in front of Teague. "Speaking of regulations, a third of the crew has yet to report to Sickbay for their initial physical examination - which we were forced to delay due to the abrupt nature of our launch." Ranik folded his arms across his chest. "This situation is unacceptable, Captain. I will not
permit any personnel to disembark until I am satisfied they are fit for duty - including yourself."
Teague held up his hands in mock surrender - no doubt Ranik was thoroughly enjoying his arguments, but Teague was in no mood for the verbal sparring Tellarites were famous for. "Very well then, Doctor. Set up a schedule as you see fit."
Teague opened his mouth to argue but stopped himself - I
already stopped by for my physical, he was going to say, until he realized that was just the old lie he'd used time and again in the past. Behind him, Amara hid a smile beneath his hand.
After a long moment Teague nodded. "I'll report to Sickbay at your convenience."
Ranik eyed him warily. "Very well, Captain. I'll expect you tomorrow, 0800 sharp." With a curt nod Ranik returned to the turbolift and was whisked away.
Teague turned to Amara. "Something funny, Commander?"
'Nothing - sir," Amara replied, no longer trying to hide his amusement. "Just admiring your performance. Very smooth."
"Could have been worse. For a second there I thought he might just haul me down to Sickbay right now." Teague turned to Beaumont. "Ship's status?"
"All systems normal, sir. Our ETA at Revala II is - "
Without missing a beat, Marakis said, "Four hours, twenty minutes, sir."
At least he quit with that 'Captain on the bridge' nonsense,
Teague thought as Beaumont vacated the command chair and he settled in. "Very good. Open a channel to the science team."
Several moments passed before Sarria finally replied, "Aye, sir."
Teague turned to the Andorian ensign. "Is there a problem?"
"No, sir," Sarria replied, shooting a glance at Webb as she bit back a yawn. "I have the outpost on speaker."
"Revala Outpost, this is Captain Teague of the USS Pathfinder
. We are inbound and should make orbit in just over four hours."
"Oh, that's excellent news!
" an excited voice replied. "We'll require a full sensor sweep of the planet at maximum resolution, as well as spectrographic analysis of the local star. And then -
"I'm sorry, Doctor - ?" Teague said, confused. Their task at Revala II was a simple supply drop and check-up on the science team. Detailed scans were not part of the plan.
"Jahnavi, Professor Avila Jahnavi,
" she replied. "And we'll need a scientific team on the surface, gathering samples and running serial grid searches.
"Doctor - Professor - I'm afraid we haven't been briefed on your current situation," Teague said. "We understood this to be a standard supply drop. I take it that's changed."
"You could say that, Captain,
" the voice replied. "Our situation is that there's life here, life on this long-dead world.
To Be Continued...