The Ziggurat Interior.
1st December 2151.
The creature wasn't big or heavy, and with a few seconds she could have easily extricated herself from under it's bulk. But she didn't have a few seconds. Her right arm was trapped against her body, her left strained to keep it's fangs from her throat. And all the while it was clawing furiously at her midriff. The kevlar weave in her coveralls had so far prevent her from being disembowelled, but she was taking a battering. Much more of this and there'd be broken bones, internal bleeding, if there wasn't already.
James shifted her grip on the malformed face. Despite it's emaciated appearance the skin seemed unnaturally loose, disturbingly so, as if too large for the skull beneath. But she managed to get her thumb under the chin, pushing upwards into the soft flesh just behind the jawbone, forcing the head backwards and away. Denied it's prize it shrieked with rage, hauled back, swung it's claws at her face. She blocked the blow, taking it on the armoured shell of her wrist computer, feeling the shuddering impact jarring through her arm and shoulder. She gasped with pain.
Again and again it struck in a furious torrent of blows. They were all from it's right hand, as it supported it's weight on the left. If it leant back further she'd have little defence against a dual assault. But with her arm going numb that didn't matter. She'd be unprotected if she didn't free herself soon. It swung again. This time as it did so she bucked her own body. Combined with the creature's movement that created---for a spilt second---a gap between their two bodies. And now her
right hand was free, reaching down between it's legs and---grateful she was still wearing the gloves---she squeezed, twisted, and yanked. Hard. It screamed again, with a somewhat higher pitch than before, and tried to pull away. Desperately it clawed at her right wrist to weaken her vice like grip.
That gave her an opening. She delivered a solid blow with the heel of her hand to the side of it's face, stunning it for a second. And now she had both
hands free, interlocking her fingers over the matted hair on the back of it's head, dragging it down with all her strength whilst raising herself as forcefully as her position would allow, snapping her own head forward...
It felt like a half brick dropped---not from too high, but high enough---onto her skull, and the impact echoed through her. But the nasty crunching sound hadn't come from any part of her anatomy. In a spray of blood and snot it jerked back, nose flattened across it's already irregular face. Half blinded by tears streaming from it's eyes it didn't perceive James' straight armed strike until two fingers jabbed knuckle deep into it's throat. Gagging, it fell to one side, clutching at it's neck.
She twisted from underneath, rolling away, coming up in a fighting stance with her combat knife at the ready. Not waiting to see if it would recover she leapt, stabbing viciously half a dozen times, twisting the blade savagely in the wound. Only when sure, absolutely sure, that the creature was dead did she allow herself to relax. In the aftermath the pain hit hard, forcing a snarled grunt through gritted teeth, and she gasped in a deep lungful of desperately needed air.
"Are you alright?"
She turned to see Tharpa leaning halfway out of the vent, pistol held ready. He had a look of mild concern on his face, as if enquiring politely of her health had she stumbled in the street
"Am I alright?" she asked incredulously, taking another gasp. "Aside from being savaged by a cave monster, fine, just fine! Could of done with a bit of help, you know!"
done with a bit of help." he smiled.
"F--- off. Seriously man, what the hell were you doing?" she snapped.
Hi smile never slipped. Instead he gestured deeper into the room. There, laying on the floor, and quite obviously dead, were two more of the creatures. From their location, it looked as if they'd been rushing to support the one that had attacked James. Thick greyish brown blood trickled lazily from a bullet hole in the head of the nearest.
"Oh." said James simply. She looked at the creatures, then to Tharpa's gun. "Thanks."
"'This is the way the world ends, not with a whimper, but a bang'." Partridge intoned. "With apologies to T.S. Eliot. But I've always thought the best quotes can withstand a little paraphrasing."
"Let's see that again." Archer said. "From just before the solar flare."
Sato tapped carefully at the icons, causing the hieroglyph map of Herroton to swirl back. "Right. If I'm reading this right this is the condition of all the ziggurats about twelve hours before the flare. I think
this symbol means that they're working correctly. While this
symbol indicates a problem of some sort." She pointed.
"Looks like most o' them are workin' right." Tucker said.
Archer nodded. "Most, but not all. Notice that the ziggurat near Herroton City seems to be one of the faulty ones."
"I can't be certain it is faulty, Captain." Sato said. "It may mean incomplete, not ready."
"Hmm. What about this icon here?" There was a wavy line next to each ziggurat. It slowly shifted up and down, like an old fashioned oscilloscope trace.
Tucker peered closer. "Kinda looks like some sort o' measure o' activity. Though what sorta activity I couldn't rightly say."
"Yeah, that's our impression too." Partridge said. She clapped her hands together and giggled. "There's so much to learn! Goody!"
Archer cleared his throat to break the silence that followed."Quite. OK Hoshi, roll it forward again. To the time of the flare."
A new symbol flashed up next to the ziggurats on one hemisphere. Several of the 'working' icons changed over to the 'problem' status, and on that side of the world activity dropped to nothing. Those on the other side continued unchanged.
"So, the flare happens, some of the ziggurats break down, and about half of them stop doing...whatever it is they were doing." Archer said. "I'm guessing it was the half facing the sun at the time."
"That's right Johnny." Partridge nodded. She pointed to one of the neighbouring displays. "I'd wager that this represents the levels of electromagnetic radiation reaching the surface. I'd also speculate that the ziggurats were designed to deliberately shut down as soon as the EM levels shot up, to limit damage to the circuits. If circuits is the right word. Maybe it didn't work with total effectiveness, which is why some of them break down. Now, if Hoshi would be so kind as to advance the display a few hours...There. Watch that. As the world turns, more ziggurats are exposed to solar radiation. As soon as they detect the extreme levels, they put themselves into stand-by mode."
"Stand-by mode. Huh. Do they stay inactive?"
Sato sped up the display, the world blurring round and round, until the ziggurats started to show activity again. "I reckon...five, maybe ten years after the event, Captain. I'm still working on the notation so it's hard to be more accurate."
Archer rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. "That's quite a while."
"Possibly a precaution. The Builders may have anticipated some sort of after effect. Waiting a few years for the star to settle down after the collision lowers the risks." Partridge said.
"Hey, y'all, this is interestin'." Tucker pointed to one of the symbols. "That there ziggurat was one o' those that broke down when the flare hit. But it looks to be working now."
"Some sort of self repair system?" Archer clicked his fingers. "Like the polymer you shot earlier. It fixed itself!"
"I say, this is all jolly exciting isn't it?"
Sato sighed "I think it's creepy."
They watched the display in silence for a minute. "There's definite activity going on." Archer said. "Not constant, but in bursts. It would help if we knew what it was."
Partridge slapped the side of her head irritably. "C'mon Polly, think. There's something you're missing, something...gah! This is frustrating. It's like having a sneeze ready to explode, only it just sits there at the back of your nose and doesn't go anywhere. I can feel
the shape of the answer. Just can't quite grasp it."
"Hoshi, can you set this to the present day?"
At first glance there didn't seem to be any difference. But something struck Archer as wrong, out of kilter. "Hey. Look at this."
Tucker said. "The ziggurat near Herroton City. And?"
"And it's still got a problem, according to this symbol. But this
symbol shows it's active. Very active."
"Hey, you're right. How is that?"
Partridge pulled a chocolate bar from her coat pocket, took a bite, broke off a chunk to toss absently to Porthos, and said with her mouth full "Trip? How long ago did the Denobulans set up their broadcast power system?"
"Son offa gun. That's it, I'll bet that's it. Hoshi, roll it back about ten years would ya?"
Concentrating only on that ziggurat, they watched as after millennia of inactivity it slowly yet surely came to life.
Archer turned to Partridge. "So the Denobulan's power system woke this place up?"
"Looks that way. In fact, I'd speculate that, by some means unknown to us, the ziggurats absorb energy from the environment. That would explain why the active sensor scans from the Enterprise were so ineffective. The energy was just being soaked up. However the ziggurat near the city has had a decade of constant broadcast energy straight from the generators. For years that's been enough, but as it becomes more active it's been absorbing more and more power."
"Hence the outages." Archer realized.
"Precisely. And with the main ziggurat damaged, it's difficult to tell what the system is going to do with all that energy. Heck, we don't even know what it was supposed
Locke entered the central chamber, smoking. "Captain, we have a problem."
one? What is it Phil?"
"I've been keeping an eye on Phlane and Krengel. They are showing increasingly severe symptoms. High temperatures, dizziness, nausea...I've done what I can with what I have available, but until I can work out exactly what the problem is there's no telling how this will play out."
"Damn." Archer said. He thought for a moment and then said "Damn." again. "You think that insect bite is to blame?"
"Seems likely. No one else shows any symptoms."
"Do you want us to evacuate them? We can have a shuttle from Enterprise in ten minutes."
Locke threw away his cigarette butt, lit a new one. "That might be wise. I'll send them back to the main entrance, along with one of the marine medics and a couple of guards. Before I do that I'll see that they are comfortable. Plenty of fluids, keeping warm."
As he left, Partridge looked at Archer strangely. "Warm." she said softly. Her brow furrowed. "Hoshi, can we expand this part of the display? The part that seems to be environmental data."
"I think so. Let's see...Here. Is this what you wanted?"
"Yes! Perfect!" Partridge clapped her hands. "Now. Roll the main display back to just prior to the flare please."
"You've worked it out Professor?" Archer asked.
"I've got an idea that...yes! Do you see that? Those are the environmental conditions of this world more than two hundred thousand years ago. Air pressure and composition, mean temperature, background radiation and so on. Typical class M world. And if we look just after
"Much lower air pressure, greater levels of particulate matter in what is left of the atmosphere. Reduced temperature, increased radiation. I'd say class K, borderline class L." Archer shrugged. "Pretty much what you'd expect to see following that sort of...wait a minute. How come it's gone back to being class M nowadays?"
"Oh it's possible
. The same process that shaped this world in the first place could happen again. Only, I really can't see it duplicating the original conditions so closely. And not in two hundred thousand years, that's not nearly long enough. No, I rather think there's another cause. If we look at a time when there is a lot of ziggurat activity...there. The environmental conditions start to improve straight afterwards. Not much, but if it happens every time..."
"It builds up." Archer breathed. "My God. They built this system to terraform their own planet, to fix the damaged ecosystem. To regenerate the entire world!"