“We’re almost there!” Wesley called out, encouraging his tired and bedraggled party as they scampered up the ridge line. Climbing to the top, the commodore pointed towards the object of their trek, “There it is!” He exclaimed, pointing towards a large black obelisk standing all by itself on an empty plain separated from the group by a wide chasm, a flimsy rope footbridge the only apparent way across.
“How tall is it?” Ensign Aliz Bathory asked as she tilted her head back in awe at the huge structure jutting heavenward.
“It must be a good fifty meters or more in height.” Jennifer Watley chimed in as she helped the injured security crewman, Malik, up to the top. Looking up, the olive skinned ensign exclaimed in an awe inspired voice, “I wonder who built it.”
“That’s one of the questions I’m hoping we’ll find the answer to.” Wesley replied with a grin.
“Before we do that, Sir…” Ensign Bathory interjected, her eyes glancing down to the makeshift bandage tied around the commodore’s leg, “I want to take a look at that.”
Chuckling, Robert shook his head, “It’s ok, Ms. Bathory.”
“Are we going to go through this again, Sir?” Aliz grinned, “Now…do we do this the easy way—or the hard way? See…” She added, pointing at Jennifer who was already inspecting Crewman Malik’s wound, “…Malik’s being a good boy…”
“All right…all right!” The commodore exclaimed, throwing up his arms in mock resignation as he sat down, “You win!” Shaking his head, Robert remarked in a joking tone, “You must be a holy terror at home.”
“I am, Sir.” Aliz rejoined as she knelt down next to the ruggedly handsome older man. Removing her makeshift bandage, the young Hungarian nodded her head approvingly as she poured water from one of the gourds tied around her waist. “It’s cleaned up nicely. No sign of infection. Those poultices Jennifer made from those herbs that she found seem to have done the trick.”
“This does seem to be a resource rich world.” Wesley noted as his self-appointed nurse placed another poultice on the wound, “Hopefully we’ll be able to find its location once we get back to the ship. Although it has its dangers, it looks to be a prime world for colonization.”
“Maybe, Sir.” Aliz agreed and then joked as she tore off another piece of her hemline and tied it around the older man’s wound, “But for now, I’m just hoping we find a way back to the ship before I end up naked.”
Chuckling, Wesley struggled to his feet, politely refusing Aliz’s offer of assistance, “I’ve got it, Ensign.”
Laughing out loud, Aliz shook her head, “How does your wife put up with you, Sir?”
His smile vanishing, the commodore looked down as he mumbled, almost inaudibly, “That’s what I keep asking myself…”
Seeing the pained look on the older man’s face, the young Hungarian placed a tentative hand on his shoulder, “I’m sorry, Sir…I didn’t mean…I was out of line.”
“You didn’t say anything wrong, Aliz…don’t worry about it.” Bob answered back, a warm smile returning to his face as he regarded the auburn haired woman standing before him.
Flashing a slight smile of her own as she looked up into the craggy face of her commanding officer, Ensign Bathory replied in a soft voice, “Thank you, Sir.” Then, as her eyes appraised the flimsy looking bridge crossing the chasm separating them from the obelisk, the former Academy gymnast asked as she tilted her head towards the security trooper sitting next to Ensign Watley, “What about Crewman Malik? Can he make it across with his injury?” Gazing down into the chasm, she dropped a pebble. Counting down the seconds before hearing a barely audible splashing sound, she remarked, “That’s a long way down, Sir.”
Cupping his chin, Robert flashed a grin, “We’ll get across Ensign…”
“I know, Sir, I know…” Aliz joked, flashing an amused grin, “Don’t give up hope…”
“You’re learning.” Wesley jibed back before turning his attention towards the other male in his party, “How’re you holding up, Crewman?”
“I’m fine, Sir.” The Moroccan security trooper replied confidently as, with Ensign Watley’s help, he struggled to his feet. “You all go on without me. Don’t worry about me…I’ll be all right here.”
“I don’t want to hear that talk, Crewman.” Wesley answered back, his voice tone leaving no room for disagreement. “We all stay or go together!” Dashing towards a nearby tree line, Wesley pulled down a vine. “Help me out here…” He called out as he pulled down yet another long, thick vine. “We can use these as ropes…”
“Tying us all together.” Jennifer exclaimed as she and Aliz helped pull down more of the thick, long vines. Hefting one in her hand, the exobiologist observed, “They seem to be strong enough to support one of us should we slip and fall off, but I’d like to be sure…”
“One of those rocks over there?” Aliz asked, pointing at the ridge line they had just crested. “I’m sure one of them would weigh about as much as one of us.
“Good thinking, ensigns.” Wesley remarked approvingly as he pulled down yet another vine. “We’ll use this as our test line. Now…” he smiled as he began to walk towards the rocks, “Let’s see whether our makeshift ropes can do the job or not.”
“Well…” The commodore grinned as he and Malik pulled the rock up, “…we know now that the rope’ll hold.” Tying a rope around his waist, Wesley instructed, “We’ll tie ourselves together, that way, if one of us slips, the rest of us will be able to pull whoever it is up.” As the others tied the vines around their waists, Wesley further ordered, “Ok…Malik, tie the loose end of this rope to the vine around your waist and Jennifer’ll tie the other around hers, that’ll connect us all together. Aliz, since you’re a gymnast, you probably have the best balance of all of us, so you’ll lead. Crewman Malik will follow you, then Ensign Watley, and I’ll anchor us. Ready?” Seeing everyone nodding their heads in reply, Robert’s smile returned, “All right…we’ve got a bridge to cross. Let’s do it.”
Moving slowly, Aliz grasped both sides of the rope bridge as she carefully placed one foot in front of the other on the slender board that served as bridge. Everything seemed to be progressing smoothly until she heard a yelp coming from Crewman Malik behind her and then the bridge began to sway violently from side to side, the young gymnast struggled mightily, pressing down with her arms to stop the violent motion.
Watching with alarm as he saw Malik stumble, Commodore Wesley matched the motions of his Hungarian helmsman in the lead, adding his strength to hers in an effort to stabilize the bridge as Ensign Watley struggled to help the Moroccan security officer regain his footing. Sighing in relief as the security officer recovered, the commodore called out, “Everything ok up there?”
“We’re fine, Sir!” Jennifer called back, “Malik just slipped.”
“Ok, but try to be a little more careful. Take your time; we don’t have to rush it.”
Feeling the breeze beginning to pick up, Aliz looked up in the air. Noticing the darkening clouds, the young Hungarian shouted back, “Sir…we might want to pick up the pace a bit. If that wind picks up too much…”
“Right, Aliz!” Robert answered back. “You set the pace. Everyone else, watch your footing.” The wind growing more violent, the tiny party struggled to retain their footing as the swaying of the bridge grew ever more violent.
Drops of water now stinging against her face as she made out their goal just a few meters away, Aliz gritted her teeth as an especially violent gust of wind struck, accompanied by the crack of thunder and a brilliant bolt of lighting snapped the flimsy rope bridge, “Hold on!” She shouted, as she and the others held on for dear life. Grunting as she slammed on to the cliff face, Ensign Bathory, holding on tightly, called out as she glanced down. “How is everyone?”
“I’m ok!” Jennifer called back, her voice hoarse as she tried to make herself heard over the whistling wind.
“I’m fine!” Commodore Wesley responded, “Just a few bumps and bruises.”
Hearing nothing from the Moroccan security officer, Aliz called out again, “Malik?”
Looking up, Jennifer cried as she saw the redshirted crewman plastered against the rock face, a jagged rock jutting from his chest. Her tears indistinguishable from the falling rain, the young science officer shouted, “He’s dead.”
Watching the horrible tableau from below, Commodore Wesley called out, “Jennifer…Aliz…we’ll grieve for him later. Right now we have to make it up this cliff before the other end of the bridge decides to snap.
“Yes, Sir!” Aliz called back as, using the rope bridge, she began to make her way up the rock face, the others following. Robert, stopping at Malik’s body, said a silent prayer as he gently closed the young Moroccan’s eyes. Resuming his climb, he made rapid progress, nearly catching up to the stumbling Jennifer. Catching her as she lost her footing, the commodore smiled encouragingly.
“We’re almost there, Jennifer. Just a little bit more. You can do it!”
Scampering to the top, Aliz, ignoring the rain and wind, held her hand out to her roommate. Grabbing her friend’s hand, Jennifer pulled herself up to the top, soon followed by the commodore. As the trio paused to catch their breaths, Jennifer asked in a somber tone, “Does anyone know if Malik had any family?”
Shrugging her shoulders, Aliz replied somberly, “I don’t know. I didn’t know him before we all got pulled here.” Turning to the commodore, she asked, “Do you know, Sir?”
“No.” Robert admitted, shaking his head in shame, “Lieutenant Mtolo—his immediate supervisor would know. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to get to know the details on more than a few people yet.” His eyes now reflecting his determination, he added as he struggled to his feet, “But I intend to when we get back.”
“Sir…” Aliz cautiously ventured, “There’s no way you could have known what was about to happen…”
“Aliz is right.” Jennifer chimed in, “What happened to Malik could have happened to any of us. You shouldn’t blame yourself.”
“I know…” Bob conceded, a sad smile on his face, “I’ve seen more than a few young men and women…friends…shipmates…crew…die, and I’ve sent more than a few off to die—that’s one of the decisions that comes with captain’s stripes. Still…” he admonished as he once again took on the role of teacher, “…the decision to send someone off on what is likely to be a fatal mission or the loss of a crewman in an accident or in the line of duty should never become something you see as routine. One of the most important possessions a starship captain has is his…or her…” he emphasized as he gazed into the eyes of the two women before him, “…humanity.”
“Yes, Sir.” Aliz and Jennifer responded softly, taking in the commodore’s words as he struggled to his feet. Holding out his hand, he helped both young ensigns up as he turned his gaze to the obsidian obelisk standing before them.
The rain slacking off, Robert’s voice took on an enthusiastic tone. “Why don’t we see what this thing is?”
As the three Starfleet officers walked around the obelisk, searching in vain for what looked like an opening, Aliz remarked dejectedly as she shook her head, “I can’t find a way in.”
“Neither can I.” Jennifer added, her voice taking on a dismal tone as well until she spotted something out of the corner of her eye. “Commodore…Aliz…I think I spotted something!” A broad smile on her face, she cried out, “They’re right here, but they’re easy to miss. You have to look at eye level and use averted vision to spot them.”
Following the science officer’s instructions, grins broke out on the other two officer’s faces as they also spotted the three shapes etched faintly into the face of the monolith.
“They’re patterns.” Aliz exclaimed. “There are three parallel lines and three triangles. But what do they mean?”
“Hmmm…I wonder...” Wesley muttered softly as he approached the etched patterns. Touching the first line, he found, to his astonishment, that he could move it. Using his finger, he moved the line to where it bisected the first triangle from top to bottom. Smiling, he repeated the process with the second line and triangle. Touching the third line, he drew it in such a matter that it bisected all three triangles from left to right. As he completed the pattern, the face of the obelisk started to glow a warm yellow. Stepping back a couple of paces, the commodore and the two young women with him looked on with astonishment as an opening appeared.
“Well…” Robert remarked, flashing a slight grin, “Looks like someone just answered the doorbell. Let’s see who’s at home,” he urged as the trio walked through the opening, the entrance returning to its former obsidian form after the last of the group had passed through the threshold.
K’Tan and his party, now less one warrior, having approached in the opposite direction from the group from the Lexington
, didn’t have to face the challenge of the chasm. They faced another obstacle—one that brought a gleam of anticipation to the eyes of the Klingon starship captain. Standing before him and his two remaining warriors, blocking their progress to the obelisk was a giant creature. Like most of the predators they had encountered, it was part reptilian and part avian. Standing erect, it was approximately ten meters in height, with a red feathered crest that looked like a fan on the top of its head. Its reptilian heritage showed in its blue scales and fore-claws as well as the sharp teeth that lined its long beak. Its challenge call, a loud hiss, brought a smile to K’Tan’s face.
“This…” The Klingon exulted, “…is a challenge worthy of a warrior! Brandishing his d’k tahq
, he raised it above his head, shouting out to the monster, “Tai-kleon
! Today is a good day to die!” Turning to his men after issuing his challenge, the wily K’Tan issued his orders, “We must lure it here, where the terrain favors us.” Hefting a rock in his hand, the warrior declared, “I will act as bait. You two—wait in ambush in the trees.”
“Understood!” K’Temoc and M’Kal acknowledged in unison, uttering a proud, “Qapla
!” as their captain stepped confidently towards the growling creature, honor blade in one hand, rock in the other. “Let’s take our positions, M’Kal!” K’Temoc urged as he began to ascend the tree closest to him, “Don’t worry…” he laughed as he noticed the sour expression on his fellow warrior’s face, “…there will be glory enough for us all!”
As K’Tan drew closer to the hissing, growling monster, it lunged at him in a gesture the Klingon warrior instinctively understood to be a challenge. Smiling, he drew back his arm containing the rock, throwing it with all his strength at the animal, hitting it square in the snout. Laughing as the creature howling its rage at the tiny Klingon’s impertinence, charged, K’Tan turned and ran, leading the giant into his carefully conceived ambush. Diving into the underbrush, he shouted, “Now!” as the monster charged into position.
Jumping down from their concealment atop the canopy of trees, M’Kal landed on the back of the creature as K’Temoc struck its neck. Piercing flesh as they dug their d’k tahq’s
in between the animal’s thick scales, both warriors flashed savage grins as the beast howled in pain. Rising to his feet, K’Tan joined in the carnage as he dashed beneath the beast, grabbing on to its legs as he jabbed into its flesh, his blade searching for ligaments and tendons to slash.
The behemoth, however, did not stand helpless before its assailants’ onslaught. Twisting its serpentine neck around, it struck the Klingon stabbing into its back, its powerful jaws severing the warrior in two. Shaking its head, the creature devoured the hapless M’Kal, splattering his blood on to everything and everyone in the vicinity.
Ignoring the droplets of their comrade’s blood landing on his face and body, K’Temoc struck and again, digging his dagger deeper into the monster’s flesh until finally, he achieved his goal, the creature’s spinal cord. Twisting his wrist and slashing upwards, the Klingon warrior, with a triumphant shout, severed the cord as his captain, also shouting a victory call, succeeded in severing the creature’s ligaments. Leaping off as the giant monster fell to the ground, K’Temoc rolled on hitting the ground, coming to his feet at the same time as K’Tan, who, jumping off the monster’s leg, tumbled safely away. Rushing at their now helpless prey, both warriors plunged their knives deep into the magnificent monster until, with a last cry, it moved no more.
“Glorious!” K’Tan shouted, exulting in his and his officer’s triumph, “Glorious! We will have songs written about us!” The Klingon captain boasted as he clasped K’Temoc on the shoulder.
“Indeed!” The young officer replied with a toothy grin as he and his captain looked on triumphantly at their conquest. “A most magnificent victory!”
“Yes.” K’Tan agreed as he turned his eyes to the obelisk. “And now…” He declared pointing at the monolith, “…it is time to seize our prize.”
As the two warriors drew closer to the looming black structure, a series of reddish shapes appeared on its face. Watching as the swirling shapes slowly coalesced into Klingon letters, K’Tan read aloud, “Through battle you have arrived…through blood you will enter.” Then, as he read the last word, two recesses the size of Klingon hands appeared below the writing. With a grunt, K’Tan, taking out his d’k tahq, sliced his palm, drawing blood. Nodding his head at his subordinate, K’Temoc, immediately understanding, copied his captain’s action. Both warriors, stepping up to the obelisk, placed their hands within the recesses. As their blood touched the surface of the obelisk, the face of the structure glowed. Stepping back, the Klingons smiled triumphantly as an entrance appeared. “Let us see what awaits us.” K’Tan declared as he and K’Temoc stepped through the entrance.
“What are our ‘allies’ doing?” Commander Alexei Kuznetsov inquired as he pivoted his chair towards his communications officer.
“They’re behaving themselves so far.” Cilla Oudekirk, the Lexington’s Dutch communications officer noted. “No transmissions out of the ordinary and nothing suspicious coming from the sensor pods outside the ship.
“Good.” The burly Russian first officer replied, “But keep a careful watch—I don’t trust those Klinks as far as I can throw all of them together.” Addressing his Andorian science officer, he further inquired, “What are you picking up, Lieutenant Commander?”
“Nothing so far…wait!” The lovely Andorian exclaimed, her original statement forgotten as her eyes, invisible to the others as she was hunched over her sensor visor, widened in astonishment, “I’m picking up what appears to be a large structure in the center of the nebula.
“Main viewer!” Alexei ordered as the navigator, Lieutenant, Junior Grade Terrence Lawford, rushed to comply, his fingers flying over his console. Seeing nothing but swirling clouds of gas, the Russian officer nicknamed the Bear commanded in his usual gruff tone, “Magnify and go to tri-xenon filters. Let’s see if we can clear some of this clutter.”
“Aye, Sir.” Terrence acknowledged in a crisp English accent as he moved to comply with the acting captain’s command. “Got it, Sir.” He called out triumphantly as a form took shape.
!” Alexei swore as his eyes took in the sheer magnitude of the object before them: a central spire, pointed at both ends, surrounded by a ring, with spokes connecting the spire with the ring. Jet black in appearance, the structure possessed elegance in its simplicity. “I wonder who built it…” The big Russian mused in an unusually contemplative tone.
His science officer, also speaking in an awestruck tone, voiced her opinion, “I don’t know, Sir, but I’m dying to find out.”
“Look at it.” Acting Captain Kalas proclaimed from his place on the bridge of the Klingon battlecruiser, K’Mar
, practically drooling as his eyes took in the magnificence of the structure before him. “And soon it will belong to the Empire!”
“Shall we begin the attack on the Federation starship?” His acting first officer, D’Kor inquired, his lips turning up into a feral grin.
“Not yet.” Kalas replied, holding up a cautionary hand. “If I know the Starfleeters, they will want to study…” the Klingon warrior said, putting all his scorn into that last word, “…it.” Flashing a sly grin, he continued. “We shall let them…in fact…we shall join them. Then, once they have plumbed its secrets, we shall strike. We will take the Lexington
and the alien structure at the same time.”
“Sir!” The warrior manning the communications console called out, “The Federation starship is hailing us.”
“You see, D’Kor?” Kalas gloated, “Even now, the Federation commander is about to make his proposal.” Signaling for his communications officer to put the signal through, Kalas settled back into the captain’s chair as the image of the burly Russian appeared on the viewscreen.
“I’m sure by now…” Commander Kuznetsov declared, “…you have seen the alien structure.”
“I have.” Kalas answered back, “What do you propose?”
“I suggest…” The Russian first officer replied, “…that we launch a joint expedition to study it. Of course, we will share all information.”
“That’s all well and good…” Kuznetsov’s Klingon counterpart rejoined, “…but how do we determine who owns the structure?”
“I recommend…” Alexei responded, “…that for now we leave that question to the diplomats.”
Cupping his chin, Kalas deliberately held back his response for several moments, giving the appearance of carefully considering the commander’s words. His lips turning up into a grin, the Klingon answered back, “Very well, Commander. This is my proposal—it is not…” he added in a grim tone, “…subject to negotiation. Each ship will send one shuttlecraft to the object with no more than six. The shuttlecraft will launch simultaneously. Any information gained by either party will be shared equally. Then, after our landing parties have finished their work, they will return at the same time.”
“Accepted.” The Russian officer agreed, “With one stipulation.” Matching the Klingon officer glare for glare, Alexei continued, “No weapons other than standard sidearms permitted with weapons locked on a stun setting only. For us that will be phaser ones. For you, disruptor pistols—leave the bath’leths
and d’k tahqs
on your ship—and I don’t give a damn about the d’k tahqs
being honor blades—no edged weapons and no weapons set to kill. Each team will inspect the others’ weapons on arrival to ensure compliance with the terms.” He then concluded in a voice that clearly indicated that he would not accept any compromise, “It’s that or no deal.”
With a low growl, Kalas replied, “Very well…I agree.”
“Good!” Alexei responded, plastering an insincere grin on his face. “I’ll have my science officer coordinate with whoever is leading your landing party regarding landing points on or near the structure for our teams. Kuznetsov out.”
As the Starfleet officer’s image faded off the screen, D’Kor cursed, “Pet’aQ
! He is afraid. He knows he and his people cannot defeat us in honorable combat.”
“You’re right, my friend…” Kalas replied condescendingly, “…the Federation commander is afraid—but he is also very smart. He seeks to minimize our advantages while maximizing his. Still…” The Klingon commander said, his lips turning up in a sly grin, “…it will avail him naught. One Klingon warrior is worth three humans.” Grinning as D’Kor nodded his assent, the acting captain further ordered, “Also, have your strike force ready to move the moment we receive the results from the expedition. I want the Lexington
taken before that Pet’aQ
of a first officer knows what hit him.”
“Do you think the Klingons will honor their side of the agreement, Alexei?” Talana asked, her antennae twitching nervously.
“Hell no.” The Russian growled. “Oh…they’ll send real scientists to work with you, but…once they’ve gotten all they think they’re going to get, they’ll strike. That’s why I want you to be prepared.”
“How?” The Andorian science officer queried, “We will have equal weapons and they’ll have the initiative.”
“Ah…” The Bear grinned, “That’s where you’re wrong. “Remember, odds are, you’ll end up controlling the flow of data. Also, I will be disguising three security specialists as science officers…” Seeing the dubious look on the lovely Andorian woman’s face, Alexei chuckled, “Don’t worry, Lieutenant Commander, I want you to coordinate with Lieutenant Mtolo—I’m sure he’s got three security officers who have at least a working familiarity with the sciences. Regardless of what you might have heard, security specialists are not knuckle-dragging Neanderthals.”
“I never said they were, Alexei…” Talana replied with a frown, “But I should remind you of the same thing, not all Klingons are mindless killing machines. Remember, they possessed interstellar travel and had already conquered an extensive empire long before your species had even ventured beyond your atmosphere. Don’t make the mistake of underestimating them.”
“You make a good point.” A chastened Alexei responded. “Be sure that those you choose to pose as science officers can, in fact, act as such—at least in a limited capacity. We can disguise them as ensigns—that should help maintain their cover should they trip up in some way or other.” Taking his science officer’s smile and nod of her head as agreement, the Russian commander proceeded with his instructions. “As you complete your mission, try to maneuver yourselves where you can react quickly should the Klingons break the truce. Don’t let them get too close to you. Even without their damned blades they’re dangerous. Understood?”
“Yes, Sir.” Talana responded crisply. “If it’s all right with you…” She ventured, “I’ll contact my opposite number on the K’Mar and get the ball rolling.”
“Go ahead, Lieutenant Commander. And…” The Bear added, his voice taking on a cautionary note, “Be careful.”
“Don’t worry, Alexei…” Talana replied in a teasing voice as she began to walk towards the turbolift doors, “I always am. And now…” She joked as the doors slid open, “I’ve got stuff to do…I can’t wait to see what’s inside that thing!”
Cupping his chin as he gazed on the large structure almost filling his viewscreen, Alexei murmured to himself, “Some mysteries are better left unknown…”