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Old November 26 2012, 11:07 PM   #76
The Badger
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

I wanted to apologise for the lack of any updates recently. A combination of odd shifts at work, writers block and a touch of the flu all conspired to take the wind from my sails. Then just last week, when I was starting to make some progress, my mum had a nasty fall and broke her arm.

She's on the mend, thank goodness, but it knocked us all for a loop, so I'm going to need a bit of time to get my head together. I'm not giving up and am determined to finish this, but it may take a while.

Again, I'm sorry for the delay.
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Old December 1 2012, 02:11 PM   #77
CeJay
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

Sorry to hear about your recent troubles. RL always takes priority, I just hope it won't distract you for too long.
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Old December 1 2012, 09:36 PM   #78
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

Don't worry about us. Your family and your own well-being take precedence, of course. I can wait (but preferably not too long ). Anyway, well wishes to you and your Mum.
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Old January 2 2013, 04:32 PM   #79
Duncan MacLeod
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

Just making sure the thread dosn't drop off the radar.

Hope you had a nice holiday, Badger.
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Old January 2 2013, 11:21 PM   #80
The Badger
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

^Thanks Duncan!

What with everything that's been going on, this has been rather ignored recently. Sorry about that. But I've just got a bit more done and hopefully will be able to do more soon.

***

The Mountains.
1st December 2151.

Someone sat near the back, probably one of the marines, started singing 'The Wheels On The Bus Go Round And Round'. It had been quite amusing the first two or three times. Archer wasn't sure how many times it had been, he'd lost count at about twelve, but the novelty had faded long before then. The temptation to yell 'shut up!' was strong, but he fought it down. People dealt with tension in different ways, and snapping at them wouldn't help matters.

Next to him Trip Tucker studied the display on his pad, tracking the transport vehicle's progress. "We're makin' good time, cap'n. Ah reckon we'll be there in a few more minutes."

Archer peered at the display. The area with low sensor return was now very close, and from their current position it looked like a fairly straight run. They'd had to navigate some pretty steep terrain to get this far. The large balloon tyres on the Denobulan vehicle had handled it well, though it had gotten a bit on the bumpy side. Phlane, at the controls, was a skilled driver. "Looks like we're coming up to the tree line soon." he said. "We'll have to walk the rest of the way." Porthos, sat between Archer and Tucker, pricked up his ears at the word 'walk'.

Tucker nodded. Observations from Enterprise had suggested that was the case, and they'd come prepared.

Like a Jack-in-a-box, Hoshi Sato popped her head up over the seats in front of them. "Hey, Captain, you're navigation qualified aren't you?"

"Standard level, yes." Archer nodded.

"Oh, good. Could you have a look at these, please? These are some of the hieroglyphics that Doctor Halliwell was examining when he...disappeared. There's some images next to them. They kind of remind me of the displays on the navigation console back on the Enterprise."

He took the offered pad. "Yes...yes...you could have something here. It sure looks like a diagram of a solar system. Not this one though, there's one too many planets."

"Look at the next one." Sato urged.

Archer flicked to the next image. Almost identical, except..."This planet is out of position." He flicked back and forth between the two images. "It's orbital path was too close to that gas giant. Gravity must have destabilised it, sent it careening across the system."

"Didn't you say massive solar flares could be caused by a planet hitting a star?" she asked.

"It's hypothetically possible, yes. And if these symbols are an accurate representation of what happened in this system, we may have evidence to support that. Have you shown the Professor? This'll be right up her street."

"Yeah, I tried." Hoshi pulled a face. "She's not too interested at the moment."

Curious, Archer stood and leant over the chair to get a look at Partridge, sat next to Sato. She was pressed up against the window, sucking great lungfuls of air through the small sliding opening. He asked "Professor, are you OK?"

"I hate everything. And tell those microcephalic buffoons to cease their infernal caterwauling, or I'll...I'll...'I will do such things---what they are yet I know not---but they shall be the terrors of the earth'."

"Hamlet?" Tucker asked, brow furrowed.

"Lear." Archer corrected. He turned to the back. "Ladies and gentlemen! The Professor's feeling a little fragile. Could we have some quiet please?"

As the singing died away he reflected that it was an ill wind that did no one any good. Partridge might feel dreadful, but at least he'd had an excuse to shut them up. He turned back to her and said sympathetically. "Don't worry, we're stopping soon." The moment those words were out of his mouth, the vehicle passed over a large rock, lurching violently sideways.

"Ugh, not soon enough."

Sitting back down, Archer asked Sato "So, does this help?"

"I'll say. Carl had done a lot of work on the language, but had run into a brick wall. He had no real context to work with. But if these images do represent the star system, I can use that information, apply it to the accompanying text, and start making some real progress."

"Sort of like the Rosetta Stone?"

She nodded. "If you like."

"The what?" Tucker asked.

"Oh for crying out loud." Partridge moaned. "To think that you went to Cambridge. All that education, wasted. Should have sent you to Oxford."

"The Rosetta Stone is a granite slab discovered in 1799." Sato explained. "It was inscribed with a royal decree issued in 196 BC. The important thing is the decree was represented in three languages, ancient Egyptian, the later Demotic script, and ancient Greek. At the time scholars knew ancient Greek, but not the other two..."

"So they were able to learn them two other languages from the one they did know." Tucker realized. "I get ya now."

The vehicle slowed to a halt. "That's as far as I can drive." Phlane said as the engine grumbled into silence.

"Everybody get your things." Archer called out. "And could somebody please wake Doctor Locke."

Ten minutes sat on a motionless fallen log restored some of the professor's joi de vivre, though she still didn't look well. That was as long as Archer was prepared to wait, however, as time was passing. Following Partridge's discovery of a potential 'back door' into the tunnels last night, they'd quickly planned this expedition. The power cuts in Herroton City were becoming both more frequent and longer in duration, and were threatening to seriously affect the safety of the colonists. Archer had promised Governor Trex he'd try to resolve this as quickly as possible.

Most of the engineering team remained in the city, doing what they could to help out, though Tucker had brought along a couple just in case they were needed. It hadn't gone unnoticed to the Captain that they were both security cross trained, and carried EM-400 rifles. In addition, Tovan had assigned a four man team of Denobulan security personnel. Apart from the professor, everyone was armed, in Archer's case reluctantly. Even Locke carried his old service issue side arm.

Archer looked back along the route they'd taken. From this height he could just make out the tip of the ziggurat in it's pit, surrounded by the low buildings of the archaeological site. It sat roughly halfway between the landing ground and the city. On their journey they'd passed a couple of farms. One was hydroponic, growing Denobulan food plants in climate controlled greenhouses. The other held a herd of chevan beasts, large, placid bovines that were a staple food for the colony. A high electrified wire fence surrounded them, not, Phlane explained, to prevent them from escaping, but rather to stop the predations of vrex. The vicious carnivores rarely came onto the plains around the city, but with the power supply failing they seemed to be getting bolder.

As if summoned by this recollection, Reed approached with news. "Captain, Trooper Grant's been having a quick scout round. Says she's found tracks. She doesn't know the species, but reckons it's a predator from the claw patten." He ushered the captain to a stretch of ground, where Grant saluted and gestured to what was clearly an animal print.

"Three, maybe four days old, sir." she suggested. "Assuming tracks decay here at about the same rate they do on other worlds I've been to. Quadruped, claws on all four feet, probably two hundred kilograms. Pack hunter I'd say."

Porthos sniffed at the track, then pulled back, ears flattened, and growled softly. Archer beckoned Phlane over. "Vrex?" he asked. She nodded a confirmation.

"Right, we better get moving." He looked round, then up. The sun was just approaching it's highest point. "Let's see what we can find. We've no idea how long it'll take, and I'd rather get it done before dark. Especially if there's something nasty lurking round here"

"Yes sir." Reed agreed.

Archer hoisted his backpack on. Supplies for exploration, food and water, first aid kits, sleeping bags. This far from the city they couldn't rely on help coming if they needed it, and it would probably take a while to carry out a full survey. There were more supplies left in the bus, just in case. He fastened his coat tightly, despite the hour it was somewhat chilly, and pulled his ship issue baseball cap firmly onto his head. "Ladies and Gentlemen, gather your things please. Let's get started."

Leaving two of the Denobulans to watch over the bus, they set off into the woods. The Marines seemed to be treating this very much as hostile territory, spreading out to surround the others, keeping careful watch all around. They communicated through hand gestures, clicks on their radios. Occasionally they'd stop dead still, for no reason apparent to Archer, signalling the others to do the same, before moving on. Given the tracks they'd found, that was understandable, if disquieting.

That aside, the captain found the trek really rather pleasant. Sunlight dappled through the leaves on the trees, which swayed slightly in the gentle breeze. The distant drone of insects and chirping of birds formed an ever present backdrop. The air was scented, a woody smell with a hint of what could almost be garlic...and something else. Something unrecognisable. Every world had it's secrets, it's surprises. Some sight or sound or smell that was unique, unknown until visitors came along. He smiled.

Suddenly the Marines all dropped into crouches, rifles at the ready. Reed, closest to Archer and the others, frantically signalled for them to do the same. They did so, Locke lazily lowering himself into a fairly comfortable position between a couple of tree roots, whilst Partridge scrunched herself into a ball, pulling the collar of her trench coat up over her head like some leathery armadillo.

Reed listened to his earpiece for a moment. "Movement up ahead." he said softly.

"Vrex?" Archer whispered.

"Ah, please don't whisper, sir. The sound carries further than talking quietly."

The word "Sussuration." drifted from the neck-hole of Partridge's coat. They waited, in case more was to follow, but that seemed to be it.

There was a rustle of something easing it's way through vegetation. "What ever it is, it's coming this way." Reed said, raising his rifle.

Archer said "Tell your people to stand ready, but I don't think we're in any danger."

A moment later Grant stood, signalling the all clear. "It was a Mahwee. The moment it saw us it turned and fled."

"Probably not used to people, unlike the ones in the city." Phlane suggested. "And certainly not expecting large numbers of humans. I think we can relax now a bit. Mahwee tend to avoid areas with an active Vrex population, for good reason. The one that left those tracks has probably moved on."

Reed cleared his throat. "If it's all the same to you, I think a cautious approach is the smartest move here. Although I'm intrigued as to how you could be so sure we were safe, captain."

"Porthos. His tail was wagging."

"He didn't much care for the scent of them there Vrex tracks we found." Tucker said.

"But he does like Mahwee," Archer said, "at least, the one he met in the governor's office. It's a pity we didn't bring any drones with us, we could do with an eye in the sky."

"I was told to prepare for an underground deployment." Reed said defensively. "I'll make a note to bring at least one on all planet-side missions in future."

"What about the Enterprise?" Sato asked. "Can't they scan round here?"

Archer rubbed the back of his neck. "There's a thought. Professor, could the...oh good grief. Professor, you can get up now." There was a faint groan of dismay from Tipping, who, located at the back of the group, was positioned directly behind Partridge and enjoying the view.

"Ah, yes." Partridge said once the situation had been explained to her. "The matter is complicated by the ineffectiveness of active sensors, plus the fact that Enterprise is low on the horizon, but I'd say passive infra-red scans should give us some indication of any thing approaching."

"Vrex are cold blooded." Phlane said simply. "Could you detect them under these circumstances."

"Oh, poo." said Partridge. "Still, nil desperandum, if we do get a real time IR scan, and we hear something approaching, we'll have a better idea what it is. No IR trace equals cold blooded, equals time to panic."

Reed's hand went to his earpiece. "Sir, Grant's found something else."

"That girl's earnin' her pay today." Tucker said.
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Old January 3 2013, 11:48 PM   #81
Duncan MacLeod
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

I want Tipping's job.
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Old January 5 2013, 02:35 AM   #82
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

Nothing beats a nice little hike in the great outdoors. Unless of course you are in constant danger of being attacked by a horde of vicious beasts. Well, thank god for the Marines ... and Porthos.

Good to see you writing again.
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Old January 10 2013, 10:16 PM   #83
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

Glad to see more from you, Badger, and this latest installment was worth the wait. As always, well done, and I hope you can get more posted soon (for purely selfish reasons, I assure you ).
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Old January 11 2013, 12:26 AM   #84
The Badger
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

Thanks everyone!


The Mountains.
1st December 2151.

"Is that a vrex?" Archer asked.

Phlane smiled grimly. "Not any more it isn't."

The carcass was spread, scattered, around a small clearing. Trooper Grant had spotted it through her rifle's high powered scope, her attention drawn by the birds wheeling in the sky, half glimpsed through the gaps in the trees. Carrion eaters. Right now she prowled the clearing, reading the signs, whilst the rest of the party watched from close by. Not too close, she did not want them disturbing the tracks.

Doctor Locke took a long drag on his cigarette. "Looks like it's been ripped to shreds. Whatever did it must have possessed extraordinary physical strength. I'll know more when I can get a proper look. What do you think Partridge?"

"I think that these are very pretty flowers."

Locke rolled his eyes, and muttered something about a lack of priorities. Archer looked round, to where Partridge was crouched next to a small bush decorated with flowers. They were indeed pretty, rather like daises but with vivid purple petals. He stepped closer, dropping to his haunches next to her. "Could this be the source of that pollen you found?"

"Looks like it. There are pictures in the data files Dr. Soong gave me." She brandished her pad. "Of course, we can't be sure it was this particular plant. I'd say the odds of that are rather on the low side. But it's certainly looks like the right species."

He scratched Porthos' ear absently. "So we are in the right area then?"

"Possibly. We have no idea how far these plants spread, apart from the fact they only flourish in the mountains. On the other hand, this is the closest point to the ziggurat. The further away you go, the longer it'd take our mysterious intruders to get there."

Reed came over. "Captain," he said, trying to keep Archer between himself and Partridge, "Grant's finished her examination."

The red headed scout/sniper beckoned them over. "Two sets of tracks. Predator and prey. Ah, but which is which?" she asked in her French Canadian accent. "These tracks, a quadruped. Clawed."

"The vrex." Archer said.

She nodded. "The other, bipedal, standing upright. It enters the clearing there, yes, you see the broken branch? It is running, running fast, the vrex close behind. It gets here and climbs this tree. Look here, see where it has gripped the branch, the bark has peeled away."

Reed held his own hand up in comparison. "The fellow's got pretty big hands." he said.

"And, from these scratch marks, long hard nails. Almost claws." Grant said. "Also, from where it grasped the tree, very long limbs."

Archer grimaced. "Sounds like the thing James and Tharpa met in the tunnels. So what about the vrex? Wait, let me guess. It followed the unknown up to the tree and tried to leap up after him, causing those scratch marks up there, am I right?"

"I'd say so. From the size and weight of the vrex, I think that's about as high as it could jump. Now here---" she gestured to the ground "---we see tracks leading away. I'd think it was going to try again, with a run up. But it never got the chance."

Tucker asked "Why not?"

She pointed to two spots on the ground. "Here, and over here. Two more set's of prints. The same species as our mysterious climber, I am sure of it. Both suddenly appearing as if from nowhere, but the tracks are deep, very deep."

"Ah, clever, very clever!" exclaimed Partridge.

Archer was about to ask for an explanation when an idea hit him. He looked at the spots Grant had indicated, then upward. "They were in the trees already?"

"Precisely. While the vrex was concentrating on one of them, the others dropped down behind it and...well, see for yourself." Grant said, indicating the body.

Archer rubbed the back of his neck. "Even with the weight of numbers, plus surprise on their side, ambushing a vrex seems a very risky thing to do."

Now that they had been allowed closer, Locke had been examining the remains intently. "Far as I can tell there's a lot of flesh missing from this creature, even allowing for the effects of scavengers. I think they were using this for food. Look at this rib. See the grooves? I'd say teeth marks. And what's more I'd warrant by the same sort of teeth that messed up that Denobulan security guard." Phlane glowered at him, obviously not happy at his choice of words.

"Yes, I agree." Grant said.

"Oh wonderful. A marine agrees with me." Locke muttered. "My life is complete."

Archer held up a hand, counting points off on his fingers. "OK. So what do we know? There's at least three of them. They're carnivorous, and cunning enough to split a vrex off from the rest of it's pack, lure it into an ambush. No indications of tool use, that we know of. Physically very strong. Oh, and good climbers. Anything else?"

Corporal James said "Warm blooded, Captain. And smart enough to get spooked when the motion sensors didn't turn the lights on back in the tunnels."

"Smart 'nuff to cover it's tracks, too." Tucker added. "Placin' them barrels to hide that blood stain."

Archer sighed. They'd learnt more, but it still wasn't enough. "Grant, after they'd killed the vrex, where did they go?"

"This way sir."

She led them deeper into the woods. Here the trees grew closer together, and the undergrowth thicker. The marines maintained their defensive positions around the rest of the party, constantly scanning the surroundings with the thermal imagers built into their rifle sights and helmets. They payed especial attention to the trees. Archer was reassured by that, a fact that left him slightly disappointed in himself. Having to rely on armed personnel might be pragmatic, but offended his sense of idealism.

To his surprise the marines made little effort to be quiet. He asked Reed about it.

"No offence captain but there's really not much point. It was not too bad back there, but now we're in the thicker stuff, you and your lot are making so much noise it doesn't matter how quiet we are."

"I'm sorry if we're letting you down, Major." Archer said gravely.

"Oh I didn't mean it like that sir!" Reed blurted, before catching the amused look on Archer's face. "Well, you know what I mean. To be honest I---"

He broke off, swinging his rifle to one side as something small and brown burst out of the undergrowth. Archer had a quick impression of wings and feathers before it was gone, flitting rapidly away, the barrels of half a dozen rifles tracing it's path. Before he could relax an ear splitting high pitched shriek split the air before being suddenly curtailed. Turning he saw Partridge, her hands to her mouth and eyes wide, take a deep breath.

"Sorry." she said. "Guess I'm a bit nervous."

Corporal James moved closer. "Don't worry, Professor, we'll look after you."

"Thanks. I just wish I wasn't so easily frightened.

"When I was growing up," Corporal M'boto began, "my mother always said, if you are feeling afraid, you can raise your spirits with a song."

"Or poetry!" Sato yelped. She'd heard Partridge sing before and had no wish to repeat the experience. "You have such a wonderful speaking voice, I'll bet a poetry recital would do the trick."

Partridge thought for a moment. "Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head,
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.
"

There was a short pause.

"The hell was that?" asked Trooper Tipping.

"'The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner', by Coleridge." she said, with an apologetic shrug. "It was the only thing I could think of."

"And I'm sure it lifted everyone's mood beautifully." Locke said with a chuckle, lighting a cigarette. "Shall we continue?"

As they delved deeper into the woods, Partridge let out an exasperated grunt and slapped at her scanner pack. "It'd be a lot better if this were working. At least I could run some environmental scans, keep my mind occupied. It's ironic really. Because it's intended for scientific study, this uses active scans, so it's being knocked out by whatever it is that's causing the sensor disruption. Meanwhile all the military stuffs working fine."

"Most of the military stuff." M'boto corrected. "We do have some active scan systems, and they're non-functional. All the passives seem OK though."

Tipping said "Seem OK? Don't jinx it, man!"

"Could you use our equipment for your studies, ma'am?" M'boto asked.

"Some of it, maybe. Not enough to make a difference, I think. Besides, at the moment I'd much rather you guys used it to keep us safe." She pulled on an earlobe. "I've been thinking of putting together something, to combine a scanner with a micro computer and a multi-media recorder. Some sort of tri-scanner, or tri-puter, or...whatever. If I ever get round to it I'll be sure to include some dedicated passive scanning elements."

"Could be useful." Archer said. "Juggling multiple pieces of equipment during a survey is always a pain...hold on, looks like we've got something."

In the vanguard, Grant had stopped. She half turned and waved him forward. "Could this be what we are looking for, captain?" she asked, a touch of irony in her voice.

"It could be, yes." he admitted, staring through the trees at the unmistakable form of a second ziggurat.
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Old January 13 2013, 05:42 PM   #85
CeJay
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

These guys better make sure they don't end up like that vrex and turn from the hunter to the hunted. Whatever these things are, they are smart, fast and powerful. This is going to get hairy, real soon.

Looking forward to it.
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Old January 13 2013, 07:21 PM   #86
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

Good to have you back, Badger. I really enjoyed the last two chapters for their interpersonal interactions and the details about the surrounding nature. I'm looking forward to the next installment. A second ziggurat - that sounds quite exciting and mysterious.
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Old January 28 2013, 10:58 PM   #87
The Badger
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

The Mountains.
1st December 2151.

The ziggurat was not identical to the one on the plains. It was considerably smaller, standing, to Archer's estimate, only some three or four stories in height. Unlike the purplish grey stone that the larger one was constructed from this was....No, Archer realized, looking closer. This was made from the same stone, but layers of moss and mulch from fallen leaves had given it a sickly greenish brown appearance. He looked round. The ziggurat was located in a bowl shaped depression, surrounded by high trees with wide spreading branches. Without the benefits of active sensor scans it would be almost impossible to spot from the air. Small wonder no one had discovered it before.

"How's it look, Grant?" Reed asked, drifting up behind them.

"Lot's of hot spots Major." she said, slowly swinging her rifle around. "Very small though. Birds, small mammals."

"There might still be vrex around." Phlane warned.

Archer pointed to his dog. "Porthos doesn't think so. Alright. Mr Reed, you and your people secure the area please. Hoshi, get on the blower to Enterprise, let 'em know what we found. Once you've done that, tell Governor Trex, I'm sure he'd be interested. Professor, this looks like the time for science stuff, so I'll leave that in your capable hands. Everyone else, take five, get some chow down your necks, and try not to get in the way."

He forced himself to take his own advice. The urge to get over there, to investigate for himself, was palpable. But he knew enough to leave things alone at this stage, there was little he could contribute right now. Instead he eased off his backpack and looked round. Finding a fairly clean place to sit, he selected a ration pack, opened the outer bag, removed the cutlery and other accessories, and pulled the initiator tag. He then carefully placed it on the ground. While waiting for it to heat he opened a pouch of dog food. Porthos wolfed it down in seconds.

"I swear I don't know where you put it all. Seems like you must eat twice your body weight each day." he grinned. Pulling a thermos from his back pack he poured himself a large coffee and sat back to savour it. By the time he'd finished the red circle on the ration pack had turned green, indicating the meal was now cooked. Gingerly, for it was very hot, he picked up the pack by the corners of the unopened end, tipping it so the inner bag slipped free. He unsealed it, picked up the plastic spoon, and dug in. Chilli con carne, hot in both the meanings of the word. "No, Porthos. No! You are not having any! You know the effect it has on you."

"And we don't want that. Although it's better here than on the ship. Here at least you can go stand up wind of him." Sato said, sitting next to Archer. "I've informed the Enterprise. It's all quiet at their end."

"Good. And Herroton City?"

Sato hesitated. "Not so good. The power is still out. There are signs it may be eating into the emergency reserves."

"That can't be right." Phlane exclaimed. She irritably swatted away a flying insect. "There should be enough reserve power for a full day."

Sato shrugged apologetically. "That's what I was told, ma'am."

Archer finished his meal, then pocketed a few of the items from the accessory pack. A few snacks, a bottle of fruit juice, varied condiments and some toilet paper. The cutlery went into the inner bag, which was then wrapped tightly in the outer one. He stood, stamped a hole into the soft earth with his heel, put the bags in, then kicked soil over them.

Phlane looked shocked. "Surely you're not going to just leave that there?"

"Biodegradable." Archer explained. "Once the outer packet's been opened and the heating compound triggered, the whole thing should decay naturally in a few weeks. Even the cutlery."

"Hmm. That's alright then. I suppose."

"Well it beats lugging all your litter back home again. Hoshi, get yourself something to eat. Judging from all that activity over there they've found something. I'm going to have a look. C'mon, Porthos."

The marines had indeed found something. On the opposite side of the structure there was a large rectangular panel, made of the same material as the rest of it, but considerably cleaner. It lay flush with the rest of the ziggurat. Fallen leaves, in varied states of decay, were gathered around it's base. What looked, at least to Archer's eye, to be the same tracks they had seen earlier, seemed to lead directly to and from that panel. He considered the idea that the creatures had climbed the structure at this point, but that didn't make much sense. The panel was flat, with little purchase. It would be much easier to climb elsewhere, where the blocks were practically steps.

Then it hit him. "Those tracks...they don't lead up at all, do they?"

"No Captain." Reed said. He gestured to Corporal James, then the panel.

James nodded, raised her rifle, and walked steadily forward. "Did you hear Tipping where you were Captain? Screamed like a little girl the first time this happened."

Any comment Tipping may have made was inaudible under the grinding sound that followed. The panel tilted back so the topmost point was now depressed a good half metre. Then the whole panel slid steadily upwards. A few stray leaves slid from it's surface, joining the piles below. Just enough sunlight penetrated the interior to reveal more mulch festering within. The tracks continued into the darkness, clearly the creatures had passed through here. As the panel---a door, Archer now realized---continued up he noticed it's bottom had the same tooth like protuberances as the main door at the other site, with corresponding depressions in the floor below.

"We found it by accident." Reed said. "We were scouting around, Grant followed the tracks, that thing opened up, Tipping screamed---"

"I did not scream." Tipping insisted. "I was vocalising to centre my chi. Preparing mind, body and spirit for combat."

Reed ignored him. "As soon as we moved away, it closed again."

"Has anyone been inside yet?" Archer asked.

"No sir, observations from outside only. Far as we can make out, there's a tunnel about three metres long, then what looks like a flight of stairs leading down. Nothing else as far as we can tell."

"Sir? There is something...odd." said James. "Tharpa, keep an eye on things." Only when the wiry Gurkha was covering the entrance did she lower her own rifle. She pulled off her glove, licked a finger tip and held it up. "There's a faint breeze, coming from inside."

Archer stepped closer and held up his own hand. "You're right. Surprisingly warm, considering what the rest of the tunnels are like."

"Almost balmy." Partridge agreed, moving up next to them. She had removed a glove and was waving an interrogative finger. "We might not need our cold weather gear after all."

"Well, better safe than sorry. I'm taking mine." James said, watching Partridge replace her glove. "Excuse me asking, Professor, but just why do you wear gloves? I mean, all the time."

"Partially it's because I like them. Somewhere along the line I rather got the idea that they're elegant and sophisticated. But mainly," she added, with surprising candour, "I don't like my hands. I mean, they're not ugly or anything. They're just not as spectacular as the rest of me."

"Oh." James said, for lack of anything more constructive to say. She took Partridge's now gloved hand and closely examined the wrist. "OK, the other thing I've meant to ask. How are they attached to your sleeves? There's no seam or fastening that I can see."

Partridge pinched a spot at her wrist, twisted slightly, and pulled. A hint of pale flesh showed in the subsequent gap. "Nano-level fasteners reinforced by a low level magna adhesion field. A little something I worked out one afternoon." She brushed the material back into place, the gap fading totally from view. "I use the same fastening for getting into this outfit. There's a few others, too. So I can, you know, answer calls of nature."

Archer tensed up. He knew what was coming next. There was an overwhelming, monumental inevitability about it. He should speak up, try to stop it, but it would be like arguing with a glacier and expecting it to retreat. The idea was out there now, in their heads. If he stopped the question now they'd only ask it later, when he wasn't around. Best to let it pass, get it out of the way.

"Don't your, pardon me asking, Professor, but don't your undies get in the way?" asked Sandstrom, the heavy weapons man, with nervous fascination.

An amused eyebrow slithered up Partridge's forehead. "You're making rather an assumption there, aren't you?" There was a slight whimper from the marine as he contemplated this.

Archer cleared his throat noisily. "If everybody's quite finished, we should plan our next step."

Reed gestured into the entrance. "If we're going in there we ought to leave a party up here, to keep an eye on things. Also, assuming we have the same problems as elsewhere, we should have a communications post here. Perhaps Lt. Sato...?"

The Captain shook his head emphatically. "Hoshi's the only one of us with any hope of reading those hieroglyphics. I've a feeling that'll be important if we want to figure out what the hell is going on."

Reed inclined his head. "OK. Trooper Pashmat will set up a comms post. I'll leave Sandstrom and Delany with him for additional security. Those two giants would find it tricky in the tunnels. And I can tell from Red's puppy dog eyes she'd rather stay here too."

"Not my sort of terrain down there." Grant admitted.

"You have seniority, Red, how d'you want to play it?" Reed asked.

"I'd like as many seismic sensors as you can spare." she said. "We'll scatter them around the clearing, maybe even a few in the trees. If there's any more of those creatures about, I'd like a bit of warning."

Corporal M'boto had several seismic sensors with him. They looked to Archer rather like grey plastic tent pegs, with flat disks at the top. When the peg part was pressed into the ground the top gradually changed hue to fit in with it's surroundings. As a precaution the marines scattered bits of grass and leaves over them as well.

As they were doing that Partridge approached Archer from behind. "Look at this, John."

He turned, stepping back in slight alarm as she was carrying James' rifle. "Err...you've found something?"

"A thought occurred. Autumn let me borrow her gun, to test the idea. I only needed the sight, but it'd be a bit inconvenient to keep whipping the thing on and off. Here." She handed him the rifle, absently wiping her hands on her coat as if she'd been handling something very unpleasant. "Take a look at the ziggurat, about two thirds up."

He squinted through the sight. "What am I looking...ah. Interesting." The view through the sight was brightly, and falsely, coloured, the word 'THERMAL' in squared off brackets pulsing in the top right corner. Numbers and abbreviations he didn't recognise danced across his vision. He tried to ignore them. The ziggurat was a dark blue, but a fine green mist seeped from four equally spaced points at the height Partridge had mentioned.

"Oi! Trip! Get over here!" Partridge bellowed.

"'Sup?" Tucker asked, approaching. He was eating a chocolate bar from a ration pack.

Archer handed him the rifle and gestured. "What do you make of that?" he asked, before screwing his eyes shut tight and shaking his head. Peering through sights, telescopes, any thing like that always gave him a headache.

"Looks like a bit o' warm air's gettin' out." Tucker said. "An' from the spacin', I reckon that's on purpose. There's holes up there to let it out."

"We had a look at that side." Partridge said, pointing. "There are more round there. Same height, same spacing."

"Curiouser and curiouser." said Archer. "Now are they to let something in, or let something out?"

"Would a closer look help?" James asked. At Partridges nod she turned to Reed. "Major, I'm just having a look up there." And with that she trotted to the base of the ziggurat, and started to climb.

"Careful!" Partridge called. Despite the stepped nature of the structure the coating of fallen leaves looked rather slippery.

M'boto, placing a seismic sensor nearby, smiled reassuringly. "Not to worry, professor. She's mountain warfare trained, a very good climber."

"At her height, she has to be, just to get up stairs." Tipping added.

James quickly swarmed up to the nearest hole, watched it intently for a few seconds, then just as rapidly descended. As she approached she unspooled a cable from her wrist comp, which she plugged into Partridge's pad. "You've got a bigger screen on there, you'll see better."

The helmet camera image revealed a small square hole leading deep into the interior. It was, quite obviously, designed to be there. More interestingly a row of depressions on the bottom surface just inside hinted to another feature. "I'll bet good money there's another slab o' rock in there, that can close off that hole if need be." Tucker said.

"Yes, but why?" Partridge asked.

Archer shrugged. "We're not going to find our hanging around here. Malcolm? Are your people ready?"

"Yes captain. Pashmat's got the comm post set up, and Grant's happy with the sensors."

"OK." He took a deep breath, let it out slowly. "Right. Let's see what's down there."
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Old January 29 2013, 04:41 PM   #88
Duncan MacLeod
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

Thanks for the new chapter, Badger. I look forward to reading it when I get back from work this afternoon.
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Old January 29 2013, 07:39 PM   #89
jerriecan
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

Another good chapter - a good setup for the action no doubt to follow when the team heads underground. Nice work, and as always, looking forward to more from you.
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Old January 30 2013, 08:27 PM   #90
CeJay
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

And into the darkness we go once more. Curious to learn what we'll find down there.

Also, a chapter wouldn't be complete without learning a little more about naughty Professor Partridge. Oh her attire. Or the of lack it.
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