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Old February 21 2013, 11:12 PM   #91
The Badger
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

The Mountains.
1st December 2151.

A faint dizziness passed over Archer as he entered the ziggurat. At first he attributed it to the odour of the decaying vegetation scattered around the threshold, but that didn't seem right. The aroma, whilst unpleasant, was not that strong. He turned to see Sato following him in. As she did so she staggered slightly, putting a hand to her temple. He reached out to steady her, pulling her deeper into the construct. "Watch yourselves." he warned the others. "There seems to be something odd happening as you come in. It's like that distortion effect at the main entrance, only not as strong."

"A lower powered version of the same frequency." Partridge said, running her scanner around the door. "Probably due to the smaller size of this building. Should have anticipated that."

Locke followed with a grimace. "I thought you said that gadget of yours was useless."

"I may have exaggerated for dramatic effect. Are you OK, Hoshi?"

Sato took a deep breath. "Better, thanks. I wonder why it affects me worse than anyone else?"

"Maybe some people are more susceptible." Partridge mused.

Locke added "Lt. Sato's family has a history of epilepsy, though she is not afflicted. Perhaps that makes her more sensitive to these electromagnetic fields."

Partridge nodded. "That's certainly feasible. And isn't that sort of information covered by patient confidentiality?"

Locke just waved a dismissive hand.

Archer turned to Reed. "Alright, Malcolm, how do you want to play this?"

"If we had a choice, I'd like to go as stealthily as possible. My people only, covert patrols into the interior."

"But we don't have a choice?"

"No sir. Covert takes time, and with the situation deteriorating in Herroton city...There's no way we can search even a fraction of this place quickly enough, not quietly, not with...excuse my saying so Captain, but---"

"Not with all us amateurs tagging along? No worries Malcolm, I know what you mean. So what do you recommend?"

Reed said "A similar arrangement to how we did things out there. Except we have our CQC experts...that's Close Quarters Combat, take the point position. If we can keep the Marines around everyone else, that should provide plenty of protection. Hopefully."

"I would have enjoyed your speech much more," Partridge said, "if you had not included that last word."

***

The flight of stairs at the end of the corridor led down to a large empty room. Their flash lights revealed it to be perfectly square, with a narrow corridor leading off each side wall, and a much wider one leading off into the darkness, in the wall directly opposite the stairs. Reed had his men cover the passageways in case anyone, or anything, came through. Once he was satisfied he sent Corporal James and Trooper Tharpa to investigate the right corridor. They returned within a minute. The corridor ended in a small, featureless room.

As they checked the opposite corridor a message came over the LOSIR communications link. "Greyhound One, this is Trap One. Do you receive me?"

"I can hear you without the LOSIR link, Pashmat." Reed said. "We're only at the bottom of the bloody stairs. What's up?"

"Sir, Red's been examining the tracks. She says she can only make out three distinct tracks, the three we were following. And from the looks of things they all went into the structure within the last twelve to eighteen hours."

"Understood. Greyhound One out."

Partridge shivered. "Oh great. So we're now certain they're down here with us."

"There may be other ways in and out." Sergeant Woo suggested.

"And there may be hundreds of those things down here. Thousands. Oh, why ever did I come along? Oh, that's right, it's because I'm indispensable"

Locke muttered darkly under his breath.

Archer ran a finger inside his collar, loosening it. It really was quite warm in here. His brow furrowed in thought and he turned to the nearest marine. "Mr M'boto, could you use your rifle's scope to find out where all this heat is coming from?"

"Thermal scan coming right up, Captain." The answer came quickly. "There sir, near the ceiling. And...there, too. In fact..." His voice trailed off.

In the half light it had been difficult to see, but now it had been pointed out to him Archer could make out the narrow rectangular openings just below the ceiling. There were four on each wall, equally spaced. Reed walked to the nearest one and extended the probe from his wrist computer. The night vision sensor at the tip provided an image for his helmet's head up display. "Looks like the shaft those creatures James and Tharpa met escaped through."

"What does?" James asked as they returned.

Whilst Reed explained, Partridge circled the centre of the room, torch beam directed upwards. "Johnny, come look at this." Her torch highlighted a smaller square hole in the ceiling.

He cast his own beam around. "More of them. Four...eight...twelve...and sixteen. That looks to be it."

"Judging from their size and shape, and the number...plus the relative position both to each other and the structure itself, I'd say these lead up to those holes we found on the outside. Thermal vents, to dissipate heat."

Archer rubbed the back of his neck. But what could be creating the heat?"

"Now that's a good question."

"Here's another good question fo'ya." Tucker said, approaching. "What's wrong wi' this room?"

Archer and Partridge looked around. After a few moments Partridge shrugged.

"OK, let me rephrase that. What's missin' from this room? No? I'll tell ya. 'Member the upper levels o' the main structure? Packed tight full o' earth, exceptin' where the archeologists had dug it out. But here...clean as a whistle, practically."

He was right. Apart from the dirt trail at the entrance, the room was clear. "Do you think that's significant?" Archer asked.

Partridge and Tucker exchanged glances. "Mebbe. Mebbe not." the engineer stated. "Not got 'nuff data to make a call yet."

"It is interesting though." Partridge said. "But we're not going to...what's that?"

With a sudden droning hum a cloud of insects swarmed into the chamber through the wide passageway, filling the room as they swirled. Instinctively the explorers ducked, covering their heads against the tide. Then, just as rapidly, they were gone, pouring upwards into the vertical shafts.

"Ack! Bugs!" Sato spat, vigorously clawing at her hair to ensure she had no unwelcome guests.

"Actually," Partridge said, in the somewhat shrill tones that happened whenever she was rattled, "they may not have been. The term 'bug' is not synonymous with insect. Strictly speaking a bug must have mouth parts adapted for piercing and sucking. On Earth, they'd typically be of the order Hemiptera. And I'm sorry Hoshi, but you already know this of course. You're good with words."

"They were bugs." Phlane said, rubbing her cheek and grimacing. "Trust me on that."

Locke approached her. "Let me see." he said, opening his med. kit.

Archer looked round. "Has any one else been bit?" He bent down to check on Porthos.

Krengel, one of the Denobulan guards, had a bite to the back of his hand, whilst Cross of the Marines had a teary eye, apparently the result of one of the insects flying into it. "That'll teach me to keep my visor up." she said ruefully.

"Anything you need, Phil?" Archer asked.

"Peace and quiet." Locke said simply, examining Phlane's bite.

"I'll leave you to it then. Malcolm, while we're waiting, let's check out that main corridor."

"Yes sir." Reed selected a handful of Marines to accompany them, the rest remaining to guard this room. Partridge elected to stay where she was, while Sato and Tucker decided to tag along.

After a few metres the corridor began to slope steeply downwards, before opening up into a far larger chamber, big enough to swallow the beams of their powerful flash lights. The floor only extended a couple of metres or so into the room before being replaced by a gaping chasm. A sense of deja vu struck Archer, the conviction he'd been here before. Then he realized what it was. "It's just like in the main structure. The vertical shaft where the archaeologists rigged up their elevator system." he said, being careful to keep Porthos away from the edge.

"Not 'zactly the the same." Tucker said, playing his torch beam along the stony ceiling. "That shaft went up as well as down. Looks like we're at the top here. But if'n we look to the side....no, well mebbe t'other side...yeah, steps leadin' down. Wonder how far it goes?"

"A little over sixty metres, sir." Reed said, peering down into the abyss through his rifle's scope. "Nothing on thermal. There's just enough ambient light from our torches for the night sight to work. Looks clear all the way down, the stairs go all the way, no obvious breaks or collapsed areas. At the bottom, a squarish area, no significant features except a corridor on the north wall. No evidence of hostile presence. At least, not from this angle."

Archer rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. "Will the LOSIR beacons transmit over that distance?"

It was Sato who answered. "No, but we've got options. LOSLAS, the Line Of Sight Laser system." She unfastened a belt pouch and pulled out a dark grey object the size of a thick paperback. "We leave one up here, with the emitter array poking over the edge, attach a LOSIR beacon into this port, make sure it's got a clear view of the last LOSIR beacon. Then, when we get down there, set up another one, and make sure they can see each other. Hey presto, working comms."

"Sounds good, get it set up. I'll go get the others."

Reed ordered "Tipping, keep an eye on the Captain."

"Yes sir."

"I don't need my hand held Malcolm, It's just a short trip up the corridor."

Reed looked grave. "That may be so sir, but, I don't know if you noticed, there were more of those ventilation shafts or thermal vents or whatever they are back there. And we know the creatures can move through them."

That gave Archer pause for thought, and as he returned to the entrance chamber he paid considerably more attention to his surroundings. Now he knew what to look for he could spot them quite easily. The archaeologists at the main site knew about them of course, but lacking the facilities to probe deeper within had been unable to discover anything of significance. They'd had a working hypothesis that they could be for ventilation, but were holding off making a decision about their purpose until they had more data. The discovery that there were creatures travelling through the shafts had shocked and upset them. After all, they'd all been down in the tunnels, often alone, despite the rules. The idea of an unseen hunter potentially tracking them was not a pleasant one.

Locke was washing out Cross' eye when he returned. Rather than disturb him he waited patiently until sure the procedure was finished. "How are things, Doctor?"

"She'll live." Locke grunted, as if that prospect mildly offended him. "So will those two, it was only a---Stop scratching it! You'll only make it worse!" The latter was directed at the Denobulan, Krengel, who guiltily stopped scrabbling at the back of his hand.

"Any chance of infection?"

"There's always a chance. But I've got the bites cleaned out and sealed, and I've given them inaprovaline plus broad spectrum anti-histamine. I don't foresee any problems but will keep them under observation. Now have you found anything of interest down there, or did you just take the opportunity to abandon that mass of clod-hopping jar heads?"

"A pit, like the one at the main site. Not as deep though. There's stairs leading down."

***

By the time they got all their equipment together and got to the chamber with the chasm, James and Tharpa were already half way down. "I thought it'd save time to send a scouting party first," Reed said, "so I picked the most expendable ones."

James' voice drifted faintly up to them. "I heard that."

"How are things going so far?" Archer asked.

"So far so good." Reed replied. He aimed a small pen shaped laser painter down into the pit and triggered a yellow beam. A moment later a green light shone in the darkness, a matching spot dancing across the ceiling. "Yeah, they're fine."

Sato stood from where she had been crouched by the edge. "Right, that's the LOSLAS relay set up at this end. As soon as the scouts get the other end set up we can follow them down there."

"And that" said Tip Tucker, "is when the fun really begins."
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Old February 21 2013, 11:49 PM   #92
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

Another interesting chapter - where does it lead? Whatever will happen to our heroes?

Tune in next week for another amazing chapter....
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Old March 12 2013, 11:19 PM   #93
The Badger
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

The Ziggurat Interior.
1st December 2151.

There were no handrails guarding the side of the stairs, but they were wide enough to descend without straying too close to the edge. Only two members of the expedition had any difficulty with them: Porthos, whom Archer carried tucked under his arm for safety, and---perhaps inevitably---Professor Partridge, who included heights amongst the very long list of things she was afraid of. At this revelation Sato started to say "What? In those heels?", but she trailed off with the realization that Partridge was wearing sensibly flat hiking boots instead of the usual stilettos.

With Tucker at her side for security she eventually made her way down. "Pacifist or not, if some one tells me that corridor's a dead end and we have to go back up, then I'll eviscerate them."

"I was going to tell you something about that corridor," Corporal James said, "but I think I'll let Tipping tell you instead. Nah, I'm joking. It goes on for a couple of hundred metres, sloping slightly down, and ends in what looks like one of those automatic doors. Of course, we've only been looking with these," she tapped her rifle's scope, "so we can't be sure it'll open."

"It better open." Archer said as he approached. He handed Tucker a pad. "Latest message from the city. Confirmation that it's not just a power blackout. The energy reserves are somehow being drained as well."

Tucker was incredulous. "What? How's that even possible? Let's look at that..."

"If there was something interfering with the power broadcast system," Partridge mused thoughtfully, "that would explain the blackouts. But not an energy drain..."

"Unless..." Tucker started. He prodded at the pad, calling up the data his engineering team had included in the report. "Lookit this. All the buildin's in the city are loosin' power. But some more than others. Mostly it's the places that need a lotta power. The Command Centre, the hospital, the labs..."

"So this could be a targeted attack." Reed said.

"Huh. Hadn't thought o' that. It's possible," Tucker conceded, "but I kinda think it might all be down to simple engineerin'."

Archer said "The places with the greatest energy needs have the biggest receivers for the broadcast system."

"Got it in one, cap'n. An' under the right conditions, a receiver can act like a transmitter. Hey, Hoshi. Can we use our communicators this far down?"

She nodded. "Normally no, but I've set it up so that, if you're in range of either the LOSLAS relay or one of the marines, our communicators will be automatically routed through the LOSIR net to the Coms post on the surface."

"Thanks. I got an idea." Tucker flipped open his communicator, tapped in a code. "I've no idea if'n it'd work, but it's---Crispin? It's the boss here. You monitorin' the drain? Yeah? Where are you? Yeah, that should do. Listen. I want you to deactivate the energy receiver. That's right. Turn it off, right off. OK, anythin'? No? OK, try disconectin' it. No no, completely. I'll wait."

He did wait, but not for long. After about a minute Crispin was back on the line, having unplugged the receiver, excitedly announcing that the drain had ceased. "Good work, good work. Now listen. Get onta Gov'nor Trex, tell him to have all the receivers disconnected 'cross the city. It won't get the power back on, but it'll stop it from bein' all drained away."

Before he could flip the communicator shut, Partridge grabbed it from him. "And tell him to leave it attached in at least one building, somewhere unimportant. That way they'll know when the power comes back on again."

"If it comes back on again." Locke muttered as Tucker closed the line.

"It's our job to make sure it does." Archer said. "Without power life's going to get very hard for those colonists very quickly. So unless anyone has any urgent business right here, I suggest we go look at that door."

***

It got steadily colder as they traversed the sloped corridor. Whatever the reason for the heating in the upper chamber, they had left it behind them. Soon their breath could be seen as faint clouds of vapour in the torch light. Archer fastened his jacket tightly, glad they had brought the cold weather gear. and turned the collar up.

Despite her earlier misgivings Partridge suddenly chuckled. "Hey, Trip, you know what this reminds me of?"

Tucker looked around. "Can't say that I do."

"All those night's we spent at Rodney's, back in uni. Staying up till three in the morning playing Dungeons & Dragons. Mysterious pyramids, dark underground tunnels....this takes me right back."

"You played Dungeons & Dragons?" Archer asked his Chief Engineer, trying to repress a smirk.

Tucker looked embarrassed. "Just for a little while. The revival was a bit of a craze with the students, y'know, and I got sorta pulled into it."

Partridge said "For three years. Honestly Trip, don't worry about seeming uncool. I was playing D&D, so that makes it cool by association."

"Yeah, right." Tucker drawled. "I suppose you made bein' a Goth cool as well."

It was hard to tell in the torchlight, but it seemed to Archer that a near panic flashed across Partridge's features before she adopted a poker face Sato would have envied. "I don't know what you mean. I was never a Goth."

There was a moment of silence, broken, eventually, by Tucker. "Right. Riiiight. My mistake. You were never a Goth. Got it."

"Good. Glad that's cleared up."

They continued a moment longer. Tucker caught Sato's eye and winked. "Never a goth. Guess I musta been thinkin' of someone else. That's it. I 'member now. It was durin' that six, maybe seven month you just up an' disappeared from the university. Gone without a trace. An' in your place, there was a woman who looked, you know, kinda a whole lot like you. Same height, same shape..."

"The same shape as the Professor?" Corporal James asked, intrigued.

"Oh yeah, looked almost 'zactly the same. 'Ceptin', o' course, this woman had jet black hair, with blue an' purple streaks. Dressed like she were goin' to a Victorian funeral."

"Trip..." Partridge said softly.

"An' she was smart, too." Tucker went on, enjoying himself. "Took over all the research an' lecturin' an experiments an' stuff Polly was doin'. An' still had time to write some pretty awful poetry."

"You said you..." Partridge began, before trying to cover it up in a fit of coughing.

An unexpectedly cheerful Doctor Locke asked "Sore throat?" She responded with incoherent grumbling.

"So...did this woman have a name?" Sato asked.

"Oh yes." Tucker waited, stringing the moment out, until he was sure everyone was listening. "Phoenix. She were called Miss Persephone Phoenix."

Someone snorted, the sound of a barely suppressed laugh. Partridge glared daggers at Tucker. "Right..." she started.

"Looks like we're getting close to the door." Archer said, cutting her off. "Malcolm, I think a scouting party is in order. The rest of us will wait here."

"Yes sir. Everyone douse your lights, we do this with night vision only until I'm sure the area is secured. Tipping, Cross, Priest and Dumont, stay here and keep an eye on the party. Everyone else with me, by the numbers."

Before turning his flashlight off Archer sat and dug a pair of night vision goggles out of his pocket. They were his own private property, a present from his dad. During one of his earliest planetary surveys he'd been attempting to observe the habits of a group of nocturnal mammals, but the UESPA issue NVG projected a bright green glow onto the area around the eyes. He stood out like the proverbial sore thumb, and the creatures had ran whenever he approached. He'd put in an official complaint about them on his return to Earth, but the bureaucracy moved slowly and that design was still in use. Henry Archer had got him this set soon after, the best civilian model available.

With the goggles on the corridor seemed more brightly lit than it had in the torchlight, though it faded into inky blackness as he looked back the way they had came. The most obvious sources of illumination were the emitters on the shoulder plates of each marine's body armour. The inbuilt light sources at the end of each rifle also shone out into the dark. They were so bright it was hard to believe they would be invisible to the naked eye. Yet that was driven home as he looked at those around him, apart from those with goggles, he seemed surrounded by the blind. Porthos whined softly, so Archer picked him up and stroked his head.

The scouting party approached the doorway. With his communicator off, and no direct link to the LOSIR net, he couldn't make out what was being said. Fascinatingly, he could spot the tiny flashes of infra red as the coded signals were sent back and forth. Reed lifted an arm, then swept it forward. Two of the Marines, James and Tharpa, to judge from their stature, approached the door. With a grating noise it slid up into the ceiling.

"What's that?" Partridge asked shrilly.

Archer explained "The door's opening, which is a relief. Malcolm and his people are going inside now."

"As long as there is nothing nasty coming out I'm happy. I'm not really suited for facing monsters. Well, not without a mithril chain-mail bikini and a plus three longsword of smiting." She dug in her pockets for her brown paper bag and offered it round. "Anyone fancy some licorice? Johnny? Trip? Hoshi?"

Sato took a pipe. "Thanks."

"Hold on a second." Archer said. "Hoshi, how did you find the bag in the dark?"

"Well, I guess my eyes must have adjusted..." She trailed off, looking around in surprise.

Tucker said "She's right Captain. Should be pitch black down here, but I can jus' make things out. It's all a big blur, but still..." He got to his feet, looking around.

Archer slipped his goggles onto his forehead, but could see nothing at all. His own eyes were still adapted to the bright display of the night vision gear.

"It's the ceiling." Partridge said. "It's glowing faintly."

"Are you sure? I can't make that out." Sato said.

"It's too diffuse to make out directly, but if you look back the way we came it looks like a sort of luminous trail going off into the distance."

A short pause. "Oh yeah."

"There's never been anything like this at the main site." Phlane said. "Or at least, if there has, it's never been reported."

"No." Archer said, rubbing the back of his neck thoughtfully. I think we now know where the power from the city is going. It's coming here. This place is...for want of a better term...it's waking up."
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Old March 14 2013, 12:49 AM   #94
Duncan MacLeod
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

Ok, I want a visual of Polly in her mithril chain-mail bikini with her +3 longsword of smiting, and I want it NOW!!!!

D&D? Really? I would have figured her to be more of a LARPer.
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Old March 14 2013, 10:39 PM   #95
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

Exploring a dark, underground, tomb-like structure is creepy enough, but you're really giving this place a nice mystic feel which adds to the tension of a possible threat around every corner.

The levity between Polly and the others is a nice little addition which is exactly how people would react in such a high pressure situation.

And now it seems something ancient (and maybe evil) has been awoken. Gonna be fun.
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Old March 27 2013, 06:32 PM   #96
The Badger
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

Duncan MacLeod wrote: View Post
Ok, I want a visual of Polly in her mithril chain-mail bikini with her +3 longsword of smiting, and I want it NOW!!!!
I can't give you that I'm afraid, but here's something similar. Not quite NSFW, but I'll post a link rather than the pic. just in case.

http://www.ourspacer.com/images/grap...king-about.jpg
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Old March 28 2013, 02:50 PM   #97
Duncan MacLeod
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

Shyla Stylez.

Very nice. it's not Polly of course, but it's still very nice.
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Old April 18 2013, 12:26 AM   #98
The Badger
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

The Ziggurat Interior.
1st December 2151.

Archer's communicator whistled for attention. He flipped it open. "Archer."

"Reed here. We've secured the chamber, if you want to come on through."


The Captain stood. "Will do. What's in there?"

There was a short pause. "I think you should see this for yourself."

"Very well, we're on our way. Out." He flipped the communicator shut. "Isn't he supposed to actually tell me stuff when I ask? I'm sure I read that some where."

"We've all been on the ship with Polly too long." said Tucker, climbing to his feet. "Her sense o' melodrama is contagious."

It was now just bright enough to see without the flash lights, though they kept them on, just in case. Archer led them towards the doorway. Steiger, one of the marines, was waiting by the open door. He saluted as they approached. "Major Reed says you're to go right in."

Archer felt his jaw drop as they passed through. Although still quite dark, the chamber beyond was clearly huge, and looked to be hexagonal in shape. It was, he estimated, about the size of a football field, at least. It was also some three stories high. A wide stair case, again without handrails, led down to the floor. From his vantage point he could see other doorways, like the one he'd just come through, one to each wall.

Curiously, the chamber was filled with a series of concentric walls, coming up to about head height. They looked to be made of the same grey stone overlaid with polymer as the rest of the structure. The walls were not continuous, wide gaps allowed passage between them. It looked like a very simple maze. Something about their placement reminded him of Stonehenge, the same sense of ancient purpose. He could see the marines moving around the walls, looking very small from here.

"Whoah." Tucker said softly, besides him.

"Yeah." Archer replied, unable to think of anything more useful. He kept a firm grip on Porthos' leash, the little dog straining in an attempt to rush down the stairs. Carefully, he descended.

"Great, more stairs with no hand rail." Partridge moaned. "Who designed this place, the Galactic Empire?"

Locke rubbed his forehead wearily. "I can't believe you are still scared! What's wrong with you?"

"Yeah." added Trooper Tipping. "I thought you scientist types were all supposed to get caught up in scientific curiosity, and not even notice any thing else. Well, that's what I read."

"Where did you read that?" Partridge asked shrilly, shuffling carefully from step to step.

"Errr...'The Lost World' by H.G. Wells."

"Ah, you suprise me Mr Tipping, you are far more literate than I gave you credit for. But to address your statement, I must point out that both Challenger and Summerlee possessed two advantages over myself. First, they were fictional, and as such only afraid when it suited the purposes of the narrative. And secondly, they were both male, and thus could only contemplate one thing at a time. I'm a woman. I can multi-task. Scientific curiosity and abject terror, simultaneously? Easy."

By this time they had reached the lower level, where Reed approached them. "Captain, the room is secured, but I recommend no one goes any where without one of my people with them."

"I think some of us can look after ourselves." Phlane said, patting her carbine.

"Yes ma'am." Reed said diplomatically, and rapidly changed the subject. "Commander Tucker. I wonder if you could help us with a little problem? That door---" he gestured back up the stairs, "---shuts itself if there's no one nearby. I've got Steiger up there as a sort of door stop. Foolish really, I should have got Tipping to do that. He'd be useful for once. Anyway, the problem is, if it shuts, we lose our line of sight communications with the outside, and I'd rather avoid that."

"Yep, I can have a look at that."

As Tucker trotted back up the stairs, Reed turned to Sato. "Ma'am, there's some thing you really should see. If you examine this...structure..."

"Hieroglyphs!" Sato exclaimed. The picture-words covered the nearest of the free standing walls. They seemed to be on the others, at least as far as could be seen. "Oh, I wish Carl were here, He'd love this."

For a split second Archer wondered who Carl was, before remembering the missing Dr Halliwell. He was ashamed to admit that he'd rather forgotten about him with everything else that was happening. Fortunately Sato didn't seem to pick up on his mood. "Can you read them?" he asked.

"Parts of it, certainly." She tapped her pad. "I've got the beginnings of a translation matrix here, we just need a bit more raw data and then we can make some real pro---"

"Everybody down!" Reed hissed suddenly, dropping to one knee and bringing his rifle to his shoulder. He cocked his head slightly, in a manner Archer recognised as listening to his tactical communications net. Around the chamber, the other marines adopted similar poses, weapons at the ready, alert for any danger. Archer knelt, putting his hand to his side arm but not drawing it. Sato had no such reservations, readying her gun in the approved manner, as did Doctor Locke. Phlane and the other two Denobulans not only raised their carbines, they positioned themselves so they could look around with no blind spots.

After several long seconds Reed visibly relaxed. "Right, understood. Carry on" he said into the communications net. He stood and turned to Archer. "Sorry about that sir. M'boto thought he saw movement, but there's nothing there. Bit of a false alarm. Still, no harm done."

"No harm done? No harm done!" exclaimed Partridge, who emerged from her hiding place behind Sato and under Porthos. "It's bad enough down here as it is without you messing about! Oh, I'm sure you think it a jolly jape to scare the civilians, but that sort of thing really isn't on. Here we are, on an important scientific expedition, with vital work to carry out---"

"Contact left!" This time the speaker was close enough to be heard without the comms system, nearby within the maze like walls. Reed didn't need to tell them to get down, they did that automatically.

Again, there came a long pause. "Ah, negative contact. Negative."

"Are you sure, Dent?" Reed asked.

"Ah, yes sir. I just saw...I thought I saw, movement out of the corner of my eye. But when I turned, nothing."

Locke checked the safety on his pistol. "Could it have been something moving past you?"

Dent, accompanied by Tharpa, appeared at the nearest gap between walls. "Not really sir. I was on the other side of this wall. There's not that much room in there. Anything going past me, we'd have seen it coming or going. And it would have been close enough to touch."

Archer approached the gap and looked back the way Dent had came. The area between the walls formed a curved corridor, festooned with hieroglyphs, perhaps wide enough for three people to walk abreast. There were no protuberances or other obstructions that could act as a hiding place. The floor seemed solid, no obvious trapdoors. He looked up. The ceiling was now quite bright with no gaps to mar it's surface. Besides, if something had been rising or descending, it would easily have been seen by the others around the chamber.

He rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. "Is it possible we're seeing some sort of perception altering effect? Like at the doorways?"

Partridge examined her scanner. "I'm not picking up the same energy signature. It's possible, but seems unlikely."

Reed slapped his hand to the side of his helmet as another signal came through. "Stay there, don't move! We're on our way." He looked at the captain. "Another contact. James spotted movement at the centre of this structure."

Archer glanced down at Porthos. Whatever was going on certainly didn't seem to upset the dog. "Tell me, major, have you ever heard the story of the marine that cried wolf?"

"I'm sorry sir, but we have to take these reports seriously."

"Scientific curiosity, abject terror, and now the beginnings of some serious annoyance." Partridge grumbled. "Multitasking."

The centre of the structure was a wide circle about the size of a tennis court. There were six of the walls surrounding it, the gaps between them aligning with the six stairways and doors leading into this chamber. Like all of the other walls, these were covered in hieroglyphs. Corporal James stood nearby, directing the beam of her rifle mounted flashlight onto a specific section of the wall. Tharpa stood behind her, keeping an eye out in the opposite direction.

"What have you got, Corporal?" Reed demanded. "Well, spit it out!"

She spoke hesitantly."It's....I...I'm not really sure sir. We were patrolling, like you ordered, and...I just spotted something out of the corner of my eye. Right there."

Archer asked. "What sort of something?"

"Couldn't rightly say sir. It was just movement, a sense of movement, like a blur. And when I turned, it was gone." She shrugged, the motion partially obscured by the bulky body armour.

"Where about were you when this happened, Autumn?" Partridge asked softly.

"About a metre, maybe two, from that wall. That's where I saw it."

Partridge went "Hmmm." She absently twirled a strand of hair round a finger, and went "Hmmm." again.

"You have an idea, Professor?" Archer asked.

"Hmmm. Yes. Nothing I'm certain of, not yet. Fortunately we have the opportunity for empirical testing. Could everybody please move to the centre, please? As far away from the walls as you can, thank you. And Mr Reed, could you kindly tell your chaps still patrolling about, and what have you, to get out of this structure and move away from it? To the foot of the staircase should do. It probably won't make a difference, but we should always eliminate any confounding variables, yes indeed. Come along now, come along."

As soon as Reed confirmed that the structure was cleared, apart from those at the centre, Partridge approached the wall James had pointed out. "Right. Everyone keep you eyes peeled. And for once, don't look at me. One-two, ah one-two-three-four." With that she commenced a fast, high stepping, bouncing march around the circumference of the central clearing.

"She's doin' that and we ain't allowed to look at her?" moaned Tipping. "This is torture!"

She'd just started her third circuit when Sato called out "There! Did you see that?"

"Yes!" Phlane exclaimed.

Trooper Cross confirmed that she, too, had seen it.

"Ha! All women!" Partridge said with an enormous grin. "I knew the boys would be looking elsewhere."

"I didn't see anything." James said.

Partridge wrinkled her nose at her. "I think we all know what you were looking at."

"Ah. It's true, I can't lie." James conceded.

"Well I saw nothing, so could we please get an explanation?" Archer said.

Doctor Locke lit a cigarette and took a long drag. "The hieroglyphs. They changed, shifted somehow."

Partridge looked deflated. "Oh. You spotted that?"

"No. Wasn't looking. You are exceptionally clever, Professor, and like a lot of clever people you often think other people are stupid. I had access to the same information as you. I'll admit, I hadn't come to the conclusion as fast as you did, but once you started trying to trigger motion sensors in the wall the solution was obvious."

"Not to me it isn't" Reed admitted.

"Would you care to explain Doctor?" Partridge asked acidly. He declined with a wave of his cigarette so she continued. "I suspect that this structure is some sort of command centre. These walls fulfil the role of screens. Some form of display matrix embedded in the polymer coating, I should imagine. And designed to activate whenever someone is nearby. There's no point showing something if there is no one there to see it, after all. Now we know that whoever built this place...I'm sorry, it's no good. We can't go round saying 'whoever built this place'. We need a name for them, even if it's only a place holder until we find out what they were really called."

Archer shrugged. "OK, if you feel it's important. What do you suggest?

"Well, it can be something simple and to the the point. Let's see...OK. What do we know about them. We know they built the ziggurat, yes? And they built cities and roadways, long ago. And they built this structure here. They did an awful lot of building. So I suggest, the perfect name for these builders is...the Quagaars."

"The Quagars." Archer repeated.

"Quagaars. Not one 'a', two."

Archer chuckled. "How about...the Builders?"

"The Builders? The Builders? Well, I suppose so. But it doesn't really mean anything, does it? OK. What I was saying was that we know that the Quagaar...alright then, the Builders, have some sort of motion sensor technology. We've seen it opening doors for us. I'd say the same thing activates these displays. When there is no one around, the display matrix freezes into it's last known configuration. These aren't carefully laid out images, selected for posterity. They are just whatever was being shown the last time anyone was here."

"What about the hieroglyphs at the main site?" Sato asked. "There's no record of them ever changing."

"If this place is, indeed, 'waking up'," Archer suggested, "then those ones may have been frozen too. I'm guessing that, in the same way the lights are still getting brighter, this system isn't at full capability yet."

"Right." Partridge nodded. "It's not entirely functional, occasionally sensing someone nearby, partially updating the display. If it continues to improve though, we should see something very interesting soon."

"Hoshi, get to work." Archer said. "Something tells me these symbols are the key to what's going on here. Of course we---"

He broke of at a shout from the entrance, followed the schhuuunk! of plasma weapons fire.
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Old April 18 2013, 12:45 AM   #99
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

Another curious update! I likey...
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Old May 25 2013, 11:22 PM   #100
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

Many, many apologies for the slow rate of work, but I've just had the dreaded writers block. Nothing seems to shift it (Dan Brown allegedly hangs upside down to clear it, but if it means writing like him, I'm not sure that's worth it).


***


The Ziggurat Interior.
1st December 2151.

The voice had been Trip Tucker's, the words indistinct, the accent unmistakable. And the gun shot, unmistakably a plasma weapon but lacking the throaty roar of a rifle or carbine. A pistol, then, like the ones the UESPA crew carried. For a second Archer froze, shocked at the realization that his friend was in trouble. Then in one swift movement he scooped up Porthos, thrusting the little dog into Partridge's unresisting arms. She was, he reasoned, the least likely to go rushing off into danger. "Stay here and look after him!" he ordered. "Hoshi! Look after them both!"

Reed was barking orders into his comm. system. He broke off to tell Archer to stay where he was. Archer ignored him, darting from the central chamber and into the maze like structure beyond. By looking over the walls he could see his destination and keep himself orientated, though twice he skidded past the right opening and had to retrace his steps. As he ran the hieroglyphs swirled and danced, mute testimony to the Professor's hypothesis that it was some sort of motion sensitive display. The changing pattens made judging distance and speed difficult: he banged an elbow painfully after misjudging the edge of a wall.

He burst out of the structure right in front of a startled Denobulan guard who raised his carbine automatically. Phlane swatted it down. Archer ignored them both, sprinting all out to the flight of stairs which he ascended a groin punishing three steps at the time. Half way up he realised he'd drawn his own gun, quite without meaning to. He didn't re-holster it.

Several marines clustered around the door way, weapons at the ready. One---Cross---said "He's here." into her communicator as he approached. Reed had probably warned them he was on his way. She stepped aside to let him pass. The first thing to hit him as he entered the tunnel was the faint but distinct smell of ozone, the usual side effect of a plasma weapon shot. There was something else, too, an unpleasant, acrid stink, and he wrinkled his nose in distaste.

Tucker was half standing, half leaning against a wall. One of the marine medics, Dumont, was checking him over. And with good reason. His hands were shaking, and even in the half light he was pale and wan.

"Trip! You OK, buddy?"

"I reckon I will be, cap'n." Tucker said after a long breath. "Just a bit rattled, is all. Ain't that right?" The question was to Dumont, who nodded.

Archer let out a sigh of relief, which turned into gasp for air as his exertions caught up with him. "What...happened?"

"I saw...somethin'...creepin' outa that there shaft up there. I'm sorry cap'n, I know we ain't the shoot first an' ask questions later types, but....OK, I ain't too proud to admit it. I got scared. Real scared. An' I took a shot. An' missed." He gestured without looking at one of the openings near the ceiling. Next to it part of the polymer coating on the rock was slightly blackened. Faint wisps of oily smoke drifted from it, the source of the unpleasant smell. "Guess I need to spend more time on the shootin' range." he added ruefully.

Archer struggled to keep his breathing under control. He felt dizzy, his heart pounding in his chest and thumping in his ears. The soles of his feet ached, almost as much as the tendons in his inner thighs. "Guess I need to spend more time in the gym."

***

Five minutes sat at the bottom of the stairs returned them both to something approaching their normal conditions. Coffee from Archer's thermos helped. Reed hovered nearby, not saying anything about the captain running off, but with an expression that promised the matter was not forgotten and would be discussed later, probably using the phrase 'with the greatest respect' several times.

"So, Trip, what did you see?"

For a moment Tucker didn't reply, just staring into space. Then he spoke softy. "I was workin' on a way to keep the door open. Figured a pulsed EM wave o' the right frequency should do it. I got a few spare transponders in the tool kit, so a rigged one up with a Coleman-Hayes governor, for positive feedback, y'know? I set it up right by the door, then moved away to see if it worked. Obviously, if'n I was still standin' there, I'd be settin' the sensor off myself. So, I came part way down the stairs, and asked the marine, Steiger, to go the other way, into the tunnel, far enough that it don't pick up him.
"An' it worked. We moved away, an' that door stayed open. So 'least we can still talk to the outside."

"Thank you sir, that will make things much easier." said Reed.

Archer asked "And then what?"

"Well, once I was satisfied that everythin' was goin' fine, I went back up the stairs." He shuddered. "An' that's when I saw it. Took me a moment, it's a lot lighter than it was, but still pretty gloomy. But it was leanin' out of the vent, reachin' for Steiger. He were facin' the other way, down the corridor---"

"So it was between you and him?" Reed asked.

Tucker nodded. "It were behind him, right behind him. An' it looked...you gotta understand. I only caught a glimpse, it were dark...I didn't see it good. But what I saw...it looked...it looked wrong."

"What do you mean, wrong?" Archer insisted.

Tucker shrugged helplessly. "I mean not right. It was like...d'you remember them psychological tests we had in trainin'? When they flashed up images o' people with disfigurin injuries, an' puppets that looked a bit like a person, but not quite close enough. That sorta thing."

"Yes, I remember." What he remembered most of all was the cold sticky gel used to hold the EEG and ECG sensors in place and give a good contact. As the pictures had flashed onto the screen, for less than a second each, his physiological response had been measured. The procedure was, apparently, to help weed out those who might become disturbed or frightened at the appearance of a new alien species. A phrase one of the psychologists had used drifted around his memory, 'The Uncanny Valley'. He couldn't recall what it meant.

"Well, that's it. Just an impression of wrongness. If I'd been expectin' it, maybe I'd ha' been OK. But as it was....I was surprised, I was startled. Guess maybe I panicked a little. So I shouted to Steiger, and took a shot at the thing."

Reed said "And missed."

"Yeah. Well. Guess it heard me shoutin', cos' it shot back into that vent like a rat inna drainpipe."

Archer looked at Reed. "What about your man? Did he get an image on his helmet camera?"

"Doesn't look like it. I've got M'boto going over the footage just in case we got anything, But as Commander Tucker says, he was facing the wrong way. And of course, as soon as he heard the shout and gunshot, he dropped, looking for the shooter. Facing the right direction, but keeping his head down. Which is absolutely the right thing to do under the circumstances, of course, but it means he was looking too low. As soon as he realised what had happened, he took a look into the vent with the extending probe on his wrist computer, but there was nothing there by that time."

"There's one other thing been botherin' me." Tucker mused absently. "When I drew my gun, I accidentally flicked it into high power mode."

"Easily done." Reed said with a shrug. "The selector switch on the EM-33 was always a bit over sensitive. Especially if that's an older model, the workings can get rather worn."

"Right. The thing is though, at that range, an' at that power...."

"You should have done a lot more than scorch the polymer." Archer realized. "You should have burnt through to the stone blocks underneath. Probably gouged a big hole in to them."

Reed stamped on the ground a couple of times. "This stuff must be hellishly strong. If we can get a sample back to Earth it'd be very useful. New types of armour..."

"Should be easy 'nough to figure out how tough it is. We know the power output of the pistol." Tucker stood and looked up the stairs. "Hey, Trooper Cross! Can you get in there an' measure how deep the hole I shot is?"

She dissapeared into the tunnel for a moment. "Err...where is it, exactly? Sir?"

"You can't miss it. Just past the third vent on the left han' side. 'Bout six centimetres 'cross, whole area's blackened an' smokin'."

"Are you sure, Trip? The damage I saw wasn't anything like that bad." Archer said.

They exchanged glances, then trotted back up the stairs. Cross was just coming out again as they reached the top. "There's a bit of a blemish," she said apologetically, "but that's it."

They reached the vent. As Cross had said, there was a small brownish stain, but apart from that, nothing.

"I'll be damned." Tucker said softly.

Reed said "Now that is interesting."

Archer's communicator whistled. He looked at the display. Sato, routing her signal through the Marine's LOSIR net. "Archer here."

"Captain? Is everything alright? Is Trip OK?"

"He's fine. I'll explain later. How are things at your end?"

Even through the static her excitement was palpable. "We've made a breakthrough sir, we're getting to understand the symbols. It seems that many thousands---"

"Hold your horses, Hoshi. Me and Trip are on our way. You can tell us in a minute."

***

It took considerably more than a minute to reach them, Tucker fascinated by the display system and stopping to examine it better. Eventually they reached the centre of the structure, where Tucker gave a very brief account of his encounter, keeping it simple and straightforward, to avoid spooking Partridge.

"So," Archer said, when he had finished, "what's this big breakthrough you've made? Oh, Professor, you can put Porthos down now. Thanks."

"I didn't want him running off." she replied.

Sato beckoned him over to one of the walls. "Look at this sir. Recognize it?"

Archer examined it carefully. "Looks like a map of this system, the star in the centre, all the planets, moons, asteroids..." He broke off, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. There was something about this image, something...He was suddenly aware that Sato was watching him carefully. "This map. It's current! Up to date! This isn't some millennia old image. This is now!"

He turned at a grumbling from Partridge, who dug a purse from her coat pocket and handed Sato a large denomination credit chit. Sato grinned triumphantly. "Less than twenty seconds, sir. She thought it'd take you at least thirty to spot that."

"That'll learn ya to underestimate the cap'n." Tucker said. Partridge stuck her tongue out at him.

"And I'll show you something else." Sato went on. "Have a look at Herroton on the map." She paused until he'd found it. "Now, look at the four o'clock position."

He leant closer. "Something in orbit. Is that...can that be the Enterprise?"

Partridge said "It's in the right position, judging from it's apparent distance from the surface."

"Now that is weird. How can a two hundred thousand year old structure have up to date orbital information? It doesn't make any---Oh! What's this?" As he spoke Archer had tapped absently at the spot representing his ship. Suddenly a new image flickered to life next to the map, a collection of lines and curves that crudely made up a very familiar shape.

Sato said "Now that is the Enterprise."

As they watched the image flickered and altered, new details gradually emerging. It slowly spun and rolled, giving a panoramic view. Just as abruptly as it appeared it was gone again, fading from view in a matter of seconds. On the large map a flashing circle formed around the space it had occupied, runic script alongside.

"Hoshi?"

"Ah, a very rough translation would be something like 'contact lost', sir."

Archer pulled out his communicator. It whistled for attention before he could open it, an incoming call. "Archer here."

"Hernandez, Captain." It was a good thing she said her name as it was impossible to identify her by voice alone. Of course, the LOSIR system tended to 'flatten' speech, but even so, and shouldn't be this bad.

"Maria, I was just about to call you. Are you using the tactical communications system? It sounds like it."

"Yes sir. A few moments ago we were painted by an extremely powerful sensor sweep from the planet's surface. It matched nothing on our database. As a precaution I've gone to Tactical Alert and initiated stealth protocols."

Archer looked to the others. "Actually, I think we may have done that. We've discovered an ancient complex of some sort. We're still figuring it out, but it's clearly the result of highly advanced technology, capable of tracking the Enterprise in orbit. You'll be pleased to hear, I'm sure, that the stealth systems seem to have foxed it. It's not showing up any more."

"That's reassuring. I'm going to stay at Alert for the time being though, just in case someone launches a missile or something."

Archer didn't think that was necessary, but wasn't going to argue the point. "Very well. I'll prepare a status report and send it up to you shortly. Archer out."

As he closed the communicator Sato beckoned him to another wall. "Have a look at this sir." The display showed a planet, the continents clearly marking it out as Herroton. Dozens of tiny triangles dotted it's surface, and next to one a small spot pulsed pale green.

"Let me guess. That's the Denobulan city, right?"

"Looks like it sir. Now this triangle here is in the right position for the main ziggurat. So if that's what the triangles represent..."

Tucker whistled softly. "Sure is a whole lot o' them. Could they all be ziggurats?"

"They do seem to correspond to areas of low sensor return." said Partridge. "Here, Hoshi, show them what we saw before."

Sato raised a hand to a circular shape near the map. "If I can remember what I did last time." she muttered, before putting her fingers to the circumference and making a twisting motion. The map blurred for a second, the dot representing Herroton City fading from view. In it's place, many, many others appeared, scattered across the globe.

"Your planet has acne." Locke said, lighting a cigarette.

Archer ignored him, working out the topography of the map. "From the placement of these, access to water, land suitable for farming, temperate climates...these are cities, major population centres."

"Hell of a lot of them." Tucker said.

"Assuming population density anything like ours, I'd suggest any where between seven and twelve billion inhabitants." said Partridge. "Provisionally, of course. As far as we can tell, this image is just prior to the mass extinction event."

Numbers like that were too hard for the human mind to really get a grip on, especially when dealing with fatalities on that sort of scale. "Twelve billion Builders..." Archer echoed hollowly.

"Builders?" Tucker asked.

"It's what we're calling the race that made this." Sato said, gesturing around them.

"Bit of a dull name."

"I know." said Partridge. "I suggested Quagaars."

"Would twelve billion dead Quagaars sound better?" Archer asked, more sharply than he'd intended. "Sorry, Professor."

Before she could respond Reed and a couple of his people jogged in. "Right, you two take over guard duty here. James, Tharpa, with me."

Archer regarded him suspiciously. "What are you planning, Malcolm?"

Reed hesitated, weighing his words. "Sir...I know you won't approve, but as head of Security I have to...Sir, we know there are hostile creatures down here."

"Possibly hostile." Archer corrected. "We have circumstantial evidence, but nothing concrete."

"Probably hostile." Reed retorted. "The evidence may only be circumstantial, but there is a hell of a lot of it." He waited until the captain inclined his head in recognition of a valid point. "Hostile or not, these creatures are using the vents to navigate this structure. As long as they can do so with impunity, they have a tactical advantage. But it's only an advantage if they're doing it and we aren't. And that's why we have close quarter combat experts. To go in after them."
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Old May 26 2013, 05:34 PM   #101
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

The mystery continues. Who are these creatures and could they be related in any way to the Quagaars ... I mean Builders? And what exactly is this place made of that the landing parties' weapons won't even scratch the plaster?

Reed is right to try and rein in the captain but it's going to be an uphill battle. Archer, like most starship commanders, doesn't like being told what to do.

And know they gonna go after those things? That may not be Reed's greatest idea yet.
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Old June 19 2013, 08:28 PM   #102
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

Looking forward to reading more, too...
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Old June 21 2013, 02:54 PM   #103
The Badger
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

The Ziggurat Interior.
1st December 2151.

"I'm not so sure that this is a good idea, Malcolm." Archer said mildly.

Tucker was less tactful. "I'm real sure it ain't."

They stood at the bottom of the main staircase. Nearby James and Tharpa made their preparations to enter the vent, removing their bulky armour. Sato and Partridge were now examining the hieroglyphs on the outer walls of the central structure, and Archer doubted it was a coincidence that they were close enough to eavesdrop the conversation. Locke was examining the insect bite to Phlane's cheek, which had started to itch abominably, whilst the rest of the Denobulans stood on guard, further away but still able to keep an eye on them.

Reed sighed softly. "Sir, we've been over this. We know nothing about those creatures, really, and we're not going to learn anything at this rate. Unless you're prepared to overlook a possible factor in solving this little mystery...?"

"Damn it, Malcolm, don't try to blackmail me!" Archer snapped. The frustrating thing was Reed had a point. Power was still off at the city. It would soon become a major problem. According to a burst message from the Governor's office a fire had broken out after someone tried to cook food on an open flame inside their home. Thanks to Commissioner Tovan's forethought all homes had short range battery powered two way radios, and the emergency services were summoned. Fortunately the vehicles were unaffected by the drain and quickly attended the blaze. One person was critically injured and taken to hospital, where Phlox saved his life. But the hospital's power reserves were now critically low, and further use could drain it completely. The emergency vehicles too would need their batteries recharged soon. Life was going to become very hard for the colonists.

"Sorry sir. But my people can do this. They're trained for it."

James waved a piece of equipment at them. "Non gratum anus rodentum." she said cheerfully.

Bewildered, Archer looked to Sato, who said "Not worth a rat's....bottom, sir. In Latin."

"Huh. And the relevance?"

Sato shrugged, but Partridge answered. "Unofficial motto of the Tunnel Rats. American, Australian and New Zealand soldiers who infiltrated the enemy tunnel complexes during the Second Indochina war. 'The smallest men with the largest cojones', as they were some times known."

"And that's us!" said James. "Metaphorically, at least."

"Literally, for one of us." Tharpa added, examining the blade on his combat knife.

"That's not what that blond on Schofield Station told me."

Archer rubbed the back of his neck. "I still don't like it. They're going to be out of communications range once they're in there. If they run into trouble they can't call for help."

"Have you seen how narrow those corridors are Captain?" Reed asked. "Even if they did need our help, I doubt any of us could get to them. Not that it'll be a problem. I keep telling you, they're trained for this stuff, it's second nature. And that includes tunnel clearing without communications. That's for tactical purposes, to prevent detection, rather than practical ones like now, but the principle's the same."

"And we won't be completely cut off sir." James said. "We'll be carrying the modified emergency beacons Lt. Sato designed. We can send and receive messages with them."

"It's still slow." said Archer, unwilling to let it go.

"Me and Trooper Pashmut have been practising." Sato said. "We can use the beacons almost twice as fast as the automatic signalling system."

Reed snorted. "There's no way Pashmut'd fit into one of those vents."

Sato put her hands on her hips. "No, but I could."

"Absolutely not!" Archer stated emphatically. "It's risky enough as it is!"

"But sir..."

"Hoshi, you're good in a fight," James said, holding up her hands, "but you're not trained for this environment. We'll be OK with the beacons as they are."

Partridge added "Besides, you're needed here. We've still got a lot to do translating these symbols."

After a moment Sato nodded, disappointed.

Archer sighed with resignation. "Alright, alright. You two can go. But just a quick scout around, do you understand? We've got enough going wrong as it is."

"Hey, I gotta question." Tucker said. "Why have your guns got two barrels?"

Both Tharpa and James carried pistols. As Tucker had noted, the weapons had a thicker than normal chassis holding a second barrel, located below the first, right in front of the trigger guard. There was a small green gem-like hemisphere located just below the lower barrel.

"Yeah, it looks like it's been drawn by Rob Liefield." Partridge added.

"It's an Asquith CC-11." said James, removing the magazine and handing the weapon over to Tucker. "Specially designed for close combat work."

"No EM designation?" Tucker asked.

She shook her head. "They're not general issue. And probably won't ever be, unlike our rifles. Only a couple of hundred have been built. Most units have no need for them."

He examined it with an engineer's eye. "Good craftsmanship. This weren't turned out in a production line, that's for sure. Bullet firin', too, you don't see that much these days."

"Right." She thumbed a bullet from the magazine and showed it to him. It had the traditional shape, but there was no casing and a web-like network of grooves were cut into it's surface. "Six point eight millimetre caseless frangible round, designed to break apart on impact. Partly that's to improve lethality, but it also limits ricochets in closed areas. There's a tiny gas bottle in the magazine. I couldn't tell you what's in it but a quick spray into the chamber followed by laser ignition will send this little fellow rushing off at just over four hundred metres per second.
"Now, look at this...." Taking the pistol back, she gripped the lower barrel assembly and pushed it gently it forwards. Just as it seemed it would come off the end it slid upwards. With a soft click it fastened into place in front of the upper barrel.

"An inbuilt sound suppressor." Partridge said, impressed despite herself.

James nodded. "That's it. When it's in place the systems automatically reduce the amount of propellent used to fire, so the bullets are subsonic. And this traps almost all noise from the gun itself. Plus there's no muzzle flash so you're not messing up your own vision. On the subject of which...see this little diode?" She pointed to the green gem like stud.

"Yeah..." Tucker said.

"Two functions. First, low level emitters so our night vision gear has something to work with...That reminds me. Do we have any evidence that the opposition are technologically advanced? I mean, we know this place was made by some pretty clever guys, but what about the creatures in the vents? Any ideas?"

The others exchanged glances. Eventually Partridge spoke. "They clearly show some level of reasoning ability. But their attack on the Vrex utilised claws and teeth. No indication of any tool use as far as we've seen. Why?"

It was Tharpa who answered. "We're trying to decide whether or not to use our night vision. It would be useful."

"Useful?" asked Archer. "I would have thought it essential!"

"Not so Captain. Enemy bases may have sensors, to detect the emissions. Sometimes it is better to do without."

"He's right, sir." Reed said. "It's part of their training. Two weeks in a pitch black environment. There's a specially built complex under ground in Bulgaria. I spent a day in it once, and that was enough for me."

James said "But if they're not using technology, I think we can risk night vision ourselves." She tapped the goggles hanging from a strap around her neck.

"You're using those?" Partridge asked. "What about your helmets? They have inbuilt NV."

"They're also a bit on the bulky side. Don't want to give our location away with a lot of noise, banging my helmet on a low ceiling."

Partridge folded her arms and stuck her jaw out. "So instead you bang your unprotected head against the ceiling and splatter your brains out! I really wish you'd reconsider."

"Don't worry Polly." James said with a smile. "It's been tested in computer models, battle simulations, and even real life conflicts. It is safer this way, really."

Partridge made a non-committal "Hmmm..." sound, but did relax slightly.

"Yeah, so what's the other function?" Tucker asked, gesturing to the green emitter at James' blank expression.

"What? Oh, right, yeah. I shan't tell you, I'll show you." She slid her goggles over her eyes. Behind her Tharpa did the same, whilst Reed went and whispered something to Locke. "OK, before we do this, I better tell, you, this isn't permanent, OK? Nothing to worry about...Right. OK?"

And then everything went mad.

Pink and purple sparks danced painfully across Archer's vision. Instinctively he closed his eyes and turned his head. Or at least he tried to. He could feel the movement, the muscles responding in his neck, the back of his head brushing the collar of his cold weather jacket. Yet beyond the sparks he could still see James standing in front of him, pistol held up for examination. She wasn't moving. In fact, nothing was moving, like a still picture placed where ever he looked. He tried swinging his head rapidly to dislodge the image. That had no effect, except to make him feel sick.

"Careful Captain! You'll make yourself dizzy." came James' voice.

After a few seconds the still image faded from view to be replaced by a vague blurry darkness. It wasn't much of an improvement, even if the sparks weren't quite as bright.

"Fascinating..." Partridge breathed. And she didn't sound panicked, which was not what Archer would have expected. Even if she had known what was coming, she would still have been frightened. So she hadn't been affected.

"Sorry Captain." said James. "I wanted to show Commander Tucker, but I guess you were too close to him and got caught too."

"So it's an area effect?" Archer asked. That was the last piece of the puzzle. "Some sort of blinding weapon?"

"You sure it ain't permanent?" Tucker said, his voice rising.

"I'm sure sir. We all go through this as part of our familiarization with the weapon. And the guy who invented it has been zapped once a day, every day since he first came up with it. That's probably a publicity stunt. But there's never been any reports of permanent effects."

Tucker grumbled "I'd hate to be the first."

Archer blinked a few times. The sparks were almost gone. Everything still seemed dark and blurry, but they were visibly returning to normal. One of the blurs resolved itself into Doctor Locke, who peered intently into his eyes. "Massive pupil constriction. Seems to be returning to normal now. You might want to sit down for a few minutes John."

"Good advice." He made his way carefully to the bottom step and sat. "Some sort of laser?"

Reed nodded. "Yes sir. Similar effect to our stun grenades, only more directional and without the sonic effect. It's incredibly bright, I can't even remember how bright but it had a lot of noughts. But because it only pulses for a fraction of a second there's no risk of retinal damage, even if you look right at it at point blank range."

"I think" rumbled Locke, "that I would like to see the research behind that allegation. The human eye is a delicate instrument. It should not be needlessly abused."

Reed looked unsure of himself.

"Weirdest thing." Tucker said, moving to sit by Archer. "It was like I was lookin' at a freeze frame, taken the 'zact moment that thing went off."

"Really? That is interesting." said Partridge. "Over stimulation of the retina, I should imagine."

"Yes." Locke added. "That's plausible."

Archer rubbed his eyes, and was relieved to see his vision was now back to normal. "Well, it's certainly effective. I'm guessing your goggles filter out the effect?"

"Yes sir. The flasher works on a very tight frequency. Our goggles don't let that through." James said.

"Just as well." Tharpa added. "In confined space, reflection off nearby objects can be, what is the word...dazzling. Even through closed eyelids!"

"I'm impressed and appalled in equal measure." Partridge said glumly. "Multitasking again. Oh, there's no denying the ingenuity of the design...I just wish it wasn't considered necessary."

There was a chirp from Sato's pad. "The translator matrix has found another match. Polly, we better go check this out." She rushed back into the central complex.

Partridge went to follow, hesitated at the entrance, turned to James. "Be careful." she said softly. Then she was gone.

"We will." Tharpa called after her.

James smiled. "Ah, that was nice of her."

"Mind on the game, corporal," Reed said, "keep your mind on the game."

"Yes sir. Right, I think that's everything...."

"Is that all you're wearing?" Archer asked. "Doesn't seem very protective."

Having removed their armour, the two marines had then doffed their uniform fatigues. Underneath they wore form fitting one piece charcoal grey coveralls. They'd added boots, knee and elbow pads, plus their wrist computers. A tight fitting hood of the same material covered most of the head, leaving the face exposed. The slimline goggles, looking more like a pair of designer sun glasses than military equipment, were held in place by elasticated straps. Currently they both had the goggles pushed up onto their foreheads. A similar strap held some sort of respirator. It looked, Archer thought, like the porcelain face masks worn by ice hockey players. The straps were slack enough that, when pulled down to neck level, the mask would hang without getting in the way. And apart from a belt with several pouches, that seemed to be it.

"It's all we need sir. Armour will just get in the way. The under suit is tough enough to protect us from abrasions, the knee and elbow pads are what we really need crawling about....I keep thinking I've forgotten something..."

"Your make up." Tharpa said, handing her a small tube.

"Thanks."

Archer watched as she expertly applied the camouflage face paint. "I'm still not happy about this."

"Good!" Reed said. "I've had CO's who would send people off on dangerous missions without a second thought. I'm not to keen on working with people like that."

"Dangerous missions?" Tucker asked. "Five minutes ago you was tryin' to convince the cap'n this is all perfectly safe!"

"Ah." said Reed. He thought for a moment, then said "Ah." again.

Archer shook his head slowly, and sucked air in through pursed lips, a sort of backwards whistle. "I don't know, Malcolm, I was coming round to the idea. But if you think it might be dangerous, well...."

"Oh, please don't scrub the mission, captain." said Tharpa. "We've only just got ready."

"Yeah, and the Professor thinks I'm going to be doing something really brave." James added.

"'Course, you could just hide some where for half an hour, then tell her you done summat brave." Tucker said.

She thought about this. "Yeah. works for me. Hey, do you think if we say we did something brave enough, we could get medals?"

"Oh, I'm sure something suitable can be arranged." Reed said. "Probably made from chocolate covered in tin foil. Come on. Unless the Captain objects, it's time to go."

Archer followed them up the stairs, Tucker at his side. If he was any judge of character, there had been a touch of whistling in the dark, forced good spirits to cover up nerves. Under the circumstances, though, nerves seemed a reasonable response to him.

There were several Marines at the entrance to the corridor, some standing guard, others using the extending probes from their wrist computers to check on the various vents. No one, it seemed, wanted anything creeping up on them again.

"Lookit that, cap'n," Tucker said softly, "you can't even see where I shot no more."

"Incredible..." Archer breathed.

"Right. Who's got the communications beacon?" Reed asked.

James said "We both have one, just in case."

"Good, good. And have you decided where you want to start?"

"Yeah. We have no idea how these vents link up along there, or even if they link up at all. So, to give us our best chance of tracking those creatures down, we'll go into the one it was in earlier."

Steiger pointed it out. "This one. I've been keeping an eye on it. Looks all clear at the moment."

"Good. With a bit of luck that will give us a chance to get a feel for the place before anything kicks off. Give us a boost up will you?" James said.

As Steiger helped lift her to the vent, Archer said "Remember, this is a reconnaissance mission. Hopefully nothing will...'kick off'."

"We'll do our best sir, but a lot depends on those creatures. Good grief, this is going to be a tight squeeze. Maybe I better lay off those chocolate medals. Here we go,,," She slithered nimbly into the tight opening.

After Tharpa had followed her into the darkness Archer called out after them. "Be careful. Both of you."

"That's not the Pathfinder way." Reed grinned wolfishly and called into the vent "Hey, you two! Good hunting!"
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Old June 23 2013, 03:30 PM   #104
CeJay
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

A lot of fun banter between the Marines and a clearly apprehensive Archer. I especially enjoyed the vaguely homoerotic tensions between James and Partridge.

Overall there was a little bit too much exposition here for my tastes. At some point this turned into more of a show-and-tell and if I were Archer I would have had some choice words for the Marines for that little light-show stunt without a proper warning.

At least now that we're all familiar with their gear, we get a sense that the Marines should be ready for whatever they're going to encounter in those tunnels. But ... will it be enough?
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Old June 23 2013, 06:45 PM   #105
The Badger
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Re: Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

CeJay wrote: View Post
...Overall there was a little bit too much exposition here for my tastes. At some point this turned into more of a show-and-tell...
That's a valid piece of criticism. I've been struggling to get anything written for some time, total writers block. Eventually I resolved to get something, anything, posted, even if it were little more than background information, just so I'm still in the process of actually writing.

I'm glad you enjoyed the banter, at least I'm doing something right!
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