Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by The Badger, May 3, 2012.

  1. jerriecan

    jerriecan Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Jun 7, 2011
    Another excellent installment, Badger. :) Looks like a bit more going on than simply creatures running loose, since someone - or something - is actively trying to conceal evidence of the killings. Looking forward to more, sir. :)
  2. The Badger

    The Badger Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 11, 2008
    Im in ur Tardis, violating ur canon.
    Thanks for the ongoing support. I've made some progress with the next part, should be up in the next day or two.

    Aha! That is certainly a reasonable hypothesis. But would I be that obvious?*

    *Disclaimer. This is a rhetorical question, and not a statement of any kind suggesting that The Badger isn't that obvious. He might be.
    Probably is.
  3. The Badger

    The Badger Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 11, 2008
    Im in ur Tardis, violating ur canon.
    UES Enterprise. Orbiting Herroton.
    29th November, 2151.

    In operation, the small hooded viewer attached to the science station made a variety of noises. Murmurs, hums, whirs, chirrups and burbles all combined into a melodic, even lyrical, whole. Yet gradually this morning those pleasing sounds had become obscured by the frustrated mutterings of Professor Partridge as she stared angrily into the device. Abruptly she straightened up, pushing herself back in the chair and slapping at the off switch. She missed, catching the console instead, and bit back a curse as she shook her sore hand.

    "No luck then?" Commander Hernandez asked sympathetically.

    Partridge didn't turn, but took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "No. Not really. Thank you for asking." she said in the tight, precise, controlled tones of someone trying very hard to stop themselves shouting.

    Hernandez looked around the bridge. Everyone was studiously monitoring their own stations, not willing to risk getting involved. "But didn't you say you'd found something earlier?"

    "Yes, on the passive scans. Observations in visible light and infra-red show a variety of phenomena. Regular shapes that would seem to be artificial in origin. The ancient remains of roads, aqueducts, maybe even cities. Or possibly some geological process inherent to this world. To determine which, we'll need more data than the passives will give. Yet when we try to run active scans...we get practically nothing back. At best, resolution is so low as to be worthless. In some cases, we are getting no return at all. We're trying to map a planet and it's all blank spaces. What can we do?"

    Mayweather said "You could do what they always used to. Write 'Here be dragons'."

    Partridge spun in her chair, staring straight at him for an uncomfortably long time, jaw clenched. Then a smile flickered across her face. "Good idea."

    "So, what do you reckon?" Hernandez said. "A system fault?"

    Partridge rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hand. "Must be. Can't think of anything else that would do this. Mind you, the system worked well at Galador, so it must have gone wrong between there and here. Dammit, that means a full diagnostic. Or recalibrate, no, that won't work, I'd need to run it at full power to get a benchmark. Too dangerous for the people on the planet. So it'll have to be a diagnostic. A complete pain in the....Ah, I can do without this." She stood, and stretched, working the kinks out of her muscles with several audible clicks. "Ouch."

    "Admit it." Hernandez said. "It was a good idea to reposition your viewer."

    When first installed, the viewer could only be operated from a standing position. This proved unsuitable for two reasons. Many bridge crew found the sight of Partridge standing, bent almost double, legs splayed wide, to be most distracting. This was especially the case for those at the helm and navigation consoles, located directly behind her. It was bad enough when she wore her typical catsuits, but so much worse on those occasions she donned her distressingly short mini dresses.

    It also became quickly apparent that operation of the device in that position was not conducive to good posture. Several officers who used the viewer quickly complained of back ache. Partridge herself, who possessed a physique susceptible to bad backs at the best of times, admitted that she too had had problems. So the viewer was relocated to a more convenient and comfortable position.

    Still, several hours hunched in the chair had an effect. Partridge bent back as far as she could, pressing her fists over her kidneys, and groaned. "It's no good, I'm going round and round in circles here. Need to do something else, take my mind off it...Blimey, I'm parched. Any one fancy a brew?"

    That threw Hernandez, until she realised what a Brit would mean by that. "A cup of tea. Yes, I would, thank you."

    Partridge looked round, counting up those who wanted one. "Right, I'll stick the kettle on then."

    After she'd left, Moshiri asked "OK, hands up every one who thought she was going to hit Lieutenant Mayweather?"

    There were chuckles, and several hands raised.

    "I hope she figures it out soon." Hernandez said. "You know what she was like the last time she got stuck on a problem."

    "I hope she doesn't. For the same reason." Mayweather smirked.

    Along with Tucker, Partridge had been instrumental in developing a solution to the warp drive problem. For some reason Hernandez did not understand, her contribution had involved securing a long piece of spare piping vertically in the obs. dome, arranging several tables in a circle at it's base, and writhing around it to the accompaniment of excessively loud music. And, indeed, it had been whilst spinning upside down during a fast tempo version of 'Fly Me To The Moon' that she'd had a moment of insight, that later, with much work, had proved crucial. The presence of numerous baying crew-members and marines was, apparently, essential to the process. That at least was what she had said when pocketing the money they'd thrown.

    "Moon's coming up." Moshiri commented conversationally.

    Indeed it was. Herroton had two satellites, though one was small and distant, only just visible with the naked eye from the surface. The other, about half the size of Earth's moon, was considerably closer. It was also remarkably brighter. As it rose over the horizon of it's home world, it appeared as a featureless, almost luminous object.

    "Darken the view screen." Hernandez ordered. "Lord, that's bright."

    "Yes Ma'am." Moshiri operated the relevant controls. "Unusually high albedo for an object of it's type. I'd reckon that down on Herroton it would literally be bright enough to read during a full moon."

    Now the light levels had been reduced, it was possible to make out some variation. Most of it was still featureless white, but now a darker area could be made out, still bright, but much more like the surfaces of other lunar bodies Hernandez was familiar with.

    There was a warbling from the sensors station, next to the science console. Ensign Kaufman checked his readouts. "Automated report from the courier Ma'am. It's reached it's departure point and will be going to warp shortly."

    "A little behind schedule, but at the speed those things go that won't matter much." Hernandez mused. "It'll be...what? Warp five?"

    "Yes Ma'am." Moshiri confirmed. "Back to Earth in four and a half days."

    "I've been meaning to ask about that." Kaufman said. "How come the couriers are so much faster than us? Even the Vulcan's haven't got anything that fast. I know they're a lot smaller and lighter, but there's got to be more to it than that, surely?"

    "Well, mainly it is the small size and low mass," Moshiri explained, "but it's also to do with the time barrier."

    "The time barrier?"

    "Yes, it's something that that has been observed empirically for---" Moshiri began. She was interrupted as Partridge returned with a tray.

    "Tea's up! I've brought biscuits as well. Hands off the jammy dodgers, they're mine." Apart from a plate with assorted biscuits, the tray held a milk jug, sugar bowl, and several mugs. She went round the room, handing them out to the crew. "There you go, strong enough to stand a spoon up in. When you're tired of tea then you're tired of life, as the song goes."

    Hernandez accepted a mug with thanks, added a touch of milk, no sugar. The tea was a rich, full brown, almost orange. After a moments consideration she selected a chocolate biscuit.

    "Polly, you understand the time barrier don't you?" Moshiri asked.

    "Of course. It's part of my curriculum at Cambridge." She sat, and took a long sip. "Aaaahh."

    "So could you explain it to Mr Kaufman?"

    Partridge paused, swivelled in her chair to look at him, and blew out her cheeks. "No offence, Simon, but the people I usually teach have just spent years training their minds to the point that they can even begin to comprehend the physics involved. It's not the sort of thing one can easily clarify with a quick chat. Why the sudden interest?"

    Kaufman shrugged. "I was just wondering how come the couriers were so fast compared to us."

    Partridge waved airily. "Ah, well. They're smaller and lighter. More important though, they are unmanned. Entirely automated. Ask me why that is so significant."

    "Why is that so significant?" Kaufman asked, looking round for moral support.

    "Because of the time barrier!" Partridge said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "Aren't you paying attention? Honestly, and to think we rely on you to keep an eye out for alien ships sneaking up on us and whatnot. We're doomed. All of us, doomed."

    "Professor..." Hernandez chided.

    "Oh, all right then. It'll take forever and a day to explain why things happen, so I'll just get on with what happens. To cut a long story short, when a ship exceeds a certain speed, the warp field begins to generate chroniton particles. The exact speed depends on a variety of factors: size and mass of the ship, power output, warp dynamics and so on. With me so far?"


    "OK, now up to a point the chronitons are negligible. And they will naturally dissipate around the shield bubble. But eventually they build up to the point that they start to have an effect. Time will run at different speeds in different areas of the ship. And I'm not talking about Friday on the bridge while it's Saturday in the engine room. Tiny alterations, just fractions of a second, popping into and out of existence all over the place. Should they occur inside a living organism, they could cause a great deal of damage. Accelerated cells require more nutrients and oxygen than the rest of the system can supply. Slowed nerves can't cope with the excess of information. Permanent mental and physical damage will result. It could easily be lethal.
    "The same goes for ships systems. Think how important it is to ensure a computer's circuits are synchronised. Timing is essential. A single alteration at a crucial point can ruin everything. Because of the physics involved, the anomalies are repelled by the energies of the ship's engines and warp core. That's not to say they can't form there, just that it is less likely. So all the computers and really vital systems are built right next to the core. That raises a fair few engineering problems in itself, but it works."

    She swirled her tea around in her mug, staring into it as if it held the secrets of the universe. "The time barrier is the single greatest obstacle to increased speed. If we can overcome that...there may be no limits to how fast we can go." She grinned ruefully. "Unless, of course, there's some further restriction we don't know about."

    Hernandez thought about it. "So that's why information has to be carried on passive data chips. If it were in active memory there'd be a risk of corruption. And, I'm guessing, why the couriers have such a high maintenance requirement."

    "Right on both counts." Partridge said with a cheery wink. Looking round absently, she caught sight of the main view screen, watched it intently for a moment, then slammed her empty mug down on the console. "Aha! I said earlier, didn't I, that to solve the scanning problem I'd need to do something else, yes? Well I've worked out what I should do!"

    "Well?" Hernandez demanded. "What should you do?"

    "I'll do something else!" Partridge replied triumphantly. "Look, the problem is, we're not getting good return on our ground scanners, and we can't run the systems at maximum output---which we need to do to establish parameters---without seriously mucking up the planets ecosphere. But, if we scan that moon instead...."

    "You'd be able to get the data you need without risk." Hernandez concluded. "That moon's a dead world."

    "Right. If it works, we should be able to work out what's going wrong, reset the system, no prob's. Otherwise..." she trailed off.

    Moshiri cleared her throat. "Can the planetary scanners work over that range? They were designed to be used from orbit. That moon's nearly three hundred thousand kilometres away."

    Partridge rubbed her chin. "I'll have to compensate for that of course, but we should get something useful. Ah. Problem. The planetary sensors are located on Enterprise's belly. We'll have to re-orientate the ship."

    "Mr Mayweather," Hernandez said, thankful that there seemed to be some progress, "sound the manoeuvre alarm, then adjust orientation at your discretion. Let's give the professor something to look at."

    Mayweather opened his mouth to speak, hesitated, as if choosing his words carefully, and eventually settled on a none controversial "Aye ma'am."

    "OK," Partridge said, re-activating the viewer, "let's get a good look at you. There'll be a slight delay, we're using light speed sensors here, but that shouldn't...what the deuce!" She sat back, nonplussed.

    Hernandez stood and joined her at the station. "What's up?"

    "It's working perfectly. Well, almost perfectly, but allowing for the's working just as well as it should be."

    "That's good though, surely? Means you don't have to run a diagnostic, right?"

    "Well, yes. But it doesn't explain why we couldn't get a good reading from Herroton. It's bizarre!" she added with what Hernandez thought of as a 'facial shrug', head tilted to one side, eyebrows raised, corners of the lips turned down. She turned back to the viewer. "I mean, even at this range, I'm getting high resolution scans of the surface, geography, tectonic plates, chemical composi---Hello! That can't be right!"

    Hernandez was getting slightly annoyed with all these mood shifts. "Oh, now what?"

    "I've found out why that moon is so bright. Obvious really, on reflection. No pun intended." she added absently. "I think, before we go any further, we should get the Solar Observatory up and running. Yes, yes, I think that would be a very good idea indeed."

    And there was something in her tone, in the careful way she spoke, that Hernandez found to be somewhat worrying.
  4. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    That surface clearly doesn't want to give up its secrets, even to somebody as skilled and knowledgable as Partridge.

    Good job on the technobabble on the pseudo-science relating to warp drive limitations. That was thoroughly convincing.

    By the way how does she maintain her knockout figure with such a diet? Also, I petition they change the setup of her console back to the original layout ...
  5. The Badger

    The Badger Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 11, 2008
    Im in ur Tardis, violating ur canon.
    Thanks! That whole 'time barrier' business has been percolating at the back of my mind for a while now. There's a line in 'The Cage/The Menagerie', Navigator Tyler telling the survivors on Talos "You won't believe how fast you can get back to Earth. The time barrier's been broken." Little bits of dialogue like that hang around in my head, searching for something to do.

    It's something of a mystery as to how Polly maintains her figure in the face of all those bacon sandwiches. There are those who see it as evidence of genetic augmentation. Others suggest she's found a technological way to ensure fat does not gather in some areas of her anatomy, but does at others. The occasional use of industrial strength corsetry may also play a role. Still, whilst no one really knows why it happens, a lot of people are glad that it does.

    After all the complaints, there's no chance the viewer will be put back in it's original position. Quite apart from anything else, Dr Locke issued a medical warning due to the high amount of painkillers requested by people using the device. So, not going to happen, sorry. But perhaps you'd care to sign Cpl. James' petition, to have a pole and circle of tables permanently installed in the obs. lounge?
  6. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Feb 24, 2002
    New England
    I will. :drool:

    Like you didn't see that coming from 80 light years away. :rofl:
  7. Mistral

    Mistral Vice Admiral Admiral

    Dec 5, 2007
    Between the candle and the flame
    OK, what's up with the moon? I already figured the planetary scan is failing because of that weird material the aliens used to build with, but...
  8. The Badger

    The Badger Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 11, 2008
    Im in ur Tardis, violating ur canon.
    Herroton City. Herroton. Governor's office.
    29th November, 2151.

    "Calm yourselves, please, calm yourselves!" Governor Trex slapped his hand against his desk, the noise drawing attention to him. "I would hear what Doctor Phlox has to say!"

    As the hubbub died down, Phlox cleared his throat. "Thank you Governor. As I was saying, the residue found in the Main Chamber is Denobulan blood. It looks---" He broke off as those gathered started yammering excitedly again, waiting until Trex once more silenced them. "It looks most likely that the blood is that of the missing guard, Velen, though we can not establish that with one hundred percent certainty."

    "Why not? Archer asked, leaning forward in his chair.

    It was Locke who answered. "The sample was contaminated. Probably something leaked from the barrels used to hide the blood stain."

    Archer nodded and sat back. He glanced around the room. Apart from himself, Locke and Reed, the only humans present were Smith and Soong. The rest were Denobulans, all those who'd visited the Enterprise for the tour, plus Phlane, and a couple of others he'd not been introduced to. The news of the grisly discovery had clearly upset and disturbed many of those present.

    Councillor Vrok stood. "Commissioner Tovan," she said, "I'm sure we all would appreciate it greatly if you could assure us that all precautions are being taken?"

    "Precautions? Well, my people are all on standby, we have all the usual patrols going on..."

    "But surely," she broke in, remorselessly, "There must be more to it than that? With a murderer on the loose---"

    "Murderer?" said Smith, incredulous. "Surely you can't be accusing Doctor Halliwell of murder?"

    "That is what the evidence points to." said Vrok.

    "No, it isn't." Archer said simply. He reached down, picked Porthos from the floor and sat him in his lap. Vrok was clearly annoyed by his statement, so he spent a few moments stroking his dog, letting her get impatient as well. "Is there a body? No. Do we have witnesses to a murder? No. Is there a known motive for Halliwell to kill Velen? No.
    "Now, what we do have is a variety of unusual, even suspicious, circumstances. We have a blood stain. We have the fact that it was hidden, deliberately hidden. And we still have two missing men. Something has happened, but we don't know what. It may be murder, but that is not the only possible explanation and it would be rash and foolish at this stage to assume that is the case.
    "Given the fact that we do not know what is going on, it would be wise indeed to take, as you put it, precautions. I realize I'm a guest here, with no actual authority, but might I suggest, Dr Smith, that all work within the site is suspended, at least for the time being?"

    Smith did not look happy, but after moment he nodded. "Probably a good idea."

    "And that will free up the security staff there to reinforce the ones here in the city." Archer added. "Would that reassure you, Councillor?"

    Vrok nodded. "I wasn't asking for myself, of course. My concern is for the good citizens of Herroton." she said, sounding as if she meant it, and sat.

    "Good idea, Captain." Tovan said. "But wouldn't that leave the search party undermanned?"

    "Or would you just prefer to get us amateurs out of your way?" Phlane asked, acidly.

    Trex cleared his throat. "I'm certain the Captain had no such intentions in mind."

    She waved a dismissive hand. "Yes, yes, don't mind me. I'm just grumbling."

    Trex stood and walked out in front of his desk. "Well, those are the developments so far. If anything else comes up my office will keep you informed. Thank you for attending on such short notice, I know you all have busy schedules, so I shan't detain you any longer. Now if you'll excuse me I have some matters to discuss with our guests. Tovan, Phlane, could you remain please? You too Phlox."

    The rest of the Denobulans left. For a moment it looked like Vrok would argue, then she thought better of it. As the door closed behind her Archer's communicator whistled.

    "Excuse me." he said to his hosts, moving to a corner so as not to intrude on them. "Archer here."

    "Captain, Hernandez here. Partridge wants to run some observations on the rest of this star system. Says it might be vital, but, typically, refuses to go into any details as to why."

    Archer frowned. "The rest of the system? What 's gotten into her head this time?"

    "No idea sir, but she seems quite worried. Already spent an hour monitoring the sun. Any way, she can't make all the observations from our current position, we'd have to move out of orbit for a few hours. Oh, and she wants to send a probe or a shuttle to the moon. Pick up rock samples or something."

    "Just hold on a second Maria, I'll check with the Governor."

    Trex thought it over then called down to the Command Centre, informing them that Enterprise had permission to leave orbit temporarily, and launch an expedition to the moon.

    "OK, Maria, you should be getting the appropriate permissions shortly." Archer said.

    "Ah, yes sir. It's coming through now. We'll let you know when we break orbit."

    "Understood. And let me know if you get a straight answer from the professor. Archer out." He turned the communicator off. "Thank you Governor. I have no idea what the Prof...oh! What the devil's that?"

    Trex turned. "Ah! Captain, allow me to introduce you to a friend of mine. This is Redmane." He opened the window. "He's a mahwee, one of the native species of this planet."

    "Clearly anthropoid." Locke mused. "Certainly mammalian. Definitely primate. Strong resemblances to both the gorilla and the orang-utan. A little closer to the latter than the former....are you sure this is safe Governor? It clearly possesses tremendous physical strength."

    Reed spoke softly. "Nobody be alarmed, but I'm drawing my side arm."

    "That's not needed, Major." said Trex. "There's never been any history of dangerous activity. And Redmane here is a regular visitor."

    "Very good sir." Reed said, in apparent agreement with Trex, though Archer noted he kept his gun drawn, held down by his side unobtrusively.

    The mahwee seemed curious about the newcomers, though a little wary. Then his gaze caught Porthos, and a look of clear fascination spread across his hirsute features. He crouched down for a better look. Nervous, Porthos drew back slightly and whined. Redmane also moved back, and if Archer was any judge his expression showed disappointment at the dog's reaction.

    "They're a fascinating species, Captain." Soong said, keeping his voice low. "There's never been a full study of them, but even anecdotal reports show a high level of animal intelligence. Even perhaps reasoning ability, of a limited kind."

    Trex nodded. "You should see the structures they build. Out in the forests they build nests from wood and other plant life. But those who live in the city use anything they can find, all the stuff we no longer need. Packing crates, pallets..."

    "Anything they can get their hands on." Phlane put in. "Construction on the new hospital wing was delayed for days after all the doors went missing. They'd been left on site over night, and by the morning were spread all over the city. Took us ages to track them down."

    Redmane hadn't moved from his spot, but was now leaning forward, holding his hand out, making slight "oooh-oooh" noises. Cautiously Porthos approached, until he could sniff the mahwee's fingers. Then he gave an experimental lick. Redmane smiled, a very human looking gesture. Slowly, so as not to startle either animal, Archer crouched and stroked his dog. After a moment he took his hand away, and was delighted to see Redmane imitate his actions. Despite his musculature he was very gentle, and Porthos' tail was a blur.

    Archer stayed close as the two animals played, just in case the mahwee got rough. From the corner of his eye he could see Reed move to a spot from where he could get a clear shot if needed, and felt slightly ashamed to be reassured by that.

    There was a buzz from the intercom. Reluctantly Redmane put Porthos down and clambered out of the window.

    "He always leaves when the intercom sounds. Perhaps he realizes it means I'm busy and can't spend more time for him." Trex said. He picked up a fruit from his desk, called to Redmane, then threw it to him. The mahwee caught it gracefully then skittered away across the rooftops. Trex turned back to the intercom. "Yes?"

    "Commander Tucker and Lieutenant Sato have arrived sir."

    "Ah, good, show them in."

    The two officers entered, both carrying cases. "Cap'n, Governor...everybody. How you all?" Tucker said.

    "So, Trip, what have you been working on?" Archer asked.

    "I'll show you in a minute." He removed a laptop from his case. "Hey, Governor, can I use this big ole' display screen o' yours?"

    "Certainly. Go right ahead." Trex said.

    Tucker tapped at his keyboard. "Ah. Can't make a connection. Shoulda' realized, the two systems aren't compatible. Well I guess you'll all have to crowd round my screen..."

    Smith started rooting through his own case. "One moment humans on a Denobulan world, we've occasionally faced this problem. I should have...ah, here. This will have the necessary protocols." He handed over a small object, a dongle, that clipped into the appropriate port on Tucker's machine.

    "Thanks, Doc. Looks like this'll take a minute to install...Hoshi, why don't you tell 'em all what you been doin'?"

    "I've been going over the records, communication logs and the like." Sato said. "Trying to figure out exactly what causes the communication problems."

    "We've been assuming the mineral content in the walls was interfering with the signal." Smith said.

    "And you're probably right." Sato nodded. "Now these distress beacons of yours, they work on a narrow band, one which seems to be degraded by a relatively minimal amount. All the same, there's no way to modulate it enough to carry a message. It's either on or off. So we make that the message."

    "I don't see---" Phlane began.

    Archer did see. "Morse code. You turn it on and off in specific pattens, carry the message that way."

    Sato looked slightly nonplussed, she'd been hoping to make that revelation herself. "Right. The beacons aren't designed to be rapidly turned on and off, they'll need to be modified. Give me some time and I can fit them with keypads. Just type your text message in, it'll automatically translate for you then transmit. Not as good as full voice communication of course..."

    "But a lot better than we've got at the moment." Soong said. "Lieutenant, you're a genius!"

    She looked away, jaw clenched.

    "Got it!" Tucker exclaimed. The wall mounted screen hummed into life. A mesh like collection of lines appeared. They were short, mere hyphens, but collected into long strands.

    Tovan furrowed his brow. "So what is this then? Hmm?"

    "It could be a map of the tunnels." Phlane suggested. "Wait. No, that can't be it. This is all straight lines and right angles, not like the network down there."

    "Actually, you were right first time. It's a very simplified representation, not o' the tunnels themselves, but of the lightin' rig down there."

    Tovan stood, went to the drinks cabinet and poured himself a large tumbler. "The lighting rig. Does that help?"

    Archer rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. "It might do. Trip, is this just a representation of the location of all the lights?"


    "Then would it be a record of power usage?"

    Tucker leant back and grinned. "You just won the coconut cap'n. That's precisely what it is"

    "Is that important?" Reed asked.

    "And what's a coconut?" asked Tovan.

    Tucker smirked. "Because power's so limited down there, each o' the lightin' rigs only comes on if there's someone nearby. So we can use these records o' power expenditure, to see which lights came on..."

    "And that tells us where people were." Reed realized.

    "For instance. This is this mornin', 'bought the time we were down there." On the screen one section glowed brightly. "That there's the main chamber. It's always on. But up there, those four segments? Doctor Smith, were you an your team in or around section two, chamber E, at that time?"

    "Yes, we were."

    "What's that?" Trex asked, pointing. A segment had flared into life near the bottom of the screen.

    "Movement?" Archer asked. "Was there anyone else down there?"

    Phlane shook her head. "According to the guards, only Doctor Smith and his team were in the tunnels at that time. No one else had entered."

    "Not through the main entrance." Sato said. "Didn't you say only a fraction of the tunnels were explored, and fitted with lighting? Maybe it's someone at the edge of the grid, just entering the sensor zone."

    Smith said "No. that section, it's well within the explored area. A room with only one entrance. There's no way anyone can get in without setting off the lights in the connecting tunnels. And look, it's deactivated now."

    "There's another one." Tovan said, waving his tumbler at the screen.

    "Could be a fault." Tucker suggested. "no offence folks, but from what I saw it didn't 'zactly look the most reliable system."

    "Possible." Phlane said. "It'd explain why the power expenditure was a bit higher than usual recently. If things are going wrong and turning lights on where they're not needed, things'll get expensive."

    "OK, so we can keep track of movements in the tunnels." Archer said. "Trip, you got the data for the day they disappeared?"

    "Of course, cap'n" He tapped at his laptop. "OK. This'll be just a couple o' minutes after Halliwell arrived on site. We know that 'cos we got the footage from the elevator, and that's time logged."

    For a long moment nothing happened. Then a trail began to snake across the screen,

    "And here we go." Sato said softly.

    They watched it move jerkily forward. A line would form, two, three, maybe four segments long. Then the rearmost one would fade away. "The lights turn themselves off after about twenty seconds, if there's no movement." Phlane explained. "They're not arranged at precise intervals, which I'm guessing explains the uneven progress of the display. In the real world Halliwell was probably setting a steady pace."

    "How long would it take to reach his destination?" Archer asked.

    "About ten minutes, for Carl." Smith replied. "He keeps in shape."

    "Hmm." Archer mused, noting that Smith said 'keeps' rather than 'kept'. "Trip, can we speed this up a bit? We'll watch it real time later, but for now, let's cut to the chase."

    "Sure thing, cap'n."

    Now the blip began to race towards the chamber. Suddenly another segment flared into life, right in Halliwell's path. Yet it had faded from view before he reached it, and he continued on his way without incident, passing through a complex interconnected junction. Within moments he had arrived at section four, chamber D.

    And then another segment triggered. Or rather, the same segment that had done so before.

    "Must be a faulty light." Tucker said, uncomfortably.

    And that's when a second segment activated. Right next to the first. And a third. And a fourth. The first faded, but yet another showed now. A line, a trail, identical to the one left by Halliwell...leading away from the chamber he was in.

    Reed leapt to his feet. "There's someone else down there!"

    "Impossible!" Smith insisted. "That's a section of tunnel! I've been through it dozens of times. There's no way in or out except at either end." He pointed a wavering finger at the screen. "Certainly not halfway along!"

    Then another trace appeared, in the same spot. "What the hell?" Tucker exclaimed.

    This trace turned in the opposite direction, towards Halliwell. It's progress stalled when it arrived at the junction, waiting so long the trail of lights faded leaving only one constant blip. It moved off.

    "It's going the wrong way!" Sato realized.

    Soong pointed. "Look at that one! It's heading for the main chamber." As he spoke it disappeared into the permanently illuminated section

    Smith was shaking his head frantically. "A glitch in the system." he muttered. "That's all it is, a glitch in the system."

    "Yeah, well, your glitch in the system seems to be hunting Dr Halliwell." Reed said darkly. "And I think it's found him." The second trace, having initially missed the correct chamber, was now approaching it from a different angle.

    Archer found himself leaning forward in his chair, breathing heavily. He forced himself to remember that this was not happening now, it was the past, and the events he was watching were already decided. All the same he felt his fingers digging into the arm rests.

    The trace entered the chamber. Then it began moving rapidly back along it's original path. Very rapidly. The light in the chamber went out.

    "What happened?" Tovan asked. "Why is there only one?"

    "Pause it!" Archer ordered. He stood and moved closer to the screen. "You see here? When Halliwell was entering, his trace was three segments long in this section. It's four now. I'm guessing he's running, and whatever was down there with him is after him."

    "Close enough that it's trace merges with his." Reed said. "Far enough behind to reset the timer slightly."

    "Impossible!" Smith breathed again.

    Archer returned to his seat "Right, carry on Trip."

    At the accelerated speed it took moments for the elongated blip to reach the main chamber. The tunnels returned to their quiescent state. No one watching spoke, keeping vigil for events already passed. Then a patch of light showed someone exiting the main chamber. It retraced it's steps, at a steady, assured pace, until it reached the length of tunnel from which it had so mysteriously appeared. It's progress halted. One by one the following traces faded from view.

    Then it, too, vanished.
  9. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Finally some hard evidence on what happened. Except that it doesn't really tell us the who or the why. And what's Partridge up to, anyhow?

    I like Redmane and the fact that he chose this moment to make another appearance tells me there is more to this so-called animal than Trex may think. Could be a real sentient life form and I wouldn't be surprised if he's somehow connected with what's going on here.
  10. The Badger

    The Badger Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 11, 2008
    Im in ur Tardis, violating ur canon.
    Archaeological Site, Herroton.
    30th November 2151.

    After the discovery of the mysterious traces, discussion went on long into the night. Eventually Archer and his officers made their way to the apartments that had been assigned to their use. Located in the same building where most of the human archaeologists lived, the rooms were small and somewhat characterless, but comfortable enough. All the same Archer did not get to sleep for several hours, mulling over the days events.

    When he awoke, somewhat later than usual, it was to the news that a shuttle from Enterprise had landed, carrying some extra equipment Reed had requested, along with Professor Partridge. After a quick shower and breakfast he gathered up the others and set off back to the site. A ground car had been placed at their disposal: Archer had some experience driving Denobulan vehicles, but not much, and not for many years. Fortunately Phlane had decided to act as liaison with them and elected to drive. As she said, with all work at the site suspended for the time being, she had little else to do. Privately Archer suspected she wanted to keep an eye on them. She was, after all, with security.

    As they travelled, he again was struck by how pleasant the surroundings were. It was not surprising that Doctor Halliwell had elected to walk to and from the site, despite the distance.

    Several crates were stacked next to the accommodation block. Sergeant Woo was going over the details on a pad with Burke, the marines' administrative assistant. As the car halted next to them the two men stood to attention, saluting Reed and Archer.

    "Is this all the LOSIR gear?" Reed asked, taking the pad for his own inspection.

    "Yes sir." Burke confirmed. "Every last relay we've got."

    "What's LOSIR?" Phlane said.

    Reed opened the top crate and fetched out a small rectangular object. It looked to be made of a hard plastic, dull grey in colour. "Line Of Site, Infra Red." He explained. "It's a short range communication system, used in situations where broadcasting a radio signal might be...unwise."

    "Unwise as in, giving your position away?"

    He nodded. "Right. LOSIR is a tactical system enabling limited communication in covert situations. Now, because it uses infra red, rather than radio, I'm hoping it won't be affected by whatever is blanking out the signals down there. The trouble is, as the name suggests, it only works when you have a clear line of site. The infra red can't go through solid objects or bend round corners. So that's where the relays come in. We set up a command post in the entrance chamber, and leave a trail of these as we progress into the tunnels. As long as each one can 'see' at least one other in the trail, we should be able to communicate with little difficulty."

    Sato sighed. "Great. I was up half the night getting a couple of distress beacons modified for Morse code. Looks like we won't be needing them now."

    "I wouldn't say that ma'am." Woo said. "Even with all the relays, we can cover only a tiny part of the the tunnels."

    Archer rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. "Hmm. Have we enough relays to connect to section four, chamber D?"

    The answer took a few minutes, Woo and Burke examining the pad intently. "Sorry sir. There's just two many turns in the tunnels."

    "Damn." He thought for a bit. "Trip, show them the locations of all the anomalous contacts." So far they had found six spots on the map where the lights had been triggered with no apparent cause.

    "Oh, we can certainly reach this one sir." Burke said, pointing to the map. "This one too. And...probably this one as well."

    Archer nodded. "Good, good. I'd have preferred to have seen the chamber where Halliwell had been working, but for now, the nearest one will do."

    "You're assumin' it ain't just a 'lectrical fault." Tucker said.

    "And what else have you got?" Phlane asked, tapping the lowermost crate with her foot.

    "Specialist equipment." Reed said quickly. "A few thing we didn't originally think we'd need. I changed my mind."


    Reed hesitated, giving Archer a quick glance. "Amongst other things, yes."

    Archer said. "I thought it undiplomatic to have fully armed troopers running about. That's why they've had side-arms only up to now. But given the current situation, Mr Reed convinced me---"

    "Oh, I quite approve." Phlane broke in. "We don't know what's going on, but it certainly look like some thing nasty is down there. Personally I'd be glad of extra fire-power. So what exactly have you got?"

    As the discussion took it's more militaristic bent, Archer turned to Woo. "Where's the Professor?"

    "Having a lie down, sir, in that hut. Said she wanted to sleep it off."

    "Sleep it off?" Phlane said, momentarily distracted from weaponry. "She's not drunk is she?"

    "She tends to get travel sick." Archer explained. "Especially in shuttles."

    The hut in question was similar to the one used by the marines, though much smaller. Entering Archer saw that it contained a table, some chairs, and just four beds, three of which had been stripped of mattresses to make the fourth more comfortable. It was dark inside, the windows having been polarized to keep down the sunlight. Despite that the black lustre of Partridge's catsuit glistened like oil on water. She lay, or perhaps that should be reposed, on the fourth bed, eyes closed, a damp flannel across her forehead. Corporal James sat on a bedside chair, holding her hand and gently stroking her hair. As they came in she looked up, smiling, and put her finger to her lips in a polite, yet clear, demand for quiet.

    "Oh brother," Hoshi said softly, "can you believe this?"

    Tucker glanced at his watch. "No. It don't take her this long to recover."

    "Milking it for all that it's worth." Archer agreed. He approached the bed and made the same shushing gesture to James. Picking up the flannel, he wringed it out so water splashed on Partridge's face. With a squeal she sat bolt upright.

    "Now that I have your attention, professor," he said, over the series of incoherent noises she was emitting, "could you explain what is so important it required observations of the rest of the system?"

    Partridge harrumphed, and wiped her face dry with a corner of blanket. "I can't believe you did that Johnny. You're supposed to be setting the standard. And you!" she turned to the marine. "I can't believe you let him. You're a trained killer, you could have stopped him."

    James looked like a kicked puppy. "I..I'm sorry. But he outranks me...and...I...I..."

    "Oh, don't fret about it. Look. Thanks to your care and ministrations I'm feeling much better now. Could you be a dear and rustle up some breakfast for me? And a cup of coffee. Get Mr Reed to make the coffee, he's good at that. Tell him it's for me, he'll be happy to do it then." She smiled at James and wrinkled her nose. The marine giggled and practically skipped out of the hut.

    "You take advantage of that girl, Polly." Tucker said, a touch reproachfully.

    "I take advantage of everyone, darling, and they love me for it." She took a deep breath, then launched into a series of convoluted motions that ended with her balanced upright on head and shoulders, body stretched vertically up the wall, ankles crossed. "Right. There's a case under the bed. Could some one put it up here and open it up?"

    Archer crouched, found the metal case, and put it on the mattress. He flipped the catches and lifted the lid.

    "Don't touch it!" Partridge warned. "It's very sharp."

    "What is it?" Sato demanded. "Diamond?"

    It certainly glimmered like one. The fist sized, irregular lump caught what little light was in the room, throwing it out again in a prismatic blaze.

    "It's beautiful." Archer said.

    "That it is." Partridge agreed. "And to answer you question Hoshi, it's moon rock. A collection of various compounds, mainly silicon, a few impurities. Normally it would be dust."

    Tucker bent for a closer look, using a pen to lift the rock to get a look at it's underside. "This has been fused. It's practic'ly glass. No wonder the moon's so bright. The heat required to do this must ha' been astronomical."

    "Literally, I'll wager." Archer said. "Hernandez said you'd been monitoring the sun. You think a solar event caused this."

    It was difficult for Partridge to nod in her current posture, but a slight raising and lowering of her forehead signalled her agreement. "At first I was concerned, I mean really concerned, that the star may be prone to massive flares from time to time, and if one of them were to occur now...well...Great for scientific study. From a distance, a very long distance. Not so much fun close up."

    Archer pulled a chair over and sat. "I gather from your unworried demeanour that this is not the case."

    "Nope. From observations of the amount of the moon so affected I concluded that the incident lasted approximately eleven hours. See, when it first started the side of the moon facing the sun would have suffered the brunt of it. So that's half it's surface cooked straight away. As the moon spins on it's axis---unlike Earth's moon, it's not tidally locked---the other side is gradually exposed to sunlight. We know how fast it turns, so by seeing how much of the surfaces has been afflicted, I worked out the duration of the event.
    "Just to be thorough I also examined the second moon and two other planets I could get a good look at with the Enterprise's telescope array. They also showed evidence of extreme heat. More on the one closer in to the sun, less on the one further out. Which does support the idea that it was the star itself, rather than some other phenomena, responsible. And all pointing to an eleven hour long event.
    "Now, if this sort of thing had occurred more than once, we'd be seeing the evidence on the surface of those worlds. It's possible that, if the burst happened a second time, it could hit the same area as it had before. But that's only really possible if we were dealing with a single astronomical body. The different planets and moons all rotate at different rates. The odds against a second flare happening when all bodies were showing the already cooked side are ludicrously high. Over nine thousand, at least. So I think we can rule that out.
    "And while I'd been studying the planets, I'd had the solar observatory take a good look at the star. G-type, main sequence, pure vanilla. Not the sort of thing to go boom at all."

    Carefully, Archer lifted the case and set it on the table to get a better look at the contents. "As I recall, there's a hypothesis that an object colliding with a star can cause solar flares, even if they're not usually prone to them."

    "Oh, thank you for not misusing the word 'theory', Johnny." Partridge said. "That's certainly the most likely cause, though not the only one. Still, if it was a collision, the object would must have been pretty big to get those effects. A comet or asteroid wouldn't do it, we're talking planetary mass. Now, any questions, class?"

    "Yeah." Sato said. "How the devil can you stay in that position without smothering yourself?"

    "Structural reinforcement built into my clothing keeps everything where I want it. That, and I'm a physicist. I have a special relationship with gravity."

    Archer rubbed the back of his neck. "I have a question. Given the amount of damage this solar flare has caused to the moons and other planets, how come this one got off so lightly? Herroton has an atmosphere, large bodies of water, a suitable ecosystem, life itself...I've not seen any indications of the sort of damage you've been talking about. Why is this world unscathed?"

    "Now that is the question, Johnny." Partridge rolled away from the wall into a cat like crouch. "I have absolutely no idea. But I'll tell you something interesting. I've worked out, very roughly, when the flare occurred."

    "When?" he asked.

    "Almost two hundred thousand years ago." she said, eyes shining with enthusiasm. "Or, to put it another way, not long after that there ziggurat was built. And about the same time that this world suffered mass extinctions. Now I don't know about you, but that strikes me as rather an odd coincidence. Rather odd, indeed."
  11. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Feb 24, 2002
    New England
    Que the dramatic musical sting after "Rather odd, indeed."

    Excellent chapter, Badger. Well done.
  12. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Can't believe Partridge even has the Marines wrapped around her finger. The woman can get by solely on her sex appeal. And I guess it doesn't hurt that she has seven doctorates as well.

    By the way, shouldn't LOSIR translate to Line of Sight Infrared?
  13. The Badger

    The Badger Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 11, 2008
    Im in ur Tardis, violating ur canon.
    Line Of Sight, yes. Sorry about that. Damn disleckseeya.

    And whilst we're correcting things, Polly has only six doctorates, not seven. Why, seven would unbelievable and over the top!

    It has to be said that not everyone is enamoured with the good professor. But Corporal James does have rather a crush, yes.
  14. The Badger

    The Badger Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 11, 2008
    Im in ur Tardis, violating ur canon.
    Archaeological Site, entrance chamber. Herroton.
    30th November 2151.

    The voice was flat, tinny, making it difficult to identify the speaker. The words, though, were clear enough. "Trap One, this is Greyhound Two. We have reached point three eight, no anomalous contacts. Proceeding to point three nine. Over."

    Hoshi Sato was riffle shuffling her lucky deck one handed. With the other she tapped the transmit key. "Greyhound Two, Trap One. Message acknowledged. Please send test messages for signal analysis, over."

    A small communications console had been set up in the entrance chamber. Although the marines had their own signallers, everyone had agreed that Sato was by far the best person to operate it. There were three systems in operation, conventional radio, the marines own LOSIR equipment, and the Morse beacon she herself had jerry rigged.

    "How's it going, Hoshi?" Archer asked, approaching. Porthos strained at his leash, trying to jump up at her. Reed, in combat armour and toting a rifle, followed.

    "They're making steady progress sir. More than half way to their destination."

    A group of six marines, led by Sergeant Woo, were proceeding to what had been designated 'Alpha Charlie One', or Anomalous Contact One. It wasn't the only spot where the mysterious movement had been detected, or even the first chronologically, but it was the closest to the entrance. It had been decided that for practical reasons that it would be the first such spot to be investigated.

    Reed asked "How are the signals holding up?"

    Sato gestured to a display screen, a mass of bar graphs that meant nothing to Reed. "Well, the LOSIR system is performing pretty much as we expected. Signal strength is slightly lower than it should be over this distance, but it's still within standard parameters. It's more likely to be poor placement on one of the relays than the result of whatever it is that's been dampening conventional communications.
    "On the subject of which...the radio signal is almost completely degraded, even at this range. I can use it to track them, for now, but at this rate it'll be too weak even for that when they get to their destination. And actually talking to chance."

    "What about the beacon?" Archer said, gesturing to the one on the console.

    "Good news: It works. Bad news: It's slow. Tapping the message into the keyboard depends on how fast a typist you are, but because of the signal degradation we've had to make the dots and dashes extra long to make sure the receiving system can recognise them. A five word sentence will take over a minute. Yeah, even if they're short words. The odd thing is, if you've got two people who are good, I mean really good, at the ends, then you can do without the keypad and just listen in. Trooper Pashmut knows his Morse almost as well as I do. We've been practising, and we can get to more than double the speed of the automatics, just by being able to anticipate the message from context."

    "So, use the LOSIR for most purposes, and the beacon if someone has to go off the beaten track." Archer pondered. "Sounds reasonable. Right, I'm going to see how Locke's doing. Give me a shout if anything crops up."

    "Yes sir."

    Archer and Reed walked away, Reed turning round as they did so. "Hey, Hoshi. Seven of diamonds."

    Without turning from her screen she put her deck down, cut it apparently at random and held the card up for his inspection. He grinned and shook his head, not because she was wrong, but in bafflement at how she did it.

    A large tent like structure had been set up within the chamber, near to the guards shack. Power leads snaked from underneath one side, connecting straight to the generator. Inside, along with four camp beds, the paraphernalia of a military field hospital. Doctor Locke was assembling a scanning microscope with grim determination, ciggarette smouldering in an already full ashtray beside him.

    "I hope we won't be needing any of this." Archer said.

    Locke grunted. "Better safe than sorry." He looked down, where Porthos was industriously sniffing his leg. "Did you have to bring that odius creature in here? It's not welcome."

    Archer shrugged. "You heard the man, Malcolm, wait outside."

    That got a single barked laugh from Locke, and a resigned sigh from Reed.

    "How long till everything's operational?" Archer asked.

    "Got the basic stuff set up already. Everything we need for the usual combat injuries. And when I get this put together," he gestured to the microscope, "we can get a preliminary analysis on any toxins, or pathogens. Not as in depth as sending samples back to the Enterprise for full tests, but time may be of the essence. And things will go a lot quicker if I am allowed to proceed uninterrupted." he added acidly.

    Archer took that as his cue to exit. Outside the tent Phlane was organising a group of Denobulan Militia. Although the tunnel searching would be left to the marines, Archer felt it best to have a bit of extra security at the command post. He gave her a respectful nod as they passed, Reed offering a salute.

    "So, Malcolm, does everything meet with your approval?"

    Reed nodded. "Pretty much Captain. Given the choice I'd prefer to get a barricade of some sort up, maybe support weapons in fixed emplacements, overlapping fields of fire..."

    Although unhappy with such militaristic ideas, Archer could see the sense of them. "Maybe we can shift some of those containers, use them as a barricade. On the other hand we don't want to use anything that might go boom if hit by a stray shot. When Trip gets here have a word with him, find out what would be safe...ah. Speak of the devil, here he is now."

    Tucker was indeed standing at the entrance hatch, next to Professor Partridge, who was looking around the chamber with a huge child like grin all over her face. Whilst Archer and the others had standard issue cold weather jackets for the chill---they weren't needed in this chamber, warmed by the generator, so most were unfastened or removed entirely---Partridge made use of a long leather trench coat that swirled dramatically as she spun, taking in all the sights.

    "Trip, Professor!" Archer called. "Over here!"

    "I'll just...ah...just go and check up on...stuff." Reed muttered. He sidled away rapidly. Archer watched him go, nonplussed.

    "Hiya cap'n." Tucker said, approaching. "You know that weird effect outside? The way the straight lines seemed to curve, an' Hoshi got all freaked out an stuff? Took Polly here all of two minutes to figure it out. Two minutes."

    "Oh, stuff and nonsense, Trip." Partridge said, still twirling. "I had the reports from the surface yesterday, that gave me some clues as to what might be happening. Two probabilities presented themselves. Either something was altering your perceptions, or, given Hoshi's statement that 'the angles were wrong', that this is a temple to some Lovecraftian monstrosity. Nyarlathotep, perhaps, or even Great Cthulhu himself."

    Archer rubbed the back of his neck. "So, you've ruled out the possibility of it being Yog-Sothoth then."

    Partridge stopped turning, and narrowed her eyes. "You got the reference. It's not good when people get my references. It makes them think they're as clever as me. Darkness and despair lie along that path." she said evenly.

    "Don't worry Professor, I know my place." Archer chuckled. "Now, what could have made us see things?"

    She dug into a coat pocket, extracting a scanner. "There's a very intense electromagnetic field surrounding the ziggurat. Oddly, it seems to hug the outer surface very closely, it should radiate outwards. Very strange, and worthy of further study. At any rate, the frequency is very close to that of the human brain. I'd need to do further tests to be sure, but my working hypothesis is that it can cause an effect rather similar to epilepsy in the temporal lobes. Fascinating stuff."

    "Hmm. Is it dangerous?" he asked.

    She shrugged. "Hard to say with this data. Still, there's no evidence of any harm being done to those who worked here, that I know of. I'd suggest that, as long as people take care not to stand right next to the exterior, they should be fine. And I'll set this up to give us an audio warning if it detects anything similar in here." She started tapping at the scanner.

    Archer looked round for the Denobulan security chief. "Phlane, have you got a minute? Thanks. I just wanted to check with you, I know you said before but I wanted to double check. There's never been any incident of long term effects from that disorientation outside?"

    She shook her head emphatically. "No, never as far as I'm aware."

    "Good, good. That's certainly reassuring." He looked around, thinking. "While you're here Professor, there's something else I'd like to pick your brains may be nothing, but it...bothers me."


    He pointed to the guard's shack. "The morning of the disappearances, there was heavy condensation inside the shack. Normally you get condensation when the temperature drops, but given how this whole chamber is warmed by the generator, that seems strange."

    "That does seem strange. Perhaps the generator failed in the night?"

    Phlane shook her head. "The buildings around the site are powered by it, and there were people working in them that night, all night. There were no power interruptions."

    "Besides, I know that sorta generator." Tucker said. "They don't break down very often, an' when they do, it takes a while to get 'em goin' again. The first people to come in after Halliwell an' Velen vanished, they'd be coming into a darkened room. No power for the lights."

    "More than that. The generator powers the elevator. If it had failed they would have had to use the stairs." Phlane added.

    Partridge absently twirled a strand of hair round her fingers. "All very perplexing. It'd help if we knew just how cold it was that night. Compare external and internal conditions. Do you keep environmental records Phlane?"

    "Not external ones, though we can get them from Central Records. We should have the interior ones here." She led Partridge into the shack.

    "Did ya see the way Polly's coat moved when she spun? She was up all night once at university, sowin' lead weights into the hem, get it to move like that." Tucker remarked conversationally. "By the way, was it jus' my 'magination, or did I see Malky shoot off like'n scalded cat when we got here?"

    "You did indeed, Trip. Time, I think, for a little investigation of our own." He led the engineer over to the area the marines had claimed for themselves. Those not part of the initial exploration party were waiting patiently, chatting amongst themselves, just passing time until needed. Reed himself was deep in conversation with the sniper, Grant. From the snippets of conversation Archer heard he was discussing the best place to deploy her. In this enclosed, short range environment there was little need for someone capable of choosing which eye to put a bullet through at more than three thousand metres. Eventually though he caught Reed's eye and beckoned him over.

    "You wanted to see me sir?"

    Archer nodded. "How's everyone holding up? Psychologically speaking."

    Reed looked slightly affronted. "My men are the best of the best, sir. It takes more than a dark cave to worry them."

    "Of course, of course. No insult intended." said Archer, holding up his hands in a placatory gesture.

    "Ah, none taken sir."

    "It's just that you know how important morale is."

    "Yes sir. 'In warfare, the morale is to the physical as three is to one', sir. Napoleon said that."

    "Really? Well, I suppose he knew about these things. So what about yourself?"

    Reed asked "Me sir?"

    "Yes, you. What I'm asking, I suppose, what I'm really asking...why, exactly, are you so scared of Professor Partridge?"

    For a split second Reed's eyes widened, before he caught himself and adopted a poker face Hoshi would have admired. "Forgive for saying so Captain but that's nonsense. Complete nonsense. I fear no man." he blustered.

    Archer and Tucker exchanged glances. "I don't know if you spotted this," Tucker drawled, "but if you look close, I mean real close, you might jus' notice that Polly there ain't no man."

    For a moment Reed looked as if he'd argue further. Before he could speak, however, Partridge burst out of the shack and strode towards them. "Nothing!" she exclaimed. "Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary was recorded that night! Temperature, humidity, air pressure...all nominal."

    Temporarily distracted by the way Reed had positioned himself on the opposite side of himself and Tucker the moment Partridge appeared, it took Archer a moment to register what she was saying. "Nothing? So what could have caused the condensation?"

    "We're assumin' it was condensation." Tucker pointed out. "I don't s'pose you kept any samples?" he asked Phlane.

    "No, we didn't think it necessary."

    Archer thought about this. "And you cleaned everything in the room? There's nothing you didn't touch?"

    "We cleaned everything." Phlane said. "Every available surface, the stuff, no, wait a moment. The chairs. We just took them out, left them to dry and used a couple of spares. They should be...yes, there they are. I don't know if they'll be of any use to you but...Professor Partridge, what are you doing?

    What Professor Partridge was doing was slashing at the seat with a Swiss army knife. "Just taking some samples! You see here, where the material is slightly discoloured? Looks like residue of some sort. Right...I'll need a lab. Is there anything in the city I can use? Otherwise I'll have to send this up to the Enterprise."

    Pointing to the medical tent, Archer said "Doctor Locke has some facilities in there. I don't know if it's what you need, but there's a scanning microscope amongst other things. And we'll reimburse you for the damage to the chair." he added to Phlane as Partridge darted away.

    "Forget it." she said wearily.

    "An' where d'ya think you're goin'?" Tucker asked. Reed was surreptitiously edging away.

    "Why are you scared of her? Spill it!" Archer added. "And don't try to deny it, or we'll get her to interrogate you."

    Reed's shoulders slumped. "OK, OK, I'm...uncomfortable in her presence, I admit it." he hissed. "Look, keep it down, if my men find out it'll be a bloody nightmare."

    "Why?" Archer insisted.

    Reed took a deep breath. "Well, there's a couple of reasons."

    "Oh." Tucker said. "Well, I suppose some guys can find those intimidating."

    "What? No! No, not those....well, maybe a They..that's not it. No."

    "Well, what then?"

    "OK. On our first mission, I managed to embarrass myself in front of her."

    "Really? How did you do that?"

    "Badly." Reed said with feeling. Before they could ask for more details he went on. "And then there's the fact---I only found this out quite recently---her family, her mum's family...Did you know they've been in the military? Since, like, forever?"

    "Oh yeah. One o' her ancestors is pictured on the Bayeux Tapestry, supposedly." Tucker said.

    "Right. Anyway, I'm from a military family too. And we go way back as well."

    "Sounds like you've got a lot in common." Archer suggested.

    "Hardly. Her lot have always been officers. Born to it. My family tend to gravitate towards Sargent. Good rank, sergeant, for those with the skill for it. Apart from myself, there's only been a couple of officers. So that's the problem. For centuries her family have been shouting at my family. Usually from on top of a horse."

    "You do know she's a pacifist, right?" Archer grinned. "Unlikely to join the military anytime soon."

    Tucker nodded. "Plus, she's afraid o' horses."

    "Doesn't matter." Reed said, pressing his hands to his temples. "It's built in, now, ingrained. Part of my DNA. Every time she speaks I'm expecting to be ordered to bayonet charge a tank, or something equally suicidal."

    A sudden flurry of movement seized Archer's attention. Partridge had exploded out, pirouetted round as she looked wildly about, then stalked over to them. "The blood stain. Where did you find it?" she demanded.

    "I'll show you." he said as Reed made a rapid escape.

    There was still a stain in the depression. Partridge used her knife to scrape some up onto a microscope slide. "Trip, you say there were barrels over this spot? Do you remember what was in them?"

    "Yeah, trellaline. There were also some coolant barrels nearby."

    "And did you notice if any of them were leaking?"

    "First thing I checked. No sign o' any breech."

    "Even if there had been," she muttered, mostly to herself, "neither of those compounds would match..."

    Archer was feeling left in the dark here. "Match what? Professor, what have you found?"

    She looked at him, puzzled. "I'm not sure. That is to say, I'm fairly sure, but not quite. Do you understand?"

    "Not really." he admitted.

    "I have an answer...but it raises more questions."

    "Oh great." said Tucker laconically. "More questions. Just what we need."

    They followed her into the tent. Locke was bent over the microscope's viewer. He straightened up as they entered, looking slightly stunned. On a screen beside him complex molecules danced and whirled.He took the slide Partridge offered him, using it to replace the one he'd been viewing, then made a few adjustments.

    "We were looking at the blood itself, earlier." he said. "Never occurred to us to examine the's a match. The same as your sample, Professor."

    "The stuff from the chair, was also in the depression where we found the blood?" Archer asked. "I'm guessing it's not condensation then."

    "No." Partridge said hesitantly. She looked to Locke for confirmation. "It's...John, based on it's chemical's make up, it' appears to be...saliva."
  15. Count Zero

    Count Zero Make our planet great again! Moderator

    Mar 19, 2005
    European Union
  16. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Feb 24, 2002
    New England
    And by a strange coincedence, All Hallow's Eve is just around the next temporal bend.

    Badger, did you do that on purpose? ;)

    Hopefully Trip or Jon with straighten poor Malcolm out. My guess is that, that business about being ordered to do a bayonet charge on a tank is just a smoke screen. The truth is that the poor man has fallen for her hard, and on top of everything else, feels that he isn't good enough for her. :vulcan:

    Tragic case. :(
  17. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Ok, not particularly surprising to those of us who've read the prologue but at least Archer and co. now have a better idea of what they're up against.

    Interesting explanation on Malcolm's irrational fear of the good Professor. I too think that there is more to it than just genetics.
  18. The Badger

    The Badger Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 11, 2008
    Im in ur Tardis, violating ur canon.
    Archaeological Site, tunnel complex. Herroton.
    30th November 2151.

    The marine exploratory team had set a steady pace for their descent into the tunnels. Not fast, but steady. Even with the motion detectors on the lighting rig acting as a sort of early warning system, they considered this to be unknown territory and took the appropriate precautions. Corporal James took the lead position, or 'point' in military parlance. An expert in CQC, Close Quarters Combat, she would often be at the front in enclosed environments. Urban warfare, ship boarding actions, any sort of cave complex. Trooper Tipping had once said that her short stature made her ideal for the role: in the event of a hostile contact the rest of the squad could shoot over her head without risk. He made sure she was out of ear shot when he said it though.

    As befitted the terrain, Reed had selected the team carefully to give them the greatest possible tactical advantage. None of them were above average height, a minor factor but one that could make a significant difference in such limited space. Whilst the main corridors were reportedly quite roomy, to get to their destination and use the minimum number of LOSIR relays they would have to utilise some very narrow, low passages. Maintaining position a couple of metres behind James' right shoulder was Priest, a technical expert. Normally James worked with M'boto, but the lanky African wasn't ideally suited for the setting. Then came Sergeant Woo, followed by Pashmat, a stocky communications expert. He carried Sato's Morse signaller. Dumont the medic came next, with Tharpa bringing up the rear. The Gurkha was second only to James in CQC skills, and then only by a fraction of a percentile. His job was to make sure nothing nasty snuck up behind them.

    Every step James took was carefully, precisely placed. The floors down here were uneven, tripping was a real possibility. More importantly, even in her heavy combat boots, she remained quiet. The air was still and silent, any noise would give their position away long before they could be seen. It made for frustratingly slow progress. Every so often they would stop entirely, listening out for any unnatural noise. So far, nothing.

    She kept the stock of her EM-414 rifle pressed tightly to her shoulder. There wasn't much recoil from the plasma weapon, but the more secure the firing position the better the accuracy. A modular design, the 414 could be modified for a wide variety of circumstances. In this instance the standard butt stock had been replaced with an extendible version. A shorter barrel had been fitted, less effective at long range, but much more useful for close work. With the stock retracted the weapon was a mere sixty one point three centimetres long. The gun's systems were so advanced they recognized the modifications and and altered the firing patten automatically. When fired each plasma bullet would be electromagnetically shaped to give maximum stopping power within forty metres. Effectiveness would fall off rapidly as the bullet began to disperse after that point. The protocols could be over ridden, should circumstances demand it, through the gun's main menu.

    Some of the team carried EM-303 Munition Delivery Systems under-slung beneath the barrel of their rifles. A 22mm cannon, they were capable of firing a wide variety of ordinance, with both the flechette rounds and the 'quadruple-aught buck' shotgun shells proving highly useful up close. She'd considered the 303 herself, but in the end had decided on a forward mounted pistol grip, just the thing for rapidly getting on target if a hostile presented himself. There was a slight drawback to this. Firing the gun super heated the air around the barrel tip, and the grip was just behind that. A few shots wouldn't matter, but people had reported minor flash burns after extended use. A pair of sturdy leather gloves should provide sufficient protection. Given the rough stone of the walls and floor, the gloves were a wise idea anyway, along with the shin guards, knee pads and elbow pads. The helmet was essential.

    They had just reached point seven one when the message came over the LOSIR link. "Greyhound Two, this is Trap One. Hold your position. We have a possible contact at Alpha Charlie One."

    Instantly the team halted, dropping into a crouch, guns at the ready. "Trap One, Greyhound One." Woo said, "Message acknowledged, prepare for blackout on my command."

    The next voice, distorted but still recognizable, was Reed's. "Greyhound Two, this is Greyhound One. Blackout is ready when you want it. You're the man on the ground, how do you want to play it?"

    Woo thought it over. "Kill the lights where we are, but keep them operating around the contact." They'd discussed this in the pre-mission briefing. When Trip Tucker had said it was possible to turn off individual sections of the lighting rig, the possibility of using this tactically was raised. By keeping the lights on around the contact, they wouldn't raise suspicion, and could possibly approach by stealth.

    "Acknowledged, we're killing the lights at point seven one, now."

    The darkness was so sudden, so complete, James felt a faint tinge of fear, the body convinced it had gone blind even as the mind said otherwise. She slid her visor down and waited for the night vision to activate. The appropriate icon came up on the display, but she could see nothing at all. The system worked by taking what little ambient light there was and amplifying it to useful levels. Down here, there was no ambient light.

    "OK, everyone go active." Woo ordered.Tiny emitters built into the shoulder plate of each marine's body armour began to pour forth the merest scintilla of electromagnetic radiation. Light, but in the infra red band, invisible to the unaided eye. But through the visor, the tunnel was now as well lit as it had been with the lighting rig on, albeit now in green and grey.

    Woo spoke again, both to his team and Major Reed over the link. "Right, we need to find out what we're dealing with. We need a close target recce., without scaring it off. James, Tharpa, you two scout ahead, quietly. Try to get a good look see at it." He tapped the side of his helmet, where the inbuilt camera was located. "Take some relays with you, stay in contact. The rest of us will stay here, out of the way. Got it?"

    That suited James. She and Tharpa could move quicker and quieter without the others. After collecting the relays, and going over the contingency plans once more, they set off. Before entering the next section James sent a message back to the command post. "Greyhound Three to Trap One, about to reach point seven two. Deactivate lights there please."

    "Trap Two to Greyhound Three. Lights deactivated at point seven two. Contact is still at Alpha Charlie One."

    Alpha Charlie One was a long, curved stretch of tunnel where anomalous contacts had been recorded. It was near to one of the main chambers of the complex, a vast cavern with walls covered in hieroglyphs. James knew Sato was itching to get a first hand look at them. AC1 was not far ahead now, just past point seven five.

    She paused, listening. If they were getting close it was possible she might hear something. Nothing stood out. As an experiment she flicked her helmet's vision mode over to thermal imaging. That proved ineffective. Apart from a faint glow around the power cables in the lighting rig everywhere she looked showed the same uniform temperature. Except for Tharpa, of course, but even he was indistinct. Marine uniforms were treated to be thermally camouflaged.

    Going back to night vision she continued. Absently she flexed her gloved fingers around the pistol grip. The creak of leather seemed unnaturally loud in the echoing silence, and she winced. Another pause, waiting to see what could be heard, then onwards once more. Before entering each new stretched, they secured a LOSIR relay where it would do some good, and ensured the lights in the next section were deactivated.

    It was as they reached position seven four that the message came through. "Greyhound Three, this is Greyhound One. Hold position! Contact has moved to position seven five!"

    Even as Reed spoke it became obvious that was so. From her vantage point she could see the lights coming on in the next section. Rather than risk being heard with a verbal reply she hit the transmit button twice, a double click that would be heard and understood by the Major. She moved lightly to one side and dropped to a knee, knowing Tharpa would be moving to the other side behind her. Her rifle was levelled ahead, index finger on her right hand held parallel to the trigger, giving a fraction of a second more thinking time if anything happened.

    Had they been detected? Was the unknown contact coming for them? She wasn't sure, but it seemed unlikely. Analysis of the records had shown that when ever the mysterious traces had turned up, they mostly just wandered around their immediate locale before returning. That was probably all that was going on here. Alpha Charlie One was a stretch of corridor, with only two ways out. It was a toss of a coin whether it came closer to them or went further away.

    The section of tunnel she was in, point seven four, was about two metres wide by ten or so long. The ceiling was low, James could probably have walked under it with no problems, were it not for the lighting rig on the ceiling; even she had had to duck under that in places. They'd turned a sharp right from point seven three to enter it. The next turn, into seven five, was to the left, more than ninety degrees. They'd be doubling back on themselves. The area about the turn was now fully illuminated by the light from that section. Looking in that direction caused her night vision gear to automatically reduce it's amplification.

    And now she could hear something. A soft, wet sounding slapping. Surely that couldn't be...footsteps? The rhythm was right but the noise itself was disturbingly fleshy. And something else...a low, malevolent gibbering, interspersed by busts of lunatic cackling.

    James had never heard anything like it in her entire life. She glanced back at Tharpa for reassurance, and found none. He looked to be as disturbed by the sound as she was. The noise was getting louder, closer. She took deep breaths, concentrating on filling her lungs as much as possible without gasping noisily. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest.

    Woo's name flashed on her Head Up Display. "Three, this is Two. Are you guys OK? We're reading accelerated vital signs."

    James hit the transmit button twice, hearing the double click of Tharpa doing the same.

    "OK. We're here if you need us. Stay frosty."

    James forced herself not to swear. 'Stay frosty'. They'd been saying that ever since Professor Partridge had shown them those old movies. But right now she really didn't want to be reminded of them.

    A sudden snort made he flinch, her index finger twitching to press against the trigger. It took all she had to relax it once more. The thing was getting closer. A dark patch, a shadow, slithered across the rocky floor and began to climb the opposite wall. It's source, illuminated from behind by the lights at section seven five, was about to cross the periphery into seven four...

    ...when it stopped.

    The footsteps---if that's what they were---ceased, and the shadow halted it's advance. The gibbering deepened, becoming a simian grunting. Making sure her helmet cam was recording, James looked at the shadow as best as the angles would allow. It seemed to her that it was roughly human in form, two arms, two legs, a torso and head. But the arms seemed preternaturally long, hands drooping at knee level. The head a mere lump on the torso. The whole unnaturally slender and disproportionate. It snorted again, then launched into a violent burst of activity, gyrating and hurling it's arms about, the shadow dancing on the wall.

    Abruptly it screeched, a hideous caterwauling to chill the blood. Expecting an attack James flipped the rifle's selector switch over to three round burst. She'd drop this thing the moment it came round the corner. But nothing happened. And then she realized the shadow was gone, the shrieking and fleshy footsteps racing away.

    What happened? Did it know we were there? Did it smell us? she thought, remembering the way it had snorted. Then, mind racing, she looked up at the lighting rig, thinking of the creature's strange activity at the threshold.

    There was a second voice now, in the distance, howling in response to the first.

    "Tharpa, with me!" she shouted. The time for stealth was over and she dashed, bent double, for the turn. "Trap One, this is Greyhound Three. Kill the lights. All of them, now! Greyhound Team, get here fast. Signaller, rig for radio, we're not going to have time to place LOSIR relays. Scout party in pursuit of unknown contact, possibly multiple!"

    She reached the corner just as the lights went out, skidding to a halt. There was a distant thump and a shriek of pain. It sounded like the mysterious creature had hurt itself in the sudden darkness, and she smiled grimly. Her night vision fluctuated, trying to cope with the the sudden change, before settling down into it's normal state. Rifle ready she jogged forward, more secure now they had the creature on the run. "Entering seven five."

    The HUD showed an incoming message from Reed, along with a warning of low signal strength. That was a concern. The message would be sent via the LOSIR relay system to trooper Pashmat, before being re-transmitted with his high power radio. With the team only a little way behind James and Tharpa, she'd hoped the signal degradation wouldn't be that strong. Too late to worry about that now.

    "James, what happened?"

    "The contact got close, real close to the section we were in, then turned and fled."

    "Were you detected?"

    "I don't think so. I think...Sir, it got right to the edge when it stopped, and then started waving it's arms about. There's a motion detector just inside there. I think it knew something was up when the lights didn't come on as it approached, and tried to set it off without getting any closer. It understood, sir and....stand by."

    They'd reached the next intersection, a T junction branching to the right and straight ahead. The corridor they were in stretched into the distance, she could see other intersections further along. To the right, point seven six, Alpha Charlie One, one of the sources of the unknown traces.

    "Screw the quiet approach." she told Tharpa, who grinned savagely in return.

    Two seconds later a small grey cylinder bounced into seven six. A half second later it blazed with a blinding glare and thunderous report. James and Tharpa followed, 414's up and ready. The safeguards on their helmets had protected them from the worst of the stun grenade's effects, and they were ready to deal with anything it left incapacitated. Yet there was nothing to be seen. This stretch of corridor curved treacherously. Anything further along would have some protection, though the distant wails of some creature in distress suggested such protection was not total.

    As she stooped to recover the grenade---it could be recharged back on the Enterprise---something glittered wetly in her night vision. She touched it gingerly, rubbing her gloved fingertips together. Blood. The floor was uneven here, even by the standards of the complex, and there was a big ridge just before here. She'd bet good money the contact had tripped and banged it's head when the lights had gone off. She stood and switched to thermal vision. The blood glowed hotly, an irregular trail leading round the bend. Now we're getting somewhere...

    They followed, the glowing patches an easy to spot path, to a point where the blood dribbled down the wall from a narrow rectangular opening near the top. Here the ceiling was quite high, so James raised her left arm, extending the meter long probe and turning it's camera head to see. The probe didn't have thermal imaging, but the small IR emitter was effective enough for a night vision picture to come up on her HUD. She saw a shape, no, two shapes, crawling away through a narrow shaft. They reached a turning and for a second one looked back at her, with eyes that glittered like a cats. Then they were gone.
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2012
  19. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Feb 24, 2002
    New England
    Ooooh, Good one, Badger. This chapter had me on the edge of my seat. Very well done.
  20. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Real good job of retching up the tension in this last segment. As the recon team is made up by Marines which are not part of the regular cast, you just never know what to expect.

    To soon to relax, this is far from over.