Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

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

  1. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Feb 24, 2002
    New England
    Actually the Pathfinders have been there since the first mission. They are very much part of the main cast, albeit in supporting roles.

    That said Badger has shown no reluctance to get the characters banged up, so I don't think he'd hesitate to kill one if need be.

    Look at poor Autumn. Her gun blew up in Broken Bow, she was poisoned in Strange New World, I wouldn't be one bit surprised if she did get munched on in this one.
  2. Count Zero

    Count Zero Make our planet great again! Moderator

    Mar 19, 2005
    European Union
    A very riveting chapter. We were so close to learning what the creatures are (I have my suspicions) and then the chapter ended. More please! :)
  3. The Badger

    The Badger Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 11, 2008
    Im in ur Tardis, violating ur canon.
    Council Chamber. Herroton City.
    30th November 2151.

    Neither Corporal James nor Trooper Tharpa had been part of the honour guard for the dignitaries who visited Enterprise, and so had formed no opinions about them. Still, to qualify for Pathfinder training in the marines, you had be able to think quickly and make rapid assessments of situations. As such, the two wasted no time in developing a deep dislike of Councillor Vrok. That may seem odd, as during her speech before the collected council, she lavished them with praise, speaking highly of their 'courage' and 'dedication', in the face of their 'trying ordeal'. The praise was somewhat too effusive, prompting James to lean closer to her colleague and whisper that the Denobulan woman was one step away from holding up a placard reading 'Look how caring and considerate I am'. Tharpa didn't reply, but the absence of his ubiquitous smile displayed his feelings well enough to those who knew him.

    "...cannot thank our human friends enough for their assistance in this matter." Vrok was saying. She strode the stretch of chamber along the centre of the room, making sure she could command the attention of the various councillors in the elevated seating either side of her. At one end of the room lay the double doors that formed the main entrance. Positioned above them was a large display screen, which had earlier displayed the footage from the marines' helmet cameras. Now it was blank, lifeless. One of the city's periodic power failures had struck, throwing the chamber into darkness. At this late hour there was no illumination from outside, even with the large windows. Within seconds of the blackout, technicians had rushed in, setting up battery powered lights, a sensible precaution given the frequency of such events.

    At the other end of the chamber stood several podiums. Governor Trex occupied the highest of these by right of his position. As the matter under discussion was one relating to the colony's security, Commissioner Tovan currently took the place to his right. A set of bench seating to his side was occupied by several members of his staff, ready to give any information he might require. James and Tharpa currently sat to Trex's left, where they had given their testimony, and answered the councils questions. Several others from the Enterprise sat ready to their side.

    "But now," Vrok continued, "we must come to a decision as to what shall be done about this matter. Two people are missing, their fate uncertain, though I fear the worst. These strange and frightening events have occurred at the archaeological site, not far from our homes. Can any of us be certain we are safe here? There are children in our beloved city. Do we dare risk their innocent lives through inaction? I say no! We must do what must be done to defend our city, our lives and our future!"

    There were loud shouts of support from several councillors.

    "It is all very well to speak of action, Councillor Vrok." Trex said. "But may I enquire...ah." The main lights had flickered back into life as power returned. "Ah, good. Yes. Now, may I enquire as to what action you propose? No, leave those where they are, please, we may need them again." The latter was to a technician who had rushed in to remove the emergency lights.

    Vrok lifted her head. "In the face of the mahwee menace we must..."

    "One moment." Trex held up a hand. "The mahwee menace? I don't think we've established the identity of the creature in the tunnels yet."

    Vrok made an impatient gesture. "I disagree. We've all seen the footage from the helmet cameras. Does it not look like a mahwee?" Several councillors agreed vigorously.

    "Captain Archer. Forgive the implied, and unintended, implication of technical deficiency here, but just how reliable is the recording equipment?" Trex asked.

    Archer stood, and moved closer to the podiums so the rest of the council could see him. "Highly reliable Governor. However, I've been talking to Major Reed and his people. They agree that the footage is...inconclusive."


    "We have a shadow, and a briefly glimpsed shape at extreme range for the wrist computers sensor probe. There's just not enough data to identify the creatures from the recordings." He returned to his chair.

    "The footage is immaterial." Vrok said, as if the footage had not been the main point of her argument seconds before. "We have two eyewitnesses right here. Now, Corporal James, my dear, why don't you tell us all what you really saw?"

    "Really saw?" James asked, raising an eyebrow and mentally running through her unarmed combat training. War with the Denobulans was considered unlikely, but with data drawn from the cross culture medical exchange the military had come up with a few techniques to incapacitate or even kill if need be. Not that she planned to do anything, but thinking about it was oddly relaxing. Method three, rapid strike to solar plexus. Performed correctly can debilitate for three to five seconds, allowing follow up strikes. Method four, approach from behind, apply variant of standard sleeper hold with more pressure on front of neck than sides, as major blood vessels are located there in Denobulans. Method five, elbow strike to temple...

    Perhaps it was an unfamiliarity with human body language, but Vrok did not pick up on James' mood. "Yes, my child. Do not allow yourself to be unduly influenced by the words of others---" she glanced significantly at Trex--- "just think carefully. These terrifying creatures you faced so bravely in the tunnels, they were mahwee, weren't they? There was one clambering over the rooftops when you arrived here earlier. I saw you watching it from that window there, so you do know what they look like. Just tell us the truth, and we can all put this terrible ordeal behind us."

    James took a deep breath. "Well, if you put it that I think about it...I can honestly say that the thing I got a fleeting glimpse of at the extreme range of my night vision gear does indeed bear a passing resemblance to the other thing that I saw briefly at a distance in fading light. In fact, if pressed on the matter, I'd go so far as to say they really were fairly similar. Well, similar-ish."

    A shadow fell across Vrok's face. She forced a smile. "Please, my dear, this matter is important. You are amongst friends here and it is vital we know the truth. Has someone been putting pressure on you? Trying to confuse matters to hide the mahwee's culpability?"

    James and Tharpa exchanged glances. "What? No! Why would anyone do that?"

    "Oh I do not know, my dear, I simply do not know. But seeing as all the evidence points to mahwee involvement, your failure to confirm it is so perplexing. Clearly, someone is trying to cover something up, and you are their unwitting pawn."

    "Well that's clearly not the case!" James snapped. From the corner of her eye she saw the Captain half stand. To the other side, Trex raised his ceremonial gavel. She turned to him quickly, holding up her hands in a placatory gesture. "Forgive me, Governor. My apologies to the council, and to Councillor Vrok, for my outburst."

    Vrok smiled magnanimously. "You are forgiven. These are after all trying times, and you have been under a lot of stress. Small wonder that you are so...fragile."

    "You are very considerate." James replied, imagining how satisfying it would be to get just one good solid punch in. Just one. "However, there is no proof that it's a mahwee in the tunnels. If there was, you wouldn't need our testimony. And you've still not explained why anyone would try to cover it up."

    "Ah, that, I cannot imagine." Vrok said, turning away and brushing the sleeve of robes.

    One of the seated councillors leapt to his feet. "Permission to address the council."

    "Granted." Trex said.

    The councillor cleared his throat. "Honoured colleagues, please understand I mean no ill will by this, but I believe it possible---possible---that Governor Trex's affinity for these creatures may have impaired his judgement." There were rumblings from around the chamber, including some voices raised in agreement.

    Trex banged the gavel. "Settle down please. Settle down! Now, Councillor Chren, could you kindly explain your statement?"

    Chren grasped his lapels. "From the very beginnings of this city, the presence of these beasts amongst us has been a matter of great controversy. They are wild, untamed animals, not domesticated pets. They have stolen materials needed for our construction projects, helped themselves to our food supplies, frightened our young...I'm sure I do not need to remind you of the time one of them got into the school. Their filth befouls our fair city and is a potential health risk.
    "There are many amongst us who consider them at best a liability to our way of life, at worst an actual risk. The only reasons they have been tolerated for this long has been their apparently harmless nature, and, forgive me for saying this Governor, your own fondness for them. You regularly welcome them to your own office. Or do you deny that?"

    "I deny nothing of the sort. As you say, the mahwee are apparently harmless and my own experiences bear that out. I have found them to be peaceful, gentle beings, and very pleasant to be around."

    "You tell that to those poor children who were terrified that day." Chen countered.

    "A mahwee got into the building through a window that had been left open and fell asleep in a cupboard. When the cupboard was opened the next day the startled creature tried to flee. Yes, some of the pupils got a nasty scare, but no harm was done. And some children frighten easily. As I recall one little girl burst into tears when you presented her with an award last year. I hardly think that qualifies you to be a 'menace'."

    There was laughter in the chamber. Chren looked flummoxed, and cast around in confusion. Was it just James' imagination, or did he look for support to Vrok? And did she point subtly downwards just before he took his seat?

    "Loath as I am to give credence to such ideas," Vrok said, "I must reluctantly conclude that Councillor Chren raises a valid point. Our esteemed Governor is known to have a strong liking for the creatures. I do not believe for a moment that he would deliberately allow his feelings to override his better judgement, but is it not...possible...that his emotional attachment has compromised his views, has blinded him to the facts?"

    Once more voices were raised in her support. "And is it not also possible," she continued, "that, in his desire to protect these creatures, he has influenced the only two witnesses so they give unreliable testimony? He could have----"

    "That's a damn lie!" James snarled, leaping to her feet.

    Vrok flinched, stepping back, but quickly recovered. "It's a matter of public record that the two of you, along with several of your cohorts, visited the Governors office prior to this meeting. What did you discuss?" She patted a loose hair down in to place.

    Before James could respond another Councillor had stood. "I request permission to address the council." Before Trex could respond she went on "I want it put on record that the human witness is obstructive, and their testimony unreliable. This Corporal James has been evasive, flippant, facetious and now openly hostile. I demand she be escorted from the chamber forthwith."

    "I don't think that will be necessary." Trex said. "But may I remind the Corporal that this is a Council Chamber and such outbursts will not be tolerated. Now unless anyone else has questions for In that case we formally thank Corporal James and Trooper Tharpa for their testimony. You may return to your seats. Thank you."

    As she stood James leant closer to Trex. "Sorry sir.", a phrase she repeated to Archer and Reed when taking her place on the bench seating.

    "You should be sorry." Reed glowered. "I had a bet with Sandstrom that you'd lose it completely and lamp that woman. Twenty creds you've cost me."

    Archer put a hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry about it Autumn, Vrok's got a stacked deck, you were never going to win."

    "What do you mean sir?"

    "Hadn't you noticed? It's always the same people offering support whenever she makes a point. This chamber's packed with her cronies."

    "Damn it." she spat. "I'll just bet that those two who stood up were in her pocket too."

    Archer said nothing, but brushed his sleeve then patted his hair down.

    "Secret signals." she realized. "Telling her supporters what to do."

    "Right. If she raised the possibility of Trex being emotionally involved, or tried to have you regarded as obstructive, it'd be obvious she was working on her own. But if others in the council raise those points, then she is one voice amongst many. That may sway the undecided counsellors who would be suspicious otherwise. You'll note that it was only after you proved unsupportive that she tried to have your testimony declared unreliable."

    She rubbed her forehead. "I hate politics. Give me a gun and a target, any day. So what has she got against the mahwee anyway?"

    "I'd guess nothing. As Chren said they've been a controversial issue for many years. If Vrok can make it look like Trex was on the wrong side of the argument through poor judgement that'll do a lot to discredit him. She's after his job, plain and simple."

    "Never mind the gun and the target. Just give me twenty seconds and her." James muttered darkly. She was aware of the Captain shaking his head reproachfully, but he didn't seem to really mean it.

    "...lack of any concrete evidence!" Trex was saying. "We simply have no proof of mahwee involvement."

    "Then what else could it be?" Vrok demanded. She turned to the chamber and spread her arms wide. "What else could it be? We can argue the quality of the recordings till the stars burn cold, but one thing we all agree on, that creature is bipedal! Two arms, two legs! What is there on this planet shaped like that? Three things, and three things only. Denobulans. Humans. And mahwee. There is nothing else it can be! Nothing! So let us stop hiding from the truth and face the facts. It has to be a mahwee as there is nothing else it can be!"

    Now she knew what to listen for, James could recognize the same voices as before calling out their support. To her dismay they were joined by others, many others.

    Archer sat bolt upright, his hand going to the pocket where he kept his communicator. He stood as unobtrusively as possible and made his way to a secluded corner before answering it.

    Trex was leant forward, elbows on the edge of the podium, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. "Very well. We must reluctantly conclude the high probability of mahwee involvement. What do you propose we do about it?"

    Vrok grinned triumphantly. "I suggest we establish an emergency committee to look into the matter and to come up with feasible solutions. We need to act quickly to---"

    She was interrupted by Trex. "If speed is of the essence Councillor then surely Emergency Protocol Fourteen would be appropriate?"

    "Emergency Protocol Fourteen?" she echoed, bewildered.

    "Oh yes, that should do the trick. It is up to date, isn't it Tovan?"

    The Commissioner stood. "Glad you asked that. It wasn't due for review for another year or so, but when the problems first started I had all the Emergency Protocols brought up to date."

    "Ah, excellent work, old friend, excellent work. So there you are Councillor. Is that suitable?"

    James sat up, watching intently. Vrok was looking wildly round the chamber. You don't know what it is! James realized. You're supposed to know and you don't! And you daren't admit ignorance in front of everyone. You're hoping that...oh.

    Much to James' disappointment someone else had figured out Vrok's dilemma, and that person was Chren. "You're pardon, Governor, but for the benefit of those not in the Inner Council, what is this protocol of which you speak?"

    Vrok's shoulders slumped in relief.

    Trex poured himself a glass of water. "When we established the colony, a number of precautionary measures were drawn up in case of emergency. Protocol moment please." Captain Archer had approached the podium. He whispered something to Trex and handed him a pad. The Governor read it, his face unreadable. "Thank you Captain. Now, as I was saying, Protocol Fourteen covers the possibility of a risk from the mahwee. I should stress that it can only be employed if the Council agree that the risk is major, and immediate. Tovan."

    Tovan cleared his throat. "Protocol Fourteen outlines two possible courses of action. One is a forced relocation of the mahwee from our city, plus steps to ensure they do not return. The other is, regretfully, a more lethal response. Several methods are proposed for each choice, balanced by probability of success, speed of execution and total expenditure. Once the Protocol is under way, it only needs a few decisions as to how to implement. Very straight forward."

    "I must stress," Trex said, "that the Emergency Protocols are only to be employed when there is a significant risk and there simply isn't the time to develop a more specific, precise plan. I do not believe that is the case here. We have time. Let us consider the matter further."

    "I rather think time is of the essence." Vrok said. "Lives are at stake. A decision needs to be made now, right now."

    Trex paused. "Perhaps we should vote on that. Should we enact Protocol Fourteen, or should we form a committee to look into it further."

    Vrok looked round the chamber, gauging the mood of those present. "Oh yes." she said, satisfied. "Let's all vote on it."

    Trex stood, pinching the bridge of his nose wearily. "Very well. A vote, to determine our response to the mahwee threat. Form a committee to investigate further, or enact Protocol Fourteen. The usual voting rules apply, and in the event of...oh, excuse me, I almost forgot." He held up a pad. "Captain Archer gave me this a moment ago. Whilst we were talking Doctor Soong and Professor Partridge have been analysing the blood samples found at the site. They conclude that it is not a mahwee. An entirely unknown species, apparently. Hmm, how about that. So, how do you vote?"

    There was a moment of absolute silence. Then the chamber erupted into anarchy.
  4. Count Zero

    Count Zero Make our planet great again! Moderator

    Mar 19, 2005
    European Union
    Quite an unexpected turn of events there at the end. I'm looking forward to the next installment.
  5. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Feb 24, 2002
    New England
    Badger, you have made Vrok the poster girl for every slimy politician on Earth. After all this build up, I do hope you're planning to slap her down very, very hard in the end.
  6. StarCruiser

    StarCruiser Captain Captain

    Dec 26, 2002
    Houston, we have a problem...
    Trex just played Vrok for a fool - and enjoyed it, I suspect...
  7. The Badger

    The Badger Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 11, 2008
    Im in ur Tardis, violating ur canon.
    I'm glad I can still surprise you! I hope it all lives up to your expectations.

    Ah, but do slimy politicians always get the comeuppance they deserve?

    I'm sure there was a certain quiet satisfaction there...:). I hope you're enjoying this, StarCruiser.
  8. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Feb 24, 2002
    New England
    In fiction, absolutely. One must satisfy the reader's need for justice you know.

    In real life, of course not. If they did we'd not have anyone to run the country. ;)
  9. StarCruiser

    StarCruiser Captain Captain

    Dec 26, 2002
    Houston, we have a problem...
    But, of course! This one is actually even better than the last story, and that one was fun too!
  10. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Ah politics. You gotta hate it. Except when a shrewd operator like Governor Trek comes along to put a slimy politician like Vrok in her place. That was an hilarious move on his part at the end.

    Oh yeah and the old saying remains true, soldiers, pardon me, Marines and politics clearly don't mix.

    Great stuff.
  11. The Badger

    The Badger Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 11, 2008
    Im in ur Tardis, violating ur canon.
    Apologies for the lack of updates recently. A combination of odd shifts at work and writers block have stymied my writing efforts. So I'm just posting as much as I've done of the next part, in the hope that having something out there on the interwebs will trigger a burst of creativity.
    It's got to be worth a try.

    Herroton City.
    30th November 2151.

    Councillor Vrok had been right on one count. Several Enterprise personnel had indeed visited Governor Trex's office. There had been no grand conspiracy to hide the truth, however. Archer simply thought it best to report their discoveries to the Governor as soon as possible, and in confidence. It would be up to the Denobulan leader to decide how best to proceed. After due consideration Trex decided that a full council meeting would be the appropriate response, and one was hastily convened.

    The task of identifying the creature in the tunnels was given to Professor Partridge. The blood samples, along with scraps of skin apparently scraped off when the creature banged it's head, would be enough for a DNA analysis. Two facilities were available that would be more than adequate for such work, but whilst Enterprise's laboratories were state of the art---indeed, Partridge had designed them herself---she really did not fancy the journey back to the ship. That left Doctor Soong's lab. It was a simple matter to patch her communicator into the local comms net, so she called him up to explain the situation. Taking the call, Soong explained that he was not at the lab at the time, having dinner at a friend's house. He had almost finished, and would head straight back to activate the machinery in preparation for her arrival. They arranged to meet at the lab in about twenty minutes time.

    Trex offered to put a land car at her disposal, but Partridge decided she would rather walk. The lab was not too distant from the Governor's office, and the apartment building where most of the humans lived was next door to that. A number of rooms had been assigned for the Enterprise people, so when she and Soong had finished she wouldn't have far to go. Besides, after so long cooped up aboard the ship, she wanted a change of scenery and a chance to stroll more than six paces without having to duck under some exposed piping. Taking her case with the samples she left the building around the same time the council meeting began.

    Despite being named a 'city' the locale had more of a small town feel to it. Most buildings were low and squat, although the civic buildings were considerably larger. Denobulan architecture favoured soft curves instead of right angles at the corner, giving the surroundings a curiously organic aspect. This applied to the traffic layout too, with roads snaking sinuously around the buildings. A lot of thought had clearly been put into making the environment a pleasant one. The pavements were liberally decorated with plants, and walls had been painted with vibrant colours in a variety of styles. Some were abstract, others representing what she assumed to be significant people and events in Denobulan history.

    Her path took her through what could loosely be called a down town district, lots of bars and restaurants. The crowds were thicker here, and she was pleased to receive numerous stares, some curious, some admiring. Music spilled through open doors and windows, accompanied by exotic scents. A rumbling from her stomach reminded her that she had not eaten since breakfast, and this morning felt a very long time ago. Glancing at her watch, she decided she had time for a quick bite to eat, and diverted through the nearest open doorway. On entering, she thought it looked more like a bar than a restaurant, but some people were eating. Snacks, rather than full meals, it looked like, but that would do.

    At her entrance all conversation had ceased and all eyes turned towards her, as if she were a gun-slinger entering a saloon in an old western. A lot of people would be intimidated by such attention, but Professor Polly Partridge was not one of them. Looking round and smiling pleasantly she made her way to the bar.

    "Good evening. Do you speak English?" she asked the woman behind the bar. At her look of polite incomprehension, she turned to address the crowd. "Hello, does anyone here speak English? No? Oh, botheration."

    Casting her mind back to the formal dinner on the Enterprise, she tried to recall which Denobulan foods she had liked. "Ah...collex?" she hazarded, holding up three fingers.

    "Colleex?" the bartender asked.

    Polly nodded. "That's it, yes. Colleex. Also, guman juice. Guman?" She mimed drinking.

    The drink arrived. She took a deep swig. It was most refreshing, rather like a non sparkling lemonade (she preferred the fizzy sort, but the Denobulans did not like carbonated drinks) with a hint of tangerine to it. Her food took a little longer, and when it arrived was not entirely like the meal she'd had on the Enterprise. There the colleex, a type of spiced sausage, had been served with vegetables. These ones came wrapped in flat bread, with a selection of condiments in small pots at the side of the plate. The aroma reminded her of just how hungry she was and she wolfed them down with great relish at the bar, not even bothering to get herself a seat.

    After paying for the meal with a credit chit from the Governor's office, and being very relieved that it was accepted, as she hadn't been paying attention when the Captain gave it too her and had no idea what the upper limit was, she left and resumed her journey. The city, she decided, was a nice place to visit, though as she had yet to see what she considered the three most important signs of civilization--libraries, museums and dedicated shoe shops---she wouldn't want to live there. Maybe in a few years.

    It was getting dark now, and the street lighting was coming on. Her path passed a small park, and on an impulse she entered it, finding a bench away from the lights. Wrapping her coat tightly around herself, for it was getting rather chilly, she leant back to watch the sky.

    The Enterprise herself was clearly visible, a bright spot highlighted by the rays of the setting sun. As the light faded further the stars begun to appear. A beautiful view, and an eerie one, for whilst many of the stars themselves were familiar sights on Earth their positions here were new to her. It served to bring home just how far she was from the planet of her birth, and how this was only the second planet she had visited. She hoped she'd always feel this way, no matter how many worlds she travelled to.

    Presently, the moon rose. It was three quarters full, and bright enough to dazzle when looked at directly. A surface of glass...the energy required to do that could be calculated, but not truly comprehended. Dust and rock melting in an instant, running like syrup under the relentless heat...And then there was this world, Herroton, which some how had weathered the storm, wounded, battered and bruised, yet still unfathomably alive. It should be a dead world, it's atmosphere ripped off into space, it's surface ravaged by unchecked radiation. Against all reason life had not merely survived, but flourished.

    There was an electronic chirrup from her communicator. Fumbling through her pockets, she fished it out and flipped it open. "Ahoy-hoy!"

    "Polly?" It was Doctor Soong. "Are you alright? I was expecting you some time ago."

    "Oh, sorry. Lost track of time, thinking cosmic thoughts. You know how it is. I'm on my way."

    Before leaving the park, she crouched and peeled off one glove, pressing her hand to the ground, feeling the life of the planet. Grass did not exist here, but a thick moss took it's place in the environment. It was slightly spongy, giving off a rich earthy smell when compressed. She smiled, stood, brushed her hand off against her coat, and set off. It was as she reached the exit from the park that the street lights began to flicker, before going out completely. So did the lights in all the buildings she could see. The brakes on a passing ground car screeched as the driver rapidly reduced his speed, and groans of disappointment and frustration came from nearby pedestrians. Many of them produced flash-lights, obviously well used to these blackouts. Partridge had come prepared too, though it took a few moments pocket slapping before she could find her own torch.

    The combination of flash lights, moonlight, and the head lamps of passing vehicles made it bright enough to navigate. Soon she stood out side the low cluster of buildings used as laboratories by the human science team. She found Doctor Soong's and pressed the door bell automatically. Nothing happened. Realising her mistake, as the power was still off, she rapped hard against the door. After a few seconds with no apparent response, she raised her hand to knock again. The door swung open to reveal Soong with a portable lamp. He saw her, fist raised, and leapt back with a cry.

    "Good grief, Polly, you frightened the life out of me!" he exclaimed. "I thought you were going to hit me again. OW!"

    She had hit him again. Learning the lessons of the past, she'd employed an open handed slap to the face, rather than a punch. "Yeah, well, you deserve it." She pushed past him into the lab. "It's the least you deserve for your complete betrayal."

    "Complete betrayal? Polly, if I didn't know of your propensity for hyperbole and melodrama, I might suspect that you had a propensity for hyperbole. And possibly melodrama. Look, let's go through to my office. I've got a battery powered camp stove there. We can sit down, have a cup of tea, and talk it over reasonably."

    "Well, I do like tea...and being reasonable. OK."

    The office was small, made smaller by a large desk, several bookcases, and a sofa. There were blankets and a pillow on the sofa. Partridge remembered Soong had always tended to work late, grabbing naps when he could. There wasn't much in the way of decoration, although she did spot a picture of the staff and pupils at the Institute, all those child geniuses and their tutors. Her own five year old face beamed back at her. She was still staring at it when Soong handed her a mug of tea.

    "They were different times." he said, as much to break the silence as anything else.

    "No. They were the same times. We were just different people." she sighed.

    Soong thought about this. "I'm not sure I understand what you mean."

    "Me neither. It sounded profound, though." She turned on him. "So why don't you tell me what really happened? Alex, Dave, come they got special treatment? When the Institute closed down you recruited several of my class mates for your special project. But not everyone. Not me. Why not? Weren't we good enough? Was I not good enough?"

    "It wasn't like that Polly."

    "Then what was it like?"

    He sighed, sat behind the desk, and gestured her to the chair opposite. She remained defiantly standing, jaw jutting forward. When it became obvious she was not going to accommodate him, he spoke. "The Institute was funded by private concerns as an educational system, to create the great scientists, military leaders, industrialists, economists, politicians and innovators of the future. What came after, what you call 'my' special project--it wasn't mine, not at all, though I was a large part of it--had a very different purpose."

    Partridge's voice was carefully neutral. "I'm listening."

    Soong sipped his tea. "You weren't picked, Polly, because you didn't fit the requirements. You scored too low on certain tests."

    "What requirements? What tests?" she snapped.

    "How has life treated you, Polly? Hmm? How have things been?"

    Disorientated by the sudden change in the conversation, she blustered "Wha...what do you mean?"

    "I've read your biography." Soong said, pointing to a bookcase, though in the half light she could not see if that tome was present or not. "Sounds like you had a bit of a rough time of things when you were working on your...what was it? Your third doctorate? Got more than a little stressed out. You got over it though. You threw off all those influences, all those voices telling you who you should be, and chose who you wanted to be. Chose how you wanted to present yourself to the world and forced it to accept you on your own terms."

    Partridge wasn't sure where this was going, but could tell it was going somewhere. She sat in the chair.

    Soong leant towards her, his voice low and earnest. "Those others, they needed help. You didn't. They cou...No, don't interrupt. You didn't need the help we were offering. I know you've had disagreements with your family, but they love and cherish you. They could afford to see to your education. They were always there for you. You know the others, know their backgrounds. Not everyone had those advantages. Some were orphans, some abandoned by parents frightened by their own children's abilities. And the tests I mentioned? Psychological instability. Oh, you push the envelope Polly, but you can operate in society. There was a seventy eight percent chance that David would have attempted suicide by the age of eighteen, if unsupervised, did you know that? No, of course you didn't. Many of the others...a similar story.
    "And that's the truth, Polly. The 'special project' was educational, yes. We helped develop some brilliant minds. But mostly, we were looking after them. Caring for them. Those who wouldn't be able to cope, and who hadn't the sort of family that could help them develop."

    That was news to her, stunning news. All her assumptions turned upside down. She barely noticed when main power came on. Soong asked for the samples, he could now run the tests. As if in a dream she handed them over, not responding to his enquiry as to if she wanted to help out. She had a lot to think over.
  12. Count Zero

    Count Zero Make our planet great again! Moderator

    Mar 19, 2005
    European Union
    A nice, quiet chapter. I hope you writer's block is officially over because I would love to know what they found out about the creatures. ;)
  13. The Badger

    The Badger Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 11, 2008
    Im in ur Tardis, violating ur canon.
    Thanks, Count!


    Herroton City.
    30th November 2151.

    "Polly, come look at this! Polly! Stop moping!"

    Professor Partridge drew herself up from her reverie. "I am not moping." she stated, sharply. Taking a sip of tea---it was still warm, only a couple of minutes had passed---she stood and turned to Doctor Soong. "What is it?"

    "Come see for yourself." he replied, darting back into the main lab. She followed, nursing her tea.

    With the power back on, the lab was revealed to be an eclectic mix of cutting edge equipment and elaborate jury rigged components. The companies that funded the expedition must have provided the very latest technology, she reasoned, but this far from home if something did fail spare parts would be difficult to come by. Improvisational repairs were the order of the day. Still, the main display screen was in full operating condition. A DNA double helix danced and swirled on it, almost obscured by the message 'NO MATCH FOUND' in bold green letters.

    "Nothing?" she asked. "How comprehensive is your library?"

    Soong shook his head sadly. "Nowhere near as it should be. There's not been a fully detailed examination of this world, much less a total genome mapping. But we have checked every life form we can find within a hundred kilometres of here, and this does not match any of them."

    Partridge keyed in the code for Captain Archer on her communicator. "Better tell Johnny about this. Just a thought, but can we be certain it's native to this world?"

    "Pretty much. There are a lot of genetic markers that I've only ever seen here. A lot of them. I'd say the possibility of this being of non-Herroton origin is negligible."

    "So in that case we---Hello? Johnny, it's me. We've just finished the tests, the creature is not in the data banks, completely unknown. If we---what? OK, hold on, I'll ask." She looked at Soong. "Uncle Arik, is there any possibility, any possibility at all, that this is a mahwee?"

    "None. The mahwee are on file, any resemblance would be flagged."

    She said "That's what I thought. But could we double check? Apparently it's a matter of some importance in the Council Chamber right now."

    With a shrug he tapped at the keyboard. The flashing message disappeared and a second DNA strand popped up by the first. Rapidly the two scrolled up the screen, segments flashing to indicate area of high similarity. But it was obvious within seconds there weren't enough similarities, even before the machine had finished it's run and announced 'NO MATCH FOUND' once more.

    "Nope, definitely not a mahwee John. And right now I have no idea what it could be. There's whole segments of it's DNA that are totally bizarre. This certainly requires...oh, OK. I'll talk to you later then. Bye." She closed the communicator. "Well, from what Johnny says, they're having a bit of a ruckus at the chambers. Seemed convinced the mahwee were responsible, so I'm guessing our news will set the cat amongst the proverbials."

    "But the mahwee have always been harmless." Soong said. "How can anyone think they're involved?"

    "Search me. But if we can be sure that they are not involved, that raises more questions." She tapped the DNA image on the screen. "Just who are you? Where did you come from? What were you doing in the underground complex? Come to think of it, if there's only one way in, how did you get there without being detected?"

    "Three possibilities spring to mind." Soong mused. "They're stealthy enough to get in past security. They were down there before the security was put in place. Or---"

    "There is another way in there." Partridge finished. She drained her tea."I'm going to have to consider this. It is quite a three pipe problem."

    "A three pipe---oh, Polly. Don't tell me you've started smoking."

    Partridge produced a brown paper bag from a coat pocket. "Nope. I've always liked liquorice. Try one, they're rather good."

    Soong waved the bag away. "I'll pass, thanks. I'm old enough to be wary of sudden risks to the digestive system."

    She chewed the confectionery thoughtfully, pacing around the room. Her path took her to a glass fronted display cabinet. A large skull looked back at her. "What's this?" she asked, pointing with the stem of the liquorice pipe.

    "That? Ah, appropriately enough, that's a mahwee skull. The poor fellow was hit by a car and died a couple of years ago. Very unfortunate, but it did give us an opportunity to examine the anatomy in some detail."

    Opening the case, Partridge lifted the skull out. "Alas, poor Yorrick! I knew him Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest...." Trailing off, her brow furrowing, she turned it over in her hands. Something was....not wrong, but out of kilter in some vague yet fundamental way.

    "You see it, don't you?" asked Soong carefully. "Something unusual you just can't put your finger on. Look at the next one along."

    There was another, smaller skull there. She picked it out, comparing it with the one she already held. "Same genus, different species, I'd hazard. Bearing a similar relation to the mahwee as chimpanzees do to orang-utans back on Earth."

    "That's what we thought too, when we found that. Except we've never seen anything like that round here. Anywhere in fact. What ever it is, it appears to be extinct. That skull was discovered during excavation for construction work."

    "An ancestor perhaps? There are enough similarities."

    Doctor Soong pulled up a chair, wincing as it scraped loudly on the floor. "Sure looks that way. But how old an ancestor?"

    "For this sort of development, call it around five, maybe six thousand generations. How old do mahwee get?"

    He said "Life span is forty to sixty years, as far as we can tell, but no one's been here long enough to verify that first hand. Reproduction usually starts at around twenty years, we think."

    She held up the smaller skull. "So this chap here must be around a hundred thousand years old. Which puts him squarely between the mass extinction event and now. He, or she, begging your pardon ma'am, if you are a ma'am...this one is smaller, which almost inevitably means a shorter lifespan. So....very provisionally, without more data, I'd say about sixty to eighty thousand years."

    "According to our best dating techniques, and the depth at which the remains were discovered, that skull is some ten thousand years, at the most."

    "What?! That's absurd. It can't be an ancestor then. This amount of development in that amount of time? No way."

    Soong chuckled. "Our financial backers are very keen to keep things quiet, until they've worked out if there is a profit to be made. That's probably why you've not heard about this before now. But there must have been a leak somewhere, because we got a group of creationists here a while back convinced that the mahwee proved evolution wrong."

    "Oh, I wish I'd been here to see that. I love creationists. I can point and laugh at them for hours. No, this has got to be a different species, one that's died out. That's what species do, as a rule." She put the smaller one back, looked at the mahwee again. "Still, that gets me thinking, the mahwee's ancestors must have been pretty well developed when the extinctions occurred. Certainly it's taxonomic family survived, probably it's genus. Anything less closely related couldn't evolve to the present form, not in this time span."

    Soong stood, pressing a hand to the small of his back. Partridge looked over in concern, and asked "Are you OK?"

    "Yes, yes. Just the odd twinge. If you'll excuse the banality of the statement, I'm not as young as I was. Now, here's something you will find interesting. As I say, there's never been a full examination of life on this world. But what studies there have been have shown something...well, see for yourself." He tapped at the keyboard. A wire-frame image of Herroton appeared on the screen, slowly spinning. The geographical features were plainly visible. Scattered, apparently randomly, across the world were a number of pulsing red dots. No, Polly realized, not entirely randomly. They only appeared on land, and in the warm and temperate zones. As the globe turned she noted that one of the spots was located almost exactly on Herroton City.

    "What is this?" she asked.

    "This is the location of every known mahwee group. And I'm not surprised you look shocked."

    "Shocked? I'm flabbergasted! My gast has never been so flabbered, and make no mistake. For a species to have spread so far in such a short amount of...whoa there! Hold on! Those ones are across the ocean. How the deuce did they get there? Carried by swallows?"

    "I have no idea." Soong said. "And there may be more, undiscovered so far."

    "This looks familiar..." Partridge murmured. "Where's my case? Ah, here we are." Pulling out her pad, she called up an image of the world. Certain sections were highlighted. "When we carried out our own survey, certain zones showed very poor returns on active scans. If you compare it to your image, there is an unusually high correlation."

    Soong looked at the pad, then back to the screen. "You're right. And those places where there's poor return but no known mahwee presence, those areas have had minimal surveying. There could easily be groups there too. But why would the creatures congregate there?"

    Polly shrugged. "I don't know." she said enthusiastically. "But as a working hypothesis, that ziggurat seems to be the epicentre of one such zone. It may well be responsible some how. Or, the zone was present naturally, and the ziggurat placed there. I'm going to ask Enterprise to send a shuttle to one of those zones, see if there's anything to be found."

    "You think there may be more ziggurats?"

    "It's possible. This one was buried. Others may be too. What's that noise?" A steady beeping was coming from a piece of machinery.

    "It's my secondary scanner. A bit slow compared to the rest of the equipment. I've had it examining that hair you brought, just as a back up. I expect there will be little difference from the blood samples...." He stooped to look at the small inbuilt display screen, then stood back up. "Of course, I could be wrong."

    Partridge bent to look. It took only seconds to see what was up. "This is plant DNA. How could....ah, here's your problem. Rather than the hair itself, the automatics have focussed on a spot of pollen on it. We can...hang on. Pollen...Rub a check on that, see if it comes from a plant in your data-banks."

    The answer was quick in coming. "Here we go..." Soong said. "A flowering bush found in large amounts in the mountains south east of here."

    "Mountains, why does it always have to be mountains...?" she muttered, checking her pad. "And there's a zone of low sensor return in that region. I think we may have discovered a back door into the tunnels."
  14. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Polly is pulling off the unthinkable. She's making science fun.

    And good thing to as apparently science is what will be the key to revealing the mysteries of this story. Or at least help figure out who or what we're dealing with here.

    One question on my mind right now: Was she talking about African or European swallows?
  15. Count Zero

    Count Zero Make our planet great again! Moderator

    Mar 19, 2005
    European Union
    The plot thickens, so to speak. I wonder what they'll find in the mountains.
  16. The Badger

    The Badger Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 11, 2008
    Im in ur Tardis, violating ur canon.
    I wanted to apologise for the lack of any updates recently. A combination of odd shifts at work, writers block and a touch of the flu all conspired to take the wind from my sails. Then just last week, when I was starting to make some progress, my mum had a nasty fall and broke her arm.

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

    Again, I'm sorry for the delay.
  17. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Sorry to hear about your recent troubles. RL always takes priority, I just hope it won't distract you for too long.
  18. Count Zero

    Count Zero Make our planet great again! Moderator

    Mar 19, 2005
    European Union
    Don't worry about us. Your family and your own well-being take precedence, of course. I can wait (but preferably not too long ;)). Anyway, well wishes to you and your Mum.
  19. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Feb 24, 2002
    New England
    Just making sure the thread dosn't drop off the radar.

    Hope you had a nice holiday, Badger.
  20. The Badger

    The Badger Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 11, 2008
    Im in ur Tardis, violating ur canon.
    ^Thanks Duncan!

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


    The Mountains.
    1st December 2151.

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

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

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

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

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

    "Standard level, yes." Archer nodded.

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

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

    "Look at the next one." Sato urged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Hamlet?" Tucker asked, brow furrowed.

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

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

    "Ugh, not soon enough."

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

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

    "Sort of like the Rosetta Stone?"

    She nodded. "If you like."

    "The what?" Tucker asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Yes sir." Reed agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

    "Vrex?" Archer whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Porthos. His tail was wagging."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "That girl's earnin' her pay today." Tucker said.