Starship Enterprise (Alternate Version) "Regeneration"

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

  1. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    The mystery continues. Who are these creatures and could they be related in any way to the Quagaars ... I mean Builders? And what exactly is this place made of that the landing parties' weapons won't even scratch the plaster?

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

    And know they gonna go after those things? That may not be Reed's greatest idea yet.
  2. Jadin

    Jadin Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

    Apr 20, 2013
    Looking forward to reading more, too...
  3. The Badger

    The Badger Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 11, 2008
    Im in ur Tardis, violating ur canon.
    The Ziggurat Interior.
    1st December 2151.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Huh. And the relevance?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "But sir..."

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

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

    After a moment Sato nodded, disappointed.

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

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

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

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

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

    "No EM designation?" Tucker asked.

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

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

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

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

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

    "Yeah..." Tucker said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    And then everything went mad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Reed looked unsure of himself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "We will." Tharpa called after her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Incredible..." Archer breathed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "That's not the Pathfinder way." Reed grinned wolfishly and called into the vent "Hey, you two! Good hunting!"
  4. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    A lot of fun banter between the Marines and a clearly apprehensive Archer. I especially enjoyed the vaguely homoerotic tensions between James and Partridge.

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

    At least now that we're all familiar with their gear, we get a sense that the Marines should be ready for whatever they're going to encounter in those tunnels. But ... will it be enough?
  5. The Badger

    The Badger Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 11, 2008
    Im in ur Tardis, violating ur canon.
    That's a valid piece of criticism. I've been struggling to get anything written for some time, total writers block. Eventually I resolved to get something, anything, posted, even if it were little more than background information, just so I'm still in the process of actually writing.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the banter, at least I'm doing something right!
  6. The Badger

    The Badger Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 11, 2008
    Im in ur Tardis, violating ur canon.
    The Ziggurat Interior.
    1st December 2151.

    As vents go, this one wasn't too bad. It wasn't quite high enough for Corporal James to crawl, but there was enough room for a reasonably fast slither. The plastic stuff covering the stone looked odd, semi-translucent, in the night vision goggles, but it was rather more comfortable than expected. Her knee, elbow, and toe pads were reassuringly quiet as she moved. It was unpleasantly warm, a hot breeze blowing directly into her face, but at least it was a dry heat. And, so far at least, there seemed to be no rats, beetles, snakes, or other fauna that made tunnel clearing such an ...interesting occupation.

    Another advantage: she and Tharpa had decided to use their LOSIR communicators. Without enough relay beacons to leave a trail they'd still be out of touch with the main party, but at least they could talk to each other if need be. They didn't even need to speak aloud. A throat mike would pick up their utterances if they 'sub-vocalized', which James thought was a very fancy way of saying talking under your breath. Even with the system they stuck to their training, keeping chatter to a minimum. You could miss an external sound if you were deep in conversation. Best to use it only when needed.

    Like now. "T-junction ahead. Branch left, right. Ten metres."

    "Roger." Tharpa's voice was flat, anonymous. The throat mike caught only the most basic inflection.

    Cautiously she approached the junction. The idea that there may be something nasty lurking round the corner was fore front in her mind. She halted less than a metre away, and, keeping her gun trained, extended the probe from her wrist computer. Used it to look first left, then right. No sign of anything, just the vent carrying on out of range of the sensor in either direction. She retracted the probe and slid further forward to the junction itself.

    "All clear. Checking thermal."


    The lightweight goggles didn't have thermal capability. She pulled a hand held imager from a belt pouch, automatically checking the display was set to absolute minimum before turning it on. It wouldn't do to have the screen come on bright enough to illuminate her position for anyone watching. It was bad enough that the device made a faint whine. She examined the display closely, and bit down a swear word.

    "Problem?" Tharpa asked. The throat mike had picked up her expletive.

    "Thermal no good. It's all this hot air, I guess." She looked from side to side, deciding. Turning left would take them in the direction of the large chamber, going right lead back towards the stair well. And there seemed to be something in that direction..."Checking right. Remain here, cover left."

    "Covering left."

    She snaked round the corner, waited for Tharpa to take up his position, and proceeded onwards. As she got closer what appeared to be small dots hovering in the air took shape. Insects, struggling in a spider's web. Or, if not a spider, it's local equivalent. She'd not been to many planets, but they all seemed to have something spider-ish on them. It was probably down to....oh, what is the phrase? She racked her brains, couldn't think of it. James wasn't interested in science, but she was very interested in a certain scientist. Twice a week, typically, Professor Partridge would give lectures on a variety of subjects in the observation lounge, and she had been present, front and centre, for every one.She couldn't remember the details, but there was something about how life even on different worlds would develop in similar ways.

    She shook her head. Whatever it was could wait. What was important was the web itself. There was a lot of it, a tunnel leading off out of view. Clearly undisturbed. The mysterious interloper couldn't have come this way, not without demolishing the webs. So, the other route. "Returning."

    Tharpa's voice, delivered by the comm system, sounded as if he were at her shoulder. "Roger. All clear."

    There was no room to turn, even for her. She shuffled backwards until he told her she had reached the junction, twisted her lower half into it, then turned left. Soon this vent angled some forty five digress to the right. It was, she realized, now running parallel to one of the walls of the main hexagonal chamber. She paused a moment to orientate herself. If you were to look down on the chamber from above, and if the door they'd come through was in the twelve o'clock position, they'd be running parallel to the next wall in an anti-clockwise position. Yes, that seemed about right.

    There were cobwebs here too, or more accurately their remains. Strands of web scattered and torn. Clearly disturbed by something moving through. She felt her heart pumping faster. "We're on the right track."

    "Roger." Tharpa replied. Idly she considered making a bet with Lt. Sato next time their was a mission of this nature. See how many time she could make him say that.

    There was the beginning of a dull ache in her shoulders and thighs, and it seemed to be getting even hotter. Nothing she couldn't handle, but no sense pushing themselves when they didn't know what was ahead. "Let's take a couple of minutes. Send an 'all well' message over the beacon." That got the inevitable "Roger." in reply.

    She let herself down onto her stomach and took a sip off water from the tube over her shoulder. It was more convenient than trying to unhook the bottle at her waist. She tried the thermal imager again. It was just as useless, apart from confirming the temperature was indeed higher here. She switched it off.


    "We've just got an 'all well' message over the beacon, Major." Sato said. "Should I send a 'message received'?"

    Reed, who had accompanied Archer and Tucker to the centre of the circular structure, looked relieved. "If you would, lieutenant, please."

    "So what have you found now?" Archer asked. The configuration of hieroglyphs around the chamber was notably different to how it had been earlier.

    Partridge spun, hair flying, eyes flashing, to face him. "This is fascinating! This display is the history of this star system. Look, look here. Do you see? It's as we suspected. This planet over here has been diverted from it's orbit by the gravitational influences of the gas giant here."

    "Not a big world." Tucker said, leaning for a closer look.

    "Big enough." Archer said.

    "Right. Look at this." Partridge touched a circular insignia next to the display. Instantly the image went into motion. The planets and moons orbited the central star in their elliptical paths. Except for rogue world, which plunged deep into the system, sling shot round the star, hurtled far out to the very edges of the display, then fell back in to repeat the process over and over again.

    Reed gulped. "Got quite close to Herroton that time."

    "Close enough to spot with the naked eye." Archer said. "Probably make out details if they had telescopes then."

    "And even if they didn't," Partridge said, "it passes by fairly regularly. Sooner or later they'd be watching it. Ah, see. Passing by again, not as close, but still visible I reckon."

    Suddenly the image stopped. A long dotted line ran ahead of the wanderer, snaking round the display like the petals of a flower, before terminating in the central star. An inscription appeared next to the image.

    "As far as I can tell," Sato said, approaching, "this is the Builder's projection of where the planet would go. And they realized it would be a catastrophic event for them. Oh, I've sent your message Major."

    "Thank you."

    Archer rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. "So they knew what was happening."

    "Oh yes. In fact, if you look to the image on the left...I'll synchronise the two and continue the sequence."

    The wandering world re-commenced it's journey. It stayed close to the dotted line, straying slightly as it passed close to another body. The dotted line itself would then subtly shift, the predicted path revised to match the actual one. Now that the Builders knew what was coming, Archer realized, they were monitoring the world in great detail.

    Next to the system map was an image of Herroton, slowly spinning on it's axis. As he watched a series of tiny triangles popped into view on it's surface, slowly at first, then with increasing urgency. A pattern began to emerge, a pattern that still felt incomplete when the image suddenly froze as the wandering world met the inevitable end of it's long strange journey.

    He stepped back, silently digesting what he had seen. "So. These structures, these ziggurats. They only started building them after they realised they were in danger?"

    Sato nodded. "It looks that way sir."

    He turned to Partridge. "A response to the threat?"

    "Weeeeeeeellllllllllll," she said, stretching like a cat, "post hoc ergo propter hoc, as they say. Just because they spotted a probable threat to their existence and then started a massive building program doesn't automatically mean one caused another. Maybe some chap who really, really liked pyramids got into power. On the whole though, I do rather think a connection is likely."

    He went "Hmm." and walked over slowly to the two marines Reed had stationed here. One was holding Porthos, Archer thanked him and took the little dog back. Deep in thought he strolled a full circuit of the central chamber. Arriving back at his starting point, he searched his pockets for a comb. For some reason he always felt that tidying himself up helped clarify the thought process. That done he beckoned Partridge closer.

    "What would we do," he asked softly, "if we discovered our own world was doomed?"

    She laughed mirthlessly. "If we discovered our world was doomed? We discovered that in the early 21st century. We also discovered it was our fault, but we could still fix the problem. What we actually did was deny it was happening, tried to discredit the scientists saying that it was real, and even banned proper research. It took World War Three to shake us out of those parochial attitudes. Typical human short sightedness."

    He glanced at her sideways. "Well. What if we weren't human? What if we decided to do something?"

    "Ah, now that is the question. You think this place is some sort of survival shelter, don't you?"

    "I must admit, it occurred to me."

    "Yeah, me too. The animals went in two by two, hurrah, hurrah."

    Tucker had been listening in. "So, maybe these Builder fellows are all hidden away down here. In suspended animation, like."

    Partridge smiled faintly. "It's been done." The smile vanished. "But if so, where are they? There's life on this world, lots of life. More than I'd expect. It's certainly habitable for life as we know it. So what are they waiting for?"

    Archer thought it over. "Maybe the system failed. Look at that display. I get the impression the building program was incomplete. Perhaps the alarm, for want of a better word, didn't work---"

    "---And they overslept?" she said. "Like I say, been done."

    Archer and Tucker exchanged glances. Tucker mouthed 'No idea'.

    "So these...creatures in the vents," Archer said, "could they be the reawakened Builders?"

    She shrugged. "Perhaps. Though trying to equate the brilliant minds that built this structure with the pack hunters that kill vrex with claws and teeth is a bit of a stretch."

    "But if something did go wrong with the wake up call, maybe the rest of the suspended animation system is faulty." Archer suggested. "Some sort of brain damage might have resulted."

    "The one I saw did look kinda weird." Tucker said.

    Partridge didn't look convinced. "This facility was built more than two hundred thousand years ago, Johnny. I have difficulty believing any one could survive that long in a perfectly functional system, let alone a faulty one."

    "But is it possible?" he insisted.

    She simply replied "Unknown."


    It really was getting very hot in the vent. James wanted another swig of water but that would have to wait. They were crawling through another area of destroyed web, and angry spiders swarmed over them. They'd taken the precaution of donning their respirator masks to stop the spiders getting into their mouths or nostrils. The creature's small size meant it was unlikely that any toxin would be powerful enough to harm them, but all it needed was an adverse allergic reaction to swell the soft tissues, and you'd be suffocating a long way from help. The respirator did it's job, but also prevented them drinking.

    The spiders---they weren't really spiders, but that's how she thought of them---were fascinating to watch. They glowed with a soft blue bio-luminescence. Perhaps a means of attracting prey? Or mates? It was strange how convergent evolution had acted too---Convergent evolution! That was it! That was the phrase! She felt pleased at remembering it, and resolved to casually mention it in the debriefing. Better yet, mention it to Polly, show her she had been paying some attention after all.

    "Looks like there's an exit up ahead." she said, getting a "Roger." in return.

    She slowed her pace, trying for a stealthy approach. As she got closer she had a narrow view of the chamber beyond. It was long and apparently quite high. She couldn't judge it's width due to the narrowness of the opening. From here she could see row after row of equally spaced columns, running floor to ceiling. They seemed to be made of the same plastic as that which coated the stone surrounding her, though she could not tell if the columns were hollow or not. As she watched a soft pink glow drifted lazily up the inner surface of one of them.

    The wrist computer's probe, when she got close enough, let her know the room stretched off to either side. There was no sign of anything living in view, but looking straight down revealed a dirty patch directly below the vent. It also revealed a problem. The vent was a good two metres up. And, with no means to turn round, she'd have to go through head first...

    So it was, after a hurried discussion, that Corporal James emerged from the vent. Carefully she slithered out as far as her hips, one hand supporting her weight on the lip of the vent, the other holding her pistol ready. With exquisite caution she twisted round until she faced upwards, a task only manageable thanks to Tharpa maintaining a solid grip on her ankles. From that position she could drop back so most of her body lay vertically down the wall. Only her shins and feet remained within the vent. For several long seconds she maintained this inverted state, alert for signs of movement. Satisfied she holstered her pistol and told Tharpa to let her go.

    She dropped, one foot kicking accidentally at the lip of the vent as it came out, landed on outstretched hands and tucked into a roll. After parachute training this was nothing major. Within three seconds she was up, gun ready, senses straining for signs of detection. All clear. She gave him a thumbs up then removed her respirator and took a most welcome drink.

    "Right. Now how am I---" Tharpa started.

    He broke off as a scream, a hideous gibbering wail of pure fury, tore the air.

    Something lurched from behind the nearest column on the left. Despite it's ungainly motion it moved with astonishing speed, straight at James. In it's sudden rush through the half-light few details were apparent, but it seemed twisted, malformed, like a waxen effigy left too long in the heat. Clawed fingers on unnaturally long arms scythed towards her.

    A curse of shock and disgust escaped her. She fought down her incipient panic, reminding herself she had the edge. She raised her gun, aimed right at the lopsided face, triggered the flasher...

    ...and nothing happened.

    The creature didn't even slow down. And now it was leaping, barrelling into her with bone jarring force. One of it's flailing limbs caught her wrist, sending her gun scuttering away as they both slid on the smooth floor away from the vent. The creature was on top of her, pinning her with it's weight as jagged fangs snapped at her throat. It took all her strength to keep it from her neck. The foul stench of it's breath and body made her gag.

    "Tharpa!" she yelled with all the breath she could spare. But she knew it would take him time to move forward from his position inside the vent, spot them, and line up a shot. Not a lot of time. But too much. Time she did not have.
  7. StarCruiser

    StarCruiser Captain Captain

    Dec 26, 2002
    Houston, we have a problem...
    Now it's really getting interesting!

    There are survivors and they are not happy and healthy survivors...
  8. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Damn, these guys are fast, vicious and quite possibly unstoppable, considering how James' gun appeared to be useless against ... well whatever they are.

    Tharpa better come through quick or this will become James' last ever landing party.
  9. The Badger

    The Badger Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 11, 2008
    Im in ur Tardis, violating ur canon.
    The Ziggurat Interior.
    1st December 2151.

    The creature wasn't big or heavy, and with a few seconds she could have easily extricated herself from under it's bulk. But she didn't have a few seconds. Her right arm was trapped against her body, her left strained to keep it's fangs from her throat. And all the while it was clawing furiously at her midriff. The kevlar weave in her coveralls had so far prevent her from being disembowelled, but she was taking a battering. Much more of this and there'd be broken bones, internal bleeding, if there wasn't already.

    James shifted her grip on the malformed face. Despite it's emaciated appearance the skin seemed unnaturally loose, disturbingly so, as if too large for the skull beneath. But she managed to get her thumb under the chin, pushing upwards into the soft flesh just behind the jawbone, forcing the head backwards and away. Denied it's prize it shrieked with rage, hauled back, swung it's claws at her face. She blocked the blow, taking it on the armoured shell of her wrist computer, feeling the shuddering impact jarring through her arm and shoulder. She gasped with pain.

    Again and again it struck in a furious torrent of blows. They were all from it's right hand, as it supported it's weight on the left. If it leant back further she'd have little defence against a dual assault. But with her arm going numb that didn't matter. She'd be unprotected if she didn't free herself soon. It swung again. This time as it did so she bucked her own body. Combined with the creature's movement that created---for a spilt second---a gap between their two bodies. And now her right hand was free, reaching down between it's legs and---grateful she was still wearing the gloves---she squeezed, twisted, and yanked. Hard. It screamed again, with a somewhat higher pitch than before, and tried to pull away. Desperately it clawed at her right wrist to weaken her vice like grip.

    That gave her an opening. She delivered a solid blow with the heel of her hand to the side of it's face, stunning it for a second. And now she had both hands free, interlocking her fingers over the matted hair on the back of it's head, dragging it down with all her strength whilst raising herself as forcefully as her position would allow, snapping her own head forward...


    It felt like a half brick dropped---not from too high, but high enough---onto her skull, and the impact echoed through her. But the nasty crunching sound hadn't come from any part of her anatomy. In a spray of blood and snot it jerked back, nose flattened across it's already irregular face. Half blinded by tears streaming from it's eyes it didn't perceive James' straight armed strike until two fingers jabbed knuckle deep into it's throat. Gagging, it fell to one side, clutching at it's neck.

    She twisted from underneath, rolling away, coming up in a fighting stance with her combat knife at the ready. Not waiting to see if it would recover she leapt, stabbing viciously half a dozen times, twisting the blade savagely in the wound. Only when sure, absolutely sure, that the creature was dead did she allow herself to relax. In the aftermath the pain hit hard, forcing a snarled grunt through gritted teeth, and she gasped in a deep lungful of desperately needed air.

    "Are you alright?"

    She turned to see Tharpa leaning halfway out of the vent, pistol held ready. He had a look of mild concern on his face, as if enquiring politely of her health had she stumbled in the street

    "Am I alright?" she asked incredulously, taking another gasp. "Aside from being savaged by a cave monster, fine, just fine! Could of done with a bit of help, you know!"

    "Could have done with a bit of help." he smiled.

    "F--- off. Seriously man, what the hell were you doing?" she snapped.

    Hi smile never slipped. Instead he gestured deeper into the room. There, laying on the floor, and quite obviously dead, were two more of the creatures. From their location, it looked as if they'd been rushing to support the one that had attacked James. Thick greyish brown blood trickled lazily from a bullet hole in the head of the nearest.

    "Oh." said James simply. She looked at the creatures, then to Tharpa's gun. "Thanks."


    "'This is the way the world ends, not with a whimper, but a bang'." Partridge intoned. "With apologies to T.S. Eliot. But I've always thought the best quotes can withstand a little paraphrasing."

    "Let's see that again." Archer said. "From just before the solar flare."

    Sato tapped carefully at the icons, causing the hieroglyph map of Herroton to swirl back. "Right. If I'm reading this right this is the condition of all the ziggurats about twelve hours before the flare. I think this symbol means that they're working correctly. While this symbol indicates a problem of some sort." She pointed.

    "Looks like most o' them are workin' right." Tucker said.

    Archer nodded. "Most, but not all. Notice that the ziggurat near Herroton City seems to be one of the faulty ones."

    "I can't be certain it is faulty, Captain." Sato said. "It may mean incomplete, not ready."

    "Hmm. What about this icon here?" There was a wavy line next to each ziggurat. It slowly shifted up and down, like an old fashioned oscilloscope trace.

    Tucker peered closer. "Kinda looks like some sort o' measure o' activity. Though what sorta activity I couldn't rightly say."

    "Yeah, that's our impression too." Partridge said. She clapped her hands together and giggled. "There's so much to learn! Goody!"

    Archer cleared his throat to break the silence that followed."Quite. OK Hoshi, roll it forward again. To the time of the flare."

    A new symbol flashed up next to the ziggurats on one hemisphere. Several of the 'working' icons changed over to the 'problem' status, and on that side of the world activity dropped to nothing. Those on the other side continued unchanged.

    "So, the flare happens, some of the ziggurats break down, and about half of them stop doing...whatever it is they were doing." Archer said. "I'm guessing it was the half facing the sun at the time."

    "That's right Johnny." Partridge nodded. She pointed to one of the neighbouring displays. "I'd wager that this represents the levels of electromagnetic radiation reaching the surface. I'd also speculate that the ziggurats were designed to deliberately shut down as soon as the EM levels shot up, to limit damage to the circuits. If circuits is the right word. Maybe it didn't work with total effectiveness, which is why some of them break down. Now, if Hoshi would be so kind as to advance the display a few hours...There. Watch that. As the world turns, more ziggurats are exposed to solar radiation. As soon as they detect the extreme levels, they put themselves into stand-by mode."

    "Stand-by mode. Huh. Do they stay inactive?"

    Sato sped up the display, the world blurring round and round, until the ziggurats started to show activity again. "I reckon...five, maybe ten years after the event, Captain. I'm still working on the notation so it's hard to be more accurate."

    Archer rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. "That's quite a while."

    "Possibly a precaution. The Builders may have anticipated some sort of after effect. Waiting a few years for the star to settle down after the collision lowers the risks." Partridge said.

    "Hey, y'all, this is interestin'." Tucker pointed to one of the symbols. "That there ziggurat was one o' those that broke down when the flare hit. But it looks to be working now."

    "Some sort of self repair system?" Archer clicked his fingers. "Like the polymer you shot earlier. It fixed itself!"

    "I say, this is all jolly exciting isn't it?"

    Sato sighed "I think it's creepy."

    They watched the display in silence for a minute. "There's definite activity going on." Archer said. "Not constant, but in bursts. It would help if we knew what it was."

    Partridge slapped the side of her head irritably. "C'mon Polly, think. There's something you're missing, something...gah! This is frustrating. It's like having a sneeze ready to explode, only it just sits there at the back of your nose and doesn't go anywhere. I can feel the shape of the answer. Just can't quite grasp it."

    "Hoshi, can you set this to the present day?"

    "Yes Captain."

    At first glance there didn't seem to be any difference. But something struck Archer as wrong, out of kilter. "Hey. Look at this."

    Tucker said. "The ziggurat near Herroton City. And?"

    "And it's still got a problem, according to this symbol. But this symbol shows it's active. Very active."

    "Hey, you're right. How is that?"

    Partridge pulled a chocolate bar from her coat pocket, took a bite, broke off a chunk to toss absently to Porthos, and said with her mouth full "Trip? How long ago did the Denobulans set up their broadcast power system?"

    "Son offa gun. That's it, I'll bet that's it. Hoshi, roll it back about ten years would ya?"

    Concentrating only on that ziggurat, they watched as after millennia of inactivity it slowly yet surely came to life.

    Archer turned to Partridge. "So the Denobulan's power system woke this place up?"

    "Looks that way. In fact, I'd speculate that, by some means unknown to us, the ziggurats absorb energy from the environment. That would explain why the active sensor scans from the Enterprise were so ineffective. The energy was just being soaked up. However the ziggurat near the city has had a decade of constant broadcast energy straight from the generators. For years that's been enough, but as it becomes more active it's been absorbing more and more power."

    "Hence the outages." Archer realized.

    "Precisely. And with the main ziggurat damaged, it's difficult to tell what the system is going to do with all that energy. Heck, we don't even know what it was supposed to do."

    Locke entered the central chamber, smoking. "Captain, we have a problem."

    "Another one? What is it Phil?"

    "I've been keeping an eye on Phlane and Krengel. They are showing increasingly severe symptoms. High temperatures, dizziness, nausea...I've done what I can with what I have available, but until I can work out exactly what the problem is there's no telling how this will play out."

    "Damn." Archer said. He thought for a moment and then said "Damn." again. "You think that insect bite is to blame?"

    "Seems likely. No one else shows any symptoms."

    "Do you want us to evacuate them? We can have a shuttle from Enterprise in ten minutes."

    Locke threw away his cigarette butt, lit a new one. "That might be wise. I'll send them back to the main entrance, along with one of the marine medics and a couple of guards. Before I do that I'll see that they are comfortable. Plenty of fluids, keeping warm."

    As he left, Partridge looked at Archer strangely. "Warm." she said softly. Her brow furrowed. "Hoshi, can we expand this part of the display? The part that seems to be environmental data."

    "I think so. Let's see...Here. Is this what you wanted?"

    "Yes! Perfect!" Partridge clapped her hands. "Now. Roll the main display back to just prior to the flare please."

    "You've worked it out Professor?" Archer asked.

    "I've got an idea that...yes! Do you see that? Those are the environmental conditions of this world more than two hundred thousand years ago. Air pressure and composition, mean temperature, background radiation and so on. Typical class M world. And if we look just after the flare..."

    "Much lower air pressure, greater levels of particulate matter in what is left of the atmosphere. Reduced temperature, increased radiation. I'd say class K, borderline class L." Archer shrugged. "Pretty much what you'd expect to see following that sort of...wait a minute. How come it's gone back to being class M nowadays?"

    "Oh it's possible. The same process that shaped this world in the first place could happen again. Only, I really can't see it duplicating the original conditions so closely. And not in two hundred thousand years, that's not nearly long enough. No, I rather think there's another cause. If we look at a time when there is a lot of ziggurat activity...there. The environmental conditions start to improve straight afterwards. Not much, but if it happens every time..."

    "It builds up." Archer breathed. "My God. They built this system to terraform their own planet, to fix the damaged ecosystem. To regenerate the entire world!"
  10. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Okay, those creatures are gross. Thank god, they are not invulnerable to weapons' fire though or James and Tharpa would've been dead meat.

    And now it appears we finally have an explanation for this odd construct and perhaps even for it's even odder occupants. The question now is, how exactly is it going to help them and the Denobulans?
  11. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Feb 24, 2002
    New England
    Fascinating. :vulcan:
  12. The Badger

    The Badger Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 11, 2008
    Im in ur Tardis, violating ur canon.
    The Ziggurat Interior.
    1st December 2151.

    The door was massive, dwarfing even the exaggerated scale of the other portals within the ziggurat. Underneath the ever present polymer coating there were objects embedded into the body of the door. Blue gemstones, or so they appeared, in complex spiral formations. Similar shapes, this time in gold filigree, decorated the frame. And around it's outline hieroglyphs danced and swayed.

    Reed glanced back at Sato, who checked the display on her modified distress beacon. She nodded. The signal was coming from beyond the door. With quick economical gestures Reed directed his people to positions around it, some looking outwards, most facing in. Satisfied they were ready in place, he looked to the Captain.

    Archer took a deep breath, and nodded.

    The Pathfinders began their assault on the room.


    "I want to watch the footage again." Partridge had said, some eleven minutes earlier. "See if we can get some sense of the mechanism. If these structures really are affecting the environment on such a massive scale, well, I want to know how."

    "It'll be a major help for all them terraformin' projects they got planned back home." Tucker said.

    She nodded. "It'll also be a good idea if---". She broke off as the distress beacon hooked to Sato's belt started beeping for attention.

    Sato didn't bother with the display screen, decoding the signal by ear. And from the expression on her face, Archer knew it wasn't good news.

    "Captain, the Tunnel Rats have found a large chamber nearby. They were attacked by three creatures---", there was a gasp of horror from Partridge, "---but they dealt with them."

    "Are they alright Hoshi?" Archer demanded.

    Sato hesitated. "Sir, Corporal James is hurt, and requesting medical assistance."

    "Damn. We better find the Major."

    Finding Reed was easy enough. As they left the circular central structure he was coming the other way, looking for them. "Captain, I've just heard from Trooper Pashmut at the communications post. He says that the---"

    "We heard, Malcolm. Let's get Locke and go find them. Hoshi?"

    "Way ahead of you captain. These beacons are directional. I can tell the general direction we should be looking...that way. And if Pashmut does the same and sends me his data..."

    Archer said "You'll be able to triangulate, find out precisely where they are. Phillip! How are the doing?"

    The two ill Denobulans, Phlane and Krengel, lay on bedrolls on the wide bottom step of the main staircase. They were in heavy duty sleeping bags. Both were still and pale. Locke sat beside them, a look of intense concentration on his face as he studied his pad. "Hmm. Stable. You know, I really don't think this is allergenic at all. It looks almost like...I'm not sure."

    "Can you leave them for a while? James is hurt."

    "What? Now? Oh, yes, yes, that shouldn't be a problem. Although some one should stay to look after them."

    "Dumont, you know Denobulan biology, right?" Reed asked. "Stay here, keep an eye on them." He quickly assigned a couple more troopers to guard duty. "Right. Let's go."


    With a general fix on the parties location, they set off. Up one of the other flights of stairs, through the door, identical to the one they had entered the main chamber through, and into a maze of tunnels. The beacon pointed them in the right direction, and they made good time. All the same Archer was wary. They had no more relays for the LOSIR communications network. The distress beacon was their only lifeline to the outside world.

    Apart from the marines, Archer came, along with Locke, Sato, who was needed to operate the beacon, and, to everyone's surprise, Partridge. Considering her self admitted cowardice that seemed most unusual behaviour. She really is concerned about James, Archer realized.

    Tucker, looking after Porthos, remained in the main chamber along with his support staff, both armed, and the Denobulan party. Sato had given the engineer a data chip containing all she had learnt so far about the language, just in case he wanted to continue studying the hieroglyphs. He hadn't looked enthusiastic, but promised to give it a try.

    And then they found the door.


    "Marine Pathfinders! Entering room! Entering room!" Reed bellowed. There was no point in attempting a stealthy entrance. Like all the doors in this place, this large one made a scraping, grating noise as it opened. Shouting out their identity probably would have no effect on any hostiles, but it would let James and Tharpa know they were here. They moved through the opening in well practised formation, fanning out to cover all around, rifles up and ready, dropping into crouches to make themselves smaller targets, senses alert.

    A voice drifted from the distance. "Marine Pathfinder. Not mobile, help needed." Tharpa, from the sound of it. A bright red light flashed in the gloom, a standard issue laser painter. Reed drew his own, sent a green burst back.

    "OK. everyone inside please." That wasn't for the benefit of his troops, but for the captain and the others. They rushed in, followed by the troopers who'd remained out side to guard them. As they moved further into the room the door ground shut, closing with an echoing doooom!

    "Fascinating..." Partridge breathed, looking at the long rows of columns. "I wonder what these are? They seem to be---"

    "One thing at a time, Professor." Archer reminded her gently. "We've got wounded to see to."

    "Right, of course, yes. Lead on, Mister Reed!"

    He cleared his throat nervously. "Right. Standard approach pattern, maintain coverage. Non-combatants to the centre please, and let's not forget to look up now now and again. Let's move!"

    They moved. Reed and Tipping maintained position at the front, flanked by two other troopers. As they reached the gap between the next set of columns, those troopers dropped into a crouch, facing at right angles to the line of movement, covering the sides. They maintained this position until the group had passed them by, at which point they rejoined the others, flanking Sergeant Woo and Trooper Cross at the back. Meanwhile the marines along the sides had all moved forward one place, ready to repeat the procedure when they reached the next gap.

    In the centre of the group, Archer kept his side arm holstered and concentrated on helping Partridge along. Sato did the same on the other side, though she kept one hand on her own gun. And Locke held his old service pistol at the ready, watchful for any threat.

    They saw the bodies first, two creatures of strange proportion. Clearly dead, there was something nevertheless unnatural about them, and even the hardened warriors watched them warily. And then they saw their colleagues. James was flat on her back, quite still, whilst Tharpa knelt beside her, gun in one hand, saline solution bag held high in the other. The tube led down to James' wrist computer.

    "OK, Tharpa, report." Reed said as Locke and Partridge rushed forward.

    "James entered this room through that vent." Tharpa gestured at it with his gun. "She was attacked by one of those creatures, over there. Two others approached, I shot them. She dealt with hers, but after helping me down she collapsed. Wrist comp. showed low blood pressure, so I put her on saline, sent distress signal."

    Archer looked over to the third creature, the one that had attacked James. Up till now it had been hidden off to one side. "Phil, how is she?"

    "One moment John. Here, professor, make yourself useful. Keep that elevated." He took the saline drip from Tharpa and handed it to Partridge, then examined the display on the wrist computer. "Useful device this. Most of the medicines we use are delivered into the muscle, but we still need intravenous injections now and then. The built in, electronically guided needle makes things very easy."

    "This bag's nearly empty, doctor." Partridge said, biting her bottom lip as she looked down at James.

    "Probably internal bleeding." He attached a small ultrasonic scanner to his computer pad and ran it over James.

    "The creature, she said it struck her here and here." Tharpa said, pointing.

    "Mmm. Yes. Couple of cracked ribs, severe bruising...and internal haemorrhaging. Quite bad. Looks like you got her hooked up to the drip just in time. Right. I'll get another bag of saline on her. Some coagulant to take care of the bleeding, painkillers, and a stimulant to bring her back to the land of the living. She'll be fine."

    There was a palpable release of tension from the group. With her spare hand Partridge dug a handkerchief from a coat pocket and wiped her eyes. "Hold this Hoshi." She handed the saline bag over, then slipped her coat off, gently placing it over James like a blanket.

    Meanwhile Archer and Reed went over to the creature James had killed. "Now there's a face only a mother could love." Reed commented wryly.

    Archer nudged the body with his toe. It was squat, twisted, covered in course hair. It was otherwise naked. And it's face...Tucker's words came back to him. There was something wrong about the creature, unnatural. And yet...despite the lopsided shape, there was also something he recognised somehow, some feature that seemed familiar...

    "Don't get too close, John." Locke called over. "It may have lice or something similar. A possible disease vector." Reed and Archer stepped hastily back.

    Tipping trotted over, and looked down. "Now, that is weird."

    "What's weird?" Archer asked.

    "Sir, sirs. well, I was having a look at the other two, and, well, they don't match up, you know?"

    "Match up?" Reed asked.

    "Yes sir. It's like, well...maybe you should see for yourself."

    "See for myself." Archer muttered. "I'm always being told to see for myself."

    Nevertheless, he and the Major followed Tipping over to the other two bodies. It was soon apparent what he meant. Although all the creatures shared the same general proportions, there were major individual differences. The second was much more symmetrical than the first, though possessed of a sickeningly lumpen cranium. The third, disturbingly, had what appeared to be a small malformed hand protruding from it's stomach. And again, there was a hint of familiarity. That some how made it worse, as though this was something that should be right, twisted and distorted to some ghastly extreme.

    "What the hell are these things?" Archer asked.

    Tipping added "And are there any more about?"

    At that point Archer's attention was drawn to the nearest pillar. It was wide, wider than his arm span, and had a translucent appearance. It's outer surface was fluted, like a Corinthian column. A soft pink glow was floating upwards within, accompanied by a faint buzz, like a distant bee. It was this that had drawn his notice. After several seconds the glow disappeared at the columns highest point, the buzz fading. It looked for all the world that the glow, whatever it was, had continued into another room directly above this one. He glanced at Reed and Tipping, who both looked as puzzled as he felt. He noticed, for the first time, just how warm it was in here. And the heat seemed to be emanating from the column.

    Sato came over. "Sir, Autumn has woken up."

    "That's good." Reed said. "Could you please signal Pashmut, let him know how we are doing?"

    "Yes sir."

    Partridge had manoeuvred herself into a sitting position, supporting James' head on her lap. She held the second saline drip high. The marine herself looked pale, but she attempted to sit up and salute as they approached.

    "As you were." Archer said, keeping his voice light. "I must say, Corporal, you've not been having the best time of it since you joined the Enterprise. Shot, poisoned, and now attacked by a vicious beast."

    "Again, sir." Her voice was slightly slurred, and her eyes unfocussed but she had the hint of a smile. "There was the big green thing at Theta Iota."

    Archer cast his mind back. "Oh. Yes."

    "Don't worry about it Captain. I wouldn't miss this for the world."

    Tipping muttered something about her current position influencing her opinion.

    "Oh! Major!" James exclaimed, remembering. "The creature that attacked me. I tried the flasher on it. No effect."

    Reed frowned. "What? It must be faulty. Where's your gun?"

    "Ah, I'm not sure sir. It was knocked that away." She waved a lazy arm.

    "Tipping, M'boto. Find it and check if it's working. If these things are immune..." Reed trailed off.

    Archer said "It was certainly working earlier. Could it have burnt out through use?"

    "The curse of the substandard kit strikes again." Reed mused.

    "Alright, alright, everyone out of the way." Locke said, cigarette drooping from one corner of his mouth. "I've got ribs to set."

    Partridge said "Sorry about this Autumn." as she slid out from underneath. She paused for a moment, brow furrowed, then abruptly started rooting through Locke's medical bag. "Mind if I borrow this?" she asked, holding up a tube shaped device.

    Locke stared at it a moment. "Ah. I see what you are thinking. Yes, go right ahead."

    Curious, and wishing to give James some privacy during the procedure, Archer followed Partridge over to the first dead creature. He was amused to see her slip a pair of surgical gloves on over the ones she was already wearing. Despite that there was no sign of squeamishness as she carefully opened one of it's eyes. She put one end of the device directly over the eye, triggered it. There was a flash. She did the same with the other eye.

    M'boto approached, carrying James' gun. "Found it sir. It seems to be working fine."

    "So these creatures are immune to the flasher." Reed grumbled.

    "Autumn said that the flasher only affects a very specific frequency." said Partridge. She was looking into the display at the other end of the device. "These retina prints suggest that our hairy friend here can't perceive that frequency. Seems to be lacking the necessary receptors. Odd thing is, they appear to be there, just atrophied."

    Archer rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. "Professor, could you check the other two?"

    "Certainly. Is there any reason to suspect that they may be different, or are you just being thorough?"

    He hesitated. "You should see for yourself."

    Reed leant closer. "Now who's saying that?" he said quietly.

    "Shut up. That's an order."

    "Yes sir, Captain sir."

    Corporal James joined them. "Ready to return to duty, sir." she saluted.

    "No you're not." Locke called from where he was packing his things away. "Not until I give the say so. And I don't."

    James muttered under her breath, then gestured to the creature she'd killed. "Ugly looking Mike Foxtrot."

    "I heard that." Locke rumbled.

    "Not you sir. This here dead...whatever it is."

    "This is astonishing!" Partridge exclaimed, trotting over. "I've never seen such a range of dimorphism within a single species before. Indeed, if not for the similarities of the retinal pattens, I couldn't be sure they were all of the same species. I can only conclude that the divergence between these individuals is the result of some mutation, altering them significantly from the norm. Massive, horrific defects. They must have been in terrible pain...Yet I can find no evidence of radiation or any chemical agent that could have caused such defects. Of course, given the advanced nature of the changes, it must have begun some time ago. Still...Oh, Major, you'll be pleased to learn, I'm sure, only the one little Autumn dealt with would have been unaffected by your flash weapon. The others seem to have a similar visual acuity to us, although Mr. bumpy head there was apparently blind in one eye."

    Locke reached for the tube shaped device. "Let me have a look." He quickly ran through the images Partridge had taken. "Wait. That can't be right..."

    Archer asked "What is it Phil?"

    "These retina pattens. I'm not sure...this looks like...No. No, it can't be. It's insane. It can't be." he repeated.

    Archer and Reed exchanged glances. "What?" Reed demanded.

    Locke hesitated, then reattached the ultrasonic scanner to his pad. "Simple way to find out." he said, and quickly ran the device over the body of the first creature. "Skeletal structure seems to..." he trailed off.

    "That looks like..." Partridge said, peering at the display over his shoulder. "Oh, that can't be right!"

    She and Locke, maintaining a litany of 'that looks like' and 'that can't be right', quickly checked the other two bodies. Eventually they trailed off into a stunned silence.

    Archer rubbed his forehead. He was beginning to get a headache. "Could some one please, please tell me what you've found?"

    "I wouldn't have spotted it from the retina scan." Partridge said, her voice distant. "But Doctor Locke is more familiar with such things than I am."

    "Of course, I had been brushing up on their physiology recently." Locke said. "In preparation for this mission. So once I spotted the tell tale signs, well, it was a shock. I had to double check. Number of ribs, arrangement of internal organs, that sort of thing. Even with the mutations they matched the standard model. Partridge concurs."

    "I may not know their retina prints, but I'm familiar enough with the basic physiognomy." she said.

    "Familiar with the basic physiognomy?" Archer was incredulous. "Are you saying these creatures are already known to us?"

    "Oh yes John." Locke took a drag on his cigarette. "They are Denobulans.
  13. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Feb 24, 2002
    New England
    This just gets more and more intriguing. Well done Badger.
  14. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    I saw something like this coming. Now the questions is: What does this mean? Are these mysterious forebearers Denobulan or are we looking at some sort of weird, mangled and accidental interspecies development.

    I get a feeling answers are forthcoming. Hopefully.
  15. The Badger

    The Badger Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 11, 2008
    Im in ur Tardis, violating ur canon.
    Many, many apologies for the delay in updating. Illness, shift changes at work, writers all seemed to come at once. Sorry.

    The Ziggurat Interior.
    1st December 2151.

    "Denobulans." Archer said. He rubbed the back of his neck, deep in thought. "OK, OK. That actually makes a weird kind of sense. I mean, I wouldn't have guessed it, but now you say it...yeah, it all fits into place."

    Despite the seriousness of the situation he had to struggle to keep from smiling at the expressions---a mix of confusion, surprise and sheer disbelief---on the faces of Locke and Partridge. Hopefully there was a marine standing close by, facing in the right direction. Decent helmet-cam footage would be something to treasure.

    "What?" growled Locke, cigarette drooping from one corner of his mouth.

    "What?" shrieked Partridge. She shook her head rapidly and put her hands on her hips. "No, no, no! That's not how it goes! That's not in the script! What happens is, Doctor Locke or I make our stunning revelation, right, then there's a long silence, then you repeat it back to us, then we explain it, right, and that's when it begins to make sense to you. That's how we do it. You can't go...understanding it, not yet. It's too early. Be reasonable Johnny." She took her hands off her hips and folded her arms across her stomach defensively. That was easier for her than across the chest, because of anatomy.

    Archer held his hands up placatingly. "I did have a bit of information you didn't. Hoshi, you remember when Phlane was giving us the tour of the main structure? I asked if there had ever been any unexplained disappearances."

    Sato's brow furrowed as she cast her mind back, then cleared. "Oh. Yes. A group of youngsters went missing on a hunting the mountains! It could have been round here!"

    "Right. The remains of two were found, attacked by vrex. But there was no trace of the other three..." He looked down at the three bodies. "Could this be them? And if so, what could have caused this...mutation?"

    "And could it be the same thing that's happening to Phlane and Krengal?" Sato asked.

    Locke and Partridge exchanged glances. "It's possible." Locke said. "Some sort of retrovirus, lentiviral perhaps, delivering RNA to the host's cells, rewriting the DNA already present."

    "So those insects that swarmed as we entered were almost certainly the vector, a delivery system if you like." Partridge added.

    Reed asked "So what is it? Some sort of biological warfare?"

    "Pretty inefficient." Sato pointed out. "These guys were still alive after four years."

    "But severely compromised." Reed insisted. "If the entire city were so affected, it would be incapable of an adequate defence."

    Corporal James, looking pale but otherwise fine, chipped in. "Begging your pardon, Major, but they seem capable of giving a good fight to me. Strong, fast, good grasp of group tactics. OK, so they can't drive a tank or shoot a plasma rifle, but if your goal was to wipe out all the Denobulans for some reason, there's got to be easier ways to do it."

    "Yeah." he conceded.

    "So. Why would anyone want to mutate the Denobulans into these...these...whatever they are?" Archer asked.

    Partridge went "Hmmm." He looked at her in case more was forthcoming, but that appeared to be it.

    "We'll probably have a better idea with more data." Locke said, waving the ultrasonic scanner. "Right. Ladies first." He moved to one of the bodies.

    "That one's female?" James asked.

    "Of course. What do you think this is?" He gestured to the hand protruding from the stomach.

    Sato turned away as the implication hit her. "Oh god..."

    For once the smile was absent from Tharpa's face. "I killed a pregnant woman?"

    "Yes." Locke said simply. He grunted as Partridge's hiking boot caught him sharply on the ankle, and stared at her blankly before the penny dropped. "Oh. If it's any consolation, Trooper, neither would have survived much longer anyway. The two bodies are so intermingled, you can see that here, there's no way she could have delivered a live child. And it would have caused massive trauma to her. Fatal, and very painful. So you spared her that at least."

    "Thank you Doctor. That is some small comfort."

    "Are you going to be OK, Tharpa?" Archer asked, putting a hand on his shoulder.

    He shrugged. "That is not why I joined Marines. But I will be OK, in time. Thank you."

    Locke ran the scanner over the female's midriff and paid close attention to the display. "Ah. Interesting, but not unwholely unexpected. The foetus is heavily mutated, even more so than the parent. The Denobulan ancestry is barely recognizable, mostly in the skeletal structure. Though I have to say I've never seen anything quite like the skull at all."

    "I have." said Partridge, staring at the pad over his shoulder. "On a shelf in Doctor Soong's lab."


    Trip Tucker ripped off a lump of his ham on rye sandwich and looked down. "Y'know, there's mustard on this. You really shouldn't be havin' it."

    "Sir?" asked Crewman Able, one of his engineers.

    "Ah, nothin'. Just talkin' to..." He trailed off, gesturing to Porthos. The beagle was stood on his hind legs, front paws on Tucker's leg, staring hungrily at the food. Tucker sighed and dropped the lump of sandwich, which vanished in a single bite. "Heh. You an' Polly. Both eat what you like an' never put on any weight. Must be a portrait of you an' her hidden away somewhere."

    He finished his portion off, licking the crumbs from his fingers, and turned back to the display. Sato's translation chip was doing good work on the hieroglyphs, but he was pleased to say he was figuring out a lot himself. He'd already identified what was clearly a power distribution system. The source of the power, and it's ultimate use, was still unknown, but it was surely only a matter of time. Then he swore to himself and slapped his forehead. Of course, they already knew the source of power. It was being drawn from the transmission grid at Herroton City. But that was now. What about before? Before the grid was active, before the Denobulans were even here?

    "It must be absorbin' energy from the environment some how." he said aloud. "That may be why it's so cold in the pit around the main structure. An' I'll bet good money that's why Polly couldn't scan' roun' here an' in those other places too."

    Able asked "The ziggurats were absorbing the sensor beams?"

    "Looks that way. Seems we might have been inadvertently chargin' these places up. An' now it's reached the point where it's drawin' power straight from the reserves at the City." A thought struck him, a nasty thought. "Hey, get to a place where you can get a decent line o' sight to the relay beacons. Get onto the Enterprise. I want to know if there has been any power loss on board, anythin' at all. That could be a real problem."

    Able nodded and darted away, leaving Tucker and Porthos alone in the center of the circular structure. He stood in silent thought for a moment, before his attention was caught by a new image flaring into life on the curved wall.

    "Hullo. What's this?"


    "Why me?" Trooper Tipping moaned.

    "Because going in there would make anyone very miserable." Reed explained. "You're always miserable, so it won't make any difference. Now get to it."

    Tipping's shoulders slumped. "I'm putting my respirator on first." he said. That seemed like a wise precaution. A search of the chamber had turned up a pile of debris in one of the corners. Most of it looked organic, rotting vegetation, fragments of bone. It stank. But even from here the gleam of metal could be made out in the torch light.

    Still grumbling, Tipping waded into the pile.

    Archer cast his eye over it. At first glance it appeared to be disorganised, random. But now he had heard Partridge's ideas, it did seem there was a shape to it, crude but definitely there. A nest. Not a bird's nest, but the constructed home of a gorilla. Or a mahwee. He rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully, and turned round as Locke and Partridge approached.

    "Well?" he asked simply.

    The two exchanged glances. "I can't be sure." Locke admitted reluctantly. "I'm no expert on mahwee, nor do I have any physiological data with which to make a comparison. But I can say that the three adult bodies, plus that of the unborn child, all show tremendous deviation from the norm. Tumours, growths, appalling genetic damage. Most of it apparently quite random. However...however, in each case there are some similarities. Shape of the skull. Relative size of the lungs. A new organ growing on the duodenum whose purpose I could only guess at. Individually I'd write these off as no more significant than any of the other mutations. But as they appear in all the individuals...This was deliberate. This was planned."

    Reed shook his head in confusion. "But why would any one try to turn the Denobulans into mahwee?"

    Sergeant Woo added "Besides, these creatures are all over the planet. The Denobulans have only been here a decade or so, and only in this small area. Surely they can't all be mutated Denobulans?"

    Partridge waved her hand in a cutting-off gesture. "No no no. I really don't think that's what's going on at all. It's far more likely that---"

    "One moment Professor." Archer held up his own hand to halt the flow of words. "We've got two Denobulans with us who look to share that same fate unless we can help them. Phil, now you have a better idea of what's going on, can you do anything?"

    Locke took a long drag on his cigarette. "Well, the innaprovaline is slowing the spread of the infection. A touch of durypium would probably help bolster the DNA, make it more resistant to change. There's a lot of damage already been done, though. Still, if we can arrest the progress, keep them stable, we could probably repair most of the damage back on the Enterprise. Or at the city's hospital, Phlox has a well equipped genetic surgery suite."

    "What about an anti-viral agent, to combat the retrovirus?" Partridge asked. "Surely you could synthesize one with the medical equipment we brought."

    "In principle, yes." he agreed. "But ideally we'd need a sample of the original retrovirus, as pure as possible."

    Corporal James cleared her throat nervously. "Didn't you say the insects carried the virus? Because I've got one right here." She pointed to her shin. "We crawled through some web earlier. This little fellow must have been caught in it, and then stuck to me."

    "That may do." Locke said. "That may do indeed."

    James handed it to him, but spoke to Partridge. "Yes, there are lots of spiders in the vents. Or spider like creatures. A fascinating example of...of..." For a moment a look of wild panic shone in her eyes as the phrase eluded her. "...of...convergent evolution in action!" she finished triumphantly.

    After a moments consideration Partridge narrowed her eyes at her. "Oh. I see what you did there." she smiled.

    There was a metallic clang as Tipping through something from the pile. Reed drew his knife and used the tip to scrape away some of the adhering vegetation. "Looks like the frame from a back pack. The fabric has gone, rotted or torn off." He suddenly stiffened, hand to his earpiece. Then he stood, looked Archer straight in the eye and jerked his head off to one side.

    Archer nodded and walked away from the rest of the group. "Alright Malcolm, what's up?"

    Reed glanced around to make sure they weren't overheard. "Sir, Tipping contacted me over the LOSIR net. Secure channel, no one else could listen in, or even know he was signalling..."

    "He's found something and didn't want everyone to know." Archer realized. The answer was obvious. "Hoshi."

    "Yes sir. He's found bones sir. Lot's of them, different types. But...some of them are human sir. A skull, what looks like a femur...and as the only human known to have gone missing on this planet is Lt. Sato's friend..."

    "Doctor Halliwell." he said softly. "Damn. Alright Malcolm, I'll tell her. Thank you."

    "Sir. I'm sorry sir."

    "Yeah. So am I."

    Reed hesitated. "Sir, given the ongoing situation...perhaps you should leave off telling her. Just until the right time?"

    "There is no right time Malcolm, not for something like this. But perhaps when the immediate crisis is over."

    By this point Tipping had succeeded in finding a number of artificial objects. A battered hunting rifle, useless from neglect. Panels of artificial fabric, apparently from a tent, now used as crude bedding. A water bottle. Cutlery. A small communications hand set.

    "Wait a minute!" Sato said. "Hand me that comm unit please."

    "I don't think you'll get a signal here ma'am." Trooper Cross said diplomatically.

    "I'm not signalling. I've made a bit of a study of alien communications tech and unless I miss my guess...Yes!"

    "What is it?" Archer asked.

    "This type of communicator has an inbuilt memory. The power's drained, but if I cross link it to my own equipment, we should be able to recover a record of all the calls made."

    He nodded. "That might point us in the right direction. Get on it. OK, Doctor, time is pressing. Get back to the main chamber, see to the patients."

    Locke made an affirmative gesture with his cigarette. "Right. Do you need Partridge here? She is a biologist, and at the moment that would be useful synthesizing the anti-viral agent."

    "I'm contributing!" Partridge said cheerfully.

    "Almost as useful as she is irritating." Locke continued, and grimaced as she suddenly hugged him.

    Reed said "James, Tharpa, Cross and M'boto. Go with them. As far as we know there are no more hostiles, but let's not take chances, eh?"

    "Get going." Archer ordered. "We'll join you shortly, soon as I'm satisfied that there's nothing more to be learnt here."

    As they left Sato exclaimed "Jackpot!"

    "Found something Hoshi?"

    "Yes Captain! A lot more data than I was expecting. I think whoever this belonged to was using it...well, in much the same way you keep a ship's log. As a journal, or diary, of sorts."

    "Alright," Archer said, "let's hear it."

    Sato tapped the buttons, and the recording began to play...
  16. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Feb 5, 2006
    Liked the beginning here, a nice play on the usual cliche of characters always having to be explained everything in detail before they finally catch on.

    As I said before I had an inkling about the Denobulans, however I did not guess that these are actually mutated contemporary ones. Something turning them into zombies? Nice.

    Wait was worth it but let's hope the next one will be shorter.
  17. Count Zero

    Count Zero Make our planet great again! Moderator

    Mar 19, 2005
    European Union
    Ooh, I wonder what the recording will say. Glad you're back. :)
  18. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Feb 24, 2002
    New England
    Badger, thought you might enjoy a new pic of Polly's body model: the stunning Miss Bianca Beauchamp.

  19. The Badger

    The Badger Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 11, 2008
    Im in ur Tardis, violating ur canon.
    Apologies folks for the lack of updates. I'd sort of painted myself into a corner, as the next part would be exposition heavy. It took me ages to work up any enthusiasm to get started. And when I did write something it, not to put too fine a point on it, sucked big time.

    Trying to re-write it to make it interesting was a daunting task, so I simply abandoned it entirely and took a new approach. So it's coming along, but not as fast as I'd like. Again, I'm sorry for the delay, but at least now I'm making some progress.

    And that's a very nice pic Duncan. Very Polly-ish!
  20. The Badger

    The Badger Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Dec 11, 2008
    Im in ur Tardis, violating ur canon.
    OK, sorry everyone, but I'm just getting nowhere with this. I'm not abandoning it, but I'm going to put it on the back burner for now, and come back when I've got some enthusiasm.

    Sorry again. :(

    As an aside, gorgeous blonde with a British accent. How about Alice Eve as Polly?