Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by The Badger, Sep 12, 2010.
That was engrossing. So glad to see you back at it!
A two parter!
Always glad to see more of this story, very well done battle scene.
The surface of Galador III. October 25th, 2151.
It has often been claimed that a marine is happiest when cold, wet and miserable. All three conditions applied to Corporal James, but she was far from happy. Her feet felt like lead, her legs like jelly. Her spine ached and her shoulders burnt. Her stomach was in knots whilst her throat and lungs were on fire. In short, her body had become a walking mass of clichés, and it was only her determination and training that kept her moving. To add insult to injury, she had only herself to blame.
After so long cooped up on the Enterprise the landing party had, for the most part, relished the opportunity to get out and about. Long walks and jogs were common, carefully remaining within the drones' surveillance zone but describing wide circles around the base camp. As a matter of pride the marines had pushed themselves harder than anyone else but there soon arose the unspoken conviction that they could do more still. And so James had gone over the geology of the area with the scientists in an attempt to find something a bit more challenging. After planning things out she'd put it forward to the landing party, asking if anyone wanted to come with the marines. Even the most enthusiastic keep fit fanatics thought it best to wait and see how they coped before trying it themselves.
There was no sense leaving the camp undefended, so Tipping and Grant would stay behind whilst she and Dumont went for the first run. After some warm up callisthenics they set off, accompanied by a pacemaker on the quad bike. They went in fighting order. Body armour, helmet, wrist computer, rifle, pistol, grenades, medkit, ammo, batteries, combat scanner...a little over thirty five kilos of gear. Just the basics.
It started with a run--and it was a run, not a jog--of almost eight kilometres over the grassy plane, skirting the forest. This got them to the foothills which, they had been assured by the survey team, were much steeper than the aerial images made them appear. Score one for the science boys, even the quad bike had trouble with some of the slopes. They were also rocky and pockmarked, twisting an ankle or breaking a leg became a real possibility. She was glad the quad bike was with them, it's fold out trailer would make an effective stretcher if need be. If things really got bad, the Beowulf could come pick them up.
Despite starting early in the day, before it got too warm, she and Dumont were both sweating copiously by the time they reached the next stage. The river looked cool and inviting, but before entering the two of them took the precaution of lashing themselves together with a length of high strength rope. The far end was attached to the quad bike.
Cool didn't begin to describe the river. Coming from the distant mountains, it carried the snow wash off their icy peaks. Dumont yelped as he waded groin deep into the water. James didn't fare much better. In places it was deep, very deep, and more than once she found herself immersed, only her hands holding her rifle high remaining above the surface. It was also flowing much faster than anticipated, and as they waded downstream they found it a constant battle to remain standing. The safety line to the quad bike, shadowing their progress along the bank, was a considerable reassurance.
They travelled down almost as far as the lake. Here the ground was thick with mud, almost a marsh, perfect for the next task. Crawling, flat on the belly like a snake, through the thick, viscous, and still very cold, mud. It also stank, and James was glad the scientists had found no trace of any micro-organism that would pose a threat to them. The area they were crawling through must be absolutely teeming with microbes.
After a hundred meters or so, the ground was mercifully too dry to crawl through any further. Their not quite triangular course now left them almost exactly six kilometres from base camp, and the plan required a steady, brisk walk back home. Of course, that was far too easy for a Pathfinder, so here they had added a twist. For the first klick James would carry Dumont across her shoulders, as if he were a casualty depending on her for evacuation. They'd then swap, him carrying her, changing every kilometre until they got home. She was aware that Dumont got the better of this deal, he was a lot taller and a lot heavier than her, but she was determined to do her part.
The determination wavered somewhat near the end of the third kilometre, gradually replaced by he conviction that she was indeed out of shape, by Pathfinder standards at least. With more than two hundred meters to go before Dumont took over the lifting duties her legs buckled and she nearly dropped him. It was like running into a brick wall. Through sheer willpower she managed two more steps, but then a new problem arose. As carefully as possible under the circumstances she lowered Dumont, bent double, and vomited.
"What are you stopping for? I thought you Pathfinders were supposed to be fit. My mum wouldn't stop, and she isn't in no fancy pants special forces unit. No, she's infantry. Ground forces infantry, the thin red line, the PBI. If she wanted to puke she wouldn't even break stride. I've seen her do it, most impressive. Unlike you two, you're such a disappointment. I thought you'd be something special. I feel ever so let down. My aunty Phillipa could do better and she's a tank commander. She goes to war sitting down, but she'd do better than this."
God, does she ever shut up? James wondered, wiping her mouth with her sleeve. It had seemed such a good idea to invite Professor Partridge to be the pacemaker, although that was more to do with her desire to spend some time with the scientist than any practical consideration. How they'd joked, and laughed, and exchanged suggestive looks when Partridge had promised to 'whip them into shape'. They weren't laughing now. They hadn't expected her to mean it literally, pressing a length of thin electrical cable into service when they slowed. The first couple of times it happened it had been quite funny despite the sudden sting, but the novelty soon wore off. Just before they'd entered the river Dumont had had enough, and told Partridge that under military regulations corporal punishment was not allowed. Partridge had regarded him sternly for a moment, then said that, as a civilian, she was not subject to military regulations. She then had him hold his hands out so she could deliver a blow across the palms.
As she struggled to lift Dumont back onto her shoulders it occurred to James that the opposite was also true, and, as a civilian, Partridge had no power over them. As such they didn't have to put up with her behaviour. It was an illuminating thought, and one she spent a little too long mulling over. The faint hum from the quad bike changed in pitch slightly, which, she knew from bitter experience, meant that the rider had gotten off. There was a slight rattling as the storage compartment was opened.
"Bloody hell Autumn, she's got a sword!" Dumont squealed.
There was a whooshing hiss, then a line of fire ignited across the back of her thighs. She stumbled, managing to twist so that Dumont would land feet first, then dropped to all fours. Every muscle seemed to lock into place, and it was several seconds before she could take any voluntary action. That action was to scream a particularly foul obscenity at the gently swaying grass below her face. As she got her breath back she became aware that Partridge was standing by her, and lifted her head to say, in no uncertain terms, that her services as pacemaker were no longer required.
That intention lasted about half a second, as James remembered why she wanted the Professor here in the first place. Partridge wore one of her typical catsuits, plus a matching corset, both in a very deep red. Her hair was pulled back into a long braid, which, she'd claimed at the start of the journey, made her look 'like a Mord'Sith', whatever that meant. The small black control box for the quad bike was strapped to her left bicep. In one gloved hand she held a fencing foil, which she swished from side to side menacingly. The other hand was on her hip, one finger tapping out a steady rhythm against the corset's edge. One-two-three-four. One-two-three-four. One-two-three-four. She looked down at James with sardonic amusement.
Now this, James thought, is a woman who could get away with murder. Despite herself she chuckled at her predicament, and started to clamber to her feet. Partridge offered her free hand, which James gratefully accepted.
"I didn't over do it did I?" Partridge asked, a sudden concern in her eyes.
"I'll live." James admitted, rubbing the backs of her legs. "Although, I must say, ow! What did you bring a sword for?"
Polly cocked her head. "Do you mean on the landing party or with us today? Well, first of all to practice, though I've not had much chance so far, and secondly to motivate lazy marines when the cable no longer does the trick. Right, have a swig of water, then get a move on." She took a few steps towards the camp, quad bike obediently following her like a puppy.
As she drank from her water bottle James noticed steady movement in the sky. The spare drone had been tasked to keep an eye on them, in case of trouble. Ordinarily it would be flying too high to see. I'll bet they've taken manual control. Dropping it so we can see it, letting us know we're being watched. Yeah, they'll be laughing themselves senseless watching this.
The glassy eyed drone was not the only observer. At the edge of the forest, just deep enough for concealment, a shadowy figure watched with a set of high powered binoculars. Capable of a multitude of active scans they were currently locked into a passive visual only mode. There would be no emissions for the humans to detect. The watcher was outnumbered, and out gunned. It would have to choose it's time carefully.
It watched the three humans with interest. Two were obviously military. They wore armour and carried rifles. The other...the purpose of the other was unclear. It was...what was the term? Female. Yes, female, the humans had two genders, and this one's shape conformed to the notion of female. It had observed the humans since their arrival, taking the utmost care to remain undetected, and this one with it's yellow fur was perplexing. On the first night it had taken on the menial duty of food preparation, yet at other times had seemed to be giving orders. Though not to the uniformed ones, only to those in the varied coverings. Yet now it commanded two of the soldiers, and had been observed striking them. Perhaps it's duties were punitive?
The observer clicked in frustration. This was confusing, and at this range it could make out few details of the humans actions. If only it had stayed in place, watching as they had skirted past the edge of the forest! But no, the risk of discovery was too great, it had retreated deeper for concealment. Still, perhaps by increasing the photonic gain to maximum, it could improve the resolution of the image. It reached for the appropriate knob on the binoculars, but it's gloved fingers were clumsy. Idly it slipped the glove off...
"I don't know whether to pity the corporal or envy her." Tipping drawled, taking a sip of coffee. He was leaning over Hoshi's chair in the Beowulf's cockpit, to get a better view of the display. "Looks like the professor likes to play rough."
In the pilot's seat Mayweather was giggling away. "Oh man, this is comedy gold! Make sure we're recording this, the guys on the Enterprise will not want to miss it."
"Way ahead of you." Sato said. "I've got it rigged so that the official recorder only gets the wide angle images, the standard stuff. All the close up stuff is re-routed to external storage, which I'll physically detach later. It'll be a simple matter to alter the records. As far as the captain will know, every-thing's above board."
"You have a devious mind Lieutenant." Mayweather said.
On the screen the James put Dumont down. It was time for the medic to carry her. Tipping watched their progress for a moment. "I don't think I've ever seen Dumont move that fast. Not even in parachute training. I swear to god he'd free-fall slower than the rest of us."
Mayweather shook his head slowly. "Oh, she's got the sword out again! I can't believe I'm seeing this."
"Maybe you're not." Sato said. "Maybe you're hallucinating. You've not been at the fungus, have you?" The tree fungus Captain Archer had discovered on the first night had been tested thoroughly. It was found to be highly nutritious, a near perfect survival food, were it not for it's mild hallucinogenic qualities.
"Hey, I volunteered for human testing, but Doc Locke refused."
Sato snorted. "He's probably building up a huge stockpile for when his cigarette supply runs out."
Footsteps echoed up the access shaft. Someone was climbing the ladder into the cockpit. Hoshi quickly turned the main display over to the more panoramic surveillance view, and all three put innocent looks on their faces.
"Room for one more?" Captain Archer asked, sticking his head into the cockpit. Tipping moved as far forward as possible, almost sitting on the flight controls, to make room. Archer came in. "So what are you all doing up here?"
"Just keeping an eye on the others sir!" Mayweather blurted nervously. "It's for their own safety!"
Archer looked at him suspiciously. The helmsman was clearly hiding something. He glanced at Tipping, but the marine's countenance gave nothing away. And Hoshi's poker face was legendary. Still, it was fairly obvious what they were hiding. "Don't play games with me." he said wearily. "I know what's going on."
"You do?" asked Mayweather.
"Yes. I do." He turned to Hoshi. "You're running a book aren't you? Gambling on who does best?"
"Damn!" Tipping exclaimed, loudly. Archer turned to him for a second, then back to Sato. "Who's in?"
"Just us three." she said, thinking quickly. "After that business on our first night here I've not had many takers. Me and Mayweather reckon Dumont's going to win, Tipping's got his money on James."
Archer grunted. "As long as it's just you three I'll let it slide. For now." He straightened up, brow furrowing as something caught his eye. "What's this?"
He was gesturing to one of the smaller screens. Hoshi called it up to the main display. A thermal image, a bright red spot glowing just within the forest's edge. "I'm not sure. From it's size it looks like a small animal, maybe one of those ferrekat things."
The watcher moved position slightly, keeping the binoculars trained on the retreating figures. It watched the humans as they left, crawling forward for a better vantage point. As it did so it became aware of something wrong....Ground! Twigs, grass, fallen leaves..pressing directly against it's skin. It's glove was off! It had neglected to replace the garment after adjusting the controls. Foolish! Foolish!
It cast about frantically, desperate to find the missing glove. The camouflage material did it's job too well. The watcher was close to panic when it finally spotted it on the ground. Only once the glove was back in place did it begin to relax. All the same, it decided it had lingered too long. After quickly checking it had all it's weapons and equipment, it turned and began the long trip back to base.
"Huh. Whatever it is, it's gone." Archer said as the red spot faded from view.
"Probably a burrowing animal of some kind." Tipping suggested. "We've seen a few of them. Sudden heat trace as they pop their heads above ground, gone just as quick when they nip back down again."
"There's still so much we don't know about this world." Archer mused wistfully. "A full survey would take years. Even with all our technology, we can only make the most basic of studies."
"But would you want to spend years on just one planet?" Hoshi asked with a smile.
Archer smiled back. "With all the galaxy out there waiting for us? No chance. So much to see, so little time. And on the subject of time, our intrepid wanderers will be returning soon. I better make sure Doctor Locke is ready in case he's needed."
It was only after she was sure the captain had left that Sato turned to the marine. "Quick thinking Tip."
"It's the espionage training, that's what it is. Mind like lightening."
Mayweather was confused. "What are you on about?"
Hoshi shot him a withering glance. "What we are on about, you numskull, is that when someone, for example a ship's captain, thinks you are doing something wrong, but what he thinks you are doing wrong isn't quite as bad as what you are actually doing wrong, it is a bad idea to sigh with relief when he says what it is that he thinks you are doing wrong, and you realise that you are not in as much trouble as you would be if he actually knew what you are doing wrong. Fortunately Tipping here realised that you were about to sigh with relief, and thus give the game away, and said 'Damn' very loudly so the captain wouldn't hear you."
Mayweather considered this carefully. "I have no idea what you are on about." he finally admitted.
"And to think the Admiralty tried to use you as a spy. Thing's must have been pretty damn desperate."
When the marines arrived back in camp they were greeted with applause and cheers. James waved away the attempts to help. There was still one last challenge that needed completing. She and Dumont dragged their way over to a designated area, where Grant stood in wait.
"Prepare for practice fire." the red headed sniper said. Without a word they drew thin connector cables from their wrist computers, plugging them into their weapons' data ports. On the wrist-comp's small screen James could now see the control system for her rifle. She selected the icon for target practice protocols, reducing the weapon's effective output. It shouldn't be needed here, everyone had been informed to stay out of the firing zone, but there was no sense taking risks. Especially with civilians about, they couldn't always be relied upon to do the sensible thing. Besides, the targets wouldn't stand up to full power for long. Grant double checked the rifle's status, then gestured to the firing positions with a brisk nod.
Not even allowed to take off their bulky and heavy back packs, they took their positions overlooking a long, wide area of the plains marked out with red flags. Almost immediately a man sized shape sprang up from concealment in the long grass, about three hundred meters away. In one swift move James shouldered her rifle, squinting through the site, activating the zoom until the target was clearly visible. Humanoid figure, camo uniform, weapon held across it's chest. A 'Musorian', the non-existent race used to represent enemy forces in battle simulations. Placing her cross hairs slightly to the left of the target's centre--to compensate for the breeze, which could affect low powered shots--she squeezed the trigger carefully.
Unlike the real thing the training shots had little noise and less recoil. They moved just as fast though, flashing to the target. A bright spot showed where she had hit, a second one designating Dumont's effort. Both were a little off target, and she compensated with her second round. Closer. She was lining up her third when, just as suddenly as it appeared, the target retracted.
She lowered her rifle, returning the scope's zoom to normal. A second Musorian popped up just a few meters away. As she raised her rifle her thumb flicked the selector switch to three round burst. Her first burst drew a line from groin to chest. Even though armour, that would be bad. But not as bad as the next three rounds, straight to the face.
Even as this target dropped another popped up, right next to it. "Check fire! Check fire!" she yelled, voice hoarse with exertion. Beside her Dumont was shouting the same. Rather than a Musorian this target was a human male, wearing Fleet uniform. It disappeared almost instantly.
Over and over the targets would show, sometimes for a fraction of a second, sometimes much longer. They were, James thought, a useful piece of kit. A piece of memory material, two meters long and a meter wide, wrapped around a roll. A small motor could rapidly force the material through an upwards facing slit, electostatically charging it so it became rigid. There had been a lecture on the workings of the device, but she didn't remember much apart from all the sniggering at the use of the words 'rigid' and 'slit'.
One other factor. The LCD coating could display up to four possible images. Usually pre-programmed, they could be adapted by someone who knew what they were doing. Obviously someone on the landing party did know what they were doing, as James found out when the original target deployed again, and she found Captain Archer on the other end of her scope. Time for another chorus of "Check fire!"
Just to add to the confusion Grant would sometimes bark orders at them. To hold their fire as an enemy popped up. For one to shoot but not the other. To pick a specific one of several targets. To fire on a human in uniform. That wasn't much fun, and they really wished they didn't know why such training was needed.
"OK, make your weapons safe." Grant said as they finished. "That's it, I'll calculate your scores."
"Are we all done?" Partridge asked as they headed back to the Beowulf. "Thanks for letting me take part, it's been such fun!"
"Fun." echoed Dumont hollowly. He could hardly walk.
Partridge rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "You know it's been ages since I took that role. Normally I go the other way."
The marines mulled this over for a few seconds, then continued with increased vigour.
Captain Archer was waiting with a couple of large glasses of water. "Here you go. How was it?"
"Brilliant! We saw ducks!" the professor exploded, clapping her hands together. "Space ducks! Ducks from another world! Down by the lake. Well, obviously not ducks, obviously, but this planet's equivalent. Looked a lot like Aix galericulata. Ducks! And I found bones. Near the river. Looks like the same sort of canine predator you found evidence of. Isn't it strange that we've not seen any sign of them? There's a perfect environmental niche for predators but no trace of them in the last few years. Very odd. And they quacked! The space ducks, not the predators, I don't know what noise they made. Only it wasn't quite a quack, like a quack but more sort of drawn out. Quaaaack! Quaaaaaaaaaack!!"
"Yes, thank you professor." Archer said hurriedly. "I look forward to your report. Why don't you go put the quad bike on charge?"
As she left Archer turned back to the marines and asked again how the excursion had gone.
James sipped her water carefully, resisting the urge to gulp it down. It had the slightly chemically taste of re-hydration powder. Not pleasant, but what she needed. "Well, we've been through worse sir, a whole lot worse, during basic training. All the same...I think we're out of shape."
"Badly." Dumont agreed.
Archer rubbed the back of his neck. "The exercise facilities on Enterprise weren't designed with Pathfinders in mind, only regular troops. If your unit is to remain on board, we'll have to do something about that."
"I think I'd better see the doctor." James said. "I threw up. Probably the exertion, but it'd be stupid not to get checked out."
Dumont nodded. "Right. Wading through the water, crawling through mud...wait a second, you went under a couple of times didn't you? In the river? Did you swallow any of the water?"
"A bit, yeah." she admitted.
Dumont and Archer exchanged glances. "Go to the doctor, now." the captain ordered. "You too Dumont."
"Yes sir." Dumont said.
James didn't speak, but nodded faintly. She lifted her hand to attempt a salute, got half way, then crashed unconscious to the floor.
Nice chapter, Badger. Worth the wait. Especially Polly berating the pair of them. Truly inspired insults.
Great chapter! A little kinky but a great read!
Very good chapter! I was having flashbacks to my days at Benning. Polly was right by the way, it is impressive to watch someone puke without breaking stride, messy, but impressive.
Thanks for your input!
For what it's worth, I've worked out why this is much harder and slower work than 'Broken Bow'. For my first story, I had a pretty good idea how it would all progress and it was just a question of writing it all out. As I did so I would sometimes get ideas for extra bits, or find some elements needed explaining (such as Mayweather and Locke's attitudes). This slowed the writing process down, but (hopefully) meant the final piece was more polished.
With this story though I had a much less detailed concept of how the story would progress. I know what is happening and when, but I'm not so sure as to how to get there. As such I'm relying more upon moments of inspiration to fill in the gaps.
For example, this chapter was inspired by two programmes I saw recently. One a documentary about the USMC and the selection process for Recon. The other an episode of 'Dirty Sanchez' (think a British 'Jackass' only much, much worse) where the lads had to face a Royal Marine training course.
Together those got me thinking of some sort of endurance run by the Pathfinders, and I went from there. Fortunately I was able to tie it in to the main story, so it's not (entirely) filler.
Just a short piece this time.
The surface of Galador III. October 25th, 2151.
"I'm beginning to think you fancy Doctor Locke." Hoshi Sato said with a smirk.
Lying on the camp bed, Autumn James half lifted herself on her elbows. "Fancy Doctor Locke...are you crazy?" Despite her incredulous tone her voice was quiet, ragged.
"Well, think about it. I've only known you a little while, and this is the third time you've required serious medical aide. I reckon you're engineering these situations so you can spend some quality time with him."
James dropped back and stared up at the sloping roof of the tent. "Me. Fancying Locke. Huh. I can't even begin to count the number of ways that is wrong."
Sato smirked. "I'll get Polly, she's good with numbers. Speaking of whom, she's worried sick about you. Actually, I think we all are. It looks like---"
She was interrupted by Captain Archer's voice from out side. "Knock knock! Sorry, I can't actually knock on a tent. Are you decent?"
James pulled up the blanket and nodded to Hoshi, who said "She's fine sir. Come on in."
He poked his head through the flap. "Autumn, how you doing?" he asked, concern evident in his tones.
"I'll survive sir. Just a bit run down, that's all."
"Are you sure? This is a new planet, a new ecosystem. We don't know all the dangers. If you feel anything unusual, it's vital you let us know. Your health may be at risk."
She was shaking her head. "I'm just tired sir. A bit of rest and I'll be back on duty next shift."
That, he thought, sounded reassuring. On the other hand, even if she was unwell, she wouldn't want to admit it, not to him. Marine pride was at stake. "Alright then. If you're feeling OK that's good. It'd be terrible if there were some nasty virus or bug going round. You're in top notch health, you might be able to shake it off. Some of the other members of the survey team might not fare so well. There could be real trouble. But if you're sure you're fine..."
And there it was. A slight hesitation, a momentary flicker in her eyes. "Actually...now I think about it...I do have a bit of a sore throat."
Without announcement Doctor Locke entered, almost bumping into the Captain. "Right. Out of the way, I've got another test to run."
"Another one?" James groaned. "I don't think I've any blood left."
Archer scampered awkwardly out of the way to sit besides Sato on the other bed. "She was just saying she's got a sore throat."
"Which is what I'm going to check now." Locke said, producing a tongue depressor from his bag."Why do people always assume I'm going to be taking blood?"
"You usually do." Hoshi muttered under her breath.
"Now. Open wide...say ah...and again. Yes, yes, this confirms what I suspected." Locke rummaged in his bag for a moment, extracting a small spray. "Open wide again.This should reduce the inflammation." He gave a quick burst into her mouth.
James pulled a face. "Ergh. Horrible. Oh, feels better though."
"You're sounding better too." Hoshi said.
"You should try to remain quiet as much as possible though." Locke said, putting the spray away.
"Is there a risk of further damage?" Archer asked.
"No, I just find her annoying."
Archer leant forward. "So what's the problem? Some sort of virus?"
"No no, nothing like that.From the examination I conducted earlier, plus the results of the blood tests, I was able to conclude that she has been poisoned."
"Poisoned?" Hoshi repeated.
Locke shot her a withering gaze. "That is what I said. A non-organic compound. Corrosive in nature, hence the damage to the throat and mouth. Almost certainly ingested when our intrepid marine attempted to drink an entire river. Fortunately she vomited most of it back up, before it could really get into her system, although what did get in is responsible for her poor state of health at present. I'll give her a shot of inaprovaline after she eats. It'll have to be soup though, no solids for forty eight hours."
James looked at him. "So what was it? The poison?"
He shrugged. "Not sure yet. There wasn't enough left within you to make a full analysis. I'm basing my diagnosis on your symptoms."
Archer stood abruptly. "That's it. I'm recalling the Enterprise."
"Wouldn't that be like telling Commander Hernandez she was right and you were wrong?" Hoshi teased.
"Doesn't matter!" Archer snapped. "One of my crew is injured, that's all that counts. I'm getting her to the facilities on Enterprise as soon as possible, it's not worth the risk."
Locke held his hands up. "Captain, there is no further risk. James' condition is stable, there's nothing I could do for her on the ship that I can't do here."
"John...trust me." Locke said
After a moment Archer nodded, then turned and said "Sorry." to Hoshi.
"It's alright sir." she replied. "Hey, doctor, would it help if you had more of that compound you think is responsible?"
"Certainly. It would help me assess the possibility of any long term health risks. I was thinking of sending a team to collect samples of the river water."
Hoshi bent down. "Well, while they're doing that, you might find something useful here." She held up one of James' boots, still caked with mud.
Locke ventured one of his rare smiles. "Yes. That may help. Good thinking, I'll get started right away." He took the boot and left.
Archer stood silently for a moment. "Right. James, stay here, get some rest, that's an order. I'll go get someone to bring you some soup. And then, I'll have a little chat with the scientists, and find out how this whole sorry mess happened."
I've said it before and I'll say it again - I like this version of Jonathan Archer. Just wish he was played by somebody else. Maybe the fine fellow in my avatar.
Top marks on this chapter Badger.
Good chapter, and good thinking on Hoshi's part.
"no, I just find her annoying"
Yes to all this.
The surface of Galador III. October 25th, 2151.
Having dispatched Crewman Scott to get some soup for Corporal James, Captain Archer stalked purposefully towards the large tent were the scientists had their temporary lab. Angry over the injury to one of his crew, he considered descending upon them like the wrath of a vengeful god. Something had gone badly wrong. He wanted to know why, and he wanted to ensure it didn't happen again.
Within a few steps however he had reconsidered that approach. These people were academics, not used to the disciplines of planetary surveying. Many of them hadn't even been off Earth before, and certainly not to a new, unknown world like this one. It had been the responsibility of UESPA to ensure the safety of the landing party, and they had failed in that task. Archer was not one to shift the blame. As senior officer present, he decided, this was all his fault.
"Oh Johnny!" Professor Partridge wailed as he entered the tent. "This is all MY fault!" She hurled herself at him, sobbing into his chest.
Somewhat taken aback he held his arms wide, not wanting to take inappropriate advantage. "Professor, Professor, calm yourself! I've just spoken to Doctor Locke, Autumn's going to be fine. There's nothing to worry about."
"When she collapsed I was so frightened." she went on, voice muffled by his chest.
He looked around. All the scientists were clearly worried and concerned. "As I say, she just needs a bit of rest and she'll be right as rain. Now take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and calm down. No reason to be upset."
Partridge inhaled with deliberation, held it a moment, then exhaled. At least some of the tension seemed to leave her body. She raised her head and offered a slight smile, the loveliness of which was not diminished by the redness of her teary eyes. The long trail of snot wetly linking her nose and his uniform did detract from the effect, somewhat.
"But things could have gone badly wrong, John. Clearly there's some environmental factor we've missed. I'm in charge of our scientific investigations, I should of caught it. It's all my fault" she repeated.
Archer was silent for a moment, not because of her words, but fixated on the glistening patch on his chest. "Hey, Polly, I'm in charge overall. And I'm the one with practical experience of surveys. And I'm the one---look, does anyone have a tissue?"
There was much slapping of pockets, and Jeff Murry found a handkerchief.
"We can play the blame game," Archer went on, furiously rubbing the wet patch, "but that won't get us anywhere. Let's find out what the problem is, and how we can stop it happening again. OK?" He told them of Locke's conclusions, a corrosive compound in the river water.
"I don't think we actually tested water from that particular river, did we?" Polly asked.
After examining the computer records, one of the scientists, Simon, shook his head. "We did check the lake itself though, and found no trace of anything significant."
Salome Murry leant forward. "There's plenty of life around there, plant and animal. Even fish. Maybe whatever the compound is, it's only present in that one river and when it gets to the lake it's too dilute to do any harm."
"Possible." Polly said, nodding slightly. "Can you show us an aerial view of lake on the big screen?"
Simon said "Ah, not real time. The drones are all back on regular station now."
"That's OK, a recording will do. Do we have access to all their records?"
"Yes," Simon nodded, "we have those."
The big screen worked on a similar principle to the marines' portable targets. Though not as durable, it had a much more effective LCD coating allowing it too show a stunningly realistic image. The lake was in the centre, taking up nearly half the screen. It was fed by two large rivers and one smaller one, with a single wide river flowing away to the south.
"Now this is the one the marines went paddling in." Partridge said with a sniffle, highlighting the small river with a laser pointer.
"There's a lot less water coming from that one than either of the others." Salome said. "That supports the hypothesis that the compound is diluted to a safe level when it enters the lake. And look. There's a lot less plant life along the banks of that river than around the others."
One of the other scientists, Trevor, shook his head. "I tested the lake samples myself. There's not a trace of anything in there. Not a trace. Unless you're suggesting homoeopathic poisoning...that can't be it."
"What about the plant life?" Archer asked.
Trevor shrugged. "Could be other factors. Those two big rivers move slowly along the plains, that little one runs quickly from the mountains. The terrains different, a lot rockier, possibly not as fertile."
"The mountains..." Partridge muttered, rubbing her chin. "Simon, those drones have thermal imaging capability. Can you show us the heat signature?"
The image changed to shades of grey. The land was bright, warmed by the afternoon sun, the lake a little darker. It would be refreshing to swim in without being too chilly, Archer thought. Assuming it was safe to swim in at all. The three large rivers where of a similar temperature. In contrast the smaller one was a cold dark ribbon wending it's way through the landscape. As it entered the lake the darkness blurred and brightened till it matched the warmth of it's surroundings.
"That may be significant. This little river...we can't go on calling it that, it's a boring name. What shall we call it?"
"The Polly river?" Archer suggested wryly.
"Oh, we can't name everything we discover after me, maps would get so confusing."
"Alright then, how about the Autumn river? After all, she did do the most intense investigation of it so far."
The professor nodded. "Yeah, I suppose in a way she did discover it. Plus, it's small and dangerous, just like her. The Autumn river it is. So, the Autumn flows into the lake at this point here." She gestured with the pointer. "Very close to this big one. The freezing cold mountain water is rapidly heated till it reaches the average for the lake. So what if our mystery compound has a very low evaporation point? Considering the difference in temperature it could turn to vapour in seconds, dissipating in the breeze."
"That makes sense." Salome said, nodding slowly. "Cold, it's dangerous, warm, it's harmless. That'd explain the reduced plant life along the Autumn river. The stuff's still in it's dangerous state then."
"It's supposition," Polly admitted. "But it does fit the facts. We'll have to investigate further. I must admit, I'm fascinated. A compound with these properties is quite intriguing. I suggest that we amend out planned trip to the mountains to include a search for the source of the river. Finding the origin of this substance would be most illuminating."
Archer thought about this. "It'd mean a change to our planned route," he said, "but nothing too drastic."
"Damn it!" Polly suddenly snapped."I'm supposed to be clever, I should have realised something was wrong when she said her eyes were stinging."
"When was this?" Archer asked.
"Just after she crawled out of the water. She'd been under two, maybe three times by then. I had a look, and they were a bit red. I should have got medical aid then."
"Quite right, you should have." came a disembodied voice from outside. "But you did at least wash her eyes out with clean water from a bottle. That probably saved her sight."
Archer said "Have you taken up eavesdropping, Phil?"
"It's a tent. Tents don't have eaves."
"You know what I mean."
Locke poked his head in. "I'm smoking. As a rule people seem to get agitated if I smoke inside, so I'll wait out here. Now, I'm running some tests of my own, if any of you ivory tower dreamers believe you can make any sort of contribution, the results will go up on the local net shortly. But don't let me stop you from blundering to your own conclusions. Good day to you." And with that, he withdrew.
"He's a very rude man." Salome observed.
"True, but he did stay outside to smoke." Polly said. "Impeccable manners, by his standards."
"Right," Archer said, "we have a plan. Once Autumn's well enough to return to duty, we'll go on a little trip up river to see if we can find the source of this mystery chemical. Right now though...I'm going to go get my jacket washed."
That was both mundane and a pleasure to read. Practical matters of exploration are so often overlooked-and you told it in a sensible manner.
Yes, Johnny, do get your jacket washed. You need to take better care of your belongings in the future, Captain. It's got snot all over it.
This any good?
Head's too big, coloring is off, and in any case that's hardly the best pic of the man. But there are always possiblities.
UES Enterprise. Orbiting Galador V.
October 25th, 2151.
There was an observation window in the outer bulkhead of the captain's office, small and round like an ancient nautical porthole. With the Enterprise in low orbit over Galador V, all that could be seen was the gas giant's night side, inky blackness with the faintest hint of deep blue cloud. The view was less than inspiring, but Commander Hernandez forced herself to look outwards. She was not, she knew, the most patient of people, and didn't want to pressurize Commander Tucker by breathing down his neck as he read the report from the landing party. The question she wished to ask would be unwelcome, and it would be unwise to antagonise him pointlessly before hand.
In the reflection of the view port she could see him reading the pad closely. Despite his intelligence his mouth moved slightly as he read, probably a deliberate affectation, she decided. At least, she hoped so. The idea that the ship's chief engineer couldn't keep his mouth still whilst reading was disquieting, to say the least. Next to Tucker Major Reed was also perusing the message. His mouth, Hernandez noted with some relief, was still.
"I'm sorry t'hear 'bout Corporal James, Malky." Tucker eventually said, putting his pad down.
"Thank you sir. But she's a tough little thing, she'll pull through."
Trip nodded. "And, o'course, they've got Doc' Locke down there with 'em. His bedside manner may be abysmal, but he's prob'ly the best there is."
Reed sighed with relief. "That's reassuring."
Hernandez turned and sat in the chair across the desk from them. "Commander Tucker. I have a question for you, and I'd appreciate it if you think very carefully about the answer. Don't just give me your first response, I already know what that would be. Please consider the matter carefully."
"Commander, I need to know..." She paused, trying to find the best way to phrase it. "I need to know, is Corporal James at any risk?"
A confused expression crossed Tucker's face. He glanced at Reed, perplexed, then back to Hernandez. "Errr...ma'am, I'm no doctor. I can't make heads nor tails of the medical lingo Locke's using. But he seems to think she's fine. We can get Millington from sickbay to have a look at the report---"
"Or my medic, Dent." Reed helpfully put in.
Hernandez waved their comments away. "That's not what I meant. Ah, how to put this...Look, before Captain Archer set off, he and I had a disagreement as to...the wisdom of the mission. I thought it would be safer if Enterprise remained in orbit during the survey, the captain thought they could do without us."
Tucker said "I remember."
"Right. Well here's the problem. If someone has been hurt, that could be seen as proving that I was right and he was wrong. I know the report says that Corporal James will recover fully, and Enterprise is to remain here and carry out our mission, but is there any possibility, any chance at all, that Captain Archer is downplaying this incident?
"You mean James could be hurt a lot worse than they say, and the captain's sendin' misleading messages out of, what, pride? A desire t' save face?" Tucker retorted angrily. He half rose from his seat.
"Commander!" Hernandez barked. Tucker caught himself and sat back down. He picked up his pad and scrutinised it again. Not, Hernandez realised, because he thought great insight lay within. It was a prop, a barrier he could place between them.
After a few moments he put the pad back down. "Ma'am, after due an' careful consideration, I have t' say my answer is the same. No. There is no chance of tha' happenin'."
Reed asked "So if someone was badly hurt, he'd recall Enterprise back to the planet?"
"Nope. Wouldn't be quick 'nuff for him. He'd bundle 'em into the shuttle, blast off as fast as were safe, an' signal us to meet 'em at the quickest rendezvous point."
"To be honest that's what I expected." Hernandez said, pinching the bridge of her nose. "But I don't want to leave things to chance, not where lives are concerned. Well, it looks like the survey team are all safe for now."
"Most of them." Reed said wryly.
Tucker turned to him. "What do you mean?"
Reed lifted his pad. "According to this Dumont was with James when she was poisoned. He's a team medic, should have spotted something was up. I reckon he's got a pretty major beasting in the near future."
"Yeah. Beasting, you know. Beating, drubbing, kicking, doing over...not serious, nothing that'll put him out of action or leave scars. Just a little reminder to pay more attention to his job in future."
"Now tha' sounds a bit harsh." There was disapproval in Tucker's voice.
"Oh it is. That's the point. Wouldn't be worth doing if it was all nice and fluffy. But it's good for a couple of reasons. First, he messed up, so it's got to be dealt with. We can either deal with it officially or unofficially...." He trailed off.
"Don't mind me, I'm not listening to this at all." Hernandez said. If it was a regular UEMA matter she'd have insisted on going by the book, but she knew that Special Forces had their own way of doing things. Besides, she'd been on the Enterprise long enough to develop a certain amount of flexibility.
"Right. Well. Going officially means a black mark against his name in the records, plus a shed load of extra paper work for me. Both of which are undesirable, so we keep things in house. Obviously if it were a really major matter we'd have to deal with it properly, but for something like this we can stay off the record. The other reason, it will make him feel better."
Hernandez and Tucker exchanged glances. "Some sort of masochist thing?" the first officer asked cautiously.
Reed chuckled. "Not quite. He's a medic. He let one of his team mates get injured. Didn't even realize. He's probably feeling pretty guilty about that, letting the side down. He'll be looking for, well, redemption isn't the right word but it's close enough."
"What, an' gettin' beaten up's goin' to help?"
"It can't hurt. Well, actually it can hurt. A lot. But it's....penance. That's the word I was looking for. You take a beasting, you pay your penance, you learn your lesson, and you get on with it. The matter's dealt with and everyone's happy. At least they will be when the bruises heal. Do you see this?" He leant towards Tucker, pointing to his ear lobe.
"Yeah..." Tucker said. There was a faint red scar on the lobe.
Reed sat back. "I fell asleep once on sentry duty. It was during a training exercise, and we weren't attacked or anything. So we got away with it. Nobody knew but me, and for a few days I kept quiet, but the guilt sort of bubbled up. So first chance I got, I got the rest of my squad and took 'em to a bridge near our camp. I told them what happened. I then took a big, barbed fishing hook from my survival kit..."
"Ow." said Tucker. He could see where this was going.
"Yep. Pushed it right through the lobe. Stung a bit too."
Hernandez winced. "So what's the significance of the bridge?"
"Glad you asked me that." Reed grinned. "It had been repaired recently, and there were still a few of the old concrete blocks lieing around. I took one, attached it to the hook with some really strong line, walked out to the centre of the bridge and---" He mimed tossing a heavy object out in front of him.
Tucker rubbed his forehead. "D'ya have to be insane t' join the marines?"
"No sir. You can be sane as you like in the regulars. And for the Pathfinders, we prefer the term fearless."
Hernandez chuckled. "Fearless, eh? Well I know, for a fact, that there's at least one thing on this ship that frigh---"
The intercom whistled for attention. "Commander Hernandez, bridge." came Lt. Moshiri's voice.
Hernandez lifted the desk's handset. "Hernandez here."
"Ma'am, could you come to the bridge please? We've made a couple of...discoveries."
"Looks like a mix of plasma burns, blunt force trauma and explosive decompression." Hernandez said softly. "Followed by years in a vacuum. All those small bits of ragged debris drifting around in there can't have helped. Unless we can find dog tags we're going to have to get a DNA sample to identify the body. Hell, I can't even tell if it's a man or a woman."
She straitened up from the drone control console and pinched the bridge of her nose, suddenly weary, before muttering a quick prayer for whomever it was that they had found.
Reed leant in to see the display. Almost instantly he pulled back with a grimace. "Poor bastard. That's no way to go."
"OK, where is this, Kaufman?" Hernandez asked.
The sensor specialist tapped a control, bringing a schematic of Destroyer D-11 on to the screen. Several parts were highlighted red, for extreme damage, whilst other sections were missing entirely. A bright green light pulsed rhythmically near the aft. "We've managed to get a drone into the engineering section ma'am. So far we've only been able to access this compartment. There are four others, all larger. There may be other...other bodies, in those."
"Engineering..." Hernandez said. "Is there any way to get the body out of there?"
"Ah, not at the present ma'am. To get the drone in there, I had to retract the arms and fly in through one of the thruster tubes. It had ruptured internally, probably in the battle." Kaufman thought for a moment. "There's not enough room to fly out with...cargo, ma'am. Of course, I'll keep looking for other routes. And we may be able to cut our way through."
"Alright Mr. Kaufman, carry on. So, you said you had two discoveries?" she said, turning to Moshiri.
The navigator looked grim. "Yes ma'am, and it's not good news. I've gone over the computations several times. The orbit of the D-11 is decaying, rapidly. Two, three weeks. A month at the most. And then..."
Hernandez swore. "So much for leaving the bodies where they are for later repatriation. Ladies, gentlemen, I need ideas. Find a way to stabilise the orbit. I didn't come all this way to fail now."
Moshiri leant closer. "The engineering section. Didn't you say you had a friend who worked there?" she asked quietly.
"Nuyen, yes. I have no idea if it's his remains we found, or if he's in one of the other compartments, or if his body is even onboard still. But I swear Haleh. I swear I'm not letting it end like this."
Well done, Badger. Another great chapter.
Yes, very well done. Keep it up!
Separate names with a comma.