Author: Brendan Chris
Acting Captain Taylor Virgii took in a deep breath of fresh air as he stood at the peak of a small hill. Further down, Dr. Strobnick and Lt. Mytim were walking around taking careful readings with their tricorders. Several other minor, lesser crewmembers (or minions, as part of Virgii’s mind was beginning to think of them) were assisting.
“Ship is secure!” Lt. Boxer said happily, tongue lolling out of his mouth as he jogged up to Virgii’s side, “Nobody’s going to get on board without me knowing about it!”
“Probably because there is nobody here, Lieutenant,” Virgii said crisply. Boxer’s ears drooped slightly.
“Yeah, but if they were here, they wouldn’t!” Boxer replied. His left foot was starting to jump.
“Oh, go on already,” Virgii grimaced, gesturing to the virgin meadow to the west of their landing zone. With a happy bark, Boxer dropped to all fours and starting running at full speed towards the meadow, then stopped dead center, looking around and sniffing.
“What about you, Lieutenant,” Virgii said, turning to Lieutenant Laarthi, “Would you care to frolic as well?”
“I’m really not the frolicking type, thank you very much,” Laarthi replied. She was walking carefully around the Roadrunner’s port landing leg and staring up at the extension mechanism. She’d been studying the specs on the ship, now that she’d been forced into the position of Chief Engineer. But she still didn’t understand how half of the systems on the damned ship worked. “That being said, I’d love the chance to get away from this mechanical monstrosity for a few days and just…enjoy the beauty of nature.”
“That sounds a lot like frolicking,” Virgii replied.
Laarthi looked in Boxer’s direction, where the canine officer had unzipped his fly in order to urinate on an interesting looking tree.
“There are differences,” she said curtly.
“As long as you don’t chain yourself to any of the local foliage,” Virgii commented, referring to the incident when he and Laarthi first met.
“I’ll try to restrain myself,” Laarthi spat back, her words nearly a hiss.
There was silence for a few moments.
“They’re too thin,” Virgii said suddenly.
“Beg your pardon?”
“The landing legs,” he gestured, “The ones supporting the main hull. They’re too thin. They make the ship look…undignified. And Virgii’s Law…uh,” he pulled a padd off his belt, “Virgii’s Law #221 clearly states that all Federation kit must present itself in a professional manner,”
“So you want me to do what, exactly?”
“I don’t know, you’re the engineer. Just fix it!”
Confident that his leadership and direction would set Laarthi on the right path (and not noticing the look of death she shot in his direction), Virgii moved down the hill to further motivate his people.
“Fairly ordinary planet,” Mytim reported, the look she directed in Virgii’s direction a calculated mix of boredom and confidence, meant to imply that the current work was somewhat beneath her, “Flora only, no fauna to speak of. No pollinating insects, which is a bit strange. Stranger still, I can find absolutely no signs of any form of bacteria or micro-organism whatsoever,”
“And yet the soil is fertile?”
Mytim allowed her eyelids to lower slightly is contempt.
“I don’t have to explain it, I simply report it,” she said crisply.
“Wrong,” Virgii answered, “You’re the science officer! Do it…with science!”
Taking a very careful, very deep breath, Mytim willed her body to relax, before she did something unfortunate, like cause Virgii’s head to explode.
Nobody else aboard the Roadrunner knew it yet, but on her last planetary visit, Mytim had been present at the death of a somewhat unusual alien. What was even more unusual was that as it died, the alien had transferred some kind of power to her. She couldn’t explain exactly what it was, even after she spent two days in the science lab with every conceivable sensor pointed at her body. But it seemed like…magic.
And she was still learning to control it.
Even as she struggled to reign in her anger at Virgii, she caught the smell of smoke. Looking down, she saw a perfect circle of singed ground spreading from her feet.
“Do you smell that?” Virgii wondered, looking around.
Mytim concentrated hard, pushing her energy, whatever it was, into the burnt ground around her feet. Within seconds, and just before Virgii looked down, fresh, green grass had replaced the singed blades.
“Nope,” Mytim said calmly, “I don’t smell a thing,”
With the planet declared safe, the twenty-some crew of the Roadrunner fanned out from the ship, searching for edible plants, fresh water, interesting mineral deposits or anything else that might help them on their trip. Laarthi and Mytim had been more than a little surprised when Virgii had ordered the ship into a landing approach to the planet, seeing as how his insufferable laws seemed to prevent them from doing anything but flying towards Federation space in a straight, boring line.
“We’ll be passing within a light-year of star system E332-665-B34,” Dr. Strobnick had reported from the navigational panel, “Sensors?”
“Lt. Mytim, sensors?” Virgii prompted from the center chair.
“Sensors are operating within normal parameters,” Mytim replied, not turning from her panel, “And are fully available from the navigation console,”
“Yes, but it’s your job to fill us in,” Virgii said.
“It’s not his job to order me around,” Mytim replied calmly.
“No, but it’s mine,” Virgii reminded her, “Sensors?”
Glaring at his reflection in the panel, Mytim closed the demonology file she’d been reading (something from the fiction database…at least she was fairly sure it was fiction) and brought up the sensor scans of the system.
“Six planets, one M-Class, no signs of civilization or intelligent life,” she said.
Virgii pulled out a padd.
“No warning beacon?” he asked.
“No,” Mytim replied.
“No subspace ripples?”
“Um…warp trails? Plasma exhaust residue?”
“No, and no,”
“Tetryon particle residue?”
“NO!” Mytim snapped, “What are you DOING?”
“Checking off Virgii’s Law’s,” he said, showing her the padd. On it was a seemingly endless list of laws, each with a little checkbox next to it, “Now, if you want to be finished before we pass by the system, we need to get cracking!”
“The system is still several hours away,” Lt. Laarthi pointed out from the helm, taking her turn piloting the ship.
“Exactly,” Virgii said, “We’ll be hard pressed to get through the whole list! Why, we haven’t even started with the active scan question yet!”
Laarthi and Mytim exchanged a look.
“There is no way he’s going to let us stop,” Mytim thought to herself.
Which somewhat explained why the girls were surprised to find themselves walking around on the planets’ surface. The Roadrunner still had adequate fuel and replicator mass stores to last them for some time, but fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, berries and water could all be stored for a fraction of what it cost to replicate them. That, and in a rare moment of common sense, Virgii seemed to realize that after weeks spent on ship, his people really needed to get out for a spell.
Or maybe, just maybe, the mind-control spell Mytim had started chanting after the first hour of checking the planet against Virgii’s Laws had some effect. OK, she didn’t have the ingredients the strange spellbook she’d found had called for, and she hadn’t used a sacred circle as a casting tool, but she sure as hell had been focusing her mind on bending Virgii’s will. So maybe instead of getting control over his brain, she just managed to…push it…a little?
She shook her head. No, if she’d believed for a minute that she could control his mind she never would have tried it. That was an ethical puzzle she just wasn’t willing to deal with. Still, muttering the nonsense words over and over again while picturing Virgii as her willing slave had helped get her through the rest of her shift.
What she really needed instead of attempts at mind-control was a calming potion. Another handy little recipe she’d found in that book. She didn’t pretend to understand how the book was in Standard English, considering she’d found it thousands of light-years from Earth, nor did she know how exactly the blob aliens would have any idea what motherwart or mandrake was. She just sort of assumed the book was responding to her. Of more pressing concern was the fact that she barely had enough replicator rations to eat comfortably, never mind replicating a veritable spice rack of herbs, roots, animal body parts and assorted spell ingredients.
Hmmm. But there was a funny-looking plant over there that smelled a lot like Rosemary. Grabbing a sample baggy, Mytim decided that this empty little planet was the perfect place for a little experimentation.
“Boxer? BOXER? Here boy!” Laarthi called, wandering along the tree line next to Boxer’s little meadow, “Where is that stupid dog?” she grumbled.
After about an hour or so of wandering alone though a forested area less than a kilometre away from the ship, Laarthi had felt calmer and more relaxed than she’d felt in weeks. Her mind, so occupied with technical manuals and ship maintenance and assorted other crap that she’d been trying to dig through as Chief Engineer, was releasing its tension and finally emptying enough that she could think clearly about something other than dilithium crystal recrystalization techniques. Granted, she really didn’t want to think about the fact that they were years from Federation space or that their small, fragile ship might be blown to pieces before they could even begin to cross that distance.
Laarthi had stopped under a massive, arching alien tree with purplish branches and bluish leaves, stretched out in the shade and just let her entire mind go blank. That lasted for about fifteen minutes before she started wondering what Starfleet could be doing to bring them back, if only they knew. After all, following the whole Voyager and Aerostar fiascos there’d been a new interest in researching ways for a ship to cross a great distance, even research into old technologies that had been previously deemed ‘unsafe’. If only they could talk to Starfleet!
Which led to the somewhat strange realization that the Roadrunner HAD tried to contact Starfleet. And that she and Boxer had sabotaged the attempt, fearing that whoever had sabotaged the ship and sent them into this part of space to begin with was still on board. Which was smart, since it turned out that they had been. But she’d since seen the saboteur blasted out Boxer’s window.
So why hadn’t they tried contacting Starfleet again?
Which led to Laarthi now searching for her flea-bitten partner.
She stopped sniffing the air. What was that? It smelled almost like…almost like…”
“Do NOT go in there,” Boxer said cheerfully as he stepped out of the bushes, doing up his belt and tucking a magazine padd into a pocket.
“There are TOILETS on the ship for a REASON!” Laarthi hissed, “You may have just permanently contaminated this pristine environment with your…bacteria and micro-biota!”
“What, I thought you of all people would enjoy the chance to get back to nature,” Boxer replied, “Living off the land, sleeping outside, wiping your backside with leaves,”
“I’m surprised you didn’t use your TONGUE!”
With a growl and a bark, Boxer lunged at Laarthi, who darted away deftly and started sprinting across the meadow. Boxer quickly pursued her, barking loudly. They scrambled across the meadow and into a group of trees. Laarthi dodged around them with lightning speed, Boxer barely keeping up.
“Should we stop them?” Crewman Bilings asked, looking concerned as Laarthi emerged from a group of bushes and darted left. Boxer plowed right through, sending leaves and branches flying. He stood there for a moment, panting and sniffing as he looked around. In seconds, he’d locked onto Laarthi’s scent and bolted after her.
“My no, they’re having a grand time,” Virgii waved his hand, “Just don’t expect me to get the cat out of the tree,”
“They’re smarter than that,” Billings laughed. He stopped, then swallowed, ‘Um, aren’t they? Sir?”
Ten minutes later, Virgii, Billings and Mytim were gathered under a large oak-like tree.
“I’m serious, this isn’t funny!” Laarthi snapped, clinging desperately to a thick branch nearly twenty feet off the ground, “I’m…I’m not so good with heights!”
“Then maybe you shouldn’t have climbed up there, Lieutenant,” Virgii said calmly.
“One does not apply logic when one is being chased by a growling, drooling BEAST!”
“I was just playing,” Boxer said sheepishly, his eyes down and his tail between his legs, “I didn’t mean anything by it. Honest! “
Laarthi hissed, her teeth bared and her ears flicked back.
“You don’t have to be a poor sport about it,” Boxer mumbled.
“I think we have a pair of anti-grav boots back at the ship,” Billings said, scratching his head.
“No need,” Virgii said confidently, “Virgii’s Law 102: Crewmembers will better themselves by facing their darkest fears.”
Laarthi informed him which of her dark places he could face.
“I’m going to let that go on account of your…situation,” Virgii said, “Now then, I have work to do. I’m quite confident that you’ll climb down on your own when you’re ready to do so. Mr. Billings, Mr. Boxer, we have supplies to collect.”
“I, uh, gotta talk to Laarthi about the ventral phaser arrays,” Boxer said quickly, “I think one of them looks a little corroded,”
“Oh very well,” Virgii rolled his eyes, “But be quick about it!”
Night was beginning to fall on the planet as the last group of crewmembers hauled their finds up the gangway and into the Roadrunner’s cargo hold. Several varieties of edible plants had been found and were being packed into stasis bins, the freshwater tanks were being topped up and one group had even found a small patch of ore that could be re-processed into duranium. All in all, it was a pretty successful stop. With a couple of minor exceptions.
“And where do you think you’re going, Lieutenant?” Virgii demanded, stopping Mytim as she walked down the gangway, a compact standard-issue rucksack on her back.
“I, uh, thought I’d do a little astronomy while I had the chance,” she said, “After all, how often do I have the chance to work from a fairly stationary object?” That was a flat out lie, she really wanted a bit of privacy and a bit of space. But somehow she doubted Virgii would like that answer. Virgii didn’t look like he was buying it.
“Humorous,” Mytim muttered, discreetly snapping open a packet of ground-up plant parts and letting their scent fill the air.
Virgii blinked as a sense of pleasure surged through him.
“I like that idea,” he said, smiling, “Just make sure you don’t wander too far,”
“Whatever you like, sir,” Mytim smiled, then rushed off into the darkness.
“You don’t have to sit here,” Laarthi said, “I’m perfectly fine on my own. This branch is actually very comfortable,”
“It’s my fault,” Boxer replied, curled up as he was against the trunk of the tree, “Do you want to try moving again? You’re already a meter closer to the ground than you were before, and it’s pretty dark out now,”
“There’s nothing out here that’s going to get us,” Laarthi said, “Not even bugs. Which, you know, is still really strange.”
“Why were you looking for me before, anyway?” Boxer asked suddenly.
Oh. Right. There had been a reason behind her seeking out that mutt.
“Why didn’t we try to contact Starfleet after we blew the saboteur out your window?”
“Oh! Because the nano-techy fabrication thing is still working on replacement crystals. They don’t just grow overnight,” Boxer replied.
“But if we could find some naturally-occurring resonance crystals, we could get the nav- deflector reconfigured to send a message, right?”
“That’s a lot harder than it sounds,” Boxer said, “I mean, I can’t just sniff them out, you know.” He started sniffing. “Hey, do you smell that? I think it’s mushrooms!”
“I like mushrooms!” Boxer said happily, sniffing around the base of the tree, “I swear, there weren’t any here before!” He quickly identified the source of the scent, a small patch of greyish- green nodules growing out of the ground.
“They smell great!” he said.
“I don’t think you should….you did,” Laarthi rolled her eyes as Boxer quickly wolfed down his find, “If you start hallucinating, don’t expect me to do anything about it!”
“I don’t. You’re stuck in a tree,” Boxer said, perfectly serious.
“Dogs,” Laarthi rolled her eyes.
Less than a kilometre away, Mytim had found a small clearing in the woods, a path of starry sky directly above and a flat patch of grassy ground below. She setup a small light, then laid out her spellbook and the selection of ingredients she’d managed to collect on the planet. She’d changed out of her uniform and now wore a simple, black dress. She pulled her hair out of its Starfleet bun and let it fall to her shoulders. OK. First things first. She selected a flowing, rose- like plant that she’d found and set it on the ground, then proceeded to draw a circle around herself. That was one thing the book was very clear on; circles were important for focusing your power.
“Practice technique #4,” she read from the book, “Levitate the rose, then carefully pluck each petal. This will help you develop your concentration and control.” She frowned. “I could swear I saw this in an old television show once,”
She focused on the plant, which really didn’t look like a rose after all now that she thought about it, but that wasn’t particularly relevant, and concentrated. After a moment, it slowly hovered into the air.
Mytim gulped, the surprise of it all almost breaking her focus. Yes, she’d seen and read about a lot of very strange abilities over her career, but this was really taking the cake. At least she didn’t have the weird, silver-eyes thing going on like those poor, crazy people that came back from the galactic barrier.
Now, to carefully, carefully, pluck each petal from the-
There was a brief flash of light as the flower burst into flames, then disintegrated.
“Not exactly a good sign,” she said.
“No, I still don’t want to climb down!” Laarthi snapped, her arms still wrapped around the branch, “I’m perfectly comfortable right here! Stop badgering me!”
“Badger? Where?” Boxer started looking around. “Are you teasing me again?”
Laarthi glared at him.
“I have an idea,” he said, “It worked for one of my classmates at the Academy when we were using the climbing wall,”
“Oh really. Was he a squirrel?”
“Don’t be silly, then I would have ate him. Why?”
“Because the only animals meant to climb trees are squirrels!” Now Laarthi was getting a bit agitated.
“Just trust me on this,” Boxer said, climbing up the tree. He quickly reached Laarthi’s level, then tied a strip of fabric over her eyes.
“Brilliant move, now I can’t see!” she snarled as Boxer climbed back down to the ground.
“Exactly. Now, reach out to the left with your left hand. There’s a branch there.”
“My climbing partner hated heights,” Boxer said, “But when we practiced climbing blindfolded, he did great!”
Laarthi hesitated. After a moment, she worked her left hand free of the branch and flailed out, grasping the next one over in a death grip.
“Now reach down and to the right with your right foot.
Again, Laarthi struggled to work up the nerve to free her right leg, then flailed for the foothold.
“Good, now stand on that branch and get yourself turned around.”
This time, the delay was shorter, her movements a little less panicked.
Step by step, Boxer walked her though the climb down, until Laarthi’s left foot finally touched solid ground. She dropped, then tore the blindfold off.
“Remind me never to do that again!” she said.
“Never do that again,” Boxer replied, deadpan.
“Wanna go looking for crystals?” Boxer asked, the incident apparently already dismissed, “There’s a cave not far from here!”
“It’s dark out. Shouldn’t we go back to the ship?”
“We will. Eventually. But let’s go check it out!”
“Well, apparently I have an affinity for the fire-spirits,” Mytim sighed, staring at the slowly rotating ball of flames she conjured into existence. Granted, the fact that she’d created a flaming, sparking orb nearly a meter in diameter was impressive, and she was more than a bit disturbed by the amount of effort it was taking to keep the thing going.
But the damned thing was supposed to be a ball of ice.
This was her fourth spell, and the only improvement she could detect was that so far this one hadn’t exploded.
“What are you doing?” a voice asked.
Mytim started, the flaming ball flashing briefly before going out. She blinked, her eyes dazzled by the light and trying to adjust to the darkness outside.
“Who’s there?” she demanded.
“This is highly irregular. I best go get Captain Virgii!”
“No!” she exclaimed. Panicking, Mytim flailed out at the intruder, not entirely sure what she intended, but intent on stopping whoever it was from ratting her out. There was a brief spark of power and she suddenly had a sense of…of connection. She could feel the other crewmember, knew it was someone she knew, but in her panic she concentrated only on erasing this incident from his mind, from preventing him from spreading her secret. As quickly as it started, the moment was over.
Her eyes were finally clearing enough for her to recognize Dr. Strobnick.
“Good day, madam,” he said pleasantly, “Who are you?”
“Lieutenant Mytim,” she said, trying to regain her composure, “We serve together on the Roadrunner.
“How nice.” Strobnick nodded, “And who am I?”
Mytim blinked. This was potentially bad.
“We’re almost there!” Boxer said, leading Laarthi through yet another thick group of bushes not far from the Roadrunner’s landing zone, “Maybe we’ll get lucky!”
“Right,” Laarthi looked around nervously. Her night vision was excellent, but she still had to keep reminding herself that on a planet completely devoid of fauna, there is no way that bush over there could be shaking because something very large was trying to sneak in close enough to eat them.
“Here we are!” Boxer announced, gesturing towards a dark hole in a rock wall, “The tricorder can’t tell if there are any of those fancy crystals we need, but it does say that there are some strange mineral deposits. We’ll know when we get in closer,”
They eased into the cave, the dim light from Boxer’s tricorder just enough for Laarthi’s sharp eyes to see what was around them. Wait, no it wasn’t. But there was a greenish glow coming from around the corner in the cave up ahead!
Laarthi moved forward and found herself entering a chamber. The ceiling, the walls and even patches of the floor were covered by some sort of creeping plant. The leaves glowed dully; the greenish-bluish light of bioluminescence.
“Very pretty,” Boxer said, “Here, come take a look at this,” he was gesturing towards a thick cluster of vines.
“Hold on,” Laarthi squinted, seeing something in the distance. The light was glinting off something further down another tunnel. She snapped off a section of vine, failing to notice the look of fury that Boxer shot in her direction. Holding the glowing leaves in front of her, she wandered down the passage.
“Fossils!” she exclaimed, examining the cave wall. Thousands of tiny shells, worm shapes and various other dead, preserved living things lined the wall from floor to ceiling. She pulled out her own tricorder and started tapping away.
“Very nice, now come look at this!” Boxer called from the main chamber.
“No sign of any kind of cataclysmic event in the rock stata,” she said, tapping away, “But of course we’re not very deep…but if there are fossils this shallow, then clearly this planet did support animal life…and recently!”
She didn’t notice Boxer walking up slowly behind her.
“I wonder what happened to it all?”
With a sharp move, Boxer struck Laarthi on the back of the head. The feline officer collapsed to the rocky floor without so much as a sound.
“I told you, you really have to see this!” Boxer exclaimed as he dragged her body back towards the waiting cluster of vines.
“OK Dr. Strobnick, are you ready to try again?” Mytim asked.
“Just…sit there quietly. And don’t look at me while I work!”
Mytim ran a finger down the page of her spellbook, which was currently turned to the chapter on ‘Intellectual and Memorial Charms & Curses’. She still wasn’t exactly sure how she’d managed to erase Strobnick’s memory, or even whether she’d actually erased it or just blocked his access to it. But luckily she’d located a memory enhancement spell that had (she hoped) a good chance of making everything all better.
What she didn’t have was the proper ingredients. She didn’t have any Nightshade flowers, she didn’t have any wolf’s teeth and she didn’t even know what a Daedra heart was. What she did have was a funny-looking flower from a plant that had started blooming after sunset, a replicated tiger fang and the heart of a plant that looked something like an artichoke.
“I really do wonder how it is I managed to walk out of the ship and wander around the place in the dark without my memory,” Strobnick was saying to himself, “I mean, does that sound smart to you? It doesn’t sound smart to me. Was I smart?”
“You managed to get us lost years from home thanks to your…difficulties…in working with the quantum slipstream drive,” Mytim muttered, too distracted to keep her ‘cool & disciplined’ facade completely together.
“Well that doesn’t sound very smart at all, does it?” Strobnick mused, “It wasn’t a measurement conversion thing, was it? That strikes me as the height of stupidity,”
“I am sure I don’t know,” Mytim replied, trying for a moment to be pleasant. Damned right it was a conversion thing. But if that was popping into Strobnick’s head, then that was a good sign. Wasn’t it?
She carefully arranged the flower petals around the fang, then squeezed the quasi-artichoke heart until thin liquid dripped down onto the ground. Looking back to her book, she recited the incantation, then focused on willing Strobnick to get (most of) his memories back.
There was a brief spark, the smell of something burning, and a squeal of surprise. Mytim spun around to find Strobnick’s hair on fire, the good doctor frantically slapping at himself in an effort to put it out.
“Oh no!” she exclaimed. She grabbed an empty bag from her rucksack and used it to smother the flames.
“I’m sorry!” she cried, “I think I know what I did wrong, let me just-“
“No thank you, madam!” Strobnick said sharply, scrambling away from her. “I think you’ve done quite enough!”
Strobnick turned to run.
“Freeze!” she snapped, splaying out the fingers of her right hand. A blue bolt shot at Strobnick, who barely managed to dodge it. There was a flicker, then he vanished from sight.
Mytim stood there, blinking dumbly for a moment before she remembered that when they first met, Strobnick had been camouflaged right into a sofa.
“Right,” she said, “Chameleon effect. So now I must not only get this spell right, I have to find my subject!”
This was going to be a long night.
“Mammals,” Boxer muttered to himself as he placed Laarthi’s body on top of the vine cluster and watched as the mass reacted to her presence, slowly starting to entwine itself around her. “Why is it always mammals?”
Nobody answered, of course. Laarthi was unconscious, and the vine cluster had no vocal cords. Even if it did, it wasn’t intelligent enough to put together a meaningful sentence. But it was still capable of some communication, releasing a small cloud of spores in Boxer’s general direction.
“Many more,” Boxer said, after sniffing the cloud carefully, “Grow quickly. I don’t know how long it will take to bring them here.”
Another puff of spores, little more than an acknowledgement.
“So much work to do,” Boxer mused, walked cheerfully towards the mouth of the cave, “So many mammals to kill!”
Acting Captain Tyler Virgii was sitting on the ramp leading into the USS Roadrunner, one eye on his chrono and the other on the crew manifest. Everybody had reported back except for Boxer, Laarthi, Mytim and Strobnick. Boxer and Laarthi were dealing with the cat-in-the-tree issue, Mytim was camping out and he had no idea where Strobnick was. Mytim aside, all of them should have been back before dark. Any why had he let Mytim spend the night in the forest anyway? That violated about five of Virgii’s Laws, and really didn’t make good survival sense either.
Virgii stood and started pacing. There was a muted squeal followed by a happy laugh, barely audible thought the thick windows of the ship. Walking a few feet, Virgii looked up into the windows spaced around the edge of the Roadrunner’s main hull. Apparently it was someone’s birthday, as large amounts of cake had just been smeared all over a screaming Ensign.
“So good of them to invite me,” Virgii grumbled, walking back towards the ramp. From this angle, the ship looked absolutely ludicrous. The gangway extended down from the lower surface of the hull towards the bow. (It formed the floor of the corridor leading to the main airlock when it wasn’t extended.) Directly behind it were the two slender landing legs that kept the ship level, while the lower curve of the ring nacelle had thick pads that extended out maybe half a meter from the nacelle itself to provide cushioning between the sensitive equipment and the ground. There was a reason why so few Federation ships were actually capable of making planet fall, and their ridiculous appearance on the ground had to be a big part of it.
“Acting Captain Virgii, sir!”
Virgii spun around to see Boxer running from the dark trees, a frantic expression on his face.
“Lieutenant, where’s Lieutenant Laarthi?” he demanded.
“She’s lost!” Boxer exclaimed, “I, uh shook her out of the tree, and she panicked and ran off! I don’t know where she went! I need to get search teams out there!”
“Oh, bollocks,” Virgii muttered, “This is why, Mr. Boxer! This is why we can’t go to nice places! I suppose we can’t wait until morning? It’s not like there are dangerous carnivores waiting to gobble her up,”
“Starfleet regulation number-“
“Never mind, you are of course completely correct,” Virgii nodded, the appropriate regulation coming to mind before Boxer could finish…and before Virgii could wonder when Boxer started paying such close attention to regs. “Form search teams, fan out, and let’s go find that cat!”
“This is an absolute disaster,” Mytim said calmly. She’d had a few minutes to breath, to clear her mind and to rebuild her dignity. Now she just had to track down a camouflaged alien in the dark before he could make his way to the ship, then figure out how to un-erase his memory using substitute ingredients for a magic spell that, up until a matter of days ago, she would have dismissed as absolute nonsense. Sure. Nothing big.
OK, where to start? She flipped through the pages of her book. Locating spell? Wouldn’t that be handy! Something she could use to just home in on Strobnick’s location, almost like using a tricorder to track his life-signs!
Squeezing her eyes shut for a moment and smacking her forehead with one palm, Mytim pulled her tricorder out of her pocked and started scanning. Hmmm. That was strange. She’d expected to see a cluster of life-signs near the ship, with maybe one or two in the surrounding countryside. Instead, it looked like teams of two were combing the area for something. What were they looking for? Strobnick?
She made a quick adjustment to her tricorder to try masking her own life-signs, then quickly moved towards the nearest team. Crewman Billings and Crewman Kessar were wandering along the edge of a treed area, shining their lights around and squinting into the darkness.
“I can’t believe we got hauled out of bed to look for the cat!” Billings was complaining loudly, “I was going to dream about Orion slave girls tonight!”
“How do you know that?” Kessar asked.
“Cuz I’ve been using this neat book on dream control,” Billings said proudly, “All it takes is a keen, sharp mind!”
So, it was Laarthi they were after. Mytim sighed in relief and was about to announce herself to the pair when another life-sigh approached…one that was giving some very, very strange readings.
“Hi guys!” Boxer said happily, stepping out of the shadows, “Hey, I hear something over here, can you help me check it out?”
“Sure thing, Lieutenant,” Billings said.
Frowning as she stared at Boxer’s tricorder readings, Mytim barely heard Boxer trying to convince the other two to try these great mushrooms he’d found. What she didn’t miss was the sudden scream after they refused.
She looked up to see Boxer with a hand firmly gripping a shoulder on each crewman. Long, slender tendrils had extended from his eyes, ears and mouth and were in the process of stabbing into Billings and Kessar. The scream was cut off as the two crewmen fell to the ground, shaking and twitching.
“Eating the mushrooms doesn’t hurt anywhere NEAR as much!” Boxer said cheerfully, the tendrils retracting from view. After a moment, Billings and Kessar rose to their feet.
“I have recruited enough now,” Boxer said, “Gather the rest in the Blood Caves while I take care of their ship,”
Without a word, the other two turned and walked away, barely missing Mytim.
Suddenly, Strobnick seemed like the least of her worries.
Acting Captain Virgii woke to a dull headache, and a very sore shin.
“WAKE UP!” Another kick, right on the sore spot. Ow.
“Stop this at once!” he groaned, opening his eyes. He was in a dimly lit cave surrounded by phosphorescent leaves and vines. Off to his left was a tightly-wrapped bundle of vines with Laarthi’s head sticking out the top. She’d managed to free one leg, but even as he watched the vines reached out and encased it again. Virgii struggled to move his arms, then looked down and realized he was encased in a similar vine-cocoon. The last thing he remembered, he’d just turned away from Boxer, then there’d been nothing but darkness. Oh, this was looking to be just smashing.
“Where are we? What happened?” he demanded. What, you thought he was going to ask who won the last World Series?
“We’re in a cave. Boxer dragged you in here about half an hour after he knocked me out and stuffed me in this trap!”
“Why would he do that, I wonder? Treating other Starfleet personnel like this is against regulations, and I’m sure Mr. Boxer-“
“Sir?” Laarthi prompted.
“If you don’t shut up about the regulations, I’m going to have Boxer come back and shove a mushroom down your throat!”
“But Virgii’s Law number-“
“Shut up and listen to me!” Laarthi snapped, “There are fossils further down the cave! Signs that this planet used to have animal life! Now it’s all gone and Boxer started attacking me and tying us up in this cave shortly after he started eating the local fungus. Doesn’t that make you think of anything? Anything come to your mind?”
Virgii thought for a moment.
“You really must be more respectful of your superiors, Lieutenant,” he said, “I promise you, I will not forget this behaviour when I write your quarterly review!”
“It’s some kind of fungal parasite!” Laarthi exclaimed, “Boxer isn’t smart enough to do something like this on his own! He’s being controlled! There’s no animal life on this planet because this fungus thing doesn’t WANT there to be any! If we don’t break free and stop him, we’re all going to DIE!”
Virgii thought this over for a moment.
“Still, that’s no excuse for such insubordination,” he said.
Laarthi let her head bang back against the vine cluster holding her.
“Let’s try this again,” she said.
Mytim was panting hard as she ran through the trees, trying to beat Boxer to the ship. She had no idea what he had planned, or rather what the thing controlling him had planned, but clearly she had to do something! She’d tried raising Laarthi and Virgii on her comm-badge, but they hadn’t answered. She’d ditched the heavy pack she’d taken out to her campsite and now had only her standard Starfleet gear and her spell book.
She burst out of the trees and into the clearing. The Roadrunner was less than three hundred meters away, the windows warmly lit despite the fact that the ship was deserted. A single dark figure could be seen walking briskly towards the gangway.
There was no way she could reach him. Pulling out her phaser, she quickly made sure it was set to stun, aimed and fired.
Boxer looked frantically around, but she was nearly invisible as she crouched near the trees. He turned back to the ship and started running. Mytim charged after him, firing her weapon. She missed her target again, but this time the beam struck the Roadrunner, inches away from the control panel attached to the gangway ramp. With a shower of sparks, the ramp abruptly started to close, the external hull plates neatly sliding shut over it as it vanished into the ship.
Mytim blinked in surprise. That was lucky.
Boxer spun around to face her.
“Meddling mammal!” he spat.
“Yes, well, you’re certainly a rude…whatever you are!” Mytim shot back. Unfortunately, her efforts to be Miss Proper really didn’t help out when it was time for a really good insult. But enough of that, she still had her phaser!
She fired at Boxer again, only have the beam blocked as a cluster of vines ripped out of the ground, forming a wall between her and the other officer. Behind the writhing plant mass, she could barely see Boxer turning back to the ship, no doubt to start entering the codes to lower the ramp into the other panel set into the port landing strut.
Thumbing the power up on her phaser, Mytim fired again, this time disintegrating several of the tendrils. Boxer whirled back briefly, anger flashing on his face. More vines rose from the ground, but not before Mytim could see the tendrils emerging from Boxer’s mouth, nose, ears and eyes and stretching to the control panel.
“Ohhh….yuck,” Mytim groaned, firing her phaser again. This time a vine shot out from the ground, knocking the weapon away.
“Very well, I have other arrangements,” Mytim said, pulling out her spellbook. “Let me see…taburculan, estoritas!”
What was supposed to happen was that a burst of electricity should have shot from her hand to the control panel that Boxer’s new accessories were trying to use. What happened instead was a rather pathetic little zap that barely reached the waving vine wall. But the effect was immediate.
Boxer spun around from the panel, the vine wall immediately retracting into the ground. The vine that had taken her phaser had likewise vanished. Boxer himself continued sprouting tendrils that continued to slide and twine around his body.
“Lupressa!” he hissed, several tendrils shooting straight out, like a cat raising its heckles.
“I beg your pardon?” Mytim asked.
“I have your servants,” Boxer said, ignoring the question, “You may escape…but without them, you will wither!”
“I…beg your pardon?” Mytim asked again, even more confused.
But at this Boxer just crossed his arms and closed his eyes. Vines suddenly erupted from all around Mytim, encasing her in a tight cocoon.
Packed, she pushed out with all her might, imagining the flaming sphere she’d conjured earlier.
Ice! It had been an ICE sphere she’d been trying to create before!
This time a burst of flames surrounded her, causing the vines to shrivel. Fire burst into the air in a great column as a great ball of flaming energy gathered in the sky, hundreds of meters above her head. Breaking free, she shot one hand out towards Boxer, fingers splayed.
“PURIFY!” she shouted.
Riddled by tiny sparks, the tendrils emerging from Boxer started to writhe, many of them dropping to the ground and crumbling. Even as they did, newer, fresher tendrils emerged. Energy poured from Mytim’s hand, washing over Boxer and tearing at the alien life that had infested him.
“STOP!” Boxer shouted, “YOUR KILLING-“
“Killing who?” Mytim demanded, exhilarated by the energy pouring through her body, “Lt. Boxer? He looks fine to me! You’re the one that’s dying!”
“No! Not this animal!” Boxer shouted, “You’re killing the…this world!”
Mytim looked down. The grass beneath her feet was already dead, withered away to a few desiccated strands. Even as she watched the foliage around her was turning brown, then black. Meters away, the bushes and first straggling trees near the edge of the meadow were sickening, their leaves yellowing then falling to the ground.
Mytim forced herself to lower her hand, stopping the improvised purification spell she’d been trying on Boxer.
“Too late,” the infested alien groaned, falling to the ground.
Still in the cave, Laarthi and Virgii were contemplating the vine-wrapped shapes of the other crewmembers. Billings, Kessar and other had escorted crewmates to vine-clusters, then stepped into open clusters themselves. There’d been the sounds of gagging and some groans, but neither of them had any idea what that meant. (Nor did they really want to think about it.)
“Well, that’s everybody but Lt. Boxer, Lt. Mytim and Dr. Strobnick,” Virgii said, “Really, nobody remembered any of the intruder-management protocols?”
“You can’t count Boxer, he’s the infested one,” Laarthi corrected him tiredly, “And I don’t think we have a protocol for ‘fungal-infested kidnapper’.”
“Actually, Regulation 254, paragraph-“
“Shut up,” Laarthi said firmly.
“Lieutenant, that is highly insubordinate!”
“Shut up, sir,” Laarthi amended.
“There,” Virgii nodded in approval, “Was that so hard?” He frowned. “Hey, wait!”
There was a rush of footsteps from the foot of the cave, then the sound of heavy breathing.
“Who’s there!?” Virgii demanded, “Identify yourself at once!”
“I’m…well, I guess I’m Dr. Strobnick?” a voice said.
“You GUESS?” Virgii exclaimed.
“Where are you?” Laarthi demanded.
“Can’t you see me?”
“No! You’re doing the camouflage thing!”
“What camouflage thing?”
Virgii and Laarthi exchanged a look. This was not productive.
“Forget it. Can you just get us out of these vines?”
“How?” Strobnick’s voice asked.
“A phaser? A knife? A sharp rock? ANYTHING!” Laarthi shouted.
“Very well,” the voice said. There was a pause. “And where might I find one of those?”
Laarthi banged her head against the vine-covered rock wall.
“Get away from here,” Boxer said weakly, lying on the ground.
“Boxer?” Mytim asked.
“No, I’m still here,” a tendril emerged from Boxer’s left nostril, “You have to get away from this planet!”
“I thought your plan was to kill all of us,” Mytim said, nonplussed.
Boxer weakly pointed up.
The fireball Laarthi had conjured was still floating in the sky, crackling away. In fact, it was still growing. Fast.
Laarthi waved a hand, concentrating on ending the spell she’d used to free herself from the vines. Nothing happened. A burst of energy shot from the sphere, obliterating a large tree. She tried again, this time calling out the ‘cancel spell’ incantation she’d found in her book.
“It’s too late for that now,” Boxer said, “You’re going to destroy my entire world.”
“I’m not doing this!” Mytim objected, “I’m not the world-destroying kind of person!”
The infested Boxer looked at her for a minute.
“Maybe not. But you’ve already started it. If you leave now, if you get far enough away, the storm may end. Please!”
“Let my crewmates go,” Mytim said suddenly seeing how to get out of this situation, “And we’ll leave.”
Boxer abruptly started gagging and dry heaving. Mytim watched in horror as he hacked up a wad of plant tissue nearly the size of an egg. He looked around, looked at the growing inferno in the sky, then over at Mytim.
“Hi,” he said, coughing, “Um. What’s happening?”
“This rock isn’t sharp either,” Strobnick complained, sawing away at a vine.
“Then either find another one, or stop complaining and keep cutting!” Laarthi said. Suddenly, the vines around the Roadrunner officers snapped open, releasing them.
“Back to the ship!” Virgii said immediately, “Let’s get out of here!”
They bolted for the mouth of the cave, only to come to a halt as they saw the scene outside.
A writing cloud of flaming energy, no longer spherical but instead an amorphous blob well over a kilometre in diameter, was now hovering in the sky right above where Laarthi estimated the ship to be. Bolts of energy were shooting down, igniting the forest around them. Several fires were already raging and smoke was thickening the air.
“Did we miss something?” Virgii asked, right before they dissolved into transporter sparkles.
They materialized in the Roadrunner’s cramped transporter alcove.
“Off the pad,” Mytim said, standing behind the operator’s console, little more than a panel extending out from the corridor wall, “I’ve got to bring in the rest of the crew! Get the ship ready to lift off!”
“What’s that thing outside?” Laarthi demanded as Virgii ran towards the bridge.
“Angry aliens,” Mytim lied, running her hands over the panel and beaming up three more crewmembers. She repeated the command to get off the pad to clear the way for the next batch.
Hurring to the bridge, Laarthi nearly took Boxer’s head off when she saw the Sheppian sitting at the security panel.
“Mytim said to tell you that she removed the fungal spores that were infesting me!” he said pleasantly.
“How can I believe you?” Laarthi snapped. Next to her, Virgii was gagging.
“She said you guys would ask me that,” Boxer said, “And to show you that jar,” he pointed to Virgii. Laarthi realized he was holding a sample jar filled with spongy, phlem-covered plant stuff. Her own stomach heaving, Laarthi dropped into the pilot seat and started to power up the ships systems. Outside the bridge windows, the inferno continued to grow.
“Mytim to bridge!” the comm chirped, “I’ve got everybody! Let’s go!”
“Let’s go, Lieutenant!” Virgii said, gingerly placing the sample jar under his seat.
With a burst from her engines, the Roadrunner lifted off. Skimming the treetops, Laarthi kept the ship low until they were out from under the surging flames, then shot up towards space.
Mytim flew through the hatch into the bridge and jumped into her seat at the science station.
“The…storm or whatever it is is losing power,” she said, sounding incredibly relieved. “It’s shrinking the further we move from the planet,”
“That’s strange,” Virgii frowned, “Cause?”
“Um…” Mytim hesitated, “I would guess that since we’re gone, the hostile aliens no longer feel the need to…to do what they were doing.”
“Why would they kidnap us, trap us underground, then start destroying the surface of their own planet with a massive fireball?” Virgii wondered.
“Ships dropping out of warp!” Boxer called from tactical, “I’m picking up four unknown ships! Make that nine. Um, fifeteen. Twenty two???”
“On screen!” Virgii ordered. On the display screen, the image of one of the incoming ships appeared. The ship was a fat ovoid shape with dozens of spines emerging in all directions. It almost looked like a pufferfish.
“Those look like spores,” Mytim said quietly.
Right. Or like spores.
“I think we should leave, now,” Laarthi said from the helm.
“I agree. Take us to warp,” Virgii ordered.
The ship shot into warp speed.
“They alien ships are pursuing!” Boxer reported, “I’m picking up…they’re launching torpedoes!”
Without waiting for orders Laarthi dropped the ship out of warp, pivoted ninety degrees, then shot into warp again. The torpedoes shot by, their lock on the ship lost. Starfleet Intelligence training was good for something, after all!
“They’re coming around again!” Boxer reported.
“Strong energy readings from their engines,” Mytim said, reading her scanner displays, “I’m pretty sure they can outrun us at warp!”
“Suggestions?” Virgii asked.
“We could hail them,” Boxer offered.
“They already shot at us!”
Mytim abruptly rose from her seat, marched over to Strobnick’s panel and slammed her hand down on the activation controls for the quantum slipstream drive.
Time on the bridge seemed to stick for about a second (or maybe it was an eternity?) then space directly in front of them seemed to bulge out, like the ship was pushing its way through a film of jello. With an almost physical tearing sensation the starry black of normal space pulled away to reveal the shimmering tunnel of slipstream drive.
“ARE YOU CRAZY? “ Laarthi demanded, “Now we’re all going to DIE!”
“Well…maybe?” Virgii swallowed.
“There’s no way the aliens can track us at this speed!” Mytim said, “And besides, we can drop out before-“
“Warning,” the computer spoke up, “Subspace fi-“
Whatever the computer had detected, they didn’t have the chance to hear about it before the ship lurched harder than a drunken college student rushing for the toilet. The shimmering tunnel outside the bridge windows vanished as the shriek of strained systems thrummed through the ship’s structure. Mytim’s hand slammed down on the emergency drive shutdown. The sound faded, but the ship continued spiralling out of control until, slowly, Laarthi managed to stabilize her.
“Damage report?” Virgii demanded, quickly checking to make sure the fungus thingy hadn’t escaped from the jar. (It hadn’t…that would have been the last straw on the camel’s back.)
“We burned out an SIF generator,” Laarthi reported after a moment, having quickly pulled up the engineering display on one of her side panels, “Backups kicked in, but it will have to be rebuilt. The fish aquarium in the mess fell over, but Crewman Kessar is already getting them into a bowl,” she paused, “Other than that, we’re OK,”
“A few bumps and bruises among the crew,” Boxer reported, “We’re in interstellar space. Nothing on the sensors for five light-years in any direction,”
“Well,” Virgii said, glaring at Mytim, “I’d say we got off lucky, then!”
You have no idea, Mytim thought to herself.
Acting Captain’s Log, Stardate 59435.2:
“Despite being kidnapped by a dog infested with fungal spores, narrowing escaping a ball of energy the size of a small city, being chased by an alien death fleet and topping everything off with an uncontrolled jump though an unstable slipstream, that was a pretty successful supply run. We got…water. And plants. And some useful minerals that will no doubt come in handy as we repair the minor damage from our…our…”
“Oh bollocks. Virgii’s Law #312: No crewmember shall ingest mushrooms of any kind on an unknown world!”
Satisfied that he’d taken the required action to ensure that something like this never happened again, Virgii turned his attention to the cramped medical bay where an old Emergency Medical Hologram Mark I was running a medical tricorder over Dr. Strobnick.
“I can’t account for the cause of his memory loss,” the EMH said in a dull voice, “There are some unusual energy readings in his cortex, but they seem to be dissipating. The patient already reports regaining some memory, so I suspect that this is a transient event, somehow related to whatever recent incident you undoubtedly managed to get yourself into.
“How much do you remember?” Mytim asked, looking intently at Strobnick.
“At the moment, my last memory is departing for Starbase 341,” Strobnick said slowly. “Wait, now I remember having lunch while en route. And supper!”
“Hmm. Well, it sounds like all’s well then. No damage done,” Virgii nodded briskly, then turned to Mytim.
“Keep an eye on him, would you? There’s a good girl,” With that, he left.
Mytim, of course, had no intention of letting Strobnick out of her sight. Not until she knew how much of his memory he managed to regain. After that, she had a lot of figuring out to do. Like what the heck was a ‘Lupressa’, and why did the fungal alien think she was one? And how the heck had she triggered that storm? And was the effect she’d had on the meadow’s foliage because of the purifying spell she’d used on Boxer, or was there something else at work there?
Whatever the answers to those questions, Mytim was going to have to be very, very careful before she tried using her magic (or whatever it was) again.