Author: Anthony Butler
Captain Baxter zipped up his uniform and leaned forward, kissing Counselor Peterman on the cheek affectionately. “Bye baby, I’m off to work.”
“Make sure to grease up the sugar fountain,” Peterman murmured, pulling the covers up over her face.
“Just keep sleeping hon,” Baxter said, trying to figure out what Peterman was dreaming about as she squirmed beneath the heavy blue Federation-emblem comfortor.
The Captain whistled softly as he continued searching for his comm badge. It must have fallen during the night. He hadn’t realized he and Peterman had caused that much commotion.
“Aha!” Baxter said, plucking his comm badge up off the floor. He slapped on the comm badge and straightened out the wrinkles in his uniform, staring out his bedroom window at the beautiful vista outside.
A view like that really made Baxter realize how beautiful the world really was. Peterman was right, he had to learn how to appreciate a beautiful morning better.
How could someone not appreciate the beautiful sunlight that poured into the room, the sound of birds chirping outside, the pitter patter of dew hitting the window. It was all so beautiful, so…
Sunlight? Birds? Dew?
Something wasn’t right.
Baxter leaned forward onto the bed, staring out the window in awe. His bedroom window now looked out over a beautiful grass covered valley. Beyond, deerlike creatures loped through a dense, lush forest.
“J’hana to Baxter. A…situation…has developed up here. You’d better come to the bridge.”
“No kidding,” Baxter said, heading for the doorway.
Peterman briefly stuck her head out from underneath the covers, squinting at the sunlight that poured out over Baxter’s bed. “Andy, what’s going on?”
“We’ve landed,” Baxter said, stepping through the parting doors to his quarters.
“Oh,” Peterman said, pulling the covers back over her head and going back to sleep.
Baxter noticed that the lighting in the turbolift was flickering disturbingly as it whisked him up to the bridge.
“All right, what the hell happened?” Baxter asked, stepping out onto the bridge.
J’hana rose from the command chair, indicating the viewscreen. “This planet appeared around our ship approximately seven minutes ago.”
Baxter rubbed his chin. “Hmmm. While I was in the shower.”
“Indeed,” J’hana said, annoyed at being interrupted. “We don’t know how it got here, but whatever the case, the ship is submerged underground below deck twelve.”
“We’d better contact Engineering,” Baxter said, tapping his comm badge. “Baxter to Richards.”
“You won’t get a response, Captain,” J’hana said, taking her place at tactical. “We’ve lost all communication below deck twelve. The primary power conduits, ODN relays, and power transfer nodes have been compromised.”
“How long until we can get them back?” Baxter asked.
“I do not know,” J’hana said. “If you do the math, you will realize that Engineering is below deck twelve, thus we cannot reach it.”
“What about Larkin? Tilleran?” Baxter asked, looking around the bridge.
“They are below deck twelve as well,” J’hana said. “And as I am sure you know, I am no engineer.”
“Damn it,” Baxter cursed, pounding on his armrest. “Do you mean to tell me no one above deck ten knows how to fix anything?”
“Perhaps the engineers will think of something,” J’hana said.
Baxter looked up. “Yes, I’m sure Larkin, Tilleran and Richards will come up with something.”
“Of course, the fact that they have no power doesn’t help things,” J’hana mused.
“No power?” Baxter asked.
“As I said,” the Andorian continued. “All primary power has been compromised. We have managed to utilize the auxilliary impulse engines on the saucer section for power, but even that will not last long.”
“Well how do you like that,” Baxter said. “Call in all the senior staff that you can reach. We’ve got to figure out how to dig this ship out before someone comes along and uses it for a planter.”
“So there I was, just reading my book, and suddenly there was a this huge rumble, and suddenly there was a waterfall running into my quarters,” Commander Conway said, tossing the soaked towel that he had around his neck onto the conference table. “If the door seal hadn’t held, all of deck nine would be under water.”
“And the book?” Dr. Browning asked with an amused smile.
“It’s floating around in there right now,” Conway said. “And I can’t get it until the water can be flushed out of the room.”
“Poor baby,” Lt. Hartley laughed, glancing at Conway’s soaked uniform. “I guess you’ll just have to wait until the movie comes out.”
“Very funny,” Conway muttered, trying to wring the water out of his uniform.
“Okay, let’s get down to it,” Baxter said from the front of the table. “Somehow the ship became buried in a planet’s surface. Our power systems, our computer, and our communications have been disrupted. Now, what are we going to do about it?”
“The first priority should be finding out how the hell this happened,” Conway asserted.
“I agree,” Baxter replied. “I want you and Ensign Ford to take a shuttlecraft and survey the planet. See if you can find out what we’re dealing with. In the meantime, I want everyone else to use what resources we have to try and find out how the hell this happened.”
“Well?” Lt. Commander Richards asked, holding the wrist beacon so that Lt. Commander Larkin could see up through the Jefferies’ tube.
“I should be able to get through, Commander. It is a twenty meter climb, then forty meters to the primary transfer node.”
“Do you think you can do it?” Richards asked. “What am I saying, of course you can.”
“The task is well within my abilities, Commander,” Larkin said, pushing up her shirt sleeves and analyzing the climb one last time. “If you would please hand me the tool kit.”
“Sure,” Richards said, handing the android a shoulder pack. “Be careful up there.”
Larkin slung the pack over her shoulder and began climbing. “I am always careful.”
“Bridge to Tasman. Are you guys ready down there?” Baxter’s voice said over the shuttle’s comm system.
After making sure his seatbelt was secure, Commander Conway leaned over and pressed a control. “Bridge, this is the Tasman. We’re ready for launch.”
“Acknowledged,” Baxter replied. “We’re diverting power to the shuttlebay doors. Good luck, guys.”
“We don’t need no stinking luck,” Ensign Ford said, engaging the shuttle’s engines, maneuvering it off the deck of the shuttlebay and piloting it through the opening shuttlebay door.
“We’ll see about that,” Commander Conway said, sipping carefully from his cup of coffee with one hand and holding onto his shoulder harness with the other.
“What have you guys got so far?” Baxter asked, walking over to the science console, where Hartley, Browning, and a freshly showered Peterman were gathered.
“Well, we’ve landed on some sort of planet,” Browning said firmly, turning back and forth in her chair.
“Wow,” Baxter said sarcastically. “You guys never cease to amaze me.”
“It’s class M,” Peterman added helpfully.
“Okay, some improvement,” Baxter said. “Can you tell me how the planet got here in the first place?”
“It appeared?” Hartley said with a devilish grin.
Baxter pulled at his hair in frustration. “Where is Tilleran when we need her?”
As if on cue, a panel on the side of the bridge suddenly busted open. Lt. Tilleran slid out, standing up and dusting off her uniform. “That was quite a climb.”
“Where the hell did you come from?” Baxter asked, turning to the science officer.
“I was down in the science lab on deck twenty-six when things started going wrong. Did we hit something?” Tilleran asked, walking over to the science station.
“More like something hit us,” Dr. Browning said, standing up and letting Tilleran sit down in her place. “We can’t make heads or tails of the sensors. They must have been damaged.”
Tilleran hit several controls on the science panel as Browning, Peterman, Hartley, and Baxter looked on.
“We are buried in a planet that is in interdimensional flux. It appears in this position every fourteen hours,” Tilleran said. “It has a copper-nickel core, an oxy-carbo atmosphere, and its surface is seventy-five percent land.”
Baxter glared at Browning, Hartley, and Peterman disapprovingly. “What were you guys saying about the sensors?”
“So we were just at the wrong place at the wrong time?” Browning asked, ignoring Baxter’s question.
“Evidently,” Tilleran said. “All we have to do is wait for the planet to disappear again and we can be on our way.”
“It can’t be that simple. It’s never that simple,” Baxter said, walking over and surveying the planet’s landscape on the viewscreen.
“The Captain has a point,” J’hana grunted from tactical. “We cannot assume that this mission will be so easy.”
“What are you suggesting, J’hana?” Hartley asked. “That we’re in a lot of danger?”
“I’m simply saying we should watch our backs,” J’hana said, smiling mysteriously.
“Ford to Conway. I’ve found some interesting soil specimens here. They’re showing some kind of dimensional flux.”
Conway tapped his comm badge. “Good work, Ford. Take a few more readings then come back to the shuttlecraft. We got what we came for.”
“Aye, sir. Ford out.”
Commander Conway shifted in his seat, resuming his reading. He had replicated another copy of his Tom Clancy’s “Russia Still Bothers Me” beore leaving, since he figured Ford would be doing most of the work on this assignment anyway.
Conway’s reading was suddenly interrupted by a loud crack of thunder. The first officer glanced out through the window just in time to see rain begin to fall, hitting the window in big droplets and cascading down.
“Great,” Conway huffed. It had been such a beautiful day, too. Annoyed, Conway tapped his comm badge. “Conway to Ford. Are you almost ready to go?”
“Yeah,” Ford said. “What happened to the weather? It’s pouring rain now!”
“I don’t know,” Conway said. “Just get back here. I have a bad feeling about this planet.”
“I’m on my way,” Ford replied.
Conway looked outside as clouds completely obscured the sunlight. Cursing, the first officer switched on the interior cabin lights so that he could keep reading.
Just as the scene in his book reached a climax, Conway reached over for his cup of coffee.
It seemed Jack Ryan, now eighty, was enveloped in a conspiracy in his nursing home. The Russians were planning on ambushing him in pottery class, and he knew it.
“Damn Russians,” Conway scoffed, sipping from his coffee and setting it back down on the dashboard.
Suddenly there was a loud rumble, which Conway attributed to the thunder.
But this was a different rumble. It was louder, deeper.
Conway glanced up, realizing that the the ground was shaking underneath the shuttlecraft.
Glancing at his cup of coffee out of the corner of his eye, Conway noticed that the liquid inside was shaking in time to the increasing sound of…footsteps?
Conway threw his book down, activating the shuttlecraft’s sensors. They were detecting a lifeform heading towards the shuttlecraft, in the direction Ford was coming from. But something had to be wrong…the life form was reading as over two-hundred meters tall.
“Ford!” Conway shouted, slapping his comm badge. “Get back here, quick!”
“What the hell is making that sound?” Ford asked fearfully.
“I don’t want to find out,” Conway replied, initiating the shuttle’s lift-off sequence. “We’re leaving. Now.”
“Open the door, Commander! I’m coming!”
Conway quickly hit a control that opened the shuttle’s rear hatch. He turned to see Ford, about twenty meters away, running as fast as he could, a scientific survey pack slung over his shoulder.
“I’m coming, Commander!”
“Run, Ford, run!” Conway shouted, as the thumping sound got louder and louder.
Ford increased speed, diving into the shuttlecraft just as a huge, black shape emerged from the thick, foggy rain.
Conway jumped to his feet, dragging Ford inside and slamming his hand on the door control, watching in fear as the humongous creature approached. It was easily the size of a five-story building, bristling with long, brown shaggy hair, its back studded with large spikes.
Huge feet pounded the ground as the beast lumbered foreward, huge hands the size of runabouts dragging along beside them.
“What the hell is that thing?” Ford asked, pulling himself into the pilot’s seat.
“I don’t want to know,” Conway said. “Get us out of here.”
“Damn right,” Ford said, engaging the shuttle’s engines.
The shuttle lifted off the ground, turning back towards the Explorer.
“Go, go, go!” Conway shouted.
“We’re going as fast as we–” Ford said, when suddenly the shuttlecraft lurched backwards.
Ford flew out of his chair, banging his head with a thump against the shuttle’s rear hatch.
“What’s happening?” Ford asked groggily.
Conway hung onto the shuttle’s console with all his might as it flailed through the air. In the confusion, he was able to discern three clawed fingers, pushing in on the front window.
“Whatever it is has us in its grip!” Conway screamed, as he felt the shuttle’s hull crunch in the creature’s grip.
“Use the phasers!” Ford shouted. “Fry that freaking thing!”
“Powering phasers,” Conway said, gripping the seat as he ran his hands along the console. “Firing!”
The brightness of the phasers lit up the dark, rainy valley as they cut into the creature, who bellowed out in pain, dropping the shuttlecraft.
Conway scrambled to engage the shuttle’s engines as it tumbled to the ground.
The shuttle smacked against the ground roughly, causing Conway to fall backwards, just as the engines fired, sending it rocketing away from the angry creature.
Conway pulled himself forward, trying to get control of the shuttlecraft as it bucked through the air. “We’ve lost directional thruster control. The engines aren’t responding!” he shouted.
Ford dragged himself towards the front of the shuttle, holding onto the pilot’s chair for dear life. “The fall must have damaged our engines.”
“No shit!” Conway shouted, as the shuttle spiralled through the air. “What do you suggest we do, Mister Helmsman!”
Ford struggled to pull himself into the pilot’s seat, shrugging on his shoulder harness. “I suggest we brace for impact!”
Conway quickly did the same, as he fearfully watched the thick forest beyond the valley grow closer through the front window.
The shuttle bucked one more time, diving into the thick forest, crushing several trees, fire streaming from both engines.
“What’s happening?” Baxter asked, looking back at J’hana from his command chair.”
“I cannot tell,” J’hana said, working the controls of her tactical console frantically. “I suddenly detected two large lifeforms, one approximately two hundred meters in height, the other slightly…er, larger. They seemed to come from out of nowhere.”
“Where is our shuttlecraft?” he asked.
“We’ve lost it,” Tilleran replied. “Sensors are almost useless now, Captain. The storm is somehow disrupting our sensors.”
“Can we compensate?” Baxter asked.
“I’m working on it,” Tilleran said. “But at least for now, Conway and Ford are on their own.”
Commander Conway pushed past broken panels and crushed duranium, crawling up towards the emergency exit of the shuttlecraft.
“Ensign Ford!” he called out, looking around the darkened cabin as panels sparked, smoked, and sputtered.
“You’re stepping on my shoulder,” Ford grunted, sliding out from underneath one of the broken pilot chairs.
“Sorry,” Conway said, yanking down on the emergency hatch release lever. “Grab phasers, beacons, and tricorders. We have to keep moving.”
The emergency hatch blew away, allowing driving rain to pour down into the shuttle’s cabin.
As Ford rummaged through the shuttle’s supply bay, Conway pulled himself out of the hatch. When the Tasman had gone down, it had evidently plowed through several trees and skidded across the forest floor, finally coming to rest on its side.
Dozens of burning trees smouldered in the bone-chilling rain, indicating a blazing path where the shuttle had gone down, catching trees aflame with its burning engines.
“Your butt’s in my way, Commander,” Ford shouted, prompting Conway to pull himself the rest of the way out of the hatch.
Ford followed soon after, tossing Conway a phaser, palm beacon, and tricorder.
“Do you think we killed it?” Ford asked, as he and Conway hopped off the side of the shuttle, landing softly on the forest floor.
“I don’t know,” Conway said, when suddenly the forest floor shook with a rumble of footsteps.
“Never mind,” Ford said, flipping open his tricorder. “The Explorer is this way. I suggest we hurry.”
“Agreed,” Conway said, holstering his phaser and shining his beacon ahead, breaking out into a run.
“Richards to bridge. Can you guys hear me?” Richards’s voice said, crackling over the Explorer’s comm channel.
Baxter pressed a button on the arm of his chair. “We hear you, Chris. How are things going down there?”
“Larkin has managed to get the mains back online. We have power and communication throughout the ship again. Have you guys figured out what’s happening?”
“We have indeed, Commander,” Baxter replied. “A planet dimensionally shifted into our flight path. As I understand, we just have to wait about ten hours for it to disappear again, and we’ll be on our way.”
“It can’t be that easy, sir. What’s the catch?”
“Well,” Baxter said hesitantly. “There are these…lifeforms.”
“Lifeforms? What kind of lifeforms?”
“No time to explain, Commander. Suffice it to say, if you can think of a quicker way to get us out of here, we’d love to know about it.”
“We’ll do our best, Captain. Richards out.”
Baxter turned in his chair to face J’hana. “Anything on that shuttle?”
J’hana studied her panel. “I am picking up a distorted signal, Captain. The shuttle apparently went down about two kilometers from here.”
“Can we get a transporter lock?” Baxter asked.
Lt. Hartley studied the engineering panel, shaking her head. “The transporter systems were damaged when the planet appeared. Even if we could get a lock, we wouldn’t be able to transport them.”
“Then we’ll have to send another shuttle out to get them,” Baxter said finally. “That’s all there is to it.”
“You want to lose another shuttle?” J’hana asked.
“No,” Baxter said, standing up. “That’s why I’m going to get Lt. Commander Larkin to pilot it. Have her meet me in the main shuttle bay.”
“Are you crazy?” Peterman asked. “Andy, you could get killed out there. You don’t even like Conway or Ford.”
“Oh, I’m crazy all right,” Baxter said, stepping into the turbolift. “Crazy like a fox. J’hana, you have the bridge.”
“Aye, sir,” J’hana said, looking down at Peterman. “Just think, Counselor. If Baxter, Conway, and Larkin die, I’ll be the new captain. Wouldn’t you like that?”
Peterman just shivered, imagining an Explorer with J’hana in command.
Not a pretty thought.
Conway and Ford ran as fast as they could through the dense foliage, as the thumping sounds increased in intensity.
“It’s gaining on us!” Ford shouted, looking down at his tricorder. “Four hundred meters and closing!”
“How far are we from the Explorer?” Conway asked in between huffs and puffs.
“Another kilometer, sir,” Ford said tiredly. “We’ll never make it.”
“I don’t want to hear talk like that, Ensign,” Conway said, tumbling over tree trunks and bushes as he ran. “Leave the pessimism for your senior officers.”
“Yes, sir,” Ford replied.
Conway smiled as he saw an opening ahead. They had almost reached a clearing, which meant the Explorer was just across the adjacent valley.
“Commander…” Ford said, looking down at his tricorder. “We’re about to hit a…”
Conway looked back at the Ensign as he ran. “Hit a wha–”
Before he could finish his question, he realized what Ford was about to say was “cliff.”
Conway tumbled backwards, his arms flailing. Ford reached out to grab his hand, but was just pulled along with the larger man.
Ford and Conway tumbled down along the rocky slope, finally coming to a stop at the edge of a steep decline that led to the valley below.
Conway dangled helplessly at the edge of the cliff, gripping onto Ford’s arm with all his might. “Don’t let me go, Ford!”
“Boy, you’re a porker, Commander!” Ford cried, when suddenly the huge creature that had attacked them before emerged from the forest, letting out a deafening roar.
As he roared, he stomped his massive foot, which caused the edge of the cliff to snap off.
Ford, Conway, and the rock free fell for about twenty meters, finally smacking against a hard surface.
Conway looked up, shaking his head drearily. The surface they had hit wasn’t natural; it was hard and white. And it was moving.
“Hold on tight, Commander,” Baxter’s voice said over the shuttle’s loudspeakers. “We’re going to try and destroy the creature.”
Conway and Ford gripped onto the roof of the shuttle as it rose, until they were eye to eye with the giant creature.
Baxter’s voice suddenly crackled against the loudspeakers. “Alien lifeform: This is Captain Andrew Baxter of the Starship Explorer. We mean you no harm. Please…”
The creature just roared in response, slashing at the shuttlecraft with a giant paw.
The shuttlecraft deftly moved out of the way of the giant paw, coming about, dangerously jeapardizing Conway and Ford’s grip.
“All right, no more mister nice guy!” Baxter shouted, as phasers flared out at the creature from the tiny shuttle.
The creature reared back as the phasers cut into him, roaring in pain.
“Let us in, damn it!” Conway cried, pounding on the shuttle’s roof as the beast turned around.
“Oh, sorry,” Baxter replied, as the rear door creaked open. “Get in, quick.”
Conway and Ford slipped inside the shuttle’s cabin, as Larkin brought the ship around.
“Take us back to the Explorer, Larkin,” Baxter said, looking back at Conway and Ford. “Looks like you guys had a rough ride.”
“Damn right we did,” Conway said, falling into a seat in the shuttle’s aft section.
Ensign Ford stared out the shuttle’s rear porthole, watching as the huge creature lumbered after them. “Won’t we be leading that thing back to the Explorer?”
Baxter smiled and leaned back in his chair. “Lieutenant J’hana has a few surprises in store for our shaggy little friend.”
“Phasers powered up, Lieutenant,” Saral stated from tactical.
“Good,” J’hana said, shifting in the command chair and looking over to Counselor Peterman. “Getting scared, Counselor?”
Peterman was sitting on her hands, tapping her feet nervously. “Course not,” she lied.
J’hana just laughed, looking over to the Ensign at ops. “Ensign Monroe, put the De Gama’s approach on the viewscreen.”
Peterman’s eyes grew wide as she saw the image of the De Gama bobbing and weaving, turning and twisting in an attempt to get away from the huge creature that chased after it.
“That’s one big shmotarg,” J’hana commented.
“Shmo…targ?” Peterman asked.
“An Andorian equivalent to the elephant,” J’hana explained. “Only it breathes fire and is six times an elephant’s size.”
“Oh, that’s nice,” Peterman said, watching in fright as the shuttle and the creature approached.
Lt. Commander Richards looked over his plan one more time on the terminal screen, tapping his comm badge. “Richards to Bridge.”
“Bridge. J’hana here.”
“I have a solution to getting us out of this God forsaken planet, Lieutenant,” Richards said.
“Go on,” J’hana replied excitedly.
Richards called up the schematics on his screen. “If we can generate a big enough vibration in our shield nutation, I think we can destroy the surrounding rock.”
“Thus freeing the ship. An interesting plan indeed,” J’hana said. “When will you be able to implement this plan?”
“Right now,” Richards replied. “Just give the word.”
“Well, freeing the ship would surely help the Captain in his current situation. Go ahead with the plan.”
“Right,” Richards said, tapping in the necessary commands.
“Phasers locked,” Saral said.
Tilleran looked up from her panel. “The De Gama is making its final approach.”
J’hana straightened in her chair. “Good. Is the creature in range?”
“In eight seconds,” Saral reported.
“Fire on it as soon as it is within range,” J’hana commanded. “And if you must kill it, then you are authorized to do so.”
“Understood,” Saral replied cooly.
“Explorer, this is De Gama. Open the shuttle bay and prepare to tractor us in,” Baxter’s voice said over the comm.
“Acknowledged,” J’hana said, hitting a button on the arm of the command chair.
“Bridge, this is Richards. I’m activating the shields now.”
“Wait until we…” J’hana said, a little too late.
The huge creature lept towards the Explorer, releasing a chilling battle cry.
As ordered, Saral fired on the creature immediately; unfortunately, she did so at the same time that Richards engaged the shield nutation.
Without going into a lot of technical jargon, let’s just assume that this is a very bad thing.
The shields crackled across the surface of the Explorer, causing a huge earthquake to rip through the land around it.
J’hana held fast to the command chair and watched on the viewscreen as the creature pitched backwards, his huge arms flailing.
“The shields are overloading,” Lt. Tilleran reported from the science station.
“Go to backups!” J’hana shouted.
“The backups are fried!” Hartley cried from the engineering station.
“Oh, dear,” J’hana said quietly.
Peterman glared at J’hana in fright. She had never, ever said the words “Oh, dear” before.
Suddenly Peterman realized why. Panels exploded and sputtered all around the bridge and the normal lights extinguished, to be replaced by dull red emergency lighting.
“Get us into the shuttlebay!” Baxter cried, holding onto the De Gama’s dashboard as the ship dived towards the Explorer.
“Something is wrong,” Larkin said, staring at her panel quizically. “I am getting very odd power readings from the Explorer. Stand by. Hmm. Never mind.”
“Never mind?” Conway asked, peering over Larkin’s shoulder. “What do you mean never mind?”
“The Explorer has lost main power. Again,” Larkin said. “Therefore I will have to take the shuttlecraft in on manual. But fear not, I am quite skilled in this maneuver.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Ford said from behind Larkin.
Everyone in the De Gama’s cockpit looked on in fear as the shuttle rapidly approached the partially open shuttlebay doors. Larkin expertly slid the shuttle in underneath the doors, smacking it down against the shuttle deck roughly.
“Please hold on,” Larkin said calmly, as the shuttle skidded along the deck of the shuttlebay, crashing into two other shuttles and finally smashing up against the far wall.
“Sensors are blind!” Lt. Tilleran shouted through the dim red light, as crewmen scrambled to put out the fire at the other science panel.
“Well I am not blind,” J’hana said, staring out the small, oval shaped window in the ceiling of the bridge. “Everyone brace yourselves!”
Before anyone on the bridge could question J’hana’s command, the ceiling of the bridge crashed inwards with a tremendous creak of twisting metal.
“What’s happening?” Tilleran asked, sliding onto the floor as the ceiling crushed downward.
“If I had to guess,” J’hana grunted, crawling across the floor to the phaser cabinet. “I would say that we were just stepped on.”
Counselor Peterman struggled to pull herself up, blinded by the rain that now poured into the bridge. “My hair…it’ll lose all its body!”
“That’s not the body I’d worry about, Kelly!” Hartley shouted, pointing upwards, as a humongous hand reached down through the crushed ceiling, ripping it open like a can of sardines and pulling it back.
Peterman emitted her best, longest high-pitched shriek, watching in stunned silence as the claw dove down towards her.
“Hold on, Counselor!” J’hana cried.
The next thing Peterman saw was a blur of blue, black, and mustard rushing toward her.
J’hana lept through the air toward Peterman, firing her phaser at the creature at the same time.
Peterman fell back into her chair, watching in shock as the creature, seemingly unfazed, picked J’hana up between its thumb and forefinger and popped her into its mouth.
With much effort, Captain Baxter was able to separate his face from the De Gama’s front windshield.
He turned around, surveying the damage to the shuttlecraft and to his officers.
“Get off me Commander Casserole!” Ford cried, pushing Conway off of him.
Conway rolled off Ford, lurching to his feet. “I’ll give you a casserole, you freaking…”
Suddenly, the shuttlebay shuddered terribly, and the sound of screams, twisting, and snapping duranium could be heard throughout the ship.
“What’s happening?” Ford asked, looking around fearfully.
Larkin freed her head from the control panel, picking bits of plastic and fried conduit from her hair. “Given the circumstances, I assume we are being attacked by the creature.”
“We have to get to the bridge,” Baxter said, kicking open the rear hatch of the shuttle and hopping out.
“And how the hell do you propose we do that with main power gone and a creature pounding us to crap?” Conway asked.
“Simple,” Baxter said. “The shuttlebay door is still open. All we have to do is climb up the side of the ship.”
“Oh, is that all?” Conway asked mockingly.
“We’re wasting time,” Baxter said. “Now, we need a backup plan.” Baxter surveyed the shuttlebay. The De Gama and the other two shuttles in the bay were wrecked. That left…
“A runabout…” Larkin said, “is equipped with a tractor beam. Perhaps that would be of help.”
“But the runabouts are kept below the deck,” Conway said. “We’ll need power to get the elevators to lift the runabout up to the deck.”
“Not necessarily,” Larkin said, tapping her comm badge. “Larkin to Kennebec computer. Prepare for emergency departure, lock on to Ensign Ford’s comm badge, and transport him aboard.”
“But how will I–” Ford said, suddenly disappearing in a swirl of blue.
“J’hana!” Counselor Peterman cried, watching the creature rub his tummy with statisfaction.
“Maybe she survived,” Lt. Hartley said quietly, ducking behind the engineering console as the creature’s hand made another swipe.
Peterman ran for cover, diving underneath the tactical console, as the creature’s massive people-sized fingers probed around the bridge.
“What are we going to do?” Tilleran asked fearfully.
“Just be calm!” Peterman cried. “Try to find a happy place!”
“Shut up with the freaking psychobabble!” Hartley shouted. “That’s not going to help us!”
“Well, negative comments like that aren’t going to help either,” Peterman said defensively from under the tactical console.
Dr. Browning waved everyone along the corridor, trying to make out some familiar faces in the dim emergency lighting of deck eleven. “Everyone follow me. We are to report immediately to the designated safe areas. We’re having a teeny weeny little crisis here.”
“Teeny?” Ensign Pressbury asked nervously as he was pushed along. “We’re all going to be crushed to death by that big hairy beast out there, and you say it’s a ‘teeny’ crisis?”
“Shut up!” Browning said. “We’re all going to live. Do you hear me? We’re all going to live!”
Suddenly the ceiling bowed inward, as a huge foot made yet another footprint on the Explorer’s saucer section.
“You were saying?” Pressbury asked, as everyone scattered for cover.
“I’d just like everyone to know that drinks are all half off until this thing blows over,” Mirk said cheerfully from behind the bar, trying to ignore the huge furry leg that brushed up against the windows of Explorations.
There were about thirty people gathered in the lounge, since it was a designated safe area.
“The idea here is to be extremely calm,” Mirk added. “And to help, I’ve broken out my best bottles of El Aurian Scotch!”
People drank from the bottles greedily, ignoring the giant foot that suddenly made its way towards the windows of Mirk’s louge.
But Mirk saw it. “Everyone hold on!” he shouted, as the foot connected with the saucer section.
The next thing Mirk knew, the whole ship suddenly shifted, causing everyone in the lounge to be thrown against the far wall.
“Okay, everything is free!” Mirk shouted, as he tried desparately to grab hold of his bar.
One side of the Explorer rose up out of the ground as the creature kicked at it, causing Baxter and Conway to lose their precarious grip on top of the saucer section.
Larkin scrambled after them as they slid down the smooth deck plating, heading right towards the sheer drop at the saucer’s outer edge.
“I am coming, sirs!” Larkin shouted, leaping through the air as Baxter and Conway neared the edge. Thinking fast, the android grabbed her superior officers, one in each hand, and dug her feet in, barely stopping herself from going over the side with them.
Conway looked over at Baxter as they both dangled in Larkin’s grip, the countryside looming hundreds of meters below them.
“Having fun yet?” Conway asked sarcastically.
Lt. Hartley teetered precariously on Counselor Peterman’s shoulders, peering out the fractured bridge ceiling at the creature as he pummeled the ship with his fists.
“Hold still, Kelly, I’m trying to see what’s happening,” Hartley whispered.
“I can’t hold very damn still when the ship’s shaking like this, Megan!” Peterman said. “What’s happening, anyway?”
“Looks like he’s trying to find another way inside the ship,” Hartley said. “Wait a minute…”
“What is it?” Tilleran asked, beside Peterman.
Hartley looked on as the creature suddenly stopped its pummeling and clutched at its stomach, a pained expression spreading across its face. “Looks like he has indigestion.”
“Go, J’hana!” Peterman said cheerfully.
“Well, this is another fine mess, Baxter,” Conway huffed, as Larkin pulled the two officers back up onto the top of the saucer section.
“Don’t blame me,” Baxter said. “I didn’t cause this planet to appear.”
“I don’t care. I still blame you,” Conway said.
“Sirs, if you care to look at the creature, you would see that it has stopped pounding our ship,” Larkin said, staring at the creature as it began to groan in pain.
“What’s his problem?” Conway asked.
“Indigestion?” Baxter offered.
Suddenly the creature covered its mouth, its face turning a bright shade of green.
“Uh-oh,” Conway said. “He’s going to vomit!”
“Run for cover!” Baxter shouted, making for the center of the saucer section.
Suddenly the creature removed his hand from his mouth, letting a veritable ocean of warm yellow puke gush forth.
The puke drenched Baxter, Conway, and Larkin as they made for cover.
On a wave of vomit, a figure suddenly crashed into Baxter, Conway, and Larkin, knocking them right through the hole in the Explorer’s bridge.
After busting the Kennebec out of its housing below the main shuttlebay’s deck, Ensign Ford steered the runabout out of the shuttlebay, heading towards the giant creature.
Just as he was making his final approach, however, the creature suddenly erupted with vomit, coating the entire Explorer.
Ford banked the runabout in an attempt to avoid the vomit, only succeeding in flying right into the creature’s chest.
“Whoops,” Ford said, as the creature staggered backwards, grabbing the runabout and shaking it angrily.
“Where am I?” J’hana asked groggily, wiping puke from her face and staring around the bridge.
“On top of me,” Baxter grunted, sliding out from under J’hana and staggering to his feet. “What in God’s name happened?”
“I set my phaser to overload and made my way up the creature’s esophogus, Captain,” J’hana explained, pulling herself to her feet. “I suppose he liked me better going down.”
Burnt, bruised, and covered in puke, everyone on the bridge of the Explorer had to laugh at that.
“Richards to all decks. Backup power has been restored. Prepare for warp core restart.”
“He must have got the secondary power conduit working,” Browning said uneasily, looking around the crowded sickbay uneasily. “You hear me everybody? Commander Richards got warp power back! That means we’ll get out of this thing!”
“Warp warp warp,” Crewman Wilcox said cheerfully from Holly’s lap. “We’re all going to warp.”
“Not yet we aren’t,” Browning said, crossing her fingers and closing her eyes. “Come on, Christopher.”
“Watch the intermix,” Lt. Commander Richards said, pointing to several crewmen. “Go stabilize that junction. We can’t afford a misfire here.”
Ensign Stuart approached Richards, handing him a padd. “I just double-checked the backup power conduit. It should handle the extra plasma flow.”
“It will have to,” Richards said shakily. “We’re getting off this hellhole of a planet if it kills us.”
Ensign Ford struggled to stay in his chair as the creature shook the runabout Kennebec.
Different plans formulated in the Ensign’s head as he watched the creature’s mouth grow nearer through the front viewport.
The creature suddenly dropped the runabout into its mouth.
“Warning. The outer hull is being compromised,” the computer warned calmly as Ford scrambled to get the engines working.
“Come on, baby, come on!” Ford shouted, shuddering as the creature’s teeth munched on the Kennebec.
Suddenly the engines came online again, and the runabout surged out of the creature’s mouth at Ford’s command, doing untold damage to the beast’s previous dental work.
Ford smiled at his ingenuity, using the windshield wipers to scrape the blood and teeth from the front viewport and activating the tractor beam.
A tiny blue beam grabbed hold of the gargantuan creature’s head, dragging him along behind the Kennebec.
“Hold on, bucko!” Ford cried, banking the runabout towards a craggy mountain range. “You’re about to get a rocky mountain high of a different sort!”
“We’re almost to the battle bridge,” Baxter said, staring down the dizzying length of the Jefferies tube as he and his command staff descended.
“Good,” Richards said over the comm channel. “We’re all ready to go down here.”
“Are you sure this is the smartest thing to do?” Peterman asked from above Baxter.
Baxter shook his head. “Not really, but it’s better than letting those creatures rip this ship apart.”
“You mean there are more?” Conway asked angrily.
“According to our sensors,” Tilleran said from farther up the shaft.
“Tell me the two scenarios again,” Conway said uneasily as the group continued to descend.
“We will either successfully excavate the Explorer and escape this planet, or tear the ship apart and die,” Lt. Commander Larkin explained easily.
“Not as honorable as being eaten, but not bad,” J’hana admitted.
Ensign Ford checked the Kennebec’s rear sensors, amazed that after being slammed against four mountains, the creature at the other end of his tractor beam was still concious. As a matter of fact, it was still flailing about, trying to grab at the runabout.
Ford was so busy looking at the sensors, he didn’t notice the other creature until it was right on top of him.
And, judging by the second creature’s size, the first creature was just a baby.
“It’s really cramped in here, Captain,” Conway noted, trying to find a comfortable position on the tiny seat to the left of Baxter’s command chair on the battle bridge.
“Live with it, Commander. You don’t see Kelly complaining, do you?” Baxter said, smiling at Peterman as she squeezed next to him.
“At least this bridge has a roof,” Hartley said, taking a place next to Lt. Tilleran at the tiny science console.
Baxter looked over to Ensign Madera. “Ensign, I need you to get us out of here as soon as the engines come back online, understood?”
“Yessir,” Madera replied, scooting into her place at the helm.
“All ship functions routed to the battle bridge,” Larkin noted from ops.
“Tactical online,” J’hana annonced from tactical. “The quantum torpedoes are loaded and ready.”
“Good,” Baxter said, tapping his comm badge. “Richards, how are those engines coming?”
“We’re ready now, Captain,” replied Richards’ voice. “Let me remind you, though, that this has a very big chance of killing all of us.”
Larkin turned around in her chair. “Exactly sixty-nine point three percent.”
“How nice,” Conway commented.
“Engine startup sequence engaged,” Lt. Commander Richards’ voice announced, as suddenly the lights around the bridge began to flicker.
“What’s happening?” Peterman asked, looking around.
“Engines coming online…” Tilleran reported from science. “Full impulse at your discretion, Captain.”
“Wiggle us out of here, nice and slow, Ensign Madera,” Baxter commanded.
“Define ‘wiggle,’” Madera asked, turning in her chair.
“I don’t know,” Baxter said. “Shake us back and forth. Haven’t you ever been buried in the sand before?”
“Yeah, but then I had my boyfriend to dig me out, and I didn’t have giant creatures attacking me,” Madera said, turning back around in her chair.
“Just do your best,” Baxter ordered.
“Wiggling now, Captain,” Madera reported.
Suddenly the Explorer began to shake back and forth, busting free of the surrounding landscape, slowly rising out of its rocky surroundings.
“Hull stress nearing critical!” Tilleran reported.
“Increase power to shields and inertial dampers, Larkin,” Conway ordered.
“Ensign Madera…try to keep us level,” Baxter ordered. “We can’t afford to crash back into the surface.”
“This is harder than it looks, Captain,” Madera said uneasily, as the rocky landscape on the viewscreen began to shift.
The command crew held on as the hull of the Explorer’s hull whined like an old man who had recieved the incorrect change at a restaurant.
“Computer, fire all weapons!” Ford shouted, gripping the pilot’s chair as the huge creature–easily half the size of the Explorer–gripped the Kennebec in its giant paw.
Ford slammed his hand down on the comm panel. “Ford to Explorer…I’m in a buttload of trouble here!”
“Communications array damaged,” the computer announced sweetly. “Hull pressure is reaching critical levels.”
“Damn,” Ford cursed as the runabout shuddered again, causing him to fly backwards, slamming against the rear of the cockpit.
The pilot slid to the deck, rolling back to the aft section of the runabout. As he slid around the cabin, Ford was able to make out the creature’s humongous eye, peering inside one of the Kennebec’s tiny windows.
“Get me out of here!” Ford screamed, as suddenly his wish was seemingly granted.
With a disgusting groan, the duranium hull of the Kennebec snapped open. The creature cracked the runabout open like an egg, and Ford had only one guess as to who the yolk was.
It didn’t take much shaking for Ford to tumble out of the runabout and into the creature’s massive hand.
Ford squinted, realizing that the sun was now coming out. It was actually turning out to be a pretty nice day. Too bad he was about to be eaten.
The creature held Ford up for inspection, grunting curiously, peering at Ford as if he was a tiny gem.
“I’m loaded with cholesterol!” Ford shouted, cupping his hands to his mouth. “And I taste like crap. Trust me!”
Suddenly the creature’s eyes darted away, as Ford discerned a far off rumbling…almost like the sound of an aircraft approaching.
Ford turned around, just in time to see the Explorer soar into view.
Even with its entire saucer section crushed and dented like a tin can, it still looked graceful.
“Big scary creature!” Captain Baxter’s voice said over Explorer’s loudspeakers. “You have one of our crewmen hostage and I demand you give him back. Now.”
The creature just looked down at the “smaller” creature, the one that had attacked the Explorer earlier, and barked out some kind of command.
By the smaller creature’s response, Ford guessed that the command was something to the effect of “Go get them!”
The creature immediately lunged after the Explorer playfully, like a small child trying to grab a passing dog’s tail.
“No no, bad boy!” Baxter taunted, as the Explorer banked to the side, causing the creature to slam against the ground painfully.
Ford looked up into the larger creature’s eyes. Obviously it was none too happy at seeing its offspring injured.
“Errgh!” the creature grunted, squeezing Ford in between its thumb and forefinger.
Ford could actually hear his bones begin to buckle, when suddenly he felt the familiar tingle of the ship’s transporter.
“Transport complete,” Lt. Hartley said, looking up from the science console.
Ensign Ford straightened his uniform, wincing at the pain in his shoulder. “Thanks, Lt. Hartley. You saved my life. How can I make it up to you?”
“Never speak to me again?” Hartley asked, turning to watch the viewscreen.
“The smaller creature is unconcious, Captain,” Lt. Commander Larkin reported. “The other one is in pursuit.”
“Get us out of here,” Baxter said.
“Richards to Baxter. I just thought I might mention that I’m not sure if the Explorer has enough power to break free of this planet’s gravity. It’s amazing enough that such a big ship can maneuver in the atmosphere at all.”
“Noted, Mr. Richardon. Engage, Madera!” Baxter shouted, as he watched the humongous furry creature lope towards them on the viewscreen.
“We’ll reach the outer atmosphere in two minutes,” Lt. Tilleran observed.
“Repressurizing for space travel,” Larkin reported.
“And the creature?” Baxter asked.
“Captain, it’s…” J’hana said, looking up at the viewscreen from tactical.
Baxter stared at the viewscreen in awe as the creature seemed to somehow grow closer. “I don’t recall anyone telling me these things could jump so freaking high!” Baxter cried out.
“Look at that hang time!” Ford noted.
The Explorer shuddered as the creature latched onto its rear section, scrambling to get ahold of the warp nacelles.
“Can you hit it with the torpedoes?” Baxter asked, turning back to J’hana.
“Only if we want to destroy ourselves as well. Not an altogether unpleasant alternative,” J’hana said.
“The creature is weighing us down,” Madera reported. “We can’t break the atmosphere.”
Baxter looked back to the science console. “What if we used the planet’s gravity to slingshot us out of the atmosphere?”
Tilleran studied her panel. “That might work, Captain. Plotting a trajectory now.”
“What about the creature?” Peterman asked.
“It should die when we enter the vacuum of space,” Baxter said.
“Aww,” Peterman said sadly. “But its so fluffy.”
Judging by the glares of her fellow crewmates, Peterman decided that no one else shared her concern for the creature.
“Trajectory plotted,” Tilleran reported. “I’m sending it to the helm.”
“Engaging!” Madera said.
The Explorer suddenly changed direction, placing itself in what appeared to be a very very low orbit, and somehow, the creature still hung on.
“We are picking up speed,” Madera noted.
“Wait until we reach peak speed then pull up,” Baxter commanded.
The Explorer suddenly lurched upward, and the clouds on the viewscreen were slowly replaced by the welcome sight of dark space.
“Entering space,” Larkin reported. “We have left the planet’s gravity well.”
“Status on the creature?” Baxter asked, looking back to Tilleran.
Tilleran checked her readings, then checked again, the shock apparent on her face. “Captain…I don’t believe it. It’s still alive.”
“How is that possible?” Conway asked.
“I’m tired of screwing around,” Baxter said. “J’hana, can we knock it off with phasers?”
“It will have to be a very precise shot, Captain,” J’hana said.
“Not a problem for you, right, J’hana?” Conway asked.
“Are you kidding? Of course not!” J’hana said.
“Then fire the f***ing phasers!” Baxter shouted.
“Fine, jerk,” J’hana said, hitting the “fire” button.
A thin, red beam lanced out of the Explorer’s damaged saucer section, slicing with surgical precision right through the creature’s arm.
“Nice shooting.” Baxter said, watching the arm spin away from them on the viewscren. “Now finish him!”
Before J’hana could do anything, the creature planted its feet on the Explorer’s rear section, pounding its remaining hand into the top of the ship.
The Explorer shook violently as panels sparked all around the battle bridge.
“Get him again, J’hana!” Conway shouted.
“Firing!” J’hana replied, as rapid fire bursts lashed out of the creature, knocking it off the Explorer’s hull.
“Now put some distance between us and the creature,” Baxter ordered. “Then blow it to bits.”
“Gladly,” J’hana said, watching as the creature spun through space, getting smaller and smaller on the screen as the Explorer accelerated.
“Now, J’hana!” Baxter ordered.
Three shimmering blue torpedoes erupted from the Explorer’s aft launcher, connecting with the creature and blowing it apart in a disgusting hail of blood and guts.
“Well, that sure was a blast,” Baxter said uneasily, settling into the command chair. “Helm, lay in a course for the nearest starbase, best speed.”
Stardate 52234.6. After recieving vital engine repairs at Starbase 290, we have set a course to return to Earth, where we will undergo a major structural overhaul. I don’t know what they’re going to use to bang those dents out, but it will have to be pretty darn big.
Lt. Commander Richards threw the padd down on the table, collapsing into his chair in exaustion.
“What a day,” he said tiredly, rubbing his eyes.
“Problems?” Baxter asked from across the table.
“The whole forward shield grid will have to be taken out. We’re talking at least a week’s work. Of course, we’ll be doing the hull and engines at the same time, but still…we’re going to be out of comission for quite a while.”
Baxter snapped his fingers, waving Mirk over. “Another grapefruit juice, Mirk. And an ale for Richards.”
Mirk sat the drinks down, looking over to Richards. “Couldn’t help but overhear you, Commander. Are you saying I won’t be able to move back into my bar until the ship is repaired?”
“Be glad we let you have this holodeck,” Baxter said.
“That’s all well and good, Captain,” Mirk said. “But people have been coming in here to play gravity ball while my customers are trying to eat. It’s quite disconcerting.”
“You know, if I didn’t know better, I’d say this was Mirk’s bar,” Richardon noted, looking around.
“The wonders of technology.” Baxter laughed, sipping from his drink.
At that moment, the holodeck doors appeared and parted, allowing Counselor Peterman and Dr. Browning to enter. They were laughing hysterically about something.
“…so I recorded Ensign Pressbury’s injury as…accidental,” Dr. Browning said in amusement.
Peterman giggled as the two took their seats next to Baxter and Richards. “And if he has something to say to the contrary?”
“It’s unneccessary surgery time!” Browning said cheerfully.
“Serves him right for heckling the panic management techniques I taught you,” Peterman said resolutely.
“Good thing they abolished malpractice insurance when they killed all the lawyers,” Richards noted.
“Tell me about it,” Browning laughed. “If they hadn’t, I would have been put out of business a long time ago.”
“You don’t know how comfortable that makes me feel, being one of your patients,” Baxter said dully.
“That reminds me, Andy,” Browning giggled. “You’re about due for a physical, aren’t you?”
“No!” Baxter said. “I mean, I just had one.”
“Last year,” Peterman said. “What’s the matter, Andy, are you scared of a little hypospray?”
“No, I’m just scared that Janice will accidentally inject me with Jell-O or something.”
“Give me some credit,” Browning said, looking around. “Boy, this really does feel just like Mirk’s bar. But is everyone in here real, or are some of them holographic?”
“I don’t even know,” Baxter said. “But I have a fun way of finding out.”
Baxter got up from his seat and walked over to a booth, where Commander Conway was about to dig into a nice, juicy cheeseburger.
“Commander?” Baxter asked, approaching the table.
“What do you want?” Conway asked, glaring up at him.
“I just wanted to know if you were real or not,” Baxter said.
“How f***ing real do you think I am?” Conway asked wryly.
“Let’s find out!” Baxter said excitedly, taking the top bun off the chesseburger and mushing Conway’s face down into it, placing the bun delicately on top of his head.
Conway looked up, growling angrily. “I’m going to kill you, Baxter!”
“Computer, exit!” Baxter cried, making for the exit.
The doors swhooshed open, allowing Baxter to make his escape. Conway gave chase, pushing past tables and chairs and leaping through the doors.
Richards watched, noting that Conway indeed did not disappear when he went through the door. “He’s real, all right.”
“Real pissed.” Peterman laughed.
Suddenly Baxter came running back into the holodeck, diving behind Mirk’s holographic bar.
Mirk just looked down at him complacently. “Can I help you, Captain?”
“Shh!” Baxter said, putting a finger to his lips.
Conway burst in, looking madder than before. “Where is he? Where is he!” he shouted, looking around the bar.
“Just missed him,” Peterman said. “He went back out into the corridor.”
“I’ve gotcha, Baxter!” Conway said, running back towards the exit.
“Computer, remove exit!” Baxter shouted, jumping up from behind the bar.
Before Conway could reach the exit, it was replaced with a wall, which the First Officer promptly crashed into.
Baxter walked over to Conway, looking down at his barely concious form. “Baxter: two, Conway: zero.”
“New ship arriving in repair bay two. USS Explorer, Galaxy- class,” the ensign said calmly, looking up at the large windows that looked over the laticelike structure of McKinley station’s repair bay two.
The dockmaster stared over the ensign’s shoulder at the readings. “What is it this time? Overstressed warp engines? Overloaded shield grid? Asteroid impacts?”
“No, sir,” the ensign said uneasily. “It says here the Explorer was…um, stepped on.”
“Stepped on?” the dockmaster said in disbelief, looking out the windows as the ship drifted into place. He couldn’t tell for sure since it was so far away, but it appeared as if the ship was covered in some kind of red substance…blood?
“Several times, sir,” the ensign replied.
The dockmaster covered his face. “I don’t believe it.”
“Sir, they’re requesting we renovate the bridge, reconstruct the shield grid, repair all hull fractures, replace the warp core sequencers, bang out the dents, and…um…wash off the alien guts.”
“Well, that is a new one.”
While the Explorer is laid over with repairs, Admiral McGrath comes up with a wonderful way for them to pass the time: Meet the sickly Admiral Leonard McCoy!