Phantom Days: The Haunted Sea
Phantom Days- The Haunted Sea - 11
‘ Willow Rosenberg’s personal log, stardate…
Hey, Xander, what’s the stardate? ’
“What’s the what now?”
‘ Well, anyway, personal log: Today….
The Scooby Gang, mark-two, on the USS Phantom.
We’re almost back at the Epsilon Ursae system, site of the great Demon War of twenty-three seventy-six. I’ve stocked the PRD stores with a whole bunch of those protection pouches we used before. They’re only good for preventing possession, or the mental influence of supernatural energies, but it’s something. I’ve got my data pad to work with. It’s a list of every spell I can remember (which, I can tell you, is a lot shorter than it should be). I never realised how much I relied on my library ‘till it was gone.
I’ve started training the girls in PRD to connect with the Wiccan force. It’s not easy, and way slow, but… I feel like a Jedi master. Actually, we’re still at that meditative stage – getting in touch with nature as a force. Trying to feel it. Once we get through the basics, I’ve figured out a plan to focus each of them on their own specialised fields.
I’ll focus the twins on attack – two witches combined are way more powerful than one. I’ll try to teach Mei-Li the defensive magicks. And, hopefully, if she picks it up well, I can get Kimberly into the more complex spellcasting.
We’ve been working in the PRD lab on the bottom deck – basically down in the ship’s basement. The crew are calling it ‘The Dungeon’. It’s funny, but all the PRD officers are female. Then there’s Anya and me. It’s led to us being dubbed ‘The Witches’ Coven
’. We don’t really mind…’
‘ Okay, Xander minds.
So, soon we’ll be back in the company of minions from the hell dimension, but what can we expect to find…? ’
“Never thought I’d utter these words,” interrupted Xander, “but I think I miss the zombies. Simple MO. Easy to dispatch. At least you knew where you stood with those.”
‘ Yeah… We’re apprehensive about what we’ll find out there in the deep dark of space… Something we’ve seen before?… Another Baragnos? – Goddess forbid… Or a pack of Hell-hounds
Whatever it is, I know this: We’ve got a kick-ass crew, and we mean business.
This time…we’re ready.
End log. ’
“How was that?” asked Willow. They were in her room, Xander and Anya, in uniform and ready for the day.
“Very professional,” Xander commented. “If a little…”
“A little what
“Pretentious,” offered Anya.
Her face puffed up. “Pretentious
Anya quoted; “The Great Demon War of twenty-three seventy-six? The deep dark of space? …This time we’re ready?”
The witch scowled. “Xander? You think my log’s pretentious?”
He looked down from the rim of Willow’s top bunk and saw both girls waiting expectantly for his response. He’d have to tread carefully with this one. “Pretentious? No. Just…a little… extravagant maybe.”
“That means pretentious, honey,” Anya pointed out.
He went back to reading the 24th century equivalent of Barracuda on his padd. It didn’t really bother him anymore that the girls were all green.
Willow swivelled back to her computer. “That’s why personal logs should stay personal.”
“Why bother with ‘em anyway?” asked Xander. “Sounds a lot like telling yourself what you already know.”
“Logs are important here, Xander” she contested. “They’re more than just a record of events. It’s your life in your own words – a living diary. And it’s something for your children if you ever have any. Plus!... They’re admissible as evidence. You should start keeping them.” She looked at Anya. “If you think you can manage to be unpretentious, that is.”
Anya rose to the challenge, and Will prepared an entry. “Go on.”
‘ Anya Jenkins’ log:
Woke up. Had breakfast. Going to work.
That’s all for now. ’
Willow scoffed. “That’s not a log. That’s just a…really sucky status update.”
“There’s my Anya,” Xander proclaimed. “Short and to the point.”
The door opened. It was Kimberly.
“Ready for the Dungeon, gang?” She saw the computer. “You started a log?”
Will shut it down and sagged. “I was trying
.” She gave Anya the beady eyes.
“Have you thought about sending yourselves a message?” Clegg suggested.
“Whatcha mean?” puzzled Xander from his lofty perch.
“A few years ago, back when I started at the academy, I made an entry for my future self,” she explained. “I talked about my hopes and dreams – where I planned to be when I’m future-Clegg. I can’t even remember what I said now, but I’ll find out in…oh…fifty years or so.”
It sounded like a neat idea to Will, but… “I hadn’t really thought that far ahead.”
Xander had. “I hope to have all the back issues of Orion Girls Monthly by then. And I dream of one day becoming King
Xander of the planet of Amazonian warrior princesses.”
That failed to surprise Anya. “I see your
plans haven’t evolved much since Sunnydale. Whereas, I
plan to bring back capitalism … using Vulcan logic. And, if that fails, an army of Kling-ons.”
Clegg was beginning to get the impression it had been a bad suggestion.* * *
The U.S.S. Phantom ripped through the stars like a subspace bolt of lightening as it approached its destination somewhere between Risa, in the Epsilon Ceti system, and Regulus, in the Alpha Leonis system.
Two weeks prior, on a planet known as Epsilon Ursae-Six, on an isolated continent 40 miles from the nearest inhabited landmass, which was home to a tribe of pre-industrial humanoids native to that world, a massive catastrophe occurred. Unknown to those natives, a warship from another world smashed into the planet, spreading its debris across the surface for miles. From that wreckage poured forth an army of the dead and the beasts of hell. Demons and Zombies under the rule of a dark master born of the loins of Lucifer clashed against a force of Klingon warriors, Starfleet soldiers, the Slayer, and her team. The resulting carnage lay waste to the land and left that quiet isolated world littered with all manner of corpses and equipment.
Although a military success, in the eyes of the Federation and Starfleet Command it was also a great disaster. Interfering in any way with a society not yet reaching out into the stars was strictly forbidden.
So, for two weeks, a dedicated team of Starfleet personnel worked tirelessly to remove all evidence of the Demon War, scouring the surface with their scans and the finest-toothed combs in their arsenal. Nothing could be left behind. Not even a boot print, which could one day become a fossil that could cause great confusion and controversy to the future population of that world.
The starship leading this clean-up operation was the U.S.S. Vanguard
, now locked in stationary orbit over that planetary globe, and the overseer in her command chair was Captain Rebecca Strauss. But she wasn’t in her chair now.
During the whole two-week process, she’d been so tied up with the logistics of the operation – co-ordinating the numerous teams involved and maintaining the atmospheric dispersal satellites that provided them with a window through which to transport materials from the surface en mass – that sleep had become a rare luxury. Now close to the end, she’d stolen a couple of hours in which to rest and, by Jesus, she needed it.
Captain Strauss was curled up in her bed, off on a mission to the great land of nod. That moment when she’d laid down and closed her eyes… sleep had never felt so good.
Her last waking thought: Peace and quiet at last
The screeching of the intercom broke her out of sleep so suddenly that her blurred brain could not co-ordinate with her muscles. She tried to hit the comm-switch by the bed, but her arm had become a wild heavy tentacle. It took three failed attempts in the dark, with the computer wailing at her, before she managed to get her vocal cords to function. She called for the lights, blinding herself momentarily.
The clock read 05:15.
Twenty-five minutes. She’d been asleep for less than twenty-five minutes. She pressed the comm and the link to the bridge was established. She didn’t have to say anything. Within a moment, the voice of the tactical officer on night watch came through:
“Captain, we’ve got the Phantom on an approach vector. ETA fifteen minutes.”
She managed to reply with a rough groan.* * *
500km from Epsilon-6, a shift of officers was hard at work in the early hours. They were the lucky few assigned to the massive cargo-transport vessel Olympia
Within, a six-man crew in thick coats and woollen hats came from a refrigerated section of the bay, a cloud of icy mist following them out of the huge open doorway. Some rubbed their cold hands together as others massaged aching muscles. They were the crewmen on the short end of the straw-draw for the night. Their assignment: morgue duty.
They walked slowly and lightly in the low gravity of the large open chamber, some bounded toward the central transport site like men walking on the moon.
All around them, patches of thick drying fluid spattered the deck; some of it was green, and some red. Some was black, and deep blue. And some bore the distinctive pinkish shade of Klingon blood.
For two weeks, the Olympia’s cold storage area had been gradually filling with death. It was now a hall of corpses. The Demon dead.
In amongst the last batch of transported goods they’d found the partial remains of a Klingon and what had looked like a human arm.
The human stuff, or anything that looked like it wasn’t hell-beast material, went in a separate freezer unit. Everything once able to walk, talk and think had to be recorded, categorised and saved. Identification was necessary to confirm those now among the ranks of the dead. And families needed something to bury.
The clean-up team wasn’t ashamed to admit that they were glad to have missed out on this particular piece of action.
The team leader held a large cold-weather comm unit in his gloved hand, which he now had pressed against his hat-covered ear.
“Got it,” he said to the planet-side officer on the other end (where it was, ironically, hot and humid). “Keep back,” he told his crew. “We’ve got a big load coming up.”
Most of them kicked off the deck and sailed back a few feet for clearance, drifting inches off the floor and skidding back onto their feet. The low gravity had been entertaining for the first couple of days, but now the moon-fun was over.
In the centre of their six-man circle, a swirling glittering storm of particles and energy shimmered briefly and subsided to reveal a rotting pile of…
The men walked around the hulking carcass, bending to examine, stepping in for a closer look.
The team leader gave it a shove with his thermal boot. “What in the name of–?”
It was a behemoth. A massive armour-plated beast.
“It looks like King Kong mated with a Klingon Krac’Nul. ” said one man.
“King who?” said another.
“Never mind. It looks like a giant armoured gorilla.”
One of the men captured the monster on a holo-camera for the PRD files.
It was laid out across the floor on its belly and its sprawled arms ended with hands as large as a man’s torso. They found a bloody crack in its armoured skull that must have been the killer. What they didn’t know was that it was Worf who had hammered a Klingon blade into its head. And now the smell of its decaying insides was reaching out of that skull crack in revenge.
Jerry, the fan of old black and white movies like King Kong, covered his face and moved back. “Hell, that reeks.” He hoped they’d start sending debris up again soon.
Their team leader, Renault, knew what had to be done. “Let’s get it in the freezer then.”
This was where the gravity came into play.
Renault picked up the smelly head as four others took the limbs and, with very little effort considering the size and weight of the thing, they were able to raise it to waist-level.
Jerry was left with nothing to hold.
Two of his crewmates splayed the legs to give him entry.
“I’m not grabbing that.” Nor did he wish to get too close to the giant rotting back-end of a fowl rotting… thing.
The men laughed.
“I guess we’ll have to manage,” said Renault as they hauled the creature away.
“I’ll get the mop,” said Jerry, going for the sonic cleaner to scrub the floor.* * *
Above the cold storage level, the Olympia opened her outer bay doors for three of the Vanguard’s shuttlecraft. With their hulls magnetised, they drew into the cargo bay with fragments of metal pinned to their skins and came to rest, dropping the salvaged materials to the deck. Another clean-up run complete. But the wasteland of space outside was still amassed with combat flotsam and junk. And not everything out there was magnetic. The final stage would come the following day when the Vanguard would use wide-beam phaser-fire to eviscerate all that remained.
For every man, woman, and alien officer involved, it had been by far the worst task they had ever undertaken in their careers with Starfleet. A task that would stay with them for all their years after.* * *
Willow was having a strange old day. She’d left her room to start their early shift and found the guy across the hall waiting for her in his doorway.
“Excuse me, but could I loan you for a second?” he’d asked, moving aside to let her into his room. It had been a curious offer but he assured her it was nothing sinister. He needed her help.
“I have… an embarrassing problem that I generally avoid advertising.” He’d said once inside. “I get, well, a little nervous travelling.”
“On a starship?”
He opened his arms. “Embarrassing.”
She told him she’d drop off a magicky necklace that protects travellers after her shift.
“Thank you. Thank you so much.” He’d shaken her hand vigorously. “It’s a real pleasure to serve with you.”
“Well, Yeah. You guys are like real superheroes,” he beamed. “Some think you brought this Demon mess here but the educated among us know it brought you. And we’re grateful for that.”
“Really?” She was flattered.
“Yeah, cos, without you… we’d be drilled.”
He looked a little uncertain. “Yeah?”
“You mean screwed?”
Then she was stopped in passing by a female red shirt.
“Do you know if there’s a way I can increase my fertility naturally? I heard your powers come from nature, so I thought I’d ask. Can you recommend anything to improve my chances of pregnancy?”
Willow blinked. “More sex?”
Not two minutes later and a security officer was asking her to bless him with luck.
She knew full-well from Professor Walsh’s class, pre-Doctor Frankenstein period, that 99% of luck was psychological anyway. So, if he thought she could actually make him lucky with magic, then he would probably make it happen himself. So, she stuck out a finger and gave him a light tap on the head. “There. You’re done. Don’t spend it all at once.”
Now she glided through the corridors, strutting with her head high, a fairy drifting along on rays of sunshine. There were no seasons in space, no sense of the time of year or day. But Willow Rosenberg walked through the halls of the Phantom feeling like summer. Everything just seemed to be…falling into place. She wasn’t even halfway to the lift when she was stopped again.
It was a tall slim guy in blue. He looked the science type and his skin was pale, his face tired-looking. He had a sadness about him, but he smiled when he saw her. He said something she wouldn’t soon forget.
“My fiancée died in the battle of Epsilon Ursae-Six. Because of you her sacrifice meant something. Thank you.” * * *
The U.S.S. Phantom slowed to impulse speed and circled around the brown ball of Epsilon Ursae-4, following the path taken a fortnight before by the Enterprise and Rutherford, until they came upon the sixth planet – a world amid a field of debris. Pieces of ships, shuttles, and fighters – the ruins of war – hanging over the planet like a cloud of sparkling space dust. It looked almost beautiful as it glistened on the main viewscreen. But it was just ash. The ashes of death and destruction.
Captain Rayner got up from his command chair at the sight of it. He’d read the reports, but they failed to convey the weight of it all. Standing on the ground where the fight took place was another thing altogether.
“We are being hailed by the Vanguard,” announced Commander Varik.
“Put it up.”
“They are patching through to the captain’s quarters.”
That was unusual. The screen changed and revealed a middle-aged woman with short brown hair pushed back behind her ears and soft round features. She was dressed in a night gown.
“Welcome to Epsilon, Phantom,” said Rebecca Strauss in a tired husky voice.
“Did we wake you, Captain?”
“Only partially.” Her tone was blank.
She was either being sarcastic or making a joke. Rayner couldn’t tell.
“It’s my understanding you’re on the hunt for those creatures,” she said. “I already know what you’re going to ask. There are so many engine trails out here it’s like spaghetti, and I’m afraid we haven’t had the resources to track any of them.”
“Have you managed to find anything among the wreckage that might serve as a clue?” Rayner asked.
“Well, let me see,” she massaged a hand against her temples as she tried to concentrate her groggy mind on the question. “There were eighteen Klingon fighters involved in the conflict, Captain. Only one survived intact, and we’ve found wreckage for a further fifteen. Two remain unaccounted for, if that’s of any help.”
“It’s a starting point,” he granted. “We’ll let you get back to your rest.”
She gave a slow nod that looked a lot like relief. Then, as an afterthought, said: “I wonder… would you have any duel-function particle filters I could requisition? We’ve got a ring of satellites hoovering out a clean hole in the atmosphere but the plasma gases keep wearing out the core nodes. We’re replacing them almost every hour.”
Rayner deferred the request over to Carver at the engineering station.
“Sure,” he replied. “I’ll send over whatever we can spare.”
“It’s appreciated. And Good luck, Captain. We’ve had ships and shuttles in and out here for days. There’ll be engine trails all over the system.”
He acknowledged. “Thank you,” he said, giving Varik the signal to terminate, and the planet reappeared on the screen. The long rectangular form of the Olympia hung before them. The Vanguard was probably on the far side of the globe.
Rayner returned to his seat and started pushing buttons on the computer panels beside him. “Let’s get to work on finding a lead, people.”* * *
Almost two hours later and things were starting to get spooky on the Phantom. To the captain’s annoyance, Commander Merran had begun throwing her PRD authority at him, which was threateningly looking to match the authority reserved only for a ship’s doctor. Against his own judgement, she had insisted on following the Rosenberg girl’s advice and now every member of his crew was walking the ship wearing a strange-smelling herbal pouch around their necks.
For protection, she’d said.
He hadn’t really had good cause to disallow it. As for himself, he tucked his under his uniform out of sight. At least Merran was out from under his feet for the time being. He’d also granted her request to download the image files gathered by the Vanguard’s teams and she’d gone off on her broomstick to look at all the new monsters.
So far they’d had no luck finding a decent trail and were circling around the Olympia like a confused vulture. Before leaving, Merran had offered Xander’s advice:
“If all else fails, Captain, one of our outposts may have picked something up by now.”
It was beginning to sound like their only option at this point.
Rayner was circling the bridge as aimlessly as his circling ship when he saw Varik and Nog getting excited over the screen in front of them.
“You have something?”
“A possible lead, Captain,” the small Ferengi reported. “A miscellaneous impulse trail. It’s not one of ours.”
“Can you get a clear reading on it?”
“I am attempting to isolate the plasma signature,” said Varik. “Analysing now.”
“Klingon?” The captain sounded impatient.
Varik checked over the results. “It does appear consistent with Klingon engine emissions. Eighty-three percent probable match to a Negh'Var-class assault shuttle.”
“This’s the only viable lead you’ve been able to identify?”
“Yes, sir,” answered Nog.
That was all Rayner needed to hear. “Helm – set a heading…” He looked to the Ferengi.
A quick glance at ops, and Nog finished: “Three-four-three, mark three-one-nine.”
Lori input the course as Rayner took his chair.Finally
, he thought. “Warp five. And track that trail. Keep us on target.”* * *
The Phantom, small, rotund, and fierce, angled itself away from the clean-up operation, as it caught the faint scent of its prey on the breeze, and darted away like a hungry falcon.* * *
They’d been cruising at warp for many hours in pursuit of their missing Klingon fighter, and the captain, who hadn’t bothered giving his chair up for the night shift, was nodding off when the Phantom lurched suddenly. His eyes snapped open and he looked around the bridge.
The small viewscreen showed a field of warped stars ahead. Most of his primary crew had stayed on duty with their captain, and their expressions told him he hadn’t dreamt things. His first thought was to thank the heavens. Better to not suffer the embarrassment of performing a public sleep-spasm. His second thought: why did it feel like they’d run over something in space?
Then it happened again.
The ship bounced and Commander Carver let out a loud “Whoa,” at the sight of his monitors. “The engines didn’t like that.”
“Sensors are…” Varik frowned, more surprised than confused. “I am uncertain, Captain.”
Another jolt and Rayner’s chair almost came out from under him.
Carver spoke up; “Okay… I’m getting some strange readings from the warp nacelles now.”
Things grew bumpier as the ship began to rattle around them.
The captain didn’t dare get up for fear of hitting the deck. He held onto his seat firmly. “Reinforce integrity field and stabilise the dampers,” he directed at Nog. “Care to elaborate, Mr Carver?”
“Not sure that I can, Captain. The warp field coils are … they’re burning up. The nacelles are shaking apart from the inside. We’re not gonna be able to maintain a warp field like this.”
The whole bridge was now bucking like a mad bronco in a rodeo show. The bulkheads twisted and the interior fittings rubbed against each other, squeaking loudly.
Varik struggled to make sense of his own screens. “We seem to be caught on the edge of some kind of energy field.”
The captain tried to pull himself up to see the readings with his own eyes.
Nog’s workstation was running its own analysis. “It looks like a cloud–”
There came a shuddering rattle followed by a loud creak from the framework somewhere behind them.
Rayner was tossed back into his chair.* * *
The U.S.S. Phantom dropped out of warp and crawled to a stop.* * *
The ship settled down and fell quiet again as they drew to a standstill. The lights were flickering and some of the computers blinked to the same rhythm.
Rayner picked himself up. “Varik, what is it?”
“Some kind of …storm front… moving in on our position,” the Vulcan replied uncertainly.
“A storm front? In space?” Captain Rayner couldn’t recall a time when Varik had responded so vaguely. “On viewer.”
Nog transferred the image to the screen and they saw as the cloud he’d mentioned rolled in like an ocean mist.
For a moment, Rayner could imagine himself the captain of the Mary Celeste; caught on the high seas, a mystical bank of fog creeping over the boat, blocking out the stars and the sail. A fog that would pass, leaving an empty ship of ghosts.
He shook the image away. “What the hell is that? And why did we fly into it?”
“It wasn’t detected by our sensors until now, sir,” replied the night pilot. “The navigational array was only picking up the usual ionic and atomic matter, and electromagnetic radiation.”Not on the weather forecast, eh?
“And what exactly are the sensors saying now? Is it any threat?”
“There is no indication to suggest so,” replied Varik as his screens flashed. “Though, it does appear to be more compact than the usual interstellar medium. Sensor are limited.”
Rayner was beginning to tire of all the ambiguity. “What are we looking at? Nebula remnant? Comet fragments?”
Nog was having a little more luck at ops. “It reads only as a low-level EM wave front. Wait… I may be detecting some nonionic patterns. That could explain the cloud, sir.”
The captain looked to the screen with more consideration. “The radiation’s lighting it up.” It was almost like matter igniting against antimatter, but infinitely less volatile. In theory. “What do we lose if we plot around it?”
“At least an hour,” replied helm.
That was too much. In a hunt, an hour could mean the difference between catching their prey and losing its trail.
Rayner had to get them out quickly and get back underway. “Warp engines?”
Carver turned at engineering. “Wouldn’t recommend it, Captain.”
“I’d take it easy. Something out there isn’t mixing well with the EPS and I’m having trouble stabilising the plasma flow.”
Rayner returned to his seat. “Let’s try half impulse – raise shields and take us through.”
After a moment, the chief engineer added; “The shields are out, and some of the sensor arrays have seized up. Actually…a lot of our systems don’t seem to be working properly. The ship’s experiencing some kind of power disruption…and I can’t identify the cause of the interference.”
In the back of his mind, Javen Rayner slammed his fists against his armrests. “Try to maximise the inertial dampers.”
Carver did his thing and the pilot did his thing, and a minute later the ship eased forward slowly.
“Structural integrity holding,” said the engineer.
“Radiation levels within safety limits,” Varik added.
It seemed they were making headway until the back end of the ship began to rattle and thump.
“Impulse engines failing,” called the helmsman.
“Having trouble holding integrity,” Carver warned. “Dampers at their limits. They could go any second.”
Rayner considered smashing his chair with his fists again. It wasn’t working. “Helm – switch to thrusters. Back us out of the cloud.”
The impulse engines went silent and the pilot set the Phantom on a gentle reverse course.
What happened next surprised everyone.
First a rumble. Then everything shook. They bounced one last time violently. Then a great boom and a heavy deep clang from the back of the ship that sounded far from good. And then it all went dark.
The lights were out on the bridge. The viewer was blank, and only some consoles were working, providing their only illumination.
Rayner had managed to stay on his perch. “What happened?”
“We’ve just lost the portside thruster,” said a stunned Carver.
“Can you get it back up?”
“I mean it’s gone
, Captain. Boom.”
Confusion made him angry, and Rayner took a second to bury his temper. “Any way we can get out of here?”
“The dampers are down and our integrity field is barely holding up. We’re in no fit state to move even of we could.”
The captain sat back and looked into the blank viewscreen.
They were low on energy, their shields too weak to protect them from the stress of normal flight. The Phantom… was adrift.
Commander Varik’s science station was dead. There was nothing he could do but turn to his chief. “Captain. I should point out… Radiation levels were rising before the sensors failed.”
The captain nodded in understanding. A foreboding statement if ever he’d heard one. “Can we at least have some light in here?”
The chief engineer had yet more bad news. “I’m having difficulty accessing the main power grid. Emergency systems are unresponsive. It’s like parts of our whole network just died.”
Rayner’s patience was breaking. “What about the alert lights? Aren’t they on a separate supply? Switch them
on. …And alert the crew.”* * *
Willow was asleep in her bunk when the engine blew. She was having a dream about an earthquake. Only it wasn’t a dream. She opened her eyes slowly… but she still couldn’t see. Everything was black. Was she blind? She heard movement.
Kimberly flashed a torch light in her face. “Willow? You okay?”
Will squinted against the sudden glare. “Are we being attacked?”
“I don’t think so.” Clegg put the cube torch on the workstation and went into the small wall cupboard for her uniform. “I think something just blew out on us.”
In the glow of the torch, Willow watched her from the high bunk.
She was in her night clothes; a tight grey vest that showed off her slender midriff, and scant matching panties.
Will traced the line of her bare legs up towards her–
She caught herself, and rolled back into her bed. She felt guilt, or shame perhaps, over her thoughts. Her bad bad thoughts.
“Willow? Are you coming?”
“Come on, get dressed.”
“Yep.”* * *
In their uniforms and out in the aisles, Will and Clegg found Xander and Anya already wandering through the confusion. Along the walls, strips of red light from the emergency alarm system were on constant, giving the dark ship a faint red glow. It was like a submarine on high alert. The Red October waiting for the torpedo strike. And without the hum of the engines the quiet was unnerving.
A security crewman approached along the corridor with a light in his hand.
“What’s going on?” Clegg said to him.
His torch lit her shirt collar. “PRD?”
He shone the light back along the hall. “Commander Laine’s gathering security and PRD in the mess for a briefing,” he explained. Others emerged and the officer called out: “Science and engineering crews to main engineering. Medical staff to the sickbay, please.”
Willow looked to Clegg, but her face held no answers. She turned to Xander and Anya. They looked like they had the same feeling she did. That awful sinking of the heart.
Something sinister was afoot.* * *
Captain Rayner climbed the ladders from the nacelle deck up onto the railed gangway and found Commander Joshua Carver at the portside thruster assembly.
Above and below were two stacked pairs of 6ft spheres – the impulse fusion reactors – surrounded by a heatproof metal mesh walkway. Fitted over these spheres was the jet-like thruster assembly.
He found Carver and his men climbing about on the reactors with their engineering devices.
The chief came down and met him on the platform. “Well, there’s the thruster.” It was still smoking. “The magnetic pumps have cracked, the distribution nodes are cooked, and the thrust nozzles are in pieces.”
That sounded like a lot of damage for no reason. “Cause?”
“On first inspection, it looks like it was either the plasma return inlets or the field trap that exploded. Probably the latter. From what I can see here… maybe something got into the engine through the scoops. Something that ate away at the duranium casing, or super-heated the plasma. Maybe something in that cloud out there. We’ll hopefully know more when we take this thing apart and get a look inside.”
“This kind of damage? …A day. It’ll mean taking some of the parts from one of the other backup thrusters.” Carver wasn’t sure what the captain was asking. He squinted at the man. “You want this fixing now?”
Rayner looked up at the smoking heap of scrap. It was just one thruster. They had bigger problems. “No, leave it. Have your people investigate the cause, but I want all your repair crews working on our power situation. Dampers, shields, sensors. Find a way to get us out of this fog.”
Carver gave a tip of the head as something stirred up behind him. Looking back, he saw Lt. Haim stumble out from behind the secondary impulse reactor, catching himself on the platform railing, then collapsing face-first onto the metal grill.
Carver hit his badge. “Emergency medical team to reactor assembly three!” He rushed across to Haim, rolled him over, and checked his breathing. He was alive. He looked up at Haim’s team. “What happened to him in there?”
“He was fine a second ago, Commander,” said Ensign Partida. “Then… he just walked out here and fainted.”
The chief removed his uniform jacket, rolled it and eased it under Haim’s head. He turned to Rayner with a look that said something very strange was at work on the Phantom today.* * *
The captain passed through the door and onto his dying bridge. “Varik. We need to identify what’s in that cloud. Any progress?”
The Vulcan, observing Nog as he played around with the inner workings of the ops station, stood upright. “We are experiencing major difficulties with our sensors, Captain,” he explained. “The partial loss of EPS supply to large sections of each array has limited our scanning ability.”
“Engineering crews are working on restoring power, but I need something now.”
“It may be possible to bypass the effected sections of the arrays, sir,” suggested Nog from the floor. “If we route their functions through the working EPS taps. Unfortunately, the engineering controls are not functioning.”
“Then someone needs to rewire them from the Jefferies tubes,” Rayner said.
“That would take a considerable amount of time,” warned Varik. “…However, if we were to route them directly through one of the auxiliary generators…”Of course
, thought Nog. Much easier
. But… he didn’t want to mention it was less likely to work.
Varik said it for him. “Although, it may prove too great a drain on the smaller supply.”
Rayner paced the bridge. There was no image on the viewer, and many of the computer terminals were blackened out.
Varik’s eyes narrowed slightly as he squinted against the dull ache in his head. Over the past few minutes he’d begun to notice a light throbbing growing at his temples. It was faint, barely warranting consideration. He gave no sign of his discomfort.
The captain turned back to them. “It’s worth a try. One of you up for it?”
Varik suppressed his headache. He required a distraction, something to get him off the bridge for a while. “I will attend to it.”* * *
Laine didn’t have much to say in his briefing in the mess hall. They were adrift. In a cloud. His instructions: Not to panic. Have breakfast and report to their departments as normal.
So, the Scoobs were back in that dining room. The place they had received the bad news just days before. Now it was full of life and people. It was breakfast, and everyone was on duty today.
Torches and candles gave the mess a warm glow. Power was down, or sporadic at best. One of the security boys had opened the ceiling and disconnected the one flickering light still trying to work. Life support was still working so the room wasn’t any colder, which was a blessing.
Will, Xander, Anya and Clegg had taken one of the corner tables out of the way. Crewmen were handing out ration packs and occasionally the food slot would fire up and someone (usually the quickest on their toes) managed to coax a meal out of it.
Xander gave his sorry little bag of breakfast a sideways sneer and ripped the top strip away. “Whadda we have today?” he gave it a sniff and recoiled.
Kimberly examined his shiny wrapper. “Ration pack four,” she said. “Slow-release nutrients in a tasty asparagus paste. Yum.”
He turned longingly toward the food slot.
The others opened their little goodie bags.
“Dried bread and cheese spread,” said an excited Clegg.
“Protein bar and apple pie,” trumped Willow.
Xander pushed his asparagus slime toward her. “Trade?”
She pulled away from him, keeping her rations on her far side.
It looked like Anya had the oatmeal. But she wasn’t giving it up either.
There was nothing for it. He was starving. Xander spooned up a mouthful of green paste, swilled it down with half a bottle of water, and shuddered.What a mission
, he grumbled to himself. It wasn’t only the rations that made him cringe. Xander wasn’t happy at all. He’d been on smaller craft that had lost their power and life support before, and in those situations he’d experienced a fear like none he’d known. He didn’t much want to go there again. Those times, he’d had another spacecraft to go to. He knew he could do that again if he really had to. Throw on a suit, jump through space, and get in another ride. But this time was different. If life support went out on the Phantom… there was nowhere to run to. They had a full crew, a little shuttle, some escape pods, a few space suits… but how long would the air last in those? And, if the Phantom didn’t work properly in the cloud, why would they be any different?
He tried to tell himself he’d been in worse fixes since landing here in spaceworld. But it didn’t stop the fear.
Laine had a table across the room with Schlatnak and two other security guys. Maybe it was something about being security that meant they had to be tough and rowdy, but they were the loudest bunch in the mess.
“C’mon, tell us the funniest Monchezken joke you know,” coaxed Laine as he gave Schlatnak a light slap on the back.
After some internal debate, the slender Monchezken finally caved in and said, with an ethereal soft tone: “Pilot, spacecraft window fabric having. Friend, curious speaking. Pilot, unknown destination wanting.”
Schlatnak’s big black almond eyes blinked.
“What was that?” said a baffled Laine. “Was that it?” He didn’t get it. He looked around. Nobody seemed to get it.
“Wait, wait, wait,” said one of the other men at the table. “Let me think about this… So, a shuttle pilot’s got a curtain up across his main window… and his friend says ‘Buddy, why you got a curtain on your window?’ …and the pilot replies… ‘I don’t wanna know where I’m going ‘till I get there.’”
Still, no one laughed.
“He wants his destination to be a surprise, right?” offered the security guy.
Laine’s face was still creased up. “And that’s funny?”
“I suppose,” replied the guy. “Think about it. What good is a curtain when the window doesn’t even matter? I mean, you’ve gotta program your destination in for the shuttle to go anywhere, right? Or at least put in the co-ordinates. And if you don’t wanna know where you’re going, just put in some random heading and see where it takes you. Doesn’t matter if you can see out the window. Having a curtain’s just… dumb.”
“Mmm,” Laine replied dubiously, and poured a pack of roasted cashews down his neck.
One of the medics on the blue-shirt’s bench called over. “Hey, Commander.”
Laine looked up.
“I heard one of the engines exploded.”
“I heard someone planted a bomb,” said a red-shirt from the red table.
“No one planted a bomb,” said Laine, shaking his head at them. “The thruster popped all by itself.”
“Thrusters don’t just explode for no reason,” came a hidden response.
“The gas ignited in the scoop or something,” called Laine. “Enough with the nonsense. Engineers are looking into it. Until you hear from them, no more stories. Got it?” he sounded a little annoyed at the end and no one else offered any opinions.
“Can we squeeze in?” asked a perfectly synchronised pair of female voices.
Xander was drawn back to his own table where the twins were standing over him. He had a sudden picture of them both sitting on his lap – one on each knee.
He checked that Anya wasn’t reading his face, then dragged his chair closer to her to make room. They pulled up seats and joined them, with 2 cups of dirty liquid.
“You got the replicator working?” said Kimberley.
“Magic touch,” they answered. One of them gave a cocky wink.
“Say, ladies,” Xander threw at the pair. “We can’t just keep calling you guys ‘the twins’. What’s these names you have that are so hard to remember?”
The one furthest from him swallowed from her cup and offered: “Elaniimilaneeterilazamuu Taro.”
The nearer one had one elbow on the back of her chair, her hand hanging coolly at her side. She took a drink and replied with a half smile: “Meeyaristaloolodezamuu Taro.”
“…Uh-huh.” Xander considered that for a moment. What was it they’d said? “Okay. Yeah, that’s not gonna work.” He aimed a finger at the far one. “What was yours again?”
“Wait,” he interrupted. “Did I catch an ‘Ella’ in there?” He turned to the nearer one. “And you?”
“Mia,” he cut in. “Like Mia Farrow, right?”
Kimberly Clegg leaned in and considered the twins through new eyes. She smiled approvingly. “Ella and Mia.”
The twins seemed game for that.
“Now we just need to remember who’s who,” said Willow.
Xander was pleased with himself and the asparagus paste didn’t taste so bad anymore. And he didn’t find it too hard to tell them apart, either. You could see it in their body language, and in their faces. They had different ways of expressing themselves.
Ella tended to stand with her arms behind her back and her legs straight. Formal. Strict.
Mia usually stood with her hands on her hips and one leg angled out. Casual. Loose.
Ella’s body language and facial expressions were more reserved and bashful.
Mia’s were more expressive and confident.
Ella was balanced. She would drop her head and smile fully.
Mia was a bit more of a rebel. She would keep her head high and smile on one side of her mouth. They even walked differently. Mia had swagger.
Though identical, Ella had a cuteness about her, whereas Mia gave off more of a sexy vibe.
Ella was the kind one, the more polite, and Mia the tough one with the attitude.
It was like they were two sides of the same personality.
And the chin wattle – Ella had one dangly teardrop of skin under there. Mia had the same but with another smaller one behind it.
It occurred to Xander, at that moment, that he probably spent too much time looking at them if he’d noticed all this already. But they were… interesting to look at. Alluring even.
They were completely alien yet, with all the species they were encountering, they were so normal too. He no longer felt weird hanging out with a pair of pink fish chicks.
They took another drink of their mucky water. It looked like there were particles of dust floating in the cloudy liquid.
Xander had to ask. “What are
“Eetooflac,” they said in stereo. “It’s breakfast.” Looking at each other, they tried to imagine the Terran equivalent. “…Seawater and plankton.”‘Kay, maybe a
, Xander reconsidered. “So… There many twins on your planet?”
Anya gave him that look, and he showed her his ‘honestly, dear, I’m not flirting
As it turned out, he was soon informed, their race were almost always born as twins. The Aquiinarians were a race born from cocoons, making Ella and Mia the same age. Neither one was ‘born’ first. They were a telepathically linked twinned species, sharing a symbiotic collective intelligence between each pair, which was why they could speak as one. On their world, twins were joined at the brainwave level. They could speak as one and think as one and, so far, Ella and Mia had always been together.
When Xander asked how that worked if one of them happened to… be involved with a man-fish… They explained that Aquiinarians mate as a pair, usually with a pair.
The logistics of that boggled his brain a bit.
The PRD team turned their heads to the ceiling as the security officers headed out and Laine gave them a cool salute as he passed.
The doors opened briefly then closed behind them.
“How the hell does Laine sleep?” said one of the lieutenants on another table. “You’ve seen the beds here. There’s no way he can fit in one of these bunks. His bottom half wouldn’t even squeeze.”
“Did you know he’s got his own room?” said someone else.
The PRD team shared a few private smiles and wiggly eyebrows.
Clegg leaned across the table and quietly gossiped to her team. “Did I tell you? Laine’s personnel file – it’s partially classified. Captain’s eyes only.”
The twins leaned in. “His file’s private,” said Ella. “His room’s private,” said Mia. “The guy is definitely a Chameloid,” they said together.
“Whatever he is, he’s sure something
special,” uttered Xander, unaware he was testing his own bicep with one hand.
As the others moved out, Will, Xander and Anya were left alone at the table.
“Makes sense to have Laine along,” Anya was saying, “if he’s one of those shapeshifters they’re talking about. He’s a good weapon to have on a mission like this. And quite a talent. Even Willow can’t get a person back from a rat.”
Will’s face went sour for a second, then she added: “It’s like the twins.”
“The twins?” Xander echoed. “What about the twins?” Were they shift-shapers too?
“They have electrocyte muscles in their bodies that can generate alternating current,” she explained. “Like an electric eel.”
“Riiight.” Things were starting to surprise him less and less.
Maybe that’s how they got their breakfast!
He took it onboard with a single nod. “Pink twins go zap.”* * *
When Varik returned from his hour in the maintenance crawl space, Commander Merran was on the bridge. The elderly woman was attempting to access the PRD system but her screens were among those receiving intermittent power.
The Vulcan rubbed his eyes where the ache had spread, and moved to begin the sensor bypass start-up routine with Nog.
While they worked, the bypass idea got Captain Rayner thinking. He leaned forward in his seat and tapped his communicator as Ensign Gunnlaugsdóttir arrived to relieve the night pilot. “Rayner to Carver. What if we bypass the engines and clear out the ramscoops? Maybe venting whatever came in will give us some momentum?”
“It’s a theory,” replied the engineer. “It might work. We should be able to get partial integrity in a few minutes, Captain. If you can live without the dampers we could give it a try.”
“We’ll do that. Bridge out.”
Commander Varik was knelt with his head under the ops station, linking to the auxiliary generator, when he heard a strange sigh from helm. Looking up, the blonde ensign looked to have entered into a trance. Her eyes were fixed on the dead navigational controls.
“Something’s there,” the girl whispered faintly.
“Excuse me?” he said to her. Even his Vulcan ears didn’t quite make her out. “Did you speak?”
“We’re ready to vent down here if you’re ready to give this a go, Captain,” said Carver’s voice over the comm.
“Something’s out there,” Lori repeated louder. “Come to destroy us all.” She was growing agitated. “I can’t breathe with it. I can’t hear. I can’t hear my brothers and sisters!”
Rayner turned to her and she looked right at him with wild carnal eyes.
“Must stop.” She leapt out of her seat and grabbed for the captain. “Stop!”
Varik came out of nowhere, reached around her neck, and pinched the nerve.
Lori collapsed on top of Rayner. He struggled up and lifted her in his arms, offering her to his first officer. “Get her to sickbay. Tell them to run a psyche evaluation.” As Varik left, Rayner shook the attack off. There was something unnerving about the incident that he didn’t like.
Commander Merran, on the other hand, was quiet excited, suggesting her team might know something about it. Rayner grumbled.
Carver’s voice came back over the line: “You still there, Captain?”
He huffed in annoyance and slapped his badge. “Hold.”
“What about Ensign Gunnlaugsdóttir?” asked the old Bajoran. “It would be helpful if we could talk to her.”
“Your people can prod and poke her all you want just as soon as the doctor says so.”* * *
“Reports are they tried venting the engines to give us a push,” Kimberly told Xander and Willow as they reached sickbay.
“I take it that was a bust,” he inferred.
Laine was outside the doors.
“What happened to the pilot?” asked Clegg.
The big guy rubbed his stubbled head. He seemed upset. “Doctor Singh says she’s had a mild stroke. It’s like whatever happened to the thrusters happened to her brain. Something just… popped.”
They didn’t know what to say.
“The doc repaired the damage,” he went on, “but she lapsed into a coma soon after. And she’s not alone.”
He stepped through the doors and they saw two of the three beds were occupied. Lori was unconscious in one; her eyes fixed open, staring empty at the ceiling. A male officer in the other, same deal.
Singh crossed to Laine with his hands on his hips. “I’ve tried every relaxant I can think of, even surgical glue. … I just can’t get their eyes to close,” he said, as if he didn’t want them to think he was being cruel on purpose.
Willow asked about their behaviour before the comas, and the security chief told them of Lori’s attack on the captain.
“I think we could be looking at some kind of possession,” submitted the witch. “Past-life regression, maybe. To an animalistic state.”
“But if others are being effected too…” said Xander. “Is that something that can effect a group?”
Will reassessed. “A haunting? Spirits?”
Laine, who hadn’t really expected any of this freaky stuff to actually happen, pulled Willow aside. “Any ideas how I should handle this?”
Will pursed her lips and said; “Might wanna start by getting yourself a stake.”* * *
Jenna Howell stepped into her quarters and sighed when her lights failed to work. Her ‘cellmate’, who was a constant chatterbox, was still on duty and she knew she had time for a shower in peace. She removed the pips from her blue collar and began to strip in the light of a palm torch she rested on the table.
Behind her, a silent shadow stirred.
She turned; having that strange feeling of not being alone, but there was only darkness.
Jenna removed her jacket.
Eyes behind her.
A gurning mouth full of anticipation and saliva.
A Starfleet uniform.
The man crept up behind her in the dark.
She sensed him, began to turn, and he grabbed her, clamping one hand across her mouth.
Howell tried to scream, struggled to fight, but there was nothing she could do. Her muscles were not so strong as his desire. His lust was insurmountable as he forced her down onto the table. And still, his sweaty palms silenced her cries.* * *
Thirty minutes after, and Willow had her team gathered in the middle of the dungeon floor. Xander and Anya, Kimberly, Mei-Li and the twins. PRD was still getting some power and lights were working, along with many computer interfaces. She’d used their new cargo replicator pad to create a low circular table covered in a white linen cloth with a candle in the centre.
Two more of the crew had reportedly acted strangely, said some weird things, then lapsed into a catatonic state like the pilot. Something had to be done.
“The people being possessed were talking gibberish and now they’re all in comas,” announced Willow. “So, what I propose is…we do a séance to contact the unknown spirits. To try and get some sense out of them.”
Surprise showed on some of their faces. Maybe a little fear too at the word ‘séance’. But it was a far cry from the crazy Poltergeist-Exorcist fantasy of the horror movies, and the young witch knew she had the strength to lead such a call to the spirits. The Mother Goddess had told her she did, and she’d proved it by channelling the spirit of the First Sorcerer already. This would be peanuts in comparison. But she’d had to do some serious thinking just to get it done.
Normally she might have used some Solomonic magic to connect with such spirits, but in this case she didn’t have any of Giles’ Solomonic amulets. This time she would have to try a more simple Demonio Espiritismo approach. As a result, there was a cross on the table and a red ribbon was tied loosely around her waist.
Kimberly was the first to throw herself bravely into the role of the coven. “What do you need from us?”
Will could almost see it on her face, as she grabbed the broomstick by the handle and jumped on for the ride. “If this works, I’m gonna need you to talk to the spirits. Try and get as much information about what they want and why they’re attacking us as you can.” To the others she said, “I’ll be acting as the Espiritista so I’ll lead, I just need you guys to make a link, to believe, and concentrate on giving your energy to the calling.”
Willow had the computer translate her calling into Spanish and uploaded it onto a small padd.
Kimberly disabled the room’s fire-suppression system (just in case power returned to it) and lit the candle.
The twins arrived back with Will’s dish of Spanish moss, which they set on the table, lit it, and let it burn.
“What if the spirits turn out to be hostile?” asked Mei-Li. She sounded quite uncertain about the whole idea.
“That’s one very valid point, Will,” agreed Xander.
“In that case, we should be able to banish them if they’re as malevolent as they seem,” answered Will reassuringly. She was almost certain they were going to turn out hostile. “And they won’t be able to perform any physical actions through me, so it’s safe.”
Will reached around her neck and removed her protection pouch so that the spirits could connect with her, and sat them all down on the carpet in a circle around the table, and had them link hands.
Xander had Anya on one side and Mia on the other. The hand of the confident twin was unlike any human hand he’d known. As she slipped hers into his, he found it to be smooth and, not moist, but oily. It didn’t feel gross.
“Ready?” asked Willow. No one said otherwise, but they did look nervous. She was excited. She could finally show them what a true Wicca could do, which would be cool. “Computer – extinguish the lights.”
As the overheads faded, the candlelight covered only the small area created by their circle. Now it really did feel like a dungeon.
Willow looked down at the padd, praying the translation was accurate.I call upon the spirits
, was the first line. “Hago un llamamiento a los espíritus,” she pronounced, and checked the next translation.That encircle this, our shrine
– “Que cercan este, nuestro santuario.”Spirits of possession
– “Espíritus de la posesión.”Spirits of destruction
– “Espíritus de la destrucción.”Spirits who make mortals sleep
– “Espíritus que hacen los mortales dormir.”And hold them beneath a shroud of death
– “y mantener a nuestra gente bajo un sudario de muerte.”I call thee forth to speak
– “Pido ti para venir y hablar.”
They silently awaited the coming of the spirits…
Seconds passed in the flickering firelight. The girls were looking around for signs of life.
The seconds stretched out and Willow was starting to feel the warmth of her cheeks as embarrassment began to flush them. “Pido ti para venir y hablar,” she decreed once more.Come on
, thought Will. People were watching.
Mei-Li squealed, flailed her arms about her head and crawled away suddenly into the dark of the room.
Hands quickly parted as they pulled back from the table in surprise. They looked at her, but Willow didn’t understand what was happening. Mei wore a pouch. She should have been protected.
Kimberly called out: “Mei? What happened there? You okay?”
They heard something unlock.
Clegg got up warily. “Computer – reinitialise ligh–”
Mei-Li reappeared in the candlelight with a phaser pistol in her grip.
Confusion and shock froze the group.
Mei’s gentle face was intense with purpose and she brought her weapon around toward Will and Kim.
Mia saw an opening and made a move on her, leaping across the table and–
A single phaser beam stopped her dead and the twin smacked into the carpet.
The group gasped.
She’d actually fired. She shot Mia!
They jumped up off the floor as self-preservation kicked in.
Ella dove across to her sister.
Jr. Ensign Hua held the phaser with a steady grip Her large Asian eyes were narrow slits filled with a dark rage. “You…took me from them and now their voices are silent to me. You did this.”
Kimberly tried to ease toward her a step and reposition herself for an attack, but Mei caught her. She fired at Clegg, who rolled aside into the darkness and headed for the weapons locker.
“We were one and many and you tear us apart. You burn us with your breath.” She aimed the pistol at Willow’s head. “Demons! Demons within a Demon cage!”
Xander stormed out of the shadows and slapped the weapon from her hand.
He tried to get a hold of her wrists but Mei spun on him with a cutting kung-fu kick, which he blocked with both forearms. She whipped back around and slapped a fist across his face, and spun back again for another kicking. Xander moved into her and tackled the small girl to the floor, shoving her face into the carpet and locking her wrists behind her back.
He instantly felt bad about manhandling the shy little wallflower; though it was a relief to know his security training could kick-in like that. Then he felt her change beneath him. Her struggling ceased and her breathing came to a near standstill. Her eyes were fixed open, but dead to the world. He looked to the others. “I think she just went under.”
“Mia?” Willow voiced fearfully.
“She’s alive,” sighed her sister.
Clegg reappeared with a second pistol, and checked the one Mei-Li had used. She let out a loud breath of relief. “It’s still on the default setting. Level-one stun. She’ll be alright in a few minutes.”
“That was all rather… unexpected,” noted Anya. She whispered to Xander, “That thing you did…that was hot.”
A minute later, Laine turned up with a medical team. He asked a lot of questions about what they were doing when it happened. Anya had questions of her own. She was walking around the room mulling over the oriental girl’s possession, and the things she said. She couldn’t figure why, but something troubled her. Something more than the obvious.
Willow, on the other hand, felt like a lot of her own questions had already been dealt with. They just needed to fill in the blanks and get to work.* * *
One by one, his crew was going crazy. Reports were flying in and Rayner wasn’t impressed by any of them. People shooting each other with phasers on every deck – luckily on the default stun setting. One tried to destroy the engines. People attacking each other and hacking away at the ship. Javen Rayner could almost feel HP Lovecraft’s madness biting down on them.
He looked around his bridge, which he knew, at this moment, wasn’t much of a bridge.
Nog was still working on getting ops to run sensors, and Varik was at tactical where he’d patched into the memory core.
“Found anything like this in the databanks?” the captain asked him.
The Vulcan brought up the latest matches. “On stardate four-five-five-seven-one point two, on the M-class moon of Mab-Bu six,” he reported, “the USS Enterprise encountered the consciousness’ of the condemned prisoners of Ux-Mal. They attempted to seize control of the crew.”
“Could we be experiencing something similar?”
“In that case, their consciousness’ were trapped in an electrical storm on the moon’s surface, not drifting in space. Without the storm, or a host, they would have dissipated.”
“Besides,” said Laine, “there’s something… animalistic about what’s happening here.”
Rayner turned to the giant at tactical. “How do you mean, Commander?”
“Based on eye-witness accounts, the attacks seem to be expressions of raw basic desires and emotions. Like fear, defence, procreation.”
“The last case reported… I’m afraid there was a sexual assault, sir.”
The captain stiffened up. Laine thought maybe he wasn’t made of stone after all. “The victim?”
“Lieutenant Howell. She’s with one of the nurses now. She… well, you can imagine.”
Rayner sat down and spun away from tactical.
His mind was flying down dead end alleys at warp 9 as he tried to think. They had to do something. This wasn’t merely annoying any more. Things were escalating to the point of serious sh*t.* * *
Willow paced across Xander’s quarters. It was a small room. It didn’t take long to cross. She got tired of turning around every four steps and stopped at the door. “These possessions are becoming increasingly violent. We need to figure this out. Now.”
“What about a soul prison?” Anya proposed from the small table.
“What’s that?” asked Xander. It just had to be something new every time, didn’t it?
“Trapping Demon consciousness’ in a soul prison was a practice started by early witches,” Will explained.
After a quick rethink, Anya shook her head. “Ah, but, that doesn’t make any sense.”
But Will had latched onto something. It was like Mei had said – Demons within a Demon cage
! “No, wait, it fits. If Darkness brought them from that hell dimension and they somehow got free…”
“But those soul prisons weren’t in any Demon realms,” argued Anya. “They were Earth-bound cages – usually in some kind of container, or even a toilet bowl like that one time in Yugoslavia.”
“Just because you never heard of a Demon soul prison being banished to a hell dimension, it doesn’t mean one wasn’t. Once you eliminate all other possibilities, whatever’s left must be the truth.”
“But I just eliminated that.”
“No you didn’t.”
“Yes I did, and anyway, who’s the Demon specialist here?” She pointed at Willow. “Witchy magic expert.” And then to herself. “Former-Demon Demon specialist. I’m telling you, it’s not a soul prison.”
“What about me?” said Xander. “I’m a specialist.”
Anya patted his arm. “Aw, sweetie. Sure you are.”
“And I’m telling you it is,” Will pressed on. “There’s nothing else any of us can think of that explains it.”
“Well, no,” Anya had to agree. “But that just means we can’t explain it.”
There was a growing tension in the ranks that was beginning to trouble Xander. “Sure wish the Buffster was here. She’d know what to do.” They looked at him embittered. “Alright, no, she wouldn’t, but she’d do something
“Buffy’s gone, Xander,” Willow told him flatly. “We’re the Spooky Group now. We can deal with this.”
“We’re the Spooky Group
? Since when?”
“You need to deal with yourself first,” Anya warned her.
Xander wasn’t liking it. This argument was about ready to turn ugly. “Look, what about Giles? We can give him a call.”
“We’re on our own out here,” Will fired back, sounding annoyed with him. “They expect us
to fix this.”
“They expect us to advise
,” rephrased Anya. She said to Xander; “Giles is nothing special anyway. That Baragnos thing – I could have told you that. And how to kill it. I could have made that call and saved a lot of trouble.”
Willow let out a false laugh. “Well you’re not helping much right now, negative-girl.”
Anya said all she had to say with her face. She was through arguing when it was clearly pointless.
“I’ve gotta go,” Willow said after more glaring. “You might not be willing to do something about this, but I am.” She stormed out.
Xander whistled out air silently and relaxed.
“I was worried about this,” muttered Anya.
“You think she’s possessed?”
“No. Worse. She’s acting all cuckoo because she’s too scared to admit we don’t know what’s out there.”
“This whole mission’s riding on us knowing what we’re supposed to know,” he said.
“Well, we don’t have
to know everything. Someone should tell psycho-witch that before she goes trying to decimate every bumpy-headed alien.”
Xander sagged back in his chair. By someone, she meant him. After a second he took a deep breath. “Maybe she’s right,” he said, taking a massive risk. “About this soul prison thing.”
But Anya didn’t get upset as he’d expected. She looked at the door thoughtfully with sadness in her eyes. “She’s not.”* * *
Laine was still on the bridge, but something seemed strange. His legs were becoming weak and his head all floaty. He felt himself slipping into a daydream. His hands were drifting over the tactical console but they looked and felt so far away from him that he lost all feeling in them. And then he was away, drifting through a dark cloud. He was alone, but he knew the others were somewhere around. He searched through the thick smog and it felt like trying to wade through a heavy mix of smoke and gelatine. He felt himself growing numb and small. He was shrinking – shrinking and shrinking until he was no more than an atom in a never-ending mist that was quickly hardening to stone.
On the bridge, Laine was distant – a million miles away. His hands were slowly stroking his console like it was something new and alien to him. It was displaying internal sensors but he didn’t understand it.
The door to the left of the bridge opened up and one of his security officers approached him with an update. “Commander, I’ve just finished going over the–”
Laine spun his head around at the man so suddenly it surprised him into silence. The big man took his huge hands from the console and straightened up, giving the officer a curious inspection.
“As I was saying, sir–”
Lieutenant Commander Laine threw the full force of his right fist into the man’s face, launching him into the wall. His nose exploded and the back of his head cracked as it slammed against the bulkhead.
Everyone on the bridge was up, alert, and wide-eyed as they looked on the head of security in disbelief. The other man was a crumpled mess as he lay unmoving against the wall.
Rayner understood right away what was happening. It was possibly the worst thing that could happen. Commander Laine… evil and insane.
He looked to Varik and, with his eyes alone, he begged the Vulcan for his nerve pinch attack once again. But Varik saw the size of the man and, when he turned his face back to the captain, Rayner understood it was clearly not going to happen.
Before they had a chance to do a thing, the big man was off the bridge.
The second the door closed, Rayner pointed Varik at the floored officer. The man looked as dead as a man could be.
As Varik called for a medical team, Captain Rayner went to tactical and hit a button. “Bridge to Lieutenant Schlatnak.”
A pause, then: “Captain?”
“Lieutenant, you are now the acting chief of security. I want you to bring Commander Laine in. Sedate him if necessary.”
“In fact, set your weapons to their highest stun level. Bring him down. Do you understand?”
Another pause. “…Yes, sir.”
“And, for God’s sake,” Rayner added, looking at the crumpled man’s destroyed face, “Don’t hesitate for a second.”* * *
Xander found Willow in the dungeon, in the old lady’s office, working at the rear station – the only one with reliable power. She half noticed him as he came in and sat at the briefing table across the room.
“Just our luck to get the only soul prison to be sent to hell and escape into space,” he said, trying to sound casual. “Not to mention that the jailers forgot to put bars on the cage to keep all the evil spirits from frolicking about.”
She didn’t look up. “I see what you’re trying to do, Xander. But I know what this is. I can feel it in my gut… And I’m gonna stop it.”
He tried to speak carefully. “Will, maybe you should just…stop yourself a minute…and take a hard look at the facts.”
are that people are being possessed and turning evil and if I don’t do something now
, we could all be taken over by Demon spirits.”
“I thought your groovy pouches were supposed to prevent possession?” he pointed out, waving his at her.
“They’re not working. Obviously this’s some other kind of Demon energy. Besides, I never said they were a hundred percent. Xander, no offence and all, but you don’t know this stuff. I do.”
“You’re right. I don’t know this magic Demon stuff. But I know when things feel off.”
She turned to him then, looking stressed and hurt. “I thought we were a team.”
“So did I,” he threw back. “A team of…however many are on this ship. Not a team of one
.” He leaned over the table toward her. “I know we’ve had some setbacks lately. But we don’t need a victory this badly.”
Willow’s face darkened. Hurt became outrage. “You think I would do that?” she said loudly. “I’m hardly new to this. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” She ignored him and went back to the computer.
It was Xander that was hurt now, but he tried to get through regardless. “Okay, so I’m not an expert, but I’ve been through everything you have and I’m hardly new to this myself. We’re out here in the great back of beyond without our two generals, sure, but there are still three of us… You don’t have to try to fill their shoes, y’know. If we can stick together and make decisions as a team… then maybe none of us have to feel so burdened with this great responsibility. And when two out of three feel like maybe there are other avenues to–”
“We’re not dealing with something we can punch or stab here,” she cut in. “Spirits have to be exorcised and, I’m sorry, but you’re in no position to have any clue what’s right and wrong when it comes to this. I’m the only
one onboard this ship qualified to do that. Not you, not Anya, and not even Buffy.”
Now Xander was angry, and his patience for treading lightly was gone. “And here you are in the dungeon with the witches’ coven where you’re meant to do witch stuff and you’re just jumpin’ on the band wagon …only without the band. It’s a Willow-wagon.”
She transferred her work onto her padd and got up. “I’m not stupid, Xander. Mei-Li said they were Demons. Demons in a Demon cage.”
She had said that. Yet… “You sure she wasn’t talking about us?”
Will went around him and out of the room. “I don’t have time for this.”
He didn’t go after her. He wasn’t even sure if he should
be arguing with her. What if she was right after all? And, then… well, she really was the only one who stood any chance of fixing things.* * *
Anya headed through the small corridors of the ship on her way to the dungeon to find where Xander had got to when she stopped and looked around. Something wasn’t right. Was she lost? She should have arrived there by now. Wrong turn? Wrong floor?
She moved to the nearest intersection to consider her next move. She didn’t want to admit defeat and ask the computer lady for help. She should really know what she was doing by now.
The big security guy – Laine – was down the next alley. He looked even more lost than she did, which was… odd. He rolled his hulking frame around and spotted her.
She wanted to say something to him, but part of her wouldn’t let her speak. Laine’s eyes thinned, and his lips curled back in a menacing sneer. He took a step toward her.
Anya took a step back. The big guy didn’t look right and part of her was figuring out why.
It happened suddenly. Anya was running headlong back through the ship with Laine sprinting after her. His heavy feet were smashing so hard into the deck it felt like he was right on top of her. She ran as hard as she could, gasping for air, hoping to hell she was going the right way.
She rounded a corner and there it was – the elevator. She didn’t dare slow down, even as she reached the door and slammed into it at full speed.
Anya screamed as her arm exploded with pain. The doors parted and she fell into the lift, crashing onto her arm again. She cried out, rolled over and saw Laine pelting toward the doors. He was almost at the turbolift when Anya cried out for deck 2.
Just as she thought the doors were closing, they opened up again. He was too close! Stupid doors!
Laine was in the lift and the doors shut. He looked down at her on the floor. Tears were filling her eyes – tears of pain from the needles of it that fired up her arm. But now the tears of fear were building up. He looked like a wild beast trapped in a man’s body. An unbelievably powerful man.
He reached down, snatched her bad arm and raised her up like a rag doll until her hand hit the ceiling. She screamed again with the explosion of pain. Her vision began to lose focus and she thought she was about to pass out. Pass out and never wake up.
The elevator jerked as it set off and the giant ogre paused, his eyes darting between the passing lights around this cage he’d found himself in. He grunted loud and smashed the bottom of his free fist against the flashing lights, breaking glass.
The lift stopped and the doors opened. Anya saw an empty corridor – no – there was a female officer, a red-haired yellow shirt, at the far bend.
Everything span into a blur as she was tossed out of the turbolift and into the carpet outside. The pain in her arm was unbearable.
A moment later and the officer woman was picking her up, shouldering her good arm, and moving her away. Laine was still beating at the inside of the lift. The relief! By Christ, the relief!
McNair hit her communicator and called for back-up.
As they reached the bend, Anya was released. She managed to stay upright, unsteady as she was with the pain and weakness overcoming her.
“Keep going,” said the woman, unholstering her gun. “Get to your room. Lock the door.”
Looking beyond her deep red hair, which was pulled into a tight bun, Anya saw that Laine was out. He was coming again and so she didn’t argue. Anya retreated drunkenly into the bend and on and on. She cradled her arm and kept going. When she heard the crack that came from back down the corridor, she forced herself to run again.
McNair was as fiery as her hair suggested. She turned as Anya disappeared and faced her chief. It wasn’t her chief anymore, she knew. He was a giant bear loose on the ship and her job now was to get him to his cage. She checked her phaser. Setting 3 – heavy stun.
Laine kept coming toward her. He was so fast with his huge legs that, in the second it took her to check the phaser, he was only feet away and still coming.
She raised her weapon. “Commander Lai–”
He slapped the woman aside and followed Anya.
McNair’s ribs broke before she even hit the wall and floor.
Laine turned the bend and saw the girl.
As Anya reached the next corner, she looked back, and there he was again. Jason Voorhees. Michael Myers. Laine. * * *
Xander was pacing his narrow room waiting for Anya to show up when the door slid open.
It wasn’t Anya.
The Pink Twins, without asking, without an invite, sauntered into his room and let the door close.
“Guys?” he said. “What’s goin’ on?”
Mia moved around him, examining his body like a piece of meat. Her metallic blue eyes were hungry.
Ella stayed by the door. “The dark eye of the mother is no longer within our reach,” she said with cryptic menace.
“It is the time of the seeding,” Mia explained sassily as she pulled the zip down on her jacket.
“We must increase our number,” Ella went on. “Before the cycle is over.”
Xander laughed, and then frowned. He regarded them closely. They didn’t seem to be joking. “I think some of us here have been drinking too deep from the fountain of...” when he thought about alcohol, he thought of spirits…and realised, “…of possession.” He took a step away from Mia and put his hands up a little. “Okay, maybe it’s time we all take a little trip to see the nice doctor.”
The pair closed in on him. Their vibrant pink flesh seemed to be luminescent now, glowing. He was sure he felt heat coming off them.
“Remove the fabric from your body,” they demanded.
Xander swallowed a frog. “You know, Anya said much the same thing to me once. You remember Anya, …my girlfriend.”
Mia shoved him. Ella tripped him. Xander was on his back on the floor and pinned down before he realised what was happening. Ella was kneeling with all her weight on his arms and Mia straddled his legs. His pants were down.
In a terrifying moment of clarity, it dawned on him that his day had taken a very serious turn.
Jesus, he thought. They were gonna rape him.
Mia ripped open his shirt and now her oily smooth hands were all over his bare skin. “I felt your heat when you held my hand today,” she whispered into his ear as she stroked his chest. “Your desire to mate.”
He choked. “You girls might share a brain, but ours are on very different wavelengths here.” She reached a hand down and what was soft began to harden. He couldn’t help it. Good God, he couldn’t help it. “You have to stop this. Seriously. Think about what you’re do-ooh-ing.”
Mia smiled and released him. She moved her crotch over the area her hand had been and slowly unzipped her black shirt and pulled it open.
Xander noticed she was bra-less right before he snapped his eyes shut.
Mia was about to remove her shirt when the door flew open and Anya rushed in.
In that instant, Anya forgot all about Laine.
Xander was on the floor with his trousers around his feet and a twin around his waist.
The twins looked up at her. Anya’s mouth was a wide open cave. “What IS
Xander’s scrunched eyes popped open. “An? Thank God! I need help here.”
“With what? I think they’ve got everything covered. Except those,” she added, poking a sharp finger at Mia’s breasts.
Xander closed his eyes again and let his head hit the carpet.
“We just need to borrow him,” said a sympathetic Ella, sitting on his arms.
“We must mate before our time passes,” explained Mia. “It won’t take long.”
“Oh, well,” Anya reconsidered. “In that case, …NO!”
The twins stood up, freeing Xander, and he pulled his pants up in a flash and scrambled to his feet, grabbing a chair.
He’d covered his nakedness pretty quickly, but it was enough for Anya to see he hadn’t been completely unwilling.
That little issue could wait. The twins were the thing to worry about now. Their faces had changed. Ella was no longer sympathetic. Now they were ready to kill for their prize.
Anya moved back into the doorway, and that’s when she remembered Laine. His pounding footfalls were reverberating down the corridor. She turned. He saw her.
She stepped into the room quickly and away from the door.
Laine arrived just as it swished shut. He stopped the heavy door with his bare hands and forced it open.
Xander took Anya’s hand and pulled her to the back of the room. What the hell was
this? Was everyone
He had visions of them being chased down by the entire ship like some zombie movie, and then the twins surprised him. They moved to block Laine’s path and protected the two of them.
Xander tapped his badge. “Security to…damn…The Harris’ quarters.”
“Room twenty-three!” Anya shouted into his nipple.
Commander Laine pounced inside, taking Mia by the throat with both hands and picking her off her feet. He throttled her and her eyes turned white.
Xander grabbed the chair again. Hell, the big fella was gonna kill them all.
Mia spasmed. Her final death throw.
Then Laine spasmed.
Mia shook again, and Laine growled and shivered in response. Then Mia raised her pink hands, wrapped them around his large wrists… and exploded with light. She flashed with electricity as she sent the volts firing through Laine’s body.
He let her go and staggered back, somewhat shocked.
Mia reached back for her sister’s hand and the girls connected, sparking like a pair of giant hot-wired cables. Together, they threw out two lightening bolts into Laine’s chest and the big man flew out of the door, hit the wall, and landed on his ass. His chin dropped to his chest and he didn’t move again.Pink Twins go zap, alright
, thought an allayed Xander. His solace quickly faded when they came around to face him. He knew Anya was next.
He put himself in front of her with his hands out, hoping he could somehow reason with them, and saw a sight that, a few weeks ago, would have scared the bejesus out of him. Now it was the most wonderful thing he could have wished for. Schlatnak arrived in the doorway.
The tall X-Files alien saw Laine – his jacket smoking. He saw the twins, who turned on him; their hands linked.
Schlatnak’s hand moved faster than their lightening as he drew his phaser and shot Ella squarely in her breast.
Mia watched her sister fall, and she screamed – zapping him with both hands.
The security officer landed on Laine and finished up sitting beside him on the deck. With the last of his strength, he brought the weapon up one more time and shot Mia.
The twin collapsed and Schlatnak blacked out.
Xander himself was stunned for a moment; then he left Anya nestled in the corner and went to the alien, looking at his pistol. He recognised the stun setting on the phaser, so the twins were fine, but Laine and Schlatnak might have been hurt. He hit his badge and called for the medics.
Xander’s tense muscles managed to relax just a bit. His boner was gone, which was nice.
He finally looked back to Anya. She was in the corner looking terrified, shocked, and appalled. Her cradled arm seemed to be hurt and swollen. “Are you okay?”
?” she returned accusingly.
The answer was no. He was most definitely not okay.