Death & Destiny: The Incursion of P'Jem
(The following Death & Destiny
chapters haven’t really changed much from my original posting.)
The character of Schlatnak is based on Alnschloss K'Bentayr of the planet Monchezke, as featured in the STAR TREK movie, 2009.
Death & Destiny- The Incursion of P’Jem - 05
"So, you didn’t even have time to think before you were thrown into another mission?" asked an excited Leonid Korotkin as he cradled his coffee.
"Ah, but this was a Starfleet mission," Captain Rosenberg reflected. "And there’s nothing worse than being along for the ride."
"This mission to Delta Vindi," Crius inquired. "Did anything significant happen?"
From the sound of it, he also was eager for more.
"Oh, yes." The captain’s face grew sombre. "A lot of people died. Some of us lost our lives, some of us…found a destiny."
Leonid tried to tread lightly but failed to mask his interest. "Was that the last time you… were with your friends?"
Willow gave a long wistful sigh. "We’ll get around to that…"* * *
The U.S.S. Phantom arrived at Delta Vindi and entered a geostationary orbit above the site of the Vulcan monastery. The bridge was quiet and a little tense. There wasn’t much of a crew onboard this untested starship if they were faced with a significant threat. The guests were off the bridge now, with Counsellor Troi as their custodian. Even Hellström, finally, was out of Picard’s figurative hair.
He addressed Ambassador Worf at tactical, who was kitted in his typical Klingon garb, "Are we detecting any vessels in the vicinity, Mr Worf?"
"Negative, Captain." He adjusted the sensors for a planetary scan. "The P’Jem monastery appears to be in tact. No apparent damage."
The Captain sat and deliberated over the brown planet on the viewscreen. Vulcan monasteries rarely
attracted trouble. But, with a new ship and no crew, Picard was leaning towards caution.
Riker’s job was done. The ship was in an automated orbit and he spun to face his captain.
"Report, Data," said Picard.
The android worked his nimble digits over the operations controls; "The transmission appears to be emanating from beneath the structure. The signal is extremely weak and intermittent."
"Those transmitters are ancient," Riker noted. "They’ve been there for centuries, deep in the catacombs, long before the P’Jem monks moved into the sites. They’re practically antiques. I’m surprised it even works."
Doctor Crusher, observing from a rear station, pondered; "I was under the impression the P’Jem monks shunned technology of any kind as an obstacle to spiritual integrity."
"True," said Picard. "They may have retained the old transmitters as an emergency provision for days like this."
Data’s screen beeped. "Captain, the transmission has ceased."
Picard leaned forward. "Life readings?"
Worf was already on it. "I am unable to obtain a clear reading. Sensors are detecting Vulcan life signs; however, there are fluctuations in the levels and numbers. Also, sensors are not able to penetrate the tunnels beneath the structure." He grunted. "Readings inconclusive, sir."
Picard gave a nasal sigh. Transporters were down for the removal of the multidimensional devices and for tests, which made any kind of mission a difficult one. "Will – take a security team to the surface and make an assessment."
Riker headed out.
"The transporters won’t be online for at least another three hours, Commander," La Forge cautioned.
He acknowledged the risk. "I’ll take the shuttle," said Riker and left the bridge.* * *
Deanna Troi always looked forward to her encounters with Buffy’s group. No matter what the nature of the situation, they had a magnetic way about them that defied comprehension. The emotions she got from them were raw and untamed. Be it pleasure, anger, or fear, she always felt a strong emotional connection to them. Even without her empathic abilities, she knew that their quirky and unparalleled personalities had more than a little in common with that side of her own character. She moved through the tight corridors of the Phantom to Buffy and Willow’s quarters and pressed the chime.
Inside the small room she found the girls lounging on the bottom bunk, and Xander with Anya at the workstation. "It’s just the four of you?"
"Giles ate too much and fell asleep," said Anya.
"We needed comfort food after everything," Willow explained. "Only he had so much it made him uncomfortable and he had to go lie down."
"And Spike’s in his room brooding under armed guard," added Buffy.
Xander opened his arms. "And, so, we are four."
"So, what’s new?" Buffy asked.
Troi stepped in and let the door close. "I was thinking…maybe we could start with a simple orientation. Just some basics in Earth history and first contact."
"Sounds a lot like school," Xander moaned. "It took us eighteen years to escape the hells of institutionalised tutelage."
Buffy looked equally glum. "And we’ve barely been free for eighteen days."
"I miss class," said Willow. "Can there be lectures? I miss lectures."
Xander gaped. "Will? I think the space dust is rotting your brain."
"I think it’s an admirable quality," Troi contested.
Xander dispelled the witch. "Don’t listen to her, Counsellor, it’s just an adolescent fad. She’ll grow out of it."
"I hope not," Deanna protested with humour. "This ship and its crew are part of a federation devoted to furthering our knowledge. It’s a very fulfilling way of life."
"As is apparent," Xander explained, "the majority of us consider study to be evil. It sucks worse than vampires."
"I just thought you’d feel less frustrated if you had something constructive to do this time," the counsellor admitted. "I didn’t want you to get bored while we conducted our mission here."
Three of the Scoobs gave a collective groan of acceptance. Willow grinned with triumph.
"Where is here anyway?" asked Anya.
"We’re at Delta Vindi in the Vindi system."
Xander piped up; "Oh, yeah, good old Delta Vindi. I’ve always wondered what it’s like this time of year."
"What’s at Delta Vindi?" said Will.
"There’s a P’Jem monastery here that called for help."
Buffy pulled her ‘eh’ face. "A P’what monastery?"
"It’s a place where Vulcan monks go for–"
"They’re the pointy-eared elf people, right?" Anya said in her no-nonsense way.
Troi cringed. "Um, you probably shouldn’t say that outside this room but, yes, they’re the pointy-eared elf people." She fought back the urge to smile. "Anyway, as I was saying, a spiritual retreat where Vulcan monks aim to achieve something called Kolinahr."
"A little decongestant should clear that up," Xander wisecracked.
"Kolinahr is a state where Vulcans purge themselves of all emotion."
"Well that’s no fun," he joked again.
"Literally," said Willow. "‘Cos…fun’s an emotion."
Anya puzzled. "Is it? I mean happy is an emotion, Joy is an emotion. But fun? That’s a thing you have. Does it actually qualify as an emotion?"
"I think so," stated Willow. "There’s no fun if you can’t emote."
"So, what’s gonna happen with this monastery?" asked Buffy. "What are you gonna do?"
It was clear to the counsellor that she still had an urge to be involved in some form of action.
"That depends," answered Troi. "On a lot of things. We don’t yet know the full nature of the distress."
"Are we gonna get into another fight?" Anya grumbled. "Because I’m tired of these star wars."
Troi could relate to that. "We deal with problems in many different forms. Out here there are so many variables. It could be an illness, it could be an attack, but there aren’t many grounds for attacking a group of helpless monks. It could be… perhaps they ran out of food. Until we investigate there’s really no way to know. Commander Riker’s going down there now to assess the situation and he’ll report back to us."
Anya frowned. "Can’t you just…ask the alien people down there what’s going on?"
"Well, communication is a problem. The monks don’t use technology. The only thing they have is the transmitter that was sending out the emergency beacon. There’s no way to get a signal through to them without a receiver. The assessment has to be made face-to-face. To be honest, we don’t even know if we’ll be welcome there. Or even if the monks know their beacon was sending out a signal. As I said; so many variables. So, until we know where we stand, we let Commander Riker do his work."* * *
The shuttlepod Shikar scuttled through the atmosphere of Delta Vindi.
It was a tiny four-man craft designed purely for missions like this when beaming was impossible.
Riker piloted. He’d selected the best three security men from those who’d been assigned to the Phantom from Enterprise. Two humans; Rush and Tremblay, and Schlatnak from the planet Monchezke.
Schlatnak was a tall, thin humanoid with long limbs and long bony fingers. His skin was thick, brown and hairless and his skull was, in human terms, enormous. His eyes were large angled black wells that, along with the rest of his features, gave him a menacing look to those from Earth. It was a misleading appearance however, as his crewmates found him to be one of the kindest and most gentle people they’d worked with. They often wondered what possessed him to work security but, due to the nature of Monchezken language, it was difficult for him to articulate his reasons.
He had been a guard in the mess hall when Spike had escaped. The injury on the back of Schlatnak’s head where Spike had beaten him with his own weapon was healed, but his ego was still bruised. He intended to make amends on this operation by performing with great courage and distinction.
Riker brought the Shikar around in a wide pass of the monastery. Through the window the building looked quiet and unassuming. It was built into the side of a high misty mountain, on ancient stone foundations upon which was set a wooden multi-levelled structure with green rounded roofs and a stone tower. From this, a long stone arched bridge spanned the deep divide to the top of a second mountain where a circular landing pad and watchtower stood.
Schlatnak, beside Riker, didn’t wait for his commander to request a scan. He performed it on his own initiative and reported; "Computer P’Jem temple life no, Commander."
Riker didn’t like the sound of that. In Earth standard it meant ‘Sensors detect no life in the P’Jem monastery’. Minutes before, Worf had definite life readings. Now nothing?
Schlatnak saw the concern on his commander’s human face. "Temple men deep standing, may think. Computer see no."
"I hope you’re right, Lieutenant," said Riker. As he’d said, sensors were unable to penetrate the catacombs. Maybe the monks were down there. "I’m taking us in."
The shuttle hovered across to the small landing pad and dropped slowly into place. In seconds the four men were out the back ramp and moving swiftly yet cautiously over the thin bridge to the temple door. Their hand phasers were holstered until they made it under the dark canopy of the entranceway. There they found the door wide open, which was not at all normal.
The weapons were out and Riker led them gingerly into the Vulcan sanctuary. * * *
Captain Picard was looking at a magnified view of Delta Vindi on the viewscreen. The mountainside monastery was barely a spec on the large display but it was a close enough image to capture the arrival of the shuttlepod. Riker and his team were in. Picard could only sit and await his first officer’s report. He felt unusually tense.
The bridge door to his right slid apart and Ensign Gunnlaugsdóttir entered. The young blonde woman manned the helm station. The crew was being stretched thin but the ship needed a pilot at the ready.
Data was running a more thorough scan of the planet when he noticed something new. "Captain. Sensors are registering an energy dispersal in the upper atmosphere."
Picard turned, on edge.
Worf performed a tactical scan. "I’m picking up a faint plasma trail in the planets’ exosphere. It may be the impulse wake of a small vessel."
"No, Captain. The trail left by the Shikar is still relatively dense," explained the Klingon, "and the previous trail does not appear to follow an angle of descent relative to the monastery."
"Data, scan for possible landing sites."
The android did so. Within seconds he had something. "There is a shuttlecraft on the surface; two kilometres north of the monastery and at an altitude three hundred metres above."
Worf made a low growl. "The vessel is powered down. I am not registering a transponder signal."
"Put that area on the main viewer and magnify."
The top of a mountain range became visible. In a wooded green area they could make out a short strip of churned earth with a shuttle at the end. It was still no more than a grey blip."
The image zoomed.
Data’s eyes saw the most detail. "It appears to be a Federation runabout…with severe phaser burns."
"It may have crashed as a result of damage inflicted in battle," Worf surmised.
Picard mulled it over. On the one hand, if it was Federation, the danger was lessened. On the other hand, no distress signal had been reported from such a ship. It was possible the shuttle had been unable to send out such a signal. Yet, why had it not been reported missing? And why was a runabout so far from a station?
"Configure a reconnaissance probe with a holo-imager," he said to Data. "Try to get a lateral computer model of the shuttle."
Data complied. He aimed the probe ten metres to the starboard side of the vessel. "Probe launched."
Picard moved across to Data where a partial 3D model formed on his monitor. It showed a full colour photo-real image of the side of the runabout. They read the name printed across the hull of the craft. Data checked the database. The computer made a match.
Data’s emotion chip was not active yet he pivoted his head and managed to display both surprise and concern.
Picard’s artificial heart dropped.* * *
Commander Riker stood in the empty atrium flanked by his security team. The walls were made up of pillars and stone. Each pillar bore a torch and sconce but none were lit. The room was empty and still. Vulcan monasteries were usually silent, but this was quieter than that. He was almost too afraid to call out but he did so. "Hello?" …Nothing. "I am Commander William Riker of the Federation starship Phantom! Can anyone respond?"
"I don’t think anyone’s home," said Rush.
Tremblay waved a tricorder around and shook his head.
"Before, temple men standing," Schlatnak reminded them, expressing the point that the monks’ life signs had been detected there earlier.
And that’s what troubled Riker. "Fan out."
The three men spread and began to look through openings and behind meshed screens.
Riker tapped his communicator. "Riker to Phantom."
Picard’s voice replied expectantly, "Report."
"We’ve entered the foyer of the monastery. So far no signs of life. It’s a little too quiet for my liking, Captain."
Picard came back sounding bothered, "There’s been a troubling development here, Number One. We’ve located a Federation runabout a few kilometres from your present location."
"A runabout?" That didn’t make sense.
"We’ve been able to identify it as the Quentin. Will…" he sounded especially worried. "It was assigned to the science station…at Sal Fusia-Six."
Riker froze. Sal Fusia-6… the zombie station… the stolen shuttles… the…
No reply came from the Phantom. What could Picard say?
"Commander!" It was Schlatnak. His slender frame was bent toward something beyond the farthest of the meshed screens in the atrium. Riker ran across and immediately wished he hadn’t. On the floor was a Vulcan in full robe, half of which was blackened and burned away. The skin beneath it and covering the face was charred black and red, boiled and oozing blood and puss.
Tremblay came and ran his tricorder over the body. "This man suffered severe electrostatic burns throughout his body. His organs are fried." The scanner beeped. "He’s radiating electrons!"
They quickly moved back.
Finally, Picard returned, "Get your team out of there, Commander."
Things weren’t that simple anymore. "Stand by, Phantom."
Rush joined them and gagged. "Oh, God."
"There had to be a power source to cause this," reasoned the commander.
Rush surveyed the room for danger. "I didn’t think they had any power in these places."
"They don’t," Riker replied.
"A weapon of some kind?" offered Tremblay.
The team became aware of the faint sound of hurried footsteps growing louder from the far archway. They spread out and formed a line with their pistols ready like Doc and the Earp boys at the O.K. Corral. The footfalls became hammer blasts as they neared and they heard a rising wail as if from a madman losing the last vestiges of his sanity.
A monk came tearing out into the atrium screaming with pain, his face and shoulders shredded and weeping green blood. The Vulcan landed in Riker’s arms, spat blood up across his uniform, and convulsed wildly before falling still. Riker was kneeling with the man sprawled out in his arms.
Tremblay crossed the room and waved his tricorder at the monk.
The Vulcan was dead.