Death & Destiny: The Beast in the Catacombs
Readers of ‘BUFFY meets STAR TREK 1’ will notice I repeat something in this chapter that Anya says at the end of that story. The reason is that the Anya here is the same person as the Anya that returned home, with the same personality. I simply wanted to connect this Scooby Gang with the one that went home. Enjoy ;o)
Death & Destiny- The Beast in the Catacombs - 06
"Pull your team out, Number One. Until we know what we’re dealing with the situation may be more unstable than we anticipated."
It wasn’t the first time Riker had faced unpredictable situations. "Captain, there may be Vulcans alive underground. Can the counsellor pick anyone out?"
"Counsellor Troi isn’t on the bridge."
Riker gritted his teeth. He had to make a choice. Retreat, and abandon any survivors, or test his luck with the supernatural.
Lieutenant Tremblay was standing in the archway from which the dead Vulcan had emerged. He was reluctant to get too close to the opening but he had the only tricorder and answers were needed. He was faced with a long passageway that vanished into darkness as it stretched out of range of the sunlight from the atrium. He began to scan. Every sensing device found onboard the Phantom had been pre-calibrated at Spacedock to detect ‘supernatural’ readings. Tremblay still wasn’t sure how he felt about the idea of spooks and spectres, even after everything he’d seen on the Enterprise lately, but his tricorder began to sound off. It told him something was travelling towards them at running speed. Something spooky.
Riker, Rush and Schlatnak turned in time to see Tremblay spun on his heels by an invisible force, his chest and face slashed open in a spray of red fluid. He wheeled around with a cry and fell on his face with a wet smack. The three men ran to his aid but Tremblay began to slide feet-first down the passageway. He cried out as he was dragged out of the sunlight and into the black. When Riker reached the archway his man was gone.
Rush was pale. "What…was that?"
Riker had no words.
Schlatnak gave a heavy cough. "Bad air," he said.
Riker sniffed. He was right. "Smells like…"
"Burned flesh," said Rush.
The commander was aware that he was spending far too much time thinking, but his mind was racing.
Lt. Schlatnak stepped forward in a protective stance with his hand phaser directed at the corridor. "Riker Commander?" he said as he covered them. "Action?"
It snapped him back. "Lieutenant Rush – the tricorder."
Rush returned to the red slippery stain on the floor where his crewmate had gone down and recovered the scanner. He noticed that the blood trailed across the floor and disappeared down the passage. He felt sick for Tremblay. They were never close but he was a good guy.
Rush returned to the opening and scanned. "Nothing. Still can’t penetrate the substructure."
"Phantom," reported the commander, as he went to the atrium wall and removed one of the torches from a pillar. "Tremblay’s been taken by…something. Permission to attempt a retrieval, Captain."
There was a pause before Picard replied uncertainly, "I don’t know, Will."
Riker shared his captain’s concern. They were back in the mouth of madness again and Picard didn’t want to lose an entire team. On the other hand, how many people might be trapped down there?
"I do, sir," he replied.
Picard considered. "Very well. Proceed."
Riker drew his phaser, altered the setting, and used it to light the torch.
"Stay in contact, Number One."
"I’ll keep the comm open." Commander William Riker raised the burning torch and led his team forward.* * *
Beneath the P’Jem monastery were the maze-like catacombs of a bygone Vulcan era that pre-dated the monastery itself by centuries. There was no light there and no warmth. It was a cold deep burial pit sacred to the Vulcan people.
The orange glow of Riker’s flaming torch descended a narrow, twisting stone staircase and brought its glow to the subterranean labyrinth.
Riker stopped at the base of the steps. He saw a series of stone tunnels, four in all, extending out in a fan pattern from the stairs and off into darkness. The smell was fusty. The smell of stale, moist death. The ground was dust-covered and cobwebs stretched throughout the passageways. It was eerily quiet. Made more eerie by the soft flow of air that seemed to be sucked down from the open atrium doors, through the catacombs, and out through some unseen vent somewhere.
"The Minotaur’s labyrinth," he whispered.
"Say again, Commander," came the voice of Picard, louder than Riker would have liked. The sound echoed away into the distance.
Rush and Schlatnak arrived by his side, and the beeping of the tricorder bounced off the old masonry.
"We’re beneath the structure now, Captain. No sign of Tremblay as yet."
"I’m getting readings now, sir," said Rush. "They’re still a little vague, but…" The tricorder led his hand towards the tunnel second from the left. "Down there…"
A crackling electrical sound from the right caught their attention.
Schlatnak felt a sudden stab of fear and he pivoted his thin frame. His phaser went off prematurely and he let out a regretful whine at the error.
"Hold your fire!" snapped Riker.
The next thing they knew, the crackling was all around them and a green glow ignited in the cave as sharp forks of energy – like electricity – fired around the room and up the walls.
The three officers dove to the ground as the energy spikes crackled around them.
The phenomenon lasted just a few seconds and then stopped suddenly.
Riker spat old dust from his mouth and lifted his head. The torch was lying just a couple of feet away. Thankfully it was still burning strong. The coast looked clear and he picked himself up. Rush and Schlatnak followed suit.
"Readings?" Riker said to Rush. "What just happened?"
The lieutenant searched the floor and retrieved his scanner. "Commander," he said in awe, "…The tricorder…It’s…It’s fried."
Riker’s head snapped around. Sure enough the lights on the device were out and the surface material had melted. Then he noticed Lieutenant Schlatnak trying to pry the phaser from his hand. With his other hand he pulled it free, the grip sticky where it had dissolved against his long bony fingers. The alien pressed the trigger and nothing happened. He turned to his commander with confusion in his large black eyes. Schlatnak opened his mouth to speak and surprised Riker by emitting a series of short glottal gargles.
Riker’s heart began to beat faster. The alien was speaking Monchezken. That meant the universal translator wasn’t functioning. That meant… "Riker to Phantom." He waited. A moment later he looked to his men. "Communications are out."
"Communications," said Rush in a panic, "and weapons. And now we’re blind." He threw the tricorder down.
"Not completely blind, Lieutenant." Riker picked up the torch and waved it around.
Schlatnak rubbed his large injured head and again fired a flurry of gurgling sounds at them. They had no idea what he was saying.
that disturbance, Commander?" asked Rush. His panic was growing.
"I don’t know."
"It fried every piece of equipment we had. Just like it fried the monk upstairs. Why aren’t we dead? It could have killed us, why aren’t we dead?"
"I don’t know," Riker replied more firmly.
"We shouldn’t be
here, sir, we don’t know what’s going on. We don’t even know what we’re doing
Riker snapped; "Pull
yourself together, Lieutenant!"
Something big came out of the darkness and knocked Riker against the wall. He landed sideways and saw Schlatnak recoil and trip.
A large dark creature took a swipe at Rush. The man tried to lean away from it.
Riker pushed himself up and went for the torch.
Rush must have been hit because he yelled out and dropped to the ground. The creature released a low growl and turned about. Riker took the torch in his hand and swung the flame toward their attacker and it roared as it moved back from the fire. Riker saw a flash of teeth and a large round eyeball before the beast swung a huge limb that sent his torch flying. Riker drew back. He needed a weapon… what could he use?
Schlatnak made a brave attack and ran towards the monster. He moved in from behind and jumped onto its back, but there didn’t seem to be a neck and head section on its shoulders and it spun, throwing the alien to the dirt. The torch was blocked from Riker by the creature’s position. He made a move for one of the damaged phasers. If it was all he had, he’d throw it.
By the time Schlatnak had recovered his senses and sat up, the dark beast was upon him. He opened his mouth and let out a high-pitched squeal of fear.
Riker’s ears exploded with pain at the sound. The monster growled louder and disappeared down the central passageway.
The Monchezken stopped his screaming and gripped at his belly where his heart was trying to burst free.
Commander Riker crawled over to Rush and rolled him onto his back. The orange light had faded some, but he saw the tears in the man’s uniform. It looked like he’d been slashed across the ribs on his left side. He felt for a pulse on his neck. The man was out cold, but alive.
"Are you alright?" he asked Schlatnak. The alien looked at him blankly. Stupid question, he realised, even if he could understand.
A rumbling growl drifted their way from one of the passages to the right.
The Minotaur was coming!
Riker looked to the staircase. It was steep and narrow. There was no way they could carry Rush up there in time and he wasn’t leaving the man behind.
He remembered that the tricorder had indicated something down the second hole from the left. Question was; was it indicating a friend or a foe? It was the only lead he had.
The growl came again – closer. It was almost on them again!
The alien officer scrambled to his feet and Riker jumped to Rush’s left side and tried to pull him around.
Heavy feet came for them and they were shaken by a loud roar.
Riker needed no further incentive; it was time to move. The tunnel on the left!
He called out, "Get the torch! The torch
The alien looked to where he was pointing and saw the flaming stick.
The commander reached under Rush’s arms and dragged him into the tunnel on the left, and Schlatnak followed with the light. The alien officer hooked his free hand under one of Rush’s armpits so the two of them could pull him more quickly. As the passage went on, openings started to appear in the walls. The first led across to the first tunnel on the left, the second to a tiny room. The further they went, the wider the space became between the fanned tunnels. They soon reached a deeper opening and Riker took them in. Inside there was another archway that seemed to open into a large enough room to hide in. They pulled Rush inside and put him against the wall beside the doorway. If the creature came in, at least Rush would be in a blind spot.
The Monchezken collapsed against the wall on the other side of the opening, breathing heavily. Riker was out of breath too and he kneeled and listened. The footfalls seemed to be drawing closer and he feared they would be found easily. He looked to the torch but the flame was low. He didn’t think it gave off enough light to betray their location. The sound of the moving beast began to fade until finally there was silence.
Will Riker sighed with relief and sat against the wall beside Rush. He scanned around. The room on Schlatnak’s side was in total darkness and so too was the wall ahead of him. He had no idea how big the room was but it seemed quiet and safe enough. The torch threw some light on the wall nearest Riker and he saw a number of cavities that held the mummified remains of long-dead Vulcans. He put his elbows on his knees and let his head fall into his hands.
He had to put the reality of their situation out of his mind so he could think straight. He tried not to think of his mistake in going down there. No one would be coming to their rescue as the transporters were out and the only shuttle the Phantom had was parked right outside. They were trapped in a dark place with monsters and had no way to get a message through to their ship. Tricorder gone. Phasers gone. Tremblay was probably dead and Rush would be next if he didn’t find them an easier way out.
Riker reached for the stick and held its flame over the lieutenant. There was an open cut on his head from the fall and three deep gashes across his ribs that were bleeding badly. He put the torch down, unzipped the unconscious man’s outer uniform and tore it open where it was cut. He opened the yellow undershirt next to reveal the Starfleet vest. The tomb they were in was cold but Riker peeled his own uniform open, removed his red shirt and pulled his vest off. He stuffed the vest against Rush’s torn ribs and zipped his shirt back up. Hopefully it would put some pressure on the wounds and help to clot the blood. He redressed himself, folded the flaps of Rush’s jumpsuit back over his body for warmth, and sat back against the wall.
Schlatnak was looking his way. His hand opened, palm up, and he aimed it at Rush. Riker took a guess at what he was trying to put across. "He’s all right for now," he whispered pointlessly and sat back. "For now."
He was trying to think when something stirred in the darkness ahead of him. He held his breath.
There it was again – a faint shuffle. He grabbed the torch, thrust it forward, and suddenly there was a face before him. Devil ears and angled brows!
He gasped. And then he relaxed. It was the emotionless face of a middle-aged Vulcan. Dressed in monk’s robes, he came over and knelt in front of him, his hands interlocked formally at his waist. A second Vulcan male, slightly younger, joined him and they regarded the commander coldly.
"Who are you?" asked the elder monk.* * *
Deanna Troi led the way to the small Phantom conference room. She’d convinced them to go with her and at least try a short orientation lesson. Buffy, Willow, Xander and Anya took seats around the table and the counsellor-cum-temp teacher used the large screen there as a class blackboard.
"Ready to get started?" she asked. Just as she expected, Xander was the first to open fire.
"Oh yeah, I’m champing at the bit. My bit is well and truly champed. I may have to call my horse-dentist for a replacement."
"Neigh," said Will of his equestrian reference.
"Xander’s a racehorse in bed," Anya muttered thoughtfully. She realised she’d spoken aloud. "A marathon racehorse, not sprint."
Buffy’s eyebrows went up and she smiled. "High praise indeed."
"What can I say, I’m a stallion." Xander leaned back and locked his fingers behind his head.
"I guess that makes Anya a jockey," teased Buffy.
"This’s beginning to get disturbing," said Will, squirming in her seat.
Xander sighed contemplatively. "Captain Stallion, the bearded spacelord of the bed."
"Oh, you can shave that off now," Anya remarked casually.
"What?" he sputtered. After all he’d been through to grow it!
Anya shrugged and curled up her lip. "The bristles are coarse," she explained. "They irritate my face when we smooch. And there’s the rash it leaves between my–"
!" he cut in quickly. "…I’ll shave it."
"All right," Troi jumped in, trying to steer things back on track. "Let’s begin with some basic cultural differences between early twenty-first century Earth and the Earth of today. Let me know if any of your history differs from ours. For example, as I understand, where you’re from, people smoked paper-rolled tobacco. Now, damaging substances such as this are mostly outlawed and no longer produced."
Xander didn’t mention Captain Freeman’s Cuban cigar collection.
"Racism, sexual discrimination, famine, poverty, and war have been abolished. The continents are united in peace and the people of Earth now live in a utopian society."
"What about sex?" Anya asked in all seriousness. "Is sex allowed?" She remembered the horror to which Sylvester Stallone had awakened to in Demolition Man.
Deanna took a moment to perform a mental shake of the head. "There are no laws on Earth that prevent procreation."
"That’s a relief. It’s all that really matters, after all. That and money. As long there’s still sex, and capitalism is still in full flow, then all is good in the universe."
"Actually," Troi ventured, "within the Federation, money no longer has a function."
?" Anya gasped and double gasped. "Oh, my God. The world’s gone to the dogs. The true apocalypse…it really happened. What’s the point in life?" She continued to mumble and grumble her way into bewildered silence.
"What about global warming?" said Will. "The greenhouse effect? Did that get any worse?"
"It did for a time. But all the environmental damage has been repaired and reversed."
"Cool," said Xander. "Cheaper flights and gas."
The counsellor marched on; "Earth is now a parliamentary republic, with a President as head of state and a Prime Minister as head of government. The United Federation of Planets is–"
"This is crazy," Buffy interrupted. "Even if we learn everything there is to know about the Earth of now – how long would that even take? – how many other planets are there out there we need to know about? It’s an impossible task."
"Some things you’ll learn as you go," Troi assured them.
Xander raised a hand. "I say we learn everything as we go and do away with the study."
"If you at least learn enough to understand the basics," she said in appeal.
Willow put her hand up. "Who picks the names for spaceships and things?"
At least Troi could rely on Willow for a serious question. "Well, there’s a committee within Starfleet R&D that assign designations to vessels. Some of them date back to the history of Federation member planets, such as Enterprise
, which goes way back to Earth’s historical sailing ships."
," said Buffy, "’Cos of the mythical fantasy supernatural stuff."
Anya jumped back into reality. "Okay, so, there’s no money. How are we expected to survive? How do we get jobs so we can purchase foodstuffs and garments?"
"That all depends. What careers are you interested in? If we know what skills you have we can try to translate that into a contemporary trade."
"And career week is here again," Xander griped.
"It’s a high school thing," he said.
Buffy’s head lolled back. "Don’t remind me."
"It was a form-based interests and personality test," Will explained.
"Which was compulsory unfortunately," said Xander. "It was either that or sit through endless lectures about ships without rudders and flightless birds and many more rich and colourful similes."
"I see. And what were your results?"
No one admitted anything at first, until Xander finally put up a palm. "Prison guard," he confessed.
The counsellor made a pained expression. "You do have a trade in carpentry," she offered encouragingly.
"Sure," he said. "Unless there’s a huge market for wooden starships or a big plan to replace all these swishy doors with the good old hinged partition…"
"Carpentry is not an extinct trade, Xander," Troi pointed out.
"I’m guessing it’s not exactly in vogue either."
She tried to look on the bright side; "You displayed great skill and courage during the Epsilon Ursae conflict. I understand you undertook tactical training on the Rutherford. There’s always a demand for security personnel in Starfleet."
"And, I’m back to prison guard
," he concluded.
Troi wisely moved on, "Willow?"
"Oh, um, I was offered a placement with a big computer software company. I’m pretty lucky, I guess. Computers seem to run everything these days. By that I mean your
these days not ours."
From what Counsellor Troi had seen so far, Willow stood the greatest chance of adapting fully to her new life. She said nothing of this, of course. The others didn’t need her to add insult to their injury.
Buffy was avoiding eye contact with the counsellor. The last thing she needed to hear was ‘security guard’ when she mentioned her aptitude towards law enforcement. There was always her fallback – landscaping.
A beep from the computer came to Buffy’s rescue.
"Picard to Troi."
She pressed a hand to her breast. "Go ahead, Captain."
"Have Rupert Giles sent to the bridge immediately."* * *
Giles was led onto the command deck with Buffy and Willow on his heels.
Willow saw Data across the room and gave him a jolly wave. He almost looked embarrassed as he returned the ill-suited gesture.
Buffy and Worf acknowledged each other with a subtle nod.
Picard got up from his centre chair to face Giles.
"Is there a problem, Captain?"
"We’ve lost communication with Commander Riker’s team."
The former Watcher had no clue how to resolve that
Picard went on to explain; "It may be that they have encountered a malevolent threat. One of the missing shuttlecraft involved in our encounter at Epsilon Ursae seems to have crash-landed here within the last few hours."
The three of them had one collective thought: Oh, hell
They knew it was likely to happen at some point. They just hadn’t expected it to be so soon, nor that they’d be around when it happened. Some might consider it fortuitous.
Buffy considered it ironic – in the worst possible sense. Her first instinct was to go down there. She needed
to go down there. But part of her said ‘this isn’t my world. It’s not my home. I could just leave here and not look back. I don’t need to fight and risk my life’. The rest of her knew that was not the right frame of mind to have. She was the Slayer and it was her world that had encroached on this one and her duty to protect people and fight evil. …Right?
"After everything you’ve been through recently," Picard continued, "I feel uneasy involving you in this."
Giles empathised. "Everything we’ve
been through you
went through also, Captain."
Picard gave a nod of understanding.
"You want our help?" asked Buffy. She remembered Spike’s warning. But it didn’t matter. She needed something to do.
"We have no frame of reference for whatever may be down there," said Picard. "My away team may be in danger. …Yes. I would appreciate any assistance you can offer."
"I’ll go," the Slayer volunteered. "Zap me down there."
Captain Picard’s intention was to have them advise and observe. But that was beside the point at this stage. "Transporters are offline," he explained, "and the away team took the only shuttle."Great
, thought Buffy, Thanks for giving us a problem we can’t even deal with
"I…" Picard had trouble finding the appropriate phrasing. "…I had rather hoped…given your unique skills…that you might somehow be able to…intervene from here."
The Scoobs looked to each other. They each wondered who would be the one to tell him nope
.* * *
"Who are you?" the elder Vulcan had asked Riker in a low tone. It was a relief to him that the Vulcans spoke Earth standard. It was a prerequisite class at the Vulcan Academy because their two planets were the primary Federation members.
"I’m William Riker, second officer of the U.S.S. Phantom." He indicated the alien across the room. "This is one of my security officers, Lieutenant Schlatnak M’Raknayr. And this is Lieutenant James Rush."
"How did you know to come here?" asked the younger monk.
"We responded to your distress beacon."
Elder spoke to younger; "One of the others must have reached the transmitter." He turned back to Riker. "I am Salis, and this is Pardak. Can you explain to us what is attacking our sanctuary?"
Riker blinked. "Hardly." He took a moment before asking; "What happened?"
"Something came in the night," said Salis. "A large bipedal creature not indigenous to this planet. It broke in as we slept and ransacked the monastery. Many were killed in their beds. Some of us fled to the catacombs. At dawn it came for us here." He looked to his young student. "We remained hidden."
"Are there any other survivors?" Riker asked.
"I do not believe so."
The commander released a compassionate sigh. "Something took one of my men. I didn’t see what. It might have been the creature you mentioned. …There was an electrical disturbance that damaged our equipment, and the same source may be responsible for the death of one of your brethren in the entrance hall. Do you have any idea what caused these occurrences?"
"I have no knowledge of the disturbance you speak of," Salis replied.
"Nor I," said Pardak.
"You have no equipment here that could cause such high discharge?"
Salis answered; "We do not. The transmitter was our only tie to technology."
Pardak looked over at Schlatnak and seemed to notice the alien’s quiet distress. "Are you injured?"
Schlatnak looked to Riker as if he could somehow convey to him what was being said by the Vulcan.
"He can’t understand us."
The monks each raised a signature brow in disbelief.
"Monchezkens don’t have the vocal ability to speak Earth standard. The part of their brains that controls speech perception can’t distinguish individual words in alien languages." Rush began to stir and moan beside him. "I need to get my man out of here before he bleeds to death."
"Can you transport us from here?" Salis asked expectantly.
"It’ll be a few hours before our transporters are functional and we’ve lost communications. I have a small shuttle on your landing pad but it won’t be easy to reach with that…thing…running rampant down here."
Riker looked down to see Rush regaining consciousness slowly. "Try not to move. Conserve your strength."
The hurt officer’s speech was slow and weak. "Where…?"
"Still underground. We’re just taking a break before we get you out of here."
He tried to sit up, groaned, and fell back.
"Stay put, Lieutenant."
Rush checked the area of his pain and saw the blood soaking through his uniform. "I…I think I’ve had it, Commander."
"That’s enough of that, Rush. I’ve seen worse damage in Parrises Squares. Doctor Crusher can fix this
in two minutes; we just need to get you back to the shuttle."
Rush held onto Riker’s tunic. "You…made the call to come down here," he uttered.
Riker’s heart sank. Guilt was a terrible thing to carry with you, especially when it was thrust in your face.
Rush went on; "It was…the right thing to do, sir." He released his grip. "It was the right call."
Will gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Rest while you can. We’re leaving soon."
"Riker," said Salis. "A small group of our brethren attempted to flee into the mountains when the creature attacked. They were killed before they were able to reach the entrance hall."
Commander Riker closed his eyes and tried to find the workings of a plan in his busy head. "If… If we could somehow create a diversion – draw the creature away from the stairs long enough for someone to reach the shuttle. They can return with the doctor and a security team." He considered the fact that he was in charge, so it was his duty to stay until everyone else was out. "Lieutenant Schlatnak. He’s quick on his feet and can pilot the shuttle."
Pardak foresaw a problem. "How will you communicate your plan to him?"
He was right, damn it.
"Sir," said Rush. "I…don’t think I can hold out long enough…for Doctor Crusher…to get here. And, sir, …I can’t, in good conscience, bring the doc into this hell hole." He coughed. "It’s not that I want to…run away, sir, but…I think I’ll have a better chance if I’m the one to go." He coughed again. "I could get to the Phantom in time for medical help…and send a security team back for you."
There was a lot of sense in what he was saying, but a lot of problems too. "You’re unstable. You might not even stay conscious long enough to make it to the ship."
"All I have to do…is get out of the atmosphere, sir. The Phantom can bring me in on automatic."
Riker mulled it over. "Your wound isn’t properly bandaged. You could bleed to death, Lieutenant."
At that, Salis removed his robe and offered it to Riker. "You may use this to bind the wound."
Riker was concerned but could see the logic. He decided to give it a shot. "Can you stand?"
They helped Rush to his feet and wrapped the monk’s robe tightly around his torso. It seemed to give him good support and he managed to move around. He was slow and unsteady but he insisted he could make it.
Riker used a sleeve from the robe and tore it in two. Half he put on the ground and rolled the burning torch into it until it was soaked in pitch and aflame. He kept the second strip of material for phase two of his plan.
"When you hear my signal, go as quickly as you can, but be careful," he instructed Rush. "Don’t go faster than you can manage. I’ll keep it away from you as long as I can."
"Rush by name, leisurely by nature, sir."
Riker smiled at the brave young officer, whose fear was now replaced by determination and the instinct to survive. He instructed the Vulcans to stay where they were and to keep the small fire he’d laid from dying out. Then he was gone.
Quietly, Riker ran deep into the labyrinth with the faintly burning torch until he reached an intersecting tunnel that ran right around the catacomb in a semi-circle. There he stopped. The darkness beyond his torchlight was thick and he saw nothing of the creature. He took a deep breath and prayed for good fortune.
He rolled the strip of material around the torch until it flamed brightly again, then he raised a leg and slammed his foot down with a loud clap. The sound reverberated through the passageways and he waited. A minute passed, perhaps two, before he heard a heavy nasal breathing from an alcove behind him. He turned on it with his torch aloft and saw the shadowy figure of an enormous hulking monster. He didn’t dwell on it for long as he jumped into a sprint and yelled "NOW!
" at the top of his lungs.
He ran hard and fast with the heavy sound of the monster behind him. He ran what must have been fifty metres before he reached the next fanned tunnel that led to the stairs. He turned into it and ran back towards the entrance. It was still behind him, closing fast, and he ran for his life. He ran for all their lives.
He had a rough plan of the tunnels mapped in his head and he hoped it was accurate for what he would do next. In the light he saw a side opening appear in the wall up ahead. And, just beyond it, a small alcove. He picked up speed, tossed the torch away into the channel, and slipped into the alcove. The sudden stop sent him crashing into the brickwork but he forced himself to be silent.
He was in the dark and quiet when the shadowy thing reached him. It saw the light in the side channel and growled. It paused. Riker held his breath, gripping a sore elbow from his impact, and prepared to run again.
Thankfully, it followed the light and vanished from view. Riker snuck out of hiding, continued down the tunnel until the wall grew narrow enough for him to move across into the passage he had started from. The sound of the creature’s growls were close. It was looking for him again. He walked quietly back to the secret room.
When he arrived there the tiny cloth-fire was still giving off some light.
Salis and Pardak stood at his sudden return, then knelt when they saw it was him. Rush was no longer there.
The commander collapsed in a tired heap by the opening and finally breathed. He looked sideways at Schlatnak who gave him a nod.
"Were you successful?" asked Salis.
Riker shut his eyes and breathed. "Let’s hope so."* * *
The four young Scoobs were now in Xander’s tiny room. Willow was laid out in the top bunk with her head over the lip, Buffy was resting half sat on the workstation with her foot on the fixed swivel stool. Xander and Anya sat at the tiny table in the only two chairs. The room had barely a metre of space from bunk to wall and was a far cry from the luxury of the Enterprise. Xander was glad for one thing, though: there were no windows on the Phantom.
"They’re trying to teach us about this world," he was saying, "when I don’t even understand the one we came from."
"I still can’t believe they don’t have money," reflected his girl with a sad faraway look in her eyes.
"In their Federation it isn’t needed, Anya," Willow tried to point out. "Everything you need is here. Replicators for food and clothes, holodecks for fun, and there’s some kind of credit system if you want to buy anything from somewhere. The Federation takes care of all your comfort needs."
"Oh. Really?" challenged the former Demon. "Like the beds here?" She pointed to the two cramped bunks. "Those things aren’t comfortable at all. They’re certainly not built for two
. Xander’s meat-stick kept poking me all night, and when you’ve already had the sex and you’re trying to sleep it’s distracting. I’m surprised I’m not perforated like one of Giles’ teabags."
Buffy gawked at her. "You both
slept in one of those?"
"It certainly brought us closer together." Xander said, rubbing his neck.
There came a minute or so of silence after that as the gang drifted away with their own inner thoughts. Two of them were deleting the mental picture that Anya had just so vividly drawn for them.
After she’d done her file delete, Buffy started worrying again about their future. "What do you think you’ll do?" she asked them. "When we go back to Earth, I mean."
Xander’s eyes went wide as he blew out a long breath of air. "I don’t have a clue," he said at length. "I don’t even know what to expect there. I can barely keep up with what’s happening to us. I mean, a few weeks ago I had an ordinary life – for a Slayerette – and now… I’ve been in space battles, fired laser guns, met aliens and space-walked. Madness, I tell ya."
"Maybe we could do something together?" Willow suggested. "Start a Demon detective agency like Angel…?"
Buffy realised at that moment that she’d never see Angel again. Last week during their time in Spacedock, Will Riker had called Deanna Troi ‘Imzadi’. The counsellor told them that it was a special term on her home planet for the first true love. A love that, no matter what, would never end. A link that could not be severed. It meant ‘beloved’. Angel was her Imzadi, her beloved; lost forever.
"We could hire ourselves out to the Smithsonian as relics of the twenty-first century," Xander spoofed.
Will turned his idea over in her head and realised; "Does this mean we’re officially three-hundred and ninety-four years old?"
Buffy looked at Willow in horror at the thought of it.
The young witch put a supportive hand out to her friend. "Don’t worry, you look fabulous for your age."
Buffy’s lips curled up into a pearly white smile.
"I’ve been around for a thousand years," said Anya. "What’s a few hundred more?"
Willow could only think of one sensible answer; "Maybe they’ll back-date our birthdays to, like, twenty-three fifty-eight or something."
"This is all too crazed," concluded Xander.
Willow suddenly snapped her fingers. "Hey, we’re supposed to be trying to think of ways to help Commander Riker."
"Oh, right, yeah," Buffy considered. "…I’m drawing a blank." She suddenly realised what a weird saying that was. "How do you draw a blank?" she muttered as she traced an imaginary pencil in the air.
Xander had no help either. "Unless Willow the Wickedly Wicked Witch of the West’s got a teleportation spell up her witchy sleeve, what are we gonna do?"
"I’m not up to that level yet," she replied with disappointment. "I know one for detecting demonic energy but… we already know there’s something down there and… I can’t actually remember it."
"Good work, Will," he mocked. "Make us look good why don’t ya? We have a reputation to uphold here. We defeat the all-powerful phantom son of Satan by magicking him into a tight little package and blasting him into gas, now we can’t even stop some runaway ghoul."
"I don’t have my books," Will responded in a childish mumble-grumble.
Xander put on a completely exaggerated English accent; "Where’s our man Ripper?"
"I think he went to his room to pace," said Buffy.
"Good old British stiff upper lip," he said. "Nothing compared to their stiff lower–"
"Xander!" Buffy scolded.
He apologised and shut up.
"We should ask Giles what he’s
gonna do when we get back to Earth," said Will. "He’ll have a plan."
Buffy began to wonder about Giles and the life he might live there. And then she wondered…"Is it just me, or is there something going on with Giles and the doctor lady?"
"Doctor Crusher?" Will said.
Xander gave a definite nod. "Yeah. I think she’s had the pleasure."
They shuddered as one.
"Giles’ll fix everything," Buffy assured them. "He’ll already have the new Scooby mission statement figured out. He’ll know what to do."
"Whatever happens," Xander said in seriousness, "let’s stick together."
"Absolutely," agreed Buffy.
"Scooby Gang forever," Willow added from the high bunk.* * *
Captain Picard was leant forward in his command chair, elbows resting on knees and his hands balled up anxiously at his mouth. Ahead of him was the solitary flight control station where Ensign Gunnlaugsdóttir, the 27 year-old Icelandic pilot, was sat doing little more than monitor their position. Beyond her blonde head was the arc of Delta Vindi on the main viewer. There were two other seated stations on each side of him. Worf and La Forge to his right, working on ways to penetrate the substructure of the temple with their sensors. Data and an empty communications post to his left. And Picard at the centre of it all. He felt completely useless.
With no word from Riker and his team there was no telling what was occurring 600km beneath his feet on the planets’ surface. But his troubles ran deeper than those of the current mission. Something new, powerful and dangerous had recently been loosed upon his ‘world’ from realms unknown. In less than a week of its introduction to this dimension, the mystical had threatened the very existence of all he knew. Given a month, a year, a decade… how many more holocausts would follow? How many of those could they avoid?
What he feared most was that this mission would prove one terrible fact to be true. That the supernatural threat they were now faced with would be more than they could handle. And it frustrated him that he couldn’t begin to understand the nature of it. How could he and his people begin to contain something that seemed to follow no rules or boundaries that made any sense to them?
He did feel a measure of relief knowing the transdimensional visitors were still with them. But only a measure of relief as, it would seem, even their knowledge and abilities had limits.
It was Data. He sounded quite spirited. Picard spun in his seat in expectation.
"The shuttlepod Shikar has left the surface, sir."
"Life signs, Mr Worf?"
"One human life sign reading. Very weak."
"Open a channel."
The Klingon complied. "Channel open."
"This is the Phantom, please identify yourself."
There was a break before a strained and wheezing voice came through. "Lieutenant…Rush, Captain. Need…assistance. …Medical…emergen–"
Picard looked to Worf.
"The channel is open, Captain," the ambassador reported. "Life sign is minimal."
Picard ordered the shuttlepod on screen. It appeared just as it entered open space.
Data observed the Shikar’s approach. "The trajectory of the shuttlepod suggests the pilot is no longer in control."
"Patch in to the Shikar’s computer and bring it in, Mr Data."
Picard couldn’t afford to lose Rush. "Bridge to sickbay. Send a medical team to the shuttle deck at once." He gave La Forge the centre chair and headed out the door.* * *
Picard arrived at the shuttle bay just as Crusher’s team got there and he watched them remove Rush’s unconscious body from the small craft. He followed them to the ships’ modest sickbay where he awaited Beverly’s initial prognosis.
After a tense few minutes she came to him. "It appears he was attacked by a large animal, leaving him with deep lacerations to his abdomen and slight head trauma."
"Will he recover?"
"With surgery his chances are good."
Picard gave a reassured nod. "I’d like to see him first."
"It is imperative I prepare him for surgery immediately, Captain. He has severe internal damage."
"Doctor, I have to know what happened on the surface. I need to speak to him, now
. No arguments."
Crusher protested; "He’s unconscious. Giving him a stimulant now will only increase his chances of going into arrest."
"I understand that. Wake him, please."* * *
Within minutes the conference room was full. Picard, Data, La Forge, Worf, Troi, Buffy, Giles and Willow were standing around the table there.
"Lieutenant Rush was able to return from the surface a few minutes ago," Picard explained. "He managed to give us the following details. When they arrived at the monastery something took Lieutenant Tremblay into the catacombs beneath the structure. There they were attacked by what he described as a ‘large clawed animal’. Also they encountered some kind of power surge that destroyed their equipment."
Troi could sense a disturbing emotion emanating from Picard. "How is Rush?"
"He died a few minutes ago," the captain replied in a detracted tone, sending a wave of guilt Deanna’s way. "Cardiac arrest. Internal bleeding."
Buffy felt a pang of remorse. She recognised the name Rush. She’d joked with him just days before when he helped them replicate their spell ingredients. She’d scared him off with talk of opening a gateway to the dead. And now he was on the other side of that gateway.
He was just a young explorer out for adventure like the rest of these guys. And cute. He didn’t deserve to die.
Picard quickly pressed on. "Do you sense anything on the surface, Counsellor?"
"Commander Riker’s alive," she said, the connection to her Imzadi as strong as ever. "And there are a few others, maybe two or three. I’m not detecting anything from them other than a strong sense of fear."
"Rush said there were two Vulcan clergymen with Commander Riker and Lieutenant Schlatnak when he left," Picard noted. "I want a rescue team prepped and ready to depart in ten minutes."
down," said the Slayer, stepping forward in that strong and certain way she had.
Worf came forward to join her. "I will lead the away team."
Picard recalled the trouble he’d had with these two the first time, and he agreed right away on this occasion. He had no time to argue regulations with people as stubborn as them.
Willow turned to Giles. He saw the look in her eyes. "We’ll come with you," he said to Buffy.
"I must try to identify the Demon threat," he explained.
"You can do that from here," she insisted. "I’ll call you from the planet."
"Commander Riker’s team can’t communicate with us," Rupert argued. "If the same thing happens again the only way I can assess the nature of the Demon is to go down myself. We may need the skills of a witch to defeat it."
Buffy looked to Picard. He decided to defer to her team in order to get a result. "Do whatever you feel is necessary to achieve a successful outcome, Miss Summers."
Picard addressed his chief engineer; "I need those transporters online as soon as possible, if not before. Help Professor O’Brien complete the restoration."
Geordi acknowledged. "You’ll have them within the hour."
"See to it." …He looked around at them…Once more unto the breach
… "Dismissed."* * *
The second away team were all set to go. Buffy, Willow, Giles and Xander.
They were in a small circular room with a high ceiling. The shuttle deck.
There were caged ladders running up to a balcony and rail and, beneath their feet a circular floor section that looked like it opened up to release the shuttlepod.
The three of them had been loaned matching technician’s utility overalls in mustard yellow with black turtle-necked shirts beneath. They each had a belt like Xander’s tool strap back home, a Starfleet communicator badge, and a pair of heavy black boots. Buffy had pulled her shirt sleeves up and rolled the overall sleeves back to her elbows. She was ready for a fight.
To Willow, Buffy seemed to look far less certain and eager as usual. As she would be back home in Sunnydale. And Xander looked…well…clean-shaven. Beardless once again and younger-looking for it. Willow regarded herself and the rest of the Slay Team in their mustard uniforms. Team banana.
It looked like Giles had decided to leave his spectacles behind. That meant he was expecting trouble. They were as prepared as they could be and waiting for their team leader – Worf – who was gathering the weapons.
Willow herself had pooled together as many simple incantations of protection, conjuring and attack she could remember that required no spell ingredients and had written them down on a scrap of paper she’d replicated. For a long while all her brain had come up with was ‘abracadabra’ and ‘ala kazam’. She could have written them on a computer padd, but she had a feeling that paper was the way to go this time.
Buffy had gotten Xander on the team. When she asked him, he asked back: "Will there be beaming?" Buffy had told him no and he replied: "Okay then!"
He was a little surprised when she’d invited him along. "But I’m no Slayer," he’d noted.
"No, but you’re the only one here who’s killed the son of the Devil," said Buffy.
To that he referred to the Phantom by saying: "This war machine doesn’t even have a holograph room, so… might as well go play out for an hour before dinner."
Willow found herself looking at the shuttlepod. It was amazing to her that they could make such a small craft that was space-worthy. It was no bigger than a large Jeep and the main body of it was a little like a bullet, flattened at the top where the windshield was set. It had those engine nacelle things, the same kind the Phantom had but fun-sized. The engines were right at the back and high up. Between them at the rear was the little hatch that was dropped down now like a ramp. It had the red racing stripe and Starfleet emblem running down the side with the name and number printed in bold lettering: U.S.S. PHANTOM, NX-75736, SHIKAR.
She wondered what the name meant.
"What are we expecting?" Buffy said to Giles.
The older man, who looked out of place in the banana suit, gave a shrug. "I wouldn’t like to speculate at this point."
"We’ve just fought a war," said Xander. "Shouldn’t take much to sort out an itty bitty claw monster."
Famous last words, the rest of them thought.
One of the doors slid open and Worf appeared packing some serious heat.
As ever, his hair was in a tight braided tail that hung down his back where, not one, but two bat’leths were sheathed. His Klingon belt was well-stocked with a d'k tahg dagger, his ‘h’-shaped curved mek’leth short sword, a Klingon disruptor pistol and tricorder, and a Starfleet hand phaser all stuffed in there. On top of that he had a Starfleet phaser rifle slung over his shoulder. He looked like a big bumpy-faced Rambo all set for war, and he had a different comm unit – the Klingon kind on the strap around his forearm.
Data followed him in with a tricorder and handed it to Willow. She put it in a slot on her belt.
"Captain Picard would like you to conduct an inspection of the Quentin before proceeding on to the monastery," Data informed them. "There may be evidence within the runabout to indicate the nature of the threat."
"Understood, Commander," said Worf, before heading around the shuttle and up the ramp.
The Scoobs followed but Will hung back with Data.
She patted the tricorder at her side. "Thanks for the sensor unit. I’m…not sure I know how to use it yet, though."
The android quickly jumped in; "I anticipated the potential difficulty and programmed the tricorder to operate at an elementary level. This setting is designed for children. I do not believe you will have a problem."Child setting, huh
? "Um…thanks, Data. I…I better go."
He bobbed his head. "Be careful, Willow."
She looked back as she went. "I’ll do my best."
She reached the ramp where Xander was stood. Worf was already in one of the front seats with Buffy sat behind him. Giles was across from her and there was only the front passenger seat remaining. Xander offered it to her and she sat beside the Klingon. Xander crammed in as the ramp closed like Fido the dog knelt in the back of the truck.
"I hope we’re not overloaded," muttered Xander.
Worf responded, "The Shikar can hold a maximum of six personnel."
"We just ate," Xander mentioned. "Does that count?"
The Klingon grumbled.
Willow watched as Worf set his configurations for the control station and ran through the pre-flight sequence. She noticed how much more complex his settings were compared to the ones she had used in the space war. He was manually controlling more systems than she even knew existed.
"Why is it called the Shikar?" she asked Worf.
The warrior stopped and gave her a mildly puzzled look before returning to his panel of colourful buttons. "I do not know," he answered at length. "I imagine it is the name of some historical Earth figure. An explorer, perhaps."
"Sounds foreign," she pondered.
The Klingon exhaled. "Computer." There followed a mechanical chirp. "What is the origin of this vessel’s designation?"
There was a brief pause before the nice computer lady replied; ‘The Earth term Shikar
refers to a form of hunting which took place in colonial India, and was also the title given to the hunting parties involved.’A hunter
. "We’re Demon hunting," Willow remarked.
He looked to see if she was satisfied. She smiled warmly and Worf dropped the shuttle out through the floor.
As they transversed the space between ship and planet, Willow asked him about the name Delta Vindi. What was that about?
He told her of the six planets in the Vindi system and that Delta was the fourth from the sun, following the Greek letter format. Alpha Vindi, Beta Vindi, and Gamma Vindi were the 3 nearer the Vindi star, with Epsilon Vindi and Zeta Vindi the farthest.
Worf quietly hoped she wasn’t going to bombard him with such trivial questions the whole time, and Will sensed that from him and decided to shut up for a bit.
They swooped into the atmosphere of the alien world, which looked surprisingly familiar with its green regions, snowy regions, and the misty mountains they were approaching. They passed over the mountainside temple and across the mountain range to the churned ground where the Quentin had crashed. Worf drew in against the oncoming wind and took the shuttlepod down near the larger runabout. With a hiss the landing gear came down and they settled. Outside the air howled. The ramp lowered and they jumped out into the strong gale.
Once on solid ground, Worf split his loot.
He drew out one of the bat’leths from his back and gave it to the Slayer. It was Gor’agh’s. The one she’d fought with in the battle of Epsilon Ursae Six. She marveled again at its deadly beauty with its handles of polished Targ bones with leather Targ hide grips. In places it bore animal fur, the blade dark and made from hair – like a rhino horn. But it was sharp as hell. Made by a Klingon house of swordsmiths. It was art. The sword was arced in a crescent with five sharp points. One spike in the centre, two midway on either side, ending in long curved points at both ends. She was glad to feel it in her grip once again.
"This belongs to you now," Worf said to her.
This time she took it with only a nod and no resistance.
Xander was handed the rifle and hand phaser. Worf knew of his skill and courage in battle. He had no problem in trusting the young man with such weapons. He took out his Klingon tricorder and led them across the grass and against the wind toward the other shuttle. Xander went with his pistol holstered and his rifle aimed down.
They neared the powerless vessel carefully and Worf held his sensor unit up.
"Captain," he reported, speaking into his arm piece. "The Quentin has suffered massive damage to its computer core and there are a number of ruptures in both nacelles. The damage appears to have been caused by Federation phasers. I believe they crashed here accidentally as a result."
That made sense. It had been one of the evil Rhamhal’s stolen fighters so had been seriously pummelled by Starfleet. The fact it had made it this far was astounding.
"Are there any survivors onboard, Ambassador?" asked Picard over the comm. "We’re not detecting
The door of the runabout was already open and the team poked their heads into the dark within.
The stink of rotting flesh hit them before the site of the Sal Fusian corpse spread out on the carpeted floor. Worf slipped inside and checked the rear compartment.
"Negative, Captain. No survivors," he said on his return to the fresh air.
"Just an ex-zombie and a bad smell," said Xander.
"There’s no telling what manner of Demon arrived with it," Giles admitted.
Picard was silent for a time and the wind began to pick up speed.
"Continue, Mr Worf," came his order. "With caution."
The team moved out.