Death & Destiny: Monks & Monsters
Death & Destiny- Monks and Monsters - 07
The shuttlepod Shikar touched down on the small circular landing pad of the Vulcan monastery. The pulsating gusts of wind were enough to rock the small craft as the away team disembarked.
An overzealous Xander ran around the front of the shuttle with his rifle and dropped to one knee, shoved the butt under his chin, and aimed the hot end of the barrel down the narrow bridge ahead. Worf stepped out and looked around. He removed his sensor unit and scanned the area. Willow had flipped her own tricorder open and started trying to decipher its controls and readings. Buffy came out with her bat’leth and waited for someone to point her in a direction. Giles kept to the rear and remained cautious.
They were all looking at the bridge, the high winds driving against them. The bridge was up to 15 metres long with wooden arch frames running at intervals over which a brown canopy ran. But the barriers on either edge of the long bridge were no more than two bricks high and, beneath it, a drop into rocky oblivion. Between the strong gale and the narrow open walkway it looked like a treacherous trip.
Buffy didn’t much like the cold of the racing wind. "Can we go in?"
Worf examined his sensor readings. "I am detecting nothing."
Willow looked at the bips and squips and squiggles on her tricorder. "So, that’s what nothing looks like."
"We must proceed to the sub-levels," Worf advised. "To the catacombs."
"Not liking the sound of that," uttered Xander.
"Let’s do this," said Buffy.
But there was still that bridge to cross.
"Be careful," Worf told them. But it sounded more like ‘If you fall over the edge and die it’ll be your own stupid fault’.
The Klingon leaned against the wind and ran the bridge without falter and the Slayer followed. Will, Xander and Giles used the frames of the arches for support.
Within the entrance hall of the monastery they discovered the burned and dead Vulcans and, at the far end, a coagulated pool of blood and a trail of it spread down a passage out of the room.
Willow’s sensor was giving her automatic readings. "That’s human blood."
"Lieutenant Tremblay," grumbled Worf.
Willow went to the Klingon’s side and looked into the dark tunnel. "What is a P’Jem anyway?"
"P’Jem is the name for a series of Vulcan monasteries, ancient places hundreds and hundreds of years old. It is a spiritual sanctuary. The monks do not interact with the outside world. They are focused on the one goal of removing all feeling and devoting themselves purely to logic and spiritual matters."
"How does that work?" asked Buffy. "In what way is logic spiritual?"
"That is a question you must direct to the monks," Worf replied. "If any still live."
Buffy the Vampire Slayer looked down the shadowy passage. "Let’s go find out."
He snarled a favourable grin at her eagerness. Recently Worf had fought an army of hellish beasts and defeated a giant behemoth. He felt ready for another challenge, and the beast below had caused great carnage – he could see the result. It would be a worthy opponent.
Buffy glowered at him suspiciously. "Don’t even think about saying it, " she warned.
But he was already thinking it. Today is a good day to die!
Harris checked his weapon settings.
The team advanced.* * *
The passageway was dark and so Worf threw Willow a small cube torch that fit in the palm of her hand. She used it to illuminate their transit from the hall and down the tight, spiralled steps to their underground destination.
They came to a stop in a semi-circular open section of a stone-walled basement. Before them a series of tunnels fanned out into blackness. The wind seemed to have followed them from outside as it was dragged down behind them and pulled deep into the catacombs. It didn’t manage to drag the stagnant old smell of the place with it.
The Klingon opened a channel on his arm pad. "Worf to Commander Riker." He waited a few seconds. "He is not responding."
"The captain said their equipment was destroyed," Willow recalled. She shone the light across the ground and areas of scuffed dust were highlighted in the beam. They saw a burned out tricorder and equally damaged phasers scattered across the floor.
"Apparently so," Worf conceded, and picked out his tricorder. The screen lit up in the dark and he began a bio-scan. A faint signal showed up… possibly numerous life signs… somewhere down the second tunnel from the left.
"Where are we going?" asked the Slayer.
"This way–" he began. Something else came up on the small screen in his hand. Something big – closing in fast. Demon!
A shadow came from the tunnels and, before they knew what was happening, Buffy was sent spinning into Willow and the lamplight darted erratically before it hit the ground and went out.
Giles went low and moved in on their position to check on them.
Worf dropped, rolled, and drew out his Klingon sword. He wanted to swing the weapon but couldn’t see anything in the black. He might hit one of the team members.
Xander knelt and tried to find the light switch on his rifle.
Buffy untangled herself from Will, whose groans indicated she was all right. She felt Giles’ hand against her back as he searched for them. She gripped it with her own to show she was fine. She managed to get up on her knees and a sudden burst of light shone out from Xander’s gun. In the centre of the open area, the dark shape of a large Demon spun and attacked the light source. Xander!
Buffy ran forward with her bat’leth.
The light went out. Xander felt the rifle leave his hands and the sound of it clattered away into a tunnel somewhere.
The Slayer attacked - slicing the blade down at the creature – and the sword went flying. She stumbled back. Did I hit it? Did I get it?
Willow located her torch and flicked it on. It worked, and she brought it down on the hidden beast. All the while, her mind was whirring as she tried to remember any spells that would give them a tactical advantage and that worked with only an incantation.
Worf observed the dark monstrous form as it rotated toward the new light source. He caught a glint from a large round eye. The thing was about to attack the Rosenberg girl and Worf made his move. With his bat’leth gripped tightly at one end with both strong hands, he swung and sliced it into the midriff of the hulking beast. With a shocking jolt that vibrated up his arms, the sword that had been in his family for generations hit the creature’s outer skin and snapped clean in half.
The Klingon held his broken sword before his face in disbelief. Then a heavy arm crashed against him and he was thrown hard against the stone wall.
Willow fumbled in her belt pouches and clawed out the scrap of paper she’d scrawled her incantations on. She dropped the torch to the paper in her hand and tried to make out the writing.
"Light!" Buffy cried out. "I need light!"
Will lifted the lamp and Buffy was faced with their death-defying Demon in all its unholy glory. The image was of great claws and teeth and largeness. With its sloth hands, elephant feet, piranha face and the body of an iron-pumping meat-head with a thick leathery hide for skin.
The Demon roared, its face low where the chest should be, and came at her with a swipe of its long clawed arm. She ducked and kicked at its stomach, ducked again as it lashed out, and threw a punch across its sharp-toothed piranha jaw. The beast went unfazed and slammed a fat round foot against her chest and pinned her to the ground. She felt the weight of it crushing her chest and the claws came down to take out her face. It was hit suddenly by a thin orange beam of energy.
Harris fired his hand phaser, set to kill, and the Demon recoiled. It took one step back, shivered, and took two steps forward. The big beast growled as it came for him. It wasn’t pleased.
Xander panicked and tried to reset the pistol to vaporise.
Buffy came from the sidelines and football tackled the monster into the wall.
Xander’s weapon was set. He aimed.
"Watch out!" Willow jumped to the floor as a sizzling green energy cloud swooped out of a side tunnel and fired sharp bolts of lightening around the chamber.
Xander felt the shock in his hand as his pistol burned up.
Worf was back on his feet when two flashbolts struck out and lifted himself and the Slayer off their feet, across the room and into the brick.
Willow tried to scramble away but the mini storm drew up to her and fired a thrashing green shaft at her. Her torch went out and the storm cloud was gone.
A quiet pause followed. Willow was intact but her torch felt hot and soft in her hand. Whatever had destroyed the first away team’s devices seemed to have done the same to them. She felt at her comm badge. It too was warm and pulpy. She was thankful for her foresight in using paper to write her spells on…only now she couldn’t see.
Xander touched his hand in the darkness. It was tender but functional. Somewhere nearby he could hear the heavy breath of the Demon and its powerful feet shuffling about. He had a rough idea where he was in the room and an even rougher idea where his rifle had been scattered during the creature’s first attack. He crawled quickly and quietly across the room, feeling the wall until he located the central tunnel, and shuffled along it as he stroked the dust for his weapon.
Buffy groaned. Her whole body felt charged – like the time she’d tried to fix her mom’s washing machine without disconnecting it from the mains and gotten a nasty shock for her troubles. But this was full-body and not just her hand. She pushed herself up against the wall, her body stiff and weak. She could barely catch her breath.
Worf, too, came around feeling like he’d been hit by a runaway starship. His disorientation and weakness threatened to knock him down when he tried to stand. He fought it as best he could and kept to the wall. The creature was around somewhere; he could hear it.
Willow was still on the ground with Giles across her as a protective shield. She was trying her damnedest to remember what she’d written on her slip. Protection field incantation… disorientation glamour… She stopped. Her first priority was light! She remembered something that wasn’t on her paper. A guiding spell she’d messed up the first time she tried it, but had mastered since. It wasn’t quite appropriate to this occasion but it offered light… and they may at some point need the guidance.
"Aradia," she whispered, "Goddess of the lost, the path is murky, the woods are dense, darkness pervades. I beseech thee... bring the light."
In the heart of the dark chamber a green dot of light appeared over their heads and brought a soft glow to the room. Willow figured, if she held off on giving it instructions, it would stay right there like a light bulb.
Worf, still weak, saw the Demon appear in the faint light. It was in the centre of them, eyes raised like it was meditating, or basking in an imaginary sunlight. He withdrew the mek’leth short sword from his belt. Like a sly hunter of Targ, Worf creeped around behind the beast, locked his sights on the spot between any other animals’ shoulder blades, and leapt forward. He pushed the sharp point with both hands into the monster’s back…and was shocked again as his weapon shattered on impact.
The Demon turned to him with its huge fishy eyes gleaming.
Xander Harris found his rifle when a faint green light rose up from the chamber to help his search. His heart sank. The phaser was almost smashed in half – cracked in the middle. When he lifted it, it threatened to fold like a hinge. "Crap," he muttered. It was no better than a broken bat.
Buffy ran into the Demon again and tried to beat it, avoiding the swinging claws. Worf joined her in the fight but their weakened states made it hard and tiring. The creature never once seemed hurt by their attacks. It lashed out and gave Worf a shallow set of cuts across his chest, severing his sash. He staggered back as his beloved silver baldric dropped off his body to the ground.
The beast roared loud, bucked a leg back and kicked the Slayer away.
Worf was enraged by this hulking animal. It seemed utterly futile, but Worf pulled out his Klingon knife. The disruptor pistol had proved useless – burned and melted.
The Demon chattered its razor teeth at him in a mocking gesture and he took a Klingon defensive stance, holding the knife out in an attempt to appear threatening.
The Demon made a strike with its claw and he pulled his arm back.
There was a moment, just a short second, in which there was no pain. Worf’s arm was in front of him, but his hand was not. On the floor by his feet he saw the d’k tahg dagger still held by a severed appendage. His own hand. On the floor. Severed.
Then came the pain.
The Klingon roared and it was louder than any the beast had managed. It stabbed out at him and Worf jumped aside, falling hard to the ground with a terrible burning in his stumped wrist.
Buffy woke up with a sudden twitch on the dirty ground with her head against brick. She saw Worf on the floor bleeding, his hand not far away.
Willow, still covered by Giles, searched her scrap of paper for anything she could use.
Buffy didn’t know what to do. She wished she was back home so she could run to Giles’ place and get him to go through his books. She couldn’t begin to fight it without understanding its strengths and weaknesses. It seemed unbreakable. She looked across to Will and Giles. "Run!" Where was Xander? The others weren’t moving. "Get out of here!"
The Demon wasn’t stupid. It circled to the staircase exit and blocked their retreat.
Willow had to do something. She read from her slip; "Fio inconditus everto!" She waved her hand toward the Demon and a sparkling fairy-light display fizzled around its face. It was a simple disorientation glamour but it was something.
It whirled around and flapped its long sloth arms at the air. Lashing out, it sliced the brickwork, bringing down the opening to the staircase.
Will cursed herself and gave Buffy a sorry pleading look.
The Slayer moved across to Worf and put pressure around his severed wrist. "Where did you say to go before? Which tunnel?"
The Demon continued to fight the fireflies in its face and the speckles of light began to thin out.
At that moment, Cmdr Riker appeared from the tunnel behind Worf. His face was plastered with surprise, followed by horror at the site of Worf’s arm. "This way," he ordered. "Help me move him. Get his hand. Quickly!"
Buffy grabbed the bloody appendage and took half of Worf’s weight with Riker. She called after the others.
Xander re-entered the chamber with the damaged rifle as Willow and Giles passed by.
The Demon wafted its arms a few more times and was free of the glamour.
"Move!" Riker called as they headed toward his secret room. Willow was the last to leave the chamber and she glanced at her paper, throwing a hand back; "Vestis!"
A barrier field halted the beast’s pursuit. It wasn’t much – a very weak and cheap trick. Most of what she remembered were old early learning spells.
The group pressed on through the passageways behind Riker as he and Buffy dragged Worf along, and Willow’s green spot of guiding light accompanied them.
The Demon soon followed and they heard its stomping pads hitting the ground, powered by thick pillar-like legs. It was running for them.
The team pulled into the sequestered side room in a wave of noise and confusion. Buffy helped the commander pull Worf into Rush’s old position by the doorway. Giles, Xander and Willow piled in behind with her magical hovering light bulb. The sound of their attacker drew ever closer.
Salis stood in protest. "I warned you, Riker. Now you have betrayed our location."
Will ignored the Vulcan and raised Worf’s cleaved arm, gripping it to stem the blood flow. He looked to Buffy. "Can you stop that thing?"
She in turn looked to Willow.
The young witch, feeling the pressure, knew there was no time. She needed to come up with something. She needed a real shielding spell to barricade the exposed doorway. There wasn’t one on her sheet. She had no idea what– Wait…doorway…with walls on either side.
"We could use one of my good old hinged doors about now, huh?" quipped Xander, despite the situation.
Willow was coming close to an idea. It might just work! She knew a spell. An incantation. She knew she knew one…what was it?
Too late. The Demon arrived outside the arched hole in the wall and Salis tripped backwards in surprise. Pardak caught his teacher and they fell.
The abomination outside began to clatter its sharp piranha teeth again, and further down the hall the sound of the electrical storm could be heard as it moved towards them.
Buffy stood before the opening. Could this be her last stand? On some nowhere planet with the Incredible Freak? "Will?"
Willow was brainstorming frantically. A duplication spell – something to extend one material to cover a void…Yes! She spun to the archway with her palms held out "Profero et contego!" she decreed.
Suddenly, like the doors of a starship, the walls on both sides of the opening extended and closed off the room.
The Demon pounded against the brick a number of times before giving up.
Finally, peace and quiet.
They all let out a sigh of relief and sagged; their energy sapped.
Riker was worried about Worf. The ambassador had drifted off but his pulse was still strong.
"How is he?" asked Buffy.
"Stable. But he’s losing blood fast. We have to get him out of here."
Salis had regained his composure and directed a finger to the floating green dot of light that hung over them. "What is that?"
Willow looked at the Vulcan in his Jedi-like attire. "It’s a guiding light spell," She replied. "And it works," she added proudly.
Salis looked to Riker who shook his head as if to say ‘don’t ask’.
Pardak approached the new section of wall and felt it with his hands. "How did you achieve this?"
The girls eyeballed the Vulcan and looked at Riker.
How could he explain? "You might want to get an update from Vulcan," he said, dodging the question.
Buffy examined their surroundings. It was a large room full of crevices that housed long-dead bodies, skulls and bones. They’d taken refuge in a crypt. Of course, she said to herself, where else would she be? There was a small fire burning low near Riker, and she noticed the alien officer sat against the wall behind Giles and Xander. His thin neck didn’t look strong enough to support his big alien head. She saw the second Vulcan, younger than the one who’d spoken, and dressed in a long brown robe like a devil-eared Obi-Wan Kenobi.
"I thought your people were supposed to be able to stop these creatures," Cmdr Riker challenged.
Buffy looked up. He was talking to her. "It’s stronger than most Demons. I think it’s…invulnerable."
"But what is it?" he asked in a demanding tone.
The Slayer stuttered; "I…don’t…Giles?"
"I’m not sure," Rupert admitted. "Perhaps if I knew more about it. Commander, we were told something took one of your men from upstairs."
"Lieutenant Tremblay," Riker confirmed. "Something cut him down, shredded him like paper, and dragged him away. Something…invisible." Riker shook his head. It still sounded strange to talk of such things. "And we could smell something afterwards…like barbecued meat. Then we were attacked by that…big one you saw just now."
"How many cuts did he receive? Your man Tremblay?"
"It could be important, Commander."
Riker considered. He looked down at the three shallow wounds across Worf’s chest. "Three," he said. "It was three. Like these."
Giles rubbed at his eyes and considered the evidence. "Deep triple claw marks…Invisible attacker…and burning flesh. …Oh, Lord, no."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Here it comes."
"Baragnos the Mutilator," said the Watcher. "Invisible in daylight yet burned by it like vampires. Likes to toy with its victims before killing them, often injuring them to stimulate fear. It absorbs the currents of fear through its skin – a thick impenetrable hide of skin."
"Can we weaken it," asked Willow, "by removing fear?"
"It doesn’t feed on fear," he answered. "It’s more like a drug. …Baragnos was thought to have been banished from the earth realm by the Maya peoples at the turn of the eighth century."
Buffy gave a huff, "Back by unpopular demand thanks to the defeated son of Satan. Great."
"I do not recognise some of your words," said Salis after a time.
Schlatnak tried to sit up straighter and let out a pained gargle. Willow went to him.
"Their language is native to me," Riker explained to the Vulcan, "and I don’t understand what they’re talking about."
Willow checked the alien guard over. He was bruised on the side of his head but he seemed to be having trouble with the side of his chest. "Are you hurt here?"
The alien simply looked at her dumbly with his menacing alien eyes. As she looked into them, they seemed to open up to her like the eyes of a sad animal.
"The communicators are damaged," said Riker, "so the translators don’t work. He can’t understand you."
Willow regarded the alien’s black angled eyes again. They no longer looked menacing to her. "What’s his name? I mean…is it a he?"
"His name’s Schlatnak M’Raknayr. Lieutenant Schlatnak."
She smiled at the alien. "Hi, Schlatnak. I’m Willow. Like the tree." She gave a slight chortle and pressed a hand to his side. He recoiled and gave a loud warble of pain. Will touched his shoulder. "I’m sorry. It’s okay." She put up her hands. "I won’t do it again." She turned to Riker. "I think he broke a rib or…whatever he has there. It might be sticking in something it shouldn’t be. He needs a doctor too." She rubbed Schlatnak’s shoulder and sat against the wall beside him.
The commander shut his eyes, gave a nod and dropped his head. The situation was spiralling into disaster.
Buffy considered their tactical options. She’d lost her sword. Worf’s had broken. His other weapons too. She realised she still had his hand, but the knife was no longer in its grip. She went to her Klingon Jedi master and tore some of his sleeve away to wrap the hand. Now safe from further dirt and dust she put it down beside him. "Can the doctor fix it?"
"If we get him back before he bleeds to death," said Riker.
Buffy gave him her belt to use as a tourniquet on Worf’s arm, and looked around again. She saw the phaser rifle in Xander’s hands. It looked damaged. "Does it work?"
Her friend lifted the gun and demonstrated its new foldability. Broken right in the middle and barely held together by wires and circuits. "Anyone know how to fix this thing?" he invited.
Schlatnak put out a long spindly arm to him and he let the alien have the rifle.
"What about you?" Buffy said to the two Vulcan monks. "Do you have anything we could use?"
"Nothing that would aid you in combat," said the older one.
She scowled at them in disbelief. "Don’t you people have weapons?" They observed her blankly. "Bows and arrows even? …Swords? …Bread knives? …A pointy stick?"
"This is a spiritual sanctuary," Pardak pointed out.
"I thought you studied logic here," she threw back. "How is that spiritual?"
"Spirituality is not equal to supernaturalism," Salis responded calmly.
"Sounds to me like a contradiction of heart and mind. Of reason and religion."
Pardak came in with his own measured response, "If you follow a sacred path, and remain disciplined in more profound matters regarding nature and life, and have ritual, based purely on a naturalistic understanding of the universe – that is spirituality also."
Buffy gave up. They were veering off into nonsensical areas she couldn’t follow. She turned from them to her Watcher. "Giles, we’ve got no weapons. No defence. How do we stop this thing? I mean, if it’s strong enough to bring down a Klingon without breaking a sweat, what can I do?"
He pondered on it a moment, searching his organic memory banks. "If I recall, Baragnos the Mutilator cannot be killed; he must be frozen in ice."
"There’s not a lot of ice here, Giles."
He reconsidered. "Wait… No… That could be Bindag the Meddlesome… Ah, think, Giles, think."
Riker could see the man was struggling with his memory. He recalled something else. "We also encountered some kind of green electricity. Like focused lightening."
"Yes," said the Watcher, "we experienced the same thing. It’s not an ability of Baragnos. If this lightening force is another Demon, I’ve never heard of the like. That certainly doesn’t prevent it from being one."
"I thought you knew all this stuff."
Giles gave the commander a rather hurt look. "Well…that’s why Watcher’s have so many books. One can’t keep all these facts in one’s head."
They took a minute to reflect.
In the green glow of Willow’s guiding light, Schlatnak fiddled away with Xander’s phaser, removing the power cell from the base and poking at the innards with his long bony digits.
"Any suggestions here?" Buffy said to the monks finally.
Salis looked up. "We are going do die."
"What? That isn’t helping."
"However, it is logical," he said. "Without the means of defence against a powerful adversary, victory is impossible."
She couldn’t believe these insane people. "It’d help if you even tried to fight it."
"We will not conduct war in a P’Jem monastery. This is a sacred place for purging emotion."
"Yeah? Well I’ve got a Demon to purge. Thanks for no help." She paced across the room "Logic," she muttered in contempt. "Sounds a lot like a word you use as an excuse to be cowards."
"Buffy!" Giles exclaimed.
"Mind your manners, miss," warned Riker.
She was having none of it. "When you’re in an impossible position with no way out, the logical thing to do is to work it out, not give up. What you’re talking about isn’t logic. It’s defeat."
"That’s enough!" commanded the commander.
"Buffy," Giles begged again.
She shut up.
Xander piped up; "Welcome to the Temple of Doom."
Schlatnak began pulling out pieces of the weapon in his hands and laying them on the dusty ground. Willow watched him struggle to get his fingers into the workings and she used her small hands to help.
"So whadda we do?" Harris pushed.
"Demon or no Demon," said Riker, "I need to get you all out of here."
"Baragnos will be trapped here in the shadows until nightfall," Giles surmised.
"It will be nightfall in two of your hours," said Salis.
Riker asked; "What happens at nightfall?"
"Once the sun is down," said Giles, "the Demon can escape the catacombs."
Pardak looked up with a new hope. "Then we should wait…until it leaves."
"We have to capture it," the commander said regretfully. "It’s part of the Phantom’s mission."
"It’s like Alien Three," said Xander. "If we can flush old Bugnuts into a giant mould and douse it in molten lead…"
"These aren’t criminal mining monks," Willow pointed out. "They’re actual monky monks."
"Monkey monks," he replied with a tickled snort. "Swinging from trees in their robes with their ears… Okay, we’re being serious." He went back to watching Schlatnak’s progress with his rifle.
Willow looked past Xander at the two Vulcans. The older one was now knelt rigidly in the centre of the room, the younger at the far wall with his legs crossed. She noticed he was rubbing at his knees nervously. Perhaps the younger one hadn’t mastered their control of feelings, she considered. Feeling a little guilty that the supernatural horrors of her world had been brought to their doorstep, she got up and went to sit with him.
"Hey," she said softly. "Cold here, huh?"
"It is not too bad."
"Can I ask you something? Oh, I’m Willow, by the way." She offered a hand.
He shook it. "Like the tree."
"Pardak is my name."
Riker observed them thoughtfully.
"Can I ask you something, Pardak?" said the redhead.
"How do you suppress emotions? I mean…emotions happen naturally. In my experience they’re out of control. How do you reel in those animal instincts?"
"It is a mental discipline that Vulcans have learned to master after centuries of violence," he replied. "By meditating and developing an awareness of self. It has saved our people from destruction and elevated us to a higher state of evolutionary development. Here in this monastery we aim to achieve Kolinahr – the complete repression of emotion. It is the highest state a Vulcan can achieve."
Buffy was pacing again. "The problem with repression is…do it long enough and hard enough…at some point you’re gonna explode." She had a sudden thought of the feelings she was repressing at the idea that she was stuck here for the rest of her life. Such an unbearable thought. She put it aside. "How does your Kolinahr prepare you for true fear?"
"We have known fear and have learned to control it," stated Salis.
"I’ve no doubt you’ve experienced fear. But terror? Absolute crippling terror? Because that’s what’s on the other side of this wall." Buffy was growing angry again. "Unless we can find a way to hold that Demon off soon–"
"Fire," Riker cut in. "It seemed to be afraid of the flame from the torch." He looked around. "And Schlatnak’s scream. It hurt the creature when he screamed. …But how do we ask him to scream? He can’t understand us."
Willow crossed back to the alien officer who was beginning to put the rifle back together. She tapped his shoulder and tried to perform a mime for him. She mimed a scary monster, mimed him screaming, and finished by miming a scared monster. He pondered for a few seconds, then nodded with a gargle.
"I think he gets it," Willow said.
Xander gave her a proud pat on the back. "I’ll never insult a mime again."
Schlatnak performed his own mime act with the finished rifle, indicating it needed something to hold it in one piece. Xander took the weapon and began wrapping his utility belt around the broken section like a splint.
"We can fight with fire and use his scream to distract it," Buffy reasoned. "It might give the rest of you time to find a way out."
"Violence is not a solution," preached Salis. "It would be wise to open a dialogue with this being to ascertain what it wants."
Buffy shook her head at him. "It’s a Demon. It wants to kill. …It’s our job to kill it before it kills us."
"Violence begets violence," Pardak remarked. "It is illogical."
Salis went on; "I believe there is an Earth expression you may be familiar with – the pen is mightier than the sword. Sometimes the most effective weapon is communication."
Xander lifted his rifle and charged up the power cell. "And sometimes it’s a big-ass ray gun."
"Alright," Buffy slipped into Slayer gear. "Giles – make torches from the fire there. Will – be ready with whatever magic you have. Xander – does that thing work now?"
He checked the rifle over. "It’s at half power but it should slow old grizzly down."
"Good. So, how do we get out?"
"The stairs," said Pardak.
"Blocked," Riker told him.
"What about the draft?" Rupert asked. "It seemed there was a flow of air from outside. There must be an exit point down here somewhere."
Salis gave it some thought. "The foundations were built over caves in the mountain. It is possible that an opening has formed over the years. We do not visit the catacombs often."
"If there’s an opening," Willow said, "I can use the guiding light to find it."
Giles was trying to find something like sticks to use as a torch base. Buffy told him to use the old bones but the Vulcans protested.
It took Riker to stop them committing sacrilege. "Besides," he said, "there’s no pitch to keep the flame going."
"We’ve got my gun and that guy’s scream," Xander declared. "I’d say that’s as good odds as any."
"And if the electrical disturbance you spoke of occurs again?" asked the older Vulcan.
He had a point, thought Riker. But there were more pressing issues. "We have to get Ambassador Worf out of here now."
"Then we go now," agreed the Slayer.
Xander got to his feet. "I’m locked n’ loaded, chief."
Buffy pointed to the alien guard beside Will. "Can he walk?"
Willow tapped Schlatnak’s legs and mimed walking with her fingers. He bobbed his large brown head and, with her help, pushed himself up. He was a lot taller than he’d appeared on the Phantom. Will hooked her shoulders under his arm to give him a crutch. He croaked and gurgled something briefly. Maybe ‘thanks’, she wondered.
"What about Worf?" Buffy said to Riker.
"Give me a hand." The commander realised the inappropriate nature of his words but hoped no one else had noticed. "Help me get him up."
With Buffy’s assistance they were able to bring the heavy Klingon to a standing position. Worf seemed to come around slowly for a moment. Then, suddenly, he came to and tried to shake them off, growling and cursing in Klingon. He stopped when he realised who they were, and regarded the throbbing stump at the end of his arm.
He asked where they were and Riker explained. When he was told of their plan to leave, he stuffed his bandaged hand into his belt and signalled he was ready.
To Cmdr Riker he said; "You may release me. I can walk unassisted."
"Don’t be ridiculous, Worf. You’re injured. I’ll take your weight. Well, some of it."
The Klingon struggled against him. "I am an ambassador!"
"Right now you’re a patient!" Riker boomed. "So be patient. I’ve got you, Worf."
He snarled back at him but didn’t resist any further.
Soon they were ready; Riker had Worf, Willow had Schlatnak, Buffy, Xander and Giles were behind them with the two Vulcans at the rear. There were nine of them.
Riker didn’t mention that the shuttle wouldn’t take them all. He didn’t even know if they’d all make it. If any of them would make it.
Willow brushed a hand at the wall. "Reverto."
The brickwork moved aside and the doorway returned. The corridor was empty before them. "Guiding light, show us the way out."
The green floating bulb headed out of the crypt and turned right.
They followed.* * *
Picard traipsed around the bridge of the Phantom, glancing at the planet on the viewer every few seconds, the stations around him beeping away. Data watched him from the side workstation. Picard turned to him and opened his mouth.
The android anticipated the question. "Still no signal from the surface, Captain,"
He sighed. "Any luck penetrating the substructure?"
"I have attempted a full spectrum rotating EM frequency on all bands and amplified the ventral quark resonance scanners. None of my attempts have been successful so far."
Picard sighed again and paced some more. "Bridge to transporter room."
"La Forge here." The engineer also anticipated the question. "Transporters should be up and running in ten, maybe twenty minutes."
"Acknowledged, Commander." He turned back to the screen again, pursing his lips, and exhaled through his nose. * * *
The guiding light took them deeper into the underground maze, passing dark side tunnels and hidden alcoves. The Scoobs had advanced to the front line with the Vulcans at the rear. Worf and Riker were interlocked as they shuffled along in the middle. Every step of the way, Will Riker feared that the electrical storm or the giant beast would come out from a side tunnel and tear them all apart.
"Commander!" Worf swung around and pushed him aside.
Baragnos was in their midst!
The Klingon attacked awkwardly and was rammed into the wall. The Demon jabbed one of its huge arms into him and Worf took the full length of the claws through his ribs. He roared at the pain.
Everyone stopped but the guiding light continued onward.
Worf felt the sharp talons leave his body and he dropped.
Salis saw the beast coming toward them. Pardak, his student, was in its path. He pulled the younger monk back by his robe and moved across to protect him before he realised what he was doing. The horrible monstrosity came at him with its long nails and he tried to turn away from it.
"Run!" he cried in Vulcan, and felt the pressure against his back as it slashed him and knocked him against the wall.
The Slayer leapt – shoving Riker out of the way – and flew into the Demon with an aerial kick. It knocked the beast forward but it twisted around with its arms out. Buffy barely had time to pull back when she landed and one of the claws cut across her face. She yelped and drew back.
Pardak, panic threatening his emotional control, retreated past the creature and ran. Looking back, he saw the beast reach around Salis in a macabre hug… and tear him apart. The Vulcan screamed and ran away.
Xander moved in and fired a phaser blast into the heart of the monster. It stepped back and growled a low angry rumble.
The floating light was almost out of view and Willow called back; "We need to move! Now!"
Schlatnak opened his strange alien mouth and let out a high pitched squeal. Everyone covered their ears and Baragnos spun about, beating at his head.
The Slayer ran toward it, slid across the ground, and rammed her feet against its huge legs. The Demon staggered forward but didn’t fall.
The alien scream subsided and Buffy yelled out; "Will! Take out its legs!"
Buffy jumped aside as the witch pushed her hand and mind forward. One of the beast’s legs kicked up from the ground and the balance shift toppled it into the dust.
Riker and Buffy, almost in darkness, picked Worf’s lame body up and pressed forward.
When they finally caught up with Willow and the others they were at the very back of the foundations and Pardak was already scrambling through a structural tear in the brickwork of the floor. They could feel the slight airflow as it went through the gap and the faint sound of running water beneath them.
They dragged Worf’s body and pushed through into a wet, rocky mountain cave.
They were surrounded by hard lumpy areas of stone with upwardly protruding white sausage-shaped rocks and crystal-like stalactite formations hanging from the ceiling. There was a pool of swirling water at their feet and the sound of a stream feeding it somewhere deep in the cavern beyond sight. A few thin rivers of the clear water were being drawn down away from the main lagoon.
"Keep moving," the Slayer said to the witch as she mopped blood from her face.
Willow held onto the alien guard and trekked over the stony floor of the grotto. The guiding light had gone off on its own somewhere but she could see a faint glimmer of daylight in the direction of the water current. The rest of them took hold of the Klingon and stretchered him along.
When they came to the large opening in the mountainside where the water fell away, they felt no relief. It was a sheer drop that seemed to have no end. Leaning out, they could just see the beginning of the temple foundations above them.
"We’re trapped," said Riker.
Pardak was a Vulcan on the verge of hysterics. "There must be a way, Riker! Find a way!"
"Pardak." It was Willow. "Help me with Schlatnak, he’s getting heavy."
Cmdr Riker made another mental note as he watched the scared monk apply himself to the task. It was good to give him a responsibility. It might just keep him calm.
Giles was searching the outer rock face desperately. "Can your ship detect us here and transport us out, Commander?"
"We don’t even know if the transporter’s operational yet," he replied sombrely.
From the depth of the mountain cavern came the sound of Baragnos breaking though to the cave.
Xander crouched with his rifle. "Some kinda plan would be great about now."
Giles took Buffy aside and whispered something. It didn’t cheer Riker when she looked at her ‘Watcher’ in surprise then looked out at the rock face. He knew what was coming.
Buffy moved back into the cave and checked on Worf.
"He’s holding on, I think," Riker said.
"I need your cloak," the Slayer said to Pardak.
Within seconds, she had spun the brown robe into a long tight rope, tied it around Worf’s armpits, and around her body like a sash. The Klingon was now strapped to her back with his feet dragging on the ground behind her.
"This is insane," Riker pointed out. "He’s twice your weight."
The sound of the Demon breaking through stopped. Baragnos was coming.
"There’s no time," said the Slayer. "Everyone – climb. Get to the shuttle. Move!"
Riker helped her get underway as she pulled herself and her Klingon cargo out onto the jagged wall of the mountainside.
"What about him?" Willow said of her new alien friend.
Schlatnak pushed himself free of his helpers and stumbled to the opening. He put a palm out to keep them back and croaked something at them.
"I’ll follow him up," said Giles.
Xander handed his weapon to the Starfleet commander. "I guess it serves me right for asking," he said and followed them out.
Soon only Riker and Pardak remained in the cave hole, but the Vulcan couldn’t seem to take the first step out.
"This…is…impossible," he uttered as he looked out at the vertical climb and the vast drop.
"Stay and die or give yourself a chance out there, Pardak. It’s simple logic. Now move out."
The Vulcan still hesitated, until he heard the heavy breath of the monster echo from the cavern. Baragnos was standing among the rounded white stalagmites only metres away.
Riker’s eyes widened. By the time he turned back, Pardak was out the hole and racing up the rock face. He followed until he was half in and half out of the opening with the phaser rifle in one hand – directed at the beast.
The Demon advanced quickly and he fired ball after ball of energy into it, sending it into a frenzy and driving it back. The limited capability of the weapon wasn’t doing much damage so he threw the gun over his shoulder and climbed.
The initial shock of the wind force almost ripped him from the mountainside. He adjusted and ascended as quickly as he could. The wall of rock was pitted and jagged, making it a potentially successful plan. He could understand why they’d been so ready to try it.
Above him the others struggled and climbed slowly. Beneath him was clear. Too clear. The drop almost took his breath from him. He aimed to turn away and focus on the climb until he saw the claw reaching out of the cave. Then he realised that the sun had disappeared behind the distant mountains and only a faint orange glow lit the far skies.
"It’s coming!" he called and pushed himself upward.
Buffy struggled with Worf’s heavy load on her back. Looking down, she saw the Demon scaling the wall with its long claws. She scanned above her. The temple foundations weren’t far now. She realised the flaw in her plan when she saw the smooth brickwork closing in overhead. There was no other way and she pressed on, reaching up for the thin gap between the first layers of brick.
Riker could hear the Demon slamming its claws into the mountain ferociously as it raced up behind him. He tried to speed up and almost lost his hold. The next thing he knew, the calf of his right leg erupted with pain as it was pinned to the rock. He hissed at the burning sharpness of the claw that pierced him. The Demon pulled back and Riker was free again. He tried to move up but his leg was in shock and numb. There wasn’t much he could do as the creature drew up against his back and surrounded him. He closed his eyes and waited for it to take him.
Buffy was hanging on beneath the third brick layer by her fingers but there was no footing above the mountain wall. Worf’s weight shifted and she lost the grip of her right hand. She slipped. Her left hand couldn’t take the pressure. She found a footing as her hand came free. She began to lean away from the brick as Worf’s body pulled her back. She clawed out with her arms but found nothing within reach. She was going to fall!* * *
Picard went over to Data’s terminal.
"I am picking up nine life-forms ascending the mountain-face beneath the west wall of the monastery. Five are Human, one Vulcan, one Monchezken, and one Klingon – very weak."
"And the ninth?"
Data ran a deeper scan. "The ninth reading appears to be Demonoid, sir."
"Bridge to transporter room."
La Forge responded; "I think we’re ready here, Captain."* * *
Buffy’s body was arcing away from the wall. Her centre of balance was gone. She was past the point of recovery. She couldn’t believe it… she was going to fall…
The world around her suddenly began to sparkle and fizz, and she felt her body lose weight and shiver apart.
The Slayer materialised in the sickbay of the Phantom and collapsed.* * *
"They’re all in sickbay, Captain," reported Ensign Warner from tactical.
"Good. Lock onto the Demon, Ensign, and beam it directly to the brig. Highest possible force field setting."
"Aye, sir. Initiating transport… Level ten force field in place… We’ve got it, Captain."
Picard gave a nod. "Mr Data – set up a translink to the shuttle and bring it home."
Data complied.* * *
Buffy recovered and opened her eyes to see two female blue-shirts helping the alien mustard-shirt guard onto a medical bed. She tried to raise herself but the roped cloak that tied her to Worf held her down. She tore the knot from around her breast and clambered up off the deck to find the rest of her group was there. This sickbay was much smaller than on the Enterprise, with only three beds. Two against the side walls and one against a back wall of lit up panels.
Doctor Crusher saw Worf on the floor with a severed hand. There was no sign of the hand around. She got down on her knees and lifted his arm. "Help me get him to the surgical bed."
Giles went for his other arm and Buffy took his legs. Together they raised Worf’s large body up and onto the special bed at the rear wall. At the head of the bed was an entire wall of neural and biofunction monitors.
"Help me get this armour off him," said the doctor. When the grey plates were removed, Crusher took the black undershirt in her hands and tore it away from his chest. "Alyssa – I need you here." She turned to Buffy and Giles. "Step aside."
They moved back. Buffy went to check on Xander in the corner, Willow was watching over the alien guy, and Giles helped Commander Riker hobble onto a bed.
Beverly swung the surgical support frame across Worf’s bed and locked it down over his upper body.
Nurse Ogawa arrived and set the equipment running. "Steri-field activated."
Crusher examined the main diagnostic display. "He’s suffered deep penetrating wounds to the left lateral thorax." They’d pierced right through his lattice ribs.
"The Demon had claws," Buffy mentioned.
Alyssa watched his blood volume statistics come up on the display. They were way low. "Hypovolemia."
"Get the plasma infusion unit," said Crusher. "And we need to reduce his norepinephrine levels."
"Doctor Crusher!" called Bennett from the other end of the room. "We have at least four more injured."
Crusher swept her eyes across the room. The only medical crew onboard were herself, Nurse Ogawa and Nurse Bennett. They weren’t prepared for an emergency. "We don’t have enough staff for this. Computer – activate the EMH program."
A bald-topped holographic doctor materialised in the centre of the room. "Please state the nature of the medical emergency."
Crusher pointed past him. "Help them."
The Mark-1 Lewis Zimmerman hologram spun around to see what he was faced with. On one side was a mature gentleman and on the other a short ginger girl. He addressed the man; "What are your symptoms?"
"Symptoms?" Giles repeated. "I-I’m fine."
"You’re fine? Then why are you here?" He looked the redheaded girl over. "What about you? You don’t look ill."
"I’m…not," she replied.
"I see. Rubberneckers. Is there anyone here who actually needs a doctor?"
"Here." The nurse gave him a tricorder and directed him to the beds.
"Thank you. Anyone not injured – out of the way. This is a medical facility not a cattle market."
"Willow, Rupert; I think you should wait outside," said Doctor Crusher.
They were obviously in the way so they both went out into the corridor.
Nurse Bennett followed the EMH around the room with a portable med trolley to administer his treatments.
He ran the medical tricorder’s hand sensor up and down Schlatnak’s body. "This man has a head contusion and a slight concussion. Three percent hydrocortaline and four cc’s of trianoline."
Bennett set to work as the holo-doc examined the officer’s injured abdomen.
"Two of his ribs are broken…one is fractured. Give him ten cc’s of terakine to alleviate his pain and apply an osteo-regenerator to the wound." He crossed to Riker’s bed and examined the puncture wound in his right lower leg. "Well, your Achilles tendon is intact. Wrap a muscular reconstruction band around it for thirty minutes."
Buffy was with Xander beside the bed and the strange fake doctor came to her next.
"Facial laceration," he said without the need of his sensor. He scanned the cut. "Minor muscular and vascular trauma. Fix a vascular pad to the damaged area for a few minutes and polish it off with a dermal regenerator." He eyed Xander’s burned hand. "This isn’t too bad. Give him three cc’s of kelotane and a dermaline gel patch." He snapped the tricorder shut and tossed it to the nurse.
"He said he was feeling a little dizzy from the climb," said Bennett.
"Throw in a dose of vertazine."
Picard entered and was stopped by the Emergency Medical Hologram.
"What are you doing here?"
"I’m the captain."
"Then you’re not a doctor. Please leave."
Picard saw Worf lying prone on the surgical bed and moved closer, ignoring the hologram.
The EMH huffed and went back to see to Riker. Bennett was with Schlatnak with the Osteo-regenerator - a tiny round plate with a handgrip – circling it over his ribs.
It was then that he saw Pardak quaking in the corner. "I think we’re going to need a counsellor in here."
Captain Picard stood at the foot of Worf’s bed where Beverly and Nurse Ogawa were working frantically. "What’s his condition, Doctor?"
"His primary heart has been punctured and the redundant organ is damaged," Crusher explained. "I’ll have to attempt a coronary bypass." She returned to work. "Four cc’s tricordrazine."
Before Nurse Ogawa could administer the hypo, Worf’s entire body began to shake. It was the most horrific seizure Picard had ever witnessed.
"Hyperzine!" ordered Crusher. "Twenty cc’s!"
Alyssa administered the drug. "He’s going code white, Doctor!"
Crusher thought quickly. She needed to apply direct reticular stimulation to try and get his redundant organs going. "Begin neural stimulation."
Alyssa worked the medical frame controls. "It isn’t working. There’s too much damage to his cardial tissue."
"Two cc’s quadroline." She tried another series of neural stimulations.
The monitors began bleeting a warning. His brain was switching off. "Cortical stimulator!"
Picard grew increasingly concerned. "What’s happening?"
Ogawa gave her the cortical device for Worf’s head.
"I’m losing him," she said to Picard, and triggered the stimulator.
Zap. …Zap. …Zap…
"No effect," reported Alyssa.
"His blood loss is too severe. The plasma infuser isn’t replenishing his system quickly enough." Because Worf was a Klingon and not human, Crusher decided to use the strongest resuscitation/stimulant combo she thought he could handle. "Alyssa… give him thirty cc’s of leporazine and delactovine at a sixty-forty ratio."
Alyssa stared back. "Doctor?" Crusher looked at her severely. She programmed the medication and delivered it.
They waited tensely.
For a moment the main display indicated the onset of brain activity and signs that Worf’s organs were oxygenating. Then they went cold again.
Crusher hit the bed. "Damn it. Increase cortical stimulation and initiate in tandem with a neural charge."
"Doctor?" Picard was pale.
Riker pushed himself up on one elbow and Buffy moved toward the bed in shock.
Crusher paused and leaned against the surgical frame. She looked across to her captain. "He’s…gone, Jean-Luc."
Picard couldn’t speak.* * *
On the Phantom’s bridge, Ensign Warner had made the decision to call Ensign Parks to duty. Worf had been temporary Chief of Security with Lt. Schlatnak as his second. They were both in sickbay now, leaving just himself on staff with a hostile captive in the brig.
Warner was about to buzz Parks when his terminal detected something moving in on their location. "Commander, long-range sensors are picking up a vessel coming in fast."
Data checked the sensor readings on his own terminal. It picked up the vessel – approaching the outskirts of the system at warp five.* * *
A deadened silence had enveloped the sickbay.
Dr Crusher turned off the bio-monitors as Worf’s lifeless body lay static on the surgical bed.
After a long time, Buffy broke it; "Today was a good day to die," she acknowledged in a poignant echo of the Klingon expression.
The others reacted with surprise to her insensitivity until they saw her face and realised she was being woefully respectful to his culture.
"Send me back to the planet," she proclaimed.
Picard looked at her askance. "What?"
"I’m going back down there to kill it."
"The Demon?" he asked. "The Demon is here. In the brig."
"Where’s that? Take me to it."
Picard wanted to see the thing for himself. To look into the eyes of the monster that had taken Worf. But the creature needed to be studied, not killed. He looked on as Dr Crusher removed the surgical clamshell frame and began clearing the medical devices from Worf’s body.
"Data to Picard."
Beverly took out a grey sheet and laid it over the Klingon. Picard had never seen him so still.
Data’s voice came over the comm again; "Bridge to Captain Picard."
"…Picard here," he replied finally in a tone as dead as the atmosphere in the room.
"Captain, a Vulcan science vessel is entering the system."
"I’ll be there in a minute." He looked around the room in a daze. "Is everyone else all right?"
"We’re fine, sir," Riker assured him.
Picard’s eyes happened upon the crouched and trembling monk. "What about him?"
"He’s in shock, Captain," said the over-confident EMH. "He’ll require counselling. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to bring some order back to this sickbay, starting with the removal of that body."
Picard’s temper snapped. "Computer – discontinue EMH program!"
The EMH doctor appeared insulted for a moment before he evaporated.
"Remain here," the captain said to Buffy sternly, and left the room.* * *
"Where is the Vulcan ship now, Mr Data?" Picard asked as he entered the bridge.
"They are in orbit two hundred kilometres ahead of our position."
Geordi arrived from the transporter room and went to the engineering station.
Picard considered the situation. "Have they sent anyone to the surface yet?"
Counsellor Troi was back on communications. "They’re hailing us, Captain."
"On viewer." A simple bridge appeared with a grey-haired Vulcan standing in the centre. "I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation Starship Phantom."
"Tarok, Captain of the science vessel Sh’Reen. We are responding to a distress beacon from one of our spiritual outposts."
"As were we," explained Picard. "There has been…an incident. I will have the details sent to you." He signalled Troi to get on that. "The monastery has been attacked. I’m afraid we were only able to rescue one of the clerics, but we do have the assailant in custody. However, there may still be a threat on the surface. Our away team encountered some kind of belligerent energy source in the underground tunnels – possibly a life-form – that has not been accounted for."
Captain Tarok pondered his words. "This life-form is still within the monastery?"
"We believe so. But our sensors are unable to penetrate the substructure of the site."
"The ossuary is a sacred resting place, Captain. Prior to the P’Jem’s construction, the foundations were saturated with a unique barrier field to protect the artefacts and remains within. Our sensors can be calibrated to scan those areas. I will share our findings with you."
"I would appreciate that," said Picard. He felt extremely uneasy that the Vulcans were getting involved in this unusual situation. "Captain Tarok…the nature of this attack… may be difficult to explain."
"We have been apprised of the Phantom’s long-term mission brief, Captain. I assume that this incident is related to the Epsilon Ursae conflict involving entities from an alternative quantum universe."
Picard faltered, surprised that the news had got around so quickly. "…That’s correct."
"We will take every precaution. Sh’Reen out."
The image of Delta Vindi returned and Captain Picard said to Troi; "Send them our specialised sensor configurations. If there’s anything unnatural down there I don’t want them to miss it."
The counsellor agreed and prepared the data transfer.
Picard moved toward the door and stopped. There was something he had to say. He just wasn’t sure how to say it. "I…have some sad news." The bridge crew turned their attention to him. He regarded their expectant faces gravely, which only served to heighten the concern he saw there. He would just have to tell them. He gathered himself. "Ambassador Worf… has died."
Troi audibly gasped and Geordi’s mouth opened in shock. Even Data’s bird-like tilt of the head, and the subtle way his face dropped, showed a depth of feeling at the bombshell.
Captain Picard turned and departed quickly. "Data, you have the bridge." The doors hissed shut behind him.
Deanna fought her own numbness and nausea, and reeled her emotions in. Regaining her composure, she went after her captain.
Warner didn’t know the Klingon as well as the command crew, and he was the one to respond when the comm station sounded. He changed seats and reported; "The Vulcans have located the equipment we left on the surface, Commander. They’re not planning on sending anyone down there yet, but they’re ready to transport the items to the Phantom."
Data rolled back to his computer. "Acknowledged. I will synchronise our transporter with theirs. Have Professor O’Brien prepare to receive the items." He then turned to face La Forge and shared a grievous look with his friend.* * *
Deanna found her captain alone in the brig, standing before the cell that held Worf’s monstrous killer. She approached him tentatively, unsure what words she could offer. In fact, she wished there was someone to offer her some comfort.
Picard’s voice, quiet and deep, rattled as he spoke. "It’s just an animal."
She looked ahead to the cell where the large creature stood huddled in a corner breathing heavily. The walls around it grazed with numerous claw marks. "Would you feel better if it was capable of intelligent thought?" she asked.
"Yes. I think I would. Because then it could be held accountable."
Deanna did something then that was a little unorthodox, but it was something she needed to do for herself more than anything. She put an arm around Picard’s back, her other hand on his arm, and rested her face against his shoulder. He didn’t protest as she took comfort.
In the cell, the Demon stirred, and turned its large body around until they saw the fish-like head that covered its chest. The big eyes, like those of a tuna fish, examined them as its claws clicked together. And then it seemed to mock them with a low breathy snicker of amusement.
"Did you see that?" Picard tensed. The creature stood motionless and watched them. "What do you sense from it?"
"Nothing," Deanna replied. "I see an image with no substance. It’s a ghost to me."
Picard’s communicator sounded.
"Data to Picard."
"Go ahead, Commander."
"Your presence is required on the bridge."What now?
"On my way." The captain took one last look at the creature…and left.* * *
Picard strode onto the bridge, the viewer showing the curve of the planet below and the small Vulcan ship. "Report."
Data turned in his chair. "A few minutes ago, a number of items that belonged to our away teams were beamed from the surface to our transporter room by the Sh’Reen." He checked his readout. "I am now detecting a concentrated electrostatic energy field leaving the planet’s orbit. It appears to be travelling along the energy residue of the transporter matter stream. It is supernatural, Captain."
The electrical disturbance Rush had mentioned! "What’s its heading?"
Data checked. "It is moving toward us. If it continues at its current speed it will impact the hull in seventeen seconds."
"Red alert. Raise shields."
The red lights ignited around the bridge with a warning siren as Ensign Warner fired up the defence grid. Seconds later, the Phantom shuddered.
"The shields are gone," said Warner.
The bridge lights and consoles flickered.
"The entity is passing through the hull, sir."
"Where is it, Data?"
The android struggled with his computer. "I am having difficulty with the internal sensors, Captain. The entity is disrupting our systems." He followed the pattern of disruption. "It appears to be heading for the brig."* * *
Buffy was fixed, the cut to her face repaired, and the others were almost back to full health. Everyone but Worf. His body still lay covered on the surgical bed. She remembered when Worf’s aid, Gor’agh, had died on the zombie station. Worf had given a howl to warn some god-like dead warriors in heaven that another was joining them. She wanted to do that for him, but held back.
The doors opened and the curly-haired Irishman entered. Miles O’Brien had brought their weapons from the transporter room; Gor’agh’s bat’leth, now hers, and Worf’s own broken sword. He saw the covered body and looked to Doctor Crusher.
She gave him a sorry look. "It’s Worf."
O’Brien, who had worked for some years with the Klingon, was taken aback. "My God."
In the next moment the warning sirens flared and the entire sickbay shook around them. * * *
The corridors of the USS Phantom were quiet, turning blood red with the flashing of the alert beacons. In the brig, Ensign Parks felt a sudden shudder of fear. He’d just been posted to guard the caged monster – such a horrific beast – when the room grew dark and began to glow red. It was like a nightmare – a dimly lit room on a ship under attack with a monster just feet away, held back by only an energy field.
Parks shivered when he looked in the cell. The beast held its clawed arms out and growled. He didn’t know it, but the Demon was basking in his fear.
Then it came from nowhere – a green electrical disturbance – and attacked the force field protecting the cell. Parks was moved by panic, reaching for the rifle over his shoulder.
The Demon was free. His phaser was set to stun and he fired into the monster’s belly. No effect. He set it to kill and fired again. The creature paused, but only for a moment, before it came at him. Before Parks could reset his weapon to disintegrate, he was struck by the full force of the Electro-Demon, his flesh burning up as the green lightening irradiated his body.
Parks fell dead, and Baragnos made his escape.* * *
"The prisoner is escaping the brig," called Warner.
Picard spun. "Who do we have on security?"
"Ensign Parks, sir."
"Have him intercept the creature, and try to contain it with a force field."
"Sir… I had him watching the brig."
Picard paused. Another man lost… He headed for the door. "Get on those force fields. Data – with me."* * *
"What’s happening?" Buffy asked.
Doctor Crusher moved to a wall panel and brought up a ship-wide report. "There’s an entity onboard and the prisoner is loose." She turned. "Everyone stay put. Secure the doors."
The Slayer whipped her bat’leth from O’Brien’s grip and darted out of the room.
Revenge!* * *
Baragnos the Mutilator stalked through the passageways of the USS Phantom, his enormous elephant feet pounding into the carpet, as he searched the decks for human meat sacks to bleed dry of their fear. Every few metres, a wall of energy would appear to block his path, and every time the Electro-Demon would short it out to give him passage. On reaching the turbolift, the Demons separated; Baragnos broke through into the shaft and climbed to the next level as the green lightening creature headed for the source of the energy walls.* * *
Picard and Data edged through the Phantom, Picard gripping a hand phaser and Data with a rifle. They were moving cautiously toward the brig when Warren’s voice came over the comm.
"Bridge to Captain Picard – the force field generators are under attack from the energy being, sir. I can’t maintain them much longer, and the prisoner is moving up to deck two through the lift shaft. We’re reading damage to the turbolift, Captain."
They acknowledged and headed for the Jefferies tubes.* * *
Baragnos clawed his way out of the elevator shaft and onto the next floor of the space vehicle. Once he was upright, he got a sudden feeling part of him didn’t like. There was someone ahead. Someone not afraid, but enraged.
Baragnos ignored the part of him that didn’t like this, and went with the part of him that wanted to taste Slayer fear as he tore her into pretty little strips. He stomped forth and came around a bend to find her poised in the corridor, a curved sword resting across her inner arm.
She was ready for him.
Buffy regarded the monster through burning red eyes as it stood there before her, slavering down its chin and stomach.
"You killed a friend of mine," said the Slayer. "Now I’m gonna kill you."
Baragnos spat a ball of saliva into the carpet.
She couldn’t hold herself back any longer. She hated the vile fish-featured demonic pachyderm!
The Slayer charged like a lamb toward a bull. A lamb to the slaughter.
She ducked beneath a swipe from the creature’s paw. She knew her blade was useless against the Demon and she didn’t want to smash it apart like Worf had, so the Slayer hooked her bat’leth around one of the Demon’s ankles and tried to pull his fat elephant foot out from under him. It worked, or it started to, then Baragnos slammed his huge stumpy leg back to the carpet, dragging the Slayer to the floor. With one powerful arm, Baragnos skewered a set of razor nails into Buffy’s shoulder blade and flung her spinning into the bulkhead and to the deck.
The pain in her shoulder, three oozing wounds right through her body, made her cry out.
She cursed herself. So easily maimed! Stupid! She hated the fact that the Demon’s skin was invulnerable when her own was so weak.
…Wait, she thought; suddenly having a flash of Slayer inspiration. * * *
Federation Temporal Agent Marko Hellström was tucked away in his cramped quarters passing the time (a saying he never ceased to find ironic pleasure in using) with one of his favourite quests. The red alert didn’t bother him, his job was done, and he had far more pressing matters at hand.
There was something about cheese. It was indefinable, indescribable, and innovational. There were so many varieties to choose from – and that was just the plain old cheeses, not to mention the cheeses with fruit and the cheeses with spices. But what he really liked, more than any other food he’d tasted in all his life, was a freshly prepared toasted cheese and onion sandwich made with some mysterious unknown cheese on a transport vessel between Almerillon and Mars in March, 2359.
He had a list on his private padd of every known cheese he’d tried since that day, in his long-running effort to find that one perfect cheese he’d tasted all those years ago. In his hand was a replicated toasted cheese and onion sandwich containing cheese number 942: Vulcan 1-year fermented cheese.
He lifted the crisp little triangular sandwich to his mouth and took a great bite with anticipation. He chewed it three times and spat the mush back onto his plate.
Ugh. No, that wasn’t it. What was next on the Phantom’s database? Cheese number 943: Green Breen Brie.
Then he heard a bang from outside as something heavy hit the wall of his room.
Hellström opened his door to see what the commotion was and found the blonde girl – the one from the other timeline’s past – squirming and bleeding on the floor of the corridor. He was about to say something to her when his attention was drawn to the massive horror that was Baragnos the Mutilator.
Hellström’s open mouth let out a faint whine at the sight of the Demon as it took a swipe at his head. The Agent from Temporal Investigations would later realise how lucky he was to have been protected by the doorway of his room as sharp claws tore across the opening and cut into his face. The man fell back screaming and his door slid shut.* * *
The Slayer’s mind was working, even faster when she saw the Timecop go down. The main idea she was having was the realisation that the Demon’s skin was unbreakable, like an outer shell. She used her good arm to come up swinging, fired by anger, hatred, inspiration and adrenaline.
She smacked the back edge of her bat’leth across the Demon’s fishy snout and its arms went up. The huge Demon opened its toothy maw and let out a deep groan at the sour pain of having the tip of its nose clubbed. Or was it just a bit miffed?
The Slayer didn’t much care. It was time for the fatal strike.
She turned the bat’leth until the blades were aimed upward and she plunged the tip deep into the Demon’s open mouth, through the upper palate of it, and into its brain.
Baragnos gargled, loosened up, and tipped over like a stone statue onto his back with the bat’leth arching out from inside his face.
The triumphant Slayer stood over his body and took a moment to consider her revenge.
The Demon had fallen. They always did.
"Crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside," she quipped sourly, and tore her bat’leth free.
Her moment of reflection was cut short when the green cloud of electricity materialised up through the deck ahead of her. It seemed to notice her there. The Slayer had no means of defence when the Electro-Demon moved in on her.
Picard and Data rounded the corner and the captain fired his phaser into the centre of the disturbance. There was no effect as the beam passed right through the energy force.
The rifles had more setting options. "Try a wide-dispersal beam," Picard suggested.
Data followed his instructions and fired a wide blast that encompassed the energy Demon across its whole surface, but the result was no better. It came for them and Data quickly stepped forward to protect his captain.* * *
When Buffy had left sickbay she’d told Willow to stay put. She didn’t argue because it was clear Buffy was out to lunch and the Slayer was in charge of the shop. She and Giles had taken refuge in the safety of sickbay and waited there as the on-screen reports rolled in. It was only a matter of time before Willow had to do something to help.
Now she was in the aisles on deck two, heading for the sound of weapons fire. She reached the others and it all happened suddenly.
She saw Data protecting Picard, saw electro shooting toward him.
Data! No! She didn’t think. Willow lashed out with her hands open and blocked the Demon with her Wiccan force push.
Electro was held back by it and shoved away down the corridor. It came at them again and Will moved ahead of the Starfleets to keep it at bay. When it was clear to the Demon that the road was blocked, it turned the other way. Willow realised that Buffy was now in its path and, again, she didn’t think. She just reached out instinctively to protect her friend and trapped the creature in an invisible force bubble.
She was as surprised as any of them. She wasn’t sure how she’d done it… she just had. It was a new development for her. "I think I got it."
Picard went to her. "Can you direct it back into the brig?"
She didn’t even know how she was holding it. "I can try."
The Captain led them to a tight emergency stairwell in the ship’s wall and Willow pushed the energy Demon along before them. Buffy was right behind her.
"What’s with the Jedi force grab, Will?" asked the Slayer.
The young witch gave her a wide-eyed glance and shrugged.
They arrived at the brig to find Park’s charred corpse. They had to step over him to get in the room. Data crossed to the control centre.
"Get it into the cell," Picard said to Willow, and joined the android.
"The force fields were ineffective on this entity, Captain," Data reminded him.
Picard recalled that the isolation field had worked on Rhamhal’s supernatural force of mastery. "Try a subspace isolation field with an adaptive phase modulation."
As Will pushed Electro into the open cage, Data prepared the bars.
Within seconds they were secure. The isolation field worked perfectly; the Demon could not break through it.
Picard had one living energy Demon and a big Demon corpse to hand over to Starfleet’s new Paranormal Research Department for examination and study. He hoped that, finally, he could relax. This world of the Slayer was far too serious for his liking.
"Oh," Buffy piped up, "that Timecop guy could probably use a doctor."