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The Voyager crew is scattered as two planets' futures hang in the balance.
14th, 15th, 17th - 21st, 25th - 28th, 30th November 2014
1st - 3rd December 2014
The entire star chart displayed on the large screen couldn't be seen for all of the different data that kept popping up over the top. Everyone there were having trouble keeping up with them all.
"Wow," Harry could only reply with.
"The Enterprise has certainly left its mark around here," Chakotay added on.
Damien was the one feeding the data through, being carefully watched by Jessie and Craig on either side of him. His face was scrunched in disgust, but the data he was reading left a sparkle in both of his eyes.
"Hmph, another one humping the great Enterprise's leg," he muttered. One part of the screen lost the data it was showing to focus on the starchart. One system was highlighted, then the same happened on the other side of the screen. "These two planets were liberated. One from orbit, little resistance due to poor military. The other would have been impossible without the actual resistance from the natives."
"We can't say anything. We're one for one and with the same excuse," Harry pointed out.
"One for one is still better than two for twenty one," Damien sneered. Jessie gave him a rough shove in his arm. He gave her a glare until she gave one back.
"Why did they fail? We should know," Chakotay asked.
Harry stepped closer to Damien and Craig so he could get a good look at the same thing. He studied it for a few minutes.
"One of the tower networks shot us down, I can't see the Enterprise faring that much better," Jessie said.
"You're not wrong. If the alien ships themselves didn't fight them off, the towers would fire on them instead," Harry said while reading. "There's been a few attempts to destroy the towers from within like we did, but they've been caught everytime and forced to escape."
"I'm not surprised. We wrongly assumed that they were sensing James as the resistance had no trouble breaking in before. Then our teams without him were attacked as well," Craig said.
Damien rolled his eyes. "You were aliens sneaking around with weapons and bombs. What did you expect them to do? Give you a passing nod, ask you if you want a cup of coffee in the workers canteen?" Most of the room stared at him with contempt, a lot of them knew he was right though. "They're Softmicron, or created by Softmicron. They'll sense Slayers and they'll send their best to deal with them."
"Ok, lets say the Enterprise's away teams were a lot sneakier than we were," Craig said.
"I wouldn't," Damien scoffed.
"How were they pursued, apprehended so badly that they had to escape every time?" Craig asked.
Damien glanced up at the ceiling like he was silently praying to some rabbit god. "These are the morons that bested me all the time. The shame."
"It would take a lot to destroy those towers. It's a long time to be sneaking around the enemy stronghold. I'd be surprised if they didn't run into any trouble," Jessie said.
"I agree," Chakotay nodded.
"They simply didn't have enough people to maintain their ship and to send a decent size attack team down," Damien groaned. "That's why the rest of their attacks since are from orbit only. Either way, they were still fools."
Harry moved back to his previous position to look at something else. "Have you found anything that we don't generally know? How is the Enterprise still in one piece, how it's here, why did it lure us here? Heck how did the crew know this was a giant Game Sphere long before we did? Anything about the anomaly?"
"There's a lot of detailed crap going back four months; logs, sensor stuff, diagnostics, replicator logs," Damien replied. "Nothing before then."
"Four months. We've been here longer than that," Jessie said. Chakotay nodded, he noticed that too.
"Detailed crap? Can you be more specific?" Harry muttered in dead pan.
Damien laughed like it was so obvious. "I didn't want to overwhelm your tiny brains."
Jessie sighed impatiently. "If you're done here I can always drag you to where Annika is, you little piece of sh..."
Harry quickly cleared his throat, "why don't we just start with why James and Lena took the Enterprise. I imagine whatever it was, was recent enough for them to leave in a hurry. Check the most recent logs."
"I wouldn't be so sure. Lena liked to play Captain," Damien snickered. Jessie grabbed his arm to start to drag him towards the door, he panicked immediately. "Okay, okay. Sheesh!" Jessie let him go so he could continue tapping away at the console.
"They couldn't have gone far. Neither of them would have the expertise or the means to reactivate the warp core," Harry said.
"So how come we can't detect them?" Craig questioned. His eyes gravitated towards the tiny black spot on the starchart. That felt like the answer to him. "The anomaly."
"Yeah I was thinking that as well," Chakotay said.
Jessie frowned at them both, "but anything that stays inside it too long gets their power drained completely. No one could survive that happening to their ship. There shouldn't be anyone to save."
Damien looked like he suppressed a gag, everyone who saw it assumed he was faking it. "Ugh, don't say stuff like that."
"Why? People being dead is a good thing to you right?" Chakotay grumbled.
"Not that. You people all act so high and mighty. Oh our main ship's sodded off, but this planet is in danger. Let's not wait for them and save them, by golly," Damien said mockingly. "You guys did the same exact thing; just couldn't wait for reinforcements or whatever. It makes me ill."
"Good," Jessie said.
Harry pulled a confused face at him. "Planet?"
Damien rolled his eyes again as he turned his head towards him. "Yeah. The Enterprise's starcharts have a system sitting right where the anomaly is now. One m-class. Their course before the ship stopped was going right for it."
"Good god. How would a planet endure an anomaly like that?" Harry stuttered.
"Same as a planet in a Game Sphere I'd wager," Chakotay said.
"But James and Lena can't save anyone from that. The best you could do is evacuate it and you'll just have a bunch of hallucinating aliens running around, pulling wires," Harry said.
Craig was turning a little pale, his head fell. "That wouldn't bother Lena." Everyone but Damien turned to him. "She'd want to rescue them anyway."
"Yes, just like her mother would," Chakotay said sadly.
Jessie grew a little angry at them both. "And James wouldn't?"
Harry shrugged, "who knows. He's not exactly consistent these days, is he?" Jessie's glare made him a little nervous. "There's no way to know for sure if the planet even survived the anomaly at all. It's a bit of a risky move even if there was. He claims to think things through these days, and that's not an insult. I'd definitely be thinking it through before charging in."
"Really? The guy who can go from Ensign Eager to Ensign Suck Up, then back again randomly in the span of two episodes is calling someone else inconsistent. Try pulling the other one," Jessie muttered. "I'm not suggesting he charged straight inside as soon as he found this out. Since he and Lena are the only ones that can go back in, it would be a waste of time to wait for us to come back before doing it."
"I hate to say it but she's right. Going back inside was probably his idea," Chakotay said.
"Oh for... who the hell cares?" Damien groaned. "I know those two idiots well enough to know they'll be inside that thing. You can't go in to get them out. There's nothing you can do. You may as well take that bratnapper ship and head back to the other planet. Though if you want my opinion..."
"Nobody does," Jessie butted in.
"Bridge to Astrometrics. Something's emerging from the anomaly," Jodie's voice said.
"Can you send the viewscreen image of it here?" Harry ordered her.
"Maybe I should have the viewscreen on before I do that."
Chakotay shrugged, "is that really necessary?"
"Duh, I can't feed you guys nothing, can I?"
"I meant is it necessary to see whatever's coming out of the anomaly? We know what it is," Chakotay groaned.
The many data windows and most of the star chart were overtaken by a much bigger window showing nothing but black. Seconds later a familiar ship slowly appeared from out of nowhere.
"See?" Chakotay said.
"Hail them," Harry commanded.
Damien smirked, "we can't. They're suffering from many power failures. Shocking huh?"
Harry responded by groaning into his hand. Jessie's response was a bit more to the point with a nasty shove in the chest. Craig quickly side stepped to avoid being knocked down with Damien.
"I hope someone's started a power transfer," Chakotay muttered.
Jessie took over the part of the station Damien was using. The people watching the screen saw a beam shoot out from their side towards the Enterprise.
"Um..." Craig said as he watched the same screens Jessie was. She looked at him and not the specific part he was looking at. "Sensors are reading twenty nine alien lifesigns matching our Erayan friends, and one Human."
Harry took a step backwards as if that would make him safe with Jessie in the room. "Okay, let me know when they get their communications back and..."
"We're being hailed. Obviously it was top priority for them," Jodie's voice butted in.
"All right, patch them through," Harry said nervously while taking another step backwards.
"Right viewscreen needs power too," Harry stammered. He took another step. By this time everyone was staring at him, well everyone standing were. Damien was too busy grumbling about revenge while trying to stand up to bother. "Oh god, I don't know which one to hope for," he said during a step that was so far back it opened the Astrometrics door. It startled him enough to make him jump.
"Okay, channel open."
Harry was about to say something, but he only had time to open his mouth. "Tom, beam the Flyer into our Cargo Bay and hurry," James' panicked voice said.
Both Craig and Chakotay's shoulders fell, Craig's face was getting whiter.
"Um, Tom's not here and the Flyer well... it's broken," Harry said nervously. "What happened?"
"I don't have time to explain. I've already wasted time by flying out of the anomaly. Just send a shuttle or maybe that Captain's Yacht we never use."
"Hold on, you're going to have to give us more than that," Chakotay muttered.
"You mean the thing that sits at the base of the saucer? That won't fit in the Enterprise shuttle bay," Harry said.
"God really... just beam me over to it. It's not hard."
Chakotay was a little annoyed that what he said was ignored, his fists clenched.
"James, try to calm down and think about this first. You're not going to achieve anything by panicking," Jessie said softly.
She got a quiet sigh on the other end of the comm. "Jess, I've had an hour or two to think about this and calm down. The Enterprise will take too long to re-power up, the journey both ways is too long. I could be too late now."
"What happened to my daughter Stuart?" Chakotay snapped coldly. He caught a glare from Jessie in the corner of his eye, but he was too mad to really care about it. "Give me the skunk eye all you want, it doesn't change anything."
"Did anyone get a chance to read the data file we left?" Chakotay made an annoyed grunt in response. "There are people still alive on that planet. They're underground so transporters are out. They think we're the people responsible for what happened. It took us the only few hours we had to save twenty nine people. Lena she... didn't want to waste anymore time. She stayed behind to gather up survivors."
"You let her?" Chakotay hissed.
"Of course not." James' voice didn't sound annoyed like anyone thought it would be, just exhausted.
Jessie gave her death glare a rest as it clearly wasn't working. It was replaced by a look of sympathy. "I know you want to get back in there as soon as possible. Think about it though. A shuttle will not last long in that thing, you'd end up wasting more time or risk getting yourself killed. That won't save Lena."
"The Flyer might, the yacht's too. I can wait for the Enterprise's one to power up... In the mean time, those people in the Cargo Bay will need medical attention. The aliens on Voyager will need to know about them."
"I'll take care of that," Harry said, finally taking that last backwards step to safety.
"I hate to make the situation worse but I gotta know. How long does that planet have?" Craig asked.
The silence made a tense room even more unbearable. Craig regretted even asking.
"I don't know. When there's enough power I'll send the data the sensors got before they were shut down." A loud sigh followed. "The planet dying isn't the thing I'm the most worried about anyway."
"Why, what could be worse than your planet breaking apart at your feet?" Chakotay asked.
Damien had been so quiet lately everyone had forgotten he was there, until he laughed at the image of what Chakotay said. Jessie just shoved him back on the floor again.
"Things that can kill you horribly before that even happens."
Footsteps approached behind her. Lena reached carefully for one of the weapons hiding in her jacket. Half way out, she swung around to swipe it at whoever was behind her. Something hard swung into her face before she could do that, the force of it pushed her backwards into the ground. Her face stung, it felt warm and wet. A hand reached up to check without even thinking about it, the visor and mask were in the way. Her head meanwhile slowly looked up to see what it was that hit her.
"Welcome home," a familiar voice sneered.
Her eyes widened. Even in the dark she recognised that face and voice easily. "Frenit."
A dark smile spread across his uncovered face. His fist clenched and flew towards her. Lena quickly rolled to one side, just narrowly missing his fist. Once it hit the land there was nothing left there but a small hole.
She jumped to her feet, he straightened back to a standing position. Her hand reached into her jacket again to pull the sword out of it. All she got this time was a smirk from her opponent. Pointing it at him made it worse.
"I see you've picked up big brother's habits," he said in a mocking tone.
Lena only pulled a confused face as a response. She remained on her guard. From what she knew of him, it was definitely a bad idea to make the first move.
Frenit stretched out his arm. "What do you think? It's a beautiful world, isn't it?"
Lena then noticed something off about him. His outfit at his right shoulder had been torn off. Even in this dimly lit place there was no mistaking it, he had lost a limb since they last met.
"It's missing a certain something, like you," she muttered.
Frenit's smirk seemed to have faded a little. "I could kill you with no arms. Do not mock me."
"Why are you. How..." Lena said while taking a step further down the hill. Frenit only noticed her trail off, or it looked that way to her. His eyes seemed to be wider than normal and his smile was back. "Why would you come here?"
"Well it's a lot more... homely now," Frenit answered, followed by a laugh.
Lena looked down the hill she had only climbed up minutes ago without moving her head. She hoped the visor would mask that from the man in front of her. "It must be pretty dull for you, with nobody around." While she spoke her right foot took another step down.
Frenit pounced forward. Lena quickly brandished her sword in his face to stop him from going any further. He only laughed and swiped it clean from her hands. Before she could really react to that he had lunged forward again to grab her by the throat.
"As I was saying," he said as if he was having a nice chat over a cup of coffee. Lena felt her feet leave the ground. "This planet, it's perfect for me now. Dark, dead. I'm in my element here." Roughly he pulled her closer to him so they were briefly face to face. "Unlike you. I should be asking why you're here."
Lena tried to get him to let go by kicking him, but it didn't even bother him. "You know what, that's rude." Lena briefly assumed it did actually bother him a little after all, until he pulled the visor from her face. The biting cold hit the exposed skin around her eyes, causing it to ache horribly and her eyes to water. The part of her skin where the edges of the visor were stung more than they ached. In the first few seconds she felt something warm dribble down.
"See, you don't belong here. You're just another weak little Human," he sneered at her. Then he leaned in even closer to her face, towards one of her cheeks. This time when she kicked him she used both of her feet and all the strength she could muster. It was enough to push him backwards a bit and growl at her.
All it took was one small swing to the left to toss her aside. To her the fall felt like a few minutes, then she hit the ground. It winded her but it felt like the land itself bore the brunt of it more than she did, the soil began to crumble and crack. The momentum of the fall caused her to roll the rest of the way down the hill. Unknown to her the soil started to collapse in on itself after she rolled over it.
Finally she stopped when the land flattened. The ground began to crack there as well. Despite the aches all over body she had to move from that spot. Quickly she dragged herself to her feet to run back a few metres. She watched as that same patch of land crumbled into a new hole. Her eyes tried to focus on the hill but all she could see was the flashlight that she had dropped during the attack, and a tiny patch of land it was highlighting. There was no way for her to know where Frenit was, at least until it was too late. Her eyes were struggling to see anyway with the freezing air making her eyes water and now ache.
All she could do was pull up the mask a bit, squint her eyes and run the other way. She had to find shelter and fast. Luckily no footsteps followed her.
Zare kept careful watch of the door. Her shoulders were tensed up, a scowl stuck on her face.
"I can't believe you sent her over me," she said.
Tom briefly glanced across, annoying the Doctor a little as the pair were in the middle of lifting a man out of one of the pods.
"She says she's a witch and you take her word for it," Zare continued.
With the body now lying on the ground, Tom was free to stand up and walk towards her. "She did have a point. The Soft don't have special powers and I've never seen a demon that did either."
Zare scowl was directed at the ex helmsman. "She did one spell, one. All it was, was a blast of energy to knock me over. I know a few species of demon that can do that."
"Can they imitate Human lifesigns?" the Doctor asked carefully.
"No, but I really doubt I know about every demon in existence," Zare muttered in response. Tom opened his mouth to counter. "Also we know the Soft are engineering monsters out of people. We don't know the full extent of those experiments."
Tom's face whitened a little. "That's... Rachel could be one of the Enterprise crew but experimented on. I told B'Elanna to go with her."
"Will you both relax? I scanned her, there's nothing abnormal about her. Also James and Craig described these experiments as not very talkative, black eyed and definitely not sociable in the slightest," the Doctor said.
Zare's eyes darted from one side to the other, then back again. "Not talkative and not sociable are the same point."
"All I mean is they weren't eager to hang around without trying to kill you," the Doctor said.
Tom glanced over to the hologram while he began treating the latest pod evacuee. "Still, that's kinda cheating."
"All right, then how about this for a third point. Aren't you supposed to sense these things? Does Rachel give off an otherworldly vibe?" the Doctor asked.
Zare sighed, allowing her shoulders to drop a little. "No, but that woman does have a problem with me. Since it was immediate, I put it down to being wary of Slayers."
"Maybe she's just racist," Tom suggested.
The Doctor rolled his eyes. Zare just stared blankly for a while, making Tom shrug casually.
"What? You said she was all on edge until she saw us, the Humans of the group," he said. The Doctor cleared his throat. "Really? She'd know you're a hologram by just looking?"
"I thought Starfleet were supposed to be above racism," Zare said after shaking her head. "It's not that."
"Ok what about she's been trapped alone for days or weeks with inhumane screeching going on. The first person she sees is strong and pointing a weapon at her. Obviously Rachel got three when she did one plus one," the Doctor suggested.
"I did nothing to let her know I was strong. You're just making excuses," Zare said.
Tom smiled a little too smugly. "Ah ha, so why would she be wary of you because you're a Slayer then? Thanks for worrying us over nothing."
"Because a demon would probably know without me doing anything," Zare snapped at him.
"Enough of this," the Doctor groaned. "Rachel is Human, has no sign of any experiments, altered DNA and still has lifesigns. I don't recall seeing any disdain from her side, only you. You're being paranoid."
"All right, fine. I'll dare not to think anymore, I'll just do my job and guard, huh?" Zare grumbled. Before anyone could say anything she walked over to stand in the doorway with her back to them.
Tom winced, "I think you hurt her feelings."
"I think it was a shared effort," the Doctor pointed out. "It's okay to be cautious but there's being cautious and there's making a tense situation needlessly worse."
Tom looked over to the door. He felt a little guilty. "Maybe we should take her seriously. She's got more chance of noticing a demonic thing than we do. When has she ever got it wrong?"
"Normally I'd agree but Zare admitted it was because of Rachel's behaviour towards her, not because of a sense or feeling," the Doctor said. "Besides, Zare's still a regular humanoid. En-heightened abilities or otherwise, they can still make mistakes."
"Regular humanoid. We've given up finding out what species she is, huh?" Tom commented with a smile.
"Nobody ever asked and it's been ten years," the Doctor said.
Tom nodded, "true. It would be rude to ask now."
B'Elanna walked down a dimly lit corridor alongside the older woman, Rachel. She seemed to be getting more anxious the further they walked. It didn't help that the corridors seemed to be slopping down and the floors were creaking a lot more.
"You said you've been down here," B'Elanna said, noticing her partner's nerves.
"Yes but that was when I first escaped. This place is..." Rachel stuttered. The ceiling groaned at them both loud enough to make them stop. "I think it's sinking. The soil is weaker, lifeless."
"Yes, I think so as well," B'Elanna said.
Rachel shook her head. "You don't understand. The structure was not sinking when I first arrived, nor was there any strange noises. Something's happened since we've been here."
B'Elanna frowned down at her tricorder. Her finger tapped it a few times. "I still can't find any signs of a generator or a device that draws the energy to fuel it."
"But you said the stasis units were powered by what we're buried in, separately from the rest of the building," Rachel said.
"Yes but I still don't know how. The technology they're using, I can't make heads or tails out of it. Whoever made this place were far more advanced than we are," B'Elanna said.
The ceiling seemed to groan again. The two women decided to ignore it and continue walking until the sound started to follow them. B'Elanna stopped first to point her tricorder above it. The groaning had stopped, a light tapping took its place. At least it started light, every tap was louder than the last.
"Something's up there," Rachel whispered.
B'Elanna lightly nodded. "One lifesign."
"How come you didn't detect it until now?" Rachel asked nervously.
"Simple, it wasn't there before," B'Elanna replied.
Rachel took a few steps backwards while closing her eyes. B'Elanna noticed her lips were moving like she was muttering. The tapping had seized when she moved, the ceiling above continued to groan.
B'Elanna slowly pulled a phaser from her belt. Before she could point it her skin began to tingle, not just in her hands but all over. She looked down to see her hands covered in a blue shimmer. "What?"
Something fell to the ground in a loud thud in front of her, so she glanced up quickly. Rachel sat hunched over on the spot she was before, breathing heavily as if she had been running. B'Elanna was about to run over to her when the ceiling between them exploded in a sea of metal dust. She quickly covered her eyes.
When it cleared a figure was standing in between them, with its back to B'Elanna. Rachel looked up in time to see it pounce forward. Her hand shot up. A piercing ball of light formed in her palm and flung itself at the figure. "Move!" she yelled at the same time.
B'Elanna quickly side stepped to avoid the figure fly backwards when the light struck it. She looked over her shoulder to see what it was. To her it looked like a normal humanoid, at least until it staggered back up. Its four arms flexed before running straight for them again.
"My god, he shouldn't..." Rachel stuttered.
B'Elanna stepped forward to grab her arm, she pulled her to her feet. "Who cares, just run." She didn't leave it up to her, she ran off still holding the other woman's arm.
"Wait," Rachel stuttered. "If we separate, it won't be able to find you. It'll follow me."
"Even if that made sense, I wouldn't let you do that," B'Elanna quickly said.
They turned left at a junction and a sharp right after that, hoping that it would throw their pursuer off.
"The spell I mentioned," Rachel said in between heavy breath outs. "I cast it on you. Now's your chance."
B'Elanna didn't let go of her arm like she hoped, the grip on it seemed to tighten. "No, the last thing we should do is separate." They arrived at another junction, B'Elanna ran to the right without even thinking about it.
The footsteps didn't sound as close as they did before. B'Elanna wanted to think that they had outran or confused whatever that was for now, but she knew better than that. With every crossroad she found, she'd pick a random one and continue running just as fast as before. However Rachel was struggling to keep up with her, at times it felt like she was stretching her arm.
"Wait!" she breathed. B'Elanna looked back at her to see the other woman's spare arm pointing at a door. The footsteps were faint, they had time. "This door is similar to the other labs. I should be able to..."
"All right," B'Elanna said, noticing the blue shimmer and tingling feeling finally wearing off.
Rachel stumbled back to the door, breathing heavily. Her hand rested on the door. Before B'Elanna could ask her what she planned to do with it, the door slid upwards into its frame. "Quick!"
B'Elanna nodded and ran in to the room after her. She stopped alongside her as the door closed downward. "Was that a spell or just how the doors open?"
"Bit of both," Rachel stuttered, her eyes were wide. B'Elanna frowned and looked ahead instead. The room they had entered looked nothing like the lab they were inside before. Advanced computers filled the circular walls, most of which blinked brightly. Both women's eyes were drawn to the floor made out of a blue glass.
"This definitely isn't another lab," B'Elanna said while her eyes took in the wonders she was seeing. Her tricorder flew out instinctively, but she wasn't sure where to start pointing it at.
Rachel didn't look as impressed as her, she looked worried. "No it's not. It looks important. We shouldn't stay here."
"You're probably right. We don't know what the other lifesigns are, some could be the people running this place," B'Elanna said. The closest computer to her left was her first scanning target.
"I thought you only detected one," Rachel sounded even more worried.
B'Elanna glanced back at her over her shoulder. "You said there were eighteen of you left. I detected close to thirty when we first arrived."
"That... that could mean there are eleven more of those things we just encountered," Rachel stuttered.
"Ten, one lifesign disappeared," B'Elanna sadly corrected.
Rachel's jaw dropped, but not for long. "I'll stick with eleven. Do you have any idea what kind of spell I cast on that thing?"
"No, and I realise that it's dangerous..." B'Elanna answered.
"I've knocked things out for hours with it. The worst one was dazed for five minutes," Rachel stammered. "Him! I may as well have tied up his shoe laces. It would have had the same effect. The lifesign that disappeared is more likely to be one of ours. I don't stand a chance against it, let alone anyone else."
B'Elanna sighed, "try to calm down. Panicking isn't going to help." Rachel stared at her with her mouth open again. "You managed to escape the pod because of that spell you cast on me. The rest of your crew will be still stuck in the pods. I doubt one of them was the one killed."
"What, so these things are killing each other or are you being optimistic and they're killing the people who made them," Rachel questioned.
"They're possibilities, yes," B'Elanna said. She frowned as a thought came to her. "Wait. Someone sent us that message. Was it you?"
"What message?" Rachel said, answering her question.
"Never mind for now. While we're stuck here, we might as well have a look around." B'Elanna looked around the whole room, everything in it was mysterious and new to her. Her eyes sparkled at the thought of investigating it all. She walked over to one of the computers to scan it thoroughly.
"So... if it isn't Softs, who's is it?" Rachel asked.
B'Elanna at first answered with a distracted hmm noise. Then she turned around to look at her again. "I don't know. It is similar to them though. Energy drained from the earth, humanoid experiments..."
"That man had four arms. Whoever altered him must have thought he'd be more deadly that way," Rachel mused. Her whole body shuddered. "I'm glad we didn't get to find out... yet."
"Yeah, it does seem like a good planet for harvesting people and turning them into weapons," B'Elanna said while deep in thought. "It's sick and they're probably still doing it."
"Perhaps they're helping the Softmicron," Rachel suggested.
B'Elanna thought about it for a second, then shook it off. "Who in this Game Sphere would want to do that?"
"It's possible. They look advanced enough to maybe escape the sphere or resist its influence," Rachel said.
B'Elanna gave her a smile. "Why don't we find out." Her head gestured to the computers. Rachel pulled a face that told her she didn't like that idea at all.
The further down she went, the warmer it felt. Lena felt comfortable enough to lower the mask, yet a rush of cold instantly made her regret it. She didn't raise it back up though. It wasn't anywhere near as crippling as the cold she had felt before.
Her body still ached in various places from her earlier fall. The one tugging at her leg made it hard to keep a steady pace. After walking for so long it was starting to weaken, forcing her to limp as well.
The tricorder in her hand told her the lifesigns she detected were close by. She had lost her sword during the last fight, so her first choice of weapon was the rifle she was lucky not to land on. Cradling it in her arm loosely she turned a downward corner.
Immediately she found weapons pointed straight at her. For some reason their tense faces seemed to soften, two of the guards had even lowered their weapons a little.
"I... um, I'm here to help," her voice sounded hoarser than before. Her throat felt a little sore now that she had spoken.
One of the guards stepped forward, completely lowering their weapon. "You're hurt."
"Huh? Oh... yeah, it's not so bad," Lena said, completely thrown off by their reactions to her.
The guard glanced back to nod at her companions, they nodded back. The woman glanced back at Lena with warm eyes. "Come inside. We'll help."
"No, no. It's okay. I don't have time for that," Lena stuttered. The woman put a hand on her back and tried to guide her towards the entrance to their camp. "We need to leave, it's not safe here."
"It's not safe anywhere. That's no reason to suffer like this," the woman said.
The remaining guards stayed where they were as she lead Lena inside.
"Please listen to me. You're in danger, I can help," Lena stuttered.
"I knew I shouldn't have left her alone, or even brought her. She wasn't ready for anything like this," James said.
Jessie sat down beside him, she quickly clutched his nearest hand. "It doesn't mean you should pick any old ship and fly in to get her."
"I don't see the problem with that," James muttered.
"Well you said that she was gathering people to evacuate. If you arrive with a measly shuttle drained half to death, maybe more, then what she did would be for nothing," Jessie said. James closed his eyes and sighed. "Yeah. You'd be lucky to evacuate five of them, then you'd have to knock them unconscious to stop them from hallucinating and tampering with it. That's assuming a shuttle would even last long enough for a return journey."
"Okay, I get the point," James said while holding his spare hand out in a surrender position.
"I'll come with you," Jessie said, surprising him.
He laughed very nervously, "I don't want to sound like an asshole... to you, but no."
"I wasn't asking," Jessie shrugged.
"You can't go. The hallucinations will try to trick you into sabotaging the ship, changing our course. Anything to keep us inside that thing," James stuttered.
"No one understands the feeling of coming back from the dead after so long, more than I do," Jessie said. James looked at her with guilt all over his face, she quickly countered it with a gentle smile. "I was happy to return, grateful. It was still a strange experience that isn't very common. Lena has lost two years of her life and we don't even know if she's aware of that time in some way. We don't know where she was."
James frowned, "do you remember?"
"You asked me that then," Jessie said. "I remembered how I felt during that time. Lonely, isolated. Angry sometimes. If it was some sort of heaven, I wasn't ready to be there."
"Angry?" James mumbled.
"Angry that my life was finally making sense and coming together. To be taken then, it wasn't fair," Jessie answered.
"You and Lena weren't supposed to die. You were taken over by people who were already dead. You both came back after a long time by unconventional means," James thought aloud.
"See? Who else can talk to her?" Jessie smiled.
James shook his head, "but hallucinations aside, it isn't safe. I know you can take care of yourself but our track record is awful. You wanted to get through this pregnancy without any problems. If I take you to the anomaly, to that planet, we're daring fate."
"Look. I stay in a room that has no computer access. You bring her aboard, one way or another and bring her there," Jessie suggested.
"Jess," James sighed.
"I don't like the idea of you going back in there alone. Lena also sounds like she needs help from what you told me," Jessie said.
"It's not just that I'm worried for your safety. If you're sealed in this computer-less room, who's going to manage the power? Who's going to use the transporters?" James said.
Jessie looked down at her lap. "Oh." She perked up immediately, "who's going to do that when it's just you?"
James narrowed his eyes at her, but only in a mocking way. "You think you've won? Nope. I'll do it." Jessie just frowned. "I'll beam her and whoever she's gathered, then we're leaving."
"That doesn't sound like you," Jessie said in a worried voice.
"Me doing a stupid lone wolf thing to overprotect someone? Nah, not at all," James commented with a tiny smile.
Jessie smiled and shook her head. "I remember that stupid lone wolf risking his life to go up against three legendarily powerful vampires, to save a planet of what... millions?"
"He ended up nearly destroying the planet by triggering the ritual he wanted to avoid. Stupid wasn't a strong enough word," James said.
"Yeah but I have many more examples. Do you really want me to list them all?" Jessie questioned, her smile turning sly.
James climbed to his feet, stepped forward and turned around to face her again. His arms folded. "So let me get this straight. You want me to go back to this planet, and make sure Lena and I get everyone off it. Despite the fact that a lot of the people are probably those experiment things or Softmicron. It would be dangerous, life threatening. And I'm the one who's not acting like myself."
Jessie pulled a face like she had just walked into the Mess Hall while Neelix was cooking. Her shoulders lifted to shrug. "No." James stared at her with a mixture of confusion and bemusement. "But that so called stupid lone wolf always went out of his way to save people, regardless of what it would do to him. I love that guy. I'm proud of him."
James didn't know what to say to that. He sat back down beside her to retake her hand. Jessie leaned over to give him a cheek kiss, then she rested her head on his shoulder.
Several of the aliens including Yana and Ersa were sitting at the table, most of them talking loudly over each other. Harry stood to one side, trying badly to settle them down. Craig stood guard at one of the doorways, a few nameless Security officers guarded the other.
"No, stop. We're not getting anywhere here," Ersa said.
An unnamed alien overlapped him, "how could you not tell us what the towers really did, Yana?"
"This is why," Yana answered quickly to avoid someone else talking at the same time.
"Why are you still talking about the towers? The problem is that blue cloud thing," another alien snapped at the other one that talked.
Ersa sighed, he climbed to his feet. That motion got some of the aliens attention but not all. "We're wasting time here, quiet!" The last word startled the rest into silence. "What's the point in blaming each other? We've been attacked, invaded by another species. It should be them that we blame. It should be them that we fight against."
"Wait, from what you tell us, it sounds like the towers are a more immediate problem," Harry interrupted. The aliens looked at him with confused or curious expressions. "From our experience the Softmicron kidnap people, bring them to the towers and turn them into fighting machines. You said you would have survived in your old towns and villages if it wasn't for these invasions."
"Yes but it still doesn't change the fact that with the land so brittle and the star light so weak, we can't grow more food. With no power we can't synthesise it," Ersa replied.
"Destroying the towers won't help them now Harry," Craig pointed out. "The damage is done."
Yana glanced nervously down at her folded hands. "From what we learned on the Enterprise, the towers power the Game Sphere. Or the other way around. With every one of them gone, the Sphere ends and the black cloud with it."
"That's when Game Spheres took one planet at a time, not entire sectors meshed together," Harry said. "We have no idea if that's true here."
"We can't be expected to destroy every tower. That one network almost destroyed us," Craig said. "The Enterprise was more of a battle ready ship than us, and even they couldn't handle more than two."
The aliens started talking amongst themselves again, this time they sounded a lot more panicked.
Instead of talking over them again, Ersa moved his chair closer to Yana who was the only other one silent. "How long have you known about the towers?"
"Don't. When the Enterprise attacked nobody knew. It was only when we boarded their ship," she answered. She stared at him with fear in her eyes. "By then it was far too late."
Harry had walked over to Craig in the mean time. "The aliens on the planet you were on knew about it, right?"
"What? The towers?" Craig said, prompting a nod from Harry. "The resistance put the towers construction and the power drains together, but I'm not sure if the whole planet had."
"So the towers probably hadn't drained as much on Erayas for them to notice yet," Harry said thoughtfully.
Craig raised an eyebrow, "what's your point? They're stuck inside an anomaly that acts like a sphere, that's ten times worse."
"The first Game Sphere we encountered, everyone could see what was happening. The second one there was one tower but the natives were oblivious to it. The Enterprise were usually chased out of systems by the natives themselves," Harry said.
"We don't know that. The Softmicron take over governments, taking over a few ships after wouldn't be too hard," Craig said.
"Yes but why didn't the Erayans suspect the towers?" Harry questioned.
Craig rolled his eyes, "you've already guessed at answering that."
"Yes but they or the aliens we helped before shouldn't have seen the effects of it. In fact one of the Enterprise missions the aliens helped them destroy the towers," Harry said.
Craig sighed, "I don't know. I thought the point of the old spheres were they copied the planet it was on, chucked a tower or three on it, and because they're in a holographic version of the world the people don't see their real one being drained to death. The way these ones are described to us is that they were built, not magically appeared over night."
Harry smirked at him, it took a few seconds for Craig to figure out why. "No I didn't just make a mistake. The towers in the normal Sphere versions would appear like they've always been there. It's definitely different in this case as they're always brand new power distribution buildings," Craig continued.
"It still doesn't mean they should suspect it," Harry said.
Craig was starting to get a little annoyed with him. "Why not? It's one thing to create a copy of one planet and create a tower. It's a whole different ball game to copy a few hundred, maybe thousands of star systems and chuck three tower networks on each of their habited planets. There's a reason why there isn't a network on every planet we've seen."
Harry's face fell. "That's... that's a good point. To create the perfect illusion you'd have to use a lot of energy to maintain copies and towers. These aren't copies, the planet's are clearly falling apart. That's why nobody is fooled. It's also probably why James, Kevin and Ylara didn't notice. Chosens can see through the fake. Everything here is real, including the usually fake towers."
"It will be their downfall," Ersa added on as he approached the pair. The two Humans stared at him with curious looks. "Clearly this Softmicron species are arrogant enough to pull off a stunt like this and not care that anyone notices. They assume we don't know what to do about it."
"We don't," Harry said sadly.
The nearby door guarded by Security officers. They quickly glanced back to check who it was before stepping out of the way.
"Not yet. They put these monstrosities on our world in plain sight, our planet dies in front of our eyes. The only reason it's like that is because they couldn't hide it. Therein lies a weakness," Ersa said.
"The weakness is the towers themselves. If we can find a way to defeat them quicker..." Craig said.
"Well we've made a few friends while we're here, perhaps it's not a matter of taking on the towers alone," Harry smiled.
Yana walked over to them as well. "Your Enterprise may have undone your efforts before you've even started. It had a reputation before it attacked our towers, or tried anyway. We'll not be able to help you anyway, we're crippled."
Harry stared at her, he felt guilty for even saying anything. Then he noticed the aliens at the table had stopped arguing, some had been listening to their conversation.
"First things first," the new arrival said. "We have two problems we need to solve. Then we can worry about striking the Soft back."
"Chakotay, I was running the meeting," Harry said meekly.
"Great job of that by the way," Chakotay muttered. "One; we have a planet guarded by ships with similar weapons to the Soft. Our awayteam is trapped in some sort of underground tower with the kidnapped crew of the Enterprise. Two; a planet stuck in a power draining anomaly that causes hallucinations needs evacuating."
"We know that. James is the only one that can go back in, the Enterprise needs to be powered up. There's nothing to do unfortunately," Harry said.
Craig shook his head. "I wish there was a way to avoid an evacuation, save the planet."
All of the aliens were forlorn. Ersa tried to hide it. "It's too late. Even if the anomaly disappeared and the towers were destroyed, the damage is too great. Our top scientist estimated it would collapse in a matter of days," he said the last part quietly.
"Days?" Chakotay stuttered. "The Enterprise can only survive in there for a few hours at a time, it takes time to power it back up. Even then we can't keep doing it. An entire population..."
"Before we lost sensors the population of our world was a mere five hundred thousand," Ersa whispered.
Yana gasped, her hand flew to her mouth. Her whole body started to shake. "That can't be."
"That's not all. After we lost sensors, our towns, villages, camps were invaded by these creatures. I imagine that number is far lower now," Ersa said.
"How many of them are now ruthless killing machines though," Craig said.
Chakotay sighed, "the Enterprise is not going back in that anomaly until we have a better plan." Craig's eyes widened by quite a bit, he directed that stare at him. "I don't like it either but Lena stayed behind to help these people. We should at least respect that."
"I know it's a mild problem compared to that, but we still have the awayteam to recover," Harry said. "I think I know how to deal with that without it getting in the way of the evacuation."
"Oh?" Chakotay was curious.
"Well, they already know Voyager and it's very likely they'd recognise Enterprise. We need a new player," Harry said.
Ersa understood and smiled. "I'd be happy to assist. I still know my way around a helm control."
Chakotay understood but he didn't look impressed. "Harry, we're trying to help these people, not drive them further to extinction."
"They have Enterprise weaponry, no Deck Thirteen instability to open portals on. Also no pesky anti-Human vendetta," Harry smiled eagerly. "Oh and Tom left me in command, so..."
Chakotay smirked back to his and Craig's surprise. "Well, can't argue with that. The question is, who goes?"
"That's quite a story," an alien man said.
Lena sat restlessly before him, waiting for the alien doctor to finish using a device on her. "Yeah well, I missed a lot of it."
"I'm afraid I have too. Despite everything you say, you managed to come here in one piece," a woman said. She didn't say it suspiciously, her voice and face showed a curious interest.
Lena sighed. "I'm a Slayer, we're... the Chosen kind are immune to Game tricks. No I don't get why either."
The woman who lead her into the camp knelt down in front of her. "Your species can do this, so why are you alone?"
"No, just me and my brother. My species are called Humans. Slayer is something else," Lena said awkwardly.
The alien man stared at her with interest. The other aliens seemed more confused than before. "Interesting," he said.
"So your brother was the one that took the ship back outside. I think I understand," the leader said.
Lena nodded, "yeah and I have no idea how long he'll be. Two hours, minimum. We need to find a location where he can transport you, that's safer than standing around on the surface. With one group it's fine as it was immediate, but I have many more people to warn. You can't stand around waiting for hours."
"Perhaps I can help with that," one of the women said. "Our new orbit meant that we had to evacuate to the northern hemisphere. That should narrow down the search."
"Great," Lena was less than enthused.
The leader smiled warmly at her. "These tunnels were built when we relied on a type of fossilised mineral for fuel."
"Mines?" Lena questioned.
"Yes. A lot of them were filled in and built over when we developed our cities. The ones left were in villages and open areas. There won't be that many left to search," the leader said.
"Do you have a map or anything?" Lena asked.
"The only ones we had were digital," the leader answered like she expected. "However we mapped quite a lot of it while trying to find this spot. It should help. Eigan, can you retrieve it?"
One of the men nodded, he hurried off to the back of the cave.
"You'll have to be careful though. Cave ins happens a lot. The planet is struggling to hold together," the leader said sadly.
"I noticed," Lena said quietly. "I still don't know where to take you for the beam out. Anywhere closer to the surface, big enough for everyone?"
"No, I'm afraid not," the leader answered.
"Maybe we should just come with you," one alien suggested.
Lena's shoulders slumped, the doctor sighed as he was trying to treat her arm at the time. "I wouldn't recommend that. Those things that attacked you, well there's a good chance they can sense people like me. I may be leading you right to your deaths."
"But with no unified place for us all to wait for the transport, we're dead in a few days anyway," the leader said.
"What, days?" Lena stuttered with her eyes wide.
"Yes, I'm afraid so," the leader said in a low voice. "You mentioned you had trouble convincing the past two camps. With us standing with you, there won't be much argument."
"I guess so," Lena said.
"I'll discuss it with the others. Rest for the time being," the leader said.
She walked away with most of the aliens. The only ones that stayed behind were the doctor and a male alien deep in thought. Lena glanced at him with worry.
"What?" she had to ask.
He seemed startled for a second. "Oh I'm sorry, I was just trying to remember it all."
"Remember what?" Lena questioned.
"The myth my mother told me as a child," the man replied. Lena grew even more worried but for different reasons. He laughed when she scrunched her face. "Oh don't worry, I'm not thinking you're a messiah or some doom prophet."
"Oh good, there's enough of that crap going on," Lena muttered.
"No, but the term Slayer is familiar to me. I haven't heard it since I was a child. I wonder if I remember it all," the man said. "There was one. The greatest that ever lived. However he was exiled by his kind, considered a criminal and the people here feared him. Yet still he fought for what was right, kept us safe."
"A Slayer myth. It must have been a long time ago," Lena said.
The man nodded, "yes, it's a few hundred years old. Six if I recall correctly."
"What happened to him?" Lena asked.
"That part's up for debate. There is no ending. He simply stopped making history," the man replied.
"Why was he exiled?" Lena questioned.
"From what I understand of the story, he did not follow the rules. He attempted to mingle with us, share his life. He had a daughter. That sort of thing," the man answered. "They considered his desire to still live his life dangerous. Ridiculous, isn't it?"
Lena smiled weakly and stared down at her lap, "yeah it is."
"It's believed that his sister's sacrifice at a young age inspired him to do it. Six hundred years ago a man with such strength and power was probably terrifying to us. It's assumed he fled with his daughter," the man said, his head dipped. "I guess we'll never know now."
Tom paced in the very little space there was left until he heard a light groan behind him. His head turned to the first person rescued from the pods surrounding them, she tried to sit up against the nearest thing she could. He quickly hurried over to kneel down in front of her and help if she needed it.
Their eyes met. Hers widened in shock. "Tom?"
"Yeah," Tom said, wincing when she did as well. "We got your distress call."
Danny tried to express her confusion but her face felt a little tight, frozen in place. The Doctor saved her from bothering any further, "I doubt it was one of the people in the pods."
"I guess," Tom said, disappointed.
"Pods?" Danny stuttered. Then she noticed them. The walls lined with these strange alien pods. They were hard to miss now that her eyes were beginning to re-focus. "Ohno, they didn't?"
"Didn't what?" Tom dared to ask.
"Try to turn us into those poor Evil Slayer imitators," Danny answered. Her face finally was starting to relax a little, allowing her to show her disgust. "There's nothing hot about screaming banshees who try to rip your throat out."
Tom had to unleash a smirk. "You haven't changed."
"And no, there's no sign that you've been tampered with," the Doctor said from afar. Danny noticed he was working on a pod almost opposite to her, then looked around to find two others like her lying unconscious on the floor. "It seems the only goal here was to contain you."
"Oh good," Danny sighed in relief. "So is Voyager here?"
"Not at the moment. Two alien ships chased it out of orbit," Tom replied.
Danny's hopes were immediately crushed. Her face tightened in a grimace. "Let me guess; old fashioned looking things with wings, weapons that eventually adapt to your shields and then the kicking ass starts?"
"We're not sure on the details. The signal's a bit fuzzy down here," Tom answered honestly. "Though I'm sure I heard that the shields were holding."
"That sounds about right. The weapons first analyse how your shields work. When they know what'll hurt them, they'll change to something that will work," Danny said.
"Well, at least that narrows out the Softmicron," the Doctor tried to look on the bright side.
Danny struggled to get to her feet. Tom offered a hand to help her but she didn't even notice it as she pulled herself up on her own. "No, it really doesn't."
"Sounds more like Borg before we ruined them," Tom said.
"If the Softmicron have a tower network on a planet, they'll have no problem getting a hold of the planet's ships. That's the problem. We never know who's really attacking us," Danny said.
The Doctor turned himself away from the pod he was working on. "We have reason to believe this facility was not built by them. It's clear from the poor fellows that have been inside these pods for hundreds of years, and the decay of the building itself."
"The Softmicron could have sucked this planet dry a few hundred, probably thousands times over in that time period," Tom mused aloud. He noticed Danny sniggering, or at least trying to stop herself from laughing too loudly. "I'm going to have to start watching my words again, aren't I?"
"Yes to both comments," the Doctor answered with a smirk.
Danny made a more obvious gesture that she was trying to stop laughing; she took a deep breath in through her nose and put a hand against her chest. "All right fine, this place can't be Softmicron. The ships that attacked us though definitely was."
Tom felt himself frown, "uh, you just said that you never know who's attacking you."
"Yeah but this one was pretty damn obvious," Danny said.
"To you, but you'll need to fill us in," Tom said. Danny smirked at him, making him groan a little. "Why was it obvious?"
"Many reasons. The only ships that should have been attacking us didn't pursue and looked nothing like them," Danny replied. "Before you say that it was poor timing or whatever, we'd never seen them before."
"Your reputation alone may have angered a species you hadn't met yet," the Doctor pointed out.
"True but that's not all," Danny said, nodding her head once. "We were boarded. Our sensors were damaged, we didn't know where. The crew was scattered around the ship to repair it from the last fight when this happened. I got a call from Triah, wondering why I was on the bridge." Tom appeared to be a little lost, he wondered if he'd accidentally turned two pages instead of one. "I wasn't anywhere near the bridge, but I couldn't tell her that or... I didn't hear from her again anyway. Maybe I should have."
The Doctor looked towards the only other girl lying on the floor, Danny did the same and felt a little relief. He turned his head back to focus on her, "the Softmicron infiltrated your ship. Your crew was small, spread out thin. Easily exploitable, especially for shape shifters."
Tom folded his arms tightly as he tried to put the pieces together in his head. "Rachel said there was a bright light and a sudden stop. She said nothing about this."
Danny turned her attention back towards the ex pilot. He worried as she seemed to be confused by what he said. "Rach is here too? Where?"
"She's with B'Elanna. Why, is there a problem with that?" Tom questioned, worry was all over his features by now.
"No, I just assumed that I was the first you thawed," Danny replied.
"We didn't have to," the Doctor said.
Danny opened her mouth to reply but decided against it. Instead she brought her right arm up to rest her chin in her palm.
"So, bright light and stopping?" Tom tried to remind her.
Danny sensed the tension in his voice, her eyes narrowed a little. "Of course the ship stopped. Some moron Soft probably found the manual steering."
"Well excuse me if two survivors from a shape shifting invasion have two different stories," Tom huffed. The Doctor laughed quietly to himself as he continued to work on the pod he was at.
"The light, I don't remember that part. Rach probably didn't mention the shape shifting because Triah didn't announce it to the whole ship, just me," Danny said.
"She did say she wasn't a member of the crew. The Softmicron wouldn't need to imitate her or trick her for that matter," the Doctor said.
Tom felt a little ganged up on now and a tiny bit embarrassed, the anger he still felt was enough to stop his cheeks from blushing. "I'm the only one here with some common sense, but sure just hand wave away a perfectly legitimate concern as irritating and stupid Tom. Sheesh."
"The last thing I remember I was hurrying back to the bridge. I think I was in the turbolift... yes that's where I was, I'm sure," Danny said.
"Great," Tom groaned.
"I forgot the last attack broke them. I don't think I had even remembered that before, yeah," Danny said, her hand dropped back to her side.
Tom sighed once he was sure she was done. "Okay so Softmicron took over the Enterprise, dumped you guys here in an abandoned and similar lab to theirs instead of one of their own. They decided to take the Enterprise for a spin, got bored, left it and then Shoytin found it. Finally the ship just pops up randomly in the anomaly." The Doctor and Danny stared at him as if he was Kathryn after a hundred cups of coffee. "Hey, you try figuring it out."
The Doctor tried to shake off his bemused stare. "It doesn't add up, that's true."
"Who's Shoytin?" Danny muttered.
"Here I thought we'd have all the answers once we reunited," Tom sighed in disappointment.
Danny glanced between the two, then down at the others on the floor. "There's not enough of these pod things for everyone."
"No. Miss Rachel found other labs just like this one. She and B'Elanna are searching for the only two people missing," the Doctor said.
"Oh," Danny's head dipped to stare down at her feet. "Probably only one then."
"How so?" Tom warily asked.
"I doubt anyone had a chance to tell her, only Liza and I knew and she headed for Engineering," Danny started to answer before raising her head back up. "The Soft took care of their biggest threat before they took us. I doubt they wanted to take the chance of bringing her to a place like this."
Tom slowly approached her, staring at her intently. "Their biggest threat? What are you talking about?"
"The repair crew found her on Deck Two. It looked like someone just left her where she fell," Craig said, his face now very pale. James walked alongside him, his mind appeared to be elsewhere. Craig ignored that for now and continued, "with only Naomi and Nikki available, I'll doubt we'll know what happened to her until the Doc comes back."
They both turned the corner. Craig immediately stopped, prompting James to as well. Barely a metre in front of them two crewmembers were kneeling on both sides of a gurney. A body lay on top of it. Craig frowned and turned his head away to avoid looking at it, but he noticed that James' expression hadn't changed. He instead focused on that. It confused him, even more so when James took one more step forward to get a closer look and still didn't seem surprised at all to him.
"You going too?"
The haunting image of the enormous cube continued to fall towards them. It felt like it was going slower than normal as if it was taunting them by prolonging the horror. It brushed against the nearby rooftop, it was only a matter of seconds now.
"May as well. I know for sure that I wasn't in it, same with Ylara," James replied.
Sandi nodded, "yeah, should make the difference."
A child's cries got both of their attention. It came from the building they stood nearby. Both their heads turned to see a tiny girl bawling her eyes out.
"Ohno. We haven't got time," Sandi stuttered.
James ran over to pick her up from the ground. He looked ahead, up at the looming cube about to fall on their heads, then straight ahead of him. All he had to do was run ahead a few metres and she'd miss the cube's landing spot. It would only take a few seconds, he felt he had the time.
Once the girl was safely on the ground out of the path of the cube, James turned on his heel to run back into the Game's shadow. Only it landed right in front of him, just missing him by a few centimetres.
All he could see was a vast sea of purple. Whatever was there before was gone.
"How did she even get here?" Craig questioned quietly. He still couldn't bare to look at the figure lying on the gurney. He also couldn't understand James' lack of reaction, but he didn't dare ask.
James stepped forward one more time to kneel down next to it. The two crewmembers sensed they should wait out of their way for now, so they did, leaving the two men alone with the body.
"The last we saw of her..." Craig stuttered as he tried to wrap his head around it.
"The Game Cube in Newcastle, I know," James finished for him. He stared at the body's face, she looked so peaceful to him. There was no signs of any injuries on her either. If he didn't know any better, she appeared to have died naturally. "Sandi wouldn't have let that kill her. She survived in the Games Matrix for centuries. I always assumed that was what she was doing all over again."
"Yeah I guess," Craig almost whispered. He walked forward, while still avoiding catching a glimpse of her. "We're in a Sphere, so I guess it's not that farfetched she'd make it inside from the Matrix. But the Enterprise? The odds are ridiculous."
"That's never stopped us before," James said as he stood back up. Craig stared at him as he was once again by his side, getting more and more concerned that the look on his face was blank. "That's how they knew about the sphere. She did and lead them to destroy it. The Softmicron killed her and dumped the crew on some pre-industrial planet."
"Are you all right?" Craig decided to ask after all.
James barely nodded. "Yeah, I hoped that she was one of the people on that planet."
Craig frowned, "you knew before this that Sandi was on the Enterprise?"
James looked at him with a little guilt in his eyes. "She's all over the logs we heard."
"Why didn't you say anything?" Craig asked.
"There's already a lot going on without adding to it. Right now, all I can think about is Lena," James answered. Craig understood completely, he felt it himself. For once he felt just as helpless as James was, instead of more than. "I don't want to leave her alone there any longer than I already have. She's... she's been through enough."
"You know I've been thinking about that. You and Lena are all alone in this, no one can really help. We'd be more of a burden in this situation," Craig said. "But despite these towers and spheres being Chosen defeatable only, you asked us to help back at Shurouva. It worked; we destroyed the network and saved the planet." He quickly glanced at James to see his reaction so far, he seemed to be listening, or at least he hoped so. "Sandi enlisted the Enterprise to destroy the sphere, saving at least two worlds. No offense, but I doubt you or Sandi would have achieved this without the help from others. There's got to be a way we can help here too."
James glanced towards him with the same blank face, yet Craig saw a glint in his eyes that told him he said the right thing.
"The Enterprise won't be ready to go for another half hour or so. Plenty of time to brain storm..." he continued.
"There might be a way, but we'd need a little more time and power than half an hour," James said as he turned to walk away.
"But I thought you wanted to get to Lena as quickly as possible," Craig said, quickly following him.
James nodded, "yeah I do but you're right. I need a team to pull this off, and there's only one way I can think of that'll get us there and back in one piece."
"Oh? Are you going to share it, or are you going to keep it to yourself and beat up a bunch of surprised terrorists again?" Craig asked with a smirk.
"I was thinking of telling you when the scene ends, but I could just not bother at all," James said, Craig hoped in jest.
"Kim to Anderson. Report to the Transporter Room." Craig's face fell. "I'll need you on the Katane."
"Wait, can't someone else do it? I want to be on the Enterprise and..." he said.
"Jessie's already going and I have no one Tactical or Security wise to come with me. Kim out."
Craig looked to James, expecting him to be annoyed or worried by now. His face still hadn't changed. "Jessie's going? You may as well just induce her now, cos taking her along to a dangerous mission..."
"Maybe I should beat up a surprised Craig," James butted in.
Craig laughed nervously, "I wouldn't be surprised. But you know what I mean."
"I know, but she insisted. What am I supposed to do? Order her around?" James said, finally smirking at the thought of that. "I'm bad enough without being that guy."
"You mean you don't want to be the clobbered in the face or worse guy, cos you've told a pregnant woman to stay somewhere safe," Craig said.
"My experience says no," James nodded.
They both reached an open Jeffries Tube entrance, Craig hung back while James kept going until he was directly in front of it. A random thought slipped into Craig's mind, filling him with dread. He couldn't let him leave without sharing it with him.
"Before you return to the anomaly, there's something you have to know. It may help with the Lena intervention, it may make it worse, but you need to know it."
James was about to climb into the tube when he spoke, he straightened back up immediately. "Is this what you were going to tell me the other day?"
Craig nodded, "it is."
"Okay. What is it?"
Huddled in different sized groups, the aliens followed the torch lit underground path further underground. Lena stayed behind them, fully on her guard. Or at least it appeared that way to the aliens in front of her, as she held a rifle in one arm ready to fire. Her eyes told a different story as they drifted from one group to another.
One group close to her glanced back at her a couple of times. Lena recognised the look of fear in their faces before they picked up their pace. They didn't look back again.
She tried to forget about it but it wasn't the first time it had happened. There was now a large gap between her and the refugees. Amongst them were dozens of children seemingly unaware of the danger. One of them looked like she was alone until a teen boy hurried over to take her hand. The girl grinned up at him, killing any worry he had on his face.
"Why? You do it all the time," she asked innocently.
"That's not the..." There was a sigh. James did this everytime she tried to help him, it couldn't be a coincidence. He always looked worried too. Lena gave him a smile to cheer him up, that always worked. For the moment it didn't. "I fight to keep you and everyone else safe. If you run in before me and pick a fight, it makes all of that a waste of time."
"But... I'm thirteen now, I can help," Lena said. She didn't understand why he never got what she was trying to do for him. "You've been doing this alone for ages. I wanna help you."
James finally smiled at her, but it didn't relieve her like it normally did. His sore mood had passed on to her. "I know, I was the same at your age. Just relax. You're Human first, Lena. Don't forget that."
Lena tried to concentrate on something else, anything to distract her from these old memories of hers. There was nothing much to do besides hope that the next camp was close by.
The lab was a lot busier than their last visit. B'Elanna looked around at all of the extra faces, nodding at every familiar one. Rachel hurried over to an unknown man with a big smile on her face.
"You've been busy," B'Elanna remarked to the Doctor.
"Of course," he smiled.
Tom couldn't help but sneak a quick glance at Rachel and the man as they embraced each other. When he looked back he passed B'Elanna a wink, she just rolled her eyes in response.
"Oh Antony," Rachel sighed with relief. Tom glanced over again, just in case he missed anything. "I was so worried."
"Tom, seriously," B'Elanna groaned loud enough to get his attention.
Zare's eyebrow raised quite high, "some thing's never change." The Doctor shook his head. "How did the recon go?"
"Not well, at first. We were ambushed before we could find our last two people or even the other labs," B'Elanna answered.
"At first?" Danny said.
"We did however find something interesting instead. It could be a control room or just a big database, but it's still something that might tell us what's happening here," B'Elanna explained.
Tom was now more interested in what B'Elanna was saying instead of Rachel. He stepped forward, his hand rested against his chin. "Am I the only one who heard the word ambushed? Ambushed by what?"
"I'm going to assume one of those experimental aliens James and the others encountered. Only this one was native to this planet," B'Elanna replied uneasily. "Black eyes, fast, strong."
"So are we all on the hope the lifesign that was lost was one of them, not one of ours page?" Tom stuttered.
The Doctor frowned at him, he wasn't the only one either. Zare said it first, "everything's a badly said question with you isn't it? See, it's infectious."
"It isn't Pick On Tom day until October, so stop," Tom muttered.
"I'm so glad that's an official holiday," B'Elanna smirked. Tom scowled at her. "I hate to say it but it's more likely one of the Enterprise crew, or another kidnap victim that was lost. We'd better stick together from now on."
Danny turned towards the two others she stood with, then glanced towards Rachel. "Who is missing at the moment?"
"Roberts, Evans, Marsha..." Rachel started to answer, until another name came to mind. Her eyes shut tightly. "Liza. I haven't seen her yet. The others are still inside those pods in the other labs I found."
"We'll have to get there at some point. That should be top priority," Tom said.
"I'm sure the four armed killing machine will have something to say about that," Rachel mumbled. "We were almost at one when he appeared. I don't understand why I never had any problems walking around until now."
"If it's anything like the ones in the towers, it was probably woken up by a Slayer beaming in," Zare said. The rest of the group looked at her, each with their own worried expressions. "It may be safer if we split up after all."
Tom disagreed, "in the end the tower away teams were pursued by these things, while the only Slayer was hunted by a vampire. I don't think it's as obvious as you think."
"Yes and you're forgetting that it attacked B'Elanna and Rachel, not us," Ian pointed out.
"Oh and we heard something before I called for you. It's why I called for you," Tom said.
"I'm sure they were already roaming the halls before I arrived. I just mean that it and probably others will have more of an incentive to attack," Zare said. "Though I don't have an idea why it attacked them first."
"It makes sense, doesn't it? They were close to the other lab with people in," Ian said, gesturing his hand for some reason. The awayteam looked a little baffled to say the least. A few of the Enterprise crew took a few seconds to seemingly understand and nod. Ian only noticed the confused ones. "Oh of course you don't know. We have a Slayer of our own. It probably saw her as a bigger threat than Zare here, no offense."
Danny's shoulders slumped, her head fell slightly. Ian spotted it right away and frowned at her.
Zare sighed, "I don't think that's it and none taken."
"What?" Ian was more than confused.
Rachel started to tremble, "my god, of course. How could I forget Sandi? She's missing too." The Enterprise crew started chatting amongst themselves anxiously, Ian was amongst them.
"No, it's okay. She was probably the one who sent Voyager the distress call," Ian tried to calm everyone down. "Rachel was able to get out, why not her?"
Danny shook her head, "no Ian, she was never here. I found her..."
B'Elanna was more annoyed than confused, she made an angry groan loud enough to echo around the room and silence everyone. Tom cringed and looked at her. "Sandi?" it was almost a growl by this point.
"Danny told us while you were gone. Sandi was the one who lead the Enterprise into its tower mission," Tom said awkwardly. "The Soft took care of her before kidnapping the crew. I guess we got a little caught up with your tale to catch you up."
"Oh so it's my fault?" B'Elanna snapped. The whole room erupted into anxious and angry chatter again, all except one.
The Doctor clapped his hands together, shutting everyone up again. "None of this is important right now. Our priority is to rescue the people in the other labs and find the other two who are missing."
The guilt seemed to have brought Rachel's head and mood down even further, she was having trouble looking anyone in the eye. "I was counting Sandi in my crew count. There should be only one, Liza, and I've got a feeling that we won't need to find her."
"Oh?" Tom said warily.
"One lifesign disappeared, and I really doubt they put one single person into a different room to everyone else," B'Elanna muttered.
"They could have ran out of pods," Tom said meekly.
"True, but I haven't found any other rooms like it and one had a few empty pods," Rachel said. She forced her head back up, "before the bright light I saw her running somewhere. It's likely my spell hit her too. If anyone could send a message to Voyager from here, it would be her." Danny frowned in her direction.
The man she had referred to as Antony shook his head in a not again way. "I swear, your spells always seem to run away from me. Poor Liza."
"We shouldn't count her out just yet. The experiments seem to be quite feral, I doubt they'd kill her just for doing that," B'Elanna said.
"Doc's right, we need to get out of here and awaken our people first. Hopefully Voyager will be able to come back for us with re-enforcements while we do that," Tom said. He turned to Zare, she didn't look like she liked the plan at all. "We don't have enough to assume. Split up and they could attack the rest of us. Stay together and at least you'll be around to fight it."
"Fine, I'll cover the rear," Zare said with a nod. Danny snorted into laughter, almost everyone of course rolled their eyes. Zare was the only one who didn't, she turned to Rachel. "Do you feel comfortable leading the way?"
"Not comfortable, those things barely noticed my spells. There's no other choice though," Rachel said.
"Okay, let's go then," Tom said with enthusiasm.
Triah pulled a disgusted face and started to fidget. "Is it cleaner out there? Cos if so, I'm okay with this. I mean there's things in here that look like..." she stared towards one of the rotten bones on the floor and grimaced. "Oh god, it is. I'm out." Zare grabbed her arm to stop her from running off first.
"Ohno." Most of the refugees were saying the same or similar things. Lena maneuvered her way through the group to reach the ones at the front.
The path had been getting darker with every step. With the torches still lighting the way, it made no sense until now. The ones next to the refugees were no longer working. The path ahead of them was black, the torches much further back barely lit up where they were.
Lena reached the front. Her voice startled the aliens at the front, "what is it?"
"Oh, we couldn't see you coming," one of them stuttered, relieved that it was just her.
The leader stared at her grimly. "Just put your hand out."
Lena did so and was shocked when it scraped by some rocks before she had straightened it out. Her attention went quickly to her tricorder. "A cave in. I don't understand it, I didn't detect it." The light from tricorder barely cut through the darkness, she gave it several taps. It brightened up a little and started to bleep at her. "Ohno."
"What?" the leader questioned.
"I'm losing power. I can't believe it," Lena stuttered. While it was still bright enough to see she tapped it quickly.
One of the aliens bit his lip nervously. "There's not much left. A small device is better than nothing. I wouldn't be surprised if the anomaly drained the fire lighting our path too."
"No, the cave in would have blown them out," the leader pointed out.
Lena felt the blood rush away from her face as she read the tricorder. Its light dimmed back to how it was before. "This path... it's leading us right into the tower's foundations. No wonder the land's so much weaker here, and my tricorder..."
"I don't understand," the leader said.
"It's a long story. We need to turn back," Lena said. Most of the group started talking over each other, a lot of them in panicked voices. "The way is blocked anyway, what choice is there?"
"Colony three was just ahead. There's a longer route to it we can take," a male alien said.
"Just ahead?" Lena stuttered. "I... no, it's too dangerous. I'll get them, you stay here."
The leader stared at her with wide eyes, not that she could see that. "How is the power plant dangerous? Everything should be drained at this point. We should stick toge..."
"No we shouldn't," Lena unintentionally snapped. The leader and the others at the front were taken aback. "The things that were attacking you are directly above us, they were built in the tower." They looked at her like she was insane. "I told you there were buildings on this world that caused it, didn't I? This power plant is it. Trust me. There will be a lot more of those things the closer we get."
"If we stay here we won't see them coming. The long route will eventually bring us to one of the exits to the surface. We might as well go with you part ways," the leader said. The mention of the surface made the rest of the refugees very nervous.
One of them spoke up in protest, "we go to the surface they'll kill us, especially if they're not far away. If we went to the camp instead..."
"How far is the exit from the power plant?" Lena asked.
"I'd say a twenty, thirty minute walk," the man Lena spoke to earlier answered. He was busy trying to squint at a paper map in his hands. "It leads to Mujkai village, an old mining village."
Lena turned away from the dead end and thought about it. The faint looks of dread on the people's faces, even in the lack of light, helped her make up her mind. "All right. We'll keep going until I have to go to this camp. Nobody goes to the surface until I either come back with the people, or if you hear screams and fighting. Okay?"
"What if your ship arrives?" one alien asked.
"Or if my brother arrives, fine," Lena answered. She turned back to face the leader and the people she stood with. All but the leader gave her a nod, her head was turned slightly their way and looked deep in thought.
"At least we won't be out in the open this way," the alien who protested earlier said in relief.
"I'll come with you," the leader eventually said. Before Lena could object she continued, "you need somebody with you to gain their trust. In fact you may need two of us, as they might think I'm your hostage."
"But sir," the protesting alien said.
Lena sighed impatiently, but she knew she was right. "Okay. First sign of trouble and you run, got it?"
"Of course," the leader nodded. She barely gave the protestor a passing glance, "you're not going. It's my job as the leader of the camp. Stay safe."
"You still need a second person, you said it yourself. I'm the only one volunteering," the protestor said. The alien doctor raised his hand, but it was too dark for most of them to notice.
"You're reckless and impulsive. I need someone with a level head that won't do something stupid," the leader said harshly. The alien doctor cleared his throat to get her attention. "Physician Loren, good idea. We may need you. It's settled." The protestor snarled through his nostrils and stomped off towards the centre of the refugees.
Lena glanced between them, "if we're done here, let's go."
TO BE CONTINUED
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