<FWG> <Patronus> Issue 1, Article 3: "Harm of Will"

  • From: Jason Ziredac <ziredac@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: fwgalaxy@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 1 Jan 2007 19:47:00 -0800 (PST)

  Harm of Will
  by the Crew
   
  MISSION OUTLINE: There is a meeting scheduled with the presiding leader of 
the Metriaga colonies devoted to turning said colonies into outposts for the 
war against the Dominion and the War on Secrecy. All department heads are 
called as witnesses to the terms and contracts that will be discussed. Chief of 
Security will assemble a small team for the area. Chief of Medical and Chief of 
Science will administer the inoculations to protect against the throat virus. 
Meet in Transporter Room 1 for disembarkation at 1400.
   
  Also, the USS Primo Morire will be joining us in orbit for another meeting 
directly following the business on Metriaga?s surface. 
  -Admiral Elian Ramirez
   
  ?Why the hell doesn?t the bastard ever use our names?? Markstrom Benson 
griped, waving the briefing PADD in the air like a fan. ?Always ?Chief of This? 
and ?Chief of That.? You know what? I don?t think he knows our names. I bet he 
doesn?t even know what I look like. You know what I should do when he gets 
here? Hold out my hand and introduce myself. That would be hilarious.?
   
  Aylyn laughed and set her PADD down on the transporter controls. Transporter 
Chief Jaeli Sere was checking on the hardware, otherwise she would have 
begrudgingly thrown the PADD back at her. Anyway, Aylyn said, ?I double-dare 
you, Mark. Not like the man will do anything.?
   
  ?I highly disagree,? Trilo cut in, stepping across the circle that was 
forming and placing his PADD on top of Aylyn?s. ?Admiral Ramirez may not be 
proactive, but if angered he has the power to strip you of your rank and send 
you home in bindings.?
   
  To which Markstrom replied, ?Oh Trilo, you?ve always been Captain Obvious of 
the USS Evident, haven?t you? Also, I was kidding. I once knew this guy who we 
all called the Humor Rapist. You might have just demoted him to Humor 
Molester.? And atop those which Aylyn and Trilo placed, Markstrom finally set 
down his briefing. Jaeli came back and screwed her mouth, snatching the PADDs 
and setting them on the floor behind the computers.
   
  Lieutenant Varia arrived at that point. The ever-so-studious Vulcan didn?t 
have his briefing with him anymore, and nodded coldly to the other four people 
in the room. ?Greetings,? he said, weakly smiling for an allotted two seconds. 
Aloof and emotionless (as the stereotypical Vulcan went) as Varia was, he was 
not as uptight as some, thusly finding the nearest wall to lean against it with 
his arms and ankles crossed in comfort. 
   
  ?How?s it going, V-man?? Markstrom greeted back. ?Jesus, man, you look more 
pissed than normal.? This of course was a half-joke; Varia did look slightly 
perturbed.
   
  ?All department heads? What in the galaxy does an Admiral need the Chief 
Tactical Officer at a contract-signing for? I?m sorry to say this, honestly, 
but this isn?t logical.? At this the others laughed?except the terminally 
bad-spirited Jaeli Sere?for although he fit many other Vulcan stereotypes, 
Varia was quite the impulsive thinker. He was young, and was raised, yes, by 
Vulcan parents, but spent many evenings causing trouble with a pack of wild 
Terran kids on Eversong III. ?I?m just going to ignore everything at this 
meeting and hopefully catch up on some sleep.?
   
  Muffled laughter came from the other side of the closed Transporter Room 
door, a man and woman, still in spasms about some joke told on the way here. 
There entered Captain McQuarrie and Lieutenant Claire Eyensworth, her in front, 
and the Captain bringing up (staring at) the rear. Markstrom swallowed a 
chuckle and Aylyn swallowed a cough. He?s going to play ignorant, isn?t he? she 
thought-asked herself.
   
  ?Hello, Doctor,? he said with a smile, still laughing. Ignorant. ?Everyone. 
Lieutenant,? he said to Trilo, ?where?s your security team??
   
  ?TR two, Captain. They?re reserving room for the rest of us in TR one.?
   
  ?Oh, right,? the Captain smirked with an elated eye-roll at his own 
stupidity. ?Good thinking, Lieutenant. Varia, you look unhappy.?
   
  ?I am unhappy.?
   
  Hayes shrugged and smiled again. Ignorant. ?Oh well! It won?t take too long, 
hopefully. I know it?s boring, guys, but the job?s the job. Let?s see?who are 
we missing??
   
  Aylyn nasally replied, turning up the volume on her voice. She did this when 
she was angry, sounding a lot like an automated emergency broadcast. ?Commander 
Luviox and Lieutenant Commander Mungoti and the Admiral, sir.?
   
  There was no more ignorance in Hayes?s essence any longer, not with Aylyn?s 
tone. Damn it, she suspects something. I better pay her some extra attention, 
lay off on Claire and Narin. Thank goodness for Chi getting sick. They?ll just 
think I?m a flirt, and Aylyn will think the same of this. This is going to be a 
close one. ?Right,? he said aloud, looking directly at Aylyn as he spoke. ?They 
shouldn?t be too later. Commander Mungoti has actually been excused from this 
mission due to an illness.?
   
  Aylyn inquired, no longer suspicious and annoyed, ?Is she all right??
   
  ?I?m not sure, Doctor, but your people in Sickbay are taking care of her. 
They?ll figure out what?s wrong with her.?
   
  The doors hissed open one final time, and in walked Commander Narin Luviox, 
shortly followed by Admiral Ramirez, and around Ramirez?s body was strapped a 
purse-like bag, filled with his belongings and necessary PADDs. He made his 
patronizing nods and placed his hands so presumptuously behind his back that 
his now prominently protruding chest made him look like a proud parrot. 
?Greetings, ladies and gentlemen. I?m sure you are all wondering why you are 
being called on as witnesses for recruiting a world as a lookout. As you know, 
Admiral Adam Remington has instigated a War on Secrecy against the squad of 
lawless vigilantes who call themselves Section 31. As a personal friend of 
Remington?s, I will inform you that even though proof of Section 31?s existence 
is still non-existent, we are merely finalizing rights to pursue whatever leads 
we can. Also, any sort of rebellion, any sort of spies, anything of the secret 
nature, Remington plans to uncover.
   
  ?I received orders from the Admiralty council yesterday evening regarding the 
next step in ending any traces of anarchy and disorder. As you may also know, 
as officers of the Federation, there cannot be true unity, true peace, unless 
all knowledge is out in the open. Unless every single living being is part of 
how the Federation moves as a body, that is when we are most efficient.
   
  ?I wish to inform you that this will no longer act as merely an admiral 
transport, nor as the semi-permanent admiral?s station I?ve made it into. From 
this day forward, the USS Coldstream will serve as the war crier, and will go 
from planet to planet, equipping its people and entry controls with proper 
surveillance, so as to eliminate these secret men, these agents, these people 
who live in shadows. The equipment we give to the planets we visit will also 
help in controlling Dominion spies, and will serve as outposts for our men as 
we plan our move against our enemies.?
   
  Varia had been the only one not to hop to attention when Ramirez walked into 
the room. Ramirez hadn?t seen him, and now that he spoke up, still with cross 
arms at a lean against a wall, he was furious. But his fuming was halted when 
Varia said, ?That is not in our constitutional power, Admiral. Unless we 
declare martial law on every planet we come to, it?s unlawful for us to assume 
asylum upon arriving on a planet, whether it?s part of our Federation or not.?
   
  ?You will stand at attention, Lieutenant Varia, and ask permission to speak.? 
The admiral squinted at the Vulcan as he lazily assumed the attention stance. 
?And to answer your comment, Lieutenant, martial law will be declared upon 
outpost installation.?
   
  ?Permission to speak, sir,? Varia said.
   
  ?Granted.?
   
  ?That is trickery, sir, to install an outpost at the local government?s 
discretion and then declare martial law to gain full control of it.?
   
  ?No matter how much breath you throw at this one, Lieutenant, your Vulcan 
aptitude to flapping your tongue will not change what we, the crew of the 
Coldstream, will do. So I suggest you keep your opinions to yourself.? He 
pointed a reprimanding finger at Varia, and then spun it around to his other 
officers, stopping at Captain McQuarrie. ?That goes for the rest of you. Let me 
remind you that you are part of an army, and when the army gives you an order, 
you do it. Do it, or leave. Your choice.?
   
  ?Then I resign,? Varia said. ?Effective immediately.?
   
  ?Resignation not accepted, as you are now currently on assignment,? the 
Admiral retorted. ?When the assignment is over, you will no longer be under 
obligation of this crew, but if you refuse to do this mission now, you?ll be 
placed in the brig and your resignation will be fully and irreparably revoked, 
and your dishonorable discharge will be given in turn. Do you understand, 
Lieutenant Varia??
   
  ?Yes, sir.?
   
  Jaeli Sere manned the transporter controls and waited for the senior 
officers? little spat to be done with. A chime came in from the other TR, 
Transporter Operator Szander Lacombe. ?Chief Sere, security team in TR two is 
ready for beam, and we have coordinates locked. Ready when you are.?
   
  Sere looked up at the Admiral who, having heard Lacombe?s transmission, was 
now herding everyone up onto the transporter. He said they were ready, and with 
much delight, Sere threw the switch and got the annoying brass out of sight as 
soon as she humanly could. Rolling her eyes and drawing and releasing a big 
sigh, she went to exit TR one and tripped on the stack of their PADDs. She bent 
down, grabbed one, and hurled it across the room.
   
  --
   
  
  ?Did everyone remember their inoculations?? Aylyn reminded.
   
  Everyone absently nodded and complied, looking around at the forested 
surroundings of Metriaga. High green canyons jutted up around the horizon on 
the east and west side of the capitol?s valley. To say that Metriaga City was 
the capitol said very little, as only two other offshoot colonies were now in 
place not fifty miles outside range. Much of the planet was still wild, as they 
could tell with the seemingly hundreds of bright yellow wildlife warning signs.
   
  One of the depicted animals was feral, much like a tiger. 
   
  They were in a clearing, where modest green grass served as their carpet and 
thick trees with leaves like palms served as their curtains. Vines of brighter, 
almost neon green swung to and fro beneath the boughs, and reptilian slitherers 
slid seductively over branches and tried to hide from as many eyes as possible. 
The day was beginning its third act and was coming closer and closer to closing 
its curtains. 
   
  After taking in the scene, Trilo Trekar?s alarmed voice almost shattered 
everyone?s calm. ?Where is the security team??
   
  Admiral Ramirez looked around and brought his eyebrows a little closer 
together. ?Ramirez to Transporter Room, we have a problem.?
   
  Lacombe responded, ?Yes, Admiral, what is it??
   
  ?We?re missing our security team, the one you were in charge of transporting 
down here. Would you mind telling me where they are??
   
  ?Let?s see, Admiral?ah, here they are. I?m sorry, I don?t know what happened, 
but they were landed two and a half miles to your?southeast. My apologies, 
Admiral Ramirez, you know how these transporters have a minor discrepancy every 
blue moon. I?ll get on repairing it right away.?
   
  ?You?d better. Ramirez out.? He turned to Trilo and pointed. ?You, you are 
dismissed to locate your team. As he said, they were landed two and a half 
miles that way.? His never-ending point shifted toward the tail end of the 
eastern canyon wall. A flock of birds were swirling that direction, a black 
avian tornado. 
   
  ?Why haven?t they called?? Markstrom mused.
   
  Trilo answered, ?Perhaps in the mis-transport their comlinks were 
deactivated. Ours are still working, we know that much.?
   
  ?I?ll go with you,? Varia offered, but Ramirez held up his pointing finger 
again. Varia thought to himself that he should sheathe that thing.
   
  ?You?re in no position to offer any deviance from the course set for you, 
Lieutenant. You?ll come to city hall with the rest of us. If the chief requires 
a companion in his search, he may take the chief science officer.? 
   
  Aylyn suggested, ?You mean Lieutenant Benson, sir??
   
  Markstrom rolled his eyes in hopes that the admiral saw it; he didn?t. 
Ramirez nodded and said, with no ellipsis, ?As I said.? 
   
  ?Well Trilo,? Markstrom said as he sauntered over to the chief of security, 
?do you need a hand??
   
  ?Do you want to come??
   
  ?Love to,? he said, giving another half eye-roll. 
   
  ?Go then, and hurry up,? Ramirez ordered, again with the damned pointed 
finger. ?When you have something to report, call the doctor.?
   
  Markstrom suggested, ?You mean Doctor Cta, sir?? Smiling half at the repeated 
joke and half at the fact that good ol? Mark Benson was one of the very few who 
could pronounce her name right, Aylyn bowed her head slightly to him in thanks.
   
  ?As I said.?
   
  --
   
  And so the crew split: Markstrom Benson and Trilo Trekar ventured into the 
forest, following animal paths and those few left by humans, which were light 
and ill-broken into the earth. The admiral led the captain, the commander, and 
the others into the city, which could barely be called so. No spires pointed up 
to the sky, nothing grander than the hospital, which stood at merely four 
stories. There was, next, a large apartment building festooned with the same 
neon-green vines that hung beautifully in the forest, now dangling from the 
iron grating separating people from their balconies and broken bones. 
   
  Narin Luviox looked up to see an older woman, perhaps in her fifties or early 
sixties, sitting at a stained table just inside her patio. Her sad, worn face 
pocked with darkness, and her red eyes and ever-open mouth led her to believe 
this woman was one of the first colonists, the ones who would suffer the 
Metriaga virus the rest of their lives. Something also looked empty about her 
though, as if as she searched the newcomers below she searched for someone she 
knew?
   
  Her mind strayed from the lady in the apartment and hopped from building to 
building, watching the construction and the busied citizens. In these budding 
stages, everything must revolve around constant work, the building, the moving, 
the situating. Not a single person, aside from the lady (with her cup of tea), 
went idle. Even the smallest child Narin saw, who must have been no younger 
than six, was helping carry boxes from a supply crate into the hospital. The 
crates looked old, battered, as if the supplies inside were surplus that some 
trade delegate designated for an ?insignificant? place like this.
   
  Narin did spot, before they got to city hall, the one place where people must 
have taken rest. It was a bistro, something not too expected in a place like 
this. The sign read, ?Laurie Bor?s Bistro,? and was now serving breakfast. Few 
people were eating inside, though, as Narin could see plainly through the 
building?s all-glass walls (for the dining area, at least). 
  She had been counting down the days when she would finally see Hayes smiling 
and laughing with Claire Eyensworth. That meant he was sleeping with her. Hayes 
always thought he was so smart about his playing about with the four women in 
the command staff, and while she detested his lies that she was his ?only 
love,? she couldn?t blame him too harshly for wanting to sleep with other 
girls. 
   
  The first time, though, she did. When Narin found out about his conquest of 
Aylyn Cta (something that, even then, she had to mentally applaud, because 
Aylyn was sometimes one cold bitch), she wanted to slug him in the jaw next 
time he tried to discreetly grab her rear when he thought no one was looking. 
She fantasized about that moment for a good shift?s worth of hours, how he 
would be expecting her to give her equally discreet look of hell YES you?re 
getting it when we?re off duty, and then POW, right in the kisser.
   
  But when she saw that he never took Aylyn out to the Holodecks, that Aylyn 
never had any new piece of jewelry, how the only new light Aylyn ever had about 
her was the aura of a woman who?d just had a ?great release??Narin knew that 
maybe Aylyn?and then Chi?were just a part of his lust. Even following evenings 
she knew were spent with the other two girls, when she would wind up in Hayes 
McQuarrie?s arms she felt special, felt loved. 
  Just as long as Claire wasn?t unwittingly stealing that, Narin didn?t mind 
terribly. It was only a schoolgirl?s dream anyway to have a one-woman man 
having her as the one woman. Human men especially were no longer monogamous, 
never were, by nature, and Narin always suppressed depression when thinking of 
that. Any woman, maybe even Aylyn, would recall a time as a young girl when 
they wished for that one guy, one, to come along and get all tangled up. 
   
  She always dug the story of Rapunzel, but her hair would always get hacked 
off in annoyance once it reached her shoulders. Her light brown hair always 
ended at her jaw line, but when she got lazy, it grew out (quite gorgeously, at 
least to Hayes) and crept down her neck. 
   
  Hayes and Claire were up front, and Aylyn was off to the side, pretending not 
to notice. Narin wondered if Aylyn knew, actually knew with the same certainty 
she did, or if it was just jealousy of Claire getting more attention at the 
moment. She wondered which one would be better as Hayes reached up and brushed 
his cupped hand over Claire?s elbow, and Claire looked down in that direction 
with the purest of joy. 
   
  Narin couldn?t blame Claire for that; Hayes was a handsome fella, even in his 
years that were only beginning to advance. He had at least a good twenty-five 
years on all four of his women, Narin fearfully speculated, dreading the fact 
that she was the oldest, at a rounded number of thirty. Looking at the engineer 
who was now heavily flirting with her boyfriend, she guessed (having never 
known) that Claire was no older than twenty-two. Hayes was thirty-three when 
Claire was born, if that number was true. He was already commanding on the 
Exeter. 
   
  He?s aiming younger and younger, Narin thought. Aylyn?s younger than me, and 
Chi?s younger than Aylyn. If she could mentally gulp, she would have, and she 
might have had a gulp in her actual throat at the thought. Jesus, I hope he 
doesn?t go younger than where he?s at right now.
   
  The group arrived at city hall, having to avoid the places on the stairs 
where stone-workers were laying in new bricks of granite. This building was the 
new city hall, as a banner pinned high on the arch above the door claimed was 
about to be finished. Somewhere, if it hadn?t been demolished, there lay the 
old city hall, and Narin wished for it to become some sort of dance hall or 
recreational place. Maybe a pool. Get these people some well-earned rest.
  Colony President Tevik Underwood greeted them with modesty and an air of 
business and hurry. His gray uniform hung loose over his body like a sweatshirt 
and sweatpants, and his likewise gray moustache and goatee did the same. Atop 
his head there was no hair left. Narin wondered why the man with the air of 
business and hurry didn?t look like a man with an air of business and hurry, 
why he looked like just another construction worker. Then she saw the belt 
around his waist that held a hammer and a contractor?s tricorder. 
   
  Good for him, she thought.
   
  ?Hello, Admiral Ramirez,? and Underwood introduced himself. 
   
  Ramirez gestured to the rest of the present crew and said, ?This is Captain 
Hayes McQuarrie, and our crew of department heads, minus our security and 
science, who are attending to a snag in our transportation, and our lieutenant 
commander who has come down with an illness.?
   
  ?A snag in your transportation? Hopefully nothing serious??
   
  ?No, Mr. President,? Ramirez assured. ?Just another half of our away team, a 
group of security officers, were transported to slightly jarred coordinates. 
They should be joining us shortly.?
   
  ?If they were anyone else but security officers, whom I trust know how to 
defend themselves, I would send out search squads of our own. There are animals 
out there who would tear the arms and legs off anyone unsuspecting. Literally.?
   
  Hayes worriedly looked around to Aylyn and Narin at the mention of 
dismemberment. His screwed mouth exposing a corner of teeth portrayed worry for 
Markstrom and Trilo, and the other security officers. Perhaps one of those 
tigers had leapt on them and were tearing their limbs from their torsos like 
they were dolls. The danger of this particular colony, however, would not be 
fully revealed to the Starfleet officers yet.
   
  ?But since they?re armed and have their wits (which I trust they do),? 
continued the president, who also appeared to be foreman of the construction 
outfit, ?they should be fine. Nothing that has a phaser would be in any sort of 
harm?s way going out into the forest. How far were they going in? Did you 
happen to know where your team was misplaced?? They were making their way to 
the newly finished president?s chambers, which still awaited decoration and a 
few light fixtures. What serviced them was a desk and several chairs facing it.
   
  Three PADDs were laid upon the desk?s unfinished surface, and Narin observed 
them curiously, wondering if all of them regarded the matter at hand: the 
transformation from world to watchtower. This world is so young, though, she 
thought. Could they be ready to keep their eyes on the sky while trying to make 
sure they don?t hammer their own fingers?
  The admiral answered the president?s question, ?Only two and a half miles. 
From our position just outside the town, the security team landed southeast of 
here, where the canyon walls lowered. It really is a beautiful country??
   
  ?Did you say that they went southeast?? President Underwood had been picking 
up the PADD on the far left, but had frozen his process in doing so. His eyes 
were wide, but Narin felt his eyes didn?t have much reason for it. Intently he 
waited for confirmation, though it seemed he had confirmation aplenty.
   
  Admiral Ramirez squinted. ?Yes, southeast. Why? Are they in danger? Should I 
call my men back? They might not have reached even a mile by now.?
   
  ?No, there?s no danger other than the animals, it?s just?well,? Underwood 
shrugged, dismissing the subject with a shooing wave. ?No use worrying about 
it. We?ve just had some weird things happening concerning that area of the 
land. Nobody?s been hurt, but nobody?s really been too sure of what?s out 
there.?
   
  ?Other animals?? Hayes asked.
   
  ?Maybe, but?ah, we?re getting distracted. We should get this neighborhood 
watch program you?re proposing here underway. Got bricks to lay before dinner.? 
The talks began, going over the government contracts, releases of property, a 
controlled facility for training, orientations. All the while, Narin kept 
staring at a small, almost porthole-ish window to the north end of the room. 
The tops of planks and beams bounced by as men outside carried them, and the 
sun was beginning to set. Then it?s light began to diminish in a different way 
than it sinking behind the horizon; a haze was growing, perhaps rain, a washing 
of this still virgin world. The meeting progressed fluidly, and Narin watched 
the rain clouds creep into view.
   
  Just before she had to sign as a witness, a flock of birds flashed in the 
window?s eye, and they looked like they were headed southeast.
   
  --
   
  
  ?Whoa, whoa, whoa, Trilo,? Markstrom called, beginning to slip over dampening 
foliage. ?Slow down.? The rain had come from the east, and therefore was 
leaking upon Markstrom and Trilo as they cut through the untainted forest 
before Narin saw it in the window. All trails had either led out of their 
destination or completely ended just in time for a bush or fallen treetrunk. No 
wildlife could be seen, and Markstrom came to believe it wouldn?t be seen. 
Since they had seen the snake-ish things in the clearing where they 
transported, not a being was in sight.
   
  Trilo slowed as his comrade pleaded, but did not stop. He had been completely 
silent the entire time, not that Markstrom was attempting too much conversation 
himself, having to pant to keep up with the Klingon-Betazoid bastard. It might 
have been his aptitude in security issues, but it seemed Trilo had been the 
only member of the Coldstream crew who retained peak physical shape over the 
years, not letting things sag or atrophy from inactivity. 
  ?You sure we?re still headed in the right direction?? Markstrom asked.
   
  ?Yes,? Trilo succinctly replied.
   
  Markstrom let a moment pass, and said, ?What?s into you, Tri? You trying to 
buck up on that stoic Klingon side of yours again? Tellin you, man, doesn?t fit 
you.?
   
  ?It is the fact that the security team did not try to make contact with us 
that brings me to silence, Markstrom. Not a desire to appear stoic.?
   
  ?You said it yourself, big guy: the faulty transport might have knocked them 
out of commission. Not that that?s ever happened before, nor does it really 
make perfect sense, but do things ever make sense in the grand life of 
Starfleet officers? Hm, let me think about that one. Uh, no.?
   
  They walked on for the remainder of the first mile without talking about 
much. After a while, the trees began to have breaks here and there, more random 
clearings like life had never been known in certain parts of the wood. 
Inconsistent shapes and sizes ruled out Federation settler methods of 
tree-cutting, not to mention the lack of stumps or signs of human life. Here 
the rain wetted only dirt, thus making the obvious byproduct. On their boots 
they slid over the trails, the splashes of mud catching the cuffs of their 
pants. From the leaves in the forest?s leaky roof, huge drops of runoff would 
hit puddles of almost black mud, splashing bits upon their faces. 
   
  ?We should have seen them by now, Trilo,? Markstrom shouted over the call of 
thunder. ?They knew where the city is and they would have been coming back this 
way.?
   
  Trilo tapped his combadge. ?Lieutenant Trekar to security team, come in. 
Lieutenant Ullen? Ensign Bishop? Ensign Nir? Security team, this is Lieutenant 
Trekar, come in. Can anyone hear me??
   
  ?I can,? Markstrom called, ?and I think I?m the only one, buddy. Something 
must have happened to them.?
   
  ?Then that?s all the more reason we can?t turn back. We?re almost to the 
spot.? There came a hill, a butte-like rise in the forest before the mark of 
the final half mile. It was broad but not high, so they opted to go over 
instead around. Gnarled tree roots, hard as the rock they punctured, snagged 
upwards, devoid of leaf or flower. They looked natural enough, but upon closer 
inspection, Markstrom was alarmed to see old, old scratch marks, evidence that 
they were carved this way perhaps more than fifty years ago. And the Metriaga 
colonists had been here only for twenty-four years.
   
  Upon reaching the summit, they were granted with a glum view of an otherwise 
beautiful forests. Tendrils of the clouds that hung low and heavy were reaching 
down like tiny arms into the forest line below, like they were strange 
amorphous angels fishing for the freshly dead. 
   
  The climb down was more perilous than the climb up, as there was less topsoil 
and more smooth, moss-covered rocks upon which heels slipped and bones were 
nearly broken. Markstrom took a bad spill near the bottom and tumbled painfully 
the rest of the descent, and luckily only was badly bruised with a nasty gash 
on his right arm behind his shoulder. And to add natural insult to injury, the 
place where he landed just so happened to accommodate him with great, big, 
brown, mucky, four-inch deep arms. His uniform was no longer yellow and black, 
and his skin barely showed through, even when he wiped it away from his face. 
   
  ?Markstrom!? Trilo called. ?Are you all right??
   
  ?In relation to what??
   
  ?Anything broken? Are you badly hurt??
   
  ?No, big guy, I?m fine. Just cut up.? And he took Trilo?s offered hand, 
sharing the mud wealth. ?How much further?? he asked, fishing for his 
tricorder, which he found to be coated in water and dirt. It wouldn?t activate. 
?Aw damn it. Mud must have gotten in.?
   
  Trilo produced his tricorder and opened its mechanical jaw, and felt a 
coldness in his chest. ?There?s no mud in mine. But it?s not working.? Deciding 
to test all electronics, he tapped his combadge. Nothing. Tested his phaser on 
one of those spiked trees. Nothing. ?Perhaps we?ve entered a form of natural 
EMP field.?
   
  ?Are you completely sure it?s natural??
   
  ?It has to be. The settlers have only been here for a quarter century, and 
haven?t ventured out this far. And if you read anything on Metriaga, you?d know 
how frugal their suppliers were when sending them out here. They barely have 
working replicators, let alone EMP.?
   
  Markstrom shrugged and shook his head, biting his lip as he did it. Tasted 
mud. ?So that?s gotta mean our security boys can?t hear us if they?re out this 
far. Explains that.?
   
  ?Yes,? Trilo quietly concurred. ?Explains that. Come on. Little further to 
go.?
   
  ?Wait,? Markstrom called. ?If we can?t fire phasers out here, what if one of 
these dangerous animals that are supposed to be out here jump on us? What are 
we gonna do??
   
  ?I won?t assume anything about the whereabouts of the team. I will either 
find them alive or find them dead. That?s when we?ll go back, Markstrom Benson. 
Not before.? Taciturn now, Trilo turned and headed southeast again, and 
Markstrom had no choice but to follow.
   
  ==

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