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Part of USS Atlantis: Journeys and Bravo Fleet: Labyrinth

Journeys – 8

USS Atlantis, Unknown Ringworld
September 2401
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Stepping into the transporter room, Gabrielle expected to see whatever team Simmons and Gérard had assembled for the away team. She hadn’t expected Atlantis’ resident Xindi-Insectoid to be present, or a team of security officers. There were enough people to fill the transporter pad twice over and she noted the security personnel were already standing on it, blocking their more academically inclined fellows from ascending.

A collection of backpacks joined leather away jackets, some worn, some merely sitting at the feet of their owners. Some packs were actually cases for scanning equipment – a sign that both Simmons and Gérard were prepared for a proper and serious investigation. The security team however looked prepared for a hunting expedition with their weapons – a mixture of hand and rifled phasers amongst them.

“Oh, hello everyone,” she said, stopping just inside the door. “I wasn’t expecting this many of us to be going down.”

“Commander Gantzmann and I felt it prudent to provide adequate defence for this expedition,” Ch’tkk’va replied, their universal translator masking the clicks and pops of their native tongue.

“The ring is uninhabited,” Maxwell Simmons half-spat out, shaking his head in disgust at having to repeat himself for who knows how many times. “The only signs of intelligence are the ring itself and the transmissions from its surface.”

“That doesn’t preclude any dangers, Lieutenant.” Ch’tkk’va’s truly alien visage made reading facial expressions near-impossible and their translator was always miserable to tones. “Nor does it preclude any natural predators.”

“Well, I for one am grateful for your company, Lieutenant.” Gérard Maxwell smiled as he wound Simmons up with a mere use of words, a polite smile and a welcoming attitude. It never hurt to be nice – save towards the guy who ‘knows better’.

“Alright, alright,” Gabrielle said, cutting off any bickering before it could start. “We’ll take the extra sets of eyes, Lieutenant Ch’tkk’va. Your boys and girls brought snacks?” She was answered by a few slight chuckles from the security folks, a few lofted backpacks to say ‘in here’ and a couple of nodding heads. “Well then, before we start beaming down, who’s seen the scans of the surface?”

Maxwell Simmons naturally raised a hand and so did the man standing next to him – Dimitry Malenkov. Dimitry was the best geophysicist on the ship, so bringing him along wasn’t a stretch of the imagination at all. “It looks rather pleasant down there,” he said.

“Okay, you’re both excluded from the next question.” Gabrielle enjoyed the look on Simmons’ face at the thought he was being excluded from something. “Where the Friendship message is coming from – ziggurat, monolith or temple?”

“Ziggurat.” The answer was immediate, and all eyes turned to W’a’le’ki. The blue-skinned, purple-scaled Irossian had a look of authority to her that withstood the intensity of the eyes turning on her. She was a bubbly, positive individual at the worst of times and the delight of exploration for its own sake that was about to take place was evident in her bearing. Even the sheen of her scales seemed brighter as she smiled. “Trust me.”

Those last two words seemed to settle the issue for everyone else present.

A few more updates, a warning from Ch’tkk’va for all to listen to the warnings of his people, and the first wave beamed down to the ring world. As the scientists and engineers ascended, Gabrielle waited, then stepped up herself. One last check for her phaser on one hip, tricorder on the other, a glance over both shoulders to ensure everyone was ready and she gave the order.

“Energise.”

 


 

“Found them,” Samantha Michaels announced to the bridge at large. And with a tap of keys she snapped the viewscreen from the view of the ribbon of land and sea below Atlantis to a patch of the infinite void. A few more commands and the image narrowed in three quick steps to reveal the target of her hunt.

Hanging in the depths of space, riding the currents of stellar wind put off by the star at the centre of the ringworld, were colossal cosmozoan creatures. The central mass of each couldn’t have been much larger than the bulk of Atlantis’ stardrive section, but what made them so large were the truly spectacular wings spreading out to each side of creatures. Iridescent in the light, they shone in a myriad of colours and immediately invoked the idea of butterflies, or moths with the dusting of colours that trailed them as they fluttered in the void.

“How many?” Adelinde Gantzmann asked. Unlike Camargo, she had no qualms about sitting in the centre seat and had taken the chair almost as soon as the acting captain had departed the bridge. It was, after all, just a piece of furniture for her. A piece of furniture that had been too low and that she’d adjusted, despite a warning not to from Sam. Others might fear the captain’s wrath at changing any settings around the captain’s chair. Adelinde did not.

“I’m counting thirty-seven,” Sam answered after a few seconds. “They’re genuine pains to lock on to with the sensors though.”

“Why?”

“Still working on that one,” Sam answered. “I can tell they’ve been in the system easily enough. And roughly in a given direction, but anything more is…hard.”

“I got nothing myself,” Wy’run Trel answered. “We can see them, we can count them, but getting them to show up on sensors is proving difficult.”

Sam spun around from her station, the better to have a conversation. “But now that we’ve found them, we can point all our sensors at them and study what returns we get. That said, would love to launch a few probes at them, see what we can gather from up close.”

Wy’run didn’t answer immediately, instead typing away at his console, waiting, typing some more. “Life sciences agree. They’d love to get a probe nice and close.”

“Who am I to argue, then?” Lin’s rhetorical earned a light chuckle from Sam. “Launch a probe. And find as many people as we can to look over the visual feeds. See if we can’t find any more of these butterflies.”

“Got all those lower deckers for a reason, eh?” Sam asked. “Not the worst task we’ve asked of them.”

 


 

“We found a…cave,” Gérard said over the comms. “Though really, that’s underselling it. I could probably park a yacht in the entrance and have room to spare. We’ve got some decent energy readings coming from inside, so going to head in with my people and take a look around.”

“Don’t forget to drop repeaters as you go,” Gabrielle said in response, drawing in breath between each word.

“Will do, Commander. Maxwell out.”

“Lovely day for a climb, isn’t it?” W’a’le’ki said as she marched up along Gabrielle, looking completely unphased by the walk turned arduous mountain hike. “If there is a weather control grid on this ring, it’s subtle.”

“There isn’t,” Simmons stated from up ahead of the two women. He hadn’t taken the lead, letting a couple of the security team members have that honour, but he was at the head of the scientist in their particular party.

“That we could detect,” Gabrielle countered. “There could always be some mechanism we haven’t detected.”

“I doubt that. There are only so many ways of managing a weather system and we’d have detected all of them.”

“Bit closed-minded of you,” W’a said, then turned back to Gabrielle, clearly done with the senior lieutenant. “Not far to the transmission site now.”

“Bit inconsiderate of the builders to lace these hills with magnesite.” Gabrielle huffed the last few meters up the rise, making a mental note to squeeze in more climbing and hiking exercises into her regime. On a flat, she’d have been fine, but this had been exhausting.

“Everything you were expecting?” Simmons asked smugly as they cleared the rise and the tree line to find a perfectly wonderful clearing. Grass up their knees, clear of trees for nearly a hundred meters in diameter around a plinth of obsidian no taller than three meters. And atop it sat a relic of Earth’s old pre-Federation space program, looking the worse for wear after a few centuries, but otherwise in fantastic condition for being so far from home.

“A plinth is a type of monolith,” W’a conceded.

“Or a single-step ziggurat,” Gabrielle added, jostling the woman’s arm with her elbow.

“If you had just let me answer in the transporter room, you’d have known.” Simmons’ attitude had somehow gotten even worse.

“Right, well, we’re here. So, Simmons, see if you can’t access the probe’s memory banks and learn how it got here. W’a’le’ki, see if you can’t find anything left by whoever put it here. The rest of you have your assignments already, so let’s get cracking.”

It took a few minutes before Ch’tkk’va wandered over, stopping beside Gabrielle. “I don’t like this,” they said.

“Like what?”

“This empty ring.” They cast their compound eyes skywards, to the infinite band that reached up and faded into the hazy blue, wrapping around on the other horizon after the glare of the sun. “No signs of its creators, the only message waiting for us being something from Earth well before it could have possibly gotten here. Something is wrong.”

“Best figure out what it is then,” Gabrielle said. “So we can be prepared, yes?”

“Yes.” Ch’tkk’va nodded their head. “We should be prepared.”