“Dropping us out of warp… now.”
Stars that had previously streamed past their runabout at magnificent speeds suddenly slowed to a stand still as the craft came to a halt in orbit of the planet Ohnia III. What had, by all reports, been a lush, green world covered with all manner of flora and fauna was now nothing more than a wasteland. A burning wasteland. Even without using sensors, the devastation was clear for those aboard the Federation craft to see. Fires raged in the atmosphere and clouds, probably clouds of radiation, drifted across the entire planet.
Commander Zinn diverted his gaze from the main viewer, focusing on the Bajoran nearby. “What is it, Noli?” the Deltan queried, respecting the Bajoran custom of family name first when addressing her.
“Sensors have detected debris, approximately two hundred kilometers from the planet’s north pole. Putting it up,” the Bajoran told, tapping away at her controls and showing a visual of the debris on each person’s console. “According to my sensors, it would appear to have been some sort of orbital station. No life signs,” she added, pre-empting the physicians likely call for a search for survivors.
“What could have done this?” the Doctor whispered to no one in particular as he shook his head in disbelief.
“There are only two possible causes, but given the fact we have debris from some sort of facility out here, we can probably reduce it to one…” Noli spun in her chair, looking towards the and the planet on the main viewer. “I think it is safe to assume foul play.”
Working from her aft controls, Ensign Kedam monitored the vessel’s trajectory towards the identified location of the signal and shook her head slightly as she adjusted the heading and sent it to the navigation controller. “Radiation levels are increasing and it’s making it difficult to keep a track of the signal. I recommend putting us down about a kilometer from the original location of the reading,” she informed, looking at the away team leader for confirmation of his orders.
“That’s a hell of a trek in all that radiation, EV suits or no.” He was sure she didn’t need that pointed out, but he wanted to hear her reasoning. “Not to mention that our pace will be slower because of the suits. There isn’t a suitable landing site closer to the signal?”
Nisha nodded slowly, and anxiously. “There is…” she reported, spinning in her chair to face her Medical counterpart, “but the truth is, we have no idea what to expect down there. I simply figured this site would give us a chance to prepare and adapt as we approach the source of the signal,” it was perhaps a little latitude she shouldn’t have taken, but she offered her reasons, nonetheless.
“There’s hope for you yet,” Zinn told her with a sideways glance and a smile. “Transfer the landing coordinates to the helm.” He turned his focus back to the viewports. “Asrem, put us down at Ensign Kedam’s landing site.”
“Sure thing Commander,” the confident young man smiled as he tapped away at the controls in front of him, the craft performing a steep banking manoeuvre as it changed direction and was pointed towards the planet below.
The burning, radiation covered wasteland below…
Ensign Asrem deactivated the engines with a sigh of relief once the Runabout Perseus made firm contact with the planetary hard deck. The flight had been relatively smooth, all things considering. “Okay people, you’re all good to go.”
Standing up from the aft science station, Nisha reached for the helmet that was on the floor beside her chair and lifted it up. Within seconds, she had pulled it over her head and locked it into position.
With a heavy sigh, Auru stood up and twisted her dark hair up onto the back of her head, pinning it into place before she pulled her helmet on and locked it in. “I suggest you all test your communications and suit functions before stepping outside. If there’s going to be dead bodies on my hands, I want them to at least be worth claiming.”
Zinn locked his EV helmet into place and raised the arm that held the suits control panel. He activated the onboard oxygen supply and comm system. “Check, check. Everyone hear me okay?”
“Loud and clear,” Auru responded before running checks on her own panel. “Oxygen is good, all systems appear to be intact and responding, no notifications of physical damage.” She grimaced as she patted her own hips. “You know, you’d think that after a few hundred years they’d design these things better, still nowhere to store a phaser!” Without waiting for a response, she headed into the back of the shuttle to access the small onboard weapons locker.
Nisha listened to the Chief Tactical Officer’s rant and smirked as she shook her head. “I hear you Lieutenant,” she spoke somewhat ambiguously.
“Alright, listen up.” Zinn slung his medical kit over his shoulder. “Let’s not forget that these suits will only offer protection against the radiation for a limited time, so we need to move and move quickly. Understood?” He looked from one to the other.
Auru slung a phase rifle over her shoulder and kept her phaser in her hand, sealing the weapons locker again before she turned around, fighting back the urge to roll her eyes, not that it would have been easy to see anyway. “Yes Mom,” she retorted with a cheeky smirk.
Zinn instinctively reached out and smacked the back of Auru’s EV helmet. “Button it or next time it’ll be my boot in your ass.” Having dealt with the Lieutenant the same way he used to deal with his Marines, Zinn pointed towards the door. “Lead the way, Lieutenant.”
Ensign Kedam smirked from inside her helmet at the Medical Officer’s retort to the Tactical Chief. She was going to like them both, for obviously different reasons, she was sure. “Forty minutes, maximum,” she added for clarification’s sake.
“You heard the lady. Forty minutes for a two kilometre round trip. Let’s get it done.” He was certain they would be able to achieve their mission objective, as long as they were able to maintain a good pace. “Noli, you’re on point. Kedam, you’re our guide. I’ll bring up the rear. Move out.”
Auru laughed as he smacked the back of her EV helmet and headed toward the door. “Forty minutes? Pfffft.. We can do it in twenty,” she said with a grin. “Everyone ready?” Releasing the hatch, she unslung her phase rifle and headed out the door into the world beyond.
Following closely behind, her glowing and beeping tricorder leading the way, Ensign Kedam couldn’t help but feel somewhat tense. A planet which had hundreds of thousands of people living on it had been reduced to a smouldering wasteland. It was tragic.
There was something deeply unsettling about hiking across land that had been utterly decimated. Despite the fact that there were no obvious signs of life, Auru felt like they were being watched, it was a sensation that made her skin crawl inside her EV suit. “Do we even know for certain if this person is still alive?” she asked quietly, not entirely sure why she felt the need to keep her voice down.
Shaking her head, Nisha picked up the pace a little to keep up with the Tactical Officer as she scanned the vicinity for any signs of the lifeform. “We have no way of telling at this point,” she revealed before elaborating further, “we were lucky to find the signal at all, given the radiation levels in the atmosphere. We only found it thanks to Rhode Island’s advanced sensor suite… we could get there and find the person dead, but even then, we may be able to get some hint as to what the hell went on down here.”
“I doubt we’re going to find anyone alive down here,” Zinn admitted grimly. “Not after so long in this kind of radiation. But Ensign Kedam is right, even dead, we may be able to learn something from whoever sent that signal out. The last act of a desperate person, one last glimmer of hope for them to cling onto during their final hours.”
“From what I can make out, the signal is originating near a cave network,” the Cardassian pointed into the distance. “It should be on the other side of the village… which no longer exists,” she frowned.
Zinn sighed. He was hoping to avoid the village that he’d seen recreated on the holodeck, but it seemed that wasn’t going to happen. Sure, they could go around the village but with the limited protection the EV suits offered, that would add unnecessary time to their journey. “Okay, let’s just get through it as quickly as we can.”
A sigh of acknowledgement and the Cardassian science officer continued to direct the way in silence as they took in the painful sights around them. With the camera on her EVA suit logging everything she saw, the younger of the officers felt no need to comment further. It would all be noted in that night’s personal log for sure.
After what seemed an eternity of traipsing through the now derelict and eerie village, the away team finally moved into a clearing. Through the haze, the Cardassian could make out what appeared to be the outline of some hills. “According to my tricorder, the survivor should be over there…” the Cardassian pointed in the direction of the signal, looking anxiously at Zinn for the briefest of moments.
Doctor Zinn inhaled deeply through his nose and let it out audibly through his mouth. “Well, here we go.” Taking the lead this time, he resumed plodding towards the source of the signal. Whether their questions would soon be answered, remained to be seen.
The deformed figure of Edme Kern lay silently in the crevice of a rock. Her feet were bare and blistered, her clothes torn and tattered. It was evident that she had not washed for several days. Blood and dirt had dried to her bits of exposed skin, her hair was matted with pieces of debris interwoven. Her skin almost appeared melted, tumours covered her body and she appeared wild and untethered. For days she had struggled to survive, her consciousness teetered on the edges of reality and insanity due to the radiation poisoning. Her oxygen levels had dropped and she fell into a coma-like state. In her hands she held a round piece of tree bark, she held it close against her chest as if it were a baby.
It didn’t take long for Zinn to spot the body of the woman lying in the crevice. “Over here.” He called, instantly activating his tricorder. Kneeling beside her, he was surprised when the device indicated life. “She’s still alive.” Zinn announced, unable to keep the surprise from his voice.
Ensign Kedam echoed the team leader’s actions, getting out her own tricorder and scanning the woman. “She won’t be if we don’t get her out of here. The radiation level is getting dangerously high.”
“How the hell…” Auru shook her head, moving into them. Slinging her phaser rifle over her shoulder, she looked toward Zinn. “We won’t be able to transport, we’re going to have to carry her back to the shuttle. Help me get her up, carefully.”
Zinn replaced his tricorder in the med kit and moved to assist the Security Chief in carefully lifting the woman off the ground. Gently he pried the piece of tree bark out of her hands and handed it off to Ensign Kedam.
Kedam dutifully took ownership of all the remaining equipment, ensuring she still had one hand free for her tricorder so she could guide them back to the Runabout. “We’re cutting it fine,” she told rather unhelpfully, and regretted it almost instantly.
“Thank you, Ensign Obvious.” Zinn snapped. “Can we communicate with the Runabout through the radiation?” He asked as he and Noli settled into the best way to carry the survivor.
Smarting at the Commander’s comment, the Ensign tapped away as best she could on her tricorder, dictating her actions as she went. “If I can run a modulation algorithm through the tricorder, it might be able to cut through the interference,” she told as she worked. It wasn’t long before she used the EVA suits communications array to try and contact the Runabout.
At first, there was nothing but static. Then, after a little finger magic, the channel cleared up enough to hear a voice.
“=/\=Away team, this is Perseus. Come in please?”
The CMO was relieved to hear the Ensign’s voice. “=/\=This is Zinn. Are there any sites closer to our position where you can set that crate down? We need to speed this extraction up.”
“=/\=I’ve been playing with the transporters,” the Ensign on the Runabout said excitedly, “I think I’ve done enough to get one person aboard at a time.”
Doctor Zinn could feel Noli and Kedam’s eyes turn towards him. “=/\=How sure are you, Ensign?”
“=/\=Sure enough to risk it,” the Ensign retorted quickly, “and it is the only way you are going to get aboard any quicker,” he concluded, with emphasis on the ‘only’ part of his message.
“Everyone’s a wise ass today.” Zinn grumbled before quickly coming up with a plan. “=/\=Okay, take Kedam first, then the survivor, then Noli and I’ll go last. Kedam, get the survivor settled into the aft section of the runabout and throw up an isolation field around her. I’ll join you as soon as I’m onboard.”
“Oh, sure…” Nisha frowned as she put her tricorder away, “scatter my molecules everywhere first if this goes wrong…” she shrugged as she made a space for herself away from the group for transport.
Within seconds, even though the transporter beam fluctuated a little during the process, the young woman’s voice came over the comm. “=/\=I’m safely aboard, Commander.”
“=/\=Glad to hear it.” He turned to Noli. “Let’s lay her on the ground carefully.”
Moving slowly and carefully, they lowered the near dead body to the ground. There was a moan of pain with the movement and Auru found herself apologizing, even though it was unavoidable. Finally, Auru stood up and stepped back, making sure there was a clear area for transport.
With the survivor lying on the ground, Doctor Zinn pulled out his medical tricorder and quickly programmed it to emit a signal for the transporter’s targeting systems to lock onto. “=/\=Okay, lock onto my tricorder and energise.”
“=/\=Energising,” the voice of the runabout’s pilot cut through the static as their patient began to dematerialize, and eventually vanished.
With the survivor safely onboard, the two remaining away team members could beam back. “You’re next, Noli.”
“For the record, I want it noted that you’re attempting to pull rank and make me leave first,” Auru retorted. “I’m supposed to be making sure y’all get back safe, but I suspect arguing with you is about as useful as a chocolate fireguard,” she shook her head. “Alright, get me out of here, before he smacks me again.”
The CMO watched as Lieutenant Noli dematerialised, leaving him alone. A chill ran down his spine. Whatever beauty this planet had once held was now gone; replaced by a cold, desolate world that would be uninhabitable for centuries. Doctor Zinn took one last look around the eerie landscape. ‘How did anyone manage to survive in this nightmare.’ He asked himself silently.
“=/\=Zinn to Perseus. Energise when ready.” Within seconds he could feel the dematerialisation process begin. The planet’s surface faded away and was replaced by the runabout’s interior. Lieutenant Noli was at the transporter controls this time with Ensign Asrem at the helm, preparing to launch.
When he was fully materialised, the first thing Zinn did was to remove the helmet of his EV suit. The sense of relief at being free of the goldfish bowl was great. Moving forward into the cockpit, he came to a stop behind the pilot’s chair. “Take us home, Ensign.”
Zinn watched the pilot work for a few seconds before turning and walking towards the runabout’s aft section to learn whatever the tricorder could tell him about his new patient.