A palpable haze was visible in the air as the away team from the Cygnus materialized on the surface of the system’s third planet. Erik Larsen had chosen one of the world’s medium sized cities as their entry point, in what appeared to be a sort of public square or common area. An area that he would have expected to be teeming with people at this midday hour. As soon as the five officers fully materialized, Erik began to issue assignments.
“Okay,” he began, turning to face the group. “Our orders are to find out what happened to…well, everything. We will split into two groups. Robinson, you’re with me. Dr. Elodin and Ensign Spangler, you’re with Lt. Gore. Even though this is a fact finding mission, I want one thing clear: no unnecessary risks. Comm channels open at all times. Let’s go.“
Andy wiggled her fingers, she had nothing against the modern convenience of transporters, it was just her own personal habit. She had done it ever since her first ever use of a transporter as a child to make sure the machine had worked, that she was all back together in the right place. Childish things aside, she upholstered and unfolded her tricorder. The device too had survived transport undamaged and was also functioning just as it should. The sheer stillness of everything was unnerving. The only sounds were the footsteps of the Starfleet crew and the melodic trilling of the tricorder. “This one doesn’t exactly come up in class at the Academy. How does everything just disappear? Seen anything like it before, sir?” Andy asked. She was conscious that she was still new to the exploration game and that others had more experience.
”I admit I’ve seen some strange things in my day,” said Larsen as he adjusted the sensitivity of his tricorder and turned to his right. “But anything I know of that could have done this would have made the planet unsafe for an away team.”
Ensign Spangler slowly looked around the abandoned city; the complete absence of any sound more unnerving than just silence. He was confident up until a moment ago of the data his department provided, but a moment ago he was also safe aboard the Cygnus. He looked at the two men he’d been paired with; He’d only spoke to Elodin once in his time aboard the ship, and it hadn’t gone particularly well. Gore, he had only the color of his uniform and the pips attached to go off of. He nodded to both before turning his attention back to looking for the boogeyman.
Elodin flipped his tricorder open, and started scanning the area. He adjusted the portable scanner’s settings and conducted additional scans. “I’m not picking up any evidence of a biological contaminant,” he said. “There’s no indication of a viral or bacterial contamination.”
Erik moved his tricorder closer to what appeared to be a street vendor’s station. The holding area was completely empty, not a trace of anything. Well, not a trace of anything organic. The tricorder beeped three times in rapid succession. The Executive Officer was troubled by the reason for the alert. “All organic molecules are just…gone. Except they’re not. There are trace amounts of the simplest hydrocarbons: methane, butane and propane.”
“Petroleum byproducts..” Albert said, mostly to himself. His own tricorder produced, the air became the focus of his attention. Despite the gases present, the oxygen level was higher than he expected. “Traces of nitric dioxide, too. Explains that.. smell.” Spangler looked to Gore, “Lieutenant, it’d help if we could find some water sources to test. At least, it’d be a good place to start.”
“Water sources? Do we have any bodies of water showing up on our scans?” Gore asked, distractedly. As he walked around the perimeter to get his bearings, he took note of any potential tactical advantages the area provided. His priority was the security of the away team, a notion that was never far from his thoughts. “I suppose there might be some form of indoor plumbing inside the surrounding buildings, if a body of water is not necessary.” Pondering the problem, another question popped up. “Anyone scanning for energy signatures? A computer wouldn’t come up as organic, but could contain answers or at least traces of an answer.”
“Either natural or plumbed would be useful.” Albert responded, fiddling with his tricorder. “These buildings are playing havoc with these things; can’t say for what’s beyond our line of sight, much less in the damn things.” He sighed already dreading his next words, “We might need to get a.. a, uh.. closer look.”
Elodin adjusted the settings on his tricorder. Larsen’s statement about the disappearance of of organic molecules was peculiar – organic compounds couldn’t simply disappear without a trace. “The organic compounds can’t simply have disappeared,” he mused. “They must have been broken down into simpler compounds.”
The tricorder beeped as results came up on screen. “I’m not picking up any trace of carbohydrates within a ten-kilometer radius. But there are enough hydrocarbons here to light up the sky on Aldebaran Prime for a week.”
Elodin frowned. Carbohydrates were the basic building block of organic molecules. Their total absence was unheard of, on planets that were, or had been, capable of supporting life. The obvious conclusion was that carbohydrates had been present, but had been broken down or altered. Into what? The overabundance of hydrocarbons… Elodin made a mental note to review his basic biochemistry, to check if any enzymatic pathways leading from carbohydrates to hydrocarbons had been reported under natural conditions.
Larsen and Robinson continued walking in the direction that the tricorder told him was due west. Although the two teams were separated by nearly fifty meters, the unyielding silence of the place hung over them…they could almost hear each other without the communicator badges on an open frequency. “This civilization used a rodinium alloy in construction,” he said. “Make sure your instruments are adjusted accord…huh. That’s odd,” said Erik as he bent down and placed his hand on a pile of reddish dust. The tricorder beeped several times in succession. “Cerium. Gadolinium. Europium. Neodymium.” He looked at Robinson with a worried expression. “Lanthanide series elements. In extraordinarily high concentration.”
The color drained from the Executive Officer’s face. “Holy shit Robinson, this is starting to make sense. Mister Spangler, collect your water sample then return to the beam in point.”
Spangler raised an eyebrow, having already begun using his tricorder as an expensive divining rod. The device guided him to a protrusion on an adjacent building that very well could have been a spigot of some sort. It had no obvious method of operation, but the tricorder was convinced it was what he was looking for. He glanced around wearily, not wanting to prolong this adventure any further. He also was mostly out of view from his crewmates. “Oh well. Sorry.. ghost people.. or whomever.” Albert mumbled to himself, before planting his foot hard against the object, bending it slightly. A second attempt caused it to come free just enough to cause a leak from where it met the wall. It was enough to collect a sample, at least. He stared at the vial in his hand, pausing long enough to scan the contents before getting too comfortable. He wasn’t about to drink it; but it probably wouldn’t melt his hand either. With that, he hurried off to rejoin his companions.
Lieutenant Commander Erik Larsen Executive Officer, USS Cygnus
Ensign Albert Spanger
Acting Chief Science Officer, USS Cygnus
Elodin Devan, MD
Chief Medical Officer, USS Cygnus
Ensign Andy Robinson
Assistant Chief Operations Officer, USS Cygnus
Chief Tactical Officer, USS Cygnus