Part of USS Altai: Here Be Monsters

Chasm Part II

Outpost 1-SZ, Subterranean Level 68 Epsilon
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The group trudged deeper and deeper into the dark. Streth was grateful for the DOTs, their intense beams like lighthouses carving up the inky black. Every so often a rock flew across the cavern floor, dislodged by humanoid feet, causing a clicking echo to reverberate its way through the dank air. Streth thought about the rock that lay between him and the surface, hundreds of metres thick. He could almost feel it pressing down on him, hanging over him with the weight of a thousand different responsibilities. The crew, their lives, the mission, all weighed heavy on his shoulders as they pressed on.

A call from a forward member of the hazard team, “It’s here!”

Moments later they stood facing the domed metal structure. Tall, spindly conduits emanated from a lifeless central cylinder. The whole assembly was covered in a thick layer of dust and grime. Electroplasma had not flowed through the injection coils for as long as the base had been abandoned. Lining one side of the generator were several service hatches, their inspection windows caked in filth.

The generator stood in the middle of large chamber, at a crossroads of sorts. Besides the tunnel the team had just exited, another four tunnels branched off at varying angles like broken spokes on a bicycle wheel. Only the Breen, long departed, knew the purpose or destination of these paths into the bowels of asteroid 1-SZ. Right now, Streth had neither the wherewithal nor the curiosity to explore beyond this particular section of the tunnels. The sooner they could get the generator on and back up above ground the better. Mapping out the damned place was best left to the DOTs. Streth looked on as the team got to work, and as he did so the ground gave another long juddering shake.

Astrid pulled out her tricorder and scanned the generator and surrounding area. “No signs of traps, and the only lifesigns or our own sir,” she said to Streth.

“Good.” Streth replied, “But still… I want a defence perimeter set up. I don’t like these tunnels.” He looked around uncomfortably at the looming passageways.

She nodded. Moving around her team she split them up to monitor a passageway. Hopefully with sufficient warning the rest can maneuver to the threat in short enough of a time. “Hazard Team’s in place,” she reported.

Magara made his few striding footfalls around the area, walking to each of the tunnel entrances, scanning the walls – before scanning along the ceiling and edges of this chamber. “This room is in no danger of collapse” he spoke in that baritone voice “Blue-Sky, Magara could break these tunnels. Leaving only the exit in-tact.” He postulated.

“Or collapse the whole chamber with us in it,” Astrid remarked.

Magara shook his head “This room is reinforced well, the spherical walls and domed ceiling of this chamber protect these ones well. Destroying the central portion of each tunnel would not collapse this room.” he responded to Astrid. “It may not need to come to it, but perhaps Magara could lay the explosives as a…Response measure, Black-Sun.”

Astrid nodded, “Do it. I like extra assurance. Good thinking my friend.”

Magara nodded in response “Very well, Black-Sun” he said, striding into the dark recesses of the next area, opening the container he had with him, and inserting two cylindrical explosive devices into the rooves of each tunnel, about 15 meters in each. Of course ensuring to be cautious on his march there, and the insertion of both yurium mines.

Beck on the other hand just let the others do their chatting while he followed the one and only DOT they brought with them with the nicely modified sensor equipment he installed into it; followed it all the way to the generator itself. Beck didn’t even need to scan the generator with his tricorder, the DOT did that for him and sent the data to his tricorder. “Well, thank you very much, Dottie. You know, I really am curious as to why we don’t see you DOTs around on all the starships anymore… I mean, you guys are pretty handy as can be.” Beck talked to it while he examined the data. “You know, I think I’ll keep you on board the Altai. Wouldn’t hurt to have a useful assistant keeping, well either this station or the ship in tip top shape.” His thick Scottish accent might make some unsure of what exactly he said.

Beck turned to look at Commander Streth. “Oy, Cap. I believe we found the problem with the generator.” Beck waited for Streth to come over before holding out the tricorder for him to see that had the results of the scans.

Ensign Michelle Ortiz had came over with Magera. She wasn’t sure what Paleoanthropologist would do on this mission, but as a linguist she approached the generator looking for any sort of writing.

Once the Akhan had returned, Magara watched as Ensign Michelle past by, his long neck craning to see what they were doing. Magara by no means was a linguist – before one of his large almost floppy ears perked up, listening to the accent of Beck, proving this fact even more to him. He couldn’t comprehend a single-word. He actually worried if his universal translator was broken.

Magara then connected the yurium mines to a detonator wirelessly, and held it firmly in one of his three-fingered grips. Whilst he stood watch, keeping an eye out on either tunnel. The detonator would allow one or both of the tunnels to be collapsed. Hopefully such precautions would not come to that measure.

Like Vogler, Streth now felt reassured that the mines were in place. Anything coming out of the tunnels would now have a few tonnes of rock to deal with before making it through to the generator.

“Looks like the phase coupling’s fried, and the plasma matrix is all clogged up with gunk,” Streth eyed the tricorder readings before looking up at Beck, “Looks like this is gonna take some time.” He waved over to the DOT Beck had been talking to, “Can these guys replicate components? If not, we might have to send one back up to the base to grab a few things.”

Beck sighed heavily and shook his head. “Afraid not, Cap. I upgraded it’s sensors but not given it the ability to replicate. Though that would be a nifty idea…” he pulled out a padd and started scribbling down the idea. “Dottie, my little friend, I am going to get you assigned to me on the the Altai, even if it means I have to arm wrestle the Cap of the Don myself.” The Dot just tilted its head in curiosity.

Streth’s brief moment of feeling in control was shattered when the cavern shook again, “Streth to ops, are these increased levels of seismic activity? Feels like an earthquake or something down here, what’s going on?”

“Negative sir, we’re not reading anything out of the ordinary here. Then again this equipment’s junk so… Hang on, sir, let me check with the Altai’s sensors.” Streth waited patiently as the officer worked, “No, still nothing. Looks like whatever’s going on is localised to your location.”

“Thanks.” Streth said, feeling no better at all. The com link closed, and he turned to Vogler.

“Keep your people frosty.” Then to Magara, “Anything coming up those tunnels- anything- you blow those mines. No chances.”

“As the Blue-Sky commands” spoke Magara, before turning “This old one wonders, these seismic activities. If localized, a mining thumper? An automated detonation of mining explosives? However, this rock has been long abandoned. With no power here, it may be something else.” He then postulated, placing the cigar back in his mouth, thinking for a moment – trying to figure out what could cause these vibrations – the exact measure of the type of explosive needed. “Magara shall time the interval between quakes” he set, setting a timer on his tricorder, and moving the cigar slowly around in his maw as he thought to himself.

Astrid felt her palms start to sweat as she adjusted her grip on her phaser rifle. She peered into the maw of the branching caves seeking any sign of a threat. She didn’t feel good about it, but there was nothing to tell her what this threat was… if there was in fact a threat at all.

“Be calm, Black-Sun” Magara offered, his deep and low humming voice juxtaposing the dull buzzing coming from the DOTs. He put his tricorder on his belt and then placed a hand on Astrid’s head – though not taking either of his eyes off of the tunnels, the nature of his head’s shape allowing him to look in two directions at once, or straight forward.

“I prefer a threat I can identify. I don’t even know IF there’s a threat. How do you prepare? How do you strategize? The ancient Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu wrote, and I’m paraphrasing here, ‘know your enemy as yourself, and you will never lose’. Battle isn’t fair and I will cheat at every opportunity.”

“With uncertainty, the herd is tempered.” he quoted “Dru’gara the Chsoen, An ancient Ga’ran proverb.” he said, taking a small puff of his cigar.

Astrid looked at him with a confused expression, “What does that even mean?”

“Magara has no idea” He said, chuckling a bit “Magara is specialist in explosive devices, not old proverbs. The Brown-Tree believes that it means that The Herd grows closer and stronger together, in times of adversity and uncertainty. So worry not.” He said, smiling through his droopy lips.

She shrugged, “Okay, I’ll give you that. Makes sense.”

Another rumble. More intense this time, Streth struggled to remain upright. From the cavern directly ahead of Vogler, a long sighing groan accompanied a blast of fetid air. A stench was carried on the wind. So putrefying was the warm breeze that all those stood within the generator chamber could almost taste a vile concoction of rotting organic detritus and death. Streth gagged. He fought against his reflexes, struggling over to where Vogler and Magara stood.

“Gas explosion?” He wondered out loud, regretting it immediately as more of the stinking miasma permeated his nose and mouth.

As if in answer to his question, a faint rustling skittered and clicked in the distance. Still the cavern walls betrayed nothing as their flashlight beams were completely absorbed into the abyss beyond. The noise grew. The pitch lowered, now sounding more like a continuous ocean wave crashing down upon the jagged rocky walls. It was getting closer. Streth watched in horror as the parts of the tunnel where light still shone began to writhe and seethe, as if they were themselves alive. Now the sound had become a roar, and Streth now realised what was coming. Covering every inch of cavern surface and skittering towards them like an undulating blanket were millions of insect-like organisms about the size of Streth’s clenched fist. His face contorted the magnitude of the abomination sank in. He bellowed, “SEAL IT OFF!”

Beth had to pull his undershirt up and over his nose, which didn’t help too much sadly, to try and not lose control of his lunch. Though that was the least of his worries when he saw what Streth saw. “Oh bloody hell.” Beck then raised his voice. “Oy! Could ya bugs go bugger off? We trying to fix this thing here!!” Doubtful they would listen but he tried.

The scent permeated deeply into Ensign Magara’s large nostrils, and he had to shake his head roughly, letting out some deep, guttural and tri-tonal cough before slamming his thumb down on the detonator button – a few millseconds passed, before the yurium mines expanded, buckling beneath their metal shells until they suddenly cracked, flaming power flushing out through the center of the tunnel – the rocks collapsing on top of several of the insectoid-like creatures, if they were not immediately disintegrated by the enflamed yurium.

Several bugs escaped and Astrid opened up her phaser rifle and started picking off the lucky ones. “This bloody mission is cursed!”

Beck had fallen back onto his ass, witnessing the whole thing go down, even covering up his nose when the stench woke his senses up. He watched Astrid pick off those that got through, hoping she got them all until suddenly one had dropped from the ceiling and landed on top of him. “HOLY BLOODY HELL!” He shouted. But luckily for him, the DOT he procured had grabbed the creature and tossed it off to the side before blasting it with it’s plasma laser in a short, high powered burst. Beck just laid there on the cavern floor, catching his breath. “Dottie. Could ye be a sweet and fix this bloody generator please…I’m going to just lay here and pretend I’m back in Main Engineering, tinkering with the Warp Core.”

Magara took a few long strides over to where Beck had fallen, – the tall being crouching down and sniffing the top of his head, before offering him a three fingered hand “The Time for dreaming shall come soon, Boundbreaker” he spoke – the deep and reverberating voice, although loud – was now calm. Seemingly the explosion had put him a bit more into his element. “But this herd has a job to finish yet”

Astrid blasted one of the bugs treating the Captain. “Form a firing line,” she shouted to her team. There was a rumble rocks from within the collapsed cave, and a moment later more of the bugs came into view. “Yup, definitely cursed. Magara if you have any photon grenades now would be the time to use them.”

Phaser fire flashed glittering gold across the cavern. Scorched bugs fell to the ground, picked off by the hazard team’s expert marksmanship. Grenades were thrown here and there, vapourising several clusters of the remaining bugs until only a few flitted about. Streth looked towards where rocks had settled in a tight seal across the tunnel mouth. It seemed impermeable to the bugs, for now, and he would have to make to with that. He turned to see Beck lying on his back, Magara crouched over him.

“Vogler, have your medic check him out and get him to the base infirmary.”

“Doc!” Astrid yells. “Beck needs help!” She kneeled and pulled the trigger in three quick bursts. The last shot taking out two at a time.

Beck grumbled, “I’m fine, really!”

The generator clunked and whirred. It started slowly at first, building up into a high pitched hum. Green lights began to pulsate on side of its grey, cylindrical housing. It it were possible for a DOT to look pleased with itself, the one attending to the generate would have certainly been beaming. It returned to Beck, seemingly awaiting its next orders. A sad boop emanated from the DOT’s spiky head once it saw the Chief Engineer’s body lying on the ground.

Power surged through hidden cabling and lights flickered on in the cavern. The dusty walls lit up as the embedded glow tubes woke from their long dormancy. Bug carcasses littered the floor, their shiny blue-green shells glinting in the shining fluorescence.

“Magara,” Streth called, “Do you think these seals will hold? When we get back up to the main base, I don’t want any more visitors from down here.”

Magara shook his head slowly “These are burrowing creatures. They will break through eventually. A few hours, this one would imagine”

“Damnit,” Streth muttered under his breath, “we’ve got to reinforce it now. What’s it gonna take, duranium? Tritanium?”

Magara walked over and crouched down to look at one of the mangled corpses of the bugs, spying over the mandibles. “These are rockbreaking jaws. Good tempered steel, maybe five inches would be enough.” spoke the Ensign, his long neck turning to look back at Streth. “That assuming, these creatures only come in one size.”

The ungulate man’s comment sent a chill down Streth’s spine, “Ah steel we can do. Let’s get as much metal as we can between us and those… Things.” Streth scanned the area around the generator for the Engineer, “Beck! Infirmary’s gonna have to wait. Call up the Don and see how much steel we can get down here. We’ll need personnel and antigrav units to get it in position, anything else you need you just say the word.”

Beck pushed himself off the ground floor, it was time to stop resting and get to work. He tapped his badge and started speaking off the supplies and personnel they needed from the Don to seal this generator room. “And we need to make this quick, we got bugs that ya don’t want crawling around on board your ship, if ya know what I mean. Then get in touch with the Altai, if ya don’t mind. We could use some forcefield generators, backup batteries, and all the equipment we need to set up a terminal so we have direct access to the generator. I want to be able to run diagnostics, establish an alarm system and be able to play some damn music off the magnetic coils. So pick the biggest and fanciest terminal you can find and bring whatever adapter cables you need. And make it quick, we got less than an hour, I’ve had enough of these bugs already.”

“You need to go to sickbay sir,” the Trill Medic protested.

Beck patted the Trill’s shoulder. “And I told ye lad, I ain’t got a scratch on me. Was just startled, aight?” Then Beck remembered something and tapped his badge, “Ey Don, could ya send over more of ya DOTs, more the merrier, they can assemble quicker than an Exocom.” He smirked.

[USS Altai, Cargo Bay 2]

D’vaid was one of the only senior staff members on the Altai. He had been doing his normal administrative duties when he got a comm message that seemed urgent. He immediately marked down what was needed and headed for cargo bay 2. The list was big and the requisition, though easy would be paperwork for D’vaid later on.

He began looking for the forcefield generators, backup batteries, and all the equipment needed to set up a terminal for direct access to the generator. He also needed to include the adapter cables that would be needed. His time on the ship had helped him learn the preferences of the officers. He picked the high-end terminal and gathered the other pieces with the help of some crew members. It took almost an hour before he had the supplies set and ready for beam down.

“D’vaid to Ground Team, all supplies prepared and ready for immediate beam down.”

[Outpost 1-SZ Caverns]

“Everyone check your equipment,” Astrid shouted to her team. “Magara, glad you are here.”

Aside from the hum of the generator, the cavern had been silent as the officers discussed their course of action. Just as Beck’s com channel closed, a faint scratching sound could be heard against the rock. It was like the tapping of a thousand tiny fingernails on the surface of a wooden table. The noise grew and grew until within minutes a frantic scrabbling filled the air. Streth shuddered.

“Sir!” Astrid said to Streth a concerned look on her face. “You should go back to the ship and send reinforcements.”

Streth acknowledged Vogler’s comment with a squint, “Alright. I’m heading back up to the tunnel mouth. Ensign Ortiz, you’re with me!” He looked again to Vogler, “Keep things together until I get back, and help Beck prep the area for the construction team.”

The science officer was visibly pale. She hadn’t expected any fighting, and her job generally dealt with digging in the dirt, not using a phaser. “Yes sir,” she replied weakly.

“You, and you,” Astrid said pointing to two of her Hazard Team members. “Escort the Captain. He dies you better be dead, and then get your butts back here.”

“Yes ma’am!” They replied in unison.

The team travelled back up to the tunnel mouth at a brisk pace. Streth’s breathing quickened on the steeper parts of the slope, now bathed in the cold glow of the activated lights. He could hear the hum of transporter beams in the distance and, sure enough, on rounding the final bend they set eyes on the growing assembly of personnel and equipment. Streth stopped, catching his breath. He looked to Ortiz, pointing out the fifteen or so Engineering personnel that had begun fitting antigrav units to the weighty girders, “Get these people back down there and putting those beams in place right now.”

Michelle Ortiz swallowed hard. She had thought she was getting out of the line of fire, now she was being ordered back into it. Reluctantly nodding, she turned to the engineers, “This way.”

The forcefield generators had begun to arrive, six of them materialising in two neat rows like the number six on a die. The heavy, metal drums were not designed for portability, but they would need to be moved fast if the pestilence that ground its way through the rock was to be held back.

“THESE FIRST,” Streth yelled out to the engineers, “Get ’em down there and get ’em on! Move, NOW!”

The scraping sound made by the insects against the rock rose in intensity. The echoes reverberated through the whole length of the tunnel, up to where Streth and Ortiz now stood with the engineering team. The sickening crunching sound was amplified, distended as the acoustic waveform stretched and bounced off the rocky walls. The resulting high pitched scree of tearing rock pierced Streth’s ears, a thousand sonic pinpricks stabbing through him.

The lead engineer had fixed the antigrav unit to the first generator. He had just begun positioning it ready for the journey down the tunnel when the sound cut through him too. He stopped in his tracks, peering down the tunnel in front of him.

“GO!” Streth bellowed, then yelled towards the Hazard team members, “Head down in front and make sure nothing happens to these guys. When you get down there, help Beck with the assembly. We’re all engineers now.” He waved them on, and they proceeded down towards the generator.

“Streth to Maec,” he tapped his combadge, “Gather up any off duty personnel on the Altai and have them beam down to my location. Get yourself down here too. We’ve got to shore up these fortifications and we don’t have much time.”

D’vaid immediately took off in a full sprint towards where Blake would be. He ran until he reached her office and politely chimed before entering. He saw the startled look of the Chief, but technicalities be damned at the moment.

“I apologize for the intrusion, but we have been called down to the Outpost Ensign Blake. I am here to get you per orders of the Captain. We have no time to waste and it seemed urgent.”

Addison had been sitting in his office going over reports and planning out the upcoming week as his door opened. He was about to speak when the man let out a string of words. He grinned as he stood up. “Let’s get going then, ill have some of my staff meet us there” he replied following the man. He would make time to actually meet him later.

“Excellent then let’s get some weapons and head down.”

After a quick run to get some phasers D’vaid and Blake were set and ready to beam down. They reached the transporter pad without another word the transporter officer energized and D’vaid saw himself materialize in what looked like a cavern. He looked over seeing Blake beside of him he nodded and found Streth in the group of people.

“Reporting as ordered Captain…I hope you know I am not well versed in combat.”

Addison smiled “Reporting as ordered sir”

Wasn’t all who came down, Lieutenant Jones and Chief Cooper had tagged along as well. Jones gave Streth a smirk, “Heard you needed some help, Captain.”

“Damn good to see you, Jones,” Streth beamed. The XO couldn’t have had better timing, “what’s the status on that bug?” Before Jones could answer he ushered more of the engineering staff down from their position into the tunnel before, “Blake, D’Maic, strap the antigravs on those girders and get them down to the generator with the forcefield generators. Lieutenant Beck will tell you what to do with them!”

Jones then patted Streth on the shoulder before gesturing with his head over to a spot hopefully away from any listening ears. Jones kept his voice low but enough for Streth to hear. “I did some digging, and with the data that Beck and Cooper were able to get from the spider before it fried itself, I do believe we have a problem. I believe the Breen sent the spider, there was a lot of Breen language hidden in the data that Beck got from it. I also checked the communication logs more deeply and there was indeed a faint signal, very faint, that was piggybacking on our own comm frequency. Where it went to, I’m not sure. All I can say is, they are very aware that we are here. Where they got the spider, that’s beyond me. I know nothing about Breen technology currently.”

Streth’s smile morphed into a grimace, “This day just keeps getting better and better. Critters coming up from below, Breen coming down from above…” He wiped a grubby sleeve across his brow, “let’s focus on getting all this metal in place. Looks like the last of the material’s heading down now. We’ll deal with the Breen later. Let’s go.”

Beck patted the DOT’s head with a smile, because along with all the equipment that arrived, so did some of the remaining DOTs from the Don, “Ey little buddy, look like some of ye friends are here to join us from the Don. Care to help us out in getting these things built and installed?” The DOT beeped at him with an interesting joyful tone before it took off to join with the other DOTs to hurry and grab the equipment from the new arrivals. Beck made his way over Addison and Maec, with a PADD in hand, waving Magara over with his other hand. “Glad ye lads could join the party. The DOTs will spread out in various sections of the cavern to help assemble the steel wall, along with any free hands available. As for us, the A-Team, we gonna assemble the forcefield generators and place the emitters here and here.” He pointed at the diagram he sketched up on the fly, looked like one section of a steel wall with a couple emitters placed far apart from each other. “Long as we have these emitters placed in their proper spots for each section of these walls, a forcefield should be generated outside of the steel walls, like a shield, and the moment them bugs try to touch the wall, they get a nice zap. Will make em think twice before coming near here again. Sound good, lads?”

Beck then noticed Cooper, “Aahh, lass! Was wondering when you were gonna get off the bloody ship. Mind going over there,” He pointed to the other side of the cavern, “And help assemble the forcefield generator?”

Cooper smirked, “On it.” And she was off.

Astrid flipped the arming mechanism of her last photon grenade. She hoped there would be supplies with the equipment being sent down. The power cell for her phaser rifle was running low too.

She gauged the timing for a group if the bugs and in an over handed throw tossed the grenade into to the center of a mass of bugs. An instant later the explosion vaporized any of the bugs within a ten meter radius. Raising her rifle she fired, missed, fired again, missed again, and two more, consecutive shots took two more of the bugs out. All around her, Hazard Team members were doing the same.

Streth had just reached the cavern where the generator lay. The air tingled with the hot residue of phaser fire, and the photon grenade had kicked up dust that hung in the air, creating a haze. The rocks, all that lay between them and the seething mass of bugs, began to bulge from the pressure of the biomass behind them. A few of the smaller fragments began to tumble from above as the whole structure weakened. With assistance from the antigravs, the engineering personnel had successfully wedged many of the girders length-ways between the floor and ceiling of the cave. The rock was already relying on them in some places for support, and large gaps still existed through which the skittering insects would no doubt come pouring.

“Beck,” The beleaguered Andorian barked, “how many forcefield generators do we need in place before we get a strong enough barrier?”

Beck looked all around them, analyzing the size of the cavern in his head, taking into account on the steel structure they were building, plus the flooring of course. He could be seen doing the numbers in his head while also looking like he was writing on a chalk board right in front of him but there was nothing but air, and no chalk in his hand. “At least six generators, two being back up. Each generator can anchor to at maximum of six forcefield emitters. If we place the emitters out exactly as I had shown to everyone else on my lovely artistic drawing here,” he raised the large data PADD. “Then we should have this entire structure completely protected. And as long as these generators are hooked up to back up power, if this hefty generator here in the center goes out, we will have a lovely little warning system in place, once that terminal is hooked up for me to set everything up of course. And that will give us plenty of time to come down here, fix whatever the problem is while the forcefield generators are on backup power, to fix this hefty thing or replace it if it comes to it, and we won’t hear from them nasty little critters again. I hope.” Beck smiled at Streth and Jones. “Too much?”

“If it stops us having to deal with these things,” A phaser bolt from Vogler’s rifle fizzed behind him, “nothing’s too much.” All those in the cavern now worked feverishly. Girders were propped in position and laser welding flashed bright. Shadows blinked in and out of existence in the eerie strobe. .

Having depleted her phaser rifle Astrid switched to her hand phaser. Thankfully they had slowed the onslaught and the situation for now was under control. Hearing Streth’s return she groaned inwardly. “You,” she said to Korrel, “you’re on Charlie Oscar. Be his shadow.”

“Aye ma’am,” the crewman replied.

A group of crewmen heaved a forcefield generator in position, inputting commands on a small LCARS panel to calibrate it.

“EVERYONE, FALL BACK BEHIND THE FORCEFIELD LINE!” A voice cried out. A shimmer extended from it towards its twin generator, situated twenty metres to the right, punctuated by a high pitched zinging noise as the wall of invisible gravitons powered up.

As the Hazard Team was falling back behind the forcefield and bug emerged from the floor right at Astrid’s feet and climbed onto her right leg. Before she could react the alien lifeform buried itself into her thigh. She yelped in pain moments before the black closed in around her and she fell to the ground unconscious.

Streth saw the Hazard Team leader go down. Before he knew it, he was running full pelt towards the officer manning the forcefield generator. “STOP!” he screamed. Two bugs skittered over his feet, “Don’t raise it yet! Vogler’s down.” Streth’s hands were close to physically pulling the engineer back from the forcefield controls, but he soon realised there was no need. “With me!” he called to the officer, breathlessly pushing past him and climbing the rock pile towards the Ensign’s body crumpled awkwardly where she had fallen. Her vitals were checked, “She’s alive,” were the only words that passed between the two men as they lifted. Streth hooked his arms under Vogler’s shoulders, while the engineer held her legs. Streth backed his way back down across the boulders, phaser bolts flashing past him has the rest of the Hazard team read the situation, laying down enough fire to deter the bugs from approaching their wounded comrade.

They set her down behind the forcefield line and Streth darted to the controls. A small group of bugs, braving the phaser fire, scuttled towards them at growing speed. A fizzle was heard, and the bugs collided with the invisible wall. Tiny sparkles of blueish charged particles dissipated as they rammed again and again into the field. Streth stepped back, taking in the forcefield’s entire length. The blue patches shone momentarily wherever the bugs threw themselves up against it. The physical barrier of steel and rock wasn’t perfect, but it could always be reinforced. Now as long as they had energy, they were safe from what lay deep within the bowels of the caverns below.

Vogler was already being stretchered towards the tunnel mouth, ready for emergency beam-out to the infirmary. Streth resolved to check in on her as soon as the generator site was fully secure. The young Ensign had seen more action in the last 48 hours than a peacetime Hazard Team was likely to see in six months of normal starship operations. As her unconscious body was hauled away from the desolate pit in which they stood, Streth felt a wave of guilt rise up in his chest.