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Part of USS Apollo: Plaguebearer

Prologue

Uncharted Planet, Delta Quadrant
February 2400
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Under the light from a pair of alien suns, a stream of tiny twelve-legged arthropods cut paths in the dirt among blades of red grass, their color an adaptation to take in just enough sunshine from the blue giant the planet orbited. The tiny beings reminded Science Officer Rhodes of ants, but they were morphologically closer to spiders or scorpions. Thankfully, they lacked the stingers or predatory instincts of their Terran cousins. He had set a special collection platter near to their path loaded with agar, both to see if they’d be interested at all and to hopefully capture a few specimens for analysis back on the Apollo.

“Come on, little buddies,” Rhodes muttered when after four minutes they still hadn’t taken the bait.

The young man ran his hand through his slightly too-long-for-regulations hair, as he realized that his presence was likely dissuading the creatures from investigating what he’d left for them. He made a note of the device’s position on his tricorder and then stood up. The bulk of his science team was a few hundred meters away, investigating the amazing biodiversity present in a nearby stream.  He found the ship’s communications officer sitting on a boulder in the opposite direction, fixated on his PADD.

“Anything to report, Mr. Knight?” Rhodes asked as he approached.

Knight sprung up, clutching the device as if he were guilty of something by using it. Willowy and often reminding Rhodes of a newborn foal, the even younger man was fresh out of the academy and still as green as they came. His height made most of his features seem a little stretched, and he always gave off an aura of awkwardness. Rhodes was making a point to take him under his wing, as he didn’t seem to be fully fitting into the crew, yet. For a linguist, he had a strange inability to make connections.

“N-No, Commander,” Knight replied. “I was just monitoring the team’s combadges so that no one wanders off too far,” he added, still clutching the PADD in one hand as he gripped his elbow with the other, looking at the ground.

“You don’t like the outdoors much, do you?” Rhodes asked as his skin pricked up from the breeze blowing across the rolling red hills of the still-unnamed planet.

Knight shook his head, shuddering, but Rhodes doubted it was from the wind. “No, Sir.”

“Relax. There’s nothing here that can hurt you,” Rhodes reminded him.

“It’s not that. Not really. Just so many… variables to keep track of. I prefer more controlled environments,” Knight replied, the pads of his fingers now going white from the sheer pressure with which he was holding his PADD.

“A scout ship might not get you that, you know.”

Knight nodded. “No, sir,” the young man agreed, looking down at his boots which were digging into the soil. “But what good’s any decent linguist stuck at home?” he asked, seeming to find his courage for a moment.

The commander grinned. “True enough, Knight,” he said. “And can you honestly say you’d ever expected to be on a planet where the grass grew blood red?” he asked, gesturing around them.

“It’s pretty incredible,” Knight said, chancing a smile. “It’s also a little eerie, though. Like it’s going to swallow us up, or something,” he added, looking down again; Rhodes could tell he’d lost the momentary confidence that he’d mustered.

“I doubt it, but let me check on my ‘ants’ and we’ll get back to the rest of the landing party,” Rhodes said, pulling out his tricorder to trace his steps back to the collection vessel. When he found it, he could see about a dozen of the alien ‘ants’ in the trap. A few seconds after picking it up, though, the ground began to rumble, and the commander heard the low thrum of an impulse engine in the distance.

“Is that…?” Knight asked.

“Yup,” Rhodes replied, tucking the container into the belt of his uniform. He tapped his badge. “Rhodes to Gaudain.”

“Standby,” came the captain’s response.

A few moments later, the source of the rumble was clear: the Apollo was rising up from its landing place in one of the shallow valleys just a few klicks away. Atmospheric conditions had prevented transporter activity from standard orbit, and the ship was small enough to land comfortably on most terrestrial bodies. The light of the blue suns caught its angular hull, causing it to glint with energy as it approached Rhodes and Knight. While small in terms of starship standards, the Rhode Island-class scout was still eight stories tall and almost as long as two football pitches—colossal in relative terms to the two Humans. The power of its engines caused the atmosphere to reverberate with power that Rhodes could only feel, and not hear, and he could see the warp nacelles glow to life. Rhodes and Knight only had a few moments to take in the view of the Apollo above them before they were caught in the tell-tale tingle of a transporter beam.


Lieutenant Commander Rhodes materialized on the bridge of the Apollo with Knight between the helm console and the main viewscreen. The ship’s chief pilot, Ensign Lassus, had a smirk on her face and Rhodes barely resisted telling her to stow it as he walked around her station towards where Captain Gaudain was sitting with one leg up on the armrest of his chair. The scarlet red wrap-around tunic he was wearing was something straight out of the 23rd century.

“Stations, please, gentlemen. Chop-chop,” Gaudain said, beaming as he sat up in his seat. “And save me that vedek in a titty bar look, please, Mr. Rhodes,” he added.

“Yessir, just smiles and nods from me,” the science officer replied, settling into his seat directly behind the captain and next to Knight’s communication console. “But begging the captain’s merciful beneficence, I wonder if he might favor us with some explanation on why we’re making such a dramatic exit of this planet ahead of schedule?”

Gaudain chuckled and swiveled all the way around in his chair, feet now firmly on the metal decking. “Me? Dramatic? Never,” he drawled, before snapping once at Knight and pointing to the communication station.

“We’ve received a distress call. It’s Federation… and it’s coming from this sector,” Knight reported.

Rhodes felt another chill run down his spine, not from any wind on the protected interior of the Apollo, but because he knew that they were the first Starfleet ship in the region, or at least they were supposed to have been the first ship out that far. A distress call proved that thought to be false, though.

“Exactly. Now, I think that calls for exactly as dramatic a departure as I feel like, don’t you agree?” Gaudain asked.

“By all means, sir,” Rhodes agreed.

“Helm, as soon as we’re past the atmosphere, floor it,” Gaudain ordered.

The nimble scout ship rose up from the planet’s atmosphere, and Rhodes saw clouds give way to stars from his position at the back of the bridge. Once all that was around them was the blackness of space, and the second they were clear of the gravity well, Lassus engaged the warp drive and they jumped past the speed of light with a silent flash of energy.

Comments

  • Looking forward to seeing how this pans out! Looks like we’ve got everything you’d want to see in a prologue here: strange new worlds, characters with big personalities clearly defined from the get go, awesome descriptions of seeing a starship overhead from the ground, and finally an immediate mystery that leaves the reader empathising with Rhodes as the situation is revealed to him. What more could you want?

    April 12, 2022