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Part of USS Pathfinder (Archive): Go Your Own Way

Go Your Own Way – 9

Drapice IV
February 2401
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Proximity alert.

‘Hey, Thawn? Do us a favour and kill that thing,’ Harkon called from the pilot’s controls. Blue skies stretched out beyond the canopy, but it was a view peppered by the occasional brown-grey tip of a mountain, sometimes reaching higher than they flew.

Thawn had an iron grip on the safety harness strapping her to the co-pilot’s seat. ‘I am not disengaging any safety protocols.’

‘I don’t mean disengage, I just mean… make it pipe down a bit. I know what I’m doing.’

‘Lieutenant.’ Valance’s voice from further back in the cockpit was tenser. ‘There are no prizes for getting us there fast. Only getting us there in one piece.’

‘Hey.’ Harkon could look hurt and still not turn away from the controls as she guided the Watson through the dips and valleys between the rugged mountain range on their low-altitude approach to the Kingfisher’s location, far from anywhere they might be spotted by locals. ‘I’m just having a little fun, Captain. I’m not being irresponsible.’

She did slow down an iota, though, and Thawn gave a gentle exhale of relief. The Watson was the Pathfinder’s Waverider-class integrated auxiliary vessel, larger than any of their shuttles, boasting all the facilities they might need to provide medical and engineering assistance to the Kingfisher’s crew, and the most capable atmospheric craft they had. It was also, she felt, being treated like Harkon’s personal adventure vehicle.

At the sensor controls Dashell made a satisfied noise. ‘I’m not picking up any life signs anywhere nearby. It looks like this range is too inaccessible for natives to come here lightly.’

Gov’taj gave a small grumble. ‘It would only take one wandering mountaineer, though.’

‘We pick our risks. Bringing the Watson has the highest chance of us recovering the Kingfisher quickly and safely,’ Valance said coolly.

‘Coming up on her now,’ Harkon called to confirm, and the Watson slowed again.

They had been working their way through a valley, zig-zagging between the peaks, and Thawn heard Dashell give a low, ‘huh,’ as the valley widened even more to a level basin nestled among the dusty brown mountains. But anything he’d noticed was lost among the crew as they saw, sat safely on the ground, the lurking shape of an Aerie-class craft.

At once the science officer was back at his console. ‘No signs of damage,’ he reported. ‘But she’s powered down.’

‘And I’m picking up no life signs still,’ reported Doctor Winters in a clipped, worried voice.

‘One step at a time. Our sensors don’t seem the most reliable,’ Valance pointed out. ‘Bring us down, Harkon.’

Now the pilot was all business, setting the Watson on the ground a short distance from the Kingfisher and what they could now see was a small campsite between the ship and the nearest rock face. As Harkon finished post-flight checks, Valance reached for the comms. ‘Any Starfleet personnel, come in. This is Commander Valance of the USS Pathfinder.’

Only silence met her call. Behind her, Commander Dashell stood. ‘I suppose we should see what’s out there.’

The air was hot and dusty, and Thawn watched as Gov’taj’s boots left prints in the dirt as he advanced from the landing ramp, the first to set foot on the surface as the whole team disembarked. Valance moved up to him with Harkon, while Thawn slipped back to join Dashell and Winters, both with their tricorders ready. ‘Are you really getting nothing?’ she asked in a low voice.

‘Worse than nothing,’ said Dashell, lips thinning.

‘I can pick us up,’ said Winters, sounding surprised by the XO’s grim demeanour.

‘That’s what I mean. Our sensors are functioning. I can find us, our ship, the Kingfisher. But there’s nobody else in range to be detected.’

‘Commander, check the camp,’ called Valance. ‘Harkon, we’re going to check the Kingfisher. Lieutenant Gov’taj, secure the perimeter. I want to be certain we don’t get surprised out here.’

‘Oh,’ said Winters quietly, following Dashell and Thawn towards the campsite. ‘I hadn’t thought that they might have been attacked.’

‘We don’t know anything,’ Dashell said firmly. ‘Let’s see if we can find signs of life, or understand why they landed and why they set up facilities outside the ship. It usually means there’s something closer to investigate.’

It was all standard-issue Starfleet equipment in the camp. Lights had been erected in a perimeter ring around four large canvas tents, at the centre of which was the usual beacon that acted as a campfire for light and warmth, with steel benches arrayed around it. To Thawn’s eyes, it looked like the usual arrangements for any team settling into a location for some time. A glance into one tent showed a couple of bunks laid out, equipment tidily stowed nearby.

She turned to Dashell. ‘You were struck by something when we saw the landing site.’

His eyebrows raised as he recalled. ‘Oh. Yes. This basin.’ He looked around the wide area, the looming peaks blocking off wind and a good deal of light, but not enough to kill the gently stifling and dusty warmth. ‘The valley is clearly the product of erosion; it followed recognisable patterns. This basin is a little odd in location and size.’

‘Do you think that’s what the crew were investigating?’ She followed him into the first tent, Winters staying outside to sweep about with his tricorder.

‘Impossible to say,’ said Dashell, and straightened as he saw the layout of the interior. A field console had been deployed, its lights dim. All around, equipment had been neatly ordered – but not packed.

Thawn wrinkled her nose. ‘They were working here. Living here. There’s no sign of disturbance, no sign they stowed gear to move on. They just… vanished.’

Dashell nodded at the field console. ‘This should tell us more if we can power it up. They’ll have linked their tricorders to it and all their readings will be recorded. Probably.’

She unslung the toolkit from her shoulder. ‘Then I should get to work. You can keep looking around, sir.’

It was soothing to work in the shade of the tent once Dashell had left. Drapice’s heat was not too stifling, but the uneasy tension of the empty camp had blended with the whisper of anxiety at working with a new superior, of being aware she’d have to prove her worth to be sure she’d be listened to. This narrowed the broad puzzle, the missing officers, the possible Prime Directive breach, to a simple, technical challenge.

The console didn’t boot up at her command, so she had to crack open a panel. At once she saw the drained power cells and made a face at their condition. These were rated to last months, not days. But she had spares in her kit, and it was incidental to replace the busted components. Thorough in her work, it took a few minutes before Thawn was done, hit the power key, and brought the console flooding to life. The holographic projector flickered in the air before steadying before her, and with a flutter of satisfaction, Thawn focused to read the records of the crew of the Kingfisher.

She had not gotten far before there was a call from outside. ‘Captain! Everyone!’ It was Dashell.

When Thawn ducked back into the bright light, Dashell and Winters stood near the sheer rock cliff the camp was nestled in the shadow of, tricorders in hand. Valance and Harkon jogged over from the Kingfisher, Gov’taj still out at the perimeter of their ships and camp.

‘There’s nobody aboard,’ Harkon was grumbling. ‘And I’m having to do a full reboot on the ship systems. No idea what happened there.’

‘I had to replace a power cell in the field console,’ Thawn said with thin lips.

Valance frowned. ‘There are redundant cells. They were all blown?’


Dashell tilted his chin up as they gathered, eyes tense. ‘I believe,’ he said when they turned to him, ‘that a dampening field has been active in this basin at some point in the last, oh, seven days.’

‘That matches when the records end on the field console,’ Thawn said. ‘I’m still going through them.’ But Dashell looked like he wasn’t done, and despite what she’d found, she quietened.

‘The doctor picked up an energy reading,’ the Bajoran science officer continued, then nodded to the sheer cliff face beside them. ‘Coming from here.’

‘It’s very faint,’ Winters said apologetically like this was his fault. ‘I’d ended up just scanning everything, then I came over here. But I don’t know what’s possibly happening here in the mountain.’

‘I have a suspicion,’ said Dashell, and raised his tricorder. ‘Even a minor disruption of the energy field here should be enough…’

As he tapped buttons on the device, Thawn drew a sharp breath. ‘The commander is right,’ she pressed on, ‘because the Kingfisher crew did find something here. They detected an energy signature from orbit, something that we didn’t find or isn’t there any more, and shouldn’t be technologically possible for the people of Drapice to generate. So they landed to investigate and -’

And as Dashell worked, the seemingly sheer cliff face shimmered before them, like air rippling above flames. When it steadied, it was no longer a rock wall, but a solid, sealed metal doorway set into the cliff itself.

Harkon swore. ‘A cloaked, underground Romulan facility?’

Dashell grimaced. ‘This is not Romulan. If nothing else, it is far, far too old.’

‘Oh my.’ Winters was looking at his tricorder, though, not the door. ‘Captain, I am picking up life signs now. Some way ahead and below us – humans, a Tellarite, a Rigellian… it must be the away team.’ He again tapped his tricorder, then shook his head. ‘I can’t establish a comms connection, something else is disrupting that. And, Captain… I’m only reading six life signs. That’s two missing.’

But it was not the appearance of the doorway that had silenced Thawn. She’d taken a sharp step back, pressing a hand to her temple as something else slipped into her awareness. It came with the taste of bitter metal on her tongue.

Valance spotted this, turning. ‘Lieutenant?’

Something telepathic is going on,’ Thawn said through gritted teeth. ‘I’m trying to focus through it…’

The captain turned to Dashell. ‘How old, Commander?’

He made a face. ‘Thousands of years. Long before the Romulans ever reached here. I expect there’s more information on the field console Lieutenant Thawn reactivated.’

Thawn had moved to lean against a nearby rock. ‘There was a lot,’ she said through gritted teeth.

Thumping footsteps heralded Gov’taj’s hurried arrival. ‘I apologise for the delay. There was something curious out there.’ His eyes landed on the door. ‘And here, I see.’

‘Go on,’ said Valance.

‘The basin is well-sheltered. Tracks in the dirt are well-preserved.’ He grimaced. ‘Two sets lead to a passageway out of the basin. Starfleet-issue boot tread. They are among the freshest sets of tracks that appear to be left by the Kingfisher’s crew, they are the only ones leaving the basin, and they do not return.’

Valance frowned. ‘What’s their heading?’

‘South-west.’ But it was Thawn who answered, not Gov’taj, and she blinked as she realised she was saying it without thinking. She straightened. ‘I think… I think what I’m feeling here is some sort of telepathic echo, Captain.’ At Valance’s face, she drew a slow, careful breath. ‘Whatever I’m sensing, it’s not currently active. Not here.’

‘But maybe where the two crewmembers went.’

Harkon swore. ‘So the Kingfisher lands, most of the crew get themselves locked in the underground facility of an ancient civilisation, and the last two run off with some telepathic thingy hanging around them? Oh.’ Her frustration faded for horrified realisation. ‘South-west is the direction of the closest settlement. Eighteen klicks out.’

Valance rubbed the back of her neck with a frustrated sigh. ‘We have to find them. And we have to find the rest of the crew. And figure out what’s going on here. And either stop or ascertain the extent of any cultural contamination.’ She turned to Dashell. ‘You, Doctor Winters, and Lieutenant Harkon will stay here. Use whatever equipment you need, whatever records the Kingfisher crew left behind. Rescue the crew and find out what you can.’

Harkon looked disappointed, but before she could voice that, Dashell nodded. ‘Of course, Captain.’

‘Doctor Winters,’ Valance pressed on. ‘Before you render assistance here, you’re going to help prepare me, Gov’taj, and Thawn to enter Drapician society.’

It was Thawn’s turn to be dissatisfied with the personnel assignments. ‘Me? Captain, I’ve only skimmed the cultural brief.’

‘I’ve read it in-depth,’ came Valance’s cool response, ‘and it wasn’t very long, because we know almost nothing. But if something telepathic is affecting Starfleet personnel headed towards a pre-warp civilisation settlement, then I want you with us.’

Gov’taj gave a low grumble, but at his sister’s sharp expression, his gaze turned wry. ‘I was simply thinking,’ he mused, and ran a finger along his forehead. ‘I wonder if I will still be handsome without ridges.’