The USS Jaxartes had been sitting on the plants surface for nearly an hour and in that time absolutely nothing had moved. There was no response of any kind to their presence barely 60 metres from the stricken Jem’Hadar scout ship.
The air came alive with a hum and columns of light danced in the sand as six figures came into existence just under half way between the two ships. Lieutenant Devron phaser in hand scanned to the left of the group as Ensign Tholakath did the same on the right. Ensign Cho and crewman Lightwood both kept their eyes forward watching the scout ship and the seven Jem’Hadar bodies. Whilst crewman Tyson looked around behind them only doctor Andrianakis was unarmed, she instead carried a Medical Tricorder.
Once satisfied no one was going to leap out at them or just shimmer out of thin air, Jason signalled them to move forward. As Andrianakis scanned the closest of the bodies she begun to notice numerous small life signs actually emanating from inside. “Oh my!”
“What is it doctor?” Devron asked moving towards her.
“It would appear this body is infested with maggots, or at least something very much similar.” She answered, before taking a further reading. “I’d estimate the body hasn’t been here more than a month or so, but at the rate these things are going there won’t be much left within a week or so.”
“Any idea what killed him?”
“No signs of wounds, trauma or disease. This is a warrior in the peak of physical fitness just lying dead!” She took a few minutes examining the other bodies confirming her original findings.
“Let’s get a move on, the less time we’re standing around here the better.”
The group moved towards the rear hatchway of the scout ship, which was luckily up out of the sand. Lightwood checked over the door controls to make sure they weren’t booby trapped, before stepping aside to allow Ensign Cho to put her linguistics skill to the test and get the hatch open. Remarkably she had the door humming and opening slowly upwards on her third attempt. Devron and Lightwood both crouched down so they could see inside the ship; which was dimly lit by what appeared to be the emergency lighting. They could just make out the outline of yet another dead Jem’Hadar warrior face down half curled up.
“Lightwood with me.” Jason whispered. “The rest of you hang back until I give the word.” He received either nods or thumbs up in acknowledgement. The two men crept further inside; thought it would have to be said, with the noise of the hatch opening anyone alive inside would know they were coming. The scout ship just like their much larger fighters was very sparse to say the least, measured roughly two thirds the length of a Runabout but probably half as wide again, it lacked the majority of facilities and amenities expected as standard on almost all Federation craft regardless of size.
No other bodies came to light, but there was a smell of death all around them. Out of the doors only the one leading to the cockpit refused to open with a simple press of the button. So the services of Cho where called upon once more. It took her much longer to convince this door to unlock and open. But once it was the two men stepped inside.
What met their eyes was just as strange and mysterious as the chaos outside. Just to the right a lone Jem’Hadar was sitting propped up against one of the ships control consuls weapon clutched tightly in both hands pointing towards his own chest or at least were his chest would have been had it not apparently been vaporised. Across the other side, standing upright with its lights blinking green; a stasis pod. Standing inside the pod a male Vorta.
The captain called the doctor in to take a look at the Vorta and the pod he was sealed inside, whilst he got Ensign Cho to look over the controls for any useful information.
“Well this pod appears to be a completely independent system.” The Greek doctor declared after scanning the device. “The power pack is fully charged and could very well last several years, beyond say twenty at least.”
“Can we wake him?” Devron enquired.
“Here now without prior knowledge of how this thing works, chances are slim.”
“What about getting him back on board?”
“I’d give myself an 80 to 90 percent chance if you gave me a couple of days.”
The captain was about to make contact with the Jaxartes when his com-badge bleeped to indicate someone on board was contacting him. A quick tap on the badge. “Go ahead.”
It was the voice of Maasl C’Rren the ships chief science officer that replied. “Sir I’ve been analysing all the data we’ve picked up since arriving and the reading I’m getting are both bizarre and worrying.”
“In what way?” Jason and Phoebe asked simultaneously.
“That’s not simply sand out there; it’s the digested remnants of every living thing that once occupied the planet along with various ground up mineral and rock deposits.”
“What are you trying to say Ensign?” It was just the captain who spoke this time.
“I’m saying captain.” The young Caitian paused trying to figure in his own mind the right words to use. “I’m saying something devoured the entire planets life!”
Everyone seemed to stop their eyes drawn to Devron’s badge as if hoping they’d just misheard what the science office had said. Only the young Korean appeared to have carried on with her task, either not having been paying attention or not being stunned by the news.
“Those maggots!” Doctor Andrianakis’s voice broke the momentary silence. “But that would take millions of them hundreds of years.” The colour seemed to drain from her face making her more closely resemble the Vorta sleeping in the stasis pod. But it hadn’t taken them hundreds of years; those things had eaten their way through an entire planet in under 60. “How much of this vessel is organic?”
“Around 30%.” It was the Cardassian who spoke from somewhere across the room.
The doctor leaned towards her captain and whispered. “Without wishing to start a panic. Those things are probably on this ship and eating their way through it as we speak.”
Devron tapped his comm-badge as he’d originally intended to. “Transporter room.” He pause a second as the ships computer linked him up with Ensign Torf who he knew to be standing at the controls. “Is there any chance of you getting a lock on the pod we’re standing next to?” He waited as the Betazoid made a few calculations.
“I could probably beam it and two others across.” Came his reply a minute later.
“Good.” Jason said in response. “Doctor, Ensign Tholakath, you two take our friend here back to the Jaxartes. The rest of us will follow shortly.”
After they moving into position either said of the stasis pod, the doctor tapped her own badge. “When you’re ready.” The transporter beam encased the two crewmembers and the cylindrical object between them in columns of light. But as it faded the Greek doctor was still standing on the deck of the scout ship.
Ensign Torf looked up to see only the young Cardassian and the stasis pod containing the Vorta on the transporters pads. Without warning the control console before him sparked and crackled as several of its systems shorted out. Smoke rose from the controls as the Betazoid turned to grab an extinguisher. He heard the voice of his captain asked what had happen and simple shouted that the Transporter was damaged.
“And before you ask how long it’s going to take to repair. I’d say between three hours and never!”
Devron glanced around him at the other crewmembers and the various looks of concern on their faces, though his communications officer was doing a good job of hiding her current feelings. “Don’t worry it could be worse.” He tried to sound as reassuring and positive as possible. But if C’Rren was right about these creatures then the longer they stayed on this ship the more likely they’d want to try and add the five of them to the menu.