Rios sat in his captain's chair, sipping a cup of coffee and watching Agnes read a PADD at one of the operations consoles. She was too absorbed to notice, which was fine by him; he liked just watching her, the way she chewed on her bottom lip when she was parsing something out, or the way she tapped a finger against her leg when she didn't quite care for what she was reading. Scientific discourse, no doubt.
"Rios, just the person we were looking for," Picard's voice sounded from behind.
Oh, he knew that tone. Cris set his coffee down on the chair dais and stood up, turning around as Picard, Elnor, and Soji all approached him. "Admiral," he acknowledged.
"We were discussing the possibility of taking some recreational shore leave," Picard began in that leading, diplomatic way of his.
"We want to go camping!" Elnor interjected enthusiastically.
"Camping," Rios repeated.
The kid nodded with a beaming grin. "I've never gone camping."
"There's an M-class planet not far from our current position," Picard added. "It has a few colonies on one hemisphere, and the other is uninhabited and a suitable place for a camping trip."
"Why don't you just use the holosuite?"
"But that would just be pretend," Elnor countered.
"I have memories of going camping with my family," Soji put in. "But none of those are real. I want to have a genuine experience."
Elnor nodded in agreement.
"Sounds like it could be fun," Agnes piped in.
"What sounds fun?" Raffi interrupted as she and Seven came up the stairs from the mess.
"We want to go on a camping trip," Elnor told them brightly.
Raffi and Seven exchanged slightly intrigued looks at that.
Rios made a scoffing sound. "You two can't possibly want to go along with this."
Raffi threw Seven a coy smile. "I don't know, could be romantic."
They both turned back to Rios expectantly, and he rolled his eyes. But since he was outnumbered and outvoted, he sat down in the captain's seat again and pulled up the controls.
"Adjusting course," he said.
Elnor and Soji shared elated smiles, which drew a fond expression from Picard.
"Come on, you two," he said. "We have some packing to do."
As the rest of them went off to get the supplies together, Agnes slipped over to Cris.
"You're coming too, right?"
He sighed but then offered her a small smile. "Sure."
She grinned at that.
Rios set the autopilot now that their course was laid in and then went to help assemble the camping gear, approaching the task with regulation Starfleet efficiency. He even included emergency packs and backup power sources.
Agnes eyed the growing pile dubiously. "That's…a lot."
"Better to be prepared than sorry," he replied.
"Prepared for what? La Sirena's just gonna be a call away, right?"
Rios shrugged. "You never know."
"Don't jinx it," Raffi chided as she added a small duffel to the pile.
"Rios is right," Seven calmly interjected. "It's always better to be prepared."
"Thank you." Cris shot everyone else a glare and finished up with the packing.
Once they were in orbit above the planet and ready to beam down, he activated all the EHs to manage the ship while he was away.
Soji and Elnor were like giddy kids as they hauled supply containers onto the transporter platform—and Rios had to remind himself they were just kids and they deserved to have this experience. He punched in the target coordinates and set a delay on the transporter, then joined everyone on the pad.
"Have fun!" the Hospitality hologram waved as they were enveloped in swirling lights.
The deck of La Sirena was then replaced with a sweeping vista of a meadow set in a valley between grey-plum mountains and towering trees with a lake glittering off to their right. The air was crisp and smelled of pollen, a stark contrast to the purified recycled oxygen Rios was used to.
"Alright," Picard declared, "let's set up camp."
They started unpacking the containers, getting the tents out first. Agnes struggled with hers, the rods bending the wrong direction and collapsing the canvas.
"These things can't come preassembled?" she grunted to herself.
Rios went over and took the mangled pieces from her, straightening them out and getting them to lock in place.
Agnes huffed. "Thanks." She eyed the erected tent skeptically. "How cold is it supposed to get tonight? Did we bring enough supplies?"
Rios brushed past her, lowering his voice next to her ear. "I know a way to keep warm."
She giggled, then quickly stifled it and flicked an embarrassed look around at the others, not that they were paying attention. Or that it mattered. Raffi and Seven were sharing a tent.
"We can always beam down anything we might have forgotten," Picard said in answer to her question.
Raffi stood up and put her hands on her hips. "Like the coffee maker."
"Over here!" Soji called, pulling it out of another box.
Once camp was all set up, Elnor straightened and looked around.
"What do we do now?" he asked.
"Any number of things," Picard answered. "We could go for a hike, try observing some wildlife, or simply sit and relax and enjoy the fresh air."
"Let's explore," Soji suggested.
Picard grinned. "With my arthritis gone, that sounds like a very splendid idea."
"You kids have fun," Raffi said, twining her hand in Seven's and turning to head down to the lake. It was a little cold for a swim, but no doubt they had a romantic walk down the shore in mind.
"Agnes? Rios?" Picard turned to them.
"Oh, uh," Agnes hedged. "Someone should probably stay here, right? Watch over…things."
Rios waved them off, also not interested.
Picard and the kids headed off into the woodland.
Rios got out a folding chair from one of the bins and set it out, then sat down with one of his books.
Agnes stayed standing in the middle of camp, swinging her arms back and forward idly for several beats. "So…" she started.
Rios looked up over the rim of his book.
She sighed. "I don't really get this whole camping thing," she confessed.
Rios smiled fondly and got up, setting his book in the chair. He went to get a blanket instead and laid it out on the ground, then piled up some softer packs behind it. Taking a seat, he patted the spot beside him in invitation and reached for his book again.
She came over and sat down, snuggling up against him. "Maybe this kind of camping isn't so bad."
He slung an arm over her shoulders and held his book up with one hand.
"What are you reading?"
Rios hesitated because it was another one of his books on existentialism that Agnes found a thorough mood killer. He angled the cover toward her so she could read the title.
Agnes stared at it for a long moment, nose scrunching up. "I don't think you get the whole camping thing either."
His lips twitched, and he went back to his silent reading while Agnes reclined against him.
Raffi and Seven returned from their walk an hour later and promptly went out to gather firewood. It was another hour after that when the others finally came back.
"How was the exploring?" Agnes asked.
"Very interesting," Picard replied, and Soji and Elnor were all too happy to launch into a retelling of the animal species and natural formations they'd seen.
The sun began to sink toward the horizon, and they started up a campfire, then sat around eating their MRE packets for dinner. Raffi, however, had replicated all the ingredients they needed to roast marshmallows over the fire and make s'mores. All they had to do was round up some sticks.
Agnes leaned against Cris as the two of them held their skewered marshmallows over the flames. "I like this part too," she whispered.
Raffi finished off her s'more and then leaned forward earnestly. "Alright, who's ready for a ghost story?"
"A what?" Elnor asked.
"It's tradition to tell scary stories around the campfire," she explained.
Elnor perked up. "Like when Narek told us of the Destroyer in Romulan legend."
"Exactly. So…" Raffi rubbed her hands together. "Back on Earth, there was this campground twenty miles from where I grew up. It used to be a summer camp for kids, until one summer, kids started disappearing right out of their sleeping bags. Their bodies were later found in the woods—in pieces."
Agnes fidgeted against Rios, clearly not enjoying the story. Rios tried to keep his poker face on and let Raffi have her fun. Elnor, for his part, looked completely enraptured by the tale of the serial killer with a hook for one hand who picked off unsuspecting campers in the dead of night, until Raffi got to the ending.
"And if anyone dares to say his name three times, he will rise again with that rusted hook." She paused for effect, then started to whisper, "Darren Hatchet…Darren Hatchet…"
"But he's dead," Elnor interrupted. "The campers killed him."
Raffi straightened, her rhythm disrupted. "Well, yeah, but his ghost can come back."
Elnor furrowed his brow. "I don't believe in ghosts. Besides, a spirit couldn't be summoned across the galaxy to another planet."
Raffi leaned forward with a serious mien. "Are you sure? Ghosts don't follow the laws of physics. How do you know if I say his name one more time, he won't show up, right here?"
Elnor frowned in consideration, then shrugged and picked up his sword, which he'd of course brought down with him. "Then I will slay him again."
Raffi sighed while Seven tried to hide a grin.
"I think that's quite enough ghost stories for one night," Picard interjected.
"Yes please," Agnes muttered. "We could sing campfire songs instead."
Her suggestion was met with silence, so she quickly muttered a "never mind" and focused on fiddling with her jacket. Rios wrapped an arm around her and gave a supportive squeeze.
They hung out a little while longer until night had fully descended, then retired to their tents for the night. Agnes shivered as she snuggled close to Rios in their extra large sleeping bag. The temperature had dropped significantly with the setting of the sun. A brisk wind picked up outside, whistling at first, then gradually growing stronger and battering against the tent canvas. Rios tried to ignore it and sleep, but it was getting progressively worse, and quickly, so he finally sat up in concern and unzipped the tent flap to take a look outside. A storm was definitely blowing it.
"Was this in the forecast?" Raffi shouted from her tent across the way.
Rios ventured out and dug around a bin for a tricorder to take some readings of the weather. Oh, this was going to get nasty.
"We should leave!" he shouted over the howling gales, then activated his comm link. "La Sirena, do you read?"
Static sounded over the open channel, followed by Enoch's distorted voice.
"Captain, I'm detecting a buildup of ionized particles in the atmosphere of your location."
"Yes, we'd like to beam out now," Rios responded tersely.
There was a moment of nothing, then, "They're interfering with the transporter lock. I'll attempt to compen—" The connection abruptly cut out.
"Enoch. Someone on La Sirena, respond," Rios demanded. He shook his head in frustration and turned to the others who'd gathered around. "We can't reach the ship."
"We need to find shelter," Seven yelled.
"We passed some caves on our hike earlier," Picard put in. "Grab what you can!"
Rios wanted to snip at Raffi that wasn't it good he'd prepared for this as he grabbed the emergency kits with backup power cells, water, and food. He handed them to whomever's hands were within reach.
Lavender lightning forked down from the sky and struck the lake, leaving an electric fizzle on the air.
"Move, now!" Seven said urgently.
They hurried off, struggling against the hurricane gales and horizontal rain that had begun to fall. Soji's single wrist flashlight bobbed frenetically against the impenetrable darkness, except for when a flash of lightning lit up the entire area in a wash of lilac.
Agnes slipped and yelped as she went down. Rios darted forward and dropped down beside her, squinting against the pelting rain. Agnes was clutching at her ankle. He didn't wait to see if she could walk, simply shrugged his pack to the side and bent down to scoop her up into his arms and carried her the rest of the way.
Soji finally found the cave and they all hurried inside, thoroughly soaked at this point and freezing from the sleet. Rios carried Agnes further in away from the entrance and set her down.
"Raf, the med kit," he called as he gingerly rolled up the cuff of Agnes's pant leg to see the damage. She hissed as he gently palpated her ankle. "Not broken," he determined. "Probably just a sprain."
Raffi came over, hair a tangled mess between being matted down by water and frizzing outward from the static. "Uh, I think we forgot the med kit."
Rios snapped his head up at her in irritation. "Are you kidding me?"
"Hey, you were the one bragging about being prepared," she retorted. "Why didn't you grab it?"
He shot her a scathing scowl in return.
"We were all understandably caught off guard," Picard put in diplomatically.
Rios dropped his gaze and focused on removing Agnes's boot. That was no excuse. The joint was already swelling, so he reached for the weapons kit where he knew a knife was stored and used it to cut a strip off his shirt. One good thing about it being soaked was it made for a cool compress as he wrapped Agnes's ankle.
"I'm sorry I don't have anything better," he said quietly.
Agnes winced as he manipulated her foot. "Oh, I don't know," she said shakily. "The whole ripping your shirt thing is kind of chivalrous."
He gave her a wan smile at that and secured the makeshift wrap. "Just rest that. We're not going anywhere for a while."
"Brings back memories of survival training at the Academy, doesn't it?" Raffi quipped, giving him a conciliatory look.
Cris nodded back, earlier remarks forgiven.
Seven gathered up some rocks and used a phase pistol to get them burning hot. The heat quickly permeated the insulated cave and helped banish the chill, plus it should dry their clothing before too long.
Soji meandered around in the back, having a look around, while everyone else found a place to sit and wait out the storm. "Um, guys?"
Everyone was on their feet at her tone, save for Agnes, and hurrying over. Soji was standing over a pile of animal bones.
"We didn't exactly check to see if these caves were occupied," she said lowly.
They swept their gazes toward the back of the cave, but it didn't extend far from what they could see, and otherwise seemed empty.
"What is it?" Agnes called anxiously.
"Nothing to worry about," Raffi called back. "Just some leftovers from the cave's previous occupant."
"Previous?" Agnes squeaked.
"If the storm hasn't driven it back by now, it probably found another place to shelter," Seven postulated.
"Let's hope so," Picard said grimly.
Rios picked up a phaser and sat with it in his lap for the rest of the night.
By morning, the storm was less intense, but it was still raining heavily. They tried contacting La Sirena, to no avail.
"The mineral deposits in the mountain are too dense for communication signals to get through," Seven said, reading the tricorder. She angled it toward the cave opening. "And the air is still teeming with ionized particles, so the transporters are still not an option."
"Can't the holograms just fly the ship down here to pick us up?" Agnes asked.
"I'll try to get a signal through from outside," Rios said and headed out.
All he got was static at the mouth of the cave, so he huffed and moved further out into the rain to try again.
"La Sirena, do you read?"
Nothing. He had half a mind to take the comm device and smack it against a rock to see if that helped.
A rustling in the foliage made him fall silent, and he angled his phaser up as he scanned the greenery. It could have been anything, a small critter, even, and if he jumped at a squirrel he'd never live it down. But the others were in the cave and Rios kept his guard up.
Without warning, a large beast suddenly burst out from the underbrush with a high-pitched shriek and charged straight at Rios. It had a humpback spine and angular snout lined with razor teeth. Rios fired his pistol, but somehow the plasma discharge glanced off the creature's hirsute scales.
He scrambled backward and fired again, but the beast skidded to a halt in front of him and reared up. It swiped massive talons at Rios, catching him across the chest and sending him to the ground in a spray of blood and rainwater.
Elnor sat on the cave floor, picking idly at pebbles. Camping wasn't all it was made out to be.
A beastly screech suddenly echoed from outside, freezing everyone where they were. Captain Rios had gone out there…
Elnor snatched up his sword and bolted for the mouth of the cave, arriving just as a hulking animal loomed over Rios, looking ready to tear a chunk out of him with its teeth. Elnor let out a battle cry to divert its attention as he unsheathed his blade and leaped.
His sword caught the beast across the face, which made it reel back with a horrendous shriek. It swiped a clawed foot at him in retaliation, which Elnor swiftly dodged and riposted with another jab of his own. The creature squealed and backpedaled to avoid the sting of his sword. Then Seven and Raffi arrived with phasers and fired at the animal. Elnor thought they hit it, though another shot skimmed along its hide and splintered a nearby tree. In any case, the beast turned and fled.
"Oh god, Cris." Raffi dropped to her knees next to Rios, who lay on the ground, body jerking with hitched, jagged breaths. Three bloody gashes had rent right through his jacket and shirt, leaving flayed tatters of fabric and flesh from his neck down his collar bone to his chest.
"Back inside," Seven said tersely, taking hold of Rios's legs.
Elnor quickly sheathed his sword and slung it over his shoulder so he could help, hurrying around to lift Captain Rios under the arms. Rios let out a choked sound as they moved him. Hot blood and cold rainwater both soaked through Elnor's sleeves.
"Cris?" Agnes exclaimed as they re-entered the cave.
"What happened?" Picard demanded.
"Predator," Seven replied simply and started to ease Rios to the dry floor.
Elnor followed suit, then moved away to let someone more experienced with medical emergencies work.
"We don't have the med kit," Raffi scowled as she ripped her jacket off and wadded it up, then pressed it against Rios's chest in an effort to staunch the bleeding. Another garbled sound tore from his throat.
"I'll get it," Elnor volunteered.
"That creature is still out there," Seven pointed out.
"We should leave," Agnes put in anxiously. "What if this cave is its home?"
"It could follow us," Picard reasoned. "Here at least is a defensible position."
"The mountain is blocking our comm signal," Soji argued. "So we can't stay here anyway."
"But until the ionized particles outside clear up, we won't be able to contact La Sirena," Picard replied.
"Cris is going into shock," Raffi snapped. "We don't have a choice. The med kit is back at camp."
That seemed to settle it, then.
"I'll find some branches to make a stretcher," Soji said, striding toward the cave entrance.
"I'll help you," Elnor said and went after her.
There was no sign of the animal outside as they searched the underbrush for pieces of wood both long and sturdy enough. Fortunately, they found two poles that would do and quickly brought them back inside. Raffi was still applying pressure to Rios's wounds, and Elnor noticed how white his complexion had gotten in such a short amount of time. His jerky movements were also smaller and his eyelids had fallen shut.
"We can use our jackets," Soji said, shrugging out of hers.
Seven and Picard contributed theirs, and Soji laid them out between the branches, double knotting the sleeves around the wood. It was a shabby litter to carry someone on, but it should do the trick. Seven and Raffi transferred a now unconscious Rios to it, while Picard went to help Agnes to her feet.
"I can make it," she said, struggling to put weight on her injured ankle. "Two people need to carry the stretcher and the rest of you are needed to be on guard for that creature."
She had a point, so Picard and Raffi took up positions at the head and foot of the stretcher, which left Elnor, Soji, and Seven to walk in an armed formation around them as they ventured out of the cave.
Elnor brought up the rear, eyes and ears peeled against the seemingly tranquil greenery. His other honed senses prickled with unease; he could feel they were being tracked.
Their progress was slow-going, but at least with the hampered pace of Picard and Raffi carrying the stretcher, Agnes was able to keep up. Elnor could tell she was in pain, though she staunchly tried to hide it.
A twig snapped somewhere to their left, and they all whipped their gazes that direction. Nothing moved. Then Soji fired into the trees and something went clambering away in a raucous disturbance of leaves and branches. It seemed the creature was not going to be deterred very easily.
They eventually made it back to the campsite, which was in shambles from the storm. The tents were all toppled; bins lay on their sides and broken open. Picard and Raffi found a relatively clear spot to set the stretcher down while Seven went to rummage through the scattered items in search of the med kit. Agnes hobbled over to sit down next to Rios, her expression pinching with deep concern as she took in his state. He was shaking as though with fever, micro spasms running through his muscles.
Picard activated his comm link. "Picard to La Sirena. Does anyone up there read?"
No one responded. Even though it had stopped raining, the sky was still overcast and there must have still been too much interference.
Seven found the med kit and quickly brought it over to Raffi, who yanked it open and went for a preloaded hypospray first, which she promptly injected into the uninjured side of Rios's neck. His tremors lessened slightly from whatever medication she'd given him, but he still looked awful.
"I don't think a dermal regenerator is gonna cut it," Raffi said, rifling through the kit. She pulled out some bandages and ripped open the packets, then placed the sterile patches over the jagged slash marks.
"Third hypo from the left," Agnes pointed. "Broad spectrum antibiotic."
Raffi snatched that up and quickly pressed it to Rios's neck.
He made a muffled noise and lolled his head. Raffi clasped the sides of his face to stop the movement before he could stretch the lacerations on his neck. Elnor watched tensely as the captain's eyelids fluttered sluggishly.
"Cris? Don't move, honey."
"Raf?" Rios rasped, eyes glazed.
She gave him a watery smile. "Everything's gonna be fine. You just rest, okay?"
Raffi stroked back his damp hair as Rios closed his eyes again.
Elnor turned his attention away from them and scanned the surrounding tree line. Everything was quiet—too quiet. The beast was closing in again.
Leaves rustled up ahead, and a pair of beady yellow eyes peered out from the foliage. Elnor raised his sword.
"Over there," he said, staring straight back at the creature.
But then some branches several yards down also shifted.
"There's more than one," Seven called out in warning, moving forward to join Elnor and Soji in a defensive line.
Picard snatched up another phase pistol and placed himself in front of Rios, Agnes, and Raffi.
Two beasts launched themselves from the underbrush at the same time. Elnor leaped forward to attack the one closest, running straight at it and then jumping up into a flip. He landed on the creature's back and thrust his sword straight down. The beast shrieked and went crashing to the ground. Elnor held on with his sword still buried in the thing's spine. Once it came to a skidding halt in the mud, he gave his blade a twist and then yanked it out.
Its mate, which had been darting back and forth trying to avoid Soji's and Seven's phaser shots, suddenly roared and veered around to charge at Elnor. Soji and Seven kept firing at it, but the thing only flinched from the hits and kept coming. Elnor tried to leap out of the way, but the animal followed, plowing into him and knocking the air from his lungs as they hit the ground. But Elnor managed to thrust his sword up just as massive jaws came down, and his blade plunged right into the beast's mouth and up into its skull. There was a gurgling screech, and purple blood splattered Elnor's cheek. Then the creature collapsed, whooshing the air from his lungs a second time.
Soji and Seven rushed over and pushed the carcass off, letting him up.
"Are you all right?" Soji asked urgently.
He nodded and scooted backward, extracting his sword from the animal's head.
"Let's hope there aren't any more of them," Seven said grimly as she gave him a hand up.
With the immediate danger past, all they could do now was wait for communications to go back up. Raffi kept trying periodically while Agnes sat with Rios and monitored his condition. The rest of them went about cleaning up the campsite and packing up their scattered gear for when they could finally get back to La Sirena. Elnor hoped it was soon; he didn't like seeing Captain Rios like this. Who would pilot La Sirena if they lost him?
Finally, almost two hours later, the comm channel crackled with a distinctly Irish accented voice.
"—os, does anyone read?"
"Yes!" Raffi shouted. "Emergency beam-out!"
The picturesque planet disappeared in a swirl of transporter lights.
Rios groaned as he slowly came awake, his head aching dully and his eyelids heavy. The odd curvature of the surface beneath him prompted him to open his eyes; sure enough, he was in the med bay. That was never a good thing.
He turned his head toward Agnes, who was smiling at him.
"Hey there," she said softly.
He squinted as memory filtered back in, and he reached a hand up to feel along his chest. Everything seemed fine.
"Emil patched you up," Agnes went on.
Rios furrowed his brow. "Everyone else okay?"
"Yeah. There were two of those creatures. They tracked us all the way back to camp, but Elnor killed them both with that sword of his."
"Sounds like I missed a lot."
Agnes's expression fell slightly. "Probably for the best. You were in pretty bad shape, and it took a couple of hours for the interference to clear enough so we could beam you back to the ship."
Rios lifted his head to do a visual inspection of himself. Still in one piece. He dropped his head back tiredly and muttered, "Next time you all want an adventure, can you just use the holosuite?"
Agnes's lips twitched sympathetically. "That is more my pace."
"Captain Rios!" Elnor's voice exclaimed brightly as he entered the science lab. "I'm glad to see you awake. We were all very worried."
Rios mustered a soft smile for the kid. "I hear a 'good job' is in order for slaying those beasts down there."
Elnor beamed. "Camping can be fun after all."
Rios shared a grimacing look with Agnes and groaned. Next time he was staying on his goddamn ship.