Summary: An away team visits a pre-warp society and learn a costly lesson.
Author's note: Feedback is a good thing!
"What do you mean? I don't understand." stammered
Hoshi Sato looked at the data pad in her hands. It contained a full and detailed report on the matter at hand. Captain Archer had suggested that Ensign Cutler should have a copy that night, as soon as possible after the matter had been concluded. It was better that way, better than learning what had happen through hearsay, rumors, or half truths.
"I'm so sorry." Hoshi told her, empathy flowing through her carefully spoken words. "The captain wanted you to have this." she said. Hoshi could not bring herself to say more than those simple words as she passed the data pad to her.
Ensign Cutler still looked startled and confused as she took the pad. She glanced at it and swallowed hard, as though she was finally beginning to understand what had happened.
"You're welcome. If you want to talk after you read through the report ..." Hoshi offered.
An away team never knows what it will face
on the surface of an alien planet. Every mission is different and unique,
for better or for worse. Potential threats come from a variety of sources:
the multi-facet danger source called the environment, the plant and animal
life, unfamiliar or even familiar alien races, and even fellow away team
members. The number of variables involved can be staggering, but still,
crew members continue to volunteer or heed the call for away team duty.
Danger does not daunt them, or if it does, it lends caution and caution
only to their fulfillment of duty.
On Gamma Alpha V the away team faced greater challenges and danger than they had bargained for in the course of this particular mission. The four of them went to the surface by shuttlepod: Malcolm Reed, Hoshi Sato, Trip Tucker, and Dr. Phlox. With the exception of Lieutenant Reed and Commander Tucker's side-arms, they went down unarmed, if not unprepared. The away team went into an area and a situation that was presumed to be peaceful and relatively safe, only to find that these presumptions were not so.
"What's our ETA?" asked Trip, leaning forward
to look over Malcolm's shoulder and making the young lieutenant nervous
as he piloted the shuttlepod.
"Just fifteen more minutes, commander." he replied, coughing softly.
"Relax and enjoy the ride." suggested Phlox.
"It just feels like it's taking forever. I haven't been off the ship in almost two months. I'm excited. That's all, doc." explained Trip defensively.
"Where will we be landing?" asked Hoshi, who was glad to the chance to sit up front with Malcolm.
"The coordinates T'Pol fed into the helm will have us putting down in the middle of the countryside between two medium sized cities. A nice secluded and wooded area, but easy access to the population centers." said Malcolm approvingly.
The designated landing area was a meadow in
a small forest that laid between two cities that had been detect from orbit.
The forest reminded Hoshi of the great forests of the Pacific Northwest
on Earth. It was a temperate rain forest of substantial age. It smelled
fresh and clean in the early morning air. Sunlight filtered pleasantly
through the boughs above them.
"Worth the long flight, commander?" asked Malcolm as they stood outside the shuttlepod and quietly took in their surroundings.
"You bet it is." said Commander Tucker, his sense of awe and wonder coming through loud and clear in his voice.
"It is very pleasant." agreed Phlox, smiling as he looked around.
"Shall we be on our way?" asked Malcolm after a few minutes.
"Which way then?" Hoshi asked Trip, who was in charge of the mission.
"Malcolm, you have a map, right?"
"Yes, sir. We can find a town either eight kilometers to the northwest or six and a half to the southeast."
"I love a good hike, but let's go southeast. No point in wearing our boots out." said Trip with a grin.
When the team went to the surface, we knew
very little about Gamma Alpha V. It was another M class planet with a pre-warp
industrial civilization, orbiting a sun that was substantially younger
and brighter than our own. It was a green planet with humanoid life upon
it. It had not merited even the smallest note in the Vulcan databases.
What do Vulcans care for forests and valleys, salty seas and snow-topped
mountains? Very little, of course. I cannot help but to think that if we
had known just a little more, things might have been very different. We
would not have been deceived by the appearance of peace and beauty.
They had left the eaves of the forest almost
a kilometer behind them when the landing party heard the soft thudding
in the distance. It was a little like thunder, but it was preceded by a
faint whistling noise. Malcolm felt a strange thrill of excitement, but
the others only felt a little puzzled as they halted on top of a small
hill to listen to the unfamiliar sound.
"It can't be thunder." said Hoshi, looking up into the cloudless, pale blue sky.
"It doesn't quite sound like an engine." remarked Tucker.
"The sound is coming from the direction of our destination. Do we turn around or investigate?" asked Malcolm, his finger tips momentarily brushing the grip of his sidearm.
"I don't want to turn back now." said Trip with a shrug.
The away team continued their hike through
the hills toward the nearest population center, hearing only occasionally
a faint faraway rumble that they could not identify. It was only a few
hours after the first light of the day and on the horizon they could make
out indistinct wisps of what Hoshi and Trip both took to be fog. As Malcolm
looked at the far-off grayness, he did not feel so sure that it was fog
that they were seeing. But if it wasn't the morning mist, what was it?
It was still morning when they ventured into the outskirts of town, walking slowly down the carefully cobbled streets. These were empty streets, quiet streets where not a single soul stirred. Many of the buildings were vacant and run-down, as though their occupants had left quickly some time ago. It did not sit well with the armory officer nor with Hoshi, who was still a bit skittish.
"Where is everyone?" asked Trip quietly out loud as they worked their way toward the city center.
"I don't know, commander, but I don't think I like this place." said Malcolm through gritted teeth.
"No kidding?" whispered Hoshi.
The ground shook beneath their feet. It was like a small tremor, but it wasn't an earthquake. There was a loud thud, although the timbre and loudness of the noise made it seem more like an explosion than previously. It was somewhat nearer too.
As they rounded a corner the sound of distant screaming voices caused Hoshi to halt in her tracks. She had a cold feeling in the pit of her stomach.
"Can you hear that?" she hissed as the others stopped in their tracks and looked at her.
"What?" asked Tucker.
"People screaming." she told him.
"Ahead, somewhere. I can't be sure." she replied, shaking her head to clear it.
"We will go carefully then." said Reed, his hand brushing the phase pistol at his side almost as though to assure himself that it was still there and ready to be used.
"Right." agreed Trip.
Even Phlox looked a little worried as they began moving again.
The party reached a wide thoroughfare not many minutes later. It stretched toward the heart of the city, down a hill and up another one. They all paused as they surveyed the city. They could all hear the voices as they stood on top of that rise. And seconds later they could see its source: hundreds of humanoids, most of them screaming as they ran, were running into the main street from various alleys, mostly to their left. To all appearances they were fleeing from something in abject terror and panic.
A shrill whistle and a loud blast cut through the rising cacophony. The ground shook with even more force.
"My God!" whispered Malcolm. "It's artillery fire!"