d. William Roberts
2274 This world was both beautiful, yet terrifying at the same time, the woman thought as she watched the smaller of the nights two moons quickly set through the arboreal growth on the horizon. Even as she watched, it disappeared, leaving its larger, slower brother behind.
Slowly, he worked his way through the vegetation toward where his senses told him the source was. He was careful not to make any noise as he passed, a trait he was famous for.
She shuddered a bit, her shore party parka not quite holding off the freezing chill of the night. Though the vegetation in the forest was still green, there was an icy gleam to their surface belying the true temperature of the air. The womans breath eased smokily away from her face as its warm moisture instantly condensed upon its exit.
She stood her watch on the perimeter of the temporary camp the shore party had set up as a central nexus for the scientific studies they were conducting. Scientists, or not, security was still a primary function when on a world that had never seen an out-world presence before, especially when the Federation wasnt yet sure it was prime for colonization. There was still the question of whether there was a sentient specieseven the hint of one beginning its rise to that statusnative to the planet.
Ah, he thought as he caught sight of a fire, its heat registering to his sensitive eyes, the place where they are.
Slowly turning in place, she scanned the forest for life of any known kind. "Nothing but a few crawlies and their slightly larger predators," she muttered as she interpreted the read out, but nothing threatening me, or the camp nearby, her thoughts finished her verbal statement. That wasnt to say that there werent larger predators to be found on this world, her thoughts continued as she completed her scan by extending it to the furthest range of the tricorder. Which was why it was terrifying as well as beautiful.
Freeze! Dont move, he thought as he saw a beam emanate from the edge. Cover yourself so they cannot see you.
Still nothing, she concluded, folding the miniature scanning device back up and letting it hang by her side from its carrying cord. Which I am thankful for.
Now, move now, they are not looking. Slowly, carefully, still too far away to mask completely.
It would be better if Quint was here as well, her thoughts continued on a different track as she blew into her hands to warm them. Though they had a fire in the center of the camp, she couldnt warm her hands while at the same time looking outward into the forest. It was doing a wonderful job of keeping her back-side comfortable right now though.
"I miss him," she whispered to herself, her breath billowing out as she did so. She might have to stand watch here, but her mind didnt have to, a failing she was so often reminded about by her superior.
Ah, yes, he thought as an image formed. Good! Easy!
Why did he have to accept the transfer? Didnt he love me? Why wouldnt the captain accept my request to be transferred with him? her thoughts asked as she stared off into space. She pouted as her thoughts turned to the answers she already knew. I knew this could happen. Fell in love anyway. Made an emotional attachment. The Academy warns of doing this if you want to make Starfleet a career. "Short term relationships" are all you can expect, they said, "if you attach yourself to another member of the fleet". But we were made for each other, her thoughts concluded as she let her imagination return to the last time they were together, the night before he shipped out to his next assignment.
Swish, the sound of vegetation on clothing.
Her minds eye played back the dinner, the music and the last dance theyd had before retiring to her bed.
The music had been slow and his arms so comfortable around her. Quint was that perfect height, taller than her to make it easy to rest her head on his chest while they slow danced. All of a sudden the room changed into a huge ballroom filled with other dancers. Quint took the lead and they wove ever further from one edge, to the other.
"I love you, Quint," she said as she buried her face into his uniform jacket, exhilarating in the smell of his cologne. She was too much into her own pleasure to note that he didnt answer.
Twice more they traversed the ballroom floor before she looked up to try and get a kiss on his mouth. It was as she had expected, full and moist. "I love you, too, Lois," Quint said as he kissed her back. She lifted her chin to receive it. Then his cheek brushed past her chin as his lips traversed to her neck. She arched her neck anticipating the feelings it would produce.
Sawdust flew as Lieutenant Commander Shaun Kelsey worked. Under the spinning tool of his carver, he had an eighteen by eighteen centimeter scant of a woody material that had both the look and qualities of maple. He doubted that what he was carving on was the real thing. That was very hard to come by since the trees were protected in their groves and very rarely cut down anymore. However, the social and recreation department had plenty of this just for the purpose of entertaining bored spacemen, so he took advantage of it.
Scribed onto the face of the scant was the picture of a rose. His plan was to carve the picture into the wood using bas-relief style so that even though the picture would be for the most part two dimensional in reality, it would appear to be three dimensional. Woodcarving was a hobby hed picked up as a youth from his grandda and found to be a welcome distraction from the day to day grind of the command crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
"Why dont you just purchase the finished product from the ships exchange store?" his friend Kevin Riley had once asked.
"It just wouldnt be the same," Kelsey had answered then and still now. He talked to himself as he went along. "There is always something special about things made with your own hands." Taking a quick look around his work station he noted the mess of fine sawdust his ministrations were producing and the fine coating on his utilities. "Though there are some draw-backs."
Clearing refuse from the surface of the scant he was working on, he held it up to inspect his work. "Ah, yes, " he said to himself, "its coming along just fine. Wont Arlene be pleased when I give it to her as a present when we celebrate our fifth anniversary?" Hard to believe its already been five years since I finally got up enough nerve to sit down with her in the galley, and now were, his thoughts reviewed the years activities he had with her.
They had been split up for a short time after the Enterprise had finished its first five year mission. Both had spent time working at desk jobs in the bowels of Starfleet. They still had regularly seen each other though so it hadnt been too bad. But, they both had the "bug" for space travel and both applied for the openings posted for the Enterprises next five year mission. To their combined surprise and glee, both had both accepted. They had missed the episode with Vger, but in Kelseys mind, he didnt think theyd really missed anything much.
He studied his artwork. As a botanist, she never would have appreciated it if Id given her a real rose, though it is her favorite flower. All she would have been able to see is the death of a beautiful bloom. This way, I can give her a rose and something of myself as well. "The perfect gift," he said out loud.
Hed fallen deeply and forever in love with Lieutenant Arlene Williamsthe raven haired, green eyed beauty from the science sectionthe first time hed laid eyes on her. Mister Spock, as head of the science section, didnt approve, but then hes a Vulcan and not expected to understand this Human frailty.
"One hour left," the computers female voice said from its location on a desk in the corner of his small room. It was Arlenes voice, or at least as close as the computer could come to imitating it.
"Oh, my God," Kelsey said, putting the scant down. Got to get ready for our dinner date. Thank goodness we both are on the same watch, he thought as he brushed the sawdust off and set the rooms housekeeping mode to full so that the sawdust would be taken away while he was in the sonic shower. Stripping off his uniform, he threw them into the recycle chute.
He kept himself in tip-top shape, and his body showed it. It was sculptured, but not over-done, as some of the security goons liked to do. He already had the medals of honor that would permanently show his exploits in the scars he carried from the Romulan short sword of the centurion hed fought a few years earlier. Doctor McCoy had offered to remove them, but hed refused. Though the doctor had shook his head in disbelief, Mister Scott had applauded his actions.
Ten minutes later, he stepped from the shower, clean as a whistle and ready for action. The clean uniform was sitting on the bed, still in its sterile wrap. Pulling it free he caught site of the epaulet on his shoulder that indicated his rank of Lieutenant. Though it wasnt a high rank as an officer, he was still proud of it. After all, he wasnt an ensign anymore and glad of it.
Once dressed, he walked over to the mirror above the chest of drawers and checked his uniform. The whole while he was talking to himself and wondering what to bring for his love. "Lets see," he said. He wanted to say "one red rose," but that would be stupid. Why was he carving a picture of a rose instead of giving her one like this? "Because shes a botanist and would have a hate/love thing for the gift."
"Lets see," he repeated. "What goes well with dinner and will be accepted by her?" He thought for a little while longer, then snapped his fingers. "A white wine, more specifically a German white." He walked over to his closet. He rummaged around in it for a bit, and then found a crate of what he was looking for. "A bottle of 2269 Kabinett," he said to himself as he took one brown bottle from its home. "Im glad New Saar is good for more than just research and development."
There was a warning printed on the label. "Be aware: this beverage contains alcohol and may cause poor judgment."
Kelsey read it and chuckled. "Im counting on that part," though he would never take advantage of Arlene Williams that way.
"It is also not meant to be drank less than six hours before going on duty," he quoted Starfleet regulations.
"Now for some ice to cool it down with," Kelsey said as he found an ice bucket in the closet as well. Punching a series of buttons above the food processor slot, he put in an order for the same, then slipped the bucket under the dispenser. A clattering noise a moment later told him that his order had arrived. Sliding the bottle into the cool embrace of the solid water, he made the final preparations for his date with Arlene. "Now wheres the cork screw?" He looked around a bit, then remembered whered hed put it the last time hed used it. "Ah, yes. Now Im all set."
With a happy tune in his heart, a whistle on his lips and the ice bucket in hand, he left his quarters. It wasnt a long walk to Lieutenant Williams quarters, which he felt was fortunate, but then again, there was no such thing as a really long walk inside a starship.
He pressed the call button. There was no answer. "Hmm," he said, "I hope she didnt get called away on some special duty." He frowned for a bit, then discounted that thought. "Nah, shed have told me as soon as she knew. Arlenes social sense is very acute." He rang the call button again.
This time the door slid open, and there stood Williams, the make-up on her face all smeared, and her eyes and nose red, tears still running down her cheek.
"Oh, Shaun, Im sorry," she said as she applied a tissue to her nose. "I should have called this off."
Kelsey stepped in and enveloped her with his arms. "Now why would you want to do that? It looks like you could use the comfort of another right now." He put the ice bucket and corkscrew on the chest of drawers nearby.
She nearly collapsed in his arms. "Oh, Shaun, thank you."
He walked her over to her bed and sat down while still holding her tight. Her sobbing came back with a passion as she buried her face in his tunic. He determined to let her cry herself out before he asked what it was all about. All thoughts of romance went out the hatch, as it were. This process took a bit longer than he thought, but when it did abate a bit, he remembered the wine.
"Would you like a glass of wine?" he offered.
"I dont know," Williams responded.
"Its a good year, its our year, and it might help you through this a bit," he countered.
"Nothing but time will help me through this, Shaun." She handed him a flimsy that had been laying near the head of the bed.
Kelsey had a hard time reading it as it was soaked with her tears. It read:
Honey, were sorry to tell you that Granny Williams died yesterday. We know how close the two of you were and know that this will hit you hard. The funeral is going to be in a couple of days...
Kelsey noted the date the message was originally sent and that it was already three days old. Subspace is quick, but not so quick as to let personal communications be processed any sooner, he thought as he continued reading.
Please dont fret none dear, she died peacefully in her sleep. Write us when you can.
"Ah, dear, this is terrible. Im sorry," he said as he stood up and crossed the room to where the wine was sitting. He noted that the dinner table was set for two and there were glasses at each place. Getting them, he quietly opened the bottle and filled them both.
"Here," he said as he returned to a place beside her. "Drink some of this."
She took a sip and then held the glass in her lap. "She was my best friend when I was growing up when my parents were either off on some mission for Starfleet, or trip for the business." She sniffed. "I hold her in the same place I should hold my mum."
"My Da and Ma were both pretty close at home for us Kelseys," Shaun piped in. "So I really dont know how you feel there. My grandda and ma died when I was young."
"You were lucky, Shaun," she replied as she took another sip of wine. Already her color was improving and the redness of her swollen eyes and nose fading. "I wont be ready to have kids until I can be home with them," she said quite forcefully. "You should know this if we are going to get any more serious together."
That was quite a revelation to Kelsey. "Not a problem, Arlene. I was brought up that way myself and believe as you do."
Carefully putting the glass of wine on the night table nearby, she reached out and gave Kelsey a long and tight hug. "Im glad Shaun. Thank you."
She blushed a little, maybe from the wine, or maybe some thought, but her next statement took Kelsey a bit by surprise, though it was something that had been on his mind since the moment hed first laid eyes on her. "Do you think you might marry me?" This time she took up her glass and took a healthy drink from it.
"Well," Kelsey blustered, seeing a way to lighten the mood in the room. Maybe dinner isnt out of the question yet, he thought as he formed his response. "Most women get on their knee to ask me that." He faked a pout.
She slapped his shoulder and laughed.
Thats the Arlene I know and love, thought Kelsey as he luxuriated in her brightened emotion.
"In your dreams sailor," Arlene said then and chuckled.
Shaun stared into her green eyes a moment before answering. "To answer your question....Yes, but," and he took her right hand in his and putting on his thickest Irish brogue, he said, "lets do this right and proper, lass."
"Is there such a thing in this day and age, you young Irish boy?" she tried to mimic his accent.
"Aye, lass, there is, but if youll pardon me just a tad, Ive got to get something from my quarters to make it perfect."
"Take all the time you want boy-o, itll give me a chance to tidy up a bit and put dinner on."
* * * * *
"Lieutenant Bali?" Lieutenant Paulson called from near the fire. "Man, is it dark now that the first moon has set." He looked around and couldnt find her. "Lois?" What, doesnt she want to get relieved? he thought as he turned on his hand light. "Hey, Lois, where are you?"
Then he thought he saw motion just out beyond the reach of the circle his hand light was throwing. Extending it, he saw what he thought was her silhouette standing there, at the edge of the clearing their camp was in, looking out into the forest. "Ah, there you are," he said as he walked over to where she was.
"Turn off that light," she hissed.
"Why?" he asked.
"Night vision," she answered.
"Ah," he said as he complied. The grass-like growth of the clearing was covered with dew. He waited till he was standing next to her to talk again. "Dont you want to be relieved, Lois?"
She just turned and looked at him. There seemed to be no recognition of him there. Then she turned back to staring into the forest.
"What you looking at out there?" he said as he turned his light back on and shone its beam into the deep darkness under the trees.
"Turn that thing out," she hissed again.
He obeyed again, not sure what to say now.
Finally, she said something. At first it sounded more like a growl, than a voice, but after she coughed a bit, it became normal. "Do you have any memories that keep coming back to haunt you?"
"Do I have any memories that..?" Paulson answered. "Lady, Ive got some childhood memories that would curl your hair."
"How long ago?" Bali queried.
"Mine go all the way back to my childhood and teen years, before I finally escaped from that bastard father of mine. What a monster he was?" Paulson answered. "Why?"
"I was just deep into one of mine, thats all," she said, her gaze still locked on some imaginary spot far away.
"Quint, again?" Paulson snorted.
"Why dont you forget him? The chances that Starfleet will let both your careers come together again are thousands to one." He sidled up close to her. "You know what the Polynesians of Earth say, If you cant be with the one you love, love the one youre with." He started to put his arm around her shoulder and had just barely touched her when she spun out of his reach, glaring at him.
"Dont!" she said, almost a growl.
He backed off, his hands in front of him in a gesture like he would fend off an attack. "Okay, okay, I understand. Its way too soon. Im sorry." My mind must be playing tricks on me, he thought at the same time, that didnt feel much like fabric under my fingertips.
Her features softened again as he backed away. She continued to stare intently at him though. "How bad are your memories?"
"Oh, boy," he answered, just glad she wasnt threatening a harassment charge against his slight indiscretion there. "Lets say this, my days growing up were pure hell. I had both a physically and mentally abusive father who rode me like a rodeo bull."
"I see," she said almost dreamily.
"Yep," he said, all the while scanning the forest for intruders. After all, it was his watch, not hers. Not anymore anyway. "He was a hum-dinger. What I never could understand..." He turned to face Bali, but found only empty air where she had once been. "Hmmm," he hummed. "If you didnt want to stay for the whole picture, whyd you buy a ticket to the theater?"
Activating his tricorder, he scanned the forest around him and then started to walk back to the camp. He couldnt find any trace of anything larger than a mouse. Then something odd caught his attention. How many intelligent life-forms did it just register in the camp? He scanned it a second time. "I see eight forms there, and counting me theres nine. There should be ten." Does that mean Lois didnt go back to her shelter when she disappeared from here. So where did she go?
He scanned the forest near where hed found her. Still nothing. He went back to where they had been standing. What was it she was talking about there? he thought. "My memories?" he said out loud. For a moment, his mind slipped into the last time his father had beat him as a teen. He had actually used his fists on him then as he pummeled him.
"Ill teach you to talk back to me, fool," the man said.
How many times had he wished he could have fought back? Instead, he had always just taken what was dished out, too afraid of the hulk of a man to get a lick in, or two. In his minds eye, he changed the memory this time. He was an adult now and this man wasnt going to get away with this activity any more.
His father backed up and away from him. "Scared now, are you?" Paulson asked as he advanced. "Lets see how you do with someone who can hit you back." He took a swing at the man, but his target dodged him and backed up again, weaving. All of a sudden, the scene they were in was a bar room, full of tables and supporting pillars.
He swung again, but once again his father dodged the swing and backed up some more, maneuvering in and out from between the obstacles. Finally, he had his father backed into a corner. "Now, bastard, youll get what youve had coming for years." He cocked his right arm back for a punch and let it go...
* * * * *
Where is it? Kelsey thought frantically as he searched the upper compartment of the chest of drawers in his room. Im sure this is where I put it. He took the drawer out of the chest and dumped its contents on the bed. Bouncing free of the neatly rolled underwear and socks was a small, slightly worn out, velvet box. "Ah, there it is."
He opened the box. Its small, spring-loaded hinge creaked a bit with age. Inside was a diamond ring. It was a relatively simple setting with two small emeralds on either side, but it had been in the family for a very long time, and he cherished it as much as the woman he wanted to give it to. Hed had it sent to him nearly five years ago when hed first met Williams and had kept it with him the whole time, keeping it safe for just this moment.
Putting it into his pocket, he began to return the contents of the drawer to their rightful places. It only took a few minutes before this was done and he was heading back out the door. Now there was definitely a spring to his step because he was about to ask Arlene something he had wanted to ask for a long time now, but had been afraid to, for fear of being rejected. He was afraid that she wouldnt want to jeopardize her career with a life long commitment to a man also in Starfleet. Theyd already had a scare with the possibility of being forcefully separated by their careers and knew there was a big chance they could find themselves next time separated by hundreds of parsecs of space. He knew what her answer would be now, since she was the one that had breached it in the first place.
Hed only gotten half-way there when the ship-wide intercom came to life. "Lieutenant Kelsey report to the bridge, please acknowledge."
Damn! his mind screamed. Why now? He quickly found the nearest com-box and answered the hail. "Lieutenant Kelsey, acknowledged." My shift is up and I was about to do the most important thing in my life so far and they want me on the bridge. This had better be good, he threatened mentally, though it was an empty threat and he knew it.
It only took a few minutes to get to the nearest turbolift and less than a minute after that to make it to the bridge. When he got there, he found Arlene already there, as well as two members of ship security in their brown combat uniforms.
"Lieutenant Kelsey reporting as ordered, sir," he said as he entered. His questioning gaze found that of Arlenes and her response was to shrug her shoulders. She didnt know either.
Captain Kirk turned from looking at the view-screen. "Lieutenant Kelsey, a member of the science research team has disappeared down there. We think he may have wandered off and gotten himself lost in the forest, but our scans have so far been unable to locate him. He cant have gone far since its only just now getting light with the local sunrise, and he had the last watch of the night. Take this security team and do a search of the local area and see what you can find out."
"Aye, sir." But he had a question that was both legitimate and self serving. "What has Lieutenant Williams got to do with this?" She shot him a withering glance as he finished it, and he instantly felt regret at having asked it at all.
Kirk saw this quick interaction and understood, there being nothing that happened between his officers that he didnt find out about eventually, especially a couple that had been going steady for as long as these two had and who never even tried to hide their affections. "Well, nothing, in regards to the search itself, but Lieutenant Bali is your friend, is she not? Kirk asked Williams.
"Yes, sir," she answered. "Ever since the Academy."
Kelsey recognized the name and the face as one of the ladies that had been sitting with Arlene that first time hed gotten up the nerve to sit at the same table.
"It seems that something has frightened her badly...very badly. If the disappearance is not just the crewman getting lost in the forest, then maybe she saw something," Kirk stated. "Maybe you can get something out of her."
"If theres something there, I know Lois will tell me, sir," Williams answered.
"Good," Kirk concluded. "Arm yourselves with standard phaser side-arms. Kelsey, you have your orders. Give me regular updates on your progress."
"Aye, sir," Kelsey returned as he motioned to the security men to follow.
The party left the central bridge and entered the turbolift at the back. With the two burly security men, it was a tight fit and by the glare Kelsey got from Arlene, he was glad they were there. He was sure hed have gotten an ear-full from her otherwise.
First stop was the nearest armory and supply point to get shore party supplies. Since they might be staying overnight, shelters were checked out as well since there werent enough of them on the surface right now otherwise. While the security guys were distracted with this, Arlene put her lips close to Shauns ear and whispered, "Dont you ever do that again, Mister Shaun Patrick Kelsey."
Now he knew he was in big trouble. Only his Ma would call him by his full name, and then only when hed violated some big-time rule. His response, for the moment was to play dumb, even though he already knew what the reason for her statement was, "What?"
"Well talk later," she replied to his wide eyed response. "You can bet your little Irish arse on that."
"But you already have that," he retorted, trying to cool thinks off a bit with some bawdy humor. All he got was a withering you just wait till later look and decided to shut up until they could be alone and get this over with.
From the supply room to the nearest transporter was only a matter of about fifty meters, and they were there in no time, climbing onto the platform. Chief Rand, the transporter operator on duty, looked up and visually checked who was in the party, insuring that there were no more, or less, than had been cleared to depart. "Lieutenant Kelsey? Is your party ready for transport?"
The transporter room disappeared in a dazzle of blue energy, to be replaced by the bright sunny scene of an open clearing in a thick arboreal forest.
To think, its early evening on the Enterprise, and its early morning here planet-side, Kelsey thought, bemoaning at least one nights sleep before finally getting some rest. But first I need to report to the shore party commander and get his bend on this, he thought as he looked around, shading his eyes against the bright sunrise. Ah, there he is. He walked over to the waiting officer. He began the conversation, "When did you notice he was missing, sir?" Kelsey asked Lieutenant Commander Bilorn, a Deltan science officer. The two security specialists hed brought down with him were conferencing with the two security officers that had been here from the start.
"After sunrise and when we got up," came the response. "He was on the last watch before wake up."
"Any signs of mishap?"
"Like what, Lieutenant?"
"I dont know," Kelsey tried to remain patient with this cerebral type, which was always a problem for him. "A tree falling on him, a wild beast dragging him off, something like that."
"Thats the problem, Lieutenant. There is nothing really. We can see some tracks leading off into the forest on that side of the clearing," Bilorn pointed to where he was talking about, "but no sign of a struggle. Its like he just wandered off."
"Hmm," Kelsey hummed, feeling just a bit like Sherlock Holmes. Now what would that super sleuth do in this situation? his thoughts meandered. "Who was the last to see him?
"Lieutenant Bali, but shes not been much help."
"Thats why we requested Lieutenant Williams come down. Balis been holed up in her shelter the entire morning and gets almost violent if anyone tries to come in. Sounds almost feral. We were hoping since she and Williams were good friends that she could get some answers."
"I see," Kelsey said, making notations in his tricorder.
"Is there anything else, Lieutenant, or can my crew and I get back to our research?"
"No, no, go ahead, I think thats all I need from you and yours. My security team will have been briefed up by yours on anything else we need. Thank you, Commander."
"My pleasure," and the Deltan walked away.
The problem with science types, he thought, was their single-minded concentration on their job. It never occurs to them that there is danger to shore party missions of this type. Despite what the tricorders may say.
He went over to the four members of the security team and got their report. There wasnt anything new that he hadnt already heard from Bilorn. The cold fact was that Paulson seemed to have violated the first protocol of a shore party and wandered away from camp by himself, and then gotten lost. It should have been a simple matter for the Enterprise to locate him in that case. "But they had found neither hide, nor hair of him on ships sensors," he said to himself as he reviewed the evidence.
"Talking to yourself again, dear?" a female voice said from his side.
He took a quick glance in that direction to insure it was who he recognized it to be. "Yes. I work better with myself in puzzling cases."
"It is a puzzle, thats for sure," Williams continued.
"What did you get from Lieutenant Bali?"
"Nothing," Williams responded. "She wouldnt let me in either, and thats a puzzle as well."
"Normally we have nothing hidden between us. We tell each other everything."
"Everything?" Kelsey responded, a bit of worry in his voice.
"Yep," she responded, giving him a wink. "What are good friends for?"
"I should think somethings would be sacred," Kelsey said as he felt color creeping into his cheeks.
She got real close. "Dont worry. Your honor is still intact, my dear."
"Whew!" Changing the subject back to the matter at hand, Kelsey continued. "I think we really need to insist on getting her story. She was the last one to see Paulson."
"Well, be gentle. If she really did see anything, she may have been so traumatized by it that if you pry to hard, shell go into shock and develop amnesia."
"I understand," Kelsey answered. "Lets go." Turning to the four security crewmembers he gave them their orders. "Two teams of two. Start an overlapping two hundred meter circular search pattern of the forest around the camp. Keep me posted to anything out of the ordinary you might find."
"Aye sir," they said in concert and split up, heading for the forest.
The two of them walked over to the shelter that was Balis. Kelsey was first to try to communicate. "Lieutenant Bali? Could we come in and have a talk with you?"
There was nothing at first.
Kelsey knocked on a support to try and get Balis attention in case she was asleep.
This got a growling response that, as Bilorn had accurately described it, was almost feral.
"Lois?" Williams cut in. "Can we talk to you? Its pretty important."
A growly voice responded. "Later."
"I cant wait till later, Arlene," Kelsey cut in in a low voice. "I need answers now."
"As I said, Shaun, she may be shocky, and we dont want to push her to a breaking point."
"Did you know her to be shaky?"
"Not really, but..."
He cut her off, "Then lets get to the bottom of this so we can move the investigation to the next level."
Williams knocked on the support this time. "Lois? We really need to talk to you."
"Later," came the same growly voice. "Sleepy," was added this time.
"No excuse," Kelsey said to Williams. "Lieutenant Bali, as the command crew representative here, I insist on talking to you now." With that, he started to enter the shelter.
"No!!!" came an voice that was almost a roar. But it wasnt the voice that stopped both of them in their tracks, though neither voiced it. Both received the feeling of dread that stopped them from going any further.
"I guess it can wait a little while longer," Kelsey backed off, not knowing exactly why.
"Wise decision," Williams added.
"See if you can get anything else from the science team. Im going to join one of the search elements and help them."
"Dont you want me to join the other search team?" Williams countered.
He had a strong protective feeling running deep in his roots that he couldnt find the source of. For some reason, he really didnt want his "significant other" away from the camp. "No, I need better answers from the science people."
"Shaun, we really need to talk about what youre really feeling here. Its misguided," she argued.
"I really dont know what youre talking about," he argued back, though he knew precisely what it was she was talking about. "Now, if you could please, Lieutenant?" He hated to pull rank.
She raised a finger at him, began to continue the argument, then stomped away.
I havent heard the end of that either, he thought, not by a long shot.
The rest of the daythough the temperature was comfortable and the skies remained clearwas tiresome for Kelsey. Their tricorders failed to reveal any sign of the missing officer and though visual searches found plenty of sign that there was a host of animals living in the area, they never really saw any of it. "Probably because were about as stealthy as wild bulls in a china shop," he said to himself as the day warmed up.
It was just as that planets sun was reaching its zenith when the two teams met up after completing a second ring of searches.
"Anything?" Kelsey asked the other team.
"No, sir. Nothing outside the wealth of animal life that lives here."
"Same here," Kelsey returned. "Time to return to camp and lunch."
"Best order Ive heard all day," one of the security guys answered.
On the way back in, Kelsey gave them their orders for the rest of the day. "I need you people rested up for tonight. I want us to pull the brunt of the watch tonight. The science people mean well, but security isnt their expertise."
A chorus of "Ayes" followed his orders along with one "You got that right" that he chose to ignore.
"Well set up a perimeter at sunset and begin as soon as it gets dark."
Camp was pretty silent when they returned since the research teams were out and about doing their jobs. Williams was sitting near the fire circle and its dead pile of ashes. He sat down next to her.
"Anything?" he asked.
"Nothing worthwhile," she responded. "As I knew it would be."
"Nothing here either. How about with Lieutenant Bali?"
"Nothing new there."
"Hmm," came his answer, as he opened a ration package.
"Yes, Arlene?" he answered, noting that her voice held a quality he recognized as her getting personal one.
"We need to talk about something really important to me."
Uh-oh! he thought, here it comes.
"If were going to work out as a couple, youve got to stop trying to protect me from my job."
"What?" he sputtered, trying to sound surprised. "How have I done...?"
She cut him off with a wave of her hand. "Asking the captain if I was really needed down here. Keeping me here in camp instead of on one of the search teams. Youre protecting me, and its got to stop."
He started to answer, but she cut it off.
"We are both Starfleet officers. I know youre in for the duration, and I think you know by now, I am as well."
"Yes," he said, though he didnt want to admit it.
"We both know the job is dangerous. Knew it from the moment we signed on at the Academy."
"Let me do my job, and dont you worry about the danger. If its meant to be, its meant to be. I have to learn how to fend for myself because its a pretty good chance we wont always be on the same assignment, nor on the same shore party together. If you put too much energy into worrying about me every time were apart. Youll go crazy and rightly so. So if you want us to continue to go together, or even make that next step, you have to be willing to let me do my job." She finished, staring into his eyes.
"Okay, Arlene. Point well taken. Itll be hard, but I will try."
"Good." She put the subject behind her and moved on. "I havent had any luck with Lois. She still adamantly refuses to see anyone, which is worrisome."
"Well, you know best. I put her in your capable hands."
"Thats the spirit, and thank you."
"Ive got to check in with the Enterprise."
"Thanks," Kelsey said reaching for his communicator. With a tap on his wristband, it chirped to life, opening a sub-space channel to the ship he knew was high above them in a synchronous orbit. "Kelsey to Enterprise."
"Enterprise," came the response from Lieutenant Chekov, the ships security chief.
"Have done two search patterns of the forest in and around the camp, out to four hundred meters and have found no sign of Paulson."
"Confirmed, Mister Kelsey. We saw your teams doing so on the sensors here."
"Still no sign of Paulson on the sensors?"
"How about if hes been killed? Can you sense his body mass?"
"Too many animals in your area that have similar body masses and which are generally mammals as well. Be advised, we have picked up three or four life signs in your area that have only just recently moved in that at first we thought might be intelligent, though the sensors are having a hard time discerning them."
"Havent seen anything besides the small scurries in this area, but Ill pass your information on to the security teams to keep their eyes open."
"Very good, Lieutenant. Anything else?"
"Still no luck with Lieutenant Bali. She insists on staying in her shelter until later. Were giving her a bit of room to insure she isnt shocky, but recommend we transport her to the Enterprise in the morning if she still hasnt talked to Lieutenant Williams."
"Medical section agrees. Proceed carefully there."
"Lieutenant Kelsey, out." With a similar tap of his wristband, he closed the the channel.
"Well, I guess I should join the other security guards in getting some rest since it doesnt look like anything wrong is going to happen right now," he said more to himself than to Arlene who was sitting nearby.
"Sounds like a good plan, since it seems youre going to be up at least most of the night and havent had any sleep now for over twenty-four hours, ships time."
"Neither have you, my dear," Kelsey countered.
"Ah, but Im, as youve so commanded, going to be getting a good rest tonight whilst you and the security team watch over us," she said, a gleam in her green eyes.
"Dont be too sure of that, Lieutenant. Dont be too sure."
"Ah, Commander, pleeeeeeaaaaaassssse?"
"Pffft," was all that Kelsey would respond to that one as he got up and went to his shelter. A few hours sleep would be wonderful right about now.
As it was, Arlene woke him up just as it was getting dusky out.
"Everybody okay," he asked right away.
"Yep, everyone on the science team has checked in, and your security team is ready for assignment."
He went up to the four security guards. "Okay, heres how well proceed. I want each of you equidistant apart from each other on the four points of the compass. Continue to move along the edge of the forest and scan constantly with the tricorder. Do not, for any reason, enter the forest once it gets dark. If you see, or hear anything, call out to the others, and well come to join you. Is that understood?"
It was only moments before everyone was as he had envisioned them to be. As it got truly dark, the science team started a fire in the center of camp using a phaser set on low for a spark. It still amazes me, thought Kelsey, how we still want a fire in our camps in this day and age.
"Lois?" Williams queried her friend from outside the shelter.
A feint growly sound came as a response.
"Lois? Are you up to talking now?" She thought she heard movement inside and then the doorway opened and her friend stepped out. It was the dark of night now, and she couldnt see her friends face to tell if there was any sign of distress or emotion there. "Lets go by the camp fire, Lois."
"No," came her friends answer. "Lets go this way," she said, indicating the edge of the camp.
"Well, okay," Williams answered, "but we can only go as far as the perimeter, then well have to stop."
"Whatever you say," Balis voice trailed off as she moved away.
There was something odd about her friends actions and her voice, but Williams couldnt quite put her finger on what it was. At least shes out of the shelter now, she thought. They were just at the edge of the forest when Bali stopped and Williams caught up. Thats funny, Williams thought as she looked up and down the edge, I should be able to see at least one of the security team moving along this part of the perimeter. She thought to call Shaun when Bali began to speak.
"Do your memories disturb you?"
"Sometimes, Lois," Williams answered, "if I let them. Why?" A brief glimpse of Granny flashed by her inner eye.
"Ah," Bali said, "I see."
"Do you recall seeing Paulson here last night?"
"Yes," Balis answer came, somewhat dreamily.
"Was he okay?"
"Yes. He told me about some bad memories that he had."
"Thats nice. You do know he disappeared sometime after that, dont you?" Williams began a line of questions
"Any ideas what might have happened to him?"
This got no answer. Williams noted that she still hadnt seen a member of the security team yet. She turned the other way from Bali to look for one and still saw nothing moving on the perimeter. Pulling up her wrist communicator to her mouth, she made a call, "Williams to Kelsey."
"Im on the western edge of the perimeter with Lieutenant Bali and havent seen the security team. Weve been here about five minutes now. Is there something wrong?"
"Ill be right there," came Kelseys voice. "Dont wander off."
"Oh, I wont," Williams answered and closed the channel. She turned to talk to Bali and found only an empty perimeter as far as she could see in that direction as well. "Lois?" No answer. This was disconcerting to say the least. Williams felt pretty confident that her friend had not gone back to camp, and she was not going to enter the woods. Ill just wait here for Shaun and the rest of the security team, she thought.
But Granny came back to her minds eye, and all the emotions surrounding the loss of her, welled up inside, and she felt herself beginning to cry. In her mind, she was back with her in the country garden Granny loved to spend hours working in.
The smell of the flowers and herbs inundated her senses as she heard the elderly woman humming next to her.
"You are troubled, Arlene," Granny said.
"I miss you, Granny."
"But Im here right now. Lets walk and talk about it." The path through the garden wound its way through copses of flowers and circles with water basins in the center.
Kelsey did a quick check of his perimeter with his tricorder and was immediately concerned. He couldnt find three of his security team on it and the fourth was already wandering some one hundred and fifty meters into the forest. "What the hell?" he yelled as he ran after the errant team member. The others must already be gone into the mystery.
A quick scan for Williams showed she was on the perimeter ninety degrees along the perimeters arc. There was another reading near her and he assumed that must be Bali. He pulled out his communicator and opened a channel even as he was running, "Kelsey to Williams. You and Bali return to camp. Emergency recall!" Content that hed given the correct order, he entered the forest edge following the life signs on his tricorder.
Its good that hes only walking, Kelsey thought as he dodged the trees, or else Id never catch up.
He was only ten meters away when he heard the moan of the crewmember and then a short scuffle. "Damn!" he yelled as he sprinted the last bit of distance. The tricorder told him the crew-members life had just ended.
He finally arrived and almost tripped on the body of the security crewman. Kelsey switched on his hand light and saw a gruesome sight. There was a quickly growing puddle of blood spreading out from a huge wound. From all indications, the back of this ones head had been crushed by what looked like two huge teeth.
His phaser was immediately in his hand as he began to search the undergrowth around the fallen comrade. The only thing he saw that broke up the continuity of the forest was a hole in the ground approximately three quarters of a meter across. Even as he looked into its entrance from where he crouched, he saw the reflection of his light coming back from what looked like multiple sets of compound eyes.
These eyes came closer even as he watched. He couldnt take his eyes off of them as he felt the affect of something scratching at the doorway to his mind. In a few more heartbeats he had what looked like a very large wolf spider sitting on the threshold of the hole. The arachnid was nearly a meter across from leg tip to leg tip now as it unfolded itself from its lair. Two huge teeth were folded neatly under the head section, which could easily account for the wounds of the crewman. The attack on his mind continued, freezing him in place for one more heartbeat.
Then he had a memory of Williams cross his minds eye, and he suddenly remembered that she had been on the forest edge the last he had seen her. "Son of a bitch!" he yelled as he fired his phaser. The spider-being screamed, though Kelsey wasnt sure if he actually heard it with his ears, or in his mind. He fired again, and the deadly arachnoid disappeared into dust.
All the interference in his mind instantly dissipated. He shown his light into the undergrowth around him and instantly saw three more sets of multiple eyes watching him from the forest. "My God," he said, "theyre swarming here." He scanned the tunnel with his tricorder and got no return. He noted that it was lined with a silky material. It must reflect our sensors, he deduced, which would explain why we didnt see them in the original scans of this place.
"Arlene!" he yelled. A quick tricorder reading told him the worst. She was wandering slowly away from camp, nearly fifty meters into the forest. Instead of going back to the camp and then back to her last location, he cut the corner and ran through the forest.
He phasered three more of the spider beings before he started to close on where Williams was now. He got to where the mini-sensor said she was and could see a silhouette that was sort of humanoid, but had a larger section near the head. He turned his beam on it and saw Williams standing there with a spider being poised on the back of her shoulders preparing to give the final strike. Kelsey knew he only had a split second, but if he wasnt careful, hed hit Williams with the phaser as well. A stun wouldnt do either as he wasnt sure it would be effective on the spider at that lower power level. But he couldnt delay any further as he knew it was going to kill his love. In an instant, he had the phaser up at eye level and with a snap aim, he fired a burst that just clipped the spider, knocking it from Williams back.
Williams woke up and turned to stare at Kelsey. The look on her face said everything. "What the...?"
She didnt get the rest out as she saw where Kelsey was pointing his phaser and quickly turned to see for herself. There it was, regathering itself for a leap back toward her. She screamed and back away, her arms outstretched in front of her to fend off the giant arachnoid.
Kelsey doubted that that defense would save her, and he wanted to insure that it never even came close. He stepped between the spider and Williams and leveled the phaser on the head section. The spider leaped, and Kelsey fired.
* * * * *
"I dont think I can look at spiders the same way ever again," Williams said as she put a forkful of dinner into her mouth.
"I cant say I ever much cared for them," Kelsey answered after he took a sip of the German white wine. "As many as had swarmed into the science teams area, its a good thing we emergency beamed them out. Im sure most, if not all, of them would be dead now if we hadnt." They had finally gotten a chance to finish the dinner that they had started before the shore mission had been called. "There were twenty something of those spiders moving in on the camp once we calibrated the sensors to be able to see them."
"I think," Williams said, "that only one had found the camp at first, and it took Bali, but they have some way of communicating between themselves, and the word spread that dinner was served." She felt bad for now having lost a good friend as well as her Granny, but also felt she could handle it now.
"Well," Kelsey continued, "whether theyre intelligent or not, that world will be closed until we can find a way to block our minds from the Dream-catcher spiders attack."
"Maybe the Vulcans will be able to settle it," Williams added, "theyre the only ones I know that can order their thoughts so strictly that those bugs cant affect them."
They finished dinner a little time later and then moved to the observation deck for a walk. Shaun had two things for Arlene; one was wrapped and in his hand, and the other was in his pocket in a small three by three by three centimeter box. They stood staring at the stars as they slipped by at warp for quite some time before he decided it was time to give the gift in his hand.
"Here. Something I made for you."
"Ah, Shaun, what is it?"
"Open it and find out."
She made short work of the wrapping paper and had the wood carving of the rose exposed in nothing flat. "Its beautiful Shaun, thank you," she said as she moved into his arms and gave him a kiss.
Shaun luxuriated in the embrace and the intimacy a long time before moving on to the one thing that really mattered this night. "I have one more thing for you, Arlene."
"And that is?"
"Do you remember the question you asked me the night we were sent on that mission?"
"Ah, yes, I think, but you dont have to take..."
"Ah, but I did say yes, remember?"
"Yes," she drew that out.
"And then I went to my room and said I need to do it right?"
"Well," He got on one knee and took her left hand. "Arlene Williams, would you marry me?"
A bit of a pained look crossed her face and she didnt right away accept his offer. "We have to get two things straight."
"Anything," he replied, just a bit uncomfortable.
She looked into his eyes and held his gaze. "As I said before, we both know Starfleet is dangerous, and weve both made it a career, right?
"You must never try to protect me from my career, no matter where it may send me."
Shaun didnt like it, but he knew she was right. "All right, I agree."
"Secondly, as you know I was brought up by my grandparents because my dad has a very large business thats off world and my mum is a member of Starfleet. They were never home."
"Yes, youve told me that."
"We will not have any children until at least one of us is ready to settle down to one place."
That one Shaun had no trouble with, because he really wanted to have children someday. His strong, two-parent-at-home background felt very comfortable with this. "Agreed."
"Okay," Arlene said, nodding her head, "then I guess I can marry you."
"Wait a minute," Shaun said, a mischievous gleam in his eyes. "If you can have some conditions, then so can I."
"And those are, Mister Kelsey?"
He took the box from his pocket, opened it and took the ring out. With slow precision, he slipped it on her finger, noting that it fit perfectly, then stood up and looked her in the eyes. "That you will every once in awhile let me be your knight in shining armor."
She kissed him full on the mouth and then responded. "Aye, mlord."
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