Akuta was not a happy man.
His home world had been changed, no doubt for the worse in his view. A community of hedonism had become entrenched, all the while the Children of Vaal had no idea that the day would soon come that the fields and orchards they had left unattended would no longer produce the food they had come to rely on. Akuta knew this as Vaal had educated him on the matter long ago. Even now, the weather was changing. Last night, it had been so cold that some of the otro fruits had wilted and fallen from the trees.
The day of Vaals retribution would soon be at hand.
The voice in his mind was unmistakable and louder than the terrible thunder that had been unleashed the Day of the Fall of Vaal.
I hear you, Vaal. I obey.
Akuta made his way to the ruined head of Vaal unobserved. The Children of Vaal were no doubt at play in the fields and orchards, enjoying the pleasures of their bodies. Already, there had been nearly a dozen births, more mouths to feed than the orchards and fields could readily supply, and yet this hunger had not brought the Children back to Vaal. They had forsaken him, and soon they would pay a price, a terrible price.
At the head of Vaal, Akuta bowed his head. I am here, Vaal.
Descend into the bowels of Vaal.
I hear you, Vaal. I obey.
Akuta carefully made his way down the scorched steps, past the melted slag of the inner walls of Vaals throat, into his gods shiny, sparkling stomach. A door slid open, and Akuta knew he had to enter. He had been taken there as a child long ago, and now he knew he would soon view Vaals true hideous face. He shuddered.
I am not afraid, Vaal. I am yours to command.
He entered the chamber, what he knew to be the heart of Vaal and sat down on the stone floor, prostrating himself before the Vaals secret face, his true face. It was a black, oily thing, with five protuberances, two eyes, and a massive, shaggy body.
Akuta had never known what to make of Vaals heart, but knew that whatever it was, it was older than the rest of Vaal. Akutas father had speculated that the heart had created the rest of Vaal.
"I beg forgiveness," Akuta spoke aloud.
I am Vaal. I am your god and creator, your protector and your judge. The Children of Vaal have abandoned me for their own sinful pleasures. They will be punished.
"As you order, Vaal, it shall be done, as it was before the strangers came."
There was a long silence, as if Vaal were contemplating its next action. But Akuta knew this could not be the case. Vaal knew what it was going to do, what was going to happen, and how it would happen. This must be a test of some sort, he decided.
Bring me the Children, the replacements. Toss them into the bowels of Vaal.
"And what of their parents, Vaal?"
If any resist, I will strike them down with fire from above. They will learn again to fear me, to worship me, to love me...or they will die.
Fleet Captain Pavel A. Chekov sat in the command chair, staring at the screen. "Any analysis as to what caused the failure of the orbital monitors, Mister Vasquez?"
The chief tactical officer swung from her station. "Inconclusive, sir. The damage is consistent with a solar flare, but the radiation levels for such an event are far below expected values."
"Meaning a detailed analysis of one of the satellites is necessary for a more precise evaluation of the cause of the failure."
Chekov turned to Chterr at the weapons station. "Lieutenant, lock onto the nearest satellite and maneuver it into the hangar deck."
Executive Science Officer Saavik stood and walked toward the turbolift. "With your permission, Captain?"
As the turbolift doors opened and closed, Pavel Chekov turned his attention back to the mainviewer. Gamma Trianguli VI spun slowly, placidly, but he knew that looks could be all too deceiving.
"Your orders, Captain?" prompted Roberta Vasquez.
"Vwe vwere supposed to conduct a cultural survey here and examine the satellite failure."
"Yes, sir. So what are we waiting for?"
"The last time a starships landing party set foot on that planet, it lost several good crewmen. There is an old Russian saying I vwont bother repeating, but I dont intend to rush in vwhere angels fear to tread."
Vasquez stepped from her station to stand beside the captain. In a quiet voice, she asked, "Whats got you worried, sir? Those satellites that have failed? Its been thirty years since they were put into orbit. Maybe youre putting too much stock in whatever happened to them."
"Perhaps youre right, Lieutenant." He addressed the Skorr security chief at the weapons station. "Mister Chterr, put together a landing party to accompany Commander Saavik, Lieutenant Kirk and Mister Vasquez. Theyll beam down in the hour."
The middle-aged Russian looked at his chief tactical officer. "Does that meet your approval, Lieutenant?"
She smiled. "Im always ready for a walk through paradise."
He frowned at her choice of words. "Have heard that before. Let us hope that this time circumstances will be less fatal."
At the edge of the clearing, six forms began to materialize. Immediately, the scene prompted the security officers into action. Chterr drew his phaser rifle and took point, while his other two officers assumed the other points of a triangle with Saavik, Vasquez and Kirk in the middle. Saavik drew her communicator. "Landing party to Enterprise."
There was no reply.
"Damn," she said. She returned her gaze at the burned huts, vines which covered much of them and the skeletal remains on the grounds.
"This is not good," Peter Kirk remarked. He stepped forward, his tricorder scanning. "This happened ten, maybe eleven years ago."
"Who did this? And why?" asked Vasquez.
Chterr had been actively examining the remains of the village. "Evidence suggests that the village was set ablaze by primitive means." He held up the charred remains of a firebrand. "And I suspect the casualties were caused by this." In his other talon, he gripped a two-tined club.
Saavik regarded both items with a deep frown. "Both match the visual records of the last Starfleet mission to this planet which I reviewed prior to our beaming down." She took the weapon from the Skorrs talon. "Primitive to be sure, but very, very deadly. Captain Kirk lost a crewman to one of these."
Peter Kirk looked around the weed-infested clearing. "There were other dangers as well." He addressed the security guards. "Avoid stepping on any rocks. Theyre like landmines."
Chterr clucked his tongue in his beak. "I have already briefed my officers on the dangers of this worlllld, inclllluding the hornbllllende rocks and the pods pllllants." He glanced at Saavik. "After a year of service together, I shoulllld think you woulllld know me by now, Mister Kirk."
"My apologies, Chief," Peter Kirk responded. "Youll forgive me for being redundant," he said drily.
"Commander, Im detecting a lifeform," Vasquez reported. "Moving toward us."
"Stealthilllly," the Skorr security chief amended. "Phasers on stun."
The two security guardsthe Scott brothers, Jason and Tonypositioned themselves ahead of the other members of the landing party, between them and the approaching lifeform.
Lieutenant Kirks tricorder was in use as well. "Humanoid. Definitely Vaalian, based on previous sensor scans. Probably a female."
Chterr suddenly stretched his wings abroad and took flight, swooping high into the air. "Got her," he trilled and flew down, leg talons wide. He grasped her shoulders and plucked her up as easily as he might a fish out of a stream. The woman screamed and fought in vain against the powerful talons of the Skorr. "Callllm down," he warbled at her soothingly. He softly trilled a Skorr lullaby as he set her down before Saavik, Vasquez and Kirk. "No one wants to hurt you."
The woman stared at them intently, her tears drying unwiped from her cheeks. Peter Kirk stepped forward and gently took her hands into his own. "Hello there."
"Hello," she tentatively replied. "Who are you?"
"Are you one of Spock and Kirks friends?"
"Definitely," he answered. "In fact, Captain Kirk was my uncle."
"They havent developed a sense of familial relationships yet," deduced Saavik. "Not surprising since theyve only begun producing children with her generation.
"Who are you?" Kirk asked.
"I am Sayana."
Vasquez was reviewing her tricorder. "Yes, shes listed among the population."
"Sayana, what happened here?"
"Akuta returned to camp strange. He had spoken with the Mouth of Vaal."
"I thought Akuta was the eyes, ears and mouth of Vaal," Vasquez interjected.
The Vaalian woman shook her head. "No, he was eyes and ears, true, but he was the voice of Vaal, not the mouth."
"Go on, Sayana. Akuta returned to camp."
"He was very strange. He spoke with the men in one of the huts. When he came out, he came out with only a few. The others were no longer breathing. Those that came out had club in their hands, clubs covered with blood." She choked back a sob. "Makora was one of those who came out. He had been changed by the Word of Vaal." She couldnt choke back another sob, tears flowed freely down her cheeks.
"Akuta had all of us females kneel before him. We were told to surrender our young ones to Akuta, or we would no longer breathe. Luanna was the first, and she told him that he could not have her baby. Makora struck her on the head with his club, and she no longer breathed." She pointed out a corpse in a nearby bramble of weeds and thorns. Its skull was crushed into pieces. "And theres where Kalinna stopped breathing." She indicated another overgrown corpse. "After that, none of us resisted. I gave my young one over to Akuta. Yenanna was one of the oldest of the young ones, and she helped gather the other young ones unto Akuta."
"Where are they now?" Kirk asked softly.
"They no longer breathe," Sayanna cried bitterly. "He took them to Vaal and down into the Mouth of Vaal. None was ever seen again. Akuta told us that the Heart of Vaal had need of them, had changed them, and that they were no longer of the Children of Vaal. I found my Yenanna in one of the orchards." She pointed toward the west. "Her broken body was laying at the base of one of the otro trees. Her head and hands had been torn from her body. Kalinnas young one was found cut in twain amidst some thun vines."
"Fertilizer." Saavik motioned toward Chterr. "Can you reconnoiter for me, Commander?"
"Of course, Commander," he replied, taking flight and cruising westward.
"Where is Akuta?" Kirk asked. "Where are the men?"
"Akuta still talks with Vaal. The men are all dead." She looked up at Peter Kirk with tears streaming down her face. "When Makora and the others saw what had been done with our young ones, they turned against Vaal. Fire fell from the sky, and most of them disappeared into hot clouds. Makora struggled with Akuta, and threw him down. Then Makora entered Vaal, and the lightning diminished. More of the men rushed into the Mouth of Vaal. None of them returned save for Makora. And he was no longer Makora. He was something else. Something evil. Something unlike anything a child of Vaal had ever been. He took a club and made it so that the rest of the men breathed no more. Save for Akuta and Makora, they were no more."
"And the women?"
"Many became hot clouds in the fire that fell from the sky. Some fled into the jungle where they stepped on the rainbow rocks or were struck down by the plants with flying pins. After the time of misery, there were four of us, and Akuta and the thing that looked like Makora were pleased."
She chuckled mirthlessly. "Makora was not pleased for long." She looked up at the sky. "He had me gather him some winn fruit for dinner, but I dusted them with the powder from the plants with flying pins. He ate them hungrily, and then fell backwards, no longer breathing."
"What happened to the other women, the three who, like you, survived?"
"Akuta took them as his mate. The Heart of Vaal told him he had to produce young ones with all the women, even me. Akuta was wise enough not to trust me, but he took Ioonna as a mate. She killed herself afterwards, flinging her body onto a rainbow rock. Dienna was next, and he was displeased with her. He took her down to see the Heart of Vaal, and came back alone. I found Diennas head in the orchard some time later. He thought Wenni was unattractive, and he came to me, and I rejected him. He took Wenni and made her his mate, but she died giving birth to a young one." She shook her head. "So again Akuta came to me, and I fed him with the powder. He managed to live, but he never came to me again."
"So youve been living here all these years, unmolested by Akuta or Vaal? A remarkably fortunate situation," observed Saavik.
"Akuta is an obstinate fool," Sayanna said angrily.
Vasquezs eyes narrowed. She looked up as Chterr lighted upon the ground.
"I can confirm there are severallll bodies in the nearby orchard as she described."
"A tragedy," Saavik solemnly decided. "Mister Chterr, lets go see Vaal."
"I dont want to!" Sayana cried. "Please dont make me!"
"Itll be all right," Kirk reassured her. "Trust us."
"I trusted your people once. Look where it has gotten me! Please take me aboard your ship so I dont have to face Vaal!" She rubbed Peter Kirks strong arm. "Please, I implore you!"
Kirk exchanged nods with Chterr. "There, there, Sayana. We will protect you from Vaal. I promise."
She buried her face into his chest. "I believe you."
Saavik looked squarely at Peter Kirk in the face as she issued her orders. "Vaal is located approximately six hundred twelve meters from here. We should be there in ten minutes. Phasers at ready. Trojan formation."
The security team again surrounded the senior officers and Sayana and quickly the group made their way through the jungle.
"Have you broken through the interference yet?" asked Fleet Captain Chekov.
Lieutenant Roger Michaels turned from the communications bay. "Almost, sir. Its a simple ionization effect, generated by a source on the planets surface."
"And that source is?"
Lieutenant Natalie Buchanan confirmed his suspicions. "The Vaal relic, sir. It ionized the atmosphere the instant that transport was complete."
"And our landing party?"
Buchanan pressed a series of buttons, and the view from her scanner was put on the mainviewer. "Approaching the relic even now. Theres got to be some way to tell them of the danger theyre in!"
"You think my three senior officers are so unaware of this danger? I think you are underestimating the three amigos, Lieutenant." He stared at the tactical display. There was an unidentified lifeform near the granite ruins of the lizard head. "Still, it looks like theyre going to need some help from above."
A lightning bolt struck down Security Officer Hatcher the second they entered the clearing.
Ducking for cover with weapons drawn, all five of the surviving Starfleet officers opened fire on the rock sculpture which was the access to Vaal. Their phaser beams were absorbed by a deflector shield.
Suddenly, a twin pair of brilliant blue beams struck from above. The beams radiated heat, and the landing party had to shield itself from the radiant energies. An additional two beams joined the first two, and soon the deflector field began shimmering.
Sayana covered her ears. "No!" she cried.
It collapsed with a mighty rush of wind, and the phaser beams lanced across the rock face, cutting deep ruts into it.
The phaser fire from above stopped as abruptly as it had begun, and the area slowly began to cool. The landing party stood and cautiously made their way to the ruins of what had been Vaal.
"Analysis shows that most of the mechanism has been destroyed," Saavik said, reading the results from her tricorder scans.
"You have killed Vaal!" Akuta appeared from the cliff from above. He dove down from the top as if to attack Jacobovici. He never reached the ground as three phaser beams vaporized him almost instantly.
"Commander, if youll have Mister Chterr to remain with Sayana, I think Mister Jacobovici and I will descend these stairs."
"It may be unsafe," Saavik answered. "I believe I will accompany you. Mister Vasquez?"
Roberta Vasquez turned. "Yes, sir?"
"If we fail to return, you are to execute General Order Twenty-Four."
The chief tactical officer glanced at Sayana in surprise, then nodded. "Yes, Commander. General Order Twenty-Four."
"What does that mean?" asked Sayana.
"Nothing you should worry about," Chterr chirped. "I am here to protect you."
Peter Kirk stared at the Skorr security chief. "All right, Ensign Jacobovici, lets go."
Jacobovici, Kirk and Saavik slowly descended the stone steps in what had been the mouth of Vaal. They carefully made their way down the scorched steps, past the melted slag of the inner walls of the access corridor, into a foyer-like chamber with a highly reflective coating. A door slid open, and the three officers entered the chamber.
On the stone floor, a being lay in a puddle of black ink. It was ebony in color, covered with oil or slime. It was a large, shaggy body with five appendages. Kirk examined his tricorder. "Alien lifeform, not of this planet. Its unlike anything Ive ever seen before."
"Is it alive?" asked Jacobovici. "I thought I saw it move."
With speed seemingly impossible for something of its mass, it was on Peter Kirk, tentacles exuding themselves from all five of its appendages. They were trying to enter his nose, his mouth, his ears, his eyes.
Without concern for himself, Jacobovici jumped on the thing, and he, too, was soon in the things grasp.
Saavik took out her phaser and set it for disrupt, firing at the vile thing with a direct purpose. Whether her efforts killed Jacobovici or even Peter Kirk, she had to stop it here and now. There would be no other chance. Their lives were forfeit the second they entered the chamber, and she continued her assault on the star-shaped being.
There was a low moan, and suddenly it slung both Kirk and Jacobovici away. It advanced toward Saavik, howling like a mad man. Suddenly, two more beams lanced across opposite sides of the room, and the creature was caught in the brilliant blue beams. Something garbled came out of its mouth. Saavik would later recall that she did not understand what it had said. All she knew that it was evil, pure and unadulterated evil.
With a cacophony of shrieks, howls and growls, it began to dissipate under the intense barrage. The sickening sound escalated in volume until the creature was no more.
All three officers ceased fire. Jacobovici looked at his phaser. "Almost completely drained. It took that much energy to destroy it."
Kirk was scanning the material on the floor. "Im not sure we did destroy it. I think it may have simply retreated to elsewhere."
Saavik nodded while looking at her own tricorder. "I concur. But I suggest it may not have gone far."
"You noticed it, too," Kirk said. "Well, lets get the hell out of here."
"Theyre coming up now, Captain Chekov," reported Vasquez into her communicator.
"Excellent," came the Enterprise commanders voice. "Mister Saavik, report."
The executive officer opened her communicator. "We discovered an alien lifeform, Captain. A malevolent one which appears to have been responsible for enslaving the Vaalians millennia ago and for causing their extinction over the past ten years."
"And its status, Commander?"
"Indeterminate, Captain. However, I hope to report a resolution shortly. We will report to you within the hour. Saavik out."
"Are we going up to your starship now?" asked Sayana hopefully.
"Negative," Saavik answered. "We cannot compromise our starship with your presence."
"How could I compromise the Enterprise? Im the last of my people."
Jacobovici turned with a start at her question.
"Non sequitur," the Romulan-Vulcan woman replied. "That statement is illogical. It only serves as an emotional appeal, more specifically argumentum ad misericordiaman appeal for pity."
"But I am the last of my people!"
"Perhaps you are, but you certainly are not Sayana," countered Roberta Vasquez.
"I dont understand!" the womans voice was almost a plaintive cry.
"The number of details you know of us, such as the concept of our ship, of a starship, of the Enterprises name itself. Sayana nor any other of the Vaalians would have known or understood any of these things," explained Peter Kirk matter-of-factly.
"The last landing party from Starfleet did not reveal these things to you or anyone else. You were left on your own, in hopes that your culture would slowly begin to advance. Regrettably, Captain Kirk of that Enterprise didnt realize he hadnt finished the job, that he had only destroyed part of Vaal, but that the ancient evil behind it still lived," added Saavik.
"You are allll thats llleft of that evil, Sayana or whatever you want to be calllled," Chterr concluded.
Kirk chuckled as it looked as those Sayana was going to cry. "Whats the matter? Going to try to appeal to my chivalrous nature again? Or manipulate me sexually to get your way? Sister, thats not going to work."
"For such an immature race, you are rather insightful," Sayanas eyes narrowed.
The landing party looked on with a mixture of horror and fascination as black, oily tentacles began flowing from Sayanas mouth, nose, eyes, ears, fingers, breasts. Soon standing before them was a repulsively odd mixture of Vaalian and that thing they had destroyed in the mouth of Vaal.
Without orders, phasers struck the being from all sides. Two phasers petered out within minutes, but with a quick change of batteries, they were soon unleashing their energies on the thing before them. It stood laughing in the beams, as if it knew its inevitable fate and cared not, as if it had some great joke yet to reveal.
Like before, the creature dropped to its knees, its laughter turning to howls of pain, to snarls of anger and rumbled threats and thundered promises. It evaporated in the beam, much like a light fog does when struck by sunlight. It lingered here and there, and yet the landing party did not relent in its attack on it.
It was over in five minutes. Sayana was gone, and nothing of that hateful creature was left.
"So you think Kyptin Kirk erred during his mission?" asked Pavel Chekov of his landing party during their debriefing in his ready room.
"I do," Peter Kirk answered. "My uncle failed to realize the true nature of Vaal. That this being, that this Heart of Vaal was responsible for the evil of Vaal. That it was this being the trays of fruits and vegetables fed, not the computer itself."
"Captain Kirk was not the only one who erred," Saavik suggested. "Mister Spock, too, failed to make that same conclusion. I find it illogical that he should make such a mistake."
Both Kirk and Saavik frowned at the realization that their heroes feet had been shown to be made of clay.
"Things were not as simple as they had thought," Vasquez added.
"They sellldom are," Chterr stated as though he were explaining the obvious.
Chekov regarded his landing party with pride. "I must commend you. Weve repaired the monitoring buoys in case that being tries to return. As far as Captain James T. Kirk and First Officer Spock, I suggest that you rest assured that they were all too aware of their fallibility and their failures. Look at the outcomes on Neural and Serenidad if you think they thought they were right every time. The thing to remember is that they did their best, and that while they may have made mistakes, they tried to make a difference, a positive difference in the lives of everyone they touched." He stood and walked toward the door to the bridge. "I think thats all that matters. Dismissed."
After Kirk and Saavik had left the ready room, Vasquez spoke again. "Sir, I admire your mentors as much as anyone. But for those two to think their heroes were on any level infallible seems wrong to me."
"They knew Jim Kirk and Spock were fallible, Robbie. They knew it better than most, really. But remember, this mission was from that time, that five-year golden age, when to hear tell, vwe seven could do no wrong. Sometimes, even vwe bought into the hype." The fleet captain looked pensively out the window on the receding world below them. "Make certain Lieutenant Kirk forwards his findings on that creature to Sixth Fleets science and medical teams. There are some similarities between what they encountered on the planet below and Arog-DaM. If we were to see a rising of such creatures in the near term..."
"Understood, Captain. Oh, and a message was sent from Starbase 211. Captain Jaeger did not seem pleased about the delay, and firmly suggested we increase to maximum speed to negate it...lest our nuts be thrown into the roaster."
Chekov thought while he read the message. My grudge-holding ex-wife or a creature ripped from primal racial nightmares. I just might take my chances vwith the Old One.
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