“Decision Bells”

Stardate 74417.5; June 02, 2397

 

Episode 59

 

 

 

 

Prologue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Golden rays of sunshine streaked across the placid morning sky, shedding light on a new day—and if all went well, a new Federation colony.  For the better part of a week, the Starlight had been combing over the entire region in search of a world suitable for colonization, and today seemed to be their lucky day.

 

Erin Keller stood in the middle of a vast, rolling countryside, tricorder in hand—though she had yet to scan anything.  Her senses were still wrapped in the crisp morning air, and the constant droning and chirping of the insect population was presently more engaging than any data her tricorder proffered.  Besides, Erin knew that while she was making the most of this delicate moment, the others were toiling away at their tricorders, gathering all the data they could possibly desire, and then some.

 

A large deciduous tree loomed just a few dozen meters away, but its shadow, exaggerated by the sun’s low angle, danced quietly beneath Erin’s feet.  This, she decided, is worthy of my attention.  Erin swiftly pointed the tricorder at the tree, and watched as some data flitted across the screen.  It was nothing earth shattering, and Erin quickly discarded the data in favor of a visual analysis. 

 

She estimated the tree was still young—ten, perhaps fifteen years old.  Its bark was smooth and undamaged, and none of its three-pronged leaves appeared to be damaged or diseased.  And perhaps best of all, it would make for a perfect place to sit and watch the sun creep above the horizon.  She carefully seated herself on the ground before the tree, making herself comfortable in the crisp, dew-laden grass just as the shimmering golden sun began to peek over the distant horizon.

 

“So far, so good,” said Kendall Johnson.  He stood about a meter away, apparently more interested in duty than the sunrise.

 

Erin afforded him only a moment’s attention.  “Keep me apprised,” she said, and abruptly turned back to the sunrise.

 

Kendall, however, did not catch the drift.  “Talyere and Doctor Hartman are already running some analyses on the soil and water.  That’s looking good, too.   No contaminants of any kind have been found so far, and in fact, I’m willing to bet that this place is going to make for an…”

 

As warm, sundry rays of morning light washed over her body, Erin suddenly found herself oblivious to Kendall’s discursive babble.  The exquisite sunrise was a moment in time so perfect, it deserved nothing less than Erin’s complete and undivided attention.

 

Slowly, the vibrant sun crept into the sky, banishing whatever darkness that remained and spreading warmth and joy over this strange new world—and as this perfect moment reached its apex, Erin Keller was soon reminded of another similar moment…  Another perfect day…

 

 

 

For as far as the eye could see, the rolling hills of some distant planet were alive with the delicate pink and purple blossoms of Ti’vhalan Orchids, the cool, gentle breeze carrying their sweet scent through the crisp morning air.  As Erin wandered through the seemingly endless plain, the warm sunlight beat down on her skin, bringing a smile to her face.

 

At Erin’s side, the delicate little Angela.  Her head happily bobbed back and forth as she took in the sights and sounds of the verdant expanse, her cheerful laughter carrying along in the gentle wind.  “Come on, Mommy!”

 

She wandered a bit further, periodically looking back to that her mommy was still there, until finally, something in the grass caught her attention.  Slowly, Angela dropped her ragged pink blanket on the ground and got down on her hands and knees to investigate the spectacle before her.  “Mommy!” she called out excitedly, “I found a bug!”

 

Erin quickly crouched down behind her daughter to see this bug for myself—and a smile immediately cracked her face.  “That’s not a bug, silly!”

 

Angela quickly turned to her mother, shocked.  “Then what is it?” she asked curiously.

 

“It’s called a butterfly…”

 

 

 

Erin’s eyes suddenly blinked open.  The perfect moment was over, and given the shrill noises coming from Kendall’s tricorder, she had a lingering feeling that the moments that would follow would be far from perfection.  “What is it?”

 

Kendall’s brow furrowed as he studied the data.  “I… I don’t know,” he admitted.  The discursive confidence that had filled his voice earlier was completely gone.  “It looks like there’s something beneath the surface…”  He gulped.  “A compound of some sort.”

 

“The last time I checked, this place was uninhabited.”  Keller quickly plucked the tricorder from her belt and flipped it open.  Immediately, it was abuzz with activity.

 

“There aren’t any life signs,” said Kendall.  “Just a compound.”

 

“I see,” said Keller, her tricorder confirming Kendall’s words.  “How the hell did we miss that before we beamed down?”

 

Kendall shrugged.  “I don’t know.  There must be some kind of dampening field that prevents long-range scans… or something.”

 

Or something.  That was the part Erin didn’t like.  In her myriad experiences, “or something” tended to be rather unpleasant, and with that in mind, she rose to her feet, brushed the grass and dirt from her bottom, and went to a mental yellow alert.

 

Her first task at this heightened alert status was to collect the rest of the away team—Sarah Hartman and Talyere.  And since they were already approaching, Erin decided she could move on to her next task.  She quickly tapped her communicator.  “Keller to Starlight.”

 

There was a brief moment of silence before Alan Christopher’s reassuring, and perhaps overly confident voice filled the air.  What is it, Erin?

 

She made hast to glean as much data from her tricorder as possible, and then said,  “We’ve found some sort of complex beneath the surface.  I can’t determine much else, other than the fact that it’s big.”

 

Sound interesting,” said Christopher.  Poke around a little bit, see what’s going on, and keep me apprised of the situation.

 

Erin nodded.  “Very well,” she said.  “Keller out.”

 

Less than a second later, Talyere was at Keller’s side, examining the data on her tricorder screen.  After a moment’s study, he pointed to the small topographical map in the corner.  “Doctor Hartman and I believe there is an entrance at these coordinates.”

 

Immediately, Keller zoomed in on the indicated coordinates and placed them under a bit of scrutiny.  “That’s about a kilometer away,” she mumbled, but found that she could not deny Talyere’s assumption.  There was clearly some sort of passageway…  “Why don’t we check it out?”

 

 

 

Fifteen minutes later, Keller stood at the entrance to the compound.  A few small bushes occluded a dark brown hatch built into the ground, and if she hadn’t been looking for it, Keller was relatively certain she wouldn’t have found it.  Using her boot, she cleared away some of the twigs from the hatch and then tapped at the small interface that subsequently surfaced.  The doors smoothly hissed apart, and revealed a bulky metallic ladder that lead straight down into the heart of the compound.

 

Erin stared down into the abyss for a long moment.  She didn’t hear anything ominous, nor did she see anything—but to her chagrin, that did little to appease the butterflies in her stomach.

 

“I’m not detecting dangerous anything down there,” Hartman gleaned from her tricorder after a long moment.  “But if you can’t handle it, I’ll go first.”

 

Keller glared at Hartman.  “I can handle it, thank you very much,” she affirmed.  “I’m just collecting my thoughts.”

 

“Well, handle them a little faster,” scoffed Hartman.  “We don’t have all day.”

 

Ignoring the Doctor’s banter, Keller turned her attention back to the abyss.  It was dark, but in retrospect, wasn’t all too foreboding—and with that in mind, Keller carefully lowered herself into the hole, asserted herself on the ladder, and then carefully made her descent into darkness.

 

As she descended, the moist, clammy air almost immediately made Keller’s clothes stick to her body.  Even worse, the stale air reeked of sulfur, a stench so uninviting it made her want to retreat to the surface and vomit.  But above her, Erin could already hear Kendall’s boots clanking on the rungs.  Retreat was not an option; thus, she forged ahead, and after a few moments, eventually reached the bottom.

 

When she hopped off the ladder, Keller was surprised to find a smooth tiled floor beneath her feet.   The walls, though still shrouded in darkness, were obviously manufactured, and in the distance, Keller could see faint lights at the end of a long corridor.  While she waited for the others to descend, she decided those lights would be their ultimate destination.

 

The clanking of boots on the ladder stopped after a few moments, and two wrist beacons summarily flared to life; both Talyere and Hartman had brought beacons.  Keller, however, was not expecting to visit a dank underground compound, and didn’t bother to pack one…  Now she wished she had.

 

The lights didn’t reveal anything interesting, however.  The floor was gray, as were the walls—and considering their underground location, they were incredibly well kept, giving the entire facility a sterile feeling.  But that feeling died the second Keller took a step forward.

 

She stumbled on something.  It moved, slightly…  then groaned, and in an instant, both light beacons were shining on the gray clad body at Keller’s feet.  Slowly, one of the beams began to traverse the body, and it didn’t take long for Erin Keller to realize that she had literally stumbled upon trouble.

 

It was a humanoid with earthy, grayish-brown skin, a string of lackluster bumps on either side of its head, and a pair of terrified green eyes that seemed to drill into Erin Keller’s skull.  It was a Velora…

 

 

 

 

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