Frontier Date 63.094Pf + 6
When James McKilin signed on as medical intern on the "Serena Dawn" he wasn't expecting anything nearly exciting as this! They told him it was just a passenger delivery to Zebulon, some special delivery for the government, a real babysitters job, then straight back to Truane's Star for a series of commercial flights between some of the major Frontier centres. Finally he was going to see the Frontier, with free travel to boot! Yeah sure he'd have to treat the occasional sick rich kid for space flu, but no real surgery and he'd probably never even have to look at weapon, let alone be clutching one desperately in the cold desert night, all alone on a planet no-one had never even heard of, let alone visited.
At least, that's what he thought only a few short hours ago. It happened just after the evening meal, he joined the rest of the crew for dinner then headed back to the sick bay to assemble emergency first aid kits for the disembarking passengers. Suddenly the "Serena Dawn" was rocked by an explosion and James was knocked to the floor as alarm bells began ringing and the lighting changed to emergency red.
"Warning, warning! Hull integrity compromised, all hands abandon ship" announced the computerised emergency program. James climbed to his feet opened the door and began heading toward the lifeboat bay. Suddenly he heard the sound of weapons discharge.
"That was a laser blast!" He thought out loud, then he realised there were emergency escape pods in the sick bay. He turned back the way he came, running now at full pelt. He dived into the one-man escape pod, slamming the emergency release button on the way in. The pod automatically sealed itself behind him, and five seconds later he was blasted out the exit hatch below the "Serena Dawn" As the pod sailed towards Volturnus below James caught a glimpse of one of the lifeboats ahead of him, disappearing around the far side of the planet.
"I wonder how many made it out? The lifeboats only hold eight people and we sure had more passengers than that" he mutters quietly. As his own pod crossed into the dark side of Volturnus he felt several manoeuvring thrusters kick in as neared the planet surface. Apparently the automatic guidance system of his pod had locked on to the emergency beacon of the lifeboat, then suddenly the thrusters cease and James spies a flash of light from the surface.
"Damn, that didn't look good" but before he can think further on the subject, the pod around him begins to break apart, he had entered the atmosphere and it was time to find out where the rip chord was on his chute. Five minutes later he was on the ground, sore from a very hard landing, but fortunately no broken bones. He collected the emergency survival pack that had also separated from the pod as it broke up, and began heading in the direction of the flash of light he saw on the way down
"Maybe someone survived? And if they did, they just may need a medic!" When the sun comes up in a few short hours James realises he needs to seek shelter from the heat. Taking shade in one of the rocky outcropping's that are scattered amongst the sandy dunes, it's then that he spots a thin wisp of smoke over the horizon
"Hmm, must be where the shuttle came down. I hope it exploded after they got out, rather than on impact! Aaah well, only one way to find out" He settles back against the rock and tries to get some sleep under the blazing sun of Volturnus...
Meanwhile, several kilometres to the west, xZot surveys the surrounds.
"We're here! Thank the Gods! My feet back on solid ground again. I note that there is distinct lack of lush forest abundantly teaming with wildlife. Hmmm what sort of planetary expedition is this? Definitely not how they described it before WE left. Almost all I can see in every direction is desert. Now I'm concerned. All that sand is going to get in my fur. Damn I hate that! It's gunna take weeks of scratchin' to get it all out. That reminds me of what my uncle always said "If ya sittin' there scratchin' yerself after the battle, then ya know ya didn't lose them." Funny guy my uncle..."
With that in mind xZot takes stock of the group. There are some serious wounds on a few of the guys. Everyone's looks shaken by the sudden stop in the lifeboat.
"Its amazing that anyone lived at all," xZot thinks when he assesses the odds of the unexpected turn of events that had taken place in the last few hours. xZot makes a cursory glance over the groups equipment quickly points to the fact that we are sorely under-prepared for a desert expedition. The lack of water problem is the first of many that must be addressed.
"Hey Borovski, can you go around and tally up all the equipment? We'll need to assess what we have in light of where we are. Some of the equipment should probably be redistributed to even out the burden. Better have a look at the weapons as well. We want to make sure we're ready if there's trouble." Seems like a good man that Borovski but, I'd still like to see if he'd glow in the dark if he had an accident with those Gloves?!
"Hey Raid, do you mind carrying this bulk ration pack, I'm way overloaded?"
"Planetfall," says Sp'ock "And just like the space marines, usually land, off target, with the wrong gear for the job, and with the incompetent leading the unwilling. Six marines in this sorry mob, maybe we can keep the amateurs alive. Maybe they can us. Time usually tells."
"I duly proclaim this rocky outcrop "Raids Landing" Raid moans.
Feeling a little worse for wear, and shaking just a little after becoming aware that I'll have to scout on this forsaken expedition...xZot hears Raid,
"...Raid's Landing" Damn, this guy is keen! Quick, put him out in front. For all I care at the moment, he can proclaim this "Raid World"! Naming things after yourself is only good if you live to tell someone else about it. If that's what drives him on then, I can live with that.
"Thank you Almighty One, I knew that I, Jaguar, demolition expert of the Yazarians 1st Recon Platoon , 1st Marine Corps, wasn't meant to die stuck in a metal box. Better to die in the open air, under immense military odds."
After reaching the safety of the rocky outcropping, Sni'ktl quickly takes stock of the casualty list. More than half the team are injured, fortunately nothing life threatening but Jaguar and OMAC have some serious wounds that will certainly slow them down and Raid and Con also have some nasty looking burns and lacerations.
With his pseudopods on Volturna firma, Gloo surveys the surrounding lands. Pretty desolate place with lots of open spaces.
"Not many places to hide and we don't know if the natives are friendly?" he thinks to himself. "All I know is that Dralasite skin is tough and chunky like tofu whereas Vrusk's taste pretty good with a chewy centre." Gloo breaks away from his daydream to watch the medical personnel administer drugs and care to the injured.
"I think we got out of it pretty light considering."
Raid tries to tune in to the conversation around him, vaguely hearing a reference to himself...
"Jaguar, you administer First Aid to Raid and Con, intensive treatment over the next few days will restore them to full health in a few days and I think we will need to conserve our supplies of Biocort, so make every hypo count. OMAC on the other hand is going to require surgery if we are going to be moving out tomorrow, you can assist OMAC, practice with your auto surgeon." Sni'ktl quickly and efficiently lays out hypos, auto surgeon and his other instruments and bandages and goes to work on OMAC. Twenty minutes later he announces that OMAC is sleeping, the surgery was successful and he should be able to travel in the morning. He then calls over Jaguar to examine his wound
"This looks nasty, you could try surgery but you will get by on First Aid over the next few days? Your choice." Turning back to xZot, Sni'ktl explains "Sir, you are aware that you are unable to realise the benefits of biocort again until tomorrow afternoon so I shall leave you in the care of OMAC who should be well recovered by then. Also Bruce and GleepGlooup's wounds are only slight and will recover with rest over a week without the need of biocort"
Hearing Sni'ktl's comments Jag responds,
"OK Sni'ktl's, I'll help you with the op on OMAC after I've given first aid treatment to Raid and Con using the gear from the spare Medkit carried by GleepGlooup..."
"Oh no you don't," says GleepGlooup "I'm keeping the back up Medkit sealed as the Back Up, you can use your own kit for now." then he treats himself with first aid from same kit "Over the next 2-3 days I should be fully recovered."
Off to one side xZot hears Sni'ktl taking charge of the other medically trained members of our group.
"That's one thing I like about Vrusk's, they are efficient. It would appear that he has everything under control and those seriously wounded are being patched as best possible."
Once he gets the sand out from under his carapace, it gets in everywhere. Sp'ock looks around for salvage,
"Aah others have the same idea. Not to bad, the medics are checking the wounded, Borovski has assumed Quartermaster roles, excellent. For a tech xZot seems to have his thing organised, I will place my co-operation with these entities for now."
"Funny how some people perform at their best in the worst of situations," Raid thinks to himself '"Well at least I'll get this bloody scratch fixed. Need to concentrate now, east to the dry well and water! This could get a little hairy if we start to run out, need to think of a plan. No. Concentrate. I'll scout within earshot of a pistol from the party, I'm sure they'll let me know when its dark. Then if there looks like trouble and I can't sneak back, I'll let off a burst and hopefully they'll come a running. Or not, well if that's the case I should test my investment and try to disappear with this screen. One less mouth to water, need to think of a plan. NO!"
GleepGlooup struggles towards the rocky outcrop, dragging two of the survival packs from the wrecked lifeboat. After helping drag the other team members and equipment clear of the wreck he turns to xZot, who appears to be assuming some of the leadership functions of the group.
"I'll take first watch with whoever else is available, let me know who you want me to wake for the dawn watch, looks like we have a few hours still in the dark"
GleepGlooup drags both the survival packs over to Borovski and dumps them near his lower pseudo pods
"We don't have enough of these to go around, which may be a good thing 'cause I don't think we can lug much more gear around. I can carry a couple of those water packs if need be and I wouldn't mind one of those laser pistols as a back up for this" he says, tapping the gyrojet pistol tucked into his belt.
"Think you fool," Raid fumes to himself "I'll need a pistol if that's going to work, better get one off the new Quartermaster, the man in charge of the water! Have to chat to him a little I think. Could get a little hairy without it. Hey there, Borovski! Do we have any spare power packs for the holoscreen? And how long will it last for?"
"Borovski" calls over Sp'ock "we are carrying a lot of gear, some of which is not readily useable, there is duplication of non essentials, I will make all of my personal equipment available for redistribution or disposal, if you could take that under consideration please. I would like to formally requisition a sidearm and two spare clips. If possible I would also like some kind of cutting weapon, and a club. The natives may be friendly, but if they are not..."
"First must be water, if we make the well and it has water in it, I would suggest setting a base camp there and sending out two entity scouting squads to see what lies within a days travel. We should, before we leave here though, check the lifeboat for any communications gear it may have. Homing beacon, distress signal. Hell, I'd settle for an electronic thumb to hitch rides. We may still have a mission to perform, we also have a natural desire not to be marooned. Or, at least I do."
"Borovski, I have a club at the moment but it there is a nightstick or an axe spare, I'm keen to grab one of those." says xZot "What is the current status with our weapons?"
Looking around and finding Borovski, Gloo moves over towards him and says "Borovski, I would like to requisition a laser pistol and sonic stunner with at least a clip for each - more would be appreciative. My primary skills are Beam weapons and Projectile. The laser pistol is for back up and I will be protecting the party more so if I have the tools of the trade."
Jag heads over and speaks to xZot, Bruce and Boro about being one of the scouts with Raid, as he has great eyesight at night and also can detect/disarm any mines, booby traps etc, and he thinks to himself
"I like being where the action is" this proposal accepted he puts in a requisition to Boro to give up his nightstick in exchange for one of the laser pistols with 20 SEU Clip; plus the 6 SEU clips Sni'ktl is carrying. He also requests 1 Doze Grenade, 1 Tangler Grenade, 1 Toxyrad Gauge, 1 Pocket Tool and a pair of Sun goggle. As well as a box of matches, polyvox, machete and compass, "Don't want to get lost now do we? I will also carry anything else the party wants me to carry. Is this a deal Boro?"
After reviewing the groups position and discussions on the subject, the team decides that, in order to conserve our water they will shelter in the day, out of the sun and heat, and travel at night. Luckily the rocky outcrop, together with a few bits of wreckage, will provide shelter but most importantly, shade.
"Bruce, can you organise a roster to post watches from now until sunset? All of us are fit enough to do our turn." Unfortunately, after being somewhat beaten around by recent events, we are vulnerable and even here, in the middle of a dessert, not immune to attack.
"OK" announces Bruce "The shifts will be for 4 hour intervals, first shift Sp'ock, GleepGlooup & Gloo, second shift Borovski, Bruce & OMAC, third shift Con, xZot & Jaguar. Raid and Sni'ktl get the night off but Raid will need to be up early to get scouting and Sni'ktl will need to be sharp if we sustain further injuries, I'm sure there are no objections?"
Sp'ock's mind begins churning, we have other things to consider and I must bring them to Bruces' attention, or better xZots'.
"The pirates who jumped the "Serena Dawn". Where are they based out of? Did anyone see a star ship through the lifeboat portal? If not then they are system based. Are there any other habitable planets in this system? This rock don't look to appealing, but it's better than some airless pebble, or a hostile atmosphere planet. There were two lifeboats, one launched before we got there, so where did it go? There are also survival questions to answer."
GleepGlooup moves off to climb one of the nearby boulders and stand watch, as he disappears from the flickering flames burning around the wreck. His voice carries back through the air.
"Oh yeah, I vote for Borovski as Quartermaster." He settles into his sentry position enjoying the warm fuzzy feeling from the realisation that he is about to see his first truly alien sunrise. Gloo thinks to myself that this is pretty hot and look for some cover. Finding a bit of shade, he settles down to his watch, looking forward to his rest period. I need to be as best I can be before we start our march out east tomorrow he thinks. Not more than 10 minutes after taking up his position as sentry GleepGlooup notices a light quickly cross the sky from the direction your own life boat descended, it crosses the sky to the north and disappears low on the eastern horizon. What's that a flash of light when it reached the horizon? Looked like it was artificial whatever it was, maybe it crashed. Gleep quickly looks around to see if there is another sentry that saw it and can confirm the direction it went...
xZot tries to rest and stay out of the heat as best possible for the balance of the day before undertaking his allotted third watch. Whilst on watch, He mulls over in his mind some of the things that Sp'ock spoke about.
"Hmmmm, there was definitely two lifeboats; did other pirates take it or the crew? Were the crew working with the pirates? Do they have another ship in orbit? Are we actually on the pirate home planet? All good questions but no ready answers. Though I think it is fair to say that there is a very high chance that the other lifeboat, if it survived, would also be headed to this planet. Did Gleep say something about a light streaking across the sky? The pirates, on the other hand, offer no clues. They seemed to be raiders, so it is reasonable to say that they have a base in the system, unless this was a set up and they were on the ship the whole time? Depending on our luck, the pirates may not have intended the "Serena Dawn" to be destroyed and they may have been taken as much by surprise as we were. After all they did leave several of the cohorts behind when the ship was destroyed."
Bruce seeks shelter and attends to his diary before taking a short nap before his scheduled night, or in this case, day watch.
"After landing on this planet and being thrust into a harsh environment, it has become very evident that for us to survive the conditions we will need to rely heavily on each other and if we don't have a chain of command we will all wander about aimlessly. So, it was decided for convenience that xZot be our commander and myself be the second in command. Borovski is the quartermaster and of course Raid has become very joyous at all the new places that he can name. I am sure he should also be our morale officer he has been keeping me and the rest of us in fits of laughter. Then it came down to me about setting the shift rotation I am concerned about Jaguar he does need a major operation and soon. I have suggested re-assignments as Borovski might have meant well but I am sure that we don't want to lose anyone. With the wounded that we have at the moment, we don't need to have to go off and find anyone that has got themselves lost. As soon as dusk falls we shall try and make it to the well and set up a camp."
"Not real sure I appreciate the arrogance of this human Bruce" muses Sp'ock. "Ah, be honest to your nest. Perhaps my ill will to this entity stems from his acceptance to Space Fleet. The black balling bastards wouldn't accept me would they! You know what they are an elitist pack of bigots, with their humans only club, and their silly salutes. Who ever tried a full rimmer without dislocating something? Gods below, but this is a desolate looking rock. Raid is excited about a new world, myself, I would prefer somewhere a little less on the apocalyptic side. Maybe it gets better further in. That would appeal to my sense of right. Damn Corp could never find a decent landing site either."
Jaguar and Borovski present their inventory distribution with sole purposes being to evenly assign encumbrance and weapons to those who are adequately proficient.
Nightstick - off Jag -> xZot Club - off xZot -> Sp'ock. Jag ; Bulk Ration Pack off xZot ----> used first for all meals, Raid to carry Medkit off Gleep --> used for operation on OMAC & Fist Aid to Raid / Con / Jag remaining stocks divided between Sni'ktl / Jag / OMAC
Boro is hot, damn hot. So after presenting the above to his C-O and duly retaining a copy of his own, he will concentrate on finding a cool shady quiet spot in order to rest up for both his upcoming stint on picket and the travels that lie ahead. During this brief period Boro reminds himself that next time he's to write an inventory listing, he'll use a lot less pencils if he takes the SG's off.
At sundown xZot gathers his equipment together in preparation for the long march ahead as Borovski announces each team members assignments for the route march
"Scouts, Jag and Raid 500 to 750 metres ahead of the team. Second rank, Gleep and Gloo. Left flanker Sp'ock and right flanker Con, 250 - 500m either side with xZot in the centre. Fourth rank Bruce and Sni'ktl with rear guard, OMAC.
"How about 50 to 100 metres?" states Bruce "I don't know about you guys but I'd rather scouts be a little closer in. If you DO run into trouble at 100 metres we can respond inside of a minute, but any further than that and you might as well be o your own. Let Raid scout out further!"
xZot takes note of the star formations and their relativity to the direction we propose to travel. 'Hate to get lost out here at night,' xZot thinks to himself. Once organised, we will move out in formation.
"When you are out there scouting don't forget to report anything in on your chronocom." xZot reminds Raid. "Everyone keep a good look out for any signs of trouble. If anything happens we should close into a defensive formation and not let yourself be drawn out individually. Lets keep it together, guys." Hopefully, it will be an uneventful trek but, with my glasses off, I tune my eyes to the darkness as only a Yazirian can, keeping a sharp watch on the surround as if there were foe just over the next dune. Once at the well structure, if safe, we will investigate and try to establish is there is water. This will have to be our next camp location regardless.
"Hey Raid, which side do you want left or right, I'd rather have the left as I'm left handed. What's this about "Raid's Landing", should be something like "Survivors Knoll" or "Destiny Valley". OK, OK, Raid's Landing is fine, no hassle. Geez!" Jag then finds out when he is on guard duty, finds some shade, and rests till then. He also asks xZot if any need to set up any booby traps, early warning signals using ration tins and ball bearings, if answer yes need to find best person for them and find spots around campsite and set them up. Will be ready to move when party deems it so.
After travelling for almost half the evening across the sands of Volturnus the team, with Raid scouting ahead, arrive at the abandoned well. The well is a deep hole lined with rocks. A small rock dome covers the well. This dome has only one entrance, on the northeast. This entrance is 1 meter high. The bottom of the well holds several litres of water. As Raid pokes his head inside the opening to check the contents of the well his eye is caught immediately bt the yellow light that begins flashing from his wrist.
"Damn, my toxyrad gauge" he flicks the switch on his chronocom "Recon to Team Leader, this is Recon to Team Leader. My toxyrad gauge is going berserk up here, looks like a change of plan. Again!" Raid removes his pack and sits by the well enjoying a brief rest as he reaches into his pack for an empty water pack and his Envirokit. Realising he can't reach the water from the top of the well and finding he has no rope to lower the water pack he flips his chronocom again. "Hey guys, I wanna take a sample of this water and analyse it. Someone get some rope up here so I can reach the bottom of the well."
As the sun goes down James McKilin gathers up his few belongings and trudges out across the sand toward the distant wreck wondering what the future will bring. After several hours of travel of he spots a speck of light on the horizon. Several times over the next hour he again spots flashes and shafts of light on the horizon to the west, hoping this may be signs of survivors from the "Serena Dawn" James picks up his pace and soon spies the dome of the well in the distance under the moonlight. As he draws nearer to the well, a voice greets him from the darkness
"Well hello stranger, and just who might you be? And what are you doing here?" Trying to focus on the figure in the dim light, he reaches out a hand
"James, James McKilin medical intern from the star ship "Serena Dawn" he replies "Who are you?" he adds with a note of annoyance as he notices the laser pistol levelled at him. Raid recognises the uniform of the "Serena Dawn" crewman and lowers his pistol.
"Raid Array at your service, fancy meeting you here?" He thumbs his chronocom again "Hey boys, we got company. Looks like I found our shooting star."
The desert can be a dangerous place under any circumstances but what of one beneath an alien sun? What new dangers lie beyond the horizon? Don't get too comfortable yet viewers, things are just starting to hot up. The rest of the team members arrive quickly after Raids communique from the well and introductions and stories are quickly exchanged. Raid lowers an empty water pack into the well and collects a sample that he quickly analyzes
"Well it's laced with arsenic folks, can't tell if it's naturally occurring or introduced without a more complete study which I don't think we have time for right now."
"Damn," mutters OMAC "looks like we may not need those extra rations anyway, if we don't find water soon"
As the team is discussing their next move Borovski hears a faint swishing sound
"Can anyone else hear that?" Bruce turns toward Borovski
"Yeah, what is that?" Both team members turn to scan the dark desert behind them when the sand explodes in front of them in a whirlwind of action. Two leathery shapes almost 3 metres long burst out of the sand beneath them, rows of teeth flashing as they bite down on two pairs of feet. (Borovski 8 points, Bruce 11 points. Half damage to your skiensuits) The air is filled with flying sand and screams of pain and surprise as hands reach for blasters and machetes.
Hearing the cries of alarm from the rear of the team OMAC draws his Axe and charges into the fray, Con at his side, machete drawn. OMAC swings his axe misjudging his target and striking the sand. Con's blow is better aimed but deflected by the tough leathery hide of the monster. Gloo draws his sonic stunner and swings around to target the monster attacking Bruce. He squeezes off a shot, hitting the flank of the Sandshark to no effect.
While discussing medical plans with Sni'ktl, Jag hears the screams coming from Boro and Bruce, he pulls his machete and closes with the creature attacking Borovski, stepping to the Sandsharks side he drives the machete down hard into the leather hide (17 points) and the shark squeals in pain. At that moment GleepGlooup jumps to the flank of the other shark and repeats the same manoeuvre to good effect (21 points) and eliciting a similar response.
"When we first gave this planet a shove I was not sure that I would enjoy this job at all," thought Sp'ock. "But, during the march to this well I found the profound silence of this desert touched the very soul of the hive mind. The two couldn't be more different the hustle, the constant noise, and the melange of smells in a hive community are at extreme odds with the silent presence of the desert, yet both demand your constant awareness. Failure in either place means injury, or death. Yet how alive you feel when faced with this option. Perhaps Vrusk of the warrior caste would seek to pit themselves against this world? I must remember to express my satisfaction with Borovski for the issue of this laser pistol. Out of respect for that decision on his part I will set the pistol on a fire setting of 2. My skill with the weapon is such that it's best use for me is to get the other guy to duck while I close to melee range. Then I can use the weapons I have some skill with. Word from Raid, there is water. Excellent! While the medics check water quality, I will stand guard against surprises in the night.
"Well it's laced with arsenic folks, can't tell if it's naturally occurring or introduced without a more complete study which I don't think we have time for right now."
"Bugger! Perhaps the caste will never get to hear of this planet after all." Sp'ock races to the rear of the team and source of the screams.
Raid looks back over his shoulder at the commotion, sees the warrior types engaged in a struggle for life and death and turns back to his analysis of the water supply. If they kill those things this damned planet will still kill us if we don't find water. Two days water! All the technology of the Frontier and here we are, deprived of our most basic needs.
Quickly turning and scanning the commotion, xZot realised the party is under attach from creatures unknown (again!). Reaching for his newly acquired night-stick and scanning the area with his Yazirian eyes well adapted to the dim lighting, xZot attempts to go into a battle rage,
"I've had just about enough of this!" he says between muttering of those drinkin' and fightin' songs he loves so much. "Damn! This is an inhospitable part of the galaxy. Lets see ya now!" xZot yells as he positions himself to strike when the opportunity presents itself.
Both Sandsharks thrash around hurling up sand gnashing the air with their teeth. Borovski manages to duck away from the vicious fangs but Bruce panics and falters as one of the sharks again bites into his leg (15 points), his Skiensuit absorbs part of the attack but Bruce's suit is already showing signs of wear. Bruce screams in pain, draws his laser pistol and blazes away at the sandshark on his leg, both shots missing home as he tries not to shoot himself in the foot.
After being taken partially by surprise, Boro gathers himself together and immediately draws his machete in his right hand. He then sets about slicing and dicing these enemy with the whirlwind precision of a sushi chef (21 points) directing his attacks at the leathered bodies to maximise the effect of the blade whilst playing particular attention to avoiding those choppers Mrs Marsh would kill for.
"You any good with that laser pistol Mac? If you are, let me worry about the injured" Sni'ktl quickly checks the surrounding sand for any other signs of movement. McKilin preferring to help out in the background if someone is getting badly hurt will try to either help extract them from any potentially lethal situation, or distract the creature(s) involved. He draws his laser pistol and sets the power output to level 2 just in case.
xZot, unable to close with the sandsharks, blocked by Bruce, Con and Jag from one shark and Boro, OMAC and Gleep battling the other, calls the medical and science members of the team to the other side of the well, giving the military types room to deal with the threat. The sand sharks have almost been surrounded by the defenders, thrashing about trying to get solid purchase on another leg, paw or pseudopod. OMAC swings a better aimed blow and bites into leathery hide (13 points), Con draws his second machete and brings both blades down on the back of the sandshark (36 points) attacking Bruce, screaming in rage as the sandsharks shrieks get more frantic. Suddenly the sandshark stops squealing and flops into the sand as Gloo blasts it squarely in the back once again with the sonic stunner. Seeing the effectiveness of machetes, Sp'ock draws his and swipes at the other sandshark but misses altogether. Jag jumps past the body of the shark in front of him and lands a blow on the other shark but it is a long reach and he is unable to put much weight into the blow (12 points). Gleep tries to finish off the last shark but misses altogether and as the shark tries to head back into the sand Borovski brings his machete crashing down on it's skull and it expires in the sand.
Once the conflict is over xZot asks Sni'ktl to assess the injuries and report on the status.
"We still need to reach some form of shelter before sun-up or its going to get hot." he reminds the Chief Medical Officer, "Can we travel with these injuries? After the wounded are adequately tended, we should continue northeast in search of shelter and water.
Following the great victory! Sni'ktl gets all able bodied medics and himself working on Bruce (First Aid, 10 points back) and checking for poison or any signs of infection from new or existing wounds. He then dissects the sand smucks to get an idea of how they work. He asks Raid for opinion from an ecosystem perspective. Do they have ears, do they detect vibration or do they have eyes on stalks that pop out of the sand. Are they poisonous? What have they eaten recently and would this be edible to us? How big are their brains - could they be trained?
McKilin takes part in the dissection to learn how water dependant they are and whether it is likely that there is a pure source close by but under the limited time restrictions the results are inconclusive. Sni'ktl establishes a roster so that each medic who wants to participate checks three or four party members on a daily basis for toxins, infections, allergic responses, respiration (don't want sand clogging the tubes), hydration, making sure people are taking enough but not too much water). Sni'ktl will undertake a psychological and physical assessment of McKilin as a baseline profile. He will undertake detailed evaluations of other party members, one person per day starting with Raid, Bruce and Borovski as the first ones exposed to things, to check any deviation from established profiles and pick up any anomalies in physical and psychological condition. Sni'ktl informs xZot and Bruce of his concerns
"Water and survival are clearly our priorities at the moment. However studies have shown that a major cause of failure in alien environment exploration is the psychological distress caused by displacement, unfamiliar food, and pshychochemical compounds to which we have limited tolerance." When time permits Sni'ktl asks Raid to analyse the air, sand, dead sand schmucks, any insects or dessert plants and anything else Raid's knowledge suggests to identify unusual components of the food web that may pose medical or psychological risks. "At least we know there's life here, life but not as we knew it."
Frontier Date 63.093Pf + 7
"OK people, lets move out" announces xZot "We're burnin' moonlight" The team moves out into the desert once more, it's ranks bolstered by the arrival of McKilin, the ship medic, but soon thoughts begin to dwell on the coming sunrise and the thirst it will bring. The rest of the night march passes without incident and as dawn approaches you seek what shelter you can find amongst the occasional rocky outcrops, stretching out all-weather blankets on ropes as makeshift shades and wind breaks.
Frontier Date 63.092Pf + 8
Sleeping and eating in shifts in the desert heat is uncomfortable and draining as the medics regularly check everyone's water and vitasalt pill intake. Sni'ktl hands out First Aid medical assignments during the day, OMAC and Jag to work on each other (First Aid 10 points each), Raid and Con are assigned to McKilin's care (10 points each) and Sni'ktl continues to treat Bruce (10 points).
The rest of the day passes uneventfully, not a sign of life or a cloud in the sky to relieve the harsh horizon. Night falls and you prepare to head north west across the desert once more. Raid trudges out across the sand as the rest of the team shoulders their packs, much lighter now that you have consumed half of that cumbersome water. Hours pass and the desert stretches out in all directions, sand and rock everywhere the eye turns, the desert night is cold and the wind cuts through your coveralls.
Several hours past midnight, Raid is scouting ahead of the rest of the team 100 metres ahead of Sp'ock who is 50 metres ahead of the main body. Suddenly the sand directly beneath Raids feet is sucked out from under him in a huge funnel 10 metres across and realises he's falling. Fatigued by the long desert march and caught by surprise it's takes Raid several seconds to flip on his chronocom.
"Shit! Help! I'm in trouble he yells into his chrono as he struggles to grab hold of anything that isn't sliding into the gaping maw opening up at the bottom of the funnel of sand.
"Mmmmm, those slabs of sand shark flesh I carved off are going to make a great meal. Enough for everyone and it will break the grim menu that these rations provide." xZot think to himself as his mind wanders "It's been some time since I have drawn on my culinary abilities. I remember the days back in the clan when I would create great banquets of interstellar dishes. I should be able to scrape together enough ingredients from what we are carrying and have scrounged, to make these shark steaks a welcome change from the rations we have been digesting since our landing."
Trudging through the desert night, GleepGlooup's thoughts keep coming back to the water problem. An idea is beginning to form in his mind but he continues to struggle with the right combination of team members to ensure best possible results. Marching alongside him Gleep notices xZot also deep in thought
"I can't see too many other options xZot! If we don't find water tonight, I think we might have to think about splitting the team in two. Some of us take the Allweather blankets and enough water to get back to that well and retrace our steps and we send volunteers on with as much water as they can carry. Unless someone has any better ideas?"
The bleak trek in front of him, that sand that continues in every direction for as far as the eye can see, has caused xZot's mind to wander over many topics since their desert trek had begun.
"It is interesting to note the effect this, seemingly empty, expanse has had on every member of our group." Again xZot's mind wanders "Everyone is effected differently; some embrace it as a challenge and some withdraw into themselves as a defence." Eventually all xZot's thoughts return the most critical issue that confronts the party "Water. We have only enough for just over one day's travel. If we have gambled wrong on the direction we could be heading to our certain death deeper and deeper in the desert, further and further away from that opportunity that will break this nightmare. Maybe we should have based ourselves at the well, at least we could get some water there....".
Gleep echoed these concerns "I can't see too many other options…"
"Well, I think it time to have a party discussion on this issue." The thought had no sooner left his mind as xZot's chronocom crackles into life
"Shit! I'm in trouble..." Raid! Suddenly, everyone is jolted out of their trances and race to close in on Raid's position.
Meanwhile, out on the left flank, OMAC scans the horizon for anything out of the ordinary, whatever that means on this hell hole! It felt more secure now, being armed and partially protected with the Skiensuits but the water situation played on his mind
"I ain't goin' out like that" he mutters to himself. Hefting the auto pistol again, getting used to the balance of his new best friend OMAC reminds himself to give both pistols a complete strip and clean during the next rest period to make sure the sand doesn't jam or misfire his weapons. Suddenly the team's chronocoms crackle into life
"Shit! Help! I'm in trouble" It's Raid's voice.
"Dammit people, let's move!" yells OMAC as he breaks into a run "Damn" OMAC mutters again "Raid's carrying some of the extra water too."
GleepGlooup slaps Jaguar on the back,
"Good luck lad, we'll be right behind you" and begins the Dralasite equivalent of a sprint and feeling suddenly inadequate as all the non-dralasite race off to help Raid. Turning his eyespots to Gloo and Borovski, GleepGlooup chuckles "Just like a Dralasite, running to Death" and the three Dralasites share a private chuckle at the idea of a Dralasite doing anything fast, let alone this!
Following his talks with the medics, Sni'ktl reviews crucial supplies. Just more than one day's water left. If only we weren't marching so hard we would use less. GleepGlooup's suggestion seems reasonable. We're currently using biocort at a rate of about ten doses a day. That leaves us with about one day's supply left assuming the skein suits hold up. Still we've been doing well today. Now that we know about the sand sharks we have a chance to avoid them. There is good reason to be optim…
"Shit! I'm in trouble..."
Sni'ktl rushes forward as fast as his eight legs can carry him. Leaving the pack behind he sees that Sp'ock is closing on Raid's position. Hopefully Sp'ock will have dealt with any threats before Sni'ktl arrives to give medical attention to Raid. Trekking through the cool of the night the pant of Raid drifts quietly back to Sp'ock. The guy is loaded down a bit by the extra water. He is a plucky little human, he has been in the forefront of every exchange it seems. Either fighting like a trooper or providing vital information for our survival. A regular hero, must remember to keep my distance, in these situations heroes have a nasty tendency to die violently. Sometimes in 'spread across the horizon' type deaths. Damn where did he go? Dropped out of sight, a pit. Oh, oh the com he's in trouble. Again.
"Looking at the last few days and thinking of what has happened to all of us, I can't help feeling that I don't want to die here. I hate this planet already," Gloo muses to himself. "The wildlife is not nice and the sand is clogging up my breathing pores. The water situation is critical and the only water within cooee is a poisoned well. The humans had a guy called Murphy, I think he used to like situations like this. Now the group wants to split up, that can't be safe. What I wouldn't give for a steam bath with the smell of Dral wafting in the air. Ahhhhh, heaven." Listening to the conversations happening around the group and wondering the same questions his thoughts are broken by the chronocom buzzing to life.
"Shit! Help! I'm in trouble." Gloo springs into a run and wishes he had Nike's cause everyone is passing him. "Oh well, I'll get there."
McKilin looks up from the late night walk as he hears commotion coming up from the scout area. He checks his gear for a moment and speeds up to a brisk jog to see the situation. He pulls out his laser pistol and checks the charge on it as he gets closer. Making sure it is on setting 2 he rushes to help his team.
"OH SHIIIIIIIIT!!!! Ok, We have a problem here!". Raid digs his heels in and lobs a doze grenade down into the bottom of the funnel watching it roll into the opening and hearing the pop as the grenade explodes.
Whilst walking along talking to GleepGlooup, Jag hears the yell for help from Raid on his chrono,
"Shit," Jag says "Here we go again. Jag yells back thanks GleepGlooup as he slaps him on the back, sending Jag on his way. Jag hurries towards Raids position, at the same time, grabbing his rope and tying it off around his waist in case it is needed. Jag will hang back from the edge with a stun grenade in his right hand, ready to pull the pin if it is required.
If Boro wasn't such a committed Military Dral, he could have been quite tempted to revel in the light heartedness that he, Gloo and GleepGlooup all too briefly shared. Instead the call for help echoing simultaneously from chronocoms in every surrounding direction and the instant squelching of sand as the first of the party respond quickly snaps him out of his temporary lapse and into a mode more accustomed. Securing a rope to his waist and holding the other end in his right pseudopod, he heads towards Raid and the other party members. If appropriate in assisting party's rescue attempt, I shall suggest
"Remember how's there's always one fat kid who got to be the anchor on the tug-o-war team? If you guys are going in then I'm your anchor, just tie your rope to mine and down you go" otherwise I'm not going too close to that edge at all.
""I'll just stay back a bit and keep watch on what's behind us and anyone's packs/equipment that may have been dropped in haste".
Raid draws his laser pistol firing at setting 5 at the mouth buried in the sand. Both blasts sear the sand around the mouth but have no obvious effect. Meanwhile the rest of the team races toward Raids position, readying ropes and weapons and beginning to spread out as the faster members race to the front, the vrusks quickly taking the lead followed by a pack of humans and yazirians, the dralasites bringing up the rear.
Raid ups the ante and pushes the charge setting on his pistol to maximum for the final farewell.
"Might as well go down fighting. If only one of the other guys could throw me a line." Raid slides into the bottom of the pit and into the Funnel Worms mouth as it's jaws close around him (22 points - half to Skiensuit), screaming in rage and pain Raid shoves his laser pistol into the worms mouth and empties his clip into it's gullet (51 points).
"Hang in there Raid." Calls Sp'ock from the top of the pit "I'm going to throw you a rope, loop the noose around one wrist. " Sp'ock fashions a noose in the end of my rope and throws that end down to Raid. While the rope is sailing down he readies one stun grenade priming it without releasing the pin. Sni'ktl arrives at Sp'ock's side and helps him with the rope. The bulk of the team are now only metres away.
As soon as Raid has the noose over his wrist Sp'ock starts hauling backwards not attempting to gather rope in, just trying to drag Raid out. As Sp'ock starts dragging the rope and Raid back out of the pit the sand explodes in all directions as the Funnel Worm surges up out of the pit directly toward him. Unable to dive out of the way, Sp'ock takes the full brunt of the attack as the beasts Jaws close around his torso and side (24 points - half to suit). The rest of the team, slide to a stop as they see the 7 metre worm grab Sp'ock in it's jaws and begin dragging him back under the desert sand...
As he pulls on the rope with his fellow Vrusk, Sni'ktl wonders why he's out front with a gaping maw lined with teeth staring back up at him. OK having eight legs helped get him here, but did he have to run? What is it about us Vrusks that gives a sense of over responsibility and a tendency to over achieve. I guess you could also ask what is it about Sni'ktl that he always seems to be in a depth of thought directly proportional to the depth of shit he's about to be in, because at that moment the gaping maw lunges forward and the rows of teeth clamp firmly around Sp'ock. Vestiges of vicarious thoughts are divested as the vermicular form viscously arises from the vortex of sand attempting to eviscerate a new Vruskian victim. It is all Sni'ktl can do to continue dragging on the rope. Other hands arrive on the rope and Sni'ktl has biocort ready to give immediate attention to the partly vermiculated Raid.
OMAC slides to a stop beside Sni'ktl, levelling his auto pistol at the raging worm he squeezes the trigger, peppering the side of the worm with a burst of lead (29 points)
"Hang in there Sp'ock, we'll get ya outta there!" Con races past OMAC, machete drawn and a wild look in his eyes as he closes with the worms' flank hacking into it's side (22 points) and eliciting a roar of pain from the foul smelling orifice.
"Hell, that was close!" exclaims Raid "Being spat out by a giant worm is not my idea of fun! I really should leave all this hero crap to the guys being paid for it, although I'm more than grateful for the rescue."
"Damn! First Raid, now Sp'ock!" xZot mutters to himself as the worm launches out and grabs Sp'ock. xZot assesses the situation and engages the worm with his night-stick, swinging wildly "Quick, kill this thing before it does more damage" xZot yells to the others "but watch out for Raid, he's in there somewhere as well."
From his position further behind the front rank of combatants, McKilin draws a bead on the worm as it flails around in pain with Sp'ock desperately trying to fight his way free. James fires twice, the first beam shoots wide but the second burns a hole in the worms neck below the jaw (12 points). Bruce pulls up along side McKilin with his Laser Pistol drawn and squeezes off two shots but both disappear over Sp'ock's head as the worm closes it's jaws tighter around him and Sp'ock clicks in pain (21 points - half to suit). Jaguar joins James and Bruce firing his laser pistol at the worm and singeing it's side with his first shot (10 points)
Boro is quite bored with having to constantly break into a sweat every time he's required to double time it towards some sort of trouble.
"Bloody Week-end Warriors, bloody sand and this bloody heat" he mutters. As he draws closer to the apparent pit, the thought of releasing and somewhat unleashing a grenade becomes attractive but that would just take time that he does not have. Besides there may be some poor bastard hanging on a rope half way down that pit who would wear their fair share. (Boro likes a punt and recalls he always liked the lucky dip stand at the Junior Dralasite Military College Open Days when he was a wee blob.) Lucky for some, today he chose to run instead of gamble. As soon as Boro arrives he assumes the role that Gloo had of being the anchor on the ropes being used to save Raid.
"Who's ass are we dragging out of this mess, and besides I thought worms were dangled for bait not us dangled as bait for a worm?" Sni'ktl applies first aid to the furious Raid as he in turn endeavours to avenge himself on the vermin. (10 points back)
"McKilin get to Sp'ock he needs attention" shouts Sni'ktl over the snap crackle and pop of gun fire.
Shaking the shock out of his system after seeing Sp'ock being bitten almost in half from the worm, Gloo takes stock of the situation while finishing tying the rope off around his waist. As soon as the rope is in place and the coil is around his shoulder, Gloo pulls his laser pistol and sets it on 6. Moving closer to get a better shot, Gloo watches the crew pulling Raid up out of the sinkhole and feels that too many people would hamper the rescue attempt.
"That worms got to go," Gloo says as he moves closer. Getting to within close range, Gloo takes a shot with his laser pistol (25 points) "Oooh, that must of hurt," Gloo says while setting his laser pistol on 5. Gloo takes stock of the worm's condition and gets ready for another shot as he doesn't want to waste ammo.
Managing to get his hand to his blaster, Sp'ock slides the power output up to maximum and jams the barrel up against the worms head. As he pulls the trigger the worm thrashes and his first shot goes wild but then he shoves the laser pistol down the worms fetid throat and empties his clip down it's gut (53 points). Sp'ock almost passes out as the worm expels it's final breath and collapses to the desert floor. Once all the fighting is over, Gloo will take stock of his inventory and then go see Borovski.
xZot examines the pit the worm came from for signs of water to no avail and the creature itself appears to have adapted well to life in the desert, it's blood is a sticky gel and a cursory examination by Raid reveals that it's body is not a good source for water extraction. xZot quickly checks over the wounded party members as James administers first aid to Sp'ock (10 points back)
"We are now carrying a few injuries in the group and we are no closer to finding a reliable supply of water than we were yesterday". With the earlier comments for some party members still ringing in his head, xZot promotes some further discussion on the issue "Maybe some of us should turn back and the rest of us continue the search of water alone? We could make the water last longer and we can cover more area quickly with a smaller group."
"I am greatly opposed to this idea," says Bruce "As a team we can make it out of this situation, but divided we will fall. The desert is a place that plays tricks on the mind and as a team we need to get out. Not as a scouting party and a base camp. If the scouting party is attacked and killed the main encampment may never know about it ie. An ambush or disappearing under group where the chronocom range will be greatly reduced."
There is some disagreement within the group as to the best course of action however, never one for betting all this credits on one outcome, xZot ultimately makes a decision that he hopes will increase the parties chance of survival
"Sp'ock, you and Gloo will be our scouting party. I think you should take Jaguar as well, you may need a medic. I want the three of you to continue in a northeast direction. If you take all the water we now have with you, you should have enough for five days. Head out for a further two days from here and that should still leave you 3 days water to return to the well. Hopefully you will have better news to report after this." xZot turns to Borovski "Make sure these guys are properly kitted out for this solo venture Mr Quartermaster, give them everything they need. I am prepared to swap my Skiensuit with one of these guys to ensure that they are armoured and I expect another can be made available to replace the others damaged suit." xZot continues, "Sni'ktl, can you make sure that Jaguars' medkit is properly stocked for this field surgeon roll and have these guys as healthy as possible for their solo trek? The rest of us will return to the well with all the blankets and collect water until the scout group return. We'll reassess the situation then."
Boro acknowledges xZot's order and discusses requirements with the party members directly. Gloo hands his rope to Sp'ock to add more water to his load and dumps the box of Ball Bearings he salvaged from the "Serena Dawn".
"Hey, someone keep an eye on my marbles, wouldn't want to loose them out here!" Suddenly all three dralasites burst out laughing, rolling around the desert sand. Fifteen minutes later, the dralasites recover from their laughing fit long enough to try explaining Gloo's classical usage of a renowned Dralasite Stand-Up artists' material to no avail as they return to their laughing fits.
"Don't worry about it xZot" says Sni'ktl "Dralasite psyches use their twisted sense of humour to deal with stressful situations, this reaction is quite normal for them." Sp'ock hands his Robcomkit to Con to increase his water carrying capacity and Raid swaps his water to carry the Bulk Ration Pack.
Frontier Date 63.091Pf + 9
Jag, Gloo and Sp'ock say their farewells, shoulder their packs and continue their trek to the northeast
"We will maintain chrono contact 'til we loose range and see you in 5 days at the well" says xZot "Stay sharp and stay out of trouble, your mission is strictly recon! Good luck"
After the preparations are complete and the scout group has continued on, xZot finds his mind dwelling on the decisions made. This desert is affecting everyone. As the remaining party members return to the well, xZot looks for an opportunity to have a quiet word to his Chief Medical Officer,
"Sni'ktl, I've notice that Bruce has been very quiet and withdrawn since arriving on this planet; I'm a little concerned. All this desert expanse is getting to him, maybe you can check him over and talk to him? We need everyone working together to get us out of here and we need to rely on our 2IC."
Sni'ktl is as split as the party. What dangers lie ahead and will his skills be needed? Sni'ktl asks for the spare medkit and distributes its contents to top up his medkits making sure the medic in the advance party has a full kit. Sni'ktl gives his medical report to xZot. He reports on his findings so far in psychological evaluations.
"No ill effects are being shown by any team members as yet. I think the Dralasites might even be improving morale with their bad gags"
During the trek back to the well, Raid stumbles across the carcass of a two legged reptilian beast about the size of a horse. The creature has expired during child birth and two of it's young have survived. Raid is alerted to their presence when they begin moving toward him softly squealing and nuzzling his leg. He calls in the contact over his chronocom and continues on, the Loper cubs following him much like a pair of puppies.
Frontier Date 63.090Pf +10
Meanwhile, 20 odd hours across the desert, the scout team has continued moving through the desert and camped during the blistering heat of the next day but now they can detect a change of terrain on the horizon, just as lifeless but a lot more rock.
Frontier Date 63.089Pf +11
During the following evenings march as they are approaching the rocky terrain Jaguar steps on something in the dark, it moves lightning fast and strikes him on the calf (2 points, half to suit)
"Ouch, what was that? Snake!" He jerks his laser pistol and blasts 2 shots at the Burrower Snake as it wriggles around him to strike again when Gloo pulls his axe and chops the snake in half. Then Jaguar begins to convulse and feel sharp pains as he realises the venom from the snake has already started working on his system (5 points)
"Poison" he gasps and drops his medkit to pull out his hypo spray. He pulls an antitox ampule from the kit, loads it in his hypo "I hope this works" he mutters to himself and he convulses again (5 points) and injects himself with the antitox and sits back with the mediscanner to check the results. Five minutes after he is still breathing heavy but no other ill effects.
"OK let's get outta this hell hole" The scout team enter the barren rocky waste land and are quickly slowed down by the constant need to navigate around volatile phosphorus concentrations that actually explode hurling hot gases and rock into the air.
The travel rate is slowed to 4 kilometres a day through the Burning Lands but during the second day they see more desert to the East and opt to follow the line of least resistance veering toward the edge of desert for maximum movement.
"Upon our arrival at the well we need to establish a camp and set up the blankets to collect water." Says xZot "Providing Raid is able, he should undertake the extraction and purification of the water from the well. Maybe with a few days up our sleeves we can see what else we can find out about the poisoning of the well and if there is anything we can do to draw clean water elsewhere. We will need to establish a rotating watch, taking particular note for the signs of further Sand Sharks; they don't taste that bad, really. We have to wait at least four more days for the scouts to return, we might as well make ourselves comfortable."
The day after arriving at the well, the parched team has managed to distil and harvest enough water to bring themselves back from the severe bout of dehydration dished out by the last 20 hours under the Volturnus sun without any water. Even the Loper cubs have recovered somewhat, constantly following Raid around the campsite like a surrogate mother hassling him for food and water and attention.
Then the wind starts to blow. An hour later, the strength of the wind has increased sharply. Raid turns to xZot
"We don't know enough about the natural weather patterns here yet, I don't like the look of this, I think we should prepare for the worst. Let's batten down the hatches, we don't want the all-weather blankets blowing away in the night" The wind continues to pick up and the sand and dust turn day to night as every one takes cover. "Everyone rope together" yells xZot over the howling wind. 12 hour later, the sandstorm ends. Most of the team has been buried several times over during the storm, struggling to stay above the sand but out of the sand blasting. Everyone has sustained damage from sand blasting, dust inhalation and suffocation. What little water you had has been contaminated by the sand or used to clear airways in the first few minutes after the storm has abated. xZot does a quick head count,
"Whew, at least we are all still here"
4 Days Earlier:
Strolling along empty corridors of the passenger compartment Crisbel Ori Jatuan staggers as the "Serena Dawn" suddenly lurches violently.
"What the hell was that?" Then he realises that the emergency alarms have not sounded on passenger deck. He tries checking in with his security detail coordinator via chronocom receiving nothing but the crackle of white noise. "Well this wasn't on the brochure, that's for sure" Crisbel races along the corridors and up the ladder to the next deck and his security check point. It was empty. "There is something weird going on here" Then the "Serena Dawn" lurches again and the back up emergency alarms kick in, blaring through the entire ship, lights flashing and emergency announcements begin over the PA system.
"HULL BREACH IMMINENT. ALL PERSONNEL ABANDON SHIP" repeats over the PA
"Damn, I'll never make the life boats from here. The escape pods in sick bay!" Crisbel takes off towards the sick bay and almost swallows his heart when he swings through the door and sees the first pod already empty. He turns and sees another pod on the opposite side of the sick bay and dives in. The escape pod ejects from the "Serena Dawn" and hurtles toward the planet Volturnus below. As the escape pod cross into the night of Volturnus, Crisbel briefly glimpses what looks like a shuttle entering the atmosphere. "Well it looks like someone else made it off so maybe I'm not totally alone!" He loses sight of the shuttle and his escape pod breaks apart after entering the atmosphere The safety chute automatically opens and delivers him safely to the sand below.
"Sand?" Crisbel looks around, his eyes adjusting to the darkness "Looks like I'm in a desert, well might as well make some tracks while the sun is still down." He gathers up the contents of his survival kit and heads north 'til sun up then constructs a crude shelter by a pile of boulders to sit out the heat of the day. That evening he continues is march northward and exhausts his water supply. "Well they reckon you go for two or three days without water, I wonder how accurate that is?" For want of any better direction Crisbel continues north into the sand and dust and heat. The wind picks up and begins to sweep the desert floor and sand reduces visibility but Crisbel continues on in blind exhausted stagger for two or three or more days, constantly enduring hallucinations from the heat and dehydration. Eventually he stumbles across an unusual arched rock formation, crawls in and collapses. Hours or even days later he regains consciousness and looks about his rocky shelter to discover what is obviously a hand hewn well carved into the earth underneath the archway, his salvation.
Frontier Date 63.087Pf +13
Somewhere in the Burning Lands...
Meanwhile, across the burning wastelands, the advance scout team has exited the Burning Lands and continued travelling by night and resting by day East through the desert keeping the rougher terrain to the North on their left.
"Lets look at our predicament. We need to decide whether to keep going or to circle back. I'm for keeping on going. If we die of heat exhaustion, we die." says Gloo. From their position in the desert, the scout team could now see a peak to their north amongst the Burning Lands but after a brief discussion decided that the amount of time required to reach the peak would not justify the view and so continued east. The following day, the Burning Lands disappeared to the north and Jag, Gloo and Sp'ock continued marching east through the night, in the hope to reach more hospitable terrain.
Frontier Date 63.086Pf +14
"A glorious day, the sun shines down on us as we stroll through the dying daylight," thinks Sp'ock to himself. "Strange how day seems to linger, night closing in so slowly, yet the dawn springs full blown in our path. The soft slide of sand on the dunes the arrhythmic beat of the ground exploding to our left. The wheeze of Jag's breathing from behind. All these things make the coming night something to look forward to. Mental note must ask Jaguar if these might be symptoms of an impending psychotic episode, that would be most untimely. Fish that swim in sand, worms the size of Aldebarren mining bots, and with the same disposition, exploding rock beds. My love affair with this place is over, I think I agree with Gloo. This place is a hell hole fit only for demolition. I wonder if the Marine Surplus has any planet busters in stock? Two days of travel, or is it three without water, time sense is getting dodgy. We will find water soon, then comes the trek back for our allies. A week at this pace before any progress can be claimed. We will find water soon. Starting to lose focus on my assignment. Will that damn sun never go below the horizon. Pretty, the burnt reds flung with such a lavish hand across the sky. Was that a hiss? Bloody snakes, can't stand snakes. Gloo is holding up well, plucky little blob. Damn mind wandering again. Is it time to drink yet? My primary ingestion orifice is dry enough to keep a sponge clean in. We will find water soon, I'm sure."
Frontier Date 63.084Pf +16
At the end of the third day after leaving the Burning Lands, the scout team exhausts it water supply and has still not seen any sign of life. Several hours before dawn a dark shape begins to slowly emerge on the horizon to the North-east and for want of better direction, the trio alter their course as an unusual rock formation, like an arch rises out of the darkness. When the sun rises, the team can see that they are still quite some distance from the arch, due to a trick of the light and flat desert terrain.
After waiting out the heat of the day they rise and head out across the sand toward the strange rocky archway. Two hours later Jag pokes his head under the archway, his yazirian eyes having adapted best to the role of scouting at night, spy a human figure huddled next to another dome very like the well the rest of the team should be camped beside at this very moment.
"Well, well, well. What have we here?" snarls Jag, as he levels his laser pistol at the startled human. Then Jaguar notices the insignia on the dirty uniform, it's a "Serena Dawn" security personnel uniform, a good guy? Here in the desert? Then Sp'ock and Gloo appear behind Jaguar as the human climbs to his feet and introduces himself.
"Hi, I'm Crisbel Ori Jatuan..."
After Crisbel exchanges stories with Jaguar, Gloo and Sp'ock the conversation turns toward their options.
"No insult intended to you other beings," says Sp'ock "but I can travel at an increased rate alone. I see that Crisbel here, has both his water packs full and there is more water in the well. I believe I can get back to the other team members in 3 days if I leave now and you will be so kind as to give me enough water?"
At Raids Landing:
"Chlurg krick klick epeep peeeep" as Sni'ktl clears his breathing holes. "Thank the Great Queen, daylight, I'm alive" says Sni'ktl. His legs are a mass of bruises and his eyes and breathing holes sting from the lacerating sand. Sni'ktl partitions his pain in his mind so he can focus on the wounded. A quick survey identifies that everyone is above ground and moving. xZot, Borovski, OMAC and GleepGlooup look hardest hit although everyone is suffering.
"Jim, OMAC take some biocort right now and gather over here" Sni'ktl administers a dose of Biocort to himself while he thinks over what's needed. "OK Jim, see to GleepGlooup and Raid, one dose of Biocort each. OMAC, same drill with Borovski and Con. I'll see to xZot and Bruce." Once the medical team has completed a round of first aid Sni'ktl calls them back.
"Everyone's very sore but nothing that won't mend with time and rest. I want you to set your chrono's for 21 hours with a notation as follows. Jim you will administer a second dose of Biocort to GleepGlooup. OMAC you will administer a second dose to yourself and Borovski. I will do likewise with xZot. If only we had some medical facilities we would be operating on the wounded. As it is, I think that would just waste more biocort so we'll have to wear the injuries for a while. If anyone complains send them to me, I'll try some meditation techniques that will help them manage the pain." Looking at the horizon Sni'ktl says to no-one in particular
"Three travellers seeking our redemption. Will they find sweet water and bring it on home. Lets hope we've worn the pain so that they can make it through". The Vrusk notion of Karma recognises that some in the hive eat shit while others tuck into royal jelly maintaining an overall balance for collective progress. After everyone has had medical attention, Sni'ktl's mind turns to Raids new companions. Sni'ktl will check the lopers over for injuries. Unfortunately biocort supplies are so low that these cuties cannot expect much aid. Fortunately they appear to only be suffering from some dehydration, which should be remedied in the next few days.
"These fellas were found wandering in the desert in relatively healthy condition. They must have found some source of water. Perhaps we should see if we can learn from them. xZot if we keep them on very low water rations perhaps Raid and I could go out on a midnight Loper walk and see if they can find any water. Often native instinct is more useful than technology."
"I really hate this sand!" xZot exclaims to no one in particular. "Have I said that before?". After a quick scan around the group, xZot surveys the damage done by the storm. xZot notes the efficiency with which the medical assistance is being dispensed by Sni'ktl. I only wonder if the sun is getting to him at bit; my mother? What's that got to do with anything? Hypnotising people? Don't waste your time, just give me the drugs! xZot's mind snaps back as the Biocort kicks in. Through sand cracked lips he continues "Who'd thought sand could do this much damage? We will need to dig everything out and re-establish our camp. Hopefully we haven't lost too much water. Raid, you'll need to check out the well and start distilling water as soon as you can." Sni'ktl's musings on these two 'latest additions' to our group are quite thought provoking. He is quite right, why would there be a pregnant Loper mare out in the desert? There must be water around here somewhere; in another direction maybe? Or hidden from our sight? Once the camp is re-established and the all-weather blankets spread out again we should take shelter, rest and recover. We will return to our watch roster as agreed and continue to await the return of the Scout group. "We still have a few days before the others return, so I urge everyone to check their equipment thoroughly. This sand will have got in everywhere and we can't afford equipment failure when we may need it most." xZot reminds everyone as he looks through his Tech Kit.
Con mutters to himself "Well I haven't heard Bruce speak much of late what has happened to him? One moment he seemed to be in the thick of things and now he seems to be lost. Out of his depths. This is a harsh environment nothing like we have ever encountered before and yet we are suppose to survive." Con has always been a survivor, used to hard conditions, but nothing like these. Fighting in jungles on forbidden planets, urban warfare. But deserts, he doesn't see how anyone will survive without divine intervention. Still orders are orders, and the one thing that Con learned many years ago was that as long as you followed them you always survived. Many have jumped into their new roles with gusto and bravery, it is amazing to watch and see how people react under pressure.
Bruce seems to be totally lost "Sand everywhere" he mumbles. Where is everyone? I seem to remember we were a group travelling to find water. Now all I see is sand I can't hear anyone. What is going on? All I can do is keep dancing trying to stay clear of razor sharp teeth. Sand bloody sand. Must find water what is going on? Will no-one help us out of this situation? This must be a nightmare but where are we? Where are my family. Mummie? Am I just thinking these things or actually saying them, he wonders. From the look on OMAC's face he must have said something?"
GleepGlooup, approaches xZot "I'm beginning to worry about Bruce, I think we should reassess his duties. He doesn't seem to be coping to well." OMAC nods in agreement. Yep. He's been talking to himself for the last day and a half"
During the third shift of the second day, xZot and Borovski are on watch while the rest of the team seek shelter from the burning sun. Borovski, perched atop a rock scans the horizon whilst xZot patrols the perimeter checking everyone is sheltered from the sun. Borovski hears the tell tale hiss of sand and turns in xZot's direction, he spots the movement under the sand and calls put to his Commander
"Quick, xZot, run this way, I wanna try something" xZot frowns as he looks up at Borovski then sees the Dralasite frantically gesturing at the commander to run
"Hurry up, there's a Sand Shark right up your furry date!" calls Boro. xZot takes off at the mention of the leathery beasts and glances back over his shoulder, spying the trail of moving sand as the Sand Shark closes in on him. Borovski raises himself higher, Tangler Grenade in his pseudo pod and launches the projectile as the Sand Shark dives out of the sand, snapping at xZot's feet. The grenade explodes directly above the Sand Shark, spewing it's sticky threads all over the reptile and surrounding sand. Unable to continue forward or burrow back into the sand the Sand Shark thrashes about until it is completely immobilised by the Tangler threads. xZot looks up at Borovski, one eyebrow raised questioningly. Boro just shrugs
"I was thinking about our encounter with the Funnel Worm and the whole baiting concept, looks like yazirians make good Sand Shark bait."
"Well, perhaps I can try out some of my new culinary skills? Anyone for Sand Flake?" asks xZot, as he sets to work with machete...
Later that afternoon you hear the distant throbbing of a small jet-copter on the desert air. Looking back toward the lifeboat's wreckage, you see a small jet-copter flying toward you. It is flying very high, but you can see it is an open search type copter.
"Everyone under cover, now!" Orders xZot "That can't be anyone we know, that means they have to be bad guys." The jet-copter crosses back and forth over the general vicinity several times, then leaves. As they leave, one of the three men in the jet-copter drops a note tied to a rock, down to the well reading,
"We know who you are. You'll never leave Volturnus alive."
After three days of boiling the arsenic out of the water seeping into the bottom of the well and laying out the all-weather Blankets at night to harvest dew, the main body of the rescue team has been able to extract enough water to supply the 9 humans and 2 Loper cubs with an excess of 4 litres per day. Bruce and Con also trekked back to the shuttle wreck site and retrieved the bulk ration packs and other supplies buried their, including another water pack, this added to the extra litres accumulated each day, puts the current water reserve at a mere 16 litres. Bruce also advises Borovski that he is down to less than 50 Vita salt Pills, less than 5 days supply for the whole group, then the water consumption goes up. Several team members have already run out of Vita salt, the rest probably aren't far away.
Dawn breaks the following day with no sign of the scout team, you know that unless they have found another supply, they are now out of water and overdue. Moreover you have very little surplus to send a second team after them, on the bright side, you have avoided any serious trouble with the natives and the medics have been able to treat the debilitating effects of the sand storm.
Across the desert...
Reluctantly Sp'ock decides to take 3 of the water packs and head back toward the well where the rest of the team is holed up. He keeps enough food and Vitasalt pills for a 3 day march and hands the rest over to Jaguar to distribute. Shouldering his pack and bidding Gloo, Jag and Crisbel farewell, Sp'ock strides off across the sand heading south west from the stone Arch. Sp'ock pushes hard, south west all night, taking shelter under a rocky outcropping as the sun comes up. In the distance to the south west he can make out the profile of a high peak and marks it's location on rough map he has scratched on the side of his pack. During the second night march Sp'ock stumbles across another Burrower Snake. Almost stepping on the creature in the dark, he spies the movement at his feet and quickly lashes out with his machete, chopping it's head clean off. The adrenaline rush and poor light has Sp'ock jumping at shadows for the rest of the night as he now turns west, hopefully directly toward the main camp. The third evenings march is totally uneventful and Sp'ock stumbles on toward the well, exhausting the last of his food, water and salt supplies. Rather than rest when the sun comes up, Sp'ock presses on, calculating that the well is not more than an hour further ahead. An hour and a half later he is startled out of his reverie at the sound of someone shouting his name. Looking up, Sp'ock sees a yazirian atop a sand dune waving and calling out to him. He picks up his pace and heads toward the distant figure of xZot...
Over to the North East at the stone Arch...
Resting in the shade of the rock formation, Gloo ponders how long he will survive without food. He muses, "Even if the rest of us share what food they have left, none of us may survive until the main group arrive. Hey Jag, what about we go scouting while the rest of them turn up. We have about 7 - 9 days of R & R here" says Gloo. "We could scout in a radius of about 5 k's and keep in contact by chronocom. That would allow us to have some Bruce for the team and maybe get some tucker for us." Gloo turns to Crisbel and says,
"You could help too. We could take it in shifts to go out so we don't have to deal with the sand too much. We have water and reserves but food is as important".
"No thank you" replies Crisbel "If you have friends coming then we should try and fill as many of your empty water packs as possible. I'll stay put for now thanks" Gloo's first hunting and scouting foray to the west yields poor results, just more sand, no water and no sign of life. The following day he opts to strike North for a few kilometres in search of food or more water. Not far out of camp, Gloo spots the telltale moving mound of a Sand Shark heading towards him. "Excellent, exactly what I hoped for" Gloo muses as he hefts his axe and waits for the Sand Shark to launch itself out of the sand at him. Seconds later the oblivious Sand Shark explodes out of the sand at Gloo's feet. He swings his axe aiming at the soft underbelly and is rewarded by a squeal and soft thump as his axe bites deep (17 points). The Sand Shark gnashes at him but Gloo is safely out of range. He side steps and swings the axe down on the Sand Sharks head (22 points) again chopping deep as the Sand Shark thrashes around and manages to slash Gloo's arm with its razor sharp teeth (7 points - half to Suit). Gloo swings again wildly with his axe trying to keep the Sand Shark at bay as he looks for a new opening. The Sand Shark snaps at him again but Gloo easily steps aside. Suddenly both combatants launch themselves at each other, Gloo's swing is high but the Shark manages to close his jaws on one of Gloo's lower pseudopods (10 points half to Suit) and he yelps in pain and slashes with axe, missing again as the Shark closes it's jaws on his lower pseudopod a second time (10 points). After the third nibble (8 points) Gloo pulls his Sonic Stunner and fires but his luck may just have run out as the beam goes wide. Frenzied now with the taste of blood, the Sand Shark strikes again through the rapidly shredding Skiensuit (9 points). Gloo shoves the barrel of the Sonic Stunner into the eye of the Sand Shark, pulls the trigger and collapses in relief when the Sand Shark drops like a stone at his feet.
"Thank the Great Maker for that!" he says as he retrieves his axe and makes short work of the Sand Shark, chopping the Head off and casting it aside. He then uses the axe to hack off several large fillets and heads back to the Arch, mouth watering at the thought of fresh Sand Shark for dinner." A sand storm blows in the following day, preventing another hunting trip but the Arch provides good protection against the weather and the Sand Shark steaks will last another day or two.
Meanwhile, back at the well...
"Five days have passed and still no sign of the Scouting party. They should have been here today..." xZot ponders as he watches the dawn unfold from his vantage point. After a quick party discussion on our predicament, "We have little choice in what we can do, unfortunately our water reserves are still too low for us to break camp and head off after them. We will wait here a couple more days to make sure they are not just overdue." xZot resolves. "The sight of the jet-copter a few days ago still has me worried, it would appear that someone knows who we are, and therefore we can assume that they know where we're from. They know we came in on a Life boat and if they didn't, they do now, then they'll also know we are probably not fully equipped. I'd have to expect that, now that these unknown people know where we are, others will be on there way here. Friend or foe get here first? Only time will tell. But still, it's easy for them to make threats from the air, maybe I should have let Sni'ktl take a pot-shot after all!" xZot continues to no one in particular, merely voicing his mental dissection of the current events. "Our diminishing salt stocks are also cause for concern. Five days of salt left and then we will start consuming more water. This will severely alter the calculations for our water production versus consumption. We have been eating sand shark for a couple of days now maybe we are absorbing some salt naturally through this local produce?"
"Yes" concurs Sni'ktl "I believe we may safely halve the Vitasalt ration for the next 2-3 days and I will monitor the results I'll have a word to Borovski, our quartermaster, about redistribution our current salt supplies to ensure that everyone has salt pills.
"Raid, do you have any suggestions on how we might be able to extract salt out here. The sharks or the worm maybe? The Lopers? Ha! Only kidding." Whilst discussing the salt situation with Borovski, xZot informs him of Sni'ktl's constant nattering about and requests for, a pistol, more particularly, his pistol. Subconsciously xZot's hand drifts down to his belt where the pistol is holstered and lightly touches the cold metal.
"Maybe the heat is getting to Sni'ktl as well?" xZot muses "He had been working fervently of late and all to regularly, exudes Vruskan hive mentality by his very thoroughness and fervour when he works." Whilst xZot hasn't used his pistol yet, it just felt good, feeling the weight regularly, to know that it was there if he needed it. "I guess that it should concern me that our Chief Medical Officer wants a laser pistol to take pot-shots at flying craft in the middle of the desert. Hmmm, but hey, everyone's got to have a hobby I guess, something to take their mind off...I think I'll recommend that you grant Sni'ktl's request for the pistol" xZot decides at he scans the other party member with pistols. xZot notes that he really is probably one of the least useful person with this type of weapon. "I've had the Shock Gloves, and gave them away, I've got the Pistol and I'll give it away; there always seems to be something better just around the corner. I'm willing to take the punt." GleepGlooup waddles over to Sni'ktl after overhearing his discussion with xZot
"Here, have mine" he says, handing Sni'ktl his loaded Laser Pistol "I prefer this anyway" he says as he taps the Gyrojet Pistol jammed into his belt then returns to his scrape hole in the desert seeking what shelter he can from the constant, oppressive heat of the sun. Later that day, a Burrower Snake crawls into Boroksi's sleeping shelter, as Borovski crawls in after his shift of watch duty the Snake strikes at him but fails to penetrate his Skiensuit.
"Damn snake infested Hell hole" Yells Boro as he pulls his machete and chops down, taking the head off the weird legged snake.
"Hey xZot! Worked out a way to get salt outta these yet" quips Boro as he hurls the snake carcass out of his shelter toward the camp fire.
xZot resumes his vantage point and continues his survey of the horizon for the scouts return, ever mindful of the fact that he appears to be very good Shark bait. It appears that we will be here for a few more days yet.
Chief Medical Officer's Log.
Seven days on Volturnus, water supplies remain low, salt supplies will last one more week maybe longer if we can catch more meat, we will need more Biocort within a fortnight unless we become less prone to injuries. I remain optimistic. Threats lie under the sand and in the air. The sand itself has risen up to show it resentment at our presence. The scout party have been away for five days now. Our physical wounds are healing well, and I continue to remain vigilant for signs of mental aberration in the group. The responsibility of leadership seems to suit xZot. However, it makes me nervous the way he keeps fingering his laser pistol. The last thing we need is a paranoiac in charge. Still his decisions remain rational. Whatever is happening to the scouts or with our aerial visitors, we will need to manufacture as much water as possible over the next few days if we're going to move on. Our second in command, Bruce seems somewhat withdrawn. This is probably a normal response. I hope it doesn't progress into a depression that could easily lead to suicidal behaviour in this desolate place. GleepGlooup remains positive although he did mistake xZot for Borovski the other day. I hope his mind remains more stable than his outer form. Borovski is fairly removed. He seems to sleep a lot, which is probably good. He seems rational and responded positively to my request for a laser pistol. Con seems to be enjoying the challenge. He seems to focus on tasks and remaining busy. McKilin has a subtle presence. You don't always notice him there but he's always doing something useful behind the scenes and ready to put in when it matters. OMAC is hardly outspoken at the best of times. I think he may be getting bored with nothing to test his military skill of late. Still there are no complaints about his efficient work as a medic – even if his bedside manner is a little brusque. Raid would make a fantastic case study. He has probably undergone more trauma than the rest of us. Wherever there is trouble he seems to be in the middle of it. Yet he retains his courage in scouting and his good humour. I think the lopers are also good, keeping him busy when there is no scouting to do. Who knows what challenges the scouting party faces and how they are coping? As for myself I wonder if my desire for a laser pistol indicates a level of insecurity. I think it was a rational request though. Having seen how everyone else is handling these weapons I don't think I could be a worse shot. Besides which, its more useful than a night stick for keeping me away from the action and out from under everyone's feet. They do seem to get ever so excited when there is a chance of combat.
End medical log.
Sni'ktl finishes his medical log as the sun rises on the eighth day. "Looks like another hot one" he says as he gets ready for his watch. As others are bedding down in the sparse shade areas, Sni'ktl checks that his laser pistol is in good working order.
Frontier Date 63.081Pf +19
On the morning of the fifth day the scout team is overdue. xZot wanders to the edge of the encampment scanning the horizon for any sign of the scout team. If they didn't find water, then they have almost certainly perished in the desert wasteland. Then movement catches his eye and he spots a figure to the west, moving across the dunes toward the well. Then xZot's mind begins racing again, to the west? They must have looped around? Is that the scout team? Only one, oh no. xZot begins waving and calling out to what is definitely a Vrusk approaching the camp.
"Sp'ock! Sp'ock! Is that you?"
The Vrusk props and looks up in xZot's direction and begins moving again only to slide to a stop yet again pointing back over xZot's shoulder. Confused, xZot turns to see what the Vrusk is looking at, blinded by the glare from the desert sand and heat. xZot blinks and re-adjusts his Sungoggles as he sees what stopped Sp'ock in his tracks. To the west of the well you see a number of individuals riding toward you over a distant ridge. They vaguely resemble octopi, except their bodies are plum-purple and highly decorated with feathers, primitive jewellery, tattoos, and bright paint. They carry spears and war clubs in four of their tentacles, and keep their other four tentacles wrapped around their mounts, which resemble two- legged dinosaurs standing 4 meters tall. The tallest rider shouts a high pitched command and the riders spread out along the ridge to await another command. The riders are about 500 meters away. Five of the aliens ride toward the well slowly and carefully, keeping their weapons handy, but not yet raised in a threatening manner...
Arriving back at the Stone Arch, Gloo stumbles in
"Honey I'm home" showing off his solo kill. "Hey Jag. What's the chance of some medical assistance before I deflate? Damn thing wouldn't let go, had lockjaw or something." After getting healed somewhat, Gloo sits down to have a well-earned rest. He wonders how Sp'ock is going with the trek back. Whether he made it or not and whether the main group was coming this way at all. Oh well, I had faith in Sp'ock only because I didn't have much choice. He's proved himself time and again since we boarded the ship.
Far across the desert...
Trudging across this blasted desert with the fun prospect of trudging all the way back again is so uplifting. If it wasn't for the occasional predatory attack a Vrusk could really hate this place. And the attacks are getting more frequent. Should be real close to the well. By the Sacred Egg I do pray that Sni'ktl was able to find a solution for the water shortage. I never liked the idea of splitting the group. For it is written "The strength of the hive is in the hive." Never been real comfortable with that one. What was that movement on that dune? It looks like a Vrusk. Too far for detail, will head in that direction easing the laser in it's holster. Must remember to ask Gloo how you clean these things properly. Oh well if the crystals are dirty and it won't fire, it will make a dandy rock. Mork be praised it's Sni'ktl, they live yet. Aah, a dust cloud, Sni'ktl is jumping up and waving, he does not see. No shouts of warning from the camp, the others are unsighted, unconscious, or worse, slacking. Pick up the pace soldier. Waving at Sni'ktl" behind you beware!" Details emerging from the dust. Are we saved! Riders, they are mounted on saurians, oh, oh. The riders themselves are alien. They conform to no known species? Not my field, never met one.
A first contact situation, thinks Sp'ock. What was interstellar protocol on first contact? Oh yeah, bring back specimens. Is that right? Maybe shouldn't have gone on that nectar bender with good old Ne'cap. Pity about his nasty accident. Mental note. Still amazed at just what will flash through mind under stress. Oh yeah keep hands away from weapons move slowly up beside Sni'ktl let these aliens see we are not hostile, where is rest of the command group? Here goes nothing.
"So what if just xZot and Sni'ktl go chat with octopus head?"" GleepGlooup says "Well Con ain't no diplomat" xZot says "Last time you said this you cleared the room!"
GleepGlooup says "huh?" Sni'ktl tries to use his empathy skill to establish the mood of the oncoming octopus headed loper riders 500 metres away from the camp but to no avail. Sni'ktl calms his mind, focuses on the present moment and steps forward
"Come on xZot, stop fingering your laser pistol and come with me. They'll want to talk with us" xZot remembers the nasty habit that he has acquired, fingering the pistol that is. "Sni'ktl, I think you're right. They have us outnumber by far so we have nothing to lose in diplomacy"
"They are only sending out five riders. An obvious sign that they want to talk. From their point of view we are trespassers, possible poisoners, possible they are in employ of pirates. They may want to trade" Sni'ktl replies
"Possible" says Sp'ock
"They probably think we're pirates"
"Possible" says Sp'ock
"Good point" says GleepGlooup
"We should not be overtly hostile, by the same token we should be wary of them until good will established" says Sp'ock As he carries on walking towards the Octopus headed loper riders Sni'ktl says "Ah McKilin just in time. Do you want to join the delegation to greet our visitors?" McKilin raises his eyebrows looking at the unusual species.
"Domesticated mounts? Looks promising". He nods and walks forwards to group with the others. Sp'ock waves to McKilin to get behind rocks, not comfortable with the majority exposed to long range fire from mounted squids.
"Pssst xZot! Order Raid out there with little tykes in tow" whispers GleepGlooup. Sni'ktl uses empathy skill as the riders approach to try and establish their mood. Hostile? Or just cautious? From this distance, they don't look hostile.
"Hey Raid, get up, we have guests. Bring those little beasties of yours"
"Good idea, we may be able to trade them" Sni'ktl says
At 400 metres and closing Sni'ktl says "Hey Sp'ock, your vruskian comprehension would be useful if you care to join us" McKilin peers to the speech specialist.
"Wouldn't that be a psycho's speciality?"
"I'll give it a bit of a go."
"I'll remove all my visible weapons so as to show no threat to them" says xZot. Sp'ock, xZot, Raid, Sni'ktl and two lopers advance.
"It is important that xZot appears to be a strong leader. Sp'ock should act as a body guard to him. I will appear as his interpreter and Raid as his animal handler. They will relate to these roles and therefore to us." says Sni'ktl. At 300 metres xZot wonders, are they making any attempt at communicating with us yet? Sp'ock assumes a position on xZot's left with laser at port arms. McKilin stands back. If there are casualties, he prefers not to be one of them and be able to patch them up. Sni'ktl walks on xZot's right with hands open towards the approaching riders. Sni'ktl says "Ask Raid to follow about ten paces behind with the lopers" At a distance of 100 metres, Sp'ock breaks out in Vrusk equivalent of sweat. When you get within a audible distance xZot hails his visitors. One of the riders waves and calls back, they continue forward. Sni'ktl attempts comprehension to establish if his Vrusk instincts concur with his training but notices nothing apart from the obvious. They stop at 50 metres and one dismounts. The dismounted figure approaches on 4 tentacles. Sni'ktl says
"You guys wait here" and takes off his holster and leaves it with xZot and approaches five paces closer. Sp'ock ignores the leader and focus his attention on his bodyguard as Sni'ktl muses
"I wonder if the polyvox works?" The alien is squeaking and chirping, but nothing much is being translated by the polyvoxes yet. Sp'ock tries signing to it. As the octopus like aliens approach Sni'ktl squeaks and chirps back in a friendly way. Sp'ock declares
"Their primary language is not verbal. If in doubt give it a dead thing. Hopefully not a pet. Then one of the mounted warriors squawks at their leader and points past Sni'ktl toward Raid and the Loper cubs. The leader lowers his spears to the ground and slowly approaches the cubs, chirping softly. Sni'ktl Offers leader a drink of water as the leader reaches toward one of the cubs with a ninth tentacle placing it on the back of the lopers neck. When he sees the offered water he bows toward Sni'ktl and chirps toward his friends. Two more riders dismount and come forward cautiously with full water skins offering them to you. McKilin feels his chapped lips split in several places and walks forwards, feeling the aching muscles in his legs protest. Well either it is a gift or it is laced with arsenic.. either way it is an improvement.
"Have we got enough sandshark for a barbie xZot?" quips Sni'ktl. The first rider to dismount them places his ninth tentacle on Sni'ktl's neck. Sni'ktl wonders is this a gesture of friendship and attempts to say "Thank you", smiles lots and goes back to the soft chirping that worked well earlier. Sp'ock considers the strangeness of baring ones teeth being seen as a friendly act. The riders' tentacle touches the back of Sni'ktl's neck, there is a quick jab of pain as part of the tentacle inserts itself between his carapace plates, then suddenly there is a voice in his head.
"Hello...2 legged walker
"Hello nine legged walker, thank you for the water"
"Me 8 legged walker 1 legged talker. Me Athru, who u?"
"Me Sni'ktl - me eight legged too. Have you travelled far?"
"Yes but you are not of the One and u walk with other 2 legs"
"Yes you are right. I am not of the One. We are strangers here."
"We are Ul-Mor we always walking"
"You must know this place pretty well, will you share you wisdom with us?"
"We cannot you are not of the ONE"
"If you tell me more about this ONE we can help you. Maybe one of my friends knows someone who is of the ONE"
"We do not need your help. Do you wish to become the One?"
"What does that involve?"
"You come with us"
"Can you help us find our way? Do you wish to trade or exchange anything? We have some other friends that we need to pick up on the way out."
"We are returning to our tribe, then if you wish to become part of the One we will take you to the Place of True Warriors" Sni'ktl says
"Gotta be better than being gyrocopter bait by this crappy well"
"Where are your friends?" asks the Ul-Mor leader
"At the well to the north east" Athru doesn't understand the concept of north east. Sni'ktl Shows Athru Sp'ock's map
"Here" Sni'ktl points north east "That way"
"Uhuh...ok you lead"
"Sounds better than dying of thirst" pipes in Con. Sni'ktl says
"And we're picking up the scout party on the way out"
"Ok lets go" says Athru and heads back to mount his loper. Con says
"Besides do they know anything about our friends in the sky?" Sni'ktl says "Does Athru want to trade anything? Athru, do you have any spare lopers for us?"
xZot rallies everyone "Lets break camp!" Athru shouts some clicks and squeaks at his 4 body guards who in turn ride off toward the main body of riders he then turns back and rides his loper toward Sni'ktl, resuming their mental link with his tentacle. Through the mental link Athru tells Sni'ktl that until you become part of the One you will have to travel behind his party until you have passed their rituals. They will be able to leave food and water for you along the trail and you will have to camp separately, sorry no spare lopers, but they will be able to clear your path of local wildlife. Sni'ktl says
"Sounds good to me. The rituals sound interesting." Con says
"Cool no more shark ie: flake fillets"
"Don't worry Con, I have some meat stored for later; and a few more recipes!" Sni'ktl tries empathy to establish if Athru is concealing anything sinister about the rituals or if it is just him being cautious but to no avail.
xZot's mind drifts back over the recent day's events. Meeting the Ul-Mor has brought a welcome change to our desert routine and maybe even given us a glimpse of getting out of this place. Sni'ktl speaks of some sort of telepathic connection with our new companions when they use their ninth tentacle. Sni'ktl's role as translator/diplomat worked well, but, I guess it isn't that hard to put your foot in your mouth when you have eight legs! No harm done, everything seemed taken in good humour. I will much prefer it when our polyvox have acquired enough data to allow us to communicate more generally, our attempts at their language are humorous if nothing else and, I dislike the mental intimacy that telepathy forces upon the unprepared. I do, however, recognise to efficiency that this must deliver whilst riding their Loper steeds. Which brings me back to the reality that I am really tired of walking in this desert!
Sni'ktl scratches the back of his neck. He still gets an occasional itch from the link with Athru.
"He might not think I'm ONE but I'm pretty sure I'm one enough for this Vrusk."
Sni'ktl shares xZot's concerns about the ONE. Many scholars (mostly misguided humans) postulate that Vruskan early evolution included a "Hive Mind" phase where all Vrusks were mentally subservient to a central consciousness. Although it is preposterous to think that the Vrusks would endure such menial subservience, perhaps the ONE is like that for the Ul-Mor. On the other hand it could be a harmless bonding ceremony or anywhere on a spectrum in between. Sni'ktl determines that he will establish the truth - or as close as possible - before we reach the Oasis. Employing psycho social skills of empathy and communication and his Vruskian comprehension Sni'ktl embarks on a range of experiments designed to explore the Ul-Mor psyche and answer three questions (1) Are the Ul-Mor telepathic over a distance? (2) Do Ul-Mor individuals show signs that their behaviour is governed by an external influence? (3) Do Ul-Mor individuals show signs of independent personality and self-determination? In the Process Sni'ktl hopes to establish the balance between (2) and (3) as well as developing an understanding of Ul-Mor culture and language.
"I wish professor Ich'nik'tar from the University were here. He would have summed this up in the first five minutes of meeting them. I'll have to do it the slow and steady way. Lots of small experiments designed to minimise risk of a false interpretation". He quickly establishes that the Ul-Mor telepathy only appears effective throughout the use of the ninth tentacle and each Ul-Mor is a distinct individual with a clear heirachy within the tribe. You have initially encountered their hunting party who are returning to the rest of their tribe at an oasis, where they will travel to another oasis to help prepare you for the Ritual of Manhood. xZot begins to worry,
"Our packing up of our camp was somewhat rushed in an effort to keep up with the Ul-Mor. I can't help worrying that we may have left something behind. All this talk of being part of the One is a bit strange; I guess we'll need to see what we can discover about it at every opportunity. It all sounds a bit fanatical to me. For the moment at least, we can enjoy not having to worry about sharks, snake and worms, and we can maintain a faster and less stressful rate of travel." xZot reminds the rest of the group.
"This has been a day of change. First the pleasure of finding the command group intact and relatively safe. The news of the flyby is disturbing. It would seem that the pirates are well informed of happenings on this planet. This implies a satellite web over the planet. Visual overview would have been sighted easily prior to this, and the idea of ground patrols does stretch the point for such independently minded business men as our former enemies. That also implies a degree of co-ordination that is unusual for pirates. The fleet arm would be very interested in this news. Our employers hit the jackpot with this planet, I mean big time. The government rewards for tumbling a major pirate enclave will be large enough. But, what of the impact of a new, and telepathic, race? This is huge. If these people are psi adepts, the security and military communication aspects alone would ensure a really major pay off from the Federation. I have no doubt the weapons, research, and games theory divisions will all come to blows over who gets to handle the official negotiations on this place. I will have to consider my own obligation if any to report this direct to Federation HQ at the soonest chance? Would my current contract hold sway? Or is my duty to the greater whole the more urgent? Might raise this issue with McKilin and Sni'ktl I have noticed they both tend to musing, a trait I suspect could supply answers to this. The opinions of the other military specialists amongst us I am already confident of. But, I seek consensus not affirmation. Must remember to raise the subject of the incipient cannibalism betrayed by Gloo, maybe a bad reaction to a high fish diet?"
"xZot, it would be an idea for you to begin giving some thought to how we should prepare for the return of the gyrocopter, or more aggressive behaviour from the pirates. We must assume they have a high eye, therefore we may be under surveillance even now. That being given it is also ill advised for us to send out individuals on their own. My own survival aside I do not think Raid should return to the arch alone. Either I should go with him, or one of the other military specialists, perhaps Con."
"The idea of a hive mind, One ego controlling the movements of a large number of bodies. Repulsive. We Vrusk practice the submission of the will to the common need, an act of will, not mindless obedience, to suggest such is to ignore the spirited, and occasionally violent discussion of where exactly the common need is served best. Ah the many and colourful tales of debate raging over entire colonies as to the best regulatory requirements of local citizen cells. By the egg the intensity of the debate over the meaning of the term regulatory depopulated half a continent before it was finally settled. Of course we have long since abandoned the practice of military involvement in civilian debate. Now the military get called in only when one side has gained ascendancy, any dispute the military have to the new directives can usually be sorted out in short time. I remember well the recent meeting where the military was informed by the government delegates of a proposed relocation of the Queens third aerial Guard to new quarters. General Thik's'Aabrick heard out the proposition, had the government delegates shot and the bill was defeated. Later commendation from the Queen saw the general first laid, then eaten. But, what a debater. Ah well. Sp'ock out!"
"Sp'ock is quite right, we were lucky last time one person was sent out on an extended trek in the desert on their own. Sp'ock's experience in these matters must be acknowledged, he was lucky to survive after embarking on the trek from the Arch back to find the rest of us only a few days ago." xZot reflects on his group and continues "I think is we are going to look at scouting companions for this mission, my first choice would be OMAC. He can look after himself, and he as Medical skills if the need arises. OMAC, if you have no objections..."
Sp'ock's efficiency of thought should be commended thinks xZot. "Sp'ock's musings on the return of the Gyrocopter, Pirates and the surveillance that we may be under, are thought provoking to say the least." This leads me to two thoughts. "Firstly, the Ul-Mor are not the pirates that we expected. By their mode of localised transport and general demeanour I believe they are Natives of sorts. While I am a little unsure about this "One" thing; I am sure that our chances of survival are higher being with these people than not. If nothing else, they should be able to provide us with some guidance on the best route out of the desert or at least to somewhere a little more civilised. I, for one, think we need to pursue this "One" thing to make some progress on this Planet."
Frontier Date 63.079Pf +21
Travelling due east it takes a day and a half to reach the point where Sp'ock turned to get back to the main party. The Ul-Mor are continuing due east. After spending the travel time talking with Sni'ktl, Athru says that if you send someone from here to go get your friends, they can meet up with his tribe at an Oasis further east. The scout team can find the Oasis by travelling south east from the Arch for about 2 days to get to the Oasis. Whilst they don't mind giving you food and water the Ul-Mor don't seem eager to establish any kind of relationships yet.
Once they reach the closest point they will come to in their travels, to the scout team, xZot sends Raid and OMAC off to inform Gloo, Crisbel and Jaguar of the recent developments and to have them gather their things, leave the Arch and head SE to the Oasis,
"Raid, take OMAC and those lopers of yours out for a bit of exercise and meet us back at the Oasis with the others in a few days. Have you got those lopers trained yet to scare any of the nasties out of your way when you scout? Take whatever supplies you need and make sure you have Sni'ktl check you out before you go. The rest of us will continue behind our local companions on their trek to the Oasis." Raid takes enough vitasalt pills, water and survival rations to last himself and the scout team 4 days and heads north east, using his compass to find the stone Arch. As Sni'ktl checks Raid over for his mission to join up with the rest of the party Sni'ktl says."
"Raid, it is important that you let the others know what I've found out. These Ul-Mor..."
Over the days of travel Sni'ktl spends every spare moment undertakes on his experiments. The fact that the Ul-Mor want to ignore the one-ONEs makes observation easier, overcoming the risk of observer-subject influence. First Sni'ktl tests the boundaries.
"How close can I go to Ul-Mor on the march and do they respond individually or collectively?" Having established a safe distance for observation, about 500 metres, Sni'ktl observes Ul-Mor Scouts. When they spot something they give a visible or audible signal before other Ul-Mor respond? They don't respond in a way that indicates harmonised action through one guiding mind They show signs of individuality! They use their communication tentacles on each other, there are no apparent cases of insubordination? Sni'ktl tries his hand at mimicking the Ul-Mor and records their response taking special note if responses vary between individuals. Sni'ktl records the Ul-Mor cultural rituals such as prayer and water sharing rituals. He is especially interested in how they respond when Raid takes the Lopers North.
Meanwhile, at the Arch...
"Damn sandstorm. Hope it doesn't stay around too long" grumbles Gloo. He had just had one of the best sleeps the night before 'cause of the drugs and then the storm hit. He mumbles to no-one in particular.."
"No hunting today so we better ration out the steaks." As he dozes off into a half sleep. Gloo looks out onto the desert after the sandstorm, he notices that the landscape is almost totally different as the wind and sand blew the dunes into a new formation. He muses to himself."
"I hope Sp'ock can find his way back" Turning back and heading back into the arch, he approaches Jag. "How do you feel about going out to do some hunting with that machete?" He asks. After two days of treatment from Jaguar Gloo is almost back to full strength and finally the sand storm blows itself out.
Frontier Date 63.079Pf +21
The following day, Raid and OMAC arrive at the Arch and give the scout team the good news about the location of a nearby oasis. The ragged group gather their packs and head south east from the Arch. After an uneventful 2 day march across the desert you finally meet the remainder of the team at a lush desert oasis where they are camped under what look like local palm trees beside a pool of water fed by an underground spring. The water shows no sign of toxic elements and the entire supply of water packs is quickly refilled and your diet is now supplemented by several fruits and cuts of meat provided by the Ul-Mor.
Frontier Date 63.077Pf +23
Athru now explains that you will need to travel once more across the desert to another oasis. From there you have a short journey across the burning lands, to what sounds like an underground cavern complex that needs to be negotiated to reach the "Place of True Warriors"
"Now that all who wish to become ONE are here, we must go" Athru shouts several commands to his aides who quickly spread the word amongst the Ul-Mor camp and the entire tribe is mounted and on the desert trail in minutes. The polyvox are beginning to pick up some of the Ul-Mor language now and as Athru points back to the North West, you all hear him say
"This way, 6 days. Come" Athru turns and rides away.
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