Soundtrack: Know Your Enemy by Green Day
Cue the Rain by Queen Latifah
-=Two Days Ago=-
-=Location: The utility hallways, or “Utilihall” beneath the surface of Sibalt: Part of the command facility known as Labyrinth Station=-
The scuffle was short.
Mere moments after they’d materialized, the efficient team of highly trained professionals had the environment around them completely secured.
“Too trusting, this ‘Starfleet’…” The tall, thin male who was second in command said, with just the hint of a disappointed sigh. “I had hoped it was going to be a lot more of a challenge than that.”
”The challenge is only beginning.” The female in charge responded. “I must compliment you, Vrett. You chose the perfect moment to execute our plan.”
“Well, with all the cutbacks that the Sibaltians have made across the sector…it wasn’t difficult to predict when the security levels here would be at their lowest.”
“That’s where you’re wrong.” A quaking voice replied. She was the only one left of her group of ten that had not yet been blindfolded and taken from the room. “Starfleet is sending a crew here for training, they’re due any time.”
As the woman scheduled to ‘host’ the games to be played and training undertaken by the crew of the Serendipity, Lana Suttil knew that they wouldn’t arrive in nearly enough time to have any clue anything had gone wrong here. Even if they did at any point become aware that underground compound existed, they would have no way to know that the security of the location had been compromised.
Before the alien woman could respond, another spoke. “Leader, there is a signal coming in over the comm.
“It can’t be the Serendipity crew already.” The Leader scoffed.
“It is not. It is a man claiming he was sent here on special assignment. He’s transmitting his orders. They were authorized by an Admiral called Harris.”
The female alien locked unusually large eyes upon Lana. “Do you know of this?”
“They never tell us when they’re going to send so-called Saboteurs. They do it on a case by case basis depending on how challenged they feel the incoming crew shoul-“
The alien gripped her by the throat, choking off the possibility she could finish her sentence. “You will speak to him. Carefully.”
She released her hold only to viciously push Lana face-first toward the comm panel. “Speak.”
Lana coughed, her hand elevating toward the bruised flesh of her throat as the hail repeated. The alien woman began to quickly work the panel.
[This is…on board the…for duty. Please respond.]
The alien attempted to clear the static distortion from the incoming message, while deliberately creating it to interfere with outgoing voice communication. She disabled video altogether so that the man about to arrive would not immediately learn of the compound’s recent change in management.
“Wait.” She held up her hand toward Lana, now having second thoughts. “Tell me, quietly, what to say to him.”
Lana hesitated. She knew that if she did what the woman asked, the crew of the Serendipity would be walking straight into a trap. If she didn’t do as they wanted, though, not only her own life but those of her staff could be lost before the Sera’s crew set foot on the planet.
“You have three seconds to start talking.” The Leader warned, pressing the muzzle of her weapon against Lana’s head.
Sadly, Lana whispered the correct words and the alien repeated them verbatim. “You are clear, Lieutenant. Beam to the coordinates you are receiving and I will greet you myself. Labyrinth Station out.”
“Now what are you going to do with us?” Lana asked softly, fearing she already knew the answer.
“What we do with the others is no longer your concern.” The alien replied, before raising her weapon again and striking Lana heavily over the head with it. Lana’s lifeless body fell to the floor, and the alien gestured disinterestedly toward it. “Get rid of it.”
“And then, Leader?”
“Then I will meet the trained…” She read the orders on the screen again “Saboteur on the surface. But first…” She gestured toward the corridor. “I have to get the proper costume from this… ‘locker room’.
"Liisssyyy, it's hot. Fix it."
"I can’t fix it, Dabin. Take off your rain slicker."
"But it's raining! I'll get wet!" He pulled the hood tighter around his face.
"Then leave your rain slicker on, Dabin."
"You can rest later."
"I'm thirsty! Can I have some of your water?"
"No, you already had your water. That pack was supposed to last you for an entire day." Zanh sighed.
"Tell me about it. Speaking of all that drinking...um..."
"Do not you even suggest it, Reece. Do you see a bathroom around here?" She gestured to the open field around them.. "Neither do I. Deal with it."
Reece frowned. "My backpack keeps sliding off my shoulder! Will you carry it?" He suddenly winced as he noticed the irritation in the normally kind, peaceful eyes of Keiran O'Sullivan. They were glued to him, warning him he'd better stop his complaining.
"Sure, Dabin, I'll do that. If you take the tritanium implants in my spine for awhile I'll be happy to carry your pack for you." Zanh now nearly bumped into the group walking ahead of her, Reece and O'Sullivan as they suddenly came to a halt.
They'd been hiking for hours now, in driving rain and over terrain that alternated from being so tall with overgrown grass that seemed to have a life of its own and mud so deep that it threatened to suck the boots right off of her feet with every step.
"This is it." Called Dane Cristiane's voice from the front of the pack.
"This is what?" Zanh yelled to him over the sound of distant thunder. Keiran's eyes shot up toward the sky.
"Not gonna be lightning I hope." He fretted. "They said this 'special' weather net wasn' gonna pose any danger ta the crew."
"It won't. Might motivate them to move a little faster, but it won't pose a danger." Liis said, giving him a half a smile.
“That it might.”
"Dane!" Liis raised her voice again, growing impatient. She'd gone hours with coffee at this point, and she was afraid she was beginning to develop a headache due to caffeine deprivation. "This is WHAT?"
Cristiane made his way through the twenty some-odd members of the Serendipity's crew and approached. "I'm not exactly sure, Captain. But these are the coordinates we were told to report to."
"There's nothing heeeeeere!" Reece whined.
Keiran and Liis shot the Trill another exasperated glare and at once both exclaimed the same two words. "Reece! Seriously!"
The Trill fell silent. He kicked a moss-covered stone with his foot and said "Ow," softly under his breath.
February, who had been happily trudging through the mud in a bright pink rain slicker while conversing with Vol Tryst, approached her husband. "C'mon, Dabin, time for a snack. Want some cookies?"
"Cookies!" He squealed with joy, happily distracted for the moment. He followed as she led him off.
"She gets my vote for most valuable player." Keiran whispered to TC Blane, who had joined O’Sullivan and Dane at this point in looking over their immediate surroundings.
They found themselves in a large field. It was a low lying area and all of the rain had accumulated into a sort of sludgy lake at the mid-way point. There were no trees here, no caves or mountains anymore. The land was as flat as a board as far as the eye could now see in any direction and there were no structures of any sort for kilometers.
That was, however, only an illusion.
Suddenly, there was a shimmering light before them, similar to a transporter beam but brighter and more wave-like. A being, neatly dressed and the only person within sight who wasn't soaked to the bone, appeared before them.
"Greetings, worthy crew of the USS Serendipity. Where is your Captain Zanh?"
Not immediately speaking up, Liis watched to see what would happen.
The crowd split into two neatly aligned rows, parting as every soul to the last under her command turned and stared squarely in her direction.
Liis raised her hand and tried to stifle a laugh. "That would be me. Zanh Liis O'Sullivan, USS Serendipity."
"I am Jelca Rued. I am to be the closest thing to a guide that you will have during your stay with us. Though, perhaps ‘host’ would be a more appropriate term as I will not actually be guiding you anyway." She smiled, and when she did it seemed that her face was almost too small to hold the expression. Whatever species she was, and off of the top of her head Liis couldn't recall having seen anyone who looked quite like her before, the woman’s mouth seemed just a little too wide for her face.
“And I was secretly hoping she was a Sherpa in disguise.” Landry Steele grumbled beneath her breath.
"Ha! That chick said her name was rude!" Dabin laughed from the back of the group. Suddenly all eyes were on him, including once again those of his increasingly annoyed Commanding Officer.
"Rued." Jelca corrected mildly. She tried to see through the throng of dripping wet Starfleet Officers the face of the man who belonged to the voice, but was unable as he was now leaning forward to dip his cookie in the hot chocolate that Bru had put into a thermal bottle; anticipating that at some point during the day it would be needed.
"So, Ms....Rued." Salvek addressed her now, blinking serenely even as water dripped from his hair and the points of his ears after the rain ceased to fall. "How are we to begin? Have you a task for us before the rain begins again?"
No one else had really noticed yet that the moment their 'host' had arrived, the rain had ceased.
"You are to designate your teams." She declared. "One for the Serendipity, and one for the Alchemy."
"That's not fair, they'll have more people than we will." Landry complained, knowing that with her assigned position she'd surely be put on the Alchemy's team.
"We'll even it out." Zanh Liis assured. "So we split into teams. Then..."
"Then, you will engage in your first challenge. It is an exercise designed to demonstrate which team has superior physical strength." She tapped a button on the PADD in her hand and out of nothing, a very large coil of rope appeared on the ground beside her. "I believe to the many Humans here this contest would be known as a Tug of War.
Keiran's laughter rumbled softly. Somehow, he would be willing to bet that when the design for these 'games' was put together that a certain Scottish thumbprint was all over this particular choice of exercise. Very funny, William, he thought.
"Well ain’t that prettier than Granny’s hat on Sunday.” A twangy voice interjected sarcastically, adding, “lookie here, lady…” McKay tapped her on the shoulder, and Jelca turned.
He was a tall man, who appeared to be unnaturally calm for a Human given his surroundings and, more troubling, devoid of any moisture on his skin or clothing. He was wagging a finger at her.
“If our Captain there don't sit this one out, we'll be takin' her back to the Sera in itty bitty pieces. She’s stubborn as a mule but physically…one yank of that rope and her back will come unhinged. She’ll crumble faster than a sand castle at high tide.”
"That's right." Lance Hartcort added, much to McKay's dismay. "Her spine is held together with chicken wire and Silly Putty. Tug of war can’t happen for her."
"Excuse me, but why are you..." the woman momentarily ignored Hartcort as she eyed McKay warily. She scanned him with a small device. "I am sorry, Captain Zanh, but your Photonic cannot participate in these games. He has unfair advantages in that he requires neither rest nor nourishment of any kind."
"Now just a cotton pickin'-"
"Dalton..." The Captain waved him over, and whispered something into his ear. He sighed heavily, and nodded. “Thank you.” She patted him on the arm reassuringly.
"Have fun in the swamp, ya'll. I hope ya don't get the Sibaltian equivalent of Malaria from all the Sovereign Class-sized skeeters that come out after sunset." McKay tapped the emitter on his arm and vanished, and Liis caught it mid-air as it dropped.
She tucked it quickly into her backpack. "I'll keep the doctor with me. Any objections?"
There were none.
"So what happens if we win the tug of war?" Asked TC Blane.
"More importantly, it's what happens to the losers." Jelca replied evenly. "They get to set up your base camp, and hopefully before the late evening snowstorm."
"Snow...storm?" Micah Samson looked truly horrified. As the resident weather expert, he wished he could get a look at this 'special' weather net himself...and improve upon it a little.
With a sledge hammer...
"Yes. But then, it could be a dust storm. One never quite knows. Tonight you will have one base camp. Tomorrow, each team will camp separately." She blinked and widened her eyes. Zanh nearly shivered at the sight; again their host’s features seemed just a little too large for the square footage of face they occupied.
"Well if the Captain is out for the first round, who will take her place?" Dane wondered.
Liis and Keiran shared a glance, his eyes just about begging her to let him leave the purely supervisory role he was meant to play just long enough to take part in this one battle of wills.
"You sure?" She laughed.
"Oh yeah. Quite."
TC Blane now grinned. "OK. O’Sullivan will substitute for the Captain. Let's get our teams set."
“For your official teams, top level command structures should remain in place.” Jelca advised.
“That means it’s going to be you against me, Logic.” Zanh gave Salvek a lopsided grin. “And that means that Paxton is your right hand, and Thomas will be mine.”
Briggs and Blane took up position accordingly.
“I believe then that the crew assigned to the Alchemy’s On-Call Crew should also be on my team.” Salvek concluded.
“Take ‘em away.” Zanh gestured with an open hand, and watched as Lair, Halliday, Ryn, Steele, Lassiter, Cristiane and the newest addition to the crew, Trev Sterling, moved to stand with Salvek and Briggs..
Now shuffling around the rest of the crowd, uneven as it was, stayed on Zanh’s side. “Samson, you’re with Salvek.” Zanh suggested, and Salvek nodded his approval.
“Captain, if I might,” Lance Hartcort interjected. “Each team should have someone with advanced medical training assigned to it, just in case immediate first-aid is required.”
“Good plan, Lance.” She turned and sought out a specific face in the crowd. “With Dr. McKay out of play, I guess that means you, Vol.”
“But, Captain…I’m a Counselor, not a physician. Ensign T’Dara is much more medically…” Vol protested.
“Yes, you’re very special Vol. But two Vulcans on one team, especially when we’ve got Reece? I don’t think so. In fact, I know not.” Liis watched as Dabin tossed the last bite of his cookie up in the air, caught it in his mouth and then nearly choked on it. He coughed, and as people turned to see if he was all right, he waved them away.
“I meant to do that.” He sputtered.
“We need to balance that out.” Zanh concluded. “Besides, T’Dara does not yet have the initials M.D. after her name and you do, Doctor Tryst…” As she spoke to Vol, Liis glanced toward the gifted Vulcan nurse, a sign that she had faith that one day T’Dara would complete her studies and become a full-fledged doctor.
T’Dara modestly inclined her head in thanks for the compliment from her Captain.
“Captain…” Vol began to object again, his spirits sinking even lower than before as he was unable to help but sense the smug satisfaction at this potential turn of events in both February Grace and Trev Sterling.
“Sorry, Counselor, no time for discussion. Off you go.” Zanh concluded, walking awa
Vol marched dutifully across the grass and stood in the empty space beside Sterling.
“I guess we’ll get that chance to have coffee after all.” Trev said softly, leaning toward him.
Vol stared straight ahead and said nothing in return. Trev laughed as quietly as he’d spoken, unable to remove the grin from his face. From across the divide his friend the tall blonde Trill simply winked at him.
“Our teams are still uneven, Captain,” Salvek advised as Zanh did a quick head count.
“Yeah yeah, I know. Workin’ on it..”
”I would suggest you work quickly, Captain…” Jelca warned. “The clouds are gathering again.”
“Okay. Look, Grace was only supposed to take notes as an observer but I’m drafting her to even us up. You up to the challenge, Bubbles?”
February beamed. “Yes, Sir.”
“Good. Salvek that means Ashton is all yours.”
There was an audible groan from everyone on the Alchemy team with the two notable exceptions of Salvek and Halliday.
Salvek, because he suppressed his emotions as much as he could and Halliday because he liked everyone he’d ever met, including Ashton Ledbetter.
“I don’know, Thomas,” Keiran laughed, leaning in closer to speak to Blane privately. “But if judgin’ was ta be done on style for that last maneuver, I’d say my wife won hands down.”
Blane nodded his agreement.
"This isn't right." Ashton Ledbetter complained, as the Alchemy team prepared to hoist their end of the heavy rope up off of the ground. It had somehow soaked up a great deal of moisture it seemed, making it even heavier and more difficult to hold on to. "They've got O'Sullivan now and he's easily three times stronger than Zanh Liis."
"Only three times stronger?” Liis roared, as she plunked down onto the ground and prepared to watch the entertainment. “Thanks Ledbetter, you just made my day. We’ve got O'Sullivan but you've got Salvek, Briggs…need I continue? Quit your bitchin' and pick up the damned rope!"
Ashton sighed, looking down at his flawless, and almost femininely supple hands. “There goes my manicure.”
"You will stretch the rope over the pond, with a team on each side." Jelca instructed.
"So the losers not only certainly get wet again but also covered in muck." Vol sighed.
"Precisely, Counselor Tryst." Again there was that broad smile.
February frowned just a little as she noticed that though the woman was supposed to be addressing Vol, her eyes had drifted directly back to Dabin.
Their tourguide was entirely too focused upon him for Bru’s liking, and remained that way as she repeated the word she’d said before once again much more menacingly.
-=/\=- Zanh Liis O’Sullivan
Leader of Team Serendipity
Tramping through the Muck on Sibalt