The Darkness Within
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Table Of Contents


Mission 26: THE DARKNESS WITHIN

 

The contents of the Ship Logs are considered to be a "compilation" under the provisions of Title 17, U.S. Code (known as the Copyright Act): that is, "A work formed by the collection and assembling of preexisting materials or of data that is selected, coordinated or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship." As such, it is the property of the ship’s Captain; however, automatic transfer of ownership to STARSHIPS OF THE THIRD FLEET is effected upon publication of this mission by the ship’s Captain ipso facto.

As outlined in Circular 1 (Copyrighted Basics, Library of Congress, Washington DC, USGPO 1989-262-309/12), "copyrighted in each separate contribution to a periodical or other collective work is distinct from the copyright in the collective work as a whole and vests initially with the author of the contribution."

This mission may not be reproduced in any form without the express, written authorization of STARSHIPS OF THE THIRD FLEET.

Prologue

USS PHOENIX:

It has been four months since the EXCALIBUR uncovered a renegade Romulan plot on Vulcan. The "natives" have been restless and Starfleet uneasy. At this point, it appears that our patrol may be indefinite. My bridge crews have been working back to back shifts from the time we went on alert. People are edgy. Judging from the crew’s collective temperament, I’m going to recommend that the PHOENIX be given a temporary reassignment to ease the tension.

Captain TE Lawrence snapped off the recorder and sat back. She was as edgy as her crew. It would be nice to have almost anything to ease the strain of playing patrolman.

"Captain," LT Sidney Walker said, fingering the communications receiver. "I’m receiving a Class One distress signal from the U.S.S. Usher."

"On speakers," Lawrence said.

Fingers running nimbly over the controls, Walker brought up the message.

"Mayday, mayday. This is Captain Roderick Collins of the U.S.S. Usher. We are currently under some kind of attack. I’ve lost nearly a hundred personnel to an unidentified assailant. We have discovered a common link among the victims. Medical personnel have found that each victim…"

Subspace static suddenly broke in, cutting off Captain Collins’ words.

"Get him back!" TE ordered.

LT Walker worked frantically from her station. "I don’t know, sir. It looks as though the transmission was cut off at the source… No wait. I’ve got it again."

"… don’t know how much longer we can hold out. Request immediate assistance… location… Rusdic VII…"

There was no more forthcoming information. The transmission had been severed by the Usher.

Lawrence made an instant decision. She gave a quick sideward glance at Stryker. "Lieutenant Boldian, set a course for Rusdic VII. Mister Pyrebon, I want this ship at warp 8 in five seconds." TE turned back to Walker. "Tell Third Fleet Headquarters what is happening and that we’re going to investigate. And keep trying to reestablish communications with the Usher. We need to talk to that ship. If you break through, tell Collins we’re on our way."

Lawrence slapped a button on the arm of her chair and ordered her heads of departments to her ready room in ten minutes.


When Lawrence entered the room she glanced around the table at Wolphbayne Stryker, Alice McConnell, Seabrook, Mon’Teith, T’Prel, QaS, Kora Natevera and Colonel Louis Horn, before she sat down at the head of the table.

TE tersely explained the situation to her officers.

"The Usher is a science vessel. She carries a crew of two hundred and twenty. Collins had lost half of them by the time we picked up his distress call. He’s a good captain and wouldn’t be losing half his crew unless he was up against something he couldn’t handle. We need to find out what’s going on before anymore people die.

I want two landing parties, completely outfitted. One group I want on the Usher, the other on the planet. Whatever’s happening is coming from somewhere; I’m assuming the planet, but let’s explore all possibilities."

Lawrence turned to her CMO. "Collins was trying to tell us there was a common thread to the deaths on the ship, but something interfered with the transmission before he could. You’ll need a medical team to take care of survivors and I want to know what Collins was trying to tell me."

"I understand, Captain." Natevera replied solemnly.

"The rest of you assemble your teams. And make damn sure you don’t do anything stupid. I don’t want to bring whatever’s on that ship back to us. After you’ve determined what’s happened, I want the whole lot of you to implement decontamination protocol. Understood?"

USS Usher:

Six PHOENIX officers materialized into utter darkness, a sense of overwhelming gloom pervading their spirits.

"Lights!" Mon’Teith ordered.

Each person snapped on a portable light and flashed it around. They were in a corridor. Except that the lights were out, everything seemed to be in order. Then they found a body lying face down on the deck.

Doctor Natevera and Mon’Teith turned the body over. It was a Vulcan male, a look of terror frozen on his dead, chalk white face. Natevera waved her medical scanner over the body.

"What was the cause of death, "Doctor"?" Asked QaS.

"I find this most disturbing, Commander. This man’s entire body has been drained of blood."

Kora continued to run her scanner and paused over the man’s neck. Pulling down his uniform collar, she revealed two puncture wounds set 4.04 centimeters apart.

Rusdic VII:

Colonel Horn held out a tricoder and slowly turned 360 degrees. It was hot and sticky on Rusdic VII. In no time at all the party who had gone planetside were drenched in sweat.

"Can’t say this is much of a picnic," LCDR T’Prel said, pulling at her collar.

"Just make sure you keep yourself hydrated." LT Dylan Macinis warned. "Even with all this humidity, it won’t take long before the heat drains you of moisture." He took a swig from his canteen to make a point.

"You find anything, Colonel?" Robert Spenser asked. He was ready to go back to the ship. Ten minutes in this heat and he’d had it. Spenser decided he’d rather take shore leave on Vulcan than spend one more minute in this climate.

Louis Horn studied the tricorder readout thoughtfully. "I seem to be picking up some metallic debris about three kilometers to the west."

"Confirmed, Colonel," T’Prel said. She keyed in some commands on her tricoder. "I’m picking up the same readings.

"I suppose," Triana Edwards groaned, "that we now get to go on a little hike in this sauna?"

Horn nodded her way.

"In that case," Triana said, "Let’s get this bloody show on the road. I’m getting thirsty and it’s not water I’m wanting." She made a quick check on her weapons. "I’ll take point. Why don’t you bring up the rear, Mr. Spenser?"

Without another word, Triana marched off in the direction the tricorder had indicated, the others following after.

USS Usher:

"This is disturbing," Natevera said. She looked around the bridge of the exploratory vessel, the lights of her companions shifting on one body after another. Every body they had come across had been completely drained of blood and had the same puncture wounds on the neck.

"I’ve found the captain." Seabrook’s voice was tense. He knelt by a body on its back next to the command chair. "He’s just like everyone else we’ve found." He gave an involuntary shiver. Seabrook’s instincts were normally pretty sharp, and ever since he materialized on this ship, he’d felt as though he were being watched. There had even been times when he thought he’d seen something out of the corner of his eye, but when he turn to see, it was never there. The darkness is playing with your head. Seabrook told himself.

"It would seem that whatever or whoever is doing this has no preference for the blood of any particular species." Mon’Teith commented. "This is a mixed crew, and every one of them has suffered the same fate. She paused. "This may seem odd, but I keep picking up sensations of malevolence. I do not believe we are alone."

The other five started at her.

"Were you human," QaS said, "I would think you were over reacting to the gruesome conditions we have found here."

Mon’Teith studied her tricorder readings. "Whatever is wrong here, we’re not going to solve it this way. I suggest we go back to the Phoenix and brief the captain on what we’ve found."

"She’ll probably send an engineering crew over to get the lights back on, and a detail to take care of the bodies. We’re going to have to put these people in stasis and send them home," stated Kora Natevera.

"But not before we find out what happened to them," Seabrook said. He looked over his shoulder again. He simply could not shake off the feeling that they were being watched.

"Phoenix," Mon’Teith said, "six to beam up."

As they dematerialized, Seabrook was almost certain something brushed through him. Had he been able to, he would have shuddered with dread.

Rusdic VII:

"Look at this!" LT Plymossarian brushed away a seven centimeter layer of dirt and plant debris from a piece of metal and pulled it up for the others to see.

There was a stunned silence as Ply hefted the metal piece into their line of vision. A large USS Nantucket in red letters was scrawled across the dirty metal. In the lower corner, the white and blue of a small UFP logo was visible. The metal had torn directly through the middle of the logo, leaving a valiant remnant fluttering in a nonexistent breeze.

Spenser blew a low whistle. "Do you think this has anything to do with the Usher?"

"Hard to say," Replied Ply, "I think we should do a little more exploring. There might be something else of interest here."

"I agree we keep looking." Horn said. "Keep your tricoders handy, everyone. Let’s see what else we can find."

"Colonel, scanning the area I’ve picked up a cave about four kilometers to the northwest. Maybe it’s worth a look," said Spenser.

After checking the readings, Horn had the team take a short break and then began their trek to the distant cave.

When the party reached the cave they found that the entrance had been sealed. Triana Edwards was ordered to use her phaser to blast an opening, to allow them to enter.

The cave was dry and cooler than outside. Running water could be heard coming further to the back of the cave. The team spread out each using their handheld lights to light up the area.

"I’ve found the crew… or what’s left of them." Macinis said. His tricorder helped him find the remains of five human bodies. There was still some skin, hair and nails left and pieces of Starfleet uniforms were visible.

"This looks interesting," Spenser interjected. He held up a medium black box that resembled an old recorder. "Maybe it’s one of those old time mission recorders." He handed it to Horn, who promptly turned it over to Edwards.

"See what you can make of this."

Triana sat down on the ground to examine it.

Ply shook her head. "You’re talking about connecting years of differences in technology. Don’t see how you will be able to do it."

"I’m a Marine!" Triana simply replied.

USS PHOENIX:

Lawrence listened to the report without saying a word. When Natevera finished the medical briefing, TE stood, clasped her hands behind her back, and started to pace. Sometimes it was just easier to think when she was moving. "Any theories as to what or who could have drained the blood from over two hundred people and leave not a drop on the deck, Kora?" She asked.

"No captain. Not at the moment."

"If I were superstitious," Chandra Tahl muttered, "I’d say we were dealing with a vampire."

Seabrook gave her a sideways glance and TE glared at her. "I want reasonable theories, not mythological conjecture!" She snapped.

"Sorry, Captain."

TE took a breath, and then punched the intercom button. "Lawrence to Engineering."

"Engineering," came the voice of LT T’Ayia Llire. "Lieutenant, I want you to organize a couple of engineering teams to get the Usher back in working order. Make sure you tell your people it’s not a pretty sight over there. We’ve got a few bodies to clean up."

"Aye, sir." She answered.

Lawrence looked at Natevera. "You get the unpleasant duty of body detail, Kora. Pick a team and get the job done."

"Once the bodies are collected, we’ll need a place to put them."

"I’ll make arrangements for one of the cargo holds," offered QaS.

"Use what you need," TE told him.

Rusdic VI:

"I’m going to need some tools aboard ship, Colonel. I do believe I can get it working." Triana reported.

Horn turned to face the group. "All right, let’s take a quick tour around this area to see if there is anything else to salvage. I want us back aboard the Phoenix within the hour."

USS PHOENIX:

All of the Heads of Departments were seated around the table in the Captain’s Ready Room.

"A little magic and presto! We’re connected!" Triana Edwards couldn’t keep the triumphant smile off her face. "Now, let’s see what we’ve got."

"…Colonel Angelique Usher… three months since we cras… thrown off course b…unknown gravitar… a...nomaly. W… running low… o… food and morale. All attempts to commun…with Earth ha… met with failure. …bably too far ou… range. I’m not sure of th… date anymo… We’ve been beset with terror. There’s something… here that we ca… fight. Three of ou…crew are dead. Captain Dean and I found them dead, their bodies complet… drained of blood. …Two puncture wo… in necks. Found cave and mov… supplies… water here. Sealed cave entrance to protect oursel… "God I want to go home."

"There isn’t anything more, Captain," Triana informed TE.

Later that evening:

"You’re telling me this woman died exactly the same way as everyone on the Usher?" Lawrence was enraged. "I told you people to undergo decontamination protocol before coming back here!" She glared down at Lieutenant Lana Parker’s unnatural white body lying on the deck in a corridor.

"All decontamination procedures were implemented as you ordered, sir. Natevera said. "I made certain of that myself." She hesitated before continuing. "You might be interested in knowing, sir that the same feeling of malevolence Mon’Teith felt aboard the Usher she reports as feeling here."

Lawrence hit the comm. Button. "Yellow alert! Yellow alert!

Marie Wallis was preparing for bed. She didn’t notice the black mist coming out of the room’s vent…