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Table Of Contents

Mission 8: THE OBJECT

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 shipís Captain; however, automatic transfer of ownership to STARSHIPS OF THE THIRD FLEET is effected upon publication of this mission by the shipís 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

"CAPTAINíS LOG, Steele Recording:

The PHOENIX has departed Quylos V and is enroute to investigate a wormhole that has suddenly appeared in Sector 233.85. The science team is anxious to put their upgraded equipment to use, and Lieutenant Chandra Tahl has been put in charge of investigating this spatial anomaly. I canít remember the last time I saw Lieutenant Tahl so eager to do her job.

It couldnít hurt for my crew to have a "quiet" mission for a change. After the near disaster with the toxic fruit from Quylos V, we could all use a break.

Our ETA with the wormhole is 3.5 hours.

Steele, out."

 

Captain Talon Steele sat back in her chair, lost in thought, her right index finger tapping absently on the arm. The view from the viewscreen was the normal star streaks, standard on a ship in warp.

"Think this wormhole leads to someplace interesting?" Commander Stryker inquired idly.

Steele raised her eyes imploringly heavenward, at least, what was heavenward from her point of view inside the starship. "Letís hope for something nice and innocuous. I think Iíve had about all the excitement I can stand for a whileÖ"

"Captain," ENS Randy Kerns interrupted. "Iím picking up something unusual in the scanners."

"Tagóyouíre it!" Stryker grinned at Steele, who blew out a breath in resignation.

"Explain," Steele directed at Kerns.

He looked puzzled. "Sir, Iím not sure what the scanner is reading. Iíve never seen anything like this before. It doesnít match any parameters in the shipboard computer. Itís physical make-up. . . Well sir, itís very odd!"

"Surely you can be a little more specific?" Steele demanded as she rose from the center seat and made her way to the sensor station.

"Trying, sir, but the readings are confused. The best I can tell is that the object might be a ship of some kind, but itís hard to tell."

"On-screen and magnify," Steele ordered.

Kerns complied and immediately a strange, ethereal, and enormous object filled the screen. It had no definable shape; rather it seemed to almost change shape as they watched, but there was no movement their eyes could detect.

Stryker rubbed his chin. "What theÖ" he muttered softly.

"Bring us within communications range," Steele said and returned to her seat still keeping an eye on the viewscreen.

 

"Communications range," Tyler reported moments later.

Lieutenant Tyler," Steele said, "if it is a ship, maybe we can communicate with it. Open hailing frequencies."

"Hailing frequencies open, sir," Tyler said immediately.

Steele got up and stood directly in front of the viewscreen, eyeing the amorphous looking object suspiciously. "This is Captain Talon Steele of the Federation starship PHOENIX. Please respond."

The normal bridge sounds seemed to subside as everyone paused to see if there would be a response.

Steele looked back at Lieutenant Tyler, who only shook her head. "Once more," Steele decided.

Tyler nodded at her and again Steele transmitted her message.

Suddenly the viewscreen flickered and solidified into the image of a very human appearing man standing in a very alien looking background. "Captain!" the man said, his voice thick with relief. "Am I glad to see you!"

Steele looked back at Stryker, but said nothing as she turned back to the viewscreen. "And who might I have the pleasure of speaking to?" she inquired politely.

"The nameís Vance - Captain Vance," the man answered. "My crew and I were doing some investigative work, when our engines started giving us some trouble. I hate to be a bother, Captain Steele, but we could use the expertise of some of your engineers. Our ship encountered an inter-dimensional wormhole a few parsecs back and weíve had nothing but trouble since. Maybe some of Starfleetís finest..."

"Your ship is not known to us," Steele interrupted. "It appears quite alien."

Captain Vance smiled tightly. "It seems, Captain, that the wormhole has adversely affected my ship. A few hours ago, the Discovery was a normal, independent science vessel. Now sheís. . . altered somehow."

Steele said nothing still looking at the background behind Vance.

"That wormholeÖ Captain, it did something to us. We need help. Whatever went wrong is beyond the expertise of my crew."

"Iím sure my scientists would love to get an inside look at what happened to you," Steele mused. She made her decision. "Iíll get a team together. You send us the coordinates, and weíll beam over and see what we can do."

Vance looked visibly relieved, almost sagging as he said, "Iíll have the coordinates transmitted immediately. Thank you, Captain Steele. Vance, out."

The viewscreen went dark, and was replaced by the star field again.

"Could I speak with you in your ready room, Captain?" Stryker asked.

She nodded her head toward the doors. "Certainly.

 

Once inside room and the door closed behind him, Stryker faced her, his fists parked on his hips and a frown on his face. "I donít like this, Captain. I donít like this at all."

"How did I know you were going to say that?"

He shook his head, his eyes troubled. "Did you see how nervous he was?"

"Iíd probably be nervous, too, if my ship had been twisted out of shape by an inter-dimensional wormhole," Steele pointed out.

"Itís not just that, Captain," Stryker said. "Itís something else. Something feels--I donít know--It just feels wrong."

Steele studied her First Officer, a man whose gut instincts had saved her ship on more than one occasion. "Then we send double security teams," she offered.

"Marines, too," Stryker said firmly.

"If it makes you feel better Commander, a few Marines, too," Steele chuckled grimly. "Iíll even have TíVal assign me double body guards."

"Damn it, Captain," Stryker growled, "I should go over there, not you. That way, if something happensÖ"

Steele interrupted him. "Wophbayne Stryker, if I refused to go anywhere or do anything because it was Ďtoo riskyí, I wouldnít be much of a captain, would I? Besides, Iíd like to see for myself whatís going on.

Stryker signed and looked at Steele for a moment. "I donít suppose it would do any good to quote regulations to you, would it?" Stryker said.

"Nope."

"Didnít think so." His voice was flat.

"Assemble the teams, Commander. Then notify Captain Vance and let him know we will arrive in twenty minutes. Iíll speak to TíVal myself."

"Yes, sir," Stryker said, his tone indicating he was not at all pleased.

As Steele turned to leave the ready room, she smiled. "You have the bridge, Commander, the best of all places to be."

 

Onboard the "Discovery", Vance breathed a sigh of relief as the PHOENIX signaled receipt of the transporter coordinates. It had taken all of his resolve to keep his panic submerged during his earlier conversation with Captain Steele. "Itís done!" he cried, turning away from the viewscreen. "Now itís your turn to keep your side of the bargain!"

Behind him, lurking in the shadows, a creature stirred.

"I did what you demanded!" Vance cried.

The creature scurried toward him, joined by another, slightly smaller, but just as vicious looking. The first creature rose to its full height as it approached Vance; itís glittering black eyes boring into him.

 

Vance took an involuntary step backward from the spidery creature, even though he towered over it by several inches.

"You have served me well," the alien said, its voice a low, rasping hiss. "For that you will be rewarded, indeed." Malevolence poured off it in waves, as itís almost human looking face smiled.

It was the most evil smile Vance had ever seen. He had seen the aliens smile that smile as they systematically webbed and paralyzed his crew. Heíd watched them dine on their cocoon wrapped bodies, consuming only the choicest of organs, while their victims writhed in their bonds, the paralysis toxin having worn off by the time they had been chosen for consumption. He saw as the aliens then discarded the unwanted body portions in heaps, later to be disintegrated by phaser fire.

The smaller creature moved towards Vance.

"No," Vance shouted, taking another step backward. "You promised to spare me!"

A white, sticky substance spewed forth from the creatureís abdomen, and in mere seconds, had coated his entire body with the adhesive fibers. The aliensí multiple legs knitted the fibers, securing the hapless man firmly. The process had taken less than a minute.

"For your services, we will see that you die painlessly," the female, hissed. She stabbed an owl-like appendage through the wrappings and into Vanceís back, injecting him with a paralysis toxin, guaranteeing his body would stay fresh until he was consumed.

 

Captain Steele, along with her teams, materialized at the coordinates Vance had given them. The room was eerily quiet.

"Not much of a welcome committee," Steele muttered and she and her team glanced warily about. "Phasers on stun," she ordered as a precaution, "and fan out."

The group hadnít taken more than a few steps into the gloomy room, when suddenly, strange and fearsome things came at them from above!

One of the engineers offered a shriek as she came face to face with an enormous, sickly, yellow creature hanging from its silken thread from above.

Steele fired wildly into the air, the phaser burst glancing harmlessly off a bulkhead as her arms were grabbed and secured.

Mere moments later, the entire group from the PHOENIX was secured and sedated. The last thing Steele remembered hearing was a hissing, rasping voice laughing in her ear and saying, "You humans are the most delectable of all." Then she knew no more.

 

Commander Stryker swiveled in the command chair, his gaze falling by turn on each of the bridge crew, all busy at their stations. The landing parties had been gone for nearly 30 minutes. There had been no communication from them as yet.

While Stryker wasnít particularly nervous, he was feeling wary. His nose itched. He couldnít shake the feeling that nothing was right about this mission.

"Tyler," he said, surrendering to his misgivings. "Hail that ship and get Captain Steele. I want to speak to her."

"Aye sirÖ Sir?" Her head came up. "A Bird of Prey has just uncloaked on our starboard side!"

" Bloody hell!" Stryker groaned. "It never rains but it pours."

 

Below decks, in SMIDGEN, Commander Spahn watched as his computer typed out the communication from the Romulan ship. "Damn!" Spahn cursed as Lieutenant Stewart eyed him from another terminal.

"Problems, sir?" he inquired.

"No," Spahn said immediately.

Stewart shot a glance to Lieutenant Spenser. Spenser offered a slight shrug, and then both sat back and waited.

"Inform Commander Stryker that Iím personally greeting our visitor and will being him to the captainís ready room.

"Yes, sir," Stewart acknowledged.

Spahn nodded, and then exited SMIDGEN.

 

SíLar of the Romulan Tal Shiar stepped from his scout craft and onto the PHOENIX hangar deck. He found only his brother Spahn, and a security officer waiting. A flicker of disappointment crossed his saturnine features.

Spahn saw and understood. "She is well," was all he said.

SíLar nodded. "It is enough." He fell into step beside his brother. They remained silent until they reached the captainís ready room.

 

Commander Stryker didnít stand as the two Romulans and the security officer entered.

"Where is Captain Steele?" SíLar demanded. "I asked to speak only with her."

"Iím afraid youíll have to deal with me," Stryker said dryly. "Speak your piece, SíLar. Iíve got ship matters to attend to." Damn, I do NOT need to be dealing with a cocky Romulan operative right now! Stryker thought irritably.

"I do not wish to play semantic games with you, Commander," SíLar said. "It looks as though you have found what Iíve been looking for. A ship of the Star Empire was taken from her command patrol area only five days past. Our listening outposts reported the sudden appearance and disappearance of a strange object that fits the description of the thing you are currently facing. Our ship answered no hails and all communications were lost. Until yesterday when my ship came across it Ė abandoned - all hands gone. I do not wish to see the PHOENIX suffer a similar fate."

SíLar studied him across the room, assessing the first officer. "Captain Steele is on that thing out there is she not?"

"Thatís none of your concern," Stryker said quietly.

"How long has she been gone?" SíLar asked quickly.

Stryker turned to Spahn. "We cannot raise the captain. Sheís not answering any hails. Nor is Vance."

"The captain is not responding?" Spahn questioned.

"If you have lost communications with your captain then it wonít be long until whatever it is out there makes its next move and the PHOENIX becomes a ghost ship as well. We wish only to offer our services and try to recover our missing officers and crew." SíLar said.

"We donít have time to negotiate anything," Stryker said to SíLar as he pushed past him toward the door. "If you want to help, we welcome the extra manpower." With those words, Stryker was out the door and on the bridge.

"Hail that vessel!" He snapped at the communications officer.

"Trying, sir," Tyler answered. "No response."

"Commander Stryker! The alien object is moving away from us!" Kerns informed him.

"Keep trying, Tyler," Stryker said. "Helm, I want us on that ship like stink on . . ." Stryker took a deep breath and calmed down. "I want to stay within weapons range of that ship no matter how they maneuver. Arm phasers and photon torpedoesóWeapons Tight!"

Savagely, Stryker punched a button on the arm of the Command Chair. "Security!"

"Aye, Sir."

"I want a full Security Team in the Transporter Room. Now. And theyíd better be armed to the teeth."

"Yes, Sir."

Stryker stared at the viewscreen, his face an emotionless mask. "Nobody gets away with taking our peopleónobody!"