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Subterranean Secrets [Part I]

Posted on 16 Jun 2024 @ 10:14am by Commander Elleese Elloyia & Lieutenant Commander Cintia Sha'mer & Petty Officer 2nd Class Alizabeth Omari

3,777 words; about a 19 minute read

Mission: Miranda

A motley little group had been assembled to return to the cave system where the strangers had been found. There was security, naturally, since they could not trust that there were no dangers there or other people who were far less friendly than the group they had found. There was also Doctor Warner, to check if there was any biohazard surprises that they had somehow missed. If they missed a whole group of humans in their scans, what else could have been missed?

Elleese was there primarily because the captain had asked her to be, but her own curiosity had prompted it. She met with the small group as they assembled and outfitted themselves, and she spotted her friend Alizabeth. She walked over and said hello. "I did not know you would be with us," she commented lightly. "Curious about what is in there as well?"

Aliza offered up one of her bright grins, “What makes you think anyone could keep me away? New people?” She shrugged and lifted her hands palm up, “Caverns and possibly meeting more of their people that might not know we are here? Only a direct order from the captain would keep me away.” She neglected to say that she really hadn’t asked him, oh she tried but he was really busy and said that she wasn’t needed at the moment. They said they needed volunteers so she said she was happy to go and help. “An adventure outside the holodeck,” Aliza wrinkled up her nose and her eyes caught the sunlight on the gold beneath them making both sparkle, “this will be fun.”

Sha'mer strolled over to join the small group and nodded a greeting at the team. "Afternoon, everyone." It had been ages since she'd done any sort of climbing or spelunking, and even though there weren't any real obstacles the way Tychon or whatever he was called described it, it would still be somewhat of a test. Both for herself and for Harva's work of art.

After flashing a smile at her friend, the counselor turned at the presence approaching. She hadn't really spoken much with the ship's tactical officer, having a sense that was intentional and not on her part, but she recognized the mind in a peripheral way. She looked at Sha'mer and inclined her head in greeting. "You will be joining us for our explorations, Commander?" she asked, tone friendly and open.

"If that's alright with you all," Sha'mer said, looking around at the others. The last thing she wanted was to be a hindrance to the rest of the group.

Aliza dipped her head in greeting, “Hello Commander. More than welcome by me, we will have to see what the caverns hold.” The puzzle was in her head as well as the need for getting out and about, a race, similar to theirs just happened to be on a planet thought deserted. Maybe their scanners just couldn’t penetrate the surface but… “Should be interesting.”

Ell offered another small smile. "Your presence will no doubt be beneficial, Commander," she agreed. "We are just waiting on a couple other officers and then will set out. I am...very interested to know what we might find. It sounds like there are relatively well kept walkways, so I imagine these people come up to the surface this way. It is just quite a mystery as to how we missed them."

"Maybe they live deep down and rarely come up to begin with? And maybe there's something in the rocks which blocks sensors at a deeper level. That wouldn't be surprising, it has happened before, especially when the scan has been done from orbit instead of from the surface," Sha'mer mused, her thoughts unwittingly following Aliza's. "Anyway, all theories which we might need to test at some point."

“It could be one of those caverns that have an opening over head, would explain their not having much adjusting to the light.” Shifting a pack on her back there was metal brushing against other pieces and she hand two hanks of rope tied to the pack. Her PADD was attached to her belt and all in all she looked like a real cavern explorer.

It was just a couple minutes more before two offers showed up in security gold--a lieutenant and an ensign. The elder smiled politely, nodding to each of his superior officers. "Sorry we're late."

Ell shook her head. "No trouble," she said. "That should be all of us, so let us head out." Even if this wasn't her area of specialty, she was the ranking officer and slid into that role. "About how far are the caves from our current position?"

Aliza had been snooping when the caverns were discussed, well she would describe it as being nearby in case the captain needed her, but… pulling out her PADD, Aliza checked her notes in it. “About one klick that way.” She pointed towards one of the hillier areas, “and then up about ten meters.”

"From the scans the crewman made the cave system slopes gently down to the place where he made first contact with these people," Sha'mer added, studying the data as she began to walk. "There are openings which indicate caverns branching out, but he couldn't make detailed scans of them."

"Because of the nature of the equipment he had or something about the cave system itself, do we know?" Ell asked curiously, tilting her head in thought as her blue-silver eyes lost focus as she thought things through.

The yeoman puzzled through things, “Bet that the caverns are in someway resistant to our scans. That is why we thought the planet empty.” It was a logical track of thought, so she just offered it forth.

Sha'mer scrolled through the data again. "Nothing in the make-up of the cave system itself suggests such a thing… but he does make a note of bioluminescent growths, fungoids. If that means that mycelium threads are spread throughout the biome, maybe it's worth taking a closer look at those, see if those caused the interference." She was by no means a scientist herself, but she had picked up some things here and there in her long and erratic careers.

Elleese nodded. "We will make a note to look into that, then," she agreed. She pulled the straps of her packs up a little on her shoulders and then nodded in the direction they had to go. "Let us begin." She waited for acknowledgements and then began on their way. She had no intention to rush the pace, although she didn't intend to dawdle either. "I suppose an element less known to us could be to blame as well," she hypothesized as they walked. "This planet has not had intensive studies before now."

“Just find it interesting that we did not pick up on a whole population on an uninhabited planet, I cannot imagine a better puzzle.” The fact that they just lived through a mystery illness and she helped to find a not-pathway for a saboteur, were nothing compared to this moment as one wasn’t her discovery, and the second had been a dead end, much to her frustration in needing to know. This trek may not be the next great adventure but it had the opportunity to be.

"Oh, very interesting indeed." Sha'mer couldn't help but cast a glance at Elleese. She had no idea what the range was of the woman's powers, but a few hours travelling on foot was usually well within her own telepathic range. She should've been able to sense them. Why hadn't she?

That was not beyond Ell's curiosities as well, but she had encountered many strange things. She was a strange thing, compared to the rest of her people, so it did not precisely bother her. She still wanted to understand why, of course, but she was patient. "I would posit that they are not new here, or even terribly recent. Records about this planet say that while it has not been intensely studied, it has been in some realms of observation since the Federation moved more in this direction. A colony ship anywhere in the past...twenty years or so, I believe it has been, would have been seen. That means at least one generation since arriving."

As excited as Aliza was for this new discovery she could not help but begin to link all the moments in her mind. The illness, the almost perfect planet, these new people discovered, any one of which would have been interesting enough, all together? Enough to make this spelunking trip more than just the puzzle she stated to the others, and there was more worry, and danger, in her mind because of it. “At least I am working on getting back in shape quickly enough.”

Elleese cast a somewhat amused half-smile toward the yeoman. "Were you ever truly out of shape?" she asked, lightheartedly. "I did not think you were ill long enough to cause a problem there."

"Illness can get people out of shape surprisingly quickly," Sha'mer said quietly. "Depends on how hard it hits, or what it does." She vividly remembered her own brief stint in sickbay during the most recent crisis. The smells of sick people, vomit and sweat. Confused babbles and moans. Minds lost in fever-dreams, or chillingly lucid as they fought to live. And she herself, not sick but injured, bleeding and in pain, unable to muster the concentration needed to raise her mental shields, overwhelmed by all sensations.

She thrust those memories back with a shake of her head. Back to the pile of other unwanted memories, to be dealt with at a later time. "Just let us know if you feel you can't keep up," she said to Aliza. So far there didn't appear to be a sign of that. Nor, to Sha'mers own satisfaction, did she herself have any trouble. Harva's brace, so much lighter than the clumsy, bulky thing she had grown used to, performed admirably well.

“Take a person that runs and lifts weights daily and confine her to sick bay, I do not know what needed exercise more, my mind or my body,” Aliza was only half teasing. “I was sure I wouldn’t be able to lift a spoon to my own mouth before we were let out of quarantine.” A warm smile was offered to Sha’mer. “I did a couple click run this morning, I should be able to do alright, once we get beyond my wingeing about it all.”

Elleese smiled kindly at both of the other women. Although they both had remarkably well-constructed, strong shields, she couldn't help but catch dim echoes from Sha'mar and thought she understood. She had struggled with certain things herself during that time, even if not caught with the actual sickness. "It is perfectly understandable and allowable to discuss the difficulty of recent events and the trauma it caused." Gesturing ahead of them, she added, "But this terrain does not, at least, seem treacherous. The cave system sounds like it will not need any rock climbing either, we hope, but if anyone does need a break, do not hesitate to say so."

"So far, so good," Sha'mer said with a smile. She had thorougly studied the brief report their weird crewmember had sent and she didn't expect any trouble on that front. At least until they the point where he had met this strange person who lived in the caves. But beyond that, who knew? Like Aliza, she had packed for climbing and spelunking, reasoning it was better to carry a bit of extra weight just in case than to be caught without it if it turned out to be needed after all.

It was a pleasant day for a hike, that was certain. The air was a little thin compared to the atmosphere on the ship. She didn't mind, in fact it reminded her a little of the place she had once called home – the place where she had grown up, a remote planet, a colony far from here.

They were climbing slowly but steadily, gaining a little height with every step. Sha'mer cast a look over her shoulder at the camp in the distance before it would disappear behind an outcropping. How small and vulnerable it seemed from here, just a few prefab buildings on the wide plain, under that wide expanse of sky. She smiled at her own thoughts and focused on the ground in front of her once more. Not a path, no, but there soon might well be one if traffic between cave and camp increased.

Aliza could certainly feel the disuse on her muscles and drain on her lungs when they began the hike but by the caves some of it had sorted itself out, the next day she would feel it she was sure. Pausing at the cavern opening she stared into it and furrowed her brow. “This seems like a very odd place for a colony considering all the inhabitable space out on the plains. It would seem farms made sense too, but maybe they eat and drink differently from us?” She didn’t remember anything like that in the reports she read but maybe that just hadn’t been asked yet.

Sha'mer looked around once more, taking in the view again. There was nothing which indicated that there was humanoid life here, not that she could see. "Or perhaps there is a good reason to take shelter in the caves, something our scans haven't revealed yet. Harsh weather conditions, maybe. Or there could be something in the soil that makes it unfit for farming, and they have caves set up in which they farm. Like hydroponic bays."

Now, standing this close to the cave system, she once again reached out with her mind. Very faintly, in the distance, a small spike which was the mental presence of the three ship's crews. Closer by her companions, Ell's sharply controlled mind with the tight walls, a stark contrast to Aliza's mercurial one. And in the caves ahead… Nothing. Nothing. Or…? Something faint, a whiff of, of something? Or was that just imagination, wishful thinking? She shook her head to clear it.

Elleese stared into the mouth of the cave entrance as they paused and took it in. They'd enter soon, but it would be a cautious journey. She let her "extra" senses roll out, as she knew the tactical officer would also be doing. She could feel the presence of the others around her, but she segmented them away to venture beyond. There was nothing for several moments, and she sought deeper. Then...

"I think... I may sense others," she began, though she spoke very carefully since she wasn't sure. She turned to Sha'mer. "Do you sense anything?"

Once again Sha'mer concentrated. She closed her eyes and filtered out all other sensations, then sent her awareness in and down in one concentrated burst.

And there it was. Something, deep down and far away, like a long, drown out echo. It wasn't her mind reflected back at her, this was something else, different, though it was still too distant and diffuse to determine what. "There is something, alright," she said softly as she opened her eyes again.

The counselor nodded thoughtfully. "Let us begin heading inside, but move slowly and try to take anything in." Her pale eyes took in everyone else in one circling view. "If you notice anything at all that does not make sense with a natural cave structure, even just something carved in the stone, make note of it."

The area of expertise of knowing who, or what, might be where was not in her wheelhouse, but what she was, was a people person, so she was happy to move forward exuding warm and self-assuredness. Not moving far a head of the others and their protections she just stepped forward enough to help keep the officers safe if something was coming from the front. “You are the stars, I am just the distraction. Let me know what you need of me as we get closer.” Her hands directed the security that was with them to flank out and give the women space.

Elleese angled her head to look at the yeoman, even as she worked hard to reach out as far as she could (mentally) and filter everything into its place so she could understand it. "It is not just our extra senses that are seeking out strange signs," she commented. She nodded at the security officers as well. "All of our professions require attention to detail, and that is what we need here."

Sha'mer nodded. "There are no stars here. We all have our talents and our uses. Some are just a little more obvious than others." She gave the group a final glance, then took point, tricorder in her hand. She could clearly see the cuts at the cave's entrance which their weird foundling had noted in his report, the cuts which showed that an existing opening had been widened and smoothed out for easier access. "And you were right," she said with a look at Aliza. "Trace elements in the rocks are giving a slight interference. That would definitely hide any lifesigns from orbit when they're deep enough."

Aliza hadn’t been being flippant or downplaying her role, well maybe a little flippant but that was her nature, she was the distraction, her open communication and forward personality might hold more attention while the officers could use their abilities as needed. Picking up her tricorder she nodded, but instead of noting the same thing Sha’mer had, she lowered it and wen instead to the walls themselves, “It looks like someone made some changes to the cavern structure but it seems a natural cave just altered.”

After scanning the rock and not finding anything dangerous, Elleese took a chance and put her hand on a strange angle in the rockface. "Yes," she agreed. "This edge is far too smooth to be naturally occurring, but there is nothing unnatural or artificial within the wall itself. It is stone. A little different than what we are used to." She nodded at Sha'mer. "But still just stone."

She continued walking then, looking at the walls, the floor, the ceiling... "The floor is still rough but seems to have been smoothed out a little," she commented. "And it is beginning to slope downward."

"As noted in the crewman's report," Sha'mer replied, still studying the earlier readings and comparing it with what she saw. "We should be coming up to that patch of bioluminescent fungoids he noted… There." She pointed ahead.

Aliza walked forwards towards the glowing fungoids, “Did they take some of this back for testing or are we strictly hands off for the moment. I mean this could have significant religious meaning for the people that live here, but it also might cure many things.”

"If he did, he didn't note it in his report. I'd say we just scan it and leave it here until further notice." Sha'mer glanced at Elleese, who had the final say here. She knelt down to have a closer look at the glowing lifeforms, noting with some satisfaction that the thin, elegant brace continued to support her leg and made the motion feel smoother and more natural than the larger one had done before.

"Agreed for the time being," Ell said with a nod. "We will take a detailed scan to return with, then perhaps speak with our guests about the fungi to see if there is any reason we cannot or should not collect a sample."

Once the scan was taken, they continued onward. They passed as far as the crewman's notes got them, and then continued further than that... The rock continued its smooth downward slope, becoming slightly more deeply graded the further they went. Ell kept one eye on the rock floor--or road?--and one eye on her tricorder. Toward the back of her mind was the vague sense of...growing noise, but she was used to that sort of thing and so focused (for now) on the readings.

Perhaps some ten or fifteen minutes later, something caught her attention.

"Commander Sha'mer," she said, wanting the tactical officer's eye. "Am I reading this correctly? It looks like there is some sort field ahead? Artificial energy?"

The yeoman paused and looked to Elleese and Sha’mer, letting them confer but whatever they were reading made her stand with her back slightly straighter. The gold of her eyes caught so me of even the limited light in the cavern and nearly glowed. Shifting her head to look at the security escorts and nodded, it wasn’t paranoid to think they were in danger, when that had been how they were living ever since the sickness had begun. “What could it be?”

Sha'mer had been focused on finding the delicate balance between keeping an eye on her tricorder, strain of walking over a surface which wouldn't have given her any problems some years ago but which was getting uncomfortably steep now, and the growing mental pressure. The minds she sensed still seemed dampened, muted, but she felt they were getting closer. Yes, there were definitely people down there, and she had the uncomfortable feeling that they knew the small Starfleet group was approaching. She paused, looked around with narrowing eyes. The tricorder was indicating something not far ahead, but where was it?

There, an almost imperceptible shimmering in the air, just out of reach. "An energy field, yes," she murmured as she moved her tricorder closer to the field, stopping just shy of touching it. "It acts as a barrier of some kind… not precisely the thickness of a forcefield, though I wouldn't be surprised if the field strength could be adjusted. As it is, I think we can move through it, but it'll take some strength to push through and it'll probably trigger some alarms."

She fiddled with the tricorder's controls. "The field's giving interference but I can scan a few things on the other side. Atmosphere's thicker, more consistent with an Earth atmosphere near sea-level."

"I suspect that we have found where Maria and her people came from," Elleese said, her nearly-white eyes losing some focus as she stared off in the direction of the field shimmer they could see. Her mind was now taking full stock of what it was reading, and she knew there were people--many, if she had to guess--just beyond that field. "Perhaps we should introduce ourselves."

[To Be Continued...]


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