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Mau woke up with a nauseous feeling creeping through his body. Like most humanoids, Betazoids tended to throw up when they returned to consciousness after a blow to the head. Mau finally gave way to the feeling inside him and leaned over, voiding his stomach. It was during this that he realised that he had been bound.
He began to feel better inside, but another sick feeling settled in the pit of his stomach. Fear. He was beginning to recall what he was doing here. Hadn't he been leading the strike team against the duck blind? Finding it had not been easy. He had known that the Nullabor would need to send a locator pulse to the blind to find it themselves, tracking the return signal from the blind without alerting anyone that he was monitoring the channel was not an easy task. He had done it, though. The last thing he remembered was taking aim at the blind when the disturbance started...
"Hello. You have no idea how glad I am to see you awake." Mau spun his head around to the direction the voice had come from and instantly regretted it for two reasons. The first was that after his concussion that sort of movement was the last thing his head needed and he started to reel as his head reminded him of that. The second reason was that the face he saw was that of O'Toole.
Mau started to struggle, but the smile on O'Toole's face told him that there was no point and that all he was doing was entertaining his captor. He ceased his efforts. He no longer had his weapons. O'Toole didn't look that burdened by arms himself. This made Mau a little bolder. "Where am I? Do you have any idea who you are messing with?"
The chuckle that came from O'Toole's throat chilled Mau, and froze all his righteous indignation. O'Toole was too confident. Mau had never seen him like this during the assault on the outpost. He looked far more dangerous than he had when taking on Syndicate encampments in covert raids, destroying everything in sight. O'Toole had seen a lot in his life, and Mau was beginning to get a taste of that experience every time he looked the man in the eye.
"Well, let's answer the questions in the order they were asked. Firstly you are in a glade about fifty kilometres away from the outpost limits. We are sitting right in the middle of a former Syndicate campsite in fact. Fortunately for us your associates abandoned some of their equipment in their rush to catch up with the Nullabor. It got away, by the way."
Mau groaned at the news. O'Toole had delivered it as an offhand remark and it had hit home the way he had expected it to. Mau knew he was dead. It didn't matter who killed him now, the Syndicate were just as likely to leave him to this man as go after him themselves. He looked around. There were several ground vehicles in the area. Mau was sure that O'Toole had already found an operational one elsewhere to bring him here. The camp was a fair distance from where the blind had been. It was now completely deserted except for the two of them.
"The roll bar don't leave their people behind..." Mau put a brave front on his lie.
"Rubbish!" O'Toole spat the retort at his prisoner. "The Syndicate treat life like a commodity. If you are of no value to them, they throw you away. That brings me to your second question. Who am I dealing with? You. You alone. You know, that Ensign who visited us, he sent me a coded message before they left with their officers. You know what it was? It was your service record."
Mau do not like where this little discussion was headed at all. His service record? What was O'Toole angling towards?
"You know, I doubted that you were in Starfleet at all. It would have been just as easy for the Syndicate to put a plant in here after the bombing, there would not have been enough of us left to know everyone. That would have been your one saving grace, Mau. I could understand if you were a plant who had always worked for the Syndicate. Starfleet gives you an appreciation for loyalty."
The little knot of fear in Mau's stomach grew as O'Toole continued his speech. "It seems that you really are Starfleet. Have been for years. Just how long have you been selling us out?"
Mau's response was cut short with a vicious jab of the business end of a rifle delivered to his ribs. "I didn't tell you to speak! I don't want to hear it, I've already read it!"
Mau realised that his cause was lost. There were only two people left on the planet if O'Toole was right, and one of them had a lot of circumstantial evidence surrounding him. Mau knew that O"Toole had read the record with his new perspective, O'Toole would know that he had been providing sensitive information for years, costing real lives. He was in a lot more trouble than he had first suspected.
"Two good people died at that landing field, you know." O'Toole's voice had taken on an icy hardness. "Two people whom you betrayed. The only satisfaction their relatives will have is that because of their sacrifice, the scum who pay you lost their target. I barely made it out myself, you know. You nearly killed all three of us and I have to say that soon enough you will wish you had. You see, I am going to give the relatives of both Smith and Little the satisfaction they truly deserve."
"Chief, can't we work something out?" Mau's voice was barely a whisper. He didn't want to be struck again, and he wasn't. The response he got was much more terrible. O'Toole just smiled at him, shaking his head gently. The worst part of it was the Chief's eyes. There was something very dark and terrible in them, something which bespoke of a plan that Mau knew he would not like. "By the Rings, O'Toole..."
"Shut up!" O'Toole's movement was a blur. He struck the Betazoid in the head again, sending him into merciful unconsciousness.
Walker had his crew on full alert. They had dispensed with the high energy fields and cloaks, there was no point any longer. Their pursuers knew where they were headed. Things had changed on board the ship. The full alert meant that a larger proportion of the crew were required at duty stations at once, so the knife classes were going to be much smaller. Walker had considered abandoning them, but decided that a crew on full alert for the ten days hard travel to DS2 needed outlets. Fewer of the Officers were going to be able to meet together at a time, despite the remote padds. Alert meant that the officers were required at their duty stations as much as possible. Dinner at the Captain's table would fall by the wayside, his officers eat as they got the chance.
They had escaped from the Syndicate fleet by the skin of their teeth, but it had not taken the fleet long to give chase. They were not overtaking, but Walker knew that the real fight was going to be at DS2. They would have to come out of warp there to dock, and if they didn't have a plan ready by then, they were dead. He had put his officers to work on ensuring the ship was at it's best condition by the time they reached the station.
The scientists were a problem in that there was no available quarters for a party that size on the Nullabor. The ship was not designed to transport people. He organised the crew to get some hammocks into Three Forward, it was the best option they had. The scientists didn't seem to mind and even set up their equipment in part of the hold that Walker had assigned when the request came in.
It was less than two hours after their flight began that Alexis had approached him with the information he had asked for prior to the rescue mission at the outpost. He looked over the padd for a full minute before looking back up at his First Officer. She was smiling. Walker asked her to stay as he called Glir to his ready room.
Glir entered soon enough. "You called for me Sir?"
Walker smiled. This was going to be fun. "You have some explaining to do, Ensign. You are not who you say you are."
To his credit, Glir held his composure. "Oh, really Sir? What makes you say that?"
Walker chuckled. Cut the crap Glir. I saw you marshalling those scientists and the crew earlier. You aren't a clerk and we both know it. Before you come up with another plausible explanation as you are wont to do, how about I just lay my cards on the table, shall I?" Glir nodded, a trace of concern crossing his face. This made Walker smile once more. "First, I don't buy your story about my bending your mind, you have displayed too much strength of character for that during your stay. You are far better as a knife fighter than an clerk has a right to be, and then there is your scientific skills.
"Most of what you have put together for this ship could not be done outside the Daestrom Institute, we both know that. Also you have access to research and information that no normal officers are allowed to see, like the Pegasus experiments. Do you know how secure that sort of information is?"
"Have you been going through my..."
"I'm not finished!" Walker was on a roll now and didn't want his momentum broken. "Then there is your isolationist stance on this ship. You are a telepath, and most Betazoids consider themselves superior to other races because of that ability, but you shut yours up so that no-one can see inside your mind." Walker noted that Glir flashed Alexis a sharp glance at this revelation. "And for the piece de resistance, here." Walker flung the padd at the young Ensign, who caught it and looked it over. As he did his face became ashen.
"A less alert crew would have missed that for sure. I don't know exactly how you could disguise a tight band encoded signal as the impulse trail of one of our fighters, I have never heard of such a thing before in my life. Still, the face remains that you were in contact with the colony while Ensign Sai was making his recon flight!"
Glir looked up at his Captain after perusing the details on the padd. He didn't try to fight or talk his way out of this one, the look on Walker's face told him there was no point. Besides, Walker had the facts on him. There was enough here for Walker to have guessed the truth anyway. "What do you want from me, Captain?"
"The truth, dammit! I want to hear it from you. Who are you and why are you on my ship?"
Glir's shoulders slumped and Walker knew he had won. Glir was going to concede. "I am not an Ensign, I am a Lieutenant, senior grade. My name is Timonis Glir, that much I didn't lie about, but my records have been altered by Tactical Operations."
"You work for Tac Ops?" Commander Kelsey asked the question with irritation in her voice.
"Yes, Commander. Before you start berating me about what Tac Ops is doing putting it's finger in your little operation here, I am not a full operative. I have been given some of the training, but I am a scientist by nature, a shield specialist. I have been based in the Daestrom Institute's covert research wing for several years, which is why I have access to the files you mentioned Captain. Dammit, I was stationed at the very outpost we just rescued the scientists from. They were my colleagues."
Walker appeared unmoved. "That still doesn't explain what you are doing on my ship."
Glir shrugged. "I was removed from the research colony two months ago. I was dumped on Starbase 73, told to act like an Ensign and was even assigned some menial duties. By the Rings, Captain. Do you know how frustrating that was? All I was told was that when the Nullabor arrived I was to get on board by any means necessary and I was to assist you any way I could without giving away my cover." Glir smiled. "You actually made it easy for me Captain. You gave me the lab and the free reign, my guess is that the flag brass always knew you would."
Walker exploded. "That's not enough! Who gave you the order? Who do you report to? I am sick of being played like this. Did you know the Syndicate was involved in this mission? Were you ordered to send Dr Eritt with us? What haven't you told us that we need to know right now?"
Glir remained calm. He seemed resigned to having to weather Walker's anger. "The order was given to me by Admiral Dekker himself, Captain. I have full discretion in this mission, I don't have to report back to the Admiral until we succeed. No, I didn't know that the Syndicate was involved, for what it's worth I think we have both been played, and I don't like it any better than you. Dr Eriit was an instinct move. I figured that if they wanted me no board your ship without you knowing who I was then there was every possibility that you would be needing some medical skills and experience that those damn holographic things can't provide. She was just in the right place at the right time. As for other things that you need to know, well there is the semi-sentience of your probes..."
It was Walker's turn to be shocked. "You know about that?" Glir nodded. "What happened there?"
"Simple, Captain. You have a gift for programming that I have only ever seen once before, and that was in the designs of a roboticist named Noonian Soong. Your adaptive programs contain all the basic elements of artificial intelligence systems. Run them in a computer design like the one you built for the probes, and you have everything you need for a basic sentient AI entity."
"Are you saying that my probes are alive?"
"Sort of. You have not built another data or anything. Your probes are semi-sentient, with about a similar sense of awareness as maybe an Earth dog. Coupled with the symbology of language, they should be able to hold down a very simple conversation with you if they wanted to. Have they made contact?"
Walker nodded. "They have told me that they are prepared to serve me as their creator." This revelation brought a sense of shock from Kelsey. She had been unaware that he had been blocking this piece of information. She realised that his mental powers were improving.
Glir merely shrugged. "Well, then I would say that the only problem that we have is if we ever wanted to separate them from you. It looks like you are stuck with some very powerful weapons planning to protect you. Do any of them show any signs of erratic behaviour?"
Walker thought about this. "I have to say I am worried about Probe Six. It took unnecessary risks in the first mission and I had to stop programming another probe earlier because Six volunteered for the mission at the outpost."
Glir considered this for a moment. "Personality. This could be interesting." He shrugged once more. "Oh well, if they are willing to do as you ask, the issue of slavery doesn't arise. They are doing your bidding at their own free will."
Walker's response was sarcastic. "Well that's good news, isn't it?" Deep down, Walker was relieved. He had been concerned that he had in some way created an intelligence that would be taken out of his hands. He had originally built them as weapons, but just the same he didn't take kindly to the idea of some scientist pulling them apart to see how they worked. They had saved the Nullabor and he wanted to keep them. Walker continued. "What are your friends doing at the moment?"
"Well, not much. They were setting up their equipment in the area you assigned them, but I think they were planning on continuing their research while on board."
"That doesn't sound very security conscious. If the Starfleet garrison on the planet didn't know what they were up to..."
"Captain, the Starfleet garrison didn't have me on board and besides, most of their research work has had it's first practical application on this ship in the last few weeks. They want to examine how the equipment handles itself."
Walker had to admit that the young Ensign - no, Lieutenant - had a point. Glir would have used their theories in constructing most of the miracle systems that were installed into his ship, and they would have a natural interest in the application. Their interest would have to wait, however. "They will get their hands on the equipment alright, Lieutenant. Not the way they had in mind though. We are going to have to come out of warp eventually, hopefully not before DS2. We don't know exactly what we are up against, Admiral Dekker certainly has not been too forthcoming with details to either of us. You are going to go back to your colleagues and explain to them that they are on a ship which is in some serious trouble. It would be in their interests to come up with a possible solution or two that could help tip the balance back in our favour. Understood?"
Glir snapped to attention. "Aye Sir."
"Dismissed." Walker turned to Kelsey after Glir left the room. "Well, I that didn't go too well. I was hoping that he might have some answers."
Alexis shrugged. "He didn't, he opened up when he saw the padd."
Alexis looked at him, concern showing in her face. "Your powers are growing aren't they?"
Walker merely nodded. "Humans have always suspected that there were some latent telepaths within the species, I guess all this contact with you has brought out some latent abilities within me."
Alexis grinned. "Which contact were you talking about, Captain?" They both laughed. "Tell me Captain. Have you given any thought as to how this is all going to end if we are successful? Just getting this far has seen us expose ourselves to technologies and practices that conventional officers don't have access to. Then there is the probes issue, Thomas what are they going to do to us?"
"I don't know, Alexis. I truly have no idea. We have been going from one crisis to another, solving the problem which is most immediate. Right now I would settle for being in a position to worry about that issue in ten days' time."
Walker noticed that Alexis' lower lip was quivering slightly. "I won't leave you again, Thomas."
He walked over and hugged her. "You won't have to, I promise."
Mau's first perception as he regained consciousness was of heat. As he came to, he noticed that he could not move his limbs to get out of the heat which was beginning to scorch his body painfully. He tried blinking his eyes open but shut them tightly again after the first attempt. The sun above him was blinding bright.
Gradually his eyes adjusted, they really didn't have much choice as the sun lit up the insides of his eyelids. He opened them once more and could finally see what had happened to him. His hands and feet were tied to small stakes that had been driven hard into the earth on which he lay. He was on his back, naked and exposed to the full intensity of the sun above. There was a full bottle of water nearly twenty centimetres from the full reach of his left hand. He looked around, but there was nothing for kilometres. He was on an open plain in a desert region of the planet. If O'Toole had put him here, he had gone long ago. There were no tracks telling which way he had gone.
Mau looked at the skin covering his chest. It was red. Very red in fact. He was going to burn alive if he didn't find a way out of this mess. Oh well, he had dug himself out of deeper holes before, he thought. He found it harder than he had first thought to convince himself of that. It struck him suddenly that he hadn't dug himself out of any holes before, he had always relied on the Syndicate to do that for him. This would be his first real test.
Strangely, he felt up to it. He knew deep down that it was not a game. O'Toole would not have made it easy for him, he was expected to die out here. Mau suspected that O'Toole had underestimated him nonetheless. He had no idea in which direction he lay, so it was difficult for him to gauge how long he had been in the sun and more importantly how much longer the sun would be up. He decided that it didn't matter. If he waited for the sun to set then his strength would be sufficiently sapped that he would never be able to break the bonds that held him there.
He began to pull against the bonds despite the heat. His survival training told him that this was the wrong course of action, that exerting himself in this heat would sap his energy faster than anything else he could be doing. He fought down the urge to stop, knowing that it was counter-intuitive in this heat. Not getting free soon was going to kill him much more surely because of the strength of the heat, not to mention that if he got free he could drink from the bottle O'Toole had obviously left there to taunt him.
Mau knew that his legs were the strongest part of his body. Even with one of them free he would be able to lever himself in such a way that he should be able to pull a hand free, and from there it would be simple to untie himself.
He pulled upwards, one leg at a time. While his left leg was straining against the rope, the right one was resting from the exertion. He strained each muscle in the leg to breaking point before giving up and trying with the other. Mau didn't know what his captor had used to keep the stakes in, but there as no quick way of pulling it out. Part of the problem was that the stake was hammered into the ground at an angle that dissipated most of the energy of his efforts before it was applied to lifting the stake itself.
Mau soon found another problem. The knots that held his limbs to the stake were designed to tighten as pressure was applied. Soon he found that the ropes were cutting very uncomfortably into his ankles even as they rested. On his fifth attempt with his right foot after he first noticed the discomfort, he felt a stinging sensation, followed by a cool drip trickling down his leg. He looked up to see that the rope had finally drawn blood.
By the time that he had managed to pull his left leg free, he could barely feel either foot. The blood was flowing from the ring of rope which had bitten deeply into each ankle and he prepared himself for the onslaught against his wrist as he used his left leg to lever his body upwards to ad more force to his left arm as he attempted to free it's stake from the ground. He knew that he could not afford to lose this much blood in this heat, but if he could get to that water and find shelter quickly, he might just be alright.
The pain was intense. He could feel his wrist on the verge of snapping several times, and the rope was biting into his skin, releasing his vital blood from a third point. He had one thing in his favour - motivation. he knew if he didn't get his arm free he was dead. He closed his eyes to the pain and gritted his teeth, pulling upwards with his arm one more time. The stake shifted slightly, then began to rise, slowly. He kept pulling upwards, hope now spurring him on. Half a minute later, his left arm was free.
Rolling over was agony for him. The sun had scorched him badly while he had been laying there and his skin stung with every attempt to move. Since he had been out there he had noticed the sun crawling upwards in the sky and realised that he had made the right decision. It was not afternoon and there was no way he could have survived an entire day of this. Eventually he managed to roll onto his side and he set to work on the bonds of his other wrist.
His left hand was numb and unresponsive. Not only was it suffering from a loss of blood caused by the tight rope cutting off his circulation, but it had been tied palm up, which meant that every delicate movement that the hand had to make to untie the rope stung so badly that all the pain eventually blurred into a constant throb that blinded Mau's senses to what the hand was feeling as he worked at the knot.
Despite the agony, he eventually got his right hand free. He used it quickly to untie the bonds on his left hand, and then used both hands on the knots around his feet. Despite the pain of using his scorched hands, he actually started chuckling. He had beaten O'Toole! The arrogant Ground Forces soldier had even left him a bottle of water to sustain him until he found shelter, the fool. Mau swore that O'Toole would pay dearly for that mistake one day. It would take a while of course, Mau could not go back to either Starfleet or the Syndicate, although if he was to be caught by one of them, he strongly preferred it to be Starfleet. Still, he would bide his time, lay low until his time was right. Then, he would make them all pay.
Once he was completely free he grabbed for the bottle of water and stood. He was very shaky on his feet, both the heat stroke and the blood loss were taking their toll on him, but he didn't care. He had water, and he could see a small cluster of trees several kilometres away. The water would get him there, only just. He absently started playing with the cap on the bottle. When he realised what he was doing, he wasted no more time, ripping the cap off and tilting his head back, pouring the clear liquid down his throat.
His nose gave him the first warning that something was very wrong. There was a sharp acrid smell coming from the bottle now that it was open. His head spun in the heat, he was still groggy but the water would clear that. Assuming it was water, of course...
As the liquid touched the back of his throat his mind made a mental connection with the smell. His reflexes were not fast enough in the heat, and he had already swallowed one large gulp of the salad vinegar before he had thrown the bottle away. His head began to reel once more, and he felt like throwing up again, partly because of the vinegar, and partly because he finally knew for a fact that he was a dead man.
His vision was now blurry, but he could still make out the trees in the distance. He knew he would never make them, but he knew he had to try. O'Toole had tricked him into exerting all his energy in this heat or nothing, but maybe it would not work out that bad. He could see the trees, and he convinced his left leg to move slightly in their direction. He then willed his right leg, and before long his sheer force of will saw him shambling in the direction of shade.
Walker was distracted. He had too many things happening on his ship at once. Between the flurry of activity that was coming out of the Engineering section trying to get the ship ready for the battle of it's life and the Scientists getting in everyone's way as they set up their gear in the hold, tensions were on a knife edge. Then there was Glir trying to convince his former colleagues that it would be a really good idea for them to help save the ship that held them, Sai's moodiness at having left O'Toole behind even though it was the right decision, and his own emotional turmoil over the confirmed status of his probes. Walker needed to get away for a moment.
He was headed for the holodeck on deck four and stepped from the turbolift with the intent of striding the few paces down to the 'deck console and entrance. The noise coming from Engineering stopped him short. It wasn't a metallic whine or a grating sound, there was nothing wrong with the equipment. Considering the vehemence in some of the voices he could hear in the middle of the heated argument going on, Walker only hoped there was nothing wrong with the people in there.
He nearly ignored it and kept going. He needed the space right now, he needed to clear his head so that he could start focusing again, that was their only hope. In the end his command instincts took over and he turned towards Engineering.
The doors hissed open in front of him revealing an incredible scene. Botha and two of his chiefs were desperately shouting about operational stability and the like, Glir was shouting about new ideas, the scientists were arguing with themselves as much as with anyone else and Voraak was calmly putting forth his arguments in the middle of all this, completely unheard.
Walker tried to quell the fire churning and swelling inside him. He failed entirely. Just before his outburst, he wondered why he hadn't just headed for the holodeck as he had planned. That thought dissipated as the guttural voice welled up and leapt from his throat. "What the Hell!"
By the time Walker recovered his senses, the entire room was silent. He looked over all the faces crowded in here. It was crowded alright, Walker decided to stay at the door to address them. "Just what the hell is all this about anyway? Don't you think I have enough problems trying to keep you lot alive without having to come in here and sort out petty disputes?"
One of the scientists began to object but Walker flashed him a look that made him shudder. He remained silent as Walker continued. "We are running from a fleet of Warbirds that have every intention of killing us when we get to DS2. We now have about nine days to come up with some ways to protect this ship, if we fail in that we will pay with our lives. Try and understand that people. Now, I don't know what caused all this, but it won't happen again is that clear? You lot..." Walker pointed in the general direction of the scientists "... get me some options. You lot..." Walker pointed at the engineers "... get the ship ready. And as for you two..." Walker pointed at Glir and Voraak "... try and mediate these little discussions. You all have jobs to do people. Get to it."
Walker turned on his heel and walked up the corridor to the holodeck. He called up a standard relaxation program and entered. Even as he doors shut behind him to immerse him in the fantasy world, there was still nothing but silence coming from Engineering.
The sun was now lowering gradually, inching towards the horizon as Mau inched towards the trees. He could feel his minds slipping as he baked in the merciless heat. The only thing that kept him going now was the need to prove himself better than O'Toole. The revenge could wait and he paid no heed to the simmering anger in the back of his mind, he was too hot as it was to let that get to the surface. He had resolved himself to the completion of a single goal - staying alive long enough to reach cover.
The trees were much closer now. He had every chance of making it if he could just hang on, or at least that was what he had told himself. Deep down he was surprised he had made it as far as he had. He doubted he would ever fully recover from this experience, but that didn't matter anymore. He would live long enough.
He inched forward once more. The breaks he needed to take between forward movements were now getting lengthy due to his exhaustion and he considered waiting until nightfall to continue his journey. He dismissed the idea in the end as a desperate plea by his body. He knew he would not get up again if he rested now. The last few hours of sun would make him so drowsy he would sleep through the night and be woken by the scalding sun once more, if at all. He would sleep when he reached the trees and that was that. Not far now, they were closer. Maybe two hundred metres.
His elation at being so close spurred him into increased activity. He expended the last of his precious energy in a crawl into the shade of the outer trees. He lay there, under a tree and overjoyed. He had made it!
He rolled over and was about to drop into sleep when the glint caught his eye. His reflexes kicked in and he turned his head sharply, sending waves of nausea through him. His eyes were only able to focus on the object twenty metres away from him by Mau's resolve, but finally he could see clearly enough to realise what it was - a Federation-issue water flask! He scrambled over to it desperately. It was closed, but it was full. He fumbled with the top of the metal flask for a moment before getting it open and pouring it down his throat. He had forgotten the lesson he had learnt with the vinegar, his thirst had driven it from his mind. Fortunately this time, the warm water eased his thirst as he drank deeply, draining the flask.
He lay back down chuckling to himself. He had made it! He had beaten O'Toole after all. The silly fool didn't think that he could make it here, and didn't think to check out the area for Federation supplies. It took Mau a full ten minutes before the logic of this statement began to bother him. His head was now clearing as the sun eased in strength as it descended. He had drunk some water, he was still in a serious condition but at least he was beginning to think straight.
Just what were Federation supplies doing out in the middle of nowhere? O'Toole was a lot of things, but sloppy was not one of them. During their raids against Syndicate encampments he had thought of things that had never entered Mau's head. These had saved them on several occasions, the man was methodical and thorough. The vinegar had proven that. O'Toole had been on the first survey missions for this outpost, he knew this planet better than anyone left alive. If Federation teams had been out this way, Mau knew for a fact that O'Toole would not only have known, but scanned the area, particularly cover, for things that could help Mau survive.
A little knot reformed in Mau's stomach. Mau didn't quite believe that O'Toole would have left him near this cover at all, let alone without ensuring it was clear of things that could help him. Sure he had been staked down with a bottle of vinegar nearby, but why take the risk at all? Mau didn't know what to think anymore, but he knew that with the last hours of light he should explore the area a little more.
The group of trees was quite large, Mau nearly began to think of the area as a small forest. There was a lot of scrub under the tress, which reduced visibility through the grove so Mau had to get up and walk. He was on his feet for ten minutes before he found his next item, a hand phaser.
This was not good and Mau knew it. Federation Soldiers didn't just leave equipment lying around, especially weapons. This was not a good situation. Mau went to stow the phaser but realised he was still without clothes, so clutched it in his hand tightly as he continued his search. He was now very weak and wondered if he would find food.
There was a small clearing in the middle of the grove and as Mau approached it he made the most unexpected discovery. There was five habitation prefabs assembled in the clearing, and they all looked as if they have been there for years without upkeep. There was refuse lying around and supplies, whoever had assembled these prefabs had left in an awful hurry. Mau didn't care though. There was bound to be more food and water left behind, and he would sleep in a bed tonight.
Sure enough, his rummaging turned up some field rations and a large stock of water. Mau devoured the rations he could find, they hadn't ever tasted this good before. He also drank some of the water and then decided to hunt around for some medical equipment to help him recover faster, while there was still some light by which to do it.
It was late dusk when Mau headed to the prefab that looked like the medical cabin. Mau noticed that the items strewn around there were different, somewhat. He found more broken stuff, more weapons, and what looked like ripped clothing. It was dark, so he didn't stop to get a better look at it. The rags of uniforms he had noticed had dark stains on them, but he didn't have time to examine them in detail. Just the same, he decided to get to the prefab as fast as he could.
The inside of the prefab was a mess. The door had been ripped off in a prior incident, but there was still very little light in the shack now. Mau fumbled for a light switch and was surprised when the light activated. It revealed a shack that had been evacuated in a hurry, with no thought of the equipment. This was good news to Mau, who went over the medical tools he could find until he found a dermal regenerator, which he started to apply to his entire body.
Quarter of an hour later he felt better than he had since the assault on the duck blind. His skin was recovering, and although his head was still fuzzy he could use the medical gear to heal himself, especially if he could get a computer working. Tomorrow, he would search the other cabins. He might end up with more food and some clothes, and he could take things from there. Tonight though, it was time to see if the medical computers were online.
He tapped the key on a console which he fished off the floor and placed back on a table. Up came the Federation display. Good. "Computer, give me your status."
The computer responded, although not as he had first expected. "Please enter access code."
"Mau, Delta four four four."
"Access to mission computer denied. You have access to mission logs and primary medical database only."
Mau shrugged. If this was a secret mission, it would make sense that they would have blocked the data for anyone other than mission personnel. Still, he was curious now. He realised that the medical stuff was important, but he still couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. Maybe the logs could tell him more about this place... "Computer list all mission log entries in chronological order."
Twenty-seven log entries had been made and the record summary was displayed on the terminal he was facing. He scanned them. They were all made by officers, that was normal enough. The last one was not made by the Captain, however. It was listed as having been made by the mission CMO. He keyed it up and a bedraggled face above a grotty and torn uniform started shouting at him from the screen. The young Lieutenant was shouting to make himself heard over the heavy phaser fire that could be heard outside.
"Lieutenant Grainger, CMO reporting. I don't know if anyone will hear this message. I doubt that we will have enough time to get the people out let alone the equipment. The transport will be in range to beam us up in ten minutes, we will try to hold out that long.
'Arandi V has some native wildlife! There is a lizard here, not unlike the raptor family of dinosaurs of ancient Earth. You don't see them during the day, they live in burrows hidden within the groves like this one littered through this continent. They're fast and lethal. Most of O'Toole's platoon was taken out before he could get them back, the remaining men are making a defence perimeter around the cabins, I just hope they can keep them out. They're everywhere!"
The mention of O'Toole made Mau freeze. He did know there was something here after all! By the Rings, Mau thought, what sort of trap is this he has left me in? He didn't bother with the rest of the log, he quickly grabbed some water and food with one hand and his phaser with the other and made to leave he cabin, the log still playing in the background. He was about to step from the door when he heard another snatch of the monologue that stoped him cold.
"They have been attracted to the camp by our lights..."
As if to emphasise the statement, Mau heard an alien call nearby. The knot in his stomach started twisting painfully as he heard a response from a different direction. He shut off the light and waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness.
Betazoids have trouble with darkness. Their black eyes contain a pigment designed to filter so much of their brighter sun's rays that on the darkest of nights they rarely see well. Mau fought desperately to see into the inky blackness but after several minutes realised that he would not be able to see as well as he had hoped.
He knew he had to get out of the cabin. He hadn't heard any noises in the last few minutes, so he decided to risk it. He stepped gingerly from the cabin, looking around himself. It was several paces later that he found out how bad a move that had been.
The alien call came from behind him. He spun, seeing dark movement from beside the cabin. Those damn alien predators had been waiting for him! He felt the first set of teeth, razor sharp, sinking into his leg from behind. He started a scream, but it was cut short. The last thought to go through his mind was that O'Toole was not just methodical and thorough, but very, very sick indeed.
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