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Posted on Tue Aug 4th, 2020 @ 3:08pm by Petty Officer 1st Class Finnegan Siosifa & Lieutenant Commander Arthur Talbot & Lieutenant Alan Pierce & Lieutenant Kahona A’Shan & Chief Petty Officer Juliana Nuñez

Mission: Searching for the Lost
Location: Alpha Remidian IV
Timeline: Mission Day 5 at 1245

They were equipped to move silently. Stealth was their default. It was how their ancestors had survived long enough to eventually evolve into the alpha species of the planet. Living in tribes, typically numbering about fifty, they existed all across the planet's surface. Some of their kind lived a more nomadic life and journeyed the planet, often meeting up with other tribes. News spread from tribe to tribe by way of these rovers.

She was the hunt-leader of her tribe. She had been out with some of her newer hunters when they'd found the strange bipeds encroaching on the edge of the tribal grounds. Her hunters had chased them off; they'd lost them in the hills. Most likely, the bipeds had managed to find an entrance to the cave network. She and her hunters avoided going into the caves; there were too many unknowns inside and it was too easy to get lost.

It had been several cycles since then. It was a surprise to her when they'd stumbled upon these bipeds, whom appeared like the previous ones. Some of them even had similar surface markings, even if the colors were not the same. Now, her team stalked these newly-found bipeds. They appeared sentient, but that wasn't going to stop the hunt-leader from bringing returning to the village with their bodies. The tribe would appreciate something different to eat.

Unaware of what was happening around them, Artie stood with the rest of the Away Team at the mouth of the cave. The compass had stopped wavering and now held steady on the magnetic source right in front of them. "Doctor," he said to the blue-collared medic as he handed the rudimentary device back to him, "I don't think the compass is going to be of any more help."

Alan took the compass back and put back into his kit, then he retrieved small device and strapped it to his wrist.

"Hello!" Artie called into the cave. The path before them was dark, devoid of any natural light. Artie figured he could improvise a torch, but any flame would quickly consume whatever materials he chose. What he needed was a way to illuminate the path so that they wouldn't have to stumble in the dark.

"Anyone there?" he shouted. On a whim, wondering if the cave provided any protection against the energy-cancelling fields that were native to this planet, he took a couple steps into the cave and opened his tricorder.

"Commander," Juliana said in hushed tones, "recommend not yelling into a dark cave. Sir."

Artie turned to look at the security officer. "Our communicators aren't working," he reminded her. "I'm open to suggestions, but unless you've got some kind of signal flare, we're lacking options to find the missing survey team."

"Jules has a good point," Finn chimed in. "We don't know what's in there. Could be anything. Including whatever got the survey team."

"Except the survey team is still alive," Artie pointed out. "Or at least they were when we beamed down. If we had a way to illuminate our path, we could do that. But, again, I ask for suggestions on how we can move forward. Either we go in the cave, or we don't. I don't know about you, but we don't have a lot of places where the team could be."

Artie was clearly frustrated. All his life he’d had to rely on something with a power source, and now here he was without a wing and a prayer to venture into that cave. He had to think. If the survey team was inside, then surely they’d found a way to generate light. Artie glanced over to the security officers, his eyes fixating on their rifles. Artie had managed to get those working earlier, but at the rate they were burning through their power cells, the rifles would only be good for a less than an hour, much less a few shots.

The XO looked down at his own equipment, which consisted of a com badge, tricorder, and phaser. The tricorder was one of the flat-screen palm units, something he’d never preferred, but effective nonetheless. “I wonder,” he muttered. Artie pulled off the back panel for the tricorder and manipulated some of the inner materials. He then removed the power cell from the phaser and bent the tricorder’s back cover to mold it into a cradle for the cell. Artie removed the tricoder's power cell and inserted the new assembly in its place. He then ripped off part of his right sleeve cuff and wrapped it tightly around the new assembly to hold it all together.

The screen came to life with several error messages, all of which Artie ignored. “Let there be light,” he declared to the team. “Let’s head inside.”

"Nice," Pierce smiled.

Juliana grinned. “I have co-point with the flashlight and compass holder.”

* * *

Deeper inside the cave system, Lieutenant Allison Waverly stared at the unconscious Commander Ishi. As the assistant team leader, Allison wished that Ishi hadn't been injured. At least then, she wouldn't be in charge. They were just about out of food rations and they had just run out of water.

We're going to die, she thought as she looked around at the other members of the team.

"I'm sorry about all of this," she said to the team.

"Not your fault, Lieutenant," Dr. Fenn said. The Bajoran zoologist and Allison had hit it off right away, largely attributed to some common research interests.

Allison could feel tears welling up in her eyes. Fenn had several young children and the idea of their mother never returning was horrible.

Lieutenant A'Shan had been crouched at the far side of the cavern the team occupied, her ears pointed toward the path that had brought them into the cavern system from the entrance. Her eyes could only somewhat make out the faint outline of the walls of the cavern where their meager light sources only managed to to send the scantest of photons. It was barely better than the standard night vision of a human, but she'd take anything at the moment with everything that had transpired. When Lieutenant Waverly made her apology, Kahona's ears twitched slightly, and her deep green eyes shifted from the darkness of the caverns to the group huddled around one another.

"You're doing the best you can," the half-Caitian offered in a low voice before a new sound caught her attention and made her head snap back toward the cave entrance. Her posture dropped much like it would when she had gone hunting with her mother on the holodeck in her childhood. Something had just made a very 'un-cavelike' noise somewhere near the entrance. The woman made some mental calculations about how long she estimated the sound would have taken before it reached them before turning back to the group.

"Something's out there," the woman said in almost a hiss.

Doctor Franze opened her mind and reached out. She wanted to confirm A'Shan's claim. The ecologist was concerned that the Caitian might be right; if the minds the Betazoid found were from those beasts that had chased them into the caves, it would give away their position. Leading the silent hunters to them would spell certain doom.

"There are people in the caves," Franze confirmed.

* * *

Artie carefully led the way deeper into the cave. Though the daylight from the outside was fading thanks to the distance from the mouth of the cave, the tricorder was still not bright enough to fully illuminate their path. The path ahead was littered with sharp and jagged rocks, leading its uneven footing to be quite dangerous. “Watch your step everyone,” he cautioned.

Following Talbot's advice to take caution, Finn advanced slowly, his rifle raised and ready for action. As the team moved deeper, they come upon a fork in the path. "Split up or stay together?" he asked.

"We've only got one light," Artie pointed out. "Besides, if we split up, without communications, it could be a while before we could regroup. Our best bet is to stay together." The light from the tricorder was stronger now, especially that there wasn't any more light interfering from the entrance.

Artie glanced down and noticed a slight trickle of water flowing toward the mouth of the cave. "I say we follow this stream. If they're here, they're probably camped near the source."

"Makes sense," said Juliana.

"Your call, Commander," Finn said before heading deeper into the caves.

The team continued through the cave network, sticking close to the stream when they reached a fork. They'd gone, by Finn's estimate, close to 1200 meters since starting to follow the trickle of water.

"It's not looking promising," the Polynesian offered, looking over his shoulder at Talbot. "And it's looking a bit narrow up ahead."

They had experienced variations in the size of the cave network already; while most of the space had been open enough to walk around upright, there had been some segments that had required the team to crouch to wiggle through. This had been the hardest on Siosifa. As a large, broad-shouldered guy, maneuvering had been tough in a couple of spots. And the section they were coming up on looked to be the smallest of them yet.

"Want to hang back, Finn?" Juliana teased as she effortlessly squeezed through the small gap.

"You could always phaser a bigger hole," Artie suggested. What he didn't suggest was that the use of the modified phaser could be more powerful than any of them could expect and could bring half the cave down on them. "We'll head another half a kilometer or so this way. If we don't find them, we'll backtrack and use the other passage."

"I'll do my best, Commander," Finn said, lowering his rifle. He'd been ready to blast the passage walls, as Talbot had suggested, but now that didn't seem to be the way the Executive Officer wanted to proceed.

"Frankly, Commander, this other way strikes me as the likelier direction of the team," Juliana suggested, gesturing in the direction they were now going rather than the too-narrow path they'd abandoned. "If I were responsible for a large team that had to flee into the caves, a bottleneck like that one back there, too small for Mr. Siosifa to fit through, might slow us down too much. Imagine the entire party waiting at that small gap while they slowly fit through one at a time. And imagine even just one of them was comparable in size to my friend here and couldn't fit through. No, I bet they took wide, safe routes that they could move through quickly."

She couldn't stop herself from grinning. "But if holodeck games have taught me anything, it's that we should have explored the smaller path first. Dead ends off the main path are where the best treasures lay."

"Such are the joys of fifty-fifties," Artie remarked, shining his light around the shrinking path. "Of course, now that you think about it, I believe Mister Hessen shared that there's a casualty among the team. Had they gone through this way, there's no way they could have carried the person. We should double back."

Finn smiled. "Let's go," he said enthusiastically.

* * *

"Whatever is out there," Anninaray told the rest of the survey team, "isn't more of those beasts."

Several members of the team looked relieved. Allison leaned forward from her perch next to Commander Ishi. "Could be something worse," she said, acknowledging that despite the time they'd spent on the planet, they still didn't know much about the species that lived there. "Who knows what else could be around. Those... things from before likely have some enemies. And those enemies could be bigger. Or meaner."

Lt. A'Shan's ears twitched several times as she continued to listen the noise coming toward her from somewhere near the entrance of the cave. Some mental calculations brought her to a stark realization, they weren't much louder than what she'd expect from an averaged sized humanoid, and they were moving slower than a pursuer would.

"It might actually be friendlies..." Kahona called back to the group, "And if it is..."

* * *

The team returned to the not-so-proverbial, in this case, fork in the road. Siosifa turned and began down the other path. "How far do you want to go until we call it, Commander?"

"I say we give it about five minutes," Artie supposed, shining his light down the path. "Five minutes, then we turn around, vacate the cave, and try to get communications working again." What Artie didn't say was that they could be searching for hours, and without tricorders or communications, it wouldn't do much good. If they could even just get Lieutenant Hessen, they might have a better chance.

Juliana nodded. "And hopefully they're not hiding so well that in those five minutes we walk right past them."

Artie continued to trek forward, shining his light as he did. He glanced down, spotting a slow trickle of water. He knelt down to examine it closely. "See this?" he remarked to the group. "This trickle looks like it used to be a solid stream. You can tell with the way it's been cut through the rocks here. Something's probably dammed it up recently, We might be on to something."

"Sounds good to me," Finn said, pushing forward.

The team advanced several hundred more meters when Siosifa froze. "What was that?" he asked, certain that he'd heard something.

The cave was quiet as the entire team froze in its tracks. The sound happened again, and Juliana spun around to face it. "That way," she said softly.

"Right behind you, Jules!" Finn announced, ready to follow her into whatever they might find.

Artie tried to stick close to both of the security officers. After all, he still carried the only source of light. He trailed two paces behind them both, doing his best to illuminate the path in front of them.

Pierce moved to the commander's side, "that looks like a boot print Sir, from the angle I'd say either something was effecting their equilibrium or they're hurt."

Artie stopped and briefly shone the light down at where the doctor had indicated. His light was already struggling to keep the cavern illuminated, so it was hard for him to make out exactly what Pierce had seen, but he would have to take the man's word for it. "Then let us hope we're not too late."

* * *

"I think there are voices," Lieutenant Waverly said. She turned and looked towards the entrance to their little pocket of the cave network. "A'Shan, can you make anything out? You've got better hearing than me."

"Yes..." Kahona said, closing her eyes to block out the sensory input she didn't need at the moment. The sounds of voices drifted toward her, and though the contents of the conversation were lost in the echo, the regularity of them was familiar enough. It was spoken language rather than the bleating noise of some animal.

"Someone's managed to find the cavern corridor we used. It might be a rescue party... I'm going to take a look. If it is our people, I'll lead them here. If it isn't... I'll do what I can to keep them from getting to you," A'Shan said before darting into the caverns much like she had while hunting with her mother years before.

Allison wanted to stop her, but she also wanted to not starve to death in the cave. "Please," she muttered quietly.

* * *

"Definitely something back here," Finn said, having heard more of the faint noises.

Artie raised a fist, hoping that the action would be enough to call the team to stop moving. He realized a moment later that without light, no one could see it. "Let's hold," Artie said. "Nunez, with me." With that, he began to move forward in hopes that they'd be able to quickly spot whatever was making the noise.

"Yes, sir," Juliana replied. She followed him slowly into the darkness, barely lit by their equipment, hoping to God that the noises they were hearing were indeed from the survey team and not anyone or anything hostile.

The former seemed likelier than the latter, in her mind. She didn't know much about science, but remembered the lessons from her camping holidays as a child. An animal that called this cave home, or a sentient being who prowled these spaces regularly, would probably not make noises like this. She remembered when she was fourteen, going camping with her aunt and uncle from Gault, in the wilderness outside of that colony, and finding evidence the next morning that their camp had been stalked by something resembling a leopard. It hadn't attacked them, but it had been there, and none of them had noticed. Predators are silent. Even prey do their best to be silent. An interloper in the territory, like a survey team member, makes noise.

Lt. A'Shan had managed to get within a dozen meters of the group before realizing that it was indeed humanoid figures and not what had attacked them. That was enough for her to deliberately change her footfalls, producing just enough sound to alert them that she was approaching.

"Are you here to help?" the half-Caitian asked, her voice just loud enough to echo in the cavern to obscure her actual location if they weren't actually friendly.

Artie froze, shining the light around to try and locate the source of the voice. Unfortunately, the cave's features made it nearly impossible to determine where it came from without any more light. But, the voice was unmistakably using a recognizable language, and that could only come with familiarity with Federation Standard. "We are indeed," he called out, unafraid to keep his voice down. "I'm Commander Arthur Talbot of the USS Altai. We've been sent out here to find you and your team. Do you require medical attention?"

"I don't, but we do have wounded just a little further back," Kahona announced, finally stepping into view of the dim light, "Follow me."

When the team managed to get close enough that they wouldn't lose her in the darkness, she turned about and moved quickly to the junction they'd taken refuge in. Their small fire had gotten just that much smaller in the time it had taken her to return, coaxing a frown to form on her face. She pointed to the group, namely the person laying on the hard ground.

"That one's the worst of us," A'Shan said, her eyes focused on Talbot, "If you can get us out of here quickly, all the better."

"Doctor Pierce," Artie said, waving the doctor over in the direction the Lieutenant had indicated.

Pierce moved to the injured, retrieving a tricorder from his pack.

"Good afternoon, my name is Alan and I'll your physician for the foreseeable future." He smiled as he kneeled beside his patient.

Peirce placed two small devices on the mans temples and loaded a hypospray.

He looked to the others. "I I'll have stabilized in a moment." he said in low reassuring tone while administrating a medication.

Artie turned his attention back to the survey team. "I hate to add some bad news to the situation, but we lost contact with the Altai the moment we beamed down. We managed to get our phasers working, and converted this tricorder into a light source, but it's going to run out of power soon. Are you still in contact with our Operations Officer aboard the ship?"

Anninaray looked at the man. "I am. That is how we knew you were in the caves."

"Can you get a message to the Altai?" Artie asked Anninaray. "Let them know we found you in cave roughly two kilometers west-north-west of our insertion point. Also let them know our communicators aren't working and we'll need help getting to an extraction site."

Dr. Franze nodded and turned her attention back to her telepathic connection to Lieutenant Hessen on the Altai.


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