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[PLOT] DL | CMO, CIO | CDR Valeese, LCDR Stacker | "Who Invited These Guys??"

Posted on Fri Jan 4th, 2019 @ 6:50pm by Commander James Stacker & Commander Valeese Stacker

Mission: Lacuna
Location: Planet NGC-517G, NGC-517XA System
Timeline: SD 241901.04

James took a breath and nodded to the transport operator, standing behind her console. This was no different from the hundreds of transports he'd been subject to over the years, he told himself. So why did this one in particular feel so different? Almost as soon as he set his mind to contemplation, however, it was interrupted. First was the familiar tug of being pulled somewhere, as if grabbed at the hip and yanked in one direction. Down came the curtain of shimmering lights to obscure his vision. About as soon as they had appeared they faded, leaving him staring out into a stone cavern. Instead of the metal walls of a transporter bay.

Behind him he heard four of the MACOs shifting their posture and looking around. Sizing up what they saw. He did much the same, although his focus was on the harsh artificial lights that had been set up at various points. This place is massive, some distant part of his mind supplied. He felt small in comparison. Yet he didn't let that stop him from toggling on the built-in light on the right side of the chest of his own armor. It illuminated an approaching body.

By comparison, the approaching body seemed well at ease - maybe even a bit too comfortable in the great yawning chasm. Valeese had spent more than her fair share of time cataloging and exploring, outright documenting bodies and arranging to have the Federation's long lost souls returned to their families for proper burial and closure. It had become her duty, and the absurdity of the fact that she was both Vorta and bringing back those lost to the Dominion hadn't exactly escaped her.

Lifting her hand, she guarded her eyes from the white-bright illumination, making a mental note to stay well clear of being in the headlamps of marine suits if she wanted to remain migraine free. "You're a little early, Commander Stacker." She admonished him lightly and only when she could drop her arm and converse without fear of blinding herself by looking at him, "Lucky for you and your buddies, I figured you would be."

"I think you know my style," came the retort - not made in unkindness - as the lights faded. "Show up early, and bring firepower. Or ... something along those lines at least." From behind him there came the sound of a poorly-suppressed laugh. Followed by a whack of a glove on metal. The corners of his mouth almost quirked in amusement as he recognized the 'Gibbs slap' - whatever that was - applied by one Gunnery Sergeant fist upside a helmet. Further thoughts were overtaken as his eyes adjusted to the surroundings, helmet turning this way and that as he took in the view. He reached several conclusions from this examination; more came to him as he and the marines spread out a little.

This cavern isn't a natural formation. The walls are too smooth: it's like they've been sanded down to be glass-like. There are carvings in the floor and furrows from something heavy running through here. Certainly not any of our equipment! But I see why they hollowed this out. Those glowing stones in the walls may be dim but for a low-light species they'd be perfect. Just like artificial lighting on a starship. And what's ... that -

"Is that the ship?" he asked, pointing to the pit in the center of the room, in which he saw individual lights moving. There was a fin sticking out to one side. Mercifully it wasn't covered in the lumps that he now suspected to be many, many, corpses.

The Vorta's eyebrows quirked and furrowed as she followed the small flourish of activity made by the men with Stacker. Professionalism wasn't exactly their forte when they weren't pressed on the line of battle or a mission that entitled them to 'blowing things to shit'. That was a line she'd never forget, and it had come from one of them that she sat and decided to practice old school sutures on as punishment for the unruly young jarhead getting into a fist fight with a Klingon on one of the station's many bars. "Mmm." She hummed in mild agreement, choosing not to give the gaggle of them too much to work with regarding her snark on Stacker's predilection for being early. "That would be the vessel. Not large enough to be a ship per-se, but..." She shrugged, re-adjusting her thin face mask and wandered back off in its direction with an unspoken request that they follow.

"Do not switch off filters or take off helmets unless you have a mask. There's several species of fungus that have started blowing spores since we've been poking around. Most of them are feeding off what little is left on the cadavers, the rest provide a rather unique source of light and nourishment." She spun on her heel to walk backwards, leveling her gaze on the life-less visors behind her, "It's a balanced environment and there's little doubt that if you ingested or inhaled some of these spores... Well..." She smirked with a small guffaw, "You'd probably live in a lab for a bit before being given a toe tag. Anyway..." Valeese cleared her throat, "It appears to be flown by two bodies. We'd originally thought only one given the size of the general cavity, but what the hell do we scientists and doctors know."

That caught general attention from the MACOs. And James. The doctor was an acknowledged expert in her field, and in this sort of situation even MACOs listened as attentively as the brightest medical student at Starfleet Academy. Helmets were directed down to watch where they stepped. There were unconscious signals and a few hand gestures to point to areas covered in pockets of fungus. Clearly none of them wanted to step close. Under the circumstances James didn't blame them. He too found himself glancing occasionally at the suit-integrity display on his helmet's HUD. Although his voice was remarkably rock-steady given the very unknown circumstances in which he found himself.

I'm beginning to regret my eagerness, but 'forward unto dawn,' as the Colonel likes to say. Would he like this place?

It was an idle question: one coming from a desire to avoid dwelling on the warning about a toe tag and spores. Or on her sense of medical humor. Would there be a conversation about it? Later, maybe. "No guess as to how long they've been down here for, is there?" he asked as he threaded his way around a rocky outcropping covered in an abundant layer of the aforementioned fungus. He noted the other MACOs giving it a respective berth. Valeese looked to be in her element by comparison.

She was blissfully weaving closer to the vessel in question, protected by not much more than her simple mask, gloves, and standard lab coat. Granted, she'd taken the time to tie her hair back in something far more severe than her usual loose style. It had garnered some looks and inquiries - especially where her ears were concerned - but the less work she had to do when it came to decontamination, the better. "Days, years, decades... Depends on which instruments you read - but I'm going to go with decades given the decay and surrounding debris and the extent the fungi have taken over. We'll be careful to contain and decontaminate during the extraction process. " The MACOs, she wagered, would spend hours scouring away at any possible spore that may have touched bare skin.

That was amusing. Highly amusing.

"Hatch is over there. It's a a pretty tight fit so I don't recommend crowding all at once, but the site around it is relatively stable." She sniffed, gesturing with a gloved hand towards a banged up part of the hull. "The Ascendancy can do as they please with the cavern, we're going to leave it in the same ecological state as we found it."

The armor with a gunnery sergeant's stripes on the pauldrons gestured first at two suits, then towards the hatch. They moved off towards it, lights from weapons illuminating the rocks and corpses that were kept at a respectable distance. Armored boots thumped on the carved stone underfoot and armor clinked and jangled, but James was pleased to see neither getting too close to the edge of the pit and the fungus hiding in the crevices. That was good. Out of their element they may have been, but it wasn't crowding out basic training. His helmet turned away from that and back towards the Doctor, then he apparently thought better of what he was about to say and moved off towards the two marines. The gunny and other marine were watching the edge of the pit like a pair of Antarian Razor Hawks.

By the time he reached the hatch it was open, with a hand light being shone inside. One of the marines made a sound of being disgusted and fell back to give him room. "All yours sir."

"By all means," Valeese echoed, gallantly extending an arm in open invitation, "I've already conducted my part of things. Engineering on the station will do the rest." It was more or less her way of firmly stating that she wouldn't be joining any of them within the pit or the craft, and that she had a perfectly logical reason for staying well enough away from such close quarters. Not exactly keen on small spaces to begin with, the Vorta didn't trust herself or her new found biological screwball to behave and play nice. A thin ear flicked towards the sound of skittering rock as it bounced along the surface. Somewhere beyond that the hushed sounds of cavern 'life' seemed dim by comparison and she, being logical, chalked it up to the unnatural noises produced by the MACOs. All of them, save for one, were a thorn in her side - at least in that particular instance.

There was a shuffling and clanking of plating as James followed the direction of said arm and clambered up inside. Intermittent sounds documented his presence. A heavy thump and metal-on-metal grinding when a knee connected with the floor. Another heavy rapping when his shoulder hit the bulkhead, followed by some muffled and decidedly electronically-amplified curses. "All right," his voice finally remarked. "I'm in, but this craft clearly wasn't designed for MACO armor. The pilots must have worn something considerably more agile, and far less bulky."

Now that was an astute observation, James, he told himself as he managed to sit upright - not without a fair bit of grinding plates that protected his spine against a bulkhead. It was an awkward perch to be sure: the dimensions of the craft didn't favor bulky MACO armor - as he had already noted - which grew steadily worse the more forward one moved. At least here, somewhat-wedged in here, he could take reliable scans.

A holographic interface appeared before his eyes when he triggered it. The scanner in the wrist was waved around, taking readings of the cockpit. He frowned at what he saw. Evidence of internal damage. High-energy weapon discharges in the cockpit? Torn wiring in the control panels? "It looks like the craft was sabotaged. From the inside."

Outside the vessel the Gunnery Sergeant and marine exchanged looks. The former touched his hand to the side of his helmet. "Say again sir."

"You heard me. Extensive damage in the cockpit, none of it from external sources. I'd say one of our corpses out there was determined to force this thing down. For what reason I'm not sure." Heads turned at that, to regard the corpses covering the rest of the craft.

"If it was an experimental project..." Valeese mused, her vice trailing off before she could finish her sentence. How many would have wanted to sabotage a Dominion project? So very many. How many would have had the chance? So very few. An inside job, an act of rebellion, was a rather intriguing thought to say the least, "Anyway... You'll probably want to get your scans done, stored away, and climb back out before you get stuck or destroy evidence or something." It was the or something that concerned her the most, of course. The craft wasn't something she'd trouble herself with. That was all engineering and research and development - not medical. A whole different sort of science.

Either way, she wasn't comfortable and that sudden shift in emotion left her with a rather bitter taste she quickly chalked up to anxiety derived from having the MACOs near. Wasn't logical, but neither was the way the baby fine hairs were beginning to prickle along the back of her neck or the way a chill had begun to enter her finger and toe tips. "I've been told we can have the craft out and stored within a couple hours." She called out, leaning to peek in at Stacker's progress.

The man was already in sight for his own reason. Something was prickling his senses about this: a whole lot of things suddenly did not make sense, and he wasn't comfortable with only a four-man fire team along for the ride. "Gunnery Sergeant, contact the Campbeltown. Tell them to prep the other two fire teams on my authority. Something is very, very wrong here."

"Roger that sir." James heard it in the man's tone: he too felt it. Maybe it was the craft, maybe their surroundings. Every sense he had screamed at him to hurry up and get out of this deathtrap. A pauldron ground against one obnoxious corner, but his head was at least outside. Shoulders followed in short order. The gunny was there to give him a hand in clambering out and into a vertical position. It took only a few seconds to take the rifle back from the man. Then his faceplate turned to Val.

"Get your people ready for extraction. Now Commander."

"- this is the Campbeltown. Articulate nature of threat."

"Campbeltown, this is Stacker. Set condition yellow. Unable to articulate nature of threat at this time. We -"

"Movement! I've got movement on the motion tracker!" one of the marines called. Safeties came off around the chamber.

In the maelstrom of noises echoing off the chasm walls, Valeese's eyes left Stacker's visor only to follow the direction the bellowing Marine indicated 'motion' had been seen on his instruments. Of course. Motion. What he didn't mention was the nature of that motion. It wasn't a salamander, or even a hoard of them. It was a hoard, though. In the relative darkness, the Vorta's bright purple eyes widened and her pupils dilated more than the lighting situation called for. She could see faces, grotesque and distorted and mangled bodies grabbing at and surging over one another. Bodies with and without flesh. Bodies with bits of hanging soiled, rotted rags. "James...." She managed to exhale his name, shaking her head as her jaw went slack but the rest of her body went rigid and ears all but disappeared into her slicked back hair.

Convincing her to take off didn't take much provocation. Something touched her, skirting past her leg - in retrospect she'd realize it was a MACO breezing past - and Valeese found herself practically air born. The tippiest tips of her toes on her right foot may or may not have remained touching solid ground as she pivoted and arced away from the pit, the craft, and even Stacker on an adrenaline fueled flight away from a situation she simply couldn't even begin to comprehend, much less fight. Either way, she scrambled, tripping hard over an errant fungi covered rock and nearly eating dirt, to beat a hasty retreat towards the preservation of her unarmed self and unborn child while the MACOs could, and would, certainly unleash seven shades of hell to solve the problem.

"Weapons free MACOs!" an electronically-amplified voice thundered. The after-action review would show it came from the Lieutenant Commander, but when confronted with this he had no recollection of giving the order. This wasn't terribly uncommon ... or even unexpected. Confronted with the fifth and sixth most-primitive of human nightmares (being trapped and being attacked respectively), it was only the countless hours of drills that held the fire team together in the crucial first few minutes.

A sappy writer might have dubbed it 'their finest hour.' It was more a question of survival.

After the voice boomed out the order James hoisted the rifle and pulled the trigger like he had a hundred times before. It angrily hammered out a stream of orange-red bolts into the oncoming mass. Others were firing too. A standard-issue Starfleet compression rifle whined somewhere to his left. Thunder roared and buffeted the air as the Gunnery Sergeant's projectile-firing weapon joined in the affray. A small object tumbled through the air, sailing into the midst of the corpses and clinking gently to rest among them. James had just recognized it as a grenade when it exploded.

Even with the aid of the protective visor he still fought the urge to recoil before the angry greenish hue of plasma. Much like the napalm of humanity's own past, it was an indiscriminate weapon. It seared flesh and burned clothes. Peeled away skin and dissolved suddenly-working muscles. Had these corpses been living soldiers their unit cohesion would have been gone in an instant: unfortunately for all concerned they kept coming from tunnels that James now saw thanks to the harsh burning green fire. His fingers worked from instinct and twisted a knob on the rifle. An angry electric charging tone began to build.

Something in Valeese's ankle told her she should probably slow down. Something in her brain told her that her ankle was fucking insane and that listening to it was the worst idea it had ever heard. In addition, it demanded more speed - something she wasn't entirely sure she could give it as she scrambled up an embankment, catching her knee on stone as she did with a bark of a swear. Owie boo boos could be tended to later - the goal here was simple: survive and get everyone else off the stupid moon long enough to reorganize and figure just what the hell had happened.

Up ahead there was light, shouting, someone motioning for her to move her ass a little faster - and then there was the hum and whine of engines powering up into a roar that would undoubtedly deafen anything and anyone in the cavern. The Vorta didn't care. She could lounge later with ice over her forehead and a stim-pack convincing her body that the abuse she'd put it through was worth it. All she cared about was the sound of her shoes hitting something other than rock and dirt as she disappeared into a hold and the doors began to shut, "You have to get Stacker and the freaking MACOs!" Someone nodded, ushering her away.

"We're on it. You need to be in decon, doctor, you broke skin."

The rising roar of engines performing an emergency combat takeoff temporarily drowned out the weapons fire. It had never been James' favorite sound - both for the urgent situation it signified, and the effects he felt as someone standing outside when it happened. It always started with the tremor in his chest: the bone-deep miniaturized vibration, as if someone with a drill was sawing at his core. The crescendo of sound hammered at his eardrums too. Not even the very finest noise-cancelling technology stood a hope against a pair of shuttle engines performing under the hand of a desperate pilot.

Unlike his distant past, he didn't turn around when the noise deepened in pitch and seemed to change in location. Once upon a time he had had the misfortune of doing so: the human mind was instinctively attracted to sound, after all. Upon doing so he had caught a faceful of flying debris ... and several hours under a dermal regenerator. In the years since he had been trained to never, ever repeat the mistake again. Not even when his face was protected by combat-grade armor. Which is precisely why he wasn't looking at the closing doors. At her. But as the sound began to fade he once again heard voices in his headset.

"- is shuttle Nile. We have all science and medical personnel aboard. Heading topside."

"Copy Nile. Commander Stacker, reinforcements are inbound to you."

Now he turned, to find himself eyeing shimmering transporter columns. Each one dissipated to reveal a combat-ready MACO: eight in total, clad in similar armor and toting comparable (if not identical) weapons to what was already on the battlefield. Several combat engineers were with them. The stubby barrels of automated turrets poked out of their backpacks. Ten years ago, in a peacetime exercise he might have felt a moment of boyish eagerness. Now, however, he turned back to the fight, lifted his rifle and resumed fire. Moments later the newly-arrived fire teams joined in.

Twenty minutes later it was all over. The MACOs controlled the area.

=/\= End Log =/\=

Commander Valeese
Chief Medical Officer
Cold Station Theta (SB 1170)

Lieutenant Commander James Stacker
2XO/Chief Intelligence Officer
Cold Station Theta (SB 1170)


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