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Worst Contact

Posted on Thu May 21st, 2020 @ 2:57pm by Captain Mrazak & Lieutenant Commander BaoJun Qiao & Lieutenant JG Grace Sternwood Ph.D. & Chief Warrant Officer Maisy Amburton PhD

Mission: S1E4: The Hills Have Eyes
Location: The Vault | Venus
Timeline: MD 1

Mrazak stepped off the turbolift onto Deck 4 where his away team was supposed to be prepped and standing by in the loading bay. Instead, he found them strapped into harnesses and in a general state of disarray.

"I'm sorry--is this your day off?" Mrazak clapped his hands to hasten them along. "Unstrap yourselves and let's go!"

"Calm down," Grace said, mostly to herself as she started to work at the strap.

“Yeah, we almost found ourselves in the afterlife!” defended Maisy, struggling to unbuckle her straps. “We’re lucky to be alive."

The prominent Vulcan eyebrow stretched itself across Mrazak's forehead. "I hope your assessment of the vault is more... scientific than that of our arrival." With a sharp turnabout on his heel, he led them to the airlock. "Come!"

"Could you please wait just a minute?" pleaded a desperate voice. It belonged to the young lady who had met them aboard Llorona Station--the administrative assistant to ch'Vihron. "My harness is stuck."

Mrazak made no effort to hide his impatience. "Could somebody assist Ms. Dadsum?" he asked through a blustering sigh.

"Dazeem," she corrected. "Adele Dazeem. Are your hands broken, Captain Mrazak?" Nobody else had gotten to their feet yet.

"No," Mrazak said, "and neither are my feet." He activated the airlock release and stepped outside.

"Oh, good grief," muttered Maisy, standing and making her way to Dazeem. "Here, let's see if we can...." She tugged gently on the straps, managing to get an extra inch out of them, which was just enough to give them a little slack. "How's that? Can you get it loose now?"

The administrator's assistant managed to extricate herself from the Starfleet regulation harness she had clearly never used. "Yes, thank you. Is your captain always this way?"

“I don’t know,” replied Maisy. “I just met him. I hope not.”

"I wouldn't doubt it," Grace said, mostly to herself.

If Adele had any thoughts on the Vulcan, she professionally kept them to herself.

When the rest of the group followed Mrazak, they found him outside walking on the brittle, chalky soil of Venus without an EV suit embroiled in a heated exchange with a small posse in civilian garb. While Mrazak's back was to the Phantom and so his expressions went unseen, it was clear the others whom he was addressing were in stark disagreement with him.

The fact that all of them were standing on the Lakshmi Planum in plain clothes with minimal protective equipment was surreal. In the distance, near the edges of the plateau, large pylons stood as guardian monoliths against the swirling storms that raged across the northern continent of Ishtar Terra. Together with a system of wind turbines at the base of Fortuna Tessera and the agricultural hab dome of Concordia, they created powerful force screens that served as a windbreak. The raging storms of Venus that persisted despite the two centuries of terraforming efforts thus passed over the high plain of Lakshi Planum and preserved Venus' first and primary settlement of Concordia from the worst of the meteorological hazards.

Cut right through the center of the Planum, a fair distance from the tessera that hosted the Concordia dome, was a jagged canyon. The reported geological activity had clearly understated the situation. Jutting out at odd angles was a roughly cylindrical obelisk with a tarnished texture not unlike obsidian. Its end, thirty meters wide and elevated several meters off the ground on one side but five to ten meters submerged underground on the other, featured the doors Madavi had mentioned. They were oval irises and sealed by an ancient yet sophisticated mechanism that embedded itself deeply into the vault's obsidian outer layer.

Bao looked around, taking in the features he could see. The obelisk and canyon were obvious, and, though small at this distance, so was Concordia. The force screens held the storms at bay, but looking at them was almost like Lagash, albeit more deadly. Apparently energy was also being expended on climate controlling the environs, as, while hot, was nowhere near the 740 kelvins of the normal surface average, as evidenced by the distinct lack of sublimation of skin going on. It was incredibly inefficient and a complete waste or resources. Then again, the entire project in its current form qualified as that.

Grace looked out at their location and couldn't help but wonder why they were there. Why was anyone here? Why was this a project that existed? What was wrong with people? She'd been to plenty of worlds that could sustain life that were absolutely beautiful but this was terrifying and Grace was not happy.

"And these are your cohorts, I presume?" The angry voice was that of a civilian scientist in electronic glasses that served as optical displays for information. One could almost see them scrolling across the lenses. By the posture of his little posse, it was clear to see he was the man in charge.

Maisy pretended to scowl. “I prefer the term minion,” she muttered under her breath.

Bao laughed at the scientist. "I suppose you could say that. He does like to pretend to be in charge. No doubt, Captain Mrazak has already introduced himself," he said, mentally adding 'in the worst possible manner'. "I am Lieutenant Commander Qiao BaoJun, xenosciences," he added. Motioning towards the women, he introduced them as well, doubting Mrazak had bothered, given his inability to remember their names. "Also, computer specialist Lieutenant Grace Sternwood and geosciences specialist Ms. Maisy Amburton. We are here to make sure that," he said motioning towards the blatant obelisk and canyon, "Is not a threat to the safety of Venus or the Sol system. To not put too fine a point on it, we can do so with your cooperation trying to be as non-disruptive as possible, or we can do it over your objections after shuttering your operation. Choose quickly, as Captain Mrazak has a distinct preference in all circumstances for the latter."

The tail of the lead man's gray duster blew in the wind, nearly wrapping about his legs. He looked at Mrazak and mistook the hostility the Vulcan felt at Bao's candor as hostile agreement. "Is that true, Dazeem?"

Administrator ch'Vihron's administrator gave a meek nod. "Yes. They met with the colony leadership within the hour. Lieutenant Madavi extended the authority of the Terraforming Command Unit to include this specialist team from... from..."

"Nowhere." Mrazak smiled menacingly.

"Fine," he said, matching Mrazak's seething tone with his own. "But whatever we find in their belongs to us! And our names come first in all papers and press releases! We demand that much."

Clearing his throat, Mrazak began his usual speech. "You will demand no such thing. We are Nobody from Starbase Nowhere and we were never here. From this moment until I say otherwise, this site is under the full purview of Starfleet's Office of Special Investigations. While Commander Qiao gave you the benefit of our names, that courtesy stops here and now. They will be redacted from all reports and releases. You are now excused, but do not go far. We may call on you yet, and then you will forget everything I order you to forget."

As angry as the lead man was, his little group began trembling with intimidation. Seeing he was defeated, he reluctantly capitulated. "You haven't heard the last of Simon P. Covington!"

Bypassing them with a dismissive wave, Mrazak led his field team down the broken both to the excavation site. The obsidian doors were even more imposing up close.

"All right, so I got us here," Mrazak said low enough not to be overheard. "Anybody have any idea how to open this thing?"

Bao looked at the obelisk, running his hands over the outside of the building gently, taking in the carvings on around the door. "The weather here will have likely reduced any mechanism we could trigger from outside," he said even as his eyes began glowing in response to the input from his tricorder and half a dozen analyses running at once. "The work is exquisite, the lines are carved at a level of precision that makes the clock-makers childish," he added, a bit of wonder seeping into his voice. Inside his head, programs ran faster than he could observe them all, including, problematically, his network connections, which attempted a handshake with an unknown network seemingly initiated from the obelisk just a moment before he noticed it himself.

"Sonny, those readings look like they could be power sources, and could that be a networ..." The Lagashi's voice abruptly cut off, his body becoming rigid as the glow of his occular implants cut off, along with all the others in his body.

"Is something the matter with him?" Adele asked, stepping closer with her hand to her mouth in concern.

Mrazak startled at her question. "What are you still doing here? Go back and wait with the Covington team. This is now a Starfleet matter." With that settled, he walked a circle around Bao. "Commander? What is your major malfunction?" He sighed with frustration, then snapped his fingers at Grace and Maisy. "Sternwood, Rookie. You're up. Open this door."

While Grace was busy staring at the commander who was malfunctioning, she was sure that she was doomed... They were all doomed. Of course something was wrong with him -- he lived here and that was just crazy. She looked at Mrazak for a few moments not acknowledging his order nor moving to carry it out. "Should they not know our names?" she asked, worried about the conversation prior about courtesy and not actually existing. Her glanced moved to Commander Qiao as if to ask if she'd purposely endangered them more.

"How we're supposed to know how to open it when we just got here is beyond me," muttered Maisy, studying the door. "Maybe there's a password? I don't know."

Bao's body finally released, causing him to stagger very much ungracefully, considering a fair number of his implants were related to his movements. He breathed heavily. "I offline," he got out, sounding strained, and his normal speech sounding far more stereotypical. "Obelisk have active network. Me implants and cybernetics overload when make connection. I future ok when system reset complete," he finished just as the doors to the obelisk began to slowly grind open.

"Looks like I'll have to do everything myself," Mrazak said. He turned around just in time to see the doors part. "Aha! I've done it again!" He had done no such thing, but nobody seemed to bother pointing that out.

Though the doors were parted, the entrance was still rolled to one side, which made entry difficult. Mrazak set his hands against the edge and tested his grip before hoisting himself up and inside. Unsurprisingly, the interior space was a cramped airlock.

"All right... any bright ideas about getting through this door?" he called out behind him.

"Let me take a look," Grace said, as she approached, wanting to get away from Bao. She searched near the doors for any sort of control panel or access, "see anything in there for access?" she asked, not wanting to get in too close to the team leader. "I just need wires... it doesn't even need to be a control panel."

Mrazak squinted his eyes as he leaned forward for a closer look. "I would be amazed if any circuitry lasted to this day. Would there not be a manual release? If nothing else, we could always get Mr. Dedeker out here and use his head as a wedge."

That made Maisy snicker evilly. She had only met Dedeker once and hadn’t even spoken to him, but he seemed arrogant and irritatingly blasé. “Maybe the outer door has to close first and then this one will open?” she guessed, looking at the still open outer door.

"I kind of want to see the wedge idea but if you switch out with me I'll see what I can do?" Grace said.

Cocking his head in consideration, Mrazak nodded. "Yes. I also like Chief Hambutt's suggestion." He exited the airlock and gestured for Grace to go inside. "Commander Qiao, please join Lieutenant Sternwood inside the airlock and see if the interior door opens upon the closure of the exterior one."

"Amberton!" corrected Maisy irritably. "Look, I know I'm fat! You don't have to remind me!"

When Mrazak looked at Maisy, it was only to direct an exasperated sigh in her direction. "Go collect some soil samples or find something useful to do while the commissioned officers try to figure this out." Apparently he had already taken credit in his own mind for her idea. Looking back to Bao and Grace, he waited to see if the theory would pan out.

Bao, for his part, muttered, "Is waste breath, Amberton Chief. When he learns you name, is worse." He carefully, and slowly began getting himself in the airlock, his movements slowed by the lack of functionality. A quick estimate said he was a good 10 minutes away from restoring basic functions, and it would take hours to verify the integrity of the more complex systems. "If works, Mrazak Captain can be front, perhaps. Might improve attitude if he meatshield."

"Evidently Commander Qiao is beside himself," Mrazak groused. "Lieutenant Sternwood, could you please self-allocate a modicum of competence for everyone else and close the exterior door with the two of you inside?"

That did the trick. As soon as the exterior airlock closed, the interior door opened to reveal a mausoleum of pods filled with piles of spongy, dusty particulates that were too heavy to be kicked into the air. Everything from the sight to the smell was one of rot and decay. From the far end of the massive cylinder, deep in the darkness, came a chittering sound.

Bao grunted again as he fumbled with his gear, turning on a torch to illuminate the corridor and look around, focusing towards the skittering sounds. He looked at Grace. "We are not alone, Miss Sternwood," he said, making the effort to speak more proper English without Mrazak to annoy. "Perhaps I am paranoid, but take out your weapon," he continued, drawing his phaser. He was not a great shot, but with the beam set to wide angle, it would be difficult to miss unless the target was exceedingly fast. He just hoped the beam would still be strong enough to do damage. He moved forward somewhat into the space, clearing the airlock. "Perhaps if we clear the airlock, our hosts will see fit to cycle the others through."

As those two moved forward, Mrazak led Maisy forward into the airlock in hopes of cycling through as well. So far, nothing happened.

"What's going on in there?" Mrazak wanted to know. "Are you going to open the door or are we still on your day off? Fine. I'll do it myself."

Mrazak and Maisy were rotated into the vault just like Bao and Grace were. It took a moment for their eyes to adjust to the darkness, but what they saw was completely unexpected.

The illumination from Bao's handheld torchlight fell across inhuman forms that darted forward on eight spindly legs that sprouted from a roughly disc-shaped base. On closer inspection, the disc served as an abdomen which supported a large blocky thorax. No head sat atop the main body, just a row of sensor ports in a 360 degree spread. The entire block articulated in free-form spinning independent from the supporting abdomen. Two large forward limbs reached out for Bao and Grace while two smaller central limbs in the front were defensively folded backward. And on the back a large crane arm similar to a scorpion's tail which hovered overhead.

Despite their unusual and almost insectoid appearance, they were clearly mechanical. One of the automatons chittered at the Starfleet officers.

"All right..." Mrazak said calmly. "Who can talk to robots? Qiao?"

"Maybe they understand Federation Standard," suggested Maisy. "Hey, robots! If you understand us, stop where you are and... hold one leg in the air!"

Mrazak slowly turned his head to levy a scowl that could turn ocean tides with its pull. "Are you mad? If the dating of this vault is accurate, those robots predate the Federation by millions of years."

"Well, you never know unless you try!" retorted Maisy. "They might have been analyzing our language since we found this thing! For all we know, they understand Standard, Vulcan, Klingon, and half a dozen other languages by now."

Bao studied the small automatons carefully as he held the tricorder to his side in as non-threatening a position as possible while the creatures chittered. He spared a glance at Mrazak, "Ikap'uh t'du ru'lut, V'tosh Ka'tur." He was able to ascertain fairly quickly that the clicking was almost certainly a language. Repetition of sounds, certain units seemed to repeat, as if they were common 'words' of a sort. The tricorder was building a library of the phonemes. He held out his hand, palm up towards the creatures. "Perhaps, since they interacted with my systems," he trailed off as he looked at the creatures. He spared a glance at his tricorder and realized immediately that it was anatomically unlikely for him to reproduce the sounds. He addressed them in Putonghua instead, hoping to get them to continue chittering long enough for the Universal Translator to create a rudimentary matrix for him to work off of. "I am Planetary United Federation's Qiao BaoJun. We peacefully coexist."

Two of the automatons stepped forward, followed by four more. Their clicks and chitters seemed to confound the Universal Translator. After a moment, a few words came through the team's combadges.

"Makers... Go... Existence... Now."

The Lagashi tilted his head in thought. What he wouldn't give for the analysis to be running full time across his vision like normal. Oh well, needs must, and he was still a specialist. The words were there, but with no syntatic structure yet, assuming their language even had one. Still, noun verb. Then noun adverb, so perhaps an implied copula. Makers would make sense as a subject for go, as it seemed fairly clear that whoever created the automatons were long gone, possibly dead. He nodded slowly to the creature. "Correct. Makers go in past. Only you existence remain," he said, taking a stab at one possible syntactic structuring.

"Go-you... to become... Makers-now... Exists-them... Nevermore."

"Nevermore," he repeated, trying to guage the best thing to say next. "We now for you become makers?" he questioned. "Before-them with you do what?"

The clicks and chitters took on a fervent repeating pattern.

*— ... —*** ... *— ... —** ... *— ... *** ... **** ... *— ... *—*
*— ... —*** ... *— ... —** ... *— ... *** ... **** ... *— ... *—*
*— ... —*** ... *— ... —** ... *— ... *** ... **** ... *— ... *—*
*— ... —*** ... *— ... —** ... *— ... *** ... **** ... *— ... *—*


Grace turned to look at Mrazak her expression horrified, "uh-I can go back now... the door is open."

"No..." Mrazak took several steps back toward the airlock, a horrified look on his face. "I... I'm going to go check on... the Phantom... yes..." His eyes were locked on the alien robots. "You stay here and assist Commander Qiao."

"Oh no," Grace said moving forward to grab him. "I'm not staying if you're not."

Mrazak flapped his hand as if shooing a fly. "Off with you, child!" Then he ran back to the airlock to initiate its cycling function before Grace could join him. "Make sure Commander Qiao doesn't die!" he yelled through what they had discovered to be a revolving door.

"Did he seriously just leave us in here with this weird AI cult?" Maisy asked, completely disbelieving. "The nerve!"

The gesture was certainly unconscionable, but it was not long-lived. Mrazak returned through the revolving airlock door rather quickly. "The Phantom is gone! I'll have that shrunken Dedeker's head in a hermetic display case!" The monstrous looking robots chittered at him. "Gah! Have you decided whether they're going to kill us like they probably did to whoever was trapped in here with them?!"

"Oh, yeah, while you were gone, we taught them Federation Standard and Parcheesi," answered Maisy sarcastically. "And we made a deal- we give them you and they let us go free."

Mrazak scowled. "Not funny, Chief Hambutt. I don't think you appreciate the dire predicament in which we find ourselves. Without the Phantom at hand, we are at the mercy of the civilian researchers for use of their equipment to test samples and the like. Since you seem to be in such high spirits, I'll let you go out and beg that Covington fellow with hat in hand for use of his mobile lab."

"I guess bad leadership inspires poor followers," Grace muttered. Suddenly Grace gasped as if having an epiphany, "I wonder if I can rig a tricorder to figure out what that is. It seems like a language..." Grace pulled hers from her pocket and began to feverously type commands into it.

Bao snorted a laugh. "Morse code, Lieutenant. Your tricorder shouldn't have any problem translating it," he said. "Captain, could you step back outside please? I do believe they do not like you."

"You may tell them the feeling is mutual," Mrazak snarled. "Morse code? So the Universal Translator was that mystified is it? Please translate."

Bao was taking quite a bit of pleasure in Mrazak's discomfort. "Abad Ashar, or AbadAshar, or something to that effect, Captain. I am not entirely certain of the syllable and word breaks. If I work from the assumption it is meant as the words Abad and Ashar, then the the suggestion is some sort of destructive or enslaving entity based on the linguistic roots of those words, but since the UT is rendering their speech into morse code and then that, I would not put much faith in that as a translation just yet, beyond the word being derogatory and applied to you," he said tapping on his tricorder. "Perhaps if we go further they will provide more language samples or we can find some sort of clue as to how to better interpret it."

"I don't find any particular meanings to the words... but Abad can mean century in a language called Maylay. And maybe Indonesian?" Grace shared.

As if suddenly remembering that she had a job, Maisy shook herself and pulled out a little scoop with a phial attached and began scooping up samples of the dust that was al over everything. She tried to get samples from several places, just to have a good idea of what was in here.

"These are all Earth-based languages, correct?" Mrazak shook his head with a skeptical scoff. "Humans and their arrogance, thinking everything in the universe is named after your antiquities. First you name us Vuhlkansu after your god of fire and the Rihannsu after the mythical founder of your ancient empire. Now the Universal Translator is spitting out dead languages from Earth in attempts to translate these robots who preade us by millions of years! What next? Shall I anticipate a retelling of human folklore?" He turned to the skittish automatons and began speaking in loud, drawn out words. "Where did you come from? Are you from this planet? Why haven't we met your makers before? Did you kill them all?"

Whatever meaning the automatons took from Mrazak did not take long to process. After just a brief exchange of clicks between them, their crane-like tails began swinging as they charged the officers. The intent to do harm was clear.

"Retreat!" Mrazak shrieked. "RETREAT! BACK TO THE AIRLOCK!"

Maisy let out a little screech and threw the scoop-and-phial she was holding into her pack and scurried towards the door faster and far more lightly than anybody her size had a right to move. As a result, though her legs were the shortest, she made it to the airlock first. “Don’t suppose we can all squeeze in,” she muttered. “It can never be easy, can it?”

"Captains first!" Mrazak bellowed, elbowing his way to the front.

"Oww!" Grace yelled, swinging at Mrazak. She'd be talking to Captain Ben-Avram about this nonsense. It was bad enough that she had to be on this team in the first place the cowardice of someone who was supposedly supposed to be a leader was ridiculous. And that was coming from who she figured was a first-rate coward.

"他妈的,天下所有的人都该死," spat the Lagashi at Mrazak as he began to back down the hall. Fortunately he had enough presence of mind to remember he had armed himself. He juggled the phaser back to his hand and began firing short wide-beam bursts onto the ground in front of the automatons as he pressed backwards.

Despite the cramped, close quarters, all four officers managed to squeeze inside the airlock. Just as the revolving door began to cycle them to the exterior, the robotic arachnids began clawing at the door, their clicking and chittering all the more fervent.

Mrazak stumbled over the vault's elevated edge and fell into a tumble. "That could have went better," he muttered as got up and brushed himself off. "Tell me somebody managed to get something before we were driven out by mechanical scarabs from antiquity."

"Well, apparently the tricorder is designed to default to humans as the superior species. That's what I learned, anyone else?" she asked, out of breath but pissed.

Rather than respond, Mrazak merely and scowled and held his nose in the air and looked at the two potentially useful officers in Science teal.

Bao leveled an unimpressed stare at the Vulcan. Had he taken Bahl's Stupefication with his raktajino? He sighed. "Quite a bit actually. Chief Amburton will have to confirm the dating analysis, but we can now say for certain that the automatons inhabiting the structure are not the builders, but their servants it seems. We have also established they communicate through a click and sibilant language, which can be translated with sufficient corpus. It seems likely that the actual creators of the structure spoke the same, as it would be impractical to create servitors incapable of communication with the masters. That suggests the creators likely had, if not similar full body anatomy, similar vocal anatomy," he said, making sure his tricorder took the dictation, since Sunny had yet to come back online. "Free from the influence of an extraordinarily impatient angry ghost, a more useful translation matrix might be possible."

"They also appear to be capable of sapient level communication, so we now have a first contact situation, though I suppose we must count them as potentially hostile, at least towards you, Abad'Ashar, whatsoever that actually means." Privately, Bao made a note to somehow work the definition in a future translation matrix to render "incompetent Vulcan shuttle crash" for the term. Though, that might not be fair to shuttle crashes.

“I got five samples of the dust that was in there,” announced Maisy. “From different places, of course, and even a couple of small pebbles that may actually turn out to be metal that’s been polished smooth over the years. But we’ll see.” She shrugged as if that should explain everything.

"So now what?" Grace asked. "Our ship is missing, isn't it?"

Mrazak stuck out his lip in anger at the situation. "Yes," he said with a dirty look. "Which means we're left to take our analyses to the...civilians." The word made Mrazak wriggle in disgust. "That Covington fellow seemed eager enough. Commander Qiao, Chief Umbrage, go kindly demand access to their equipment. I will stand here and... oversee Lieutenant Sternwood's assessment of the vault's exterior. Yes, I shall do that while you secure us access to the... civilian lab."

"Umbridge!" bristled Maisy; being a Harry Potter fan meant that she had completely forgotten that umbrage was a valid word. "Do I look like a toad to you? Don't answer that!" she added quickly. "Come on, Qiao. Let's go ask politely if we can use their lab." And with one final disgusted look to Mrazak, she turned to find someone from Venus to talk to.

Mere seconds after Bao and Maisy approached the civilian research team, a chorus of biting laughter rose up from among them. Mrazak wasn't close enough to hear what terms exchanged between them all, but the wolfish grin on that Simon Covington's face promised nothing good.

"Damn that Dedeker!"

 

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