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Circle of Life

Posted on Thu Feb 27th, 2020 @ 8:15pm by Captain Mrazak & Commander Arianna Frost & Lieutenant Sophie Xiong & Lieutenant JG Kara Madavi & Ferrofax
Edited on on Thu Feb 27th, 2020 @ 8:46pm

Mission: S1E4: The Hills Have Eyes
Location: Aerial Platform 7 | Venus
Timeline: MD 1

"The terraforming platforms of Venus were floating mass converters that utilized industrial replicator technology to introduce hydrogen into the atmosphere at a slow, controllable rate. By converting the carbon to hydrogen, the plan was to semi-organically turn the dense carbon dioxide into water vapor and eventual liquid oceans. A rapid process a century earlier resulted in coating much of the surface of Venus in dry ice. With far more experience in terraforming, the Venusian colonists had adopted a more long-term approach in their pursuit of paradise."

Mrazak's droning voice did nothing for the otherwise interesting data he was reading to the investigative team over the shuttlepod comms. The pilot clicked it off without so much as asking permission. Beneath the colonial insignia stitched into his flight jacket was the name L. BRODIE.

"The brochure don't tell the real story," the pilot explained as he fought to keep the shuttlepod steady against the prevailing winds of the extremely high altitude thermosphere. "Each aerial platform is, in theory, an important cog in the machine. However, some are newer with higher efficiency ratings, while the yield of older platforms barely justify their continued operations. Aerial Platform 7, designated for its location in the terraforming grid, is the latter. Nobody expects much out the platform anymore, what with the loons who staff it, yet admin seems to reckon it's still worth keeping around."

Adrift in the relatively calm but dark mesosphere, the bright lights of Aerial Platform 7 cut through the dense clouds in a single strobe pattern.

"That's not good," said the shuttlepod pilot. "A constant flashing light means there's a potential problem. A two-count means a definite problem. A three-count means evacuate. A constant strobe means stay away." The steady two-count flashing was plain to see through the foul but breathable clouds. "Now I'll land since I'm under orders, but I ain't staying when the evacuation order is given. This shuttlepod will get ripped apart down lower in the stratosphere. If they light the three-count, you all come back here, capisce?"

"We got it Brodie, no need to fret." Kara said with an exaggerated eye roll and double-tap of her fist to his right shoulder. Of the local pilots Kara had flown with he was of the more agreeable. Most of the time they simply sat in silence and if you were lucky called out takeoff and landing. Still, he had a point, why was a warning light on, yet command wasn't receiving any emergency data. Each platform was set up to update status every five minutes with the command status hub. It made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end, either someone had set the signal not to update VTC or something was blocking the signal.

Getting up from her chair, Kara made her way to the passenger compartment of the pod, her hands grasped tightly to the overhead straps as they hit a pocket of turbulence. "Heads up for you both, the locals are... an interesting bunch. They have their own way of doing things and have created their own culture and society here. Very much into the balance of nature and our place in it kind of types. Officially Starfleet still has jurisdiction over this facility, unofficially we've left them to their own devices for the last ten years or so. Expect things to be a little rough."

"You seem oddly alright with that, for regular Starfleet." Arianna thought to herself. "Why hasn't the Fleet upgraded the platforms, do we know?" She asked aloud finally.

"Mainly because this isn't a Starfleet operation," Brodie said. "You get caught saying so, and the locals will have your ass. Class Y demon planets like Venus was are deemed too resource-intensive for a proper Federation terraforming initiative, so it's been a labor of love for the independent researchers and developers for generations, and we're barely a Class K now. Nobody wants Feds to come in after the hard part's been done for them, but that comes at a cost. Equipment doesn't stay polished; it gets spit-shined until it turns to dust, and only then do we requisition a replacement."

"The bane of centralised procurement offices, I know the pain well," the disembodied fragment of Ferrofax whispered up from a nearby combadge.

"It's why we're technically a research assignment, not an operational one." Kara added, stumbling as she made it back to her seat. "We over see and direct, but Terraforming is all handled by the Venusians."

The shuttlepod touched down inside the shuttle bay, but Pilot Brodie kept the engines going. "I'll just wait here and get a potential evac on standby," he said.

Opening the old-style manual hatch up, Kara jumped out of the craft. It had been a while since she stepped foot on P7, probably her first visit since taking over the VTC. The bay looked just as grungy as ever, filled with old shuttle parts and banged up ships. The surprising thing is how empty it seemed, last time it had been buzzing with activity.

"Hello? Is anyone here?"

Inside the dingy bay grew non-native flora. Moss patches littered wall panels and parts of the flight deck where there was minimal foot traffic. One of the overhead lighting panels had been snuffed out and strangled by an overgrown cluster of some kind of creeping ivy. At Kara's call, a man with a chemical pack on his back and a flamethrower in hand stopped his... one might call it landscaping... and turned to stare at the outsiders. His leering eye softened a bit as he recognized Kara.

"Oh. Heya, Madavi. Long time, no see. As you can tell, the damn plant-life is on the loose again. It's not so bad further in--my guess being the air exchange out here in the shuttle bay." He gestured with the business end of his flamethrower toward the main corridor beneath the flight control office. "Still, I'd watch yer step anyhows."

Sophie blinked, alarmed. “Are they... dangerous?” she asked. She had very nearly said ‘carnivorous,’ but she wasn’t sure why that thought had crossed her mind.

"Only if you touch the large yellow bulb, gives off a nasty electric charge." Kara eyeing the large vines. "Saw one of the engineers sent flying across a cargo bay once."

"Is that why the two-count alert is up?" Arianna asked as she stepped out after Sophie.

"Aw, no," the man said, laughing at the notion. "They just get into fittings, fixtures, and electrical connections and wreak havoc. Might could be more somewhere else on the platform, but like I said it's thickest here in the loading bays where the atmosphere exchanges between inside and outside. Best not to worry about the flasher. Hain't even reached mark twain. Prolly just a faulty regulator in the main atmogen again."

"Do you often get such issues?" Arianna frowned as she approached the man, looking around as she did so.

"Hell yeah," he said candidly. "This platform don't operate above 60% efficiency on its best days. Mainly here as a catchall for all the lousy work crews nobody else wants." He paused for a moment. "Wait a sec. Did you say it's flashing twice now? Balls!" The man threw down his flamethrower into a crispy batched of ashen vegetation and ran down the corridor.

"Shit!" Ari cursed and took off after the man. "Come on!" She called over shoulder at Kara and Sophie.

“Hey!” cried Sophie, surprised, and she took off after them.

"Remember don't step on the vines!" Kara yelled running after the pair of officers. She almost started laughing at the ridiculousness of it, the image of them running off down the corridor. If this were an old earth comedy they'd start running the other way in a moment, the local chasing them.

The man's rapidly plodding footsteps led them down the corridor, up a short flight of stairs, and out onto a large catwalk that ran the perimeter of the platform's interior. At the center was the large atmospheric generator that the quirky landscaper with the flamethrower had mentioned, and it dominated most of the structure. Above it was the living quarters -- two dormitories separated by a commissary that was currently hosting a wild rager with half-dressed people dancing about to syncopated beats and foaming drinks at hand. Beneath the atmogen were the RCS thrusters which kept the entire platform aloft.

In the combined commotion of the rager above, the thrusters below, and the great atmogen device before them, the footsteps of the fleeing maintenance man were swallowed up.

"I might not be an awful lot of help. A lot of the programming language of this facility is running on old code structures. I know its a computer, but it's one made of rocks," Ferrofax said with an acid tone from where he rode on someone's com badge. "Should I ever get old enough to be considered an antique, I hope someone will pull the self destruct cord connected to my central processor. A sadder fate than this I would not dream of."

"Beggars can't be choosers," chided a lilting female voice. Clad in a gray utility jacket with big, dull buttons stood a fair-featured woman with probably the tightest red hair bun in known space. "I'm McGill, foreman of this here floating antique." She cast a withering and measuring eye over the group and visibly stiffened as she recognized Kara. "Old Gregg just said a couple of Fleeters got dropped off. Never thought I'd see Her Grace Madavi bless us with her presence again, but here ye are. Come to save us from our troubles, have ye? Maybe you're here to partake of the lively spirits up yonder." She cocked her chin up to indicate the revelry up above.

Sophie scowled, but said nothing. She didn’t like this chick one bit.

"Now who are you and what have you done with my bestie, Foreman Gilly?" Kara asked, mockingly touched by the other woman's words. "She wouldn't have gone soft enough to let me actually help her with a problem would she? Not after she so eloquently told me to 'leave and never to come back, lest I want to end up on a date with the business end of her oversize socket wrench'." Her tone was gone, arms folded across her breast, eyebrow coked upward waiting to hear what McGill had to say.

Ari rolled her eyes, "if you two are done with foreplay?"

"If that is what you're here for, I must direct you to the social gathering overhead," McGill said to Ari with a roll of her eyes. "However, if Starfleet wishes to actually be useful for a change, then come with me."

"Sure, it's not like we came here for a sightseeing trip." Kara quipped back, mockingly copying McGill's eyeroll. The woman had obviously not mellowed with age, still arrogant as a teenager.

Not heeding her reply, McGill marched back the way she had come with her arms folded militantly behind her back. She led them halfway around the facility to the rear side of the atmogen, completely opposite from the docking bay corridor. A small alcove big enough for entry two-by-two opened up into the atmogen as a maintenance access point. Before she entered, McGill stopped at the threshold. Throwing a scowl at the ladies, she placed hearing protection around her ears and then pointed to a cabinet by the wall. A sign prominently displayed read as: "Personal Protective Equipment Required Beyond This Point."

As Sophie placed the ear protection over her ears, she took back her initial assessment. No need for words and she had offered none? Perhaps this McGill person was okay after all.

Arianna put the PPE on as requested.

Her mouth moved, but no words could be understood. The hum of the atmogen was too loud. Frustrated, McGill made a tapping motion against her head to tell them to sync their commuffs together.

Sophie reached up to the spot McGill had indicated and found a slight depression. She pressed and heard a chirp, followed by voices filling her ears. With an approving nod, she glanced around to see what else was happening.

Frost found the comms button fairly easily, then winced as the call from their friend from the landing came through.

"--can't fix this friggin-fraggin' motherlickin' hunk of ass bosh by myself!" It was clearly the voice of the landscaper from the docking bay. "I repeat, I need--"

"Yes, we hear you, Gregg," McGill said into her comm. "Help is on the way." As she turned around to descend the ladder into the guts of the huge atmogen, McGill threw a look at Madavi and the rest. "I hope the rest of you know your way around a machine."

"I should hope so," replied Sophie, not following, but taking in the area as a whole first. "Four years at Starfleet Academy and another eight in the field had better have taught me a thing or two at least." Finally satisfied she'd gotten a good look at everything, she followed down the ladder.

Knowing her way around a machine. Yeah this was going to be difficult on Ari. Her knowledge around technology was user level at best. Sure she had passed the basic classes at the Academy - with barely sattisfactory levels. She knew how to perform basic repairs on basic systems, yes, all Starfleet officers knew how to. To varying degrees. Ari's high end of repair scale involved tactical and intelligence systems. Things such as these, though?

"Well I'm stuffed..." Ari cursed softly under breath as she too followed.

"Don't worry Ma'am, spent my first couple of months on Venus crawling around in one of these." Kara offered, heading off after the other women. "Once you get a hang of all the condensers, and filters it'll start coming to ya."

"Yeah, yeah..." Ari shook her head in mild amusement.

Down in the guts of the atmogen, the homely man from the shuttle bay was running amok with his tools strewing out of his belt in a trail on the floor.

"Nice of you to finally get down here, McGill!" he shouted. "Shame you had to get pulled away from that party up there, but if we manage to keep this mamma jamma from going tits up, I'm sure you can get back before everybody starts weeing on each other!"

McGill rolled her eyes, refusing to dignify the crusty talk with a response. "What seems to be the trouble, Mr. Gregg?"

"Hell if I know!" Old Gregg shouted. "I ain't signed off on this! If a part falls off, I replace it. That's it. Whatever's wrong is beyond me!"

Frost frowned, "if you didn't sign off on this, who did? Anyone else working down here?"

"That would be me. We don't often run with a full crew on Platform 7," McGill said, eyes darting at Old Gregg. "if you catch my meaning. It's why I led you lot down here instead of sending you packing on the transport you came in on."

"So why is he so panicked?" Ari kept her eyes on Gregg.

McGill just scoffed and went to work at general diagnostics, shaking her head as if Ari had asked the stupidest possible question.

Meanwhile, Sophie had continued her observational study of the platform. Piecing together what she saw here and the limited information (basically the words "terraforming platform") they'd been given, she thought she had worked out how it was meant to function. "Because it's in worse shape than we thought," she answered. "This platform is powered by the toxic gasses and volcanic particles from below. It collects them and- using replicator technology, perhaps?- transforms them into fuel for the thrusters and then released the water vapor left over. It should, in theory, be a sort of perpetual motion machine, but, these monitors are telling a different story. It's in danger of falling out of the sky if it gets much farther." She turned to Gregg, eyes passive and yet somehow proud and haughty at the same time. "Did I get that right?" she asked with an air that indicated she knew full well that she had.

"Yeah, I know how it runs, deary!" Old Gregg shouted in a raspy voice, confirming Sophie's understanding. "What I don't know is how to fix it! Like... everything is broke! How did it even get like this?!" The man's face reddened to the point of near hyperventilation.

Stepping forward, McGill said, "It's alright, Mr. Gregg. You did your best. Let's get you to a bed while our friends from Starfleet see what they can do here."

"But the atmogen..." Old Gregg made to protest despite being ushered toward the ladder.

McGill glanced at the three officers while she assuaged Old Gregg's fears. "There, there, now. It's out of your hands." As he went up the ladder first, McGill quietly told the others. "I'll see him to his bunk and then I'll be back."

As she reached the top of the ladder, though, the heavy door swung closed with a resounding clang. It was followed by a harsh click and the metallic grind of a slide bolt.

Sophie rolled her eyes. How immature! Locking them in to make sure they fixed the damned thing. “Ridiculous,” she muttered, tapping a few buttons on the screen to see if she could get the computer to tell her what was wrong. No dice, though. “Fine, be that way,” she told the computer as she opened a panel to have a look. “My best guess is there is something wrong between the collectors and the converter,” she told the others. “I really don’t fancy having to check each part separately, but if that’s what I have to do...”

"That's not right." Ari muttered, "why would you lock help in? People who have no idea about the systems. After an unknown problem?" She looked over at Kara and Sophie. "Because you want go get rid of curious eyes that could fuck up your plans. Or shift blame. Come on, think about it! Gregg was genuinely distressed, and he couldn't figure it out! She comes in, takes him away and locks us in. When have you ever heard of a person in charge leaving people they didn't know could handle the job with their own equipment...and locking the door?"

"But... what plans would we be messing up?" Sophie asked, brow wrinkling in confusion. "We're here to help them- wait. You're not suggesting that she's responsible for sabotage!" she finished incredulously.

Kara rolled her eyes, at the question. "No, she just locked us in here to make sure we didn't ruin the surprise at her party..." She then turned to the Commander, feeling far more confident that the intel officer would have a more level head. "McGill might be a class seven bitch, but she also not a prankster. We're locked in here for real and I don't think we're going to want to hang out to find out why."

A dull explosion rumbled through the floor of the atmogen's engine room. The alarm that started blaring overhead proved to be much louder.

"Alert," said the monotone voice of the platform's computer. "RCS thruster fuel reserves are critically low. Resume replication or prepare platform evacuation."

"First thing's first, let's make sure we don't fall out of the sky." Arianna said with a nod, "I'll see about getting us out of here."

But Sophie was already pulling out faulty parts and tinkering with them. The warning had been enough to push her into action.

 

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