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On Brooding Wings Pt. 2

Posted on Fri Jan 7th, 2022 @ 9:45pm by Captain Mrazak & Lieutenant Commander BaoJun Qiao & Ensign Khaiel D'hikatsi & Gunnery Sergeant Roderik Kos & Ferrofax & Lieutenant Teejay
Edited on on Fri Jan 7th, 2022 @ 9:50pm

Mission: S1E5: Symphony of Horror
Location: Corvus Prime
Timeline: MD 2

Previously...

The Lector briefly referred to his lectern before speaking. "The Dodona has taken her leave. However, if you commit to brokering a resolution to the current blockade, then the Eldest Marchion has elected to entertain you within his private chambers. This way, if you please." Off and to the right of the Lector, a dark hallway illuminated to reveal dark oaken doors at the end of a short corridor of polished marble.




By the time they had reached the middle of the short, marbled corridor, the oaken doors had already parted to admit them into a luxurious bower. Every surface that could not be plated in platinum was embroidered with red and black velvet. The lighting was ambient, illuminated chiefly by pseudo-candles that flickered in a uniform pattern. And there were candles everywhere, from the chandelier overhead to the crown molding along the walls.

Within the doorway stood a Corvan with slacked-back hair and ruffles in his snow-white shirt. He dipped his head and raised his white-gloved hand to usher them within. "Please be seated," he said with a stiff, nasally tone. "His Grace shall attend you anon."

Backless couches and sofas formed a semicircle around a wingback chair that faced away from the stony hearth and its dazzling fire.

"Wow," said Teejay as he wandered into this dark, moodily lit space. "It's a goth dream." He sauntered over towards the fire, curious to see if that was real, and stood beside it to look back at the others, ignoring the request to sit down for the moment.

"They certainly have a consistent, if ridiculous aesthetic," Bao conceded as he sat on a couch, positioning himself to be, as best as possible, directly across from the chair, which he assumed Polidori would occupy. "I don't suppose anyone knows what position a Marchion holds on this world, or anything about His 'Lordship' Polidori? Like what he happens to be the Marchion of?"

Khaiel just shrugged as he took a seat next to Bao. He was feeling quite overwhelmed by everything going on right now, so silence was his best bet in this situation.

"Fifth Marchion of the Havasfold, Lord Regnant of Drobruja, Warden of Alucard," said an olden voice that waved from the effort needed to project it. An old man in nearly knee high boots, ruffled silk shirt, a velvet cape, and a rapier at his hip made his way from the inner chambers into the gathering room. "I remain Polidori the Eldest." His cape whipped out with a snap from practiced motion as he draped it over his highbacked chair and seated himself. Off-hand rested on his thigh, his sword arm resting on the arm of the chair, he looked as though he was ready for a portrait. "We have wasted enough time this day. Allow me to get right to the matter: what will it take for Starfleet to drop this ridiculous quarantine? As you have seen firsthand for yourselves, your superior officer's action could not have come at a worse time."

"Truthfully," began the cautious reply, "Marchion, the answer to your question depends. Ending the quarantine, at this point, is going to require bringing this situation under control. Considering, as of now, that I have no idea exactly what the situation IS, my current recommendation to Starfleet is a full-scale audit and investigation of the actions of your government and Pathos BioMed. Of course, that'll take months and need to be debated in committees all the while I would assume your situation will continue to deteriorate and represents the best I can do given the secrecy and refusal to cooperate. I can guarantee you that my superior will not agree to that recommendation and will not lift the quarantine but escalate further, probably violently. So let me ask you, what can you tell me about what is going on here? We need information if we're to try to find options."

The pallid nobleman swept his broad gaze from the group and focused it exclusively on Bao. His obsidian eyes were like black holes that commanded the room by their intense draw which even light could not escape. "The Ingram pharmaceutical industry has nothing to do with our airspace. While the destruction of the Pathos office complex is a regrettable event, there is no reason to penalize an entire world over the actions of a few. In exchange for favorable action, information is an agreeable commodity. What precisely do you wish to know that you do not yet know? The NOS-4-A2 is showing diminished effectiveness among unknown segments of the population." He paused before continuing. "Alucard is believed to be the epicenter. The moon was quietly quarantined, which was feasible since the general public has...had no access to it. However, if NOS-4-A2 is failing due to a contagion, it must have broken through the quarantine and onto the planet despite our best efforts. We do not have months, Commander, for Starfleet to dicker over our fate."

Bao spared a critical glance at Ingram. "Thank you, Marchion," he said blandly, still glaring at Ingram. He turned back to the old nobleman. "Avoiding the complete failure of NOS-4-A2 is a priority I think I can safely say we are infinitely on board with. I'm guessing this is not public knowledge, as it would likely instigate a mass panic," he mused processing and thinking. "If you'll allow it, Marchion, I will contact Captain Mrazak. I suspect this is enough information I may be able to get him to, at least, allow supplies through. I am not making any promises, but I suspect I'll end up tasked with trying to track down the source of that failure, at the very least to make sure it is not a contagion or bioweapon." He look at D'hikatsi and Teejay, silently asking them if they had any input.

"It is not a bioweapon, nor a contagion. No more so than any of us are a contagion," came the quiet, reserved voice of Winton Ingram. "It is a natural progression of Corvan evolution. Speciation on a somewhat extreme-scale given the extreme environmental factors. NOS-4-A2 was, and is still...a useful delaying tactic. Its effectiveness in the general population is still tangible, but our models project a growing trend. This year 1 in 500,000, but the end of the next decade the potential 1 in a 100 would find no useful biological retardation of baser instinctual behaviours."

Winton gave Bao his undivided attention.

"You can, perhaps, see why sharing such secret as this would not be in the best interest of public good," Winton explained with a wave of his hand. "A secret shared by two is only safe when one knows it."

The Marchion was quick to cut in. "This is by no means an admission to criminal wrongdoing or acts of terrorism. As has been intimated at length, the destruction of Alucard has been no more beneficial to any terrestrial power than the loss of Pathos BioMed's central facility. You may access my private servers if you require it to believe me."

"No, but the removal of my facility is. We were closing in on a more suitable solution to the problem, the Key of Nebuchadnezzar. My facility and its faculty were on the brink of a breakthrough, in fact, the timing of the attack and the arrival of Starfleet is...worrying to me," Winton said icily.

Bao catalogued information. A part of him objected that a decade was entirely too short a timespan for that kind of evolutionary change to take place: single generation fixation being virtually impossible, nevermind that selecting for NOS-4-A2 resistance would be exceedingly unlikely. He kept that part to himself for the moment considering next actions. "Ensign D'hikatsi, I'd like you to take up the Marchion's offer to access the servers, though look for things that may have been overlooked that could point us towards the actual culprit," he ordered. "Perhaps Lieutenant Teejay and Kos Sergeant can assist you. He considered Winton and the Marchion, "I agree this cannot be made public right now. You won't be able to hide it for long, especially if a third incident occurs," he said. "Mr. Ingram, Marchion, if you have any ideas supportable by any competent evidence as to any players on the board, this would be the time to say so. Afterwards, if I may, I will contact the remainder of our team on Alucard and attempt to impress upon Captain Mrazak the necessity of restoring traffic, if for no other reason than to maintain the public facade of things being under control. At the same time, I would also ask you, Mr. Ingram, to locate any backups of your information and be prepared to share with the class about this nibujianisa de yaoshi(Key of Nebuchadnezzar)".

"With respect, Commander," Teejay chimed in politely. "I think I'd be more useful comparing notes with our entrepreneurial ally here." He regarded Ingram with a cool, dark gaze, then stepped closer to the man and added, discreetly for his ears alone. "I'd located some trace mention of an Ishtar Gate..."

Rather than respond, Winton raised a lone hand that seemed far paler than his standard complexion. As he stared at it, his body fell convulsing to the floor.

"Blackwood!" called out the Marchion. "We need a healer!"

But Blackwood was nowhere to be seen.

"Allow me," said a smug voice dripping with arrogance. From out of nowhere, it was none other than Captain Mrazak in full uniform. "I believe I may be of some assistance." As he walked forward, though, he stepped around Winton's convulsions. It gave him a clear shot for the Marchion from the phaser which he palmed into his hand. "Die in Hell, you abomination!" And he fired.

There was naught left of Marchion Polidori the Eldest save for a heap of ash.

Khaiel jumped to his feet, though he didn't say anything as he did. He fumbled for a moment, continuing to keep the remote terminal he had hidden under his uniform.

Just a little too late, and wasn't that the story of his life at Theta, a pattern clicked in Bao's brain as he leaped from the couch for cover. "Frog humping son of a..." he called before his brain caught up with more useful expression. "D'hikatsi, Teejay, cover and run. Rodi, explain later. Now, subdue. Alive preferable, if not, I will understand." Twice in one day, he desperately wished he'd armed himself to the away mission.

Teejay had moved swift and low, straight to Ingram's prone and shaking form. He then easily dragged Ingram into cover of that same couch Bao had made a beeline for, while covering an arc about himself with his weapon. One hand on his phaser, Teejay's other checked the man's pockets and emptied anything useful into his own. "This really Mrazak?" The half-Vulcan grunted to the Lt Commander.

Bao spared a glance at the Lieutenant. "No," he said simply as he began fiddling with his tricorder and his eyes grew bright again.

Mrazak jumped out of sight behind the high back chair. In just a moment's time, Blackwood's voice called out. "Help! Treachery! Starfleet has slain the Marchion!"

Following the order that was given, Khaiel jumped behind a pillar and pressed his back to it, hoping to stay concealed.

Rodi saw a man collapse on the ground, then a phaser appear in his senior commander's hand, then saw a man disappear in a blast of phaser fire. Somewhere between the registering Winton's death and the appearance of an Armed Mrazak Rodi's phaser found its way into his hand. Bao's order had not yet registered when the charged Nadion burst lanced out against Mrazak. Rodi took two steps forward to Mrazak and fired again, and closed another quarter of the distance before firing a third stun bolt.

The first two shots struck the wingback chair where Mrazak had ducked, vaporizing it, which left Mrazak exposed.

"Death to traitors!" shouted Mrazak, though he had the voice of Quaestor Blackwood.

With the third shot, the ruse was broken.

And then he lunged toward Rodi. As he did so, the Vulcan form dispersed into a blur that could not be tracked by the naked eye. What had before been Mrazak was now a creature whose appearance and quick movements defied easy description. Appendages melted into a cylindrical, cephalopodic core that spun through the air like a top or dreidel. In the place of arms and legs shot out half a dozen orange tendrils, coiled to strike. One of them snapped at Rodi, the closest target and the immediate threat, to deliver a stunning blow.

Rodi jumped back, barely avoiding the blow from the weird creature. The jump did result in his phaser flying out of reach. Two more steps back allowed Rodi enough time to pull a mono-molecular from a sheath hidden behind his back. As a tendril came close it met the business end of the blade. The perfect edge slid through the appendage as clean as could be. Using the moment Rodi stepped in and sliced at the thin spot on the upper body.

The tendril flung far and wide as the momentum carried the severed glob of orange flesh into the dark of the room. An odd shriek came from the central mass, which then began to faintly glow bioluminescent as it turned first gelatinous and then metallic. When the quick flash faded, the odd creature had morphed into a 2 meter tall Klingon bat'leth that balanced on one end and caught Rodi's knife at the edge of the blade. It parried the strike with its entire body. Unable to move in the bat'leth form, though, the creature began to morph again. This time it became a mirror image of Rodi.

As the survivors of this sort of thing always said - it all happened so fast - and as Rodi and Blackwood the Tentacled Shifter danced, Teejay picked his moment. He ventured out from cover while they traded blows and chose to move as soon as the Marine's phaser parted ways with its owner. Surprise spiked his adrenaline as the unexpected alien reveal sunk in, but Teejay was focused on Rodi's life right now. He slid across the floor, secured that wayward phaser and slid the weapon in Bao's direction. Never hurt to have a few more angles on this kind of combat.

Then Teejay turned his full attention to Rodi and 'Blackwood', only to find they were both Rodi-shaped now. The half-Vulcan held his fire, focused his hearing intently for a moment, trying to tell if there was any difference between them so that he could fire.

Bao grabbed the sliding phaser as his tricorder dinged a few times. He began fiddling with the settings on the phaser, adjusting it to a wide beam setting with harmonics to cause the beam to, hopefully, destabilize the unknown being's shapeshifting. It'd be better if he had an idea of exactly what kind of shapeshifter he was dealing with, but needs must, and worst-case scenario it should at least be only mildly irritating to Rodi and Teejay, more aking to crawling ants than harmful, but hopefully forcing a reversion to base form for their shapeshifter. "This might sting a bit," he called out as he finished up the recalibration, hoping he'd gotten it right, as stunning Rodi instead would definitely be a step in the wrong direction. He braced himself and sighted. "Sorry, Rodi," he said as he pulled the trigger, sweeping the wide band across the room in front of him and waiting to see the results.

Both Marines flew backward with the blast, but only one held form. The other creature turned bioluminescent and gelatinous again and slithered away in its tentacled form into the shadows. Its severed tendril lay where it had fallen. At last, armed guards filed into the room and took up offensive positions.

"Quaestor? Where is the Marchion?" asked the Corvan squad leader.

"They killed him," said Blackwood in his honey-sweet brogue. The quaestor stepped out from the shadows with his arms folded behind his dark longcoat. A gloating, obsidian smirk was spread across his milk-white skin. "I saw it with my own eyes. Kill them, Leftenant, and spare us the mess of a trial."

The Leftenant, a younger male Corvan, hesitated at the order.

A grunt left Rodi's lips. The whistling of a supremely sharp blade filled the air, slicing through the air molecules themselves. It founds it target true. The blade buried itself between the black eyes of the Corvan-impersonator, sinking in down to the hilt. "Shapeshifter." Rodi grunted as he sank back to his knees in obvious pain.

The knife sat lodged in Blackwood's forehead, yet he only blinked. Turning to face Rodi, he said, "You should not have done that. Now all of them must die too."

Blackwood's appearance was shed yet again, though this time the creature resumed its previous form. Tendrils shot out toward the armed guards and entangled them, whether by limbs or necks or anything else within grasp. Weapons fell to the ground as the Corvan guards fight against the unexpected attack.

Unaffected (being out of immediate range of) Bao's inventive attack, Teejay had checked the settings on his own phaser - yup - definitely set to max. He'd tapped the trigger guard with his index finger as Rodi's blade appeared to do the job, but then... well... maybe full blast of a phaser would hurt more than a sword to the head, maybe it wouldn't. Considering how many lives seemed to be on the line right now, it was absolutely worth a try. And this time Teejay was pretty damn sure which one was the shapeshifty lil alien bugger. He aimed for eyes - any of them - and fired, maintaining focus as long as the power allowed.

A hissing shriek filled the air like steam from a kettle. The tendrils recoiled back into the cylindrical core and wrapped around it like spider legs when crushed. Though it lay twitched, its activity appeared dormant for the moment.

Bao fiddled with the phaser again for a few minutes, resetting it to maximum power before shooting the creature several more times. "Teejay, full scan, and double confirm that thing is dead," he groused. "Rodi, are you ok? Can you check on the Corvans? Hopefully, they are merely unconscious. D'hikatsi, I need communication with the Phantom and I need it 20 minutes ago. I am going to try to find a Corvan with an intelligence level great enough to grasp what is going on here and try to sort that out."

Khaiel nodded, though hidden behind the pillar, no one would be able to see his non-verbal confirmation. He pulled out the terminal he had taken from Ingram's office, nervous it would be found. It took only a few moments to open a communications application, but getting into Federation frequencies was proving slightly difficult. There was something blocking the communication, he just wasn't sure what yet.

Painful groans emanated from Rodi as he rose to his feet and approached the Corvan contingency. "Anyone need a medic? Anyone hu..." Rodi's words cut off abruptly as he was staring down several disruptor rifles.

"I really don't think it's dead yet," Teejay noted, but he scanned the twitching mess of hell-spawned, jellyfish-spider from arm's length away until he'd picked up every detail the tech could collate. He kept his phaser in one hand while he did so too, keen to avoid a repeat attack. "Seems to be capable of regenerating and reforming, likely an essential part of its transformation skill-set," he noted/guessed. Then raised an eyebrow as he asked the room. "Do we want to completely destroy it? Might be useful to find out who sent it and why."

When the scan picked up an optical chip in the prone entity's 'head', Teejay swiftly rooted about in his pack. He pulled out a thin piece of metal with a thin scoope shape on one end - a curette - that extended as he touched it. Without standing on ceremony or worrying about ethics, the half-Vulcan scientist proceeded to shove this into the jelly and fish out said chip.

The Corvan squad leader got to his feet. "Just who or what--" His black eyes drew wide when he saw the rest of his squad train their weapons on the quivering heap of gelatinous tendrils. "HOLD! HOLD YOUR FIRE! THAT'S AN ORDER!" After the squad lowered their weapons, the leader turned back to the Fleeters. "What happened here? Where are the Marchion and Quaestor? And what is that thing?"

Bao gave the squad leader an unimpressed stare. He pointed to the pile of ash. "There are the remains of Marchion, killed by the supposed Quaestor Blackwood." He motioned towards the big stupid jellyfish. "There is the supposed Quaestor. Assuming the real one is alive, I imagine he is actually still in orbit on the INS Demeter. That should probably be checked. As for what that is, I believe it is called a Vendorian. Shapeshifting jellyfish in a nutshell. Now, please make yourself useful and perhaps find the Lector. I believe he will need to be informed of this."

More guards appeared. They were flanking the Lector, the Dodona, and a handful of other nobles.

"Some sort of devilry is afoot," gasped the Dodona with a horrified expression.

"This may require a full inquisition," intoned the Lector.

"Commander Qiao," called Khaiel from around the pillar. He peeked out, just slightly, "I have an open comm link to the Phantom."

Bao rubbed his temples. "Teejay, see if you can salvage anything Ingram had. Rodi, work with the Corvans to either secure that thing or render it most sincerely dead. I trust your judgment on which is more workable. Lector, Dodona, if you would join me for a moment, I'd rather only explain this once," he said. The level of convolution would be far too much otherwise. Moving to Khaiel he nodded. "Thank you, Ensign," he said taking over. "Phantom, this is Qiao, authentication phrase 'why are you all upside down?' Please respond and authenticate." No sense in taking chances as to who he was speaking to.

With a slightly surprised frown, Teejay looked to Bao, nodded, and then moved to kneel beside Ingram's prone form.

The comm chirped with slight interference before the signal punched through and stabilized. "Dafuq you talkin' about, Away Team?" said the inimitable voice of Ryland Dedeker. "Is that you, Copperhead? We was wonderin' when you lot would get back to us. Seems the comm grid for the whole damn planet went down, includin' the ship here, but we managed to right it. Hey, boss wants to know what you're doing a thousand klicks away from where we transported you."

Bao resisted the urge to roll his eyes in annoyance. "Regulation 46/A, Phantom. Do try to keep your mind from wandering. It is far too small to be out on its own," he muttered. "Speaking of the boss, by all means, put the captain on. Things are a bit of a mess down here. It is a rather long story, and I do not trust you to relate it with the necessary degree of accuracy or professionalism."

"Commander Qiao?" asked Mrazak's voice. "What in fiery fusion is going on down there?"

"Once upon a time, an away team was left by a stampeding bull demon at a morally questionable enterprise to gather information. Before they could get too far, feral Renfields no longer responding to treatment 'escaped' confinement and began running amok. A shapeshifter, impersonating Blackwood, assuming a real one actually exists somewhere, rescued the team and CEO before vaporizing the building and bringing them to their current location. The locals insisted on spending a significant amount of time engaging in meaningless performance theatre before meeting with a government official who had both the knowledge and inclination to do anything useful. The resurgence of Renfields is known to at least some, and was being researched by the Rabbit of the Moon, which we believe attracted the wrath of the gods, so to speak. Regardless the shapeshifter decided to impersonate a Starfleet officer and murder the minimally competent politician and the CEO, presumably in an attempt to prevent the CEO from sharing information about their ongoing research into something called," he paused for a moment and decided to skip trying to pronounce the unnecessarily excessive word, "actually it does not matter what it is called. The team still possesses some data dumps and possibly a hard copy of some research from the facility, however. That is it in a nutshell."

Winton Ingram moaned from where he'd collapsed on the ground, the life having not left him entirely.

"Hey, you're alive!" Noted Teejay with a sing-song happiness to his tone. "Now if you can just stay semi-conscious until I've finished checking all your pockets, gear and tech, that'd be great."

"I see. Return to the Phantom immediately. Ferrofax assured us that primary systems are safe again, so prepare to beam up." A moment's hesitation. "Actually, you are inside a deep subterranean complex which the transporter can't penetrate. Are you able to get everyone above ground for a proper transporter lock?"

Bao looked at the Corvans in the room. "We shall do so momentarily. It appears Mr. Ingram is not quite dead, so I would like to secure him. I believe the court of Draculesti can handle the rest down here."

"Whatever you say, Commander. Get topside and we'll do the ol' snatch'n grab. Phantom out."

"It was all the greater good. You must see that now surely?" Ingram said groggily. "Oh what's it matter? I'm an Ingram, we're not allowed to be cast in any other role."

"Yes, the shadow of villainy falls long and heavy upon Corvus Prime." The voice of nonplussed regality was that of the Dodona who had followed the growing number of security personnel and Conclave attaches. "Leftenant," she said to an unspecified member of the Conclave guard, "see our 'guests' back to the accursed hangar from whence they came, and make sure they take their wretched jellyfish with them. They have sundered our halls enough for one day."

The Starfleet officers were summarily escorted by gunpoint back to the hangar without further incident. Before they had made it more than a few steps, their combadges chirped, signaling the transporter beam that whisked them away.

 

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