“O fleeting joyes
Of Paradise, deare bought with lasting woes!
Did I request thee, Maker, from my Clay
To mould me Man, did I sollicite thee
From darkness to promote me, or here place
In this delicious Garden?”
Major Annella Winters screams, wracks of pain resounding off the inner walls at the top of the ivory tower. In her ears, the sound is as if in a tunnel yawning ever wider, growing detached and distant. For a moment, her own sense of self goes with it and she is assaulted by the regrets of countless people.
Her crewmembers look up, temporarily snapped away from whatever had concerned them before.
“Fucking drop it!” Yells Fierri. Penelope is already ahead, smacking the dark gem out of Annella’s hand. It cracks at the pilot’s touch and falls to the floor.
Colonel Nylor Morris makes a move towards the stone, only to be forced back again by his engineer and now would-be physician. He briefly explains that he needs the stone to regain his memories. While he knows what he’s done in the past, he’s forgotten why. Annella’s partial Betazoid traits have given her a much larger insight towards the greater picture regarding the gem. He makes another move towards the stone, but Annella gets it before he does.
This time, she is better prepared to try and interpret the information she’s given. She can feel Morris’ regrets among many other strands in the gem’s ‘memory’. Not only that, though: she also senses the familiar minds of Penelope, Ghatt, and the Nyx symbiont. The gem turns from black to gray, becoming inactive.
While the gathering tries to discuss the information and largely fails to get anything truly discernible from Morris, Penelope tries to take the stone – it fractures into two parts in her hands.
They are shortly after interrupting by a terrible quake, the likes of which none of them had ever felt before. The floor shudders and lurches beneath them as the tower collapses in on itself from the bottom up. All goes dark.
Fierri Nyx is the first to awaken, soon finding she is miraculously unharmed and able to stand. She searches for her teammates, finding Annella first – unharmed – then moving to find Penelope. She and Colonel Morris had been tossed together during the quake, and as she stirrs, she murmurs beneath him.
“If you wanted to get close to me, Colonel, you could have tried the old-fashioned way…” Her attempt to make light of things is cut short when she finds Nylor is not only passed out, but also bleeding. In his back, a small but painful looking shiv of stone been embedded.
Fierri immediately begins to perform medical aid with the use of the emergency kit while her team regains their bearings and examine their surroundings. Fierri is pleased to find that not all of Quorro Nyx’s prowess as a physician has left her, as she manages to stabilize her old CO’s condition. While he’ll live, though, they will not be able to carry him for risk of damaging him. He needs real medical attention soon. Fortunately, the team still has their transporter gun and they choose to shoot Morris back into the relative safety of the Rebel Priscilla.
They then concern themselves more with their surroundings. They are in a system of underground tunnels, it seems, made of the same material which built the tower, if thicker. They wouldn’t be able to see anything in the darkness… if not for the fact a small spotlight has generated itself from the feet of Penelope Rush. The light follows wherever she steps.
As far as explanation goes, Fierri offers that the pilot still has the shards of the stone and challenges her to give them to her. Catching one of the shards in hand, Fierri quickly has to eat her own words as a light fails to join her as well.
“Makes you a moving target anyway,” Grumps the engineer, after which the light does dim a bit around Penelope.
Setting the issue aside for now, the team chooses to take the larger Northern tunnel and soon find themselves in a dome-like room. It seems a very lab-like facility, a collection of alien equipment combined with more familiar. As Fierri explores the room, she finds the language scattered around the room moves from something foreign to something all-too familiar: Trill. It seems the newer residents were attempting to translate some of the alien writing and labeled their own equipment.
Annella begins to examine what looks like a computer console, though it is strange and crystalline. Her initial attempts to operate it end in an overload.
“They are simple machines,” Comes a male voice. Ghatt, the lizard-like humanoid they last saw on Jilhari’s planet, emerges from the darkness of another corridor. Suspicions arise and some begin to touch their phasers, but Ghatt seems disinterested in an altercation just yet.
“You must be more direct in questioning it,” He explains when Annella prompts him.
“What is this?” Penelope inquires. There is a brief processing whirr, and then a hologram projects what they all recognize as a strand of DNA. Penelope is done with questioning it.
They turn their attention back towards Ghatt, interrogating him about his reasons for being there.
“I am here because I knew you would be.” Disconcerting. After being prompted for what he wants, he explains he is there for Isik, the team’s now would-be mascot. They lie, saying the Isik is on the Ferengi ship now. Ghatt is emphatic about getting it back, explaining it is his only friend and that he wishes to keep it safe.
“Sounds like a personal problem,” Fierri offers, sagely.
Frustrated, Ghatt turns away and starts off down the hall. After a swift exchange, Annella confirms that he is telling the truth. Penelope takes off after Ghatt and Annella begins to follow, as the light is retreating. Fierri stays to question the computer.
Simultaneously, the team is gathering information, either from Ghatt or the computer – the former personal, the latter professional.
Fierri’s stubborn questions are answered as best they can be by the technology designed for use by an unknown species of long ago. It hums and chimes as it flits through holographic images of the experiments, Ghatt proving to be one of such recorded cases. The engineer also asks of the lab’s history, questioning the Trill involvement, and discovering a familiar face. Quorro’s once partner, another doctor and researcher of considerable talents.
Meanwhile, an interrogation of the lizardman took place just outside the laboratory exit. Penelope wanted to know what this place was about, but Ghatt declined to answer, hinting that she wouldn’t like for it to be aired for all to hear. Little was gotten out of him, except the Key of Life, or the Key of Miracles, as he called it. Another powerful crystal, a source of energy and a relic left behind by this lost alien race. He could feel it calling him closer. The Key wanted it’s ‘children’.
By now, Fierri’s suspicions were impossible to ignore. She’d seen the way that this place reacted to Penelope. And the Pilot’s hesitation to investigate certain paths of information. She wanted to be sure of her theory… asking the computer to project images of any human experiments, the command was overheard by the pilot outside the doorway.
Penelope called for the computer to stop, and it obeyed her. Leaving Fierri and Annella left to wonder at their young teammate. The moment was broken by Ghatt’s insistence that they press forward. He needed to reach the key, intent to destroy it or use it, even the red lizard did not know. Following a winding, white tunnel became difficult when they reached the area where Ferengi had been breaking the walls and mining for Latinum. Ghatt called the Ferengi ‘Fools’ for their greed. He explained that the Key of Life would give you that which you desired, but it was a false promise in most cases. For your will was bound to be subverted to the Key’s cause.
The team passed a room of individual tanks, lined up along the walls, they were the last evidence of the kind of scientific experimentation that had taken place here. “Of no consequence.” Ghatt grumbled, moving past the empty chambers quickly, and leaving the women to ponder what kind of horror this must have been.
The Key promised many things, cures for illness. Great advances for those who came to it. But what had happened to all the scientists here?
Penelope, Fierri, and Annella all felt that welcoming voice. Telling them things would be fine. There was nothing to worry about. The Major’s empathic abilities boosted suddenly. she could feel, not only emotions, but the very life force of all the members of her team. Even Quorro Nyx, who’s memories were buried under Fierri’s, was more present. He could speak with his sucessor host here. Offering idle scientific commentary as the team approched the room containing the Key.
Annella could feel the hearts of the Ferengi too, waking up from their cave in and also moving towards this room.
“Let me go.” The Major’s hand had stopped Penelope from running directly to the large white crystal. Unlike Ghatt, who stood before it now. Red hand placed on the energy source, there was a bright flash of light. Blinking away the painful brightness, the team saw Ghatt still alive and whole. Holding Isik with care.
“It is a farce, but that does not mean it is any less substantial.”
Penelope’s struggles increased, she wanted to approach the crystal. Able to hear it’s voice and promises. What wouldn’t this power do for it’s own child? Hadn’t it already stretched forth and given aid to her small broken body before.
The pilot shoved Annella away, turning to run, and turning into a face full of Fierri’s fist.
That was enough to shake off the Key’s influence. But more than that, some Ferengi stumbled into the room, eager to chase down dreams of greater fortune. One made it to the Key’s side, briefly decorated with gems and jewels and even as his expression of joy lasted, his form began to fade and desolve into the crystal. Becoming part of it.
Ghatt used this moment to run, taking Isik and bolting while the Key’s attention was fixed on collecting the easier prey of the Ferengi. For once, none of the team questioned this tactic. They all followed the red lizard out of the winding tunnels and back up to the surface of the planet. This thing had to go.
Luckily, the transporter gun was still at hand. Able to send each person back to the Rebel Priscilla in single bursts. Fierri first, who checked on the now conscious Nylor Morris. Updating him briefly on the mission. Then Major Annella, who still had questions for Morris, but agreed that the crystal had to be destroyed, even if it meant sacrificing what was left of the Ferengi company. A decision that did not sit well with the kindly Betazoid, but the safety of her crew and this sector of the galaxy took priority.
Left with just Ghatt, Penelope asked him how he could know so much of this place, and her. He told her the truth. He was brought here as nothing more than an animal. Like Isik, he’d also been genetically engineered and in his case, with the power of the Key, Ghatt had been forced to evolve into a fully sentient being. In his escape, he had accessed many of the records of other subjects, and had come across her files.
Feeling sympathy and a bond with Ghatt, the Pilot transported him up to the ship too.
Now they only had to destroy the planet.
Fortunately, Fierri’s fiddling with the Ferengi ship left them with the perfect device to do this. By hacking into the Accounts Payable navigation, they could direct it down at the place where the white tower once stood. The matter and antimatter mix resulted in a powerful explosion. Eating up the planet’s surface and proving a satisfying backdrop as the Rebel Priscilla warped away.
Their destination was the Federation Planet of New France.
Colonel Morris had offered to turn himself in, and set the record straight to clear the team’s name. Even with his missing memory and motivations, he could account for the actions of Amry and Tash, and their involvement with the Orion Syndicate. An offer that turned out to be unnecessary, for when the team arrived, they were greeted by Captain Lyn Chi Kim, who had been investigating this very case.
He informed Annella that Jilhari had provided a witness statement against Amry and his scheming. With enough proof to follow up on this charge, Captain Kim had uncovered a deeply rooted espionage mission. Amry had helped to frame the team. They were cleared of charges, and pending a pardon for the attempted escape, they would not be taken back into custody. Kim had better thing to do, honestly, as Amry had managed to evade capture and needed to be tracked.
That was the end of their state as fugitives.
Left with a ship full of misfits, and a few crates of ‘fools latinum’, what trouble could they possibly get into next?