Captain’s Log, Stardate 011119
Our mission accomplished at the Gulf, we will soon depart for the opposite edge of the Florida system. This mysterious crossroads of alien life and cultures has been a welcome place to explore. My only hope is that they will overcome the devastation wrought by the storms and return to their idyllic lives.
As we transit to our new assignment, we’ve decided to pay a visit to a Federation Exobiology Preserve to speak with our colleagues and provide them with the valuable specimens which Science Officer Alfie has managed to secure. We have numerous bags of it, though he insists they remain tied shut to avoid contaminating the samples…
We assumed a holding pattern at the security checkpoint for the science station. Gates open, the post appeared abandoned.
“Something’s wrong,” I said.
“Everything’s fine.” My First Officer eyed the empty guard post. “You’ve heard about the shutdown, right?”
“Shutdown? Starfleet?” I glanced at our Science Officer and smirked. “Right. I guess we’ll just call off our mission and turn this into a pleasure cruise, huh?”
Science Officer Alfie quirked his ears while my First Officer looked at me expectantly.
“What? Really?” I couldn’t believe their lack of commitment. “Starfleet isn’t some kind of cheap way to see the galaxy, it’s a way of life. A calling….”
“We get it,” said my First Officer. “Maybe we should investigate or whatever instead of sitting here at the gate.”
“Right. Make it so.”
“You’re the one driving.”
I steered the shuttle past the empty guard station, not a red shirt in sight. The crew could dismiss me all they wanted. I would be prepared.
A deep fog rose within the perimeter where bogs waited ready to devour the unwary. Lone trees posed on the edge of visibility like tempting signposts for a trackless land. Wander too far, there would be no return.
We couldn’t have asked for a more ominous setting for an away mission fraught with peril and which, with any luck, would soon be the stuff of Starfleet legend. I could see it now – my mission briefing profiled at the academy. Kirk? Janeway? Cheating on tests and getting lost? Please. This would be the stuff of legends.
A prehistoric beast eyed us from the waters as we passed. Small, it was no doubt deadly.
“Lieutenant Alfie, can you identify it?” He seemed unimpressed, his chin resting on the window.
My first officer spoke first. “It’s a Heron.”
“Heron?” I eyed the creature suspiciously. “Are they members of the Federation? Should we make contact?”
“The National Wildlife Federation? Sure. And no, we don’t make contact. The sign said specifically not to disturb the wildlife.”
As we traveled further into the preserve, I could see why they’d given the warning. The array of species here was mind boggling. Navigating their cultures would take a true expert. The waters teemed with solitary hunters and flocks swimming in formation. White, black, blue, gold, they strode on stilted legs and cut through the water with sleek forms. High in the trees, lone raptors considered us, invaders in their domain.
We were greatly outnumbered.
This was getting good.
“Are they hostile?”
“Not unless you’re an insect, or maybe a fish.”
A large fortification emerged from the mist. White, I wondered if the science team here hadn’t chosen the color as a sort of camouflage. Obviously we were in far more danger than my First Officer was willing to admit.
The tower, like the guard station, was empty and locked. None of this was adding up. The thought of Starfleet scientists and crew abandoning their posts seemed too far fetched.
“Let’s scout out the area on foot,” I suggested.
We set off on a path which circled a nearby lake. I sensed the inhabitants here were unsettled, but not by our presence. They held their places as we passed, clearly curious, perhaps waiting themselves to see what would befall us. Spectators, looking to be entertained…
Then, through the reeds, I spotted it.
“Everybody, down!” I whispered. My First Officer watched me drop. Alfie continued merrily strolling, his nose to the ground. I stared at them, flailing wildly with my hand. “Down! Seriously!”
“What? More killer birds?” asked my First Officer. “Because, seriously, if you’re worried about first contact or whatever, newsflash – you aren’t the only human they’ve ever seen.”
“No! There!” I crept upward enough to draw her closer to my level and pointed out over the swamp. I waited until I heard her suck in her breath in shock.
“Oh my god.” She sank lower and reeled in our Science Officer.
There, she’d seen it. Vindicated, I now knew what terrible fate had befallen the peaceful members of this research post. A Federation shutdown? No, they’d been pitted in trial by combat against a beast which would make a grown Klingon reconsider his warrior ways.
“Lieutenant!” I yanked on his safety harness and he sneered at me. “Fine tune that tricorder! We need some sulfur, coal, potassium nitrate, and, Number One, I’ll need that ring I gave you that one time.”
“You mean that one time from our marriage?”
“Yeah, the diamond.” I snatched a reed, testing it to see if it was hollow before snapping it between my fingers and scanning the horizon for a larger stand of them. Bamboo…that’s right, we needed bamboo. “We’re hunting Gorn.”