Hunter or hunted
Location: Oraxa - West Emeraldmoor in the Republic of Jemahna
The away team lands at the last village that they visited last time they were on the planet. There is still no sign of the villagers or animal life that can be noticed immediately.
Lt Kelly Sloan activated her comm. "Keep a weather eye Ghostriders monitor visuals as well as scanners, reports say some of these beasties can fool electronics." She tapped the screen on her Valkyrie's scanner to mark the coordinates of the LZ. "Break by wing pairs and assume low altitude patrol. Five klick grid around the LZ. Ghost two on me, we've got overwatch."
The door of the shuttle opens and Mikayla stands to the side, without stepping onto the ramp, and peers out at the seemingly abandoned village. She removes her tricorder from her vest pocket and holds it out of the door. Shaking her head she says, "I'm getting unusual readings. If there are life signs my equipment isn't recognizing them." She pulls her hand back in the shuttle and leans against the bulkhead by the door. "They're all dead," she whispers, remembering the readings she got from the bodies on the station 2 years ago.
Templar quickly checked his equipment, dropped his Hud display on his helmet and moved out of the Shuttle. As far as he knew the landing Zone chosen at the Village was not secure yet. At a low crouch he moved several feet from the exit and took a knee. weapon set on stun. He waited for any further instructions.
Mikayla takes a deep breath to steady her nerves and wishes she had been assigned a sidearm as she turns and looks out the door. She looks at the nearby huts. The doors were open. What she sees that chills her to the bone is the dripping slime around the door frames that sizzles as it hits the ground, wisps of smoke rising from the puddle. "Marine," she says, quietly to Templar. "Stay away from the stuff dripping from the door frames. It will burn through metal. We don't know if the alterations we did to your suits will protect you 100%."
The Sergeant Nodded in agreement. He was far more concerned with how the slime got there and where it came from.. He continued to scan the area for any hostile movement.
Brad walked up behind, "Sergeant, inform me of anything out of the ordinary," Brad order. Brad looked up at Dr. O'Dell, "Doctor let's see if you can find some bodies to gather any sort of information from them," Brad ordered. "You will be with me searching those huts in the eastern side of the village... it looks to be less damaged than the other parts of the village," Brad continued. "Sergeant Templar, try to maintain a security perimeter around the away team as best you can... with the understanding that we might have to make our way back to the runabout in a quick fashion," Brad said.
Mikayla looks at the XO, questioningly. "I can already tell you that whatever the Tracken left behind isn't going to tell us anything more than what we already know," she says as she steps out onto the ramp and follows the XO. She wishes Marcab was leading the Away Team. He had been there when the Tracken was on the station. He knew what they were up against.
From within the Danube class runabout it carried two purpose built pods for the mission, a science pod and a medical pod. This meant the remaining space was tight so a second transport had been required bringing the rest of the Marines and additional personnel and equipment. From the science pod Ted synced with O'Dell's initial sensor readings and tapped into the runabout sensors, adjusting some of the configuration to match the good doctors tricorder. He then applied both active and passive sensor scans looking for similar readings as was noticed when working with Tonk and Morok and shortly after started getting bouts of static interfering with the readings. They needed more more data he concluded which meant getting up and getting stuck in as he got up and walked outside with his suit on and sealed up as he walked down the runabouts ramp.
Seeing O'Dell with the XO. he tagged along tricorder in hand, running his tricorder over some of the slime and noticing the immediate static it caused, interesting he thought, perhaps some field emissions from the slime, maybe it was hot, some form of radiation ?, "Checking for radiation", he said out aloud.
Templar acknowledged the Commander with a nod and deployed the marines into a tight line of sight perimeter with the away team. He was sure there would be some sort of contact. Most likely very hostile. The Tracken from what little he knew didn't seem to be an organized military group, just a band of very dangerous invisible hunters out feeding. John would have felt much better if the landing Zone been established and secured first, before the rest of the away team arrived. A few hand signals got the marines in place and Templar had a heavy gunner as final protective fire at the Shuttles for the team to escape.
The Sergeant decided to follow Commander O'Dell and Commander Pennell.
Brad stopped at a hut that was relatively untouched as compared to the others, "Doctor, let's check this one... Sergeant setup a perimeter here and notify me if anything changes," Brad ordered.
As they walked into the hut, Brad noticed that nothing seemed out of place. "Doctor, what do you think is different about this hut as opposed to the others... this one isn't completely ransacked," Brad asked.
Mikayla quirks an eyebrow. "I'm a physician, Commander. Not a forensic specialist," she says, looking back at the doorway. "Maybe because there's no sign that a Tracken came in here. No saliva dripping from the doorway. Maybe the residents went into hiding somewhere when the Tracken came into the village." She shrugs. "All I know is I don't want to be in an enclosed structure if they return," she says as she heads for the door.
In the distance, they away team hears an unusual howl.
Eyes that watched from the shadows stared with cool regard as the two legs spread out among the dwellings. A call that echoed out from elsewhere was from another of the group, letting more of their number know there was prey about and it was closing in on it. Some had escaped during the first cull but not many from the two leg dwellings. This was the first time in many many cycles that more than one hunter had been sent out. Earlier single hunters had been sent out to see what the two legs were doing, usually if they spread out as they seem to always do they paid the price and some of their kind was given the honour of serving but only after they were prepared as they had litter else to offer other than as nutrients for the young.
The predator decided to join the hunt but it had a little more experience than others as it slipped into the other place. The surroundings for it slipped away from the material and slipped into a world of grey shades and thermal breezes. In this place it touched on the physical world but physical barriers such as walls and metals could be pushed through like a hot knife through butter, the resistance was slight but still required effort for it to continue. It felt a strong urge to rush the nearest two legs and spit its juices to paralyze it and prepare it for conversion but its instincts told it there was something different about these two legs, their auras were somehow different. In fact it was this very fact that made it hesitate and watch as some of the two legs head off in the direction of the call of the other predator.
Mikayla hears the call and she feels a strange shift in the atmosphere. Almost like it has become heavier, somehow. She knows that feeling and whirls around, looking in the direction she thinks she heard the chilling shrieking cry. "Oh God," she says. "They're here."
Templar froze and took a knee.. On his Hud Display he could see all his Marines.
"All units, stand fast, Don't move and watch for any movement."
John didn't like the fact that he had no air support. He knew they were close buy the drop in atmosphere. He loaded a magnesium flare shell in his rifle... Perhaps these beasts are light sensitive. And, it had something to do with the atmosphere. Maybe they could only function inside of it. The Tracken call, was it a communication or some type of sonar.
Ted's analyse of the various slimes did not pick up radiation persae but as he dug deeper into the analysis he was struck by the instability of the DNA at a molecular level. How was that possible. His tricorder did not have the resources to cross analyse this information so he sent the search request via the runabout comms relay back to SB249 for the base computer to see if there was any other instances of unstable molecules that by rights shouldn't exist.
Looking up he quicken his pace to keep with the others, if the Tracken were about everyone needed to make sure their suits were sealed up and their polarization fields were activated, "Remember seal up and activate your fields", he said over the comms.
John checked with his marines and all fields were up and working well. He also had his Corporal break out the Iso Disrupter for support if needed. It was a loud beast but very effective weapon.
"All suits functional Sir."
A scream comes from the other side of the village. Mikayla looks in that direction. "That was human," she says, softly, to Templar. Holding her tricorder out in front of her she begins to move in the direction of the scream.
Templar sensed a ambush in the making. "Yes Ma'am, I believe your correct." He watched her move off towards the scream. "Hold on a second Doc, let me bring a few more marines up here." He waved in a fire team and called for the Iso-Mag to be brought up. They needed 'Eye's on' the entire village and Templar requested Drone support from the station...
"Overwatch copies Templar." Kelley scanned her screens for the nearest units. "Ghosts five and six angels point five above the village, pipe hi-res scans to the Marines." She ran a quick assessment of the area. "Three, four, seven and eight bring your perimeter in to two klicks." Kelly tapped a few commands to unlock her weapons systems. "Ghostriders you are weapons clear, fire on command only unless directly threatened and whatever you do don't hit our Marines, we don't want them to cry."
Another scream. Mikayla takes a deep breath and breaks into a jog as she heads around one of the empty huts toward the scream. As she comes around the side of another hut she stops dead in her tracks.
Ahead of her stands one of the Tracken. One of its tubules is inside the mouth of the already dead villager as it feeds on the villager's internal organs. Within seconds the air gets heavier the wooded area in the background seems to ripple and another Tracken appears a few feet from the first Tracken. It seems to scan the immediate area and uses one of its tentacles to reach into the hut near it. Its tentacle comes back out, "empty handed", and the Tracken lets out a guttural growl and begins demolishing the hut. When there is nothing left except for one stone wall and fireplace the angry creature scans the debris. While one tentacle moves debris aside, another reaches into the clutter and rips up the floor. Multiple screams can be heard and the Tracken pulls a screaming villager out of their hiding place. As its saliva burns through its victim's skin, it inserts its tubule into the woman's throat and begins to feed.
Mikayla shrinks back into the shadows, horror written on her face.
Seeing the Doctor horrified at the scene, "Doctor, I need to know if there is ANY other villagers that might be alive... if not we are falling back to the shuttle," Brad asked.
Mikayla shakes her head. "There's nothing we can do for them," she says sadly. "They're already dead."
Brad turned slightly towards Templar, "Sergeant, pull your Marines back to Rally Point Bravo... we will then fall back to the shuttle," Brad ordered. "We are pretty exposed here and clearly the Tracken can move freely without our sensors picking them up... until they are right on top of us," Brad said.
"Yes Sir." Sergeant Templar got the word out as his Marines provided coverage back to the Rally point. Templar was sure to have the Iso-Mag ready just in case...
The hunt was on and more prey had entered the feeding ground. The new prey had different auras than the ones that had been taken but the young predator watching aching for its chance wanting to make its mark as well like the others had. It saw its chance as it loped in from the other place closing in from behind building the paralyzing phlegm in the glands of its mouth ready to spit and mark the prey as its own. A shift back to the normal place, the color of the world flooding back in and its confidence high in its abilities as it approached the marine sergeant and spat just as he seemed to sense the predators approach and turn around too late. The phlegm hit the shoulder of his suit and the polarized field flared but did not penetrate, the fields power pack beginning to burn out. The predator surprised at this continued its attack with tubular flailing out of its mouth and claws to the fore.
Templar felt the impact of the Tracken's attack. Slime dripping from his suit he turned and blasted the sender with a full on pulse from the Iso mag. At close range the weapon was devastating on armored vehicles and fortifications. Four point one mega-joule's of magnetic energy and sonic power at ten meters may stop this thing. The noise was deafening...
"CONTACT" John saw the Tracken, and just before he engaged the Iso Mag observed it had assumed a physical attack posture, it had no observable weapons. It's weapons appeared to be organic in nature. The front appendages had large Claws and seeing it's poison attack had failed had some type of tentacle shooting out of it's head. Tracken had to 'Unmask' to attack and John could hear the sharp snap of a Rocket launcher. He was very close, and John couldn't see the damage effect of the Iso Mag yet. He rolled to his left maneuvering towards a small hut and prepared to fire again..
The effect of the Iso Mag on the Tracken was immediate as the purple haze of its disintegrating energy faded away to reveal a large hole through the center of the beast and a explosion into the hut some meters behind it as the rest or what was left of it fell in mid leaped, a cauterized mess of steaming twitching flesh.
Templar stood on shaky legs as a fire team ran up to the scene. The slime was removed from his suit and placed in a bio bag.
Looking at his assistant team leader he grinned. "That was close. Lets stay focused and get that Doc, she needs to see this, and a large containment shroud up here." John made sure the Iso Mag was re-charged, and hit his Comm badge.
"All units stay focused. One hostile down and I'm sure there are more."
Mikayla hurries over to Templar and asks, "did the suit hold? Are you burned?"
"No, the suit held perfectly. The Corpsman decontaminated it and I believe we have a pretty fresh sample in a bio bag Ma'am." Templar looked down at the Tracken shaking his head.
"The spray was powerful. Almost knocked me off my feet. I have a containment shroud coming, did you wish to check this devil out before we bag it up?"
Mikayla shook her head. "No. I've seen the damn things up close and personal," she said and looked back towards the village as another eerie Tracken cry echoed outward from the woods. "We need to go," she said, quietly.
After hearing another Tracken screech he agreed. Templar switched to open frequency.
"Ghostrider Lead, I have another possible target. We're hearing one screech in the wooded area to our North. I have no ground assets in that area."
Kelly ran her target scanners through a wide band rotation. "Ghostrider lead copies ground, I have one intermittent contact north. Scanners can't lock it down, it keeps flickering in and out, it appears to be circling the LZ but is holding it's distance for the moment."
Ted joined the scene with protective marine in tow, he'd been taking samples and sensor readings along the way but the but the explosiveness of the heavy weapon had got even his narrow focus attention. Hearing Mikayla concern about the effects on Templars suit he too moved closer to examine its condition checking with his medical tricorder to expand on what he was seeing, "Yes..the suits seal looks.. adequate, good work by the corpsman hydrating the impact site so the beasts saliva didn't get a chance to eat through the protective layers and compromise the integrity. Interesting that the saliva has a property that overloaded the polarised field around the suit, I'll need to check with Lt. Tonk on how that's possible. In any case you look okay sergeant".
Turning and looking down Ted's reaction to the killed beast was in contrast to Mikayla stepping closer to it and looking with purposeful eyes. The sudden flick of the beast tubular like tentacle caused all nearby to jump but this quickly died down, " It's okay", Ted said staying back while glancing at his tricorder, "It just a muscle spasm, the rest of the body catching up with the fact that it's dead". Ted watched as they went about containing the beast then offered his advice, "I recommend a containment field with antigrav lifters to counter the acidic nature of it once it's transported. I look forward to seeing what makes this thing so special, oh yes indeed", then looking around at everyone.
Brad looked over at Darkron, "We need to evac this area as quickly as possible," Brad said. "Get what you need and get this thing on the shuttle as quickly as possible," Brad continued. "Sergeant, are all of your Marines accounted for and present," Brad asked.
=^= Commander Pennell to Shuttlecraft Titan.=^=
=^=Shuttlecraft Titan here... I am relocating to Rally Point Bravo... I have been monitoring the Comm traffic=^=
=^=Yes and do so as quickly as you can, Pennell out=^=
"Ok Darkron, once that shuttle lands get what you need and let's get out of here," Brad said.
Ted snatched his attention away from the beast and nodded in understanding to the Commander, all the time still scanning the beast. At one point he rechecked his tricorder as it came up with some strange readings. Swapping from a medical tricorder to a regular tricorder which included a science profile he soon realised why there was an anomaly speaking to no one in particular, "This creatures molecular structure has unstable elements in it, that may explain why it can seem to disappear off our sensors. It has a quantum quality that I think changes the vibrational rate of its molecular structure so its out of phase with where we are, how much I'm not sure yet".
The arrival of the shuttle was announced by the blast of its thrusters which sent dust and loose foliage flying as it came to rest. This was soon followed by open airlocks and crew piling out with the necessary equipment. Ted kept a careful eye on the containment and the antigrav lifting of the creature mindful of its acidic nature while also ensuring there was redundancy for the containment field remember how the Marine Sergeants polarised field power pack overloaded.
Finally with the beast stored away on board the shuttle Ted looked for the XO. quite pleased with their prize, "Commander Pennell the specimen is secured and ready to go"
Sergeant Templar had reduced the perimeter. However most would notice a few more Marines holding Iso Mags. John was certain they would be the last ones to board or wait for the next shuttle.
"Alright Templar get your Marines on board and let's get out of here," Brad ordered. Brad kept watch as the Marines boarded.
"Yes Sir", He recalled the Marines and they were on the shuttle in seconds.
"Darkron, I would like a full report of your findings... both to better prepare us to deal with this type of threat as well as passing any information we can to the Oraxians," Brad said.
Ted looked up from his work looking in Pennell's direction but not really focusing on him as he nodded in understanding, then glancing around to see where his fellow minded colleague was Dr. Mikayla O'Dell so they could swap ideas about the beasts composition, "Has anyone seen Dr. O'Dell?"
Mikayla stands at the bottom of the ramp and stares off in the direction of the woods. It's not a hot day but the trees in the distance seem to be distorted by a huge heat wave that spans approximately 90 meters. She knows what it is. "They're coming en masse," she says to no one in particular, as she backs up the ramp. "It's an army."
A Marine looks in the direction of the doctor's focus and, although he can't see anything but a large heat wave, the hairs on his arms raise. Reaching out of the shuttle, he grabs the doctor by the arm and pulls her inside, raising the ramp and shutting the door. "Go!" he yells toward the cockpit and the shuttle lifts off of the ground.
Mikayla looks up at Ted. "They're hive based," she says, almost sounding like she's in a trance. "Like wasps. You kill one and the rest attack."
Inside the shuttle or rather the runabout Ted turned round to Mikayla, the tone of her voice and the emotions he was feeling from her though his talent for this was mild, there was something different, "Mikayla...what's wrong, how do you know this about the Tracken?". Reaching for his medical troicorder he ran the sensor part of it over Mikayla, the warbling sound as it did its work being smothered by the pushing thrusters of the runabout as it gained altitude. The data rolled down on the display of the tricorder with some very unusual numbers around Mikayla brain wave readings, he'd seen something similar before, quickly retrieving some of the dying brain patterns of the creature. Ted lowered the tricorder staring at Mikayla, his face keeping a neutral expression, "Mikayla I think you're in contact with the Tracken"
Mikayla looks up at Ted...at first with a dazed expression then one of sudden clarity. "I think....I am," she says softly. "But how is that possible, Ted?"
On the ground there was a growing swell of anger, the predators had just experienced something that had not happen or that they could perceive of not happening in living memory. They were all linked, some links were stronger or weaker than others but they were all linked. When one of their number died it was like a sudden loss lead by a brief second of surprise then a hole in their community. This was quickly followed by anger as the other nearby predators began to close in on where their lost kin had last been. The could see more of the prey with strange auras, the howls of the predators venting their frustration and the feeling of loss of one of their kind. The younger ones wanted to rush in and strike but the experienced ones kept them back, they knew there was more to these prey with different auras and they needed to report back what had just happened.
One last long howl cut across what was once a populated thriving village, nothing moved save the flapping of open shutters and unattended washing long due to be pulled in. The smoking hole of where a ISO mag blast had carved a hole through either side of a home a reminder of the violence that had been committed here.
Kelly breathed a sigh of relief as she watched the last of the ground crew get aboard and the runabout lifted for orbit. "Lead to Ghostriders, form up and escort the bird back to nest."
As she pointed her fighter toward home she started running back through the sensor data then keyed the comm for her sensor specialist. "Eleven, run an analysis on that big sensor mass right before liftoff, I get the feeling the squints are gonna want all the data they can get there."