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[2008: MAY-JUN] The Vanishing Hosts


Toni

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The Vanishing Hosts

By Toni Turner

Lt. Commander Paylar Jones gazed at the view screen, wondering what dangers the beauty of the stars that sparkled in the blackness kept hidden from view. When her attention came to rest on the ancient asteroid, a burning question came to mind. Could they deflect its massive bulk and help the new species without disturbing their natural evolution? A positive answer to that question was the best scenario, but the best was something that had eluded the USS Thunderbolt on many occasions, and it seemed happy endings to their missions were hard fought or elusive conclusions.

No, space had not been a gracious host to the crew of the USS Thunderbolt. They had fought hard and some had died mercilessly, leaving great sorrow in the hearts of those who were left in the wake of their losses. It was discouraging, but after the mourning had faded, the crew had a renewed conviction that couldn't be denied. They would face the dangers again and again to help the Federation to flourish throughout the Galaxy.

Their new mission was clear - either deflect the asteroid or evacuate the fledgling species to a hospitable planet. Wondering how it would be possible to accomplish this following the Prime Directive while using advanced technology, Paylar recited the moral oath in her head. She struggled with the obligation. She could not help but hope that it would not be necessary to disturb the alien life in any way, but in the same respect she, like the others, longed for the opportunity to study all the aspects that the sentient species represented. If it was necessary to move them, it would be quite a challenge, and how everyone handled the situation would surely be the ultimate test of their collective ethics.::

All the calculations for the trajectory had been checked, rechecked, and double checked again, yet the tactical officer had beads of sweat filtering down on his brow. It was time . . . time to fire the weaponry to the one spot that could turn the asteroid's orbit away from the planet and out into deep space for another 10,000 years.

The Captain stood, gave the order to fire, then sat down again, clutching the arm of his chair so hard that his knuckles turned white. All eyes were on the asteroid as the waves of proton torpedoes and phaser fire battered against their target. Sucking in a breath, Paylar held it in, hoping that success would be in their grasp.

The anticipation was so great that she couldn't determine from whom the words came, but she distinctly heard someone yell, "It's turning!" She let out her breath, and the rapture of relief and utter elation seized her. The joy was short lived. Two seconds later, a somber voice piped in, "Yes, it turned slightly, but not enough to alter its orbit."

Paylar eased back against her seat, feeling utterly defeated in the silence that had overtaken the Bridge. She dreaded the words that she knew were coming, but when they came she didn't hesitate.

The Captain rose from his seat. "Commander Jones, gather your away team for an immediate beam down once we reach the planet. You'll have five days to prepare the new species for evacuation."

"Aye, Sir," Paylar replied, getting up, and heading for the turbolift.

As Paylar entered the turbolift, she heard the Captain in the background. "Helmsman, set course for the planet at the best possible speed." The door closed, and she slumped against the wall, wishing that taking a team to the surface and hosting the species on the Thunderbolt had not become necessary. Halfheartedly, she tapped her commbadge, calling for the prearranged Away Team to meet her in Transporter Room Two, then gave the turbolift's computer the deck order. A few moments later, she entered the transporter room, meeting the away team.

Stepping up on the transporter pad, she addressed the team, "We'll be beaming down to the center of the terra forming. The surface environment will be hospitable to us there, and it's where the new species congregates. Any questions?"

The Science officer took his place on a pad, “And if we encounter them, we blow the Prime Directive?”

Paylar pivoted slightly, glancing at Lieutenant Williams, “Our very existence on the planet will blow it. We'll have to keep our technology a mystery to them as best we can. It’s the only option we have if we’re to save them.”

Williams nodded, and when the rest of the team joined them on the pads, Paylar pressed her commbadge. =/\= Commander Jones to Captain Barret . . . the Away Team is ready to beam down on your order. =/\= She straightened her tunic and in a few minutes the order came, along with the Captain’s well wishes.

=/\= Good luck, Commander. Godspeed. Barret out.=/\=

As the white light turned their images into pixels, Paylar leaned her head back and closed her eyes, opening them in a new world filled with the promise of a new alien life form. The air filling her lungs was foreign in purity - fresh and untainted by any kind of pollution. She coughed out the last of the recycled air from the Thunderbolt, and glimpsed the landscape for the first time.

It was magical. A forest defined by an endless procession of blossoms growing in the underbrush. The breeze flowing through it was like a beautiful lyrical voice, calm and soothing, captivating to their ears. It reminded Paylar of the fantasy world where her childhood storybook characters came alive in her holodeck nursery. She smiled, then remembered what she was doing there. "Spread out and keep your eyes open for any signs of the sentient species."

Chief of Security Jarrod, moved ahead, "Aye, Commander, I'll take point. Miller, you bring up the rear." He waited for confirmation, but when it didn't come, he turned to look for Miller. "Did anyone see where Miller went?"

Paylar whipped around, counting heads, "No, and where is Ensign Lowe?

Williams glanced to his side, "He was here a second ago."

In that same instant, Paylar, Williams and Jarrod vanished from the forest. Some hours later they awakened in a dimly lit cavern unable to move. Paylar tried to lift her head, but to no avail. Hearing someone breathing close beside her, she whispered, "What happened?"

Williams answered weakly, "They've wrapped us in some kind of cocoon."

"They?"

"Yes, spider-like creatures." He hesitated long enough to swallow deeply, then continued, "Commander, we're evidently in their nursery, and from what I've been observing, I believe our hosts have invited us to dinner to perpetuate their species as food."

Paylar thought about what he had said, and decided if she was going to die, then it would be in the same manner as she had lived - with honor and a sense of humor. Whispering, she asked, "I don't suppose it occurred to you to decline the invitation?"

Meanwhile in the beauty of the stars that sparkled in the blackness, the USS Thunderbolt vanished, not leaving a trace. And hidden from view a safe distance from the spiders' planet, a Vorta Commander stood on his bridge, smiling, "Our new pets serve us well."

Edited by Toni
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