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[2009: JUL-AUG] *WINNER* "The Gauntlet of Atlas"


Nimue
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The Gauntlet of Atlas

The Federation Museum of Natural History had long since become the single largest structure on Mars, it’s sprawling grounds and towering structures dwarfing the surrounding business district of Tycho City. It was more through necessity than narcissism, of course – housing the histories of all Federation member worlds took up a great deal of space. At the centre of the building stood a garden with a café – small, circular marble tables with wrought iron chairs – where visitors could relax for a moment to catch their breath on what was sure to be an exceptionally long walk through this exceptionally large facility.

Setting down a now-empty cup of tea onto the table at which she sat, a young brunette woman – possibly thirty years old – stood and smoothed the wrinkles out of her skirt before picking up her [...]-leather briefcase. She wanted to get started before the museum opened its doors to the general public. The air outside was unseasonably hot, especially for an artificial environment like Tycho City. In an effort to closely replicate the seasons on Earth, the woman felt the technicians had gone a step too far. She could almost see the air, it felt so thick with humidity and she knew if she stayed out of doors much longer, she’d be sweating. Sweating was not one of her favourite things to do, especially when dressed for business. Walking quickly across the garden, she flashed her VIP security pass to the Starfleet security man standing at the entrance to the Earth Pavillion.

“Ah. Good morning Doctor McKeever,” said Petty Officer Farina. “We’ve been expecting you.”

Professor Agnes McKeever forced a smile as she passed through the door.

“Morning,” she said quickly.

It unsettled her that Starfleet security was guarding the new exhibit, but she supposed that’s what happened when a third of the collection was on loan from a retired Fleet Admiral. One of the old man’s requirements was that the museum’s usual security staff be augmented by Starfleet. More trustworthy, he said. Like civilians couldn’t be entirely trusted to do their jobs.

Shaking her head, she quickly brushed aside the thoughts. There was certainly no love in her heart for Starfleet, given how they’d treated her father years ago, but she was at the museum to do a job. That job needed doing regardless of whether there was a military presence in the building. Having Starfleet on-site just made things a little more… awkward. She chuckled lightly to herself. Yes, awkward was a very good word. She wasn’t sure her father would use such a charitable term, but that was one of their differences in personality – she’d inherited her mother’s patience, thankfully.

Despite its high-tech nature, the facility still had that musty museum smell, which McKeever supposed was largely due to the artefacts on display. Walking down the main display corridor of the Earth Pavillion, McKeever passed fossil displays of Australopithecus afarensis and other human ancestors before entering Display Chamber One. Display Chamber One was the centre of the museum’s new, temporary exhibit: “Myth and Legend on Ancient Earth.” Passing gilded statues of falcon-headed gods and carvings of terrible beasts, McKeever’s eyes came to rest on one piece in particular. It was set apart from the rest of the pieces on display, given a place of honour, encased in glass and with a ring of diffused lights illuminating it’s burnished surface from every angle. Her breath momentarily caught in her throat.

“The Gauntlet of Atlas…,” she said quietly.

The whole reason for her trip to Luna, for her visit to the museum.

It was smaller than she had expected, but its beauty was undeniable. A silver base, etched with faint scenes depicting what McKeever assumed were the gods of Olympus, inlaid with intricate geometric patterns of gold. According to legend, the Gauntlet was a gift from the gods to Hippolyta, queen of the last tribe of Amazons. It was said that the Gauntlet would either imbue its wearer with the strength of ten men or multiply the wearer’s strength by ten – the legends were, as so many are, unclear. Apparently, the Gauntlet had been worn by a champion of the Amazons in a great battle to protect their people. Though the champion died in the conflict, she was successful in the defence of her people.

“Noble,” she muttered. “But kind of stupid.”

She opened her case and retrieved a small holocamera, snapping holographs from every angle of the artefact. Once combined in a projection device, the holographs would create a perfect likeness of the Gauntlet – a perfect teaching tool. Agnes McKeever had been invited by the Federation Museum of Natural History to perform a short series of lectures to go along with the myths and legends exhibit. Considered something of an expert on the subject, having published five books, two of which were currently being used in the curriculum at Starfleet Science, McKeever was to present three lectures, each focusing on a different aspect of the collection. Her first was to focus entirely on the Gauntlet of Atlas and the reality behind the myth.

Replacing the holocamera, she took a small scanning device from the bag and, with a frown of concentration creasing her otherwise smooth brow, began taking readings from the Gauntlet and its display.

“Everything going all right?”

The sudden sound startled her, and she nearly dropped her scanner. She inwardly cursed herself for being so wrapped up in her work that she hadn’t heard the security guard approach.

“Yes, yes. Just preparing reference material,” she said, smiling. “We’ll be using an interactive holographic display during the lecture and I want to make sure it’s accurate.”

She could see Petty Officer Farina losing interest already, but forged ahead, pointing out specific markings and patterns on the object. He would have no idea if she were telling him the truth or not, she realised, so she threw in a couple of points that anyone with any archaeological knowledge would have found ludicrous. The security guard just kept smiling and nodding with the same blank stare.

“That’s very interesting,” said Farina in a disinterested monotone. “I’d better get back to work.”

With a bright smile, she agreed that she should finish up her information gathering as well, but that she appreciated his interest in the work.

As he disappeared down the hallway, she shook her head.

“Starfleet security…,” she said with a light chuckle.

It was roughly thirty minutes later that McKeever exited the exhibit, her briefcase bulging with her hastily repacked holo gear. She smiled and nodded curtly to Farina as she passed him, heading off in the direction of the lecture halls. For his part, Farina tried to give the attractive woman his best winning smile, but the professor had moved to quickly to notice. He was fairly certain that if she had seen his smile, she would have fallen madly in love with him. Or at the very least want to sleep with him. Farina often thought this was true of women, but he was quite thoroughly wrong. Of course, sitting in a museum all day while most of his friends were off in space doing… spacey things gave him plenty of time to create an elaborate fantasy world, filled with women interested in him. In fact, there were these Andorian twins who often visited the museum who figured prominently in-

“Hey Farina.”

Farina stood up a little straighter as his boss, Chief Petty Officer Moesbey, strolled down the hallway. Moesbey was frowning and reading a padd. He had also missed a spot shaving this morning and Farina was having a hard time not staring at the stubbly patch on the chin of his boss.

“Sir?”

“Looks like the fantasy lectures are cancelled.”

Fantasy was how Moesbey referred to the Myths & Legends exhibit. The man had no imagination and Farina figured that was why the man was drawing museum duty at age forty two.

“What do you mean, sir? Didn’t Professor McKeever have time to get her reference material?”

Moesbey looked up at his subordinate with a look that implied he thought Farina had been drinking. Or worse.

“Reference material? The hell you talking about, kid? She ain’t comin’.”

Almost dropping the padd Moesbey tossed him, Farnia quickly turned it right side up to read the report.

PROMINENT ARCHAEOLOGIST FOUND DEAD.

Farina read it again to be sure. Professor Agnes McKeever’s remains had been found on Alpha Centauri approximately one hour ago. Death had occurred between thirty-six and forty-eight hours ago and local authorities suspected foul play.

“But… she was just… I just…”

Dropping the padd, Farina ran, panic-stricken, into Display Chamber One. The woman’s case had been bulging with what he assumed was a poor repacking job, but… Skidding to a halt in front of the Gauntlet of Atlas, he let out a breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding. The Gauntlet was still there. Whoever it was who had just been here – and it clearly hadn’t been Agnes McKeever – hadn’t done anything…

Wait.

“Oh no… Nononononono…”

Using his security codes, Farina opened the display case. He reached out to touch the ancient and priceless artefact and felt the bile rising in his stomach. His hand had passed right through the Gauntlet of Atlas.

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