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Devil in the Silence


Sal Taybrim
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It was cold.

A simple saying, but perhaps cold was an understatement. On a planet where the miners had fifteen different words to describe the precise kind of cold the current weather was displaying, and another seventy-three to cover the specifics of icy precipitation, being able to single out one instance as cold enough to mention lent an air of significance to a simple saying.

The Bakalen were used to cold. The heavy, bipedal bovine creatures adapted well to it, and had been better bred to withstand it for seven generations. Now they stood, stamping their hooves in the frozen ground, refusing to move. When it was cold enough to make them pause, the dilithium mine workers of Seandrus VII knew it was time to call it quits.

“Get them into the barn, and everyone else into the shelters, there’s a good one brewin!’” Kleos Tal, the Rigellian foreman called out. The miners took up their tools with an air of relief, herding the animals into their shelters before running for warmth. It was only when the majority of workers and animals alike had been safely stowed that Tal noticed movement on the edge of the mine. “Starfleet, get your [...] back here!”

“McEnroe and Daling are still out there!” The young Terran suited up in insulated Starfleet scientific blues called back. “They might need someone to flare them in!”

“I told them not to go. If those fools wanted to go spelunking for ancient artifacts, they should have picked a clear day when all the scanners were fully operational.” Tal shook his head. “Not that you stuffed shirt Starfleet types ever listen…” he added under his breath. “You’d be better off watching for them on the perimeter scan. I ain’t makin’ the call to Starfleet explaining why your body’s coming back in a freezerbag.”

Lieutenant Michael Evans took a breath in through his teeth. He had been part of the original team to scout the dilithium deposits in this area three years ago; he knew the terrain and the weather as well as Tal knew them, and yet the foreman took every chance possible to make him feel like a chastised child. “Fine, I want control of the camera.”

“All yours.” Kleos Tal smirked, waving the officer towards the cabin. “Hurry up, before your eyeballs freeze.”

~*~

Evans was pacing. It was either pacing or screaming, but as the minutes dragged by and the sky went from hazy grey towards black, he could feel his panic rising. “Where are they?” he asked into his hand as he bit down on the knuckles.

“Don’t get your panties into a bundle.” Tal remarked, looking up from his coffee. “They probably saw the storm coming and made camp.”

“Which means they could get snowed in.” Evans countered, taking a break from his pacing to stare at the blank feed.

Tal shrugged. “So what if they do? Tomorrow’s the fifteenth. Supply ship’s a comin’ and if we need to, we can scan for ‘em and have ‘em beamed out.”

Evans folded his arms across his chest. He didn’t like it, but Tal had a point. Sinking into the chair facing the camera feed he watched the steam drain off his cup of raktajino. He didn’t know how much energy he had wasted in worrying, but he had almost dozed off in the chair when the communications system crackled to life.

[[Daling to Evans… storm getting wo… coming ... bringing in an injured… following…]]

Evans’ head snapped up, hitting the communications panel. “Ensign Daling? You’re breaking up! Boost your signal.”

There was a burst of static, followed by a high pitched whine, before Daling’s raspy voice came through.

[[Can you hear me, Sir? We’re coming into the complex now. We have one of those cow-beasts they use in the mines; burned real badly from the microwave radiation we used to clear the snow from the cave walls. McEnroe told me to bring it back, she thinks she can help it.]] Daling’s tone clearly hinted that he would have put it out of its misery mercifully in order to be back on time. Evans allowed a small smile to play across his features. Lilly McEnroe was the sort of person who hated to see anyone or anything suffer, from a beast of burden to a fellow crewmate.

“You said you were following something?” He queried, leaning forward as if getting closer to the communication panel would help him be heard.

[[i think we’re being followed. Something has been after us ever since we left the dig site.]]

“Do you know the identity of what’s following you?”

Dailing drew in a breath [[No, Sir. It’s moving tactically. And not on a vehicle. Maybe riding an animal? Hard to tell. McEnroe tried to get a scan, but the weather conditions are interfering.]]

“I have you on the camera feed, and I’m getting partial sensor readings. Looks like whatever was following you has backed off… If I can get a better scan, I will.” Evans paused, looking back at the camera. “Where are you headed?”

[McEnroe wants to head to the barn first, to drop off our passenger. Then we’re heading in. I’m freezing.]

“Be careful.” Evans murmured trying to push away the ill feeling in his gut.

[When am I not careful, boss?] Dailing chuckled.

Evans forced a smile into his voice. “I know, but…” he never had a chance to finish the thought. As the vehicle pulled up towards the barn, a choked cry came over the line, and it lapsed into static. “Daling?”

Nothing.

“McEnroe? Daling?!” A shadow flickered across the screen, heading directly for the snowmobile. “I need to know what that is, now!” Evans shouted at Tal, trying to move the camera in for a closer view. “Get me that audio feed back…”

There was a crackle of static and the terrified scream of Daling’s voice pierced the line. Terror turned to anguish, and anguish turned to pain. The voice was suddenly cut short.

“You said you know every animal on these plains… what was that?” Evans demanded, thrusting a finger towards the viewscreen.

Kleos Tal perked a brow; reaching for the disruptor rifle he kept by his parka. “I have no clue. But I’m gonna find out.”

~*~

Outside the snow was falling so fast it looked like the whole planet was in the middle of a giant snow globe that was being shaken continuously, never giving anything time to settle. Add to that the fact that with every breath, a haze of fog clung to Evans’ facemask and goggles, the young officer felt like he was blundering around in the dark.

Kleos Tal fanned out with several of his friends – trigger happy mine junkies who didn’t seem to care that one wrong step might get them killed. They were hunting monsters. Evans’ scoffed - he was looking for his teammates. His hands tightened on his phaser as they spread out to search.

Daling was outside the barn, face up in the snow, surrounded by a growing puddle of dark blue. The Bolian’s cracked helmet lay several feet beside him. Evans felt his heart leap up into his throat and he rushed to the fallen man’s side.

He was still warm.

Evans gently prodded Daling’s shoulder, prompting an anguished groan from the smaller man. “We should have never taken that cow-beast.” his voice was whisper thin and broken. “They came back. They got Lilly.”

“Shh. Steady.” Evans counseled, gently fumbling in a desperate attempt to provide first aid. “We’ll get you inside.”

Daling shook his head fractionally. “This is revenge. We fried two of the little beasts on accident, they got scared when they saw us and ran into the cave where we were using microwaves. Crisped them before we could shut it off. The last one lived. I was going to put it out of its misery, but Lilly said we could save it… and now they’re gonna kill her for it.” His voice was raspy and gurgling.

Evans clenched his teeth, watching the man’s chest flutter and collapse. “Shut up, Ensign, I’m gonna get you out of here.” He felt tears form and freeze at the sides of his face. The pool of blood was still spreading, turning to slick blue ice at the edges as Daling’s eyes glazed over. Evans scooped the Bolian into his arms, trying to ignore the man’s groan of agony.

“I’m done, Sir. Leave me.” Daling pleaded, his voice failing. “Save Lilly… please…” His eyes closed, and the snow flakes stopped melting as they hit his lips.

Evans closed his eyes, feeling cold seep into the young officers’ body. For several long seconds his brain screamed in denial, and he started to pick Daling up as the man sank as dead weight into his arms. “Keep breathing, Daling, come on!” He clung to the corpse, as if he could order the man to live. In the end he was shaken from his frozen reverie by a high pitched screech.

Whirling around, he saw what Dailing was speaking of. One of the Bakalen stamped the snow with a murderous focus on the snowmobile. On Lilly McEnroe.

Murmuring an apology Evans lay the dead man down and sprinted towards the sled, firing his phaser into the creature’s side. His jaw dropped, watching as the weapon didn’t even slow it down. The Bakalen gave a high pitched scream of fury and turned to intercept Evans, ramming its head into his chest.

Evans hit the frozen ground hard enough that his vision blurred into bright white spots, and he rolled onto his stomach underneath the ore platform. McEnroe stirred with just enough awareness to jump from the snowmobile before the second attack came. The hammering of hooves crushed the body of the vehicle like a tin can.

“Lilly!” Evans croaked. “Get under the platform!” He waved a hand towards her, but she lay still as the Bakalen kicked the sled out of its way and advanced. He crawled towards the opposite side of the platform, praying under his breath. “No… please no…” There was no way he could make it to McEnroe first, and even if he did, it was only giving the Bakalen a choice of two victims instead of one. A bitter feeling rose in his throat as he heard the thing roar.

A flash of light pierced his vision, and he heard Kleos Tal’s crass laughter. A second line of disruptor fire followed and a third, cutting a dark line of blood down the beast’s chest. It issued one last guttural growl before it collapsed in a ruined heap. “That was pretty good, huh?” Tal crowed.

Evans felt his adrenaline spike as he pulled himself to his feet, ignoring Tal’s commentary. His eyes were on one goal: Lilly. He ran to her, checking quickly to make sure he could move her. As he looked up, he saw movement around Tal’s position and the Rigelian started to panic, firing into the darkness. “What got into these crazy beasts? Get back in your pens!”

Evans stood, picking McEnroe up with him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Tal down one of the Bakalen as two more converged on him. There was a sickening crack of bones, punctuated by a low growl of revenge.

Mercifully, Tal’s screams were drowned out by the hammering of Evans’ heart echoing through his head. With McEnroe’s bloody form draped across one shoulder, he held his phaser up with his other hand, biting back a laugh at how ineffective the hand weapon seemed against looming monsters. The snow drifted down in a light powdery dust, fading to nothingness as the temperature dropped. They needed shelter and they needed it now. With the Bakalen between them and the main shelter, it seemed like slim pickings. Evans squinted into the darkness. The barn was enticingly close.

Close, and where the Bakalen lived. It was a double edged sword and he never was much of a gambler. He was about ready to circle back when McEnroe groaned.

“Lilly?” He murmured, trying to shift her so he could see her face.

“Cold… Mike. I’m so cold…” she breathed, her eyes still closed.

Evans’ felt his heart race. “I’ll find shelter, Lilly, don’t worry.”

“Mike… remember Janus 6?” She stammered through a body-wrenching shiver.

“Shh, Lilly… Don’t speak.” He consoled, quickening his pace.

“No, Mike… listen. Remember Janus 6… please!” She implored, her last words fading into incoherency.

Evans furrowed his brow, wondering how long she had if she was hallucinating. He had been to many planets with Lilly McEnroe before, but never Janus 6. It was a geological oddity half a sector away. Why bring it up now?

The Bakalen had disappeared, and his muscles ached from the cold. Swallowing the bile in the back of his throat he kicked the barn door open and slipped inside. Almost immediately he wished he hadn’t.

He could smell the burned flesh of the calf Daling talked about, and as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see the baleful eyes of an adult cow boring into him. Evans brought his phaser to bear, wavering between the calf and the adult. “I don’t want to hurt you,” he offered in a soothing tone.

It paused and looked at him stamping its hoof and making the signal the miners used deep in the mines to tell an operator to stop the cart when you couldn’t hear them.

Stop.

He stopped, staring as the creature stood down, edging around him to stand by the injured calf. Looking at him as if it had something to say. That’s when it hit him like a brick to the head. Janus 6. The Horta. A seemingly murderous beast was actually sentient. “I can help…” he offered with a thread of hope that it might understand

It canted its head like he had seen then do in the mines. He had never thought about what it meant before. Like it was trying to speak. Trying… or perhaps actually speaking… Evans held his hands up in a non threatening manner, fumbling with his tricorder. Scanning for something… anything he could use to communicate.

That’s when he caught it, in the frequencies beyond what most humanoids could hear. A trilling, perhaps a language. “Keep speaking…” he implored.

He struggled to hook his own communicator up into the matrix, letting the devices chug through the input, until a simple message flashed back to him on the screen: [How can murderer help?]

“Murderer?” He swallowed, remembering what Daling said about the dead calves. “We did not know…”

[Never murder innocent, no.]

He shook his head sorrowfully. “We were not innocent, but we did not want to hurt you. She brought that one back to help.” He gestured between Lilly and the calf. “You need help.” Evans’ reasoned, catching the mother’s gaze and locking it with his own. “I have medicine. In her pack. You can have it if you let me help.”

Dragging a hoof across the stable floor she canted her head, and the message flashed across the screen: [You give, we give.]

Barely daring to breathe, Evans dug in McEnroe’s pack, drawing out her med kit and opening it up. “Can you use it?”

[You help son, I warm woman.] It was a plain offer, but one Evans was willing to accept. He knelt down by the bleating calf, applying burn salve and regenerative bandages under the hawk-eye gaze of its mother. When he was finally done he turned back, giving a silent prayer of thanks to see Lilly’s chest rise and fall evenly in sleep.

The Bakalen’s expression was ponderous, sorrowful. [We did not think you would help. We thought you were all murderers. We did not need to freeze so much blood.]

He offered a slow nod of assent, watching as the mother mirrored it. “I can tell my people to leave you alone.”

She settled back on her haunches and for many long minutes no message came over the PADD. Finally she leaned forward and words flashed up. [We need voice. You are voice. Forget this not.]

Evans nodded his head, mutely, letting his eyes meet hers. He had no words to express the amount of apology he wanted to bestow to the Bakalen for this misunderstanding; no way of saying how furious he was – not at them in specific, but that years of ignorant silence between the two species had pushed one to act out in the most vicious and base way possible against the other simply to be heard. And the only thing that would prevent it from happening again was giving them voice.

His voice.

“I am your voice.” They were the only words that slipped out as he stared off into the horizon, waiting for the call from the supply ship to come through.

~*~

The Bakalen were silent as the morning dawned and the call came through from the supply ship. Evans ordered two for transport; he would tell the Captain what had happened once he was warm enough to form the words.

The breath that rattled through his teeth was tainted by the stab of sorrow wrenching his gut. Academically he could trace everything back to where things went wrong. But face to face with the death masques of people he had shared dinner with last night; now decorated with their own frozen entrails as the remains of the shelter smoldered in the tenuous light of dawn, it made Evans feel numb. How many years had the Bakalen tried to tell them they were more than stupid pack animals, for a peaceful species to be finally driven to this kind of murder?

He dropped to his knees in the snow still holding McEnroe in his arms. Surrounded by the carnage of misunderstanding, he closed his eyes and waited for the transporter beam to take him away from this nightmare.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Ensign Sal Taybrim

Counselor

USS Excalibur-A

Edited by Sal Taybrim
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