Into the Caves part I
by Lt Tyrlai Zade, Lt. Jason Beauvoir, Lt. (JG) Thoval sh'Kor, Lt. (JG) Amata Zan, Lt Parker Hudson
MD 6, morning
The two shuttles skimmed over the treetops and circled the clearing once before touching down. A few moments passed and the hatches on both opened simultaneously and six members of Portland's security detachment quickly moved to establish a perimeter and scan the surrounding jungle. Tyrlai Zade stepped out of one of the shuttles and walked a half dozen meters towards the ridge-line. She popped her hand scanner open and took a reading of the caves, only two hundred meters away several openings led into a small labrynith the original settlers had used for shelter on their arrival, several hundred years earlier.
Lieutenant Zade turned back to the others, adjusting her lightly-shimmering violet uniform jacket. She was wearing the same ablative layer of protection she had been using on Bajor when this had all began. She fully expected a Reptillian somewhere in the caves ahead. "According to the local network, these caves had been abandoned after the first generation or so and now are looked at with a sort of spiritual and cultural reverence. We've traced energy signals unique to the persons who targeted our original shuttle to this location. Our mission is to discover who and possibly what these people are and what they are up to. They have alien tech and alien friends so be careful, we don't have a lot of decent tactical information on what we are facing. Any questions or suggestions, now is the time."
Tyrlai looked out at the others while beaming eagerly at the impending danger and uncertainty.
Thoval, who had followed the security detail, made a sound approximating a sigh. "Your enthusiasm for the unknown remains... unsettling, Lieutenant." Her tone was light, mild, but her eyes were sharp where she gazed beyond the perimeter. "The Portland's sensors were unable to pierce very far into the caves. We'll have to rely on ground scans."
"Yes." She answered taking it as a compliment. "It is interesting how many rocks there are in the galaxy that we cant scan through. But I expect they chose these for a reason and that one is certainly understandable."
Following the Andorian officer off of the shuttle, Amata visually scanned the perimeter, his hand resting on the phaser secured to his hip, he was as alert as a prey animal. With a professional focus, his eyes took in every detail they could see, and he seemed to take a special interest in the performance of the Security team. Though his expression hid whether or not he approved of Grel’s men, the team worked displayed a textbook execution of their task under the direction of the Portland's Master-at-Arms. There were far too many horror stories told among the fleet about Security crewmen dying because of some easily avoidable mistake. Occasionally he would give a twitch at the atypical presence of his earring, though also may have just been guarded, “Thoval's correct,” his voice became temporarily tenser as he spoke, “The caves should be treated with wariness.” He let his point hang, as if it was the only one he needed to make. When he continued, the tension gone and his tone expressed nothing but his factual opinion, “Chief Coren and her team should stay here as a reserve and rear guard, they will be able to hold this ground better as a unit. If things go hot, they will make an adequate fallback point. First team should be more than enough to investigate the tunnels. Besides, we do not want to be perceived as overly aggressive with too large a show of force.”
After he disembarked from 'his' shuttle, Jason took a deep breath and let it out slowly. The lifesupport systems on a starship did an excellent job of 'scrubbing' and recycling the air, but there was nothing like sweetness of the air produced by a natural biosphere. Even with moist smell of jungle decay. Taking in his surroundings, he noticed the tall straight trees festooned with creeping tendrils, so unlike the sprawling oaks that grew near his home and the small arboreal animal that bore some resemblance to monkey. The temperature was fine, but the humidity wasn't to his liking, making him physically uncomfortable. He never thought he'd miss the arid deserts and savage winds of Vulcan. Concentrating on the caves, he remembered a children, how he, Yvette and J.P. had explored the caves near their home and he knew how well caves could offer a respite from inclement or oppressive weather. With tricorder in had and phaser on his hip, Jason was ready to enter they caves as soon as the order was given.
The smell of the tall native trees in the air reminded Parker of Pine trees back home. His eyes turning from Tyrlai and the others towards the area of the caves ahead. Taking out his own engineering tricorder from his suited back-pack he confirmed with the Lieutenant.
"Faint EM mech frequencies to the Northeast Bearing." He spoke quiet enough.
"A good enough choice." Tyrlai said, "lets head over and see how welcoming the locals are." She headed out along the vector Jason had just given her and turned back with a grin. "Phasers on stun and all that."
She picked her way through the trees, closely grown together and tangled in places, and was quickly flanked by first team moving through the jungle like they had trained for it ahead of time. She made a mental note to train for this sort of thing a little better. It was less than two hundred meters when the trees began to open up a bit and they stepped out into a strange makeshift marketplace laid out in a clearing. Small booths with trinkets laid out and arrayed for sale, little awnings placed at points for shade. Three large cave entrances opened into the rock-face at the far end of the clearing placed about seventy meters apart. There were a few attendants staring at the Federation team as it strode out of the thick brush.
Tyrlai looked at the others knotting her brow a bit. "The terrorists seem to have shops."
"Where did you expect the religious to go on vacation," Amata almost asked, as he stepped out in front of the away team and slowly the nearest merchant, doing his best to make himself smaller,his hands up in open to show he was no threat. He couldn't hear what he was about to say, but he had been well briefed on the culture of Gamia III. He did not meet the merchants gaze, sparring only a glance at the man's earring before focusing on the ground, "Forgiveness for this unclean one's arrogance, esteemed merchant, but I have traveled from Bajora with the Federation aliens. They value the wisdom of the Prophets and wish learn what they can from this sacred cave," Amata paused, glancing up to the merchant's chest, letting a beat pass before he continued, "Our party's leader also has an eye for fine wares, as you can tell from the bright dye of her cloth."
"I see," responded the merchant, a stout man with a brightly dyed beard and new if not common clothes, for Gamia at least, "You are forgiven for addressing me in such a way, lowcaste." The eagerness barely hidden in his tone as his eyes locked on Tyrlai, perhaps never seeing the bright purple of her duty shirt, and the way her uniformed shimmered. "Offworlders! All who travel to seek the Prophets wisdom are welcome, just as all merchant welcomes a new customer as a friend." The man did an exaggerated bow, I'm Dawk Gallen, but you must feel free to call me Gallen. My stall and my knowledge is yours."
Tyrlai made a show of bowing back. "Hello good merchant, I have been to many a bazaar on many a world but this one is by far the least expected. It's quite refreshing. Tell me do you have any Kralian silk, something in a violet hue? Or perhaps there is a local variety." She smiled and ran one hand through her hair, it seemed to have an advantageous effect in negotiations, at least since she had become Tyrlai. The others fanned out while Tyrlai engaged as many of the locals as she could in pleasant conversation. She produced a few strips of latinum from her shimmering tunic and began haggling here and there to attract as much attention as possible.
Parker walked up close near to one of the other stands as the crew made it's way slowly but assuredly into the entrance way of the settlement. The various shanty wooden crafted and wheel stalls had a very Victorian look to them. With keen interest Parker let his Engineering Tricorder screen dance to life revealing a few of the trinkets had data chips, and some trinkets were spare energy cells for various makes and models of possible hand weapons. Amata was conversing with the main stall.
Without much notice the Engineer began to let the Tricorder start to download what was on some of the data chips as he went past the stalls slowly. Only a few mega quads of data per a isolinear chip run. "You seem a fine barter! Please come and make me an offer, surely you and your fine ship must be in need of Energy Cells!" The old woman gruffed extending her sand crackled skinned hand at her 'bounty'.
"Not today thank you. Perhaps the..." He looked at the sky above the stars and the evening shadows below "next day." He moved on not wanting to get bogged down.
Jason looked around at the seemingly welcoming merchants and dealers, but he'd been in Starfleet long enough to know that things were seldom as appeared to be. He had a stoic countenance and although he appeared calm, his eyes were vigilant for any signs of danger. Jason may be a Science officer, but he'd been on his share Away missions and was aware of how quickly things could change, often for the worse.
With thoughts similar to Lt. Beauvoir, and it being improper for him to approach the merchants anymore than he already had due to his D'jarra, Amata stayed back from the stalls and settled for keeping an eye on the other members of the away team as they investigated the stalls, wondering at what he could possibly do if an ambush of some kind was sprung on them while they were all scattered. He also made it his business to listen to every word Dawk said to Lt. Zade, half because he was the only natural Bajoran speaker in the group and would hear things others would miss, and half be cause he was hoping for a reason to but the fat merchant in his place. Though the Dawk's only ulterior motive seemed to be profit.
"... and I also have the finest collection of relics of any of the stalls here. In fact I just so happen to have a finger bone of our First Kai, though I can only offer it to peoples of your obvious wealth."
"Oh, I am sure I couldn't take such a precious relic off world. It must stay here but I am sure there is some sort of memento I can take along on my journeys."
Thoval didn't seem to share in his inhibitions, moving freely from stall to stall, offering currency and—more effectively—a smile to pave her way to their good graces. She made no move for her scanners, merely pointed and asked and bent her head close to better hear... and simply for the sake of proximity. While the others turned to technology to try and answer their questions, the Andorian used what skills at diplomacy she had retained from her upbringing—along with a few tricks she had picked up along the way.
The alacrity with which the two-meter tall Andorian simply disappeared from the landing party would have been worrying had her laugh not been audible from time to time. When she reappeared, it was draped with various amulets and a pilgrim under one strong arm.
"Lieutenants ," she called. "This is Havel. Zhe's on a pilgrimage to Gamia III, to a holy site within these caves."
Havel, one of the pebble-skinned humanoids making up the merchants' ranks, shoved Thoval playfully. "I can speak for myself," zhe said, then extracted zhirself from the Andorian's grasp and turned to the rest of the landing party. "Thoval said you have questions. If you're interested in our religion, I may not be the one to ask—"
"Zhe's a recent convert," Thoval provided. Havel gave her an exasperated look before continuing.
"But I can show you around the site, if you're willing to observe the proper protocol." Zhe nodded towards the scanners and weapons the landing party wore. "I'm afraid we don't allow technology further into the caves." Havel seemed sincere, but that didn't speak to the others in the market.
"Lieutenants, I protest, "interrupted the Bajoran Security Officer, forgetting that he had decided to remain quiet, "At least until we have a chance to meet with a recognized leader, and notify the ship."