On the Move Again
Episode 1: A Lesson in Humility
Location: Temporary Camp, Typhon's Jungle
Timeline: Following "Words Worth Regretting"
Charlotte reentered the clearing near the campfire tentatively. She wasn't sure what the last few minutes had really meant if anything, but her temporary distraction was over now. She need to focus on finding her crew, and that started with finding her XO again. And that would mean as much about his mentality as his location.
She walked into the light, carrying the additional phasers. She'd salvaged the Starfleet emblem from her dress and affixed it to her undershirt. The rest of the garment she'd discarded. Tentatively, she looked around. "Maralen?"
Maralen had stepped away into the nearby bushes to relieve himself, but he had finished just before she had called. He stepped out of the bushes beside the 'cave' and looked at her. "Charlotte." he said, stepping toward her, but trying not to look... combative. "I need to... apologize." He sighed, his ears drooping slightly. If his tail hadn't been wound around his waist, it would have done so too. "I shouldn't have reacted as I did. I'm sorry. I do trust you. I..." How much did he dare say? Was that Unknown Element still here where she could hear what he said? Did it even matter what she heard? "I'm sorry." he repeated instead of what he had wanted to say which was 'I don't trust her.'
"Thank you. I understand why you were suspicious. But I need you to trust me," she said. Charlotte was glad to see that whatever reversion had happened earlier hadn't been permanent. At least she hadn't broken him.
"I'm trying to figure this all out too. And honestly, I'm not sure what to trust in this situation, even what's in my own mind. But I'm trying to keep myself afloat. And I'm trying to get us all out of this alive. You can question me and you can keep an eye on what I'm doing to watch for signs of something." Her face remained serious as she spoke. "But soon we might be in a situation where I don't have an hour to argue with you. I might just need to make a decision and commit. To do that, I need my First Officer with me, not against me."
This time, Maralen paused, let his mind fully process her words rather than seeing them through the filter of his own feelings. The Lessons were right. Don't feel it; use it. Their argument earlier had been proof of that. He had reacted instead of responding. He would not make that mistake again. "I am not against you, Charlotte." he said softly, his eyes holding the truth of the words. "I... this situation feels all wrong, and there are things I don't trust, but you aren't one of those things. He's sshrralling with us, with our heads. You and I... we need to help each other, watch each other. But please don't keep me out of the plan." He stepped right up to her where he could whisper. "If need be, I can use my telepathy to read what you want me to see. He may or may not be able to see that, but..." He sighed. He didn't know how else to help. How could he help her if he didn't know what she needed him to do?
Charlotte tensed for a moment. Telepathy had always been a touchy spot for her. She enjoyed the privacy of her own mind, and didn’t love the idea that the privacy was an illusion. But Typhon had already broken through that barrier in a limited sense, though it seemed he’d lost his foothold for now. She nodded. “I will do my best to include you. And if it comes to it...I’ll think about the telepathy thing.” A half commitment, but she felt better than noting. “And I’m sorry. I allowed my anger at the situation to dictate my words and I said some things that were not fair to you. I didn’t mean to hurt you and I am truly sorry.”
Maralen saw the tension return and knew he had said something wrong. He was not sure which thing it was until she spoke. Her half commitment to his telepathy gave him enough to make a guess. Most people preferred if others were not in their minds; it was why some species invented a verbal language to deal with outworlders. So he could comprehend why it might make some uncomfortable. "The telepathy isn't a deal-breaker." he said with a little smile. "I only offered it as an 'if all else fails' backup plan." It was meant to be assurance.
Her apology meant more to him than it likely should have, but he tried not to show that much of it. His smile grew a bit, and his ears lifted to their normal, perked position. "It's all right. We both said things we shouldn't have from a place of emotions. I'm better trained than that, but... I will try to be less..." What? Efficient? Calm? Trained? How the hells was he supposed to finish that sentence? He should definitely have thought that completely through before starting. "I will try to be more careful of the reactions I give."
Moving slowly and deliberately, CeCi moved toward the glow of the fire and caught site of Charlotte and Maralen. They were talking, which was good. Better at least than whatever burr had been under their blankets before. A little smile played over her lips and she deliberately straightened her dress and began smoothing her hair and rearranging it as she entered the clearing. "So we're all feeling better now kids? Very nice. What's next?"
"Next, we find a way to track down the officer's we lost track of. We've got three more phasers than we had the first time around, plus one to spare. We have a field tricorder we can try to locate them on, a pad to check detailed readings on, and a communicator fresh from the ship. Combine that with the fact that two of us are no longer in heels and I think we've got the making of an actual plan," Charlotte said. The additional phaser was stowed in her jacket for the moment, but she moved subtly to reassure herself it was still there. "We also have the approach sensor readings from the pod. Doesn't give us any real detail, but we'll at least know where the biggest landmarks are. So I say we use the advantages Maralen mentioned earlier to aid in our search for the crew. We're a small team, operating in the darkness of night. We move quickly and quietly, and this time, with some actual information."
Maralen nodded. Honestly, at the core of it, that was all he was asking for, information. Clarity. "Agreed. And you were correct about something else earlier. My team wouldn't have gotten too far from where we were split up by now unless they were forced to run. But we should be able to track them if we started from the tree." He still didn't trust this Cecile woman, but he was going to let it be until and unless she did something to force him to... deal with her.
Cecile clapped her hands together and smiled broadly. "Splendid!" She picked a bit of tree branch from her hair and glanced at Charlotte as she tossed it aside."Do we leave now or wait until we can see something?"
Charlotte shook her head. "I say we move now. If we can see something, something can see us. We'll have sensor readings to go off, and Maralen can probably see a little bit better than we can. We move." Charlotte held out a phaser toward each of them. "High stun, for both of you. I don't want to eliminate one of my crew while we're looking for them."
Maralen took the phaser and made sure that it was set on high stun. Part of him wanted to be certain that the Unknown Element's was as well, but that would only start another fight, and they needed to move. Instead, he nodded to Charlotte. "As long as there is a little light, even starlight, cats can see." he confirmed. No, it wasn't perfect, like moving in daylight, even for him, but at least he wouldn't run into trees.
"Depending on how dense this jungle gets, we might not have even that," Charlotte replied. "But once we get to the tree, we should get a better idea. It had to create at least some breach in the canopy. It was too big and broke too many branches not to. But on that note, Maralen, I'm going to need you to take point, since you'll actually be able to see somewhat."
Suddenly, he wanted to growl, but not at Charlotte... at the situation. He didn't do it, of course, but he wanted to. He would have preferred to be behind that Unknown Element, watching her, but Charlotte was right. As the only one of them who could see at all, or had a chance of it, in this place at this time, he had to take point. He nodded. "I know how we got here from there. I can take us right back the way we came or take a more circuitous route if you prefer." That would be the strategy to employ if they thought someone besides Typhon was watching them, like say, those pirates. But if expediency was her goal, the direct route would be preferred. He left the choice to the captain.
"Let's take a fairly direct path. I'd rather cross terrain we're vaguely familiar with," Charlotte replied, checking her own phaser's charge.
Maralen nodded. "Point well taken." he said. He then turned and studied the jungle around them. In his mind, the route laid itself out like a well-detailed map, and he headed off, following that map back the way they had come toward the fallen tree. His eyes constantly cast around him, and his ears flicked to catch even the slightest sound that didn't belong. Whiskers flared as he scented the air as well. Every bit of the hunter cat that was part of him was on alert, watching, listening, sensing.
Taking the weapon, Ceci sparred a brief glance at it and then tucked it into her boot top. "Well, then, I suppose that leaves me in the middle?" She asked, glancing toward Charlotte. "Or do you trust me to watch your rear as we go?" Then she looked at Maralen, "That's the term right...watch your rear. Or is it back?" Then she shrugged. "I don't suppose it matters, really."
Charlotte could tell she was needling Maralen a little, Knowing how paranoid he'd felt earlier, she figured she could calm things a little by taking the rear herself. "How about you stick to the middle and I'll keep my watch on yours?"
The brunette nodded, "Right." Then she set out behind the Ledaran and called out quietly. "Mary..no. Maralen. Yeah, see I knew I'd get it. Don't forget I'm back here so give us a butt wiggle every now and again so I don't get lost, yeah?"
He had tried to be civil. He had tried to ignore the jabs. He'd said nothing to that woman that could have been misconstrued as hostile, but she seemed incapable of returning the favor. He'd had enough. "Keep calling me Mary, and see if I don't shove this phaser somewhere unpleasant and fire it." he growled.
Ceci let her eyes grow wide and her lip neared trembling. For all of four seconds then she smiled and ticked, "Ahh, did I hurt your feewlings? I'm sowy. I'm not good with names, so I'll just give you a nick name. I'll think about it as we go along." She scrunched up her face for a moment, then brightened, "How about Buttons. I had a really good friend named buttons when I was a little girl!"
Maralen growled very softly but didn't say anything. The problem was that he had not intended to say what he had, and that had led them... here. But really? Buttons?
A grumble came from the back of the group as Charlotte interceded. “You two. Cut it out or I’m gonna stun you both and not retrieve you til I have my ship back.”
Maralen sighed. This was going to be a very long mission. But since he had already decided to keep any responses he might have wanted to give Cecile to himself, Charlotte's command was easy enough to follow. "Understood," was all he said as they continued through the thick woods. Nothing more needed to be said by him just then.
The trio arrived at the base of the massive fallen tree before too long. Charlotte was surprised by this. They hadn't seemed to have been traveling for nearly enough time to have reached it, and yet...here they were. Maybe it had just seemed longer when she was stuck in heels.
There was also no sign of the pirates, a fact which was simultaneously comforting and concerning. Sweeping the area with a tricorder, she also discovered something unexpected. "Well that's...odd...," she said, pausing to check her sensor reading.
Maralen frowned and moved to stand beside her. "What is?" He tried to get a look at the tricorder screen and then let his gaze flicker around them. It was odd that the pirates were nowhere to be seen unless they had chased the remainder of his team. But he doubted that was what she was referring to, so he looked back at the tricorder and Charlotte again. But they were off on the search again almost instantly for trouble. In fact, they never seemed to stop moving for long.
Charlotte tapped in a new command to the tricorder. “If I’m reading this right, there are 2 paths the pirate group followed. One roamed off in this direction.” She pointed away from the tree. “And another seemed to follow a lone set of Starfleet issue boot prints. I think our team might have been split up.”
Mar frowned and looked at the ground around them, looking for the imprints of Starfleet-issue boots that did not belong to himself, Charlotte or Cecile who now wore them. "That is problematic," he said softly. "I don't think it would be good to split this small group up, but that would leave one set un-followed." He looked back to Charlotte. "How do you want to handle this?"
She ran a hand through her hair for a moment. "I think we need to follow the set that goes after one of our officers. The other group may have managed to escape. The officer who ran this way is in danger. And we've each got a phaser. The pirates might not expect to be flanked."
"A fair point. And the fact that this one was alone while the others had each other makes it all the more important that we aid" he studied the boot impressions; light, not deep, likely female, "her. Do you want me to remain on point?"
“That was an impressive deduction. We’ve successfully found that one of the female officers with you was...female,” Charlotte said, giving Maralen a teasing pat on the shoulder. She was mostly teasing. The deduction on its face wasn’t very impressive, but it was still useful. The spare set of footsteps didn’t belong to an officer they hadn’t seen yet. This would have to be one of the trio they were searching for. “Actually, I think I might take point for now. The tricorder will make it easier to follow these prints.”
She was about to turn toward CeCi when she suddenly froze, staring off into the middle distance. Her mouth moved almost imperceptibly, speaking in an extremely quiet tone. “Company. 8’clock.” Her face was blank, but her eyes were clear. Threat.
Cecile had been keeping off to the side, giving the Defiant crew members their space. At Charlotte's warning, she brought her knee up and drew the phaser, rather than bending and letting horizontal movement give them away. Moving her eyes, she located the nearest solid object that she could use for cover from incoming fire and decided that cover was Maralen.
Maralen had been preparing a snarky response to Charlotte's teasing, but her sudden declaration, even as softly spoken as it was, made those thoughts scurry away. His eyes took in the surrounding jungle even as he moved to put most of his body behind the huge fallen tree. Cecile would either move with him or not; he really barely only cared because Charlotte seemed to care. His phaser was already out and ready, so he just scanned the jungle in the direction Charlotte had indicated, listening intently for signs of movement.
It did occur to him to wonder how Charlotte had known of the incoming threat when he had not heard or smelled anything. But that was a question for later, when there wasn't a threat coming toward them. For now, he watched, listened, scented and waited.
From between the trees a few dozen yards away from the group a figure slowly emerged from the upper branches, where Charlotte had spotted the movement. But it’s appearance sent an immediate chill down her spine. This was not some lurking pirate, spying on them from the upper branches. She’d thought the movement she’d seen had to be a man moving between branches. But the truth was far more upsetting. The figure lowered its hulking form down, a spindly threat reaching back into the trees above it, and 8 long, slender limbs stretched out on either side of its bulky form.
“Oh shit,” she managed as the hulking arachnid’s first limbs touched the ground. Her phaser was out and aimed before her next order. “Run!”
The phaser’s bright red bolt lanced through the darkness, casting a crimson glow across the surrounding trees as if a flare had been lit. And in the instant it took for the phaser bolt to connect with its target, their peripheral vision captured a grotesque scene. About half a dozen of the pirates didn’t seem to have escaped the scene of the collapsed tree. But it wasn’t the massive plant’s collapse had ended them. The thin, silky tendrils of webbing liking the nearest treetops told the entire story. The frames of several more massive arachnids were caught by the last fleeting edges of the beam, their forms also approaching the ground. Charlotte would have repeated her order, but there was no need. Squeezing off a second bolt, she launched into a full sprint, trying to stick to the tricorder’s path as her legs carried her as fast as they could manage. The sound of dozens of legs behind her was all the motivation she needed.
It only took Cecile a moment to register Reynold's worlds, then her brain registered the arachnids and she started off running. She left to clear a cluster of low bushes, keeping her phaser in hand. There wasn't any point in turning and standing their ground yet. They needed to find cover or something. She tried to keep Charlotte in sight, but to her non-weapon hand side. She could hear skittering and a slight hissing and could feel the hairs on the back of her neck stiffen. That encouraged her to run faster, but she controlled herself to keep with the others.
When he saw the huge arachnid, Maralen's body reacted before his brain could shut down the instinctive response. His fur fluffed, making him appear to be much larger than he was, and he hissed. But Charlotte's command snapped him back, his brain responding as it had been trained to when commanded. Do as commanded; question later. He fired off a couple of shots, though, before running, hoping to give Charlotte a little bit of cover in which to run as well. Then he turned and took off, listening to the footfalls of those with him as well as those of the beasts coming after them. The hunter cat in him did not like to run, but he knew that as many of those things as had appeared, he could not have won that battle. Choose your battles was one of the Realm's lessons, and this was not one to fight. So he did as ordered, occasionally firing behind him at the pursuing arachnids.
It did occur to him as he ran that the spider-things were likely an illusion. Typhon had been sshrralling with them since they had first encountered it, so why should this be any different. Still, if they were real, it was better to get out of their territory first and debate it later... if that was even necessary.
The trio ran, firing bolts backward toward the pursuing arachnids. They were getting closer, able to deal with the terrain better than the bipedal Starfleet crew were. Charlotte rounded a corner, hoping they could lose them. Her feet had barely met the ground when suddenly an object came flying at her face.
She had no time to stop as the butt of a rifle slammed right against the bridge of her nose, sending her sprawling, skidding forward from her own momentum. Pain shot through her head like a hot blade through butter. For a moment, everything went bright white. The first sense that came back was her own voice, groaning in pain. The burly Orion stood over her, grabbing her jacket and lifting her off the ground toward him. "Now where do you think you're..."
The sentence was cut off by a harrowing scream as a huge multi-legged form crashed into his. There was a sickening sound of mandibles seizing something as the creature rushed off with its captured prey. Charlotte couldn't help but let out a shocked scream as the form rushed over her, worried that the liquid she'd just felt dripping onto her was the pirate's blood.
The spider was starting to climb up the tree, when Reynolds noticed that the Orion's rifle was sitting there. It wasn't just an energy rifle either. The sharp protruding point immediately informed her it was some sort of harpoon caster. She raised the long device and fired. A narrow metallic bolt shot through the spider, pinning it to the massive tree trunk as it released an inhuman squeal. Not waiting to see if would stick, she grabbed her own phaser again and bolted back to her feet.
Not having been far behind Charlotte, Maralen skidded to a halt. He had been about to react to the Orion when he smelled something else. Turning, he found himself face to face with a very burly Naussican. The creature growled, and Maralen returned the gesture, fur fluffing. The large being swung something at Maralen's head, which he ducked to avoid... only to catch a club in the ribs. And the fight was...
Interrupted by another of those arachnid things. As it came flying toward them, Maralen tried to bring his phaser around to fire at it, but his movement was not fast enough. The appendage it had swung toward them to grab the Naussican caught his phaser hand and knocked the weapon away into the brush. Maralen dropped to the ground immediately, both to retrieve his lost weapon and to avoid the grab.
He could hear the sound of cracking bones above his head as the spider-thing took the Naussican, who was still attempting to beat it for its efforts, away. The phaser was only a couple of feet away, but movement caught his eye. Another arachnid. It reached, and he rolled aside. One of its legs came down on his tail, garnering it a hiss and an expletive. He swung himself back toward it, lashing out with his claws at the leg that was pinning his tail. It worked; the creature moved its leg away from the threat and released his tail. But now it wanted him. Too bad. Another avoidance roll, and he reached his phaser. But now he was underneath the spider-thing. He flipped the setting to kill and fired up into its gut, rolling aside just after in case the thing had acidic blood or some other such nonsense.
Like Charlotte before him, he didn't wait to see if it was dead. He sprinted toward where he had last seen her, searching the area for her and, yes for Cecile too. He might not like the Walking Litterbox, but neither was he going to leave her here to be spider food.
Cecile sprinted, glancing over her shoulder and half tripped as undergrowth grabbed at her legs. Pinwheeling, she managed to catch her balance after a few paces and risked a look back and saw an arachnid scuttling after her, it's limbs tearing through the growth that had been trying to trip her. She rounded another tree and her foot caught. She chose to fall rather than try to yank her foot free in the current direction and hit the ground hard. She breathed, then heard a rasp and rolled onto her back and half crunched, bringing up the phaser. Indexing the weapon, she brushed the firing stud four times like she had been taught. Three of the beams hit, sending the arachnid sprawling and she began crabbing backwards trying to gain ground before she rolled to her knees and out of sprinters crouch ran into growth.
She could hear yells, noises of combat and she angled toward that sound. The arachnid came bursting through the growth again, it's good five limbs churning. One of the limbs flailed past her and she ducked, but the appendage caught her and sent her spinning. Cecile pinwheeled, her dress tearing at the impact point. She fell painfully into a tree, which didn't give and her automatic fumbling to keep ahold of the phaser. It went off, the beam slicing into the ground near her feet. Cecile knew she couldn't lay there and she pushed herself to her feet again as the arachnid came for her.
She felt cold calm fill her then and she touched the trigger again, this time holding it down as she dialed up the intensity. After three seconds of dwell time, the creature glowed and disintegrated. Dialing the phaser back down, she turned to orientate herself and felt a breeze. Realizing her dress was now only kinda sorta there, she tried for a moment to fix it then gave up and headed into the general direction she thought was correct.
The trio raced off, screams and weapons fire sounding off behind them. Somehow, they'd managed to avoid the rest of the swarm. The pirates and the spiders seemed to have cancelled each other out, at least momentarily. Charlotte had no interest in waiting to see who won that equation. She raced off, no longer able to find their officer's foot path. She hoped whoever they'd been following was in a much safer place than they were.