Chapter 3 - Episode 1, Scene 3 - Foul Weather

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Scene 3

Having regained her bearings and successfully not crashed a runabout, Cadet Zoe Pride was back on top of her game. She stayed under the worst of the storm activity and circled the indicated center of town. Below the place looked less lively than the last records indicated. Sand was piled up against or over buildings, there was no activity in the streets, and a sad, gray looking light cast over everything that wasn’t buried.

“I’ve located a nice landing spot in the market region.” Cadet Pride announced as she started a landing approach. “I doubt there’s going to be much in the way of a welcome committee.”

Commander Xaiko had to agree. It didn’t look like anyone would be greeting them. “Are the atmospheric conditions at least hospitable for breathing?”

Lorga checked the sensors and tested the atmosphere. She frowned, the composition was borderline, if it wasn’t for the high amounts of volcanic ash it would be almost perfect for them. However, the volcanic ash was rock particles, ones that were razor sharp and if inhaled it would shred their lungs. Shaking her head she responded to the commander’s question. “No, I would highly recommend rebreathers and goggles and rough weather gear; shouldn’t need full suits though.”

“Let’s break out the rough weather gear and see what we need to replicate.” Xaiko said as the Shuttle was coming to a complete landing. The dust and ash kicked up by the landing thrusters was obscuring the view screen and the canopy. She unlatched her own harness as the shuttle made a soft thud with terra firma. “Mr Terrim, Mr Breadon, and Ms Pride. You’re with me. Lag’Ek and Lorga, remain with the shuttle.”

Lorga started to rise to find her own gear when Xaiko ordered her and Lag’Ek to remain on the runabout. She resisted the urge to pout and settled back down watching for a moment the gently falling ash ‘snow’ as it too settled around the now stationary runabout.

Xaiko led the way to the rear compartment of the runabout where she began opening the first locker on the wall. There was protective gear for space walking at the ready, and second to the EVA suits were rough weather gear, goggles, and rebreathers. She began to pull on the legs of the reinforced clothing and pull the straps around her ankles and waist for resizing. She could hear the rest of the crewmembers preparing accordingly as well, the zip and snap and shuffle of their additional outerwear making the preparations quite audible.

“Check your rebreather,” Xaiko said, knowing that the cadets they were bringing with them might let the excitement of being on this away team get away with them and miss the basics, such as securing one’s breathing apparatus properly. Cadet Pride fidgeted with her unit until the seal completed itself properly, then gave the commander a thumbs up.

Tarimm pulled on the heavy coat and did it up, it would offer protection from the elements but the big hood would restrict his field of view. It went up anyway. The rebreather and goggles went on and he adjusted them to fit him. He often wondered at the technological paradox that was Starfleet, they had energy shields yet still used goggles that wouldn’t have been out of place 500 years ago!

When everyone was sufficiently dressed for the conditions, Xaiko sealed the inner hatch of the gearing room then waited at the external hatch for everyone to line up. She took out her tricorder and made sure she had everyone’s readings and a ping on their comms, and then looked at their eyes, her own slightly smiling. “Shall we see what’s on offer in the market today?”

“Let’s go for a walk, Ma’am,” Pride confirmed.

Outside, the settlement was indeed as bleak as it had appeared through the viewports. The air was filled with particles of ash, and piles of it had accumulated just about everywhere. Xaiko noticed as they walked, the soles of their boots left impressions in the stuff which blanketed everything outdoors. 

Gaffer squinted at the tricorder through the heavy ashfall. He was looking for life but between the goggles and the ashfall he was finding it difficult to read the screen. “I have faint readings  coming from that direction.” He pointed off to the far side of the open space. “Just beyond the buildings over there,” he added. “Can’t get much more than a direction and strength, I’ll get more the closer we get.”

Zoe Pride looked at her own tricorder, trying to see what Gaffer was, but couldn’t understand the science readout. It wasn’t that she didn’t have basic skills in tricorder readings down pat, so much as something about the interference of this place required advanced settings or something. Like a student cheating on a test, she surreptitiously tried to look sidelong at her fellow Cadet’s tricorder to see what settings Jeram Breadon might be using. Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to be having much more luck than herself.

“I guess we need to get a little closer, then,” Said Xaiko. “Point the way Mr. Tarimm”

Gafer tuned the deceive a little finer, he had installed a bunch of custom programs to help with this kind of thing. He always needed clear readings as a doctor and so had spent time and effort getting coding that would clear up even the weakest of signals. “That way” he called over the howling wind, pointing off towards the adobe-igloo buildings.

He was slightly saddened to see that many of the buildings were damaged by the continued storm, sand piled up in doorways and straight walls. Awnings had been ripped and littered the ground or flapped in the wind, what disturbed him was that some of the stalls still had items, presumably where they had been left when their sellers had left, like even adjusting for the storm it was like a ghost town. There were no bodies or remains to be seen.

Xaiko frowned behind the hood and rebreather. From the volcanic activity, to the storm, and now the abandoned stalls that seemed to have been vacated without a complete evacuation, leaving behind wares in the open… This was every apocalyptic setting one might imagine. 

Zoe pushed some piles of goods and the ash fell off the top, revealing woven mats, the bright colors dulled. At the next stall there were three short tables meant to be knelt at. Some kind of outdoor cafe. The tables still had flatware laid out, but were coated in ash so they looked sculpted in place, still waiting for patrons and orders. As they walked through the circle forming the market center, Zoe picked up a log book sitting under the ash layer at one of the service counters. She couldn’t read the script. “Looks like Klingon,” she said.

Xaiko took the receipt book from her and picked out the dates in the far column. “The last exchanges recorded are from about six months ago.”

“I guess business fell off kinda abruptly.” Zoe muttered, looking in the open doorways of shops that were never even locked up for the night, and now piled with sand and ash.

Tarimm continued to follow the weak life readings, even with the myriad of enhancement programs he still had no idea if their strength was due to the condition of the individuals or if there was some interference that he was unable to account for.

As they continued to follow Tarimm, Xaiko had to wonder where thousands of people may have gone. Perhaps they had tunnels or safe houses underground. “Are the life signs subterranean?”

“No,” he said. “The signatures are most definitely at ground level and are all clustered together.” He paused and thought. “Well within a meter or two of each other.” Considering their choices, he had a direction but not really a range, they could be miles away or a few feet and if the latter walking was inefficient for sure!

“Commander Xaiko,” he shouted over the storm. “If we fan out a little we might have enough directional data to get a triangulation and thus a distance?”

Xaiko motioned to the rest of the team to spread out. It was unlikely with the accuracy of tricorders that they would have to leave one another’s line of sight to accomplish a triangulation between devices. And the Cadets wouldn’t really have to be able to read the signals. Their data would be taken automatically and sync with Tarimm’s so that he could make heads or tails of the location. All they had to manage was to walk in a relatively straight line apart from one another. She had enough confidence in them for that much.

He nodded ahead then remembered that in the large hooded coat it was unlikely anyone would see the movement, even if they had been looking. “That one,” he said, pointing towards easily the largest building, “There is a cluster in there, from the town map it’s likely some kind of rec center,” he mused. “Maybe a proving ground given the cultures represented here.” His shrug was lost in the overly large coat.

Wheeling her arm in a rounding up motion, Xaiko signaled for the Cadets to regroup with them, and then glanced through the haze towards the large building. The skyline was made of domes and turrets and faded out with the ashfall, gray outline standing against a gray sky, with the reeling of ash-fall.

The nearest door on the arena or whatever it was, was not the primary entrance, but still seemed to be a sizable ingress. There were double doors, easily of size when both opened to admit maybe four rows of people of common humanoid proportions at once.

“Alright,” Xaiko motioned for Braedon to join her at the front of the party. She scanned the door and listened at it and there was nothing immediately striking about the other side of it. “Try the door, please, Mr. Braedon.”

Cadet Breadon, a second year cadet, was the team’s security escort. He took this job very seriously and leveled his rifle as he moved forward, covering the door. Stepping to the side he checked the small inlaid screen. “Unlocked” he whispered, not wanting to announce his presence. Breadon pressed the large button that opened the door and swung in as it opened, panning his rifle’s flash light over the dark hallway…