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Proximity Alert

Introduction The Station Puzzles Away Team
The Thing Bug Hunt Deep Space Nine The Second Attack
Infirmary Hunger Awake!  

Chapter Nine | Hunger

One's contours shifted and crystallised to form a humanoid shape as one stood in the corridor of the outer docking ring. Carefully one began to make one's way through the corridors, hallways and cargo bays of the station; aware of the thousands of minds aboard the station and the millions on the planet below. The relevant data was filed away in some corner of one's memory. One felt hungry at the thought of millions of innocent souls one could feed on. Soon the time would come to summon one's brethren.

Those fools never knew what they were doing when they called one, to think that they could make one do their bidding, hah - the arrogance! One showed them who the Master was - not them, neither humans nor the outworlders.

A lot had changed since one was last here. Now the Sons of Adam and the Daughters of Eve had left their puny little Earth and left their footprints on the Heavens, they had progressed far and wide among the stars, and dared to boldly go where no mortal had gone before! But they still tasted the same - the fear, the terror was still as sweet as ever.However there were those that tasted bitter and rancid, with green blood; or those that knew not the meaning of fear, and would fight to the death.

One reached out to find the nearest suitable mind, and on finding one alone morphed oneself to a large vulpine predator before going on the hunt.

********

The corridor was dimly lit in this part of the station, the access conduits needing little maintenance, but every so often someone had to come down here and check the circuitry and the sensors, and this time it was Ensign Charles Walton who drew the short straw - all the sensors in this sector of the outer ring were out. He finished one part and gathered his tools to move on down, when suddenly the lights went out.

"Hey! It's dark in here! Put those lights back on!"

There was no sound in the pitch black corridor but the sound of his own breathing, and the hammering of his own heart. Darkness was not one of his favourite things, as a young boy Walton was once trapped in a cave for three days on his home world of Delta Ceres. Now those memories came flooding back - the pitch-black darkness, the cold and the wet, the sensation of closeness all around him. He shivered and searched his tool kit for a source of light. "Bloody, useless Cardassian engineering!" He snarled, trying not to let his fear of the dark come to the surface. He peered into the darkness and saw nothing - wait, there was a spot of light and it was approaching.

"Hey! I'm over here!" He called out. The light grew stronger. There were two spots, side by side, in the darkness - they looked like red eyes. Eyes in the dark.

Strange - he could see the spots moving, but nothing else, there was no illumination - this was weird. They were getting closer and closer. As he watched the lights approached and saw what appeared to be a face, two eyes and ... jaws full of teeth? Too late he realised what was happening and screamed.

One leapt forward and caught him by the throat, sinking ones teeth into Walton's neck; and drank deep, savouring the flavour of his fear and terror, gorging oneself on his lifeblood, warm, salty and succulent, a taste one had not experienced in aeons. One howled one's appreciation of an excellent meal and continued to feast.

These creatures really were so fragile, one had only to think at them to cause them excruciating pain; especially those bat-eared green-blooded ones! But one really couldn't beat the Children of Gaia for tenderness of flesh, warmth of blood and the sharp tang of sheer terror when they died, unlike, say, the Children of Kahless or "thlIngans" as they called themselves. What a waste of time hunting them! All muscle and bone, no tenderness, warmth or tang - they wouldn't know fear if it came and ripped their throats out! And those heads! No wonder they fought to the death - too stupid to run, they were!

********

O'Brien stared at his diagnostic screen and swore under his breath. Those sensors were still out! Walton should have been back hours ago. This was the third time his coffee had gone cold. Now they were telling him to evacuate the station.

"I just can't do that, Commander! Why don't you let me in on what's really happening?"

"We would all like to know!" Odo interjected, entering Ops, followed closely by an anxious Major Kira.

"Look, gentlemen, I don't like this any more than you. But I'm not prepared to level with you just yet, I can't afford to do that. The Captain says it's dangerous ..."

{Delaney to Odo}

"Odo here, go ahead"

{I've found Walton, or what's left of him, Sir. His ... his throat looks like it's been torn or bitten out, his chest looks like it's been ripped apart. There's blood and entrails everywhere and a trail leading down to Section 6R.}

Delaney voice was shaking visibly and one could easily imagine something the fear and shock that the big, dark-skinned security officer must have been suffering.

"What?" a horrified Kira exclaimed.

"Who else is down there with you, Delaney?"

{Suvak and Qo'Sang, Sir}

"Gather your team and continue following the trail. Report on the hour every hour, Odo out." He looked at Meechan. "Okay, Commander, let's talk about what's really going on."

"Let's go to the Infirmary, then. I want the Captain in on this. This is supposed to be some kind of experimental probe, not a wild animal."

*******

They stood around the body of the luckless Walton, Lieutenant 'Big Dave' Delaney and Ensigns Suvak and Qo'Sang.

Delaney shook his head. "Poor Walt, what a way to go"

"Gloriously in battle." Qo'Sang said.

"Evidently, he was ingested alive, and from the body posture Walton attained, I would theorise that he was undergoing considerable emotional trauma." The others simply stared at him in disbelief.

"You know Suvak, I don't know why you joined Security. Your talents for stating the obvious are wasted here. Right, let's go. We've got this thing to catch and fast, otherwise we're gonna have more cases of Walton-syndrome happening here."

"Understood, Sir," replied Suvak and Qo'Sang.

*******

"Bloody Hell!", O'Brien exclaimed, as Ahmad and Meechan narrated the events since the rescue attempt at Proxima One.

"This animal-like mutilation is something I never expected - unless that's a result of it's corrupted programming code. The pattern's all wrong. All the more reason to get everyone off the station."

Odo stood up "Understood, Captain. I will inform Captain Sisko and start evacuation proceedings.

"I still don't like it. And then there's the Cardies to consider. They're just itching for a chance to take DS9 back."

"I don't see it that way, Chief", Ahmad said, "There'll still be a crew on board, we're just shifting the civvies temporarily. Once we get this experimental probe off the station the we can bring the people back. I'm not particularly worried about the Cardassians - they're nothing compared to what we saw on Proxima."

"You still think this is an experimental probe - after hearing what's left of Walton?"

"I haven't seen any evidence to convince me otherwise."

"How much more evidence do you need, Captain!" Kira snapped. "People are being killed - eaten alive. Who could be sick enough to program those kinds of actions into an intelligence gathering probe. What kind of demented people would create such a hideous thing?" She turned and stormed out of the Infirmary.

*******

It would soon be time to summon one's brethren to this world. The ritual was going to be difficult, unless one could obtain assistance, and believers were in short supply - or were they. True, the people of planet Bajor had their own faith - but like the Children of Gaia, their faith could be perverted to serve one's aims; and besides, strong believers always tasted better.

One made one's way into the unlit core of the station, the fusion generator at the bottom, and prepared to sleep after a hearty meal; one would need to rest one's psyche, especially before casting a summoning to one's brethren left behind on what they called Proxima Tanis Theta.

*******

"Delaney to Security"

{Security here, go ahead}

"Sir. The trail's gone cold. It's at a dead end and there's no sign of anything."

{Where are you at this moment?}

"We're at Level 23, Sir"

{Keep searching, and keep in contact. We will send reinforcements as soon as we can. Out}

Delaney turned to the others. "Let's spread out, there can't be many places where it can have gone."

The Rio Grande touched down on landing pad C, and the passengers made their way to the outer docking ring and the corridor beyond.

Meechan waited along with Sisko Kira and Dax as Ambassador Morton stepped carefully off the Runabout, assisted by his aides.

Sisko stepped up to him.

"Welcome to Deep Space Nine, Ambassador Morton?"

"Thank you, Captain Sisko." He nodded greetings to Kira and Dax, and smiled on seeing Meechan."

"My God, Neil Meechan, how are you. It's been years since we last met. How are you finding life in the twenty fourth century?"

"The same and different in many ways. It's weird, if you know what I mean. And you, Sir, how are things."

"Things are going well, Neil." He replied, shaking Meechan's outstretched hand. "And call me James, we were part of the same crew back then. So how's Akeel?"

"He's been immobile for the past two days, Dr Qnayf gave him a neural tranq to help his central nervous system heal." He gestured towards a turbolift, "Shall we?"

"Yes, let's." They moved off in that direction, making their way to the Infirmary.

"Excuse me, Ambassador, I couldn't help overhearing." Kira asked. "Did you say that you were part of Captain Ahmad's crew? Forgive me sir, but I notice that the Captain is considerably younger than yourself."

Morton laughed loudly, Meechan did likewise. "Did you never hear about the Avenger's disappearance? About eighty years ago, shortly after the Khitomer peace treaty, the Avenger was on patrol in what was loosely termed the Orion Autonomous Zone. An attack by some Orion pirates knocked out warp drive and comms, everyone thought the Avenger had been destroyed." He paused, and indicated Meechan. "Neil here was the First Officer. He was there - I think he should tell you the rest of the story, go on, Neil."

"Well, we had to make the entire journey to the nearest starbase on impulse travelling at 99.95% lightspeed. Took us about seventy five years by your reckoning, but for us only three years had passed because of the time dilation effect of near lightspeed travel. So we arrived back in civilisation, feeling out of place and out of time. The Ambassador here was his first officer back in the old days on the Achilles and the Anubis, but..." his voice trailed off.

Morton continued, "I went into politics about the same time Akeel got the Avenger. I had a sparkling career, got a wife, an ex-wife, a new wife, a ranch in New Zealand on Earth, a few kids, several grand-kids, and all that time Akeel was captaining a starship. Now that's dedication! You could say Akeel's the longest serving Captain in Starfleet!"

"As I recall, there have been a few people from that time." Sisko observed. "I read the report about Captain Morgan Bateson of the USS Bozeman, he had a similar experience. He must have found it difficult to adjust to life in this century."

Morton nodded, "Yes, it can be disorientating, to say the least. Ah, here we are." They entered the Infirmary.

Ahmad was sitting up in bed, Dr Qnayf stood by checking her scanner. Morton called out. "Akeel, how's it going, old man!"

"James, how's life treating you. You've aged since we last met. And who're you calling old man, you're the one who looks like Santa Claus!"

"Yeah, but you're three years older than me, remember."

"Well I can now move about and do things, instead of feeling like I've been tied to my bed." He laughed. "So how's the day job, I thought you'd be on that ranch in New Zealand you were always talking about."

"Well, it wasn't the same after Pauline passed away and I needed to get away from the place. So I figured Starfleet could do with some help. You know what they say..."

"... Life in the old dog yet?"

"Precisely."

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