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Mercury Falling VI: The Discovered Country

Posted on Sat Sep 22nd, 2018 @ 1:33am by Lieutenant Commander Nolan Marc & Commander Jonathan Mantell

Mission: A Misguiding Hand
Location: Planet Brax
Timeline: MD02

There were Starfleet protocols for pretty much everything.

Which was helpful, because boldly going usually involved getting into all kinds of situations that were not always anticipated or planned for. Case in point, crashing on the planet of a pre-warp civilization. Now, in the relevant part, the protocol for this kind of survival scenario was for the creation of a watch or shift to maintain security over the camp and alert the other survivors in case of predators or intruders. Unfortunately, Jack was injured and both Jack and Nolan had the constitution of preteens. That made staying up past bedtime difficult and pulling an all-nighter impossible without stimulants.

And, that would just render Nolan useless the next day.

So, instead, Nolan had set up the tricorder to scan the area around the wreckage using an infrared sweep that compiled the input into a motion sensor tracking analysis. It was low power, conserving the energy, and with the foliage still supplied about a thirty meter radius for indications and warnings.

There was a multi-purpose survival blanket in the shuttle, which Nolan had been able to fashion as a sleeping bag that was large enough that the two boys were able to fit in it with room to spare.

This also helped because Nolan had left Rawr back on the Vesta, since this was just supposed to have been a three hour tour, and so Jack was pulling double duty as both his superior officer and a make-shift teddy bear.

Or a substitute Klingon-Betazoid body pillow. Nolan had adapted to Klingon-Betazoid body pillows as a result of Taran sleeping over at Nolan's quarters. Or Nolan sleeping over at Taran's quarters.

Whatever the case may have been, Nolan was restless and still had tears coming down his face, but was otherwise sleeping comfortably tangled up, under, and across Jack.

The evening passed quickly for Jack, and he fell asleep easily after Nolan set up the accommodations for them. A survival blanket and the uneven ground was no substitute for his shuttle-patterned bed on the Vesta, but the boy was so tired he barely noticed the difference. The few times that he woke, generally due to Nolan's movements, it didn't take him long to get back to sleep, which was a blessing for his body and mind after the trauma of their impact.

It was still dark when the Miran boy woke for the last time, though the larger of the planet's two moons visible enough to provide a little light to the gloomy landscape. A chorus of insects trilled and chittered in the night, keeping a soft and nearly steady hum of noise in the background. Jack shifted in their sleeping bag, finding his movements constricted by the arms and legs of Nolan wrapped haphazardly around him. He lay still for a while, but when no sleep came again, Jack began to slowly untangle the other boy from himself, easing quietly out of the sleeping bag once he was free.

There was no fire or heating device, and Jack shivered slightly at the cool night air, considering for a brief moment to return to the sleeping bag before dismissing it with a shake of his head. He had survived worse before, and besides, it built character. Plus, Jack thought with a wrinkle of his nose, Nolan really needed a bath. Glancing down at his side, the evidence of his now-healed wound unseen even in the dim moonlight, Jack supposed he did as well.

Well, that was the first order of business, then. Jack reached for the first tricorder in view, hoping to use it to scan the area, only to find it was already set as a perimeter alert. Shrugging, the boy put it back in its place, preferring to trust the tricorder's technology to his own fallible ears. Still, once he reached the survival kit where Nolan had arranged the rest of their gear, Jack grabbed a phaser along with the other tricorder. Once he found a place to sit, he draped the phaser over his leg as he worked, studying the tricorder to glean more information about where they were and how to proceed.

There was nothing worse than the feeling of waking up on an alien world and realizing that you lost your pillow, your chief engineer, your superior, and also possibly your ride off this planet. Of course, in Nolan's case, those four things are referred to the same person. But mostly, he was bothered by the fact that his pillow had apparently decided to venture off.

Sleeping on the ground required a good pillow. And Jack's bony shoulder blades were the perfect companion to the hard earth, razor-leaf grass, and that small rock he could feel but neither locate nor avoid.

The sun wasn't up. Was it time to get up? What was the rotation period for this planet anyway? Shuffling about inside the sleeping bag, the wild-haired Nolan finally appeared as he stood up on his knees and glanced around in the twilight.

He could make out the glow of Jack's tricorder. Wandering over toward where the survival kit was, the boy knelt down beside it as he asked, "Do... do you want breakfast?"

When in doubt, food.

Rummaging through the kit, the boy felt around for the ration bars. They were seriously like a bajillion calories. Jack and Nolan could probably just split one. "We've got... we've got, like..." the boy said, finally fishing up a selection. "Banana beef or... or..." the boy rambled on, cycling through the ones in his hand. "...or, no, that's it. They're all banana beef."

Jack grimaced. Whoever had packed the emergency supplies had done a stellar job with gear. But food? Not so much. Hopping off his makeshift chair and using the tricorder's screen as a light before him, the boy made his way over to stand by Nolan. "I guess banana beef is the order of the day," he said, forcing a grin that probably went unseen in the dark anyway. He shrugged to himself, and then pulled out a wrapped ration bar from the ones Nolan held.

He shifted his grip on the tricorder while opening the packaged rations, which had the effect of turning the glow right into Jack's eyes. Taking advantage, the boy glanced at the screen he had been working on, using it as a prompt. "Looks like there's a town about ten kilometers away from here. Might be a good place to go to get our bearings and some information." His hands jolted suddenly as the wrapped split open, revealing the rather pungent smell of Starfleet emergency rations, which somehow carried neither the odor of beef or bananas on its wings. "And more importantly," he added, as if the smell was somehow a reminder, "there's a stream just a short trek from here. We can use it to wash, and drink if it's safe."

Nolan sat back on the ground. "I think there's some sodium dichloroisocyanurate in the survival kit," the boy noted, with a glance over to the survival kit. "So we may be able to treat the water to make it potable."

Jack pulled off a chunk of the ration bar and popped it in his mouth, and then offered it to the other boy. "Gross!" He nearly gagged on the taste, but force his jaws to close, and then chew. "Another good reason to find a town," the boy pointed out after a swallow, his mouth still half full of banana beef rations, "maybe they'll have something better to eat."

Accepting the ration bar from the other boy, Nolan remarked, "We don't know anything about their society or culture though." In particular currency. Were they a currency-based economy? "So isn't that dangerous?"

"Danger?" Jack cried, holding his arms akimbo. "Ha! I walk on the wild side, I laugh in the face of danger!" He let out an exaggerated laugh. It was part excitement at the prospect of exploring, part the thrill of the risk, and part bravado to keep his own fears at bay. The boy didn't really care where it came from, though, the energy gave him a high no caffeinated drink could match. "Besides," he pointed out, "we survived a crash landing, what could possibly be worse?"

Nolan just chewed on his ration bar and pondered whether Jack was crazy in a good way, crazy in a bad way, or crazy in a needs medication way. Passing the ration bar back toward Jack, the boy changed the subject. "Do you think there's anything we can do for the shuttle? Maybe get communications back online?"

"I dunno," the engineering boy said with a shrug, and glanced down to the ration bar in his hand. He shivered again, but not at the cold again. The dawn's light was beginning to peak over the horizon, announcing the impending arrival of the sun, and the air felt noticeably warmer already. Jack tore off another part of the ration bar and, grimacing, forced himself to eat it. "Grab some flashlights and let's go see."

Nolan nodded and began sorting through the survival kit. "I think we only have one flashlight," the boy noted aloud, before coming up with the aforementioned item. Which he then held out toward Jack.

Jack held up a hand, "You hold it. I'll need both." He held up another hand and wiggled both to show what he meant. The boy also grabbed a multi-tool from the survival kit, whose selection of real engineering tools was lacking. Pulling up the tricorder again, he used its light to find his way back to the shuttle, before flipping it back around to put it to work.

The shuttle's structural integrity was shot. The nacelles were completely shorn off, and the bottom and front of the cockpit were scraped up and cracked through. Luckily, other than some damage that was minor down here in an atmosphere —the lack of a back hatch would not be so easy to dismiss in the vacuum of space— the rear hull was basically okay. Jack hoped that meant there was something salvageable inside it.

He hadn't needed much light outside the shuttle with the sun's rays beginning to grow. But inside was another matter, and Jack pointed to places where he needed Nolan's light. Using the multi-tool, he began to pry up the carpet to get access to the panels below, and set to work identifying the state of the equipment.

Nolan followed, trying his best to shine the light where he was told to. Except, especially in the dark, there was a lot to distract inside the shuttle wreckage. A panel would randomly light up. Or Jack would touch something and there'd be a sudden series of lit panels going off. As Nolan's attention wandered away from Jack, the beam of the flashlight moved away as well.

"Hey, keep the light over here," Jack called, pausing his hands as it suddenly grew dark around them. The boy glanced back at Nolan, his eyes following the light to see what had distracted the other boy. "Come over here, I'll show you what I'm doing."

The Okinawa boy looked back over at Jack, obediently moving closer and angling the flashlight for the engineer.

"The reactor's totally gone, but I think a few of these EPS capacitors are undamaged. But," Jack pointed. "See? The relays to the capacitors are fused. And good, it looks like the connections on the capacitors themselves didn't get fried. So I'm hoping," the boy crab walked over to another open panel and waited for Nolan to join him, "that the life support system has some relays that aren't fused or anything. Give me some light, and yell if you spot one."

"Oh, okay," Nolan chirped absently, trying to make sense out of what Jack was doing. He kinda understood, but not really. He was better with bio-neural circuitry and sensor palettes than he was with EPS systems. He'd had to take the required basic engineering and damage control courses at the Academy, but the Academy had been several years ago now.

"Aha!" Jack sounded after a few more minutes. There, poking under a nest of ODN connections, was another EPS relay assembly. "Okay, help me clear away these data cables," he said, doing the work without waiting for Nolan. "I think there's a relay that's...yes!" Jack would have pumped his fist, had it not been holding a bunch of cables at the time. "This one's good. Okay, let me unhook these cables, we might need them later otherwise I'd just cut them. It's not like the life support system is ever going to work again. I guess if we can't breathe by now, we're already dead, right?"

After freeing the EPS relay, Jack took it back to the capacitors. It was a simple matter to switch out the fused relay for the working one, just a meticulous one. He didn't want to cause a short and screw up this relay, too. "Ever play Operation?"

"What's Operation?" the other boy asked, not understanding the reference.

"The board game," Jack explained, pulling out the fused relay and setting it aside.

Nolan's head went back. "Dude, when's the last time you played a board game?" the boy asked.

Jack took hold of the life support relay and motioned with it, ignoring the question. "You were performing surgery on a guy with a pair of tweezers, and you had to pull out stuff that was wrong with him. But you couldn't touch the sides, or his nose would light up, and you'd lose." He gently lowered in the relay, honoring those same rules. "Every time I work with EPS stuff, I feel like I'm playing Operation."

"Except that sometimes," Jack connected one end to a capacitor as he spoke, "if I lose," he connected the other capacitor. "I die." The boy inhaled sharply, and then made the final connection to the main EPS conduit. Pulling out his hands, he looked at them as if amazed they were unharmed, and then showed them to Nolan. "I guess I won."

Nolan was scratching his head with his free hand. "Why don't you just isolate the relay from the power supply?"

"That'd be cheating," Jack said with a grin, still using the game analogy.

Glancing around, Nolan decided to change subjects. "Does this mean that communications is back online?" the boy asked curiously. Then added, "Or, if not, could the replicator work?"

The power to create a pair of underwear was a power that Nolan would never take for granted again.

"You can go try the replicators," Jack said, gesturing to the alcove where the replicator was set. "Assuming there's no other shorts or fuses, they should be working." The boy surmised the capacitors would have enough power for a few mundane items, so long as Nolan didn't order a whole twelve-course meal they should still have power for comms.

Turning off the flashlight, Nolan set the tool down before he got back to his feet and dashed over to the replicator panel. His shoes squealed as he skidded to a halt, nearly sliding past the panel and dropping to one-knee as he fell oven trying to overcompensate for the momentum.

Popping back up, Nolan began to eagerly press buttons across the front of the replicator, only to be swiftly greeted by a rather un-welcoming series of muted chirps that generally indicated something was wrong. Trying to sort through the error, Nolan got the status lights to change from red to amber to green, at which point he tried to key the clothing feature.

From the moment that the replicator activated, it was obvious that something was wrong. The mechanical whine was noticeably wrong. As the energy matrix began to form, the device flickered until, finally, what formed on the replicator pan was part underwear and part gelatinous mass. Glancing over at Jack, Nolan complained, "I think the pattern buffer is totes busted."

Scientific progress goes boink, yet again. "How's the communications looking?" Nolan asked eagerly.

Jack sat back on his haunches, glancing at the panels. He frowned, "I could answer that if I knew which one of these was the comms system." He hunted as he crawled forward a ways. Pulling off a panel, he unveiled another set of machinery, quickly assessing the identity and state of the components with his eyes, hands and tricorder. Pulling off an ODN cable from one of the systems, he connected it to the other system and his tricorder. Jack touched a few buttons on the tricorder, and then frowned again. "Okay, there's good news and bad news."

"So what's the good news?" Nolan asked, with a shrug.

"The good news is, the comm system is powered and functional. The bad news is, I can't contact Vesta," Jack sighed, and set down the tricorder as the reality began to sink in. They were stranded, and unless the ship had witnessed their crash landing, it was going to take a while until rescue came.

Nolan took in a breath and then let out a sigh. "Maybe it's atmospheric ducting," the surfer scientist offered, walking forward to lean over Jack and access the co-pilot's control panel. "There's probably not enough power to compensate for ionosphere refraction," the boy noted, as he looked over the limited information that was available.

Finally, leaning back, Nolan placed his hands on his hips as he tried to take stock of there situation. "So, we've got no underwear and no communications," he noted, looking down at Jack. "Either the aliens in orbit or the aliens on this planet are going to come investigating the crash sooner or later," he noted, thinking through their options. "Do we wait here and hope that the Vesta gets here first? Or should we try and explore that city you picked up?"

Jack didn't have a lot of security training or experience, but he at least had enough to know that staying in place on a pre-warp planet, especially one with global communications and aircraft technology, was probably not the best idea. "The city. We'll keep our combadges on us, so even if we can blend in with the species here, Vesta should still be able to find us."

Nolan didn't nod, though his facial expression indicated that he was considering Jack's statement. This was a pre-warp civilization, so the Prime Directive became a consideration. Just how much of a consideration, Nolan had never considered until now. Ethics of First Contact was a philosophical requirement at the Academy, but Nolan didn't think that anyone took it seriously. Much to the frustration of their instructors, to be clear.

"What about the shuttle?" Nolan asked finally, looking back down at Jack. In case his meaning was not clear, he added, "Do we just leave it here? Or..?"

Jack looked lornfully about the shuttle, his mouth drawing into a thin line. "I don't think we have a choice. Prime Directive and all." He looked down at his hands, knowing that as he said the words, he was also about to willfully violate them and venture into the planet's society. Contamination was a real possibility, but did avoiding it need to cost them their lives? Jack shook his head, already knowing the answer, ethics be damned. "If I do what I did for the capacitors, but badly, to the impulse engines, we should have a big bang."

He looked around, thinking aloud as he assembled the parts he'd need. "We'll want to be, uhh, kinda far from here when it happens. So, I'll, uhh," the boy trailed off, carefully pulling out the EPS relay he had just placed minutes ago. With it intact and ready for his plan, he searched visibly for the next part of it. "Well, I guess I could set one of the phasers to overload. That would give us time to run."


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