AOH :: GEIGER07.TXT|
"Q and A" 7 of 16
Slowly, Chris started toward the nearest building
in the town. Inside, it was dark. As he crossed the threshold,
he noticed a dank, mouldering smell. Most of the furniture
was rotted through with age and dampness. A few of the pieces
still appeared to be in good shape. He rested his hand on
the nearest chair and jumped back, startled, as it disintegrated
into a pile of soft, rotten wood. In the far corner, Chris
noticed a pile of what he thought were tattered blankets.
Upon closer inspection, though, it turned out to be the former
occupant of the house. The bones had yellowed and grown
brittle over the years.
Since there wasn't anything of use here, he moved
on to the next building to find an almost identical scene.
Chris moved on, finding each building as dilapidated as the
last, until, finally, he came to what appeared to have been
some kind of store.
As he looked through the various shelves, Chris
found little of use. There were, however, a strong coil of
rope and a long, sharp knife. The rope was in surprisingly
good condition, compared with its surroundings, and the knife
showed some signs of corrosion but looked as if it could be
used adequately as a cutting tool, and for defense if
Slipping the knife into his belt and looping the
rope over his shoulder, Ensign Gawron left the tumble-down
shop to explore the rest of the town. Other than the
decaying bones of the natives and a few rusted through cooking
utensils, there was nothing to see.
By the time he had reached the last house, Chris had
given up much hope of finding anything that could help him on
his quest, particularly because he didn't know what his quest
would entail. As he entered the last building, he noticed
that it was the only one to have any kind of floor covering,
this in the form of an ancient rug. The tattered cloth lay
incongruously in the center of the room. He tried to move
it, but found that it was firmly secured to the ground and
would not rip, despite its obvious age. Gawron drew his
phaser and fired. The carpet burned away to reveal a
weathered door, made of some metal he didn't recognize. There
didn't seem to be any way of lifting it, as the surface was
"Oh well, time to get to work," Chris said to himself
and inserted the knife into the nearly imperceptible seam
between the door and the floor around it. He pushed down with
all his strength until the door was up just high enough for
him to kick a rock into the gap.
He returned the knife to his belt and sat down until
he caught his breath. He noticed that it took longer than
usual and realized that Q hadn't warned him about this
planets thin atmosphere. Then, rising, Chris hefted the door
back and it landed on the floor with a resounding thud.
There was now a dark, gaping hole in the floor. The rock
that had been propping the door open now fell in and Chris
counted the seconds before he heard the rock hit bottom.
After an eternity, that was really only seven seconds, the
small crack of rock on rock was heard. He estimated that
the pit was at least 250 meters deep.
Ensign Gawron hurriedly grabbed some cloth scraps
off of one of the corpses in the corner, but couldn't bring
himself to wrench off a femur. Instead he found a reasonably
sound chair leg, tied the cloth scraps to it, and lit it with
a low intensity burst from his phaser. Tying a knot in one
end of his rope, he lifted the door just enough to slide the
rope under it, the knot preventing, he hoped, the rope from
sliding down with him once he put his full weight on it.
The other end of the rope was tossed into the pit. Grabbing
the torch with one hand, he started down the rope into the
hole. It took about fifteen minutes to reach the floor below.
Slowly, Chris surveyed the situation. He was in a large
cavern with a vaulted ceiling. Rocks and bones of various
shapes and sizes littered the cave floor. Three tunnels
branched off in front of him.
Since he couldn't think of anything better to do,
Chris arbitrarily chose the rightmost tunnel and started to
explore. He had barely gone around the first bend when he
was forced to stop abruptly at the edge of a yawning chasm.
He tossed a rather large stone down into the darkness. Soon
it was lost from torchlight. He waited five seconds for it
to hit bottom ... ten seconds ... fifteen seconds ... twenty
seconds passed and still he heard no sound from below. A
rocky outcropping projected out over the pit, about halfway
across, well out of Chris' reach.
Looking beside him, Ensign Gawron saw a broad-
leafed plant. Curious, he broke off a leaf and examined it.
Some fluid, sap he assumed, ran out of the leaf onto his
hands. It was thick and extremely sticky. Suddenly, he had
Dropping the leaf, Chris ran back to the cavern and
cut off as much of his rope as he could reach. He estimated
that he had twelve or thirteen feet, as the rope had been just
two meters longer than the depth of the pit. He scooped up a
handful of rocks and ran back to the edge of the pit, careful
not to get too close for fear of falling in.
Back on the Enterprise, a confused look came over
Riker's face as Chris, on the viewscreen, split one end of the
rope lengthwise, coated the strands with sap, and then wrapped
them around the stones he had picked up.
"What the hell does he think he's doing? This is no
time for arts and crafts!" asked Riker.
Data, sitting at Ops turned and said, "I believe his
purpose will become clear in a moment, sir."
On the screen, Chris dried the sap with flames from
his torch, all the while, careful not to set the rope itself
ablaze. Then, swinging it in wide circles, he let it fly out
over the pit. The heavy end wrapped itself around the rocky
outcropping a few times and Chris pulled on the rope to make
sure it would hold. Confident in its strength, he picked up
his torch and swung out across the abyss. The torchlight
danced eerily on the walls, making Chris unsure where the
other side of the pit really was. He tossed the torch as
far as he could toward the other side of the pit and it
landed about 2 meters from the edge and bounced to a halt.
The light steadied and Chris readied himself for his leap
off the rope. As his swing reached its greatest length
toward the far side, he jumped off the rope.
Troi gasped in horror as Chris mistimed his leap and
slammed into the edge of the pit.
His hands clawing furiously for some purchase on the
hard ground, Chris slowly slid farther over the edge. Finally,
just as he was about to fall to his death, he found a handhold
and he hoisted himself away from the edge and lay flat on his
back, trying to regain the strength in his arms. When they
were no longer throbbing from the exertion, he got to his
feet, retrieved his torch, and set off down the tunnel.
Eventually, Chris came upon an underground lake. It was the
width of the tunnel and swallowed his torchlight, providing no
view of the bottom, if indeed there was one. Chris decided to
swim out a little way to see how far he could proceed. He walked
in the cold water, torch held high above his head to prevent it
from accidentally being extinguished. Soon, when the water
became to deep to wade any further, he began to swim. For
a few hundred meters, he swam along easily until the tunnel
roof sloped down to meet the water, blocking his advance.
He weighed his options. He could return to the
original junction and try a different tunnel or he could
press on. He decided to keep going, since the other two
tunnels could be false leads and he'd end up back here anyway.
Unfortunately, he'd have to give up his torch. In order to
provide as much light as possible, at least for awhile, he
jammed the torch into a depression in the rocky wall before
him. Then, taking a few deep breaths to hyperoxygenate his
blood, Ensign Gawron slipped below the obsidian surface of the
lake. Luckily, the water was clear, if a little dark, and the
torch provided ample illumination. Swimming quickly, looking
everywhere for a tunnel or some other way to proceed, he went
deeper and deeper. Finally, as he approached the lake bottom,
Gawron found what he was looking for: a tunnel, more than wide
enough for him to swim through. He was so excited about his
find that he entered the tunnel without noticing the bones of
various other explorers, half buried in the ooze.
At the other end of the tunnel, he could see a dim
light. Eagerly Chris swam on. Ahead, a dark shape separated
itself from the tunnel floor. There was some kind of
phosphorescence in the tunnel walls which allowed Chris to see,
barely. Soon the shape revealed itself to be an alien fish,
mouth open, teeth glinting in the dim light, headed directly
towards him. It had a long, muscular neck, stream-lined body,
and powerful tail. Its two forward flippers were spade shaped
and propelled it along at at least ten knots. On its head
were two short, horn-shaped projections that Chris assumed
were sense organs, the creature being nearly blind living in
the shadowy depths as it did.
All of these observations were made while Chris struggled
to slip the knife out of his belt. Too late he realized it
was futile. The creature was on him, twining its neck around
him, trying to squeeze the life out of him. Sharp teeth gnashed
Chris knew that he was running out of both time and
options. His lungs already ached for clean air and what oxygen
was left was being slowly forced out by the creature's reptilian
As darkness fought for control of his peripheral vision,
he remembered his phaser. The water would diffuse the beam,
but that would work to his advantage if the creature had even
rudimentary vision. Slipping the phaser out of its holster
on his belt, he set it for wide dispersal and fired it directly
into the creature's eyes. He noted with satisfaction that the
creature's sensory horns suffered slight burns, as did most
of the thing's face. Shocked and in pain, the creature
loosened its grip and Chris kicked free, swimming as hard as
he could to the end of the tunnel. He broke the surface of
the water into the cool, sweet air just as the blackness which
had battled for the periphery of his vision had won and was
After catching his breath, he gave himself a quick
once-over looking for any injuries. The dull pain in his
side told him that he had bruised some ribs, but that seemed
the worst of his injuries.
Gathering himself, he started off down the tunnel.
Again he noted the phosphorescence in the walls and assumed
that it was some kind of light emitting mineral indigenous
to this planet. As time was of the essence, he gave it only
a cursory examination and continued off down the passage.
Eventually, the tunnel widened and Chris found himself
in a sort of room, carved out of the rock. The floor was
covered in a mosaic of different sized tiles, many of which
were covered with soot and what looked like grease. In the
wall to his left he noticed several small holes surrounded by
black, oily patches of rock. Between the holes were larger,
dark patches of soot and ash. Curious, Chris looked across
at the other wall. Opposite the larger patches were holes,
similar to those on the near wall. In addition, the holes
on the near wall were directly across from large, oily stains
identical to those he had just examined.
Moving forward to investigate, Chris tripped over
a loose piece of tile and fell, his hand striking a piece of
the mosaic floor. The tile disappeared into the floor as
flames shot from the apertures in both walls. After a few
seconds they extinguished themselves and Chris stood up. He
had felt the heat from the flames on his back. He took out
his knife and tossed it further across the floor. Immediately
flames shot forth. Chris waited for them to die down and then
ran as fast as he could, feet barely touching the ground.
Fortunately, when he did touch the ground, he seemed to land
only on safe tiles, because the flamethrowers remained inactive,
at least until he was three quarters of the way across. He
felt rather than saw the flames spring forward to envelope
him. With a last, desperate burst of speed, Ensign Gawron
launched himself through the far doorway. He landed, slapping
at his clothes, rolling to smother the flames. He had been
lucky, his wet clothes had protected him for the most part.
Now his clothes were dry and he was ready to continue. He
thought about retrieving the knife, but when he saw how far
into the room it was, he changed his mind. He walked around
a bend in the tunnel and came upon a blank wall.
Just as he was about to give up and turn back, he
noticed a button below a sign that read "PRESS ME." Figuring
he had nothing to lose, Chris reached toward the button and
as his finger touched it...he felt his body slowly dissolve.
On the Bridge, all was confusion. Worf was fuming
about what he perceived to be duplicity on Q's part. Picard
and Riker were talking anxiously among themselves, Troi
occasionally interjecting a comment. Wesley was scanning the
planet's surface for any sign of human life readings. Data
was the only one who did not show any outward signs of emotion.
Instead, he merely looked at the viewscreen, analyzing what
had happened, occasionally glancing at his control panel, where
the time left to them was counting down.
"We have only seven hours, forty-three minutes, and
fifteen seconds before we impact with the planet," read off
Data. Immediately silence reigned.
"Let's hope that both Q and Gawron know what they're
doing," said Riker hopefully.
"Gawron has confidence in himself," said Troi. "Q, as
always, is an unknown. We must treat him with caution."
"Agreed. I have no wish to spend the rest of my
existence trapped in the past," said Picard.
"Especially since we may cease to exist if we change
the past sufficiently. It would be a life of constant paranoia
and dread that our actions may endanger our continued
existence and that of our history as we know it," informed
On the viewscreen, Gawron had reappeared in the
Assuming that it was Q's work, Chris wasted no time
and set off down the middle tunnel. As he did, he noticed
that the knife had been replaced in his belt. "I guess Q
wants me to have some kind of a chance," he thought to
Soon, the tunnel narrowed and Ensign Gawron noticed
that it was littered with thick, green tendrils. Not paying
them much mind, he forged ahead. But as soon as his foot
touched one of them, they all came to life, twisting around
his legs. Instantly, the phaser appeared in one hand, the
knife in the other. Simultaneously firing and slashing, he
slowly forced his way ahead. Soon the tunnel behind him was
filled with burned or bleeding tentacles, many still writhing
spasmodically. The air was thick with the smell of charred
plants. Still Chris fought on, swinging away with the knife
and firing left and right. He had slipped into a fighting
frenzy, firing and slashing wildly, when he noticed that the
charge on his phaser was low. Deciding to preserve as much
as possible, he stopped firing and forced himself to calm
down. He cut his way through the remaining tendrils.
Finally he was through and, looking ahead, Chris saw
a shimmering pool and realized for the first time how thirsty
he had become. Slipping his weapons back into their storage
areas on his belt, Chris ran forward and fell at the edge of
the pool. As he bent to take a drink, he noticed the skeleton
of an alien warrior, half in and half out of the pool. His
lips were almost touching the surface of the pool when he
sensed that something was wrong with the skeleton. It simply
wasn't there below the pool's surface. Chris kicked the rest
of the creature into the pool. It sank slowly and then the
corpse bubbled away. Soon nothing remained of the alien but
a greasy spot, which soon dispersed.
"Acid," Gawron thought. "I have to be more careful.
Oh well, no sense killing myself over a drink." Still thirsty,
he continued on. After walking for what he estimated to be
an hour, he felt a slight breeze on his cheek and heard a low
whirring sound, as if something was rushing past his ear.
Drawing his knife, he held it up in front of him. It was
immediately snatched from his grasp and broken in two by a
seemingly invisible force. Upon closer examination, however,
Chris saw a razor thin blade spinning at eye level, so thin
as to be invisible in the dim light to any unsuspecting
"Gives new meaning to the phrase `a little off the
top,'" Chris thought out loud. Ducking, he quickly moved
past the blade. Again he reached a dead end tunnel. This
time when he tried to move, he found he couldn't. Looking
down, he saw that he was trapped in some sort of sticky ooze.
Just out of reach was the button that said "PRESS ME." He
dared not try to stretch further. If he fell, Chris doubted
that he could get back up off the floor. Drawing his phaser,
he tried to melt the glue to no avail. Finding only one option
open to him, Gawron threw the phaser as hard as he could at
the "PRESS ME" button.
As soon as the phaser made contact, he found himself
at the familiar junction. Directly ahead of him, the phaser
clattered to the floor a short distance into the middle tunnel.
Chris retrieved it, noticing that it was now his only weapon,
as the knife had not been replaced this time. Remarkably,
the tricorder which hung over his should had survived unscathed
Returning to the junction, Ensign Gawron set off down
the third, and he hoped final, tunnel. Before he had gotten
far, however, he heard a low rumbling and turned just in time
to see the cavern roof collapse, blocking off any hopes of
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