Curiosity Kills Part 16
Mission: To The Rescue
The tension could be cut with a knife. Millie slipped out of her harness and dropped to the forest floor. She took a deep breath, accepting the spear handed to her by Knn. Millie and the Tree People--as she and Trisha had called them to each other--lined shoulder to shoulder across from a large open field. Old gnarled men stood next to ones who looked barely older than saplings, and even some of the elder females had come to stand and protect their village. The Village warriors crushed flowers between their tendrils, smearing the vibrant reds and blues and yellows across their faces and bared chests.
A rumble behind her caught her attention, and she turned--just as Knn quickly placed his palm across her cheek and just as quickly recoiled his hand. She touched her fingers to the dampness on her cheek, and her fingers came back tinged a bright indigo.
A lump caught in her throat, and she nodded. It had been a long journey from ballerina to warrior.
Branches arched and rustled in anxious energy, and finally the enemy showed itself. First, a lone, ravenous figure stepped out of the brush with its metal teeth glittering in the sun, one against dozens. But it did not stay that way for long.
Slowly, from behind the enemy, more and more of his kind began to come into sight, all of them carrying various blunt and bladed weapons. Their red eyes were wild, but they remained disciplined until the time was right. The two sides, nearly fifty yards apart, grunted and growled at each other. The Tree People pounded the ground, their branches bristled upwards like spikes. The enemy let out a unified howl and rushed towards the natives, who reacted similarly as the battle ensued.
Just as Knn stepped forward, Millie pulled herself up onto the stirrup of the harness he'd built for her. She clung tightly to the harness as her companion rushed forward. His roar rattled in her chest, and she let out an equally-as-fierce yell. She dropped to the forest floor, took off at a run, and sent her spear sailing into the wall of Metal-Mouths.
The Tree People fought unified, using what they had been taught, and though they were not natural fighters, they were on home turf. They also had a surprise for the enemy. Once the creatures had crossed the halfway portion of the field, the surrounding trees rustled, and the ground shook as a new combatant joined the fray. The large pachyderms, which had remained hidden, charged the enemy from the side. Taken aback, the marauders began suffering heavy losses and fell back. Untrained for combat, the elephant-like creatures fell into the trap and were quickly enveloped. Surrounded on all sides they were slaughtered by the experienced killers.
Millie let out a cry of frustration. She pulled a spear out of one of the fallen Metal-Mouths, and had just turned back toward the fray when she was slammed into the ground. She gasped, the wind knocked out of her, and she quickly rolled to her stomach and pushed herself up. She barely had time to react before it rushed at her again. She felt the spear in her hand snap under the weight of both bodies, and she leveraged her knee against its chest. It pressed itself down, teeth gnashing at her.
Millie swung upwards with her right hand, the shattered spear shaft gripped in her fingers. With all her strength, she slammed the splintered end of the shaft into the neck of the Metal-Mouth. It clawed at her tunic, blood sputtering from its lips.
Suddenly, the creature flew up into the air, Knn's tendrils wrapped around its legs. Knn gave an angry roar, and swung the Metal-Mouth's body into the nearest tree. Over and over, he bashed the creature against the trunk until it hung limp in his hands. He dropped it to the forest floor, turning his concern to Millie.
She pushed herself up, wiping her face and mixing blood with indigo stain on her cheek. A roar from the other side of the clearing drew her attention.
With the pachyderms eliminated, the enemy advanced again towards the Tree People, who were regrouping following their own losses. The battle was not yet complete.
Up in the village the elders and youth had been hustled into one of the huts. Banks stood at the door, leaning on her crutch with her makeshift blade in hand. She could hear the battle raging below and awaited her turn. She didn’t have to wait long. Slowly, one of the creatures climbed up the tree and onto one of the walk paths that connected one tree to another. It licked its lips and teeth before charging her.
Even on one leg she was ready, and when the creature leapt at her she rolled with it. Though her leg screamed in pain, her adrenaline drowned it out as she rolled on top and stabbed down with her blade. The sound of metal hitting metal as the blade met the creature’s teeth clanged, but then there was the sound of metal hitting flesh. Again, and again she stabbed down, as the creature desperately attempted to get away from her. Its eyes widened this time in perhaps fear as she began to obliterate its facial structure. Finally it stopped struggling and lay motionless.
Banks pulled herself up to her feet, breathing heavily as two more creatures finished their climb. A near smirk crossed her lips as she wiped her brow with the back of her hand, smearing a bit of her fallen foe’s blood across her forehead. She gripped the hilt of her blade in her other hand. God she’d missed this.
Far below, the battle had continued to rage but when it appeared the Tree People were on the verge of victory a series of howls cried out and dozens of new foes came out into the clearing. Millie put a hand against a tree to steady her exhausted body, and felt the tree thrum almost in time to her heartbeat. She shot a panicked look to Knn, who set his own jaw and nodded. He knew, as did she, that they were outnumbered, and the few warriors and villagers that remained standing with them were the last line of defense for the village above their head.
This time instead of charging, the creatures slowly approached, nearly salivating at the sight of their exhausted and battle worn enemy. A second later a bright red bolt of phaser fire rained down and struck a creature in the back, sending it to the ground.
The Federation shuttlecraft, its side hatch open, hung in the air as three figures fired down at the creatures. As the enemy began to scatter from this unexpected attack, the shuttle came to rest in the field, and six total figures armed with phaser rifles exited, marching in precise formation. As the creatures ran to attack them, the expert marksmen dropped them in their tracks. Knn's branches rustled, and he signed to Millie--"Soft-skins!" Millie never saw his words, as her eyes filled with tears and she sank to her knees.
When the shooting ended two other figures emerged. A tall man and a short blonde woman. The woman looked across the gap to Millie and began to run to her. Evelyn dropped to her knees when she reached Millie, holding her head in both hands. "Are you okay?"
Millie blinked, gasping in a breath of air as if she'd been holding her breath the whole battle. "Ev?"
Evelyn nodded quickly before planting her lips on Millie's. For a moment she was even surprised by her actions but let that pass.
The man, on the other hand, scanned those who were still standing, hoping to find his wife, but she wasn't to be seen. He could search thrpugh the fallen, but that would take too long. Instead, he approached Millie. He didn't want to break up her and Evie's reunion, but he had to ask. "Where's Trisha?"
Knn looked down at Chance and straightened its arm then extended a middle branch on its hand before pointing up into the trees.
The Doctor looked in the direction he was given, and saw what looked like dwellings in the high branches. "Is she alive?" he asked, hopeful.
Knn made an unsure noise before motioning for another of his kind to approach and take Chance up into the village. The other knelt before Chance, indicating he should climb onto it.
It seemed the strange beings could understand him, but couldn't communicate verbally in return. Still, the grunt wasn't reassuring, and he couldn't tell from their actions if they were taking him to be reunited with her, or to see what might be left of her. He hesitated to get on the arborous being's shoulders. Did he want to find out he'd come this far only to be too late?
It wasn't a matter of wanting to, though. He would have to know either way, he just had to wait to reach the heights of their village in the trees. He'd barely settled himself on the shoulders before his guide began moving toward their destination .
They reached the tree top village after a few minutes and the creature kneeled on one of the platforms to allow Chance to climb down. The platform and the gangplanks linking them were littered with the bodies of the same creatures which had been attacking the village. Their corpses formed a macabre breadcrumb trail headed to a large structure.
Millie finally pulled away from the kiss, but only far enough that her forehead pressed to Evelyn's. "How--?" Her voice seemed shaky and exhausted.
"I kinda hacked your friend's records to find out where you were going. Then Dr. Crow got his father's permission to come find you. Don't tell her I did that she'd probably kill me." She grinned a little.
What escaped Millie's lips was a mix of a sob and a laugh. "Not probably. She will definitely kill you."
She heard a rustle of branches over their shoulder, and Evelyn's combadge crackled. "So, this must be the not-mate you mentioned," came the voice through the Universal Translator.
Evelyn looked up at the being looming over them. "You told them about me?" Her tone was faux surprise.
"We're in the middle of a rainforest, Ev. I've had two months to do nothing but talk--as much as we could do without a translator." Millie smiled.
Knn knelt on the ground next to the two women. "We had many hours to talk about the worlds in the stars."
"So you haven't been able to actually talk? How did you do it?"
"We the Padhyk," he gestured up to the village, "and our friends the Dewtains," he signaled a 'trunk' by his nose, "cannot speak the language of the other." His hands then moved in a series of gestures.
"He said they created a third language that they both could speak," a soft smile crossed Millie's face as she signed in return. "Knn has been teaching more of the signs each day."
"That's...amazing." Evelyn looked to Knn. "Thank you for keeping her safe."
In front of the large structure knelt a lone figure. Banks didn't move, with her weapon in hand. Her head was bowed and dark brown hair, long past a dye job, covered her face. Around her a half dozen of the creatures lay dead. She waited for the sounds of the next.
He almost didn't recognize her. In fact, her physical features all seemed foreign. It was her posture he recognized, and he recognized it as a spring held together by a thin thread, ready to let loose with the smallest disturbance. He hesitated to move. "Trisha..." he beckoned softly.
She raised her head, and saw him. Her eyes which had been set for combat opened wide. Her hand loosened and she dropped the blade. Slowly she stood, in obvious pain from her posture as she straightened. "How?"
He let out a breath he'd been holding, waiting to see if she was alive. He saw how unstable she looked as she stood, and rushed forward to her. "Later," he said. "What happened to you?" He looked around for a place for her to sit, or lay down. Now that he was closer, he could see some of the damage done to her. Dammit all, he should have left sooner!
For a moment she thought she'd been hallucinating until she felt his arms and her tears flowed as she clung to him. All she could do between sobs was mutter apologies.
From behind them a large wooden door opened and those she'd been protecting began to come out to see their embrace.
She leaned back and sucked in a deep breath, looking up at him. "I love you. I didn't think I'd ever get to tell you that again."
As much as her sobs tugged at him, he went into doctor mode and began to scan her to see her exact injuries. It didn't take long to see how many, and how bad they were. "I can only stabilize you here. I won't be able to fix everything until we get back to the Mercutio." He looked back to her. "I can get you something for the pain, if you want." Knowing her, he almost expected her to turn it down.
"That would be wonderful," she sounded exhausted but turned as she heard the branches rustling behind her. She looked at the group who were all watching them. She put a hand on his chest. "This is...my mate." A few of the young ones found this highly amusing.
Chance was reaching into the kit beside him for the hypo when he felt her hand on him, and it was enough to pull him out of work mode, a tactic he'd realize later had been to avoid feeling anything. Her use of what seemed like a primitive term stood out to him as well. Perhaps the people who were slowly encroaching didn't have the idea of marriage, at least not as they did, or it was simply a term that could include anyone, not dependent on the partner's gender. He had to admit that partner and spouse didn't seem quite as intimate, and he wondered if there was something to that.
He brought the hypo to her neck as he spoke softly, "Who are they?"
Before this trip she might have dimissed them as the locals or natives but six plus weeks had changed that. "Our friends." She felt the hypo and the near instant relief it brought. For the first time since the crash she felt great, without pain. "Is Millie alright? She went down to fight with the warriors."
There was a rustle of branches before Chance's combadge activated the universal translator. "The fire-skin warrior is safe." A gnarled, branchy hand extended a wooden cup of water to Banks. The Elder placed her other hand on Chance's shoulder. "We all are safe."
Banks took it and drank. "Since when can you talk?" She then saw the sunlight glint off the combadge. "Oh, nevermind."
Chance looked uncomfortably from one unknown...branch to another, feeling like he had about a third of the story, if that. "I sense a lot of explanations to fully understand what has just happened." He looked back to Trisha, and her visible injuriesreminded him that he wasn't done. "Unfortunately that's going to have to be later. I need to get you back if you want to be 100% again. And it looked like Millie is only doing slightly better than you."
She nodded. "Yea, we have a lot to discuss." She turned to the elder. "I cannot thank you and your people enough for saving us and housing us. I wish there was something I could do to repay it."
"I would come with you." The elder smiled. "I am old and I am tired, but I do not wish to plant my roots here. I wish to be planted where you will be planted."
That was....unexpected. "You want to come live with us? We live on a ship..from the stars. We don't have a place to plant."
"My seed-pod requires only soil and water." The elder took a damp cloth from one of the other elders, and she took Banks' hand, wiping the blood from it. "The Padhyk can provide the soil from here. You can give water. I will grow my roots in the stars. I have decided."
Chance blinked, taking a moment to confirm he was hearing correctly. "I, uh, am not sure we can do that. We're not a passenger ship. Our ship actually has a military purpose, even if it's peacekeeping." He was hesitant to say the next part, as it could be seen as an offer, but found himself going ahead anyways. "I expect at the very least, you'd be seen as an ambassador for your species."
"As an ambassador, I don't think she'll do much talking." Millie had been quietly approaching, her hand linked with Evelyn's. "She is telling you that it is her time to die. When they--the Padhyk--die, they are buried, and grow into the very forest we are standing in. Hundreds of generations have been buried here, and they provide the food and shelter for the generations that come after them." Millie let go of Evelyn's hand and knelt by Banks. "She's not asking to be an ambassador, Trish. She's asking to come with you to...to protect and provide for you."
"I guess we could do that..right?" She looked to Chance.
He shrugged. "I dunno. That's not my call to make." He could tell from both if them that it must be important, but that made him all the more hesitant to promise something that wasn't his to give. He tried to meet them halfway. "We can take her back with us, but it's up to Dad after that."
Banks nodded. "That's fair." She turned to the elder. "We will take you with us but our....chief must decide if you stay with us. He is the father of my mate so I do not think there will be a problem."
There were soft rumblings amongst those gathered. In the nearly six weeks they had been staying with the Tree-people--the Padhyk--they had not asked many details about the strangers they had taken in. Having the mate of the chief's son in their village was new information.
The elder nodded, placing a branchy hand on the woman next to her. "I will go with my daughter to prepare." The two of them went into the building behind them.
Banks looked to from Millie and Evelyn to Chance. "I think it's time to go home."
Ensign Evelyn Moro
Computer Systems Specialist, USS Mercutio
Lieutenant JG Aemilia "Millie" Stepanova
Chief Counselor, USS Mercutio
Lieutenant JG Chance Crow
Medical Officer, USS Mercutio
Chief Intelligence Officer, USS Mercutio