C/P. KT's CPSG "Halloween" challenge. Write a story using
the following items: candle, bell, grimoire (ancient book of spells),
leather, lace, cat, classroom, and an old-fashioned book. My homage to a few of the scariest movies I've ever seen. Part
One: Voyager's away team must spend an
allotted amount of time on a planet in order to complete an important trading
Copyright September 2001 Cassatt
The Shape of Shadows
"He is the Chosen One, I am certain."
"No. Look again, you must learn to read the book in the correct frame of mind. The answers are sometimes hidden amidst the language. See here?"
"It speaks of markings without describing them."
"Exactly, that is what he carries..."
"Yes, but further on it mentions that his people, here in this part of the vastness that is the all of space, will send someone to deliver us."
"Oh... he is the Link."
"Correct. His people are here. His ship is from far away. Just like it says. He will be brought here on a 'sleek and silver bird'."
"But what about his mate? It appeared as though he has none."
"Not according to my readings of the paenural - the divinations stated his mate is there, on the ship with him. Neither realizes it, though. That will be all taken care of once they are here."
"And if we must help them? We will delve into the grimoire?"
"Yes, we will delve into the grimoire to help if necessary, I know you are looking forward to that." He closed the book. "And once he and his mate are joined, and deliver the chosen one to us, then the council will have to believe. Now. We must begin preparations...."
"Two nights and almost three days? I find that unacceptable," Captain Janeway stated.
The others in the briefing room all looked to the First Officer, who noticed the expectancy with some amusement. He sighed and turned to the head of the table. "Captain, I'm sure the ship will function quite well without us. Are you certain you're not just a little, well, miffed, because of who was asked?"
Kathryn Janeway folded her arms across her chest. "What, you think I'm mad because the Umbran society is overtly and completely patriarchal?"
"It did occur to me," Chakotay said, trying not to grin but failing outright.
B'Elanna jumped in. "Captain, we can handle it, no problem."
"Yes," Kathryn said, "we can handle the ship just fine, but who's going to run the mess hall?"
"Excuse me for saying so," Chakotay said, "but I would highly recommend that it not be you." He could no longer hide his mirth, and began to chuckle out loud, joined by most of the others.
"Very funny, Chakotay." Kathryn looked at everyone and glared. There was a general shifting in their seats, tugging of their uniforms and an attempt to control their laughter by coughing discreetly. "Now, back to the question. Who is going to run the mess hall?"
"Well if it's B'Elanna, then I'm glad I'll be planetside," Tom muttered. He was rewarded with a hard smack on his arm. "Ow!"
"Don't you make cracks about my cooking, helmboy," B'Elanna stated.
"I just like my food to be dead before I eat it," Tom said. "But it doesn't matter to me. I won't be here."
The captain began to rub her temples and Chakotay took pity on her. "Neelix," he said, "I'm sure there are a number of crew members who would jump at the chance to take over for you, aren't there? Any suggestions?"
Neelix steepled his hands together on his belly. "I seem to recall an occasion when I was a bit under the weather and Ensigns Delaney did a remarkable job making lunch," he said, smiling broadly.
"See," Chakotay said to his commanding officer, "Megan and Jenny can take over mess duties. More pressing, in my opinion, is to pick the sixth man for the away mission. They were quite specific on why we were chosen. The sixth man must have an equally important role on Voyager."
Kathryn sighed deeply. "Fine. Let's go over it." She picked up a PADD from the table. "Commander Chakotay, as the most important person on the ship," she snorted, "who looks out for the crew and counsels them; Lieutenant Tom Paris who guides the ship and it's crew through space; Commander Tuvok who is the holder of pure logical thought; Ensign Harry Kim who is the holder of information; and Neelix who is the nurturer for all." She tossed the PADD back on the tabletop. "Okay. Specific reasons for all five of you..."
Tuvok held up his finger. "Captain, I believe I may have a suggestion. It is logical to assume that we may need additional security while we are there. I recommend that we take Lieutenant Ayala with us."
Chakotay smiled. "I concur. But what should we call him? He clearly has to have a title, something important."
"I have an idea," Tom said. "Why don't we call him 'the protector'? Sounds important, and I know Greg would like it."
"I agree with Mr. Paris," Tuvok said. "We will add him to the list with the description of 'protector'."
"Don't forget to send his physical parameters down there, though I still fail to see why they need that, for goodness sakes," Kathryn said.
Tom laughed. "I think they just wanted proof that we are perfect examples of the human male form."
"Oh, puleeze, spare me..." B'Elanna muttered.
"Whatever the reason," Chakotay said, again trying to hide his smile, "we need the deuterium, desperately, and we're lucky they've got it. A few days on an away mission is well worth it."
Harry said something, but so softly no one could hear him. "What was that?" Kathryn asked him.
"I just said that was a matter of opinion, I mean, I don't know about the rest of you, but these Umbra give me the creeps. There's something about them..." Harry petered off.
For the first time since the briefing began, Kathryn smiled. "Yes, they are a bit creepy, now that you mention it. I trust all of you big, strong men will have no trouble dealing with them. Any other questions? Very well, dismissed."
She watched as everyone but Tuvok filed out. Tom left speaking quietly to Harry, no doubt reassuring him, she thought. Chakotay followed, keeping an eye on them both. Yes, she was certain that all would be well with the away team. These were her finest officers, her most trusted associates. They could handle anything thrown their way.
"Captain," Tuvok said, disrupting her reverie. "I am concerned about the communication directives the Umbra have given us."
"I know, Tuvok, but contacting two of you every three hours is better than no contact at all."
"Perhaps we should make a schedule of which two you will contact in what order..."
Kathryn interrupted him. "I don't think that will be necessary. What if someone is unavailable for some reason? I'll just start at the top of the list and work my way down. Every three hours."
Tuvok hesitated. "Very well, Captain."
"Don't worry, everything will be fine."
"I do not worry."
"I apologize, of course you don't." Kathryn patted him on the arm and tried to hide her smile as they left the briefing room.
The six men, gathered in the transporter room, were seen off by their captain and a number of other women of high rank and low. Being given a hard time was one thing, being accused of siding with the patriarchal society just because they were willing to abide by their guidelines was something else. Even if it was done tongue-in-cheek. Clearly, this away mission was something that none of the six men would live down any time in the near future. And, clear to them as well, the women on the ship were going to have a field day with the remaining men on the ship. Five of the six men beaming down sent their comrades silent apologies. Tuvok considered it all irrelevant and too human to waste thought on.
They had been told the rendezvous was to be at sundown on the Umbran planet. A planet that had yet to be visited by any member of the crew, as all negotiations had taken place on Voyager. Materializing on the surface was momentarily disorienting. It was darker than they expected, feeling more like the dead of night than evening. There was, however, a full moon beginning to rise above the thick grove of trees that surrounded three sides of the beam-in site.
It was Neelix who noticed the lanterns' light heading their way. Their two hosts arrived, holding poles almost as tall as they, glass globes hanging from each, the illumination coming from thick squat candles inside. Umbran men were approximately the same height as the away team, save for the Talaxian. Their skin was pale, with a gray pallor, what the Doctor could term as 'unhealthy' if given the opportunity to do so. But their black eyes were the feature that had most of the crew talking. That was what was creepy. A little too much like Suder's. They wore flowing robes of hues too deep in color to distinguish in the low light.
Chakotay was beginning to wish they'd been allowed to bring wrist lights. After the brightness of the starship, it was taking a while for his eyes to become adjusted to the dark. He greeted the two men with a bow, as was custom. They bowed in return and instructed the six men to follow.
The group walked back with the Umbran Medrich in the lead, and Stygian in the rear, neither's lamp offering quite enough in the way of light. The path they took cut through more trees, though it was wide enough for a shuttle to clear easily. Mostly grasses, if the soft feel of it could be trusted. The smell was certainly grass like. No one from the away team said anything. There was an occasional stumble, always followed by one of the Umbra apologizing, making certain the person was not injured, which was fairly assured since none of them actually landed on the ground. But still, their hosts stopped progress and gathered beside the man who'd missed his footing. A minute later, they would split up and the walk would resume.
There were some animal noises heard, the rustle of trees deep in the grove, followed by silence, then thrashing noises of more brush being moved aside, more animals playing their deadly game of hunter and hunted. Sounds that reminded some of them of crickets were heard. Another that reminded some of an owl. A high pitched shriek came out of the darkness, startling the six off-worlders. Neelix made a strangled noise, nearly dropping his bag. Harry tripped and almost landed on the ground, but Ayala caught his elbow in time to stop the fall. Again, everyone halted as their hosts explained the sound, apologized, looked each of them over and finally began to guide them once more.
They were, except for Tuvok, almost more unnerved by the overly solicitous behavior than the environment through which they walked. And yet, they continued to keep quiet. So except for the occasional noises of what they assumed were fauna, there was only the still of the very dark night and the sound of their footsteps and heavy breathing.
Arriving at their destination after traversing a more open, larger grassy area, they each studied the building in which they'd be spending two nights and almost three days. What they could see of it anyway. The full moon had risen more, casting a silver glow, which helped.
It was at least three stories tall and very wide. Plain architecture with steeply pitched roofs and dormers. Reminiscent of the ancient architecture of Earth, to those from there who could tell. There was a porch running across fully one third of the front, with a wide set of stairs leading up to it and the front entrance. On either side of the door were lamps that radiated dim light. In many, but probably not all, of the windows there were what appeared to be candles.
Their hosts, after allowing them to stop momentarily, proceeded to herd them up the stairs and into the building. The main foyer had a look of desertion about it. It wasn't dirty, but there was a mustiness in the air that spoke of disuse. The area was large with some open archways leading to rooms, some doors, two hallways and a very imposing and ornate staircase directly opposite the front door.
Incredibly, it almost seemed darker inside than out. Lamps were scattered around, but again, they only gave off a dim light. Chakotay was beginning to think they were all flame lit, whether by a fuel source or candles he wasn't sure. Even the chandelier hanging over their heads looked to be candlelit.
It was Tom who broke the silence. "Sorta reminds me of every bad horror movie I've seen..." he muttered, almost to himself.
"What do you mean?" Harry said.
"Hard to explain, unless you've seen the vids," Tom answered. He heard, correctly, the trepidation in his best friend's voice and decided he would leave things unsaid.
Neelix didn't like the sound of that any better than Harry had but refused to ask for clarification. Chakotay had a pretty good idea what Tom was talking about, though why or how, he wasn't exactly sure. He was glad Tom didn't elaborate. Greg continued to look around, trying to see into the dark corners without any success. Tuvok studied the group.
The Umbran who had led them, Medrich, spoke in the void. "It is necessary that you are arranged in pairs. Three pairs. Then we will show you to your rooms."
The men from Voyager looked at each other and began to pair off. Tom immediately went to Harry's side and Greg joined Chakotay. Neelix happily stood next to his favorite Vulcan.
"No, no, no. That is incorrect," Medrich stated. He gently took Tom's arm and moved him next to Chakotay. The two men met each other's eyes briefly. Medrich then paired up Harry and Greg, leaving Neelix and Tuvok together. "There. Now it is done. Come with us." He and Stygian headed up the stairs. They followed.
On the upper landing, Stygian motioned for Harry, Greg, Neelix and Tuvok to go with him and headed off down the right hallway. Chakotay was about to say something, uncomfortable with splitting up, but Medrich didn't give him the chance.
"Your crew members will be fine, Chakotay," he said. "We realize you have the responsibility to insure their safety. But given your status, you must have more privacy. Come, this way." He started to walk down the left hallway.
Tom turned to Chakotay as they followed and shrugged his shoulders with a slight grin. His commanding officer returned the grin, if you could call it that - being as it was so small only one corner of one lip actually moved, before looking again at the robed man. Tom sighed to himself. Being paired up with Chakotay had set his mind off on any number of different tangents. Alone with him it was always the same thing. Old feelings. Old thoughts. Old wishes. Reasserting themselves. He sighed once more, this time aloud.
Chakotay heard Tom sigh and wondered what he was thinking. He also wondered why his heart had skipped when Medrich put Tom next to him. Then he wondered, again, what this pairing thing really meant. Why were they being taken to a different part of this building, whatever it was? Why the two of them together? Why did the Gods continually want to torture him by putting him in situations where it was just the two of them? Didn't they understand?
Medrich stopped in front of a heavy wooden door and fished out a key.
"Excuse the possible impertinence," Chakotay said, "but are you planning on locking someone in?"
"No, sir, you will have control over the key at all times," Medrich said. He unlocked the door, opened it, and waved them both inside.
They looked at each other. "Both of us?" was clearly read. They entered. Both pairs of eyes focused on one thing. Both hearts began to pound, neither knowing whether it was with true dread or not.
Prominent in the room was just one bed. A sturdy, ornately carved, four-poster bed. Covered with what looked like a plush quilt in dark tones. Two pillows.
they deliberately did not look at each other.
to Part Two
This story is entered in the Voyager Blue Alert Fanfiction Contest
This story is entered in the Voyager Blue Alert Fanfiction Contest
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