auswitcheroo151: AU Sato and Mayweather (Default)
[personal profile] auswitcheroo151
Three

They worked throughout the night, isolating the problems and repairing them one by one. Lieutenant T'Pol flew Shuttlepod One and ferried parts to the surface. As the morning sun peeked over the mountain ridge, T'Pol approached Phlox as the rest of the Engineering team settled in for a few hours' rest.

"Ah, Lieutenant. Can you be so kind as to hold this wire here while I solder its twin to the new circuit board?"

"Certainly, Commander." T'Pol knelt at Phlox's side and did as he asked. They worked in companionable silence, then she spoke.

"Lieutenant Rostov asked me about the step transformers on the Vulcan shield generators. He said that it might be helpful in maintaining our speed past Warp 6."

"I believe he was concerned about 'infringement'," he confessed, "so I told him to consult with you first, since you are familiar with the design."

"That was thoughtful of both of you. I have been thinking on the theory and I believe it is sound. Lieutenant Commander Tucker thinks he can apply the same principle to the power consumption problems in the Armory."

Phlox decided to take the opening she'd inadvertently given him. "I assume Lieutenant Commander Tucker has his own ideas on the subject?"

"Indeed." T'Pol raised her eyebrow and a shadow of a smile passed over her face. "He is quite resourceful in his own right. Many tend to underestimate him; some think he cares little more for anything but his weapons."

Phlox chuckled. "A compliment?"

"A statement of fact. When we were on Betazed, I would venture to say that he surprised some people with his interpersonal skills."

"Ah, yes, I noticed that. Just yesterday, he came by to talk about some possible upgrades to the Armory, to 'give me fair warning', though he assured me that we wouldn't need to worry about the ratios for another two weeks. That was considerate of him, not to 'spring it on me', as he put it."

She inclined his head. "Yes, quite considerate. I believe he may be learning some Vulcan restraint from Soval and the others."

"Tucker is quite adaptable, I've noticed, and that is one of his strengths. Granted, he is more emotional than any Vulcan, but he does employ logic at times, as incomprehensible as it may sound at the time."

If T'Pol were Human, she might have laughed. Instead, Phlox saw a genuine twinkle in her eye. "His...quirks...take some 'gettin' used to', as he would say."

Phlox hid a grin as the quote. Am I seeing the beginnings of an extraordinary friendship? Will it turn into something more substantial? This would be worth watching...without T'Pol's and Tucker's knowledge, of course. The quickest way to end it would be to point it out to the ones involved. He decided to change the subject slightly. "Speaking of 'gettin' used to' things...how is Kov doing? I know he was shaken by his experience on Betazed."

She didn't quite sigh, but Phlox heard the quiet sadness in his tone. "Kov is young, and he had been sheltered for most of his life. He is idealistic and inexperienced, but I am concerned for him now, Commander."

"It sounds as if he's lost that idealism, T'Pol. He is not as enthusiastic as he was when he came aboard."

T'Pol was silent for a long moment, then admitted, "No, he isn't. Kov is more cautious, more selective about whom he chooses to call 'friend', after Jossen's betrayal. I have addressed this concern with him on his arrival, and before Betazed, I would have approved of his new choice." She didn't look at Phlox, but she added, "Given the circumstances, I fear that such a change of his behavior may have come at too high a price."

Phlox said nothing, but considered her words. This was the most she had talked about her fellow Vulcan; she and Kov had fundamental differences in philosophy and attitude. Phlox hadn't been present at Jossen's demise---he was in command of Enterprise at the time---but he'd heard the official report and the unofficial account by Lieutenant Commander Tucker. The whole experience had affected the young Vulcan doctor deeply. Very deeply. Phlox sighed; the healing would take time, and he resolved to assist Kov any way he could. Until then, Kov needed to find his own equilibrium back.

Phlox finished the soldering, then said, "You can move your hand now, Lieutenant—"

And the lights went out. Phlox let out a muttered Denobulan curse, just as his communicator chirped. "Tucker to Phlox."

"Go ahead, Lieutenant Commander."

"Looks like one of the junctions to the other Shelter blew, Phlox. The connection is AGJ-3412."

The glow of a scanner drew Phlox's attention; T'Pol was already consulting a schematic of the Complex's layout. She nodded, then said, "That particular pathway leads through the underground tunnels marked 3412 to 3426."

"Very well, Lieutenant Commander, I'll scramble an Engineering team and we will attend to the problem. Phlox, out." He switched frequencies. "Phlox to Rostov. One of the underground junctions is malfunctioning; we will need searchlights, oxygen masks, and two portable generators."

"I'm on it, Commander. Rostov, out."

Phlox put his communicator back on his belt. "May I accompany you?" he heard T'Pol ask.

"Of course, Lieutenant. It will be helpful to have another pair of hands." He nodded at the doors. "It should be a relatively simple fix."

Of course, nothing was as simple as it seemed.

*****

"Swamps. I hate swamps. Rates up there with deserts and snowdrifts."

Phlox glanced over his shoulder as he lifted his booted foot out of the moist bog with a loud slurp. "I thought you grew up around swampland, Charles."

Trip scowled, but Phlox couldn't tell whether it was because of the swampland comment or the "Charles". "Not all of Florida is swampland, Phlox, and not all Floridians like it. It's got mosquitoes the size of your hand and gators the size of small hovercars. Humid and sticky and wet and yucky."

"Ah." Phlox managed to keep his balance as he stepped lightly onto drier ground. He reached out and supported Trip, then did the same for Rostov, Hess, Kov, and T'Pol. The Vulcan looked as uncomfortable as Phlox felt; the heat was definitely different from the dry heat of the Vulcan sands, and sweat trickled down her aristocratic features. Kov appeared even more ill at-ease.

"Here," Rostov said, and gave Kov a wet towel for his face, then did the same for Hess and T'Pol.

Kov nodded and grunted, "My gratitude, Michael. I believed Beta Polaris was difficult, but this is even worse."

"We're in the tropical latitudes," said Lieutenant Sameer Khartoumb, Travis's Exobiology expert, "so it's hot, humid, and sticky."

"Bloody hell," muttered Malcolm as Mylene helped him across. He wiped a handkerchief across his brow. "Sameer, how can you stand this?"

Kkartoumb chuckled and shrugged lightly. "I spent a year on Higamasu Three, Doctor. If you can survive that, you can survive this or the Everglades." He swept his scanner around the area. "This area's crawling with all sorts of new life. Doesn't look like anything's poisonous, though, but we ought to be careful."

"Indeed," said Thala. She pointed at a network of cave entrances cut into the nearby rock. "Over there. I believe your engineering team from your ship is already there."

They trudged through the mud until they saw Lieutenant Kelby and his team at one of the entrances. Kelby crouched on his knees as he connected a cable to one of the portable generators. Like the rest of the landing party, Kelby wore a pair of rubber waders over his regular uniform, chest-high and glowing in the lamp light. His knee-high boots were caked with dirt and his sleeves were rolled to his elbows. It was strange seeing the normally immaculate-looking Kelby with his hair stuck up in irregular spikes.

"Almost there, Chief!" Kelby called. "Just have to double-check the connections, then we can hook up the replacement equipment to the power junction."

Phlox came over to his side and nodded in approval. "Good work, Richard. Anna, you and Michael come with me. We must restore power to the other Shelters. Lieutenant T'Pol, Lieutenant Commander Tucker, Mistress Thala?"

"Right with you, Phlox," reassured Trip. He reached up and switched on his helmet light and the others did the same. Thala and Trip led the line of engineers, with Phlox and Malcolm close behind. Mylene stayed with Sameer and Kov to help them catalog the swamp life, while Kelby and his team continued to fuss over the generator.

"Good thing the Cap'n's not here," Trip commented. "This would give her the creeps."

"She did well underground at Beta Polaris," T'Pol pointed out.

"Yeah, but she still doesn't like enclosed spaces very much." He shone his torch along the walls and whistled at the intricate formations at every step. "Wow. How far up do these things go?"

Thala's answer echoed on the walls. "They could extend up for hundreds of meters, depending on the size of the cavern. The network in here is quite extensive, Lieutenant Commander. Do not be alarmed at the rustling sounds; the natives here are not venomous or dangerous. Doctor Reed, some of the lichen growing along the rocks have medicinal properties."

"Hmm...this crop could be used as an anti-bacterial agent, and this seems to have cooling properties..."

Phlox chuckled to himself. Once Reed was intrigued by something, it was doubly hard to shake his concentration. He and the doctor shared plenty in common, including curiosity. Again, a restless stirring came from high above him, but he kept moving. His scanner glowed with a soft blue light as he followed the curve of the tunnel. Then he came to a four-way intersection.

T'Pol anticipated his question. "We must go left, then straight ahead another fifteen meters, Commander. We should encounter another cavern entrance, which we must enter."

"Thank you, Lieutenant," Phlox replied and followed her directions. To his right, he saw a set of power conduit cables embedded deep within the rock. Normally, they would be shining with harnessed power, but now they were silent, except for a sharp crackle at the power junctions.

The second cavern entrance was much larger than the one above ground. Phlox didn't have to duck his head to enter it. He stepped into a pool of water that sloshed around his ankles; he tried not to wince as he negotiated his way farther into the cavern. The ceiling had risen out of view, while the floor became slicker with something worse than Denobulan iceskin.

For every action, there was an equal and opposite reaction. Phlox knew that Law of Thermodynamics by heart, as well as the Newtonian one that stated, "Objects in motion tend to stay in motion." He heard a soft curse, then a hard thud, then something hard collided with the back of his legs, bowling him over like a set of tenpins. There was nothing to hold on to, nothing to stop his forward momentum.

Phlox careened across the floor of the cavern, cursing up a blue streak in his native language, which was punctuated by another voice in frustrated...Vulcan?

Phlox saw a stalactite rising out of the floor and hooked his arm around it. His other hand grabbed the shoulder strap of a set of rubber suspenders. The strap stretched, then snapped back hard, and Phlox's unfortunate companion flew backwards into him. Phlox knew who it was immediately when the swearing switched to English...with a Southern accent.

"Charles?"

"Ouch. I think I did something to my shoulder," Trip said. "This floor's slicker than vacuum lube. You okay, Phlox?"

"I am unharmed." He managed to sit up, one hand still on the rock formation, the other on Trip. "I lost my scanner in the fall. We must have slid deeper underground."

"Yeah. I think you can let go, Phlox; I got myself anchored to another rock."

Cautiously, Phlox did so. He tapped his helmet, but the warm glow of the light threw irregular shadows on the opposite wall. "My light is malfunctioning."

"I got a glowstick, Phlox. Here." Trip snapped it, then handed it to Phlox, who slowly moved it around. They were in a different cavern, about fifty meters from the edge of a cliff. If Phlox hadn't caught that stalactite, he and Trip would have flown off into open space to an uncertain fate below.

Trip shared the realization. "Whoa. Looks like you stopped us in time, Phlox, Thanks. I owe you one."

"Not a problem, Charles." He frowned and glanced over his shoulder. "Do you hear that?"

"Hear what?" Trip fell silent, and the muffled voices echoed from behind them. "That isn't Thala and the others."

"It's coming from one of the caverns we slid past. Someone else is down here."

"Do you think we can haul ourselves up and check it out?"

"If we are cautious. If only we had some kind of climbing equipment!"

"Remind me next time to bring Travis down here. This is his kind of thing." Trip shifted his weight and said, "Okay, you've got the glowstick and the better hearing, Phlox, so you lead. I'm right behind you."

"Very well." Slowly, Phlox managed to get himself back to his feet, reversed his orientation and inch his way back up the cavern, firmly making his way from stalactite to stalactite. He heard Trip doing the same close behind him. I suppose this will definitely improve our muscle tone and endurance...Doctor Reed would approve of such exercise. But Phlox was an engineer, not a sportsman, and the effort made him more tired than he expected.

He hoped they would both make it out before their strength ran out.

Four

The voices echoed as Phlox and Trip came closer. There was the scrape of metal upon rock, then the crackle of dirt being sifted through a sieve. Someone was excavating a mineral out of the cavern? A treasure hunter, perhaps? Phlox had heard stories of such people when he was in San Francisco; most of them were unscrupulous, greedy for riches in any form.

He stepped into the side passage and onto more stable ground. As he and Trip rounded the bend, a blue glow shone from the end of the hall. They both took cover behind some rocks, then peered over the edge. Men and women were scanning the walls, taking samples, sifting through the refuse. One of them shouted something and held what looked like some sort of crystal over his head. The stone was a dull crimson, with sharp jagged ridges. Then others took up the cry as they discovered more of the stones.

The commotion shook the walls. Suddenly, a soft thrum began under the raucous yelling, and it quickly became louder and louder. It took Phlox a moment to identify the sound: the beating of tens, perhaps hundreds of wings, punctuated with shrill shrieks. It became a roar, like the thunder of the incoming tide. The jubilation stopped abruptly as realization crossed the diggers' faces; they scooped up as many of the crystals they could hold and fled towards Phlox and Trip.

The tsunami grew in size: a black wave of glowing eyes and sharp teeth pouring from the ceiling and careening off the walls. Phlox's eyes widened in surprise and fear as he realized the nature of their attackers.

"Bats!" he exclaimed. "They are bats!"

The wave quickly overwhelmed two of the diggers; they screamed as they were knocked down by the sheer force of the bats, their arms covering their heads to protect their eyes from the wicked fangs and claws. The crystals fell on the hard surface of the cavern and bounced away, but those were the least of their problems.

"Down!" Trip yelled. "We can't outrun 'em!"

Phlox saw the logic in the suggestion: the bats would quickly catch up to them and attack, but if they remained where they were, the chances of their survival were much better. So he made himself as small as he could and covered his ears. The high-pitched wails threatened to burst his eardrums and he could feel tiny claws skim his hair, but the bats left him mostly unharmed.

And just as quickly as they came, they disappeared. Phlox was frozen to the spot, afraid to look up, afraid to see the aftermath. After a full minute of silence, he uncurled himself from his ball. A few meters away, Trip Tucker did the same. Trip looked to be in one piece, even if he looked stunned.

"I'm all right," Trip said. "You?"

Phlox nodded, then a scraping sound caught his attention. He looked over his rock and saw the remains of the two unfortunate rock hounds. The sight made him queasy and he focused on the bat directly in front of him. The bat poked at one of the crystals and turned it over. Then it looked up at Phlox and made a mewling noise.

"It's a baby bat," Trip whispered. "Looks like it got lost in the chaos, Phlox."

But the engineer wasn't listening. He walked around the rock and knelt in front of the bat. Their gazes met, then Phlox asked, "May I see your treasure, Little One? It seems strange to both of us, no?"

The bat squeaked, then hopped back a step to give Phlox access. He touched the crystal with a gloved hand, then picked it up. It caught the lights of the glowstick and sparkled with ruby-orange highlights. Phlox had never seen the like, but his instincts told him this was something valuable.

The little bat chirped something else, then Phlox nodded. "You've lost your kin, hmmm? We must find them and reunite you all." He extended a finger of his free hand and the little bat hopped on. It wavered a little as it gained its balance, but its claws barely punctured the fabric of Phlox's glove. "Lieutenant Commander?"

Trip was crouched next to one of the bodies, and he rose with a grim expression. "We've gotta get topside and talk to Captain Sato. I think we've got a big problem here."

*****

Phlox learned to take his cues from the baby bat as they made their way through the caverns. Its squeaks bounced off the walls and reflected back to them. The bat indicated their path with frantic gestures of its wings. After several moments, Phlox recognized the cables strung overhead as the power lines leading to the main junctions. Trip was uncharacteristically silent; he seemed to be listening closely to their surroundings. Phlox noticed how he inclined his head in the correct direction a split second before the bat.

"Does this look familiar to you?" Phlox asked him.

"It's starting to," Trip replied, but he still seemed distracted. "T'Pol says—" He broke off, embarrassed.

Phlox raised an eyebrow. Were the two in some sort of communication with each other? It explained the armory officer's strange behavior. Could Tucker trace T'Pol's presence like he would a homing beacon, rather like the bat? Extraordinary, Phlox thought. I do wonder what passed between them on Beta Polaris, then on Betazed. I will ask later, when we have more time.

"What does she say?" Phlox encouraged.

"You'll think I'm nuts, Phlox."

"Nonsense. It is apparent she is able to contact you in some way, and I am appreciative of any help she can give us."

The glowstick highlighted Tucker's blush, but his tone was steady. "She says we're getting close to 'em. They're heading towards us; we should be within hearing range right about now—"

"Commander Phlox? Lieutenant Commander Tucker?" Indeed, T'Pol's voice sounded quite close. "Can you hear me?"

"Right here, T'Pol." Trip stepped into the cone of light made by her lantern. "Am I glad to see you."

"We were quite concerned with your sudden disappearance," T'Pol said. Her voice was as cool as ever, but Phlox now heard a glimmer of relief within it. "I am gratified to see you both safe."

Malcolm Reed spoke up. "You're holding your arm at an awkward angle, Lieutenant Commander. Did you injure it?"

"I think I wrenched my shoulder, Doc. Mind taking a look at it? It's beginning to hurt like all get out."

As Malcolm examined Trip's injury, T'Pol took a step towards them, concern in her deep amber-brown eyes. Phlox decided to distract her. "Lieutenant, I would like your opinion on a serious matter."

"On what matter?"

Phlox explained what he and Trip had seen within the caverns, and her expression because grave. "May I see this crystal that the criminals seem to covet?"

Phlox nodded and reached for the drawstring pouch attached to his belt. Trip had "borrowed" it from one of the rockhounds, since the dead man would no longer have use for it. Carefully, he opened it and withdrew the jagged crystal from it. The bat flapped its wings and chittered something in an excited tone. T'Pol raised an eyebrow at it.

"It appears you have acquired a companion, Commander."

"He lost his family in the chaos, Lieutenant. I believe he will be happy to find them again."

She examined the stone carefully, turning it over and over in her gloved hands. "I have never seen the like before. Perhaps Commander Mayweather has; we should take this sample to him."

"My thoughts exactly, Ensign." He accepted the stone and put it back into the pouch. The hiss of a hypospray interrupted what else he was going to say. Phlox watched as Trip slowly moved his arm and rotated his shoulder, then breathe a sigh of relief. "Charles?"

"Thanks, Doc," Trip said, then turned to Phlox. "Just strained a few muscles, nothing overly serious. Did you show T'Pol what we found?"

The Vulcan nodded. "I suggest we take it to Commander Mayweather and his science team on Enterprise. He might be able to tell us why it seems so valuable."

"Sounds like a plan," Trip agreed, deliberately ignoring Malcolm's smirk. "We oughta catch up with the others...they're probably worried sick about us."

"Indeed," Malcolm said. Phlox wasn't sure how to interpret the doctor's tone, but he met Reed's look of bemusement. Malcolm raised an eyebrow and Phlox mouthed, I will tell you later. Obviously, the doctor had also detected some kind of connection between Tucker and T'Pol.

Malcolm only nodded in response and made no comment as they retreated through the caverns. The bat flapped its wings, but was silent as well.

*****

To Phlox's delight, he found that Rostov and Hess had already done most of the repair work on the power junction. He was content to allow them to finish, with minimal interference on his part. Both engineers had proven to be invaluable so far during Enterprise's mission. Phlox counted himself lucky to have them on board; both Rostov and Hess would make excellent chief engineers elsewhere in the future.

Thala and Mylene examined the baby bat, and allowed Kov to scan it as they did so. Unlike the Moon Hawk, the baby bat didn't seem to mind Kov; Thala answered all of his curious questions. "Doctor Kov, I understand you are a Healer?"

"I am indeed," Kov murmured as he stroked the bat on its forehead. The bat seemed to need as much comfort as he did.

"Then you must rate highly in empathy. Sameer---Lieutenant Khartoumb---told me how the wildlife seemed attracted to your cataloging efforts while we were underground."

Kov blushed a little. "People have warned me about how my empathy could lead me into difficulty. I have the danger of sympathizing with those who do not need it."

Thala raised her eyebrow, and Phlox turned his head slightly at the odd note in Kov's voice. He wasn't the only one; Malcolm and T'Pol paused in their own conversation. Thala seemed to sense the tension in the air and made her tone as gentle as she could. "There are always those who need it, Healer Kov. We risk ourselves every time we assist an creature who may not---or do not---appreciate our efforts, but we must try. We can not afford to turn our back on our true friends, whether they be Humanoid, or have wings."

Kov glanced sideways at her with a thoughtful expression. Phlox saw the weary expression in his eyes, but he only nodded and replied, "I will think about what you have said, Mistress Thala."

"Please do." Thala said with a small smile. "It would be a tragedy to lose such a talented Healer as yourself."

Phlox sighed mentally, then turned his attention to the other group. Trip updated Captain Sato and Lieutenant Commander Archer on the impromptu journey through the caverns. Phlox watched as Hoshi's expression became grimmer and Jonathan's more disturbed.

"We found odd readings on the planetary scans from Travis," Hoshi said. "Some sort of radiation that's interfering with the readings. Nothing lethal, but enough to be noticed. Travis detected a small group of transports hiding in the residual backwash."

"Our unwelcome friends," Phlox commented.

"Indeed." Hoshi's eyes gleamed coldly in the dim light. "They tried to get away when they realized we'd seen them, but Lieutenant Trace aimed some well-timed warning shot across their bows and they gave up without a fight. Turns out they were 'prospectors' working for an Andorian mining consortium."

"Which one?" Trip asked.

"Something called Lhirana." Phlox saw Tucker's face darken like a thundercloud, and so did Hoshi's. "Captain Sound familiar?"

"It's one of General Phaelan's holdings."

"Phaelan?" Trip repeated. "Wasn't he the one that tried to get Captain Hayes thrown off Andoria during Columbia's first mission, while we were on Beta Polaris?"

Hoshi nodded. "Apparently, Phaelan's got a diverse portfolio, Trip, in many things, but if it isn't Phaelan, it's someone who works for him. I'm not going to accuse people without proof."

"Which is prudent," T'Pol added smoothly. "We do not have enough evidence to support an accusation at the moment."

Trip shot her a grateful look. "Thanks, T'Pol. I'm glad we've got the voice of logic on our side."

"Merely pointing out the obvious," she said, with a raised eyebrow. "Captain, I suggest we—"

Phlox felt Mylene's small hand on his arm. "Commander? May I speak with you? We have a complication?"

"The bat? Is he all right?" Phlox asked. He noticed the creature sitting on Kov's shoulder, quite calm, but he swore he saw a forlorn look on its face. As the Denobulan came closer, the bat emitted a small shriek and launched itself from the Healer's shoulder, circled the ceiling once, then gracefully landed on Phlox's shoulder. Its claws didn't pierce Phlox's skin at all; to his amazement, the bat began a low trill in its throat, as if it was purring.

"That confirms it," Thala said, with equal parts of consternation and amusement in her voice. "He's imprinted on you, Commander. It considers you his caregiver now."

"But—but—" Phlox spluttered, "I cannot take this bat with me. He belongs here, where he can fly free with his brethren. I work in an enclosed room, with minimal sun and fresh air. Being trapped could kill it and I refuse to condemn him to death!"

Mylene sighed and squeezed his arm. "You'll find that Pyrithian bats are quite adaptable, Commander. If we separate the two of you, this little one will die. It will pine for you when you leave and we will not be able to do anything for it."

Phlox glanced sideways at Kov, who only added, "Mistress Mylene is correct, Commander Phlox. He has grown attached to you."

"It's against your laws—"

"Then again, this has never happened," Thala pointed out. "None of our animals have imprinted on a guest. The rules must be flexible and in life—" she smiled, "—there are almost always exceptions."

Phlox sighed, looked at the bat, then turned to Captain Sato with an expression of appeal. "Captain—?"

Hoshi came over and scratched the bat under its jaw, and the purring became louder. "Well, I think we can accommodate another pet, Phlox. Jon's already got Porthos, so it's not a problem."

Malcolm rolled his eyes and huffed, "I'm not a veterinarian, but I suppose another 'pet' wouldn't hurt."

"Knew you were a softie deep inside, Doc," Trip muttered, earning himself a glare from the Englishman.

Phlox took a deep breath. "I will need instruction on how to care for him."

"We can provide that," Thala told him. "That will not be a problem—"

And the overhead lights came on. "Got it, chief!" Anna Hess called in triumph. "Positive flow to Shelters Thirty Five through Fifty Five!"

"Excellent job, Anna and Michael," Phlox said with pride. His communicator went off and Kelby's voice echoed, "That's got it, Commander. We'll have to run the emergency generator for another fifteen minutes, then we can turn it off."

"Good, Richard. We will join you momentarily. Please extend my congratulations to the rest of the engineering team. Phlox, out." Just as Phlox signed off, Hoshi's communicator went off.

"Sato."

Travis Mayweather's report was short and to the point. "Captain, we've got contacts coming into the system. Their configuration matches the transports we apprehended before, but their lead ship isn't anything I've seen."

"We're coming up, Travis," Hoshi said. "Stand by; we're heading out of the underground caverns. Sato, out." She flipped her communicator closed and looked at Thala. "I'm sorry, but—"

Thala only nodded in agreement. "We understand, Captain. We'll activate our defense systems as soon as you and your people are safely on your ship." She gave Phlox a sad smile, then gave the bat a final scratch under the jaw. "Peace be with you, Little One, and protect your Master."

The bat only chittered as if he understood her.

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October 2012

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