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Hollodeck Halloween 3 [CD]

Posted on Wed May 8th, 2019 @ 10:35am by Petty Officer 3rd Class Kalel & Lieutenant JG Murril Na
Edited on on Tue May 21st, 2019 @ 8:41pm

Mission: Interlude 3
Location: Empok Nor - Holodeck #14
Timeline: 25 October, 2394 - 1945 Hours

Continued from "Holodeck Halloween 2"

[ON]

Murril wanted to pause the game, to ask an hour’s worth of burning questions to the cryptic woman. Still, he held off, choosing instead to work within the rules. Na opened the third crate from the left, pulling out a second oil lantern which would extend their rest time by 200 percent. Murril handed this second lantern to her, hoping that the task of manually figuring out how to light it would slow down her thought processes to his level. Na asked, "Soooo, not Starfleet, but..."

She replied too easily, too quickly, "I’m just messing with you, sir. I’m actually from medical. We're utterly trapped down here, aren't we now?"

She turned her head to face the younger of the two men and vocally protested in jest, "Why didn't you tell me we were going to get trapped down here?!?! I thought that trapdoor led to a secret tunnel back into the woods. This is a dirt cellar." She had given up on her unlit lantern.

"I d-didn't know," Kalel replied in a whisper as footsteps shuffled across the floorboards overhead. "I've never been this far in the game before. That lamp looks familiar, though. May I?" Player 3 handed him the unlit lamp absently, and a feeling in Kalel's gut that she was truly a stranger swelled. When Eileen was having someone on, she watched their reactions. It was like a poker tell. This woman wasn't telling her spooky riddle just for the effect it would have on himself and Murril. Something frightening distracted her from focusing on them or the game for very long.

Inches above Kalel's shaved head, zombie footsteps stuttered around the cabin. A cold bead of sweat slid down the back of his neck as he pried the two lantern frames open and carefully lifted their glass globes away. Shattering glass would alert the zombies that their prey had not gotten far.
Were they smart enough to not give up? Or would their search programming time out if the players stayed hidden long enough? A candle flame snaked from the wick of the burning lantern onto the wick of the second as Kalel touched them together. He relaxed minutely as he closed them back under their glass globes and turned the wicks up to brighten the amber glow. It flooded the cellar in front of him as he held it up and began to explore.

Kalel lifted his hand grimly and slid his fingers along four furrows in the dirt wall. Then another set of furrows. Then another. He swallowed. It seemed they weren't the first players to get trapped in this cellar. "That shovel would have be nice about now..."

He frowned as one finger tripped over something hard. Expecting it was a small rock embedded in the dirt, he pulled at it, and a dusky flat piece of something bent out under his fingertip. The base of the object pivoted like it was set on a hinge. When it stuck straight out from the wall under his fingertip, it sprang down the rest of the way like a switch. A secret door!

Zombie boots hammered on the ceiling with sudden intensity and a groan of discovery. Dust rained down from the shuddering floorboards behind him, but in front of him his own looming shadow cut sharply out from the lamp light angling off of a dirt tunnel wall. His eyes opened wide and he sighed, surprised by how relieved he felt to find an escape route. Like muscle memory, past holodeck experience told him there would be a time of peace for them now before another deadly encounter...probably.

The trio passed through a secret door in the basement. As the door clicked back into place behind them, the zombies were once again cut off from the living.

Murril commented cheekily, "Huh. So T'mil did get around to programming that in." The others couldn't tell if Murril was telling the truth or just trying to keep their spirits up. He wasn’t doing a great job at the latter.

The Starfleet journalist lifted his now-lit lantern to better reveal this length of the tunnel. There were tree roots and even a few unmoving skeletons fixed partway into the soil of the walls and ceiling.

The masked woman exclaimed, "No! This is intolerable! It's the same thing, the same pattern we're stuck in. Nothing has changed. We've made no progress, but they’re always getting better at hunting us."

Pausing in step, Murril's eyes narrowed. "You aren't talking about the holodeck simulation. What were YOU referring to?"

Kalel just arched his eyebrows and waited for her reply. She seemed caught up in stresses that she had brought into the holodeck with her, and the sim was exacerbating.

She snapped, "You admirals never change. Still bureaucrats." The science officer said nothing, trying to keep up. So, she added, "Even when presented with evidence, with sacrifice, you keep on racing ahead, as if moxie and conviction are enough. How many of us have to martyr ourselves?"

Murril and Kalel exchanged glances, and Kalel silently mouthed admirals? Murril turned back to the veiled swordswoman and asked, "There are too many masks, costumes, and set dressings going on tonight for me to keep everything straight. What did you say your name was, again?"

She took the tricorne hat off her head, and the veil came off with it. "I didn't." Underneath was dark hair and an ordinary middle-aged female's face. Although, her forehead creases and ridges weren't of a familiar species. "My name is Delaris."

Murril wasn't quite sure how to tell her this, but her name didn't ring a bell at all. It was then that it happened. At the far end of the tunnel up ahead, feet clomped through the wet dirt. The light from the lanterns wobbled, making it obvious to the zombies where the prey was. The trio was trapped between two groups of zombies.

Science officer Murril Na watched the undead approach. He replied, "Well, it's only fair I remove a costume, too. Originally, my colleagues and I aboard the Cochrane didn't start this Halloween simulation from scratch." The zombies coming from up ahead were easily within the lanterns' range now. "It used to be a combat simulation, developed to help Starfleet crews deal with a particular threat." Na uttered aloud, "Computer, remove all masks."

A familiar female voice emitted from disguised speakers, "Acknowledged." Kalel, Murril, and Delaris remained the same. However, the dirt walls, the exposed roots, the embedded skeletons, their entire setting changed in appearance from organic to inorganic. Pipes, plating, tubes, readouts; the entire hallway became an organized yet unattractive environment where everything and everyone had its place. The lighting turned from the amber bobbing of the oil lanterns to a ubiquitous, utilitarian green. The tireless, slowly-walking zombies transformed their own appearance, too.

The relentless shuffle of the zombies changed cosmetically, but not in their movements or postures. These weren’t undead at all. They were Borg, and they were still coming towards the trio.

Kalel froze. Zombies were make believe. A storytelling device. A way to strike at primal fears and ask who are we, really? What Kalel knew of Borg, he'd heard from Eileen while holding her late at night. When darkness made shames easier to confess. Like all marines, she was stupidly brave. But she never wanted to face a Borg unit again. Guilt branded his guts like a hot iron X. Eileen had been one last cajole away from joining them in this run of Murril's program.

Delaris didn’t seem flustered or impressed at the unmasking of the zombie horde. She swung her sword at the nearest Borg, but these latest ones had additional ceramic armor affixed to the sides of their necks. She had been decapitating them with flourish before. “I was a nurse aboard the Lexington .” Her blade bounced off their armor. These Borg didn’t even need to develop personal force fields to defeat an edged weapon.

Murril unfolded himself, kicking lengthwise at a Borg in an attempt to knock it down into the path of its fellows, but the kick didn’t budge the Borg by a centimeter.

Baring his teeth, Kalel swung his lamp hard. The globe cracked open against an emotionless, cyborg face. A shotgun blast of glass flew in all directions, cutting into Kalel's cheek as he squeezed his eyes and turned away fast. The busted lantern clanged off of the deck of the Borg ship. Kalel opened his eyes to a blanket of flaming oil flowing down a Borg body. Fire arced down the tubes on its arms and banked in the mechanical pockets of its chest. Ignoring its own destruction, the Borg charged. Kalel tripped on a snaking tube as he retreated, and he landed heavily on his back side. The flaming Borg descended. There was no pain, only a 250-pound body landing on him, but Kalel cried out instinctively, his mind expecting a painful fire so much that its absence took seconds to register.

The Borg shuffled forward, taking down each of the three Starfleet personnel. The Borg don’t so much fight, spar, or wrestle as they simply reached out and held you still until you could no longer resist. The trio had no new tricks, no new weaponry, no new techniques left. The Borg had adapted to the players and had overcome.

The Borg ship’s corridor shifted in appearance back to the neutral grid of a Starfleet holodeck. Player 1 lost. Player 2 lost. Player 3 lost. The game was over.

Murill, Kalel, and Delaris sat wide-eyed on the tile floor. It didn’t even dawn on them to check what game level they had reached. Murril looked to Delaris. “I was aboard the Lexington , but it… I wasn’t aboard long enough to learn anyone’s names.”

"The U.S.S. Lexington..." Panting with adrenaline, Kalel searched his memory of Starfleet arcana, but the answer he came back with was impossible. "That ship was lost in the Battle of Wolf 359." Almost 30 years ago. And Murril had been there.

Fiddling with the dents in her tricorne hat, Player 3 added, “I got into an escape pod, just like everyone else did when the order to evac came through. You probably saw us out your own escape pod’s window. That accursed cube had only enough time to engage a tractor beam on one of us. They picked mine.”

Murril added, “I saw other pods being picked off by weapons fire and held by tractor beams, but enough of us launched all at the same time, the Borg couldn’t get all of us. I’m. Sorry.”

Delaris slowly wiggled and flexed the fingers of her right hand, looking at them as if she hadn’t seen them in ages. She said, “Thankfully, by the time the Enterprise blew us up, I had only been partially converted. I didn’t have to spend a single minute of my life serving the Borg. They didn’t even use anesthetics during the convertion. Did you know that?”

Her question was rhetorical. She added, “Your twist on this combat training program is a pleasant commemoration, a heavily-costumed way to remember those who fell that day, but the Borg are still out there, always learning from their mistakes.”

Standing in the cubic grid of the empty holodeck, Kalel closed his eyes, took in a deep breath, and puffed it out slowly to settle back into reality. When he opened his eyes again Delaris was gone. With no swish of the doors. Just...vanished. He grunted to himself. She was part of the program after all. He looked at Murril, and a grin split his face. "That was intense. Do we win if we rescue her from the Borg ship, or is there more?"

Junior Grade Lieutenant Murril Na sat still. Saying. Nothing.

Abruptly, Na leapt to his feet and half-tripped his way to the blank arch. "Computer, locate Player Three."
"Repeat request."
"Locate Player Three."
"There are two players."
"Locate Delaris."
"Specify Delaris."
He pressed a few controls, inputting, "Lexington. Medical. Delaris."
A personnel image of Delaris' face and shoulders appeared on the screen; her hair was worn pulled back. She wore a blue Starfleet uniform. The name "Delaris Ives" glowed in white across the lower fifth of the screen. She was young, early 20s perhaps, and she bore a strong resemblance to their veiled swordswoman.

The arch's voice answered, "Delaris Ives' last recorded appearance was at Wolf 359 on Starda..."
Na listened impatiently, then added, "Replay last five minutes of most recent game."
"Complying. Accesssss recrecrecrecords. Complying. Most recent game was 142 days ago at 20:32."
"Computer, show saved games from today."
"No games have been played on the requested dates."
"Computer, how many individuals have been in this Holodeck during the past hour?"
"Two."
Murril's heart rate was already up, and he couldn't think of anything else to input or ask. He had no ideas left on what to even look up or test. He looked at Kalel. Kalel looked back at Murril.

Murril's eyes widened as a smirk developed on his own face. Murril proudly uttered, "Computer, end program..."

Kalel was still the only other person there. Nothing had changed, except Murril's smirk, which went away.
The arch's voice interface again replied, "Holodeck Halloween already ended three minutes and 48 seconds ago."

Kalel's smile slipped away to match his friend's confusion. "She's the real person the hologram was based on, right? Did someone prank your program?"

Murril swallowed unconsciously and answered, "Well, I don't think Fhiri is still mad at me for repurposing parts off her sailsled, but a glitch this specific doesn't seem like it could be a malfunction, either. Kalel, I don't think we were playing alongside a person or a hologram at all. I think we were talking with a ghost."

Kalel chuffed a small laugh but sobered quickly at the deadpan look on Murril's face. Betazeds did claim they could sense the spirits of the dead. A chill washed through Kalel's chest. "Seriously?"

Na added, "I think she had unfinished business in needing to warn us, to... ...remind us that the Borg are still out there." Murril pondered, trying to sense any presence other than Kalel in the room. Well, she's certainly not in the holodeck anymore. It's just Kalel and myself. But why now? The anniversary of the Wolf 359 Massacre isn't for another few months. Oh. I see.

Murril inhaled, then exhaled. We just got back from Far Wanderer weeks ago, and not all of the Firebird's crew survived. The similarities are there. The escape pods. I had only been aboard each vessel a week before the incidents occurred. Both ships were basically destroyed. I don't even remember ever talking with Deloris Ives aboard the Lexington, just as I don't recall ever running into Kalel aboard the Firebird. Still, how did she even find me? We're nowhere near either sector. Did my own mental state from the stresses of Far Wanderer somehow make it easy for negative memories of the past to pull her back into the land of the living? Can ghosts even DO that across such huge distances of space and time?

Silence itched on the back of Kalel's neck, and he reached up to rub the phantom away. The program Murril had designed to test the psyche of his guests had turned its microscope on him and left him shaken. "Let's get out of here, okay? I know a little sandwich shop in the next district of the station. Never seen a Borg there." He slapped Murril's shoulder companionably, hoping Murril's ghosts would return to their graves and leave the scientist in peace for a little while.

[OFF]

Lieutenant JG Murril Na
Assistant Chief Science Officer
USS Firebird NCC-88298



Petty Officer 3rd Class Kalel
Media Relations Officer
NPC (by Yumi Han)

 

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Comments (2)

By Captain Malcom Llwyedd on Thu May 9th, 2019 @ 11:36am

I have to say I wasn't expecting a trio of posts like these but I am glad that they were written. How interesting to see Na interact with Kalel in a setting of his own creation. A Betazoid in a horror setting is awesome. I loved seeing Na's interpretation of Kalel's emotions. It wasn't heavy-handed at all. And it is always nice when a secondary NPC is given a chance to shine. Thanks for writing this very unique and entertaining story... with a mysterious ending. Nice twist!

By Lieutenant Cynfor Rees on Wed May 22nd, 2019 @ 11:38pm

My comment is to reiterate what the Captain has said. I really enjoyed this trio of posts. I read posts from the mindset of how would this look if it were a Star Trek series. This story would make a fun and interesting episode. Seeing how a Betazoid reacts to fear both their own and other people's is exceptional. This was very creative and very well done.