Ranma knew the minute he materialized that something was not right. First off, there was no one there to greet him. Second off, the sky was a rust color, instead of the blue, Earth-like color of the Bajoran atmosphere.
And third was the giant snake that nearly bit him. It was not the snake so much as it was the mess of jungle it was concealed in.
“AKANE?!” Ranma yelled.
No one answered.
“SHAMPOO?!” He yelled.
Again, only the now seemingly upset birds replied.
“Shampoo to Saotome?” Ranma heard over his communicator.
Ranma tapped it. “Shampoo! Where are you?”
“Shampoo have no idea. Shampoo materialize in tree.”
“Is Akane with you?”
The growl was audible.
“Come help Shampoo, then we talk about Akane.”
“Okay, okay,” Ranma pulled out his tricorder. It was set up to record information about artifacts, not scan for life signs, but he was fairly sure he could reset it.
After a couple of minutes, he had successfully done so, albeit at low power. “Okay Shampoo. I have my tricorder functioning again. Looks like you're a few kilometers away from me, so it will take me a few minutes.”
“Shampoo not going anywhere.”
Ranma wasn't quite sure why being in a tree was such an obstacle to Shampoo. She was obviously athletic enough to get herself out. There must be a bigger issue.
Ranma stopped dead in his tracks.
“Did she actually materialize IN the tree?”
Ranma began running faster before slowing down again. “No, that couldn't be. She'd probably be dead.”
Ranma put the thought out of his head and continued towards Shampoo's bio sign.
After sprinting for almost ten minutes straight, Ranma arrived at the blinking dot on his tricorder. He slid to a stop and looked around, not seeing much of anything but trees and jungle shrubbery.
“Shampoo?” he asked.
“Up here!” she called out.
Ranma turned and looked up, where he saw Shampoo dangling from a branch about fifteen meters above and to the east of him. Her white jacket had become snared on a branch and was the only thing keeping her from dropping the remaining fifteen meters.
“Are you okay?” Ranma asked, moving that way.
“RANMA! STOP!” Shampoo yelled.
Ranma complied. Shampoo pointed downwards as she explained. “Ground covered in water. At first, Shampoo just think it puddle, but then alligator looking thing come out.”
Ranma blinked. He looked a little closer at the ground underneath Shampoo. It took him a minute, but then he could see it. There was indeed some kind of reptile creature in the water.
“That's why you couldn't just slide out of your jacket and drop down?” Ranma asked.
Shampoo nodded. “Shampoo could probably deal with alligator. But not as cat,” she sighed. “Shampoo have phaser-”
Ranma groaned. Shampoo shrugged, which caused her already ripping jacket to rip a little more. “It in boot, and if Shampoo try and get it, jacket will rip.”
Ranma began to unzip his jacket, understanding exactly what he needed to do. Shampoo watched on as Ranma walked to the edge, or what he thought was the edge of the swamp, and began to kick the water.
“Here gator,” he called. Shampoo shook her head in disapproval as Ranma groaned, the gator ignoring him.
“Okay, guess I need to be a little more aggressive,” Ranma stated. He started to walk a little closer to the edge, however, the edge was not where he thought it was and the Sisko's XO fell into the swamp. The pig-tailed boy quickly transformed into a pig-tailed girl and began to splash, frantically trying to pull herself back to the surface of the water.
This did get the swamp creature's attention though. The gator quickly began to swim in Ranma's direction.
“RANMA! BEHIND YOU!” Shampoo yelled. Ranma turned to see the green beast bearing down on her. She grinned.
“KACHU TENSHIN AMAGURIKEN!!” Ranma screamed, unleashing a barrage of punches on the helpless swamp monster. After a few seconds, Ranma stopped. The creature looked at her, almost as to say, 'Really?', then collapsed. Ranma then swam across the swamp to where he would be underneath Shampoo, dragging the unconscious reptile behind her.
“Can you land on this thing and hop to the shore, so you don't hit the water?”
Shampoo giggled. “Ranma no can catch Shampoo?”
Ranma narrowed his stare. “Even if I could, your momentum would still carry us under the water.”
Shampoo continued to giggle as she started to unzip her jacket. She quickly halted though as something caught her attention.
“What's wrong?” Ranma asked.
Shampoo pointed. “Friends.”
Ranma turned to find several more gators swimming at her. “Oh jeez.”
Ranma spent the next several minutes beating alien alligators into comas before building Shampoo a makeshift gator bridge from where she would land to the shore.
Shampoo wiggled out of her uniform jacket and dropped to the swamp, bounding from gator to gator till she was on solid ground. She smiled, as did Ranma, happy not only for Shampoo's safe return to terra firma but for the fact that he would not have to deal with any cats.
Oversized alien crocs, no big deal. Tiny purple cats, that is an entirely different issue.
Ranma quickly swam to shore and began to dry herself off with her jacket. Shampoo pulled out her small, type one phaser that she had concealed in her boot and motioned at the swamp.
“Ranma want Shampoo get some water and heat it?”
Ranma shook her head. “Not right now. We might need the phaser in case we run into any more unfriendly animal life.”
Shampoo nodded and placed the phaser into her pocket. A coy grin crossed her lips when she noticed Ranma glancing at her. Ranma quickly turned away, however, Shampoo decided not to let it go unnoticed.
“Ranma see something interesting?”
Ranma shook her head.
Shampoo, now in a grey, Starfleet issue tank top, disagreed. “It too late for Ranma to upgrade from Akane model to state-of-the-art Shampoo model you know. Shampoo spoken for.”
Ranma, who was dressed similarly except that she had tied her uniform jacket around her waist, turned back to Shampoo. The rather angry look on her face shocking Shampoo slightly.
“I am glad you have found love. And yes, I admit, you're quite attractive,” Ranma blushed. “That said, I am perfectly happy with my choice and the only mistake I made was that it took me so long to make it.” Ranma pulled out his tricorder and started to take some readings as she began to walk away.
Shampoo stayed in place. After a moment, she spoke up. “Shampoo sorry, Commander. I won't tease anymore.”
Ranma let her arms drop to the side as she stopped. She didn't turn as she motioned for Shampoo to catch up with her. Shampoo did as she was instructed.
“It's okay,” Ranma said, not turning around. “I guess I am just not used to the teasing being for fun, rather than…”
“Malicious?” Shampoo smiled.
Ranma turned and smiled back. “Yeah.”
Shampoo shrugged. “Dirty tricks *usually* work.”
Ranma giggled. Shampoo looked around. “Where are we? Where everyone else?”
Ranma looked back at her tricorder. “That’s what we need to find out.”
Minako thanked every God she could think of that she continued to play sports once she transferred to the Sisko. Had she gotten out of shape, she likely would be dead already.
“HELP!!!!!!!!!!!” she screamed again, continuing to run. Again, no one heard her. She slapped her communicator, but instead of buzzing at her non-compliantly, this time it seemingly acted as if it would work.
“AINO TO ANYONE!”
“SAOTOME HERE! COMMANDER AINO?! ARE YOU ALRIGHT?!” Akane's voice called out.
“NO!” Minako cried as she turned a corner. The three large bears that were chasing her also turned the same corner, just a few meters behind her. “I AM BEING CHASED BY BEARS.”
“Shit!” Akane replied.
“Yeah, that's one way of putting it,” Minako said to herself as she continued running.
“See if you can find something to climb on top of, or hide in. I will try and home in on you with my tricorder and come and help you.”
“OKAY!” Minako screamed as one of the bears lurched at her, missing her by centimeters. Minako slid around a corner again and ran towards a stream. The forest area she was in appeared to be thinning out and she hoped that the bears would not follow her out of it.
Once she got to the stream, she ran in, the water coming up to her knees. The current was making it more difficult for her to move, but her plan seemed to be working. The bears had gotten to the stream, but seemed reluctant to follow her across, either because of the water or because of the thinner tree farm on the other side.
Once on the other side, Minako stopped to catch her breath. Two of the bears turned and left, however one bear seemed particularly determined to catch Minako and began to forge into the stream.
“Dammit!” Minako groaned as she turned. Her break seemed to have worked against her though as her leg muscles had tightened, and her running was not as quick. The bear quickly began to catch up.
Eventually, Minako found herself slipping on some mud, and falling to the ground.
The bear slowed down and started to move in on Minako. Minako backpedaled, trying to increase the distance between her and the bear.
“HEY BEAR!” a voice yelled.
Both the bear and Minako turned to see Akane running up.
The bear growled at Akane. Akane raised her arms and looked as menacing as she could. “RAWR!!”
The bear eyed her for a moment.
“Didn't you hear me?” Akane asked. “RAWR!!!!!” She screamed even louder, beginning to advance on the bear.
The bear, either confused or annoyed, turned and ran off, deciding not to take its chances with the deranged Akane. The Sisko's CMO quickly ran over to the muddy Minako to check on her.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
Minako nodded. “Yeah, just exhausted from running!”
Akane understood and helped Minako up. She turned and looked around before turning back to Minako. “I have never been on Bajor before, but I have seen enough pictures to know that we're not there.”
Minako nodded. “Yeah. The sky is the wrong color.”
The pair walked over to some rocks and sat down. Minako pulled out a tricorder and began to run some scans. “These tricorders aren't configured right, so I can't do decent scans.”
“Is that why I couldn't see you on mine till I got close to you?” Akane asked.
Minako nodded. “And the fact that our communicators would only work when we got close enough for line-of-sight communication leads me to believe that this is an unpopulated world or moon with no Federation satellites in orbit as well.”
Akane pulled her knees up to her chest and sighed. “Where do you think Ranma and the others are?”
Minako continued to look at her tricorder as she shrugged. “They could be on the other side of the planet or just over the horizon.”
“We should start looking for them,” Akane suggested.
Minako shook her head. “There is no telling how big this planet is. What we need to do is handle our three main needs first. Water, food, and shelter. I can rig your tricorder up to start sending out a distress call. As soon as a ship finds us, they will easily be able to find the others.”
Akane contemplated pulling rank. She did not like the idea of her husband being lost on this planet all alone. Of course, she realized that pulling rank probably wouldn't actually work considering she wasn't a command officer and Minako was, so despite her lower rank, she was still, technically, her boss.
*Damn the bureaucracy.* Akane cursed to herself.
“Okay,” Akane finally capitulated. “I’ll go find some water. As well, I saw some nuts that might be edible.”
Minako nodded. “There is a stream about a half kilometer to the south. Watch for bears.”
“I can assure you this is not Bajor,” Jeff groaned.
The middle-aged counselor had never actually grown frustrated with anyone before, but then again, he had never actually dealt with anyone as thick-skulled as Ryouga before.
“It's desert, isn't it?” Ryouga asked him.
“A lot of planets have deserts,” Jeff countered. “Betazed has a desert. Earth has several deserts.”
Ryouga sighed. “So how do you know we're not on Bajor?” Ryouga asked.
Jeff, again, pointed at the sky. “Bajor has a blue sky. What color is that?”
Ryouga looked. “Reddish-.”
Ryouga shook his head. “Skies change colors all the time.”
“Stop living in denial!” Jeff exclaimed.
*He's right you know.* Ryouga's mind said.
“See,” Jeff nodded. “Even your brain admits it.”
“What have I told you about reading my thoughts!” Ryouga bellowed, flailing his arms.
Jeff began to walk off. Ryouga scurried after him. “Where are you going?”
“We're going to die if we hang out in this desert,” Jeff pointed out. “I'm going to try and find some...” Jeff paused. “Non-desert to hang out in.”
“Shouldn't we wait for someone to rescue us?”
Jeff nodded. “In the non-desert.” Jeff wiped the sweat off his forehead. “It's got to be almost 45 degrees out here.”
Ryouga pulled out his tricorder. “46.2”
Jeff eyed the sun. “Looks like it will be dark soon.”
“Well, that's good.”
Jeff nodded. “Yes. Will give us a chance to freeze to death.”
Ryouga glared at Jeff. “How do you have any friends?”
“I help people cheat at poker,” Jeff admitted.
Ryouga blinked. “THAT'S HOW RANMA WON!?”
Jeff didn't reply.
“DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH I LOST?!?!”
“Fifteen bars?” Jeff asked.
“STOP THAT!” Ryouga screamed.
Jeff smiled as he and Ryouga continued to walk. As the sun dipped below the horizon, Jeff's premonition started to come true. Ryouga pulled out his tricorder.
“-2.” He stated, somewhat amazed. “That's a hell of a change.”
Jeff nodded as he took another sip of his water. “I'm getting low on water.”
Ryouga nodded. “Me too.”
“We have to get out of this desert tonight.” Jeff acknowledged. “Without water, we'll dehydrate and die in the heat tomorrow.”
Ryouga nodded in agreement. “I can't scan very far ahead, but there is vegetation 56 kilometers southeast of here.”
Jeff shivered a bit and nodded as the pair changed their heading and continued their journey in silence for a couple of kilometers. Jeff, finally sick of listening to his own teeth chatter, turned to Ryouga.
“How are things?”
“Things?” Ryouga asked, not really interested in small talk.
“Fine. I guess. Got the new helm station down. Captain Walker seems to like me well enough to where she's not yelling at me, and I don't seem to get lost as often on the ship anymore.”
Jeff nodded. “What about-”
“I really don't want to go there.”
Ryouga turned to Jeff as they walked. “Is it really your concern?”
Jeff shrugged. “Kinda. I mean, I tried to help you guys patch stuff up. I'm just curious if it worked.”
*He's right, you know.*
“See,” Jeff concluded.
Ryouga scowled at Jeff.
Jeff smiled as Ryouga sighed. “We have our ups and downs. I'm still not sure she's terribly into dating a junior officer, but I guess that's for her to get over.” Jeff nodded as Ryouga continued. “She also complains a lot about all the stuff we don't have in common.”
Jeff cocks his head slightly. “Is that why you came along on this?”
Ryouga chuckles. “It should be pretty obvious without reading my mind that I don't care even slightly about Bajoran temples or artifacts.” Ryouga sighed, looked up at the stars, then turned back to Jeff. “But if it gives us something to talk about, then I'll do it.”
Jeff grinned. “Damn, man. You're turning into an old softie!”
Ryouga turned away from Jeff. “I assume this conversation is protected by doctor-patient confidentiality.”
“More or less.”
Ryouga stopped and grabbed Jeff's sleeve. “I wonder if I killed you if they would be mad if I left you in the desert?”
Jeff grinned. “I won't tell anyone.”
Ryouga grinned back. “Good.”
The pair continued walking in silence for a bit longer. Jeff, again getting annoyed at how cold he was, turned to Ryouga again. “So, do you still hate Commander Saotome?”
Ryouga scowled both at being forced to make small talk and the subject of said small talk. “I don't hate him.”
“But you're upset he married... uh, Commander Saotome?”
Ryouga sighed. “I suppose lying would be pointless.”
“Sure,” Ryouga admitted. “But what's done is done. Why are you asking this?”
Jeff shrugged. “Just seems like you guys seem to get along better lately, which I seem to find somewhat ironic.”
Ryouga contemplated this for a moment. “Ranma has always had this arrogant nature to him. This aura of invincibility. But seeing him on the bridge when he broke down trying to get the Nerima...” Ryouga paused for a moment. “...Then he was demoted and court-martialed, that disappeared, and he became more of a man. A normal man. A man you could relate to.”
Jeff eyed Ryouga with a bit of concern in his eyes. “Schadenfreude much?”
Ryouga shook his head. “No, no. I didn't get any pleasure out of seeing him like that. It just made him more – approachable.”
Jeff wasn't quite sure if he understood but decided not to question Ryouga further.
The duo walked in silence a bit further. Ryouga, noticing Jeff's obvious discomfort, paused. He took off his jacket and handed it to Jeff.
“That's not really-” Jeff started.
“Please,” Ryouga nodded.
Jeff took the jacket and put it on over his. “Thanks.”
Ryouga grinned and resumed walking. “No problem. Dragging a frozen body would be annoying.”
Jeff smirked as he followed behind Ryouga.
JC and Usagi marched up to the captain's chair. Karyn eyed them for a second, noticing that neither of them spoke right up. She did not need to have her ten years of Starfleet experience to know that they didn't have anything good to tell her.
The look on their faces said that.
“Commander, Lieutenant,” Karyn acknowledged.
Usagi nodded to JC. JC sighed, not really wanting to be the one to deliver the news.
“Captain, I plowed through the logs and I tore the transporter apart,” he stated. “Every indication shows that there was a successful transport.”
“So, you can confirm that they materialized somewhere, alive?”
JC nodded. “The transporter did reassemble them, correctly.”
“Shit!” Makoto cried. “What if it beamed them into open space!”
JC shook his head as he turned to Makoto. “I've already ruled that out. Besides, the transporter has fail-safes, to make sure it doesn't beam people inside of rocks, in midair and whatnot, to assure there is ground underneath them.” He turned back to Karyn. “If they appeared to be beaming to 'open space', the cycle would have failed, and they would have rematerialized on the pad.”
Karyn sighed. “So, what did fail?”
“Most likely the targeting scanners,” Usagi hypothesized. JC nodded in concurrence.
“The sequence did take 301 nanoseconds longer to complete than a simulation I ran stated it should,” JC continued. That leads me to believe that the beam was somehow redirected.”
Karyn cocked her head slightly. “Somewhere else on the planet?”
“No,” JC shook his head. “Even if they were on a cave, our sensors are strong enough to have picked up their comm badges.”
“So, they're on another planet?!” Makoto gasped. “What if there is no air?!”
Both Usagi and JC turned to her this time to calm Makoto. Jansen was also, becoming alarmed, thanks to an overreacting Makoto.
“Again, the transporter fail-safes won't allow that,” JC replied. “If it detects an unsuitable environment, it will force the transporter operator to override the abort – for instance, if the away team is in EVA suits, or it will fail.”
Usagi nodded. “Since the cycle completed, it's a safe assumption that wherever they are is Class M.”
“Assumption,” Makoto sighed.
“I think I know why the targeting scanners failed,” Kaii stated from the operations station, gathering everyone's attention.
JC bounded over to him with Usagi and Karyn behind him.
“Holy hell,” JC blinked.
“WHAT?!” everyone else asked.
JC jumped. He turned slowly as Kaii began to speak. “There is an upper-level ionic disturbance about 200 kilometers from the expected beam in point. Given where we were, the transporter beam could have hit that and refracted off it.”
Karyn and Usagi looked to JC. JC nodded. “It's not normal, but it's possible.”
Kaii started typing on his computer as Karyn questioned JC some more.
“You said 301 nanoseconds longer. How far can a transporter signal go in that amount of time?”
JC thought about this for a minute. “One and a half, two light-years, tops.”
“OH LORD!” Makoto whined.
JC sighed. “We really only need to search M-Class planets.”
Kaii perked up. “I can narrow it down even more. I am fairly certain that I have a good idea which direction the beam would have refracted as well.” Kaii put a display up on the main viewer, showing a diagram of which direction the transporter beam should have gone.
“I'm showing eleven M-Class planets and moons within two light-years in that direction,” Kaii added.
Karyn turned to the temporary helmsman. “Set a course for the closest one.”
“Aye,” he replied.
JC and Usagi moved back towards the turbolift as the ship started to align itself. Makoto turned to them.
“You sure they are going to be on one of these planets?” She asked.
“No,” JC replied bluntly. “But I'd rather work under the plan of finding my friends alive and well than the alternative.”
JC walked into the turbolift. Usagi just sighed and followed him, leaving Makoto to think about her bleak outlook on things.