The Setting: the badlands of Tortuna, among the ruins of
the slaughtered Tortunian people...
- Mel^ turns the lights down low....
The plot: the rangers have crash-landed out there, and
night is falling...
<mel^> why where they there in the first place???
Did Goose pilot again?
Investigation of Queenie's latest sceeme. Why else?
- Bruinhilda nods to Jessica
<mel^> just wanted to know specifics. :)
<mel^> get the feel...
We'll leave the crown troopers out of it for this story.
And assume they crashed undetected.
<mel^> okay :)
Thank you -- no fake Western accents need apply!
<mel^> they have sometype of stealth thing on ranger one anyway who all
is in it???
All four. Should we include the ambassadors?
<mel^> Zozo running around scared out of his mind.... :)
All right, then. :) All six.
And Waldo not buying it until he gets hit.
<mel^> okay lets see here do you have an opening idea???
How about all 6 staggering out from a crashed Ranger One?
<mel^> Goose wouldnb't really buy it either neither would Zach
<mel^> Doc and Zozo would be the first :)
Ranger One is wrecked, buried halfway in sand. An
incredible storm is on the horizon, and threatening to engulf our heroes
if they don't reach shelter.
The team looked at the remains of their cruiser.
Ranger-1 had come in hard, but at the last moment,
Goose and Zach had managed to pull the nose up and
belly out onto the hard scrub.
Nearby are some ruins of the Tortunian people..
and Doc would be saying he doesn't believe as he hides under
Let us begin. :)
With CK's line.
"Come on, guys," Zach said sternly as everyone rose and
checked themselves over for broken bones.
"Goose," Doc said. "*Are* you capable of flying without
crashing the ship?"
<mel^> goose stood close to their fallen craft looking at the wreckage
"any landing you can walk away from..." Niko commented.
<mel^> "I can't tell not in this light" he said glareing up at the
clouds and seeing signs of the coming storm
"Or stagger, at least," Zach commented wryly. They were
all a little unsteady on their feet
"We have to scanvenge what we can," Waldo said. "Im afraid
our craft is a total loss. And to prevent the Crown from getting the
"Yeah, but I had to give you something to complain about"
Goose growled at Doc.
"...we're going to have to blow it up. Wonderful."
"All right, grab what you can and take shelter. That storm's
coming up fast," Zach orders.
"Goose, Niko, get the horses. Doc, get the emergency
Zach sighed, and looked at his ruined ship. "I'll see
about putting the ship out of it's misery."
"Give them the easy job...." Doc griped ashe clambered over the
Waldo staggered to his feet. "Allow me, Captain. I know
the engine best."
Within five minutes, Triton, Mel, Voyager, and Brutus were
pulled from the wreck. It took Doc a bit more time to activate the
beacon, as it was buried under what used to be the storage lockers.
<mel^> mounting the horses they scanned the horizen for shelter...
Finally, though, he dragged it from underneath, and carried
"Beacon's on - let me cleck over the horses, they might have been
damaged in the crash." Doc said, brushing dust and dirt from his hands.
"Everybody out?" asked Zach.
Several meters distant, a series of three-story buildings rise
from the sand dunes. They're obviously in poor shape, but it's the
"That ghost town over there looks promising," said Goose. "It
might hold up against the storm, and it beats standing out here like
"we're going to stay 'there'?" Zozo asked, a tremor in his voice.
"Start heading for it. I'll be right behind you."
The structures appear to be the worn-down remains of suberbs, as
broken furniture and ancient vehicles silently attest too. Still, they've
held up through worse disasters.
"What's wrong with there, Zozo?" asked Doc
<mel^> Zach took a last glance at ranger one and "said it's the best we
can to lets move out..."
Voyager was unhappy about heading towards the ghost town.."It
might have bugs" she complained.
"It might be haunted." Zozo said, clutching at Waldo's cloak.
They mounted the horses, Waldo sharing Brutus with Zach, and
Zozo riding with Niko on Mel.
"Kiwi and their superstitions..." sighed Waldo.
"Why should YOU worry?" Doc asked Voyager. "Your systems are
sealed tight against darn near anything!"
"what are ghosts?" Voyager asked Doc.
"Zozo! There are no such things as ghosts. Now, stop
being silly, and let's get under cover."
"I don't like spiders, Wilbur. Creeps me out, that's all."
"Insubstantial images of past lives." Doc replied
Waldo sighed as Zach helped him up. "Kiwi!" he muttered. =20
"they sound creepy!" Voyager said.
"Worried more about ghosts, than about joining the
Doc sighed. "It's gonna be a loooong night..."
Goose and Trition ride ahead. They stop before a structure in
the center of town. "This structure is the most stable, Goose," the
<mel^> Goose turned and glared at the Kiwi saying "if there ARE ghost
all your noise will tell them we are coming a mile away now frankly I'm
not worried about that but if there is anyone else taking shelter there I
don't want your jabbering warning them we are comeing"
The wind picked up, blowing a wave of gritty sand against them.
"Let's ride." Zach ordered.
<mel^> "Goose is right lets keep quiet as we get closer and keep your
eyes peeled for anything." Zach agareed...
The sand seemed to be right on their heels, barely outrunning
the waves of sand that looked like good ocean waves.
"what do ghosts look like Wilbur??" Voyager asked
"What do you think they look like, Voyager?" Doc replied
"Like you??" She answered
<mel^> "Doc" zach repremanded... "lets keep quiet"
"Gee, how flattering," Doc answered her, quietly.
Doc looked at Niko, who gave him a small grin. "Yes, Voyager. All
ghosts look like me, charming, intellectual, and very snappy dressers."
"I'll download a file into your memory banks later, girl.
"Then why are people scared of them?"
Goose glared at Doc and rolled his eyes, Niko couldn't
suppress a giggle.
"why Zach? Are you frightened of them too?" Voyager asked
"Will you two keep it down-" Zach hissedas they rode ino the
remains of the burg.
"Ego intimidation, of course."
<mel^> they moved ahead into the old dilapidated town Goose moved ahead
scouting out what wwas left of the town...
A sudden bang spun them all around, but it was just a flap of metal
slamming arounf in the wind.
A lot of dust swirled around them as they moved down the
streets, but nothing else moved
<mel^> after a moment Goose road back "It looks all clear captain,
nothing here but that building ahead looks stable enough"
"Then we'll use that. We don't have time to be picky."=20
Zach gestured to the storm overhead.
"If that's the ritz, let me call our travel agent, I want a
refund." Doc muttered.
Niko took a deep breath. "That place used to be a hotel..."
Her voice was distant. She looked back up.
Doc grinned. "Maybe there's still a guestbook we can
"You sense anything, Niko?" Zach asked.
"Humans and Kiwi," Waldo muttered. "How did I earn this?"
<mel^> Zach nodded "lets move into the bottem floor and you can check
out the rest once we get inside"
"You decided to fly to Earth, that's how." Zozo replied.
Niko nodded. "Yes, but I didn't want to. This used to be the
business district. It was crowded when the Queen's bombs hit. A lot of
"Ghosts." Zozo said.
As the group went indoors, their footsteps creaked on the rotted
wood. This place was now half-covered in sand, with more blowing through
the cracks in the wall.
"Ohh Ghosts!!" squeeled Voyager happily.
"Sounds unprofessional," said Niko. "But I'm inclined to
<mel^> "well we need the shelter this place is as good as any" zach
nodded to niko as the group dissmounted and moved into the bottem of the
"If I recall correctly, Zozo, and I usually do, going to
Earth was YOUR idea, not mine," Waldo said primly.
The wind began to howl outside as the storm began to sweep over thr
ruined town. "Goose, we'd better secure the doors and windows to stop the
sand blowing in. "Zach said.
A third of the doors and windows were beyond repair, bu the rest
got secured quickly.
<mel^> "Gott it captain" Goose said wrestleing with the old windows...
"Right," Goose said, as the pair rode Triton and Brutus up to
the hotel front door, and walked in.
"picky, picky." Zozo shot back, his eyes wide as he tried to look
everywhere at once, ever alert for his spectres.
<mel^> once they had the place shut up tight they began to look
"Hey look, an old terminal."
The hotel was in surprisingly good shape for it's age, and
"Doc said as he brushed the dust off a rusted metal object with a
broken glass front.
Tattered white cloth covered some of the surviving furniture and
windows. A dusty ledger stood on the remains of the front desk. The
stairs were rickety, but manageable.
Niko walked over to the desk, and carefully opened the ledger. A
cloud of dust slowly rose as she brushed one of the pages clean. "This
place is over 200 years old." She said.
"If it still works, see if you can pick up ESPN," goose
Zozo looked nervously around, with his senses on overdrive.
"Zozo.." Waldo put a hand on his shoulder, and the Kiwi
leaped 5 feet into the air.
"Y-Y-Yeah, Waldo?!?!?" he stammered.
"Darn it, Waldo, you scared me out of a year's growth! And I
can't afford any!"
"The Queen had occupied Tortuna for two hundred ten years. This
region would have been among the first to be hit when she invaded." Waldo
"Two hundred -- ?!" Zach exclaimed.
Waldo sighed, the Andorian equivient of rolling his eyes.=20
"Would you relax? There's nothing here that will harm you."
"He's right, Captain. This place is long-gone. The only thing we're
going to find here is tortunan Rats." Goose added.
"Rats?!" Excalamed Zozo. He started checking his feet.
Doc let out a yelp as a dog-sized hairy thing ran out from behind
the counte and scrabled up the stair.
"My Gooseman, you call THAT a rat!?!?"
"A tortunan Rat?" Niko said, looking after the vanished creature.
<mel^> Zozo looked around nervously as the others brought stuff in and
unpacked the horses. Glanceing down a hallway from the main room he
noticed a movement and froze in place not breatheing waiting for more
movement when there was none he turned to walk quickly back to the others
but out of the corner of his eye he again saw movement and froze with a
sinking feeling in his stomach he made a small crying noise and called
out for help "Ummm Goose, W
"Face didn't look right," Zach said.
<mel^> Zozo trying not to move nodded slightly with his head.
Goose pulled out the blaster and chot one that was charging
towards the party, leaving its friends to scatter. "Not anymore."
"They must grow them big out here." Goose said with a shrug. "Hey,
relax Doc. They don't normally eat thig bigger than they are. Zozo, you'd
better stick close to the rest of us though. You might be a tasty
"Oh, great." the Kiwi sighed.
<mel^> Niko aimed her flashlight down the hall and saw a tall woman and
a small child standing next to her started she dropped the flasshlight
Zozo yelped, and jumped to Waldo's shoulders.
Goose spun around, blaster at the ready. "What?"
Zach and Doc stared in disbelief.
<mel^> Zozo Screamed and hid behind her "Lets get out of here!!!"
"I thought I saw..." Niko aimed the light again
"Guys, I saw something...I don't believe it."
Waldo, overbalanced, winmilled madly for a moment before
<mel^> Niko laughed
"It's a picture!"
<mel^> "what are you laughing at Niko lets... huh??"
"not until the storm's over."
Goose walked down the corridor, then back to the main room.
"There's nothing down here, Niko."
Still laughing, she walked over. A full length portriat
stood against the wall.
<mel^> it's only a Mirror Zozo you where just wseeing your reflection=20
"I'm sorry. I saw this picture, and..."
Doc laughed out loud, easing some of the tension.
"And we're getting way too spooked. We have to stay here
all night, folks," Zach reminded them.
<mel^> "thats why it kept moveing" she smiled comphorting and handed him
"We have at least ten hours before a ship from BETA can land and
find us. "Let's make the best of it, people." Dos suggested.
"Very real picture." Goose poked at it. "The artist knew
"My gooseman, the art critic." Doc added.
<mel^> "one of those Poe dolls will have that effect on you" goose said
"Let's check out the upper floors and basement, see how
well-secured they are... just in case," Zach suggested.
He walked back to the main room, leaving doc without a snappy
Seeing Zozo's panicked look, he added "together".
Zozo breathed a sigh of relief.
"Hey guys, just remember what happened last time we thought
there were ghosts about?" Doc said. "Turned out to just be a suicidal
AI." He shook his head. "Bummer about Speck, though."=20
"So we'll think of that first," Goose said. "personally,
if it doesn't shoot, I'm not worried.
Suddenly all the lights in the room turned on.
"What if it bites you?" Niko teased
The six of them walked up the creaky stairs single-file, led
by Zach and his flashlight.
"I heal fast," Goose replied.
"Okay who found the light switch?" Zach asked
"Not me." "Nope." Uh-uh." "Ditto."
Zozo really started to look panicked.
Doc waved his hand in front of a small red light. The
lights dimmed in response.
The Kiwi took a deep breath.
The ancient ceiling lights crackled on and off, sparking as they
clung to life.
"Automatic lights. But still working after 200
years...that's eerie." Doc let his hand drop.
"Take out the ehole city block, and the lights still work.
The engineers deserve a good beer."
"Well, never look a gift horse in the mouth." Zach snapped
off his flashlight.
"Just one problem with that," Goose frowned, "Triton didn't
detect any intact power sources on our way here."
Maybe a generator in the basement?
"Lights don't require much power, Goose." doc replied.
Everyone looked at each other, then at Doc and Waldo, the two
most technically-inclined of the party.
"Possibly." Goose frowned. "Still..."
"They could use a superconducter, with connection to a generator a
distance away..." Waldo added.
"Maybe Triton had sand in his sensor array," Doc said.
"Almost undoubtedly a generator," Waldo said. "One I'd
like to have a look at. To work this well after so long..."
"Some intact solar cells on the roof, perhaps?"
"Very likely." Waldo said.
"Quiet!" Zach commanded, and everyone fell silent. =20
Thumps could be heard, very faintly.
"He and Goose were looking down the corridor. then everyone else
hard it, a steady tapping sound, much like fingernailson a surface.
"I heard something," the captain said. "Everyone else?"
Zozo's ears stood straight up and shiverred.
"Yeah," Goose replied as Niko nodded. Everyone drew their
blasters and snuck quietly towards the source of that sound.
Almost perversly, the thumps stopped, then started again,
on the opposite wall.
"I hope it' rats." Zozo whispered to Waldo.
Doc rolled his eyes. "Poltergeists, maybe?"
"I think we should me more worried about raiders," Goose
"Maybe they're here for urban renewal," Doc replied.
"Raiders don't act subtly, my gooseman." Doc reminded him.
"some of 'em might be smart. Stay sharp."
Zach motioned for silence, then used hand signals for the group
to form a circle around the sound and move in.
They continued down the hallway. The thumping followed
Goose slowly walked forwward andstood beside the wall, He pointed
to a section, and they could see tiny shivers in the dust that coincided
with the thumping.
He leveled his gun, then bellowed, "Come on out! Or we'll
The thumping stopped abruptly.
"Uh, now what?" asked Doc nervously.
Outside, the storm was banging hard against the walls. they
were holding up, but escape was going to be suicidal.
"Now we find out what's going on and take shelter," Zach
Suddenly, from downstairs, was a whinney of
Doc turned and raced down the hall.
Doc pushed his way past Waldo and Zozo, bolting down the
He took the stairs three at a time, blaster ready.
Downstairs, all four houses were dancing around. Tiny
little things skittered all over them.
Goose was right behind him, with the rest of the team following
"What the --?!"
"Somebody call Orkin!!"
"Spiders!" Doc gaped in astonishment.
"Hold on, voyager, I'm herre!" doc cried, and brushed the thing
off. He pulled his hand back with a snarl. "It bit me!"
The others used the tattered cloths to knock the spiders off.
"Damn! Never a flamethrower around when you need one!"
Voyager was leaping, knocking over old furniture. She
looked about ready to crash through the doors.
"Me and my big mouth," Zozo muttered.
"Voyager, honey, now CALM DOWN. These spiders can't hurt
you, you're metal, remember?"
"Easy, Voyager, easy!" Doc grabber her reins.
"B-B-But they ITCH, Wilbuuuuuuuur!" She was ready to bolt.
"These do!" Doc had never seen a robot shudder before.
"Easy. They're gone. See?" =20
And they were. All the spiders vanished as if they had never been
Voyager shuddered for a few more minutes, prancing around as her
tail swiped away imaginary spiders.
"What in the name of-" zach said, looking around in astonishment.
"All right. Someone's playing games, and I don't like it."
Zach glared around the room.
"Holograms?" Asked Niko?
Doc raised an eyebrow. "Maybe. Let me see if I can trace
"Holograms don't bite." Doc held out his hand. "This hurts
"A hologram doesn't do this." Docsaid, showing the swelling bit on
Niko blinked, then grabbed the medkit from Mel's pack.
"What if they're controlled from a central location?" Waldo
"I'd like to know how." Goose picked up a dead one that
was still on the floor.
"This is organic, not cybernetic. Doc?" Goose handed it
to the hacker.
Doc pulled out his CDU with his good hand and manged to power up
the compact sensing unit.
"It's a spider, all right. A...Fenokee Acid Spider?" he
asked in astonishment
He looked at his hand again. The bite was bubbling the
skin around it.
Niko grabbed hishand and sprayed some medical foam on it. He sighed
as the anesthetic went to work.
Niko looked puzzled. "How did they get all the way here?" she
asked as she treated Doc's wound. "A shipping convoy lose them or=20
"Nobody in their right mind would ship these. They'd eat
"That leaves about a billion crazies in the universe,"
She raised an eyebrow. "Including the Queen -- but it still
doesn't make sense. She'd never let something like this get away."
"They could have been aboard a ship by accident. A few wandered
aboard during a landing, then got offwhen theship landed or crashed
"Put that thing in a storage box," Zach ordered. If those
things are being shipped around, we could have a major problem down the
Niko scooped the spider into a box and closed it, then slipped the
box into Mel's saddlebag.
"I'm sorry girl," Doc said as he patted Voyager. "You were
right, they were biting you."
Voyager pushed her head into his chest. "I want to leave,
Wilbur. Can't we stay somewhere else?"
The background howling suddenly tripled in intensity as the
sandstorm grows worse. The outer walls shaked slightly with their sheer
"There is nowhere else." goose said.
"'Fraid not, hon. Don't worry, we'll keep a watch out."
"It's gettig late." Zach said. "We'd better set up a watch and get
"So much for privacy," Zach muttered. "All right, we'll
sleep down here."
"Triton, old boy, what do your scans say now about this
rat-trap?" Goose asked.
"Lots of rats." Replied the steed.
"Zozo, Niko, come with me. We'll strip some beds. The
rest of you, stay here."
"Where exactly?" Goose kept both hands on his blasters, just in
"In the walls, in the ceiling, everywhere."
"Swell," Goose groaned. "So much for sleep. I'll never get any
now -- I'll take first watch."
Zach nodded, as he and the others walked upstairs again.
"I'll keep you company." Niko commented as she stood at the bottom
"'Preciate it," Goose smiled. He stacked the furniture against
the cracks and holes in the walls to keep the storm out. He moved the
cybersteed by the front desk for more security.
Make that "cybersteedS."
By the time he'd fisished shifting the furniture, the others were
back with piled of dusty beedding.
"Rats and Spiders and Boogeymen, oh my," Doc whispered.
"That's what I like about you, Doc -- your incurable optimism,"
His eyes narrowed as he scanned the room for trouble, then began
Niko sat on the counter, reading the old ledger, glancing around
After patrolling the room for a few minutes, Goose went up to
Niko. "You ever gone through anything like THIS before?"
"Not really," she admitted.
"Any legends, stories, tales about stuff like this?"
"On Bastuit we encountered similar things, but not on this
"What was on Bastuit?"
"Aside from Mogul and his spells?"
"Yep," he smiled.
Niko thought a moment. "there were...images. phantoms
that would appear and dissapear.
"Did you sense anything from them? Did they mean us any harm?"
We surmised they were aftereffects of Mogul's magic, but we wee
never really sure what they were.
"Some of them were violent, others were just...there. The
Basuiti are used to them."
She smiled. "Becka used to play with one. It never caused
"So all these spooks aren't violent?"
the ones on Basuit, for the most part, weren't - thereweresome that
were, though." niko said.
"They rarely are. They're usually just images. Old mental
tapes, if you will."
"Okay... thanks, Niko." Goose resumed his patrol with a
thoughtful look on his face.
Zach and Waldo were the only ones who got any decent sleep. Doc
kept tossing and turning. Zozo's eyes were closed, but he was wide awake
A few hours into their watch, Niko looked up, her brows wrinkled
with concentration, at a point on the ceiling.
Goose caught her expression. "What is it?"
"Something is watching us." She said
He took position before his sleeping friends. "Does it feel
"Not at all."
"UH-oh..." Goose nudged Zach and Doc with his foot. "Captain!
Doc! We've got company!"
"What is it?" Zach asked, wearily getting to his feet.
"We're being watched, Cap'n," Niko answered
Niko continued looking at the ceiling.
"Niko senses something -- and it ain't a friend!" Goose kept his
blasters out, trigger-fingers ready.
Doc pulled out the CDU and set it to wide scan. "No electrical
activity, aside from us, the horse,s and our eqquipment within a ten mile
Waldo and Zozo woke up. "More ghosts?" the Kiwi asked with
A soft, but very deep noise rumbled through the room - an
unintelligible sound, like a deep bass note
"Sounds like whalesong," Goose remarked.
The sound played again, this time a bit clearer ... 'eve'
"'Eve?'" Zach asked. "Now what the devil does THAT mean?"
The storm's intensity suddenly died, and they clearly heard a very
deep voice say 'Leave'
"Leave?" questioned Doc.
"Y-you don't have to tell me twice." Zozo said, scrambling to his
feet and running towards the door.
"Good idea, except for those 100 mile an hour winds."
"Hey!" Goose yelled at the ceiling. "If you want us to leave,
fine! But tone those winds down a bit so we're NOT blown to pieces!"
Goose glanced at Zach. "NOW what, Cap'n?"
"That does it." Zach pulled his blaster, and aimed it at
"We're not going anywhere." Zach said with determination
Doc cocked his head, then turned to Niko. "If I didn't know better,
I'd swear that wasn't a real voice."
The blaster shot ripped a hole in the ceiling, unleaching a howling
noise and a blowing wave of gritty sand.
"I don't think it is, Doc," Niko answered slowly.
Zach prepared to fire again, but Goose stopped him, "Captain,
The swirling sand took on the form of a figure,
The GRs moved in for a closer look.
Doc levelled the CDU at it. There's nothing there but sand and air.
No energy source, no magnetic field, nothing!"
With a howl, it lunged, and engulfed Niko.
"NIKO!" Gose shouted. He ran forward to grab her.
Wind howled through the room, blowing dust over all of
Goose was beaten back.
"Niko! Can you hear us?" Zach shouted.
Niko stood unmoving, surrounded by the swirling sand. Herhair
flowing like a silky mane around her.
Niko shrieked, then turned ashen and moaned softly before
thew dust dispersed, all but tossing her to the floor.
The wind roared, and collapsed in on itself. Dust drifted
to the floor. Niko was gone.
Goose yelled out inconherently, and raced over to where she had
been a second ago,
"She's gone!" Zozo cried. "Where'd she go?"
"NIKO!" Goose screamed in shock, looking around frantically.
"Nothing on the scanners," Doc stammered.
Doc pulled out the CDU and tapped his badge. Immediately, lifeline
appeared. "lifeline, find the Series-5 implant for Niko. Find it now!"
The little icon-sprite flickered, and then shot off out the wall of
Zach did a quick scan of the nearby rooms. No Niko.
An agonising few minutes later, the sprite reappeared and
downloaded into the CDU. Everyone looked at Doc
The lights dimmed suddenly.
"She's not here." doc looked anguished.
"Lifeline could find herwithin a fifty mile radius. And she's nowhere
in that area."
ZAch turned to Mel. "Mel, can you use your sensors to track
"Zach, we've got to find her!" Goose wanted to go charging
out to find her.
Before Mel could respond, the lights cut out.
"LEAVE!" thundered the voice
"Generator must have run out of gas." Zozo said.
"Not without Niko!" Goose shouted.
"What did you do with her?!"
"Never!" Goose yelled
"Where IS she?!" Doc demanded.
The wind swirled around them softly.
"We're not leaving until we find Niko," Zach promised in a
quietly serious voice.
Then, the voice laughed evilly.
"Then you shall stay."
the entier building began to rumble and shake
Doc looked around. "Can't say much for your luxury
accomodations," he quipped.
A ball of light formed at the ceiling. Then, with an
explosion, it vanished, and Niko appeared.
"now do you believe me?!" Zozo barked at Waldo.
Goose ran forward and caught her in his arms.
"About what, little friend?" Waldo asked.
Her body was cold, and she stared ahead unseeing.
"About ghosts, Waldo!" Zozo answered.
ZAch and Doc were immediately at her side. "Niko, wake up!" the
captain urged as Doc scanned her vitals.
Doc set the CDU to medical and ran a scanon her. "She's alive, but
beyondthat, I can't tell you anything."
"If you do not leave, you will join us. Forever." Then,
the voice stopped, and the light came back on.
Niko gasped, and sat up suddenly.
"How can thathappen?" Doc asked.
"You okay?" Goose asked in relief.
"There was nothing, nothing at all..." she shuddered.
Goose drew Niko in closer as she shivered violently.
"If we are being influenced by a 'ghost', how can we join it?" doc
"It'll kill us. That's how."
"It could have done so already, if it really wanted to," Zach
"We're not going to die. None of us." Goose said through gritted
"It's toying with us," Niko whispered.
"Cat and mouse," Doc guessed.
Outside, they all suddenly heard a roar, then the sound of a
'It is time to join us.' The voice said as the explosion echoed
through the suddenly quiet building.
"Sorry, I'm lousy at paying membership dues," Doc replied.
Zozo pulled open the door, and the light from a massive fire lit
the inside of the motel.
Music started playing, Zach whipped around with the
flashlight. Not only was the old piano-like instrument in the lobby
playing, but someone was playing it. He could have sworn that
insubstantial things, like dying Slaverlords were walking around=20
"Everyone out -- NOW!!" he ordered.
Voyager gave an electronic whinny, and bolted straight into
Theh could see the flames, but they were ghostly, insubstantial,
and the buildings thet were urbing weren't real, either.
burning - urbing
"Move it, move it, move it!" Zach urged.
Goose picked up Niko and carried her outside, followed by Triton
The wind howled around them.
Brutus and the Ambassadors were right on their heels. Zach and
Doc brought up the rear.
"You will never leave now!" The voice said, fading away as if it
was being drawn off by an invisible force.
<`Tripwire> "Is everybody here?" asked Zach.
outside was a scene straight out of Dante's inferno. The small town
was alive with light and explosion. But it was all unreal.
The sandstorm's fury buffeted the Rangers in waves of stinging
Doc walked over to a burning inferno and then stepped through it.
"It's not real!" He exclaimed.
Zach looked puzzled. "Holograms or illusions?"
The storm blew fiercely, then faded away, leaving the night
suddenly completely calm, except for the flickering ghost fires.
"This is too weird -- even for us," Zozo commented.
"I can see the stars." Waldo said, looking up.
"Slalverlords." Goose said, spinning to face the six slaverlords
walking towards them.
Zach and Doc whipped out their blasters.
"They aren't there." Niko said. "Not really. This is anecho of the
"So what do we do?" asked Zozo.
"You mean we're being hchased by _memories?!_" Zach asked in a
The fire suddenly intensified, and now there was heat to go
"We have to leave this area." Niko said. Otherwise we may become
part of the memories, and exist only in this loop forever. It's becoming
more real the longer we stay"
"Where do we go?" Doc looked around wildy.
"You heard the lady," Zach nodded, "fall back to Ranger One."
"No! Back Inside!" ordered Niko.
"Back inside?" Goose asked.
<`Tripwire> "Huh!!" asked Doc
"But that's where the ghosts are!" Zozo cried.
"Back inside!" she hollered. "If we leave this scene while
"That building survived the attack. It's safe." Niko explained.
"We're IN the memories now?" Zach guesses.
"The storm!" Doc suddenly realized. "If we step into
"...we're toast. Let's go." Zach motioned them all
They headed inside the hotel once more.
Voyager had to be coaxed inside, but she went.
Goose was last in, and he hauled the doors shut with a solid
"Now what?" Zach asked Niko.
"Waldo, what do you know of the old Tortunans?"
"That they had reached a level of technology compatable with
our own. tortuna itself was a coloy world. A port of call for all
species. A haven world, so to speak."
"What about their psychic abilities, or mystic powers? Did they
"Not that we know of."
"Some of the races might, but it's possible that the Queen
kiled them all. She had a 'special' way of dealing with psuchics, I'm
"Many, many races and people were lost in her reign."
Zach glowered at the mention of the Queen's name.
Niko walked around the room. "I think that whoever inhabited this
area did have a reasonably high level of psychic ability."
Doc narrowed his eyes, but didn't say anytthing, yet.
"So after they died, they left a psychic... fingerprint?" Goose
possibly. If enough of them died. And from the looks of the attack
outside, there was a lot of dead people here two hundred years ago."
"This is no fingerprint."
Zach glared at the hole in the ceiling. =20
Doc walked over to the corner of the wall the voice had first
appeared from. "Who were you?" He asked.
The voice responeded with laugher. "I AM."
"I have always BEEN."
Zach looked up. "What do you want from us?"
The hotel rocked, knocking them to their feet.
"Your life, your hearts, your SOULS!"
"In that order?" Doc asked.
The secone voice was quiet, and mild. "Leave, while you
"No invaders! Death to the Monarch who caused this pain!"
"We're on your side!" Doc shouted.
"You are the invaders."
"Are you?" the voice laughed.
"The other voices are echos," Niko said suddenly. There's
only one presence here."
"Can you do anything for it, babe?" Goose asked her.
"No" the voice gloated.
"I wasn't talkin' to YOU," Goose snarled.
"But I am talking to YOU," the voice answered mockingly.
"Unfortunate, isn't it?" Doc quipped.
"Yeah, well, too bad pal -- wait your turn! Well, Niko?"
Thousands of spiders suddenly crawled out of the walls, and
raced at them. Voyager shrieked again, and nearly bowled Doc over.
Goose tapped his badge and leapt into the thickest batch of them.
"Oh, not *again*," he groaned.
"Upstairs, NOW!" Zach thundered.
They ran up the stairs in 5 seconds flat, squishing a lot of
spiders on the way.
"I've had enough of spiders, and rats the size of dogs!" Goose
yelled as his bio-defenses actviated.
"Have you?" the voice laughed.
The spiders glowed menacinly. "Uh, Goose..." Doc begain
"Goose, come on!" Zach hollered. Goose ran for the
Goose's skin shifted until it glowed like liquid chrome. The
defense against the acid.
Behind him, the spiders started splitting apart, gushing
Zach and Doc covered for him as he dashed up the stairs.
The floor hissed as it was eaten away. Holes started
A river of acid dissolved the floor benesth them, barely missing
Goose's feet by inches.
Then, with a roar, it fell in, crashing to the basement
The fumes made them gasp and choke for air.
"We should go into demolitions someday," Doc observed.
"Someday will never exist for you," the voice threatened
right next to Doc's ear.
Waldo looked at the staircase, and they all felt the floor shift.
"That acdi's still working. It's going to collapse this entirebuilding.
"Back everyone -- move to higher ground," Zach ordered.
Come on, Voyager, move those hoofs!" Doc yelled, pushing at
the stumbling horse.
"I'm scared, Wilbur!"
"I'm trying, Wilbur. These stairs weren't made for
"Better scared than dissolved!"
"I know you're spooked, old girl."
"Dissolved?" Voyager looked behind her, apparently unaware
of what had happened.
Then, she shrieked, and bolted.
Doc went from pushing the steed to falling over asshe bolted up the
stairs in a second.
"Oh my God..." Zach grabbed Doc, and pulled him up. "Move
it, move it, MOVE IT!"
"Don't have to tell me twice, my brave Captain!" They made
Behind them, a huge version of the little acid spiders
crawled out of the hole.
"I have had enough of this!" Goose said, and turned to face the
He raised both pistols, and fired right into it's face.
With a very human scream, it collapsed and vanished back
into the basement.
"How much longer till our ride gets here?" Zozo asked.
fife hours at the earliest, Zozo."doc replied
"Too damn long. Keep moving, people!" Zach yelled.
"I had to ask," Zozo gulped.
"Nice shot, Goose." Niko gave a weak smile.
I'm not big on spiders." Goose replied, his biodefenses fading.
"Niko, any idea on WHY this thing's after us?!" Zach said.
The upstairs hallway was dark now, and seemed huge, instead
of narrow, as it had been earlier.
She shook her head.
The building began to shake and tremble as the explosions outside
grew in ferocity and intensity
"It just hates. It doesn't have reason."
"Guys, check me on this," Doc said suddenly. "shouldn't it
be more crowded up here?"
"Yeah," Goose replied.
Everyone looked around them. Zach reached out, touched the
wall with his left hand. His right didn't come anywhere near the other
We're not in Kansas any more, people." Doc said.
"You're late," piped a little voice. Everyone whirled,
A little girl with dusky skin and feathered hair stood
there. "You'll miss the party."
Zach looked at her in surprise. "Who are you?"
"Come on." She turned and walked away. The rangers traded
"Niko?" Zach asked. Niko shook her head.
"I always _did_ like a good party... but not when I'm running
for my life," Doc said.
"I don't think it's...*him*," she said. "But I don't think
what do we do?"
"What'd you pick up from that kid?" Goose asked Niko.
"Nothing. She's blank."
"An old image?" Zach asked.
"Just like those other spooks," Goose muttered.
"She's not real. I still cant' detect anyting other than us ...
uh-oh." doc said.
"'uh-oh'? What now?"
"I can detect the fire and explosions outside. They are now
beginning to give off energy. It's becomingmore real."
The thumping in the walls started again, louder than
"Are we witnessing the Queen's destruction of this town?" Zach
"I think so." Niko replied.
"So how do we get out?" Goose said.
"You are witnessing MY destruction!" the voice laughed
behind them. Everyone whirled towards it.
"Man, you really SHOULD be a _little_ creative when you threaten
people!" Doc said.
"how pitiful. Reduced to sarcasm."
"Sarcasm is a fine art, my dear ghost," Doc smiled.
The murals on the wall suddenly brightened, and the
pictures began to move.
"Stay close, everyone. Keep alert," Zach whispered.
"So is destruction, my dear Walter," it hissed.
"Yes, but destruction's WAY too messy for my refined taste."
The people in the mural laughed and danced. Music could
be, very faintly, heard.
"Scenes from the past," Zach surmised.
"Oh, you WISH, Zachary!" the voice laughed.
The music stopped. All the dancers turned towards the
"Guys..." Doc said, backing up.
"If you're so high-and-mighty, then what do you need US for?!"
"I don't," it hissed. "But when mice are in your house,
you do what you can with them."
"Uhm, chase 'em away and wish them a pleasant journey?"
"We're not mice." Goose said.
The dancers features started to melt and run. Faint
screams echoed from the painting.
"Oh my God..." Zach whispered in a horrified tone.
"Perhaps you need a *proper* demonstration."
"No, no, no, we're just fine seeing it all from here, thanks,"
The room suddenly heaved, and they crashed to the floor.
When they looked up, the ceiling was miles above them.
"OW!" "Yeeowtch!" "Get your foot outta my ear!" "Sorry, Zozo."
"You okay, Niko?" "Fine, Goose -- thanks for catching me."
The hallway had become an immense room. Zozo backed into a
wooden pillar, and yelped.
"This doesn't look good..." Doc murmered.
"I have a BAD feeling about this," Niko said.
Goose looked up. "A chair?" he asked, pointing to the
"This looks VERY bad..."
There was a yowl from the mural. As they watched, the
paint rolled and heaved. And left the wall.
"No..." Zach whispered as realization dawns on him. "We're the
SIZE of mice!"
"How very astute," the moving paint hissed. "And I'm the
"And he's the fox, so you're in big trouble," Doc replied as he
jabbed a thumb at Zach.
It solidified with a snap, into an immense grey cat.
"Scatter!" yelled Goose as the kitty charged.
"Mount up! Now!" Zach leaped to Brutus's saddle, pulling
Waldo with him.
"Aim for its eyes when you get a chance," he ordered.
Everyone leaped to the horses, and bolted. The cat landed
right where they had been.
To hell with a chance..." goosesaid, squeezing off shot after shot
at the giganticfeline.
It raised it's head, and gave an ear-shattering yowl.
Zach shrugged and joined in.
Then it charged straight for goose.
Zach tapoed his badge and primed the thunderbolt as the cat
"There was a tremendous explosion as it connected. The cat
"yeuch!" Doc said as splattered bits flew everywhere
"Eeeewwww!!" Zozo held his nose.
"Everyone okay?" Zach asked.
They all noddedas the bits ofcat dissolved back into smears of
"Smellier, but fine." Doc brushed blood off his shirt.
"Yeah, Cap'n -- a bit scratched, but okay," Goose replied.
"That was too easy," Niko murmured.
"You are SO right, Niko," the voice snarled.
"I wish you wouldn't say things like that," Doc sighed.
The floor evaporated underneath them.
"YAAHH!" "What the -- ?!" "Noooo!"
They fell, screaming. There was nothing but darkness
<where'a an="" ecto-containment="" unit="" when="" you="" need="" it?="">
</where'a> They all clung to their cybersteeds, praying for the best.
The ground suddenly rushed up at them, and they hit with
"Owtch!" "Ohh, my head!" "I think I broke -- everything!"
"Where's an ecto-containment unit when you need it?!" Doc asked. "I'm
gonna talk to Q-Ball about this when we get home!"
"Everyone still in one piece?" Zach asked.
"More or less," Niko groaned.
"I thig I bok my ose," Zozo muttered.
Doc grabbed the first aid kit from Voyager and went to work.
"Where are we now?" Waldo asked.
They looked around. "Offhand, I'd say Dante's Inferno,"
"Good guess," Zach muttered.
They were on a field of rock and crystal. Fire swept in
rivers ahead of them.
"Ghost traps -- definitely make ghost-traps standard Ranger
issue in the field," Doc resolved.
"What now, Cap'n?" Goose asked.
Zach looked up. Solid rock closed overhead as he=20
"We go forward, I guess. Nothing else we can do."
After repairing minor damage on the cybersteeds, they did just
"Wilbuuuur, the ground is too hot. My feet will melt!"
Voyager cried. "I want to go home!"
"Don't worry -- it'll all be over soon," Doc soothed.
"Easy, girl, we'll get there. Just keep moving," Doc
"The only way home, voyager, is to go forward." Waldo advised.
They kept walking. Fire and lava bubbled around them.=20
Sulfer rose in steam.
Voyager kept muttering -- and even cursed once or twice -- about
the heat in the place as she continued.
"Where is all this coming from?" Zach asked.
"From us," Niko answered. "It's pulling images out of our
mind, and making them real."
"Maybe we should be thinking happy thoughts," Doc=20
"But is it actuallyreal?" Zach persisted.
"It is as real, Captain, as we can imagine it to be." Niko
"wait a minute.. if we imagine a tropical island paradise with
dozens of dancing girls, we'll be there?" Doc asked.
"Possibly. But it twists everything to suit it's needs,"
"So much for a free vacation," Doc sighed.
"You work with what you have," the voice gloated. =20
A hula woman stepped out of the fire, grinning madly.
"If this isn't real, then we can WILL ourselves outta here?"
Goose wanted to know.
"Oh no, my dear Shane. Only I can will you out of here.=20
And I will you to stay."
Doc looked at her in horror. "I really need to learn to shut
She laughed, and imploded back into fire.
The ground shook again, causing the horses to dance
"Niko, if we combine our power can you get us out of this?" Zach
"I don't know. But it's worth a try."
They joined hands, and activated their badges.
Niko made a six-way telepathic link.
*Everyone, concentrate on the hotel. Picture us back
the familiar yellow glow surrounded them, radiating from Niko in
She combined all their wills together as they reached out as
With a howl, the inferno around them became void, and
pressed in on them. Only Niko's sheild kept it at bay.
*Hang on,* Zach told everyone.
"You won't leave - I won't let you!"
*Don't look back, keep the hotel in your minds,* Niko=20
*We're going,* Niko said.
"We're GONE," Doc added. And they were.
*Suck on that, ya creep,* Goose gloated.
The hotel shimmered back into existacne around them, as did the
howl of the storm outside.
They reappeared in the lobby. Three feet off the floor.
"Uh, whooops!" Doc gasped as they fell.
The 'steeds landed on their feet. Their riders held on.
Oof! I see the floor's back," Goose grunted.
"Everyone all right?" Zach asked.
"For now, anyway." Zach looked around.
It was all an illusion?" Waldo asked
"Yes and no," Niko replied.
Niko leaned over Mel's back, breathing deeply.
"I can't do that again, Captain."
"I think we have to risk the storm." Zach said.
"Might be our only way outta this mess," Gose concurrred.
"Death inside, Death outside!" the voice roared.
"Hey, better the stings of sanfd particles then all of this
poltergeist stuff," Doc agreed.
"I vote for outside," Doc said.
Thr strom isn't as strong as it was. Only eighty mile winds
whipping that gritty dust." It'll just sandblast us." Doc added.
"Better the porch than here. Let's go."
Goose pulled open the big doors, and they all stepped outside into
the blinding standstorm.
"Triton! Can you detect Ranger One?" Goose yelled as his voice
was carried away by the winds.
The wind buffeted them, whipping their hair and clothes.=20
They ignored it as best they could, and moved away from the hotel.
"It's too far away! We won't make it!" Waldo hollered.
"Everybody, hunker down! Get as low to the ground as you
can," Zach ordered.
"walk behind the horses. Use them as a shield!" Niko yelled
They did, the horses as well, surrounding the frailer
humanoids with their bodies.
"What now? do we just sit it out?" Goose yelled.
"Better than getting lost in that storm!" Zach responed.
The storm raged unabated around them. Everyone closed
their eyes against the grit, and prayed silently.
Isn't Ranger 1 destroyed?
Maybe they could ttake shelter in the remains -- a burned-out
<but, it's="" moot.="" they="" aren't="" going="" anywhere="" just="" yet="">
"Let's move over there. Closer to that wall. It'sfacing thestorm,
so it can give us shelter!" Doc yelled
"Do you really think I am confined to that wreck of a
building?" The wind howled in a familar voice.
"Do it!" Zach yelled.
"Oh no. Can't we get away from that thing?" Doc groaned.
"Matches the wreck of your mind," Niko muttered.
"I AM this place, this town," the voice hissed. "I have
always been here, and I always will be. And you...you will fall, as
everyone else who came here did."
The wind stopped abruptly.
"That come with a money-back guarantee?" Doc asked.
A Crown Trooper staggered towards them. The rangers raised
With an inarticulate cry, it simple collapsed.
Sun suddenly shone brightly. All around them, troopers and
"The memory image - it's all around us!" Niko gasped
"Now what?" Zach asked. He fired at a slaverlord that
ventured too close.
"Oh, goody -- target practice!" With a feral gleam in his eye,
Goose lept up and started firing.
The shots had no effect.
Niko put a hand on his shoulder. "Its not real. Not yet,
A trooper fired at some unseen thing behind them, and they felt the
heat of the beam as it swept by them.
"Whoops. That was," Doc said.
"So what's real and what isn't?" Goose was extremely
"Parts are more real than other." Niko said. "The things that could
do massive or irreprable damage are the most real. The figures themsleves
are nor real."
"All is real. All is false. Only I am." The voice
"you know, I'm getting REAL tired of you, pal," Goose
"If you're all that's real, I quit," Doc said.
"Oh, Docy-poo, don't be that way," Doc leaped straight
into the air as a beautiful woman snuggled up to him. =20
"That the best you can do?" Zach taunted. "I bet that's all you
are -- parlor tricks! You have no power -- you're the one who's not
"Oh, I'm VERY real, Zachary. And you can't escape me."
Eliza appeared, and walked up to him. "I can make you VERY
happy, or I can kill you. All at a whim."
Zach's eyes narrowed. "That is the last straw."
"You can take on any form, trick us, torment us. But when you have
the gall to take on the form of someone like her, who I know would never
be involved with this. Idrawe the line."
"'very happy, or very fearful'..." Niko's eyes widened.=20
Zach pulled his arm back in a punch. Niko grabbed it.
Zach stepped back, and tapped his badge. "You aren't Eliza." He
said as the thunderbolt charged. "I don't know what you are, but I am not
afraid of you!"
"We don't have to fight it. THAT'S what it wants.
Zach turned his ar, and the thunderblt blasted harmlessly against a
"You mean, let's just walk away?" Goose said.
Niko glared at the phoney Eliza. "It's a glamour. It
feeds on strong emotion. That's why it hasn't killed us."
He turned to the illusion of his spouse, and said in a tone
of sarcasam that Doc would have approved of, "Hi, honey. how's the
"Eliza's" grin faltered.
*Way to go, Zach,* Doc silently crowed.
"You can't win." she/it said
Niko looked at it with contempt. "We already have."
"You just can't see it," Doc interjected.
She turned around, and walked away. "Let's go." Everyone
The figure shimmered and became The queen herself.
"You can't escape!" she shrieked.
"You can't leave! I am in control of the situation here!"
It was one of the hardest things Goose had ever done -- but he
turned and followed the others -- presenting himself as a visible
"I will always be with you! No matter where you go, what
you do, I will follow you!"
"I'm used to that," Zach said, continuing the sarcasm.
It's shrieks dissolved into the howl of the wind...much
lesser this time.
They ignored her as they moved on.
A massive explosion ripped throuhg the town behind them. Sending
flaming fire and debris screaming towards them at near-sonic speeds.
"Just keep walking," Niko advised. Her voice was shaky,
They kept on going, paying no heed to the illusion snares.
The debris flew past and through them, being an illusion, it did no
The wind howled around them. They ignored it. Lightning
struck nearby, and they ignored that as well.
Zach suddenly blinked. They all looked up in surprise.=
The storm itself was gone, as was the town.
the wind slowly died down, the sand begn to settle, and the sky
became it's normal calm self
"It's... over," he finally said.
They were standing among ruined foundations. In the
distance, one of Tortuna's suns crept above the horizon.
"No more ghost stories for me -- EVER!" Doc exclaimed.
They heard the sound of engines, and saw another Ranger cruiser
desscending towards them.
Niko sagged against Mel. "I suggest we get out of here.
While we still can."
"Agreed -- move out, everyone," Zach instructed.
Goose: "but that things still there...isn't it?
"It is. And we can't do anything about it."
Goose helped Niko on to Mel, then rode alongside her on
"Except mark it on the map," Zach said.
and avoid it in future." Zozo finished.
"I suggest an old-fashioned 'here there be dragons',
Captain," Doc said.
"Or DO NOT COME UNLESS YOU'RE THE QUEEN," Goose smirked.
Niko started giggling. Then, one by one, they all started
laughing, to the surprise of the rescue crew.
The ship rose in a cloud of dust, and took off.
Eventually, the dust settled back down.
All except one cloud, that drifted back into the ruined
Session Close: Sat Jul 11 16:15:22 1998