Location: Outskirts of Unknown Gorn Settlement, Cestus III
Timeframe: Present day, stardate 62021.9
There was about two hours of daylight left in the overcast sky as the assault team from Republic beamed down to the coordinates. Unlike Cornucopia Settlement, these new coordinates placed the team in a more open area; a field of grass above a vista overlooking a crop of jungle in the distance where traces of a conglomeration of Aztec-like pyramids were situated. The distant buildings weren't ancient; they were in fact hewn from newly-formed masonry-like resin interlaced with the occasional glint of transparent glass across their surfaces. However, the small city on the horizon was not serene, as columns of smoke were rising into the sky, forming a darker under-layer to the white-gray cloud deck above.
In the foreground, and aligned along the periphery of the grassy field, were about twelve aerial vehicles, colloquially known as “hoppers” in Starfleet parlance. The box-like vessels were slightly larger than a Danube-class runabout, designed for suborbital flight only, with a forward-facing loading ramp below the cockpit canopy. In their current configuration, they were outfitted to deploy up to 40 Marines, with a maximum evacuation capacity of up to 70 people. Six were parked on either side of the field, with hundreds of Starfleet Marines in battle gear going hither and thither across the assembly area, entering or exiting various hoppers, or simply assembled in platoon formation while being briefed by their commanders.
Three battle-suited Marines watched on as Hendrix and the rest of the Republic landing party materialized in front of them. Two of the Marines were helmeted with their reflective visors closed, and held their rifles at port arms while they stood behind the third Marine. The latter – while suited up in the black-and-grey hard-shell battle accouterments of the Starfleet Marine Corps, had doffed his helmet, and was enjoying a cigar while he waited for the transporter beam to complete its materialization cycle. The Marine's build was tall and stocky, and atop his head was a sandy-blonde crew cut, with wrinkles etched into his clean-shaven face, the result of years of combat experience. Sporting a commander's rank on his collar, he softly chewed the lit cigar, moving it from one corner of his mouth to the other as the materialization sequence completed, taking a step towards Hendrix with an outstretched hand.
“Good to see you again, Hendrix,” offered the gruff Marine commander to the lead battle trooper from Republic, grasping the lieutenant commander's hand in greeting.
“You too, McBrown,” returned Hendrix, accepting the handshake. “I got word you boys needed a bit a help down here.”
“Yep,” the commander replied. “We've captured most of the settlement, and deployed troops throughout the city to establish security.”
“Minimal,” acknowledged the Marine commander. “Only twelve dead with fifty-three wounded. Not bad for a planet population of half-a-million. Seems we took the Gorns by surprise down here. They expected their fleet to do all the fighting in orbit, and beamed most of their troops to their battle cruisers. Their commanders thought it was going to be all about boarding parties and ship-to-ship combat.”
“Boy were THEY wrong!” chuckled Hendrix. “We ran into a bunch of Rex's at the old settlement. We ended up losing the fusion plant, but we got our people out in one piece.”
“Oh, that was you?” commented McBrown regarding the distant fusion explosion they saw just a few moments ago. “That power outage gave us a heck of an advantage over here. We just finished our mop up of the city, and the only trouble spot we got now is this underground resistance cell.”
“Is that why you called in me an' m'boys?”
“Yep,” McBrown continued. “We got them pinned down in a tunnel network a few hundred meters from here. Lots of weapon-based power signatures, and hundreds of bio-signs. They're pretty much bottled up, but if I send in my regular troops, I'm going to get a lot more casualties than if we sent in a specialty team. I'd say this is right up your alley.”
“Any other resistance ta worry about?” asked Hendrix.
“Nope,” McBrown answered. “Once we take care of this, the planet's pretty much ours.”
“Sounds good,” a satisfied Hendrix returned. “Have yer boys back off and establish a perimeter around each surface penetration. Shoot anything that comes out. Otherwise, leave the rest ta us.”
Hendrix and McBrown were about to part ways the the chiming of another transporter beam sounded. Materializing nearby were a pair of humans: One was focused on a hand-held PADD with thumb control pedals on either side, and with small camera drones hovering in the air around him; the other was none other than Leah Warner, the ISN reporter and Media Liaison assigned to Republic. Both she and the Starfleet-uniformed camera drone operator wore communication headsets, each with offset image eyepieces that provided them the live image feed of both the drones and the INS newsfeed going out over the public vidscreen network.
“Uh oh,” exhaled Hendrix, his pencil-thin mustache stretched into a grimace above his mouth.
“Who's she?” McBrown asked Hendrix quietly with a frown, shifting his lit cigar again from one corner of his mouth back to the other.
“…Good work, Billy,” Leah lauded her camera operator. “Pan across the jungle… that's right… bring the the buildings into view… now… slowly zoom out… that's it… that's it…”
Turning around in an instant to face one of the hovering camera drones, Leah's demeanor shifted suddenly into a bubbly personality that imbued both seriousness and enthusiasm at the spectacle around her.
“This is Leah Warner, live on scene at the Gorn battlefront on Cestus Three, where Starfleet Marines from the Starship Republic have liberated the colony from the grip of Gorn tyranny….”
“Oh crap,” Hendrix muttered.
“Marines, huh?” McBrown concluded with annoyance, his eyes shifting back towards the lieutenant commander standing next to him. “Is this how you keep getting mistaken for one of us?”
“…Throngs of thankful Federation ex-patriots have already greeted our troops, and as the last pockets of murderous Gorns are pulled from the shadows, we can see…”
“…You ran into ex-pats?” Hendrix asked McBrown quietly.
“Yeah,” McBrown whispered back with confusion. “But not 'throngs', and most of 'em weren't anywhere near 'thankful'… I had to arrest a few…”
“…Commanders on the ground are here to answer a few questions for us…”
“What the hell?” a defeated Commander McBrown exclaimed sourly as Leah Warner and the camera drone operator turned their attention towards the cigar-chomping Marine officer.
“We're at code green, George,” Hendrix patted McBrown on the back with a wry smile just before absconding from the scene. “She's all yours!”
“Thanks an isoton, Hendrix…” the commander responded dryly. Without another word, Hendrix collected the squad and Doctor Cromwell, departing the area en route for the underground enemy bunker.
“Commander, can you tell us the relative position of your troops in the city at this time?” Leah began her dialog.
“Now, wait minute!” protested McBrown to Warner, their conversation trailing off as Hendrix and his squad moved away from the scene. “This is an interview! The last thing I want is to answer a bunch of questions! I'll give you a full briefing at twenty-one hundred hours, so we can only…”
Location: Somewhere underground, Cestus III
“It's warmer in these caves than outside,” remarked one of the enlisted troopers, his voice echoing off the walls.
“Yeah, about ten degrees warmer,” returned another trooper. “We're almost at three-ten Kelvin in here.”
“There's a hot spring nearby,” Ensign Purcell remarked, cross-referencing the reading on his tricorder. “The geothermal vents go downward into the bedrock several kilometers. They don't pose a threat.”
“Why would they keep it so damned hot?” asked Hendrix. “Cromwell?” he called out to the doctor at the back of the squad.
There was no answer.
“Cromwell!” Hendrix stopped the squad's progress, turning back to look at the meandering doctor, whose head was looking all around in thought, and eyes anywhere but in front of him. The combat officer snapped his fingers a few times to break the doctor out of his daydreamy trance. “Cromwell! Eyes forward!” he whispered loudly. “Why would the Gorns have it so hot in here?” he reiterated.
“Gorns like it hot…” a skulking Leon said after a moment, looking back at Hendrix as if he'd been accused of something but didn't know what. “They're faster and more maneuverable at their natural temperature.”
Hendrix sneered back at Leon, irritated that his attention seemed to be on other things besides the operation at hand.
“All right, you heard the man,” he said as he started moving the squad forward again. “The Gorns are gonna be uppin' their game, so stay sharp!”
It didn't take long before they encountered their first engagement with the enemy. A pair of Gorn Tyrannosaur troopers were huddled in a firing location with a tripod-mounted repeating disruptor. Angry purple lances of energy danced off the cave walls in rapid succession all around the squad. Falling back on their training, the Starfleet troopers split up and dodged towards both walls, taking up prone positions behind rock outcroppings and boulders before returning fire. Smoke and flying rock shards filled the air for at least a minute, neither side gaining nor losing ground, and it wasn't until Hendrix tossed a photon grenade into the nest that the ensuing explosion brought the firefight to an end. Without injuries greater than a few rock shards in a couple of arms, the squad treated themselves to basic first aid and pressed onward.
Their next challenge was a more sustained engagement as they pressed forward out onto a path cut into a cliff ledge. The entire squad was exposed on one side to a chasm that stretched at least 30 meters wide, across which was line of Gorn troopers lying in wait. As they opened fire, the squad dropped again to the ground behind any cover they could find.
Leon joined in this particular firefight as well, especially when the Starfleet trooper in line next to him stood up to take a clearer shot, and was instead shot himself squarely in the chest, thus causing him to fall over the cliff to his death. As the doctor watched helplessly while the man went screaming to his death, he ducked below the protruding stone that comprised the path edge and began fire-and-duck snapshots to ward off the enemy.
Again, it was a stalemate for several minutes. Two of the troopers incurred wounds from grazing shots: one in the arm, and the other in the leg. It wasn't until three of Hendrix's men low-crawled through a barrage of disruptor fire that the battle turned. They made it to a well-protected divot in the path just large enough to assemble a mortar launcher. After about a half dozen outgoing photon mortar rounds screamed their heads – between each a shout of “cover!” from the grenadiers echoing off the walls – the cliff ledge holding the Gorn riflemen finally gave way, plummeting them to their own demise deep within the crevasse below. The rest of the squad then traversed the remaining path ahead before gathering in the next chamber to regroup.
“Who'd we lose?” Hendrix gruffly asked the assembled troopers as he caught his breath.
“McDermott,” one of them replied. “He stood up to get a better shot.”
“Damn it!” hissed Hendrix. “How many times have I got ta tell you chowderheads that when there's a hot firing line, you STAY UNDER COVER! Ya all got that?”
A chorus of “yes sir”s followed as Cromwell pulled out his trauma kit and went to work on the trooper with the arm wound. He first worked to get the bleeding under control using the auto-suture, but he had only had two hands, and saw that the other trooper with the leg injury was writhing in pain, and could also use immediate treatment.
“I could use some help here,” Leon addressed Hendrix. “Can you get to work on his leg?”
The commander paused with annoyance, preparing another diatribe in his head about the doctor's perceived shortcomings. However, as he watched the doctor work feverishly on the arm wound, and contrasted it with the discomfort of his trooper who held a clotting compress to his bleeding leg, he realized that the doctor couldn't be two places at once, so complied with the request and began dressing the soldier's calf.
Silence set in as both Hendrix and Cromwell worked together to patch up the wounded. Eventually, Hendrix turned to Ensign Purcell who had pulled out a tricorder and was carefully scanning the area.
“Talk to me, Purcell,” beckoned Hendrix, as he was handed the auto-suture from Cromwell. “Where are we at?” He began sealing the bleeding leg artery on the wounded trooper while the doctor prepared hyposprays filled with a mixture of stimulant and pain killer.
“The path splits in two up ahead,” the ensign explained over the warbling of the tricorder. “But they each feed into a single larger chamber ahead from two different directions – it looks like a big cave of some kind.”
“I got some back-scattering from the walls, but there's definitely bio-signatures… at least a hundred, but I'm not seeing any organized defense formations. I'd say it's more like a… town hall meeting or something.”
“Which path looks best?”
“Hard to tell. They both look like lava tubes,” Purcell explained, studying the readings before pointing to the one on the right. “We could keep going down this one and make a grand entrance with a frontal assault, or…”
“Or, we could take that other side tunnel,” he pointed off towards the left fork about ten meters down the path. “It's smaller. It'll force us to go single file, but could bring us around the other side and surprise them.”
“Right,” concluded Hendrix. “Why don't you and Wierzbowski scout the side tunnel on the left while Cromwell and I finish up with the squad? When ya report back, we can decide which is the best route.”
“Copy that,” Purcell agreed, closing and stowing his tricorder, exchanging it for his phaser rifle. “C'mon Trevor,” he called out to one of the enlisted troopers. “Let's do some recon.”
With practiced ease, Purcell and Wierzbowski worked as a well-oiled machine, slinking around corners with rifles drawn, giving each other cover as they moved forward in leap-frog fashion. As anticipated, the lava tube narrowed as they progressed, becoming more rough-hewn and rocky, and eventually revealed a number of hidden coves and false side-corridors that stopped abruptly – perfect hiding spots to lay-in-ambush for a forward assault.
“I don't like this,” Purcell remarked as, pausing to consider their predicament. He looked back at Wierzbowski and suggested a different course of action. “I think we've gone far enough, so let's get…”
Suddenly, the air went stale as Wierzbowski watched an expression of horror creep across Purcell's face. As the hair stood up on the back of his neck, the enlisted trooper slowly turned around to behold a horrifying sight.
Rising behind them from the shadows was a green-scaled Tyrannosaurus-like reptilian warrior. As it slithered into view full to block their exit, the massive carnivore flexed it's bulbous muscular arms and legs. Preparing itself for hand-to-hand combat, it straightened itself to it's full height of three meters, towering over the two gasping Starfleet troopers. Above it's silvery compound eyes, a pair of leathery brow crests contorted downward into a furious expression, accentuating the creature's fury as it transfixed it's rage upon the two interlopers.
True to Cromwell's explanation, the nightmarish bipedal lizard-soldier was not the slow lumbering cretin that so many rumors had embellished, as the heightened thermal environment invigorated its metabolism. It moved swiftly and adeptly to fully block their escape back down the cave network, and with a sneer of anger and hatred, the Gorn leviathan pulled the lips back on its predatory maw to reveal a set of voraciously serrated teeth. It was these natural instruments of primal ferocity – evolved over the eons to cleanly separate flesh from the bones of it's prey – that drew the most fright from the two Starfleet troopers. No sooner did the Gorn reveal its teeth than did it strike like a bear trap on a hair-trigger. So fast did its jaws thrust and snap, that only an instant passed before Wierzbowski's throat had been ripped clean from his body, splattering blood across the entire area. The trooper went down; his bloody face contorted into a shocked, horrified expression as his dead body slumped to the floor.
Purcell gave a blood-curdling scream as the Jacob's ladder to his instinctual fight-or-flight reflex activated. Pushing conscious thought aside, his military training kicked in, and muscle memory switched his rifle from snapshot to automatic while letting loose with the full power of a phaser rifle set at maximum output toward the oncoming monstrosity. He was so wrought with panic, and so horrified at Wierzbowski's demise, that he continued to shoot long after the reptilian warrior had fallen to the ground and stopped moving; it's own deep red blood spilling along the floor and mixing with Wierzbowski's. Staring at the dead bodies with incredulity, Purcell hyperventilated furiously as he made his way backwards from the scene, keeping his eyes and rifle trained on the dead Gorn, as if expecting it to come back to life. Without thinking, he found himself backing deeper into the cave network ahead, and in less than ten meters, he sensed a large space behind him.
The air went stale again. Slowly, his eyes shifted to the side as he carefully turned his head to look over his shoulder, sweat dripping from his forehead. He was being watched. Purcell jumped with his rifle at the ready, spinning quickly around to see six smaller Gorns standing among a field of evenly-sized stones. While the Gorns too were in a combat stance, they were also weaponless, and did not make any move towards the ensign. Instead, they simply stared at him; their claws at the ready, and arms primed for defensive hand-to-hand combat.
Purcell open fired once again.
Back at the squad, everyones' head turned towards the blood-curdling screams and multiple phaser shots from the direction of Purcell and Wierzbowski. Though they were some distance away, there was something in their screeching that sent a chill down their spines, and lent haste to Cromwell's and Hendrix's first aid efforts.
After finishing with the trooper's leg, the commander stood up and took a few steps towards the distant phaser shots echoing in the tunnels.
“Purcell!” Hendrix called out over his wrist-mounted communications device. “Wierzbowski!”
There was no answer.
“Purcell! Wierzbowski!” he called again into the communicator. “Sound off!”
As before, no answer.
“I'm goin' in after 'em,” exclaimed Hendrix fervidly, re-buckling his assault harness and unslinging his rifle.
“I'm coming with you,” Leon said with equal determination as he snapped shut the lid on his trauma kit. “If they can't communicate, then they're probably hurt.”
Hendrix nodded as the logic seemed sound. In response, Leon slung the trauma kit back over his shoulder and headed towards the direction that Purcell and Wierzbowski went.
“Stay here,” the commander ordered to the rest of the squad. “If we're not back in five minutes, come in after us.”
For Purcell, the last of the Gorns went down easily. While they hissed angrily at the ensign, they made no effort to attack him, choosing instead to remain vulnerable and open among the cave full of stones, making no tactical effort to eliminate him as a threat. He watched the phaser-riddled bodies closely as they lay flailing and hissing, expelling their few final breaths of life. As the dying reptilian murmurs ceased, the ensign noticed that the “stones” on the floor began moving ever-so-slightly. In the newfound stillness of the chamber, only these small objects seemed to show any animation as they rattled subtly in place without a definitive pattern. Purcell tensed up. He scrutinized the objects, soon realizing that they were not stones, but small, leathery pouches with pedal-like seams along the sides, reminiscent of flower buds ready to bloom.
At his feet, a few dozen of these pineapple-sized objects peeled themselves open from the top: Some of them one-after-another, while others simultaneously opened by groups of two or three. From within each, a small lizard hatchling emerged. They looked roughly the same as an Earth gecko, but with razor-like teeth, and began exploring their surroundings as they came forth. They sniffed, skittered about looking for their mothers, but finding no one but Purcell watching over their emergence.
Putting all the pieces together, Purcell now understood. The killer Gorn that gutted Wierzbowski was the alpha male. The six dead Gorns in the chamber were his mates, and the leathery stones strewn about the chamber were their eggs. It was a hatchery. A hatchery filled with baby Gorns… Little killer Gorns that were about to spawn a whole new generation of killer adults.
Purcell stared at the scene with disgust as the newborns clambered over the dead bodies, a few of them eventually finding the tip of his boot. As they began nibbling, Purcell instinctively leveled his rifle at each ravenous newborn, pulling the trigger thus dispatching the critters; snuffing out their life less than a minute after they began.
With Wierzbowski's death still fresh in his mind, Purcell became caught up in the moment. He watched as a each newborn Gorn emerged from it's egg: The husk peeling itself back, the slimy little reptilian clambering out, and each pausing momentarily with wide-eyed confusion, all before attempting to scramble away. That's when the ensign took another snapshot.
Again and again, an egg would open, and Purcell would pick off the newborn.
Soon, he didn't wait for the eggs to open. He just started shooting them as they lay still. One after another, an egg would explode in a shower of slime and embryonic tissue. They were all targets. Each of them. They each were a progenitor vesicle of his enemy; they each deserved to die before they could grow up and cause more harm. Wierzbowski's death would not be forgotten.
Hendrix stumbled across the titanic form of the three-meter Gorn warrior that had gutted Wierzbowski's throat. The body was splayed out on the ground, it's bloody maw open and staring vacuously at the ceiling, and it's five-foot wide torso shot full of phaser holes. Dead, it was a magnificent specimen. Alive, Hendrix surmised the creature must've been a sight to behold.
It was then that he saw that the oozing trail of muscle tissue and blood.
“Aw, hell!” Hendrix exclaimed as he saw Cromwell bent over the the still form of a Starfleet hazard trooper, scanning him with a tricroder.
“He's dead,” Cromwell informed him, though the sickening display of a large jaw-shaped slice of flesh taken from Wierzbowski's neck was evidence enough. The doctor put away his tricorder, stood up, and took a step back so that the commander could have a last moment with his subordinate.
For his part, Hendrix was so thrown by Wierzbowski's mutilated form, that he knelt beside the body in a moment of solemnity. He paid no attention as Cromwell walked away, forging his way deeper into the lava tube ahead.
Minutes passed after Purcell discovered that there were no more eggs and no more newborns to shoot. As Cromwell came on the scene, the ensign took no notice. He had become almost catatonic; staring ahead into the chamber, watching over the birthing cave, now devoid of any life – Gorn or human.
For his part, Cromwell didn't realize at first what he was looking at. After he passed the dead Gorn trooper further back in the lava tube, and also spying the horrific sight of the de-throated Wierzbowski, the doctor feared the worst until he saw Purcell staring serenely over the carnage, his rifle pointed outward over the chamber ahead.
It was then that he saw the pile of bodies.
Words have trouble describing the maelstrom of instinct and emotion that surfaced in Leon Cromwell at that moment in time. His prejudice towards the Gorns was deeply-seated in the death of his own sister and mother during the Cestus Three incident of stardate 57502, where they were vaporized by orbital bombardment from Gorn battle cruisers. But now, as he saw the hundreds of dead Gorn hatchlings strewn among the equally dead corpses of their mothers – each with Starfleet phaser burns etched into their bodies – the doctor convulsed. He dropped his phaser rifle, ripped off his battle helmet, and collapsed to his hands and knees near a wall. With multiple thrusts of his gastrointestinal tract, Leon hurled his breakfast out of his mouth and onto the ground.
Purcell watched on while Leon's half-digested morning rations splashed around him. In his psychotic state, the ensign reflected on his disdain for the physician/scientist, and why he and the rest of the troopers hated him so much. Cromwell represented the wimp's way out: The pacifist. His kind allowed the Gorns to have this colony in the first place, and thus, forced Starfleet to have to take back the colony by force. It was HIS fault that Wierzbowski died the way he did. The Gorns wouldn't be here at all if it weren't for Cromwell's kind. It was Purcell's judgement that the doctor should join the dead bodies that lay around him.
The ensign walked over and kicked Leon with such force that it shoved the doctor's un-helmeted head hard into the rock face next to him, knocking him unconscious. As he brought his rifle to bear, Purcell aimed it directly at Leon's limp body while his finger wrapped itself around the trigger.
What happened next was pure happenstance.
“Purcell!” barked Hendrix from behind. “What's going on?”
The ensign's psychosis was so amplified by adrenaline that he not only jumped at the suddenness of Hendrix's appearance, but he spun around to face him, accidentally pulling the trigger at the same time. The phaser shot landed on the commander's right inner thigh; the femoral region just inside the groin area. Hendrix howled in pain as he collapsed to the ground.
“PURCELL!” shouted Hendrix. “You sorry-ass son-uv-a-bitch!” he screamed. “What the HELL d'ya think yer doin'??” Hendrix was so angry that he found himself wanting to shoot the young ensign himself, but he was in so much pain from the grievous injury, that he couldn't do anything more than keep his hands over the wound as it bled out from the edges.
“CROMWELL!” he shouted, trying to rouse the doctor for medical assistance before turning back towards his aggressor. “I'll make sure you burn for this, Purcell,” whispered Hendrix through his pain and gritted teeth. “As long as I live, I swear to GOD, I'll make you pay for it!”
The invective seemed to rouse Purcell from his catatonic state. As it dawned on him what he had done, embarrassment, anger, hatred, and mortification all flowed through Purcell at one time. As he watched his commander floundering, the words “as long as I live” echoed in the young man's mind.
As long as he lived.
Purcell looked between his own rifle and the wounded Hendrix. The commander simply laid there holding his groin while blood flowed out of his body through the femoral artery, leaving a growing pool of red liquid between his legs. Hendrix forced his eyes open long enough to notice that the ensign had not lowered his rifle. Point in fact, he kept it trained on him.
The two locked stares. Hendrix knew what Purcell was thinking. He had seen it before in the eyes of many a men who had murdered. The Gorn murdered Wierzbowski… and Purcell murdered the Gorn. It was the way of things. In Hendrix's mind, combat was nothing more than sanctioned murder. That meant that they were all murderers by some measure. All of them, murderers.
Purcell's psychotic state had him reaffirming his grip on the rifle, staring blankly into the commander's eyes. Hendrix knew from Purcell's expression that his own ticket had been punched. Like the good murderer that he knew himself to be, he offered the ensign one last ounce of motivation to cross that line.
“Do it,” his final words came, and Purcell obliged.
For his part, Leon hadn't heard the first phaser shot and verbal exchange between Purcell and Hendrix; he had been dealing with a concussion. But as the most recent phaser shot sounded off the walls around him, Leon began to rouse, and the conversation between the ensign and the commander fell ominously silent. Leon coughed off the last of the bile from his mouth, wiping it on his sleeve, and looked up to see Purcell standing over the immobile body of Hendrix; a smoking phaser hole in the center of his chest, and a pool of blood soaking his legs.
Following the emptying of his stomach contents, Leon was already lightheaded with a touch of vertigo due to the concussion. That, plus dehydration from heat prostration, was causing his extremities to tremble while he scrambled on his hands and knees to retrieve his rifle.
Purcell was not about to give him that chance.
In a swift martial arts maneuver, Purcell kicked Leon in the face, knocking him back to the ground, his head impacting the rocky wall once again. Raising his rifle to target Leon anew, the ensign locked the doctor in his sights and pulled the trigger.
The rifle sputtered dead with a static hiss. It's energy pack had been fully depleted.
Angrily, Purcell threw his empty phaser rifle at Leon and grabbed the one on the ground, which had a near-full charge on it. He aimed Leon's rifle back at the doctor and immediately pulled the trigger. While the shot landed solidly on his chest, causing him to flail before going immobile, there was no physical damage to his body. Leon had set the rifle to stun. Annoyed, the ensign was about to switch the setting back to maximum output when he heard a voice over his shoulder.
“Sir?” a voice called from behind him. It was one of the enlisted troopers from the squad who had backtracked to Purcell's location. As the rest of the battle-ready squad filed out into the cave from the narrow lava tube, they looked around the berthing cave with wide-eyed shock at the carnage. It was then that they spied Hendrix's dead body. They looked to Purcell – who was standing over an unconscious Leon with a phaser rifle – and expected an explanation.
“Sir, what happened?” the trooper asked as the squad gawked on.
For a split second, Purcell felt as if he had been caught red-handed, but then realized his own empty phaser rifle was lying on the ground… right next to Leon. He realized the scene could easily be seen from a completely different perspective…
“It was Cromwell!” Purcell lied spontaneously, huffing and puffing while looking around the area with pin-pointed pupils. He had learned Hendrix's lessons well over the months he had spent under his command – when you're on the ropes and at the verge of defeat, cover your own ass to pull yourself out.
“Cromwell did this!” he continued the fabrication, staring between the unconscious Leon and Hendrix's body. “He shot up the Gorns, then he fragged the commander!” he gestured to the commanders prostrate form. “The little puke shot him down like a dog!”
“What. The. HELL…” the trooper looked around at the carnage. “He turned on us!” he concluded, spying what was clearly wounds from a Starfleet phaser rifle on Hendrix's chest. “He fucking TURNED on us!”
As the rest of the squad took in the story of how the doctor killed Hendrix in a fit of battle rage after shooting up the Gorn hatchlings, the news of Cromwell's war crime was communicated to Republic over the battlecomm. With his adrenaline and psychosis ebbing, Purcell dutifully followed the chain of command and took control on the ground.
“Beam him directly to the brig,” he ordered the squad. “I don't want anyone but our Marines guarding him…”
LTCR Leon Cromwell, MD, PhD
Chief Medical Officer
USS Republic, NCC-81371