Here's a short story for your reading displeasure. Feel free to comment.
BONUS:: I cleaned up a bunch of the crappy spelling and grammar from the 3rd act.
WHAT LIES WITHOUT
(Abbreviated from the Federation Encyclopedia of Sentient Beings) -
Arkathian - The inhabitants of the planet Arkath IV (Arkathia) are a race of sentient anthropo-arachnoids. They exhibit a wide range of phenotypes based on sex and social roles, from the spider-like and non-sentient Juvenile forms to the massive and highly intelligent breeding Primary Males and Females. The bulk of the Arkathian population is made up of non-breeding Secondary Males and Females of various types. Currently, they are provisional members of the Federation having only achieved warp flight fifty years ago. Due to their highly specialized reproductive cycle, they are currently limited to their homeworld. There is currently only one Arkathian serving with Starfleet.
Captain Khas Ker'at, commander of the USS Shimmering, scowled at his terminal and closed the encyclopedia entry. Leave it to the human-dominated Starfleet to boil down the rich, complex biology, culture, and history of proud Arkathia into a few, essentially content-free sentences. Worse yet, they had refused to name him specifically. They didn't seem to understand how helpful that would have been when it came time to negotiate his breeding price with the Primary Females. He grumbled irritably. Humanoids were inscrutable creatures, beyond his ability to fully comprehend. The only thing worse than having to coexist with them was commanding them.
Khas clacked his mandibles together, flexed his secondary locomotive limbs, and brought up the crew roster. He'd find some comfort in the tedium of Starfleet bureaucracy, at least.
He was two relaxing hours into categorically listing the flaws of his crew members when a chime sounded in his room. He grunted out terse acknowledgement and was rewarded with the annoyingly chipper and oddly accented voice of his female second-in-command.
"Captain, emergency broadcast from the Hellas Beta colony. They're under attack and requesting immediate assistance."
Khas let out a suppurating sigh from his cranial gas-exchange vents. "Plot a course, then. Any additional information?"
"None, sir. It's an automated broadcast, it seems. We can't hail anyone on-site and...oh. Captain it just shut off. We're only three hours out, sir."
"Too long. Far, too long. Plot a course and get a combat-capable team ready. Break out a few heavy weapons from the armory. I desire that we be ready to beam down the moment we are able to do so. I will be on the bridge as soon as I am back in uniform."
The transmission ended with a snerk from Commander Tarayal. Khas scowled again. It was the only expression his chitinous face was capable of, afterall. With a a long and satisfying series of Arkathian curses, he hauled himself into a vaguely upright posture and started squirming into his Federation uniform. As much as he disliked the discomfort, he absolutely hated the abject terror in the faces his crew members when they say him naked and scuttling about.
"Oh the sacrifices we make for command." he muttered.
Three hours later...
Khas leaned forward in his command chair, a pose he had carefully mastered after years of watching Human captains. It was uncomfortable, but he hoped it would make him seem more commanding.
"Any additional information to report before you head down?" He asked.
Tarayl shook her head and shrugged. "Nothing new, Captain. Hellas Beta has one colony, mixed human and Bajoran, numbering about two hundred and fifty. The area's swampy, but rich in natural pharmacopeia that the colonists are investigating. Nothing unusual reported in the past two months and we're pretty far from any known hostile powers. Scanners don't reveal any living beings, but the planet's EM field is affecting their accuracy a bit. Weapons discharge matching Federation standard-issue sidearms has been detected, but nothing seems to be happening right now."
"Very well, Commander. Get to work. Try not to do die, as that would inconvenience me terribly." Khas rumbled.
Tarayl smiled, her white teeth flashing brightly "I love you, too, Captain." A few of the crew chuckled.
"Ugh. Gross." He snorted and turned back to his command console. The woman was short, muscular, and compact. Khas had no idea how attractive she was by humanoid standards and didn't care either way. The notion of engaging in any kind of romance with her was profoundly upsetting, but he was certain she was simply teasing him. He allowed her two such quips per duty shift after losing a poker game years before.
Tarayl just laughed and headed to the turbo-lift to fetch her ground team. The unjoined trill woman had been a marine once and trained the ship's security teams accordingly. Khas was certain they'd be fine.
A few uneventful minutes passed before Tarayl reported in.
"Captain, it's a mess down here. I've found a little bit of the colonists." Her usually cheerful voice was cold and there was a steel-hard edge to it. Khas considered her words for a moment.
"A little bit of them collectively, or a little bit of them individually?" Khas rumbled thoughtfully.
"Little bits of individuals. Looks like they were ripped apart messily and dragged off somewhere." Tarayl responded again. There was a distance in her voice that Khas had long ago learned meant she was watching her surroundings carefully.
"Blades of some kind. Claws, maybe. This looks like the work of an aggressive animal species, if I were to guess. Hold on, Captain." Tarayl's voice cut off for a few tense moments. When it cut back in, her tone was harder than ever.
"We've got movement nearby captain. Sensors are reading dozens of human-sized lifeforms outside of the perimeter of the colony. Jenner! Cover that causeway! Damn, it's faint. I can't get a solid fix on anything. Are you reading anything ship-board?"
Khas gave R'ath, his Reman science officer, stern, but expectant scowl.
"Nothing." The goblin-like Reman hissed back. "This is a very verdant world. There's so much life it's hard to pick anything specific out. I will try to compensate. I will need time."
Khas grunted irritably and tapped a key on his command console. "We don't have it. Transporter control, prepare to transport the ground team back to room B on my signal. Tarayl?"
"We've got a transporter lock on your team. Signal word is 'Rosencrantz' if you need an immediate evac. Your mission at this point is to confirm the identity of the hostiles in the area. I'm sending down some recon drones and a repeater station for them. Gather what data you can, but take no unnecessary risks. Understood?"
"Crystal clear, Captain."
On the ground, things were tense. Tarayl had ordered her five-man away team to the relative safety of the small colony's fabrication building. The walls were thick, the windows were small, and the doors were still intact. That there were no bodies to be found here was mildly comforting.
Tarayl took a moment to consider the situation. Her tricorder still showed dozens of faint indications of movement, but little else. The recon drones, deployed shortly before they had retreated to this building, were far more helpful. Their powerful sensors, calibrated specifically to sniff out hidden life forms, had detected groups of five to seven low-slung forms prowling around the colony's perimeter. No visual confirmation yet, though.
"Jenner." she snapped, her typical good humor entirely absent. "Cover the front door. Laskley, Simon, see if you can't barricade the back door. T'bet, cover them while they do so. I'll keep an eye on our..." Tarayl paused and pulled her tricorder closer to her face. One of the recon drones had gone offline. It's last image was of an indistinct grey-green humanoid throwing some sort of spear. And there was suddenly a great deal more movement, all of it getting closer.
"Belay that! Simon, move to support Jenner! Laskley, get back with T'bet! We've got potential hostiles en route. I'm pulling the last drone back to see what's heading our way." Tarayl's voice dropped off as she watched the video feed from her second recon drone, now flying somewhere overhead. From jungle all around, came a wall of grey-green chitin. Creatures like enormous crabs or spiders were skittering towards the fabrication building with frightening speed. Near the edge of the jungle, hulking, upright figures could be seen, watching or waiting. One held a spear.
And with a crash, both doors exploded inward. The crab-spiders were terrifyingly fast, but a hail of phaser fire cut them down before they could enter the building. They mindlessly hurled themselves towards the open door, using the corpses of the dead to shield themselves . The ground crew had precisely six seconds before they were overwhelmed. Fortunately, saying "Rosencrantz" only took two.
A few hours later, Khas, Tarayl, and the rest of the command crew were gathered in the ready room, plotting their next move. Khas, having long studied humanoid psychology, knew that he should pretend to be concerned over the well-being of the away team in order to re-affirm the myth that the rest of the crew wasn't inherently expendable.
"Jenner and the others. They are whole? Are they psychologically unmarred?" Khas rumbled to Commander Tarayl.
"Oh, aye. T'bet's gonna need some watching, I think. The rest of them are too unimaginative to be properly terrified anyway. You got us out in the nick of time. Thanks for that." She smiled easily, though she looked drained and weary.
Khas shrugged indifferently, his act complete, and turned to R'ath, his Reman science officer. "What are your findings?"
R'ath, turned from his habitual open-mouthed staring at Tarayl and drummed his fingers awkwardly on his own chest. He took a deep breath. "Hellas Beta's known and cataloged life forms do not include any sort of insectoid creature or anything more complex than a proto-thelagma'k. The survey was not in-depth. There is a high likelihood that these creatures are not native."
Khas stared angrily at the image captures from the recon drones. They made him deeply uncomfortable. There was a profound wrongness to the crab-spiders that no-one else seemed to recognize.
"That seems problematic." Klath'war, Khas' third-in-command and chief security officer barked. She gave the assembled officers a stern, hard gaze. It was very Klingon. "We observed tool use in the larger forms, but it was primitive. One had a spear. The others didn't seem to have any weapons at all."
"Well, except for those big scything claws." Tarayl muttered. "And, besides, how would they have known to destroy the colony's emergency beacon to shut off the distress signal? At least one of them has some idea of how our technology works."
Khas shifted uncomfortably. "You all have valid points, but we are missing something important. Lieutenant R'ath, can the biosphere support such creatures if they are carnivorous?"
"Not easily. The world contains much life, but most of it is small or plant-like. These creatures are adapted for killing larger prey. There are several kinds of seasonal fruit that can provide the needed proteins and calories. There's also a three-meter long, slug-like creature that might serve as suitable prey, but it is rare. It would be a struggle for these creatures to live here." R'ath hissed back, pausing every few sentences to take a loud breath through his mouth.
Khas rubbed the spikes of chitin hanging off his lower mandible thoughtfully and gave a deliberate, carefully rehearsed nod. "Then we will look for any signs of a starship landing or meteorite impact. Whatever these are, they needed help to get here. We'll see if we cannot learn how and, hopefully, find some of the colonists in the process. R'ath, get working on that immediately. Tarayl, get some rest. I'll be reviewing our findings further, so you'll have the bridge, Klath'war."
There was a chorus of "Yes, Captain." and the crew broke off to their assigned duties.
Two hours later, a chime interrupted Khas' deeply uncomfortable speculation. It was R'ath. They had found something.
Khas shambled onto the Bridge and snapped his chitinous head about. "Report" he rumbled. R'ath stared blankly at Khas for a moment before speaking.
"Sensors report a mass of nickel-iron close to the surface about twenty-two kilometers from the colony site. It's hidden under the jungle canopy. The original survey has it marked as an asteroid impact site, but I do not believe that interpretation to be accurate. There is no deformation of the nearby terrain. It is likely a ship of some sort, though a primitive one."
"Why did it come up as an asteroid then?" Khas' gaze bored into R'ath.
"It probably was an asteroid at one point, Captain." The Reman's voice squeaked a bit. "Some early attempts at space flight use hollowed-out asteroids or comets. It was a reasonable mistake to make, Captain"
Khas rumbled irritably, but nodded. "Very well. Life signs?"
"Life-sign scans are still unreliable, but the area is returning multiple faint signatures matching the data collected by our recon drone."
"I want a ten-man team ready. I will lead them personally."
R'ath blinked took a deep breath. "Is that wise, captain?"
Khas gave the Reman a long, hard stare. "It is. I wish to show you something in my office. Now."
The two officers made their way in the small, undecorated room. Khas motioned for R'ath to sit and then he fiddled with his console for a moment. "There. That is a picture of the predatory arachnoids Tarayl encountered. Compare it to this one."
R'ath laned forward and breathed heavily at the screen for a while. The two creatures were very similar. The second creature was lower to the ground, irridescent black, and sleeker, but there were definite similarities. "Is this a native Arkthian species?"
Khas gave a carefully rehearsed nod. "Yes." Khas stood up and paced a bit. "I wish to ask you a personal question, Lieutenant. May I do so?"
"What was your gut reaction to seeing a Romulan for the first time. I am simply curious."
R'ath licked his lips and squinted. He took a few moments to answer and, when he did, his voice was uncertain. "She disgusted me, captain."
"Because of your people's history with hers?" Khas had no eyebrows to raise in curiosity, so he tilted his chitin-plated head instead.
R'ath shook his head. "No. She just felt wrong. Too much alike and too different at the same time."
Khas nodded again and turned to look at the images on his console. R'ath tried to hide his nervousness. He had seen the captain out of uniform once and the images still haunted him. The up-right posture, the uniform, even the shambling approximation of a proper Reman gate was, he knew, a carefully-wrought charade designed to help the crew forget just how alien the captain was. It was an act, a sop to stupid humanoid sentimentality. It galled him to admit it, but R'ath understood the necessity. If left to his own devices, the captain would skitter around much like those horrible spider-creature did, his body a spindly mass of chitinous plates and rending claws. They were even more nightmarish as juveniles, he had heard.
"That is an Arkathian, isn't it, Captain?"
Khas looked up. "Which one?"
"Both, I think."
Khas resumed staring at the images. "Yes. I think so, too. This creature is sickening to me. Far more so than even you naked, writhing, grub-like humanoids. You are merely alien to me. This? This sickens me because it's far too familiar."
R'ath watched the image for a moment before turning back to the Captain. "And the larger forms?"
Khas scowled. "Creche-wardens, I think, though they are twisted and stunted. They are tertiary neuter forms that mind the nursery-swamps of Arkathia, and keep larger predators from hunting our mindless young. These sicken me the most. Something profoundly wrong happened during their incubation for them to be shaped so. They are malformed and I am uncertain if they can be communicated with. But I will try."
Khas chattered is mandibles together and let out a suppurating sigh from the gas-exchange vents hidden under his cranial plates. "Have Klath'war assemble the ground team. Heavy weapons, heavy shielding, and drone support. She'll know what to do. Warn them that I will be out of uniform. You are dismissed, Lieutenant."
R'ath stood and scuttled out of the office in relief. Speaking with Khas was almost as terrifying as trying to speak to Tarayl. He crept to his station and got to work.
It wasn't long before Khas was on the planet, along with Klath'war and nine heavily-armed members of his security team. It felt familiar. Home-like. The humidity and flora were a good match for his ancient and dying homeworld. The smells were strange and a bit too cloying to him, but it wasn't entirely unpleasant. He stretched his second and third limb pairs in turn and rotated his head 180 degrees to look at Klath'war. To her credit, she didn't flinch, though she did turn a bit green.
"How far?" He asked.
"A kilometer that way."
Khas rotated his head back and tasted the air with his long, segmented tongue. There were strange Arkathian scents out that way, certainly. He flexed the end of his thorax, and confirmed that his secretory glands were full. He turned back to his ground crew. "Unfortunately, I must mark you as being my territory. It should keep the juveniles away at least. Turn around and try not to get any into your mouth."
The ground team dutifully turned about and shuddered as they were roughly spritzed with foul-smelling Arkathian musks. Crewman Valmore was the only one to throw up.
"I did tell you to not get any into your mouth, Crewman. Keep behind me and don't shoot unless I give the order." The assembled team moved cautiously forward into the monster-infested jungles.
Thankfully, they managed to get most of the way without incident. While there was movement in the jungle around them, the juveniles stayed well out of sight. Though non-sentient, juvenile Arkathians possessed an instinctual aversion to the marking musks of almost all adult forms. Thankfully, whatever had stunted and twisted them hadn't seemed to effect that yet.
It wasn't until they were within eyesight of a huge, irregular, vine-covered bulk that they saw any of the grey-green Arkathians. Six of them emerged silently within the dense vegetation. They were the larger adults, each three meters high and covered in thick plates of chitinous armor. Klath'war noted how irregular they were. Though obviously of the same race, their limbs and proportions varied considerably. The one in the middle, the most symmetrical of the bunch, stamped the butt of its spear on the ground and started chattering and grunting in an alien, clicking language unfamiliar to her universal translator.
Khas hauled himself up to his full height, though he was still dwarfed by the enormous creche-wardens, and answered them. He spoke haltingly at first, perhaps struggling with a difference in dialect, but with increasing confidence as time went by.
The conversation went on for some time while, all around, the juveniles gathered. After a particularly guttural exchange, Khas settled back down onto his secondary limbs and faced his crew members. His scowl was very deep indeed.
"I have some grasp of what's going on, now. Our situation here is tenuous. The only sentient ones among them are the one with the spear and the Primary Female that laid the eggs they all hatched from. They are starving and will likely try to eat you if I cannot convince them to do otherwise. I must see the Primary Female, but he is demanding a gift of human flesh in return for bringing me to her."
Klath'war shifted the weight of her heavy assault phaser to her other hip and gave Khas a frown. "Why flesh?"
"He is a creche-warden. He minds the juveniles and they are starving. Human and Bajoran flesh are, so far, the most delicious things they've eaten in their short lives. It is simply concern for its charges, however twisted that may seem to you." Khas rumbled.
"I am ready to open fire at your command, Captain." Klath'war emphasized her point by leveling her assault phaser. The rest of the ground crew did the same, bunching together to guard each other's backs.
"That will not be necessary, I hope. I have told them that I will cast a spell that will turn you all into a larger pile of much tastier food. They have agreed to hold off on eviscerating and devouring us until I have made at least one attempt to work my fell sorceries. Transporter Room, beam up all of the away team except myself and beam down my personal foodstuffs container from the ship's storage. Be quick about it."
"Captain" Klath'war scowled. "I can't let you make that risk. Honestly, it isn't your place t..." she was abruptly cut off as she disappeared. A moment later, a large crate took her place. The six malformed wardens watched in bland curiosity as Khas thumbed the access panel. Their body language grew far more interested, however when the container opened and wonderful smells came from inside. Khas snagged a bag of crunchy kuz'to larvae, tore it open, and offered it's contents to the leader of the Hellasian Arkathians.
The leader took a thoughtful bite and made a quiet sound. The malformed wardens and the juveniles surged forward and, within moments, had made an absolute mess of Khas' personal stores. The most succulent foodstuffs were piled onto a large leaf, which the leader delicately hefted with his small secondary locomotive/manipulator appendages. He motioned blandly for Khas to follow.
The leader took Khas to a dark opening in the side of the ancient, vine covered ship. It seemed it had been there for some time and, indeed, looked very much like it had been build into a hollowed-out asteroid. Khas was handed the bundle of foodstuffs and pushed inside by the much larger warden. Khas turned to say something, but the creature was already ambling off. It didn't seem interested in Khas or the Primary Female inside. That at least, made some sense. Creche-wardens tended to only interact with each other and the juveniles. It was the responsibility of the gendered secondary adult forms to see to the well-being the Primary forms. So, that meant it was Khas' job.
Khas crept in with some small trepidation and let his eyes adjust to the darkness. It smelled bad in here. There was the potent scent of a primary female, but also the smell of death and decay. The floor was covered in a sticky, gelatinous substance that smelled putrid.
Khas called out, relying on social protocols hard-wired into his psychology by millions of years of evolution to guide him. "Great a