"The Haunted Asteroid"
  Issue Number 19

Writer: Unknown
Artist: Alberto Giolitti
Stardate: 24:92.5
Issue Date: July 1973
Cover Price: 20 cents

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Cover Blurb:
   "Turn back or die" - But the Enterprise crew is determined to explore the Haunted Asteroid


Synopsis
       The U.S.S. Enterprise approaches the small but celebrated Asteroid Mila XA in the thin outer reaches of the asteroid belt of Star System Delta. Beautiful Federation scientist Dr. Krisp briefs the command staff about their mission. She tells them that Mila XA was a memorial created by one man's love for one woman. An emperor's fortune and 20,000 robot laborers created the domed asteroid. On the eve of the wedding of Emperor Muro III to his true love Princess Saeena, 600 years ago, the bride to be was poisoned by enemies of the ruler. The asteroid that had been prepared as a royal hideaway for the new couple was completely remade into a breathtaking mausoleum for Saeena. Over the centuries none of the 320 space thieves was successful in plundering the asteroid of its vast riches. The only one that was ever found was driven insane by the attempt. In order to finally lay to rest the stories of the asteroid's ghost, the Federation dispatched investigator Jay Nordyke, a former Starfleet Academy classmate of Captain James Kirk's.

   Kirk checks in with Nordyke who has been at the asteroid for four days. Nordyke reports that he will rendezvous with the Enterprise in minutes. His personal transport ship lands in the Enterprise's hangar deck and he is greeted by Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Dr. Krisp. Urgent to debrief the investigator, Dr. Krisp hurries off with Nordyke. He relates detailed accounts of three days of visiting the asteroid, none of which even hint at any strange goings on. The session ends and Nordyke leaves, Kirk and Krisp glance at each other with the same puzzled look, Nordyke landed on Mila XA four days ago, but only reported on three. Krisp states grimly, "It means either direct brain tampering... or memory loss due to severe shock! I must do a psycho-probe!"

   Later, using a device, Dr. Krisp conducts a "brain-peep," asking pointed questions about the missing day. Soon Nordyke relates that he saw something huge floating in the air, that reached out with cold, wet hands like wisps of smoke! He is too shaken to go on. Kirk decides that he must go down to the asteroid to see for himself what's going on there.

   A landing party of six including Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Dr. Krisp, Scotty and Sulu beam down and set out toward the mausoleum. Soon they are accosted by floating female head apparitions that warn them to go back or else die there. Kirk fires on them, but only blackened rocks remain after they vanish. Later, after making more progress, Kirk decides they should make camp, with Scotty and McCoy having the first watch. After two hours, Spock wakes Kirk with the news that Scott and McCoy have gone without word. The remaining four break into two teams that spread out to search for the missing officers. After some time, Kirk checks in with the team of Spock and Sulu. Spock reports that they heading to the mausoleum entrance and that they thought that they saw something a moment before. Then, "Wait! There is something!" boomed Spock's voice from the communicator. "Zombies! creatures like the walking dead! Coming straight for us!" A scream and then static is heard from the device.

   Kirk and Dr. Krisp pick up the pace and soon reach the mausoleum entrance - no sign of Spock or Sulu. Just as Kirk proclaims his intention of heading into the huge dark doorway, a giant floating head of Princess Saeena appears, warning him to stay away. His phaser fire goes right through the head as it continues its admonition, "Go! Leave this haunted world while you may! Or you shall share the same fate as those who vanished!" The head fades away and the duo are set upon by powerful 9 foot tall robot sentries. Before Kirk and the woman scientist fight back, the robots shoot gas out of their claw-hands rendering them unconscious. They awaken in a cell, Kirk's phaser is gone, but strangely the cell door is unlocked. Kirk and Krisp explore the cavernous dungeons discovering that several of the doors lead to storage rooms. Kirk comes upon a room filled with the bones of thieves who had ventured to the asteroid in search of treasure over the centuries.

   Kirk and the Federation scientist enter the macabre storeroom. they examine some of the skulls, which show no sign of violence. They leave to continue their search with Kirk calling for Spock and when they receive an answer they head toward it. Spock, Scott, Sulu and McCoy are found in a locked cell, but Kirk blasts them free with a mini-bomb which was concealed in a hollow uniform button. Once reunited, the six discuss the situation. Kirk alights on the idea that the secret to the asteroid may lie in the bottom half of the asteroid and upon inspection of the walls of the corridor reveal a locked secret panel, which McCoy blows open with his explosive button. An elevator shaft is revealed. Sulu, who is a former gymnastics gold medal winner, shimmies down the cable and brings up the elevator car. All enter the lift which takes them down some six miles into the asteroid. The elevator stops and the party get out and see the vast computer which runs the artificial light, rain, and soil nourishing of the garden above. A voice calls to them and informs that they will find the secret of Mila XA if they get back into the elevator. They do, and after some more downward travel they get out into a throne room of a woman who looks to be hundreds of years old. She announces that she is the Empress Saeena!

   In explanation, Saeena tells the tale of how, 600 years ago, on her wedding day, the palace physicians came with the shocking news - that she was genetically gifted with indestructible cells which would give her near immortality. Rather than let her become an object of curiosity and a freak in the eyes of the people, the Emperor hatched the plan that she was murdered. Thus she went to live on the mausoleum asteroid Mila XA. Three years later, the Emperor faked his own death and joined his beloved wife there. A half a century later, the Emperor Muro III died at the age of 84. Saeena didn't want the secret of Mila XA to be known lest the curious make the place a tourist trap, so she prevented anyone from leaving. The bones found by Kirk were of those who spent their lives in the virtual paradise of the asteroid.

   The Empress concluded her narrative with the pronouncement that upon her death, which she believed to be imminent, the asteroid would self destruct. The Federation landing party had no intention of staying for the fireworks, so they make a dash for the elevator, which is blocked by two robot guards. Scotty piles into them and picks one up, spins it around and throws it at the other one. The party quickly pile into the elevator and it goes up and up. Once on the upper level of the asteroid, they rush through the dungeon's corridors. During their frantic flight, Dr. Krisp stops and panics, prompting Kirk to slap her, "Sorry about this, Doctor! But I'd do the same if you panicked in the water!" They take off again and all reach the garden outside the mausoleum and beam up to the Enterprise.

   While watching the asteroid from the starship's bridge, it suddenly blows up. Dr. Krisp apologizes to Kirk for momentarily losing her head. Kirk replies, "Save your apologies until tonight ... my table ... officer's lounge." With all of their tensions melting away, Scotty quips, "Ho-ho! Methinks the captain is feeling a wee bit human, lads" Kirk then announces "All right, see what you think of this. Full ship's inspection ... 0800 tomorrow! And I want this place to gleam like the mercury fountain on Mila XA." McCoy snaps to Scotty, "You and your big Scottish mouth!"

(Summary by Curt Danhauser)

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