Never Have I Ever... Part II
Echoes and Effigies
Location: Personal Quarters
Timeline: Mission Day 3 at 2005
[MD 3: 2005 Hours]
"This is Captain Kodak to all hands," came the Chameloid's voice over the comm system suddenly. "We've encountered a medical threat that necessitates locking down the crew and sheltering in place until it's safe to come out. Wherever you are, stay put. If you're currently on your way somewhere, find the closest place to shelter for the time being. Once conditions are once again safe, we will communicate a lift to the lockdown. This is not a drill. Kodak out."
"What the hell?" Sheldon asked.
Noah's first- and most immediate- concern was Doctor Kennedy Walsh. "Computer, locate Chief Medical Officer Walsh." His arm squeezed the knee he'd brought against his body a moment before. "I-I'm sure he's fine," he tried to assure Irynya, patting her shoulder. "Just, um, making sure."
"Doctor Ryan Walsh is in Sickbay," the computer intoned helpfully.
"Thank you," Iry whispered back, her stomach already twisted into a knot. A medical threat... What did that mean? Suddenly all she could picture was worst case scenarios even as the computer confirmed Kennedy's location.
The hairs on Noah's neck stood with a prickle of anxiety. Unlashing his leg he pushed up into his lanky stand and went for his commbadge. He tapped it. "Balsam to Walsh. Wuh-what's going on?"
Kennedy's voice echoing through Noah's commbadge helped and she sighed with relief as he explained that he was unsure of the crisis and awaiting further information. The message was brief, though, and she knew it was going to be important that he be able to respond quickly, so she resisted the urge to pile on and say something herself.
Relief flooded Noah who leaned a shoulder against the wall and nodded. "OK, th-thanks. Be safe...." But his brows flexed as he tapped his commbadge off. He folded his arms across his chest, chewing his lip corner.
Kestrel glanced around the gathered room. She knew the answer to the question even as she asked it. "So... We just sit here?" It sounded as ridiculous as it was when she heard the words in her head spoken aloud. But she also hated not knowing.
The Risian, mind having jumped from confirmation that Kennedy was ok to the thought of being locked in, blew out one slow breath, counting in her head and telling herself that she was in her quarters with the doors closed all the time. Locking the door was no different. It was no different. She screwed her eyes shut and pulled her knees to her chest, wrapping her legs with her arms and clutching them tightly.
Noah's stormy frown stayed on his face even as he came back to his spot. His eyes settled on Irynya's tightened, ball-cuddling posture. He squatted down. He whispered in her ear. "Everything OK?"
Eyes opening, Irynya darted a glance to Noah squatting next to her and caught her top lip with her teeth, tugging at it. "No," she whispered back softly. "I'm... I'm working on it."
Not wanting to draw any attention to her, Noah rose and as he did, he brushed his mouth by her ear. He whispered, "It's your ocean," he reminded her. He stood up, rolling his shoulders and folding his arms again. "Um. I-I wonder if this is because of." he gestured at Kestrel and Mulhern. "What we all saw. In practice. And-and what I saw in the computer core."
Kestrel had been slow to gain her feet, staying seated and watching those around her take in the lockdown. She found herself more than a little thankful that she hadn't needed to drink much. Even the little bit she did have had made heat coil in her belly like a snake. At Noah's question, though, she resituated, moving to the couch and sitting forward, elbows on her knees and hands dangling between her legs. "That's not an unreasonable hypothesis," she said. "It was the the Captain who initiated the lockdown. Perhaps we should we try to reach Commander t'Nai." It was a statement, not a question, and as she said it she reached up to tap the commbadge that was pinned to her shirt.
There was a chirp of response, but it was flat and dull--indication that the badge wasn't working. She tried it again to the same effect. "What kind of medical emergency takes down communications?" she asked as much rhetorically as anything else. Her eyes scanned the room and she frowned. Besides Sheila, none of these officers knew her well. "Sheila, Sheldon, Noah, is there a way to communicate without the communications systems?"
"What kind of medical emergency takes down comms, indeed," with a familiar hiss, the washroom door opened to readmit the security officer, now in his duty uniform, tugging down his tunic, tricorder and phaser on opposing hips, "What? You don't bring your gear to game night?" He pulled his tricorder from its holster, performing a quick scan, "Somethings up for sure. These doors are sealed already, but only from this side. Too much smoke for my tastes." Looking at Sheldon, he smirked, "Shelly, how about you engineer us a way out of here?"
"And-um." Noah hesitated. "Why would the Captain um, announce a medical lockdown that the Chief Medical Officer doesn't know anything about?" He asked. Noah walked into his room and returned almost immediately- with his Systems Toolkit. "To-to answer your question Ma'am. Yes," Noah said as he set his kit on the coffee table and opened it. Unlike Dravor he hadn't changed out of his pajamas and SOJO shirt. It hadn't occurred to him, and when it did it wasn't important to him.
"Can I have your comm badges please?" Noah asked, putting out his slender hand.
Kestrel unpinned hers carefully, handing it to Noah while nodding her appreciation to Dravor. "Can't say I was planning to need to be armed tonight, but I'm glad you are." She hadn't yet been posted with the Trill, but they were both reporting out of the same department and in some ways that generated an almost automatic collegial feel in and of itself
Irynya had remained curled in on herself through the short discussion and the failure of communications, softly muttering, "It's my ocean," to herself in between controlled breaths. She was far from safe from a full scale panic, but the pounding of her heart had slowed and she carefully loosed her knees, scrambling to her feet and making a quick dash for her own room where she retrieved both her own and Sheldon's badges. She met Sheldon's eyes quickly before wordlessly handing both to Noah.
"Engineer us a way out?" Sheldon said, his eyebrows raising in surprise at Dravor's comment. "Why on Earth would we want to break the Captain's quarantine? Who knows what is going on out there. What if it's some kind of macro-virus flying around the ship infecting people? I've read Voyager's logs. I know what goes on out here in the Delta Quadrant," he said, his voice raising an octave.
"No," Sheldon shook his head very slowly, "I think we should stay where we are. Much safer that way. Besides, I--" Sheldon suddenly clamped a hand to his mouth, "Oh God. Move!" he half-yelled, rising into a standing position and then practically jumping over Sheila, who leaned to the side to give him room to work. He made a bee line for the bathroom, dropping the tricorder along the way.
"Strong stuff," Sheila laughed despite the situation, holding her cup up in a salute to Iry's choice in alcohol. "He wasn't kidding about being a lightweight, though," she chuckled, rising to a standing position herself. She walked over to the fallen tricorder and picked it up before moving back to rejoin the group. Opening the device, she was greeted by flashing lights and the soft trilling sounds of active scans. "Picking up more than a sealed door. Looks like forcefields have gone up in the hallway, too," she reported.
Noah had begun to ask Sheldon for a delicate instrument in his repertoire when the Ensign dashed away. Instead he rose off his knees where he'd perched and took the tools he needed. He opened the backplates of each officers' commbadges and settled their pieces delicately on the table. "I really wish I had a sterile s-surface to do this," Noah said to himself. With a press on his knee his lankiness was put with a tool in hand. He went for the comm panel in the wall. A beam of thin blue light emitted as the cadet deftly moved it about the bezel of the panel. And then he delicately pulled its face plate off.
Noah shoved that tool into his pajama pocket and stooped to examine the insides. "Yeah, we-we will be fine. We have power. Everything's intact. It's denying signal authority to the gamma-prime ODNs. We can make a comm hub out of our panel. I just need a couple of minutes." He glanced back at the officers with a blink.
Kestrel nodded. "We will be able to transmit from that?" she asked. "And will others be able to answer or is it one way only with the signal authority... denying... things." She trailed off as she said it. This had never been her particular skill and she was thankful that amongst the group she was spending the evening with there were three engineers.
Irynya had watched Sheldon run with a frown, but when he was safely into the bathroom she turned back to the group. "Assuming we get working communications going both ways..." She glanced at Noah, working up an encouraging smile for her friend. If anyone could do that she was certain it was him, "what else should we do?" Her voice was shaky but started to level out as she spoke. "If the lockdown isn't for a medical reason then... what other reasons would the Captain have to ask us to shelter in place?"
"Noah's hands slowed and paused. He frowned. "I'm-I'm just the tech," he glanced back at Irynya. His hands began again. The commbadge in his hand- belonging to Kestrel- withy its exposed backing, flashed a pair of blue nodes. Noah pressed a thin instrument into a port in the exposed wall interface and it too flashed. He did it again to Dravor's badge. Then Balsam turned and tapped each badge. He got a clear chirp. "Hello? Hello? Testing? Testing?" His voice was received from Dravor's badge.
"But-but that's a good question," he asked as he started to take the commbadge backing from Irynya's and Sheldon's. "What is the plan?"
"Is it possible that the Captain's doppelgänger may have initiated the lockdown?" The voice came from Andrew, who had moved himself into the corner where he thought he'd be out of everyone's way. Game night had been taking his mind off his unsettling encounter in Debbie's, but it was all he could think about now. "It might just be trying to keep us all out of its way."
"Or maybe," Sheldon returned from the bathroom, picking through the group to take a seat, "there's a real bio-hazard out there and we'd be exposing ourself to great risk trying to leave. Why not just stay here and continue the game? There's not much else to do while we're all locked down, is there?" The young man reached forward, grabbed the bottle of alcohol, and held it up. "Who needs a refill?" he asked, beaming at the gathered group.
Irynya registered Sheldon's return with a bit of consternation. For someone who had just run away to vomit he was surprisingly steady on his feet. But that felt like the least of her worries so she turned back to the group as a whole. "Tell me more about this doppelgänger Andrew," she said. It was a directive rather than a question as her head finally kicked fully into officer mode. Even if she and Kestrel shared the same rank, she was the ranking officer in the room as an assistant department head.
"Well, I met him for lunch at Debbie's yesterday," Andrew began. "He looked like Björn - and seemed to know the right things - but he didn't feel like him. His mannerisms were different and he was kinda rude." The words didn't feel convincing, and he chided himself for being unable to express the odd experience more clearly. "Then he made a hasty exit right before the real Björn showed up, or rather the one who acted and spoke normally. That one denied having been sat with me for the prior ten minutes but did mention an odd incident from that morning in which a strange ship appeared, scanned us, and left without communicating at all."
As Andrew spoke Mood continued to flit about the room, catching Iry's eye from time to time as it seemed to drop only momentarily to various people. For a moment it sat on Noah's dark curls, the color that flared to life showing off his determination and focus as much as anything else. Finally, Mood flit toward Sheldon who allowed the creature to settle on his shoulder. Out of the corner of Irynya's eye she saw the movement, but the responding flare of brilliant color never happened. Instead, the silvery grey of Mood's wings flickered for a moment before re-solidifying. And with them, so did Sheldon.
"Everyone," she said, freezing, and keeping her voice level, but cool, "back away from Sheldon."
Andrew's brow wrinkled in confusion. He'd been expecting some follow-up questions but her tone made a knot form in his stomach before his hazy mind caught onto the fact that the response had been a warning.
Had Noah not seen two instances of holograms replacing others in the last twenty-four hours, he would have been as confused as Andrew. He heard Irynya. He twisted from the wall panel, face contorted in some innocent surprise. But he didn't see Sheldon- he saw a Sheldon that looked like from an old American "sitcom" found in the archives. "C-computer isolate Program Balsam-MOOD and program in file-share with that subroutine. Discontinue Mood." He said, chewing on his lips. His eyes closed and squinted to work through the emergency subroutine, "Force discontinue, spike root protocols Gamma and Lamda Prime. Compress pathways Thorn-Echo-Branch-6-9-69, Gamma and freeze packet resources. Authorization Balsam Iota 71 Iota Charlie Delta 6 Ampersand."
Mood suddenly disappeared from Sheldon's arm which, like the rest of him, flickered with distortions as the computer offloaded the holographic program into local resources and cut it off from the rest of the ship. "Cute," the alternate version of the engineer said as his matrix settled and re-solidified. "Well, I guess I'm not going anywhere," he said, a smirk forming.
Noah was erratically turning the delicate spanner tool between his fingers. He kept his distance as Irynya ordered, but he made no move for the only available phasers. Instead he put his hands put, fingers slightly curled but receptive. "We-we don't want to hurt you, if you can hear us. But wh-what do you want and where is Sheldon?"
As if on cue, the sounds of retching came from the bathroom area. So loud were the sounds that they apparently overcame the slight soundproofing of the restrooms. Other-Sheldon looked in the direction of the sounds, a frown forming on his face. "My guess is that he's currently bent over the toilet, upchucking his dinner," the man shrugged to Noah. "As for what I want, well...I thought we were going to play a game together? Or is that part of the evening over?" Alt-Sheldon asked, looking put out.
Sheldon was safe if... if occupied. And probably not in the best of moods. Noah breathed out at that. He glanced at Irynya and addressed her. At a loss, he shrugged. "They-they don't really teach us much about First Contact in engineering. Except how to protect our technology, maybe." He folded his thin limbs across himself. "And what-um technology we're allowed to talk about." Balsam looked at the combination of people in the room. "I-I think that part of the evening's um. Done. So... let's talk about you. Who is controlling you and why are you duplicating m-members of our crew with our hologrid?"
Irynya couldn't help the shot of pride she felt at how quickly Noah responded to the circumstance and she shot an encouraging smile in his direction before refocusing on the interloper. "Answer his question," she dryly advised the fake Sheldon whose face had shifted as if he were about to shoot off some sort of sarcastic retort. She hadn't forgotten how this Sheldon had spoke to herself and the real Sheldon when they'd encountered him at Debbie's.
"Controlling me?" Sheldon looked confused. "No one is controlling me. I'm a real boy," he chuckled, referencing something from the Earthers' pop culture history. "As for duplicating your crew, well...you're all pretty fascinating. It's been interesting seeing how you all react to things, real or imagined."
"And the lock down?" Irynya immediately asked, eyes scanning the group before returning to the doppelganger. "Is that real or have you duplicated Captain Kodak as well?" The thought had clicked into place slowly, but it seemed to make sense in her head. At least if everyone was locked down they were less likely to interfere.
"Captain Kodak...well," Sheldon clucked, "the actual Captain Kodak," he clarified, "is currently locked up tight in the Observation Lounge. You should see him, his face gets all pink when he gets frustrated," the man laughed darkly. "But the lockdown is real, even if the Captain didn't order it himself. It's for your own safety as well as ours. There are things we must do. Things we can't have you interfering with, if you take my meaning. So instead, let's pass the time amiably, hmm?"
"I'm most curious about this person I've taken the guise of," Holo-Shelly said. "You," he turned to Irynya, "share a room with him. But from what I can tell, he's one of the few people you aren't sleeping with on this ship. And this one," he pointed at Dravor, "comes up in Sheldon's logs more than once, but for all that he feels about you," he turned to the Trill, "you don't seem to be that close. That seems a little strange from an outsider's perspective. And you," Sheldon turned to the inventive holo-engineer, "why does Sheldon respect you so much? You haven't even graduated yet but he holds you in high esteem. Why?"
"Considering I haven't slept with anyone on this ship, that's an interesting observation," the Risian said wryly, expression more than a bit annoyed. It seemed this version was determined to continue the trend of intense assholery. "Not that Sheldon would be interested even if I offered," she added. "What made you think I was? Why do you want to know?"
"You're Risian. From what we can tell from your computer banks," Sheldon replied, "you should be carving a path of sexual partners throughout the ship. Interesting that you have not," he shrugged.
"Wh-wait I've seen this before," Noah stammered. "With Lieutenant Margarar. Taking something about us, and-and following it to an extreme. With the Lieutenant, it was her prejudice. Toward. Toward me. Her duplicate was even harsher than the real one. With me, it was... it was just off. Extra skittish. Almost sneaky. And-and both times we were interacting with the holo-grid. Wait, all three times." He gestured at his PADD. "Mood." Noah didn't answer the duplicate's question. He turned back to it though, "So you're a scout. You-you're pressing us for information and trying to stop us from regaining control. That's not exactly friendly. Why? And why our holo-grid?"
While Noah had made no move for a phaser, Dravor had quickly pointed his at the holo replica. Though his aim shifted to a section of bulkhead once he realized the copy was actually a hologram. The Trill made no reaction to the fake Sheldon's comment about himself though he couldn't help but want to, and he was far more relieved to hear Sheldon's retching that the Trill imagined he would have been, but he was a security officer, "How about you stop being so vague? Our computer whizz here has disconnected you from the ship." Tamblem's face turned hard, almost stone, "I can bin your cheap ass Shelly imitation with one squeeze."
"Stand down Ensign." Irynya was no more happy about the situation than the rest, but Noah had not been wrong. She held out a low staying hand to emphasize her point. It was safest to assume this was a first contact scenario and though the move to lock them all down seemed aggressive, Sheldon's double had said it was for their own safety. Without knowing more there was no way to tell what vaporizing the the hologram would do or how much more doing something like that could compromise the ship.
At the command from Iry, Kestrel also lowered the phaser she had drawn. It was still held at the ready in her hand, but no longer leveled at the hologram. She might not have said so verbally, but she had been prepared to fire if there was even the slightest hint of aggression.
"We don't know you," Iry commented, addressing her comments to Sheldon v2 and not pausing to see if Dravor had listened to her directive, "but it's equally clear you don't know us. Our kind would consider what you've done a significant act of aggression. But if you meant to be aggressive, I'm not sure why you've not done it before now. What is it, exactly, you want from us?"
Tamblem shook his head, making no effort to comply with the Lieutenant's sudden orders, "All respect, ma'am, but you aren't in command here. None of us have been detached to your command, and you are well outside my chain. I report up through Lieutenant Deglan." Never moving his phaser from the target, he used his other hand to indicate the locked room, "Further, we know the order to shelter didn't come from the Captain, and I'll not be following orders from literal intruders. I seriously doubt this hologram has any ethical subroutines. So my phaser and my threat will remain in place. If we survive, you can file a protest with the XO or Lieutenant Deglan." Turning his focus back to the Shelly-gram he barked, "So answer her fucking questions."
Holo-Sheldon appeared positively enraptured by the exchange between Irynya and Dravor. He seemed to be studying the pair as they both foisted for control, the young Trill ultimately deciding not to obey the order he'd been given. "So curious," the man replied as he was threatened at phaser-point to answer questions. "We knew you operated under a military hierarchy but this is so interesting to see play out," Sheldon said, eyes passing between the two officers. "But since you could obliterate me in an instant -- and as I obviously have no other way out, being cut off from your computer," he looked darkly at Noah, "fine. I'll answer what I can," he said.
"We came aboard your ship at the nebula. From the other ship, actually," Sheldon said to the sounds of more retching from the bathroom. "It couldn't take us where we needed to go and we couldn't communicate with the crew. Imagine our delight when we found you in that nebula. Not only do you have a ship that can easily take us where we need to go," Sheldon smiled, "but you've got this amazing holographic system throughout the entirety of your vessel. We've been using it to study you. Learn about you. Interact with you, to some degree. Though I must say," he put his hands on his hips in an approximation of the real Sheldon, "I didn't count on you possibly killing me. Do I need to take a hostage?" Sheldon asked. With a flick of his wrist, his right hand became a blade of hard light, whose tip rested against Sheila's throat.
Sheila felt the blade digging into her skin but not yet cutting it. "Shit," the woman said, holding up her hands in a supplicating gesture. She debated using a move Dani and Kestrel had taught her in security training but then the weapon had been in someone's hand: something you could knock away to disarm your opponent and then attack. What do you do, she wondered, when the opponent's hand *is* the weapon? Sheila's eyes flicked between Irynya and Dravor, wondering if their battle for dominance would end with her blood all over the floor.
Noah put his hands up to show he wasn't a threat and took a step toward the coffee table. "So, um... a-a couple of things," Noah said. "One, if you needed our help you could've just asked. We're peaceful unless we're threatened." He looked around the group again, "And-and boarded." He picked up his PADD that had controlled Mood. "We're just explorers. We're new to your space. Have you seen that, um, when you were studying us?" His kind eyes sought out Sheila. "Let her go," he attempted firmly. "If you want to talk, we should talk."
"He's right," Irynya chimed in, working hard to suppress the intense frustration she felt at Dravor's clear dismissal of authority she was confident was rightly hers. There wasn't time for that, though, and now the intruder was threatening one of their own. The panic from earlier was threatening to crawl back up her throat too as she drug her eyes from the blade-like hand at Sheila's throat and focused on the interloper. "We're explorers." Her hands were now held out in front of her, not up, but held steady out to her sides. She took a slow step toward Holo-Sheldon. "Do you have a name?" She asked then, at this point stalling for time in hopes they could deescalate a situation that felt like it was veering wildly out of control.
Tamblem had hesitated, and he wasn't totally sure why. Perhaps he was confused by holo's question, or maybe there was an attachment to its likeness. However, he did not speak up as Noah and Iry did, using diplomacy to reason with the intruder. Instead, the Trill locked his eyes on Sheila, hoping the intruder wouldn't have time to harm her, and, refusing to look away, depressed the firing stud. Amber light flashed from the phaser splashing against the bulkhead, taking only a moment to poke through and obliterate the room's holo-controller matrix in a shower of sparks.
In the flickering morass of holo-failures, every hologram in the room phased out of existence; part of Noah felt an immense weight press on his shoulders. His brows knit. He felt his head bobbing automatically. "Computer." He arched an eyebrow. "Run a Level One Diagnostic on the primary, secondary and backup holo-grids shipwide. Isolate all connected subroutines, virus protocols." He stated, knowing that would immediately shunt the entire holo-grid into standby. "O-okay, we have exactly fifty-eight minutes to help everyone else get control of the ship." He looked at his superior officers.
"Did...did you just kill that alien?" Sheila asked, looking somewhat aghast. "Don't get me wrong," she held a hand up to her throat, "I'm happy not to be skewered but was that wise? It seemed like he was maybe open to talking..." The woman seemed slightly in shock, the phaser blast having scared the hell out of her. She hadn't expected Dravor to shoot and it had literally stunned her. Sheila's eyes danced from Dravor to Irynya, wondering who the hell was actually in charge.
"Was that a phaser going off?" a shrill voice came from the bathrooms. The doors had opened and Sheldon -- the real Sheldon -- was returning, looking pretty pale and holding his stomach.
Noah murmured, "N-no they won't be dead. I don't think. They'll be," he glanced at the pale and irate-looking real-Sheldon. "He destroyed their-their, um, the way of staying in the room." Noah bit his lip, "We need to hurry. The diagnostic will be over in fifty-eight minutes and that'll take these aliens out of the lockout."
"We don't know," Irynya finally said, steel in her voice. Sheldon and Noah might recognize the deadly calm of her tone from their first introduction to their Antican roommate, but for the others this side of Irynya would be new. "We don't know, because we don't know enough about this race to know how they will react to the loss of the hologrid or, assuming they're fine, if that one," she gestured at the couch, "has survived cut off the way he... it was."
"I'm the ranking line officer in this room and since we're cut off from everyone else and the immediate security threat is... neutralized..." her expression darkened as she said the word, "I'm it." She fixed Dravor with a look then. "I don't like this anymore than you do. So if you have an issue going forward then you can take it up with Lieutenant Timmoz or the XO. Clear?"
"STOP ARGUING!" The cadet's voice cracked. Noah was breathing hard and audible through his nose, his dark eyes fixed with frustration. "This is a crisis... not-not-not a cock-measuring contest." He said more gently, blinking. "We're Starfleet. We-we don't do this. We don't have time, either. We have to work together," he pointed a finger- by way of flinging his arm back at the door enough that his elbow hyperextended. "OK? Nobodys in charge. OK? We just do what we're-we're trained to do."
Irynya frowned. "Respectfully, Cadet," she said carefully, her tone still that deadly calm although her posture seemed to have relaxed somewhat. Calling Noah by his rank made her stomach twist uncomfortably, but the had to get to a point where they could all agree on next steps. "What we're trained to do in a first contact situation gone sideways is de-escalate and minimize damage. Avoid a violent conflict wherever possible to preserve the possibility of a peaceful first encounter." She held up a hand, plowing ahead when it looked like Dravor might interrupt. "And in a security situation we're trained to neutralize the threat first and ask questions later. They're not mutually exclusive, but they do require someone to make the final calls. Otherwise our training means nothing and we're going to be working against each other."
She looked to Kestrel then, inclining her head slightly. "You're the ranking security officer here," she said to the other woman. "What do you recommend?"
A Post By:
Lieutenant JG Kestrel
Lieutenant JG Irynya
Assistant Chief Helmsman
Ensign Sheila Mulhern
Ensign Sheldon Parsons
Devotee of the Porcelain God
Ensign Sheldon Parsons
Ensign Tamblem Dravor
Midshipman Noah Balsam