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Never Have I Ever... Part IV

Posted on Tue Sep 13th, 2022 @ 10:09pm by Lieutenant JG Irynya & Lieutenant JG Kestrel & Ensign Noah Balsam & Andrew Munro & Ensign Sheila Mulhern & Ensign Sheldon Parsons & Ensign Tamblem Dravor

Mission: Echoes and Effigies
Location: Computer Core
Timeline: Mission Day 3 at 2050

[Computer Core]
[MD 3: 2050 Hours]

They'd done it. It'd taken some time -- twenty minutes of their precious, already too little time -- but the Second Stringers had successfully infiltrated the computer core. The maze of computer banks and consoles beckoned as the group made their way, one-by-one, out of the jeffries tube and into the core proper. The smell of ozone permeated the air in the wake of the twin phaser blasts that had taken out the force field barring the way into the core.

"Well we're here," Sheldon said, "safe and sound. Except for my knees. They never did respond well to crawling around on grates," the engineer complained. Wearing shorts, the grate marks from so much crawling around in the tubes had near-branded themselves into his skin.

"Your knees are the least of our problems," Sheila retorted, smirking. "Besides, I thought on your knees was where you did your best work, Shelly?" she chortled, lifting a hand to sheepishly cover her grin. "You the engine room, with knee pads. And -- oh God," Sheila laughed, "I'm making this worse, aren't I?"

Sheldon shot the young woman a dark look and then turned to Noah, who didn't seem to be wasting any time. "Where can we pitch in?" he asked, looking around the core room. He'd been here several times to see Noah or help with engineering tasks but he didn't know it as well as the cadet did, obviously.

Noah had come out of the Jefferies Tube, his SOJO t-shirt mid-riffed and his bare knees were barking from the metal grates of the tubes. he tugged it down and got his bearings. but he was absolutely sure they were in the right area. The heat from the core was all the evidence. "Okay," Noah said. He peered at the great tower of the core that went up an entire deck, and the same downward. They'd come out on the deck four mezzanine.

He looked with a jolt out of his thoughts at Sheldon. "Um." He pointed in an arc of his arm at the same floor. "There-there's a bank of auxiliary monitoring stations on the forward side of the core. We, uh, can-can redirect all of the communications traffic through here and make this the temporary hub. Use the virus spike protocols to interrupt Bridge control. It'll think that the, um, the Bridge has a virus in its central processor and redirect comms control down here."

Noah chewed his lip. Unfortunately, they would have to do it with every system. Even the spike protocols couldn't assume the entire Bridge was lost to a virus. "I'm going into the Kernel. We need to set some of the neural circuits to redirect back here. Oh-otherwise it's going to realize there's no virus on the Bridge and reallocate everything back up there." And with that he reached for a heavy, silver-reflective thermal coat.

He looked at Security: Kestrel and Dravor. "The security operations auxiliary station is up this ladder. To deck five. You might be able to work through the pro-protocols of the force fields."

Noah pulled another coat down and handed it to Andrew Munro. "I'll n-need your help."

"Sure," Andrew replied, donning the thermal coat. It was a little more snug in places than it should have been but he didn't think it would restrict his movement too much. "Where do you need me?"

Noah smiled a quick note, fluttering with nervous energy like a sheath along his body. "I need you to help me keep the neural packs stable. They-they are basically part alive. So I need you to monitor their neural output and make sure they respond to the nutrient solution." With that Noah turned to the oddly plated surface of the computer core itself- a massive cylinder of heat diffusing blue panels, almost iridescent. He tapped in his code and the door of the core slid hissed open and then- unlike normal doors- pressed out and slid like a futuristic barn door.

Andrew hesitated before following Noah, he was no stranger to using computers but had never expected to ever walk inside one. He pushed the uneasy feeling to the back of his mind and focused instead on avoiding contact with anything on the way in.

Inside the core, the light was cast blue- and it was incredibly cold. Even through his thermal suit, Noah was shivering. It had to be around negative fifty degrees celsius. Inside there was a second core and it appeared to be made of millions of isolinear-like chip slots. It was gridded out into half-meter by half-meter squares around its circumference- and seemed to go on above and below them. Noah looked at Andrew and smiled. "Wel-welcome to the brain of the ship." He cracked a goofier smile. He always felt like it was an honor to be in here.

Noah exhaled a dry ghostly breath. "OK. Um. S-sorry I've only done something like this a couple of times." He apologized.

"I'll try not to perform some accidental lobotomy then," Andrew joked, looking around at the highly organised and geometric-looking space. "Where are those jelly packs that you mentioned?"

Back on the deck 4 mezzanine the remaining coterie of officers was dividing into groups. As the two engineers made their way to the forward bank monitoring consoles that Noah had indicated, Kestrel stepped over to the ladder, looking to Dravor to make sure he was following.

As she climbed the Argelian couldn't help being hit by the ridiculous justification of climbing about the computer core in an attempt to recapture the Bridge in the types of clothes one might wear to a pajama party. It was an amusing juxtaposition and she couldn't help a small giggle as she ascended. When she finally climbed out of the ladder onto the next deck she paused, stepping to the side so Dravor could join her. "Alright, let's find those consoles and at least get the forcefields out of the way," she said giving the other man a small smile before turning to make her away along the deck 5 mezzanine.

Once again, Tamblem found himself glad for his go-bag as everyone else padded about in their off-duty clothes or less. Smirking, he followed down to the consoles with a smirking as he looked down at the folks below and said to himself, "At least the views are nice."

Below Irynya had followed Sheila and Sheldon around the curve of the core. "Communication between our group would be ideal as a minimum," she commented knowing that she was saying something they already knew. "Can we prioritize that?" She'd made sure they all retrieved the badges they had earlier turned over to Noah before making their way through, so she was ready. As she waited, feeling acutely aware of how little help a pilot was in the computer core, she bent to rub her knees. She'd been in shorts and she suspected her legs had liked the grating even less than Sheldon's.

"Well, communications with the group are easy enough," Sheila said, her tone shifting into Ensign Mulhern, engineering specialist. "Noah set up the hub and that should still work here. If it doesn't for some reason, we can put our badges into Away Team mode," she explained. "I'm more worried about restoring communications to the rest of the ship," she trailed off, regarding Sheldon with a questioning look. "Fake out? Makeshift relay? Route it all through here?" she said, tapping her foot against one of the auxiliary core housings.

"Could work," the other engineer nodded. Sheldon moved himself to the auxiliary control panel and tap-tap-tapped away, bringing up a comm system interlink map. Brushing his fingers on the screen, he grabbed the diagram and threw it up into the air, where a wire-frame image of the Sojourner superimposed with glinting nodes hovered in glowing golden lines. He studied the image for several long moments before speaking again.

"Right now," he explained to Irynya, who was their de facto leader and thus needed to understand the plan, "the comm system has been been routed through the Bridge and locked down." At this, Sheldon pointed to the top of the ship, where several lines representing the comm system converged. "As long as those relays are functional, there's no rerouting anything. The Bridge will retain control. And since we can't get to the relays to physically take them out of commission, that's a non-starter. But," he began again with a half smile, "Sheila and I may be able to fool the computer into thinking the Bridge relays are nonfunctional. And if we can do that, the computer -- lock down or not -- should accept a substitute relay here in the core."

"You wouldn't want every person on this ship to suddenly start using the comm, though," Sheila warned, now tapping at another section of the console. "What we'd be doing is just a temporary patch and presents some instability issues. Too many comm calls and the whole thing will go ka-blam. Well, not literally," she smirked at Irynya, "but you know what I mean. I'd hold off making any shipwide announcements about the comm system being back up, just in case."

Both engineers looked at Irynya with expectation, clearly waiting for the woman to OK their plan before jumping into action.

The Risian looked between the two, listening intently as each explained and nodding her understanding along the way. With a deep breath she met each of their eyes before letting it out slowly. "Let's do it," she said. "If it means we can get in contact with the Captain and tell him what we know then we have to try."

In the Core, Noah's breath was staggered from concentration, anxiety, and cold. His gloved hands eased open Neural Node 65172.65 and he held his breath while he peered inside. Round flat packs of fogged-over gel rested in the tray, Each was attached with a lattice of cabling that enshrouded them in a net of data receptors. Noah hesitated. He looked at Andrew wishing he wasn't solo on this. He had doubts. Bad doubts. He'd never come in here without Prel or one of the other leads. And he'd never be moving the packs around.

But this was not every day.

"I-I weirdly feel like..." Noah blurted out. His skinny cheeks puffed and he held back the rest. He brushed his hood from hanging over and eye and grimaced. "Ok." He gestured at the stasis container they had retrieved, which looked like an incubator with cable inside. "I'm going to disengage these packs," he gestured at three. "I'll hand each one to you. When I-I do, um." He pointed jaggedly at the stasis chamber. ""You're going to feed those blue cables into these ports," and he pointed at blue-ringed ports. "I-I-I need you to monitor them. They are supposed to... um... s-sort go into a standby mode. If they're spiking or dropping, the gel packs in crisis mode." He glanced at the bear-like man. "That's... um, sort of like having a seizure. If it does that," he pointed at a case of hypospray-like devices with yellow handles. "Inject it with a neural sedative."

"No problem, that sounds pretty straightforward." Andrew was sure Noah knew what he was doing, but sensed uncertainty all the same. Rather than cracking a joke, he feigned what he hoped was a more confident tone. "Let's do it"

"Ok." Noah grimly set his mouth. He shook out his hands with a harsh breath. Inside he could feel the fresh spritz of sweat above his tailbone, between his shoulder blades and under his arms. Panic sweat. He prickled. "I'm beginning..." He gently reached in and separated the first gel pack from the lattice. And then he unplugged the blue cord. He passed it gently to Andrew. His coffee gaze drank in the data before them. The Kernel had quietly shifted to its backup recursives.

Taking his cue from Noah, Andrew handled the gel pack in the same gentle fashion as he carried it to the stasis chamber. Even if he hadn't remembered the instructions, the design was intuitive enough that it just felt right to connect the blue cables to the blue ports. The chamber cradled the pack and illuminated a display to first acknowledge the connection and then to display statistics. Neurotransmitter levels were nominal and no other values were fluctuating. "First one is looking good," he called over to Noah.

"Ok," Noah murmured softly. Uncertain eyes glanced at Andrew and then back to work. His slender twitchy fingers moved to manipulate his delicate tools like they were gracile cutlery. He chomped into his lower lip, holding his breath again. When he set them aside he started to lift the bag to undo the network lattice. He set it aside and reached in to take the bag up.

He lifted. Slowly. And moved to undo the blue plug- and then the contents of the bag started to undulate and squirm. It began to flash diodes of red. The panel next to them went red began to pulse through the LCARS. Noah's rounded eyes were in panic. "Shit shit shit! Ummm...." He lstared at Andrew. "It's going into shock! I forget I'm supposed to remove the recursives in a different order! Um! I-I need one of those," he flailed at the sedatives. "Shit!" He was flustered and pink-cheeked, breath erratic as he shook his head in disgust at himself.

Andrew snatched up a hypospray-esqe device and handed it over with haste. The gel pack reminded him of a distressed small animal being tranquilised, the undulations eased as soon as the device was deployed and then the red indicators began to change to amber. He instinctively took a deep breath as the tension dissipated in his muscles but the incredibly cold air stung at his sinuses and throat.

"Hey," Andrew said softly, placing a hand on Noah's shoulder. "Take a moment." He slowed his movement and speech in an attempt to project calm onto the situation. "You never claimed that this was going to be easy." With a soft smile, he found eye-contact with the flustered young computer expert and held it. "It doesn't matter who may have made fewer mistakes. We're the only ones here and the situation is forcing us to act." He added a little pressure to his grip on Noah's shoulder, hoping that it'd feel reassuring. "You have a good plan, and you're the best we have here." After allowing a poignant pause he extended his other hand, open and palm-up, towards the sedated gel pack. "Let me babysit this one and I'll put it in with the other when it's stable. Just push the mishap from your mind, take a breath and find your focus again."

On the other side of the Core Sheldon and Sheila had begun to work on a way to convince the bridge that the communications relay that was holding ship's communications hostage had stopped functioning. The Risian found herself feeling more useless than anything. She had the antsy itchy feeling that she should do something, but here in the Core there wasn't anything for her to do. She had very nearly decided to step away and check in with Kestrel and Dravor when she heard the flat squelch of the console that indicated something had stopped working correctly. Her head swung up and she moved forward and to the side as the display on the console seemed to flash angrily, red warning lights flashing before the controls blinked out coming back into appearance slowly as if the console had somehow been stopped and restarted. The warning lights still flashed, but the well known grey low power mode identifier appeared this time, flashing moodily at them.

"Nooooooahhhhhhh," Sheldon drawled, looking downward even though he wouldn't be able to see the cadet or his burly assistant. "What did you do?" he called down at his commbadge even as he and Sheila started their work over. They'd been this close to fooling the computer into rerouting comms away from the Bridge when their console had powered down. Thus began anew their efforts to trick the computer into accepting the core as a comm hub.

Sheila, for her part, wasn't as perturbed as Sheldon, though she lamented the need to re-do several minutes worth of work. It wasn't so much duplicating effort as it was that time was quickly running down on them: she only hoped they'd be able to get things rerouted before their time was up.

"Shit," Noah still said, chastising himself as his neck and face pricked. He looked at Andrew and he understood what the scientist and seasoned professional had meant. Intellectually. But of all the times to nearly screw up the entire ship's communications. He pushed his commbadge. "I-I'm sorry.... it should be fine now. I'm-I'm just... just making sure the computer thinks the core doesn't know the Bridge has access to the authorization codes." He rubbed his temples, pinching his head between the span of his slender hand.

He squinted his eyes and tersely breathed out. "Bal-Balsam out." He said. His hands were shaky but Noah moved and gently set aside the sedated neural pack. "Sorry little brain..." He muttered. He glanced at Andrew. "And-and sorry for the um. The colorful words." He shook his head. "Sir. Tha-that was..." He trailed off. His cheeks puffed and he blew down toward his chest.

"Okay now I have to slave this gelpack to Sheldon's console." He said. And he delicately lifted his fingers, with his minuscule tools. And he gently began to press at diodes on the remaining gelpack. When it clicked to green, his shaky hands moved away. Noah tucked his chin and tapped his badge. "Oh-okay Ensign, Sir. The computer thinks the comms system on the Bridge are compromised by a virus that's taken out our backups. You-you have everything you need for a re-route."

Noah looked at Andrew and he shivered. Droplets of moisture had begun to freeze on his skin- under his nose and on his face. "We're good. We should go to the Holo-Lab and try to coax an alien into talking with us."

Iry had listened to the exchange, not missing the tone in Noah's voice as he confirmed with Sheldon. She didn't know what, exactly had happened, but it clearly hadn't gone exactly as the cadet had hoped. "I'm going to go check on them," she announced to Sheldon and Sheila, making the split decision that Kestrel and Dravor could hold their own without having an extra set of eyes on their console. Besides, if Noah and Andrew were going to try to contact one of the aliens maybe she could be some help there.

She made her way back around the core and met Noah and Andrew just as they were returning through the inset doors that had let them into the frigid core earlier.

"Iry," Andrew attempted to say in greeting, but his lips and mouth were so dry and cold that he was unsure that it was even audible. He was just glad it hadn't been someone else arriving to detain him for messing around in the core.

Noah followed Andrew Munro out of the core's frigid inner reach. He was shouldering off his thermal jacket while the door behind him slid to cover the opening and then compressed with a foggy hiss back into its sealed placement.

"Is everything OK out here?" Noah asked.

Irynya nodded. "Seems to be, yeah," she said, offering up an encouraging smile as she did. "I'm afraid I'm not much use to the others though. Anything I can do to help on the whole reconstituting a holo-alien front?"

Andrew finished slipping out oh his thermal jacket. "Well I'd certainly feel better with you there, given how co-operative pseudo-Sheldon was."

"Y-yeah. I mean. I'm an Engineer, not a Diplomat...." Noah said. He pressed his hands, sweaty yet cold, down on his shorts to try and dry them. "You've both probably got more... uhhh... first contact or...second contact... or... well anyway," he gestured with a shake of his head. "Than I do." He sighed down at his chest and teased his tricep with his fingers.

"Um," he pointed at a single-pane sliding door down a ladder to where Noah's usual base of operations was. "Holo-Lab is there." He said with searching eyes at the two- while he lifted his skinny hand and tapped a few times at the bony dome of his mastoid, behind his ear.

Above them, Dravor slapped the console in frustration, nostrils flared as his jaw clenched behind pursed lips, "It is no use. We don't have the necessary access to get past the command lockout." Chuckling to Kestrel, he shook his head, "You would almost think they designed it this way on purpose." He pivoted back on his heels, thinking. Listening to the others talking about isolation had given him the beginnings of an idea, "Hey, we can't deactivate the forcefields, but what if we say isolated the sources could power them? Usually, the force fields draw from main power, warp power. What if we disable the backup power subroutines? It won't shut down the forcefields, but maybe it would make it easier for someone else on the ship to disable them?" Though Tamblem admitted to himself that someone disabling the warp core was a long shot.

Kestrel nodded as she listened, a mirror of the frustration Dravor had displayed welling in her gut. It was a weird thing to feel this out of her own league and yet as though somehow they had to do something. "It's worth a try," she said, dark eyes serious as she scanned the console. "Better than doing nothing at least."

Irynya met Noah's searching gaze and held it, glancing away only to nod her confirmation at Andrew. "Let's get to it," she said, stepping into the decision making role. "Andrew, would you get a look at that door for me? The lock down is still in place so we'll need to get through it before we can do this. We'll be right on your heels."

Giving it a count of 3 before she turned back to Noah, Irynya let whatever professionalism she was holding drop. She knew the cadet well enough now to know what tapping was meant to do. Noah had taught her the technique herself when he'd walked her through a panic attack. "Noah," she said with a soft intensity as his voice barely more than half an hour earlier echoed in her head, "It's your ocean." And then she turned and nodded her head in the direction of Andrew's receding form. "Come on. Let's go meet some aliens."

=/\= A Mission Post By =/\=

Lieutenant JG Kestrel
Security Officer


Lieutenant JG Irynya
Assistant Chief Flight Controller


Ensign Sheila Mulhern


Ensign Sheldon Parsons


Ensign Tamblem Dravor
Security Officer


Andrew Munro


Midshipman Noah Balsam
Systems Specialist


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