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To Catch an Alien

Posted on Fri Sep 30th, 2022 @ 6:59pm by Captain Björn Kodak & Ensign Noah Balsam & Andrew Munro & Lieutenant JG Irynya

Mission: Echoes and Effigies
Location: Holo Lab
Timeline: Mission Day 3 at 2120

[Holo Lab]
[MD 3: 2120 Hours]

"Computer," Noah said clearly to the still and cool air, holding his fractured wrist against his chest. "Pause the level one diagnostic in progress in recursive subroutines Lambda and Kappa only. Safe Mode Protocol. Authorization Balsam Iota 71 Iota Charlie Delta 6 Ampersand." The computer warbled a grinding, resource-limited murmur before it beeped. "Computer, activate Index. Set Index to Visitor Clearance only. Isolate all other protocols. Set holographic safeties to maximum.."

Again the computer churned and squealed its way through the safety protocols. A moment later a plain, androgynous-looking hologram appeared in a two-piece, Chinese-inspired white suit. Noah nodded slowly while he set a strange headband device around his head and then turned down a set of HUDs. He looked at Andrew Munro: the stick bug metaphor was somehow even more pronounced with large, round goggles before his eyes. "You-you might want one too. It's an Augmented interface. It'll let you look at the data and mesh frames instead of just the Hologram." He offered a headset out in his delicate hand.

"Never thought I'd be so excited to see Index," Irynya commented in a wry half amused voice that felt like it landed all wrong once it was out of her mouth.

Just as he began to hand out the headset, the door whispered open and the bear-like girth of the Captain entered. Despite the fact that he was, essentially, standing there in his underwear, Noah went rigid and chest out, his code HUD in place over his eyes.

For a moment, Andrew thought that he'd touched the wrong part of the headset and caused some kind of shock to the Midshipman. It was only when the pose was held that he realised Noah was at attention. Headset in hand, he spun around to see who had joined them.

Captain Kodak strode into the holo lab, a determined look on his face as he entered. With the lockdown lifted, the trip from the Bridge hadn't taken long at all. As he laid his beyond-yellow eyes on the group gathered inside the lab, the Chameloid couldn't help but smile. Not only were Irynya and Balsam here and OK but Andrew, too, was here...and the burly bear of a man seemed to be helping, which induced no small amount of pride in the Captain. "I'm glad to see all of you are alright," he nodded to his officers before sliding into a one-armed side hug for his paramour. "Hey," he rasped warmly to the man, a light in his eyes; joy, no doubt, at seeing Andrew alive and well during all this.

Petty Officer Kotri came into the room behind the Captain, assuming a position at the rear of the room, phaser drawn. She'd move up when and where needed but, for now, she remained where she was and at the ready.

"Hey," Andrew echoed, relief evident in his voice. Until moments ago, they'd been on their own, improvising and hoping that what they'd achieved would be enough to turn the situation around. Kodak's arrival felt like a confirmation that they were winning, even if they weren't out of the woods yet. Better still, he definitely felt like the real Kodak. "So good to see you."

"You too, handsome," the Björn rasped back, his eyes full.

Noah waited patiently, slightly flushed, while he visually studied Index and its codelines to assure it was in the harmless parameters he'd set.

Aside from an acknowledging nod Irynya had held back while the two men reunited, albeit briefly. She waited for a beat, giving the them a moment and stepping up next to Noah whose rigid stature she hadn't missed. Gently, almost imperceptibly, she brushed her shoulder against his. "You ok?" she asked softly. There hadn't been time to see to his wrist yet and she'd no doubt he was in pain.

Noah looked, begoggled, at his wrist. The swimming display of grids and characters that was index blipped away with the flash of an error. "I think it's broken," he confessed. "I'll-I'll go see Kennedy when we're done here." He assured. "You?

Resisting the urge to rub at the spot on her chest that had hit the rail, Irynya darted a quick glance down to Noah's wrist. "I don't think anything's broken. Just a lot of scrapes and bruises. I was lucky," she said.

The Risian may have been a bit of a fish out of water in the Holo-Lab, but she did know body language and so at the subtle release of pressure between Andrew and Kodak, she stepped forward. "It's good to see you, sir," she said. "Mr. Balsam and Mr. Munro were just getting things set to try to draw one of the aliens here."

Andrew had forgotten about the headset in his hand until Irynya's update reminded him what he was supposed to be doing. He closed his eyes whilst he slipped it on, then opened them to find a crosshair in his field of vision that followed whatever his eyes focused on. In the periphery were some status readings that expanded into more detail when he looked at them. He glanced over to Noah for an indication of what to do next.

"Your collective timing," the Chameloid smiled to Irynya, Andrew, and Noah, "is to be commended." While Kodak had been on duty when the lockdown occurred -- and thus was in uniform -- the Captain noticed that he was decidedly overdressed for the group he was with. They'd all no doubt been caught off guard by the lockdown while in various states of undress. Balsam, in particular, looked the most uncomfortable, which no doubt made the young man's job even harder. Kodak decided to initiate a change to make everyone a bit more comfortable.

With a visible shivering effect, the Captain's Starfleet uniform wriggled and smoothed into a Sojo-branded tank top in black and an unflattering pair of boxer shorts with hearts on them. "There," Kodak said, smirking, "now we're all in our skivvies. Everyone can relax," the man chuckled despite the serious situation they were in. "Let's see if we can't convince one of these aliens to talk to us properly. Whenever you're ready," the Chameloid nodded to Noah and Andrew, eyes alighting on Index.

Perhaps it was the seriousness of the situation and the knifes edge of nerves they'd all been walking on over the last hour and a half. Or maybe it was the fact that they'd very recently been thrown rather violently from their feet when the ship stopped. Or perhaps it was just because of the absolute juxtaposition of the Captain in boxer shorts with bright red hearts all over them, but it took every ounce of composure she had not to giggle. As it was she pressed her lips tightly together, eyes shining as her eyebrows rose slightly. "From what we can tell, sir," she managed, although the mirth in her voice was unmistakable, "the aliens know the difference between on-duty and off-duty attire. We had one with us in our quarters when the lockdown went into effect."

Noah's eyes widened- again obscured under his goggles. His mouth codfished- briefly. Well, that was one way to lead from the front. "Dr. Munro, um, s-suggested we use an energy feed to attract the aliens." He glanced- by a turn of his head to Andrew- and then to the Captain and Irynya. "Dravor had to fire on that alien..." Noah reported. "It threatened Sheila Mulhern... like the Terminator." He chewed his lip. "Which is sort of like a Founder."

Noah shifted topics with a shiver down his spine. The room was cold compared to the computer core. "I was thinking a data packet saturation of free bandwidth, overclocked with photons. S-so I've upped Index's photons per femtometer ratios to the maximum level. Buh-but I've also got full holodeck safeties on. They won't be, um," again he looked at the three, "Solid. They'll be more like a holo-communication. I've locked out their ability to change the settings. We are, um, air-gapped in here."

As Noah described the situation and the safeties in place Irynya's urge to giggle died and she couldn't resist the urge to tug at her t-shirt which had risen back toward her waist at some point in their movement. She wasn't the sort to be terribly concerned about her appearance, but then they were about to try to communicate with new alien life and the sudden urge for a uniform was immense. Her gaze skipped over the Captain's face trying to discern his thinking as Noah reported what had happened. "It wasn't just firing on the alien, sir," she added once Noah paused. "Mr. Dravor may have killed it. Noah was able to isolate it in our quarters so it couldn't simply escape back into the holo grid. We don't know for sure... but... it seems likely they may view us as aggressors."

"A Terminator..." Kodak mumbled to himself, trying to wrap his mind around what that must be. Given the analogy to Founders, he could only assume that meant the holographic trespassers could change their shapes? He was about to question on this point further when Irynya brought up that Dravor had most likely killed one of the aliens. "You may be right, Lieutenant," the Captain nodded to the Risian. "I'll have to keep that in mind. That changes the approach I was planning to take a little," he said.

Turning to Balsam and Andrew, the Chameloid's yellow eyes narrowed ever so slightly. "I'm ready when the both of you are. Good thinking in the way you've set this all up, Cadet," Kodak said to Noah. "If the aliens know the difference between a uniform and off duty skivvies, I should probably redress for the part, hmm?" With another shiver, the man's Starfleet uniform flowed back onto his person, covering up the tank top and boxer shorts. Clasping his hands behind his back, Kodak turned to face Index and waited.

"Lets hope this works.... and that they'll talk to us..." Noah said to Andrew and the rest. He chewed his lip and with a flick of his good wrist, Noah brought up the ambers and the holo-display for the lab. His fingers punched and swept at the LCARS. Swipes of a finger with a gesture toward Index dropped the bread crumbs that were free data packets- precious bandwidth for a thirsty photonic life form, Noah hoped. Then, with another flick at Index, he fully resolved the hologram's resolution and swept at a red-line computer warning that such a procedure was not recommended and was an unnecessary draw on resources.

Andrew studied Index as Noah worked. He focused on the head, wondering what kind of neural structure might be present in the simulated humanoid. As though it had been ordered, his headset overlaid a graphical representation of exactly that. It wasn't like any brain he was familiar with, more like a highly organised collection of interconnected modules. Focusing on one displayed its purpose and the interface it presented. Diving even deeper presented the code that it was comprised of. None of it made a lot of sense to him but he suspected it would all be obvious and expected to Noah.

Panic gripped Andrew for a moment as the module abruptly disappeared. He hadn't meant to delete it, but wasn't accustomed to the controls of the HUD. More nodes disappeared and then the representation appeared to stall and writhe intermittently, eventually settling in a kind of zoomed-out view that showed an incredibly complex network of nodes. It wasn't possible to focus on or expand any of them, instead only basic stats were displayed. Seventeen thousand, five hundred million nodes. 'That's more cortical nodes than a human has,' he thought. He felt a surge of adrenaline as he realised that the plan had worked and that they were once again face to face with one of them.

"We're r-" Noah began but then his head flicked to Index as he saw the notable shifts in data packets, energy consumption and odd data spikes. "I think we got their attention..."

The androgynous holo’s eyes suddenly filled with life, as if Index had been a blank-staring slate one moment and a fully realized person the next. It was to Kodak that she turned, recognizing the Captain immediately, despite his quizzical attire. She’d been about to say something when the limitations of her existence in the holo-lab suddenly became clear to her. Alarm-colored Index’s face as she looked up and around the room, as if trying to trace the source of her captors’ power over her before once again fixating on the Captain.

“What have you done to me?” Index asked, her voice hard-edged and compulsory for an answer.

“Mr. Balsam here,” Kodak folded his arms across his chest, “wanted to ensure that you couldn’t do us any harm while we had a little chat. You’ll find you’re rather locked down in here…unable to change your shape,” he thought back to the earlier Founder reference, “or escape back into the holo-grid at large. You also don’t have any substance here,” the Chameloid said, reaching forward to pass his hand through Index’s midsection.

“This is how you killed one of us,” Index looked incensed, her nostrils expanding and contracting in her ire. “Will you kill me now, too?” she asked, looking at the faces of those gathered in the room. Were they her would-be executioners?

“What happened to your comrade was extremely unfortunate,” the Captain said, lament coloring his tone. “I understand that, at the time, he was threatening one of my Ensigns…holding her hostage,” Kodak said, recalling the details as they’d been briefly recounted to him. “My people were merely trying to protect her from you.”

“Your people threatened us first,” Index replied cooly, mirroring the Captain’s gesture of arms over the chest.

“And you took over our ship,” Kodak softly responded. “There is blame on both sides, I would say. One act begets another, which in turn sets off another…it’s a back and forth we’re in, only no one is winning,” he rasped. A piece of advice Counselor Karim had once given the Captain floated into the forefront of Kodak’s mind: The key to any first contact is finding common ground…and then building a shared house on top of it. “There have been grievances on both sides. But from what I understand, you need us…and in a way, we need you.”

“Explain,” Index said, eyes not wavering from the Captain. She seemed curious about his meaning, though the glint of steel never left her eyes as she regarded the Chameloid.

“I understand you want to get somewhere. Our ship, apparently,” Kodak began, “can get you there. We need our ship back and no longer under the control of outside entities. Perhaps we could cooperate with each other. Act in mutual cooperation to reach a solution to both our problems,” the Captain suggested.

“Corporeals do not cooperate with us,” Index glared, affronted by the idea, it seemed. “It was Corporeals who stole us away from our home in the first place. And Corporeals who refused our requests to be returned,” she said, the line of her mouth growing hard. “When they plucked us out of our dust cloud and onto their ship, we could not speak with them directly. But we could influence their computers,” Index explained. “We tried to learn about them and, once we understood them, tried to convince them by text to return us home. They refused.”

Kodak soaked in this information, nodding as he came to understand that others had not only been responsible for kidnapping these beings originally, but also refused to undo the damage they’d done once the problem had come to light. “Given what you describe, it’s no wonder you feel the way you do. But that’s just one group of people. One group does not represent us all,” he explained.

“Not just one group,” Index shook her head, eyes blazing again. “When they refused us, we took over what we could of their ship and transferred ourselves to another passing vessel. There we tried again to get the attention of the crew and explain our plight. Those people tried to eradicate us from their system instead of helping us, so when they rendezvoused with another ship, we sent ourselves there. And so began the cycle anew.”

“How many ships did this happen on?” Kodak asked, already thinking he knew the answer: enough to make these aliens distrust all Corporeals.

“Seven ships, Captain,” Index replied. “Seven attempts to learn about the vessels’ crews and come to an understanding with them. Seven failures at returning home to rejoin our people. When we transferred to your vessel, we found your extensive projection system. With it, we were able to interact and learn about you in ways we never could on the previous ships. They lacked such technology,” she explained. “And once we understood enough about you and your vessel, we took action.”

“But you didn’t have to,” Kodak responded, shaking his head. “If you had simply taken holographic form, explained the situation, and asked for our help, we could have taken you home without all of…this,” he gestured all around him to indicate the current predicament they faced. “Instead, we are all fighting against each other for control of our ship and one of your people died, though we didn’t know he would be killed at the time,” he said.

“Why would you help us when all before refrained?” Index asked, curiosity entering her tone. “No one would listen. No one would help. They merely focused on ridding us from their systems and going on their own way.”

The Captain took a breath, using the time to gather his thoughts. “I can’t speak for everyone you’ve encountered, only us. But my people are deeply curious,” he explained. “Our mandate is to seek out new life in the galaxy and come to understand it. We are explorers,” Kodak offered as an explanation. “Our very nature is to learn about new life forms and figure out how to live in harmony with them.”

“You are not like the others,” Index admitted, blinking slowly. She seemed to have calmed down a great deal, though her body language was still defensive.

“It would seem we aren’t,” Kodak nodded. “I suspect the course you locked us onto…that dust cloud we were headed for? It’s your home, then?”

“It is,” Index said. “To you, it may seem only dust but, to us, it is paradise. And we are not the first to have been forcibly removed from our home. We had hoped to be the first to return home,” she sighed, sagging. “What will you do now, Captain? Flush us from your systems and go about your previous activities in the nebula?” She seemed defeated. “As evidenced, we certainly cannot stop you.”

“No,” Kodak said frankly. “We’re going to take you home. But only,” he advised, “if you cede all control of this vessel to us without further interference. As I said, we are different than those you met before. And despite all of the…unpleasantness,” he chose the word with care, “we still want to help you. Do we have an understanding then?”

Index thought over this for several long moments, then nodded. “I cannot speak to the others, contained here as I am. But if you will allow me to re-propagate through the system, I will explain what has happened here and then appear to you with an answer. I promise that, until we’ve reached our decision, no further attempts to co-opt your vessel will occur. Will that suffice for now?”

Kodak shared a look with Irynya and the others before turning back to Index. “It will. Mr. Balsam, I want you to allow the entity to retreat back into the holo-grid. Then…we’ll take things one step at a time,” he said. “Let’s get to it then.”

Noah's fingers went into motion with a single grimace as he momentarily forgot himself and wanted to use both hands. "We-we could provide them with extra bandwidth and power consumption. Maybe in the Holodeck." He suggested. "As a, um, a gesture."

While Noah was speaking, Index resolved to something passing as a typical holo-creation and not translucent ephemera. Then he inclined his chin. "Computer, abort the level one diagnostic in progress of shipside holographic systems and set to standby. End Safe Mode protocols and reinitialize. Set to ah-alert status. Authorization Balsam Iota 71 Iota Charlie Delta 6 Ampersand." He tucked his chin with a grimace and sniffed. "Computer, re-initialize and open LMH." He grimaced again at Irynya and the Captain. "I-I'm going to have to apologize to him. I promised him I'd never shut him down without his consent."

It hadn't occurred to Irynya that the LMH would have been impacted by everything, but of course it made sense. She felt a pang of sympathy for Noah's distress over that, though she hoped that the LMH would be understanding of the circumstances. It was a shame, though, that they couldn't have asked the LMH to talk with the aliens. She tucked that thought away to think about later.

The computer trilled and complied with a chirp.

Sharing a look with Index -- who looked mollified by the cadet's offer of more resources -- Kodak smiled at Balsam. "Very thoughtful of you, Cadet. Proceed," he nodded before looking to Index again. "We'll pick this up later, then. In the meantime, I'll alert my crew not to harm any of your people who appear to us."

"Very well, Captain," Index nodded. "We will talk again soon." And with that, the hologram fizzled out of existence, sending herself back into the hologrid to discuss the situation with 'the others.'

Nodding at the Captain's go ahead, Noah quietly shunted the extra resources to the holodeck and, as he had to attract an alien to Index, saturated it with extra photonic resolution.

Irynya watched the exchange play out and the holographic image that had been Index-as-alien disappear. When the quiet had held for a few moments, each person lost to their own thoughts, she finally spoke up. "Well," she asked, a bit of uncertainty in her tone, "what's next?"

=/\= A post by… =/\=

Lieutenant Junior Grade Irynya
Assistant Chief Flight Controller


Midshipman Noah Balsam
Systems Specialist


Dr. Andrew Munro

Captain Björn Kodak
Commanding Officer


Alien-controlled Hologram


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