Part of USS Sarek: Storm in a Teacup and Bravo Fleet: The Stormbreaker Campaign

What is Space?

Haven
January 2400
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Captain’s Log, Supplemental.

 

We have arrived at the planet Haven, where the USS Gheryzan has fabricated emergency shelters outside the town of Composure. Nestus has landed in a clearing, just beyond the settlement. While the First Electorine of Haven has made welcome the survivors of Eldflaugar, they have been invited, politely, to remain within the Starfleet resettlement facilities. The viability of the lunar colony back on Eldflaugar remains an unknown until the ion storms pass. However, the intention remains to return the survivors to their homes.

 

With each passing day, I find myself better acquainted with the capabilities of my new command, this USS Nestus. I’m learning her moods by the sounds of the engines. I welcome her scent when I wake aboard her. As for my crew, a Raven-class doesn’t have the resources for a full crew compliment, nor missions of more than a few weeks. Aside from a couple of my confidants, we make due with emergency holograms and field teams of researchers assigned on a mission-by-mission basis. While some of the science officers appreciate the opportunity to look upon the unknown with their own eyes, I can detect there are others who prefer the predictable schedules and prolonged contemplation of a starbase research assignment.

 

Our crew have embedded within the Gheryzan’s relief efforts. We hope to build trust with the citizens of Eldflaugar by distributing supplies and making necessary improvements to their temporary habitats. From that vantage point, Chief Science Officer Yuulik leads the anthropologists and counselors to document their observations of the survivors. They will canvass for volunteers to participate in ethnographic surveys and interviews. We seek out knowledge of both the survivors’ shared experiences, along with their individual perspectives.

 

My hope is we can better understand the informal efforts being made by the community itself. How might Starfleet’s methods be duplicating or, worse, interfering with the ways communities naturally support one another? The citizens of Eldflaugar hail from homeworlds all over the Federation, including colonies with their own rich histories. When working together, how does the ancestral knowledge from Earth interact with the traditional knowledge of Andorians? How do Betazoid coping mechanisms resonate with Vulcans in times of crisis? Technology can’t solve every woe. Our oral history will be lost if we never pause and aggressively listen.

 


 

Among the clusters of USS Gheryzan operations officers, Kellin Rayco couldn’t tell one yellow-shouldered uniform apart from another. He lost track of Nestus‘ operations manager, Annikafiore Szerda, even after he promised her a crate of hygiene kits. The engineering teams had constructed a archipelago of small kiosks inside one of the great landmarks of Composure, a garden space within a geodesic dome. Several kiosks provided food, water and hygiene kits, while further kiosks offered the displaced Eldflaugar citizens with access to subspace communications. Orderly lines of survivors extended from each of the kiosks, down across the length of the dome.

It was only when Kellin spotted a mass of magenta-crimson curls that he found his way back to Annikafiore Szerda. Lost in a private train of thought, Kellin guided an anti-grav sled of hygiene kits into the kiosk. His head on a pivot, Kellin searched the wide open greenspace for their commanding officer. The very first question he asked Szerda was, “Where did Captain Taes go?”

You would know, lieutenant,” Szerda hissed to the Trill in an undertone, halfway through handing a hygiene kit to a burly Tellarite.  When he stepped away, Szerda added, “You’ve been attached to the Captain more closely than a symbiont since we got here.”

Guilelessly, Kellin shrugged at the accusation. That comment had snuck out of subspace without warning. He dutifully said, “As a security officer, I’m responsible for protecting her,” deeply feeling the weight of that role. He carried a stack of hygiene kits onto the kiosk’s countertop and it felt like lifting feathers by comparison. Kellin added, “Besides, haven’t you seen her? She’s a natural at this. She tailors her words, even her energy, for every person she helps. You can see the shifts in her posture, hear her inflections change. I could stand to learn a skill like that.”

Szerda crossed her arms over her chest.  Her attention was pulled away from Kellin by an elderly Vulcan couple who stepped up to the kiosk and asked her about the chemical contents of the hygiene kits.

At the same time, a diffident voice asked Kellin, “Excuse me, you’re in Starfleet, right?”

A young girl stepped up to the kiosk; she was hardly as tall as the countertop itself. She had the same Trill markings along her hairline as Kellin’s own. If Kellin had to guess, she was maybe six or eight years old. At his 6’5″ in height, Kellin had to crouch to be able to look her in the eye at her level. He leaned against the kiosk, his forearms braced against the counter. He answered her question with a, “Yes, ma’am.”

“Can you tell me what space is?” she asked.

“Space?” Kellin said, echoing her question. The briefings he’d read en route to Haven had prepared him to talk about the habitat structures, the supplies, the status of the Century Storm. No one had warned him he would have to talk about space. Kellin fumbled through an answer, saying, “It’s, you know, space is… away. It’s out there. Space is in between the planets.”

“But what is space?” she asked again, all the more intently.

Instead of gabbing anymore nonsense, Kellin tipped his head at her and it made his ginger-blond curls bounce. As he thought about what to say, a shy smile crept onto his face. Sheepishly, Kellin said, “I don’t know that I have the words, ma’am.”

The girl’s expression was open, accepting that new information as fact. “That’s okay,” she said; “Can I ask you another question?”

“Anything you want,” Kellin replied.

“Do you know if I’m dead still?” she asked.

Kellin’s breath caught in his throat. He couldn’t vocalize anything but a sputtering sound. It had been humid under the dome all day, but only now did Kellin begin to sweat. Images flashed in his mind: he visualised scenarios, as if he were investigating a crime or a dispute. Maybe someone had panicked during the evacuation, had said they were all going to die, and she had sincerely believed it? Maybe she thought the manicured tranquility of Haven was an afterlife? Or maybe she literally died in the catastrophe on Eldflaugar and had been resuscitated by a medical miracle? Those thoughts gave way to a light-headed sensation washing over him, making him feel wobbly. Kellin knew his body well enough that his blood pressure was rising; he could practically hear the throbbing of blood pumping through his ears with the same intensity as the heaviest 0f workouts. So many maybes, and he didn’t want to know any of them. He didn’t want to know.

Kellin turned away and he retreated from the girl at a brisk march. His posture was rigid and upright. Kellin may have been fleeing, but he wouldn’t let his body language betray him. Vaguely, he heard Szerda calling after him with a, “Hey?” and then a, “What happened?” Szerda asked, “Where are you going?” by the time Kellin made it to an exit.

Kellin didn’t answer. He didn’t know the answer to her questions. All he knew was he needed to be away, to be out there. He needed space. Space from the smallest hurts the survivors were feeling, and the knowledge there were thousands upon thousands of them, all feeling hurts, big and small. The automated doors pulled apart. Racing outside, the humidity broke as soon as Kellin escaped the dome and its crowd of pained survivors.

“Didn’t you see that Tellarite back there,” Szerda asked, as she caught up with him. With a bit of a sprint, she closed the distance between them. To Kellin’s ears, either running after him in her clunky exoframe, or the Tellarite, had brought an incredulous pitch to Szerda’s voice. “He was snorting Rhuludian crystal. In public. Don’t you have a security responsibility to do something about that?”

“Let him have it,” Kellin replied. Finally, finally, he stopped marching forward. He allowed Szerda to approach, his posture slouched. He spoke to Szerda in a resigned timbre, like he was all hollowed out. She looked at him with inquiring eyes and Kellin said, “I can’t take that on.”

 


 

It was later in the day when Kellin and Szerda materialized mid-stride into Nestus‘ science lab. The moment the transporter beam released them, Kellin marched the rest of the way to the round tabletob hub of LCARS workstations. Ensign Szerda hung back. No matter how many times she had asked him, Kellin still hadn’t told Szerda what happened at that hygiene kiosk.

“Good afternoon, Lieutenant Yuulik,” Kellin said to the mission’s chief science officer. He spoke affably. Szerda could hear not one trace of his meltdown earlier. Kellin pressed a tab on a handheld holo-projector and it activated the interface for his holographic PADD.

Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Sootrah Yuulik had been working alone in the science lab when Kellin and Szerda arrived. Even after Kellin offered his greetings, Yuulik behaved as if she were still working alone. She stared intently at her own holo-interface with wide set eyes that reminded Szerda of a shark. Like many Arcadians, Yuulik’s pale scalp was hairless, except for two thin strips of dark hair, from the forehead to the occiput, in a distinctly V-shaped pattern. Eventually, Yuulik bobbed her head in reluctant acknowledgement of Kellin. Her eyes remained on her work.

Scrolling through the list on his PADD, Kellin said, “Today we’re serving up twenty-two more responses to the quantitative surveys–” He sounded much like a pupil delivering a book report, and he wasn’t deterred when Yuulik interrupted him.

“Quantitative,” Yuulik said it like it was a dirty word. She still didn’t look at Kellin. “You can say low commitment,” Yuulik asserted, referring to the lesser effort it would require of the survivors who chose to participate in the study that way. A multiple-choice questionnaire requiring ten minutes or less.

“And seven more informed consent forms,” Kellin said, pressing on, “to participate in the unstructured ethnographic interviews.”

Responding to Yuulik’s touch on the interface, an interview queue appeared on another holographic pane. This one was closer to Kellin. Snatching the list of consent forms from his PADD, Kellin tossed them onto the interview queue. After another double tap on the interface, Yuulik filed the consent forms away. All of the holoscreens shrank away to nothing.

Only then did Yuulik deign to look Kellin’s way. Standing beside him, Szerda felt physical relief in her chest because those piercing eyes were pointed at Kellin, rather than in her own direction. “Do better, lieutenant safety boy,” Yuulik said, sounding disappointed. “I collected fifty consent forms on my lunch break.” Goading him on, Yuulik explained, “If you’re more observant than a palukoo, it’s child’s play to notice which survivors are bored, which ones need a sympathetic ear, or which ones will want to help you out because they admire your… large muscles.”

Kellin stared at her. He stared right at her, and he said, “Okay.” He took a deep breath and he announced, “I should check in with the Captain.” Without asking anyone’s leave, Kellin spun on his heel and removed himself from the science lab.

Szerda cocked her head, making certain she heard the doors hiss all the way shut. With that incredulous edge rising again, Szerda asked, “Lieutenant, have you crewed with Captain Taes before? This is my first.” –She leaned a hip against the LCARS tabletop– “I don’t understand Lieutenant Rayco’s hang-ups about her. He’s wrapped around her little finger, isn’t he?”

Yuulik examined Szerda. She didn’t just look at her; she examined her. Szerda felt a shiver run through her, like she was a behavioural subject in Yuulik’s anthropological field research. Yuulik softened her voice, when she proposed, “Humanoids with endocrine systems are purported to respond very strongly in the presence of Deltans.”

A mental image came to Szerda’s mind unbidden: she imagined Captain Taes as a conniving seductress, bending Kellin’s will to do her bidding. Szerda had hardly imagined it before she let out a barking laugh at the very thought. Shaking her head, Szerda said, “No, I don’t think it’s that. There’s something– there’s something else about her…”

“Well, of course you would feel that,” Yuulik said, and this time, Szerda truly felt like a butterfly under the glass of Yuulik’s lepidopterist’s gaze.  “You’re an Elaysian with an endocrine system, aren’t you, Ensign Szerda?”

Tickled by the implication, Szerda only said, “I’ll admit, I’m curious about Captain Taes.”

Yuulik nodded vaguely, but her expression didn’t say much more. Referring to Szerda’s earlier question, Yuulik said, “This is also my first mission under Taes’ command. As a Captain, I assess her to be unquestionably stubborn. The manner in which she speaks is frustrating. She articulates herself lyrically, rather than factually. Once she’s made up her mind, there’s no reasoning with her. She lacks reason.”

Taken aback by Yuulik’s candour, Szerda’s weight shifted onto the back of her heels. “That’s not–” Szerda started to say. She shook her head and interrupted herself, by asking, “Lieutenant, I haven’t seen anything like that.”

“You weren’t there, ensign,” Yuulik replied. “You weren’t part of the scientific briefings and the mission planning sessions.” Lowering her voice to a conspiratorial whisper, Yuulik admitted, “All that stubborn vigor. She was glorious.”

Szerda chewed on her lower lip, listening to every word Yuulik said. “She grew up with trauma as hot suppers, didn’t she? Captain Taes is from Nivoch, right?” Szerda asked, and now she said it. The question of the hour.

Almost imperceptibly, Yuulik nodded once. “I studied Nivoch in preparation for this assignment. If I’m to be prepared for this research, I need to know everything about colony disasters. I need to know the most,” Yuulik said. She spoke dispassionately, the same way she might present her research at a conference. Yuulik explained, “The Deltan colony on Nivoch endured for generations until their power grid collapsed in 2374. They ran out of power for replicators, and subspace communications, and even doors. By the time the colony engineer’s rigged together an emergency beacon, the Federation was losing the Dominion War. Nivoch was too near the Cardassian demilitarized zone. Starfleet and Delta IV could send no aid to the colonists.

“My head of archaeology served with Captain Taes about ten years ago,” Yuulik went on. “As part of my preparations for this mission, I had a drink with him. (For research purposes only.) He had a couple drinks. He was Taes’ chief science officer back then, a mentor and confidante. He told me about the state Taes was in when a starship finally rescued the colonists on Nivoch. The Starfleet officers found her with a stockpile of rations from the retirement habitat. Taes had stolen all the food from the colony’s elderly.”