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Part of USS Dvorak (Archive): Turnabout Imposters

A Subtlety That Somehow Escapes Me

USS Dvorak, Observation Lounge
Stardate 77165.5
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“You’re all going to have to change into appropriate uniforms, if we can’t fix this quickly,” he said.  His eyes closed, Commander Elbon Jakkelb pinched the ridges on his nose and he breathed out a weary sigh.  He made no effort to hide his crankiness at this situation.  This sort of thing had never happened under the command of Captain Sefton.  Opening his eyes again, the Bajoran executive officer made eye-contact with every member of the away team who was now seated with him around the table in the observation lounge.  When his blue-eyed gaze finally landed on Kellin Rayco, Elbon put a hand over his own mouth to stifle a frustrated laugh.  “This is going to get too confusing,” Elbon remarked.

Shaking his head, Elbon swept a hand to indicate Lieutenant Junior Grade Leander Nune.  Like Elbon himself, the chief engineer was one member of the senior staff who hadn’t beamed down to Camus II.  “I’m sorry to ask this of you, Lieutenant…” Elbon said.

Elbon didn’t have to finish the question.  As a Betazoid, Nune clearly understand what was being asked of him, and it wasn’t his engineering expertise.  “From what I can sense, from what you all fervently believe,” Nune tentatively said, and he began pointing them out: “Kellin Rayco is inhabiting Yuulik’s body, Sootrah Yuulik is inhabiting Rayco’s body, Melchor Dolan is inhabiting Captain Taes’ body, and Captain Taes is inhabiting Dolan’s body.”

As Nune said those final words, Taes strolled Dolan’s body into the observation lounge from the bridge.  Taes smiled sheepishly at the looks she received from her senior staff, but that didn’t stop her from chewing on a bite of the chocolate bar in her hand.

“Doctor Pimpinellifolia is inhabiting Holmgren’s body in sickbay, and I would presume,” Nune said, “Jeffrey Holmgren is inhabiting Pimpinellifolia’s body, but my telepathic abilities can make no sense of Phylosian minds.  Doctor Nelli’s thoughts seem clearer to me now in Holmgren’s head.”

Commander Elbon watched as Taes sat herself at the opposite end of the table from him.  He breathed out a huff through his nose.  Taes didn’t appear to take notice of him; she just continued to eat her chocolate bar.  Elbon raised his eyebrows at Taes and then he lightly dropped his palm on the reflective surface of the conference table.

At that, Taes met Elbon’s eyes.  Taes had taken command a few days ago and Elbon had only met the woman a few weeks prior to that.  He didn’t know her well, but he trusted his judgment of most people.  Those skills had served him well as a ranjen and as a Starfleet counselor.  He needed them all the more as this crew’s first officer, here and now.  Elbon searched Dolan’s eyes, looking for some hint that Taes was really in there.  He looked for the aloof grace she chose to show to most people and he looked for the voracious curiosity he could notice in her eyes when she thought no one was looking.  He looked, and he looked, and all he saw was panic.

Taes’ body language, however, remained aloof.  She shrugged at Elbon and she asked, “What?  Why are you looking at me like that?”

Elbon’s face felt hot immediately.  He had words he wanted to say in response to Taes’ apparent disinterest, especially while she sat there with Dolan’s ensign pips, but he could feel the senior staff’s eyes all on him.  They were watching him and, he assumed, assessing how he responded to their transformed captain.  Elbon cleared his throat and he pleasantly suggested, “Would you like to begin, captain?”

Shaking her head once, Taes offered Elbon a thoughtful frown.  “You’re doing great, commander,” Taes said.  “Go on.”

“All right,” Elbon said energetically.  He could only hope none of them could hear his mental eye-roll.  Clapping his hands together, Elbon said, “Lieutenant Yuulik.  While Holmgren is in sickbay, you’re my acting science chief.  Tell me: how is any of this possible?”

In Kellin’s body, Yuulik tapped a control pad set into the tabletop.  She activated an LCARS panel behind Captain Taes, displaying the ancient ruins in the caverns beneath Camus II, where the away team had experienced their body swaps.  The image featured a stone wall of hieroglyphics that had been carved into the slabs of stone.  Behind the carvings, patterns of light blinked from ancient mechanisms.  

“From 2267 to 2269, Doctor Janice Lester led an archaeological expedition to the ruins on Camus II,” Yuulik said.  Through the lounge’s angled viewports, Yuulik looked out on the planet’s sickly yellow hue and its dazzling rings.  That look lasted less than a second and she dropped her gaze down to her PADD again.  “There has been no civilization, no life, on Camus II for thousands of years.  Beneath the surface, Doctor Lester discovered a mechanical device that had been long abandoned and forgotten.  The device proved capable of complete life-entity transfer when Doctor Lester tested her theories by body swapping with a starship captain and attempting to steal his starship.”

If Kellin had been behind the helm of his own body, Elbon would have swore that Kellin was angry with him.  With Yuulik in Kellin’s body, her shoulders were high and tight and her eyes remained on her PADD.  Kellin would have been looking at every member of the senior staff, taking in how the information was being received.

“Recognizing the danger of a life-entity transfer machine,” Yuulik continued, “Starfleet quarantined Camus II and installed a planetary defense system.  While Starfleet has allowed occasional archaeological surveys to be completed by the USS Singer, the USS Enterprise-D, and the Daystrom Institute, I’m not aware of the transfer machine being used again until now.”

“Thank you, lieutenant,” Elbon said, offering a satisfied nod at Yuulik.  Turning his gaze to Yuulik’s own body, Elbon asked, “Lieutenant Rayco, what’s your risk assessment of the True Way pirates who broke through the defense systems?  The USS Wakahiru-me is still six hours away if we need back up.”

In Yuulik’s body, Kellin said, “We’ve located no lifesigns on the planet and no trace of the Hideki attack ship in the system, commander.  We’ve detected ion trails coming into, and leaving, the Camus system.  The radiation signatures suggest it was the same Cardassian ship.  We should be alone here for now.”

Elbon gave Kellin a nod, but he couldn’t look Kellin in the eyes.  He couldn’t imagine what he would see in Yuulik’s Arcadian visage and he was too afraid to find out.  Looking to the two science officers at the table, Elbon asked, “That means we have time to reverse the life-entity transfer ourselves then?”

In Taes’ body, Dolan shook his head.  The staff archaeologist said, “The device was already damaged when we beamed down to the excavation site.  Half of its facing was shattered and we could find none of the control panels referenced in Doctor Lester’s research.  We expect that’s why it caused the life-energy transfer between so many of us unexpectedly.”

Dolan looked over at Yuulik for confirmation and Yuulik only cringed at him.  To Elbon it appeared a faint confirmation of what Dolan was saying, while also communicating that she would never have phrased any of it that way.  The classical saying: no one says that, but yes.

“We don’t know if the Cardassians were trying to operate the device, or steal its components,” Dolan continued, “or if they damaged it accidentally when they were blasting through the shields around the chamber.  We can only surmise it was overheating and internally unstable when we arrived.”

As if she couldn’t possibly wait a moment more, Yuulik cut in with, “According to Doctor Lester’s research, the body swap was temporary.  She reports feelings of being psychically called back into her own body.  There are further reports of the life-energy transfer being reversed without the use of the machine.”

“I read that too…” Taes said vaguely.  Taes’ sense of concern was etched across Dolan’s face, and her gaze was unfocused.  “We may only have a few hours like this, perhaps a day…”  Taes braced her palms against the table’s edge and pushed her chair back.  She rose to her feet with an urgency she hadn’t demonstrated for one moment since sauntering into the observation lounge.

Elbon watched Taes rise.  “What are your orders, captain?” he said, anticipating she was about to walk away without saying anything more.  Despite his worries, he spoke evenly, trying not to make it sound like a leading question.

“I dunno,” Taes said, raising Dolan’s webbed hands defensively.  “I’m not the captain.  I’m only an ensign,” she said.  To Elbon’s ears, there was something theatrical about the way she said those words.  He heard a flare of artifice, and yet desperate certainty too.  “Captain Taes is in command of Dvorak,” she said, pointing to Ensign Dolan inhabiting her own body.

Dolan laughed nervously at that.  It was a nasal sound, coming from high in his chest.  Dolan remarked, “I only fully learned what hailing frequencies were three weeks ago.”

“Aye-aye, captain,” Taes replied nonsensically and she saluted Dolan.  After spinning on her heel, Taes scampered down the ramp, out of the observation lounge.

Elbon looked Dolan in the eyes –looked right at him– and he said, “So we’re clear, ensign, I have the conn.”

Dolan repeated the earworm, “Aye aye,” and then blinked and quickly corrected himself with a, “Yes, sir.”

Looking to the others, Elbon said, “Yuulik, Nune, you’re sending an away team to the planet’s surface.  Whether this condition is temporary or not, you’re going to fix the life-energy transfer device.  By the prophets, we’re going to leave the planet in the same condition we found it.”

“With all due respect, commander,” Yuulik said those passive-aggressive words Elbon never imagined he would hear coming out of Kellin’s mouth.  “Our capability to repair this ancient machine is comical at best,” Yuulik said.  “By all of our science, this kind of mind transfer is barely possible theoretically.  Worse, the technology developed on Camus Two doesn’t even slightly resemble the theories formulated by the best minds in the Federation.  Up here, these are not the best minds in the Federation.  That thing, down there, is magic.”

“I didn’t think Yuulik believed in magic,” Kellin said from Yuulik’s body.

“I don’t,” Yuulik said back to Kellin dryly.  “Not literally.  In this scenario, we’re like microbes trying to operate a PADD.  It might as well be magic.”  She turned her gaze to Elbon and she added, “Speaking of microbes, is it time to discuss if Captain Taes is mentally fit to remain in command of Dvorak.  The Deltan capacity for perception, cognition, communication are… complex.  No offense to Ensign Dolan, but I don’t know that Zaldan brain architecture has all the components of Captain Taes’ usual capacity.  She must be deeply disoriented by this experience.”

Elbon didn’t hesitate to defend his captain, even if she’d been his captain for less than a week.  Captain Aloysius had vouched for her and that was good enough for him.  Speaking slowly, and enunciating every word, Elbon told Yuulik, “Taes is having a perfectly natural emotional reaction to losing her bodily integrity.  I might be more surprised if she weren’t having an emotional reaction.  There are no discussions about relieving Taes from command, and even if there were, you wouldn’t be at the table, Lieutenant Yuulik.  Some might point out that Arcadian brain function is also theoretically incompatible with Trill biology.”

“Wait,” Kellin interjected urgently, “if Captain Taes isn’t the captain, am I still Kellin?  Or do I have to be Yuulik now?  Am I supposed to start fighting with everybody?”