Looking down at their own body on the biobed, Doctor Pimpinellifolia wondered what it all meant. As a victim of ancient and weird science, Nelli’s consciousness had been relocated into the body of science chief Jeffrey Holmgren. By looking through Jeffrey’s human eyes, Doctor Nelli saw their own body from a completely new perspective. Their flora form looked terribly frail, practically held together by the surgical support frame. The Phylosian’s plant body lay still and silent. Their foliage was hanging limp, rather than the sensual rustle that was so common in their vitality. The sharp beeping of the biofunction monitor provided Nelli the only reassurance their body was still alive.
As much as Nelli took notice of that thought, it wasn’t accompanied by any flush of emotion. It was simply more data to consider. They spent approximately ninety seconds trying to imagine what Jeffrey might feel, if he were looking up at his own body, while his consciousness was trapped in Nelli’s immobilised form. Those ninety seconds was not time well spent. Nelli did not have enough data about Jeffrey’s personality and was not able to reach any conclusions on what he might feel, or what she was supposed to feel. Nelli’s attention wandered, and their gaze moved on to the alphanumeric codes ascribed to each of the colour blocks in the biobed’s LCARS interface. Nelli’s own eye stalks had never been able to perceive those words clearly before. All of the panels in Sickbay were augmented with increased auditory and haptic feedback for Nelli’s benefit.
Startled by a whooshing sound behind them, Nelli turned to examine the source of the noise. They wobbled as they turned around, still unaccustomed to balancing on only two legs for mobility. Through the open doorway, Nelli saw a man walk into Sickbay. They knew him as the narrow-faced man who wore red petals on his shoulders: Commander Elbon Jakkelb. Only with human vision could Nelli see the Bajoran ridges on his nose, fine lines of age on his face, and the dangling earring attached to one ear. They could see more clearly that instead of petals, Elbon was actually wearing replicated plant-corpses that had been mutilated with pigment and stitched together into body coverings that indicated membership in a club: a Starfleet uniform.
“Can you tell me the status of our patient, doctor?” Elbon asked.
The one who followed Elbon into Sickbay was the tall one, with curly trichomes up top, whom Nelli had nicknamed Ginger Saxifrage. Nelli took great pleasure in listening to Kellin’s voice. Even to their senses, Kellin’s timbre was melodious. Kellin’s voice was delicate, like the Purple Saxifrage of earth. Similar to those flowers that could flourish in tundra, Kellin’s body was hardy. Nelli estimated he could survive great illness or trauma, if they ever found him on a biobed.
The body of Kellin asked Elbon, “Do you always breathe so heavily, commander?” On this day, Kellin’s voice was neither melodious nor fragile. That voice sounded like the bleating of a goat. Kellin had also experienced a body swap, and Lieutenant Junior Grade Sootrah Yuulik was the one inhabiting his body. To signal this, Kellin’s body was dressed in the Starfleet science uniform that looked like it was adorned with teal petals on the shoulders.
“The patient, doctor?” Elbon repeated.
As Elbon had done, Nelli referred to the body on the biobed as the patient. They could not determine if it was more appropriate to refer to its mind as Holmgren or its body as Pimpinellifolia. “The patient’s neurological function has presented as disordered since beaming back from the planet. Through treatment, I stabilized the erratic nervous system. All other health functions have returned to normal, except for consciousness.”
As Yuulik and Elbon circled the biobed with Nelli, Yuulik tapped the settings on the biofunction monitor to lower the device’s volume. She didn’t even regard Nelli as she made the change, and the beeping turned softer immediately.
“When will they wake up?” Yuulik asked.
“Uncertain,” Nelli replied. They looked to the biofunction monitor and the measurements reduced again. “Neurotransmitter activity is dropping. The function of the patient’s autonomic systems is in jeopardy. I have collected many samples and sensor scans for further analysis. Presently, I will transfer the patient to stasis, in hope of preventing further depletion.”
When Elbon made eye-contact with Nelli, Nelli was struck by how the blue of his eyes reminded them of lightning at night. “Your reaction to the body swap has been so different to Jeffrey’s…” Elbon said. Nelli suspected there was additional meaning to Elbon’s question and yet the social cues escaped them.
“I regret we find ourselves in this situation,” Nelli said. “Too, I like the taste of regret. I joined Starfleet for this kind of surprise. I never before experienced anything this consciousness-expanding.” –Nelli intended every myriad meaning to that phrase– “Your forms of life are mysteriously alien. I must journal every breath I take in this form, every sensation. It could offer much knowledge to Phylosian diplomacy with other forms of life.”
Elbon’s eyes went on the down, regarding Jeffrey in Pimpinellifolia’s body. “You got the better deal,” Elbon said.
Nelli didn’t know what to say to that. Filling the silence, Yuulik appeared to recognise Nelli’s uncertainty, and she explained, “Holmgren is trapped in a labyrinth he can’t even comprehend and you want to use your privilege to publish an article.” For a moment, Yuulik approached Kellin’s melodious voice, when she said, “You’re a being after my own heart.”
“Lieutenant,” Elbon sternly said. “Jeffrey has a wife and daughters on Starbase 310.”
Starfleet Academy had been Nelli’s introduction to the types of family units Elbon described. Nelli recalled a lecture on the matter, asking, “Does Starfleet not train its young to prepare for death?”
With both hands, Elbon clasped one of the limp vines protruding from Pimpinellifolia’s body. He didn’t look up. Elbon said, “Death might have been better.”
* * *
After Jeffrey had been transferred to a stasis unit, Yuulik requested a medical examination from Nelli to better understand the body swap. Perplexed by the strange digits of Jeffrey’s hand, Nelli dropped the medical tricorder a couple of times as they approached Yuulik’s biobed. Eventually, Nelli trained the full sensor capabilities of the medical tricorder and the overhead sensor cluster on Yuulik’s brain.
“Kellin’s biological sensitivities are giving me a headache,” Yuulik reported. “I knew he was a simp for authority figures, but this is another level.” The face of Kellin Rayco contorted in one of the shapes Nelli had been trained to recognize as level three discomfort. “The– the lights are too bright, the sound of the life support systems is deafening, and I’m hungry all of the time.” Somehow, Yuulik managed to fit three syllables into the word hungry. Spinning her head to Commander Elbon, Yuulik added, “Not to mention you. Every time you look at me gives me a different type of heart palpitations. And you’re not even my type.”
Nelli noticed a slight discomfort on Elbon’s face –only level one– and then they remembered that Elbon had not been body swapped. It was curious. Discarding that thought, Nelli considered Yuulik’s experiences in concert with the sensor data on their tricorder.
“The Trill cerebral cortex has a parietal lobe,” Nelli said, “that maps the body very precisely. The signals from Kellin’s sensory processing would not match what you’re accustomed to in your own brain, Lieutenant Yuulik.”
Elbon said, “That presumes the mind and the brain can truly exist as separate entities. Starfleet’s monistic stance has always been that the brain itself creates the mind.”
Yuulik recited, “A separated mind is unobservable without a brain. Therefore a separate mind cannot exist.”
“To your point, doctor,” Elbon went on, “the brain changes over time in reaction to its lived experiences. Our memories leave a mark on us. The way we use our cognition and our bodies makes our brains react differently.” At that, Elbon looked at Yuulik, but he didn’t look her in the eyes. “You may find yourself without the motor skills, or the muscle memory, you normally rely on.”
Yuulik raised her hands and folded her fingers together in a gesture Nelli had seen performed by cadets at the academy. Yuulik was miming a finger pistol and pretending to shoot at the freestanding console across Sickbay. “But maybe my phaser aim is going to be killer in Kellin’s body,” Yuulik said.
Taking a step back, Elbon posited, “Commander Holmgren would have been able to repair the life-entity transfer machine on the planet’s surface. His thesis was on ancient tech. He… he laughed at the impossible odds of us finding this kind of machinery in any kind of working order. The destruction of civilizations doesn’t usually overlook wildly dangerous technology.” Elbon paused significantly. “Yuulik, can you and your team fix the machine? Taes told me your ego is larger than our saucer section. I don’t understand why you were equivocating earlier. I need to know, right now, if we need to call for help. I need to know, right now, if Yuulik’s mind exists without her brain.”
“Taes was Holmgren’s mentor, commander,” Yuulik spat back at him. “Shouldn’t you be asking her?”