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Part of USS Dvorak (Archive): Turnabout Imposters

A Position She Doesn’t Merit?

Camus II
Stardate 77167.9
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Pacing around the life-entity transfer platform, down in the ruins on Camus II, Ensign Melchor Dolan looked at his tricorder one more time.  He studied the sensor readings in the hopes they wouldn’t be the same, unchanged sensor readings he’d been staring at since beaming down to the planet.  That hope was in vain.  The ancient machine remained dormant, the mysteries of its operation hidden.  Nothing had changed.  Just like how he was still inhabiting the body of his Deltan captain, Taes.  Enclosed by stone walls and ceilings, Dolan was struck by an undefinable sense of… familiarity.  There was something familiar about the noise of the echoes bouncing around this underground chamber.  Because he couldn’t recall that sound from his own experiences, Dolan couldn’t help but wonder if he was accessing some of Taes’ own memories, imprinted indelibly in the brain he was inhabiting.

Other science officers and engineers were scattered around the chamber, operating a variety of scanner equipment and freestanding LCARS consoles.  A pair of them were even experimenting with stone carving tools on stone tablets they’d located at another site.  Standing in the boots of an archaeologist, like Dolan, the body swap technology appeared to be pure science fiction, and yet said device was constructed from a stone platform and wall plate.  The only hint of technology were light fixtures embedded within carved hieroglyphics on the wall.

In the past hour, Dolan had been assisting Lieutenant JG Leander Nune with poking and prodding at the replacement control panel.  For the purpose of long-range survey missions, USS Dvorak was well-equipped with facilities to construct her own mission-specific probes.  Under the ministrations of Nune, the combination of replicators and robotics had produced a perfect replica of the control panel that was missing from the life-entity transfer device.  The only trouble had been determining how to connect mechanical technology to what appeared to be a solid stone platform.  Their initial experiments had only accomplished changing the quality of the hieroglyphic lights from bright white to amber white to blue white.  Chief Engineer Nune had, apparently, constructed a dimmer switch.

Crouching beside the stone platform, Nune was digging through a crate of connector cables and rods and crystals and gel packs.  While he searched for the one that would connect them to the platform, Dolan stepped closer to look over his shoulder.  “I’m disappointed I never got to work with Commander Holmgren,” Dolan said of his Chief Science Officer, who was fading away in Dvorak’s medical facilities.  The life-entity transfer between the human Holmgren and the phylosian Pimpinellifolia had been far more disastrous for Holmgren than for any of the rest of the body-swapped away team.  Dolan said, “When she introduced Holmgren to the science department, Captain Taes spoke so highly of him.  It was like she was talking about Doctor Lindstrom.  I wonder–“

“I served with him on Starbase Three-Ten,” Nune shared.  Abandoning his box of wires, Nune rose to his full height, so he could look Dolan in the eyes.  The black irises that marked Nune as a Betazoid, and his dark beard, appeared in stark contrast to the pale shade of pink Nune had dyed his hair a week earlier, in celebration of Dvorak’s maiden voyage.  He had spoken to Dolan about how their first mission was supposed to be light and frothy and thought-provoking fun.  This wasn’t that.  Nune went on, “We disassembled a Promellian fusion reactor together.  Taes wasn’t exaggerating.  …He probably would’ve solved this by now.”

“No, that’s not it,” Dolan retorted with a shake of his bald head.  “I was going to ask: the way she speaks about him… do you think Taes and Holmgren ever had a fling?”

At first, Nune only raised an eyebrow at that question.  After that heartbeat of sweat-provoking eye contact, Nune crouched down to dig through his box of wires again.  “Holmgren was in Starfleet for all the right reasons, Mel.  He knew exactly why we boldly go,” Nune affirmed.  Affectionately, Nune said, “Holmgren never let the team work longer than their duty shifts.  He was too excited to get home to his girls.  He insisted we return to our families too.  Archaeology and anthropology aren’t matters of life and death…  Usually.”

Looking back over his shoulder, Dolan turned his gaze to Lieutenant JG Sootrah Yuulik.  Compared to the shadow of Holmgren, Dolan saw his acting science chief sitting on a stone bed, fondling a couple of baseball-sized stones that had broken off from the life-entity transfer wall plate.  Although Dolan understood Yuulik was inhabiting the tall, well-built body of Kellin Rayco, Yuulik didn’t appear to be mentally present.  She was staring off into the middle distance and didn’t respond to Dolan’s gaze.  “Lieutenant,” Dolan said, “Lieutenant Yuulik, our last experiment had no result.  What else might we try?”  When Yuulik still didn’t respond, Dolan raised his voice to ask, “What are your orders, lieutenant?”

Finally, Yuulik blinked and she hissed, “I’m thinking,” dismissively.  Still, she didn’t look at Dolan.  Her hands raised and lowered gently, as if she were the scales of justice, searching for meaning in the chunks of stone.  “These feel funny…”

“They can perform their stand-up comedy act later,” Dolan said, his voice getting harder.  “We need your purported brilliance right now, lieutenant.”

“I am brilliant,” Yuulik said testily.

“Isn’t this what you promised me, lieutenant?” Dolan asked, challenging her in the way she had done to him so many times.  “If you had your own science department, we would be hip deep in real archaeology, you said.  No more science-courier missions for the starbase crews, you said.  Wh– Lieutenant, what are you doing?”

Dolan asked his final question, because Yuulik had started to juggle three of the chunks of stone.  “I don’t know,” Yuulik replied, plainly discomfited by that.  It sounded like she was reading an alien language, with those words coming out of her mouth.  She watched her own hands in fascinated horror, studying the skilled way she tossed and caught each stone in succession.

“That’s weird,” Dolan remarked.

“It must be one of Kellin’s nervous habits,” Yuulik supposed.  “Muscle memory.  I don’t know how to juggle,” she said, and she caught the three stones before depositing them on the ground.

“Yuulik, this is serious,” Dolan insisted.  “Holmgren could die!  Doctor Nelli will lose her own body too.”

“Give me,” Yuulik snapped, “some time to think!”

“You’d like that wouldn’t you?” Dolan said.  The naked anger had drained from his voice.  In its place was cool accusation.  “Time is the one thing Holmgren doesn’t have.  If he dies… do you honestly think Taes would make you the department head?  Do you really want to be chief science officer that badly?”

It happened in less than five seconds.  Yuulik ripped her phaser out of its hip-holster and clicked off the safety.  She jammed her thumb on the settings toggle, and the phaser whined as it was pushed to an energy level capable of explosive and disruption effects.  Yuulik aimed the phaser at a wall, just beyond the device, and Nune, and Dolan. She pressed the trigger, lancing out a nadion particle beam from the emitter crystal.  Almost instantly, a massive section of the wall was vaporized.  Yuulik met Dolan’s eyes, and she said, “To hell with archaeology.”

Every tricorder in the room began to scream.  Nune hardly had to look at his tricorder to know what it meant.  He announced, “You’ve breached the tantalum shielding behind the wall!”

“You’ve killed us all, you maniac!” Dolan spat out.  “Doctor Lester’s entire team died from celebium radiation poisoning!”

Yuulik slapped the combadge on her chest.  She announced, “Yuulik to Doctor Nelli.  We’re going to need drugs for radiation poisoning.  Right now!”  Yuulik hit her combadge again to close the comm channel.  “The tantalum shielding was blocking our sensors to whatever lies inside,” Yuulik said, and then she promised, “I’m going to cut the goddamned heart out of this body swap monstrosity.”