“Not this,” Szerda murmured the moment the observation lounge’s double doors closed behind her. When Kellin Rayco had called his first staff briefing as acting captain, Lieutenant Junior Grade Annikafiore Szerda had expected to find him sitting at the head of the conference table. She anticipated seeing his grin, just like a labrador retriever excited for a walk. The only thing that greeted her was the captain’s empty chair. Kellin hadn’t arrived and nobody else in the desolate observation lounge reacted to her arrival.
“Captain’s prerogative to be late,” Szerda spat out under her breath.
Without another moment’s hesitation, Szerda took a step forward. With the Sarek‘s hyper-modern EPS grid and forcefield projector systems, the bands of black metal fused to her uniform –her anti-gravity Lieber exoskeleton– allowed the Elaysian to feel light as air in the starship’s M-class gravity field. Szerda strode nimbly to a chair at the middle curve of the conference table.
Awaiting Szerda in the observation lounge were two fellow crew members. Szerda had repeatedly made the radical choice to never ride in a turbolift with either of them: Science Chief Flavia from the Romulan Free State and Doctor Nelli, who sometimes experimented with Federation social norms, but who often decided their own Phylosian ways were better in the end.
By the time Szerda had sunk into her chair, Kellin Rayco rushed into the observation lounge. Since Kellin’s promotion to lieutenant commander, he had taken to slicking back his dirty blond hair in what Szerda could only assume was meant to be Kellin’s twisted fetish of Starfleet professionalism. He didn’t appear to be as concerned with his appearance this morning; the wild curls atop his head bounced with every step he took. His hands fidgeted with anxious energy the whole time.
“Doctor,” Kellin asked of Nelli before he reached the table, “What can you tell me of Captain Taes’ status?”
In the measured tones of their vocoder device, Doctor Nelli said, “Captain Taes’ vital signs have stabilised. She self-reports continued distressing emotions, along with concerns that her Deltan presence has been amplified by the blood dilithium, acting like an aphrodisiac to the nursing staff.”
Kellin coughed a couple of times, as he draped himself in the captain’s seat at the head of the table. Szerda couldn’t be sure, but she thought she heard an awkward chuckle mixed in with the coughs.
“Is that real, doctor?” Kellin asked.
“Unknown,” Nelli replied. “We will study the hypothesis. Taes has made no attempt to escape Sickbay in the manner the other blood dilithium patients have done.”
After thanking Nelli for their report, Kellin met Flavia’s eyes for the first time since their exchange on the bridge, the day earlier. Kellin’s brow furrowed and he leaned back in his chair. He looked about to say something and then he hesitated, chewing on his lower lip. Flavia’s expression remained impassive except for a slight widening of her eyes that approximated amusement.
“Let’s not pretend,” Kellin said. The words came out fitfully, as if he just wanted to get it over with. “I don’t want to work with you. But you are the most experienced scientist in the crew.”
Flavia nodded deeply. “By far,” she clarified.
“And Taes selected you as the Sarek‘s chief science officer.”
The entire surface of the conference table was one large LCARS panel and wherever Kellin’s hand happened to land, peach and purple menu options spidered out from his touch. Tapping his way through the interface, he scrolled through a list to find a couple of retained files and then he selected the command to project them as holograms above the conference table.
“Following task force command’s initial reports on the origins of blood dilithium,” Kellin shared with the senior-most officers aboard the saucer section, “the USS Discovery has shared Commander Natashar Rozan’s complete log, describing her telepathic dialogue with the blood dilithium. They’ve also transmitted the schematics for Lieutenant Gailwon’s subspace trumpet, which Rozan used to converse with the dilithium.”
A holographic recording played –the sound muted– of Rozan gasping at the sight of blood dilithium being bombarded with a subspace resonance burst. That was the moment, they had been told, when Rozan had made telepathic contact with the telepathic imprint of long-deceased Brenari within a shard of blood dilithium. The Devore Imperium had spent generations oppressing and murdering the telepathic Brenari and some twist of cosmic karma had brought the lost Brenari back as the blood dilithium.
Flavia raised a hand, using her middle finger to point at another projection: the holographic schematic of the subspace trumpet.
As Flavia pointed out, she said, “I can see two components they incorporated from Lieutenant Nune’s original subspace resonance emitter.”
“Even after everything we’ve learned,” Kellin said, “the counsellors aboard USS Sarek and USS Discovery are in disagreement. We don’t know if Nune designed the prototype to escape the influences of blood dilithium or if he designed the prototype under the influence of blood dilithium.”
Narrowing her eyes at Kellin, Flavia banged her elbows against the surface of the table and brought her hands together to interlace her fingers. Leaning closer to Kellin, Flavia gazed at him with a glassy menace behind her dark eyes.
“If every crystal of blood dilithium is imprinted with the telepathic matrices of the Brenari’s dead,” Flavia asked, “does Starfleet still intend to use these crystals to stoke your warp cores?”
Szerda immediately saw panic in Kellin’s eyes. That had to mean he didn’t know the answer. Not definitively, not for sure.
Kellin said to Flavia, “Now that you’ve excavated the Kadi remains from Burleigh Minor, the USS Palm Springs has resumed its mining operations. Our orders are to protect the blood dilithium we mine from this moon, while we determine how to free the Brenari from the crystals. This moon will become a target if the Devore learns of the blood dilithium. Task force command has shared Captain Dex’s report of the Devore Imperium annexing a Monean colony world, far beyond their borders, because their scouts learned of blood dilithium blooming on that world. USS Saratoga is supporting the colony’s evacuation.”
Flavia sniffed disdainfully. “Far be it from me to respect Starfleet technology, but an Odyssey-class starship would be far more successful at protecting blood dilithium from the Devore than the Palm Springs and the Sarek‘s saucer.”
Szerda felt Kellin’s gaze land on her. She couldn’t remember ever seeing him this determined before.
“That’s why Lieutenant Szerda is going to coordinate operations and engineering support for the Palm Springs,” Kellin said. “Replicate more trans-sonic mining equipment and offer our crew to the mining operations. We need to get out of here twice as fast as Captain Tomosso proposed.”
Szerda started to reply, but Flavia interjected, “Wait, I missed something! I heard you say Starfleet wants to free the Brenari from the blood dilithium?”
Kellin nodded. “It’s an option we’re exploring. You’re exploring. Make it the science department’s top priority on both hulls.”
Flavia affected a matronly tone, condescending to the senior staff. She said, “What does freeing the Brenari entail? Are they alive? Their bodies have purportedly been killed. Would releasing them from the dilithium crystals kill them again?”
“I don’t know,” Kellin admitted softly and he shrugged at her. “Don’t the Vulcans have lore about the transference of souls?”
“That’s not science,” Flavia snapped. “It’s mysticism.”
Gaping at Flavia, Szerda intently asked, “Do you believe in the mystic arts?”
Flavia blinked at her. “Don’t you?”