Part of USS Sarek (Archive): Sea Lion Cave

Sea Lion Cave – Prologue

USS Mnemosyne, Science Lab 4
2381
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Another time.  2381.

 

The turbolift ride to the science deck was jarring.  The transgression to her senses had nothing to do with the relative speed or gravity, nor the gentle whisper of the turbolift car gliding along its track.  In fact, Ensign Taes could identify no intelligible incongruities in her experience.  Everything about starship travel was pure novelty to her; this was, perhaps, only the fifth starship she had ever flown aboard.  Now that the USS Mnemosyne was meant to be her home –her first Starfleet posting, at least– a flutter of distress tightened her chest at the thought that being here might ever feel wrong to her.  Down to her spine, Taes felt the maw of the uncanny valley from her surroundings, as if she were in a holographic simulation that was poorly designed by a first-year cadet.  The feeling had gnawed at her since stepping off the transporter platform and her mind began to disassociate from her body to escape the repulsive feeling in her flesh.

As soon as the double doors opened, the three other teal-shirted science officers marched out of the turbolift at a quick-step.  Taes hesitated long enough that the doors began to close in her face.  She pounced between the closing doors and chased after her new colleagues.  Despite her desperation, her footfalls remained silent and she maintained a steady breath.  She was practiced at that.  Taes was overcome by a sense memory of trekking through the woods, as a child, at the start of a self-reflection retreat.  The adults’ legs were much longer than her own and keeping pace with them required all of young Taes’ physical and spiritual effort.  She recalled panicking that she wouldn’t remember the path home if they didn’t slow down.  She also recalled the elders chiding her to shift her perspective on the journey.  There is no starting point or ending point, they had told her, when drawing a circle.

As with the journey to the retreat, Ensign Taes stopped grasping for landmarks or measurements.  She surrendered to the movement of the community, following them into the science laboratory with no real awareness of which corners they had crossed or which section of the saucer section they had entered.  Given it was her first hour in her new workspace, Taes expected to find an orientation curriculum, on a PADD, waiting for her in the lab.

Instead, Lieutenant Smárason handed an ostracon to Taes.  The piece of broken earthenware was slightly larger than the size of Taes’ palm.  Perhaps it had once been whole as pottery, but now it was a misshapen shard of green-beige refuse with an etching on its surface that Taes didn’t recognize.

“Thank you, ma’am,” Taes whispered, largely on auto-pilot.  She narrowed her eyes on the etching, searching for some clue to her orientation schedule or the location of her bunk.

After distributing the ostraca to the three other junior science officers who had beamed aboard alongside Taes, Smárason stood waiting in front of them, until she had captured all of their gazes.

Nodding at the ostraca in their hands, Smárason asked, “What do you see?”

To Taes’ left, the Andorian ensign, whose name Taes had never learned, spoke about the levels of technology required by a culture to produce the firing temperatures necessary to produce earthenware.  The exact words she spoke were lost on Taes, because the illumination levels aboard the Mnemosyne were so brilliant, it was starting to give Taes a headache.  The lighting at the Delta IV campus of Starfleet Academy had been far more respectable than this overlit Cardassian torture chamber of a science lab.  

The Vulcan ensign to Taes’ right recited a linguistic analysis of the writing on all four ostraca combined, but the exact rhetoric also escaped Taes’ conscious mind.  The sound of the life support systems was roaring in Taes’ ears.  Her breath caught in her throat at the paradoxical desire she felt for the environmental systems to quiet down and yet sheer terror if she might ever  actually hear the system silence and what that would mean for the available oxygen in the room.

Taes was staring into the middle distance when Smárason asked of her, “And you, ensign?”

At first, Taes could only blink at her, impassively.  She dragged the pad of her thumb over the ostracon in her palm.  She felt it and she didn’t need to look at it.  She had seen all she needed to see.

Adopting a strident tone, Taes replied, “I never thought I’d live to see Starfleet take such a processual approach to archaeology, lieutenant.  So provincial.  If Starfleet Academy taught me anything, it’s that I’m more of an epistemological idealist, ma’am.  That’s what I see.”

Smárason frowned at Taes.  Despite that, her eyes were still smiling.  “No, ensign.  Tell me.  What do you see?”  Taes couldn’t recall a more patronising sound in her entire life than the cadence of Smárason’s question.

“I’m sorry I don’t know,” Taes said, plainly defensively.  She shrugged helplessly.  “I need more context, lieutenant.  Show me where you found this and then I can tell you what I see.”

Shaking her head at Taes, Smárason plucked the ostracon from her hand.

“The Mnemosyne left behind the Dyson Sphere months ago, ensign,” Smárason said.  “I doubt we’ll circle back any time before you make captain.” 

Comments

  • Love this intro and the flashback to a time before. I enjoy the tension of the confidence and the fear she's experiencing all at once - the frenetic energy of what she's navigating at the speed required - it's fun riding along with the character - you see bits and pieces of her revealed as you go. You start to think Smarason is going be helpful, and then, nope. Dismissed. Lots of fun elements at play here and it was fun to read.

    February 27, 2023
  • Taes

    Commanding Officer