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Part of USS Polaris: A Place Removed from Space

Aberrations of a Brilliant Mind

ASTRA Lab, USS Polaris
June 2400, Mission Day 12
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Commander Lockwood frantically scribbled foliations of a space-like hypersurface across the terminal, not based on the Arnowitt-Deser-Misner formalism that underwrote the spacetime equations of their universe, but derived from a Hamiltonian formulation that assumed Anti-de Sitter space was reality. Because, somehow it was here. For the moment, the frenetic scientist was trying to ignore that the telemetry from the latest scans suggested the subspace abnormalities might be non-smooth in nature. Even he could only handle so much complexity at once.

Consumed by his work, Lockwood didn’t notice the door to the lab open behind him. It was not until the new arrival was standing right behind him, casting a shadow over where he sat, that he realized someone was there.

Lockwood turned and sighed. It wasn’t Lieutenant Sh’vot to calm his concerns about non-smoothness. Nor was it Ensign Vok with a solution on that tensor he needed to plug into his model. No, instead it was a shrink.

“Are you here to help me with this Ricci analysis Hall?” Lockwood asked gruffly.

“Oh come now professor,” Lieutenant Hall replied in her sweetest tone, leveraging his proudest title to soften him up. “Numbers aren’t really my strong suit.” A bit of a lie, really. Whether it was psychometrics or pharmacology, math played a key role in cracking and manipulating the minds of others, her real passion when she wasn’t keeping these babies from offing themselves. But easier to play a dumb little girl for a self-obsessed man like Luke Lockwood. “It’s all really impressive work you do, and I figured if you didn’t have the time to show up at my place for the fourth day in a row now, I might as well show you the respect of showing up at yours.”

Lockwood shrugged her off. “Sorry Lieutenant, but I’m busy reinventing subspace physics with this ragtag group of Pakleds,” he replied in a pompous tone, gesturing towards the dozen or so other mathematicians and physicists in the room, some of Starfleet’s best, each hand-selected by Lockwood, all consumed in models of their own. The room was dead silent, and every one of them would have heard his comment, but none so much as glanced up from their work. They knew the stress the astrophysics and exotic sciences lead was feeling. They were feeling it too.

“You haven’t left the lab in forty nine hours, Commander.”

“We have a replicator here.”

“And sleep?”

“Nothing a few stims don’t address.”

“Commander, why don’t we step into your office for a moment?” Hall asked kindly, glancing around the room. Lockwood shrugged and crossed his arms. He had no interest in doing that. He had better things to do, more important things. Maybe she’d just go away if he stayed planted in his chair. That was the beauty of patient confidentiality. It wasn’t as if she could push harder as long as they were surrounded by all these people.

Hall sighed. Could he not see how this looked to everyone around him? 

The counselor leaned in so her face was almost touching his, her expression growing ice cold, any feigned softness from a moment earlier now completely vanished. “Don’t make me force you,” she whispered so quietly no one else could hear it, but with an unflinching, dark stare that spooked him to his core.

For a moment, they were frozen there, face to face. She didn’t blink. 

And then a moment later, Lieutenant Hall spun on her heels and proceeded with a swift step towards his office, daring him not to follow. Reluctantly, Lockwood rose and made his way across the lab. He’d never bothered to read the regs, but there was probably something in it that gave her the authority. And if not, she didn’t seem like she was taking no for an answer.

The moment the door hissed shut, before Lockwood even had a chance to sit down, Lieutenant Hall unloaded: “That stims crap, that’s a crock of shit, and you know it.” Gone completely was the soft unassuming facade she’d had when she arrived. “I know you spend your days trying to solve the universe, but I’m sure you have at least a passing knowledge of human anatomy. Sleep insufficiency is directly correlated with reduced mental acuity. And pretty sure you are beyond insufficiency at this point.”

No response.

“We have a ship stocked with rations and fuel, and a full complement of competent sailors. Why the rush to solve this right now, at this very instant?” Hall pressed.

Again, no response.

“I’ve read your dossier Luke,” Hall continued, getting personal, using his first name even though they weren’t on a first name basis, and even though he outranked her. The gloves were off. “You have no one you’re running home to. Even when you were stranded in the Delta Quadrant, your only reason for wanting to get home was your cushy little ivory towers at Daystrom and the Science Council.” A tinge of something came across Commander Lockwood’s face, so she pressed on it. “And those aren’t even waiting for you this time. Those jobs were all taken by young upstarts while you were stuck in the Delta Quadrant, people who, even if you write them off as Pakleds, are probably just as competent as you. This ship, it’s your first real opportunity to do something remarkable since you got back. And so I ask again, why the rush to solve this problem, right now in this very instant rather than tomorrow or the next day? Are you really going to solve this immense problem in the next twenty four, or forty eight, or seventy two hours, even if you just work straight through, or are you just going to keep riding the stims for weeks?”

Her gaze narrowed, making the scientist uncomfortable, but still no response.

“And if you make a mistake in this sleep-deprived state, what then? Best case is you’re really wrong, and we fail to establish a warp field. But if you’re mostly right, but there are perturbations incorrectly modeled, then what? Non-constant acceleration across the surface of the bubble.”

Lockwood looked up as Hall made a little explosion motion with her hands, accompanied by a boom. She was wrong on that last bit. No sound in space. But he was shocked she had even an elementary understanding of the problem at hand. It’s why he was so focused, so he wouldn’t make a mistake. Dr. Lockwood, former endowed chair at the Daystrom Institute and advisor to the Federation Science Council, didn’t make such mistakes. He could tell himself that a thousand times, but was it true?

“I’m going to guess you never even thought of it that way,” Hall concluded. “But if you don’t want to talk, let’s try this another way: I am ordering you off duty for the next twelve hours, at least eight of which must be dedicated to sleep.”

Now the Commander’s expression shifted from one of annoyance to one of anger. “You can’t do that.”

“As the ship’s Chief Counselor, I absolutely can. Don’t test me either, or I’ll call Reyes.”

Lockwood looked down again. No way out of this one.

“And while you’re taking a break, give some thought to my earlier question,” Hall added, a tone of vulnerability suddenly slipping in, something Lockwood had never heard from her before. “I know the pain of helplessness, the feeling of needing to escape but being unable to. After you break free of that feeling once, you never want to feel it again, and you’ll do anything to get out of it right away, at any cost, over anything else. And you make mistakes because of it.”

For the first time in as long as they’d been shipmates, Lieutenant Hall had a look on her face that maybe, just maybe, might actually be genuine. She might be right too about why he was in such a mad dash to solve this. He’d never even considered why, but it definitely wasn’t just in the pursuit of science.

“I’ll give it some thought,” Lockwood resigned.

“All I ask.”

And with that, he rose and headed for the door.

“I’m here if you need to talk,” Hall offered compassionately as Lockwood took his leave.

He paused for a moment and opened his mouth as if to speak. But then he thought better of it and just left without another word. By the time he arrived at his quarter, he found that access to his lab material was cut off. Hall was diligent. She wouldn’t leave him such an easy out.

The counselor waited in his office for a minute, to make sure he was really gone, and then made her way out of the office and wove through the corridors. After a few twists and turns, she rounded a corner to come face-to-face with Admiral Reyes and Captain Devreaux. Standing there waiting, both wore expressions of concern on their faces.

“I gather we were right?” asked the Admiral.

“I’m afraid so.”

“Can he get through this?”

“Doubt it.”

“How about if I talk to him?” Captain Devreaux offered. “We were both there when we got cut off in the Delta Quadrant with no way home. We shared that same trauma.”

“Trauma Gérard?,” chuckled the Admiral. “It was just another adventure for you, my friend.”

Devreaux put his hands on his hips in protest.

“If anything, I’d probably give Dr. Hall better odds than you,” Reyes laughed. She wasn’t sure how much Lockwood actually respected the XO. She’d never seen any love between the two. Lockwood was a fairly pompous theoretical physicist who didn’t work all that hard to conceal how he looked down upon those who used their hands, and Devreaux, even with his Captain pips, was still a scrappy grease monkey who excelled when he got his hands dirty.

“I can at least try.”

“No offense Captain, but I’d rather not be blown to stardust because of a math fail,” countered Hall.

“Agreed,” concurred Reyes. “Guess I’ll check in on Shafir and Balan.”

She saw the best in everyone. She wanted to believe that Lockwood would pull through. But Admiral Reyes never put all her eggs in one basket.

Comments

  • I love your vocabulary. It really helps give the reader the perception that we are in the head of someone brilliant. I'm positive this is the first time I've read the word "foliations" in this context or any other, and I read all day every day. :-) I'm intrigued to see where Admiral Reyes's project goes!

    April 26, 2023