Part of USS Constellation: Nothing Comes From Being Right and Bravo Fleet: The Lost Fleet

From Being – 6

USS Constellation, Sickbay
March 2401
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Overstimulated and in need of relief, Taes found herself in Sickbay.  Found herself was the aptest way to describe it.  All of her confidants were gone and she didn’t know what to do with herself.  She couldn’t remember choosing to go to Sickbay, couldn’t even remember walking across deck nine.  Her legs had carried her while her mind was lost in a fog.

Kellin Rayco had been Taes’ self-proclaimed best friend ever since she’d jettisoned her life as a science director.  The unjoined Trill had proven himself over-burdened with youthful wisdom about how to start a second life at that critical time when Taes was still finding her footing on the command track.  Kellin had always looked up to her from their first meeting aboard Starbase 72.  Truly, Taes had never quite understood the sheer admiration Kellin had shown for her.  Even so, she had grown to measure herself against the Captain Taes she could see reflected in Kellin’s eyes.

Elbon Jakkelb, her previous first officer and Kellin’s ex-husband, had known exactly how to temper Taes’ molten core.  He could reframe her thinking with nothing more than a sentence fragment.  Elbon had inspired her to reach for her better natures.  He made her believe she could leave behind the unbalanced Deltan ensign she had been, raging against her Starfleet culture shock.  Although absent, Elbon was more than deserving of the command opportunity that had taken him away from her.

At times, even Yuulik had proven safekeeping for Taes’ deepest thoughts, especially on those late nights of endless research. Taes had shared with Yuulik those things she was too proud to tell her good boys.  Yuulik knew half the mistakes Taes had made across her career, the things she regretted.  Taes repeatedly handed Yuulik the chance to make those same choices differently if only she ever cared to listen.

“Doctor, I need you,” Taes said, plainly distraught.  The words came out of her unbidden.  She could hardly recognise her own voice.

By the time Taes wholly perceived her surroundings, she was spry enough to cover for the momentary fugue state.  Marching down Sickbay’s wide centre aisle, she took notice of there being fewer patients patronising the biobeds.  In the time Lieutenant Pagaloa had been repairing Constellation, Doctor Nelli had been patching up the crew with just as much care.  Taes took that as permission to raise her voice in her formal timbre.

“Prepare a surgical suite,” Taes ordered, “and one of the biobeds that can– Ow!”

In her rush to reach the chief medical officer, Taes nearly walked into Nurse Rals.  To avoid the collision, Taes dodged to the left and she stubbed her toe on one of the pedestals beneath a biobed.  In senseless retribution, Taes kicked the pedestal again with the side of her boot.  And she kicked it again.  Then she raised her leg and she really kicked the biobed with the sole of her boot.

“Nurse Rals, please clear Sickbay,” Nelli said loud enough to still be heard over the clang of Taes’ boot connecting with the biobed’s frame.  Nelli’s red eye-stalks swivelled in the direction of the other medical officers, when they added, “Taes is my patient.  Privileged under doctor-patient confidentiality, of course.”

Rals had hustled the last patient out of Sickbay when Taes gave the biobed one last kick and a thunderous scream.  Nelli trod towards Taes on their motor trunks, their leaves quivering with every step.

Nelli asked, “Taes…?”

At the sound of her own name, Taes spun around to face the Phylosian doctor.  Taes was out of breath and her skin felt hot and she leaned a hip against the biobed for support.  She searched Nelli’s face for some sign of understanding or connection, but the plant-based lifeform offered none of the emotive qualities Taes knew so well.

“Kellin’s gone,” Taes spat out.  “Replaced by a Changeling.”  She braced a hand against the biobed.  “How could I have been so careless not to sense something was deeply, deeply wrong with him, Nelli?  I felt his pain.  I did.  But I thought it was just his divorce.  …Oh Ere’ka, How am I going to tell Elbon?”

Another wave of existential dread hit Taes like a kick to the stomach.  The very thought of Kellin being physically taken by a Changeling –restrained– rocked her until she was doubled over in pain.  Already leaning in a precarious posture, Taes lost her balance and she fell to the deck on her hands and knees.  She could see Nelli swoop into action, coming at Taes with five vines at the ready to help her.

“Stop!” Taes was quick to shout out.  “That’s an order!  You have three patients incoming, doctor.  Yuulik needs to be isolated here.  A second patient is stable.  He’s being beamed to the brig.  A third patient is in critical condition.  He needs emergency treatment, but he needs to be isolated inside a forcefield.  He’s only to be treated by medical hologram.”

There was a hesitance in Nelli’s body language when they started to step back from Taes.  They moved their legs towards an LCARS panel on the bulkhead, but two of their vines trailed behind, waggling in Taes’ direction.

Nelli committed, “It will be done, captain.”

The doors to the corridor hissed open and Taes scrambled to at least straighten up on her knees if she couldn’t make it to her feet fast enough.  It was Lieutenant Nova standing behind the doors.  Slung over her shoulder was a cylindrical carrying case and she held a tricorder at the ready.

“Captain, request permission to–” Nova started to ask.

Taes immediately allowed, “Granted,” as she got to her feet.

Beneath an arched sensor cluster, Nelli and Nova took up position on either side of a partially-reclined biobed.  Taes kept her distance.  She sat upright on the biobed she had kicked early, directly across from them.  She nodded to Nelli when she was ready.  

Atop the partially-reclined biobed, an annular confinement beam energized out of nothing, appearing as a glimmering flow of light.  By the time it faded, Sootrah Yuulik had materialised on the biobed.  Almost instantly, she raised her knees to her chest and she held out a bloody Argelian dagger in a defensive posture.

Nova offered a gentle, “Hey,” to Yuulik, but Yuulik didn’t react to her, didn’t look at her.  Rather, Yuulik glared at Taes.  If not for the five metres between them, Yuulik was holding the dagger exactly at the level of Taes’ throat.  For their part, Nelli offered no reaction to the blade.  Two of their vines manipulated the biofunction monitor to activate the full array of sensors protruding from the arched alcove.

“May I offer you pain relief, Lieutenant Yuulik?” Nelli asked.

Yuulik nodded.  It was a small movement, hardly millimetres.

“Yes,” Yuulik whispered.  “Please yes.”

Nelli pressed a hypospray to Yuulik’s neck, applying an analgesic.  A moment later, Nelli pressed a second hypospray to Yuulik’s neck, withdrawing a sample of blood.  Nelli raised the hypospray and she gave it a slight shake.  In considering the old Dominion War protocols, the blood remained blood.  If Yuulik was a Changeling like Kellin, the blood should have reverted to golden goo.

“May I take your knife, Yuulik?” Nelli asked.

Yuulik clutched the dagger to her chest.  Standing beside her, Nova held an open palm out to Yuulik.  She made her hand available without making contact.  Yuulik considered it and she sniffed at the air.  Hesitantly, Yuulik proffered the handle of the dagger to Nelli, who wrapped a vine around it and took it away.  Yuulik then took hold of Nova’s hand.

Watching them all, Taes put on her well-practiced ethnographic survey facade.  She wanted to appear pleasant without expressing any leading emotion in her voice.  She allowed herself marginally more personality than a Starfleet computer.  There were a dozen questions Taes wanted to ask Yuulik, and a dozen more she knew she ought to ask as Yuulik’s captain, but only one was ringing in her head over and over and over.

“What makes you say Kellin was a Changeling?” Taes asked.

“He changed!  His shape!” Yuulik retorted petulantly.  “Aboard the observatory, his arms turned into putrid orange slime and he used them to slap me around.  I suspect… with how much blood… I feel like he killed Navok already.  Kellin forced me to defend myself.  My mother taught me how to fight, but it was only ever ceremonial.  Like a dance.  I was able– I stabbed the Changeling in the chest and he laughed at me with Kellin’s face.  His mouth got bigger so he could laugh louder.  No matter how deep I cut him, he wouldn’t die.  He bled on me, bled all over me.”

Yuulik grabbed a fistful of her own uniform jacket, caked in dried blood.

“I don’t know why it’s still blood?” Yuulik asked.  “He changed.  Kellin was a Changeling.” 

Taes betrayed how unsettled she was by the tenor of her voice.  “I don’t know?”

Upon a soft instruction from Nelli, Nova loosened the front flap of Yuulik’s uniform jacket.  She helped Yuulik sit up, and Yuulik shrugged off the jacket, so Nova could help her out of the bloody garment.  While Nelli took the jacket to a laboratory desk, Nova clicked on a hand-held steriliser and used it to wash Yuulik’s face.

“Yuulik, what happened to Flavia?” Taes asked.

Yuulik cringed and she reached for Nova again.  Nova took Yuulik’s hand and she squeezed it.

“She got away,” Yuulik said, but her tone of voice suggested otherwise.  “Flavia dove into a Jefferies tube when I sliced open the Changeling.  But she– she must have lost her combadge in the scuffle.  I energised the runabout’s emergency transporter and it didn’t grab her.  I- I- I stalled as long as I could.  I hailed the Jem’Hadar; I threatened them not to attack or they would kill a glorious Founder.  But I couldn’t wait anymore.  I’m sorry, captain, I left Flavia on the observatory.”

After sucking in a desperate breath, Yuulik rationalised, “These Jem’Hadar, they come from a time during the Dominion’s non-aggression pact with the Romulans.  They’ll treat her like an ally, right?  At- at- worst, like a prisoner of war, right?”

Taes didn’t know how to respond to that.  She stared back at Yuulik and she didn’t look away.  She held the moment with her.

“That wasn’t Kellin you stabbed,” Nelli said.  With Yuulik’s uniform jacket spread out on the desk, Nelli scraped at the dried blood with a scalpel and scanned it with a handheld scanner.  “The Changeling’s body may have convinced our internal sensors they were Kellin, but as their matter degrades, it’s coming undone.”

Nelli scraped off another sample of dried blood and they said, “This is blood-like plasma, but when it’s broken down, there’s no Trill DNA in it.”

Taes crossed her arms over her abdomen.  “The Changeling who looked like Kellin knew things.  He knew so much about me, about our crew.  He even recalled the time Kellin accused Yuulik of stealing data for her own research.  That was back on the USS Dvorak.  He knew so much but… he said he pleaded for leniency for Yuulik.”

“He never did,” Yuulik said with certainty.

“He never did,” Taes agreed with certainty, annoyed with herself for not noticing at the time.  “He said the Dominion was the only true threat to the Federation.  Huh.  Maybe he was trying to unsettle me?”

Clearly taking energy from the mystery of the Changeling, Yuulik added, “I had breakfast in Kellin’s quarters the other day.  I should have known something was wrong.”

“He didn’t sound like himself?” Taes asked.

“I wouldn’t know,” Yuulik said wanly.  “I hardly let him speak.  No, but the plants in his quarters were alive.  He remembered to water them.  That’s not Kellin.”

As much as Taes wanted to theorise more about the Kellin Changeling, she recalled the weight of her broader obligations.  Taes asked, “If Kellin, Flavia and Navok were left on the observatory, who did you bring back with you?”

Yuulik gathered herself.  Her posture strengthened and she braced her hands on the side of the biobed.  For the first time since materialising in Sickbay, Yuulik sounded like herself.  Focused.  Energised.  On the hunt.

“Based on the observatory’s sensor logs, I searched out the nearest communication relay station to the Ianua pulsar,” Yuulik explained.  “I found one a few lightyears away.  It had been seeded decades ago, during a golden age of exploration.  Its sensor pallets are rudimentary, but the relay station was even closer to the lost fleet’s arrival.  But it wasn’t the closest.

“Fillian and Trojet were stranded there on the relay station,” Yuulik explained.  “Their science ship was the first ship obliterated by the lost fleet and, with no M-class planets nearby, their escape pod was attracted to the atmosphere aboard the relay station.  Trojet was unconscious already and Fillian told me they were experimenting with artificial wormholes.

Yuulik declared, “They are to blame for the lost fleet’s arrival.  They deserved to get blown up by the Dominion.  So I stunned Fillian and locked him in the crew compartment with Trojet.  I acknowledge– I recognize that that was wrong of me.  I know, I know, I should have fed them to the Jem’Hadar instead.”

As she was wont to do, Taes was energised by Yuulik’s fierce and singular focus.  Yuulik’s aim was misguided –as it often was– but Taes could never deny how magnetic it could be.  Taes got to her feet and tugged at the hem of her duty jacket.  In the time it took her to straighten up her uniform, Taes buried her complicated feelings about Yuulik and dear Kellin, putting on the pristine visage of Taes the professional.  Taes, the scientist.  It was time to be Captain Taes.

“I must speak with them myself,” Taes decided aloud.  “Thank you for rescuing them, Yuulik.  I’m afraid I will have to restrict you to Sickbay until… I’m sorry, I don’t know, until I decide otherwise.”

She tossed that last bit off as she marched towards the laboratory desk, but she never made it.  Taes spun on her heels and rushed to Yuulik’s side.  Taes threw her arms around Yuulik in a quick hug.

“I’m thankful you made it back to us,” Taes whispered, but then she moved away, not wanting to know what Yuulik might say in reply.  She stepped aside to confer with Nelli at the research desk.

The moment Nova and Yuulik were alone under the sensor arch, Nova placed a small medical tray in Yuulik’s lap and she opened her carrying case.  Nova shook the case over the tray until four glazed donuts came tumbling out.

“I brought donuts,” Nova said.  “I find them… restorative.”

“What are you…” Yuulik started to ask, but quickly switched to, “Why would you…?”

“Stop talking,” Nova instructed.  She proffered a tricorder to Yuulik.  “Eat a donut with me.  You can quantum scan me for fun.  I know how much you want to quantum date my substance.”

“Are you sure?” Yuulik asked around the mouthful of donut she was chewing.  “…That’s so intimate.

“I can’t think of anything I’d rather,” Nova said as she broke a donut in half and took a bite out of it too.

Boggling at the tricorder’s display, Yuulik muttered, “Over a hundred years old and yet your skin still looks like that…”

Comments

  • I absolutely love how hard this Kellin Changeling betrayal has hit the Captain and her scientist, to a point where it has almost reunited them. I particularly enjoyed the reference to how Kellin would have never remembered to water his plants. That's been going on for as long as I can remember, and was such an obvious clue. I'm glad she decided to rescue the two scientists, despite the urge to kill them, its probably saved their mission. I can't stop thinking about our boy, though. Where is the real Kellin? Will we ever find him?

    June 1, 2023
  • Yes Yuulik, instead of rescuing the scientist you should have fed them to the Jem'Hadar. The problem is I can't tell if Yuulik is joking or deadly serious because, well, it's Yuulik! I love the recollection of facts, the micro-signs that in hindsight give away the Changeling but at the time were all easily dismissed. Not even worth thinking about. It's those little gaps the Changelings hide in. And you've done an amazing job of using that recollection here to show the depths of the plan of the Founder here. And also hinting at things to come with regards to the Changelings. Loving it. Now I'm going to have to keep track of every single detail to make sure no one else is hiding amongst the crew.

    June 2, 2023