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A Cauldron of Mysteries [PLOT]

Posted on Fri Jun 22nd, 2018 @ 10:11am by Emergency Medical Hologram & Lieutenant Nora Morrison M.D. & Lieutenant M'ndi M'rron & Lieutenant Laree Desai & Jillian Mox & Chief Warrant Officer (Grade 2) Amara Vaun Jr.

Mission: Mission 3: The Galilei Conundrum
Location: SS Galilei- Sickbay
Timeline: 26 June, 2394 - 0930 Hours


The initial panic and wave of crisis at bay for now, the away team had split up for the sake of efficiency. Desai and M'ndi had returned from the Science Lab with what Nora hoped was some helpful information concerning the illness that had now not only put the passengers of the Galilei at risk, but two of their own. Nora and the rest of the team were doing their best to conduct their own research and keep patients stable by at least treating the symptoms, but there was only so much they could handle and discern with the equipment available in sickbay. Morrison looked up at M'ndi and Desai and hoped there wasn't too much desperation in her voice. "Any news?"

"I was about to ask you the same question," Desai said. She looked around sickbay, assessing the situation, and the first thing she noticed was the power. "I won't ask where you got that generator," she said slyly. "But kudos to you." The infirmary was filled to capacity with sick patients--every biobed occupied and open space on the floor now turned prime real estate. She wished she could smell the air--some pathogens arrive with their own characteristic stench--but of course her biosuit filtered out the smells as well as the bugs that caused them.

Desai stepped carefully over to the closest biobed, nodding at M'ndi and Nora to follow. "We just got the Science Lab set up, and we have 6 hours of battery power. I've sent Chief Vaun off to collect samples from the air filters. I think Savin and Tajor have confirmed for us that this thing is airborne." Desai studied the readout on the biobed the three now stood over. "Tell me what you've got, Doctor. This is the first time I'm seeing this thing up close and personal."

M'ndi covertly scanned the room for her parents, but was disappointed once more. "If it's airborne, we only have so long before any remaining uninfected... civilians... become q-q-quite a bit less uninfected."

M'ndi's distress was obvious, and were Nora present in primarily a support capacity, she might've directed more of her attention to comforting her, but Morrison had to suppress those inclinations and remember her focus had to remain on figuring out how to cure, or at the very least contain, whatever illness they were facing. The slow ticking in her brain served as a reminder of the constant passage of time and perhaps how little she had to save all of these people, including the rest of the team, from a nightmarish demise. "As you can see, we are running out of room here. So far, no one has been spared, though it is worth noting this illness seems to impact humanoid members differently than Vulcanoid members, and along with all of the samples we are collecting, that could prove significant. In humans, there is a definite progression of physical symptoms that ultimately result in expiration: The green tint around the eyes, the green rash, chest pains, organ failure, etc. With Vulcans, those infected become more aggressive over time until eventually, their aggression results in fatal injuries. Were it not for the fact both groups became ill in the same place at the same time, I would have sworn in Vulcans, at least, I was looking at a psychological or neurological disorder."

Desai listened carefully to the doctor's description. "The samples we are collecting..." Bless you Nora. I should have trusted you'd know what to do. The Chief of Science bent over the body in the biobed and began a careful examination, starting at the feet and ending at the crown of the head. The biobed identified her as Yolanda DevLinux, human female, sixty-six years. She had been brought in by Kalstri in the last hour, and her symptoms had progressed to the point where she had to be sedated. Desai noted the green rash covering approximately eighty percent of her body, with epidermal eruptions on all four limbs, torso, and neck. Combing through the woman's hair with her fingers Desai didn't feel any eruptions on her scalp. The skin around each outbreak on the woman's body felt grainy under her gloved fingers, as if it was underlain by sand.

The eruptions measured between one and ten square centimeters. Small green crystals had pushed their way through the epidermal layer from the inside out. Blood seeped around the wounds, mixing red with the green extrusions. Desai brought her face as close to one of the eruptions as her faceshield would allow, then changed the faceplate setting to 20x magnification so she could examine the crystals more closely. As she suspected, each large green protrusion was composed of smaller aggregated crystals grown organically on top of each other. What had originally looked to be inclusions in the crystals turned out to be surface contaminants--spots scattered irregularly across the hexagonal faces. Fuzzy spots, almost certainly organic. Desai crinkled her brow as she pulled her face back and killed the magnification on her faceshield. Through long training she shut down any speculation her mind might be tempted to make, reserving judgement until she had more data.

Desai ran her tricorder over the crystals and spots. The crystals, it turned out, were salt crystals with a beryllium aluminium cyclosilicate base. Emeralds, she thought. A beautiful, terrible death. There was poetry here, but it would have to wait. The tricorder was not able to identify the spots. That could be nothing--simply something foreign in the host--or it could be everything. It could be their bug. It's a starting point.

Finally Desai looked up from her examination to Nora and M'ndi, who had been waiting patiently for her to finish. "Nora, you said you've been collecting samples? Thank you." A memory of green smoke swirling around the face of a black-laced crone, the smell of drugs and despair in her nose... Desai trusted Nora. "M'ndi, can you take care of organizing and analyzing the samples they already have? Go through the standard analysis, but also look specifically at levels of beryllium aluminium cyclosilicate in the bloodstream. I'd like to know if it's there, and if it is, if there's a correlation between the concentration of the molecule and the length of infection. If we don't have a complete set of samples--every patient every thirty minutes for now," Desai looked at Nora, not wanting to step on her toes, "please work with the medical staff to make sure get what we need."

"Got it," M'ndi confirmed.

Desai turned to Nora. "We should probably discuss logistics, now that Tajor is... incapacitated. I want to make sure we don't get in your way."

Nora nodded, pleased they were working well as a team despite not having interacted much before. "Agreed. I want to make sure I'm not in your way either."

It was no darker than her quarters with the lights out, Vaun told herself. No scarier than a walk to the water closet. Then again, how many nights had her heart skipped a beat as her sleep-addled brain traced the frame of an intruder in the air?

She inhaled sharply and whipped her headlamp toward a wiggle in her peripheral vision.

Nothing. She sighed and shook her head at herself. Get it together, Amara.

10m...9m...8m... Vaun slid a finger along her suit sleeve, from the wrist toward her elbow, to turn down the level of detail on her HUD. The wireframe outline of the hallway geometry faded away. The distance meter flipped off. She stopped when the target indicator and the infrared overlay were the only augmentations left. Running on survival-mode power, the only heat signals Vaun had seen on the Galilei were her own hands when they reached in front of her.

The crimson poles of her fingers grazed along a seam on the wall in front of her. "Don't be shy, little air filter." Vaun studied the panel edges, finding a clasp at the top and bottom of a tall, narrow section. "I just want to take you out for an adventure. That sounds fun, doesn't it?" She pressed the spring clasps and, after a small hitch of resistance, slid the filter frame out from the duct hidden just behind the wall.

Several filter layers stacked together like books on a shelf. The porous black sponge of carbon to tell a story of stray gases and VOCs circulating through the cruise ship. The white accordion of a HEPA filter and a tale of mites, danders, spores, and smoke. The active ultraviolet filtration and ozone buffer had lost power, but some forensics might still tell her when.

It was as good as the ship's diary, but Vaun's brief smile faded. She needed a dozen samples or more. Just the first one was an awkward square meter being exposed to the hallway environment every second she stood there wondering what to do with it. Vaun dropped her backpack to the floor and knelt beside it. She tipped the filter lightly against the wall. Fishing a vacuum sealer from her bag, she held it up in front of the filter and picked the dirtiest region of the filter. She cut a precise square out of each filter layer with a short-range laser torch and fed them through the vacuum sealer. Wrapped in the inert plastic, they would be preserved until she got them back to the "lab."

Vaun packed the samples and tools back in her bag and swung it back onto her shoulders. With a shrug, it settled comfortably into place, and she keyed up the next filter destination on her HUD. Forty meters to starboard. Vaun set out with a fresh spring in her step. Maybe her solo tour of this horror novelist's dream ship wouldn't be so bad after all.

"So, how do you want to divide and conquer?" Nora asked Desai. She tried to make sure her tone was, if not upbeat, at least not defeatist. This was of course made especially difficult because twenty percent of her focus was on the dying and suffering people nearby, any one of whom could worsen with the blare of a klaxon at any moment.

"Well," Desai said, hesitating for just a moment. "You're the doctor, so tell me if any of this is wrong. But it seems to me like the major damage is being caused by the growth of these crystals in the body. As they grow, they cause tissue damage. So it seems like the immediate medical goal should be to slow, and then reverse, the growth of the crystals."

"That is a logical assumption," Nora agreed. "These crystals are a major symptom of this illness, a unique one at that, so it makes sense we should examine them more closely."

Desai opened her tricorder so Nora could read the screen. "These readings suggest that we're dealing with a salt with a beryllium aluminium cyclosilicate base. If that's true, then we just need to find the right solvent to break the bond between the cations and the anions." Desai smiled mischievously. "It would be way too easy for this thing to be solved with simple water, but good ol' H2O is one of the best solvents out there. You might try that, first."

As a doctor, Nora had obviously taken basic and advanced chemistry, but it had been some time since she had studied those subjects specifically. She was grateful to have the scientist's perspective. "Any other suggestions I should try just in case the water doesn't work? Perhaps we should start with simple things and work our way up to more complicated solvents."

"I agree," Desai said. "I'd start with water, and if that doesn't work, try ethanol and then ammonia. If you take tricorder readings we can look at how the reactions play out and maybe make suggestions from there." Desai scanned sickbay, noting who was where, doing what. M'ndi stood over a rack of samples the medical staff had collected, her tricorder flashing and beeping away. Soft murmurs of comfort and efficiency drifted over from Jillian and Trej ministering to the sick. Desai nodded to herself and turned back to Nora. "I'd like to have M'ndi work with your nurses, just to make sure we're getting the data we need. If that's okay with you? And, can I ask, where are Kalstri and Beddite?"

In a conference room near the infirmary, Beddite knelt down next to the middle-aged human patient. His eyes were open and the emerald green hue stood out in the emergency lights of the room.

"I'm dying aren't I," the man said.

Beddite's surprise must have been evident. Almost none of the infected were capable of speech. She pressed a hypospray against his neck, noting the creeping green tendrils that disappeared under his expensive-looking civilian tunic. "We're all dying, one way or another, sir. But your way is indeed more aggressive right now."

The man smiled. "Philosophy in unexpected places," he said. "Can I have some water?" His face had a slight sheen of sweat. Beddite's tricorder showed his temperature at 101 degrees.

"Of course," she stood and walked over to a small cart that Kalstri had found in some bar. The heavy crystal bottles had had their expensive liquors dumped out and refilled with water. She grabbed one and a small tumbler and made her way back to the patient.

"Here's your..." she started to say but stopped. In the short amount of time the man had died. She knelt down, placed the water on the ground and took the man's hand. He had callouses. She sat with him for a long while, humming a tune from her childhood.

Kalstri came striding in, his arms carrying two lifeless bodies. He turned slightly as he caught the light humming. His heart ached for the sorrow in this room. He walked over to the very crowded area of dead bodies and gently settled the latest two he had found. The child was barely a few years old, the anguish on her face was indescribable and tore at his heart. After a moment to catch his breath, he turned and walked over towards Beddite. He knelt on the other side of the man and with one of his long arms he reached out and laid it gently on her shoulder. "My friend...there are others that need you. Let me take care of this soul for you."

Beddite nodded and let her song fade away, the final notes echoing through the room. She looked up at Kalstri, her eyes red. The sight of the stalwart chef strengthened her. She nodded once more, this time more firmly and then gently put the man's hand down and stood.

"You're right, Kalstri. We both have more work to do and we best be about it," Beddite said. As she passed Kalstri she reached out and grabbed one of his hands, squeezed it once and then let it go.

"Shhhhhoot." Vaun's head fell back, half in frustration, half simply to angle her eyes at the ductwork twenty feet above. Why couldn't the lights stay on and the gravity go out instead? It would have made her filter gathering quest a lot easier. One good kick and she'd have been swimming through the air. Instead, her boots stuck to a gummy sheet of algae coating the floor of the cruise liner's grand exercise hall. The fuzzy brown sheath slid like ice under each footstep. She shuffled deeper into the hall with her hands out like a tightrope walker. The straps of her backpack cut into her shoulders, now fat with filter samples and other intriguing substances she'd stopped to pick up in between. Each one vacuum-sealed and ready for its turn under the lens.

Vaun circled the perimeter of the hall, searching for anything to rig as a ladder or grappling hook she could climb to the ceiling-mounted ductwork. In her mind she had already solved the problem. 1: turn off gravity. 2: float easily into reach of the filter. The physical freedom of zero G might server her purposes, but at what cost to her crewmates? Gravity couldn't just be turned on and off in small regions of a spaceship--not with Federation technology, anyway. Even if she had access to the IDF generators, she couldn't risk throwing everyone and everything aboard into weightlessness for a minor convenience to herself. Still, the idea was so sure of itself that it kept sashaying wide hips to nudge other solutions out of her thoughts.

The grand exercise hall was a vacant, slime coated gym. Shadows bulging from the far wall caught her attention when the light from her headlamp punched far enough into the mote-fogged air to reach it. With a niggle of hope, she cut diagonally towards the incongruous wall. The nodules looked like black frogs clinging to the sheer plane of the wall, and part of her tensed to bat them out of the air if they suddenly jumped toward her. Clinging to her suit and visor with parasitic, suction-cup toes, her imagination filled in. Was the ceiling coated with them, too? Tar-backed frogs rained down on her in a vivid daydream that set her heartbeat pounding.

As they came clearly into view, the nightmarish barnacles resolved into harmless climbing wall grips. Vaun breathed slow and deep to calm her racing pulse.

Then she plunged into tepid waters as the floor rippled and dropped away. Weightlessness swallowed her in a fibrous underwater garden. Her headlamp reached into the brackish water barely to her fingertips. A spongy net of plant life snagged her flailing limbs like a thousand fisherman's hooks. Vaun realized with a jolt that it was a swimming pool--not a springball court--lurking beneath the encrustation of scum that floored the hall like organic vinyl.

Tearing free from the initial grip of plant fibers, she felt a dreamlike calm suffuse her. Vaun swirled her legs about not knowing which way was up. Her hazmat suit had several minutes of reserve oxygen. Its air-scrubbing intakes had pinched shut instantly to stop the water from pouring into its systems. The filter samples in her pack were sealed tight against outside contaminants. There was plenty of time to get her bearings underwater, and no harm would come to herself or her work. Then fingers knotted around her ankle like steel tendrils and pulled.

She kicked frantically, breaking free of a zombie's fist or an unlucky coil of the pool weeds. Imagined monsters or not, Vaun's calm fled as quickly as it had come. She swam with strong, oarlike strokes of her arms. Her pack yanked back on her shoulders suddenly, hooked in the web. No jerking kick of her legs could break it free. Afraid of losing her hard-won samples in the heart of the infested pool, she slipped out of the straps and held on to one with a white-knuckled fist. Keeping up a frenzy of kicks to resist being caught again, she yanked steely coils of the plant network away from each clasp and hook on her backpack. Finally loosed, Vaun raced as straight ahead as she could, praying it was the shortest line to the edge of the pool.

Her hand slapped hard on the gutter, and she grabbed the slick edge with stinging fingers. Hoisting herself through the pool's algae skin, she swung her backpack onto the concrete shore and used the weight of it to pull herself out and lie on solid ground. She rolled away from the pool across the brown film, and caught her breath in deep gasps, hugging her backpack to her chest like a lifeline.

Far enough from the pool that she felt she would see it rise up to reach for her--who knew if it could or not?--Vaun wiped scum off of her headlamp and visor. She looked up through the clear streaks at the black frog rain of her first nightmare. But they weren't falling. They clung firmly to the wall. Just climbing grips.

Vaun turned unto her hands and knees and set her feet under her in a tentative crouch. Though hardly graceful, she had made it to the climbing wall. She hefted her backpack onto both shoulders again and snapped the chest strap to secure it on slimy shoulders. Breathing through her mouth, Vaun craned her head back again. She tapped her HUD controls to highlight a path to the last filter--slotted in a duct slung high in the rafters. She shook her hands and kicked her boots, spraying brown flecks from her fingertips. Then she reached up to the first highlighted hand grip and hoisted herself toward the ceiling. Twenty feet. No problem. If she fell, there was a pool of water that wanted nothing more than to catch her.

[To be continued in A Shiver of Clues]

Lieutenant Laree Desai
Chief Science Officer
USS Firebird NCC-88298

Lieutenant Nora Morrison M.D.
Chief Counselor
USS Firebird NCC-88298

Lieutenant M'ndi M'rron
Assistant Chief Science Officer
USS Firebird NCC-88298

Jillian Mox
USS Firebird NCC-88298

Chief Warrant Officer Amara Vaun Jr.
USS Firebird NCC-88298
NPC by Han

Kalstri Tenistion
USS Firebird NCC-88298
NPC by Smith


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Comments (2)

By Cadet Freshman Grade Gianna Djokovic on Tue Jun 26th, 2018 @ 9:46am

I love how we go back and forth between Vaun and the rest of the team as everyone figures out their piece of the puzzle. I love how Vaun's imagination is running wild as I'm sure mine would too in that scenario! Creepy!! -Liam

By Petty Officer 3rd Class Max Tragar on Fri Jul 6th, 2018 @ 9:35am

Yes! The writing here is wonderful. Great team problem solving work and I loved seeing Nora in this role too!