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A Study in Emerald, Part III [PLOT]

Posted on Thu Jul 19th, 2018 @ 8:12am by Captain Malcom Llwyedd & Lieutenant Laree Desai

Mission: Mission 3: The Galilei Conundrum
Location: Galilei sickbay
Timeline: 26 June, 2394 - 1000 Hours

Continued from A Study in Emerald, Part II

Desai didn’t linger in sickbay. She needed to move. She needed to not-think. So she let her feet take her where they would, and where they took her was down a meandering path, through the corridors and hallways and access tunnels of the Galilei, winding densely, as all spaceships must, packing as many linear meters into as little planar space as possible.

Fractal patterns do it best—they’re the most efficient shapes for compressing extremely long and winding lines into extremely small spaces. Molecule shapes are fractals. So are folds in the brain, and the body’s network of capillaries, veins, and arteries.

And spaceship corridors.

Desai thought about emeralds. The crystal lattice that forms an emerald is never perfectly regular, which is what made them beautiful in Desai’s eyes. Committed as they were to that elusive perfection, though, her father’s gem dealer friends would never agree with her, and one went so far as to show her the differences in the lattice structures. He bent a single crystal under an electron microscope, and they watched as portions of the crystal shifted, creating defects in the lattice called “dislocations.” At low temperatures, the dislocations formed fractals.

As she walked the empty, echoing corridors of the Galilei, Desai thought of emerald imperfections. She remembered a story from an old, forgotten Earth text, called Monsieur de Phocas and written by a 19th Century Frenchman named Jean Lorrain. Leaning against a bookshelf in a richly appointed library, she accessed the text on her biosuit and skimmed until she found the passage she was looking for.

“This Sarah Perez had the most beautiful eyes in the world, those green eyes spangled with gold that you love so much: the eyes of Antinous. In Rome, such eyes would have made her a concubine of Adrian; in Madrid they helped her become the princess of Eboli ensconced in the bed of the king. But Philip II was extremely jealous of those wonderful emerald eyes and their delicate transparency, and the princess—who was bored with the funereal palace and the even more funereal society of the king—had the fancy and the misfortune to cast her admirable gaze upon the Marquis de Posa while she was leaving church one day.”

The rest of the story was predictably brutal and romantic: the king found her and her lover together, and in his rage tore out one of her eyes and ate it. Later, contrite, he gave her “a superb emerald enshrined in silver” to place in her empty eye socket. After she died he wore the emerald as a ring, and was never parted from it.

After she died, Desai thought, continuing her perambulations, the Princess of Eboli gathered together all the other emerald-eyed victims into a great Court of the Dead. Now she reins as Queen of the Gallilei.

Desai ran her hands down the smooth-as-silk kretor wood of the grand double staircase, stepped carefully down the tiled, tesselated treads and thought, Ghosts. This is a ship of emerald ghosts. The living huddled together in a few small spaces, gathering instinctively as the living do to shore up their sense of hope. But the rest of the ship, most of the ship, miles and miles of hushed, carpeted corridors, cavernous tapestried salons, dining halls where silver and crystal sparkled, uninterrupted by the shadows of solid, moving bodies… This empty ship flew full to bursting with ghosts. Do not make your home here, Desai thought. This is no place for you.

Stories. We tell ourselves stories, even in science. The best science is nothing more than the story that brings together the most facts, groups them in just the right way, creates the right connections with the appropriate amount of tension, so that the whole system thrums in a perfectly satisfying dynamic equilibrium. What was the story of this ship? How did the characters—the fungal spores and the stress hormones and the ship’s doctor and the emerald green eyes—how did they fit together? What were the connections? Where were the tensions?

What was the story of this ship?

Desai brushed the French roman from her view screen and pulled up the network diagram again, spinning it idly like a fidget toy as she walked the fractured lattice of the Galilei corridors.

Jillian loved the research, but this new sickness brought an immediacy she was not fond of. She ran the blood types through a series of tests of both medical and natural remedies. "If I could just filter it and give it back..." She pounded her head against the wall behind her. "Think, think, think." Jillian sighed and heard the air filter though her suit. "Oh my gods, it should have been obvious." She tapped her com badge. =^=Desai, I have an idea.=^=

Desai's voice reached through the comm like the strand of a web, connecting the two women with the rest of the dynamic network. =^=Acknowledged. I'm on my way.=^=

Nora didn't know how much time had passed but she was vaguely aware of mostly silence around her. Her mouth tasted like ash from too much hot coffee and her eyes burned with the strain of applying various solvents to samples of the crystals from the patients.

Closing her eyes as if to will away the fatigue, when she opened them again, she honestly believed she was hallucinating. Was it her imagination or did those crystals look a bit smaller than they had before she applied acetic acid? Not trusting her own eyes, Nora reached for another sample of crystals and applied a couple of drops of acid. Not wanting to get her hopes up, a part of her willed herself not to see positive results, if only to avoid the crushing disappointment of failure once again. To her shock, the crystals actually seemed smaller. Suddenly feeling a mixture of excitement and nausea, Nora reached for one last sample, feeling the weight of her responsibility. By the third application, Morrison knew what she saw was no hallucination.

Not wasting a moment to celebrate, Nora quickly contacted Desai, offering excitedly, =^=Acetic acid! The crystals dissolve with acetic acid!=^=

Desai's response was just as enthusiastic. =^=Excellent! You're a wonder, Nora. Focus on the red-blooded humanoids. I'm on my way back to sickbay now. Desai out.=^=

Desai wasn’t even through the door of sickbay when the two EMH’s pounced.

"So," the Firebird EMH said, "We were able to run the computers from each ship in parallel as we worked to find the solution to the problem."

The Galilei EMH interrupted. "Exactly! The question was how could we stop the chemical from performing the function it was designed to do. In essence we needed a way to block its access."

The Firebird EMH nodded. "My colleague is correct, lieutenant. We had to, as it were, block the keyhole with something. Young Emily Mox chews this disgusting candy called bubble gum. It sticks to everything. Do you know that I have found it on the bottom of my shoe, on my desk, and even attached to a hypo-spray? Why would anyone do such a thing?"

The Galilei EMH interrupted once more. "We figured out the shape of the key based on the sequence of amino acids, then, based on that shape, engineered a molecule so it will fit over the ligand binding site so the transport proteins in the cell walls won't bind to it," he said. "Or, more simply, we blocked it with some gum."

They both looked at each other, shook hands and then looked at Lieutenant Desai.

Desai stared at the two holograms, incredulous. “You blocked the transport of the signaling protein with molecular bubble gum?” She blinked her wide eyes, pausing to take it in. Then she laughed. “Out of the mouths of babes…” This was twice now that Emily Mox had saved people’s lives, and she wasn’t even six yet. “Well done, gentlemen. Please send the sequence for the… bubble gum to Vaun. We’ll start synthesizing the protein.”

"Tell me you have some good news," Desai said to Jillian when she was finally able to extract herself from the enthusiasm of the EMH’s. "Vaun's tracking the progress of the disease, but we're nowhere near a cure yet. Are we?" Please tell me we are.

Jillian took a deep breath and smiled at Desai. "I think we can simply use good old fashioned filtering of the blood. Because fungal cells are so like people cells, there's no cellular or molecular technique for killing the fungus without killing the host. But if you perform dialysis—physically running the blood through a filter to clean out the hyphae and the spores—that will get rid of the infection. I have run a couple of tests, and you can see they seem to have worked." Jillian stepped out of the way and pointed to the microscope.

And Euler's method sent people into space, Desai thought as she bent over the eyepiece. The microscope slide confirmed what Jillian had told her: after a long, careful look at three different magnifications, there was no sign of spores of hyphae among the red blood cells. Desai raised her eyes from scope just enough to remove the slide and replace it with another on the tray. Minutes passed, and Desai looked at another slide. After closely examining four different slides, Desai looked up at Jillian. "And it's the same for all the samples? Green blood and red?" Desai's hopes strained like a greyhound against a leash, but she held fast, waiting for confirmation.

When Jillian nodded Desai let go of her restraint, and it was as if every one of her own red blood cells wrapped their oxygenated arms around her, in a hug of success 25 trillion strong. She clapped her gloved hands together, and leaned back against the counter in sickbay, exhausted but elated. "Nurse Jillian Mox. There are many, many people here who are about to owe you their lives." She chuckled a little. "Dialysis. It's a four-hundred year old technique, and I've never heard of it being used anywhere in the Federation. I don't know how you thought of it, but..." she pointed her finger at the nurse and poked her playfully in the chest. "You. Are. Brilliant."

Desai looked around sickbay, for the first time with hope instead of raw determination. "How soon can you get treatments set up?"

Jillian's excitement was overflowing from her body. She wanted to hug someone and was thankful for the physical outlet Desai's pokes provided. "It will take me about 30 minutes to set up a machine for each treatment and about 15 to clean up between each person. It is not a fast solution, but it will give them a chance at life again." With a nearly imperceptible bounce, she turned to prepare treatment beds.

Personal Log, Chief of Science Laree Desai, Stardate 447940.45

The details are in the science log, but we managed it. Jillian figured out the cure in the end. Dialysis of all things. But she wouldn’t have had anyone to use the cure on if Nora hadn’t found a treatment for the crystals. She saved a lot of red-blooded lives. And the EMH—both of them—not only did they solve a protein-folding problem, but they identified the ligand binding site and synthesized a molecule that blocked cell uptake of the signaling molecule. The green-bloods recovered quickly once their bodies figured out the Galilei wasn’t a kill-or-be-killed kind of place.

We weren’t able to save them all. The Captain will be sending Savin and Tajor back to the stars tomorrow.

We were able to save M’ndi’s parents, although I’m not sure M’ndi will ever fully recover. We’re headed to Bajor now for rest, and peace, and quiet contemplation.

Something I didn’t put in the science log because it isn’t related to anything on the Galilei: the analysis of Soto Gantt’s DNA turned up some oddities. Nothing alarming, no defects, just some structural inconsistencies. Once things calm down a bit I think I’m going to ask him about them. See if he knows what caused them.

I added the final network diagram to the science log. But I think I'm going to keep it here, as a admonition. A reminder. A talisman, of sorts. Vaun was the one who really figured out the mechanisms, bless her big botanist heart. I can imagine her explaining it to a science class, someday, in her retirement. “Thank you for that fine forensic analysis, Dr. Vaun.” Of course, the actual experience of it was... more difficult.

29 seconds of silence

End log.


Lieutenant Laree Desai
Chief Science Officer
USS Firebird NCC-88298

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

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

Jillian Mox
USS Firebird NCC-88298

Lieutenant Junior Grade Soto Gantt
Structural/Environmental Specialist
USS Firebird NCC-88298

Chief Warrant Officer (Grade 2) Amara Vaun Jr.
By Lt. Laree Desai and Lt. Comm. Yumi Han

Lieutenant Commander Emergency Medical Hologram
Chief Medical Officer
By Captain Malcolm Llwyedd


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Comments (2)

By Lieutenant JG Murril Na on Fri Jul 20th, 2018 @ 9:59pm

So THAT'S how this episode was going to wrap itself up! (I wasn't expecting there to be more than one workable solution to the infection.)

That diagram helped at the end, BTW. Good call. It helped reduce any remaining confusion in the audience AND it was featured inside of the story as well.

I'm not sure how deliberate it was in terms of team-writing, but one mind-broadening impression I got as a reader was that each crew member used a different thought-process to solve the problem, yet each thought-process was within the medical and scientific fields. i.e. In STNG, this would be the equivalent of showing four different characters, only one of whom was LaForge, each of whom were part of gold-shirted Engineering, each go through different personalized methods to get the warp core back on line.

On a more fun and immediate level, my favorite line was: "...every one of her own red blood cells wrapped their oxygenated arms around her, in a hug of success 25 trillion strong."

On the minus side, I am left wondering if the whole bit about ghosts was meant to be actual or metaphorical or if the writing team simply had a deadline to meet and too many RL responsibilities getting in the way of the 45th draft. In contrast, the earlier grasping-hand-in-the-swimming-pool scare could be explained away by the reader or by the characters as the imagination of an already-overstimulated Vaun. The part mentioning ghosts was evocative and well-written, but it seemed out-of-place, especially at the end when they were never mentioned again, like there was missing footage left on the cutting-room floor.

By Cadet Freshman Grade Gianna Djokovic on Mon Jul 23rd, 2018 @ 7:16am

The science babble throughout the Emerald series is impeccable, a hallmark of Firebird's exceptional science plots. Kudos to everyone involved! -Liam