Irina Marchenko bent over a workstation, peering at the magnified image of the neural fibers within the malfunctioning gel packs Lieutenant O’Connor had sent for analysis. The gel packs had become a source of annoyance early on for the Chief Engineer, and Irina was beginning to commiserate. In O’Connor’s four days on board getting the ship ready, nineteen of the gel packs had failed. The engineering staff could find no external physical problems with any of them. The science staff had run scans for radiation that could be harming the bio-neural material, and come up clean. So the gel packs were now Irina’s problem. Thankfully, overnight, she seemed to have been granted a reprieve -- it was now nearly 0800 hours, and nothing had failed since the previous evening.
Despite her mounting frustration with their frequent failure, Irina thought the gel packs were fascinating technology. They worked like the human brain, sending information through neural fibers and making connections, or “short-cuts” between data points that a normal computer might miss. The gel packs helped the Tesseract
’s computers to make “best guess” decisions quickly using these short-cuts instead of processing all possible outcomes before recommending a solution. Irina was impressed with the concept, and had done a little reading on the Intrepid
-class starships that first used the technology to see how it had worked in practice. She noted that Voyager
had only a few problems with the gel packs in the seven years they were lost in the Delta Quadrant, which she found encouraging. The severity of those problems, however, was not encouraging. The gel packs could succumb to radiation, disease and almost anything else that would harm a biological entity, and once they failed, that was it. They couldn’t be repaired, and it was as impossible to replicate new ones as it was to replicate a living being. Irina understood that the Tesseract
carried a lot of spares, but at the rate they were losing them, she wondered if it was possible to run out.
The previous afternoon, Irina had put each failed gel-pack through a microcellular scan looking for evidence of pathogens, and found nothing. The sub-neural scans hadn’t proved much more helpful, so she was now performing detailed neurographic scans on the “bags of goo,” as O’Connor had derisively called them. It was painstaking work, even with the help of the computer. She had been at it since her shift had started at 0600, and her body was aching and stiff from hunching over the console so long. She stretched and contemplated taking a short break.
Then suddenly, she saw something on the scan. It was subtle, but there was a chance it could be what they were looking for. She forgot about her weary neck muscles and called out to Sarik.
“Sarik, look at this,” she said. The Vulcan looked up from his console, where he was entering a report on a crewman who had broken an elbow climbing a rock wall in the gymnasium after hours. He got up and walked over to Irina’s workstation, where he peered at the area of the scan where Irina was pointing.
“Interesting,” said Sarik, raising a single eyebrow. “If that is what it appears to be, this problem may be more complicated than we anticipated. I suggest you notify the Chief Medical Officer.”
Irina rose and walked over to the glass-enclosed central office where the CMO worked. The glass was frosted for privacy except for one large window overlooking the rest of Sickbay, and on the door, a decimeter-wide transparent horizontal stripe backing the Starfleet Medical logo. Irina pressed the call button.
“Come in,” came the British-inflected reply over the intercom.
As the door slid open to reveal Dr. Julian Bashir leaning back in his office chair reading a PADD, it took effort for Irina to keep her facial expression neutral and professional.
It was a damned shame he was her direct supervisor, Irina thought, as the years had been more than kind to Dr. Bashir. The CMO had arrived on the ship the previous evening, and she almost hadn’t recognized him when he had walked by her on the Deck 10 promenade outside Ten Forward. When she had realized who he was, she had almost choked on her drink.
Julian’s time in the line of fire during the Dominion War had given him a slightly dangerous edge he’d lacked when she had met him at a Starfleet Medical function years ago, while she was still in pre-med at the Academy. He had flirted grandly and awkwardly with her then, clearly believing himself the universe’s gift to women everywhere, and told her a breathtakingly dull tale of how he’d ended up salutatorian instead of valedictorian of his graduating class -- something about postganglionic nerves and a trick question on the final exam, if she remembered correctly after all these years. She had decided he was an arrogant twerp, and hadn’t been able to get away from him fast enough. Yet here she stood, the better part of fifteen years later, regretting that judgment. Damn. Amazing what a few years and an interstellar war will do for a man’s charisma
, thought Irina.
“Doctor Bashir,” she addressed him, “I think I may have found a possible cause of the gel pack failures. Would you mind taking a look?”
“Certainly,” Julian replied. He stood up and walked out onto the main sickbay floor.
When they arrived at Irina’s console, Julian looked over her shoulder at the scan. “I see it. Subtle post-traumatic degradation of the neural fibers. It’s very much like what you see in victims of telepathic assault. Not many people would have caught this, Doctor. Good work.”
“Are you suggesting someone tried to mind-rape the ship’s computers?” Irina asked incredulously. Julian’s eyebrows rose in momentary surprise at her crude expression, but he quickly recovered, and his brown eyes danced in mild amusement. Sarik merely raised an eyebrow.
“No, I’m not, Doctor,” Julian replied. “At least, not yet. But I'd say you do have a lead, here. Unfortunately, it’s not a very good one without more data. Keep running scans on the remaining gel packs and let me know when you have your findings. In the meantime, have someone pull a list of all the telepathic species on board.”
“I can take care of that, Doctor,” Sarik interjected, as he sat down at a nearby console and brought up the crew manifest.
As Dr. Bashir turned to walk back into his office, Irina couldn’t resist giving him the once-over. She let her eyes rest on his backside for a moment before forcing her concentration back onto her work. Take a high-pitched sonic shower, Irina,
she thought to herself. You’ll be working under him every day for the next seven years, don’t screw it up now.
With a sigh, she resumed the neurographic scans on the gel packs. Nearby, Sarik sat silently, searching 1,478 crew members’ files for a clue to the mystery they had just uncovered.