- VIII -
“Is it too late to change my mind about this?”
Culsten was sitting in the seat to the left of the centrally positioned captain’s chair on the bridge. Katanga had just finished placing a number of medical devices on his forehead and neck in order to monitor his vitals as well as being able to lower and raise serotonin levels within his body remotely.
Nora Laas was applying restraints to his wrists to tie them down tightly to the armrests and to ensure that he was unable to move. She stopped and looked up at the partially restrained helmsman. “I thought you volunteered for this.”
“That was before I knew that I was going to get tied down to a chair.”
“It’s a necessary precaution,” said Star who surrounded the helmsman along with the captain, Doctor Katanga and DeMara Deen. “The last few times these life forms made contact with us it resulted in near catastrophic damage to the ship.”
Katanga stepped closer. “Son, if you have any concerns about this, if you don’t feel comfortable offering up your body to an alien and quite possibly hostile incorporeal life form, tell us now. You do not have to do this.”
The first officer glared at the doctor, not appreciating his discouraging tone.
“You’re really selling me on this, Doc,” he said but then noticed Tazla Star’s hard look as well as the captain’s obvious concern. The ship rocked once more, reminding everybody on board that they were still in grave danger. He found his resolve then and nodded confidently. “No, I said I was going to do it and I will. This is why we joined Starfleet after all, isn’t it?”
The Trill gave him and encouraging nod.
“Sure, we’re out here to offer our bodies to whatever crazy life form would want to take over control,” Katanga mumbled.
Star rolled her eyes. “Just keep an eye on him, Eli. If there are any signs that he is in danger, get it to leave his body again.”
“That’s if it wants to leave,” he said before glancing at his tricorder.
“What does that mean?” Culsten said.
Star quickly moved on. “Now the next question is how do we make sure this life form takes the bait in the first place?”
“Great, now I’m bait. You guys really know how to make me feel confident about all this,” the helmsman said under his breath.
Deen offered a sympathetic smile before she turned towards Star and the captain. “We will have to lower the shields around the bridge for this to work.”
“What about the radiation from the nebula?” said Owens. “We’ll be exposed.”
Katanga gestured to Adams, his nurse, who already had a hypospray at the ready and immediately began to administer it to the bridge crew. “This arithrazine compound should inoculate us for a short time. But I strongly suggest that we wrap up this meeting in under half an hour. Any longer and we will start to experience moderate to severe radiation sickness.”
“Alright,” said Owens. “Let’s clear the bridge of all but the most essential personnel and have them move to auxiliary control in case we take severe damage to the bridge while the shields are down.”
This was meant for Stanmore, Waldorf, Trinik and a couple of crewmen working at the aft consoles, all of which quickly secured their stations and then headed for the turbolift to get to a secondary control room. Adams, the nurse, was also excused.
“Sir,” said Star, “you should head to auxiliary as well.”
But the captain shook his head. “We’re about to make first contact, hopefully, with a new life form. I’ll stay,” he added and in order to brook no further discussion on the topic he indicated towards tactical. “Commander, take that station and keep an eye on sensors and shields. If this doesn’t work we may need to raise them again in a hurry.”
The first officer looked as if she wanted to protest and stand her ground on the issue of the captain’s safety which after all was her responsibility. But when the ship took yet another hit, she reconsidered, realizing that they were losing valuable time and instead followed his order.
“Alright, people, let’s do this,” said Owens. “Commander, lower the shields around the bridge only.”
Star took a deep breath before entering the command, fully aware that this had been her suggestion but perhaps also suddenly realizing how vulnerable it would make them. A quick glance at the current shield status showed that they didn’t have much of choice either way. At the current rate of attack, Eagle’s
defensive systems would fail in a matter of minutes anyway. “Shields are down.”
“Doctor?” Owens said.
“The lieutenant’s serotonin levels are as low as I can safely bring them without causing any kind of neurological damage.”
Almost instinctively everyone took a step backwards from Lif Culsten who began to look around nervously. “Does anyone have any idea what I can expect?”
“Most reports from people having been taken over by energy-based life forms reported that they were aware of the possession while it took place but that they were unable to interact with the world around them. Almost as if they were looking through somebody else’s eyes,” said Deen, obviously making an attempt to instill confidence into the young helmsman.
“Of course that’s just speculation. We have no idea what this encounter may feel like to you. All we know for certain is that you are unlikely to retain any memory of it,” she added.
“Yeah, I remember the last time. Or rather, I don’t.”
The bridge became very quiet after that, as if everybody was holding their breath, waiting for either Lif Culsten’s body being taken over by an alien life form, or the bridge exploding around them. Instead however, nothing happened.
“It’s been five minutes,” said the captain after checking the chronometer.
“Perhaps these being are not interested in talking to us anymore,” the doctor offered.
“No, something is happening,” said Star
The others considered her with questioning glances.
“There hasn’t been a single attack since we lowered the shields around the bridge,” she said. “They’ve taken notice.”
Owens nodded. “The question is are they planning to make contact or something else.”
“I think we’re about to find out,” said Culsten as he looked straight ahead.
The others followed his gaze.
A single, spherical speck of light, the size of a watermelon and shimmering in alternating colors of crimson, azure and yellow had appeared just by the view screen as if it had passed right through solid matter and was now hovering in place.
The four officers around Culsten stepped back, forming a path from the screen towards the restrained helmsman. Nobody spoke.
The ball of light did not move.
“Maybe somebody should tell them that we’re on a schedule,” said Katanga.
The light shot forward and quickly approached the doctor, moving in so close it nearly blinded Katanga. To his credit, the doctor flinched once but then held his ground, trying to maintain eye contact even though the proximity of the bright light emanating from the entity did not make it easy for him.
Nora reached for her phaser.
Owens waved her off. “As you were, Lieutenant. Let’s allow it to have a good look at us.”
The light moved away from Katanga and moved to the captain next, illuminating his face as it had done to the doctor. Owens remained perfectly still as it hovered mere inches in front of him.
“Sir, I don’t like this one bit,” said the security chief, her hand still on her sidearm.
The light ball buzzed through the air again, this time to take a closer look at the Bajoran who clearly struggled, uncomfortable at having that thing right in her face.
“It’s curious,” said Deen. “It’s to be expected.”
“You’d think with all the time it spend taking over our crewmembers it would know us fairly well by now,” the first officer said.
This in turn prompted the entity to move in front of the Trill.
“Perhaps this is the first chance this life form had to study us in greater detail. Remember, we had shields raised before so it stands to reason it may have required much more energy or effort when it came aboard on previous occasions,” said Deen and was immediately rewarded with the entity’s full attention. “This is truly amazing,” she said as she studied the multi-colored light hovering in front of her. “I think it may be attracted to our voices,” she added and then looked towards the sitting helmsman who hadn’t spoken since the entity had appeared. “Lif, say something. Attract its attention.”
Culsten’s features turned quizzical. “What do I say?”
“I don’t think it matters. Just keep talking to attract it. Hopefully it will sense your lowered serotonin levels and understand what to do.”
“Right,” he said and then focused on the hovering ball of energy. “Hey, you, ball of pretty lights. How about you come over here and have a look at me?”
Deen turned her head to shoot the helmsman an incredulous look as if to say: Are you being serious?
He simply shrugged.
But the entity did do just that.
“Yeah, hi there. My name is Lif Culsten and uh … welcome on board Eagle
. I know you’ve been here before but we were really kind of hoping we could talk to you this time. You know about this whole attacking us thing. See we’re not here to hurt you or anything. We’re really just explorers. Well, perhaps at the moment we are also soldiers fighting a war,” he noticed the piercing look in the captain’s eyes which clearly communicated his displeasure as to where he was going with this.
Culsten quickly changed tracks. “Not with you of course. Somebody else, somebody different. Never mind I said anything,” he said quickly and shot the captain a quick, apologetic look. “Anyway, we’d love to know more about you and we know that you’ve been inside my head before so, if you don’t mind perhaps you could just come back in. We’ve lowered my serotonin levels because we know that you prefer that. So, come on in, make yourself at home. Just, I’d appreciate it if you left everything the way you found it.”
The entity continued to hover but otherwise nothing else was happening.
Out of ideas, Culsten glanced back to Deen who simply gestured for him to continue talking.
“We believe … uh … that there may have been some sort of misunderstanding between us and we’d just love to clear that up and—“
The globe began to change color more rapidly.
“I think something is happening. Something is definitely—“
The entity moved forward and right towards the Krellonian.
“Here it goes,” he said just before it made contact and then seemingly effortlessly merged into his body, moving right through his chest.
Culsten looked back up, his eyes empty.
Katanga immediately had his tricorder out.
“Lif, are you still there?” Deen asked, taking a careful step towards him.
He looked at her but did not speak.
Owens turned to the physician. “Doctor?”
Katanga studied the readouts of his tricorder. “I’m detecting an extremely faint brain pattern wave which is definitely not Culsten’s,” he said and looked at the helmsman. “In my professional opinion, the entity is now in control of the lieutenant’s body.”
Every set of eyes on the bridge focused on the sitting and now apparently possessed Krellonian.
The man in the chair considered the many faces around him curiously. When he tried to move he looked down at his wrists to notice the restraints, pulling at them slightly.
This caused Nora to place a hand on her phaser once more. Katanga noticed. “Remember, Lieutenant, you are more likely to harm Culsten than you are the life form if you use that thing.”
Message apparently received, the Bajoran let go of the weapon, but she didn’t relax her tense muscles, clearly remaining ready to jump into action if the occasion called for it. She grew impossibly more tense when she saw the captain slowly approach Culsten and then go down on his haunches a couple of feet in front of him to be on eye level.
“I am Captain Michael Owens, representing the United Federation of Planets. I am hoping we can open a dialogue between our people. We believe you may have attempted to communicate with us before. At the time we did not know of your existence or that you had attempted to make contact with us.”
Culsten’s eyes appraised Owens not unlike a child seeing another person for the first time. He did however not speak.
“We now believe that we may have intruded into your space, this nebula, possibly against your wishes and that this may have prompted the hostile actions against us. I wish to personally assure you that this was not our intention and that if you so wish, we will leave this place at once.”
When this still promoted no reaction, Owens looked up, first at Star and then at Deen and Katanga. But nobody seemed to have an answer as how to proceed.
The captain glanced back Culsten. “Of course we’d much rather become friends. We are explorers and meeting new life forms is our primary mission. I’m certain we could learn much from you and perhaps you can learn from us as well.”
Culsten tested his bonds again but was clearly unable to free himself. The captain turned to his security chief. “Lieutenant, remove the restraints, please.”
“Captain, I really don’t think that’s a good idea,” she said.
“I don’t think it’s a significant risk,” offered Star from the tactical station right behind the sitting Culsten. “It does not appear it has access to any more strength beyond of what the lieutenant could naturally muster. If we had to, we could probably subdue it easily.”
Nora nodded, probably surprising the others by not offering any additional objections or even attempting to argue with the one officer she had been at odds with since she had come aboard. She carefully moved to Culsten’s seat to undo the restraints. She stepped back once she was done but stayed noticeably closer to the possessed man now.
Culsten slowly rose from his chair and Owens quickly followed suit. He took a few exploratory steps around the bridge and the others were giving him plenty of space.
“We really believe it could be greatly beneficial for both of our people if we were to open a dialogue,” said Owens, trying again. Culsten turned to face him when he spoke but other than considering him with his wide-open eyes, he offered no response.
“Is it possible that he cannot understand us?” Owens said but kept looking at Culsten.
“I find that unlikely,” said Star. “They have already demonstrated that they were able to operate our technology when inhabiting a humanoid body. That would indicate that they understand our language at the very least.”
“Perhaps they just cannot talk like we can,” said Katanga and then elaborated when Owens shot him a quizzical look. “Most humanoid speech centers are very elaborate systems. It takes time to learn how to master them. Most newly born are able to use their motor functions much sooner than they are able to utilize speech.”
Deen, clearly having had an idea, quickly found a data padd, typed something into it and then carefully held it out for Culsten’s body.
It considered the device for a moment.
“Take it,” she said. “Perhaps we can communicate this way.”
He took the padd gingerly and studied it. Then it began to enter a few commands and revealed the display. The Light.
Everyone on the bridge grinned. Communication had been established.
“The Light,” Owens said. “Is that what you call yourself? The name of your people perhaps?”
He typed again: The Light we are.
Owens nodded. “Alright. We’ll call you the Light,” he said. “We hail from different species all working together towards one goal. I am human,” he said and then pointed at Star. She is a Trill,” he continued and then pointed at the others. “Tenarian, Bajoran, another human, and he is a Krellonian.”
He used the padd again, showing them the display. Corporeal.
“Yes, we are corporeal life forms,” he said.
“It understands,” said Deen with a smile.
“We apologize if we have intruded into your territory. We were not aware that you lived here,” the captain said.
Energy deep within. Hurt.
Owens glanced at Deen.
She considered that for a moment. “Something hurts them. Something we are doing,” she said.
“The warp core,” said Katanga. “The matter/anti-matter radiation it emits may be harmful to certain energy based life forms. I should have thought of that sooner.”
“Owens to Hopkins.”
“Hopkins, here sir.”
“Lieutenant, I need you to immediately shut down the warp engine. Run all systems on auxiliary if you have to,” said the captain.
“Yes, sir. However we will be running out of power in short order. We are already far below recommend levels,”
the chief engineer responded promptly.
“How much time do we have?”
“Well, now that the attacks have stopped, I can keep us running with shields for about an hour or so. But without warp power that’s the best I can do.”
Owens nodded as he considered the entity within Culsten in front of him. “I think we’re making inroads here. Hopefully the attacks are over. Shut down the core and keep us running as long as you can. Owens out,” he said and then spoke to the entity again. “We are shutting down our warp core. Its radiation will no longer cause you any harm.”
The hurt passed.
“We did not realize that our engines would cause you damage. However without them we will not be able to stay in this nebula much longer. The radiation in here hurts us without our shields,” he said. “But perhaps you would allow us to return once we have repaired our vessel. We could continue our dialogue and learn more about each other.”
The Light learns.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Deen said with a large grin.
Nora took a step forward but this time she was clearly more relaxed than she had been before. “Sir, may I ask the entity a question?”
Owens glanced at his security chief. “We do have some time. Go ahead, Lieutenant.”
Nora seemed unsure of herself for a moment, either having second thoughts or perhaps not quite comfortable addressing an alien life form within the body of one of her fellow officers. “We believe … you may have been responsible for some incidents aboard our ship,” she said carefully.
The energy deep within.
Nora nodded her understanding. “You tried to stop it somehow after you were unable to communicate with us. But on our first night in this nebula, one of our crewmembers was killed. Do you know how this happened?”
The Light learned. Corporeal fragile.
“Where you responsible for his death?” she said.
The Light within corporeal. But another. Interference. The Light did not understand. Aggression.
“It must have possessed somebody else that night in engineering,” said Star. “Gedar tried to stop that person and he was killed.”
Corporeal fragile. The Light learned.
“You didn’t mean to kill him,” Nora said and then looked towards Owens. “It was an accident.”
The captain nodded in agreement.
“The crewmember you possessed,” the Bajoran asked. “Who was he?”
Features like this. Different.
Then it touched both of Culsten’s cheeks.
“Kolrami,” Nora and Star said in unison, recognizing that he was referring to the fleshy protrusions common to the Zakdorn.
“That makes sense,” said the security chief, mostly to herself. “He would have been on duty with Gedar that night and most likely returned to engineering at some point. And afterwards he would have had no memory of what took place while he was possessed.”
Deen took a small step forward. “I have a question,” she said.
Owens gestured for her to continue.
She focused on Culsten. “We discovered a rogue planet in the nebula with a colony of stranded Vulcans.”
“Vulcans?” Owens said, clearly hearing this for the first time.
She nodded. “I’ll explain it later,” she said before she looked back at the possessed Krellonian. “Do you know of them?”
There was some hesitation on the Light’s part before he began to use the padd again. The Dark.
“That doesn’t sound good,” Katanga said.
“Why would you refer to a group of Vulcans as the Dark?” said Star, as confused as the others.
The Dark. Not corporeal. Not like you. Like the Light once. Now the Dark.
This made Deen think. “So they are not Vulcan. They used to be like you but not anymore. What does that mean? Have they somehow evolved? Or rather, devolved?”
That piqued Owens’ interest. “Banished why?”
Destroyers. Corrupted. Malevolent.
“Like criminals?” said Owens but looked towards Deen instead.
“We need to get Xylion out of there,” she said.
Tazla Star leaned forward and over the tactical station. “Lieutenant, why don’t you tell us what happened on this planet.”
“We came across significant gravimetric readings early on in our survey which led us to a rouge planet surrounded by intense electromagnetic interference. We were struck by it and forced to crash land on the surface where we found a fully independent eco system along with a group of Vulcans who said that they had crashed there themselves over twenty years ago. Long story short, some of the Vulcans eventually attacked Srena and Xylion worked out a deal in which they would help us with our repairs in turn for him agreeing to stay behind.”
“That does not sound like very typical Vulcan behavior,” Katanga said.
“We thought the same thing. Xylion believed that elements of their settlement were slipping back into a pre-Surak style society. He thought he could help them if he stayed behind.”
Owens glanced at the entity. “But they are not Vulcans, are they?”
Deen shook her head. “They were very eager for him to stay. In fact, from the moment we arrived they clearly wanted us to become part of their settlement,” she said. “If they are not Vulcans, what did they want with any of us?”
All eyes focused back on the Light.
His own focus now rapidly moved from one face to the next, perhaps as if considering that very same question. Then it stopped suddenly and worked the padd again. The Dark. Banished. Merge with corporeal. Banishment. No More.
“They’re trying to escape,” said Deen.
Culsten was typing again but suddenly with much more urgency, almost furiously. The Dark. Must be banished. Destroyers. Corrupted. Malevolent. The Dark must stop. The Light become Destroyers.
“What are you saying?” said Nora, trying to pick up on the ambivalent message. “That the Dark will somehow corrupt you if they escape? Turn you into destroyers?”
The Light become Destroyers. The Dark. Stop. The Dark. Must be banished.
“I think it’s saying that the Light, his people, will stop the Dark before they’ll allow it to escape,” said Star.
“Stop them how?” the captain asked.
“I think we’ve already seen exactly how the Light uses its power,” she said. “And it is likely more than enough to destroy a settlement of faux Vulcans.”
“With our real Vulcan right in the middle of things,” said Deen.
Owens turned towards the entity. “Before you do anything allow us to retrieve our crewmember from the planet. That will remove the one element which you believe posses a danger to you.”
Judging by Culsten’s now rapid eye movements, the entity was now more agitated than ever before. Risk great. Opportunity now. The Dark. Destroy.
“Give us a chance to resolve this peacefully—“
The padd slipped out of Culsten’s hand and before it had even landed on the carpet, the Light entity had left its host body and the Krellonian collapsed. Nora jumped forward just in time to catch him before he could crumple to the floor.
“I think we have our answer, Captain,” said Katanga as he watched the entity, now back in its non-corporeal form darting across the bridge until it slipped right through the bulkhead and disappeared.
Deen took a step towards the captain. “We need to get Xylion out of there before—“
But Owens had already jumped into action. “Commander, red alert. Raise shields around the bridge and get everyone back to their posts,” he said as he headed for his chair and took his seat.
The red alert klaxons and the flashing crimson lights prepared the ship for battle stations. Just a few moments later, the remaining bridge crew returned to the deck to take their stations.
Katanga was tending to Culsten who Nora had deposited back into the chair next to the captain’s and he appeared to slowly coming back around.
Deen took her usual post at ops. “Something is definitely happening out there,” she said.
Star handed tactical back to Trinik and headed down the ramp and towards the command area. “On screen.”
A very similar light phenomenon as the one which had caused such significant damage to Eagle
just a little while earlier was beginning to form not too far off the starboard bow. Except that this one was much larger, already half the size of the ship itself, it was still growing by incorporating various other specks of light which seemed to be attracted to the formation as if it were a massive magnet.
“They’re not wasting any time,” said Star.
Deen checked her readouts. “It’s on the move. Heading directly towards the rogue planetoid. At their present speed I estimate they will reach it within forty-six minutes.”
Star turned towards the captain. “Permission to assemble a rescue team.”
Owens nodded. “What do you suggest?”
“We can’t risk Eagle
, especially since we’re running on backup power. But I could take a shuttle. With any luck we can overtake the entity, reach the planet, grab Xylion and then haul ass out of there before the attack commences.”
Deen turned from her station. “Only problem is we don’t have a vessel. Nebuchadrezzar
is totaled and the main shuttlebay out of commission after that landing. The secondary shuttle bay has been reprioritized for the sensor array construction so that’s out as well.”
“Take the yacht,” Culsten said, referring to the small ship docked to the underside of iEagle’s[/i] saucer section and usually reserved for the captain or diplomatic functions. The support vessel was rarely used as the runabout was more efficient in most ways.
All eyes turned to the Krellonian still sitting to the captain’s right.
“And you’re going to need your best pilot. That’s me.”
“Son, do I have to remind you that you were just playing host to an energy-based life form which was in total control of your body? You’re in no shape to return to duty,” said the doctor who was still hovering over the young man.
“Funny thing about that, Doc,” he said with an easy smile. “I don’t remember a thing about any of that,” he added and then turned to look at the captain next to him. “I’m ready to go, sir. And you’ll need me.”
But the captain referred to the medical professional instead.
Katanga uttered a heavy sigh. “Alright, fine,” he said and gave the Krellonian a hypospray. “This really goes against my better judgment but this should keep you on your feet for a couple of hours. I want you back in sickbay the moment you come back.”
“Cross my heart. Isn’t that what they say?”
Owens looked towards operations. “Is the yacht ready to be deployed?”
“We’ve taken some damage to the bottom of the saucer section on deck sixteen. The yacht itself is undamaged but one of the docking clamps is frozen in place,” she said and looked back up. “Hopkins and an engineering team should be able to have that fixed in a few minutes.”
Owens nodded. “Bridge to engineering.”
But this time there was no response.
“Owens to Hopkins.”
The captain turned to Trinik at tactical.
“There is no response from anybody in main engineering and—“ a warning sound from his tactical board redirected his attention. “Sir, there is a security alert originating in main engineering.”
“What?” Nora Laas barked.
“Clancy to Nora. We’ve got a situation in main engineering,”
said the assistant counselor over the com. “It’s Decaux.”
Owens pointed at Nora. “Get down there and resolve this. And do it quickly, we’re out of time.”
Nora nodded and headed for the turbolift. “Security to main engineering.”
Star looked towards Deen and then Culsten. “You two, head to deck sixteen and see what you can do in the meantime. Try and get the yacht ready for take-off,” she said but then instead of following them she jogged to catch up with Nora Laas heading for main engineering.