Chapter 6 - Insight

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ON: Astrometrics


Evan entered Astrometrics, Briar by his side. There was no one there. On a mission where the primary goal was to study stellar phenomena, that there wasn’t anyone using the large chamber once again hammered home how poorly the Hiroshima’s Science department was staffed, but he was relieved not to have to order anyone to down tools and leave while Briar took him through what she knew.


“Did you and your team make it all the way to this sector?”


Briar allowed her eyes to adjust to the dark of astrometrics, the artificial crispness of the brilliant webbing of overlaid charts on the night sky retreating into the seeming boundlessness of the illusion of distant space. The referenced location of their destination came zooming into focus around them, with all of the unresolved portions of the grid registering as uncharted space in the surrounding region. As Briar took a slow walking tour around the display floor, covering dozens of lightyears in a few slow steps, she was certain there were several features she knew of, but which seemed unaccounted for in the cartography.

The Operations Chief exhaled heavily as she saw those unresolved cubes in the map and chose her response with obvious care. “It’s still uncharted, officially,” she answered indirectly.


Officially. Evan recalled how she had said her mission was classified. For more reasons than this distress call, he wanted to know more about what she’d been doing out here and why Starfleet would deem researching the bioship an endeavour whose secrets needed to be kept secret, but he would stick with the Lorrenz’s situation for now. “There’re a lot of gaps in what we know about this area of space,” he said. “Anything you have would help.”

Briar bit her lip while she decided how to share without upsetting any of her orders as an Intel asset. “Evan, I… I can’t share very much.”


  “Then just what you can.” For an instant, he had thought to lean on their friendship to achieve his desired result, but her obvious reluctance made him reconsider. “You have knowledge about this area. Is there anything there that you think could have endangered the Lorrenz?”


 “We were in a neighboring system, here.” She pointed to a nearby block and the computer highlighted the star, listing out its charted numerical designation and the spectral attributes on record. “We had planned to also explore the system the Lorrenz is in now… but…”


  “But what?” Evan examined the details of the system she’d indicated. Nothing of note jumped out at him, save for the fact that the most recent data on it was dated several years prior to Briar’s mission. If she and her team had been there for a purpose, either it hadn’t been to study the system or they hadn’t logged whatever they’d found. But they’d planned on moving elsewhere, he reminded himself. Maybe they hadn’t found anything.


She hugged herself around the shoulders and shuddered at a memory. “I had a nightmare.”


  Evan raised an eyebrow. A Starfleet Intelligence operation wouldn’t normally be diverted over a bad dream, but if the dreamer and the dream were the operation … “A nightmare stopped you from going to that system?”


Briar nodded. “When I recounted it to my handler, there was a heated meeting with our onboard mission advisor and they changed our flight plan.”


  “You think it was a warning of some kind from the Elder?” he asked. “Or maybe a vestigial memory?”


“I’m not sure. It was a kind of terror, or revulsion. I do think the Elder had an experience. Possibly even another neural link.”


  Briar had told him a little about the Elder and its means of drawing crew to itself. Had one of its psychic connections gone wrong or had something tried to connect with it? He asked the obvious question, and not just because he desperately wanted to know the answer for himself. “Can you say what the nightmare was about?”


“The dream itself was…” Briar was hesitating still, but now because of something deeply disturbing, moreso than security clearances. “It was dark and there wasn’t much to see. It was more of a seething, writhing feeling. Sucking, swishing sounds, swelling and echoing from every direction. The darkness filled my throat, my eyes and ears, like being submerged in living, crawling, sands. Everything was heavy, pulling at me, until,” She almost choked at the recollection, “until I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t struggle. And then… there was…”


  She was struggling to give form to the memories. “It’s all right,” he said, and placed what he hoped was a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “Take a moment if you need it.” Take an age if you can shine a light on why the Foundation is interested in the Elder.


She did take a moment, folding her own fingers around the hand offering her support before continuing. “The nightmare triggered my pulse and brainwave monitors so my handler… she… There was a procedure. I developed it. It’s a trance state, similar to hypnotic suggestion. It was the most direct way to maintain the lucid dreaming connection without breaking the active link. But nothing seen or said in the trance is anything I can remember. I don’t know what questions they asked me about the dream. All I know is that when they brought me out of the trance, I couldn’t stop shivering involuntarily. And for a week I felt like my foot was asleep or missing and kept panicking and checking it was there. And we never went into that system.”


  Evan couldn’t make heads nor tails of what part an insensate foot might play in this. That Briar and her team had come up with a way of tapping into her link with the Elder, if indirectly, and taking information from it was very interesting, though. Worryingly, however, she had also just confirmed that the Elder had at least some awareness of her circumstances and when they posed her danger. That could cause future problems.


  Returning to the present, he considered asking Briar whether she would be willing to undergo the procedure again, but he felt there was only so far he could push the matter when the mission’s circumstances didn’t necessitate her potentially breaking Starfleet Intelligence’s orders. “Did your team tell you anything about what they learned about those images in your nightmare?”


“No. Usually I would have the recordings to review my own reaction during trance interviews. But sometimes my handler or the mission advisor would close the file from me so I couldn’t review it. This was one of those.  I don’t know what any of it means. I don’t even know what else I told my handler. All I know is that it was enough to divert our course.” She sighed, releasing her hold over Evan’s hand. “I know the Lorrenz is in trouble. I wouldn’t be telling you any of this except that I want to keep the Hiroshima safe and go in with as much caution and preparedness as possible.”


  “I know, Briar. I appreciate it.” He gave her shoulder a final squeeze before lowering his arm. The chances that the Lorrenz had fallen foul of a threat that wasn’t the same one the Elder had warned Briar against years earlier seemed slim. “I’ll contact Starfleet Intelligence, see if I can prevail upon them to share something. In the meantime … ” He looked up at the stars depicted before them. “Can you say who else might be out there?”


“There are no clear united stellar emirates or organized coalitions based in this region, that I know of. There were a fair number of fledgling cultures, and a number of ancient ruins. We met some warp capable species who seemed familiar with some Orion and Romulan factions.”


  ‘Familiar’ didn’t necessarily mean ‘bosom buddies’, but if the Romulans had already made inroads of any description into the region, then it indicated their presence there, or at the very least their situational awareness of the region, might be more advanced than Starfleet believed.


  “If there’s a threat in that star system, then some of those species might know what it is. They might even have encountered it before.” He looked to Briar. “If we made contact with them, do you think they’d be forthcoming with information?”


Briar grimaced lightly, signaling her doubt. “Can it hurt to ask?”


  “Hmm.” Evan threw a last look at the expanse of stars displayed above them. The star that was their destination was nondescript in that array of stellar bodies. “The others will be reaching the Observation Lounge soon. Shall we?”

 Briar motioned for him to lead on. “Captain,” she said out of deference, then cast another glance back over her shoulder at the cartographic sky, sensing an ungraspable wisp of familiarity and wondering once more what she didn’t know she knew…

JP by Capt. Evan Yearling and LtCmdr Briar Elin, USS Hiroshima-B