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Closing in on the cause

Posted on 25 May 2023 @ 5:51am by Commander Kristiana Petrova & Lieutenant Commander Harva Taliborn & Lieutenant Commander Cintia Sha'mer

2,040 words; about a 10 minute read

Mission: Deus ex Machina
Location: Alpharius station

"Something which controls minds, yes. That was that drone-like feeling. Something is controlling them from a distance, all of them. Which means that if they consider us a danger, they can attack us from different sides, in one coordinated movement. Because they are literally controlled by one mind. Deeper in there." Cintia nodded towards the centre of the facility.

Kris listened, and made inventory of the team. They were all alive, but Harva's EVA suit was compromised and he was bleeding from a cut. The security officer's suit was also compromised from the impact and slide, and he was limping. Still, neither seemed to complain, so they were at least good to go. For now. "That is a problem. And I guess we know what brought down Ensign Walker," she answered Cintia, before tapping her comm badge. "Petrova to Odin."

No answer.

"Away team to Odin. We could use backup."

No answer.

"Well, It seems we're on our own until we solve this issue," she muttered. "Team, on me. Weapons hot, set to stun. Eyes open. Commander Sha'mer, please show us the way."

Sha'mer gave a brisk nod and began to move again. It was both easier and harder now that they were closer to the centre. Easier because that hidden mind, that source of whatever the hell this really was, was closer now and could be discerned a little more clearly. Harder because it was still mostly hidden and because the foul 'taste' of the mind set her teeth on edge. And what if it could detect her? Attack her telepathically? She couldn't erect her mental shields again, not if she wanted to sense ahead.

And she very much did, it could be the only warning they had before another attack could come. But there was still this mental 'fog' which surrounded other minds than hers, thicker than ever now that they were here, she doubted she would be able to sense anyone unless they were close. But at least close enough to scan around a corner before rounding it.

Left, right, into a long corridor with the lights nearly all smashed near the end, making it dim. There was debris in this corridor. Was that a makeshift barrier? Had this been the site of a fight, a brave and vain stand against mind-controlled attackers, or a perfect place for an ambush? Maybe both.

As they neared the center of the facility, more and more traces of fighting were seen. More bodies, more damaged walls with weapon impacts, more traces and examples of improvised weaponry, some barricades even. The going was slow, as they did their best to be careful. Kristiana had the lead, but she led herself be guided by Cintia, who seemed to have the best grasp on what was going on.

Harva limped slightly, but declined any offer to rest and tend to his cut - which had stopped bleeding by now. The securityman he had thrown also had a slight limp, taking up the rear, but insisted he was alright. It was just a bruise, according to him.

As they proceeded, Sha would pick up some more active minds nearby, though they were trying to hide. Trying to mask themselves. Though as soon as she wanted to alert the group, the owners of those minds made themselves known. Stepping out from behind a barricade, holding improvised weapons, though they didn't seem aggressive.

"Wait! We don't want to fight!" their leader called out. Malnourished, weak, looking rough, his scientific uniform damaged and dusty, dirty, most of them in their group of four had some light injuries.They kept their distance, holding their hands - and makeshift weapons - where the away team could see them. Kris and the others raised their sidearms, but held their fire.

"No drones," Sha'mer reported, both to confirm to the others of her team that these people were not part of the brainwashed attackers, and to inform the small group of the same. She moved forward slowly, but left making the introductions to the XO. She wanted to concentrate on those other minds, the infected ones, the drones. Make sure that none of those came sneaking up on them while their attention was taken up by this meeting.

It was getting harder, this close to the centre, there was a lot of what she could only describe as 'spill-over', the atmosphere seemed to be drenched with the taint of those infected minds, or perhaps of whatever it was which did the infecting. It didn't just put her on edge, it made her feel nauseous and her head hurt.

"That's right, we're not - drones," the leader spoke. "My name is Korinn, we've been surviving, trying to send out a distress signal. You can understand me?"

Kris nodded, lowering her weapon. "That's right. Commander Petrova, USS Odin. Starfleet. We're answering your distress call," she spoke as she motioned the others to lower their weapons as well. "What happened here?"

Korinn glanced from Petrova to Sha'mer and back, seeming a bit skittish of the approaching Vo'Sh'un. "A - a few months ago, we dug up an artefact. That's when the trouble started. The people closest started to act strange, those who touched it. It's - it started sending out - I'm not sure how to descrive it. Pressure. Cold. That's when the madness started. Anyone who got touched by someone who was acting strange, started acting strange too. Became aggressive. We're the only ones left unaffected."

"Did you notice an effect on anything like scanners or other electronic equipment when you dug it up, or beforehand, or when you brought it in?" Sha'mer asked. She remembered the strange blackout effect which made the whole base virtually unscannable, both from the vessel and during their own approach. And the forced landing of Ensign Walker. And the communications blackout between their team and the ship.

"No, that's the - drones, doing that. They've hotwired all the equipment to send out jamming signals and to try to spread the artefact's influence. We saw your small craft doing a scouting run, but couldn't warn it away. The artefact signal can infect technology too. I'm not sure what happened to your scout craft," Korinn explained. "Your ship - it's in orbit, right? We can see it through telescopes. It's - I think it's spread to there too. The lights are flickering, the ship is drifting."

"All the more important then that we solve this situation first," Sha'mer said. Prioritising. They could worry about the Odin later. First they had to resolve this. She was working on two tracts now, one was still keeping a mental eye out for drones, the other was slipping into the mindset of tactical and security, assessing the situation and working out a plan of action. "The infected people, the drones, are they actively protecting the artefact? And do you know how many people there are?"

Kristiana held back, letting Cintia take the lead. She was the one with the sense, she had a much better situational awareness than she did herself. It would've been folly to not take advantage of that.

"Ten, maybe twelve," Korrin answered. "We used to be forty. This station's crew, I mean. But then - " he shuddered, one of his men put a hand on Korrin's shoulder. "I - we saw one of them infect your - that big guy," he motioned at Harva. "How'd you break that hold? He seems fine now."

"I-" Sha'mer hesitated. How to explain it? "It… even if the effects were immediate, it took time for the infection to fully take over his mind. His original personality was still there, fighting. I managed to push the influence, the infection out before it could." She looked at Korrin. "I'm not sure I can do it for your people. From what I saw from their minds… They might not be there any more."

Korinn seemed to wilt a bit, as well as the others with him. "That's - what we think as well. This artefact takes over completely, pushes out the original mind," Beat. "We're a psychic people. I don't think most starfleet people are, from what I recall, but you seem to be. Listen, if this - thing, this artefact, if it spreads its influence beyond this facility - I don't even want to contemplate what damage it can do. With your help - " Korinn motioned at the whole away team " - we might just be able to prevent that."

Kris nodded. "Agreed. Commander Sha'mer, it's your call. We'll follow your lead."

Interesting to learn these people were psychic as well, and under other circumstances Sha'mer would have been happy to talk with them about it, explore the differences and the similiarities. But that would have to wait. "So, the artefact needs to be destroyed if possible, buried if not. All of the people who became infected first touched it? But now you're suggesting it's influence is spreading. Which means that the closer we get, the greater the chance is that the same will happen to one of us. Or more than one."

She would've rubbed her head if the helmet hadn't been in the way. If others became infected she could do the same for them as she had done for Harva, push it back out before it could take hold. On the other hand, if she herself became infected, they'd be in deep trouble. Shielding her mind again might help prevent that, but that would mean losing their edge, their early warning system – or would it?

Psychic people. "Can you sense the minds of the others, of those who are infected?" she asked Korrin.

"Sense?" Korinn looked at his fellow Oran'taku, who seemed as confused as him. "Oh - you can sense them? No, we just - only by touch. Or very close proximity. Like, that's your - big friend over there got infected. When he got slashed, he must've - " He trailed off.

"That's - what it felt like, yes," rumbled Harva's basso profondo.

"But, yes, the artefact needs to be destroyed. And I - we - don't believe those who've been infected for some time can be - uninfected. Rescued. Saved," Korinn frowned, shaking his head a bit.

Sha'mer nodded. Fine, then mental shields it would have to be. This close it was clear that anyone else they'd encounter would be unfriendly anyway. And if this object's influence was indeed spreading – if it had indeed already spread to the ship – then time was of the essence.

She rebuilt her shields with the ease of long practice, took some extra time to ensure that the constant pressure from outside didn't make her sloppy or rushed. There was a blessed peace in her mind once she was done, though she could still feel the outside influence, that bad taste, press against those shields. Probing, it seemed like. Trying to enter. Trying to take over.

All in all, it didn't take long. Maybe half a minute, while others were still talking. She quickly told the others what she had done, they needed to know as well. Time was ticking. Sha'mer looked at Korinn. "Let us know if you do feel someone else nearby. Now, let's go and find this thing."

Korinnn nodded. "We just need that artefact disabled - " "Or destroyed, preferably," one of Korinn's companions opined. "Or destroyed, yes, before this thing spreads beyond - well, your ship," he motioned up in the general direction of the Odin.

"What's the artefact look like? What's it made of?" Kris asked.

"It's a stone statue, about this big - " Korinn motioned to about 150cm height. "It has a vaguely humanoid figure, kind of looks like a person strapped to an altar of sorts."

"Stone," Kris repeated. "We should be able to damage that with a concentrated burst from our phasers."

"Depends on the kind of stone," Harva rumbled. "And its capacity to dissipate heat. Guess we'll find out when we get there. Though I have some ideas that might be useful."

"Hm," Kristiana glanced up at the big man. "Alright. Korinn, you take point. Sha, Harva, behind him. The rest of us will follow. Keep your weapons on stun, keep your eyes open. Move out!"


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