Mallora Vossti/What Do Boys Dream

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((Main Shuttlebay, Deck 7, USS Gorkon))

The shuttle ride on the last leg of her voyage from Starbase 118 to the USS Gorkon was almost pleasant except for the metaphorical butterflies that had taken up flight in her belly. Mallora could sense a bit of nervousness from the shuttle pilot which in turn started to make those butterflies even more active. She was tempted to try to read the pilot's mind to find out what had caused his anxiety, but she refrained; such an intrusion would be highly unethical.

Instead, she waited until the shuttle had landed in the starship's bay. Then she picked up her duffel bag and pretended to be calm while she walked down the ramp and into the Gorkon's shuttle bay proper.

She immediately saw two men waiting for her, a Vulcan Lieutenant and a Human – no, a Rodulan Commander. The Vulcan spoke first, and though his tension did not appear in his voice, Mallora could feel it coursing through him where he stood.

Vorin: Presumably you are Ensign Mallora Vossti?

Vossti: Yes, sir. Ensign Vossti reporting for duty. ::She flashed a bright smile for them to try to hide her anxiety.::

Vorin: I am Lieutenant Vorin, a scientist on board, and this, ::he gestured by a slight turn of his body,:: is Lieutenant Commander Caedan Nkai. You join us amid a curious predicament.

Vossti: oO Curious? Uh oh, this could be something serious. Oo Sir? What do you mean by 'predicament'?

She started glancing around the shuttle bay, unsure whether she needed to reach for her tricorder or a phaser that hadn't been assigned to her yet.

Vorin: We have need of a skillful surgeon and medical practitioner. There is not much time to explain, however, we will enlighten where we can. ::He flicked his gaze across her, making mental notes.:: You have all you require from the shuttle?

Vossti: I think so, sir. ::She hefted her duffel bag on her shoulder a little more securely.:: Can you lead me to the patient?

Nkai: If only it were singular.

Mallora glanced at the Rodulan Commander. Her anxiety grew stronger, and she broke out into a light sweat. oO Okay, Mallora, think of this like an Academy test for a mass casualty event. We'll get to the sick bay and start triaging patients. Oo Her pleasant smile faded as she pressed her lips together in determination.

Vorin performed an abrupt and efficient about-turn, heading straight for the large doors that opened into the depths of the ship. The tall Vulcan moved at a clip, and while the Rodulan had little trouble keeping up, the much shorter Vossti had to hurry herself along.

Scattered in the corridor were the unconscious forms of the crew. Slumped against the walls, sprawled on the deck, the sight of uncounted strangers, all in Starfleet uniforms was shocking, even horrifying to the young ensign, her worry worn clear on her face.

Vorin: It is fortunate you have arrived when you have, Ensign. As you can see, there are pressing matters at hand.

Vossti: oO They're not all dead, right? Okay, what is this? A massive, out of control infection of some kind? A chemical weapon exposure? Am I being exposed right now? Maybe not, since Lieutenant Vorin and Commander Nkai don't seem to be affected. Oo Can you tell me what's going on, please?

Nkai: I wish we could.

The doors to the main sickbay opened, and Mallora found herself a little surprised that it was not any smaller than the one she had seen on Starbase 118. They layout was a little different, but from her training, she had good guesses about where everything could be found. That still didn't tell her how to make this catastrophe of a situation any better, though, since the entire room was littered with the fallen bodies of Starfleet personnel.

((Main Sickbay, Deck 7, USS Gorkon))

Vossti: I guess I'll need a representative patient. The first one stricken, if possible. Then tell me everything you can about what happened and when. And please be as specific as possible. ::She paused and returned the gazes of the two men. Chagrin washed over her, and she flashed a wide but humble smile. Then she added one last syllable.:: Sirs.

It was creepy that she couldn't feel any emotion from the Commander at all, but she had read that Rodulans were generally unreadable unless they wanted to be. Mallora had to wait for a more outward response to find out what he was feeling.

Nkai: As far as I can tell, it affected everyone at once. I was talking to Valesha―uh, Lieutenant Sienelis―in astrometrics, and it was like everyone just dozed off in the middle of what they were doing. Kippen nearly toppled over the railing. ::He snapped his fingers.:: Just like that, mass narcolepsy.

If it affected everyone at once, then it was almost certainly a common affliction. Mallora knew that Vulcans and certain other strong telepaths could induce unconsciousness, but she had never heard of a single telepath affecting more than one target at a time. This might indicate either a coordinated attack or perhaps a non-telepathic cause of great magnitude. oO Could it be a persistent pathogen of some kind? Am I at risk here? Oo She became even more upset – tears beginning to form in her eyes – when she realized that she and her two escorts were the only conscious people in the sickbay … and possibly on the entire ship.

Vorin: Indeed.

Vossti: ::Her voice quavering with emotion:: I take it that you're the only Rodulan aboard, and that you're the only Vulcan? Are there any Betazoids among the crew?

Vorin: I am not the only Vulcan. Statistically, Lieutenant Commander Nkai may be our only Rodulan on board, however, Ferengi also possess a four-lobed brain, Doctor. We have several Ferengi crew members on board. We could not rouse those we encountered on route to the shuttlebay.

Vossti: oO A few more data points, but lots more questions. Solutions! I need solutions. Oo

Nkai: Well, you've got your choice of patients. ::He gestured across the room, at each of the staff in turn.:: Tali's human, Taeval's Romulan, Meressa's Bajoran....

Vossti: ::Struggling to control her emotions:: I agree that the cause seems to be psychic, or possibly an energy pulse targeting psychically vulnerable minds. I … I guess we could start with the Romulan; they have similar psychic abilities to Vulcans, so doing some comparisons with Lieutenant Vorin may prove useful diagnostically.

She tried to help the two men move Taeval up onto one of the diagnostic beds, but her hands were shaking too badly to contribute usefully to the effort. She gestured for Vorin to lie on the neighboring bed.

Vossti: If you could… just there, please… sir.

Vorin: It is important to note, Doctor, Romulans do not possess the same telepathic abilities as Vulcans. We share a common ancestry and physiology, however, our mental patterns differ dramatically.

Nkai: Your consumption of uttaberry muffins, on the other hand....

Mallora blushed, and a few more tears streaked down her cheeks as she calibrated both beds and then stood between them, frantically shifting her gaze between the readouts of each one. She wiped the tears away from her eyes, then double-checked the brainwave readings with her medical tricorder. The Romulan patient might not be as useful a comparison point as she had at first hoped.

Vossti: Lieutenant, could you please take slow, deep breaths? Like meditation breathing?

Vorin: I believe I am familiar with both concepts, Doctor.

Vossti: ::Quietly:: This patient is not in a coma in the traditional sense. It's more like he's in a deep dream state. But how to wake him up safely? ::To Commander Nkai in a more normal tone:: What methods have you tried so far with them?

Vorin: Considerable shaking did not yield results.

Despite the situation, Caedan snorted a soft chuckle, tickled by the Vulcan's dry sense of humour.

Mallora could understand that in other circumstances, the Vulcan's comment would be quite comical. Unfortunately, she could not participate in the officers' shared joke while trying to save the lives of several hundred crew members aboard her newly assigned ship. Maybe she would be able to laugh about it if this all had a happy ending, but perhaps not even then.

Nkai: It's hard to explain? ::He scratched the back of his head.:: I had to reach into his mind to pull him out, but it was like he was the only one who was close enough to the surface to grab hold of. Everyone else is in there too deep to reach.

Vorin: I can feel the telepathic connection. It is a cloud. ::He frowned, Vulcan eyebrows turning down in the middle.:: A weighted dense, cloud filled with thoughts and voices.

That description seemed consistent with reports the young Ensign had read about telepathic attacks. The only problem is that the Commander described it as affecting everyone on the ship except for himself all at once.

Vorin: It is incredibly potent. Consistent in nature. Considerably amplified.

That fit in with what Mallora had deduced so far.

Vossti: If this affected the entire ship's complement at once – Wait, you said that it affected the Ferengi crew, but not you? ::She looked to the Rodulan officer.:: Where on the ship were you when this happened, sir? And where were the Ferengi?

Vorin: The symptoms are similar to the lighter initial stages of the Gnawing. ::His fingers touched to his neck, where the glands lay beneath his jaw.:: Lymph nodes are inflamed, increased sensitivity to light, indications of a fever or biological infection.

Mallora hunched her shoulders momentarily. She did not recognize “The Gnawing” that Vorin had mentioned as a disease or syndrome that she had studied in Starfleet Medical School. She was tempted to ask the Lieutenant about it, but realized that it was likely unrelated to the crew's current situation since the biobed did not show any sort of infection that would affect the Romulan's lymphatic system or activate his immune response in any other way.

Nkai: Is that... what? ::He shrugged.:: A sympathetic reaction because of the telepathic link, or an actual infection?

Vossti: It probably won't be any biological infectious agent. No immune response is showing up on our patient's readings. ::She gestured toward the unconscious Romulan.::

She could feel the Vulcan's frustration and disapproval bubble momentarily beneath his icy veneer.

Nkai: If we can pin down what we're looking for, Vorin and I could configure the internal sensors to scan for it.

Vossti: If you could scan for... some kind of projected energy source? Maybe something closer to where the Ferengi were stricken than where you were? It would take a lot of energy, telepathic or otherwise, to cause this many casualties all at once. If there is such an energy source, it might be the root cause of the affliction or it might just be multiplying the effect.

She blinked her eyes rapidly several times, trying to stave off tears again. If they could locate something that was causing this mess, that would be a tremendous help.

Nkai: Could we use people's last physicals? ::He looked up at the other two.:: We could feed them into the sensor analysis. It would give us a baseline to compare from, make it easier to pick out what's unusual or different from their normal.

Vossti: We can, ::she nodded absently, then looked back at the tall Rodulan:: and that will be our second angle of attack after searching for the energy source.

She fervently hoped that the possible energy source would be the break they needed. She did not relish the idea of having to examine every single crew member one at a time to locate psychic discrepancies. Within another couple of hours, some of the crew would start experiencing dehydration symptoms. She didn't even want to speculate about what could happen to crew left exposed to whatever high energy substances they might have in the Engineering department.

Vorin: Searching for the “energy source” would prove less intensive if we could compare data analysis, Doctor. As Commander Nkai suggested, relevant and updated sensor data combined with recent physical data of the crew would narrow the list considerably.

Nkai: It won't tell you if anyone has the Tarkalean flu, but it might give us a broad pattern to work with.

Vossti: We do have a bit of time pressure, though. If these patients are scattered all throughout the ship, any number of things could happen to them, and that's assuming that none of them became further injured when they first fell unconscious.

Vorin: I would not be as concerned about such an event, Doctor.

Vossti: Why not?

Slipping off the biobed, Vorin approached one of the larger display monitors built into the side of the Sickbay walls and touched the display controls with his fingertips. Once complete, he returned his clasped hands to the small of his back. Data flowered upon the glossy black stretch of aluminium, providing graphs and scales, numbers and intricate information delivered by the internal sensors.

Vorin: Our initial scans of the crew upon waking showed no signs of difficulties among the number. No less than the number registered on board while docked with Deep Space 224. The nature of the emergency prevents boarding action.

Nkai: 224's medical staff had the same concerns as you did. ::He explained, gesturing toward Vossti.:: I had a few hours before you arrived, and they got me to make sure no one was in immediate danger. There's a few bumps and bruises, but no one's bleeding into their skull or dozing over an unshielded radiation source.

Mallora stepped over to the large display, careful not to get too close to the intimidating Vulcan who towered above her. She looked over the scans that the computer displayed, then reached up to adjust the sensitivity readouts of certain crew members. There was one with elevated levels of glucocorticoids; there was another one with unexplained hypotension; there was one with elevated histamine production.

oO What can I say? Is he looking at the same readings and just declaring that there are no crew in need of medical attention? Or is he just saying that none of the issues are immediately life threatening? Oo

Vossti: I think that … oO In the Academy, we were often encouraged to voice our disagreement with superior officers if we believed that they'd made a mistake. I really wish I didn't have to do that so soon after arriving at my post. Oo ::She gulped hard:: … that there are some pressing medical issues among the crew. ::She pointed specifically toward the readout of the crew member with hypotension.:: Some that could become serious if not looked after quickly. ::She took a step backward and turned to face Lieutenant Vorin as bravely as she could.:: But I agree that waking the unconscious crew is the top priority, sir. Do you have a better suggestion than cutting off a potential power source amplifying the psychic effect?

Nkai: Let's not get ahead of ourselves. We've still got a lot of unknowns, and there might not be a power source to cut off. There are things out there capable of trapping people in telepathic illusions without any help. I'd like to keep our minds open, ::he paused for a second, and then grinned half-heartedly,:: no pun intended. What else do we know? What other explanations are there?

Vorin: One theory presented is whatever caused the crew to suddenly “sleep” is sentient or considerate. It ensured they were somewhere safe before doing so.

Nkai: It did look like a few people took longer to doze off than others. ::He paused.:: I figured it was just the differences between everyone, but there could have been some method behind it.

Vossti: oO Not everyone on the ship was perfectly safe when they fell unconscious, though. There are a few mild to moderate injuries that need medical attention. But it's true that there could have been more. Oo So are you hypothesizing that we're dealing with a Q-type situation here? There was a full-day lecture on them at the Academy, and I'm not sure that there is anything we could do against a Q except to let the scenario play out.

Nkai: I don't think I could have pulled Vorin out, if it was a Q orchestrating it. And Q don't need to knock everyone out for hours. They can make you play out decades in the blink of an eye. ::He winced as some unpleasant memories welled up within him.:: Or make you relive the blink of an eye for decades.

Vorin: According to the sensor logs, Lieutenant Commander Adea boarded moments prior to the noctambulation effects becoming widespread. He has considerable knowledge of the effect, after previous misadventures.

The Rodulan looked taken aback, perhaps momentarily even a bit upset at hearing the Vulcan's even tone utter that name.

oO “Considerable knowledge of the effect after previous misadventures?” What did that mean? Had this mass unconsciousness happened before on this ship or some other ship? Oo

Nkai: It might be useful for you to look at a telepath, too. ::He glanced toward Vossti.:: I've been thinking about what you said about the Ferengi, and I don't think it's their location which made them fall asleep while I stayed awake. We all have four-lobed brains, but only I'm a telepath.

Mallora felt a twinge of annoyance but nodded noncommittally. She had been hoping for an answer to her query about where Commander Nkai was and where the Ferengi crew were, but the senior officer had summarily dismissed that question as unimportant. She was still waiting for either a scan for a power source or a better suggestion of a positive course of action to be put forward.

Nkai: From a systems standpoint, I'd recommend against a site-to-site transport until we know what we're dealing with. Last thing we want is some unexpected interaction between the transporters and whatever's causing this.

The lump in her throat nearly choking her with frustration, she closed her eyes and fought through the emotion to speak again.

Vossti: ::Slowly, eyes closed:: Is there, possibly, a power drain that could affect the transporters? Is power being diverted anywhere unusual, either now or at the start of the mass incident? ::She opened her eyes again.::

Nkai: There wasn't, no. ::A frown pulled his fair brows together.:: I can check if that's changed.

Pushing off his leaning post, Caedan walked up to the same display as Vorin stood beside. He tapped out a quick search request, and the image shifted from sensor results to a deck schematic, a small green dot pulsing in one of the corridors.

Nkai: He's just around the corner. He was with Jo and Erin, so it's a safe bet they were on their way to the Brew Continuum. ::A small, fond grin tugged at the corner of his lips.:: A whole shuttle ride without coffee, she'll have wanted to refuel.

Vossti: Wonderful. ::Her tone was dry. She squeezed her eyes shut for a full second before opening them again.:: We can work on both fronts at once, then. Lieutenant Vorin, why don't you go out and fetch our very important Lieutenant Commander Adea, while you, Commander, begin checking for power drains or unexpected power sources aboard the ship. ::She sighed.:: Sirs.

There was a long, awkward pause, and Commander Nkai rolled his lips between his teeth.

Nkai: I already have. Vorin, would you grab the anti-grav stretcher?

Vorin: Yes, sir.

The Rodulan waited until Vorin had disappeared from sight and possibly, earshot. The intimidating Lieutenant Commander once again perched on the edge of a biobed, slouching to try to diminish his height.

Nkai: Are you doing okay? You seemed as though you were about to lose your temper back there.

Hearing the gentle compassion in the man's voice stopped her whirling mind. She realized that she had been frustrated to the point of anger. But there was no good reason for it; the three of them were all on the same team, just approaching the problem from very different angles. Her temper quickly melted into a mire of gloom.

Vossti: I'm sorry, sir. ::She fought back tears again.:: This is just so overwhelming and so different from anything in the Academy. Even in Starfleet Medical when patients' lives were actually on the line, I never felt this – ::she choked up and couldn't put voice to the last word of that though,:: oO alone. Oo

Nkai: You're the medical expert, and I'm not arguing otherwise. We want― We need your advice and your expertise. Don't think we don't realise how valuable your skills and insight are. ::His words were accompanied by a small smile.:: In return, you need to remember that Vorin and I both have things to offer that you don't. We have skills and knowledge you don't have. We have experience you don't have. ::He leaned the heels of his hands on the edge of the bed as he continued.:: That's why we have a chain of command, so the ranking officer can sift through all the different perspectives and choose a course of action. Right now, that's me.

Vossti: You're right, of course, sir. I apologize for my unseemly demeanor. It's just so frustrating to try to find solutions when the full problem hasn't even been defined properly yet. ::She looked up at him, offering him a weak smile, but a genuine one.::

Nkai: We'll figure it out. ::He smiled. Then a thought seemed to strike him.:: I think you were on to something with the energy fields, we'll see in a second when the results come in.

Vossti: Oh?

A small chime from the computer brought their attentions back to the screen and with a brief smile at Vossti, Caedan beckoned their stretcher bearer closer, rose from his perch and moved back to the display. The diagnostics arrived first, a slew of technical information she did not understand, but apparently he did.

Nkai: There's no power drain on any of the ship's systems. ::He flicked at the screen dexterously.:: And the sensors aren't picking up any foreign energy fields. ::He paused, glancing toward the doctor. :: But when you asked whether there had been a drain on power at the beginning of all of this, it got me thinking. Sometimes when you turn a piece of equipment on, you get an energy spike before it settles down into a much lower consumption. I asked the computer to analyse and compare the internal sensor data across the whole of the incident, see if there was any unusual energy signatures.

The image on the screen shifted again. It was like watching a pebble dropped into a pond, a ripple of blue spreading out from an area near the rear of the saucer. Nkai tapped at the screen, adjusting and filtering, until he narrowed it down to a single spot. On the same deck as them, just around the corner....

Nkai: That's― Huh. Centred on Adea. Looks like we really do need to go get the doc. ::He glanced at the pair.:: Grab a tricorder and we'll all go together, just in case.

Vorin: I do not believe Ensign Vossti has yet let go of hers.

Ensign Vossti had been clutching her medical tricorder almost the entire time she had been aboard her new ship, almost afraid to put it down. She looked back at Lieutenant Vorin to make sure that he'd grabbed the requested anti-grav stretcher, then stole another look at the display on the LCARS to try to figure out just where they would have to go to find their patient.

Vossti: If I'm reading the map correctly, the patient is only about twenty meters from here. Let's go.

The three of them hurried out the doors of the sickbay and followed the curving starship corridor. Mallora tried to ignore the ten or so other unconscious bodies she passed on her way, but the thought of them suffering weighed on her. The trio soon arrived at the body of a tall, male Betazoid. He had wavy black hair marred by a shock of silver above one temple.

She scanned him with her tricorder quickly, then adjusted the device's settings to focus in on a neurological scan. Her eyebrows furrowed.

Vossti: He is in a persistent dream state as well, but there is something more. There are a couple of other parts of him brain that are active that were not in the … Romulan patient. His amygdala and his insular cortex are more active than is typical for someone in REM sleep.

Vorin: Is there enough data available to postulate a theory?

Vossti: Let's get him back to sickbay. I would like to see if the intensive care biobeds can get a more detailed reading on what's causing all that activity.

As the unconscious man was being placed onto the stretcher, Mallora did something she had not done in several years. She opened her mind to try to make contact with the Betazoid.

Vossti: ~~Hello, Commander, can you hear me? My name is Doctor Vossti and I'm trying to help you to wake up.~~

She staggered back from the sleeping form, surprised by the strength and depth of emotions churning inside the man: depression, guilt, resignation, hopelessness.

Vossti: ::Feeling like she had been punched in the chest by the surge of emotions:: That's not normal!

Vorin: You may need to elaborate, Ensign.

Nkai: Nothing about this situation is normal. ::He tapped the stretcher controls to set it into motion, the anti-grav sensors humming softly as they moved.:: Are you all right?

Vossti: ::She rubbed her sternum while they walked, even though the blow she took wasn't physical.:: I'm not sure. His emotions are intense … it felt something like an echo, or maybe a wave of feedback.

The three conscious officers and their patient hurried back to the sickbay, but Mallora was lost in thought. oO This should be our Patient Zero, so what am I looking for? Something that might be targeting the emotion centers of his brain? Something that activated or hijacked his telepathic lobe? If there is a chemical imbalance, would that be a cause or an effect? If he had a tumor in his brain, that would have already been detected by the scans, wouldn't it? Gah! I still need more data. Oo

Once they entered Sickaby, Vorin helped transfer the Doctor onto a biobed beside Taeval, the display monitors overhead immediately picking up on his life signs and physiological signals steady and active. They seemed to the doctor somewhat more appropriate for a conscious patient, even an agitated one.

Vorin; There is little need to be concerned whether he is alive. The spread of his brain activity resembles a thread-like hyphae mycelium network.

The Vulcan's analogy was not too far off. The thin threads of activity were very much like a web – or “hypha” in the ancient Terran language called Greek – but considering that it was electro-chemical activity that the biobed was displaying, chain lightning was a more apt analogy.

Nkai: He's got mushrooms on the brain?

Vossti: No, but he has something odd. Look at this strand here. ::She pointed to a single strand of electrical activity that connected Commander Adea's central insular cortex through the posterior ventromedial nucleus.:: That's not a normal activation pattern. It should be intermittently active, but instead it is actually pulsing. And it looks like that pulsing pattern is occurring in dozens of areas of his brain. ::She looked at both of her companions with deep worry in her eyes and voice.:: If this goes on much longer, it could cause permanent brain damage.

Vorin: Perhaps… ::He cleared his throat.:: ...You could examine the incoming scan performed by the computer when he disembarked from the shuttlecraft and compare it to his condition now.

Nkai: ::Absentmindedly rubbing his neck:: It won't be as detailed as this one, but it could give us an idea of what's been going on.

Vossti: I wouldn't mind that at all. Let's see it. oO Are both the Lieutenant and the Commander having lymphatic reactions at the same time? Is this a side effect of them both being exposed to whatever initiated the mass somnolence? That will have to wait, unfortunately. Oo

The recorded scan overlaid onto the results streaming live from the biobed, the clever medical programs translating the comparison into easily understood heat maps, the granular detail shown in a bar on the side. There were a few unusual threads that the ship's scan had picked up, though they were fewer and far less intense. It meant that whatever happened to Commander Adea had started before he arrived on the Gorkon.

Nkai: I don't really know what I'm looking at here, ::he gestured at the screen,:: but... there's more of it? It looks worse?

Vossti: You're not wrong, sir. There were unusual activations in this region of his insular cortex even before he arrived on the ship, but it wouldn't show up as a medical problem. It would scan something like … imagine walking around with a small pebble in your shoe. It would be uncomfortable, but nowhere near debilitating.

Vorin: His shuttlecraft did not pass through the biofilters of the transporter system, therefore it is not impossible he encountered the infection on Deep Space 224.

Nkai: So what's the treatment? What can we do?

Vossti: ::Softly, to herself:: That's the question.

Vossti: oO Do we have enough information to start talking about a treatment? What do we know? The patient already had mild symptoms upon arriving here. The effect acted like a feedback loop on dozens of strands, mostly originating in his insular cortex or amygdala. A secondary effect targeted the rest of the crew probably within seconds of the feedback reaching the patient's telepathic lobe. That secondary effect trapped nearly all of the crew in a persistent dream state. Are the Lieutenant's and the Commander's lymphatic symptoms a tertiary effect? Not enough info there. Oo

Vossti: ::In her normal voice:: I may have a treatment, but probably not a cure. A targeted alpha wave emission of sufficient strength and duration should be able to interrupt the feedback going on in this patient's brain. If his telepathic abilities are what is causing the persistent somnolence in the rest of the crew, then they might wake up within a few minutes, but Commander Adea won't. It would be unsafe to awaken him until we can eliminate the root cause of his cortical feedback problem.

While the other two officers considered her words, Mallora found an alpha wave emitter and began reprogramming it to her new specifications. The strength and duration of the emissions would have to be automatically responsive to the patient's brain state, so the reprogramming took more than a full minute.

Vorin: Considering the implications of the alpha wave particles, I recommend we erect a sterilised forcefield around the Doctor. ::He inclined an eyebrow at the Rodulan.:: I can enhance the biofilter containment if you can program the forcefield matrix to utilise the parameters.

Nkai: Give me the parameters and I can give you a better forcefield.

Vossti: ::Placing the custom programmed alpha wave emitter on Commander Adea's forehead, she took a deep, nervous breath.:: If this works, we may be a big step closer to a cure. But without that last bit of information, a treatment will have to do instead.

She closed her eyes and spoke a silent prayer to the Four Deities, then she turned on the emitter. Almost instantly, Lieutenant Vorin and Commander Nkai were at work programming and implementing a customized bio-filter forcefield over the patient's biobed.

Vorin: I believe the ball is in your court, Commander. The biofilter is ready.

Nkai: Updating the sterile field matrix.

The forcefield crackled with energy, buzzing and humming softly over her first real patient, but Mallora was paying more attention to the fluctuating patterns in the unconscious Betazoid's brain.

Vorin: How is the applied wave progressing, Doctor?

Vossti: I programmed the alpha waves to begin at low levels and then gradually increase intensity. If there are any problems, I can control the output from here. ::She gestured to the control she had set up at the side of the biobed. Her attention shifted rapidly between those controls and the brain activity readings on the screen at the head of the biobed.:: I can see some results already; the most intense pulsing in his occipital and telepathic lobes are moderating.

A low guttural groan emanated from somewhere near the replicator. Mallora heard a human-accented voice groan “Klingon warriors” and “don’t you dare move the medical kit or I will cut you lengthways”. She did not appear to be in any distress, still caught between consciousness and whatever was holding her in her dream.

Vorin: It appears your treatment is marginally successful, Doctor.

Nkai: She's still asleep though. ::He glanced around sickbay.:: They all are.

Vossti: I think it is working. The activity in his outer lobes are all decreasing. Even if this treatment works perfectly, it would take most of the other affected personnel several minutes to fully awaken from their slumber. oO But what will happen to this patient? We still don't know what started it all. Oo

Vorin: Does the intensity of the wave require an increase? There are factors in play we are unaware of, so if it is safe to do so …

Nkai: What is that?

The Rodulan Commander spoke urgently before Ensign Vossti could answer, the corner of a display catching his attention. With the flick of a finger, he pushed the image to full size, filling the screen. The layers of intricate data about the strength and frequency of the patient's various cortex and lobe activations were minimized, causing the young Ensign momentary agitation, but then she saw what the senior officer was highlighting. It was an electromagnetic field, complex and shifting, clinging to Adea's brain like a tightly-fitting cap.

Vossti: ::Shocked:: What...? ::Then she suppressed her shock with renewed determination.:: Sirs, I think we may have found our culprit. It looks like, maybe some kind of psychic parasite.

Nkai: It wasn't showing before. Maybe the alpha waves... ::he waved a hand, lacking the proper medical vocabulary:: ...dislodged it somehow? Loosened its grip?

Vossti: ::Thoughtfully:: Well, the alpha waves are basically suppressing the electrochemical feedback throughout the major lobes of the patient's brain. In a normal brain, this would cause the patient to pass quickly from REM sleep directly to a deeper, dreamless sleep. But this entity – if that's what it is – seems to be fighting that process.

Vorin: As though it is unable to lapse into the deeper sleep and yet projecting?

Commander Nkai touched the controls again, bringing up new sets of data, numbers, and graphs. It showed an exponential curve in the electro-chemical activity at the center of their patient's amygdala, accelerating away at a prodigious rate, and the upper half of the line displayed in fierce red. A warning of a line they couldn't cross that would indicate permanent brain damage, a point of no return, and they were advancing on it rapidly.

Nkai: Whatever it's doing, we need to get it out of him. There's a direct transfer of energy between Genkos and it, and it's increasing. ::He frowned in thought.:: If the alpha waves dislodged it, would increasing them kick it out entirely?

Vossti: In the absence of contradictory evidence, I'm calling this a Psychic Parasite. It seems to be concentrating its attention in the patient's insular cortex and amygdala, then feeding on the energy of the feedback in his brain. The alpha waves are harming its ability to foster that feedback, but in response, possibly as a defense mechanism, it is causing direct harm to the patient's amygdala. Unfortunately, the alpha waves don't have any effect on that part of the brain. ::She clutched her head in her hands, staring at the readouts:: Let me think, let me think.

Her two superior officers callibrated various equipment in preparation for whatever idea she might come up with, but she was not paying attention to their activities.

Ensign Vossti tried to consider their options, but the time limit of the Psychic Parasite was causing her great anxiety which was not helping her to think logically. oO What do parasites typically want? A stable food supply. I've threatened its food source, so it is fighting back in the only way it can. Can we give it another food source? If we were able to transfer it to another host, it would just start the process over again ... unless that host wasn't a telepath. Then it would only be the host who was in danger. Is that helpful at all? I don't think so. Oo

Vossti: ::Hesitant but with confidence:: We're running out of time, but with your help, I ... think I know a way to, um, permanently isolate this Psychic Parasite. If we could simulate a functioning brain in sufficient detail in the holodeck or another holo-emitter, we may be able to get the Parasite to see the simulation as a preferable host. Then when it jumps to the holographic brain, we can keep it isolated for indefinite study or delete the simulated brain within a forcefield like this one to trap it until it starves to death.

Lieutenant Vorin and Commander Nkai exchanged a look. Their emotions both turned hopeful, causing the young Ensign to feel hopeful as well.

Vorin: Yes, Doctor, I believe this will work. Commander Nkai and I shall create the holographic brain within the theorised parameters. We shall do so here, in Sickbay, within the confines of the forcefield already erected around Doctor Adea.  ::He clasped his hands behind his back with a definitive nod.:: Doctor, if you would prepare your patient for your treatment.

There was very little additional preparation to do. She already had the controls to the alpha wave emitter at hand, though she grabbed a chemical sedative as well, just in case there was a further need to protect the Betazoid patient's amygdala. That would be a last resort, she assured herself.

The two men took only a few moments to create a hologram of an elderly human standing beside the biobed, then extended the forcefield to encompass the hologram. Mallora tried not to watch their efforts and concentrate on keeping track of the ever-changing relationship between her patient and the Psychic Parasite.

Vorin: Our temporary host is ready, Doctor. On your mark.

Vossti: I'm ready here.

Ensign Vossti did not have a separate readout of the hologram's simulated brain functions, but she bit her lip in anxiety and cranked up the alpha wave emissions. The reaction from the Parasite was immediate and frightening, pouring energy into the patient's amygdala, apparently in an effort to start another cascade of emotional brain-states from him.

Vossti: ::To the Parasite:: Come on! Move to the hologram! Do it!

After a harrowing few moments – which was actually about six seconds – the psychic entity jumped to the holographic brain just beside its prior unresponsive host. Ensign Vossti rechecked the Betazoid patient's brain scans again and saw them rapidly return to normal. She turned off the alpha wave emitter and looked over to the Vulcan and the Rodulan with a big, relieved smile.

Vorin: Your treatment is working, Doctor. The hologram and forcefield are ready for capture. Initiate the sequence.

Vossti: Narrow the forcefield to trap the entity and exclude Commander Adea.

The most worrying possibility was that the Psychic Parasite would detect the alpha wave emission stopping and jump back to the Betazoid host before it was properly trapped, but the two officers were quick enough. They now had a previously unknown energy creature trapped inside a hologram which was inside a forcefield.

The parasite was effectively consuming energy directly from the holographic projection, so they had complete control over its food source and thanks to the forcefield, its freedom of movement as well. Mallora looked at the hologram and what they had done as the crew of the USS Gorkon slowly started to regain consciousness all over the ship.

Vossti: ::sighing:: I think I'll have to write a paper about this.