Episode 2 – War of the Mind

While going through the paces of a shakedown cruise, the Intelligence Support Activity's counselor receives a mysterious communique about what may be a telepathic assailant causing havoc on Starbase 141, fitting the pattern of a legend known as the "Mind Burner". As the USS Bellona sets course, there's the obvious question of who the assailant is, what he wants, and if he's indeed the fabled mind burner. When they arrive, they're faced with the near impossible task of tracking down the assailant, and then tragedy strikes when one of their own is burned.

Read more about the mission premise and proceedings »


~ Not Well What Doesn’t End Well ~

Ensign David Moreau, Lieutenant Emilia Balan and Unknown
The Nu Globe Theatre, Starbase 141 on Mission Day 1 at 0015 Hours

“All is well ended, if this suit be won, that you express content; which we will pay, with strife to please you, day exceeding day: ours be your patience then, and yours our parts; your gentle hands lend us, and take our hearts.”

Ensign David Moreau looked over at his date. Emilia, or Lieutenant Balan as she went by when on duty, looked beautiful tonight. She caught his gaze and smiled. As the King of France exited stage left and the lights fell, he leaned in, reaching out his hand to touch her cheek as their lips locked for the first time.

Time froze for the young pair in that electric moment. They’d met for the first time four months ago when David had an engineering detail in Medlab 4 where Emilia worked, but this was a completely new experience for them. Her beauty and gentle, kind personality had taken him at once, but Moreau was shy and awkward. For the first three months, he volunteered for all the engineering task orders slated for Medlab 4 but never worked up the courage to say anything. For her sake, Emilia found him cute and shy and never gave it a thought more than that. It caught them both off-guard then when, two weeks ago, the ensign awkwardly blurted out that he wished he could take her to dinner. David was traumatized he’d asked, and Emilia was surprised, flattered and excited at the same time to say yes.

That was four dates ago. Four evenings of sweet, happy conversation stretching well beyond dinner into the late hours of the night as they wandered the corridors, watching starships navigate the base’s massive interior or gazing out at the stars beyond. During those four dates, they’d gone from Ensign and Lieutenant to David and Emilia, and they’d dove into each other’s interests, backgrounds, families, past-times, and so much more.

The lights rose again, interrupting their passionate embrace for the curtain call. Slowly, their lips parted as their eyes locked. Emilia reached her hand up and took hold of his, squeezing it as the soldiers, servants, gentlemen and courtiers stepped forward to take their bow. As the audience clapped, she clapped her free hand against the top of her hand still clasped with his. For his sake, he just patted the side of his leg with his free hand. It might have looked a bit awkward, but neither wanted to let go of each other.

Through the accolades, their hands remained clasped. When Bertram and Helena stepped up for their bow, soliciting a standing ovation, the couple rose from their seats. David wasn’t sure what to do with his hand. Emilia was amused as she guided it behind her back. He looked at her again, she glanced back, smiling and leaning her head in close against his shoulder. He took the hint and pulled her in close as they clapped for the leads. Finally, as the whole cast did one last bow and retreated, David and Emilia took their leave from the stands, making their way for the exit as they made small talk about the play.

Stepping out of the warm Nu Globe Theatre back into the aesthetic corridors of Starbase 141, David asked, “What’re you feeling up for now?”

“Well, I’m getting a little tired,” answered Emilia, watching David’s face fall. It was only just past midnight. On their last few dates, they’d been out until 0300 or so, but work had been draining the past few days. She didn’t want him to get the impression she was disinterested though, nor did she want it to end yet either. And thus she offered: “So how about, instead of wandering the corridors, we just go back to my quarters for a nightcap?”

She wouldn’t usually invite a man back to her quarters, but David had been nothing but a gentleman. She knew he wouldn’t take it as more than just a drink, but there was a part of her that actually wanted it to be more. His quiet, awkward demeanor was endearing, and under it, there was a sweet, kind gentleman.

“That would be delightful,” smiled David in a non-presumptive sort of way, relieving any inner doubts Emilia had about inviting him into her home. He gestured for her to lead the way for he had no idea where she lived on the station.

As they made their way through the corridors, romantic energy emanated from the pair. A couple of elderly men smiled at the lovebirds as they passed, while a Vulcan officer looked on perplexed. The rest courteously avoided any visible reaction, but the two were so enamored with each other, you’d have to have been blind and deaf to have missed it.

As they stepped into the turbolift, a voice called out. “Please hold the lift.”

David held his hand in front of the doors, looking out as a man approached the lift. As he made eye contact with the man, a screaming pain tore into him from ear to ear, behind his eyes, and at the base of his skull, all at once. His atlas-occipital joint thrusted back, yanking him over backwards. The last thing he remembered seeing before he hit the deck and pain overtook every ounce of his being was Emilia collapsing, pressing her palms against her temples in a soundless cry of agony.

“Burn now,” said the man remorselessly, staring coldly down at them as he stepped into the lift, “and burn forever.” The door shut, and the lift descended into the bowels of the maintenance levels.

The man watched with pleasure as the two lovebirds spasmed on the deck in front of him. Inside their heads, they could feel nothing but pain, their somatosensory system completely overwhelmed, while an induced global aphasia and suppression of the amygdala’s emotional reaction system prevented them from even the slightest peep of sound. Even without any outward vocalization though, he reveled in this moment – just like every time before.

The suit was not won. All did not end well.

~ A Rough Night ~

Master Sergeant Alex Ryan
Alex Quarters on Mission Day 1 at 0300 Hours

The team was spread out in a line behind them about a hundred meters. The Lieutenant was brand new, his first mission behind the lines. They were down two men this mission, Gunny and Wills had been wounded on the last operation. Now they knew their operation was compromised and there was a lot of company coming their way.

“LT seems jumpy as hell Sarge.” Alex said watching down the road through his optics.

“So were you your first time on a live op.” Was the smirking reply, “Hell we all were our first time out. Give him a chance.”

“Our first ops weren’t blown by random chance… Shit, here they come Sarge. Looks like at least thirty at rough count.”

“Okay shooter slow ’em down. I’ll warn the LT to get arty on the line.”

“Got ’em lined up.” Alex said adjusting his sights and added pressure to the trigger of his sniper rifle. As always, he was expecting the shot to come, but he tried not to anticipate it. Anticipating the shot lead to jerking which lead to a missed shot. The rifle bucked against his shoulder, but he kept his eye on the target. “One down.” He noted as he adjusted his sights slightly to another target.

“Incoming arty. Splash in fifteen.”

Alex jerked in his sleep, forcing himself awake. He was breathing hard as he sat up and ran his hands over his face. He knew what came next in the dream, he knew it because it was a memory. The LT had given the wrong coordinates in his nervousness and dropped rounds right on top of him and the Sarge. Sarge had been blown in half, Alex had shrapnel peppered all over his side, back and head, nearly losing an eye in the process. Luckily for him, the enemy had left him alone, not expecting anyone to survive the barrage. The rest of the team unfortunately had been overwhelmed. It was the last time he operated with a team, couldn’t have friendly artillery dropped on you if you were the only one calling it in.

Clad in only a pair of sweatpants, Alex rolled out of bed and to his desk. He pulled open a drawer and removed the bottle and glass resting inside it. He poured himself a double shot and slammed it down. He put the glass and bottle back before walking to his dresser and pulling a shirt out. He wasn’t going to be getting anymore sleep tonight. He pulled on his sneakers and headed for the officers mess. If nothing else, he could at least get some midnight rations, maybe something more significant.

~ Shooting Rocks ~

Commander Jake Lewis and Lieutenant Lisa Hall
Bridge & Captain's Ready Room on Mission Day 1 at 0910 Hours

“Coming about, bearing one forty mark six one eight,” called out the conn as he brought the Bellona to port, ducking hard around an asteroid that dwarfed them maybe twenty-fold in size.

“Sensors acquiring targets,” reported the tactical officer, his hands fluttering across the controls. “Locked on and ready to fire.”

Commander Lewis sat in the CO’s chair, skimming a PADD with one hand, eating an apple with the other, completely disinterested in the scene around him.

“Eh-hem,” said the voice of a new arrival on the bridge.

Lewis spun to see Lieutenant Hall standing there with a look of amusement as she watched the scene transpire. This got him to tune back into what was going on around him. After a moment of delay, he turned back and ordered with a bored tone: “Oh, fire already.” He looked at the viewscreen as four phaser beams arced out from the ship.

“Bogeys one, three and four successfully destroyed,” reported the tactical officer after a second.

Lewis quirked his eyebrow. What about bogey two? “Looks like we’ve got an issue with alignment of the port-side rear arrays,” commented an engineering officer monitoring the exercise from the console below the master systems display.

“If that was a Hideki instead of a carbonaceous chondrite, we’d be down an impulse manifold,” replied Lewis in a matter of fact tone. The tactical and engineering officers both looked taken aback by the bluntness. Lewis disregarded then and rose from his chair to greet the new bridge arrival. “Lieutenant, how can I help you?”

Lieutenant Hall gestured silently for his ready room. Lewis nodded wordlessly and led the way, Hall following in lockstep behind him. As they stepped through the door into the Ready Room, Hall couldn’t help but notice the tenseness in the Commander’s movements.

As they took seats on either side of his desk, he asked again: “How can I help you?”

“I had a requisition request for some exotic materials that I thought I best deliver personally,” she replied, setting a PADD down on the desk between the two of them. “But first, maybe I should ask you the same question.” Her eyes narrowed in on him in a way that made him know she was serious.

Lewis was caught off-guard by her bluntness. Counselors usually beat around the bush so long he got soft, but she was no standard counselor. No, Hall had been selected to run their PSYOPS unit. It was only because of their barebones manifest that a woman notorious in intelligence circles for her borderline interrogation techniques ended up with double duty as the steward of the crew’s mental health.

“You know what I like more than anything else?”

“What?”

“Killing rocks.”

When they’d blown out of drydock, Lewis had put the engines to the test, pushing the Bellona towards Task Force 72’s AO as fast as she could bear. Officially, it was part of their shakedown testing, but, after months at the Algorab Commission and waiting aimlessly without purpose on Earth, he also just wanted to get on with it. Unfortunately, once they got on station, rather than getting down to business, they were ordered to a test range to scan some nebulae and shoot some rocks.

Starfleet Command wanted them to make sure they were battle ready, but Lewis knew the real test never came until you were in the thick of it. It had proven fruitful at least to find a few configuration issues, but those really should have been solved by the folks at Utopia Planetia long before he and his crew even arrived. Even if the ship had been assembled in a rush, it was sloppy.

“Didn’t they ever tell you the motto of Starfleet?” countered Hall. “Hurry up and wait.”

“Yes, but with the haste they assembled the Activity and the way West spoke about it, I somehow expected it to be better this time.” It sounded foolish as soon as he said it.

Lewis looked down at the PADD, wanting to get off the topic of his own personal feelings as soon as possible. He picked it up and started reading, immediately surprised at the items Hall had the audacity to request. Several psychiatric drugs heavily restricted by Starfleet General Orders, and a couple straight up against interstellar law. He didn’t personally have any qualms with such rule breaking though. If it enabled her to do her job, so be it.

“I can’t imagine the psychology ethics board would be happy to see this list,” chuckled the Commanding Officer. He also wondered just how far their mandate went. It would be an interesting test of West’s office. “I will forward it along and get you whatever I can.”

“Thank you sir,” replied Lieutenant Hall, pleased that Lewis was of like mind and hadn’t questioned her further. It left her with a good feeling that he’d let her do as she needed to do when push came to shove. “I know there are some rocks that need your attention, so I’ll leave you to it.”

~ Stop Believing in Legends ~

Lieutenant Amy Glasser, Commander Alexei Ivanov, Captain Vaunik and Lieutenant Emilia Balan
Medlab 2, Starbase 141 on Mission Day 1 at 1640 Hours

“I heard the news,” said Lieutenant Amy Glasser as she strode briskly through the doors of the infirmary. This was the fifth case of catatonia they’d seen in a week. So far, the Assistant Chief Counselor, as well as her peers in the Medical and Counseling departments, had come up empty for answers, but maybe this time they’d find a clue as to what was going on.

But then she froze.

“Wait… wait… wait. You didn’t tell me it was Emilia!” Her voice cracked. She choked, fumbling for words. “You just said a member of your team. Oh. My. God. No.” She stared at the table in desperation and disbelief. They didn’t know how to fix the catatonia. How could someone have done this? Lieutenant Emilia Balan would sooner put the wings back on a fly than swat at it.

“I’m afraid so,” replied Commander Alexei Ivanov rising from his desk and approaching the Lieutenant. The Chief Medical Officer’s expression was downtrodden, his eyes cast at the floor defeated. He’d been trying to help his co-worker even since she’d come in eleven hours ago, and he was no closer to figuring out what was going on.

Emilia lay so still she almost looked dead. The beep of the vitals readout confirmed she wasn’t, but Glasser placed two fingers on her friend’s carotid artery nonetheless. “Why is her pulse so faint?”

“I’ve had to sedate all but her most basic autonomic functions,” explained Ivanov. Glasser quirked her head. The others hadn’t needed such measures. “As opposed to the others afflicted with this… issue,” he continued, struggling with the right word to describe Lieutenant Balan’s condition, “this time, it’s almost as though her entire somatosensory system has been rewired into a massive short circuit.”

“What do you mean?” asked the counselor confusedly. Over the past week, four patients had shown up in a catatonic state under what their instruments told them was a dream state experiencing persistent non-wakeable nightmares. While they hadn’t been able to pull the patients out of the vegetative state, REM suppressors and beta blockers had calmed down the violence of their sleep. The description Commander Ivanov had just given sounded completely different.

“I mean the modus operandi has changed.”

She spun on the doctor. “So now you agree there’s an unsub at the center of this?”

“I didn’t say tha…”

“You said M.O.,” the Lieutenant interrupted, clearly on edge by the fact that now it was her friend in that bed. One case could be a fluke, but by the third, she’d become convinced this wasn’t on account of natural causes. But the conservative command staff, even Commander Ivanov and her own superior, had refused such conclusions.

“It was a figure of speech, Lieutenant,” countered Ivanov, emphasizing Glasser’s rank to try to deescalate her cascading emotions.

“Indeed,” came the voice of a new arrival from behind them. “Nothing precludes a natural cause.” They both turned as Captain Vaunik, the station’s Executive Officer, stepped into the room. Commander Ivanov snapped to attention. Lieutenant Glasser just huffed. The look the Vulcan shot her expressed more clearly than words what he thought of her current state.

“Captain, as I expressed in my report,” Glasser pressed, “this fits with the signature of the Mind Burner. It’s got to be…” The Vulcan stared at her motionlessly, waiting for her to get past her frenetic emotions. “Or at least it could be. Shouldn’t we at least consider it?”

“Lieutenant, that myth is too vague to draw such a correlation,” countered Vaunik. He’d read her report. The concept of a telepathic assailant who surfaced to destroy several minds before disappearing for years had no more legs than a planet-sized telepathic snake. “It is fair to consider non-natural causes but not at the exclusion of natural ones. You’re pushing for a witch hunt when the answer could be as simple as a neurolytic contaminant in a particular restaurant’s food supply.”

“Witnesses reported that Emilia and the ensign that we found with her had been out to dinner together that night,” offered Commander Ivanov. “And their symptoms are identical.”

Lieutenant Glasser’s face fell further. That ensign must be David Moreau, the quirky awkward engineer Emilia fancied. Last time she’d caught up with Emilia, it was all her friend could talk about. Glasser was so happy for her friend – at least until now. “But their symptoms are different!” Glasser exclaimed as if a light bulb had just gone on. She was convinced she had the Vulcan on that one. “How would your food supply theory fit?”

“Maybe the compound has fermented or was consumed in a larger dose,” replied Vaunik flatly. “Security has its investigators looking for a link between the afflicted, and Commander Ivanov’s team is studying the two new cases closely. Patience is a necessity.”

God dammit. The Vulcan had an answer to everything. But in the meantime, thought Glasser, her friend was a vegetable, and there’d probably soon be more victims. She wanted to speak out further but held her tongue.

“In the meantime,” concluded Captain Vaunik, “I suggest you stop believing in legends.”

~ Scattered Bones ~

Lieutenant Lisa Hall
Counseling Office on Mission Day 1 at 2340 Hours

The dark, utilitarian room matched the woman within. The other room in her suite was warm and inviting, but, when not listening to disgruntled, depressed, homesick and heartbroken staff, Lieutenant Hall preferred the coldness of her personal office. A stark contrast from the offices of her peers, her’s had no family photos or personal effects because she had no family worth mention nor personal effects worth attachment.

Her academy evaluations had described her as effective but lacking passion. She disagreed. They’d confused passion with compassion. The latter, she didn’t have, at least not for the petty issues Starfleet officers brought to their counselors, but of the former, she had plenty, such as for the manual she was reading right now, the latest Obsidian Order manual of interrogation procedures. A Starfleet deep-cover operative had stolen it a few months ago. She had to give it to the Order: they’d made great strides with their enhanced interrogation techniques since the last version, some of which she might try to incorporate herself.

All of a sudden, her PADD chimed with the arrival of a new message. She swiped over to it.

TO: LT L. Hall, Ph.D.
FROM: [No Sender]
SUBJECT: [No Subject]
CLASSIFICATION: Eyes Only

As one plows and breaks up the earth, so our bones have been scattered at the base of the grave. Remember J.

She read the message and then read it again.

“What the fuck?”

The message didn’t make any sense. No context, no sender, no subject, classified as eyes only. If it wasn’t so spook-like, she might have just disregarded it, but the way it was written, she was almost sure someone was trying to tell her something. But what?

“Computer, full text search. Compare the contents of this message against Fleet data files.”

“No matches found.”

“Try historical records.”

That search took a bit longer to run.

“No complete match found.”

“Best partial match across both?”

“85% match found in historical archive.”

“With?”

“21st century Earth. The Christian Bible, New International Version 2011. Psalm 141.”

“Transfer comparison to my PADD.”

As one plows and breaks up the earth, so our bones have been scattered at the mouth base of the grave. Remember J.

Without ‘Remember J’, the match was over 95%. Hall concluded the second sentence must have been tacked on as an additional comment. It was too vague on its own so she focused on the first. Maybe the meaning of the first would unveil the meaning of the second.

Why would someone go to the pain of hacking into Starfleet Communications to send her an anonymous message containing an ancient Bible verse?

She didn’t know much about religion. With all the horrid things she’d seen in the universe, she had concluded that, if there’d been a god in ancient times, he’d long since checked out or died. She’d need a bit of a refresher course to figure out what the hell this verse meant. “Computer, compile relevant historical and religious commentary on this verse and transfer it to my PADD.”

After twenty minutes reading commentary from ancient scholars, she had no better an idea what the message meant than before. Then it dawned on her: what if it wasn’t specifically about the content or at least not solely the content? What about the passage number?

“Computer, get me a list of commonly searched concepts related to the number 141.”

Thankfully, 141 was a pretty obscure number. It was a centered pentagonal number, a Blum integer, the second base to produce a prime Cullen number and the sixth hendecagonal. Maybe one of those, but probably not, because without additional context, that was just too obscure. It was May 21st in non-leap years and May 20th in leap years. Maybe something important happened then, but she doubted someone would bury the meaning that far. It was also a sector with no important systems, the numeral of ancient NX and NCC vessels, and the number of an active starbase. “Wait a minute…” she exclaimed aloud, re-reading the comparison. The writer had altered one specific word in the passage, changing ‘mouth’ to ‘base’.

“Computer, have there been any deaths by extenuating circumstances on Starbase 141 in the past month?” she asked based on the mention to bones.

“Negative.”

Another dead lead, it seemed, but then she thought about the message again. Maybe scattered bones didn’t mean death but rather an attempt to scatter old skeletons someone had in their closet. If that was the case, she knew where she could find a hint. Cover ups rarely happened without friction between those in the know and those not.

“Computer, search counseling logs on Starbase 141 for references to frustration between staff and superior officers related to ongoing investigations.”

“Access denied in violation of the Starfleet General Order of doctor-patient confidentiality.”

“Override Hall Theta-Six-Three-Niner Special Authority Grant from Starfleet Office of the Inspector General Echo-Bravo-Twelve,” she countered using an old code she’d been given as a private contractor doing counterintelligence work half a decade earlier. It had been blacker than black op, because it violated confidentiality viewed sacred by most, but they were tracking an undercover operative so somehow her handlers had managed to slip it through. And because it was done so quietly, they forgot to ever remove it. Ethical, no, but useful, yes.

The computer beeped when the records were done compiling. A couple records with nothing of interest, but then she hit one that looked a bit more promising. The Assistant Chief Counselor on Starbase 141 had complained in her personal log that her senior staff was pushing back against the idea of a telepathic assailant in an ongoing investigation where six people had been rendered catatonic, their brain functions seemingly completely rewired.

Memories began flittering back into her head. Nearly a decade ago, one of her first consulting engagements with Starfleet Intelligence was with a division experimenting on humans trying to create telepaths. While they’d made progress unlocking latent parts of the human brain capable of telepathy, the consequences were disastrous as the cognitive pathways they ignited subsumed the patients in a wretched sort of madness. Thinking back to the message she’d just received, one of the patients they’d euthanized was a man named Jev. ‘Remember J,’ the message said. Now she was sure she was onto something. There were more than a few skeletons from that program.

~ An Escape from Rocks and Target Practice ~

Commander Jake Lewis and Lieutenant Lisa Hall
Enlisted Mess & Counseling Office on Mission Day 2 at 0740 Hours

Since they departed Utopia Planetia, all they’d done was zip across the quadrant and shoot some rocks. Still, Commander Lewis had to admit the downtime had some benefits: teams had congealed, systems had shaken out, routines had solidified, and friendships had been forged.

For his own sake, Lewis spent most of his time brushing up on current events. Intelligence work may sometimes involve infiltration, abduction, interrogation and shooting, but thinking was at the core every time – and thinking required information. Since the Algorab Commission began, he’d had no access to Starfleet Intelligence databases, so there were a half a year of new developments to catch up on. Besides that, he trained and bonded with the crew. The Command Academy advocated a firm separation between the CO and crew, but his experience in the field suggested that a tight bond was equally valuable.

On this particular morning, as with many others, Lewis skipped out on the Officers’ Mess to dine with the enlistees down on deck 7. This time, he found himself at a table with three marines and a petty officer from TACOPS, bonding over stories about the good old days.

“I can’t believe you were there when we raided Meja,” exclaimed one of the marines, a staff sergeant, incredulously. “And somehow slipped through our net with a couple arms dealers. I was a private on my first mission then, but it felt like that op was so swift and overwhelming… can’t imagine how you snuck away.” In conventional circles, sneaking traitors out of an illicit arms convention as Starfleet descended on it might have been badly received, but here, it made a great tale.

“Helps to have been trained by the same folks that created your assault strategy,” chuckled Commander Lewis with a twinkle in his eye.

“What ever happened to the two traitors?”

“We turned two into twenty and court martialed them all a few months later.”

The sergeant raised his glass in a toast. “To one-upping that in the days to come,” he offered. Lewis tipped his glass in response, pleased they were on the same page. He was also happy to see that the men were lightening up around him, as he hated formality when it wasn’t needed.

After slurping down the last sip of his protein shake, the staff sergeant set it down on the table and looked around the table. “Forgive me Commander,” he offered, “but its time the boys and I head up-deck. We’ve got a training session in ten.”

“Wouldn’t want Lieutenant Commander Lacroix coming after my hide,” Commander Lewis chuckled, shaking his head. “So get to it gentlemen!”

They rose, almost in unison, snapped to attention and threw a salute.

“Dammit guys,” Lewis replied, drawing concerned looks from the men at the table and those around them, “when I come down here to your space, I’m here as a colleague, not your boss. So don’t give me that formality crap.” He waved them off and then looked back down at his food, waiting for them to get the hint he wasn’t going to salute back or dismiss them formally. After a moment, they looked at each other, shrugged and headed off.

“Well that was amusing,” said a woman slipping smoothly into the seat next to him and setting down her coffee cup. “It’s gonna take more than a few weeks to undo what was beat into them since their first day in service.”

“Lieutenant,” Lewis remarked, taken aback by Lieutenant Hall’s arrival. It was the second time in a day she’d slipped up behind him and caught him in an awkward exchange. The woman was as much a snake in the way she moved as in the way she practiced her art. “Didn’t expect to find you down here.”

“I could say the same for you, sir,” she countered, albeit pleased with what she’d witnessed. The idea of creating a human bond with your staff, as much as not supported in conventional circles beyond a token level, was important when you relied on them to make tough, sometimes autonomous decisions about their life and yours in critical situations. “I came down here in search of you.”

“Hmmm?”

“I know we need to teach a lesson to those rocks, but I may have something a bit more interesting,” she explained. “Even if it doesn’t involve shooting.” She spoke the last bit with a tinge of sarcasm borne of her disdain for the shoot-first-ask-questions-later mentality that seemed to run a bit thick on this ship.

“Shoot,” Lewis replied ironically. Lieutenant Hall slid a PADD across the table. Lewis didn’t pick it up, instead waiting for her to speak.

“A week ago, an old man turned up writhing on the floor outside a bingo hall on Starbase 141,” began the Lieutenant. “When they brought him into medlab, scans indicated he was catatonic in some sort of unwakeable REM-like nightmare. Over the next five days, three more patients showed up in similar states. Then yesterday, two officers turned up in the morning and four teenagers in the afternoon, all in an even worse state.”

Lewis nodded, assuming she meant they were dead.

What Hall explained next was arguably worse: “Readings of their somatosensory system were off the chart. Their thalamus and cerebral cortex were convinced every myelinated nerve fiber – the nerves responsible for punctuated pain – were fully actuated, meaning the victims felt excruciating pain coming from every point on their body unlike anything you or I have ever endured.”

“While this all sounds tragic,” replied Commander Lewis somewhat disinterestedly, “what does this have to do with us?” In the back of his mind, he there was one aspect of her story that seemed a bit interesting: the ability to induce this sort of pain could be, in certain situations, very useful.

“This isn’t a natural occurrence, as much as the base’s command staff refuse to acknowledge it,” Hall stated firmly.

Commander Lewis tweaked an eyebrow. If the command staff refused to draw such a conclusion, how had Hall, light years away, made such a certain claim? He didn’t take her as particularly impulsive.

Lewis’ silence made his doubt obvious so Hall explained further: “On top of the pain, the latest victims also had a suppression of their amygdala and an induced global aphasia.” The former shooter, while he understood a bit about pain receptors from studying interrogation techniques, was quickly getting lost with all the Latin words. Lieutenant Hall noted his confusion and filled in the blanks. “Essentially, whoever did this was incredibly twisted, because he made sure that not only did they feel inhuman pain but also that they couldn’t even communicate it – not even the smallest little scream. This kept them from being found, prolonging their suffering, much longer than otherwise would have happened.”

“Still, my question remains: what does this have to do with us?”

“If you’re done with your meal, let’s take a walk.”

Lewis shrugged, pushed his plate aside, picked up the PADD and rose from his seat. Hall rose in turn and led him out of the room towards her office just a few twists and turns down the hall. The walk was silent. Neither were much for trivialities.

Once they’d finally reached her office, Hall walked across her receiving room to the window. She stared out into space for a moment, as if readying herself for something, and then spoke without turning. “Commander, if you take a look at the PADD I handed you, you’ll see a message I received late last night.”

Commander Lewis looked down at the PADD and opened the first item on it.

TO: LT L. Hall, Ph.D.
FROM: [No Sender]
SUBJECT: [No Subject]
CLASSIFICATION: Eyes Only

As one plows and breaks up the earth, so our bones have been scattered at the base of the grave. Remember J.

“I don’t follow.”

“The first sentence is a verse from an ancient religious text: Psalm 141 of the Christian Bible. One word is wrong. Instead of ‘mouth’, it says ‘base’. Base 141. Starbase 141. The second sentence is separate. Remember J means Remember Jev. Jev was part of a secret program to create human telepaths.”

“That’s quite a lot of extrapolating,” remarked Lewis suspiciously.

Lieutenant Hall nodded, still not turning to face him. “It is, except for one key thing: the victims on Starbase 141, especially the latest six, are damn close to what Jev could do.”

“You’re saying this was Jev’s work?”

“Not exactly. Jev is dead. We killed him.” She paused for a moment, remembering back eight years to when she stood by the bedside of the sedated ex-patriot watching as a surgeon pumped a lethal cocktail into his bloodstream. At least now he was at peace. More than she could say for herself. “What I’m saying is that an anonymous source, capable of bypassing Starfleet Communication’s sender identity controls, sought me out to send a message pointing me at Starbase 141, where it just so happens people are showing up in the infirmary with symptoms similar to what a guy I knew with the first initial ‘J’ could do.”

Now she turned from the window back towards the Commander, whose face had gone completely blank and unreadable. She knew that, like so many operators, that blankness meant he was in the midst of guarded deliberation.

“If you want to do something besides shoot at rocks, someone just dropped a mystery on our doorstep.”

“Tell me Lieutenant,” Commander Lewis mused, his mind racing through various different theories about the victims, the secret program, and Hall’s connection to it all. He was suspicious, to say the least. “What was your role in that program?” He’d read nothing of it in her dossier, but he knew a lot was missing from it. Much of her time as an independent contractor had been redacted or never even shared.

“I was brought in as a private contractor to clean up the mess,” she replied flatly.

“And what ever happened to the program?”

“It was shut down and the assets were terminated,” she replied coldly, the emotion from just a few moments earlier now completely vacant from her being. “From time to time, we experiment with things we’re not ready for yet. This was one of them. The program was burned to the ground. But I’m not foolish enough to think I encountered the only attempt at it. Ever hear the legend of the Mind Burner?”

Commander Lewis shook his head. While intel analysts learned to value legends because they were often borne of hidden truths, this was one he’d never heard of.

“As the story goes, every few years, a set of psychotic episodes occur on a Federation base or outpost,” Hall explained. “They increase in frequency for a few weeks, maybe a month, and then suddenly stop before an investigation gets anywhere. None of the victims ever recover, and the cause has never been found. The theory is that it’s a telepathic assailant, a ‘mind burner’ as the Gaspar Tribune called him, and the term stuck. Among those of us in the know, our belief has always been that the Mind Burner was an experiment gone wrong, and the subject is lashing out back against the institution he believes responsible.”

“So you think this is the Mind Burner?”

“I don’t have enough information to know sir,” she answered. “What I know is that, if you want shadows and intrigue instead of rocks and target practice, this might be it.”

“It sounds like the base’s staff doesn’t want it investigated.”

“Yes, but isn’t our written purpose to support where conventional platforms lacked the necessary personnel or expertise? A telepathic assassin sounds right up that alley. Can’t see it being hard for the Office to send us over to Starbase 141 stretch our legs and help out.” Hall’s eyes then narrowed on Lewis as she leveled with him. “Besides the official line, let’s be real. This isn’t front page news. To have found out about it, someone has to have been actively searching for it. And they also have to have known about a secret program, that I was on it, and that I just happen to be in the same sector as the current issue.”

“Sounds like we’re being used,” mused Lewis. “Do you think to clean up someone’s mess or to dig up dirty laundry?”

Hall shrugged: “Let’s knock over the ant hill and find out.”

Commander Lewis moment to think. Worst case scenario, they get there, piss off a command staff by sticking their nose where it’s not wanted, and it all turns out to be nothing. That would be more interesting than rocks and target practice. And best case, they get a good mystery, clean up a bad situation and gain some new insight. He assumed there were things Hall still wasn’t telling him, but she’d given him enough to make a decision. The rest would see to itself.

“I’ll put in the call. If Admiral West approves it, keep your connection to this to yourself. All the crew will be to know is that we’ve been assigned to investigate a mystery.”

~ Watch Your Step ~

Commander Jake Lewis and Captain Jason Mendoza
Tactical Training Facility & Ready Room on Mission Day 2 at 1910 Hours

The butte stood high over the barren desert, a vast city barely visible on the horizon. The hot heavy wind cut across his face like razorblades. The humidity in the air made his eyes water. While he appreciated the desert, the mugginess was less than ideal. But in that moment, all that mattered was the Cardassian squared up in front of him.

Two left jabs, and a fast right-left combo. The Cardassian deflected each smoothly, far more elegantly than his imposing frame would have suggested. But with each swing, the Starfleet officer drew closer. In a fast thrust, he lunged for a muay thai clasp. His opponent deflected his hands downward, his face falling right into the Cardassian’s rising knee. The man stumbled back, blood running freely from his right nostril. He barely got his left up against his ear before a roundhouse kick hit. Fighting the ringing in his ears, the man spotted an opening in his opponent’s guard. He feigned left and transitioned into a fast right hook.

His swing was true. His knuckles connected right behind the angle of the jaw. The Cardassian’s ridged jawline cut between his upper two knuckles, but the Cardassian’s pain was worse. The light went out in his eyes as he crumpled to the floor.

Almost on queue with his victory, the man’s combadge beeped. He tapped it with his left as he wiped the blood from his nose.

“Sir, you have an incoming transmission from Captain Jason Mendoza, Starfleet Intelligence.”

“Just what I’ve been waiting for.” He tapped the combadge back off. “Computer, end simulation.” Around him, the scene transformed. The northern desert of Cardassia Prime dematerialized as the cold gray interior of the holodeck returned.

Shaking off his injuries, Commander Lewis strode briskly out of the holodeck, past the lockers, offices and other rooms of the tactical operations training facility. His pace was swift as a walk could be. He always moved with purpose, but he also didn’t want to keep the Captain waiting, so his gait was even longer than usual. He paid nothing more than a swift nod to a couple members of Echo Team who were suiting up in the hallway before stepping into the lift.

“Bridge.”

Commander Lewis tapped his foot impatiently as the lift rose the five decks, stopping only for a moment to wipe some more blood from his nose. He wasn’t exactly a fan of holodeck safeties and rarely enabled them for more than life-threatening injuries.

As the doors opened onto the bridge, Lewis was already mid-step towards his Ready Room. After three weeks untraining his bridge staff, he was thankful no one shouted ‘Captain on Deck’. Still, he noted a couple stares as he walked into his Ready Room, realizing only as the door shut that a short sleeve black T-shirt, a blood-smeared arm, and a nose still slowly dripping blood wasn’t exactly the way to greet a superior officer. Tough. They’d picked him for this job.

“Computer, receive,” he said as he took a seat at his desk and spun his notebook console around to face him.

After a moment, the Federation seal disappeared, replaced by the face of the mysterious Captain Jason Mendoza. Besides his affiliation with Starfleet Counterintelligence, Mendoza was a mystery to Lewis. Every line of his service record after graduating the Academy was redacted, and there were no org charts that lent any real clarity to his role in Starfleet. Beyond that, Lewis neither understood why the man was present at his meeting with the Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities, nor why, when he submitted a request to investigate the incident on Starbase 141, the Office had replied that Mendoza would be in touch.

“Good afternoon Commander,” greeted Captain Mendoza, giving a once-over to his opposite across the line. Lewis took the moment to dab his nose again, the bleeding now having slowed to a slight dribble. “I hope I didn’t catch you in the middle of anything too serious?”

“No sir. Just keeping the reflexes sharp.”

“Hope the other guy looks worse than you,” chucked Mendoza.

Lewis nodded with a smile but said nothing. When he was on guard, as was definitely the case when a spook hunter came calling, he’d long learned to say no more than he had to, even if it was seemingly insignificant.

“So tell me Commander, why Starbase 141?”

“Well, between shooting rocks and scanning well-studied nebulae, I’m sure you can imagine I’ve had a bit of spare time.” He pointed to his nose as a joke. Humor was a strong way to hide one’s real motives. “In lieu of asking for a sneak-and-peek in Cardassian space, I figured might as well go looking for an interesting mystery nearby to stretch our legs.” The irony was not lost on Lewis that, before they’d even embarked on their first intelligence mission, he was already lying to counterintelligence.

“So you just went digging through logs?” the Captain inquired, looking less than convinced.

“Sounds about right.”

“I can’t imagine this was the only mystery out there,” the Captain countered.

“Yes, but I was looking for one where our ‘special’ skills could be used and that wasn’t being addressed otherwise. Sure, it might turn out to just be food poisoning, but if not, we happen to have science, tech, med and psych folks with unique backgrounds that could be well suited for whatever’s going on, plus teams of shooters that’d love to get out and do some recon.”

Mendoza still didn’t look fully convinced, and this time, it was he who said nothing, waiting for Lewis to continue.

“Let’s be real Captain,” Lewis continued, acting as though he was leveling with Mendoza, even though, in reality, he was leaving a lot out, “if it’s not a natural cause, this is going to be some funky shit. An illegal procedure, an uncontrolled drug, a telepath, something like that. None of that comes from nowhere. Usually takes some real technical and financial backing to pull off. Strikes me this could lead to a place where discretion could be warranted.”

“I can see where your thought process is,” replied the Captain, cautiously eyeing the Commander. “Even though your request still seems a bit strange to me, I’ll have Michael push the paperwork through.” Lewis nodded. Even if Mendoza wasn’t completely convinced, at least he was appeased. “But watch your step, Commander, and keep me in the loop.”

Mendoza cut the link without a further word.

Lewis leaned back and sighed. Even though he was loyal to the Federation, counterintelligence folks still gave him pause, and that Mendoza had taken a direct interest was interesting in its own right.

After a moment to recompose himself, the Commander wrote up a brief message on the console and sent it off:

TO: Department Heads & Activity Team Leads
FROM: Commander Lewis
PRIORITY: Urgent

Report to the Observation Lounge at 0800 hours for a briefing on our first mission.

He’d met with each of his department heads and activity team leads over the past couple weeks, but this would be the first time getting them all together in the same room. He hit send and then headed for the bridge.

“Conn,” he said as he stepped out of his ready room. The ensign at the helm spun around swiftly and the other staff on the bridge all looked up. “It’s finally time to get this thing underway. Set course for Starbase 141, warp 8.”

The order was greeted with smiles from all around the bridge. These folks were picked as doers. It was finally time to get doing.

“Course laid in.”

“Engage.”

The USS Bellona hosted a massive briefing room on Deck 2, one that could hold the entire Intelligence Support Activity; however, for hosting the first gathering of his senior staff, Commander Lewis had selected the more intimate Observation Lounge just off the Bridge. Designed for a standard senior staff, it didn’t have quite enough seats around the table for the extended staff including the Activity team leads, but chairs ringing the edges of the room provided the rest of the seating. If the ship was full of traditional pip hunters, they would have vied for a ‘seat at the table’, but knowing the elusive and loner natures of many of his team leads, Lewis guessed the seats against the wall might go faster.

Commander Lewis arrived ten minutes ahead of schedule, as was his way, and strode through the empty room to the head of the table. He took a seat and pulled out a PADD, reviewing some of his notes while waiting for the others to arrive. From a high level perspective, this was a pretty straightforward criminal investigation, and he’d presented it mostly as such for the crew, but in the back of his mind lingered greater doubts.

Alex had dressed in his normal duty wear after a brief training scenario in the holodeck. He was ready to find out what all the ruckus was about. First mission was standardly vague and was enough to wet the appetite. He was still trying to shake off the dream, but he knew from experience that would take more than just a couple of days. Entering the Observation Lounge, he grunted in satisfaction before taking a seat in the back corner. Old habit, position himself so no one could come up behind him.

“Finally letting us out of the kennel huh Skipper?”

“Something like that,” Commander Lewis said with a smile, looking up briefly from his PADD before looking back down at it and swiping around. He didn’t have anything particularly interesting on it, but he didn’t want to start the briefing before the briefing actually began in earnest so he used business as an excuse to not entertain further conversation.

The doors parted, allowing Lieutenant Matthews to pass from the bridge to the observation lounge. She always wondered why it was called a lounge when it was clearly set up with a large meeting table and chairs, and it was always primarily used for conferences. Still, she knew that, among present company, Jenni was arguably the most sane of them all. Being in a room of spooks and questionable characters didn’t phase her. She was here to keep the ship running, no matter what, regardless of who was in command and running around her. She’d be happy to do that.

“Commander,” she greeted, taking one of the many empty seats. “Sergeant,” she also said, acknowledging the other occupant of the room.

Again, the Commander simply looked up and smiled. Lieutenant Matthews was a bit of a mystery to him, not because of her questionable background, but because she didn’t have one. In fact, she seemed normal, which made him wonder why she’d chosen this assignment. It was also troublesome because, on account of her innocence, he almost felt burdened to keep her safe.

The woman that slithered in right behind Matthews, she was a different story altogether. Lieutenant Hall slipped in silently almost in the same moment as the door slid shut. She didn’t speak. A table, surrounded by chairs, plus some chairs ringed around the edges. Her preference would have been for the gunfighter seat, but alas that blasted Sergeant was already there. And besides, today she’d probably speak more than usual, so she decided to take the seat directly to Lewis’ left.

Jeanne was the next to walk in, she likewise wouldn’t say a word and only provide a simple nod to the Commander to make her presence known. When it came to chairs she really didn’t have any preference so she just sat down in the one closest to her. With the only caveat that she wouldn’t have her back turned to the door.

After ensuring that his relief was up to date on everything, Sam entered the room and decided to take a seat against the wall since he was sort of late. Even after a few years of services, he could never get over the fact of taking a seat at the big table.

Over the next few minutes, the remainder of the staff filed in. The contrast between staff members amused Commander Lewis. The Activity staff were mostly wordless, expressions blank, choosing to sit against the wall, while the operational staff excitedly sat down at the briefing table. When the chronometer struck 0800, only one person was missing: Lieutenant Commander Brooks, head of the exotic sciences team. Tough for him, thought Lewis. If one was not on time, that was their own damn problem.

“Good morning everyone,” he began with a smile. “While many of you have met with me individually, this is the first time we’ve all met as a team. I think before we get started, introductions are in order. To start, I’m Commander Lewis, the Commanding Officer of this boat. Before this, I commanded a rapid response unit out of Faltan Station, the USS Enigma intelligence special operations platform, and the USS Justice supporting Starfleet JAG.” After a moment’s pause, he then decided to come out and just say what was on everyone’s mind about him right from the start. “I won’t beat around the bush here. If you watch any news, you also all probably know me as the chief target of the Algorab Commission.” A pin drop could be heard in the silence and followed. “And no, I didn’t do it.”

Without waiting for anyone to ask a follow up, Commander Lewis looked to his left. Lieutenant Hall took the hint to bail him out. “Lieutenant Hall, Chief Counseling Officer and the Psychological Operations & Negotiations Team Lead. Previously, I worked as a private contractor before accepting a full-time commission with Starfleet Intelligence. I may show a dark side breaking the minds of our adversaries,” she said coldly before putting on a feigned smile, “but know that, if you need caring council, my door is always open.” And then she looked to her left, passing the baton for the next introduction.

Stepping up to fill the slightly awkward silence Alex shrugged. “Master Sergeant Alex Ryan. I’m the Surveillance Team Lead here. Before the Bellona I was the Infiltration Specialist on Spragus Colony. Before that I was a Marine Liaison at Starfleet Intelligence. I’ve spent the majority of my career doing either intelligence or counter-intelligence work. If any of your enlisted or noncoms need anything, I’m also listed as the Chief of the Boat so send them down to the Surveillance office.”

Jenni found herself, surprisingly, comfortable and uncomfortable. On one hand, she had gotten quite the impression that the ship was certainly slanted towards intelligence operations by the orders, by the personnel compliment and by their recent activities during the shakedown efforts. What she wasn’t prepared for was the background coming from those who spoke so far. What had she gotten herself into? Still, she put on her best smile and nodded to the group. “Lieutenant Jennifer Matthews, your friendly neighborhood Chief Engineer. Aside from getting really good at getting ships out of and staying out of drydock, I don’t have that much of a scary past. Or any real past for that matter. As far as what trouble we get into, well… it’ll be my job to keep us in one piece while you all find a way out of it.”

Just as Lieutenant Matthews finished speaking, the door to the observation lounge opened. In the silence, all eyes turned to see a Lieutenant Commander in science teal, his uniform crinkled, his hair disheveled, hurriedly stumbling through the door. “Hey guys,” he remarked casually with a shit-eating grin as he took a seat next to Lieutenant Matthews, one of the few faces he recognized at the table. The Commander shot him a death glare, but somehow the exotic sciences whizzbang continued as if completely oblivious to it. “So what’d I miss?”

“You missed that the memo said the meeting starts at 0800,” the Commander volunteered flatly.

“Time is fluid,” Lieutenant Commander Brooks teased, but his joke fell flat. In the awkward silence that followed, no one coming to his rescue, he suddenly realized his fumble. “Sir.” And then grasping for strings. “S… sor… sorry I’m late. I lost track of time.”

“That’s not a good trait for a man whose supposed to guide us through all things temporal,” Lewis continued, making an example of his foul. Lewis never asked more of others than he asked of himself, but he acted with respect, and he expected the same from his officers. His point made, he then lightened up. “Lieutenant Commander, we were just going through introductions. Lieutenant Matthews just finished, so why don’t you go next?”

“Ummm, sure,” Lieutenant Commander Brooks had become quite unsettled by the interaction. He paused for a moment, trying to recenter himself. “I’m Dr. Tom Brooks, Lieutenant Commander. I received my doctorate from the Vulcan Science Academy on probabilistic compaction of non-closed spacetime, worked at Manheim until some jackoffs from the future came and took away my time stream incursion predictor, and then got stuck for far too long on jobs with stupid rules and inept wannabe scientists. Looking forward, as head of the EXOSCI team, to hopefully getting to mess with the weird and wacky.”

After the scene that had just transpired, many of the eyes at the table turned towards Commander Lewis looking for what would come next. For his own sake, Commander Lewis’ expression was cold and unreadable. Dr. Brooks was one of the best science minds of the decade, but he’d need some serious work to make a half-decent crew member, let alone team lead. With that thought, Commander Lewis gestured for the next introduction.

Jenni’s left eyebrow ever so slightly at the sudden disappointment in the man that felt into the chair next to her. She knew he was a bit… well… odd when she first met him in Engineering. The disheveled appearance was something she could deal with. The lack of respect he gave to the Captain was another matter entirely. If he was going to act that way around him, and in public with the command staff, then there wasn’t a chance in hell Brooks would lay a finger on any part of the warp core. And that included the protective casing. If anyone tried to tell her different, Jenni would let them have it.

Alex shook his head, fighting the overwhelming urge to roll his eyes. For someone with his education he was certainly lacking in common sense. He wasn’t letting the guy near him in the field. He was likely worse than the Lieutenant who called in the mortars.

Somewhat feeling sympathy for the scientist Jeanne opted to change the discussion by directing the attention to her. “I’m Lieutenant Commander Jeanne Lacroix and I am leading one of the Tactical Operations teams. Before, I was the Commanding Officer of the USS Frumentarii but a difference of opinion concerning several articles of the Federation constitution with the Council resulted in a quick end to that.”

“Lieutenant Commander Samuel Moss. While engineering is in charge of fixing anything you break, it’s my job to make sure that after it fixed that everything runs properly,” Sam said as he looked around the room, “Not much to say about my previous billet other than it has been a long time since I have been back in the Alpha Quadrant.”

Around the rest of the table they went, until at last all had introduced themselves. With that formality out of the way, all eyes turned back to Commander Lewis at the head of the table.

“So, as you’ve all probably heard by now, we’re en route to Starbase 141. While it’s not sneaking behind enemy lines to bag an HVT,” he joked with a couple quick glances at some of his tactically-inclined staff, “it may shake out to be something a bit obscure. Lieutenant Hall?”

“A little over a week ago, an old man on Starbase 141 was found catatonic, writhing on the floor with no evidence of injury,” she explained. “A scan of his neural functions found that he was in some sort of unwakeable nightmare. Over the next five days, three more victims showed up in a similar state, and then the signature got worse. Three days ago, two Starfleet officers and four teenagers showed up with their entire somatosensory system rewired – essentially feeling pain from every nerve in their body.”

Jenni’s eyes widened. She was no expert on medicine, but the mere ability to perform such a drastic biological change was remarkable. Even in all of her service in Starfleet, she hadn’t seen anything that could do something similar to an entire ship, much less a single bioneural gel pack. Still, she didn’t think that this was the type of mission that this ship of this stature was built for. It sounded like she had much to learn.

“The kicker here though isn’t just that they’re feeling excruciating pain,” Lieutenant Hall continued in a business-like fashion, “but that they’re also suffering from an extreme global aphasia and the the suppression of the amygdala so they can’t even give an involuntary scream. Any one of these conditions would be ultra-rare, but all three is almost certainly non-natural.”

This was when Lewis jumped back in: “So our mission is to figure out what the hell is happening on Starbase 141.”

“I don’t suppose there’s some sort of subspace activity or anything like that that could be running around undetected? Or any chance it could disrupt the systems of the base or a starship?” Jenni asked, trying to sound smart within the present company. While she was not a doctor or a physician, she was curious if there’s anything she could examine from a technological perspective.

Commander Lewis deferred to the psychologist on that one. “A stellar event could have an adverse effect on the crew, and maybe even on just a portion particularly attune – like Vulcans and Betazoids – but this is more focused, and more random, at the same time,” explained Lieutenant Hall. “It’s also far too cruel. The latest victims were literally made to feel pain from every nerve in their body while not being allowed to cry out for help. To do this is to influences three completely separate cortical functions. The likelihood of one is rare enough, but the coalescence of three – yeah right.”

“This is probably the simplest question to ask,” Alex said from his place in the back of the room, “but what does the staff already present on one four one say they’re picking up? That information should have been sent along with the rest of the briefing intel.”

This time, Commander Lewis fielded the question: “The assistant chief counselor on the base believes this is the work of the ‘mind burner’, a rumored telepath who strikes ever few years. As for the rest of the staff, they don’t buy it. According to the counselor’s logs, they told her to ‘stop believing in legends’. They’re doing some medical tests and a topical investigation, but they aren’t investing much in it, nor do they have the experiences we have to track something weird like this down – be it a psychotropic drug or a vengeful telepath.”

“If the past few decades in this line of work have taught me anything, and I assume the same counts for many of us here, legends tend to hold a significant element of truth. Do we know more about this ‘mind burner’?” Jeanne asked.

Lieutenant Hall had prepared for this question. For a moment the night before, she had even debated opening up a bit with her peers, but that thought was quickly discarded. No, they could get by without fully knowing. “Supposedly, as the rumor goes, the mind burner is a human telepath that appears every couple years, rewires the heads of a few dozen people on a random Federation starbase and then disappears before an investigation can close in. Most think of the legend like the boogeyman, but I agree with you that there might be an element of truth to it.”

Jeanne nodded. “It might be worth it to investigate transfer records and ship manifests on whoever was on these affected bases when the events supposedly happened. That would make our job of tracing down a person possibly responsible a lot easier.”

Jenni shifted in her seat. This was certainly going to make her a bit uneasy, this new mission. For now, she’d focus on matters of Engineering. That’s why she was brought on, and that’s what she was going to do. At least it would keep her mind away from this rumored mind-burner.

“I’ll see what I can come up with,” replied Lieutenant Hall. “Unfortunately, rumors are rarely committed to reports. I’m sure there are logs of the investigations, when they occurred, somewhere, but they’ll be scattered over a decade-plus of time.” It would be time to put the HUMINT analysts to work. Hopefully they wouldn’t dig up any of the skeletons in her closet on this topic.

“Thank you Lieutenant,” offered Commander Lewis before turning back to the table as a whole. “Besides the possibility of a telepathic assailant or someone conducting off-book psychiatric experiments, there is another kink in this whole plan: we weren’t exactly invited. In fact, they’ve been relatively standoffish about the idea of an investigation. While we’ve been given the green light by Starfleet Command, and they know we’re coming, I wouldn’t expect much help from them, which means we’re going to be conducting this investigation pretty much on our own.”

“They won’t like sharing anything at all with us then, except maybe the assistant counselor who kicked over the anthill.” Alex said as he shook his head making notes on his Padd. “I can start running the passenger manifests through Surveillance once we wrap up here. Without knowing what we’re looking for exactly it’s a shot in the dark though. I can cut out species with absolutely no telepathic ability, but if our tango was surgically or pharmaceutically altered, that might let him, her, it, whatever slip through the cracks.” He shrugged in resignation. “Better than doing nothing though.” He said and glanced across the table at Hall as he spoke, she was keeping a tight lid on her thoughts and emotions, more so than anyone else in the room and it made him just a little suspicious about if she knew more than she was telling. Sometimes the lack of picking up anything could be just as telling as what he could pick up.

“Sounds like a good place to start, Sergeant,” replied the commander before turning to his operations chief. “Lieutenant Commander Moss and Lieutenant Matthews, as soon as we arrive on site, can you two see about getting us linked up with their security feeds to make the Sergeants’ job easier?”

“Piece of cake,” Jenni replied instantly, not even taking a moment to look over to the Operations Chief. It wouldn’t take too much work to patch in, even under the guise of hooking up the ship to a diagnostics cradle. This was an Intel ship, so why not try her hand at being a little covet?

“Understood, sir, ” Sam stated as he looked at the Commanding Officer for a moment before looking at the Matthews. He just knew that it was not going to be as easy as she thought it would be.

“Meanwhile, Lieutenant Commander Lacroix and Lieutenant Hall, I’d like you two to take point as boots on the ground. See if you can build a bridge with the counselor, and talk to the rest of the staff,” Commander Lewis continued, before adding, “and please be gentle. This will be a lot easier if we can bring the command staff onto our side, as opposed to have to work completely against them.”

Jeanne nodded at the Captain. “We will be an example of civility and political correctness,” she said.

“Of course,” agreed Hall with a darkness in her eyes.

As everyone spoke, Lieutenant Commander Brooks watched and listened. Everyone seemed so quick to assume there was an attacker. Sure, he agreed with Lieutenant Hall’s assessment that it wasn’t a random event, but they seemed to be neglecting another possibility. “Commander, forgive me,” offered Brooks, still looking a bit on shaky ground since the Commander had dressed him down, “but who is to say it is a telepath? Sure, it’s not random, but couldn’t it be a strange drug or lab experiment?”

Commander Lewis nodded pensively. While Lieutenant Hall had him fairly convinced it was a telepathic assailant, his exotic sciences lead did have a point. “And that, Lieutenant Commander, is where you come in. Our new CMO, Lieutenant Commander Chadwick, will link up with us at Starbase 141, but until he arrives, I’m going to lean on you to organize the BIOMED and EXOSCI teams to pursue alternatives to a tango – like a drug, an experiment, or whatever else could be causing this.”

“Understood sir.”

“Alright then,” closed the Commander. “We’ll be arriving at 141 at 0700 in two days time. Get your teams prepped and ready, and let’s get to it.”

~ Starting the Search ~

Master Sergeant Alex Ryan
Surveillance Office on Mission Day 3 at 0830 Hours

After the meeting broke up and everyone was dismissed to make their preparations, Alex headed for the surveillance office. He knew he was pretty much grasping at straws, but doing something always beat sitting around doing nothing. All he could realistically do since they knew absolutely nothing about who or what the mind burner was, was try for a pool of people that had been on the various ships and bases when any of the reported incidents had occurred. If those occurrences were even logged in the system. It was a shot in the dark in every sense.

Stopping at the replicator for a cup of coffee first, Alex made his way to the bank of monitors in the main room. He stared at the blank screens for a moment as he sipped his coffee. “Computer search the system for any logs, personal or official that we can access as well as mission reports containing the term ‘mind burner’ over the last call it twenty years and list them on screen. Cross reference the dates of the logs with the incoming and outgoing passenger manifests for the previous and following thirty days at the ship or facility the log was pulled from and search for any matches across any of the manifests. Forward all matches to my Padd. Estimated time to completion?”

Working. Time to completion, six hours.

“Guess we have a long day in front of us then.” He said with a shake of his head and took another sip from his coffee. “Send a message to the surveillance staff, have them all report for duty in four hours unless I order otherwise.”

As he watched as the blank screen stared back at him he thought back to the meeting. The utter black hole he’d sensed around Hall still nagged at him. Everyone else had been a swirl of emotions and loud thoughts, Hall on the other hand had been a well of nothingness. No loud thoughts leaking out, no anxiety, no emotions whatsoever. That made him curious, and everyone knew a curious spook was never a good thing. What he wanted to know was why there wasn’t anything for him to pick up. Was she hiding something from the rest of them or was she just that well trained that she was able to keep it all under lock and key?

He shook his head and went into his office. He sat at his desk and logged into the system. With a few commands he pulled up Hall’s personnel file, he’d already read it before, along with the rest of the staff’s files. It didn’t hurt to know what there was to be known about your coworkers. He wanted to do more digging, but he had no doubt that would throw up a red flag somewhere up the chain. He’d have to talk to his contacts and see what they could track down for him, there were too many gaps and inconsistencies for his liking.

~ Preparations ~

Lieutenant Jennifer Matthews
Engineering on Mission Day 3 at 0900 Hours

With the staff meeting over, Jenni arrived in Engineering to begin her shift. Thankfully, Lieutenant Tanika, her trusty Assistant Chief Engineer, had gotten the team moving this morning. So far their shakedown had revealed some instability in the EPS grid. In order to perform true repairs, they’d need at least a week in spacedock. Given what she just learned, even though they’d be arriving soon at Starbase 141, she sincerely doubted that she could just so simply begin a massive overhaul.

Of course, there was no way to explain to her team why they couldn’t make an overhaul. With the ship operating under official and unofficial manners, she wasn’t left with many options. If she told them, then scuttlebutt would likely circle around the ship, then eventually the station. She could assume that this mind-burner or whatever it was would pick up wind and leave, effectively ruining the mission.

On her first assignment aboard this ship, she knew it would not serve her well to divulge that information. Jenni knew this assignment would be unusual and unorthodox, and for some reason she didn’t think she would need to know how this world worked.

The last hour proved that she was sorely mistaken.

“Jenni, what did you get yourself into?” she muttered, entering her office to think. Until she had a battle plan, she couldn’t talk to her team. For now, she had to trust them to handle the situation as best as they could.

The engineer replicated a strong cup of coffee and called up schematics of Starbase 141. She was assigned to work with Commander Moss in terms of linking up with their security feeds. To do so secretly, she’d need to reprogram a diagnostics cradle. Thankfully, there was time to do it.

Just as quickly she called up the schematics, Jenni cleared the screen. She stared at her reflection on the dark monitor, wondering once more what she got herself into. News of the course change would come down soon, and she’d have to have an explanation for why they couldn’t go dark for a week.

Would this team buy the excuse that they were just passing through? “Come on, Jenni…” she muttered, laying her head back on the chair as she tried to think. They’d be there for a couple days, so that excuse wouldn’t really work.

Suddenly, Jenni sat up. “That could work…” she muttered, thinking that she could blame herself. Of course, the blame wouldn’t be in the fact that she didn’t make the request. There would be no way she’d land the coveted Chief Engineer position if she didn’t know when to speak up to the Captain and let him know when her team needed something. No… she’d draw on her experience with the Katana. The poor Intrepid-class ship had been stuck in drydock for more than a year with a troubled refit. Jenni had taken charge and done in a month what no one could do for all that time: get the ship working.

And she kept it working after that, never needing time in a drydock or in any dock for that matter. She did it before, and she could do it again. They could take section after section offline, making the adjustments as they flew along. And that’s what they would do.

Picking up her coffee, she departed the office and called over Lieutenant Tanika. Within just a few seconds she shared the official plan for the repair process, stated the ship’s destination, and informed her that the ship wouldn’t power down totally to give them time for the overhaul. Jenni was surprised when Tanika quickly confirmed and didn’t even question the order.

The Chief Engineer was pleased, and she dismissed Tanika to inform the systems engineers.

“Oh!” Jenni called out to Tanika as the Deltan woman walked away.

“Yes, ma’am?” the bald Tanika said, turning to back to face Jenni.

“Regarding Commander Brooks,” she said, pointing to the warp core. “He’s not to touch her in any way. If he shows up in Engineering, make sure everyone knows to contact me immediately.” After the man’s behavior in the staff meeting, there wasn’t a chance in hell she wanted him fooling with the ship’s heart. And now, all her team knew it.