Nora Laas had always prided herself on being able to read people quickly, which as far as she was concerned was an essential skill for a security officer in order to rapidly determine if a person posed a threat to the people she had taken an oath to protect. It was one of the reasons--she liked to believe--why she had been so successful in her career and which had led her to become the chief of security on a ship of the line before she had turned thirty.
That had been five years ago and now she was forced to wonder if those senses had begun to dull with age since she had absolutely no idea what to make of the odd, human-looking man who had appeared out of seemingly nowhere, wearing a dark and old-fashioned two-piece suit and tie and petting a peculiar looking animal nestled in his arms.
Of course, this didn’t stop her from keeping her phaser rifle leveled at the man who had identified himself as Gary Seven even if he outwardly appeared non-threatening and had yet to make a single hostile gesture. If there was one thing Laas was sure of, it was that appearances could be highly deceptive and that only a fool based their threat analysis solely on what they could see.
Diamond’s thought process seemed well-aligned to her own, as she had quickly brought up her rifle as well, covering the stranger from a different angle but keeping her distance, not too close to allow him to strike at her but close enough to make sure she wouldn’t miss if she had to take him down.
“As for my companion here,” the man said after he had revealed his name and indicating the animal in his arms. “This is Isis,” he added and then considered Laas again, taking specific note of the weapon pointed at him. “I can assure you that there is no need for that. Not that it could harm me in my current state.”
“You’ll forgive me if I err on the side of not trusting the stranger who just appeared out of nowhere. At least until you give us more than your name and that of your pet,” Laas said, keeping a firm hold of her rifle.
“I don’t know how much time we have,” he said and took a step away from her, considering his surroundings while Laas and Diamond continued to track him with their weapons. “I fear not much at all. And time is going to be critical for what we--“
He disappeared even while speaking. To Laas it looked like he was literally breaking up, like a comm. signal overloaded by static. His entire being became distorted length-wise as if he was being stretched from either end before he was gone as quickly as he had appeared.
“That was strange,” Louise said, stepping closer to the point where he had stood moments ago, using her tricorder to get some answers but apparently not getting any judging by the way she was shaking her head.
Nora turned to see that Xylion was getting back on his feet following the conclusion of the mind-link. Bensu and Ivory took a moment longer to recover from the experience and were still sitting on the floor.
“We just had an unexpected visitor,” she said, glancing over her shoulder at the science officer but not willing to turn away from where the odd stranger had just disappeared in case he returned.
Xylion just raised an eyebrow.
“He called himself--“
“Gary Seven,” said Bensu from where he was sitting on the floor.
She nodded. “Yes. You know of him?”
She responded with a frown. “Okay. I think that warrants a bit more of an explanation on your part.”
Bensu stood. “Trust me, Lieutenant, I would love to be able to explain just half the things that have been happening lately. All I can say is that I could sense his presence. He is the intelligence I made contact with earlier.”
“I sensed his presence as well,” Xylion said. “However, I am curious how you were able to deduce his name.”
Bensu’s expression seemed to say enough. He had no earthly idea.
“I’d like to know why he appeared human,” Hopkins said after having given up trying to learn anything from her tricorder.
“Or why he had a cat with him,” said Diamond as she stowed away her rifle for now to look after her fellow Niner still sitting on the floor. From what Laas could see, Ivory was fine, just slightly disorientated from the mind-link experience. She did not envy her.
“It may be possible that you misinterpreted what you perceived,” said Xylion, clearly not convinced of what he was being told the rest of the away team had seen.
“My cousin back in Ottawa had a cat just like that when she was younger,” said Hopkins. “I know what I saw.”
But Xylion appeared to remain dubious.
The man who called himself Gary Seven reappeared not a moment later but this time behind them. Laas quickly had her phaser up again but not quite as quickly as Diamond. The recovered Ivory followed suit not a moment later.
Seven was sans pet this time and his image remained distorted, when he spoke, his voice sounded hollow and distant. “I apologize but something or someone appears to be opposing my presence here and it is taking an extraordinary effort to appear at all.”
Xylion took a moment to consider Seven. “Fascinating.”
“I don’t have much time to explain, at least not under our present circumstances but it is vital that we talk,” he said just before he blinked out of existence again only to reappear moments later. He took a few steps forward, ignoring, for now, the three phaser rifles pointed at him and instead paying closer attention to Xylion and then Ivory. “I thought I sensed the presence of Vulcans. You created a telepathic connection of sorts which made it possible for me to reach you but it won’t last.”
“How long do you believe you can maintain your connection?” Xylion said.
Seven shook his head, blinking out yet again. “Not long, perhaps a few more minutes. You will need to create another telepathic link, something more powerful. It’s the only way to--“ He disappeared again before he could finish the sentence.
Laas and the others waited patiently for a couple of minutes but Seven did not come back this time. She turned to Xylion. “How does he think we could create a more powerful mind-link? We don’t have access to any relevant equipment.”
“There might be a way. However, it would require the efforts of the entire away team.”
“I don’t think I like where this is going,” Laas said as she considered the science officer suspiciously.
But Bensu was already nodding. “Seven was right in saying that something is actively opposing us trying to create a psionic connection with him. I could sense it in our mind-link.”
“Overcoming this opposition will require a more concentrated effort on our part, one we might be able to generate if we added additional psionic energy to the link,” Xylion said.
“But we don’t have access to any additional telepaths,” said Hopkins.
“Creating a mind-link with individuals who possess active telepathic abilities would be preferable and likely garner better results,” the science officer said. “But even creating a link with non-telepaths should strengthen our position to create a more stable connection with Gary Seven.”
“I was afraid you were going to suggest something like that,” Hopkins said and stepped away as if to think about what he had said.
Laas hated every part of the idea and differently to Louise, she was not shy to say as much. “You can’t possibly be serious. Bajorans don’t possess whatever it is that lets you use telepathic powers and last time I checked, neither do humans. How is this even supposed to work?”
“Although you are correct that you do not physically possess the required paracortex functions to initiate telepathic activity, it is well-documented that Bajorans and other races can receive and on occasions generate psionic energy. I believe that with my guidance, I will be able to guide your minds to partake and contribute to the mind-link to a sufficient degree to allow us to re-establish a connection with Gary Seven.”
Laas stared back at Xylion as if he had just suggested a spacewalk without an EVA suit. She had no immediate words to offer. Intellectually, she knew that he was right. She had heard of stories of non-telepathic species taking part in psionic events, be it mind-melds or something as simple as receiving telepathic messages, but instinctively speaking she abhorred the very every idea of sharing her mind with not just one person but an entire group. To her, nobody had the right to enter her head; it was the last true bastion of privacy.
Xylion seemed to sense her concerns. “I can ensure that the process will be as least invasive as possible.”
“But you cannot guarantee that.”
“Indeed, not,” he was quick to admit.
“And how do we even know that this Gary Seven person is on our side? He could be involved with these subspace aliens. For all we know, he’s working for them,” she said as she crossed her arms in front of her.
“That is possible but unlikely. Based on what we’ve been able to determine from the previous mind-links Gary Seven is facing powerful resistance from establishing a connection with us, presumably originating from the subspace aliens. And considering what we understand this particle accelerator to be capable of, we will require any assistance we can secure if we wish to stop it from annihilating another universe.”
Laas had to admit that what Xylion was saying was making sense and that perhaps she was just looking for an excuse to avoid having to do as he had suggested.
She glanced around the room to consider the faces of the rest of the away team, all now looking to her as if awaiting her decision. She was not the most senior officer present, that distinction went to Xylion, and in truth, she was not used to be a decision-maker on an away mission.
Diamond was slowly shaking her head, clearly just as reluctant of partaking in a telepathic experience. The Special Missions operative was very much cut from the same cloth as she was herself, she had since learned. Like the rest of her team, she was a woman of action and ready to face any challenges that put her life and limb at risk. But she was not so ready to put her mind on the line like had been suggested.
Ivory, on the other hand, the operative who had already taken part in the initially mind-link, was much harder to read. Bensu kept his expression carefully neutral as well as if he was making an effort to try and not pressure her decision.
Louise on the other hand did a very poor job of disguising her feelings. More than anyone else, she looked downright perturbed. Laas thought she knew why that was.
“As with Ivory earlier, I cannot and will not order you to participate in the mind-link, but I would like you to remember what is at stake,” he said after she had not spoken for a moment. Clearly, she was not the only one who had to make this decision but Xylion had apparently deduced that the rest of the away team would follow her example.
When Louise's eyes were taking on a distinctively pleading look, Laas approached her and they both took a few steps away from the others for a modicum of privacy. Laas had no illusions that every other eye of the team still rested on her back.
“I can’t do this, Laas,” Louise whispered.
“Do you think I want to? Exposing myself like that? Give me a weapon and an enemy I can see. Hells, I’d rather go up against a Jem’Hadar or a Borg drone than letting people mess around inside my head.”
“It’s not just that,” she said and threw a short, furtive glance over her shoulder and towards Xylion.
She uttered a sigh. She understood, of course, about the feelings she’d had for the stoic science officer. Laas wasn’t sure anymore how her friend felt about the Vulcan and maybe neither did Louise. Perhaps that’s what scared the engineer the most.
Laas was also mindful that the clock was ticking. Perhaps for an entire universe. “As much as I hate this, Lou, Xylion is right. And we can’t let personal issues interfere with this.”
It took her a moment but Louise finally offered a small, hesitant nod.
She took one more deep breath and then turned back to face Xylion. “All right, how do we do this?”