Travis took a deep breath and addressed the officers around the situation table at the back of the Bridge. He'd come closer to determining the origin of their energy-draining entity, but he still felt there was a missing piece somewhere. Nevertheless, he kept his focus on the here and now.
“I've compared the scans I took and the ones Doctor Reed took in Sickbay. What we're dealing with is a being that requires a certain type of energy to survive. My guess is that it had been more than content to use the Keshwa star for its needs, until it began to run out of stellar material for its fusion reaction. Its chemical composition's changed from the original star.. ”
“Like you said, Travis, milk's gone sour and it's time to find a fresh supply,” Trip put in.
Malcolm sighed and shook its head. “The ship's power is marginally better than what's out there right now, but not only does it does it require more with each 'feeding', it is progressively getting 'sicker' as it does so.”
Hoshi frowned. “Sicker? You mean the ship's power isn't compatable with its needs?”
“It's quite like a person with a mild allergy to dairy having nothing to eat and drink but milk-based products.” Malcolm winced at the analogy, but it was the best he could come up with. “Do you eat the dairy or starve to death? The food won't kill you outright, like someone who is deathly allergic to dairy, but one of two things would happen. Either your body eventually adapts, if it is given in small enough doses, or the buildup of toxins will eventually kill you.”
She shook her head and said, “In this case, it's a big enough dose of energy and it's killing the...whatever it is.”
“Then why does it keep feeding off the ship, if it knows it'll die if it continues to do it?”
T'Pol raised an eyebrow at Hoshi's question. “Perhaps it is unaware of how its actions are complicating its own problem?”
Malcolm shook his head. “It seems to be fixated on the here and now and cannot think beyond that.”
“Much like a child,” Phlox said suddenly. All eyes turned to him as he explained, “This child has found food and shelter and is reluctant to give it up, so it holds on to it possessively, almost jealously.”
Hoshi fought against a smile, despite the circumstances. “Reminds you of your own children, Phlox?”
His mouth quirked up in a smile in return. “After having five children, I've become aware of their certain ideosyncracies, Captain.”
“A child,” Malcolm murmured, “that threw a tantrum and sulked when an adult tried to discipline it.”
Travis coughed; Malcolm's “disciplinary action” had made the rounds on the ship at warp ten, and the most recalitrant patients were tiptoeing around the chief medical officer. Sickbay was unusually placid for being in the middle of a crisis and even Trip Tucker refrained from making smart remarks around Malcolm.
Phlox's chuckled, then his smile faded. “Unfortunately, that reflexive action has stranded us here. We cannot afford another massive power drop, or we will be pulled into the white dwarf's gravitational field.”
“So we have to find a way to get it through to this...child, that unless it allows us to take it to that other star that's similar to its home---what was it? Yamara?” At Travis's nod, Hoshi went on, “---we'll all die.” She turned to Jon. “There's got to be a way to communicate with it. You and Travis noticed something in its energy pattern while it was feeding off the ship's EPS grid.”
Jon nodded. “Its tentacle-or whatever you want to call it---vibrates in a series of pulses, like it's, well, humming or singing to itself. I've analyzed the vibrations caught by the sensors and Malcolm's scans. There's definitely a pattern.”
“Can you program the UT to relay messages to it in the same way?”
“Already working on it. It's not exact, but I'm hoping it'll be enough to get our point across. Hoshi, I could use your help in constructing the main matrix.”
“Just let me know what you need me to do and I'll do my best to help.” She looked at everyone. “The safety of the ship and crew is our first priority. Let's do our jobs. Dismissed.” They all left the situation table and headed for their respective stations. Hoshi joined Jon at the comm station and they worked together in programming the UT matrix, based on Jon's analyses. Malcolm glanced over his shoulder at her and smiled as he went into the lift.
Travis noticed it and raised his eyebrows. He glanced at T'Pol; her expression told him that she'd noticed it too. He shrugged and re-focused his attention on the problem at hand. He compared the readings between Yamara and the white dwarf's original composition. They were nearly identical, so if they could get the “kid” to Yamara...Travis's mouth twitched upwards at the thought of the entity as a two or three year old child, yet Phlox's description was apt.
God help Malcolm's kids. It didn't surprise him that Malcolm would be such a disciplinarian. Travis shook his head; he wasn't being fair to the doctor. Under the no-nonsense attitude was a genuine concern for his patients' well-being. For some reason, he wondered how Hoshi would do as a mother, then he put aside the musings. The smile he'd seen Malcolm give her still nagged at him.
Is there...? Naaah. Can't be. Besides, the captain's already been romantically linked with someone else off the ship, and she's too much of a professional to get involved with one of her officers under her command. Travis shook his head. He'd only known her a few weeks, but that was already obvious to him. He dropped the thought and concentrated on their problem.
Three hours passed without incident, and gamma shift took over for beta shift. The senior officers elected to stay at their posts, at least until the crisis had passed. Their gamma shift personnel stayed close at hand in case they were needed. Travis put Crewman DeLorenzo to work in sifting through the data from the white dwarf; idle hands meant idle minds, as Travis's mom had said, and he tended to agree.
The lights flickered on and off, and Travis immediately went to the sensors. “Our friend's back, Captain.”
“Where?” Hoshi demanded. She left Jon's side and eased herself into her command chair.
“Deck B, headed for the port side,” Trip answered from his station. “Senior officer's quarters---”
The bridge lift to Travis's right exploded in a ring of sparks, and he saw the entity for the first time. It hovered several centimeters over the floor, a humanoid-shaped ripple with blurred features. It rotated slowly, as if taking in the sight of the Bridge, then it locked eyes with Travis. He found himself paralyzed to the spot, unable to move, as a thick cloud of fear came over him.
“Commander!” T'Pol shouted.
He thought directly at the creature. I'm not afraid of you and you don't have to be afraid of me.
It crept close to him, then went past him to the science computer. Another thin tendril unrolled itself and sank into the console barely five centimeters away from Travis's right arm. He felt a heightened tension in the air and smelled the sharp smell of ozone, like right before a lightning strike. The tentacle spasmed once, then it began to vibrate and change colors, emitting a series of tones as it did so.
Music of the Spheres. It sounds like a symphony. This is weird, he thought. Information sped across the screen on his left; the chemical composition of the white dwarf and of Yamara, the scientific scans he'd taken since their arrival here...he felt the panel above him burst into sparks and go dead, but he still couldn't move.
He saw Jon Archer from the corner of his eye, the UT in his hands, his fingers dancing across the buttons as he tried to match the vibrations with the UT's matrix. The entity raised its “head”, but stayed where it was. Travis felt a definite gathering of energy now, like a cobra poising to attack its prey; he couldn't warn Jon no matter how hard he tried to move.
“That's enough. Let him go. Now.”
The shadow reared back as if it had been slapped, and the musical notes became frenzied and chaotic. Hoshi's quiet command had disrupted its concentration; Travis felt his body drop to the floor as if he was a marionette with its strings cut. He struggled back into his chair as the entity “turned” towards Hoshi with an air of malevolence.
“Cap'n!” Trip shouted. He moved to step between her and the entity; it turned towards the Armory Officer with a sense of disdain. Hoshi only gazed at it, her dark brown eyes unwavering. Travis felt a shift in its emotions: curiosity, mixed with distrust.
The captain stopped it from doing what it wants, like Doctor Reed in Sickbay, and it's reacting like any child, Travis thought. Aloud, he said, “Hey, I wouldn't hurt her. She's the one who takes care of all of us, me included.”
It turned to face him. He cleared his throat and said,. “I'm Commander Mayweather; she's Captain Sato. Who are you? Do you have a name?”
The UT chattered in a series of yowls and squeals for several seconds before Jon looked up with a surprised expression. “We got it, Travis. I think. It said it doesn't have a name; it's never needed one.”
“Makes sense,” Travis said mildly. He nodded and asked, “Can I call you Musica? Your vibrations remind me of beautiful notes. That OK?”
Jon took a deep breath and manipulated the UT. The answer brought a small smile to his face. “It---She---said that was acceptable.”
“She?” Trip echoed. “It's a girl?”
More notes spilled out, minor chords clashing, and Jon could hardly keep up with the translation. “She knows she's sick, she needs warmth, comfort, light. She doesn't understand what is happening to her and to her bright light. She needs warmth to survive, this is the closest she can find, but it's making her sick. She feels closed in, trapped, angry---”
“Musica, we can find you another source of warmth, one that won't make you sick, but you have to trust us. We can take you there, but it won't be possible unless you release our controls to the ship.” Travis took a deep breath and chose his words carefully. “Will you trust us?”
Its chimes became uncertain; Jon translated, “Will you hurt me?”
Hoshi spoke up in a gentle voice. “No, but each time you drain our power, you hurt us. Let us take you where you need to go, and you will be well again.”
Travis added, “You've accessed my scans and all the information from my computer. The new star isn't too far from here. Musica, trust us.”
It hovered for a moment before withdrawing its tendril from the science console. The Bridge lights came back on. T'Pol nodded and reported, “I have full navigational control.”
Phlox's voice echoed from the speakers. “Captain, both impulse and warp engines are back on-line.”
Ensign Murdo added from the comm station, “Commander Archer, all relays are functioning normally.”
Hoshi inclined her head at Musica. “Thank you,” she said softly. “Now we can fulfill our part of the bargain. Commander Phlox?”
“We'll be going to maximum warp in a few moments.”
She turned to T'Pol. “Lay in a course to the Yamara star. Warp five.”
“Yes, Captain...course laid in.”
“Engage.” They all felt the thrum of the engines as the ship jumped to warp. Musica's notes became doleful, uncertain, but it was obvious what “she” was thinking. Hoshi turned to 'her' again. “It's all right. We'll be there soon.”
Jon frowned and objected, “We've got a problem, Captain. She needs to feed before we get to Yamara.”
Phlox's voice came back on; they'd all forgotten he was still listening. “I believe if we can transfer enough energy to sustain her—-”
Travis winced. “Wrong kind of milk, Phlox, remember? We don't want to make her worse.”
Suddenly, Malcolm's voice joined from Sickbay. It made sense that the doctor was also monitoring the situation. “The Decon chamber. She can stay there in the meantime, and if Commander Phlox can adjust the frequency of the cleansing field to match what she needs as closely as possible--”
“It might work,” Travis cut in, his optimism rising. He turned to Musica and said, “We can show you a place where you can...um...eat a little. It won't be ideal, but hopefully it'll be enough to get you to your new home.”
“I'll have to monitor her closely, to make sure she doesn't become any 'sicker',” Malcolm commented again. “Inform her that I will do all in my power not to cause her any harm.”
Travis chuckled. So Malcolm was also treating 'Musica' as if she was a living being, which she was, in a manner of speaking. To boldly go and explore new worlds and seek out energy creatures that live off stars...hey, that's what we're here for, right? He told her what Malcolm had promised, then waited for her answer. The chimes sounded still uneasy, but Jon looked up and nodded.
“She agrees, but on one condition.”
“That either you or Hoshi stay with her. Preferably you. Especially around Doctor Reed.”
They all heard Malcolm's exasperated sigh and a few chuckles broke out around the Bridge. Despite himself, Trip couldn't resist remarking, “Seems like you've picked up an admirer, Travis.”
Travis sighed; he swore that he could feel Musica's smirk, although there was no visible expression on her “face”. He glanced over at Hoshi, who was trying to hide her own smile and wasn't being very successful. “All right.”
“Consider yourself on detached diplomatic duty, Travis. Lieutenant Varianis and Crewman DeLorenzo can hold the fort for a little while.” Hoshi nodded at him, then at Jon. “Thank you, Jon.”
“No problem, Captain.” Jon went over and handed the UT to Travis. “Have fun.”
Travis only sighed again, but he smiled at Musica again.
February 11, 2151
Chief Science Officer's Personal Log, Commander Travis Mayweather
We've arrived in the Yamara star system, where we are preparing to say good by to “Musica”. She told me about her people, the Iruii. There are only a handful of them left, who live in the photospheres of stars. Musica is one of the last of her kind; she is the equivalent of a three-or-four year old child (so Phlox was right in that sense), and expects to live for another fifty or so years. And like a kid, she was eager to share her experiences with the crew once she felt she could trust us. Phlox is like the father she never had, and Trip treats her like his younger sister. Malcolm surprises me...he and Musica actually got along well, once the initial, um...”misunderstanding” was ironed out. We've become her surrogate family, so to speak.
But it will be only a matter of time before the Iruii become extinct, for they can no longer reproduce themselves. That makes me really sad. This farewell is rather bittersweet, and I can't help but feel rather protective of her, like she was a kid sister.
Yamara blazed on the screen, even though Jon had adjusted the viewscreen for minimum intensity. He nodded at Travis, who said, “This should be close enough, Captain.”
Hoshi said, “All stop, Lieutenant T'Pol.”
“Yes, Captain. All stop.”
Trip looked up from his board. “Shields are at maximum, but I wouldn't suggest hangin' around too long.” There was a screech, like a needle dragging over an old vinyl record, and Trip jumped as Musica appeared right next to him. “For God's sake, girl, I wish you'd quit doing that. You just scared me out of year's growth!”
The ship's computer chattered and Musica rang in laughter. Slowly, she circulated around the Bridge, pausing in front of each person and dipping her head in a kind of farewell. Travis grinned widely as she extended her tentacle and touched Phlox on the shoulder, then did the same to Jon and Hoshi. At Malcolm, she jangled in what sounded like mixed affection and cheekiness. To everyone's surprise, Malcolm chuckled.
“I shall do my best to make sure they all stay well, my lady, as long as you stay out of mischief. No tantrums, all right?”
Musica chimed her agreement, even as he raised a disapproving eyebrow at whatever she said. She turned to Travis and wrapped a line around his upper arm. He blinked, then...
...he was suddenly flying through space without a starship, feeling the stellar winds in his hair and on his skin, seeing nearby stars through her eyes, feeling the utter joy and excitement of finding a new home, a new place to live out the rest of her existence...
...and then he dropped back into his own body. Travis blinked. “Uh...wow.”
“You all right?” Hoshi asked, with a look of concern. Malcolm had taken a step in his direction, but Travis waved him off.
“I'm okay.” He smiled at Musica. “Thank you.”
She dipped her head, gathered herself into a compact bundle, swooped over the Bridge one last time, then disappeared through the nearest bulkhead.
“There she goes,” Travis murmured. He bent over his console and kept an eye on the readings on the external scanners. Musica sped towards Yamara like a dying comet, her dim curtain of light growing ever so fainter by the overwhelming glow of the star, and she disappeared from view with a finality that put a lump in his throat.
He felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. “At least she's home, Travis, where she can survive and thrive,” Hoshi told him quietly. “She has her whole life ahead of her now.”
“Yeah, but why do I feel like I'm abandoning a kid sister?”
Commander Phlox chuckled wistfully from his position next to Trip Tucker. “All parents must let go of their children sometime, Commander.”
Travis shook his head and smiled at the engineer. “You know it better than I do, Phlox.”
“I have every confidence that you too will understand in time.” The Denobulan grinned, inclined his head at Travis and Hoshi, and exchanged a look with Malcolm before leaving the Bridge for Engineering.
Hoshi nodded at Travis before resuming her seat. “Let's see what else is out there, Lieutenant T'Pol. Take us out, warp two.”