The Volant had been engaging in system surveys in the nearest sections of the Shackleton Expanse for a couple uneventful weeks. Most of the systems they explored were completely uninhabited, and none had any sapient life.
T’rel was on the Holodeck in full plate mail, battling monsters in a human Fantasy program to practice her combat skills; Ara and Drezz were at Ten Forward; Nala was practicing her drumming; Kritassen was painting in his quarters; and K’mir was asleep in their quarters. Bisha was in sick bay, while Avery and Khurron were on the bridge.
On the bridge, Khurron reported a distress signal coming in… just before the signal hit every com system on the ship, overloading them in an ear-piercing squeal of feedback. Then the Volant was hit from a wave of tetryon particles, sending it spinning as every system went out, and all power went out across the ship… before suddenly power restored itself, and the ship righted itself. With comms overloaded, the command crew responded to the bridge, with T’rel still in her medieval plate mail armor, though she was soon relieved long enough to go change into her uniform.
While Drezz worked to restore comms, Kritassen studied the tetryon wave and Khurron studied the distress signal. The signal seemed to have been part of the tetryon wave, but while it was clear it was a distress signal, it was in no known language or dialect. The tetryon wave seemed to originate from the nearby Abassa system, likely Abassa VII, just on the edge of claimed territory by the Federation. The tetryons were naturally generated, but appeared to be organized into the current pattern through some artificial means.
When the Volant arrived at Abassa VII to investigate, two small fighters emerged from behind the moon, training weapons on the Volant. The Volant was hailed by the fighters, who insisted that the Volant must leave the system immediately. K’mir refused, and the fighters soon put the Volant in contact with their boss.
The boss in question turned out to be a female Ferengi named Lishka. She apologized for the overzealousness of her security and professed no knowledge of a distress call or tetryon wave. Still, she invited K’mir and other command crew to her refinery on the surface for dinner.
K’mir, Barret, Ara, Nala, and T’rel beamed down to the surface, where they were met by Lishka’s second-in-command, a Yridian named Mishran Vol, who led them past the small village outside the refinery, where gambling, bars, and other places of entertainment for the refinery workers had sprung up. Once in the refinery, they were led through a maze of hallways to a lavish dining room, where Lishka greeted them in formal dress and provided them with a sumptuous feast.
Over dinner, Lishka explained that the refinery was gathering deuterium for sale. While she had no license with the Federation, she noted that, while the world was just within claimed territory of the Federation, the Federation had yet to stake a claim on this particular world, making this a legally questionable area. Still, Lishka noted a Rule of Acquisition that stated that when legal cases drag on, only lawyers profit, and she agreed to start filing any necessary paperwork to keep her operation aboveboard with the Federation… and while she never directly suggested it, she hinted at the possibility of paying the Volant a bribe as well.
Lishka went on to note that a half-dozen of her workers had gone missing, and if this truly was a Federation world, the Volant should be happy to help her find her missing workers. K’mir agreed. The entire facility had been searched, top to bottom, so they definitely were not here, but the world was mostly ocean, with only a few crystalline islands here and there. Two of the workers had been in a submersible, looking for a concentration of deuterium when the vessel disappeared. With the meal coming to an end, K’mir and the others returned to the Volant to organize the search for the missing workers, though Barret asked to remain on the surface, to be a liaison with Lishka and the refinery.
Bisha, who had grown up on a mining world, took a closer look at the facility, and soon realized that it was extremely likely that the facility was refining more than just deuterium. There was something much more valuable here, and when the ocean was scanned to check for the possibilities that Bisha suggested, it was soon discovered that the ocean was indeed a rich source of Latinum.
After a few hours of searching the ocean floor, Kritassan finally managed to find the missing workers. Six humanoid life signs were discovered, at the deepest part of an oceanic trench. While alive, the life signs were slowly fading, and he estimated they would be dead within another half a day. A submersible was borrowed from the refinery, and Bisha, Kritassen and T’rel headed out, piloted by Ara.
Back in the refinery, Barret took time to have drinks with Lishka, and learned more about her. She noted that she was a wanted person in Ferengi space. She took what she felt she was owed from her husband, stole a ship, and fled Ferengi space, refusing to be seen as property of her spouse. She found this world and hoped to make enough profit where she could start funding a resistance for female Ferengi. Barret was impressed by Lishka’s passion for helping others, though her attitude was still tempered by common Ferengi attitudes and beliefs. She acknowledged the latinum refinery, and noted it wouldn’t take too long for her to make enough to really make a difference to female Ferengi throughout the galaxy.
As the submersible carrying the crew approached the location of the life signs, strange things started to happen. It began with Kritassen suddenly having the smells and tastes of his favorite meal filling his senses, while the edges of his vision flickered with strange lights. Then it passed, and instead T’rel felt the flickering at the edges of her vision, and she could taste the hot air of Vulcan. Then T’rel returned to normal, and Ara had a full hallucination, reliving the news that his grandmother had passed, the first true experience with death he had ever lived through. When it passed, Bisha suspected she was next, and she handed off her ushaan-tor to T’rel… and then she suddenly relived a dark moment from her marine career, in which she was injured and the rest of her team was injured or dead. The moment passed, and the hallucinations stopped. Taking back her ushaan-tor, Bisha refrained from telling the others what she saw, though she acknowledged that something seemed to be attacking them psychically.
They approached the site of the life forms, and found a mass of crystals with the life forms within clear crystalline cocoons, attached to the crystal mass. Bisha and Kritassen both scanned the area, and learned several things: the cocoons were filled with a liquid that was permeating the workers’ bodies, down to the cellular and even atomic level, keeping them alive for now, even as it also seemed to be slowly killing them. Just opening the cocoons could kill them. In addition, the crystalline formation seemed to be emitting a low-level energy pattern similar to that of a humanoid brain.
T’rel suggested that she could attempt a mind-meld with the crystal, but Ara had an alternative suggestion: he thought T’rel could mind-meld with him, and together, they could use Ara’s telepathy to commune with the crystalline mind together, from a safe distance. They retreated to the submersible to do so, while Kritassen remained at the ocean floor, observing the crystal formation directly.
T’rel and Ara touched a mind that was very alien, though definitely intelligent. It was suffering, and in great pain, and was trying to communicate that to others. It also seemed to think that the workers and all other humanoids on this world were pieces of a single other mind, and it spoke of “absorbing” the pieces it had collected to better understand and communicate with them. When T’rel and Ara told the mind that they wanted to retrieve the workers, Kritassen saw the crystal cocoons separate from the crystal mass, and he began to collect the workers’ cocoons so they could work on freeing them on the Volant. Ara and T’rel attempted to communicate further, to determine the source of the being’s pain, but the being misunderstood, and thought that they were telling the being to inflict pain instead. The being broke mental communication.
Up on the surface at the refinery, the skies immediately started darkening, and a powerful thunderstorm started raging, as the ocean swelled and began to hammer the walls of the refinery. Kritassen noted that the crystal formations and the sea itself were made up of the same material, in apparently different stages — in essence, he hypothesized that the entire ocean and the crystalline forms throughout was one living entity, one that had originally sent the distress call.
The away team soon reported in with their findings as K’mir traveled down to the refinery to meet Barret speaking with Lishka. With the Volant reporting that the refinery’s structural stability might only last a few hours, Lishka noted that she would do what she had to do in order to protect her workers and refinery. Barret sensed her meaning, and intervened, letting her know that the Volant would not stand by and let her harm an alien creature. K’mir asked for time to communicate with the creature, and Lishka reluctantly agreed to give him some time, though she promised that she would take action if she had to in order to protect her operation and her workers. Lishka admitted she had suspected the ocean was alive, and they had taken steps to develop a method that could harm the ocean should it be necessary. Still, she promised to give the Volant time, in exchange for K’mir’s promise to help her get whatever licenses were needed for operation in Federation space. However, within minutes, several shuttles began firing on the ocean with nadion particle waves, disrupting the energies of the ocean. Lishka immediately demanded they stand down, only to discover that Mishran Vol had taken control of the situation, insisting that he would not let Starfleet prevent him from protecting his investment here. Lishka was furious, and Barret hurried back to the Volant to help protect the ocean.
Back on the Volant, the cocooned workers had been brought aboard, as Drezz, Bisha, and Kritassen worked to find a way to save the workers. Ara, outside, attempted to communicate with the creature once more… and abruptly, one of the cocoons spilled open, and the worker sat up. As the creature spoke with Ara telepathically, the worker spoke aloud with the creature’s voice. Ara discovered that the creature was being harmed by the refinery process, and it did not understand why.
On the bridge of the Volant, Barret took over coms to fly the Volant down into the atmosphere, while Khurron handled the weapon systems. The ocean began firing back at the attacking shuttles with tetryon particles, but as the shuttles attacks continued, the tetryon particles became weaker — the attacks were killing the creature. While Barret maneuvered the Volant to help protect the ocean from the shuttles’ attacks, Khurron began firing on the shuttles, careful to just target the shuttles’ weapon systems. The attack was soon stopped, saving the creature’s life. With its communication with Ara, it also ceased its attack on the refinery.
Ara explained to the creature that the people found material in the ocean quite valuable. Once it grasped the concept that they wanted material, Ara noted what material they were looking for, and the creature noted that such material was its waste. K’mir brought Lishka to sickbay to speak directly with the creature, and the creature offered to just leave the material they wanted in deposits near the refinery, where it could be gathered without harm to the creature. Lishka asked what it wanted in exchange, and it merely noted that it wanted the pain of the refinery process to stop. Lishka eagerly agreed, particularly when she learned that this would increase the amount of both deuterium and latinum; in exchange, she promised to protect it from any potential threats. And since the process would need fewer workers, she exiled Mishran Vol from her organization along with any who joined his revolt. They had, after all, nearly destroyed the very source of their wealth.
Before the Volant left, Barret met Lishka and provided her a gift of a beautiful suit, as a means of thanking her. She gave him a kiss on the cheek before they parted.