Location: Cargo Bay 34, Space Station Deep Space Nine, Bajor Sector
Timeframe: Present Day
As the singular hub of commerce linking the Alpha Quadrant with the Gamma Quadrant, the titanic Cardassian-built space station stood as a testament to combined Federation-Bajoran tenacity over the fourteen years since the discovery of the Bajoran wormhole. Sitting against the black backdrop of space, remarkably absent was the number of Starfleet vessels that usually stood watch over this extraordinarily important asset of the Federation. While merchant ships and independent freighters berthed and swarmed around the station, content in continuing their business absent the protective influence of friendly military vessels, station operations maintained a more heightened level of alertness due to their peculiarly reduced number of starship sentries.
Within the bowels of Deep Space Nine sat one of dozens of different cargo bays. While normally storing operational equipment and private merchandise alike, thus making room for the hither-and-thither of volumetric reallocation of goods that signified a properly operating commercialistic environment, this particular bay recently had its standard fare redistributed to other cargo bays. This cleared out the main staging area, freeing it up for use as an experimental testbed by a renown visiting scientist whose unique field of research had roots to an earlier visit to the station many years prior.
“Looks like you came at exactly the wrong time,” Doctor Julian Bashir commented to the elder man who wore a lab coat. “All Starfleet vessels have been ordered to depart, leaving the station a sitting duck in the midst of a military emergency. I'm surprised you wanted to be here at all.”
“Agreed,” came the terse albeit higher octave reply from a Bajoran woman standing nearby. She wore a Starfleet captain's uniform, and was leaning up against the wall with her arms crossed in consternation. “We're in the middle of an unprovoked war with the Gorns, and you're just another civilian we have to protect. It would be safer if you went elsewhere for the time being.”
“I'm a little surprised at you, captain,” the balding and gray-haried Lewis Zimmerman remarked with irritation. “You of all people should understand the need to maintain a sense of normalcy during heighten conflict. Besides, since the discovery of the wormhole, this station has survived a Klingon attack fleet, a Cardassian invasion force, and a Dominion seek-and-destroy armada. I'm confident you can survive a few weeks without Starfleet assets in the area.”
Kira Nerys released a held breath of exasperation at the doctor's indifference.
“Well, I for one am not willing to just sit around and wait for something to happen,” she exclaimed, turning away from the two scientists with a wave of her hand, thus departing in her own polite way. “I'll be in Ops. Good luck, doctor – and let us know if you find anything interesting.”
“You know,” Bashir commented as the cargo bay doors slid shut. “I'm sure Captain Kira would have been more than willing to lean on Quark for you in order to use one of his holosuites.”
“Insufficient,” Zimmerman gruffly responded, giving the doctor only a brief, annoyed glance before returning to his console. “I need this entire cargo bay if I'm going to complete my work.”
A clanking of machinery preceded the upward-cascading trill of an activated EPS hub, the sounds echoing from wall to wall before the reverberation gave way to a steady-state hum that indicated a power feed connection being brought online. Immediately following that, the control console in front of Doctor Zimmerman swelled to life, complete with blinking and chirping circuits that voiced their fulfillment of needed voltage in order to come alive.
“All twenty six holo-projectors are now in place,” a cheerful, confident voice announced from the back corner of the cargo bay. From the shadows emerged a smiling young Ferengi in a Starfleet officer's uniform, and who sported gold piping along his sleeves with a rank of lieutenant commander affixed to the right collar. He carried with him an engineer's toolkit he had just clicked shut, and strode forth to the elongated computer console alongside Doctor Zimmerman. “We can begin your experiment at your convenience, doctor.”
“Thank you, commander,” he replied before reaching over to activate a work platform on the desk next to him. Atop the desk was a collection of electronic gear, and as the computer acknowledged Zimmerman's activation sequence, a set of blinking sensors came to life around a fist-sized device with a metal shell peppered with pock-marks and carbonized blistering on the surface.
“So you say that this EMH module is from the USS Saratoga?” Doctor Bashir observed while bending over to get a closer look at the small device.
“That's what the microtag reads,” Zimmerman answered without taking his eyes off the computer screen in front of him. “Our Pacific research group back on Earth dredged it up months ago from the ocean floor where we've been collecting remains from the Galaxy-class USS Republic. I had no idea that it would bring me a dozen sectors back here to initiate a new project with you and your staff. I appreciate your assistance with this.”
“Oh, Nog is ALL about new projects these days,” chided Bashir with a half-smirk towards the Ferengi lieutenant commander. “He just finished his tour as security chief on the USS Challenger and has been looking for a chance to transfer back into an Engineering role. Chief O'Brien would be proud.”
Nog made no reply. He just smiled while shaking his head, and re-focused his attention back to the power control station next to Doctor Zimmerman's work console.
“First,” Zimmerman returned to the task at hand. “Let's load the EMH program from the module using your re-scanned bio-signatures. It should rebuild the master image sequence and reconstitute the program.” After dialing a sequence of buttons into the computer, a new hologram whispered into existence in front of them.
“Please state the nature of the medical emergency,” the young, highly-detailed facsimile of Doctor Bashir stated.
For his part, Julian was less curious as to the detail of the hologram than by its contrast with his own age. While the real doctor was easily ten years senior to the electronic representation before them, there was a certain calm joviality to it's voice that had Julian pondering where in his past he might have lost his chipper attitude, or whether it was simply a matter of seasoned discipline brought on by age.
“Good,” Zimmerman said with satisfaction. “Now, let's use that master image sequence and re-collate this cauldron of individual data packets into their respective holo-programs using the new rekeying sequence… Stand by.” Like a dual pair of practiced pianists, both Doctor Zimmerman and Lieutenant Commander Nog worked their controls and brought to life the complex array of holographic projectors installed throughout the main staging area of the empty cargo bay. Using the reconfigured sequences from the USS Saratoga's EMH module, Doctor Zimmerman reconfigured the projectors to permit each new resolved holo-sequence to find a home in the computer and materialize themselves into new individual programs.
As the new configuration came to life, about two dozen human-shaped energy fields flickered into existence, aligned in four rows of six on the projection floor in front of the three researchers. Each hologram was of the exact same height and outline of a humanoid, but composed of nothing more than random kaleidoscopic threads of complex and chaotic energy patterns that danced around in random directions like blinding strands of light roiling about in boiling water. Echoing off the walls were the zaps of static and electronic spitting as indiscrete audio files floundered about without definitive direction.
Doctor Zimmerman shielded his eyes from the spectacle, frowning as he tried to read his computer screen despite the interference from the scintillating light.
“Reduce the Z-band frequencies!” he ordered to Commander Nog over the discordant noise. “And realign the audio translation pathways. There's too much digital conversion!”
Nog made the necessary adjustments, clearing up the auditory noise, and allowing the light spectacle to fall back into a more tolerant range for viewing. As it did so, the sharpness and contrast of the contours surrounding each holographic shape became more defined, revealing themselves to be each of the same person: They each appeared faintly as duplicates of the EMH program of Doctor Bashir. However, due to the variable luminescence of the plasmatic maelstrom within each, the faces were only barely discernible.
“Better,” the doctor replied as he busied himself with punching more commands into the control console. “There's a larger number of holographic patterns in this module than I first thought, only most of them are unusable for image correlation. There's maybe six here that have enough data to re-integrate, though they won't provide a fully interactive interface program.”
“What does that mean?” Bashir inquired.
“It means that personalities and self-awareness won't be present. They'll basically be automatons with information accessible only through verbal interaction.”
“That's better than nothing, I suppose.”
“Let me clean up this coding,” Zimmerman muttered as the two dozen non-distinct shimmering holograms stood motionless. After a few modifications to the programming, the elder doctor nodded his head in approval. “Much better. Now that the EMH matrix is active from your re-scanned organic form, I have an established baseline in which to extrapolate the missing data streams. I can fill in the optical gaps. Stand by.”
After a few chirps and beeps from the computer console, one of the nearby tempestuous electronic shadows reformed and amalgamated into the image of a tall, young, thirty-something Starfleet captain, clean-shaven and with a full patch of straight brown hair.
While the three individuals studied the still form of the holographic newcomer, only Doctor Bashir chose to interact with it.
“Hello,” Julian addressed the hologram thoughtfully. “I'm Doctor Bashir of Deep Space Nine. Who are you?”
There was no response. The hologram stood motionless staring directly ahead into nothingness.
“It looks like these all have conversational occlusion buffers that filter out background chatter,” Zimmerman explained the glitch. “It may be what's keeping them from initializing. I'd recommend a more forceful greeting. Something that definitively requires a response.”
Bashir considered the idea for a moment, then turned back towards the unanimated form of a Starfleet captain. “Name! Rank!” he shouted with his best “scare-the-hell-out-of-the-middies” voice. It was enough to invoke a deadpan, neutral response.
“Theodore Stryker… captain… commander, USS Saratoga…”.
“Now we're getting somewhere,” concluded Doctor Zimmerman confidently. “If the Republic EMH had these stored in the ship's backup module, and the backup module was integrated into the main computer, then that means it was an active component of the ship's holo-matrix… it wasn't some random artifact that Republic picked up somewhere.”
“Starfleet doesn't build ships with spare parts from other ships,” exclaimed Nog emphatically. “This Saratoga EMH backup module must have been intentionally plugged into the Republic's holomatrix. That's the only explanation.”
“Re-integrate another matrix,” Bashir requested with curiosity in his voice. “Let's see if we can dig a little deeper.”
As Zimmerman complied, another primordial energy field solidified into the figure of a gray-haired, clean shaven senior officer with red piping on his uniform and three solid rank pips on his collar, thus indicating he was clearly a command-grade bridge officer.
Again, Bashir shouted his order.
“Reginald Kramer…” came the brusque reply. “Commander… first officer, USS Saratoga…”.
Again and again, Zimmerman re-integrated each of the next three salvageable holographic programs, followed by Bashir barking at them to activate and identify themselves:
“Richard Kimball… cadet… Starfleet Academy trainee, USS Saratoga”; a young, spry, freckled-faced young man with red hair and wearing an academy jumpsuit.
“Roger Maddock… lieutenant commander… chief engineer, USS Saratoga”; a stout gentleman with operations-gold on his uniform, and straight gray hair peppered with black streaks. He had a full mustache, and a face accentuated by wrinkles around a pair of droopy, pudgy cheeks.
“Sumak… commander… chief medical officer, USS Saratoga”; a tall, white-haired, blue-eyed half-Vulcan with a uniform sporting the blue piping of Starfleet's medical division.
Finally, the last of the six to emerge from the roiling electronic abyss was a thin, red-hared and green-eyed young woman in a uniform with gold trimming that depicted an association with the operations branch.
“Shannon Harris… lieutenant junior grade… operative second class, Starfleet Studies and Observations Group”.
The three observers were confused, taking note of the lack of “USS Saratoga” in the hologram's introductory speech. Bashir paused on this newest sixth holo-image that emerged from the garbled mess within the EMH backup module. “I know her…” he whispered as he studied her from top to bottom. “She was on the Galaxy-class Republic. Though, I think she was in the medical section, not operations.”
“And what in the world is a 'Studies and Observations Group'?” Nog exclaimed. “I've never heard of it.”
“I don't know,” Bashir admitted. “It doesn't sound like any Starfleet position that I'm aware of. I suppose it might have been a special class of tactical officer specific to the Saratoga during the Dominion War. But, in order to find THAT out, we'd have to talk to the admiral who was in charge of Saratoga's operational orders before she was lost…”
Suddenly, the image of Shannon Harris shimmered, and a few fits of colorized static washed across her body, as if the conversation had been interpreted as a command from Bashir's voice. To their surprise, a seventh holographic matrix whispered into existence next to Harris. The apparition was of a young man in his early twenties, with bright blue eyes and smooth black hair. He wore a Starfleet uniform that had not been issued in almost 40 years: A double-breasted maroon wrap-around tunic, black belt with a gold encircled Starfleet emblem for a buckle, and a shoulder-strap over the right shoulder that sported a flame-red department color, indicating the hologram was a Starfleet cadet. Confused, Bashir looked back at Zimmerman, who was clearly at a loss as he simply shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.
“Name! Rank!” Bashir sounded again to activate the mysteriously re-integrated program.
“Vladamir Kostya… cadet… commander, USS Republic…”
The three men were stupified by the revelation that they had stumbled upon an early holographic representation of the current president of the Federation. They looked at one another with ambivalence, unsure of what question to ask next of the assembled automatons…
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