Friday, February 27, 2015

Returning Home, Part Four

The smells and sounds of the house had become foreign, lacking the deep thrum of a starship or a station that normally lulled Juliette to sleep. She dozed, then woke, then meditated, then dozed again. As she awoke for the final time she groggily realized what she had gotten would have to do.

Unpacking the Biome took the better part of an hour. It was a small, dense shrub with short tangled branches clutching a dense nebula of deep green leaves bunched around mantis oblong pods, most of which were open to reveal an off-white orb inside. At the center of each orb was a red spot giving each the countenance of a baleful read eye. For its thick foliage and startling appearance, much of what made the Biome the subject of such intense scrutiny at Daystrom was not in the leaves or eyes, but in the fibers and microorganisms amid its roots. 

“Your secrets are below the surface. How very like Betazed you are” Juliette thought and softly murmured to the Biome, her first spoken words since she had arrived.

Once she had the plant’s facing to her satisfaction, she experimented with the drapes, trying different gauzes or silks, to get the light just so.  Satisfied, she stepped back. “Well Panoptes, what do you think?” again both verbally and telepathically. As she gently listened for a response, she sensed Papa at the doorway.

Does he ever answer? He asked with wry amusement.

No. not yet. But scanners show rudimentary responses to both stimuli. Maybe it doesn’t understand me. Maybe it has nothing to say. Isn’t it amazing, Papa? Fully grown, they take up tens or hundreds of square kilometers.

That large? I can’t even imagine a tree that size.

 Its not just plant matter that makes up the entirety of the creature, it’s a system of living organisms, much like we are, really.  We’re comprised of systems of organs; it’s a system of biotic and abiotic components. Vegetation, soil biota and even the lower animal species contribute to the overall organism. It was an amazing find for a biological survey on some unremarkable moon in the Hoken system. The only reason we even investigated was because Hoken III itself was a desert ball, but the beta moon was just covered in jungle, like some sort of genesis effect.  Then we noticed the specialized plants – ocular, aural, vibration sensitive varieties that adjusted their behavior in a very coordinated manner.  Unfortunately, they’re hostile to most sentient mammals.

Then how did you get this Biome?

In searching around, we found a dig site where someone had dug up the central root cluster of one of the Biomes, and tracked it down to some Orion harvesters who were selling them – whole or piecemeal.  We recovered—

She paused. Yes, best to skip the protracted firefight on the Orion vessel – how she jammed her mind against the Tulprin’s even as she jammed her arm deeper into its gnashing jaws; both efforts to keep it from tearing her arm off,  the connection letting her taste of her blood in its mouth, feel her bones grating against its teeth -- those awful moments ending in a moment of searing agony as it disintegrated in phaser fire. She reflexively rubbed her arm.

We recovered it, and with the help of botanists from Risa, managed to keep it alive and get it planted back into its region. It took a couple months for it to re-establish itself within its area, but after that, It was the only region we didn’t have to wear EV suits to filter out toxic pollen or dodge exploding seed pods.  We found Panoptes sprouting near the central cluster.  It was the only plant disconnected from the rest of the root networks.  We excavated it slowly, to let the Biome refuse our actions, and here he is.

You named it Panoptes? He doesn’t look much like a giant, and it might be a few short of a hundred eyes, but a good choice, nonetheless.  And the Biome are telepathic?

We found some of the root structures had the wrong composition for water and nutrients, but where transmitting *something*.  I acted on a hunch, digging around one of the larger root structures and touching it. I sensed a presence, but it wasn’t like anyone I’d sensed before. When I tried to make contact, its response was so overwhelming it threw me into cortical shock. The doctor had to use a lobe – Juliette sensed his sudden anxiety before he could hide it, and looked over to his pale face. Whoops. Papa, don’t look at me that way. There was nothing to worry about, really.

He laughed humorlessly. Nothing to worry about. This from the woman whose last contact was ‘I just wanted to let you know I’m fine, I’ve been in sickbay getting my lungs purged.’

I inhaled toxic spores, but Ensign Yores caught a face full of this sap that was highly acidic – burned all the way down to the bone…She felt his growing unease and let her thoughts dwindle to silence. She forced her tone to be upbeat. So everything turned out alright.

The silence that followed was uncomfortable.

 Juliette started to protest and he cut her off. No, just let me worry. You’re my daughter and I worry. I’d never let my worry stop your dreams. Just…

Be careful. Yes Papa, I’m careful. I’m surrounded by Starfleet officers. I serve on a state of the art starship. We’re professionals. We’re careful.

Juliette watched him hide a dark tangle of worry and doubt behind an apologetic smile. It hurt that he worried no matter what she did or didn’t say. She abruptly changed the subject. So did you really give Jordres permission to escort me home before Kamara gave permission to Morin?

She is Matron of House Sri. I overstepped my bounds. His tone was the perfect mix of contriteness and subservience.

Juliette quietly applauded the performance.  Oh, how well-rehearsed! Just the perfect excuse if I would have left Andres at the spaceport!

Wisely you did not, and it is Andres, is it? His tone was teasing.

Juliette felt her face get hot. Stop! But he is nice. I did consider going off with him and leaving Morin at the space port. What would you have said then?

Kamara’s tone cut between them, thick with false drama. Oh, please forgive the slight. My sister is a silly girl that spent too much time cavorting with Vulcans far away from Betazed, and knows so little of our ways…

Juliette felt herself go cold, but resisted a retort. “Vulcans hardly ‘cavort’, Matron.”

“Second Scion.”  She responded formally, barely hiding her mix of dismay at the Biome. And your pet.

Papa edged toward the door. I’ll leave you two to catch up.

Juliette protested. Papa, don’t go.

Kamara snorted. Catch up? Don’t you mean fight?

Juliette went from cold to hostile. You’re the one always starting – but her father’s gentle, firm tone cut her off.

Our Second Scion’s time with us will not be as long as we’d like.

Juliette froze as the meaning overtook her. He doesn’t mean just me. Karana also caught herself short.

Make of it what you will.  He replied as backed out of the doorway, closing the French doors. 

Juliette struggled to calm herself as her fight fled from the specter of Lara, and she vowed to not repeat afternoon tea. She felt Kanara uncharacteristically wall herself off – her arms crossed arms as gazed out the window. The loss of Lara had troubled her deeply, even though they bickered often.  She tried to shake the similarities from her mind.

I am sorry, Matron. I will speak to Ramel and remind him that the scanners are for security only.

Karana’s response was resigned. It would be helpful for you to do so, Scion. He will listen to you. Juliette felt a pang of worry at the implication he listened to no one else. He should at least be listening to Papa, and could not be allowed to go the way of Kent.  

Suddenly, Kanara was herself again – the matron in command.  Ashe has a daughter learning Vulcan. I have offered for you to tutor her while you are here.

Inwardly, Juliette sighed. Patronage.  Obligation. Still, she liked Hortus. I will arrange time tomorrow.

Tomorrow morning. Tomorrow afternoon, we are having lunch at House Tirese. They want a chance to review your work from the Daystrom presentation. Dr. Tierse is working on a rebuttal.

I have read his synopsis. He is wrong and full of himself.

Then let the Daystrom jury tear him apart. Tierse outranks us by at least ten. Be gracious and help him get his point across without looking a fool. I am quite certain you can be diplomatic.  Oh, and the day after tomorrow, the Matron of House Cole would like a demonstration of kareel-ifla. I hope you haven’t forgotten how.

I can recommend several good holos. Juliette replied with exasperation as she watched her time on leave be consumed by house duty.

Holos are not telepathic, and one learns better by feeling, not just seeing. We have obligation to these Houses and you need to contribute.

I do! Juliette protested. With research and my rank in Starfleet.

You do what you want, Sister, and think about the House implications later. One can capitalize only so much on your successes. Without your contribution here, it is merely something that happened ‘out there’ Karana waved her hands heavenward.

Juliette clenched her jaw, and only let some resignation creep into her response. I remember House Cole fondly. I will be my pleasure to demonstrate kareel-ifla for them. Sri glanced over at her sister, who was staring at the table dubiously. Her glare matched the Biome’s.

Its a Biome, Sister.

That’s the thing that Jordres and Morin are all excited about? A shrub with eyes?

It is a sentient, telepathic plant species.

Kamara regarded the Biome with new interest, responding with a touch of defensiveness, I did read your paper, you know.

Juliette bit back the question of who explained it to her. I am pleased you took time from your busy schedule to do so.  I hope that it may contribute to the prestige of the House in some way.

Enough to attract the attention of one of the Hectad. Do you know what that means?


Karana’s glance said it all. The question was naive. Patronage directly to Sri? Why would they skip four *hundred* houses and ignore their obligations?

Juliette shrugged. Tessa does not seem to hold much value in the House System.

She might not but her Matron certainly does. Tessa approached me as the Second Scion of Morin, so she represents her house in this matter. Just as you represent House Sri.  I wouldn’t believe House Morin would be so foolish.

House Morin did mention they felt that Betazed could research the Biome as well as Daystrom.

I see, and do you know people within Daystrom who could you block such a move? Kanara’s tone was thoughtful.

The question surprised Juliette. Potentially, but why would I? Kanara didn’t answer, and Juliette mulled the question until the answer came to her in a sick rush. Because once it’s a Betazed project, it can fall under house rules. Her unease switched to anger. Project leadership would go to House Morin.

Most likely House Lari, who is in the Decat. Their patronage to House Morin has been generous.

But its my project! Juliette’s thoughts were hot. I-I have the most experience with the Biome.

Perhaps they’ll keep you on as some sort of adjunct or consultant, provided you don’t bruise too many egos in the Hectat.

To hell with the Hectat, the Biome is mine! 

Kanara patted her hand gently, as one would a child, which only served to add to Juliette’s fury. Before you go fighting the entire Hectat, you might want to gather your allies, and cultivate relationships with scientists closer to your standing.  I will make introductions and you will have your pick of the Pentahectat. Tierse, while a fool, has connections in a variety of sciences, botany and genetics included. You might even secure service from houses *above* our rank, but I should handle that. Those are – delicate negotiations, but better than engaging houses outside the Pentahectat. Do whatever you like with Jordres. Promise whatever to get what you want, but do not expect me to keep your promises. Enjoy him, then forget him.

Sri did not trust her reaction or her expression and busied herself unpacking her clothing. Her head throbbed – from her own emotions for a change. Forgive me Karana, I know this is important to you, but I find this whole ordeal trivial and stupid. Tessa Morin made fun of it herself.

She expected Karana to be hurt and angry but she only smiled a little. Everyone finds it trivial and stupid, Juliette, until it is their station which is being overstepped. House Morin has two social scientists on retainer to consult on house standings. Does that sound like someone who finds rankings trivial and stupid?

Juliette frowned with doubt, and rubbed her temples. I-I don’t know. I didn’t’ expect this. I don’t want this. I wanted to come home, to rest. Sister, Matron, I’m very tired. I need to think.

That is the most sensible thing you’ve said so far. I’ll have tea brought. Get rest, Sister.


The tea was sweet and hot, but rest was not an option. Like most estates, House Sri had a small communications room that allowed for holographic conferences. In the spirit of service, when it was not being used, House Sri leant out the communication bandwidth for others to use.  Still, she did not have to wait long to use the subspace link to contact the Daystrom Institute.

Dr. Saurn was fully dressed and did not appear to have hurried doing so, despite the late hour on Sol IV.  “Project Allocations is choking off our access to equipment and resources. That means no time on the scanners and super comps, no lab time, no assigned techs.  We can’t even get time on the holo simiulators. You know researchers don’t like sitting on their hands, so they’re starting to look for projects with some action.”

Juliette felt a flash of annoyance. “The Biome is a class one project. It’s supposed to get priority.”

“Was a class one. And officially, its classification hasn’t been changed. But it’s being resourced like a class five, which means it couldn’t get snow if it was stationed on Andoria.” 

The joke pulled a grim smile to her face. “I can talk to my family about diverting some of the university resources.” A mere pittance of data, on top of subspace delays. It might perhaps be enough to keep the project on life-support. Perhaps. “Is there anyone I can talk to at Daystrom?”

He grunted. “Unless you can work that mind-melding of yours over subspace, I’m talking to everyone I can. Everyone’s shields up and won’t tell me a thing.  He took on a more conspiratorial tone, “I might not be able to do anything, but you – aren’t you officially stationed at the Alpha Centauri Institute?”

Pull the research project from Daystrom? She thought with a chill. Gods Unfortunate, that would be a battle. She wasn’t prepared to burn bridges at Daystrom even if they were starving her project for resources. “Technically, the USS Bath, but I do know some people there.”

“Do so. I talked to my contacts at Risa. They won’t let the project within light years of orbit, so if you have any pull at ACI, pull hard. I’m looking at empty labs within the week, and without progress and researchers, what little resources left will be thrown elsewhere, or shifted to a newly-constituted Biome research project.”

Juliette felt a thread of suspicion and tugged on it gently. “Have there been any plans submitted?”

“None yet. I’ll let you know what and who if they manifest.”

“I’ll do what I can on my end.” She was her unease wouldn’t transmit.