Chapter 1: Stop That God-Awful Racket
Disclaimer:Star Trek: The Next Generation belongs to Gene Roddenberry and his minions. I don't own it, and am not making any money from it. It'd be really nice, but no.
Captain's Personal Log: Having been informed by Lieutenant Green that she is autistic, I must admit that I am quite curious, though I do not wish to pry. I was not aware that there were indeed people who choose not to cure what Dr. Crusher tells me is an easily treated condition. I remain concerned, however, about the possibility of her going into "autistic shutdown," as she calls it, during an emergency situation.
"Mr. Data, what is our estimated time of arrival to Starbase 718?" Captain Picard asked.
"Estimated time of arrival is four days, 19 hours, 27 minutes and 38.65…"
"Quite sufficient, Data." Picard sighed and shook his head. 'One of these days,' he thought to himself, 'I'm going to remember to specify "to the nearest minute."'
"Yes, sir." Data never could understand why humans often didn't want the most precise figure possible.
Before Data could muse further on the subject, the Enterprise was rocked by a horrible noise. It was somewhere between the sound of nails on a chalkboard and the high pitched whine of a siren, with overtones of static. "Merde," Jean-Luc Picard muttered under his breath, gripping the arms of his chair until his knuckles turned white. Worf let out a low growl. Will Riker gritted his teeth. Deanna Troi closed her eyes and tried—unsuccessfully—to block out everyone else's emotional reactions. Data remained calm, trying to understand just what it was about a complex high-frequency sound wave that had everyone else so upset. Then, just as suddenly as it had begun, everything was still.
Ruthie Green stood with her fingers in her ears, desperately trying to block out the sound that was no longer there. Seeing that everyone else on the bridge had relaxed, she cautiously removed one finger and listened. The horrible screech was gone. One hand tapping compulsively on the wall, and bordering on hyperventilation, she desperately fought the urge to rock. "R-request permission to leave the bridge," she stammered, turning towards the viewscreen.
"Granted, Lieutenant," Picard replied evenly.
"Thank you, sir," she said, hurrying over to the turbolift.
The captain tapped his communicator badge. "Bridge to engineering, did you hear that noise?"
"Yes sir," came the voice of Geordi LaForge. "Like nails on a chalkboard, only more so."
"Quite. Do you know what caused it?"
"Working on it now, Captain."
"Very good, let me know what you find. Picard out." He turned towards Counselor Troi. "Counselor, would you please join me in my Ready Room?"
"Number One, you have the bridge," the captain said, as he and Troi walked across the bridge. "Please, sit down," he said, as they entered the room. Picard perched on the edge of his desk, while the counselor sat down in a nearby chair. "Counselor, what did you sense during that…ordeal?"
"I assume you mean in regard to Lieutenant Green in particular?"
"Well, everyone was stressed and agitated, myself included. But in Ruthie's case, I felt something more than that. I can only describe it as panic. Sheer panic."
"And after the noise stopped?"
"Most people calmed down, relieved. But Ruthie was still extremely agitated, barely in control of her reactions. She seemed ready to burst into tears at the drop of a hat. Hence her request to leave the bridge."
"Funny. She often seems nearly as unemotional as Data."
"No, there's a critical difference," Troi responded. "Data is truly unemotional; his program does not allow for feelings as we know them. In Ruthie's case, the emotions are there, she simply doesn't necessarily express them as a normal person would."
"Interesting. Thank you for your help, Counselor." Picard and Troi returned to the bridge.
As Picard sat down, Riker turned to speak with him. "That was just about the worst noise I've heard in a while."
"It most certainly was. I've never heard anything quite like it—and I hope to keep it that way."
Riker dropped his voice to a whisper. "With your permission sir, I'd like to go check on Lieutenant Green. She was shaking like a leaf."
"Good idea, Number One," Picard whispered back.
Riker walked over to the turbolift. "Deck 8," he said as the doors closed. They hissed open again as the lift arrived at its destination.
Finding the door he wanted, Riker sounded the chime and waited. "Come in," came a tired sounding voice from the other side. Riker walked through the door as it whispered open, squinting slightly as he looked around. His vision was excellent, but the lights had been dimmed a fair bit. Finally, he found the lieutenant sitting cross-legged in a chair in the corner. The chair was not a rocker, but its occupant most certainly was. The young officer rocked back and forth in her chair, the motion making Riker slightly dizzy. "Go ahead and sit down," she said, motioning to a nearby chair, on which a black cat snoozed. "Feel free to move the cat." She whistled. "Einstein…kss, kss, kss, kss, kss…" The cat got up and sauntered over to his mistress. She stopped rocking as the cat made himself comfortable in her lap.
Riker sat down. "I just wanted to make sure you were all right, Lieutenant. You seemed rather…upset on the bridge."
"A bit shaken up, Commander, but I'm fine. I just didn't want to make a scene on the bridge."
"A scene?" Riker asked, confused. He noticed that Ruthie wasn't looking him in the eye, but that was nothing unusual—she never did.
"I dislike rocking in public," Ruthie said wryly. "It attracts rather more attention than I really want. Often as not, that results in half the bridge crew crowding around trying to make sure I'm all right, making the situation even worse than it already is." Einstein got up and wandered off as Ruthie started rocking again.
"You're rocking again," Riker said gently, not sure if her views on "rocking in public" extended to conversations in her quarters.
Ruthie sighed. "Thanks," she replied, shaking her head, "but in my own quarters, I don't particularly care if there's an admiral sitting in the corner. If it bothers anybody that much, I'll be happy to speak to them elsewhere. But this is my space, and it's the one place on the ship where I don't have to care who's watching."
"I see. Are you concerned that people who haven't seen your medical file might jump to conclusions?" Riker made a mental note to tell Counselor Troi that a chat with the young lieutenant might be in order.
"Intellectually, no. They can jump to all the conclusions they like; what are they going to come up with that no one else has in 26 years? At this point, I don't really care anymore what the rest of the world thinks. When I came aboard the Enterprise, I made sure that the small handful of people who genuinely needed to know my neuro-medical history had access to it. Beyond that, I don't exactly advertise the fact that I'm autistic, but I don't go out of my way to keep it a secret either. The people whose opinions matter know; the rest are welcome to think what they will."
Riker grinned slightly as he considered this. He found it slightly surprising that the quiet, reserved young woman had developed this almost bad-girl attitude. Then again, it showed a healthy self-acceptance. She may have had her limitations, but she wasn't going to let anyone else's prejudices about them stand in her way.
"Emotionally, though?" Ruthie continued, "To tell you the truth, I get kinda tired of being considered a freak."
"Perfectly reasonable, particularly given that you aren't one," Riker replied. He checked his chronometer. "I really should be getting back to the bridge," he said, standing up.
"As should I," Ruthie replied, getting up as well. "Just a second." She opened a nearby drawer and pulled out a pair of black-rimmed sunglasses, just in case. She used one earpiece to clip them to the waistband of her pants and pulled the hem of her blue and black shirt down over the top lens. "After you, sir," she said, gesturing towards the door.
"Are you sure, Lieutenant? Everything back to normal?" Riker was concerned, having seen the panic in her eyes less than an hour ago when the ship's crew had been paralyzed by that high-pitched shriek.
"Normality is the number of equivalents per liter of solution, Commander," the young scientist replied with a slight smirk. "I'm as normal as I ever am," She shrugged. "Better get on up there."
"Ouch, bad pun," Riker laughed as the two officers walked over to the turbolift. Still, he was glad to see her back on sufficiently even footing to joke about it. The lift doors hissed open. "Bridge."
Picard glanced over his shoulder as the aft turbolift hissed open, expecting to see his first officer. He was slightly surprised to see that Riker was followed by Lieutenant Green. "Everything all right, Lieutenant?" he asked.
"I'm fine, sir." Though she did not look directly at him, the expression in her eyes convinced Picard to leave it at that. She returned to her usual position at one of the aft science stations, as Riker crossed the bridge to his seat.
"Engineering to bridge," came LaForge's voice.
The captain tapped his communicator. "Yes, Mr. LaForge, what is it?"
"I've found the cause of that shrieking noise. It seems that one of the local star systems, the Saiti-Sooma system, emits extremely high levels of radio waves. Those waves interacted with our warp field to create an auditory disturbance." The engineer's voice was somewhat raised above the noise of the ship's warp core in the background.
"No, Captain. The radio waves are irritating beyond all description, but they're harmless to our deflectors."
"Good. Has anything similar ever been reported before?"
"No, sir. This appears to be a fluke. According to my calculations, the directional range for this effect is extremely narrow. If we had been heading three degrees off our present course, I doubt we would have heard it."
"Thank you, Commander Prepare a full report for Starfleet; they'll want to hear about it."
"Bridge out." Picard tugged at the hem of his shirt as he settled back in his chair.
"Captain!" Worf said suddenly. "We are receiving a distress call from the Federation colony on the planet Koshka IX."
"On screen, main viewer," Picard snapped, bolting upright to face the main view screen at the front of the bridge.
"Aye, sir," the Klingon responded, tapping at the controls of the tactical console.
On the viewer, a fuzzy image appeared. There was a lot of static, and everything appeared to be shaking. "Help us, please," the man in front of the camera pleaded. "The ground is shaking, everything is falling apart. We won't last much longer; we're…" Someone in the background shouted "Gospoda poshada" just as the viewscreen went black; the planet's transmission device must have been damaged.
Picard's choice of action was clear. "Helm, set course for the Ruibi system, Warp 7."
"Aye, sir," Wesley replied, tapping at his console. "Warp 7." The Enterprise zipped off towards Koshka IX.
"Wonder what the problem is," Riker commented. "I didn't see any signs of enemy fire. A natural disaster—earthquake maybe? I don't know if Koshka IX is prone to seismic activity or not."
"It's a possibility, Number One," Picard replied.
"I'll see what information we have about the planet, Captain," Ruthie said, tapping into the ship's library.
"Thank you, Lieutenant. Data, what is our estimated time of arrival at the planet?"
"One hour, 40 minutes, sir"
"Good. Thank you for rounding that to the nearest minute, by the way."
"I did not round it, sir. That was the exact time, accurate to within two milliseconds."
"Nevermind," Picard sighed, realizing he probably shouldn't have asked. "What does 'Gospoda poshada'mean, I wonder?" he mused.
"It is a Russian phrase, sir."
Picard turned in his chair to face his chief of security. "Oh?"
"It means 'God have mercy.'"