"What does that have to do with our engines?" Houlihan said irritated as Porter checked the readouts of the space beyond the ship.
"Everything," Porter said. "Sort of."
"What do you mean sort of?" Houlihan demanded.
"Now you see what I have to deal with everyday," Klinger said. "She has no respect for an artist's work."
"Since when were you an artist?" Houlihan said.
"You are talking to Maxwell Klinger, fashion designer extraordinaire."
"Gotcha!" Porter exclaimed suddenly, startling Klinger and Houlihan.
"Don't do that!" Houlihan said.
Klinger looked down at the monitor display Porter had called up. "What in the name of Toledo?"
Hawkeye, huffing and puffing like he'd just jogged up Mt. Everest, finally caught up with Beck as she stood casually leaning against the wall in a corridor several decks below the mess hall.
"When...you said...run faster," Hawkeye gasped, collapsing against the wall beside her. "I didn't think...you meant...that fast."
"I like to challenge people," Beck replied, barely winded.
"Or kill them."
"Come on, Doctor. It's good for you. Besides, I like a man who can work up a sweat."
"How about a full-fledged downpour?" Hawkeye replied, wiping his sleeve across his forehead.
"Doctor Pierce, Doctor Burns, and Commander Lisa Beck to the briefing room," a voice suddenly barked over the comm system. "And whoever left the Heidi program running in Holodeck One, please come get your leiderhosen. That is all."
"Playtime's over, I'm afraid," Beck said, pulling Hawkeye off of the wall he'd attached himself to.
"Play? I'd hate to see your idea of work."
"Maybe. Maybe not," Beck said, a wicked glint in her eyes as she headed down the corridor.
"We getting a lesson in abstract art?" Pierce asked as he walked into the briefing room with Beck and saw Commander Houlihan standing in front of a monitor displaying a strange, weblike image.
"Afraid not, Pierce," Captain Potter said from the head of the briefing table. Klinger, Porter, Burns, Mulcahy and Hunnicutt were already seated waiting for Houlihan to begin.
"Commander," Potter said, motioning for Houlihan to begin.
"This is the source of our engine trouble," Houlihan said, pointing at the web on the monitor.
"Captain," Pierce protested. "I was in the middle of something very important. Do I need to be here for an engineering problem?"
"You're Chief Medical Officer. You stay," Potter said.
"Beej is here. He can cover for me."
"What a pleasure," Hunnicutt said.
"Captain, could I continue?" Houlihan said.
"By all means," Potter replied.
"Thank you. This webbing is wrapped around the port warp nacelle and hampering our warp field when we try to go above warp two."
"Can't we just go out there with phasers and blast it off then?" Burns asked. "Seems simple enough to me."
"Sure...if you want to blow us all up," Klinger said. "You can't start firing phasers at the nacelles."
"The other problem is that this webbing...or whatever it is...is actually in subspace," Houlihan said.
"What?" Potter said, leaning forward in his chair. "How is that possible?"
"I'll let Lieutenant Porter explain, since he's the one that discovered it in the first place." Houlihan sat down as Porter moved over to the monitor and switched the image to show various readouts of subspace energy, fluctuations, etc.
"Since the M*A*S*H's engines seemed to be working fine, I felt that your problem had to be external. And since it was only happening in warp, subspace was the logical place to look."
"Of course. Obviously," Hawkeye quipped. He was quickly silenced by a sharp jab in the side from Beck's elbow.
"Somehow these tendrils, or whatever they are, latched onto the ship while you were at low warp. If you'd hit them any faster, the resulting entanglement probably would have ripped the ship apart before you even realized what was happening."
"There's a pleasant thought," Hunnicutt said.
"So what can we do?" Burns asked.
"Cut it off," Porter said. "But very carefully. These tendrils dip deep into subspace and are incredibly thin. We're talking about pains-taking work."
"Requiring the hands of a surgeon," Pierce said, suddenly understanding why he was there.
"Bullseye, Pierce," Potter said.
"Wait a second," Beck said, standing up and walking over to the sensor readouts. "What is this one showing?"
"Subspace fluctuations," Porter said, seeing the readout Beck was pointing at.
"Look at the pattern."
"What pattern?" Porter asked. "It's almost random." He stopped for a second, the realization dawning on him. "Almost."
"That thing's alive," Hawkeye said, rushing over to join Beck and Porter.
"Are you sure?" Potter said.
"I think so. The emissions are regular, but not as repetitive as they'd be from a naturally occurring source."
"But they're also not as random as background noise," Porter added.
"Wait, Pierce," Burns said. "Alive and sentient are two very different things. This thing could be the intellectual equivalent of an amoeba."
"Maybe so, but we still keep you around, Frank," Hunnicutt said.
"Captain, if this is a living organism, we cannot just kill it because it's slowing us down," Hawkeye said.
"Can we pull it off without hurting it somehow?" Mulcahy asked.
"We'd have to find a way to manipulate subspace on almost microscopic levels," Houlihan said. "And we'd still need someone with very steady hands."
"You let me worry about the hands," Hawkeye said. "I just need someone to hand me an instrument."
"What do you think, Klinger?" Potter asked.
"This is way out of my field. I'm an engine and evening-wear man."
"We'll need a very small subspace field coil...like out of the engine of a warp-capable probe," Porter said.
"We have that," Houlihan said, checking her padd of the ship's inventory.
"And the emitter assembly of a magnetic decoupler," Porter said.
"And a very small polaron inversion/conversion chamber like the kind they use in a warp dynamics lab."
"Um...no," Houlihan said.
"We've got one," Klinger said.
"No we don't," Houlihan replied. "I know every piece of inventory on this ship, and a polaron-dohickey is not one of them."
"I got one in a trade back at Starbase 342."
"And just what did you trade?" Houlihan asked.
"Nothing on your list. I promise."
"How much stuff do you have that's not on my list?"
"This can wait, folks," Potter said. "Preferably forever. Klinger, get Lieutenant Porter the parts he needs and get to work. In the meantime, Pierce, don't do anything nasty to those hands. We're going to need them soon. Dismissed."
"So much for my idea for what to do with you this afternoon," Beck whispered to Pierce.
"You're just cruel."
"I know," Beck said. "I have to keep myself entertained."
"And torturing me is entertaining?"
"You figured me out. If you'll excuse me..." Beck got up from the conference table and left to confer with Porter about the tendril situation.