Captain's log, stardate 500146.2.
At Starfleet's request, the Enterprise has arrived at Betazed to take on Lem Faal, a distinguished Betazoid scientist, and his two children. Under Faal's direction, this ship will take part in a highly classified experiment that, if it is successful, may open up a vast new frontier for exploration.
"Are you quite sure, Counselor, that you do not wish to visit your family while we are here at Betazed?"
"No, thank you, Captain," Commander Deanna Troi replied. "As it happens, my mother and little brother are off on one of her regular excursions to the Parallax Colony on Shiralea VI, so there's not much point in beaming down."
You didn't have to be an empath to detect an unmistakable look of relief on Captain Jean-Luc Picard's face when he learned that Lwaxana Troi was several dozen light-years away. She knew exactly how he felt; even though she genuinely loved her mother, Troi wasn't too disappointed that there would be no parent-daughter reunion on this particular mission. Surviving a visit with Lwaxana always required a lot of energy -- and patience. Maybe it will get easier someday, she thought. And maybe Klingons will become vegetarians, too.
"That's too bad," Captain Picard said unconvincingly. "Although I'm sure our guest must be anxious to get under way." He glanced toward the far end of the conference room, where a middle-aged Betazoid male waited patiently, reviewing the data on a padd that he held at arm's length from himself. Must be farsighted, Troi guessed, a not uncommon condition in Betazoids of a certain age. Lem Faal had striking, dark brown eyes, a receding hairline, and the slightly distracted air of a born academic. He reminded Troi of any number of professors she had encountered during her student days at the university, although, on closer inspection, she also picked up an impression of infirmity even though she couldn't spot any obvious handicap. Wearing a tan-colored civilian suit, he looked out of place among all the Starfleet uniforms. Almost instinctively, her empathic senses reached out to get a reading on the new arrival, only to immediately come into contact with a telepathic presence far more powerful than her own. Becoming aware of her tentative probing, Faal looked up from his data padd and made eye contact with Troi from across the room.
Hello, he thought to her.
Er, hello, she thought back. Growing up on Betazed, she had become accustomed to dealing with full telepaths, even though she felt a bit rusty at mindspeaking after spending so many years among humans and other nontelepathic races. Welcome to the Enterprise.
Thank you, he answered. She sensed, behind his verbal responses, feelings of keen anticipation, excitement, anxiety, and...something else as well, something she couldn't quite make out. Curious, she stretched out further, deeper until she could almost --
Excuse me, Faal thought, blocking her. I think the captain is ready to begin the briefing.
Troi blinked, momentarily disoriented by the speed with which she had been shoved out of Faal's mind. She looked around the conference room of the Enterprise-E. The other Betazoid's telepathic comment seemed accurate enough; her fellow officers were already taking their places around the curved, illuminated conference table. Captain Picard stood at the head of the table, opposite the blank viewscreen at the other end of the room, where Faal waited to make his presentation. Decorative windows along the outer wall of the conference room offered a eye-catching view of Betazed's upper hemisphere, an image reflected in the glass panes of the display case mounted to the inner wall. Goldplated models of great starships of the past hung within the case, including a miniature replica of the lost Enterprise-D, her home for seven years. Troi always winced inside a little whenever she noticed that model. She'd been at the helm of that Enterprise when it made its fatal crash into Veridian III. Even though she knew, intellectually, that it wasn't her fault, she still couldn't forget the sense of horror she had felt as the saucer section dived into the atmosphere of Veridian III, never to rise again. This new ship was a fine vessel, as she'd proven during their historic battle with the Borg a few months ago, but she didn't feel quite like home. Not yet.
Preoccupied with thoughts of the past, Troi sat down at the table between Geordi La Forge and Beverly Crusher. Will Riker and Data were seated across from her, their attention on Captain Picard. Riker's confidence and good humor radiated from him, helping to dispel her gloomy memories. She shook her head to clear her mind and listened attentively as the captain began to speak.
"We are honored to have with us today Lem Faal, a specialist in applied physics from the University of Betazed. Professor Faal has previously won awards from the Daystrom Institute and the Vulcan Science Academy for his groundbreaking work in energy wave dynamics."
"Impressive stuff," Geordi said, obviously familiar with Faal's work. Troi could feel the intensity of his scientific interest seeping off him. No surprise there; she'd expect their chief engineer to be fascinated by "energy wave dynamics" and like matters.
"Indeed," Data commented. "I have been particularly intrigued by the professor's insights into the practical applications of transwarp spatial anomalies." The android's sense of anticipation felt just as acute as Geordi's. He must have activated his emotion chip, Troi realized. She could always tell, which certainly demonstrated how genuine Data's on-again, off-again emotions could be.
"Starfleet," the captain continued, "has the greatest of interest in Professor Faal's current line of research, and the Enterprise has been selected to participate in an experiment testing certain new theories he has devised." He gestured toward Faal, who nodded his head in acknowledgment. "Professor, no doubt you can explain your intentions better."
"Well, I can try," the scientist answered. He tapped a control on his padd and the viewscreen behind him lit up. The image that appeared on the screen was of a shimmering ribbon of reddish-purple energy that appeared to stretch across a wide expanse of interstellar space. The Nexus? Troi thought for a second, but, no, this glowing band did not look quite the same color as the mysterious phenomenon that had obsessed Tolian Soran. It looked familiar, though, like something she might have seen at an astrophysics lecture back at Starfleet Academy. Of course, she realized instantly, the barrier!
She felt a temporary surge of puzzlement quickly fade from the room. Obviously, the other officers had recognized the barrier as well. Faal let his audience take in the image for a few seconds before beginning his lecture.
"For centuries," he began, "the great galactic barrier has blocked the Federation's exploration of the universe beyond our own Milky Way galaxy. It completely surrounds the perimeter of our galaxy, posing a serious hazard to any vessel that attempts to venture to the outer limits of inhabited space. Not only do the unnatural energies that comprise the barrier batter a vessel physically, but there is also a psychic component to the barrier that causes insanity, brain damage, and even death to any humanoid that comes into contact with it."
Troi winced at the thought. As an empath, she knew just how fragile a mind could be, and how a heightened sensitivity to psychic phenomena sometimes left one particularly vulnerable to such effects as the professor described. As a full telepath, Faal had to be even more wary of powerful psychokinetic forces. She wondered if his own gifts played any part in his interest in the barrier.
Faal pressed another button on his padd and the picture of the barrier was replaced by a standard map of the known galaxy, divided into the usual four sections. A flashing purple line, indicating the galactic barrier, circled all four quadrants. "The Federation has always accepted this limitation, as have the Klingons and the Romulans and the other major starfaring civilizations, because there has always been so much territory to explore within our own galaxy. After all, even after centuries of warp travel, both the Gamma and the Delta quadrants remain largely uncharted. Furthermore, the distances between galaxies are so incalculably immense that, even if there were a safe way to cross the barrier, a voyage to another galaxy would require a ship to travel for centuries at maximum warp. And finally, to be totally honest, we have accepted the barrier because there has been no viable alternative to doing so.
"That situation may have changed," Faal announced with what was to Troi a palpable sense of pride. Typical, she thought. What scientist is not proud of his accomplishments? The map of the galaxy flickered, giving way to a photo of a blond-haired woman whose pale skin was delicately speckled with dark red markings that ran from her temples down to the sides of her throat. A Trill, Troi thought, recognizing the characteristic spotting of that symbiotic life-form. She felt a fleeting pang of sadness from the woman seated next to her and sympathized with Beverly, who was surely recalling her own doomed love affair with the Trill diplomat Ambassador Odan. Troi wasn't sure, but she thought she sensed a bit of discomfort from Will Riker as well. A reasonable reaction, considering that Will had once "loaned" his own body to a Trill symbiont. She was relieved to note that both Will and Beverly swiftly overcame their flashes of emotion, focusing once more on the present. They acknowledged their pasts, then moved on, the counselor diagnosed approvingly. Very healthy behavior.
Worf married a Trill, she remembered with only the slightest twinge of jealousy. Then she took her own advice and put that reaction behind her. I wish him only the best, she thought.
"Some of you may be familiar with the recent work of...