The cage of light

Captain's Log, Stardate 43712.7

We have just departed from the Beta Leonis system, after our diplomatic mission proceeded as planned. The delegation composed by me, First Officer Riker and Counsellor Troi was successfully able to negotiate a peace between the inhabitants of the third and the fourth planet of the system. It was remarkable to see how much centuries of divergence after their colonies got separated by the loss of spaceflight technology have done to this species, but still, we were able to appeal to their similarities, and find a common ground for them to agree on. The final meeting was held on board of the Enterprise, orbiting at an intermediate distance between the two spheres of influence to function as neutral ground. Both the planets' fleets had their weapons trained on us and suspected treachery, so these were some tense moments, but ultimately, we were able to have them see reason.

Lieutenant Commander Data expressed his surprise at the fact that the negotiations went so smoothly. Perhaps he was right to be suspicious, but I like to think his occasional shortsightedness concerning the emotions of us organic beings might have blinded him to the obvious truth of the matter - that we were able to establish a bond of trust and friendship with these aliens, and that they thus truly saw the potential that friendship, rather than war, holds for the future of their species. Or at least, that is what I hope. Only time will tell whether I am right.

Our next mission will bring us much closer to Earth. It will be a long journey.

Captain's Log, Stardate 43713.5

We have been travelling at warp 3 for a day now. We could go faster, but after our tangle with the Borg just two weeks ago, Lieutenant La Forge insisted that he'd rather not put too much stress on the dilithium crystals, and I agree with him. We have time, and I would rather arrive with a fully functional Enterprise than with one that badly needs repairs.

It will be a slightly longer journey than planned.

Captain's Log, Stardate 43714.6

Today Guinan has surprised our bridge crew with a new cocktail of her design. It's certainly pleasant, but rather strong. Doctor Crusher had to sedate Lieutenant Worf after he had gotten inebriated, as things were about to turn dangerous. I have decided to have the sales of this new drink be restricted to one shot glass per person per day.

Captain's Log, Stardate 43715.8

Lieutenant La Forge spent his whole day working on a data stream we received today from the Federation network. Besides the usual news and information there was a significant number of patches for our computer systems, including one big update to the Holodeck firmware that took some tinkering to install.

Captain's Log, Stardate 43716.3

Whoever wrote in the Starfleet Guidelines that a captain should always keep in the habit of remarking at least one fact of note per day in his Log should really try crossing the Federation side to side at warp 3.

And yes, that is my fact of the day.

Captain's Log, Stardate 43717.6

Today we just discovered there has been a mistake inputted in our route calculations yesterday that has taken us almost ten light years off course. That is remarkable in its own way, considering in this area of space our route is to be simply a straight line. It seems that Ensign Crusher has not been at his best in the last days. I asked his mother if she knows of anything that may trouble him, but she could not think of anything, though she did mention she too thought he felt rather absent. Still, Crusher is a Starfleet officer, and teenage woes are not an excuse for shirking duties. I gave him a talking to, then suggested he could take the rest of the day off to clear his head. Hopefully tomorrow he will be back to his usually sharp focus.

Captain's Log, Stardate 43718.4

Another route mistake - this time inputted under the supervision of Lieutenant Worf, who was replacing Ensign Crusher during his leave. This one risks being more costly to us, as it led us near to the gravity well of a black hole. We can't simply warp so close to it without risking further stress to our engines, so we will have to leave the system by impulse. That's another half a day lost to trivial carelessness.

One officer making a simple mistake is human. Two officers making one is the symptom of a problem. The question is, what problem is that?

Captain's Log, Stardate 43718.6

We almost plunged into that black hole. How do you even manage to turn the impulse drives on reverse by mistake? That could have killed every single person on this ship!

Perhaps Commander Data was right, and our mission in Beta Leonis wasn't that simple after all. Maybe one of the delegations left us with a souvenir - some form of sabotage to either our navigation computer, or the mental integrity of our crew. The question is, which one? I will need to look into this.

In the meantime, I have extended Ensign Crusher's leave, and Lieutenant Worf is on indefinite leave too. I know it is dishonourable for him, but I can not risk the integrity of this ship at the hands of an officer whose brain could have been compromised. The helm is now in the hands of Commander Data, who hopefully should be resistant to any contagion or toxin that could be causing this.

Captain's Log, Stardate 43719.4

A thorough survey of all our navigational software suggests no manipulation has gone on. Our computer log also does not display any suspicious activity on either delegation's part. Have they just freed some kind of biological agent that is now affecting the minds of my crew? Are we all vulnerable?

Captain's Log, Stardate 43720.6

The incidents multiply. First Officer Riker showed up late to his turn on the main bridge today, and with an unkempt beard, which is highly unusual of him. That alone would have been worrying, but then he almost caused our photon torpedoes to explode while still inside their bay by pouring a cup of coffee on the weapons console. Counsellor Troi appeared... disheveled. Very disheveled. She did not risk the ship's integrity in any particular way, but frankly, it was rather distracting, so I told her to go back to her cabin and just clean herself up. First Officer Riker was especially insistent in leering at her in a rather inappropriate manner. He too was sent back to his cabin. Finally, Lieutenant La Forge came to fix the damaged console and managed to electrocute himself. He's the most skilled engineer I've ever known, and he somehow grabbed a live wire with his bare hands. Now he's been sent to the infirmary, to the capable hands of Doctor Crusher.

Captain's Log, Stardate 43720.7

The "capable hands" of Doctor Crusher nearly killed my chief engineer because she tried defibrillating him with her service phaser. Why did she even bring a phaser to the infirmary? No idea. She says she distractedly mistook it for a tricorder. Why are all of my officers, the best of the best of Starfleet, seemingly haemorrhaging IQ points? What nasty biological agent did the Beta Leonis aliens leave on my ship? I would ask Doctor Crusher, as she's supposed to be the medical expert, but then again - phaser, tricorder.

For now all I could do was ordering a full stop of all engines, a red alert, and everyone to be on guard for signs of intellectual deterioration in any crew member. Whatever it is we're carrying, my prime duty at this point is to prevent it from ever reaching Earth, or any other inhabited Federation planet. Beyond that, I need to think. I will withdraw to the Holodeck to do so. I'm not one to use it much, but right now, I really need a place to isolate myself from all the madness surrounding me and think. I'll call up that program with the cliffs of Normandy. The sea always helps me calm down.

Captain's Log, Stardate 43720.8


Captain's Log, Stardate 43720.8-addendum

Let me rephrase that. I have just come out of the Holodeck. It was not easy to wrench myself from the simulation, but I needed to do it, and thankfully, there was at least one corner of my mind that was able to cling to reality as it screamed in horror at the realisation of what was going on. I have always been in awe at how realistic the Holodeck simulations could be, but it took me all of ten seconds to realise something had changed. The problem is, for the most part, I did not care. My brain could not free itself from the illusion of being truly in Normandy, truly smelling the sea spray, truly bathing in the warm sun, legs dangling on the edge of a white cliff. Only the most remote corner of my mind was still aware of being on the USS Enterprise, and that I was supposed to think about the problems that are plaguing its crew. Well, at least, I now realised all too well what the problems were. It was a herculean task to convince myself to leave the simulation, drag myself to the door, and tell the computer to turn it off, and it left me dazed and strained. I still can't stop thinking of how good it felt - can't help longing for it. But I had a resolution as I had finally connected the dots as to what was happening, and that I clung onto with all of myself. I wonder if I had picked a less... contemplative setting, would the effect had been even stronger? Is this what happened to my crewmen, that they ran simulations so inebriating, the mere memory was fatally distracting? I can only guess, and perhaps I will find out once I go to the bottom of this. Not by myself, though. Never by myself. I will not set foot into that death trap again.

My first guess, of course, was that this was the sabotage we had been victim of, but If anything now I realise I have to apologise to our Beta Leonis friends. They were never to blame to begin with. I found the culprit instead by browsing through the changelog of that big firmware update that had been installed a few days ago. Of all things, the enemy came from within. Apparently, some genius at Starfleet realised they could tweak the matter-energy emitter of the Holodeck in order to stimulate the human brain with electromagnetic waves that would enhance the feeling of immersion into the simulation. They found that test audiences enjoyed this and immediately packaged it in the next update, directed at all ships of the fleet. They did not realise the key danger - that this made the Holodeck addictive.

A devastating drug has been slipped simultaneously to all Starfleet personnel around, without forewarning. In fact, if the same update has been also spread to Hologram facilities for civilian use, it could be affecting every single citizen of the Federation right now. Worse, I realise now in horror, all the officers who manifested the worst symptoms have been sent on leave - and have been given more time to spend in more simulations. The danger is unprecedented. I must act, but also, until I can whip my officers back into shape, I am blocked here in space, away from all inhabited systems.

One thing at a time. First, I'll need someone to help me destroy this cursed thing for good. Then, once our collective sanity is recovered, we can lay out a plan.

Captain's Log, Stardate 43720.9

The plan to get Lieutenant Worf on my side to destroy the Holodeck did not work out as well as I hoped. Apparently, his favourite simulation involves something about "taking revenge on K'hol Thar", whatever that is. Suggesting that he forgoes such an important quest was an insult to his honour. His grasp of reality right now seems to be tenuous at best. Good thing I managed to lock myself into the infirmary, and that the door is resistant enough to hold under a few hits of a Bat'leth. Doctor Crusher should be here. I know she's affected, but I will try to explain to her the situation, and hopefully her rational mind will help her win over the delusions.

I wonder what the simulation that got her was about.

Captain's Log, Stardate 43721

I now know what Doctor Crusher's simulation was about. Having found herself alone in the infirmary with me, she seems to have believed that she was in fact on the Holodeck. I had to sedate her and lock her into a cupboard, and now I am again alone, against possibly an entire ship full of addicts and madmen.

Which also reminds me, after this is all over and the Holodeck is restored to its normal functionality, I will ban once and for all all simulations involving the likenesses of real crewmembers, especially if of a romantic or erotic nature. I have always frowned upon them, but now this has passed the sign.

Captain's Log, Stardate 43721.1

Commander Data will obviously be my lifeline. He is the only one who has not been affected, can not be affected, because the special waves the Holodeck emits are calibrated to act on an organic brain. I have managed to contact him and inform him summarily of the situation, and he is now swiftly taking back control of the ship. With whatever means necessary, but this is not the time for subtlety. Good thing he managed to download some quick training on how to execute the Vulcan nerve pinch from our database. I now wait for him to reach this door and free me from this siege. My Klingon is shaky at best, but I am pretty sure what Lieutenant Worf has been angrily shouting at me for the last five hours are not compliments.

Captain's Log, Stardate 43721.2

Commander Data is dead. Deactivated. I'm not sure what the correct word is, nor did I ever think I would need it. I think he may still be recovered, but it will not be easy. There was a brawl in front of the infirmary door, but at the end it was the frenzied Worf who triumphed. He shouted that "my head would soon join the android's on his trophy wall". Does he still have that trophy wall? I thought I had been very clear about the hygienical issue it represented.

My options are rapidly shrinking. There is a small crowd assembling out of the infirmary, all crying for blood. It seems like officers aren't the only ones affected by the Holodeck. All hands in the crew use it, one way or another. I have started noticing early signs of systems failure. Lights occasionally flickered, the air is getting stale. Clearly, even the regular operations of the ship are not being attended to properly.

Despite how hard a decision it is, I believe I may have to try abandoning ship. If I stay here, I can't warn Starfleet of the danger to the entire Federation. My first duty is to humanity. I can sneak out of the infirmary using Jefferies tubes, and perhaps reach the hangar, though it may be dangerous.

Captain's Log, Stardate 43721.4

I have managed to escape, and surprisingly enough, I am not alone! First Officer Riker is with me, and it seems like he may be brought back to reason. He has assisted me since I came out of a vent right in his cabin, and in fact enthusiastically so. I am surprised he reacted so well to the news. The ship's systems are still failing, and now we have a full fledged mutiny as bloodthirsty crowds riled up by Lieutenant Worf scour the corridors looking for me, but I also have an ally, and that gives me hope.

Captain's Log, Stardate 43721.6

Hope is but a delusion, human existence is defined by its fleetingness and loneliness.

Captain's Log, Stardate 43721.6-addendum

I may have let my disappointment get the best of me there. I should still record the facts properly for any investigation that Starfleet will surely have to carry out in the matter of this incident. As it turns out, the First Officer was not free of the spell of the Holodeck; he was the one most deeply buried into it. I had noticed strange behaviours, but had attributed that merely to the stress of the situation. He would giggle at my orders, make quips despite the absolutely lethal danger we found ourselves in, or even outright disobey me and take incredibly irresponsible risks. He faced a whole squad of five security officers with a single phaser, jumping out of cover and screaming "come at me!". That should have tipped me off.

Apparently, his first simulation after the fatal patch was one of life on the ship - just "enhanced". And by enhanced I mean, tuned to make events be more exciting, and revolve mostly around him and his heroic actions. So he was the fastest one to lose the distinction between simulation and reality. When I arrived in his room, he seems to have believed this was just the trigger event to yet another magnificent adventure in which he would come out on top.

I pieced all of this together from the logs of his Holodeck usage I managed to extract from the computer. I could not do much for him. We needed to reach this shuttle, but really, running in the middle of the hangar shooting and screaming against a crowd of two dozens armed enemies was not the best way to go about it.

It was an excellent diversion, though. I am on board of the shuttle, and have managed to leave the USS Enterprise. So, thanks, William Riker, your heroism in some way did come through at the end, and may have even saved the Federation. I will remember you as the loyal friend and advisor you were for so long, rather than the decapitated head lifted in triumph by Worf with a very surprised last expression on its face.

Captain's Log, Stardate 43728.4

It is over. I tried to contact Starfleet for days on end, tirelessly, but to no avail. By all means, they should have answered by now. But all I caught was static. There was one time someone answered, and all I heard was some giggling before the channel was shut down again.

This shuttle is not warp capable, and the closest inhabited system is almost three years of impulse navigation away. My emergency rations ran out yesterday. But even if I could reach that planet, I fear I already know what I would find.

The virus has spread. The insidious trap of a reality better than the real, one that is so satisfying and perfect it allows no margin for wanting to go back, has infected the whole of the Federation. So humanity dies out, trapped in a cage of its own making, a cage made of light. When someone arrives to give us the final blow - most likely, the Borg - they will meet no resistance, just corpses and mindless rambling drones.

I do not wish to see that. The shuttle is equipped with a small holographic device itself. It is not much, and its only purpose was exactly as a last relief for those who might be stranded in it, their fate sealed. It has been updated too, so for however long my body will survive, it should be enough to distract my mind from the anguish and hunger that torment it.

I'll be the captain of an 18th century brig, I think. I always said that whenever I should die, it'd better be with a tricorn on my head.