Ensign Juliette Sri ended her presentation displaying current map of the P268 – more affectionately called The Outback – in relationship to the Milky Way on the holoprojector for all the attendees in the secondary hall to see. It was a map based on models the Daystrom Institute, the hosts of this conference, had spent thousands of hours in researcher and computational time building. It was those very same models she had just spent the last 45 minutes discrediting.

The image zoomed away from the Outback until the dwarf galaxy was only a small dot among the galaxies of the Local Group, and continued racing outward, until the map encompassed the entirety of the Virgo Supercluster. In a few seconds even that was too small to see, leaving a field of complete darkness as the house lights brightened, revealing a hall and audience Sri had tried to forget existed as she watched the universe zoom out to insignificance.

When she had accepted the speaking opportunity, she had been scheduled to present for a half hour in one of much smaller ternary halls of the Daystrom Institute. Events had upgraded her presentation to one of the mammoth secondary halls, which increased her sitting audience from almost a hundred to almost a thousand scientists from all over the federation – a number which didn’t include the holographic transceivers which linked the secondary hall with several smaller halls and station holodecks over three quadrants.

Of all the attendees who had sat through the presentation, none were as intimidating as the stony faces that sat at the long table less than a dozen meters away. Her jury – made up of some of the top department chairs, scientists and researchers from Daystrom Institute -- members with years of experience, and, if rumor were true, people who took a sadistic delight in filleting presentations like hers. As the room reached full brilliance, Sri *felt* the collective attention of audience and jury shift to her, and akin to the Outback, could feel her own presence shrinking in scale until she was a very small part of a slowly expanding picture.

A brief flash of white caught her eye. She dared a glance upward to the highest rows of seats. She paused to focus bewildered at the waving motion. Were those...signs?

She remembered Cadet Barton's and Grey's promise of support. Gods Unfortunate, she thought to herself. Just kill me now. She tore her eyes from the spectacle to her jury.

Considering the incendiary nature of her topic, asking if there were questions was superfluous.

"Explain your use of the Hald Algorithm."

"How many factors did you take into your analysis?"

"Why did you limit yourself to only four dimensions?"

Even as Sri was trying to determine which question from the jury to answer first, another voice cut over the others, the tone thick with dismissal.

"Quite Frankly Miss Sri, looking at your application of Darred's computational analysis on your so called ‘data’, I question the Academy's standards!"

Despite the comment, and the gasps and occasional laughter from the assembly hall, Sri maintained her impassive gaze on the thin, reedy academic sitting at the long table. The jurists to either side of Dr. T’Car regarded him with a bit of surprise at his tone of abject disdain. Sri was not surprised, as had spent as much time preparing for a confrontation with Dr. T’Car as she had working the sensor data. At a 2410 Daystrom Conference, T'Car had engaged in a similar outburst over the assessment of dark matter, which he was considered one of the foremost authorities. Sri had reviewed the holo. T'Car's outburst had the poor presenter in a stammering fit for several minutes, and they never recovered. 2414 was to see a repeat performance of T’Car’s scathing wit.

Sri concentrated on keeping her hand steady as she took a sip of water. She could feel the smug satisfaction oozing from T’Car, growing into a condescending self-assurance. Was he thinking of 2410 all over again? The tiny part of her that would love to know was crushed by the rest that knew how wrong it was to reach into his mind to find out. Even so, what he chose to give away -- his emotions, his body language, and his facial expressions -- were fair game. So she serenely let the seconds pass and let him read those seconds of silence as uncertainty on her part, his sense of victory grow until...

"I realize Sir that you might be unfamiliar with Doctors Benson and Hewett's deconstruction of computational analysis whose techniques I emulated. I can explain-"

T'Car waved his hand dismissively. "I am more than familiar with those hacks! Only a fool would consider Benson and Hewett's work even remotely scholarly!" he said with a snort.

Sri inwardly smiled, knowing in his contempt T'Car had completely forgotten that said work had been vetted and peer reviewed by two of his fellow Jurists -- Doctors Shuran and Harbor. A third jurist, Dr. Alana, had been the sponsor of the work. Sri took another sip of water as in an instant the three scholars exchanged furious glances, and before Doctor T'Car could get out another word found himself besieged on three sides by three very put out scholars. She kept her face remained impassive, politely watching the seconds allotted to her jury tick away.

The Astrophysics Chair ended the argument sooner than Sri hoped with a simple flat, "Enough.” which caused the jury to stop talking and look back at Sri.

The Chair's question came in a direct monotone. "Ensign Sri. If our model for determining the location of Dwarf Galaxy P268 is flawed, what model do you propose as a replacement?"

Inwardly, Sri winced. It was the weakest portion of her presentation. "Distinguished Chair, I do not have a replacement model at this time." She heard T'Cars derisive snort but continued on "And if I may perhaps offer a point of clarification, it is not that I consider the Daystrom Model flawed -- it is merely that it is not a model that fits the Outb- P268."

The Chairs impassiveness matched Sri’s. "The model was made for P268. If model does not fit what it was designed for, is it not flawed?"

Sri thought quickly. One of her strategies had been to find a charitable position for the current model to avoid infuriating its creators, two of which were on her jury. One being the Chair herself. Sri gripped the sides of the podium briefly with her gloved hands. Was the Chair trying to provoke another argument with herself at the center instead? It had not been evident in the past holos of juries that Sri had studied. But people, particularly humans, particularly liberated borg humans were...

Unpredictable.

Sri blinked slowly, matching the Chair mask for mask. "I believe it to be more…precise… to say that the model was created without a complete understanding of the composition of P268."

"Explain."

"As I have demonstrated previously with the sensor data, non-dark matter anomalies occur in P268 far more often than anticipated in the original model, and at a much higher frequency. The anomalies impact the dark matter calculations to such a degree that the margin for error is greater than the size of the Outback itself. Merely changing these constants do not correct the model because the whole energy interaction tetra-cube needs to be rebuilt. The skew may not only affect the *where* of the outback, but the potential *when*."

That caught the jurists by surprise. Sri had left potential temporal flux out of her original findings; however, it was a perfectly rational conclusion, if one was willing to jump from spatial to temporal mechanics. She hoped they would attack temporal argument -- one she was willing to lose, instead of her main point. She had constructed the argument because of the high probability that Dr. Shruan would have decided to attend her jury, and in this case the odds had been in her favor. She could feel the sharp pulse of Dr Shruan's excitement. Gravmatic to Temporal Displacement was one of his favorite topics.

"Perhaps" the Chair said dryly, before Dr. Shruan could leap to the topic "However let us remain in the spatial, for now, and assume you are correct. How would you propose correcting the model?"

T'Car protested. "She hasn't demonstrated the model *is* wrong!"

The chair's lack of amusement was palpable. "Then I suggest you get into a ship, fly directly to P268 without the benefit of the Caspian Wormhole to find out." Dr. T’Car glowered at the Chair, but remained silent. At projected distance of over a thousand light years, it would take a normal vessel more than a human lifetime to get to the outback and back. Sri kept her pleasure behind her impassive face. Rarely did the Chair intentionally bite, but when she did, she left marks.

"Distinguished Chair, I had discussed two potential approaches with Pretorian Sciences and Engineering. One involves actually determining a reference point through the dark matter shell of the Outback with a measured - "

"An antiproton burst followed by a tight wave metreon beam to pierce the dark matter encompassing P268?"

"Precisely, Distinguished Chair." Sri said carefully, disappointed she could not burn minutes explaining the technique. "Once we could get visibility outside of the dark matter cocoon, we could modulate-"

"The energy required is ...substantial."

"Yes, though our Chief Engineer -" Sri responded, feeling herself lose cadence.

"-Is quite excited to build a gigantic beam cannon and fire it into space. I am not entirely unsympathetic, provided the target was Borg. Unfortunately, it is not. Did you take gravametic recoil into consideration?"

Sri frowned. She hadn't considered recoil. "That is true,” she said and quickly consulted her PADD. "The amount of damage – even without anomalous multipliers could be considerable.” As she completed calculations, she was forced to add, "Quite considerable.” The PADD finished, and Sri glanced at the completed impact model long enough to be appalled. "Clearly it’s not an option."

"I concur. What else?"

Sri took a moment to collect her thoughts on the second option. "The other option is to conduct an in-depth survey of the anomalies of the outback, using probabilistic matrices to rebuild the tetra-cube within the original model.”

Dr. Harbor, having long been silent, steepled his tentacle-like fingers and asked, "A time-consuming task, but certainly more responsible-sounding than 'shoot it with a big gun', Miss Sri. Why is this approach your second option?" he sat back and slowly separated his fingers so the suckers along their length parted with a discernable pop. She couldn't help but wonder if he developed the habit with his fingers to annoy his fellow jurists *and* the presenter.

"With all due respect Sir, my initial findings on Outback anomalies was rejected as not being 'exciting enough' for public jury.

"Perhaps we need to re-review our selection processes." T'Car said, with a leniency that left Sri mildly surprised. She quietly nodded as he added with a trace of distaste in his tone, "Especially if our presenters are leading with options only to impress a selection committee."

Sri realized it was a risk, but Starfleet diplomacy had taught her to take olive branches seriously. "In all fairness, Doctor T’Car, I did see the condensed beam as a potential option. A high energy approach would have saved time as a survey could take years before the model can be adjusted based on the new data. However, such an approach is clearly out of the question, and I appreciate the analysis.”

T ’Car’s gave Sri a stern look. "I am not convinced that the frequency and strength of the catalogued anomalies you provided are cause for the observed discrepancies in distance modelling. However I am willing to accept that the current model bears further study. The volume of sensor data – despite the use of questionable data deconstruction -- showing anomalous interference with the composition of internal structures within Galaxy P268 seems to warrant meta-analysis.”

The other jurists nodded, carefully making notes. The Chair finally nodded. "I concur.”

Sri carefully looked at the time on her PADD, the seconds draining away. "Thank you, Distinguished Jury. I regret that we did not get to the events of Stardate 92100.5, when Praetorian Sciences cataloged a folded space anomaly, which would draw the *size* of the Outback into debate as well.”

The Jurists gave her blank looks, completely silent save a single pop from Dr. Harbor’s fingers. Then they consulted their PADDs, save the chair, who merely regarded her with an arched eyebrow. Sri had wondered if the Chair never carried a PADD because she maintained a direct link with Daystrom. Now she was fairly certain.

The lights blinked, indicating time was over, the jury regarding her with a host of unasked questions. Sri gave a faint smile. "I thank the distinguished jury for their time. And look forward to next time.”

Epilogue 1.

The Chair’s tone was bone-dry. "With your sense of timing, Ensign Sri, ff you ever find the sciences unsatisfying, you could consider a career in entertainment.”.

Sri thought for a second, wondering if the Chair could possibly telling a joke. She contemplated the Chair’s spartan office and decided on the safest path. "Thank you, Chair Hansen. Does this mean that I should plan on topics for next year’s conference?”

"Unlikely.”

Sri pursed her lips, saying nothing. Inwardly running through a litany of Klingon curses.. What did she expect, making Dr. T’Char look like a fool, playing the jurists against each other. "I see.” she said, though she struggled to do so. "Is there anything else?”

"Yes. Your commanding officer. Does he prefer name, or designation?”

Sri sighed inwardly. "Name. Lieutenant Commander Kumar has not used his designation in a long time.”

"Good for him. Tell him to expect Daystrom to be in touch.”

Being barred from Daystrom wasn’t enough obviously, she thought with a simmering disgust. Not when you could add an official reprimand "Of course. Chair Hansen.”

Chair Hansen regarded Sri dispassionately. "This time, next year, I would expect you to be involved with a joint effort between Daystrom and Praetorian Sciences analyzing the anomalies in P268. I’ll let your superior officers manage the details.”

Sri said nothing, looking at the Chair with a blank expression until the Chair finally asked, "What?”

"A Daystrom sponsored survey?” Sri asked when she could finally find her voice.

"Praetorian Sciences is the logical choice to head a joint operation.” The Chair replied matter-of-factly.

Sri managed a smile. "It would seem I am not the only one with a flair for the dramatic.”

Chair Hansen continued her impassive look. "I have no idea what you are talking about. Inform your officers we will be in touch. Now I have a jury in ten minutes. That is all, Ensign Sri.”