Starship Voyager – The Alien Adventures — 11 Verdera

The present novel is merely Fan Fiction.

No commercial interest is pursued.

© Aliki, 2019

The story of this book is based on science fiction concepts created by Gene Roddenberry, Rick Berman, Michael Piller, Jery Tailor, Bryan Fuller, Brannon Braga, Nick Sagan, Ken Biller, Michael Okuda, Rick Sternberg, and many others.

Copyright for all humanoid characters and Star Trek technology is owned by Paramount Pictures / CBS.

Multiplication and distribution for commercial purpose are not allowed.


11. Verdera


On the rear bridge of the starship Voyager, the turbolift opens and out steps Thomas Eugene Paris.
“Good morning, Captain! Ensign Paris is reporting back for duty!”
“I`m glad to have you on the ship again, Tom. You may relieve Mr. Ceph at the helm.”
“Aye, ma`am!”
He goes forward to the navigation console and takes his seat. Several tentacle arms retreat sideways. Paris`s upper body swells as he takes a deep breath. He lays his hands on the table in front of him and passes them to both sides over the edge of his workstation. Thereby his right hand bumps on a tentacle that still lies on the control desk. Paris knocks with the back of his hand against it twice and, expecting the retreat, looks sideways towards Ceph, who rests in his hammock on table level.
“Change of shift, colleague!”
With reluctant slowness Ceph pulls the affected arm from the table and deep into the torso of his body. Two other arms grab the ropes of the hammock and lift it to a higher level by means of an integrated set of pulleys. However, Ceph does not leave his place, but looks with all his eyes down to Paris and the displays of the helm.
Paris opens some files and reads the flight data. Then he turns upwards, from where twelve telescope eyes observe him. His fingers begin to trip.
“Won`t you have dinner? Snorkel in an inkwell? Rest in a shell?”
Janeway`s eyebrow lifts. “Is there a problem, Ensign?”
“Everything`s all right, Captain. If he still wants to learn something, he may look over the maestro`s shoulder!”
Janeway smiles. “I`m glad you both get along so well with each other! It would be helpful, Mr. Paris, if you could teach Mr. Ceph which flight ma-neuvers are in compliance with star fleet rules, and which maneuvers should better not be flown with an Intrepid-class ship.”
Paris straightens his back, lifts his head and looks into the warp stripes of stars on the screen swarming around Voyager.
“I`ll be pleased to do so — Ma`am!”


At the helm, Paris reports: “We`re reaching the Aldaran star cluster, Cap-tain.”
“Go under warp, Mr. Paris!”
The warp strips collapse on the screen and an extended nebula appears. It consists of a collection of multiform, colorful gas clouds. Some merge smoothly into one another; others are separated by sharp contours. Numerous stars shine from free areas between nebulous clouds or shimmer behind veils of gas. Janeway rises. With sparkling eyes, she walks some steps towards the screen.
“To what artistic vision might a sight like this have inspired a Leonardo?”
Paris looks diagonally upwards. Ceph rests in his hammock. Arms and eyes are deeply retracted into the body, from which only the uppermost parts of eyeballs protrude as small bumps. A single tentacle hangs downwards as a loop. Paris knocks on it. With sleepy slowness, a stem stretches out of the body and bends down to Paris, who points forward. In a quick movement, the remaining eleven eyes also emerge from Ceph`s trunk and fan out across the entire width of the screen.
Seven appears on the bridge. Janeway turns around to her shortly and back to the nebula.
“Look, Seven, see these magnificent formations!”
With cool eyes Seven states, “These are locally compressed gas and dust clouds, some of which have already collapsed into stars. Their radiation pressure has blown away ionized residual gases from their surroundings and created sharp contours to neighboring clouds. Optically this nebula shows no special features. This process occurs in all star formation re-gions.”
Janeway shakes her head. “The physical process may everywhere be the same. But the work of art created by nature is always unique! Do not analyze this composition of colors and shapes with your intellect, Seven — let it affect your soul!”
Seven looks silently at the screen for a moment.
Then she replies, “I regret, Captain. I only recognize hydrogen clouds excited to red emission, accumulations of green-luminous oxygen gas, and a number of other excitation and recombination colors.”
Suddenly the gases glowing in all colors disappear and only stars of different brightness remain on the screen.
Seven lifts an eyebrow. “Apparently Mr. E-Bug has used the X-ray detector of the sensor phalanx to eliminate the disturbing gas and dust clouds. Stars that were hidden before are now visible.”
E-Bug fades in measurement data, indicating masses, spectral types and numbers of associated planets at nearby stars. Then he connects the positions of these stars with fine lines and adds distance dimensions.
Janeway glances over the data. “It`s a pity we don`t have time to explore all the regions of this nebula!” She turns to the upper bridge. “Seven, transfer Mr. E-Bug`s sensor data to the astrometrics lab and create a map of this area! If our people are here and we need to free them, I want us to be familiar with the locality.”
“Aye, Captain.”
Seven goes to E-Bug`s console.

Neelix is handling cooking pots behind the casino`s kitchen counter. He notices Naomi coming through the entrance.
“Well, … you`re too early today, Naomi. Food distribution for the bio-topes isn`t for another two hours.”
“I`m here for species 5 – the being that Peri and the doctor completed. It begins to speak!”
“Is that true?”
“Not more than a few syllables, up to now. But the doctor says perhaps it can learn our language.”
“Wouldn`t that be nice, Naomi? Then you may be its teach-er.”
Naomi nods with eager seriousness.
“But first it has to get completely healthy. It needs two equal portions of food!”
Neelix laughs with all his mouth and eye muscles.
“Do the two heads otherwise argue about the larger portion?”
Naomi remains serious and explains strictly: “It`s because of the symme-try of the two halves of the body. The doctor says they have to be nou-rished exactly the same so that they may find their mental and physical balance while they grow together.”
Neelix raises his eyebrows and makes a serious face now too.
“I understand. Wait a minute!” He goes to a display on the kitchen wall and taps with his finger. ” Menu 5, two portions, … four hundred and thirty point zero zero grams each!”
A small hatch opens on the kitchen cupboard and two portions of food become visible. Neelix takes one out and places it into a carrying case. Then he reaches into the dispensing shaft again for the other.
“What –?”
He moves his head to the opening and looks inside. The second portion is gone. He pinches his eyes together. The plate in the semi-dark shaft is empty. Suddenly, a few centimeters in front of Neelix`s nose, a small head pops out of a crack in the sidewall of the shaft. It has a circular mouth in its middle and two button eyes above it, which inspect Neelix in curious surprise. The next moment the small face retreats just as fast as it had appeared.
Neelix straightens up. He looks worried.
“Neelix, what`s the matter?” wonders Naomi.
Neelix snatches at his communicator. “Kitchen to bridge!”
“Go ahead, Neelix,” answers Janeway`s voice.
“I`m afraid we have a problem, Captain -”

Janeway enters the conference room. Several persons have settled around the table. On one side Torres, Neelix and Peri are sitting. Peri`s spirally coiled rear segments rest on the concave seat of his chair. On the other side of the table E-Bug sits on his middle jumping legs, which have pushed up the front body. Next to him are Paris and Seven. Their angled hip and knee joints have aligned their thighs horizontally so that their rear part can rest in parallel on their chair seats. Ceph hangs from the ceiling above the table.
Janeway sits down at the front. She opens a central holocom in the middle of the table and activates the list of faces of about one hundred and fifty crew members.
“I want our new crewmen to know why we`re here.”
Janeway opens a prepared clip. An icon of Voyager appears at the edge, while the rest of the image is filled with a colorful nebula interspersed with stars. With her hand, Janeway moves a subset of the crew icons, that comprises about two-thirds of the entire group, into the dense nebula spot.
“We suspect our people have been brought into this region.”
The face portraits fade and dissolve. Janeway looks sideways.
“Seven -?”
Seven reaches into the holocom. She magnifies the nebula and fades out clouds of low density, leaving only stars and highly compressed gas and dust vortices acting as nuclei for star formation.
“The star cluster of the Aldarans has a range of about 100 light-years across. It consists of 2,163 stars and about 800 protostars that are just forming or whose nuclear fusion has not yet stabilized. We have evi-dence of at least two civilizations already engaged in space travel.”
Two stars in the image flash red. Icons of spaceships appear next to them. Janeway`s index finger points at one of the two stars.
“This one`s closest to our current position. That`s where we start our search!”
She looks at Torres. “What`s the status of the ship`s systems?”
Torres opens bar graphs in the holocom and points to them.
“We used up 20% of our antimatter supply in the last battle. We`ll need a lot of deuterium to re-produce that antimatter. But since we`re going to fly through dense gas clouds in the near future, the Buzzard collectors should be able to gather enough deuterium to refill the tanks.”
“How did you get along with the repairs?”
“All damages have been fixed, but -” Torres frowns, “there`s a leak somewhere we haven`t found yet. We are losing about 0.5% of the energy produced by the ship`s generators. I haven`t been able to find out where that energy is going.”
Janeway speculates, “Could the Hirogen systems we installed have a higher standby consumption than what we know from our systems?”
Torres shakes her head. “We checked that.”
The doctor`s face appears in the holocom; waving about with his hands, he pushes away Torres`s graphics on the fuel situation and parts of the star map to make room for his head.
“I hope I`m not disturbing you, Captain? According to your booking ca-lendar, you`re in a meeting with the ship`s key officers. I`m aware, of course, that I`m only -”
“It`s all right, Doctor!” Janeway interrupts him with her hand up. “I wanted to contact you anyway. What`s the health status on our ship?”
“All recent hunting and combat injuries have successfully been cured. And here`s somebody who wants to say hello.”
The doctor`s proudly smiling face shifts to the side. Behind it two twin-like heads appear.
They speak,
“Hel …”
“… lo!”
blinking with their one eye situated above their mouth, respectively.
Janeway is amazed. “Is this being able to speak?”
The doctor returns to the center of the holographic image.
“This cannot be answered yet. So far it can only articulate these two syllables. Actually, I`m still moving on exo-linguistic new grounds with my studies.”
“How are the other guests on our ship?”
“Much better now, thanks to the holographic biotopes Mr. Peri made for them.”
“Doctor, what do you know about the parasite we have on board?” Neelix asks.
“A parasite?!” the doctor shouts anxiously. “I don`t know anything about that – though I`m the first one who is to be informed! What makes you think there is a parasite on the ship, Mr. Neelix?”
“Food has disappeared several times. At first, I suspected the crew. But this morning I saw the head of a strange creature in a dispensing shaft, with a circular mouth and two small round eyes.”
Torres interrupts him. “I`ve seen these creatures before! They were on the Hirogen ship we salvaged and came aboard while loading the resona-tor tubes.” She looks at Janeway. “We had talked briefly about it, Captain. We were in a hurry then and since they didn`t seem dangerous -”
Janeway nods. “I remember.”
“My encounter with these beings lasted only a few seconds. They made a cat`s arched back like a thin, long caterpillar and hopped away.”
Neelix spreads his fingers far off.
“My God — now I know who they are! The X`ixx call these beings tube worms, the Charkker tube devils. They are widespread and hated throughout the Delta Quadrant! On most of the infested ships they are hunted. Only the Pitejans regard them as talismans, as their mascots. They believe tubeworms are lucky charms, and whoever kills them attracts disaster!”
Grinning with playfulness and mischief, Torres sketches the face and posture of the worm creatures in the holocom. Paris observes her with a smile that seems to be meant rather for Torres than for her activity.
“Are they dangerous?” inquires Janeway.
“I don`t know.” Neelix broods and pinches his eyelids to narrow slits. “I never had any on my own ship. At least I`ve never heard they were ag-gressive … They`re supposed to be annoying occasionally.”
With a flip of her finger, Torres activates an animation in which her stick-worms start to bounce towards the doctor`s head. With an annoyed look, he avoids them.
A pair of eye tubes are directing in parallel to the curving sticks jumping forward while suddenly straightening. The next moment a flash of lightning strikes the ceiling, from E-Bug`s side feeler swung up into the air. Janeway`s alarmed gaze twitches from the smoking stain on the ceiling to Ceph, who has sucked himself with two arms only half a meter near the strike. Orange stripe patterns wander across his skin and the three freely dangling tentacles meander in excited turmoil. None of his eyes are directed at E-Bug. All twelve eyes stare into the animation in the holocom.
Suddenly the room is shaken as if by an earthquake.
Lang`s voice reports, “Bridge to the Captain – we`re under attack!”
“Red Alert! Occupy battle stations!”
Janeway hurries outside. The others follow her quickly.
In the deserted conference room, only Peri still occupies his seat. The illumination has changed to a flashing red light. The doctor`s head has left the holocom. While the ship is shaken several times by further hits, Peri keeps looking motionlessly into the animation of the jumping sticks, which is repeating every few seconds. After a while, he closes the holocom and leaves the room.

In a wave-like flowing movement the row of his legs transports Peri along the port side to the upper bridge. Janeway sits down at her chair in the center.
Seven reports from the OPS, “The performance of the shields is at 100%. The direct hits were scattered on the monotanium hull without causing any damage.”
Across its entire surface, the viewscreen shows dense green and orange nebula veils.
“Where are those attackers?” Janeway wonders.
Paris is sitting at the helm, checking navigation data. Next to him Ceph removes his arm from the panel and pulls it up into his hammock where he has settled already.
“Ceph has just brought us into this nebula with an evasive maneuver. They should still be out there in the open, 300 thousand kilometers ahead of us.”
“Fly us to the edge until sensors penetrate the gases!”
“Aye, Captain.”
Paris sets the ship in motion.
Shortly thereafter Seven reports, “Two ships are indicated. Phaser armament only. Primitive shield technology.”
“Let`s take a closer look at this reception committee. Take us out, Mr. Paris! – Ensign Lang, hail them on all frequencies!”
The nebular clears.
“No answer, Captain.”
Phaser beams hit Voyager`s shields from two sides. The bridge is shaken.
“Mr. Carey, target their weapons! But use only 50% phase power.”
“Aye, Captain – ma`am!”
The rays of two shots strike the attacking ships.
“Direct hits,” reports Seven. “They retreat.”
The ships disappear from the screen as they go to warp. E-Bug fades in a window on the screen, with a local star chart and new measurement data. Janeway bends forward and contracts her eyelids.
“Look … Apart from the two inhabited star systems known to us so far, there`s a third source of artificial signals quite close to us!”
Paris turns its head. “At warp 9 we could be there in a few minutes, Cap-tain.”
Janeway swings her index finger forward. “Well then, let`s go!”
The stars on the screen stretch to stripes. While Voyager is approaching its target at high warp speed, further scan data appear on the screen.

Two circular, optical images are set on the background of a field of per-ception that is covered by mostly static and by some swelling, light grey moiré patterns. The right optical image rests on a surface displaying changing symbols and numbers; a stylus, guided by finger claws, controls commands represented by icons. The left circle moves jerkily in different directions. At one moment, on the outer edge of the field of vision, it depicts back and occiput of Ensign Lang, working on a rear display. Then the round image flips to Seven of Nine, who stands far away at the OPS console, and the next moment the image shows the very close head of Carey. Immediately afterwards, Janeway`s right face profile appears further down on the bridge and her tuft of hair lying over her neck. From there the image jumps to Paris and Ceph at the navigation and then directs to a window faded in at the edge of the screen. Updated measurement data appear in that window – almost simultaneously with the movements of the stylus in the right optical circle.
During the course of all these optical observations, the two visual circles shrink every now and then, along with the objects in their images. At the same time, the dark background of the entire field of perception seems to expand and additional moiré patterns migrate into the field from all edges. These depict the contours of supply lines behind the walls, the alternating activity of modules inside the consoles and – the closer they are, the more intense – the contours of contracting muscles and tendons for the short time they are in motion. In swelling moiré fluctuations, fleeting shadows of fingers, arms, necks, lips, eyelids, and forehead muscles appear and – as a constant phenomenon – the pulsation of a fist-sized inner organ at the location of each of the humanoids present.

Seven raises her head. The stripes on the screen have collapsed and a dark green planet emerges that rapidly grows larger. Two blinking dots are faded in as markers on the visible surface of the planet, one on the northern hemisphere, the other in the south. Seven lowers her view to sensor data.
“There seem to exist two settlements only. Their energy signatures differ greatly, but both indicate research stations. The signatures of the northern station correspond to those of the ships that attacked us.”
“Well, then we`ll try our luck with the other ones this time!” Janeway gets up. “Open a channel to the southern station!”
She takes several steps forward.
“Channel open,” declares Seven.
Janeway raises her head. “This is Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager!”
She turns around to Seven with an asking look.
“No answer, Captain. But a subspace radio signal has just been transmit-ted from the southern station. Its transmission is directed to one of the two remote systems where we`ve detected civilizations. The content reads …” Seven turns her gaze from her display to Janeway. “Attention! Starship Voyager has just arrived at planet Verde-ra.
Janeway lowers the corners of her mouth.
“Nobody seems to like us in this area.”
“Something`s strange, Captain. They are using a frequency band that is not scattered across the planet by the atmosphere, … as if to prevent the northern station from listening to their message.”
Janeway looks back at the viewscreen, where E-Bug displays atmospheric data.
“M-Class. Pleasant temperatures and healthy air. We`ll go to each of the two stations with away teams. We got to find out what`s behind their dislike towards us!” She turns around. “Seven, accompany Lieutenant Baxter and Mr. E-Bug to the northern station! I`ll beam with Mr. Carey to the southern one.”
Carey scratches his belly. “Captain, wouldn`t it be safer if you stay with the ship and coordinate the two groups?”
Janeway frowns and raises an eyebrow discontentedly.
“You talk like a first officer, Carey, who begrudges his captain any fun! Well then, B`Elanna and Peri will accompany you.”
“Aye, Captain – ma`am!”

Chirping and twittering sounds penetrate throughout a densely grown jungle. In the treetops, many different silhouettes swing and flutter. A group of beetle-like ground dwellers with toothed trunks bite off leaves from knee-high, herbaceous shrubs. From time-to-time objects that look like differently shaped boulders rise a hand`s breadth above the ground, move a little sideways and settle again. At their previous position, they leave a bald eaten-up spot, which corresponds to the outline of their footprint.
About 50 meters away there is a clearing, made by stubbing up the for-est, with a large building in its center. It appears like a foreign body formed by hermetically sealed metal walls. Two large, slim humanoids are working on plant cultures in front of the building. They`re wearing protective suits covering their entire bodies, with an oval window in front of their faces.
The leaf-eating weevils raise their antennae as three shimmering optical phenomena form next to them in the air above the grass. The herbi-vores quickly disappear into cavities of fallen, rotten tree trunks.
Carey, Torres and Peri materialize in the forest. Carey and Torres notice the humanoids in front of the station and take cover. Pressed against the ground with all four extremities, they lie on their bellies next to Peri. They carefully stretch their heads out of the shrubs, trying to see if they have been discovered. With one of his four hands, Peri gives them a sign to stay behind cover. He marches to the next tree with his rows of legs striding in waves. On the side of the trunk facing away from the station he climbs up the rough bark fixing himself with his toenails. In doing so he avoids branching off twigs as he winds his way by. Once in the treetop, at a height of about ten meters, he opens the tricorder and scans the surroundings.
Below him on the ground, Torres`s holocom pops up, pierced with blades of grass. It shows the result of Peri`s tricorder measurements: the draw-ing of a building and red blinking dots with the description humanoids in red.

On the rocky ridge of a hill a single plant organism, bizarrely shaped in storm and rain, rises from a crevice between grey rocks. Its multifold angled branches, sparsely set with sickle-shaped leaves, sway in the gusts blowing out from the clefts of a rubble of rocks. Where the primitive stone has split to boulders it opens up gaps for the view downwards; softly shaped hills spread before the eye up to the horizon. The changing wind bends the blades of the evenly grown grass, painting waving and wandering patterns over the hilly country.
Seven, Baxter and E-Bug materialize next to the rocks. Seven opens a tricorder and scans the surroundings. Suddenly an explosion shakes the ground. Stones roll down from a heap of rocks. E-Bug presses his middle feet firmly against the soil as if probing the quake. His head antennae fan in the air and finally point in one direction. Several powerful jumps bring him to the plateau of a rock; with another leap, he disappears behind it.
“Where did that come from?” shouts Baxter.
Seven carries the tricorder before her like a compass.
“The seismic wave originated on the other side of this geological forma-tion.”
She walks around the rocks and climbs further up. Baxter follows her. Arriving at the top they quickly lie on the ground and peer through clefts between the rubble down over the valley on the other side of the ridge.
In a depression of the landscape there is a derrick on wheels. At its top a gear sets the drilling rods in rotation. Sturdy, stocky humanoids in protec-tive suits pull the drill rods out of the ground. Then they drive the derrick several meters further and start the next drilling. Behind them a worker stuffs cylindrical parts connected with cables into the recently drilled hole.
More than half of the depression where that work is carried out is torn open by a chain of explosion craters crossing the valley like a deep scar. On both sides of this furrow created by the blasting there are freshly extracted grey-brown rocks, veined with silvery gleaming streaks. Humus soil that was torn-out as well is orange-yellow in color.
“What are they doing, Seven?” wonders Baxter. “Is that open-cast min-ing?”
“They`re probably geologists exploring the extent of a deposit … with unusually backward methods.” She looks at the data of the tricorder. “The ejected rock is rich in nickel and titanium and very sulphurous. The humus material has an unusual organic signature.”
Suddenly a phaser shot hits the ground between Baxter and Seven, who duck in the rubble. In a reflex action, they turn around. A stocky male humanoid in a shiny dark protective suit has levelled his rifle at them.
“Drop your weapons!”
Seven and Baxter put their phasers into the grass.
“Forward,” commands a dull voice through the closed visor of his safety helmet. His gun barrel makes a movement downhill.
Seven and Baxter rise. They follow the command and go down, back to the rocks. One after the other they walk along a narrow path running between the large stones. A low sun is standing above the horizon right behind the marchers and projects their shadows forward, mixed up to a swarming medley of silhouettes. The path opens to a free place bordered by rocks. Seven is the first to go in, up to the stone wall and turns sideways in front of it. Her shadow separates from those of the others and wanders over the surface of the rock. Baxter reaches the wall next and follows Seven. His shadow also isolates and follows that of Seven on the wall. Shortly afterwards, the black silhouette of a gun appears behind Baxter`s shadow and that of its bearer pointing the barrel at Baxter. One after the other, the three humanoid shadows move across the wall of rocks. A fourth shadow follows them. Stretched along, resembling the projection of a large reptile on four legs, it marches at a constant distance behind the silhouette of the rifle and its carrier.
The latter stops. The head changes. The black line of the gun barrel on the wall quickly becomes shorter, disappears and grows out at the opposite side of the humanoid`s shadow. Suddenly, the tip of a whip-like swinging rope rushes with a crackling sound against the black contour of the humanoid head`s protective helmet. A flash of light flickers on the walls of rocks and the shadow of the rifle carrier collapses to the ground. Another shadow approaches it.
“Seven to Captain!”
“Go ahead, Seven.”
“We were attacked by someone and hurt him badly.”
“Beam back immediately! We`ll treat him in sickbay.”
“Aye, Captain. – Seven to transporter room. – Four persons to beam!”
The shadows on the rocky wall begin to shimmer like a dark forest floor, when its closed canopy of leaves is progressively opened by a swelling wind.

In the treetop, Peri finishes his scan of the area around the southern station and closes the tricorder. Cautiously crawling backwards, he moves down the trunk.
Suddenly Torres`s voice shouts in a low voice though excitedly: “Joseph, … what is that?”
“I don`t know — damn it — I can`t get away!”
Peri turns the upper segments sideways in an arc and tries to recognize anything through the thicket below him. Torres and Carey seem to be trapped in an orange-yellow, net-like web, in which they struggle. As fast as his stump legs can move on the rough bark without losing their grip, Peri continues his descent. Several times the legs of individual segments slip off the tree trunk and small pieces of bark break off. Near the ground he pauses and checks the situation. The calls have grown silent. His companions have disappeared. Carefully Peri crawls to the lower end of the tree and hides under blueberry-like plants. He creeps to the place they were beamed to. The ground vegetation is still squeezed down where the two humanoid bodies had taken cover. Peri finds a holocom pad and its separated communicator between leaves and stems. Next to them a phaser is stuck between two stones.

Janeway enters sickbay.
“How is he, Doctor?”
The doctor uses a medical scanner to treat burns on the head of his for-eign patient.
“The electric shock applied to him was quite violent. The light burns it caused can be healed quickly. The curing of the damages at synaptic level will take longer. Captain, I strongly recommend teaching your new security officer defense techniques that merely stun an attacker, instead of almost killing him!”
“Understood, Doctor. Can he be questioned?”
“What do you want from us?”
Toneless and dull sounds the voice of the stranger, whose half-closed eyes look at the opposite wall.
“I`m sorry you were hurt,” replies Janeway. “We came to you because we are looking for answers.”
“I`m not aware you were asking us any questions.”
“Why did two of your ships attack us?”
“I don`t know anything about that. Who are you anyway? And what place is this you took me?”
“We got you to our ship to heal your injuries. My name is Kathryn Jane-way. I am the captain of the starship Voyager.”
The patient`s eyes open dramatically; they stop gazing at the wall and direct towards Janeway. His facial muscles twitch. He rears up.
“Voyager?” he shouts in panic. “You kidnapped me! You want me as a hostage … for exchange –”
A pulsating alarm tone swells. The patient`s physiological data on the medical monitor behind begin to flash. The doctor injects a drug into his patient`s neck. He sinks back to the sickbed; his eyes become small, and he falls asleep. The readings go back to normal values.
“I`m sorry, Captain, you have to postpone your conversation to a later time. The patient needs rest now!”
Janeway`s gaze is fixed on the stranger. “It`s all right, Doctor, he already answered my most urgent question.”
Janeway`s holocom pops up and the excited clattering of tripping and scratching pairs of legs can be heard from her communicator.
“Mr. Peri? What`s happened?”
The icons of Carey and Torres appear. A box is sketched around them.
“Were they arrested?” Janeway leaves sickbay in a hurry. “Captain to Torres and Carey – report!”
Fragmentary and noisy calls Torres`s voice, “- Capt — we`re sub — dar –”
The connection breaks off.

Peri has erected his head and arm segments. He holds the tricorder scan-ning to the ground, while he follows a track in the grass with it. His two short olfactory sensors are also bent forward over his forehead, to the drag mark in the knee-high shrubbery in front of him. Orange-yellow slime threads hang from the squeezed leaves and snapped off twigs.
Suddenly, a green net is thrown over Peri that immediately contracts and wraps around him. He struggles with all his legs. His segmented body bends back and forth. The tricorder slips between the meshes of the net and lands in the shrub. Two ropes pull on the net and drag Peri, caught in it, over roots emerging from the ground. His holocom is stripped off and rolls behind a rotten tree trunk.
The wriggling net moves away together with two tall, slim humanoids in protective suits, who are dragging their capture towards the station`s entrance lock.

Janeway steps out of the turbolift onto the bridge.
“Captain to transporter room – beam back the Away Team South imme-diately!” Waiting anxiously, she looks up. “Transporter room, status!”
“Transporter room to Captain. – Lieutenant Carey`s signal could not be detected. With respect to Lieutenant Torres and Mr. Peri, only their communicators were beamed up!”
Janeway looks anxiously at the OPS, where Seven reports, “Captain, in his last transmission Mr. Peri sent a detailed plan of the station.”
Seven transfers the data to the large holocom of the bridge. Janeway walks forward and looks into the transparent holographic image of the station`s architecture, which is slowly rotating in front of her.
“Open a channel again!”
“Our signal is being received, Captain.”
“This is Captain Kathryn Janeway, from the Federation starship Voyager. You have captured three of our people. We had no hostile intentions. We were just trying to get in touch with you.”
On the screen, a slim uniformed humanoid appears sitting behind a desk.
“I am Joph Mengelek, Commander of the Hatar research station on Ver-dera.” He scrutinizes Janeway with a critical eye. “Three of your people, you say? Well, in that case, we won`t release your people until you stop your collaboration with the Anthox!”
Janeway is surprised. “I don`t understand … What collaboration are you talking about?”
“There`s no need to dissimulate, Captain Janeway. We`ve heard about your technology exchange with the Anthox!”
Janeway ponders for a moment.
Then she suggests, “I would like to meet with you to discuss your condi-tions.”
“I`m certainly not going to come on board of your ship!”
“Then I`ll come to you, with one escort.”
“All right.” He disappears from the screen.
Janeway takes a slant at the tactical console. She reaches towards her holocom. She hesitates. She pulls her hand back and mumbles, “Better not; otherwise, the doctor might get some more seriously injured today.” She turns to the OPS. “Seven, tell Mr. Baxter to meet me in the transporter room; and keep us locked with the transporter until we get back. Take the bridge meanwhile.”
Seven rises a brow. “This contradicts Starfleet regulations, Captain. I do not have a commission.”
“In the presence of staff shortage, I am authorized to promote you tem-porarily to provisional bridge officer.” With a waggish look, Janeway winks to Seven, while she steps to the turbolift. “But do not assimilate stranger`s ships, while I`m away.”
Seven`s second brow rises as well; with unchanged seriousness, but dis-tinctly pointed turn of tone she replies: “I will endeavor to control my urges — Captain.”

Lying on a broad trolley and lashed under the green net, Peri is rolled through a corridor. A lock opens. Four hands in gloves, that are firmly integrated with protective suits, are pushing Peri into a laboratory. While the trolley is rolled from one end of the room to the other, Peri presses his large hemispherical eyes through the meshes of the net. The walls of the laboratory are lined with shelves filled with exhibits of stuffed life-forms and their internal organs preserved in liquids. Knives and sawing tools lie on the laboratory tables.
At the end of the laboratory, another sluice opens. As the trolley ap-pears in the adjacent room, a sudden panic of swarming and scratching sets in, in numerous rows of cages on both sides of the central aisle.
The two humanoids roll Peri in front of an empty cage. They open the electronically secured door with a combination of three keys in front of Peri`s staring eyes and push him, together with the net around him, into the cage. Then they close the cage. One of the two reaches in, opens the net and pulls it out through the bars. Then he points to Peri`s buckled-on atmosphere emitter. He reaches through the bars again. The fingers of his thick glove stretch for the device. Peri moves to the side and strikes after the coated grabbing hand with the legs of his rear segment. The glove is hit by a pointed toenail and its tissue is torn open. A hissing noise is audible. The humanoid quickly pulls his hand back, presses the other hand upon the crack in the glove and hurries out of the room with his companion.
Peri looks after them. When the two have disappeared, he approaches his flat head segment to the cage door, turns his front body by 90 degrees and forces his head through the vertical bars, out to the front of the small console which controls the closing device.

Janeway and Baxter materialize in a corridor of the research station. They walk to the sluice at its end. It opens. They step into the adjoining room and are immediately surrounded by four slender, large humanoids in white laboratory coats.
“We are awaited,” explains Janeway.
One of the four gives them a sign to follow and leads them through a door inside a small office. Commander Mengelek is sitting behind his desk. He points at two chairs. Janeway fends off.
“I want to see my people first!”
“Not yet,” the Commander replies. “Sit down!”
Dissatisfied, Janeway takes a seat. Baxter sits next to her.
“I would like to understand your point of view correctly,” declares Jane-way. “Explain to us the situation as you see it!”
“I believe you know the situation very well, but … as you please.” Mengelek sits up straightly. “The Anthox have exploited all recoverable natural resources of their own planet wasting them on mad colonization projects of neighboring planets in their own system. Since then, they have been searching the star systems around their homeworld for new sources of raw materials. They have come across this planet in the pro-cess. Under its immensely rich flora and fauna, the planet Verdera – to its undoing – has a multitude of mineral resources in deposits near the surface. The mining methods of the Anthox are barbaric; they will destroy this planet in the same way, as they did with their own.”
Janeway critically examines the station Commander.
“What goals do your people pursue on this planet? What makes Verdera so interesting for the Hatar that the Commander of a small research station takes hostages of a foreign species unauthorized?”
“Unauthorized –?”
Nervously Mengelek slides back on his chair.
“The biosphere of Verdera is far too important! It must not be destroyed under any circumstances!” His gaze is fixed on Janeway. “The biochemistry of this planet contains an immense treasure trove of knowledge. We still need decades, merely to create a catalogue of all compounds and bio-active substances.” Features of grim appear in his face. “We would have had this time if you had not come to support the Anthox!”
“In what way should we support them?” Janeway asks in surprise.
“As if you didn`t know. You are developing the technology for the Anthox to adapt Verdera to their organism. Then they are able to colonize it with huge mining companies.”
Janeway leans back and raises her hand.
“Now I understand. It`s about the transformation of the atmosphere on a planetary scale!” In consternation she turns her head sideways to Baxter. “That would destroy all life.”
A Hatar enters the room.
“Commander, the experimental animals from Laboratory 2 have disap-peared!”
Mengelek gets up. In anger he calls, “How could that happen?”
“I don`t understand it — all cages were electronically secured! It hap-pened shortly after we captured that strange, segmented animal. They escaped through one of the ventilation shafts.”
Mengelek`s eyes are swelling. “Through the grating and the fan?”
“Both parts have been dismounted.”
“Interrogate everyone who`s been working in the section at that time!”
The Hatar removes. Janeway examines Mengelek.
“How many of my crew have you captured today?”
“Three of your men. And you won`t get them back until you withdraw all your scientists from the Anthox!”
Janeway rises too. “You do not have a single one of my people in your power! – Janeway to Voyager! – Two to …”
Mengelek reaches out his hand towards her. “Please, don`t continue helping the Anthox to prepare Verdera`s destruction!”
Darkly, Janeway declares: “Voyager has been in this region of space for just a few hours. We are looking for crew members who were abducted months ago. Since today I`m sure that they are with the Anthox. I will take my crew back from them – but not before I have the three people back who have disappeared at your location.”
“Where was their position when you last contacted them?”
“About 50 meters south of your station.”
“There are many holes in that area,” Mengelek tells her with concern. “I`m afraid you`ve lost the people, Captain Janeway. Follow me!”
Mengelek, Janeway, and Baxter leave the room.

Under the trees, in the bushy undergrowth, Peri again follows the trail of the orange-yellow slime that sticks at leaves and twigs. He repeatedly lifts his head and peers over the low vegetation towards the station. He glides over a mossy tree trunk and reaches a boulder. At its foot there is a gaping hole about 60 centimeters in size, which leads diagonally down-wards into the underground. Peri crawls into the gloomy cave. After a few meters it gets so dark that only the pale contours of Peri`s segments are recognizable. All of a sudden, they begin to vibrate and a dim, greenish shimmer emerges from the slabs of his outer skeleton. A lumi-nescent aura forms around Peri. It reveals roots and stones protruding into the cave, and the yellow-orange mucus that envelops the roots as a fine web.

Meanwhile Commander Mengelek, who is inside a protective suit, and Janeway, with her atmosphere emitter strapped on, examine the forest ground above Peri. Baxter joins them.
“I found a phaser and a tricorder, Captain!”
He scans the yellow drag mark on the ground as he follows it.
“Weak bio-signatures from Torres and Carey are displayed, and a fresh one from Peri!” Baxter stops. “It leads into this hole, Captain.”
“Is this one of the holes you were talking about, Commander?” inquires Janeway.
He nods. “We lost five of our people before we realized the danger. They were drawn in and never showed up again.”
“What dragged them into it?”
Mengelek bends over. With the thick glove of his protective suit, he tears out a blade of grass smeared with yellow substance.
“It`s this slime. It has a strange dynamic behavior, but we haven`t found out yet what causes it.”
Janeway points to an unfolded frame near the hole. “What is that?”
“One of our live traps. We use it to catch organic objects.”
“You mean – living beings?”
“Our research material.”
Janeway taps at her communicator. “Captain to Voyager! – Can you trace the signatures of the three missing crews meanwhile?”
“The signals are still too weak for transport, Captain,” Seven`s voice re-ports.
“Beam a mobile chain of probes for transport signal boosting to my coor-dinates!”

In the underground Peri follows deeper and deeper the downward run-ning path. Finally, his tunnel leads into a chamber about one meter high and five meters in diameter. Peri`s stump feelers bend towards the open space fanning back and forth, while smelling with the wet endings. In the greenish shimmer his body sheds across the room, several skeletons of humanoids are visible. At the rear end there are two balls of orange-yellow web.
Torres`s voice sounds muffled, as if it came from the inside of a box. “Carey, do you have a lamp?”
“No. I don`t see any light,” Carey`s voice hums just as dull.
“Maybe I`m hallucinating it, … this prison is driving me crazy!”
With every second leg Peri`s stamps triple sequences against the ground, that are echoing through the room. Torres struggles in her yellow cocoon.
“Peri? – Get us out of here!”
“Maybe he can`t help us, B`Elanna, … maybe he was caught himself,” Carey suspects.
“Then his legs would be glued like ours and he couldn`t give any signals,” Torres replies. “Here we are, Peri!” Her cocoon vibrates.
Moving his head in a searching look, Peri checks the sidewalls and ceiling of the chamber, from which the roots protrude that are covered with slimy threads. Then he leaves his tunnel and crawls into the chamber, past the skeletons. Suddenly a swarming movement arises around Peri on the floor, on the walls and on the ceiling. Billions of hair-thin orange threads move towards him, swinging with their tips. Peri turns back, but the entrance to the tunnel is already blocked by sticky webs. In a frozen posture, Peri looks towards the approaching threads. Up from the floor and down from the ceiling the lively fibers have already reached him. A few millimeters in front of his body they stop and perform small, barely perceptible pendulum movements at their tips. Shortly thereafter Peri is enveloped from all sides. Like a living template consisting of billions of microscopic elements, the vibrating tips of the threads seem to reproduce and measure the surface of his body.
All of a sudden, in another swarming movement, the threads retreat; they shorten and are sucked back into the slimy mass that covers the roots hanging from the ceiling and protruding from the walls.
Peri`s rigid body still shows the screwed shape he had assumed as he had turned around searching for an escape route. Slowly he straightens himself again, pauses for a moment and then crawls carefully to one of the cocoon webs in which his companions are trapped. He rises and reaches into the sticky web. With four hands he pulls it apart in four directions. Torres`s uniform becomes visible. Then the stretched fibers seem to restructure and reconnect. The opening closes and from Peri`s hands the fibers flow back into the cocoon.
Peri hears a noise and turns around. A small robot vehicle appears at the end of the tunnel from where Peri has entered the chamber. Light-emitting diodes flash at the front end of the vehicle, which detaches from its rear part and enters the chamber. In front of Peri, it stops. A moment later Peri dematerializes; beam processes can also be seen in the cocoon webs formed by the orange-yellow slime fibers.

On the forest ground above the underground chamber, the Away Team South materializes in front of Janeway, Baxter and the Hatar Commander. Torres and Carey wipe yellow slime from their faces. The Commander takes a step back and points at Peri.
“This is the segmented material we caught today!”
Janeway`s dark gaze penetrates the visor of his protective suit.
“This is Mr. Peri. He is one of our most qualified engineers.”
“But … he`s not humanoid — that`s an animal!”
An icy, uncompromising coldness mingles in Janeway`s firm voice.
“I take a different view in that matter, Commander.” She steps close to him. “Either we are all just animals or — nobody is an animal, and others are just different from us.”
While she continues to fix the Commander, she stretches her arm side-ways. Her hand holds a communicator that is framed by the ring of a ho-locom pad. Peri straightens up, takes over the device and attaches it to his second segment.
“The Hatar should learn more respect for the persons they call organic material, and they should reflect upon a new scope of their ethical guidelines! Otherwise, your way of dealing with the living world of the planet Verdera will – concerning the individuals affected – not differ from the one the Anthox are planning.”
Janeway taps at her communicator. “Captain to Voyager – five to beam!”
Shortly afterwards the Commander stands alone in the wood in front of his station looking at the place where Janeway has disappeared.

The starship Voyager is flying through space at warp speed. Stripes of stars and washed-out, colorful clouds of nebulae are passing by.
“Captain`s log.
Two competing civilizations have fallen on a planet. The Hatar are prepar-ing to exploit its biological resources using ethically reprehensible me-thods. It is to be feared that they will expand and accelerate their pro-ceeding, since they suspect that another species, the Anthox, works on a process that makes Verdera colonizable for them and destroys all life on the planet as a side effect. In some way our abducted crew seems to be involved. From the Commander of the Hatar research station we`ve re-ceived a clue as to where we are likely to find our people.”

On the bridge, the door of the captain`s ready room opens. Peri comes out and goes to the turbolift. The two parts of the lift`s sliding-door shift apart. While Peri enters on floor level, Ceph swings out of the lift above him and over the ceiling forward to the helm. He lets himself sink into his hammock and pats the shoulder of Tom Paris with the end of an arm. Paris looks briefly upward, then turns back to the panel and opens status data. He gets up from his chair, points to the data, knocks on one of the grab-arms that are already spreading across the displays and moves away. Ceph ropes down his hammock to console level. Then he turns two eyes towards Lang at the OPS and fans out the rest to the helm displays and over the screen, which depicts warp stripes and colored nebulae passing by.
“Captain`s log, supplemental.
The doctor compared the tricorder data of the two away teams that vi-sited the planet Verdera. He found something remarkable. The bio-signature of a fungus enveloping plant roots is so similar on both planeta-ry hemispheres that it is probably a single being spread across the entire planetary biosphere. An experience with that life-form Mr. Peri told me about has confirmed my determination not to allow that Starfleet tech-nology might in any way be involved in the destruction of life on the pla-net Verdera!”


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