Starship Voyager – The Alien Adventures — 19 Dilation

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.


19. Dilation

With outstretched arms Tuvok, Lang, and Kim are holding on to both sides of their consoles to not be knocked down by violent vibrations shaking the ship. Paris is thrown back and forth on his chair at the helm. At each of the quakes that occur every few seconds, the stripes of stars collapse to dots on the screen. As soon as there is a rest for a few mo-ments, they draw out again.
“What`s going on, Mr. Paris?” shouts Janeway, swaying on her chair.
“We`re dropping out of warp at irregular intervals.”
Janeway clings to the armrests of her seat. Grimly she turns her head to the OPS station on port of the bridge. “Mr. Kim, are that Tubeworms getting virulent again?”
“The disturbances are not coming from inside the ship this time, Captain.”
While her upper body is thrown to the side, Janeway makes a grab at the communicator.
“Captain to engineering – what`s going on, B`Elanna?”
“I can`t establish a stable warp field, Captain,” Torres`s voice replies. “The space distortion around the ship continuously tends to fall in a state of collapse!”
“What`s the cause?”
“Sensors indicate we`re flying through anomalies in subspace that throw us back into normal space whenever we cross them. Each time we have passed an anomaly the warp field restructures again, … until we cross the next disruption.”
Janeway looks forward. “Mr. Paris — full stop!”
“Aye, Captain.”
The stripes on the screen become permanent dots. The quake has ceased.
“According to sensor readings, subspace shows linear defects,” reports Tuvok. “The computer is just creating a 3D map of their distribution.”
Next to the helm a holographic map of the Voyager`s stellar surroundings pops up, about two meters in size. Shortly afterwards, white lines are faded in. They come as bundled tufts from different spatial directions. Converging, the bundled lines become increasingly condensed towards the center of the map, where they seem to meet. The Voyager`s icon lies within an area of high defect density.
Janeway narrows her eyelid as she examines the slowly spinning holo-gram.
“Magnify the convergence area, Tuvok!”
The central area where the bundles converge grows, while more distant objects, and the Voyager`s symbol are passing the edges of the map and disappear from the image. A star and its planetary system become visible. The defect lines end as if cut off along the orbit of a planet around its sun.
Kim leans forward over his console to see better.
“Could these disturbance lines be the traces of starships with warp tech-nology that was not yet matured and thus damaged subspace?”
Tuvok nods. “That would be a possible explanation.”
Janeway points forward. “What about this planet where the lines are leading to?”
Tuvok fades out the lines to make the planet better visible.
“It`s a Class-H desert planet. Sensors do not detect any signs of life. Cap-tain, I don`t think the planet was the target of those starships, but its satellite.” Tuvok zooms in on the moon of the planet. “Even at this distance, extremely intense mining signatures can be detected there.”
The crystalline symbol of a substance appears next to the moon.
“The mined material is apparently -”
Dilithium! ” Janeway reads out loud.
She turns backward in surprise. Then she opens her holocom. She pushes the icons of Torres and Peri to the symbol of the bridge and waits. One after the other the two icons turn green. Janeway closes the holocom. With a delighted expression she turns her gaze back to the moon so rich in raw materials.


“What do you think, Tuvok, … might they have left us some dilithium?”
“It is possible that the deposits have extensively been exploited. There is no indication that the moon has recently been approached.” He scrutinizes the data on a display. “I`m not reading any warp tracks. Also, long-range sensors do not detect ship traffic.”
Janeway nods contentedly. “So, hopefully nobody will have a claim on the last remnants and assert an ownership against us, … if we dig a little further!”
Peri and Torres come out of the lift. Peri erects next to Tuvok at the tactical console inspecting the data. Torres goes forward to the captain.
“What about our dilithium supply?” inquires Janeway.
“The crystals will last for a year and a half. Then we`ll have to reprocess them. If nothing unforeseen happens, we`ll manage with our material for another four years.”
“But it would do no harm to store some more dilithium,” Janeway points to the moon in the map, “if we`d strike a deposit, would it?”
Torres`s eyes shine as she follows Janeway`s gaze into the map.
“You can never have too much of such a rare substance, Captain!”
The holographic image changes. The Planet and moon become smaller and wander sideways out of the image. The central star appears.
Standing next to Tuvok, Peri changes the representation of the map. With a disapproving look Tuvok observes Peri`s unauthorized initiative. Finally, Peri finds another planet in the star system. He scans it. Chemical and mineralogical data are displayed next to the planet.
Tuvok comments coolly, “On this planet there are no indications for life either. However, there are traces of extinct early life-forms.” Tuvok lowers his head, checking sensor data. “There is evidence of mining technologies, but no signs of current activities. Small amounts of metal deposits are detected and some unknown substances; no sign of dilithium.”
Peri pushes Ceph`s icon and his own to the symbol of a shuttle, which he moves to the planet he discovered. Janeway exchanges a questioning look with Tuvok.
“We`re going to stay in this system for a few days anyway. — I have no objection. What do you think, Commander?”
“An away mission of the shuttle should be of low risk because it`s staying in the same planetary system. If problems arise, it would take just a few minutes for help from Voyager to arrive.”
Janeway bends over to the display on her console and touches three symbols that have appeared there. The symbols of shuttle, Peri and Ceph turn green on the holo map. Janeway nods to Torres and Peri.
“Prepare the two excursions!”

With his back pressed deep into the mattress, his head raised and his belly along with arms and legs pointing upwards, E-Bug is resting on a bed in sickbay. In a front extremity, he is holding an insulating distance piece, with a medical tricorder attached to its end. He moves it back and forth over his upper body, while a tube-eye of his bent-up head observes the display. Then the forelimb hands over the tricorder to a hind leg, clamping the distance piece between two toes, whereupon the latter now examines the rest of the body.
The entrance to the station opens and a casino carriage appears, which Neelix pushes in front of him. A large plate is on the trolley, covered with a lid.
“Hello Doctor! The feeding of the sick is here!”
The doctor bends backwards out of his office, past the glazed partition wall.
“I did ask you not to bring him anything more, Mr. Neelix! The patient is overweight already. And that`s probably the only suffering this hypochondriac has anyway!”
“I don`t know anything about diseases, Doctor. I`m just a cooking morale officer. And as such, I know that securing capacity for work and morale of the troops means minding the stomach!”
“Not in this case!” scolds the doctor in a grumpy tone.
Unbothered Neelix pushes his trolley to the sickbed. E-Bug quickly puts the tricorder aside and straightens up a bit. Neelix removes the lid from the plate.
“Hydroponic potato with seven sulfur-steamed vegetables, in spicy, electrolyte-larded sauce, … and garnished as always with your favorite dish, the fruity, piezoelectric grail algae!”
E-Bug grabs the plate with the claws of the two fore extremities and places it on his arched belly. His mouth opens and he starts eating deliberately, obviously enjoying his meal.
Neelix nods to him, delighted that the meal was well received. He turns his trolley around and pushes it to the exit. Janeway comes in.
“Captain, I was up to see you anyway!”
“What`s it about, Neelix?”
“It`s about the hydroponic garden; since a large part of the area is being used for the cultivation of protein-rich algae, there`s not enough space left for other foods. I would like to discuss with you whether it`s possible to expand the garden.”
“I have no objection. But clarify with Commander Tuvok which room would be suitable!”
“Thank you, Captain, I`ll do that.” Neelix leaves with his trolley.
Janeway goes to the doctor`s office. On his computer, the doctor is im-mersed in the longitudinal section of a worm-like physique. Janeway`s gaze darkens.
“Doctor, you have requested my appearance.”
The doctor stands up, glances at her shortly and leaves his office angry-faced.
“It`s a good thing you`re finally here, Captain!”
Janeway follows him, with a questioning expression. He points to the occupied sickbed.
“I have a patient here who, according to everything I`ve understood about his organism so far, is no longer a patient!”
“Why don`t you discharge him, then?”
The doctor`s features transform to contrition.
“I`ve been trying this for several times; but then he always grabs a scan-ner, is measuring about his body by himself, points somewhere and claims there was something wrong.”
“So -?”
“Captain -?”
“Is there something wrong?”
“From my point of view everything is all right! But, of course, I don`t know his organism down to the last detail; and since he formerly used to resist every examination, I don`t know for sure what the parameters of his body looked like in healthy state before he was attacked.”
Janeway observes E-Bug, as he slurps the last grail algae, lying well-fed with stomach and extremities upwards in his sickbed. E-Bug puts the plate on a medical side table, pushes himself back deeper into the mattress and stretches his limbs with visible comfort. A medium-sized lightning bolt detaches from the tip of one of his side feelers and sparks into the bed frame. With a jerk, the adjusting motors of the bed start buzzing. The headboard and backrest rear up and angle with such vehemence that E-Bug rolls forward and is hurled off the sickbed. In a reflex action, the massive middle legs stretch and absorb the hit of the impact. Then E-Bug pulls the jumping legs back to the body and stands, somewhat wobbly, on his hind legs and forearms.
An humorous smile spreads around Janeway`s eyes and the corners of her mouth.
“Welcome back on duty, Mr. E-Bug! I think I already have a suitable job for my second security officer, that`s going to help him regain his stability!”

The starship Voyager is flying towards a bright, nearby star. A shuttle emerges from the shuttlebay at its stern; it turns and flies parallel to Voyager for a while. Then the two vessels separate. One turns to starboard, the other to port.

Ceph has spread two arms across the cockpit of the shuttle. Peri is sitting next to him, checking the readings. Behind them E-Bug is resting, stretched out over a row of provision boxes. Two boxes in front of his head are open. From time to time he pulls out a tuft of grail algae from one of the boxes, chewing them. In between he reaches into the other box for corn grains. Now and then one of his tube-eyes rises to look through the front window, out into space.
A light brown planet appears in front of them. It is speckled with bluish spots and its atmosphere is interspersed with green-yellow streaks. Above the shadow boundary between day and night Ceph swings into orbit. They fly over the night hemisphere and then across the day zone, while Peri is scanning the planet. A display of his panel shows the topography of the planet`s surface. Finally, the floor plan of the abandoned mining station is displayed. Peri transforms its coordinates to the helm readings.
Ceph fixes two eyes on the transmitted values and one additional eye on Peri. He flies a turnabout with a downward loop and a rotation around the longitudinal axis. The planet seems to whirl over their heads. Shortly afterwards, Ceph navigates the shuttle on a descending course into the atmosphere. The view in front of the window becomes blurred, while the stars above them turn pale. The darkness of space transforms, in the scattered light of the gas envelope, into the daylight brightness of a planetary world.
Clouds appear below the shuttle. They approach. The shuttle sinks into floating formations of yellow fog with a green tint. As the shuttle leaves the clouds at their bottom, the surface of the planet shows up through the cockpit window. A glistening white desert stretches to the horizon, with crusty humps of brown rock protruding. Most of them form islands, some are strung in chains. At the borders of rock and sand lie sporadic turquoise-blue lakes.
The shuttle continues to sink and slows down its flight. While it is heading towards a depression between two mountain ranges, the geometric contours of the mining station emerge. The upright shape of a tower projects its silhouette.
Suddenly, a flashing light is emitted from the tower. At the same moment, an energy discharge shakes the shuttle. Sparks spray from several consoles. Peri is thrown out of his seat. The bow of the shuttle turns steeply downwards. With a racing speed the surface of the planet comes closer and begins to rotate in front of the window.
Ceph clings with two arms to the seat of his chair. The other three ten-tacles hectically reach over the navigation panels and try to flatten out the dive. Just above the ground he manages to stop the fall, re-orient the shuttle, and regain a horizontal trajectory. Rumbling, its fuselage touches the tops of sand dunes several times. A particularly high dune appears in front of the shuttle. It crashes into its flank. Sand splashes around the windshield. Abruptly it gets darker. Crates fly through the cockpit. With all segments, Peri is thrown onto the console and against the window. Ceph`s tentacles have sprung forward to cushion his own impact. At the foot of the console, between the rods of the pilot`s seats, there are sparkling lights and crackling noise. Waving about his feelers, E-Bug pulls himself out of his wedged position and gets back on his feet.
Ceph reaches over the console to the window and knocks on Peri`s seg-ments. His legs, standing in the air, start to move. His head rises. Peri swings his eyes from the front window, which is stuck to the top in the sand, to the interior of the shuttle. With the daylight blocked by sand, the inside is lit only by the dim colored lamps of the panels. Peri laboriously crawls back to his seat. Ceph tries to restart the shuttle. It hums and jolts, but it does not rise. Peri opens a diagnostic program. A number of status messages are listed. Behind several of them ERROR lights up in red. Peri gets off his seat. He goes to the wall on starboard and removes a slab of the facing. A smoking module becomes visible that is covered by calluses of shiny soot. Peri pulls it out. Behind it, a hole appears in the hull of the shuttle, through which a bright-yellow sunlight glistens, that is reflected by the sand. Ceph hangs from the ceiling next to Peri. His eyes bend past Peri`s head, towards the bright hole. The heat of an impact has melted the hull material, leaving a rim around the hole covered with beads of metal.
Peri goes back to the cockpit. There he erects and activates the EMERGENCY button. It flashes red for several times, accom-panied by a periodically swelling signal tone. All of a sudden, this tone is shifted to a lower pitch and silences. The red flashing key flickers and goes out.

On Voyager`s bridge the crew is shaken again. Janeway turns to the OPS console.
“Mr. Kim, how`s the integrity of our ship doing on this bumpy flight?”
“The vibration amplitudes are still below the critical range.” reports Kim. “Nevertheless, we shouldn`t go on like this for hours, Captain. Otherwise, microcracks will form in the hull, that might grow to massive fractures.”

The bow of the shuttle sticks in the sand almost up to the upper edge of the cockpit window. Ceph laboriously tries to push the sand aside by wave-like movement of his arms. Two arms push small amounts of sand away from the shuttle, passing it around Ceph`s body on both sides, where the other arms take over and push the sand further away. Gradually, a depression forms in the excavation area; at its flanks, strands of sand flow back.
The shuttle is stuck in the dune in a sloping position. From the open stern lock of the small ship, two tracks are running around the shuttle and next to each other into the desert. One track looks like a flat channel. The other consists of hoof-like impressions in two parallel rows. Again and again, they suddenly end at irregular distances, with two deep troughs extended in the direction of movement, from which sand was ejected backwards. Then the track disappears for several meters, until two long hollows appear again, and the two rows of hoof-like impressions continue.
Ceph interrupts the digging and turns all his eyes away from the shuttle. He gazes towards the tracks, which get invisible behind one of the endlessly reaching dunes in the expanse of the dessert.

In the middle of a depression between ridges of reddish-brown rock rising over the white dunes of the desert, countless heaps of soil and stones are piled up. Next to them there are several buildings connected by paved paths that are partially covered with sand. The largest building is a rectangular hall with a huge closed gate. In front of it lies a leveled square about 30 meters in range. Behind it, there are mining huts covering pits, from which conveyor belts protrude at an oblique angle. They are equipped with pockets for receiving and transporting excavated material. In the center of the facility, the glass dome of a biosphere arches up. Through its windows, green, light brown, and purple colors shimmer. Somewhat apart from the mining complex, rises a round tower. In its upper third, the wall is broken through by wreaths of embrasure-like openings.
Peri and E-Bug stalk towards the tower, taking cover behind heaps of soil and rocks. Shortly before they reach their objective, Peri opens his tricorder and points it at the different buildings of the complex. While he watches the display, the wet, hairy stump feelers above his forehead fan through the air. E-Bug`s head appears next to Peri. One tube-eye is also directed at the readings, while the other is panning attentively over the edifices of the area. His temple antennae incline towards the large hall; then to the pit buildings, to the conveyor belts and to the biosphere dome. Finally, the antennae swivel towards the tower, where they alternately spread apart and narrow again. Also, the signal levels on the tricorder deflect violently when Peri points it at the tower.
Peri closes the tricorder. He lowers all segments to the ground and runs, leaving the cover, as fast as he can to a portal at the foot of the tower. This encloses a sliding door, which is covered with a meniscus of quicksand from below. Peri rises again. He keeps tightly against the wall as he examines the electronic opening mechanism next to the portal. He removes a cover, pulls off a cable, bridges contacts, and turns a lever. The door cracks and jerks. A gap is formed in the middle where the two sliding parts meet; but they do not open. Peri puts his four hands in the gap and pulls so hard that his body trembles. Nothing moves.
With one jump out of his cover from behind a cone of rubble, E-Bug lands next to Peri. Sand splashes against the wall of the tower. With one forehand E-Bug grasps into the gap as well, with the other hand he clings to the outer side ledge of the portal. Together, they pull with all their strength to push the two halves of the sliding door apart. The organic tissue between Peri`s segmental plates pulsates. E-Bug gasps. Crunchingly, the sliding mechanism starts grinding sand grains and rust scales. The entrance opens. Peri and E-Bug take cover on both sides of the door and have a breather. Finally, Peri unfolds the tricorder and directs it to the dark interior of the tower. E-Bug`s temple antennae also bend through the door gap. He goes in. Peri follows. When they have entered a few steps, the lighting goes on. Peri retreats and presses against the wall next to the entrance. E-Bug`s side feelers detach from his body and swing in the air, ready to strike. Peri pans his head searching. E-Bug`s eye tubes twitch to different directions. Nothing strange moves.
The room is open up to the roof construction of the tower. In the upper area, ray cannons are mounted behind each of the loopholes, with small lights blinking on their displays. A softly humming sound is audible.
Peri goes to a console in the middle of the circular room. It looks like a cube, with a vertical semi-cylindrical indentation worked in at each of the four upright standing sides, respectively. These four concave surfaces are decorated with innumerable tiny buttons, which are grouped in fields of different colors and contours. A holographic image of the airspace around the station is floating above the console. In front of one of the concave control panels, Peri stretches his fingers towards the buttons. The tiny elements are so close together that the tip of his finger would be touching several of them at the same time. He hesitates. Then he withdraws his hand. The humming sound that fills the room can still be heard. Something grinds behind Peri. He turns his head.
With a front claw, E-Bug opens the sheathing of one of the strong cables leading up to the cannons. When metal shimmers out, the end of a side feeler touches it. A spark jumps over. Immediately, the feeler clings to the metal.
Suddenly, the lights on the center console go out. The hologram collapses. The frequency of the high buzzing tone rapidly decreases and fades away. E-Bug looks upward. The displays of the ray cannons have gone out as well. E-Bug`s feeler detaches from the cable that has lost its voltage. His eyes angrily twitch, searching through the room.
Peri is standing on the wall next to a unit from where the supply cable is laid to the central console and to all the ray cannons. Peri`s hand is holding a massive bayonet plug mounted to the ending of a cable, which he unscrewed from a socket on the wall. He drops plug and cable to the ground.
E-Bug`s side feeler lies back on the body. Discontentedly, his eyes jump back and forth between the interrupted supply and Peri. The peripatoid lowers to the ground. With his rows of legs marching in waves he hurries to the bright exit and leaves the tower. E-Bug follows him through the portal.
Above it, the wall of the tower rises, interrupted by embrasures, up to a flat roof, which stretches a bit beyond the upper end of the wall. In the middle of the roof top there is a grey cube. Above it a frame is mounted that reproduces the outer contour of a pyramid. A small yellow light shines evenly in the center of one side face of the cube.
All of a sudden, the rods of the frame start moving, and the top of the pyramid opens. The four metal parts that formed the converging edges are now in parallel to each other, pointing vertically upwards, like arms stretching towards the sky. The yellow light goes out and a red one starts blinking, while far below the tower, two unequal figures are moving away, marching past the centrally located dome of the biosphere, heading towards the large hall.

The shuttle cockpit is abandoned. Through the entire surface of the front window sunlight burns on the switched-off helm panels. The boarding sluice at the rear is wide open. Outside, the starboard flank of the ship casts a narrow shadow in the midday sun. At a hollow in the sand of this dark strip, grains are rhythmically blown away by a tentacle end that is reddened and callused.
Pressing tightly against the shuttle`s outer shell, Ceph has been spreading his sore and sunburned arms in the shade to cool them in the weak airflow around the shuttle. Also, the bulk of his body is raw from the sunburn.
Driven by the hot desert wind, single grains of sand wander along the shuttle in glittering capers. Above the crest of the deep hollow in front of the bow, streams of drifting sand draw the vortex path of the wind, which slowly fills up the excavated hollow.

A quake shakes Janeway`s lower body forward off her seat. She clings to the armrests and withdraws herself.
“Mr. Paris, how much longer?”
“We`re flying at Warp 1.2, ma`am. Twenty more minutes to go!”
Grimly, Janeway`s eyelids narrow.

On the horizon of the evening sky, a tiny whirl of dust appears between the sand-dunes. It approaches, and increasingly grows. At the same time, a buzzing sound can be heard and a blowing that swells to the howling and hissing of a storm, as the dust tornado comes closer. The chaotic turmoil of swirling sand is heading straight for the shuttle, growing as high as a house. Immediately, next to the small ship the phenomenon comes to a standstill.
The local storm ebbs down. The sand cloud sinks to the ground and un-covers an excavator-like aircushion vehicle. At its front arrangement of lever arms and hydraulic muscles, long daggers of a forklift truck are mounted. The driver`s cockpit opens. Peri climbs out of it and down, over the large compression unit of the air cushion drive. With a tied bag full of water in his hand, which he pulls through the sand next to his segments, he struggles his way to the shuttle, more scraping than marching. He looks through the open boarding sluice on the rear into the deserted interior. On the floor near the provision boxes, there is an opened first-aid kit and next to it a large, completely squeezed-out tube. White cream residues stick around its opening.
Peri turns his eyes to the vastness of the desert, where the dunes are casting long shadows. No movement is perceptible. He marches along the ship`s side around the shuttle, repeatedly pausing to raise the front segments and peer into the distance. Then he walks on again. Suddenly he begins to stagger. The ground under him deforms. Peri tries to escape to safe terrain, but straight away he slips back into the sandy area that comes to life. Arms of living sand retch out of their granular hotbed. Peri is trapped between them like in a nest of winding sand adders. The water bag falls out of his hand. Scraping in panic with all his legs, he escapes from the sand monster that is digging out of the ground behind him. When Peri turns around, he sees a sandy lump in front of the shuttle board, from which twelve slender sand eels stretch upwards. From its bottom side, five sand snakes swarm out. One of them has embraced Peri`s water bag like a python and squeezes the contents through the tie into the open throat of another sand snake. The surface of the sandy monster is scratched on several spots, and a greasy red skin shimmers out.
Peri arches up his middle segments and bents his head downwards to look at his legs. They are glued with white cream to which grains of sand have adhered in thick layers.

The last light of a fading sunset-glow, penetrates through the window of a technical room and sheds its reddish-brown shimmer on a large aggre-gate. Its upright user interface is vaulted inwards and equipped with tightly set buttons grouped in fields of different colors. On both sides, the claws of two front extremities grip the concave plate and pull it off. Thereby, filigree wiring and electronic components are separated that were attached to the back of the plate. Behind it, massive connection technology and thick power strips appear. E-Bug bows his two temple antennae over the electrical installations. They deliberately swing over strips and modules. He pulls off a thick plug and inserts it elsewhere. Something rattles behind him. E-Bug turns around. The large wheel of the elevator of a pit shaft is turning and the transport cabin sinks into the ground. E-Bug pulls off the plug again and connects another line to the power supply. His eyes jerk up. Artificial light radiates from the glazed biosphere dome, which can be seen through the window. E-Bug plugs further connections. More and more buildings are emitting light through their windows.

Nightly darkness has spread over the desert. Against the light of a rising moon, the outlines of dunes are visible beyond a valley between protruding formations of rocks.
Spotlights appear on the ridge of a sand elevation. A vehicle follows the ups and downs of the landscape. It is approaching quickly, surrounded by dust. The mining plant is brightly lit. On the area of the leveled square in front of the large hall the vehicle penetrates into the light cones of the headlights. It crosses the square and drives through the open gate of the building.
Inside, the air-cushion-powered cargo vehicle stops. Its compressor is switched off; it sinks to the ground. Then it lowers its lifting fork and plac-es the shuttle on its fuselage. The headlights go out. The engines shut down. The driver`s cab opens. In exhausted cautiousness, Peri labori-ously climbs down from the vehicle. He goes to the shuttle and knocks on the rear sluice. It opens with a bright humming sound. Ceph lies behind the door. He has wrapped himself in damp cloths. Only one arm is outside, pressing the wet fabric tightly against his body. Also, a single eye-stem has found its way out between sheaths of cloth. Arm and stem are thickly covered with sandy cream. Peri climbs inside over the boarding ramp. He pushes a button. As the ramp of the shuttle closes behind him and the light penetrating from the hall weakens, he turns on his back. Starting from the rear segments he rolls into an upright spiral resting in a corner formed by the shuttle wall and a provision box.

Still covered by the mountain chain in the east, a morning sun is shedding warm orange light from the desert into the valley in front of the mining station. At the mouth of the valley, dark shaded flanks of dunes are lined up one behind the other, their curved ridges shining in scattered light. On the squares, the walls and windows of the station, the white artificial illumination of spotlights fades in the rising daylight. The creaking squeak of the rusted and sanded sliding mechanism of a door that is pressed open somewhere, loudly welcomes the new day.
In the machine hall, the cabin of the heavy-weight transporter is still open. Inside, a concave-cylindrical user interface leans against the side of the cabin. The interface with its fine grid of buttons has been removed from the cockpit. Instead, coarsely screwed controllers with sliding levers have been mounted and connected with cables above the electronics of the cockpit panel.
The rear boarding ramp of the shuttle is open as well. Inside, Peri is still resting rolled up in his corner. A humming and blowing rises in the back-ground. It quickly gets louder. Suddenly a small hovercraft, low and flat like a flying carpet, races up the shuttle ramp and into the interior. In a bang it collides with the food crates. Peri wakes up with a startled jerk. He hurls the rolled segments open and rises in a frightened, defensive position. Head and upper body are curved backwards. In front of him, Ceph is sitting in a hollow on the small air cushion vehicle. Jumping forward out of control, it persistently collides with the barrier of boxes and is repelled again, while Ceph struggles with three arms to pull a cable from the open controlling electronics. Head first, Peri lets himself drop onto the front of the vehicle. He pulls a plug. The air compressor comes to a standstill; the vehicle calms down and sinks to the ground. Peri holds the plug in front of an eye bent towards him by its stem, and shakes the plug demonstratively. Ceph`s skin is covered with sandy cream residue and the scales of his sunburn. One of the arms is incessantly rubbing at the countless spots. Peri drops the plug. He looks out of the shuttle tail through the hall gate into the dawning day. He turns around, walks through the shuttle to the cockpit and touches a button. The sketch of a crossed-out letter envelope appears and the text: No Return Message. Peri opens a holocom and loads the floor plan of the station. Then he pushes his own icon, that of the shuttle, and the sym-bols of his two companions over the floor plan and touches the TRANSFER button.
Behind Peri, Ceph pulls himself over a box and lifts its lid. Searching, he pushes a sack of potatoes aside and inspects packages containing liquid food. Ceph interrupts his hungry rummaging as a shadow slides over him. E-Bug is standing on the ramp. With a fling of his front claw, he throws a fist-sized, purple ball in Ceph`s direction. In a reflex action his arm catches it. Ceph examines the object with a groping wrap and holds it before three curious eyes. Juice drips from the purple fruit. The end of a second tentacle hastily slides underneath and sucks the squeezed syrup into its snorkel.
Peri appears with a tricorder next to Ceph and holds it in front of the fruit, which is more and more crushed. Meanwhile, E-Bug lifts the lid of a box. He pulls out a thick tuft of Grail algae, with branched roots hanging at their endings, and marches out over the ramp. He goes to the rear exit of the hall, which leads to the other buildings of the complex. Peri also leaves the shuttle and follows him.
Ceph pushes the plug back into the on-board electronics of his vehicle. The compressor howls. The air cushion lifts the vehicle and driver off the floor. Ceph jostles and rumbles against boxes. Then he races past the others. At the same time, he squeezes the purple fruit with one arm and sucks the juice with the end of another, while two arms are busy closing and disconnecting cable contacts for every steering movement. All the eyeballs are in the state of attention, trying to keep the overview.

A warming morning light penetrates the moist pentagonal and hexagonal windows of the biosphere. Sturdy plants touch the glass dome with their crowns. Their feathered leaves have started to wither bending down-wards. Numerous purple fruits are hanging from the branches. In between, there are broad, proliferating shrubs carrying nut-like capsules. Their leaves are covered with brown spots. Along the edge of the biosphere there are several water basins, with levels sunk to the mud zone. Paved paths are winding their way around these ponds and through the interior of the biosphere.
A groan and creak echoes through the glass dome. Shortly afterwards, a small hovercraft races along one of the paths through the undergrowth. Behind it, E-Bug marches straight across country to the next mud pond. There he settles down, bends over the embankment and plants his algae in the mud.
Peri glides along the main path with waving patterns of his walking legs. His head turns to both sides alternately. From time to time, he stops and examines stone slabs over which he runs. Fragments of fossil plants cover the slabs as flat reliefs.
Finally, Peri arrives at a compost heap. Dead plant parts protrude from it, which are not yet rotted. From a large part of the humus, new shoots are already growing. In a hollow, next to the compost heap, the light brown clay of a dried-out pool shines. Deep cracks are running through the soil in all directions. Several metal parts protrude from the hard clay, some of which are connected by swivel joints.
Peri circumambulates the clay area and scans it with the tricorder from different sides. He investigates most intensively a metal form arched out of the clay. It has a small bump. Peri feels it. The bump deforms under the pressure of his finger and it clicks. The next moment the metal stuck in the ground starts to move. Individual limbs break out of the encrusted clay and strike through the air as in panic. Peri is hit and thrown against the flank of the compost heap. Lying on his back he turns around; standing on his legs again he runs to the side.
The more the metal parts free themselves from the clay soil, the clearer they reveal that they are all connected to each other. Suddenly, as if on a command, all of the limbs simultaneously plant themselves against the ground. With joint force, they break free the central core from which they all branch off. A metallic figure rises, laboriously searching for balance. Most of its body surface is covered with dried clay. Numerous filigree metal bristles, several centimeters long, protrude from it. Erected upright, like a rocket with long arms, the creature stands on four short, sturdy legs in front of Peri. Then the arms powerlessly sink. Lengthwise the figure plunges back into the lumps and clods of the broken clay pit, where it keeps lying motionlessly.
Peri cautiously approaches with the tricorder. Behind him something smacks. E-Bug walks along the paved path towards Peri. He cumbersomely uses also his middle jump-legs for walking, in order to have the claw-fingers of the forearms free for the purple fruits he carries with him. He is holding the crowd of juicy balls against his body, trying not to lose a single one. Next to Peri, he stops and observes his measurements. While E-Bug chews a fruity pulp, his temple antennae swing forward, where Peri moves the tricorder over the core of the fallen figure. E-Bug`s side feeler approaches towards one of the metal arms. Carefully touching, the tip of the feeler discharges a current pulse. Immediately another one of the articulated arms twitches and strikes against Peri`s erected front segments. Peri topples over. Then he straightens up, again. Angrily scraping with his legs, Peri flings lumps of clay against E-Bug, who retracts the side feeler back to his flank. He bites into another fruit, turns around, and continues his walk along the paved path, smacking.
At the lower base of the metallic structure, where the four legs originate, Peri pulls a hand-sized aggregate out of the body. He scans it. Then he opens his holocom, and pushes Ceph`s icon to his own. Immediately afterwards, the blowing and humming of Ceph`s vehicle gets louder. He races past the compost heap, notices Peri behind it, stops and drives back to him. Peri pulls the main plug out of the open control panel of the vehicle. It stands still. Then he clicks a button on its chassis. He pulls out a unit equal to the one he has removed from the metal shape. In its empty shaft he tries to insert the component from the vehicle. Ceph holds him back with a grip of his arm. He tears some of the feathered leaves from a tree, crumples them together and rubs off the dried clay from the head of the figure. As a result, a narrow glass visor appears running around half of the head. Also several cone-shaped hollows emerge. Ceph retreats to his vehicle.
Peri installs the small aggregate and hurries to the side. Again, the figure comes to life, more violently than before. It quickly stands on its four legs. It moves each of its joints, one after the other, as if for a test. Then the metal being climbs the compost heap and pauses for a moment. It swivels its visor head as if to explore the terrain. Then its four short legs carry the being down the hillock and with quick steps to a nearby console. This also has an upright semi-cylindrical concave that is filled with tightly set contacts. The figure nestles its front body, from which numerous filigree metal bristles protrude, into the indentation of the console. Shortly thereafter, a bubbling sound spreads under the bio-sphere dome. Peri also climbs the compost heap and looks around.
Water is washed into each of the surrounding swampy ponds. Under the capsule-bearing bushes and purple fruit trees jets, protruding from the ground, spray fine drop fountains upwards over the wilted leaves. The resuscitated gardener sets his garden back in operation.

Cascades of successive quakes are shaking Voyager`s bridge.
Angrily Janeway calls: “Stop, Mr. Paris! Warp 1.1 is still too fast for this dilapidated subspace! We`re flying the rest of the way at impulse speed!”
“Aye, Captain.”
The shaking ends.
“A subspace signal has just been received by sensors, Captain,” reports Tuvok. “Its contents cannot be deciphered.”
“Can you determine the direction it came from?”
“It appears to have come from several directions simultaneously.”
Kim speculates, “The central star of this system shows strong protuber-ance activities. Perhaps energy pulses are coupled into subspace during the rearrangement of the magnetic fields, and are scattered by its distur-bances.”
Janeway weighs her head. “Maybe.”

One behind the other Peri and E-Bug are marching through a dimly lit pit shaft. Crystals of various shapes stick out from the brown rock of the ceiling and the walls, glittering in different colors. Peri stops once and again to break out a crystal and put it in a bag that he carries on his back. Suddenly, E-Bug stops in front of him directing both eyes into a narrow niche in the shaft wall. A stone slab protrudes diagonally from the rock face. Peri forces himself into the niche and illuminates the slab with the lamp of his tricorder. The plate is covered with the mineralized impression of leaves, stems, and roots of a plant fossil.
Peri grips the edges, and pulls the plate with all his might. It is stuck in the rock. He removes the phaser from the strap of his atmosphere emitter and adjusts it to continuous beam mode. Then he melts away the rock material surrounding the fixed part of the plate with the phaser. Again, Peri pulls and shakes at the plate. It becomes loose. As he does so, clefts grow across the entire area of the niche with a cracking sound. While Peri quickly pulls the plate out into the pit shaft, the ceiling collapses inside the niche and fills it up with boulders. Peri and E-Bug quickly recede. When the dust has settled, a small crystal lies between the rubble stones in front of the niche. It has the bipyramidal shape of an octahedron and shimmers like an opal. Peri picks it up, inspects it for a moment and puts it in the bag with the other crystals.

Under the light-flooded dome of the biosphere, there is a small field of knee-high potato shrubs on one side of a pond. On the other side, corn as high as a man, rises in two long rows. Ripe yellow grains shine from the top of its cobs. In the pond itself, overshadowed by trees, the entire water surface is covered by a closed carpet of algae. Condensed drops fall from the dome and collide with the dark green algae leaves that light up in tiny flashes.
Ceph is swinging between the crowns of the purple fruit trees, high up in the glass dome. He feels the fruits with a hanging tentacle. From time to time, he picks one of them and clicks with his suction cups. He lets the fruit fall down to the gardener, who catches the juicy fruit in a bag that he has stretched between two arms. Then he places it in a box standing next to him on an air cushion cart.
E-Bug and Peri come through the entrance of the biosphere. E-Bug goes to the algae pond, along a narrow path where the ground vegetation has been trampled down by frequent walking. On the way, he picks a corncob. Then he settles on the shore. He peels the cob, pulls a tuft of fibrous algae out of the water, wraps it around the corn and bites off a mouthful from his garnished cob.
Peri pushes a humming hovercraft in front of him like a wheelbarrow. There is a stone slab on the craft and on top of it a bag, with minerals sparkling from its opening. Peri pushes the vehicle to a clearing. In its middle, a large alabaster-white stone table stands. Semi-cylindrical concaves have been worked into the white boulder at its vertical faces. Two thirds of the table is covered with glistening minerals. Numerous stone slabs with reliefs of plant fossils lie on the lawn around the table.
Peri places his bag on the table and empties it. Then he sorts the new finds by color and crystalline form to the other minerals. A number of crystals are cube-shaped, others protrude like rock crystals from the fragment of their parent stone. Some adhere to one another as mica plates, some are shaped as long rods or as a thicket of needles that have grown together crosswise.
Finally, Peri holds a marble-sized octahedron between two fingers. Undecided to which group of the mineral collection he should assign it, he places it between cubic pyrites and amethysts.
Peri bends down to his transport vehicle, grabs the stone slab with all four hands and heaves it on the table. A clicking noise can be heard. A few steps beside Peri, the gardener makes a rapid movement with the bag in his arms to catch the purple fruit falling from above.
Peri opens the tricorder, bends over the table and scans his latest fossil find with deliberate care. Suddenly, just beside the tricorder, a purple drop of syrup hits the petrified surface. Jerkily Peri`s head swings upwards. His big eyes stare into the thicket of feathered leaves, searching for the source of the drop. Then he reaches for the empty cloth bag and dabs the red dye, which has already seeped into the stone. Peri puts the cloth aside and continues the scan. Finally, he opens his holocom, pushes the icon of the tricorder into the image and touches a virtual interlink button. The next moment the hologram of the scanned plant pops up, completely reproduced as if it had been prepared out from the rock. The plant fossil slowly rotates in space. All parts of the plant are depicted, from the finely branched roots upward along stem and leaves to the fruit stalks.
A bough bends downwards over Peri`s table, under the load that hangs below it. A swarm of eyes surrounds the spatial representation. Curiously comparing, some stems level their eyeballs at the fossil stone relief, the others are directed to its virtual preparation. A single eye travels over the minerals arranged in groups. Suddenly, all the stems jerk in one direction. A tentacle swings down. Excitedly, it reaches for a small stone and holds it against the sunlight. In a loop the end of the tentacle has grabbed the stone at its pyramid tips. So closely that they touch each other, the eyeballs surround the octahedral crystal, which is about three centimeters in size. Turquoise and dark blue inclusions opalesce in its transparent interior, which is interspersed with a branched web of filigree, golden glowing threads.
The crowd of eyes swarms apart and directs to Peri. The tentacle holds the octahedron close to Peri`s face. He moves his head a bit. The big complex eyes look at the small stone for a moment. Then Peri turns back to the hologram and magnifies a section. The outlines of fossilized plant cells grow visible. Their interior is filled with a quartz-like mineral.
With momentum, Ceph swings onto the hovercraft next to Peri. The bough set free from the load bounces back upwards. Three outstretched arms dampen Ceph`s impact on the vehicle. Then two tentacles grab Peri`s middle segments and pull him on the vehicle as well, against the struggling of his legs. The compressor starts. The hovercraft rises and as it begins to move, another arm grabs the empty bag on the table. With the small octahedron held before his eyes by the end of a tentacle, Peri is driven to the exit of the biosphere at increasing speed. They race past the gardener, who dodges sideways. He watches the two, with the optical visor at the upper ending of his body, until they have disappeared through the gate of the glass dome. Then he plucks a dried-up feathered leaf from a purple-fruit tree and wipes off purple splashes of juice from the metal bristles on the belly part of his body.

On Voyager, Tuvok touches his communicator.
“Bridge to Captain!”
Janeway`s voice answers. “What is it, Tuvok?”
“A distress call has just arrived from away team 2, with a video message attached.”
“I`m coming.”
Janeway appears from her ready room and goes forward to navigation.
“Let`s see!”
The holocom of the bridge pops up next to the helm station. It displays the sketch of the curved surface of a planet. In a hump protruding from it, the red icon of the shuttle sticks with its bow ahead. Next to it the icons of Peri, Ceph, and E-Bug float in green. Somewhat away is the sym-bol of a phaser cannon, from which a beam sketched as an arrow points to the side of the shuttle.
“They were shot at and crashed!” shouts Kim.
“It seems they were not injured.” Janeway points to a symbol next to the bullet hole. “What does that sign stand for?”
“This is Peri`s icon for the drive converter,” explains Kim. “It`s not reparable. If it was hit, they need a spare part from Voyager to be able to start again.”
Janeway touches the communicator. “Captain to away team 1! – What`s your status, B`Elanna?”
Torres`s voice answers, overlaid with crackling radio noise. “In the shaft we`ve worked our way to a layer of rock where at least a dozen large dilithium crystals are embedded. We`re busy for another hour deter-mining their exact position and beaming them out.”
“What`s your impression of the station, could it be that its builders gave it up just for a short time and might want to set the facilities in operation again soon?”
“I don`t think so. The machines are heavily corroded. They`ve certainly not been in use for a hundred years.”
“Did you encounter any defense systems?”
“There is a system equipped with sensors and autonomous defensive weapons. But it was shut down a long time ago.”
“All right, Lieutenant. Don`t take all the crystals out of the rock! Maybe someone else may come here later who needs dilithium more urgently than we do … And please hurry! Peri`s shuttle has a defect. We`ll have to salvage it.”
“Understood, Captain, we`ll do as fast as we can! – Torres out.”
With a worried face Janeway turns to Tuvok.
“Send a message to away team 2, Commander. They shall stay at their present position! We`ll set out for them in a few hours. If their situation gets critical, they are to report immediately!”
“Aye, Captain. However, I have to transmit the message via frequencies in normal space. In subspace the signal would too strongly be disturbed by scattering at defects. It`ll take forty-five minutes for the message to arrive the away team.”
Janeway frowns. “All right. Make it so!”

Orange-red evening light shines through the glasses of the biosphere. It makes the mineral grains of a small sand court shimmer reddish. At its end, a dry branch sticks upright from the ground. Around this wooden peg, four spherical, unripe pale-purple fruits are lying. A different pattern is carved into each of their shells. A metallic arm of the gardener stretches towards one of the fruit globules. Eight circularly arranged fingers fetch it. Then he walks a few steps back and throws the ball with a swinging movement from bottom to top, towards the peg stuck in the ground. Closely, in front of it, the ball keeps lying.
Near the sand court, E-Bug bends over the shore of the pond that is cov-ered by grail algae. He pokes with a stick between the plants and pulls out yellow, wilted parts with it. He inspects them closely and smells them. The gardener notices him and comes with quick steps of his four legs. Next to E-Bug, he stops. He folds a glass module out of his stomach part, reaches into the pond, takes a yellow and a green plant sample and places both next to each other on the module. Immediately afterwards, light in different spectral colors penetrates through the samples. When the analysis is complete, symbols for atomic nuclei and electronic states of various substances appear on the glass display next to the samples, as well as bar diagrams of substance amounts. For the wilted leaf the bar length of two substances is significantly shorter than for the green leaf.
The gardener wipes the samples aside and folds the module back in. Then he takes two ampoules from an output chute on the belly. He stretches out his arm and pushes the ampoules like rifle ammunition into a magazine opening on the side of the arm. A grinding noise can be heard. When it stops, the gardener aligns his arm towards the surface of the pond. Under high pressure, the pulverized ampoule material is distributed with a hissing noise from a nozzle at the end of the arm over the surface of the pond, where it dissolves in the layer of water above the algae.
In the background, the entrance of the biosphere opens. Ceph and Peri appear on small hovercrafts. The two are thickly covered with dust, as well are their vehicles. Peri transports several stone slabs on his cart. He steers to the alabaster table and stops the drive. Exhausted, he glides off from the vehicle. He tiredly marches with all leg segments to the next tree, leans against the trunk and rolls himself to a spiral from below.
Ceph races to the back of the biosphere and towards a pond full of clear water. Immediately in front of the shore, he releases the arm with which he had sucked himself onto the chassis and abruptly stops the vehicle. The inertia of Ceph`s dusty body hurls him over the bank of the pond with the last swing of the driving movement. And with his arms spread wide apart, he breaks through the surface of the water and dives under. The boiling water of the pond colors brown.
On the hovercraft a bag has remained, fastened at the wheel. It is bulged on all sides by pointed objects. The bag is tilted to the side. A fist-sized octahedral crystal has rolled out of its opening. Its interior is inter-spersed with a web of golden threads, spanning turquoise and dark blue inclusions that shimmer opalescently.
The trunks of the fruit trees surrounding Ceph`s pond almost reach the glass dome of the biosphere. Above their crowns there is a ventilation slit in the shell of the tropical house, which at this height provides a view over the buildings of the mining station. At some distance stands the tower, in the light of fading dusk, with its windows serving as embrasures. At the very top, in the middle of the roof`s surface, four pole antennas are directed skywards, where the first stars become visible at the zenith. On a module below the sticks, a small red light is constantly blinking.

In space above the dusk zone of the planet, a light blue vortex structure forms, interspersed with white streaks. A ship emerges from it, that has the shape of a thick, short cigar. At its front end a sluice-gate opens up. Out of its bright interior, a smaller flying object floats. It has the same shape as its mother ship. It accelerates towards the planet and dives into the atmosphere on its night side.

In the nocturnal landscape around the mining station the peaks of the rock crests and the sand dunes beyond the valley shimmer in the silvery starlight. The leveled surface in front of the large hall of the station begins to glow in pale green light, irradiated by a missile descending from the night sky. It lands on the square.
A ramp opens at the cigar-shaped object and five hovercrafts float out. They cross the square and move towards the open hall. On each of the small chassis a vertical semi-cylinder is mounted as a controlling panel. Behind the concave arches, organisms about two meters high are stand-ing, upright on four short legs. Their maggot-like body tapers upwards in even waves and merges, without the interruption by a neck, in a head set with glassy, arched eyes. Above, at their highest apex, perpendicular crossing lip-slits form a mouth. Along the ring-shaped waves of the flowing bodies, warts protrude from the skin, from which movable bristles sprout. These touch the filigree, tightly set buttons on the inside of the semi-cylindrical vehicle panels. The forward facing, convex sides of these consoles are equipped with rifle-like weapon barrels and scanners.
The five vehicles enter the hall. They stop next to the Voyager shuttle. The beings twist their bodies over the entire height until their eyes are leveled at the shuttle. A beam is emitted from a vehicle, which scans the shuttle in vertical lines from one side to the other. Subsequently, the beings turn forward again driving to the rear exit of the hall.

The biosphere is almost completely dark. The bright points of the stars shining through the glass dome reveal the outlines of the treetops.
The entrance of the tropical house opens. The five foreign hovercrafts float into the biosphere with the buzzing sound of the compressors and the blowing of the nozzles. The drivers stop their engines on the central clearing. In the twilight of the small lamps at the semi-cylindrical consoles, bristles feel at several tiny, narrow set contact buttons. In the next moment, the lamps in the biosphere light up illuminating the clearings and ponds.
On the tree trunk, near the alabaster table, Peri`s head rises. He unfurls the spiral of his resting posture. Carefully, he approaches the strangers. A few meters in front of them he stops. He opens the holocom, draws a sketch of the defense tower of the facility and a phaser cannon, and then positions the shuttle icon in front of the cannon. He pulls the shuttle downwards, bow-ahead with a rolling move.
The strangers are motionlessly standing behind their gun-equipped con-soles, staring at Peri with their glassy, curved eyes. With fast, tin-sounding steps of his four metal feet, the gardener approaches in haste. He places himself between Peri and the strangers and spreads, as if for protection, his metal arms before Peri. Once again, bristles feel at some contact buttons. A click can be heard. The gardener jerks. His arms sag down. Then he falls lengthways to the ground, where he remains motionless.
A flash of lightning strikes the metallic frame structure of the biosphere. Thunder roars through the glass building, that is multiply reflected by the panes. With a giant leap, E-Bug lands in front of the strangers, who are within the reach of his side feelers. They are up in the air ready to strike. The rear part of his body sinks. At an angle, the middle hocks lie on the ground. The forearms rise. From each of the two claws protrudes the mouth of a phaser.
The strangers have turned away from Peri. From their restlessly swaying upper endings of their bodies, glassy eyes are staring at E-Bug. Crowds of bristles start to move. The weapons on the consoles of the vehicles swivel towards E-Bug.
Suddenly, the shadow of a bough bending downwards wanders over the heads of the strangers. They look up. With one arm wrapped around the bough, Ceph lowers to eye level immediately in front of them. Two of his tentacles are rolled into spirals. He slowly unrolls them. While the two grow in length, they move horizontally towards the foremost of the strangers. As the last twists are opening, two fist-sized octahedral crystals emerge. They opalesce in dark blue and turquoise facets.
The swaying of the stranger`s heads has come to rest. Their glassy eyes motionlessly look at Ceph for a long while. The weapons on the consoles of their vehicles sink. Ceph stretches his arms a little further. He places the two crystals on both sides of the semi-cylindrical console on the stranger`s vehicle in front of him.
All of a sudden, the five strangers start a unison buzzing that breaks forth from their throats, with the lips of their cross-slot mouths vibrating. Pointing at Ceph, their heads move up and down.
After the humming has subsided, the strangers start the compressors of their vehicles. The hovercrafts rise. They turn around and leave the bios-phere.
Peri braces his feet against the ground. He turns the gardener to the side and presses against a bulge on his back. The metal being comes to life again. It stands on its four legs and straightens up.

From the opening of the starship that stands on the landing place, a broad trace of light penetrates into the interior of the hall. The vehicles of the five strangers appear from the rear. When they reach the level of the shuttle, they stop. From one of their consoles the light of a scanner is directed towards the hole shot by the phaser gun on the board of the shuttle. After a while the scanner goes out. Immediately afterwards glimmering bundles of radiation from three of the vehicles hit the damaged area. As if a replicator were at work, components are created in the destroyed area and the hole on the shuttle closes. The three beams go out. Then the strangers drive out of the hall and over the ramp back into their starship. Its sluice closes. The alien ship takes off. It floats upwards, accelerates and vanishes in the night sky.

On the Voyager`s bridge Janeway clings to the armrests of her chair with a tormented look, as she is shaken back and forth.
“Stop, Mr. Paris! There`s no sense in trying further. Switch to impulse drive again!”
“Aye, Captain. We`re close to our destination anyway.”
Paris reaches into the control desk. The shocks end.
Tuvok reports with his eyebrow raised, “Sensors picked up two unusual events near the planet. About seventy seconds ago, a vessel suddenly appeared there. It sent a lander to the surface that returned to its mother ship immediately after landing. This starship left the system forty seconds ago.”
Janeway turns around. “That`s impossible! A shuttle cannot land on a planet and return to its ship in thirty seconds.”
“That`s what readings show, Captain. In addition, the ship`s propulsion did not leave any warp signature. Instead, there are signs of quantum events at the location of its appearance.”
Janeway`s gaze brightens. “That ship was on its way with a transwarp technique!”
“We`re about to enter an orbit around the planet, Captain,” reports Paris pointing to the screen.
Tuvok frowns. “Our shuttle has taken off from the surface and is heading for Voyager. All members of the away team are on board.”
Puzzled, Janeway turns to Kim. “Harry, didn`t you tell us the shuttle couldn`t start without the drive converter.”
“I have no explanation, Captain. Maybe the converter was only slightly damaged. But even then, it`s a mystery how they could recalibrate the individual parts after a repair in that short time!”

The starship Voyager floats above the planet. From its atmosphere the shuttle emerges, flies to the stern of its mother ship and enters through the shimmering field of the lock into the shuttle bay. There it lands. While docking clamps are attached, its tailgate opens.
Before it has completely lowered, E-Bug jumps out and disappears in the corridor with rapid leaps. Next, Ceph glides down the ramp, sitting on a hissing air cushion vehicle. With two arms, he holds a bag, which is dented by pointed objects. Ceph sees E-Bug jumping in front and races after him.
The last to leave the shuttle is Peri. He pushes a hovercraft on which a stack of stone slabs lies. While he steers his wheelbarrow to the exit of the shuttle bay, he turns his head to the officer on duty. The officer greets back with a nod.

Janeway rises from her seat on the bridge.
“I`m anxious for Mr. Peri`s report! Maybe there`s some way to contact that other ship after all.”
Suddenly, the lights flicker. Humming sounds of unstable voltage levels penetrate from consoles. Janeway turns to the OPS.
“What`s going on?”
Kim stares at the readings; he shakes his head.
“The ship`s power has collapsed several times due to a series of overloads on cargo transporters!”
“What does that mean?”
“In several steps … forty-three tons of matter have been beamed up from the planet!”
“Where to?” shouts Janeway in horror.
“To the meeting place in cargo bay 1.”
Janeway hurries to the turbolift.
“Come with me, Harry!”
Kim follows her.

The entrance gate of cargo bay 1 opens. Janeway hurries in at a goose step. Kim tries to follow her. They march past the opening to a side room where the instruments of a Borg alcove flicker in the semi-darkness. They pass another side room in which Neelix works on hydroponic cultivations.
Neelix raises his head. “Ah, … Captain! I wanted to -”
Janeway pays no attention. She and Kim avoid stacks of crates and bar-rels crowded together. Behind that cargo, they reach the former meeting area. It has disappeared. In its place rises a flat hill of overgrown soil. Janeway and Kim climb the one-meter-high slope and stop on a paved path.
Janeway`s eyes are widening in a dramatical gaze. She snatches at her communicator and raises her head. “Computer, holocom message to Mr. Peri. Presence required in cargo bay 1, immediately!”
Shortly afterwards, Janeway`s holocom opens and shows Peri`s icon in green. Then it closes again.
Neelix pantingly climbs onto the plateau covered with food plants. In delighted amazement, he stretches out his arm towards a pond. “Captain, this is excellent! The areas for cultivating grail algae in the hydroponic laboratory certainly won`t be needed any longer! That makes room for the expansion of my growing of Kurelian dwarf apple shrubs I`ve been planning for quite some time, … and also some additional beds with terrestrial lentils.”
With a nervously irritated expression, Janeway turns to the entrance of the cargo bay.
“Where is he for so long -?”
Peri climbs the slope at her feet. Next to Janeway he rises. With amazed slowness he pans the viewing facets of his ocular hemispheres over the terrain in front of him.
The paved path, on which Peri and the three humanoids are standing, leads to a pond surrounded by a cornfield on one side and a potato field on the other. The entire surface of the pond is covered with a carpet of algae. At the edges of the area there are several purple fruit trees.
Peri turns his big eyes to Janeway. Then he opens his holocom and push-es E-Bug`s icon into the center. Behind a bend where the cornfield fol-lows the winding bank of the pond, a second holocom pops up, half concealed by the plants. Janeway approaches it. The others follow her. She stops at the bank.
E-Bug has settled on the edge of his algae culture and bites into a corncob, which is thickly wrapped up in grail algae. Next to him, a stick protrudes from the grass, on which a potato is impaled. From the claw of E-Bug`s hand the continuous beam of a phaser is directed at the potato. Small steam fountains spray from its soil-brown skin.
Janeway`s gaze darkens. Neelix bends over the bank in astonishment.
“How could these algae grow that fast? In the hydroponic garden it would take several weeks to cultivate such a large carpet!”
Tuvok`s voice speaks from the communicator. “Bridge to Captain!”
“Is it important, Commander?”
“That depends on the point of view.”
“Go ahead!”
“Because of the subspace defects in this system, we were thrown back into normal space many times during our recent warp flights. However, this did not occur in the usual way of a defined transition from warp to low impulse velocity. Instead, our speed in normal space was very close to the value of the speed of light.”
“Get to the point, Tuvok!”
“Due to the acceleration-induced relativistic time dilation, to which the collapsing warp bubble around the ship was repeatedly exposed, time outside the space distortion was passing faster than on Voyager; as the local time on the ship was slowed down by the accelerations close to the speed of light.”
Janeway looks at the thin layer of water above the algae surface in front of her. Her eyelids narrow.
“What time difference did result of this, Commander?”
“Integrating the effects of all individual events, there is a total temporal difference of two-point-seven-four years.”
With sorrow and dismay Janeway turns to Kim, who is standing next to her.
Kim shouts desperately: “Captain, that means, if we`ll ever get back to Earth, then another … two years and nine months will have passed there!”
“That`s correct, Mr. Kim,” Tuvok`s voice confirms.
Janeway`s eyes unsteadily wander through the room. They glance over E-Bug and stick to Peri.
“Tuvok, in the period when the ship was separated from the shuttle, there were also collisions with damaged subspace areas.”
“I had taken these into account in my calculations.”
“How large was that proportion?”
“One moment, Captain, … exactly eight-point-three months.”
Janeway puts her hand on Peri`s shoulder segment. Then she opens her holocom and activates lamp symbols. She points to the ceiling of the cargo bay and declares in a tired, introverted voice, “We`ll have to install strong daylight radiators, … so that your plants grow well here.”
Suddenly Janeway`s head turns sideways in a jerk. Her arm stretches between the rows of the corn shrubs, where an upright metal gardener on four short legs analyses a soil sample.
Hell — who`s that?
Suction cups snap. E-Bug`s tube-eye directs upwards in a flash, to a tree-top from which a wriggling arm throws something at him. His front claw drops the phaser, snaps up and catches the juicy purple fruit.


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