Starship Voyager – The Alien Adventures — 23 The Magnetar


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.


 

23. The Magnetar


The image on the viewscreen of the bridge is racing through the quantum tunnel of the string, on which Voyager is pulled in slipstream. All the details of the tunnel wall are flying by so quickly that they are smeared to grey streaks.
Suddenly, a bright light comes from the front of the tunnel. Its diameter shrinks rapidly. In the next moment, the quantum matrix dissolves, and a space region densely occupied with stars becomes visible. At the same time, a shaking goes through the ship and sparks spray from several con-soles. From E-Bug`s side feeler, which lies close to the side of his body, a flash of lightning sprays into the wall paneling next to his console. With a convulsive twitch, E-Bug, who was standing at his workstation stemmed up by the middle jump legs, is flung backwards to the ground. The bridge lighting flickers.
Bathed in perspiration, Ceph is sitting in the hollow of his helm. He pulls his arms out of the five sensor channels.
Kim shouts, “Structural integrity field collapsed! I`m rerouting energy to to re-establish the field.”
Janeway jumps up from her seat. “Red Alert!”
“All propulsion failed!” warns Paris.
The light on the bridge is dimmed down and red lamps are blinking. Jane-way turns to the tactical console.
“Tuvok — are we being attacked?”
“I cannot tell, Captain. The ship`s sensors were overloaded. However, the last sensor readings give no indication that we were under fire.”
Janeway looks past Tuvok. “What happened to Mr. E-Bug?”
With wobbly movements, E-Bug pulls himself up from the floor and bends over his console. Smoke is rising from between its claddings.
“Main engineering to bridge!” calls Torres`s voice.
“Go ahead, B`Elanna!”
“The warp core is off-line! Impulse drive has also collapsed. An ex-tremely strong magnetic field was indicated briefly. Can you tell from bridge sensor readings what happened?”
“Not at the moment. We`ll let you know as soon as we found the reason. Janeway out.”
Janeway goes to the astrometrics console.
“Seven, where are we?”
“A position determination is not possible. Only optical images from the outboard cameras are available. They show a Class-K star whose relative motion and redshift indicate that it`s orbiting an extremely dense object very close to us.”
“A black hole?”
“No, it`s not a singularity.”
“On screen!”
Seven touches an instruction display and points to the edge of the view-screen. “The bright, orange-yellow star on the right is the stellar compa-nion of …” the orientation of her arm swings to the center of the screen, “that dark object Voyager`s bow is directed to. It seems to be the end-point of the string we used for our flight.”
Janeway ponders. “Why did Ceph notice that thing but so late?”
She takes a few steps forward, closer to the screen, and looks at a small, dark object that ejects dimly glowing gases at its poles in irregular thrusts.
Behind his console E-Bug is standing motionlessly. Only his head slowly stretches forward, as if pulled by a magical force. Rigid and in parallel are both his eye tubes gazing to the center of the screen. His temple antennae rise steeply and wobble slowly back and forth.
Janeway turns her head halfway to Seven. “Magnify!”
Seven zooms in on the central object. Its surface looks as if covered by a pitch-black crust that has broken into continental-like fragments. A glar-ing, bluish light glows from the cracks between the uneven, flaky plates. From the polar regions light-green shining mist sprays up. Its material falls back in arches on the cosmic object.
Janeway`s gaze turns sideways in a jerk, as the holocom of the bridge pops up next to Tom Paris`s station. Inside, a video clip opens that shows the explosion of a supernova repeatedly in a loop. Below it, the possible final stages of exploding stars are lined up in a row. The slowly rotating object located between the symbol of the fast-rotating neutron star and that of the black hole grows until it fills half of the holocom.
With large, anxious, and consternated eyes Janeway turns back, search-ing. She notices E-Bug controlling the holocom on a display. Janeway taps her communicator.
“Bridge to main engineering! – We now know what happened, B`Elanna.” Her voice trembles. “The string we were following in slipstream has led us straight into the near field of a magnetar!”

——————————

On the bridge Kim reports, “The overloaded sensor electronics has been reinitialized, Captain. Most sensors are online again.”
On the screen, next to the image of the magnetar, E-Bug fades in mea-surement data, as well as a schematic drawing. It shows the magnetar`s axis of rotation and its magnetic poles, from which particle jets and radia-tion emerge. As the magnetic poles are located somewhat near to the north and south poles of the rotation, their emissions cover two polar cone surfaces around the rotation axis.
Kim is amazed. “Look at it: its diameter is only 30 kilometers, but it ra-diates with an X-ray brightness of ten-in-the-twenty-fourth watts!”
“Our shields have regained 100%,” reports Tuvok, “but since most of the generators are failing, we have to rely on reserve energy. In about three hours it will run out. Field and radiation will then enter Voyager again.”
Paris turns backwards. “Tuvok, isn`t a magnetar that thing that pulls iron out of red blood cells if you don`t have vulcan copper blood in your veins?”
“According to theoretical predictions, magnetars may produce flux densities up to ten-in-the-twelfth Tesla,” explains Tuvok objectively. “If you get close enough, the process you were talking about would happen to you, Mr. Paris. But long before that, the ship will have deformed so much in the magnetic field that there won`t be any rivet in its eye.”
“That`s a real consolation, … so I won`t suffocate from the internal he-moglobin deficiency because we`ve all suffocated before from air defi-ciency in vacuum!”
“You will not suffocate at all because the antimatter containment will break before.”
Janeway lifts her arms, putting a stop to the conversation.
“Gentlemen! I suggest you reflect less on how you`re going to die but think better about how we are going to stay alive!”
In the holocom of the bridge the doctor`s head pops up, oversized and three-dimensional.
“Sickbay to bridge!”
Janeway turns to him. “What is it, Doctor?”
“My instruments showed an extreme radiation exposure! What hap-pened?”
“We left slipstream near a magnetar and got into its radiation cone. How serious do you estimate the danger for the crew, Doctor?”
“I can say with certainty that radiation damages have occurred in all types of organic tissue on the ship! Therefore, I consider it imperative that each crew member reports to sickbay within twenty-four hours and undergoes a regeneration process!”
Janeway nods worriedly. “Alright, order all hands to sickbay. – Mr. Paris, support the doctor!”
“Aye, ma`am.”
Paris gets up. He looks at Ceph as he briefly points to the navigation con-trols and goes to the lift. Ceph grabs at the ceiling, pulls himself out of the hollow in the center of the slipstream console and swings to the helm. His skin is still covered in sweat from the previous slipstream flight.
“Something else, Captain,” adds the doctor. “If this new flying technique cannot be controlled any better, I recommend stopping it.”
“Noted. – Janeway out!”
She touches a button on her console. The doctor`s head is deleted from the holocom. Janeway snatches her communicator.
“Bridge to Torres. – How long will it take to restore propulsion?”
“At least two days, Captain. There`s just too many modules burned out!”
“We don`t have that much time. I`ll send Seven and Mr. Kim to support you.”
The two detached go to the turbolift. E-Bug fades in a sketch of the mag-netar into the holocom and as a dashed line the trajectory of Voyager.
Tuvok comments, “According to the latest data of our course, we are heading for another problem in about twenty minutes, Captain. On our orbit around the magnetar we will fly through the radiation cone again that the magnetic North Pole sweeps with a period of one-point-three seconds. The expected flux density will lead to a brief collapse of the shields.”
In dismay, Janeway stares into the holocom, where an icon of the Voyag-er approaches the radiation cone of the magnetar.
“We`ll be exposed without protection to the X-ray radiation again!”
Suddenly the ship is shaken. Janeway hangs on to the back of her chair so as not to be thrown to the floor. Immediately afterwards, the phenomenon repeats. The screen shows that the ship is changing its orientation.

The starship Voyager is drifting in space without propulsion. Like snake-heads swinging out to bite, the ends of gray-blue, massive plasma strands repeatedly strike into the rim of the saucer module. Each time they jerkily pull the ship towards the source of these flashes. The plasma strands appear endlessly long, extending far away of the magnetar. Suddenly, they retreat.

“Are we being attacked?” shouts Janeway.
Frowning, Tuvok looks at the readings of his station.
“Six tractor beams have been docking at Voyager several times. The impulse thus transmitted removed us from the magnetar and accelerat-ed Voyager towards its planet. If our drift course is not changed again, we will stay close to the northern radiation cone of the magnetar, but we will not cross it again.” Tuvok raises his head. “Captain, at the moment we`re out of danger.”
E-Bug updates the data on the trajectory in the holocom. The dotted line extrapolating Voyager`s movement now bends away from the magne-tar. The perspective zooms out until a dark body appears, to which the trajectory leads. Janeway goes forward. Her head almost dives into the interior of the holocom, while she fixes the obscure object with a dark gaze.
“So, it`s there we`re drifting now -”
“This is the only planet in the system,” comments Tuvok. “At our current speed, we`re going to reach it in eight hours.”
With a jerk as if escaping a hypnotic bondage, Janeway tears herself away from the holocom and hurries to the stern of the bridge.
“Before we get there, I want us to be maneuverable again! Take the bridge, Commander.”
Janeway disappears in the lift.

Crew members have been lining up in front of the open entrance to sick-bay. Naomi runs out and passes Neelix who is standing in the queue of those waiting.
“Naomi, why are you in such a hurry?”
“I must go and play,” she shouts with a weighty face and disappears into a side corridor. Neelix looks after her in amazement.
Inside sickbay the doctor, Paris, and other medical staff use scanners to treat crew members lying on stretchers, sitting on chairs, or standing upright. Peri lies on one of the sickbeds. Paris moves the regeneration scanner over Peri`s lower segments.
“Just four more pairs of legs, then it`s done!”
Peri has raised his upper body from the bed and observes the display of the scanner, where Paris makes adjustments and reads out data.
Janeway enters the station squeezing her way through to the doctor.
“Do you need more personnel, Doctor?”
Without looking up from his work, he replies, “Not necessary; the num-ber of assistants is sufficient. In a few hours the treatment will be finished. Nevertheless, I would prefer not to have to perform this procedure after each trip through slipstream!”
“The probability of coming out at a neutron star that has degenerated into a magnetar is very small, Doctor!”
The doctor interrupts his action and looks at Janeway. “That may be so, Captain. But being the responsible physician on board this ship, it is my duty to weigh that small probability against the severity of the physiological consequences for the crew! That`s why I once again recommend to discontinue a propulsion technology where the pilot plays Russian roulette during the landing!”
As a sign of refusal, Janeway lifts her hand. “What happened has nothing to do with Mr. Ceph, nor with this new technique. Currently, we`re flying through a dangerous part of the galaxy. As soon as we`ll have covered the core area of the Milky Way, another incident of this kind is not to be expected.”
A holocom pops up between Janeway and the doctor. While Paris is still regenerating his last segment, Peri erects. He activates the icons of the main computer and its organic subunits and pushes the symbol for X-rays next to them.
The doctor nods. “He`s right: we must not forget the neural gel-packs!”
Peri pushes his own icon next to the gel-packs and closes the holocom.
“Voil√† -!” says Paris and gets up.
The next moment, Peri takes the medical scanner out of Paris`s hand and leaves sickbay with it, meandering through the rows of waiting people. Paris looks after him in surprise. The doctor has turned back to his pa-tient. Without looking up he points out, “There are still enough scanners in the closet, Mr. Paris!”
While Paris goes to the closet, with the face of a recipient of orders, who rather acts on his own initiative than according to instructions, Janeway leaves sickbay with a smile on her face.

Peri opens the closure of a Jefferies tube and crawls into it. He marches several meters. He has lifted the front segments from the ground and carries the medical scanner in one hand. In another he holds a tricorder, which he aligns at the tube wall to locate his targets. The tricorder display blinks. Peri stops. He removes a cover under which an aggregate of neu-ropacks appears.

In the fisheye optics of Peri`s almost 360-degree field of vision, two of his hands appear in the central facets. One hand holds the medical scan-ner diagonally over a neuropack and turns it so that the view is directed vertically on the display of the scanner. The other hand makes adjust-ments on the display where an image of the neuropack appears with numerous red dots in it. At the edge of the display, a description in red says: Defective tissue. While the hand slowly moves the scanner over the neuropack, the red spots disappear one by one. Suddenly, the hand with the scanner stops. Several pairs of button eyes are visible in the periphery of the field of vision that is directed towards the ceiling of the Jefferies tube. With a dull glow they stare down from a dark area above the tube ceiling through its perforations. Slowly, the hand turns the scanner until its display is still visible in the faceted perspective at an oblique angle but can be observed from above in an optimum top view. Then, the hand continues the healing of the cell damages on the neural gel-packs with the scanner oriented in this way.

When the process is complete, Peri closes the cover again. He moves to the end of the tube and opens a hatch. Inside the adjacent tube, he ex-poses another group of neuropacks. As before, the glowing button eyes appear in the ceiling slits above him, and Peri aligns the medical scanner display upwards again.

In main engineering, Seven dismantles a cylindrical part from a unit that stands next to the warp core. Its connections are fused into a substance that shines like black glass.
Janeway hurries through the entrance. She looks to the left at Torres and Kim, who are mounting a module with screws, and marches straight forward to the warp core.
“Seven, what is the maximum range of a Borg tractor beam?”
Seven looks up in astonishment. “About twelve kilometers.”
Pondering, Janeway frowns. “Then the Borg are not responsible for this phenomenon.”
“What are you talking about, Captain?”
“Voyager was pulled away from the magnetar by some kind of tractor beam. The source is near a planet to which we are now drifting.”
“I do not know of any species capable of using a tractor beam over such distances.”
Torres appears and reports, “Captain, we`re making good progress with the impulse drive. It should be available in two hours.”
Darkly brooding, Janeway shakes her head.
“No, B`Elanna. Impulse drive won`t help us. Take care of that later. What we do need as soon as possible — is warp!”

Naomi Wildman pulls the tin gardener through the corridor by one of his arms, until they reach a gate.
“You`re certainly going to like it, you`ll see!”
She opens the entrance to the holodeck and goes inside. The gardener follows her.
“It`s such a great garden game. When we get home, I`ll show it to my father!” She lifts her head. “Computer, open Labyrinth – level 1. Objects of solid consistency.”
The bare holodeck transforms into a green landscape of flat meadows, separated from each other by rows of bushes. A blue sky spans the virtual scenery, with single, white-shining fleecy clouds floating along. In front of Naomi and the gardener, there is the entrance to a square labyrinth of about 30 meters in length. Its corridors are formed by rectangularly cut, hip-high box tree bushes.
Naomi rushes in immediately. She decides purposefully at crossings and bifurcations. She walks cautiously over a suspension bridge spanning a brook and runs over an arched bridge made of conical stones. Soon she arrives at the center of the garden and climbs two marble steps leading to the platform of an arbor made of classical column arches. Vines climb up the columns and over the arch construction. Naomi triumphantly jumps on the platform, waving both arms to the gardener, who is still standing in front of the entrance.
“Come on! Come to me, … you must find the way!”
Hesitantly, but with an interested panning of his optical visor, the gardener enters the maze. He inspects and feels the pruning of the box tree. Examining, he stretches his long, four-unit gripping arm into the water of the brook. And he first investigates the further course of the branching paths at each crossing before deciding on one of them.
Naomi shouts impatiently: “Hurry up! I want to start the next level!”

Janeway enters the bridge.
Tuvok reports, “I managed to determine our position, Captain.”
Janeway goes to him. “Where are we?”
“We are at the border of the Beta Quadrant, about three thousand light years above the galactic plane, inside the bulge of the Milky Way. Due to the proximity to the galactic center, the mass density in this region is already very high. Consequently, the probability of encountering a black hole or a neutron star is increased here.”
“I`m aware of that, Tuvok. We have no choice. We are approaching the Romulan Empire. If we want to avoid confrontation, we must maintain this evasive course, even if it`s dangerous. If slipstream technology would fall into Romulan`s hands, consequences would be incalculable.”
Tuvok raises his eyebrows. His gaze wanders from Janeway to the screen.
“I agree with you, Captain.”
E-Bug transfers the latest measurement data from his console to the bridge`s holocom. Janeway goes forward and takes a close look at the current state of the map. Voyager is located near the radiation cone of the magnetar and drifts away from it. The extrapolation of the trajectory along which Voyager is drifting is passing a planet at close distance. Jane-way reaches into the image and zooms on the planet, making it larger. Its surface glows dark and granular.
“Do we know more about that planet meanwhile?”
“Sensors show neither atmospheric gases, nor traces of water. There are no signs of life known to us. There is some kind of electromagnetic noise emanating from the surface, similar to emissions of turbulent plasma storms. The planet`s radius is only 2,000 kilometers and its density is unusually high, … as if the planet consisted merely of heavy elements.”
“Perhaps the light elements were vaporized,” speculates Janeway, “by the shock wave of the supernova that formed the magnetar.”
“Possibly.”
“When shall we be passing it?”
“In about three hours.”
Slowly Janeway walks to her place, sits down, and sinks into thoughtful pondering.

In an oblique position and without its own propulsion, Voyager floats through dark space against the background of the stars. In the distance a sinisterly glowing planet appears, to which the ship slowly approaches.

Through the entrance of a Jefferies tube Peri`s last three segments disappear. At the opened flap, there is engraved: J-No.23.
Inside, Peri crawls several meters forward, with his tricorder raised. Then he stops at a cover leaning against the wall. Three neural gel-packs are visible next to it, which are installed in a wall niche. Peri`s big eyes are motionlessly directed at them. Under their transparent shells, glowing phenomena sparkle in the outer two of the three gelpacks. Peri approaches one of them and stretches the tricorder towards it. Suddenly, his hand stops. He pulls it back a little and stretches it forward again. Once more the hand runs against an invisible resistance. Peri pulls his hand back and remains motionless.

Behind his console Tuvok frowns in alarm. “Captain, a data stream is emitted from the ship on a carrier wave and scattered across the planet`s surface facing us.”
Janeway turns around. “Probably Mr. E-Bug is scanning the planet.”
“Indeed, he does, but not at this frequency; and he doesn`t superimpose any communication signals on his probing wave.”
Janeway gets up. “What`s the content?”
Tuvok starts algorithms on his panels. “One moment, Captain, the decoding program is just analyzing.” He looks at another display and frowns again. “An answer is registered from the surface of the planet.” He looks back to the decoder readings. “That broadcast from Voyager was abruptly stopped. The emission from the planet is still ongoing.”

Peri`s big, faceted eyes are still staring at the three neuropacks. The glow in the outer packs has gone out. Instead, lights are sparkling in the central gel-pack. After a while, they fade away too. Peri slowly stretches out the medical scanner for the gel packs. This time nothing blocks the movement of his hand. The display of the scanner shows the three packs. Inside of them, not a single red dot appears, that would indicate a cellular radiation damage. Peri changes the settings on the device and measures again, but the result remains unchanged.

On the bridge, Tuvok evaluates his readings.
“The decoding of the signal transmitted from Voyager was aborted. All contents have been deleted.”
“Deleted? By whom?”
“Unknown.”
“Can you decipher the answer we received from the planet?”
“Partially, … but since we don`t know the previous message sent, the interpretation of the answer is questionable.”
“Try it!”
“The connotation sounds like … incorporate – digest – dis-sect.” Tuvok looks at Janeway. “But I can`t tell with certainty.”
Janeway worriedly turns to the viewscreen, where the dark planet glows.
“From which coordinates did that answer come?”
Tuvok examines his readings.
“From the entire surface of the planet facing us.”
With a jerk and an expression of horror, Janeway`s head turns to E-Bug`s station.
“If he didn`t scatter the data stream across the planet, who did?”
Once again, Tuvok checks his displays.
Finally, he reports, “The execution of the broadcast, as well as the subsequent deletion of its content, were performed via a neural gel-pack in Jefferies tube 23.”
Janeway`s gaze freezes.
“I`ll send a security team, Captain.”
Defensively Janeway raises her hand. “No!”
After a moment of silence, she touches the communicator.
“Captain to Torres. – How long until warp drive is online again?”
“In about half an hour, Captain,” answers Torres`s voice.
A lightning flash crackles between the tips of E-Bug`s raised side feelers. For a fraction of a second, it bathes the bridge in glaring brightness. E-Bug`s eye tubes are directed in parallel to the screen. The front part of the saucer module can be seen there. The line of a shimmering beam travels across its surface from the front bow towards the bridge.
“We are being scanned,” reports Tuvok.

For another moment Peri looks at the gel-packs. Then he closes the tri-corder. He grabs the cover leaning against the wall next to the packs and holds it in front of the three neural units to close the opening. He hesi-tates. Finally, he leans the cover back against the wall.
As he sets out back through the tube, the strange scanner beam appears at its exit. Flickering, it moves towards Peri. He begins to run backwards with all his legs. He retreats deeper into the tube to evade the approach-ing light. Suddenly, he hits an obstacle. His center segments vault upward. Peri turns his head, but he can`t see what is blocking his backmost segment.

In the facets of Peri`s visual perception, the weird ray comes continuously closer. Suddenly, in the periphery of the view, one body segment after the other begins to dissolve from the rear and become invisible. Finally, the optical change also turns over the field of perception itself. At the same moment, all segments become visible again in the view, which is spanning nearly 360 degrees. Like a glass dome something that is invisible from outside, but transparent from the inside, has slipped over the whole body. The alien scanner light has arrived at that dome. Without intruding, it flirts up along its surface passing over the view. And not only over the view and over the body segments but also over something beyond the last segment: a shapeless, flowing, amoebic being of mercurial-metallic substance that is also under that shielding dome. Meanwhile, the scanning beam has passed the camouflage area of the dome and disappears at the other end of the Jefferies tube.
Thread-shaped protrusions grow out of the amoeba. They extend to the neuropacks and sink into them. All of a sudden, the visual perception sees only the empty tube again, where body segments one by one become visible, from the head proceeding backwards, while the camouflage field retreats.

For a while, Peri looks through the invisible unknown behind him. Then he sets out once more back to the exit.

There are only a few patients left in sickbay. The doctor treats Mrs. Wild-man with the regeneration scanner. Paris scans Carey.
Suddenly, the curious, strange beam penetrates through a wall into the ward. It runs over the floor and travels through objects and persons, whose surprised faces appear white and pale in the strange light. Elec-tronic displays on computers and scanner devices blink as the beam passes over them.
“What was that?” calls the doctor out in alarm.
Paris grimly narrows his eyelids. “That was an omen, Doc!”
“Of a kind that hardly promises something good,” growls Carey and scratches his stomach.

Upright on his four short legs, the gardener enters the central goal of the garden labyrinth. He reaches Naomi, who has impatiently been waiting for him.
“Well finally!” She shakes his hand and calls: “Computer, Labyrinth – level 3.”
In front of the two players the labyrinth restructures to a bigger and more complex maze than before. Many of the green walls are so high now that even the gardener can no longer see over them. There are also overgrown tunnels and many more bridges. Naomi and her playmate are positioned in front of the entrance again. Afar in the center an open arcade building is visible.
Naomi immediately runs off and calls out provocatively, “Who will be the first to find the goal?”
The gardener hesitantly follows her, while he swivels his optical visor to all sides for orientation. Suddenly, the entire ground surface of the labyrinth starts shimmering. As a planar illumination, the light that has penetrated the ship runs from below up along the boxwood and cypress shrubs, up the stone walls, statuettes, bridge piers, up Naomi and the gardener, to finally disappear towards the virtual sky.
Naomi looks after the light. She loses her grip on the edge of a bridge and slides down the slope. The gardener notices her fall. Quickly, he breaks through several boxwood barriers, leaving behind trampled branches. He reaches the bridge and stretches his long arm downward. Naomi hangs on to it and he pulls her up.
She looks at the sky once again. “Was that part of the game?”

Close and gloomy, the strange planet fills the left half of the screen.
“Are we in danger of collision, Tuvok?” inquires Janeway.
“We fly over the planet at an altitude of 50,000 kilometers. Our speed is too high to be captured by its gravitational field.”
Suddenly, from both poles of the planet, grey-blue glaring flashes of lightning strike towards Voyager. Their ends bite like dragonheads at the bow of the saucer module visible on the screen. The orientation of the ship changes and it approaches the planet. At the same time Janeway and Tuvok are thrown to the floor. The next moment, the lightning strands collapse back to the planet. Janeway gets on her feet again.
“Status!”
Tuvok pulls himself up from behind his station and takes a look at the readings.
“We were seized by tractor beams again. They have decelerated the ship and pulled us closer to the planet. … It`s amazing, Captain: we`re in a stationary orbit above the planet now.”
Alarmed, Janeway stares at the viewscreen.
“That was certainly not an accidental, natural phenomenon!”
She touches the communicator. “B`Elanna, how do you get ahead?”
“Give us a few more minutes, Captain,” replies Torres`s voice. “Then warp drive will be available again!”
The planet is now so close to Voyager that its contours extend beyond the upper and lower limits of the screen. One after the other, more and more sensor information appears at the right edge of the screen.
Frowning and with narrowed, eyes Tuvok skims over the data.
“Formations of dendritically branched metal alloys are detected on the surface. They are interspersed with mineral fibers.”
E-Bug touches a button. The next moment, a color graphic overlays the image of the planet. Pale orange and red spots are drifting over a dark blue background. They split up once and again to move on separately for a while. After loop-shaped migrations they reunite.
“The thermal image shows temperature zones that vary between minus 230 and minus 190 degrees Celsius. Surface activity is visible in the war-mer of these zones. They seem to be fractal, drifting magnetic domains.”
“Is this phenomenon driven by convection currents from the interior?”
“Probably not; depth scans indicate that the metal core of the planet has cooled down to space temperature. Inside this planet it is so cold that some of the alloys may be superconducting. However, the fibers of the alloys seem to be connected at best by temperature- and field-sensitive weak links, since no macroscopic Meissner effect can be measured that would shield the penetrating far-field of the magnetar.”
“We are above the night side of the planet,” ponders Janeway. “The radiation of the magnetar`s binary star partner cannot contribute to this activity, neither photo- nor thermoelectrically.” She points to a small graphic. “This noise spectrum, … doesn`t it look as if a wave form is superimposed on it?”
Tuvok magnifies the spectrum and smooths it with a fit algorithm. A dashed line figuring a sinusoidal curve is overlaid on the spikes of the noise spectrum.
“Indeed, Captain. The period of the wave is one-point-three seconds.”
Surprised, Janeway turns to Tuvok. “This period is exactly the same as the nutation frequency of the magnetar`s magnetic poles!”
Tuvok nods. “That`s correct.”
Janeway turns back to the screen.
“Are you aware of what we`re seeing here, Tuvok? This is the heartbeat of a planet, … the clock frequency of its vital functions, … excited by the pulsating magnetic field of a magnetar!”
For a long moment, the two are silently looking at the image of the planet.
Then Janeway asks the question: “What shall we do now, Tuvok, should we try to make contact, or should we try to flee?”
The lift opens. Peri stands up next to Tuvok`s console and looks at the data for a while. Finally, he goes to the entrance of the captain`s ready room, opens it and waits.
“You`re being asked for a meeting, Captain,” Tuvok informs her.
Janeway turns around. With a surprised look she walks to the upper bridge and enters her room. Peri follows her. The door closes behind them.

In the semi-darkness of a Jefferies tube, a holocom is active. It shows the contours of a humanoid, a peripatoid, and a tubeworm body. Next to these sketches, symbolic rays shoot out of a star-like object and pierce the three types of organic bodies, leaving red dots. From time to time the icon of a scanner moves across the three bodies and removes the red dots. Next to the holocom, there lies a medical scanner. On its display, the image of a tubeworm is depicted and the words Physiological Type: Significus shine below it.
Suddenly, a tubeworm appears from above. Its button eyes fix the device while it swings over it, hanging from the ceiling. It quickly grabs the scanner with its mouth, pulls it upwards and retreats with it through a slit in the ceiling.

A virtual image is floating above Janeway`s desk too. It shows the sketch of a semi-transparent, silvery, amoebic body in front of a group of neural gelpacks. Below this, there is a number.
Janeway stares through the image. She nods in a lingering way, like someone whose individual memories are linking up.
“Twenty-three –” she mumbles.
Then she pushes the images to the edge of the holocom. She opens the crew`s crowd of icons and moves her own icon and that of Peri to the sketches of gelpack and amoeba. Finally, Janeway draws several lines to form a thick barrier between the two groups of personel icons. Peri mo-tionlessly observes her instruction.

The door gate of the ready room opens. Janeway returns to the bridge, followed by Peri.
“I`ve come to a decision, Commander. We will flee as quickly as possible. Stop all scans! We do not want to attract this planetary phenomenon`s attention any further.”
“Aye, Captain.”
Peri enters the lift, which closes behind him.

In main engineering, Torres, Seven, Kim, and other technical staff work feverishly on open consoles and aggregates. Peri appears through the gate.
Kim reports, “B`Elanna, I`ve finished replacing the control module for phase adjustment. It only needs to be calibrated.”
She points to the entrance. “Here comes Peri; ask him! He`s familiar with it.”
Torres hurries to crewmen who carry a container. One of the two stum-bles over a metal sheet, lying on the ground.
“Look out, … be careful! If there`s a single microcrack in the crystal, it`s useless!”
She grabs the container as well, and directs the two colleagues to an aggregate. There she pulls out an insert and dismantles a broken and sooty dilithium crystal. Next to her, the crewmen open the container. Torres puts on soft, white gloves, carefully removes a new dilithium crys-tal, and places it in the holder on the warp unit. Then she pushes the insert back into the unit. She takes a deep breath. Relieved, she pats the nearest crewman on the shoulder and goes to the main console in front of the warp column. Seven and Kim step up to her.
“We`ve finished, B`Elanna,” reports Kim.
“If you don`t need us anymore, Lieutenant, we`ll return to the bridge,” adds Seven.
Torres looks intently at the readings in front of her. “Thank you! Without your help, it would have taken another day.”
Kim and Seven leave. Torres enters commands. In front of her, the fluc-tuating plasma in the warp column begins to glow again. She touches the communicator.
“Main engineering to bridge! Warp drive is online again.”
“Well done, B`Elanna!” Janeway`s voice answers. “We need all available power to the warp drive engines! We`ll carry out a brief leap with maxi-mum warp.”
“All right, Captain!”
On a controller Torres moves a level indicator up to the end of the scale.

Suddenly, there is darkness.
Then there is rustling, crunching, and groaning.
Torres`s voice scolds: “Damn, … who is that?”
“Excuse me, Lieutenant! It`s me, … Baxter.”
Beginning with a flicker, the lighting of main engineering goes on. All those present are lying on the ground, trying to stand up. Torres pulls her shin out from under Baxter`s legs. She rises. Behind her, Kim and Seven get on their feet. Torres hurries to the main console. She checks parameters. Her eyes are chasing over the data on the display. With an alarmed face, she runs to the unit next to the warp column. Hectically, she opens several drawers. All are empty. Torres snatches at her communicator.
“Main engineering to bridge. – All dilithium crystals have disappeared! Also, the reserve stocks are no longer displayed!”
“That`s not our only problem, Lieutenant,” declares Janeway`s voice. “The whole ship is no longer where it should be.”

On the bridge, Janeway is standing bent forward next to Ceph, supporting herself with her hands on the navigation console. From their two sockets, Janeway`s eyes are staring anxiously and in disbelief at the screen, where all of Ceph`s eyeballs are pointed to, as well. Their stems sway restlessly. At the rear of the bridge, Tuvok is standing, looking in the same direction.
A green slope can be seen across the entire width of the viewscreen, with Voyager standing at the bottom of a valley.
“Is that real, Tuvok?”
“According to the readings, we`re on the alien planet, Captain. We seem to be trapped inside a biospheric bubble ten kilometers across. Gas com-position and temperature correspond to the conditions on the ship.”
“Has this biosphere been indicated before?”
“No. I suspect it was created at the same moment when we were trans-ferred here.”
Janeway turns back to Tuvok. “Who is able to beam an entire ship to a planet?” She straightens up and looks suspiciously around.
“– Q –?”
Q does not appear.
“Tuvok, transmit hails on all frequencies!”
“No answer, Captain.”
E-Bug is transferring data onto the screen. Tuvok interprets the readings.
“Multiple dilithium crystals are detected. They are five kilometers away, in the center of the bubble.”
“Can you beam them back?”
“Negative; transporters are off-line as well.”
Janeway looks at the screen again.
“What`s behind these hills?”
“Readings are unclear, … it seems to be some kind of a garden.”
“Does anyone want to invite us to a ground vacation in the green? … Set up an away team, Commander! I`m going to lead it myself.”

Next to Voyager, which is standing in a hollow between green hills, Jane-way, the doctor, Seven, and Kim climb a slope, pantingly breathing. As they arrive on the ridge, they stand still in surprise. Several kilometers in front of them, the horizon line of the biosphere world is visible, approaching more and more on both sides while converging towards the hills. Behind the back slope where Voyager stands, the horizon closes. Below the four humanoids, a vast garden extends to the horizon. It is set up in the form of a labyrinth, with rock sculptures and bridges vaguely recognizable from afar. In the middle of the complex there is a bright white building.
Kim is aligning the tricorder. “The dilithium is indicated inside the building in the center, Captain, about five kilometers from our position.”
“Let`s go!” calls Janeway.
They quickly descend the slope. Then they walk towards a high wall shaped of dense bushes that surrounds the entire garden. The four enter the labyrinth through an archway overgrown by a wreath of blooming roses. They arrive inside a large, circular courtyard. From its dense, green enclosure a great number of paths branch off. Their further course bends after few steps and cannot be viewed from the courtyard any deeper into the garden. The four humanoids look around helplessly.
Seven notes in a critical tone, “In my estimation this maze is more than 50 square kilometers in size, clearings deducted. If you enter it, it is advisable to memorize the way back!”
Janeway nods. “That sounds logical. Our Ariadne`s thread will be the tricorder.”
“Captain -?”
With the joyful countenance of a learned man, the doctor explains, “This was an allusion to a very long thread in Greek mythology, Seven! It was made by longitudinal felting of hair or plant fibers.” The wrinkles in the doctor`s face change to an expression of concern as he turns to Janeway. “I just hope we won`t meet a Minotaur!”
Janeway turns in all directions. “50 square kilometers; even if we sepa-rate, … months could pass before one of us finds the right path! Whoever is playing this game with us designed it in such a way that we have to deploy the entire crew. – Doctor, Seven, let Tuvok know that he is to form groups of two, each equipped with a tricorder!” She points to the right, next to the entrance. “Mr. Kim and I shall take the first path that branches off here. At each junction, we`ll mark the path we take with the phaser on the ground. The first ones to reach the dilithium crystals determine their path with the tricorder and forward the route to the holocoms of the whole crew.”
The doctor nods with a spirit of adventure. Janeway`s gaze, however, darkens.
“We`ll see if the builder of the labyrinth will be fair enough to let us go at the end.”
Janeway enters the entrance to the first path and marks it with her phas-er. “Come on, Harry!”
Kim follows her while he opens the flap of his tricorder. With a shrill whistle, a small bird takes wing over the bushes. From below, the doctor and Seven look after it and follow its flight. It climbs higher and higher. Further and further recede the overgrown paths and clearings beneath it. The figures of the doctor and Seven grow continuously smaller inside the shrinking round at the entrance. The labyrinth under the flying being appears increasingly more gigantic and complex the higher the bird`s wings carry it.

In their quarters Mrs. Wildman and Naomi are packing a big rucksack and a small pack.
“We must not forget the gardener!” insists Naomi. “He`ll certainly enjoy accompanying us. I`ve already trained him for labyrinths!”
“You can`t just take him with you, Naomi! The Commander detached merely the crew.”
“The gardener is as much a member of the crew as I am!”
“You may only come along because I don`t want to leave you alone on the ship.”
“And I don`t want to leave the gardener alone! He might get sad again.”

In the round behind the entrance of the labyrinth, more and more crew members are gathering. They are sent into the branching paths in groups of two, on one side by Seven, on the other by Tuvok. There Torres and Paris have their turn. Torres stares into the hedge. She shakes her head.
“I don`t understand this, Tuvok, … why can`t we just take the bearings of the dilithium and burn our way through the greenery with the phasers? The mission would be finished in less than a day.”
“We`re obviously dealing with a force far superior to us, Lieutenant. I agree with the captain that we must proceed carefully and respect the rules. Otherwise, we could make our situation worse!”
Paris grabs Torres by the arm and pulls her to the assigned entrance of their path.
“Come on, B`Elanna, … let`s follow the Commander`s orders! A huge pleasure garden is waiting for us to explore it!”
Tuvok strictly raises his eyebrow. “Please concentrate on the essential, Ensign!”
“That`s what I`m going to do, Commander!” calls Paris back as he disap-pears with his teammate in the bushes.

One behind the other, Janeway and Kim are marching in a narrow, meandering path. The side walls of the bordering hedges are so high that the two Humans walk like inside a pit without being able to see beyond.
Kim stops. His voice sounds tired. “Captain, we`ve been wandering for half a day now. I`m afraid this way leads nowhere! There wasn`t even a branch for us to mark our turn.”
“Maybe that`s a good sign, Harry, maybe our way leads straight to our destination.” Janeway turns around a corner. “Come here; there`s a branching here!”
In front of him, Janeway disappears in a side corridor branching off under 90 degrees. As Kim follows her, he enters a room five meters in diam-eter, with a shrub in the middle. Kim circles the bush and meets Janeway, who is kneeling on the ground picking small red fruits from the grass.
“Gather some wild strawberries, Ensign! You`ll feel better then. They taste delicious!”
Kim reaches into the bush. “Something is growing here that looks like hazelnuts!”
He pulls his phaser, adjusts the power control, and directs the fine beam at the nut while he turns it between his fingers.
“In scalpel mode, the nuts can easily be opened!” he exclaims delightedly.
“Crack some for me, too, Harry! In return, I`ll give you some of the strawberries.”
Tuvok`s voice sounds from the communicator. “Tuvok to Captain!”
Janeway rises. “Go ahead, Commander!”
“The entire crew has entered the paths meanwhile. Several groups have reported that they came across food.”
Janeway picks hazelnuts from Kim`s hollow hand while she stretches out a handful of strawberries to him.
“So have we, Tuvok. It seems someone has set up supply stations for us.”
“Tricorder data give clues to watercourses.”
Janeway smiles. “Let`s see.”

Seven scans a labyrinth path for both directions. Behind her Tuvok straightens up as if he wants to stand at attention.
“Something else, Captain: Mr. Peri didn`t show up. He seems to have stayed on the ship, disobeying the general order.”
“I don`t mind,” replies Janeway`s voice. “I did not have a good feeling anyway at the thought of leaving the ship completely abandoned. – Jane-way out.”
Tuvok stands at ease again.
Seven reports, “Several meters before us two large niches are indicated on both sides of the way, Commander.”
They continue along the narrow path, until two entrances open to the left and right.
“Let`s examine these rooms,” decides Tuvok.
He goes into the left room. Seven enters the right one. Its bordering hedges are overgrown with climbing plants. As if hypnotized, Seven`s eyes are on the plants. In the reflection of Seven`s pupils those seem to move all of a sudden, creating structures and patterns reminiscent of pipes, hoses, alcoves, and drones. Seven`s eyeballs turn sideways. But from there, too, occurs a transformation of the originally chaotic green tangle in the reflected image of the pupils, to sharply defined objects with surfaces smoothed out by leaves lying aligned against each other.

Tuvok`s gaze also reveals that he is observing a phenomenon that surprises him and arouses his interest. The mirror of his eye displays a stone sculpture formed in front of him in which, despite the irregularity in the shapes of the material, geometric patterns emerge.
After a while, Tuvok disengages himself from the sight and returns to the corridor. Seven is already waiting for him there.
“I had an unusual experience in that room, Commander. As I was looking at them, the plants restructured. They assumed forms of my imagination, from my time with the Borg and in my parent`s ship.”
“I had a similar experience,” reports Tuvok. “I observed an evolutionary metamorphosis on a group of stones. My mental reaction to changes seemed to create feedback with them and to influence the direction of these changes. The result was a sculpture of high symmetry and inner logic.”
“The purpose of these chambers seems to be to make out the contents of our imagination and of our preferences,” ponders Seven.
“Possibly. But perhaps it is just a mimetic phenomenon that occurs com-pletely passively. … Let`s go on.”
The two continue on their way.

A small brook murmurs and gurgles through a clearing. Naomi and Mrs. Wildman are collecting raspberries from knee-high shrubs. Under a tree, the metal gardener stretches his arm up and picks egg-shaped, yellow-green fruits. He hesitates. The visor shield at the upper end of his upright, rocket-like body turns to the green walls of the clearing. In the reflection of his visor, arm-thick maggots team between the leaves, holding fast and moving with countless bristles sprouting all around from their bodies. The gardener walks towards them. He lowers his arms and lays two handful of fruits on the ground below the bushes. In his visor the fruits shine purple, while the crowd of little maggots starts moving downward along the wall of leaves.
Behind the gardener, Neelix climbs on the tree. He is trying to reach a particularly large fruit. He groans as he holds fast with one hand and stretches for the fruit with the other.
“I haven`t been on a Kakli-tree since I was a child. Before the rainy season started on Talaxia, we children had to bring down all the fruit and store it dry.”
A bird flies up from the treetop, followed by another.
Naomi shouts, “Look, Neelix, an oriole, … and a sparrow! … And there, at the creek: a water-dipper!”
“How do you know all these birds, Naomi?”
“Seven and I have been playing a learning program on the holodeck to prepare for the flora and fauna of the Earth.”
Naomi runs to the brook. From its embankment, bright yellow flowers stand out.
“So many marsh marigolds!”
She picks some of the flowering stems. Mrs. Wildman straightens up and goes to Neelix. Her face looks worried.
“What is this, Neelix? This world, … all this can`t possibly be real -”
Sitting on a branch above her and chewing the long-missed delicacy with relish, he replies, “I don`t know if it`s real, Mrs. Wildman. But it tastes good and satiates.”
A flying object shining in green and blue colors, rises from the embank-ment of the watercourse.
“Look, look, … a dragonfly!” shouts Naomi.
For a moment, the insect floats in front of Naomi`s face, with the two big complex eyes looking into Naomi`s eyes. Then its four long, transparent wings lift the small being vertically above the clearing and the receding figures resting in it. All of a sudden, it starts flying forward in a flash. It races at high speed over corridors, stone walls, bridges, and niches of the labyrinth. Finally, the being lands in a cherry tree. Below it two human-oids are lying in the grass.
Torres looks into the sky. From sideways above her a cherry approaches her mouth. When the deep-red shining skin of the fruit touches her lips, they form an O. They enclose the cherry and pull it, with strong suction, off from the stalk and into the cavity of her mouth. Two fingers of Tom Paris throw the stalk aside. Torres`s chin moves in chewing motion. Final-ly, from the inside a stone is squeezed through between the lower and upper lip. Driven by a powerful blast of air, it shoots ahead of Paris`s nose, into the bushes.
Torres`s arms are stretched out sideways into the grass. Her fingers crack stalks and grind leaves. Paris`s face slowly descends. Two fingers suddenly appear close before his eyes, holding a thick, violently twisting earthworm. Juicy slime covers its ring-shaped body segments. Torres`s eyes assume a challenging shine.
“Doesn`t it look almost as delicious as … Gagh? Eat it!”
Paris distorts the facial muscles in different directions.
“That poor worm? I can`t do that!”
“Coward!”
“That`s got nothing to do with cowardice. Chakotay and I didn`t have much in common, but his vegetarian ethos impressed me a lot!”
Torres`s head turns away from him. Her arm stretches out again and she drops the worm back into the grass. She looks at stalks that are swinging back and forth, removed from their idle position by her arm.
“Chakotay and you, … you really didn`t have much in common,” she declares in a bitter tone.
After a while of silence, cherry juice freshly squeezed between two fingers drips on Torres`s lips. A tongue emerges and wipes the juice inside. Another fruit approaches her mouth. Suddenly it snaps upwards, opening. Teeth grasp cherry, stalk, and finger. Tom Paris emits a cry of pain. Then he is pushed aside, and Torres throws herself over him.
“And now, my dear, I`m going to feed you!” She holds his nose shut with one hand. With the other she stuffs plucked daisy blossoms into his mouth gasping for breath.

With quick steps, Janeway marches through a narrow corridor that winds in sharp bends alternately to one side, then to the other. With an expression of suffering and exhaustion, Kim tries to keep step behind her. Suddenly Janeway stops so abruptly that Kim almost runs against her.
“What is it, Captain?”
Janeway looks around the next bend. Wordlessly she continues. Kim follows her to a wall. Silently the two look at the masonry of closely joined stones.
“Captain, we didn`t even once need the phaser to mark a branch.”
In a resigned tone Janeway answers: “That`s right, Mr. Kim. This way offers no alternatives.”
Kim looks up from the walls of their labyrinth corridor.
“You can`t see a sun. It`s always the same light. I feel like we`ve been following this path for days.”
“It was a long way, Harry, that led us into a deep blind alley.” Janeway raises her upper body and bends it sideways back and forth, straightening the vertebrae. “So, we`ll go all the way back and start all over again.”
“I`m tired, Captain.”
“So am I.” Janeway puts her hand on his shoulder as she pushes past beside him. “We have no choice!”
With a worn out look Kim follows her the long way back.

From a passage in the maze, Joseph Carey runs into a circular clearing. He turns round and looks puzzled at the exits, which lead away to all sides. They look completely the same. Carey scratches his stomach and shouts: “Doctor! Do you hear me?”
“I`m here, Mr. Carey!” calls back the doctor`s worried voice. “Do come to me!”
“I`m sorry, I can`t locate you. I`ve just entered another round room, from which four passages branch off. Maybe it`s the same one you`ve been in before. Do you remember through which exit you left?”
“How should I know? I`m a doctor – not a boy scout!”
“Didn`t you mark the way?”
“What could I use to mark a way? You have the phaser!”
Carey lowers his eyes to his hand that is holding a phaser.
“Just stay where you are, Doctor! I`ll try to find you from the direction of your voice.”
Carey walks along the exits and pulls out his ear cup with the fingers of his hollow hand.
“Do that!” calls the doctor urgingly, while Carey tries to take the bearings turning his enlarged auricle to different directions. “But hurry up!”
Carey decides on an exit, burns a cross into the ground with the phaser, and enters the path.
From behind green walls the doctor shouts evenly: “- Heello — Heello!”
After a few meters, Carey`s path leads into another clearing, from where a number of paths branch off.
“Call again, Doctor!”
It remains quiet.
Carey gets louder. “Doctor! Where are you?”
From a greater distance than before the answer sounds, “Here, Mr. Carey! You seem to be so far away!”

The doctor is also standing in a clearing where two paths are crossing. Wrinkles of progressive concern furrow his face.
“You`re going the wrong way, Carey! Concentrate on the direction of my voice!”
“It`s not that easy!” replies Carey from afar. “In these corridors the acoustics are deceptive!”
The doctor`s forehead covers with wrinkles even more. Hesitantly, he leaves the clearing through an exit, gets insecure, turns back, and chooses the entrance to another path.

Densely crowded, the trunks of bushes protrude from the ground inside the labyrinth walls. The branches are closely matted. A Tubeworm winds its way through the cavities in the living wall. Carefully, it peers from the inside of the thicket into the adjacent path. Finally, it slips out into the open. Arching its back and relaxing it jerkily, it jumps along the path.
The Tubeworm suddenly stops. It straightens up and stares forward with its button eyes. Then it turns around, jumps back a few meters and disappears under the hedge in a flash.
Sitting on a driving hovercraft chassis, Ceph rattles along the passage. The platform of his brightly humming, motorized pedestal touches the branches of the narrow path on both sides. Two eyes are turned back, where E-Bug tries to keep up, jogtrotting with forearms and hind legs and breathing violently with his mouth open.
Ceph reaches a branch and stops. E-Bug catches up with him and has a breather. Two groups of Ceph`s eyes distribute towards the two corridors in front of him. Finally, he decides for the right one of the two ways. He sets a phaser mark at the entrance and drives in. Panting, E-Bug follows him into the strongly curved passage. Shortly afterwards, Ceph stops again. The path splits anew in front of him. He looks to the ground. One of the branches is already marked. Ceph marks the second of the paths. Before he is able to enter, E-Bug jumps over him and takes the lead. Breathing in and out deeply, E-Bug now throttles the speed in which they move forward.
Ceph drives behind E-Bug for a while. Then he stops. Eye stalks bend deep down to have a look at the grass. In front of his car, there are two tracks at a distance that corresponds to his wheelbase. Ceph clicks his suction cups. E-Bug directs a tube-eye backwards and stops. In the narrow passage, he painstakingly turns his body. He walks back to Ceph who lays two tentacles on the wheel tracks in the grass. E-Bug lowers his head and looks at the tracks. Twitching angrily, his eye tubes look up the scrubby walls to the left and right of the path. With a violent jump he catapults himself up to look over the labyrinth partitions. As he falls back to the ground, his body brushes down along the bushes. Discharges spray over to the branches, which dissolve for a short time like a collapsing holomatrix. Immediately afterwards, the structures are formed anew.
With resolute dynamic force, E-Bug`s front extremity aligns his tricorder horizontally and pans and turns it like a compass. Then E-Bug strikes, with both side feelers, deep inside the shrubs next to him. A multitude of flashes flickers in the interior. Shimmering, a piece of the wall dissolves and forms an opening to the neighboring path. E-Bug immediately jumps through. When Ceph reaches the spot with his car, the wall is already tightly re-grown again. From the other side, further discharges and jumps can be heard, which sound more distant every time. Finally, Ceph shifts into reverse gear and drives his path back.

Tuvok and Seven are walking along their passage one after the other. Suddenly they arrive at a large free space. They look around in amaze-ment.
“We`re back at the entrance of the labyrinth, Commander.”
Tuvok nods. “It was a long circuit.”
At this moment, Janeway and Kim emerge from the passage that branches off first to the right of the rose-grown entrance gate.
Janeway is surprised. “Was your way a blind alley, too, Commander?”
“No, Captain. Our path led us back in a loop, without branching.”
They look at each other in silence for a while.
Kim raises his head. “A strange humming – do you hear that?”
The bright humming sound quickly gets louder. Suddenly, Ceph races out of one of the passages at high speed, clamping with two arms to his chassis. Brakes squeak. He pulls his vehicle to the side. Tufts of grass fly at the feet of the humanoids and dust is flung up as Ceph comes to a standstill just before Tuvok.
Ceph`s eyes look into the round of those present. Then he rapidly drives backwards to the exit of his path. With high phaser power, he burns a long line into the smoking grass. On that line, he sketches numerous branching paths, all of which, however, lead back to the main way in narrow loops.
Grimly Kim declares, “I`ll do the same, Captain. Otherwise, someone else might run into our dead end as well!”
“That`s not necessary, Mr. Kim,” declares Tuvok.
He and Janeway hold their tricorders together. Ceph drives up to them. With one arm he stretches his own tricorder to theirs.
Janeway nods. “Let`s merge the recorded paths into one map and send it to all crew holocoms!” She glances at Ceph`s car. “And Mr. Kim, … re-mind me when we get back on the ship that we shall replicate a few doz-en of these vehicles!”
Kim nods. “Aye, Captain.”

Mrs. Wildman is standing in front of a stone wall. “Neelix, just look: another barrier!”
Neelix, Naomi and the gardener approach from behind a bend and go to Mrs. Wildman.
Neelix looks at the tricorder. “There was a branch 50 meters behind us. Let`s go back and take the other way.”
Neelix and Mrs. Wildman leave. The gardener looks at the stone barrier and presses against it.
Naomi shakes her head. “That`s useless. These walls are too strong!”
The gardener follows the others. Naomi`s gaze clings to a beetle crawling up the wall. Something rustles, and branches shake on the ground. A Tubeworm stretches his head out of the bushes. He looks Naomi in the eye for a moment and disappears again.
“Significus -?”
Naomi bends and pulls a branch to the side. Behind it she sees a narrow, low, tube-like overgrown passage.
She shouts, “Mom, Neelix, … wait, I discovered something!”
Naomi creeps in. As she crawls forward, it gets increasingly darker. Sud-denly, the passage bends down so steeply that she loses her footing and tumbles downward. In the swing of her motion, she rolls over a bank and lands in a woven reed basket, which her impact pushes off the shore. The small boat drifts into a lake that fills the interior of a grotto. The glow of a blue sky penetrates, as a reflection from the opening to the outside world. Naomi`s basket boat is driven by a current to the exit of the grotto and pulled out into the open. There, after several meters the basket gets caught on stones. Naomi climbs ashore. She feels for her communicator and holocom. The devices are gone. With a worried face, she climbs the bank. She walks across a clearing covered by a flowering meadow when someone calls her name.
“Naomi, finally you`re back! You kept me waiting a long time!”
Naomi looks around without seeing anyone.
“Here I am, … up here!”
On the cap of a giant mushroom, higher than Naomi`s head, sits a color-fully dressed, skinny figure.
“Flotter — what are you doing here? Did Tuvok assign you, too, for our away mission?”
“I assigned myself,” declares Flotter. “I always do; you know that!”
Flotter puts the end of a hose into his mouth and sucks smoke out of a water pipe standing next to him on the mushroom head. Inside the glass bottle, there are glistening foam bubbles. Naomi points to it.
“What`s that, Flotter?”
Before he answers, he blows huge bubbles diagonally upwards. They fly over Naomi.
“This is a plasma pipe. Plasma foam makes a magnificent crawling in your stomach!”
Naomi looks anxiously back to the entrance of the grotto.
“I think I got lost. Can you help me find my way back to mom, Neelix and the gardener?”
Flotter puts his forearms up and bends his fingers back regretfully.
“I`m sorry. I can`t leave here. But if you take a deep breath out of the pipe, you`ll find your way back to them on your own!”
Flotter reaches the hose over the edge of the mushroom cap down to Naomi. She hesitates. Then she sucks in deeply from the end of the hose. As she exhales again, a plasma bubble grows out of her mouth, increasing rapidly in size until it completely envelops Naomi. Floating, the bubble rises and takes the embraced Naomi with it into the air. With big eyes Naomi looks over the landscape as she climbs higher and flies away just above the green walls of the labyrinth.
In his sitting pose Flotter leans back and contentedly looks after Naomi. The end of the hose of his pipe hangs loosely beside him. There, a small, circular hole forms in the mushroom cap. The head of a worm sticks out and immediately bites into the end of the hose.
Flotter shouts angrily: “Hey, … who are you? Let it go!”
He pulls the hose. The worm holds tight. Flotter pulls it out of the mu-shroom cap`s hole. He tries in vain to shake off the worm from the end of the hose. Finally, the worm releases the hose by itself. With its head wobbling, it shakes its button eyes back and forth. In dizzy swaying, the worm bows and blows a plasma bubble out of its circular mouth, which immediately envelops the worm and lifts it up into the air. Flotter pulls his hat from his head and gives the bubble a brisk push with it that makes the Tubeworm in its flying shell float after Naomi.
Flotter leans back again. He takes a drag, so deep that his belly swells round as a ball. Then he blows a whole flock of plasma bubbles across the clearing. Inside the ascending spheres thick white smoke is swelling, that takes on shadowy forms reminiscent of a woman with bajoran bulges, of a man with dark lines on his temple, of another woman with bright yellow hair and of the segmented body of a peripatoid. Mean-while the bubbles float over the meadow and the brook into the depths of the labyrinth.

All alone and with wrinkles of sorrow in his face, the doctor wanders through narrow, high-walled paths. His eyelids contract in worry, and his mouth widens wailingly.
“Heello! … Is anybody there? … Can`t anybody hear me?”
He listens. No call comes back. Nobody answers. He goes a little further. There, a crackling penetrates to his ear and sparks spray a few meters in front of him from the green wall. Suddenly, a gap forms in the partition and E-Bug jumps over from the neighboring path. He briefly eyes the doctor. Then he looks at the display of the tricorder he is aligning and strikes his feelers, charged with high voltage, into the wall of plants. While the green thicket behind him grows again, E-Bug jumps through the new portal in front of him and vanishes from the doctor`s eyes.
The doctor shouts, “Mr. E-Bug, wait for me!” and hurries after him through the opening, just before it closes again.

Ceph races through a path with his engine howling, as his holocom sud-denly pops up. He makes a grass-spattering emergency stop. Naomi`s icon appears, surrounded by question marks. At the same time, the voice of Neelix can be heard.
“Neelix to all crew – we`ve lost Naomi! She had suddenly disappeared. Her last known position was in sector 14.”
An outline of the labyrinth pops up, showing the path Neelix`s group has taken. Naomi`s icon is moved to the end of a dead-alley branch of that path.
“I`m asking all who are in the vicinity to help with the search! – Neelix out.”
Ceph touches a button on his tricorder. The next moment, his own path appears in the holocom and his icon at the current position. He is far away from Neelix`s group.
Ceph closes the holocom. His rolling pedestal gathers speed again. Then, he makes another emergency stop. A little way in front of him a huge bubble floats over the walls of his passage, containing a little girl who looks like Naomi. Ceph accelerates and races after the bubble. Soon, he loses visual contact with her. At a branch he is undecided which path to take. He rises two tentacles and tries to pull himself up on both sides of the bushy walls. He succeeds, laboriously, while the tentacles are pressed into the bushes. With stretched eyestalks he looks over the walls and explores the further course of the paths and the course of the floating bubble. He quickly lets himself fall back onto the wagon and accelerates. Determined and secure, he now decides at branchings.
Suddenly the bubble appears again, drifting over Ceph. Two tentacles leap up and suck on both sides of the bubble. It bursts. Naomi falls down and Ceph catches her with three arms. Protesting, she drums her hands against his tentacles.
“Why did you destroy my plasma bubble? I was so close to the goal al-ready!”
Ceph opens the holocom and pushes Naomi`s icon to his.

The doctor`s eyes are straightened ahead with a helpless, questioning look. Next to him E-Bug is standing. His tube-eyes are also directed for-ward, alternatingly twitching up and down. Behind the two lies an open, green area, divided in its middle by a strip of water that is spanned by several arched bridges. Beyond the open terrain, the green walls of the labyrinth rise.
The doctor touches his communicator. “Doctor to Captain!”
“Go ahead, Doctor!” replies Janeway`s voice.
“Mr. E-Bug and I have advanced to the dilithium crystals.”
“Excellent! Are you able to recover them?”
“I`m afraid, … no, Captain. They are surrounded by a kind of force field. I made an attempt with friendly words, Mr. E-Bug applied violent strikes. Both was ineffective!”
In front of E-Bug and the doctor, there is an open, round arcade, a ring-shaped portico about 30 meters across. Inside, a structure rises, leading up to a pedestal in several steps. On that platform two oversized, sand-stone throne chairs stand next to each other, in which a dark, royal couple is sitting, carved in stone. The two jagged crowns braided with ears of corn and the tips of the spear-like two-jagged scepter are set with dilithium crystals. The entire pedestal is surrounded by a cylindrical force field; its shimmer resembles the fluctuation of a warp plasma.
“Give us your tricorder data, Doctor, so we can get to you on your way,” asks Janeway`s voice.
Contrition spreads across the doctor`s face. “Unfortunately, that`s not possible, Captain. Mr. E-Bug and I did not take an official route. We`ve fought our way across country, straight through the bushes, in a literal sense. And the thicket has grown up again immediately behind us.”
“All right, so we have to wait until somebody finds a regular way. Jane-way out.”
A high-speed hum is swelling in the background. E-Bug and the doctor turn around. From an exit of the labyrinth, Ceph`s driving pedestal ap-pears. Naomi is sitting between the driver`s arms and the steering con-sole. The two race over an arched bridge and quickly get closer.
“Doctor to Captain. – Somebody`s coming who knows the way!”

An evening mood lies over the labyrinth, its walls of densely grown vege-tation, the flowering meadows of the clearings, winding watercourses, stone bridges and brick barriers.
A lonely tubeworm floats above all this inside his plasma bubble. His head is directed downwards, and the expressionless button eyes watch as more and more crew members are stepping out of the paths of the labyrinth into the open; they are crossing the meadow and the strip of water and are gathering in front of the round temple, in the middle of the large clearing.

With their tricorders, the officers have gathered around the center of the temple, in front of the force field that surrounds the pedestal and the sitting statues. Tuvok directs a phaser beam at the force field. The beam is scattered by the field in all directions.
“It cannot be penetrated mechanically, nor by radiation.”
“Why then could we locate the crystals from the ship?” wonders Torres.
Seven lifts an eyebrow. “Probably the field was activated after we knew the direction of our excursion.”
Janeway nods. “This force field certainly belongs to the game we have been forced into. If we can`t penetrate, there must be a mechanism to shut it down. Seven, Tom — examine the columns of the arcade!” She turns to Torres. “You and Mr. Kim investigate the surroundings. See if you can find anything conspicuous!”
“Aye, Captain.”
Neelix joins. “Captain, I don`t know if it`s important. Naomi says she met Flotter in the labyrinth, … her favorite character from a holo-game.”
Tuvok straightens up. “That`s possible. Seven and I had psychedelic experiences too. Hallucinogenic substances may have been released in the labyrinth that induce dreamlike phenomena.”
Brooding, Neelix looks past Tuvok to Naomi, who is jumping over the stone floor. “You`re probably right, Mr. Tuvok.”
Tuvok and Janeway follow his gaze. Naomi jumps, alternately on one leg, around the columns of the arcade. She apparently tries to follow a pattern in the arrangement of the stone slabs. Some of the slabs are granite speckled, others are sandstone red, malachite green or white and pink marbled.
Mrs. Wildman calls, “Naomi, don`t fall down the steps!”
“Don`t worry, mom!” calls Naomi back. “This is an old hopping game of the children on Earth; I`ve played it many times before!” She raises her hands as if they were holding the hands of other children on both sides and performs a dance movement in a circle around the column.
“Isn`t that a strange pavement mosaic?” wonders Janeway. “The plates are just big enough for one foot to fit on them.”
Neelix nods. “Indeed, … now that you mention it, … and the stones of same color form different loop patterns, in chains that run around the entire arcade ring!”
“Look, how well the arrangement of the red stones matches Naomi`s dancing steps!”

As if at the end of a twilight, the celestial dome throws an orange-yellow glow over the green world of the labyrinth, which quickly fades and merges into the grey tinted, shadow-less mood of the blue hour. On a blade of grass, a dragonfly settles down to rest. A beetle crawls to the underside of a leaf and a butterfly clings, with folded wings, to the sepal of a flower, whose petals slowly close above it.

In the arcade, the entire crew has spread like living rings around the force field surrounding the sitting statues. Many look at the ground and place their feet on certain stones of the plate mosaic.
Torres reports, “The connection to the ship`s computer has been estab-lished, Captain, and everyone has chosen something that matches one of the floor patterns.”
Janeway nods. She turns to Kim. “That was a good idea from you, Harry, to extend the communicator functions so that it cannot only provide everyone with an individual language translation, but also provides each crew member exclusively with the music they want to dance to on the stone slabs!”
She raises her head and looks all around.
“Captain to everybody. – The dance begins!”
A few moments later all crew members have already activated their communicators and most of them start to adjust rhythmically to their respective music, bobbing their legs and arms.
The doctor inquires, “Is your order obligatory, Captain, that all officers dance the same waltz? Personally, I would prefer a minuet!”
Paris jests, “Don`t be so stiff, Doctor! A little swing won`t harm your holographic skeleton!”
“Mr. Paris is right, Doctor,” laughs Janeway. “Besides, I think that the senior officers should follow a uniform dancing step!”
With a challenging look she turns to Tuvok. He indicates a stiff bow.
“Aye, Captain, … may I kindly ask you to a dance?”
“You may, Tuvok!”
While Janeway and Tuvok open the dance in the outer part of the arcade along the columns, crew members begin their dances individually, in twos or in groups in the inner area.
Behind Janeway and Tuvok, Torres and Paris are whirling, followed by the doctor with Seven, Carey and Lang, Kim and Mrs. Wildman. Further in, Neelix is dancing with Naomi. Deep in the bustle of the free-style dancers, who gesture with their arms according to the rhythm of their music, Ceph also disports, carried by five female dancers. His arms have looped around their hip bones, shoulder girdles, elbows, and wrists while they are stationary orbiting him, turning him as his satellites in their round dance. Over a surface of about three meters across, evenly covered with triangular plates patterned in yellow and blue prongs, E-Bug`s long side feelers swing alternately in horizontal direction, then upward in the air, to the spherical sounds of a theremin. Periodically, when he hears short, high buzzing tones, he jumps up vertically to an altitude of several meters, generates a lightning between his feelers and falls back to the ground, where his hopping legs springy catch him.

Darkness sets about to replace the twilight. The figures of the dancers are still recognizable as they are twitching ecstatically to their musical rhythms and whirling around each other in the hypnotic thrill of melodic vibrations. But already, the contours of the faces begin to blur in the fading light.
Another couple enters the arcades from the outside. It takes its stand. Dancing with waltz steps, it joins the ring of the officers where it dives in before Janeway and Tuvok. Suddenly, the new couple stands still and stops the following dancers. A voice not been heard for a long time ap-plies to Janeway.
“Is it allowed to swap partners, Captain?”
From the semi-darkness Janeway`s questioning eyes shine in manic bril-liance towards the contours of Chakotay.
“Permission granted, Commander, even though you`re just a shadow.”
They change partners, and Tuvok follows with Seska behind Janeway and Chakotay.
Somebody else approaches the arcade from outside and climbs the steps to the dancers. He clings to a column embracing it and climbs it screwing up with his many legs. Arriving at the capital, he places a holocom and activates the image of a pale moon, whose silvery light casts the shadows of the dancers upon the stone floor.
Janeway looks up and mumbles, “Why is he so late -?”
The dancers continue to whirl on their tracks between the arcades and the force field. The outline of Neelix turns with his partner past the sil-houette of the leading couple.
Janeway`s voice asks the question: “Will we ever reach home?”
On their epicyclical loop those two dance inwards and back to the outer ring of the questioner. Whisking by, Kes`s voice answers: “You will reach the place you are destined to.”
A plasma bubble lowers from above onto the central force field. It pene-trates its interior. Hardly visible in the darkness the field slowly dissolves, while its transparency passes over to the surrounding figures.

At warp speed the starship Voyager flies through the bulge of the Milky Way, densely filled with stars. There is a light behind a window near the dome of the bridge.
“Captain`s log.
After restoring the propulsion, we managed to escape the grip of that both fascinating and eerie planet, who saved us from the magnetar`s radiation. Despite the doctor`s concerns, we will continue to use slipstream drive. The crew is willing to accept the risks involved to finally get home.”
Tuvok`s voice reports, “Mr. Ceph is ready now, Captain.”
The light behind the window goes out. Shortly afterwards the stripes of the stars turn into dots. The ship turns a little in space. Then a swirling quantum field develops around Voyager, in which she disappears.

Under the silvery illuminated arcades, the dancers are no longer visible. Only their shadows are still dancing, in sharp contours that dip into each other, on the mosaic-covered floor. On the central pedestal the two stone statues are standing upright in front of their carved chairs.

A dense tangle of dendritic needles, shimmering in metallic black-blue and dark green, covers the surface of a world. It is interspersed with opalescent, oxidic fibers. Twitching pulses of light are flashing through these mineral threads.
Invisible forces pull at the finely branched metal, whose needles rhythmically bend up and down, in the period of a second. Suddenly, an oxide fiber under tension loosens like the released tendon of an arc. In its motion it deforms and breaks. Bursting, the fiber splits and one of its fragments is hurled up. While under the fragment the world recedes, its filigree felted elements become a structureless, metallic surface uniformly illuminated by the fluctuating glow of the fibers. As the rotating fragment keeps on rising, a closed boundary becomes recognizable in the world beneath it, with darkness prevailing beyond.
Gradually the dull light of the illuminated island grows weaker — until it fades away.

Comments

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.