Star Trek Odyssey – Foraging the Isle of the Sun, Chapters 1 & 2

Ensign Kang has been a technician on Voyager for three years, tasked with maintaining the ship’s finicky bioneural gel packs. She didn’t join Starfleet and study biochemistry just to work on glorified microchips all her life, but such is fate. When Voyager encounters a wormhole in the depths of the Nekrit Expanse, though, she’ll finally have a chance to get in on the action–a little too much action, maybe. This is the beginning of an epic tale of plucky courage in the face of insurmountable odds; a Starfleet officer facing an unknown frontier and vast, inscrutable forces with only her wits, ideals, and determination to guide her safely along the path of a strange odyssey.

 


STAR TREK

ODYSSEY

Book I

Foraging the Isle of the Sun

 

 

TELL me, O Muse, of that sagacious man

Who, having overthrown the sacred town

Of Ilium, wandered far and visited

The capitals of many nations, learned

The customs of their dwellers, and endured

Great suffering on the deep; his life was oft

In peril, as he labored to bring back

His comrades to their homes. He saved them not,

Though earnestly he strove; they perished all,

Through their own folly; for they banqueted,

Madmen! upon the oxen of the Sun,—

The all-o’erlooking Sun, who cut them off

From their return. O goddess, virgin-child

Of Jove, relate some part of this to me.

 –  The Odyssey of Homer

 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

Ensign Lucille Kang’s Personal Log, stardate 50566 mark 6

I woke up at oh six hundred this morning, a full hour before my alarm was set, to another damned Yellow Alert. I could see the reason for it the moment I glanced out the window— just one more in a long string of astral phenomena. In the Nekrit Expanse, it seems like weird astral phenomena crop up every ten seconds or so, and so far, they’ve all turned out to be nothing remotely interesting.

This one looks a bit like a flattened penny, dangling out there in space. It’s an oblong disk of gas, about the color of copper, with a little spark of violet light right in the middle. At first, I thought it was a far away nebula around a young star. But no, it’s hanging just a few dozen klicks off the port bow. If it were the size of a star, we would be inside of it.

Frankly, I’ve got no idea what that thing out there is. The fact that the Captain called a Yellow Alert doesn’t really shed any light on it, either. The ship has been at Yellow Alert almost as often as not, the last few weeks. It’s probably a purely precautionary measure. The only thing I really know about this phenomenon is that it was responsible for waking me up at oh six hundred, and dooming me to a full shift in the BNG lab on what should have been my day off.

I swear, one of these days… I’m just so sick of bioneural gel packs. If I had one wish… well, obviously it would be to find a way back to the Alpha Quadrant, but my second wish would be that whoever invented these finicky, temperamental, pain-in-the-ass bags of blue, computational snot would never have shared their idea with Starfleet, so that the little buggers never would have been put on Voyager in the first place.

I’ve said this before, personal log, and I’ll say it again, I’m sure. But I graduated from the academy in the top tenth percentile of my class. I joined Starfleet and studied biochemistry so I could seek out new life and explore alien worlds. Not so I could spend twelve hours a day, four days a week, week in, week out, in a dimly-lit monitoring laboratory, looking after the biochemical needs of glorified microchips. It’s been months since I’ve been on an away mission. In fact, I could count the total number of away missions I’ve been a part of on one hand. And while a few lucky officers get to work on the bridge and attend meetings to analyze bizarre and fascinating new phenomena like that cloud disk out there right now, I have to spend day after day just making sure the BNG’s are running at peak efficiency.

I’m beat, personal log. I’m running on four hours of sleep. I shouldn’t have stayed up so late at Sandrine’s last night, and I shouldn’t have let Owen Vance ply me with so many synthales. I knew what he was after. I’ve been down that road once already, though, and it’s not gonna happen again. Or at any rate, that’s what I should have told him. Instead, I let him get to second base in Sandrine’s primitive excuse for a ‘fresher.

I just want to go back to my quarters now and collapse on my bed. I know, though, that the moment my head hits the pillow, I’ll be wide awake. I’ve worked sixty hours this week, and I’m wound tighter than a K’tarian harp string. I’m gonna hit the gym and try to burn off some of this stress, and then I’m gonna hit the sack. Hopefully, by the time I wake, the Yellow Alert will be over, and I can salvage what’s left of my weekend.

 

“Ensign Kang, report to Shuttle Bay One.”

Lucy stumbled at the sudden chirp of her combadge and let loose a frustrated interjection at Commander Chakotay’s disruption. “Oh, stars!”

A moment before, the only sounds had been her bare feet thumping again and again against the pliant surface of the treadmill, the treadmill itself whisking around and around its track under her feet, and the faint, omnipresent hum of the starship around her. Voyager’s deck eight gymnasium was empty, aside from Lucy. The portside windows boasted a view of empty space, a featureless void tinged violet by the interstellar gases of the Nekrit Expanse, unremarkable but for the astral phenomenon that seemed to be the center of everyone’s attention on Voyager at the moment.

Lucy should have been ecstatic to receive the call from Commander Chakotay. The only possible reason he would call her to the shuttle bay was to attend an away mission. It was the opportunity she’d been waiting for. And yet, she was exhausted, she was stressed, and she was not exactly presentable at the moment. Frankly, she just wasn’t up to it.

Lucy thumbed the off switch for the treadmill, and the track slowed smoothly to a stop under her feet. For a moment, the whole room seemed to glide in the opposite direction around her as she adjusted to the change in motion. She took a deep breath, mopped her slender wrist across her forehead to clear away some of the sweat, and slapped the combadge affixed to the strap of her sports bra to reply.

“Acknowledged, sir,” she said.

Whether she was up to the task or not, she was going. She couldn’t turn down a direct order, after all, and besides, she’d be kicking herself for months if she managed to miss this opportunity.

Lucy set off immediately for her quarters. Only when the cool draft of the ventilation system in the corridor hit her sweat-dampened skin did she remember she’d left her sweater in the gym behind her. She was walking down the corridor in just her short, hip-hugging gym shorts and her sports bra.

Oh, well. She couldn’t waste time going back for it now. She was going to be late enough as it was. Besides, almost everyone was either at their post or in their bunk at the moment. It was still a Yellow Alert, after all. She padded down the corridor in her bare feet, arriving at the turbolift without incident.

When the turbolift doors opened, however, there stood Ensign Vorik.

Lucy froze for a moment. Vorik took in her appearance with one quick glance, her light olive skin glistening with sweat, her shoulder-length black hair swept back in a haphazard ponytail, her slender proportions very apparent in her half-dressed state, and his gaze returned immediately straight ahead. His expression betrayed nothing.

Lucy debated waiting for the next turbolift, but decided that trying to explain to Vorik that she wasn’t comfortable riding with him would be even more awkward. She figured her best chance of saving face was simply to act as if nothing was out of the ordinary. She stepped over the threshold and turned to face the door.

“Deck four,” she instructed the computer, and the doors whisked shut. The slight lag in the inertial dampeners gave the turbolift just enough of a sense of movement to reassure them that they were on their way.

Lucy glanced sidelong at Ensign Vorik. His gaze remained fixed on the turbolift doors. And yet, the hairs on her neck stood on end, and a chill ran through her that could not entirely be contributed to the ship’s ventilation.

Rumors had been running wild about the Vulcan ensign, the last week or so. There weren’t really any facts to be had, at least not among the junior officers and crewmen of the lower decks, but the scuttlebutt was that Vorik had had some sort of violent episode and attacked Lieutenant Torres during the last away mission. Crewman Berman from engineering said that ever since, he could cut the tension between the two of them with a knife.

It wasn’t often that Lucy contemplated the raw strength that the Vulcans on the crew possessed. It so seldom had any bearing. Vulcans were usually the very last people she would imagine being capable of violence. It wasn’t a thought she liked contemplating, especially when she was in such a vulnerable position as she was now.

When the turbolift doors opened, Lucy was alarmed to recognize the control room of the Shuttle Bay. Gathered there in front of her was Commander Chakotay, Lieutenant Tom Paris, Ensign Harry Kim, and Chief Petty Officer Owen Vance, who had been her drinking companion the night before in Tom Paris’s holodeck recreation of a twentieth century tavern. At the sound of the doors opening, all eyes turned towards her and Ensign Vorik.

Lucy froze like a targ in the hoverpod lights, her eyes wide with panic. Vorik strode out of the turbolift. Ensign Kim took one look at her, and his eyes jumped to the ceiling. Tom Paris’s gaze darted up and down her slender figure a couple times before he managed to force them to meet her eye line. Vance leered at her with poorly disguised amusement. Chakotay just gave her a hard, questioning look.

Lucy met his eyes and, just before the turbolift doors whisked shut, she said, “I’ll be right back, sir.”

He nodded in acknowledgement just as the doors closed.

The turbolift resumed its course towards deck four and her quarters. Lucy’s cheeks were blazing hot, so she was sure she was blushing bright red.

She wondered whether she’d be able to play it off with a joke when she got back, or if that mortifying moment would stigmatize the rest of her career, or even the rest of her life.

Lucy made it the rest of the way back to her quarters without further incident, thankfully. She headed directly into the ‘fresher, stripping off her sports bra and shimmying out of her gym shorts as she walked. She stepped into the sonic shower and turned it on full blast, holding her arms up in the air and turning in three slow circles as ultrasonic pulses, antiseptic rays, and jets of warm air caressed her naked body up and down, scouring every drop of sweat and grime from her skin and leaving her feeling clean, dry, and refreshed.

Next, she dug some clean underwear and a gray uniform undershirt out of her dresser, took a clean uniform out of her closet, and got dressed with all possible haste. She felt much better in her impeccably tailored black uniform, with its cerulean blue shoulders and its single bronze pip on the collar marking her as a Starfleet science officer. She pulled on her socks and uniform boots next, and finally, she affixed her combadge over her left breast. She activated her holomirror and spared a full second to inspect her appearance. She straightened her ponytail, tugged on her sleeves, sucked in her little belly, and stood up straight, slender shoulders back, small chest puffed forward.

Even with everything that had happened since she’d first taken her commission, all the setbacks and disappointments, disasters and embarrassing moments that had plagued her career so far, she was still proud of her uniform and everything it represented. She’d made a commitment to the peaceful exploration of the cosmos, to provide aid where it was needed, to pursue scientific curiosity wherever she could, to make peaceful contact with new worlds and new civilizations, and to boldly go where no one had ever gone before. She was Starfleet. Sometimes, she needed to remind herself of that fact.

Lucy made it back to the shuttle bay about five minutes after she’d left.

“I’m sorry about that, Commander,” she said as she stepped out of the turbolift.

“It’s quite alright, ensign,” said Chakotay. “It’s been a long day. If you’re not feeling up to this away mission, I’ll understand completely.”

“Oh, I am!” Lucy rushed to reply. “You just happened to catch me while I was in the gym, sir. I was on my way back to my quarters to change when the turbolift made that little side trip.”

She flashed a little annoyed look at Vorik, who was gathered with the other officers for the away mission. It occurred to her that he could have warned her where he was going before she stepped onto the turbolift.

Chakotay flashed a polite smile, though she was sure there was amusement dancing in his eyes. “It’s nothing to worry about, ensign.”

She caught sight of Chief Vance, still smiling at her embarrassment and casting occasional glances below her neckline, as if he could see straight through her uniform.

Why did it have to be him? Lucy wondered. Why couldn’t it have been Tuvok, or any other security officer?

But she turned her focus back to Chakotay and replied, “Thank you, sir.”

Chakotay nodded, then changed the subject, turning to a display on the shuttlebay control console. “This is the telemetry from a class one probe sent through the wormhole at sixteen hundred hours.”

Lucy’s eyes went wide at the mention of a wormhole. That’s what that stellar phenomenon hanging off the port bow was? It was news to her. If they’d discovered a stable wormhole here in the Delta Quadrant, it could prove a huge boon to their mission. If the other end happened to be closer to Federation Space than this end, they could shave years or decades off their journey. And even if it wasn’t, the data they gathered from studying it might be instrumental to detecting similar ones in the future.

Lucy swallowed her urge to voice these thoughts, or to ask any of the thousands of questions that immediately sprang to mind. She was clearly behind the curve on this subject, since no one else seemed surprised. She struggled to focus on the probe telemetry Chakotay was showing her and to pay attention to his mission briefing.

The telemetry included visual and sensor readings of what looked to be an alien space station. It was a massive, bone-white, isosceles tetrahedron, its shape stretched so that it did not resemble a pyramid so much as a wedge, with narrow edges running horizontally along the top and the bottom of the station. The structure featured gaps in the triangular faces along the top and bottom edges that might have been shuttlebay doors, exhaust ports, or disruptor banks for all Lucy knew, and corrugated striations that radiated from the narrow end of each face vertically across the structure.

“This was discovered on the far side of the wormhole,” said Chakotay. “In fact, this structure appears to be the only thing on the far side of the wormhole.”

Lucy squinted at the image and thought she spotted another station of the same design in the distance behind the first one. “What about that, sir?” she asked, pointing at the spot.

“Well spotted, ensign, but sensors indicate that that’s the same structure.”

“What, like a reflection?” she asked.

Chakotay smiled. “Not exactly,” he said. “It’s the same structure, viewed from farther off. The space on the other side of the wormhole seems to curve around on itself, encasing a volume of only about sixty-five thousand cubic kilometers in a hyper-spherical, four-dimensional geometry.”

“So if we flew in a straight line in there… we’d go in a loop, and end up where we started?”

Chakotay nodded.

Lucy looked from Chakotay to the sensor readings in wonder, then looked around at the other officers. Harry and Tom seemed less amazed. In fact, mostly they seemed to be amused by her reaction. It occurred to her that they were already aware of all this, and this part of the briefing was only for her benefit. She cast a glance at Chief Vance and saw a greatly muted reflection of her own surprise. No, he hadn’t known about any of this, but he was too much of a professional to let that fact interfere with the briefing. She resolved to follow his example.

“Indications are that this region is a pocket of normal space, folded into subspace inside of a static warp field,” said Chakotay.

“You mean that whole place exists entirely within a warp bubble?” said Harry.

Chakotay nodded. “There have been a few incidents recorded by past starships that have hinted at this kind of possibility.”

“Yes,” said Vorik, “However, the degree of subspace distortion required to form and maintain a static warp bubble of this magnitude would likely exceed nine hundred thousand teracochranes. That would exceed the total warp core output of every Starfleet vessel in service, combined.”

Chakotay took a deep breath and said, “To form, maybe, but not to maintain, it seems. The warp distortion emanating from the space station only registers in the thirty teracochrane range, and no other source of subspace distortion is in evidence.”

Harry’s brow furrowed in thought. “Could it be a naturally occurring subspace phenomenon?”

“That’s one thing we’re hoping to determine,” said Chakotay.

Lucy’s head was swimming, trying to keep up. First, they told her they’d found a wormhole. Then, that the other side was a massive pocket dimension in a warp bubble in subspace, and before she even had a chance to digest the enormity of this discovery, they started batting around warp physics calculations, as if she should already know all the implications of this many teracochranes versus that many teracochranes, and Lucy just had to face the fact that she was way out of her depth. She was a biochemist, dammit, not a warp physicist. How did senior officers and hotshots like Harry Kim manage to come into every situation with a working knowledge of the subject at hand, no matter how obscure or complicated?

She resolved to keep her mouth shut and wait until the briefing turned to something she actually knew about. They’d called her down here for a reason; people didn’t get picked for away teams completely at random, after all.

“There is another, rather intriguing, possibility to consider,” said Vorik.

The others turned their attention to him.

“It is possible that the warp distortions emanating from the space station are responsible for the creation of the wormhole.”

“Very good, ensign,” said Chakotay. “That was Captain Janeway’s hunch, as well. If that should prove to be the case, then it might be possible to use the station to create another wormhole, leading somewhere else.”

“You mean like the Alpha Quadrant?” asked Harry. Lucy’s heart leapt at the possibility.

Chakotay nodded. “However, we still don’t know enough about this phenomenon, or the technology that seems to be operating inside of it. We have no way of knowing its capabilities or its limits. It certainly warrants a closer look, though, wouldn’t you say?”

“What about life signs?” said Lieutenant Paris. He cast a glance at Lucy as he spoke. “Is there anybody home?”

Of course. Why didn’t I ask that? That’s my department.

Chakotay swiped the console display and called up another page of sensor readings. “Here,” he said, pointing at a familiar-looking chart of figures and graphs. “What do you make of this, Ensign Kang?”

Lucy’s heart started hammering in her chest. Time to shine, she told herself. She leaned over the display and reviewed the internal temperature readings, the spikes in mass spectroscopy readings corresponding to O2, CO2, and various Carbon and Nitrogen compounds, the infrared localization and variance indices, the aggregate entropy index, the sonic vibragram, the millivolt-range electrochemical emissions, and other esoterically complex datasets, from which a trained eye could discern the lifesigns corresponding to most known forms of life.

“Hm.” The sound escaped her throat unbidden. She studied the figures a little closer and said again, “Humm…”

“What is it, ensign?” said Chakotay. She glanced up, and all five men were looking at her.

Lucy wondered if she could really offer any new insights, or if they were just testing her competency. She felt like she was back in the academy, trying to impress her professors.

“Well, the air is breathable, though stale and thin. Temperatures fluctuate around fifteen C, so we should maybe bring some light jackets. Lifesign readings are consistent with trace microbial life, and not much else. Biochemical spectroscopic readings suggest about three hundred kilograms of preserved organic matter. I’d guess either a frozen food supply or vacuum-preserved mummies, but it’s conceivable that it might represent living organisms in some form of stasis. Whatever it is, though, it’s clearly inert. And yet, the station is putting off strong electrochemical emissions resembling theta and gamma waves.”

“You mean brainwaves, ensign?”

“That’s right… I mean, not necessarily, but certainly… bioneural.” Ah, there it was, Lucy realized. The reason she’d been assigned to this away mission.

“You mean like our own bioneural gel packs?” said Harry.

Lucy nodded. “It’s definitely similar. And since there don’t seem to be any living organisms on the station that could generate such emissions naturally…”

“Then you believe this station might have a similar computational technology to ours,” said Chakotay. Clearly, he had suspected as much all along, but she had just confirmed it. She was heartened that her opinion actually seemed to count for something.

With that established, Chakotay moved the briefing along. “The aperture of the wormhole is wide enough to admit Voyager in theory, but it would be a tight fit, and it would be imprudent to put the whole vessel at risk,” he said. “So, we’ll be taking a shuttlecraft through instead.”

“How stable is it?” Lucy blurted out, visions running through her mind of being crushed in a collapsing wormhole, or trapped forever in a pocket dimension. She regretted the outburst immediately, but Chakotay seemed to take her question as professional curiosity rather than a nervous outburst.

He answered frankly, “So far, we’ve seen no evidence of deterioration. Variances remain in the forty to fifty millicochrane range. It’ll be a little bit bumpy, but it’s a short trip through the aperture.”

There he goes talking about cochranes again, she mused, but she just nodded in response.

“It’ll be a walk in the park,” said Tom. He gave Lucy a reassuringly confident smile.

“The real issue we need to worry about is the station itself,” said Chakotay. “Just because there’s no organic life on board, doesn’t mean no one’s home. Those bioneural readings might signify a powerful artificial intelligence, or even a psionic lifeform.”

At that, Vorik’s eyebrow shot up in an expression that might have been incredulity.

“We’ve encountered such beings before,” Chakotay said to Vorik.

Vorik acceded the point with a nod.

“And even if there is no conscious entity on the space station, that wouldn’t rule out automated defenses or other hazards. That station is powered. It’s putting off as much power as Voyager does on her best day, and all indications are that it’s essentially running in standby mode. We can’t allow ourselves to underestimate its capabilities. We’ll need to stay on our toes in there.”

Chakotay looked at each of them in turn. Tom responded with a cool, confident nod. Harry nodded with a degree of exuberance that may have been covering for his well-founded anxiety.

When his eyes found hers, Lucy borrowed a bit of the certainty she found in his piercing gaze, and used it to muster a determined nod of her own.

Vorik simply nodded in acknowledgement when Chakotay looked to him. Vance stood up a little straighter and nodded with grim determination. Lucy’s gaze lingered on the noncom for a moment afterward, wondering again why they weren’t taking Tuvok on this mission, instead. As the others broke from their huddle around the control console, Vance looked up and caught Lucy staring. He raised a questioning eyebrow, and Lucy just shook her head slightly and turned away, joining the other officers heading towards the closest shuttlecraft.

Lucy wasn’t sure how she felt about Vance. Off duty, he tended to be boisterous, gregarious, and chivalrous, at times verging on patronizing, like a relic from a previous century. He certainly could be charming, and Lucy had to admit that he was decent in bed. But he had an arrogance about him that was a serious turnoff. She’d kept him at arm’s length since that first encounter a few months ago, but Voyager was too small a ship for her to avoid him completely. She’d suspected all along that he was hoping for something more from her—more sex, or a relationship, she didn’t know—and last night at Sandrine’s had confirmed it. But Lucy was pretty sure she didn’t share his interest.

On duty, though, was another story. He was always professional, always respected the chain of command, always kept his uniform clean and pressed, his boots polished, his honey-blonde hair in a perfect regulation crew cut. The Captain had offered him more than one commendation for bravery over the last three years. Lucy should have felt comfortable knowing Owen Vance had her back.

She chanced one last glance at him as she stepped up the ramp into the shuttle, and thought she caught his eyes lingering on her hindquarters. No, she didn’t feel particularly comfortable.

 

CHAPTER 2

The shuttle launch sequence took several minutes. Warming up the engines and running a complete systems check was not something to be rushed, so long as circumstances allowed. Heavens forbid they damaged Voyager’s last type 8 shuttlecraft due to a launch-sequence error. The Captain had already made it clear that all future replacement shuttles that they manufactured would follow the design schematics of the smaller, more efficient Class 2’s. She couldn’t imagine making a prolonged space voyage with five other passengers in one of those shoeboxes.

The flight from the Voyager Shuttle Bay across twenty kilometers of empty space to the mouth of the wormhole took less than a minute. Lucy was not emotionally prepared when Tom announced, “Approaching the vortex now. Better strap in, boys and girls! We’re in for some chop.”

Lucy grabbed instinctively for her seatbelt and found it already securely fastened. Violet light washed over the inside of the shuttlecraft as the mouth of the wormhole, which had resembled little more than a pinprick from the windows on Voyager, now filled the forward screen of the shuttle. She took a deep breath as the craft dove into the light.

The shuttle lurched sickeningly downward and strafed jarringly to starboard, as if the ship had been caught in a sudden, violent current, and then the violet light was gone, and through the forward windows Lucy beheld a bizarre starfield.

The crew were quiet in the shuttle for a moment. Lucy took three deep breaths to settle her stomach as her eyes stayed glued to the view in front of them. It took her a moment to realize that all of the supposed stars that populated this space were actually pinpricks of violet light. Around the nearer, brighter pinpricks, she could discern halos of red-orange.

“Are those other wormholes?” she asked.

“They are not,” said Vorik. “They are, in fact, the same wormhole.”

Chakotay cast a rye smile back at her from the co-pilot’s seat. “Did you ever visit a hall of mirrors as a kid?”

Lucy smiled back, the adrenaline from the wormhole ride making her giddy. What an amazing place this was.

In the midst of this faux starfield hung the tetrahedral wedge of the space station, a few discrete running lights dimly illuminating its triangular faces at oblique angles, softening the stark, ghostly glare of violet that shone on it from the wormhole.

It was smaller than it had appeared in the scans.

“Take us closer to the station, lieutenant,” said Chakotay. “I’m going to try and say hello.”

“Aye, sir,” said Tom.

Chakotay activated the comm and opened hailing frequencies. “This is Commander Chakotay of the Federation Starship Voyager, hailing the unidentified space station. We’ve come in hopes of making friendly contact.”

Lucy highly doubted they’d get a response. The station may have had power, but it was clearly abandoned. If the comm system was even still operational, the most they were likely to get would be an automated message.

After a moment of waiting for a response, the aft console on the starboard side of the shuttle started beeping. Lucy looked back over her shoulder and saw Harry operating the console with a look of fierce concentration.

“We’re being scanned, Commander,” said Harry. “I… think.”

A second alert started sounding from Harry’s console, joining with the first one to make a raucous cacophony.

“I think they’re trying to access our computer database through the comm signal, sir!” Harry half-shouted over the alerts. “It might be a hostile data intrusion, or just an over-friendly handshake, Commander, I don’t know. Recommend ending the transmission!”

Just then, a strange voice issued from Commander Chakotay’s console. It sounded metallic and brittle, like a crude attempt at a computer-generated voice issuing from an ancient, industrial-age gramophone. “Welcome, custom—Wel—Wel—Welcome to the—” the voice dissolved into an oscillating squeal, something like a chorus of cicadas, if the cicadas were made of scrap metal and badly tuned violins, and then the noise cut off.

A moment later, the alerts sounding from Harry’s console fell silent, first one, then the other.

“The data intrusion seems to have stopped, sir,” said Harry. “Their scan has ended, too.”

They sat in silence for a long moment. Lucy’s ears were ringing. The hairs on her neck were standing on end. It was as if a thousand-year-old mummy just crawled out of the earth, grabbed her by the shoulders, shouted “Nice to meet you!” in her face, then collapsed in a fit of seizures and died again. Even though the possibility of an automated response from the station hadn’t been far from her thoughts, it was such an incredibly uncanny experience.

“Commander,” Vorik said from the port-side aft console, “There are signs of activity from the station. Power levels are rising steadily.”

Lucy leaned forward and gazed out the forward viewport at the station. As she watched, the station’s dim running lights became suddenly much brighter, and the vertical corrugations of its hull began glowing steadily brighter as well. The station seemed to be coming to life before her eyes. Lights rimming the ports along the upper vertex of the station sprang suddenly to life, and the center port began spiraling open, revealing a cavernous space inside.

“Looks like they’re rolling out the welcome mat,” Tom commented.

“Ensign Vorik, analysis,” said Chakotay, “Would it be safe to enter the station?”

Vorik entered commands into his console and consulted with his readings. “There appears to be a semi-permeable forcefield in place in the mouth of the porthole, Commander, similar to our own shuttlebay. I believe the shuttlecraft will be able to penetrate it. The atmospheric pressure on the inside is approximately zero-point-eight-nine atmospheres, and rising. Temperature is eighteen-point-three Celsius, and rising. The chemical composition of the atmosphere is changing, as well. O2 concentration is increasing, and CO2 is decreasing. I would hypothesize that the station is adapting conditions inside of its hangar bay to reflect the conditions inside of our shuttlecraft, sir.”

Chakotay nodded thoughtfully. “Are there any signs of malfunction, Vorik? I would hate to think of the consequences if their atmospheric system should turn out to be in as rough a shape as their comms.”

“It is difficult to say conclusively, sir,” said Vorik. “The changes in conditions are not proceeding in a linear fashion, and there have been numerous small spikes and dips in power stationwide. However, vital stationboard systems such as the porthole forcefield and artificial gravity have shown no signs of failure. The station may have additional safeguards in place to protect these vital functions.”

Chakotay was silent for a moment longer, then said, “Take us through the porthole, Lieutenant Paris. Nice and slow. Slow enough to spare the shuttle in case that forcefield isn’t quite as permeable as it appears.”

Tom nodded. “Aye, sir.”

The shuttle swooped toward the porthole in a graceful arc, proceeding more and more slowly as they drew closer. Lucy could see a wide, flat deck through the opening, with plenty of room to land their shuttle. She could not see any trace of the forcefield, but she gripped her armrests tighter as they approached the rim of the hangar door, bracing for impact.

A soft, almost imperceptible vibration passed through the shuttle as they entered the hangar. That was the only sign that they were passing through any kind of barrier. Tom guided them in for a smooth landing on the deck.

Without needing to be prompted, Ensign Vorik began reading out conditions of the environment outside of the shuttlecraft. “Gravity is one gee. Atmospheric pressure is oh-point-nine-seven atmospheres. Temperature is twenty-five degrees Celsius. Air is seventy-seven-point-three percent Nitrogen and twenty-one-point-two percent Oxygen. All readings closely match the environment of the shuttlecraft.”

They were quiet for a beat, and then Chakotay said, “Ensign Kang, are there any signs of harmful microorganisms on the station?”

Lucy startled at the sound of her name. She looked down at the small console in front of her, which she’d configured for bio-analysis during the pre-launch sequence, and let her training take over as she instructed the computer to perform a few quick tests and analyses.

“Negative, sir,” she said. “Atmospheric sampling reveals no known forms of pathogenic organisms. I am detecting a rather peculiar range of diversity in the microbiome here, however. I wonder how many different species have visited this station with their own unique microbes over the centuries, and what kind of microbial ecosystem has formed here in the absence of larger organisms.”

Chakotay smiled. “I like that curiosity, ensign. Let’s focus on assessing potential risks for the moment, though.”

“Of course, sir,” said Lucy.

“Ensign Kim, have there been any further signs of life from the station’s computer?”

“Negative, sir. Not a blip.”

“Alright. Everyone, check your equipment. Phasers set to heavy stun. Keep your comms open in case we get separated. Stay on your toes out there, people.”

Lucy dutifully consulted her hand phaser and tricorder, then double-tapped her combadge to open the channel. Until further notice, it would transmit automatically whenever she spoke, and the other team members’ badges would broadcast her voice whenever she was out of earshot.

“This station seems friendly enough so far, but we still have no way of knowing its capabilities or its purpose,” Chakotay went on as the team checked their equipment. “We’ve also seen plenty of evidence that its systems are malfunctioning. There may yet prove to be hostile security measures and other hazards on board. No one is to stray from the group. And don’t touch anything until you’ve performed a detailed scan, first. Understood?”

The away team responded with a chorus of “Aye, sir.”

“Good. Chief Vance, would you do the honors?”

“Yes, sir!” said Vance, and he reached for the hatch.

The air outside of the shuttlecraft felt very much like the air inside, but the smell was quite distinct. Either the station’s recyclers were incapable of purging the smell of ozone and dust, or they were the cause of it. The lighting was wan and flat white, emanating from widely distributed floor tiles and ribbons that ran along the base of the walls that enclosed the rather cavernous chamber. The away team’s shadows shifted and stretched overhead as they crossed the hangar bay.

“It feels like we’re walking on the ceiling,” said Harry.

He was right. Lucy wondered if maybe the artificial gravity was operating in reverse. Then she wondered what kind of species defaulted to lights on the floor, rather than the ceiling. Was their world not lit by sunlight from above?

Without needing to be told, the away team fanned out into a standard formation, with Commander Chakotay in the lead, and Chief Vance bringing up the rear. The others spread out in the middle, forming a rough hexagon, each officer close enough together to come to the aid of an endangered fellow officer, but far enough apart to mitigate the risk of more than one person falling into the same trap, or being hit by the same attack.

Lucy glanced to her right and saw Vorik consulting his tricorder, and she belatedly remembered to check her own.

Chakotay led the team to the far end of the deck, where a circular aperture in the wall seemed to represent a doorway. And sure enough, as they approached, the aperture spiraled smoothly and soundlessly open before them.

It was such a fast and quiet transition, one moment closed, the next open, that half the away team didn’t even see it happen. Even Vorik, with his superior Vulcan hearing, did not look up from his tricorder until Lieutenant Paris froze mid-step in front of him.

The whole team stood motionless for several seconds, studying the sudden opening, waiting to see if anything would happen. Chakotay’s hand hovered inches above his hand phaser, still in its holster. Ensign Kim and Chief Vance had their weapons at the ready. Lucy reflexively began scanning the door with her tricorder, and glancing over, she saw Vorik doing the same.

“No signs of life, and no apparent chemical or biological hazards, Commander,” said Lucy. She hoped she hadn’t missed anything.

“I am detecting elevated energy readings in the bulkheads around the doorway, but I see no evidence that there are any defensive weapons or traps, sir,” Vorik reported.

“Ok,” said Chakotay, “Behind me.” And he took a step forward.

“Excuse me, sir,” said Chief Vance.

Chakotay paused and glanced back at the security officer, a mildly nonplussed look in his eyes.

“Permission to lead the way, sir?”

Whoa, thought Lucy, That takes some guts. It was the responsibility of the security officer to assume the highest degree of risk in any away party scenario, but it was rare for a mere noncom to second-guess the order of a commanding officer. Lucy’s knee-jerk reaction was to wonder whether he’d lost his mind, questioning the chain of command, but she had to admit that he was really only performing his duties to the letter.

Chakotay seemed to recognize this as well. He nodded and said, “Granted.”

Vance held his type-3b assault phaser rifle at the ready and proceeded ahead of the party to the doorway. He stood against the left side of the doorframe to view through the passage to the right, then turned around and sidestepped his way through the doorway facing left, panning his rifle left to right.

Having done all this, he turned back to Commander Chakotay and flashed a thumbs-up. “All clear, sir.”

Then there was a sudden humming sound, and a dozen threads of red light lit up the air around Vance, reflecting off the fine particles of dust that filled the air. Chief Vance swung his weapon around, searching for the source of the rays as the beams of light swept over his body head to toe, and then vanished.

“Crewman? Are you ok?” said Chakotay.

“I’m fine, sir,” said Vance. “I think it was just scanning me.”

Chakotay glanced back at Vorik and Lucy. She focused her tricorder sensors on the security officer and got a quick read of his vitals.

Vorik finished his analysis first. “Residual energy traces are consistent with a high-intensity scan,” he reported.

“No signs of harm,” said Lucy.

She flashed Vance a relieved smile. His steely demeanor broke for just a moment when he caught sight of it, and he smiled back.

“All right,” said Chakotay, “I’ll go next.”

Chakotay passed through the doorway, and the same red lights washed over him. Then Tom passed through, then Vorik, then Harry, and finally, Lucy. She expected to feel… something. But Lucy didn’t feel so much as a tingle as the scan washed over her body.

The room into which they’d entered led into a long, wide corridor, illuminated by the same bizarre floor lighting. There were dozens of other circular doorways branching off of the corridor to the right, and every ten meters there was a floor-to-ceiling window on the wall to the left, looking out on the bubble of hyperspherical space beyond, sprinkled with different views of the wormhole and dotted with other vantages on the space station.

Vorik approached one of the doors with his tricorder held high. When he drew close, a pale green scribble appeared in thin air in front of the door like a hologram, written in a language their universal translators didn’t recognize. The door didn’t budge. Vorik completed his scan, finding no way to open the door without application of force, and rejoined the party as they advanced down the corridor.

At the far end of the hall, there was a raised, circular dais. The away team stopped, and again, Vorik stepped forward with his tricorder.

“It is most likely a means of conveyance within the station, Commander,” he reported.

“You sure it’s not a trap door?” muttered Tom. Lucy shared his apprehension. If the lift pad were broken, or if it wasn’t meant for humanoid passengers, it might wind up crushing them flat.

“I cannot definitively rule out the possibility, lieutenant. However, I fail to see any reason why such a contrivance might be put in place in this station,” said Vorik.

“Thank you, ensign,” Tom said in mild annoyance.

Chakotay thought for a moment, then said, “Chakotay to Shuttlecraft. Prepare emergency beam-out protocol four on my mark. Target the entire away team.”

“Acknowledged,” came the automated voice of the Shuttlecraft’s computer, “Emergency beam-out protocol four, ready.”

“Just in case,” Chakotay told the others.

“Not a bad idea,” Lucy muttered. Unfortunately, the shuttlecraft could only transport a couple people at a time, and by the time the first two people were back on board, the rest of the team might already be pancaked. That rather unpleasant notion really didn’t bear consideration, though.

At Chakotay’s signal, the away team filed onto the circular lift pad. A beat passed in which nothing happened.

“Anyone see any controls?” said Tom.

“Maybe it’s voice operated?” said Harry.

And then the corridor they’d just come down vanished, and they were flying down a vertical circular shaft so quickly that no one even had the time to register their surprise by the time they arrived at their destination.

The lift’s inertial dampeners worked flawlessly, thankfully. They’d felt not a single hint of downward acceleration, but the lift must have been moving at over fifty gees. If the dampeners had lagged for even a split second, they’d have all been smushed flat before Chakotay could even form the idea of queuing the emergency transport.

The away team disembarked on shaky legs, finding themselves in a large room, once again floor-lit. Towering pillars of what looked like fogged glass, each one about four meters in diameter, were arranged around the room in a grid pattern. There were sixteen pillars present in four rows of four, with plenty of room to walk between them and stare up at them, as they stretched fifteen meters up to the darkened ceiling. Lucy fired up her tricorder and started scanning the nearest pillar.

“It’s hollow inside,” she said, and she turned her tricorder onto the next pillar over.

She let out a gasp of surprise as complex organic matter registered on her tricorder spectrograph.

“There’s something in this one!” she said.

“What is it, ensign?” asked Commander Chakotay.

“Chemical breakdown and mass are consistent with a human-sized organism, Commander,” she said. “No life signs. Internal temperature is minus sixty Celsius. I can’t say whether it’s a living being in stasis or just preserved organic matter.”

“I can confirm Ensign Kang’s readings, Commander,” said Ensign Vorik. He was scanning a column on the left side of the room. “This enclosure holds similar readings.”

“This one does, as well,” said Ensign Kim.

“Does anyone see any controls? Any way of accessing the pillars?” said Chakotay.

The away team searched every corner of the room, but found nothing, not even so much as a lightswitch.

“Sir, I haven’t seen a single toggle, switch, button, or console screen since we entered the station,” said Tom.

“It may be that the entire station is automated,” said Vorik.

“Or, perhaps the controls are all localized on other decks,” said Chakotay. “We’re guests here, after all. It makes a certain amount of sense not to put station controls where any random visitor could access them.”

“Should we try voice controls?” said Harry.

Chakotay shrugged. “Station, can you hear me?” he said, and he paused. When no response was forthcoming, he said, “I am Commander Chakotay of the Federation Starship Voyager, addressing the operating system of this unidentified Space Station. Please respond.”

There was no response.

“Either voice controls are broken, or they never existed in the first place,” he said.

“Or it just doesn’t get your language,” said Lucy. She startled when she realized how she’d just spoken to a superior officer, and she rushed to add, “Sir.”

“Either way,” said Chakotay. “Let’s push on.”

At the far side of the room from the entrance, another door led into a circular chamber about ten meters across. The entire interior of the chamber was lily white. The ceiling formed a smooth, featureless dome, and the soft floor lights were well distributed, casting even illumination over the entire ceiling.

In the center of the chamber, there was a peculiar edifice, standing two meters tall, the shape and color of an egg. As the away team filed into the room, Lucy found herself drawn towards this pod. She walked in a wide, slow circle around the strange object, scanning it with her tricorder.

“I’m picking up bioneural energy readings coming from inside of this pod,” she said.

“It appears to be a mechanical apparatus of some kind,” said Vorik. “Its purpose is unclear.”

“Ensign Kim,” said Chakotay, “Try creating a computer uplink with your tricorder.”

“Aye, sir,” said Harry. He drew out his own tricorder and began entering commands.

“Ensign Kang,” he said, “How do these bioneural readings compare with the gel packs on Voyager?”

Lucy’s eyes remained glued to the waveforms on her tricorder display. “They’re very different, sir. Voyager’s theta waves are highly organized, but very simple. They’re generalized to complete any computational tasks put to them, and to remain idle otherwise. But these… these are far more complex. They look disorganized at first glance, but the longer I study these readings, the more I see that there are different nested sub-nodes of organization, working in concert, creating a perfectly harmonized waveform.”

She lifted her eyes from the tricorder and regarded the egg-like pod in wonder.

“Could your readings be an indication of intelligence?” said Chakotay.

She shrugged. “That’s what I’m wondering,” she said. So engrossed was she in studying the smooth contours of the pod, she didn’t even notice the casual way she’d responded to Chakotay’s question. She noticed a thin seam traversing the surface of the egg and traced it with her eyes.

“Any luck making contact with the station computer?” Chakotay asked Harry.

Lucy noticed on the surface of the pod a series of four raised bumps arranged in a row. They were the same color and texture as the pod, with no edges and no markings, and yet they plainly seemed to serve a function.

“Nothing yet, Commander,” said Harry. “I can detect alien computer protocols, but I can’t convince them to talk to my tricorder.”

Lucy studied the bumps a little closer. Without thinking about it, she lifted her hand to the buttons, intending to trace their contours.

“Lucy, don’t touch it!” Owen shouted out, but it was too late. Lucy’s fingers had just made contact with the surface. From the sheen of the materials, she’d expected it to feel cool and metallic, but it didn’t. It felt more like marble, or ceramic.

She removed her hand from the object and took a step back. She looked around at the other party members, saw the apprehensive way they regarded her and Owen. Come to think of it, his little outburst had completely disregarded her rank. She turned to the security officer, ready to firmly remind him who could and couldn’t give her orders, when there was a deep click.

The sound seemed to travel up her legs from the floor. There was a little hum of activity in the pod behind her, and she turned around just in time to see the egg split open along the seam, and an articulated mechanical tendril unfurled itself from inside, up into the air.

Lucy turned and ran for the door, just as every member of the away party did without having to be told.

She didn’t get three steps before she felt the mechanical cord wrapped around her ankle, holding her fast. “Commander!” she called out, and a second cord leapt from the inner workings of the egg and wrapped itself around her waist. Commander Chakotay turned and witnessed Lucy being lifted bodily into the air, and in one fluid motion, carried into the stifling confines of the egg, which closed up tight around her again, entombing her in darkness.

Lucy screamed. More tentacles snaked over her body, these ones soft and elastic, probing at her armpits, slithering between her legs. The air was stifling inside of the egg, and now Lucy could feel a cool fluid dousing her, something soupy and viscous, with an earthy, fungal smell.

Something stung Lucy’s thigh. Something stung Lucy’s bicep. Something stung Lucy’s lower back. Something stung Lucy over and over again, and each spike of pain meant another thick needle puncturing her flesh from the head of one of the tentacles that had her bound up.

She cried and wailed, and through her own anguish, she could hear Chakotay shouting orders, his words coming through the open link of her combadge.

“Chakotay to shuttlecraft, emergency beam-out on Ensign Kang’s signal, now!”

Lucy held her breath, waiting for the tingle of the transporter beam. Instead she heard the computer’s automated voice saying, “Unable to comply. Cannot establish affirmative lock.”

“Lieutenant, get back to the shuttlecraft, see if you can establish a lock. Ensign Kim, keep working on that computer link! Find a way to stop this!”

“Aye, sir,” said Tom and Harry.

“Ensign Vorik, find me a weak point on the pod. Somewhere we can fire phasers to disable it without harming Kang.”

“Aye, sir,” said Vorik.

Lucy heard all of this, but could barely pay attention. Her terror had her heart racing. Each moment she was in this torment, she didn’t think she could survive the next. The reality that she was about to die a horrible, grisly death was creeping in around the edges of her awareness.

A new tentacle slithered up her shoulder and probed at the nape of her neck. She tried to shrug it away, but the mouth of the tentacle found the soft tissue at the base of her skull, behind her left ear, and then it stabbed her. Her vision went white for a moment, and she felt a peculiar pressure at the corners of her thoughts. The whole right side of her body went tingly and numb, for just a moment. And then, all of a sudden, all of the pain that she was suffering simply vanished.

Lucy knew she had needle-like tentacles penetrating her body in more than a dozen places, and she could feel them against her skin, but they didn’t hurt. She hardly even registered the discomfort of being tied in this awkward fetal position by the tentacles.

In the absence of the pain, Lucy’s terror had free reign. With nothing to distract her from her obvious doom, Lucy began to whimper and wonder if there weren’t some god-like alien entity out there that might be willing to lend an ear to a prayer.

“Ensign Kang, can you hear me?” said Chakotay. He was still coming through loud and clear on her combadge.

“Y-yes…. Yes sir,” Lucy whimpered.

She tasted acid for a moment, and then she tasted rosemary.

“Hang in there, ensign,” he said, “We’re getting you out of there.”

“Oh… ok Com-commander,” she cried.

She had a sudden flash of memory, totally random, walking through a spaceport behind her parents, making their way towards the civilian transporter network. They were so tall when she was little, and the spaceport was crowded and loud. Lucy could even smell the Bolian food being served in a little spaceport replimat they’d been passing when the memory abruptly ended, dumping her back in the present.

The viscous fluid of the pod was all over her body now, matting down her uniform, drenching her hair. It was getting in her nose and her eyes.

“Commander, I can’t separate her signal from the pod,” she heard Tom say on her combadge, and the terror of her situation hit her all over again.

And then, suddenly, the fear was gone. Just as the pain had vanished a moment before, now, so did the terror. Lucy felt around in her mind for the fear she knew was warranted, but found only an abstract concern.

Absent pain and fear, still bound tightly inside of the egg, so she couldn’t so much as raise her hand, Lucy felt the profound sorrow of her impending death swell inside of her.

It occurred to her that, just as she could clearly hear the away team desperately working to free her through her combadge, each of them could hear her anguished screams and cries through theirs, and she made herself go quiet. Then she realized the others would assume the worst if she suddenly stopped making noise.

“Commander Chakotay?” she said.

“Yes, ensign?” he said.

“Thank you… for trusting me for this mission,” said Lucy.

“Of course I trust you, ensign.”

“I so seldom get the opportunity to get off the ship,” she said.

Tears were running down her cheeks, and she could feel her face wanting to twist up in anguish, but she forced herself not to let it affect her voice.

“I just wanted you to know that I was grateful for the opportunity. I wish I’d gotten it more often. I wish… I wish I didn’t let you down this way.”

“No more talk like that, ensign,” said Chakotay. His voice was stern, but obviously wrought with emotion. “You’ve done your duty as a Starfleet Officer. And we’ll have you out of there momentarily, you understand? So just hold on. That’s an order.”

“Yes, sir,” said Lucy.

Something was happening to her body. She could feel it clear down to her bones. Sensations like tiny snakes crawling around under her skin, like electric shocks coursing through every fiber of every tissue, but all without pain.

Something was happening to her mind. First, her pain had vanished, and then her fear. With each change, the way she experienced her circumstances was different. And suddenly, now, even her sorrow was gone. She probed for it like a tongue hunts for a lost tooth, but it was gone, just like that. The three overriding emotions that should have defined this experience were just… gone. What did that leave her?

It left her tired. Lucy wanted to fall asleep. She suspected if she did, she wouldn’t wake up. She felt some abstract concern at the prospect. A few superficial regrets flitted through her mind as she started drifting off. She’d always dreamed of surprising her parents and her brothers when she got home. They were probably clinging to some paltry hope that she still might be alive out here, somewhere. It had given her comfort, thinking that one day she might be able to prove that hope well-founded.

Oh well.

Lucy surrendered to sleep, but instead she found… something else.

It couldn’t be called a voice. It couldn’t be called an emotion. But it was… something. A presence. She couldn’t make sense of what was coming out of it. Something like information, or knowledge, or… urgings. It lurked behind her own awareness, behind the awareness she was familiar with, the one she’d carried with her all her life. Try as she might, she couldn’t get a handle on it.

It shifted around in the back of her mind, as if it were getting comfortable, and then it came to rest, and Lucy couldn’t find it anymore. It was gone without a trace.

A strange thought popped into Lucy’s head.

Finished.

And then, the egg cracked open again, and light came pouring up into her world. The tentacles unfurled and let Lucy slip out of their grip, down onto the floor of the chamber, soaked in blue-green slime, bright red wounds peppered across her body like a pox, visible through the ruined tatters of her uniform.

Lucy was profoundly relieved. By the end, the thought of death hadn’t given her more than a superficial sense of worry or sadness, but now, the prospect of living filled her with joy.

Joy that she was too physically exhausted to express right now.

Chakotay rushed to Lucy’s side. He lifted her head gently off of the cold deck, and he looked into her eyes. “Tom!” he called, turning his attention to his combadge, “Lock onto me and Ensign Kang and energize!”

His eyes met hers again. Lucy smiled up at him, and her relief was reflected in his eyes. “Thank you, Commander,” said Lucy, and the confinement beam gently restrained them as the transporter took hold. The ivory chamber dissolved into golden light and gave way to the familiar confines of the shuttlecraft, and Lucy finally faded to sleep.

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