MENTHAR CORRIDOR — While surveying the largest protomatter cloud ever discovered, the USS Garuda found itself fending off a botanical infestation controlled by a hostile intelligence within the cloud.
“One minute, I’m working on a diagnostic, and then the next, I see ten engineers struggling to break free of the vines coming out of the machinery,” said Petty Officer Angeline Loupaz, an engineer aboard the Garuda.
The sudden infestation appeared overnight. The Garuda had been ordered to investigate the Genesis Cloud, which had been discovered by the Qilin Project. Initial sensor readings were off the scale of any previously found protomatter deposits.
The survey would also be a diplomatic mission that hoped to rebuild trust and understanding between the Federation and the Community, a species native to the Menthar Corridor comprised of a collective consciousness that uses plant-like forms to communicate. Representatives of the Community came aboard the Garuda to witness standard Starfleet scientific procedures and evaluate the crew.
By all accounts, the survey itself was a success as an engineering team headed by Garuda’s chief engineer Lt. Cmdr. Tristam Core and operations chief Lt. Cmdr. Mei’konda constructed a specialized shuttle dubbed the Robert Ballard to explore the volatile protomatter cloud and collect samples.
“We had to be very careful,” explained Lt. JG Danielle Vistain, a shuttlebay ops engineer. “Protomatter is highly unstable. Even the slightest disturbances from a ship or shuttle’s systems can cause it to ignite. Rather than strip an existing shuttle bare, we decided it’d be easier to use spare parts to build an entirely new craft.”
Expertly piloted by Lt. Kaitlyn Falcon, the shuttle returned safely with the valuable data, and alpha shift retired for the night.
Yet things slowly grew amiss in the early hours of the morning. As drastically growing plants began spreading across the ship, the Garuda’s chief science officer Lt. Alora DeVeau went missing.
“I knew something was wrong when she left her office a mess,” said Lt. JG Alif Lepore, a quantum biologist. “This was an important mission, what with the Community reps and the Diplomatic Corps watching so closely. Lt. DeVeau is always meticulous about her work.”
Additional reports of other missing crew members came in, including that of one unfortunate crewman who had been dressed as Santa Claus for a department Christmas party. The children would have to wait a little bit longer for their presents as the crew soon found themselves battling a shipwide plant infestation. From small houseplants to the large trees of the ship’s arboretum, it seemed all plant life aboard the Garuda was being affected somehow by the protomatter, growing exponentially in size.
Worse, it was apparent that the plant life exhibited hostile behaviors as crew members struggled against slithering vines attempting to capture them.
Finally, DeVeau reappeared, her body having been taken over by an alien influence. Holding hostages in the arboretum, she announced to the Garuda’s commanding officer Captain Cassandra Egan Manno that she was speaking on behalf of the Kindred, an intelligence that resided within the Genesis Cloud. Its intent was to capture the crew and use their bodies to escape the protomatter cloud.
However, Egan Manno had a plan. The shuttlecraft Ballard was secretly piloted by remote back into the center of the cloud. Then, during Egan Manno’s direct meeting with DeVeau in the arboretum, the captain revealed the shuttle would ignite the entire cloud if the Kindred did not comply. The Kindred were defiant, and the captain gave the order, destroying the cloud and bringing the crisis to an end.
As the Garuda’s crew began cleaning up the mess, the mission left many reflecting on the chaos.
“We lost a lot during this mission. I’ve only been here a short time, but I can tell this mission has left a mark on ship and crew,” said Ensign Ryan King, a security officer. “I myself am suffering from premature hair loss—though the nurse assures me it’s only temporary. I’m willing to make my sacrifices to continue the Federation’s mission though—and as long as my hair grows back. The nurse tells me it will with the gel…”
Others weren’t sure how they were going to explain this to their friends and families.
“I know no one back home’s going to believe me,” said Loupaz. “I hate plants.”