Captain Kathryn Janeway was on her way to the mess hall when her commbadge chirped at her.
“Bridge to the Captain.”
Janeway stopped in her tracks and tapped her badge. “Go ahead, Harry.”
“We’ve gotten some odd readings, Captain, and there’s some really weird visuals to match.”
“Oh?” Captain Janeway asked. “Weird in what way?”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to see for yourself.”
“I’m on my way.”
A few minutes later, the turbolift doors admitted Janeway onto the bridge, and she found herself in the middle of a heated debate.
“I’m telling you, they’re alive!” Tom insisted.
“We do not know that,” Tuvok replied. “Other than their erratic movement, there is no behavior that would indicate these . . . energy clouds are any type of life-form.” Paris opened his mouth to protest, but Tuvok cut him off. “We do not, in fact, even know if there is more than one cloud.”
“He’s technically right,” Kim said. “On sensors all of it reads the same.”
“Oh, and you’re on his side now, are you?” Paris said disbelievingly.
Kim raised his hands in mock surrender. “I’m just saying. We don’t know if there is more than one.”
“They’re different colors!” Paris exclaimed.
“And what, exactly, are we talking about?” Captain Janeway asked.
“Oh, Captain! I um,” Paris stammered before clearing his throat. “I didn’t see you come in.”
“Evidently,” Janeway replied, amused. “But no harm done. Harry, what have we got?”
“Well, Captain, I think you should take a look at the viewscreen before I start giving you what the scanners picked up.”
“Alright.” For the first time since entering the bridge, Captain Janeway focused on the viewscreen, and she had no idea what to make of what she saw.
Displayed on the viewscreen was what seemed to be a writhing mass of nebula. Black, gold, silver, and white nebula, each color collected into its own clump with wispy tendrils lashing out at each other. The four colors were swirling, writhing with unbelievable speed. If Janeway didn’t know that gaseous particles couldn’t fight, she would’ve sworn that the four were locked into an epic battle.
“Where is this?” Janeway asked.
“Only about seventy kilometers ahead of us,” Tuvok said.
“That close, huh? We’re nearly on top of it,” Janeway murmured. “Harry,” she said over her shoulder. “I think you’d better tell me what the scanners picked up.”
“Well, Captain, that’s where things get interesting,” Kim said as he tapped at the console.
“More interesting than this?” Janeway gestured at the viewscreen.
“Surprisingly enough. First off, if you’re speaking in terms of matter, there’s nothing there.”
Janeway turned to face him. “ What? ”
“There are no molecules, or even atoms there. There’s no matter of any kind.”
“Are you saying that all of this is energy ?”
“That’s right,” Kim confirmed.
“How is that even possible?” Janeway asked.
“By all laws of science known to us,” Tuvok said, “it’s not.”
There was silence for a moment before Kim said, “As far as I can tell, the energy is collected into particles, you know, assuming energy can be collected in particles like we’re seeing.”
“Particles?” Janeway asked. “How big?”
“Maybe a quarter of a millimeter across. Not big, but as each one is glowing, they’re visible to us. Each particle also seems to be moving in tandem with the other particles of the same color.”
“The scanners told us that?”
“No,” Tom objected. “I did.”
Kim tilted his head in acknowledgment. “The scanners can tell no difference between the particles. Even with alike colors moving together, the patterns are too erratic for the computer to gather any data from them.”
“Hmm.” Janeway turned back to the viewscreen, studying the cloud. Its motion was no less turbulent than before. “And how are these particles moving, exactly?”
“Honestly, Captain? I have no idea,” Kim replied.
“Nor do I, Captain,” Tuvok added.
When Janeway turned to Tom he put his hands up. “Don’t look at me,” he said. “I don’t know any science about this. But, I do still say that they’re alive.”
“You know, Tom,” Janeway said slowly, “I think you might just be right.”
Kim and Paris shared a surprised glance.
“Really?” Paris asked.
“But Captain,” Tuvok protested. “We don’t—“
“Just think about it for a second, Tuvok,” Captain Janeway said. “We’ve got particles that shouldn’t exist, moving in patterns that shouldn’t be possible. How else would you explain such a phenomenon?”
Tuvok sighed. “I suppose in that light, the notion is plausible.”
“Should we try first contact?” Kim asked.
“In this case, I’m not sure we should,” Janeway said.
“Why not?” Paris asked as he turned his seat towards her.
“Let’s assume that each of those colors is a separate being,” the Captain said, nodding at the viewscreen. “What do you suppose they’re doing right now?”
A moment passed, then, “They’re fighting,” Tom realized.
“Exactly. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like getting caught up in someone else’s private war today,” Janeway said.
“No kidding,” Tom muttered.
“Tuvok, how much time will it add for us to go around them?” Janeway asked.
“Approximately ten seconds at impulse speed.”
Janeway blinked, then turned to Tuvok. “I don’t understand. Only ten seconds?”
“Captain,” Tuvok said. “That image is extremely magnified. At the largest amount, the beings are only taking up five hundred and twelve cubic meters of space.”
“That’s only eight meters on an edge!” Paris exclaimed.
“And that’s at most,” Tuvok said. “And what’s even more intriguing is the fact that the black being appears to be much larger than the other beings.”
“Really?” Tom asked, turning back to the viewscreen.
“I would approximate a 3:1:1:1 ratio in volume.”
“And yet the fight seems balanced,” Janeway observed, leaning forward.
“The other ones must be teaming up against the black one,” Kim guessed.
“Whatever is happening, I would advise immediate departure,” Tuvok said. “Our scanners have collected all the data possible, and it is inadvisable to get any closer if the beings are indeed fighting.”
“Agreed,” Janeway said, though with a slight degree of reluctance. “We should be on our way. Mr. Paris, lay in a course—“
All three main consoles lit up as warning chimes rang through the bridge.
“Ensign, report!” Captain Janeway shouted.
“Captain, look!” Paris was pointing at the viewscreen.
Janeway looked, and felt the blood drain from her face. The black energy mass, a void of darkness unlike the other three, had disengaged itself from the others and was shooting towards them.
“Three seconds—“ Tuvok shouted.
“Evasive man—“ Janeway started, cutting off as the ground jerked beneath her feet. Then she was on the ground, hair in her face, but as she pushed herself up she froze.
In the middle of the bridge was a gigantic black mass. Vaguely humanoid, it stood on two legs that seemed to leach the color from the ground. The rest of its body was a void, empty and undefined and surrounded by wisps of black that lashed at the air around them. The only reason Janeway could tell that the figure had arms was because one of them, tipped with wicked-looking claws, was inches from Tom’s face.
Tom’s eyes were screwed shut as he rested his head against the side of the navigation console. A trickle of blood was working down his face from where he had probably hit his head after getting knocked out of his chair.
Janeway started reaching for her combadge to call for the Doctor and security, but a broken, terrible noise scratched out of the thing and she froze.
It took her a moment to realize that the being had said words.
“DON’T MOVE OR HE DIES.”
Janeway didn’t move a muscle, her eyes still fixed on Tom.
“DROP THE WEAPON, VULCAN.”
Clattering sounded behind her and Janeway took a deep breath.
“Who are you?” Janeway asked. When the being didn’t respond, she tried a different tack.
“Perhaps we can negotiate,” she said. “There must be something we have that you want.”
The thing turned towards Janeway. “WHAT I WANT FROM YOU, CAPTAIN, IS ANNIHILATION.”
A chill ran down Janeway’s spine. “What?” she whispered.
The thing reared back to lash out at Tom and Janeway heard someone cry out in protest, but whether it was her or one of the others she didn’t know.
Blinding light burst through the bridge and Janeway jerked her head away, screwing her eyes shut. When her vision returned, there were three more humanoid forms standing on her bridge. Divided into gold, silver, and white, they were very different from the thing in the center. Having almost perfect human shapes, the silver and the white beings appeared to be female with braids of light twisting down their backs, the golden one male with messy hair. Each of them was standing in a defensive position, surrounding the black being in the center with the white one between it and Tom.
“Give it up, Xitiu,” the golden being said. He—Janeway couldn’t help but think of the being as a he—sounded just like any human man. He and the other two started closing on the thing, clouds of their respective light forming around their hands.
The black being snarled. “NEVER.” It collapsed, its essence absorbing into the floor. The golden being lunged at it, but it was gone. The lights in the room started flickering and every alarm the bridge had went off as the golden being scrambled back to his feet. He swore, then approached Captain Janeway.
Janeway tensed, expecting an attack, but the being just held out a hand. Hesitantly, she took it, and the being helped her to her feet.
“I’m so sorry about this, Captain,” he said.
Janeway nodded briskly. “Ensign, report!” she shouted.
“We’ve got massive failures in every system,” Kim shouted. “We’ve got minutes until everything’s destroyed!”
“Captain,” the gold being said urgently. “We can get it out of your systems, but we’ll need complete access and we’ll need it now .”
For a second, Captain Janeway hesitated. What if this was some kind of elaborate trap?
But the alarms kept blaring and Janeway shoved that all aside. “Go right ahead!” She shouted.
The gold being moved to Ensign Kim’s console as the silver being went to Tuvok’s, both of them nearly shoving the men out of the way in their hurry. The white one knelt down by Lieutenant Paris and checked his pulse.
“He’ll be fine if he can get to a doctor,” she shouted. “Ensign?”
Harry was heading for them when the ship shuddered and he stumbled. Janeway also nearly lost her balance, and she grabbed a handrail for support.
“What was that?” she shouted.
“Multiple microfractures have formed all along the hull,” the silver being replied. “The structural field is down, as well as the inertial dampers and a whole lot of other stuff.”
“I’m shutting it out of everything I can, but it’s not nearly enough.” The gold being was working the panel frantically. “We need to send a creanic burst through the computer core and the power systems. Soulynn, go to the engine room and reconfigure the core so it won’t overload, now!”
The white being—Soulynn, was that her name?—darted towards the turbolift, but instead of entering it, she went through the wall.
“Captain!” Tuvok called. “If the black being is indeed destroying all computer systems, then the Doctor is in serious danger.”
“Go help him!” Janeway shouted, before turning towards the silver and gold beings. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Take the helm,” the gold being called. “Reconfigure anything you can access to a modulating frequency, it should slow it down.”
Janeway had just gotten into her seat when her combadge went off.
“Captain?” B’elanna’s stressed voice was mixed with static. “The ship’s falling apart, and there’s some thing down here wanting to reconfigure the core! What in the world is going on?”
“Just let her work, B'elanna! She knows what she’s doing,” Janeway responded as she typed in a new algorithm for the engine modulations.
“That thing’s a she?—“ B’elanna’s voice cut out.
“Turbolift, transporter, holodeck and replicator systems are completely down, communications, weapons, shields and engines are offline, and the hull is about to breach in multiple places!” the silver being reported. “Physicality, transfer all available power to the structural field, now!”
“I thought it was offline!” The gold being shouted back.
“I just managed to pull some of it back together, but I need power!”
Janeway reconfigured frantically, working every system she could get to. But even as she temporarily saved one system, another went down.
“We need to trap it, but where ?” the gold being said.
“Holodeck,” his companion said shortly.
The ship lurched and Janeway grabbed the top of the console. More alarms started wailing and Janeway’s eyebrows went up. Where had they come from?
Her combadge beeped and the white being’s voice spilled out, blaring into the room. “Ready!”
“Now! ” The silver one shouted, slamming her hand in the console.
The ship’s lights blazed white before going dark. The chorus of alarms cut out with the light, leaving Janeway's ears ringing in the silence. Then, slowly, the lights flickered back on.
Janeway’s console lit up, displaying a collage of readings and measurements, damaged systems flashing red.
Abruptly, the silver being swore. “ Where’d it go ?” she demanded, punching at the console in front of her.
“It’s gone ,” the gold one said, sounding surprised. “I can’t find any trace of it anywhere.”
“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” Janeway asked sharply.
“For the short term, probably good,” the gold one said, still scanning the display in front of him. “For the long term, very, very bad.”
“Now why doesn’t that fill me with confidence,” Janeway said dryly. She smacked at her badge but it wasn’t there. Sighing, she crouched down, retrieving it from under the console. “B'elanna!” she called.
“Yes, Captain?” her voice was strained. Janeway could almost see her working frantically at a console.
“Are we in any immediate danger?” Janeway asked.
“Not really. I mean, the ship’s been torn apart from the inside out, but other than the fact we’re a sitting duck drifting through space we’re completely good.”
Janeway rubbed her forehead, already feeling a headache starting to form. “What’s damaged?” she asked.
“What’s not damaged might be a shorter list. If I find something that goes on it, I’ll let you know.”
Janeway scythed her fingers through her hair. “Great,” she muttered.
Her badge chirped again. “Captain?” Seven’s level voice crackled through. “What’s going on? Everything in Astrometrics has gone dark and we had some . . . turbulence.”
“To be honest,” Janeway said, “I don’t really know. We’re not in any immediate danger, but if you could help B'elanna with the repairs that’d be a good start.”
“Captain!” Nelix’s voice piped through. “What—”
Janeway cut him off. “No, I don’t know what exactly what’s going on, yes, everything’s under control—” Janeway glanced at the two glowing beings, still working the consoles, “—I think, and no, we’re not in any immediate danger.”
“Alrighty then. What would you have me do?”
“Help the Doctor manage all of the wounded and set up some light entertainment in the mess hall. I will follow the Doctor’s recommendations but I’m going to need all hands on deck.”
Janeway leaned against the console, massaging her head as she waited for her badge to sound again. It stayed silent.
“Who are you?” Janeway demanded. The two beings glanced up, almost in sync—the Captain was obviously talking to them.
“What was that thing that attacked us?” Janeway put her hands on her hips. “ Why did it attack us, for that matter? What’s going on here?”
“That’s . . . complicated,” the gold being said.
“We will explain fully, but not right this second. Right now we’re focusing on keeping this ship intact,” the silver one said. “But long story short, we’re the four consciousnesses of the universe, that thing that attacked you is the consciousness of destruction who wants to destroy the universe, and unfortunately while we were trying to imprison him he saw your presence as an ample distraction.”
“ . . . What? ” Janeway asked. She couldn’t have heard right.
“It’s a long story, we’ll explain it later when everyone’s here and the ship’s not about to fall apart,” the gold being said.
“And why should I trust you?” Janeway asked incredulously.
The silver being glanced up at her, locking eyes. “You don’t need to ask. You already know.” The being smiled a little, gentle smile before returning to her tasks.
I already know?
Janeway shook herself. Her first priority was her crew, then the ship. She’d deal with the beings later.