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Unmasked

Chapter 1

„Captain, I am so sorry, this mission is so important... I don't know what to say..." Neelix uttered apologetically.

"Don't worry Mr Neelix, you need to go back on Voyager and have the Doctor take a look at you. When you feel better maybe we'll still be here and you can join us. Until then Seven and I are going to do our best to bring back all we need. Mr Kim, help Mr Neelix to the shuttlecraft and contact Voyager. I am not sure if our badges will work trough this planet's magnetic field, so if you cannot contact us take the shuttlecraft back to Voyager and have another one land in the same spot in 12 hours from now. We shall be there then."

"Aye Captain" said Harry somewhat dejectedly. He had been really excited about this away team mission and now he had to become Neelix's nurse and babysitter. Looking for edible plants was not the most interesting task, but in current situation anybody bringing back food would be considered a hero. Voyager was running on minimal energy, it was became continually darkish over the past couple weeks, food rations were scarce and going to warp was virtually impossible. The moods were bleak, everybody was focused on finding some source of energy, of food in this part of empty space. There was a glimmer of hope, however. The most sensitive sensors discovered dilithium crystals within 20 light years. The only problem was getting there before the whole ship just stops and goes no further. The crystals appeared on the sensors five days ago and initially there was no way they would stop on their way. But two days ago they had been attacked by scavenger race, Dragcro ship. They must have been deemed dead or close to dying because normally Dragcro didn't attack well-functioning vessels with healthy crews. They had to fend them off and fire weapons on the fiendish ship, which drained their energy sources very badly. Now there was little chance of replicating anything and the stock they had amassed during previous missions was almost completely depleted. There was no possibility that the crew could go hungry for the next two and a half weeks- that being the estimated time of arrival at the expected destination where the crystals could be collected. Scanning for any class M planets began. The thorough search turned into a despairingly frantic one after nothing was to be found. The morale was low amid the constant stomach growls. It was him who first came across a glimmer of hope when he noticed a small red dot on his station's screen. His heart skipped a beat, he checked, recalibrated the sensors, double-checked and informed the Captain. Soon they were soaring through space on a shuttlecraft- him, the Captain, Seven-of-Nine and Neelix. They were supposed to collect anything that was not toxic or potentially poisonous to their biology. Fast forward to him having to take Neelix back to Voyager after he had fallen off of a cliff and seriously injured himself. It's not to say he didn't feel bad for the Talaxian who was himself mortified and deadly disappointed, but still he resented having to forfeit the mission.

Harry Kim helped Neelix up and supporting his arm like a crutch, slowly led him in the direction of the shuttlecraft. They didn't expect any living creatures- they had scanned the landing place with a twenty mile radius around it thoroughly for life signs and it turned out negative every single time. They strolled through the purplish shrubbery, the sky above them turning dark green, two bright dots on the firmament warming their skin and blinding their eyes.

Captain Janeway sighed and turned to Seven whose left eyebrow was raised curiously.

"Let's go" her raspy voice commanded. Seven was ready to obey. She activated her tricorder and analysed the data it displayed. She pointed north- west and started walking towards some sort of a reservoir. They noticed a faint fog suspended over the surface of the water. The air was permeated with a sulphurous smell, it stung their eyes and burned their throats. Seven checked the readings.

"Not toxic", she stated matter-of-factly and continued to the bank. She kneeled and looked into the green liquid – it was not transparent but it did seem clean, reflecting green sky above in its 2 metre depth. Seven noticed small round dark objects floating all around the water. She tried to fish one out with a stick but it was slippery and eluded her. Captain Janeway watched amused as the former Borg grappled for the mysterious wet shapes. She admired Seven's agility and stubbornness.

'Seven, you've got to use a better suited tool for the task at hand", she finally offered. She broke off a couple of purple leaves from the nearby shrubs and tied the blades with their stalks. Then she tied this contraption to the end of a stick and approached the water bank. She stooped and reached out. She scooped one object on her leafy spoon and picked it up. Seven's lips grimaced in a wry smile.

"Efficient", she said and pointed a tricorder to the object. Her eyes widened hardly perceptibly, but it was enough to pique Captain Janeway's interest. She was attuned to even the faintest signs of the ex-Borg's body language.

"What is it?"she asked.

"These objects are composed of proteins in 95 % and carbohydrates in 3%, they are non-toxic and seem to be compatible with human biology", she stated coolly.

"Bingo!", exclaimed Captain Janeway, her eyes gleaming as she took in the sheer abundance of floating objects in the water.

"Does that mean that our mission is over?" Seven asked with a slight tremor in her voice. Janeway suspected she knew what it was about- this away mission was a chance to unwind- the atmosphere aboard Voyager wasn't at its best lately. But her first duty was to the ship and she did feel relieved that they managed to find some food. Maybe there would be enough of these objects to sustain the crew for the whole trip to where the crystals are located. She hoped so. And yes, she too felt like she could use some more time on the planet surface with Seven, just the two of them. Nevertheless she pressed her commbadge.

"Janeway to Voyager"

Nothing. She looked at Seven, Seven looked back. Janeway tried again. Nothing. Seven pressed her commbadge.

"Seven to Voyager"

Nothing. They looked at each other, anxiety taking over incomprehension.