The Star Collectors

Part 1

Re-defining Normal

It was a well-known fact that most bipedal sentient species in the galaxy where all freakishly similar: in fact, if it weren't so obvious from each individual planet's fossil record that these species evolved independently one would think they had been planted there, like some galactic cultural experiment.

Trees; most man-hospitable planets had trees, and birds, mammals, insects… They all looked and behaved much like their otherworldly counterparts and regardless of where you stood (and quite often ducked) in the ever more complex and academically hazardous theory throwing contest, the fact remained, and it was damned convenient too.

So convenient in fact that it was all too easy to slip into the 'class M bubble' and forget that there were far more strange and treacherous places in the universe than we can imagine; the bottom of your sock drawer, the back of the washing machine, the wonderful world of Charlie the Unicorn and… this place.

"If he doesn't get his skinny butt back here right now… HEY! You think this is funny do you?" A disgruntled McCoy shouted almost desperately at the retreating back of the Enterprise's first officer as he ventured further into the unexplored depths of cargo bay 2, "Damn-well wondering off set every last nerve on edge why in blazes did I volunteer for this job in the first place…."

There were days, and this was definitely one of them, when normality seemed like a rich delicacy that was scandalously taken for granted and only missed when it beggared off for a while in favour of a bit of appreciation elsewhere. Through a swirling haze of purple coloured fog the CMO sprinted after his Vulcan colleague only to run headlong into the inside of somebody's closet.

"Well this is new." He said after awkwardly disentangling himself from Spock's arms.

"Indeed. And decidedly uncomfortable, if you'll excuse me…" Spock quickly found the handle of the closet door and exited the cramped space into what appeared to be one of the junior officer's quarters.

Since running to a complete stop some indeterminable amount of time ago nothing had been quite where it should be. That is to say that space and time had seemingly curdled like milk in a glass of orange juice and joined up at unpredictable points to one part or other of the original design.

Spock had stepped off the bridge on day one and emerged two days later in the rec room. McCoy, who had been making his way to the bridge to treat a head injury and a broken wrist from the sudden deceleration had still been wandering the corridors four hours later where he, after following himself for a couple of minutes around deck 5, stopped to think about the impossibility of it all and promptly popped out of existence. Meanwhile the himself he'd been following felt a cold shiver down his spine, spared a glance behind him and walked into a wall.

Some indeterminable amount of time ago….

The Enterprise crew, following a particularly nasty bout of 'saving the universe' were looking forward to returning to the slightly less threatening areas of our beautiful spiral galaxy. Tired and more than a little emotionally burned out they were looking forward to being bored for a week or two and poking gentle fun at the amount of excitement that was generated in the science department over a big cloud of gas.

The forward viewer filled with the image of the dark looming cloud. James Kirk was unimpressed. "Spock…"

Spock did not look up from his scanning equipment as he replied, "Yes, Captain?"

"Can you, uh, colour code all the different gases and things. Make it look a little more, well, interesting to the lay-person so to speak?"

Spock seemed to sigh in his own curious way as he edited and augmented the viewer's representation of the cloud. A brightly coloured outwardly propelled mass of energy and matter appeared before them prompting an audible "Oooh" from the bridge crew.

"That's more like it Spock," Kirk smiled, "You know, 20th century astronomers and astrophysicists colour coded everything. It kept the public interested if it was three dimensional and nice to look at..." He finished his sentence as his attention was momentarily drawn to the sight of an Ensign from the science team leaning forwards over her console to retrieve a PADD that was just out of reach.

Spock raised an eyebrow and returned to his scanner; he commented dryly, "How little man-kind has changed."

As if in reply the intercom panel by the Captains arm buzzed, "Morning Doctor," Jim smiled as he accepted the call.

"Hi Jim," Came the chirpy reply, "tell Spock I like what he's done with the thing. Very pretty, always knew he was a bit of an artist at heart."

"Doctor, I believe your job was to detect and analyse traces of known and/or potential biological base compounds within the nebula, as far as I am aware this duty does not require access to the forward view screen."

"Aw, and a guy can't take a break to appreciate some fine colouring in? That's definitely one for your Mom's refrigerator door."

"My mother does not own a 'refrigerator'…"

Kirk rolled his eyes, "Was there actually a reason you called, Bones?"

He missed the reply as the ship, which had been skirting the outer edges of the nebular, made a sudden creaking sound and ground to a halt in the cloud of gas.

Now imagine impulse speed if you will; at between stop and warp one impulse speed has a range of zero to 299,792,458 meters per second to play around with, so while comparatively speaking it's not 'fast'…well, you get the point. Now bang on the breaks and cue dramatic bridge crew adjustment.

Sulu, who in Kirks opinion needed a seatbelt and possibly some safety mittens, had been thrown over his station and was sitting on a step cradling his right wrist. The aforementioned Ensign from the science team had gracefully head-butted the red railing behind her station and was lying out cold on the floor.

"What in Holy Hell was that?" came the startled voice over the com – the channel to sickbay was still open.

"When I find out, I'll let you know. Bones; I need a medic on the bridge, now." Kirk snapped off the com link and turned his attentions to his team on the bridge.

Reports soon came flying in from all decks and stations, minimal equipment damage, minor injuries and no apparent explanation for their sudden loss of momentum. While doubtless theories also flew abound as to the nature of their predicament (some more useful that others) there was one thing that James Kirk could be sure of; his CMO would attend the bridge in person. Conveniently tending to the health needs of the crew while fulfilling his role as ship's busy-body and getting the chance to have a look-in at what was really going on. So when, some ten minutes later, McCoy had not yet appeared, concern nagged its way through to the forefront of Jims mind.

"Where the hell is Bones anyway?" he demanded as a worried highland ramble burst forth from his chair's com panel, he waited patiently for it to finish and sighed.

"Translated into Standard Scott?" Kirk fondly chided his chief engineer and waited patiently for a calmer, clearer summary of events.

"It's no good Captain!" Scott explained, "The harder we try to get free, the more dense space becomes, it's like swimming through treacle, which if you ever had it in large enough quantities to consider trying it, would be quite bloody difficult!"

"But possible?" Kirk suggested hopefully.

"I'm sorry Sir; we're as stuck as a gnat in the sap. We're not going anywhere."

"Captain," Spock, who had been in silently analysing sensor data since the incident began suddenly straightened up from his stooped position over his viewing terminal (I'm sure Health and Safety would have something to say about that these days, but hey, this is the 2260's).

"I may have a theory on the nature of our current situation. Presently the ship appears to be in no immediate danger; outer hull pressure is negligible, ships systems appear to be functioning at acceptable proficiency, however, our physical momentum is inversely proportional to the amount of energy we expend trying to achieve it."

He seemed to hesitate for a moment before continuing.

"If sensor readings are correct, this area of space defies all the norms. The solution may be equally unconventional, but I must test my hypothesis before I can be certain of the outcome. Captain, if I may be excused to join Mr Scott in engineering?"

"Off course Mr Spock," Kirk nodded once, "keep me informed."

"I'll put the kettle on for ye Mr Spock," the engineer snorted, "I'm certainly not busy with much else."

As Spock left the bridge he may have noticed a stylus falling to the floor suddenly drift to a halt in mid-air. He may have seen the chronometers back pedalling to 00:00:00. He may have realised that no one moved as the doors of the turbolift swished shut, had he been looking behind him. Instead, a cool creeping intuition struck him as the lift descended; the feeling settled in the pit of his stomach and refused to be dismissed; something was starting to go very wrong.

Please R&R! All feedback welcome :-)