T'Pol slowly moved down the hydroponics lab. She was checking on the recent acquisitions from the latest planet the ship visited.
This one has improved. Leaning forward, she felt the leathery leaves and tendrils the plant had. Giving it a last look, T'Pol left the lab.
Since the other senior officers were busy that afternoon, T'Pol ate alone in the wardroom. Her mind went back to the planet the new specimens had come from. Besides the amazing quantity of plants, the thing she remembered the most was the extremely high oxygen level the planet had. Nothing that humans couldn't handle. T'Pol was the only one who had a problem with it.
Busy with her other duties; T'Pol didn't have time to get back to hydroponics for a few days. When she did, the new plant was three times the size.
An amazing rate of growth. None of the other examples of this plant on the planet were this big. T'Pol checked the nutrient bath the plant was in, reducing the nitrogen level.
"Ensign, have you noticed the growth rate on 3M-18RX?" She called the crewman over.
"I did, Sub-Commander, and wanted to talk to you about it. Do you think it's normal?" Their conversation turned technical as they discussed why the plant was growing so quickly.
"We will keep track of its growth, and if it continues at this rate, I will mention it to the captain," T'Pol finally said. "None of the other plants from that planet are doing this well; in fact, some of their leaves are burnt. We will have to wait and see."
Moving off, the two women didn't notice the twitching plant or the new set of leaves it pushed out.
Coming around the corner of the hydroponics lab, T'Pol ran into a wall of leathery green leaves. She stepped back, pushing them out of her face. T'Pol was convinced the plant kept moving.
"Sub-Commander? Is that you?" T'Pol heard a voice through the greenery.
"Ensign Stevens? Where are you?"
"Over on the other side, ma'am! The plant has got me, I can't get out!"
T'Pol walked over to the other aisle. Stevens was there, her body held fast by thick vines.
"They just grabbed me, ma'am! Every time I try to move, they tighten!" Terror laced Stevens' voice.
"Do not panic, Ensign, I will get you out." T'Pol took hold of a vine and pulled. The plant pulled back.
Stevens groaned. "They're tightening again!"
"I will have to cut you out, Ensign." T'Pol went over to the propagating table and picked up a knife. She started slicing a vine near the crewman's neck.
A thick sap oozed out, burning T'Pol's hand, and she stepped back, realizing she needed help.
"T'Pol! Where are ya? We're supposed to go to lunch!" T'Pol was strangely relieved to hear Trip's voice.
"Over here, Commander. Ensign Stevens is being held captive by a plant."
"Damn, she sure is!" Trip whistled.
"Perhaps if we work together, we can both free the ensign." As soon as T'Pol and Trip reached for a vine, Stevens was pulled deeper into the mass of vines.
"I think you need more help than I can give you. Tucker to Security! We need some assistance in Hydroponics!"
"What's wrong, Trip, a plant taking over the lab?" T'Pol could hear the laughter in Reed's voice and sniggers in the background.
"Yes, Reed, now get your ass down here! And bring some phasers!"
Trip decided that the captain needed to know about this.
Captain Archer was on the bridge when Trip's voice came over the comm.
"Cap'n, one of the plants we picked up at the last planet has grown t' mammoth size and has a hold of Ensign Stevens. We've tried t' cut her free, but the vines keep tightenin' and they ooze a thick, caustic sap. I've sent for security, but I think you should come down here."
Archer just stared at the comm. "Ha! Good one, Mr. Tucker!! But it sounds too much like a bad B-grade horror movie to be true."
"Cap'n!" There was desperation in his voice now. "This is no joke! I think it's gonna eat Stevens, and it's reachin' for me and T'Pol!" Muffled bangs and curses could be heard in the background. "No disrespect, sir, but your chief engineer and your science officer suggest you get your cheese-lovin' self down here now! Tucker out!!"
"Well! I think I'll go down to Hydroponics. Mayweather, you have the bridge." Archer strolled to the lift.
Archer opened the door to the lab and walked into a war zone. T'Pol, Trip, and three security crewmen were shooting anything green that got near them, while two other security crewmen were tangled up in some vines. Archer saw part of a leg and an arm deeper within the plant that he assumed was crewman Stevens.
"Cap'n!" Trip made his way over to him. "We can't cut the crewmen out with the phasers, there are too many vines. And cutting them only lets more sap ooze out. I think it's toxic." He showed him a nasty burn on his arm.
"Hmm, well, yes, you could be right." Archer edged toward the door. "Well, T'Pol, you're our science officer, you seem to be doing a fine job, I'll leave this in your capable hands." Archer flung himself at the door, barely making it out before a vine grabbed his leg.
T'Pol muttered something Trip hoped was a Vulcan insult, maybe doubting the legal bond between Archer's parents. "It senses fear." T'Pol turned toward Trip who was fighting a losing battle with the questing vines.
"Yes, you're right." Zap! "It got Maris and Francisco first; they screamed like a two dollar hooker when they saw it." Zap! "And of course it got Stevens, everybody knows she scares more easily than even Hoshi." Zap! "And as for the captain --- I'm sure he has a lot on his mind." Zap!
"I believe we should make a strategic retreat. I do not think we can overcome this plant in this manner. Vignerot, Nelson, fall back!" The two security men followed Trip and T'Pol out the door.
"I think the only way to get those crewmen out of there is to use the transporter." Trip leaned against the bulkhead, attempting to catch his breath. Vignerot and Nelson turned white. "I don't wanna start throwin' any firepower at it, tryin' to kill it hit-or-miss, with those three still in there." The humans jumped as a loud bang came from behind the Hydroponics door. T'Pol raised her eyebrow. Nelson backed away, about ready to faint.
"Get a grip, crewman! You're a member of Starfleet, not some pantywaist space marine!!" Trip grabbed him by the collar. "I want you and Vignerot to get the rest of security down here with all the firepower you've got! As soon as -" Trip broke off as the sound of pounding footsteps preceded the actual feet coming around the corner.
"What the ---"
"Where is it? Lemme at it!" Trip rolled his eyes as Reed came running up to him, covered in what looked like half the armory. Trip thought Reed was going to burst a vein. Another bang that dented the Hydroponics door told Reed where his nemesis was.
Reed swung a nasty looking tube covered with fins and antenna up to his shoulder. "All right, men, fire in the hole!"
"Belay that order!" Reed looked at Trip incredulously. "There are still three crewmen in there; we have to get them out first!"
"Casualties of war, Commander!" snarled Reed. "We have to strike hard, strike fast! When the enemy is at your door, Commander (bang!), there is no time to worry about the niceties of rescuing fallen comrades!" Trip heard a muttered "So much for 'Leave No Man Behind'." Reed was working himself up to a fevered pitch before his eyes suddenly turned to the back of his head and he collapsed to the floor. T'Pol stood behind him.
"Lieutenant Reed was getting --- hysterical. I suggest we remove ourselves to the transporter room as soon as possible. Martinez, Howarth, you carry the lieutenant to sickbay." T'Pol started down the hall.
"T'Pol, listen!" Trip ran up to her. "The noises in Hydroponics have stopped. It's probably found the air ducts. We've got to hurry." They both broke in to a run.
Trip and T'Pol skidded to a halt outside the transporter room. At least, Trip skidded. Vulcans, he noticed, apparently don't skid.
Trip went up to the transporter controls, trying to get a lock on the crewmen. "It's gonna be hard, T'Pol. That lab there is filled with bio-signs, and I don't know if I can filter out three humans." Trip shook his head as he tried to get a lock.
"Let me try, I have had more experience with transporter technology." T'Pol played with the settings until a beep indicated a lock. "I am transporting them directly to sickbay." She brought the controls up to begin transport, then opened the comm. "Dr. Phlox, you will soon be receiving three injured crewmen. I suggest you be prepared for more."
"Understood, Sub-Commander, send them over. Although I have my hands full at the moment."
The two officers in the transporter room could hear their captain's hysterics over the comm.
"Tell it I never liked eating my vegetables, never! I was always a beef man, myself; beef and chicken! Maybe a pork chop or two, once in awhile --- Don't let it get me, Doctor, I'm the captain! I'm important! ---" T'Pol cut him off.
"The Captain is obviously incapacitated ("Damn straight" interjected Trip), I will be taking over command." T'Pol finished transporting the crewmen, then turned on the comm. again. "Ensign Sato, inform all crewmembers excluding security that they are to report to the mess hall. --- Ensign Sato?" The only sound coming from the comm was a soft voice singing: "don'twannadiedon'twannadiedon'twannadie". T'Pol turned off the comm. again. "It seems that Ensign Sato is also incapacitated."
"If we could figure out what is making this plant mutate, we might be able to stop it, and regain the ship." Trip looked at T'Pol.
"What was different between the ship and the planet?" T'Pol spoke almost to herself. "The planet had a extremely wide variety of plant life, ---"
"Although I didn't notice a lot of animals when we did our scans." Trip mentioned. "That was kinda weird."
"And the oxygen level was high, but the carbon dioxide level was low ---. Could that be it?" T'Pol asked
"Could what be it?" Trip was confused.
T'Pol turned to him. "In terms you can understand: like on Earth, these plants produce oxygen, which animal life need to breath. Oxygen goes in, carbon dioxide comes out. The plants take in this carbon dioxide, and respire oxygen."
"Plants respire?" Trip muttered.
"Yes, Commander, and with the high levels of carbon dioxide on board, compared to the planet, the plant was able to achieve maximum growth. Especially since we were giving it all the nutrients it needed."
Trip jumped as an air vent cover clattered to the floor. A vine wasn't far behind. He took aim and shot, the vine slithering back into the vent.
"We need to get to a safer place." Trip went out the door, checking for vines. T'Pol followed.
"There has to be something else, though," T'Pol said as Trip led them down the corridor. "The extra carbon dioxide could not have done all this. What else was different about the planet?"
"We had a hard time scanning it when we first arrived. There seemed to be some sort of dampening field around it, remember?" Trip looked at T'Pol.
"That was a natural phenomenon, Commander. It allowed the native life to flourish, without it the radiation from the near by binary star would have sterilized the planet."
Trip stopped dead. "The radiation! Maybe it wouldn't have killed everything! Our shielding isn't quite as strong as the 'field' around the planet. And we've been getting closer to that star to study it." He looked at T'Pol.
"I think the carbon dioxide *and the radiation did this." Trip started them down the hall again.
"There is only one way to find out." T'Pol answered. "We must increase the level of oxygen in the ship and get as far away as we can from the binary. The decrease in its radiation should stop the rapid mutation." T'Pol suddenly put her hand to her forehead.
"T'Pol, what's wrong?"
"I sense something -- the plant -- it has achieved consciousness."
"The damn thing's alive?" Trip looked as if T'Pol had just propositioned him.
"It has always been alive, Commander."
"Can you tell what it wants?"
T'Pol concentrated. "Hunger. Extreme hunger."
"Gawd, it's gonna start in on us if we don't do somethin'! Come on!" Trip ran toward engineering.
Trip worked to raise the oxygen levels on board after setting a heading away from the binary star at warp 3, keeping an eye on T'Pol.
"I don't like the way you look." She seemed to be in some kind of trance. "T'Pol? Are you all right?"
"The plant's consciousness is different than an animal's. I am having a hard time blocking it out." T'Pol started murmuring something that sounded suspiciously like "Feed me."
"If you're channelin' that plant, then I don't think you're in any better shape than the Cap'n to command the ship. Reed's out cold and/or gone postal; it falls to me, then."
"You are correct, Commander. I am weakening. You must assume command."
"We don't know how long it's gonna take before the plant dies, and we need to find out how many of the crew made it to the mess hall. Let's go."
Trip picked up the Vulcan and slung her over his shoulder. "Sorry, T'Pol."
They ran into Mayweather part way to the mess hall. "Commander, we're all going to die! I want my Mommy!" He almost knocked Trip over trying to climb on top of him.
"Not you, too --. Get a grip, Mayweather!" Trip gave him T'Pol's phaser. "Follow me and shoot anything green."
They finally made it to the mess hall where the rest of the crew was waiting.
"Where's Reed? I have a idea on how to get rid of this thing." Trip set T'Pol down and pushed his way through the crowd.
"Can we nuke it? I have some small anti-matter grenades I've developed. Then there's a plasma-neuro-deconstructor rifle, still in the experimental phase, but showing promise, oh yes, great promise ---" Reed continued muttering to himself as Trip cut in.
"We have to get to the bridge. That's where -"
"You can't get to the bridge! That's what I tried to tell you! The plant was everywhere! Hoshi and I barely made it out alive!!" Mayweather was getting frantic. Trip tried T'Pol's neck thing on him, gave up and just popped him one.
"Reed! We're goin' back to engineering!" Trip pushed him out the door.
They had one incident where Trip thought Reed was going to take out both them and the plant and damn the consequences, but they finally made it.
"This is what we're gonna do. If we close these hatches, and open these, we can then open the shuttle bay doors and suck the plant out into space." Trip started flipping switches.
"I can't blow it up? Bugger that for a lark!"
Trip sighed. "I'm still going to need some of your guys to go in with EV suits and magnetic boots to get rid of whatever's left. With those vines, I'm sure there will be a lot remainin' in the ship; hopefully the vacuum will kill it, but I can't be sure. There's gonna be a lot of mop up work, Reed. You can even use the one outside the ship for target practice."
Reed perked up at that. "Right!"
"Get your men in position, and let me know when you're ready."
Snapping to attention (which annoyed Trip to no end), Reed took off, calling for his men.
Trip waited to open the hangar door until Reed came back and said they were ready. A faint whooshing was heard as some of the ship's air was evacuated along with most of the plant.
After ten minutes of Reed fidgeting and stroking his phase rifle, Trip finally gave him some good news. "The plant's bio-signs are almost gone; there's a concentration in Hydroponics area still. I'm going to re-pressurize the ship, you can go join your men and clear out the rest of the ship."
"About bloody time!" Reed made a dash for the door.
"And for Gawd's sake, don't hit anything human! Or Vulcan! Or Denobulan!" Trip yelled after him.
After making sure all the controls were set back to normal, Trip made his way back to the mess hall.
"We've evacuated the plant from the ship. Is everyone all right?"
Phlox looked up from Ensign Stevens. "Everyone is fine, Commander. Or near enough," he muttered, looking over at the captain, who had surrounded himself with a few disgusted-looking burly security men.
"Cap'n, we've gotten rid of the majority of the plant; Reed and a few of his men are mopping up the rest. We should stay here until all of it is gone."
Archer pushed his way past the security men. "Good work Trip, I knew working together we would triumph over that foul creature. Chef! Break out some champagne! A toast to us! The brave crew of the starship Enterprise!"
As the crew congratulated themselves on defeating their horrendous foe, Reed contacted Trip and told him the ship was clear. T'Pol corroborated that there were no more plant bio-signs aboard or outside the ship.
"Okay, everyone, back to work!" Archer exclaimed once he found out. "Don't worry," he said as groans filled the mess hall. "We'll continue this party tonight!"
The crew began to file out amidst cheers and the Academy fight song. Archer, Trip, T'Pol, Mayweather, and Sato stepped onto the bridge where Reed was waiting for them.
"Yes, we fought the good fight, men; and won. This day will go down in the annals as -" Archer's rhetoric cut off as he sat down and finally noticed the twitching vine creeping over the arm of his chair.
Archer jumped two feet straight up and hit the ground running, just making it between the closing lift doors. His screams echoed around the bridge.
Reed sniggered as he picked up the piece of vine he had salvaged and fitted with a vibrating battery pack.
"Nice one, Reed," Trip grinned.
"Bloody ace is what it was," Reed answered back with his own grin.
T'Pol merely raised an eyebrow and went to revive Sato and Mayweather.
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