Over the course of six months, the crew of the Odyssey find themselves periodically gripped by strange waves of uncontrollable emotion.
Unbeknownst to each other, each of the crew enjoys a particularly restful sleep with a fantastically hopeful dream. Danasharr, an empath, thinks she senses a “presence” of some kind, but isn’t sure. Thinking little of it, they neglect to tell each other as they meet for a staff meeting. Having learned from R’Kal’s research that they are not likely to escape this region of space any time soon, the senior staff set project goals for the next six months.
As they carry them out, the crew periodically experiences strange episodes of mass hysteria, all simultaneously gripped by the same uncontrollable emotion. First, after narrowly escaping a warp breach caused by an asteroid collision, a percentage of the crew all at once becomes ravenously hungry. Second, during Subcommander R’Kal’s presentation on the vortex, the crew becomes insatiably horny (R’Kal, sweating with excitement, excuses herself to Dr. Gleek’s quarters so he can “swab” her). Finally, while on shore leave to a forested planet that turns into a nocturnal fight with a troop of rotten-fleshed baboon-like creatures, the crew becomes fascinated by bright lights (Ensign Drew Jacob walks right into the campfire). No explanation is forthcoming for these strange emotional outbursts.
Six months after the original senior staff meeting, it is First Contact Day. Coincidentally, the crew happens to make first contact with a new species calling themselves the Hirogen. They invite the crew of the Odyssey to celebrate their meeting with a feast. Arrangements are made to dine aboard the Odyssey.
The Hirogen, led by Juranja, are a reptilian species who live for the hunt. They would have hunted the crew of the Odyssey, in fact, if they had not found this region of space. They came here through a vortex, and at first thought they were lost. Then, they realized they had found what Juranja calls the “Happy Hunting Grounds.” It is a challenging region where the very terrain shifts beneath their feet, populated with the ultimate prey: creatures of pure emotional energy. “You see, the prey we are hunting,” says Juranja, “is fear itself.”
The creatures, which apparently evolved here, travel by becoming “quantum entangled” with objects and others of their kind, so that their positions remain constant relative to each other. When one shifts, disappears, or reappears, so does the other. In this way, they are able to travel the region effectively without losing their way.
Impressed by the Odyssey crew, the Hirogen invite them to compete in a sport of strength and agility called “Battlepool.” Played in zero gravity, players attempt to knock each other unconscious or into one of the arena’s eight corner “pockets.” The senior staff accepts the challenge, and summarily trounces the Hirogen at their own game.
After the match, the Hirogen detect one of the emotional-energy creatures in the vicinity, and immediately excuse themselves to hunt it down.
Not more than a few minutes later, the crew of the Odyssey is gripped by the terrifying feeling of being chased. Hundreds of crew members gathered in the cargo bay for First Contact Day suddenly stampede toward the entrance. Captain Dakra is knocked down and trampled, while the crew goes wild with incurable panic.
The lucky few unaffected, including Dr. Gleek and Counselor Danasharr, take drastic measures to pacify the crew. They release anesthezine gas into the ventilation system to put them all to sleep. The gas doesn’t make it through the biosuit filter of engineer Nal’Khoras, and Dakra is brought round with a hypospray. They both heroically fight through their panic in order to help save the day.
Noticing that the Hirogen ship is chasing the emotional-energy creature at the very same time that the Odyssey crew is feeling chased, they infer a connection. The emotional epidemics of the past six months, including the current panic, must be caused by the creature. It must have been become “quantum entangled” with the crew that first night of pleasant dreams, and thereafter any strong emotion experienced by the creature was also experienced by the crew. The current panic, then, will only end when the creature ceases to be chased by the Hirogen.
Unfortunately, the Hirogen are loathe to call off their hunt. They turn their wrath on the Odyssey when it dares to interfere, and a ship-to-ship firefight ensues. The vessels find themselves evenly matched, and fight down to their last dregs of energy. At last, the Odyssey is forced to withdraw.
Fortunately, the Hirogen find themselves too damaged to pursue. Instead, they send a message: Juranja is dead, and his second officer, who apparently does not share the late leader’s faith in the so-called Happy Hunting Grounds, has taken command. “The next time we meet,” he informs the crew of the Odyssey, “you will be our prey.”
Other Important Developments
The ship’s brig, full to brimming, is emptied out. First, the shark-people are relocated to a watery planet, except for young Plop-grah, who decides to pursue an interest in Starfleet under the tutelage of Corporal Galifianakis. Second, Maximilian, former captain of the Baba Yaga, is weaned off of his all-beet diet and invited to play chess and role-playing games, in an attempt to provide therapy for his madness. Finally, the Romulan scientist R’Kal, who has thus far proven cooperative, is given her own quarters and limited freedom to move about the ship and pursue her research on the vortex.
- The vortex apparently sucks in ships from all over the galaxy, even the Delta Quadrant (from which the Hirogen hail). An exchange of starcharts with the Hirogen confirms this and reveals further astronomical detail.
- It is possible to pass back through the vortex the next time it opens, but it could deposit them virtually anywhere in the galaxy, and any year several centuries backward or forward in time.
- The time-space distortions in this region resemble quantum effects at the macro scale. R’Kal describes the region as “locally ordered, distantly chaotic.”
- According to 21st-century Earth physicist Im Jongwoo, the universe one-quadrillionth of a second after the Big Bang would be “locally ordered, distantly chaotic.” Furthermore, Im predicted that isolated pockets of such incipient spacetime would remain. It appears the Odyssey has fallen into one such pocket. They are not anywhere or any-when. Rather, it is as if they are trapped within that first one-quadrillionth of a second after the Big Bang.