Space Manta

          Frustration permeated the Manta's dim consciousness. It doggedly pursued the food beast that radiated so much energy, knowing that to consume it would satiate its hunger for the next dozen years. The chase continued through the twisting ether, perilously close to the nebula's edge, a classic example of the eternal flight of prey from predator.
          At last, as if sensing the futility of flight, the food beast turned. Warily, the Manta closed on it, ready to deal with the cloud of smaller creatures the food beast had tried to defend itself with earlier. This time the swarm was much smaller, as if the earlier engagement and the subsequent chase had weakened it substantially. This was not unexpected, and was a pattern that had been experienced by the Manta many times before.
This time it would hold nothing back. Over the course of eons, the process of evolution had inflicted its kind with a species of parasite with which it had formed a symbiotic relationship. Normally the parasites fed off of waste the Manta generated. It also helped to cleanse the Manta's body of harmful nebula-born radiation that it could not rid itself of. In times of need, however, the parasites could be induced to help the host kill its prey. How the Manta forced the parasites to attack its prey, it did not know or care. It only mattered that they did so.
          The Manta contorted its body weirdly. With mews of protest, six parasites detached themselves in ragged order from the Manta's underside. They shook their streamlined, torpedo-shaped heads and reflexively searched for the energy signals of the prey. The signals were easy to find. The warp signature of the GVX stood out like a beacon against the background radiation. With ravening eagerness, the parasites oriented themselves, turned, and one by one sped off toward a rendezvous with destruction.
          The manta gave another great shake, a shake that traveled from one wingtip to the other. Dozens of other parasites began to mew in protest. None dropped off. The manta gave another shake, and once again, parasites began detaching themselves from the creature's back, voicing their discomfort with shrieks that the vacuum swallowed soundlessly.
Eagerly, the manta increased its speed. The food beast was almost within killing range. With the unthinking help of the parasites, it would feast well. The parasites would then rejoin the manta for another decade of cruising the nebula.

Bridge, U.S.S. Colin Powell

          "Jones!" Folomar opened the intercom as new blips began to fill the tactical displays. "Analyze and report!"
          "Sir, sensors indicate that we have a new form of life. They are possibly symbiotic in nature. Speed is warp three point two. The new targets are much smaller than the Manta. Other than that, we will need to get closer and use the full capabilities of the lab computers to fully identify their traits and characteristics."
          "Thanks Ed, but we can hazard a guess. Nothing we saw from the first encounter indicates any sort of benevolent intelligence, just one that is unremittingly hostile. I don't think these will prove to be any different. Take over the data readouts for one of the special sensor suites and have Doctor Prouter do the same. Continue to analyze." Folomar flipped the intercom off.
          "The creature is launching more objects, Sir," Lieutenant Garner reported.
          "Carry on." He had a few seconds to decide a course of action. He leaned back in his chair, studying the situation. At the current speed, the "drones" as he thought of them for simplicity's sake, would intercept them before they reached one hundred and 50,000 kilometers from the creature. If he was forced to use his phasers in offensive mode to defend the ship from the drones, the discharge would blind his special sensor array. The encounter could conceivably be over before the sensors came back online, or delayed substantially. He shook his head. Allowing his sensors to be blinded was not an option.
          "Helm, use 50 percent of the reserve warp to accelerate. Plan to tractor the first three creatures." That in itself is a gamble. Perhaps I should launch a salvo of drones as counter drones or use my drone racks in anti-drone mode? He ruminated for a moment. No, I'll need the racks to launch probe drones. I need the information. But what if those things are immune to tractor beams? He pushed the thought out of his head. Very few things in the natural world were immune to being held by tractor beams. But even if they were immune, the first three were spread out enough for him to shoot two of them down after the first one hit, if it came to that.
          The ship bored in. There was a short, high-pitched whine as the ship briefly accelerated, then steadied to a low hum.
          "Captain, more drones are appearing from the target."
          "Thanks, Garner." He turned to the communications officer. "Ross, get Launch Control again and get the other three fighters out. Have them take up station-keeping from the Manta at 200,000 kilometers. After our pass, we'll drag the drones through them and let them shoot them down. Their phasers should be online by that time."
          "Aye, Captain, relaying the information to the Launch Control now." Folomar turned back to face the main view screen. It's a pity that these things aren't coming at us in one big bunch. A simple transporter mine would clear out the whole swarm.
Tractoring the first creature, Captain," Garner said. A blue-white beam licked out from the ship and snared the parasite. Folomar tensed, ready to order a slight turn to bring a side shield into the creature's line of moment in case the thing proved too slippery for the tractor beam, but there was no need. The creature could come no closer.
          "Looks like it's holding, Sir."
          "Continue with the plan, Garner."
          "Aye, aye, Sir."
          Within seconds, two more parasites became unwilling captives to a technological might greater than the capacity of their organic components. Try as they might, they could not get any closer to the food source they so desperately craved.
          "Lieutenant Commander Joprin," Folomar keyed the intercom. "Work with the lab crews and identify all you can on the drones. Specifically, can they be destroyed?"
          "Yes, Sir." The intercom closed.