Chapter 4: In Bed With
What he was reading didn't make any sense. Not because it was in a foreign language; but because nothing seemed to be hitting the Vetara. He flipped the screen back to a shipwide damage control schematic. No damage. Shields were holding at 100%.
The ship rattled one more time before Val started to figure it out. One by one, the multiple dots entered into short range sensors but disappeared as they got closer to the Vetara. Val brought up the visual sensors and magnified the image. It was fuzzy, but he could see that there were two groups of small spacecraft battling nearby and as one was destroyed, the explosion sent out a shockwave which shook the Vetara.
Val wasn't entirely sure what to do. As he watched for a few more minutes, he could tell that one side had superior spacecraft, and the others were barely putting up a fight. In fact, the inferior ships seemed more intent on fleeing the scene.
Soon, he decided to pull the Vetara into the mix to protect the inferior craft. He could be making a mistake. The inferior craft could be full of criminals trying to make an escape. But he wanted to halt the bloodshed. If necessary, he would have the Vetara itself chase down the criminals, as it seemed his ship was capable of speeds well outpacing either of the two groups.
As the Vetara started to maneuver, Val figured out yet another trend. The fleeing spacecraft seemed to have been heading straight for the Vetara. He couldn't tell exactly what that meant, but he thought one possibility was that the fleeing craft were seeking protection from the significantly larger Cardassian warship.
As the distance between the Vetara and the smaller spacecraft diminished, Val received a message, audio only.
"Alien ship, this is an internal matter. Please exclude yourself from the situation."
"May I ask what this is about?" inquired Val.
The comm channel closed. Val brought his ship to an all stop. The visual sensors were able to capture more crisp images of the spacecraft. Val loaded them onto his padd and started a comparison search. The results came back in 5 seconds, and hits came from Neelix's Talaxian database which he shared with Voyager. Both sets of spacecraft were of Krowtonan design. One set were medium corvettes of the high guard. The fleeing set were lightly armed scout fighters.
Val remembered some minor tidbits about the Krowtonan High Guard during Neelix's briefing when Voyager first encountered the Vetara. They were a significant military force spread out through many nearby sectors of space. Val did not wish to make a omnipresent enemy. He decided to stay out of the situation. However, he was slightly saddened as he watched a half dozen scout fighters destroyed at the hands of the slightly larger ships.
Within 15 minutes, three larger ships dropped out of warp. Val identified them as Krowtonan frigates, about one-fourth the size of the Vetara.
They hailed the Vetara.
"Cardassian ship, prepare to be boarded." The channel closed.
"What?" thought Val to himself. He opened a channel to the nearest frigate.
"Alien vessels. I do not understand, we stayed out of your fight."
No response came. Two frigates closed in on the Vetara, one each on the starboard and port sides. The rest of the Krowtonan ships formed a circle around the Vetara and charged their weapons.
Val wanted to put up a fight, but he did some quick math and ran some battle scenarios in his head. So far, all scenarios wound up in the Vetara succumbing in a likely explosion.
Another message came from the alien commander.
"Cardassian vessel, I repeat: lower your shields and release your docking airlocks. Prepare to be boarded."
Val just realized that the aliens did not have beaming technology. They were going to physically board the ship through the airlocks. This gave him a potential leveling of the playing field. The airlocks were extremely narrow. Only one or at best two people could come through at a time. They were natural choke points.
Val gave a quick glance at Staff Sergeant Nathan Driver.
"On it," said the staff sergeant.
Driver tapped his earpiece.
"Matt, you and 2nd squad take the port side."
Sergeant Matthew Raines acknowledged the order as Driver and Sergeant Hall sprinted out of the room, heading for the starboard airlock. Val was all alone on the bridge now. He opened a channel.
"Alien vessels, we will comply with your request."
He lowered the ship's shields, at a painstakingly slow pace. At about 5% every second, it would take 20 seconds for the shields to come down. Then, probably another 20 seconds for the alien ships to maneuver and pull alongside the Vetara and maybe 5 more to create an airtight seal. That was plenty of time for the MARCO squads to take up defensive positions.
Val monitored the situation as the alien ships pulled near. The Cardassian sensors were able to read the life signs aboard the alien frigates. Val could see a cluster of about 15 soldiers in each of the ships' airlocks. This might actually be a fair fight after all. Although, he saw that each ship probably had at least dozens more personnel.
His mind raced while trying to evaluate the situation. What was happening here? Why are the aliens doing this? The short answer, of course, was because they could.
After a second, he realized that if the aliens had wanted to destroy his ship, they could have. There was something on the ship that the aliens wanted. The only answer he could come up with was the beaming technology.
Then, another thought occurred to him. If his MARCO troopers were to be overwhelmed, he could just beam the alien soldiers away. Possibly out into space, thus neutralizing them.
He tapped his own earpiece.
"Kejal, what is the capacity of the Vetara's transporters. How many people can I beam simultaneously?"
"The Vetara has two transporters, each capable of beaming four persons simultaneously."
Val's fingers quickly flew across the computer screen.
"Back away!" screamed Driver.
He wasn't yelling at the intruders. He was yelling orders to his own men. The alien boarding party wasn't going to be as stupid as to walk through a narrow corridor into hostile territory. They threw multiple grenades through the airlock prior to advancing onto the Vetara.
Driver tapped his earpiece.
"Sir! We've got a huge freakin' problem!" he screamed.
"I see that," said Val as calmly as he could. He was watching his screen as a dozen alien soldiers poured onto his ship through each of the docking ports.
"Pull your men behind the emergency thresholds, I'll seal the hallways," said Val.
This wasn't going to be a long-term solution. Sooner or later, the weapons fire from the alien soldiers would take down the forcefields. They had been designed to contain an airleak, not explosive fire. Val started to beam the alien soldiers into space, as his original back-up plan called for.
That wasn't working as well either. Multiple reinforcements poured in from the alien ships. Faster than he could beam them off. The forcefields were now half depleted. Val decided on a hail mary.
"Driver, I'm sending you onto the alien ships."
"I am beaming you and seven of your men onto the ship to our starboard. Straight onto their bridge. You get me control of that bridge!"
The staff sergeant cursed under his breath. Though, a part of him lived for this.
"Before I send you, I'll beam over some cover. I'll gas 'em and beam you over in a 5 second delay."
The alien ship to the port side got lucky. Val's first impulse was to beam a torpedo right onto their bridge. However, he decided against that, seeing as how a ship implosion so close to his own ship might do some serious damage.
"Here we go!" said Val.
The alien soldiers had broken through the forcefields. Val now had a hard decision to make. His MARCO troopers were falling back. A couple were wounded. Two seconds ago, he just beamed Driver and his team onto the alien ship's bridge. Should he reinforce Driver, and weaken his defenses? Driver was going to have his hands full. Val decided the quickest way to resolve this was to send reinforcements. He beamed another 8 troopers to aid Driver.
Immediately, Val opened a channel to the alien vessels.
"I now have control over one your ships and will soon acquire control of the second. Charge down your weapons and recall your boarding teams."
Val wasn't sure how well his bluff would work. Driver did not yet confirm he attained control. He had beamed a few gas canisters and also a few grenades onto the port side ship in order to cause some confusion. But he wasn't going to send any troopers there. His men were stretched too thin.
To his surprise, the alien ships did in fact charge down their weapons. The boarding parties were not recalled, but they stopped firing and held position.
"I've got injured," shouted Sergeant Raines over his mic.
"Who's the medic in your platoon?" asked Val. He hoped he didn't just beam the medic over to the other ship.
"We deployed without one," said Raines slightly frantic. "When we downsized from 3 squads to 2, we lost him. We were told to rely on Voyager's medical personnel if needed."
"Great," Val thought to himself.
"Take them to sickbay. I'll meet you there," said Val.
Val took two semesters of medical science. One involved microscopes. That wasn't going to help him here. He hadn't lost a man under his command before. This was turning out to be one hell of a day.
"Captain!" came two voices simultaneously over his earpiece. They were Kejal and Driver. He guessed Kejal was coming in with a damage report of the ship and Driver was going to give him good news from the alien ship's bridge.
"Driver first, then Kejal," said Val.
"There's something you need to see, sir," said Driver.
"Can it wait?"
"You should beam yourself over here as soon as possible."
"I wish to meet with your men at sickbay, I can help."
"Do it," said Val. He wanted to inquire as to how Kejal could help, but Driver sounded like he had an emergency.
"Raines, meet with Kejal. I'll be off-ship with your platoon sergeant."
Val walked back a few feet to where he had been sitting before. He beamed himself over to the alien ship's bridge.
"Place him over here," said Kejal.
Two injured MARCO troopers entered sickbay helped by their colleagues. They were both shot in the torso. One in her abdomen, the other in his chest. The alien soldiers had good aim, it seems. Though, not good enough to have been aiming for head shots.
Kejal's hands flew over one of the nearby computer consoles.
Another Cardassian hologram materialized.
"Zet, these are Captain Shin's men. They have been gravely injured."
"What happened?" asked Zet in a calm voice. It was an interesting switch from the medical hologram on Voyager, who often began speaking in a more frustrated voice.
"We were boarded," responded Corporal Samantha Logan.
Zet seemed to be a capable medic.
"Attention on deck!" Val heard as he materialized onto the alien ship's bridge.
However, the person who said it was not Sergeant Driver, or any of his marines.
The alien officers stood up straight. They all seemed to be of the same race. Skin was slightly tan. Their knees bent backwards instead of forwards like the humans. Though, their feet faced forwards. They were slightly taller than the average human.
Val understood why Driver had asked him to beam over. The alien who stood in front of what seemed to be the captain's chair wore a unique badge on his chest, in the middle above the sternum. It was a Starfleet combadge.
"There, good as new," said Zet.
Both of the injured MARCOs had been treated and were up and about.
"Thank you, Doctor," said Sergeant Raines.
"Not a problem," he said with a smile.
"My men and I have to return to our post," he told Kejal. "Thank you both."
Kejal nodded and the MARCOs left sickbay. Raines wanted to keep a close eye on his alien guests.
The alien with the combadge approached Val.
"Sir. I am Pow Beeshar. I command this vessel."
The alien extended his hand in a gesture as if he wished to shake hands. Val extended his hand in return. They didn't quite shake hands. The alien's hand grabbed Val's wrist, and Val did the same. He figured it was the Krowtonan handshake. Val would later learn that Pow was the Krowtonan rank that was roughly equivalent to Starfleet lieutenant.
"Please forgive my actions," said Beeshar. "We were not aware that there were additional Starfleet ships in this area of space."
"May I ask which ship you are allied with?" asked Val. He was certain it was not Voyager.
"The Krowtonan High Guard has absorbed the U.S.S. Solstice into our fleet. She is the flagship for this sector. We've just sent a communication and she should be arriving shortly."
A human walked onto the bridge. She wore the uniform of an operations division officer. She was in either security or engineering.
"Captain, allow me to introduce to you Ensign Marlena Gilmore, on loan from the Solstice," said Beeshar as she walked toward the two.
"Sir," she said. The two did not shake hands, she stood at attention.
"You can stand at ease, ensign," said Val.
The two of them talked for a little while. The Solstice was a Nova-class exploration ship that got pulled into the Delta quadrant by the same entity that brought Voyager there. The incident occurred less than a year before Voyager's arrival. Almost immediately, the Solstice got caught in the brewing war between the Kazon and the Krowtonan.
Beeshar interrupted the conversation.
"Captain Shin, I have a matter of urgency."
"If I may, might I request you beam my soldiers back onto my ships?"
Val had forgotten about that whole incident. He had beamed off over a dozen of the boarding soldiers into the space.
"I regret having done that," said Val. "I would not have killed them if I had known."
The alien officer attempted to brush away Val's worries.
"Please, captain, do not be troubled. My boarding parties all wear life sustaining environmental equipment in the event the commander of the ships they board decide to vent the atmosphere in the compartments. My men are alive and well. They are simply floating about in space. It would be good to have them back."
Val nodded. He had Kejal lock onto the alien signals and beam them back onto Beeshar's ship.
"I see," said Val.
He just sat through an hourlong briefing of background information about the Krowtonan High Guard. Up until two years ago, the Krowtonan were the dominant entity of this part of the Delta quadrant. Then, suddenly, some of the outlying colonies started to rebel against the Emperor and things quickly disintegrated within a span of weeks. The contagion spread like wildfire. The various rebellions were crushed, with some arguably heavy-handed tactics. But the rebellions proved to be the distraction that Krowtonan enemies were waiting for. The Kazon and the Vidiians launched simultaneous attacks on multiple fronts against the once unassailable Krowtonan. Since then, there have been advances back and forth. The Vidiians were largely taken out of the picture when a Krowtonan scientist devised a biological agent which brought the Vidiians to the edge of extinction. Less than 10% of their population was immune to the effects. They are now concentrated on rebuilding and have a tentative non-aggression pact with the Krowtonan. The Kazon stand alone as the major enemy, although there are a few much smaller nations which have also joined the fray. At the same time, various rebellions flared up from time to time, and a few flotillas of the Krowtonan Guard have even defected. The regional dukes were attempting to give concessions to their populaces, but some have turned down negotiations for full-blown revolution. Many Krowtonan sectors outside of Krowtona Prime are now at risk of downfall.
A few days after the Solstice started her trip home, she was suffered a heavy assault by ships of a mid-rate Kazon sect. The ship escaped its first encounter with the Kazon, but almost perished in the next. A mere seconds from total destruction, she was saved by a squadron of Krowtonan cruisers. That was the beginning of the budding alliance.
The U.S.S. Solstice arrived two days later. Pow Beehsar and his ship had stayed behind while the others returned to their patrols.
Val was invited onto the Solstice. He brought Sergeant Driver with him. Beeshar escorted them to the Solstice's mess hall.
"Captain, this is the Forward Forces Commander for this theatre of operations," said Beeshar as he introduced a young human officer.
"Max Burke," he said, extending his hand.
"Val Shin." The two of them shook hands.
Burke was slightly taller than Val, and slightly older. Burke was probably in his mid to late 30s. He wore a Starfleet uniform within the red division, same as Val. His rank insignia had changed, Val didn't know what it symbolized.
"I've been reading Beeshar's report on you," said Burke. "Interesting situation we find ourselves in."
The two officers sat down and talked for a while. The Krowtonan Guard did not have any ships of comparable size to the Vetara. They had records of having encountered this ship once, but it was deserted and the Guard was unsuccessful in reactivating it. Beeshar's flotilla captain had believed upon stumbling onto the Vetara that a band of salvage operators had somehow managed to bring it back on line. The Krowtonan Empire was in a state of emergency, and martial law allowed the High Guard to confiscate any spacefaring vessel as long as the owners were fairly compensated. Beeshar had orders to confiscate the Vetara.
"We could use an additional ship," said Burke. "Consider joining us."
Val promised that he would take the offer under advisement.
"How many humans are left onboard?" asked Val. The crew of the Solstice had been augmented with many Krowtonan crewmembers. And some of the original Solstice crew were loaned out to nearby ships. The Chief of Fleet Operations had thought it would help to mix up the crews so they cold learn from each other.
"We have 39 here. 35 have been assigned to other ships or installations. There's actually a planet several sectors from here that has a human colony on it. Not entirely sure how that happened. Apparently, they were taken from Earth in the 1930s and have developed a civilization here in the Delta Quadrant. They number about a hundred thousand. Capital city is called Evansville. I believe their leader is named John Evans. His ancestors founded the colony.
The Solstice only discovered them very recently, but we have been in contact. They aren't a spacefaring race, but they are considering allying themselves with the Krowtonan. A good number of their youth are interested in serving in the Krowtonan High Guard."
Another Starfleet officer walked into the mess hall. He wore a uniform in the operations division.
"Admiral Burke," he said. "Here are reports from some of the Home Guard units. Their commander is holding off requesting reinforcement from High Guard ships, but the situation is fluid."
"Thank you," said Burke and his officer handed him a padd.
"Captain Shin," said Beeshar. "This is Captain Thomas Riker. He commands this ship."
"Good to meet you," said Val.
Thomas Riker was originally the second-in-command onboard the Solstice. He had been seriously injured during the voyage to the delta quadrant. A few days later, Captain Rudolph Ransom would likewise be incapacitated, by a Kazon assault. This left Max Burke as the most senior officer, and he did an admirable job keeping Solstice flying.
When the Solstice entered into their alliance with the Krowtonan, the then Area Commander took a liking to Burke and made him his chief of staff. Ransom resumed his captaincy until the Solstice discovered Evansville. The Krowtonan Emperor decided to make Rudy his liaison with the human colony, and Riker was promoted to captain. Burke was eventually promoted to the Krowtonan equivalent of Vice Admiral and given command over a High Guard fleet. He made the Solstice his flagship.
The Emperor allowed Solstice's beaming technology and replicator technology to be copied only to a handful of his other flagships, whose commanders he trusted were completely loyal to him.
"By any chance, have you detected Voyager? She would make a strong addition to the fleet," said Val.
"Actually, we're avoiding her," said Burke. "I've given standing orders for all elements under my command to steer clear and leave her on her way."
"Why?" asked Val. He was very curious about this.
"Voyager's captain, Jenkins, is it?"
"Right. Captain Janeway has forged various alliances with entities the Krowtonan at currently at war with."
"Really?" asked Val in surprise.
"Yes. The Krowtonan are currently at war with the Haakonian. They are a conglomerate of races, which includes the Talaxians. I believe Janeway allied herself strongly with the Talaxians to defend herself against the Kazon."
"I see…" said Val. Although, in his previous understanding, the Haakonian had conquered Talax, and spread the Talaxian people all across the quadrant. In addition, the distinct Talaxian sects did not always get along with each other. Either way, Val wasn't going to push the issue.
Vice Admiral Maximus Orwell Burke did not explain the whole truth to Val. The Krowtonan Guard was split into two main forces, the Home Guard and the High Guard. One was responsible for maintaining order internally within the Krowtonan kingdoms. The other was responsible for defense against outside forces. Although Burke commanded a High Guard fleet, his ships were often called upon to aid Home Guard units in suppressing various rebellions. This sometimes required very brutal actions, which Burke knew Janeway would not approve of. In fact, Burke wasn't sure how he would keep that information away from Shin. But Burke did not feel as threatened by the young captain. Vetara was nowhere near as advanced a ship and her offensive capabilities were somewhat limited when compared to Voyager. In addition, Shin basically had no crew, and he would not be a threat to Burke even if Shin strongly opposed Burke's actions.
The next day, Val invited Burke to tour the Vetara. Burke took up the offer and found the tour relaxing. Burke was now slightly more interested in taking the ship. He would rather Shin join the Krowtonan voluntarily though.
Riker contacted Burke in the midst of the tour.
"Admiral, the Fearless has dropped out of warp."
"Acknowledged," said Burke.
"His Grace requests permission to board the Vetara," added Riker.
Burke looked at Val. "Do I have permission, captain?" he asked.
"Sure," said Val.
Val and Max entertained Krowtona's First Fleet Lord in the Vetara's mess hall. The nobleman was the third in command of the entire High Guard, after the Emperor himself, and the emperor's son, the Crown Prince.
The three of them got along well. The nobleman was very polite. Very proper. Val would not have guessed he was in charge of combat operations.
The conversation soon turned into business. The lord expressed his annoyance to Burke that the Home Minister was still too frequently resorting to requesting high guard units to perform home guard activities. As a result, his ships were being split in multiple directions. Communications were starting to become a headache because the ships were required to stay in contact with their flagship at all times, but with more far flung missions separating them all, the communications signals were degrading too rapidly.
Burke said he would get some of his engineers to take a look at the problem. The nobleman expressed his frustration that many of his engineers had already looked at ways to boost the signal strength, but could come to no solution.
"You could probably try relay shuttles," suggested Val.
"Pardon?" said the nobleman.
"You mean, have shuttles fly messages back and forth between ships?" asked the amused nobleman.
"Not quite," said Val. "You could use the shuttles as relay stations."
"We use this concept in Starfleet," said Burke. "We have relay stations placed in locations the Federation has deemed as 'crossroads' where ships would have to pass prior to proceeding to their destinations. Since our starbases were often too far from where the starships were heading, communications signals between the two could risk getting lost. So the signals are sent to a way station and then boosted and re-sent. On various exploratory missions, when two ships had to separate far distances, one would leave a shuttle behind and it would function as a temporary relay station."
"Interesting," said the nobleman.
"Since creating the relay stations might take time, you could probably leave a shuttlepod at a convenient middle point. It would be a stopgap before you finish constructing a relay station," said Val
"A station would be a big undertaking. I'm not sure it would be worth the trouble. But this shuttle idea merits consideration." The nobleman was pleased.
"We probably also would no longer need it once that Home Guard gets its act together and no longer requires our assistance," said Burke. "Let's not waste resources building a relay post."
"I have a spare ship in mind you can use," said Burke. "A Starfleet runabout, the U.S.S. Hudson."
"A runabout got brought here?" asked Val.
"Yea. Crew escaped our fate though," said Burke. "The runabout left DS9 and flew into turbulence. Before the Hudson was taken to the delta quadrant, her shields failed and the hull started to fail. The two man crew beamed down to a nearby planet."
"So we have this shuttle positioned in a central location relative to the ship assignments, and it'll help extend the communications ranges of the warships," said the nobleman.
The nobleman nodded his assent, and was quite pleased that a possible solution appeared.
"I'm tempted make you a Rear Admiral like I did for Maximus over here a while back," said the nobleman to Val.
"Thank you, sir. But, I'm fine where I am right now."
Another aspect of the Vetara that Burke found intriguing was Val's crew. He didn't have one. Though, Val seemed to command the loyalty of the two Cardassian holograms onboard. Even more interesting, Val held the loyalty of the two dozen or so marines onboard. Burke never had trouble with the MARCOs, but he knew they tended not to mix well with Starfleet.
After the First Fleet Lord departed, Val continued the ship tour for Burke.
They walked into Cargo Bay 2, which the MARCOs had turned into a firing range.
"Sirs," said Staff Sergeant Driver.
In addition to the usual complement of phaser rifles, Burke was surprised to see a silvery firearm. There were also about a dozen or so black pistols.
"How many MARCOs are onboard?" asked Burke.
"Twenty-seven, including myself," answered Driver.
"May I?" asked Burke, indicating he wanted to hold the firearm.
"Be my guest. Weapon is hot." Burke had never held a projectile firearm before. He had only seen them in history texts, and maybe once in a museum. When the pistol is loaded and ready to fire, it is considered "hot."
"Do all your men carry these?" asked Burke.
"No," said Driver. "The non-coms do." This referred to non-commissioned officers. In the MARCO Corps, non-coms were corporals and sergeants. Commissioned officers were Cornets, Majors, Colonels, and Generals.
"Captain Shin has one as well," commented one of the corporals.
"Do you?" asked Burke.
"A small one. Holds five projectiles. Driver talked me into replicating one for myself."
"Why? What use is this primitive weapon?" Burke asked. "No offense, staff sergeant."
"No offense. These are secondary weapons, for when phasers aren't appropriate."
"You'd be surprised how many planets have electromagnetic quirks which mess with phasers," said Driver. "The back-up sidearm is effective in all environments."
Burke was fascinated. MARCO troops could also be useful to the Krowtonan. Likely, their knowledge and tactics could. At the very least, Burke would keep in mind the concept of projectile weapons if ever encountered with a situation where phasers malfunctioned.
"Are you sure?" asked the young crewman.
"Yes!" said the frustrated emergency medical hologram. In the 5 months that Voyager had been lost in space, Crewman First Class William Telfer visited sickbay at least once a week. He was a classic hypochondriac.
The Doctor was relieved when he was interrupted by a message from Captain Janeway.
"Doctor, please prepare to receive two injured alien life forms."
A few seconds later, two life forms were beamed onto the center biobed. For safety, the Doctor had activated a forcefield over the bed. The two aliens looked similar to giant insects, or perhaps crustaceans. They did not have exoskeletons, though. They had five limbs, one which may have been a tail. The two front limbs each had four finger-like digits. The two non-humanoid aliens were classified as cytoplasmic lifeforms. They are roughly the size of a housecat, perhaps slightly larger.
Captain Janeway walked in a minute later.
"My medical tricorder is basically useless for these particular aliens," reported the Doctor. "I can't really make sense of the scans of the aliens' internal organs and I couldn't guess what is happening. I am fairly certain that the aliens are injured, but I do not know how to go about treating them."
Ensign Harry Kim entered sickbay.
"I've examined the command controls onboard the alien ship," Kim reported to the captain. "It appears the controls take commands through biochemical secretions emanating from the aliens."
Both Kim and Telfer approach the forcefield to get a better look. Telfer's field of expertise is biology, and he thought he could help.
Suddenly, the crew heard screeching. Both aliens somehow leapt off the biobed and flew right through the forcefield. They attached themselves to Kim and Telfer. Ensign Kim struggled strenuously for about 5 seconds before he was subdued. The two aliens pierced the necks of the two humans with a proboscis. A couple of security officers drew their phasers and Janeway nodded for them to fire. But, the Doctor screamed "no!" and explained that the shots might harm the humans but not damage the alien. After all, the aliens were able to jump right through the forcefield. Janeway contacted Lieutenant Torres and orders her to beam the alien creatures back to their ship. However, Torres can no longer get a transporter lock on the aliens.
"The aliens now seem to be interacting with Kim and Telfer's heart and lungs," said the Doctor. "Any attempt to forcefully remove the aliens might result in irreparable damage to the human organs. In order to proceed, I should spend some time studying Voyager's database on exobiology and run some alternate scenarios."
Janeway suggested that the Doctor not only consult the exobiology database, but perhaps create an additional hologram to assist in the medical treatment.
"Ironically, Ensign Kim would have been the best officer for that task," said the Doctor.
"Well, we'll have to improvise," said Janeway with an upbeat attitude. "Have Lieutenants Paris and Torres report to you and see what you guys can come up with."
"Let's say hello," said Val.
The Vetara had been trailing behind Voyager for over 2 months now. Voyager had made a few stops along the way recently, and the Vetara finally had a chance to catch up.
Val dropped his ship out of warp and cruised at half impulse toward Voyager.
Vice Captain Chakotay was on the bridge and received the hail.
"Counselor," said Chakotay. "Welcome back to the fold. Hope your journey has been uneventful."
Voyager had encountered minor threats in the past months, but nothing she couldn't deal with.
"Almost to the point of boredom," Val responded. With a Krowtonan escort the majority of the time, the Vetara made it through without being touched. Only about one and a half weeks ago did the Vetara leave what was Burke's official operational area. However, Val did enjoy Burke's company from time to time. And he enjoyed meeting some of the other minor races which allied themselves with the Krowtonan.
"How is everything on Voyager?" asked Val.
Chakotay explained the recent incident to Val. Kim was incapacitated. Paris and Torres were busy at sickbay helping the Doctor. Captain Janeway had the shift off and was resting in her quarters.
Val said he wished to visit Kim in sickbay and offer his emotional support. He knew Paris was very close friends with Kim and he wanted to help in any way possible.
"Permission to beam aboard Voyager," requested Val.
"Granted," said Chakotay. "You'll arrive in transporter room 2."
"No!" insisted Torres.
"You're kidding me," replied Paris in disbelief.
"This is the appropriate course of action," insisted the Doctor.
"Pick someone else," said Torres.
"He's the most highly qualified expert exobiologist," said the Doctor.
"Then pick the second most. Surely there's more than just one person who has the required qualifications," replied Torres. The individual the Doctor had chosen was a Cardassian surgeon and exobiologist. Being a member of the maquis, Torres had an intense hatred of all Cardassians.
Val walked onto the holodeck. He could tell the others were in the midst of a heated debate, but he didn't know the topic.
"I won't do it," said Torres. "Pick another person."
Val walked over to Paris.
"Hey Tom, I heard the news. Sorry about the predicament. Any progress on running scenarios?"
Paris shook his head.
"Lieutenant. Doctor," said Val, acknowledging the other two officers. Torres nodded her head.
The Doctor wanted to insist. He brought up three personnel files side by side, hoping to convince Torres of the superior qualifications of the Cardassian over the next two closely qualified medical experts.
Val watched the Doctor toggle through the images of the medics on the padd.
"Hey, he looks familiar," said Val casually. Then again, many Cardassians looked alike to him. He gave the image a second look.
"Looks like Zet," he said as an offhand comment.
"Who?" asked Paris.
"Zet. He's one of the holo-programs on my ship. He's some type of scientist. Programmed to catalogue new species in the Gamma Quadrant. He's a good guy."
"Do you mean Crell Moset?" asked the Doctor. "The most renowned and knowledgeable exobiologist in all the Alpha quadrant?" The Doctor said that last part with a hint of disbelief in his voice.
"Uh… I guess," said Val, not entirely sure what the Doctor was all riled up about.
"Do you think you can have his program report to sickbay and assist me?" asked the Doctor.
"Sure. I don't see why not," said Val.
The Doctor actually smiled and seemed satisfied.
"Thank you, Counselor Shin."
Torres was fuming.
"What's wrong with picking this person?" she pointed to an image of a Romulan.
"Come on, Torres," said Paris. "This is Harry's life we're talking about. We should have the best possible person on this."
Torres stormed toward the holodeck's exit.
"Fine, you guys deal with it. I'll be in engineering. Don't contact me!"
"As if we need her anymore," the Doctor retorted, with a hint of annoyance.
"Thank you for coming," said the Doctor.
"Sure," said Zet. "Captain Shin told me he wouldn't order me to help, but why would I not?"
The two doctors started off in a very friendly and cordial exchange, and the Doctor quickly warmed to the Cardassian as they begin discussing Ensign Kim's predicament. They began brainstorming possible courses of action.
In sickbay, Paris watched over Kim. Kim roused into consciousness and thought he was about to die. Paris told him to relax, and said that he'll be up and about in no time.
In the bed next to Kim is Crewman Telfer. His friend, Crewman Tal Celes sat there with him. Although Telfer remained unconscious, Celes held onto his hand and squeezed. Telfer had been instrumental in helping Celes cope with her duties onboard Voyager. During boot camp, she often had to work twice as hard as all the other recruits. She wasn't unintelligent, but she simply wasn't up to the task as a sensor analyst. Telfer had a knack for helping her with her equations, and for explaining things to her in a somewhat more simplified way. Even more importantly, Telfer was her close friend. He seemed to be the only person on the entire crew who didn't view her as intellectually inferior. Or, more precisely, he seemed to be the only person who didn't care.
"We're all a member of the team," he would say. "It doesn't matter if you're not as strong or as smart as everyone else. Nobody survives alone, and no matter what, you are an integral part of the team."
It was a little bit ironic, as the two of them seemed to be the extent of their team. The other members of the crew, while friendly, tended to treat them as misfits.
Although the two of them were close friends, they were not romantically involved. In fact, Telfer often couldn't stop talking about a girl he had been infatuated with back on Earth. Christina something. He was always too shy and never made an attempt to express his feelings to her. But now, after being stranded in the delta quadrant, he made a promise to himself that as soon as he returned home, he would say something. He sometimes asked Tal how he should approach the situation. To some extent, Tal was happy she was able to help him with something. There wasn't going to be anything in the science arena that she could help him with. Tal hoped that Telfer would survive to return home.
As Zet examined the creature which attached itself to Ensign Kim, he mentioned that he would probably be better able to create possible scenarios back at his laboratory on the Vetara. The Doctor agrees. The two of them transfer their programs to the Vetara and create a holo-simulation of the alien on one of Zet's examination tables. As they work, they are both surprised when they hum a song together.
Val Shin and Tom Paris shared a meal in the mess hall. It was a welcome distraction to take Tom's mind off of his friend's predicament.
After the meal, Paris reported to the bridge for his shift.
Before Val returned to his ship, he thought he'd drop by DuPont's quarters just to say hello. She was surprised. She hadn't known that the Vetara met up with Voyager. She was due for her shift at hydroponics, but she decided to fake being sick and called her supervisor on an internal channel. Val thought it was funny that DuPont changed her voice to pretend she was under the weather. Her supervisor said it would be okay and wished her a speedy recovery. After the channel was closed, DuPont smiled a childish smile.
Although many of the Starfleet personnel still had strong reservations about their maquis crewmates, the two groups tried to get along. Eventually, things would be okay. DuPont was popular with maquis crewmembers, but even they didn't completely accept her as one of their own. After all, she wasn't really much of a warrior. She had simply been on Chakotay's ship as a passenger for her travels within the DMZ. Chakotay had been doing a favor for one of his friends in another maquis cell.
DuPont looked forward to spending a day of hookie with an old acquaintance. The two of them talked for close to an hour.
"I should really be getting back to my ship," said Val.
DuPont was a little sad. She had taken her whole day off! Val sensed her emotion.
"Would you like a tour?"
DuPont's face lit up. In general, she wasn't really allowed to leave Voyager. She had no skills necessary on away teams; at least thus far. If a Voyager away team needed legal assistance of some sort, she'd be the perfect candidate. It was ironic that the last thing Val said to her before they last separated was advising her not to take part in away teams.
Of course, word might eventually pass from the transporter chief to DuPont's supervisor that she beamed off the ship while "sick." She would worry about that some other time.
The two of them walked around his ship for a few hours. The MARCOs basically all knew her. Some disliked her immensely, others were closer to indifferent. But they knew she was the captain's personal guest, and they restrained their animosity towards her. After beaming over, she had taken off her maquis rank insignia from her collar in an attempt to lessen the friction, but they knew who she was.
Val was hesitant to take her to engineering. He wasn't sure how DuPont would react to Kejal. But it was a major part of the ship. And Kejal was an important member of his crew.
As the two of them entered engineering, Val was surprised how friendly DuPont was toward the Cardassian.
"Hi!" she said in a friendly tone. "Karen DuPont," she said as she introduced herself.
Kejal spoke shyly. "Kejal. I am this ship's caretaker. I am a repair technician."
"Nice to meet you, repair technician Kejal," DuPont said with a smile. She was glad that at least one member of Val's crew did not dislike her.
Kejal smiled back. Something about DuPont intrigued her.
Val wasn't sure if he was more relieved by the fact that Kejal and DuPont got along or that Kejal didn't introduce herself as the captain's consort.
The three of them hung out in engineering for a few minutes while a couple of MARCO troopers stood guard.
Their next stop was Zet's lab. Usually, Zet was inactive, but Val knew he and the Doctor were working there right now and Val wanted to see if they were making progress.
As the two of them walked into the lab, they watched the two doctors conferring excitedly.
"My captain," said Zet when he noticed the new arrivals. Zet seemed to always address Val as "my captain" instead of just "captain." It was an interesting quirk.
"How's it going?" asked Val.
"We are making fantastic progress," said Zet.
DuPont saw that the two doctors had performed surgery and opened up the alien to expose its internal organs. She turned away. It was not a pleasant sight to behold.
"I think we're near a solution," added the Doctor.
"Wonderful," said Val with a smile. He was hopeful that Harry Kim and William Telfer would make full recoveries.
The young ensign shrieked in horror. He had twisted his wrist and reported to sickbay for treatment. Once there, he caught a glimpse of Zet and screamed that he was a mass murderer who killed scores of Bajorans. The young ensign lunged at Zet and had to be held back by Paris and a security officer.
The Doctor was taken aback.
The young ensign, a maquis officer named Tabor, screamed that Crell Moset killed his grandfather, and many other Bajorans at his hospital on Bajor. Paris suggested that Zet return to the Vetara until the situation simmered down. Zet agreed.
Chakotay soon arrived at sickbay and asked for an explanation. The maquis ensign explains that the Doctor's new colleague is Crell Moset, and went on to list several alleged atrocities the Cardassian performed in the name of medical science while stationed on Bajor. The Doctor countered that Crell Moset actually found a cure for a virus which would have kill hundreds of thousands of Bajorans. The maquis ensign explained that Moset only found the cure after having experimented on hundreds of Bajorans by deliberately infecting them with the virus and then using trial and error to figure out a solution.
After leaving sickbay, Chakotay and Tuvok looked through the ship's database for information regarding Crell Moset. Chakotay recalled hearing of a Cardassian doctor who performed cruel experiments on Bajor, but was not entirely sure whether they were simply rumors. They find some evidence that Moset may have intentionally infected some of the patients at his hospital in order to find a cure. Chakotay reports this to Captain Janeway.
Val and DuPont shared a meal in his spacious gul's quarters. DuPont was impressed. Her quarters were significantly smaller. In addition, she had to share hers with another maquis crewmember!
On the kitchen counter, DuPont saw that Val had a red box with a cartoon leprechaun on it.
"Magically delicious, eh?" she teased him. It was the catchphrase of the ancient cereal called Lucky Charms. Of course, Val didn't feel embarrassed. He loved that stuff. And, if DuPont didn't also, she would have never known the motto. To Val's credit, he limited his intake of that particular cereal to one time a week. He hadn't replicated a new box in over a month.
Val heard his combadge chirp and gave it a tap.
"Counselor Shin, please report to Voyager's briefing room."
"Uh Oh," said DuPont.
"This better not be about me kidnapping a sick Voyager crewmember," he joked.
Val arrived in the briefing room 10 minutes later.
"Getting our crewmembers to cut out of their shifts nowadays?" joked Paris.
"She was sick. She has a doctor's note," retorted Val, also jokingly.
"I didn't write her a note," said the Doctor, visibly annoyed.
"Mine did," said Val matter-of-factly.
The Doctor was often annoyed, but this time, much more so. He couldn't believe that the two most childish Starfleet officers he had ever met in his existence were now joking around during a conference meeting regarding such a serious topic.
"Stop it, both of you," said Janeway, also visibly annoyed.
"Counselor Shin," said Chakotay. "Your doctor is exactly the reason we have called this meeting."
Also in the room were Lieutenant Tuvok and Ensign Tabor.
"Right, I think the two doctors were on the verge of finding a solution. Is everything okay?"
"Not quite, there has been a… complication," said Tuvok.
Tuvok announced his findings from the database search he and Chakotay performed. Val looked a little perplexed. He didn't fully understand what they were discussing and zoned out. It was a never-ending lecture involving a bunch of medical mumbo jumbo about the science of infections and vaccines and enzymes and cures. He was, of course, distracted by something Kejal whispered to him in privacy before he beamed onboard Voyager. She mentioned to him that Karen DuPont bore a striking resemblance to a certain Orion female. Val had countered that the two women were different heights, had different hair color, eye color, and oh, different color over their entire bodies. However, Kejal insisted that their facial features held some similarities. Val never saw that, but he was beginning to question himself.
"Wait. Wrap this up for me. Did you guys find a solution?" asked Val, directed at the Doctor.
"I think so… but…"
"Okay, let's go do it," Val said casually. He got off his seat as if to walk out, probably heading toward sickbay.
"Your doctor kills people," said Tabor.
"Yea, right," said Val dismissively.
The infuriated ensign lunged wildly at Val. Val deftly stepped aside. To add an exclamation point to show that he was not to be trifled with, Val used the young ensign's momentum against him, and slammed his face onto the conference table. Tabor's nose was broken and was he was lying on the floor, bleeding profusely. Val may have been distracted during Tuvok's lecture, but his survival instincts had kicked into gear.
Val knelt down. "Are we done?" he asked.
Tabor tried to get up swiftly in defiance, but Val gently pushed him back onto the ground.
"Are. We. Done?" he asked patiently.
Tabor gritted his teeth, but nodded his assent.
Val turned his back to Tabor and pretended to look away. In fact, he was waiting for Tabor to do something foolish and give him a reason to break a few more bones.
Tabor did not disappoint. He sprung back up, but Chakotay saw the situation unfolding in front of him and gently pushed Tabor off balance. Chakotay gave him a stern look, as if silently saying "back down." Val was surprised by that turn of events.
Tabor was dismissed.
"Counselor, please be seated," insisted Captain Janeway. "What are your thoughts about what Tuvok just uncovered?"
"Frankly, I have no thoughts."
"How could you not have any thoughts!" yelled the Doctor angrily.
"Because I have no idea what he was talking about," admitted Val. "Look, I have like a hundred things on my mind right now. Can you just fast-forward through the science and tell me if you guys found a solution? Because I really don't need to know the details here. Fix the problem." Val was a combination of tired and angry.
"The details are why we are here, counselor," said Janeway, exasperated.
"Okay, fine," said Val as he resigned to being bored to tears. "Please continue."
Tuvok could also see that Val was distracted. He didn't know from what, but he surmised that there was some tension from Val's MARCO troops when he brought a maquis crewmember to visit.
"Long story short, counselor," said Tuvok. "Crell Moset stands accused of multiple atrocities."
"Who?" asked Val absent-mindedly.
"Your doctor!" said the EMH.
"Zet? Wait, I don't get this, what did he do again?"
Tuvok explained that Crell Moset seems to have experimented on many of his patients on Bajor.
"Wait, wait. Rewind this for me. What's this all about? Some Cardassian named Crell Moset?"
"And this all matters because?"
"Because there are medical ethics involved," said the Doctor. "I want to save Kim and Telfer, but doing so would validate Crell Moset and his methods. How can I allow someone who gained his knowledge though cruel experiments to help me? Crell Moset is a monster."
"You realize the person you are referring to is not actually my doctor, right?" asked Val in puzzlement. "I mean, the real Crell Moset is probably in the alpha quadrant somewhere, sipping on a bottle of canar, or whatever it is that Cardassians drink."
The Doctor slid a padd in front of Val with an image of Crell Moset. "Is that your doctor?"
"Are you Lewis Zimmerman?" asked Val. "Because you look like him."
Janeway was not amused.
"Look. My doctor bears the appearance of Crell Moset. But they're not the same. You aren't Zimmerman, my man isn't Moset. Does that sound rational to you?"
In his annoyance at the whole discovery of Crell Moset's past, the Doctor had not thought about the fact that Zet was a hologram.
"Your doctor gained his extensive medical knowledge through cruel experimentation!"
"Doubtful," said Val.
"It's in the database."
"When did this whole Bajor thing happen?" asked Val.
Tuvok gave a short explanation of the timeline.
"Then Zet wasn't involved."
"We know your hologram wasn't directly involved. But his program is based on the person who was. And his knowledge derives from that person."
"No, you don't get it. Zet is the functional equivalent of a fresh-faced med school grad. He was modeled after Crell Moset as he was in his mid-20s, or however old Cardassians are when they finish their schooling. The Moset on Bajor was probably a much more accomplished individual and older. Zet would have none of those experiences."
"Why?" asked the Doctor. He himself was programmed with the experiences of several Starfleet doctors.
"Because Moset worked on highly classified medical projects. His experiences after graduating medical school could not be replicated without also replicating heavily classified information. The Obsidian Order was not interested in creating a possible copy of such information that could fall into enemy hands, in the Gamma quadrant, no less."
Val was glad that his answer seemed satisfactory. Voyager's bridge staff was riled up over nothing.
"We have a potential secondary problem," said Janeway. Word of Moset had spread across the ship. The maquis among the crew were bound to revolt if they knew Moset was involved in a medical procedure.
"But we just went through this whole thing, Zet is not the same person and has derived no knowledge from cruel experiments," said Paris.
"It won't matter to the maquis. The perception will be that Moset helped. Perhaps not from knowledge stemming from his research on Bajor. But Zet arguably contains the personality of Moset. That will not go over smoothly with many maquis members," said Chakotay. He wished it weren't so. He didn't want to watch two crewmembers die over this.
Paris was angry. "So we're just going to let Harry die! Let's just shun the evil hologram and forget that he can save two people's lives."
"You're not the only one who cares about people's lives," said Janeway. She cared about each and every member of her crew, but also had a special interest in Ensign Kim. She was especially protective of him because he was the youngest of her bridge officers.
"Is there another way?" asked Chakotay. "You already know what Zet was planning. You don't really need him."
"It would be preferable to have him," said the Doctor reluctantly. "We have two different personalities. I play it relatively safe. He pushes the envelope. As we were running scenarios at his lab on the Vetara, he instinctively performed actions which I would not have."
"That is exactly why he should not be allowed," said Chakotay. "Even if he is a young version of Moset, he carries his personality. A personality which would perform unethical and cruel experiments on people. He should be tried as a criminal."
"You're joking," said Val.
"Are we seriously still arguing over this?" screamed a distraught Paris.
"Now you're getting it in stereo!" said Val, referring to the fact that Janeway was now getting it from Val on her left and Paris from her right.
"There's legal basis for it," said Tuvok.
"You want to charge a hologram? With a crime? A crime he didn't even do?" said Val disbelievingly.
"I'll write up the charges," said Chakotay defiantly.
"You're ridiculous, Chakotay," said Val, repeating the insult he often heard from his MARCOs about the maquis commander. "Forgive the lawyer geek side of me coming out, but even if it were the real flesh and blood Crell Moset sitting on my ship, you wouldn't lay hand on him. Off the bat, you lack both in personam jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction. He's a Cardassian on a Cardassian ship. The events you elude to happened outside of Federation territory. What exactly is your jurisdiction here? That you can just do whatever you want?"
A Starfleet ensign entered the briefing room from the bridge.
"I apologize for the intrusion," she said. "Captain Shin, you have an urgent message from your security chief."
Val turned around and said "Thank you, ensign." He was much calmer now.
"Please pardon me," said Val to Janeway. She gestured that it was okay.
Val placed in his earpiece.
"Go ahead, Driver."
"Sir, we just received a message over emergency channel 16. FOF ident squawked as KHG. Message is as follows: monitoring your situation. Detected a squadron of 4 possible hostile contacts heading to your location at high rate of speed. Weapons charged. Configuration matches the ship which recently imploded off Voyager's port bow. No High Guard units near your location. Proceed with caution. Message ends."
"Thank you, staff sergeant." Val pulled his earpiece out.
"We've got company," he told Janeway.
"Nothing on long-range sensors," he said, after double checking.
"Fine," said Val. "With your permission, I'd like to return to my ship. I'll check to see if we're chasing sensor shadows. But I have to prepare my ship for combat. In the event you make the decision to go ahead with the medical procedure and you would like Zet's help, please let me know."
Janeway granted permission, and Val walked out of the room.
"Can you do this without the Cardassian doctor?" Janeway asked her EMH.
"Maybe," he said.
Janeway announced her final decision: Voyager cannot afford to lose her operations officer while lost and alone in the Delta quadrant. If the Doctor cannot save Ensign Kim without Zet's help, then he will get Zet's help. She takes full responsibility for any consequences of her decision.
Val returned to his ship and started researching Vetara's scans of the alien ship taken before it imploded. He calculated that the likelihood was Voyager could fend off four of those ships if necessary.
That was one less thing to think about.
Val walked down to Zet's lab.
"My captain," he said as Val entered. "Have your friends been treated?"
"Not yet,' said Val. "Listen. Voyager's doctor might ask you to assist in surgery."
"I would be delighted to help," he said in a cheerful mood.
"I'm not allowing it," said Val.
"Janeway is going to have a revolt on her hands if she allows you to assist in the surgery. Her maquis crewmembers and perhaps even the handful of Bajoran Starfleet crew will take this the wrong way. You will probably also be in great peril."
"I see… But, your friend Harry might perish."
Val knew the consequences.
"Counselor, please have your doctor report to my sickbay," said Janeway over the intership comm system.
"I apologize, captain. But I'm afraid I can't allow that. Your doctor will have to perform this operation alone."
"Come again?" said Janeway impatiently.
"This is for the best. You'll avoid a revolt on your ship."
"I can take care of myself. I need my operations officer up and about."
"No," said Val.
"Don't be fooled by those extra pips your friend DuPont gave you," said a frustrated Janeway. "We are not equals. I am giving you a direct order. Have your doctor report to my sickbay. Now."
"I can't order him to do anything," Val lied. "I'm a Starfleet officer, he's a Cardassian. There's no chain of command here." He had never disclosed the whole nonsense about the Cardassians thinking he was with the Bureau and how he actually was the commander of the ship and had authority over both Kejal and Zet.
"I have watched you two interact," said Janeway. "He defers to you. He would most certainly acquiesce to your request."
"That may be so, but I can't ask him to commit suicide. Once he's onboard, your people will try to destroy his program. Even disregarding the tiny inconvenience that I would be left without a medic, how is that fair to Zet?"
"I'll have him protected," said Janeway. This had the potential to lead to a strong internal rift onboard Voyager. Val saw that as well.
Val relented. "That's not necessary." Val didn't want to have Voyager crewmembers fight amongst each other. "I'll have him protected."
Val said that he would convince Zet to perform the surgery on Voyager with tight restrictions. Janeway would have to power down her transporters from the bridge and lock them out with her personal command code. Val would station a dozen MARCOs outside of sickbay and in the surrounding corridors. None of Janeway's security would have to get involved in Zet's protection detail. Janeway agreed and gave her word that nobody would hassle the two doctors.
"If anyone approaches, take them down," said Staff Sergeant Driver.
"Deadly force has been authorized?" asked Rodriguez.
"Let's not get carried away," said Driver. "Just take them down."
"Fire team Bravo, clear," said Corporal Santiago.
"Fire team Charlie, secure," said Corporal Rodriguez, from inside sickbay.
"Staff sergeant, I have two subjects approaching," said Corporal Logan.
Fire team Adam brought their rifles at the ready. "Halt!" yelled Private McCarter.
Two Starfleet crewmembers stopped in their tracks, and kept their hands in front of them, palms up to show they were not a threat.
"Corporal," said Ensign Samantha Wildman, addressing Logan. "I am hoping you will make one exception."
Coincidentally, Logan and Wildman both had the same first name. Wildman was the head of Voyager's biology division. She was Crewman William Telfer's immediate supervisor. She had brought with her Crewman Celes. Wildman pulled Logan aside and explained to her that Celes was Telfer's best friend. To her knowledge, the two were extremely close, and had no friendships among the rest of the crew. Celes would be devastated if Telfer were to pass. She knew there was high risk of that. In the upcoming operation, if the doctors made a wrong call, the alien life form might decide to kill its host before dying itself. Celes would want to be there.
"This is highly unusual. She should wait with Mr. Paris," responded Logan. Paris was sitting in an adjacent room, with an Ensign Delaney comforting him as he waited for word.
"Please," said Celes.
If this were some ploy, it was a strong one, thought Logan. Celes was clearly distraught.
"I'm sorry," said Logan. "Captain's orders."
"I can get Janeway to change her mind," insisted Wildman.
"Not your captain. My captain," said Logan.
"Please, you must let me convince your captain," said Wildman.
Logan didn't like this situation. She felt sympathy, but this could prove dangerous. She held up a small device and told Celes to stand still. Logan snapped an image of Celes and reported to her captain.
"How do you feel?" asked Val.
"I think we'll succeed," said a confident Zet.
"Okay, Janeway has locked out her transporters, the MARCOs have secured the perimeter. You should be good to go."
"Thank you, captain."
Before Val could transfer Zet's program, a chirp came through his earpiece.
"Sir, it's Corporal Logan. I have a request for permission to join one of the patients inside."
"Denied," said Val.
"I think you should consider the request," said Logan. She was a tough marine, but she felt for Celes. "I am uploading you an image of the requestee."
Val grabbed his personal display device from his right side cargo pocket.
The image gave him concern. He could see she was crying, but he could also see a fact which Logan was about to relay to him.
"She's Bajora," Logan said.
This was a complication. Val didn't like to judge people by that type of thing, but there was no dismissing that the two ethnicities had deep-rooted hatreds. It would throw a volatile element into the mix. Logan explained the situation regarding Telfer.
"Let me speak with her," said Val.
Logan pulled out her earpiece and handed it to a sobbing Celes.
"Crewman, do you realize who will be performing the operations?" asked Val.
"It doesn't matter to me that the surgeon is a Cardassian hologram," said a tearful Celes. "I just care about Billy making it through this. I want to be there when he awakes. Or, if he passes. I don't want him to be alone."
The crewman sounded sincere enough to Val. He hated these types of decisions. Why is it that things always had to go as least smoothly as possible?
Val asked Celes to hand the earpiece back to Logan.
"Logan, do you have any restraints on you?"
"Yes, sir. Plasti-cuffs."
"Restrain the crewman," he said reluctantly. "Then escort her into sickbay. Keep her under your watch."
"Aye, sir." She tapped her earpiece to close the channel.
"I can let you in," said Logan.
Celes' face beamed even though she was still crying.
"But… I have to keep you restrained. I'm sorry, it's the best I could do." Logan brought out a pair of plastic ties from one of her pockets.
Celes was willing. She turned around and voluntarily placed her hands behind her back. She nodded to Ensign Wildman to let her know it was okay and that Wildman could go. After Wildman left, Logan grabbed Celes' right wrist and put on a restraint. Logan pulled the hand in front of Celes and tied her other hand. Logan thought it would be more proper if Celes had her hands in front of her. It would be exponentially more dangerous, though.
"I hope I won't regret this," said Logan. Celes shook her head no. The two of them headed into sickbay, where Rodriguez and three others were standing guard. Celes took a seat next to her friend's biobed.
Val beamed over a replacement for Logan.
The surgery was a success. Both aliens were extracted from Kim and Telfer. An hour or so later, the 4 alien ships had arrived and Janeway was able to beam the two aliens to one of their ships. The aliens were still injured, but the Doctor had found a way to stabilize the aliens' condition.
Val walked into Zet's lab.
"Congratulations are in order," said Val. "Thanks for your good work."
"Thank you, my captain," said Zet. He wasn't smiling as his captain was. Val could see something was disturbing him.
"You okay?" Val asked.
"I've been thinking… Perhaps the concerns that some Voyager officers had over my personality were valid."
"Nonsense," said Val. "You saved two of their crew members. I'm sure they are grateful."
Indeed, both Kim and Telfer were grateful. Paris was quite relieved. Even Celes exhibited gratefulness that her best friend Telfer was saved. Zet did not expect the last one.
"While we were performing surgery, I almost killed one of the aliens," admitted Zet.
"But you didn't. Things turned out fine."
"Only because Voyager's doctor intervened and showed me a secondary spinal nerve bundle as a location where I could apply a neurostatic shock. Otherwise, I would have continued my previous course and perhaps affected permanent brain damage to the aliens."
"Well, you thought you had to. You thought it was either kill the alien, or allow the alien to kill Ensign Kim. You can't second guess things like this," insisted Val.
Zet thought about it for a moment. He was saddened that he couldn't see a better solution. One which created a more optimal outcome. He wondered if his personality was defective in some way.
"My captain," said Zet. "Although I am not Crell Moset, I do contain many of his memories in addition to his personality. I've never respected the field of psychology, and avoided it basically throughout most of my studies. However, during my second-to-last year, I had to take a psych class as a graduation requirement from medical school."
"That sounds about right," said Val.
"I had always known I was slightly different from others. I felt less empathy, had less understanding of emotions. I had always thought that I was just tougher than most people. That my peers were soft. However, after the psychology class, I was able to diagnose myself with a condition. I am a high functioning mild autistic. I believe humans call it Asperger's syndrome. I can hide it relatively well, but it is who I am."
Val had studied Asperger's syndrome briefly in law school. There were debates about whether such a syndrome could render a patient unfit to stand trial. The lack of demonstrated empathy was perhaps the most dysfunctional aspect of the syndrome. Though, Val didn't think this was true of Zet. He had displayed some level of empathy on several occasions. Val tried to think back, and remembered that unlike a typical autistic, an Asperger's patient did not usually withdraw from others. While they often failed to develop friendships, the patients would awkwardly approach others. Linguistic and cognitive abilities of the patients appeared untouched, and many were often quite bright.
"My captain, I believe I may be a burden for you."
"Nonsense," said Val. "You're an asset. You've helped several of my MARCOs when they were injured. You saved two people's lives today for cryin' out loud. Don't be so down on yourself."
"I could have killed them," said Zet. "There's no telling what could have happened if I went ahead and killed the aliens. They could have killed their hosts in retaliation."
"Look, what happened has happened. We move on. You'll learn from this."
"No, my captain. I do not believe I will. Voyager's Doctor was right, I have unethical personality. Asperger's syndrome makes me a potential liability. I have potential to do great harm. You should not activate me to treat any of your men anymore. Please only use me to catalogue new species, as was my original function."
"Zet. The fact that you would even question yourself proves that you aren't unethical. Crazy people don't wonder whether they're crazy, they think they're perfectly normal. Some of Earth's greatest people were mildly autistic. Artists, detectives. You have skills that can benefit my crew."
"I have potential to do great harm," repeated Zet.
Val thought about it for a minute. Aside from hoping Zet would stay on as the ship's doctor, he truly believed this hologram was being too harsh on himself. While Val knew of Crell Moset's reputation, this hologram did not actually do any of those things.
"You know," said Val. "A lot of people say the same thing about lawyers. The more brilliant they are, the more potential they have to destroy things. Here's the silver lining: your fate isn't written. You choose how to harness your gifts. A professor once compared lawyers to fires. Fires give you light in the darkness, give you warmth in the cold. But they can burn your entire house down if uncontrolled. So, learn to control yourself. You know your weakness, try to adapt."
Zet thought about it for a second, but responded "I don't think I can adapt."
"Well, you haven't tried," said Val. He started walking out of Zet's lab.
"You won't deactivate me?" he asked.
"I think you should have some time to think this through. Work it out. I'll come back in a few days."
Val had been requested to join Sergeant Driver in one of the Vetara's cargo holds.
As Val walked in, he saw a bunch of marines stand over the prone bodies of three people dressed in Starfleet uniforms. They had been beaten into a bloody pulp. Even the small-sized Coporal Logan, who was barely over 5 feet fall, had pummeled one of the intruders into a bloody mess.
"We found this with them," said Corporal Logan. She showed Val two large duffle bags, full of explosives.
"They would have vaporized a fifth of the ship if they had gone off. The hull would've been breached," added Pfc McCarter.
It had been three days since Kim and Telfer were successfully treated and sent to their quarters to recuperate. Voyager was about to speed off at high warp and let Vetara follow. It appears three members of the maquis wanted to strike before the two ships separated.
A little before 0600 hours, Corporal Logan and her fire team performed their regular checks of the ship's cargo holds. It wasn't really essential, it was just a routine to keep the MARCOs busy doing something. Logan was lucky. As the team was in the cargo hold, they watched as the three maquis beamed into the center of the room. Logan and her men took quick action and subdued the intruders immediately. She advised Sergeant Driver, who brought the ship's shields up and activated his entire platoon to sweep the entire ship for any additional intruders. Internal sensors showed nothing, but he wanted to be sure.
Corporal Rodriguez' team arrived at the cargo hold as back up. Then McCarter discovered the explosives in the bags. When the MARCOs realized what the maquis just attempted, they beat the traitors to within an inch of their lives.
Val couldn't believe the situation. He was furious. He spotted someone he recognized as one of the three. It was the one named Tabor who tried to assault him in the conference room when the whole controversy began.
"You've got to be kidding me," Val said. He picked up the young maquis ensign and slammed him against a wall.
"Are you kidding me!?!" Val screamed, and threw him at another wall.
Val approached him, and punched him right in the gut. The ensign keeled over. Blood dripped from his mouth. He was gasping for air.
"Leave him alone," gasped one of the others who was laying on the ground. It was a human crewman who appeared to slightly older than the ensign. "It was all my idea. I acted alone. The other two were trying to stop me."
Obviously, that was a lie. All three were in it together.
Val knelt down to the one who spoke.
"And why would you do such a thing?" asked Val.
"Because…. Because Crell Moset killed my grandfather. I watched it happen," said the maquis lying on the ground.
"Well, that's an interesting story," said Val. "It's the same thing your friend over there told me a few days ago. I brushed it off at first, but now I'm wondering whether they just brainwash all you recruits at the terror training camps with these stories. Let's see how deep these false memories go. Tell me, what month did your grandfather die?"
"How was the weather? Was it raining? Sunny?"
"What did it smell like?"
"You see," said Val. "These little minor details are something that would be etched into your memory during something like, say, witnessing the murder of a loved one."
"Fine," said the human maquis crewman. "It didn't happen to me. But it happened to him. He said it did and I believe him."
"This will never be done," said Sergeant Raines. "We have to execute them."
"Matt!" said Staff Sergeant Driver.
"Sir, Sergeant Raines is right," insisted Corporal Rodriguez. "The maquis said so themselves. They'll never stop until they destroy our ship."
Corporals Logan, Rodriguez, and Morris all drew their pistols, and aimed right at the foreheads of the maquis.
Val didn't want this, but he did want to end it once and for all.
"Permission to fire," asked Rodriguez.
Val was silent.
"Permission to fire," repeated Rodriguez.
Driver walked up to Val and whispered in his ear.
"If you're going to do this sir, you better be sure. You can't unkill someone."
"Would you do it?" asked Val. Driver was the more experienced combat veteran. He was in charge of security. His views were important to Val.
"Hell yea I would," said Driver with a low voice but resolutely. "But I'm not the captain of this ship. You are."
These three were enemy saboteurs. Punishable by death on the high seas, if a vessel captain was convinced of guilt. That concept extended into deep space if remote enough from a proper prosecuting authority. Val thought the delta quadrant counted.
"Sidearm," said Val.
Driver handed Val his nickel-plated sidearm. It contained 9 bullets. Val chambered a round. He aimed the pistol at the maquis ensign's head, and squeezed the trigger.
Captain Kathryn Janeway was reviewing a few personnel files with her vice captain.
"It appears William Telfer is no longer a hypochondriac," said Janeway.
"Good," said Chakotay. "Maybe I can finally put him on an away mission." As vice captain, Chakotay was responsible for creating the crew rosters for away missions. Telfer had always ducked out from his responsibilities.
"Regarding Celes, I think we need to rotate her out of her analyst position. She doesn't seem fit for it."
"I agree. We'll see if we can find something else for her. But I'm afraid we're stretched pretty thin and we probably need her where she is."
"Think she can keep up?" asked Janeway.
"We'll have to make do with what resources we have," said Chakotay.
Janeway was interrupted by an incoming communication.
"Doctor to the captain."
"Three injured maquis crewmembers were just beamed into sickbay."
"From where?" asked Chakotay.
"I'd venture a guess and say the Vetara."
"But computer records show nobody left the ship," said Chakotay.
"These maquis crewmembers don't have their combadges. They probably took them off to fool the internal sensors."
"What were they doing on the Vetara?" asked Janeway.
"Judging by their injuries, they were being used as punching bags."
"Janeway to the bridge. Tuvok, get me Counselor Shin on the line."
"Captain," said Tuvok. "The Vetara just jumped into warp 20 seconds ago."
"Track them and engage a pursuit course."
"Aye, captain," said Paris.
"You have a private message from Captain Shin," said Tuvok.
Janeway viewed the message in her office.
"Your men just tried to bomb my ship," said the image of Val.
Janeway was shocked.
"Normally, this would call for capital punishment. They had the intention to kill many. They were unremorseful after being caught. And they said they would attempt again if given another chance. I leave their punishment in your hands. As for our crews getting along, that ship has sailed. This will never be over for the maquis. I think the best thing to do here is go our separate ways. Goodbye, Captain Janeway."
Val's image flickered off.
Val sat in his office, pondering what his next move should be. His door chime rang.
Staff Sergeant Nathan Driver stepped inside the office.
"Please, have a seat."
"Thank you, sir."
"What's on your mind?"
"I'm thinking that joining the Krowtonan might not be the best idea."
"Do you think that's what I intend to do?" asked Val.
"I can see you're considering it," said Driver.
"Tell me. What is your opinion of Max Burke?"
"He appears to be a fine officer. A strong commander."
"He's damaged, sir."
"How do you mean?"
"I can see it in his eyes. Like I see it in many soldiers' eyes. He has killed one too many people. He has been hardened by death."
"How about you?"
"I'm the same way."
"You and Burke are the same?"
"In a word: yes."
"You think Burke could lead you better than me?"
"In battle, I would take Burke over you any day of the week and twice on Sundays."
Driver's honesty surprised Val.
"But here's the thing, sir: battle is my job, not yours," added Driver.
"Your job is to get us home, sir. I would've executed those maquis crewmen. Every MARCO would have. Burke definitely would have. Hell, probably even Kejal and Zet would have. You chose another way. You chose not to make war with Janeway and her ship."
"No, you chose the better outcome. Further antagonizing Janeway would have meant more trouble. We MARCOs would have brushed off that risk. You beamed her men back intact. That means something to her."
"I just burned the bridge with her. You don't think we need an ally like the Krowtonan?"
"I'm not saying to make enemies of the Krowtonan," said Driver. "We can be collegial. But you will not fit in with their methods. Their style is more nuanced, and quite frankly, more brutal than you can stomach. I can do it. Burke can do it. You can not."
"I've contacted the area commanders for the next three operational theaters of Krowtonan Space. They've been alerted to your presence. You will receive escorts from time to time if there are free ships available. Perhaps they might even want to meet you as many have never met a human in person. Hope things are well. Safe journey."
Val had informed Burke that he would continue Vetara's course for the Alpha Quadrant. Burke said he would try to make Val's trip across Krowtonan space as smooth as possible.
"Thank you, sir," said Val. He said the word sir in more of a friendly way as opposed to hierarchical.
"You're welcome. Remember, you're among friends when you're among the Krowtonan. Godspeed, captain."