Chapter 5: Inactive
It had just past midnight when his door chime rang.
"Enter," he said.
It was Staff Sergeant Driver. He entered into Val's quarters and walked toward the couch. About 6 feet from the couch, Driver threw a box onto the couch seat next to Val.
"Welcome to old age, my good sir," said Driver.
It was Val's birthday. Several minutes ago, he turned 30 Earth years old. The box was covered in green wrapping paper, with reindeer and snowmen. Christmas had been months ago.
"Thank you, staff sergeant."
"It's from all the MARCOs," said Driver. "Open it."
Val carefully removed the tape from the sides of the box and gingerly ripped off the wrapping paper.
"My God, man," said Driver. "This isn't surgery. Don't tell me you're going to keep that wrapping paper for sentimental reasons."
"I don't like making a mess, okay?" said Val. "Why'd you wrap this thing anyway?"
"I didn't," said Driver. "Sergeant Hall did. She thought it would be inappropriate for a birthday present to not be wrapped."
"I'm digging the reindeer," joked Val.
"That's what the computer came up with when Julie asked it to replicate wrapping paper."
Val eventually opened the box. There were three books inside, in hard copy. Driver had learned that Val preferred to read physical books as opposed to electronic versions. Val had a small library of dozens back at his home on Earth. It's as if he lived in ancient times. He enjoyed the feel of a book in his hands. He enjoyed turning the pages. He enjoyed the smell of the fresh pages as he continued on deeper into the book. Val never kept any books in his JAG office or his quarters on Deep Space Five. Driver figured that since the trip home would take at least several years, maybe Val might like the comfort of starting a tiny library again.
The first book was a short novella. It was a Dixon Hill mystery. Even though Val was a relatively slow reader, he knew he could finish that story pretty quick. The second was arguably not a book at all. It was a thin comic book; a Captain Proton adventure. The third book was a heavy duty textbook, an introductory text on Andorian micro-organisms and how they compare with those found on Earth. It was at least a thousand pages, but Val thought he would probably enjoy it to some extent. Even if he wasn't going to read it, he would probably marvel at the pictures and diagrams of the alien organisms. The wonders of biology amused him as a child.
"Please thank your men for me," said Val. He held the large textbook in both of his hands. "This should put me to sleep quite effectively," he joked.
"You're welcome," said Driver. "And by the way, I'm relieving you of command for the next 23 hours."
"You heard me. You're an old man, rest up," joked Driver.
"You're six years older than I am!" retorted Val.
"Well, I'm a MARCO. You're a soft squid. Anyway, from what I understand, we're just flying through empty space for the next day. Nothing that would need your attention. I don't want to see you on the bridge today. If anything comes up, I'll get you. Visit the holosuite or something. Do something fun for a day."
"Happy birthday, sir," said Driver as he walked out of Val's room.
Val woke up around 0730 hours. Even though he had not set an alarm, his body naturally woke up around that time, give or take about 30 minutes.
He just finished eating breakfast and was about to brush his teeth when someone appeared in his quarters. Val caught her silhouette in the mirror.
"Kejal, I thought your program no longer materialized in my quarters."
"I'm not your hologram," said the slightly annoyed newcomer.
Val turned around and found a male human in his quarters. This human was about Val's height, which was short relative to an average male. He was Caucasian, and was dressed in light armor from ancient times.
"And what, praytell, are you?" asked Val. Part of him still thought this was some kind of prank. Perhaps Driver had convinced Kejal that this would be a funny birthday prank. This character seemed straight out of a gladiator movie.
"Can't you tell?" asked the intruder.
"Some kind of Roman soldier, I presume?"
"You're getting warm. Look at the armor, it's purple. What should that signify?"
Val wasn't usually the type to play games, but he thought he'd play along with the prank.
"I guess royalty."
"So, you're pretending to be royalty from ancient times. Color me impressed, Kejal."
The intruder disappeared in a brilliant flash, and then reappeared right next to Val.
"Like I said, I'm not your hologram. I'm a Praetorian Guard. A general, to be exact. Quintus is the name. At your service."
"Quintus," said Val. "What are you doing in my quarters?"
"You, kind sir, are in need of an advisor. And what better advisor to have than me? As a member of the Q continuum, I see some potential in the human race. And some potential in you in particular."
Quintus snapped his fingers. In a flash, a person from Val's past appeared in his quarters. It was Navaar. She seemed to be disoriented, not knowing what just happened. She turned and noticed Val.
"Val?" she asked, meekly. She was confused, and surprised. She started to approach Val cautiously.
Val took in what he was seeing. He wanted to say something like "How do I know that's not just another hologram?" to Quintus, but he knew these weren't holograms. The flashes were different from a hologram materializing. Before she got close to Val, Quintus snapped his fingers and Navaar disappeared.
"You see what I can do for you?"
"What makes you think I'd want to pull her from her home and maroon her in a far flung corner of the galaxy?" asked Val.
"Unselfish, I like that. Then, perhaps the cute as a button Miss Karen DuPont. She's already lost in the delta quadrant."
"First of all, it's not like that. Second of all, even if it was, I wouldn't need your help with that."
"Cocky, I like that even more."
Val stood there, silent. He was waiting for Quintus to explain more about himself.
"Then perhaps I can show you how life would be if you hadn't gotten yourself marooned in the delta quadrant. Q showed Captain Jean-Luc Picard his feelings for an archeologist female, and also showed Picard how a seemingly unwise decision in his youth helped shape the man he would become in the future. You regret your actions which led to the MARCO platoon being placed on the U.S.S. Voyager. Perhaps you'd like to see what an alternate timeline would have looked like."
"Not interested," said Val. "What's done is done. People shouldn't look back. Hakuna matata, you know what I mean?"
Val had referenced an old song he found amusing as a child. It was from a cartoon. The phrase meant you should put your past behind you.
"You talk a good game, but I know you don't mean it. You think about it often. But I won't show you your alternate timeline. That would be boring. And contrived. This isn't a Christmas movie."
"So why are you here?"
"It's your birthday. What better gift than for you to know that you have a guardian angel watching over you?"
"You're my guardian angel?" Val asked in disbelief.
"Well… I'm really just here to study you. But I'd like to help you along the way. You're an… interesting individual."
"What is your interest in me?"
"We in the Q continuum have an interest in people who may have a hand in guiding important events in history. After Q randomly stumbled into Captain Picard, he stuck with him over the years because Picard was a potentially important person in history. His position as the commanding officer of the Federation flagship placed him in the middle of important events."
"Then you're bothering the wrong person. I'm nobody. You should be guardian angel-ing Admiral Burke."
"Ah. The Admiral Maximus. What makes you think I haven't already visited him?"
"So why are you here?"
"Well, even Q eventually got bored with Captain Picard. Surprisingly, I got bored with the Admiral Maximus after just a couple of visits. I guess that happens sometimes, as Q got bored with Commander Sisko after just one brief visit. However, I must say, I have great hopes for you. You seem much more fascinating than the Admiral Maximus."
"In a word, you are unpredictable. Wildly so. You're hot, then you're cold. One second you're ready to put a bullet in a maquis ensign's head. The next second, you beam that same ensign over to Voyager, sans the well-deserved extra hole in the head."
"What can I say? I'm a complicated man."
"And that's what makes you interesting."
"There's lots of interesting people. I bet some of the patients in an insane asylum are pretty interesting. I would ask that you just leave me alone."
"Well, in addition to interesting, you're also in a unique position. You can tip the balance of power in this region of space. I'm prepared to say you might have more sway than our friend Maximus Orwell Burke."
"How can that be? He commands dozens of ships and probably has thousands under his command. I have a downsized platoon of 27 troopers."
"And two holograms."
"The Admiral Maximus is a known partisan. He's entrenched in the system. Some might say he's already compromised. You, on the other hand, stand outside the system. You are seen as a neutral party, despite your seeming friendship with the Krowtonan High Guard. What you say and how you behave might have a strong effect during the coming civil war."
"So there will be a civil war?"
"Looks likely. And very soon."
"Aren't you Q omniscient? Don't you know?"
"We can't predict the actions of people. That's what makes you interesting, remember? You might change the entire course of events. Or you might be completely inconsequential."
"Great. Put me down for number two. I just want to make it out of these next few sectors in one piece. I'd rather not die as a martyr."
"It's your choice. But, like I said, you're hot one minute and cold the next. I wouldn't be surprised if you plunge full throttle into this whole thing."
"This is an internal conflict. No matter how serious the fighting gets, Starfleet's directive 306 instructs me to stay away from it all."
"You speak as if you are still a Starfleet officer. Look at you. You captain a Cardassian ship. You command two MARCO squads and a couple of holograms. You've pretty much gone awol in the eyes of Janeway. You and Maximus Burke ceased being Starfleet officers a long time ago. The Emperor and the Crown Prince will have a falling out. They will have differing opinions as to the best way to deal with the various rebellions. One will be ruthless. The other will want to be more accommodating towards his subjects. Maximus will have to pick a side. As will you. Choose wisely."
Val thought about that for a while. This whole situation sounded familiar to him. It was as if he had read a novel with a similar plot.
"Why are you dressed like that?" asked Val.
"Ah, this was the persona I decided to take on for the Admiral Maximus. Unfortunately, I couldn't come up with a suitable one for you."
Quintus snapped his fingers and his Roman armor changed into a Starfleet uniform. His rank insignia identified him as a captain. However, his shoulders were purple instead of red. Nobody in Starfleet wore uniforms with purple.
"So, mister advisor, advise me. What should I do? Should I continue in my attempt to get back to the alpha quadrant? Would I even ever make it back? Or should I ally myself with the Krowtonan? Perhaps settle down in Evansville once all the dust clears from the civil war. Would I be happy settling down?"
"Young captain, I can't advise you on such things. You need to make those decisions yourself."
"So, you're of no use to me. Thanks."
Quintus was amused. "I'll tell you this: you might perhaps consider being more proactive in the events surrounding you. You tend to sit back and watch things unfold a little bit before you jump into action. That's fine in many circumstances. But if you want to be an important man in history, you can't just sit back."
"Who said I wanted to go down in history? I'd be perfectly fine being forgotten."
"I will also tell you this: if you stay on the sidelines, there might not be a happy ending for you and your men. Both sides may view you as a threat. If you're not with them, you're against them, you know what I mean?"
Ensign Marlena Gilmore was glad to be back in her quarters on the U.S.S. Solstice. She thought Pow Beeshar was a kind person, but she missed her boyfriend during the 2 weeks she was gone. It had been her third stint in the past months onboard one of the Krowtonan frigates to oversee an upgrade to their engines.
Her boyfriend walked into her quarters. He didn't need to ring the door chime for permission to enter. Marlena excitedly hugged him and they shared a quick kiss.
"Did you miss me, Maxwell?"
"I always do."
Marlena sat down on her couch and Max told her he would join her in a minute after sending out a final message. It was an order to a ground contingent under his command.
"Colonel, you have permission to engage the enemy. Happy hunting," the message read. He then shut off the computer and took off his combadge. He didn't want to be disturbed in the next several hours.
Max returned to his loving girlfriend and they cuddled on her couch.
The Emperor paced in his situation room.
"What ships do I have in the vicinity?"
"None, sir," said Shi Tevtor. Shi was the Krowtonan rank for minister. He was the civilian equivalent of a three star general, and an advisor to the Emperor on emergency response protocols. "Our two closest ships are unarmed auxiliary craft and would take over 48 hours to arrive."
That wouldn't help. This could be over in less than a day.
"However, there is one option," said the minister.
"There is a non-aligned ship approaching the area in less than 10 hours. The Vetara. She's a Starfleet ship, it seems. Her captain is friends with the Admiral Maximus, and the admiral may be able to convince him to assist."
"Contact the admiral," said the Emperor.