Star Trek Voyager: Into the Field

Chapter 8: In the Stars

"I don't know," said a confused Vance Larkin.
"What do you mean, you don't know?" yelled the angry Chief Myles Duncan.
Vance Larkin was the planet's first ever interplanetary affairs minister. To Chief Duncan's chagrin, Larkin had authority over the army.
"Such a situation has never been contemplated!" insisted Larkin.
"Well, you better start contemplating, poindexter," said Duncan.
Ambassador Rudolph Ransom stepped in between the two shouting men.
"Stop it. Now," said Ransom, mostly directed at Chief Duncan. He knew Duncan would have a somewhat higher level of respect for him since he used to be a uniformed officer.
Evansworld was about to experience its first confrontation with a hostile alien force. Prior to his current post, Larkin was a sociologist who studied alien cultures. Duncan was the planet's highest ranking uniformed military officer.
John Evans sat in his giant fluffy chair in the middle of the Executive Oval Office. He didn't want to surrender his planet, but he also didn't want to see it destroyed. After all the hard work that his ancestors had put into overthrowing their Briori kidnappers and oppressors, Evans wondered why they destroyed Briori technology. It would have certainly been useful.
After a few minutes in deep thought, Larkin had his "Eureka!" moment.
"SD-6!" he yelled.
"What's SD6?" asked Duncan.
Evans was also not completely sure what Larkin was referring to.
"SD-6 was a military training program thought up by the Krowtonan High Guard. It was an officer exchange program where we could embed our officers in the High Guard Fleet to learn how they operate."
"How does that help us?" asked Chief Duncan. "That program never got off the ground! Evans thought it would be too provocative to ally ourselves with the Krowtonan Empire. It would make their enemies our enemies too, you said. Look where we are now!"

Evans didn't appreciate the Army Chief's tone. He made a mental note to demote the jerk the first chance he could get.

"The Krowtonan delivered six fighter craft to us and had planned to train our pilots on them. Although the training program was cancelled, we still have the jets."

"Six fighter jets?" yelled Duncan incredulously.

"It's all we have. It's better than nothing!" retorted Larkin.

"We don't have the pilots. We were never trained," said Duncan.

"We have at least four, it'll have to do," said Larkin.

"Hopefully, it'll buy us a little bit more time until reinforcements can arrive?" said Evans.

"Are we getting reinforcements?" asked Duncan. He had been notified that no assistance from the Krowtonan Empire would be forthcoming, as their forces were tied up dealing with rebellions sprouting up throughout the Empire.

"You better pray that we do," said Evans.

"Loco is airborne," came a young male voice on the speaker.

Evans, Larkin, Duncan, Ransom, and several others were gathered in the President's situation room and listening intently.

"Crash, right behind him," came another voice, two seconds later.

"Cowgirl, wheels up," came the voice of a young female.

"Fozzie Bear, joining formation."

"That's it. The four of them should reach lower planetary orbit in a few seconds," said Commodore Barry McKnight, the leader of Evansworld's Navy.

"Where are the Kazon?" asked Evans.

"Five minutes out," said Chief Duncan.

Principal Maje Jal Haliz listened intently as one of his warriors explained the unfolding situation.

"Four Krowtonan interceptors have just launched and are heading toward the scouting squadron."

After having lost multiple battles to Admiral Maximus Burke and the Krowtonan, Haliz was eager to strike at a soft target. He knew that although Evansworld was not a part of the Krowtonan Empire, a strike against a human populated planet would be of great importance on a symbolic and personal level. Haliz was surprised Burke would leave the planet undefended. With the four interceptors in the mix, perhaps Burke wasn't completely derelict after all. However, Haliz's carrier ship could quickly dispatch the tiny defenders. His carrier ship would reach Evansworld within the hour. He had sent a scouting patrol to test the planet's defenses. If four interceptors were all the planet could muster, Haliz would have the last laugh indeed.

"Let's have a little fun with this," said an intrigued Haliz. He ordered four of his own raiders to face off with the defenders, one on one.

"Flight leader, Viper actual. You have twelve bandits, dead ahead. You are clear to engage," said Commodore McKnight.

"Twelve bandits, tally-ho," said Loco. Tally ho meant that Loco had spotted the enemy aircraft.

"Cowgirl, you're with me. Crash, hang back," said Loco.

"Holding station," said Crash.

"At your wing," said Cowgirl.

Loco's interceptor kicked up its afterburners and bolted forward, along with Cowgirl's interceptor behind him, to the right.

"Let's say hello," said Loco.

"The Trabe have declined our request for assistance," said Ginny, Larkin's deputy.

Vance Larkin had been wearing a headset, but ripped it off and threw it at the table in disgust. That was it. Evansworld would have to surrender once the Kazon mothership arrived in roughly 15 minutes.

"Should I recall the Krowtonan interceptors?" she asked.

"Please do," said a defeated Larkin.

"Nova flight, Viper control, you are requested to return to base."

The four pilots were a little surprised.

"Nova flight, Viper control, you are requested to return to base. Do you copy?"

Loco ignored the request. His three squadron members knew what to do. They'd defend the planet.

Vance Larkin was a little bit anxious. He jumped onto the communications channel.

"Nova flight, be advised, we will be receiving no reinforcements. If you shoot down any enemy spacecraft, it will draw more anger from the Kazon mothership when it arrives."

There was silence over the comm channel.

Larkin was about to attempt hailing the interceptors again, but Army Chief Duncan stopped him.

"They're soldiers. Let them go down fighting."

"There are side effects for us if that happens," said Larkin.

"We can self-destruct the interceptors," suggested Evans' chief of staff. "We have the codes."

"Those are our men up there!" said Larkin.

"If you want to stop them from shooting down Kazon spacecraft, that's the only option."

"No," insisted Duncan.

"Not a chance in hell," said Larkin.

For the first time, the two of them agreed on something.

The planet's top leadership sat idly by and listened to the comm traffic.

The spacecraft would soon approach firing range of each other. Six seconds. Five. Four.

"They're engaging," said Cowgirl.

"Come get me," said Loco. His interceptor jerked to his right and two Kazon craft followed.

Jal Karden was surprised at how adept these humans were at flight maneuvers. It was his understanding that the humans had been in peaceful relations with their immediate neighbors for over a century and had no military whatsoever to speak of. Ten seconds ago, he just watched the fourth Kazon fighter get effectively neutralized by the two forward Krowtonan defenders. He reported the situation to Maje Haliz, who was a little annoyed. Nevertheless, there was no doubt that the Kazon would eventually succeed. Haliz ordered the remaining eight Kazon to engage.

"Splash five," said Loco, triumphantly. Taken from old Earth navy slang, splash meant an enemy aircraft was shot down and "splashed" into the ocean. Loco had just taken out a fifth Kazon spacecraft. He shot down the first two, Cowgirl took down the next two, and now it was Loco's turn again.

"Alert interceptors, coming in hot," said Crash. He and Fozzie Bear were considered the backup team, on alert if they were needed. When he saw that the remaining eight Kazon flew in to engage, Crash thought he should even up the odds a bit.

Splashes six and seven came almost simultaneously as Crash and Bear immediately got into the mix.

"Single column!" ordered Loco. He was afraid that his interceptor craft were now in too chaotic of a formation and wanted to prevent friendly fire accidents. He ordered his squadron to line up on one side.

"Remaining five bandits are bugging out!" said an elated Cowgirl. Karden and his four surviving Kazon brethren knew when it was time to quit. He feared the reprimand he would soon get from the principal maje, but the odds were now against him.

Minister Larkin sat there contemplating the situation. While he was very happy that the planet survived the first wave of attackers, he knew that would only make the Kazon angrier when the mothership arrived.

"It appears we have a large ship arriving in system," said Ginny

"Kazon?" asked Larkin.

"No… Starfleet?" said an uncertain Ginny.

Ransom walked over to the operations area and peered onto the computer screen. The profile suggested it was the U.S.S. Voyager.

"We're saved!" exclaimed a relieved Evans.

"Hail them," requested Ransom.

"No response," said Ginny.

A few seconds later, the Kazon carrier ship dropped out of warp near the far side of the star system.

"Kazon carrier ship has launched a dozen fighter craft."

"Voyager," mumbled an incensed Maje Haliz. "How did we not detect them before?"

"I don't know," said his second maje. "Our sensors are still not picking up the ship. Perhaps some sort of upgraded stealth technology?"

"Recall the squadrons," said Haliz. He would have to accept defeat this day.

"Still no response from Voyager," said Ginny.

It had been over nine minutes since Larkin first tried to make contact. In the meantime, the battle scene seemed frozen in time. The Kazon fighters formed two rows of six in front of their mothership. Loco and his squadron held station in orbit. Voyager seemed to slowly drift toward closer to the planet.

After five more minutes went by, the first row of Kazon fighters split into two "V" formations and flew towards Voyager.

"Permission to engage," said Loco.

"That's a negative," said Commodore McKnight. "Voyager can handle herself. Don't let the first Kazon wave draw you away from the planet.

"Copy," said Loco.

Larkin wondered what the Kazon were up to. During Voyager's first encounter with the Kazon, Vice Captain Chakotay kamikaze'd his maquis raider into a Kazon carrier ship. Perhaps these Kazon were thinking of returning the favor.

As the lead Kazon approached Voyager, two of the fighters fired a few shots. To the Kazon pilots' surprise, Voyager instantly turned into a cloud of metallic dust.

Everyone on Evansworld was horrified.

"What just happened?" asked a confused John Evans.

"I don't know, sir," said Ginny. Several other military analysts were pouring over the screens to figure out what just transpired.

"Voyager is… gone," reported Ginny.

Larkin immediately jumped into action.

"Nova flight, you are to engage the Kazon carrier ship immediately. Bypass the row of fighters, take down that mothership."

"Understood," said Loco. The four interceptors roared at full speed. Loco knew what Larkin had just requested. This was going to be a suicide mission.

"Launch another ten," said Maje Haliz. There was no way he was going to allow the Krowtonan interceptors to make it past his fighter screens. He had just recalled the first wave back from the engagement with the now destroyed Voyager. With over sixteen fighters in between the Krowtonan and the mothership, and another six fighters closing in from the opposite side, the Krowtonan were bound to lose, no matter how skilled the pilots.

"They're blocked," reported Ginny. There was no use. Even if nova squadron could survive the encounter, they wouldn't be able to punch through the defensive perimeter.

"Wait… we've got another ship dropping out of FTL," reported Ginny. This was getting crazy. "It's dropping out right on top of the Kazon carrier ship!"

"Crap," said Val as his fingers flew over the flight control console. He was so distracted thinking about the weapons systems that he must've made a minor mistake somewhere in the navigator equations. Having punched in .896, he now realized it should've probably been closer to .893. That tiny few thousandths made a huge difference and the Vetara was now on a path to sideswipe the Kazon carrier. Collision alarms rang noisily. Although the ships were still separated by millions of feet, at Vetara's current inertial speed, there would be a collision in a mere 5 seconds.

"Too close to fire!" reported Staff Sergeant Driver.

"One problem at a time," replied Val. He was pushing the engines to the max to drastically change the ship's trajectory. Once the collision was avoided, he would then worry about distancing the Vetara far enough from the Kazon ship in order to inflict damage without any collateral effects to the Vetara herself.

"What is that?" asked Maje Haliz.

"Unknown ship just dropped out of warp," reported his sensor officer.

"Starfleet?" asked Haliz.




"Are they hostile?"

"Unknown. They are not firing. They seem to be backing away."

"Very well. Keep an eye on them. Focus on the Krowtonan interceptors."

This was a very confusing day for Maje Haliz. But at least it wasn't boring.

Val breathed a sigh of relief. Catastrophe averted.

"Kejal, please open a channel to the Kazon ship."

"Channel open."

"Kazon ship, you are requested to recall your squadrons and vacate this star system."

Maje Haliz's image soon appeared on the Vetara's forward viewscreen. Haliz could see that Val was wearing a Starfleet uniform.

"You are one of Burke's officers? Or Janeway's?" asked Haliz.

"Neither. Consider me a freelance do-gooder. Now, I hope you have decided to comply with my request."

"Curse Starfleet. How many ships did they send to this side of the galaxy?"

"I suggest you leave while you still have the opportunity," said Val.

"How do I know this isn't a bluff? Perhaps I'll just have to destroy you like I did Voyager just a minute ago."

"Voyager is several weeks away from this location," replied Val.

"Now I know you're lying. Voyager was just here, and my fighters dispatched the ship with ease."

"I'll give you a few seconds to think deeply about what you just said and whether it makes any sense," said Val

"I think you're bluffing. Your ship does not have the adequate offensive capability and you're just hoping I'll run," said Haliz.

Val glanced over at Driver, who was sitting at the weapons officer's console.

"We have a firing solution," said Driver.

"Loose missiles," said Val.

"Loose missiles, aye."

Eight Krowtonan long-range cruise missiles were let loose from the Vetara's torpedo tubes. Val had worried about the compatibility of the Krowtonan missiles with the Cardassian firing mechanisms, but they seemed to work just fine.

Val watched the screen as Maje Haliz was clearly knocked off balance during the impact.

"Their shields are down to 71 percent," reported Kejal.

"Ready for a second round of fun?" asked Val, addressing Haliz.

Although Haliz knew he could survive a few more barrages, and might even fight the Vetara to a costly but eventual victory, he had no interest in continuing this battle for a mere symbolic victory. The people of Evansworld were of no threat to him. He made to decision to call his fighters back and soon withdrew from the star system.

Evans and his advisors celebrated their survival.

"Please convey my gratitude," Evans asked of Ambassador Ransom.

Ransom asked Ginny to open a channel to the Vetara.

"You arrived in the nick of time," said Ransom.

"The people of our planet are eternally grateful," added Minister Larkin.

"Happy to do it," said Val. "I'm just glad we weren't too late. We rushed over here as soon as possible. But in our computer generated predictions, we should've dropped out of warp at least twenty minutes after the Kazon were calculated to arrive."

"That sounds close," said Ransom. "We were lucky that Voyager came in to buy us over 17 minutes. It is regretful they were destroyed in the process. Kazon must've got a lucky hit in."

"I don't understand," said Val. "I wasn't bluffing with the Kazon maje. Voyager is many star systems from here."

"Oh," said Ransom. He kind of knew deep in his heart that Voyager shouldn't have been that easily dispatched. He would save the mystery for later.

"Regardless," said Minister Larkin, "please accept our planet's hospitality. We shall hold a great banquet in honor of your arrival."

Val didn't want a great banquet. However, he knew he would keep Vetara in orbit for a little while longer until some type of reinforcements could arrive from the Krowtonan High Guard. The High Guard had recently won a few battles and a few ships would soon be available for reassignment. The situation in Yammja was also appearing to come to an end soon. Val hoped things would be okay by the time he could return the princess to her homeworld. In the rush to get to Evansworld, the princess had stayed onboard the Vetara. Val agreed to beam down onto the planet and meet with the planet's leadership.

"This is a pretty planet," said Djeena. "Does Earth look like this?"

"Some parts do, yes," replied Val.

The two of them landed planetside about five minutes ago and would soon enter the capital city. Three MARCO troopers accompanied them on the Cardassian shuttlecraft. Evansworld was a Class L planet with an atmosphere charged with trinimbic interference. That meant the Vetara's transporters would not work.

It was a short drive from the shuttle landing port to the capital city. At the port, they were greeted by several officers of the Evansworld Army and Navy. Although Army Chief Duncan and Commodore McKnight were still busy at the Executive Mansion, they both sent their aides.

"Sir, welcome to Evansworld" said a young major as he saluted Val. A young lieutenant commander in a dark navy uniform did the same.

Val returned the salute and his party was escorted to an armored hover-limousine which usually carried high ranking government officials. Val's MARCO bodyguards were led to another car, ahead of the limousine in the motorcade.

Once Val and Djeena entered the limo, the army major shut the door behind them and walked over to another security vehicle that would be following behind the limo.

"Why do they do that?" asked Djeena.

"Do what?" asked Val.

"Put their hands to their face when they first speak with you. I've seen some of your MARCOs do that too. Even some of the Krowtonan officers."

"Oh, it's just a sign of respect. Comes from an old Earth tradition. It's called a hand salute."

"I respect you as well, Captain." Djeena mimicked a salute. "Was that correct?"

"Well… probably not. It's a military courtesy. Since you're not in the military, it might look a little awkward, though civilians have saluted me informally as well. But yea, it's also usually from a lower ranking person to a higher ranking person. So it might not make sense for you to."

"I've never seen you salute the Admiral Maximus."

"No, I don't suppose I ever have."

"You don't respect him?"

"I do. I just think it's a slightly arcane tradition. I don't mind it, but it's not something I do reflexively."

"I see," said Djeena.

"Welcome, Captain Shin," said Chief Executive John Evans, the leader of Evansworld.

"Thank you for having us," said Val.

"How was your tour of our city?" asked Evans.

"Very insightful," said Val.

It had been over three hours since Val first landed on the planet. After being driven to the capital city and meeting with Minister Larkin, Army Chief Duncan, and Ambassador Ransom, Val was taken through a tour of most of the planet's capital city. He was also offered a chance to tour two of the satellite cities the next day. While the capital city had a population of over 100,000, the surrounding area had another 50,000 people. There were roughly 20,000 others living in more rural outlying areas. The other cities were much smaller, but were located in different climes that others may have preferred. For now, it was getting dark. The visitors would have dinner and then turn in.

Evans then turned to Djeena.

"I would also like to extend a warm welcome to you," said Evans. He wasn't quite sure who she was. He surmised that she was a Krowtonan officer who was serving on the Vetara for some reason.

Val thought it might be proper to introduce the two.

"Mr. Evans, this is Djeena, the First Princess of Yammja."

The two of them nodded to acknowledge each other.

"Evans. This world is named after you?" asked the princess.

"Not quite," said Evans. "It was named after one of my ancestors. Many generations ago."

"I see. And your family has ruled it for generations?"

"On and off. We've always been part of the majority coalition, I guess. There are a couple of other political dynasties."

"My understanding from Captain Shin was that your world operates on a rotation of rulers. Every eight years, a new ruler is chosen."

"That's correct. Eight or sixteen, depending on whether I get re-elected. I'm finishing up my seventh year in office in a couple of months."

"I brought the princess here to kind of get an up front glimpse at how a democratic society might look like. Her world may slowly be transitioning to one in the coming years," said Val.

Djeena was intrigued. She wasn't entirely sure what to expect of a democratic system. But here was a man whose ancestors founded the society. Clearly, there were chances for families to keep power for generations to come, even if it were not an automatic birthright.

Evans next introduced a young man wearing eyeglasses. Val hadn't seen such a thing in a very long time.

"This is Jarett Gronski," said Evans. "I now understand why you requested his presence. He is our planet's foremost expert on constitutional government and separation of powers."

Jarett and Val shook hands.

"I understand from Ambassador Ransom that you yourself are a trained attorney," said Gronski.

"That feels like a lifetime ago," said Val. "But yes, I am a prosecutor with Starfleet's JAG office."

The two of them spoke briefly about the dynamics of the Evansworld government.

After their dinner, Val and Djeena retired to their guest quarters in the Executive Mansion. Val's MARCO bodyguards were also assigned quarters in the mansion, but in another wing, where the aides tended to stay as opposed to the diplomats.

As the MARCOs were led down the hallway to the south wing, Sergeant Driver said "Behave yourself, young man."

"Young man?" asked Val. "Seems I recall you welcoming me to old age on my past birthday recently."

The two of them separated and followed their guides. Val was comfortable enough with the Evansworld secret service that he didn't feel in danger even without his MARCOs.

Val and Djeena were led to neighboring guest quarters, and their escorts left them.

"Have a good night, princess," said Val.

"Same to you, captain."

The two entered into their respective rooms. Val was very impressed. The furniture was very cushy. Much more luxurious than what he was used to on the Vetara. He walked over to the balcony and took in the view. From there, he could see about a third of the city, to the east.

After surveying the cityscape for a few minutes, Val brought out his EvansPad and started playing with it. He preferred its functionality to that of a Starfleet Padd. Perhaps it was only because it was new to him. The tablet computer's touch screen functioned very much like an Apple iPad from the early 21st century. It sensed motion from the touches that included swipes and even circular motions. Part of him wondered why the Starfleet Padds seemed so much more basic.

He used his EvansPad to review the distant settlements of the planet. There were two. One was on a tropical island. Population 25,000. It was called "Shin Hawaii." Val laughed at that for a second. The word "shin" was actually pronounced "sheen" in this case, as it was the Japanese word for "new." Val's last name was of Chinese ancestry, and instead was pronounced in a way that rhymed with "chin," or "win." But Val was still amused. The other resort town was far up in the north and in the mountains. The town was called Aspen. Val was interested in visiting that one. He had loved skiing when he was a teenager and during his early twenties. Life got a little too busy for him in the recent years, but he missed skiing a great deal.

As he studied the geographies of the resort towns, Val was startled when a door to his quarters opened. He thought about reaching for his personal weapon, but that proved unnecessary. It was Djeena from the neighboring quarters. Apparently, the two of them had adjoining rooms and the door between the two had been left unlocked by the previous occupants.

"A balcony, that's nice," said the princess as she walked across the giant room to where Val was standing.

"You don't have?" asked Val.

"No," she said, with a fake frown. In all other aspects, she was very happy with her room. These were the type of accommodations she was accustomed to, not the spartan type afforded her on the Vetara.

As both of them stared out into the sky, Djeena pondered how lucky she was to have been saved by the Vetara when her royal yacht and escort ships were attacked. Not only did he save her life, but she believes he may also have saved her planet from self-destructing. Although still in the midst of a civil war, she believed the divisions would be healed once the parties agreed to a transition to constitutional monarchy. Of the nine original rebel factions, seven had already ceased fire and awaited negotiations. There were two holdouts, but Djeena thought they would be defeated by the Krowtonan Guard soon enough.

"I wonder how things would have turned out if you had not agreed to rescue my ship," said Djeena. "Or if you had not received the distress call from the people of Evansworld. I would not have ever learned of the concept of a constitution, or seen a planet successfully ruled by popularity contest."

"Well… I wouldn't call it a popularity contest," said Val.

"Still, my life would be very different were it not for these minor turns."

"Well, maybe it's just in the stars, then."

"In the stars?" asked Djeena.

"Written in the stars. You know, it's your destiny. Your fate. You were meant to deliver your people into a different type of society."

"Interesting…" said Djeena. "I would not have surmised that you were a person who believes in fate."

"Who knows?" said Val. "I probably believe in it to some degree. Doesn't mean you can just sit back and have things handed to you. But I think everyone has a destiny."

"What do you think your destiny is, Captain?"

"Don't know. But that's what makes it fun."

The two of them spoke for several more minutes and the princess retired to her room. Val walked with her over to the doorway between the two rooms. After she crossed back, he thought about locking the door, but decided that the princess would behave in a proper way and would not intrude on him overnight.

Staff Sergeant Driver and two of his troopers met Val in front of his quarters at 0800. The palace aides had delivered to him an iced caramel frappuccino earlier during breakfast. He was sipping it in a plastic cup through a straw.

"What is it with captains and their coffee?" asked Driver.

"Everyone loves coffee," said Val. "Anyway, legend has it Picard is more of a tea person."

Normally, Val didn't even drink coffee. He loved it, especially laced with vanilla or caramel, but he knew he should contain his sugar intake. He couldn't stand coffee without sugar, so he usually went without coffee.

Driver expressly forbade his troopers from drinking coffee. It sometimes made them jittery.

The princess was allowed to sleep in. Meanwhile, Val and his entourage were led to the palace's situation room where he would attend a morning briefing led by Commodore Barry McKnight.

As Val walked toward the entrance, two soldiers guarding the entryway stiffened up and saluted him. He returned the salute and walked into the room.

"Paris?" asked Val when he saw one of the occupants.

"They look very much alike, don't they?" said Ambassador Ransom. "Please allow me to introduce you guys."

"Captain Shin," said Ransom. "These are the four pilots who assisted us yesterday. The one who looks like Paris is Nicolas Locarno, callsign Loco. Next to him is Wesley Crusher, callsign Crash. That's Jean Hejar, callsign Cowgirl. And then Joshua Albert, callsign Fozzie Bear."

The four pilots each acknowledged Val as they were introduced. They were probably three or four years younger than Val. The four of them and Val talked for several minutes and they learned more about each other.

Locarno had been expelled from the Academy for convincing his flight demonstration team into performing a dangerous maneuver. Although the entire team was eager to do it, Locarno took the full responsibility and said nobody on the team wanted to do it and he coerced them into it. It was a shame, because Locarno was a good pilot, and was a mere two weeks from graduating. During a practice run, two of the demonstration craft collided. The pilots were able to beam out safely, but an official inquiry was held and the truth was eventually discovered.

Wesley Crusher had managed to stay in the Academy for one more year, but was soon discharged from Starfleet as well. He had disobeyed an order from Captain Picard while the U.S.S. Enterprise was in the de-militarized zone between the Federation and Cardassia.

Both Jean Hejar and Josh Albert made it through the Academy and graduated as ensigns. They were joined by their fifth cadet teammate, Sito Jaxa. Ensign Sito had been assigned as the helm officer of the U.S.S. Solstice. During a visit to Deep Space Nine, the five former cadets got together for the first time since the Academy. Captain Ransom agreed to ferry Hejar and Albert back to their posts. Locarno and Crusher tagged along. Unfortunately, the Solstice soon got whisked away to the Delta Quadrant.

Commodore McKnight soon walked in and started the briefing.

Everyone took a seat and the lieutenant commander who greeted Val at the shuttle landing pad a day earlier began the briefing.

Overnight, military intelligence figured out the mystery of the duplicate Voyager which appeared to disappear into metallic dust. Because there was substantial atmospheric interference on Evansworld, communication attempts often were unsuccessful. It appeared the duplicate Voyager attempted to communicate, but the signal strength was not strong enough. However, the signal was picked up by two robot rovers on an Evansworld moon. That signal was eventually passed back to ground control.

Lieutenant Paris and Ensign Kim appeared on the briefing screen. They explained their story. Locarno agreed that there was some resemblance between him and Voyager's helm officer. Actually, the two men on screen soon explained that they weren't the real Paris and Kim. They had taken on the names London and Kimball. A couple of months ago, Voyager had landed on a planet designated as "demon class." The real Paris and Kim were sent to explore the planet. They found nothing of note, and eventually returned to Voyager. The starship then left, not knowing that there were mimetic life forms on the planet. These life forms were called "silverbloods" and had surreptitiously copied both Paris and Kim. In addition, the silverblood pool was also able to copy Voyager. At first, the duplicate Voyager was able to fly off the planet without any trouble and London and Kimball started exploring space. Soon, it was determined that their basic makeup was disintegrating. Even when they landed back on the demon planet, they couldn't stop the process. Finally, they decided to fly towards Evansworld and tell their story so that they would not be forgotten.

Val found that to be an interesting story. Thinking back to what Djeena said to him the night before, he wondered whether it was fate that Paris and Kim should have duplicates of them made so that those duplicates would coincidentally arrive at Evansworld just in time to stall the Kazon carrier ship until the Vetara could arrive.

"From where?"

Max Burke had just been notified that surveillance intercepts indicated that the rebel factions on Yammja were expecting reinforcements.

"Not sure," reported the Krowtonan officer.

Suddenly, two of the seven Krowtonan ships orbiting Yammja broke away from their positions. One of them was a small courier ship, but the other was the artillery ship Otin. There were two Starfleet officers aboard that ship. Marleyna Gilmore was on that ship.

The Otin had faked engine trouble and requested assistance from the Solstice. Now, it was entering Yammja's atmosphere and landing near the main rebel base camp.

"Sir," said Ensign Sito. "The Otin is hailing us."

"On screen," said Captain Riker.

A Krowtonan officer came on screen, and addressed Riker.

"Please send your admiral my sincere apologies," said Pow Zergol.

"What is the meaning of this?" asked an irritated Burke, who walked into the camerashot.

"Admiral," said Zergol. "I had hoped it did not have to happen this way. However, I do not believe the Emperor of Krowtona is the rightful ruler of this planet. Nor is the First Princess of Yammja. While I also disagree with a military dictatorship, I am hopeful that after our planet breaks away from the Empire, we will eventually form a democracy."

"You can form one under the umbrella of the Empire," said Burke.

"No," insisted Zergol. "We shall no longer be ruled from afar."

"You dare defy me?" asked Burke.

"This is nothing personal, Admiral," insisted Zergol. "However, knowing you would take it as such, I made arrangements to request the presence of Ensign Gilmore. If you attack the rebel camp, I will execute her."

Zergol had one of his guards bring her into view so that Burke could see she was still alive, but in Zergol's possession.

"Zergol," said Burke slowly and carefully. "I am going to kill you with my bare hands."

Zergol had a feeling that Burke's response would be grave. But he felt Burke would calm down as time passed.

"Admiral, I have no intention of harming your beloved. It is my hope that as time passes, you will come to accept that Yammja does not belong to the Empire. It is my sincere hope that you will leave us alone to chart our own destiny."

"I'm going to hunt you down Zergol."

"You try, and I'll execute her. Time changes people. You will change. We do not have to be enemies."

Admiral Burke was furious. He wouldn't endanger Gilmore's life with an overt attack, but he was already making plans to rescue her. It was ridiculous for Zergol to believe that Burke would simply give up with the passage of time.

Burke looked directly at Gilmore.

"Don't worry, it'll be okay," Burke said, trying to comfort her.

"Max, don't worry about me."

Burke then remembered a poem Gilmore once read to him. Before he cut off the comm channel and began formulating his rescue plan, Burke recited the last part of the poem to her.

"Seasons come and go;

But I will never change;

I'm on my way."

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