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RedImperator
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Post by RedImperator » 2012-12-01 04:41pm

Woah hey everybody long time, huh?

Once upon a time, I had an idea for a little side project. I thought it might be fun to rewrite the pilot episode of Star Trek: Voyager as a novella-length story, keeping the basic plot elements and characters, but taking a totally different approach to it, sort of a "If I had been Voyager's executive producer" project (with a side of "If we had a motion picture budget" and "If we were on a premium cable channel instead of a broadcast network").

The project waxed and waned since; at times I would work diligently on it, posting it here fairly regularly. Then something newer and shinier would come along and I'd drop it for months. A while ago, I set out to actually finish it, including polishing and rewriting the earlier parts that have been posted before. That attempt was successful--this draft of Voyager is finished, and since it's unlikely I'll ever rewrite it again, this is a finished project. You can read without fear of me abandoning you this time. I'll be posting sections once a week until the finished story is up.

So why do this anyway?

Voyager has always been something of a punching bag. While the production values of the show were quite high, especially by mid-90s broadcast standards, and the acting was (generally) reasonably good, it was notorious for poor writing that often shied away from the implications of the show's premise. At the same time that shows like The Sopranos were resetting the bar for American television drama, and Voyager's own Trek predecessor, Deep Space Nine was showing that in-depth characterization and multi-season plot arcs were possible in a Trek series, Voyager's creative team stuck doggedly to the weekly adventure show formula. Compounding the problem were weak early season villains (the Kazon), an unfortunate tendency to resort to contrivances to resolve the weekly plot (starting in the very first episode), and the writers' obvious fear of their own premise.

But underneath all of it, the show had a lot of potential, and if a better creative team had had control, I really do think that Voyager could have been Star Trek's contribution to the current Golden Age of American television--a show that could be mentioned in the same breath as The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad or Mad Men. Or at the very least been as good as TNG and DS9. I wanted to try to write a pilot that would live up to that potential. I don't know if I succeeded, but I do think it's a pretty good story.

---
Table of Contents

Prologue and Part I
Part IIa
Part IIb
Part IIIa
Part IIIb
Part IIIc
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Any city gets what it admires, will pay for, and, ultimately, deserves…We want and deserve tin-can architecture in a tinhorn culture. And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed.--Ada Louise Huxtable, "Farewell to Penn Station", New York Times editorial, 30 October 1963
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RedImperator
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Prologue and Part I

Post by RedImperator » 2012-12-01 04:42pm

PROLOGUE

Red Alert.

The first thing she heard was the Red Alert klaxon, wailing over and over, hurting like a pair of spikes jammed in her ears. She rolled over, groaned, opened her eyes, stared at the flickering overhead lights.. She had a deep pain in her head, behind her eyes; throbbing, dull red, flaring to white in time with the stutter of the lights.

Red Alert.

Her thoughts were quicksilver; merging and splitting, squirting away when she tried to pin one down. She couldn’t remember what threw her to the deck.

Without warning, she was overcome by a wave of nausea. She barely managed to turn her head to vomit. It tasted of coffee.

Pain, sensitivity to light. Nausea. Confusion. Amnesia.

Concussion.

Red Alert.

She rolled over, tried to push herself up. Pain exploded from her shoulder and she collapsed face down on the deck.

How long had she been here? Why wasn’t anyone helping her? Why weren’t people running to their stations?

She looked to the ceiling. The lights had settled into a dim, steady glow. They hurt her eyes, but they weren’t making her headache any worse. Small progress, anyway. There was still nobody moving in the corridor. She took a deep breath and, with her good arm, started dragging herself to the wall. She grabbed onto a joint in the paneling, hauled herself to her knees, and got overwhelmed by another wave of nausea. She fell over and landed on her bad shoulder. She cried out in agony and frustration.

I was bracing myself, she thought. She was falling, and she stuck out her arm to brace herself, and she landed wrong and hit her head and then her lights went out. I probably dislocated it.

The memory motivated her. Something was wrong with the ship, and she needed to stop laying on the floor and go do her job. She grabbed the panel again, pulled herself to her knees, and this time kept hanging on until she was sure she wasn’t going to faint again. Once she was confident she wouldn’t, she climbed to her feet. She leaned against the wall and tried to catch her breath.

Red Alert.

Red lights were flashing up and down the passageway. Panels had fallen off the walls. She smelled ozone and the telltale stink of burning plastic; up the hall a small fire was glowing inside a broken EPS conduit, slowly strangling behind a fire-suppression force field. The siren still wailed; nobody on the bridge had turned it off yet. It set her teeth on edge, disrupting her already loose thoughts.

Janeway caught her reflection in a dead control panel, cracked horizontally along its entire length. Her right arm appeared to be hanging backwards. She needed to get to sickbay.

Red Alert. They still hadn’t turned the alarm off.

There was a turbolift thirty meters down the corridor. She remembered that was where she was going when...when what? USS Voyager had suffered some kind of serious problem, an accident or an attack, and she had been injured. That much she could infer on her own. She had no more information than that. The intercom was silent. That by itself was ominous, because in the few previous Red Alerts she'd experienced in her heretofore uneventful career, the bridge had issued an uninterrupted stream of instructions and status updates over the intercom.

The bridge. The memory crystallized in her head. That's where she had been going. She had been called to the bridge. Voyager was in the Badlands, looking for Maquis, and they had called her to the bridge because the captain wanted advice from her science officer in that weird, dangerous patch of space. And then what? Bright light, the ship shaking…

And that sound. Of course, the sound. That earsplitting whine, like amplifier feedback powered by an exploding sun. How could she have forgotten it? And then the ship threw her to the deck, and then nothing.

She remembered her commbadge. I must have hit my head hard, she thought, if she’d forgotten that. It chirped when she tapped it; at least that was still working. "Science officer to bridge," she said.

No reply. She tried again and got the same response. Sour adrenaline began pooling in her stomach. The silent intercoms, the howling klaxon grating away at her nerves, and now this. She hailed the bridge a third time and still got no result.

Finally: "Computer,” she said. “Status of the bridge."

"Structural integrity failure on Deck One," it said, its voice expressionless and mechanical. "Explosive decompression in all compartments."

She slumped against the wall, just barely able to keep standing. "Survivors?" she said.

"None."

She took a deep breath before asking the next question. "Status of Captain Bujold."

"Captain Bujold is dead."

"Status of First Officer Cavit."

"Commander Cavit is dead."

"Status of Chief Engineer Patel." He shouldn't have been on the bridge.

"Lieutenant Commander Patel is dead."

"What? How?"

"Lieutenant Commander Patel was killed by a plasma conduit failure in main engineering."

Oh God, she thought. Voyager was decapitated. Captain, first, and second officers…third and fourth, too, the ops officer Dvorska and the tactical officer Henglaav, they would have been on the bridge. She had no idea who was in command of the ship, who she had to report to, or even where she was supposed to go, with the bridge destroyed.

And then, Lieutenant Kathryn Janeway suddenly froze in horror. Because the list of surviving department heads was getting shorter, and there couldn’t be many left besides…

"Computer," she said. "Who is the commanding officer of USS Voyager?”

“The commanding officer of USS Voyager is Lieutenant Kathryn Janeway.”

“Oh God,” said Janeway. Then she vomited.

The ship shuddered hard. The warp core went offline with a sound like distant thunder, felt as much as heard. Then main power failed, and all the lights went out.

#
PART I

Three Days Earlier
Federation-Cardassian frontier

It hadn't been Chakotay's week.

"The Cardassian vessel is closing," said Tuvok. The Maquis raider shook under another phaser volley. Something important behind the captain's chair failed with a shower of sparks; they rained on the back of his neck, each one stinging like a mote of fire.

"B'Elana!" shouted Chakotay over the open microphone to Val Jean's engine room.

"I know, God damn it!" Down below, the engineer yanked a panel off the wall and tore into the mess of jerry-rigged machinery that kept Val Jean alive, cursing in Klingon and English.

Val Jean banked hard, faster than the inertial dampers could compensate. A'shadieeyah Mohammad, Chakotay's crackerjack pilot, was doing her best, trying to dodge the cruiser's weapons fire. Mohammad had gotten them out of more than her share of impossible jams, but this time the spoon-heads were hanging tight.

"Weapons?" said Chakotay. It was more of a prayer than an order.

"Weapons would be nice," said Seska, Chakotay’s Bajoran second-in-command.

"I'm really not in the mood for jokes," said Chakotay.

"Weapons inoperative," said Tuvok.

"B'Elana, is there anything--"

"How about I stick a broom up my ass and sweep the floor while I'm at it?" said Torres.

"B'Eleana, I need phasers!"

"How much do you need a warp core breach?"

"The Cardassians are going to give me one anyway if you don't get those phasers online."

"They won't need to bother in a minute!"

"They don't need to wait that long!"

Seska leapt out of her seat and dove into an open access hatch and started working on the weapons herself. Mohammad turned the ship again, but not in time to avoid a phaser hit amidships. Every alarm on the bridge wailed to life at once.

"Shields collapsed," said Tuvok.

"One more hit and we're done!" said B'Elana. “Chakotay, the phasers don’t matter! We can’t fight our way out of this.

"Can you give me warp speed?"

"Are you crazy?" said B'Elana.

"Can you!?"

"I can give you one second. Maybe."

"Do it. A’sha, how far are we from the Badlands?"

"Ten light years from the outer boundary,” said Mohammad.

"The Cardassians will be anticipating such a move," said Tuvok.

"I can't get us ten light years on a one-second burst," said B'Elana.

"There's another ship out there between us and the Badlands," said Kurt Bendera, Val Jean's sensor operator and a Starfleet defector like Chakotay and Tuvok. "They're trying to lay low, but I caught their warp signature a couple of times. If we go to warp, they’ll intercept."

Chakotay made a snap decision. "Tuvok, signal our surrender. Mohammad, straight ahead, one-quarter impulse. Keep us out of tractor range."

"What?!" said Mohammad and B'Elana together.

"You heard me! Just do it; I have a plan. You don't think we're actually surrendering to the Cardassians, do you?"

"I hope they think we're actually surrendering," said B'Elana.

"They are acknowledging," said Tuvok. "They have ordered us to heave to and prepare to be boarded."

"Maintain course and speed. Mohammad, B'Elana, prepare for warp. Set course for the Badlands; maximum possible speed on my order. Seska, how are the phasers coming?"

"You've got one shot, maybe two."

"Tuvok, target the cruiser. Manual aiming only; don’t give anything away. Hit them as close to their bridge as possible."

"That will have little effect, captain."

“I just want to startle them. Any advantage we can get, right?”

“Understood,” said Tuvok. He didn’t sound convinced.

“Kurt, any sign of that other cruiser?”

“Not yet,” Bendera.

Seska returned to her seat, smeared with grease and grime, sheened with sweat, and bleeding from a cut on her forehead. With a motion so subtle nobody else on the bridge could have possibly seen it, she placed a hand on his.

"This had better work," she said.

"It will."

"The Cardassian ship is repeating its order to heave to," said Tuvok. "They are threatening to fire if we do not stop."

"Cut the thrust but keep the engines hot." Come on, you ugly yellow bitch. Where are you?

"The spoon-heads are closing in on us," said Mohammad.

"A’sha, prepare for full impulse on my command."

"Tractor range in five seconds," said Tuvok.

Where are you?

"Three seconds. Two. One."

"A’sha, punch it! Now!"

Val Jean leaped forward like a spurred thoroughbred. The tractor beam missed them by meters.

"Standby for warp on my mark!" said Chakotay.

"Here comes the other cruiser!" said Bendera.

"Confirmed. Galor-class cruiser dropping out of warp at 227 mark 85, range sixty thousand kilometers," said Tuvok, the slightest hint of a waver in his emotional control creeping into his voice.

"Fire phasers! Helm, engage!"

Val Jean fired two quick blasts at the first Galor, striking its shields just forward of its bridge. Then she leaped into warp and disappeared.

B'Elana had done better than she'd promised. They stayed at warp for five seconds, and momentarily hit warp six before the warp drive gave out.

"Viewscreen," said Chakotay.

The vast yellow and red gas clouds of the Badlands filled the entire forward view.

"Brilliant, B'Elana," said Chakotay.

"We don't have much time," said Seska. "We need to get the warp drive back in working order before the Cardassians figure out where we went."

No sooner had she said that than an alarm went off at Bendera's station. "Cardassian Galor-class cruiser warping in sixty astronomical units from our position."

"How long until they spot us?"

"Three minutes to perform a full sky scan," said Bendera. "If we’re very very lucky."

"B'Elana, we have spoon-heads in-system; get your ass in gear."

"You don't need to tell me twice." She started banging and cursing on machinery in the engine room.

Two minutes later, the Galor went to warp. It was on top of them before Chakotay could even shout the alarm.

"We have warp!" said B'Elana.

"Helm, engage!" Val Jean warped away again just seconds before the Galor fired.

They had to drop out of warp again at the edge of the Badlands, not even Mohammad daring to run through the dangerous patch of disturbed space faster than light until she got her bearings. The Maquis had mapped the whole area (at no small cost in blood) and a skilled navigator like Mohammad could warp through safely, but not quickly.

And the Cardassians were starting to map the place, too.

"Let's move," said Chakotay. "I don't want to hang around here all day."

"I'm working as fast as I can, boss," said Mohammad.

And then the hunters were on top of them again.

"Go!" shouted Chakotay, watching the two cruisers approach on the viewscreen like orcas bearing down on a wounded seal. Val Jean leapt to warp again, with the Cardassians baying at their heels. One followed at a distance while the other closed in--so when Mohommad dropped Val Jean out of warp to turn, one would overshoot, but the other wouldn't.

"They're going to wait until we're in open space and then they're going to attack," said Chakotay.

“Trying to shake them,” said Mohommad.

The ship dropped out of warp, turned with thrusters, then leaped into warp again. Mohammad had free reign with the ship, taking them through the twisting warren of safe passages through the Badlands without asking Chakotay or anyone else for instructions.

"They are still pursuing," said Tuvok.

"I'm taking us into the Rat's Nest," said Mohommad. "If the spoon-heads have that charted, I'll eat my scarf."

They turned again, and then Mohommad opened up the warp drive to full power. Something went bang and caught fire down below; B'Elana cursed and screamed and hammered on machinery with a wrench (B'Elana referred to such outbursts as an ancient Klingon mechanics' ritual).

Ahead of them was a vortex of raging plasma storms. The Rat's Nest was a network of passages interlaced through one of the most violent regions of the Badlands; the storms had been particularly bad that whole year. From a distance of a few light years, the tendrils of hot gas seemed motionless; Chakotay knew that was only because they were so enormous and so far away. The tips were flailing at half the speed of light and could burn away entire planets. Mohommad and the Cardassians could avoid those, but the smaller bursts that popped up at random outside the safe areas could incinerate a passing starship. Sometimes they popped up inside the safe areas, too. Especially in the Rat's Nest.

Val Jean began rattling. "What the hell is that?" said Chakotay.

"Subspace is very disturbed around here, boss," said Mohommad. The rattle became violent shaking.

"We're going to have to drop out of warp if this keeps up," said Torres. "The engines don't like this at all."

"I see a spot," said Mohommad. "Dropping out of warp."

They fell below superluminal speed in the middle of a calm patch a few million kilometers across, surrounded by vast clouds of hot gas.

"The Cardassians overshot us," said Bendera. "They're in the middle of a cloud."

"On screen!"

The two Galors were being buffeted by plasma and repeatedly slashed by energy discharges. One took a shot right across the bow that penetrated the shields and tore away part of the hull.

"Let's move," said Chakotay. Val Jean warped away, leaving the Cardassians behind. A few minutes later, when Mohommad had to turn again, Bendera checked their long range scan.

"Are they following us?" said Chakotay.

"Negative. They're leaving the Badlands."

"They had enough for one day," said Seska. She shook her head. The Bajoran earring she wore jingled. “There’s no way we should have survived that.”

“But we did,” said Chakotay. He leaned back in his chair and smiled for the first time all day. The adrenaline of combat was draining away, leaving him in a euphoric haze that was nearly post-orgasmic.

Speaking of...

"A’sha, take us through the Rat's Nest and out the other side of the Badlands. Make sure there aren't any spoon-heads on the other side waiting for us."

"That's Federation territory, sir."

"Cardies, Starfleet, what's the difference? Just keep us out of trouble."

"Will do, boss."

Chakotay went back to his cabin. Seska followed discretely about five minutes later.

Afterwards, they were both dozing when a ringing sound, like amplifier distortion, woke them both up.

"What the hell is that?" said Chakotay.

Some tremendous force like a collision shook the whole ship, tossing them both out of Chakotay's bunk onto the cabin deck. “Kurt, what the hell is happening?” he shouted into the intercom.

Something’s happening with the storms. There’s some kind of phased--” The intercom cut out.

“Kurt! Kurt!”

“To the bridge!” shouted Seska, pulling on her shirt.

Chakotay lunged for the door. Val Jean shook, and suddenly there was pain and blinding white light. The ringing noise was deafening, louder than the end of the world. “Seska!” he shouted.

Val Jean fell down a hole in the world.

#

New Senegal Penal Colony

Tom Paris was digging a hole when two guards came to him and told him he had a visitor. In his early days on New Senegal, he would have had a remark for them; "I told your mother I'm not interested in any more conjugal visits" perhaps. There was a series of mile-long, zigzagging ditches through the desert north of camp, each one dug by him and a few other insubordinate prisoners, reminders of the price of a smart mouth here. Mostly these days, he didn't say anything to the guards besides "yes sir" and "no sir".

They escorted Paris across a kilometer of scrub desert to a plain white concrete bunker on the outskirts of a cluster of other concrete buildings, the administration center for the camp. Inside, the bunker was dim, so he couldn't see right away who was waiting for him inside. Slowly, as his eyes adjusted, a short, trim, dark-haired woman in a Starfleet uniform materialized out of the gloom. Her tunic was red, in the newest cut, with four rank pips: a starship captain. Behind her were two other Starfleet types, wearing gold and looking like miserable pricks. Cops, he guessed. Or maybe spooks. Starfleet Intelligence.

"Good morning, Mr. Paris," she said. Her accent was French. "My name is Captain Nicole Bujold, of the Federation starship Voyager."

"Hi," he said.

"Please," she said, "sit down." She waved her hand at a hard metal chair on one side of a steel desk. He did so. She sat across from him. The two spooks, he noticed, remained standing.

"What's this all about, captain?" said Paris.

“We have a little situation on our hands, Mr. Paris. We were hoping you could help us.”

“Who’s ‘we’?”

“Starfleet,” she said. “Would you like a drink?”

“A what?”

“A drink, Mr. Paris.” She showed him a bottle of brown liquor. “It’s not a trick, Mr. Paris. I thought you’d appreciate a little hospitality.”

“Sure,” he said. “I’ll have a drink.”

“Excellent. Now I have an excuse to drink as well.” She smiled. It didn’t quite reach her eyes. After she poured both glasses, she left hers untouched. Paris knocked his back. Synthehol.

“What situation do you have?” said Paris.

"Three days, ago Maquis raider named Val Jean disappeared in the Badlands."

Paris's eyes widened. A second later, he realized that had been a mistake. Never show Starfleet you know anything about anything. He sighed internally. Mistakes had marked his entire tenure as a freedom fighter, which is why he was digging holes on New Senegal.

"I take it you know the name."

"I've heard it," said Paris.

"You picked it, from what I understand." Another one of those cool, cheerless smiles.

"If they disappeared in the Badlands, they were probably destroyed,” said Paris.

"Perhaps," said Bujold. "That is what the Cardassians are claiming. But there are enough holes in their story to make us believe they aren't telling the whole truth."

“So she’ll turn up somewhere else. I can’t help you with that. They abandoned all the hiding places I knew about as soon as I got captured.”

“We have reason to believe the ship is still in the Badlands somewhere. It’s...important to us that we find Val Jean.”

“Because of Chakotay?”

“Yes, because of Chakotay. Other than Cal Hudson himself, Chakotay might be the most capable and dangerous leader the Maquis have. If he’s still alive, we must capture him, and if he’s dead, then it would better if the Federation knows that for a fact.”

"What do you want from me?" said Paris.

“I intend to search the Badlands for Val Jean and her crew. I’ll need a guide."

"Forget it," said Paris.

“You know as much about the Badlands as anyone. There’s even a prominent feature named after you. Paris’s Ring, I believe.”

“’Paris’s Asshole’,” said Paris. “I said forget about it. I’m not leading you to them.”

"Think of it as a rescue mission. Your friends could be in serious trouble."

"They probably slipped past the Cardassians and the spoon-heads are just too embarrassed to admit it. Chakotay and friends are probably still laughing about it on some asteroid somewhere."

“Our sources indicate the Maquis are concerned as well. No one seems to know where Val Jean is.”

“Don’t kid yourself. Your operatives don’t know a single thing the Maquis don’t want you to know,” said Paris.

“Mr. Paris, I don’t have much time to waste. If you’re not going to help me--”

"I'm not selling out the Maquis," said Paris. "If I lead you through the Badlands, you'll be recording every kilometer of the flight. You'll learn more about it from me in a day than you could have learned on your own in a year--and so will the Cardassians, as soon as you turn over your charts to them."

"It is curious you speak of 'selling out'. Because if I remember correctly, you were 'sold out' yourself by Chakotay."

Paris ground his knuckles into the hard steel tabletop. A part of him admired Bujold for doing her homework. She knew exactly where to poke him.

"Other than ruining Chakotay's day, what are you offering me for helping you?"

"A reduced overall sentence and an immediate parole at the conclusion of the mission."

His eyes widened; he couldn’t help himself. He didn’t know what he was expecting Bujold to offer, but parole wasn’t it. "Parole to where? Earth?"

"Close. Betazed."

Paris grimaced. So that was the catch. "Won't even have to bother with a parole officer, will you?"

"You will be paired with a transition counselor to ease your passage back into civilian life."

"And a Betazoid handler to keep an eye on what I'm thinking."

"As long as you don't break any laws, no one will care what you think about. And once your sentence is up, you will be a free man."

Paris didn't respond.

Bujold leaned in. "We're interested in one person, Mr. Paris: Chakotay. The rest of the crew, your old friends, they'll get token sentences. I’ll even arrange so that the ones you care about the most stay out of jail.”

He swore he saw her wink.

She continued: “And if they are in trouble, you'll be saving their lives." She paused to fold her hands in front of her. "Or, you can rot here until the proper authorities declare you rehabilitated. Who knows how long it will take to rehabilitate a hardened terrorist?”

"What if you don't find them?"

"Then, I'm afraid paroling you would be impossible. But your situation here could certainly be improved, if I am satisfied you gave an honest effort. No one would ever make you dig another hole."

Paris said nothing.

"Mr. Paris," said Bujold, "Be honest with yourself. Did you join the Maquis out of a genuine, if misguided, sense of justice and empathy for the oppressed, or did you do it because you wanted to piss off your father and impress girls? Well, your father is still very angry, and as for girls, even if we can't find Val Jean, I'm sure we could arrange for some…romantic companionship, here, for you.”

Paris still said nothing. He looked down at the desk, avoiding eye contact.

“You owe them nothing, Tom. Chakotay stole Val Jean from you and dumped you in Starfleet's lap. Why are you still protecting him?"

"Is this offer in writing?" said Paris.

She took out a PADD and laid it on the desk in front of him. "Take as much time as you need to read it."

He scrolled past the Starfleet legalese and thumprinted the signature box on the bottom. "I'm in."

"Excellent," said Bujold. "Pack your belongings quickly. We leave for Deep Space Nine in ten minutes."

#
Deep Space Nine

Ensign Harry Kim stood by one of the Promenade's huge windows, watching Voyager's final approach. His heart raced when he first read the name and registry number--his ship, his first assignment. His hand drifted up and brushed the single rank pip on his collar, and then down to his communicator badge. He was six weeks out of the Academy, but he’d spent all of those six weeks a passenger en route to Deep Space Nine.

He watched the ship until it passed out of view, docking high overhead. Then he wandered back onto the Promenade. He still had three hours before he had to board Voyager--a ludicrously fast turnaround for a starship making the trip from final evaluations at Utopia Planitia to Deep Space Nine, but still a long time for him to stare out the window in dreamy excitement, watching starships pass through the Bajoran Wormhole. After a while, traffic through the wormhole slowed and he decided to find something else to do. He’d be seeing the wormhole up close in a few hours anyway.

The Promenade was crowded with people moving in all directions, but there were a few discrete streams, and one of them was flowing into Quark's Bar. The place was crowded with Starfleet, many of them waiting, like Harry, to board Voyager. He felt like he should be mingling in the crowd and making friends, but his shyness presented an insurmountable wall. He found a seat at the bar instead.

The Ferengi bartender (Quark, presumably) had no problems with shyness and seemed to sense Harry was looking for someone to talk to. Or maybe just that Harry wanted a drink.

"Good afternoon, friend," said the Ferengi. He struck a classic bartender's pose, leaning on the bar with one elbow while polishing a glass, which was a neat trick because he was barely taller than the bar itself (Harry peeked over and saw the floor on the other side was raised). "What can I get for you today?"

Harry glanced at the forest of bottles behind Quark. His brain promptly locked up. He had no idea what ninety-nine percent of them even were. "I'll have...a rootbeer," he finally said.

"A rootbeer? A rootbeer?!”

“What? What’s wrong with rootbeer?”

“My good sir, where are you from?"

"Uh, Earth?"

"Earth! And have you ever left Earth before?"

"Well, we took a family vacation to Mars once."

Quark gave Harry a look of pity and astonishment. "Do you mean to tell that this is your very first voyage beyond your home sun, and you’ve come here, to this magnificent entertainment establishment--” he waved around at the bad “--famed across a thousand worlds, with your choice of beverages from across the galaxy to delight your senses and expand your horizons, and what you want is a root beer?"

"Well, I--"

"Never mind. Starfleet has obviously already beaten the adventure out of you. Rom, one root beer!"

"Now wait. What else do you have?"

"That you'd like? Oh, tap water, tap water with ice, tap water with bubbles--"

"I'm serious. What else do you have?"

"Are you sure you don't want a root beer? It's safe and bor--I mean, predictable."

"I'm serious. I'm sure I don't want the root beer."

"Well, okay then. Rom, hold the root beer!" The Ferengi at the other end of the bar made a hand gesture that might have meant "OK!". If Harry had been paying closer attention, he would have noticed that Rom hadn't been doing anything that could have been construed as pouring a root beer in the first place.

Quark leaned in close to Harry. Harry could count the points of his teeth. "So what do you have in mind?"

"Um...you pick. What's good?"

"Well, everything I have is good. But I thought we were having an adventure. You don't want something good, you want something great. And I have just the thing for you."

"What's that?"

"Romulan Ale."

Harry's eyes widened. "That's illegal!"

"It's illegal in the Federation, my boy. This station is Bajoran territory!"

Harry pondered, remembering his third grade production of the epic drama, Romulan Ale Is Uncool, where he had played "Incurably Insane Romulan Ale Addict #3".

That’s ridiculous, he thought. Romulan Ale is cool. If it wasn’t, they wouldn’t have put on a stupid play to make kids not want to drink it. "Okay," he said. "I'll have some."

Quark smiled in a way that made Harry want to flinch a little. He retrieved a decanter of blue liquid from under the bar, and with great ceremony, poured some into a small glass, which he pushed across the bar to Harry. Harry took one sip; it was smooth and cool, and very sweet, unlike how he had imagined.

"That will be one strip of latinum," said Harry.

Harry fished in his pockets for his FedBank chit, which let him carry Federation credits with him in areas where money was necessary. Quark held a chit reader over the bartop. Harry gave Quark one credit, plus another half-credit as a tip. He smiled at Quark.

"Where are the other hundred ninety-three and a half credits?" said Quark.

"The other what?"

"The other hundred ninety-three and a half credits you owe me."

"But you said it was only one."

"One strip of gold-press latinum. You're paying in Federation credits, and the current exchange rate is 194 to 1."

"But the official exchange rate is 1 to 1!"

"The official exchange rate is 1 to 1. Only an idiot actually accepts one credit for one strip of latinum. Try it; go down to the currency exchange and buy one strip for one credit. They'll laugh you right out the door."

"But you have to take credits at the official exchange rate. That's the law."

"I have to take credits at the official exchange rate in the Federation. And while we all recognize that the issues of Bajoran sovereignty vis-a-vis the Federation is complicated on this station, we’ve already established that this bar ain’t a Federation establishment, and therefore, I don’t have to take Federation funny money at the official exchange rate. You owe me one hundred ninety-seven credits."

"197? I just paid you one and a half."

Quark put his hands on his hips. "The credit just fell to 198 and a half to the strip."

Harry sighed and paid. He didn't try to tip the Ferengi this time. He even bought a second Romulan Ale, and a third, and a fourth, the last costing him 352 credits, Harry reasoning that once back on the ship, he wouldn't have much to spend his money on anyway (Harry listened as Quark told a long tale of woe about the pitfalls of fiat money and his own misadventures in Orion currency speculation, Harry the whole time thinking that he thought it was the customer who was supposed to tell the bartender a sad story). He had been at the bar for an hour when a civilian took the stool next to him (a stool Harry didn't remember being there, but he'd been drinking for an hour).

"Romulan Ale," said the civilian, a man in his early thirties.

Quark poured him a glass. "One strip of latinum,” he said.

The man thought for a moment, then entered a number on Quark’s chit reader. Quark entered a different one; they haggled for a few minutes until they had settled on a price. Then he moved down the bar, leaving Harry and the stranger alone.

The man took a sip of his drink. "Damn," he said. "This is a lousy vintage." He squinted down after Quark.

"Mine's okay," said Harry.

The man eyed Harry. "Mind if I take a sip?"

"Sure," said Harry.

The man took Harry's glass and had a small sip. He started laughing.

"What?" said Harry.

"This isn't Romulan Ale," said the stranger. "This is vodka and Tasty-Ade. And I thought I got snookered. Next time make sure he hasn't switched bottles on you."

Harry stared at him. "I paid 352 credits for that!"

The stranger laughed again. "The exchange rate isn't that bad. I paid 83 for mine. Always stop by the currency exchange first to check the rates."

"Oh," said Harry. He stared into his glass, having intense flashbacks to high school.

The stranger seemed to take pity on him. "What's your name?" he said.

"Ensign Harry Kim," said Harry.

"You with Voyager?" said the stranger.

"Yeah."

"Me too." He held out his hand. "Tom Paris."

Harry took it. "Nice to meet you. What are you, a civilian expert?"

"Something like that."

“Have you worked in the Gamma Quadrant before?”

“We’re not going to the Gamma Quadrant,” he said.

“Huh?”

A call came over the station intercom: "All Voyager crew, report to Pylon Three."

"That's us," said Paris, finishing off his drink. When he saw Harry abandoning his, he finished that, too.

"Should I try to get my money back?" said Harry.

"From him? You’re kidding, right? Come on."

They walked out of the bar, joining the crowd flowing towards Pylon 3.

"Hey," said Harry, "was it my imagination, or did your stool wink at me when you got up?"

Paris shrugged. "You never know in this place.

#

USS Voyager
Federation-Cardassian Frontier

Lieutenant Kathryn Janeway was still getting settled in her office when the door chimed. "Come," she said.

The doors hissed open and Captain Bujold walked in. Janeway sprang to her feet.

"As you were," said Bujold. "I just came down to see how you were settling in."

"Just fine, ma'am," said Janeway.

"What do you think of the facilities here?"

"They're very nice," she said. "Not as much space as we had on Atlantis, but all of the equipment is top of the line."

"Alas, we don’t have a Nebula’s lab space," said Bujold. "Our mission profile is geared more towards observation than analysis.”

“It seems like a missed opportunity,” said Janeway. “This ship would be perfect for long-term science missions.”

“That’s an interesting opinion. Most people would say a ship this small isn't really suited to long-duration missions "

Janeway smiled. "We have more volume than a Constitution, and Jim Kirk seemed to do okay for himself."

Bujold heaved a theatrical sigh and gave Janeway a wry smile. "I agree with you. But since Wolf..." She shrugged. She was right. Since Wolf 359, science had gotten the short end of the funding stick. New general-purpose ships designs like the Intrepid class had less and less space devoted to science facilities, older ships were seeing their science labs left off of refit lists , and most of the new designs in the pipeline were strict combat ships with no science facilities at all. Even the giant Galaxy and Nebula class explorers were seeing their science capacity shrink. Janeway understood the rationale, but she didn't have to like it.

"Have you gone over your inventory yet?" said Bujold.

"Eh? Yes, I have. I was going to mention--"

"You are short several items."

"It's a lot more than several, ma'am. I'm not sure I understand the rush. The Gamma Quadrant isn't going anywhere."

"Our mission to the Gamma Quadrant has been postponed. I'm sorry I didn't inform you before now, but the situation is unfolding rapidly. A Maquis ship has disappeared in the Badlands; Chakotay is on board, and we have been tasked with finding him. Time is of the essence for us."

"I understand," said Janeway. She pretended to be distracted by a blinking figure on her PADD, to hide her irritation.

"I have an assignment for you," said Bujold. "We will be in the Badlands in a few hours. I would like you to send someone to work with Mr. Paris and Lieutenant Stadi to plot a course and plan our search."

Janeway went through her mental list of officers and crewmen in her department. The trouble was, she'd been on board Voyager less than a day, and couldn't even remember all her people's names, let alone their qualifications. She'd had all her assignments drawn up for a star mapping mission to the Gamma Quadrant, and now she had to completely redraw them on no notice. Bujold waited, tapping her foot. Janeway, pressed, decided on the one person she knew she could trust.

"I can do it," said Janeway.

Bujold gave her a curious look. "You, Lieutenant?"

"Yes ma'am."

"What is your specialty again?"

There was a long pause. "Meteorology, ma'am."

"Meteorology."

"Yes. Specifically, meteorology of class J and T planets."

"Gas giants," said Bujold.

"Yes," said Janeway. Her ears were starting to turn hot.

Bujold stared at the overhead for a moment, as if she had just spotted an interesting bug or somesuch thing. She said "Hmm" several times. Finally, she said to Janeway, "Well, if you feel it is best, by all means, please join Lieutenant Stadi and Mr. Paris on the bridge."

"Yes ma'am." After Bujold left, she pulled up her department's personnel records and flipped through them, looking for someone else to send to the bridge.

#

USS Voyager
The Badlands

Lieutenant Stadi didn't like the way Tom Paris was leaning over her shoulder, watching the helm station's readouts. For one thing, he was making noises: small "hmms" and "uh-huhs" like an Academy instructor, making it clear he was critiquing her performance, as if a failed terrorist had any business judging a Starfleet officer. For another, he was looking at her breasts. She was sure of this because she was Betazed. She tried not to read minds unless she had a good reason, but Damn. Nice cans. I'd hit that, was hard to ignore, especially when he thought it two or three times in the first hour.

"Set course 285 mark 13, warp 3, four minutes," said Paris.

"That's a little slow," said Commander Cavit, Voyager's first officer.

"If you want to blow your nacelles off in a subspace pothole field, be my guest," said Paris.

"This is ridiculous," said Cavit. "The Cardassians told us where Val Jean disappeared. Why don't we just go straight there and start looking?"

"Because the Cardassians couldn't find their own asses in the Badlands," said Paris. "All we know is that Val Jean went into the Rat's Nest. We're looking where she would have gone if she came out."

"That's not a rational search pattern, Mr. Paris," said Bujold.

"Look," said Paris, "One of two things happened. They went into the Rat's Nest and they never came out, meaning the ship was wrecked, meaning it's not going anywhere; or they did leave, and they're hiding somewhere else in the Badlands. If that's the case, you want to catch them now, because the Maquis watch both sides of the border and someone saw us go in. If Chakotay is still in here, and he's alive, it's a race to find him before he finds out we're looking."

Bujold and Cavitt seemed to accept that explanation, though Stadi glanced back over her shoulder once and saw Cavitt sitting in his chair cracking his knuckles, a sure sign he was unhappy. Stadi felt the same.

That unhappiness deepened as the search dragged on for another hour, and then another, and then another after that. Paris tried several times to make small talk with her. She brushed off each attempt with clipped, one-word answers. She tried to ignore her disgust when he started having sexual fantasies about her. When that failed, she started deliberately making small mistakes for him to correct, under the assumption that if he was micromanaging her, he wouldn't have time to wonder if she took "it" there.

She was profoundly relieved when the pipes sounded the end of her watch, and just as dismayed when she heard Paris's thoughts just before he spoke them: "Lieutenant Stadi should stay on post," he said as her replacement approached the helm. "We're working together well."

"Is this so, lieutenant?" said Bujold. Bujold, who was human, knew how to frame the thoughts in her head so Stadi could clearly hear them (Stadi often wondered who had taught Bujold that trick). I know he is a pig, thought Bujold (in French; Stadi had taken a crash course). It is up to you if you wish to stay.

"May I speak to you in your ready room, Captain?" said Stadi.

"Of course, Lieutenant. Mr. Cavitt, you have the bridge."

Bujold asked the question as soon as they were in her office: "Is he leading us on a wild-goose chase, lieutenant?"

"I don't...if he is, he is hiding it well. Better than he's hiding his other thoughts."

"Does he know you're a Betazed?"

"I think so," said Stadi.

"Hmm," said Bujold. "Lieutenant, as I told you, it is your decision if you wish to keep working with him."

The less time she spent with the repugnant toad, the better. On the other hand, she sensed he was comfortable working with her, and uneasy at the thought of training another helmsman on the fly in this dangerous environment.

She sighed. "I can work another watch, captain."

"If he gives you any indication he's not making a good-faith effort, signal me."

"How?"

"Tap your commbadge twice."

"Understood, ma'am."

#


"Nothing," said Dvorska, the ops officer. "No debris, no warp trail."

Paris nodded. It had been four hours since the last watch change. He looked over Stadi's shoulder at the helm console, wondering for the hundredth time what she looked like under the form-fitting Starfleet tunic. It had occurred to him, vaguely, that she was a Betazed and could probably hear his thoughts, but other than occasional encounters with the dog-faced guards of New Senegal women's camp, this was as close as he'd been to a woman in years.

"Set course 636 mark 49," he said. "Warp 2."

He heard whispering behind him. He turned to see Cavitt and Bujold conferring. Cavitt looked angry; Bujold looked tired. They'd been searching the Badlands for most of the day.

Bujold noticed him watching them. "Mr. Paris," she said, "how much longer do you expect this to take?"

"I don't know, ma'am," he said, truthfully. "The Badlands are as riled as I've ever seen them. We have to go slow."

"Like hell we do," said Cavitt. "We could use our own sensors to navigate and be at Val Jean's last reported location in half an hour." He pointed at Paris. "I think he's jerking us off so his old Maquis pals have time to escape."

"That's bullshit!" said Paris. "You think I actually care if Chakotay goes to jail? Hell, I'd be happy to help put him there."

"We're all tired, Mr. Paris," said Bujold.

"I don't have to stand here and take that," said Paris.

"Mr. Paris, can you truthfully tell me you aren't trying to buy time for your friends?"

He hesitated. Just a hitch, not enough that most people would even notice. But it was enough for a single word to flutter up from his subconscious: No. "Yes," he said.

He heard a communicator tweet twice. He looked back. Stadi was glaring right at him.

"Mr. Paris, perhaps we should discuss this further in my ready room," said Bujold.

"Fine," said Paris. He followed the captain to her lavish office just off the bridge. She didn't waste any time.

"Mr. Paris, I believe my first officer is correct. I think you have been leading us on a wild goose chase in order to protect the Maquis."

"That's bullshit and you know it," said Paris. "You know I hate Chakotay's guts."

"Yes, I do," said Bujold. "But perhaps not his pilot's, no?"

Paris's ears and neck started to burn. "Fuck her. She screwed me, too."

"In more ways than one, no doubt," said Bujold. "Mr. Paris, I offered you a deal in good faith, and in return you lied to me."

"I'm not lying!" he said. Am I? What the hell am I doing?

"I will give you one last chance, Mr. Paris. Tell me the fastest way to the Rat's Nest right now, or I will have you escorted to the brig."

Paris sighed. The game was up. He told her.

"Thank you, Mr. Paris," she said. She tapped her communicator. "You may come in now," she said.

The ready room doors slid open and two big security goons walked in. "Take him to the brig," said Bujold.

"What!" said Paris. "You said you wouldn't send me to the brig if I told you!"

"I lied," said Bujold. "Now we're even." The goons seized him by both arms and half-led, half-drag him across the bridge, to the turbolift.

"Ensign Donaldson, take Mr. Paris's position," said Bujold as she strode onto the bridge. "Lieutenant Stadi, set course 383 mark 54. Mr. Cavitt, take the ship to Yellow Alert." She planted herself in the captain's chair. Without turning to look at him, she said, "Enjoy your next thirty years, Mr. Paris."

#

USS Voyager
The Badlands

They had given Harry Kim had the overnight shift at ops. Because of this, he was off-duty when Voyager entered the Badlands, and did not have to report to his general quarters station when they sounded yellow alert. The price for this was that he was supposed to be asleep, but between the excitement of a first mission and his own body clock insisting it was only early in the evening, he couldn't sleep. At 1900 hours, only an hour before he was supposed to wake up anyway, he gave up. He slipped out of the quarters he shared with three other junior officers and, his clarinet in hand, went to the deserted forward observation lounge, to play Benny Goodman and watch the red and yellow plasma clouds outside shift to blue and violet as they repeatedly jumped to warp.

About thirty minutes after he arrived, he noticed that the warp hops no longer seemed random. Instead, they were closing in on some huge, gnarled blister of violent storms. It was beautiful, and thrilling, and more than a litte scary, because it just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger, each hop bringing out finer details. He had no sense of scale, but the blister had to be many light-years across.

Then came another hop and it was gone, replaced by a hellscape of storms and flares that looked close enough to touch. He gasped and realized they were inside it. Then they hopped again, and again, and again, in quick warp bursts, like they were trying to find a path through it. He forced himself to keep playing his clarinet, knowing that the people on the bridge knew what they were doing.

His faith was rewarded when Voyager hopped into a clear bubble of space and stayed there. He checked the time; 1948, enough to try a new arrangement of Glenn Miller he had found.

Outside, the color of the sky changed from orange-red to yellow.

Captain Bujold's voice came over the intercom: "Lieutenant Janeway, report to the bridge."

The yellow brightened to white. Harry’s clarinet playing trailed off. There was a ringing sound building in Harry's ears.

The warp engines started building up power again.

The Red Alert siren managed a single whoop.

The white light outside became blinding, like the surface of the Sun. Harry looked away, shielded his face, felt his arms burn. The light felt like it was everywhere, inside and outside. The ringing had built to an earsplitting volume. There was a terrible roar, and Voyager was smashed by some great force, as if it were a plastic toy whacked by a cricket bat. Harry was hurled out of his seat into the side of the bar, where falling bottles from the shelf behind rained down on him.

And then one of the big windows shattered, thirty centimeters of transparent aluminum giving way with a scream like a damned soul, and Harry was being sucked out to space, saved at the last second by a force field snapping to life. The ship shook more, and he dove for cover under a table until it stopped.

When it did stop, it stopped like a guillotine blade hitting a chopping block. There was a final thud, and then silence. Gradually he became aware of the red alert siren, the howls of alarm and pain outside, noises from the ship, and a low moan he was making himself as he cradled his burned forearms. When he was finally sure the shaking was done, he crawled out from under the table.

He stood up and looked out the window.

The Badlands were gone. Outside the windows hung a planet, an orb of banded yellow clouds. Beyond it were stars. Between it and Voyager was an object, a central sphere larger than Voyager surrounded by mile-long panels, like giant knives welded together blades-out.

"Oh, shit," said Harry.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by Imperial Overlord » 2012-12-01 04:47pm

Hi Red. Good to see you again and I'm looking forward to seeing your handiwork.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by Scottish Ninja » 2012-12-02 01:12pm

I don't know exactly what it is, but I feel like the original "This is Wild Berry Tasty-Ade and synthehol" sounds a bit better than the new "This is vodka and Tasty-Ade". Something about the cadence of it, reading it in my head, and I think the detail about the flavor helps create a better mental picture, of some fake "blue" flavor.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by RedImperator » 2012-12-02 04:09pm

The original line was somewhat clunky in my mind's ear; in hindsight, I may have overcut. I don't regret changing "synthehol" to "vodka", though; it's kind of an ugly word.
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Any city gets what it admires, will pay for, and, ultimately, deserves…We want and deserve tin-can architecture in a tinhorn culture. And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed.--Ada Louise Huxtable, "Farewell to Penn Station", New York Times editorial, 30 October 1963
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Re: Caretaker

Post by jpdt19 » 2012-12-02 05:43pm

Delighted to see this carried on with!

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Re: Caretaker

Post by Stofsk » 2012-12-03 05:35am

Christmas has come early it seems. :)

Thanks Red, it was worth the wait.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by Deebles » 2012-12-03 11:32am

Just completed an archive trawl of the earlier version of the rewrite. Like it very much :)

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Re: Caretaker

Post by RedImperator » 2012-12-08 09:22pm

Note: Because of the character limit, this week's update will be posted in two parts.

------------
PART IIa

USS Voyager
Location unknown

Harry Kim staggered into sickbay and immediately tripped over a body lying by the door. "Ah shit," he said. The dead man had a blue uniform, two and a half pips, and had been in sickbay: Kim was pretty sure he'd just tripped over Voyager's former chief medical officer. His head was cocked at an unnatural angle, neck snapped. He looked around and saw a younger officer, most likely the nurse, laying prone with half her face burned off below a blown-out plasma conduit.

"Ah shit," he said again. "Computer! Activate emergency medical hologram!" I hope this works, he thought.

A bald, middle-aged simulacrum in a blue Starfleet uniform shimmered to life in the middle of sickbay. "Please state the nature of the medical emergency," it said, as if it couldn't see two bloody bodies lying on the floor.

"There's been some kind of accident; there are casualties all over the ship," said Kim. "Including them."

The EMH wasted no time, grabbing a medical tricorder from a cabinet and scanning both bodies. "They're dead," it said. "Are you injured?"

Kim showed him his blistered hands. "Second-degree burns," the EMH said immediately. It picked up a dermal regenerator. "Hold still." It gave Kim a few waves of the device, enough to shrink the blisters. As he worked, the doors hissed open and more people staggered in, a security rating with bad burns and, leaning on him, a petty officer with a grotesque compound fracture.

"Move," said the EMH to Harry.

"But I'm not done!" said Kim.

"This is a triage situation," said the EMH. Kim noticed for the first time how its voice never changed from a clipped, professional monotone, giving it the bedside manner of a tree stump. Well, it wasn't designed to have a bedside manner. It was designed to assist the medical staff in a situation like this. Except some idiot had routed a plasma trunk behind sickbay's wall, and now both the CMO and his nurse were dead.

"Attention all crew, attention all crew," said the intercom. "This is Acting Captain Janeway. Anyone who is not hurt must report to his or her red alert station immediately. All section chiefs, please report your status to the auxiliary bridge immediately."

#

Voyager main engine room

The clamor of the alarms in Engineering was deafening. Lieutenant Joseph Carey stared at the master control board and tried to decide which crisis to tackle first. "Vorick, we're still losing pressure in the primary impulse cooling circuit; get the emergency injectors restarted before the starboard reactors melt! Beltran, find out where it's leaking. Damage control, we're venting atmosphere on deck nine through the HVAC system; seal those intakes on the double. Rodriguez! What's the story with main power?"

"Sir, the starboard plasma injector fused shut and the blowdown valves stuck closed; we came a cunt-hair from blowing the whole fucking core. The warp plasma vented into the EPS system; that saved the core, but we've got plasma blowouts all over the ship and two thirds of the electrical system is fried. I can get you auxiliary power off the impulse reactors, and that's if you're lucky."

"How are the antimatter pods holding?"

"They're solid, sir. About the only thing on this fucking boat that isn't broke right now."

"Attention all crew, attention all crew," said the intercom. "This is acting captain Janeway. Anyone who is not hurt must report to his or her red alert station immediately. All section chiefs, please report your status to the auxiliary bridge immediately."

Carey glanced up from the control board. "Are you kidding me?" he said. How is the fucking science officer the acting captain? He had known Janeway for about six hours and she hadn't impressed him; career science dweeb tag-alongs never did.

"Computer," said Carey, "Who is the legal commanding officer of USS Voyager?"

"The commanding officer of USS Voyager is Lieutenant Kathryn Janeway."

Shit, though Carey.

"Bridge to engineering," said the intercom.

"Here we go," muttered Carey. "Engineering; Lieutenant Carey reporting."

"What's your status down there?"

"Bridge, we have a total warp core shutdown. We're bringing up the impulse reactors for power generation right now."

Pause. "Lieutenant Carey, this is Acting Captain Janeway. When can we expect warp power to be back online?"

"Ma'am, the starboard plasma injector has fused shut. That's what caused the plasma backflash throughout the ship. At this point, I have no idea what state the rest of the warp core is in. We might not be able to bring it back up at all; at the very least, it's going to take days to properly inspect it all."

Another pause. Carey made a show of twiddling his thumbs; Rodriguez caught the gesture and sniggered. "Engineering, we need warp power back as soon as possible," said Janeway.

"I understand, ma'am," said Carey. "But the backflash hit the reaction chamber. I could have spalling, I could have microfractures, I could have a cracked dilithium crystal for all I know right now. It's going to take some time."

"What about the port nacelle? Can we use that?"

I cannot believe this is happening to me, thought Carey. "Ma'am, the reaction chamber feeds both nacelles. Even if the port nacelle worked perfectly, there's no way to power it."

There was yet another long silence. "Ma'am, maybe we should just call for a tow," said Carey. "It's pretty long odds we can fix this girl outside of a drydock."

"That's impossible," said Janeway.

What? Why? "Ma'am, the subspace comms should be operational."

"Mr. Carey, come to the auxiliary bridge. I think you should brief me in person."

With crayons, no doubt, thought Carey. He was about to argue when a thought occurred to him: [/i]She's out of her depth and she knows it. I might be the highest ranked officer left alive after her.[/i] The thought of taking command of Voyager in this state didn't exactly make his heart leap, but at the same time, he realized he trusted himself more than some dweeb who'd taken the bridge officer's exam on a lark--and maybe Janeway did, too.

"I'll be right up, Lieutenant." Whoops. Should have said "ma'am". Oh well.

"What was that about?" said Rodriguez.

"They need me on the backup bridge. You're in charge down here."

"Yes sir."

"Oh, and Rodriguez?"

"Yes?"

"I’m the chief engineer now. I might be the captain of this ship in ten minutes. From now on, when you make a report, stow the colorful language and stick with the numbers."

"Undersood, sir. Sorry sir."

Carey pointed to the scorched wall segment where Main Engineering had suffered a plasma blowout. "Have someone take care of Chief Patel's body."

"Aye sir."

#

Janeway had never been in so much pain in her entire life. The initial shock of her injuries was fading, along with her brain's natural pain suppressors. Her shoulder felt like someone had taken a welder to it and her headache was getting worse.

"Navigation, do you have a fix on our location yet?" she said.

"No ma'am, not yet. The best I can tell you is that we're somewhere in the Delta Quadrant, ten thousand light years from the galactic rim. I've found Sagittarius A, but there aren't a lot of other landmarks out here."

"Keep looking," said Janeway, knowing it was a tall order. They were on almost the exact opposite side of the Milky Way from the Federation, exactly the area most thoroughly obscured by the giant molecular clouds and the galactic core. They couldn't have gotten much further from Earth if they'd tried.

Janeway took another dose of painkiller from the first aid kit and injected it directly into her shoulder, where it did almost nothing. She gritted her teeth. She would hang on until the pain became too distracting to ignore. Then, she promised herself, she'd go to sickbay. Why hasn't Sickbay reported in yet? she thought.

In front of her, on the viewscreen, was an image of the yellow planet they'd found themselves orbiting, and an alien space station. The star and the planet weren't on any charts in the database, and the space station refused to respond to their hails. They hadn't bothered hailing the planet; there wasn't any point. The surface temperature was over 400 degrees.

Big fat zeroes, she thought bitterly. She was positive the space station was somehow responsible for their being there, but whoever was on board wasn't talking.

The doors hissed open and Lieutenant Carey walked into the cramped auxiliary bridge. He spotted her sitting in the central chair, said "Lieutenant Carey reporting, ma'am," and then seemed to take a half-step back as soon as he got a good look at her. I must be some sight, she thought.

"Report, Lieutenant," said Janeway.

Carey looked confused. "Wouldn't you prefer to do this in the briefing room?"

"I can't hold my breath for that long," said Janeway. When Carey didn't seem to get it, she said, "The briefing room blew out along with the rest of Deck One. So just talk to me here."

"All right," said Carey. "The starboard plasma injector fused shut when we tried to go to warp. When that happens, the plasma in the conduit is supposed to be shunted through an escape valve out into space. It didn't. The high pressure plasma stayed trapped in the line until it found an outlet into the low pressure EPS system, and then all hell broke loose. Right now, I don't know what kind of damage it did to the reaction chamber, the dilithium matrix, the portside injector, the portside nacelle, the antimatter injectors...nothing, really. Thanks to the EPS overload, there's serious damage all over the ship. Electrical power is unreliable, replicators are out, transporters are out, shields are out, SIF is out, phasers are out. Like I said already, I don't think the ship can be repaired here. We need a tow back to a starbase. We've probably got more sick and injured than sickbay can handle; those people can't wait until we get propulsion back online."

"Mr. Carey," said Janeway.

"Ma'am?"

"Right now, we are approximately 70,000 light years from the nearest starbase. Whatever force wrecked the ship also pulled us out here. So for the time being, you're on your own."

Carey stared, unbelieving, looking back and forth between Janeway and the viewscreen.

"We should hail that station," he finally said.

"I already did, Mr. Carey."

"We should hail them again."

Janeway snapped. "What do you think we've been doing up here, lieutenant?"

Fucking around, said Carey's face. "Sorry, ma'am. I got--"

"We need main power back on line as soon as you can get it."

"Yes ma'am. What are my secondary priorities?"

Janeway reflected on that. "That's your call," she said.

"Yes, ma'am." A long pause, and then, "Ma'am, where am I in the chain of command?"

Janeway tapped the key panel on her armrest. "First in line behind me," she said.

"Was I…was I always behind you?"

"How should I know?" snapped Janeway.

"Captain, we're being hailed! Audio only."

Maybe they're friendly, thought Janeway. "Put it on speaker."

A deep, scratchy, arrogant male voice boomed over the speakers. "Unidentified ship, this is Jal Jabin of the Kazon-Ogla. Heave to and prepare to be boarded. If you surrender without a fight, everybody lives. If you don't, I'll space every last one of you."

Nope. "Mr. Gombe, show me the source of that transmission."

A massive brown ship, shaped vaguely like the head of a squid, appeared on the viewscreen, approaching them at relatively low speed. It had snuck on them undetected at warp--another bad sign for Voyager's readiness, but not one that Janeway could afford to worry about at the moment.

"Red alert," said Janeway.

"Shields and phasers are out," said Carey, in case she’d forgotten in the last minute and a half.

"Get down to engineering right now," said Janeway. "Get me whatever shields you can get."

"Yes ma'am." He took off running, off the auxiliary bridge.

I'd better stall them, she thought.

"This is Lieutenant Kathryn Janeway of the Federation starship--"

Janeway was interrupted by a flash from the Kazon vessel and a sudden explosion on Voyager.

#

Voyager shook with the impact of the Kazon weapon. Alarms started howling around the auxiliary bridge.

"Damage report!" said Janeway.

"Electromagnetically propelled kinetic impactor," said Lieutenant (j.g.) Obayana Gombe, the former backup tactical officer. "It penetrated the saucer, deck four portside, just aft of the forward turboshaft. Sections 408 and 409 are venting atmosphere."

"I'm waiting, Voyager. You have thirty seconds to reply."

For a moment, Janeway was frozen. Everyone on the bridge was looking at her.

"I have photon torpedoes," said Gombe, breaking the silence.

"How many?" said Janeway.

"Only the ready two in the tubes. The loading system isn't responding."

"That should penetrate their shields" she said.

He grimaced. "They should, but they won't," he said. "There's only enough antimatter in the ready reserve for one one-tenth yield shot, and I can't get the antimatter pumps to respond, either."

She wanted to cry. Now what do I do?, she thought. "We're running out of time," said Janeway. "Does anybody have any ideas?"

Nobody said anything.

"Comms, try to stall them," said Janeway.

"How?"

"I don't know. Ask them for instructions."

There was a flutter of chatter between the comms operator and the Kazon on the other end. "Ma'am, I asked them about transporting over, but they didn't seem to know what I was talking about." More chatter. "Ma'am, we're running out of time."

"They are charging their weapons," said Gombe.

I can't let this ship fall into their hands, she thought.

"Janeway, this is your last chance. Surrender or be destroyed." For emphasis, the Kazon ship fired another slug into Voyager's saucer, smashing open more compartments on Deck 4.

"Captain," said the comms operator, "we're being hailed by another ship. It encrypted with…an old Federation code."

"Do we have the key?"

"Yes ma'am."

"Put it on speaker."

#

Val Jean

"I have Voyager," said Tuvok.

"Are we sure about this?" said Torres. "Chakotay, you know why they were in the Badlands."

"You just keep the warp drive working," he said. He didn't trust three days' worth of jerry-rigged repairs, even B'elana's. It gave him a legitimate reason to shut Torres up before she could reinforce his own doubts.

"Unknown ship, this is Voyager. Who are you?"

"This is the Liberation Front starship Val Jean, and we're coming to save your ass," said Chakotay. "I can help you, but only if you do exactly as I say."

#

Janeway looked around at her officers. On the one hand, the idea of accepting help from terrorists was repugnant. On the other hand...

"Captain, the Kazon say if we don't surrender, they're going to open fire."

"Signal our surrender," said Janeway to comms. To Chakotay, she said, "All right, I'm listening, Chakotay."

"Do you have any photon torpedoes?" said Chakotay.

"Two. But they can't penetrate the Kazons' shields."

"What about your transporters?"

"They're out," said Janeway.

"Ma'am, the aeroshuttle has a transporter," said Gombe. "It still works. I can't operate it from here, though."

"Correction, Chakotay: I've found a working pad. Mr. Gombe, send a crew down there to operate the transporters right away."

"Yes, ma'am," said Gombe.

"Listen to me very carefully," said Chakotay. "In two minutes, I'm going to drop out of warp in phaser range of the Kazons. The Kazosn don't have subspace sensors, so they don't see me coming. Once I drop out, I'll need to remote operate your transporters."

"There's no way we can get the torpedo hauled to the aeroshuttle in time," said Gombe.

"Do a site-to-site transport, then," said Janeway.

"Ma'am, transporting antimatter once is risky enough--"

"Do you have a better plan?" said Janeway.

"No ma'am. Readying the torpedo."

"All right, Chakotay. I'm sending the remote access code for the aeroshuttle's transporter systems. They'll be online by the time you get here."

"Acknowledged, Voyager. Chakotay out."

"How do we know he's not just trying to steal a photon torpedo?" said Gombe.

"It's not like it's doing us any good."

"I suppose not, ma'am." He glanced down at his station. "Captain, the Kazon have launched boarding shuttles."

#

Harry Kim ran like he never had in his entire life, his feet pounding on the deck as he approached the aeroshuttle airlock. With his normal Red Alert station--backing up the ops officer on the main bridge--destroyed, he had run around looking for the auxiliary command center until some damage control officer corralled him and sent him down to Deck 9 forward to supervise a gang of ratings on firewatch. He'd had to come by emergency ladderway, and his heart had been hammering by the time he'd scrambled down nine flights. He hadn't even found the ratings when another officer, a j.g. lieutenant named Nozawa, grabbed him.

"Do you know how to power up a runabout?" he'd said.

"Yes, sir," said Kim, who'd done particularly well on that unit.

"Good. We need to get the aeroshuttle's transporters online in the next ninety seconds."

Kim gulped and followed Nozawa at a dead run through three hundred meters of half-lit, smoke-filled, debris-clogged lower-deck passageways to the aeroshuttle docking port. Fortunately, the airlock doors still worked. Inside, to Kim's right, were the cabins and cargo spaces and a passageway to engineering. To his left was the standard forward cabin of a Danube class runabout.

Nozawa pointed to the cockpit. "You start up the ships's systems from there. I'll go operate the transporter. You've got about one minute."

"What are we transporting?" said Kim.

"A live photon torpedo, so make sure the voltage is steady." Kim nodded, swallowed hard, and bolted for the pilot's chair.

As soon as he sat down, the Okudagram control panel lit up, instantly filling Kim with paralyzing terror. For six, seven heartbeats, he couldn't even read the labels.

"I'm ready when you are!" shouted Nozawa.

That broke Kim out of his trance. His training rushed back and his fingers danced across the panel. Unfortunately, as the startup procedure unfolded, he realized he was never going to get the impulse reactors started in time, let alone the warp drive. He checked the umbillical connection from Voyager. It was stone dead; Engineering had cut the aeroshuttle off to conserve power. "Oh, shit," he said.

Then the lights on the panel reminded him. The aeroshuttle was designed to operate semi-independently, which meant it had a battery, which meant..."You've got power!" he shouted at Nozawa as he flipped open the circuits.

#

"Thirty seconds to impulse," said Mohommad.

"Are you sure about this?" said Seska. "Transporting live antimatter--"

"You think we can get home without Starfleet's help?" said Chakotay.

"Do we want Starfleet's help?" said Bendera. "They'll arrest us the minute we get back."

"Look at them," said Chakotay. "They're a wreck. Once we're back in the Badlands, we'll leave them in our dust. But we need to get back to the Badlands first. Tuvok, ready phasers. Bendera, stand by; they're going to hand over transporters to you the second we drop to impulse." He turned to Seska. "Are you sure you have the timing down?"

"Yes," she said.

"All right," he said. "Tuvok, make sure you only fire on the mothership. If we wipe out their boarding parties, there's no reason for them not to shoot Voyager."

"Ten seconds," said Mohommad.

#

On the aeroshuttle, Nozawa activated the transporter and held his breath while the sleek black torpedo materialized on the pad.

Outside, the Kazon boarding shuttles drifted in, a few hundred meters from Voyager's hull. The first group of them had started slowing to contact speed.

On the Kazon battleship Predator, Maje Jal Jabin watched with growing excitement as his boarding parties approached the crippled alien starship. The Caretaker had provided many victims for the Kazon-Ogla, but he sensed that he had one of the great prizes of his career at his fingertips. There was something about the streamlined, white, alien hull which suggested great power and sophisticated technology. Ships like it had come here before, but they'd outrun or outfought him or destroyed themselves.

He didn't notice how his boarding shuttles were blocking most of his best firing lines to Voyager.

On the auxiliary bridge, Janeway called Carey on the intercom. "Mr. Carey, if this doesn't work, we'll fight the boarding parties for as long as we can to buy you time. But this ship can't fall into the hands of these aliens. If Engineering falls, you blow the antimatter pods. Do you understand?"

Down in engineering, Carey and Rodriguez looked at each other for a long moment. Then Carey, his voice shaking, said "Yes, ma'am," and dialed up the controls for the antimatter containment fields.

Val Jean screamed towards the Caretaker array at many times the speed of light.

#

"Captain, another ship is approaching," said Gombe. "Maquis raider. They just dropped out of warp and they're closing fast."

"On screen," said Janeway.

Janeway's heart sank when she saw the condition of the little raider. Its hull was covered in hasty patches and fresh burn marks; it could scarcely be in much better condition than Voyager. She spotted a hole in the hull just a few meters from the flickering port warp nacelle; the ship's engineer had to be incredibly good and incredibly reckless to keep the ship operating at warp speed in that condition.

"Bridge, this is the aeroshuttle," said Nozawa. "Val Jean has taken control of the transporter."

"The Kazons are firing on Val Jean," said Gombe. On the screen, the computer highlighted depleted uranium shells streaking within a few kilometers of the Maquis ship.

Janeway could do nothing but cover her mouth with her hands and wait.

#

"They've got us bracketed!" said Seska.

"Mohommad, give them whatever you've got left!" said Chakotay.

"They're recharging their forward coilguns," said Tuvok.

"Bendera, now!" said Chakotay.

#

Harry Kim could hear the whine of the transporter as the torpedo vanished.

#

Gombe's eyes went wide. "Captain, I know what he's doing! The Kazon have to open a hole in their shields to fire their weapons!"

Janeway didn't have time to reply.

#

Deep in the bowels of Predator, near a critical three-way power junction, a Kazon crewman named Mierna was startled by a high-pitched whine. He turned around to see a black, lozenge-shaped device shimmer into existence. He reached out to touch it.

The world exploded.

#

The explosion ripped through the port side of Predator, dissolving steel and flesh in a blaze of gamma rays, creating a blast wave of metal vapor that piled up against armored bulkheads and broke them down one after another after another. Spikes of death and fire radiated along corridors, ladderways, and conduits, killing and destroying in every part of the ship. One such spike reached the port warp nacelle, turning twenty-five thousand tons of irreplaceable warp coil into scrap. Another cracked open the deeply armored central core, just a few compartments away from where Jal Jabin was in the process of being hurled through the air by the shockwaves reverberating back and forth through Predator. Out on the ship's surface, armor spalled away and the hull cracked open, spilling living Kazon into the vacuum.

Janeway stared, gape-mouthed, at the slowly spinning wreck Predator had become. And yet, there still was a ship to stare at. Her engines, unbelievably, were still working. A few shield panels still flickered. There was power to her guns. Val Jean wasted no time, blasting the wounded Kazon battleship with phasers.

"Fire torpedoes!" said Janeway. Gombe hurled their last empty casing at Predator, where it smashed into a tangle of twisted wreckage.

Suddenly, Predator heaved, like a wounded animal trying to shake off a pair of grasping predators. Subspace twisted, and suddenly Predator was gone, warping away at barely more than the speed of light, with all her boarding shuttles abandoned to Chakotay's tender mercies.

"Kazon boarding parties, this is--" said Janeway. That's all she got out before each and every shuttle popped, like a string of firecrackers, self-destructing, leaving them no prisoners and no answers to the ten thousand questions Janeway had.

Voyager floated in the sudden calm over the hothouse world. The alien space station sat, implacable, unperturbed.

"Val Jean to Voyager", said Chakotay. "We need to talk."

#

Voyager

It had taken forty minutes of negotiation just to agree on a meeting place. All the while, Janeway's headache and shoulder kept getting worse. Janeway finally gave up and agreed to beam over to Val Jean in an hour's time, then went to sickbay to finally have her shoulder repaired.

The sickbay was bedlam, with patients slumped in the passageway outside, bleeding on the deck and smearing more blood on the walls. When the wounded parted to let her pass, she felt intense guilt.

Inside, the carpet was drenched in blood and a single doctor, assisted only by a handful of goldshirts performing basic first aid, was working on patients virtually stacked one on top of another. He worked on a patient lying on the stasis bed, his hands moving faster than Janeway could follow, and she realized he was an artificial human--either an android (which seemed unlikely, since she only knew of one in Starfleet) or a hologram. The EMH.

He was working frantically on a gold-shirted crewman second class. He had opened her chest cavity without even bothering to remove her uniform or set up a partition--only the sterile force field separated them from the rest of sickbay. As Janeway approached the operating table, he suddenly looked over at her and said, "Please stand back, captain." His voice and face were flat, neutral. His hands never stopped moving.

Alarms started piling up. The woman's vital signs were collapsing. Her heartrate and breathing zeroed. The sickbay went quiet. The doctor kept working, even reaching under her sternum to manually stimulate her heart. No matter what he did, though, it refused to beat anymore.

Finally, he gave up. He withdrew his hands and, still showing no emotion, shimmered briefly. The blood coating his arms hung in midair for the briefest instant, like a pair of gloves. Then it splashed to the deck.

"She's dead," said the doctor. He pointed at two goldshirts, who were injured themselves with burn blisters on their faces. "Take the body." They hustled through the sterile field, grabbed the dead woman from either end, and hauled her off. As they passed, Janeway reached out with her good hand and stroked the woman's face, once.

The doctor turned to Janeway. "Please step through the sterile field," he said. She did, feeling numb. The field burned, like rubbing alcohol, as she walked through.

"What was her name?" said Janeway.

"Crewman Second Class Pullman," said the doctor. "I have noted her death in the medical log." He scanned Janeway with a medical tricorder. "You have a dislocated shoulder and a concussion," he said, as he guided her to sit on the edge of the table on which Crewman Pullman had just died (the self-cleaning bed and deck had already dissolved and absorbed her blood). "You should have come to me immediately. Hold still."

"How many other dead?" said Janeway.

"Forty-six," he said, as he injected something into her neck via hypospray. Janeway blanched. That was nearly a third of the ship's crew.

"Where's Dr. Fitzgerald?" said Janeway.

"Dr. Fitzgerald is dead," said the hologram.

Janeway jumped off the table, too angry to notice her headache was gone. "Why the hell didn't anybody tell me?" she said. All the conversation in sickbay died as every conscious patient turned their heads to look at her. Even the doctor didn't respond.

Janeway's ears started burning and she was about to slip back onto the operating table. Wait, she thought. You're the captain. It's your prerogative to shout. Still, yelling at sick people wasn't going to make it better. She tapped her commbadge. "Attention all hands: this is Acting Captain Janeway. Listen carefully: I am ordering everyone to report his or her status and location to the computer. I need to know where everybody is and what they're capable of now. Computer, collate the data the crew sends you," said Janeway. "I want a map of where everyone is and an organizational chart of who's still alive." She tapped her commbadge off. "Are you sapient?" she said to the doctor.

"I am capable of independent initiative," said the Doctor. "And I am aware of myself as an object distinct from my surroundings." He poked his index finger though the surface of the table. "For a given value of 'object'."

"Close enough for government work," she said. "Until further notice, you're the acting CMO."

"Captain, I must point out that I do not have a Starfleet rank and thus I am legally unable to serve as CMO."

Shit, thought Janeway.

"However," continued the Doctor. "I should also note that as commanding officer of Voyager, you have the authority to issue brevet commissions."

"Even to holograms?"

"The regulations do not specifically exclude holograms."

"Fine. I hereby issue you the brevet rank of Lieutenant and appoint you CMO of Voyager," she said. The Doctor nodded. A pair of rank pips appeared on his collar.

"Captain, I need to reset your shoulder," he said.

Janeway took a deep breath, held it, let it out. She knew what was coming. "All right. Let's just do it."

"Relax your arm," he said. He gave her a hypospray of painkiller, which wasn't enough, and started carefully manipulating her arm.

"It's the twenty-fourth century," she said. "You'd think they'd have a better way to do this."

"Please hold still," he said. A muscle spasmed and she cried out. The Doctor was unrelenting, continuing to rotate her arm. She forced herself not to beg for him to stop.

And then, suddenly, there was a *pop* and her arm was back in place. Instantly the pain...well, it didn't exactly disappear, but it changed to something more tolerable, and it got more tolerable still when the Doctor gave her another hypospray. He bound her arm in a sling. "I gave you medication to speed up your body's natural healing process," he said, "but you will still need to keep your shoulder immobile for the rest of the day. I have also given you something for your concussion; however, you are still at risk for dangerous brain swelling if you suffer another head injury, so take special care to avoid them."

Janeway nodded, grateful that the intense, distracting pain was gone. She barely even noticed her concussion headache was gone, too.

"Is there anything you need, Doctor?" said Janeway.

"More assistance," he said.

"I'll see what I can do," said Janeway.

"Captain," he said. "You should be aware: I was only designed to operate temporarily, as emergency relief. It would be in your best interest to find a replacement doctor as soon as possible. I cannot predict what will happen to my program if I am left running in the long term."

"I know that," she said. "Right now, your closest replacement is 70,000 light years away, so we're going to have to get by with you."

"I understand," he said.

"Can you spare a PADD?"

"On the desk."

Satisfied, she took the PADD and left sickbay.

Her next stop was engineering. The turbolifts still weren't working and there were depressurized compartments all over the ship, forcing her to take a roundabout path. She made use of her time by going over the PADD, where the computer had already downloaded data on the surviving crew. She grimaced once at the numbers--not only was a third of the crew dead, but a disproportionate number had been high-ranked officers, most of whom died in the bridge blowout. She grimaced again when she saw the map. People were scattered at random, with no regard for chain-of-command or actual expertise, leaving her with such absurdities as the ship's only surviving OPS officer supervising a firewatch on Deck 9 while she tried to run the auxiliary bridge with a crewman first class on the OPS station. Damage control and Engineering seemed to know what it was doing, but everyone else was lost.

She was still pondering this when she arrived in Engineering. Carey was standing in the control room, giving instructions to what seemed like three different people at once.

"...look, don't worry about the starboard engine," said Carey. "Just get the portside running so we'll have impulse power again. We can always vector the thrust." He looked up and noticed Janeway. "Captain," he said. "What can I do for you?" He was plainly annoyed she was there.

"What's your status?" she said.

"I could have told you that by commbadge."

"I was in the neighborhood," said Janeway.

"Fine," said Carey. "We're trying to get the impulse engines back online so we have mobility."

"What about power?" said Janeway.

"We're drawing auxiliary power off the fusion reactors. Those still work; we're just having trouble with the reactant pumps."

She pointed at the dead warp core. "What about main power?"

"We're still inspecting it," said Carey, "Technically, after that, we could probably start the warp core. The thing is, though, after a violent shutdown, regulations say we need to conduct a level-1 diagnostic on the entire system. That could take days."

"Then shouldn't you be getting started?" said Janeway.

"Ma'am, the way I see it, whatever dragged us here must be on that space station. We don't need the warp drive to get back. Unless we're planning to take the long way." He smiled to show he meant it as a joke.

You are a presumptuous little shit, thought Janeway. But she hesitated before upbraiding him. He might have been right about the warp engine; it was very uncomfortable, she realized, giving orders to technical specialists which contradicted their technical judgment. "Mr. Carey, I'm going to follow your recommendation," said Janeway. "But in the future, I expect to be consulted before you make decisions like this."

"Yes, ma'am," he said.

"All right, I'm going over to talk to the Maquis. Do the transporters work yet?"

"Not yet. You'll have to use the aeroshuttle's transporters."

"What about one of the regular shuttles?" The shuttlebay was a lot closer than the aeroshuttle dock.

"No air in the shuttlebay," said Carey.

"Right," said Janeway. "Aeroshuttle it is, then." She left engineering, trying to remember how to get to the aeroshuttle dock. The map on the PADD helped. She weaved through debris-strewn passageways and around gold-shirted repair teams.

Carey didn't respect her and didn't care if she knew it. The further she walked from engineering, the more disgusted she was with herself for putting up with his attitude. Not for the first time that day, she wondered how in the hell she'd wound up in charge of Voyager. Why hadn't Bujold put her at the end of the line of succession? Why had she taken the bridge officers' exam in the first place? She was a scientist, not a leader. She was born to do battle in the halls of academia, with snide memos and contemptuous letters to the Starfleet Meteorological Review editorial page. She hadn't planned on getting into actual battle with alien space pirates, let alone in a crippled ship on the wrong side of the galaxy.

"You are getting dangerously close to feeling sorry for yourself, Kathryn," she said out loud. A nearby rating turned his head. Fortunately, he didn't seem to recognize her.

She checked the ship's org chart again. Among the departments decapitated was Science--the computer had removed her as department head when she got promoted to CO-by-default. She checked the next name down and tapped her commbadge. "Janeway to Ensign Wildman."

"Wildman here."

"Have you ever run a science department before?" said Janeway.

"No, ma'am."

"You're about to," she said. "We have to get our heads together. Gather up everyone in the department you can find and start working on how we got here and how we're going to get back. If the sensors don't work, notify Lieutenant Carey and get a repair team on it. First priority is that space station. Do a scan of the planet, too, while you're at it. Maybe there's something we missed the first time."

"Yes ma'am," said Ensign Wildman.

"Janeway out," said Janeway, who only afterwards realized she had no idea what Ensign Wildman even looked like.

She walked on, fiddling with the PADD. She dragged names around with her finger, trying to put together a chart that made sense. She was resigned to putting ensigns and junior grade lieutenants in charge of departments; in that sense, she was lucky to have Carey, or else an ensign would have been her chief engineer.

And speaking of ensigns...

She found him standing in the middle of a group of crewmen, looking lost. Gold shirt, one pip, round face, jet-black hair. "Ensign!" she said.

He jerked and spun around. "Yes ma'am?" he said.

"What's your name?" she said.

"Ensign Harry Kim, ma'am," he said.

"You're the backup ops officer, right?" she said.

"Yes, ma'am."

"I see. Then what the hell are you doing down here?"

"I was sent by--"

"I don't want to hear it," she said. "This ship needs an ops officer. You're the only one left, I'm sorry to say. Get your ass to the auxiliary bridge, on the double."

Ensign Kim spent a moment staring, wide-eyed. "Yes, ma'am!" he said. He scurried away.

Did I just chew the ass off a baby-faced ensign because I let Carey walk all over me? she thought. The crewmen were still standing around, watching her.

"Computer," she said. "Locate the nearest NCO."

"Petty Officer Jarvis is in section 917," said the computer.

"You heard the computer," said Janeway. "Get to section 917."

The crewmen saluted and scattered. "You sure showed them who's boss," said Janeway to the empty air. She sighed and walked towards the aeroshuttle dock.

#

Val Jean

Chakotay, Seska, and Bendera waited in Val Jean's tiny transporter room. Chakotay tapped his foot. It made him nervous, having Starfleet on his ship.

"Are you sure about this?" said Seska.

"I told you once: that ship's a flying science lab. Unless you think Tuvok can figure out how that station works all by himself, we're going to need their help to get home."

Seska nodded. "I understand. Just don't start trusting them."

"What do I look like?" said Chakotay. "Some kind of idiot?"

The transporter hummed to life. After a few seconds of sparklies, a young lieutenant with a blue uniform and her arm in a sling appeared on the pad.

Chakotay was instantly annoyed. What, I'm not worth Janeway's precious time? "I thought you were sending Captain Janeway," he said.

The woman smiled grimly. "I'm Acting Captain Janeway," she said. "You must be Chakotay. Permission to come aboard?"

Chakotay was glad his skin was dark enough to hide his flush. Beside him, Bendera was swallowing laughter. "Yes, of course," said Chakotay, recovering himself. He offered his hand. She stepped down off the pad and shook it. Her grip was firm, and she looked him straight in the eye. Only a slight rivulet of sweat on her temple betrayed how nervous she was.

"Well, we should get started straight away," said Chakotay. "This is my second-in-command, Seska Jiasha, and my sensor operator, Kurt Bendera. Kurt will lead us to the mess."

Tuvok and B'Elana were waiting in Val Jean's cramped mess. Janeway greeted them all with handshakes and, for Tuvok, a tentative Vulcan salute. "Take a seat wherever you want," said Chakotay. "We're not formal here. Do you want anything to eat?"

Janeway shook her head. "I'd rather get started," she said.

Janeway sat down at the end of the table. The four Maquis clustered at the other. "Well," said Chakotay, "first things first. What brings you to the Delta Quadrant?"

Janeway explained the story of how they managed to join Val Jean, starting in the Badlands. She was surprisingly candid about the fact Voyager was hunting them; he had expected a line of Starfleet bullshit about exploring gaseous planetary anomalies or something. She was frank and candid about the damage to Voyager, too. More than once, he and Seska exchanged glances. No wonder they'd had so much trouble with the Kazons.

"What about you?" said Janeway. "Val Jean looks like she's seen some action, too."

"We took all of this back in the Alpha Quadrant," said Chakotay. "When we arrived here, we had some bumps and bruises, but no more damage to the ship. The Kazons showed up, but we outmaneuvered them and they couldn't score a hit. That's how we learned they don't have subspace sensors."

"And the transporter trick?" said Janeway.

"Seska's idea," said Chakotay. "She was the first one who noticed they had to open up gunports in their shields."

Janeway nodded her thanks to the Bajoran. "I'm sorry we didn't have more juice in that torpedo."

Chakotay shrugged. "Those are tough ships. They're not very sophisticated, not a lot of technique, but they're built for slugging matches. They're punchers." He shadowboxed a little to demonstrate.

"What do you know about the station?" said Janeway.

"Not much," said Chakotay. "Our sensors were mostly fried when we got here, and we didn't hang around very long. We've spent most of the last ten days in this system's Kuiper Belt, trying to put the ship back together. Tuvok's been studying what we have, but it's not much. We were hoping you could gather more. A lot more."

Janeway nodded. "The entire science department on Voyager is working on the problem. I'm willing to share data with you."

Chakotay looked to Tuvok. He nodded. "Send it to Tuvok," said Chakotay. "What do you want in exchange?"

"We'd like you to stick around to give us a hand if the Kazons show up again."

Chakotay nodded, but added a caveat: "Voyager can take a lot more punishment than this ship. She can dish out a lot more, too. You'd be better off if you could defend yourselves."

"We're working on making repairs," said Janeway. "We have the impulse reactors providing auxiliary power, and the engines themselves should be online soon."

B'Elana spoke up. "What about your warp core? Doesn't that provide the bulk of the power to your shields and phasers?"

The look on Janeway's face said it all: I don't know. She looked suddenly like a student who hadn't done her summer reading. "Yes," said Chakotay. "All modern Starfleet vessels do it that way."

Janeway slowly nodded. "Yes, it does. But it could take days, possibly weeks to get the warp core back online."

Torres scowled. "If it was that damaged, you would have lost the ship," she said.

"My chief engineer has assured me that if we do it by the book, the inspections alone will take days," said Janeway. She was trying and failing not to sound defensive.

"So throw out the book," said B'Elana. "We don't have time for Starfleet bullshit."

"B'Elana!" said Chakotay.

"The 'book' was written in blood," said Janeway. "Every procedure in there exists because--"

"--because of hard-won experience, right, I know," said Torres. "I got that lecture in the Academy, too. But that's a load of crap. Half those procedures were written in blood. The other half were written by lawyers. The trick is to figure out which is which. Your chief engineer should know, if he’s any good at his job."

"That's enough, B'Elana," said Chakotay. He lowered his head, took a breath. "But she's right, Captain Janeway. Now isn't the time for following the book. The Kazon will come back; you can count on that. Safety's important, but so is combat readiness." He scratched his chin. Janeway was listening. She looked angry and defensive, but she wasn't arguing. "I have an idea," he said. "How about I sent B'Elana to Voyager to help your chief get the warp reactor restarted? She's gotten this old girl running more than a few times."

"I think," said Janeway, "that there's a difference between an Intrepid-class warp drive and whatever's powering this thing."

"It's powered by matter and antimatter, isn't it?" said Torres. "I've gotten this 'thing' flying with worse damage than what you've got, and without a team of crack Academy-trained engineers to help me. If your guy can't get it done, then beam me over there and I'll have your warp drive running in half a day."

"B'Elana, maybe you should--" said Chakotay.

"I want to go home, Chakotay!" said B'Elana. "I want to get the hell out of here, and right now our only ride home is broken and nobody's trying to fix it!"

"B'Elana, go," said Seska.

Torres slammed both fists down on the table before storming out of the room. Nobody said anything for a moment.

"She's right," said Seska. "And she's good. She's not some Maquis wrench monkey. She knows how to nurse a warp core."

"So do my engineers," said Janeway. "I'll decide when and how we bring our warp drive back online." She stood up. "Are we finished here?"

Chakotay stood as well. "Yes, I think so."

Tuvok, who had said nothing the whole meeting, finally spoke up. "Captain Chakotay, Captain Janeway, with your permission, I would like to transfer to Voyager."

"What for?" said Chakotay and Janeway simultaneously.

"I believe it might be useful for me to liaison directly with Voyager's scientific staff."

Chakotay looked at Janeway. "I have no problem with that. He could be useful to you; he's the closest thing to a scientist I have."

Janeway nodded. "For something like this, face-to-face works better than e-mail. All right, I agree. He can come back with me."

"Good," said Chakotay. "Captain, I'm sorry about B'Elana's outburst. Please consider my offer if you find yourself shorthanded in engineering."

"I will," said Janeway. She had smoothed down her uniform and had put her calm, professional Starfleet face on. Chakotay had read enough of those to know she meant, When hell freezes over.

Chakotay escorted her back to the transporter room, along with Tuvok, Bendera, and Seska. When the Vulcan and the Starfleet officer finished dematerializing, Chakotay turned to the other two.

“Well?” he said.

"I'm not impressed," said Seska. "I think she's an idiot and she's going to get us all killed."

“What do you think, Kurt?” said Chakotay.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I think there might be something to her.”

“Working with her is a mistake,” said Seska.

"You have any better options?" said Chakotay.

Seska said nothing.

#

Voyager

To Janeway's surprise, she materialized in Voyager's regular transporter room. Carey must have gotten them fixed. The lights were burning steady, too. Not bad for half an hour's work.

"Welcome to Voyager," she said to Tuvok. "Let me show you to the science labs."

"Captain Janeway," said Tuvok. His face was an expressionless Vulcan mask. "There is one thing I believe you must know."

"What?" she said.

"I am not a Maquis. I am an agent of Starfleet Intelligence, working undercover within the Maquis. Once we return to the Alpha Quadrant, I intend to arrest Chakotay and his crew."

"What the hell is this?" said Janeway, "Some kind of test? You can tell Chakotay that if he doesn't want to trust me, he can find his own way--"

"Computer," said Tuvok. "Verify Starfleet identity number and biometric signature." He rattled off a string of letters and numbers.

"Identitiy comfirmed: Lieutenant-Commander Tuvok, Starfleet Intelligence," said the computer.

Nobody said anything.

"I take it," said Tuvok, "that Captain Bujold did not brief you fully about Voyager's mission."

"No, she didn't, actually," said Janeway. Fuck me running, she thought.

#

Kazon battleship Predator

Predator limped at low warp back to base, one system over from Ocampa. Maje Jabin cursed the Caretaker for not allowing the Kazon to maintain a base in its system, cursed the aliens for what they'd done to his ship, cursed himself for falling into their trap, and cursed his ship for just barely surviving, instead of simply exploding and saving him from the disgrace that awaited him once word of this disaster spread.

"Kinell!" said Jabin. "Your report!"

Jabin's first mate scurried up to the dais where Jabin kept his command seat. Kinell was carrying a tablet with a video queued up. "We found the security footage," said Kinell.

"Let me see," said Jabin, taking the tablet. He started the video. On the screen, a Kazon warrior--the hapless Mierna--was guarding a primary power junction. Suddenly, behind him, there was a shimmering, sparkling light, and a black lozenge-shaped, coffin-sized container appeared out of thin air. Mierna reached out for it, there was a flash, and the camera went dead.

"So they do have some kind of teleporting weapon," said Jabin. "How did it get through our shields?"

"We don't know yet, Maje," said Kinell.

"Well, find out!" said Jabin.

"Yes, Maje," said Kinell. He scurried away with the tablet.

Jabin sat back in his seat and thought about many things--about how to salvage what he could from Predator, about all the letters he had to write to newly-made widows and orphans, about how he was going to explain and atone for this disaster, about how he might save his honor and career. But most of all, he thought of that sleek white alien ship, latest in a string of increasingly capable and dangerous ships the Caretaker had dropped in his lap, about teleporter bombs and shields and how he was going to punish those aliens if it was the last thing he ever did.

He thought about the Caretaker, too. "That fucking machine," he said, "is becoming more trouble than it's worth." After a while, he took out his own tablet and started composing his thoughts.
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Any city gets what it admires, will pay for, and, ultimately, deserves…We want and deserve tin-can architecture in a tinhorn culture. And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed.--Ada Louise Huxtable, "Farewell to Penn Station", New York Times editorial, 30 October 1963
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RedImperator
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PART IIb

Post by RedImperator » 2012-12-08 09:34pm

PART IIb

Acting Captain's Log, Stardate 48308.1:

It has been twelve hours since we have arrived in the Delta Quadrant. I remain in command of Voyager as acting captain, despite my own reservations about my qualification for the position. Starfleet doctrine is clear: in a crisis, a stable chain of command is vital. Accordingly, I have assigned the senior surviving officers in each department the position of acting department head. The only position still vacant is first officer. I can't spare anyone to take the job; as it is, I have ensigns and junior lieutenants heading departments. Lieutenant Carey is the most senior surviving officer besides myself, and should I be killed or incapacitated, command of Voyager will devolve to him, but the actual duties of first officer--discipline, organizing department heads, and the regular day-to-day minutia of running a starship--I have taken on myself.

In the meantime, the enormous task of repairing Voyager continues. Our defensive systems are working again--more or less. Without warp power, phasers and shields are limited to less than half their full capacity. Worse, our impulse drive is still out; after three failed test starts, engineering still has not identified the problem. Fortunately, we do have photon torpedoes working properly again, and the structural integrity field is back at full strength. Mr. Carey had to use most of our spare plasma relays to do it, but he reminded me how badly damaged we were by our trip out here. If we have any hope of surviving a return trip to the Alpha Quadrant, we'll need the SIF at full strength.

We still have no warp power and no prospect for getting it. I stand by my conviction that Starfleet regulations were written for a reason, and we can't risk further damage to the ship by restarting the warp core without a full inspection...but every minute we sit here, exactly where the Kazons found us the last time, I itch.

Our only hope for returning home lies with whatever brought us here to begin with. Other than the Kazons, however, nothing and nobody has attempted to contact us, including the space station orbiting this planet. It's maddening not knowing why we're even here. More than one person has suggested that the Kazons pulled us through, perhaps using technology they stole from somebody more advanced than themselves. I admit the idea has a certain logic, but I find it difficult to believe the Kazons are anything but opportunists who prey on somebody else's victims.

For now, our only hope of getting home lies in figuring out how we got here on our own. Ensign Wildman is coordinating the science department to learn everything we can about the station nearby. As expected with a 22 year old ensign, there have been a few snags in organization that required my personal intervention to sort out, but we're now collecting good data and have started analyzing it. I'm helping with that as much as I can, when my other duties don't demand my attention.

Which brings us to the problem of Tuvok. Ostensibly, he's here to assist the science department and report our findings back to Chakotay. I find that he hasn't been much help. Humans tend to assume every Vulcan is either a scientist or a mystic, but just because a man has pointy ears and a uniform, doesn't mean he's Mr. Spock. Tuvok knows barely more about science than a fresh academy graduate. He’s quite intelligent, but he has virtually no formal scientific education. He may well have been Chakotay's go-to 'science guy', but that could only be because the rest of his crew knew even less.

Lieutenant Gombe, who does not know Tuvok's true mission, suggested Chakotay must know that Tuvok can't help us in the science department, and sent him as a spy. At first I dismissed it as too clumsy, but I wonder if Chakotay, for all his tactical skill, truly understands intelligence and counter-intelligence. The evidence suggests otherwise; after all, one of his most trusted subordinates is a Starfleet spy.

I wish I didn't have to think about this. I have enough problems without worrying about how we're going to arrest the Maquis (who saved our lives) as soon as we get back. Tuvok wants a meeting to talk about it; I've put him off for now.

Finally, the casualty report. The Doctor [note: he needs a name] has revised the total number of deaths up to fifty-three, with six missing and a dozen more critical injuries that require hospitalization. That's more than one-third of the crew dead or incapacitated. The missing are almost certainly crew members who were incinerated by plasma blowouts or blown out into space. The only hope left is that some of them are trapped in isolated compartments that have lost internal sensors. The Doctor has devised a probe we can beam into these compartments without risking the lives of search crews. I'm sure it's an illusion, but he seemed quite proud of it. We will start beaming them to "black" compartments within the hour.


#

Paris was dozing in the brig when he was awakened by a horrid screeching wail, like metal being twisted to the breaking point, an instant before he was flung to the deck of the brig. He stood up, only to get thrown to the deck again by a violent shock. The red alert sirens wailed to life.

"What the hell was that?" said Paris. He crawled to his bunk, held onto it as he rose to his knees, braced for another shock. He looked around, noticing the lights were flickering. The cell's forcefield held steady, powered by a 72-hour backup battery if main power became unreliable.

The Andorian able crewman who had been guarding the brig had fallen to the deck, but was pulling herself up at her station. She had a huge cut on her face, and blue blood was dripping off her chin onto the control station.

"Hey!" said Paris. "What's happening?"

"Quiet," she said. Her fingers flew over the control panel.

"Let me out," said Paris. "I know first aid; I can help you."

"I said keep quiet," she said. She tapped her commbadge. "Brig to security."

"Security," replied whoever was on the other end of the channel. It sounded like pandemonium in the background.

"This is Tsien. I'm requesting instructions."

"Stay at your post."

"Acknowledged."

"That's it?" said Paris. "You didn't even ask them what happened."

"They're busy," she said.

The lights steadied themselves. Paris was starting to wish he was back on New Senegal.

"You're bleeding pretty bad," he said.

"I'll be fine."

"You should let me help you."

"You are not to leave your cell."

Andorian pride, thought Paris. Even a Klingon would put a bandage on that. "Look, I'm a pilot, not some kind of kung-fu master. And you have a phaser. There's a dermal regenerator in the first aid kit over there. Let me out, I'll fix you up, and then I'll go back in my cell. If I try anything, you can stun me and dump me back in here."

She hesitated before responding.

"We're on a starship," he said. "Where am I going to go?" To the shuttle bay, after I seal your eyelids shut, steal your phaser, and shoot everyone between here and there. A low-warp shuttlecraft would be just the thing in the Badlands.

Able crewman Tsien touched a button on the control panel; Paris heard the brig's security doors lock. "Okay," she said. "I'll let you out."

She was reaching for the panel when there was a deafening bass roar--the warp core! thought Paris--and all the lights went out. Behind able crewman Tsien, a wall panel blew out in a fountain of iridescent gas. For an instant she was silhouetted against a cloud of blue death, and then she was overwhelmed, her scream cut off as if by a knife, and the brig force field glowed blinding purple-white against the energy of the plasma.

Eventually--it was only a few seconds, though it seemed like decades for Paris--some cutoff valve upstream shut off the plasma flow and emergency vents opened in the brig, flushing the atmosphere, clearing the air so that Paris could see the devastation the blowout had wrought. Nothing was left of able crewman Tsien except a pile of steaming bones.

#

Paris woke from his nightmare into thick, steamy darkness. The ventilation and lights had failed in his cell hours ago, leaving him to drift in and out of oxygen-deprived consciousness total blackness, while the air grew hotter (has the cooling system failed? he thought) and saturated with dampness from his own breath and body. When he was awake, all he could think about, besides his own misery, was how stupid he'd been to get himself stuck in this situation. Once again, he'd screwed up, and this time, it would probably kill him.

His eyes were so dark-adapted that the faint blue sparkle of transporter dazzled him. It was outside the cell. Instinctively, he stood up and tried to walk over to get a better view, only to be stopped by the forcefield, the only thing left on the brig that still worked. Even from his angle, he could tell it wasn't man-sized.

"Hey!" he shouted anyway. "Help me!" And then he stopped shouting, momentarily flabbergasted, when he saw what had arrived in the brig. Floating just outside his cell, illuminated faintly by the lights of its own screen, was an unfolded medical tricorder, dangling from the bottom of a hoverball.

After a minute, it disappeared in another ripple of sparkles. A moment later, so did he.

#

The replicators were working again. Janeway was taking advantage with her third cup of black coffee in a row. She was sitting in the science department's conference room, waiting for Tom Paris to arrive.

"What do you know about this character?" said Janeway.

"He is unreliable," said Tuvok. "His motives are transparently selfish. Chakotay never trusted him. Wisely."

"Yet he trusted you," said Janeway.

"I am a better liar than Mr. Paris," said Tuvok.

The doors hissed open and Paris strolled in. He stutter-stepped when he saw Tuvok.

"I guess Val Jean is here, too," he said.

"Indeed," said Tuvok.

"Sit down," said Janeway. "You're the civilian expert Bujold brought on board?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"What were you doing in the brig?" said Janeway.

"Bujold thought I was yanking her chain, so she sent me there."

"Were you?" said Tuvok.

"Of course not," said Paris. "What do I care what happens to Chakotay?"

"Did you know anything about this?" said Janeway to Tuvok.

"I did not. I find the logic of using Mr. Paris as a guide...interesting."

"You don't trust me, either," said Paris.

"Your history demonstrates that it is usually unwise to do so."

"I should just get ear extensions," said Paris. "If everybody's going to treat me like a Ferengi, I might as well look like one."

Janeway drew a finger across her throat, silencing the budding argument. "Well, however trustworthy you are or aren't, I'm too shorthanded to have you sitting in the brig wasting oxygen. If I even had a working brig. Do you have any useful skills?"

"I'm a great pilot," said Paris.

"That's not very helpful right now. What else can you do?"

Paris shrugged. "I was a trustee in the prison hospital for a while."

"Good," said Janeway. "Get down to sickbay, talk to the Doctor about helping him."

"Sure," said Paris. "What's his name?"

"He doesn't have one. Dismissed."

Paris, blinking and confused, got up slowly and left. Janeway tapped her communicator as soon as he was gone. "Mr. Gombe, have someone make sure Mr. Paris doesn't get lost on his way to sickbay."

"Yes, ma'am."

Janeway sighed, pinched her nose, and hung her head. For a minute, maybe two, she zoned out, thought of nothing. She snapped out of it and reached for her coffee. Her hand was shaking slightly; she focused on the muscles in her wrist and arm and it stopped.

Tuvok was still in the conference room, watching her the whole time.

"What do you want?" snapped Janeway.

"Lieutenant Janeway, may I make an observation?"

"Feel free," said Janeway.

"You are exhausted," said Tuvok.

"I'm fine," she said. "I've pulled plenty of all-nighters before."

"With respect," said Tuvok. "you are not cramming for your Astrogation 401 exam. The stakes are considerably higher, and you are fifteen years older than you were then."

Janeway cracked a smile. "I never took Astro 401," she said.

"The point stands," said Tuvok.

"Mr. Tuvok, I appreciate your concern, but I have too much work to do. This ship needs a commanding officer. I'll sleep when we get home."

"Lieutenant--"

"The discussion is closed, Tuvok," said Janeway. “So was Bujold looking for Chakotay, or you?”

"Me," said Tuvok.

"You're sure."

“I knew Captain Bujold for many years. I expected her to search for me. I wish she had not.”

"Paris doesn't seem to know."

“He may be keeping it to himself,” he said. “He may not know that you know.”

“So he can hold your secret over your head?”

“Precisely.”

“It doesn’t make much sense that Bujold would tell him. She didn’t tell the rest of the senior officers.” She didn’t tell me, anyway.

“True,” he said. “It is more likely he only heard the official story.”

“All right,” she said. “If what you say about him is true, the less he knows, the better.” She tapped her commbadge again. "Ensign Wildman, I'm ready for you now."

The doors hissed open and Ensign Samantha Wildman entered. She was human, of medium height and build, square-faced, blonde, twenty-two. Not yet due for a promotion to lieutenant (j.g.). Practically a baby in diapers, running an entire department in a dire emergency.

She hesitated as she approached the table, unsure where to sit. Janeway gestured for her to take a seat next to her. Tuvok shifted so the three of them were clustered at one end, and could all easily see Wildman's PADD.

"All right," said Janeway. "Report."

"Do you want to hear the report on the station first, or the planet?"

"The station," said Janeway.

Wildman frowned. "We don't have much. Our sensors can't penetrate more than a few centimeters beneath the surface. We're still trying to get a handle on the material composition, but nobody seems to know where our quantum spectrometer is and--"

"It's on DS9," said Janeway. "If you can't find it, that's where it is. Bujold left most of our scientific equipment behind because this was supposed to be a quick mission." She took a sip of her coffee and reminded herself there was no point being angry at a dead woman.

"Er, right," said Wildman. "We have learned a few things by examining the surface."

"Such as?" said Janeway.

"It's really old. And battle damaged. Look." Wildman tapped her PADD, calling up a slideshow of visible-light photos of the surface of the station. Each photograph showed obvious battle damage; pits and divots, trenches, faded scorch-marks, hasty repairs. The entire planet-facing hemisphere of the central station was scarred with metal patches and the melted stumps of some kind of support struts.

"Any idea who did this to it? The Kazons?"

Wildman shook her head. "This damage is old. Look at this picture. See this patch? It obviously melted and re-froze. It looks like a lunar maria. Well, just like a lunar maria, you can tell how old something like this is by counting craters and comparing to the known rate of meteoroid bombardment--micrometeroid, in this case."

"Forgive me," said Tuvok, "but how could you know that?"

"We took a census of the sub-millimeter debris in the inner solar system and estimated based on their orbits. It's not perfect, but we can say pretty confidently that these battle scars were made at least ten thousand years ago. Almost certainly longer. The maximum age is one hundred thousand years."

"Assuming it's been here that long," said Janeway. "For all we know, it could have come from some other solar system; maybe a younger one with a lot more debris. Or it could have spent time in an asteroid belt."

Wildman nodded. "Yes, that's a possibility. I'd like to get a surface sample so we can do an isotope comparison between the local solar wind and interplanetary medium and the surface deposits on the station. Then we'd know for sure if it's a wanderer."

"Send a probe to do it," said Janeway. "No EVAs anywhere near that thing until we understand it better."

"Yes ma'am."

"Can we figure out anything else from those battle scars? Any signature left behind by the attackers?"

Wildman shook her head. "If there was one, it decayed a long time ago."

"OK. Anything else on the station?"

"No ma'am. Not yet."

"Fine," said Janeway, not feeling fine at all. "What about the planet?"

Wildman perked up. "That's more interesting." She tapped her PADD, bringing up a long list of facts and figures about the planet. "Class N terrestrial; atmospheric composition 96.5% Carbon dioxide, 3.5% Nitrogen, 0.015% Sulfur dioxide, miscellaneous trace gases. Atmospheric pressure 90 bar. Mean surface temperature 735 kelvin. Surface completely obscured by sulfuric acid clouds. One moon, composed of metal-poor silicate rocks, likely formed by an ancient glancing collision with another planetesimal."

"Sounds like a typical class N, except for the moon," said Janeway.

"That's where it stops being typical, ma'am. We made a radar map of the surface. Look at this." She tapped on the PADD and turned it so Janeway could see.

Class N planets--like Venus, a typical example--had distinctive surfaces. They had liquid mantles with active convection, like class-M planets, but without oceans to lubricate tectonic plates--impossible at such surface temperatures--the crust was too rigid for tectonics. Instead, the heat and pressure built up in the interior until the crust failed entirely, and the entire planet was resurfaced in a planetary-scale volcanic event. It had happened to Venus in 2330, undoing a century and a half of terraforming efforts and embarrassing the Federation Geological Survey, which had predicted the next resurfacing was thirty million years off. The resurfacing events created a distinctive, easily-identified surface of vast basaltic plains, with a few continent-sized volcanic uplands, riven with cracks and faults, randomly splotched about the planet.

This planet did not look like that.

Janeway wasn't a geologist by training, but anyone who had ever looked at a topographic map of a class M planet would have recognized these features--oceanic basins with central spreading ridges and subduction trenches along the edges, continental shelves, river valley systems and fan-shaped deltas, upthrust mountains, earthquake faults, glacier scars and glacial lakebeds at high latitudes, even identifiable sedimentary structures. All of it desiccated and baking at temperatures hot enough to melt lead--the high mountains even had deposits of lead oxide "snow" at their peaks--but very obviously formed by familiar class-M processes.

"This is a ruined class-M," said Janeway. "Not a natural N." Wildman nodded. "Was it inhabited?"

"Yes," said Wildman. "We've detected concentrations of refined metals, disturbances to the landscape indicative of agriculture and mining, and the ruins of structures."

Janeway closed her eyes. Starfleet had discovered worlds like this from time to time--worlds inadvertently ruined by their own inhabitants pushing the climate into greenhouse tipover. Sometimes the species survived in space, living in habitats and asteroids. Sometimes...they didn't. Whoever lived on this planet hadn't.

Maybe Wildman had guessed what she was thinking. "It wasn't their fault, Captain. Look." She played another slideshow on her PADD. Radar and subspace images of ruined structures, enhanced by the computer, flipped by. All of them were masonry, heavy, rough, primitive. No flying buttresses, no domes, not even any arches. The styles were subtly different, but most were variations on "big pile of rocks" like Egyptian or Mayan pyramids, with the most sophisticated structures looking vaguely Egyptian or Minoan; thick stone walls and massive columns. "The only refined metals we detected were bronze and very little iron. No steels, no aluminum."

"The acid in the atmosphere," said Janeway.

"It wouldn't have eaten it all away," said Wildman. "Most of it never reaches the surface. It's so hot down there it disassociates. No culture on this planet got past the iron age. They didn't ruin their world."

Janeway steepled her fingers. "You wouldn't be bothering with all this buildup if it were natural, would you?" she said.

"No ma'am," said Wildman. "Look." She called up one last picture on the PADD. It was a tower, more than a kilometer high. "It's made of the same stuff as the station. There are thirty more just like it still standing, and more which have collapsed." She highlighted a ruined structure near its base. Janeway thought it was small, until Wildman zoomed in and a scale indicator appeared. It was an enormous building, set at the nexus of a dozen radial avenues lined with more ruined buildings. "What do you think that is?"

"It looks like a temple," said Janeway. "They worshipped these towers." She turned to Wildman. “Did the towers have anything to do with what happened to the atmosphere?”

"We don't know for sure," said Wildman. "But given the geological and astronomical evidence, it’s very unlikely the greenhouse tipover happened naturally, and those towers are the only evidence of advanced industrial culture on the surface. How it could have happened, none of us have any idea. I’d like to launch a probe to study one of the towers up close."

"Do it," she said.

"I should report this to Chakotay," said Tuvok.

"Yes, fine," said Janeway.

Gombe's voice came over the intercom. "Bridge to Janeway, he said.

"Janeway here."

"Ma'am, you'd better come up here. Long range sensors just detected another ship entering the system at warp. He's on his way to the inner system."

"Yellow alert," said Janeway. She popped up out of her seat and finished her coffee in one swig. "Let's go," she said.

#

Voyager

"Do we have Val Jean on the circuit?" said Janeway.

"We read you, Voyager," said Chakotay.

"Good. Hail the alien, Mr. Gombe," said Janeway. Let's hope he has subspace comms.

"Hailing frequencies open," said Gombe. "Audio only."

"This is Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation starship Voyager. Identify yourself."

They was a long pause. "Go away," said the voice on the other end.

Janeway looked back at Gombe. At least he's not shooting at us, she thought. That's progress.

"Unidentified ship--"

"My name is Neelix, my ship is the Baxial, and I paid the Kazon Ogla for salvage rights in this field, so you can just scram. Take it up with them if you don't like it."

Janeway put her hands on her hips and rolled her eyes. She made a "mute" gesture at Gombe.

"Hostile little booger, isn't he?" said Chakotay.

"He hasn't shot at us yet," said Janeway. "That might pass for hospitality around here." She gestured for Gombe to turn the comms back on. "Mr. Neelix, we're not interested in jumping your salvage claim. We're a long way from home and we're just looking for some information."

"Tell him you'll pay him," said Chakotay.

"We're willing to pay you for your time," said Janeway.

There was another pause.

"Captain, he's opened a video channel," said Gombe.

"Well by all means," said Janeway, "put it on screen."

Gombe did, and Janeway had to fight a burst of laughter. The alien on screen was short and stocky, made to look even shorter by an unflattering camera angle. He had a stiff mane on top of his head and spotted skin on his temples. The cockpit of his little ship was strewn with debris. He wore a suit of lavishly clashing colors.

He looks like a hedgehog, thought Janeway. A hedgehog crossed with a used car salesman.

Neelix smiled at the camera, showing a mouth full of pointed teeth. "Greetings," he said. "What, um, what would you be willing to pay me?"

"Well, I doubt our currency is worth anything out here," said Janeway. "But we'd be happy to barter supplies or services."

Chakotay, who was on the viewscreen in an inset, mouthed "Services?"

Neelix seemed to think about that for a minute. Finally, he said, "How much water can you spare?"

#

"Ahhhhhhhh," said Neelix, as he slid into the bathtub of near-scalding water. The bathroom was thick with steam. Janeway, Tuvok, and Chakotay looked on. Apparently, Neelix didn't value his privacy much, or had a different concept of it from the rest of them.

He also stank like a monkey's cage. The computer automatically dispensed soap into the water.

"Gotta conserve water on my little ship," said Neelix. "Don't even have a shower. Ahhh...this is nice, forgot how nice a hot bath was." He suddenly looked self-conscious. "You know, my people are actually very hygenic. But when it's just me for weeks and weeks, there's no reason to waste water on a bath. That's what stations are for."

"And your people are...?" said Chakotay.

"Talaxians, native sof Talaxia. About seven hundred light years spinward from here. I'm from a moon called Rinax...used to be a nice place."

"Used to?" said Janeway.

Neelix appeared somber for a moment. "Yeah. There was a...well, there was a big war. We, um, lost." Then he shook it off, and his voice and body language became upbeat again. "But, no use dwelling on the past, right? So where are you fine folks from?"

"We're from the United Federation of Planets," said Janeway. "Mr. Chakotay and I are humans, from a planet called Earth. Mr. Tuvok is from the planet Vulcan."

"If you're from Earth," said Neelix, "why aren't you called Earthians?"

Janeway and Chekotay looked at each other and shrugged. "It doesn't sound very good in our native language," said Chakotay, which Janeway figured was as good an answer as any.

"I see," said Neelix. "So where is this Federation of yours?"

"About seventy-five thousand light years from here," said Janeway.

"Oooh, that's quite a ways. We don't see many from that far off."

"You mean there's been more like us?" said Chakotay.

"Oh, yes! It was one or two every year, for years. Lately, though, it's been one or two a month. Nobody knows why the Caretaker does it. Usually it grabs them from somewhere nearby, but once in a while it reaches way out and snags somebody like you."

"The Caretaker? Who is that? Does he live on that station?" said Chakotay.

"As far as anybody knows, he is the station," said Neelix. "Nobody knows why he does it. It's been good business for the Kazon, though. And those of us living off the Kazons' table scraps." He suddenly looked embarrassed. "Not that, you know, it isn't terrible for the poor people who get sucked out here."

Janeway chose to ignore the faux pas. "Why is he called the 'Caretaker'? What's he taking care of?"

"Nobody knows that either," he said. "If you ask me, there's something on the planet. But that's just a guess."

"Has it ever taken another Federation starship?" said Janeway.

"I don't know," said Neelix. "Usually we only find out about the ones Jal Jabin catches."

"Who is he?" said Janeway. "Who are the Kazons?"

"Jal Jabin? He's the Maje--boss--of this system. He reports directly to First Maje Jal Razik. He's the boss of the entire Ogla sect. They’re the biggest Kazon sect, and they own everything from here to about fifty light years spinward."

"How many more sects are there?" said Chakotay.

"There are eighteen big sects," said Neelix. "Or nineteen. Sixteen. It's hard to remember; they're always marrying each other and having civil wars and the like. And then there are hundreds of smaller sects. Some of them are just one extended family with one ship. They fight each other all the time, unless they have someone else to fight." He eyed Janeway, Chakotay, and Tuvok. "People like you. Jal Jabin has five hundred kills, if you believe him."

"Does anybody ever defeat him?" said Chakotay.

"Sometimes," said Neelix. "Most people just try to run away, but sometimes they fight. There was one species--a 'Jam Haddar'--which deliberately rammed their ship into Predator--that's his ship. It took them almost a year to repair it, and then you showed up and blew it up." He looked around. "How did you fight him off?"

"We trans--" started Janeway.

"Our weapons are far more sophisticated than theirs," said Chakotay. "We wrecked Predator in one shot."

Janeway expected Neelix to be impressed. And he was...to an extent. But he looked pensive, too. "Captain, you might not want to stay here too long," he said. "Jal Jabin doesn't like sharing his loot, but if the Ogla think you're a threat, they'll come back with more ships."

"That's their mistake, then," said Chakotay, but Janeway could hear a whisper of uncertainty in his voice, too.

"We'd like to get out of here before the Kazons come back," said Janeway. "How do you know the Caretaker's name?"

"Well, I know because it told the Kazons."

"It communicated with them?" said Janeway. Her heart started pounding. For the first time, they had something to communicate with. If you could communicate with it, you could negotiate with it.

Chakotay and Tuvok looked to be having the same thoughts. Neelix tried to let them down easy. "It was only once, years ago. It told them they could come in the system, but they couldn't build a base here and they weren't allowed to try to board the station."

"Did they ever try?" said Chakotay.

"Well, they could never find a way into the station," said Neelix. "But they tried building a space station, yes. In orbit of this planet."

"What happened to it?" said Janeway.

"The Caretaker...moved it."

"Moved it where?"

Neelix started to fidget. "Um...the sun," he said.

"The Caretaker threw the station in orbit of the sun?" said Janeway.

"No," said Neelix. "It threw the station into the sun."

Janeway, Tuvok, and Chakotay all looked at each other, none of them able to think of anything useful to say.

The tension was broken by the intercom. "Engineering to Captain Janeway."

Janeway didn't recognize the voice. "This is Janeway. Who is this?"

"This is Ensign Vorick, ma'am. Lieutenant Carey and Lieutenant Rodriguez are sleeping until 0400."

"I didn't order them...never mind. What do you need, Mr. Vorick?"

"There is an electrical fault in grid 11, subsection C. It is a simple repair, but in order to make it safely, we must shut down several non-essential systems for fifteen minutes, including the internal communication network."

"Fine," said Janeway. "Make it fast."

"Yes, ma'am."

Vorick made a shipwide announcement, and then the comms went dead. Janeway tested it by tapping her commbadge; it only mustered a strangled "Error" chirp.

Neelix started climbing out of the bathtub. Alarmed, Janeway and Chakotay turned away; Tuvok tossed him a towel. "Well," said Neelix. "It would probably be best if I got back to my ship. You're lovely people, but all that scrap isn't going to sort itself. If, um, you feel like throwing in a little extra payment, that'd be appreciated."

"Wait," said Janeway. "Has the Caretaker ever sent anybody home?"

"No," said Neelix. "The only way home is the long way."

#

Voyager

"Well, what do you think?" said Janeway. She, Chakotay, and Tuvok sat alone in the science department conference room. Janeway had another coffee. Her stomach was churning and she had to piss every fifteen minutes, but she kept chugging it down.

"Assuming he was telling the whole truth," said Tuvok, "We may not have many options."

"The whole truth?" said Chakotay. "Do you think he was lying?"

"That possibility cannot be ruled out," said Tuvok. "However, I find it more likely that he simply doesn't know everything the Kazons do."

"You're saying we have to talk to the Kazons," said Janeway.

"That may be necessary," said Tuvok.

"Fantastic," said Janeway. "I'm sure they'll be in the mood to help us."

"Maybe," said Chakotay. "That depends on if we can offer them something they want."

"Such as?" said Janeway.

Chakotay waved his arm. "Transporters. Subspace sensors. Phasers. Replicators. Better shields, better computers. Holodecks. Take your pick."

"Absolutely not," said Janeway. "The Prime Directive forbids it."

"They're warp capable," said Chakotay. "The Prime Directive doesn't apply."

"That's bullshit and you know it," said Janeway. "You used to be a Starfleet officer; you know the Prime Directive has shades of meaning. We can make contact with warp-capable civilizations. We still can't interfere with their development by giving them technology centuries more advanced than their own. And then there's the follow-on effect: giving them advanced technology would absolutely upset the balance of power here, interfering with the development of hundreds, possibly thousands of cultures. And finally, I don't know if you noticed, but you just proposed giving sensitive Federation technology to a species which fired on a Federation starship without warning just yesterday. All in the hope they know something about the Caretaker? No, absolutely not."

Chakotay was clearly not a man used to being told his ideas were "bullshit". "Captain Janeway, you're right about exactly one thing: I used to be a Starfleet officer. I'm not anymore, and Val Jean isn't a Federation starship. I put about as much stock in the Federation's precious principles as the Federation council did when it abandoned my world to the Cardassians. If you're not willing to set aside the Prime Directive for the sake of our two crews, I'll go to them myself."

"The crew of this ship took an oath to uphold the Prime Directive, even if it costs us our lives," said Janeway.

"Mine didn't," said Chakotay. He stood up. "You can't stop me. I won't lie: I'd rather do this together, but if I have to go it alone, I will."

Janeway stood too. She didn't know what she was even going to say. She never got a chance to figure it out.

The doors hissed open. Tom Paris walked in, wearing a borrowed blue uniform and holding a medical tricorder. "Captain, the Doctor wanted to remind you that he needs to examine your shoulder again, but the comms aren't working, so he sent...me." He trailed off. He was looking directly at Chakotay.

Chakotay was looking directly back at him. His mouth was hanging open.

"So that's how Voyager found us," said Chakotay. "You son of a bitch, what the hell are you doing here?"

"Hi Chakotay," said Paris. "Miss me?"

"How much did they offer you to sell out the Maquis?"

"I don't know. How much did they offer you to steal my ship and dump me in Starfleet's lap?"

"Fuck you," said Chakotay. "I won that election fair and square. Maybe if you weren't a worthless fuckup in command, your crew wouldn't have voted for me. Even your girlfriend wanted me, not you."

Paris wound up and threw the tricorder at Chakotary's head. Chakotay ducked, vaulted the table, and charged.

#

Paris had forgotten Chakotay's hobby was boxing. The big man drilled Paris with a right hook to the temple that dropped him to the deck. Chakotay hauled Paris back to his feet and delivered a body-blow to the solar plexus. Paris staggered backwards, breathless, dazed, and reeling, his vision blurred. Chakotay was winding up for another punch to the head.

Suddenly, Tuvok grabbed Chakotay's arm. Chakotay wheeled on the Vulcan. "What the hell are you doing?" he said.

"Captain--" started Tuvok, but he didn't finished because Paris took advantage with an off-balance swat at Chakotay's right ear that miraculously connected. Chakotay shook off Tuvok and turned on Paris.

"You're really going to get it now," said Chakotay. He drew back his leg, ready to attempt a penalty kick with Paris's head. Paris braced himself, wondering if the Doctor would be able to get the dent out.

"Chakotay!" cried Janeway. There was a whining hiss--a phaser--and Chakotay grunted and crumpled to the floor, crashing on top of Paris. It hurt, but it hurt a lot less than a kick in the face. Paris lay there for a moment, trying to recover his breath, and finally crawled out from under Chakotay. He sat up and looked around, expecting to see Tuvok holding the weapon.

He wasn't. "Get him to sickbay," said Janeway. She set the phaser down on the table gingerly, like it would explode. She half-sat, half-fell back into her chair. "Fuck me," she said.

#

Kazon-Ogla Staging Area
3.4 Light Years from Ocampa

Predator limped into his dock like a dying old man, which was exactly what he was. Maje Jal Jabin's personal belongings had been evaporated by gamma ray flux, so when he stepped through the gangway, the only possessions he had left were his uniform and his gun. He didn't know how long until they took the former and shot him with the latter.

Maybe not long at all. A man was waiting for him at the end of the gangway, wearing the uniform of the First Maje's office. "Maje Jabin," he said. "Follow me."

Jabin may have been a dead man walking, but as a Maje he still had rights. "Who demands it?" he said.

The man from the First Maje's office drew up straight. He was half a head shorter than Jabin and, judging by his skull ridges, of an inferior caste, not even important enough to be allowed to serve on a starship. But he wore the herald of the First Maje on his breast, and that gave him the right to ignore all proper social conventions. If Jabin laid a hand on him, Jabin would lose it, and the officious peasant knew it. "The First Maje demands it, oh great Maje Jabin. He wishes to inquire into the condition of his ship."

Jabin briefly considered shooting the peasant and then himself, just for the satisfaction of taking somebody with him while avoiding a drawn-out execution.

"If the First Maje wants me, then I am at his service," said Jabin.

He was led through a maze of cramped passageways towards the center of the station. The design of the place was ad hoc, with hundreds of additions over the years and no logical sense to the layout. Along the way, they passed a window looking down into an internal hangar, where the wrecks of some of Jabin's earlier prizes floated. I made a lot of money for the Ogla sect, thought Jabin. Maybe that will buy me another chance. It was the best hope he had.

They walked deeper into the station, finally found a horivator bank (Jabin suppressed a snarl as the peasant got into the warrior caste car with him). It took them to the station's multi-level central promenade. Like the promenade of every Kazon station, it was crowded with civilians, the camp followers of the warrior caste who ruled Kazon society. The decks reserved for warriors were less crowded (and cleaner and better maintained), but there were still many, many Kazons. The First Maje brought his personal fleet, thought Jabin. Word of the disaster that had befallen Predator had spread fast.

The First Maje's offices were at the very top deck, above even the station's control room and Jabin's own station quarters (rarely used). He had an office at every station in Kazon territory, attended usually by mid-ranking functionaries, ensuring the First Maje got his cut of every crown that passed through every Ogla's hand. Now they were full with the First Maje's entourage. The peasant passed him off to a warrior-adjutant. "Come with me," he said.

The First Maje's personal office was a throne room. First Maje Jal Razik himself, bald and immensely fat, clothed in fine fabrics of deep maroon and orange-gold, sat on a throne of ornate hand-made ironwork covered in gold leaf. The walls and ceiling were marble trimmed with gold. Courtiers and courtesans lounged around the room, eating, drinking, and smoking, pointing a Jabin and quietly snickering. Every last one of them appeared to be addled on drugs. Jabin approached the throne and prostrated himself before it.

With a grunt, the First Maje managed to lever himself out of his throne. He wheezed his way off the dais and plodded down the carpeted aisle to Jabin. Jabin dared not move.

"Rise, Maje Jabin," said Razik. Jabin did, taking care to avert his eyes from looking directly at Razik's face.

"Look at me," said Razik. He reached forward with one fat hand and turned Jabin's head until the two men were looking eye-to-eye. Razik and Jabin stared at each other.

"Rejoice!" said Razik. "Our brother Jal Jabin lives!" And then he grabbed Jabin and embraced him in a crushing bear hug. The courtiers--looking confused and disappointed, but knowing what was good for them--stood and dutifully applauded. Jabin felt his legs go limp with relief. The First Maje had chosen to spare him.

"Walk with me, brother," said Razik.

"I obey," said Jabin. They walked together--Razik made a show of leaning on Jabin for support--to Razik's private office off the throne room. Like the throne room, it was all cold marble and gold leaf, with a massive desk made of the wood of a tree from a planet the Kazon-Ogla had bombarded with asteroids until the crust melted. Razik and Jabin walked through this room, through a short passageway, to a smaller, more comfortable office, decorated with traditional Ogla art and photographs of the First Maje's grandchildren. The First Maje offered Jabin a seat in a comfortable chair, then collapsed into his own chair--one which had much more padding than the iron throne.

"Do you remember, my friend, when we were both boys?" said Razik. "And our grandfathers led the Kazon-Ogla to glory without needing any of this rubbish around them?"

"I do, First Maje."

"I worry that we've lost our way," said Razik. He shook his head, sending his chins wobbling in three different directions. "But that is not why I am here. I am truly glad you're alive, my friend."

"I'm not," said Jabin. "I lost nine hundred warriors. For my incompetence, I should serving them in Paradise for ten thousand years.”

"I have seen the video and read the report, Maje Jabin. It was not your fault. I have forgiven you; so have your fallen warriors, and so should you."

"Forgive me, my lord," said Jabin. "I am not sure I'm ready."

"This is why I have always liked you," said Razik. "You take responsibility. Too many so-called Majes seek only glory; never blame." He leaned back in his seat. "So," he said. "If you will not forgive yourself, what is your plan for redemption?"

"It's time we destroyed the Caretaker," said Jabin.

First Mal Razik leaned forward, resting his fat face in his upturned hands. "You've gained more than any of us from the Caretaker," said Razik. This was a lie. Between his share of the loot, the lease he was charging Jabin for a battleship and a starbase, and all the taxes he was collecting on the supplies needed to run the operation, Razik was making more from the Caretaker than anyone. But if the Caretaker were destroyed, Razik had his fingers in many other pies, while Jabin would be out of a job.

"I know," said Jabin. "But Predator has twice been nearly destroyed by aliens twice now. What if it brings us more of these 'Federations' and their teleporting bombs? What if it brings us more of those lunatic 'Jem'Hadar'? What if it brings us something worse?"

"We are powerful, Jal Jabin," said Razik. "What we lack in technology, we make up in numbers. The Vidiians are far more advanced than us, and we've held them at bay for decades. Talaxians, Hakkonians, the bloody Trabe; we have triumped over and over against superior technology and desperate odds. The Caretaker pulls in ships one at a time. What could one ship do?"

"It's not one ship," said Jabin. "Val Jean arrived ten days ago. It slipped away from me."

"I know," said Razik. "It's happened before."

"Yes, but most of the time, they run away as fast as they can. Val Jean stayed, and now it's working with Voyager. Don't you see? This could be the beginning of an invasion."

"Or they could be allies of desperation," said Razik. "Jal Jabin, are you certain your concern is genuine, or do you just want revenge on the Caretaker for what happened to your crew?"

Jabin honestly didn't know. "Maybe both," he admitted.

"First things first," said Razik. "Our priority now is those 'Federations'. If this is the beginning of an invasion, we need to smash it now."

"I have dispatched scouts to Ocampa," said Jabin.

Razik shook his head. "Skulking in the Oort Cloud with passive sensors won't do," he said. "We need better intelligence. Would you agree that it's likely Voyager and Val Jean have subspace sensors on board?"

"Given how Val Jean was able to drop exactly on top of us only a few minutes after we arrived at Ocampa, that seems certain," said Jabin, who'd been thinking over and over about the battle.

"Then we need our own real-time FTL intelligence. We will move a Spyglass into Ocampa's Kuiper belt, along with a fleet to protect it."

"They'll see us," said Jabin.

"They have two ships. They are powerful, but they're not gods."

"Those teleporting bombs..." said Jabin.

Razik grinned. "My engineers have analyzed your data," he said. "It was a trick, Maje Jabin. Just a simple trick. And simple to defeat. The next time we fight, it will be on our terms."

#

Voyager

Janeway stormed down the passageway on her way to the auxiliary bridge. Tuvok followed behind her.

"That was unwise, Lieutenant,," said Tuvok.

Janeway stopped, spun, and got in Tuvok's face. "I wouldn't have had to do anything if you hadn't been just standing there! And from now on, on my ship, you will address me as Captain Janeway."

"As you wish, Captain," said Tuvok. His calm voice was only angering her further. In her entire Starfleet career, she had never fired a phaser at anyone. Adrenaline sloshed through her veins, winding her up, fraying her already disintegrating nerves. "Captain, I admit, I should have acted faster. However--"

"You've been Chakotay's lapdog for so long that you couldn't bring yourself to nerve pinch him even when he was beating a civilian to death," snarled Janeway. She kicked a nearby wall; the panel fell off. "Piece of shit fucking ship!" she said. She pointed at Tuvok. "Chakotay's waking up out of stun in twenty minutes. As soon as he does, place him under arrest."

"I cannot do that," said Tuvok.

“Why the hell not?”

“Because doing so would compromise my mission. I am sorry, captain.”

“This is my ship—“

“And you have no authority to contradict my orders on matters relegated to ongoing Starfleet Intelligence operations. Again, I am sorry, captain.”

"Fine,” snarled Janeway, too exhausted to argue. “Can I have him held for attempted murder, or do you need to consult with Starfleet Intelligence for that, too?”

“He committed an assault on board your ship,” said Tuvok. “You would be within your rights.”

“Glad to hear it.” She tapped her commbadge and was all the way through “Janeway to security” when she realized it had error chirped. "Oh for fuck's sake. Tuvok, make yourself useful and go down to engineering. Tell Vorick we need comms back right away."

"What are you going to do with Chakotay?"

"Having him arrested, what else?"

"His crew will not take this well," said Tuvok.

"No shit," she said. "Are you going to Engineering or not?"

"I am," he said, and he left. Satisfied, Janeway stomped off.

Halfway to the bridge, she had to stop and lean against a door jamb until she stopped shaking. What the hell is wrong with me? she thought. She knew the answer: she was scared and exhausted and strung out and lost on the other side of the galaxy. But she had to stay awake, had to stay in command. She'd sleep when they got home.

She hurried to the bridge.

"What's going on, Captain?" said Gombe as Janeway burst through the bridge hatchway. He was on his second eight hour shift in the last day. Beside him was a petty officer from the maintenance department, who'd been drafted as a backup tactical officer trainee.

"I just arrested Chakotay," said Janeway, taking her seat. "As soon as the Maquis find out, there's going to be trouble."

"I'll say," said Gombe.

"Vorick to bridge. I have restored the internal communications system."

"Thank you, Ensign," said Janeway. "Janeway to security."

"Security here."

"Send two guards to Sickbay to place Chakotay under arrest when he wakes up. The charge is assault."

"Yes ma'am. Where should we put him?"

"The brig is unfit for human habitation," said Janeway. "Find an empty room somewhere and lock him in."

"Aye, ma'am."

Janeway took a deep breath. "Mr. Gombe, hail Val Jean. Yellow alert, shields up. Somebody wake Carey and Rodriguez."

#

Val Jean

"She did what?" said Torres.

"She arrested him," said Seska for the second time. "For assault on some civilian."

"That's bullshit!" said Torres. "They're arresting him for being one of us."

"Calm down," said Seska.

"Tuvok's over there," said Bendera. "Can he rescue Chakotay?"

"I haven't been able to raise Tuvok at all," said Seska. "They might be holding him too."

B'Elana snarled and slapped her hand on a console. "Then we have to spring them both. Find them on sensors and beam them both out."

"Don't you think I already tried that?" said Seska. "Their shields are up."

Torres sprung to the tactical console. "They're only at fifty percent. The idiots still don't have a working warp drive. We can punch a hole through, and then get Chakotay and Tuvok," said Torres.

"Are you crazy?" said Seska. "Even with half-shields and half-phasers, they can squash us flat. Photon torpedoes alone--"

"We'll fly in close," said Mohommad. "Get in under their guns. Photorps don't have the turning radius to hit us inside a kilometer if we're moving fast enough, and even if they did, they'd do as much damage to themselves as us."

"No!" said Seska. "Have you forgotten that the only way we're getting home is with Voyager's help?"

"They probably know how to get back already!" said Torres. "They got what they came for, and now Janeway's going to take him back to the Federation and leave us stranded here!"

"That's ridiculous! Why haven't they left yet, then?"

"How should I know?" said Torres. "They're probably jerking off taking pictures for science or some stupid shit. Think about it. Not even Starfleet is stupid enough to sit here in hostile space with a dead warp core. The only explanation is that they must know how to get back already. Look, Janeway is a blueshirt. A science officer. She might not know shit about commanding a starship, but you know those Starfleet eggheads love figuring out how ancient alien bullshit works."

"Maybe it wasn't even an accident that Voyager followed us out here. Maybe they already knew about the Caretaker," said Mohommad. "This whole thing might have been a trap."

"Okay, enough conspiracy crap," said Seska. "There's no activity from Voyager or the Caretaker."

"How do we know what activity from the Caretaker looks like?" said Torres. "We've never seen it send anyone back."

"It has to do something!" snapped Seska.

"We're getting them back!" said Torres. "Who's with me?"

Hands, claws, and tentacles went up around the bridge. Only Seska and Bendera kept their hands down. Seska looked around, realized she was outvoted, and gave the order.

"This is stupid and it's going to get us all killed. Shields up, phasers online. Kurt, take the weapons console. Mohommad, get us close."

#

"They've raised shields," said Gombe. "Locking weapons."

Okay, stay calm. Remember the bridge officer's exam: a bad decision is better than no decision. "Red alert. Engineering, do we have impulse back online yet?"

"Yes ma'am, but only at thirty percent."

"They're closing in on us," said Gombe.

"Evasive maneuvers. Don't let them get too close," said Janeway.

For the first time in more than a day, Voyager's massive sublight engines rumbled to life. Janeway felt the vibrations through her seat.

"They're still closing," said Gombe. "They are faster and more maneuverable than we are."

Of course they are, she thought. 30% impulse, we're turning like a pig compared to them. She realized she was trying to postpone the inevitable. She was going to have to shoot their only allies.

"Lock phasers," said Janeway. "Target their weapons systems."

"Captain, that is a difficult shot," said Gombe. "If we targeted their engines--"

"I wasn't asking for advice!" snapped Janeway. "Target their weapons!"

"Yes ma'am."

On the viewscreen, Val Jean closed in on them.

"They're firing weapons!" said Gombe.

Val Jean blasted Voyager's ventral shields. The whole ship shook.

"Ventral shields down to 25%," said Gombe. "Bleedthrough damage to deck 15. Main deflector is offline. Captain, I can't lock their phaser power distributor."

An image formed in Janeway's head of Val Jean. She didn't know how her power grid was arranged, but it had to be something simple and robust. There was no way to take it down without destroying the entire ship. And the phasers looked to be about the same way.

"Mr. Gombe! Can you knock out their sensors?"

Beat. "Yes, ma'am."

"Do it!"

#

"Voyager is firing!"

Val Jean shook with the impact. "Their phasers are at half power," said Bendera. "Still crushing our shields."

"Mohommad, come about and take us over their dorsal side," said Seska. "We need to hit their impulse reactors if we want to have any chance."

"Yes ma'am," said Mohommad. Val Jean cut her engines, pivoted around, and leapt to full power.

"Target their impulse engines!" said Seska. "Fire at will!"

Val Jean blasted Voyager's shields, directly at the weak spot where hot propellant from the engines passed through the shields. They got one clean hit directly on the starboard impulse engine, which flared and died. All the lights went off on Voyager.

"Got them!" said Mohommad. "Their shields are--"

The lights came back on on Voyager. Val Jean took a phaser burst right in the face. The crew was thrown out of their seats.

"Report!" shouted Seska.

"They punched right through our forward shields!" said Bendera. "They knocked out the main and the backup sensor array. I'm totally blind. I can't even get the external cameras to respond."

"Mohommad, get us out of here!" said Seska.

"I'm blind too!"

"For the love of the Prophets, we're in space! Pick a direction, go to warp, and try not to crash into the sun!"

#

"They're warping off," said Gombe. "It looks like they picked a random direction off the plane of the ecliptic."

Janeway let her breath out with a shudder. For an instant, she'd experienced something like pure, raw joy. Victory! Ancient primate instincts sweeping a lifetime of civilization aside in one burst.

But that passed, and she was left with the knowledge that her ship was now more broken than it had been before.

"Casualty report," said Janeway.

"None," said Gombe. "But engineering is reporting the starboard impulse reactor is completely destroyed and the backup badly damaged and forced into shutdown mode. We've lost half our remaining power generation and propulsion."

"How long until they can get the backup online?" said Janeway.

"Mr. Carey is reporting six weeks," said Gombe.

Janeway hung her head. I hope sparing the fucking Maquis was worth it, she thought. Now we're even deeper in it.

And then it got worse.

"Captain, I have new contacts on subspace sensors," said Gombe. "Sixteen Kazon vessels have left warp in the system Kuiper belt."

Oh, shit, thought Janeway.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by Stofsk » 2012-12-09 07:54am

Hey Red, I wouldn't mind reading some of your thought process with regards to writing Caretaker. The older thread had plenty of commentary but I guess I was aiming for more your thoughts on revisiting the rewrite and what you did when you went through the polishing process.

Can't wait for next week. :)
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Re: Caretaker

Post by Themightytom » 2012-12-09 11:17am

So...then... Harry's Clarinet survived here...

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Re: Caretaker

Post by Flameblade » 2012-12-09 12:12pm

The rewrite for almost everything feels much better, a lot less "HURR DURR" directed at Star Trek, yet keeping all the feel of realism. The one and only complaint I have is that "Wild-Berry Tasty-Ade with synthehol" sounds much more fitting than the replacement. Considering the source material, that's damned high praise. :D
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Re: Caretaker

Post by madd0ct0r » 2012-12-09 02:25pm

Themightytom wrote:So...then... Harry's Clarinet survived here...
I assumed it went out the window.

I never actually saw Voyager 1, so this story has been a damn good way of explaining the setup. Slightly surprised by the amount of swearing involved though, always thought Starfleet was more professional then that, and even the Maqui seem to tolerate B'lena's outbursts more then expected.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by Stark » 2012-12-09 03:57pm

Who knew having people out of their comfort zone acting as if they were, in a sense, out of their 'comfort zone', would be an improvement?

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Re: Caretaker

Post by RedImperator » 2012-12-10 06:46pm

Flameblade wrote:The rewrite for almost everything feels much better, a lot less "HURR DURR" directed at Star Trek, yet keeping all the feel of realism. The one and only complaint I have is that "Wild-Berry Tasty-Ade with synthehol" sounds much more fitting than the replacement. Considering the source material, that's damned high praise. :D
I'm curious where you thought the previous draft veered into hurr-durrism. I haven't exactly been consciously avoiding it, but it was never my intent (not least because those stories always end up reading like polemics instead of, you know, stories). With all these characters, but Janeway especially, I'm aiming for a place where they can screw up, but for understandable reasons. If I don't hit that mark, then I don't think I'm doing my job right.
madd0ct0r wrote:
Themightytom wrote:So...then... Harry's Clarinet survived here...
I assumed it went out the window.

I never actually saw Voyager 1, so this story has been a damn good way of explaining the setup. Slightly surprised by the amount of swearing involved though, always thought Starfleet was more professional then that, and even the Maqui seem to tolerate B'lena's outbursts more then expected.
The cussing is 2/3 "we are scared and tired and outside our comfort zone" (h/t Strak) characterization and 1/3 my own dialog style; it's a tough habit for me to break sometimes. Anyway, as I said in the intro to this thread, I'm writing this like I've got a motion picture budget and a premium cable distributor. :D

Noooooooooooooooot safe for work
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Re: Caretaker

Post by Morilore » 2012-12-11 02:42am

RedImperator wrote:I'm curious where you thought the previous draft veered into hurr-durrism.
One small thing I noticed: you rewrote the line where Torres talks about Starfleet procedures to omit the comment she had in the previous draft about "the Yamato incident," and now it just generically says "lawyers." Good move there; I smiled at the original line, but that's because I remembered the little essay you wrote for the main site years ago. People who aren't long-term stardestroyer.net readers might not have any idea what Torres was talking about. You also replaced the line where Quark says "no one has ever successfully bought anything in the Federation" with something relatively more diplomatic. Little things like that
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Re: Caretaker

Post by Flameblade » 2012-12-11 08:20am

RedImperator wrote:
Flameblade wrote:The rewrite for almost everything feels much better, a lot less "HURR DURR" directed at Star Trek, yet keeping all the feel of realism. The one and only complaint I have is that "Wild-Berry Tasty-Ade with synthehol" sounds much more fitting than the replacement. Considering the source material, that's damned high praise. :D
I'm curious where you thought the previous draft veered into hurr-durrism. I haven't exactly been consciously avoiding it, but it was never my intent (not least because those stories always end up reading like polemics instead of, you know, stories). With all these characters, but Janeway especially, I'm aiming for a place where they can screw up, but for understandable reasons. If I don't hit that mark, then I don't think I'm doing my job right.
It's things like removing the reference to the Yamato Incident by name, when Bujold was talking to Paris on New Senegal you removed the part where her promise that the other Maquis would get light sentences had the Starfleet Security goons look at each other incredulously, the adjustment to Lt. Carey's scene in engineering with Rodriguez's reduced profanity and then Carey's thoughts that he's next in line for command now, removing Paris outing Tuvok which meant that Janeway's bad poker face blew it...

Each of these things, individually, worked in the story and made sense enough in the original form, but all of the changes together made it feel more like that this is how the show could have gone, rather than being a Voyager fanfic on SDN.

But either way, in either version, this story is like NERDCRACK. This version is just primo-grade NERDCRACK, rather than the normal street quality NERDCRACK. I normally don't read Star Trek fanfiction because of how awful it is. I check this thread for more updates at least once a day and when you reach the end of the episode, I'll probably be crushingly disappointed that you're not going to do a full series because this story is better than the DS9 novelization of the Dominion War Arc.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by RedImperator » 2012-12-11 09:18pm

It's funny you both mentioned the Yamato name drop, because 1) that was undoubtedly a blurfy moment and the story's better without it, and 2) I removed it not because of its blurfiness, but because I thought the "lawyers" revision was snappier. Which brings me to this:
Stofsk wrote:Hey Red, I wouldn't mind reading some of your thought process with regards to writing Caretaker. The older thread had plenty of commentary but I guess I was aiming for more your thoughts on revisiting the rewrite and what you did when you went through the polishing process.

Can't wait for next week. :)
There are two things I'm doing in any second draft. I don't outline before I write a first draft, so my first drafts are inevitably littered with stuff that maybe made sense at the time I wrote it but doesn't fit anymore; plot threads to nowhere, foreshadowing things that never happened, etc. And usually while I'm clipping all that out, I have to add stuff in that points at where the story wound up going (common one: a named character who is just referred to by her title or description in her first couple scenes, because I hadn't planned on giving her an important or recurring part). Basically there's a lot of work around getting everything in the story pointed in the same direction.

The other thing I'm doing is cleaning up the prose. I have several bad habits in first drafts that I try to polish out in later ones. One of the most common is trying to cram too much into sentences and paragraphs, and I have to trim those down. So "The other half were written by lawyers trying to protect the Admiralty from getting blamed for another Yamato disaster" becomes "The other half were written by lawyers." I find my second drafts usually feel a lot cleaner and tighter than first drafts.

If the first draft didn't go well, then there's usually some kind of major plot problem that needs to be reworked, but that didn't really happen here, though I admit it did take me a long time until I was satisfied with how the ending pieces all fit together. HI, on the other hand, had some serious structural problems it took me multiple drafts to work through. I like the spontaneity of working without an outline, but sometimes I get lost in the tall grass without one.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by Crazedwraith » 2012-12-12 08:38am

I noticed you downgraded Janeway's rank, was that just a size of the ship thing? That it wouldn't have so many Lt.Cmmdrs?

The old rank wasnt entirely replaced though. Turns up for a couple of lines when she's first talking to Carey.
Pause. "Lieutenant Carey, this is Commander Janeway. When can we expect warp power to be back online?"

"Commander, the starboard plasma injector has fused shut. That's what caused the plasma backflash throughout the ship. At this point, I have no idea what state the rest of the warp core is in. We might not be able to bring it back up at all; at the very least, it's going to take days to properly inspect it all."
Other than that it seems great. Not really noticing the differences from the first draft. But I am noticing the amount of cursing, which makes it seem slightly less trekky. Not that they are actually cursing just the words they know I think the harshest they've ever been is O'Brien shouting bollocks once.

eta: Just because what I've read seems rather negative. I really did enjoy this. Some of the little things like the Doctor actually being given a rank and pips appearing ECH-fantasy style are really good. And generally Bujold and all the pre-delta quadrant scenes were great and the crew's skill and general competency make a good contrast with the chaos post transistion.

Also Bujold's offer of 'romantic companionship' for Paris was hilarious. Basically her bribe was hookers and booze?
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Re: Caretaker

Post by Stofsk » 2012-12-12 09:34am

Yeah I caught that too, I initially thought that she was using Commander the way someone might use the word Captain. Of course, that just begs the question why she doesn't just use 'Captain' instead (I forgot that in the first draft her initial rank was Lieutenant Commander).

I liked the reduction in rank, personally. It makes the whole 'Janeway is out of her element' more believeable to me. But wouldn't Tuvok, who outranks her, be nominally in charge?
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Re: Caretaker

Post by RedImperator » 2012-12-12 03:55pm

Leaving "commander" in there was just an oopsie; when I'm not on a mobile I'll go in and change it.

Regarding Tuvok's rank: Tuvok outranks Janeway, but he's not her CO, he's not the legal CO of the ship, and he's not a line officer. He's outside the chain of command (and still undercover with everyone except Janeway, so it's not like he can openly take command anyway). But if I'm explaining that in a forum post, then that's probably something worth addressing. It feels a little like cheating to just edit it in, but fuck it, I probably will tonight.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by Guardsman Bass » 2012-12-12 09:21pm

I'm loving this so far, Red.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by Stark » 2012-12-12 09:25pm

RedImperator wrote:Leaving "commander" in there was just an oopsie; when I'm not on a mobile I'll go in and change it.

Regarding Tuvok's rank: Tuvok outranks Janeway, but he's not her CO, he's not the legal CO of the ship, and he's not a line officer. He's outside the chain of command (and still undercover with everyone except Janeway, so it's not like he can openly take command anyway). But if I'm explaining that in a forum post, then that's probably something worth addressing. It feels a little like cheating to just edit it in, but fuck it, I probably will tonight.
I'm not sure if it suits the character, but it'd be easy to talk about it if Janeway would like it if Tuvok took her place (whether because he's obviously resourceful, because she misunderstands his detached and professional style, or simply because she fears being ousted by her own crew dun dun DUN).

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Re: Caretaker

Post by RedImperator » 2012-12-12 10:38pm

Stark wrote:
RedImperator wrote:Leaving "commander" in there was just an oopsie; when I'm not on a mobile I'll go in and change it.

Regarding Tuvok's rank: Tuvok outranks Janeway, but he's not her CO, he's not the legal CO of the ship, and he's not a line officer. He's outside the chain of command (and still undercover with everyone except Janeway, so it's not like he can openly take command anyway). But if I'm explaining that in a forum post, then that's probably something worth addressing. It feels a little like cheating to just edit it in, but fuck it, I probably will tonight.
I'm not sure if it suits the character, but it'd be easy to talk about it if Janeway would like it if Tuvok took her place (whether because he's obviously resourceful, because she misunderstands his detached and professional style, or simply because she fears being ousted by her own crew dun dun DUN).
I need to think about how I want to approach this, because it opens up some dramatic possibilities down the line. I fixed the commander thing but I'm taking another day to think about how to approach this.
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