Caretaker

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Re: Caretaker

Post by RedImperator » 2012-12-17 11:21am

OK, guys, for serious, I don't need people leaping to my defense against mean old Strak. Holy shit I take half a day to cook and play Saints Row and the fucking thread hits an iceberg. For the record, I trust Stark's artistic judgement quite a lot, so I value his input even when I don't agree with all of it.

I believe in letting stories speak for themselves, so I'm not going to directly respond to Stark's central point here. In two or three weeks the ending will be up and everyone can decide for themselves if the story succedes in what I set out to do, which was 1) to rewrite "Caretaker" to be more interesting and enjoyable in and of itself, and 2) provide a springboard to an imaginary alternate Voyager series.

I mean, look: given the original restrictions I imposed on myself, and barring some kind of troll ending like "'Wow what a weird dream,' said Janeway" or "and then they all died lol", I think anything that starts in roughly the same place as the original "Caretaker" has to end in roughly the same place: Voyager stranded in the Delta Quadrant, with no certain way back except a slow trek (ha ha) across most of the galaxy, and with limited resources, external enemies, and loads of potential conflict and hostility between the crews (even if Val Jean survives and the two ships make their way back home as a mini-fleet, the two crews still have to work closely together, with the much smaller Maquis contingent largely at the mercy of the Starfleet crew for the necessities of survival). Within that framework, though, there's a lot of different ways to approach the story, and the further you get from that initial jumping-off point the less bound you are to resemble the canonical Voyager in any but the most superficial ways.

As far as fan expectations go, let's be blunt here: Voyager does have its fans, but it would be a real stretch to call it or its characters "beloved"; if I wanted to uncerimoniously feed Torres to a hungry ice shark, I'd have a lot less backlash to deal with than if I did the same to Scotty or Geordi LaForge. I like to think that I'm not all that bound by the expectations of the audience anyway (that's probably just lying to myself, but whatever), but in the case of Voyager, I don't think there's an outspoken constituency for "make it just like the show except maybe more cusses and pewpews".

But anyway you guys can tell me if you think I'm too chained to the original narrative and characters in two weeks.

Regarding technobabble and pewpews: Metatwaddle said the same thing as Stark about the creeping Treknobabble (her exact words were "sorry sweetie but there were big chunks here I just skimmed through"). One critic I can't dismiss as insane or tone deaf says something's off, I can maybe think that it's just one opinion. Two of those critics says the same thing's off in the same way, it's worth thinking about seriously. I'm not going to make edits to the posted draft; that way, I decided, lies madness, but there might be one last polish before the story goes into "Completed and Cleaned-up Fanfics". The "combat of 5000 warp strafes" is something that my internal critic was nagging me about; you basically have two battles that play out the same way, with the little fast undergunned good guys buzzing in and out against the big tough slow bad guys. It makes sense in the story universe because of the Kazons' technical limitations, but is it good storytelling? Worth thinking about.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by Crazedwraith » 2012-12-17 11:34am

I enjoyed the latest update. I do enjoy the note that Torres' problems were actually decided by the Academy to not be a result of klingon heritage. And the pairing of her and Paris on the shuttle back to Voyager.

I didn't realise until Stofsk mentioned it that Kurt Bendara was a canon character. Albiet checking Memory Alpha he appeared only as a burned corpse played by an extra in the show.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by RedImperator » 2012-12-17 11:51am

Nearly all the named characters are canon. Rodriguez, Gombe, and Mohommad aren't, but pretty much all the other Starfleet and Maquis characters are canon, even if their portrayal here is different. The Kazons less so; only Jabin and Razik are canon, but most of the other Kazon names were used on the show at some point; I didn't try to make them up myself.
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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 Themightytom » 2012-12-17 11:58am

RedImperator wrote:OK, guys, for serious, I don't need people leaping to my defense against mean old Strak. Holy shit I take half a day to cook and play Saints Row and the fucking thread hits an iceberg. For the record, I trust Stark's artistic judgement quite a lot, so I value his input even when I don't agree with all of it.

I believe in letting stories speak for themselves, so I'm not going to directly respond to Stark's central point here. In two or three weeks the ending will be up and everyone can decide for themselves if the story succedes in what I set out to do, which was 1) to rewrite "Caretaker" to be more interesting and enjoyable in and of itself, and 2) provide a springboard to an imaginary alternate Voyager series.
Yeah I guess we're kind of spamming up the thread my bad.

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Re: Caretaker

Post by thejester » 2012-12-17 01:03pm

I've never watched Voyager or indeed any Trek and I'm enjoying it. There's a lot of the Humanist Inheritance in it with the interaction of characters and dialogue - but I guess that's inevitable given the subject matter. My only real criticism would be that like THI I suspect there might be a twist too many. But looking forward to reading the rest.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by Guardsman Bass » 2012-12-17 05:25pm

The Treknobabble didn't really stand out to me, maybe because my experience with Star Trek outside of the movies is very limited. I don't think it's a big issue, at least for me, as long as it doesn't feel like a storytelling crutch - you'd expect the engineers to talk about mechanical stuff, even if it's all hypothetical Treknology that doesn't exist.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by Stofsk » 2012-12-18 12:58am

RedImperator wrote:Regarding technobabble and pewpews: Metatwaddle said the same thing as Stark about the creeping Treknobabble (her exact words were "sorry sweetie but there were big chunks here I just skimmed through"). One critic I can't dismiss as insane or tone deaf says something's off, I can maybe think that it's just one opinion. Two of those critics says the same thing's off in the same way, it's worth thinking about seriously. I'm not going to make edits to the posted draft; that way, I decided, lies madness, but there might be one last polish before the story goes into "Completed and Cleaned-up Fanfics". The "combat of 5000 warp strafes" is something that my internal critic was nagging me about; you basically have two battles that play out the same way, with the little fast undergunned good guys buzzing in and out against the big tough slow bad guys. It makes sense in the story universe because of the Kazons' technical limitations, but is it good storytelling? Worth thinking about.
I think this problem was getting bad in the final part of your third update. There was a long section where the narrative has a fly-on-the-wall view of things going on in engineering. The thing is, while I agree that things started to drag, at the same time I think there's validity in not having experts who are in their element stopping what their doing to give an explanation (even if it's in-context to each other, rather than exposition intended for the reader). Especially when time's a factor. By that same token, I appreciate that the narrative doesn't stop the clock to give the reader a time-out explanation of wtf is going on etc. You write in a very cinematic style, where the narrator is 3rd person but the point of view isn't omnicient most of the time. Most of the time, it's like the narrator has the fly-on-the-wall aspect, where we see what 'he' sees as it were. There's only been a couple of times where this was broken, off the top of my head I can think of the point where the Earhart fought its doomed battle and the narrative went on about Ensign Golwatt making a split second decision that saved them from instant death and gave them the seconds needed to complete their mission. Outside of rare moments like that, much of the narrative has that cinematic style where it almost feels like a shooting script. And yet the Earhart's final moments work all the better for it the way you wrote than it would in a televised episode or movie. I can't see a similar scene like that onscreen working nearly as well without some kind of expositionary dialogue being forced, like Majel Barret's voice telling us WARNING FATAL DOSE OF GAMMA RADIATION RECORDED

As far as the technobabble goes, I don't know if maybe some of the lines could have been truncated and streamlined to make the scenes flow better - they probably could. But I have to say I much prefer your approach to handling exposition in dialogue.

As for the warp strafing stuff, I don't think that's a valid criticism at all. The biggest problem with Star Trek's depiction of space combat is that it's super bland: 'Shields down to 40%! We won't survive another hit to the aft shields' 'Oh well gee let's just do *technobabble bullshit*' 'It worked! The bad guys are fucking off'. Or 'Attack pattern somethingsomething, that'll work' and it turns out that attack pattern appears to be just shooting at whoever like they normally would. At least warp strafing works in the context of the show and in this particular set of circumstances. The kazon don't have reliable subspace targeting sensors, which makes warp strafing a viable tactic. And yet it's not overpowered, because the good guys are still outnumbered 10-to-1 and outgunned who knows by how many. But it does show that the characters are competent and can react to their opponent's limitations, rather than just macguyvering the main deflector to cast some space magic on the things in the last five minutes of the episode.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by tim31 » 2012-12-19 03:25am

Don't you dare speak ill of Attack Pattern (x)

All I have to say is that I'm enjoying reading it and I'm very grateful for the time you're giving up in producing it, Red. Looking forward to the next chapter.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by RedImperator » 2012-12-23 07:20am

Hey everyone.

Sorry to have to let this week's deadline slip, but yesterday was bananas with holiday stuff and today's not much better (I'm posting this from the New Jersey Turnpike on the way to Boston). I'll try to have the update up by tonight or early tomorrow at the latest.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by tim31 » 2012-12-23 04:20pm

But what am I going to do at work today?
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Re: Caretaker

Post by Borgholio » 2012-12-23 04:53pm

tim31 wrote:But what am I going to do at work today?
I dunno...work maybe?
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Re: Caretaker

Post by RedImperator » 2012-12-23 07:41pm

PART IVa

-7 Days

The conference room was packed; Tuvok and Carey, Torres and Wildman, Harry Kim, the Doctor via video conference, other officers standing around the edge of the room, with Janeway at the head of the table wishing for a stiff drink and a twelve-hour nap. Everyone was talking at once. She slapped the table for attention.

"One at a time!" she said. "Tuvok, you first."

"A few moments before we warped away from Ocampa, a Federation starship appeared in orbit and attacked the Kazon fleet. I have confirmed beyond any reasonable doubt that that starship was USS Voyager, NCC-74656."

"How could that be?" said Torres.

"Isn't it obvious?" said Kim. "We went back in time six days. We must have repaired Voyager and then attacked the Kazons."

"Don't you mean 'we will repair Voyager and attack the Kazons'?" said Wildman.

"Yes," said Kim. "Or no. I don't know."

"The event is in our own future and our own past," said Janeway. "Ugh, I swore to myself if I ever became a captain, I'd never let myself get caught in one of these godforsaken paradoxes. The past is the future, the future is the past; it all gives me a headache. Tuvok, I don't suppose you can think of any good reason for us to charge back into that battle after we worked so hard to get away from it the first time."

"Captain, at the time the future Voyager arrived, we were being tracked by Kazon fire control radar. We were, quite literally, only moments from annihilation."

"They weren't going to wait for us to hit the ground, were they?" said Janeway.

"It did not appear so. The evidence strongly suggests that our future actions enabled, and will enable, our past escape."

"Well that's just great," said Carey, "Except we didn't hang around long enough to see how the Kazons reacted...will react...to us. We have one nacelle, a hole the size of truck clean through the saucer, no outside support, and a handful of spare parts. We're not going to be battle ready in six days or six months."

"We still have twenty-six photon torpedoes," said Janeway.

"Which aren't enough to wipe out all the Kazons, even if they did give us time to fire them all," said Carey.

"When our alternate selves engaged the Kazons, we specifically engaged and destroyed one battleship," said Tuvok. "It may be helpful to know why."

"Somebody had to be first," said Carey.

"Perhaps," said Tuvok. "However, there is no particular reason that ship had to be chosen. Captain, I would like to examine our sensor logs to determine if there is anything unusually important about it."

"It was probably their command ship," said the Doctor.

All heads turned to the comm screen. "Why do you say that?" said Janeway.

"Can you think of a better target for a surprise attack?" said the hologram.

"No," said Janeway. "No I can't. And if we're going to have a chance against the other thirteen battleships, then wiping out their command and control would be a good start. Now, Carey, Torres, what exactly happened down in Engineering?"
 
"One of the primary coolant pumps failed," said Carey.  "Without it, we couldn't cool the warp core sufficiently. Standard operating procedure in that situation is to drop warp and shut the core down until until the pump can be repaired."
 
"But we couldn't drop warp because of the resonance," said Janeway.  "So what happened next?"
 
"We shut the drive down to prevent a breach. The resonance almost tore the ship to pieces. Then that alien just showed up," said Torres.  "She stepped right up to a control panel and then..."
 
"Then what?"
 
"I don't know!" said Torres.  "I've been over the logs and I still don't know what she did." She folded her arms across her chest, as if she was put off the alien had improvised better than she could.
 
"She manipulated the warp field somehow," said Carey.  "She altered the power flow to the field coils.  That much we know.  But the field form she created...I think we'd need a detailed mathematical analysis to understand it. Not to mention, she knew our systems well enough to manipulate the warp field in the first place. That's...very impressive on its own. If you beamed me over to, say, a Romulan warbird and told me to mess with their warp field, I wouldn't even know which buttons to press."

"I would," muttered Torres.
 
"And nobody knows who she is or where she came from," said Janeway.
 
"She's not in our personnel files," said Carey.
 
"And she is not Maquis," said Tuvok.
 
Every head turned to the doctor again.  "Well," said Janeway, "what can you tell us?"

"She does not match any entry in the Federation database."

"What's her prognosis?" said Janeway.

"I cannot say with any certainty. Her internal organs are functioning properly, to the best of my ability to determine. She shows no sign of any injury. Her brain is active. But she is in a vegetative state; she is awake but not aware."

"Is there anything you can tell us about her? Anything unusual?" said Janeway.

"Yes. Her empathic lobes are hypertrophied, suggesting potent telepathic potential. And despite the fact she appears to be a young adult, evidence from her bones and teeth suggests she is under two years old."

"Do we know of any other humanoid species that grow up that fast?" said Janeway.

"I couldn't fine any in the Federation medical database. Her genes show markers indicative of extensive genetic tampering."

"By whom?"

"Unknown."

"Has Neelix regained consciousness yet? Does he know anything?"

"He is still under sedation," said the Doctor. "I would prefer not to wake him for at least another twelve hours."

"Neelix?" said Torres. "How did he get here?"

"He beamed over with the ACV," said Carey. "The Kazons shot him full of holes."

Janeway waved her hand to cut off the side chatter. "All right," said Janeway. "Alert me and Ensign Wildman immediately if she wakes up."

"Captain," said Wildman. "Just before we went to warp, there were major energetic disturbances on Ocampa's surface," said Wildman. "They were centered on the towers. Captain, the planet is obviously part of the Caretaker's mechanism somehow. Maybe it's not a coincidence the alien arrived at around the same time."

"Well, she's not one of ours and she's obviously not Kazon. I guess the Caretaker makes as much sense as anyone," said Janeway.

"Maybe she is the Caretaker," said Kim.

Janeway closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. The Doctor's special wake-up blend was wearing off fast. "Maybe, but I somehow doubt it."

"What about an avatar?" said Wildman.

"I cannot confirm any such speculation at this time," said the Doctor.

"Then we'll speculate later," said Janeway. "After we have more information. Carey, Torres, did we damage the warp core any more?"

"Nothing we can't repair," said Carey. "We were able to shut it down before there was any permanent damage to the intermix chamber or the dilithium matrix."

Some good news for once. "All right. Whatever we decide to do, we're going to need a working ship to do it. Ensign Wildman, until our guest wakes up, I want you to keep working on the Caretaker. Did the Kazons send anything useful, or is it all porn?"

"I think so," said Wildman. "I've seen some of the early returns. The computer is scanning the rest for viruses; it should be ready soon."

"Good. I want your whole team on it. Doctor, do you have all the staff you need?"

"What I need is another surgeon and at least four nurses. For basic first aid and assistance, however, the staff I have is adequate. If Mr. Paris is returned to me."

"Done," said Janeway. "Tuvok, I want you running the bridge. Watch the scope and if anyone hostile shows up, sound the red alert. Kim is on ops. Pick whoever else you need to staff it. Everybody else--and I mean everybody else--is on damage control duty. Mr. Carey, that's your responsibility. I'm officially naming you my second in command."

"Captain," said Carey, "are we sure we should leave a Maquis in charge of the bridge?"

He's not-- said Janeway's brain. A little strangled noise was all she managed to say. "We don't have time to worry about distinctions like that. If anyone objects, they can take it up with Starfleet Command."

"Yes, Captain," said Carey.

"Captain Janeway," said Torres.

"Yes?"

"What happened to Val Jean in the battle? What's their status?"

There were uncomfortable glances around the table. Tuvok cleared his throat.

"Val Jean impacted the planetary surface at mission time ninety-six hours, fifty-one minutes, nine seconds, at approximately the moment we engaged our warp drive," he said.

Torres sagged into her seat, dumbfounded.

"Tuvok, why didn't you tell me?"

"They were...they were already gone when they hit the ground," said Janeway. "There were no life signs on board. They were caught in a Kazon nuclear blast."

"The end must have been swift," added Tuvok.

"When we get home," said Janeway, "I promise you that everyone in the Federation will know about the crew of Val Jean's bravery and--"

Torres's head snapped upright. "Wait a minute. Wait a Goddamn minute here! We're in the past! We traveled backwards in time! None of this has to happen this way. Why don't we just get the warp drive running, drop in on Jabin before he knows we're here, and blow him away before Voyager gets here?"

"That would cause a paradox," said Kim. "If we destroy Jabin's ship before Voyager arrives, then our past selves will have no idea who he is or why we should destroy him in the first place."

"It's more fundamental than that," said Wildman. "If the Kazons didn't force us to hide on Ocampa, or blow away the antigravity lifts, we wouldn't have tried a Scott restart to begin with. We would have never gone back in time."

"Practically any change to the timeline would result in us never traveling through time," said Janeway. "We can't risk a paradox."

"Why not?" said Torres. "Who cares about a paradox? There's dozens of lives at stake."

"Starfleet regulations on interfering with the past are ironclad," said Janeway. "We cannot take it upon ourselves to 'edit' history, even our own. I won't violate the Temporal Prime Directive any more than I will the original Prime Directive."

"I can't believe what I'm hearing," said Torres. "Dozens of people--real people, people who helped you when they would have been better off leaving you to the Kazons--are going to die if you don't help them, and you're sitting around this table talking about Starfleet regulations. You owe them, Janeway! Every one of you owes them!"

"I can't, B'Elana," said Janeway. "I'm sorry."

"How many times in your life have you wished for a chance to fix all your mistakes? Well, now you have one, and you're going to piss it away over a bunch of philosophical bullshit that doesn't matter. The Prime Directive is horseshit, Janeway, and you know it!"

"That's enough, B'Elana," said Tuvok.

"For God's sake, Janeway, how many of your own people have died since you got here? Even if you don't care about Maquis, what about your own crew?"

Janeway shot to her feet. "That's enough!" she said.

Torres stood, purple-faced, ready to shout.

"Perhaps a short break is in order," said the Doctor.

"Good idea," said Janeway. "Ten minutes."

The group stood to stretch, moving around the table and clumping together by crew--Kim, Wildman, Vorick and Carey in one corner, Tom Paris with Torres in the other, trying to calm her down. Tuvok hung back, watching as Janeway left.

#

Janeway had been sitting alone for five minutes in a darkened biology lab when the door hissed open and Tuvok stepped inside. "Captain?"

"In here," said Janeway. "Tuvok, give me one good reason why I shouldn't have B'Elana Torres strangled and dumped into space."

"She is a skilled engineer. We will need her, if we are to have any chance against the Kazons."

"The worst part of it is, I agree with her. The 'Temporal Prime Directive' sounds like a great idea when you're sitting in an Academy classroom. Now I'm trying to figure out what 'great consequences to history' I'm supposed to be risking, and I'll be damned if I can see any."

"The consequences may be to us. Captain, if the past can indeed be changed, then paradoxes either must be allowed to exist, or they must be resolved. I fear that the likeliest resolution to any paradox involving Voyager would be the destruction of Voyager before or during the attempt to travel through time."

"Yeah," said Janeway. "That could be a problem. But she's right--I owe Chakotay. Is there anything we could do? Any way to beam them out before the crash?"

"Not without being seen by ourselves and the Kazons. I'm sorry, captain."

Janeway closed her eyes. She thought back to her conversation with Chakotay, about dealing with losing crew. She wondered if it stretched to allowing death, by inaction.

Haven't you done that already? You didn't try to rescue them when you had the chance. Why is this any different?

"Captain," said Tuvok. "I confess I did not follow you here to offer advice."

"Oh? What for, then?"

"I would like to mind meld with the alien in sickbay."

Janeway straightened up. "Why?"

"Because our only way home is through the Caretaker, and she is our best hope of understanding it."

"When do you want to do it? I have no idea when she'll wake up and--"

"I do not wish to wait until she wakes up."

"You want to mind meld without her consent?"

"I am aware of the ethical issues involved," said Tuvok.

"Then you know she has a right to her own mind," said Janeway.

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one," said Tuvok.

"I thought some things were always wrong," said Janeway. "Like lying."

"Certain Vulcan philosophical schools subscribe to that viewpoint," he said. "You might call them deontological. Others are more strictly utilitarian."

"Kant versus Mill," said Janeway.

"Bentham would be a better analogy," said Tuvok. "Though human philosophy has not yet approached the deeper nuances. I don't suppose you have been introduced to Vulcan thinkers on these subjects."

"It's been a while," said Janeway.

"You might find a fresh reading rewarding," said Tuvok.

Janeway dismissed him with a wave of her hand. "Maybe later. I take it you subscribe to the more utilitarian school of Vulcan ethics."

"I do," he said.

"Well maybe I don't," she said. "It's a serious invasion of her privacy, and I'll remind you that so far, all she's done for us is save the ship. How great an evil are you willing to tolerate in exchange for getting one hundred and thirty people home sooner?"

"At all," said Tuvok.

"Excuse me?"

"The proper question is, 'how great an evil are you willing to tolerate in exchange for getting one hundred thirty people home at all'? Captain, you must have considered by now that we will not be able to find a way home on our own. We may be entirely dependent on the Caretaker's will to return home."

"And you think forcibly reading the mind of its 'agent' will convince it to help us?"

"To this point, it appears nothing else has."

"Give me time to think about this," said Janeway.

"There is not much time left," he said.

"We have days until we can act. She could wake up on her own, for all we know."

"Or she could die. We know nothing about her or how serious her condition is."

Janeway paced. She was impatient for information, desperate to solve at least some of the riddles that had been accumulating since they'd arrived.

"Give Widlman and the Doctor a chance to study her and the Caretaker first. If she is its agent or avatar or whatever, it might not appreciate us intruding on her privacy without permission."

"As you wish," he said. His tone, face and body language were unreadable. She was pretty sure that was Vulcan for "I disagree, but I am bound by the chain of command not to say so."

"Meanwhile, I have another project for you," said Janeway. "You're to work with Torres, Paris, Wildman, and Carey and find a way to rescue Val Jean's crew without altering history."

"That will be...exceptionally difficult," said Tuvok.

"I know. I want you to try anyway. Torres is right--I owe Chakotay my ship and my crew. And besides," she said, "If I order Torres to find a way to rescue them, she won't try to freelance and maybe get us all killed."

Tuvok said nothing for a moment. He seemed to be studying her, though for what she couldn't know. Finally, he nodded slightly. "Wise," he said.

#

Neelix woke up that evening. He was sitting up on a sick bed in a hospital gown when Janeway and Tuvok arrived to talk to him. He had the v-neck of the gown pulled down so he could examine his chest.

"Is there anything wrong, Mr. Neelix?" said the Doctor.

"If I was shot in the chest, where's the scar?" said Neelix.

"After I removed the bullet and repaired the internal damage, I sealed the bullet hole with a dermal regenerator. There should not be any scarring."

"You...you just fixed me up?"

"Yes. That's why more advanced civilizations prefer energy weapons. The damage is harder to repair."

"What happened to you?" said Janeway.

"The Kazons shot me."

"Did they have any particular reason?" said Tuvok.

"We were stealing back the part you needed."

"Do you remember what happened after you were shot?"

"Just a lot of screaming and shooting. What happened? I guess Val Jean made it back to Ocampa."

"Val Jean transferred you here once they knew the extent of your injuries," said Janeway.

"Did the valve work?"

"Yes," said Janeway. "Without it, we never would have made it."

"Well," said Neelix, "I'm glad I could help, then. Listen, I don't suppose you could pick up my ship and give me a ride out of here? There's a neutral planet sixty light-years from here that you could drop me off at. I don't think I'm going to be too popular with the Ogla from now on."

"The situation is complicated at the moment," said Janeway. "We have to lay low for a while before we go anywhere."

"How long is a while?"

"Seven days," said Janeway.

"What for?"

"We've traveled backwards in time."

"I think something is wrong with your magic translator," said Neelix. "I could have sworn you just we've gone backwards in time."

"It was an accident, but a fortuitous one. We have to lay low until we catch up with our 'present'."

Neelix pondered that. "Could I make a couple of calls? Tomorrow I'm going to blow six hundred crowns on a pile of counterfeit duotronic logic boards, and I'd like to tell myself to leave them for the next sucker."

"Did anyone attempt to talk you out of making the purchase before?" said Tuvok.

"No," said Neelix.

"Then I'm afraid you can't," said Janeway. "I'm sorry, we can't risk making any changes to the past."

"I had to ask," said Neelix. "So I'm stuck here for now."

"The Kazons abandoned your ship intact. Once all this is settled, we'll recover it for you. In the meantime, you're welcome to enjoy our hospitality."

"Forgive my...well, my rudeness, captain, but it doesn't sound like I have much choice."

"You may choose not to enjoy it," said the Doctor. Janeway shushed him with a handwave.

"There is something you could do for us," said Janeway. "If you don't feel like you've already done enough."

"Oh?" said Neelix.

"Doctor, can the patient walk safely?"

"If he takes it easy," said the Doctor.

"Come with me. I want to show you someone," said Janeway.

Neelix scooted off the bed and followed Janeway to the furthest bed down the line. There lay the comatose blonde alien.

"Have you ever seen this species before?" said Janeway.

Neelix leaned in close, focusing on her ears. "I...I don't think so. Not in person, anyway."

"But you've heard of others from her species?"

"No," said Neelix. "Definitely not."

"Why not?" said Tuvok.

"Because her species is extinct."
#

"I'm sorry, Captain," said Wildman. "I don't know how I missed this."

"You missed it because you weren't looking for it. Nobody was." Janeway shook her head.

"Are we sure of what we are seeing?" said Tuvok.

"You tell me," said Janeway. "Do you think it's just our imaginations?"

"No," said Tuvok.

"Me either," said Janeway. She stared at the image on the computer screen, a sharp grayscale image from a Kazon scientific probe, of a ruined Ocampa palace or temple or some other monumental structure, exceptionally well preserved on the dead, waterless surface. A line of bas reliefs marched around the temple pediment, a procession of gods or kings in elaborate robes and tall Egyptian crowns. The figures were all in profile, and every one of them had the same ears as the alien lying comatose in Voyager's sickbay.

"So now we know what the Caretaker is taking care of," said Janeway.

#
-6 Days

Torres was staring out the mess hall windows, utterly ignoring Wildman as she blathered about dumb Starfleet bullshit. Outside, beyond the sweep of Voyager's primary hull, was the gray-black landscape of the Oort cloud object the ship had landed upon. It had taken Torres fifteen hours of nonstop work to restore power to the ship's repulsers--Janeway had flatly refused Paris's offer to land the ship on thrusters alone. Torres had wanted to name the iceball after Janeway ("in honor of your inspirational leadership, captain"), but Janeway had turned her down and named it, in a fit of imagination run amok, New Pluto. In retrospect, she thought Janeway might have seen through her sarcasm.

"So what do you think?" said Wildman.

"Huh? About what?"

"About my idea."

"What idea?"

"Haven't you been listening at all?" she said.

"Just summarize it for me."

"I suggested we recalibrate the main deflector dish to emit a stream of..."

Oh God, thought Torres.

"…which would create an ion sheath in the atmosphere that would shield us from detection."

"Is that it?" said Torres.

"Yes," said Wildman.

"It stinks," said Torres.

"Perhaps the discussion would be better served with more constructive criticism," said Tuvok.

She rolled her eyes. "Okay, fine. Yes, technically, we'd be hidden from detection inside the ion sheath. The problem is, once we hit the atmosphere, the ion sheath would create a fireball the size of Finland, and I'm pretty fucking sure everyone in the solar system would be able to detect that."

"How do you know it would create a fireball?" said Wildman.

"Because I've tried it before! Don't you think I wouldn't have tried that with Val Jean? I tried every trick I could think of to hide that little ship."

"Well then why don't you make a suggestion once in a while instead of just sitting around pouting and badmouthing everyone else?" snapped Wildman.

"Because all my friends are dead because of you people, and these meetings are a waste of time. The only way to save them is to do what I told Janeway--fuck the space-time continuum, fix the ship, and go kill all the fucking Kazons before they know what even hit them."

"If you do not feel this committee is not a good use of your time, you're free not to attend," said Tuvok. "The captain assigned you to it based on her belief you would be motivated to help our colleagues, but if that belief if mistaken, you are free to go."

"Oh, blow it out your ass, Tuvok," said Torres. "Why aren't you giving Tom this line of sanctimonious shit? He didn't even bother to show up."

"I expected much more out of you than I did Tom Paris," he said.

"I'm going for a walk," she said. She got up and stormed out, hoping they'd call after her and disappointed when they didn't.

She walked fast without running, trying to keep a purposeful look on her face. She knew from experience she was least likely to be bothered this way--look too casual, somebody might find a job for you; look too rushed, and somebody might ask what's wrong. She looped once around deck four, got back to the mess hall door, still didn't feel like going back, took the turbolift down one deck and started a circuit there. She didn't think, just walked. She'd never thought on these excursions; she'd long learned being alone with her thoughts was bad company.

The passed the holodecks. The doors were locked open; the holodecks were deactivated, of course, but they were left open as "recreation" rooms. She heard a steady thump from number two as she walked by. She glanced in to see Tom Paris bouncing a racquetball off the holodeck wall.

She debated walking by unnoticed, but before she could, he glanced over his shoulder and spotted her.

"Tuvok send you to find me?" he said.

"Tuvok doesn't give a shit about you," she said. "Or me."

He smirked. "Finally realized what a waste of time this is, huh?"

"Oh, shut up," she said. She drifted onto the holodeck. "At least I've been doing work. What the hell have you been up to the last two days? This?"

"You wanna trade? I'll turn a wrench and you can do graves detail."

"Don't be such a fucking martyr," she said. "It's not like you knew any of these people."

He turned away from her and bounced the ball off the wall. She caught it the second time and bounced it back to him.

"Tom, we have to do something," she said. "We have to save Val Jean."

"Like what? If we can't find a way to do it without being seen, Janeway won't let us."

"I can take care of Janeway," she muttered.

"That would make Carey the captain. I thought he hated you."

"I can take care of him, too."

"There's some Klingon strategic thinking for you."

"You are such a racist piece of shit," she said. "What's your idea, then, smart guy?"

"Who said I had an idea? I think it's hopeless."

"If we had a cloaking device," said Torres. "That would solve our problems."

"Yeah, probably," he said. "You never got one of those working, though, did you?"

She didn't respond right away.

"…did you?" he said.

"Not all the way. I tried buying one first, but the deal fell apart at the last minute and we barely got away with our asses. Then I tried to build one. I got close, but I could never keep the emissions bleedthrough under control. A real cloaking device handles that automatically, but I had to try to work around using Val Jean's shield controls. I never got it to work."

"Could you do it with Voyager?"

"Bigger ship, more emissions." She thought about it for a moment. "But tighter. Finer. And much better computers. I could control leaks here that I couldn't on Val Jean."

"Starfleet built this ship like a brick shithouse," said Paris.

"Yeah, they did," said Torres. She would never admit it to anyone, but she had come to really like the ship; such a shame about its crew.

"What do you need?" said Paris. "If you were going to build a cloaking device, what would you need?"

"I'd need to check the inventory for the parts. And I'd need direct access to the shield system software."

"You don't already have that?"

"Defensive systems aren't supposed to be my specialty," said Torres. "And Carey doesn't trust me. If I go to him talking about monkeying with the shields, he's going to want to know why."

"You have an idea to reinforce them," he said.

"That falls apart the minute he sees what I'm actually doing. He's going to want to hang over my shoulder the whole time, and he's not quite stupid enough to see I'm not doing anything that would actually make the shields stronger."

"Hiding from the Kazons, then" said Paris.

"Not plausible," she said. "We're sitting on a crater floor forty AU from anything interesting in this solar system, and we're using a 200-mile ice cube as a heat sink. The Kazons aren't going to see us. Tom, I can't go through Carey without giving away what I'm trying to do, and I promise you he won't let me if he knows."

"Then why not just go right to Janeway?" said Paris.

She shook her head.

"Why not? Don't tell me you're too proud to ask her for help."

"If I thought there was a chance in hell she could actually help me, I would. But if I go to her, all that will probably do is warn Starfleet that the Maquis are trying to build a cloak."

"So will presenting her a working cloaking device, if you do build one."

"If I have a cloak, I can save Val Jean. That's more important to me."

"Well, what about Tuvok, then? Let him pretend it's his idea."

Torres shook her head again.

"Oh come on," said Paris. "Why not?"

"Something…something's not right with Tuvok," said Torres. "I don't trust him. He's way too close to Janeway. He's…haven't you noticed how Starfleet he's been acting?"

Paris wanted to tell her she was talking crazy, but she was right. He was acting Starfleet. He'd never exactly been warm and friendly on Val Jean, but this stiff, standoffish, officer's attitude was new.

A thought popped into Paris's head, unbidden. How did Bujold know so much about me and Chakotay?

"What are you thinking?" said Torres.

"Nothing," said Paris. "Listen, I have an idea. There's one other person who could give you access to the shields. And I think I could talk him into keeping quiet about it."

"Who?" said Torres.

"Ops," said Paris.

"That twerpy ensign? Hell will freeze over before he breaks Starfleet rules for us."

"If we make him owe me a favor, I'll bet he does it." And even if he doesn't, thought Paris, there might still be a plan 'B'.

"How are you going to do that?" said Torres.

"I have an idea," said Paris.

#

Harry Kim was drinking a synthehol beer in the mess when Tom Paris suddenly appeared at his table, carrying an oblong bag. "Mind if I sit down?" he said.

"Sure," said Harry. Tom took the chair across from Harry.

"Listen," said Paris. "I was on debris duty in the forward observation lounge when I found this." He placed the bag on the table and pulled out something Harry instantly recognized--his clarinet, looking exactly as it had the day of the Caretaker disaster.

Harry's found himself blinking back tears. "I thought I'd lost it," he said.

"Then it's yours?" said Tom.

"Yes. It was a gift from my grandparents. My tenth birthday. I thought it got blown out during the Caretaker disaster."

"I found it at the bottom of a debris pile."

"I can't believe you found it," he said. He raised it to his lips and played an experimental scale. "The reed isn't even cracked. Thank you so much, Tom. How can I repay you for this?"

"Don't worry about it," said Tom. "It wasn't anything."

"No, I'm serious," he said. "Tell me what I can do."

"Well," he said. "There is one thing. Maybe."

"What is it?"

"Do you know how to access the firmware in the shield control systems?"

"I…guess? I could if I had access, but there's no way I actually do."

"Why not?"

"I'm just a brand new ensign," said Kim.

Tom shook his head. "Janeway made you the head of ops, remember? Formally. Go ahead, ask the computer. What's your systems access clearance level?"

"Computer," said Kim. "What is my systems access clearance level?"

"THE SYSTEMS ACCESS CLEARANCE LEVEL FOR ENSIGN HARRY KIM IS ALPHA-ALPHA-TWO."

"See?" said Tom. "Same as the chief engineer and the first officer."

Harry laughed. "Why would Janeway give me that access?"

Because she forgot that the Ops department head gets AA2 automatically unless the captain specifies otherwise, thought Tom. "You're ops, man--you have to be ready to bend every system to your will," he said.

He laughed again. "I guess. Anyway, why do you want to know?"

Paris leaned in close, looking around to make sure nobody else was listening. "B'Elana has an idea to help us evade the Kazons," he said. "But Carey doesn't think it will work and he's blocking her. She's not a defense specialist so she doesn't have access to the system."

"Why doesn't she go to the captain?"

Tom held up his hands and grinned helplessly. "You know how women are," he said.

"Ha ha, sure," said Kim.

"Look, it will only be a few minutes," said Paris. "No one will ever even know."

"Come on, Tom, you know I can't."

"Harry, you have literally nothing to worry about, okay? Torres will be in and out. If it doesn't work, nobody will ever know, and if it does, no one will care. It's the Starfleet way, Harry--results matter more than procedure."

"Maybe for captains. I'm just an ensign."

"You're an ensign who could help save lives, Harry."

"Is it that important?"

"Absolutely," said Tom.

"What is she trying to do?"

Tom and Torres had discussed what to do if Kim asked this. Tom had argued it was worth the risk to tell the truth--no Academy-fresh Starfleet ensign was going to risk his hide for vague generalities. Well, Tom Paris might have, if he'd survived his plebe year, but plebe year was designed to weed out cadets like Tom Paris.

"She thinks she can build a cloaking device," said Paris. "If it works, we might be able to rescue Val Jean without causing a paradox."

Kim sat back in his seat, looking stunned. "Tom, those are illegal."

"They're illegal in the Federation, Harry. And right now, we're seventy-five thousand light years away from the Federation."

"And we can't involve the captain," said Kim.

"Not yet," said Paris. "If you don't help us now, we can't do it."

Paris watched Kim's face as he agonized with the dilemma Tom had left him.

"I'm sorry, Tom. I just can't. Why doesn't she just go to Janeway or Carey? They'd have to recognize what a good idea it is, wouldn't they?"

"She's Maquis, Harry. Starfleet types, they don't listen to crooks like us, no matter how good their ideas are." He stared down at the table.

"Even after Torres saved all our lives?"

"Even after," said Tom.

"That's not fair," said Harry.

"Life's not fair, Harry," said Tom. "Anyway, enjoy your clarinet."

#

Later, in Torres's cabin: "Did he buy it?" said Torres.

"It's a perfect replica," said Paris. "He played a couple notes, said it sounded exactly the same."

"That was a good idea, recovering its pattern from the transporter."

"We're just lucky he beamed his luggage over instead of carrying it on himself. How much did you have to drink to admit I had a good idea?" said Paris.

"Shut up, asshole," said Torres. "Save it for after this plan works. When will Kim get me access? Tonight?"

"Not too much longer, I don't think." Kim agonizes about it for a few hours, then goes to Janeway and tells her the whole thing. Janeway asks Tuvok about a Maquis cloaking device. Tuvok tells her everything, because either he's thrown in his lot with Starfleet or he's been a Starfleet agent the whole time. Janeway rolls the idea around for a few minutes and decides to go for it, because she's in over her head but she's smart enough to recognize a good idea when she hears it, as long as it's coming from the right mouth.

Or if I'm wrong, she locks us both up for attempting to sabotage the ship, he thought. Whatever.

"When?" said B'elana.

"I don't know. He said he'd let me know." Paris made a show of looking at his wrist, even though he didn't wear a watch. "I've got a shift in sickbay starting in ten minutes."

"Then you should probably get out of here," she said.

"Yeah, I should," he said. He rolled out of bed and started picking up his clothes.

"This was fun. We should do it again," he said.

"Don't hold your breath," she said.

"Never heard that one before," he said.

She balled up his tunic and threw it at him. "Get out before I decide to knife you," she said.

"You know you're crazy and codependent, right?" said Paris.

"Oh, and you're a fucking paragon of good mental health, right? You need two people to be codependent, you know."

He shrugged, finished getting dressed, and left; Torres fell back into bed to wait. She dozed off after a few minutes, and was awakened a few hours later to the chirp of her door chime.

"Come in," she said.

The doors hissed open. Janeway walked in.

"Tell me how to build a cloaking device," said Janeway.

Tom, you asshole, she thought. "Give me a minute to find my pants," she said.

#

Captain's Log, supplemental.
 
It has been two full days since we arrived in the Ocampa system Oort Cloud.  Repairs to Voyager are progressing. The last of the debris from our ordeal has been cleared and stored on Deck Fifteen, where it will remain until we can turn it over to Starfleet for examination.  Most of the ship's compartments have been pressurized again, and those that cannot be have been sealed off from the rest. 
 
The bodies of most of our dead have been accounted for as well, and rest in cold storage until they can be returned to their families.  I insisted only volunteers be assigned to graves detail, and that personnel are frequently rotated.  Nevertheless, the Doctor has reported that some of them are already suffering from depression and nightmares.  Unfortunately for us, Voyager did not carry a counselor as part of her regular crew complement.  The rationale is that Voyager was designed for short deployments and didn't need a full-time counselor on board, but it reeks of yet another 'Wolf' cut.  I hope the additional photon torpedoes are worth it for whoever got them.
 
The Doctor has now been running for nearly ninety-six hours of subjective time.  He--it?--insists he is fine operating continuously, but I worry.  I wonder if he is too convincing an illusion, too human.  Perhaps if they had programmed him to look like an android, I wouldn't worry that a machine could get tired, or bored, or encounter a hidden glitch.  For now, I comfort myself by looking at the results, which have been remarkable considering the limitations he's working under.  His only concern appears to be our medical supply situation, where we have nearly exhausted several critical medicines.  He is concocting substitutes as best he can, but there is only so much he can do--and often the ingredients in the substitutes are other drugs which are also in limited supply.

B'Elana Torres has proven invaluable to the engineering staff.  I can't say I've forgiven her for her words at the meeting, but her abilities are impressive.  According to Chief Rodriguez, she improvises like a jazz master.  With her help, we now have impulse power back online, and she managed to repair electrical distribution node 'B', which allows us to use the antigravity lifts again.  And then there's the cloaking device. Of course, just because we have one--assuming she can finish it in time, and assuming it works--doesn't mean our problems are solved yet. We still have the job of figuring out how we're actually going to rescue Chakotay and the gang and fight off the Kazons at the same time.

I haven't admitted this to anyone, but I think I actually miss Chakotay's presence. I'm becoming conflicted about what to do, if we can rescue him and his crew. It's my duty to arrest them and turn them over to Starfleet, but prison seems like a pretty lousy thank-you for everything they did for us. I can't see any way around it, so for now I tell myself I'll figure out what to do once we get back.

If we get back.
 
My biggest disappointment so far has been in the Caretaker team.  It isn't their fault, and they're working as long and hard as anyone on the ship, but they've made very little progress.  Ensign Wildman has managed to confirm, using our own observations and what little legitimate information the Kazons sent us, that the towers on the planet's surface are a part of the Caretaker's mechanism, and that their operation seems to cause severe atmospheric and seismic disturbances.  I've looked at the data myself and I believe it's very likely the energy discharges would crack atmospheric water vapor into hydrogen and oxygen, the latter of which escape the atmosphere, permanently depriving the planet of water. We have hypothesized from the beginning, of course, that the Caretaker was in some way responsible for ruining Ocampa (how could we not, when the system's star is still young and cool and Ocamapa's indigenous civilization never discovered so much as the steam engine?), but this seems to confirm that the Caretaker was responsible.  Unfortunately, it's led to no insights into how the Caretaker actually works or who it really is. 

Tuvok, meanwhile, has been examining our sensor logs from our last battle with the Kazons. As the Doctor (!) suggested, he believes the ship our future selves attacked was Jal Razik's command ship, based on the volume of radio traffic coming to and from it. Tuvok insists that he would have discovered this on his own, eventually, but concedes that it might have taken much longer without information from the future. Which strongly suggests that we knew to attack Jal Razik's command ship because we attacked Jal Razik's command ship. I'm not well-versed enough in temporal mechanics to fully understand all the nuances of that situation, but I'm pretty sure I don't like it. We have conjured up information ex nihilo. It's superstitious, but I can't help thinking that our account with the universe is now out of balance, and the universe will soon demand we make it whole, with interest.


#
-5 Days

"That's all we have for now," said Wildman.

"No luck with the tachyon scan?" said Janeway.

"Same as before. We can't penetrate the outer skin of the array or the towers."

"All right," said Janeway. "I have an engineering meeting at 1300; after that I'll join you in the lab to help work on our next idea."

Wildman nodded. There were deep dark circles under both eyes and her body language was sagging. She looked inches away from burnout.

Janeway turned to Tuvok. "How's the work on the cloak coming?"

"It will take several more days," he said.

"We're cutting it awful close with this thing. Don't say anything--I know she can't go any faster. Have we thought about how we're actually going to use this thing? Can we transport through it?"

"We can beam something in, but not out, which will work for the purposes of the rescue mission," said Tuvok.

"And we can't fire while cloaked, right?  Or can we?"

"I am afraid not," said Tuvok.  "Torres's cloaking device functions by manipulating the shields to mask all emissions.  In the process, it becomes impermeable to our own weapons."

"So it helps us with the rescue, but not the battle with the Kazons."

"There may be ways to use it effectively in combat," said Tuvok.

"See what you can find out," said Janeway. She had her private doubts--the Kazons had to be smart enough to shoot where they had been if Voyager suddenly disappeared. "All right, then, as long as we're cloaked, the Kazons probably can't see us. What about ourselves and Val Jean?"

"I believe if we take position over the north magnetic pole of Ocampa, the charged particles in Ocampa's Van Allen belt will screen us from casual observation," said Tuvok.

"Is this true, Sam?" said Janeway.

"Well," said Wildman, "Maybe. We were all paying attention to other things, but the computer should have noticed something unusual. We were getting a lot of weird interference, so maybe that masked it."

"What kind of interference?" said Janeway.

"It almost looked like sensor ghosting, but I couldn't isolate a problem in our system."

"Ghost ships," said Torres. "That must have been Chakotay's doing. You beam sensor noise directly into someone else's receivers, and their computers interpret them as other starships. It's a trick he picked up in Starfleet."

"Do you know how it works, Tuvok?" said Janeway.

"I do," he said.

"All right, then we have something else we can use against the Kazons."

"I wonder why Val Jean was spoofing us," said Wildman. "It doesn't really make…sense…"

The conversation came to a crash stop.

"Oh my God," said Wildman. "It was us, wasn't it?"

"That seems to be the logical conclusion," said Tuvok.

"Absolutely nothing about time travel is logical," said Janeway. "All right, so we supplement the cloak by spoofing our past selves' sensors. That will be Ensign Kim's job; Tuvok, it'll be your job to show him how to do that."

"Yes captain."

Janeway rubbed her temples. Still so much to do. "Val Jean will be arriving here tomorrow night, before we have the cloak online. Is there any chance they'll see us?"

"Not on a comet's surface at this distance."

"Good. All right, we have a ton of work to do; let's all get to it."

They stood up to leave; Wildman walked out right away. Tuvok dawdled in such a way that she knew he wanted to speak to her privately.

"How close did the Maquis come to a working cloak?" said Janeway.
 
"Uncomfortably so," said Tuvok.  "Torres nearly succeeded in buying one on the black market before she elected to build it."
 
"'Nearly'?"
 
"The deal was disrupted by Starfleet Intelligence," said Tuvok.

"Your doing?"

He nodded.
 
"You want to talk to me about the alien again," said Janeway.

"You are more perceptive than you let on," said Tuvok.

"I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Give Wildman more time."

"You are willing to disregard Federation law and treaty to deploy a cloaking device, yet you remain adamant about this."

"Tuvok, I don't give a shit about the Romulans right now, and if Starfleet wants to court-martial me later, then that's their business. That's abstract; that's a real person in there, with a real mind."

"We are running out of time," said Tuvok. "Don't assume that, if we do learn something from her, we can apply it right away."

"We have four days left," said Janeway.

But they didn't.
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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 RedImperator » 2012-12-23 07:57pm

PART IVb

Tom Paris was sorting lab samples when the alarm sounded; he reached the alien's bed at the same time the Doctor activated and dissolved into life.

"She's crashing!" said Paris.


"She is going into anaphylactic shock," said the Doctor, his voice as flat and emotionless as always. "20cc of ephinedren, stat."

Paris prepped the hypospray and handed it to the doctor. He injected her. The alarm kept beeping.

"No effect," said the Doctor.

"Should I get another steroid?"

"Her biochemistry is too alien," said the Doctor. "Prepare 10cc of pseudocortisol."

Paris did; again, it had no effect.

"Her airway has closed," said Paris. "Doc, do something or she's going to die."

"In the lab there is a sample marked JD12237," said the Doctor. "Place it in the material scanner and replicate 20cc. Do it quickly."

"What are you going to do?" said Paris.

"Trach her. Now please do as I asked."

Paris rushed into the lab and found the sample. His hands were shaking so badly he screwed up the order to the computer twice; it was only on the third attempt that it worked. The sample dematerialized and rematerialized in its bottle.

"PREPARING REPLICATION PROCESS. PLEASE STAND BY." said the computer.

"It's not going to work," said Paris. "We won't be able to replicate it."

There was a chirp and suddenly a much larger vial of the sample liquid materialized on the replicator's out tray. Paris loaded it into a hypospray.

"Here," he said, handing it to the doctor.

The doctor injected her; Paris held his breath. After a few moments where Paris was sure it wouldn't work, the alien's chest rose and fell.

"She's breathing," said the Doctor. "Her immune reaction is returning to normal."

"What the hell happened?" said Paris.

"Did you start her on the new antibiotic regime I designed?" said the Doctor.

"Are you saying this is my fault?"

"Answer the question, please."

"Yes, I did. I hooked up the bag you mixed to her infuser exactly when you said I should, and I didn't change anything."

"I am not accusing you of anything, Mr. Paris," said the Doctor. "The fault is my own. She is allergic to one of the new antibiotics in the mix."

"What was that stuff you injected her with?"

"Steroids derived from a sample taken from her own adrenal glands," said the Doctor. "Mr. Paris, please inform the captain as to what happened."

Five minutes later, Janeway was in the Doctor's office, along with Tuvok, who the Doctor had not invited, but who had become her de facto first officer and right-hand man.

"Why is she on antibiotics in the first place?" said Janeway.

"She is developing bed sores, despite our best efforts," said the Doctor. "I elected to start her on antibiotics to prevent an infection."

"Find another way," said Janeway.

"I have sterilized the isolation bay and placed her inside," said the Doctor. "That should protect her for the time being."

"All right," said Janeway. "Have there been any neurological changes?"

"None," said the Doctor.

Janeway and Tuvok stood. "Keep me posted," she said.

"Of course," said the Doctor.

#

Outside the sickbay doors, Tuvok turned to Janeway.

"Captain--" he said.

"Tonight," said Janeway. "Do it tonight."

#

Janeway followed Tuvok and two security goldshirts into sickbay. The lights were turned low and other than the alien in isolation, the sickbay was empty. The Doctor was in the adjacent medical lab, studying test results.

"Captain," he said. "What can I do for you?"

"I am conducting a mind meld," said Tuvok.

The Doctor stormed out of the lab to get in Janeway's face. It was the first time she'd ever seen it show any emotion. "Without the patient's consent? Absolutely not."

"Excuse me?" said Janeway.

"It would be a breach of medical ethics to allow you to do that, Captain. My programming expressly forbids it."

"I'm ordering you to monitor her while we do it," said Janeway.

"My programming does not allow me to obey illegal or unethical orders."

Janeway was trying to think of her next argument when Tuvok settled the matter for her. "Computer," he said. "Deactivate emergency medical hologram."

The Doctor looked affronted. Then it disappeared.

This is crazy, thought Janeway. Stop this before it gets any crazier. "Lieutenant, come with me to the lab. You two wait out here."

"As you wish," he said. They left the ratings behind and went to the medical lab and closed the door. They could still be seen, but not heard.

"Tuvok, I think we might be jumping the gun here," said Janeway.

"You didn't think so a few minutes ago."

"I've changed my mind. Captain's prerogative. I'm calling this off."

"That is unwise."

"I said we could do this as a last resort; I don't think we're there yet. The Doctor recovered her this afternoon--"

He wheeled on her, looking as close to angry as she'd ever seen any Vulcan. "In three days, we have accomplished nothing towards getting home. We have studied data gathered by us and the Kazons. We have fired probes at and into the planet. We have scanned the Caretaker with every functional instrument on this ship. We have virtually begged it directly to help us. After all of that, we have nothing but the vaguest hypotheses and guesses of a single starship's understaffed science department, with no prospects for anything better. This alien is the last unexplored avenue remaining to us, and she nearly died today. What more would you suggest we do?"

"I don't know yet," she said. "We'll meet first thing tomorrow morning to figure out our option."

"Another meeting," he said. "Permission to speak freely?"

"Granted."

"Captain, the only conceivable purpose of a meeting at this stage is to delay the inevitable, and diffuse your own responsibility to make a hard decision."

Janeway would have thrown him out of the room, but for the certain conviction he was right. She tried changing tacks instead: "What about her? What about her rights to her own mind?"

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one," he said. "Her privacy, or our lives?"

"It's not a binary choice!"

"Captain, there will be no 'third way' out of this. The sooner you accept that, the better for everyone. She is our last option."

"I'm ordering you not to do this," said Janeway.

"I am conducting an interrogation in my capacity as an officer of Starfleet Intelligence," he said. "Not an officer of Voyager."

"You're on my ship, lieutenant, and I'll decide what is and isn't allowed here. And I'll have you arrested if you try."

"Then do so," said Tuvok. "But know that if we become stranded out here, then the fault will lie in part with you, for failing to take all possible actions to prevent it."

Janeway froze.

"I can see by the look on your face that you have not considered that before."

"Every member of this crew took an oath to uphold Starfleet's values," said Janeway. "To the death, if necessary. If the choice is between violating that oath and spending the rest of our lives out here, then God damn it, that's what we signed up for."

"Are you ready to tell them that?" he said, gesturing at the walls around him.

Janeway sagged back. "No," she said. She was the acting captain, a 29-year old science officer who was only in command because of a freak accident. She couldn't make that decision for the rest of them.

"Your commitment is admirable," said Tuvok. "It is a fine trait for a Starfleet captain, as I now believe you deserve to be. But pragmatism is just as important a virtue for anyone who wishes to sit in the captain's chair."

"You son of a bitch," she said. "You're manipulating me."

"Just because I am in control of my emotions does not mean I cannot understand the emotions of others."

"If it serves your purposes," she said.

"If it serves the needs of the many," he said.

She sighed. "Do it," she said. "Read her mind."

Tuvok nodded. "Thank you, captain. As the Doctor will not cooperate, will you monitor her vital signs for me?"

"No," she said. "I'm done with this job." Before he could say anything, she stormed out of sickbay. Before the doors closed, she heard Tuvok speaking. "My mind to your mind..." The doors hissed shut and she made for the nearest turbolift, intent on finding Lieutenant Carey and passing off command to him.

Tuvok's screams echoed up and down the halls. Janeway spun around and sprinted back to Sickbay. She found Tuvok in a posture like a man being electrocuted, his hands clamped on the alien's temples, while he shook and jerked and bled from the eyes and nose. The alien was sitting upright, staring forward with a blank expression on her face. The two security ratings lay on the deck in the isolation bay, their skin burned and their uniforms smoking. There was a high-pitched squeal, like audio feedback, that was coming from everywhere and nowhere, painfully loud; Janeway's eyes teared from it. Covering her ears did nothing to attenuate it.

"Security to sickbay! Computer, activate emergency medical hologram!"

The EMH materialized in the middle of sickaby. "Please state the nature--"

"Over there!" said Janeway.

The Doctor strode across sickbay, straight through the forcefield. He grabbed Tuvok's arms. The alien glared at him, and a halo of fire flashed around the Doctor, who shimmered but otherwise ignored it. With obvious great strength, he pulled Tuvok away from the alien. Tuvok collapsed to the floor. The alien screamed and clambered off the table; the wail cut off like someone had thrown a switch.

Sickbay's door slid open and a team of four security ratings rushed in, still shaking their heads and rubbing their ears. Janeway didn't even know how to start to explain the situation. While they advanced on the isolation bay, the Doctor had the alien cornered. Whatever power she'd had before, it failed her now. He had acquired a hypospray from a medical locker inside the isolation bay. Now he held her still, pressed it to her neck, and supported her while she slumped to the floor.

The Doctor turned to examine Tuvok and the two other ratings. "They're dead," he said, pointing at the goldshirts. "He's alive," he said, pointing at Tuvok. "Just barely. I need to perform emergency surgery." The isolation bay forcefield fell.

"Get them out of there," said Janeway. "Doctor, what about the alien?"

"She will be unconscious for several hours," said the Doctor.

"Put her in a bed with a restraining field," said Janeway. "What the hell is that noise?"

"What noise?" said the Doctor.

She looked at him, baffled. "You didn't hear that?"

"Bridge to Janeway," said Kim. "Captain, someone just sent a signal from Voyager to the inner solar system."

"What kind of signal?" said Janeway.

"Captain, I....ma'am, please don't think I'm crazy."

"Just spit it out!" she snapped.

"Yes ma'am. I think it was telepathic, ma'am."

"To Ocampa?" she said.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Okay," said Janeway. "Now we have a new crisis."

#

A few hours later, Janeway assembled what was left of her "senior" staff and briefed them on what happened. Carey sat at her right hand, watching her speak. The look on his face was that of a man who wanted to appear attentive without actually paying attention; he was clearly waiting for his turn to talk.

"Mr. Carey," she said.

"Ma'am," said Carey.

"You've been the official second in command since we arrived, but as I'm sure you noticed, I gave Tuvok many of the first officer's responsibilities so you could concentrate on your role as chief engineer. As Tuvok is now incapacitated indefinitely, I'm going to have to ask you to step up fully into both roles. I'm aware I'm asking you to do two difficult jobs at once, but that is how it will have to be for the time being."

"You can count on me, captain," he said.

I'll bet I can, thought Janeway. I wonder when you suggest I might step aside 'for a little while' to 'rest and recuperate'. Just a few hours before, she'd been ready to put the red uniform on him, disgusted with her own weakness and moral failure. You'd have done the exact same thing, she thought. You'd have done the minute Tuvok suggested it. You would have been inside that isolation bay with him, and you would have died, and we'd have lost Tuvok and our captain and our chief engineer all at the same time. She'd been ready to put the red uniform on him, but now she knew: the red uniform was hers, and would be hers until she got Voyager home.

She moved to the next item on the agenda. "B'Elana, your work on this ship has been exemplary. I don't know if what I'm about to give you is exactly a reward, but it's something I should have done already: I'm appointing you to the rank of provisional ensign in the engineering department, with responsibility for propulsion, power, and the cloaking device. You'll be junior-in-grade to Ensign Vorick, but you'll be a formal part of the chain of command."

"Thank you, ma'am," she said. "Is there any word on Tuvok's condition?"

"The Doctor is keeping him in an induced coma for the next twenty-four hours," said Janeway. "He's suffered severe burns and some probable brain damage. The Doctor is hopeful he will eventually make a full recovery, but his prognosis is uncertain."

Torres nodded quietly and looked back down at her PADD.

"Mr. Paris, I'm appointing you provisional ensign as well," said Janeway. "Your primary duties will be in sickbay, but once we're underway, you're my pilot."

"Thank you, ma'am," he said. His voice and expression were wooden, and Janeway was certain he didn't really want to be Starfleet. Well, too fucking bad, she thought.

"I've been up all night developing a plan to rescue the crew of Val Jean; unless anyone has a better idea, I intend to implement it four days from now. Once the cloak is ready, we will proceed under cloak to Ocampa and take position above the planet's north pole. The Kazons won't be able to see through the cloak, our past selves will be blocked by the planet's bulk, and Val Jean will be too remote and too busy to notice us through the magnetic interference. We'll sit tight through the battle, using Chakotay's sensor-jamming trick to keep ourselves hidden if necessary. When Val Jean loses power, we'll initiate a rapid emergency beam out of her crew. Once that's accomplished, we'll warp off under cloak to a position one astronomical unit away, come about, and warp back in. Our primary target will be the Kazon battleship Wrath, which we are now confident is Razik's command ship. We'll shoot to cripple and offer terms: send the fleet away or we'll destroy him. We'll warp off to a suitable location and wait to see his reaction. If he takes our offer, we'll offer assistance with casualties in exchange for unimpeded access to Ocampa and the Caretaker for as long as it takes us to figure out how to get home. If he doesn't, we will warp back, destroy Wrath and everyone left on board, and start again with the next ship down the line until these primitive assholes get the fucking message."

She stood up without warning; everyone else scrambled to their feet. She was starting to enjoy that.

"If there aren't any questions," she said.

Nobody had any.

"Dismissed," she said.

On her way out, Carey stopped her. "Captain," he said. "I know you've been working very hard, and--"

"You can't have my job, lieutenant, so save your breath," said Janeway.

Carey's mouth worked, but no sound came out. Janeway smiled to herself. Maybe I am more perceptive than I let on, she thought.

"I was just going to say you could use some rest," said Carey.

"We all could," said Janeway. "You've got enough to do."

"If I'd been in command this whole time, we wouldn't be in this situation," he said. He looked surprised when he blurted it out, like he had been thinking it but didn't really think he had the courage to say it. Well.

"You're right," said Janeway. "We wouldn't be in this situation. We'd all be dead or in a Kazon slave market instead. If I hadn't listened to you, we could have had the warp drive up and running before we had to fight fourteen Kazon battleships. Now, you made your recommendation and I followed it, and I'm not blaming you for giving me your honest professional opinion; it was on me to see the bigger situation. But since we got here, you've shown me nothing but condescension and contempt, and it's obvious you think you should be in charge."

"Captain--" said Carey.

"Shut up," said Janeway. "Shut your mouth and listen. You think you should be in charge because you think I'm some blueshirt pencil-pusher who has no business commanding a starship. Well, obviously Bujold saw it differently, or she would have put you in front of me on the depth chart. And seeing as we're all still alive right now, you know what? She was right. I may be a blueshirt pencil pusher, but this ship is intact and its crew is alive, because of my decisions, not yours.

"Now, we have to work together for the next four days, and maybe for a long time after that. I'd ask you if you think you can work with me, but bluntly, I don't have anyone to replace you with, so I don't actually care about your answer. You are going to work with me, and you are going to accept your part in this, and you're going to do it without backbiting or undermining me, or I promise you, Mr. Carey, when this ship gets back to the Federation, your career in Starfleet will be over. Am I clear?"

"Yes, ma'am," said Carey. He was visibly seething, but Janeway didn't care about that. Let the little prick seethe. As long as he understood how the world worked from now on.

#
-4 Days
Val Jean arrived on schedule in a blister of space-time warped to the breaking point. She gave no sign she saw Voyager. Kazon scouts came screaming into the system and spotted the Maquis; Predator followed at high warp and dropped right on top of them in orbit of the planet, while Chakotay was still trying to get his bearings. Jabin was rewarded for his precise, practiced, coordinated attack with a withering phaser barrage from Val Jean that destroyed two scouts; Predator retreated to the outer solar system, also oblivious to Voyager's presence. Val Jean hunted down and mauled the third scout; from that point forward, Predator was alone.

At about the moment Val Jean popped out of the Caretaker's space-time blister, the alien in sickbay woke up.

The Doctor looked up from his research work and saw her sitting up in the isolation bed. She reached out in front of her and struck a forcefield; she yanked her hand back like it had been burnt. She started feeling around methodically, looking for a way out of the bed; when she'd come a full 360 degrees without finding a break in the field, she threw herself at it. It threw her back harmlessly. At that point, she started to panic. The Doctor stood and approached her bed; she noticed him for the first time and drew back in fright.

"It's okay," he said. He knew he hadn't been programmed to be "soothing"; that collection of vocal and body-language cues had been left out of his final design specs, but he knew it was important in this situation to try to calm the patient down. "You are in an isolation bed for your own protection. I am a doctor; I mean you no harm."

This did not calm the alien in any way. She started to cry out in an alien language.

"Sickbay to bridge," said the Doctor.

"We're kind of busy up here," said Janeway. The alien heard the voice over the intercom and looked around wildly for a second person.

"The alien is awake."

"We'll be right there."

"Doctor to Tom Paris."

"I heard, doc, I'm on my way.

The alien started thrashing against the force field again and crying out. The Doctor picked up a hypospray. "You are only risking injury by struggling," he said. "You cannot thrash through the force field." I hope, he thought to himself.

He crossed the force field sealing the isolation bay. She shouted at him in her language; he didn't understand the words, but the meaning was clear enough: "Keep away". "I am going to give you a mild sedative," he said. "It will help you calm down." Across the sickbay, the doors slid open; the sickbay's internal sensors told him it was Tom Paris.

"Computer!" she shouted. "Deactivate Emergency Medical Hologram!"

How did she know how to do that? thought the Doctor. And when did she learn to speak Vulcan? he added, just before the world went black.

#

By his internal clock, the world reappeared six minutes later. The alien was sitting on the edge of a bed in the middle of Sickbay, with Tom Paris, Captain Janeway, and Tuvok standing around her. Janeway was looking at the Doctor; his internal logs told him she had reactivated him. "Captain!" he said, alarmed to see the alien out of isolation.

"It's all right," said Janeway. "She was just claustrophobic."

"Are you sure that's all?" said the Doctor. The alien was staring at him, shivering in fright.

Tuvok saw her alarm and whispered something to her. She calmed down, but still glanced uneasily at the Doctor every few seconds.

"I'm glad to see you're awake, Mr. Tuvok," said the Doctor.

"Her name is Kes," said Tuvok. There was a slow and dreamy quality to his voice; the Doctor noticed Janeway and Paris watching him as he spoke.

"As soon as Tuvok woke up, she calmed down," said Paris. "I've scanned her already; I uploaded the readings to the medical log."

The Doctor checked them in his "mind". "Body temperature normal, lung function normal, neurological functions normal, heart rate elevated but within normal range," he said. He check again. "And the same for Mr. Tuvok."

"I must thank you, Doctor, for your skilled treatment," said Tuvok, sounding more like his normal self. "And I must apologize for my behavior last night."

"You committed a serious breach of ethics, Mr. Tuvok. "If you were still a Starfleet officer, I would have to report you to Starfleet command. As I must do to you, Captain."

Janeway nodded gravely. "I expect nothing less," she said. Behind her, Paris was making an odd face; the Doctor catalogued it as another one of Paris's odd behaviors and ignored it.

"Where is this place?" said Kes. "Are we in the Temple?"

"No," said Tuvok. "We are very far from the Temple."

"We're far away from Papa," she said. "I can hear him, but he's very faint."

"We will be seeing him soon," said Tuvok.

"Is your Papa called the Caretaker?" said Janeway.

"Papa told me I would have to go outside," said Kes. "That I would meet a man named Tuvok and a woman named Kathryn, in a city called 'Voyager'. I'm there, aren't I? This is the city of Voyager."

"Yes," said Janeway. "My name is Kathryn, and we are on a sh--in a city called Voyager. We're a long way from home and we were hoping your papa could help us get back."

"Papa said you might ask for his help. He said that he's helped you twice, and you must help him in return."

"Helped us twice?" said Janeway. "He sent you to save our warp engine; that's one. What's the second?"

Kes pursed her lips and shook her head.

"Captain," said Tuvok, "Remember our temporal displacement. Kes may be unwilling to reveal information that may change our future actions."

"Right," said Janeway.

"I'm hungry," said Kes. "Papa said it was safe to eat your food."

"Doctor?" said Janeway.

"Our standard hypoallergenic replicator menu should be safe for her consumption. If somewhat…uninspiring. I would like to supervise her meal here, just in case."

"Is that what you would like to do, Kes?" said Janeway.

"Yes, that will be acceptable," she said, in a tone that sounded exactly like Tuvok's.

#

After Kes's uneventful (and, as promised, uninspiring) meal in sickbay, Janeway went with Tuvok back to his cabin. The gravity was Earth-normal but the lights were deep red and the air was hot and dry. He replicated a cup of vile-smelling Vulcan tea; Janeway declined when he offered to make one for her. There were human-designed chairs in the cabin, but Tuvok had shoved them to one corner and arranged cushions around a low table. Vital scientific equipment: left at Deep Space Nine. Vulcan furniture: priority loading. She silently cursed Bujold again.

"How are you feeling?" said Janeway.

"I am in some pain," said Tuvok. "It will pass."

"I thought I'd lost you for a while back there," said Janeway.

"I am led to understand it was you who summoned help. I thank you for that, captain."

She nodded.

"And…I regret deeply my actions led to the deaths of crewmen Guiterrez and Swanwyck."

"Yeah, well," said Janeway, staring at her folded knees. "Not the first we've lost." She looked back up. "But hopefully the last." She surprised herself by how dry-eyed she was. Maybe you did used to this.

"I also apologize I took advantage of your trust in me. Should you wish to discontinue our professional relationship, I will understand."

"I didn't appreciate that, I admit," she said. "But right now I need all the help I can get. Anyway, since you did mind meld with her, we might as well make use of what you learned." said Janeway.

"I saw into her mind," he said. "I believe the Doctor is right--she has been tampered with. There was a 'firewall' between her Kes ego and her body; when we melded, I broke a hole in that wall."

"She was a prisoner in her own brain?"

"I do not believe she was aware of it, but yes, essentially."

"When happened when you broke through?"

"I believe I triggered a defensive reaction. She was as frightened by it as I was. The Kes ego was not in control then."

"You keep mentioning this 'Kes ego'. What does that mean?"

"When we were connected, I sensed other personalities lying beneath the personality that calls itself Kes."

"Is she mentally ill?"

"Impossible to say. It is unusual, though not unheard of, for some sentient species to carry multiple 'selves' or 'personalities' in a single brain."

"Or it could have something to do with the tampering the Doctor found."

"Yes."

"Can you say anything about those other personalities? Were any of them hostile?"

"Not exactly," said Tuvok. "Most seemed indifferent, or curious. But there was one…I am sorry, captain. I cannot fully describe it."

"Can you try?"

"All I can remember is a feeling of terrible purpose. That is the entity that attacked me."

"Do you remember anything else about it?"

"Yes," said Tuvok. "We speculated that the alien--Kes--may have been an avatar of the Caretaker. The entity that attacked me was it. I am certain of it."

"And that telepathic broadcast…?"

"It was transmitting a copy of itself to the Caretaker array when the Doctor interrupted."

"How much made it back?"

"I cannot say," said Tuvok.

"All right," said Janeway. "You rest for now. Do you think you'll be up to helping question her later."

"Captain, I feel the need to tell you: interrogating Kes will teach us nothing. She is barely aware of the other entities inhabiting her mind. Worse, I am afraid I the 'firewall' containing 'Kes' is only partially breached; I am afraid you will find broad gaps in her memory until she can find her own way around it."

"You don't think it's even worth asking?" said Janeway.

"It will cause her distress and teach us nothing," said Tuvok.

"You've formed some kind of connection with her, haven't you?" said Janeway.

"I have," he said. "I cannot fully describe it, but I know it is there. I find it…somewhat unsettling, captain. I feel as if I have lost the privacy of my own thoughts. An ironic comeuppance, I suppose."

"I wasn't going to go there," said Janeway.

"I appreciate that," said Tuvok.

"Tuvok, I have to ask: the Caretaker…ego…you encountered in her mind. Did you learn anything from it?"

He closed his eyes and relaxed. "I see a room, captain. A room filled with machines older than human civilization. And an old man, older than them. A nexus of time, space, and thought. " His hands played across a control panel only he could see. His eyes snapped open.

"Captain," he said. "I know how to use the array. If you can get me inside, I can get Voyager home."

#
-1 Day

Everyone who could fit stood on the bridge, watching the view screen.

"Captain," said Kim, "I'm detecting a warp signature inbound on this system. Looks like Predator."

"They know," said Janeway. "Ensign Wildman?"

"Intense activity from the planet's surface. It's happening any minute now."

Janeway took a sip of coffee and watched. Six days of waiting for this moment. "Where's Val Jean?" she said.

"Kuiper belt, opposite side of the system from us," said Kim.

"They aren't looking this direction," said Tuvok. "Voyager and Predator monopolized Chakotay's attention."

She nodded and took another sip. Her hands were shaking slightly; she focused on stilling them and they stopped. A lock of hair had gotten loose and fell in her face; she brushed it back, annoyed. "Mr. Tuvok, activate the cloak."

"Aye captain." The lights flickered. Outside, Voyager, a lone white speck at the bottom of a soot-black crater, shimmered and vanished.

"Here it comes!" said Kim.

"Here we come," said Janeway. A blister rose in the fabric of space twenty thousand kilometers above the surface of Ocampa. It burst in a shower of exotic particles and out popped Voyager, haloed in debris and escaping air, the hull surface so hot it was glowing red at the wedge-end of the saucer hull.

Red alert.

Voyager's lights flickered once and went out. Warp plasma vented from a hole in the starboard nacelle.

"All right," said Janeway. She stood up and tapped her commbadge. "Attention all crew: as you probably know, our past selves have joined us here in this system. For the next twenty-two hours, we're going to sit here and watch our friends, our colleagues, and ourselves suffer. We're going to sit here and watch some of them die for a second time. We're going to watch ourselves make mistakes a second time. The temptation to intervene here, to change the past for the better, is overwhelming. I know it because I feel it myself."

She took a breath to compose herself. "But we have to resist. The past is what it is--and to attempt to change it is to court disaster. But the future is still ours to change, and tomorrow, that's what we're going to do. I am so proud of all of us for making it this far. One more day. Janeway out."

Nobody on the bridge said anything. "Computer," said Janeway, "institute communications lockout procedure Janeway One."

"INSTITUTING THAT PROCEDURE WILL LOCK ALL SENIOR OFFICERS OUT OF THE COMMUNICATIONS SYSTEM FOR TWENTY-TWO HOURS. THIS ACTION CANNOT BE UNDONE. DO YOU WISH TO CONTINUE?"

"Yes," said Janeway.

The computer chirped. "LOCKOUT INITIATED. EXTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS ARE DISABLED FOR TWENTY-TWO HOURS."

"Well," said Janeway. "That's it." She got up and walked off the bridge, intending to grab whatever sleep she could.

#
Day 0

"Transporter stations, report," said Janeway.

"Main transporter room, six pads, standing by."

"Cargo transport one, four pads, standing by."

"Cargo transport two, four pads, standing by."

"Shuttlecraft Drake, one pad standing by."

"Shuttlecraft Aldrin, one pad standing by."

"Shuttlecraft Amundsen, one pad standing by."

"Shuttlecraft Wright, one pad standing by."

"Mr. Nozawa, are you ready?"

"Standing by, captain."

"Mr. Kim, assign remote access to all pads to Mr. Nozawa's station in transporter room one."

"Yes ma'am," he said.

"Lieutenant Nozawa, you'll have your targets assigned to you by the bridge. Remember, every pad has to cycle twice, so we're not going to have much time to waste. Remote operators, get your pads clear as soon as your targets materialize. Mr. Kim, have you identified Chakotay yet?"

"Yes ma'am. He's on the first list, main transporter room, pad three."

"Can he be beamed directly to the bridge?" said Janeway.

"Yes ma'am," said Kim.

"Time, Mr. Tuvok," said Janeway.

"One minute, thirty seconds to zero hour."

Janeway nodded, sipped her coffee. The Battle of Ocampa played out on the viewscreen. Three Kazon scouts were chasing Val Jean, hammering her with shell fire. Janeway, lurking behind her cloak, could do nothing but admire the little ship. And its crew.

"Transporter team stand by. Mr. Paris, do we have a clear line of sight to Val Jean?"

"Yes ma'am," he said.

"Good. Let's keep it that way."

"There's the missile launch," said Kim. "Right on schedule."

Janeway held her breath as the atomic warhead bore in on Val Jean. She knew they hadn't changed history, knew the ship would survive, knew the shields would protect the crew one last time.

The warhead detonated. The gamma flash popped Val Jean's shields; moments later the ship's antimatter pods went flying in six different directions to explode harmlessly Ocampa's upper atmosphere.

"Val Jean has lost power," said Tuvok. "They are in freefall."

"Bridge, this is Nozawa. I have transporter locks on all targets. Standing by for your signal."

"Energize!" said Janeway.

#
Val Jean

Chakotay, A'sha, and Seska were all praying in their own ways. Chakotay wondered which heaven they'd wind up in.

A light started shining through his eyelids. He opened his eyes. The light, blue and sparkling, was filling the cabin.

A'sha's eyes snapped open.

"Transporter!" she said.

Val Jean vanished, and Voyager appeared. He was still in a sitting posture, and was still so surprised that he didn't think to try to regain his balance. He fell on his ass on a thinly carpeted deck.

He laid back and looked up. Janeway was standing over him, looking concerned.

"Is this heaven?" he said.

"I sure hope not," said Janeway.

"Captain," said the round-faced ensign manning the ops console. "Lieutenant Nozawa reports both transports complete."

"Captain, it's time," said Tuvok.

"Warp out to the staging point," said Janeway.

"Warping now," said Tom Paris, sitting at the helm console.

"What's going on here?" said Chakotay. He looked at the view screen. "How did you get into space without the Kazons seeing you?"

"It's a long story," said Janeway. She glanced down at the chronometer readout on her chair's armrest. "We've reached the staging point. Mr. Paris, set course for Ocampa. Load torpedoes, prepare to drop cloak."

"At least summarize it for me," said Chakotay.

"B'Elana Torres turned our warp engine into a time machine and built a cloaking device," said Janeway. "Mr. Tuvok, load torpedoes." The chronometer ticked down to zero.

"Engage."

#

Voyager's engines roared and the yellow planet swelled in the view screen. "Drop cloak and engage target alpha," said Janeway.

Voyager's cloak lifted with the ship less than a planetary diameter from the Kazon fleet. The spread of three photon torpedoes streaked away and struck Wrath amidships port, blasting his superstructure apart and leaving the central core floating exposed in a tangle of glowing wreckage.

"Begin transmitting--" said Janeway.

The remaining twelve battleships fired on Voyager with their main batteries. Janeway had to grab her armrests to keep from getting thrown out of her chair.

"Shields down to fifty percent," said Tuvok.

"Tom, get us out of here!" said Janeway.

"Warp drive is not responding," said Paris.

"Engineering, report!" said Janeway.

"Port plasma manifold offline," said Carey. "We're working on it."

"Work faster!" said Janeway, as Voyager rocked with another massive shell hit.

Chakotay rushed over to the tactical station. "Tuvok, reload torpedoes, destroy target beta. Give the rest of them something to think about."

"Captain?" said Tuvok.

"Do it!" said Janeway.

Outside the ship, four photon torpedoes screamed into the front armor of the nearest Kazon battleship, blasting it into flying debris.

"Captain, it looks like some of the Kazons are running away," said Kim. "Two, three…five, six of them are powering their warp drives."

"Let them go," said Janeway. On the view screen, phaser beams played across the hull of another Kazon battleship, burning its shields away; Tuvok followed up with a pair of torpedoes that left it scorched and drifting. "Hail Wrath."

"They're responding," said Kim.

"On screen!"

Jal Jabin appeared on the main screen cloaked in smoke on a dark, ruined bridge. His face slicked with blood.

"Where's Razik?" said Janeway.

"He's dead."

Voyager shook again. "One more shot and so are you," said Janeway. "Call your fleet off or die."

"Balls!" said Jabin. He jabbed a button on his console and vanished from the screen.

#
Wrath

Janeway's hideous albino face disappeared from Jabin's comms screen. He switched to the fleet channel. "Dishonor and perdition to those who run! Glory and eternal life to those who fight! Destroy Voyager!"

Jal Jabin hoisted himself out of his chair and stepped over the body of the First Maje. He staggered over to a special control station, pulled the body of its operator aside, entered a code on a keypad, and pressed the enter key.

"And fuck you too, old man," he said, as the first phaser blast from Voyager burned through the control room's inner armor and burned Jal Jabin into atoms.

#
Voyager

The last of the hulk of Wrath broke up into a thousand glowing pieces even as shouts of "Glory to those who fight!" echoed across the Kazons' comms. There was an alarm from behind Janeway and a curse from Chakotay.

"We just lost the warhead loading system," said Chakotay. "Photon torpedoes offline."

"Which ship is the flagship now?" said Janeway.

"No idea," said Chakotay. "They don't need a lot of coordinating to keep shooting at us."

"Captain!" said Ensign Wildman. "Something's happening on the planet! The Caretaker is transporting something big."

"What is it?" said Janeway, just as a massive shell hit threw her off her feet.

There was a brilliant light on the viewscreen, brighter than Ocampa's sun, and a terrible, telepathic scream. Janeway curled into the fetal position, ready to die, when it fell away as rapidly as it had come. She wanted to lay on the deck for a year, but she forced herself to get back up, just as the rest of the bridge crew did--even Tom Paris.

The shellfire had stopped.

"Report!" said Janeway.

"Captain, they're gone," said Tuvok. "All the Kazons are gone."

On the main viewscreen was the Caretaker, hanging serene and alone. "What?" said Chakotay. "Where did they--?"

"Captain!" shouted Harry Kim.

The twisted wreck of Predator smashed headlong into the Caretaker array at warp speed. There was a blast of light and debris and all the station's knife-like appendages crumpled, leaving only the station's core.

Janeway and Chakotay looked at each other. Neither had anything they could say.

Ensign Wildman broke the silence. "Captain, the Kazon ship punctured the hull. I can scan the interior. I'm detecting a class M atmosphere at standard temperature and pressure."

Janeway tapped her commbadge. "Transporter room, stand by for away team."
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Re: Caretaker

Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2012-12-24 03:37am

I'm really appreciating reading this, Red. I do have one very general comment, though. I think having A'sha die would be a severe affront to the inclusiveness of Star Trek as a guiding principle. One of the points of Star Trek from the very first was that humanity had unified and we weren't favouring some groups of people over others anymore, but the honest fact of the matter is, Star Trek has never had a Muslim Arab or Muslim period main character, let alone woman, and it is a severe disservice because it gives rise to the notion that with more sophistication in the world's social order, Islam would more or less cease to exist. The continuing failure of having an important Muslim character in Star Trek is rather a sore point in that regard, and though you can't change the real thing, her presence does address that here and it would kind of perpetuate the problem if she died.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by Diverball » 2012-12-24 07:22am

The Duchess of Zeon wrote:I'm really appreciating reading this, Red. I do have one very general comment, though. I think having A'sha die would be a severe affront to the inclusiveness of Star Trek as a guiding principle. One of the points of Star Trek from the very first was that humanity had unified and we weren't favouring some groups of people over others anymore, but the honest fact of the matter is, Star Trek has never had a Muslim Arab or Muslim period main character, let alone woman, and it is a severe disservice because it gives rise to the notion that with more sophistication in the world's social order, Islam would more or less cease to exist. The continuing failure of having an important Muslim character in Star Trek is rather a sore point in that regard, and though you can't change the real thing, her presence does address that here and it would kind of perpetuate the problem if she died.
Star Trek has never had a practising Christian as a main character either, as I recall. Celebrating Christmas doesn't really count, since it's entirely possible even now to celebrate it as a purely secular event. Neither has Trek depicted a Jew. Or a Hindu, a Sikh or any other human religion. The only human main character who has ever been depicted practising any kind of religious practise is Chakotay, and his beliefs are very non-dogmatic.

Like it or not, Star Trek has deliberately shied away from depicting any of the major human religions.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by Themightytom » 2012-12-24 08:59am

Oh great the clarinet is back.

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Re: Caretaker

Post by RedImperator » 2012-12-24 09:14am

The Original Series had a few Christian moments; it was TNG+ that was explicitly secularist (there was a mention in "Data's Day" of Diwali, but I don't think we ever saw anyone practicing).

I regret that I didn't get to do as much with A'sha as I'd originally wanted to; with the focus mostly on Voyager and the Starfleet characters, I didn't get to do much with the Maquis. In a full series I would have spent a lot more time developing the Maquis, A'sha included.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by Crazedwraith » 2012-12-24 11:20am

Hmm. Interesting stuff. I think time travel plus cloaking device is getting slightly wanky, like you're using all Star Trek's bag of tricks at once. And a couple of moments seem a little too on the nose 'take that' moments and Tuvok's criticisms of the magic meeting room and third solution option.

But then considering what happens to Tuvok as a result maybe I'm being too harsh. I really am enjoying your Tuvok by the way, I don't remember the canon Tuvok being much better than Spock in a goldshirt but you've really given him a different slant on the Vulcan ideals which works well or his role as an intelligence/security/tactical guy.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by Stofsk » 2012-12-24 12:35pm

The time travel is good and inventive plot development that you don't see often in Trek: proactive use of time travel. It's almost always either accidental or unplanned, or forced on the heroes by the actions of the villains. You rarely see anyone in Star Trek go 'shit let's use a slingshot manoeuvre/Guardian of Forever/zomg teh chronitonz and go back a week to fix whatever those bad guys were doing'. This despite Kirk establishing this precedent in The Voyage Home.

Fuck mang, Generations was infamous for this. Literally Picard could have gone back anytime, any place, so where and when does he decide to go back? Five minutes before Malcolm Macdowell did his thing on Veridan III.

The cloaking device is more of a stretch, but the way it's presented - at least it's sort of believable. I mean if it's like the Lite version of a real cloak, maybe it has limitations not immediately apparent or it is easier to counteract than an actual device would be.

I too like Tuvok, and I think it's an interesting dynamic between he and Janeway.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2012-12-24 04:28pm

Diverball, the point is that Star Trek purposely leaped across socio-political divides of the time it was written in--like Uhura and Kirk kissing, and Chekov being in TOS. Well, the biggest socio-political divide today is that between the Muslim world and the European West, and in the same tradition I think a genuinely bold Star Trek series would have reached across it in a very conscious fashion. Religion in Star Trek would not be very important as religion for people from the Middle-East, but they would still have their own culture, and their mere explicit presence would have served as the same kind of gesture as it was with Chekov. Merely having him on the show as explicitly Russian and proud of Russian history (as opposed to a political exile) was more controversial in the 1960s than you can really think about now, and a Muslimah as a major character in modern Trek would have, I think, rather explicitly been the same sort of move, so it is one of those important traditions of Star Trek that they really dropped the ball on... Mostly with their treatment of Chakotay, by making him into the stereotypical Indian instead of a normal guy with a different cultural background.

But let's be honest, Star Trek Voyager did have these problems and if A'sha had been in the pilot, Berman and Braga would have probably had her suicide pilot Val Jean into a Kazon warship and look utterly confused when people complained, after all, she was doing it for the good guys!

Okay, maybe I'm being too mean even for them, but part of the point of Star Trek is to be conscious of modern social ills and explicitly show humanity transcending them.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2012-12-24 04:29pm

Stofsk wrote:The time travel is good and inventive plot development that you don't see often in Trek: proactive use of time travel. It's almost always either accidental or unplanned, or forced on the heroes by the actions of the villains. You rarely see anyone in Star Trek go 'shit let's use a slingshot manoeuvre/Guardian of Forever/zomg teh chronitonz and go back a week to fix whatever those bad guys were doing'. This despite Kirk establishing this precedent in The Voyage Home.

Fuck mang, Generations was infamous for this. Literally Picard could have gone back anytime, any place, so where and when does he decide to go back? Five minutes before Malcolm Macdowell did his thing on Veridan III.

The cloaking device is more of a stretch, but the way it's presented - at least it's sort of believable. I mean if it's like the Lite version of a real cloak, maybe it has limitations not immediately apparent or it is easier to counteract than an actual device would be.

I too like Tuvok, and I think it's an interesting dynamic between he and Janeway.
Well, the Federation has had cloaking devices since they stole one in TOS, so why couldn't they at least have a TOS-era cloak? I.E., what the Romulans consider 150 year old crap tech?
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Re: Caretaker

Post by Simon_Jester » 2012-12-24 06:58pm

1. What's a "Wolf" cut?

2. Stofsk, I like your thinking on the cloaking device. Also consider- Red's version of Voyager is operating under some heavier disadvantages than the real one, or would be if he wrote the series. Resource limitations are more significant, obviously. So giving them some kind of reasonable advantage (like "cloak lite," possibly something their more advanced enemies can quickly learn to cope with even if the Kazon can't) seems fair.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by Diverball » 2012-12-24 07:16pm

Double post
Last edited by Diverball on 2012-12-24 11:19pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by Diverball » 2012-12-24 07:22pm

The Duchess of Zeon wrote:Diverball, the point is that Star Trek purposely leaped across socio-political divides of the time it was written in--like Uhura and Kirk kissing, and Chekov being in TOS. Well, the biggest socio-political divide today is that between the Muslim world and the European West, and in the same tradition I think a genuinely bold Star Trek series would have reached across it in a very conscious fashion. Religion in Star Trek would not be very important as religion for people from the Middle-East, but they would still have their own culture, and their mere explicit presence would have served as the same kind of gesture as it was with Chekov. Merely having him on the show as explicitly Russian and proud of Russian history (as opposed to a political exile) was more controversial in the 1960s than you can really think about now, and a Muslimah as a major character in modern Trek would have, I think, rather explicitly been the same sort of move, so it is one of those important traditions of Star Trek that they really dropped the ball on... Mostly with their treatment of Chakotay, by making him into the stereotypical Indian instead of a normal guy with a different cultural background.

But let's be honest, Star Trek Voyager did have these problems and if A'sha had been in the pilot, Berman and Braga would have probably had her suicide pilot Val Jean into a Kazon warship and look utterly confused when people complained, after all, she was doing it for the good guys!

Okay, maybe I'm being too mean even for them, but part of the point of Star Trek is to be conscious of modern social ills and explicitly show humanity transcending them.
Except that modern Trek doesn't. TOS may have been radical, but even it's radicalism was constrained - Chekov was Russian, but he wasn't a Communist, and his nationalism was portrayed as Atavistic; Uhura was a black woman, but she was in a relatively lowly post. Sisko and Janeway weren't ahead of their time, but lagging behind it, and both characters had issues. Trek still has not managed to deal with homosexuality. Modern Trek has far too much commercial baggage behind it for it to be truly radical any more.

I could see Trek introducing a main character of Arab descent, but it's questionable whether you could play up the Muslim aspect without clashing with the secular humanist values that have dominated Trek for the last 25 year. One thing that I don't think that Trek has ever really done is deal with a major and consistent clash of values between main characters.
The Duchess of Zeon wrote:Well, the Federation has had cloaking devices since they stole one in TOS, so why couldn't they at least have a TOS-era cloak? I.E., what the Romulans consider 150 year old crap tech?
Even a TOS cloak might be overkill, given the Kazons' paucity of subspace sensor technology. You'd have thought that the basic principles of cloaking technology would be covered in the standard engineering syllabus, given that Starfleet engineers in the field occasionally have the need to try and penetrate cloaking fields.
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Re: Caretaker

Post by hongi » 2012-12-24 10:14pm

1. What's a "Wolf" cut?
The cuts in science and exploration after the Wolf 359 incident.

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