Harry Kim stepped away from Neelix’s chafing dish wondering what sat on his plate, seemingly staring at him. A deep sigh escaped him and he moved on to allow the next victim access to their punishment of the day. He knew the analogy wasn’t accurate but his stomach had certainly believed the veracity of it on occasion since the USS Voyager had been stranded in the Delta Quadrant of the galaxy. Life, and eating, would’ve been a lot easier if the mysterious Caretaker that had brought them here had returned them home before expiring.
Of course, the Kazon fleet had a lot to do with that. Captain Janeway had been forced to destroy the array, and the chances of a swift return to the Alpha Quadrant, in order to deprive the warlike Kazon access to the Array’s tremendous power. Her decision had been the only moral one but the crew would spend most, if not all, of their lives bearing its consequences. Even the crew changed. Causalities and basic decency had forced the crew to meld with a Maquis crew likewise stranded decades from home.
Harry had no regrets over the union of Starfleet personnel and Maquis terrorists. Their Acting 1st Officer had been the captain of the Ju’day-class raider they’d used as a weapon against the Kazon. A former Lt. Commander in Starfleet before resigning to become a freedom fighter, Chakotay smoothly brought his people aboard despite their natural resistance to authority. He was one of the most capable and understanding officers Kim had ever watched in action.
However, the Voyager had recently absorbed the crew of the USS Equinox, and Kim doubted even Chakotay’s vaunted skills could smooth over the animosity the Voyager crew felt towards the five surviving members of the ill-fated surveyor. Of course, kidnapping members of the crew and leaving the rest behind to die at the hands of enraged aliens hadn’t helped their case. Being reduced to crewman and being constantly monitored by Security was actually a light punishment.
The most heinous aspect of the entire affair was the willing aiding and abetting of their captain’s decision to utilise nucleogenic aliens as a fuel source. This was invariably lethal to the aliens and their surviving kin were understandably upset. The aliens hunted the Equinox and her crew across the Delta Quadrant’s depths while providing captured victims to fuel the ship’s next escape. When Voyager responded to the stricken vessel’s unexpected distress call, both crews felt an exhilarating rush of newly restored hope.
That hope was swiftly crushed. Captain Rudolph “Rudy” Ransom balked at the notion of employing his command as a salvage ground for parts and then setting her adrift. Back in Starfleet Command, Ransom was still famed for making first contact with the Yridians. His militant attitude towards the nucleogenic aliens hammering away at the shields and his secrecy surrounding the Equinox disturbed Kathryn Janeway.
In the end, Ransom sacrificed himself and his ship to the aliens in order to spare the last five living members of his butchered crew. Voyager beamed the five survivors aboard and laid out the terms of their service aboard ship. Two months had passed since then and there had not been one single incident involving Ransom’s former crew. They remained socially ostracised and had been forced to eat in their quarters or in small defensive huddles in the mess hall.
Looking across the hall, he spotted one of the Equinox refugees. Marla Gilmore, the last surviving engineer assigned to the Equinox. Devoid of her former shipmates huddling about her, the young blonde seemed skittish and apprehensive. Gilmore had been one of the few Equinoxers to display remorse over their actions before the crew’s crimes were revealed. Seeing her so miserable struck a chord within the Chief of Operations.
Kim wove his way through the crowded mess. It was amazing that the corner Gilmore sat in could seem so isolated in a packed room. It struck Harry that the absence of laughter and human emotions emphasised the division between the crew and their recent additions. Gilmore, at least, still seemed incapable of laughter.
“Mind if I join you?” Kim quietly asked.
Gilmore started and blinked at Harry, “Wh-what?”
“May I join you for dinner?” Kim repeated with a smile.
Gilmore’s face brightened as her mouth opened to reply, then her expression fell, “I don’t think that would be a good idea.”
That surprised Kim. Of all the replies he’d expected, this one had never crossed his mental sensor display, “Why’s that?”
Gilmore looked at him as though he were horribly deformed, “Why are you doing this?”
“Because I’d like to sit down and enjoy a meal with you.” Kim replied, “I’d prefer a little conversation to go with it, but I’ll settle for a seat.”
Gilmore pondered heavily then finally relented with a shrug, “It’s your funeral.”
“Why do you say that?” Kim asked as he slid in the seat across from her.
Gilmore gave him a blank stare; “Do you see how your friends treat us? If you don’t want to be a pariah, I suggest you shove off.”
“Hey look,” Kim raised his hands in surrender, “before everything happened between your old crew and mine, we had several interesting conversations. I’m only here to talk… and to listen.”
Kim could see the fear in her eyes but she started to relent. Her mouth opened just as the red alert klaxon sounded. The lights dimmed as the intercom ordered all senior officers to report to the bridge. Kim shook his head ruefully.
“I have to go.” He said above sounds of crewmen scurrying to their battle stations.
“So do I.” Gilmore replied morosely, “But... maybe we could we try again some time?”
The question was asked with such fragile hope that it tore Harry’s heart, “Marla, I’ll clear a date so we can catch up. That’s a promise.”
Her face brightened, “You’d better get going.”
As the turbolift doors opened, Kim was surprised but delighted to his best friend, Tom Paris, already inside. He’d first met Tom in Quark’s bar as he was waiting to go aboard Voyager and set out on his first mission. It wasn’t until he came aboard that he discovered Tom had been drummed out of Starfleet and had only been released from the New Zealand Penal Colony to advise Captain Janeway on the tactics of the Maquis they were pursuing.
After Tom had been court-martialled for falsifying reports recording the death of another officer, he’d drifted aimlessly from one job to another. The only common factor was that they all revolved around the task Tom excelled at: piloting a starship. He’d taken several freighter jobs that turned out to really be smuggling operations. It was after one of these that Chakotay had recruited him as a pilot for his Maquis scoutship.
Tom was captured shortly thereafter. Even though Tom never revealed any information regarding the crew or the ship’s operations, many assumed he had. One of them included Tom’s current girlfriend, B’Elanna Torres. It was only after the two crews united that Tuvok, Chakotay’s 1st Officer and Captain Janeway’s Tactical Officer, was revealed as the leak.
“Just don’t stand there Harry.” Paris joked, “I’d like to get to the bridge before all the action is over.”
Kim shook his head as the lift doors hissed open. Although Harry considered himself adventurous, Tom craved stimulation and action. Kim wondered if that was one of the main attractions in Paris’ romance with the ship’s tempestuous half-Klingon Chief Engineer. Although one never knew what would happen next, half of Deck 14 knew what was going on at any given moment.
“Glad you could make it gentlemen.” Captain Janeway’s husky alto declared as she was pacing before the two seated command station. Chakotay gave them both a friendly nod of the head as Kim and Paris separated. Paris headed straight for his beloved Conn station, relieving Lt. Ayala. Kim relieved Lang, his second shift counterpart and began sensor readings.
“What do you make of her, Harry?” Janeway asked as she retook her seat.
“One ship.” Kim reported, “Somewhat larger than the Delta Flyer, but faster and more heavily armed.”
“Faster?” Paris asked, “Where did she come from?”
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out.” Chakotay, as officer of the watch, answered, “She just appeared on our sensors.”
“They have ignored all hails.” Tuvok reported from Tactical, “Should I raise shields?”
Janeway held up a hand, “Not yet. They haven’t actually done anything hostile yet.”
“They’re accelerating!” Kim announced.
“Raise shields.” Janeway ordered wearily.
“They are charging weapons.” Tuvok reported.
Janeway threw her hands up in surrender, “Arm phasers and photon torpedoes.”
The pursuing ship opened fire. Green energy lanced forward and met Voyager’s shields. The starship was bathed in the light from the coalescent miasma of conflicting energy fields. It’s first attempt thwarted, the ship executed a neat rolling loop to evade Voyager’s counter-fire and struck again. This continued for several minutes, each time the ship’s mysterious crew re-modulated the weapons.
“Captain, they hit us with a tachyon burst.” Kim announced, allowing Tuvok to concentrate on gunnery, “Someone transported aboard while the shields were re-modulating. They’re on Deck 8, section 12.”
“Security alert!” Janeway spoke to the ship’s computer, “Erect forcefields throughout Deck 8.”
Janeway looked to her left, “Chakotay…”
She needn’t have bothered. Her 1st Officer was already headed for the lift, “Chakotay to Security. Meet me at the main turbolift on Deck 8.”
When the turbolift doors opened, several Security team members were milling about waiting for him. It secretly amused Chakotay that so many of the officers present had come aboard with him. William McKenzie, the section chief, and Crewman Stevens were Starfleet, but the remaining majority were Maquis. Tabor, Dalby, Chell, and O’Donal had all come aboard with him from his Ju’day-class raider, the SS Liberty.
“What’s your status?” Chakotay inquired without preamble.
“All clear.” McKenzie reported, “The intruder seems to be contained by the forcefields.”
Chakotay nodded when he saw the forcefields at the end of the corridor flicker as a figure stepped through each one until he reached their section. It was humanoid, but nothing else about it could be discerned. It was encased in armour from head to toe. It bore a round cylindrical helmet with two small viewslits. It wore a white tabard that bore black runes over black chainmail-like armour. The gloves and boots the alien wore matched the tabard yet contained filament tracings of the armour’s links.
Chakotay was stunned. He knew convergent social evolution had occurred in rare cases across the Alpha Quadrant but he’d never expected to ever face what appeared to be a knight dating back to the early 1100s AD. At first, despite the leather belt the “knight” wore, Chakotay thought the alien to be unarmed. Then he noticed the cylindrical device in the being’s left hand.
The alien thrust the cylinder towards them, one end of the tube pointed at the Security detail. The alien spoke; offering what sounded to be a challenge but the universal translators seemed unable to grasp the meaning of the words. Not receiving a reply, the echo-laden sound of the “knight” repeated the original statement.
Chakotay moved in front of the detail with his hands raised submissively, “I’m afraid we can’t understand you. Please give us a moment while our computer processes you language.”
The alien paused and nodded its head. Chakotay wondered if the alien could understand them. After several moments passed, the alien spoke again. Its words were utterly incomprehensible.
Chakotay spoke again, “If I may, I’ll contact our Chief of Operations and see how we’re doing on the translations.”
A long pause ensued before the alien nodded assent and Chakotay slowly raised his hand to his comm badge and tapped it, “Harry? What’s wrong with the universal translator? Our ‘guest’ is making some kind of demand and we can’t understand a word of it.”
“I’ll get on it as soon as I can.” Kim sounded harried, the intership conflict must still be underway, “I’m a little busy right now.”
“Understood.” Chakotay acknowledged grimly. There was no point in demanding the impossible. Harry was man of his word. Every moment he could spare would be spent on the translator matrix.
“Commander?” Tabor asked, “Couldn’t we ask Lt. Torres to do something about this glitch?”
Chakotay gave him a wry shake of his head. B’Elanna was undoubtedly too busy holding Voyager’s warp core together while simultaneously milking every spare gigawatt of power from it. She’d pulled off more than her fair share of engineering marvels during her stint in the Maquis. She’d managed to retrofit the seventy-odd year old scoutship Chakotay commanded and turned into virtually the single most powerful ship in the ragtag Maquis fleet.
The alien stirred again, “Bring me the fugitives.”
Bless you Harry! “What fugitives?” Chakotay asked, “We’re an exploration vessel not a passenger liner.”
“You lie.” Even through the translator, the alien’s anger was apparent; “The fugitives are aboard. I have tracked them here. It is now my sacred duty to apprehend them.”
“Maybe we can work out this misunderstanding.” Chakotay suggested, “But I think it would be easier on everyone if we knew each other’s names. I’m Commander Chakotay, 1st Officer of the starship Voyager.”
The alien stared at him in eerie silence but he did manage to lower his cylindrical weapon, “Where are the fugitives, Commander Chakotay?”
“I’ve already said I don’t know anything about and fugitives.” Chakotay insisted, “If you tell me who you’re looking for, perhaps we can assist you. Could you contact your ship and call of its attack as a measure of good faith?”
With an almost imperceptible nod of its head, the alien acquiesced. The silence was broken by Captain Janeway’s voice; “The alien ship has ceased fire. What’s your status Commander?”
“Our ‘guest’ claims to be pursuing fugitives that are hidden aboard Voyager.” Chakotay reported.
“Have you explained to him we are not in the business of transporting criminals?” Janeway inquired.
“You have them.” The alien interrupted, “They are of your kind. Their vessel is destroyed and the survivors have taken refuge aboard this ship. My warrant is clear and my mandate just. None shall escape.”
An electric shock went through Chakotay as he realised the alien was referring to the Equinox crewmen, “Can we ask what their crimes are?”
“They are thieves.” The alien replied with contempt, “And they must be punished.”
“They are being punished.” Chakotay informed the alien, “Now that we know who you are discussing, I can tell you they are indeed aboard. They have committed crimes against our people as well. They are serving their sentence aboard this ship. Since they come from the same worlds as ourselves, doesn’t our ‘warrant’ supersede any others?”
“No.” came the cold reply, “Bring me the fugitives or stand aside and let me by.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that until the Captain gets here to speak with you.” Chakotay replied, knowing the comm circuit was still open and that Janeway and Tuvok were listening in on every word as they prepared for this encounter.
“Unacceptable.” The alien replied and raised its arm and fired. The cyan energy burst from the cylinder struck McKenzie in the chest, felling him. With a fluid grace the alien struck down Tabor, Dalby, O’Donal and all but one of the other three Security detail. Chakotay rushed froward toward the alien but was caught by an energy discharge before reaching the “knight”.
Crewman Lang, the last standing member of the detail, fired his phaser at the alien. The blast caught the mysterious alien in the chest. The armour covering his body deflected most of the energy, rendering him unaffected by the particle beam. The alien’s weapon felled Lang as swiftly as it did the rest of the detail.
“Seven,” Janeway’s voice came over the comm system across Astrometrics, “is there anything you can tell us about these aliens?”
“Yes, Captain.” Seven answered crisply. Behind her, Sensor Specialist 3rd class Tal Celes cringed and tried to stay out of Seven’s deft recalibrating of the sensor array the bay was tied to.
“Species 5642, specifically the subgroup self-designated as the Justicers.” Seven said as though reading from a recipe, “A group of itinerant warriors who swear allegiance to a central Commander who controls every aspect of the Order of Justice and its constituent parts. The Justicers patrol several sectors and accept commissions to track and apprehend fugitives for a commiserate price.”
“They’re bounty hunters?” Janeway asked.
“Essentially.” Seven agreed, “Their armour is proof against all but the strongest of particle beams, electrostatic shields and hard vacuum.”
“So phasers on stun won’t work.” Janeway thought aloud.
“And neither will forcefields.” Tuvok added, “As has already been proven.”
“What about weaponry?” Janeway queried.
“Justicers commonly carry what is known as a force-pike. It will appear to be a cylindrical rod capable of firing particle beams.” Seven explained, “Its benign appearance is deceptive. The pike can be extended to a length of nearly two metres. The areas extended from the pommel project an electrostatic field capable of stunning the average humanoid. Both ends of the pike can still discharge particle blasts.”
“Seven,” Janeway paused slightly, hating the next question, “How did the Borg manage to defeat the Justicers to assimilate them?”
“As of my last link with the Collective, no Justicer had ever been assimilated.” Seven reported, “The Order lives by strict credos, two of which include ‘None shall escape’ and ‘None shall fall to the opponent’. No Justicer has been taken alive since they prefer to commit suicide to assimilation.”
“Every one of them?” Janeway asked in horror, “Then how to the Borg know so much about them?”
“The Justicers make up a minuscule proportion of their overall populations density. Many other species have also dealt with the Order and the Borg assimilated those experiences.” Seven answered with her usual robotic precision.
“Any suggestions on how to stop him?” Janeway asked.
“The Borg relied upon superior numbers and firepower.” Seven returned, “That may not be applicable here.”
“Captain.” Tuvok’s voice broke the exchange. His tone carried as much distress as he ever allowed himself to show, “This Justicer has broken the forcefield quarantine on Deck 8.”
“Chakotay and the Security detail?” Janeway wasn’t afraid to let her voice carry her emotional concern.
“The alien fired upon them. They are down and the extent of their injuries is unknown. The Doctor is hailing the bridge, demanding to be allowed to treat the wounded.” Tuvok reported. Owing to their years of mutual acquaintance, Janeway knew Tuvok would be rent inside by his failure to perceive this kind of threat towards Voyager and her crew. He would serve his own private penance for every injury inflicted by this Justicer.
“Let the Doctor through.” Janeway ordered, “The alien won’t be able to harm him.”
“Unless he strike’s the Doctor’s mobile emitter.” Tuvok reminded her, “And seeing as how the containment fields are ineffective against our intruder, may I suggest deactivating them to allow greater mobility and response time for our personnel?”
Janeway gave him a rueful smile, “Brilliant thinking as ever. Take down the fields and issue orders for every crewman to carry a phaser.”
“Phasers will not effect a Justicer.” Seven broke in through the comm circuit to Astrometrics; “These orders are an inefficient use of resources.”
“Nevertheless,” Janeway replied with strained patience, “we may get lucky and find a chink in this Justicer’s armour.”
“Quite literally.” Tuvok commented as Janeway deactivated the connection. The ship rocked violently as Tuvok held out a stabilising hand as Janeway cried, “Report!”
“The alien ship had opened fire.” Kim answered, “They’re coming around for a second pass.”
“Throw as much power into the shields as you can.” Janeway ordered Vorik, the Vulcan engineer manning the bridge station.
“Tuvok, you deal with our intruder.” Janeway ordered, “I’ll deal with our annoying friends outside.”
The Justicer, named Oric, stalked through Voyager’s decks. He’d just encountered another alien wearing a teal shouldered uniform. He’d never learned the alien crewman’s name but he had learned it had tremendous lung capacity. Billy Tefler may not have frightened the Justicer before he fainted, but he did leave Oric desiring a hearing check. Oric hoped the alien had not injured itself when it fell to the deck plating.
Oric did not bear these aliens any ill will; they’d mistakenly placed themselves between him and his quarry. The one called Chakotay had seemed sincere enough. Oric did not doubt that the fugitives had lied to ingratiate themselves with the crew. That was typical of their modus operandi. Their warrants listed years of fraudulent schemes and flamboyant crimes.
He had the faces of every member of Equinox’s crew memorised as well as their biorhythmic readings. The Equinox’s debris had nor yielded many clues. Several nearby planets had recorded the violent exchange between Voyager and Equinox. A few signal intercepts had also been available.
Captain Ransom’s last exchange with a Captain Kathryn Janeway revealed her taking on the last five members of his crew. Janeway appeared to be pursuing Ransom for crimes against her people as well. Oric had hoped this Janeway would release the fugitives upon receiving his arrest warrant. His fears that the crew would protect and hide members of their own species from the judicial process of other worlds appeared to be realised.
However misplaced their sentiments, he could not allow these aliens to deny his sacred charge. He would not slay any of these beings until there was no alternative.
If any of these creatures barred his path when he tried apprehending the fugitives, the Order’s Code allowed the use of lethal force and he would not hesitate. Oric had not killed in the line of duty as often as many of his brethren but he was no virgin when it came to spilling blood.
He’d contacted his Squires aboard the ship. His eldest Squire, ready for the trials upon returning from this hunt, had been left in nominal command of the tracker ship. She’d resumed her attack on the Voyager as ordered and had just alerted him as to the starship’s response. Even if these creatures were not criminals, they still carried a great deal of weaponry.
Oric’s reflections were broken as the door before opened to reveal two beings; one appeared to be half Borg, “You there! Where are the fugitives?”
The Half-Borg gazed at him scornfully; “I do not know which individuals you speak of.”
“Those that came from the other starships.” Oric explained, “They use lifeforms as fuel.”
“If you would allow me to contact Captain Janeway, I’m certain you could reach an accommodation.” The Half-Borg said.
“No.” Oric replied flatly, “Relay my demand. In the interim, I shall continue my quest.”
“Tuvok,” Janeway’s voice came across the Vulcan’s comm badge, “the alien just spoke with Seven. He is definitely after the Equinox crewmen we took aboard. Seven tried to arrange a discussion with me but he wasn’t interested. He’s currently doing a room by room search of that Deck.”
“My team has completed modifying several compressed phaser rifles into rapid cycling phase pulse rifles.” Tuvok explained, “We may be able to subdue our invader with these. If not, we may theoretically be able to kill him.”
“Only as a last resort.” Janeway said more for herself then her Tactical Chief; “We’ve come to grips with this Justicer ship. We should soon be able to devote all of the ship’s resources to apprehending our runamuck law enforcement agent.”
“Understood, Captain. We will proceed with our original plan.” Tuvok replied. “Tuvok out.”
In a classic display of Vulcan stoicism, Tuvok neglected to inform his commanding officer that the Security team’s plan was a hasty ad hoc affair. Modifying the phasers had been simple enough. The hard part came in containing the Justicer long enough for the phaser barrage to be effective against the target. The second difficulty was withstanding the alien’s weapon. To address the latter, members of the detail were being issued riot shields made of transparent aluminium.
The containment problem required a more forceful answer. B’Elanna Torres proved invaluable in meeting this need. Engineering supplied Security with seven gravitic clamps. Usually employed to seal ruptured coolant lines or hold bulkhead in place, altering the dispersal radius of the units produced a repulsor field. Theoretically, if the Justicer were surround by the units, he would be held in place while the Security team stunned him.
Tuvok motioned with his hand and the detail moved out. There were eight other members of the detail. These were the ragged remains of the ship’s Security force. The rest had fallen before the determined invader. Soon the fireteam volunteers would have to be called upon.
Tuvok mentally shuddered at the thought of arming Neelix and the other irregulars and had to bolster his emotional shields before speaking to his team, “Remember, we will not engage the intruder in a contest of weaponry. The mobile units will utilise their riot shields in order to mitigate the intruder’s ‘energy lance’. You will then guide the intruder to this position where the gravitic clamps will be activated and the intruder neutralised.”
The Security team nodded grimly. They’d reviewed the plan several times. During the preparation, Tuvok solicited opinions and analysis based upon the sensor records of every other Security teams encounter with the Justicer. The final stratagem was a collaborative product.
“Commander,” Crewman Stevens alerted, “my tricorder indicates the intruder is two sections away, and headed this way.”
“You know your assignments.” Tuvok intoned, “Remain calm and follow the designated course of action.”
Nearly six years in the Delta Quadrant served the Security team well. Constantly dealing with previously unknown and unimagined threats had inured the Voyager personnel to crisis. The inspired leadership of Captain Janeway and the Senior Staff had led the hybrid crew to believe in the inevitability of overcoming any obstacles. This confidence carried the Security detail as they prepared for what would hopefully prove to be the final engagement with their armoured “guest”.
Oric stepped into the corridor to see a half-dozen male and female creatures standing before him. This scenario had played out several times before and Oric expected the conclusion to remain the same. There was a new twist, he saw, in that the aliens now bore shields made of an unfamiliar substance. He mentally discounted this development since no species beside the Borg could withstand Justicer armament.
“Surrender the fugitives and you will be spared.” Oric had taken to using this new offer alongside his challenge in an increasingly desperate hope of retrieving the criminals without further violence.
He could see from their resolute stances their reply would be as those that stood before him previously and as one of the females spoke he was not disappointed, “We have no knowledge of any fugitives. You are an intruder aboard our vessel and have attacked its personnel. Place your weapons on the ground and step away from them. We will then escort you to the brig, where this matter can be resolved.”
If their roles had been reversed, Oric would have made a similar challenge. He began to wonder if this were a prison transport and the personnel aboard law enforcers. That being wondered, it begged the question as to why they refused the authority of his warrant. That meant they most likely were warrant racers.
Warrant racers were mercenary smugglers that specialised in assisting criminals evade authority for a price. Many worlds possessed their own variant of this ignoble profession but the best of the ilk cut their teeth facing off against the Justicers. Many of the most successful racers retired from their profitable duels with the Justicers to a leisurely life of merely transporting goods past lax customs agents.
Oric hefted his lance and aimed it towards the group leader, “Surrender the criminals or face the consequences.”
“Do your worst.” Karyn Lansing replied defiantly, “We don’t have anyone to surrender.”
Oric shrugged and fired. Lansing caught the blast squarely in the centre of her shield. A brilliant discharge resulted from the impact and Oric smiled beneath his helmet. His smile faded as the energy dissipated and his foe still stood.
Oric was stunned. How had these demons defeated his lance? He snapped off another shot at another alien. Once again, the shield protected it.
“How did you create this… thing?” Oric demanded, visions of legions of criminals armed with similar devices plaguing his mind; “What is it made of? Give it to me!”
“Come and get it you trigger happy bastard.” Lansing retorted and began to back out down the corridor towards the exit.
Oric bristled at the challenge and followed the Security team’s gradual retreat. He fired at every member of the team only to witness the same disparaging results. The team’s refusal to return fire indicated a newly enforced fire discipline. Oric wondered what other insidious inventions these demons had devised during his search and slowly began to fear he was being led into a trap.
Oric pursued the yellow clad aliens into the next section. He barely noted several devices mounted on the wall. He’d seen various panels and controls on other bulkheads and dismissed their significance. As Oric neared the centre of the section, the Security team double-timed to the end of the compartment.
The door hissed open and Tuvok stepped through. He held a padd aloft and depressed a control on hit. Oric raised his lance to take aim when it fell as though a giant hand closed around him. The Justicer found his arm pinned across his chest and the rest of his body immobilised.
Oric managed to depress the firing stud on his lance. Its energy blast crossed in front his face, striking the ceiling. A shower of sparks rained down upon him, to be pressed against him as the gravitic field caught them. Oric knew with a dread certainty that he, alone of any Justicer in recorded history, had been captured.
“Fortunately for you,” Janeway said out of the gravitic field’s reach, “none of my crew was hurt. Your ‘associates’ have declared an uneasy truce while they wait for this situation to be resolved.”
“They are waiting for my life beacon’s transmission to be extinguished by my death.” Oric replied, “As is the Code concerning capture.”
Janeway held up a hand, “We ‘re not your captors. We’re simply trying to stop you from attacking any more of our crew while we sort this mess out.”
“There is no mess!” Oric snapped, “You have prevented a Justicer in his appointed duties. This matter will end when you relinquish the fugitives.”
Janeway shook her head, “That’s where we’re confused. What fugitives? What are their crimes? If you can answer these questions, we’ll see what we can do to help you.”
“The ones like you, from a ship like yours but unlike yours.” Oric answered, “They must answer for the theft of the planetary reserve plasma which plunged the citizens of Trebuis VI into chaos and cold for months.”
A sick feeling began to settle in Janeway’s stomach, “Like us, but different than us? Are you certain you have the right species?”
Oric’s imprisoned form managed a single nod, “I am certain. They travelled in a ship named after annual orbital movements.”
The sick feeling became a cold clench, “The Equinox.”
Marla Gilmore sat across from Janeway’s desk in the Captain’s Ready Room looking even more forlorn then the day Janeway took on the Equinox survivors and pronounced their sentence. Harry Kim had made several unofficial reports regarding the Equinox survivors disposition and integration into the crew. While Tuvok’s reports spoke glowingly of the pariahs’ compliance with their punishment and restrictions, Harry’s observations indicated potential problems with cohesion later down the road.
Personally witnessing the young woman’s ostracised reception on the bridge when she reported to for her meeting with the Captain, Janeway had a sudden insight into the general reception their newest crewmen had received thus far. Janeway knew she herself had initially set that tone with her angry determination to stop Ransom and rescue her kidnapped personnel. Her resolve went so far as to endorse killing the other Starfleet captain if he resisted capture. Her refusal to hear Chakotay’s adamant protests nearly destroyed their intimate rapport.
She’d come down hard on the four Equinox survivors but the punishment was well within Starfleet regulations. In fact, viewed both those regulations, their punishment had been fairly lenient. Coupled to their punitive liability was their own guilt and remorse. Any standard Starfleet stockade would be replete with a complete counselling staff, which Voyager sadly lacked.
Janeway sat down from the former ensign, “Crewman Gilmore, how are you?”
Gilmore swallowed hard then bobbed her head, “Fine, ma’am.”
Janeway swore inwardly as she sought a way to relax the fidgety engineer, “Marla, may I call you Marla?”
Gilmore’s head snapped up and down in a parody of a nod, “Very well then, Marla, we have a situation.”
Gilmore’s eyes narrowed as Janeway continued, “I see from that look you’re more than aware a situation exists. We’ve managed to capture the intruder and it turns out that he’s more than a simple assailant. He’s roving law officer trying to serve an warrant an bring the accused parties to justice.”
Gilmore swallowed hard but remained silent as Janeway pressed on, “He claims that the criminals he’s seeking are aboard this ship.”
Hesitantly, Gilmore found her voice, “May I ask what crimes he’s accusing the crew of?”
“He’s accusing crewmen aboard the ship of stealing a warp plasma generator and regulator from a planet called Trebuis VI. This action caused thousands of inhabitants of their northernmost continent to endure a winter without proper power supplies or heat.” Janeway explained, “Now, I’ve offered this Justicer proof that Voyager has never been in the vicinity of the Trebuis system.”
“I cannot, however, offer proof that all of Voyager’s crewmen have never been on or near Trebuis.” Janeway’s voice steeled over, “Marla, did the Equinox visit Trebuis? Did you, Noah Lessing, and the others commit this crime?”
Janeway could see tears welling up in the engineer’s eyes as she struggled to find her voice, “Yes. We were there. We needed a plasma generator to supplement the warp drive while we repaired it. The locals refused to offer or trade a generator and the crew was desperate. Captain Ransom and Lt. Burke came up with the plan to simply take a civil generator on the premise that the locals would have a spare ready to replace it.”
Janeway’s looked crestfallen, “Tell me exactly what happened.”
Gilmore’s minimal shrug reminded Janeway of trauma survivors, “It all happened right after we encountered the Markiang. They attacked us for entering their territory and wouldn’t believe us when we tried to explain that we knew nothing of their borders and would willingly withdraw. They chased us all the way to their nearest border. We lost six crew and one warp plasma generator….”
“What do you need to get it functional again, Marla?” Captain “Rudy” Ransom asked his chief engineer.
Marla Gilmore ran a lubricant and contaminant coated hand through her filth entangled hair, “A miracle Captain. This generator’s shot and we don’t have enough energy reserves to replicate the necessary parts.”
The lines around Ransom’s eyes deepened as he digested the news. He really couldn’t ask much more from Gilmore. In reality, she was a maintenance technician trained to keep a ship running for short-term missions of up to several months. Since coming to the Delta Quadrant, she’d overcome challenges that would have confounded the most brilliant engineers assigned to galactic exploration vessels.
“How long and how efficiently can we run on a single generator?” Lt. Maxwell Burke, the Equinox’s XO with the death of Ransom’s original 1st Officer.
Marla shook her head, “I don’t know. It’ll cut our warp capability in half... unless we want to overdrive the remaining generator. All that will really do is wear out the last generator twice as fast.”
Ransom nodded, grim as death, “What about the impact to the power systems?”
Gilmore sighed, “We’ll need to cut power expenditures by another 15%. The best way would be to seal another deck off and reroute its power to the remaining decks.”
“That would make four decks.” Burke replied angrily, “Half our ship would be inaccessible. Half!”
“I don’t like it either Max!” Marla shot back, “But I was asked for my best estimate. That’s it. It may not be pretty but it will keep us alive longer.”
“Damn it!” Burke slammed his fist into a nearby bulkhead, “There has to be an easier way.”
Noah Lessing stopped his work at a nearby junction; “We could convert a freighter’s generator, or just about any civilian generator if we had to.”
Ransom’s reverie ended and his eyes gleamed with new fire, “Yes. Yes, we could. A brilliant proposal Mr. Lessing. Max, set course for the nearest M-class world.”
“I don’t know if any are nearby.” Burke replied.
“This is still a survey ship, Max.” Ransom said with restored pride, “If there are any habitable planets within sensor range, she’ll sniff them out.”
As promised, the astrometrics array quickly located a promising world. Limping along, it took the Equinox nearly three days to reach the Trebuis system. From the very beginning, the starship received a cold welcome. Captain Ransom spent another precious day negotiating the contact protocols for visiting Trebuisian homeworld.
When permission was finally received, the Equinox assumed orbit over Trebuis’ capital, Benori, and beamed Ransom, Gilmore, and Lessing to the surface. Upon being received by government representatives, Gilmore and Lessing laid out the ship’s needs and specifications. The Trebuisian officials nodded their heads, clucked their tongues and informed the Starfleet crew that no technology would leave the planet without adequate remuneration. Ransom readily agreed to the terms laid out without any notion of how to make good on the debt.
The Trebuisians then delivered the hammer blow. They did not keep warp plasma generators on stock. Each generator was manufactured as needed by a single company and the waiting list had been growing steadily for some time. At the present time, the wait was estimated to be equivalent to seven Earth years.
“That’s outrageous!” Ransom thundered, “We negotiated in good faith. If we’d known anything about your manufacturing processes, we would’ve shopped elsewhere.”
The loose membranes of the head Trebuisian fluttered, “Perhaps the delay will enable you the ability to raise the capital to pay for your requested item.”
Ransom’s jaw clamped shut and slowly ground. They were caught. The Trebuisians knew the Equinox had no means to make good their negotiated debt. They had no currency except technology aboard the ship and most of the worthwhile undamaged samples were vital to the ship’s operations.
Ransom bowed his head in acquiescence, “I’m sorry to have troubled you. Would it be permissible to stay in orbit and allow my crew shore leave as we undergo makeshift repairs to allow us to depart?”
The Trebuisian folded itself in concession; “We are not cruel, Captain. As long as you abide by our contact procedures, your crew should find rest as it prepares for its next journey.”
Ransom forced a smile, “I’m sure we will.”
“So we’re agreed?” Ransom leaned on knuckled over the Briefing Room table.
“Damn straight!” Max Burke chimed in.
Noah Lessing paused, then nodded firmly; “I guess so, if there’s no other way.”
Equinox’s Chief Navigator, Norah Jones, nodded without reservation, “If it gets us back to top speed, I’m all for it.”
Mift, the Chief Tactical Officer by default, nodded his blue head as well, which left their Chief Engineer. Marla swallowed and looked about the table and the expectant faces. Only Ransom and Jones served in the posts they’d signed up for, the rest filled positions opened by fatalities since the ship’s unexpected arrival in the Delta Quadrant. Although everyday was a daily fight for survival, they’d never abandoned the vestigial ideals they’d absorbed in the Alpha Quadrant. Marla felt a door opening that couldn’t be closed after unlocking it. She couldn’t see where it would lead or what it would cost to step through it. In the end, all that mattered was if it would help the surviving crew to get home faster.
“I guess it's unanimous.” She announced.
Ransom’s apprehensive expression lifted into a smile, “Then we have some planning to do.”
Gilmore and Lessing huddled in the dark. Burke and Mift were ahead of them, as well as two Security officers. The XO’s team was busily securing the target site leaving the technical specialists to linger in the dark. Gilmore and Lessing faced their fears and their own doubts as they ostensibly provided cover for the Security team. Lessing finally broke the uncomfortable silence with a hoarse whisper.
“Can you believe we’re doing this?” Noah asked, “I mean, stealing equipment from the Cardassians or the Romulans is one thing, but taking an innocent city’s central power generator?”
Marla stared absently at the well-lit facility that housed the generator; “The Captain knows what he’s doing.”
“And that’s good enough for you?”
Marla sighed deeply, “It has to be.”
While confusion reigned across Trebuis, Gilmore and her engineers raced to modify and connect the Trebuin generator to Equinox’s propulsion system. They were just nearing completion when the Bridge reported several Trebiun cruisers manoeuvring to block the Equinox from breaking orbit and exiting the system. Marla and her people found new energy and redoubled their efforts. The Bridge called again requesting an update.
“We’re ready, Captain!” Marla reported, “Break her in above warp 6 slowly and we should be almost as good as new.”
“Acknowledged.” Ransom replied tersely, then more warmly, “Good gob to you and your team.”
Although Marla still harboured doubts as to the morality of what they’d done, she set the aside while she basked in the glow of her commander’s praise.
“And that’s what happened.” Gilmore sniffed, trying to maintain composure.
“The first step down the slippery slope.” Janeway shook her head, “And look where it eventually led.”
Marla nodded, “And now it ends.”
“Maybe not.” Janeway unexpectedly remarked, “Maybe there’s another solution to be found here.”
“Like what?” Gilmore demanded, refusing to allow hope to rekindle.
“Follow me.” Was all Janeway said.
“And that’s what happened.” Gilmore concluded after reciting her tale again.
“Interesting,” Oric replied, “but of no consequence.”
“Isn’t it though?” Janeway asked, “Most civilised cultures recognise motive as a factor leading to the crime. Most will also recognise commensurate punishments and I think that applies here.”
“How?” Oric queried.
“You’ve seen the list of restrictions these people live under. They are monitored 24 hours a day.” Janeway explained, “Their crime addresses their crimes, which also broke our laws. As representatives of the same society, we should retain principal jurisdiction.”
“And if I refuse to accept these terms?” Oric’s voice was still as death.
“Then my crewmates and I have volunteered to return with you in exchange for leaving Voyager alone.” Gilmore announced.
Janeway started as Oric’s eyes focused on the engineer; “You would truly do this?”
“Yes.” Marla affirmed.
“Captain, would you release me?” Oric asked, “I will not inflict any harm.”
“Luckily, our Doctor has determined that none of your victims was harmed.” Janeway admitted with relief, “They were merely heavily stunned.”
Smiling at Tuvok, she added, “And in answer to your question, yes, we will release you.”
The gravitic fields deactivated at Tuvok’s commands and Oric was able to move freely, “Thank you.”
The Justicer stretched a few times before facing Gilmore; “You will be pleased to know that you may remain aboard this vessel without fear of pursuit.”
Marla stepped back, “What?”
“Wait a minute,” Janeway interjected, “you were ready to tear this ship apart to arrest the former Equinox crewmen, and now you’re just letting them go?”
Oric shook his helmeted head, “No. My warrant was to bring the accused to Trebuis where they could admit their guilt. They would then be remanded to a penal colony that would allow them to be productive while relearning the codes of civilisation. Those requirements are being met here, and they will reabsorb the tenets of their home culture.”
Janeway was slightly flustered, “Thank you. I don’t know what to say.”
“Nothing.” The was a slight pleading tone in Oric’s request, “Never distribute those cursed shields of yours and, I beseech you, never reveal my defeat here.”
Janeway smiled in understanding and smiled, “I think that’s an easy enough request. We’ll be more than happy to accommodate you.”
Oric tipped his head forward, “I will ever be indebted. Safe journey, Captain. I shall take my leave of your splendid vessel now.”
“Good hunting, Justicer.” Janeway replied before Oric faded.
“An unexpected conclusion, Captain.” Tuvok observed, “And yet one that still served the common good of all parties involved.”
Janeway cast a cautious glance towards Gilmore, I can only hope you’re right Tuvok.
Harry’s nose crinkled, “I’m not even going to ask.”
“Just try it.” Neelix urged, “You’ll love it.”
“I’d better.” Kim growled.
“You will!” Neelix assured.
Harry moved out of line and began hunting for a seat. Once again, his eye fell on Marla Gilmore. Only this time wasn’t alone, Commander Chakotay sat across from her. Harry half-shrugged and moved forward to occupy one of the still vacant seats.
“Harry,” Chakotay greeted him cheerfully, “take a seat.”
“Thank you.” Kim replied as he saddled in next to Gilmore, “I’m glad to hear you weren’t hurt.”
Chakotay waved the thought aside with his hand, “It hurt at first, like a phaser blast on heavy stun, but it cleared up much faster.”
Kim studied Gilmore’s face. She was still pale and haggard, but it appeared to be from ordinary exhaustion. The sense of forlorn resignation that had dominated her mien during their last meeting seemed gone. She still bore a lot of responsibility and guilt upon her shoulders but now she seemed ready to begin bearing that load.
“And how are you?” Harry asked, “The last few days had to have been draining.”
Marla nodded but he could see the life in her eyes, “Yes, but also made me think. I hadn’t quite decided how to treat my past, whether to ignore it, deny it, or accept it and work hard at rectifying it. Facing that Justicer made me examine that question, and make a decision as to how to proceed. I made the only decision I could live with and it turned out to be the right one.”
“Which is fortunate.” Chakotay reminded, “Sometimes you make the only decision you can live with and although it’s not the wrong one, it’s the one no one else can live with.”
That reminder of his Maquis days was sobering until Harry spoke again; “Here’s to making the decisions you can live with. We never know where they’ll lead but at least they lead somewhere.”
The three officers toasted with water, tea or coffee, followed by laughter. The last day had not yielded a survey of an entire system or an interstellar phenomenon. It had not resulted in shaving tens of thousands of light years of their journey to Earth. What it had yielded was first contact with a species or organisation that could prove a future ally and set four forcibly absorbed criminals on a path that would lead them to being Federation citizens and fully integrated Voyager crewmen. And that was worth more than any other opportunity.
|Last modified: 10 Apr 2012