Captain Kathryn Janeway's Log, Stardate 54211.3: We have made arrangements to speak with the Ambassador K'Sree of the planet Ashkira for the terms of a trade they have requested. She has asked us to visit an ancient temple and a garden on their world, and in return we will receive a three year supply of dilithium. This is very generous of them, but I have suspicions that this visit will be more than we bargained for. We will be meeting them at approximately 0900 hours today, and then I'll see if my suspicions are justified. I have arranged an away team to come with me, and Ensign Kim has made a personal request to come. I did not plan to include him, but how can I deny him his curiosity's fulfillment? By including him, I have removed Commander Chakotay from the team. He seems somewhat disappointed, but I believe that it will be a wise precaution to keep him on Voyager in case anything happens. ~*~ Tom Paris piloted the shuttle down to the surface with ease. Usually, they would have used the transporters to beam down, but K'Sree had advised them that the transporters would disrupt 'the order'...whatever that meant. As the hatch to the shuttle opened, several beings were waiting to greet them. One, apparently the leader of the group of seven, was tall and had a golden hue to her skin. Her hair, arranged on top her head in curls, was the same golden color, as were the irises of her eyes. Her four-digit hands were slender like her body, and she wore a robe with a cape that was exquisite. The robe was a purple velvet with gold trim at the hem and sleeves, and the cape was the same flaxen color that this beautiful creature was. The neckline of her garments was low, and it revealed an intricate sun and moon tattoo on her chest. Above her eyebrows were red jewels that had somehow been embedded into her flesh, and these same gems accented the gleaming silver shoes she wore. Upon her head was a tieara that had, like the tattoo, a sun and a moon, merged together. The other six beings, who were also women, made up the rest of the welcoming party. They were scantly comparable to their leader, and they appeared to be servants, dressed in simple garments of purples and blues. Their skin, a pale purple color, seemed faded and dirty. They stood behind their superior like shy children, but merriment shone in their eyes, which were a pallid green. They lowered their heads as the woman in the robes stepped forward. "I am Tedrim, host mother of Yahonalla. I welcome you, on behalf of The Order, to Ashkira," she said in a voice like a Siren as she slowly bowed to the away team. Janeway bowed back, and then introduced herself. "My name is Kathryn Janeway, captain of the starship Voyager from the United Federation of Planets." Tedrim inclined her head slightly in acknowledgment. "Kathryn Janeway of the United Federation of Planets," she said, then extended her arm, held out her hand, palm facing down, and then cocked her arm at = the elbow. She brought her hand back to her abdomen, and lowered her limb back to her = side. The servant women behind her imitated the same gesture, and after they = finished, Tedrim continued, "And who are your people here?" Each of her away team stepped forward individually and stated their = names as Janeway had taught them. It was the Ashkira custom for aliens to = introduce themselves in such a manner, and it was important for them not to offend their new = friends on the first visit. "Welcome B'Elanna Torres, Harry Kim, Seven of Nine, Tom Paris, and = Tuvok, to Ashkira. Now, Kathryn Janeway, I will escort you and your people to The = Gardens." The captain nodded, and strode next to Tedrim as they made their way = along a stone pathway through a vast grass meadow. Janeway felt obligated to = get to know this species little better, so she began inquiring about their culture. "What significance does The Gardens have to your people?" she asked, = keeping the careful rhythm of Tedrim's rapid pace. This woman's legs were at = least eight centimeters longer than her own, so it was difficult to stay with her. = In fact, that was just about as uncomfortable as craning her neck in order to see Tedrim's = face. She towered at, what Janeway estimated, to be forty centimeters above her. The = servants, however, were approximately the same height as B'Elanna was. Curious. Tedrim was quick to reply, "The Gardens are simply a place to rest. = Their general significance is limited, however, but this Garden is the jewel of = Ashkira. There is nothing else like it on the planet." "I am honored that you would bring us to such a place, Tedrim. And what = about the ancient temple that Ambassador K'Sree mentioned?" "The Temple of The Order, Kathryn Janeway, is our culture's primary = place of gathering. Several times a week, we go there to celebrate our religion. = When we visit The Temple after The Gardens, you will see its importance." "The Order...what exactly is that? Some sort of affiliation?" "Yes, you could call it that. It is sacred among my people, but I = cannot discuss it in detail to you. It would be offensive to Yahonalla to do so." "Who is she? Yahonalla? You said something about you being her 'host mother'." "I cannot discuss it, Kathryn Janeway. If you are meant to discover = this knowledge, which I believe you will, then you will understand. But I am = not the one to decide who is to know. That is the job of Yahonalla." When the away team entered the garden, they were greeted with the most = stunning experience. The green bushes, grass, and trees sparkled in green shades = and had a special, mystical glow to the leaves. The wind gently kissed all the flowers that = bent a little in a nod to welcome the new guests.=20 Harry Kim felt like time had started to slow down...he felt like he = could feel and see every detail in the scene in front of him; the wonderful colors of = the flowers, the thick greens of the tree crowns, the smoothness of the grass...the sound from = the waterfall and the little fountain in the middle. He became aware of the glow that was = everywhere...like everything had a golden corner that sparkled in the sun light.=20 It felt like absolute harmony...the air felt refreshing and the = fragrances from the flowers and water made the air into one of the lovliest perfumes anyone = could imagine.=20 There were families and students who enjoying the gardens...they were = spread out here and there...but they could not hear any sounds beside the tranquil = splash of the waterfall.=20 "Fascinating...I have never before entered such a place with absolute = harmony," said Tuvok to Tedrim. " I am deeply impressed by the layout of this = garden. Your people have great and many riches that I can see."=20 "Thank you, Tuvok. We are proud of the garden, and it has been this way = almost since the beginning of our time. =20 "It is tradition that each new generation add one thing to the gardens = so that the following generations have something to remember them by. It is a place = for thought and tranquillity...a place to find harmony. In the gardens, we are all = equal, we have no duties and no titles...here we are just one of many...to give what is truly in = our hearts to those we meet here. It is often the place new couples find each other...here = there are no deceptions and no illusions...here you see eveyting clear..your senses are = sharpened," Tedrim spoke, and while she did, she almost lost herself in all that the gardens meant = to her.=20 Even B'Elanna found the tranquillity fascinating, and she wouldn't have = minded having the entire day to just rome and explore the truly beautiful = sight.=20 Tom had snuck up along side the captain, who was listening to every word = that Tedrim said, not wanting to miss anything. Janeway, just like the = entire away team, was in awe at the magnificence of the place. "A real cupids nest, Captain. Do you think it is safe for a fair maiden = like you to walk this garden without an escort?" he quipped with a sly grin.=20 The captain turned and was about to say something when she caught the = playful smile he had on his face. This is just what he wants me to do...say = something that he can then use against me, Kathryn thought to herself. How do I turn this = around on him?=20 Janeway pondered for a second before teasing back, "This fair maiden = does not need an escort. You, Mr. Paris are my protector, and I am sure you would do = anything and everything to ensure my virtue." She said this as she fluttered her eyelashes in the 'poor little me' = routine. "Certainly, my lady...I will defend your honor and virtue to the last = breath and to my last drop of blood," Tom smiled, playing along. It was a rare = occurance when the captain went along with anything like that, but when she did, he = considered the infrequent moments to be some of the best times he had. ***** Tom tried to get more smart remarks past her, but she gave him a = scowl that told him 'Game's over. Time to get back to work'. He knew that look well, = and only fools would dare to ignore it. The group continued through the garden, which extended as far as the eye = could see, and Janeway made a mental note to wear more comfortable shoes on = her next away mission. This was going to be a long, painful walk...but she had no = doubt that it would be worth it. Tedrim abruptly stopped, and spoke up again, but this time it was to the = servants. "Fhyta, please go tend the flowers with the others. And be sure not to = disturb the peace here." The woman, who from Janeway's perspective looked only about eighteen = years old, nodded and led the rest of the servants back in the direction they = came from. The captain had a suspision that the order was just a polite way to make = them leave and not come back until told to. Tedrim then made eye contact with Janeway and = stepped away from the group. She followed. "Kathryn Janeway," she spoke in a lowered voice. "I apologize if this = is inconvienient for you, but I ask of you to tell your people to remain in = the Garden for a while. We are approaching the Temple, and it is not customary to allow = alien races, with the exception of their leader, into it. They must remain outside unless = they are approved to enter. However, I doubt that will happen. It is a long process. = Even for our own people, it sometimes takes years before they can enter the Temple of = Yahonalla. It is only for those who are truely worthy of the privilage." "I'll do as you request, but did you say we are nearing the Temple? I = haven't seen one." Tedrim laughed slightly. "Perhaps by your standards, Kathryn. You will = know it when we are there." Janeway smiled, and she was overcome with curiosity. Was this temple = hidden behind the trees of the garden? Was it the garden itself? Or was it = something else? Not willing to offend Tedrim with her questions, she merely walked away = towards her crew, who were talking amongst themselves. Once they say their captain = approacing, they quieted down. "Tedrim said that all you need to stay here for the time being. = Apparently, you're not worthy enough to go into the Temple." Everyone nodded, except for Paris. "Boy, that raises my self-esteem a whole lot," Tom said. Janeway glared at him. "We have to respect their traditions, Mr. Paris, = and this is not the time nor the place for those comments. You have no right to = judge their culture." "Yes ma'am," he replied remorsefully. "It'll never happen again." "Good," she said and walked back towards Tedrim. "Are you ready to proceed?" the golden creature asked. "I am." "Then follow me." She began her fast-paced stride once again, and as they sped along the = smooth paths, Tedrim spoke. "You have been chosen, Kathryn. It is the highest honor that anyone can = achieve on this world. I congratulate you." "Chosen?" she echoed. "To go into the Temple?" "Yes, but not only that. I will soon cease to exist. My time with = Yahonalla has come to an end...she doesn't need me anymore. She needs you though, and = she summoned you here to this planet. Despite your need for...what did you = call that substance you use to fuel your starship?" "Dilithium." "Ah, yes. Dilithium. Despite your need for dilithium, you have come = here for reasons that you know nothing of. Reasons that only the high priests, = priestesses, and myself are aware of. The citizens of Ashkira are ignorant of the = details of this event as well. They see it simply as a regular occuance." "Forgive me for my own ignorance, Tedrim, but what are you talking = about?" The alien stopped all of a sudden (she had a habit of doing so), but = smiled kindly at Janeway. "You will be the host mother, Kathryn." The captain's eyes widened. "I...I don't understand," she stuttered. "Me? Why me?" "You are knowledgable. You know many things that are far beyond the = reaches of the minds here on this world. I myself came to Ashkira because I was = curious about their culture. It seemed so...different than what I was used to. My species = are the Zirmians. I was brought here, and I have been here for over two millenia. However, = I can no longer provide Yahollana with any more knowledge, so she is seeking a new = hostess. You are she." "I still don't get any of this. Who exactly is Yahonalla?" "She is Ashkira's goddess of wisdom, protector of faith and The Order = and mother of this species. I, Kathryn Janeway, am the flesh of Yahollana. I have = taken on the name of Tedrim, which is Ashkira for "Mother of Beauty". I possessed = Yahollana's being thousands of years ago, and I have taken on the task of The Order. I = have given birth to millions. You will do the same. You will pass your knowledge onto = them." "You mean..." "Yes, Kathryn. You will be Tedrim. You will have the spirit of = Yahonalla." "This is all very nice," she said, putting her hands up in defiance and = disbelief, "but I don't don't think so. I need to get back to my ship sooner or later. = I can't leave my crew." "You don't have to. Once you have taken over, I will be transformed = into Captain Kathryn Janeway of the starship Voyager. I will possess all your = memories, and I will become you in all ways. No one will know the difference." "I will! This isn't possible, anyway. No one has ever transformed into = someone else before. The closest thing is when Jean-Luc Picard's 'self' was = transferred into another person, and their's into his person. Otherwise, it's a = scientific impossibility." "This is not science, Kathryn. It can be done, whether you are able to = comprehend it now or not. Once you have taken over as host mother, you will = understand how it works." "I...don't know what to say." "Perhaps you should say 'yes'." "What?" "This process is only possible if you are a willing participant. = However, if you do not do it, we will both die. My body has been around far too long to = survive without Yahonalla, and if you do not accept, I cannot transform into Captain = Janeway without your help, and you... You will simply cease to exist." "But, I don't even believe in your goddess! Why do I have to make this = choice?" "Kathryn, if you refuse to accept, both of us will not be the only ones = who die. If there is no hostess who can give birth, this species will perish." "They can't reproduce by themselves?" "No." Tedrim paused to let that all sink in. The silence was almost = unbearable for Janeway, as well as the horror of the thought that an entire species was = at stake of disappearing. A huge weight felt as though it had settled upon her = shoulders, and it made her more uncomfortable than she had ever been before. "Why can't you choose another hostess? Why not an Ashkiran?" "Ashkirans have limited knowledge. The first host mother was one, but = once she could not provide any more wisdom to their people, they had no more to = offer for their people. The hostess must be alien." "But why *me*? I'm sure someone like...like Seven of Nine would be = better. She knows a whole lot more than I do," she argued, then instantly wished she = hadn't spoken those words. Why was she trying to put someone else, a crewmember of = hers no less, into this position? Kathryn was being selfish, and she hated that. "The host mothers were predetermined by Yahonalla ages ago." "...So you're saying that I never had a choice anyway? That I would = come to this planet no matter what I did?" "Exactly. Now I see that you are beginning to accept this. It is your = destiny, Kathryn. You cannot live any other way." Without even realizing, an odd smile swept across Janeway's face. A = reality had set in, and she knew there was no way around it. No matter how much it = disturbed her that she had lost her own free will to choose her own fate, she was = willing to embrace her future. "Yes. I'll do it," she whispered after a few moments. Suddenly, the = weight seemed to be lifted. Tedrim smiled back and replied, "Wonderful. Now, we must go." They began walking again, and Kathryn noticed that she had an extra = bounce in her step. They followed the path for what seemed to be atleast three = kilometers, passing through the emense garden all along the way, until she spotted something = in the distance.=20 It was a symbol of some sort. As she moved closer, she was able to = distinguish what it was. A moon, a sun, and a star, all merged together like Tedrim's tatoo = and tiera, seemed to be...hovering? over an archway where the path appeared to end. "We are very close, Kathryn." "Is there any way I should prepare myself for this?" "Only to clear you mind of all fear." She suddenly wished she was a Vulcan. It was always hard for her to get = rid of anxiety, and now was a terrible time for that inability. She was an = expert at hiding it, but she was never able to make it go away completely when the feeling came. = That seemed like enough before, but now, there was no choice but to set her mind on = ridding itself of that anxiety.