by Tiger White
Captain Kathryn Janeway felt ragged as she sat down unexpectedly hard in her command chair. Navigating through the immensely large asteroid field proved to be trying and tiring, but possibly worth the alternative of going around the field. Lieutenant Tuvok had estimated the detour would take a week and four days at warp nine, and that was not taking into account the course corrections they would have to make after clearing the field.
Lieutenant Tom Paris came up with an alternate suggestion: if they cut down to full impulse, he could navigate through the large rocks and small debris only taking five days. It was a hazardous crossing and took a bit of creative navigating, but going around the debris field did not seem very appealing to anyone.
The captain cleared her throat where Neelix's coffee concoction was stuck at the moment and took a deep breath.
"Captain's log, stardate 48138.2. We have successfully navigated the asteroid field but with mixed consequences. Chief Engineer Torres reported our power levels dropped five percent and are continuing to decline. Something in the debris field drained the power, something we unfortunately did not anticipate. We must reach a power source of some kind, or we will be forced to cut our current speed of warp six to warp one in six days. Computer... end log entry."
She stood up and moved to Paris' station with an effortless grace she did not begin to feel.
"Don't blame yourself, Tom," she said quietly, clamping a soft hand down on the Lieutenant's shoulder. "Sensors didn't report an energy-sapping anomaly."
She felt responsible for Tom and his well-being, basically because he was her best friend's son, and she had come to like Thomas Eugene Paris Jr. just as much as his father. Kathryn had a feeling Tom was blaming himself for their current situation, especially since going through the debris field was his idea.
Paris did not look back at her, he only straightened slightly in his chair. "Thank you, Captain, but I do blame myself. We should have listened to Tuvok the first time around."
Janeway was about to say more to Paris, but the voice of her first officer, Chakotay, caught her from going on. She turned to see him over at Ensign Harry Kim's station looking intently at the console.
"Captain," Chakotay repeated.
"Yes, Commander?" she answered warily, crossing the bridge to see what had caught the commander and ensign's attention.
"There's a planet identifying itself as Anemrac," Chakotay said plainly. "They say they can help us with our power shortage, but they want something in return."
Janeway picked up on the abhorrent tone the commander's voice took and sighed. "What do they want?" she asked, not really caring what they wanted. Likely because she could not or would not give it to them willingly.
"I don't know. They said we could talk about it when we arrived in orbit. They even gave us beam-down coordinates."
Chief Engineer B'Elanna Torres arrived on the bridge just in time to hear the latter part of the conversation.
"Forget beaming down unless you have a long ladder," she snorted. "We don't have enough power to pull it off safely. The only way you'll get off this ship is by shuttlecraft."
Deciding nothing was going to be easy, Janeway asked her auburn-headed pilot how long it was going to be before they reached Anemrac.
"Two hours and six minutes at our current speed, Captain," Paris replied.
"Very well, Mr. Paris. B'Elanna, prepare a shuttle." Kathryn looked over at her first officer. "Think they'll have a problem with that?"
Chakotay shook his head. "They sounded pretty relieved when we answered their hail. It makes me wonder..."
"Wonder what they want," Janeway said, finishing Chakotay's question.
Once Voyager had achieved standard orbit around the planet and the shuttlecraft Intense was launched, Janeway and her away crew, Chakotay and Tuvok, looked out upon the view. The planet's surface held breathtaking, sparse, untamed jungles and vast land masses of barren landscapes with large, jagged mountains, steep cliffs and torrential sand storms.
The two small oceans on the surface of Anemrac seemed to be, acccording to the Intense's sensors, the only source of water to be found on the large planet.
"The population on this planet cannot be large, Captain," Tuvok said thoughtfully. "The animal population is nearly non-existent. I would say this planet is dying."
"Dying?" Janeway repeated, stunned.
"They must know that," Chakotay said. "Do you suppose they want to leave here?"
"Unknown," Tuvok answered curtly. "But we will be aware of our hosts' intentions soon. That small village there is where we are expected."
The village was placed in the valley of a mountain giant that probably protected the inhabitants from the harsher parts of the planet's surface - which was for the best since the buildings, upon further inspection, looked to be of hasty, shoddy construction. The clearing amidst the houses was big enough to accomodate at least five large runabout shuttles at once, which meant they were very used to off-world visitors.
Traders attracted to the planet's sources of power, possibly? That is, the captain had to allow, if there is such a thing. For the moment, Janeway had to consider the aliens might be offering false gifts and brought them here under false pretense - or worse, they would be unable to use the power source being offered.
The full effect of the valley had not been properly seen until the three Starfleet officers stepped out of the shuttle and found several huge tunnels bored into the base of the mountain. The men wore little clothing, and the women wore less. All wore a protective cloth around their heads, covering their noses and mouths.
"Paris would like this place," Chakotay quipped.
"At least we're not here for that," Janeway replied dryly.
A woman approached them, lifting her protective mouth covering to smile at them. "I am Olonis. Welcome to Anemrac. If you will please accompany me to the Grand House..." She took Tuvok's hand in hers, her blue eyes dancing with delight. "You're cute," she giggled, then turned to lead the way.
Tuvok's eyebrows shot up. Chakotay saw the Vulcan's reaction and mimicked the gesture to Janeway as they walked up a sandy road, following their dark-skinned, blonde guide.
The captain fell to the back. She wanted to observe the village more, and the more she saw, the more uncomfortable she felt. She saw there were far more women than men, and most all of them were walking around dauntlessly nude. Janeway decided she no longer wanted to observe and caught up quickly with the group. As she did, a young, platinum-headed woman smiled seductively at Chakotay. In turn, he returned a bedevilingly sly grin.
"Don't get used to the attention, Commander," Janeway warned him.
"Don't worry, Captain," he whispered. "She's not my type."
"This is the Grand House," said Onolis proudly as an immense door opened before the foursome.
And there was much to be proud of. This house was much better built than the other buildings the Voyager crew had seen so far, built from marble-like stone in a smart design. It was immaculately clean and comfortably cool inside the structure, in contrast to what lay beyond its walls.
They had not realized their attractive companion left them until she returned ringing a loud bell.
"Now I officially introduce Grand Nagus Kol," Onolis said triumphantly.
Kol's face paled considerably.
"Federation Hu-Mans!" shouted the little Ferengi male in dismay. He swiftly grabbed Onolis' arm. "You did not say anything about Starfleet intruders."
"I said they were from a starship called Voyager," she countered defensively. "I thought these were the people you were expecting."
"It wasn't the starship Voyager!" he screamed at near apoplexy. "It was the starship Destroyer! Stupid, incompetent female help!"
"Wait a minute," Janeway said reasonably enough. "How did you get here, Grand Nagus?"
Kol held up his hand. "Enough of this useless female chatter. I have better things to do than listen to you, Hu-Man female!"
He turned to leave, but before Janeway could say anything more, Chakotay had crossed the room to the Grand Nagus faster than the eye could blink. He took hold of the squealing Ferengi and held him against one of the larger I-beam support poles.
"I believe the captain asked you a question," Chakotay growled. "So stop that screaming and answer her."
"Let me go!" Kol demanded. "I have done nothing wrong. Guards!"
Four chunky men came out of nowhere but were made short work of by Tuvok, who used a wide-field stun beam to lay the four low before they could put up a decent fight.
The Ferengi whined helplessly. "That infernal Barzan wormhole dumped Dr. Arridor and I into this Delta quadrant on stardate 43385.6," he said. "That was five years ago. We wandered for days, possibly weeks. I don't remember anymore. We navigated through the asteroid field, but everything onboard was failing. We were forced to land on Anemrac." He grinned toothily. "Which turned out to not be as bad as it seemed at the time. The women here are incredibly subservient. Ferengi heaven!"
"Yes, yes, we know," Janeway said, annoyed. "You said something about a wormhole. Where is it? Why didn't you return to the Alpha quadrant?"
Kol sniffed. "That damnable wormhole wasn't stable! It hasn't returned since it deserted me here." He eyed the Starfleet officers suspiciously. "Is that how you got here? Just how did Starfleet get into the Delta quadrant?"
Janeway saw him open his mouth to spit out more questions, but the captain pre-empted him.
"It's a long story, Kol," she said. "I don't feel like repeating it today. All I'll say is that we're stranded in the Delta quadrant. Are you quite sure the wormhole hasn't come back?"
"Quite, Hu-Man," Kol said, dead serious.
Onolis came from an adjoining room toward the small group. "The Destroyer has made contact," she said. "They will be here in one hour, Grand Nagus."
Janeway narrowed her eyes. "Just exactly what species is on the Destroyer, Grand Nagus?" she asked, putting a nasty emphasis on the title.
"Paris!" Kim shouted excitedly. "There's a Kazon warship coming within sensor range."
Paris spun around to face Kim. "Oh, God, not them!" he said, hoping Harry was playing a rather bad joke on him. He was not. "Contact the captain now, ask her what we should do."
Paris turned back to his console, jabbing at various panels. "I'm moving us over the planet's magnetic pole," he announced. "That should give us a little time to figure out what the hell to do next."
"I've got the captain, Paris," Kim said finally.
"Kazons," Chakotay said grimly. "Voyager will be stardust. We don't have the firepower to fight a shadow."
"Who said anything about Hu-Mans being here, anyway?" Kol said. "At least the Destroyer was invited. Why don't you people leave me to my business venture and go away?"
"We would like to do so very much, since our last encounter with the Kazon forces wasn't exactly a good one," Tuvok maneuvered. "But our ship could not get away from the Kazons before they attacked. That's where we need your help, Grand Nagus. We were told your planet has a power source that might be helpful to us."
The little Ferengi ground his mangled teeth together. "The natives here call it nalu malutia, where you and I would call it antimatter. The true potential of this planet's antimatter was not discovered until I came here and struck a very profitable deal with the Kazons. We have a vast antimatter plant at work right below us."
"And in turn, you killed these people's planet," Chakotay said angrily.
"Planets die," said Kol bluntly. "Money, however..."
"How much of this antimatter can you spare?" Tuvok asked.
"At the moment, none of it," Kol replied. "The Kazons paid in advance. Wise thinking. You should have tried that before you came barreling down here in such a huff."
"What if we made you a deal you could not refuse?" Tuvok said.
"Paris, listen to me - launch another shuttle. I want Torres on it. Tell her to move away from Voyager as soon as she clears the dock. That's all. Janeway out."
The communications cut out, and Paris found himself repeating, "That's all," in his head. She'll think, "That's all," when Voyager gets blown to kingdom come, he thought sourly.
"Torres, you listening down there?" Paris asked the half-Klingon, half-Human woman over the open comm channel.
"I'm on my way, Paris," she responded swiftly. Then at once she lost her footing as a violent shaking followed by a thunderous roar rocked the ship. She drop-rolled into the shuttlecraft hanger quite unexpectedly. Luckily, the doors remembered to open for her. She made a quick recovery, half-stumbling into the shuttle Stiletto.
"I can't clear you yet," came Paris' half-panicked voice. "We've got a slightly big problem up here, but prepare for immediately take-off anyway."
"I hope the captain has a damn good plan," Paris found himself saying aloud.
The shuttlecraft Intense made its way up into the atmosphere and finally broke free of the planet's gravitational pull. Janeway exhaled. So far, things were going well. She had been in constant contact with Torres and now it was time to program the Intense to meet its fate.
"B'Elanna, now!" shouted Janeway as she made the final control adjustments at her helm.
Kazon Commander Demelar was feeling pleased with himself. At his mercy, he had the very ship that had destroyed their sister ship not all too long ago.
"Surrender, Voyager, or we shall destroy you," he threatened.
Paris gritted his teeth against the pain going down the left side of his body. He was sure he broke something in one of those previous attacks, but he couldn't tell where it was. Between the pain and the annoying voice of the Kazon commander, he wasn't sure how much more he could take.
"No way, you belligerent bastard," Paris said, then terminated the communications line. "Wha...?" Tom's jaw dropped open. What's Janeway doing with the Intense? he thought as he saw the little starcraft fire at the considerably larger fire warship. "The damage is negligible," Paris muttered. "They'll swat it down like a fly." What the hell kind of plan was this? Paris was next to sure his captain was not all right in the head.
Commander Demelar laughed uproarously. "Hathagan, see that?" he asked his weapons officer through his laughter. "Blow it up. It annoys me. I tire of Human foolishness. This will come to an end now."
Hathagan sighted it, and for a half a millisecond, all the Kazons on the bridge of the Destroyer noticed the brighter than life light the explosion generated. If only too late to realize that they just detonated a shuttle full of antimatter right in their own faces.
"No survivors," said Kim, awestruck.
Paris' eyes lit up. "That was wicked!" he exclaimed right before he passed out from the sheer agony of the pain he felt everywhere in his body.
Janeway, Chakotay, Torres and Tuvok entered the hectic atmosphere of the Voyager bridge, where engineering crews were all at work to repair the damages incurred in their absense. Harry Kim was at Paris' console. Janeway looked concerned.
"Mr. Kim, where is Paris?"
Relieved beyond belief, he answered, "In sickbay. Doc won't let him leave yet.. he's had a rough time," Kim added thoughtfully.
"Command apparently isn't to Mr. Paris' liking," Janeway joked. She felt happy for no real reason, except simply to be alive to see another day. "Take us out of here, Ensign. Warp nine."
She saw a puzzled look on Kim's face, but answered, "Antimatter, Mr. Kim. It's a wonderful thing."
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