Chapter 4.

 

There was general consternation. A Paoli! Janeway realised immediately that four of her group were obviously not human. Not Xalian, she corrected herself. But Vishat Bill had things under control, insofar as he retreated and threw control back to Vishat Nord Sawlo, the quickest thinker of his group.

"I'll handle this," said Vishat Nord firmly. "Say nothing. Commissioner! How good to see you. It's great that you should take an interest in our filmmaking!"

Klett did not reply immediately. He was an unprepossessing person, even for a Paoli, with short, uneven tusks, and rough, unwashed-looking hair. He came up and stared at the crew of Voyager, then turned back to Vishat Nord.

"Who are these strangers?" he asked bluntly.

"Visiting actors," replied Nord smoothly, "from Mindalaya. They are in makeup for a science-fiction drama we are making."

"Science fiction is crap," observed Klett without heat. "I don't under.. I feel it is unnecessarily complicated. Good love stories with a moral are best."

He was meanwhile wandering about, staring at Tuvok, Kes, B'Elanna and Neelix.

"That's very good makeup," he conceded. "This one looks just like a Talaxian. I don't recognise the others."

"Fictitious races," advised Nord. "You are of course right in your views, but if we make all our films the same audiences become bored. If we show a few trashy films, they appreciate it when we get back to the good stuff."

Klett was still mildly suspicious, and he stopped facing Tuvok.

"So you're a visiting actor from overseas?" he asked.

There was a general stiffening of backs among the crew. Vulcans don't lie! But Tuvok did not bat an eyelid as he replied, "It is true that I am a visitor, and that I am now playing a part."

Those out of Commissioner Klett's view cast their eyes to heaven. Why couldn't he just tell a simple fib? But Klett had lost interest. The universal translator had created the impression that Tuvok had replied in perfect Xalian.

"You'll have to tell me about it," he muttered as he moved on. He eyed B'Elanna Torres for a moment, but continued on his way, and was soon out of sight.

The others discovered they had not been breathing, and continued with sighs. Aryon Blessic had once again decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and had passed the baton to Syssal again.

"Thank god!" she said, "I thought he was going to take you, B'Elanna!"

"Take me?" exclaimed B'Elanna in surprise.

"If a Paoli decides he wants a woman, he just takes her," said Syssal grimly. "There's nothing we can do."

"Has one of them...?" asked Chakotay tentatively.

"Taken me? No."

"There are some of our women who are less particular about whom they engage in sex with," said Vishat Nord. "They offer themselves to the invaders, and they tend to leave the rest alone."

"It must be a worry to a woman as beautiful as yourself?" asked Chakotay, and Syssal broke into a beautiful smile.

"Why, thank you, Commander! I don't think the Paoli have our standards, luckily."

"The invaders are all male, Aryon Syssal?" asked Tuvok. Like most of the others, he recognised the personality without an introduction.

"They seem to be," said Syssal. "They have a paternalist society."

"And these women who fraternise with the enemy," asked Janeway. "Are they pariahs in your society?"

Vishat Nord looked surprised. "Of course not! They don't do it for fun! They do it to save the majority."

Tom doubted that they found it entirely unpleasant, or they would not do it. Tuvok merely muttered, "Interesting," and looked thoughtful. But Syssal caught his words.

"Interesting? It's.. evil!" she said with feeling.

Torres turned to her and asked, "So, if he attacked you, you'd just have to.. take it?"

Vishat Nord interrupted. "And so would you, while you are here. If you choose to stay, you must abide by our practises."

"That is always our rule," said Janeway simply. B'Elanna Torres shuddered, and Kes looked perturbed.

"So it is best that you do not linger," added Nord.

"I sense a bitterness in you that is new, Vishat Bill," said Chakotay.

"I am Vishat Nord," he answered. "There was no time for introductions. I think it wasa stupid move to let you set foot on Xali in the first place. But it is done. We are risking a lot of damage to our community for the sake of thumbing our noses at the Paoli."

"You're right," said Janeway. "We are virtually finished our trading, so as soon as we say our goodbyes we'll be off."

"I am one of those who believe we should fight them," added Nord, "but there is no way. So the sooner you are gone the better. You provide a temptation. I suspect Vishat Garr hoped that you might be encouraged to engage the Paoli somewhere far from here, but that was a foolish idea."

"We have no intention of engaging them," agreed Janeway. "If we meet them, we'll just outrun them."

"But we have enjoyed your company," said Nord, a smile breaking through his grim visage, "and will have a lot of pleasure from your gifts."

"Trade, Vishat Nord," said Janeway with an answering smile. "From our point of view you have been exceptionally generous in your bargaining."

"You have taken our rubbish," he said simply, "and given us new stories to make into films, and new grains to feed our people, new flowers for our gardens. Weapons would have been nice, but you cannot give them and we cannot accept them."

"It will be interesting to see whether our flowers can adapt, or be adapted, to eternal sunshine," said Tuvok. "You may have to build shelters for them, to simulate night."

Vishat Nord was familiar with the concept of night. He had seen films of other planets, and study of the Paoli homeworld was required in all schools. But a simple concept like sleep had never been introduced to him. The other hemisphere of Xali did have some night, albeit very long.

"We will leave you some information on the minerals we have bought from you," said Neelix. "You will find them far from rubbish."

Janeway winced, since she had not intended to do so, but relaxed when Vishat Nord replied, "We had intended to study them deeply after your departure."

He added, "I have not been dominant long, but my personality, Vishat Drarn, was conversing with your friends yesterday, when they were urgently called away, and he would like to continue the conversation."

Janeway was momentarily puzzled. What could have urgently called away the group, but Tom Paris hurriedly replied, with a look of dismay, "Oh, don't hurry off for us!"

Torres said, almost desperately, "We haven't met all your other personalities. I'm sure we'd like to meet all of you!"

"A pity we had to go yesterday," added Neelix. "We thought Drarn might be becoming a bit exhausted though."

"Not the only one," muttered Paris.

"I found Mister Drarn a useful fountain of information," said Tuvok.

"Fountain. That's a good word," said B'Elanna grimly.

Was there a malicious smile on the face of Vishat Nord as he retired? Certainly not on Vishat Drarn as he surfaced. He guilelessly continued where he had left off. Good breeding and Starfleet training prevented the crew from dismissing him rudely, and in fact he was quite likeable, but...

"Ah, good to be back with you again. I was telling you about the development of our medium grain crops of Frantal wheat. You may find this hard to believe, but I swear to you I heard this with my own ears, may I be struck dead if I did not. The discovery of the best grain was simply an accident. I heard this from Brendal Bran Grat.. or was it Farraw Wyatt Grick? We were talking because he had come to enquire after my mother's..."

"I'm sorry to interrupt, Vishat Drarn," said Tom suddenly, "but the filming seems to have stopped, and we do have an urgent matter that we need to discuss, and we have to go.."

"Oh, of course," Vishat Drarn simply swept on, grabbing him by the arm. "But first, would you like to see my garden? It's quite nearby. I could explain the difference between the medium grains and the smaller. It is quite difficult to detect for one unfamiliar. I was saying to Grishat Barr Barren, when he came over a few days ago, to borrow one of my breads.. I am mildly famed for my breads.."

"We'd love to see your garden, Vishat.. er Drarn," Janeway interrupted smoothly. Indeed it was already obvious to her that the only way to address Drarn was to interrupt him.

"We do have something to discuss, Captain," said Tom Paris, but she told him, "Later, Tom. Lead the way, Vishat Drarn."

"I have to leave, unfortunately," said Chakotay, and the others looked at him enviously. "It is my shift on the bridge. But I do want to be at that meeting."

Janeway looked curiusly at him, and Tom, but said nothing.

Vishat Drarn had hardly interrupted his flow for these few asides. "It's just this way. You may find this hard to believe, but I can swear that I was told this, and heard it with my own two ears,..."

As the others walked out of view, Chakotay found a place where he seemed to be sheltered from view, and touched his comm badge. "Beam me up, Harry," he said. "It's an errand of mercy you'll be performing!"

He seemed to hear a tinkling of stardust, but he knew it was just a disorienting effect of the transporter on his ears, as the twinkling of light was on his eyes. He materialised in the transporter room, and made his way straight to the bridge.

Since the starship was parked in orbit, only one command officer was necessary on the bridge. About half the normal crew were on duty, and many were on the planet. He strode in, and Harry said, "Good afternoon, sir."

Without changing expression, Chakotay replied "Is it?"

There was a sudden silence, and he looked at Harry, who was obviously surprised and thrown off kilter. He suddenly realised what he had said.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Harry. Didn't mean to be rude. I meant it literally. I just meant that after a few days on the planet you have no idea what time of day it is."

"Do they?" asked Harry curiously. "Have time, that is."

Chakotay smiled. "You didn't ask? Too rude, I suppose. Yes, it's based on the time it takes to cycle through their personalities. Each stays in charge for about five hours, so their day is about thirty hours."

"They're a nice people," said Harry. "Some good, some bad, like everyone, I suppose. But as a group, they're good."

"Some boring!" exclaimed Chakotay with feeling. "When you say, some good, some bad, it's not usually lots of people in the one body. I wonder how they punish people for a crime? Can't put the whole six in gaol!"

"When they get married," mused Harry, "I wonder how they organise that? Do six of them marry six of the other, or is only one pair married?"

"You'd have to ask Tom Paris that," grinned Chakotay. "I guess it's probably arranged marriages, or something like that. Have to ask."

"I doubt that Tom has raised the subject of marriage with anyone," observed Harry.

"That's the most cynical remark I have ever heard you make," laughed Chakotay. "Bravo! Of course, we're assuming they have permanent pairings of some sort. They are an alien race. They may have some other arrangement altogether."

Harry interrupted his musings. "Commander! There's a ship approaching! It's the same Paoli ship!"

"The same as what?" asked Chakotay puzzledly. He had not been on the bridge at the time of the first meeting, and the news had not been conveyed to him among all the other interesting happenings. So he was more puzzled still when Harry exclaimed in despair, "We met them before. And Neelix isn't here!"

 

On to Chapter 5, or back to my page.