"Neelix? What about him?"
"He was the captain. He pretended to be the only one aboard." Harry quickly ran through the scenario. "Perhaps we should just ignore them?"
"I don't think we can," said Chakotay thoughtfully. "They'd assume that if we're still in the sky, someone has to be aboard. Might use us for target practice if not."
"They're hailing us," Harry observed.
"Get the onscreen," said Chakotay. "It might be a good idea to just show my face, not my uniform, in case they run into the others."
"Right you are," said Harry. "Extreme close up. He'll recognise your eyeballs if he sees them again."
An image of the same Paoli captain appeared again. Chakotay said politely, "Hello."
He thought this should be suitably neutral, not committing himself to say who he was until he understood more.
"Who are you?" asked the Paoli captain, without formalities. "Why has the Talaxian allowed Xalians on his ship?"
"Xalians," said Chakotay. "Is that the name of the inhabitants of this planet?"
"Don't joke with me!" snarled the Paoli. "Where is the Talaxian? How did he get here so quickly? I left him thousands of kilometers behind!"
Kim thought quickly and interjected, "Sir, that must be the man who stole our other ship!"
"Who's that speaking?" cried the Paoli. "Let me see him!"
Harry Kim obediently opened the camera view wider to include himself. In the meantime Chakotay deftly picked up the baton he had been handed.
"Of course! A Talaxian, you say? And in a ship like this? We are on his trail then!"
"I knew your innate tracking ability would help us find him!" exclaimed Harry.
"Not with a trowel, thanks, Lieutenant," said Chakotay drily. He turned back to the camera. "Our other ship - I should say, another of our ships - was stolen, and we are in pursuit. You have been a great help. He is coming this way, you say?"
The Paoli captain refused to be convinced.
"It is the same ship!" he howled. "It has the same writing on it!" His crew, who could be seen dimly in the background, looked at each other.
"All of our ships in this quadrant have the same writing on them," said Harry after a moment.
"That's true, Lieutenant," agreed Chakotay. "Even Mister Tuvok could not dispute that!" He turned again to the Paoli. "I'm sorry if we have intruded into your territory, captain, but we want our ship back!"
"He said it was an empty shell," muttered the captain, unsure of how to continue.
"It's a very powerful empty shell, I think you'll find." Chakotay folded his arms. "We intend to stay a while to rest our engines, and to await this Talaxian. If this is your planet, we will respect it, and stay up here."
The Paoli found their disdain for his authority infuriating. He snarled, "Prepare to be boarded!"
"I don't think you can do that," said Chakotay calmly. "Shields up, Mister Kim."
"Aye, aye, sir," said Harry, pressing the appropriate switches. "Shields up."
"If you resist, we will destroy you!" snarled the Paoli.
"That may be an original line in this quadrant," sighed Chakotay, "but I've heard it before. I'll give you one free shot." He tried to look bored.
The Paoli captain swung away from the screen in a rage, switching it off, and ordered his gunner to destroy the Voyager. The gunner obediently aimed and fired. A missile shot out and targeted itself on Voyager. It spun in on a spiral course, and exploded. Voyager was undamaged.
Chakotay reestablished communication. This in itself was almost as awe-inspiring as the apparent invulnerability of the starship. The captain found his screen switched back on with no commands given from his ship, and Chakotay's lazy image once again dominating the screen.
"That was your free shot," the latter said. "If you fire again we will fire back, and I don't think you can stop our shot."
The captain thought furiously. He wanted desperately to avoid loss of face, but was not sure it was posible. After a pause he asked, "And you will soon be on your way?"
"We have no wish to disturb you," answered Chakotay benignly. "When we are rested, and have found our quarry, we will be on our way."
But the Paoli could not let the matter drop. "I've never heard of you," he said through gritted teeth. How could you have such powerful armaments and we've never heard of you?"
"We're a very shy race," answered Chakotay, straight-faced.
"Others we have met have chosen to attack us," added Harry Kim. "They did not show the good judgment and restraint that you have."
Chakotay was slightly annoyed that Harry was usurping his role, and might in fact overplay the hand, but he said nothing.
After a pause, the Paoli threw his last challenge. "Why do all your ships have the same writing on them?"
"So our enemies cannot tell them apart," said Chakotay.
After a short attempt at thinking this through, the captain grudgingly said, "Very well. I give you permission to remain a few more hours. I am going to land on the planet. When I return I expect to find you gone."
He switched off his screen, and was mildly relieved when it did go blank. He had no intention of accosting the ship if he saw it again, but it seemed like a good departing line.
Harry said thoughtfully, as the image faded, "That was a lot stronger than I expected. It damaged the shields slightly. I don't know what those weapons were, exactly."
"But they don't have shields?" said Chakotay.
"No, sir. They must just rely on getting in the first blow."
"Or not letting anyone else having any weapons. No matter. If they couldn't hurt us, I wouldn't have fired on them. But they don't know that. I'd better let the captain know there are more Paoli about."
"I'll be sorry to leave here, in a way," said Harry. "It's a fun sort of place. I wish I was still down there with them."
"You like the place?" asked Chakotay in mild surprise. Perhaps his experience with the Cardassians had modified his outlook, but he was sensitive to the undercurrents of resentment and frustration on the planet. "Don't forget they are under the thumb of some pretty mean characters. They are never safe, and they can't make any progress. They're stuck in a rut."
"I know," replied Harry Kim, "but they seem to make the most of it. It seems like one of those places where nothing goes wrong."
"There's no such place," said Chakotay.
In a small cafe, Aryon Glutis Zyric sat morosely nursing a stimulant drink, with her friend Seeta.
"They've gone off with Drarn," she said, "to be bored out of their minds."
"You didn't want to go with them?" asked Seeta in an uninterested tone.
"God, no! I can be bored by Drarn anytime! It's been sickening when Blessic is awake. She's clamped onto that Vulcan, trying to sound intelligent. God, that's a challenge!"
"She likes to please people," said Seeta, amused.
"She's no genius, though," sighed Aryon Glutis. "God, I hate this place!"
"So do I," said Seeta with feeling. "I wish a plague would get the Paoli!"
"Probably get us too," said Glutis with a scowl. "Maybe we'd be better off! I hate them. We were accepting the way we were until they came. Now people are starting to think about freedom again. There'll be trouble and ruin again, mark my words!"
Seeta was baffled for a moment before she realised that 'they' referred to the crew of Voyager.
"I don't remember you being accepting any time!" she exclaimed cheerfully. "You sound like you need to get drunk."
"If I have a couple of drinks, they gang up on me and put me to sleep." Glutis laughed suddenly. "They don't like coming to with a headache."
"You drink too fast," said Seeta. "If I want to get drunk I do it slowly. We're all drunk before they realise it!"
"What is their ship like?" asked Seeta curiously.
"Big, and beautifully sleek. We only saw a small part of it, and I'm only going on their memories, but I believe it can go amazingly fast, and it's well-armed. And now they're leaving."
"Leaving the people stirred up, but with nothing to do about it."
"Vishat Nord is quite interested in those minerals they wanted. we have plenty more. I guess we'll find out what they do eventually. I'd give anything to be going away with them, away from this place. I'm tired of being put out to face Klett."
"What do you mean?" asked Seeta. Glutis had never mentioned this before.
"Every time Klett starts giving Blessic or one of the others the eye, they go dormant and wake me. I don't know why they don't wake one of the guys. But he doesn't seem to bother me."
"No taste," said Seeta sardonically. Glutis did not have a large circle of friends. In fact, Seeta might be the whole circle. Glutis, she had to admit, had a rather repellent personality.
"Well, I can't account for his taste," went on Glutis, "but I won't complain. Anyhow, Blessic wants to continue her seduction of the Vulcan, so I'll have to wander off and find the troupe."
"Blessic?" asked Seeta in surprise. "Doesn't she get any sleep? What about the others?"
"They indulge her," said Glutis. "Hey, it's fun watching her make a fool of herself! I'll see you later."
They paid their bill, and went separate ways.
In the meantime, the troupe was in Vishat Drarn's garden, being shown the intricacies of various types of grain.
"... and I remember his words exactly," continued Vishat Dran, oblivious to the fact that all his listeners except Tuvok had ceased to take any notice of him, and were either admiring flowers, or conversing quietly. "He said.. Oh, I see you are admiring the fruit on the trees. Feel free to eat any you like. He said, as I was saying, that he had never found someone like myself who had such an insight into other people's problems.."
Tuvok, who continued to listen, found this difficult to believe, based on the observation that he had yet to see Drarn actually listen to anything anyone said to him. He found it curious that the others categorised Drarn as 'likeable' whereas Drarn was obviously totally self-centred. He often pondered 'likeability'. Humans used this as a category for which he was unable to discern the parameters. Vulcans did establish friendships, but otherwise declined to categorise others. Each individual might be studied, or observed, in terms of intelligence, personality, tendencies toward good or evil, things which could be measured. But individuals who seemed dishonest, self-centred and otherwise short on intrinsic value to their species seemed to have this characteristic called 'likeability'. He had no reason to suspect Drarn of dishonesty, but he noted that his effect on the others was quite negative, and might be deserving of sanctions, but these did not occur. So his curiosity was maintained. Of course, Vulcans could always find something to maintain their curiosity.
Janeway was talking quietly to Kes, while B'Elanna Torres listened.
"You've had a look at their libraries, and some of their films?" she asked.
"Yes," answered Kes. "Their language is quite complex, and it took me a few days to mast.. to become familiar with. It's quite interesting. They have made a number of films about a hero called the Silent Shadow. Pipa named their ship after his vehicle, but that's just wishful thinking. They don't actually have the name on the ship."
"The Silent Shadow?" Janeway asked, more as an interjection, because Kes had paused to allow a comment.
"Yes, he's analogous to some of your earth's fictional characters, like Zorro, or the Scarlet Pimpernel. Nobody knows who he is, but he attacks his enemies silently and secretly, and is off like the wind before they can react. And there is a beautiful heroine, who is the only one who knows who he is."
Janeway was momentarily stricken dumb with astonishment. But before she could reply, her communicator beeped, and she answered it. It was Chakotay alerting her to the fact that the Paoli ship had arrived.
"Thanks, Commander," she acknowledged. "Perhaps it's time to be making our goodbyes."
Tuvok suddenly interrupted Vishat Drarn's flow. "I hesitate to interrupt your discourse, sir, but I believe we have been followed."
Everybody present stopped what they were doing at his words, and looked around. The gate squeaked open, and Commissioner Klett sauntered through.
"you don't have to stop what you are doing because of me," said Klett with a sneer, or so it seemed. "I see your garden is as lovely as ever, Vishat. I was thinking to myself, what an attractive group of actors and actresses you had in your film, and then I saw them all coming here."
"Not my film," protested Drarn meekly. "I was just stopping by to watch some filmmaking."
"And then you invited them all to come back and look at your garden," said Klett sarcastically.
"He must have followed us," whispered Janeway to Tuvok. "He was nowhere around when we got here."
"Er, yes," agreed Drarn. "I was just showing them some seeds I have just acquired. I was just telling them.."
"No doubt you were - Drarn isn't it?" As Drarn nodded. "Of course it is. I could not help noticing the beauty of one of your players in particular."
There was a general holding of breath. This was the worst case scenario. Klett seemed to be approaching B'Elanna Torres, who was petrified. It was all very well to have to give your life for Starfleet and its ideals, but to sacrifice...
But Klett stopped briefly in front of her, and said, "If the film is over, why don't you take off that ugly makeup? It's enough to make a man's stomach turn. But who knows, you may be just as ugly underneath!"
Torres seethed! She had steeled herself to be ravished by this dog, for the sake of the city, but not to be insulted. Klett, however, ignored the sudden rush of colour to her face, unaware of the fact that only the rules of a faraway Federation prevented his being strangled. He had eyes only for Kes.
"Now, you my dear," he said in what he imagined was his best seductive manner, "are beautiful. I am sure you are just as lovely without that makeup. Let us go to my house and remove it together..."
Kes did not respond to this with any panic. In fact, her manner was remarkably calm. She looked him in the eye, and said, "No, you don't find me all that attractive after all. In fact you find me somewhat repulsive. In fact, you are deciding not to..."
Of course, not all of those present were well-trained starfleet personnel, or intimidated inhabitants, or personally well-controlled. Neelix was insanely protective of Kes, and jealous even where there was no cause. He suddenly picked up a large fallen branch and with a cry, hit the commissioner across the head.
Aryon Glutis Zyric walked in just then, and took a moment to understand why everyone was standing still, like a diorama full of tailor's dummies.
On to Chapter 6, or back to my startup page.